written for the "Buffy is the hero, damnit" ficathon on livejournal


The Stars in Their Courses

or

Five Times Buffy Saves Dawn


1. "Something extraordinary and new is emerging, and it gives me hope." Madeleine L'Engle

Dawn turns seven on a Sunday. She wakes up to eggs and toast and pink squares of watermelon on a tray in bed. Her mother has picked a rose from the garden and put it in a tiny vase on a tiny doily. Her mother is smiling down at her and she feels happy and excited and warm.

"Happy birthday, pumpkin," her mother says. Dawn can hear her father in the office across the hall talking loudly on the phone. Her mother has wet hair and it's cold on her face when she leans down to kiss the birthday girl. When Dawn goes downstairs, Buffy is in the living room with the rented helium tank blowing up pink balloons.

"I hate you," Buffy says, sourly. Dawn just sticks out her tongue. Dawn used to cry when Buffy said things like that, but her mother explained to her what being thirteen meant, and now Dawn understands. She is, after all, seven today.

While everyone sets up for the party, Dawn climbs into the tree house. The tree house is from last year, for the both of them, but Buffy never comes inside. Dawn remembers sitting at the window, watching the men build it. Two days of sawing and hammering and her dad telling her that she was worth it even thought it cost too much.

Inside is cool and shadowed. There is a pile of dolls in the corner but she doesn't feel like playing with them. Instead, she decides to climb onto the slanted roof of the house. There is a sturdy branch above the house that she likes to sit on, sometimes, or swing from.

Getting up there is easy; it's getting down that's harder. But today, Dawn is seven and she knows that the things that were scary and hard yesterday shouldn't be today. So she climbs and climbs. Soon, she is higher up than she has ever been.

"Dawn?"

Her mother's voice is soft and floats up to her on the breeze.

"Mom!" she cries. "Look how high I am!"

Her mother's hand rises to her brow and she looks up, following the sound of her youngest daughter's voice.

"Oh my god," her mother says. "Hank! Come here. Dawn, get down this instant!" Dawn can see her father come into the back yard with his briefcase in his hand. He doesn't look up.

"I'm fine," Dawn says softly.

"I just have to go in for a couple hours," her father says.

"But the party…" her mother says, dejectedly.

"I'll be home in time, I promise," her father says. "Dawn, get down and help your mother."

Dawn scrambles and feels her feet come out from beneath her. Then she is falling. Her elbow hits the roof of the house with a painful crack but it doesn't stop her descent. The ground is coming at her so fast and she's screaming, screaming and then Buffy is there, just under her and Dawn falls right into her arms. They both hit the ground with a thud. The breath has been knocked out of Dawn and she thrashes around scared and dizzy. She feels frantic with fear and the pain from her arm blossoms out behind her eyes.

"It's okay," Buffy says, stroking her hair. "Dawnie, it's okay. I've got you."

2. "You'd think there'd be no need to pause on my own doorstep, suddenly afraid of the distance between us, of your absolute beauty, of the growing aloneness when I clicked the latch." Peter Bland

Buffy is late and Dawn knows she's really in trouble this time. Her mother is in the kitchen, washing the dishes from dinner with the radio turned on loud and her father is in the living room, pacing. With each step, from her perch on the stairs, Dawn can see his anger increase. Usually, Buffy being in trouble is the highlight of her night but this is different for some reason. Dawn just wants Buffy to come home and for this all to be over.

"Dawn, go to bed."

Her mother has appeared behind her and her face looks tired and stern. Dawn doesn't move and so her mother picks her up and starts to carry her awkwardly up the stairs. She's too big to be carried and her feet dangle down around her mother's knees but she doesn't fight the free ride. Her mother's hand is warm on her back and when she puts Dawn in bed, she tucks the covers too tightly around her.

"Where's Buffy?" Dawn asks.

"She'll be home soon," her mother promises but Dawn doesn't believe her.

"Is she dead in a gutter somewhere?" Dawn asks. Her mother's face blanches.

"Where did you learn that?" she asks. Dawn shrugs and struggles to free herself from the tight sheet.

"TV," Dawn says.

"You need to go to sleep. Don't worry about Buffy," her mom says.

"Can I write in my journal?"

"It's late," her mother sighs but hands Dawn the new notebook. She kind of misses the old one, it had a cat on the cover and it was the one that Buffy gave her for her birthday two years ago – the day she got the cast on her elbow. That diary was thick and took a long time to fill up. This one is thin and blue with palm trees but it isn't the same. The pages smell funny and the lines are too close together.

