Title: maybe she’s foolish
Disclaimer: BtVS and all related characters are copyright of Joss Whedon and ME. The Walking Dead and all related characters are copyright of Robert Kirkman, Image Comics and AMC. No infringement intended.
Summary: Dawn still has some faith in humanity. Part of the ‘nature always wins’ ‘verse.
She’d forgotten what it felt like to be clean. To not have dirt and blood speckled across her person; built up in layers and scents. It’d reminded Dawn Summers of the paintings their mom had stared at for hours. Hung in the museums she’d taken them, well, dragged in her sister’s case, to while in New York City. Their mom compared the abstract art to the optical illusion posters Dawn liked and Buffy hated—since she sucked at finding the hidden image—which made Dawn love them all the more.
Their mom’s fascination with expressionists had led to Dawn spending many an afternoon looking for the images in the dirt on her skin. It’d made Dawn feel closer to her.
And it’d all been washed away in a spray of lukewarm water and soap that smelled like nothing at all. There wasn’t a speck of dirt left to search or trace and Dawn knew she should be grateful, but she found herself sniffling in an attempt to keep the tears at bay. The tugging at her hair ceased as Buffy stopped working a comb through it. Dawn turned her gaze on the now filthy shower and the towels spread across the bathroom floor.
She searched for meaning there as Buffy’s hand settled on her shoulder and she pleaded, “Dawnie.”
A sob escaped her and Dawn turned, folding herself against Buffy’s front. The comb clattered to the floor and Dawn buried her hands in the robe Buffy wore. Strong arms wrapped around her shoulders. Holding her as Dawn cried for no reason other than she was clean and it somehow made her feel further from their mother than even death had managed.
The crying turned to sobs and they sank to the floor. Crowded by their discarded clothing and the weapons Deanna had allowed them to keep. Dawn cried until her head ached and the tears fled to be replaced by wet gasps that hurt her chest.
“Breathe, Dawn,” Buffy directed, turning her so that she sat cradled in her sister’s lap. She was too big now, but she didn’t dissuade the handling and instead dropped her head onto Buffy’s shoulder. “Breathe.” Buffy ordered while running a soothing hand up and down her back. “Just breathe.”
A shaky breath was exhaled and then another, steadier inhale. Dawn blinked, her eyes felt dry and heavy, and she searched the dirt smeared tile lining the shower. She sniffed, inclining her head to the side and studied a particular bit of wall. Her hand rose, as shaky as the rest of her, and she pointed towards a corner of dirt. “Doesn’t it look like a turtle?”
Buffy’s turned and propped her cheek on the crown of Dawn’s head, “A little.” She wrapped her arms around Dawn, who relished the too brief, too tight squeeze that followed, before Buffy stated, “We need to finish working out those knots.”
She pushed herself up, dragging Dawn with her, and retrieved the comb in the process. Dawn found herself settled once more in front of the shower, turned away from the mirror, as Buffy restarted the gentle process of detangling her hair. Soft tugs that worked from the bottom up until Dawn swayed a little with the movement and stifled a yawn.
A knock at the door, tensed her shoulders and Buffy’s hands fell away. Both sisters turned to take on a possible threat as Aaron’s voice, more hesitant than the knock, carried through, “Girls? Dinners almost ready.”
Dawn glanced at Buffy, saw her frowning at the door—likely more confused by the civility than the offer of food—and so she assured Aaron, “We’ll be right out.”
“Okay,” there was a pause and Dawn thought he intended to add more to his reply, but then she heard his retreating steps as he headed downstairs.
“I like him.”
“You like everyone,” Buffy countered and looked down at her—not as far down as she used to Dawn would like to add—and scoffed, “And you always did have a soft spot for lost causes.”
“He’s not a lost cause!” Dawn shot back and focused on the useful distraction of Aaron and Eric’s offer. “He’s kind,” Dawn lifted her chin in challenge, “and that’s not a bad thing.”
“It’s not bad,” Buffy sighed and glanced at the door, “It’s dangerous.”
“So’s most things nowadays.” Dawn countered.
