Title: Accidental Pen Pals
Chapter Title: The Letter
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.
Accidental Pen Pals
The transhuman known all his life as Joshua, a man, no one quite knew what dog, mix, sighed with a kind of pleasure as he sank into the dusty sofa in the living room of the house that had at some point in the past, belonged to his father.
Not that Sandeman was really his father, not in the biological sense. And Joshua understood that. Sandeman was his father as in the one responsible for combining his genetic make-up that resulted in the product now reclining with an old, tattered copy of a Tolkien novel in his overly large hands. But Sandeman had invited Joshua to call him father if he was comfortable with that and so Joshua had. And not long after him, Isaac, his younger prototype had become brother and followed after Joshua in calling Sandeman father.
But then the others had come and Father had been forced to flee and it was just Joshua and Isaac and well, the multitude of other creations that the Army was nervous about, stuck in a very small, when one thought about it, basement. That and the guards that came down occasionally when they drew the short stick in assignments. Or the members of the X series that were being punished. It still amazed Joshua that he and his animalistic brethren were thought of as the punishment, when Manticore did what it did to children. Joshua had many long nights and days to think about this.
And now, opening the book and resisting the urge to sneeze at the lingering dust motes in the air, Joshua pushed those thoughts from his mind. He was out of the basement, as were the others, he was in the upstairs people's world, to a degree and he'd just finished a very satisfying meal of fried chicken that Max had dropped off on her way through on a run for her job. Joshua still didn't quite understand why she called it a run when it was obvious that she was cycling, but he chalked it up to another of those social references that he had no basis for understanding yet. But he would figure it out, one way of another. He was smart like that. Not that enough people gave him credit for that.
He smiled to himself as he remembered Max's parting admonition, the same she gave each time she left this house, to stay inside and stay out of sight. Joshua knew well enough that the upstairs people would yell and scream. They yelled and screamed plenty well back at Manticore and Joshua did not like it one bit.
Pushing the thoughts again from his head, Joshua immersed himself into a tale of foreign places. Well, foreign to this day and age. For Joshua, reading a billboard was tantamount to the same thing. It was foreign to him. But enjoyable all the same.
He had no idea of the time that had passed, except for his internal sense of time, to tell that it was quite a bit later when he heard someone approaching the house. The step didn't sound as light as Max's and if Joshua had been pressed to say, he would have assumed it was a male. From what he was aware of, there were two other people that knew where Joshua was living, that were male in gender and the last was female, and Max's friend. But it could have been Medium Fella, or Logan. But Joshua dismissed those possibilities on his mind, simply for the fact that they would not come on their own. And the person approaching was solitary, alone. And really, Medium Fella and that other one had no reason to come see Joshua. Not like Max, as she had explained that she would stop by often to help with house matters and food and company. All of those were very good reasons.
With all the caution that had been drilled into him over the past few decades, Joshua gently, reverently laid the book on the floor and with a deft maneuver that one would not have expected of him, he rolled off the couch to land in a crouch on the floor. That it was accomplished in total silence was only shocking if one did not know what transgenics and transumans were capable of. Following his instincts, Joshua carefully crawled across the floor, avoiding all the places that made those old squeaky creaks in the boards. He'd had them memorized after the first night in his new home.
He made it to the window closest to the door and from his low vantage point, was able to peek out, before whomever it was had taken the first step up to the main door. Joshua had to swallow the growl that immediately rose up in his throat at seeing the figure dressed all in blue, carrying a large bag with him. He held many pieces of paper in his hand, though not attached to a clipboard, like the scientists of the guards sometimes had. They were smaller than regular sheets of paper and the male in the blue uniform was looking through them as he continued to climb the steps. For just a moment, he paused and while Joshua watched from his perch inside, the male glanced up at the door, then back to the papers in his hands and then plucked one out.
By this time, Joshua was able to relax slightly. There was no military bearing in this upstairs person like he had learned to recognize among those that visited the basement. Something was tugging at his memory and a long ago time played in his mind's eye as he continued to watch the blue clothed man's behavior. He was bending over now at the door. And then the word that Joshua was searching for popped into his head. Post Man. The memory of looking at picture books from the perch of Father's lap as they read together was very clear to him. He frowned slightly, remembering that there was another word to do with it, but it didn't seem to overwhelm his need to know drive. This blue clothed man was bringing post. He was delivering. He was like Max, Little Fella. And then, thinking on that as he watched the Post Man pushing one of the rectangle of paper through a slot in the door, the rest of the blanks quickly filled itself in.
The Post Man brought or delivered the mail. Mail was letters. Letters were written on paper from friends. Friends write letters when they are far away from each other. Joshua grinned in expectation. He wondered how such a wonderful surprise had come his way. Maybe Max had asked the Post Man to bring Joshua a letter as a surprise. Maybe they worked together. Because Little Fella couldn't bring it herself. She delivered packages. Big boxes that didn't fit into the rectangular slots.
