We play out our last scene
You won’t cry, I won’t scream
—Alien Ant Farm “Movies”
“It will be easier once the Slayer is in college and no longer living at home,” said Brother Josef.
Brother Dominik looked through his notes. “One would think so,” he ran his finger down a long list labeled ‘Year 13’. He looked up again. “One would also be wrong.”
It sucked that Buffy was away at college. The fact that she was only across town somehow made it that much worse. Plus, she never got to see Willow or Xander anymore. The extra Mom-time was good and all, but it reminded Dawn an awful lot of the summer that Buffy had been missing. Dawn knew Mom had suspected the worst, that Buffy was dead in a ditch somewhere, but Dawn had totally guessed stuck in a demon dimension…not that she’d been dumb enough to voice her fears, because Dawn knew what happened when you said crazy things in front of parents. At least Xander and Willow had come by and checked on her regularly then.
“Why are you here?” Dawn crossed her arms and glared at Buffy.
“Hello to you to, Dawnie,” Buffy said, and then Dawn felt bad because Buffy looked bummed out about something, and if Dawn had to wager…not that she knew anything about gambling, but it was something Spike would say and therefore cool…it was a dumped-by-a-boy kind of bummed, because she’d looked that way with Scott Hope, and she’d looked that way times-a-thousand with Angel, and Dawn had even seen the precursor to Sad Buffy Because Boys when she’d been mooning over Billy Fordham, and look how well that all turned out. Buffy really had a track record of having to kill her love interests, now that Dawn thought about it.
“Geez,” said Dawn, “what was his name and how long were you going out before you had to stake him?” Buffy blinked at her. “Ooh! Or was it decapitation this time? Because…”
“No one’s dead,” Buffy said, and then thought for a second. “I kind of want to hit him over the head with something, though.”
“Dawn honey, I don’t know where this bloodthirsty streak is coming from. Buffy, don’t encourage her. And hold still, or I’m going to stick you with pins.”
“Okay,” Dawn said once they were back in Buffy’s bedroom, shooed away from the pins and alterations, “spill. And don’t leave anything out, because I’m thirteen now, and also, you don’t want me making the same mistakes you do.”
“Ugh,” Buffy groaned and flopped backwards onto the bed. “His name is Parker, and I thought he was…I thought we had an emotional connection. Like, he really got the ‘life is short’ thing. He seemed really nice, and into me, and then I slept with him and found out that that’s all he was interested in. And to add insult to…more insults, Spike showed up in the middle of me getting very publicly dumped and went out of his way to mock me for it. Stupid vampire,” Buffy grumbled, “whose cheekbones in no way looked extra chiseled just because he was standing around in the sun, and freckles wouldn’t be cute on him at all, and…”
“Spike’s back in town?” Dawn squeaked.
“Well, he was…I did kick his ass, so maybe he left.”
Dawn was suddenly furious. Spike didn’t even bother to come by and say hi? “I bet Parker made you feel special and stuff and said he’d call you and then he totally didn’t.”
Buffy sat up to look at her. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“Boys suck,” Dawn said.
“You’re not wrong…”
“So can I come with you to this Halloween party?”
“You absolutely cannot go to a frat party with your sister.”
“It’s okay,” Buffy tucked a piece of hair behind Dawn’s ear, “I don’t have a date, and Dawnie hasn’t seen the gang since I started college, and she’ll have a whole basketful of babysitters.”
Dawn knew better than to fume at the ‘babysitter’ remark, so she gave a little huff like Buffy did sometimes, and that seemed to be just the right thing.
“Dawn needs to be home by ten or I’m calling the police.”
“You’re the best mom in the history of Momdom.”
“Be sure and put that on my headstone.”
“Dawnie!” Willow gave Dawn a big grin and a bigger hug.
“Dawnster! Long time no see…”
“How was your cross-country trip Xand?”
“The less said the better, but I can tell you that Oxnard is both a real place and that it probably shouldn’t be.”
“Hey,” said Oz. “I want to say I like your costume, but I’m not quite sure how to take the trench coat. Flasher?”
“Some all-knowing being you are,” Dawn said, “No wonder I don’t believe in you.”
Willow gave Oz an eyeroll. “No, Dawn’s a detective, like Agent Scully. You’re Scully, right?”
