Tara was at the Magic Box when Buffy arrived late the next morning with crossbow and stakes tucked safely in the oversized bag slung over her shoulder.
“Morning, Tara,” the slayer greeted, a bright smile on her face, before walking into the training room and shifting the bag to the ground, preparing to replace the weapons she’d taken the previous evening.
Tara’s brow furrowed as she followed her friend into the training room, closing the door behind her and leaning against it, arms folded tightly across her chest.
“B-Buffy,” she said, “Are you all r-right?”
The smile never faltered as Buffy diverted her attention away from hanging weapons and turned to face her friend. “Right as rain, Tara,” she replied. “How are you doing?”
If Buffy noticed the confusion and disappointment that flashed across Tara’s eyes, she did not acknowledge it. Instead, the witch offered, “You can t-talk to me, B-Buffy.”
A pause. Brief, almost unnoticeable, but it was enough.
“I’m fine, Tara,” Buffy insisted, huffing out a small laugh. “There’s not much to talk about; things are pretty quiet around here.” She placed her hands on her hips. “And come to think of it, it’s really quiet in here, too. Where is everyone?”
Tara wringed her hands together in front of her body, betraying her nervousness. “They’re out patrolling,” she responded.
Buffy raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Patrolling?”
“W-well,” the witch responded, “more like t-tracking. W-when the portal opened, some demons got loose, a-and they didn’t disappear when…it closed.”
It was fairly evident to both women that the phrase when Spike jumped in had been carefully omitted. Their eyes met briefly, and in Buffy’s was a gratitude that she would never speak. The wound was too new to mention in any sort of casual manner exactly what Spike had done. And in that moment, Tara knew, beyond her own understanding, that when the time came, Buffy would speak to her. But talking was best left for later, especially with the promise of hell demons stalking throughout Sunnydale.
“They went without me?” Buffy asked, somewhat incredulous. “But I’m the Slayer. Slaying is kind of my gig, you know?”
A smile touched briefly on Tara’s lips before she continued. “M-Maybe they thought you just needed a b-break,” she offered. When Buffy’s eyes darkened slightly – their tacit agreement suddenly at risk – the witch quickly added, “I-I mean, you just stopped an apocalypse yesterday.”
An uncomfortable moment, and suddenly Buffy turned back to the wall of weapons, unnecessarily fiddling with each, ensuring they were properly aligned. Remembering the forgotten weapons in the bag she’d brought, Buffy turned back around to grab the crossbow, pausing just long enough to run her fingers over it.
“Yeah,” she finally replied, and her voice was quiet. “Yeah, I suppose so.” She hung up the crossbow and stakes before recovering her bag, slinging it over her shoulder. Clearing her throat, she asked, “Did they say when they were going to be back?”
Tara shook her head. “I think before n-nightfall,” she replied. “You sh-should come back before then. I know they w-want to see you.”
Buffy nodded. “Yeah,” she agreed. “Yeah, I’ll do that.” Her quick smile to the witch was tight and forced, and she made her way quickly to the door of the training room. “Guess I’ll see you later, then.” And before Tara could even open her mouth to answer, Buffy had bolted out of the Magic Box and was halfway down the block.
The knock on her door was soft, the accompanying voice calling her name even more so. When Dawn ignored the request for entry, another knock sounded, this time more forceful and insistent. And her sister’s voice again, a little more stern than she would have thought.
“Come on, Dawnie,” Buffy said. “I’m the Slayer. It’s not like it would be hard for me to break down this door.”
Groaning, as though her movement was the greatest inconvenience in the entirety of human existence, Dawn rolled off of her bed and padded to the door, unlocking and opening it a crack, settling back onto her bed before Buffy had walked a step into the room.
Pulling the chair from her sister’s desk, Buffy sat, her elbows resting on her thighs and fingers laced together, hands hanging loosely between her parted knees. She drew a deep breath, sighed it out, and dove in, hoping that this time something could stick.
“Dawnie,” she began, her voice low, “I think we need to talk.”
“I don’t want to talk about Spike.”
She opened her mouth to respond, but something in the tone of Dawn’s voice lent her pause. A simple, barely-noticeable waver, a slight break on the vampire’s name. The contempt that had laced the teenager’s words only a day before was now replaced with nothing more than trepidation. And Buffy realized that her Watcher had been right; Dawn simply needed time.
Nodding, Buffy continued. “Dawn…we never really got to talk about what’s going to happen now that…mom’s gone,” she finished quietly. “I…after mom died--” The words stuck in her throat a little less every time she said them -- “Giles helped me file paperwork to become your legal guardian.”
The subject had never actually come up between the two sisters, but Dawn did not seem surprised. Instead, she simply nodded her acceptance. “So, you’ll be like my new mom?”
Buffy blinked in surprise before shaking her head. “I don’t want to be.” Before the teenager could retort, she continued, “I’m still your sister, Dawn, and that’s never going to change. But now…things are going to be a little different. And I know it’s going to be kind of weird.” Her lips quirked into a small smile. “I know you never really listened to me as a sister, but sometimes I really need you to listen to me as a mom. I want…I want us to stay together as a family, okay?”
Again, Dawn nodded, but still did not move from the bed. Instead, Buffy rose, placing the chair back at the desk. “I have to patrol tonight,” she said, “but Willow and Tara are coming over to stay with you.” On an impulse, she walked to her sister and ran a hand down the length of her hair. “Is that okay? Or would you rather go to Xander and Anya’s?”
