Title: Accidental Pen Pals
Chapter Title: Discovery
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
“So what are your plans?” Buffy asked as she took a seat near Dawn. One glance at her older sister told her that she wasn't so much interested as she was trying to distract herself from her suspicions about Spike. Dawn felt a quiver of sympathy. She really vacillated on her feelings on Spike. One the one hand, he was an excellent, if strict sitter, at least when it came to protecting her. On the other hand, he had tried to rape Buffy. On another hand, he had gotten his soul back and was a complete loony bin mess. Worse than Buffy had been when that demon had gotten her last year. At least there had been an antidote to that crazy. But on the other hand, Spike was always kinda crazy and he had tried to rape her sister. Shaking her head slightly, Dawn leaned over from her position on the couch, reaching for her backpack on the floor, nestled against the coffee table leg.
“Nothing on my plate,” she sighed as she hauled the menace to her lap, “but something nice! Look!”
“Look at what?” Buffy demanded, staring in consternation as Dawn's hands fiddled with the zippers.
“Well, I know I was out the first time around, thanks to various emergencies,” Dawn grinned, looking forward to seeing what Buffy thought. She had liked what she had gotten and hoped her sister would approve. “And I know you said we couldn't afford it, but um- well...”
“What did you do Dawn?” her sister asked with surprisingly, an indulgent look and that tone of voice that told Dawn she had her sister's full attention now.
“Well, you remember how I helped those kids with their lemonade stand over the summer?” Dawn prompted and Buffy nodded, with an eyebrow arched inquiringly. “And I never told you, but they gave me a cut of the profits...”
“How much did you make?” Buffy was startled and Dawn grinned again and shook her head.
“Enough to do this as a surprise and it's totally legit, paid the cash myself, no sticky fingers,” she promised as she pulled the envelope from her back pack at last. “I mean, I had to get the smallest package, but still...”
Buffy was silent as she took the portrait package from her sister's hands and stared through the clear plastic window at her sister's beaming face mirrored in the school portrait.
“I mean, since we had too for our id's anyway,” Dawn pushed a little, hoping to justify this enough that Buffy wouldn't be upset. She knew her sister had had to get a picture as well, as part of the support staff faculty. Her sister stayed silent and she went on. “It's just the five by seven and a handful of wallets,” she added. “I was thinking maybe we could include them in Christmas cards to the family. If we do cards. Or... or...”
She was stunned as her sister stood suddenly and stalked off. Dawn sank back into the couch and stared after her sister's retreating form. A little worriedly, she began to gnaw at her lower lip, wondering how long this snit would last. Her eyes widened though when Buffy almost instantly re-emerged from the kitchen, holding a shiny, sharp pair of scissors.
“God, these are gorgeous Dawn!” Buffy enthused as she skirted the coffee table to resume her seat. “And I know just the perfect frame. Remember that silver one that has the picture of our trip to Knox Berry Farms?”
Dawn nodded, the sweeping relief making her smile a little shaky.
“It'll go nicely with the blue background,” Buffy continued as she started cutting apart the wallet versions of Dawn's school pictures. “And if you want, we can give some to friends as well as the family.”
“So you're not mad?” Dawn finally exploded with the curious question. Buffy paused in what she was doing to give her sister a strange look and then burst out laughing.
“Why would I be mad?” she demanded with a half grin. “Dawn, that was your money. And I'm proud of you for sticking to your guns. I bet you were tempted though, huh?” she chuckled before trimming up the pieces in her lap.
“Ugh, so totally,” Dawn admitted with good grace. “There were these cute little shoes at the mall and oh, it was so hard.”
“Yup,” Buffy confirmed as she nodded her head. “Definitely my sister.”
“So,” Dawn began, now that the difficult portion of her imagined conversation was over, noting that Xander had wandered back into the yard. He had been out getting more supplies for fixing up portions of the house.
She wanted to get this request out of the way before he wandered all the way in. She'd already had enough teasing to last on this certain subject. “Do you think... would it be okay, if I sent Joshua one of the pictures?”
“Your pen pal friend?” Buffy clarified her voice thick as she seemed to think the idea over. “I don't know,” she sighed after a long moment. “I mean, on the one hand, he already has your name and address, knows the school you go to... if he were going to be stalking you, you've already given him enough ammo to start.”
“Buffy,” Dawn heaved an annoyed sigh and then felt her sister's hand on her hair.
