Faith crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Buffy, trying not to look like she was mentally pricing all the furniture in the Summers' living room. B. would never say she was rich, of course, but compared to what Faith had grown up with...
"So," Buffy said, clearly nervous. "Think you could do me one teeny, tiny, little-bitty favor and watch Dawn tonight?"
Faith narrowed her eyes and tried not to look disappointed. Not like B. would have called her over here because she wanted to hang out or invite her someplace or anything.
"I wouldn't ask except..." Buffy's voice trailed off, and Faith rolled her eyes.
"There's some mysterious errand you can't tell me about."
"Um," Buffy said. "Kind of?"
You'd tell Willow and Xander, Faith thought. Just say it, B. Tell me I'm not as good as your perfect friends. She would've said it too, if she hadn't seen Dawn slumped in the corner of the couch, looking half sad and half resentful. Just another person for B. to abandon.
"Fine," Faith said. "Just don't expect me to make a habit of it."
She shot a glare at Dawn -- she didn't want the kid to think she was going soft -- but Dawn smiled back, looking positively gleeful.
"We are going to have so much fun together!" she squealed.
"Yeah," Faith said. "Or something." She promised herself that the adoring look in Dawn's eyes didn't really make her feel warm inside.
"We're not allowed to do that!" Dawn squealed when Faith plunged her spoon straight into a pint of rocky road. "It spreads germs."
"Suit yourself, Miss Goody Two Shoes," Faith said. "Get a bowl."
"I am not a goody two shoes," Dawn huffed, and Faith got a kick out of the wild gleam in her eye as she stabbed her spoon into the ice cream.
"Can we leave our dirty spoons in the sink?" Dawn asked when they'd demolished two pints of ice cream and half a jar of peanut butter.
"Hell yeah," Faith said. Not exactly living on the edge -- yet -- but she thought Dawn had potential. "Come on, kid, let's go rent a movie. Something rated R."
"Really?" Dawn exclaimed.
"Geez, kid, don't pee yourself or anything," Faith said, smiling in spite of herself. She'd never known she could make a kid smile so big. That made it easy to ignore the niggling feeling that she was doing something wrong. Yeah, Dawn was lucky to have stayed innocent for so long, but she had to grow up sometime, right? Anyway, it was just a movie, and Faith made her get her coat on the way out the door.
"Nah," Faith said. "B. can handle herself."
It was true, however much she hated to admit it.
"Yeah," Dawn agreed. "She doesn't need us." She leaned in close to the mirror and swiped the lipstick carefully across her lips. It smudged around the edges; evidently she didn't know about lip liner. Faith fumbled in her pocket for some but stopped before she handed it over.
"Hey," she said. "Take that off."
"Why?" Dawn asked. She stared defiantly into the mirror, not even bothering to turn around and look at Faith.
"Doesn't matter. Do what I say." She'd been toying with the idea of finding Dawn a push-up bra and some eyeliner, but now the image seemed unbearably wrong. Dawn scrubbed at her lips with a tissue, looking petulant, and Faith muttered, "I don't like you looking like me."
The truth was unbearably clear: B. wasn't better than her, but Dawn could be. Maybe life was going to fuck the kid up, but she didn't want to have a hand in it. She glanced over at the clock even though she already knew the time.
"Shouldn't you be in bed by now?" she asked. It felt strange to care. She leaned against the wall, feigning nonchalance while she fought the familiar desire to run. She didn't even care where; she just wanted away from Dawn's innocent perfection.
"Fine," Dawn said. "But if you're going to treat me like a kid, I want a bedtime story."
"Uh. Okay," Faith said, momentarily stunned. She'd figured the kid would turn on her as soon as she started making rules. That was what Faith would have done. But Dawn just curled up in bed, looking expectant. She hadn't brushed her teeth, but when did Faith start caring about things like that?
"I don't know if I know any stories," Faith said, shifting a little on her feet. Not that this somehow made her nervous or anything. "'Tell me a story' isn't the kind of bedtime request I'm used to receiving."
"Oh?" Dawn asked, raising her eyebrows. "That sounds interesting."
Well, at least one Summers sister wasn't an uptight prude. She wasn't about to regale Dawn with her sexcapades though -- not yet, anyway. Maybe in a couple years, if the kid was ready then. Assuming, of course, that she stayed in Sunnydale for that long.
"Once upon a time, there was a girl called Firecracker," Faith said. It was a little more personal than she'd meant to go, but she figured she should start before Dawn asked any more awkward questions about her normal bedtime activities. "Her mom called her that because she didn't take shit from anyone, even when she was little. She was always jumping off tall things too, 'cause she never would believe she couldn't fly."
Dawn was watching her carefully, and Faith cursed herself inwardly. She didn't think she'd told B. or the Scoobies about her mom's old nickname for her, but now she wasn't sure. But if Dawn guessed who Firecracker really was, she didn't ask.
"She must've had a lot of adventures," she said instead, and Faith smiled in spite of herself. She was proud of what she'd done as a slayer, unlike some people.
"Yeah," Faith said. "She killed lots of things. With a sword. Decapitated them actually." Dawn raised her eyebrows at that, and Faith added hastily, "Only things that deserved it though."
"Did she meet a prince?" Dawn asked, and Faith couldn't stop herself from snorting.
"Definitely not. But she beat the shit out of the asshole who hit her mom."
The twitchy feeling was back in her chest again, making her want to run. Why couldn't she have made up a nice story about a girl with superpowers who slayed a dragon or rescued a prince or some shit? That was what a normal person with a sweet kid sister like Dawn would have done.
"That's better than marrying a prince," Dawn said, looking satisfied, and Faith thought she might not have fucked up so badly after all.
"Good thing you know that, kid. You're smarter than B. let on."
Dawn smiled at that, and Faith thought that she could figure this whole big sister thing out if she got a chance. Not that she wanted one. Not that she wanted anything of B's.
She flicked off the light switch.
"Wait." Dawn sat up in the dark. "Was her mom okay? In the end?"
"I dunno, kid," Faith said softly. "That part of the story's not done."
"Was Firecracker okay being so far away from her mom?"
"Yeah." Faith met Dawn's eyes in the dark. "She found people."
"Good." Dawn slumped back on her pillow, and Faith stepped out into the too-bright hallway, pulling the door shut behind her.
"Regular happy ending," she muttered and settled on the couch to wait for B.