All About Spike

Chamomile, and Ashes
By ascian

Rating: PG
Disclaimer: Everybody who matters belongs to Joss.
Feedback: If you like it, let me know. If you don't, tell me why:
Characters: Tara, Willow, Spike, Dawn
Summary: In the post-Gift summer, Tara watches the world put itself back together.

This started as a series of Tara vignettes, set during the post-Gift summer, and grew into something more. Thanks as always to my beloved beta, R.

After the funeral, Giles, Xander and Anya go back to their respective apartments, and Willow and Tara are left sitting in the empty living room with Dawn.

"Are you going home too?" Dawn asks. She's trying to sound casual, but the little-girl vulnerability is still too close to the surface. Her face is streaked with the dry tracks of tears.

"We're not going leave you here alone," Willow answers, simultaneously anxious and soothing in the way that only she can manage. She crosses to sit beside Dawn, putting her arm around the girl. Dawn, hunched forward in the couch, doesn't seem to notice.

"If you want, you can move in with us," Tara offers, but Dawn shakes her head.

"I'm not going anywhere." She looks up at Tara. "You two could move in here," she says. The words spill out in a hurry, as though she's afraid they'll refuse.

Willow and Tara exchange glances, and Willow nods. They've already talked about this, after all. "We'll go pick up our stuff this weekend," she says, tightening her arm around Dawn. "School's pretty much over anyway."

They move in during the last weekend in May. It's already hot, and the days are much longer than Tara remembers. It's a small but concrete reminder of how much time has passed, while she was lost.

She goes with them for the first trip, but after that she leaves the packing and the driving to Xander and Anya and Willow. She doesn't say it, but being inside the confined space of the car bothers her a bit, and she's just as happy to wait at the house and get started with the unpacking.

Dawn follows her from room to room, quiet and apparently disinterested. It's disconcerting at first, especially when Tara carries boxes into the master bedroom and sets them down amid the half-packed remnants of Joyce's things, so she finds herself talking to fill in the silences.

"Do-- do you know where your mother got this mask?" she asks Dawn. "It looks African, maybe from the West. Nigeria, maybe?" Dawn doesn't say anything, so she continues, "Maybe it's Yoruban. Did you know that Yorubans believe that everyone has an animating spirit, and if you ignore what the spirit wants, it'll come and take revenge on you? When I was younger, I always used to wonder if I'd managed to make my spirit angry."

Dawn doesn't answer. Instead, she walks around the room, touching her mother's things. She picks up a hairbrush, turning it over to look at the heavy silver patterns on the back. After a moment, she puts it down again, and moves on. Tara watches her take things out of open boxes and put them back, one by one, never saying a word.

Eventually, the things Dawn picks up off the dresser and out of the drawers start going into an empty box. She starts to reach up for the mask, then pauses, looking up at Tara as if uncertain whether she needs approval.

"If--if there's anything here you want, you should take it," Tara says hesitantly. Dawn nods, and takes down the mask.

She sits on the bed, just watching as Tara continues the unpacking process, tracing the face of the mask with light fingertips.

"So what do those African guys think happens when you die?" she asks after a while.

As she puts Willow's clothes away in Joyce's drawers, Tara tells Dawn everything she can remember about western African mythology.

A couple of weeks after they move in, Spike shows up at the kitchen door.

"Heard you were patrolling," he explains. He walks in through the half-open door and sits down at the kitchen counter as though this is a regular occurrence, ignoring the looks he's getting from Willow and Xander. "Thought maybe I could help."

He seems mostly sober, and unusually quiet, but otherwise there's little sign of the shattered vampire they took home the morning after the tower. Or so Tara thinks, until she catches the bleakness in his eyes as he surveys the room. In that moment, she understands what a gift it is to have memories that fade.

Although they never make any arrangements to that effect, he appears almost every night after that, mostly helping to patrol. To everyone's surprise but Dawn's, sometimes he takes over babysitting duty instead, though Dawn hates hearing it called that. On one of those nights, Willow and Tara come back from a movie to find the two of them on the couch in front of the TV. Dawn's fallen asleep on the vampire's shoulder, and he's still sitting there, awkwardly reluctant to move.

"I didn't want to wake her," he explains in hushed tones when Willow and Tara take him into the kitchen. Tara hides a smile as she offers him some tea.

The offer is refused, which doesn't surprise her. He's there when they need him, but he very rarely hangs around.

