Title: Accidental Pen Pals
Chapter Title: Self Portrait
Author: Restive Nature
Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to BtVS or Dark Angel. They belong respectively to Whedon & Mutant Enemy and to Cameron/ Eglee. No infringement is intended and this fiction is for private enjoyment only.
Type: Friendship/ Humor
Pairing: Dawn/ Joshua (as friends)
Summary: All she asked for was a little help on a school project... but this IS Dawn we're talking about here.
Spoilers/ Time line: This is Season 7 for BtVS and Season 2 for Dark Angel. But things have been skewed for BtVS so that the show fits into the Dark Angel format of Post-Pulse.
Feedback: Always welcome!
Distribution: Ask first please.
A/N: This is a response to the Pen Pals Challenge. For challenge details, please see the first chapter.
Dear, dear Dawn,
I enjoyed your last letter very much. I do not feel so bad now about not having a picture to send to you. Because I have a new hobby. A few days before your letter arrived, I was looking for something for Max. And you would never believe what I found in our basement! Art supplies. I painted a picture and Max thought it was wonderful. So I painted another and then another.
Alec came by the house and was so impressed with one of the paintings, that I gave it to him. And he took it to a gallery. An important Seattle art gallery. Rita, who owns it thought that my paintings were fresh and beautiful. She liked the palimpsests. Those are objects that are included in the painting that are not the paint or the canvas. She paid Alec so much money for the painting and asked for more!
Unfortunately though, one of the paintings, the one she liked best, I had to have back. I was not paying attention and I used Max's research papers in my art. It was very bad of me and Alec to just take everything that was laying around and not check to make sure we could use it. But Rita was very understanding. She told me to keep creating for my own sake. So I have done that.
I hope the package I sent arrives with this letter. I thought, since I do not have pictures to send, I could send this instead. And since it is almost Christmas, this could be your gift. I am so very excited this year, since I will have gifts for everyone! Cindy said that she would help me decorate the house. She is very kind and trimmed my hair for me. After she washed and conditioned it with a special liquid treatment she found for damaged hair, like mine.
I can't wait to see what you sent me in the specially marked package. I guess every day what it might be. But I also wonder why we have to wait until that one special day. I get jitter knees when I think about it. Max laughs and tells me that it is part of the fun of Christmas. She has to work every day up until Christmas, but has that day off. She is coming over to spend the entire day and night with me. Cindy would come too, but she is going to visit her family. She said that she will plan something fun with me on New Year's Eve.
Logan gave me several books to help me understand Christmas. But they are not all fact books. Some of them are fiction. I like Rudolph's big red nose. He was so different from the other reindeer. But he was the most special of all in the end. I want to be Rudolph next Halloween! I still wonder right now, what the days will bring and why they can't pass faster.
Right now, I am working on a window scene. I look out my living room window every day and there is so much life. I try to capture a little bit at a time. So far, I have post man who comes to deliver the mail. A little dog that stands at the corner and barks at me. Light posts that flicker all day and night. The houses across from mine, are not hard. But some of the people that pass by a lot, are. They change their faces all the time. Happy to sad to scared to worried. It's like a new picture every day.
For now I will close and say, I wish you happy Holidays. I know not everyone celebrates them, but I hope you do. In some way. And Happy Hanukkah to your friend Willow. She is Jewish, right? Does she celebrate the ways of her people? One of Logan's books was about Jewish traditions too. Oh, I was saying goodbye, but I got all excited again. I will go paint now. Max's gift needs a finishing touch!
“Oh my God!” Dawn squealed as she finished reading her letter. It was softer, quieter than it normally would be, given that there were relative strangers in the house. It had been an eventful few weeks.
“What's got you squealing Dawnie?” It was Willow that asked, good natured enough, though Buffy, Xander, Anya and Giles were all looking at her expectantly. None of them had been expecting a delivery man to show up at their door. The package that had arrived at the same time as the letter, had listed Dawn as the recipient, so she had been called down to sign for it. And it was good that she had read the letter first.