“I'm just teasing Dawn,” Buffy chuckled. She passed several of the wallet sized pictures to her sister. “He's your friend, so if you want to send a picture, more power to you.”
“No more teasing please,” Dawn groaned. “I already get enough from Xander.”
“All right,” Buffy nodded and then glanced up the stairs. “I wish Willow would hurry up.”
“Well, she had to walk down to the butcher's shop,” Dawn reminded her, glancing up at the ceiling as well. So far all was calm, but with Spike, you never knew what was gonna happen. “She'll be back soon.”
“Okay,” Buffy nodded, sounding unsure, but then she snagged a few of the picture. “So one for the frame and one for my wallet, and one for my desk at work-!”
“Hey, quit bogarting my pictures,” Dawn squealed happily as they had a minor tug of war over one of the sheets. “And why would you want my lovely face on your desk. Don't you see me enough there as it is?” she demanded childishly, though thoroughly pleased.
“'Cause the last picture of you from school that I actually got was from seventh grade and your hair!” Buffy chortled as Dawn's eyes grew large.
“Ugh! Take it, take it,” she waved her hand graciously as Buffy then gathered up the pictures she had claimed. “But Buffy, you know we own all the pictures in the house, right? I mean, our pictures, not what Willow and Tara hung up. I mean,” she hurried to rush on, “you could have just taken one.”
“I know,” Buffy nodded as she rose from the sofa and found the bag that contained the wallet she seldom used. Dawn watched as her sister very carefully worked the wallet sized photo into the small plastic section for that purpose and then put the wallet back into the bag. She gave her sister a glance and then gestured to the stairs. “I'm gonna go check on Spike. Okay?”
“Okay,” Dawn nodded. She smiled as her sister hurried up the stairs, her mind already turning to the letter she would send next to Joshua.
Well, I finally got my pictures from school back. I hope you like it. I can't say that it's the most memorable school picture that I've ever taken, as my sister likes to remind me, but I think it does me justice. I had a lot of trouble keeping the money that I squirreled away, a secret. I told Buffy that it was tough, trying not to spend it on shoes, but to tell the truth, it was tough not buying something that would make her smile. She said she was proud of me for toughing it out to buy something like this that I wanted. And it made her smile, so yay on me! Buffy took one to put in a frame on her desk and one to put in her wallet. Just like my mom always did. And I told her that she could have taken any of our old pictures. But that was the one she wanted. I think the difference was that one of the old ones we had, she could have taken, this one, I gave to her. And me giving it to her made it more special.
I hope you don't feel like you have to send me a picture back, even though I'm curious as to what you look like. Maybe, if you're not comfortable with that yet, you could just tell me what you look like. I sometimes imagine what you might look like, but then, you usually end up looking like someone I already know. I mean, are you tall like Buffy's old boyfriend's? Or average height like Xander? Do you have brown hair like Xander's, or that mixed blond brown like Tara had. Maybe you're a redhead like Willow? That would be great. She always complains about her red hair making her nose freckle.
Maybe next letter, I'll include a picture of all of the gang. I know we have some old copies of all of us together. Maybe that would be a fun project for Buffy and I to do when we get the chance. To organize our pictures. I wonder if enough time has passed, if we're ready to look. What kind of projects have you been working on lately?
I'm sorry the letter couldn't be longer, but we're trying to help a friend who has been going through rough times. I'm pretty sure he'll get better, though he's in a scary bad place right now. Not because I know what he's going through. I don't. But my sister is determined to help her. And when Buffy is determined to help someone, well, let's just say that they get the help whether they like it or not!
With love and hugs,
“Uh Josh?” Alec McDowell, another Manticore survivor, glanced up from the sheet of paper that he was holding, an eyebrow quirked in surprise. Given the big dog man's surroundings, Alec might have thought that it was an old letter to the previous occupants that Joshua had found. But given that it was addressed to the big guy, had a recent post mark on the envelope with it and looked new, instead of old, faded or crumpled, warning bells were going off in his head. As much as he might like spiking Max's plans, or bringing her down to earth with a few well placed comments about her doomed romance with Logan Cale or general out look on life, he agreed with her one hundred percent about exposure.
“Hey Alec,” Joshua came out of the kitchen, grinning as he folded up a brown paper grocery bag. “Looking for Max?”
