Who in the hell do you think you are?
Well, right you are
—John Lennon “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)”
Dawn remembered going to the Santa Monica Pier, one of the last really good times from when her parents were still together: she’d gotten too much sun and eaten too much cotton candy and Dad had walked around with his arm slung over Mom’s shoulders as they ambled up and down the boardwalk, and when the sun was getting ready to slip away Dawn had pleaded for one last ride on the Ferris Wheel.
As the wheel ascended to its apogee, Dawn craned her neck trying to watch the last bit of day fade redly into the horizon…there were the lights of civilization flung wide and glittering on one side, and the unfathomable Pacific on the other, and Buffy, sitting next to her, wasn’t looking at either, she was staring straight ahead with an inscrutable look on her face.
When the bottom fell out of Dawn’s world and she found out that her parents were getting divorced, she’d crawled into bed with Buffy. Buffy let her hide her sniffles in Mr. Gordo’s fur, and she’d asked Buffy when she’d known.
“Santa Monica,” was all Buffy said.
Watching Faith getting stuffed into an ambulance, Buffy had that same look now.
Dawn wasn’t really sure where Faith ranked in her personal pantheon of Bad People. Angel was the reigning Number One, without the soul for obvious reasons, and with the soul for breaking Buffy’s heart like, a lot. She really didn’t like Willow’s mom, although mostly that showed up as feeling bad for Willow, and she didn’t like Xander’s parents either, so maybe it was just normal for parents to suck.
Pat from the book club had been all kinds of terrible the summer Buffy was gone, and Dawn hadn’t been at all upset that she’d been turned into a zombie. For one thing, she’d convinced her mom that Sue Grafton wasn’t suitable reading for a twelve-year-old, so Dawn had to get Willow to check her out a copy of N is for Noose, except the waiting list at the library was really long and she’d had to wait all summer. Reading under the covers in the middle of August was suffocating, and then she hadn’t been able to have all the fun talks with her mom about where in Santa Barbara the scenes were set. Dawn wanted to be a cool detective when she grew up, just like Kinsey Millhone, and Pat was getting in the way of her dreams.
She’d hated Principal Synder on principle, not that it mattered anymore, and actually a lot of the people on Dawn’s list were dead, which made Dawn feel weird and kind of like a big jerk.
But mostly Dawn didn’t hate Faith, even though she knew she was supposed to. It’s not like Faith was the first person in Buffy’s life to say ‘I’ll kill you’ and really mean ‘I love you’.
Buffy brought her home for dinner, and the dismissive ‘Hey, kid,’ was annoying, but Dawn caught Faith sizing her up when she glanced at the mirror over the sideboard. Dawn realized how weird the whole situation must be for Faith, who didn’t have a home, or a family, or, as she watched Faith inhaling the food in front of her, nearly enough to eat, because ‘this broccoli is the best thing ever, Joyce,’ said no one, ever.
And then Faith had turned out to be totally cool at Christmas…
There was the time that Faith showed up at their house and Buffy left with her, leaving Willow sitting alone in Buffy’s bedroom. Dawn pretended she hadn’t been trying to overhear their conversation and wandered in with her hands shoved in her pockets, and Willow had excused Buffy’s complete and total rudeness with a shrug. “It’s Slayer stuff, Dawnie. You know, people who aren’t us.”
Dawn had totally cheered Willow up by asking a lot of questions about the protection charm she’d made, even though Dawn wondered why Buffy needed a charm when it was everyone around Buffy that always seemed to end up in trouble. Dawn knew Willow pretty much hated Faith, but Dawn was pretty sure it was just easier than hating Buffy for not noticing how hard Willow was trying.
When Dawn was feeling charitable, she guessed that being the Slayer sucked a lot more than Buffy let on, even to herself; when she wasn’t, she wanted to scream at Buffy that the world didn’t revolve around her, which…that was kind of what Faith was trying to tell Buffy, too.
