Chapter EightAuthor's Notes:
This is technically in waiting from my new beta, but we're still figuring out the kinks in the "fix my mistakes" system (primarily among them, I am impatient). So, here's a new chapter. Also... and this is VERY exciting to everyone who has read with me the last eight years or so- I passed my PhD defense! I am now Dr. Kei. Wahoo! Hopefully this means I'll have time to sleep and eat and write again.
Also, anyone heading to WorldCon this year? I am geeking so hard I can't even begin to quantify it. Disclaimer:
I claim no intellectual ownership of either Buffy or Stargate SG1. Also, seriously broke. My car sucks my pay check. “I don’t want to deal with this right now. I’m taking a holiday from dealing. Happily vacationing in the land of not-coping.” –Buffy
“I know they’re talking about me.”
The former Vengeance Demon watched Dawn warily as the younger woman paced the Summer’s living room. There was more room than there used to be, since Buffy had gotten rid of the couch. It seemed silly to verbally confirm what Dawn already knew, but at the anguish on the younger woman’s face Anya felt compelled to help. “… but if she went away…”
Anya always tried to help. Besides, Xander was getting angry in the other room and his voice was carrying. “We don’t even know…”
“They are most definitely talking about you.” “It has to be better than this… cat and mouse… Glory!”
Dawn paused to glare at her, tears glittering in her eyes. Lately Anya’s helpful conversation topics had been seen as anything but helpful. Xander had helped explain death to her, in the way mortals understood it, but she was fairly certain he had missed a few of the finer points.
She was sure, for instance, that Joyce had not gone off to live on a nice farm with Xander’s childhood cat, which had particularly enjoyed peeing in Mrs. Harris’s purse.
“It’s not like they don’t like you. They just want you to go away.”
Dawn hissed as if Anya had struck her, and the tears made their promised appearance, streaking down her face. “Well, it’s not like I want to stay in this dump.” She kicked the wall as she cast a glance into the dining room, where Buffy, Giles, Xander, and Willow were apparently deciding her future without her input. “We don’t even have a couch.”
Anya kept her hands tightly clenched in her lap as Dawn ran up the stairs, slamming her bedroom door shut. Despite her imperfect understanding of mortality from this perspective after a thousand years odd years of immortality she had gleaned enough to refrain from responding to Dawn’s jab, even as she had thought of the words to her bewildered response. You don’t have a couch because Joyce died on it.
“Are you sure this is a good idea?”
Buffy laughed, the sound humorless and painful. She still had a brittle quality in the turn of her mouth, a frailty in the light in her eyes, but there was a sense of purpose now that had been lacking since long before Joyce had died. His Slayer’s grief was still wild and raw, no matter how she hid it from prying friends, but this unplanned visit had given her a focus for energy that tended towards the destructive otherwise. Either through slaying or shopping.
“No. I’m not. I haven’t been sure of anything since Mom died.”
Giles swallowed and fervently wished that his Watcher training had covered more what it would mean to spend years of his life as a formative influence on a teenage girl, now a young woman. He could tell Buffy three ways to behead a Scarlech demon, and the eight properties in dried Klipen dung, but was left bewildered by whether or not he should touch her shoulder as they sat at the battered dining room table.
His hands stayed at his side but he clenched his fingers and nodded minutely in recognition of her wry, sad, and truthful statement. You have a father’s love for the child…
And yet, none of the instincts.
Xander of course was vehemently against Buffy’s proposed plan. There had been the usual theatrics- blistering emotions followed by hurtful claims. “You’re running from your problems by even considering this!”
“What happens to us if Glory attacks when you’re gone?”
“How will Dawn feel, being uprooted from home after… so soon after?”
Willow had, as always, been more circumspect, though she had radiated anxiety that was a subdued version of her best friend’s outcry. And usually, usually Giles would have agreed with them. Would have logically examined the situation, careful not to let his fondness for Buffy cloud their shared duty, and stated that it absolutely made no sense at all for Buffy and Dawn to even consider such a foolhardy proposal.