Dawn is still writing when Buffy comes home. Her father's voice is loud. Dawn gets out of bed and opens her door a tiny bit to hear better.

"I lost track of the time," Buffy says but she isn't even trying to lie, Dawn can tell. Usually her excuses are elaborate and she brings a friend or two home to back up the story. Now she is alone and she sounds weird, like she's been crying.

"Well, you're grounded," her mother says.

"Okay," Buffy says. "I just… I just want to go to bed."

The fight continues long after Buffy has locked herself in her bedroom. Dawn can't sleep through it; she doubts the people on the next block could sleep through it. It's always the same fight and when Dawn knocks on Buffy's door, her sister lets her in without an argument. Dawn climbs into her bed and watches Buffy clean out a long scrape on her arm.

"What happened?" Dawn asks.

"I fell," Buffy says flatly.

"Where were you?"

"You can stay in here if you don't talk," Buffy says and at least this is normal.

"How can you expect her to come home when you never do!" her mother screams, downstairs.

"Don't listen to that, okay?" Buffy says. She turns on the radio but it doesn't drown their parents out completely. Dawn is kind of tired but watching Buffy is interesting. She changes her clothes. Buffy's body has changed in the last year so much that Dawn doesn't even recognize her sometimes. She's envious of Buffy's white bras and pink panties with lace. She's jealous of everything that Buffy has – her blonde hair and eyes that change colors. When Buffy comes out of the bathroom, she has something in her hand. "You awake?"

"Yes," says Dawn defiantly. "I'm not even tired."

"I have a present for you," Buffy says and holds up a necklace. It's a delicate chain with a gold cross on the end.

"Why?" asks Dawn, immediately suspicious. Buffy never gives her stuff unless she has to.

"Because… just promise me you won't ever take it off. Ever," Buffy says and Dawn sits up so Buffy can fasten it around her neck.

"We only go to church when Grandma makes us," Dawn reminds her. "Is Grandma coming?"

"It's going to keep you safe," Buffy says. "Like magic."

Buffy lets Dawn spend the whole night in her bed.

In the morning, Buffy walks Dawn to the elementary school on the way to the high school, just like every morning. Except this morning, Buffy's friends aren't there to meet her and she doesn't make Dawn walk behind her half a block. When they get to the corner, there's a man waiting.

"Who is that freak?" asks Dawn. He's wearing a hat and a coat even though it's almost eighty degrees.

"That's my friend," Buffy says and it's the most shocking thing Dawn has ever heard her say.

"Your what?" Dawn squeaks.

"His name is Merrick," Buffy says. "Be nice."

"He's old," Dawn whispers.

"I know," says Buffy. Merrick smiles at Dawn like he's known her all his life.

"Miss Summers," he says and Dawn doesn't know if he's talking to her or Buffy. She doesn't ask.

Sometimes her mother picks Dawn up from daycare, sometimes Buffy does. Her dad never does. Today is Wednesday, Buffy's day and she's late, of course. It's after seven by the time she arrives and Dawn is the last kid there, which she hates. She's like the orphan kid who nobody loves and Dawn doesn't talk to Buffy or the old guy that is still tagging along with her.

"Sorry," Buffy says, which is weird because Buffy never apologizes to her.

"Whatever," Dawn says. Buffy rolls her eyes. It's not a long walk to the house from the daycare center and Dawn could do it alone if her mom would just relax. "Why don't you just go hang out with your friends? I'm fine."

"No," Buffy says, distractedly. She's got her hand in her pocket like she's holding on to something but Dawn decides not to care about Buffy anymore. Instead she looks up at Merrick who has lost his pleasant smile and looks extremely focused instead.

"Who are you, anyway?" Dawn asks.

"I'm Merrick Jamison-Smythe," he says, as if that meant anything to Dawn.

"My sister is fifteen," Dawn points out. "You're like a hundred."

"I am fifty-seven," Merrick responds.

"Dawn, leave him alone," Buffy says.

"Buffy's grounded, you know. She isn't supposed to hang out with her friends. Or creepy old guys," Dawn says and Merrick just laughs.

"I am Buffy's Watcher," he says. "I think I can be the exception to her punishment."

"What's a Watcher?" Dawn asks. Buffy turns to Dawn with a hard expression.

"Dawn! Come walk with me. Stop talking to him," she says, holding out her hand which Dawn takes reluctantly. "And you," she says to Merrick. "Be quiet."

They are three blocks away from home when someone jumps out at them. He looks familiar, like one of the boys Buffy used to hang out with on the weekends, but he looks different, too. Really different. There is something wrong with his face and Dawn follows her first instinct which is to run away. She turns and starts to flee but she runs into Merrick who wraps his big arms around her and she doesn't even care that he's old and creepy and a stranger with a funny accent.