Dawn knew that Faith had killed a guy on accident, and Dawn had thought about it a lot, what she would do if it had happened to her. Dawn totally got the fear of getting in trouble for things that you didn’t mean to happen. And the whole Faith trying to kill Angel thing…Dawn cared that Buffy was upset, because she loved Buffy more than anyone except Mom, but Dawn really didn’t think it was worth trying to kill Faith over it. Dawn’s only real conclusion was that love made people really, really dumb.
“Buffy!” Dawn pounded on the bathroom door, “Quit hogging the bathroom!”
Buffy stuck her head out and she gave Dawn that look again, and then it was gone and replaced with a sly smile. “You just miss me ‘cause I’m never around anymore, huh?”
Dawn crossed her arms. “Well, duh…”
“Cool. I’ll uh, be right out and then we can hang out or something. I bet you’ve got all the gossip from listening at doors, don’tcha?”
It took Buffy forever to get ready…like always, but then Dawn was actually getting to go to a Scooby meeting, and how cool was that?
This was not what Dawn had pictured happening. Scooby meetings were one thing, but getting to tag along with Buffy to the Bronze was even better than a haunted frat party. Hopefully. Buffy was acting kind of twitchy, and while the Coke with a slice of lime from the bar was all cool and adult-y, Buffy’s offer to spike it with rum was a little strange. Dawn just looked at her, and Buffy shrugged and said, ‘Whatever, watch my drink,’ and hit the dance floor.
Dawn leaned against the wall and sipped her Coke and eyed Buffy gyrating everywhere, and Dawn wondered what the heck was up between Buffy and Riley and then she was annoyed with Buffy all over again, for not keeping Dawn in the loop, again. Like, would it kill her to bring her boyfriend over to dinner to meet Mom? It must not be very serious was all Dawn could come up with.
“’Lo, Little Bit.” Spike frowned down at her. “Wot in the bloody hell are you doin’ here?”
Dawn resisted the urge to kick him in the shin. Or maybe somewhere a little higher. She scowled at him. “I didn’t realize we were still on speaking terms, Spike.”
Spike sighed and took a sip of his beer, and then showed a flash of his vampire face to the people sitting at the nearest table. He pulled the freshly vacated chair out for Dawn, and then she sighed too and grudgingly sat down in it. “Here’s the thing,” he said, once he settled next to her, “shite has been really complicated.”
“I can only imagine,” Dawn rolled her eyes, “what with the broken engagement and all.”
Spike’s jaw clenched, but he didn’t say anything. Dawn refused to feel bad while he toyed with the label on his beer bottle. “’M sorry I didn’t stop by for a chinwag, Niblet. Somehow I ended up with Harm as a travelling companion, and I sort of assumed I should steer her clear of you and yours. Didn’t mean for anyone to find out I was in town at all…”
“Right,” Dawn stuck her chin out, “except for the whole part about your being in town to find a secret decoder ring so you could kill Buffy…”
“That ring was legend, Dawn. The plan was: find it, off anyone who knew I had it, and then…”
“Kill Buffy?” Dawn prompted.
Spike scratched the back of his neck. “Balls. It looks bad, now that you put it like that.”
“You could have written,” Dawn said. “Like, a postcard or something. They did have mail before you were turned, didn’t they?” Dawn very pointedly raised one eyebrow. “And just so you know, I have my own lighter now.”
Spike grinned at her, “Best watch my step then, yeah?” He frowned, “‘Course, not like I can bite anyone now anyroad. Reckon you’ll have to wait ‘til I’ve found a way around this chip.”
“And then you’ll kill Buffy?” Spike heaved a sigh. Dawn gave him a look. “You can’t fool me, Spike, I know you’re in love with my sister.”
“That was the spell!”
“’That was the spell’,” Dawn mocked in a terrible British accent, “’Dawnie, we want you to be in the wedding party. Can’t wait to be part of your family an’ be a real big brother to you’.”
