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Questions of Proof

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Dawn got to Sunnydale fairly early. Even with the drive from LA to Sunnydale, South Dakota was still a couple of hours behind and she’d teleported from there pretty early in the morning. Still, she was fairly sure that Buffy would be up. Her sister slept about as much as she did.

Even so, Dawn was surprised that it was Joyce who opened the door. Her mother looked surprised to see her, which was strange given that Dawn had told Buffy that she was coming last night. She also seemed a little embarrassed, Dawn thought, although she couldn’t possibly imagine why. She supposed that she was probably reading her wrong. “Dawn!”

“Hi, Mom.” Dawn said, surreptitiously checking her watch. It was still on Univille-time, but it showed that it was still early enough in the morning that Joyce should probably still be asleep. Certainly, she shouldn’t be fully dressed and looking like she was ready to go to work. “Is Buffy around?”

Joyce shook her head, and Dawn was sure she saw her flush slightly. “She hasn’t been here for a couple of days.”

Dawn frowned. That didn’t make sense. Buffy had called her and texted her the night before last, and she’d replied to Dawn’s text telling her that she’d be in Sunnydale this morning. Admittedly, all she had said was ‘Cool’, but that wasn’t really unusual. “Is she okay? Have you heard-“

Joyce shook her head. “Oh, it’s nothing like that. She’s fine, she’s just... keeping away.”

“You seem surprisingly okay with that.” Dawn said slowly. “Is there something I’m missing here?”

Joyce tilted her head slightly. “She didn’t tell you?”

“That there was another Slayer? Sure. That’s why I’m here.”

“I don’t mean Kendra.” Joyce paused, seemingly looking for the right words. “There was a... an incident, a few days ago. A demon was influencing people. The town.” Joyce paused again. “Me.”

Dawn nodded, pretending that she understood. “Right.”

“It, um, sort of turned everyone against the supernatural. Turned people into a kind of lynch mob.” Joyce said, and she was definitely embarrassed now. “Which I led. And we, uh, kind of tied Buffy to a stake and tried to burn her.”

Dawn burst out laughing. She couldn’t help it. The idea of her mother, the woman standing awkwardly in her doorway with a bright red face, leading a lynch mob that tried to burn her sister was too incongruous an idea for her not to laugh. Joyce smiled slightly too, although it was clear that she didn’t really see the funny side of the situation. “I’m sorry.” Dawn said, after a few moments. “I shouldn’t laugh. Trying to burn people isn’t funny.”

“Anyway, Buffy said that everything was fine, that she understood that some... demonic mojo, I think she said, was affecting me and that everything was good between us, but... she still hasn’t been here for the last couple of nights.” Joyce shrugged awkwardly. “I can’t say I blame her, really.”

“It’s not your fault. You do know that, right? If some demon hijacks the town, you can’t really blame yourself for that.”

“I almost burned my daughter alive, Dawn.” Joyce said baldly. “If Kendra hadn’t shown up, I would have.”

Dawn nodded slowly. She understood what it was like to feel guilty about things that weren’t really your fault. She remembered when Pete had been recovering from using the telegram that had messed with his head. He hadn’t had time to do anything more than lie, but he’d still felt guilty about that. “I’m pretty sure that I’m not the right person to try and convince you that you didn’t do anything wrong.” She could see that Joyce was about to protest, but she kept going before she had the chance. “But you didn’t. You live in a town full of demons and vampires and witches, and at some point one of them is going to get to you and you’re going to end up doing something that isn’t... you know, you. But, see, the thing is, it wasn’t you. It was a demon, who happened to be using you.”

Joyce waved a hand absently. “I know that. Buffy said that, Giles said that... but still. I can’t help but feel like-“

Dawn wrapped her in a hug before she could finish. After a moment, Joyce returned it.

~*~

Buffy looked tense. She was pacing up and down, looking steadfastly at the floor, and her jaw was clenched. The last time Dawn had seen her looking that tense, a prophecy had predicted Buffy’s death.

