The Real You (Tara, Dawn, PG)

Title The Real You
Characters Tara, Dawn and not as much Buffy as I think the requester wanted
Rating PG
Words 2000
Setting the summer after the Gift
Prompt the first of my Haiyan fics, for eilowyn , who wanted these characters
Summary Tara's trying to work something out, with magic and memories

Tara spends some time, that summer, trying to work out when Dawn became.

(Not became anything. Just became. It seems like the best available verb, though it’s not very satisfactory.)

Buffy saw the monk just before Tara’s 21st birthday, and sometimes Tara thinks that means that Dawn was only a few days old then. But that can’t be right. Not with the way Dawn stood up for Tara, when almost nobody would. Not with how that would mean Dawn and Buffy only knew each other for a little over six months. No way. People don’t lie, relationships don’t grow that way. Dawn’s been around way longer than that, and Tara knows it.

She doesn’t tell the others – who have their own concerns, ones that Tara thinks are misguided at best, and world-ending at worst – but Tara starts to try to track Dawn.

It’s not difficult, to find a scrap of Dawn. Tara lives in a world of Dawn now, Dawn and Willow. A world of makeshift family and not-quite-parents. Of raising the dead, maybe. Of robots who break your heart. Sometimes, Dawn seems like the most solidly real thing in Tara’s world.

(PB and J nachos, for example, are very real. Very bad, but very real.)

Dawn’s hair, Dawn’s nail clippings, a single eyelash (a betrayal through makeover, but Tara’s not going to apologise for trying to understand, and Dawn looks good in matte shades, different to the shimmer and brights of early teenage experimentation), and Tara’s mapping.

She maps the surges of power in Sunnydale, but they’re everywhere. Glory’s trail is brilliant and muddies all others, too much godly pizzazz for Tara’s simple spellcasting. There’s the effect of the spell to bring down the Initiative, casting powers before and after, like those dream shadows Willow has confessed, of the First Slayer. There’s a lot, probably more than any of them realised, a lot of tendrils. Here’s Willow, casting knives and snakes at Glory, and later, vicious, sinking her hands into Glory’s head to free Tara’s mind.

(Tara doesn’t remember these, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t real. Any more than the fact she can remember Dawn means that Dawn was real.)

That bright smudge is probably Dracula, smearing across the Scooby summer and starting to blur into Glory’s power. Lots of noise there, it’s a shouty time. There’s not so much the year before, smits and smudges that Tara thinks are mostly Willow playing around, maybe some of the other Wicca finding some power. There’s Faith and the bodyswap for sure, two identical bright flickers very close together. Here’s (Tara blushes, alone and pointlesly) some stuff she tried out with Willow… Before that, a massive surge which is the demon Olvikan-slash-the-Mayor, and all the spells he did to get that far.

Kind of reassuring, that most of the chatter on the spell spectrum Tara can see is known to her. Kind of weird that none of it is Dawn, though. But perhaps if the monks weren’t physically here – and she doesn’t think they did the spell anywhere in California, Buffy said the monks sounded European somewhere – perhaps it doesn’t show up, even as an echo.

So Tara uses those stolen elements to find Dawn in Sunnydale instead. And there she is. School, Revello Drive, the mall, the carousel, downtown, she's all over the place and all over the time.

Tara dips into some times, tasting for Dawn and authenticity.


Tara moves towards Willow, wrapping her tight in her arms, in golden happiness that brings them together so close and thrilled that their feet leave the ground in the most spontaneous piece of spellcasting Tara's ever done.

Over Willow's shoulder, Tara registers Dawn, goofy and beaming, secure in knowledge that her present to Tara (a bubblegum-shaded eraser and pencil set) could not have made Tara happier, and that everyone is thrilled that Dawn was allowed to come to the Bronze for the party.

Tara glows warm, internal, at the memory. Not just of her own happiness, that golden birthday when she knew she'd found her family. But of them all, their togetherness. When a bunch of awkward semi-friends, and even a neutered vampire, stood up for Tara against her blood kin, and changed the course of her life. Because, truly, Tara wouldn't have let herself become a demon. She had plans for contingencies, and they were dark, and quick. But she didn't need them, and Dawn is a part of how Tara came to know it.

