If there was one thing worse than having to abandon your friends and move to another town because your sister burnt down half the school, it was having all that happen to you and still getting stuck with a babysitter when your mom had to work late.
To say that Dawn Summers’ life sucked would be an understatement. Her mom was working late at the gallery, her older sister Buffy got to go out with friends, and Dawn was stuck at home with an ultra-boring babysitter who had barely looked at her twice. She was ten years old- double digits- she did not need to be looked after like a toddler. But her mom wouldn’t listen to her, and Buffy had made excuses about some study session (which was a total lie), and so Anita the dullest babysitter on Earth had been called in.
She’d even insisted on sticking to the schedule Joyce had left behind, and had sent Dawn off to bed the moment the clock struck eight. Of course, it was now nearly ten and she was awake in her room, writing in her diary to pass the time. It wasn’t like she could get in trouble for it, not if her mom didn’t find out.
But then there was a commotion outside, and the sound of the front door slamming, and it was enough to make Dawn curious. Living with Buffy did that to you- Dawn knew for a fact her older sister snuck out at night, and that she had a weird box full of crosses that she’d sworn Dawn to secrecy about. Part of Dawn wondered if Buffy was still ill- their parents had even sent Buffy to spend some time in the hospital after the whole burning-down-the-gym thing. But now they didn’t talk about it, and Dawn wasn’t sure bringing up the box of crosses to their mom would be such a good idea.
Sneaking out of her room, Dawn peered down the stairs to see Buffy stood with a dark-haired man just in front of the now-closed front door.
“It’s alright,” the dark-haired man was saying. “A vampire can’t come in unless it’s invited.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Buffy admitted, “but I’ve never put it to the test.” She slumped against the door, and Dawn heard Anita clear her throat pointedly. Immediately, Buffy straightened again. “Hi. You must be the babysitter.” Her voice had gone somewhat higher than it usually was, in her surprise, and Dawn suppressed a snicker.
“Yeah,” Anita said slowly, and Dawn got the impression that Buffy had spooked the babysitter. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe she wouldn’t ever have to spend another night with the world’s dullest babysitter.
“This, uh, is a friend of mine,” Buffy said awkwardly, gesturing towards the man. She looked like she’d been about to say more, but she froze, eyes on something Dawn couldn’t see from her position. “You’re bleeding.” She blinked, met the man’s gaze. “I’ll go get some bandages, just... wait in the kitchen.”
She pushed the man towards the kitchen then, and Dawn scrambled away from the stairs as Buffy ascended. Shutting the door as quietly as possible, she held her breath, waiting for her sister’s footsteps to pass her room.
“Dawn?” Buffy’s confused voice came through the door. “You still awake.”
“No!” Dawn answered quickly, before wincing.
Behind her, the door was forced open, even as she tried to hold it shut. Buffy was damn determined sometimes, and stronger than she looked.
“You should be in bed,” Buffy said flatly as she took in her younger sister.
“And you shouldn’t be bringing strange men home from your 'study session',” Dawn retorted, folding her arms across her chest.
Buffy flushed a little at that, but rolled her eyes. “I’m the big sister here. Go to bed, and I promise I won’t tell Mom you were snooping.”
“Well, I’ll tell Mom about your friend then.”
The blonde arched an eyebrow. “There’s nothing to tell, Dawnie. Go to bed.”
When Dawn got up the next morning, one of the first things she did was tell her mom about Buffy’s friend.
“I know all about Angel, Dawn,” Joyce said pointedly as she made breakfast. “I met him when I came home. He’s tutoring your sister in history.”
“Oh,” Dawn said, disappointed. Maybe Buffy had been telling the truth when she said there wasn’t anything to tell.
“The question is,” Joyce continued, “how did you know about him? You were supposed to be asleep.”
Dawn shifted under her mom’s scrutiny, shrugging awkwardly. “I needed the bathroom. I was just going back to bed when they came in.”
The way Joyce looked at her suggested she didn’t believe it in the slightest, and she braced herself for a scolding.
“What’s for breakfast?” Buffy’s voice came from the hallway, and a moment later she was taking a seat at the kitchen island.
Moment apparently gone, Joyce turned her attention to her elder daughter, and Dawn let out a silent breath of relief.
That night, at dinner, Dawn watched with narrowed eyes as Buffy pilfered food whenever their mom wasn’t looking. She wanted to call her out on it, wanted to see what Buffy would say about hiding food in a freezer bag. But for some reason, Dawn didn’t. Maybe it was a weird misguided loyalty to her big sister, maybe it was the fact she still didn’t have many friends in Sunnydale and she was secretly hoping Buffy would let her hang out with her friends instead.