Cutting off the impending squabble at the knees; Buffy turned away from the door (and Dawn’s argument) to retrieve her shoulder holster and knives. She shrugged it on over the robe—looking utterly ridiculous—and Dawn retrieved Buck, snapping it closed and dropped it into the pocket of her own robe.
She didn’t know the make and model of her knife, but it had Buck stamped on the handle. It was small enough to fit in her hand, but with a retractable blade long enough to deal with the dead. Snub-nosed knives weren’t good for much, but Dawn found herself missing the familiar weight of her gun. Watching Buffy absently rub where she normally kept the Mare’s Leg, which kicked like a mule, was a comfort.
Her sister looked in the mirror, patted at the roots of her hair with a frown line forming between her brows, before squaring her shoulders and motioned Dawn to head out. Dawn smirked, since allowing her to go first meant Buffy at least marginally trusted their hosts, and Dawn liked the idea of Buffy trusting Aaron—at least a little.
Dawn inhaled at the top of the stairs, stopping to give Buffy wide-eyes over her shoulder, since the scents coming from downstairs were amazing. Much better than the rabbit they’d split a few days ago. “We’re not sharing.”
A hand settled between her shoulder blades and Dawn skedaddled before Buffy shoved. Her foot falls were a little too heavy, a little too quick, but she was pretty sure bread was one of those scents wafting towards them and her stomach growled in acknowledgement. Dawn reached the bottom with a thud and she turned to the back of the house and the kitchen.
The sight of the table brought her up short. Buffy muttered a curse and slid to the side, having been an impatient shadow at her back, and bounced into the wall rather than Dawn. It brought them shoulder to shoulder and both stared, confused and a little awed, by the nicely arranged table with a steaming pot of something in the center.
“Dawn,” Eric turned to greet them with smile that Dawn liked leaps and bounds better than Deanna’s, “Buffy,” he moved to side and motioned them towards the table. “Sit, sit. Make yourselves at home.”
The gnawing feeling in her stomach brought Dawn forward first, but she paused to frown at a hamper full of clothing, it took up the seat at the end of the table that was closest to them. “Jesse brought those for you.” Dawn looked to Eric in wonder even as he clarified, “For the both of you. She wasn’t sure if any of it would fit, but it’s clean.”
“Clean works.” Buffy offered and played with a bit of lace on one of the shirts, “Clean is always good.”
“Can we eat?” Dawn urged, her stomach reminding her that clothing was great, but food was better.
“Of course,” Aaron’s voice turned her head and Dawn watched him carry a basket to the table and set it down before unwrapping the cloth on top to reveal bread. Fresh bread.
“Are you serious?” Dawn sputtered and went to take a seat.
“Dawn,” she hesitated at Buffy’s tone, a warning that made her frown before noticing she tried to take the chair closest to the window.
“Right,” she sidestepped and commandeered the next one before demanding, “What are we eating?” Eric laughed and Dawn blushed, “I mean it smells really good.”
“Stew,” Aaron offered as he reached for the serving spoon, “It’s made it with goat meat. I hope that’s okay.”
Dawn glanced at Buffy who shrugged and offered, “We haven’t had any Billy Goat Gruff as of yet.”
“Maybe some troll,” Dawn offered and beamed when the men laughed.
Her bowl was filled and Buffy shared the bread—big sisters were way better at the sharing thing in Dawn’s opinion—before she snagged a bit of the meat from the bowl with her fingers. It had an edge of vinegar that Dawn enjoyed and it was warm. So warm and filling as she pulled out a piece of potato and then an onion.
Dawn was busily licking her fingers when she caught Buffy’s amused face and she casually waved her own spoon. Dawn swallowed and ducked her head before snagging her spoon. She caught sight of Aaron; who also looked amused and Eric was beaming.
“I take it as a compliment.”
“It’s really, really good.” Dawn assured him.
“Try the bread,” Buffy offered and then added, “In the stew.”
