Title: Mirror Shards: Dawn's story
1st side story in the Mirror Shards series.
Rating: FR13 (to be on the safe side)
Disclaimers: B: tVS belongs to Whedon, American McGee is responsible for the nightmares, er.. I mean, Alice, Cheshire Cat and the game 'American McGee's Alice.' Nothing is mine, though I can dream, right?
Summary: We know how much Xander was changed from Halloween, how about Dawn?
Author's Notes: So many asked for a sequel, I just had to oblige. Here's the first in (hopefully) many side stories involving the events in Mirror Shards.
Timeline: Occurs at Thanksgiving, just after Ethan's Halloween “prank.”
* * *
Mirror Shards: Dawn's story
Dawn Summers curled up at one corner of the couch, a faint frown upon her face, as her mother and sister bustled around the house preparing for the influx of people the Summers were hosting for Thanksgiving.
“Why isn't Dawn helping out?” Buffy gave an exasperated glare at the back of her sister's head.
Joyce shook her head, ushering her into the kitchen and indicating the knife and carrots, “Chop those, please. One, there's not enough room in here for all three of us and she helped me bake bread last night while you were at the Bronze. Two, she's been having a hard time sleeping lately. I don't want her to accidentally cut herself while she's tired. Leave her alone. She'll set the table later on.”
Buffy huffed, but nodded. “When are the others arriving?”
“Willow said she'd be here about two. Her parents said they'd call to wish her a happy Thanksgiving and she'll be by afterwards. Mr. Giles told me that he and Xander would be over around one or one thirty. Dinner should be done by three.”
“Did you hear the news?” Buffy bounced on her toes.
Joyce nodded, a bright smile on her face, “Mr. Giles told me. He finally got the foster care papers to go through.”
“Yeah. Xan's really excited. No one can just whisk him away to parts unknown.”
Dawn leaned her head against the couch's back cushion, listening to her mom and sister banter back and forth. She was glad for Xander, the grin she loved so much had been missing of late. It had taken nearly a month before he genuinely smiled at anything, before, only a twisted parody of a smile graced his lips. Staying with Giles' officially had lifted a weight off everyone's mind.
The days after Halloween had been so hectic, everyone worried about Xander's state of mind after the brutal deaths of his parents, that seeing him smile again was a welcome change. Now that things were starting to calm down again, though, Dawn felt that she could finally sit down and sort through some things for herself.
She'd started having nightmares mere days after Halloween. They weren't about botched home invasions, which she kind of expected. Or even of how close they'd come to losing Xander – his head injury had been pretty severe and the doctors had said if the blow had been any harder, it could have killed him. They weren't even generic nightmares involving some of the Halloween costumes she'd seen during Trick-or-Treating. No. These were spine-tingling, horrifying, screams-caught-in-the-back-of-her-throat nightmares of fire. The first couple of weeks she'd had them nearly every night. Now, they'd tapered off a bit, only showing up two or three times a week. It was the same dream each time.
It began innocently enough. She's snuggled up in her bed, listening to the house quietly settle as she drifts off to sleep. A noise rouses her, the faint calling of voices urging her to wake up, hurry, get out quick! Opening the bedroom door, all she can see are flames engulfing the hallway, cutting her off from the stairway, the sheer heat lifting her hair from her face.
To her horror, she sees that both her mother's and her sister's bedroom doors are already on fire, keeping them from even opening them. She can hear her mother scream, “Go out the window! Save yourself!” before a ceiling beam collapses, obscuring her view. Terrified, she races to the window, but it's stuck. It won't open, now matter how much she strains. Desperate, she takes a few steps back, conscious of the fire eating it's way through the door behind her, and bolts straight through the glass, arms crossed protectively before her face.
She lands in snow, forearms nearly cut to ribbons, her right ankle aching, gasping, choking on smoke. Awkwardly rising, she hobbles to the back of the house, looking frantically for her mom and Buffy. But they aren't there. The yard is empty. Peering up at the house, she can see that the windows are still closed and intact. Flames fill the casements. In growing horror she realizes, they're gone.
She'd wake with a strangled shout of denial and scramble to her mother's door – ignoring the tears that streamed down her face and the dull dream-ache in her arms and ankle – and would quietly open the door to peer in, making sure her mother was safe and sound. Afterward, tiptoeing down the hall, she'd press her ear to the door, satisfied at her sister's quiet snores, before returning to her room to sit up waiting for morning.
A secret pyromaniac, one who would light small fires out in the backyard just to watch leaves and paper burn, Dawn now had a healthy respect for fire. Anything larger than a candle flame had her feel a bit nervous.
