Disclaimer: None of these people is mine. Maybe Nil and the Razoth Beast, though Nil would argue that he belongs to the High and Shiny Glorificus, but I digress. They belong to the High and Shiny Joss and David G. I'm just borrowing.
Note 1: Surprise, Tanja, I used your title. Thanks for the feedback!
Note 2: Takes place after "Forever"/ "Disharmony"
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Dawn and the Dead
Chapter 1: Drawing Comfort with Angel
She's never gonna forgive me for this, thought Buffy Summers. Her eyes tracked to the back seat of Xander's car where Dawn sat, moping as only a 14-year-old can. A scowl was planted firmly between the girl's eyes and a hint of a pout was in her mouth as she stared sullenly out the window. Dawn hadn't said a word since they'd left Sunnydale, nearly two hours ago. She hadn't needed to. Her silence screamed her discontent.
Buffy sighed and traded a look with Xander. He'd given up a work-free afternoon with Anya to drive them to L.A., and for his trouble, he was sharing the number one position on Dawn's blacklist with Buffy. He shrugged lightly and gave Buffy a hint of a sympathetic smile as he returned his attention fully to the road.
Yeah, she'll hate me, thought Buffy. But if this keeps her alive, it's worth it. I can't bear to lose anyone else, especially not her . . .
Cordelia's eyes took a moment to adjust as she, Wesley, and Gunn entered the Hyperion. They normally would not have been here at this time of day. Their sudden appearance seemed to worry Angel, who was descending a ladder, plaster dust frosting his short-cropped hair.
"Did I do something?" he asked nervously.
Wesley looked startled at the inquiry. "No, actually, Cordelia had a vision and called us."
"Someone's coming," Cordelia said. "It was one of the vague ones. All I got was that someone's coming here with a request, and we need to say yes to it. Well, that and it's a girl, and she's sad." The three descended further into the hotel lobby, and Cordelia shucked her coat on the couch.
"Coming here?" Angel asked.
"Well, duh." The words came out perhaps sharper than Cordelia had meant them, and she once again was wishing that everything could go back to the way it had been last summer, before Darla, before his Crazy, before everything went down the toilet. Before she had to worry about her tone of voice with him. Before she and Angel had to walk on eggshells around each other.
She also wanted a private jet, while she was dreaming.
A moment later, the doors to the Hyperion opened and admitted three more figures. Cordelia immediately forgot about everything else.
"Hi, Angel," said Buffy quietly.
"Hey," greeted Xander, giving a general wave.
The girl between them, Buffy's little sister, Dawn, said nothing. She was sulking almost audibly. Great waves of sulk were rolling off her. A sulk demon would surely manifest soon.
"The answer's yes," was how Angel greeted them.
Buffy looked puzzled. "But you don't even know what I was going to ask you."
Angel inclined his head toward Cordelia. "We just got a message from the Powers That Be that someone was headed here with a request, and we're supposed to say yes to it."
"Want to know what the request is?" asked Buffy, nonplused.
"That would also be a yes," answered Cordelia.
Buffy breathed in. "Okay. Angel, I need a huge favor. There are portents of Big Bad Things in Sunnydale, it looks like I'm going to be fighting all weekend, and I need someone to look after Dawn, because of . . . you know, and I was wondering if, just for the weekend, she could stay with you, because I've really got no one else to turn to, not that you're a last resort or anything . . ." She trailed off.
Angel took this in. "The answer's yes."
"Great. Could we talk a moment?"
"The answer's yes."
Buffy and Angel withdrew to his office. Xander looked around and cleared his throat. Dawn ascended to yet another level of sulk.
"Cordy. So, how are those visions?" asked Xander finally.
Inside Angel's office, he and Buffy talked quietly. "So, Giles thinks that all these Vorik demons and the conjunction mean the Hellmouth has a chance to re-open this weekend?"
Buffy nodded. "That and some other portents. It rained Indian corn on Mrs. Billingslea's house for an hour last night, and you don't even want to know about some of the bugs that have come to town. We don't know if it's just your run-of-the-mill Hellmouth crisis or if Glory's going to get into it, but there are a lot of mystical forces converging." The Slayer gave a humorless laugh. "What was that Riley used to say about needing to know the plural of 'apocalypse'?"
"And you want Dawn out of the way of whatever it is."
"Yeah." Buffy's eyes lowered. "While . . . while Mom was alive, I didn't worry about Dawn so much, but now, especially with Glory in town—Angel, I just can't take the chance. She's too precious to risk."