So she said nothing, all through dinner, and then nothing as Buffy stashed the bag of food inside her school bag. In fact, she didn’t even say anything when she was sent up to bed over an hour before her older sister. And as she lay in bed that night, Dawn wondered why that was.
She could hear her sister moving around in her bedroom next door, vague murmuring as though she were talking to someone. And then, another voice, lower than Buffy’s, more masculine. Dawn frowned, and sat up in bed, straining to hear.
Buffy had a boy in her room.
Dawn wasn’t sure what to make of that. Part of her wanted to run and tell her mom, but another part of her knew that that would only lead to Buffy getting her back. Besides, if that was who the food was for, maybe there was a reason he was hiding. Was he homeless? He hadn’t looked it, not from the glimpse she’d gotten the night before. Maybe his parents were really mean, and didn’t feed him? Dawn had heard that some parents were like that. But that didn’t seem to fit either.
And then a scream pierced the air, and Joyce’s footsteps on the stairs, and Dawn was on her feet before realising what was happening.
Buffy was stood in her room, back to the door as she stared out her window into the night. Where had that man gone? Angel? Was he hiding somewhere? Had he tried to hurt Buffy?
“Buffy, what happened?” Joyce asked, rushing forward into the room.
Buffy backed away from the window, eyes still fixated on the dark of the night, and a chill ran up Dawn’s spine. The quietness, the stillness of her older sister scared her. Joyce took Buffy by the shoulders then, forcing Buffy to look at her. But she just shook her head, pulling away.
“Uh, nothing,” Buffy said, voice still a little shaky. “I saw a shadow.”
As one, all three Summers women looked to the window.
Dawn didn’t sleep well that night. She certainly hadn’t believed her sister when she’d claimed she’d screamed because of a shadow. She didn’t really know why their mom had believed it, either. Buffy was still acting weird at breakfast, and she didn’t even yell at Dawn when she got to pick the radio station on the drive to school. By evening, Dawn Summers had come to the conclusion there was definitely something weird going on with her sister, and it was much more important than the homework she’d been sent upstairs to complete.
So when the doorbell rang and she heard her mom talking to someone claiming to be Buffy’s history tutor- seriously, how many history tutors did Buffy need?- it didn’t take much to divert Dawn’s attention.
She listened from her spot at the top of the stairs as Joyce invited the girl into the kitchen for a snack, Joyce asking the girl’s preference on size. And before Dawn could process what was going on, a scream pierced the air.
It made her jump, and tears prickled at her eyes. It was her mom, she was sure of it. But what did she do? Did she run downstairs? Hide? Call the police?
“Let her go!” a masculine voice said, and Dawn recognised it as Buffy’s friend Angel.
“I just had a little,” Darla said, in a tone that made Dawn shiver. “There’s plenty more.”
Swallowing, Dawn crept down the stairs. Someone had to find out what was going on, and she had to know what to tell the police.
“Aren’t you hungry for something warm after all this time? Come on, Angel. Just say yes!”
Dawn was nearly at the kitchen then, creeping down the hallway towards the kitchen. She could see Angel, now holding Joyce, and there was something wrong with both Angel’s and Darla’s faces. Dawn grimaced and ducked behind the armchair in the corner of the hall.
“Welcome home!” Darla grinned.
Angel looked to be warring with himself, or at least that’s what it looked like to Dawn hidden away as she was. Darla walked around Angel and Joyce and left through the back door, and it was obviously enough of a distraction as suddenly, there were footsteps, and Dawn belatedly realised she must have missed the front door opening as Buffy entered the kitchen from the dining room.
“Hey, I’m home.” Buffy dumped her bag on the island, before turning and freezing at the sight in front of her.
Dawn wasn’t entirely sure what happened then, but she knew it ended with her sister flinging Angel through the sitting room window.
“You’re not welcome here,” she heard Buffy tell him. “You come near us and I’ll kill you.”
As Buffy hurried back to the kitchen, Dawn clambered out from her hiding place. The blonde blinked at her, before pulling her in for a tight hug. After a moment, Buffy pulled back to survey the ten year old.
“Are you ok? Dawnie, are you alright?” Buffy’s tone was urgent, and her eyes wild.
