Fandom: Buffy: the Vampire Slayer
Featured Character: Amanda
Noteworthy Pairings: Amanda/Tara
Spoilers/Timeline: Covers the time from S1-S6. AU post-"Gift," vague spoilers through "Grave." Also spoils "Potential."
Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns them; they are not mine.
Notes: For alixtii in the femslash_minis Tara Round II. He requested mysticism, frogs, and calculus. Further notes follow the story.
Summary: Amanda's whole life has sucked until right this minute.
Running From School
1: Tales of a Fourth Grade NOTHING
Amanda just takes off. She's not running anymore. She's flying, and no one will attack her. She is Superman. She doesn't need a cape, just a secret, and she has as many of those as soda pop is full of fizz. There's the secret of the boy-hating club that meets at recess under the berry bushes, and the secret of how she's providing her mom's favorite tea party china for boy-hating purposes, and the secret of where her portion goes when it's liver night (slipped under the table and buried at midnight on a moonless night, so that she'll grow to be six feet tall with enormous breasts, like Barbie), and mostly there's the secret of how Miss Dunn wrote "attitude needs improvement" on her report card.
The report card is in tatters, and Amanda is flying.
Amanda lives in Sunnydale, which is the world's best place to run away. It's full of endless twisting cemeteries, back alleys that lead to nowhere, and huge green parks between cemeteries, hollow trees where you can leave secret messages for fairies and sometimes -- this is the best part of Sunnydale -- the fairies write back. Amanda spreads her arms wide and lets her hair stream behind her -- like a cape, but better. It's her superherohair and it bears her high on the air, above the asphalt and menace of the streets between school and home. Amanda's flyingflying.
She's going to hide in the cemetery, beneath an old, twisted dead tree -- or in the tree. She's never been allowed to climb it, not when they bring flowers to her aunts' and uncle's graves -- it's dead, rotten, unsafe. Well, that's okay. Amanda's not a safe person. She's a brave person right now, a flying person. She has a new attitude right now, a running flying climbing attitude.
She swings herself into the tree, tearing her jeans but that's okay. She won't need neat clothes in the new world, in the... smiling sunshine fairy world. Without boys. She smiles to herself, but she's upside down so it would look like a frown to anyone watching. So she frowns, too, smiling for them. There are always people watching in Sunnydale. Fairies, probably. And monsters. But they're probably nice monsters. That's what her mom says -- said, when she used to live with her mom, yesterday. Her mom said that the monsters under her bed probably just want to be her friend, and if she's real quiet, they'll come up on the bed and talk to her.
But Amanda knows that's a lie and always sings to herself until sleep comes, to keep the monsters out. (Sometimes, there are monsters in the dreams, but they aren't real. Dreams are just silly stories that your brain tells your heart while your eyes are closed. EVERYONE knows that. Even moms know that.)
There could be monsters in the tree, really, now that she thinks about it. A treefairy is called a dryad, and some of the stories say that they're friendly, or harmless, but sometimes they're scary and bite. And if a dryad's tree is dead, maybe she'd be very mad, and if an intruder came, the dryad would grab her hair and kick her shins and make her cry. Not on purpose, but because she was so mad about her tree dying. Amanda grabs the branch and pulls hard so she's sitting up. Her head spins and she can't see for a minute, then her eyes adjust to the dark and she checks the stars and the moon, to see if she's safe. They're still there so she probably is.
Except for being way high up in a tree. Any other time, the lowest branch would not be way high up; Amanda has climbed higher in the cherry tree in front of their school than anyone else, even the boys, and she has also spent more time in the principal's office because of tree-climbing than anyone else -- but late at night the ground seems farther away than it should be, and her own shadow is long and creepy. Actually, it could be wanting to attack her. It could be... reaching, climbing up from the ground and into the tree. If she can fly maybe her shadow can too, and if her shadow can fly maybe it's a winged imp and -- suddenly Amanda's stomach hurts and she wants to get out of the tree, but every time she looks at the ground her head swims and she sees her shadow and she knows it's ready to take one giant flying leap and tear her throat out. These are not just stories.
So she stares at the moon and breathes in its soft brightness then reaches her arms up and wraps them around the next branch, thick and comfortable and safe. She pulls up. A little farther, and the shadow won't reach her. Just one more branch, and once she's there she'll be safe in a vee, branches all around her, safe, thick limbs and hundreds of twigs to hide her from anyone who comes looking -- and the moon can watch her and she'll be safe.
The world swims away and another world brightens behind her eyes, and her fingers clutch a unicorn's mane, golden and strong, and her legs are wrapped around its flanks and she's soaring toward the stars, one, ten, a million, all of them wrapped around some gift she hasn't found yet, hidden in her mother's closet upstairs, just open the door one little peek and the world falls away and she's falling, falling further than she's ever fallen and her legs and arms are flailing and she's trapped under the weight of her sisters. But she's an only child.
And she's lying on the ground, and she's not hurt but she's sobbing.
