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Forming Real Memories

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After the fall of Sunnydale, there was the matter of Dawn’s high school education to be dealt with. Sunnydale was no more, and therefore the school and all its records were gone, but Robin Wood was willing to write a letter to vouch for her top notch grades, and Dawn wanted to go to college.

Dawn was still 17, and with Buffy traveling around the world finding and training new potentials, Giles stepped in and took on the parental role he had been so resisting for so long. It was actually Anya’s idea. During the battle, D’Hoffryn had sensed her injury and pulled her through a portal into Arashmahaar  to spare her moral life. (He was angry with her, but she was still family.) And when Anya returned, instead of her jumping into Giles’ arms as was her pattern, he ran to her, and they easily drifted into being together. Giles had never wanted to offend Buffy by implying she was an incapable guardian for Dawn, but Anya had no such scruples. In fact, those were the exact words she used. And Buffy had accepted it.

So Dawn finished off her senior year being tutored by Giles and being mothered by Anya, which was honestly the most normal her life had been in any of her actual non-fabricated existence. And when she scored perfect scores on her ACT, SAT, and GED, one national merit scholarship and some well invested stocks cashed out by Anya later, she was headed to Stanford.

She promised Giles that she would consider the New Watcher’s Academy once she was finished, but he had gotten to go to Oxford, so why shouldn’t she get a normal college experience. Other than her intelligence, origin story, life history, and family, she was, essentially, a normal girl: wasn’t she?

But the truth was, she wasn’t. Stanford was wonderful in so many ways. She was finally taking classes with her peers that challenged and motivated her. She had decided on the HumBio track, since she thought that knowing both the psychology and anatomy of humans would make her a great watcher someday, and it was the most uniquely Stanford degree she could get.

But when it came to mixing socially with said peers, she found the experience...lacking. She just had so little in common with them beyond her classes. And when they’d ask her about her life, she always got tripped up about what she could reveal without making people either confused or pity her. She basically got it down to that she had two wonderful foster parents, and a sister who has a job where she travels the world. Why mention the dad who abandoned her before she actually existed? It’s not like any of her memories of him actually happened. When you say foster parents, most people don’t pry.

And the drinking culture of campus was really...gross. She’d just never gotten interested in drinking. It dulled her senses too much. She didn’t like to be that girl taking psych who suddenly was self-diagnosing everything, but she totally had PTSD from all the times she’d been kidnapped by yucky demons, so having her senses dulled made staying alert for possible risks impossible, so she preferred to stay sober.

Also the one time she did get drunk she started telling this really cute boy the story about how her sister’s ex boyfriend made a robot to look just like her, and how hilarious it was that they didn’t realize it wasn’t her at first, and that didn’t go so well. So no more booze for Dawnie.

It made parties a bit of a bummer, actually. But Dawn had been surrounded by people, her sister’s people, but people just the same her whole life. And she’d made friends before. On her own. None that she was still in touch with, but she was a new person now. Well metaphorically. She only became an actually new person once.

And that was the kind of funny thought that she couldn’t share with other people. Her first week she’d had nightly phone calls with Anya and Giles, but Giles had layed down the law, not only about long distance charges (well maybe that was Anya), but about how he couldn’t hold her back and let her use him as a crutch so she didn’t have to grow up. Like he’d never used that line before to a bad end.
But that’s how she ended up at that off campus party, sitting on a sofa and pretending she was part of a group conversation, even though the few times she’d tried to interject something, she’d been rebuffed. But when that happened, she just thought of Anya, and didn’t let it phase her. Eventually she would click with someone.

And there he was across the room, all floppy haired, big eyed, and just the right amount of preppy for her tastes. Was he smiling at her? And why did his smile seem so familiar? She nervously smiled back. His smile grew wider, and he strode over and sat on the arm of the sofa she was on.

“Hey, I’m Connor. What’s your name?”

“Dawn.”

“Are you as bored with this as I am?”

“Oh God, how is it that this school only let 12.8% of applicants in with 90% of them in the top 10% of their class, but they’re still all such...”

“Morons?”

And as if on clue, from over at the keg they heard a bunch of football bros literally yelling “chug chug chug” as one of their buddies did a keg stand.

“You wanna get out of here?” asked Connor, but Dawn had already gotten up and pulled him by the hand toward the door.

There was something so luxurious about being able to take a peaceful night walk without worrying that you were mostly certain to run into at least one vampire or demon. Not that Palo Alto didn’t have a few vampires and a nest of Carnyss demons populating their local gyms, but it wasn’t like Sunnydale.