“Scully’s a forensic scientist.” Dawn frowned at Willow. “And also, I’m not wearing 4” pumps. I’m a private investigator. Obviously.””
Oz held up his hands. “Granting free will meant I don’t get to know ahead of time what choices you’re going to make. Also, the lack of fedora threw me.”
Dawn sighed. “Fedoras in my size are surprisingly hard to come by in Sunnydale.”
“Which is weird because you have such a big head,” Buffy said. Dawn stuck her tongue out at her.
“Sensible shoes, check. Clarice Starling?” Xander snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “I’ve got it, you’re Nancy Drew…”
“Not Clarice Starling, not Nancy Drew,” Dawn flipped her hair over her shoulder and crossed her arms, “I said private investigator, not FBI agent. Clarice only got put on the case because she was Hannibal Lector’s type, and Nancy Drew is just an amateur hobbyist. I get hired by people to find out if their spouse is cheating on them, or if someone’s long lost relative is really related or only after the inheritance money, or to get the dirt on a racketeering ring and inadvertently start a gang war, or if there was a second werewolf that was actually the murderer. I get paid.”
Xander burst out laughing, and Dawn knew he just thought she was being cute, but it was totally an important distinction. Buffy was like Nancy Drew or Agent Scully…or Daphne Blake…strawberry blonde teenagers on the one hand or tools of a vast bureaucracy on the other, agents without agency, and this was the truth that Dawn held tight with both fists: when she grew up, she was going to be taller than Buffy and she was going to have a career that she actually wanted. Dawn wondered briefly if Buffy was going to have to get a job once she graduated, or if there was some kind of Slayer trust-fund she’d get access to, or…if Buffy was going to have to die again before she even got to find out.
“It’s almost always the second werewolf,” Oz said. “How much just to keep you on retainer?”
“This is…” Dawn looked around at the plastic decorations in the front hall. “Kind of cheesy? Geez, maybe I should have just gone and watched Fright Night with Janice after all.”
“Definitely a Velveeta vibe,” Buffy agreed. “And no Chris Sarandon.”
“Or William the Bloody,” Dawn said under her breath. Buffy had a long history of vampire crushes, and she wasn’t fooling anyone. “Uh, where did everyone go? Buffy…Buffy?” Dawn spun around in a circle. She was completely alone. She really should have just gone to Janice’s. Maybe someday she’d learn to stay in on Halloween.
Dawn clutched her trench coat around her stomach and tried not to panic. Buffy’s trench coat. Whatever. This was just another Halloween on the Hellmouth, and Dawn would be okay, she just needed to find Buffy. Or maybe she should just stay where she was? Mom told her to always stay put if she realized she’d gotten lost, because people always looked first in the last place they saw you, but the creeping gooseflesh up Dawn’s spine was telling her to get the heck out of the haunted frat house, and she could just wait outside, and that was a good solid plan except the door was gone and Buffy was gone, and…oh god, what if Buffy was dead?
That’s dumb, she told herself, you’re being dumb, and Buffy is fine, and she took another deep breath. Buffy wouldn’t go down without a fight, and she sure wouldn’t go quietly. That probably meant going towards the screaming coming from down the hallway rather than away, but…
The plastic skeleton that wasn’t plastic anymore, but a real life Ampata-type mummy-thing staggering towards her with outraised arms convinced Dawn to run.
Anything But Dead, Anything But Dead, Anything But Dead…None of the doors opened.
Faith kept checking the front window, and then cracking her knuckles until Dawn asked her if she was scared.
“Hell, no. I’m seriously itching to dust that jackoff. B will probably kill me a little, but…” Faith shrugged and then plopped down on the couch and patted the spot next to her. Dawn sat down warily, but chatting with Faith was better than worrying about whatever First Evil thingy Buffy was dealing with. Or, you know, Angel trying to kill everyone again.
“I was you, once. Stuck in shit situations, just a little kid, you know? But I realized that as long as I survived, I was winning. So, I made up this game called ‘Anything But Dead’.”
“How does it go?” Dawn asked, interested in spite of herself. It sounded a lot like ‘Anywhere But Here’, except a lot more terrible…and a lot more practical.