Family, she thinks, is made of history. Ritual and repetition, comfort and familiarity, blending together into a kind of fabric, full of small frictions and careful repairs, a backlog of mundanities that build into a shared life. They're the things you take for granted, the things that you know will always be there, however bad the rest of it gets. But things happen, and life goes on, and sometimes when you least expect it, you find you're the only one left who still gets the punchlines to all your private jokes.

When Dawn comes downstairs, Tara is making pancakes.

"Hey," Tara says, without turning around. "I'm making myself breakfast. You want some?"

"I guess so," Dawn says, shortly. Glancing over one shoulder, Tara watches as she perches herself on one of the stools beside the island in the middle of the kitchen, stripes of morning sunlight falling across the curve of her back. After a moment, Dawn picks up an unopened cereal box, staring at the bright pictures on the front, turning it over in her hands.

"Funny shapes or rounds?" Tara asks, turning back to the stove. Dawn doesn't answer that, so she makes whatever kind of pancakes she likes. She lets a big blob of batter fall, and another smaller one. There's a little bit of batter left in the ladle, so after a minute or two, she scoops that in too, letting it form a snaking trail in the pan.

When it's ready, she asks Dawn to get her a plate. There's a pause long enough to make Tara think she'll have to get it herself, but then she hears the scrape of the stool pushing backwards over the linoleum, and then the sounds of rummaging around in the cupboard, and then Dawn appears at her side with the requested plate and one extra.

"Thanks," Tara says as she takes one, flipping the pancake creation onto it and handing it back.

Dawn stares down at it, a little dubiously. "This is a weird pancake," she says at last. Tara shrugs.

"Call me crazy, but I think the funny-shaped ones taste better."

"Buffy made me pancakes once," Dawn says quietly. "But hers were round."

It's the first time in weeks that she's mentioned her sister, and Tara has no answer for this. For a moment, she wonders if Dawn is going to hand it back. But she's turning the plate, tilting her head to the side, as if lost in pancake thought. So the older woman waits. She's getting pretty good at waiting.

"Buffy wasn't very good at pancakes," Dawn says finally. "Hers were kind of burnt." When she looks up, she's wearing a strange expression, as though a smile were trying to sneak out from under the sorrow in her eyes. "This one kind of looks like a cat."

"That's what I was going for," Tara agrees, turning her face back to the stove to hide her own smile.

Dawn takes the plate away, back to the counter with syrup and butter, and Tara starts another oversize pancake for herself.

It's not much, she thinks, but it's a start.

At first it seems like they have the patrolling thing handled. The gang goes out every night to sweep the cemeteries, and it seems like a solemn duty, keeping Buffy's flame alive. After Spike comes back, things even seem to be going well for a while.

After a month, though, the shine has worn off, and everyone's exhausted.

"We can't keep doing this every night," Anya says, pushing her hair out of her eyes. The five of them are sitting around the table in Buffy's living room, getting things ready while they wait for the sun to go down. "Some of us have lives and jobs. I nearly fell asleep at the counter yesterday, and I'm worried about Xander, handling power tools. What if he dozes off at work and chops off a hand or something?"

"I'm not going to cut off a hand," Xander protests.

"You say that now while you still have all your digits," Anya counters. "But how long is that going to last when you're falling asleep in your cornflakes at breakfast? Nobody is fine, and everything is getting worse. Let's face it - word is getting around that Sunnydale's not as well-patrolled as it used to be. That demon we fought last night was from LA. With Buffy gone, we're starting to look like a big tasty Slayer-free target."

"I can start going out with you guys," Tara offers. "My cast should be off this week."

Giles shakes his head. "More people on patrol isn't going to help. Perhaps if we divided our efforts, we could cover more ground, and focus our group efforts on areas where we know there's demonic activity."

Willow raises her head from her study of the table top. "It's a good idea, but I think Anya's right. We can't do this without Buffy."

"What are we supposed to do, then?" Xander demands, anger rising without warning. "Just say 'oh well, we tried, but it was too hard'? Carry a cardboard Buffy cutout around on patrol? Unless you're into raising the dead now, Buffy's kind of not an option."

Willow shakes her head. "Not exactly," she says. "You guys remember Spike's sex bot, right?"

The next day when Tara is carrying a basket of laundry down to the basement, she finds Willow, sitting on the floor surrounded by a sea of small, finicky-looking tools. A soldering iron sits on its stand, and there are wires everywhere. Willow, her back to the stairs, has the Bot's body in her lap, and she's holding the head against it, twisting it gently as if trying to figure out how to make it fit.