“Uh, sort of,” Alec shrugged. He had been, just out of curiosity sake. The whole episode with her 'brother' Zack returning from the supposed dead had brought up a few questions, but mostly, feeling mushy and slightly nostalgic, mostly protective of the woman that had given him his questionable freedom, he'd wanted to check in on her. But she hadn't been at home, or at work and when he'd stopped by Logan's, the man had been leaving with no sign of Max present.
“Max come by earlier,” Joshua related, which Alec had already figured out. “Bring groceries.”
“Great,” Alec nodded, “that great, but uh,” he glanced down at the sheet of paper that he held in his hand and the even more telling picture of a teen aged girl that was lying on the desk where he had found the letter. He turned, and pasting what was hopefully, not a threatening, grim smirk on his face, because Alec remembered oh so very well how easily Josh got riled, “what the hell is this?”
“Letter,” Joshua told him slowly, setting the paper bag down. “From Dawn.”
“Uh yeah,” Alec muttered, finally letting the paper settle back on the desk. “I saw that. What I meant was, why do you have it?”
“It's mine,” Joshua frowned. “Delivered this morning. Dawn is Joshua's pen pal.”
Alec heaved a sigh. For all that Joshua was the first of the transgenic beings that had been made and book smart, there were a lot of things he just didn't get, was too naive about. Losing his brother had aged him some, but it didn't teach all the lessons in the world. Unfortunately, sometimes those lessons impacted with the deadliness of grenade shrapnel and anyone in the path of it got hurt. This, from what Alec could see, had all the earmarks of one of those lessons.
“Josh, look,” he began, reaching for the picture of the girl. She was rather cute, for being a teenager and he could almost see how beautiful she would turn out as a woman. Physically speaking only, of course. In fact, were she older and a resident of their city, Alec would probably have made a play for her, but she wasn't, he didn't do jail bait and there was just something in her clear blue eyes that made him uneasy. “Um, I know it must be pretty crappy, always being stuck in here, but-!”
“Not Alec's business,” Joshua growled out a warning and Alec held his hands up. Trying to force a peace between them that did not yet exist. “Dawn is a nice girl. Don't be mean!”
“I wasn't trying to be mean,” Alec defended himself, almost pleading. “Look Joshua, maybe it all starts out innocent. A few letters here and there, and then pictures exchanged... Look!” his tone changed, taking on a harshness that had been brewing underneath all along. “It's not perfect. It's not great. But it is what it is! Josh, it's not just you on the line if something happens.”
“Dawn wouldn't tell!” Joshua defended, growling again and moving closer. Alec seemed torn about defending his ground and getting clear. He knew he could take Joshua down if he absolutely had to. There had been training that he had received that had taught him how to fight opponents that were bigger and possibly stronger than he, but using them on Joshua seemed like smacking a puppy that didn't know any better. Plus, not to mention the ass kicking he would receive from Max, should he hurt Joshua in any way, shape or form.
The two males stared at each other for a long assessing moment, Alec's mind whirling. Finally, he held up his hands once more. “All right, okay,” he conceded. For the moment at least. “I gotta get to work. Talk to Max,” he murmured, the plan already coalescing in his mind. If the big guy wouldn't listen to him, then maybe... He stepped around Joshua's personal bubble of space and began to head for the door. “See ya Josh!”
But it only took three words from the dog man to stop him in his tracks. Apparently Joshua wasn't that slow.
“Max already knows,” Joshua called out, sounding almost amused and Alec turned on his heel to stare incredulously at him.
“Cindy and Logan too,” Joshua added smugly. Alec's eyebrows went up as he assimilated that news. “They all tell Joshua, okay to help Dawn on school project. Okay to answer Dawn's letters. Not too much telling, but chatting okay. Don't want to tell. Don't want running and screaming from Dawn.” The last sentence was said a little sadly and Alec could see then that despite being happy about the letters, Joshua was worried about it as well. Which was a total relief, because that was all he wanted. A little caution here and there.
“Wait a minute,” he muttered, as things became clear in his mind. He remembered Max mentioning something like this a while ago, when she had hit him up for money for one of Josh's projects to keep him amused. “This was from when you sent that package to... where was it?”
“Sunnydale,” Joshua nodded, “California. Dawn needed help for school project. Sent letter to Joshua by mistake.”
“And you answered,” Alec nodded. His gaze returned to the picture that lay there. “She looks like a nice kid,” he offered. “But man, this is gonna get out of hand. Teenagers? Just as curious as those cats.”
Joshua nodded. “Wants picture of Joshua. Or tell what Joshua looks like. Can't do that,” he offered mournfully. “Dawn run and scream from that letter.”