There are things in the dark; she saw them in her dream, and the unicorn is just out of their reach but the unicorn won't fly forever and -- her brain's too swimmy and the sky's too big.
She shakes her head but the dream won't resolve into sense. Just silly. Dream monsters aren't real monsters, aren't real didn't you know, they won't follow you home, if you put one foot in front of the other --
if Mom finds out --
just one foot.
She can't sleep here and she needs to sleep or --
or something bad will happen.
Maybe she'll explode? Or maybe the world will. Or maybe just her parents. Her parents. Her parents might not be safe. That's reasonable, valid, that's why. That's homeward. That's safety. She'll just check -- to see if they missed her, to see if they're safe. The world is dark at night, and maybe her parents never slept out, and maybe they never slipped away, and maybe they never learned to fly, so maybe they don't know, and if they don't know they might. They might die.
The tree's shadow is reaching for her, longer arms than it used to have, longer branches, and she feels fingertips ripple over her skin. She's goosebumps all over and, skinned knee or no, she has to run.
No flying no dreaming no escaping. Just. Run. Deep breaths of moonlight, deeper breaths of home, safety, hurry, hurry, never mind the secrets now, never mind just run, Amanda, faster, you can -- imagine you're a unicorn. Imagine you're a superhero. Imagine you have all the speed in the world and just
2: Nothing's FAIR in Fifth Grade
The Jock Girls are her best friends. They're the only people who really understand her.
Point: the Jock Girls aren't real.
Point: Amanda doesn't care.
Because the Jock Girls don't care if someone is smart or dumb. One of the Jock Girls is BRILLIANT. Her name is Lindsay and she skipped a grade, like Amanda could have, but didn't because her parents said it would be better to socialize with her peers. Which is dumb, because her peers hate her. This is because her grades are better than theirs which, really, is a dumb reason to hate someone. Anyhow.
One of the Jock Girls, Juliet, is DUMB. She almost failed fifth grade. Amanda plenty hates fifth grade, but she's in no danger of failing. Flying past her classmates, maybe. Being so bored that she dies of it, maybe. But not failing. But Juliet is her favorite, because Juliet is tall and graceful, and she can beat her dad at Horse every time with a three point shot. Swoosh. Amanda is tall too.
Point: Amanda is not graceful.
Point: Amanda can't play any sports.
She's not very good about competition, actually. She used to always win at Around the World, but that was a lot of grades ago, and now they don't play games in class. At least, not the kind of games the teacher knows about. They play games like this:
Game: Hide and Seek. Things hidden include Amanda's marble notebook, Amanda's sheet music, continue as applicable until Amanda's entire life has been hidden. Then find them all!
Game: Truth or Dare. Truth: Amanda is a too-tall know-it-all. Dare: to avoid drugs and violence. (That bit is supposed to be funny. At least, the girls all cackle when they say it. They bend over double laughing, almost crying, like stupid drug-avoidance slogans that don't even make sense are hilarious. It's not even like they're doing drugs yet -- or violence for that matter, except as mandated by gym class --
at least as far as Amanda knows. Which might not be all the way to the truth, come to think of it.)
It's from Lindsay, though, not Juliet, that Amanda acquired her plan. When Lindsay's parents threatened the whole skip-a-grade thing, Lindsay (conspiring with her friends, but the idea was hers) decided to fail a test. That was totally brilliant writing. Amanda practically dropped the book. Fail a test. Of course, this didn't work out so well for Lindsay, since her parents said she couldn't play soccer if she didn't keep her grades up (like there was some connection between scholastic aptitude and her performance as a goalie, yeah right), so she eventually had to retake the test and go ahead with the grade-skippage and realize that her friends would still like her even if she was learning pre-algebra when they were still having problems with fractions.
But the idea was sound, and Amanda doesn't even play soccer, and won't go out for choir till next year (if she even lives long enough to make it to sixth grade) so she has no extra-curricular activities her parents can threaten. She's golden, and once she starts doing normally in school, her popularity is assured.
It's harder to be dumb than Amanda had thought. Ignorance she's good at -- even though she aced health class, she still does plenty of boys-put-what-where?! on the playground -- but it doesn't come on demand like you might think. She doesn't do so good at leaving problems blank -- where there's space it needs to be filled, with words or numbers but mostly words, or occasionally fisticuffs. This has led sometimes to trouble with people who fail to understand that the punching is just a natural twitch and not symptomatic of anything psychological. How could it be a brain-problem? Amanda punches with her hands, not her brain.
With her brain Amanda thinks. Or she used to, when she actually was trying to pass tests. When trying to fail them, Amanda stares at the questions, answering them over and over in her head, and biting a pen so she won't answer them on paper. If she just thinks hard enough all the answers will leave her head, all the memorized multiplication facts and all the standard procedures for turning equations into solutions.
She doesn't expect it to work. But it does. The answers are gone without leaving a trace, no corners of her brain that should be set aside for numbers. There's just freedom, and the relaxing sound of other people working hard. Amanda smiles and lets out a breath that she's been holding for ages. At recess she finds Janice and her friends, clustered around a tree with weird marks carved in the bark. They abandoned the berry bushes when they abandoned Amanda.