Joshua watched as the Post Man straightened up and tilted his hat back just a little before spinning around to head back down the steps, his task now obviously complete.
“Thank you,” Joshua called out in a small huff of breath. The Post Man didn't seem to hear though. But at least Joshua knew that he had tried. Manners were important. Father had said so. Waiting until the Post Man had walked far enough away not to notice, Joshua carefully pulled back fro the window. He knew how to keep from being noticed a lot of the time. He moved around the slight partition that separated the main door from the living room. There on the floor, was the bright, white long rectangle that the Post Man had delivered.
Joshua scurried on hands and knees to it, leaning down to sniff. He was thoughtful as he took in the scents. Many hands had touched the paper, none of them familiar to him. There were other scents present as well. The scent of gun oil, but not quite. More like the lubricant that Max had used on the door hinges. Lubricant for machines. Maybe the envelope had been in a machine of some kind. There was the familiar scent of sawdust. Like the soldiers put down on the basement floors to absorb messes. Sometimes Joshua had had to find it and put it down. He had learned earlier that it was easier than just picking up the messes.
There was also the scent of horse about the paper. And a freshness, something open and airy and wild. Joshua, not recognizing the last scent, decided that he liked it regardless. It smelled young and old at the same time and for some reason, it made him feel happy inside. But he was unsure as to why the paper would smell like horse.
Settling back on his haunches, Joshua lifted up the paper and brought it to his mouth. His tongue darted out, testing a corner of the paper where the horse scent was most prevalent. It was familiar in it's way as well, since obviously there wasn't a horse suddenly deposited in the house. The taste was there, definitely familiar, under a square patch of bright paper, though it didn't exactly feel like paper. It was more slick and Joshua took another small lick, gagging slightly on the thick taste that coated his tongue as another memory sprang to mind.
Glue. He was tasting glue. Again. And just like the first time, he did not like it. No Sam I Am, he did not. Joshua grinned as he batted at his tongue with his free fingers. The taste lingered, even with his own salt coating his tongue and Joshua snorted. He pulled the paper away from his face and looked it over. There was writing on one side, in hand writing, which Joshua knew was from a person and not a machine. He read it carefully, trying to remember what Father had said beyond what letters were. In the upper left corner there was numbers and words, but not many that Joshua was familiar with. What was a Revello? And a CA? Dr. was the abbreviation for doctor. Sunnydale was strange, but then, when Joshua looked at the writing in the middle of the paper, he remembered. Addresses. That was how the Post Man knew where to take the letters. You put your friends name and the place where they lived.
Joshua huffed out happily as he realized that someone had written his address. Seattle, WA. And then he remember, CA was California. That was geography. Joshua knew this. He was happy that finally, all of the things he learned could now be used. Even if he couldn't go out into the upstairs world like the others, he still knew how to use the things he had learned. That made him happy and sad at the same time. Looking over the words carefully, Joshua committed his address to heart. It was the exact same as the one in the telephone book that had led him here to begin with. But there, atop those words, was a name.
Sandeman was Father. But the J? And then Joshua laughed a little, the sound coming out closer to the a woof than a laugh, but he was used to that. Little woofs were okay, because of his whack cocktail. Big woofs were bad because they reminded the guards that you were there. They didn't like you there.
“J is for Joshua,” the big transhuman decided happily and then hugged the letter to himself. Someone had orchestrated sending a letter to him and it was turning out to be as enjoyable an experience that he ever might have thought of as a small child back at Manticore, with his Father there to make sense of things. He was excited, wondering what the letter could be. Who could have written it? There was only one sense of fear, minorly coursing through him and that was the wonder if he had forgotten Father's scent. Because it didn't seem to be there on the paper.
That worry quickly disappeared though. Joshua remembered when Father dictated words to him. He would say the word, sometimes how to spell it and Joshua would write it out on the paper with the pencil Father gave him. Dictation was when someone else wrote things that someone was saying. Like a secretary. Maybe Father had used a secretary to dictate a letter? Shrugging, figuring he would find out soon enough, Joshua turned the paper, no, the envelope over. The envelope was the folded paper that held the letter. And once he had done so, he found the corner that was not glued down.
He carefully slid one fingernail under the corner slit and tugged. The paper ripped and Joshua's eyes widened and he quickly glanced around, before reminding himself that he was alone here. No guards to hear a wrong noise. He huffed out a louder laugh, real, not a bark this time and carefully finished ripping the envelope. It made a very satisfying noise. And just as he'd been taught, there was more paper inside. The fresh wild scent that had been on the envelope was in full force now and Joshua brought it up to his face to inhale once more.