“I think Joshua sent me a painting for a Christmas gift,” she explained, wide eyed, glancing down at the moderately sized package that was leaning against her knee. “I mean, he said that he hoped it was in time for Christmas, which it is, of course.”
“Oh wow,” Buffy offered, wide eyed as she regarded it as well. “I wonder how he..., sorry none of my business.”
“No, no,” Dawn shook her head. “Not just any art. His art!” She waved the letter at her sister. An obvious nonverbal indication to read it. Buffy stepped forward to take it from her, skimming quickly through it as the others waited semi patiently. Dawn was just about to reach down and start opening it, when Buffy's hand shot out to stop her.
“Nuh uh!” she commanded imperiously and Dawn looked up at her, indignantion written all over her face.
“What? It's for me!” she demanded petulantly. Somehow Buffy had managed to re-create the look her mother gave her when she had been caught getting into something that she knew better than to be getting into. Or in other words, the 'I-see-your-hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar' look.
“Yeah, but Joshua wanted you to have it for Christmas. So you can wait,” Buffy argued calmly and reasonably.
“Not fair!” Dawn wailed. “Joshua didn't say specifically...”
“Yeah, but the intent is there,” Buffy chuckled, eying her sister, as if waiting for the devious wheedling to set in. “A few more days Dawnie.”
“Forgive my curiosity,” Giles interrupted, stepping forward as he settled his thinly framed glasses on his face. “But who precisely is this Joshua? And how do you know him?”
Dawn glanced at her sister and closer friends. She knew that Giles was just looking to protect his Slayer from any unknown anomalies that might put them in danger. But hadn't Buffy and the others and even Giles himself all said that Giles had walked away from his duties as Buffy's watcher to allow Buffy to grow into the roles she needed to define? She knew he had because that was why he had planned to leave so many times and actually carried out that threat. Of course Buffy had been dead that one time. But then he'd come back and left again.
And one of those roles that he wanted Buffy to grow into was taking care of Dawn as an adult and sister, not just being a set of sisters under their mother's watchful eye. Or a big sister to a kid sister. And not just Slayer protecting the Key. Demanding to know about Joshua was kind of a slap in the face of Buffy's abilities. Abilities she had learned and possessed that Dawn thought were just fine.
She opened her mouth to defend her sister, but Buffy beat her to it.
“He's a pen pal of Dawn's, through a school assignment,” Buffy explained simply. “She contacted him first and their friendship means a lot to both of them.” She stepped forward to stand before her old mentor. And Dawn was completely amazed to see both Willow and Xander mirroring her moves. She might not have a degree in psychology, like her sister might have studied for in college, but she certainly recognized a united front when she saw one.
“Their letters make each other happy,” Xander added softly. “They can talk to each other about things that maybe aren't our business.”
Willow nodded to that and glanced at Dawn, almost apologetically. “He's helped her through some really rough patches. Rough times that you just weren't here for Giles. No offense or anything.”
“No,” Giles smiled sadly at them all, glancing quickly and briefly at Anya to see if she had anything to add. But she was strangely silent on the matter, it all being relatively new information to her as well. And then he refocused on Dawn. “I didn't mean for you to feel you had to justify your friend. I was simply curious. And I do agree with Buffy. Wait for Christmas. Something special to look forward to. Yes?”
Dawn, sighing with a little theatrical pout, finally nodded and gave in. She turned to heft the package up to hip, quickly receiving help from her sister to put it in a safe spot until it was time to open it.
“And now, true to form,” Xander chuckled as he watched their progress, “Dawn'll be rushing off to write another letter to her little boyfriend.”
“He's not my boyfriend Xander!” Dawn protested with a grunt, as thhey carried the package out of the hallway. “Though I wish he was. Talks with me about anything I want. Polite, sweet, treats people decently.”
“He may not be your boyfriend honey,” Willow smiled widely as she winked at Buffy, who suppressed her own grin. “But at least he's sure giving you a good idea of what to look for in one.”
