The baby was sniffling again, tiny, pained sounds that tore at Dawn’s heart every time Alice opened her mouth.
She didn’t cry, it was as if she somehow knew that any sound they made would lead the Umbrella soldiers straight to them.
Maybe it would have been better if she had tried to, but all she did was open her small, red mouth- like a little guppy fish, abandoned on the beach and yearning to find her way home.
Dawn shivered, tried not to pass the movement to the baby, swaddled in her last sweater and still looking too small, too pale, too cold.
Somewhere, she could hear water dripping down the rock walls.
When she exhaled, she could see her breath, a thick, hot current of air that hung defiantly like a bright neon sign proclaiming that somebody was still alive. Somebody was still fighting.
Coughing, wet and hacking came from the back and Dawn sighed, before making sure that Alice was comfortable and then turned to where her sister sat in a small, tightly crouched shape.
Buffy’s eyes were glassy, pupils blown and fever bright. She stared at the opposite wall, at the rock, smooth and wet.
Dawn strapped Alice closer to her, making sure that the snuggly was tight against her chest. She rummaged in her pockets, the threadbare softness of the cotton making her breath hitch- remembering that pair of Armani jeans that she had been begging Buffy to buy for her seventeenth birthday. All they had on them now were Salvation Army cast-offs, every mall, every supermarket- they all had their Wanted posters strung up outside.
Buffy’s picture was rounder-faced, smiling- still pregnant.
Dawn was sixteen in her picture, still had her baby-fat. Still had her innocence.
“Buffy,” Dawn crouched beside her, brushing the matted hair off Buffy’s face. Her breath hitched.
Her sister’s skin was burning up, clammy with sweat and fever.
Buffy shuddered under her touch, swatted idly away at her hands, shivered- “cold, Dawnie, it’s too cold.”
Alice snuffled against Dawn’s chest, a small, mewling human, helpless and utterly dependent on Dawn for everything that she needed.
It was terrifying, a soul stealing sort of horror that stole her breath away- having to be responsible for her sister, once the proud general of her own army and her niece- barely two months old and struggling to survive with them. The only family that little Alice had left in the world.
A hand, shockingly strong and aware shot out and gripped Dawn’s wrist, above the thin bones of her palm.
“Dawnie,” Buffy turned her gaze to her. She still looked sick, but for the first time in a very long while- she looked lucid.
“They’re coming,” she whispered, urgent and sharp.
Dawn didn’t look at her, afraid of what she would see if she lifted her gaze.
It had been the same wherever they went, wherever they tried to hide. Umbrella was everywhere, the biggest corporation in the world- it had long ago outgrown any government influence it might have kowtowed to back in the older days. They would always come. They would never stop.
“Buffy, no, you’re hallucinating,” Dawn lifted unzipped the grey hoodie clad around the smaller form of her sister, hissing under her breath as she saw that the bandages had bled through again.
Alice stilled, probably sensing the smell of her mother’s blood in the air.
Dawn had given up on hoping that the little girl wouldn’t inherit her father’s telekinesis, his psychic abilities- even when she was a newborn, there had always been something preternaturally still and serene in her wide, blue eyes.
She lifted the bandage, wincing at the sharp smell coming from the wound.
Buffy didn’t react.
“Dawn,” something in her voice made her look up. Maybe it was the fact that for the first time in months, since Xander’s death- Buffy was using her name again, not a shortened childhood nickname that she had whispered to her, lying in bed in Revello Drive, stroking Dawn’s hair when she was younger. “You have to listen to me, Dawn, please
“No,” Dawn stifled a sob, knowing full well what it would do in the thick silence of the cave. “You don’t get to do this to me again, Buffy, never again.”
She frowned as she taped a marginally cleaner bandage over her sister’s wound, they had run out of new ones nine days ago. All that was left were the ones that Dawn had tried to clean, to the best of her ability and whatever brook or body of water was nearest to them at the time.
“I’m sorry,” Buffy licked her lips, they looked more chapped than ever, cracking into bleeding in some places. “I’m so sorry to do this Dawnie,” her voice cracked, “but you’re all I’ve got left, now.”
“You’re all that Alice has now…”
Her breaths were too loud in the air, she felt like each time she exhaled, she left an indelible print on the cave’s walls.
“I’ll hold them off Dawn,” Buffy continued, “take the baby and run. Run as fast as you can.”
Dawn wanted to cry, to rail at her sister, to hit her. Barely seventeen, and she was going to be alone in the world- with only a baby to ground her, keep her going. Depend on her.
It was impossible.
She had to do it.
“Here,” Buffy reached over, a crooked looking granola bar in her hand, “keep this on you.”
