'The Girl Nobody Wanted'
Author's Note: This section ran very long, so it's split into two chapters; I'll try to post the next one fairly soon. It's also largely focused on what brought Dawn to this point, since several reviewers thought it a little jarring to see a more grown-up Dawn without having a better idea of the events which had shaped this version of her--which I think is a fair point. So, here you go. As always, thank you to everyone who reads my work, and especially everyone who takes the time to leave reviews and recommendations. Hope you enjoy the chapter!
***Extra thanks to HMaxMarius, for suggesting a change to fix a problem... though of course if he hadn't pointed out the problem, I could have gone on ignoring it. :-)
Dawn materialized in a vacant lot in Boulder; a city-sized concentration of buildings, businesses and people northwest of Denver. It was actually close enough that there wasn’t a clear separation between the two; one simply went from the large urban center to the small urban center, without ever really seeing anything other than city in between. For Dawn, however, the distinction was sufficient, since she had never ever been inside a nightclub in Boulder. Of course that also meant that she couldn't visualize a teleport location inside any of the places there, so the best she could do was a spot she’d memorized while on one of her midnight scouting drives. Looking around, she saw that she was right on target; the lot where she stood was diagonally across the intersection from what was supposed to be one of the nicer clubs in Colorado. I hope it is; I don't really feel like sleeping with Colton tonight--I'm still all nervous and twitchy from that ambush. But I don't want to hide in my room and cringe at every random noise all night either.
That was absolutely what she'd been heading towards--she'd been trembly and nauseous for more than an hour after that ambush, and hadn't stopped adding additional screws and reinforcement plates to the Crypt's door until the battery of her drill ran out of charge. Faced with the prospect of a night spent hiding and crying, she'd opted instead to do what Faith had taught her to do in situations like this--lose herself in a crowd... and distract herself from any thoughts of fear or guilt with dancing and alcohol. And so, after teleporting back to her brand new apartment with an armload of clothes and supplies, she'd spent about seventy minutes getting ready, then come directly here.
She glanced down at her stylish outfit, and used both hands to smooth her hair back from her flawlessly made-up face. It's going to be fine. I'm going to dance, and drink, and dance some more, and tons of good-looking guys are going to pay attention to me, and tell me I'm gorgeous, funny, and sexy, and I will have a great time. And before I know it, I'll have forgotten all about those stupid goons with their crew cuts and zap guns and electro-webs.
She made her way carefully through the piles of dirt and debris that comprised the landscape of the lot, slipped through a gap in the waist-high wall of screening weeds, and finally reached the sidewalk. Pausing to brush at her dress, she made sure nothing icky from the weeds had attached itself, then walked to the corner and waited for the light to change. The bright ball of the sun was balanced on the rim of the mountains that loomed in the west, the warmth of day beginning to fade towards chill. When the light changed she made her way across the street, her club-wear and her body attracting a few admiring looks along the way. Not really that easy to forget about the scary goons with crew cuts, though,
she noted uneasily as she walked, casting furtive glances at the various men who were appreciatively eyeing her. A lot of them had
really short hair, were trim and fit, and had that certain way of carrying themselves that screamed ‘Military’. There are way too many Air Force bases in this state. If I panic and run every single time I see somebody who looks like that, I’ll go crazy in no time, but I can’t ignore them either, because any of them
might actually be the ones that are after me
Trying to keep an eye out in all directions without being too obvious about it, she headed towards the club entrance, only to stop short in surprise as a tiny bit of white, wind-borne fluff drifted past her face. Turning her head, she watched as it floated along, bounced up and down as an errant breeze toyed with it, then swirled its way out into the street to vanish among the passing cars. Looking up, she saw two more, much higher off the ground and well out of reach, drifting serenely through the gathering evening. They look kind of like bits of dandelion fluff, only a lot bigger; like, almost ping-pong ball sized.
No one else seemed to notice them, or think them strange if they did, so she forced herself to stop staring. Either we just didn’t have those in California, or we didn’t have them in Sunnydale’s universe at all. Too bad; ’cause they’re pretty.
She continued on, heels clicking as she made her way to the front of the club. Tryst
was a medium-sized place, and looked nice enough; at least from the outside. Although evening was coming on quickly, it was early enough that there wasn’t a line to get inside. Dawn presented herself to the doorman, gave him her best look of bored resignation when he asked for her I.D., and handed over a driver’s license. It was a pretty good one; she had finally found someone who could do decent work, and it wasn’t like money was an issue for her. The doorman checked the photo against her face, visibly considered her obvious youth, balanced that against her unconcern (and hotness), and eventually handed it back to her, waving her past. She gave him a megawatt smile that would have put Cordelia’s best effort to shame, and breezed inside.
She was desperately in need of some attention; she knew from experience that few things were as awful as being ignored, unloved and alone.
* * * * *
794 Days Ago:
She wondered why more people hadn't come to see her.
After Buffy threw herself off of Glory's junk tower, after she... died... Dawn had crawled into her bed, buried herself under the covers, and pretty much stayed there for the next four days, crying. And sure, during that time Tara had looked in on her occasionally, coaxing her with endless patience and gentle sympathy into drinking a little water or cola, and eating at least a few crackers and some soup to keep up her strength. And yes, Willow visited a couple of times too, briefly, though her eyes were red from her own tears and she found little to say. Other than that, though, Dawn was left alone, and in between bouts of crying and long spans of time that were closer to unconsciousness than sleep, she found a few minutes here and there to wonder why.
the others were grieving too; Buffy had been their friend, and she'd been at the center of their lives for years. Dawn understood that, she knew they missed her too, it was just that....
Well, it was just that she missed Buffy more. Dawn
was the one who'd grown up with Buffy. Dawn was the one who'd been with her every day for an entire lifetime. And Dawn was the one who shared her blood--in some ways she was closer to Buffy than if she'd been her child. Dawn loved her fiercely, and Buffy loved her back, more than anything, more than life itself, as she’d proven at the end. Given all that, it felt wrong that the others hadn't come to console her, and make sure she was okay. That wasn’t too self-centered a thing to want... was it?