This is real. This Dawn is real. This Dawn post-dates the monk, post-dates Dawn's creation, predates the knowledge that she's not real. This is real Dawn, unconscious and happy. Tara tastes the Dawnness of Dawn, and seeks onwards.


In front of the Magic Box, Tara declares a thumb war on Dawn. Poor geeky Dawn, always tagging behind Buffy. But it's mostly best if poor geeky Dawn doesn't see corpses and risk her life and invite vampires into the house and-

Tara thumb-wrestles Dawn into submission, and thinks yet again about whether she should talk with Buffy about her little sister. Because Tara is a sister, unlike most of Buffy's friends, and she sees every day the way Dawn follows in Buffy's footsteps, overcome by the vastness of the Slayer mission, Buffy's casual glamour and self-confidence. Dawn has forgotten, Tara thinks, the overwhelmed Buffy of just a year before, whose dregs still affected Buffy's aura when Tara first met her. It wouldn't hurt to remind her. But is it Tara's place to say it? Maybe not.

So, again, Tara doesn't say it.

This is Tara before she got her new family. She tastes that, surprised by how unfamiliar it is, from so short a time ago. She would speak up now, if there was someone to talk to; if the Summers family still existed. She would stand up for Dawn, for Dawn's awkward self-consciousness; for the gawk that Tara recognises. Buffy would have got it, Tara knows that now. She should have spoken.

This Dawn tastes real too. Complex and a little bratty, perhaps, but so real, multi-layered and deep. This is real.


Tara is distracted. Time slips. Here's Dawn, trembling, putting a flower into Buffy's grave, on Buffy's coffin. Willow and Tara stand behind her, their own flowers ready, before they work the spells that keep Buffy safe.

Dawn plays her part in those spells. Family, and blood, makes it stronger. Dawn's strong enough to bear it, with her other family's help.

Tara sees Dawn remember the spells she did for Joyce. Knows for sure, for the first time, that Dawn raised something. That Dawn has power. Maybe that's the Key coming out in her.

This is Dawn now, the Dawn Tara looks after. She's come so far. She knows she isn't real, but she won't live that way. Tara has to admire Dawn for that. She's a pretty amazing woman. Tara wishes Buffy could see her.


Deeper now. Here's a treasured, difficult, awkward memory. Dawn, so real, at the beach one summer's day. Allowed to play with the big kids, which is irritating them all, a little. There would have been kissing, and possibly some discreet dividing of six people into three pairs. Public indecency not out of the question for some of them (well, Anya). But no, the kid's here. So they're all playing nice. Playing at all, Frisbee and baby spells, barbecue and dunking in the ocean.

Dawn loves the ocean, and yet something's off today. The guys haven't noticed, but Tara has. Dawn in shorts, not swimwear. Dawn awkwardly shaking off Xander's attempts to entice her toward the water. Dawn pink, Dawn flustered.

Dawn bleeding. Tara knows it. On the enchanted map of time, the Key's blood shows bright. But even without a spell, then-Tara knew what was going on. Teen Dawn, not knowing how to deal.

Tara grabs a Frisbee, sends it at Riley's head, refuses to be drawn into the loud game which results. Sits next to the huddled girl.

"You have cramps?"

"No, I just-"

"Tampons aren't for everyone," says Tara, simply stating. Dawn's face blushes deep pink, her few freckles standing out stark. She wants to change the subject, and can't think how; the most natural thing in the world and this world makes girls freak out over it. But, you know, Tara's not an idiot. This isn't the time for lectures on moon-goddesses and moon-cups. Though that may come. She looks around for inspiration, finds none. Looks at her hands. Remembers a not-crappy game that Donny used to play, way back, before her dad initiated him into how women were different and wrong.

"Wanna thumb-wrestle?"