"What do you think they mean, brainiac?" asks Janice, her fingers curled like a five-legged spider, ready to crawl into Amanda's face and poison her eyeballs. The question means, roughly, leave us alone.
"How should I know?" Amanda asks and realizes she doesn't have a theory. She's being like Juliet in her books, no answers, all dumb smiles. Everyone loves Juliet's dumb smile; even her teachers give her a pass when she ought to be in detention for speaking out of turn, just because she has that smile. One day Amanda's smile will turn hearts like that, but she needs practice. Right now (mirrors tell her) her smile is more like a frown fighting to become a grimace. She used to be able to smile, she thinks, but she can't remember how, just like she can't remember what seven by nine equals.
"You know everything," says Janice's friend Melinda, rolling her eyes. "Except apparently where you're not wanted."
"It's an easy one, I'll give you a hint. It starts with an every and ends with a where," adds Janice, too bored to come up with a good insult.
Amanda finds that the same part of her brain that held her multiplication tables also held back tears, which are now coming so quickly they burn her eyes -- Janice's poison. She lowers her head and lets her hair hide her crying as she slams her head into Janice's chest and lets out a scream to summon the recess aides. Better that they think she's this girl than someone they can destroy.
3: Sixth Grade Can Really KILL You (But Only if You Let It)
Amanda is sick. Sick to her stomach, sick in the head, skipping school and thinking she can get away with it because she always gets away with things. Sick from nicotine. Carlos smokes. She can smell it on him, and also he's stubbing out a cigarette with his toe.
"You're only a kid," she says.
"And you're a snot, but that doesn't stop you from acting like you're human."
"You'll stunt your growth."
"Yeah? You seen bigger?"
"Don't be gross."
"Why're you here anyhow? Why aren't you inside doing nerd patrol?"
She shrugs. "I got bored. I wouldn't come to school at all if it weren't for chorus." This isn't strictly speaking factual, but she's not going to tell Carlos that she mostly comes to school to see Ms. Madison, her choir director, even if he is momentarily her best friend.
Actually, she's kind of worried about that, because if he keeps looking at her that way, like he's trying to think of an insult terrible enough for someone who sings for fun, she's going to develop a Liking People Problem around him. And she has quite enough Liking People without having to Like Carlos too.
There's Ms. Madison, and there's Carlos, and there's Janice, and Amanda pretty much hates all of them, and wants to punch them in the stomach or kiss them.
She thinks probably a normal person would be able to tell the difference.
"You're a real freak, you know that?"
"Yeah, I know that."
"Also, you're fucking taller than a skyscraper. What you gonna do with all that height, go out for WNBA?"
"I was thinking I'd knock you over, to start with."
"Oh yeah. Very creative."
That's the other problem. In addition to spasming violently in the general direction of Terribly Attractive People, Amanda's body has lost whatever meager coordination she once had. She's started to trip. Not, like, occasionally, over inconveniently placed sticks. That would be sane and normal and nothing to worry about. But Amanda's started to trip over nothing. Sometimes while she's standing still -- and usually in the presence of Likable People -- she'll suddenly be sprawled sideways, trying not to let her knees touch the ground, and hoping that her skirt's long enough so that her underpants don't show. Probably a normal girl would stop wearing such short skirts, but, well, Liking People. It's highly Problematic.
Carlos has just got to stop being such a pain, or Amanda's going to get serious ideas about accidentally falling over into him. Maybe smushing him flat against the wall. In a kissing way, probably. That would be -- whatever. That would be gross, because Carlos is a boy. Only...
Amanda thinks maybe boys aren't entirely as gross as she's been led to believe.
It's totally complicated.
"Hey, you okay in there, astronaut?" Which is a nicer thing to call her than space cadet. Also more creative. And manly. Well. Manly for an eleven-year old. It's hard to be manly at this age, Amanda knows, because no matter how many times she practices deepening her voice and asking Ms. Madison if she needs a hand with her music stand, Amanda can't shake the feeling that Ms. Madison is laughing at her, in the cruel way that she laughs when the altos sing off-key.
Amanda thinks this is probably wrong, but that laugh makes her want to dive into Ms. Madison's desk, breaking the vase that holds her fake petunias, and try to worm her way under Ms. Madison's skin. Which isn't physically possible. Amanda hopes. Because if all her demented fantasies were actually physically possible, the world would be in serious trouble.
"Amanda?" Oh. That's nice. Carlos is concerned about her. That's really sweet, but she can take care of herself. Only. She can't open her mouth to tell him to buzz off because she's a feminist and capable of worrying about her own mental health. And she can't move her arm to show him without words by punching him. Which is bad. Actually very bad. Movement is usually helpful for getting to chorus on time. She concentrates all her energy on her legs, but they won't move either.
Well, okay. She just needs to think real hard.
"Amanda, I'm going to go get help."
