a/n: Thank you so much to TazFlan93 and JustJane18 for the lovely reviews! I hope you enjoy this new chapter. Sorry I'm a few days late with the update, I'm applying to study in Taiwan for two months and I'm trying to get everything together! P.S., I'm thinking of writing a companion piece dealing with Buffy's experiences in the psychiatric hospital and how she feels about being resurrected. Would anyone be interested?

Red
Chapter Four
Haunted

Tara and I almost crash into Dawn in the hallway.

"What was that?" says Dawn, her voice tight with panic.

"It wasn't you?" I say.

"Buffy?" calls Dawn. I reach for her arm, not wanting her to run into danger, but she sprints to her sister's room before I can touch her. "Buffy!"

Tara and I are in the doorway a moment later, ready for the worst. But in the swash of orange light that falls through the doorframe, Buffy is asleep in her bed.

I scan the shadows moving on the walls, but they're just tree branches filtered through the curtains. "Then where-"

"Listen," says Tara.

A mumble escapes Buffy's mouth. The sound starts out barely audible, but it builds. "No… No, stop…"

Tara touches her shoulder. "Buffy."

Buffy swats in her general direction, eyes still closed. "Leave my mom alone! Go!" Her voice rises and she gives a punch to the pillow.

"Buffy!"

She gasps and her eyes snap open.

"It's okay," says Tara. "You had a nightmare."

"Where am… Oh," says Buffy. She pushes her hair back, and speaks calmly, though still breathing hard, "Yeah. That's been happening lately."

"You were screaming," I say. "We thought it was Dawn at first."

"Gee, thanks," says Dawn.

"No, it's just… that's not really a Buffy sound. Slayers aren't very scream-y people."

"What were you dreaming about?" says Dawn, sitting down on the bed beside her sister.

"Nothing, really," says Buffy. She adds in a mumble, "Vampire."

"Was it the master?" says Dawn. She looks up at Tara and I. "When we were younger, she'd dream about him all the time. This was before I knew she was a slayer, but I'd hear through the walls and I knew something weird was -"

"No," says Buffy. "It was just… you know, a regular old vamp."

"You sounded really scared," I say.

"Well, it was the first vamp I saw." When none of us says anything, she continues. "It was back when I didn't know anything about vampires, and the only slayer I'd ever heard of was the loud guys with the guitars, and… there he was. This creepy, awful thing… looking in my window. And my mom, she was out there, she was coming home from getting groceries, and…" She tries to put a laugh into her voice, but it comes out shaky. "Anyway, I won."

"Oh, Buffy." I sit down next to her and Dawn. "That must have been horrible."

"Yeah," she says. She rubs her eyes, as if from sleep. I wonder if she's wiping away tears before they can fall, but when she speaks her voice is steady. "It's over. I don't have to think about it anymore."

There's something she isn't saying. It hangs between us like fog, making the air heavy.

I say, "So… it was just a nightmare, right? You're okay?"

"Yeah," she says, her voice too bright. "All good."

She stands up, smoothes the wrinkles from her sushi pajama pants, and walks over towards the closet. "I'm, um, going to do an early-morning patrol. I don't feel much like sleeping anymore."

"I'll go with you," I say. "I'm feeling pretty wakeful, too."

"Just don't sleep through sociology," says Tara. "Mike marks hard on participation."

"Hey, do I seem like the kind of girl who'd miss her classes? Especially her class-with-her-girlfriend kind of classes," I say, and Tara smiles. I head to our room to get changed.

Night falls over the neighbourhood like purple ink. A spot of orange dribbles over the horizon, but there's still enough darkness for a risk-taking vamp - not to mention a whole other assortment of nasty demon-things. A couple streetlights radiate orange, the light haloing like the stars in a Van Gogh painting. Or like the artificial glow of a t.v. screen.

It's true what I said - I feel very, very awake. But it's not really a good kind of awake. Despite what I say about not needing magic - and it's true - that doesn't mean I don't like using it. In the day I've been without it, I feel the absence. It's like I'm a radio wave, tuned to a slightly different frequency than everything around me - like I'm passing through the world and not exactly touching it. I mean, I know everything around me is real, but I can't shake the feeling that if I squint at the landscape, or maybe at myself, I'll be able to see the pixels.

"Wil," says Buffy. "You okay?"

"Yup," I say quickly. "Peachy keen."

"You sure? You're acting kind of… well, like everyone says I've been acting."

I have no idea how to answer that. Willow-brain settles on opening my mouth, closing it, and then opening it again to feign ignorance. "What do you mean?"

Buffy shrugs. "I don't know. Quiet. Out of it."

"Well, I did get woken up in the middle of the night." I mean it as a joke, but her face tells me it's the wrong thing to say. "No, Buffy, I didn't mean it. Nightmares - not your fault."

"It's okay," she says, with the kind of laugh people use when nothing's funny. "It's just not…" She trails off, then glances at me. My face must look as worried as I feel, because she says, "Not the kind of thing I like to think about anymore."

"And that's totally okay," I say. "You're the slayer. You've saved us all from vampires, and apocalypse…s…i, and you do it all while rocking leather pants." That gets an actual smile from her, and I continue, "No one thinks any less of you because you don't want to think about past stuff. But… it's like you said, Buffy. You won. No matter how traumatizing that vamp was, you overcame that fear and you staked him. You made it out okay, and it's over now."

"Yeah," says Buffy, though her eyes have clouded over again. "Yeah, that's… right."

It's that sensation inside me, buzzing in my blood like carbonation - not exactly tired, but needing some connection to energy, needing something to happen - that forces the words I'm thinking out from under my tongue. "Buffy… Is there something else?"

She looks down the street, then at me, then fiddles with her stake, twirls it in her hand like a pencil, and thinks. "No," she says finally. Then, quickly, she adds, "Well, my parents were kind of weirded out. And that made things… weird, for a bit. But like you said, it's over."

I nod, and we walk deeper into the purple dark.