Title: Adapting to Change
Character: Buffy, Dawn, Xander and Giles.
Rating: PG 13, Gen
Written for: Setting: A few weeks after Grave
Summary: Buffy is dealing with the changes around her. This is told completely from Buffy's POV.
Notes: This is written for the "Buffy Is the Hero, Damnit" ficathon.
Thanks to and for the awesome beta!
Adapting to Change
Buffy examined the living room, daring it to be different. Her eyes ran over the couches, to the TV, the fireplace and finally the pictures on the mantle. Everything seemed to be in place, and that eased her somewhat. She wanted to believe that nothing was different, needed to believe it, but as hard as she tried to, she knew full well that everything had changed.
The change wasn't in the living room. It was everything but the living room. Things had been strange before, no doubt, but never like this. She wasn't sure where anyone stood, anymore. She wasn't sure where she stood.
She and Dawn had stayed at Xander's while the cops searched the house, as procedure demanded. Dawn had complained that there was no need for that, because they already knew that Warren was the one who killed Tara. When they were given permission to return to the house, Buffy and Dawn had stayed away for a few more days. It seemed they were not prepared to face the memories there yet.
When they decided to come back, Xander had assured them it was all right with him if they wanted to stay longer. But Buffy decided it was time to face reality.
"So, should I order pizza?" Dawn's voice drifted to her ears.
She turned around to face one numb looking Dawn, too numb for a fifteen year old. Sixteen, she reminded herself. Dawn was sixteen now. It was hard to remember that when Dawn's birthday was lost during the Willow apocalypse. Technically, it was the next day after the apocalypse.
She had planned something simple. Even Dawn didn’t want to invite any of her school friends, because Sweet Sixteen Birthday Parties were out of the cool wagon, which in the end was a definite plus considering what had happened. With Tara dead, Willow broken and grieving and the rest of the gang damaged in their own way, Buffy wasn’t sure they could throw a good party. Still, she felt bad that Dawn didn't get a candle to blow out.
"Whatever you want," she sighed. "Did you ask Xander?"
Dawn nodded. "He was the one to suggest Pizza." She walked to the kitchen, and disappeared behind the wall.
"Do you want a birthday party?"
There was a few seconds of silence before Dawn's head appeared from the kitchen doorway. "Is that a joke?"
She remembered Dawn's satisfied comment, and Xander's disapproving stare. Like it was bad to talk badly about the bad things Willow had done. Buffy couldn't bring herself to blame Xander. She, too, hated when anyone talked badly about the bad things Willow had done, and the bad things Angel had done, and the bad things Spike…
She sighed, walking toward the broken window. Xander had offered to fix it, when Giles took Willow away. She had told him to focus on the Magic Box first, the window could wait. Now she couldn’t bear it any longer. She didn't want another night of finding Dawn standing by the door, staring at the broken window and silently crying.
That was one of the reasons she had decided they should stay at Xander's for a little while. She had anticipated Dawn's reaction, which was painful to think about let alone see. She walked toward the door, staring at the golden key. All the bedrooms in the house could be locked only from the inside. She locked the door and decided to sleep on Willow's- Tara's- her mother's bed. Was this room cursed? It had held some wonderful people, all gone now. She hoped she wasn't next.
Meeting Willow's parents in person had changed Buffy's perspective of them. Actually, they weren't that bad. She had been surprised at their insistence on handling Tara's funeral. She didn't even know whether they had accepted Willow's relationship with Tara, in fact, she had never asked Willow about that. What was also surprising, and relieving, was Willow's mother calling her by her real name rather than Bunny. Anya would have definitely freaked if she’d heard Buffy called that.
Thinking of Anya, Buffy rarely saw her these days. She couldn't possibly ask Xander about her, not wanting to make an uncomfortable situation worse. What concerned Buffy was Anya's current vengeance state. From the very few moments she got a glimpse of her, Anya was at the Magic Box watching Xander and his crew repair the damage. It seemed fixing the Magic Box was more important to her than dispensing vengeance, still, it was a temporary distraction. Sooner or later, Anya would be back on her game, helping the spurned women of Sunnydale. And helping them would mean killing their cheating boyfriends, which went against the slayer handbook.
