I wake up, just before six am, to hear Tara crying.
Not the first time she's woken up crying, whimpering, and sounding less and less like Tara, more and more like that little rabbit my third grade teacher had. The boys in the class would poke it with a ruler during recess, and it started out with little whimpers.
I didn't even know that rabbits could make that sound, before I was ten.
I've never been ten, have I.
Willow's asleep still, exhausted from trying to calm her down half the night. Last night, Tara was violent, and today she's quiet and afraid. I slip out of my sleeping bag, bare feet cold on the dorm room floor. Croon to her, "Hey, Tara, sweetie, what's wrong?"
She looks at me, and gets a blissful smile. "So pretty."
Tears are still running down her cheeks, and her mouth is happy and her eyes are sad. I stroke her hair, and she's lying on her back and staring up at me like I'm the first rays of sunlight in the whole entire world.
I did this, I think to myself, and feel tears rolling down my cheek, too. Sniffle. "Hey, it's okay. We're here. Willow's here."
"Willow?" And she gets a moment of clarity, of lucidness. "I love Willow."
My face crumples, and I have to cover it with my hands, get them sticky with salt and water, before I can face her again. I mumble, "She knows you do."
"You." And her hand points at me, touches my arm. "So pretty."
Willow's head raises from her pillow, and she asks me sleepily, "Is she awake?"
I nod. "Yeah. She, she was crying."
Willow's already up and moving, opening the blinds in their cold dorm room. I step back instinctively, arm going around my stomach, and turn away as Willow whispers to Tara; all those things we can't quite remember our mothers telling us as children to ease our fears. I remember them, fuzzy, in the back of my mind, even though she never said them and they never happened.
I put my shoes on, and jacket. Willow looks up, and there are terrible bags under here eyes. "Dawnie, where are you going?"
My cheeks are already dry. "I'll get you some food. Buffy gave me some money, and you can get her dressed while I. And. I know where the cafeteria is."
The last part is vaguely cheery. Willow smiles at me. "You're such a help. Thanks."
She helps Tara out of bed, and I can't help it-- I slip out the door.