Dawn shook her head in reply, sending Buffy’s hand back to her side. “It’s okay,” she said. Then, more hesitantly, “But…are you okay to patrol?”
Buffy grinned. “I’ve had a lot worse, Dawnie. I’ll be fine.”
A smile began to form on the teenager’s lips, but retreated just as quickly. At least it was a start. Buffy crossed to the door and opened it, pausing only when Dawn’s voice sounded quietly from the bed behind her.
“Buffy…I don’t hate him.”
Her eyes locked on the empty hallway in front of her, Buffy replied just as quietly, “I don’t either,” before leaving her sister’s bedroom, readying to change from the role of sister to that of Slayer.
Rolling her neck in an attempt to loosen the tightened muscles there, Buffy huffed out a sigh as she began to walk home. She hadn’t expected to find much in the way of Sunnydale’s fanged population, and her sweeps of the local cemeteries had therefore been brief and ceremonial. She had, however, managed to slay the demon her Watcher had been tracking throughout most of the day – but not before it had taken her on a sprint through the greater part of Sunnydale.
She hadn’t realized exactly how far across town she’d ended up until the pounding bassline of an unfamiliar song filled her ears, and Buffy raised her head to find that her walk back home had taken her by the Bronze.
The door had been left propped open, and she could see the teenagers of Sunnydale dancing inside, oblivious, as always, to any goings on in the outside world. Walking into the Bronze meant leaving everything at the door, dancing a catharsis under flashing lights and the ever-present smell of alcohol. She could see her smiling, laughing peers, and Buffy suddenly wanted to do nothing more than enter the club and dance the night away.
Taking a few steps towards the open doorway, she paused with a frown. Two things were stopping her from entering the club. First and foremost was Dawn. Her sister as a concept. She didn’t know when it had happened, precisely, but somewhere along the line, Buffy had acknowledged and accepted exactly what it meant to be the Slayer. The people dancing, blissfully ignorant of her nightly efforts to protect them, were becoming less and less her peers and more and more her wards. That she was now the sole guardian of her little sister left even less room for spontaneity. Dawn was expecting her home; she would not stray tonight.
The other, which she was less ready to admit, was that the Bronze held too many memories – too many shadows from her past. Angel still lurked in some dark corner of the club, always waiting for his moment to enter, while she could always find Riley near the bar, nursing a beer while playing a game of pool. And if she listened closely enough, she could hear Spike’s clapping echoing in the alleyway.
Shaking her head, Buffy picked up speed, walking past the Bronze and towards her house on Revello Drive. She forced her mind onto the mundane to keep her thoughts in strict control, running over the lyrics of pop songs she hadn’t heard in years, doing simple arithmetic, even playing an admittedly very easy game of I-Spy.
And they had worked, for the most part, until she’d reached her front porch. Once she reached her porch, she felt the dust of some nameless, forgotten vampire swirling around her, and Spike’s accompanying voice declaring lowly, He won’t get a chance to tattle on us now.
Trudging forward, her hands trembling slightly as she pulled out her key to unlock the door, Buffy pushed the door open and stepped over the threshold into the entryway, her lips parting to whisper in tandem with Spike’s echoing voice, “Presto. No barrier.”
She was broken from her reverie by Willow’s voice calling her name from the kitchen. Buffy locked the door and went to meet her friend, hoping that Spike would not follow her there, and wishing he would.
Dawn was asleep – she’d checked personally, cracking the door enough to poke her head inside the teenager’s room – and Willow and Tara had left minutes before, after reminding Buffy of their impending coffee date.
Pulling on her sushi pajamas, Buffy sighed as she sat on the bed, lost amidst her tangled thoughts and worries. Her talk with Dawn earlier in the evening had gone surprisingly well, better than she had originally hoped, yet the words she’d said had worried her. She’d asked Dawn to listen to her as a mother; and simply put, Buffy just was not ready to step into the role of mother figure for her little sister. She felt that at twenty years of age she was still a child herself.
She had no choice in the matter – Dawn was much too important – but she had help. She was quite sure of that. Giles, certainly, as well as the rest of the Scooby gang. Aside from their group of six, however, there was no one else to help with Dawn; especially worrisome was the knowledge that Buffy was in fact the only one strong enough to protect her sister from the worst that Sunnydale had to offer.
There had been another, but he had jumped to save a world that had not shown him his share of kindness. She could admit that now.
Buffy crossed her room to her closet and rummaged through the hangers, finding the leather duster draped in the back. Pulling it out, she clutched it tightly to her form and allowed Spike’s scent to surround her. For several minutes she stood, unmoving, fingers clinging into hard, worn leather,
She had tried, and she would certainly continue to do so. This morning she had tried her hardest to stay as normal as possible, as though Glory and her aftermath had never occurred; that the events of several days ago had been nothing more than a routine patrol. Tara had noticed instantly, and she hadn’t been around the others long enough to field their reactions.
She had tried, and would continue to do so, because Buffy didn’t know if she could do anything else. She felt strangely disjointed since their battle with Glory, and the only thing she could do was to pretend that everything was as it had always been – was normal – while clinging desperately to the hope that maybe someday they would be again.
Hanging up the duster, Buffy felt something inside begin to ache.
A/N: I wrote and posted a one-shot, entitled “Recalibration.” If you have a minute and are interested in S6 canon Spike and Buffy, then check it out.
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