“A picture?” Alec half snorted, rolling his eyes. He could just imagine the surprise in that letter. Of course, the only picture they had of Joshua was from when that photographer, and he used the term loosely, had snapped off some inadvertent pics when Joshua had broken into the guys home, looking for his father. The pictures had been sold to a rag and had caused a minor flurry. Had it been a respectable paper, they'd have been screwed.
“No pictures of Joshua,” the big guy nodded. “Ever.”
“That's right,” Alec nodded and then tried to smile, but it came out more of a grimace. “Not like you'd had a normal upbringing where you do that kind of stuff. And everything you did have burned to the ground,” he offered sympathetically. Because he had been in the same boat. All he'd had the night that Manticore burned to shell of itself, were the clothes on his back, a weapon and a wad of cash he'd made from selling his vitamins to the guards back there. Hell, he'd been a lot better off than the majority of his counterparts. He could kind of see now, maybe why Max was so concerned about the others she had let loose.
“Yes! Right!” Joshua suddenly roared, his face lighting up. “Fire! Nothing left.”
Alec eyed the big dog man warily. “What are you-?” he began to ask, but then it came clear. “Oh hey, yeah, that's a good excuse. You should use that.”
“Yes,” Joshua nodded. “Tell Dawn sad story.” He moved over to seat himself at the desk as Alec watched with relief, finding a clean batch of notebook paper and a pen. He glanced up once more. “But what about now?”
“What d'ya mean?” Alec wondered.
“Why no pictures now?” Joshua mused. “Alec help?”
He regarded the big guy that was in some ways, more family than any of the clones or unit mates he'd had, though it would take a hell of a lot of torture to make Alec admit it and felt something soften inside himself. He was always such a big softy, he chided himself mentally. But he grinned, nodded and pulled out a chair next to the big guy.
“Okay,” he began, tapping the paper. “This is what we'll tell her. Just write what I tell you and it'll be okay. For now at least.”
Joshua grinned and began the letter.
Thank you so much for your last letter. I really like your picture. I am so glad that you got them and made your sister so happy. I think it must be very nice to have pictures when people are away from you. All I have are my memories. I am pleased to have your picture. Now I see you when I think of what to write.
I was upset that I could not do the same though. But my friend Alec, who is a friend to Max and Cindy and Logan, he told me you would understand. Before I came to live here, I lived somewhere else. I had to leave, because my home burned down. It was Max that saved me. She saved a lot of people that night. Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of warning and had to leave everything behind. I lost everything I had that night. But what I found after, my family, more than made up for it.
I wish I could send you a picture also. But Alec says that my mug would break a camera. I do not know what he means by that. He is telling me that it's just a saying and to not take everything so seriously. He is now telling me to quit writing about him. He is very funny when he gets flustered. Haha! He is threatening to take a red pen to my letter, but I do not have a red pen. He will have to leave to find one and then I can write whatever I want about him. Why would he need a red pen? Oh, he tells me that it's for editing. I did not know that.
To get on with this letter, because I think the sound of the pen on the paper is giving Alec a headache- oh, I'm giving Alec a headache. That's funny, because I do not have a headache to give him.
As I was saying, I wish I could send a picture, but I do not have a camera to take pictures with. Money is tight around here. We have all agreed that we need to take care of the basics before we get some luxuries. And I hope this does not hurt your feelings Dawn, but I would rather have books that I can read over and over again, rather than a camera I might break with my coffee cup.
But I can tell you what I look like. I am tall. Much taller than Alec. And probably Logan, even though it is hard to tell because Logan is in a wheelchair. Most of the time. He walks some, but not always. Alec says that I am rangy. Or maybe that was mangy. Alec likes to insult people quietly and then pretend that he didn't say anything. It is not a nice thing to do, but Alec had made me angry before and knows that I would break him in half if he were truly serious.
He says now that he really did say rangy. But that it has to do with my muscle mass compared to my height. I have muscles, but they are not obvious at first look. That is what he meant. I have long dirty blond hair. I would say it is light brown. Mostly long because no one has time to cut it. And to be honest, I don't know that I trust Max to cut it. She would just lop it off with a knife.
Oh, Alec says that Cindy would probably be happy to do that for me. She likes doing things like that. I might ask her next time I see her. My hair is long and I have normal features. Alec says my best feature is my eyes. But I wasn't supposed to write that. I will anyway, because Alec put it so nicely. He says that my eyes are the soulful brown of innocence untouched. Maybe they are my best feature because they are so clear. I do not think saying something nice will make Alec into a fruit, but he is rolling his eyes again. Perhaps this is something else I do not understand.