Dawn, settling her end of the package for a moment, turned to their redheaded friend. “He is, isn't he?” She took in the amused looks on the faces of her family and rolled her eyes before shaking her head in resignation. “I'm gonna go-!” she began as Buffy set the other end down easily.
“Write to Joshua!” the original Scooby trio chimed together and then broke out into laughter that chased Dawn all the way up the stairs.
Alec glanced up as he heard the sounds of someone approaching the door of Sandeman's old house. He was about to ask Joshua if Max had been coming over. He was still waiting on her to help him out with his little identity mix up problem. She had promised that they'd get something figured out, but it was definitely going to be a tricky business. But before he could say anything, having to tear himself away from the television, he saw that Joshua was already moving to the door.
“Mail time,” Joshua sang out softly. He waited, hidden in the shadows of the curtains that were drawn. Alec tilted his head to watch his huge sort of friend, the only one he had in these days of isolation, aside from Max who was more of a frenemy. Emphasis on the enemy. Sort of. It was a strange line he walked with her.
“Anything good?” he asked, amused, while Joshua swooped in to scoop up the single letter that had been pushed through the slot.
“Uh, make cookies,” Joshua grunted, though he was still smiling as he turned the letter over.
“Yeah,” Alec drawled, scratching at his temple a moment. “You lost me there big guy.”
“Cindy say nice to make cookies or treats for mail man,” Joshua told the younger male. “Joshua need to remember to do that. Get cookies.”
“Well, just tell Max and I'm sure she'll rush out and bake 'em with her own dainty little hands,” Alec scoffed. The level of devotion to the big lug from her was almost astounding. But, Alec privately had to admit that there was something about Joshua. He was such a big kid sometimes. He grinned at his own jocularity that he shared about Joshua. He was just grateful that the dog man was paper/ potty trained. That was not something he would have signed on for while hiding out at the Sandeman house.
“Yes,” Joshua agreed mildly as he took a seat next to Alec on the sofa. The seats dipped slightly and Alec bit off a protest as Joshua used the television remote to lower the volume. Well, it was Joshua's house now after all and Alec did have some manners. “Cindy and Max bake. Give treats to friends.”
“Nice tradition, I suppose,” Alec muttered. “That another letter from your little girlfriend? Dawn?”
“Dawn a girl and a friend,” Joshua agreed slowly. “Not girlfriend, like Max and Logan. Not want to get busy with Dawn.”
“Yeah, that'd just land you in a whole crap load of trouble for more than one reason,” Alec nodded, his eyes riveted on the flashy display of flesh in the latest video airing on his favored channel. “That girl is jail bait.”
Joshua didn't bother to respond, as Alec had made his feelings clear, but had backed off when Joshua had shown he already had enough support from the people that he seemed to consider more important. Alec wasn't one to waste too much air on arguing about things like that.
Satisfied that Alec wasn't going to interrupt his letter reading ritual, Joshua carefully tore open the envelope and pulled out the familiar stationary that Dawn used.
Wow! So much has changed in such a short time. I can't remember if I told you about our friend Giles, who used to live in England, then moved here to work and then moved back home last year? Well, that's the story in a nutshell. He's very close to our family. Close in ways that I don't think I want to think too hard about. He and my mom had a momentary thing and already I'm having bad thoughts. Bad, bad thoughts, though thank goodness I didn't get the visual of that like Buffy did.
Anyway, Giles, which is actually his last name. But no one calls him Rupert around here, except for Spike. And I think maybe Angel did too. I'm sorry that I'm rambling, but it's very noisy around here right now, which is part of this whole story.
Well anyway, Giles used to be the librarian at the old high school before the big accident and the school was rebuilt. He was also Buffy's mentor. Well, after a while, he kind of realized that Buffy was grown up enough to handle things, so he moved back to England, to take up his old job. Part of that job is taking care of young women that have been removed from their families for various reasons. Watching over them. That sort of thing. I've heard the spiel before but it didn't apply to me, so I didn't pay too much attention. Until now.