As the weeks passed, Dawn noticed a few other changes. She felt more confident in her movements. She was more physically fit than she remembered. The trek to school used to take nearly fifteen minutes if she was in a hurry, and she'd arrive breathless and sweaty. Now, she could make the run in a fraction of the time, using an easy loping glide that didn't leave her tired in the slightest. Her aim had improved and she found great pleasure in playing with the deck of cards Xander had given her. Tossing them, she quickly figured out how easy it was to hit what she aimed at, and she enjoyed launching them across the room to smack Buffy in the back of the head.
No one bothered her at school anymore, either. The bullies who used to pick on those they thought weak now backed off when they saw her. She no longer cared what others thought of her, and it reflected in how she interacted with her classmates. If they tried anything, she would just gaze at them emotionlessly, as if she were analyzing their weaknesses. It made them uneasy, and they left her alone.
Then, a couple days ago, she was over at David's house, helping him with some math homework. His older brother, Stephan, was playing video games and a thought came to her.
“Stephan? Think I could borrow that Alice game David was telling me about? A friend of mine had me go as her for Halloween, and now I'm interested.”
“Yeah, sure. I beat the game a few months ago. I'll let you borrow it, and the manuals. Just, make sure I get it all back in one piece.”
“You got it. Thanks!”
She felt the cushions dip down beside her and she blinked the room back into focus. “Hello, Xander.” Her smile must have been wan for he replied equally solemnly.
“Good afternoon, Dawn.”
She could feel his eyes upon her and she shifted in her seat to face him. A section from the game drifted through her mind.
“How have you been? You're looking a bit pale.”
She could hear Giles in the kitchen talking with her mother and Buffy. She figured they'd have some time to themselves before he came to say hi. “I've been having Alice nightmares.” When Xander didn't interrupt, or look confused at the reference, she continued. “I borrowed Stephan's copy of the game. There's a video clip that's used to explain the background of the game. In it, there's a fire that burns the house down, Alice manages to escape, but watches in horror as her parents don't. She's so grief-stricken, that she ends up in a semi-coma and that's when the game begins. I went as Alice, and now I'm having her dreams, only instead of her parents, it's Buffy and Mom that don't make it out.” She glances up at him, eyes brimming with tears. “I'd never seen that video before, and now if feels like it really happened.” She runs a hand impatiently across her eyes. “It's been real freak worthy, especially since I seem to have kept a few of her other abilities, as well.”
“Well, I'm fitter. I can run real well.” She snickered a bit, “I might even join the track team. I have better aim. Did you know that you can throw a playing card the length of the sidewalk from the front door to the mail box? Bullies don't frighten me in the slightest any more, though I'm not too fond of fire.” She studied him, seeing a gleam of recognition. “What happened, Xander?”
She nodded, knowing he would not lie to her. He respected her too much. It was just one more thing that made her crush on him.
“There was a spell cast on Halloween. Anyone who bought from Ethan's turned into their costumes.” Succinct.
Blinking, she slowly nodded, somehow not very surprised. It answered so many questions. She had dressed as Alice, using props from Ethan's. If she'd turned into Alice for the night, it definitely explained the nightmares and changes. She glanced sharply at him. “Cheshire Cat?”
He merely grinned.
“What did you keep?” Curious, she leaned closer, nearly whispering.
He tilted his head and she could see him coming to a decision. “Memories. Skills to hide in plain sight. Stability. I'm more agile than before. Got a new way of looking at things. My night vision's improved dramatically, so has my hearing. A few other things.”
She pouted slightly, “Why did you keep so much?”
“Because Cheshire Cat was mad.”
“So was Alice,” Dawn argued.
“Ah, but Alice was only mad for a short time, comparatively. And she even managed to cure herself at the end. Cheshire Cat started off mad. Remember? He was mad when Alice first met him in the original book by Lewis Carroll. By the end of the game he was still mad. Nothing changed for him on that level. It was the madness that let so much stay behind.”
“Oh.” Dawn guessed she could understand that. She blinked, “Does that make you mad, now, too?”
He grinned, “Not any more than I already was.”
She nodded at that and the two sat in silence for a while.
He nudged her shoulder with his, “Any time you need to talk – either about those nightmares or anything else for that matter – I've been told I'm a good listener,” the lopsided grin was a comfort.
She smiled back, “How about some knife lessons?”
“If you can convince your mom, sure.”
“Really?” She was excited, then frowned, “What about Buffy? She won't like it.”
“If your mom says yes, Buffy can't really say anything, now can she?” They shared conspiratorial grins. “Come on. Let's set the table. Willow should be here soon, and dinner's almost ready.”
“Okay.” The two rose from the couch. Dawn relaxed, certain that things would work out.