What if she went after Xander? The question was, why hadn't she gone after Xander up till now?
If Anya's grief drove her to return to demonhood, then it was surely because she wanted to hurt Xander. Privately, Buffy suspected that watching Anya do the nasty with Spike had hurt Xander much more than any vengeance wish ever could, and probably that was enough for Anya. At least, Buffy hoped so.
"It didn't suit you, anyway," Xander said.
They were sitting in her kitchen. Buffy was eating the ice cream Xander had brought over. It was amusing that he knew how a depressed woman craved ice cream, but that didn't shock her.
She smiled a little. "What suited me, then?"
"Work is work. How much it pays, that’s what matters."
"Sure, but you didn't really expect Doublemeat Palace to be the future, right?"
"It was only a job… a lousy job I was fired from." Buffy shook her head. "How pathetic can I get?" She looked at her ice cream, too depressed to take another bite.
"If anyone is the expert on crappy jobs, it'll be me." Now Xander sat up straight, as if he was about to go all 'When I was your age' speech. "You know the history, from pizza delivery boy to selling ice cream, all of which I was fired from." She smiled at him. "Point is, you'll go through a series of crappy jobs until you find the last stop. One with 'Buffy' written all over it." There was a flashy Xander-smile that more often than not promised a bright day with chocolate and flowers. The usual fluffy pink days. It had been awhile since she had one of those days. She wasn't sure why she wasn't even feeling it at the moment.
"If I can do it, so can you," he concluded.
If only she had the time to ride the Train of Crappy Jobs. Dawn was still numb, with nothing to turn to while her friends were abroad for the summer; Buffy spent days looking after her, and nights doing patrol. There was just no time to sift through the paper for available jobs.
"I can help you with the money issues, until you find a steady job," Xander offered.
Buffy's answer was a grateful smile.
Buffy, Xander and Dawn. Every night. Watching a movie, slaying, going to the beach. Never really talking. She wished Giles and Willow would come back. She wished for things to go back to the way they were. Whatever "were" was.
She reached for the phone, but stopped. Not ready yet.
All questions that made Buffy curse the moment Xander had told Dawn about what happened. She didn't know why Xander had babbled about something that didn't concern him. No, actually she could see why. As much as she hated it, it was a typical Xander thing to do, when it was about Spike doing something bad. Like the soulless vampire he was. She was glad Xander hadn't apparently gone into details. From Dawn's questions, she could tell that he hadn't mentioned where it happened or the big bruise on her thigh.
"I used to think he was different," Dawn had said. "Not Angel different, just different from the other loser vampires around." There had been a long, penetrating stare at Buffy, before she said in a bitterness that shouldn't be allowed on sixteen-year-olds, "He was just like them, huh?"
Buffy hadn't answered. She had answered none of Dawn's questions. She had just listened to her sister rant about Spike, and remained silent. The macaroni and cheese she was trying to make had held all her attention at that moment.
Sometimes she couldn't figure him out. From time to time he would be the biggest jerk on the planet, and sometimes he would be… the opposite of that.
She couldn't work out why he would at times just say the right thing at exactly the right moment, and sometimes he would hurt her by saying things she didn't want to believe about herself. It didn’t help that some of them had proved to be true.
"Hope he’s having a nice vacation," Xander commented coming up next to her, "Someplace with lots of fire, sunlight, chainsaw enemas and the whole package."
She was grateful Xander had volunteered to help her patrolling. It reminded her of high school, when he'd had no responsibilities and patrolled with her more often. "Hope he never comes back."
She looked at him, at the anger and hate that burned in his eyes. She knew the reason for it, she knew it was all for her, and yet part of her resented it. She didn't want anyone to pass judgment, or even talk about Spike. Basically, no one knew him or saw the different sides of him that she had. Xander and Dawn should focus more on their issues, and how to fix their own lives, than lecture her about hers. She knew they were being protective, that they were loving her with their concern and worry, so she kept her annoyance inside.