She was pretty sure it wasn’t.
Sometime around noon on the fifth day, Dawn stared at the ceiling of her room, screwed up her courage, and dragged herself out of bed. She took a shower, tied her still-damp hair back in a ponytail, got dressed, and made her way downstairs.
It was agonizing. Brutal. She kept remembering
; the look on Buffy's face when she realized that she could use her life, instead of Dawn's, to close the dimensional rift. The sound of her voice, the last time she’d spoken. The delicate, loving strength in her arms when she hugged Dawn, and then let go, turned, ran, and leapt. Flashes of that kept hitting her when she least expected it, and every time it was like being punched in the belly. She'd cried twice during her shower; she cried again when she reached the top of the stairs, and remembered all the times she'd seen Buffy standing there, with her arms full of laundry, or on her way out to the Bronze in a sexy outfit, or on her way back upstairs with messy hair and a blood-streaked face, just back from her nightly patrol.
Dawn had meant to get something to eat from the kitchen, but by the time she got there she'd changed her mind. The house was too full of Buffy memories, and she had to get out of there before the grief overwhelmed her again.
Her soft calls went unanswered. Tara had
mentioned that they would be out for a while; something about needing things from an electronics store for some project Willow was working on. She left, locking the empty house behind her, and made her way towards the street. Another flash stabbed at her, the memory of her and Buffy both helping Joyce get the yard into shape, not long after they'd moved to Sunnydale. Both of them had whined and complained about being forced into manual labor, but when their mother put her foot down, they'd sullenly obeyed. An hour later, when she'd gone inside to get them all some iced tea, Dawn had the bright idea to grab a double handful of the potting soil from around the newly-planted flowers and throw it full into Buffy's face. When Joyce came back outside a minute later, she found her older daughter calmly wiping dirt from her forehead and cheek... and Dawn's legs kicking furiously in the air from where she'd been dumped, headfirst, into the thickest part of the front hedge.
Dawn came back to herself, still standing in the yard like a slowly listing statue, tears streaming down her cheeks. I just wanted you to notice me
, she told the memory of her sister. We weren't even all the way moved in here, and you were suddenly friends with Willow and Xander, and having adventures and fighting monsters and saving the world... and most of the time I was either stuck helping mom, or hiding in my room reading a Harry Potter book or something
. She glanced at the dense shrubs, at the spot where she'd hung till Joyce had managed to fish her back out again. Even that was better than nothing; any attention is better than nothing at all
She turned away, arms folded tight across her middle, and this time managed to make it to the street. Turning left, she followed the sidewalk towards downtown Sunnydale... such as it was.
* * * * *
That short walk left Dawn feeling even more confused than before.
People acted like everything was normal.
They acted like everything was fine
Everyone was walking or driving around, talking and smiling and laughing
, and watching it made her wonder if she'd somehow been transported to some alien planet while she was shut up in her room. Everything wasn't
fine--how could it be, when Buffy was dead? How can they not know?
she wondered, staring around with her red, tear-smudged eyes. When she graduated, they told her that they’d known; they’d known she was there, fighting to keep them safe. So how can all of these people act like nothing happened, when she
died for them?
And yet that's exactly what they were doing. Dawn backed up a step, then another, dangerously close to barfing right there on the sidewalk, and when she bumped into a monstrous SUV parked in front of the ice cream shop, she leaned against it gratefully. Inside the shop she could see a well-dressed couple sitting with three young children, all of them smugly spooning down their sugary confection of choice.
Another memory, hitting her with the sudden brutality of a club to the head: My twelfth birthday was here. Mom was out of town, so Buffy and Xander and Willow brought me here. Xander ate so much ice cream he got sick, and I did too because I bet him I could eat just as much. And then Faith showed up, and grinned at Willow in that nasty way of hers, and I didn't understand why Willow was grinding her teeth like that, and looking so upset at the way Faith was sitting so close to Buffy that their hips were touching.
Dawn closed her eyes, remembering that scene. Oh, Faith. God, everything about her was amazing. I had such a huge crush on her--almost before I even knew what a crush
was. Every time she looked at me my heart skipped, and she gave me a birthday present too, even if Buffy took it away from me almost as soon as I unwrapped it.
The dagger had been small and delicate, inlaid with spooky runes and various oddly-shimmering metals, and it had been far, far sharper than a razor. Buffy had taken one look at it and nearly exploded. Something about it belonging to a super nasty demon they'd killed, and how they were supposed to give things like that to Giles, so he could destroy them... except what really had her upset was that Faith had tried to give it to
Her sister had taken it away, ignoring Dawn's tantrum, and Faith had only shrugged like she didn't care one way or the other. Still, the next day she'd had a replacement gift ready: a designer label jacket that had Dawn giddy with joy as she tried it on. Buffy had looked like she wanted to take that one away too, obviously suspecting Faith had obtained the very expensive item through less than legal means. In the end, though, she'd let it pass, and Dawn's infatuation with the wild and beautiful Slayer had only intensified.
Not that anything ever came of it, of course. Even if Faith was less than four years older, they were a significant four years, and the girl never treated her as anything other than a slightly amusing kitten or puppy. Besides, all of Faith's attention and energy were reserved for Buffy, and even Dawn had been keenly aware of the sexual tension between the two of them.
In the here and now, leaning against the SUV on an obnoxiously sun-drenched street, Dawn sighed softly. None of that matters. Nobody's seen Faith since that body-switching thing... which is too bad, 'cause I could really use a 'cheer up, Dawn' present or two, even if they
were evil relics or things she shoplifted for me.
