Disclaimers;

Props to Joss, Marti, Mutant Enemy and UPN! They own these characters, I'm just visiting their planet. Oh, and if you catch sight of a big purple winged dude, he's owned by Disney.

Rating; PG

Author's note; This is the second chapter of my alternate sixth season series, Defenders of the Night. Not much Gargoyle action in this one, but in the next episode Buffy and the Scoobs will meet Goliath and Xanatos, pinky-swear. Oh, and this one has Spike in it.

Archives; you got my past chapters, go for it.

Feedback; it's like tin roof sundae ice cream for the soul.

Summary;

Dawn's been keeping something from her sister. Buffy finds out. She doesn't take it well. And Tara is dreaming…



Her Little Secret

By Kirayoshi



Chapter Two;

The Hardest Thing

Dearly beloved

We are gathered here 2day 2 get through this thing called life

Electric word life, it means 4ever and that's a mighty long time

But I'm here 2 tell U there's somethin' else

The afterworld

A world of never ending happiness

U can always see the sun, day or night

So when U call up that shrink in Beverly Hills

U know the one - Dr. Everything'll Be Alright

Instead of asking him how much of your time is left

Ask him how much of your mind, baby

Cuz in this life, things are much harder than in the afterworld

In this life U're on your own

And if de-elevator tries 2 bring U down, go crazy

Punch a higher floor!

--Prince

"Let's Go Crazy"



Glory had been defeated. Doc had been defeated. All that was left was the platform. And two sisters.

And the portal. The portal that had been opened by the blood of one sister.

Buffy looked long and hard at her sister. Dawn stood before her, her thin frame highlighted by arcane lightning, and the unearthly light of the portal below them. The haphazard tower that Glory had ordered constructed for the ritual that would open the portal threatened to teeter under their feet.

Buffy tried to run past her sister, but a strong hand grabbed her, stopping her. "I have to," Buffy protested. "Look at what's happening. Dawnie, you have to let me go. Blood starts it, and until the blood stops flowing, it'll never stop. You know you have to let me. It has to have the blood."

Buffy knew that her blood was the only thing that could stop the portal, that could save the world from being swallowed up by this maw into Hell.

But Dawn realized the truth. There was another way.

And within a terrible moment of clarity, Buffy realized it as well.

" ... no!." was all she could whisper.

"Buffy, I have to."

"No!" Buffy pleaded with her eyes, silently begging her sister not to carry out her plan.

Dawn just held Buffy one last time. "Listen to me. Please, there's not a lot of time, listen. I love you. I will always love you. But this is the work that I have to do. Tell Giles ... tell Giles I figured it out. And, and I'm okay. And give my love to my friends. You have to take care of them now. You have to take care of each other." She stopped, her voice almost faltering. She swallowed hard, and finished her say. "Buffy, the hardest thing in this world ... is to live in it.

"Be brave. Live. For me."

With those last words, Dawn turned around. She ran to the edge of the platform, and leapt forward. Buffy rushed out to the platform's edge, and saw her sister's body, plummeting into the abyss. "DAWN!" she cried out. "NOOOOO----



"NOOOO!"

"Buffy," a gentle voice awoke her from her restless sleep. A soft pressure at her shoulder caused her to stir slowly from her nightmare. She turned slowly, her eyes adjusting to the hallway light streaming through her door, to be greeted by a vision of red hair. "Hey, Slayer. You okay?"

"W-willow?" Buffy stammered, half-asleep. "Wha-what time is it?"

"About two thirty in the morning. I couldn't sleep either." Her best friend nodded her head and gently smoothed a stray lock of hair from Buffy's face. "Let me guess, another nightmare?"

Buffy shook her head, sighing with relief. "You'd think after six years of slaying I'd get used to them."

"Uh," Willow hesitated as she saw the grim expression on Buffy's face. "This wasn't a 'Slayer dream', was it?"

Buffy squinted briefly then looked at Willow, her eyes finally coming into focus. "No, Willow," she breathed. "Not one of my 'vision' type dreams." She shook her head again, in exasperation. "What am I gonna do, Willow?"

"About what?" Willow asked. "Does this have to do with what happened to Dawn?"