"Why do you stand here every day?" Xander suddenly asked.
She had hoped he wouldn’t notice, but when patrol nights were so boringly quiet, there was no chance he wouldn’t. Sometimes Xander would make an effort to understand, but usually his hatred for Spike made him blurt out some hurtful truths. Even when he tried his best not to say them.
"Do you miss him?"
His tone was scary. She knew she had to deny. Fast. She opened her mouth to do that, but nothing came out. She was just too tired to pretend. After what Spike had done, the logical way for her to react was to totally despise him, the way Xander and Dawn were doing. Hating Spike was rational, as well as expected from her by her sister, her friend, and the world of logic.
Yet that just wasn’t how she felt. She hated that she was unpredictable, even to herself.
"He tried to rape you." Xander's voice rose in anger. "I can't possibly think why you miss him so much!"
"I don't miss him," she defended. "I just…"
"You just what?"
"Forget it," she said wearily, and started to walk away.
"You let him in." She stopped walking and heaved a tired sigh. Xander wasn't going to just forget it apparently. "You went to him and you let him in. You trusted no one but him. I don’t see how you saw that as wise or good, but…"
"You left Anya at the altar!" she yelled, frustrated. She turned around and faced him, feeling the tears well up. "You called her things, and you beat up someone who couldn't fight back." If he was going to list all the stupid things she had done, it would be fair enough of her to list his as well.
"I never said I was perfect," he admitted, looking down, ashamed.
That made her calm down a little. She looked at him sympathetically. "And you shouldn't expect me to be."
"Well, right now, I don't."
She just watched him leave, and the dampness in her eyes flowed over onto her cheeks. She had to admit, she loved it when Xander thought of her as this unstoppable hero. It was his way to keep her going. It always worked. It lifted her spirits knowing that someone always believed in her even at her lowest. Believing in her helped her win.
Was she still his hero? If not, everything had changed.
"Isn't that the Slayer?" Behind her she felt the vampire before he even spoke.
She roughly wiped away the tears and gripped her stake. Looked like the long dry spell was over. Things might have changed in her personal life, but the vampires kept coming. Good to know there were some things she could rely on.
Buffy forced the smile on her lips. "It's all right, Dawn." Getting dressed up and having to endure two hours of eardrum-breaking noise and bright screen didn't sound as nice as curling up on her bed with a book she wasn't really reading. She just didn't feel like doing anything, especially when it seemed that vampires had emigrated lately. She especially didn't want to see anything involving a wedding. She wasn't too keen on weddings after the last one she had attended. "Lazy night sounds much more exciting at the moment."
"So the plan is to have an all night brood?" Dawn asked with a grimace. "C'mon, what should I do with the extra ticket?"
"Why don't you ask Xander to go?"
Dawn waved a hand. "Please. And interrupt his version of It's A Gloomy Life? No, thanks."
Buffy wished she could pretend to be happy just because Dawn needed her to be. It was becoming harder day after day to live up to others' expectations. Back in high school, it had been much easier to be herself and know that her friends would still accept her. She wasn’t that girl anymore, though, and from the looks of it, Dawn and the others didn't seem to like the person she was now.
When Buffy didn’t reply, Dawn shook her bag in irritation. “You know,” she said, “you two could die of moping overdose for all I care. I, at least, have the strength to keep living."
She felt his hand holding hers gently. She knew if she looked at him she would see nothing but naked fear and concern. "She's fine," she answered quietly. "They're just placing the cast on her arm."
He heaved a sigh. "Poor Dawn, that's her second cast this year."
"So many people were killed," she said in a hushed voice. She had wondered why it looked like vampires were disappearing. They were actually hiding, planning, thinking. Aside from Angel and Spike, she rarely considered the fact that vampires were able to think and plan. She had always mistaken them for mindless creatures. And because she had underestimated them, Dawn could have been killed tonight.
"Killed in the movie theater," he muttered. "Last time we saw that was in Scream 2."
"She asked me to join her. If I had, she…"
"Stop it right there. If I had a nickel for every time you felt guilt over something you shouldn't, I'd own every comic book from here to Jamaica."