Okay, that is a very bad idea. If Carlos goes for help, Amanda will die of embarrassment. Her face will turn red and her eyes will get teary and she'll be humiliated in front of someone (specifically Carlos) she really wanted to impress with her maturity. Especially her maturing body. It's a going-on-twelve body. Some of the going-on-twelves in her class? Have had sex. Well. So they say. You probably can't believe some of them, what with their being pathological liars and crazy in the head. But they're thinking about having sex, which is gross enough. Amanda can't think about sex without wanting to throw up. Or at least take a shower. She'd rather think about wholesome things, like punching people.
She'd really like to punch Carlos. To show him that it's okay, that she's okay, that they'll be okay and maybe one day, when they both have better muscle control, they can try to express their mutual affection in some more productive ways. But she can't, because she's stuck.
"You're really freaking me out, Amanda. Can you -- can't you like blink or something?"
It's because she was so mean to him, probably. And to everyone. The universe has made her incapable of human speech to punish her for being mean to the kids in the band all those times. It might be a sign from God, if there is a God. She tries to think of things she can promise, but some of them involve homework and she's not sure she wants to make that kind of commitment before she's sure there's no other way.
Carlos's eyes have taken on a whole new appearance -- big and wide open and maybe a little glossy -- not that he's crying, probably, since he's a boy, but maybe like he wants to? She looks at him and thinks it would be nice to smile -- just to say, hey, you have cool eyes, when Carlos punches her in the arm, and she takes a swing at him and makes solid contact with his shoulder.
"Freaked you out," she says automatically. "You were totally worried."
"That wasn't funny, Amanda."
"It was hilarious," she lies.
"Look, man, I can't think of anything scarier than not being able to move. It would've been -- yeah. Just pray that never happens, okay?"
"Yeah. Sure. You're probably right."
4: The SPELL BOOK of Listen Taylor
"Will you come meditate?"
"I'm busy. I'm doing magic. Remember, when we used to...?"
The girl's red-headed. That's all Amanda can see. Red hair, and, if she looks closely, her skin's not smooth but wrinkled, black, veins and -- horrible. Throbbing horror. And she says, "I'm busy."
Tara was born knowing what magic meant, steeped in it, grew in it, tilted skyward toward it since the time she could speak. She's floral, wrapped in daisies, planted, someone's garden (not Amanda's, not her own. She can't keep anything alive). Tara was grown without spells, but now they're everywhere, green around her, stripping away her petals. Spells are new, and nude and magic laid bare. No mystery, and -- wide open. Delight, right? Only, Tara misses, sometimes --
so she sits, legs folded and --
just listen --
the candles are a guide.
the chanting is a guide.
the spells are a guide.
and magic is everything.
everything is magic.
Nothing is not magic. Nothing, even madness, evades the net the universe casts to call her children home.
Safety is the very center, the candle's bluest flame, that immolates and sears protection. Safety, stillness, movement, danger.
Tara's eyes steal open, first a peek, then a window, the world through glass, reflected mystery. Amanda waves.
Tara's eyes widen. Amanda breaks into a smile. Reaches out. The glass shatters.
She's wide awake now. Nightmares she's used to, but nightmares that see her? Nightmares that come with names and faces? Nightmares that end with her sitting up in bed half-dressed, adventure-ready? That's new. A brand-new bonus surprise to celebrate the end of eighth grade.
Part of growing up, right? She's practically an expert on the maturity thing, which has been the subject of every little talk she and Mom have had this summer: maybe you should get a job, now that you're growing up, maybe you should spend the summer doing math practice, since you'll be taking pre-calc at Fondren High in the fall, and maybe you should start wearing your hair up, now that you're --
just forget it okay, Mom? I'm not growing up, I'm just growing taller, like I have been for my entire life which is why I'm such a giant freak.
Her long legs are at least useful for running, which she does, heading vaguely towards the college campus because -- because she has the feeling that somehow college will make things better, if she ever gets there, and something about the dream reeked of UC.
But it's a long road, and it goes past graveyards on either side, and Amanda realizes halfway there that she probably should have brought something stronger to defend herself with than her backpack, which might weigh a ton during the school year but it's July now, and hot even for Sunnydale. Her hair's stuck to her chin with sweat.
"Oh God," someone says. The voice is different, but the feeling is the same. It's dreamgirl, and she's in danger, somewhere to Amanda's left. She drops the bag, just weighing her down with useless pre-calculus notes, like she's going to need those to fight off... really freaky guys? With wrinkled faces and sharp teeth and ohshit. She trips over a grave and lands on her knees next to dreamgirl who's crouched and hiding but doesn't look scared. "Here," she says, with a weird half smile, handing her a piece of wood, sharpened.