Buffy sat motionless for a second, controlling her breathing. "Yeah, something like that. I caught her while I was patrolling."

"Our Dawnie, sneaking out at night?" Willow raised her eyebrow. "Let me guess, secret boyfriend?"

Buffy shook her head. "I wish."

"Girlfriend?"

"Stake."

Willow blinked in surprise. "Uh, as in vampires?"

Buffy breathed heavily, her mental exhaustion evident in her every movement. "She was out slaying."

Willow pursed her lips and breathed out in a low whistle. "Wow. No wonder you're uptight."

"Yeah, no wonder," Buffy fumed silently. "I know what's out there at night. You'd think after Glory and all that, she'd get a clue. I can't let her go out there alone."

"Buffy," Willow spoke cautiously. "I gotta ask you. You think she was called?"

Buffy turned sharply at Willow, before thinking. "No, she couldn't have been. Giles told me that the line of Slayer succession went to Kendra after my first death." She paused slightly, then asked Willow, "Should I be worried that I can say things like 'my first death' so casually?"

"Not in Sunnydale," Willow flashed Buffy that elfin grin that the Slayer loved so much.

"Well, anyway," Buffy continued, "when I died, Kendra was called. I die again, it won't call another Slayer. The next Slayer will be called when Faith dies. So there's no way Dawn can be the Slayer." She turned away from her friend. "And there's no way in Hell I'm gonna let her go out to patrol."

Buffy half-expected Willow to express her whole-hearted agreement with her. When she glanced back at her friend, she was surprised to see a sardonic smirk mar her face. "Oh, Buffy? And what about the rest of us? What about Xander, Anya and me? Dawn's the same age as I was when I signed on."

"This is different," Buffy started to protest.

"Why," Willow raised her voice slightly. "Because she's your sister?"

Buffy almost answered 'Yes', but one look at Willow convinced her not to take that course. "Because she didn't even tell me," she stammered. "And because she went out alone. We have rules, Willow. No, as in nada, solo patrols among non-Slayers. No patrols without clearing it with me or Giles." She looked at Willow again, at the skepticism that wrinkled her brow. "And she's my sister, okay, I'll own up to that."

Willow's expression softened, her brow smoothed out and her mouth widened into a gentle smile. "I know, Buffy. It's a tough little balancing act you got here; Slayer and guardian."

"Yeah," Buffy rested her head in her hands. "You think I'm being too hard on her?"

Willow regarded her friend with a gentle eye. "No worse than your mom did to you."

Buffy gave a resigned sigh of exasperation. "I'm gonna have to talk to her, Will."

"Good," Willow answered as she prepared to leave. "You know what you're gonna say?"

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Hopefully I'll think of something when I see her."



"Bloody, soddin' HELL!" The blonde vampire kicked over a tombstone as he ranted. "Where does she get off, telling me where to go? I'm the bloody Slayer of Slayers! The friggin' Scourge of Europe! Once I get this damn chip out of my head, I'll show her!"

"You'll show her what?" A low, growling voice roared quietly from behind the ranting vampire.

Spike spun on his heel, and looked in surprise at the speaker. The muscular purple skinned stranger stood nearly seven feet tall, on legs like a canine's hindquarters. Huge bat-like wings folded around him, draping over his shoulders like a cape. His eyes glowed bright yellow from behind horned brows, and a powerfully muscled tail waved back and forth behind him.

Spike stood his ground, nonchalantly glaring at the beast before him. "I don't believe we met."

"I am called Goliath," the beast growled in smoldering anger. "I am a Gargoyle, and an ally of the Slayer. That is all you need to know."

"Lovely," Spike rolled his eyes and threw his hands in the air. "What a soddin' lovely picture! Well, mate, all you need to know about me is—" Spike turned suddenly toward the Gargoyle and threw a hard punch at the beast's midsection. He smiled briefly when he realized that the chip wasn't affecting him. His opponent wasn't human, so he could at least hit him.

Whether his punch had any effect, however, was another matter entirely.

Goliath snarled at the hapless vamp, and asked, "Are you quite done?" He then launched himself at Spike, pinning his shoulders down with his hands, kneeling hard on his gut. "I overheard the Slayer ordering you out of this city," Goliath roared at the vamp. "My advice for you is not to wait until Saturday. If I catch sight or scent of you again, your unnaturally extended life will end!"

