Disclaimer: I own nothing. All the Anita Blake ‘verse characters belong to Laurell K Hamilton and Tara Maclay belongs to Joss Whedon.
Author’s notes: Please note that Tara will be the only BtVS character to appear in this story. There will be no Buffy or Willow suddenly making an appearance, and Tara will not have any urge to relocate to California. My intention is to write a Tara/Asher story but a romantic relationship between the two of them is a *long* way off. If you are unhappy with the pairing or the lack of Scooby characters then I encourage you to stop reading and find another story. Oh, and my spelling’s British.
Note: The prologue is set a few months before the start of Cerulean Sins.
Marianne sipped at her chamomile tea, listening to her young friend describe her first week of classes at the University of St. Louis. As Tara stuttered her way through her impressions of the early European history course, Marianne had to marvel at the strides the young girl had made in the few weeks since she had first met her. Tara may have inherited her mother’s looks and her talent but after Elizabeth Maclay’s death, a decade of restriction and control by her family had left Tara painfully shy, quite unlike her vivacious mother. Elizabeth Barrett had been one of Marianne’s dearest friends, and although they didn’t get to spend anywhere near the time she would have liked after Elizabeth’s marriage, the friendship had been maintained through letters and the occasional phone call.
It was in one of the last letters Marianne had received that Elizabeth had confided her dreams and increasing worries for her only daughter. Tara had just come home with a glowing report from her school suggesting she be moved into the accelerated programme. Unfortunately for Tara, the letter had been sent on the same day that her brother had brought home a letter detailing his teacher’s concern over his lack of anything remotely resembling academic progress. Elizabeth’s husband Maclay had been furious, not at his son’s failure to learn but that the school was focusing their positive attention on what he saw as a ‘worthless girl’. Needless to say the enclosed permission slip had not been signed. Elizabeth had wanted Tara to go to college but there was no way that her husband would have considered investing in Tara’s future to the financial detriment of the rest of the family. Marianne snorted to herself at the thought of that … redneck going without to allow his daughter a college education. Maclay saw her future as one of caregiver to the family until such time as he consented to her marrying another redneck and finally moving out of the home. When Elizabeth had died Marianne had promised herself that she would do anything she could to make sure that Tara got the education her mother wanted for her.
The years had slipped by and Marianne found herself caught up in concerns closer to home; first in settling problems within Verne’s pack, and then acting as spiritual mentor to Richard’s Bolverk. It had come as quite a shock when she received a letter from Elizabeth's now grown up daughter Tara had finished up school the previous year and been at home keeping house for her father and equally unenlightened brother. When she had been clearing out the attic Tara had apparently stumbled across a cache of letters that Marianne had sent Elizabeth. Tara had contacted her and offered a photo she had discovered of ‘Mari and Bethie aged 15’. When she had finished reading that first letter Marianne had been horrified to realise so much time had passed.
An exchange of letters had followed during which Marianne had been able to discover that Tara had graduated with excellent SAT results but, to the disappointment of her art history teacher, had not applied to any colleges. Armed with the teacher’s name, Marianne had then contacted Tara’s old school to discuss the situation. Mrs. McPherson had been delighted that someone was finally taking an interest in the girl. A flurry of scholarship applications sporting Tara's forged signature were sent off; a few weeks later, Tara had her choice of a selection of colleges that were prepared to accept late applications. Marianne had regretfully had to discard any that weren’t prepared to offer a full scholarship, narrowing down the list to three possible choices. Two days and one Anita related crisis later, Marianne had appeared without warning on Tara’s doorstep grasping the glossy prospectuses. Meeting Tara in person had been a heartbreaking experience. The eager child that had graced the pages of Elizabeth’s letters was gone, leaving in her place a painfully shy woman who stuttered over the most simple of sentences. There were times in her life that Marianne regretted the creed of non-violence she had built her life around, and seeing what Maclay had done to Elizabeth’s daughter was one of the strongest.
After the initial introduction Marianne had been faced with the uphill battle of convincing Tara to leave the family home. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go to college; her fingers had been almost twitching in eagerness to hold the brochures but for some reason she believed that she couldn’t leave home. Marianne had patiently explained that money wasn’t an issue, all three colleges were offering full scholarships and Tara wouldn’t have to ask her family for a cent; yet Tara still seemed totally resistant to the idea of leaving home. Marianne had grown increasingly frustrated. She knew that there wasn’t a deep bond of affection between Tara and her father, and Tara’s repeated statement that it was for her own good that she stayed with her family had made Marianne see red. She didn’t know what nonsense Maclay had been filling Tara’s head with over the last years but she would be damned if she would see Tara repeat her mother’s mistakes. Marianne had been moved to bluntness, setting aside the gentle tone she had been previously using, and had stated boldly that Elizabeth would have been horrified to think that her ‘golden girl’ had been reduced to this. She had stormed out in high dungeon deliberately leaving the prospectuses behind with the admonition that Tara had to make up her mind within two weeks or the offers would lapse. When Marianne had driven out of sight of the farm house she had cried for ten minutes straight; crying for her dead friend, for her own failure to protect Tara from her father’s emotional abuse, crying for the girl that should have grown up with her mother’s love guiding her.
For twelve heartbreaking days Marianne had jumped at every telephone call and noise in the driveway, constantly chastising herself for being so hard on the girl. She had almost given up hope when there was a quiet knock at her front door. When she opened the door she was faced with a pale and shaking Tara holding what looked like supermarket bags stuffed with clothes and a few books. Automatically taking the brochure that Tara had thrust at her she almost missed the quiet, “I’ve chosen St Louis.” Marianne had wisely restrained her urge to shout in triumph and had contented herself with warm congratulations as she drew Tara in to the house.
Sipping at the now lukewarm tea Marianne quietly sighed. While the last weeks had been promising, Tara’s progress seemed to have stalled. Her twice weekly conversations with Tara had been revealing in what they didn’t include. There had no talk of social activities, or gossip about new friends. Marianne had a genuine concern that Tara was going to classes and coming home each afternoon to sit in her dorm room and waited for sleep. Attending college was not just about academic education; it was a time for Tara to discover who she really was, to meet new people, to maybe even fall in love. Things that were highly unlikely to happen if Tara didn’t leave her room. What she needed was a nice non threatening friend (one who was not old enough to be her mother) to entice her out of her shell. Unfortunately there were only a limited number of people in St Louis that Marianne felt that she could call upon. Anita was out of the question; she would find Tara’s meekness infuriating. The younger members of Richard’s pack were too brash and in the case of Jason, overtly sexual, for Tara to be able to relax around them. Marianne supposed she could call upon Sylvie but Marianne wasn’t sure how she would react to a plea to look after a non-were. That left…well the Ulfric himself. He did owe her a favour and spending time with someone even more emotionally stunted than himself might force him to revaluate his life. Her decision made, Marianne picked up the phone and dialled Richard Zeeman’s private number.