"Shh," he says, "Don't look."

And she doesn't.

Buffy carries her the rest of the way home at almost a run. Merrick keeps up pretty well for his age and the several pounds of clothing that weights him down. Dawn sobs into her shoulder and Buffy lifts her like she weighs nothing at all.

3. "But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, and loved the sorrows of your changing face." W.B. Yeats

Sunnydale sucks.

Her mom pretends to be happy all the time but Dawn can hear her crying at night. Buffy doesn't even talk to Dawn anymore and she's like, perma-grounded which makes Buffy mad at mom, too.

Dawn thinks that anger and sadness might be the same thing for Buffy.

When they aren't in the house, Buffy pretends to be happy. They all put on this show – bouncing through the aisles of the grocery store and smiling when they stop by the realtor's office to sign the last papers. Buffy even makes nice at the high school when they go to register her.

"Try not to burn it down this time," her mom says in the car, coldly. Buffy doesn't respond except to look at Dawn in the side mirror and shake her head slightly.

Dawn doesn't care about her secret anyway.

"I hate you," Dawn says, instead, because she does a little.

"No you don't," her mother says sharply but she sounds like she might hate Buffy too. "Apologize, Dawn."

"Sorry," Dawn says but she really, really doesn't mean it.

At home, her mother puts away the groceries and both she and Buffy stomp upstairs to their new rooms. Unpacking is boring, though, and eventually she forgets that she hates Buffy and goes over to see what she's doing.

"Go away," Buffy says before Dawn even gets a chance to be nice.

"I don't really hate you," Dawn says, feeling kind. She also really wants to read the magazine sitting on Buffy's desk.

"Stop the presses," says Buffy, tearing another box open. She doesn't look like she likes to unpack either. This box has a bunch of stuffed animals in it, but Buffy pulls the animals out and underneath there are stakes and crosses and some other things that look really sharp.

"Your school is far away from mine," Dawn says, unsure if she really is supposed to get out or not. Buffy rolls her eyes but doesn't make her leave. "What if something goes wrong?"

"This is Sunnydale, not L.A.," Buffy says. "It's safer here."

"I don't understand why Merrick didn't come with us," Dawn says. "I thought he was supposed to help you." Buffy pauses and accidentally drops the stake she's holding. It rolls under the bed and she doesn't bother to retrieve it.

"I told you," Buffy says softly. "He had to go back to England."

"But he didn't even say goodbye," Dawn says. Buffy looks at her like she's about to start yelling again but instead she reaches out and touches the cross that Dawn wears. She moves the clasp to the back, away from the pendant.

"That's just how he is," Buffy says. "All British and stuff."

"Can I write to him?" Dawn asks.

"No," Buffy says. "It's a secret, remember?"

"But…"

"Drop it, Dawn," Buffy says, letting go of the necklace and stepping back. "He isn't ever coming back so you can just forget it." Her voice is cold and mean and so Dawn leaves her alone with her stakes and holy water and all the other stupid things Dawn isn't supposed to know about.

School is hard and awkward. Dawn used to be really good at making friends but this time is different. Everybody knows everyone else and they've all been together forever and Dawn doesn't know anyone except Buffy who is across town. She doesn't say anything at all for the first day, and the second, and then the third and by the end of the first week, it's almost easier to stay quiet.

Buffy, of course, has a whole entourage by the end of her first week and it isn't fair.

At least Buffy's new friends are better than her old friends. Willow's really smart, like Dawn, and Xander is cute and hilarious and her mom seems happy to have them over. She makes hot chocolate for all of them with little marshmallows floating on the surface. Dawn picks her marshmallows out and sucks on her fingers where the hot liquid burns.

"Come on," her mom says. "Let's go upstairs."

"But I want to…" Dawn complains but her mom makes her go upstairs and leaves the teenagers downstairs to have fun without her.

"I hate Sunnydale," Dawn says under her breath.

"Me too," her mom says and Dawn actually feels better.

Dawn meets Mr. Giles on accident. He comes to the house when it's just Buffy and her at home. Dawn answers the door and he looks at her through big glasses. There's something familiar about him – his graying hair and suit made out of that scratchy material that is way too hot for California.

"Is Buffy in?" he asks and he has that same accent, soft and lilting.

"Who are you?" she asks.

"I'm Mr. Giles," he says. Buffy comes down the stairs behind Dawn and pushes her out of the way.

