Summary: Dawn POV, set post-After Life, pre-Flooded. “It’s about her. Lately it's always about her.”
Word Count: 872
I knew something was wrong when she came home from patrol. She hadn't been gone more than an hour. I had planned to be midway through the movie by then. I jab the pause button with my thumb. "Hey." The words sound awful to my ears, overly cheerful, too eager. It should have raised her suspicions. She looks over at me. I’m suddenly conscious of my feet on the sofa, the guilty expression on my face, the frozen image on the tv screen.
I get up quickly. Up close her eyes seemed to overwhelm her face. Her lips were pale, teeth rattling. I can hear the wheezy breaths pass her lips. I want to return to the sofa, ignorant of her turmoil, surround myself with bright sounds that override the creaks of the empty house.
I take her hand, the way actors do in movies, and try to guide her to the couch. She resists. I say her name, harshly, instantly guilty. She recoils. I squeeze her hand. I’d forgotten how to talk to her.
Her knuckles feel rough beneath my fingers, leathery. I’m lost. I need to call someone. Anyone who could take care of her. Help us! I scream inside my head.
Names float through my mind. There’s no one in the house, just me.
I tug on her arm, pulling her to the sofa. Her knees bend automatically. She leans forward, forearms against her thighs, her spine visible beneath her thin shirt.
The names were a blur. Who could help? Giles was gone. Everyone else was on the outside, absorbed in their lives, oblivious. She wasn’t the way they remembered.
I sit down next to her, still clutching her hand awkwardly.
I hate the vacant look in her eyes, how fragile, like she came back made of porcelain. I want to let go of her hand.
Buffy digs her nails into my palm suddenly. I pull my hand away, ready to screech at her. She’s still shaking. I can’t do this! I’m not old enough for whatever this twisted scene is.
It’s not normal.
I want to get a blanket, a coat, something to cover her, but I can’t make myself stand up.
I hear heavy footsteps outside and swallow over the panic that had risen in my throat. Spike always makes noise when he climbs the front steps, announcing his arrival. It’s comforting. Not that I would tell him, but it is.
He doesn’t knock. The front door closes with a click.
I take a shallow breath. He’ll know what to do.
He stepped into the room and immediately her head turns towards him. I stand up quickly. It isn’t me he’s here to help. It’s her.
I can’t stop looking at her eyes. Lately it’s like she’s always watching, never comprehending. He sits down on the table across from her.
I want to tell him what I didn't know, ask how he knew, but the words stick in my tongue.
He’s focused on her. I nearly cry out when he says my name. He did see me. I hurry forward, my bare feet sticking on the floor.
His eyes never leave hers. Their hands are wrapped together, his sleeves hiding her fingertips.
I listen to his request. It’s a flimsy excuse to get me out of the room. Who wants drink tea now?
I linger in the hallway beside the closet, far enough into the dark that she can’t see me. Not that Buffy would look up.
His voice carries through the quiet house. The buzzing in my ears stopped, interrupted by his voice. I try to hear what he’s saying but can’t distinguish one word from another. She hasn’t said a word.
He stops talking.
I freeze, my heart suddenly beating faster. He says something else and I hurry into the kitchen. The door on the tea cabinet - really the spice rack with a tea shelf - always sticks. I yank it open.
He’s leaning against the island when I turn around. I knew the loud footsteps were an act. His expression is so confident, so knowing, that I want to shock him: throw things across the kitchen, smash the mismatched mugs lined up on the counter, scream, shake her until she stops acting like this.
When I ask about her, my voice is barely louder than a whisper. It doesn’t carry into the living room and disturb her. Everything is about her.
Spike brushes off the question, sweeping his hand over the counter to emphasize the point he isn’t making. "You put water on?"
My hair ripples against my shoulders, back and forth. I turn around to get a measuring cup.
He used to treat me like an adult. Now that Buffy was back he treats me like a kid, like everyone else. I repeat the question, loud enough that he can hear it over the hum of the refrigerator.
"Is she okay?"
Will she be okay? What’s wrong with her?
I miss her. Can you fix her?
He waits until I turn around, full measuring cup of water in my hands. Two cups and then some of liquid. Five minutes in the microwave.
"She will be," he says.
I believe him.