Disclaimer: I don't' own em and I make no money off of this! I just play in Joss's world!
Buffy glanced over at her sister, sprawled next to her in the sand.
"What are you reading now?" she asked as she reached for a bottle of cold water.
Dawn glanced up, her sunglasses hiding her eyes. "It's a new series," she replied. She flashed the front of the book to her sister. A dark cover with a matte finish framed the title and an embossed stylized phoenix. "The Grigori Series. This is the first book, 'Hold Back the Dawn'".
Buffy grimaced. "Please tell me it's better than those Twilight books you were reading." God knows, Buffy had tried to like the books that were creating such a stir. When Dawn had come home all excited about the latest installment of the Twilight saga, Buffy had allowed herself to be dragged in and she'd started the first book….and she'd never finished it.
Bella annoyed her. What kind of girl wanted to give up who she was for someone else? You can love the vamp; you don't need to be one. But it was when Buffy reached the scene where the brooding Edward showed his lady love how he glittered in the sunlight that she'd tossed the book aside in frustration.
"Vamps don't glitter," she'd reminded Dawn. This was a subject they were both far too familiar with.
But Dawn had simply grinned. "Wouldn't it be cool if they did? Can you imagine Spike glittering like diamonds in the sunlight?" Too late, Dawn had remembered that mentioning the blond vampire in front of her sister wasn't a good idea. Buffy had been unable to hide the deep hurt and pain in her eyes and Dawn had felt terrible.
But none of this had put Dawn off the series. She'd finished the fourth book and then dragged Buffy and Xander to see the film.
Even Xander had been dismissive, but that may have had more to do with the broodiness of the vampire than the fact that he lit up like a disco ball at high noon.
Buffy drank from the water bottle and then set it back in the cooler to keep it cold. She adjusted the strap to her two piece bathing suit and laid back, eyes closed. "What's this one about?"
Dawn flipped over onto her stomach. "I think you'd like this one better. It's about an order of angels, well two orders really. The Order of the Fallen Angels and the Order of the Guardian Angels."
"Let me guess, Fallen are the bad ones and the Guardians are the good ones?"
"Hmmm," Dawn replied. "Yeah, but they all started out as the same. They were all of the Grigori, an army of angels sent down by God to live amongst the mortals and protect them. But because they were so much like them, they got caught up and corrupted by the very humans they were sent to protect. The army was divided and some were cast out by God and there you get your Fallen Angels, and those that staid true to God's word became the Guardians."
"Doesn't sound like a bad premise," Buffy said. "At least it sounds like the writer tried to create a mythology."
"What I like is that he uses this sort of biblical story to explain the presence of the supernatural in our world. All the demon hunters, guardian angels, seers, good witches and some of the shape shifters are descendants of those angels who staid true. And the vamps, demons, sorcerers and the other shape shifters are all descendants of those bad ass angels. "
Buffy glanced over at her and smiled. "Angel would have liked that; to know that he was descendant from an order of angels may have helped him."
Dawn grinned. "Yeah, maybe he'd have brooded less."
They paused for a moment, thinking back, and then they both smiled at one another.
"Maybe not," they both said and burst out laughing.
"Read some to me," Buffy said. She didn't want to think of Angel anymore. While it didn't hurt to think of him, living happily (or as happily as he could) with Nina over in L.A, it brought to mind less pleasant memories. Ones she didn't want to examine in the bright light of a sunny North Carolina afternoon.
Dawn smiled. When she had her sister like this, all to herself, it made her feel safe and secure. It wasn't often. Once or twice a year they would go away together, get away from the Scooby gang and the other slayers. They would come here, to the east coast and lie on the beaches and eat boiled shrimp and drink funny drinks with pastel coloured paper parasols in them. And for a couple of weeks, they would pretend that they were normal.
"Okay, let me see where I'm at," she flipped through the paper, sucking absently on a strand of her long dark, brown hair. "So our main character right, her name is Morgan Carmichael and she's just found out that she's the newest member of the Order of the Guardian Angels and she's not too happy about it." Dawn turned to the next chapter of her novel and began to read.
"What the fucking hell is this?"
Buffy lifted her sunglasses and looked over at her sister, eyebrows raised in delicate arches of incredulity. "That's how the chapter starts?"
Dawn chuckled. "Yeah, in the last chapter she went out on this blind date with a guy her brother fixed her up with and it ended with her passing out."
Buffy settled the glasses back on her face and laid back. "That's never good. Gotta hate when that happens," she smirked. Then, thinking, she looked back at her sister. "Always pay attention to your drink. Make sure it's always with you!"
Dawn rolled her eyes at the warning, and then continued reading.
"Morgan Carmichael," a voice in front of her said. "Welcome."
She peered through the faint light, her sight slowly adjusting to the gloom.
"Where the fuck am I, and who the fuck are you?" she growled.
There were chuckles and she realized that there were more people in the room than she'd originally thought.