"Sod off, Stone-boy!" Spike spat at the gargoyle. Goliath smacked him hard across the face, and lifted his bulk from Spike's chest.

"You have victimized the people of this city for the last time, monster," Goliath roared at the vamp. "Get out!" He turned away from Spike, leapt up onto a nearby crypt, unfurled his wings, and caught the breeze around him, gliding away without another thought to the pathetic figure rolling in pain behind him.

But Spike remembered his attacker. He would remember him for a very long time.

And he would remember being humiliated by Buffy Summers.

He vowed that the Slayer would see him again.

And that his would be the last face she ever saw.



Dawn stumbled, half-asleep, into the kitchen, where she saw Buffy pulling a carton of eggs out of the refrigerator. "Oh, hi, Dawnie," Buffy greeted her. "Just hang tough for a second, I'll make you breakfast."

"Sure," Dawn muttered as she ambled her way over to the kitchen table. She watched anxiously as Buffy beat some eggs, and poured them into a frying pan. "You like them scrambled, right?"

"Buffy, all you can do is scrambled," Dawn gently reminded her sister. Buffy glared hard at her, then gave a humored smirk.

"Considering that you're cruising for a grounding," Buffy commented, "you're living pretty dangerously."

"Hey," Dawn countered, "none so free as those with nothing to lose."

Buffy nodded at Dawn's observation. She pulled up a chair at the table, opposite from Dawn. "Sis," Buffy said seriously. "I need to know something." Dawn started to squirm as Buffy prepared her question, knowing what her sister was about to ask. "Why didn't you tell me that you wanted to be a Slayer?"

Dawn suddenly found the pattern on the place mat in front of her incredibly interesting. She sat nearly motionless for ten whole seconds. Finally, Buffy reached out and nudged her sister's shoulder. "Dawnie? You there? Earth to Dawn, come in please."

"Huh?" Dawn shook her head suddenly, then looked at Buffy. "Oh, sorry I zoned out there. I was just trying to remember something. I was thinking about when I first found out that you were, well, the Slayer." She glanced around the table, locating a pitcher of orange juice that Buffy had prepared for them. She poured a glass for herself, and drank down a deep swallow for courage. "It was about two years after we first moved to Sunnydale. Mom was mad at you for staying out late again, and I was generally avoiding her. I was upstairs when you showed up with Spike in tow, and I was sitting on the stairway, out of sight, listening in.

"You told Mom that you were the Slayer. She didn't take it too well, and I heard the whole thing. Up to Mom throwing you out of the house."

"Yeah, don't remind me," Buffy lowered her head into her hand, as she started to rub her left temple with her thumb. "Not exactly my finest hour." She sniffed for a second, then jumped out of her seat, rushing to the stove. "Whew," she puffed. "Crisis averted." She pulled two plates out of the cupboard and dished up two servings of eggs. Passing a plate to Dawn, she said, "Okay, Mom kicked me out, then what?"

"Oh," Dawn continued. "Well, I guess that's why I didn't tell you I was out patrolling. I was afraid that you wouldn't understand."

"Hey, if anyone understands what being a Slayer's like," Buffy insisted, "it's me."

Dawn smiled ruefully at her sister's statement. "Mom wasn't exactly easy to live with for the next couple of months," Dawn recalled, "especially after you ran away. I tried to steer clear of her, until one night, about a month after you left, when she cornered me in my bedroom. She tried to convince me that you would be coming home soon, and she wasn't going to throw you out again. We hugged and cried a lot then, that's pretty much all I remember.

"Anyway, just after that, I ran into Willow, and I asked her what a Slayer is. She explained it all to me, how you were chosen to fight vampires and all that, how you had special gifts and such. I guess I always wondered whether I had any special powers or anything like that." She rolled her eyes. "If I only knew!"

"So you thought you could be a Slayer," Buffy asked, "because your sister's a Slayer?"

"Why not?" Dawn challenged her. "I mean, we're sisters, right? Summers blood, like you said. Heck, the monks made me out of your essence when they played 'Hide the Key', right? I'm practically your clone. So I should have gotten some Slayer genes, right?"