Tara sets the basket down by the washer and looks over at Willow. "You really think you can fix it?" she asks, smiling.

When Willow looks up, her eyes are stone-black. "The wiring was a real mess," she says, her so voice flat that Tara barely recognizes it. "I'm having to regrow a lot of it. But she'll be back to quipping and kicking in no time."

Tara looks back down at Buffy's frozen features on the severed head of the Bot, and turns back to the washer, suppressing a shiver.

The first time they take the Buffybot out on patrol, they slay five vampires, which is three more than their best night to date. Spike leaves halfway through the sweep, though, and they don't see him again for a week.

She thought the dreams would start to fade as time passed, but they don't. Every night, she wakes in quiet terror from the dark place, still feeling the nibbling of nameless dream things with sharp teeth, convinced of the need to take a shower. At first, when she woke screaming, it used to wake Willow, too, and Willow would hold her, rocking her with soothing, wordless sounds, until she was finally able to fall asleep again. The screaming doesn't happen any more, but she thinks maybe it's only because she's getting used to it.

She usually wakes by herself now, silent and still, and the soothing sound of Willow's steady breathing is drowned out by her own heartbeat, pounding in her ears.

Consequently, she finds herself spending a lot of time downstairs in the small hours of the morning, and that's how she knows that Dawn has dreams, too.

"What are you doing here?" Dawn asks abruptly, the first time she comes down to find Tara sitting in the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil.

"I live here," Tara replies. She regrets the near-shortness of the response almost immediately, but Dawn doesn't seem to mind. Instead, she pulls up a stool and perches on it, feet kicking restlessly against the base of the counter.

"Couldn't sleep?" Tara asks, reaching up to get mugs out of the cabinet.

"Bad dreams," Dawn replies shortly. Dawn knows that Tara has nightmares. Everybody on the block probably knows. The screams tend to give it away. Dawn's dreams are obviously quieter, though. Tara drops lumpy teabags into each cup -- it's a custom chamomile blend of her own devising - and lifts the kettle off the stove, pouring the water.

"What do you dream about?" she asks Dawn, curious.

She hands Dawn one of the mugs, and Dawn tells her about dreams of falling.

They've been slowly moving things around over the summer, but eventually it becomes clear that some of the furniture is the kind of thing that has no purpose in life other than to hold photographs and trinkets. Those pieces look kind of bare, once they take the pictures down. Oddly enough, it's Xander's idea to give some of the stuff to Spike.

"What?" Xander asks defensively, in response to the odd looks that the women are giving him. "You've seen his place. The man's idea of furniture is coffins, for Christ's sake. And he doesn't even bother to take the bodies out first."

Dawn is already nodding. "He'd like it," she says, though Tara finds herself doubting that. What use does a vampire have for end tables? "You can ask him to come pick it up when you see him tonight," the girl continues, and Tara thinks she understands the reasoning behind Dawn's sudden willingness to dispose of her mother's furniture. Since the Bot incident, Spike hasn't been coming by the house very much.

Spike does like the idea, for some reason known only to himself, and carries the odds and ends away to his crypt over a period of several days. Dawn is visibly pleased to see him, and he seems to take the offer of furniture as a kind of apology for the Bot.

He still doesn't look at it directly, though.

Tara and Dawn find themselves engaging in a kind of conspiracy to keep it out of his sight. It's in the kitchen, though, one evening when he shows up for patrol. "It's Spike!" it coos when he walks in, a huge plastic smile plastered across Buffy's face. "He's come to have sex with me!" Tara leaps up to grab its arm, practically dragging it from the room. As she goes, she sees that he's gritting his teeth, and the look in his eyes is raw with pain.

"Can you make it stop doing that?" she hears him ask Willow as she leaves the room. His voice is tense, and tired.

"Sure," Willow says. "I'll do it this weekend."

And she does work on it. The endless references to the vampire's sexual prowess stop, but whatever Willow does isn't quite enough to stop the Bot from gushing over Spike every time it sees him. Tara can't make up her mind whether she thinks Willow left it that way on purpose as a kind of punishment for making the thing in the first place, or if it's something intrinsic to the nature of the faux-Buffy brain, that it should be so completely based on its attachment to Spike. The second alternative is the more appealing, and she amuses herself sometimes with wondering what it might mean.

Tara sits with her back propped against the head of the bed, leaning on a pillow, reading a book about dreams.

