"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
-Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
The first thing Willow says when they get to Buffy’s house is, “We need to make a chart.”
The secret funeral is over. The grave-cloaking spell has been performed, as suggested by Tara; they can’t very well have newly-risen vamps, or worse, well-meaning people from social services, discovering that Buffy isn’t so much with the living. Giles and Spike have both wandered off in different directions, shooting Dawn awkward smiles and muttering vague excuses. Dawn is in her room, door closed, which leaves Tara, Willow, Xander, and Anya sitting around the coffee table in their dead friend’s living room, picking at a half-empty box of cheese crackers Anya fished out of the cupboard.
“Actually,” Willow continues, “we need multiple charts—one for Dawn’s physical development, another for academic achievements, and another for feelingsy ones—you know,” she says, misinterpreting the group’s blank stares, “Like if she opens up to us about a crush or something. Or if she does something that really demonstrates her self-control.”
Tara squeezes Willow’s hand, but nonetheless raises her eyebrows.
“Didn’t you used to complain when your mom did that, Will?” says Xander, crumbling a cracker into dust between his fingers. “Didn’t we make jokes about how she never knew any of your real milestones anyway? Didn’t you read her child psychology books to find out when you were supposed to reach each step and then just tell her you had, right on schedule?”
“Well,” admits Willow, “sometimes I pretended to be a bit early. But it got me reading academic papers at age eleven, so really, developmentally, I was already—”
“I don’t understand,” says Anya, oblivious to the fact that she is the only one actually eating the crackers. “When I tried to make charts about humans you disliked it, Willow.”
Willow looks like she’s going to cry. “I just mean, we need to do this right! We’re talking about looking after a teenager here. There’s so much that could go wrong! She could get all depressed now that Buffy’s gone, and what if she cuts herself again, and what if she has no friends, or, or, what if she falls for someone she’s only met online but he turns out to be a demon?”
“Or a giant praying mantis,” chips in Xander.
“A giant praying mantis…with an internet connection,” says Tara, her face briefly lit up in a smile.
“You do have a point, Will,” says Xander. “None of us know how to take care of a teenager. But Buffy didn’t either, and she was doing all right.”
“Sure,” says Anya. “Letting her sneak out to spend time with an amoral vampire. Almost getting her killed by a hell god. That was sarcasm,” she adds.
“S-she was doing her best,” says Tara softly. “That’s all we can do either.”
“Yeah,” says Xander, “Our best! And I don’t know about you, Will, but I for one want to aim a bit higher than my own parental units did. Think Dawn deserves a bit more actual attention and a lot fewer drunken fights.”
“There’s also the demon factor to consider, I suppose,” says Anya. Tara looks at her, startled. “I mean,” Anya continues, seeing Tara’s face, “there are vengeance demons specializing in wronged children, and we wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of one of them. But also, I for one am firmly against telling female family members they have demons inside them to keep them in line. Although, if Dawn were part demon, I think we could handle that,” she muses.
Tara shoots Anya a smile. She hesitates for a moment, but when the silence drags on she finally says, “Y-you met my father, and my brother. But you never knew my mother. When I think of the kind of parent I want to be, I think of her.”
“I guess—I guess I think of Buffy’s mom,” says Willow. “But slightly less with the cooking and cleaning. Since we can do all that with magic.”
“Sometimes it’s good to do that stuff by hand, though, sweetie,” says Tara. “You can’t just use magic for everything.”
Willow seems about to respond, but Xander jumps in first. “I think of Joyce too,” he says. “And also Giles, actually. He practically raised us.” He shrugs. “Maybe we should ask him for advice.”
“OK,” says Willow. “So, I guess it’s a no on the charts. I still think we should read some books, though. Look, I already found one!” She pulls two books out of her fuzzy shoulder bag. One, called Everything You Wanted to Know About Your Teen (But Were Afraid to Ask), she places on the coffee table. The other, called Life-Giving Secrets, she stuffs back into her bag, but not before earning another raised eyebrow from Tara.
Anya picks up the book and reads the table of contents. “Ooh,” she says, “there’s a chapter on sex. Have we thought about who’s going to give her the sex talk? Do we know what Buffy and Joyce told her? What’s our plan if she wants to become sexually active? I suppose since you two,” she points at Willow and Tara, “are going to be staying with her, you would be the logical choices, but chances are Dawn will only be interested in men, which is not your area of expertise. I’m just saying,” she protests, when Xander makes a face, “this book says Dawn is nearing the age when she blossoms into a sexual being, if she hasn’t already.”
Willow giggles. “You sound just like my mother. ‘It’s perfectly natural for a girl of your age to be curious about this kind of thing,’” she imitates, “‘but that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about some of the words in that story you were reading on your computer.’” She ducks her head into Tara’s neck as Xander raises his eyebrows. “Never mind.”
Xander shrugs. “So it’s settled. We either mess Dawn up the same way our own parents messed us up, or we mess her up in a completely different way.” The four of them nod slowly, nobody knowing whether to laugh or cry. Anya grabs another handful of crackers.