Disclaimer:  Whedon and ME own characters, universe, etc.  The only thing that's not theirs is possibly New Hampshire.

Author: limber, who enjoys the beach in winter, apple orchards, BritFlicks and feedback.

Updates: at LEAST one a week, often more frequently than that.

If you'd like to take this story somewhere else, please email me.  I don't mind going into others' archives, but I DO mind having stuff hijacked.  If someone happens to see this fic (altered or intact) under any name other than mine, let me know and I'll take care of it.

-- Base Elements –

It gets pretty cold in winter.

Not as stupid as it sounds, thought Dawn.  She stared out the window of her dorm room at the sleeting rain and let out a heavy sigh.  No way you'd find this kind of weather in Sunnydale, not in April.  The slushy rain that pelted a fresh layer of snow on the ground felt like a personal affront. "It's APRIL!  SPRING!" she groaned, thumping her forehead against the glass.  "What is WRONG with this town?!"

"Town?  Try state!  Actually, region… I hear it's snowing straight through to Rhode Island."  Dawn's roommate Alicia stumbled into the room looking like a marshmallow; her arms stuck out at perpendicular angles from her quilted jacket, her mittens glowing redly.  She'd wound a pastel scarf around her face and Dawn could just barely see a pair of bright green eyes peering out from underneath a rainbow hat. 

"Alicia, you look like you're about to rob a…" she hesitated as Alicia began to peel off the winter layers, revealing more and more vibrant-colored clothing.  "Actually, you look like you've already mugged Rainbow Brite." 

"Hey, the tart was asking for it, hoggin' all the colors," Alicia shrugged, hanging up her jacket.  "Besides, I thought the day needed a little more zing in it.  Not that you're helping the scenery, Miss I-love-my-gray-sweats… We're going to need some cheer in this place, you know.  Have you seen the weather report for the next few days?  Rain, rain, snow and RAIN!"  She leaped onto her bed, folding her long frame into a knot and pulling the covers up around her shoulders.  Her dark hair steamed slightly in the warm room, and Dawn thought again of how different Alicia was from her friends back home.  Where the Sunnydale girls had been obsessed with clothes, hair, nails, the politics of pecking orders, Alicia valued a completely different set of rules. 

In a way, Alicia reminded Dawn of Willow… well, she amended hastily, Alicia reminded her of the way Willow used to be.  A self-confident, glad-to-be-geeky, non-Wiccan-lesbian Willow. Not Willow now.  No.  Dawn shuddered slightly.

"Argh.  Sorry, I brought the cold in, didn't I?" Alicia winced in sympathy, misreading Dawn's shiver. 

Dawn half-smiled at her.  "I swear, next term?  I get the side of the room with the radiator."

"Ah, you'll have to fight me for it… c'mere, room enough for two." Alicia threw back the pile of quilts she had pulled up to her neck.  "C'mon, it's conference time. Step into my office."  Dawn jumped up from the windowsill and onto the space Alicia thumped on the mattress, giggling with her friend as they scrunched up against the headboard together.  "Twizzlers on the desk, and two recently-refrigerated Cokes in my bag," Alicia directed from her position against the wall.  Within moments, the two girls were happily sipping their sodas through Twizzlers, watching the rain go streaking by the window.

"I still can't believe you'd never seen sleet before," muttered Alicia.  "Barbie."

"Ha!  You people are like the Eskimos, you've got so many words for snow!  Rain and snow that fall simultaneously?  Who knew?" Dawn snorted, chewing at her straw.  "In California?  You look outside, say 'Hey, yuck, wet,' and then stay inside until it gets all sunshiny again."

"Good thing we broke you of that habit, you wouldn't have left the dorm after November."  Alicia's teeth were turning pink from the Twizzler, and she grinned at Dawn widely.  "You might have starved – naw, actually, I'd've sled-dogged food to you from the dining hall."

"Aww – so kind," Dawn laughed.

"Hey, I do what I can.  And I think the dog's'd be kinda fun.  But seriously?  Never, EVER go to England.  My Dad says it's wicked rainy over there like, all the time.  Why he moved here, to my mother's great benefit."  Dawn waited for the inevitable question, and sure enough:  "Hey, your sister ever hear from that British guy?"

Only Alicia knew about Spike.  Not all about Spike, rather obviously, but enough to ask about him.  "No, no word.  But I told you, I don't think she's going to.  It's been a couple of years now; if he's not gotten to us yet…" she trailed off, suddenly thinking about her word choice.  If he hadn't gotten to them.  Would Buffy even have told her if he had come back, or if he'd tried to hurt someone?  It would be just like her sister to try and cover that up.  Let Dawn think that Spike was still off, adventuring, immortal, when he'd actually been dust in the corner of the crypt for months.  Damn.  "No," she replied decisively, shaking her head, "Buffy hasn't heard anything."

Alicia let the topic slide, as she did every time Spike came up.  The girl from Boston might seem brash, but she also knew when to let a conversation go.  That's part of what Dawn liked so much about Alicia – she let Dawn talk when she needed to, but never pushed.  Very different from home.  With Buffy, it was all or nothing – either she'd not have the time to talk to Dawn about really important things, or she'd suddenly get all psychotic and demand to get the scoop on all of Dawn's private life.  Like living with a very strong and persistent manic-depressive.  Hmmm… wonder if Buffy ever got tested for that?

"You know what?" Alicia suddenly sat up in the bed, jostling Dawn slightly.  "We should go out tonight."  Dawn looked at her, raising an eyebrow.  "Well, yes, we are in the middle of nowhere, but hey!  Cow-tipping?"

