i. emotions in motion
When the question of Dawn is raised, Spike and Tara speak in unison. They're both fully capable, and more, of patrolling with the others, but keeping an eye on Dawn is more appealing, though they each have different reasons for their preference.
Tara is more comfortable with defensive magic, wards and minor glamours. Protecting Dawn is something she knows she can do well, better than kill vampires.
As for Spike, well, he made a promise to a lady, and that's all he ever says out loud.
"I don't need a babysitter." Dawn flings herself onto the sofa as dramatically as possible, and it's ruined only by her pout.
"We're not babysitting," Tara points out, looking sidelong at Spike.
"Yeah," he jumps in, taking her cue. "We're just gonna be, you know, in the house. When you are."
"Coincidentally," Tara adds.
Dawn rolls her eyes. "Right." She sits up. "I demand sappy movies. And popcorn. And java chip ice cream."
Tara pretends to think it over, tapping her chin with her index finger. Then she grins. "Done, done, and done."
Spike raises his hand. "Objection!"
"You don't have to watch the movie if you don't want to."
He shrugs. "Can I pick it out?"
Tara and Dawn respond simultaneously.
Despite her insistence that she be allowed to stay up as late as she wants ("It's not like I have school in the morning," she pleads), Dawn falls asleep on the floor at half-past midnight.
A bit tired herself, Tara slouches against the sofa's arm, tilts her head so she can see Spike out of the corner of her eye. "This movie sucks."
Eyes on the screen, he snorts. "Yes. It does."
"Where's the remote?"
"Under Dawn's elbow."
There's a long, relaxed minute of silence before Tara responds.
"I guess it's not that bad."
They don't say anything else until the end, when the hero and heroine kiss as the sun sets.
Then, they laugh loud enough to wake Dawn.
In the weeks that follow, they develop a routine. Dawn complains, almost word-for-word each time, they appease her with the latest in Ben & Jerry's, and they watch wish fulfillment movies until Dawn falls asleep, or they just can't take it anymore.
It's a nice routine, and when Spike spends an evening on patrol with the others, Tara and Dawn try to go through the motions, but it's not the same.
Not until Spike returns, the next time, and grumps for ninety minutes about how Julia Roberts is not the be all and end all of romance.
Once in a while, there's a bad night, when a demon or a couple of ambitious vampires decide to forgo the dance and swoop in on Slayer headquarters. A pre-emptive strike, except that Buffy doesn't exist anymore, and what passes for her is doing a perimeter sweep across town with the rest of the Scoobies.
If Dawn's lucky, both Tara and Spike are there to defend her.
Tara's spells usually deflect the first attack, a frontal assault on the front door, or the living room window. The attack is heralded by the dull thud and icy shiver of wards at work, and Dawn shuts the TV off with a yelp.
They stand in the center of the room, listen to the vampires charge like birds against glass, long enough for Spike to get annoyed and yank his boots on, dart outside to yell for a bit before he performs the obligatory staking and/or disembowling.
If they're lucky, he won't do it bare-handed, because he usually drips blood on the carpet, otherwise.
One night, Dawn isn't postured on the couch as she usually is.
Spike and Tara glance warily at each other, refusing to prepare for the worst, but tense nonetheless.
Then, Spike tilts his head, turns to the staircase. "Niblet's upstairs." He sheds his coat and boots, motions to Tara. "She's crying."
They creep up the stairs, up to Dawn's bedroom door, and Tara can finally hear what Spike heard; Dawn's sobbing, and it sounds like she's been knifed in the gut.
Spike pushes the door open, and they see Dawn curled up in her bed, a stuffed monkey clutched to her chest.
When she notices them standing there, she sits up and wipes her eyes. Holds the toy up and smiles weakly. "Buffy gave it to me."
She doesn't have to say anything more, because they're on either side of her immediately.
They cling together as if their lives depended on it.
The next time Dawn's disappeared, it's a happier thing. Tara peeks into her bedroom, and Dawn's gossiping on the phone about someone's horrible first date, and how could she possibly have said that, but he totally didn't even notice it because of that skanky outfit she was wearing.
Tara smiles and sneaks back downstairs, where Spike's waiting with a bowl of popcorn and a disgruntled expression.
Tara already knows the cause, but she asks anyway. "What?"
"Like you don't already know." He eyes her Blockbuster selections with distaste. "While You Were Sleeping? Four Weddings and a bloody Funeral? Dr. T & the Women?" He picks up the last one and tosses it onto the floor. "You think I don't have a soul? Give Kate Hudson a look for a change."
She doesn't bother to argue, but picks up the carton, opens it, and pops the video into the VCR.
Dawn begs, for the duration of the week, to be allowed a slumber party. After a group deliberation and several intense rounds of patrol, Giles allows that it might be acceptable if the number of guests is limited and proper chaperones are in place.
After an hour of sulking in her bedroom, Dawn skips back to the living room and loftily accepts the proposal.
A week later, three giggling girls arrive, pillows and makeup bags in hand.
Tara bakes brownies and lends Dawn all her nail polish.
Spike runs to the grocery store for Mountain Dew and ice cream, with a side trip to Blockbuster.
For their help, they're sent off to the kitchen with stern instructions to the tune of "Be cool and don't embarrass me."
Tara makes hot chocolate for two, and Spike starts laughing at nothing, which signals that he's overheard something Tara can't.
"Are they talking about us?"
"What are they saying?"
He drops another mini-marshmallow into his mug. "They want to know whose boyfriend I am."
Tara stirs the whipped cream in her drink before she hazards the question. "Whose boyfriend are you?"
He winks at Tara, making her blush. "Question of the hour, love."
When the girls finally march upstairs for makeovers, they reclaim the living room as their own, and Spike declares that if he has to watch another movie starring Jennifer Lopez, he might have to turn evil again.
Tara doesn't reply, but slips Out of Sight into the VCR with a grin.