Title: Knocked Down

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: K+

Summary: Despite everything that had happened, Dawn still believed it, just a little-- that Buffy wouldn't choose her. 1400 words.

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon & etc.

Spoilers: B:tVS post "Chosen" (7.22); Angel reference; no comic canon

Notes: A non-cross prequel to the universe previously established in the stories "Skin", "Annual Report", and "Begetting Violence". Several reviewers wondered how Faith might have ended up "the younger and reportedly saner of the Ancient pair"...

"So," Dawn said, setting her mouth in a grim line as she finally cornered her sister in her designated room at Angel's hotel. "Are you going to let anybody look at that, or what?"

Buffy prodded at the bed, back turned to the door as she tested the give in the springs, then reached out and ran a finger over the end table. "Look at what?" she said, absently, as she lifted the fingertip to inspect it for dust.

Dawn crossed her arms over her chest and waited, staring at the thin, dark line marring the back of Buffy's tan jacket. "Don't give me that," she said. "I saw the blood on your jeans when we stopped the bus to look at the Hellmouth, but you didn't let anyone check you over then, and you didn't go in when we stopped at the hospital."

Buffy dropped a hand to press against her right side, but when she turned toward Dawn her eyes were clear; she didn't seem to be in any pain. "I'm fine," she insisted, summoning up a brief smile that was probably meant to be reassuring. "It was nothing."

She hadn't been moving like she was in pain, either, but that didn't necessarily mean anything; Dawn had been watching her sister come back from patrol after battle after apocalypse for a lot of years, and knew that no matter how bad it was, she wouldn't say anything if she didn't want Dawn to worry.

"I talked to Faith," she said accusingly, calling her sister's bluff. "She said you got knocked down during the battle, and you were out of it enough to give her the Scythe and ask her to hold the line. That doesn't sound like nothing to me."

"I got back up again, didn't I?" Buffy replied flippantly, dropping her hand again as though to draw Dawn's attention away from the wound. "I'm all better now."

"Then show me," Dawn insisted. "Don't make me go get--" She paused, wincing, then forged ahead. "Don't make me go get Angel."

Buffy made a face, then shook her head. "Don't you think he would have done something already if he'd smelled fresh blood on me when we got here? Dawn--"

"Please," Dawn said quietly, finally pulling out the big guns.

Buffy withstood the power of The Look for several seconds, then sighed, something in her face indefinably softening. "All right already," she said. "Put that lip away; I'll show you. Just-- promise not to flip out on me?"

So it was as bad as she'd been thinking. Dawn braced herself, and nodded, setting her face in determined lines. "I promise," she said, clutching tightly to the handles of the first aid kit she'd brought upstairs with her.

Buffy sighed, then reached down and pulled up the hem of her shirt, skimming it upward to expose several inches of toned, bare stomach. The right side of her abdomen, starting in a line just under her ribs-- a line about as wide as the mark on the back of her jacket, confirming Dawn's fears-- was caked with thick streaks of dried blood.

"Buffy--" she choked out, trying not to picture what must have happened, how very close she must have come to losing her sister.

Buffy's hands moved again, her left keeping the shirt hem out of the way as she brushed at the wounded area with her right. Dark, rust-colored flakes fell away under her fingertips; Dawn jerked forward at the sight, aghast that Buffy was being so careless of her injury, then froze again as her mind caught up with what her eyes were seeing.

"What--?" she breathed, sinking to her knees to touch the newly exposed, unmarred skin. It felt warm and a little sweaty, but otherwise just like any other normal skin; there was no sign of the gaping sword-wound that should have been there.

"I don't know, Dawnie," Buffy said, wearily. "There hasn't really been time to talk to Willow about it; I'm not sure whether it's just me, or Faith too, but I felt the spell do something to me when she activated all the other Slayers, and every injury I've had since then hasn't stuck."

"But isn't that a good thing?" Dawn asked, still upset. "I mean, if it hadn't healed--" She pulled her fingers back, looking up into her sister's face as Buffy tugged her shirt back down. A line of dried blood still marched across the Slayer's forehead where something else had scratched her; smudges of dirt spread like shadows over the rest of her face under the unflattering hotel lighting. The sudden absence in her eyes was more alarming to Dawn than either, though, bringing back bad memories of the months just after Buffy's resurrection.

Dawn swallowed. "You don't still-- want to--" she continued, haltingly, not sure exactly how to phrase it. She still remembered seeing her mother-- or what she'd thought was her mother-- in the living room all those months ago; the ghost of Joyce had said that Buffy wouldn't choose her, and despite everything that had happened, Dawn still believed it, just a little. There was a part of her sister that had never let go of Heaven, not even after she'd stopped sneaking out at all hours trying to commit suicide by vampire. So maybe the vineyard thing had turned out not to be the relapse Dawn had been fearing, but--

The knot in her stomach loosened a little as the distant, cold expression on Buffy's face melted away in a flash of concern and alarm. "Dawnie-- no. I promised you, remember?" Her sister let go of the hem of her shirt, then dropped to her knees, wrapping her arms around Dawn's shoulders. "I told you I want to be here, to see you grow up, and I meant it."

It was a little awkward given the difference in their heights, but Dawn went with it, laying her head on Buffy's shoulder and trying not to cry. "I know you did, but a lot's happened since then," she said. "This year, everything was so bad, you know? And I wouldn't blame you for still wanting to go be with Mom again. It's just--"

Buffy tentatively stroked at Dawn's hair. "I don't," she said, plaintively. "You're right, it was a bad year. And I know a lot of it was my fault. For existing, even, which--" She laughed a little, weakly, then pulled back and stared into Dawn's eyes, blinking away tears of her own. "And now-- I really was still hoping for a chance to be normal. Finally. For once in my life. Lives, actually, and how sad is it that I have to clarify?"

"Considering you're talking to the human shell of an ancient mystical lockpick?" Dawn said dryly.

Her sister laughed, but the accompanying smile still failed to reach her eyes. "Buffy, meet Perspective. Perspective, Buffy," she replied lightly. "Just... don't lock me out again, okay? You're the only one I have left."

"But the Scoobies--" Dawn protested. She knew her sister had taken Spike's death hard, and there were still lingering issues from everyone kicking her out of the house, but they'd all come back together for the final battle, hadn't they? She furrowed her brow as she thought about it a little more. Yeah, they'd come back together-- but they hadn't really patched things up, they'd just followed Buffy's lead without ever really talking about all the things that had broken them apart. How long would that unity last, now that everything was over? They all loved each other, but sometimes that just wasn't enough.

She sighed, then climbed slowly to her feet and tugged her sister toward the bed. "Nevermind," she said, and sat down on the edge of the mattress, leaning against her sister's shoulder. "Don't worry. You're stuck with me now, I promise. So, are we going to Disneyland or what?"

Buffy's greatest strength as a Slayer, according to Giles, was that she didn't fight alone. But it was her greatest weakness, too. Losing Angel had wrecked her, and he hadn't been her only support then. Every loss after that had fractured her just a little more. And now she'd lost Spike.

What would she do if she ever lost Dawn, for good?

Dawn hoped she never had to find out.