She stood up straight, glancing ruefully at her red eyes and puffy face reflected in the car window... then paused, peering inside the ostentatious vehicle. There, sitting in plain view on the rear seat, was a stuffed animal; a little lavender unicorn, with wide cheerful eyes and a pink streak in her purple mane.
, so cute!
” She glanced furtively from side to side, then back over her shoulder at the family inside the shop. They were occupied with their ice cream, and nobody else seemed to be paying attention. I
deserve a cheering up present, after all of the horrible things that have happened to me. Soooo.…
She gave the door handle a surreptitious tug. Locked. Totally unfair
She tried it again, to no avail. Stupid brats. They have ice cream, and parents, and a whole life ahead of them with not a single evil demongoddess trying to murder them. They won’t ever have to watch their sister die in their place. The least they can do is give me one little stuffed animal.
She stared longingly at the little purple equine, her face clouding as she clamped her lips tight to keep from giving voice to a very loud tantrum as she yanked at the door over and over again. I
want it! I should
have it! Give it to me!
She didn’t exactly know to whom she was directing those silent words; the universe at large, probably, which was of course an utterly pointless thing to do. Realizing the absurdity of what she was doing, she stopped and took a breath.
“God, grow up a little, Dawn,” murmured to herself. “You’re fifteen, not five.” With a sullen little sigh, and a last look into the vehicle, she tugged at the handle once more, even as she was turning to leave....
There was a click
, and the door of the SUV opened a few inches. Dawn blinked, stared at the gap, blinked again, then hastily checked all around. The family was still oblivious, the coast was still clear. With a quick little dive, she leaned in, scooped up the toy and pulled herself back out again. Pressing the door closed till it clicked, she tucked her prize under one arm, turned, and walked quickly away, a triumphant smile on her face. Yay! Mineminemineminemine! Mine!
She slowed when she reached the end of the block, turned the corner, and proceeded at a more natural pace. Taking the unicorn from under her arm, she held it to her chest and hugged it tight with both arms, burying her face in the soft lavender fur. See? I
do feel better now. I needed it
much more than whoever it used to belong to.
That thought carried her forward for another block or so, but then she started to think about what had just happened. That door was locked. I mean, it
was locked... wasn’t it?
She’d certainly thought so. And yet, at the end, when she had really, really, really
wanted it to open, it had. Was that just a coincidence, or something more?
Dawn stopped and looked around her. The Espresso Pump was nearby, and next to it was Sunnydale’s one used book store. Someone had left their bike chained to the telephone pole in front of the store, with a combination lock holding the chain in place. Slowly, hesitantly, with absolutely no expectation of anything
actually happening, Dawn walked to the bike, reached out her hand, and touched her fingertips to the cool metal. Um.... Unlock? Open sesame? Alohomora?
Nothing happened, and she frowned. Okay, either I was imagining things before, or I’m just so clumsy I can’t even open a car door on the first five tries, or
.... She tugged gently at the chain, and this time she wished it open, trying to concentrate on the lock actually popping open beneath her hand. Click.
The locked popped open beneath her hand.
Dawn jerked her hand away, stared at the now-dangling chain and lock, and just stared for a few moments. When she spoke, it was in a sad little whisper.
“I’d still rather have my sister. But if I can’t have her, then this is way, waaaaay better than not having anything at all.”
She clutched her unicorn to her with one arm, grabbed the loose chain, and headed for the Magic Shoppe at a quick walk.
She couldn’t wait
to show this to Giles.
* * * * *
She’d found him in the room behind the store, the one where Buffy had done her Slayer training. The Watcher had been boxing up some of the weapons and equipment, the items which had been Buffy’s most favorite or most hated. He’d been so lost in what he was doing that it took three tries before he finally registered what she was trying to show him.
“I know, right?” She said, smiling just a little at his started expression. “All I have to do is touch something that locks, and wish really hard for it to un
lock.” She picked up the little padlock she’d taken off of a fence gate on the way over, pushed it closed once more, then held between two fingers as she showed him again. Click
The lock popped open. She looked up at him, waiting for the Ooooh, Ahhh
that the trick deserved.
What she got instead was a cold, intense, serial-killer stare that closed her throat and sent a strange little chill racing down her spine.
“Come with me.” He took hold of her wrist and pulled her after him without waiting for her to answer, or even properly get her feet underneath her.
“Hey!” She was dragged across the room, down the short passage that connected to the Magic Shoppe, then to the front of the store.
“Ow. You’re hurting me, Giles.” He seemed not to hear her, and when she tried to pull away his grip on her wrist only tightened. “Ow!
There were no customers in the shop, and without a word he locked the front door and flipped the sign in the window around to show ‘Closed’ to the outside. Moving to the counter, he pulled her along behind him, ignoring her increasingly frantic attempts to get free.
“Giles, what are you--?” She broke off when he used his free hand to reach beneath the counter and bring two objects into view. One was a small, colorless lump of smooth quartz.
The other was a knife.
Dawn’s vision narrowed down to just that knife, and perspiration beaded every inch of her body as her pulse went wild. More knives, more cutting. Glory, and the sick, slow swaying of the tower as that horrible little gray man came towards her, smiling all the while.
“Giles, you’re scaring me.”
Which was an understatement if ever there was one, but it was all she could find to say. With her wrist still held immobile, he turned her hand so that it was palm up, and set the quartz there.
“Close your hand around it,” He told her, his voice flat.
“What are you going to--”
“Close your hand
around the stone, Dawn.” He snapped at her, his eyes locking on hers. He didn’t seem to care that she was pale and shaking with fear, or that her grief-worn eyes had somehow found a few more tears to shed. She closed her fingers around the clear lump. He tightened the already bruising grip on her wrist, lifted the knife, and put the tip of it on her forearm. A whimper slipped from her as he slowly drew the tip across her skin in a very shallow slice, about an inch long. Droplets of her blood welled forth, then rand around and down her arm to the countertop as gravity pulled them.
