Chapter Notes:

I think we're due for a break from the craziness, so let's just kick back at the Summers house for a while.


Chapter 24: Resident Strangers

January – February, 2001

From the journal of Dawn Summers

So things have started getting weird around here. Not that it hasn't always been weird. I mean, Buffy lives here. Weird sort of comes with the territory. But lately, we've upgraded our weird. I sometimes wonder if there's some kind of mystical, spooky, unwritten rule that says a slayer and a vampire shouldn't live in the same house for too long. It's a confluence of two special kinds of weird, and the world will probably blow up or something.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the Council has a rule about that stuff. They had to have covered “Don't marry a vampire” somewhere in their giant handbook. And if they didn't, they probably should.

Of course, I'm still trying to figure that whole wedding thing out. Why on earth did they do that? I mean, I watch those two fight in the backyard pretty often, and I can say for certain they put all those domestic violence PSAs to shame. None of those ads feature a married couple that beats the crap out of each other that severely... especially for fun. And fun is definitely part of the equation. They argue, they crack jokes, and they pummel each other... while smiling. Slayers and vampires are very strange creatures. Especially together.

But around here, the fighting and stuff is sort of normal. (Scary, right?) The weird part is that it suddenly stopped. They did this hibernation thing for her birthday, and now everything is different. No more arguments. No more backyard fights. Less joking around. They don't act like they're mad at each other, or anything like that. They're still nice to each other (mostly), and they still talk to each other. They're just much more calm now. And it's starting to make me question my “world blowing up” theory. Maybe all the yelling and punching and bickering and laughing is what keeps the end of the world at bay, and the calm is what brings it.

All I know for sure is that I don't like the calm. Constant Buffy and Spike craziness and chaos was more fun. Chaos was more comfortable. Chaos was Buffy and Spike. I'm not really sure what calm is. I hope they get over whatever it is soon.

The other big weird thing this week is our new housemate. Tara just moved in. I'm not stupid, I get why having her here helps with their plans. But I overheard most of the conversation where Buffy and Spike were getting Mom's permission... and it was way too easy. Mom agreed to it really fast. Part of me wants to believe she did it for me, part of me thinks she's starting to get into the Scooby spirit, wanting to help with “the mission,” and part of me thinks it was a little bit for herself, too. She likes Tara, and something about Tara moving into Buffy's old room makes her smile. She's been coming upstairs all day, poking her head into the room to watch Tara settle in and offering to help.

Tara keeps turning her down. The only help she allowed was Buffy, having her take down her old posters and pictures, and clear more of her stuff out of there. Buffy's move to the basement was kinda gradual. She moved things down there a little at a time, as she needed them, until all the stuff left upstairs was stuff she didn't use much. One of Mom's visits was while Buffy was tossing all the pictures from the bulletin board and mirror frame into a shoe box. Mom looked a little sad when she passed my bedroom door after that one. She wasn't smiling as much. Sometimes, I really don't get grown ups.

*~*~*

Dawn came to the doorway of the blue bedroom and looked around. Buffy's old posters had been replaced with brightly colored, abstract art prints. The vanity had been emptied of Buffy's piles of old make up and costume jewelry, replaced with Tara's modest collection of make up and hair care supplies, with room left for it to be used as a small desk. A little cup of pens and a notebook were already sitting on top. A low bookcase had been placed below the window. It was completely filled, with the overflow stacked on top and more books on the lower shelf of the nightstand. A framed picture of Tara and Willow together sat on top of the nightstand with the lamp and a purple alarm clock. Another framed photo, of a woman Dawn didn't recognize, hung on the wall over the bulletin board where Buffy's collection of Scooby snapshots used to live. She invited herself into the room to study it.

Tara turned from the closet, where she had been shoving clothes around, to address her visitor. She put her hand over the phone wedged between her head and shoulder long enough to explain, “My mom.”

While Dawn nodded in acknowledgment, Tara turned her attention back to her phone call. “Don't get so worked up about it, sweetie. It isn't like she's ignoring you. She called, didn't she?” There was a pause, and then a sigh. “I agree, twenty minutes isn't exactly a binge girl talk, but it's not ignoring you, either. I'll ask her to call you again this week, ok? ...I love you, too. ...Goodnight.” She ended the phone call and returned the phone to its cradle. “So what do you think?”

