The wind picked up whipping Dawn's hair around her neck. The sense of panic was rising inside her. The universe was literally being ripped apart in front of her eyes. The night was illuminated with lightning slashing across the sky. Buffy stood before her and suddenly Dawn got it. She understood all of her sister's sacrifices all the things she had had to give up so that she could protect Sunnydale and the world.
The world needed Buffy more than she needed her sister. She had been selfish for so long, demanding her sister's attention all of the time. This was the moment. The weight of destiny settled onto her shoulders. Her sister's destiny was to be the slayers, hers was to do this one selfless act. Her one chance to save the world.
Fear coiled in her stomach. The metal plating beneath her had a giant hole ripped in it and through it Dawn could see an eerie glow began to coalice beneath them. She was memorized by the glare.
"Dawn!" Buffy yelled tugging on her sister's shoulder. "We have to get down from here."
Dawn turned to her sister, a numb feeling stealing over her body, she studied Buffy's familair features. This was the face of the person Dawn loved most in the world. The fake memories told her that Buffy's smile had reassured her when she was scared of the dark as a child, teased her when she lost her first tooth, had darkened in anger when she had stolen her sweater. But most of all she memorized the look on Buffy's face as she had strode towards her on the tower, throwing Doc down to the ground without a glance, the look that told her Buffy would always come for her.
"Dawnie!" There was panic in Buffy's voice when Dawn refused to budge and it hardened into an order. Buffy grabbed her arm and hauled her a couple of steps back across the ledge but Dawn drew away.
"Buffy I can't." She tilted her head towards the growing vortex of energy that was growing behind them. Dawn could feel it beckoning her. "The energy."
"You know you have to let me. Look what's happening!"
Dawn could see the battle raging across Buffy's face, saw the slayer come to a conclusion that Buffy couldn't or wouldn't even contemplate.
She brushed her lips across Buffy's cheek, letting her sisters warmth flood across her skin, trying to steal some of her sister's bravery. She pushed away and took off at a run; it was the only way she could do what was needed to be done without chickening out. The platform disappeared beneath her feet and Dawn felt herself freefalling, the wind rushing past her. She reeled as the lightening hit her body, the pain almost unbearable as the energy coiled around her, welcoming the key back into the embrace. Dawn was gone before the lightening was fully gone.
Buffy tottered over to the edge of the platform gingerly, peering down into the disappearing vortex as it closed in on itself. The night air whipped at her hair but she didn't move to clear her vision. She didn't allow herself to blink as she frantically searched for her sister. The wind had died down but there was a roaring in Buffy's ears. She pried herself away from the railing and made her way down the structure. She was met at the bottom by Giles and Willow.
"Where is she?" Buffy demanded.
"Dawn's gone." Willow said gently. "She jumped." Buffy was barely listening, she kept on walking, needing the excuse to keep moving. Dawn had jumped. She had closed the portal. The energy of the key was gone, but what about Dawn? What about the body?
She came to an abrupt stop as the sun slowly climbed higher into the sky, bleaching the sky with light. Amongst the rubble lay her sister, lain out like a sacrifice, or as if she were sleeping. Spike sat at the edge of the shadow and wept, Giles and Willow flanked her.
Buffy slowly walked forward, settling her sister's weight into her arms, she gently brushed the younger girl's hair away from her face, marvelling at how perfect it was.
There were no words spoken. The scoobies closed around her, adding their silent grief and it gave Buffy the strength to keep walking. Into the light, to whatever was left of her life.
The anniversary was coming up. Buffy didn't even need to glance at a calender to know. Her body knew, reacting to the loss of something that had made her whole. She hadn't been lying when she said Dawn had been created out of her. The grief was a physical ache.
"You want more coffee hun?"
Buffy looked up guiltly and then smoothed out her features. "Oh. Yes. Thanks."
The waitress seemed to take Buffy's disjointed answer in stride as if she took orders from crazy young women all the time. Buffy glanced around the booth wall, looking at the tall, laughing girl in the corner as she ate with a variety of people, all of whom seemed older then her.
Okay, so she was totally crazy, Buffy decided. But all her slayer senses turned on around this girl, in some mystical way she knew this girl and even if this girl wasn't Dawn, Buffy wanted to know what the deal was.
She had been staking out this resturant for almost two months now, cataloguing when the girl came in, who she was with and writing down all the ways she reminded her of Dawn. Of course, the crazy part was that Dawn was dead. Had been for nearly five years. Five years today, her traitourous mind told her.