Giles muttered something she didn’t catch, something Latin-ish, and shifted his grip on the knife to one better suited for stabbing. Dawn didn’t dare struggle, and after half a minute spent holding her there and ignoring her ragged breathing and quiet sniffles, the man spoke once more.
“Open your hand.”
She did so, fingers trembling. The stone was still clear, but somewhere in its depths, a single, tiny spark of green flickered and danced, barely visible in the light of the shop’s interior.
Giles stared at the stone, then let go of the breath he’d been holding, and of her wrist as well. Dawn snatched it away and edged back from the counter, her eyes full of disbelief and hurt.
“What was that
He shook his head, setting the knife down on the counter with exacting care.
“Forgive me, Dawn. I--” He took off his glasses, but instead of cleaning them he just stared at them for a moment, then rubbed tiredly at his eyes. “Forgive me,” he said again, not meeting her accusing stare. “I reacted badly, I know, but I had to be sure.” He picked up the quartz and studied it, then set it in a square of cloth and bundled it up. When he was done, he finally raised his eyes to hers. “We paid too high a price to let it happen now, by accident.” He nodded at the cloth-wrapped stone. “If your power as the Key were truly active, then it would show clearly in the crystal, even here, where we are some distance removed from the closest nexus in both space and time.”
Dawn wasn’t sure she understood exactly what he was saying; her wrist hurt, and blood was still trickling from where he’d cut her arm.
“There was a little bit of green in there,” she said carefully, bracing herself to run if he looked like he was going to go psycho again. He shook his head in dismissal.
“A trace, nothing more. Whatever splinter of the Key’s energies are accessible to you, they pose no threat.” He looked down, laid his hand atop the knife’s handle, and let out a slow, controlled sigh. “No threat.”
With that he put the blade and the stone away beneath the counter and tried to assume his usual air of slightly aloof friendliness.
“I expect the Council will be interested in studying this phenomena, and I’ll be returning to England soon in any case; would you be willing to accompany me?”
* * * * *
“--So I told him I’d think about it, the got out of there as fast as I could,” She said, looking across to where Spike was sitting, listening attentively. “I know now that it was just a test he had to do, and that he wouldn’t really have hurt me, but it was still really
The vampire was giving her an odd look, eyes wide, eyebrows as high as they would go.
“’Wouldn’t really have hurt you’?” He shook his head sadly, then shot her a sympathetic look. “You really are
an innocent little thing, aren’t you? All shiny, and new, and no idea just how nasty people can be when push comes to shove.”
She frowned at him, not liking it at all when he made fun of her, even if it was
in a basically kind and gentle sort of way.
He shook his head.
“Never said you were. I’m just saying, people don’t usually show you all there is to them; at least not on purpose. Now, you might think of your librarian as a kind-hearted, mild-mannered, overly-educated fellow who’d only fight or kill someone when the cause was all noble and the fight was basically fair, right? At least so long as it was a person, and not a demon.” He grinned at her, acknowledging that creatures such as himself fell into the latter category. “Thing is, that’s only the part he wants
you to see.”
Dawn looked at him, cradling her aching wrist even as she drew her unicorn plushie up to where she could hug it.
. What else is there to see?”
He looked away, using the excuse of locating his cigarettes and pulling one from the pack to avoid her gaze.
“The part of him that was all set to kill you just then, Nibblet, if you‘d failed that test.” His voice was gentle, as if that could cushion the impact of the words. “When Glory had you, and we knew that we probably couldn’t stop her before she did the thing where the walls all fell down... Giles tried to talk Buffy into killing you.” He looked at her, saw her stricken look, and shrugged. “It made sense, from where he was standing: take away the Key and she wouldn‘t have been able to do anything but rant and rage. And remember, they teach Watchers that their Slayer’s going to die sooner or later. They spend years hearing about how sacrifices have to be made, ‘for the greater good’ and all that shite. If the other option was letting the HellBitch kill everyone
, then killing one little girl starts to look like a cheap way out, y’know?”
Dawn felt numb... except for the sick terror that was twisting her insides into knots. She was almost afraid to ask, but she had to know.
“What did Buffy say? When he told her that, what did she say?”
He grinned at her.
“She said to sod off; told us all that she’d kill anyone who so much as tried to touch you.”
Dawn slumped, embarrassed to have even suspected her sister would agree to such a thing, and yet immensely relieved to hear it refuted by someone who had actually been there. She squeezed her little unicorn tighter; at this rate the poor thing would be a shapeless ball of compacted fuzz by the end of week.
“And you think Giles might have actually... done something? To me, I mean. If the test showed that I was getting all my Key powers back?”
Spike lit his cigarette, took a drag, then exhaled the smoke from his dead lungs.
“He killed Glory. She was looking like that Ben bloke, all her strength gone, bashed down by Buffy and that hammer, as helpless as a baby. He thought nobody saw, or heard, but I did.” He met her eyes, and held them. “He knelt there, reached down, and held his nose and mouth closed till he suffocated, and took the HellBitch with him.” Spike took another drag. “Can’t really say I disagree with that bit.”
Dawn nodded slowly. She absolutely preferred a dead Glory to a live one, especially with no Slayer around if the HellGoddess decided to start things all over again.
“I’m okay now though, right? He knows I’m not a danger, so I’m okay.”
“I expect so. Not that I’d be in any hurry to go back with him to England. There’s probably somebody in the Watcher’s lodge hall or whatever that’s just aching to cut you up and see what makes you tick. Probably got an old key, all covered in runes and rhinestones, just waiting to have your green glowy bits sealed up inside it and put in a trophy case on their mantel.”
That was a terrifyingly vivid image, and once she could absolutely believe.
