I didn’t even remember getting home. Kit must have carried me or something, because my brain seemed stuck. Looping over and over on how I last saw my mother, body cold on the morgue slab. There was no life, no smell of warm skin and soft perfume. There was only the shell where my mother used to be.
And then we were on the front steps, those same front steps I stormed out the door this morning, furious at Buffy for ignoring me once again. But whatever else my wish had done, my house was still standing. Revello Drive was still standing. Whether or not I was still standing was up for debate.
Behind me Kit gave a little huff of impatience. “I don’t care what you say, you’re not okay. I’ll let Mrs. Madison know you’re not coming and I really think you should take a nap or something.”
I glared at her, but didn’t make a move to open the front door. If I opened it, and Mom was still gone, I didn’t think I could handle it. When I tried to resurrect her, all I could think was how wrong the world was when she was gone, how right it would be when she was back. And now she could be. My mom could be standing on the other side of the door, waiting to call me Pumpkin Belly, ruffle my hair, and ask me about my day.
Of course, if I just kept standing there, I’d never know.
I squeezed my eyes closed tight and pushed open the door.
I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but the world didn’t end. The house was still standing; remarkably, I was still standing. Of course, Kit standing behind me ready to catch me made me feel a little better.
Deep breaths, deep breaths, in out in out in out-
Oh my god, I smelled cookies. Those little chocolate chip ones that Mom used to make.
Then she was there, lit from behind in the late afternoon sunlight. Golden hair in golden curls- she looked like the angel I always thought she was when I was small. Like nothing could ever take her away and she would always save me from the monsters under my bed.
She smiled at me.
I started to cry.
Mom didn’t seem to find this terribly unusual, which okay, maybe it’s not, hormonal teenager here, but then she did the most wonderful thing. She hugged me.
I stood there in the doorway and held my mother. I was home.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The linoleum of the counter was smooth under my fingers. I ran my hands across the countertop over and over, just to make sure this was real. That I was actually sitting across from my mother at the kitchen island eating cookies.
This was the best wish ever. I so rock.
Kit was gone after I stopped crying; she really was off to the coven meeting, and my mother really did expect me to go when I felt better.
I’d never felt better in my life. I dropped another cookie into my mouth and smiled. Mom was doing her prattling mom thing, asking about my day. And for once, I actually felt like telling her.
“It was good, I guess. Met with the guidance counselor about the scholarship potential.”
Mom smiled, “That’s nice, honey. Will you be able to get the courses you need next year? Being chosen to do most of your senior year at UC Sunnydale is a very big deal, and a great honor, but you’re really going to have to work to get there.”
Was I really that good of a student? Great, now my wish was making me do all my homework. I swallowed. “Um, yeah.” I ran my mental eye down those checklists that the Mr. Gorman person handed to me, but honestly I couldn’t remember any class listings. Maybe I should actually read them later.
You know, when I was done having cookies with my mom.
The front door slammed, voices sounding in the hall. It sounded like Buffy and-
He leaned over me, patting me on the head, just as solid as he had been months ago. “Hey there, munchkin. How was school?” He nodded his head at my mother. “Ma’am.”
I just sat there and gaped at him at for a bit. My mom I could handle. Riley? Okay, now things were weird. But weird in the most excellent of ways!
Buffy didn’t seem to think anything was the matter, bouncing her way to the fridge and snagging a diet coke. “We’re just stopping in for a minute. Harmony is meeting us at the Espresso Pump in twenty to go over the float decorations. I wanted to do swans, but Riley thinks that would be too much work. It’s not like he has to do it, what with being a graduate student and all, but I guess he’s right.” She pouted, popping the top of the pop can. “I wanted to be the Swan Queen. Harmony thinks we can pull off rainbows though. Rainbows are nice.”
Mom nodded and handed Riley a cookie. “I always did like Homecoming. Weird time of year to have it though.”
Buffy shrugged and pulled her hair up in a pony tail. Her skin was golden brown, not overly pale like it had been those last few months since she came back from the dead- as if spending time in the sunshine was too much effort. I looked closer. There were no scars on her neck. No fang marks from the Master and Angel. Nothing but smooth suntanned skin.
I think I must have made a sound because everyone turned to look at me. I blinked and pointed at Buffy’s neck, totally confused.
She gave a little shriek and punched Riley in the arm. He didn’t look like it hurt. It always hurt when Buffy punched people, even joke punched. I remember both Riley and Xander complaining.
“You didn’t give me a hickey, you brute!” Buffy scowled as she fled down the hall to check the mirrors. Both Riley and mom glared at me.
“That wasn’t very nice, Dawn, you know how she is about her appearance. If she’s not perfect, she thinks she won’t win the crown, and we all know how much of a world-ender that would be.” Rolling her eyes, Mom tsked and turned to put the dishes in the sink.
Buffy re-emerged from the hallway, curling herself around Riley’s torso. He kissed the top of her head. He held her close, like she was the most delicate and precious person in the world, and she let him.
I just stared. Who took Buffy and replaced her with a pod-person?
What it a minute, she said she was meeting Harmony. Harmony? Buffy hated Harmony. And wasn’t it daylight? Last I knew Harmony was one of the great fanged legions, not someone who would sit around in the sunshine planning homecoming floats. Okay, so maybe vampire Harmony would try to do that anyway, but still.
This wasn’t looking like the best wish ever anymore. I took a drink of milk and watched Buffy and her boyfriend over the rim of my glass. She didn’t look depressed. She didn’t look haunted. She didn’t look mad at Riley.
She looked happy. She looked whole.
But the way she moved was different, I realized as Buffy slung her purse over her shoulder. She gave mom and me a little wave as she pulled Riley from the kitchen. Buffy moved like a normal person, not all predatory with a ‘grrr’ under the surface. Spike told me you can always tell a hunter by the way they walk, the way they watch everything. Buffy wasn’t watching.
The Slayer was gone.