Disclaimer: None of the characters in this story are mine. Just playing in someone else’s back yard.
A/N: This story is for LeoRuby who had requested Dawn/Dr. Manhattan pairing. Thank you for the clever prompt; it was a challenge and a pleasure.
Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!
Existence is a series of footnotes to a vast, obscure, unfinished masterpiece. – Vladimir Nabokov
Dawn balanced a load of bags and books with her lunch takeout as she neared the agent stationed at the laboratory door and frowned as he levelled weary eyes on her and opened the door nodding curtly.
Dawn swept by and then, his dour expression registering, she turned back.
“You ok Agent Matthews?”
She always made a point of learning and remembering their names.
He nodded and smiled a joyless smile.
“Sure, Ma’am. Thanks for asking.”
She levelled a stern gaze at him.
“The good doctor making life difficult?”
She had laughter in her voice as she spoke. However Agent Matthews did not seem amused.
“Never difficult, Ma’am.” He sighed and Dawn almost laughed at the dramatics. “Interesting as usual.”
She tilted her head to the side and chuckled.
“If you say so.”
Matthews replaced his stoic expression and nodded again as she headed for the labs.
It had bothered her to have her life so full of government agents and secret service and young men in black suits that seemed to be company issue. But in an odd way after so many years it became normal.
She pressed her palm into the security pad, felt the heat of the scanner, drew her hand away and walked through the opening doors.
She dropped her bags and books on the side table and took off her coat. Depositing her takeout in the fridge she cast a look around.
In the vast subterranean space the lamps glared their cool bluish light onto the lab tables and, Dawn always thought, made her feel as if she were for some reason underwater. That’s why she had nicknamed this place The Tank. She heard the whirring sound of the accelerating generators and realized that Jon must be in the compression chamber running a set of diagnostics. She plopped down at his desk and turned on the lap top he kept there as a courtesy to her. Her Inbox blurred with activity and she winced and chided herself for not having replied to so many messages.
His voice was deep and velvety, and she found herself shivering involuntarily. Raising her head from the computer screen, she rested her chin in the palm of her hand.
He smiled, pleased to see her.
“You were gone for a long time.”
She saw another him walking in the back of the lab and heard the hum of the generators and realized that another him was still in the compression chamber.
“Shopping.” She watched as the other him in the back of the lab reached through a wall for a microscope and shook her head. “It still freaks me when you do that.”
He turned around, frowned and shrugged.
“Sometimes I forget…” He sounded sad when he said that and Dawn hurried to interrupt.
“No worries. Just something to get used to.”
And he was definitely something to get used to. A glowing blue man who came across worlds. A man who could destroy worlds with a flicker of a thought. Or create them. But who wanted to do neither. Actually, she wasn’t particularly clear on what he wanted a lot of the time as the science he spouted was so far beyond her grasp that she simply nodded in fascination most of the time. Like when he had looked at her after that first chat they had and inquired in petulant tones if anything he said made sense. She cheerfully popped her gum and said no, but do go on, you glow a pretty colour when you get into the science. It was then she learned that glowing blue men could blush.
She reached for him and his arms wrapped around her. He was warm and solid against her touch. The sweet feeling of comfort flooded her stomach and she smiled into his chest and tightened her hold on him. He brushed a soft kiss on her hair.
“Have you finished your shopping?”
She shook her head, refusing to let go.
“Nah. Buffy and I are hitting the malls later.”
She heard him laughing softly.
“The malls beware.”
She let out a surprised giggle. When he had first come to their reality he did not joke. Actually she was fairly certain that when the accident had turned Jonathon Osterman into Dr. Manhattan not only had it unmade and re-made his molecular structure but also removed his sense of humour along with other emotional traits. It had pleased her immensely when a glimpse of those made it through his implacable exterior.
Raising her head she placed a gentle kiss on his cheek.
“Remember, we have that dinner thing tomorrow with Xander and the kids.”
He nodded pursing his lips a little.
“He is still sad.”
He said it plaintively and with a touch of wonderment in his voice that tugged at the strings of her heart, making her recall Xander’s tear-streaked face and Buffy’s pale, drawn one. Reality snuck in even in happy moments and she wished she could banish it immediately.
“He misses his wife.”
She would always remember his terrible, heavy sadness as he sat in an armchair by the fireplace in Giles’ library. Well, it was Dawn’s library by then, and even with Giles years gone, everyone still called it his. When she found him, Xander sat there alone, and it had startled her so much to see him thoroughly ravaged not only by grief, but by time as well. Silver at the temples, his face so full of lines. An honourable face, a noble face, one that spoke of a life well and fully lived. A good life. She remembered catching a look at herself in the mirror and that bottomless feeling of guilt swallowed her for a moment. Guilt for her pale, smooth skin, for her shining honey-brown hair.
“You are sad.”
She shook off the sad memory and wiped an errant tear from her eye.
“No.” She squeezed his hand in reassurance. “Listen, when you talk to Xander don’t mention how dying is inevitable and that it’s the natural cycle.”
She understood that Jon could no longer comprehend what he deemed illogical human tendencies of clinging to vain hopes, but she had promised him once that she would walk beside him in this world of hers and would help him along and teaching him to remember that the feelings of people mattered was part of that.
“You have explained it offends people.” He frowned. “I find life gets more complicated the longer I live it.”
“Don’t we all.”
He kissed her then, suddenly and without warning and she laughed against his mouth, caught off guard. Her arms wrapped around his neck and for an instant she forgot everything. Sighing, he drew away to look at her with his lambent eyes, mouth set serious.
“I have a question for you.”
She watched his gaze slide to the picture of herself and Buffy taken last year on the Slayers’ and Watchers’ spring retreat and smiled in fond memory. Surrounded by hundreds of slayers and watchers and holding Xander’s grandson in her arms, her sister glowed with happiness, pride and that incandescent energy, so particularly Buffy, that it could be dampened neither by hardship nor by the passage of time.
He turned his face back to her and she felt his hesitation course through him.
“What will you do when they’re all gone?”
She shivered involuntarily, looked at the picture again, smiled as generations of family, watchers and slayers grinned from the picture back to her.
He held her glistening eyes for a moment, lingered on her soft smile and nodded as if agreeing with her. She shook off her bittersweet thoughts and blinked a blinding smile at him.
“Come on, you can watch me eat my lunch and tell me about your day and I’ll pretend to understand.” She tugged at his hand. “I even promise to nod in all the right places.”
His throaty chuckle bounced off the concrete laboratory walls and she smiled, perfectly content.