“It looks good in here.” Dawn gave the room a look of approval. “It's definitely neater than it was when it was Buffy's. But then, it's still sort of Buffy's. Unless you want to live with her weapons chest and her old clothes.”

Tara laughed and sat down on the bed. “I won't have to, not for long. Spike's trying to talk your mom into letting them move the weapons to the living room, and Buffy's going to get the rest of her clothes out of here soon. Most of what's still up here is probably going to charity. Have you started spring cleaning your closet yet?”

Dawn wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. No. It's way too early for that. Maybe in a few weeks. But Buffy should do hers early, so you have room for your stuff.”

“I have enough closet space for now. I can wait.”

“Where's all the witchy stuff?”

“Under the bed.” Tara looked worried. “You're not thinking of getting into my supplies, are you?”

“Just curious.” Dawn turned the vanity chair to face the bed and sat down, looking around the room again. “But can I ask you something about it?”

“Sure.”

“Did you do something to Buffy and Spike?”

Tara's eyes widened. “Um, what makes you think I did?”

“Ok, so that look is definitely a 'yes.' It was on her birthday, wasn't it? When they slept for like a day and a half? They've been all civil and quiet ever since then. It's not normal.”

Tara took a moment to gather her thoughts before answering. “Yes, I did something to them. But it was something they asked me to do. I really can't tell you more than that. ...And you shouldn't ask them, either. It's a ...a personal sort of thing. They'll tell you when they're ready.”

“Hmm.” Dawn thought about that answer for a minute. “It isn't permanent, is it? They're going to be yelling and fighting and stuff again soon, right?”

“Maybe. At least a little. The spell I did will wear off gradually. Unfortunately, by the time they get completely back to normal, they'll probably be asking me to do the spell again.”

“I can't ask why, can I?”

Tara shook her head. “I'm sorry, Dawnie.”

“Then maybe you can tell me something else. …How far ahead of time did you guys know Glory was going to come to the house?”

Tara squeaked in surprise. “Um... What do you mean?”

“The morning after you stayed over downstairs, Buffy and Spike were talking about their battle plans, and they talked about having some sort of protection on the house, but not putting it up, just having it ready, so they wouldn't 'tip their hand.' I didn't think too much about it at the time, but the other day, when we were packing up your dorm room, Buffy used that phrase again, talking about Glory. And then you two came over here ahead of us, and had the wards on the house completely done by the time we got here... Like you had it ready.”

Tara bit her lip, but had no reply.

“So you can't tell me what's up with that, either.” Dawn sighed. “I'm not a baby, Tara. I can handle knowing what's going on. All of this Glory stuff is mostly about me, after all.”

“Dawnie, no one is saying you're a baby.”

“So you guys don't trust me. Is that it?”

“No, sweetie. It's not that we don't trust you. We do, all of us.” Tara took a deep breath. “I'll tell you what; I'll talk to Buffy, let her know you want to know what's going on. But you have to promise you won't push the issue, ok? Like the thing that made them sleep, they'll have to talk to you about that stuff when they're ready.”

Dawn hesitated, her eyes drifting to the bed skirt, wondering was what hidden behind it.

“Please, Dawnie? Part of being a grown up is respecting people's privacy, accepting what is and isn't yours to know. Right now, this stuff isn't yours. Can we trust you not to snoop?”

“If you can, does that mean you'll trust me with the other stuff?”

“Eventually.”

“Alright.” Dawn sighed, relenting. “I promise not to push, and not to snoop.”

“Thank you.”

“Can I ask you one more thing?”

“Sure, but I may not be able to give you an answer.”

Dawn furrowed her brow. “You know, Buffy said almost the exact same thing to me once, right after she told me where I came from.” She shook her head. “Why is Mom so excited about you moving in?”

“Because she wants to help, I think. This is just a part of the decoy plan, Dawnie. It makes sense for me to be close to --”

Tara was cut off by Joyce's voice, calling from the bottom of the stairs. “Girls! Dinner's ready!”

Dawn chuckled. “It's been a while since she's gotten to say that. Buffy and I aren't usually upstairs together at dinner time anymore.”

“And there's that. I think your mom's been feeling a little bit like the nest was getting empty.”

“She didn't lose a daughter, Tara. She gained a vampire. ...Wait. They aren't planning on moving out, are they? Like, after they kick Glory's butt?”