Buffy looked up when she heard Dawn come in, but even though she smiled and some of the tension left her face, she still wasn’t relaxed. Not even close. “Hey, Dawnie.”

“Hi.” Dawn said, looking around the library. Besides Giles, who was reading a thick book and didn’t seem to have noticed that she had come in, there was no one else there. Not even Kendra, the other Slayer. “You okay?”

Buffy nodded.

“’cause, you know, you don’t look okay.”

Buffy shrugged. “Oh, you know, I’ve lost my powers and there’s a new Slayer on the block, and we’ve got someone who used to be a demon locked up and she isn’t saying anything, and... yeah. You know, not exactly having a good time right now.”

“You lost your powers? Right. You lost your powers.” Dawn nodded. That made sense. If there was only supposed to be one Slayer at a time, and Buffy had lost her powers and a demon who had created a reality in which Buffy had died was involved, that certainly would explain why someone might feel tense. “I don’t really have an explanation. I mean, I can talk to the demon if you want, see what they say...” Dawn trailed off. She didn’t really want to speak to a demon, even if the demon was now human. The closest she had ever come to even seeing a demon had been the dismembered remains of the Judge, and he hadn’t really been capable of speech. She didn’t want to speak to a demon.

Buffy shook her head. “She isn’t talking. Says she doesn’t know anything. Giles is looking for-“

“Hmm?” Giles looked up after hearing his name. “Oh. Good morning, Dawn.”

“Hey, Giles. Found anything interesting?” Dawn said.

“Oh, yes. Sadly, most of it is contradictory, hearsay, or irrelevant.” Giles sighed. “It appears that vengeance demons are rather difficult to get a hold of. Besides being able to rapidly recover from most forms of physical damage, they can also teleport out of danger should the situation be too much to handle. That, at least, is certain. However, I don’t know how their abilities work – the ability to grant wishes is powerful magic. Anya mentioned that she had a necklace that allowed her to do it, but I can’t find any mention of such things at all.”

“Hold on a second – did you say she can teleport?” Dawn said. It hadn’t even occurred to her that there might be demons that could teleport. For a second, she was excited – she could ask the demon how it worked, see if it tallied with what she knew about her own teleporter – but then she realised that, even if the demon did say something (which didn’t seem likely, given what Buffy and Giles were saying), then she couldn’t trust what it said. It was a demon, after all. Or an ex-demon.

“I did, yes.” Giles replied. “Sadly, that’s more or less the extent of the information I’ve found on them. Do you want to speak to her? You had some ideas about the alternate universe, you might be able to figure something out. If she talks.”

Dawn didn’t want to speak to her. She wanted Buffy to go back to being the Slayer, for Kendra to stop being the Slayer, and for everything to go back to normal. But she didn’t say any of that. “Sure.”

~*~

The demon didn’t look like Dawn had expected her to. For one thing, Anya was younger than she had thought she would be – she looked younger than Dawn did herself. She also looked a lot more human than she would have thought. Of course, Dawn knew that Anya wasn’t a demon, at least not anymore, but she still couldn’t help but think that she should look like one.

She also looked bored. Dawn hadn’t really expected any particular expression, but when she actually looked at Anya, stuck in the book cage, she was surprised she didn’t look angry, or menacing. In short, she thought that she should look demonic. “Who’re you?”

Dawn ignored the question, although she was kind of surprised that the demon had asked it. She had created another reality in which Dawn was dead, so it seemed a little strange that she didn’t even know who Dawn was. “I hear you can teleport. How does that work?”

“If I answer, will you let me go?”

Dawn looked at Buffy, who shrugged. “It’s not really up to me.”

“Then there isn’t really any reason for me to answer, is there? I want something, you want something, we can trade. It’s a basic transaction.”

“Would you tell me if I said I’d let you go?”

