~~~ ~~~ ~~~
I don’t think I heard Buffy and Riley leave. They were there and then they were gone, and I was still holding a cookie halfway to my mouth.
Mom was saying something about getting her camera serviced to go and take some promo shots for new pieces at the gallery and did I want to come along to the camera store with her.
I must have muttered something in the negative because Mom shook her head. “You used to love coming down to the gallery when we first moved here. I miss you in the afternoons.”
I made a squeak of some sort, which Mom seemed to interpret as a denial. “I know. The coven work is very important to you. And it is to me too, especially after what they did to help with the tumor. I understand all of that. But if you ever want to skip out and come say hello to your old mother, I won’t say no.”
“Oh, Mom, it’s not that.” What could I say? That apparently her tumor was fixed because I made some stupid wish? That she was here but Buffy wasn’t Buffy any more? I stuffed the cookie in my mouth and chewed loudly to drown out the big old demons of confusion running around inside my head. I needed some time to think- too much was happening.
Mom sighed. “Okay, Dawnie, I’ll leave you here. Besides, your history tutor will be coming by in an hour. Make sure your homework is done by then.”
She gathered her purse and a light jacket, ran a brush through her curls, dropped a kiss to my forehead and was out the door.
As soon as the door clicked shut, I raced up the stairs.
A history tutor was coming. History was always one of my best subjects, mostly because Spike and Anya had the best stories about actually living the history I had to read about. Even if the classes didn’t test about the massacres and demon disasters, they at least made for great background material. Why was a history tutor coming for me? A math tutor would have made much more sense. When she was telling me about her glory days, Anya said people were left to flounder through their new realities without help- but this sounded an awful lot like help to me.
Time to figure out why.
I locked my bedroom door behind me and knelt by the bookshelf. There, in bright pink and purple, were my journals. My beautiful journals. The ones I destroyed when I found out I was the Key. I wondered what else was left from my old life. My gaze flicked to the jewelry box on my desk, wondering if all the magical trinkets I stole from the Magic Box were inside. There would be plenty of time to look later- when I was done reading about my second fake life.
I pulled the first journal out and skimmed through it briefly. It was from when I was ten.It happened again after Uncle Max’s funeral. Daddy said I was lying, but I wasn’t. Uncle Max talked to me and told me that the pair of shoes he was wearing was cursed. Isn’t that silly, cursed shoes? Daddy grounded me for five days.
What had happened? And that didn’t sound like Daddy at all. I was always his little Pumpkin, even when he and Mom fought about Buffy’s problems. Mom always told Buffy it wasn’t her fault, but we both knew what had happened. Buffy was a lot smarter than she looked.
I would listen from the landing in the house in LA and try not to let my parents see me. Buffy was out slaying and they thought I was asleep- and they would yell. Mom just didn’t get it, and Dad didn’t want to. Then the accusations started about the secretaries and that was that.
What was different now? The next volume was from age thirteen- the year before I would have been created.Mom got in touch with a medium, said I needed to be trained. I didn’t do anything wrong! All of them want to talk to me because I’m easier to see. They only have three days and if they can find me, they want to talk. The key between life and death or something like that. I didn’t try to do it. Mom says it’s not why Daddy left. That he would have left anyway, but I don’t believe her. Why would he want a daughter that talked to dead people?
Oh my god. I’m that kid from that movie. I see dead people! Like, real dead people, not undead people like Spike. I turned around and scanned the room but nobody jumped out and said boo. This was ridiculous. I never talked to dead people before. Or, at least not that I noticed. Then again, I hadn’t been alive that long, not for real.
And it was my fault that my parents divorced now? Hey, that’s not fair! Everyone knows they started fighting about Buffy’s slaying, not that they knew what that was.
Except that Buffy isn’t the slayer. I flipped through every journal on the shelf and nothing, nowhere mentioned slayers or slaying. Nothing mentioned blood on Buffy’s clothes, late nights or vampire boyfriends.
Only me and more dead people. Apparently a lot of dead people. What gives?
I flopped back on the bed and began to flip through the journals again, trying to remember what happened on the same dates in my actual life. By the time I reached what would have been last month, it was almost time for my history tutor to get there. So far I learned that I’d never been kissed, that I had been in the coven since we moved to Sunnydale, that my sister was a prom queen-and was still rather bitchy about people touching her stuff- and that I had apparently screwed up this world something fierce.
Being a teenager sucks. Being me sucks even more.
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
The doorbell rang precisely at five. I think I flew down the stairs, skidding to a stop on the doormat. This was it-on the other side of the door was my salvation-I just knew it. I opened it with a bright smile on my face. The young woman on the other side was startlingly familiar, but not at all who I expected.
“Hi Dawn. How’re you today? I’m full of anger that no amount of orgasms or monetary compensation will soothe.”
I blinked and took a step back. “Anya?”
“Yes, you said that, you incredibly stupid girl. What have you done?”
Oh, yes, this was Anya- my Anya. “I didn’t mean to!”
She shoved me back in the house and up the stairs. Her grip on my shoulders was hard, pinching, and I squeaked. I could smell the perfume she preferred, swirling along beside us. It smelled like home- the home I had known for nearly a year. She and Xander spent enough time staying over and babysitting me that certain parts of the house began to smell like them- the nose itchy sawdust, the smell of well worn money- smells that made it that much clearer that my mother, then Buffy, was gone.