But Amanda shoves her back and flips herself up awkwardly, figures that at least fighting she's good at, since she has so much practice from the boys who insist that the way she looks in a two-piece is worthy of comment. She can use basically the same tactics here, even though the only light comes from a couple of stars and a far-away street light, and even though she's awkwardly dressed in pajama bottoms and a wife beater. But she can still headbutt, can still duck her head and throw a dude off balance when he aims for her, and it turns out that stabbing with a pointy piece of wood is basically the same thing as punching, only easier on the fist, and more fatal on the --
Tara's smile is full now. "Your first?"
"That was totally not just a --"
"Vampire," Tara affirms. "A dead person's body, reanimated by a -- well, a very evil kind of demon."
"There are non-evil demons?"
"There are all kinds of demons. And vampires are some of the most dangerous for humans."
"I learned in school that violence is wrong."
"Some people try telling that to the vampires. It usually doesn't end so happily for the people."
"Still, we should try, right?"
"We can try anything you want," Tara says. "But first, you might want a brief introduction to vampire lore."
"There's some reason to think I might see more of these guys?"
Tara sighs. "Unfortunately, there are lots of reasons."
"And you have some knowledge that's going going to protect me from them?
"Well, I guess -- I guess we'll be protecting each other now."
"Maybe you should start at the beginning. Who are you and what was that?"
"I'm Tara and -- and you're the Slayer."
"You're a vampire Slayer. There -- it's -- God, I'm the wrong person to be explaining this. Mystical pacifism is really more my line. I mean, it was. I think if those guys didn't convince me of the occasional need for deadly force nothing would, but basically -- you're part of a legacy, Amanda. You've been chosen to carry the scythe and wield the sword and stand between the world and the darkness."
"Darkness? No, no -- scythe first. Scythe? Is that what I think it is?"
"It's actually more of a metaphorical scythe. Actually mostly it's stakes, the occasional crossbow, some magicky help from friendly Wiccans --"
"That would explain it. I thought you might be insane, but Wiccan makes more sense, actually. Because, you know. You don't seem too insane, besides for the obvious."
"Wait a moment -- are you saying that -- you've lived in Sunnydale --"
"Since I was born, yeah, and let me tell you, the mortality rate seems like a laugh, but it gets old when half your friends go right from Bat Mitzvah to funeral parlor without a Quinceañera in between."
"Don't... most... forget it. I just -- you've been living in Sunnydale your whole life. I kind of expected you'd be a little less wigged by the 'vampires are real' lecture since -- well -- Sunnydale's basically vamp central."
"You're quiet. I get the feeling like you aren't usually quiet."
"I'm confused. I thought -- I'm the vampire Slayer, right?"
"Yes. Yes, you are."
"And lots of vampires congregate in Sunnydale, right?"
"Hence the mortality rate. And the extensive sewer network."
"So is this a coincidence, or are things just cosmically aligned to screw me over?"
"It's -- it's the best opportunity of your life, Amanda. You have the chance to make a real difference right here -- and I'm here to help you. Usually the -- the Council of Watchers would find you, and you'd be assigned an official Watcher and everything, but they might not even find you for months and -- and it might be too late by then. And I -- I think you'd rather have me. Less handbook, more spellbook."
"Because you're Wiccan."
"Yeah. But that's -- that's not a problem, is it?"
"No, it's just -- I don't tend to go in for the religion stuff."
"Wicca's not a religion -- I mean. It is. But it's -- it's who I am."
Tara's face has wrinkled into a horrified frown and Amanda knows she's gone too far. Not that too far would be far enough when it comes to ridiculous freaks trying to take control of her life, which may be spinning out of control but at least is hers -- but she doesn't like to see anyone crying if she can help it, and Tara has been, well, a bit freaky, but basically okay, basically nice, basically not the kind of person who should be killed by vampires. Which don't exist -- at least, not after they've met the business end of a stake.
"Okay. I can work with that. Meanwhile, you're going to show me how to do magic tricks to make the monsters go poof?"
And Tara's smiling again, crooked half-pout and lowered eyes and her shoulders set in resolve. She tries to touch Amanda's shoulder, but Amanda shrugs her off. Start small, right, because if you start with affection and then end up dead, well, then you're dead. And Tara's heartbroken.
Possibly Amanda is being morbid, but really, it's not unrealistic to be morbid when you live in Sunnydale. Survival mechanism -- if you survive the vampire attack with your heartbroken, it's not much of a survival. Thinking ahead much? Breathe, Manda-Amanda. Wait until at least you've seen what kind of punch you pack before deciding that you're going to die.
5: Claudia Kishi, Middle School DROPOUT
The first time Amanda ran away, God, forever ago, was in fourth grade, when she was, well, an idiot child. She's not liking where this analogy is heading. Because the first time she ran away, when she came home, she was so out-of-breath frantic that her parents might be dead that she pretty much collapsed in the foyer and her mom smoothed her hair and said, "You don't need to take care of us, ever. Just take care of you, Mandymine."
Anyhow this time. This time it's different. This time, she's running away to save them, this time, she can protect them better this time -- this time home is the place where she brings demons -- demons -- demons. She needs home to be far away from her parents.
"Hey. I'm fine. I just. This is weird."
"Honey, I know."