So the other day, he shows up at our house with three of these girls. And wow, they could not be any more different from each other! Anyway, Giles came to Buffy because he thinks that she can help these girls and since they don't have the biggest budget, Buffy invited them to stay at our house. So I now have a sort of unwanted guest in my bedroom, since we only have three. Bedrooms that is. Plus the sofa downstairs. I totally agree that Buffy should help them, but having to give up my privacy? Even if it is only for a little while... Oh the sacrifices I make... But I kid. Or, I josh! Ha ha.
I guess I'm mostly excited because your package arrived this afternoon. I am soooooo excited to see what it is. I mean, aside from being art. That much is obvious, since you said so in your letter. But Buffy and Giles are being poopy heads and making me wait until Christmas morning to open it. I don't mean that. Mostly. I get what Giles said about having something to look forward to. Things are always tough around here, and with Giles and three more girls, Molly, Shannon and Kennedy (those are their names) it's like something is always happening that needs immediate attention. Even if it's just trying to manage meal times.
So I guess that's something really nice about the gift you sent. I know what you mean by the jitter knees. See, every time I think about it, it just consumes me to try and figure out what you might have painted. And I like what you wrote about your window scene. It's kind of like that inside my house. Every room I walk into something different is happening. (They eat almost constantly!) It's nice to just duck down in my room by myself and think about anything not Sunnydale related and you are at the top of my list!
Oh and to answer your questions, yes Willow is Jewish. She hasn't really celebrated Hanukkah over the last few years. But I know it's a pretty big deal for her since she's the only Jewish person we know really well. People tend to forget that in the middle of every day normal things because when you think Willow, you think Wicca and computers. Do you know about the Wiccan religion? Willow has been practicing since she was in high school. She's more serious about it than just someone who wants the... I don't know why people do that.
Have you ever known someone who believes in something, just so that they can be associated with the prestige or excitement, even if they don't understand it totally? I guess, like people hang around the popular crowd to try and be associated with it so other people would think that person is cool or friends with them. I am almost too embarrassed to say that I did that when I was trying to get to know R.J. I constantly hung around him and his friends and tried to be part of the conversation. I think I'm going to depress myself thinking about what an idiot I was around him.
Do you have any plans of what to do with Cindy on New Year's Eve? When I was little we always spent the night eating snacks and goodies and playing board games. Then, Buffy and I would try so hard to stay awake until midnight. I didn't make it until I was about ten or eleven years old, I think and then I was so disappointed that all we did was watch the ball drop, give each other a kiss and have a sip of apple cider. So the next year, Buffy and her friends threw a dance party for me. We had contests and everything. Xander won because he can do the Snoopy dance. And that's not something I can explain in a letter if you've never seen the show that it comes from.
Anyway, I can hear Buffy looking for me, so I better finish this up so I can get it in the mail. It'll probably take longer to arrive, since mail is always slower around the holiday. Please tell Max, Cindy, Logan and Alec and anyone else you feel like, Merry Christmas from Dawn and the California gang. Ha, I like the sound of that! I hope you have a wonderful holiday and I really hope you like my gift. I am sure that I will adore yours.
“Ah,” Joshua sighed happily as he finished the letter and began to fold it back up. It was one he would definitely re-read later. “Good letter,” he announced with satisfaction.
“Was it?” Alec muttered distractedly.
“Merry Christmas Alec,” Joshua grinned. “From Dawn and friends in California. The gang.”
“Yeah, back at ya,” the other transgenic nodded. He was still mesmerized by something on the television and Joshua shook his head. Dawn had said show. Did that mean television? Or had she maybe seen a play about this Snoopy that her friend danced like. Maybe a musical!
“Alec?” he wondered, because of the simple expediency that none of the others were there for him to ask. “Show me Snoopy dance!” he commanded with a large smile. He would learn and then he could tell Dawn about it.
“Show you- what!” Alec grimaced, finally turning his face away from the screen. “The what? I don't dance.”
“Oh,” Joshua pouted a little as he tapped the envelope from Dawn on his thigh. “No show. Oh, tell Joshua the Snoopy dance!”