She didn't answer. She was stuck on the thought of Dawn, trapped in the movie theater while the vampire gangsters attacked. One big tattooed vampire grabbing her as she flailed, crying and trying to get free. People around her dying.
She blinked away the forming tears and looked at Xander.
"It wasn't your fault."
She stared at his determined eyes for several seconds before her gaze moved to his hand, still locked around her own. She looked at it for what must have been a little too long, because she felt Xander shift and let her hand go in an awkward gesture. He settled himself in his seat and gazed ahead at the rushing doctors and moaning patients.
She looked at him, feeling something in her throat. They hadn't spoken since that night in the cemetery. There was that time when he had called their house and Dawn had answered. He hadn't asked for Buffy. She didn't know why it scared her so much. Probably more abandonment issues, intensifying after all those closest to her had begun to vanish, one after another. Except for Dawn, Xander was the only one left. She just couldn’t handle the thought of losing him, too.
"So," she started uneasily. "How have you been?"
He gave her a broad smile. "How come it's always you who starts with the patching-up?"
"Because I don't wanna lose you, too," she answered seriously. She knew how Xander dealt with things. Big on the jokes, yeah, yeah, it didn't matter, let's laugh it off. Buffy didn't work that way, not anymore. She really wanted to make sure Xander would stick around until the end. She couldn't bear the thought of losing the last person who stayed by her side.
"You thought I'd walk away because of a stupid fight?" he asked, his expression was one of pure shock.
"I'm sorry, I just…."
"Look, I don't understand this," Xander interrupted. Anyone would think he was talking about the Spike issue, and he might be, but Buffy heard it differently. He meant he didn't understand her. It was fine, she didn't understand herself, either. It was a relief that no one did. At least that was part of her that she could keep for herself…
Xander shrugged extravagantly, pulling Buffy’s mind back to the fact that he was actually talking to her. “But I guess that doesn’t matter,” he went on. “Lately nobody really understands each other."
Here he meant that nobody cared to know each other. Buffy had recognized how much she and Willow meant for Xander. They were his life. Everything they did… he always tried to see the why, always tried to make excuses for their actions. Always saw them as the best thing since Fred Astaire. Now that both of his idols had disappointed him, he was becoming less and less the optimistic person he had always been. She ended up with Pessimistic Xander, too tired and too shruggy and too lifeless. There were no more attempts to bring Anya back, no jokes, no big, silly smiles. If this could happen to Xander, then they were all doomed to change into old, worn-out people before they turned twenty-three.
She was about to reach out to him, comfort him, when he surprised her by flashing the familiar carefree grin. “Maybe I should just stay focused on the fact that I, Xander Harris, saved the world."
This time her smile was genuinely real. "Wasn't the first time."
If he reacted to that, she didn’t see it, because Dawn finally came out then, arm in a cast and a studiously bored expression on her face. Buffy and Xander rushed forward, engulfing Dawn in their arms.
"Hurry up, Xander!"
Dawn, shouting from downstairs. It was nice to have Xander relieve her from spending every minute with Dawn. Buffy had sacrificed her life for her, but seriously, no big sister on the planet Earth would want to spend every minute of the day with her kid sister.
Xander had decided to rent Dawn a movie of her choice to entertain her while she was in recovery prison. Dawn had insisted that Xander see it with her, since the movie she really wanted to see was My Big Fat Greek Wedding. That meant poor Xander was stuck watching some boring chick flick for the whole night. Buffy, feeling for Xander’s predicament, bought Xander’s favorite flavors of microwave popcorn, so he’d spend more time in the kitchen popping corn and not have to watch every bit of the movie. Knowing Dawn, though, she'd probably click PAUSE until he came back with two big bowls of popcorn.
She frowned. She had to keep her attention focused on the phone. She had to call Giles tonight. No more hiding, Summers. Been there, done that. Never worked well. The laughter downstairs helped her firm her determination. Her hand finally grabbed the receiver. It felt cool as she pressed it against her ear. Her eyes looked at the notebook. Her finger dialed the number. Her ear listened to the ringing, and just before she was about to disconnect, there he was.
