Not With a Bang But a Whimper
Not With a Bang But a Whimper
"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known." – The Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:12
Dawn Summers winced at the actinic glare. It only lasted a fraction of a second, but it was long enough to cause purple spots to flood her eyes. She purposefully held her eyes open. Sunnydale was dangerous enough when you knew where you are. Suddenly appearing in a random location, at a random time of day, was taking your life in your hands.
Before Dawn had a chance to do more than take a quick look around, her legs collapsed underneath her. She felt a painful drawing, as if someone or something had attached a siphon to her body and was drawing out... something. Her eyes never closed, but everything became very dim. Slowly, she became aware of a soft green glow that was leeching out of her pores. From every spot on her body a pale green light rose and gathered in the air above her.
Dawn recognized it for what it was. It was the Key, and it was leaving her. She didn't know why, but it scared her. Dawn knew that her life was schizophrenic; she knew that she was simultaneously only five years old, eighteen years old, and nearly fourteen billion years old. But now a part of that life was rushing out of her like blood from a wound.
This hadn't been part of the plan.
"N-no. No. Th-this was-wasn't part o-of th-th-the dea-deal..." She didn't have the strength to continue the thought. For a long while, Dawn just laid there, unable to move, unable to think, staring at the ceiling unblinking. Barely breathing. Her entire bodily system lay on the knife's edge. Dawn's heart struggled to beat. Dawn's lungs struggled to draw breath.
Dawn knew. She didn't know how she knew, but she knew nevertheless. In this time and place, the key was still energy. The key was still formless. And by its singular nature in the multi-verse, it was itself whole. It could not and would not tolerate being in two places at once. And so it left to join itself.
The world faded out. Everything went away. Dawn floated, like a dandelion on a breeze.
There had been a plan. It had been Willow's plan. And this possibility had never been a part of it.
It had only been the three of them. Dawn, Willow, and Anya.
They had barely escaped the collapse of Sunnydale.
Of the others, the only one whose fate they were sure of was Andrew, who had jumped in front of a Bringer's blade to prevent Anya from being killed, and had been gutted in her place right before Anya's eyes. Of the rest there had been no sign. All the three women knew was that none of the others, not Xander, nor Giles, nor Buffy, nor Faith, nor any of the newly minted Slayers, nor even Robin Wood, had made it out of the school before the ground started collapsing and the Turok-Han started pouring out of the hole in the world.
They'd run like thieves, trying to put Sunnydale as far behind them as possible, before the monsters got them. The school bus only made it to the sanctuary of Angel's Hyperion Hotel because Willow was using her magic to hold the thing together. They'd only been there for a few hours when first word arrived of massive numbers of "animal attacks" in LA's northern suburbs.
The war for Earth was over almost as soon as it had begun. The First Evil, the oldest enemy of life in the cosmos, had won almost as soon as the war had started.
"Do you think there's anyone left out there?" Dawn was staring out at the empty street. She hadn't seen any other human beings in days. Several blocks away, something had caught fire and was pouring smoke into the sky.
"I don't think so. I think its just the uber-vampires. And they'll be here when the sun sets. They know where we are now. We can't hide anymore." Anya replied. Dawn just nodded. She had, unbelievably, come to accept her fate. At least this way she'd be with Buffy and her Mom instead of fighting a running war with the monsters.
"Yeah, Dawn Patrol, gotta say, hiding was never really in the cards. I mean, think about it. I can be anywhere, and where I am, they'll come." The thing wore Xander's face. The first time it had appeared to them as one of their missing friends had been horrible; it forced them to acknowledge that their friends weren't merely missing, but were truly gone.
"I wish the real Xander was here." Anya said this at least once a day, usually right after the First made Xander a part of its puppet show.
"You know, at the end, he loved the Little Princess more than he loved you, don't you?" The First gestured toward Dawn. "He appreciated her youth and beauty, her vitality. You were his past, and he was beginning to see her as a possible future. There was even some kissing involved. They even came close to fucking, once. But don't worry, your pirate decided he couldn't take advantage of the Little Princess. Her virtue is intact. Physically, at least."
Anya glared at Dawn, who was resembling a goldfish. Dawn's mouth opened and closed repeatedly before she found her voice. "It was only once, and... and... you two were broken up, and he was totally drunk! And I..."
Anya smirked. "You plied him with alcohol and then took advantage of him? Why Dawn... look at daddy's little date rapist."
Before Dawn could respond, Willow waved them both off. "Whatever! Now is not the time for this!" She gathered the other two women close. "I had a dream last night. I saw Tara, and she gave me an idea. I know how to stop this, I think. I mean, I think it might actually work despite it being really drastic. Maybe its a bad idea, I don't know but at this point I think we're desperate enough to try anything. So what do you think?"
Dawn looked to Anya, who stared back, before turning to Willow. "About what?"
"My idea of course."
"Willow, you, ah, haven't told us what it is yet."
Willow's forehead scrunched up and her eyes lost focus. Dawn had seen it enough to know that Willow was reviewing everything she just said in her head. "Oh, yeah, sorry. We have to summon D'Hoffryn."
Dawn's jaw dropped. Anya was just as gobsmacked.
"Wait, Willow... you can't be serious?" Anya shook her head. "That's stupid!"
"No, its smart. It'll work. Trust me."
"Why are we summoning the Lord of the Vengeance Demons? He's not going to help us?" Dawn was sure this was idiocy, but she wanted to know Willow's thinking.
"Yes, he will. Trust me." Willow was digging around in her bag.
"Right. Out of the charity of his heart. He doesn't have a heart, Willow! He's not going to help us!" Anya was almost screaming.
"Its okay, honey, its not like that amateur boogeyman can do anything to help you." The First-as-Xander was laughing at them.
"Shush, you!" Willow pulled her hand out of her bag, holding an object Dawn couldn't see in her fist. "So here's my plan..."
They only stopped planning when they heard the sound of heavy fists on the front door of the building in which they were taking shelter. The Turok-Han had come.