"Hey Giles," she says. "You make house calls now?"

"We've got to go," he says and glances at Dawn questioningly.

"This is Dawn," she says. "And I can't leave her here."

"Your mother…" he says.

"Is gone," Buffy says. "Sorry."

"But…" Giles scratches his head. "It is your duty and I must insist. Time is of the essence."

"I don't know what you want me to say but I can't," Buffy says.

"As your Watcher I insist…"

Dawn feels kind of like someone punched her in the stomach.

"Your what?" she asks. Buffy smacks Giles in the arm, hard, hard enough so that he stumbles and rubs at it with a hiss. "You have a new Watcher?"

"Dawn, it isn't any of your business," Buffy says, glaring at Giles. It's starting to get really dark and Giles is edging his way inside the house. He closes the door behind him with an audible sigh.

"I thought you said you didn't need a Watcher because Sunnydale was safe," Dawn says. She doesn't understand what's happening, why Buffy looks so mad and why this new guy looks so befuddled.

"Nowhere is safe," Buffy says dejectedly and Giles looks down, like this is aimed at him and he is used to taking responsibility for it.

"Why can't Merrick come back?" asks Dawn. "He's your real Watcher anyway."

"Giles is my real Watcher, Dawn," Buffy says, loudly. "Sunnydale is dangerous and Giles is my Watcher and Merrick is dead, are you happy now?"

Dead. Dead. Merrick is dead, dead, dead.

Dawn isn't happy.

She runs up the stairs and slams her door and presses her face into her pillow. The tears are hot and sting behind her eyes but they won't come out. She's so angry. Why would Buffy lie? Why would she let Merrick die? Why did she make them move to this horrible place where it's boring and not safe at the same time?

There is a knock on her door.

"Go away, Buffy," she screams. But it isn't Buffy. The man opens the door and pokes in his head. "What?"

"May I speak with you?" he asks. There is a little part of him that reminds her of Merrick and she hates him, immediately, for trying to fill that void.

"Whatever," she says, and flops down so her back is to him. He stands in the doorway, awkwardly.

"I gather you know what your sister is?" he asks.

"Duh," says Dawn. It's not exactly like Buffy can keep a good secret. Dawn thinks mom knows too, but pretends not to see.

"Then you know how important being a Slayer is," Giles says. Dawn sits up and faces him.

"Merrick said that it was Buffy's job to protect the whole world," Dawn says. She knows that Giles is trying to make her feel better, in some weird way, and that's she's letting him but he seems kind of nice, anyway. Better than stupid Buffy who didn't even tell her she had a new Watcher, let alone that her old one was…

"And he was right. There is only one Slayer at a time and that's your sister," Giles says. "Her job is very dangerous."

"I know," Dawn says. She's heard the Buffy is great song before.

"There is only one person who has a job more dangerous than Buffy," Giles said. This is something Dawn didn't know and she asks despite herself.

"Who?"

"Her Watcher," Giles says. "May I?" Dawn nods and he sits next to her on the mattress. "A Watcher has to protect the Slayer without any superpowers at all. It's very hard."

"Oh," says Dawn. "It was too hard for Merrick, I guess."

"Slayers and Watchers are a lot alike," Giles says, looking down at her seriously. He is talking to her like she's a grown-up. It's kind of nice. "When a Slayer dies, a new one is called. The same thing goes for Watchers. I'm very sorry that Merrick died, but he did and so now it's my turn to protect your sister."

"Seems like a crummy job," Dawn says and Giles laughs.

"No," he says. "It's the best job in the world."

Even though Giles makes her feel better, Buffy still has to bargain with Dawn. In the end, she gets to go with Giles and Buffy instead of staying home alone. She sits in the backseat of Giles' car, in the space where her feet go, holding a wooden cross in her hand. Something inside tells her to close her eyes and make herself as tiny as she can but she resists this urge. She peeks out the window slowly and she can see everything. Buffy is fighting this monster, this horrible thing that is definitely not a vampire but is certainly evil. Giles is out there too, holding a sword and helping Buffy fight.

She's never seen her sister like this before. She looks like she's dancing, almost. It's beautiful.

It is until the thing hits her so hard that she goes flying back into a tree and then doesn't move. And keeps not moving. Poor Giles is trying to fight and check on Buffy and she Still. Isn't. Moving.

"BUFFY!" Dawn hears before she realizes that it's her own voice. The monster hears the noise and starts running towards the car. It sees her and she scrambles back but there isn't anywhere to go. The thing rips the car door completely off its hinges and she is screaming but then Buffy is there. She leaps onto the monster and Dawn can hear the crack of its neck where Buffy twists hard. It drops and it takes a minute for Dawn to stop hollering.