“Didn’t mean to, my foot. You said the ‘w’ word! You know better than to say the ‘w’ word- especially to one of my friends! What’s wrong with you!”
“I didn’t know she was your friend! Besides, she was nice to me.”
“Justice demons are always nice to their targets- it’s how we stay in business.” She slammed my bedroom door and plunked me down at my desk.
Her hair was long, longer than I remembered it, and darker, almost chocolate. She was wearing a sundress covered in red polka dots with cherry red espadrilles on her feet. Her makeup was flawless but behind the mascara her eyes were furious.
“You’ve done it now, Dawn. Are you happy? Happy that my Xander doesn’t know who I am? That Giles is in England somewhere and that stupid old Magic Box owner is still alive? That my hard earned capital evaporated like a puddle on a hot day?”
“Uh, no. What do you mean Xander doesn’t know you?”
She waved her hands around a bit before dropping to the bed. “Oh, Dawn. You changed it all-“
“No I didn’t!”
“Okay, Halfrek changed it all, but if she didn’t have your rage to work with the spell never would have worked this way. You’re special Dawn-not just because you’re Buffy’s sister. You’re special in your own right, full of power. Did you ever think what would happen if you turned that power outward?”
Did I? I thought I was done with being special, with being the Key. After Glory I thought it was gone, that there was nothing left in me to make a difference. Was I wrong? I picked up a pencil from my desk and started swirling it around my fingers. Anya was waiting for an answer but I didn’t know what to say.
She sighed. “Xander doesn’t know me because he’s not my Xander. He works as a manual laborer and never even graduated high school. I saw him at a construction site near the campus but he didn’t know me. He looked and whistled, just like the other stupid men, but he wasn’t mine for the sex.”
My jaw dropped. “But, how? Willow made sure he did all his class work.”
Now Anya’s frown turned vicious. “Oh you did well there, Dawnie. Willow doesn’t exist. Her mother died in a lycanthrope attack the year before she was supposed to have been born. Personally, I don’t think Hallie liked the competition.”
Internally I was sort of frozen. Willow had taken care of me, held me when I cried for Buffy, tried to cook me peanut butter and banana quesadillas when I was sad. And now she didn’t exist. I did that. I made her gone.
I made my mother well, Buffy normal, Xander a failure, and Willow gone.
The worst part? A tiny little voice in the back of my head was glad that Willow wasn’t around to screw things up any more.
I grabbed the trashcan from by my desk and vomited.
Anya watched me with hard eyes, one hand smoothing her new hair. She twirled a perfect red nail around a curl and waited for me to finish.
“Now you get it. Pity you couldn’t figure it out before you opened your mouth.” She crossed her feet at her ankles and opened her purse. “But it gets better.”
“Better?” I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear any more. Ever.
She handed me a newspaper clipping. My eyes zoomed in to the words vampire, legal and voting in the senate. Some people named Addison and Clark were getting their day in the Supreme Court. I couldn’t process it at first. How could it be? Vampires out in the world, people knew about them? They were becoming legal citizens? Not yet, but soon. The article remained hopeful. Rights for all Americans, undead or living.
“What is this?”
“Your beautiful new world.” Anya actually smiled a bit. “I guess you did us demons all a favor.”
I froze. “What did you say?”
“D’Hoffryn was so pleased that he gave Hallie free discretion how to handle things. She decided to give me my old job back. Wasn’t that sweet of her?” Anya sounded bitter, little frown lines radiating from her eyes. “But she had a point. If things had gone the way they were supposed to, people would have died. Including me. And that was after Xander left me at the altar. D’Hoffryn showed me what would have happened and it sucked. But it was still my life, not something someone else cooked up.”
“Er.” I gaped at her a bit and wiped a tissue on my mouth. Anya would have died? Could I trade Anya for Willow? And who else would die? “What do you want me to say?”
She looked at me then, ancient eyes in a young woman’s face. “I don’t want you to say anything. I want you to understand. I want you to get it. I want you to see what you’ve done.”
She started to cry, crumpling in on herself. I waited for a moment, but when she didn’t look like she was going to hit anything, I moved to sit with her on the bed. I wrapped an arm around her bony shoulders and held her while she cried for a lost fiancé that would have left her anyway.
“I am so angry with you, so very, very angry with you. But what you took away from me is nothing I would have lost anyway, and I get to live as a justice demon again. Do you know how long I wanted to come back to this? And now that I’m here I don’t know if I want to do it anymore. I just want my Xander shaped boyfriend.”
I whispered, “My mom is alive. My coven saved her with magic. If we’d used magic could we have saved her too?”
Anya sniffled. “I don’t know. The rules are all wrong here. Magic is normal, everywhere. Halfrek had so much fun making this reality- all the horrors that everyday people get to deal with. She loves it. D’Hoffryn loves it. I just want to go home.”
“Me too.” I thought for a moment. “Can we? Can we make it go back? If you know what would happen, could we change it?”
Anya shook herself and sat up, sniffling into a tissue from a box on the bedside stand. “I can’t do that to Hallie. I know how painful it is to lose your power center. And I’m not even sure it works that way anymore. I don’t have my old necklace, but I know I can do everything I used to be able to. I don’t know the rules.”
I grabbed a tissue for myself. “Neither do I.”
We looked at each other for a moment before starting to laugh.
It was ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous.
We laughed until we had nothing left.