Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Bourne Supremacy, and Eastern Promises belong to their respective creators, Joss Whedon, Paul Greengrass/Universal Studios, and David Cronenberg/Steven Knight.
Author's Note: This is not an official part of any of my other series or stories, though it does make certain references. (Subject to change.)
The tiny yellow squirrel monkey squeaked as he tore into the straw stocking stuffed full of treats.
“Oooh!” said Dawn, turning to look at her companion. “Look! He's so cute! Look, he's pulling out the—”
She stopped, hand still stretched out to point. An embarrassed scowl replaced her huge, bright grin.
“Never mind,” she grumbled, and hopped down off of the rail.
Everyone was staring
at her. At them. Everyone was staring at them
. Some of the kids were even pointing, pulling on their parents' or grandparents' or siblings' hands, asking, “Who is it? Is that her bodyguard?”
Dawn tried to hurry through the crowd, tried to put some distance between them, but it was no use. The people she had to slip around just kind of parted
, sort of unconsciously made a path
for him, without his having to even say anything, as if he were emitting some sort of Back the Hell Off wave. Harried grown-ups, moody teenagers, and excited children alike hustled to get out of his way and then stared as he passed.
By the Big Cats, where Dawn could see only one lion gazing sleepily around, she slowed down, giving up her escape. He caught up almost immediately, still walking at that languid, unconcerned pace.
“Stupid Buffy,” said Dawn, gripping the railing in front of the lions' pen. The cold seemed to stab right through her mittens into her hands. “This is so
not the tradition!”
He said nothing, only turned his head. Not that she could tell where he was really looking, not while he wore those stupid, preposterously expensive sunglasses.
Dawn could have cried. Mentally she cursed Buffy another hundred times over. So what
if there was a mass raising of the restless dead in Missouri? Shouldn't family traditions come first? It figured there would be an emergency of catastrophic proportions on the 24th
. And then, even if Giles had gotten on his knees and begged
Buffy to go, shouldn't she at least have called Dawn and let her know what was going on and reschedule? No. No, of course not. Buffy didn't believe
in common sense.
Instead she sent someone in her place
Dawn was never going to forgive Buffy, never. You just—you just didn't bail
on someone on Christmas Eve, you just didn't! Not your sister. Especially
not your sister.
Not when you hardly ever paid any attention to her anymore anyway.
Not when your sister was being slowly pushed out of your life, squeezed out onto the periphery because there was no room at the center for anyone but your lovers.
Your greedy, selfish, overbearing, oppressive, tyrannical, demanding lovers.
Dawn glanced at the man standing next her where she slumped over the railing of the pens, his face as expressionless as the sleepy lion's, and felt a fresh swell of anger suffuse her.
She was not
going to forgive Buffy.
“This is not
what I had in mind,” muttered Dawn. “Da,”
said Nikolai quietly, a trace of what could have been exasperation in his gravelly voice, “it is not what I
had in mind, either.”
Dawn flushed. To be fair, she wasn't the only one suffering today. Nikolai probably had a dozen things he would rather have done on Christmas Eve instead of going to the London Zoo with his girlfriend's little sister.
That made her think about exactly what kind of knife fight he must have lost with Kirill to be the one stuck on Dawn Patrol. Or maybe it was just logistics? It was much easier for Kirill to hop a plane at no notice than it was for Nikolai. Captain bloody Luzhin had the vory
to operate, after all.
Which did not serve to cheer Dawn up at all. Not only had she been shoved off on someone else, she'd been shoved off onto the loser
The lion was staring at her. Dawn got off the rail and slowly backed away. Nikolai turned to look at her. That was even more
unnerving, so Dawn shoved her hands into her pockets and just walked.
From the Big Cats, they went to the deer enclosure—no, moose
. These were moose. Oh, wait, there were both.
Dawn wondered what Buffy was doing. Still on the plane, probably, getting ready to land. Kirill sitting next to her, his hand on her leg...
Kirill was so grabby
with Buffy. It bothered the hell out of Dawn, who was more or less a bystander, so she couldn't imagine how it must be for Nikolai, who wasn't exactly the Dalai Lama himself.
“I hope he gets bit,” she said to no one in particular, somewhat viciously. “Da,”
They looked at each other. Their eyes met (or seemed to meet, he still had those glasses on), and they shared a moment of complete understanding.