“No, I don't think they have any intention of leaving. But a married daughter two floors away with her husband isn't the same as having a single daughter across the hall.” Tara's gaze drifted to the photo of her own mother. “I don't mind standing in. It's been a while since anyone wanted to be a mom to me.”

*~*~*

From the journal of Dawn Summers

I think we can call Tara officially settled in. I think we can call all five of us settled in, actually. Buffy's old room is Tara's now, and everyone's gotten used to calling it that. We've gotten into a routine too. Mom takes me to school. Anya or Lydia ditch the Magic Box long enough to bring me home, unless I'm going over to Janice's, in which case, Spike comes to pick me up from there after sunset. I like our walks together. He's always telling me stories, and asking about my day, and joking around. It's fun. More than once, I've pretended to not remember I need to run to the store for a new notebook or something until the sun is setting, so we can have another walk.

It's not like we don't talk at home, too. We do. But I lucked out on the escort arrangement, big time. I know I wouldn't be having nearly as much fun if I was stuck with Buffy, like Tara is. I'm going to take advantage of it. Besides, when Spike and Buffy are home and awake at the same time, “the calm” seems to affect the whole house. I don't think anyone feels quite right when they're just hanging out, sometimes barely even talking. It's not tense, but it's not totally comfortable, either. I guess we just got used to the way things were with them, all noisy and chaotic. I never thought I'd miss the arguing. But I think I do.

Tara and Buffy, on the other hand, talk constantly. I think I totally called it on New Year's Eve, when Willow was griping about Tara, like she was Buffy's new BFF. 'Cause I think she might be. You'd think, since Buffy goes pretty much everywhere with Tara -even auditing her classes- they'd be sick of each other, and not talk much at home. Nope. I think Buffy spends more time in Tara's room than she did when that room was hers. Some days, it's like they're having an endless sleepover party, except for when there's actual sleeping (since Buffy lives downstairs) and when Tara kicks Buffy out so she can study or have a phone date with Willow.

And I finally found out what it was that Tara and Willow were talking about when I stopped by Tara's room last Saturday. So the deal is, Buffy promised Willow a bunch of long phone calls, like the kind I have with Janice when Mom doesn't know I'm staying up late. And the follow through on that promise has been kind of weak. They're talking, but it's not super often, and the calls are under half an hour. I remember when Buffy would talk to Willow for hours on end at night, calls long enough to put me and Janice to shame.

Maybe it's because they aren't teenagers anymore. Maybe it's because Buffy's all married and stuff now (not that Willow knows that), and is trying to be a grown up. Maybe it's just because the schedule is so weird around here now, and there aren't a lot of good opportunities to call.

'Cause let me tell you, “the schedule” is a phrase that gets used a lot these days. I don't think Buffy had to schedule stuff this much when she was trying to be a slayer and a high school student at the same time. And I know for a fact living on a schedule isn't something Spike is used to. It's kind of impressive that they're managing it. Neither one of them is flaking out, forgetting when and where they're supposed to be, oversleeping, or anything like that.

Spike goes to sleep as soon as Mom and I leave in the mornings. By that time, Buffy's up and getting ready to leave with Tara. He rolls out of bed by the time we start coming back, so he's on guard duty in the house until it gets dark outside. If Buffy and Tara aren't going to be home right after me, Buffy calls to check in. Then, after dark, one of them will stay home while the other patrols. A lot of nights, Buffy will run an early patrol, and Spike will run a late one, coming back after Buffy's gone to bed, and hanging out until we're leaving again in the morning.

It's an endless cycle of tag-team guard duty. At least one of them is almost always home and awake. Buffy stays where Tara is, whenever possible. Spike does the same for me, with daytime help from Mom and the Scoobies. Weekends are easier, so far. Everyone is home. Any errands or shopping can be done without too much scheduling. Everyone even eats dinner at the same time on the weekends, which isn't always the case during the week.

Well, there are two exceptions to that. Spike joins us for dinner most nights, but he never eats much. He's in it for the flavor, not the fuel, so he just sort of nibbles and samples things. Yeah, the guy who calls me “Nibblet” habitually nibbles at his food. I'm not sure if that's funny, ironic, or just makes “Nibblet” an even creepier nickname than it was before he moved in and I learned his eating habits. Riley once said the chip in Spike's head is a prototype, that it could fail. Given that, I should probably be nervous about hanging out with the evil, fangy nibbler. But I'm not. I seriously doubt my brother in law would put this much time into protecting me if he thought of me as food.