He slipped the letter from the envelope, unfolding it carefully. You weren't supposed to rip letters. That was rude, Joshua was sure. He was so very excited at the prospect of a letter from Father. But as he opened the folded sheet, he was doomed to a big sense of disappointment.
He read the letter and stared at it for a moment and then read it again. He re-read it a third time and began to smile. Once he had, he very carefully folded the paper back up and with only minute struggle, placed it back in the envelope. Glancing at the window to make sure no one was looking in, he stood from his hunched position and carried the letter over to the mantle. That was a place for special things. He placed the letter in the center of the mantle top and then retreated back to the couch to lay back down. His hand groped for the book he'd laid down before, his eyes stuck on the envelope. Finally, he decided that he would ask Max about it when Little Fella came back. He knew he wouldn't have too long to wait.
Max had finished up her long shift of runs for Jam Pony hell at a decent hour. But she had held off returning to base for as long as possible, knowing very well that Normal, her boss would use an early return to try and weasel another delivery out of her that would have put her into overtime. If such a thing even existed for the lowly peons of the delivery business. And she was having none of that. She didn't mind working fair and square for the squat wages that Normal handed out with a healthy dose of sarcasm and insults, but she put her foot down on overtime for the jerk.
So, stalling with a crappy cup of joe at a little kiosk a few blocks away, she pondered on the list of things that had been occupying her mind for the last week. Joshua, her large stalwart, canine- man mixed transhuman friend had showed up in Seattle, looking for the creator of them all. And now he was camping out in Sandeman's old house. They'd spent plenty of her free time cleaning up and hooking up what they could for power. But there were still some supplies that Max needed to have.
Such as a few parts to fix up the old refrigerator that hadn't come on line when Max had jacked the juice to run the other parts of the house. And if she were able to score another hot water heater, she knew her gigantic friend would probably appreciate it. He did seem to cotton onto the idea of heating water on the stove for cleaning with. And she knew of a place that sold this unscented soap for hunters to use when they were out, that masked their natural body odors. She figured Joshua would probably like that better than the other soaps available, since his nose was so sensitive.
So with those thoughts ordered, Max wondered at what to bring him for dinner and how she could supply him with some stuff in case something happened and she couldn't be there one day or night. Probably some canned goods and a decent can opener would go a long way. But still, a hot meal was a luxury that was still new to Josh and she wanted to indulge that as much as she could for as long as she was able. She thought through the things available in this town that Joshua hadn't tried yet, as long a list as that was. And then tried to decide what would appeal to him. Maybe a couple combo platters from the Mexican place in his neighborhood would do him for the night. But that would mean brining breakfast in the morning, again. Max didn't mind though. Being around Joshua was... restful, for the most part.
Finally decided, she drained the last, barely tolerable swallow of lukewarm coffee, checked her watch and then headed off to finish out her day and retrieve her belongings from her locker.
It was only a few hours after that, that Max climbed off her motorcycle, having showered, changed out of her work clothes and retrieved dinner to bring to Joshua. Once off the motorcycle, she unstrapped the bags, four in total, from the back of the seat. The smell that had been trailing her had been making her mouth water and she was looking forward to eating. Which reminded her that perhaps Joshua, as well as Cindy and herself might enjoy it if a microwave or two happened to fall off the back of a truck. Luckily the Mexican place hadn't been too far and the food wouldn't have lost much heat in their Styrofoam packs.
With the keys to her baby tucked safely in her pocket, Max caught up the handles of the bags and headed up the walk. She noted the curtain twitch as it did every time she approached the house, recognizing it as Joshua's signal that he knew someone was coming and was comfortable with said person's entry. And yet, she always kept her pace measured and steady, allowing him to get back to whatever he was doing before she got there. Even though she had made no mention of it, she appreciated and applauded his caution. It was a totally different matter for him than it was for her. For so many reasons. Feeling a lightness that hadn't been there for a while, and not wanting to loose it, Max shoved away any and all bad thoughts and knocked a few times on the door before reaching to turn the handle. She grinned when she found that it was still locked from her exit this morning. Or at least that was what she assumed had happened.
She heard Joshua quickly enough on the other side. The locks turned in their tumblers and the door swung inwards and Max darted in as soon as she was able. She was glad to see he big guy was completely behind the door. No sight of him for a passer-by on the street.
“Hey Big Guy,” she greeted and then held up the bags. “Brought dinner. Mexican sound good to you?”
His face blanched just a little bit, but then he leaned over slightly to sniff at the bags and his countenance brightened again. “Refried beans,” he announced. Max grinned.
“Had them before?” she asked as she moved to the dining room. Joshua followed after her.
“Manticore had cans, big cans,” Joshua explained in his stilted way of speaking that Max was quickly becoming accustomed to. “Bad numbers, give to accidents.”