"She's got a mouth on her like a trucker," a woman said in amusement.
Buffy snorted. "Have to agree with that one."
Dawn glared at her. "Stop interrupting!"
Her sister waved her hand. "Alright, sorry! Continue!"
"Fuck off," Morgan said in the direction of the voice.
"I like her," a male said. "She's got spirit."
Morgan was fully accustomed to the light and she looked around. There were twelve of them, men and women of various ages, various sizes, and various ethnic backgrounds. Her gaze settled on one familiar face and her eyes narrowed.
"You!" she muttered. "I knew I shouldn't have gone out with you! What the hell did you give me?"
Rain stepped forward. "Morgan, I'm sorry. I had no choice."
"Hold on," Buffy said, glancing over at Dawn. "I just need clarification. Rain is the guy she went out with on that blind date?"
Dawn nodded. "Yeap, and apparently, he's a hottie!"
Buffy grinned. "Good to know."
Dawn turned back to the book, quickly finding her place, and continued reading.
Buffy listened, letting Dawn's voice spill over her as she told the story. Dawn was an entertaining reader - she played around with the voices and added just the right amount of inflection when needed. As the members of the Order explained their origins, Buffy nodded – she could appreciate how important it was for the main character to understand where she came from.
"See," she said, interrupting her again. "This guy," she gestured to the book, "whoever wrote this, he gets it. He gets that his heroine needs to know where her power and her strength come from. I like that."
Dawn arched her eyebrows and glared.
Buffy bit her lip, fighting back a grin. "Alright. I promise I'll stop."
Dawn snorted in disbelief and turned back to the book to finish reading the chapter.
"Gwen smiled. "Morgan, you have been chosen to be a member of the Order of the Guardians. Your family is a direct line from the angel Michael himself, favoured by God and a king of angels. A warrior. Now, you too are a warrior and a queen in the Order."
Morgan stared at her, her throat tight, fear coursing through her veins.
"Do I get to wear a cape?" she whispered.
Then she fainted and slumped to the floor."
Buffy burst out laughing and Dawn glanced up at her chuckling.
"Do I get to wear a cape," Buffy repeated, shaking her head. "I like her. She's got great one liners." She sighed, "dare I hope that she wears fashionable but inexpensive shoes?"
Dawn laughed. "Fashionable and practical, she's a teacher. But considering her father is loaded, I'm sure she's got at least one pair of Manolo Blahniks."
"See, that was the problem with being the slayer. There was never enough money to buy expensive shoes!" Buffy looked up at the darkening sky. A storm was brewing out over the Atlantic. As the wind picked up, carrying with it the scent of rain and metal, she began gathering their things.
Dawn grimaced. "The problem? There were bigger problems than that. How about not getting a decent night's sleep? How about inhaling all that dust from those dead vampires? Umm, and not to mention the complete lack of a social life. I think cheap shoes were the least of your problems."
Buffy stood up and shook the sand from her towel, remembering those years in Sunnydale. Funny how time seemed to age the memories like a fine wine. Even the darkest moments had faded to lovely sepia. She shrugged. "It wasn't all bad," she murmured. "And things are different now." She folded her towel and stuck it in her bag.
Dawn packed up the snacks and drinks, eying the encroaching clouds. She paused for a moment and looked at her sister. "Are you okay with that?"
Buffy smiled, glad that the dark glasses and the fading sunlight hid her true expression. "Sure I am," she lied. "Aren't you?"
"Glad that you aren't the only slayer anymore? Glad that you aren't out there fighting for your life every night? Yeah, I'm glad," Dawn replied. But there was a tremor to her tone that belied her statement.
Buffy slung her arm around her sister's shoulders and they trudged up the beach, through the long grassy dunes and found the path that lead to their beach house.
"It was fun sometimes though wasn't it?" Buffy asked softly.
Dawn smiled up at her, the sadness in her large blue eyes giving that smile a certain edge. "Yeah, it was."
Buffy spotted the house up ahead and noted that the last of the sun's rays were glinting off the living room windows. Then they were snuffed out in a wink and she felt a chill as the first drops of rain hit her sun warmed shoulders.
She picked up the pace, wanting to get inside before the storm hit, before the true night fell. She was all too aware of the monsters that went bump in the night. And while she was more than capable of dealing with them, things hadn't been quite the same since she'd lost the monster she'd called her own.
The phone rang late that night and Buffy sat up suddenly in bed. She reached for the phone, her heart pounding.
"Hey Buffy, what time is it there?"
Buffy relaxed immediately at the happy sound of Willow's voice. She glanced over at the clock on the nightstand. "Two a.m.," she replied.
Willow chuckled. "Oops, sorry. We just got back from "The Crypt" and I decided to give you a quick update."