So, that is Joshua. The look of Joshua. I hope that helps. Thank you again for the picture Dawn. Please tell you sister that I will treasure it as much as she does.
“Oh man,” Willow sighed as Dawn finished reading. She was holding her stomach, wiping a tear away. “That was...”
“Funny in a sort of heartbreaking way?” Dawn asked, her voice a little thick as she folded the sheet back up to return to the envelope. Her sister, beside her on the couch touched her shoulder and nodded.
“It's horrible that he lost everything,” she murmured, in agreement with her friend and sister. “But totally understandable.”
“It is,” Dawn nodded her agreement. She wasn't going to quibble over a little picture. Not when so much tragedy had filled Joshua's life recently. She could certainly relate to that. And height. She smiled gently. At least they had that in common. It was more than enough for her.
“That Alec though,” Willow chuckled, shaking her head again. “Man, sounds like a good comedy routine in the making to me.”
“It did, didn't it,” Buffy chuckled. Something that she hadn't been doing lately, given the stress they were all under. “I'd almost think they planned it that way, if I hadn't seen some of Josh's other letters. You gonna write back?”
“Of course,” Dawn nodded, with the tone that held the unspoken 'duh' in it. “As soon as I get my homework done, as per our agreement.
“Oh and tell Joshua thank you for me,” Buffy added as her sister pushed off the sofa to gather her backpack. “I'm just... it means a lot to me that there are other people in the world that aren't related to us, or well, you know, that think so highly of you.”
“I will,” Dawn nodded, blinking a few tears clear from her eyes. She smiled down at her sister, their hands clasping for a moment, before the moment was over and they broke apart to continue on with their day.
I absolutely loved your last letter. It totally made my day. And not just my day, but Willow and Buffy's too. I mean, not that we were happy to hear about the fire. That was a tragedy, of course. But you and your friend Alec? Well, Willow was almost rolling on the floor laughing at the two of you going back and forth. Have you ever thought about doing a comedy routine? You two were hilarious.
I totally understand about the camera and the books. I guess we all make choices about what's important to us and given your situation, I would chose something that gave me that warm tingling happiness whenever I had it, over something that was a once in a while thing. Or who knows, maybe a camera would be fun. I had a friend who got a digital camera for her birthday. It was great the first few days, but once she had taken pictures of everything in her life, she got bored with it. She let her brother use it and he took all these great pictures of just... life. Not just people, but animals and nature and some of his stuff was pretty amazing. I get that they're pretty expensive though. And since I want you to be a happy, healthy, well taken care of friend, I won't quibble about that.
I'm glad you told me that you're tall. I'm not the tallest person here by any means, but I tower over my sister. What I don't get is why when I'm the younger sibling, I got the tall genes. I mean, you think it would make sense, that Buffy and I got all the same genes, that we'd be the same height, right? Oh, I know I've taken enough biology classes to understand that the process for picking one gene trait over another isn't as simple as A+B=C. But thanks to what you wrote me, I will now be able to paint a better picture of you in my mind every time I write.
P.S.- Buffy told me to tell you 'thank you' about what you said about the picture. It really touched her. And between us? She really needed something to make her smile today. So I thank you too. From the bottom of my heart.
Joshua stared at the letter in his newly stained hands, covered in the paint splotches from his most recent work. He had just recently, a few days ago really, discovered a new passion. It had all started when he had gone roaming through the house to find Max a pencil, while she was working on a problem with that virus bitch. Instead of the pencil, he had found art supplies. Entranced, he had begun experimenting.
And in it was the passion that Dawn had spoken of. Joshua smiled widely as a brilliant new idea flashed into his head.
He couldn't send Dawn a picture of himself. But he could certainly paint her and her sister one. That would make them both smile, wouldn't it? And with Christmas coming up, it would make a nice gift from him to his friend. He was quite sure that it would and at the same time, it would give Max and Alec no worries. Because a self portrait? It would be who he Joshua was on the inside. Not the rangy doggy dog that made people run and scream.
Letting the letter fall to the table, Joshua hurried to find a fresh palette, his mind whirling with ideas. Joshua #2 was forgotten, for the moment, in favor of Joshua- The Truth.
Now, if only he still had some of that chocolate mousse color left. It would be nice for his eyes...