Dawn obliged, tearing off a corner of her piece before dipping into the sauce. The bread was warmer than the stew and it melted on her tongue. Dawn didn’t speak another word until her second helping was gone and her third slice of bread was devoured. Her stomach lost that hollow feeling and she propped her chin on her hand as she watched Buffy finish her meal.
It was then Dawn noticed, “You have wine!”
She got a side-eye for that and Buffy quirked a brow as she took a sip from the glass Aaron or Eric had obviously poured for her. “Pretty sure the age restriction on libations went out the window when the dead started walking the Earth.”
“Libations?” Dawn parroted and grinned. “Can I try some?”
She glanced back and forth between the adults and her sister before Buffy casually offered her the glass she was drinking from. Dawn swirled it like she’d seen their mother do and sniffed it. It didn’t smell as good as the bread, but it wasn’t terrible. She took a hesitant sip and her nose wrinkled. “Bleh.”
Buffy accepted the hurriedly returned glass and smirked into as she took another sip of her own. “That’s gross,” Dawn declared before questioning. “Since when do you drink?”
“I’ve had a Seagrams or two before.”
“College party?” Aaron questioned.
Buffy nodded and returned the glass to the table. “We put Skittles in it.”
“Oh,” Eric laughed and shook his head, “Sweet on top of sweet.”
“I was fifteen.” Buffy argued, “I didn’t know any better.”
“Still don’t,” Dawn assured her with a smile.
“I thought so,” Dawn retorted and reached for her water—a much better choice over the red stuff her sister was drinking.
“How old are you?” Aaron questioned.
Buffy tensed up, perhaps not to Aaron and Eric casual observation, but Dawn knew when her sister was uncomfortable. Most people lost respect for her (and acted stupid) once they learned her age. Dawn inclined her head as Buffy lift her chin in response to the question before admitting. “Seventeen.”
“We think,” Dawn tacked on and caught the frown from the men, “We’re not entirely sure on what the date is.”
Eric supplied it and Dawn and Buffy exchanged glances before Buffy nodded, “Still seventeen then.”
Aaron smiled, “Perhaps we shouldn’t have offered you the wine,” and as responses to Buffy’s age went that wasn’t the worst they’d ever gotten.
“Nonsense,” Eric countered, “In Italy the children have wine with their meals,” he waived a dismissive hand, “I don’t see why it’d be an issue. Especially now.” He directed his gaze to Dawn, “And how old are you? A well preserved twenty-five?”
Dawn definitely liked Eric. “Twelve.”
“Soon to be a teenager,” he glanced at Buffy, “certain you can handle that?”
“No,” Buffy admitted and reached for the wine again.
“Have you thought over our offer?” Aaron raised his brows and his smile was a welcoming thing as far as Dawn was concerned.
Eric added, “We’d like you to stay here. With us." He inclined his head, “I’m sure you’ll get some other offers. More,” he hesitated and Aaron offered him an encouraging nod, “More normal. Nuclear family types. But I think you’d do well with us. I think we’d do well with you.”
“I do too,” Aaron added, bringing the girls’ focus back to him, but his gaze was directed at Buffy. “I was hoping we could barter.” He smiled, “Free room and board in exchange for your help out there.”
“Outside the walls?” Buffy questioned for clarification.
Aaron nodded. “I have an idea of what I’m doing out there, but I know I could do better. Be better. I think you can get me there quicker than I’d get there alone.”
Dawn knew it was Buffy’s choice, she followed her lead in most things, but Buffy turned to her and asked, “What do you think, Dawn?”
“I think they cheated and fed us.” Dawn countered honestly and then trusted her gut. “I like them. And I want to learn how to make that bread.”
“It’s not the worst idea.” Buffy admitted, “I have a date with Aiden and his buddy in the morning to test my skills,” Buffy rolled her eyes before directing her gaze to Aaron, “but afterwards you and I can go out.”
“Is that a yes?” Eric grinned.
“It’s a yes.” Buffy agreed.
Dawn beamed before raising her glass, like she’d seen their mom do at dinner parties. “Cheers!” Their wine glasses met with her water glass with a pretty sound that made Dawn’s full stomach warm.