"Don't -- don't call me honey. Please. It just -- everything is so -- weird right now. And I miss my mom and -- I don't! I mean. Tara."
"Nothing. I just need to rest awhile, okay?"
"Of course. Rest all you need, and I'll -- I'll just look up some things, okay?"
"Tara, why are you doing this?"
"What -- what do you mean? What am I doing?"
"Um, lots of things, but in particular trying to abduct me?"
"Oh, I'm not -- oh Amanda. I think you misunderstood. You're welcome to go home, to talk to your parents, to stay in school -- especially the school part, I'm in favor of school."
"I thought I was the vampire Slayer."
"There's no reason you can't do both. I'll -- I'm going to take care of all the research and -- figuring out how and -- I'll teach you. And then you can take care of things, right?"
For a teacher-type, Tara sure doesn't have a lot of certainty, which is another reason Amanda thinks it's best to stick around. Because Tara knows from demons but that didn't prevent her almost dying from one. And since Amanda's stuck with the slayerness, she might as well put it to use protecting innocent people like Tara and not waste it at the middle school protecting jerks from slightly eviler jerks.
Once it's fall again, she might have to reconsider that, but she doesn't think so. Tara feels so guilty about the fact that Amanda's the Slayer -- like it's Tara's fault that the universe chose her to be the sole defender of innocents -- that she'll let her get away with everything. She needs to stay up nights anyhow, for graveyard patrol and the occasional planned surprise attack on a nest that Tara's divining spells have uncovered, or in response to a tip from Tara's ambiguously-ex-lover, Willow, who has an unsuppressed tendency towards cheek-pinching, as if Amanda were actually six instead of fourteen.
Oh by the way, a fourteen-year-old vampire Slayer, who could kill Tara in her sleep. Amanda's sleep, Tara's sleep, whichever. She might do it accidentally if she keeps on having the creepy-weird mirror dreams. If Tara's having them too -- while Amanda sleeps and Tara meditates -- she's not telling, but Tara has a tendency towards quiet when words aren't essential. Which they probably aren't for purposes of Amanda understanding her newfound destiny, because it seems to lie mostly in the gut-deep place she punches from, in the way her hip joint pops when she lands a perfect kick.
It's not all perfect kicks and beaming mentor, though -- just last night Amanda had her third ever encounter with The One That Got Away, and he scratched her face and was dangerously close to her neck before Tara managed to befuddle both of them long enough to drag Amanda home. Which is probably why, actually, Tara's been hovering more solicitously than usual, worrying over Amanda and making her feel about nine years old, like Tara will bend down -- okay, bend up -- and kiss her better, when Amanda would really just like the better kind of kissing because oh yeah. She's fallen in love with her older gay slaying mentor. Like she couldn't have predicted this. Only she's never been a vampire Slayer before so she's not sure what the procedure is about letting her guide know that she's interested, if in fact interest is... well, a thing that usually happens.
It's really hard to see how it wouldn't, though, with the meditation exercises to get Amanda in touch with her inner strength, with Tara gently adjusting Amanda's battle stance and showing her elementary defensive spellcraft that seems to involve whispering, praying, and a weirdly sexual feeling when the spell settles into her skin.
With perks like these she would probably not even think about going back to frog dissection and European history, except that the slaying part of being the Slayer is pretty perkless. Amanda thought she would never get tired of beating people up, but it turns out when you do it professionally, it kind of takes the adventurous edge off. And when Tara's sitting on the graveyard wall, chanting endlessly, and Amanda's terrified that if she lets this vamp get out of control, if she pauses to breathe for a second too long, the vampire will head straight for Tara and devour her, not pausing to flip her gorgeous hair off her neck before biting.
So she's got her mind full of fangs when she fights, and she's winded before she gets a good angle for staking, but she struggles past her aching lungs and lunges at the vamp, and its fangs graze her cheek (third one this week) but she manages to land the killing blow without any other harm. Something rustles -- there's another one rising behind her. God. Pivot, lunge, she misses and lunges into his arm instead of under, and he's got her in a grip that would be deadly even if he weren't turbo-charged from hunger. She kicks furiously at the ground and tries to find an angle where she can claw his legs, ends up punching him sideways in the thigh, which loosens his grip enough for her to struggle free, but there's no way she can fight any more tonight. She takes off running, gesturing for Tara to do the same, and they jog together back to the apartment.
"I'm worried about you, Amanda."
"What, it's not like I have any dangerous hobbies."
"You're not -- you're not at full strength."
"I've been training hard."
"I hardly ever even make it to choir practice."
"And I was really looking forward to trying out for one of the audition-only choirs in ninth grade."
"I know, Amanda. I know it's hard and it's not any life for a teenager -- it's not -- it's not a life you should have forced on you. It would be nice if everyone had a choice, but sometimes we don't... sometimes things happen, and they're not fair."
"Right. Tara, do people ever die of being the Slayer?"
Tara can look so sad even when she's smiling. She gestures for Amanda to join her on the floor; Amanda does, crossing her legs to match Tara's. "They usually do."