“Stay here, no matter what he says; right, got it. It‘s probably a good thing that he‘s leaving, now that I know what he wanted to do. Even if he was the closest thing me and Buffy had to a dad, all these years.” She tried to find at least a semi-cheerful smile, for herself more than Spike. “At least I’m not all
alone, though, right? There‘s still you, and Willow, and Xander, and Tara, and Anya.” She stopped, frowning, when she saw that he was shaking his head again and giving her that look
. “What? They all like me; they all love
me.” Oddly, she‘d been a lot surer of that before she‘d said it out loud. “I’ve known them forever; they all babysat
me, for God’s sake... even when I was way too old to actually need it.”
“They loved you when they still thought they had
known you and watched over you for years, Dawn.” He finished his cigarette, regarded the butt, then flicked it away with an air of finality. “Once they found out it was all a spell, some of them still liked you, but the rest mostly went along because they knew it’s what Buffy wanted. Now that she’s gone....”
She stared at him.
“B-but... in the movies, and books, and television, people are sad for the girl who loses everything. They take care
He looked back at her, and she could see that he did care for her, even as he replied with his typical brutal honesty.
“This isn’t the movies, Dawn. If you’re not careful, some of them might start thinking that the Slayer would still be here, if not for you. As unfair as that is, they might start to blame you. With Xander or the others, that wouldn’t be much bother. But if Willow starts down that road....”
The little purple unicorn was crushed to within an inch of its cheery-eyed life.
* * * * *
793 Days Ago:
“Are you kidding, Dawnster? Of course
we can use your help!” Xander’s grin was so infectious that she had to grin back, even though her grief was still dragging at her, and now there was the fresh uncertainty of how everyone really felt about her, layered on top of all the rest. “With Giles bailing out on us and heading back to the ol’ ancestral castle or whatever, Anya’s all excited about taking inventory of every single thing in the shop.” He indicated his own, dust-streaked person as proof positive that was a massive undertaking. “If you feel like giving me a hand down in the cellar, I’d feel a lot safer.” He extended both hands towards her, stiffening his arms and making clumsy grasping movements. “I swear some of those mummy parts are trying to crawl out of the crates and come after me; how about you grab a dust pan and a bucket, and we can go get ‘em under control?”
Dawn nodded happily, grateful to be accepted unquestioningly by at least one of the Scoobies, even if it did mean she would have to get all dusty and dirty.
“No problem. And wait till I tell you what I found out yesterday.” He looked at her curiously as they headed towards the stairs to the storage cellar.
She winced a little at her choice of words; telling them that she knew about the aborted ‘let’s murder Dawn’ plan was not on her list of things to do.
“Found out I could do
, I mean. It’s my own super-special Dawn magic, and I don’t even need to say words or wave a wand to make it work!”
He smiled at her, caught up in her enthusiasm even if he had no idea what she was talking about.
“Okay, I’m officially intrigued; tell me all about it.”
She trotted down the stairs, with Xander close behind, and as they got to work with the cleaning and sorting and counting, she began describing what she could do.
* * * * *
792.95 Days Ago
Dawn edged back, more than a little shocked at the vehemence in Anya’s voice, not to mention the utterly serious death glare the woman was aiming her way. All she had done was demonstrate her tiny little Key power while she and Xander were taking a break from their work.
“Anya, I don’t understand what--”
“You are no longer welcome in this establishment,” Anya said loudly, her tone that of someone who would tolerate no discussion or appeal.
“Anya, hon,” Xander said, attempting to discuss and appeal. “It isn’t like we don’t know her; she’s Dawn. You know, the DawnMeister?” The glare those comments earned him were enough to make him wince and fall back. Still, he forged gamely on. “She’s helping us out with the inventory, the least you could do is try to be nice to--”
“Begone!” Anya snapped at Dawn, ignoring her Fiancé. “You’re probably just helping so that you know exactly what to steal when you come back; isn’t that right?!”
Dawn stared at her in confusion.
“What?” She hadn’t even told them about toynapping the little unicorn, or any of the other small items she’d taken over the last few months. She wondered now if Anya had suspected her all along, when the occasional small, shiny item went missing.
“Oh, sure, you’re completely
innocent,” the former demon snarled. “And yet somehow you have magic that’s specifically designed
to steal things from hard-working store owners!” If Dawn hadn’t known that all of Anya’s powers were gone, she would swear that her eyes were glowing with faint demonic flame. “You’ll sneak in here after we‘ve closed, no matter how many locks are on the door, and you’ll take very rare and expensive items from our inventory--which our insurance will not
pay to replace--and then you’ll be here during the day and slip your greedy little hands into the cash register whenever my back is turned and take all the lovely money and for that matter not even the safe under the bed in our apartment is safe even if that word is the name they use for it and you’re just dying to take my twelve thousand shares of Apple (which might not be worth much now
but I know an Oracle who gives me tips and just you wait) and it is completely unacceptable
that you can just tap things with your fingers and take all of that away from me!”
Even Anya had to pause for breath eventually, and when she did Dawn tried to reassure her that she wouldn’t do any of those things.
“I would never
do any of those--”
“I won’t stand for it!
” Anya cried, in her scariest, most vengeancy voice. “You are not welcome in my store or in my apartment or within two hundred yards of me or Xander because I am going to get a restraining order first thing in the morning!”
She stopped, still glaring that glare, and even though Xander was wringing his hands and trying to gently pat the woman on the shoulder and say soothing things, Dawn could see that Anya wasn’t going to allow herself to be moved. Not on this.
“It’s fine,” She told them, aiming the words mainly at Xander. “Someone told me this might... that you might feel like I was....” She shook her head, unable to find words that weren’t bitter. “It’s fine,” She said again, as she turned and walked to the front door of the store. When she passed through and let it close behind her, she couldn’t help hoping that Xander might come rushing after her. She’s always liked him so much, even had a little bit of a crush on him way back when. She listened for him as she walked slowly away, for the sound of the bell over the Magic Shoppe’s door... but it never came.