"It's nice, the way things are settling down," Willow says lazily. She's stretched out across the bed, red hair spread out like a crown around her head. Her arms stretch back over her head, down off the edge of the bed, hands tracing meaningless patterns in the slanted afternoon sunlight. "Even Dawnie seems happier. It's like, normal went away for a bit, but now we're getting used to things again, and it doesn't seem so bad any more." She looks over at Tara, a half-glance from under lowered eyelids. "Do you think this is how it's always gonna be?" she asks.

Tara looks up from her book, letting her eyes trail across her lover's body while she takes her time in answering, considering the question as though it contained the meaning of life. She finds herself caught up in the space between the bottom of Willow's leaf-green baby tee and the top of her sweats. The skin there is creamy and smooth, without a hint of tan. Willow hasn't spent much time in the sun lately, Tara thinks, wistfully picturing bikinis.

"No," she says, eventually.

Willow rolls up suddenly, propping herself on one elbow, her face creased into a frown. "What?"

Tara meets her eyes with a soft smile, trying to take away the sting, already regretting the loss of bare Willow-skin. "I mean, yes, I'm happy too. But it won't, you know. Always be like this. Everything changes, Willow. You know that."

Willow laughs, apparently relieved that Tara is speaking in abstracts. "It doesn't have to," she says lazily, stretching out again. "Not if we don't want it to."

Tara looks back down at her book, and says nothing.

The others are late coming home with dinner, so Tara waits with Spike in the kitchen, which is the place in the house where he seems most comfortable. Spike sits at the counter, offering occasional conversation in fits and starts, toying with the spoon propped in the mug in front of him. Tara's never quite been sure how to deal with him, and she finds herself burying her unease in activity, moving around the kitchen, making tea, cleaning things up.

"She always thought I was a bad influence," Spike's hands move restlessly through the air for a moment, as if searching for the cigarette that isn't there. He doesn't smoke in the house any more, not since they asked him not to. After a moment, when Tara doesn't answer, he continues, "Kept bringing them round though, her Mum and the Bit. Never could figure that part out."

Tara thinks about it for a bit before she answers, turning around to face him, leaning against the edge of the sink, mug of tea cradled in her hands. "You're stronger than any of us," she says eventually. "I think Buffy trusted you to be strong enough to look after them."

"Yeah, she said as much, you know. Back before the tower, when she asked me to look after the Bit." He laughs, bitterly. "Fat lot of good that did."

He's never mentioned this before, and it surprises Tara, though it does make sense. She's heard from the others -- mostly Dawn, really -- about how he'd stolen them a Winnebago at Buffy's asking, and tried to drive them all to safety when they were running from Glory. It's hard to picture. Even though she was there, Tara remembers very little about that time, and none of it includes helpful vampires or Winnebagos.

It's hard to reconcile the irrepressible, chaotic Spike she remembers with the quiet, haunted man sitting in the kitchen she's starting to think of as her own.

A familiar bleakness flickers through his eyes as he stares into the distance, gaze fixed at some point far beyond the mug in front of him.

"What happened, you know, it's not your fault," Tara says softly.

Spike shrugs uncomfortably. "Maybe not," he says without conviction. "Doesn't mean I couldn't have stopped it."

She thinks she understands the distinction.

Tara opens her eyes to find Dawn's face floating in front of her, close and curious. Taking a deep breath, she unfolds her legs and hugs her knees to her chest.

"Will you teach me to do that?" Dawn asks without preamble.

"What? Meditate?" Tara picks up a candle and blows it out. Dawn is crouched half in, half out of the circle, one sandalled foot blurring the sand-drawn line.

Dawn shakes her head. "Magic."

Tara frowns, looking away. "I d-don't think Buffy would have approved." She's not sure if that's true, and not really sure either why the idea makes her so nervous.

"Buffy's not here," Dawn points out quietly. "I was going to ask Willow, but..." She shrugs, trailing off.

"You don't trust her?" Tara asks.

"It's not that," Dawn answers, looking uncomfortable. "No, it's just...I mean, Willow's really cool and everything. It's just that what she does, it's not like what you do. Not any more, anyway. She doesn't really do spells, does she? I never see her with the candles or the chanting like you guys used to do. What she does, it doesn't look like something I can learn."

Dawn has a point, Tara thinks, but she doesn't say so. Instead, she sits back, eyeing the girl thoughtfully as she says, "It's not as easy as it looks, you know. The spells, I mean. It takes lots of hard work and discipline. And even then, it doesn't always work for everyone. You have to have the talent for it."