"Why did you come find me?"
"I saw you and I thought," Tara bites her lip. "I thought I could help you."
"Yeah. My social life has taken a real upturn since I started hanging out with twentysomething lesbians instead of high schoolers in swing choir."
"Maybe there's something --"
"I don't think I want any more help."
"Will you give me your phone number? I have an idea -- but you can go home if you want to think about things for awhile."
"I thought I could go home whenever I wanted."
"Well, you can. Of course. Just -- it would be best if you chose now for a visit."
Great. Tara's kicking her out, now that she's wasted most of her summer and entirely ruined what there was of her life. Terrific and awesome.
"I just -- I should take a sample of your blood. If you don't --"
That is not a good sign.
She knows a second before the phone rings -- she didn't know before. She felt something, yeah, when she was in a graveyard, but it was the creepy-morbid-curious feeling she'd always had, and the sense that she was super-powered. Adrenaline. But this is different. This is -- calmer, and more settled, and like steel instead of bones. She could punch a hole clear through the wall, but she doesn't have to. There will be time to test her talents.
Instead she answers the phone. "It worked," Tara says. No question. Because Tara knows magic, because Tara is magic, because she's connected to whatever mystical white mojo just made Amanda a Slayer, because Tara's always known slaying like Amanda does, now.
"Can I come back now?" she asks.
"It'll still be dangerous," Tara reminds her. "You'll still -- probably die."
"I don't have a choice, do I?"
"You always have a choice."
"So all that stuff about life being unfair?"
"Come here," Tara says. "I should show you."
"You can't think of a better come-on than that?" Almost a joke. Anyhow, Tara laughs.
"Maybe I'll show you something else, too." That's definitely a joke.
They are jokey now, or at least, comfortable enough to attempt puns in each other's presence. It's not like they didn't think, before, that Amanda was the Slayer, so that's not what's changed -- and Amanda feels stronger but not older or less spazzy or any less smitten in Tara's presence -- but maybe it's the fact that they both have chosen this time, that Tara's left Willow, "For good, I promise," and Willow's schemes to bring the other Slayer back --
and there's that piece, the confidence that's suddenly Amanda's too, the history she's a part of. It makes her feel cozy, like she can cuddle up to the years she spent beating on her classmates and trying to fail math class, only now they have a secret meaning, too. The years were preparing her for her destiny.
"How did you do it?" Amanda asks, happy. Lazy. She doesn't have to attempt ninth grade if she doesn't want, and she doesn't need to fall in love with some boy and beat the crap out of him to make him notice. She doesn't need to fall in love with anyone, because she'll always have Tara. Tara can't leave her now, not now that --
"We found the other Slayer," Tara says.
"Buffy," Amanda reminds herself.
"No." Tara winces a little. "The other other Slayer."
"Do I need more backstory?"
"You don't -- some things you don't need to know, maybe." Which is basically the same as wait until you're older only without the promise.
"What happened?" Why am I here, what did you do, where do baby Slayers come from?
Tara doesn't answer. Which kind of is an answer, but Amanda thinks it's more like leverage.
She puts a hand on Tara's leg and leans toward her. She's taller, and trimmer, and also, she has superpowers. Not that she'd use them for this kind of thing, duh. But she's in a world without fear.
"Why are you -- I said something, didn't I? Something that made you think --"
"No. It's more -- the way you --" look? talk? sit when you meditate? breathe when you're sleepy? possibly killed someone so that I could become the Slayer? "are."
Tara rests her hand on Amanda's, soft, gentle, almost unnatural. It's a stilling gesture but it makes Amanda want to squirm and run, or to put her hand on Tara's and Tara's on hers, handsies, till they make a pile to the sky. It's not fencing, you don't get points for contact, it's a zero-sum game, Amanda. Stake in the heart or else you're dead.
There's not really a sexual equivalent to that. Well, kind of, when there are boys involved, but even if Tara were a boy, Amanda doesn't think she'd want -- well, she'd want lots of kissing beforehand, and full boy contact and tongue, before she ever let someone -- and if she were a boy -- well. She's not and even in Sunnydale that's unlikely to change immediately, and anyhow she hopes she has lots of chances to be naked with Tara before she turns into a boy. Only it doesn't look like that's ever going to happen.
"Sometimes people have feelings," Tara's saying, quiet, looking at their hands. "And they aren't right or -- not what's right for anyone. No one would be happy even if it's the best -- even if it feels --"
Either Tara's talking about her, in which case Amanda should move right into the kissing and show her how good it would feel, or Tara's talking about Willow, in which case it's hopeless, because who wants to compete with Willow Rosenberg, wonder witch?
"Willow helped you," she says. "You called Willow to help you do -- whatever."
"She's a more powerful witch," Tara says, voice small and sad. "I needed her. She knew how to do things without -- without hurting people." She lets go of Amanda's hand. "She knew how to bring Faith back."
