A/N: I never was satisfied with the version of this that appeared in my LiveJournal, so this is, to say the least, considerably different. Hope you enjoy the semi-happy ending to all of this. I don't normally do deliberate AUs, so this has been an interesting exercise for me as a writer. Thanks for all the feedback, everyone!

***

Not Chosen

Dawn hates Oxnard, just on principle. She particularly hates the boarding house she finds herself ensconced in, from the groaning plumbing to the Jack Kerouac wannabe who keeps trying to read her excerpts from his novel (sure to be a bestseller that will change the face of America once he gets it published). She really hates Xander for bringing her here. She especially hates Buffy for sending her away.

What she hates most, though, is not being chosen for the fight.

At least she was warned. Dawn had wondered how her mother's prophecy would pan out, for no matter how many times she was assured it was just the First messing with her, Dawn has been unable to think of what she saw that heart- wrenching night as anything but her mother. Now she knows: Buffy was against Dawn being there to fight the final battle by her side.

So Dawn was taken from Sunnydale against her will, knocked out with chloroform and kidnapped by Xander, of all people. When she'd awakened, she'd begged, pleaded, cried, threatened, tried everything to get him to turn around, but he'd been adamant. She and Xander were to have no part in this fight because one of them had already given an eye for it, and the other was Buffy's little sister.

In her heart, Dawn knows it was Buffy's love that sent her away. That's small consolation for being betrayed and taken out of the action without even having the chance to voice her thoughts and feelings on the matter (though those have been vented in her diary in strong, vivid language).

It's all Dawn can do right now. That and wait.

***

It's an interesting house, in many respects. The landlord is Jackie, a cross-dresser with appalling taste in clothing. He's been nothing but nice ever since Xander and Dawn turned up on his doorstep and registered as Alexander and Dawn Harris, brother and sister. Dawn's contemplated the fact that she could get Xander in real trouble by confiding to Jackie that she really isn't Xander's sister, but she's not quite that mad at him. Besides, Xander might be all she has left.

The other residents are Pam and Chris, who might be married or engaged or just shacking up. Dawn chiefly wishes they'd stop shouting at each other or screwing loudly in the bedroom next to hers. Greg and Paul, a gay couple, seem okay, though Paul does remind Dawn a bit much of Andrew. There are also Krissy and Gerda, the Nordic goddesses of the third floor; Trent, the aforementioned Beatnik working on his Great American Novel; and Mac, who needs to stop looking at Dawn that way right now, before either Dawn or Xander puts his lights out.

The house itself was built (thus saith Jackie) in 1898, restored in the '60s, and refurbished repeatedly ever since. You can still see the original craftsmanship if you look hard enough in the right places. Jackie mentions something about a ghost. Dawn snorts.

"You don't believe in ghosts, sugar?" asks the landlord.

"Oh, I believe in them," says Dawn. "It just takes a lot more than a ghost to scare me."

Mac makes an attempt to talk about Sunnydale and the Things He's Heard. Dawn gives him a good approximation of the look she bestowed on Spike when he came back, and Mac doesn't try to talk to her again.

And Dawn goes back to waiting.

***

Waiting is a terrible game. Dawn's mind creates a dozen or so worst-case scenarios before she goes to bed at the end of her first full day in the boarding house. Most of them involve demon armies marching down the streets of Oxnard because Buffy has failed, and the Slayer no longer stands in the gap. They involve trying to run and hide as the whole world begins to crumble. All of them involve never knowing what's happened to Buffy.

Her imagination also goes wild on why she's been sent away. The simple explanation that Buffy wants Dawn to survive even if she, the Slayer, doesn't, holds little weight against the feeling of having been brushed off and declared a liability rather than an asset. Dawn wonders if Buffy really forgave her for the night Dawn sent her away. This, then, would be fine vengeance. Dawn's going crazy. She'd prefer to be in Sunnydale, no matter the danger.