"I told you to be quiet," Buffy says. Giles rushes up behind them.

"Bloody hell," he says. "Look at my car!"

4. "The dawn was breaking the bones of your heart like twigs." Richard Siken

Dawn wakes up homesick even though she's in her own bed. Maybe it's because Buffy's gone.

She's been gone for three weeks now and no Buffy means no Willow, no Xander, no Watcher. It's strange, this silence. It has infected her, burrowed deeply in her chest and built a little home between her lungs – pinching and pressing.

She hears her mother in the hallway. It's time to get up, to go to school and then come home hopeful but already expecting disappointment. It's funny how quickly they've fallen into the routine.

Her mother is mad. Worried and regretful, but really, spectacularly pissed off. And not just at Buffy.

"You knew?" her mother had hissed, holding Buffy's hastily scrawled note in her hand.

"You knew too," Dawn shot back, feeling bold. She'd expected punishment – to be grounded or have her allowance taken away but instead, just silence, which is somehow worse.

After school, Melinda waves goodbye and Dawn realizes she can't face another empty afternoon at home. She wants something familiar, something to ease the aching in her chest. It's a really long walk to Giles' but she paces herself and it only takes her about thirty-five minutes to reach his door. She knows that Giles isn't her Watcher and that it's Buffy that he's loyal to, but she can't help but feel like her watches over her sometimes, too. To protect Buffy is to protect Dawn. Or something.

"Dawn," he says, surprised to see her. "Dear Lord, is Buffy…"

"No," she says quickly, "Sorry."

"Ah." He ushers her inside and she sees his bag and that he's wearing a coat.

"Were you leaving?" she asks.

"Yes. I have a flight in a couple of hours," he says. He doesn't ask her why she's there, just waits for her to come out and say it.

"I just couldn't go home," she says.

"I understand," he says, looking at the travel bag and she realizes that he really does. "I'll call Willow. You can stay here as long as she is here to chaperone."

"I'm old enough to watch myself," she says but he shakes his head.

"My flat, my rules."

She doesn't argue because she misses Willow. And Giles is offering her a mini-vacation from her life and she doesn't want to ask why.

"Sure," she says. "Thanks."

He waits around for Willow with her and then leaves without saying when he'll be back. Willow hugs her tight and touches her hair and looks really, really sad.

"She'll be fine," Willow says.

"I know," Dawn says. "Thanks for coming over."

"Oh, I missed you," Willow said. "What do you want to do? I mean… Giles' place is kind of…"

"Giles-y," Dawn says. "Can we just zone?"

"Okay," Willow says. They spread out their homework on the table and work on it for a while and when things get sticky, Willow is a good tutor. It's actually fun and when the sun starts to go down, Willow turns on all of his soft lamps. Dawn moves to the window and looks out into the poorly lit courtyard, like maybe Buffy will be just outside the door if she wants it badly enough. "Dawnie? Does your mom know you're here?"

"No," Dawn says.

"We should let her know. She's probably worried."

"Yes," Dawn says. "But can we have another hour of this first?" Willow relents almost too easily and Dawn suspects she doesn't want to go home either. "Where's Oz?"

"On the road," Willow says. "For a while, actually."

"Do you miss him?" Dawn asks and Willow cocks her head to the side.

"Of course," she says absently.

"Do you miss Buffy more?" Dawn asks and it's a strange question. Willow looks at her like she's said something weird.

"I miss them differently," Willow says. She turns on the TV for Dawn to watch and after a little while, calls Joyce. Dawn is asleep on the couch when her mom arrives to get her. She's having weird dreams and Giles is there, telling her to pick up a sword because she has to protect Buffy. Everything's all backwards and complicated and it's probably because the pillow she's using smells so much like tea and sword polish and something faintly earthy. Like Giles.

Her mom is mad, but predictably so.

"I don't want you seeing that man," she says.

"Who? Giles?" Dawn asks, surprised.

"He lied to me about his relationship with Buffy and he drove her away. He isn't a good man," Joyce says and the sad thing is that Dawn knows she really believes this. She wants to point out that if anyone drove Buffy away, it was her, not Giles but Dawn wisely says nothing.

Giles comes back without Buffy and now Dawn isn't allowed to see him and things are basically worse, if that's at all possible.

But then, she does come back. And she's the same – blonde and skinny and her sister. Buffy. Mom does the move-on-like-it-never-happened thing pretty quickly, although when Buffy wants to go see Giles there's a tense moment where Dawn's pretty sure someone is going to end up bleeding.