And that's how that started. So that's real. Tara remembers it, and the blood-trace of Dawn's moon-time is too clear, too real to be denied. So, further back…


Earlier is fuzzier, and Tara's role is less, but she's still able to step into Dawn's past at will. Here's that odd, difficult day when Buffy asks Tara to stay with Dawn and make very sure she didn't think about coming to the woods, because 'we're going to go up against a nuclear powered bad guy in potentially a human-demon bloodbath and my brat sister is not to be in the mix, even if she whines a whole lot'. Mrs Summers is working, and Anya is… not suited… and Tara is flattered, she really is, that she's the next person Buffy thinks of for babysitting, because they haven't really known each other so long. And she's scared, because it means Willow's doing something really dangerous, but she's also glad the friends are friends again.

And spending time with Dawn just isn't a hardship. There's a whole lot of hair talk, this time. Dawn's considering a personal style change, on account of school and fashion and these dumb girls and-. But Tara gets her to put down the scissors before there's hair tragedy. And the friends save the world from killer robot-demon-human hybrids, so it's not such a bad day. Tara isn't invited to the sleepover after, but she does promise Dawn she can stay over sometime next semester. A promise she keeps only after the bury Dawn's Mom, and did Tara really make that promise? The trace of Dawn is strong, perfectly recognisable, perfectly alive.

But there has to be a breaking point. How long, how long before the monks created Dawn? How about the Dawn that sat in Revello Drive, flattened by Buffy's contempt, and then again by the violence of Faith-in-Buffy's-body, and obviously less worried by the latter after the former turned out not to be her sister really. Tara remembers laughing with Dawn about how dumb of Faith to be on the run and yet stopping to exchange insults with her fake little sister, like a big spaz.

Fake. Little. Sister.

The smile hovering around Tara at the memory drops away. This trace of Dawn is perfect too. She could taste it, if she wanted. She reaches further back, further and further, to that moment on the carousel, to Dawn's first step in Sunnydale, and it all smells-tastes-feels real and it can't be.

She'll never know when Dawn came into their lives. Could have been the day before Buffy died, with the monk-memory just another part of the complex tapestry of Dawn-weaving that's created an impossible girl and made her impossible to distinguish from the real thing.

Which means, Tara supposes, that she just has to go with it. Dawn is real, always has been. Because nobody knows any different.

She stands up, stiffly, and heads downstairs. Willow and Anya are debating furiously, very low, which probably means another essential and costly part of the spell has come up for sale. Xander's fixing the refrigerator door after the Bot tore it off. The Bot's playing checkers with Dawn. Tara tries to treat the Bot like a person, because it gets so sad when she doesn't. Dawn's not much older than the Bot, seems like, and technically isn't any more real.

Except for all the ways she is. Tara waits till Xander's nodding the satisfied and manly nod of the completed handyman, and then opens the refrigerator door to think about cookery. She has a family to feed.

Not nachos. Something green.

Wow! This is just so perfect. Wonderful Tara voice.
By the way, I adore Tara and there isn't enough Tara fic out there.
Thanks so much! I'm glad I could capture her. I don't write a huge amount of Tara these days, but she's a great character.
This is just beautiful. How a tapestry is woven, when you're not sure if all the threads are tangible.
I can't get over how wonderful this is. Not just because it paints such a true and perfect picture of both Dawn and Tara - often overlooked, too - but because it's like you crept into my brain. Dawn and her origins are all over my brain right now (blame Kwritten), all about who and what she really is.

So, you peeked into my brain. And you made magic.
Oh, very cool. Dawn's origins are a theme I've looked at sometimes, but they never get old. So glad this worked for you.
That is just lovely - they are still my favourite two from the Buffyverse and I think Tara is right; in the end the answer to the question, in fine QI fashion, is... 'Nobody knows!'
I'm so glad this enticed you back to read Buffyverse. Definitely a nobody knows, and better that way - otherwise I'm sure they'd be picking at the 'fake' memories, whereas this way they accept the whole.
Oh this is lovely. Tara at her best. (Am at a loss for what else to say. It's amazing and I loved it and I miss Tara!)
This is quiet brilliance - wow! I love this! Brilliant evocation of Tara seeking... not just Dawn's reality, but in a sense, her own. I can't get over how wonderful this is.

