She wasn't my mother, Dawn thought fiercely, as she sat on the bus with Buffy on their way to the…
Dawn refused even to think the word.
She wasn't my mother. I'm not going to cry, because she wasn't my mother.
Her head was spinning and her throat was dry and her eyes were stinging and she knew she'd melted down in front of half the school, but…that had only been surprise, because Joyce Summers had not been her mother. Just like Buffy was not her sister, and Dawn did not…would not feel sad about this woman she hadn't even really been related to, in a technical sense.
Her mother had been…
Dawn swallowed. Had been. She was thinking in terms of past tense. Past tense. Barely ten minutes after being told the news
Her mother had been…
…lame. But she hadn't tried to deny the fact and be "cool" like a lot of her student's parents. She'd embraced the fact that she was lame, laughed about it, made jokes about it.
And that, in its own strange and freakish way, had made her cool.
But she wasn't my mother.
Dawn hugged her shoulders, and swallowed painfully as she stared at the ratty bus carpeting.
Her mother had also been so sweet, so gentle, that Dawn had sometimes joked that she was a robot, like her psycho ex-boyfriend Ted. But that, too, had merely earned her a pat on the head or a kiss on the cheek.
Dawn tried to stop thinking, because Joyce Summers had not really been her mother. She would not shed tears in front of all these people…in front of her not-actual-sister, who looked like she'd shatter if someone said the wrong thing…for a dead woman who was not her real mother.
Dawn Summers herself had not existed until not even a year ago, and all those sad and angry and happy memories she had were fake, and Joyce Summers was not her real mother and so she wasn't going to cry about this.
But she cast a sideways look at her not-actual-sister, who was twisting her fingers in her lap and chewing her lip so hard that a trickle of blood was running down her cheek and it was going to stain her favorite skirt.
Without thinking, she reached over and wiped it away. Buffy jumped in surprise, and Dawn recoiled.
"Sorry," she said grumpily, wiping the sticky red substance off on the seat.
Buffy wiped at her eyes, but said nothing. Dawn watched her, just as silently.
She supposed that this girl who was not really her sister could probably use someone to be strong. So, to show how strong she was, Dawn scooted a little closer and put one of her hand's on Buffy's.
Buffy, in return, squeezed it so tightly that Dawn winced. Buffy immediately pulled away.
"S-Sorry…" she stammered, and her voice was weak and faint. They sat in silence, a good six inches separating them, until…
"I…I did the same thing to Mom…" Buffy said, rapidly losing what little strength she had left. "I…I was trying…trying to make her breathe…and…it just went crack, and I didn't mean for it to break, and I'm a freak who couldn't even save her own mother, and…"
And now her not-actual-sister was sobbing there, for all the world to see. And Dawn decided that it was time to do her not-actual-sisterly duty, so she scooted closer again and put her arms around Buffy. And Buffy hugged her back, because her not-actual-sister was clearly losing all ability to keep it together. But Dawn could keep it together, because Joyce Summers had not been…
And suddenly she was sobbing too, sobbing as the past tense reared its ugly head. And as she sobbed she was forced to admit that Joyce Summers had been her mother, and Dawn had been her ungrateful, bratty daughter.
And now, here and now, it was too late to do anything about it. Too late to apologize for the stolen cookies or mud all over the floor or the loud music or the school forms hidden conscientiously under the cushions on the couch. Too late to apologize for not noticing what an awesome mother her mother had been. Too late to do anything but hold her sister and cry until she felt she couldn't breathe, as the bus rumbled on its way to the morgue.