“Y- Yeah,” she managed to stutter. “But Mom-”
Buffy pulled away and grabbed the phone before heading back to Joyce on the kitchen floor.
“Mom! Mom, can you hear me?” She let out a huff of annoyance as she dialled 911. “Dawnie, grab some kitchen roll for Mom’s neck. We need to try and stop the bleeding.”
As Dawn did as her sister said, Buffy turned her attention back to the phone.
“Yes, I need an ambulance. 1630 Revello Drive. My mother cut herself, she lost a lot of blood! Please, please hurry!”
She dropped the phone to snatch the offered kitchen roll from Dawn’s shaking hands. As Buffy busied herself with trying to stem the flow of blood, two more people stumbled through the back door.
Dawn jumped, before recognising them vaguely as Buffy’s friends from school. Xander and Willow, if she remembered from Buffy’s dinner conversations.
“Hey, Buffy- Oh my god!” Xander’s eyes were wide, as he took in the scene in front of him.
“What happened?” Willow asked, gaze flitting from Joyce’s prone body, to Buffy, to Dawn, and back again.
“Angel,” Buffy ground out, eyes blazing.
But Dawn shook her head. “It wasn’t him!”
Sighing, Buffy fixed her with a look. It was the look that said ‘I’m the big sister, I’m right’. “Dawn-”
“It wasn’t him!” Dawn argued again, vision blurring with tears. “Yeah, his face was all weird, but so was hers!”
“There was more than one vampire?” Willow squeaked.
Buffy huffed. “Looks like Angel brought a guest to dinner.”
“Dawn!” Buffy snapped, before looking through the dining room as approaching sirens could be heard outside. “We’re not talking about this now!”
“Do you remember anything, Mom?”
The hospital room they’d been put in was almost comfortingly bland. After everything that had happened in the past hour or so, Dawn found something almost reassuring in the universal appearance of bland hospital rooms. She was cuddled up to Joyce, on the side of the bed furthest from the door, while Buffy had been left to sit on the uncomfortable chair left for guests.
“Just, um, your friend came over,” Joyce said, frowning at Buffy as she tried to recall what had happened. “I was gonna make a snack.”
Buffy frowned at that. “My friend?”
Dawn rolled her eyes. “I tried to tell you-”
A man appeared in the doorway then, dressed in tweed and looking worried. Neither Buffy nor Joyce seemed to notice him.
“I guess I slipped and cut my neck on... The doctor said it looked like a barbecue fork.” Joyce frowned, looking at Buffy. “We don’t have a barbecue fork.” She seemed to notice the tweed-wearing man then. “Are you another doctor?”
Buffy turned to see who her mom was talking to, and blinked in surprise. “Oh. Um... No, Mom, this is Mr Giles.”
As Joyce’s eyes widened in understanding, it occurred to Dawn that she had perhaps not been paying quite enough attention to her older sister’s school stories, as the name meant nothing to her.
“Oh, the librarian from your school.” Joyce frowned. “What’s he doing here?”
Mr Giles stuttered at that. “Uh, I... I just came to pay my respects, wish you a speedy recovery.”
Dawn’s eyes narrowed. Between the way Mr Giles was stuttering, and the way Buffy shifted uncomfortably in her seat, she had a suspicion that there was something else going on. And she was willing to bet it had something to do with why Angel and Darla had weird faces.
Joyce, however, seemed to think nothing of Mr Giles’s stuttering. “Boy, the teachers really do care in this town.”
Buffy gave a tight smile and stood, pressing a kiss to her mom’s forehead. “Get some rest now.” She then gave a pointed look to Dawn.
Huffing a little, Dawn gave her mom a kiss and slipped from the bed.
“She’s gonna be ok,” Buffy told Mr Giles as they walked a little way down the hall from Joyce’s room. “They, they gave her some iron. Her, uh, blood count was a, a little...”
Instinctively, Dawn clutched at her older sister’s hand, willing away the tears. Buffy’s friends, Willow and Xander, were only a little way away, and Dawn didn’t want anyone thinking she was a baby.
“A little low,” Mr Giles supplied gently. “It presents itself like mild anaemia. Uh, you, you were, uh, lucky you got to her as soon as you did.” He glanced to Dawn. “And that Dawn was unharmed.”
“Lucky?” Buffy asked, clearly unimpressed. “Stupid.”
Xander and Willow had been lurking a little way away, but drew closer then.
“Buff, it’s not your fault,” Xander told her.
He was right, Dawn thought. How would this be Buffy’s fault?
