Welcome To The Slaughterhouse
Chapter 1: I’m Gonna Bring You Back
Tara was almost asleep when someone knocked on her door. As she stumbled out of bed and put her robe on, she wondered who it might be; Willow had had to go to her parents for some family thing and promised to make it up to her. She checked the clock; just after 11 PM. Her birthday was in an hour, and she sighed. Since her mother died, no one had really bothered to remember it, so she wasn't exactly surprised, but... Another knock on the door shook her out of her thoughts. She opened the door.
Instinctively, she shied away as her father stepped into the room. Over the last six months she'd been so happy she'd almost forgotten about her family, like it was all some nightmare. She'd thought she'd gotten away clean, she'd dared to believe that she might actually have a chance at a good life. Now it all came crashing down, and she felt like she was going to faint.
Her father glared at her. "I said 'Hello, Tara'."
"That's more like it." He checked his watch as he dumped an empty suitcase on the floor in front of her. "I guess I got here just in time. I'd say happy birthday, but we both know it's not going to be a happy one. Pack your stuff, the car's waiting and I don't intend to spend a minute more than I have to in this place."
She stared at the floor, couldn't bear to look at him as she decided. He'd pushed her around long enough. "No."
"What was that?"
"N-no, Sir. I'm not c-coming with y-"
The punch caught her square on her cheekbone, the entire room spun around and when she tried to take a step backwards she realized she was lying on the floor. She'd forgotten how badly he could hurt her, the nausea, the helplessness. He bent over her, grabbed her by the hair and slapped her sharply to make sure she didn't pass out. She whimpered at the thought of having to go back. "No... p-p-please don't make me..."
"I was going to give you a chance to redeem yourself, Tara. You ran away from your home, leaving me and your brothers to fend for ourselves, but I was going to be the bigger man" — he slapped her again — "and let you come along of your own free will. But if this is the way you want it..." Her entire head hurt as he pulled her to her feet by her hair. He landed another punch in her gut, holding her up so she couldn't even double over. "Now. Pack. Your. Stuff. And don't get any ideas, Donnie's right outside your window. Are you going to co-operate, or do I need to..." Slowly, she nodded. "What's that, Tara?"
"Y-y-yes Sir. Tha-hank you, Sir."
"Please..." Tara indicated her bathrobe. "Could you just let me get dressed?"
Her father sneered at her, thought about it then turned his back and averted his eyes like a good Christian. "Like anyone would want to see you naked anyway." As Tara picked up her clothes, she managed to find a scrap of paper in one pocket.
* * *
Willow reached her girlfriends' dorm room at exactly midnight, feeling positively giddy. Of course, she'd planned this carefully. Making Tara think she'd forgotten her birthday had made her feel awful, but she figured in about thirty seconds all of that would be forgotten. She had wine, she had presents, and she had some very naughty ideas on how to start what she figured would be Tara's best birthday ever.
As she used her key to open the door and sneak inside, she noticed how still everything was. She knew Tara usually went to bed early, but... something felt wrong. In the moonlight from the window, she saw drawers pulled open, clothes scattered every which way and an empty bed. "Tara?" Instantly worried, she put the presents down and ran into the corridor to check the bathroom. Empty. She came back to her lover's deserted room, and after a few minutes of searching found a note that chilled her to the bone. It was Tara's handwriting, but not her usual polite script; this was written quickly by someone who only had a few seconds to sum up everything she felt.
DAD FOUND ME
LOVE YOU ALWAYS
Willow's knees buckled and she tumbled onto the bed, curling up around Tara's discarded bathrobe and breathing in her scent as she fought the tears. Then a determined look came on her face and she stood up.
* * *
It was late, but within forty minutes the gang had met up at Tara's room. Willow had explained and got very upset when everyone didn't immediately drop everything to go running after Tara.
"Look, Will..." Buffy, who had only found out 24 hours ago that her sister wasn't real and that something very powerful was after them both, really didn't need to cope with this as well. "Are you sure she's really in trouble?"
"Gee, I don't know, Buff. She ups and runs away in the middle of the night telling me to forget her — oh, I'm sure it's NOTHING!"
"And you're sure... I mean... sometimes things just don't work out, you know. Maybe she just went home to think things through... You've only known her for —"
"How long did you know Angel before you risked your life to save his?" Willow snapped, waving the paper in Buffy's face. "Look at this. READ it. This isn't I'm-tired-of-my-gay-experimentation-phase, this is my-crazy-psycho-dad-is-taking-me-away-for..." She couldn't finish that sentence, and looked to her oldest friend.
Xander tried for a sensible solution, turning to Giles. "Can't we call the police? This is kidnapping, isn't it?"
"Strictly speaking, I'm not sure it is. Tara isn't 21 yet, and we can't prove they've taken her against her will..." Giles took his glasses off. "Willow, he's her father. As much as it pains me to say it, how terrible could he be? What do you actually know about her family?"
"A-almost nothing", Willow admitted. "I know her mother died three years ago, and that she has three older brothers. But the way she gets when she mentions them... Giles, they've hurt her. Bad. I don't need her to tell me any details to know that. Look, I'm going after her, that's all there is to it. I wish you'd help me, but if you won't, I'll go alone."
Xander quietly got up and put his arm around her, not having to say it out loud. He was in. Anya sighed, but didn't object. Buffy exchanged a look with Giles. After all, she could bring Dawn along, and her mother's health scare from a couple of days ago seemed to be cleared up... part of her didn't mind putting a few miles between herself and whoever that woman was who had beat her up last night. "You're right, Will, I'm sorry. If you think Tara's in danger, of course we'll find her. We'll leave in the morning. Do you know where they live?"
"No." Willow's resolve face remained, but with a hint of gratitude. "But give me ten minutes with a computer and I'll have an address."
* * *
The next morning they set out in a van they'd borrowed from one of Xander's colleagues. Willow hadn't been able to find an actual address, just the name of a farm, but they figured once they got there they'd ask around. They'd brought some weapons, just in case people didn't want to answer.
As the van rolled East and the hours rolled by, everything settled into a pattern; Giles and Buffy up front bickering and discussing slayage, Anya and Dawn in the middle basically annoying each other and looking out the windows at the passing landscape, and Xander and Willow in the back. Willow had brought the doll's eye crystal Tara had given her on the night she'd first told her how she felt, and she kept twirling it around her fingers as she stared angrily out the window wishing Giles could drive faster. Xander would try to lighten the mood occasionally, but mostly he was just there for her. After several hours, he pointed out the window at the sign beside the road.
"Cheer up, Will. It won’t be long now. See? Here we are!"
They both looked at the sign as they passed into the county where Tara had grown up.
WELCOME TO MUERTO COUNTY, TEXAS
Home of the best darn beef in the world!