Disclaimer:I do not own, nor do I claim to own, these characters or their universe.


She and Tara sit on the benches out front of the hospital while they wait for Willow to return with the car.

Another town, another hospital, another day, and Tara of no legal relationship and only six years of seniority probably couldn't have walked her right out of the hospital the way she just had. And if she could have, they couldn't have sat down out in front to just sit and wait. Motionless and actionless and now directionless.

But Sunnydale, busy, wild, dangerous Sunnydale can't afford the manpower to check on all of their patients, nor the beds to house them, especially not now, and no one pays them much attention. Dawn slips through the cracks unnoticed. Familiar.

The cuts on her abdomen still hurt, despite the medication and the stitches and the bandages. They aren't very deep, she hadn't had much to sew up, but they're fresh and still sharply painful.

There's not comfortable position she can take right now, so she sits still at Tara's side, her body rigid and locked. Even if she hadn't been cut up, there's no way she could be comfortable right now. No way she could feel like she hasn't been torn up and bled dry.

The mid-afternoon sun is bright and hot and the sky is blindingly, painfully blue.

Dawn's eyes feel dry. The unnatural, papery sort of dry, but her cheeks are still sticky from tears and her eyelashes are clumped and matted.

She is hurt and hollow and even though she usually finds Tara's presence soothing and warm, her friends slumped shoulder, tired eyes, and casted hand with the plaster still wet and shiny make her ache even worse.

She should be relieved now, to have Tara back, but the loss is greater than the gain and it eats away at her, sliding through the gashes and slipping deeper into her body. The hurt expands within her, unfurling, opening wide, filling her chest, her stomach, her throat, her heart. All of her is pained and empty and throbbing.

Tara with her crushed hand. Giles with a hole straight through his body. Anya upstairs somewhere in the hospital battered and bruised and maybe broken. All of this is because of her.

She's always in trouble. Always needing to be rescued. And people keep rescuing her. Keep interfering, for her, because of her, and they pay the price where she should have.

"Do you think Spike hid enough?" she asks Tara. Her voice is dry and cracked and rough. "He was really hurt." Because of me. "If he didn't hide enough, he could still die." Like she did. Because of me.

Tara reaches out with her uninjured hand and squeezes Dawn's fingers. Her grip is a slightly shaky and weak, or at least not as strong as the grip Dawn would rather be feeling around her fingers. "He's lived a long time, sweetie," she reminds Dawn. "A lot longer than others."

Dawn doesn't reply. She does know that it's true, that Spike's lived when he should have died for over a hundred years, no matter what tortures, monsters, and impossible situations have been thrown at him. But another part of her, what little else there is of her that's left besides the pain and shock and numb, argues that Buffy lived a long time after she was supposed to die.

She lived until she wasn't supposed to die.

She lived until Dawn was supposed to instead.

Dawn stares at the sky, eyes squinted against the light from the sun that may take away one more person from her life. Sweat gathers in a pool at the base of her spine under the bandages and the heavy, awkward, awful dress. Her skin crawls, hairs damp and prickled, overly warmed by the May heat.

Tara's hand is a vague weight on hers. She feels the touch, but she can't find any strength in it. But maybe that's because she's supposed to be the strong one now. She's supposed to take care of Tara, not the other way around.

But it isn't working, not really. Because Dawn is only a cheap imitation. A poor imposter. Maybe she is a little bitty Buffy, maybe she is even made from her, but Dawn was the one who was right this whole time, because despite those things, she still isn't Buffy. And Buffy flipped things, changed their parts, but Dawn doesn't fit here. This isn't supposed to be her role. It doesn't belong to her.

She stares at the sun that rose as her sister fell.

"My name is Dawn," she slowly says, because Buffy isn't the only one to figure things out today. "And my name is Dawn because I was supposed to die when the sun rose."

She doesn't see Tara's face as the woman makes a murmur of horror and comfort and denial and reaches out her arms, wrapping them around Dawn and cradling her to her. "No. No. Shh, sweetie, no."

Dawn leans into her friend's shoulder but keeps her eye still fixed on the horizon.

Buffy took her part from her, the part that even had her name on it, and left the hard roles to them instead. Dawn knows it was supposed to be her.

And now she has to live with it.