The other exception is when I have a sleepover at Janice's. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with the family, but sometimes it's really nice to forget the schedule and the calm for a night, to forget that at least one of the super people is probably pacing the floor at home while I'm away, and just be me, hanging out with a friend, dishing about what Brandon said in art class, laughing about Stacey's crazy sense of fashion, and taking quizzes from Seventeen magazine while we paint our toenails in bright colors. You know, normal girl stuff.

I think I'm starting to get why Buffy used to have those long, late night calls with Willow when they were in high school, and tried to hide from Mom that she was a slayer for so long. It's good to remember that not everyone is keeping pig's blood in the fridge, weapons stashed in their bedrooms, and plotting to save the world. And it's fun to pretend the world is just like non- Scooby types think it is sometimes. But it's only pretend, and you can't do that forever.

Eventually, you have to come home to reality. I'm just glad I figured that out faster than Buffy did. Maybe my teen years won't suck like hers did. If the slayer, the witch, and the vampire have any say in it, they won't. At the very least, I'll be alive to find out. It's kind of comforting, knowing that, even if they are still holding out on me about the details.

Some days, I really wish I hadn't promised Tara not to snoop. But I'm not stupid enough to break that promise. If I snooped, whatever I found out would be all I'd find out. They'd never trust me with anything again, and all the effort I'm putting in to not mentioning to anyone that Buffy and Spike are married would be totally wasted. I'd be the “blabbermouth kid” -and kept out of all the adult and Scooby stuff- forever. No way do I want that. If keeping my mouth shut and not digging for the rest of their secrets is my ticket to being a real Scooby, then that's exactly what I'm going to do.

*~*~*

Tara wrinkled her nose and put down the glass. “Oh! That's awful! What's in that?”

Joyce frowned at the cocktail recipe book on the counter beside her. “It's supposed to be sweet.”

Spike picked up Tara's glass and gave it a cautious sip. “Hell, that's as bitter as Buffy on a bad day. Mum, I think you left out the simple syrup.”

“Oh. Oops. ...See? This is why you're supposed to help, so I don't forget things.”

Tara slid off her stool. “Sorry, Joyce. I have a paper to write, and I really should get back to it.”

“It's alright dear. I understand. Homework is important.”

Xander walked into the kitchen in time to hear Joyce's last sentence. “No, homework is evil. That's why I gave it up.”

Spike scoffed, “The way Buffy tells it, you gave up homework long before they gave you a diploma.”

“True,” Anya said, entering behind her boyfriend. “Ooh! Cocktails!”

Tara pushed the glass toward her. “Taste at your own risk. Joyce forgot the syrup.”

“You know, you could stop pointing out my failures and help me try again,” Joyce pouted.

Tara waved as she left the room. “Sorry! Homework calls!”

Spike nodded to Xander. “Sorry, Mum. It's Wednesday. We're headed out.”

Anya took a sip of the drink and immediately set it down. “That's terrible! Where's Buffy?”

“Downstairs,” Joyce answered, watching as everyone left the kitchen. She was still looking around the suddenly quiet room when Spike came back to the doorway.

“Tomorrow night. Try this one again?”

She gave him a grateful smile. “It's a date.”

“G'night, Mum.”

“Goodnight, Spike.” She called after him as he went down the hall. “And try to stay out of trouble!”

*~*~*

Anya kicked her feet up on the side of the bed and dropped her head against the faded rug. “Purple, I think. Something deep and rich. Like eggplant, maybe?”

Buffy matched her pose, staring at the unfinished basement ceiling with her. “Giles would have your head.”

“He left me in charge of the shop. That extends to painting the office, right?”

“I'll bring purple flowers to your funeral.”

“So you think he'll come back?”

Buffy shrugged against the rugs. “At least to check on his investment. I mean, I doubt he thinks you're going to run it into the ground, but I'm sure he'll do an occasional check-in.”

“You're probably right.” Anya fell silent for a moment, letting her thoughts wander. “What do you think he'll say when he finds out?”

“Finds out what?”

“That his slayer has a chosen mate.”