* * * * *
791 Days ago.
“Nobody would have killed you, Dawnie.” Tara’s voice was always soft, always kind, and now was no different. “Spike is just upset; he’s angry because Buffy’s gone, and he loved her so much.”
Dawn was sitting on her bed in the Summers’ house, with Tara sitting almost knee to knee with her.
“Everybody loved her,” She agreed softly.
“They did.” The woman plucked vaguely at the bedspread between them. “Willow’s taking it really
hard. Even if she didn’t realize it for a long time, she’s been in love with Buffy forever. You know, like, in a girl loves girl way.” Even now, Tara was still shy enough to be uncomfortable when talking about such things. Dawn considered the idea of Willow and Buffy in a romantic relationship, and even though it wasn’t something she’d ever contemplated, the notion didn’t shock her.
“I can see them together, I guess. Only they never did anything?”
Tara shook her head.
“No. By the time she was ready to admit it, she was with me, and Buffy was always running after some guy; Angel, or Riley, or whoever.”
Dawn couldn’t help smirking a little.
“Faith was after her, and she didn’t care who
was in the way.”
Tara’s expression was one of distaste.
“Faith was terrible; she wanted to own Buffy, to twist her into another version of herself. Willow would have loved her... did
love her, dearly, even if they never so much as kissed.” She looked heartbroken herself, on behalf of her lover. “It’s so sad that the one who loved Buffy the most never got the chance to show her how much she cared. And now it’s too late. “
Those words, no matter how sincere and lovely, made Dawn bristle.
“Wait. ‘The one who loved Buffy the most
Tara looked at her for several seconds, her cheeks flaming with embarrassment.
“Oh Goddess, Dawn, I’m sorry. I just meant--I mean, Willow knew her for so much longer
, so it’s different for her than for--”
knew Buffy longer! I knew her my whole life!
How is fifteen years not longer than five--?” Tara was looking down at the bed, her hair hiding her face, that hand plucking furiously at the covers. “Oh. Oh, I get it. My time with her doesn’t count. My years of knowing my sister, of growing up with her and fighting with her, and loving her... those aren’t real
enough for you, are they?”
Tara looked up at her, those oh-so-kind eyes full of compassion.
“I know they seem
real to you, Dawnie, but we know the monks--”
“--Made me. Yeah; I know.” She let herself fall back onto the bed, so that she was looking at the ceiling. “I’m a lie. A made-up person in the shape of girl, and everything I think I know is just pages torn out of some magic book and pasted over a mannequin until it sort of looks
like a person... but it never will be.”
She heard a soft sigh, then--
“Dawn, we care about you, we do. It’s just going to take some time for us to get past what--”
“I think I’m ready to go to sleep now,” she told the ceiling in a flat voice. “Please stop talking and go away.”
* * * * *
789 Days Ago:
“I still can’t believe you’re helping me do
"Actually, pet, I'm not."
"Huh?" Dawn spun around to see Spike still in the doorway that let out onto the backyard, leaning against some invisible barrier. "Oops. I forgot all about that." She glanced around nervously at the shadow-draped living room. There was no way
she was going to try and rob the place without him being inside with her, but since she didn't live here, her invitations wouldn't count. The vampire was barred from entry, even if she had
been able to unlock the physical door.
She paused, and examined that thought.He's locked out because of some magical rules that say Vampires can't come into houses. Is that invisible wall or door something I can mess with?
She couldn't decide if that should work or not. Spike folded his arms across his chest and looked at her, still leaning casually against the barrier. Dawn edged around the overly-ornate coffee table, tip-toed across the gleaming hardwood floor, and stopped in front of where he stood. Reaching out with tentative fingers, she touched the frame of the open door and wished
Spike fell forward, barely catching himself in time to avoid an undignified sprawl on the floor. Dawn met his scowl with a smug, gleeful smirk, and he moved past her, doing his best to pretend that hadn't happened.
Reassured that he would be there if she needed him, she took a closer look around the huge living room, which was full of designer furniture, designer lamps and expensive knick-knacks, taking it all in as best she could while peering through darkness relieved only by the beam of a small flashlight. Motion to one side made her jump, but it was only Spike returning.
“Found the wine rack,” He announced, raising an uncorked bottle to his lips as proof. He took a long drink, lowered the bottle, and belched happily. “Not bad.” He prowled around the edge of the room, then waved her towards the stairs leading up, ascending them with her, shoulder to shoulder.
“And why shouldn’t I help you?” He asked, after another swig. She shrugged, still peering nervously around, expecting the owners--or the police--to spring out at any second.
“I guess because it’s not something anyone else would help me do? I mean, none of the others really want me around at all, now, and even if they did, and I asked them, they’d probably send me to therapy or something.”
Spike snorted, peered down the hallway to the left and right, then led her left.
“What makes you think this isn’t
Dawn stopped short, in front of the doorway to an obscenely large and well-appointed bathroom.
He smiled his little smile at her, the one that was equal parts kindness, insight, and utter smartass.
“Sure. Listen. You lost something; the biggest something anyone can
lose. Now, if breaking into places you’re not supposed to be and filling your pockets up with other people’s things makes you feel better, I say go for it.” He gestured broadly around them with the wine bottle, then took another drink. “Maybe it turns out to be something you’ll always want to do, or maybe, after some time goes by, you’ll grow out of it.” He cocked one of those eyebrows at her, his incongruously young-seeming face showing both sympathy and impish humor. “Whatever happens, and whatever those other tossers might think, it’s your life, and you get to decide what to do with it.”
She stared at him, there in the dark hallway, and tried to find words to thank him for understanding, for helping, for everything
. He didn’t give her a chance, just smiled and wandered on, through a door and into the master bedroom of the overly large and well-furnished home, there in the hills above Sunnydale.
“Here we are,” he announced from within, and she hurried to join him. “See? If the safe isn’t in the den, it’ll be in here.”
She looked around, flashlight beam flicking from one spot to the next.