“’M sorry I didn’t come by,” Spike said again. He bit his lower lip and tried not to smile. “’S a terrible accent, Snack Size.”
“Yeah, well,” Dawn finally relented. Spike making puppy dog eyes was kind of adorable, and it was no wonder that Buffy never quite got around to staking him. “I bet if you’d come by for cocoa instead of being dumb around Buffy, the stupid army guys wouldn’t have nabbed you.”
Spike clutched at his chest. “And she twists the knife...”
“Karma’s a bitch,” Dawn agreed.
“Speaking of…” Spike frowned at Buffy on the dance floor. “Wot’s up with your sis? She kick Cardboard to the curb or summat?”
Dawn sucked the last of her soda through the straw noisily. “How would I know? No one ever tells me anything.”
Brother Matyáš looked over at Brother Josef. Opening the sacramental wine had seemed like a good idea, but now Brother Josef was throwing his quill at the ceiling and trying to get it to stick.
“The Levinson boy,” Brother Dominik was still trying to keep them on track, bless him, “his spell affected the whole of Sunnydale.”
“Except for the abomination Adam,” Brother Matyáš said. “The Key must be kept from him, lest…”
“Well, duh,” interrupted Brother Josef, taking another swig of wine. “She is a thirteen-year-old grr…girl,” he hiccupped, “celebrity crushes are practically a requirement at that age. Surely this one thing will be without incident?”
Dawn snorted to herself. Jonathan was so uncool. The fact that Buffy kept stopping by the house with autographed pictures for Dawn to hang in her room, that her mom totally stole and fanned out all over her bedroom dresser, was the crappy icing on the crappy crapcake. What was the point of being the little sister of someone’s sidekick? It was fine, though, Dawn told herself as she made her way to Restfield Cemetery, because at least she had someone who was cool to hang out with. She’d even remembered to bring marshmallows.
“If it isn’t Bitty Betty,” Spike drawled, when she stuck her head inside his crypt.
Dawn shut the door behind her. “Oh my god, Spike, are you still upset about the whole Faith thing?”
Spike pouted a little bit. “No…” Dawn hopped up on the other sarcophagus and set down her barbecue fork and the marshmallows. Spike tossed his lighter to her. “Okay, yeah.”
Dawn set to work spearing marshmallows. “I get being mad a Faith, but Buffy wasn’t even there.” She flipped open the lighter. “So why are you mad at Buffy?”
“Dunno, Bit. Just that…everything since I’ve come back to Sunnyhell has been one big mindfuck. Went from invincible to totally dependent on that wanker Jonathan’s good graces…got engaged, with Jonathan’s blessing mind you, to your sis, only to find out Red was mucking about with magicks…”
“She really should have waited for Jonathan to try that spell,” Dawn said.
“Well, yeah, dunno what she was thinkin’. An’ then here I was made the fool, yet again. Buffy would never look at me that way, let alone say those things. Dunno what I was thinkin’.”
“Buffy’s not all that special,” Dawn blew out the marshmallows and handed the fork over.
“She’s the Slayer,” Spike said, “I kill Slayers. We’ve been over this.” Spike would probably look more menacing if he didn’t have melted marshmallow stuck to his upper lip.
“Yeah, but…” Dawn frowned, because thinking was kind of making her head hurt, “if you’re the Big Bad, maybe you should kill Jonathans?”
“That doesn’t even make any bloody sense. ‘Sides, without Jonathan, you wouldn’t have this lovely barbeque fork, now would you?”
“Okay wait…” Dawn tried to concentrate. “You were in that wheelchair when he showed up and rescued me.”
“Why didn’t he just stake you?”
“There was no time, Niblet, Dru an’ Angelus were on their way back…”
“No, but I mean…” Dawn stabbed more marshmallows in frustration. “How did you and I get to be friends?”