The other crazy part was that the girl didn't even *look* like Dawn. For one she was blonde, and had deep set brown eyes. She was tall but she was curvier, more womanly. When Dawn had jumped she had been a teenager, still uncomfortable with her changing body, this was a young woman.
Buffy dropped her eyes and held the newspaper she had left discreetly on the table to her face as the girl got up. She winced uncomfortably as the woman walked past her, the sense of familiarity was almost overwhelming and Buffy had to stop herself from grabbing her and demanding to know the truth. She breathed a sigh of relief as the door to the ladies closed behind her. Buffy drummed her fingers on the table, wondering what she should do. She wished she had taken Tara up on her offer to come with her. Out of all the scoobies, Tara had been the one most inclined to believe her, not that her oldest friends hadn't supported her, they had, but she knew in their hearts they were merely humouring her, believing her grief was still overwhelming her good sense.
She frowned. She totally should have brought Tara, she knew auras and things, hadn't she always said the outer shell wasn't important but your aura and that was how you reconized somebody? Buffy wished she had paid a little more attention to Giles on his endless quest to fill her head with knowledge.
The door swung open and the woman strode back out. Buffy took a fortifying sip of coffee that had been filled up during her trip to dreamland and overanalyzing city and stood up. The possible Dawn stood at the counter waiting for an order. Buffy walked over casually and sat down on the seat next to her.
"So what's good to order here?"
The possible Dawn gave a start as if Buffy had suggested she walk down mainstreet naked, but after a minute her expression evened out and she took the menu from Buffy with only a slight tremour. She scanned the page for a moment then pointed to:
"Mmm Hmm. They're the best." The possible Dawn enthused
"Well I'll take your word for it." Buffy smiled. "I gues they're not to fattening."
"Well if you eat them, I guess they can't add too many pounds." Buffy gestured to the mirror on the wall opposite them. For a moment the woman looked surprised as if she had looked in the mirror and for a second didn't know the person staring back at her.
"Oh. Right. No theyre pretty okay as long as you don't splurge."
"I'm Buffy." Buffy said, offering her hand. After a second the girl took it. She had a nice firm handshake.
Buffy raised an eyebrow at the name, unsuccessfully trying to hide a laugh that bubbled up instinctively. Millie raised an eyebrow and Buffy straightened out her face.
"Sorry. My bad. I haven't heard the name Millie before."
"Well Buffy's a unique name too."
"Yeah, well I grew up in L.A and was a cheerleader" Buffy raised one shoulder in a 'whaddya gonna do' fashion.
"Buffy and a cheerleader I would never have guessed."
"Yeah well my sister was called Dawn, though she was never a cheerleader"
Buffy checked the girl's face for clues. She was startled Buffy could tell, she had had hit paydirt whatever that was, Buffy wasn't sure.
"Dawn?" The woman asked in a small voice as if the wind had been kicked out of her.
"Yeah. She, uh, she died." Buffy felt suddenly uncomfortable. What if this person wasn't Dawn? She was revealing her greatest pain to a stranger. Buffy clenched her jaw against the threat of tears, calling on her slayer strengh to keep herself in check. The five years had dulled the ache somewhat but the pain was still there, and on some occasions it had the power to wake Buffy up from a deep sleep, to catch her offguard.
"I'm sorry." Millie said, her face was drawn and tight as if she were trying to keep her own emotions in check.
Buffy nodded, wadding up several napkins in the palm of her hand and making a fist. "Yeah. Uh, sorry for unloading."
The burly man behind the counter finally saw Buffy waiting and ambled over.
"Can I get you somethin'?"
"Can I have a set of waffles to go. And a hot chocolate with marshmellows." She was embrassed now, she didn't know why she was pestering stranger for. Talking about Dawn made everything too close and she just wanted to run. The man nodded and went to fill her order
"No it's okay" Millie said at last after a moment of excruciating silence. She braced herself on the bar and grabbed her bag.
"Enjoy your chocolate and monkey brains."
She was gone before Buffy could register what she had said and when it finally sank in she felt her whole body clench, the bills scrunched in her hand.
'Enjoy your chocolate and monkey brains' Memories flooded Buffy's mind of a six year old Dawn sitting at the dining room table waiting expectantly as Buffy made her hot chocolate. The young Buffy dropped a bag of marshmallows on the table.
"What are they?" little Dawn asked dubiously.
"Monkey brains." little Buffy said condfidently.
