"Your sister's so cool," Janice says wistfully as we slip out the door and toward the Bronze. "I mean, if my mom found out that I was sneaking out every night, she wouldn't leave me home alone for a month, probably. Buffy doesn't even care."

I manage a smile. "Yeah." Buffy's out patrolling, or so she says. But yesterday, right before we got caught, I saw her getting hot and heavy with Spike in the alley behind the Bronze. I pretended I didn't see because I know how weird she gets about Spike, and in return, she just sent me home without even a speech.

She's gotten really good at the whole giving-me-space thing.

There's a cute guy at the front door of the Bronze, and I let Janice flirt with him while I scope out the place. Buffy's not there this time. She's probably boinking Spike in his crypt so that we won't bump into her again.

We get back to the house just after midnight, and Buffy's asleep at the kitchen counter. She blinks to wakefulness when she sees us. "Janice, go upstairs," she instructs her, and Janice mouths "good luck" and heads to my room. I glare at Buffy for a while, waiting for the speech and readying my retort. I'm supposed to be the bratty one after all, and it's my duty as little sister to point out that Buffy should be at home watching me if she really cared about my safety.

"You can't have her over anymore," Buffy says finally, surprising me. "Her mom thinks that you have an adult supervising, and if you don't, Janice can't be here."

My mouth drops open. "That's it? That's what you have a problem with?"

"Yeah." She's halfway out of the kitchen and up the stairs before I can respond.

"What about vampires? Creepy older guys? Our adolescent natural curiosity about our bodies and sexuality?"

She doesn't answer.

The next morning, Willow makes my lunch and Xander drives me to school, as always. The house still seems kind of empty without Buffy up and about in the morning. I guess it's because last year, she always tried to wake up early to send me off to school. Maybe since my ordeal with Glory, she's decided to treat me as an adult.

Maybe that's all it is.

But it doesn't explain the way she ignores me, the way she'll barely respond to my tiny attempts at conversation when we're together, for whatever little time that it is. I get that she's depressed, having been pulled from heaven by Willow, but am I that horrible that she won't even put on a fake smile for me like she does the Scoobies? Sometimes she goes to Willow's room to talk about Willow's addiction problems and listen to Willow whine and mope for hours, and I just want to pull a pillow over my head to muffle the noise. Willow made Tara go away, and I'm not ready to forgive her for that yet.

But sometimes, I wish that Buffy would come into my room and ask me how I'm doing. I might not have some huge magic addiction, but there's this guy at school who's pretty cute and might be kind of into me, and I bet she'd know how I can get him to ask me out. And there's also this thing that I've started doing, and I know that it's wrong and Buffy'll be mad, but I want to tell her anyway, just so she can look angry for a change instead of that blank look she's been sporting since she got back.

Besides, Spike's the one who taught me how to steal, and maybe if she were mad at him, they'd both spend more time with me. I'm selfish, I know, but I lost my mother and my sister last year, and now that she's back, she's taken away the only person who'd really listen to me. And I can't help but worry that she hasn't taken him away at all, but he's just done with me now that he's doing my sister.

Life can be such a drag.

Buffy has a new job now, and she's been using that as an excuse to ignore me even more. Today, she finishes her shift at nine, but she doesn't come back until midnight again. And I know that she hasn't been patrolling, because Spike walks her back and they make out behind the tree in the front yard. I stop watching when it gets intense, because she's my sister and it's gross; but I don't leave the kitchen when she comes inside, just watch her with a challenging look on my face. "Did you bring dinner?" I say, because there's nothing else that I can criticize her for right now. Not unless if I bring up the Spike thing, and I'm pretty sure that that'll push her even further away.

She frowns, looking away from me. She never looks me in the eye anymore. "I forgot. Don't we have frozen pizza?"

"It's all gone," I say, and that's because I finished it a few hours ago, but there's no need to tell her that. I can't tell her what a terrible sister she's being, so I have to show her that in other ways.

"Oh." She nods woodenly, but doesn't say anything more, and I'm pissed that she doesn't even apologize.

Then I notice how thin she's gotten and I get a little worried, because I'm sure that only Willow and I eat what little food there is in the house, and maybe I should have left the second slice of pizza for Buffy. "There's still some hot pockets in the fridge," I offer.

"Can you eat those for dinner? I'm really tired." Then she's vanishing up the stairs again, leaving me confused and maybe a little hungry.

I go to bed early the next night and I don't see her until the weekend, when we're all at the Magic Box doing research. Xander's reading me demon descriptions in a funny, high-pitched voice that he's gotten from inhaling something on the shelf, and I'm giggling because for once, I don't feel tense at all. Then Buffy comes in and I can feel it return with every fiber of my being in the way she doesn't even look at me, just pulls out a book and starts flipping through it. She's quipping and smiling and Xander and Willow and Anya are all laughing with her, talking about a demon they fought back when the Initiative is in town. I say something, too, and Xander grins, but Buffy just stares down at her book, her posture suddenly rigid and her eyes dark.

The next time I see her, Tara says that I should talk it over with Buffy. "She's still adjusting," she soothes me. "But you need to let her know that you feel ignored."

I roll my eyes. "It's not just ignored," I clarify, watching the way the bubbles at the top of my chocolate milkshake move around the straw. "I think she hates me."

