Disclaimer: I don't own the canon.
Author's Note: Look at me, with the quick updates! Again, let me know any criticisms or tips you have with characterization, and thanks to those of you who have already reviewed!
Neither of them looked like Joyce.
That was Ellen's first thought when she saw the girls. She didn't know why, but when she'd pictured her nieces, she'd pictured them looking the way Joyce had at twelve and at seventeen, but neither of the little girls in front of her brought back memories of their mother. There might have been a resemblance if the older one had smiled, or once the younger one grew into her looks, but when Ellen looked at them, she didn't see the girl her sister had been.
She did see herself in them, though. The older one could have been Jo's sister, but the hardness in her eyes- that was all Ellen, and it saddened her to see it in someone so young. As for the little one, Ellen couldn't put her finger on it, but there was something about the girl that reminded her of Jo at that age, despite the differences in their coloring and the fact that Jo had never been anywhere near that gangly. It was the shape of the face, maybe, or the way she looked scared and tough and too little to be in a bar, all at the same time.
"Mama," Jo called, snapping her out of her thoughts. "Your guests are here."
Ellen fixed her daughter with a look. These girls weren't guests. They were family.
Ellen crossed the bar, sparing a glare for each and every hunting along the way, lest they get any ideas about her older niece.
"Wasn't expecting you until tomorrow," she said, by way of greeting, before wiping her hands on her jeans and holding one out to the girls. "I'm Ellen Harvelle."
Buffy stared at the hand for a long time and then met Ellen's eyes. "Buffy Summers," she said, not reaching up to take the hand.
Lordy, Ellen thought. The pain and attitude were rolling off this girl in waves. She could see it in Buffy's eyes- life hadn't been easy for the girl, and she wasn't feeling particularly like making it easy for anyone else- especially an aunt she'd never met.
Ellen jumped a bit when she felt someone take her hand, and it took her a moment to realize it was the younger girl. "I'm Dawn," the younger girl said. "Sometimes people call me Dawnie. Buffy's not supposed to call me a butt monkey, but sometimes she does." Dawn shot a sideways look at her sister. "That's because she's an ass hat."
"Is that so?" Ellen asked, a smile tugging fiercely at the corner of her lips.
Buffy glared at her younger sister, and it was the first expression that Ellen had seen on the teen's face that looked as if it belonged there. Dawn's comment had brought the girl out of whatever detached state she'd been in before. For a split second, Buffy wasn't a girl who'd just lost her mother. She was an older sister, annoyed to the max by the fact that she'd just been called an ass hat.
Ellen wrinkled her brow for a moment. Ass hat? Butt monkey? The insults kids came up with these days!
"You'll have to excuse her," Buffy said. "Dawnie has a personality disorder. Cause, you know... her personality is all disordered."
Dawn, looking much younger than her twelve years, stuck her tongue out at her older sister. And then, without any prequel or warning, her face fell, and she seemed to shrink into herself until Ellen realized just how tiny she really was.
For a moment, Ellen thought it was Buffy's insult, but then she recognized the look on the child's face. "It's alright, Dawn," she said, giving the little girl a surprisingly affectionate squeeze. "Your mama would want you to be happy. It's okay for things to feel normal sometimes- Joyce would want that, too." Ellen smiled then. "Though I can't say she'd care for the term 'ass hat' any more than I do."
Dawn managed half of a grin.
Ellen was so distracted by her younger niece that she didn't notice a new group of hunters enter the bar, or the way that one of them looked Buffy up and down like a piece of meat.
"Hey buddy," Buffy said. "Eyes on face."
It had been far too long since she'd slayed something, and she wasn't in the mood to be ogled. She was done with boys. Angel had been her one and only. Maybe if things had been different, maybe if her mother was alive, she would have been able to move on, do the normal teenager thing, but right now, she couldn't, and she wasn't in the mood to pretend that she could.
Ellen looked up just as one of the hunters reached out to grab Buffy's waist. "Now, now, sweetheart, no need to be like that, Tommy was just...OWWWW!"
Whatever Tommy was or was not doing remained a mystery, because the hunter's words were cut off when Buffy grabbed his arm and twisted it painfully.
Ellen smiled at the classic self-defense move. Maybe her nieces weren't as helpless as they seemed.
"Touch me again, and lose this arm," Buffy said. "Got it?"
The man nodded, and she let go of his arm and shooed him. "Go, make with the drinking and the revelry and the macho whatnot. Just do it over there, and leave me alone."
The hunter skulked off, and Ellen shook her head, amazed. She didn't know which was more unbelievable- the fact that a hunter in her bar had dared to hit on a girl who was obviously under her protection, or the fact that Buffy had shooed him off like an annoying little boy.
"We'll be needing to go over some ground rules," Ellen said, thinking of all the trouble a seventeen year old girl could get into in a bar like this one. "But first, come meet your cousin."
Ellen turned to look at Jo and beckoned her over.
"Jo, these are your cousins, Buffy and Dawn. Girls, this is my daughter, Jo."
For a moment, the three cousins stared at each other.
Jo was the first one to break the silence. "Welcome to the Roadhouse," she said.
"Thanks," Dawn said, suddenly shy as she hid behind her sister.
Buffy wrapped one arm around her sister, pulling her closer, and then offered Jo half of a smile. "So," she said, trying to be a normal girl, the kind of cousin a girl like Jo would want. "You guys have a mall around here, or what?"
TBC...Please, please let me know what you think!