“What if there isn’t a safe?”
He chuckled, finishing the bottle and casting it aside as he prowled around the room.
“There’s always a safe, Nibblet; always.”
She nodded, and started looking behind the various large framed photographs on the wall, while he walked to first one door, in the far wall, then the other.
“Bathroom,” she heard him mutter. “Not likely. Ah, walk-in closet, that’s more like it.” She could hear him rapping on walls and moving things around, even as she shone her flashlight under the bed, and behind the bedside table.
Dawn nibbled at her lower lip for a moment, then went ahead and asked: “Do you blame me for Buffy dying?” He didn’t answer, and she looked over to see his dark silhouette standing in the doorway, looking back at her. She swallowed painfully, and even so it was hard to get the rest of it out. “Because they’re right. If I’d never come here, she’d still be alive.”
He was silent for a painfully long time; several centuries... or at least ten seconds, and then he answered her.
“Slayer loved you, Dawn. More than anything; more than life. And she wanted me to take care of you, if she wasn’t around to do it herself. That’s what I know; that’s what I can do for her, now that she’s gone.”
She looked at him, and hoped he couldn’t see the single track the tears made below each of her eyes, even though she knew he could.
“You deserved her more,” She told him softly. “Tara was wrong; you loved her more than Willow, and Buffy should have been with you.”
Spike just smiled that little smile, visible now as she raised the flashlight, and gestured over his shoulder with a thumb.
“Safe’s in here, behind all the shoes. How about you show me this new trick of yours, before the yuppies get back from whatever their sort do on a Friday night.”
She walked past him, poking him playfully in the stomach with her elbow as she went, and giggling in spite of everything when he gave her long hair a little yank in reply.
And he was right again: filling her pockets with other people’s things did
make her feel better. Seeing the look on his face when she got the safe open in three seconds flat was pretty neat, too.
* * * * *
431 Days Ago:
Her flight was delayed by hours, and when Dawn finally landed in Prague, it was late evening. Getting through customs took forever, and by the time she found a cab and convinced the driver to take her to Petrin Hill, it was past midnight, and she was sure she’d managed to miss her meeting.
“You sure you want off here?” The driver asked her for the third time, obviously reluctant to leave a teenage girl at the entrance to such a place at such an hour. Dawn smiled absently at him as she shoved a wad of money at him, not bothering to count it.
“I’m sure.” She was looking at the park entrance, all looming shadows and masses of trees and bushes. “This is Petrin Hill?”
He nodded uneasily.
“You come back during day, is beautiful place; beautiful. At night, not so much, especially for young girl.” He gestured at the door she held. “Get back in, I take to hotel now.” She shook her head, and shut the door before walking towards the entrance.
“Thanks, but I’m meeting someone. If they’re still here.”
He called something to her which she couldn’t make out, not that she cared to know. It had taken her months, and literally bags of cash, to find someone who knew how to contact the person she was looking for, and weeks more, and another
bag of bills to set up this meeting. The one scheduled for midnight, local time, which according to her very expensive watch was thirty-eight minutes ago.
Walking quickly, her sensible sneakers scuffing quietly on the pavement, she entered the park. Most of the lights on the antique iron poles were broken; the few that remained showed her walk paths, picnic tables, and a pair of basketball courts that were populated by a large group of loud and rough-looking young men who didn’t seem like the sort of people she could safely ask for directions. I’m supposed to go to the top of the hill, to the bottom of that tourist-trap version of the Eiffel Tower they have there
She could see it from where she stood; mostly just a black bulk a hundred or so feet tall, with red blinking lights atop it to warn away aircraft. What she didn’t see was an obvious way up that didn’t take her through either utter darkness, or much too close to the gang of basketball players. Skirting the edge of the park, she walked for a couple hundred yards before she found a path which seemed like it might be wide enough to navigate in the near-total darkness. Several of the lights on their wrought-iron posts were still working on this side of the hill, and if their illumination was confined to small islands amid the darkness, it was still far better than the pitch-black shadows beneath the trees.
Dawn started upwards, glancing around constantly and waiting for something to jump out and try to eat her. At one point early on she crouched and felt around on the ground until she found a short section of fallen tree limb. With a grunt of effort she managed to snap off one end, creating a semi-sharp stake--and skinning her soft hands painfully in the process. Wincing at the sting from the torn skin but feeling a tiny bit safer, she continued climbing. Twice she thought she heard something moving behind her; the first time she looked back she saw nothing, the second time she saw two figures, halfway up the path and moving slowly up after her. They probably aren’t after me; people are in here all the time for whatever reason. And they probably aren’t vampires; no Hellmouth here... but it’s a pretty great place for them to hunt, and not all monsters let themselves get pulled towards a Hellmouth.
Feeling moderately terrified, she hurried up the path, panting a little at the steepness of the climb. The trail was bordered by undergrowth and stands of saplings, with the larger trees sometimes crowding close and sometimes opening up to show her the overcast sky reflecting the glow of the city. She glanced behind her again, and saw that her pursuers, if they were pursuers, were closer. Wondering if she should try leaving the path and taking her chances in the tall grass and impenetrable shadows beneath the trees, she hesitated. And when someone whispered into her ear, she nearly jumped out of her skin.
She flinched, then cringed, hoping that the flinch wouldn’t count as a movement, or anything else that might make the speaker angry. Her eyes flicked from side to side, trying to seperate shapes in the blackness to either side of the trail, but she saw nothing. The voice came again, very soft, and very, very close.
“Wait here. If you try to run, you die.”
Dawn tried to speak, found her mouth too dry and her throat too tight, and settled for a vigorous nod. Only the faintest of rustles marked the person’s departure, and she waited there for something like half a minute, finally unable to resist turning and looking back down the trail. She was just in time to catch the faintest glimpse of something flashing in the near-darkness, and the second of the two figures flailing wildly for a bare moment before being yanked out of sight with startling abruptness. Of the other half of the pair, there was no sign. In the far distance, the boys gave a sudden, collective shout, which then dissolved into laugher, eerie when it was filtered through hundreds of yards of trees like that.
