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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

Keeping the Monsters At Bay
By devlinof9


"Ow," Buffy grumbled, as she reached out to open the door to her house. Patrol hadn't gone very well, and the limping slayer was evidence of that fact. She was sore in places she couldn't even pronounce, and silently cursed all Chaos demons for her current state. At least mom isn't home yet to worry over me like, well, a mom, she thought with a rueful shake of her head. Buffy had complained about looking after Dawn while her mother went to LA on business for the week, but for once, was glad the elder Summers wasn't home.

Pushing open the door quietly, realizing how late it truly was, she looked around for any sign that the designated babysitters were still up and about. Buffy had nearly begged Willow and Tara to come stay at the house while she went out, wanting to make sure Dawn would be okay. She had even been the one to spring for pizza and movie rentals. Of course Dawn had screamed like a child that she WASN'T a child, but it was half hearted. She loved spending time with the two wiccans. Thank God they had the same taste in dorky comedies.

She had seen from the sidewalk that the living room light was muted, so that was where she headed first after closing the door. Soft music had reached her ears when she first came inside, and she followed it once her shoes were off, in the same direction. Peeking around the corner, Buffy was not prepared in the slightest for what she saw.

The soft light she had seen from outside was the television, playing something that went unnoticed with the sound muted. Bathed in the soft glow, Dawn was curled up on the floor in her sleeping bag, a greasy pizza box, and empty coke cans littered around her. She looked like she was enjoying whatever dream she was wrapped up in, a big contented smile on her face. But that wasn't what caught her attention.

The music, soft and lilting that had drawn her from the foyer, wasn't coming from the cd player. It was coming from Tara. Reclined on the sofa, one leg hanging to the floor, the other hidden by a thick comforter, the blonde wiccan had Willow sprawled out on her stomach, deep in sleep, the shadow of what might have been a scowl on her face. The sleeping girl's hands were clutching tightly to Tara's shirt, in a white knuckled grip, that flexed and released with every stroke of her girlfriend's fingers through her hair.

Buffy listened to the song with keen slayer hearing, recognizing it instantly. "Even though you're so far away I know that this much is true, we'll make it through," Tara sang quietly, the almost whispered lyrics, seeming to instantly calm Willow's shifting, "And I hope you are the one I share my life with." Buffy thought she had the most beautifully soothing voice she'd ever heard.

Tara hadn't noticed her yet, her attention focused on Willow's restless sleep, and the song she was singing. Staying silent, Buffy watched the scene for a long moment, wondering at the bond the two woman seemed to share. It was quite obvious that Tara was exhausted by the way she held her head propped up with one hand, but she was fighting off sleep. Suddenly feeling like a voyeur, the slayer cleared her throat softly, waving a couple fingers in greeting when Tara's head whipped around.

"H-Hi, Buffy," the blonde stammered, blushing quite evidently at being caught singing, "How was patrol?"

Buffy shrugged noncommittally. "I went, I insulted, I slayed," she whispered, "Same ole." She pulled off her jacket with a wince and tossed it into an empty chair. "Dawn's really out hunh?" She wanted to change the subject a little so the blonde wouldn't feel so uncomfortable.

"Y-Yeah," Tara nodded, her hand still moving through Willow's hair, "A-Are you okay?" There was concern in her voice.

"Zigged when I shoulda zagged," Buffy brushed it off casually, "No big." She reached back to massage the pulled muscle in her back and pointed hesitantly. "Everything okay?" She could see the stressed look on Willow's sleeping face, and was a little worried that something had happened while she was out.

Tara nodded and ducked her head a little. "Nightmare," she answered, as if it was a regular occurrence. At Buffy's frown, she decided to explain. "W-Willow has bad dreams a-about stuff."

"Stuff," the slayer echoed, dipping her head and squinting at Tara, "She get them often?" Images of Faith, the Mayor, Adam, and the Master, flashed before her eyes, and all at once, she realized just what her redhaired friend had been through in the last four years.

"S-Sometimes, but they're getting b-better," the blonde smiled proudly. The way she said it made Buffy believe they had been much worse at one time, and that made her feel very guilty. Guilty that she hadn't noticed the nightmares, and that she hadn't even thought to ask. "The s-singing helps," Tara added with a very embarrassed blush, "She, just didn't want to w-worry you and..."

Buffy couldn't help but smile, and held up her hand. "Say no more," the slayer stopped her from explaining any further, "If you guys are okay here, I'll go pass out. You want me to take Dawn?" Tara shook her head briefly and then turned her attention back to Willow, who had begun whimpering again.

"Mno. Oz," Willow moaned in her sleep, tensing up, "Buf? help."

Buffy watched quietly in awe as the blonde laid her hand on Willow's back and rubbed in small circles. "Shhh," Tara whispered, "It's okay, baby." Tara looked up at the Slayer with a sympathetic expression and gave her a slight smile that looked forced.

Buffy mouthed a goodnight and backed quietly out of the room, her heart breaking for her friend's pain. Until that moment, she admitted to herself that she thought Willow was just going through a phase; a response to Oz leaving her not once, but twice. But the love she saw on the sofa made her realize it was not a passing fancy. The soft music of another song, sounded in her ears as she crept quietly up the stairs, and that added a slight tinge of self pity to her ache, a far away pain for what she didn't have.

"Don't wanna close my eyes, don't wanna fall asleep cuz I'd miss you babe, and I don't wanna miss a thing."

Buffy smiled a little in the darkness, realizing how true those words really were.

The End

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