Buffy turned to look at her friend with wide eyes. “Tara told you?”

“She didn't have to. You do know where she orders her supplies, right? Some of those ingredients aren't exactly common. I've been around long enough to know what reluctant pairs need to keep themselves under control.” She shuddered. “I don't envy you, taking a potion with Flower of Norggran in it. Foul-smelling stuff.”

“It wasn't too bad, once it was mixed in. Tara put a little mint in the potion, to make it go down easier. ...Tell me you haven't told Xander.”

Anya shook her head and turned her gaze back to the ceiling. “I've also been around long enough to know that claim-related stuff is supposed to be private, kept in the family.”

“Thank you.”

“But can I ask who voted for stinky Flower of Norggran over actually going through with it?”

Buffy sighed. “That would be me.” She fidgeted with her necklace. “World's worst girlfriend.”

“Nope. Sorry, Buffy. That title is mine.”

“What did you do?” She pulled her feet from the edge of the bed and sat up, looking worried.

“It's not what I did, exactly. It's what I thought.” Anya screwed up her mouth. “Stupid human stuff, you know? I get paranoid, and emotional, and think maybe I'm the one who needs a scorned woman's wish granted... over nothing.”

Buffy pivoted on the rug to lean her back against the side of the bed. “Tell me.”

“I thought Xander was in love with you.”

“There was some puppy dog crush stuff in high school, Ahn, but that's about it.”

“No, I was sure he was still carrying a torch.”

“But you don't think so anymore?”

“Well, obviously it wouldn't matter now, since you and Spike want to get all bitey with each other. It's a safe bet you aren't ever going to be looking for a new orgasm buddy, like ever again.” Anya sighed. “But no, I don't. Not now. Not when Xander's hanging out with Spike, and talking about you guys like you're a long-term thing, even though he doesn't know you're chosen mates. It wasn't like that when you were with Riley. Back then, he would say things like 'when those two eventually break up,' and 'I don't know how much longer they can make it work.' It was like he wanted it to be temporary, like he was waiting on his chance to make a move with you.”

“I think that's less about me and Spike, and more about you. Xan's in love with you, like totally.”

“Do you think that's new? Like, maybe it took him a while to get from seeing me as someone to have sex with to someone he loves?”

Buffy wrinkled her nose. “I'm not sure what you're getting at. Xan's loved you for a long time.”

“But over the last few months, we've stopped fighting about my demon stories, and he asked me to move in, and he's not looking at you the same way. ...I'm not jealous of you anymore, 'cause he's not making me.”

“Maybe he's finally really appreciating what he has.” Buffy fidgeted with her necklace again and let her gaze wander around the basement bedroom. “And for the record, if being insecure makes you the world's worst girlfriend, we're still vying for the title.”

“Pfft! What do you know? You've got so much relationship security, you drank a stinky potion to have less of it.”

“If only it were that simple.”

And you let Spike get away with flirting with waitresses. Lydia, too.”

“It's not the relationship that I'm insecure about, exactly...” She gave Anya a warm smile. “You're so easy to talk to. I wish --”

“Buffy!” Anya admonished, wagging her finger. “Watch your mouth!”

Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Since when did D'Hoffryn give you a new amulet?”

“He didn't. It's the principle of it. You know better than to say things like that, missy.”

Buffy studied the reproachful expression on her friend's face, and burst into laughter. “Yes, ma'am!”

Anya's frown broke into a fit of giggles. “Am I showing my age?”

“A little bit. But that's ok. I'm used to hanging out with demon fogies.”

“Good. Get comfortable. You're going to be among us one day. You know, when you quit having Tara drug you up with mint-flavored Flower of Norggran.”
“I hope so.” Buffy looked like she wanted to say more, but she suddenly jerked her head in the direction of the staircase. “Shh! Super Ears is home. And he probably brought Xander back from the bar with him.”

“So much for talking about them.”

“So eggplant, huh?”

Anya nodded against the rug as Spike and Xander came down the basement stairs. “The way I see it, so much of the walls are covered in bulletin boards and bookshelves, it won't be overwhelming. I bet Giles won't even notice the color right away.”

Spike shook his head at the sight of the two women on the floor, surrounded by empty ice cream bowls, potato chip bags, and Coke cans. Two empty glasses and a half-empty bottle of rum were on his nightstand. “Had fun, did you?”