“No? I invited him into my home. Even after I knew who he was, what he was, and I didn’t do anything about it... ‘Cause I had feelings for him, because I cared about him.”
She still didn’t understand quite what was happening, but Dawn leaned into her older sister’s arm, hoping it was enough comfort. As Buffy leaned into her in return, a small smile crossed the ten year old’s face.
But Willow frowned. “If you care about somebody, you care about them. You can’t change that by...”
“Killing them?” Buffy finished, causing Dawn to look up at them in alarm. “Maybe not. But I think it’s a start.” She turned to Dawn then. “You need to stay here with Mom, ok? I’ll explain everything later.”
Mr Giles made a strangled noise at that, but Buffy ignored him. Dawn glared up at her older sister.
“Why are you going to hurt Angel? I told you, he didn’t do anything!”
“Dawnie,” Buffy sighed. “I know this doesn’t make sense right now, and I don’t have time to explain, but trust me when I say I know what Angel’s capable of.”
“But what about Darla?” Dawn snapped. “Angel wasn’t even there when she attacked Mom!”
Mr Giles came forward at that. “Darla?”
Dawn nodded, holding her chin high as she met the man’s gaze. Something about him told Dawn he wasn’t thrilled about her being there, and she didn’t quite know why that was, or why he was so close to Buffy. “Yeah. She came to the house. She told Mom she was tutoring Buffy in history, so Mom let her in. I was meant to be upstairs doing homework, but I wanted to see who was at the door. Mom took her to the kitchen, and then I heard a scream, and then Angel came in. He and Darla talked, and then she left.”
“Talked?” Mr Giles asked hurriedly. “What do you mean talked?”
Dawn shrank back at the demanding tone of the man’s question. “They... Talked.” Dawn shrugged. “They knew each other.”
Buffy considered this for a moment, jaw clenched. “Fine. Then I still go after Angel. He knows this Darla; he can lead me to her. Then I can stake the pair of them.”
Apparently having made up her mind, Buffy turned to leave.
“Buff?” Xander spoke up. “We’ll, uh, stay here. Keep an eye on Dawn, and your mom.”
Buffy gave a nod, and turned to leave again, only to be intercepted by Mr Giles. They talked for a moment, voices low and urgent, and then Dawn was being pulled away by Willow as Buffy headed for the door.
It hadn’t been long after Buffy had left that Dawn had naturally drifted back to her mom’s side. Mr Giles had come too, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about that. But there was something about the man that told her she didn’t want to argue, and if Buffy was off murdering two people then maybe she didn’t want to anger the man who let her go.
“She talks about you all the time,” Joyce told the man as he sat beside the hospital bed. “It’s important to have teachers who make an impression.”
Mr Giles had made an impression, alright, Dawn thought. Whatever was going on with him and Buffy was weird. She had returned to her place on the bed, and she’d tucked herself up comfortably against her mom’s side.
“She makes quite an impression herself,” Mr Giles responded.
“I, I know she’s having trouble with history. Is it too difficult for her, or is she not applying herself?” Joyce looked to the librarian with concern.
As he hastened to reply, Dawn tuned out of the conversation, focusing instead on the fact her mom was alive and well, and trying to avoid thinking about what Buffy was off doing. Whatever was going on, she was sure it was worse than Buffy burning the school down. She was sure it was worse than when Mom and Dad put her in the hospital for a month. She was sure it was worse than when Buffy ran off to Las Vegas.
Or was it all connected?
And if it was, where did Mr Giles fit in? Dawn thought hard. Angel had said something about vampires, when he and Buffy came home the night before last. She hadn’t thought anything of it at the time; more curious about who he was than what he was saying. But Willow had mentioned them again tonight, when Dawn had told them about Darla, and about how hers and Angel’s faces were funny. Then there was what Buffy had said about killing them- no, staking them.
Buffy had invited Angel into their home. She’d been so mad about it before she’d left the hospital, had said it was stupid. And her mom had invited Darla into the house earlier that night, to wait for Buffy-
“Oh my god!”
Both Joyce and Mr Giles blinked at the girl in surprise. Joyce looked confused, but Mr Giles was more... Wary.
“Everything alright, honey?” her mom asked in concern.
“Y- Yeah,” Dawn said quickly, almost falling out of bed in her haste to get up. She couldn’t be right, she couldn’t be right, she couldn’t be right... There had to be a way to find out if it was real, if Angel and Darla really were vampires. She straightened up, catching Mr Giles’s eye as he surveyed her with a look that was somewhere between wary and stern. “Just remembered I didn’t finish my homework. My English homework, about vampires.”