“Huh,” said Spike. “Huh.”
Dawn stuck her head underneath Spike’s elbow to see better. Jonathan’s mansion was where it always was, with the usual security guard whistling around the perimeter. Dawn wished she’d thought to wear her…well, Buffy’s, trench coat, for the stake out. Which was turning out to be a whole pile of boring.
“If it makes you feel any better, Buffy’s still really pissed at me.”
Spike stubbed out his cigarette and raised an eyebrow. “How’s that?”
“I had to listen to ten minutes straight of, ‘You know I’d never take you to the Bronze, and you know I’d never hit on Spike,’ which, try arguing with Buffy about either of those things, but she totally would. Plus, I think she’s just upset that you were into Faith’s whole sleezy come-on…”
“Hey!” Spike paused in lighting another cigarette. “Wait, you think she would hit on me? In a classy way, mind you…”
Dawn grinned. “Buffy came and had birthday dinner with me and Mom after the whole laryngitis/earthquake double header, and she kept humming under her breath the whole time.”
“So, she was humming ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’.”
Spike grinned back at her, then his face fell. “You’re just sayin’ that to cheer me up. We all know the girl has a secret crush on Jonathan.”
“Oh my god, Spike, this whole thing with Jonathan isn’t real!”
“Fuck. Bloody hell, but that’s hard to remember…D’you think perhaps I’ve been cast in the role of the villain for this little passion play of his, but in reality I’m one of the good guys?”
“I don’t know,” Dawn said, “but if it counts for anything, I think you are.”
“Well, maybe not good, but definitely okay.”
“You’re a bit of all right yourself, Dawn Summers.”
Dawn flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Don’t you forget it…Oh!” She bounced on her feet and pointed, “Monster!”
Dawn looked at the envelope curiously. It had her name on it, and her address like a normal letter, but the rest of it was…It was postmarked from Sunnydale, but the only person who ever sent Dawn mail in Sunnydale was Janice, and Janice never bothered to put stamps on the Christmas cards and birthday party invitations because she lived right down the street and it was quicker to hand-deliver them to Dawn’s mailbox. This envelope was covered with them, but weird old ones that Dawn had never seen before: mostly two-cent stamps, and several thirteen-cent ones, one with a picture of JFK, and one with the liberty bell, and there was even a five-cent stamp with bears on it. The sender must not have any idea how much it cost to mail a letter, because there was easily a couple of dollars’ worth of postage. There was no return address, or if there was it was obscured by another block of stamps. The handwriting, ‘Miss Dawn Summers, 1630 Revello Drive, Sunnydale, California, U.S.A.’, was pretty and kind of old-fashioned...Dawn narrowed her eyes; she had a good guess who the sender was after all.
Dawn slit the envelope open with her pocketknife…a concession from Buffy, and only if she promised not to try using it against demons except as a last resort, except for the tweezers, because nobody liked splinters and there was a whole parable about it and stuff. She wished Buffy had gotten her the one with the corkscrew. Dawn tried to explain about Faith’s whole ‘go for the eyes’ thing, but then Buffy started sniping about bad influences. Buffy was so dumb. It’s not like Dawn was going to go around offering to open wine for the newly risen…even if Spike had told her that when you woke up as a vamp, you really felt like celebrating.
And speaking of Spike…
The handwriting of the letter was different from the neat penmanship on the envelope, block-printed and smeared in places like he’d been in a hurry when he wrote it.
WHEN I SAID SHITE WAS COMPLICATED, I SPOKE TOO SOON. Dawn snorted to herself. Leave it to Spike to find even more trouble to get into.