During their talk after the funeral, Buffy had confided Dawn's nature to Angel. He'd taken it well, in spite of his own recollections about the seemingly normal child. Buffy had also told him that should anything happen to her, she wanted Angel to take Dawn. He had agreed to that without qualification.
Angel nodded. "It's not a problem. I'll protect her."
"I know. But Angel, she's also really fragile right now. She's accepted Mom's death, but she's hurting. Bad. And on top of everything else that's happened, I'm sending her away to be babysat by my vampire ex-boyfriend, and she's hating me about now."
"I get it." Angel smiled gently, brushing a few strands of hair away from Buffy's face. "I'll do my best. Promise."
Buffy nodded. "I know." She looked into his face for another few moments, feeling their connection and drawing comfort from it. "I'm really sorry about this. I tried to call, but I didn't get anyone, and . . . I just couldn't think of anything else to do. I guess I panicked. You're the only one I can trust with her."
"I'm glad," Angel said softly. And he was. Being there for Buffy, being someone she could turn to and trust, made him feel like he was coming back to himself after so long. "Don't worry about a thing. It's no imposition."
"Thank you." There were tears in Buffy's eyes for just a moment, but she blinked them away. "Listen, Xander and I should be going. We've got to get back before sunset, and . . ."
"Rush hour. I know. Are you doing okay?"
There was a long silence. "Sometimes. And then there are the other times." She swallowed. "I need to get back."
They walked back out into the lobby. Xander was doing small talk with Cordelia and Gunn while Wesley consulted a book. Dawn hadn't moved, still radiating sulk.
"Dawn?" Buffy sighed inwardly as her sister refused to even acknowledge her presence. "Dawn, Xander and I will be back Sunday evening, and you can call anytime. I'll be calling tomorrow, too." Dawn continued to pretend Buffy wasn't there. A black cloud seemed to be spreading outward from her small figure. Buffy braved it to kiss her sister's forehead. " 'Bye, sweetie. Everything'll be okay. Promise."
Xander said his goodbyes and he, too, kissed Dawn's forehead. "See ya soon, Dawnie." He tossed a "She gets hurt, you get staked" look at Angel, who received it with his usual equanimity, and then both he and Buffy were gone. Dawn remained, having taken her sulk to truly epic proportions.
Angel broke the resultant silence. "Dawn. Welcome to the Hyperion."
The vampire cleared his throat. "You've met Cordelia and Wesley, of course. This is Gunn. Gunn, this is Dawn, Buffy's little sister."
Gunn gave Dawn a friendly wave, which she acknowledged in no way, shape, or form. More awkward silence followed.
Cordelia considered, really considered, leaving Angel to deal with this on his own. After all, he did deserve it. In the end, though, the sadness she'd felt through her vision decided her. "Well," she said, getting up, "I should head back to my apartment and get some stuff if I'm going to be staying here all weekend."
Dawn actually gave some indication she'd heard that. Angel did a double-take.
"Cordy, you don't have to . . ."
"Oh, yes, I do." The Seer gave the vampire a baleful look. "Come on, Angel. What do you know about 14-year-old girls? Besides, if I get another vision, someone has to stay here with Dawn while you go fight the baddies. I think I'm elected. 'Kay?"
The look of relief that flooded Angel's face was almost pathetic. He got it under control quickly. "You're right. Thanks, Cordy." I owe you, he mouthed.
She gave him a look that said he most certainly did. "I'll just be borrowing your car."
As she left, Angel approached Dawn. "Look, Dawn, we seem to be stuck with each other for a few days," he said softly. "If you don't want to talk, it's okay. I won't make you. I've been known to go whole weeks without saying a word, myself." Dawn's eyes flickered briefly to his face, then down again. "C'mon. Let's find you a room with a shower that works. Then you can look through the bookshelves if you want something to read. I'm afraid I don't have a television here, but I'm sure we can find you something to keep you from being bored out of your mind."
"Homework." The single word represented a one hundred percent improvement in Dawn's apparent verbal skills. Angel hid his satisfaction, instead forcing himself to look puzzled. Dawn caught the look and made an impatient noise. "I've got my homework. And a book." She lapsed back into silence.
A small triumph, but better than none. "Okay. Let's find that room."
