“You can’t be serious!”
Faith just wryly nodded, adding, “Hey, he liked it, okay?”
“We had our own special clubs.” At Dawn’s mouth falling open at this, Faith simply shrugged, and went on to explain, “When we showed up there at that place, usually after it closed, the guy behind the desk would take out two putters from under there, with our names engraved on ‘em. He handed ‘em over, and then he took off, after turnin’ everythin’ on.” A nostalgic expression passed over the Slayer’s features when she continued. “There was a big windmill with those spinnin’ blade things, a castle with a drawbridge that flipped up and down, and a clock tower that had a bell ring if you managed to knock your ball right in. All lighted up, with the water fountains playin’, and just us there, hittin’ our golf balls, and goofin’ around. It was kinda nice, really.”
Faith shook her head, lost in her reminisces, and then she glanced over at where her listener now had eyes as wide as saucers. A little stiffly, the older woman muttered, “Hey, ya musta have just as weird memories, growin’ up there in Sunnyhell.”
A faint flush now appeared in Dawn’s cheeks, as she thought it over, before sheepishly admitting, “Um, Spike used to recite his poetry to me in the basement, when everybody else was away.”
“Oh,” blinked Faith, who then asked in sudden curiosity, “Was it any good?”
Dawn just sighed. “I have to admit, his critics were right in considering it total drivel, and they really didn’t deserve what he did to them after he became a vampire.”
“Yeah, I know ‘bout that.” Giving Dawn a cautious look, Faith determinedly continued. “I know….what he was. What he done, and what he was gonna do. Especially, what I done for him. And, even with alla that….Richard Wilkins, he treated me nicer than ‘most everyone else ever in my whole life. That’s the plain and simple truth, can’t be brushed off or explained away.”
The youngest Summers woman uneasily crossed her arms across her chest, shivered, and looked sadly at Faith, as the Key muttered, “William the Bloody raped, tortured, and murdered for a century, to become Spike the vampire who loved me like a little sister. Even now, some of the former potentials that were with us at Sunnydale and survived to become Slayers, they remember how he killed the girls there who were their friends, and they’re still repelled by that. They avoid me as much as possible.”
The two women sat there in melancholy silence for several moments, inside Dawn’s apartment in the Scottish castle, before Faith broke the mood with a remorseful statement.
“They….got a right. We -- I -- got in us the makings of worse evil than what we ever met. I ain’t what I was back then, but I still ’member it and it’s only by sheer luck alone that I didn’t do even worse. When I, I murdered that perfessor, if there’d been anybody with him -- friend, wife, family -- I woulda left more bodies behind me, and I wouldn’t have given the slightest damn. I just wanted the Mayor to be proud of me, and I woulda done anythin’ for him. ’Cuz he was all I had then.”
Again, there was quiet in the room for a while, as two people recalled the monsters they had once known, who had never acted monstrously towards these women. As their shared silence continued, Faith’s moody thoughts began to drift into something less sorrowful, as she began idly contemplating the specific person the Slayer was currently sharing her company and viewpoints.
“I wondered how long it’d take for you to get that look on your face, Faith,” spoke Dawn in a dry tone that matched her expression of wry amusement, as the younger woman curled up at the end of the couch clearly showed she’d also left behind her own regrets, to change the subject into something else. Dawn now watched the Slayer at the other side of the couch momentarily start in surprise, and appear a bit defensive.
“What look?” gruffly asked Faith, eyeing how this seemed to make Dawn even more pleased, as the Summers sister now put her hands on top of her knees and shot Faith a sardonic glance before answering.
“The look that everyone gets, those who know the big secret about the Key,” snorted Dawn. “You, Buffy, Giles, Wils, Xander -- everybody! You all get a really intensive expression, like someone who can’t remember where their car keys are. But I know for a fact what you’re really thinking about: me! Even years later, all you guys keep trying to figure out how to spot the differences in your memories of what’s real and what’s fake, what really happened and what didn’t, when I finally showed up in Sunnydale.”
Faith seemed to be about to argue, until she suddenly shrugged and looked a bit shamefaced, muttering, “Sorry, Dawnie. I guess that was kinda rude.”
Dawn literally brushed this away, giving a dismissive wave of her hand, as she bestowed a kind smile upon the apologetic Slayer. “That’s okay, Faith. I’m sure you’ll still do it, just like the rest of them, even though there’s no point. Nobody has spotted anything wrong, Faith, ever. Those damn monks were really good.” An irritated expression flashed over Dawn’s face, as she spoke those last words.
“Uh, you don’t mind talkin’ ‘bout it?” uncertainly asked Faith.
It was now Dawn’s turn to shrug in her seat. “I don’t dwell on it every single second. It’s part of me, that I wasn’t actually human or I’m not really twenty years old, just like you don’t need to always think about the fact that you’re a Slayer, Faith. We’ve all got things we can’t change and just have to live with. Some of the stuff you deal with has got to be as, um, strange, as what I’ve got, kiddo.” Dawn sneaked another look at Faith’s golden eyes that were favorably regarding the other woman with her still-unsettling gaze.
“Damn straight,” grunted Faith at her friend’s comments.
Encouraged, Dawn went on thoughtfully, “Yep, just like nobody else can find anything wrong in their memories, neither can I. I KNOW I never really existed before Sunnydale, except as a big ball of green energy, but when we were all recovering at the Hyperion in LA after the collapse, I talked Buffy into taking me to where we lived back before me, her, and mom moved. We parked in front of our old house, and I could remember exactly what it looked like inside, and I knew our old neighborhood like the back of my hand.”
