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Disclaimer: Some dialogue used in this chapter was taken from Blood Ties, courtesy of buffyworld . com Beta credit goes to Chelle86, best email pal a girl can ask for.
It was Buffy's birthday. Everyone was crowded into the living room, talking and laughing. The coffee table was overflowing with gifts, all shiny and brightly wrapped. Sugary and caffeinated beverages (and a few alcoholic as well) were flowing freely, giving one and all a pleasant party buzz. Willow was blowing bubbles all over the place while Buffy begged in a six year old voice to open the presents, her mother saying no each time, but with less force minute by minute.
It was a warm, welcoming sight. However, Marie didn't feel particularly warm or welcomed. Ever since her outburst to Buffy three days ago, things had cooled between them. Buffy wasn't exactly rude to the other girl, or even particularly standoffish. She was just……cool. Polite. Saying please and thank you, and even making conversation at the dinner table, but never about anything very deep or meaningful.
Marie couldn't say her feelings were hurt by Buffy's behavior. She was used to being treated far, far worse. And for the first time in her life, she didn't expect it to last. Buffy would come around – eventually. Until then, Marie would give her some space.
"……Now gimme gimme gimme!"
Marie looked up to see Buffy ripping open the first present. She smiled, noting the childlike joy on Buffy's face, as she slipped into the role of birthday girl and not the Slayer. A whisper in her mind informed her how much Buffy needed days like this – and how thin the veneer of the birthday girl was. Someday, Marie thought to herself, I'd like to wear a birthday girl mask. I'd like to stand there, laughing and joking as if I had no worries at all. It would just be a mask, and that would be okay.
Lost in her own thoughts, Marie didn't even notice that all the presents had been unwrapped until it became cake time.
"Do you want a piece, Marie?" Tara asked, reaching out to the girl. Dealing with Marie was always tricky – you never knew if now was the right time to push her out of her shell. Today, Tara could tell, pushing was completely out of the question. But a gentle nudge could be quite effective.
"Yes. Thank you."
"Then I'll make sure there's a plate for you." Tara turned to the official dish-getter. "Dawn - ?"
"I can count you know," Dawn griped as she turned to the kitchen. Tara called out a thank you, then turned back to Willow. "Oh to be fourteen and traumatized by the slightest request," she said with a dramatic sigh.
"Looks like they made her with 100% teenage angst," Willow whispered. "That's one thing the monks could have left out."
"It's all part of the package – "
They stopped whispering as Dawn returned with the plates. And proceeded to notice the sudden stop in conversation. Marie was not surprised at all by the following explosion. The Scoobies had not been very subtle in their newfound strangeness with Dawn. They had a harder time dealing with Dawn than Marie – a fact that fascinated Marie. Did they think the younger girl wouldn't notice? Dawn wasn't stupid. She knew something was wrong.
Fed up with the lack of answers, Dawn stormed upstairs. Silence reigned for a moment. Willow broke it, awkwardly offering up some cake, as if some sugar would fix the problem.
Yeah right. The only thing that really needed to be done was tell Dawn the truth, as bad as it was. Even if she was an innocent. Even if she deserved better than existing only as a byproduct of a monk's spell. But Marie doubted that was going to happen. Dawn was right – too many things were labeled as too dangerous for precious Dawnie ears.
Cake was quietly passed around. No one knew what to say in the aftermath of Dawn's tantrum. Both Joyce and Buffy wore strained expressions, embarrassed by the teen's display. Maybe even feeling a little guilty as to the cause.
Good. Served them right. Marie empathized with the youngest Summers, even if she did know for a fact exactly who was responsible for the peanut-butter fried salmon disaster of two years ago that she got in trouble for when it was so Dawn's fault – how come Mom always fell for puppy eyes and the words "Buffy did it!" even though Mom knows I hate salmon and think it's icky and oh look there's a cake with my name on it and remind me again why I was feeling sorry for my sister?