“So...what’s your major?” Connor asked, as they strolled through the slightly chilly Northern Californian night.

“HumBio. With a minor in Greek & Latin. You?”

“I haven’t declared. And before you ask, yes, I’m a Sophomore, and so yes, I need to do that soon.”

“Sounds like there’s a story behind that.”

“I went through some...changes last year. Or, rather, I guess that I went through them a few years ago, but I only found out recently. About a lot of family secrets. And lies. I thought I had this perfect family. Mom, Dad, bratty younger siblings...”

“What’s that like?” Dawn asked, with an edge of bitter sarcasm.
“Well it turns out I can’t tell you, since it was all a lie. And like, I knew who I was. But now...I don’t even know what I’m doing here. I almost didn’t come back. But my dad...the man who turned out to be my actual dad, insisted. So here I am.”

“Well if it makes you feel any better, my mom died when I was 14, I literally have never met my father who I hear is still alive somewhere, and my big sister kinda sucked as a guardian, though her best friend and her best friend’s girlfriend were pretty good moms until one of them died and the other, um, she wasn’t okay after that. So my sister’s, um, mentor and his significant other took guardianship of me when I was 17. So no, your family doesn’t sound that weird to me.”

Connor stopped walking and looked at her.

“Yeah, this is the moment that most guys run away, so I won’t be offended if you do.”

Connor smiled at her. “You just shared the facts of your life with me. Why would I run?”

Dawn smiled up at him, and he began to tilt his head down to him when she heard that distinctive sound of someone sneaking up on them who wasn’t breathing.

But just as she was prepared to grab Connor’s hand and yell run, he rolled his eyes and turned around to face the vamp. “What, now?” he asked, as he pulled a stake out from inside his polo, did a little well trained hand to hand combat with a vamp twice his body weight, and staked him, all in the course of 30 seconds while Dawn stood with her mouth gaping open.

“What was that?” Dawn asked, and Connor misunderstood.

“Uh, just a guy strung out on drugs, obviously.”

Dawn started to laugh. “I didn’t mean the vampire, idiot. I meant your slaying technique. I have it 'on very good authority' that there’s no such thing as a male potential. My foster dad is one of the last living Old Council Watchers. So either you’re actually female, or nothing I’ve ever heard of before.”

“Your dad’s a watcher? I would know if Wesley had...”

“Not Wesley. Though he was my sister’s watcher for a little while. Rupert Giles. But who are you?”

“You’re Buffy’s sister.”

“Yu-huh?” Dawn suddenly realized that until she figures out who this boy is and what he knows, she probably shouldn’t be telling him so many things. And why does that stupid smile on his face look so familiar?
“Let’s go somewhere less vampire ridden and finish this conversation.”

“I’m not going anywhere with you until you tell me who you are and how you know about my sister.”

“I’m Connor.”

And all of a sudden she remembered. She remembered Willow coming back from LA and telling her about about Angel’s handsome yet androgynous son with the genetically similar sneer. (And obviously inherited smile as well. She knew she knew that smile from somewhere.) I mean, mostly after that trip she couldn’t shut up about some girl named Fred who she claimed to totally not be into, but clearly here he was. Angel’s son.

“Angel’s son.”

“So can we go somewhere where I didn’t just have to kill a vamp? Not that I mind showing off to you my slaying abilities, but I’d rather just be talking to you.”

“Sure. My dorm’s just over there.” said Dawn, and they walked at a brisker pace over to her dorm. “My roommate was the one who took me to that party. She seemed to be waiting in line to do the keg stand next when we left, so we’ll be free to have conversations that would scare the crap out of all the muggles without freaking out anyone else.”

“Sweet,” said Connor. And he took her hand as they walked to the dorm.

Dawn had a moment of guilt over the hand holding. He was super cute, and she was so relieved to finally be having a conversation with someone her age who she could be completely and totally honest with, but his dad dated her sister. Was that weird? What would Buffy say if she found out? What would Giles say, for that matter. Anya would probably only say something about sex and protection and erogenous zones, but thinking that thought only made Dawn blush further. She so shouldn’t be thinking about anything to do with having sex with Angel’s son. Angel’s very cute floppy haired son who happened to go to her college.

She signed him in with the dorm monitor, and they walked up the staircase to her double. She opened the door, and let him in. They’d sort of ceased talking, and she wasn’t sure if things were awkward or just paused while they waited to be alone. And what were they paused for?