“He's not that bad, though,” Dawn admitted, scuffing the rail with her boot. “He did
get me a car.”
“Maybe if he got me a car, I would like him, too,” said Nikolai.
Dawn grinned, then suppressed it, then scowled.
The reindeer looked up as they walked by, antlers white with frost. Dawn remembered how Buffy used to tease her when she was younger, saying that since all the reindeer were in cages, Santa didn't have anyone left to pull his sleigh and nobody would get presents. Dawn had retorted that Santa didn't need reindeer, since he'd probably gone modern along with everyone else back in the Eighties to get PETA off his back.
Nikolai walked beside her, hands folded behind his back. In his black trench coat and sunglasses, with his hair and posture, he looked about as likely to visit a zoo as Dawn looked like an experienced, professional demonologist. Which only went to show how strange life could be.
“She did not mean it to be like this, Dasha,” Nikolai said, as if they'd been in the middle of a conversation. “She feels bad.”
Dawn wanted to be angry, to puff up with her indignant hurt and tell him off for making excuses for her sister being a jerk, but suddenly she just didn't have the energy. Instead of righteous outrage, all she felt was tired and empty.
“I know,” she said. “I mean, I know it's not really her fault that some whacko decided to go all Night of the Living Dead
at Christmas. It's just...I don't know. I miss her.”
OK, that was a lot more than she'd intended to say. Dawn shut up and listened to their soles crunching snow for a while.
When Nikolai spoke again, his voice was soft and indifferent. “She misses you.” That
did it. “So fucking what! I'm not the one who's too busy shacking up with you and Kirill to to pay attention to my friends
, to my family
. I'm not the one throwing away two years of agonizing work because I'm in lust with a couple of Russian thugs. Buffy doesn't get
to feel bad about this, because she did it to herself
. I don't care anymore! She can sleep with all the assassins and mobsters she wants, because I am tired
of waiting around for phone calls. Go to hell! I wish she'd never met either of you!”
Almost even as the last word was leaving her mouth, Dawn regretted it. The silence between them then was stifling, with Dawn staring down at the ground as she walked and Nikolai not saying anything.
“I'm sorry,” she muttered finally. “I didn't mean to call you a thug.”
The shrug he gave her was almost Gallic. “Eh,” said Nikolai, “I am driver. Sometimes, driver is also thug.”
At the Children's Zoo, they paused to watch the baby goats and sheep being petted by cooing little girls and boys. The parents eyed Nikolai nervously, but Dawn kept her distance and no one paid them much attention.
“I keep hoping one of you dies,” confessed Dawn, “because then it wouldn't be so awkward for me to explain to my friends and my boyfriend exactly who my sister is seeing, and maybe I could bring someone over and introduce them every once in a while. Does that make me a bad person?”
Nikolai gave her a strange look.
From the Children's Zoo, they strolled—well, Dawn strolled, Nikolai was obviously too much of a bad ass to stroll—to Zoo World, where they stared at a mostly still and silent bird cage and then wandered over to watch the camels spit.
“It is three-thirty,” Nikolai mentioned at the camel enclosure.
“Oh, come on,” said Dawn, and would have added a Can't we please stay?
if it hadn't occurred to her, in something like a flash, that that had been how Buffy and she used to beg their father, then their mother, and then, later, how she herself used to beg Buffy. Her mouth closed by itself.
“I have meeting at four-thirty,” said Nikolai, but then caved anyway. “Fifteen minutes more, da
“I hope this meeting's the one where you tell everybody you're switching from sex slaves to professional prostitutes,” said Dawn, “'cause, you know, if you stall on that any longer, Buffy's totally going to dump you, and then there's going to be no living with Kirill.”
The Russian brothels had been Buffy's one deal breaker, the line she wouldn't cross or overlook. Dawn remembered how relieved everybody had been when the subject had first been brought up and Nikolai and Buffy had had their first fight, which looked an awful lot like their last. She also remembered how completely and absolutely dumbfounded
everybody, including herself, had been when Nikolai had turned up again and dragged Buffy back with the promise to shut their slaving business down, if she would just give him the time to do it. Kirill had been in a murderous temper for weeks.
Nikolai wanted to step into the Reptile House, for “just a second, Dasha.” Dawn quickly put the kibosh on that
. They ended up looking at gorillas.
“Can I get a balloon?” asked Dawn.
“Will you go to church with me on Sunday?” countered Nikolai.