Buffy fought back a sigh of frustration. Even here, on the other side of the continent, on her supposed vacation, she couldn't escape who and what she was. "Sure," she said, aiming for enthusiasm and hitting a tone of barely tolerant. "Go ahead, what happened?"
"Well, Xander was hitting on this woman who was old enough to be his mother, but apparently older women like the whole patch thing. Very Pirates of the Caribbean. I don't get it."
Buffy shook her head and fought back a smile. "Willow, you don't get guys period. You're into women."
"Yeah, but I am a woman and I don't get the whole pirate thingie!"
"What if the pirate had breasts and wore long flowing skirts and had a nose ring and long hair?"
Silence on the other end. "You got me," Willow said with a sigh.
"So what happened at The Crypt, other than Xander and the Patch?"
"There's talk about a nest over in Beverly Hills," Willow said cheerfully.
Buffy whistled. "Vamps with backing and influence. Send a team out to see who's in charge and then let Angel and his crew know. They might want to see if they can cash in on whatever's going on."
There was the sound of liquid through a straw followed by crunching as Willow took a sip of her drink and then grabbed a handful of popcorn.
"Do you want me to set up a meeting with Angel? I mean, you haven't met with Wolfram & Hart in a few months and well, maybe you could come back for that?"
Buffy closed her eyes and fought back the headache that was suddenly pressing against the backs of her eyes. Meetings with Angel were never fun, which was why she avoided them. But they were necessary. They did, after all, share the same purpose. Their methods differed at times, but not enough to place them at opposite ends of the good fight spectrum.
Following that last big battle there hadn't been much left to Wolfram & Hart or Angel's team. Wes hadn't survived the battle and Illyria had disappeared into another dimension when the intensity of the conflict had blasted open several portals. Angel had been left with only Gunn and some millions that he'd been smart enough to set aside for a rainy day.
Well the rainy day had arrived and it had poured chaos and destruction.
And as usual, Angel had risen to the top.
Buffy tried not to feel too bitter about it. She was happy that he'd survived.
It had broken her heart that a certain other vampire hadn't been so lucky.
Turning her attention back to the conversation at hand, she pressed her fingers to her temples and inhaled. "You don't need me there," she said softly. "Get Kennedy to go."
A heavy, awkward silence descended on the other end of the line.
Buffy knew that Willow's loyalties were with her. But she also knew that there was a strong bond between the witch and the other slayer.
"Willow, it's okay," she said softly.
"It's weird," her best friend said.
"It's time," Buffy said. "We've talked about this. You know I'll still be involved. I'll help train the new girls if you need extra help and you know that you can always count on me to be there."
"But…" Willow said, the single word weighed down by sadness.
"But I'm tired. I want a break." She wanted more than a break. She wanted a chance at a real life and this was the first time in over a decade that it would be possible. Following the destruction of Sunnydale there had been no time. There'd been young slayers to train and develop. And then there had been the battle in L.A that had brought down Wolfram & Hart. And then with Giles getting sick and the Watcher's Council needing rebuilding, there had just never been an opportunity for her to step down.
Things were different now. Willow was running the Watcher's Council and doing an incredible job. Xander headed slayer recruitment, traveling the world and bringing newly chosen slayers to L.A for training. Kennedy took care of their training and Dawn headed research and investigation. Even Andrew had a job. The five of them worked closely with Angel's crew over at the old Hyperion and together they took care to hold back the spread of chaos the world over.
For the first time in a long time, Buffy didn't really need to be there 24/7. She could do what she wanted. She could live her life the way she wanted.
"Have you spoken to Dawn yet?"
"No, I'm going to tell her tomorrow. We're going shopping and out for lunch. I figured I'd break the news then."
"It's going to kill her," Willow said.
Buffy shook her head. "She's stronger now and she knows that I will always be here and she can come and visit whenever she wants."
"She's going to miss you," Willow murmured.
Buffy was glad her friend wasn't there to see the tears in her eyes. Willow had Kennedy, Xander had a string of women, Angel had Nina and even Dawn had a boyfriend, a high school teacher who didn't have a problem with her rather unusual work and lifestyle. And while Buffy knew that they would all miss her, she also knew that they would cope.
And she wanted to figure out her own life and her own relationships. Ultimately she wanted to be the one who had someone to lean on, as opposed to being the one everyone leaned on.
It was long overdue.
"Well call me once you tell her. I mean," Willow continued hurriedly, "if you need to."
Buffy smiled. "I will," she replied. "Can you send my things to the beach house?"
"Yeah, everything's packed up?" Buffy could tell by her tone that Willow was fighting hard for that bright cheeriness.
"Just the things I want with me," she said. There were a couple of boxes. Some books, her favorite mug, some extra shoes and clothes, a couple of framed pictures of the gang and a long, black, leather coat.
"Alright, I'll talk to you soon."
"Good night Willow." Buffy hung up the phone and lay back in the bed. She closed her
eyes, but she knew that sleep was as distant and far away as her friend was.