Anya looked at her for a long moment. “Why’d you want to know, anyway? It has nothing to do with wishes.”

“I didn’t really think it did.” Dawn said. “I just want to know. Besides, if you share something then we might be more inclined to let you go.”

Anya shrugged. “I have a maths test today. I was going to flunk anyway, but I thought being locked in here by the librarian might be a good excuse.”

Dawn frowned. “A maths test?”

“Uh, she’s a student. Or she pretended to be a student to get close to Cordy, so that she could get her to make a wish, and now she’s stuck.” Buffy explained.

“It’s a matter of keeping your enemies close.” A voice said from just behind them. Dawn, to her credit, flinched only slightly – she was more used to that sort of thing that she would like – but Buffy jumped nearly a foot in the air.

“Jeez, Ms Calendar!” Buffy exclaimed. “If you could not with the sneaking, that would be great.”

“Sorry.” Jenny said absently. “Is Rupert around?”

“Giles?” Buffy said. “Sure. He was here a second ago, he’s probably back in the stacks somewhere.”

“Thank you.” Jenny replied, and left.

“Right.” Dawn said, after a couple of seconds. “So, Buff, you didn’t think that kidnapping a student and locking them up might be a bad idea?”

“She’s a demon!”

“Was a demon.” Anya corrected crossly.

“Yeah, whatever. Anyway, this is Sunnydale, it’s not like anyone is going to care. Or notice.”

“Still.”

“I’d rather be let out, if it’s all the same to you.” Anya interjected.

“Shut up.” Buffy snapped, before turning back to Dawn. “She’s a bad guy, Dawnie. And you didn’t care that she was locked up until you found out that she was a student.”

“The only reason I knew she was here at all is because Mom told me! Speaking of, if you could go back home and talk to her that would be great. She’s feeling a little... bad about the whole fire thing.”

“What?”

“You’ve been avoiding her, and-“

“It’s got nothing to do with the fire! I have things to deal with, and-“

“Then tell her! She knows about the supernatural now, there’s no reason to keep her in the dark. If you’re worried about not being the Slayer anymore, then talk to her. She thinks you... I don’t know, but she’s worried.”

“Don’t talk to me about telling people things! You’re the person who vanishes when we try to get close to you. It took you more than a day just to reply to a message!”

“Well, I’m sorry that I can’t stay glued to my phone. You aren’t the only thing in my life, you know. I’m not twenty anymore, I have work and other people to deal with.”

“You’re still here though. You said that you wouldn’t be, but you’re still here, just dropping in. It’s early, Dawn, but you’re here. You’re not at work doing... whatever it is you do. What is that, by the way? How is that you can just drop-“

“Do you know what I did yesterday, Buffy?” Dawn interrupted, her voice quiet. She glanced briefly at Anya, who was watching the whole thing with an amused look on her face. “The place I work is having us all do medical tests, to see how fit we are. And I, being me, had to spend hours in a machine, answering questions while they scanned me. Hours. So today I had the day off. But I’m not good with days off, so here I am, bright and early, ready to help you. Because, this time, I was available. You asked me to be here, so here I am. If all you want from me is some... theory, then that’s tough, because I also happen to be your sister, and I care for you. Mom told me that she tried to burn you alive, and you told me that you lost your powers, and I didn’t know any of that. I’ll help if I can, I’ll come up with a theory if I can – but if I can’t, I’d like it if my mom could stop blaming herself for something that wasn’t her fault. Sure, you’ve got other stuff going on, but I didn’t know any of that until a few minutes ago and, frankly, the fact that Mom’s... in a bit of trouble is more important than the fact that you don’t have super powers anymore.”

Buffy opened her mouth as though she was going to say something, but then she looked at Anya again and closed it. After a second, she said “It’s not just the Slayer stuff. There’s something else too.” Buffy took Dawn by the arm and steered her out of the library. “Something private.”