“Jeez, it's just a balloon,” grumbled Dawn. “I'm not asking for the Hindenburg here.”
But at the next kiosk, while Dawn was engaged in a Mexican standoff with a Golden Lion Tamarin, Nikolai slipped off for a minute and when she turned back, disgusted with herself for losing to a marmoset, he held out an ice cream cone.
Dawn took it, feeling dazed. She noticed that Nikolai had also gotten one for himself.
“Isn't that unhealthy for your Fear My Bad Russian Self image?” asked Dawn.
“Do not worry,” said Nikolai, taking a bite. “If someone laughs, I will kill them and dump their body in the river, and then no one will laugh.”
Nikolai's sense of humor was much easier to get than Kirill's. Kirill was so straight-faced, it was hard to tell when he was joking, and his references were so obscure and Russian that even other Russians sometimes looked at him as if he'd started speaking in Latvian.
How weird was her life when she spent her time comparing how funny the assassin was to how funny the mobster was?
It was absurd enough to be walking through the zoo with Nikolai, both eating ice cream. He ate his quickly, in three, manly bites, brushed off his fingers, and stuck his hands behind his back again, but not before Dawn noticed.
“What is that?” she said, peering behind him. “Is that—is that Winnie the Pooh on your finger?”
Nikolai sighed. Reaching up, he took his sunglasses off, folding them up and tucking them away into the front of his coat. A body couldn't help but stare at the bandage, bright yellow and red, on the tip of the index finger of his right hand.
Dawn recognized the bandage as one of a box that she'd bought the week before, huge children's bandages. She'd had it in the medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
Come to think of it...hadn't Nikolai been using his left hand for everything for a couple of hours now, hadn't he? And when he'd had to use both to take out his wallet and pay for the tickets, no wonder the guy in the booth had stared.
“There had better not be blood on the carpet when I get home,” she said warningly. “I want my security deposit back.”
Nikolai stopped, just in front of the zoo entrance. From his coat, he pulled a small, shiny object.
“I help to wrap it,” he said, “while she was packing. She wanted to give it to you herself, but then we could not find you before her flight. She gave it to me to give to you.”
He held it out.
The package was small, about the length of his hand, wrapped in glossy green paper and tied with golden ribbon. A tiny plastic Santa dangled from the knot holding a white card, and on it, in Buffy's handwriting, was Dawnie
Dawn bit her lip. She didn't want her eyes to fill with tears, but they did anyway. She took the present from him with careful hands, and stood holding it, looking at it, for a few minutes, during which neither spoke.
When she felt she had gotten back her composure, Dawn cleared her throat. “Well, it's Christmas Eve, Buffy's in Missouri, and she sent her criminal boyfriend to go on our traditional zoo visit in her place. Smells like jewelry.”
Nikolai smiled. He actually smiled, even with his eyes, and Dawn saw, for the first time, how kind he could look, how beautiful he could be.
“She cried, too, Dasha,” he said quietly, “when she saw that she would have to leave you alone for Rozhdyestvo
. You should not think badly of her. She did not want to go.”
Because that was Buffy. Buffy, who, though she could be just as spoiled, just as self-absorbed as anyone else, would always, in the end, do what needed to be done, no matter whose happiness, her own or anyone else's, it meant giving up. Who had, when push came to shove, never put anything above her cause, above the fight.
Except Dawn. When it mattered,
thought Dawn, she chose me.
Her fists clenched. Even though, when it mattered, I didn't choose her.
God, what a crybaby she was being! Throwing a fit over her sister not being there for Christmas. Nikolai probably thought she was such a mopey loser. Anyway, what was Buffy supposed to do? Stay home and let other people deal with the necromantic crisis? Yeah, right.
“You're going to be late for your meeting,” said Dawn quietly. “But try to get home in time for dinner, huh? I've got Giles coming over and Christmas Eve dinner wouldn't be the same without an awkward silence.” If she had to get used to Buffy's new and unconventional lifestyle, then by Santa, so did Giles.
Nikolai nodded. They walked together out of the ZSL London Zoo, toward Baker Street where Nikolai had parked. Buffy's present was pressed tightly to Dawn's chest, the plastic Santa bouncing against her arm.
, Dasha,” he said, his gray eyes like the sky before snow, “I will be there.”
Glossary of Russian Terms (Maybe)Rozhdyestvo