His voice was too calm it almost made her hang up. Maybe she wasn't ready yet.
"It's been almost six weeks," he quietly said. "I wish to hear your voice before it rounds up to a full two months."
She swallowed a lump. She didn't really know what to say. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so awkward with him. Giles was a… comfortable person to be with. He was always the first to know anything about her, and if he had been around when she first came back, he would have probably been the first to realize that she had been pulled out of heaven.
"Hey," she whispered hastily. Even though she wasn't relaxed like she used to be, at least not yet, she didn't want him to hang up.
"Hello, Buffy." The gentle smile she could hear in his voice nearly made her choke.
"Giles…" She swallowed again. What was she going to say? That she missed him? That she was sorry she hadn't contacted him for more than a month? That she wished he was here?
"I don't know what to say," she finally said the lamest thing that popped into her head.
"I believe that's for the best," he said with a tingle of laughter in his voice that made the atmosphere suddenly more bearable.
She smiled. "So how's England? I mean, over there you've got the sacred tea time and all."
"England is well," he replied. "I'm happy to taste true English tea once more. Willow is becoming accustomed to it."
Buffy fell into silence. It wasn't like she had expected the phone call to go without a single mention of Willow. After all, Willow was living with Giles. He was sure to talk about her sooner or later.
It was like she considered Willow a taboo, some villain they had defeated and who should never be spoken of again. She couldn’t help it. What they had seen from Willow was… huge. Too much to just forget it happened. She bit her lip. She hated the way she was thinking about Willow.
"How is she?" she asked at last.
"Barely speaks or meets anyone's gaze."
Buffy could see that. It depressed her to think about Willow, sitting alone, losing herself in dark thoughts. Feeling guilty wasn’t an easy thing to have. Buffy should know. It hadn’t been the easiest year for anybody. They were finally broken, all of them. Last year had brought out the worst in everyone. Even while hearing the laughter downstairs, it was hard for her to believe that things could ever get back to the way they used to be.
"It's good to hear your voice," Giles said, interrupting her train of thoughts. That gentle voice once again. Yes, she was glad she had called.
"I love you, love you, love you," Dawn exclaimed for the tenth time, addressing Xander. Since she had missed the movie because of the vampire attack at the theater, Xander had thought it would be nice to go through the search engines in hope of finding the just-released-movie. Surprising them all, especially himself, he was able to find and download it with little difficulty.
"Just shows that carpenters can be pirates." Xander grinned. "Without the costume, of course."
"Now if only we can get through Buffy's hot chili pepper," Dawn coughed, putting more ice in her glass of water.
"Hey, it's Indian food. It's supposed to be spicy."
Buffy took a bite of her supposed chicken Tikka masala. Ever since being fired from the Doublemeat Palace, she had found comfort in cooking. She tried all types of ethnic food, taking it as a challenge. She practiced every new dish on Xander and Dawn, her guinea pigs. Xander and Dawn didn’t really mind, as long as they had the option of calling for pizza as a last resort.
She looked at Dawn and Xander eating and watching the movie. Things were shaping up lately. Xander had commented earlier today that she seemed to be smiling more often. She had replied that Xander also had been throwing out a couple of jokes every day. They were starting to be happy again, or at least something like cheerful, so that Dawn no longer complained about their moping sessions.
As far as sessions went, she had decided to train Dawn once the arm healed. Now that she was sixteen, it would be harder for Buffy to lock her up in her room until she came back from patrol. Plus, since Dawn was supposed to be made up from Buffy, it wouldn’t be surprising if Dawn snuck out the window when Buffy wasn’t looking. At the very least, she needed to be able to defend herself.
"I had to go to Greek school, where I learned valuable lessons such as, "If Nick has one goat and Maria has nine, how soon will they marry?""
"Is it okay to have a birthday party a month later?"
"Really?" Giles’ voice, full of amusement, drifted into her ears.