Amanda knew this had happened, but it hurts like she imagines a stake must. Like her only weakness has been penetrated. She killed a person. They brought her back but that doesn't matter. Spells backfire and people are mistaken. Tara's not infallible and this is all Amanda's fault. Someone died for her.
"I wanted you to be safe," Tara says. "I need for you to be safe."
"So you signed my death warrant."
"The power was already inside you, Amanda. We just opened you for it."
Amanda wishes she'd stop saying we. She wishes Willow'd never been here, that she'd never met her, never known the way Tara went confident and the stutter failed and her smile widened when Willow was in the room. She knows she's inadequate, young, awkward, hopeless, that nothing beautiful will happen in her world as long as Tara's part of we with Willow.
"This will keep," Tara says.
"It can't be now?"
"Now you should be focused on being the Slayer --"
"I thought you took care of it. I thought it was all sorted. I thought things would be --"
"Please listen to me -- please. This is serious. This is the most serious -- it's more than life-and-death -- it's destiny. It's the person you're meant to be."
"You mean the person you made me."
"Eased things along," Tara says. "But it was meant to happen."
"We both saw the same dreams." She leans forward, face twisting in the way that Amanda hates the most, lips barely parted as she tries to swallow understanding whole. "I saw you, Amanda."
Amanda shrugs. "Here I am."
"I don't want you -- you'd never think -- you were born to be a Slayer."
"Why didn't you ever talk about Buffy?"
"She was my friend, and I miss her, and it hurts. Why does it matter?"
"I need to know why she died. I need it not to happen to me."
Tara takes a deep, shuddery breath. "I'll call her Watcher -- he went back to England -- maybe there are some diaries --"
"He took care of her," Tara says.
But Amanda knows she's lying. Tara is her Watcher.
7: I Have Made a Bed of Buttermilk Pancakes
The rest of the world might even be turning in accordance with laws prescribed by Newton and God. It might circle the sun at a tilt, ordaining solstices and SAT time. It might, even, bear witness to martyrs' deaths in some symbolic and annual cycle. But the rest of the world can, actually, take care of itself and whatever heavenly bodies mark its rituals. The Hellmouth is their only business, and no one's business but theirs.
The dreams are getting worse -- or better. Weirder, anyhow, less secret lineage and more impending doom. She'd like to tell Tara, tongue and heart all restless to share, but -- but that's not Tara's burden. Tara's busy when Amanda sleeps, searching for the spells that will transform her Slayer nature from awkward power into polished strength, and Amanda can feel Tara's worry through the haze of dreams, can see, past the fangs that edge her nightmares, that Tara is becoming bent and creased from never sleeping. Her face never sees light that doesn't shine from candles, and it's becoming waxy -- no less lovely, but molded from magic and worry instead of flesh and laughter.
And Amanda's hand is molded in the shape of a stake, even in her sleep. She paws the darkness, sometimes even when she's awake. Practicing. She'd like to be taught. She'd like to be trained, really, but -- not Tara. She doesn't want Tara bent under the weight of swords she wasn't meant to carry, so she gets by with kickboxing classes at the college and sometimes dropping into the local gym for endurance training. Nothing feels right, though; weights are too light in her hands but everything else is too heavy.
So she just runs everywhere, and watches the dreams like they're a subtext-laden run of Marvel comics, with possible keys to the future of slaycraft. She has a suspicion, which might be wishful thinking, that Tara will bend willingly for Amanda if she's not too buried under the weight of training, preparation, trying to decipher Rupert Giles's notebooks so that Amanda doesn't have to. They argue over that -- Amanda wants to read them herself, wants to read about every fight when Buffy triumphed and think, I won that fight too. I'm a Slayer in Buffy's line, and I'm as strong as she is and stronger.
But Tara wants to hide from Amanda the reality that she might die. She can't stop the dreams, but she wants to, sets wards around the bed when she thinks Amanda's already drifted off, weaves dreamcatchers when she should be busy with deciphering mystical texts and plotting the location of the next Stadler demon attack. This keeps at bay the ordinary nightmares, but the Slayer dreams stop for no woman, not till they've brainwormed their way into Amanda's head so that their rhythm keeps her going on the killing field, one-two-one-two-one-two-punch to the tune of girls in long dresses slipping off horses to destroy the shadows with switchblades and scythes, of beasts with bright flaming fangs falling into ash and growing again, brighter.
They're brilliant, almost too brilliant, dreams. They feel strong, even the scary ones, like running that turns into flying, like grabbing hold of someone slight and beautiful and kissing her into happiness.
Their world, tiny and contained, keeps spinning in closer circles of learning, and one day, Amanda will wake up and find that Tara has shared her life all along.
Notes: "Running from school" is a line from the Indigo Girls song "Least Complicated." Judy Blume wrote Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing; Barthe DeClements wrote Nothing's Fair in Fifth Grade and Sixth Grade Can Really Kill You (for which "but only if you let it" is the tagline). Jaclyn Moriarty wrote The Spell Book of Listen Taylor, The