Header-y Stuff: See part one.

On Being Brave and Living
Chapter Seven: Real People

Dawn knew they would hate her. How could they not? Buffy was dead because of Dawn. Just like every bad thing that had happened lately was because of Dawn. Spike limped because of Dawn. Willow looked sad all the time now because of Dawn. Tara couldn't feed herself because of Dawn. She was sure that if she thought hard enough about it, she'd find out that her Mom was dead because of her too.

She wished Buffy had let her jump. It was the way things were supposed to be. After all, Dawn didn't even really exist, right? She was just an elaborate, shared illusion, created by a group of stupid, bored monks sitting around with nothing better to do than watch a big blob of green energy. But Buffy was real. Buffy had a real Mom and Dad and real memories and real friends who really loved her. All Dawn had were a set of fake diaries detailing days she'd never lived, a heart full of emotions without substance, and an unnatural and unexplained love of peanut butter that sure felt real but was probably just some sort of residue from the monks. Maybe all they did to pass the time between watching balls of energy and making up her life was eat peanut butter or something.

Buffy didn't understand how important it was for Dawn to jump. Not because she was particularly brave, and certainly not because she was suicidal because she was so over that phase now. Dawn had wanted to jump because … it felt right. Like, by jumping she could have given her made-up, messed up life some meaning. The monks may have invented all of the good stuff she could remember, like hugging Buffy during one of the millions of times she cried about Angel or planning a surprise movie night to make Mom and Buffy smile after Dad left, but they weren't in control anymore. Dawn had the chance to do her first, wholly independent bit of good and maybe prove to herself that she really was more than just a big blob of green energy. It would have been important and spectacular and, yeah, she'd be dead afterwards but that would be okay. She wasn't really alive anyway. And maybe she'd get lucky and everyone that mattered would remember what she did for them.

That was Dawn's biggest fear. That they'd all forget. That they'd wake up one day and Dawn would be out of their lives as easily as she was slipped in. Even worse was the idea that they would all forget her, but she'd still be around and remember. Dawn would wake up in a cold sweat some nights after dreaming about trying to get Buffy and the others to remember something that had never happened, crying at their blank stares that looked right through her.

Jumping off the tower, she'd never have to worry about that again. And hey, maybe Keys couldn't die anyway. Glory had said something about Dawn – the real Dawn – going home again after the ritual, didn't she? So everything would have probably worked out okay in the end, and Dawn wouldn't have to face Buffy's body and Buffy's friends who would look at her with such hate … or with nothing at all.

At the back of Dawn's mind, she wondered if she was in shock. She didn't know what that felt like, but it was something she knew actually happened in extreme circumstances because they talked about it on ER all the time. She liked that idea, it felt good. It felt like something a real person would feel. Dawn held on to that thought as she shakily made her way down the tower.

She heard them before she saw them. Willow's gasping sobs led Dawn to her sister, and she felt tears of her own well in her eyes. That was good too. Real people cried. She was pretty sure big blobs of green energy couldn't cry. She stopped on the stairs as soon as she saw Buffy lying on the rubble, and was at once struck by the thought that even dead, Buffy looked pretty. Dawn wondered if she would have looked that pretty if she'd jumped instead, and decided that she probably would've looked like crap. Just as well you didn't jump, then, a voice echoed in her head. You wouldn't want to get any more scars like the ones on your arm. Kirstie would totally be all over that. Dawn nearly laughed out loud and then wondered if she was going crazy. Real people sometimes went crazy, though, so that was okay.

Dawn wondered how she could tell everyone. About Buffy's last words. They'd been buzzing around in the back of her head, and she knew she couldn't forget a single one of them if she tried. Even if she turned back into a big blob of green energy right that second, Dawn knew she'd remember every last bit of Buffy's message forever. She wanted to tell them what Buffy had said, how she'd refused to let Dawn jump, and apologize for everything for the rest of her life if they'd let her.

But not right now. Right now, Buffy's words were for Dawn only. Buffy had believed in her. Buffy had loved her. Buffy had died for her. Just like she were a real person.

"The hardest thing in this world is to live in it," Buffy had told her. Dawn disagreed. The hardest thing in this world was to never have lived in it at all. But Dawn did live, because she was a real person. She was real because Buffy made her that way. It didn't matter that she was once a big blob of green energy because now she was Dawn Summers, daughter of Joyce Summers, sister of Buffy Summers. A 14-year old girl who read "Teen Power", loved chess, and failed her last history test. She would go to her friends, the only family she had left now, and she would give them Buffy's message. They would see her, listen to her, and cry with her.

One more step was all it would take. One more step and she would know if they hated her. If they knew her. She was scared, but she could do this. She would be brave. Live. For Buffy.