"If we're going to do this, let's do it then. They're going to be in here with us soon." Anya shivered. She turned to the First, who had been watching their every move. "Hey, could you please pick on one of the others? You've been Xander now for hours. How about Tara for a change. No, wait, no, be Buffy. Or maybe Joyce. Be Joyce. I'm tired of you pretending to be Xander." Surprisingly, the First complied, but rather than shift from Xander to Buffy or Joyce Summers, she shifted to Halfrek.
That was Willow's cue. She raised her hand, holding the D'Hoffryn's personal talisman high. It had been gifted to her, just after she flayed Warren Mears alive. She had hoped to never use it, but knew it was too powerful an artifact to just throw away. And as their current situation demonstrated, plans changed.
There was smoke and a flash of light, a gout of flame, and suddenly he was there. "Behold D'Hoffryn! Lord of Arashmaha! He that turns the air to blood and reigns – ah. Miss Rosenberg! How wonderful to see you again. How have you been?"
"Hello, Lord D'Hoffryn. To tell you the truth, I've been better."
The Demon Lord nodded. "Yes, I've been hearing all sorts of rumors as to what's going on here on Earth. Pity. The human race has such... potential." The Demon Lord glanced with distaste at the First Evil, still clad in the form of his now-deceased servant demon Halfrek. "This planet has become... run down... of late." He gave his back to his supposed superior and addressed Willow as if she were a friend. "So tell me, why have you called me here? What can I do for you?"
Willow took a deep breath. "We want to make a deal."
"Do you now? Well, isn't that interesting. And why should I make a deal with you? It seems that any benefit I would accrue would be very short term, given that the Turok have just broken through the front and back doors of this building. I'll sure they'll clear out every floor and then climb upward. Won't take them long to reach the third floor."
"I have something you want. I'll give it to you freely and without reservation or further condition. And in exchange, you grant us a wish." Willow was trying not to show how hurried she felt. The uber-vamps were already on the staircases.
"Ah, but I only grant wishes in the name of vengeance. Who is left alive for you to avenge yourself on, Ms. Rosenberg?"
Willow shook her head. "It's not for me."
Again D'Hoffryn shook his head. "Well, then we have a problem. I refuse to grant Anyanka a wish under any circumstances. None of my demons would."
And this is where Dawn came in. "It's for me. It's my wish."
For the first time, D'Hoffryn turned his full attention on the younger girl. "And who are... oh. Oh my, so that's what happened to it. Very interesting." D'Hoffryn gave Dawn a grin that caused the girl's spine to go into spasms. "So, you're human now. Very interesting indeed. Well, I am afraid you suffer the same problem as Ms. Rosenberg. No one left alive to avenge yourself against."
"But that's where you're wrong. I am wronged. My family has been taken away from me unjustly. Through the schemes of others, I'm all alone and bereft of any way to assuage my... uh..." D'Hoffryn raised an eyebrow. Willow had this entire speech written out for her to memorize. Personally, Dawn thought it sounded hokey and pretentious, like something you'd see in a bad High School play. But Willow insisted. "Oh, yeah... sorry... I am bereft of any way to assuage my rage at my oppressor. My vendetta must be fulfilled."
"Wow. I confess I haven't heard the formal binding ceremony in close to eight hundred years. You do know that we canceled that back in the 1870s, right?" D'Hoffryn actually chuckled. "It's entertaining, but I still have to ask. Who exactly are you planning on taking vengeance on? The nearest other humans are over five hundred miles away, and you have no idea who they are. Not only is it unlikely that they ever wronged you, its very likely that they're getting attacked just like you are? If I were to grant you a wish in the name of vengeance, just who would you be avenging yourself on?"
Dawn pointed. "That thing. I have been wronged by it." She pointed to the creature wearing Halfrek's face.
The First stared at the girl, then burst out into laughter. It abruptly shifted to Rupert Giles. "You're going to wish up some vengeance on me? Me? The original source of evil? Good luck with that, you silly, stupid girl."
"Interesting." D'Hoffryn looked up. Everyone could hear a loud banging noise. "Oh, I see. You blockaded the stairway door. Very clever." He turned his attention back to Dawn. "So what would this hypothetical wish be?"
This part was important. They'd spent almost three hours just figuring out the wording. Dawn took a deep breath and glanced at her companions. Anya nodded, then looked away. Willow nodded, her eyes burning into Dawn's. The intensity of Willow's expression brought tears to Dawn's eyes. She quickly wiped at her eyes, then spoke. "I wish that I could go back to the closest point in time at which I can effectively make changes that would prevent the First Evil from conquering the world, arriving at a location in Sunnydale that will not be hazardous to my immediate arrival safe, sound, and whole..." that part covered getting there in one piece. But Dawn wasn't done. "And that to that end I would have all of the tangible, physical, intellectual, and psychological resources necessary to accomplish my mission, and that my mission be at least possible to accomplish." And that would keep D'Hoffryn from screwing her over too badly. Dawn held up a piece of paper. "We have a list. It was, uh, everything we thought we should ask for without being too pushy about it."
It caused D'Hoffryn to laugh. "You actually sat down and wrote out the wish? Let me guess, trying to avoid giving me any chance of subverting it, right? Very slippery of you, Agent Starling." At their expressions, D'Hoffryn rolled his eyes. "What, a guy can't go to the movies once in a while?"
D'Hoffryn snatched the piece of paper from her hands and seemed to study it. It not only had the full wording of the wish, but a list of the sort of things she wanted to take back with her to the past. The Demon Lord was silent. "That is some wish. Multi-part wish. Very legalistic. Very encompassing. I'd be hard pressed to twist this wish into something unpleasant. It wouldn't be impossible, mind you, but..." He handed the paper back to Dawn. "We don't usually do multi-part wishes. We're all about simplicity. And I notice that only you would be sent back in time. Your friends here would be left to the mercy of the Turoks." D'Hoffryn waved it off. "It is no matter. Say I was inclined to grant that wish. What would I get in return?"
"You'd get me, as a brand new vengeance demon, for eternity." Willow's words were only slightly above the level of a whisper. "You've wanted me for years. I'll be your loyal slave forever. C'mon, D'Hoffryn... still interested?"
D'Hoffryn was silent, considering it. No one spoke, in fact.