Oh, wait. Because she's not my six years younger made up mystical energy sister. Because I'm Marie. Not Buffy. Buffy is over there, trading bad jokes with Xander. Marie is standing right here, eating a piece of cake and wishing it really was her birthday. Because sometimes, she's not sure she can remember which day does belong to her.
Later that night, the party began to wind down. Everyone was sprawled about on sofas and chairs, luxuriating in the wholly enjoyable sensation of being stuffed to the gills with cake and ice cream. Marie sat stiffly on a stool brought in from the kitchen (there wasn't enough furniture for everyone) and watched Willow and Tara comfort a moping Buffy about the departed Riley.
"Not even a card, huh?"
Buffy shook her head. "I wasn't really expecting one. No contact with civilians. There's probably a ... code name for it. You know, like radio silence, it's 'greeting card silence'." She paused a moment, eyes flicking over to Marie. Her right to mourn lost boyfriends felt trampled on with those dark eyes watching her, remembering their conversation from before. Marie's remark about Riley's departure, that it had been a relief to Buffy, had been an insight she could have done without. Stupid insights. Buffy glared at Marie, as if goading her to denounce her post-bday bash mope session as an exercise in self-pity. (Okay, maybe it was, but it was deserved self-pity!)
Marie surprised her.
"You're probably right. The military has a 'greeting card silence' policy, if only as a get out of jail free card for guys who forget anniversaries. Sorry I forgot about the fiftieth honey, we were under greeting card silence, codename 'Down with Hallmark'." Marie paused reflectively, "Alternatively, we could declare the ex in question to be a stupid head. Whatever works."
Buffy smiled, the first smile at Marie in three days. Marie smiled back. "Thanks for the thought. Really, maybe this is a sign – "
Xander stirred suddenly. "Did Marie just make a joke? I didn't know she did that!"
"She made a joke," Anya told him reassuringly. To Marie, she said, "It was not very funny, but good effort!" She punctuated the last phrase with a hearty punch on the arm and a wide smile.
"Ow." Marie rubbed her sore elbow, inwardly pleased with Anya's easy contact.
"As I was saying, maybe I should start a new tradition – " Buffy began again.
Tara quickly cut her off, her eyes widening. "Oh, oh my god!"
Heads turned to see what she saw. Dawn stood in the doorway, a knife in one hand, a long cut in her arm dripping blood. Her eyes were red from crying, yet she didn't seem to be reacting to the pain. Her wobbly voice cut through the air with a high pitched, hysterical note.
"Is this blood?"
Joyce and Buffy rushed over to the girl.
"What did you do?" demanded Buffy, examining the gaping wound.
"This is blood, isn't it? It can't be me. I'm not a key. I'm not a thing." Dawn's voice was thick and caked with bitterness. Joyce murmured comforting words and a reassuring pat as she took the knife, only for Dawn to wrench herself away. "What am I? Am I real? Am I anything?" She was sobbing now, harsh choked sobs that gasped for air. "Tell me!"
Joyce hugged Dawn close, gently guiding her to the kitchen to be bandaged. As they walked away, Buffy turned to her friends. They were all standing anxiously, waiting to be told how to help. She swallowed. "Looks like Buffy's birthday fun tradition continues for yet another year," she said awkwardly, for lack of any other words. "Listen, I think it would be best for all of you to – "
"Vamoose?" Xander finished. "You need anything, you know where I'll be." He gave Buffy a hug, and with Anya in tow, left. Willow and Tara followed suit, with similar offers of assistance if so desired. Buffy thanked them before letting them out. Giles lingered a moment with his own offer. Buffy quietly told him it was a family matter before closing the door behind him. She turned around, shoulders slumped, face wet with tears.
Marie walked over and laid a gentle hand on Buffy's shoulder, giving it a squeeze. She then opened the door and prepared to follow Giles home. Or maybe Tara.
Buffy looked up and noticed Marie was about to leave.