Dawn doesn't write any of this in her diary. All she writes about is how mad she is and how she'll kill Buffy when she sees her next.

*When* she sees her next.

***

The news of the Sunnydale sinkhole reaches them on the second day. A huge hole, created by an earthquake felt even in Oxnard, has swallowed all of Sunnydale, and the ocean is pouring in.

Dawn sees it on the news. Then there's nothing but the roaring in her ears as she stumbles out of the house and throws up on the lawn. Xander is there, his arms around her, telling her that of course they got out, they had to get out, but there is no conviction in his voice.

He knows, like Dawn does, that the others must be dead. Friend, sister, mentor, lover--all dead.

The other residents tiptoe around, whispering, as Dawn curls up on the couch, watching the news cover the hell out of the drowning of the Hellmouth. Xander sits with her, Jackie tries to coax her to eat, Krissy and Gerda offer her hugs and thickly-accented reassurances, Paul makes her tea and calls her sweetie, and Dawn can make no sense out of any of it.

She sees the sinkhole. She sees her sister's grave.

***

The night passes mostly without sleep. A few times, Dawn dozes off. Terrible nightmares chase her back to consciousness, or even more terrible dreams that Buffy is there, smiling, holding out her arms to embrace her sister. Come morning, Dawn awakes from one of these with a quilt tucked around her. She tosses it aside and walks out to sit beside the pool.

She takes her diary with her, but it sits open and unused in her lap. There's nothing to say. Dawn's mind veers wildly between the conviction that Buffy is alive and is even now on her way to find Dawn, and certainty that Buffy is dead, buried by earth and sea. Hope and despair war within her as the sun climbs into the sky, reaches its apex, and then begins to wane.

"Dawn?"

Dawn stiffens as she hears the voice. Slowly, trying desperately not to disturb the dream she must be in, she turns.

Buffy stands at the far side of the lawn. She looks like hell, her clothes torn and covered with dirt and blood, her posture screaming out her exhaustion, her face pale and drawn.

Dawn stands, her diary spilling to the ground. This doesn't feel like a dream. Dawn tries to wake herself, but cannot.

"Sorry it took so long to get here," says Buffy with a wan smile.

It looks like her and sounds like her, and a terrible flicker of hope is fanned into flame inside Dawn. It hurts too much, though, and Dawn knows, knows what this is.

"Go away," she growls. "You're not my sister. I won't let you do this to me."

For a moment, Buffy looks hurt, but then comprehension washes over her face. "No, Dawn, it's me. It's not the First. Come here." She walks forward, reaching out.

"No!" Dawn skips back, nearly falling into the pool, knocking her diary in. "Leave me alone!"

Buffy stops, tears in her eyes, and looks around for an option. She finds one in one of the stones bordering the garden.

"Look," Buffy says. She bends down and pulls the stone free of the ground. "The First couldn't do this. It's not corporeal. This is me, Dawnie. It's me."

She releases the rock, and it falls to the ground with a good, solid thunk. That sound is what finally reaches Dawn. Hesitantly, she takes one step, then another, then another, crossing the lawn to her sister. Buffy, too, walks forward, and finally, they're in range to touch. Like in Dawn's dreams, Buffy reaches out--

--and is met with a stinging slap across the face.

"Ow," comments the Slayer.

"You sent me away!" Dawn rages. "You sent me away without even asking, without talking to me or anything, and God, Buffy, I didn't know what was happening, I didn't know if you were alive or . . . and then there was that sinkhole on the news . . ."

Her voice chokes, her knees buckle, and Buffy's arms are finally around her, supporting her as the sisters sink to the ground embracing. Dawn buries her face against Buffy's neck and sobs as the tension is finally released. She feels Buffy crying, too, and then they both feel Xander's arms wrapping around them. He's also crying.

There will be questions about what happened. There will be mourning as they learn of the deaths in Sunnydale. There will be the overwhelming task of somehow recovering a life from all this.

But for now, holding onto Buffy, Dawn has all she needs.