Thanks so much! I think you're right, that Tara wants to know what was real for her more than she worries about Dawn. Till she realises it isn't what matters at all.
This is nifty! (And really, it's the only logical conclusion.)
I never would have thought to have Tara looking to see where Dawn starts. It makes a delightful story but I'm glad she couldn't figure it out.
Your timing is PERFECT. Yesterday I posted my top 5 Buffy, Tara recs (and Dawn is mentioned in every one of them) at BT5 http://buffyversetop5.livejournal.com/361973.html
and because I asked for a sequal to kwritten 's blurring the lines, she posted chapter 2.

And even though this is for eilowyn it feels like an prezzie to me too because Buffy+Tara+Dawn is also my OTF(amily). (Although Faith is slowly working her way in.) (I wanted to rec "Yield Strength" until I remembered you posted it in 2012. Darn.)

It's felt like fandom doesn't pay much attention to them and then in one week there's an embarrassment of riches. This makes me so happy you can't imagine.

Also, the way Tara, Dawn, et al would have dealt with and been affected by Buffy's death, how they got on that summer, is weirdly underexplored in fics; as is Tara's own powers as a witch. I actually blame the show for that - after S4 the writers are so intent on emphasizing Willow's growing power that they tended to de-emphasize Tara's. For instance she was THE only person who knew Faith wasn't Buffy in WAY just from her aura; but then they never utilize that ability in S5 or 6 that I remember. I would have thought she could tell right away that the 'bot had no aura, or that Buffy's aura after Bargaining would be "fractured" just like Faith's was if not worse, dark and muddied.

I also love how you touch on one of my favorite themes lately: how does the manipulations of minds - wiping away memories or stuffing them into someone's brain affect them on a "cellular level"?

So honoring all these aspects, as well as Tara's tie to the Summers sisters? SO MUCH YES TO THIS. And more, please?

Edited at 2014-01-09 08:05 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I could get this one out at a time when it sparked in your brain! I'm not surprised your Buffy and Tara recs all involve Dawn; it seems like she's a point of connection between them when they're very different people, and potentially quite incompatible. (Although we do of course see differently in s6, when Tara does offer support to Buffy, I still think Buffy's overt, active personality sits awkwardly beside Tara's very inward, contemplative one.)

ITA about Tara's power being soft-pedalled after s4. I can't think of her with a major spell at all, except with Willow. I wonder whether there was something implicit about her deciding against pursuing Wicca after Family (where, obvs, there is a spell but perhaps she finds she doesn't need magic so much if she's not fighting against becoming a demon), but I think that's my fanwanking rather than canon supported.
I have thoughts about this...
I still think Buffy's overt, active personality sits awkwardly beside Tara's very inward, contemplative one.

Ah, this is why I NEED to do more of my Buffy & Tara meta posts. Your description is also very true of Willow and Tara, isn't it? But Buffy and Tara aren't lovers, they are friends, so the push-pull and control issues of W/T (or any couple) aren't there to get in the way. With friends those qualities can be complimentary without having to "represent" any power issues. (They are awkward in The Body because Buffy is in shock, they don't know each other that intimately yet, and they are sharing something painful, private and very intimate. Compare that to their interactions in OAFA.)

I tend to think of them a little differently than most of fandom, especially "Spuffy" or "Spara" fandoms, which set Buffy and Tara in opposition to one another or rather, Tara is the "anti-Buffy": Buffy is a hard cold bitch or at best messed-up, she's "too masculine" (I've had this said to me); Tara is loving, gentle supportive and nurturing, she's so "feminine" in socially acceptable ways. (Oftentimes the fans who most admire Tara over Buffy are themselves, I have noticed are very active, assertive, opinionated women, more like Buffy than Tara!)