“So, uh, want a Soda or something? We have a fridge. My foster mom insisted. I also have an electric tea kettle and proper British tea. That was my foster dad.”

“Why don’t you just call them mom and dad? I ask because once I found out that my parents were just implanted memories, I just started calling the dads from both sets of memories dad. I’ll have a coke, if you’d got one.”

Dawn shrugged and pulled two cokes out of the fridge and handed one to Connor. “I call them Giles and Anya because I always have. And it feels dishonest to call them my mom and dad, since I, um, I miss my mom a lot. I didn’t technically know her for very long, since she died about a year after I, uh, how much do you know about my story?”

“Nothing, honestly. I barely know anything about your sister. My dad doesn’t like talking about her.”

“He always was the broody type.”

Connor laughed so hard soda started to come out of his nose. “He is that, isn’t he.”

“Yuppers. My implanted memories of when he was my sister’s broody boyfriend were not fluffy memories. Mostly he just awkwardly said hi to me when I saw him.”

“You keep saying implated memories.”

“Oh, I wasn’t real until I was 14. Well I guess I wasn’t real until I was 15, but I did spend a year thinking I was real, when I was actually a mystical key formed into flesh out of my sister’s blood that an ancient god wanted to use to destroy the earth. But I remember being a little kid. I just wasn’t one.”

“Oh cool. Yeah, I was kidnapped as a baby and raised in a hell dimension, only to be brought back as a teenager like a month later in this dimension’s time, but I also have a full set of memories growing up with a family and living the ideal american life.”

And he smiled at her. They had both said such horrible traumatic things that if they’d told anyone else, it would have been the worst thing they’d ever heard. But it was just their lives.

“Do you ever think back on like, a funny childhood memory, and get a little sad, like, here’s this memory, but it’s not real?” Dawn asked, knowing that even Anya had never really understood this part of her mystical being into real girl transformation.

“All the time. Not a lot of funny memories from Quor'toth.”

“You were in Quor'toth? Isn’t that like, the worst of all hell dimensions?” Dawn asked, and reacting to Connor’s shock that she knew of it, she brushed it off. “My foster dad’s a watcher, remember? I know stuff.”

“It wasn’t a great place to grow up,” Connor said, smiling wryly. “But I guess at least I got to be a child, even though I wasn’t, uh, getting to be a child.”

“I don’t know. Both options kinda suck,” said Dawn, also smiling. Why were they still smiling at each other? They were discussing horrible tragedies.

“So, uh, would it be really weird if I kissed you? I know that my dad dated your sister, but honestly, everyone I know has dated at least two other people I know,” Connor babbled.

Dawn thought about this for a moment. Yes, anyone found out she was, uh, whatever she was doing, with Angel’s son, they’d be pissed. But how is that any different than her own foster parents ending up together after Xander left Anya? “Yeah, pretty much everyone I know has done that, too. Heck, didn’t your dad also date my foster mom’s ex’s ex Cordelia, who also went to high school with Buffy?”

At that Connor twitched, and withdrew a little. “Yeah, yeah did.”

“Sorry, I know...I know she died. I shouldn’t have brought her up.”

Connor attempts to play it off as if that was the reason he stumbled. Dawn could know everything about his past. But not that part. At least not yet. “Yeah. He was pretty destroyed when she died. You knew her when she was a teenager?”

“Yeah she was kind of the popular bully bitch. She got a little cooler when she was with Xander, who’s also part of Buffy’s group. They were terrible together, but she was nicer. And then when she dated Wesley...”

“She never did.”

“Yu huh. They were mad crushing on each other. They got all googly eyed. It made Giles crazy. I don’t know why that ended...probably because he was such a big British dork.”

“Are we talking about the same guy? Wesley’s a kinda dark broody asshole warrior type, even though he’s also really into research and languages and stuff. He’s the one who kidnapped me in the first place.”

“There is so much about these people’s lives that no one told me about,” said Dawn, shaking her head, her long hair scattering around her shoulders.

“So speaking of things we could do and tell no one about because it’s none of their business...” Connor said, reaching over to smooth down her hair.

“Uh, yes. I’m sure it is weird, but I don’t care if it’s weird. I would very much like to kiss the cute boy that I can talk honestly about my life with.”

Connor sat a little closer to her and took her chin in his hand and looked at her face. He smiled at her. “I’m just thrilled that the only person who even understands a fraction of what I’ve been through in my life was also so cute I had to walk across a room at a party to meet her. Wanna form some real memories with me?”

And they kissed.