Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss and I don't claim otherwise.

A/N: Written as a part of Fag End's Halloween 2014 Zombie Uprising challenge for the prompt "The Lake."


Tara's grave faces the lake. When they'd buried her there just a few months ago, in the early summer right after everything fell apart, it has been just her, Dawn, Anya, and Xander. Giles had already taken Willow away, worried she couldn't handle it, and she and Xander had agreed that that was the best plan, even though it still seemed wrong.

They didn't even invite her father or brother. Didn't call until three days after.

It was just them. Just family. Or what little was left of their family.

There have been no suspicious deaths in the paper for the past few days, no graves that need close monitoring, and tonight without a particular cemetery calling for her attention, Buffy heads first toward her mother's plot, then changes direction and heads across town instead.

She takes her time, working her way through the markers, stake in her first and alert for anything demonic, vampiric, or dark-magicy. But it's a quiet night and she gets to Tara without incident.

She hasn't even been to see Tara since the burial. Not specifically, anyway, only in passing during patrol. But now she sits down beside her, leaning her shoulder against her headstone, careful not to disturb the rocks on top, and stares out at the lake.

She turns her stake over in her hands for a few long minutes and thinks about Tara. About how she'd saved Buffy the first time they'd met, how she'd been such a calm support when she'd lost her mom. How she'd looked after Dawn when Buffy couldn't muster the energy to pretend and how she'd stroked her hair when Buffy cried into her.

"I guess…" she says, feeling almost silly. She knows where Tara is now. Her words won't mean anything to her, won't reach her, even though at the same time she must already know. But she needs Tara right now, even if she has to take her without her warmth and gentle touch and faint flowery scent. "I guess you know Willow's back."

She watches the water in the lake lap at the shores, illuminated by the streetlamps that line the sidewalk around its perimeter. A leaf floats out of a tree and she thinks lands against the water's surface, but too far to the center for her to really make out.

"She's doing better. Actually better this time, I think. Not hiding it or pretending or whatever else. You'd be proud. She misses you a lot, but I think she's really getting better. I hope she is." She taps the stake against her thigh until she realises the sound might be unpleasant or seem rude and she drops it into her lap. With a little sigh she admits, "I don't know what I'll do it she isn't getting better. I don't know what I can do."

That's not entirely true. She does know what she'll have to do. She should be ready for anything. Ready for what she might have to do if Willow really doesn't get better. She wasn't when Angel stopped being Angel and she can't afford to make a mistake like that again. There's no point in lying to Tara, but even though she needs to be ready, she's not yet ready to give it the kind of weight saying it out loud would bring.

"Spike's back too." Is it selfish to talk about this? Tara deserves rest, but Buffy needs her judgeless listening right now. Tara was the only one she could talk to about Spike before and she still needs that now. "I don't know if he's better. He's… he's different. He has a soul. And he's crazy. It made him crazy." She sighs and taps her thumbnail against her stake, almost picks it back up, then pulls her hands away and presses them into the cool grass instead. "I don't know what to do about him. There's so much going on right now. With Willow and with my new job—I'm a counsellor at the new high school, by the way—and we've got some new Big Bad lurking around. 'From beneath you, it devours.' If you have any idea what that means, feel free to chime in, because we are so lost."

For a second, she's pretty sure she sees something move on the other side of the lake and she sits up straighter and squints out across the water, but she can't find it.

She settles back with a sigh. "I think I should help him. As awful as things were, as awful as all the things he did to me were, things were hard for him to. I was… I don't love him. I still don't. I don't want to be with him. I don't want things to be like they were last year. But…I should help. Somehow." She turns and looks at Tara's grave. "I just don't know how I can. He's hurting a lot right now, and he hurt me a lot and I just…" She sighs and looks back down at her lap.

After everything she's been through with Spike, after what he did to her, she should hate him. She should hate him more than she ever did when he was evil and trying to kill her. She should hate his guts and want him just like he is, pathetic and pained and suffering and… she doesn't. When she sees him she doesn't hate him. She isn't angry. She's sad for him, and sorry, and there's a little part of her that doesn't want him to hurt anymore. There's a little part of her that wants to make him better, because she got better.

She lifts her head. "Maybe—"

She's cut off by a scream from the other side of the lake. Maybe the shadow she saw earlier, maybe something else. She leaps to her feet but pauses her heroic rush into battle to make sure Tara's gravestone can hear her when she says, "And I miss you too."