|"She hates me."
Buffy turned from her work in time to see Dawn fling herself into the couch, resulting in a squeal of springs. She dumped her backpack unceremoniously on the floor beside her.
"Who, the couch? Sounds like it, from the way you're treating it. Be careful, because we can't afford a new one."
"We can't afford anything," Dawn grumbled, momentarily distracted, but she returned quickly enough to her complaint. "No, I meant Willow. Willow hates me."
Buffy sighed, and put down the bank statement she'd been trying to reconcile for the past hour. "Well of course she doesn't, Dawn," she said, getting up and moving to sit beside her on the couch.
"She must," Dawn insisted. "When I went to see her last week about the blood bank thefts, she could barely even pretend to be interested. And this afternoon I stopped by because I though she could help me with my advanced algebra... Buffy, she wouldn't even see me! She made Giles come tell me that she was too busy with her own work to do trivial problems." She drew her feet up onto the couch and rested her head despondently on her knees. "It's because of what I said about the cookies, I just know it. How was I supposed to know she'd take it the way she did?"
Buffy slipped a supportive arm around Dawn's shoulders and her sister leaned against her heavily. "Willow's still grieving for Tara, honey," she said gently. "When people are in pain, they sometimes say things they don't really mean. You and I have both done the same thing; it doesn't mean we don't love each other - in fact it probably means just the opposite, since we know how to be the most devastating." When this didn't get a response, Buffy just held Dawn close until she felt her begin to relax in her arms.
"Does this mean I'm trespassing in your territory?" Buffy asked gently. "Because aren't you the one who's supposed to be 'insightful girl'?"
Dawn smiled weakly back at her. "Yeah, well... I don't want to make you feel like I don't need you at all anymore," she said.
"I appreciate the thought," Buffy replied, getting up from the couch. "But you know, you're welcome to make me feel unnecessary in other ways," she said, going back to the desk and indicating the pile of bank documents there.
"No way," Dawn laughed openly now. "That's all yours, I've got my own math homework to do. And speaking of... I'm going to get some of it out of the way since it will probably take me most of the weekend without expert help."
"Gee, thanks," Buffy said wryly. "Last one done has to cook," she challenged.
Dawn took her time going through the first few pages of her algebra; it wasn't really to her advantage to finish before Buffy did, because doing so would mean she would have to eat her sister's cooking again. A knock on her bedroom door drew her out of her alphanumeric reverie.
"Okay if I come in?"
"Sure. Does this mean I lost the bet?" she asked hopefully as Buffy opened the door.
"Dawn, what is this?" Buffy asked, holding up the bank statement that looked to have at least three distinct colours of highlighter on it. Her face was drawn and pale.
Something about the diamond hardness in her sister's eyes made Dawn choke back the first response that came to mind - that's a bank statement, dummy. Buffy didn't look like she was in the mood for joking around. "I don't get what you're asking," she said, instead.
"Look at this," Buffy said, placing the sheets carefully and deliberately on the desk. "I can account for everything we have to pay out. Here's the mortgage, the water and sewer bill, and the electricity." She indicated several highlighted items. "Here's the cheque for groceries, and another one for your Phys. Ed. fee - late, of course." She grimaced. "Among other things.
"And here's the income." A much smaller number of items were highlighted in another shade. "Dad's support payments for you - thank god for automatic withdrawals and deposits. These are my paycheques. So what are those?" One accusing lavender fingernail pointed at three items marked in bright pink.
Dawn's mind stuttered. That must be the money Spike put in. I can't tell her that, can I? What do I tell her then? And how the hell does she keep her nails looking like she's just had a manicure when I know she was out slaying all last night - and mine always look like I had them for lunch? "I... don't know."
"You don't know," Buffy repeated, her voice chill. "Like you didn't know last year how all those items from the Magic Box got into your room. Or why the stores kept forgetting to take security tags off of merchandise."
Ooh, wrong answer.
Buffy looked at Dawn, and her voice and resolve broke. "Oh Dawnie, I know it's hard living like this, barely making it from month to month. But you can't keep stealing stuff just so we have money for treats. Please, you have to understand I'm doing the best that I can..."
Dawn didn't answer, and could only watch as her sister's face fell, her hopeful look gradually replaced with tired anger. "Buffy, I... I don't know what to tell you," she managed at last.
"Maybe some time at home will help you decide," Buffy said, in a cold, flat tone. "You're grounded until I get to the bottom of this." She turned away and closed the door carefully behind her with a click that was more deafening than the loudest slam could have been.
Dawn leaned her face into her hands at her desk. I have to see Spike, but of course crypts don't have phones. Why couldn't he get an apartment like a regular guy? God, I hope he keeps our scheduled time on Monday, because we can't go on this way - they can't. He's got to talk to her.
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