Fascinated, Faith watched Dawn scratch her head in incredulity. The brunette then had a question appear in her mind, to be tentatively asked, “Hey, Dawnie, that spell or whatever the monks done -- is it all over, or is it still workin’?”
“What do you mean?”
“Uh, lemme put it this way--” Faith broke off, trying to properly express her thoughts. Frowning, the older woman went on. “Well, back then there at your old place, like ya told me, there musta been folks around who knew the Summers. Does that mean they woulda ‘membered you bein’ there as a kid years before, as part of the spell, or if they suddenly had a reason to ‘member you, like seein’ you at that place in your car with Buffy, the spell woulda made ‘em ‘member you right then and there?”
“From what we’ve managed to figure out, when I appeared as an actual living human on August 18, 2000, the spell changed the memories of every single person who had the chance to encounter me, Faith,” answered the Key. “Physical stuff, too. When I was in pre-school, the sidewalks in front of our house were replaced, with new concrete poured. Buffy and I sneaked out, and put our handprints in the concrete. We both got sent to bed without supper for that,” chuckled Dawn, who was still smiling when she confided, “Anyway, our handprints are still there, and they’re as weathered as they would be if it really happened back then, instead of just a few years ago.”
“Huh, alla that musta taken a lotta mojo,” commented Faith.
Dawn nodded in agreement, adding, “Willow once theorized that the monks used the power of the Key to get their spell to work.”
Caught up in their discussion, Faith opened her mouth, and then she hastily shut it, as if she’d suddenly realized her next words might not have been appropriate. Seeing this, Dawn flashed the other woman a quick grin, accompanied with another chuckle, as she tossed off her own comment. “You want to know if I remember being the Key?”
Seeing that her friend wasn’t offended, Faith cautiously said, “Well, yeah.”
“Sorry, Faith, but you’d have as much chance as remembering being a two-week embryo in your mom’s womb. Like that, I existed in the universe before my current life. I was the Key, I’m Dawn Summers now, and I might be the Key again.”
The Slayer blinked at hearing the last. “You mean, someday--”
Dawn calmly interrupted, “Someday, I’m going to die. After all, back in Sunnydale, I first manifested as a fourteen-year-old girl, and now I’m a twenty-year-old woman. I’ve aged, and I’ll keep on doing that, with the added cherry on top of the fact that once a month for the next twenty or so years, I’m certainly going to be aware of time passing.” Dawn now muttered to herself under her breath, “Just another thing I can thank the monks for….”
Faith worriedly stared at her friend, until Dawn met the golden gaze of the Boston native with her own accepting look, as a woman created by magic reassured a warrior, “Look, Faith, it’s okay. I love being here, and when it’s time for the great perhaps, at least I might have the chance to yell at Spike for a really long while about not telling me or Buffy about his coming back to life.”
Slowly, Faith nodded in acknowledgement of Dawn’s acquiescence of her mortality, and a companionable silence descended between the pair, as both became once more lost in their memories. Soon enough, Faith drew herself out of her musings, to casually glance around the room.
Dawn’s private apartment in the castle was naturally bigger than Faith’s guest quarters, if only due to the fact that this living area housed a permanent resident. A sardonic thought also popped into the Slayer’s mind concerning that back when the castle had been set up to accommodate the new Watchers’ Council, a certain British guy in glasses and tweed must have surely fiddled with the living arrangements, to give someone they loved another chance for an actual home.
Earlier, when Faith had entered the apartment, it was clear from the first that this residence had indeed been made into someone’s special place of their very own. As she’d shown Faith around everywhere, Dawn’s beaming pride had made that young woman nearly glow in satisfaction, through the tour of the master bedroom, the two guest bedrooms (one of which had been turned into a den with her computer, and that room was already overflowing with books, scrolls, tablets, and other written material for her demonic researches), a living room where they were now, and a combined dining room/kitchen.
A few minutes before, as she’d made coffee for them in the latter room, Dawn had good-naturedly confided to Faith that she almost never did any cooking, preferring to eat in the cafeterias elsewhere in the building. The only meals prepared in her kitchen were occasional snacks of the bizarre food combinations enjoyed by Dawn, which had almost gotten her banned from the castle dining halls by the cooks there over their sheer horror caused by that Summers sister’s hopeful requests for such things as a peanut-butter sandwich with anchovies, Gummi bears, and garlic cloves.
Faith grinned, as she looked over at where Dawn was at the other end of the couch, gazing out the main window of the living room at the Scots hills rising up behind the castle. The Slayer fondly watched the young woman in her home for several moments, until Faith switched back her awareness to the crackling flames in the fireplace, a welcome addition to the apartment.
Idly lifting her eyes to the large oriental painting over the mantelpiece, Faith admired how the portrait showed the kindhearted features of a Chinese woman in her flowing silk robes standing gracefully in a landscape of willow trees along a stream. Dawn had told Faith the painting was a souvenir of a Hong Kong vacation several months ago, when she’d poked around an antique store there and found that artwork, happily purchasing it after being informed whom that woman in the painting represented.
In her head, Faith silently agreed that any home would be gifted by the attention of the Asian deity known as Guanyin or Kwan Yin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.
*Sure as hell coulda used her in that fuckin’ shithole I grew up in. Never thought I had the chance of gettin’ outta there, to any place with anybody better, ‘til years later, when I finally dropped into little D’s home and met….her….*
Ordinarily, Faith kept those shameful memories crushed deep in her mind, but in her rare nostalgia at this peaceful moment, she then let down her guard, and she now paid the price. All the guilt Faith ever had about what she’d once done instantly burst free, and a tidal wave of pure remorse subsequently smashed into her soul.