Angel had explored the Hyperion extensively and knew that on his floor, only two rooms other than his own still had functional (and not-scary) plumbing. Of those two, one also had electrical outlets that worked. It was, fortuitously enough, just adjacent to his room. He led Dawn in, showing her the room's amenities and turning on lights, then left her in order to find bedding. He'd been able to salvage quite a bit in the way of blankets and sheets. After a few minutes, he returned to Dawn's room with a set of sheets, a blanket, a down comforter of his own, and a lamp that actually worked. The bedding he set down on the bed, where Dawn had placed her duffel. The lamp went on the nightstand.
"You hungry?" Dawn shook her head. "Cordy will probably bring back pizza or something, so whenever you are hungry, there'll be food." The girl still wasn't talking. Angel felt compassion welling up for her. "If you need me, I'll be downstairs. Otherwise, my room's right next to yours. Just call. There'll always be someone here if you need anything. Okay?"
The gentle note in his voice had some effect on Dawn. She swallowed hard, flicked Angel a glance with watery eyes, and murmured, "Okay."
Angel left her room, breathed a long sigh, and headed back downstairs. Gunn took one look at him, verified he was alone, and busted a gut laughing.
"Man, you must've made the Powers That Be mad! That kid's got one serious 'tude going there."
Angel smiled ruefully. "Yeah, I doubt this is her idea of a good time." He sobered. "Actually, she hasn't had any good times lately. In the space of a few months, she learned she's not really human, found out a demon god is after her, and then, to top it all off, her mother died."
Wesley looked up, puzzled. "Dawn? Not really human? What is she?"
"No one knows. Or at least, no one who's talking." Angel went over to look at the book Wesley was currently perusing. It was mostly prophecy. "Whatever she started out as, she's currently a grieving 14-year-old girl with a grieving Slayer as her only family. This weekend should be interesting."
"That's one way to put it." Gunn slipped back into his coat. "I've got some things to do. If the Fair Cordelia gets a vision, I've got my cell." With that, Gunn was gone.
Wesley pointed to something in the book. "Does the current crisis in Sunnydale have anything to do with Vorik demons?"
"And a conjunction."
"It's a millennial apocalypse," Wesley deduced. "A minor one, however. The Slayer ought to be able to deal with it. Now, what's this about Dawn not being human?"
Angel was about to answer when Cordelia entered, bearing pizza. "How's Dawn doing?" asked Cordelia.
"I got a few words out of her." Angel shook his head. "She's dealing. I don't know how well, but she's dealing. Thanks for staying, Cordelia."
"Yeah, well, you owe me in a major way." Cordelia popped open the pizza box and took a slice. Angel winced at the garlic smell. "What I can't figure is why Buffy felt the need to send her sister all the way here. I mean, I know she sent her mom and Dawn away at graduation, but this is just, like, portents, and doesn't Sunnydale always have those?"
"Actually, Buffy never sent Dawn away before. There's something you two need to know . . ."
Some time later, mind still reeling from Angel's revelation about Dawn, Cordelia climbed the stairs, pizza in hand. The door to Dawn's room was shut. Angel had given Cordelia the extra key, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Dawn hadn't locked it.
Cordelia's recollections of Dawn were chiefly of the indirect sort—references made by Buffy, Xander, and Willow. She'd only "met" Dawn a few times, and they'd had almost no interaction.
Correction. They'd never interacted before at all. The thought twisted Cordelia's brain into a pretty knot. She couldn't imagine what Dawn must feel about it all.
"Hey, Dawn," said Cordelia as she saw the girl sitting, doing homework on her neatly-made bed. "Pizza. Half veggie, half Hawaiian." Dawn said nothing. Cordelia smiled inwardly. If Angel could get this nut to crack, there was no way she'd stand up to the might of Queen C. "Listen, Angel said that this was the only non-scary room on this floor besides his—although, considering Angel's idea of scary and non-scary, that might or might not be a good thing—so I'm gonna sack out on the couch. Pizza's here if you're hungry, and since I do not trust the water in this place, heck, in L.A., I brought a couple bottled waters with me. Feel free to help yourself."
And that wasn't the end. Cordelia kept up a running commentary as she unpacked her bag, ranging all the way from her high school days to her ghostly roommate, until finally, Dawn set down her pencil.
"If I hold a conversation for five minutes, will you please let me finish my homework?" The teen's tone was aggrieved.
Cordelia hid a smile of triumph. "Deal. If you'll eat something, I'll even throw in dibs on the first shower in the morning."