Buffy clamped her hand over Dawn’s mouth. “You can and you will,” she smiled, “it’s not like I’ll get much use out of it anyway.” She trailed off, cocking her head like she was listening to something in the distance.
“You should probably go now.”
Dawn closed her eyes, feeling Alice’s heart beat against her own. She was so tiny still, her skin still had that pinkish tinge to it that the doctor had assured them would settle into the milky white of Buffy’s skin without a tan.
But it wasn’t like they could go into a clinic and ask now, could they? Hell, they were lucky that Alice was a relatively healthy baby, that she hadn’t gotten sick once since they had to go on the run.
Dawn stroked the top of her niece’s downy haired head. How was it that she felt so much love for such a tiny thing? For all their friends, it had always been the three of them that were a family. Joyce, Buffy and Dawn. Even if Dawn hadn’t really been there all the time, she still felt like she had, like she was a Summers, like she belonged
But now. There was another Summers girl that was theirs, baby Alice and Dawn would do whatever she needed to do to keep her alive.
She made a fist around the granola bar, didn’t meet her sister’s eyes as she turned around.
One bar from Buffy, plus the four she still had in her pack. A two month baby strapped to her chest and a gun running out of bullets.
It would have to do.
Alice stared at the darkened waters of the sea, watching the waves roll on top of one another. If she concentrated, she swore that she could hear the screams of the undead on shore- lamenting a meal that had found its way to freedom.
The wind had picked up and Alice allowed herself a shiver, feeling the goosebumps working their way up her skin. Jesus.
How long was it since she had felt cold. Such a trivial feeling, the need to put on warmer clothes and Alice had missed it.
Missed feeling normal again, feeling cold and uncomfortable- after a life on the run.
She swallowed a dry laugh, almost choking on the sound.
“Hey,” Claire’s soft voice startled her and Alice winced. Wondered, when the hell was it that she had started relaxing enough to let people sneak up on her.
“What are you doing up?” Alice didn’t turn around, kept watching the waves, wishing, silently, somewhere in the back of her mind that Chris had never seen the bug. Had never stopped her.
It would have been so much easier, not to know. Not to care.
Her whole fucked up history- there had been no way for Alice to ever escape it. She was born into it, war and fighting and blood- they were in her genes.
“Couldn’t sleep,” Claire shrugged, leaned against the railing of the ship beside her. She paused, “what happened?”
If they were normal women, if they had normal childhoods- would they have been friends as girls? Would they have played together? Shared dolls and braided each others hair?
Alice shivered again, closed her eyes, tried to even her breathing out.
She felt hysterical, like a balloon, floating above the ground, bobbing and weaving on the winds, untethered and useless.
“I-…” her voice broke. It had been so long since something affected her enough for a reaction like this.
With a startling sort of clarity, Alice felt something squeeze in her chest, an iron fist clamped around her heart and she wished, wished with the beating of the blood in her veins, her mother’s blood, destructive blood- Alice wished that it wasn’t Claire standing beside her.
The hole in her soul, that empty, aching loneliness that seemed to follow her wherever she went- it yowled, moaned and bled at the thought of him
His smile, that small quirk of his lips and the way his eyes would crinkle whenever he saw her.
Alice wanted Carlos, desperately, with the desire of someone screaming over a missing limb- she wanted his solidness, his laughter, his strength.
“Alice?” Claire prompted her, looking worried. Her red hair spun around her head, wild in the night’s wind.
Alice had never let her hair get that long.
“It was us,” Alice said, feeling hot moisture pool at the corners of her eyes. “It was my family, we’re the reason that the world is ending.” She took a deep, shuddering breath.
Tried not to think of a mother that she would never know. A mother that had to make the decisions that eventually led to Umbrella finding them. Using them.’She was tiny,’ Dawn had said, ‘her strength was hidden. But you, you’ve got your dad’s height, his long limbs,’ her gaze was soft, sleepy again, tired after the hours long talk, ‘and my eyes.’
Alice wanted Carlos here, wanted his inappropriate joking, his humor. She wanted him to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, that she hadn’t led to the destruction of the world at only two months of age.
‘I’m sorry,’ her aunt, and wasn’t it a kicker- knowing that her only blood relative looked younger than her, still looked like a teenager because of Umbrella’s manipulations, their experimenting, ‘I failed you, I didn’t protect you. Alice, baby,’ she had reached, her hand dropping when she realized that Alice didn’t know what to do. Had never been taught about familial affection. ‘I’m so sorry I let them hurt you. I failed you.’
Alice hadn’t said anything. Just turned around and left. Somehow, she didn’t think that her agreement would have helped matters any.