Dawn was abruptly distracted from looking out at the view through her window at the sudden whimper coming from the other end of the couch. Snapping her head around, Dawn stared with horror at the woman now huddling there, arms wrapped tightly around herself and legs stiffly pressed together, as her entire body shuddered. Faith’s white face looked fixedly ahead, and more moans escaped through the clenched teeth shown by the Slayer’s lips drawn back in a grimace of grief.
“Faith! What’s wrong?!” cried a terrified Dawn, who received no direct answer from that woman still in the savage clutch of her mortification. Sliding forward on the couch, Dawn started to reach out to comfort Faith, until what the Summers sister heard made Dawn freeze in total shock.
“….ssssorry, sorry, sorry, Joyce, I’m sorry, please, please, Joyce, I’m sorry--” stuttered Faith, still looking past Dawn into the pit of her hellish memories, as the Slayer continued remembering what she’d savagely threatened years before in that house at 1630 Revello Drive.
Her blood draining from her features, Dawn’s own face turned as pale as Faith’s, in realizing her friend was currently caught in the grip of a devastating post-traumatic stress disorder episode. Only the sad fact that this had happened too many times before, to various surviving members of the Scooby Gang after literally years spent in the war zone known as the Sunnydale Hellmouth, gave Dawn an infinitesimal crumb of comfort, as Dawn swallowed, and the young woman began to offer what help she could, as she’d done before, and had done for her.
Moving with excruciatingly slowness, Dawn moved closer to Faith, until she was a few inches from that woman’s side, not directly in front of the anguished Slayer or actually touching her, since both might increase Faith’s terror and lead to her actually fleeing the room, leaping up from the couch to smash with superhuman strength into Dawn’s more fragile body. All while she did this, Dawn continuously spoke to a nearly catatonic Faith, in her most soothing voice.
“Faith, Faith, it’s me, Dawn. I’m here, I’m here. You’re safe here, you’re safe, Faith, you’re safe, okay? Please, Faith, you’re safe, nobody will hurt you, you’re safe, Faith.”
“Noooo….wouldn’t hurt her, not Dawnie, not her, please, Joyce, not mad at her, please, Joyce, wouldn’t hurt her, you gotta believe me, Joyce….” As she said those piteous words, Faith started slumping back in the couch, as if she was being crushed under her immense guilt newly manifested in physical form.
Dawn was in absolute shock over what the Slayer had said, easily identifying the time in Sunnydale while the teenage Faith had been at her worse, when in her most vicious mood she‘d invaded the Summers home to threaten a child and her mother. At least years later, Faith had finally been able to apologize to Dawn for what she’d done, but with Joyce Summers’ death afterwards, Faith could never beg the forgiveness of somebody who’d never shown anything but kindness to that nearly-psychotic girl terrorizing her youngest daughter.
At that point, an inspiration burst in Dawn’s mind, as her right hand flashed to the top of her turtleneck sweater, only hesitating as the Key frantically thought over her plan. A last glance at Faith’s agonized face, as that woman’s psyche clearly began approaching irreversible damage, then firmly endorsed to Dawn her desperate course of action, as both hands now worked busily around her neck.
Even in her mental agony, Faith’s Slayer senses were working just as well as ever, which made it more than possible for the physical pain to reach her through everything, when someone now screamed with the full power of their lungs right into that woman’s ear.
“JOYCE! JOYCE! JOYCE! JOYCE IS HERE! JOYCE IS HERE! JOYCE IS IN ME! JOYCE IS IN ME! LISTEN TO JOYCE! LISTEN! LISTEN TO JOYCE!”
Faith’s head jerked up, her attention clearly caught, though she still stared blankly ahead. Dawn thankfully accepted that, and lowered her voice down a little from her throat-destroying shriek into a still loud shout, to try to finish what she’d started.
“Joyce is here! Joyce is here, Faith! Listen to Joyce! Faith, listen to Joyce! Are you listening, Faith? Are you listening to Joyce, Faith?”
A feeble nod was made by Faith at the last yell, which itself made Dawn’s heart leap, as she perform the next step, holding something right in front of the Slayer’s oblivious features, to continue snapping crisp, clear commands.
“Listen to Joyce, Faith! Joyce wants you to do this! Joyce wants you to do this! Are you listening to Joyce, Faith? Yes! Yes, you are, Faith! You are listening to Joyce, Faith! Joyce wants you to do this! Do this! Do this! Joyce wants you to look! Joyce wants you to look, Faith! Look, Faith! Look, Faith! Look! Look!”
In that beat of the words hammering into her mind, there was absolutely no possibility of disobedience, as Faith now numbly forced herself to gaze at where something was dangling before her eyes. It was instantly recognized, a symbol of humanity as old as the concept of art itself.
An life-sized eye hung in the air, a green, polished, oval stone fashioned to perfectly resemble that part of someone’s face, with its smooth surface shaped in its middle to show a flawless sphere, and in the center of this manifestation of a pupil, engraved lines of pure gold twisted and shaped themselves into a pictogram, a picture representing a word or idea.
The eye trembled in mid-air, as somebody holding this gemstone and desperately praying that this would work, continued their steady cadence while ordering a mesmerized woman watching the eye in total absorption. “Look at the eye, Faith! Look, Faith! Look at the eye! Look at the center of the eye, Faith! Are you looking, Faith?”
Not moving her fascinated gaze away the slightest, Faith speechlessly nodded.
“This is the eye of Joyce, Faith! Joyce, Faith! Joyce is looking at you! At you, Faith!”
The brunette Slayer paled at those words, but she continued staring at the eye then, and all what came after.
“She is looking at you, Faith! She is looking! Looking! Looking with love! Love, Faith, love! Joyce is looking with love at you, Faith!”
