Dawn frowned as she saw a new message pop up in her inbox, addressed to her from [Uncle_JS]. It had been a few weeks since he'd sent her any email, and she'd almost been glad about it, the way Buffy had been going off about military projects and things being too good to be true. She'd all but ordered Dawn not to email him back when he wrote again, and Dawn had not been looking forward to that-- to knowing she'd be the one responsible, this time, for cutting herself off from a relationship with an adult-male-type relative she cared about.
She swallowed, then double-clicked on the message, wondering if he'd say anything about what had had Buffy in conference with Riley on the phone several times the last couple days, or why the Slayer had a ticket to fly out tomorrow to meet with some general or other in D.C. To her surprise, however, it didn't even mention the gap in contact at all, except as an aside:
"Your sister hasn't answered my last email, and I'm kind of worried about her. Is she adjusting okay to living in Rome? Moving to a foreign country is always a big change. Or is there something wrong that she's not in the mood to talk to me about?"
Dawn scowled. Not only uninformative, but also a fishing expedition. Sure, he'd seemed a nice guy so far, and when they'd met that once he'd seemed really cool, but he had to know that this was just a little stalker-y of him.
Then again, Dawn didn't have near the Daddy issues Buffy did. Maybe it was because the monks had made Dawn after the whole divorce trauma, plus she'd never had to deal with the whole thing with the adult she trusted with her life with every day suddenly betraying her on her eighteenth birthday because of a bunch of rules some stuffy guys in England made up a long time ago. Up until whatever crisis had come up, the way Buffy had babbled about every email from Uncle John, you'd have thought he was the most important person on her contact list. There was a bond there that Dawn didn't have with him yet. Maybe that did give him a right to try and do an end run around Buffy's non-talkativeness through her, and expect her to respond.
Dawn thought about it a little more, then clicked REPLY and began carefully composing an equally content-free message about the current ins and outs of life as a university student in the Eternal City. Editing out all the Slayer-related references made it sound kind of awkward in places, but she was pretty sure the second half of it would basically cover what Uncle John wanted to know anyway:
"It's been kind of weird having her underfoot again, that's for sure," she wrote.
"She still gets all Mom-ish on me sometimes, even though hello, not a kid anymore, and she keeps asking Andrew stupid questions about my dating habits and stuff. Like I'd bring the hot ones home to meet him, duh! And even if I did, he's pretty much the most oblivious roommate in the history of ever, except when it comes to food. I'll take his cooking over Buffy's any day.
"She's hasn't been out on the club scene as much as the last time she was here, too. You know she was in Rome for awhile after we got out of Sunnydale? She spent several months doing the security thing from our apartment, teaching martial arts to girls and stuff, and after awhile started dating this guy Marco. He was totally wrong for her, a complete skeaze, but she never listens to me about her boyfriends, and anyway, at least she was dating again.
"It had taken her months to get over losing her last boyfriend, that guy Spike I told you about who tutored me in history and literature. We were pretty much the last people out when the town collapsed, and he wasn't on the bus with us, so everyone thought he'd been killed. But then that May-- I guess it's been a year and a half ago now-- she found out he'd survived after all, and was working for another security company in L.A. She was furious, 'cause he'd never called or visited or anything, but she got on a plane and went out there like, immediately. Except by the time she arrived he'd already been killed again, this time for real, in the riots-- I don't know if you were in the States at the time, but more than a hundred people died.
"That's when she packed her bags and went 'walkabout', as Willow put it. I missed her, but we saw each other sometimes when I was on break from school, and I had Andrew here to keep me company. I'd meet Buffy places and hang out for a couple days and help out with whatever, and she seemed a little bit happier every time we saw each other. So I thought her moving back meant she was finally over it.
"I guess not, though. I caught her on the phone with Riley today-- the guy she was serious about before Spike-- and they were talking military stuff. He's stationed out in Colorado now on some top secret project or other, which Buffy doesn't like at all, so if she was actually talking to him about it she has to be really upset about something.
"So that's the sitch. She forgets sometimes, I think, that she doesn't have a monopoly on being all angsty and billowy-coat Queen-of-pain when she has a hard time dealing. But that's probably why she's been all avoid-y lately, nothing personal. (I hope. Unless there's something you said to her…?)
"She probably just doesn't want you to think of her as weak because of all her issues-- which is a retarded way to deal, I know, but that's Buffy. All of the authority type guys she's ever known have ragged on her about her taste in boyfriends, kind of implying that she deserves whatever fallout comes her way from those relationships, and of course that's the last thing she wants to hear."
Dawn added another couple of paragraphs of babble, gave the email an innocuous close, and then scrolled back up and read it all through again, hoping she hadn't said too much and that her own fishing for information didn't stand out too badly. But he really did seem worried about Buffy, and maybe the secret military thing that had Buffy's panties in a wad wasn't really the Initiative, Mark Two. A Key could hope, right?
She hit SEND, then minimized her email window and went back to what she'd been doing before, trawling the Internet for information about this General O'Neill Buffy was supposed to be meeting. Research never had been Buffy's thing, and Riley sure hadn't been very forthcoming from what she'd told Dawn.
Top of the red-flag list in Dawn's book: the fact that up until last year he'd been working at the same facility the Finns were at now, seven years as a Colonel under a General Hammond and an eighth year generaling the place himself after Hammond was given the suspiciously-named job of Head of Homeworld Security. Then, a year later, Hammond had retired, and O'Neill had immediately been bumped up the ladder again, adding a second star to his uniform. She didn't know much about the Air Force, but that seemed like a suspiciously low time-in-rank to her.
He was definitely hiding something. Dawn only hoped she could figure out what before it was time for Buffy to leave.
"Where's Willow when you need her?" she muttered, and clicked through to the next site.