"Eww." Little Dawn made a face. Buffy grinned and grabbed the bag, so that little Dawn couldn't see the label.
"Monkey brains, monkey brains" Little Buffy caroled joyfully as Little Dawn squealed and leapt out of her chair and ran around the kitchen, with Buffy in tow.
Buffy dumped the bills on the table and grabbed her order, lunging for the door as quickly as her slayer reflexes could take her.
"Millie!" She yelled once she hit the street. She could see the blonde a yard or two ahead and she quckened her pace.
"Millie" she said again, knowing the other woman could hear her but still she wouldn't turn around.
"Dawn!" Buffy tried, stopping. She watched as the other woman froze, blonde hair blowing in the breeze, and an image of dark hair on a black night flittered through Buffy's mind. She took a few steps forward until she was a little behind Dawn.
"Dawnie." She said softly. Dawn turned around, a fine sheen of tears in her eyes.
"How did you know?"
"Monkey brains." Buffy said simply.
Dawn rolled her eyes and offered a curse to the sky. "I knew it was a dumb thing to say."
"What are you doing here?" Buffy asked.
"I live here." Dawn said simply.
"No I mean "Here" instead of, y'know." She made a gesture to the sky with her hand.
"I dunno. I jumped and then there was pain and then I was standing there beside my dead body in that ugly ass dress and then.." She paused and her eyes darkened in remembered pain.
"I thought you might be able to see me, so I tagged along hone, but Rub-someone intercepted me and kind of filled me in on what was gonna happen next."
"I became a reaper." She said it so matter of factly, as if she were saying. "I went to get some milk" that Buffy laughed. Dawn frowned at her. "Y'know that's gonna get old fast."
Buffy sobered. "Sorry 'Millie'" She said significantly. Dawn sighed. "It wasn't my choice okay?"
"Okay." Buffy agreed. "Let's get back to the part where you're not dead. And a reaper."
Dawn shrugged. "It's my job. I was called like you. Except I don't get any cool powers or demons. Just yellow stickers."
"Sticky notes." Dawn elaborated. "They tell you when someone's gonna die and then I go and take their soul."
"And you do that for a living?" Buffy pressed, drinking in all the information. It was like an overload. Five years of missing her sister and she was suddenly overwhelmed by the sheer joy and information coming to her. It was like a reward for all the bad things that happened to her as the slayer.
Dawn looked uncomfortable. "I'm not supposed to say anything. I could get into trouble."
Buffy frowned. "Why?"
"The dead and the living shouldn't mix."
Buffy raised a skeptical brow. "I think we both know that they do."
"Okay well we shouldn't." She gestured to the space between them. "You have to get on with your life and I have to get on with mine, or my afterlife."
Buffy swallowed. "So that's it? You want to forget me and Giles and everybody, it's so easy for you to forget the scoobies. And me?"
"No!" The vehmence in Dawn's tone stopped Buffy. "I love you Buffy. More than anyone, and I've been trying to keep away and it's been so hard but I did it because I knew you could have a life without me."
"If you wanted to keep seperate why didn't you move out of Sunnydale?" Buffy asked, her throat closing as tears spilled down her cheeks. "Why didn't you just go?"
"I couldn't. I just had to deal. And I have. Mostly. And you, Buffy, you have a life, I mean you graduated college, you got your life back. You coulda just shut down but you didn't. You sucked it up. You became the slayer you should've been."
Buffy swiped at the tears but they seemed neverending, just like the pain she was in right now.
"So what, just because my life is working out it makes it okay that my baby sister is dead?"
"No, but it's better then the alternative. And you know it."
"I would have died for you." Buffy whispered, drawing Dawn close. Dawn hugged he back hard and for the first time in years Buffy felt whole again.
"I know. And you know I would never have let you."
It was time to part and they both knew it, but they couldn't let go, even in the middle of the street on a warm summers day in Sunndale, busy with shoppers, the sisters hugged each other tight.
"I'm not gonna see you again." Buffy said.
"I love you." Buffy whispered. "So much, pumpkin belly."
"I love you, Buffy." Dawn whispered back, and although the voice had changed, Buffy knew her baby sister was still there. She would feel better knowing that Dawn was somewhere around, and although she knew she couldn't always keep her promise to keep away, it was better then the alternative. There was so much left to say, so many questions, but Buffy knew she wouldn't get the answers. This moment was enough, to hold her baby sister close and remember why she was still living.