Dawn stood there, starting to shiver from the late-night chill, and slowly she became certain that she was being observed, and from very close range. Even though she saw and heard nothing, she cleared her throat, very softly, and ventured a single word:
The silence itself seemed to hold its breath for several seconds, then answer.
“I know you. I shouldn’t... and I do. A little.” There was a pause, then that voice came again, sounding ever-so-slightly uncertain. “I’ve never met you before in my life. And I think I stole a jacket, and came to your birthday party just to piss everyone off.”
Dawn nodded, very carefully.
“That sounds about right.”
She couldn’t be sure, but she thought the other girl was circling her, drifting effortlessly through the shadows, examining her from every side. Finally, the voice came again.
“Were those two with you?”
A violent shake of her head in answer to that.
“No!” There was something floating there in the darkness, off to her right; a gleaming, impossibly sharp object that was in a hand she couldn’t see, attached to a person who could kill anyone she pleased, so very quickly, and so very easily. “I don’t even know who they were! My flight was late, and I came straight here from the airport!”
There was a movement there, near the knife, something that suggested a head being cocked as someone considered her, and dark hair brushing a shoulder when the slight breeze caught hold and pulled it forward.
“Keep walking,” The shape told her, and then it was gone, lost in the shadows and blackness. She shook herself, rubbed her hands together, and stumbled forward, towards a pool of light up ahead. When she got there, someone was there ahead of her, standing by the basin of a stone fountain, waiting. Dawn stopped when she saw them, then braced herself, very deliberately dropped her makeshift stake, and walked slowly forward. There was a scattering of wrought iron benches around the fountain, and the single working light was enough to let her see who it was.
Faith regarded her steadily, with tons of cool confidence... but also with a fair bit of confusion.
you?” The young woman asked her, with that low, throaty voice that Dawn remembered so vividly. “I thought I just dreamed you; I forgot
I’d dreamed you, till now.”
The girl thought of several possible answers, all of them true, ranging from Keys to clones to figments of the imagination. What she settled on was the simplest one, the one she hoped was the most true.
“I’m Dawn. I’m Buffy’s sister.”
Faith stared at her, eyes slightly narrowed.
“Why do I sort of believe that, and sort of think you’re full of shit?”
“I guess you were too far away when they cast the memory spells; or maybe they thought that since you were gone they didn’t need to try very hard to make it work on you.”
The Slayer appeared to think that over, but she didn’t ask who ’they’ might be. Instead, she asked the important question, the one that Dawn dreaded the most.
“What do you want?”
There was no simple answer to that one, at all. There was, however, a beginning to the answer, and as much as she hated to do it, Dawn told Faith what it was.
“Buffy’s gone. She....” Almost a year, and it still hurt to say it. “Buffy’s dead.”
Faith’s pale, starkly beautiful face was utterly devoid of emotion, even as her dark eyes bored right through Dawn. Turning her head, she put a cigarette to her lips, lit it, and walked a short distance away, to the edge of the fountain area, exhaling a long plume of smoke now and then as her feet slowly traced the edges of the illuminated pavement. Dawn moved a few steps to one side and sank slowly down onto one of the benches, watching her.
Faith walked in her slow circles for several minutes, finished one cigarette and lit another. When that one was half done, she walked back and looked at Dawn once more.
“Why go to all the trouble of tracking me down? Why’d you come here?”
“I don’t have anywhere else to go. I’ve tried living on my own, but people keep trying to use me, or hurt me. I thought about going back to Sunnydale, but none of them want me around.” She saw that register, saw the older girl grimace (and Faith did
still have something of the girl about her, being less than twenty years old, and looking even younger than her years). “Well, Spike did, but Willow didn’t like him, didn’t like the way he helped me, so she banished him.”
“Some other dimension or something; none of the witches or mages I tried were ever able to find him.”
Faith turned away, took a final drag off her cigarette, then dropped it to the pavement and ground it out under her boot. Exhaling smoke, she paced another few steps along the edge of the fountain.
“Bitch always did have a stick up her ass, and a problem with anybody who didn‘t want to live the same life as her.” She shot Dawn a look. “Why’s Red so pissed at you? And why, exactly, do I sort-of and also not-really remember you?”
Dawn huddled in on herself a bit, overwhelmed at the scope of that
“It’s complicated. I mean really
Faith bared her teeth in a brief flash of brilliant white that was almost a smile. Walking over to the bench where Dawn sat, she planted one boot next to Dawn’s thigh, leaned forward, and rested her crossed arms atop her knee.
“Feel free to bore the fuck out of me.”
Looking up at that face, Dawn knew it wasn’t a suggestion. She started talking, and kept going, without pause, while the night grew quiet and even the rougher inhabitants of the park sought their beds. By the time the clouds cleared and the brightest stars fought to be seen over the city, Faith was sitting on the bench, turned sideways so that she was facing Dawn. And as the light grew in the east and the park slowly transformed into a greener, kinder place, Dawn’s voice slowed, wound down, and finally stopped. Faith stared off into the distance for a time, looking at the waking city beyond the trees without really seeing it, then blinked, frowned, and flowed to her feet.
“Come on,” She told Dawn, holding out one slim, strong hand.
“Where?” Dawn asked, almost too tired to care.
Faith gave her a tiny smile, equal parts smirk and grin and sadness.
“To my place. Fuck Willow. Fuck ‘em all. You’re going to stay with me.”
Dawn took the offered hand, and let it pull her to her feet. The sense of relief she felt was nearly overwhelming. She wasn’t alone. Someone knew who she was, what she was, and even if only just a tiny bit... they cared. It wasn’t much, but for now it was enough.
* * * * *
To be continued....
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