"Well, it started horrible but then I got the hang of it." She swallowed the chips quickly because she couldn't make sense out of what she was saying. She looked at a picture of her mother, and could almost see her frown in disapproval at her daughter talking while eating. "All thanks to Rachael Ray's Open House Cookbook. But it sure says something that I'm able to follow her recipes, right?"
"Of course," Giles replied. "Everything she does come from a can, of course it'll be complicated."
"You know, subtle doesn't suit you."
His quiet chuckle was cut by a familiar voice, muttering something Buffy couldn't make out. She was only able to hear Xander and Dawn argue about the amount of butter they should use, but still she figured out the person talking to Giles. She was mostly surprised at how shocked she felt. Because of her shock, she missed what Giles said. Something to do with a thing on top of a shelf, he was clearly not talking to Buffy.
Now she was focused enough to hear Willow's faint voice from the phone, asking Giles who he was talking to.
"No, Giles," Buffy whispered forlornly.
There was a pause, a very short one, before Giles laughed in delight — he was such a great actor — and then said to Willow, “That’s my cousin Margaret."
It was as if she could see Willow nod lifelessly and walk out of the room. She didn't need Giles' declaration, "She left."
Man, that was… awkward wouldn't cover it. She felt guilty, as well as relieved for how she had reacted. So many emotions rushed inside her, but what mattered at the moment was what Giles thought of her reaction. He was probably disappointed. Correction, he was without a doubt disappointed. She must have sounded like a bitch. She hoped there would be no lecture, because if that happened she'd fake a 'Xander-barbecued-Dawn' emergency.
"I'm sorry," she quickly said. "I'm not sure…"
"I find Rachael Ray an appealing topic in this particular moment."
"It's all right, Buffy," Giles said calmly. Nice calm. Gentle calm. Thankfully not Silence of the Lambs calm. "We all need time."
"I just… I love Willow," she tried to explain. She wasn't sure what to say. She missed Willow. Willow was on the top of her Everything Changed list. But after all that had happened… it was hard to picture them having a conversation of any sort. If she were to talk to Willow — and she would eventually — it would be in no form other than face-to-face.
"I'm not sure what to say to her," she said the most reasonable explanation.
"I can tell she feels the same way."
There was a pause. Buffy tried to remember times when she and Willow sat in her bedroom gossiping or doing things girlfriends enjoyed. Her mind was blank. Not that she couldn't remember any good Willow-and-Buffy moments, but… whenever she found one, in her mind Willow’s hair and eyes and clothes were solid, light-sucking black.
Vampire Willow was much easier to get over.
"I know it's hard to believe," Giles suddenly said, "but one day, some things will get back to normal."
"Like you coming back?" She wanted to kick herself for saying something like that. Good job, making things more awkward than they already were. Seeing as Giles hadn't replied, she thought, what the heck? Things were already awkward, so better to get some issues off her chest. "For something not apocalypse-related?" she added.
For some reason, she imagined Giles with a small smile. "Of course," he replied softly. Perhaps she was right on the soft-smiling thing. Perhaps he was pouting, which would be completely weird. Pouting was a cute thing done by cute people, and that was not Giles. At least not to Buffy, because if he was, that would be very disturbing.
Speaking of cute. "And there will be presents?"
"Louis Vuitton or Versace?"
Buffy laughed. "You're serious?"
"If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have a salary. It's the least I can do." Would she go patrolling with a Louis Vuitton bag? How about Prada high heels? The last time she had something that expensive was the Burberry scarf Riley had bought for her. Now Giles was going to bring her something from Louis Vuitton. How sweet.
"However," –Darn, she knew there was a catch- "I expect to be greeted with the traditional English shepherd’s pie."
"Uh, Giles, I don't do cultural cooking, anymore. Rachael Ray, remember?"
"Oh, that's… unfortunate." Oh, God. Now she pictured Giles pouting. He was definitely pouting. That sucked. Regardless of her previous thoughts, she would pay to see Giles pout. Of course, there would be a camera involved. That would make for the best blackmail. “Maybe we could get Rachael Ray to write a book about cultural cooking recipes?"
She smiled. Count on Giles to make some things remain the same.