Summary: Whispers in the night.
Rating: FRT: Mature Themes: Parental Supervision Suggested.
Word Count: 2,213.
Commas Brought to You By: Howard Russell with assistance from The Lady Merlin, Shakensilence & Tamoline.
Episodes: #095: Forever with strong ties to #026 Innocence.
Pairing: None of any import to the plot.
Disclaimer: Another day, another…they don't pay me anything at all. I just do this to amuse myself and you. That's what allows me and mine to slip under the radar while playing with characters created by those more fortunate than us.
Author's Note: Written for the Which Witch Fication. Willow has a memory of Joyce being more of a mother to her than her own, after Joyce's death.
In the Time of Wolves
Even this feels off-center. Tilted out of kilter. This is where I belong. I fit here. It should feel right. I'm swaddled in warm, soft, snuggly bedding with a warm, soft, snuggly Tara pressed against my side, as comfortable in my discomfiture as humanly possible. We fit. This fits.
Dawn even fits, in that skewy, crooked, cockeyed way that teenagers always do. Churning things up, spinning them off—not out of meanness—just because. She might not be perfectly right—what with the whole 'I'm actually a vibrant, viridian ball of light that opens the doorway to an extra-dimensional Hell' revelation—but she isn't the problem. She's just distraught. We all are. It's even expected that she be a little wrongheaded. The poor girl just lost her mother. She has a pass on being wigged. We all do, but I—
Everything's so wrong I wonder if anything will ever be right again. Nothing lines up. It should be simple. Even with everything that's wrong, some things should just fit. Stuff used to fit, but this is—
I feel so helpless. I hate it. It's like, if one thing that was so stable can be torn away, other things can go away too. Important things. I can't. I don't know how to deal with that. I need to know that everything, that something, even just one thing is dependable. There has to be something reliable. Something I can count on. I—
'I' nothing. Nothing's reliable, except bad things. Bad things will always come. They'll come and we can't—
Finishing that thought will be a mistake, I know it will. I snatch at another. Any thought just to keep myself from spiraling further into this pit of—
I wonder if Buffy's at home. How can she even stand being there? I felt—that place—it's steeped in—every room holds a memory of Joyce. Not 'a'—not a single memory, but memories, so many memories. I kept thinking that she was in the kitchen—that she'd come into the dining room and join us. I kept seeing things, remembering things, even smelling things. One time I even thought I caught a whiff of Joyce's perfume.
Haunted, and we were all there, the whole gang sitting around the dinner table. What could be more normal? I can't even imagine being there alone. I hope Buffy has somewhere to go, if only just for tonight.
I went to the Summers' house hoping to see Buffy. I knew she'd talk with me and I needed to talk. She wasn't home, but Joyce was there. I told her I'd come back, I didn't want to intrude—all the usual stuff that never worked with Joyce—but I said it because it was the polite thing to do.
That could be a memory of any one of dozens of times. I have one time in mind, but Joyce—
Joyce was always so kind. She always opened her door to me. She always had time for me. Even when she was obviously busy, she made time. That thing Spike said about her always having a nice cuppa for him. I get that. She was like that. Stupid Xander.
"I can't believe I was ever so in love with him," I murmur into the darkness. "Head-over-heels. Smitten. My breath used to catch when I saw his face. My heart did that funny flity, floopy thing that hearts do when they're bursting with gushiness." I turn my head to look at Tara. The floopy thing my heart does when I'm with her. This should be safe. Slow, metered breathing comes from the pallet on the floor. Tara seems conked too.
I'm afraid to move to see what time it is, but I can't help wondering. I know it feels like forever. Forever flirting with sleep and never really finding it. Maybe if I appease my ghost.
Not that I think that this ghost has anything to do with Joyce. Ghosts are angry, spiteful things, full of hidden agendas. Imaging anything like that ever coming from her is just—it's just absurd.
No. This ghost is mine. Maybe if I pay it some attention, it'll go away. That sounds silly, but—
My head hurts. I'm so tired I could… Sigh.
"That seems like so long ago." The moment the words leave my mouth, I realize how silly they are. A convulsive little snicker sets Tara to harrumphing in her sleep. She rolls away, smacking her lips and making cute little noises like a grumpy Teddy bear. "It's only been three years," I admit to her back. At least I'm safe. I think. "I loved him so much. It's funny. Time is funny. At the time the pain was so bad I thought I might die from it. Now I love him like a friend—like a brother—a delinquent brother." I snicker again, just a puff. That wasn't that bad. I wasn't talking loud. I wasn't really even talking, just murmuring under my breath to my friend, the ghost. This time Tara doesn't stir at all. That's bad. I fall silent to listen. I think she's awake.
It takes a few moments, but predictably she turns over. The backs of her fingers caress my cheek. "I'm sorry," she says in a thready voice. Her body tenses. She props herself on an elbow. "I shouldn't—" I'm not sure what makes her think that. "I should let you—" Her weight shifts. I catch her wrist as she tries to roll away, saying, "If you want me to leave, I can…" She trails off with a leading 'can' like she isn't sure what she'll do. I feel like a heel.
"No. It's okay," I whisper.
After a moment's thoughtful consideration, she settles in beside me, plumping her pillow before she lies down. I stare up at the ceiling. The seconds tick by. My eyes do that funny, spotty, speckley thing, trying to resolve the shadows. I blink the weirdness away, feeling well and truly stuck.