Tara says that that's ridiculous, but when I get home as Buffy's leaving and she just brushes past me without a word, I'm satisfied that I'm not imagining it. Buffy doesn't even treat Willow like this, and Willow really screwed up Buffy's life. There's something going on here, and I'm determined to figure it out through some good old-fashioned sister-to-sister confrontation.

I try to watch a movie while I wait for Buffy to come home, but even Brad Pitt can't distract me from my newfound realization of how Buffy really feels about me, and at ten o'clock, I finally grab my coat and head for Spike's crypt to force an explanation out of my sister.

I make it halfway across the graveyard when a hand grabs my leg, all zombie-like, and the vampire starts to make it out of the ground. I kick him in the head and run full-tilt toward Spike's place, but it turns out that this vampire is one of the few fledglings that actually have their sires waiting for them, and the older vampire grabs me before I can make it further.

I shriek and kick as he vamps out and bends toward my throat, and seconds later, I'm collapsed in a heap on the ground and he's dust. My sister is staring down at me, and she looks furious. "What the hell, Dawn?"

I'm just so glad that she's finally acknowledging me that I follow her to Spike's crypt without a word of protest. We walk in, and there's actually two glasses and wine set up on a sarcophagus. Lame, Spike. But a little sweet. Buffy sees and knocks the glasses off, letting them fall to the ground and smash, but Spike doesn't seem bothered. He just rolls his eyes and grabs the bottle before she can get to that, too.

She rounds on me again once the big stone door's shut. "What were you thinking?" she demands. "Coming to a cemetery in the middle of the night? Are you trying to kill yourself?"

I fold my arms. "Oh, like you'd care?"

She looks stricken. "What's that supposed to mean?" For once, Spike's silent, though he's reproving me with his eyes. I don't care. As if I was anything more to him than a way to Buffy...all he's trying to do now is protect her again.

"You've been ignoring me since you got back!" I shout. "You neglect me, won't talk to me…you're my sister, and you can't stand to look at me!"

She turns away again, and this time, I've had enough. I cross the crypt until I'm in her face, where she can't avoid my glare. "You treat me like a stranger!" I accuse.

She turns abruptly to face me with wide, angry eyes. "That's because youare a stranger!" she snaps back.

I gape at her. "What are you talking about?"

She shakes her head, her eyes still dark with fury and something that isn't too far from hatred. "What do you think?"

"Buffy," Spike starts, and he's staring at both of us worriedly. "Maybe you shouldn't-"

"Shut up," she hisses at him, and turns back to me. "Willow brought me back, yeah. The way I was supposed to be."

"What?" I can't manage more than a syllable right now. My heart's pounding in my chest and I'm not sure whether I'm more terrified of Buffy right now, or of what she's going to say next.

She calms herself visibly, taking a deep breath before she can speak again. "My memory was altered by the monks, changed to insert you in it. You weren't even real."

I remember last year, the moment I'd started to come to terms with what I was. "You said that we shared blood," I remind her. "That we had Summers blood."

"I was wrong." She crushes me with just a few words. "I don't remember any of that anymore. All I remember was how you came to my house one day and I treated you like a sister, trusted you and took care of you as though you'd always been there…but you hadn't. You were just a stranger." Her voice is wavering, and she takes in a gulping gasp of air before she continues. "You took up time I could have given to my mother, and she could have spent with me. We wasted so much drama worrying about you, and then Mom died and I had to take care of you…" She's letting out deep sobs with every other breath, and Spike hurries over to stand behind her as a support. I can only watch her breakdown with rising horror. "I died for you. For a key who shouldn't even be here anymore! And no one else will, so I have to take care of you, when all I can think is that you're the one who should have jumped off that tower!" She's crying openly, wrapped in Spike's arms, both of them barely aware that I'm still there. Buffy probably doesn't even realize that I can hear her when she sobs out, "She shouldn't exist. She shouldn't…"

I back away from them until I'm out of the crypt, running through the cemetery like all of hell is behind me, wrenching sobs being torn from my own throat as I stagger home. But it's not home anymore, is it? I fall down when I reach the porch and I can't bring myself to actually go inside, so instead, I just lie there until I fall asleep.

No demons come to attack me overnight, and that doesn't come as as much of a relief as it should.

I'm awakened in the morning by a gentle hand shaking my shoulder. It's Buffy, and even though her tears have tracked mascara down the sides of her face, she still looks calmer than before. "I'm sorry," she says finally, and she's actually looking me in the face.

This time, I can't meet her gaze. "I'm going to go stay with Tara," I tell her. "For a while."

She kneels down and takes my face into her hands and turns it to face her. "Please," she whispers. "We can try to work through this."

And I wonder if she's only saying it because she doesn't want everyone to know, not because she actually cares about me, but I'm afraid that I'll have nowhere else to go, so I say, "Okay," and follow her into the house.

She leads me to her room, sitting down on her bed and patting the spot next to her for me to join her. Instead, I stand in front of her and stick out my hand. "Hi. I'm Dawn Summers," I say, and she laughs half-heartedly, like I knew that she would. Because I know her.

She might not remember it, but she's my sister, after all.

The End.