"I almost went to see him first," Buffy says as if to help but it doesn't help and Dawn looks at her like she's an idiot. "But, I didn't because you're the most… important…"

"I'll go with her," Dawn offers quickly. "Make sure she doesn't get lost or anything."

"No," Buffy says.

"Take her," her mom says, surprising them both. "If you absolutely must see that man."

"I must," Buffy says and so they go together.

"Where did you go?" Dawn asks because this is the first time they've been alone since she's come back.

"Away," Buffy says.

"Did you miss me?" Dawn asks. She can't help herself.

"Sometimes," Buffy says which is a pretty honest answer. "Did you miss me?"

"Yeah," says Dawn. They walk a couple more blocks but the closer Buffy gets to Giles, the more she slows down. "We could go get Willow and Xander," Dawn offers and Buffy perks up.

"Yeah," she says. "Let's do that." Willow's is on the way anyway and Dawn knows Xander is probably there already.

"Did it help?" Dawn asks. "Going away?"

"No," Buffy said. "Well, a little, at first, but in the end, I'm pretty sure I fucked everything up even worse." Dawn tries not to be shocked by the language, to be sophisticated. To be the smart one who didn't run away. "Was Giles mad? Is he mad?" Buffy asks, stopping right outside Willow's house. "Does he hate me?"

"He's worried," Dawn says. "You shouldn't make him wait."

Of course, Giles is Giles and though they can all see that he's happy and relieved, he doesn't really make a fuss. When they go home, Willow comes with them to spend the night, which Dawn thinks is kind of mean because it banishes Xander back to his own house.

Buffy and Willow sleep together in Buffy's room. Dawn waits until her mom goes to sleep before she stands outside Buffy's door trying to listen. She can hear crying and at first she thinks it's Buffy but it's Willow because she can hear Buffy apologizing over and over again. When she gets tired, Dawn lays down in front of her door and goes to sleep.

"Dawn," Buffy whispers, some time later. "What are you doing?"

"I…" she sits up and the floor is not comfortable. Not at all. "I just wanted to make sure you were okay." Buffy closes the door and sits down next to her.

"Are you okay?" Buffy asks. Dawn shrugs and refuses to say anything because maybe she is and maybe she isn't. "You took off your cross. Why?"

"It never did anything to protect me," Dawn says. "I know it wasn't really magic. You protected me. Until you didn't because you left." Suddenly she's angry and bitter and the joy of Buffy coming home is eclipsed by the pain of Buffy abandoning her.

"I'm sorry," Buffy says. "I was stupid. Dawn, I will always protect you. I won't leave you ever again."

Dawn can't exactly believe her. She's already left once after promising to keep her safe before and Dawn knows that someday she'll probably leave again. Dawn knows what goes bump in the night and without Buffy, it's just a matter of time until they find her.

"I know you won't," Dawn says, choosing to believe her, if only for that moment. "Is Willow okay?"

"She's just… going through a weird time."

"About Oz?" Dawn asks.

"Sort of," Buffy admits, helping Dawn up off the floor. "Being seventeen is hard. Everything feels all funny inside. Just you wait." Dawn lets Buffy lead her back to bed and tuck her in and touch her hair and do all the things that she's never really done before. "Go to sleep."

"Will you be here in the morning?" Dawn asks.

"And the morning after that," Buffy promises. "Making sure the bed bugs don't bite Dawnie."

"Or the vampires," Dawn adds.

"Or the demons," Buffy says sadly.

"Or the ghosts?" Dawn asks. "Can ghosts bite?"

"Goodnight," Buffy says, and closes the door behind her. Dawn falls asleep feeling safe for the first time all year.

5. "Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent." Elizabeth Bishop

Dawn didn't mean to do it. She really, really didn't. And when Buffy told her to stay in her dorm and not touch anything, Dawn kind of thought that she meant not to touch any of Buffy's stuff. Which meant all the spell books on Willow's shelf were free game, right? Okay, she didn't think that but she read them anyway and now Dawn has trapped herself in some sort of binding spell and she can't move and she can't talk and it sucks pretty hard.

When Buffy comes back into the room, she looks right at Dawn and then walks out again, yelling,

"DAWN! Where are you?"

Well that's not good. Dawn tries to struggle and scream but she can't do either. Buffy comes back in with Willow and Xander who look around and walk out again. When they come back, Buffy is stomping around in an angry panic and Willow tries to calm her down and Xander walks right through Dawn which is weird but Xander doesn't even feel it.

