Willow had been gone for a few days and the Summers household settled into an uneasy peace. Tara had retreated into herself and barely managed to function. Buffy was still prone to hiding in her shrine and obsessively re-reading Spike’s journals, finding new nuances to Spike that she had never let herself see when he had been in front of her begging for attention.
She barely ate and only interacted with Dawn. Their relationship was slowly rebuilding and there was less of the teen angst and dramas and a more quiet, mature Dawn. Patrolling had become a distant memory; she had neither the energy nor the strength to fight. With Giles gone, there was no one there to hold her or the others together. Their stabilising influence was currently living in Bath with no intentions of returning.
For the first two nights Dawn had insisted on sleeping with Buffy. The teen had been terrified that Willow might try to do something to her or her sister. But after Anya’s phone call and promise that all of them were safe from Willow’s interference, Dawn had calmed down enough to sleep in her own room again. Leaving Buffy to her silent conversations with Spike and reading her way through the century of experiences that created the vampire she had loved and lost.
“Look Wills, as much as I want to help, Tara doesn’t want to see you. I did ask. Why don’t you try the campus.” Xander sent a mental apology to Tara, but Willow’s constant begging for help was turning him grey. If he wore a pair of glasses he would be polishing them and pinching the arch of his nose.
“Did you wait for her this morning and tell her I was sorry?” Willow grabbed his arm and stopped him from getting up from the research table and escaping to Anya. Her eyes had a feverishness to them that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.
Xander looked down into the thin face of his friend and wondered where it all went wrong. She had been the sweetest girl, ever a cheery point in his otherwise miserable childhood. Always there to pick him up and put him back together after his parents had ripped him to shreds.
Now he was trying to very clumsily put her back together, but he could see the hungry and angst ridden look in her eyes. He was failing spectacularly. Silently, Xander thanked Anya for making sure that they were all protected from Willow's magicks. He had felt her trying to get into his mind several times since they had taken her in and the physical evidence of Willow's nosebleeds had underlined his suspicions. Xander also knew from what Anya had whispered to him in the darkness of the night that Willow had been continuously spell casting on the girls in Revello Drive. It all sickened him and more importantly, frightened the pants off him.
"Xander, did you hear what I said?" Willow's voice had a hint of a whine to it, something she had never had before.
Xander looked down into the sweet face he'd known all his life, and was surprised. She looked haggard, great big black rings under her eyes and lines on her forehead and ridging the sides of her mouth, pulling it down into an angry curve. She looked half starved and ready for a meltdown. He resisted the urge to grab Anya and run for the hills.
Affecting the lopsided smile that was his trademark, he sighed, "Sorry, Wills. I was miles away."
"I asked if you thought Tara might like it if I took over some flowers and asked her out for coffee."
Before Xander could answer, Anya's replied for him, "Willow, I really think you are in denial. Tara is exceptionally distressed by your repeated attempts to manipulate her mind to suit your own ends. If I were still a Vengeance demon, I would be offering her a freebie."
"Hey!" Willow glared at Anya. Her fingers twitched then fell still when she remembered that anything she cast on Anya doubled back onto her with twice the power. She had learned that the hard way when she'd maliciously zapped Anya's heel off one of her shoes so that she would fall. A few minutes later, Willow had fallen head over heels down the metal ladder leading to the prohibited books in the shop. She rubbed her shoulder, the faint bruising there all that was left of her injuries. She'd researched like crazy trying to find out what protection spells had been laid on everyone, and especially why anything she tried backfired on her, and she'd discovered nothing. Willow had exhausted herself trying everything in her power to regain control of the situation and it was beginning to bug her even more than Anya did.
"Anya, no wishing for icky things to happen to my bestest bud." Xander waved a finger at his fiancée and tried to ignore the massive amount of tension in the shop. He was getting tired of being the mediator between them and was not looking forward to the conversation he had planned with Willow.
Anya humphed at him and then made talking gestures with her hands behind Willow's back. Xander's shoulders slumped as he took in the determined slant of her chin. If he ever wanted to see her naked then he had to bite the proverbial bullet, he knew there was no getting away with this.
"Hey Will, wanna go for a coffee and some donutty stickiness?" Xander gave her a sickly smile and tried to ignore Anya doing her dance of nahnahnahImadeyoudoit by the cash register.
Buffy waited for the sound of the front door clicking shut and the house falling silent before she left her room. She and Dawn where getting on fine most of the time, but Tara was a sorrowful presence in the house. Spending her days on the campus studying for her midterms and then hiding away in her room. The tension in the house was a major factor for Buffy's hermit-like behaviour. Well, that and Spike. She spent hours reading and dreaming about what could've been. The constant revisiting old ground and re-writing history was slowly beginning to erode her grasp on sanity and without anything to stabilise her, Buffy was slowly losing herself in a depression of massive proportions.
Her baby sister didn't understand and wasn't equipped to help. Tara was too lost in her own grief over Willow's behaviour and repeated attempts to contact her magically. Xander and Anya had their hands full with Willow, but from the call last night, Buffy suspected that Willow would soon be visiting her parents for a while. Giles was at the end of a phone line; he cared, but there was a distance in his voice that made Buffy hesitate. She knew that he would never understand the grief and pain she carried as a result of letting Spike down. Even as she had sobbed it out that first time he had called, Giles had been almost paralysed with not caring. So she had stopped sniffling at her erstwhile Watcher and turned the topic of conversation to something banal.
She grabbed the pile of post that Dawn had tossed on the hall table and shuffled into the kitchen to find coffee.
"Bill…Bill…Bill...mental note to self, need to find a job to pay these." Buffy threw the utilities bills on the counter and then frowned. Her fingers toyed with the edges of the buff manila envelope that she had come across, her eyes narrowed at the sight of the words Department of Social Services on the top right corner of it. Dropping it on the breakfast bar as if it were burning hot, she turned to get some caffeine before opening it with trepidation.
She cupped the warm mug in her hands, trying to leech some warmth into her frozen skin. The letter lay open next to her shaking fingers. Buffy looked down at the neatly typed letter, her heart breaking even more. She’d broken her promise to her mom. Buffy shivered continuously at the realisation that she was an utter failure and wished that they had left her rotting in her grave. Where she deserved to be. If the others had left her be, then Spike would still be undead and Dawn would’ve been happier.
It was over…it was all over.
They were taking Dawnie away from her.
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