Disclaimer: I do not own these characters nor do I claim to own them.

A/N: Written as a fill for Lindsey/Lynzie914 at the LJ community Buffy Genfic for her prompt:

Object: Book(s).

With: Her favorite book as a child (real or made up for the story), overly relating to a fictional character, her and dawn's relationship (or her family relationship in general, blood or not)

Without: comic book canon, too much Xander

Beta'd by Spuffy_Luvr.

Thanks to Spuffy_Luvr, MaireAilbhe, KnifeEdge, and Lightning (who requested I not share her actual pen name so she can have the anonymity she needs to create her evil schemes) for their helpful suggestions and support.

She and Willow have been in her room for maybe five minutes and already Dawn is spying on them from the hall like the nosy little freak that she is. Buffy glares to warn her off but Dawn ignores her and just leans into the doorframe. She's standing just far enough out that if Buffy calls for their mom, Dawn will be able to point out that she technically isn't in Buffy's space.

When Willow looks down to dig through her backpack for one more book to add to the already enormous pile of books on Buffy's bed, Buffy hardens her glare and waves her hand to shoo Dawn away. Dawn doesn't budge, because she doesn't respect Buffy's privacy or friends at all, and just shakes her head. Buffy waves her hand again, this time with extra 'I'm going to talk to Mom about this' emphasis, but Willow looks up and turns her head to follow the motion to the door.

"Oh, hey, Dawnie," she says.

And Dawn, of course, takes this as an invitation. (Oh, she wasn't bothering Buffy, she was just talking to Willow because Willow started talking to her first and Mom taught them it's rude not to answer when someone greets you.) She bounces into the room. "Hi, Willow! What are you reading?"

"Dawn, we're studying," says Buffy.

"Oh, can I help?" She scoots closer to them and plops herself down on the rug, leaning her chin on the mattress beside Willow's stack of books.

Any normal kid would leave them alone but, no, Buffy got stuck with the sister who thinks homework, especially Buffy's homework, is the most interesting thing ever. And now it'll take yelling for Mom or physical force to get Dawn back out.

"No," says Buffy. She grabs a book at random to prove that Dawn is not irritating her or even distracting her so she might as well go away. "Gone with the Wind?"

"Well, I was sort of thinking about Scarlett because she's pretty and people don't think that much of her but she's actually kind of smart and she really wants to protect all the people she cares about."

"Isn't she mean?" asks Buffy. She has a dim-ish memory of watching some of that movie and she's pretty sure she remembers the lead having a certain sort of Cordelia-ness to her.

"She's not, um, okay, I don't really remember all my reasons I thought of her. I don't think that they all made sense. It seemed like a good idea at the time but now I see them as being maybe a little strange and not so great." Willow takes Gone with the Wind back from Buffy's hands and sets it off to the side.

"What are you guys doing?" asks Dawn.

"Baking cookies," says Buffy.

"The admission essay for UC Sunnydale is about a literary character we relate to," says Willow.

Dawn frowns a little bit. "Buffy doesn't read," she says, in that same tone everyone has to use anytime Buffy opens up a book. Like they all think she can't read or something.

Like, how dare it not be interesting for her to sit around (as if she has time to do that anyway) and read a bunch of lies about people who never existed. When she ever has free time, she wants to spend it relaxing, not trying to imagine fake people in their fake lives and attempting to understand weird metaphors.

Also, her life already has pretty much more crazy-and -exciting than she'd like without adding to it her imagining herself as people from some faraway new place like medieval dragon world or crazy outer space land or whatever.

"Buffy has a lot of other things to focus on," says Willow, which is nice and best-friend-y of her, even though Buffy knows Willow wishes she read more. "We're trying to find a character for Buffy to write about."

"Ooh," says Dawn, "that sounds fun. What about Susan from the Narnia books? She fights sometimes and she's bossy."

Buffy throws a dirty sock at her sister's head.

"And she also fights sometimes!" Dawn shrieks. She turns to Willow. "Willow, tell her."

Now she's trying to turn her best friend against her? And she complains about how Buffy doesn't want her around. Gee, wonder why.

"Um, guys, let's just focus on brainstorming now, okay?" Willow says nervously. She holds up her hands in an attempt at mediation. "Maybe you could identify a little bit with Old Yeller."

"The dog?"

"Yes. No. The boy," says Willow. "Because he's, like, the protector, like you are. His dad's gone for a lot of the book and you have a single parent."

Buffy has to roll that one around in her head a little bit. It is true. Weirdly. Somehow. Single parent because Mom's single. No boyfriends since Ted the pizza-making robot and Dad isn't even showing up for her birthday anymore. Mom's on her own and the family is just the three of them now. It was kinda the big factor in their leaving LA, besides the whole arson record and expulsion thing.