Buffy looked hard and long at this short adult who was passing herself off as her little sister. For the hundredth time she cursed the fact that Glory had robbed Dawn of any kind of childhood. "I don't know, Dawnie," Buffy confessed. "Maybe you got a little Slayer-ness in you. But my being the Slayer isn't all genetic. It isn't like I was born with these freaky genes, or that I got bitten by a radioactive Slayer as a teen, and turned into the Amazing Slayer-Girl. Giles and I have talked about this before, a lot really, and we decided that there's not really a lot of genetic difference between me as the Slayer and an average woman. There's more of a supernatural thing going down here, more mystical than genetic. Sorry, Dawnie, I wish I could explain it better."

"Don't worry, Buff," Dawn assured her sister. "I got the gist of it. So anyway, all this time I thought that you were like my troublemaking big sister, the part of the family I didn't like to talk about, then suddenly I find out that you're like this real-life superhero. I was amazed. I was in awe. I wanted to be more like you, able to do things like that, slaying vampires and all."

She took another swig of juice, trying to compose her thoughts. "When you…when you died, I felt scared. You told me to be strong, you told me to live, but I didn't know how. I thought that if I could fight, I could sorta fill in as the Slayer. But Giles wasn't ready for me to ask for fighting lessons."

"And Spike offered, right?" Buffy put the pieces together. She could never quite understand the relationship between the neutered vamp and her sister. At first, she thought he was using Dawn to get closer to her, but before her final battle with Glory he vowed to look after her, even when Buffy knew that she wasn't coming back alive. Was it possible that he genuinely cared for Dawn?

She shook her head, abandoning the notion. She made her decision regarding Spike. She could no longer trust him. She didn't want him around any more. Dawn was her responsibility, not Spike's.

"Dawn," Buffy spoke calmly. "Regarding your grounding." Dawn swallowed hard and braced for the worst. "I'm calling it a first offense, time served. You're off the hook, this time."

Dawn exhaled audibly and gave a huge relieved smile. "Thanks, Buffy."

"Don't thank me yet," Buffy answered. "Not until I'm finished talking." The smile faded quickly, as Dawn wondered what cruel punishment her sister was planning.

"Dawn," Buffy continued, "I saw you out there, against that vamp. You were good. Not great, but you have potential. How'd you like me to finish what Spike started with you?"

Dawn stared quietly at her sister a full ten seconds before responding. "You mean, you want to teach me some moves?"

"Why not?" Buffy offered. "I do it for a living at the community center. Look, how about we start next Saturday? I show you some basic moves, nothing too flashy, just some straight defensive stuff. If that works, then we can get to some more serious stuff."

"Wow," Dawn breathed. "Maybe I can join the Scooby Gang."

"Hey, one step at a time, sis," Buffy interrupted. "First you gotta prove you can handle yourself in a fracas. And there are rules. First, no solo patrols. I don't let Willow go on patrol without Xander or Anya or me guarding her back, and she's the team's big gun. Got it?"

"Got it," Dawn nodded enthusiastically.

"Good," Buffy answered. "So, next Saturday after the cartoons, we'll have a light breakfast, then we'll train for a couple of hours. And don't expect me to go light on you. We're talking vamps here, I can't afford to go soft. It won't be boot camp, but it will be intense. You think you can handle it?"

Dawn gave Buffy a level stare, and nodded once. "Bring it on."

"Deal," Buffy smiled at her sister. "Eat your eggs, before they get cold. You want toast with that?"

"Sure," Dawn said. As Buffy prepared some toast, and pulled a jar of strawberry jam and some margarine out of the refrigerator, Dawn looked at her thoughtfully. "So," Dawn mused. "Maybe living isn't the hardest thing in the world after all."

Buffy poked her head over the top of the refrigerator door. "Oh it's hard, Dawnie, it's hard," she answered. "But it's worth the effort."

The two sisters finished their breakfasts in peace. And for a brief moment, Buffy had no fears about vampires, demons, hell-gods or any other threats to worry about. She knew that her life would get complicated before long, that was the nature of being the Slayer. But she was not alone. She would never be alone. She had a family, she had friends, and she had a future. For the rest of the morning, she simply allowed herself to enjoy her life.