But he felt curiously torn in a situation where logic held so little sway. Joyce was buried in the ground and a god wanted to use Dawn to bring about Hell on Earth. Even for the Hellmouth, well…it had been a long week.
So he stayed his initial rush to disclaim Buffy’s plan as reckless. Held his counsel behind tightly pressed lips and waited to let his Slayer take the lead.
It seemed unnatural, to send their two most powerful tools away. But it seemed even more unnatural to think of them like that: Slayer and Key. Tools to be used until they were broken. Tools to discard once the life was gone from them, like dolls with limp limbs. Joyce…
When Buffy looked up at him, all he saw was her humanity. One girl in all the world, he would defend until his dying breath.
“Willow will do a quick background check, and Daniel and his friend Jack will drop by tomorrow. If they don’t wig on me, and if Daniel doesn’t have some sort of florid criminal history… I think this might be the best option.”
Giles nodded because, now that he had truly taken the time to listen, he agreed. “It’s a stop gap measure, nothing more. If you go to Colorado, Glory will eventually figure out that you know something about the Key and she will follow you.”
Buffy sighed once, and nodded, soft and unsure again. “I know, but even a week would give us time, some time, any
time to figure out: how do you fight a god?”
“I know you want me gone.”
Buffy snorted in response as she entered her sister’s bedroom. Fingers ghosted the surface of the dresser, lingering on a carousel Joyce had gotten Dawn one nonexistent birthday, long ago. Treasured for memories planted in them all by a bunch of goddamned monks.
For the most powerful woman in the world, Buffy spent an inordinate amount of her life, and death, being subject to the whim of men.
Dawn sat rigid on her bed, shoulders tight with tension as she refused to look at Buffy. It seemed so strange, even stranger in the wake of their Mom’s passing, to know that Dawn was made from her. Summers’ blood, Summers’ body. It should have been easier, in some ways… easier to love her little sister. Easier to be patient as their world crashed down upon them.
But mostly Buffy felt tired when she saw the petulant tilt of her sister’s head. The defiant grief on Dawn’s shuttered face. She rarely saw herself when she looked at Dawn. She only saw, well, Dawn.
It was reassuring on some level, that the mystical ball of energy that called herself family was annoying enough to feel like family. But reassuring was not the same thing as easy.
Buffy sat on the bed gingerly; thought about reaching out to stroke Dawn’s hair like she had when her little sister seemed a lot less complicated, but then thought better of it. Dawn in human form had a lot more individuality than the Dawn of their shared fake memories. “I do want you gone, but not because I don’t want you around.” She took a deep, steadying breath and tried to find words that were less sharp, less flip than the ones that came to mind.
She hadn’t been much older than Dawn when she had staked her first vamp. But Dawn seemed younger, more sheltered, if that was even possible for the immortal Key to the Universe(s). “Dawn, you know… I don’t know how to fight Glory. I don’t know how to keep you safe here, in Sunnydale. I don’t even really understand what Glory would do to you, but I’m thinking Hell Gods don’t vacation in the South of France.”
Dawn sniffed, once, but didn’t start screaming which was a good sign. A small voice asked, “Will you send me to Dad?”
The question caught the older woman by surprise, her breath wooshing out of her. How funny, that Dawn’s first thought was her fictional father when Buffy had thought so little of him since he had betrayed her love one too many times. “No,” she responded softly, carefully, “I… you know I don’t really know where he is right now. He didn’t even call back, after Mom…”
Dawn’s fingers clutched the bedspread, knuckles white, but her voice was mostly even as she asked. “Will you send me to Angel?”
Ugh… that wasn’t even an option, but she was surprised again Dawn had been worried about it. “World of no. I don’t know if there’s a worst place to send you than LA, but Angel has his own problems and his own enemies, albeit with better hair than the God of Split Ends. It wouldn’t really be an improvement.”
“Then where will I go?” Dawn asked plaintively, and Buffy heard more loneliness than she had expected, given her sister’s attitude of late. More fear.