When Buffy looks down at Dawn, Dawn's expression has taken a similar turn to Buffy's mood and her eyes have cast down, the excitement of homework and taunting gone.

Buffy reaches out and touches her sister's hair.

Buffy isn't sure if it's to get past the change in the room or because Willow thinks it's a good sign, but her friend pushes on. "I think you could write about those. And maybe if you can think about how to phrase it in a way that won't get you, you know, locked up in an asylum or put in prison, you could kind of write about having to, um, 'put down' someone you loved."

Put down?

Buffy pulls her hand away from Dawn's hair and sits up. "Did you just compare my boyfriend to a dog?"

Willow draws her shoulders up and squeaks a little. "I mean, just in the 'he turned dangerous, I did something hard' sense. Not, like, oh… I didn't mean it like that, Buffy, I promise. I like Angel."

And Buffy does know she didn't mean for it to come out like that but, jeez, she is kind of sick of that. Everyone being all suspicious. Like Willow just said, she did put him down. She did it. And it hurt worse than Dad leaving or moving from LA or losing her friends or all those people thinking she's stupid just because she doesn't like spending her time marvelling at the way the kid from The Catcher in the Rye thinks, but she still did it anyway.

"I don't know." Writing about Angel like that seems wrong, even if it's accurate. "I do get it. But… maybe." Maybe she'll think of something. But how could she possibly write about all that and get it all down and have it make sense?

"Okay," says Willow and she lets that one drop. "I brought some Nancy Drew books. Because I thought, you know, teenage girl who solves all the stuff and she's brave and all girl power-y. You like that."

"Girl power is a good." Buffy nods.

Dawn perks up a bit and leans in so most of her upper body is on the bed with them. "Hey, I have this one," she says excitedly after sifting a few of the books aside and pulling one of the Nancy Drew books from the pile. She points it at Willow. "Mine has a different cover, though. It's in my room. Wanna see?"

"Maybe later," says Willow. "Who else could Buffy write about?"

"Hm," says Dawn. She squints up her face like she's thinking really hard but at the same time she sort of flops into the bedspread and rolls over, like an obnoxiously untrained puppy. "You could be kinda like Kitty Pryde."

Willow's expressions shows Buffy won't be taken for an idiot in her eyes for not getting that one, so she asks, "Who?"

"From X-Men," says Dawn.

"The comic?" asks Willow.

"Should you be reading that?" asks Buffy.

"What?" Dawn says. "Xander said I could borrow his. God, I'm not a baby."

"Does Mom know?"

"I can read comics if I want to," Dawn says. She slides back off the bed to sit on the floor with her back to them and crosses her arms. "Whatever, Susan. You're so bossy."

Buffy opens her mouth to tell Dawn that she doesn't have to be in here if she doesn't want to be, that she shouldn't be in here even if she does want to be, that Buffy's going to tell Mom what Dawn has been reading because she's pretty sure there's violence in those or something, and that she's going to give Xander a good smack for encouraging Dawn to read them, but Willow cuts her off.

"We should probably stick to book characters," she says. "Since it's for college." She looks back to Buffy. "What about books you just liked? Or characters you felt connected to?"

"I don't know," says Buffy. Seriously, she's been stumped for weeks. That's why she called Willow for help with this in the first place. "I can't think of anything. I don't think I've ever felt like that."

"How do you do that?" Dawn asks. "How do you read a book and not go, like, 'I am Hermione' or 'this is how the other kids at school make me feel too?'"

"I don't know," says Buffy. "I just read and then I finish reading and then I go kill something. It's not that hard."

"Okay," says Willow. "What about, what was your favourite book when you were little?"

She has to think about this one. What did she like back then?

Back when she was little and normal and didn't have to deal with fighting or relationships that can be compared to dead dogs or stupid giant essay projects that clearly aren't designed for those students who have to spend their critical thinking time critically thinking about ambush tactics instead of literary comparisons or duality of man or the racial relations in Huckleberry Finn (it's super racist, she gets it, okay?).

Back when she was little and Dawn was littler and didn't know how to speak and back when her dad was around and he'd read to her even after she was old enough that she didn't need his help anyway but he kept doing it.

Back when she was little and she could grow up to become Dorothy Hamill or marry a movie star or live past maybe twenty-five at the most or go to whatever college she wanted.

Back when she was little and everything was…

"I liked Dr. Seuss," she offers. "We read them a lot when I was little." That might be going back further than Willow was thinking, but it's the truth. "Um, and then Oh, the Places You'll Go."

"Is that the last book you read?" Dawn asks, giggling.

"Yeah," says Buffy. "Aunt Arlene sent it to me for my birthday."

"Oh," says Willow. "That could be a good one to write about."

Dawn seems to catch on that's she's missed something and turns around to face them again. "What?" she asks, looking between Buffy and Willow. "What?"

"Yeah," says Buffy. "I think I'll find enough to say about that."