Title: Laws of Conservation
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Characters: Dawn Summers, Willow Rosenberg
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Prompt and Community: Punishment; galpalficathon
Word Count: 1,268
Warnings: Spoilers for "Seeing Red" and beyond.
Author's Note: Thanks to sunsetsinthewes for the beta.
When Dawn comes home from school, Willow is sitting on the living room floor, legs crossed and eyes closed. It's not weird for her. Willow meditates a lot now, communing with the earth or something like that. Dawn doesn’t entirely understand how it works. It has to do with planes of thought, and she just hasn’t figured out how to make it click. But whatever keeps her from trying to end the world again is a good thing, Dawn figures.
It’s only when Dawn gets closer that she realizes tears are streaming down Willow’s face.
“Willow?” Dawn drops her backpack, not caring where it lands. She rushes to her. “Willow, are you okay?”
Willow jolts like she's been shocked, eyes flying open. “Dawnie.” She sounds out of it, almost drugged. It reminds Dawn of potheads more than anything else. It’s probably because Dawn interrupted—usually, everyone leaves her until she comes out on her own—but she was weeping. “What’s wrong?”
“You’re crying. And apparently not aware of it.” Dawn joins her on the floor, staring at her. It’s kind of creepy that Willow doesn’t know she's been doing it. “So...what’s wrong?” Something has to be, to make Willow cry like that. Right?
“I was meditating.” Willow wipes her cheeks with her hand and shakes her head. “There’s this balance in the planet. I can feel it. If I focus, I know where it's off.” Apparently, that’s supposed to explain it.
“And it was off?” Because seriously, why was Willow crying? Wasn’t meditation supposed to be relaxing?
“No.” Willow takes a breath, rolling her neck and shoulders before she stands. “It was perfect. How was school?”
Dawn gives her an unimpressed look. “Okay, I’m sixteen. I know diversions when I see them. You could at least offer food.” Isn’t that supposed to be the go-to way to distract teenagers?
“All right. Do you want a snack?” Willow smiles at her. “I’ll tell you why, Dawnie. Just give me a little while.”
Dawn sighs dramatically. “I guess you can have five minutes to keep your thoughts to yourself.” She grins at Willow. “But I’ll take you up on the snack.” Why turn down food, especially when she doesn’t have to make it?
As they start for the kitchen, Willow nudges Dawn and asks, “So how was school?”
“Why this obsession with my school?” Dawn makes herself comfortable on a stool and leans forward on her elbows. “There’s a new girl in my chemistry class. She’s a chatterbox. Seems nice, though. Maybe I’ll go get a mocha with her sometime.”
“Buffy and I used to do that,” Willow says. She turns on the oven and opens the refrigerator. “There was a time, when she got back from running away, that we had this huge fight because, you know, she was going to run away again. When she finally got that she could talk to me, we went there and caught up.” She sets down a package of cookie dough and shakes her head. “Your sister has a thick skull.”
“Believe me, I know.” Dawn grins. “She doesn’t like to be told that.” Willow crouches, and there’s a clang before she stands back up, cookie sheet in hand. “This is almost like having my mom back, you know.”
Willow rips open the package and starts setting out squares on the sheet. “You know no one’s ever tried to replace her, right? We just want you to have a normal time growing up.” She looks up at Dawn, a smile tugging at her mouth. “Nice and calm. Nothing weird or stressful.”
Straight-faced, Dawn asks, “Do vampires in the basement count?”
They last about two seconds before they break. It’s Dawn first, snickering, before Willow starts giggling. Willow manages, “No, but seductive jackets do.”
That does it. Dawn almost doubles over, laughing helplessly until her eyes tear. It’s so ridiculous, laughing this hard at it, but really, they wouldn’t know “normal” if it bit them anymore. It takes a good five minutes before they sober up; the cookie dough is softer when Willow picks up the next square, and it loses its shape by the time she puts it down. Dawn wipes her face with a paper towel and shakes her head, a smile still pulling at the corners of her mouth.
“Balance,” Willow says suddenly. “That’s what I was feeling when I meditated. It’s not just energy and mass sums remaining the same, like they say in all the science classes. It’s life and death. Evil and good.” She's not smiling anymore, and neither is Dawn.
“Life and death?” Dawn asks. “What do you mean?”
“It’s...” Willow sighs and bites her lower lip, turning to put the cookies in the oven. “There’s a whole ratio of birth and death. It’s this ages-long thing, I haven’t figured it all out. I’m working on it, though. But anyway, you can’t disrupt it, or it has to even itself out again.”
“Tara,” Dawn breathes. “You mean—”
“Don't tell Buffy,” Willow pleads, her eyes bright. “Don’t tell her that I lost Tara because—” She breaks off, her face crumpling. Dawn slides off her stool and rounds the island to wrap her arms around Willow. Willow leans into her, sobbing, and manages, “Don’t tell her that was my punishment for bringing her back.”
“No,” Dawn soothes, but based on what Willow’s said, she’s also lying. “You can’t think like that, Willow. I mean, that was Warren. It was random and horrible. It wasn’t your fault.”
“I played God.” Willow’s still shaking, but her sobs have calmed. “I was arrogant and thought I could make dieties do what I wanted, and they punished me. They took Tara.”
Dawn can’t argue. She can't lie to Willow if Willow was the one to put it together. “If that's true,” Dawn says around the lump in her throat, “then they traded places. She’s in heaven, Willow. We knew that anyway, but that’s practically a guarantee, and Buffy said it was so good.”
Willow nods, breaking away from Dawn to grab a paper towel. “Yeah.” She looks at Dawn, flushing even more than the redness on her face from crying. “Dawnie, I’m sorry. I’m supposed to be the grownup, and you said it was like having your mom, and then I go and break down on you. Not very balanced grownup of me.”
“Hey, you’re allowed to grieve,” Dawn says. “It’s got to hurt so much.”
Willow nods and opens her mouth, but before she says anything, the timer for the oven beeps. She turns to pull out the cookies, setting them on the stove. “Don’t eat too many,” she cautions. “Buffy's making dinner.”
Dawn makes a face. “Doesn’t that mean ‘fill up on anything else’?”
Willow’s smile doesn’t quite reach her eyes. “Someone will intervene if the smoke gets too thick. Are you okay if I go out back?”
This sigh is not exaggerated. “Again, sixteen. I’ll be fine.”
“Sorry. Just with everything going on...” Willow shakes her head. “Yell if you need me, all right?”
Dawn watches her leave through the kitchen door. Willow settles out back by the tree, her eyes closing as she crumples again. It’s not like Dawn can fix things for her, but all the same, she’s lost her appetite for the cookies. Instead, she goes upstairs to Willow's room, touching where the blood didn’t come up all the way. “Stop making her hurt,” she demands of the air. Someone, somewhere, should be listening. “Stop making it worse. Hasn’t she been punished enough? Just leave Willow alone.” But Dawn knows she can't make it happen.