She looks at me, scanning my face, trying to figure me out. She's worried. That's not good. I'm not sure I've told her this. It's not the sort of thing you're supposed to talk about, especially when the boy in question is still a big part of your life. If I do this, I have to make her understand. I'm not sure—
This seems as good a place to start as any: "I had a crush on Xander for years." Schoolgirl crushes are definitely a thing. Making the admission still takes no small effort. "I used to keep his picture—" My voice cracks. I stammer to recover, "I-I put it in my pillowcase." That was too much, but I have to explain. "I thought if I did, I'd dream about him. I thought—" An embarrassed titter slips out unchecked. I can't help it. "It was so silly." Self-deprecation laces my tone. I make light of what was at the time the most heart-wrenching thing I'd ever experienced and it doesn't hurt a bit. I still remember it. I remember…
"I had to hold it together," I mumble, my tone, such as it is, changed for the worse. "Mine wasn't the only problem. We had too many problems for mine to matter much." Poor Buffy. I thought my problems were bad. Her's were awful.
I stop to consider whether I said that last part aloud. I'm so sleepy. I think I mumbled it, but just in case, I add, "Poor Buffy. She gave herself to Angel and he laughed in her face. He was so mean. My problem was tiny by comparison, but it hurt."
This has nothing to do with anything, but everything to do with this. I have to explain for Tara to understand the rest.
Of course, at the rate I'm going, she should understand exactly nothing. "I'm getting ahead of myself," I say by way of an apology. Linear would be good—like with the events all in order. That helps with the understanding, or so I hear. "What happened was: Xander and Cordy were kissing. Xander's not very bright. They were right there in the library, standing in the stacks. My heart felt like it was—" I quirk the corner of my mouth. "I couldn't stay there. Not with him—not with them in the same room. This was before we knew about the thing with Angel. We had no idea that he'd gone all Big Bad on us. He was just missing. We had another Big Bad to deal with. We were in research mode. There was this thing called the Judge. Big blue demon, really ugly, awful. Spike and Dru—"
I stop. I got sidetracked again. I know Tara knows this stuff already. We've talked about most of it. I had to tell her. She had to know what she was getting herself into. Anything else would've been unfair.
She knows enough. I get to the point. "Buffy said she was going to stop by home. I thought maybe I might catch her. Not that I knew what to say, but helping her with her problems has always been better than facing my own. That, and—well…her place was always much, much better than my place, even without all the 'grrr'." Another soft snicker slips out. It must sound like I'm having lots more fun than I am. "You've met my mother." Briefly, but briefly is always enough with Mom. I love her, but she has this way of looking at people like they might make interesting subjects.
I sneak a peek. Tara has a smirk on her face, just the barest twisting of lips. She remembers.
My mouth twists a little too before I resume my story and my study of the speckley, staticy, shadowy ceiling. "Buffy wasn't home when I got there. I tried to get away. I didn't want to bother Joyce. I ended up with a cup of tea and cookies for my trouble. Joyce always fed us. I think she was convinced that we were starving—well, not Xander. She wasn't that deluded, but she fed him too…and he always ate like a horse. I think that dispelled the illusion."
I wish I knew what time it was. The lights outside always make it so hard to tell. I know it's late, or early depending on how you look at it.
"Anyway," I whisper, eager to finish, "Joyce just sat with me. She didn't prod. She wasn't that sort of person." The presence of the past tense hurts. It feels like a slip. I hurry past it. "My mother would just see me frown and use it as an excuse to interrogate and psychoanalyze me both at once. I always smiled around my mom. I still do. It's safer." Buffy's mom had been different. "Joyce waited for me. That sounds uncomfortable, but it really wasn't, or not any more than it would've been had I been by myself. I was weepy and miserable and she held my hand." Alone would've been worse. Joyce had a gift for making people feel better. She was kind and gentle, yet formidable when she needed to be. She made me feel safe. She had that gift. And I love her.
A lump forms in my throat. Tears blur my eyes. I clear my throat, clamp my eyelids shut to soothe the ache and make myself go on. "When I finally did manage to talk, she mostly just listened. She didn't wig when I admitted to loving Xander, even though he was my best and oldest friend. I guess that's okay, but it bothered me. I was afraid that I'd lose him. She reassured me. She thought it'd be alright, that things would work out, and they have. She didn't tell me one of those 'when I was your age' stories. She did that sometimes, but not then."
I'm blathering. All of that came out in a rush. I'm avoiding, flitting around what I really want to say. I take a breath, hoping vainly that it'll clear my aching head. My eyes burn with unshed tears. I steel myself. I have to finish.
"She really didn't give me any advice at all that night," I whisper, my voice thin as tissue. The stupid lump hangs in my throat, feeling twice as big. Like a rock. "What I needed more than anything was for someone to listen." I swallow, like I think swallowing a rock has some possibility of working or helping or— "She did and I remember thinking how lucky Buffy was…which is silly because I was lucky too." I sigh. At least that works. It helps.
A soft, tremulous voice breaks the silence, in the wake of my own. "We all were." Tara's watery eyes glisten in the gloom. She offers me a weak, self-conscious smile, so vulnerable the dam inside me crumbles. Tears leak through at first. Just a trickle. With a touch, my fretting turns to anguished torrents. She shatters my resolve.
I cling to her, bowing my head, burying my face to smother the sound. I won't wake Dawn. I can't wake her. That'd be so selfish. I can't be selfish. I'm just so afraid.