“….no….” weakly whispered Faith, speaking for the first time in several moments.
“Yes, Faith, yes! Joyce is looking with love at you, Faith! Looking with love, Faith! Joyce is love, Faith! Love, Faith, love! Joyce is love! Joyce, love! Joyce, love! Joyce loves you! Joyce loves you, Faith! Joyce loves Faith! Faith, love Joyce! Love Joyce, Faith!”
“Love….Joyce,” again whispered Faith.
“Love Joyce, Faith! You love Joyce, Faith! Joyce loves you, Faith! Will you love Joyce, Faith?”
“Good, Faith, good! You love Joyce, Faith! Joyce loves you, Faith! You love Joyce! Joyce loves Faith! Faith loves Joyce! Faith loves what Joyce loves! Joyce loves Faith! Faith loves Joyce! Joyce loves! Joyce loves! Joyce loves Dawn!”
Faith blinked at that last statement, but she continued gazing at the eye which was all that existed for her in the entire world. That, and the voice that continued chanting.
“Joyce loves Dawn! Joyce loves Faith! Joyce loves! Joyce loves! Joyce loves Dawn and Faith! Joyce loves Faith and Dawn! Faith and Dawn! Faith and Dawn! Dawn loves! Dawn loves! Dawn loves Faith! Dawn loves Faith! Faith loves! Faith loves! Faith loves Dawn! Faith loves Dawn! Faith loves Dawn and Joyce! Faith loves Dawn and Joyce!”
“Good, Faith, good! Faith loves Dawn and Joyce! Joyce loves Faith and Dawn! Joyce loves Faith and Dawn always! Always! Always! Always, Faith! Always, Faith!”
Subtly, the determined voice uttering these commands began to change into a gentler tone, as the eye simultaneously started to slowly move towards Faith’s intent features.
“Joyce loves Faith and Dawn always! Always, Faith! Faith loves Joyce and Dawn always! Always love Joyce and Dawn! Joyce and Dawn and Faith! Joyce and Dawn and Faith always! Always love! Always love! Always….love! Always….love! Always….love. Always….love. Always…. Always….”
The voice was now crooning, as the eye was nearly touching Faith’s face between that woman’s own eyes, with these beginning to blink and losing their focus, as the gemstone became in her sight a blurry object that took up all of her view. Drawing out her words, a drained speaker began bringing the session to a close.
“Always…. Always….sleep. Always….sleep. Always….sleeeeep. Always….sleeeeep. Alwaaaaays….sleeeeep. Alwaaaaays….sleeeeep. Sleeeeep, Faith. Sleeeeep, Faith. Sleeeeep, Faaaaaith. Sleeeeep, Faaaaaith. Sleeeeep, Faaaaaith, in love. Sleeeeep, Faaaaaith, in love. Sleeeeep, Faaaaaith, in looooove. Looooove, Faaaaaith. Looooove, Faaaaaith. Looooove, Faaaaaith, sleeeeep. Looooove, Faaaaaith, sleeeeep. Sleeeeep. Sleeeeep. Sleeeeep. Sleeeeep….sleeeeeeep….sleeeeeeeep.”
Those very last words were spoken in the faintest of whispers, as the eye was held against Faith’s forehead, gently touching her skin, as that woman’s whole face and body relaxed, never knowing in her peaceful descent into slumber, that another’s left hand hastily let go of the necklace to grab Faith’s collar just in time to prevent her from falling off the couch, to instead guide the sleeping Slayer into leaning forward, coming to a rest face down in Dawn’s lap.
Several minutes later, Faith drowsily returned to semi-consciousness, blearily gazing upwards at the ceiling, as she slowly understood she was lying on her back, her head resting in something that was both soft and firm, while her hair was being gently stroked.
“What…the fuck….” croaked Faith.
Someone’s head tilted forward into the Slayer’s line of sight, as Dawn’s smiling face looked down at the woman blinking upwards with total confusion. An inquiring “Mmmmm?” was hummed by a relieved Dawn, accompanied by her eyebrows being raised in an unspoken question.
“Dawnie? Why’m I here….” A tilt of her head now informed Faith she was resting on a couch and in a really embarrassing position of her head being cradled in the crotch of the jeans currently worn by her fellow Slayer’s younger sister.
As her face flamed bright red, Faith heard another “Mmmmm” delivered in a firmer tone, and the discomfited Slayer looked up again at Dawn now waving an upraised index finger in a clear gesture for attention, before the Key brought down that digit. Right after, Faith felt Dawn’s hands pushing upwards under her shoulders, obviously commanding her to get up.
Shakily, with Dawn’s help, Faith rose up, swinging her legs off the couch and putting her feet back onto the floor, as the Slayer twisted her body around to end up once more seated on the sofa, leaning against the cushioned back of this furniture, giving a relieved sigh when all this was done. Looking up as Dawn now got off the couch, Faith bewilderedly saw and heard her friend give another shake of her index finger, this time in an evident gesture for patience, that was bolstered by an additional resolute “Mmmm!”
Turning away from the disoriented Slayer, Dawn now walked from the living room into her kitchen, where Faith now heard the kitchen faucet turn on, drawer and cupboard doors opening, and the clink of glasses being moved. In all this, something else drew Faith’s attention, as that woman became distracted by another part of her body. Lifting up her clenched right fist to eye level, as she finally noticed that for the last minute or so she’d been gripping tightly something in that hand, Faith then opened her fingers.
An actual gasp of shock came from Faith’s lips, as she stared at the object in the palm of her hand. A necklace now rested there, a slim metal chain of shiny links that were unquestionably silver looped around an oval gemstone of pure green, all resting in the middle of her palm.