Xander followed his gaze to the bottle. “Ahn, you were supposed to stay sober enough to drive us home. Now what are we going to do? I have to have the car in the morning.”

Buffy and Anya pointed at Spike. “Vampire,” they said together.

“He's probably the least drunk.” Anya sat up and pulled her car keys out of her pocket. She tossed them to Spike. “Or at least the best drunk driver.”

Spike pulled her to her feet. “Some nights, I think I'm just convenient to you lot,” he grumbled.

“Nope,” Buffy said with a grin, standing to join them. “Just the best undead taxi service in town.”

He rolled his eyes as he followed their guests up the stairs. “Bloody lush.”

“But I'm your bloody lush!” she called after him.

“Don't remind me!”

*~*~*

“So is Willow still liking her classes?” Joyce asked, when there was a lull in the dinner conversation.

Tara wiped her lips with her napkin. “ So far. She seems to be getting a lot out of it. She says her instructors are really nice, and none of them treat her like a novice. She was afraid they would. Like, talk down to her and make her feel like she doesn't know anything? She says everyone is treated like an equal there, like they're there to learn from each other. It sounds like a very nice environment, exactly what she needs.”

“Buffy?” Joyce asked, when no one added to the conversation. “What has Willow told you about her training?”

There was an awkward silence. “Umm... Not much. Just that she's busy, you know? Lots of meditating, and tutoring, and... stuff.”

Dawn, Tara, and Spike traded glances across the table in the next tense silence. He jumped in to pull the focus from Buffy. “Red getting out to fill up that photo album she was planning to fool her folks?”

“A little,” Tara answered in relief. “She and Bryn are planning some day trips to various towns and historical sites. In the meantime, Willow's taking snapshots of the countryside when she goes out for walks. She's going to use them as filler photos, to make the rest of the album seem bigger.”

Dawn piped up to keep the conversation going. “Is she going to go up to Hadrian's Wall?”

“In the spring. It's a long drive, so that might be a weekend trip.”

Joyce put her napkin on the table and stood up. “Buffy, will you help me get dessert, please?”

Buffy followed her mother into the kitchen. “Ooh! Blueberry cobbler!”

Dawn quietly made her way to the doorway behind them, listening just out of sight.

Her mother did not look happy. “Don't change the subject. It's very cute, the four of you, thick as thieves, sneaking looks around the table when you think I'm not paying attention, trying to cover for each other whenever one of you has messed something up. I told you I'm not a fool, Buffy.”

“I don't know what you mean.”

“You know exactly what I mean. You told me not to worry about you and Willow, that you promised her lots of phone calls while she was away. She's been gone for well over a month. How much have you talked to her?”

Buffy looked meek. “Four times.”

“They weren't very long calls, were they?”

“No.”

Joyce sighed. “Honey, you need to keep that promise. You need your friends. Especially if--” She lowered her voice to a faint whisper. “Especially if I can't be there for you.” She shook her head, letting her voice come back up just enough for Dawn to hear it. “I know things aren't how they were, but I don't want you to fall into the trap a lot of young married girls fall into. They let their friendships wither on the vine, and suddenly find they aren't there when they need them. I did that, and I eventually found myself divorced with two kids, and no one to lean on but my sister, who lives halfway across the country.”

“Mom, I'm not going to end up divorced with two kids. I promise.”

“Don't get smart with me, young lady. You need to nurture your friendships.”

Buffy gestured toward the dining room and opened her mouth to speak, but her mother held up a hand to stop her.

“The ones outside this house. Tara's too close. Maybe Willow is exactly who you need to talk about whatever it is that's not right between you and Spike.”

“Spike and I are fine, Mom. Really.”

“That sounds a lot like the empty assurances I got from him.” Joyce studied her daughter's face. “Are you sure, honey? It's gotten awfully peaceful around here lately, and I'm not sure that's a good thing. I know you aren't getting much time together with this new schedule...”

“It's not the schedule. It's... It's fine. Cross my heart.”

“But you'll talk to Willow, anyway?”

“I'll try.”

Dawn took the rattle of bowls being pulled from the cabinet as a cue that the conversation was ending, and slipped back to her chair at the dining table. “Well, I think Buffy's going to live.”

Spike raised an eyebrow at her. “I bloody well hope so.”