Max frowned as she puzzled that out and then realizes what he was referring to. “They gave the nomlies the outdated cans of refried between?” Joshua's nod was all she needed for confirmation. “Well, hopefully this will taste a lot better than that.” She settled the bags on the table and glanced over to see that Joshua had veered off and moved into the living room. He was grabbing something from the mantle and Max's curiosity was piqued. He returned to the table and settled into his usual chair. Max pushed over several of the combo boxes to him, knowing that he knew the routine by now. Joshua settled an envelope on the table and Max was surprised to see that it looked recent. She seated herself and opened the closest box to herself, trying to decide if she wanted to try the burrito or the taco first.
“What's that?” she asked gently, not looking directly at her friend.
“Post Man come today,” Joshua rushed to say and Max grinned wryly, as he followed that up by, “no running or screaming. Didn't see Joshua. Pushed letter through the mail slot in the door. Made sure Post Man left. He was whistling.”
“So you got some junk mail, huh?” Max chuckled, relieved that Joshua had kept his head with a stranger stopping by and very grateful that it was a city worker that had no interest in what lay beyond the front door of the houses he frequented.
“Not junk,” Joshua huffed. “Special letter. To J. Sandeman.”
That got Max's attention. Her fork faltered in midair and she felt a moment's trepidation before she banished the strange hope struggling in her chest that maybe they could finally, finally get some answers. “It was addressed to...?”
“To J. Sandeman,” Joshua repeated. Then he shook his head sadly. “Thought it was from Father, but it wasn't.”
“Oh,” was all Max was able to say, as she cast her eyes down to her food once more. She shoved the fork into her mouth for lack of anything better to do. As disappointed as she was, Joshua had to be a hundred times more so, having way more memories and times of interaction with the man he considered his father.
“From Dawn Summers,” Joshua went on to announce then. “To Jeanine Sandeman. They were friends in school, in Sunnydale.”
Max realized then that it was probably delivered to the wrong house. That was confirmed by Joshua's continued ramble as he poked at his food.
“She lost Jeanine's address so her friend looked it up on her computer,” Joshua related, all without having to look at the letter again. Max wondered how many times he had read it. There was a kind of choked noise and Max glanced up and grinned at her sheepishly smiling friend. “Private letter not for Joshua.”
“That's okay big Fella,” Max allowed immediately. “That kind of thing happens. I'm sure this Dawn girl would understand.”
“Feel bad,” Joshua sighed and then took a bite of the refried beans. His face brightened and he took another large forkful.
“For reading the letter?” Max questioned gently, but Joshua shook his head.
“Dawn needs help,” Joshua clarified. “From Jeanine.”
“Is it serious?” Max asked at once, frowning around her mouthful of rice. “Maybe I should read this letter.”
Joshua's hand immediately hovered over the envelope and Max could see that he was uncomfortable with that idea. She could see why, if he thought it was bad manners for him to read the letter unknowingly, it would be a worse offense to let Max read it. And she had already figured out that Joshua was big on manners.
“That's okay,” she grinned up at him. “It's private, right?” She knew for sure as he sagged with relief.
“Private,” he confirmed, “but Dawn needs things.”
“Can you tell me what she needs? Did she say?” Max asked, wondering why it was so important to Joshua. But then, this was something different for him, a new experience for sure. Something to break up the monotony of the days.
“Dawn doing a class project,” Joshua explained slowly, between suddenly ravenous bites of the food. “Needs tourist things from different cities in Washington. Wrote to Seattle, but Seattle didn't answer.”
At once, Max got the idea of what was happening. She grimaced. “Yeah, Seattle tourism isn't really big on the City Council's agenda's these days.” She thought it over for a few minutes, watching Joshua methodically try everything his dinner tray contained, one at a time until he had eaten his way through the food. She nudged another at him and he happily complied in eating his fill.
“You know, you should probably write back to this kid and tell her she had the wrong address,” Max decided, lighting up as soon as Joshua's head came up, the smile gracing his face, large and in charge. “And I could probably round up some Seattle geared stuff when I'm out and about. Kind of a thank you to the kid for brightening up your day, huh?”
“Big thank you!” Joshua emphasized. Max nodded along.
“Okay, a big thank you,” she amended, thinking what kind of things she could grab that would appease a teacher's assignment. She might need to read that letter after all. “Did she say anything specifically about what she needed for the project?”
“Some ideas,” Joshua nodded and started listing things off from memory. “And also, Jeanine's impression about the major changes between pre pulse and post pulse Seattle.” He said the last slowly, obviously reciting that from memory of the letter written. A small smirk graced Max's lips. That wasn't something that either of them could provide. But she knew the perfect person for that. Now she had the perfect excuse to drop in on him.
This was the sort of thing that was right up Logan Cale's alley.