Queen Of Swords
by Voleuse

The cards shuffle, paper striking itself with a soft *thwick*, and Tara can't sit there any longer. She tosses a five-dollar bill on the table, stammers an apology, and dashes into the open air.

Breathes deeply, steadying her body with bright sunlight and the heat of the sidewalk, warming her feet.

"The reading wouldn't have been accurate anyway," a woman murmurs behind her. "Not here. Not with them."

Tara spins about, catches first a half-smile smeared in pale pink, then sees the woman, completely. Large, dark eyes set in a pale face, and dark hair to match. Pretty, with the dusty sparkle of magic about her. She's still speaking, and Tara tries to focus on mundane things, like conversation.

The woman has paused, noticing Tara's silence. "My name's Jenny." She nods, as if acknowledging something woven between them. "I knew your mother."

The air gushes out of Tara in waves, and she's suddenly a little girl again, instead of almost adult, playing hooky where her family can't see her. Trying to forget that the world's a bit dimmer.

"Come on." Jenny reaches out, takes Tara's hand in her own. "I'll buy you a cup of coffee."


They're halfway through their respective iced lattes ("Too sweet, but nice once in a while," Jenny had said) when the happy reminiscing about her mother runs out, and they reach the unhappy edge of memory.

"Y-you weren't at the funeral." Tara tries not to sound upset. "You said you knew her. Why didn't you come?"

"I wouldn't have been welcome there." Jenny twirls the fingers of one hand abstractly. "None of my kind."

"Your kind?"

"Did you see any of your mother's friends there?"

"Of course." Tara looks down, counts the clumps of cinnamon still intact on the surface of her latte. "My mom had a lot of friends."

"Tara." Jenny idly stirs the whipped cream in her cup, changes the subject. "It's very middle of the day for you to be lurking in a strip mall."

"I-I was--"

"It doesn't seem like your father would approve," Jenny cuts in, and there's a little less mercy in her eyes.

"He d-doesn't know I'm here." Tara ducks her head, ashamed. "He thinks I'm at the library."

Jenny smiles, then, and takes a sip of her drink. "It's a good place to be."

"I do go there," Tara explains. "They have books I don't have at home, and Dad doesn't like me to read books about--"

"Magic." Jenny frowns. "What happened to your mother's books?"

Tara glances up then, sharply. "They're safe. Where she kept them."

"So you know. I wasn't sure if she would have told you."

"O-of course." Tara taps her fingers against the beaded water of the glass, uses the moisture to trace patterns on the table. Runes, meant to protect. "When Dad was at work, or when we went out. To the beach." She smears the water with her palm. "She taught me how to cast spells there."

Jenny stands. "Show me."


The ocean whispers to Tara, murmurs the rites to a thousand different things. She closes her eyes and breathes in the wild. Imagines it's her, endless and full of tears.

"You feel it, too."

"Yeah." Tara breaks her quick reverie, turns to the woman next to her. "It's...powerful."

"You did magic here?" Jenny spreads her arms wide, encompassing the empty beach, the waves, and the horizon, fading grey. The breeze teases her hair, and her lips part when she smiles.

Tara wishes she was an artist. Wishes she could paint this picture, capture it, so she has something to smile about when she's at home.

"My mom," she explains, "felt more connected to things here. She d-didn't feel like she could teach me at home."

"I wouldn't think so." Jenny plops gracefully onto the sand, heedless of possible damage to her delicate-looking skirt. "I've met your father."

"Oh." There's nothing Tara can really say to respond to that, so she moves on. "She taught me about magic."


"No." Tara sits beside Jenny, draws close against the sea's chill. "Not spells, really, but magic. What it is, you know? What it's like."

"That's good." Jenny brushes a hand against Tara's for a second. "I've met plenty who treat spells like cure-alls. Your mother was good at what she did."

Tara winces. "At what she was, you mean." Hears the condemnation in her father's voice, over dinner. Sees her mother's eyes, cast down, with nary an argument. "At being a demon."

"Tara." Jenny reaches out, slides her hand under Tara's chin. Looks her in the eye. "She wasn't."

"Then why didn't she say anything?" Tears begin to trickle down Tara's face. "Why didn't she ever..."

She breaks, then, sobbing. Jenny leans over, embraces her, and Tara cries into her shoulder, for what seems like hours.

Tara shudders to silence, after a while, and she pulls away from Jenny in embarrassment, wiping her face with the back of her hand. "It killed her, you know."

"What?" Jenny's expression is careful, now, and Tara doesn't know if she likes it.

"Whatever was inside her. The demon." Tara hopes she looks decent, hopes she doesn't look as bitter as her voice sounds. "It ate her up from the inside out, and she never fought back."

Jenny's hands, still warm on Tara's shoulders, rub gently. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay." Tara leans back against her with a sigh. "No one else we know can do the things we can. Even if Mom wasn't a...even if she wasn't, there's something." She thinks back to stories, whispered by her grandmother, by her aunts. "There's something in our blood, and bad things happened, before."

"You shouldn't be afraid, Tara." Jenny's breath stirs against Tara's ear.

Tara turns, and her face is an inch away from Jenny's. And then it's not, because she's kissing her, and for a moment, Jenny's kissing her back.

Only for a moment, though, because Jenny pushes her away quickly.

"I'm s-sorry." Tara can feel the blood rushing to her face. "I shouldn't have--"

"No," Jenny shakes her head. "I shouldn't have."

"It w-was stupid."

"Tara, no." Jenny takes her hands, squeezes them gently. "It's not." She bites her lip. "Tara, you should come to Sunnydale."


"It's a small town, where I work. I have a friend there, a librarian," she looks away then, smiling, and Tara wonders why. "He can help you. He can teach you magic."

"I can't. My family--"

"You'll go to college soon." She glances out at the ocean, smiles. "UC Sunnydale is a good college, not too far, but far enough. I think you would like it there."

"Maybe." Tara shrugs, looks out at the ocean, at the first stars coming out. Realizes the sun has set. "Oh, no."


"I h-have to go home," Tara apologizes.

"It's okay." Jenny smiles. "So do I."

"Will I see you again? If I go to Sunnydale?"

Jenny grins at that, widely. "Definitely."

Tara gives her a hug, smiles. "I'll see you, then."

"See you."

And Tara runs home, not glancing back at Jenny, still standing on the beach.

She'll see her soon enough.


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