"I have all that mystical glowy energy thing going for me, though," Dawn says eagerly, not at all discouraged. "That has to be worth something, right?" She fixes Tara with a pleading gaze. "Please? I want to be able to do something other than sit at home waiting for the next apocalypse."

When Dawn really tries, it's hard to resist. The younger girl seems sunnily aware of this, flashing Tara a conspiratorial smile. Against her better judgement, Tara finds herself smiling back.

Sensing victory, Dawn scrambles backwards, folding into a cross-legged position on the floor. The edge of the circle is blurred where she was standing on it, the sand scattered across the rug.

"So, where do we start?" she asks.

"Let's start with circles," Tara says a little drily, looking down at the remnants of her own.

One day she sees a pile of books sitting on the table beside Willow's abandoned laptop, and that's when she knows she should have said something sooner. They're old books, worn and nondescript with their titles long worn off their bindings, but they make the air in the room around them shiver. And if you have ears to hear it, they scream their presence from across the room. These are the books from the upstairs floor, the ones you shouldn't speak Latin in front of.

There are other things that Tara finds herself unable to say in front of them. Words like, "Willow, sweetie, put them back. You don't know what you're dealing with."

Tara picks up her own plate and Dawn's - they had turkey sandwiches for lunch - and goes back into the kitchen. She finds herself doing a lot of the housework these days, something which would irritate her if she let it, but it does need doing, and her mother always told her that it's better to do something than nothing.

She hears Willow come back into the dining room. She hears her girlfriend pick the books up off the table, suppressing the familiar shiver that may or may not be a product of her imagination when Willow touches them.

"I'm going upstairs to study," Willow calls out. "You got it under control in there?"

Tara knows that she should say something. She knows. But somehow all that comes out is, "Yeah. I'll be up when I'm done."

Willow has been so good for her, in so many ways. This, though. This isn't one of them.

"I think I can do it," Willow says into the soft darkness, apropos of nothing. They're curled up in bed now, Willow's head pillowed on Tara's chest, limbs wrapped together like Willow's wooden brainteaser puzzle that sits on the shelf, the one that Tara never has been able to figure out.

"Do what?" Tara asks sleepily. The wine from dinner is still in her system, filling her with a comfortable lassitude, and she's closer to sleep than waking. She nuzzles her lover's hair, breathing in the soft lemongrass scent.

Willow shifts, snuggling down. Her hand at Tara's waist slips up a little, under the edge of her pyjama top, spreading across the bare flesh of her stomach in a softly possessive gesture.

"Raise her," she says.

It feels like someone dumped cold water down Tara's back. She knows she shouldn't be surprised. Knows it. Part of her had hoped desperately that the books were just research, but she'd always known better. The books have a certain nature, after all, and there's a reason they're kept on the top floor. Whether she'd wanted to face it or not, she'd known exactly what Willow was planning.

Forcing back the sudden pounding of her heartbeat in her ears, she tells herself that it's just reflexive paranoia, that the losses of the past year have made her hold on too tightly to the things she loves. If she could justify this pounding fear in the light of day, she'd have said something by now. Wouldn't she?

"Will you help me?" Willow asks, breaking her train of thought.

"Of course," Tara hears herself say.

It's a long, long time before she manages to fall asleep.

When Tara was a little girl, she found a kitten, down in the tall grass at the bottom of the yard. It was a tiny thing, just a ball of orange fur and painfully thin, so young its eyes weren't open yet. She'd brought bits of food for it, things she thought it might like, bits of sausage and milk and scraps of ham sandwich from lunch, torn into little pieces to make it easier to eat.

She named him Ariel, even though she thought of him as a boy, with the kind of naming logic that makes sense only to children. She made him a bed out of a cardboard box and an old sweater, and for days she spent all her time with him, down among the weeds.

Her brother was the one who found the body.

"Look what I found!" he shouted, running into the house. She'd known, somehow. Before she saw the wisps of orange fuzz sticking out of his cupped hands, before her father had started yelling at him, and then at her when she started crying. She'd run out of the house, blind with tears.

Her mother found her down among the weeds, a little after sunset. Still sobbing, Tara had begged her to fix Ariel. It had seemed so simple, then, and so enormous, the worst thing that had ever happened. She still remembers sobbing hysterically into her mother's lap, demanding that her mom bring him back to life.