The eye with the golden pictogram in its center stared back up at Faith, who at once remembered everything that had recently happened. Everything.
At that exact moment, Dawn plopped back down on the couch, startling a dazed Faith looking up only to see a glass of water being offered to her by the other woman. Hesitantly reaching out to take the glass with her left hand, Faith just held this, uncertainly watching as Dawn held a large red paper capsule between her right fingers over her own glass of water in that younger woman’s other hand. A soft ‘pop’ came from that capsule, as Dawn snapped it in two, with a line of powder promptly pouring into the water and turning this clear liquid into a greenish-brown fluid. Faith blinked, as the entire room was suddenly permeated with the pleasant odor of fresh flowers.
The Slayer watched in fascination, as a resigned Dawn now raised the glass to her lips and drank several swallows, just before the Summers sister now abruptly pulled away the glass from her mouth, a horrible grimace now on her face, and gagging, “Jeez, Willow’s sore-throat remedy works like a charm -- no surprise there -- but why can’t this yucky stuff taste as good as it smells?”
Faith blinked as a wry Dawn now looked over at her, rubbing her throat, and continuing in a rough voice that smoothed out to its normal tones during the course of her next statement, as that woman absently said, “I haven’t yelled so long like that since before the collapse, when I held that auction with the potentials bidding on their chance for a peek at Xander in his shower.”
Dawn jumped in her seat at Faith’s yelp, almost spilling her drink, and she shot the Slayer a sheepish grin, before sipping again at her glass, her face again grimacing but accompanied by evident furious thought, as Dawn now reluctantly took away her container, to guiltily mutter, “Ah, could we pretend you never heard that?”
Despite what she’d recently undergone, Faith still felt her lips quirk at their corners in startled humor. Her own voice now having an interested chuckle in it, Faith inquired, “So, what was the winning bid, anyways?”
“Um. Well, if you must know….a Jewel CD, a bag of Fritos, and a go-first-before-me bathroom ticket, Faith.”
That answered woman snickered into her glass she’d just raised to have a refreshing drink of water. Swallowing this, Faith brought down her beverage, to glance at what was still held in her other hand. Turning a more serious expression to an awaiting Dawn, Faith husked, “What….happened, Dawnie? To me….? An’ what the hell did you to me, too?”
Putting away her glass on the end table at the far side of the couch, with Faith also imitating her on the other end table at her position, Dawn sighed, and then steadily regarded the anxious woman sharing her seat, before replying, “Faith, you had a severe PTSD episode with flashbacks, and I put you under hypnosis while you were in a wakeful state of focused attention and heightened suggestibility, all to get you to confront and defeat your guilt.”
An open-mouthed Faith stared at the calm young woman sitting there, before blurting out, “Wha-- what the hell does that mean? And how’d you know to do that? Fer Chrissakes, what if it had all gone wrong--?"
Interrupting what seemed to be the start of a lengthy rant, Dawn simply said three words that stopped Faith in her tracks. “Joyce forgives you.”
Faith cringed in her seat, expecting to once more feel the overpowering guilt that came with the bleak knowledge in her mind that she’d never be able to apologize to the woman whose children she’d menaced. Except, right now, there was an actual sense of….absolution settling in her very soul. Bestowing a wondering gaze upon Dawn now scooting across the sofa to sit next to her, Faith jumped slightly, as Dawn patted the top of her knee, and started addressing her in a determined tone.
“Listen to me, Faith. You were in serious psychological trauma, but there was also an actual opportunity during it, to finally get past all your defenses and make you understand, for once and all, that mom would in the end have forgiven you for everything you did. Though, hopefully, when she was yelling at you, she wouldn’t have gotten her hands on a fire axe.”
“What?” choked a bewildered Faith.
Dawn herself blushed then, and muttered, “Uh, family joke.” Looking again in Faith’s wary face, the younger woman started over. “You know I’m telling the truth, Faith. Whatever can be said about my weird life, during all of it, Joyce was my mom, and I know -- knew her better than anyone else in the world. Even Buffy. But it wasn’t just me that knew her. Anybody who met her -- YOU included! -- would have known right away she loved everyone she considered family and would stand up for them, whatever they did. As long as they were sorry and tried to make up for it, mom would be on their side.”
“But what I done--”
“Faith, mom knew you before and after that! She knew you were a Slayer, that you fought alongside Buffy, that you had a hard life before coming to Sunnydale, and didn‘t have much better luck in changing that when you got there. That has to be added to whatever else you did, buster!”
The Slayer blinked at Dawn’s last irate words, and then hesitantly looked deep inside herself concerning Joyce Summers and Faith Lehane. During the next few moments, a marveling woman slowly came to realize that an imaginary mountain of guilt had just dissipated to finally reveal the purity of truth. Still, something more needed to be done. Directing back her attention to Dawn, Faith swallowed, and summoned up all her courage.
An astonished Dawn now saw and felt how Faith held open her arms and leaned forward, to gently enfold the Summers sister in a trembling hug. Perching her chin on a frozen Dawn’s shoulder, Faith stuttered her next words into the ear of that immobile child of the woman she’d once harmed.
“Jo-- Joyce, wherever you are, please listen to me. You’ll know I’m serious ’bout this. I…swear, now and forever, by alla me, the good and the bad, everythin’, to protect and take care of Dawnie. I’ll put her ’fore me, I’ll stand ’fore her ’gainst all that comes, I’ll love her with alla my soul. This penance I freely pay, for the blood of my blood, flesh of my flesh, heart of my heart. I promise, Joyce.”