THE FRANKESTEIN’S MONSTER THAT THE ARMY GITS COOKED UP HAS DECIDED TO RECRUIT ME. THE BLOKE CAN TAKE A PUNCH, SO MY CHOICES ARE BUT TWO: LEAVE SUNNYDALE OR DO AS HE ASKS. THE CARROT IS THE PROMISE OF REMOVING MY CHIP ONCE HIS PLANS ARE REALIZED; THE STICK IS REMOVING MY HEAD. I’M TO USE MY IN WITH YOUR SISTER AND HER MATES TO MANUEVER HER INTO SOME FINAL BATTLE, SO IF YOU HAD BETS ON THIS YEAR’S APOCALYPSE AT WILLY’S, GET READY TO CASH IN. (BUFFY PROBABLY WON’T WANT YOU GAMBLING, SO IGNORE THAT LAST.) THE JOKE’S ON PATCHES, THOUGH, BECAUSE WE ALL KNOW IF THERE’S A FIGHT TO BE HAD, BUFFY WILL BE THERE FOR IT ANYWAY. SHE’S FOILED BETTER PLANS THAN FROM THE LIKES OF HIM.
I NEED YOU TO DO TWO THINGS, DAWN: THE FIRST AND MOST IMPORTANT IS TO STAY AWAY. STAY AWAY FROM MY CRYPT, STAY OUT OF THE CEMETERIES, STAY OUT OF THE WOODS, STAY AWAY FROM CAMPUS. I’M SURE YOU WILL FIND THIS HORRIBLY DULL, BUT IF I CATCH YOU ANYWHERE, I WILL EAT YOU MYSELF.
SECOND, I’M GOING TO TRY AND HELP. SAY NOTHING. AS YOU HAVE CAUSE TO KNOW, THE LESS PEOPLE IN ON A PLAN, THE SAFER IT IS FOR EVERYONE. BUFFY WILL HAVE NO TROUBLE BELIEVING THAT I’M A DOUBLE-CROSSING WANKER, BUT IF I END UP ON THE DUSTY SIDE OF THIS CONFRONTATION, I WANT YOU TO KNOW: I WOULD NEVER BETRAY YOU.
YOURS AND TRULY,
“Well?” asked Brother Josef.
“It will suffice,” said Brother Dominik.
“It will have to.” Brother Matyáš gave the other two a gentle smile. “Do not fret. William the Bloody will protect her until the end of the world.”
“To William the Bloody!” Brother Josef raised his wine bottle in toast and drained the rest of it. Brother Dominik let out a long sigh.
Dawn was dreaming. She could tell because for some reason she was a short bald man with thick round glasses…which, really, no weirder than other dreams she’d had. There was a recurring one where she was just a happy bundle of light. Not much happened in those dreams except when she woke up everything had a green after-image for a little while.
Right now though, she was standing backstage watching a motley cast of characters swirl around her, making the red velvet curtains sway like sea-grass, and geez, it must be the biggest production ever. Willow appeared before her wearing her normal Willow-costume…talk about typecasting, and she looked…lost. Dawn wanted to say something to her, like ‘Hey Wills, this is kind of crazy chaotic, do you think the director can pull it off?’ or ‘This is neat! Are you in the production crew?’ but all that came out was: “I’m holding space for the cheese slices.”
Dawn looked down, and a package of Kraft Singles was fanned out in front of her on a little serving tray. Willow looked even more confused, and Dawn wanted to stomp her foot in frustration, because Willow really just wanted to go somewhere quiet and have a grilled cheese sandwich, she had that look on her face. And then Willow disappeared into the curtains.
Xander’s basement looked a little worse for wear and smelled even more like old socks than Dawn remembered. Dawn hoped he’d decide to move out eventually. Even Spike’s crypt was less depressing…although that might have more to do with the fact that any screaming you heard in the background was probably someone getting chased by a demon, not Xander’s parents having another ugly fight. Poor Xander. Dawn loved Xander, because when you got down to it, he was a lot like Spike: completely in over his head most of the time, but putting his whole heart into it anyway.