Instead of answering right away, her mother had cleaned her up, wiping her face and bringing her back inside, into the now-empty kitchen. She'd made tea for herself and hot cocoa for Tara, and explained gently and honestly the difference between the things that were possible and the things that were right. A few days later, when Tara had calmed down and Ariel had been buried peacefully among the tall grass where she'd found him, her mother began to teach her about balance, and power, and magic.

When her mother died a few years later, Tara had remembered that first conversation, carefully combing through her mother's gentle admission about the possibility of raising the dead. It was a moot point, though, because she already knew she wasn't powerful enough anyway.

When Willow outlines her plan, Tara has to admit that she's done her homework. The spell she's come up with is unusual, well-researched, and nothing short of brilliant. Even her mother, Tara thinks, would have been impressed with that part.

"But I can't do it without you," Willow says earnestly. Her eyes are wide and dark in the shadowed light of an early Saturday morning, turned appealing towards Tara in a not-so-mute plea. "I need you to balance things, help me make sure it doesn't go all wonky."

Tara looks over towards the bay window, watching tiny shafts of sunlight bleed between the edges of the curtain, thinking about it. Willow's plan is as thorough as she should have expected, but just because she can't see the flaws doesn't mean they aren't there.

Sensing Tara's hesitation, Willow hurtles onward, her voice becoming fast and anxious. "Look, I know you're worried about it, and you should be, I am too. I mean -- big mojo and all, and I know it's not something to be taken lightly. That's why I need you with me on this, to make sure. If you don't think we can do it safely, if we're not absolutely certain, then we won't do it."

Tara looks back down, reaching down almost in spite of herself to tangle a hand through her lover's hair, combing it out across the pillow. She bites her lip and meets Willow's eyes.

"But you promise me we'll stop it if anything looks wrong, anything at all?" Tara asks, feeling herself start to give in.

Willow nods. "Cross my heart," she says solemnly.

She spends more time than she'd like to admit to, worrying about how the others will take it. Wondering, too, what it will do to Dawn if it doesn't work, and what Spike will think about the whole idea. She doesn't spend any time wondering how Giles will take the news, because she already knows the answer to that. She doesn't have to have known him since high school to understand that he will take a dim view of raising the dead.

In the end, for various reasons, the only people they tell are Xander and Anya, and neither one seems very surprised.

When Tara gets home from the UC Sunnydale campus, it's already getting dark. Spike and Dawn are sitting on the front steps in the evening half-light, sprawled at angles across the railings oppsite each other. "How'd it go?" Spike asks, stubbing out his cigarette and climbing to his feet.

Tara shrugs, shifting her bag on her shoulder. "You know how it is. Bookstores -- you're lucky to get out alive. I think I sprained my bank account."

Dawn laughs, looking up. "I bet you could just wave your hand and fill it back up if you wanted."

Tara nods solemnly. "Probably," she says. "But it seems like cheating."

"Hate to break up the party, but I'm heading out," Spike says. "I'll be back later. I'm on Dawn patrol, right?"

Dawn scowls at him, but he shrugs, running a hand through his hair. "Sorry, niblet," he says easily, flashing her a grin before he turns away. He waves at them both in a kind of half-salute, and heads off down the path towards the gate. When he's gone, Dawn springs to her feet, surrendering to the siren call of evening TV.

"Will you take me shopping for school supplies this week?" she asks Tara as she heads inside. "Spike said to ask you."

"Sure," Tara says. "We can probably get Xander to drive us. We'll make a Saturday out of it, how does that sound?"

Dawn nods happily, and vanishes through the doorway, practically bouncing at the idea of a shopping trip.

She seems taller, Tara thinks, watching her go. Just over the course of the summer, she's already grown taller than Willow. Taller than Buffy, too.

It's a concrete reminder of the ways that time passes. It's been three months now, but in some ways it feels like they're all still standing there at the base of that tower, watching Buffy fall. Tara wonders what will happen if Willow's plan works. Wonders, too, what they're trading in the attempt. Everything has a price. It was the first thing her mother taught her about magic.

She sighs, looking up at the first stars, twinkling palely in the purple sky. Maybe it's her imagination, but it feels like the evenings have gotten a little cooler lately. She pulls her wrap a little tighter -- a gift from Willow, a lovely sheer golden thing -- and hugs herself, wrapping her arms around her chest. Fall is coming, she thinks. She wonders if the others can feel it too.


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