The ensuing conversation took considerably longer than five minutes and thoroughly covered how irked Dawn currently was at her sister. During the course of Dawn's vent, the teen consumed no fewer than four slices of pizza and half a quart bottle of Evian. Cordelia capped off her successful evening with a few Xander stories. Just as Dawn caught herself laughing, though, she suddenly seemed to remember her homework and clammed up again. Cordelia sensed she'd pressed things as far as they'd go and withdrew.
As Dawn turned off her lamp, Cordelia watched her from the couch, where she'd made herself a bed. The Seer considered that thread of deep, deep sadness she'd felt through her vision. She didn't know if it was Dawn's or Buffy's or both, but it didn't matter. This girl needed help beyond just a place to stay for the weekend.
With that thought in mind, Cordelia fell asleep.
Dawn couldn't sleep. Too much was going on in her mind. Anger warred with worry when she thought about Buffy. Whatever happened this weekend was going to be bad, and if Glory showed up, it would only get worse. The thought of losing Buffy made Dawn's chest feel heavy. If something happened to her, what would become of Dawn? Would she just have to stay here, guarded by Angel—who'd always scared her a little, even before she'd known he could go bad?
And how could Buffy do this, anyway? How could she just pass her own sister off on a vampire? Especially with Mom being . . . dead. Maybe Buffy didn't really care. Maybe it was just the spell the monks cast that made her think she cared, and now it was wearing off.
Dawn turned over again, trying to get away from her thoughts. From the other room, she heard Cordelia's breathing, slow and steady with sleep.
The teen threw off her blankets and slipped from the bed. She put on her slippers, walked to the door, dimly illuminated by the ambient light from the city outside, and left the room as quietly as she could.
The Hyperion seemed cavernous and frightening to her in the darkness. There was light coming from the direction of the stairwell, though, and Dawn followed it. She descended into the lobby and found the light was coming from the office. Inside, she saw Angel sitting, wearing dark pants and a white tank top, and it looked for all the world like he was drawing something. As she crept closer, Dawn realized that's exactly what he was doing.
His eyes flicked up to her figure, then went back to his drawing. He didn't seem surprised to see her or in any way concerned that she was awake and out of bed. Curious, Dawn plucked up her courage and walked into the office itself.
"Hi, Dawn," Angel said quietly. "Couldn't sleep?"
Dawn shook her head. "What are you doing?"
"Sketching." Angel turned his tablet toward her. There was a series of skillful pencil sketches on it, ranging from Cordelia's face to a small bird to a fanciful sword.
"I like art," Dawn told him, hoping to keep him from sending her back to bed. "It's my favorite class at school. The teacher says I'm pretty good, too."
"Drawing? Painting? Sculpting?"
"Drawing, mostly. I'm not all that good with painting. My friend Lisa's better at that. We haven't really gotten into sculpting yet, but Mrs. Jennings says we will soon. I like using charcoal."
Angel seemed to take this in, still sketching. "I like pencil drawing best. Sometimes it clears the cobwebs out of my head." He gave a short, rueful laugh. "Then again, sometimes it doesn't."
"Do you think you could draw me?" Dawn blurted suddenly. She sat down on the desk, a few feet away from him, and drew her knees up to her chest.
Angel stopped his sketching and looked at her. "I could, I suppose. Do you want me to?"
Dawn nodded. The heaviness in her chest was trying to choke her. "Would you? Now?"
"Dawn, it's the middle of the night."
"I know." She felt herself starting to shake and forced it away. "But you see, the way Buffy figured out I wasn't her sister, wasn't really, was that she went into this trance, and when she was in it, all the photographs of me kept fading in and out. So I thought, you know, that whenever the monks take me back or whatever, I might just fade out of all the photographs, and Buffy would have nothing to—to make her remember me, and she might just forget, and I thought that maybe if there was a drawing or a painting of me or something, that would stay, and even if she didn't really remember, she would still have that. She says she'll never forget me, but maybe—maybe she won't have a choice, you know? Like the monks made her remember me, and they might make her forget me, too, so I was just thinking . . ." Dawn couldn't stop the shaking. She could hear it in her voice.
And Angel was there. Standing right by her, even though she hadn't heard him move at all. Standing there with such pain in his eyes, as if he was feeling everything she was. Somehow, seeing that empathy in his dark eyes crumbled every last one of Dawn's defenses. The heaviness in her chest burst, pushing out a deep sob.
A moment later, Angel was seated beside her on the desk, gathering her into his arms. Leaning into him, surrounded by that cool strength, she let all her misery flow out. For a time, she just wept uncontrollably. Angel held her close, stroking her hair and making soft shushing noises.