For an incalculable amount of time, a quailing Faith waited for whatever would come next. In the end, what did so were two other arms that slowly embraced a now-weeping Slayer, bringing her closer in their mutual hug, as Dawn finally sniffled into the other woman’s ear, “Did you just adopt me?”
Still gripping Dawn as tightly as she dared without actually harming her, Faith spluttered, “Uh, I, do you, can I, you don’t wanna--?”
“Sheesh. Another big sister Slayer ordering me around, scaring away my boyfriends, swiping my favorite bras. Don’t understand how it took so long for me to get the complete paired set,” chuckled Dawn, again into the ear of an ecstatic Faith.
Several minutes later, when they’d both finished wiping their faces with the handful of paper towels taken from the kitchen, Faith, still sitting by Dawn, lifted her right hand where the necklace and its stone had been gripped throughout all of the recent events, and she opened her fingers to examine this jewelry more closely. Her curiosity awoken, Faith asked, “Hey, Dawnie, what exactly is this, anyways?”
Dawn dryly said, “It’s a guilt gift from Buffy, a few weeks after that business with the Immortal.”
“What?” frowned Faith at the other woman looking off in the distance, a slightly sour expression on her features. The Slayer went on, “Uh, I know it ended, but I ain’t sure just what happened. There’s been a lotta rumors, but--”
Dawn just rolled her eyes, and said a bit gruffly, “Sorry, Faith, but it’s kind of private. More on the order of embarrassing, really.” Dawn looked a little thoughtful, and she then went on in a somewhat snarkier tone. “Short version, that title was wishful thinking.”
“Yeah,” snorted Dawn. “You’ll have to get the whole story from Buffy, but it’ll take serious blackmail material to do that. Anyway--” Dawn now leaned over to point her index fingernail at the oval gemstone in Faith’s palm. “That’s green jade, the finest kind, and it’s old. I’m not sure exactly how old, but the Chinese characters there haven’t changed all that much in the last few centuries.” At that comment, Dawn’s fingernail came down to tap against the face of the pictogram engraved in the center of the stone. Smiling, Dawn looked up in Faith’s face, and informed her, “That’s pronounced ‘ai’, and it means ‘love.’”
Faith happily smiled back at Dawn, whose own grin widened, as that woman looked down, to gently slide her nail under the left tip of the eye and flip it over. As it rotated on its small chain attached to the silver band around the edges of the stone that was connected to the main necklace chain, Faith blinked at seeing a different pictogram engraved on this side of the gemstone. Fascinated, she watched Dawn again tap this gold engraving, hearing from her, “And this is ‘sheng’, which is ‘life.’”
Dawn now leaned back, watching how Faith lovingly considered what was in her hand She’d already decided this, so Dawn now calmly said, “Put it on, Faith.”
A startled Faith looked up. “Wha-- it’s yours, Dawnie!”
“Sure, and I can give it to anybody I want. Right now, that’s you, Faith.” At that woman’s astonished expression, Dawn giggled, and urged, “Go on!”
Faith, looking a little stunned, fumbled with the necklace, but she still managed to unclasp it, holding the ends apart as she put it around her neck, to close it again, as the necklace now rested around her throat. A thrilled Dawn now leaned forward, to rub her fingertip against the gemstone eye resting in the hollow of Faith’s throat.
“Life,” she chuckled. “Which means ‘love’ is in contact with you.” Dawn beamingly resumed her position on the couch, watching with great good humor how Faith now wonderingly touched her gift. After stroking this with total absorption for a few moments, the Slayer then shot a leery glance at the other woman observing her.
Clearing her throat, Faith asked, “Uh, Dawnie, how’d you know alla that, the hypnosis stuff, gettin‘ me to deal with my nasty shit?”
Cocking an eyebrow, Dawn answered with perfect composure, “Faith, what do you think I’ve been doing the last couple of years, since Sunnydale?”
“Um.” Stopped short, Faith had to actually think that over, before cautiously replying, “Uh, goin’ to school?”
Nodding, Dawn corrected, “Well, yes, but more than that, I’ve been learning.” That last word was stressed by the Key.
“Everything,” calmly spoke Dawn. “Look, just a couple of weeks after the collapse, when everybody scattered, and it was just me and Buffy, I did some serious thinking, over-- Ah, well, we’ll get back to that.” Faith looked curiously at the younger woman fidgeting in her seat after censoring her recent statement.
Glancing over at Faith, Dawn went on. “I eventually decided that I could be the bratty kid I was in high school, or I could actually use my current situation to finally grow up and work on learning useful things for when I joined the Council. Well, during the next couple of years, besides the regular education -- that Swiss boarding school, then Oxford -- whenever I could, I tried to learn everything and anything from anybody I could persuade to teach me. Not just the whole supernatural ticket, but whatever was in the normal human world. Medicine, demonic languages, computers, spells, chemistry, alchemy-- I devoured it all, Faith.”
The Slayer had an impressed look appear on her face, but before she could open her mouth to actually express her approval, Dawn started talking again. “It wasn’t just books and scrolls, Faith. I learned practical stuff, too, like wilderness survival, ER courses, the hypnosis I did on you, and lots of other things. And, naturally, because of the life I’m living-- Unarmed combat training, shooting, fencing and archery, and whatever it took to put a world of hurt on anybody giving me grief.” Smirking, Dawn made a fist and pumped her arm. “One of the things I’ve found out over the last couple of years is that I’m in the very highest percentile of ordinary human women my size and age for strength and speed.” Dawn shrugged and looked at an astonished Faith, adding, “I’m not sure if that has anything to do with being made from a Slayer, or if the monks just wanted to be sure I would be in good shape to stay alive and away from that Glory bitch.”