"Oh, you're kidding!" Dawn shrieked. 

"Yeah, I am.  It's too cold out, they're all in the barn.  But just you wait until spring term, missy," she threatened.  "Nah, I thought we could take the bus into town, go see a movie?  One of the old ones they're playing at the Empire, 'Citizen Kane' or something." Dawn nodded too enthusiastically while draining the dregs of her Coke, sputtering as the froth filled her mouth.  "Easy there, tiger!"

"Gah."  Dawn rattled the last chunk of Twizzler in her can, then gave it up for lost.  "Hey, do you think that we could ask those guys down the hall?"  She looked at her hands, embarrassed.  "I mean, they probably won't want to come, but Sean's pretty cool and I think Brian would be up for anything.  We can ask the usual gang, too, but I don't think Sean's been outside for weeks."

"Sure!" breezed Alicia, but she leaped out of bed to shut the door before continuing.  "Actually, newsflash.  Brian?  Dating Christopher in Gilford Hall."

"No way!"

"Yes way, Ted!  As of three days ago."

"Whoa… actually, wait.  Makes sense.  Oh, and you humble me with your eighties Keanu humor, Lise."

"What can I say?" Alicia shrugged.  "The man's a god."

"Oh, I'm not sure I can take another round of 'Why We Should All Worship Keanu'." Dawn crushed a pillow around her head, but it wasn't dense enough to block out Alicia's shouts.

"I could always go on about the New Kids on the Block!  OOOOOH, JOEY!  YOU'RE SO DREAMYYYYYYYYY!  And Danny and Donnie and Jordan…." 

Dawn could hear thumping vibrating through the wooden bedframe and she squeezed her eyes shut, taking the pillow away from her ears to yell, "I can tell you're doing the dance moves!  I give up!  Surrender!  Look, white flag!"  She squinted at Alicia who, sure enough, was doing her patented "Right Stuff" dance moves.  "Augh!"

Alicia stopped mid-kick.  "You know?  I think I'm on a sugar high."

"Gee, ya think?"  Dawn winced.  "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you missed a New Kid."

"Which one?"

"Jon?  Jordan's brother, one of the Knights, I think."

"Oh, yeah!  Hell!  I forgot Jon!"  Alicia clapped a hand to her forehead dramatically.  "I am a bad fan."

"Given that you're a fan of NKOTB, I'd not call you bad.  Sick, maybe.  Besides, considering it all happened ten years ago, I'm pretty sure you can blame your forgetfulness on old age."  Dawn barely ducked in time to avoid the pillow whizzing at her head.

"Hag," Alicia smirked good-naturedly, then turned serious.  "So, am I decent to ask boys to a movie?  Will they be ashamed to be seen with me?"  She skidded over to the mirror.  "Oh my god, look at my mouth!"  She turned back to Dawn and bared her teeth again, framed by shocking Twizzler-red lips.  "Lemme see yours," she commanded, and Dawn snarled back.  "Yeah, you're just as bad as me."  She turned back to the mirror, admiring the cherry hue of her grin.  "We look like vampires!  Bwaaa, boys, here I come!  Mwaa aa aaaah!"

Dawn stared at Alicia as she rocketed out the door, already on a mission to round up a movie-going posse.  She slowly walked over to their bureau, the fuzzy purple carpet snagging gently at her toes.  Keeping her grounded.  Here, there was no otherworldly danger.  No vamp or demon or god just around the corner, waiting for you to leave your friends and take that long lonely walk to the dorm's gated entrance.  Dawn lifted her shirt a little, traced the scars around her ribs.  Faint, silvery lines from a more deadly life.  New Hampshire didn't have things that went bump in the night.  Though sometimes they mooed.

Since Buffy sent her to prep school in New England in the autumn, Dawn had led a different life.  Buffy proclaimed that she wasn't to tell anyone about "the darker side of Sunnydale", and Dawn eventually agreed.  Reluctantly, though; Buffy's friends knew, and Dawn was pretty sure that it made life easier for Buffy to be able to talk about it.  But her sister had made a decision.  That was that.  Dawn was packed off to prep school in late August with the instructions to call every day, to stay away from cemeteries in general, and to have a good time.  But most of all?  Forget Sunnydale ever existed, Dawn thought.  Buffy hadn't exactly said it, but she didn't have to.  Dawn understood.

She brushed her shoulder-length hair back, letting the layers swish back across her face.  The long hair had been left in Sunnydale too, and the extra two and a half inches she'd put on since summer would be a surprise to Buffy when she saw her in a few more weeks.  Dawn rummaged around in her jewelry box and pulled out a hemp choker.  A mass of pebble-sized crystals were wedged into the weave, giving her whole outfit a tribal air.  Another Sunnydale relic, but a good one.  She clipped it around her neck firmly and reached out for her heavy woolen peacoat.

Alicia and all of her friends would never know what Dawn's sister did.  They'd never know how many times their world had been saved, pulled back when it was teetering on the brink.  This was the world that Buffy had fought for, a completely different world from Sunnydale and its weirdness.  In Sunnydale, Dawn was never normal. She was a target or an enigma or some dumb little kid. Here?  She was just another one of the crew.  A normal, home-grown American girl, who ate enough candy to put her into a coma and affected a horribly fake Transylvanian accent to play at being deadly. 

"Yeah – just like vampires.  Bwa ah ah."  Dawn smiled candy-pink at her reflection and laughed.


(Feedback always welcome)