Faith laughed. “Kinda self-explanatory. The second it looks like things are gonna go tits up, you look around…Where can I run, can I squeeze through that window, and if I do, how far a drop into the alley is it, how can I make this plastic spoon into a weapon? You know, that kind of stuff.”
Dawn didn’t bother to look over her shoulder; she could hear the thing’s footsteps dragging closer. She was running out of hallway, and doors, and options.
“How do you turn a plastic spoon into a weapon?” Dawn hadn’t even considered this was a possibility. Faith smirked, and Dawn suddenly felt like Faith would completely understand the whole barbeque fork thing. “Always go for the eyes, Dawnie. Or, depending on where things are at, the nuts.”
“Okay,” Dawn nodded.
“Good,” Faith nodded back. “You just gotta remember: anything but dead counts as a win, and you, my friend, are a winner.”
Dawn thought about it for a minute. “What if…what about being turned? You know, into a vampire. That’s kind of not dead.”
Faith raised an eyebrow at her. “Well, I can’t speak from personal experience, but do you know any decent vamps? Even ones with a soul?”
Dawn decided not to say anything, because honestly, Faith’s life sounded even weirder than hers.
Faith got up and looked out the front window again. “Hey, check it out! I think it’s gonna snow.”
She should have tried to find a weapon. There was probably a stake in Buffy’s coat, but Dawn had no idea about where to stake a reanimated skeleton, which, did that count as a zombie or did it get its own category? She would have to remember to ask Giles the next time she saw him, if she wasn’t dead before then…No. Anything but.
Dawn wiggled the knob on the last door. It wouldn’t budge. Dawn threw her weight against it, and kicked it, and the monster was almost on top of her. Maybe she could throw her coat over its head to confuse it and duck under it and get away…The door swung inward suddenly, into somewhere dark, and Dawn’s momentum carried her with it, over the threshold, and then there wasn’t anything under her feet but air and she was falling.
“Oof,” she coughed, landing, all the air in her lungs knocked away. Something had broken her fall, something kind of squishy, and she couldn’t breathe and oh god it was a dead body and she couldn’t even scream.
Dawn rolled to the side onto dirt…a dirt floor, she must be in the basement, and why were there no stairs, although falling down stairs was bad too, she knew this, and she needed to start breathing again, she needed her lungs to suck in some oxygen, because she needed to panic. She managed to get on her hands and knees, and finally gasp a breath, and then her brain finally started working again.
She fished into her jeans’ pocket for the Bic lighter she’d stuffed in there just in case, extracting it finally, and fumbled with the child safety catch before she could get the striker to work. She blinked in the sudden brightness and looked around. Creepy basement, check. Dead body in the corner leering at her, check. Dead body next to her…oh god. Buffy.
Naturally, Dead Buffy chose that second to open her eyes. “Dawnie?” Dawn screamed and dropped the lighter.
“Oh my god, stay away from me,” Dawn tried to crawl away, but Dead Buffy’s hand shot out and grabbed Dawn’s wrist. Dawn screamed again.
“What is with you?” Dead Buffy hissed at her. “Try a little louder next time, I don’t think they heard you in the attic.”
“Buffy? Are you still alive?”
“Did you hit your head?” Dawn’s lighter flared to life again and Okay Maybe Not Dead Buffy was frowning at her. “Why would I be dead? And why do you have a lighter?”
Buffy sighed. “Nice try. You know what Mom’s gonna say if she finds you with this.”
“’Leave the arson to your sister’,” Dawn recited dutifully, “’one juvenile delinquent in the family is enough’.”
“Wait, you’ve actually had that conversation?’
“Huh,” said Buffy. “Why did you think I was dead, though?”
“I don’t know,” Dawn said, now that she thought about it, “I guess it’s just something I’m afraid of.”
“Oh Dawn,” Buffy pulled her into a hug.
“I’m going to have to put this Tender Moment on a figurine,” sneered the dead body in the corner. “Your fears are well-founded, kid. Twenty bucks says this Slayer doesn’t even make it past her sophomore year of college. Or, you know, the rest of the night.”
“Are we talking the Royal Doulton or the Avon?” Buffy flipped to her feet, pulling Dawn up with her.
“What do you think?” the dead body said.