Faith’s mind promptly went into Slayer mode, and the brunette woman then considered Dawn through half-closed eyes, closely studying her. *She’s toned, sittin’ there in perfect balance, like she knows she might need to move at any second for defense or attack, and you saw her walkin’ around this room, with damn good poise. Fuck, girl, you shoulda known better! Always keep an eye on everythin’!* At that last irritated thought, Faith’s index finger came up for her to unconsciously stroke her gemstone necklace, as she continued observing the confident younger woman.
An expectant Dawn waited for Faith to complete her study, perhaps just a bit uneasily foreseeing what might be the first thing to come out of that woman’s mouth. Unfortunately, it was what she’d pretty much anticipated.
“’Kay, Dawnie, I’d like to have you come to one ’a the gyms, show me what you’ve got. Now that I’m gonna look after you, I wanna see how much I don’t haveta teach you.” A nonplussed Faith now watched Dawn’s face turn a little pale over hearing that, with the younger woman dolefully dropping her gaze to the floor, away from the concerned Slayer.
“Uh, Faith, that’s perfectly fine with me. Just, uh, well, we’re sisters and all that now, okay? So, I just wanted to remind you of that right off, for you to keep in the front of your head, not to take it all out on me in the gym, especially over what I have to tell you now,” babbled the wincing female to her new and totally bewildered sibling, who finally interrupted this flow of words.
“What the HELL are ya talkin’ ’bout?!”
Dawn slumped back against the couch, only now daring to look over at the annoyed Slayer. Sighing, the Key tried again. “I….told you I wanted to make something of myself after Sunnydale, right? Well, I had a really big reason for that, and, uh, it just got bigger the last year or so.” After that, words simply failed Dawn, and her mouth started to open and close, with nothing coming out, leading Faith to utter an exasperated growl in an effort to get Dawn started again.
The only response to that was for Dawn to tightly close her eyes and then while squeaking in utter meekness, she articulated the following statement. “I was going to go after Xander.”
After a long minute of absolute silence, Dawn dared to open her right eye a slit, to see an stock-still Faith, features and form totally immobile, until that woman’s tight mouth finally allowed a clipped sentence to escape in a menacing hiss. “Was that why back when he woke up here and we all went to our rooms, after the elevator, you kissed him like you was flossin’ his teeth with your tongue?”
Dawn once more examined the floor with intense concentration. When she then spoke again, there was actual anguish in her voice. “I was saying goodbye to him, Faith.” With that, twin tears fell down her cheeks, leaving clear evidence of her pain.
Faith’s anger was immediately diverted by that into actual worry, as this softened her own tone, when she tried to understand what was going on. “Hey, Dawnie, just tell me, ‘kay? I promise not to blow up, but I need to know what’s goin’ on.”
Dawn sniffled, but she managed to start talking. “It’s just….he knows me, Faith. That’s the biggest advantage, but it’s also the biggest problem.” Looking up with watery eyes, Dawn said, “Xander’s one of the few people who know all about me being the Key. That fact itself really screwed up my love life ever since Sunnydale, whenever I had the chance or urge to get some other guy to notice me. How exactly do you tell someone, especially someone who knows nothing of the weird world we live in, about being just a couple of years old and a big ball of energy before that?” A really glum expression passed over Dawn’s features, as she now wailed, “But, Xander, he knows, and he’s perfectly fine with it!”
“Uh, yeah?” prodded Faith, unsure of where this was going.
“That leads to the other big problem!” Dawn cried. “He thinks of me not just as the Key, but as Buffy’s little sister, whose pigtails he pulled, rescued a couple of dozen times from being kidnapped, threatened my dates with the shovel talk, and put me in his mind with the other ninety-nine percent of women in the whole world!”
Faith’s eyes crossed a little in her total bewilderment over that final miserable declaration. “You wanna explain that last part?” came from the frowning woman.
Now it was Dawn’s turn to look over at Faith, absolute confusion on her face, as the unhappy Key said uncertainly, “Uh, Faith, I thought that was why you were here in the first place, to talk about Xander and why he won’t accept your marriage, and you. Before we got sidetracked by everything.”
Faith boggled at the other woman, only then recalling that had indeed been the whole point of her visit to Dawn’s apartment today. “Yeah, but….what, you think Xander’s got feelin’s for you? That he’s feelin’ unfaithful to--”
“NO!” shrieked Dawn, then going into half-laughing, half-sobbing giggles for several moments. Finally, Dawn calmed down a little, waving her hand to show that she was once more in control of herself at Faith anxiously watching her. A wistful Key then slowly begin again, putting together the words as she went along.
“Look, Faith, the one thing about Xander is that he thinks his sole purpose in life is to protect his girls. Well, that and to eat every Twinkie ever made. But, when he thinks about his girls, Xander doesn’t mean just the Cleveland Slayers, or the Scoobies back in Sunnydale. He means every single woman in the world.” Dawn eyed Faith thinking that over. “Yeah, it’s kind of sexist, but you’ve got to love him for that. The weird part is that it works the other way around, too. Just about every female he meets can sense this, and they like him for that. You’ve got to have seen that happen yourself.”
Faith bemusedly considered this, and she then reluctantly had to admit to herself that Dawn had a point. It was odd how she’d come to take it for granted, but after nearly a year of witnessing that exact action take place among Xander Harris and the various females he’d encountered in Cleveland and other places, Faith had just classified this as part of what made boytoy tick.
A faint smile now on her face, Dawn watched the various expressions flash over Faith’s own features as that Slayer grudgingly came to agree with the Key’s conclusion. Dawn decided to point out something further. “Faith, it’s not confined to just human women. From all the demon girlfriends, that Inca life-sucking mummy, the bug woman, Drusilla with her ‘kitten’, and so on, they all liked him in some way, even if their liking would have resulting in him being sacrificed, eaten, or disemboweled.”