"I'd be creating an entirely new timeline, you realize. It wouldn't be like you could back out of the agreement by having Ms. Summers create a grandfather paradox."
"Grandfather what now?" Dawn was confused.
"That, young lady, is the problem with your generation. You do not read." For a moment, D'Hoffryn was exasperated. "The grandfather paradox is a hypothetical problem with time travel created by French science fiction author Rene Barjavel. He's an excellent read and I recommend him highly. The paradox is as follows: you go back in time, and while in the past, you kill your own grandfather before he met your grandmother. This means you were never born; if you were never born, you could never go back in time to kill your grandfather. This means that you were born, and thus went back in time to kill your grandfather." D'Hoffryn waved a hand in dismissal. The fact that changes in time creates alternate timelines – different historical lines – instead of changing the line you're one, negates the paradox. Like I said, Ms. Rosenberg won't get out of serving me by having you change things so you never summon me to make this deal."
"It never once occurred to me." But Willow's face told a different story. It was pretty clear that this was exactly what she was hoping.
D'Hoffryn smiled knowingly. "No. I don't think so. This sort of major wish, against one of the greater powers? No. Not even your service as a vengeance demon is worth that much, Ms. Rosenberg. You'll have to up the ante for me to take that chance."
There was a loud crash from the hall. The three women looked up in a panic.
"I..." Anya blurted out into the uncomfortable silence. Everyone looked at her. "My life. I'll voluntarily give up my life." She held up a hand when D'Hoffryn began to speak. "I know I'm about to die anyway, but that's not the point. This way, you get to kill me like you want to kill me. Long, and slow, and painful." She swallowed heavily. "It's all about the pain, right?"
"Anya, no!" Dawn's eyes widened in horror. "You don't..."
There was an actinic glare. The last thing Dawn heard was Anya screaming in pain.
It was only after regaining consciousness that Dawn realized that she was lying in a bathtub. The back of her head ached. A careful probing of the sore area revealed the presence of a brand new lump, about the size of her thumb. She thought for a moment about cursing D'Hoffryn's name, but then she realized that they had only wished that she'd be safe and sound upon arrival. He said nothing about collapsing afterward.
Dawn sat up and performed what Xander had called the 'standard awakening checklist' back when he taught it to her. She immediately checked her surroundings. The light coming through the window had increased, so she arrived sometime near sunrise. This was a good thing; she'd be able to start right away instead of having to take shelter in an empty building. Even in the dim lighting, she could tell she was definitely in a bathroom, and she was definitely in a tub. It was dry as a bone and clean of dried bath residue while simultaneously being dusty. Either an abandoned house or an abandoned hotel. Sunnydale always had more than its fair share of empty buildings. There was no shower curtain, though the bar did have a set of green plastic rings hanging from it. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she noticed that the rings matched the color.
Then it hit her.
"Oh God! Willow! Anya!" She collapsed into sobs. She couldn't help it. Even though she knew the plan regarding Willow, it still hurt. And Anya... just giving herself up like that. Dawn cried, seemingly for hours. She cried until it hurt. Until her eyes had no more moisture for tears. Until she realized that she wasn't going to accomplish anything lying on the floor weeping for her lost friends.
Dawn wiped at her eyes and climbed to her feet. It was a slow and exacting process, but she felt better for taking it slow. Not only did she feel emotionally drained from the sudden onset of despair, she was in a lot of pain. Her vision wasn't blurry, and she wasn't tasting blood, but her head still hurt from its impact on the bottom of the tub just after her arrival.
She took a look at the room she was in. There was a row of four light sockets above a wide, wall-to-wall mirror, none of which had bulbs. The mirror itself was set looking over a pair of sinks. There was an empty toilet paper roller in the wall next to the commode, and a towel rack. Everything was clean, but dingy. And on the counter, between the sinks, sat a bright purple backpack.
Dawn stared at it, then stared at it some more. Then it registered "Right. Things I might need." She picked the backpack up and then stopped, catching a look at herself in the mirror. She looked... younger, somehow. Not like the nineteen year old she was when D'Hoffryn moved her here. More like she was sixteen or seventeen, maybe. "Wonder what the heck that's about. Why am I younger?"
Dawn continued to waste time, staring at herself. Eventually she shook herself out of it and moved on. She stepped out of the bathroom into the shadowy hallway. The house was silent. Not even the hum of electricity in the background. A quick look revealed three bedrooms and the bathroom she was just in, plus a staircase leading down. The downstairs was a large main room, with a kitchen/dining area to one side, a downstairs bathroom, and two smaller bedrooms. It took Dawn a while to realize that she recognized the arrangement: it was identical to the Revello Drive house in Sunnydale, where she lived with her Mom and Buffy.
"Wait, am I back home again?" Dawn couldn't tell. The paint job and the paneling all looked the same, but there was no way to tell if she was back in that house, or merely in a similar house. "One way to find out," she muttered to herself. Still a little hesitant, Dawn stepped out onto the front porch. She immediately recognized where she was. It was Revello Drive, all right, but this wasn't the house she used to live in. That house was painted white and had blue trim. This house was painted a pale yellow, and had dark brown trim. Otherwise, though, the houses looked identical.
Other than the house itself and its different color scheme, the first thing Dawn noticed was the realtor sign in the front yard. It featured a smiling woman in a gold jacket, and a small placard that read "SOLD!" in bright blue letters. According to the small mailbox on the wall next to the door, this was 1625 Revello Drive. Her memory told her that this house had been empty for most of the time that she, Buffy, and her Mom had lived here. There had been a family who moved in about a year before Sunnydale ate itself. She remembered seeing a kid, playing in the front yard. But that was it.
"Oh shit." Dawn blanched. There was a car in the driveway. It was canary yellow, and a convertible. For a moment, she wondered how she could have missed someone else being here. But there hadn't been anyone inside, and no one seemed to be wandering around in the yard. Quickly, she figured out a quick plan; just a few ideas of what she'd say if the home owner suddenly appeared and demanded that she explain her presence.
Perched on the porch swing, Dawn took a moment to look around. It was a pleasant morning. The sun was still pretty low in the sky, which was clear as a crystal pool. It was warm, but not hot yet. She could hear children playing, and someone not too far away was mowing their grass. It was all familiar and heartbreaking.