Marie turned. "This is a family matter. I'd only be in the way."
Buffy shrugged. "Maybe. But you live here. This affects you, too. " Pause. "This doesn't mean I'm forgiving you for the whole bitch-fest from earlier, though."
"Don't worry. I've spanked my inner Moppet."
"Huh?" Something about that phrase sounded familiar to Buffy…..
Marie shook her head, not wanting to explain. "Go help your sister. I'll clean up."
Buffy lingered a moment. "Thanks." She started to leave, then asked, "Is she your sister too?"
"A little bit. Sometimes. When she's hurt like this, part of me just wants to – "
" – yell at her for scaring me, but also – "
" – slay whatever's made her feel this way." Marie paused. "But she's your sister, not mine. Go to her. She needs you."
This time, Buffy obeyed.
Marie stood still a moment, taking in a deep breath. She did think that right now, Dawn needed to be with both her mother and sister. Her real sister. Even if the reality was fabricated. As she carefully collected assorted plates and cups, Marie hoped Dawn would be able to accept this new reality as true, regardless of its origins.
The living room straightened and all the trash cleaned up, Marie walked upstairs, stopping a moment beside the door to Dawn's room. Inside, she could hear both Joyce and Buffy trying to explain what they knew – and why they had not told her. Dawn wasn't buying it. Suddenly, the air was filled with –
"GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!"
Joyce and Buffy filed out of the room, letting the door slam shut behind them.
"That could have gone better," Joyce sighed. And finally let herself cry. "She hurt herself! My baby cut herself because she thinks she isn't real!"
Buffy hugged her mother. "She is, Mom. You and I know she is. And as soon as we can get some answers about the Key, she'll know she is, too. She, she just needs – I don't know what she needs."
Joyce wiped her eyes. "She needs her family to love her, that's what. That's all we can do, love her."
"Will that be enough?"
"Of course it will be," Marie said quietly, making her presence known. "I know if my family had, well," cared enough to not call me a life-sucking monster "been full of as much love as this one, I would have been fine. And she will be. Eventually."
"It's the eventually that hurts the most."
The day following the revelation of Dawn's nature was a wholly uncomfortable one. Dawn remained moody and uncommunicative, abruptly leaving for school, only to be sent home early. She was suspended for swearing at a teacher. In the hours Dawn was gone, Buffy bustled about, trying to rally the Scoobies into learning enough to appease whatever questions Dawn might possess. Marie followed along, watching all the action, even waiting outside the crypt while Buffy ripped at Spike for letting Dawn find out.
In Marie's opinion, Spike was right in his response. Buffy should have told Dawn the truth sooner, and she shouldn't be taking that guilt out on others. But her innate knowledge of Buffy told her it really wouldn't have happened another way. In Buffy's mind, Dawn had to be protected – even if it was from things she had a right to know.
Marie said nothing as they left. That is, until Buffy spoke, obviously agitated.
"Should I have told her? Is Spike right?"
"There is something very wrong with that statement. Spike is right. Gyuh! Not cool."
"That doesn't change the fact that Dawn deserved the truth from a sit down chat from her mother and sister."
"We were going to! When she was older. Much older."
"Did you think she wouldn't notice before then?" Marie shook her head. "Your sister is smart, Buffy. She knew people were treating her differently, and she knew there was a reason. That's why she snuck off last night. And if not last night, it would have been another night."
"Maybe. But still – " Buffy broke off, then started again. "I didn't want it to be like this. I wanted her to just stay my little sister. Stay Dawnie and not be some Key. She deserved better than that. She deserved to be young and innocent. She deserved to be fourteen, not a thousand or however old that thing is."
"Of course she did. So did we. You deserved to be a cheerleader and then a college girl. I deserved a boy I could kiss and not kill. Life didn't work like that. It made a Slayer and a mutant. And now it's done the same to Dawn and made her like me. Like you. Like us." Marie stopped a moment, taking a deep breath to take the plunge. "And on some level, that's what bothers you the most. You thought you could save Dawn from that mystical fate you couldn't save yourself from. Well, you couldn't. She is what she is and she'll have to deal with that. And with her sister by her side, she can."