Mr Giles went rigid, and he shot her a warning look that would have had Dawn backing away were she not so proud of herself for figuring it out. But Joyce hadn’t noticed any of that. Instead, she patted the bed, gesturing for Dawn to sit back down.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. I’ll write you a note, alright?”
Dawn settled herself back down on the bed, eyes still on Mr Giles. “Yeah.”
Dawn could tell Buffy was mad at her. She could see it in her sister’s posture, in the speed of her walk, in the way she was totally ignoring her.
Apparently Buffy hadn’t killed Angel, vampire or not, but Dawn was a little fuzzy on the details. All she knew was that the next day Buffy was picking her up from school at the end of the day and taking her to the high school with her. The older girl had told their mom it was to save her from leaving the gallery to pick Dawn up, but Dawn knew it was because she’d really made Mr Giles angry with the whole vampire thing.
Mr Giles really didn’t like her.
“You’re to tell nobody about this, ok?” Buffy told her as they made their way through the halls of Sunnydale High. “And I mean nobody.”
“Ok,” Dawn responded, too busy looking around to really listen to her older sister.
Buffy rolled her eyes, and steered Dawn in the direction of the library. When they entered, Xander and Willow were there working at a big table, and Mr Giles emerged from his office looking stern.
“Dawn,” he greeted a little tensely. “How nice of you to join us.”
“Uh, hi.” Dawn waved.
“Just so you know,” Mr Giles said seriously, “none of this was my idea. If I had my way, we wouldn’t be telling you anything at all. But your sister seems to think this is the right thing to do.”
“It is,” Buffy retorted. “Giles, I promised to tell her. After everything that happened because of me being who I am, I think she deserves to know the reason we had to run off to Sunnydale.”
Dawn blinked. “This is about the vampires, isn’t it?”
“Sunnydale’s on something called a Hellmouth,” Willow chipped in excitedly before Mr Giles could speak up. “It’s, like, a huge centre for demonic activity.”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed. “And that also makes it party central for things like vampires. It’s your big sister’s job to fight them.”
Dawn’s eyes widened at that, and she looked up at her sister with awe. “You fight monsters? Is that why you’re always sneaking out at night.”
“Like I said,” Buffy reiterated quickly, “you tell nobody. Not even Mom. Especially not Mom. We’re trusting you here, Dawnie.”
Taking a breath, she nodded. “Ok. I promise. I won’t tell anyone.”
Buffy smiled at Dawn then, like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders somewhat, but the moment was interrupted by Mr Giles clearing his throat.
“Now, just because you know about vampires, and, and demons, it doesn’t mean you should go looking for them. Am I clear? We certainly won’t be arming you in any way, either. Your sister is the Slayer, and that means that it is her destiny to fight these creatures, but you mustn’t interfere. You also mustn’t tell anybody your sister's identity. Do you understand?”
“Giles, I think she gets the message,” Xander chimed in as he saw the way Dawn began to shift uncomfortably under the man’s scrutiny.
“W- What’s your job then?” Dawn asked, surveying Mr Giles carefully. “You know about vampires, and Buffy being the Slayer. So what do you do?”
Giles blinked, apparently not expecting questions like that. “I, well, I train Buffy. I’m her Watcher. I help her learn about whatever threat’s she’s facing, and how to fight it.” He gestured towards the books on the table Willow and Xander were sat at.
Dawn considered this for a moment. “And Willow and Xander help too?” There were nods of agreement. Dawn frowned. “Why can’t I help then?”
“Because you’re ten,” Buffy told her wryly. “And I have enough on my plate without worrying about you. We’re only telling you this so that you know to stay safe. And rule number one is to not invite anyone into the house after dark. Nobody.”
Dawn thought back to her mom, pale and bleeding on the kitchen floor. She swallowed. “Ok.”
“Good,” Buffy said, and she moved to take a seat at the table next to Xander.
“Now what?” Dawn asked, approaching the table as Buffy pulled out a notepad and Willow and Xander went back to what they’d been doing.
“Homework,” Buffy said calmly. “Now sit down and try not to talk Will’s ear off.”
With a grumble, Dawn slid into the empty chair beside Willow and pulled her own homework from her bag. But as she surveyed her sister, and Xander, and Willow, and Mr Giles over at the counter, she couldn’t help but feel she’d been let into something important.