Buffy spun around in a really cool roundhouse kick and then followed up with a knee to the groin. Dawn winced. Even though the guy was dead, it looked painful. “Ding-dong, Avon lady…”
“Oh crap,” said the dead body as Buffy swept its feet out from under it.
“That’s right. It’s time for a makeover. And good news…I make house calls.”
“Did you have fun?” Joyce looked at her watch. “You’re home early.”
“It was okay,” Dawn shrugged. “Buffy did squish a tiny fear demon flat…”
“That’s nice, honey.”
“We’ll be upstairs, Mom,” Buffy called over her shoulder. “Sister stuff.”
“Oh, well you’d better take the rest of this candy then.”
“Are you sure you’re okay?” Buffy quit picking through the candy bars to look at her. “That was pretty intense.”
Dawn curled herself into a little ball around one of Buffy’s pillows. “I don’t like being afraid of things. I hate being all normal and helpless and a little kid.”
Buffy lay down next to her. “I’m afraid of things, too, Dawnie. Being the Slayer doesn’t change that.”
“Yeah, but you can beat things up and stuff. All I’m good at is running and screaming.”
“Don’t underestimate the power of your shrieking,” Buffy smiled at her. “I bet there are monsters out there whose heads would totally explode when you hit that upper decibel.”
“You’re just trying to make me feel better,” Dawn grumbled.
“Well of course I am, doofus, that’s what big sisters are for.”
“I don’t want you to die, Buffy.”
Buffy sighed. “I don’t want me to die, either. But…don’t be afraid of it. We both know it’s going to happen eventually. You can hate it, because I sure do, but don’t let it ruin the time we have together.”
“I hate Halloween,” Dawn said. “Oh, and your birthday…”
“Don’t forget apocalypse season.”
Dawn sat up and swiped the Mounds Bar that suddenly showed itself at the bottom of the candy bowl. “Mmmf, so good…What do you think it’s going to be this year?”
“Hmm. Trolls? We haven’t done trolls yet.”
“Nah, you could totally take a troll…Maybe the whole Y2K thing will turn out to be an actual problem.”
“Well if so, I’m counting on Wills to fix it.”
“Maybe it’ll be an alien invasion,” Dawn mused.
“I’m not sure what I’d do about that,” Buffy grabbed the last Special Dark bar. Dawn let her, but not because Buffy was dying young or anything. “Maybe I should try and be sick in May? Do you think it would be War of the Worlds aliens, or Independence Day aliens, or…”
“Just hope it’s not Aliens aliens.”
Buffy stretched back out on the bed and laced her hands behind her head. “I can just see Giles being all, ‘Aliens have invaded Zimbabwe. There’s no time for rational solutions.’”
“Or Xander. He likes to panic. Except it would be, ‘Aliens have invaded Zimbabwe and there’s no time to get donuts’.” Dawn found a Butterfinger and did not offer it to Buffy.
“Xand should become a pastry chef. Then he could be on the first line of defense.”
Dawn giggled. “Xand’s Halloween costume for next year. Although with his luck Ethan would show up again and he’d get turned into the Swedish Chef.”
“I can actually see Xander as a Muppet…But what do you even do for Independence Day aliens? I guess Willow’s up again with the hacker thing.”
“I don’t know…be drunk and fly a crop duster?” Dawn suggested. “Spike could do that. I wonder if he knows how to fly?”
“Why would Spike know how to fly an airplane?”
Dawn frowned at her sister. “Why wouldn’t he? He’s been alive, for like, ever.”
Buffy sighed. “You shouldn’t be hanging around with vampires, Dawnie.”
“Okay, first of all, I didn’t even know he was back in town, and second of all, pot or kettle much? You were moping about stupid Angel all summer. Besides, Spike is way better looking.”
“Dawn Summers! He is not!”
“Uh-huh. I guess it’s true, you do start to go blind when you get older.”
“It’ll probably be something mundane like someone trying to open the Hellmouth again.”
“Fine, hide in the apocalyptic, but I know you know I’m right. It would be cool if there were dragons, though…What? I’m just saying.”
“You just want dragons so Mom can’t blame us if something gets set on fire.”
“That was not, strictly speaking, necessary.”
“You know it is a possibility,” said Brother Matyáš. “The Beast is nigh unkillable. Let the Key be prepared for loss. If it comes down to it, let the Slayer be able to make the sacrifice.”