Nothing for it.
Dawn finally bit the bullet and opened the backpack. There was a leather bound book, several file folders filled with various papers, a set of keys on a ring, a girl's clasp-wallet, and some sort of mobile phone. One by one, she took the items out of the backpack and set them onto the swing beside her.
The phone was something called a "Motorola StarTac." She couldn't remember ever seeing a phone like that before, but she knew it was larger than the ones that would come later. The wallet was red leather, and was typically oversized, just like the wallets that all women carried in their purses. A quick check revealed close to $200 in various denominations, while the other held various cards: a driver's license, three credit cards (Amex, Visa, and MasterCard), a bank card which was also carried the MasterCard logo, a social security card, even a library card to the Los Angeles Metropolitan Library.
The fob on the key ring was blue, and was embossed with the Mercedes-Benz insignia. Dawn's head abruptly shot up to stare at the car. You don't think... The car had the Mercedes logo as well. Looking back at the keys, one had tape around it that read "front door", the other "back door". The last was quite obviously a car key.
"And for a car, D'Hoffryn gives me a Mercedes. Wow." Dawn shook her head. She pocketed the keys and moved on. The book was a diary of some sort. Dawn opened it and read the first page. There were two lists. The first was easy enough to understand. The Master, Angelus, Mayor Richard Wilkins, Adam and the Initiative, Glory, those three assholes, and finally, the First Evil. These were the upcoming Big Bads, obviously. The second list read: Radica Games; Metal Management; Trans-World Entertainment; Reliability, Incorporated; Arterial Vascular Engineering; The Spire Corporation; Jackson Hewitt; and finally MindSpring Enterprises. Dawn had no idea what it meant.
At least, not until she turned the page. The next page also had lists, but these two contained what she recognized as the names of sports teams, accompanied by a year: 1998 Denver Broncos; 1999 Denver Broncos; 2000 Tennessee Titans, and so on. It took Dawn a moment to realize the two lists were, respectively, the winners of the next twelve Superbowls and World Series. "Oh, I get it!"
She closed the book and looked at the cover, It was just reddish brown leather, but it looked cool, and it had that fantastic leather smell. "This is my Gray's Sports Almanac!" An emergency fallback when she needed money. She continued to flip through the book. Lists. Lots of lists. More lists of what she now realized were company names. "Investment opportunities, maybe? What's this... a technical diagram? What, am I supposed to invent this thing?" She closed the book again. It was a gold mine.
She put the book down and picked up the first folder. "Aha. My life as a time traveler." The first page birth certificate. Apparently Dawn Marie Summers was born in Los Angeles California on October 11, 1981 to Lucas Summers and Anne MacElvoy. She'd never heard of either of them. Dawn set the birth certificate aside. The next page had some biographical details regarding the new 'rents. Lucas worked as a senior associate with a law firm in LA, McKenzie, Brackman, Chaney and Kuzak. Her "mother" was an executive at Twentieth Century Fox.
Dawn turned to the next page and immediately amended all references to her new parents to indicate a past tense. Apparently one Dawn Marie Summers, daughter of Lucas and Anne, had been declared an emancipated minor due to the accidental deaths of her brand spanking new parents in an airplane crash. "Wow. Lucas and Anne, I barely knew you and now you're gone." It came our more sardonically than it sounded in her head.
And that lead to her inheritance. "I have an inheritance?" Dawn quickly shuffled through the papers until she found a bank statement. The inheritance seemed to be a combination of life insurance payouts for her new, dead parents, the contents of their checking and savings accounts, a couple of IRAs, 401k payouts, plus the final tally after her father's stock portfolio was liquidated, the sale of her parents homes and cars, plus some other things. Dawn spent a good ten minutes simply staring at the number on the bottom of the page. She apparently had almost two million dollars in the bank.
Two million dollars.
Dawn wondered, just for a moment, why she would need information like who to bet on for the next ten superbowls if she was sitting on that kind of money already. In the end, she chalked it up to better safe than sorry. So, in her new life she was a trust fund orphan. Dawn sat there, staring vaguely in the direction of the house across the street, not really seeing it. Eventually, she realized what was going on and turned her attention back to the papers.
The inheritance was apparently in a trust fund. She couldn't understand all of the legalese, but the upshot – if she was reading it correctly – was that she could dip into the interest, but couldn't touch the principle until she turned eighteen. From the glimpse of herself in the mirror, she knew that she was younger than she had been before D'Hoffryn transported her in time, but she had no idea by how many years.
Buffy. She had no idea what she was going to do when she met Buffy. What was she going to say to her? Say to any of them, for that matter. Was she still Buffy's sister? She couldn't remember any relatives of Hank Summers named Lucas or Anne. Mom... Joyce... wrapping her head around the fact that in the here-and-now, Joyce wasn't her mom was giving Dawn the shakes. It was going to be difficult. Dawn knew that she was going to be inserting herself into the lives of Buffy and Xander and Willow, and not as "Buffy's little sister", either. If she succeeded in becoming a part of that group, it was going to be inevitable that she'd encounter her mom. Encounter Joyce Summers. Encounter her mom, who died so early, and so horrifically, and whose death left an indelible mark upon her.
Dawn wasn't sure she could handle watching her die a second time, even if she wasn't her "Mom" in the here-and-now.
And how was she going to react when the "real" Dawn Summers showed up in a couple of years? That question made Dawn's head ache. She knew the Monks of Dagon inserted false memories of "Dawn Summers" into everybody's minds, but to her – to Dawn herself – those memories were real. They were the only memories she had; how would the Monks manipulation affect a Dawn Summers who'd already been in place?
Dawn turned back to the papers, trying to shove her fears and worries to the side. It seemed that the same law law firm Lucas Summers had worked at in Los Angeles was overseeing everything for her. There were a few more papers, namely school enrollment, the bank statement, a list of phone numbers to call if she needed anything that included her lawyers, the judge who handled her emancipation, a child psychologist, a couple of teachers, and a doctor.
The first paper in the second folder was a deed to a house. A deed to 1625 Revello Drive.