She never would know just how long she cried in his arms. When the tears finally slowed, though, his skin had warmed next to hers.
"I don't know what I am, Angel," she choked. "I don't know what's going to happen to me. What if Buffy beats Glory and the monks just take me away again? What'll I be then? Or what if Glory gets me?"
"Nothing bad will happen to you, Dawn," Angel soothed her. "Buffy won't let it. She won't let the monks take you away, either, if you don't want to go."
"But what if—what if I'm something evil?"
Angel stiffened. "Dawn, you are not evil."
"But Glory said . . ."
"I don't care what some demon god said." Angel pulled back, then took Dawn's face firmly in his hands and forced her to look at him. "You are not evil. You've got a lot of power locked up inside you somewhere, but power isn't about good or evil—it's all in how you use it. Glory wants to use it for something evil. But that doesn't make you evil. Do you understand that?"
"I-I guess." Having Angel's legendary intensity focused on her was by no means comfortable, but it wasn't as scary as she'd have thought.
In another moment, his face had gentled with humor, and he began to gently wipe the tears from her face with his fingers. "Besides, take it from someone who's been there—you're just not it. Evil's kind of like crazy, in a way. If you can ask whether or not you are, you probably aren't."
Dawn managed a watery little laugh at that. Angel's face grew sober again. "Dawn, just before you came, Cordelia had a vision that said we were to help you. The Powers That Be want me to protect you, and they're the powers for good in the universe. Would they want me to protect something evil?"
She hadn't thought of that. It made her feel better. "I guess not."
Angel reached back and found a box of tissues. "Here. Clean your face up, and we'll see about that drawing, okay?"
"You mean you'll do it?" Dawn wiped her face dry and blew her nose, then got another tissue.
"Of course." Angel brushed her hair back from her face with one hand, tucking some loose strands behind her ear. "It won't take long. I'll fill in the background after I get your figure sketched."
"How do I look?" asked Dawn, giving her eyes one last wipe. She was fairly certain she looked like a wet rat.
"You're very pretty." Angel went back to his chair and picked up his drawing pad, flipping to a clean sheet. "No, don't look directly at me. Find something on the bookshelves to look at."
Dawn obeyed, commenting as she did so, "You're being really nice. Maybe I was wrong about you."
A soft chuckle answered her. "No. I'm sure you weren't. Tell me about school."
The teen did so, describing her classes, teachers, friends, and Kirstie's little clan. Angel, in response, reminded her about Cordelia's clique from when she'd been in high school. Dawn resolved to wrangle some teen queen combat tips out of Cordelia sometime this weekend.
The late night and emotional upset, though, were catching up with her. Dawn found herself yawning and nearly nodding off before long. The soft scratching of Angel's pencil didn't help matters any. If she listened, she would get lost in the sound . . .
And then he was there again, setting down his pad on the desk. One arm reached around Dawn's back, the other under her knees, and she leaned contentedly into him as he lifted her smoothly from the desk. Just before she closed her eyes, Dawn caught sight of the drawing Angel had done: her small figure, suspended alone in the middle of a white page.
Angel set Dawn down gently in her bed. The girl was deeply asleep and didn't even stir as he pulled the covers over her and smoothed them.
As he looked down at her face, a sudden pang shot through his heart as he realized just who she reminded him of. On impulse, Angel leaned down and kissed her forehead, whispering, "Sweet dreams, Dawn."
"Angel." The whisper came from the sitting room. Angel walked over and hunched down by Cordelia's couch.
"What is it?"
He could see Cordelia's eyes, wide and concerned, in the night. "Is she okay? I woke up and she was gone, and when I went downstairs to find her, I saw her crying with you."
"She's okay. I think." Angel furrowed his brow, realizing what a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer that was. "There's a lot she's dealing with right now. She doesn't know what she is. She's worried she might be evil, and hey—who's the expert on that?" He grimaced. "I think I managed to talk her out of that thought."
"What a mind job for a 14-year-old. Those monks couldn't have made her just a little older?" Cordelia shook her head. "I think she needs some good, old-fashioned distraction."
"As long as it doesn't involve taking her out of my general vicinity. Buffy was pretty specific: I leave her alone, I die."
Cordelia appeared to consider it. "Tempting as that sounds, what I'm thinking won't involve going anywhere. Trust me."
"I do." Angel stood. " 'Night, Cordelia."