Chapter One: Not Long at All
As the pain sweeps through
Makes no sense for you
Every thrill has gone
Wasn't too much fun at all
But I'll be there for you
As the world falls down.
Jareth rolled the crystal over his wrist and onto the back of his right hand. He flexed his fingers and it smoothly glided onto his left hand. A flick of his wrist sent it back to the right.
Jareth, King of the Goblins, was bored.
Goblins weren't the most scintillating conversationalists, after all. And the other creatures of his realm? They were merely minions—and not very good minions at that. Oh, certainly, they were sycophants, but somehow, they never actually managed to do what he wanted them to do. Every single one of them could muck-up the most simple instructions. And Hogwart? Hogbreath? What was
that annoying dwarf's name? He was the worst of all.
Things just hadn't been the same since he lost Sarah.
Jareth caught the crystal in the palm of his hand. He started to spin the crystal on his palm. Sarah! He had thought he had finally found a consort worthy of himself, but alas!
—she still had ties to the mundane world to which she chose to return. The crystal began to spin out of control; he slapped his other hand over it and halted the crystal in mid-spin. Sarah was gone, but that didn't mean he had to spend the rest of eternity alone. No, indeed. There must be other imaginative young girls with expressive eyes and long, silky dark hair that were unhappy in the mundane world. There must be one lovely, dark-haired teenager who still believed in magic . . .
Jareth lifted his arm and a snow-white owl came to rest on his forearm. He smoothed the soft feathers of the owl's head and looked deeply into its eyes.You'll find her for me, won't you? I know you won't disappoint me
Jareth flung up his arm and the owl winged rapidly away. Jareth smiled. He would find his true consort and forget all about Sarah.
Dawn sat and stared at her hand. The sun turned her skin translucent, and she traced the blue veins lurking just under the surface with her right forefinger. If she concentrated hard enough, she imagined she could see the blood running through her veins on its journey to her heart. Summers blood
, Buffy had said. Just like mine
Dawn clenched her hand until her nails bit into her palm. Am I real?
She wondered. I must be real, because if I wasn't, it wouldn't hurt this much, would it?
She opened her hand and stared at her palm. Four white half-moon indentations showed where she had scored the skin with her nails — and then they were gone. When she took the pressure off, the blood rushed back into the tissues and all signs of her impact disappeared. Poof!
Dawn curled her little finger into her palm and pressed. “Dad,” she whispered, and raised her finger to watch the indentation smooth out as if it had never been.
She pressed her ring finger into her palm. “Friends.” Poof!
Gone. Oh, sure, they made sure she had food to eat and a place to sleep—they passed her around from one apartment to another like a . . . homeless puppy. They weren't really
her friends, after all. They were Buffy's friends. And now that she wasn't the Key anymore—or at least Glory wasn't after her—they were all so wrapped up in their own pain, they couldn't spare a thought for her.
Dawn raised her index and middle fingers and stared at them. “Mom,” she whispered as she curled her second finger. “Buffy,” she breathed as her forefinger joined it. But she didn't press the nails into her palm. She couldn't bear to see the impressions they'd leave disappear. She curled her thumb protectively over the fingers and stood. The sun washed over her, but she couldn't feel its warmth. She couldn't hear the sounds of leaves rustling, although she could see them move.
Some kids skateboarded past on the sidewalk out front, but she couldn't hear them, either. Wasn't there a poem or something called “The Bell Jar”? That's how she felt—like she was standing there surrounded by a glass jar, just like the fireflies she and Buffy used to catch when they were young. Only they really didn't—but she remembered
them doing so. What was
a bell jar anyway? She guessed it didn't matter. It could be a bell jar or a pickle jar or a jelly jar . . .
Dawn heard wings flapping and a sound like a train whistle: Whooooooo
. She looked up. A pure-white owl circled her head, banked and swooped toward her. She was too frozen within her imaginary jar to even move.
The owl turned its head to stare at her as it flew past. Now that was just creepy
. The owl came around for another pass, and then caught an air current and glided off.
Weren't owls supposed to be nocturnal? She'd never seen one before in the daytime. Dawn shrugged. Sunnydale—Home of the Weird. Anything could happen in Sunnydale, she guessed.
Dawn hurried down Elm Street. She was supposed to meet Anya at the Magic Box and she was already late. Xander was going to pick them both up at the shop; they'd go out for pizza and she'd spend the night at their place. Dawn sighed. She really didn't think she could deal with Anya's chipperness and Xander's well-meaning concern tonight. She wished she could go to Spike's instead, but the last two times she'd stopped by his crypt, he hadn't been there.