She owned this house. It was hers. Well... actually from what Dawn could tell, technically her trust fund owned it and she merely lived there. She flipped through the next few papers. Some tax papers, some papers detailing repair work done before the sale was finalized. Just past the page that detailed her health insurance, she found a title of ownership for the car. So the canary yellow Mercedes was also owned by the trust fund on her behalf.
So, she had a house, she had a car, and she had enough money to live on. She was back in Sunnydale. The question of the hour was which precise moment had she come back to. Her driver's license was issued in – she took a quick look – 1996, but how far back had that been? A year? Two years?
The cell phone warbled, driving Dawn forcefully out of her reverie. She picked the device up as if it were a snake about to bite her. Who the hell could possibly know she was here? Why would anyone call her just out of the blue like this? She opened the phone as if it was about to explode, pressed the receive button, and said, "Hello?"
"Ms. Summers? Dawn? Good morning. This is Leland McKenzie. Did I wake you?" At the mention of the name, an image popped into her head of an older, balding man with glasses and an easy smile. She had no idea where this picture came from, but given the general weirdness level of the moment, she accepted it.
McKenzie. One of her attorneys. She decided to play it totally cool. "No, Mr. McKenzie, I've been awake for a little while. What can I do for you?"
The man's voice had a tinny quality to it that was characteristic of the early model cell phones. "I wanted to let you know that I got a call from the movers. They'll be at your new house in Sunnydale in about three hours with your things. That should give you plenty of time to get some breakfast, check out of your hotel, and drive over to meet them."
"Wonderful. Thank you, Mr. McKenzie. That's great news." Dawn looked up and down the street, as if a moving truck was going to magically appear out of nowhere.
"No problem. Is there anything we can help you with this morning?"
"Not that I can think of." Dawn shook her head despite the fact that she was talking on a phone. "But if I think of anything, I'll call."
"Excellent. Excellent. I'll try and look in on you from time to time. Dawn, I want you to know, your dad was not only a business associate but a friend. If you have any problems living on your own..." McKenzie left the rest of the statement hang. "I know getting away from Los Angeles and starting over is important to you, but I'm still nervous about you living two counties away."
"I know, but I have to do this." Dawn swallowed, suddenly choked up. "I'll be fine. And if I'm not, I'll call. Thanks again for helping me with this."
"You're welcome, young lady. Be good. I'll talk to you later."
She disconnected and closed the phone. Three hours before her furniture and other things arrived. Breakfast sounded like a plan. She thought she might drive past her mom's house, see what was up there. And definitely find out what the date was. Dawn smirked. "Time to try out the new wheels." She palmed the car keys, shoved everything else back into the bag, and headed for the car.
"There they are." Dawn watched the three kids walking down the sidewalk together in the driver's side wing mirror of her car. They were obviously on the way to Willow's home. Kids. Right, they were all three of them her same age now. In fact, in the here-and-now she was actually older than both Buffy and Willow, by a few months apiece. She looked back down at the newspaper she picked up along with a Diet Coke at the convenience store. It had given her today's date: February 10th, 1997.
On her way out of the neighborhood, Dawn had driven past her old house. It had been empty, with a for sale sign on the lawn. There wasn't even a SOLD banner. At least not yet. She recognized that the timing of her arrival had been way, way convenient. In about three weeks, Joyce Summers, accompanied by her daughter Buffy, would be moving in to the house on Revello Drive. Joyce would then take a few days to get situated, get the furniture set up, and enroll Buffy at Sunnydale High. So she had that long, three weeks, to get herself set up in the house and begin to be "seen" around town, make herself known at school as the new girl before Buffy usurped that position, and find an in with the Scoobies-to-Be.
Dawn thought about it for a moment. was already enrolled in school and would officially be starting as a sophomore at Sunnydale High in two days. School would be out, and summer break started in June. She could use the summer to get closer to the gang as Buffy left to visit Hank. She didn't want to take Buffy's place. Just find a place of her own. Which brings me to Mr. Rupert Giles. Dawn would have the opportunity to meet the man before Buffy did. Should she reveal that she knew about the Slayers, the Watchers, and vampires? Might be easier, in some ways, if he knew she knew ahead of time.
Dawn carefully kept her attention on the newspaper as they passed where she was parked. She gave the trio a quick glance and noticed Xander looking at her as he walked by. Xander gave Jesse a quick nudge, then tilted his head in her direction. Jesse, who apparently had never even heard of subtlety, stared at her for a few seconds, then stared at her car. Willow noticed, gave Dawn a quick glance, smiled and nodded, as if in greeting. Then the three were on their way.
Dawn flashed a bright smile when Xander took another look over his shoulder at her. And that is my way in. Dawn thought to herself. For a moment, she felt a certain sadness, knowing that if she did this, Xander would never know Anya as anything but Anyanka the vengeance demon. Again, Dawn shoved her emotional response away. Nothing I can do about it. At least I won't just be using him. I do lov – I care for him already.
Dawn glanced at her watch. It was almost time to meet the movers. She cranked the car's engine, put it into gear, and headed to her new home. She had an idea about how to open the door to getting to know the Scoobies. If she was lucky, it might just work.
"All right, Sunnydale. There's a new sheriff in town, and she's going to be making some changes." Her Clint Eastwood was appalling, but it was just cheesy enough to give her a good laugh. Laughing was a good thing.
It had taken the rest of the afternoon to get the house set up. Despite the fact that she wasted a lot of time – Dawn had no idea what was going to show up in the moving truck, and some of it came as a surprise – the movers were great guys; they were endlessly patient with her when it came to where to put everything, especially when she was obviously making it up as she went along.
All the major furniture was in place. The living room now contained a couch, a love seat, two recliners, several bookcases, several boxes marked "books" and "living room sundries", and a wide-screen television. Taking a look at that monster, she decided then and there to buy a flat-screen television as soon as someone invented them. Upstairs her bedroom was set up for sleeping, as was one of the spare bedrooms. Both had boxes marked "clothes" and "linens." The kitchen had the boxes marked "dishes" and "pots", while downstairs, in the basement, there was a home gym, a reach in freezer, a second refrigerator, some camping gear, and the laundry appliances. All in all, the house had begun to look like a home.