But that flattens out both Buffy and Tara and ignores their complexities and their similarities. They both had close and loving if imperfect mothers to ground them, and distant fathers. They bond over the shared experience of their mothers' deaths to the point that Willow is jealous of being excluded. They are both have a lot of love, they both are sometimes great with words and oftentimes not so much; they are both mother-figures, both fiercely protective of the ones they love. Buffy and Dawn protects Tara in "Family"; Tara protects Dawn in TL and Buffy in OAFA. Tara can be passive many times but by S6 she's learning how to be more active and I like to think Buffy's had and influence in that. "Restoring Tara to life" is the dry run for Willow's masterpiece: resurrecting Buffy; then as Buffy is traumatized by Willow's actions so too is Tara in ATY/OMWF (along with everyone else in TR).

And Tara is also linked to Joyce in the fact that she and Willow take over Joyce's bedroom (even after Buffy returns) and that Tara dies in that same room that represents "mother" (the same room where Buffy ties Spike to a chair in NLM, where Faith ties up Joyce in TYG and Buffy bonds with Faith in EoD - "Mater", the Mother principle as symbolized by Joyce's bed.)

I'm not surprised your Buffy and Tara recs all involve Dawn; it seems like she's a point of connection between them

Yes, exactly. And it works whether you read canon "straight" or literally - the characters only represent themselves and nothing more - or metaphorically as, say, Mark Fields does, where every character represents some facet of Buffy, and Dawn represents her "humanity"; either way, Tara and Dawn's connection also links Tara to Buffy.

Slightly OT: I personally tend to think of Tara as "surrogate aunt" rather than surrogate mother esp in S6 because 1) if Tara is surrogate mother does that make Willow or Buffy her "surrogate father"? And Tara is the primary caretaker for only those 147 days; after that it seems to be back on Buffy.

But also 2) she starts as Dawn's friend - her first friend in fact, right in The Real Me - and in S6 she reminds me of one of my aunts, whom we lived with for a year when my mom was divorcing her husband; my mom had primary responsibility for us, but my aunt "helped" and I used to go to her as a friend and confidant for a time with the things I didn't feel comfortable telling my mom. She got to be the "fun adult"; as with Tara, we'd cook things and do things in her kitchen together.

But even without the mediary figure of Dawn, we have WAY, Family, DT, The Body, OAFA; we have Willow and Tara as parallel couple to first Buffy/Riley, then to Buffy/Spike. We have Tara's mindwipe paralleling Joyce's brain tumor and Glory's, then Buffy's "insanity", their mental breakdowns, etc.

Re: I have thoughts about this...pt 2
ETA: clockwork_hart1 just said all of what I said about Buffy and Tara more succinctly and a thousand times better than I could hope to: http://clockwork-hart1.livejournal.com/19040.html

I think that's my fanwanking rather than canon supported.

I don't think it's an unreasonable fanwank but no, not canon supported. And I'm all for interpretation of the text (except when I'm not, of course *heh*). She's very vocal about certain kinds of magic not being used, and she can be a little rigid about it, about the way things have "always been done" that I think probably comes from her conservative family, ironically. But in WAY she could read Faith's aura, she came up with the powerful spell to reverse the Mayor's gizmo; she calls up the spirits in WTWTA; in S5 she's reading tarot cards and reading palms which is pedestrian stuff, is "frightened" by Willow's power which I don't recall seeing in the season up to that point (I need to rewatch S5) and like you said doesn't do any spells on her own.

And I call bullshit on that re: the writers. Willow's arc was very important to Joss and Tara was neglected way before she was "thrown under the bus" in Seeing Red. (I may have issues with this.)

I know from real life experience however that being in a partnered relationship can cause one person to become less confident or more passive as they yield to the more rigid or "controlling" partner. (I know I lost a lot of my own confidence I'd gained in college. That's not my partner's fault, it's mine. But it does happen.) So there's something very realistic and wonderful about watching her build her confidence in S6. Fandom in general goes on and on about "Willow's growing confidence over the series" but it's Tara's I find extraordinary.

Edited at 2014-01-09 09:40 pm (UTC)
This was absolutely wonderful! I enjoyed your sense of character development for Tara and Dawn and I like the journey this story took.

Well done!