Buffy frowned. "You know what Marie?"
"I hate it when you do that. Going all psychology-y on me. Kinda freaky."
"Sorry." Marie ducked her head and speeded up.
"But it's okay." Buffy shrugged. "Better you than Spike, I guess."
"Oh. Well, that's good, right?"
"Yes, it is."
Unfortunately, Dawn was not hearing the message of love and concern that was being sent to her. Later that night, she set her diaries on fire and ran off, her disappearance unnoticed until the smoke alarm went off. Sunnydale being Sunnydale, Dawn's vanishing act panicked everyone. Marie joined the frantic search party, calling out the girl's name to every shadow and alleyway, hoping for an answer. She followed Buffy and Spike through the park and by the swing set and seesaw, growing more and more agitated by the moment. Her sister was out there, dammit, and so was Glory! Not to mention dozens of other baddies. Marie was intimately aware with all the monsters, demonic and not, that preyed upon vulnerable young girls. Anything could happen.
With that in mind, the group found Sunnydale Hospital their final destination, hoping a slightly injured Dawn had been brought in by some kind soul and was now sulkily awaiting treatment.
There was no such luck.
They waited in the lobby as Buffy checked with the registration desk for any information.
"She wasn't brought in."
"That's a happy thing, right?" Xander asked.
Buffy sighed. "I don't know, I – "
A doctor walked by them, openly distraught. " – found him on the floor in the break room. You guys gotta see him. His head's almost twisted clean off."
Marie followed the Scoobies as they pursued the hellgod. She had never met the god in person, only in memories and dreams. The sheer power Glory commanded was enough to crush Buffy. What could they do to stop her if she did have Dawn? Glory treated Buffy's best efforts like that of annoying horse fly – it's bite stung, but you could easily swat it away.
If Glory had Dawn…..Marie glanced down at her gloved hand. If Glory had Dawn, she'd do what was necessary to protect her. Glory always had a lot of exposed skin with those skank dresses she wore…..
"Get away from my sister!" Buffy shouted, bursting through the door, Marie skidding to a halt behind her.
Glory smiled in that girly-girl way of hers. "We were just talking about you!" she proclaimed, as if she was an old friend Buffy had just run into. Dawn took advantage of Glory's distraction and ran behind her sister.
Buffy didn't embrace Glory's girl talk invitation. "Conversation's over, hell-bitch." She threw a punch, engaging the hellgod in battle. They traded blows a moment, then Buffy slammed her into a display case. Marie found herself reaching for her glove and loosening the fabric, getting ready to take her shot. How would Glory mess with her mind? She wondered. Could she drain enough to make a difference? That thought was lost as a vampire hurled itself into the room.
Spike grappled with the hellgod, pinning her arms to her sides, letting Buffy come in for a punch. But the moment was lost when Glory sent him flying with the words, "He wakes up, tell your boyfriend to watch his mouth."
That didn't look good. Marie swallowed and maneuvered behind Glory. It would be best to do it from the back, have the element of surprise.
"He's not my boyfriend!" Buffy retorted, before attacking again.
Marie gave a mental snort. Maybe not to you, honey, but to him… Marie had heard him today. Walking Dawn home? Offering words of comfort in Buffy's hour of need? Uh-huh.
In quick succession, Buffy struck Glory, Giles shot her with a crossbow, and Xander came in with a tire iron – which was quickly wrestled away from him. Glory threw it at Dawn, only to strike Buffy instead. The Slayer had thrown herself in front, taking the tire iron in the arm.
The glove came off Marie's hand. She started forward.
Glory stood there and laughed, barely frazzled. "Nice catch. Is that the best you little crap-gnats can muster? 'Cause I gotta tell ya, so not impressed."