“Hey, it don’t work alla the time,” Faith objected. “I mean, I’ve seen ladies act like he wasn’t Mr. Wonderful.”
“Yes, that happened in Sunnydale, too,” shrugged Dawn. “Maggie Walsh and Glory, for example. But it works often enough so that Xander classifies most women as what I said in being those ninety-nine percenters. Women to be loved, cared for, and protected, right? Now, that leaves the other one percent, which is the only type of women that Xander will allow himself to fall for. The strong women.”
“What, Slayers?” frowned Faith at Dawn, who shook her head.
“Not necessarily physically strong, Faith. There’s also the emotionally resilient, those females who can easily withstand the shocks and strains of life, even the bizarre life us in the know about the supernatural have. Women who can take care of themselves whatever happens, deal with all the strange stuff, Faith. Xander treasures those women, like Cordy, Buffy, Anya, and so on. I think part of the fact that Xander tried it with Willow was that he encountered Vamp-Willow and thought there was a chance they shared the same strong personality.” Dawn sighed, and gazed steadily at Faith. “Xander really needs those kind of women. You know about what happened at his nearly wedding with Anya, and how that got wrecked? His worse nightmare is hurting a woman who can’t stand up to him.”
“So when you went away after Sunnyhell, and decided to make Xander yours….” slowly said Faith.
“I had to change myself from what he thought I was, a kid sister, into a grown-up woman strong enough to go head-to-head with him, that he’d feel confident enough to share his life with,” readily admitted Dawn. “I think I was the only one happy when he went off to Cleveland, and asked us not to contact him in his new job. That meant when I finally presented myself as a really fine babe who could kick ass and take names, I would’ve roped and branded him before he knew what hit him.”
Faith’s eyebrows lifted in astonishment at this, until she then seriously examined the young woman placidly sitting before her, and grudgingly noted to herself that Dawn Summers was indeed a ten on the lusting male scale. *Good thing you’re an eleven, girl.*
That thought lead to a searching look towards Dawn, with Faith then rumbling her next question. “What ’bout when I got there, at Cleveland? I mean, I wasn’t feeling then ’bout Xander like….I did later, but didn’t you at least think ’bout it? I heard from him once that you was okay with me joining the House, but nothin’ else.”
Dawn lowered her lids and gave Faith a cool glance from these, with that same offhand tone in her reply. “Faith, my opinion about that can be given in just three words: Bring it on.”
Staring at an extremely confident Dawn, Faith stared at her new sister in shock for several moments, until the Slayer finally had a crooked grin appear on her mouth, to then chuckle, “Wow. It woulda been a battle royal, with weepin’ and wailin’, the moon turnin’ red, fields charred bare, forests blasted to cinders, and every guy around hopin’ for hair-pullin’ and clothes-tearin’.”
The woman across from her looked startled, until Dawn started guffawing, soon followed by Faith. However, this amusement was quickly ended by Dawn abruptly stopping laughing, with her face screwing up once more in absolute misery.
Instinctively reacting, Faith quickly reached out with her arms, and drew Dawn into an embrace, with the younger woman’s face buried against the Slayer’s blouse. Faith gently stroked Dawn’s hair while she cried for the next minute or so. Finally, when the tears had lessened to mere sniffles, Faith kissed the top of her sister’s head, and softly said, “Dawnie, I didn’t mean for this to happen. Didn’t mean to hurt you in any way, li’l sis.”
A muffled voice came from below Faith’s chin, as Dawn mumbled, “Got that, Faith. It’s just another stupid weird thing in our stupid weird lives, and if the PTB had something to do with it, the Key is going to spend five minutes with them with a baseball bat.”
Faith kissed Dawn’s head again, and suggested, “Pound a coupla long nails all the way through the bat, if you wanna do a really good job on ’em.”
A giggle managed to escape from Dawn’s lips, as she carefully lifted herself back in her original seated position, after Faith had cautiously let go of her. Wiping her eyes, the younger woman gave her older sister an affectionate look, as she got back to explaining her conclusions.
“Faith, concerning I said about how Xander regards women, there’s the fact that he thinks there’s only a small fraction of females that he can have a relationship with. And, uh, you might have just moved out of that group. Now that he’s a Slayer -- and one who’s at least twice as strong as you -- he just may have absolutely no idea how to currently deal with you.”
Thinking that over, Faith abruptly paled to nearly pure white in her shock. It was a damn good reason, perhaps the best she’d heard so far, on why Xander Harris couldn’t handle being married to Faith. With that specific woman now expressing her feelings in the only manner possible.
A worried Dawn now leaned forward to gather up Faith in her own hug, with the two women nearly nose to nose. Consoling Faith, Dawn watched the other woman’s golden eyes flick towards her own, as the Key went on in utter determination. “Listen, Faith, I want you to be happy. Plus, I know now that what Xander and I might have had won’t ever take place, but I still want him to be happy, too. And he’s going to be happy, even if I have to drop every single anvil from the Acme Company onto his pointy skull!”
Despite everything, Faith had to grin, as Dawn also smiled, with that woman going on. “Now, we know just about everything concerning one Alexander LaVelle Harris, so let’s get to work in plotting, planning, and plundering!”
Still in their embrace, Faith’s left eyebrow went up in a sardonic arch, as she inquired, “Plundering?”
Dawn sheepishly shrugged. “It was the best I could come up with regarding alliteration, Faith, so we’re stuck with it.”
“Arrrr, matey!” agreed a deadpan Faith, in a perfect pirate accent.