Dawn was certain that she'd rattle around this place like a single pea in a tin can.
By the time the movers were done, it was only two in the afternoon. Dawn hadn't felt like unpacking everything immediately, so she dodged the job to go to the grocery store. At first, the thrill of being able to buy whatever she wanted filled Dawn's head with visions of cabinets-full of cookies and potato chips, a freezer full of ice cream, and a refrigerator filled with soda and candy. Eventually common sense won out.
Her mom, – Joyce, not her mom; she hated it, but for the sake of her mission felt she had to start thinking of her mom as Joyce – had shown her how to cook some things, but it had never really interested her like it had interested Buffy, but she was determined to try because she had no other option except to eat out all the time. A sudden memory of Buffy cooking, and Dawn was smiling again. It was a strange thing. Despite her cheerful enthusiasm when it came to the subject, Buffy and cooking were normally non-mixy things. Lord knew she tried hard, but it never seemed to work out. But then there was Thanksgiving. When it came to the traditional foods enjoyed on that holiday, Buffy was like Jacques Pepin and Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck rolled up into a suddenly and oddly competent package. As long as it was turkey, and stuffing, and giblet gravy, and homemade cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie, Buffy was a kitchen genius. Couldn't boil pasta without causing the water to catch on fire, but she made a mean Thanksgiving feast.
Again, she pushed the sadness aside. There was no room for it anymore. She was going to have to act normally around her old family. And how that word burned her every time she thought about it.
Amazed at having spent nearly five hundred dollars in groceries, Dawn brought her purchases home and spent the next half hour putting them away. She unpacked a box of dishes and a box of silverware, but left the rest of the boxes where they were. She did the same in the living room, unpacking a box that held a stereo system, and one that held a video game system (she vaguely remembered the Super NES and had never heard of most of the games), plus a couple of pictures of a man and a woman smiling at the camera with a girl who was obviously a younger version of Dawn. "Mom and Dad. At least now I know what you two looked like."
Dawn then went upstairs and unpacked her toiletries and her bath supplies, then went hunting for towels, clothing, and bed clothes. Making the king-sized bed irritated her because of how difficult it was; the mattress was huge and heavy and feather-filled and was completely uncooperative. But eventually Dawn had sheets and pillow cases and a comforter in place. They were grown-up sheets, with a blue and white pattern of small circles against a pale blue background.
She rewarded herself for all the unpacking effort with a half-pint of Ben and Jerry's Funky Munky while she watched TV in her bedroom. The X-Files hadn't jumped the shark yet, apparently, and the syndicated re-runs were still only from Season One, when the show was triumphant and cool and not stupid and confusing.
It occurred to her that she was lonely. Dawn thought about it for a long while before deciding what the hell. "The Bronze it is. Who says I have to wait for school to start." She started undressing as she headed toward the bathroom, dropping her clothes where they lay. Ten minutes later, Dawn was digging through her recently unpacked clothes and found a rust-colored dress and matching shoes. It was the kind of outfit that Cordelia Chase might have worn, but it felt right, especially after she added a black belt.
As Dawn began to brush her hair, thankful that she'd managed to not get it too wet in the shower, she started imagining various scenarios to introduce herself to the Scoobies.
Dawn parked her car in as well-lit an area as possible and queued up in line for the Bronze. To her surprise, the person in line just in front of her was Jonathan Levinson. The boy gave Dawn the once over, lingering just a little too long on her chest, then sheepishly looked away. Dawn smirked at him, and he gave a guilty grin back to her and shrugged.
"Sorry." There wasn't much else he could say at being caught ogling her.
"It's fine. Just don't make it a habit, okay?"
"Oh, uh, right. Um. A habit? Do you go to Sunnydale?" He seemed shocked that she was acknowledging he was alive.
"I'm starting in two days. Just moved here. " Dawn shrugged, then she pointed past his shoulder. "Line's moving."
"Oh, right. Um. Right. Sorry." He moved forward and didn't try to continue their conversation. To Dawn's great surprise, she felt slightly disappointed that he would just drop it like that.
Soon, Dawn was inside. She took a quick look around. It wasn't as jam-packed as she knew it could be, but it was busy enough. There wasn't a band, but music was pouring from the jukebox near the bar. She recognize Cordelia holding court in one corner, surrounded by her coterie of brainless sycophants. Over there were a couple of the jocks Dawn recognized from Buffy's class – soon to be her class, including the big blonde one that Xander had once described to her, the gay one. Barry? Maybe. And there, at the bar, were Willow, Xander, and their friend, the one who had been turned into a vampire. The one Xander had to stake in order to save Cordelia. They were standing at the bar, talking and laughing between themselves, nursing their sodas and occasionally munching on the pretzels the bartender gave out for free according to the theory that free salty snacks caused people to order more drinks.
"They look so innocent." For a moment, Dawn was struck by the tragedy of it all. She sighed, audibly. "And I'm here to wreck it."
Nothing for it. Dawn moved through the crowd toward the bar, and artfully inserted herself next to Xander. "Could I have a Diet Coke, please?" She made the request just loud enough for it to be overheard by the other three. Dawn watched the bartender pour the drink and carefully didn't react as she watched Xander, Willow, and Jesse take notice of her out of the corner of her eye.
Dawn took a sip of her drink, and glanced over at Xander. She gave him a friendly grin and nodded. "I know you, don't I?" Dawn took another sip of her soda, and as she did so she gave Xander an appraising glance that was subtle only in comparison to a blow from a hammer to the head. When she was done, she made her grin even wider, showing teeth this time.
"Uh... I don't think so." Xander's cheeks pinked, and Dawn realized that he was blushing. "I would remember meeting you, I'm sure."
Willow watched the exchange. "You do look sorta familiar, though."
Dawn smiled at the other girl. Everyone was friends here, after all. "Oh wait... I know. I remember where I've seen you before. I was trying to figure out directions and you three walked by." Another sip of the soda. "You gave me a wave and a nod. I thought it was very friendly of you."