“But it might be at the cost of the phone bill. You know, even more than the phone dates are already costing.”

Tara glanced at Spike. “I don't think that will be a problem, Dawnie.”

*~*~*

From the journal of Dawn Summers

...Janice was a little jealous about it. She and I always have lunch together. We sit with different groups on different days, but we're always together. She wasn't invited to Brandon's table, and I think she felt left out. If Brandon invites me again, I'll have to ask if Janice can join us. Maybe she'll like one of his friends. Ooh! Maybe there could be a double date in the future. I mean, not a real date, or anything. Both of our moms are anti-dating until we're 15, and I've got a scary vampire standing over my shoulder all the time, besides. But meeting up at the mall or something is possible. Ronnie is kind of cute. Maybe I can play matchmaker for him and Janice...

So I'm apparently not the only one who has noticed the calm. Mom confronted Buffy about it, while she was chewing her out for not talking to Willow more. I get being a little worried about them. I'm right there with her. But what I don't get is Mom worrying about Willow. I don't think Buffy really misses her all that much. They barely talked most of last semester. There isn't that much to miss.

Besides, Buffy's got herself a new witchy BFF, whether she's saying so or not. And she hangs out with Anya occasionally, too. I bet I know what they talk about. It isn't an accident that Buffy tries to keep me away from their conversations, and it isn't a secret that Anya loves to talk about sex.

Mom did say one thing when she was ragging on Buffy that kinda stuck with me. She talked about the four of us -me, Buffy, Spike, and Tara- like we're sort of a single unit. She said we're“thick as thieves.” I think that's her generation's way of saying we're tight. I guess she's right. I mean, I always feel like I'm out on the edges, like the super people (since Tara's a witch, I guess that's sort of all three of them) are keeping me out of the loop on some things. Tara's even admitted they're keeping secrets. But when it comes to home stuff, to family stuff, I'm always in it with them. Those are secrets I know.

I know about the wedding and the near silence between Buffy and Willow, obviously. I know that Tara still has bad nights sometimes, and will spend hours on the couch talking to Spike while he's on nighttime guard duty. I know Buffy misses college sometimes, and almost likes auditing Tara's classes. I know that when Spike bought me and Buffy chocolate cupcakes when we ended the Cold War of the Cashier's Check, Buffy kept the tiny, plastic“thank you” flag that was on top of hers. I threw my flag away with the cupcake wrapper. I don't know why she kept hers.

*~*~*

“'Morning,” Buffy greeted, stepping out onto the back porch.

Spike looked up at the sky as she sat down beside him. “Almost. Up a bit early, aren't you?”

“Nightmare.”

“Wanna talk about it?”

“TTFN.” She nodded to the corner of the yard.

He looked in the same direction, understanding. “Chloe. Been a while since you've had that one.”

“How have yours been?”

“The usual. Old victims, being chained up in a cave, things like that.”

“The tower?”

He sighed. “At least twice a week, lately.”

They sat in silence for a long time, watching the sky gradually growing lighter in advance of the rising sun.

She took his hand. “Maybe it would have been easier if we'd come back blind, without so many bad memories to wake us up at weird hours.”

“Wouldn't know the job then, love. Probably wouldn't prevent it.” He turned to look at her. “That's not what you're wishing for, is it?”

Buffy shook her head. “I really am over it, Spike. I promise. ...But the first time around, right now, it didn't feel like this. Fuzzy-brained and kind of numb.” She looked down at their joined hands and sighed. “Disconnected. And seriously confused about it.”

“You saying life was simpler when you hated me?”

“I think that goes without saying.” She threw him a smirk. “And I sort of didn't. And I sort of knew you didn't hate me, either. It wasn't exactly simple, and I was kind of tangled up in my gut about it, but it was still clearer than... now.” Her voice dropped to a whisper as she looked at the sky. “I think I hate this, Sparky.”

“That makes two of us.”

They slipped back into silence.

As the first hints of sunlight crept over the horizon, Spike sighed. “Much as I enjoy having a little porch time with you, love, I don't fancy burning up from a ray of sunlight while you hold my hand.”

She stood up, using their joined hands to bring him with her. “Go, get some sleep. I'll see you tonight.”

He kissed the back of her hand before breaking away. “I miss you.”

“I know.”





Please login or register to review.