Dawn wishes that she'd thought to set the magic book down before reading it, but instead she's taken it with her, to this weird invisible place. She looks down at the words but she can't speak and thinking them doesn't do anything. The ironic thing is that she was trying to make herselfmore noticeable, not less. Why does magic have to be so back assward?

"Hey guys?" Willow says, pointing right at Dawn which fills her with relief. "One of my books is gone."

Well, close enough, Dawn thinks.

"You think Dawn stole one of your books and split?" Xander asks.

"She would do that," says Buffy angrily but Dawn wouldn't, probably. Buffy never trusts her. "Which book was it?"

"A book way beyond her level," Willow says. "If she tries anything, who knows what will happen."

Dawn wishes they would hurry up and call Giles. Forty-five minutes later, they do. Unfortunately, they all leave to go to his apartment instead of staying in the dorm and so Dawn is left alone. Xander turns off the light before he goes, so now she's alone and in the dark.

On some basic level, Dawn knows that they're going to figure this out and rescue her because they always do. It's not a matter of whether she'll be saved, it's a matter of when. She could spend hours trapped like this, days, even. She can't really sleep like this, but she can drift and doze.

It's late when Buffy comes back. She's alone because Willow has this new friend, or something, she isn't really sure but she's gone a lot. Buffy has lost her angry edge and now just looks scared and sad. Dawn tries to say her name but it's futile. All she can do is watch her sister. Buffy kicks off her shoes and shrugs off her jacket. She sits on the edge of her bed and pulls Mr. Gordo into her lap. Then she starts to cry.

She's soft at first, so soft that at first Dawn just thinks she has a cold but soon Buffy's shoulders are shaking and she's sobbing loudly. Dawn starts to cry a little too. How was she supposed to know that all the stuff they warned her about – the magic and the weapons – really were dangerous? Maybe if they taught her about it instead of shielding her from it she'd know better by now.

Someone knocks on the door and Buffy wipes her eyes before answering it. It's Giles and Dawn is excited because while Buffy is the hero and everything, Giles is the smart one. Smarter than Willow, even. At least Giles keeps his dangerous books where Dawn can't find them, no matter how hard she looks. And Dawn has looked. Giles seems like he's about to say something but instead Buffy starts to cry again and Giles does that flustered thing where he thinks he should hug her but doesn't want to overstep his boundaries. It ends with Giles patting her shoulder awkwardly and Dawn rolls her eyes. Sometimes a girl just needs a hug.

"Did you find her?" Buffy sniffs.

"No," Giles says. "But you looked so forlorn when you left. I thought perhaps if I came to the scene of the crime, I might have more insight."

"I just… where is she? I was standing in the hall the whole time. How did I miss her sneaking out?" Buffy begs for answers and Giles walks over to where Dawn is. He stops right in front of her and reaches his hand through her to run his fingers over the spine of one of Willow's magic books. But unlike Xander, Giles yanks his hand back like something yucky has touched him.

"What?" Buffy asks. "What?"

"Did Willow do a spell before you came over to my flat?" Giles asks and Dawn thinks, praise God, this is it. She really has to pee.

"I don't think so," Buffy says.

"Someone performed a spell here," Giles says. "I can feel it."

"Willow didn't feel anything wiggy," Buffy says, coming to stand next to him.

"Willow is not quite the witch she makes herself out to be," Giles says softly. Ouch, Dawn thinks but she knows that Giles probably isn't wrong. "Close your eyes, Buffy, and concentrate. See if you can feel the magical residue left behind."

Dawn thinks this is no time for Giles to slip in a training lesson but, surprisingly, Buffy does what he says and everything, for a moment, gets really quiet. Dawn tries to talk again, to alert Buffy on some deeper level. Buffy's eyes open and she looks up at Giles.

"What if Dawn didn't take the book somewhere? What if she did the spell here and it went all…" She waves her hands in the air dramatically.

"Kerblooey?" Giles asks in a pretty decent imitation of Willow. "Do you think she's still here?"

"Maybe," Buffy says. "I felt something. It was tingly."

"That's the magic," Giles says, pleased, and Buffy glows a little under his praise. Here they are being all Watcher-Slayer-y while they're both practically standing on top of Dawn. She makes a note to herself to have a talk with Buffy about priorities when she gets out of this. "I wish we knew which spell she used." Giles pulls another magic book off the shelf and through Dawn.

"What if she zapped herself into some other dimension?" Buffy asked, suddenly terrified. "I've been to other dimensions, Giles, and they're very, very bad!"

"We'll just hope that isn't the case," Giles says.