"Oh yeah!" Willow extended a hand. "You were in the yellow car. I'm Willow! This is Jesse and that's Xander."
"Dawn. Dawn Summers. Nice to meet you." Dawn gave Willow's hand a quick, polite shake and nodded to the two boys in turn and took another sip of her soda and looked around. She was trying to not seem too interested. Just interested enough.
"I don't think we've seen you around. Do you go to Philomena Prep?" Jesse asked. He was ogling her in the same way Jonathan had.
"Nope." Dawn shook her head. "Is that a High School?"
"That would be no, then." Jesse smiled at her. "Its a Catholic private school."
"Nope. No Catholic school for me. I just moved here. I'm going to be starting at Sunnydale High in a couple of days. I'm a sophomore."
"Oh, well that's where we go. We go there!" Xander blurted out. He was smiling at her, and Dawn was only happy to return his attention.
"Great! Which year?"
Willow frowned for a moment at the interaction, but then brightened. "We're all sophomores too."
"Hey, that's fantastic! Maybe we'll share some classes." Dawn picked up her glass and moved to put herself between Willow and Xander. She hoped it looked like she was moving in to get closer to Willow, rather than she was intentionally separating the two. She put a friendly hand on Willow's arm and gave it a friendly squeeze. "I don't know anyone here, and I'd love to start school with a friendly face nearby."
Willow shrugged and nodded. "Sure. But, uh, are you certain you want to, uh, associate with us? We're, uh..." Willow blushed and stared at the bar.
"What Willow's trying to choke out is, um, well." Xander shrugged. "To be honest if you hang out with us, you're not going to win any points with the popular crowd."
"Its not like we're lepers or anything." Jesse was quick to reassure her. "We're just, sort of like, um. How should we describe ourselves, Xander?"
"Are these losers bothering you?"
Dawn jumped, having not noticed the arrival of "Queen C" and her followers. She turned in her bar stool and met Cordelia's eyes. Now to put those lessons Cordy gave me to use. "I'm sorry, did you say something? I'm afraid I wasn't paying attention."
Cordelia smirked at Willow, Jesse, and Xander in turn, then visibly ignored them by putting her full attention to Dawn. Xander seemed to shrug it off, while Willow looked like she was trying to crawl into her own navel.
Jesse didn't seem to notice. "Hi, Cordelia!" He was up and standing rather close to the object of his attention.
Cordelia flashed him a look. "As if, dweeb. I asked if these three losers were bothering you."
"Not at all. The only losers bothering me are the johnny-come-latelies." Several of the cordettes gasped, as did Willow. Cordelia's mouth hung open for a moment, as if wondering how what just happened happened. Dawn smirked, causing Cordelia's eyes to narrow.
"Well, its your choice to commit social suicide by hanging with two morons and the girl voted most likely to die a virgin. Though seeing how you chose a Donna Karan knock-off to come to a crappy club like this one, maybe..."
"Actually, this is a Yohji Yamamoto original, not a knock-off, and not Donna Karan. But then, I wouldn't expect someone wearing a cheap imitation of Christian Louboutin to know that. Yohji is trending this year. Louboutin, not so much."
Cordelia's eyes dipped to her own clothing. "This is Versace!"
"Sure it is." Dawn rolled her eyes, making sure that her agreement was merely sarcasm. "I don't know what sidewalk street vendor you bought that from, honey, but I'm fairly sure they lied to you. Now, as scintillating as this conversation has been, I'm bored. I'm going back to talking to my friends now. Buh-bye!" Dawn gave Cordelia her back. Willow was staring at Dawn out of the corner of her eye with something akin to hero worship. Xander was smiling; the entire exchange had apparently amused him greatly. And Jesse was ignoring Dawn in favor of trying to hit on Cordelia. The boy was never going to learn, Dawn knew. It was sort of pathetic. Cordelia spumed behind her, but Dawn ignored it. She felt, more than heard, the so-called "Queen of Sunnydale High" take her minions and leave.
Going on a whim, Dawn grabbed one of Willow's hands and gave it a friendly squeeze. "Hey, look at me for a second." Willow hesitated, but finally met Dawn's gaze. "I want you to remember something, okay? Here it is, and its important: no one can make you feel bad about yourself with you first giving them permission. So don't give them permission. You seem like a nice person, and you sound smart. All you need to do is figure out who you want to be and then be that person. God, I sound like a Hallmark Card. Sorry."
"No! No, you're fine! I know, I need to do all those things." Willow shrugged. "I'm just, you know, not all that good at standing up for myself. I tend to do the opposite and let people walk all over me. I'm no good at doing the don't tread on me, thing."
"Well its a good thing you met me, then. Because neither am I." At that, Willow giggled. Dawn nodded. "Its true. I've been a victim of bullies all my life. Its only really recently I decided I didn't want to be that person anymore."
Dawn patted Willow on the hand, then turned to Xander. "So, you want to dance? I love this song and I absolutely must dance to it!" Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed his hand and pulled him toward the dance floor. Dawn actually had no idea what the song was or who sang it, but she felt like dancing and was wanting to encourage Xander to want to like her anyway, so it seemed an ideal plan. She caught one line – I say tell me the truth but you don't dare, You say love is a hell you cannot bear – and could tell it was a woman singing, but after that all that was important was it gave her an excuse to dance with Xander.
So she did just that. And if she danced a little closer than she expected, and touched him more than he expected, that was okay too.
"I had a great time tonight. Thanks." Dawn dug in her purse for her car keys. "And since I owe you, I insist that you let me drive you home, okay?" She saw Willow about to object and waggled her finger. "No argument, Missy. You're riding home in the height of automotive style, luxury, and safety." She nudged Xander, who had been her constant dance partner for the last several hours, on the shoulder. "Right, Xan?"
"Uh, yeah. Right! Absolutely" Xander nodded enthusiastically, which for some reason gave Jesse the giggles.
Dawn returned his support with a huge smile. Xander had started out confused by her attention, but had finally twigged to the fact that she was coming on to him. She was careful to not overdo it, and there was still quite a way to go before this – whatever it was – turned into anything solid, but it was a start. "You guys are going to have to give me directions, okay?" She opened up her bag and began rooting around in earnest.