This time Buffy did lean over, wrap super strong arms around her little sister born from Summer’s blood, Summer’s body. Born from Slayer’s blood, and Slayer’s body. Clipped from her soul like a cutting from a rose, all wild and sharp and almost too delicate to bloom. Dawn’s hair smelled like apricots and sunshine and the older woman closed her eyes against the tears that wanted to come.
She was so tired of crying, but Dawn smelled like their Mom.
“I had a sort of unexpected visit today. Two men from Colorado. One is claiming to be, well, Mom’s half-brother.” Dawn stilled in her arms, warm breath ghosting across Buffy’s arm. The Slayer kept quietly talking. “His name is Daniel Jackson, and he’s an archaeologist. I think. He’s… well, he’s warm and eager. Kind of like a Labrador. He smiles with his heart and I think he wants to get to know us. I get the impression he doesn’t have much in the way of family, if he’s tracking down nieces he’s never heard of before.”
“Why didn’t we know he existed?”
Buffy shrugged, arms still around Dawn in a comforting embrace. “I’m not sure Mom knew he existed. He told me a little of what little he knew… I guess the guy who would have been our grandfather, he got his high school girlfriend pregnant when she was very young. They didn’t stay together, but…”
Buffy smiled tightly into apricot scented hair as she remembered those few idyllic summers she had spent with her mother in Illinois when she was very little, long before Dawn had been a gleam in a monk’s eye. Grandma Ruth had been a little stern, with her faded blonde hair pulled back in a tight bun and hands that made quick work of a needle and thread. She had lived on a sprawling dairy farm with her husband, Frank.
Joyce hadn’t been an only child, even considering Daniel’s unlikely appearance- Aunt Arlene and Aunt Elizabeth had been fixtures during those long, hot days. Aunt Arlene had died in a car accident when Buffy was ten. Aunt Elizabeth had moved to Alaska, though Joyce had never been as close to her youngest sister. How funny to think that Grandpa Frank hadn’t been Joyce’s real father. Grandpa Frank had been a laughing giant who passed in his sleep from a massive heart attack long enough ago that all Buffy remembered was the scratch of his beard as he kissed her cheek goodnight. But her Mom had always spoken of him fondly, and she knew with certainty that even if Frank knew Joyce wasn’t his, her Mom had never had a clue.
Joyce would have been crushed, until she met Daniel.
“So Grandma Ruth had a baby when she was a teenager with her boyfriend, not Grandpa Frank—Mom. And then Mom’s real dad had Daniel years later?”
“That does seem to be the sitch.”
“And you want to send me away with this… half-uncle? Just, poof, off Dawn goes with the stranger, just like the ones you always told me not tell my name to, just because he and Mom shared a secret father?”
Buffy sighed and ran wearied hands through Dawn’s long, straight hair. “Do you think so poorly of me, that I’d send you off with a stranger in the face of immeasurable danger?” She paused, but didn’t give her little sister time to answer as she began to braid the silken strands, careful not to face the condemnation she’d see in Dawn’s face. “I think it would be best if we both went to Colorado for a little while. It won’t fix our situation with Glory, but hopefully it will make us a little harder to find. Maybe if no one show’s up for Glory’s going away party, she won’t bring about the end of our universe.” Maybe Dawn wouldn’t end up cold and in the ground like Mom.
Dawn didn’t say anything for a long moment, but Buffy could tell she’d surprised her little sister with the idea. “Is he… is Daniel nice?”
Buffy finished off the braid with an elastic tie she had around her wrist and smiled earnestly at the girl who was more hers than anyone else in the world would ever be. Summers’ blood….
“He seems nice. I asked him to drop by tomorrow, so you can meet him. And hey, he paid for my beer at the Bronze.”
“You aren’t old enough to drink beer at the Bronze.”
Buffy shrugged and let her lips twitch into a grin. “Well, he’s so nice he paid for my illegal drinks.”
Dawn made a sound of exasperation but she leaned in to Buffy's arms and neither one of them saw the other cry.