“I don't know what the Snoopy dance is,” Alec grunted, his face twisted with puzzlement. “Who the hell is Snoopy? I've heard of Snoop Dogg, but that's old school man. Way old school.”
“Maybe same,” Joshua nodded. “Xander do Snoopy dance. Special dance. Teach to Joshua. Can't teach in letter.”
“No, I don't suppose you could,” Alec allowed, weighing the strange request. “And since I don't know, guess you'll just have to ask someone else.”
“Okay,” Joshua nodded, now turning the envelope end over end in his fingers. “Alec?” he wondered. “You ever pretend to like something or know about something to get close to people?”
“All the time,” his friend sighed. He turned and smirked, but it was sad and made Joshua frown. “That was kinda my job, back at good old home sweet hell, wasn't it?”
“Oh,” Joshua nodded. He hadn't even thought of what Dawn had said in that light. It was probably not what she meant. “Dawn do that, because she liked a boy. But she did not know him well. Had crush on him.”
“Typical,” Alec snorted, rolling his eyes. “How old is she? Teenager? They pretty much go through boy crushes like tissue, right?” But then he chuckled. “Actually man, everyone does it at one time or another. Like in your friends situation. Or like Max, for example. She pretends something she isn't to blend in at work and the world at large, right? I have to do it too.”
“Right,” Joshua nodded, inexplicably sad and angry now that Alec was showing him that it was not really a funny thing anymore. “No running and screaming.”
Alec grimaced once more. He so did not want a depressed Joshua hanging all over the couch. “So you gonna write the kid back?” Wasn't that what Joshua normally did as soon as he got one of those letters?
“Uh, thought to wait until after Christmas,” Joshua explained. “Tell her thank you for gift and plans for New Year's Eve with Cindy.”
“Oh, that's cool,” Alec nodded. “Well maybe you can read or somethin'. You like that, right?” He could feel Joshua's stare almost weighing him down. “Tryin' to watch this, man,” he offered quietly, pointing at the tv he had brought into the house. Joshua studied him a moment longer and then clapped his large hand down on Alec's shoulder.
“Joshua paint soon,” he declared. “Painting quiet. Not bother Alec.”
“Thanks man,” Alec glanced up at his friend as Joshua rose from the sofa.
“First make plans for new painting, then paint,” Joshua nodded, murmuring mostly to himself. “Might need new color. Make list for Max.”
“Whatever you need man,” Alec agreed. “You want some music?”
“Maybe later,” Joshua chuckled. Typical Alec. Anything to distract from the things he didn't want to think about. The things that hurt all the time but more when thinking of them. Manticore things. “When actually painting. Now concentrate.”
“All right,” Alec tossed off the easy comment and stretched his body out slightly as he prepared to get back to the mindless numbing.
Joshua carried Dawn's latest letter with him and carefully set it off to the side. He reached for the paper that he used to write back to her, glancing a few times at Alec, who was off in his own world again and smiled gently. He put pen to paper and began to write. But not the list he had mentioned.
So happy to hear again from you. Tomorrow Christmas, letter got here quick, not slow. And I understand how you feel about the new people in your house. Alec need to stay with me for a while and he is so bright and happy. Most of the time. Sometimes too loud. But there are times that I watch him and there is sadness. He felt sad when I told him what you said about pretending things to fit in. He knows that. He understands that and I think the fitting in times for him made bad memories. Alec is like a jigsaw puzzle box. Very hard to piece together and all dark inside in the corners. Light can't get in when the pieces are all together. But take a piece away to shine light and he starts to fall apart. Can't be one or the other. Like the lid is locked close and he doesn't remember where he put the key.
This thinking made me think of painting Alec. Not like put body paint art on. But painting a picture of how Alec looks on the inside. Not his face or the face he puts on for the world. Do you think I should? It could be very beautiful. But I do not know if he would see it like I see it. If that would make him more sad, or more determined to be brighter and happier for everyone else. Maybe I will start and see how it goes. So I will come back to this letter later and let you know what I decide...