“Xander,” Dawn said firmly, “I know I look like a short bald man with glasses, but it’s me, Dawn, and I just want you to know how much I appreciate you, and I’m glad you’re friends with Buffy, and…”
Xander wasn’t paying attention to her, which, annoying, but the door to the main house was rattling and there was some pretty sinister snarling coming from behind it, and Dawn totally got focusing on not dying. She tried again, holding up her plate of cheese slices. “These will not protect you.” Ugh, really? Memories were supposed to help. Then Xander was gone, and she found herself in Spike’s crypt.
“Spike!” Dawn jumped up and down to try and get his attention, but apparently he couldn’t see her over the crowd of paparazzi he was posing for. She hoped they were going to put Spike on the cover of Time, because he deserved a little recognition. Dawn wanted to yell at Buffy, because Dawn knew the real story, that Spike had done more in their fight against Adam than just kill a wayward demon at the last second. Buffy really sucked at reading between the lines.
Giles showed up and made a snarky remark, but Spike was clearly enjoying the attention too much to be bothered by it. Then Giles said, “I still say Buffy should have killed you.”
What the hell was wrong with Giles? Geez, what would Giles have done if Spike hadn’t helped him out with his Fyarlness? Dawn ate one of her cheese slices in contemplation…A memory came back, of Halloween from a long time ago, the one where Buffy got turned into her stupid costume, and she’d first met Spike…She was hiding behind a curtain and watching Giles kicking the crap out of another man. Ethan. Dawn frowned. That couldn’t be right…
She put the rest of her cheese slices on top of her head and went to give Giles a piece of her mind. “I wear the cheese, it does not wear me,” she said. He looked confused, which, good. That would show him.
Dawn blinked, and then blinked again. She was in the desert, the sun beating down and the sand glaring up, and Buffy was there, arguing with…Dawn rolled her eyes. Leave it to Buffy to argue with herself, because clearly it was Buffy, even if she happened to look like a badass Black woman ready to go into battle…Just like she was clearly Dawn, even if she was currently a short annoying little man.
“We are alone!” Buffy growled at herself.
God, Buffy was dumb. Dawn waved two of the Kraft Singles in front of the Buffys’ faces. Duh, not alone, you’ve got Spike, Buffy…The words wouldn’t come, though, and Buffy looked like she was going to end up punching herself in the face, which, Dawn kind of wanted to watch that, but this dream was getting old and so she did stomp her foot this time, a good, hard, stomp…
The sands started to shake and shift, rippling out at a harmonic resonance with a dull booming sound that beat behind Dawn’s eardrums relentlessly until she put her hands to her ears and screamed.
It was quiet, and cooler in the oasis. Thickly planted palms spread shade out in front of them along the greensward, which was a good thing, because Spike was kneeling in front of her. Buffy was sitting cross-legged across from her, and finally looking a lot less cross.
“This is my blood,” Buffy said, and peeled the cellophane off a fresh Kraft Single. She tore off a piece of it and placed it on Dawn’s tongue, and it tasted like power.
“This is my body,” Spike said, and handed her a Saltine. “Open up, Niblet,” he grinned at her. “You want to have pretty eyes like me, don’t you?”
Dawn swallowed the piece of cheese and accepted the cracker. “Kinda dusty,” Dawn said. “Like camels walking around on my tongue.”
“It figures you’d bring the worst kind of cracker to go with cheese,” Buffy said.
“That’s where you’re wrong, Slayer. Saltines don’t hog the show, do they? Perfect for highlightin’ the cheese.”
“Spike’s right,” said Dawn. “They just need to be eaten together.”
“Our mistake,” Spike winked at her, and took Buffy’s hand and kissed the back of it, and Buffy blushed and kind of melted a little, like the perfect toasted cheese sandwich.
“It is accomplished,” intoned Brother Matyáš.
“We have done our utmost,” said Brother Dominik.
“Close e-fucking-nough,” slurred Brother Josef, and slid off his chair into the piles of discarded paper and promptly fell asleep.