Spike was taking Buffy's death really hard, and Dawn was worried about him. Spike was the only one who seemed to be grieving as deeply as she was, but they couldn't help each other if she couldn't find him. She'd give him a few more days, and then she'd ask Tara to do a locater spell. But right now? Right now, Dawn wanted to go home
The traffic light changed, and Dawn turned right instead of crossing Main Street as she had planned. She walked rapidly down Main, in the opposite direction from the Magic Box, turned right onto Poplar, and then left onto Revello. She fumbled in her shoulder bag for her keys. Her hand closed around them and she ran the last few yards to the only home she had ever known.
Her hands were shaking as she tried to fit the house key into the lock. On her second try, the key slid in. She turned the key, the tumblers aligned, and the door opened. Dawn slipped inside, closed the door behind her, and then stood leaning on it for a few moments as she waited for her rapid heartbeat to return to normal.
She took a deep breath and looked around. A film of dust lay over everything, making the room look unused and alien. Dawn turned her back on the living room—in which no one 'lived' any more—and climbed the stairs to the second floor.
Dawn gently pressed her hand to the closed door of her mother's room. If she didn't actually open
the door, she could pretend mom was in there – resting – before getting up to make dinner. Dawn would sit on a stool in the kitchen, picking pieces of carrot out of the salad to nibble on while mom bustled around preparing dinner.
Dawn turned to face Buffy's door. It wasn't completely closed, and she could see the open weapons chest, discarded articles of clothing on the bed as if Buffy had changed in a hurry to go out and patrol.
If the downstairs was empty of life, the upstairs was peopled by ghosts.
Dawn went to the end of the hall and gave a hard tug on the cord that opened the trap door and released the folding stairs to the attic. She climbed the stairs and stretched out her hand to feel for the light switch. She climbed over a trunk, skirted Joyce's sewing machine, which was covered by an old sheet, and edged past filing cabinets containing gallery records, income tax paperwork and other boring stuff, until she came to the shelves built against the far wall.
She reached for a shoe box labeled 'DAWN' and sat cross-legged on the floor to open it. She ruffled through report cards, school papers, hand-made holiday cards, including the ubiquitous hand-tracing-cum-Thanksgiving turkey that she had made when she was six. How could none of this be real? She remembered bringing that silly hand-turkey home from school and Joyce proudly pinning it to the refrigerator door with magnets.
Dawn closed the box and carefully replaced it on the shelf. A cardboard box marked:Property of Joyce
Keep Out ! ! !
This means YOU, Darlene !
in adolescent handwriting made her smile and she carefully lifted the heavy box down. It was filed with books Joyce had loved that had gone out of fashion by the time Buffy and Dawn were ready for them. The Babysitter's Club
and Sweet Valley High
had supplanted Nancy Drew
. Dawn lifted out a large book and skimmed the first page.She was such a little girl that one did not expect to see such a look on her small face. It would have been an old look for a child of twelve, and Sara Crewe was only seven. The fact was, however, that she was always dreaming and thinking odd things and could not herself remember any time when she had not been thinking things about grown-up people and the world they belonged to. She felt as if she had lived a long, long time
Dawn rolled her eyes. Oh, pu-lease! Who writes this stuff?
She checked the front of the book. Frances Hodgson Burnett. Figures
. She tucked the lame-ass Sara Crewe back in the box. Her eye was drawn to a book of rich, burgundy leather. A Celtic-looking design was stamped in gold leaf on the cover. She stared at the intricate design. It was mesmerizing. It looked like a maze of some kind. She reached out with a forefinger to trace the curves and knots of the pattern, but was distracted by a muffled pounding.
” Xander's voice called, frantic with worry. “Are you in there?”
She hurried to the slanted vent that allowed air to circulate in the attic and called down.
“I'm here, Xander.”
“Good gravy, Dawn, You really had us worried!”
“I'm sorry!” Dawn called. “I'll be right down.”
Dawn slipped the burgundy leather book in her shoulder bag and hurried to the ladder. She turned off the attic light, scrambled down the stairs and pulled the cord to retract them. She ran down the stairs from the second floor and flung open the front door.
Xander grabbed her shoulders and looked searchingly at her then gathered her into a bear hug.
“Don't do that to me again, Dawn Giovanni! When you didn't show up at the store I was afraid something had happened to you.”
“I'm sorry I worried you, but come on! What could happen? Glory's gone and—”
“This is still Sunnydale,” Xander said seriously. “Things happen.”
“I know. I'm sorry. I just needed some time alone.”
“I get that. But next time, tell somebody, okay? We're a team here. If you want alone time, just let somebody know where you're going and when you'll be back, okay?”
Xander held out his hand with the little finger crooked. Dawn curled her little finger around his.