Marie was lined up for a shot. Will this impress you? Before she could make contact, however, the witches threw a glittering powder onto Glory.
"Discede!" commanded Willow, clapping her hands.
An explosion rocked the room, knocking Marie back and Willow to the floor. Glory disappeared.
Marie got to her feet with a sigh of relief, slipping her glove back on. Across the room, Buffy frowned, noticing the gesture before turning to tend to her sister.
Thankfully, Buffy's stab wound was the worst wound received, and one that would heal readily enough. Marie followed the Scoobies out, smiling at the renewed ease of banter between Buffy and Dawn.
They were sisters. Sisters by a bizarre trick of fate, but sisters nonetheless. And that was now enough.
Much later that night, after the story of the battle had been told and retold again and Willow had finally stopped her nosebleed, and after all had gone home and Dawn was tucked safely in bed, Buffy found Marie on the couch in the living room.
The brunette sat there quietly – of course, she did most things quietly. Her gloves were on tight, and not an inch of skin was exposed from the neck down.
Buffy settled down beside her.
"I saw what you were about to do."
"And what was that?"
"Touch Glory. Do whatever you did to me to her."
"That was the plan."
"You would have taken a piece of Glory into yourself." Buffy tilted her head to meet Marie's eyes. "You would have had a crazy hellgod floating inside your skull." She thought a moment. "You told me your power hurts you, too. So far all I've seen is me getting all drain-y and you getting all insight-y. But that's not all. You have Glorys in your head, don't you?"
"No hellgods, but there are other sorts of monsters. Mostly the human kind. And even then, mostly brief contact. That's really what worried me about draining Glory. I'd have to hold on a while before I took enough for it to work."
"The longer you drain, the more comes in, and the longer it stays. I remember you telling me that."
"Yes. But even with the little bits, the monsters hurt. They squirm and squeal and ask to be let out. And yes, I know I'm channeling Drusilla."
"Are you ever worried the monsters will take control?"
Marie shrugged. "Always. So far, whatever's left of Marie has stayed in charge. Who knows? Someday that might change."
"If you had taken in Glory, it would have."
"Maybe. But the power would have been split. And you could defeat half a Glory."
"Even if it meant killing you?" Buffy asked.
"If it came to that, there wouldn't be a me left to kill." Marie pointed out. "But it didn't."
Buffy bit her lip, trying to figure out how to word the next question. "What makes you think it would be worth that? I mean – I know you think of Dawn as your sister, in some weird way. But she's not. She's mine. And if anyone needs to make the sacrifice it will be – "
"No! Marie – "
"She is your sister, Buffy," Marie explained, "and that's why if I could choose, I'd be the one doing it. She needs you a hell of a lot more than she needs me. Or anyone needs me, for that matter."
"Marie – "
"I'm not suicidal. Believe me, I hope it never comes to that. But Buffy, as long as Glory's alive and kicking, I'll consider draining her an option. Even if I have no idea what it will do, it's still an option." Marie paused. "and don't think this is just because of the drain-thing I did to you. Joyce, Dawn, you – you've all done so much for me. More than you probably realize. And if I can, I will repay it."
Buffy stared at her friend. To think she'd thought this girl to be some lowdown threat to her mother. To herself. She blinked quickly, suddenly discovering her eyes filled with tears. "Thank you."
"Don't mention it." Marie looked down, blushing because of the heart to heart. "Now go to bed before this gets too mushy."
Buffy stood up. And very, very consciously of what she was doing, leaned over and gave Marie a great big hug, as close as she could without touching skin to skin. Marie returned it with equal gusto and care.
And knew now, 100%, that there was no need ever to run again.
A/N – No, this is not the end! There is much Dawn/Marie and Spike/Marie bonding to come. Not to mention, the next chapter contains the first appearance of Rogue . Please drop me a line as to what you think, it gives me a happy.