A strange feeling overtook her, a not-quite-nausea that made her regret ordering the fried onion bloom thing. She had just shrugged it off as too much greasy food when she heard the voice. "What do we have here, boys. Someone ordered take-out." Dawn shifted her hand from her keys to the stake hidden in the bottom of her purse.
"Oh shit." Dawn hissed. It was Dawn's own luck, or lack of it. Four vampires, all of them in game face already. A quick glance at her friends told her that Willow was already terrified, Jesse was confused, and Xander was on the verge of going into protective mode. Quickly, she pulled her hand out of her purse, bringing the stake with her. "Xander, take my purse. I want you and Willow and Jesse to get in my car and start it up. Leave the driver's side door unlocked for me, okay?"
"Now don't be like that. The party's only getting started!" The leader of the pack of vamps was putting as much sarcasm and faux-excitement as she could into it.
Dawn put herself in between the vampires and her friends, stake in hand. "Go, Xander." She hissed. That was the last of the attention she could spend on the kids; she had to pay attention to the approaching vampires. She recognized the leader. How could she not. She'd done the research, in the then-and-there. "So... Darla. I thought you'd be taller."
The vampire paused in her approach. "You know who I am?"
"I know who you are." Dawn took up the best defensive stance she could. She was stalling for time. "You're Darla Fenchurch. Born sometime in October of 1630 in Whitechapel, London. Sired by Heinrich Nest in 1664. Sire of Liam Moran, better known as Angelus. Along with William Pratt and Lady Drusilla Ballaster, you were one quarter of the Scourge of Europe."
Darla resumed walking. She was closing on the four teenagers with measured precision. "Well, well. Someone's done her homework. Get her boys." The three male vampires rushed at Dawn while Darla hung back.
The first of them swung a meaty fist at Dawn's head. Instinctively, she ducked under the punch and spun, bringing her fist around and planting the stake right in the sweet-spot. Dawn had withdrawn the stake and had moved before he puffed into dust. She kicked out with her left leg, once, twice, three times, catching the next vampire in the knee, the stomach, the throat. He began to collapse but before he had done more than begin to curl in on himself, Dawn had plunged the stake through his back and into his heart. The third vamp caught Dawn's ankle as she tried to kick him in the chest. Without pausing, Dawn used him as a fulcrum point. She jumped into the air and spun, using the vampire to support her weight while she brought her other heel around and across his face. The force of the blow knocked him to the ground as Dawn herself made a perfect, cat-like three point landing. She rammed the stake through his ribs without looking; her eyes were on Darla, who was now standing motionless, in shock.
The two women continued to stare at each other. Finally, Darla backed away into the shadows. Just before she disappeared out of sight, she called "This isn't over, Slayer!"
Dawn rose from her crouch. "Slayer? Why would she think I was a..." The fight replayed itself in slow motion in her head, and she realized the entire thing had lasted maybe five seconds. Three vampires in five seconds. She'd never been able to fight more than one, and even then it was a long, drawn-out process involving a lot of running. And crossbows. She looked down at her hands, at the hand holding the stake.
Dawn couldn't quite control it when they began to shake. "Slayer," she whispered to herself.
What the hell had D'Hoffryn done to her? She couldn't be the Slayer, could she? If she was the Slayer – was she the Slayer, or merely a Slayer?
"Dawn, are you okay?"
If Buffy wasn't the Slayer... Dawn's thoughts were a mess. If I've taken her place... what does that mean for Buffy when she and Mom get here? If she's not the Slayer and I am – Oh God, can I do this without her help? She'd be as normal as Xander. That thought brought her up short. No, not Xander. Xander might be normal, but he's also one of the most extraordinary people I've ever met. Buffy without the Slayer is Cordelia.
"Hey, Dawn?" She jumped when a hand touched her shoulder. She whirled, ready to do battle again, but it was Xander. Only Xander. He and Jesse and Willow were all standing there, staring.
"Whoa! Just me, Dawn! Just me!" There was honest concern in his eyes, as well as the fear and confusion. Without knowing she was going to do it, Dawn leapt into Xander's arms and hugged him to her. "Hey, you okay? You're shaking. It's okay. They're... they're um, they're gone."
Dawn nodded into his shoulder. "Just give me a second, okay, Xan?" She clung to him long enough for him to start gently stroking the back of her head. It was nice, but not was not the time. She pulled away from him with regret.
"Look, um... I know this was weird and all..."
"You think? You, uh, you stabbed those guys and made them go poof." Jesse's voice was high-pitched and near panic. "That's not normal."
"Yeah!" Willow's voice was even shakier. "That was about as far from normal as you can get. What was that?"
"Dawn?" Xander hadn't completely let her go yet, and she was actually grateful for it.
"Right. I should explain. Okay. Um... not here. Let's, um, let's get you guys home, okay? I'll try and explain everything on the way." Dawn motioned toward her car. "I guess you guys deserve to know the truth about what's going on in this town." A sudden thought occurred to her. "Wait, better yet... I know where we can go. I'm sure once we explain things he'll help us."
"He? He who?" Willow asked. Dawn could see the girl was on the edge of panicking.
"A friend. Well, sort of a friend." Dawn paused. "Okay, he hasn't met me yet. But I'm sure he'll help us. He's British. Its like, against the law for him to be rude or something."
Author's Note the First: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned by Warner Brothers in associatin with Mutant Enemy Productions. L.A. Law is owned by 20th Century Fox Television. All I own is the idea and the words. The song "Sleep to Dream" (the song that is playing when Dawn pulls Xander onto the dance floor) was written and performed by Fiona Apple, and is the property of Work Records (Apple's own label) in conjuction with Columbia Records.
Author's Note the Second: No, I am not abandoning Origin Story. I was taking a shower and an idea for a new story popped into my head, and it being there prevented me from doing anything meaningful with Origin Story until I got it out of my head and into words. I'm hoping to work on both stories simultaneously.
Author's Note the Third:I know that Peggy Sue stories are trite, but every once in a while you have to write one. I wrote one for Harry Potter, so now I'm writing one for Buffy. Hopefully you'll enjoy it.