"Giles!" Buffy screeches. "You're supposed to make me feel better!"

"I'm supposed to help you," he corrects gently. "Which I am trying to do even though it's one in the morning."

Buffy should really appreciate Giles more, Dawn thinks.

"Should we call Willow?" Buffy asks, moving back to her bed and sitting down.

"No," Giles says, sitting on the other bed. He closes the book, marking his place with his thumb. "Buffy, I want you to keep an eye on Willow. She's doing a lot of magic and she's gaining power almost too quickly. You need to make sure she doesn't burn herself out."

"She's getting better," Buffy protests.

"I know," Giles says. "I was a very good caster myself once, you'll recall."

Dawn wants to hear more but Buffy looks like she understands just fine and doesn't say anything in response except to hang her head a little.

"Anyway," Giles says. "I think we should try a simple locater spell first."

It's long and tedious and Dawn forgets to pay attention to some of it. She always wants to see the magic part but Giles sitting on the floor chanting in some language she doesn't understand is something she's seen before.

"But how can she be two places at once?" Buffy asks, looking down at the map Giles has created out of sand or dirt or dried up mummy parts – Dawn doesn't know but it probably won't come out of the rug.

"I don't know," Giles says. "But we need to get her back in to this place."

"If she gets out of this alive, I'm gonna kill her," Buffy says. This is the sort of the Giles or her mother would usually cluck their tongue at but Giles and Dawn both know that Buffy is better with a little fight in her during a crisis.

"I think…" Giles flip a few pages and gets lost in the reading again. Buffy becomes more and more impatient before she waves her hand in front of his eyes. "Oh, sorry. I think you're going to have to perform the spell."

"I'm sorry, I thought I heard you go crazy there for a second," Buffy says, flatly. Dawn doesn't want Buffy performing magic on her either. Buffy kills things, and she does it really well but magic and Buffy is like cars and Buffy or math tests and Buffy or boyfriends and Buffy. In the end it all just gets worse.

"Crossing the threshold is a delicate procedure. I believe Dawn will respond better, be more willing to come forward at the sound of a familiar voice," Giles explains.

"But… you and magic… and you're familiar! She likes you way better than she likes me!" Buffy stomps her foot petulantly. "Giles!"

"You need to do this for your sister," Giles says. "Look, it's even in English."

Dawn wishes she could tell them that she can hear them both fine and that she does like Giles better and that they should really hurry up because now she has to pee and she's starving and all her muscles ache with immobility.

So they set up the spell and Buffy recites the words in such a shaky voice that Dawn's whole life practically flashes before her eyes. Then she's being sucked back into the room and she hits her sister with all her weight. They are all tangled and the book is jabbing into her rib cage but she is there, back in the room with voice and movement and Giles… standing over her looking pretty mad.

"Dawn."

His voice is soft and angry and she jumps up before Buffy can grab her and beat her down.

"I have to pee!" she squeaks and rushes out. One empty bladder later, Dawn lingers outside the door listening to the conversation within.

"She absolutely must learn! She's going to get herself killed!" Giles says, his voice rough with his anger.

"I know," Buffy's voice is soothing, placating. "But she's probably scared. Yelling at her won't help. I mean, has yelling at me ever helped?"

"That isn't the point!" he says. She hears a loud thump, like maybe Giles banged his hand down on something. Boy, she really doesn't want to go back in there.

"She's in trouble. I'm mad, you're mad, and when we tell Mom, she's going to be mad too. But don't go too hard on her, Giles. She's just a kid."

Dawn doesn't know why Buffy is sticking up for her but Dawn walks back in before it wears off. She looks sheepish; she hangs her head.

"I'm sorry," she whispers. Giles looks like he's about to smack her but instead her turns his back.

"Buffy's going to take you home," Giles says, dismissing her. His disappointment is punishment enough.

"Thanks for saving me," Dawn says but he just leaves without saying goodbye. "You too, Buffy."

"Don't ever, ever, ever do that again," Buffy says, sitting next to her on the bed. "You could have sent yourself to hell! I was scared out of my mind."

"I won't," Dawn promises. "I swear."

"It's practically morning. Mom already thinks you're spending the night here. Why don't you just sleep in Willow's bed," Buffy says, tossing her a pair of pajamas. Dawn is excited to sleep in the dorm and climbs into bed happily. She watches Buffy change her clothes like she used to when she was just a kid.

"Are you really going to tell mom?" Dawn asks.

"No," she says. "And not because you deserve it but because she'd totally blame me even though you're the spaz."

"Thanks," Dawn says. "You're a life saver."