It didn't surprise anybody that although Dawn's first word was the typical "momma", her second was unmistakably "Buffy".
After all resentment towards her younger sister had made its way to the back of her mind Buffy had begun forming a special bond with Dawn. Their father called it 'sisterly love' while their mother simply called it 'sweet'.
Even when Dawn was only of an age where all she could do was stare at Buffy with her wide eyes and make some gurgling sounds, the two were connected. Buffy would spend her afternoons when she got home from school telling Dawn what she had learned. Once or twice she even attempted teaching some of it to her completely unresponsive little sister.
So it didn't surprise anybody that when Dawn was fourteen months old she uttered Buffy's name for the first time. And although it sounded a little more like "Bubby" everybody who heard it understood perfectly. And beside her little sister Buffy had sat proudly. She was special.
By the time Dawn was two and Buffy was eight their bond had reached a point of dependence. To the younger sister the elder was her lookout, her friend, her sister in shining armour; there to protect her whenever it was required. To the elder sister the younger was innocent, to be protected and the one person in all the world that could never do her wrong. Although Buffy knew nothing of the world yet she did know that she had to be there for her even less knowledgeable sister. Because god forbid their parents be the protectors.
Joyce and Hank Summers watched as their daughters grew closer together. Sometimes they watched in wonder, sometimes in amusement. However, on occasion they watched in concern.
The day Buffy got invited to a girls house for her very first sleepover was one of these occasions.
"Buffy, why don't you want to go?" Joyce asked her eldest daughter as said daughter pushed her baby doll pram around the living room aimlessly. "You like Olivia. You two are friends. You'll have fun. Sleepovers are normal for a girl your age."
As she had been for the past few minutes Buffy shook her head insistently, blonde hair flying everywhere. "I don't want to!" she whined once again.
"But why?" Joyce sighed, unable to figure this situation out. Her daughter never failed to surprise her but this had to be one of the oddest refusals a young girl could make. Sleepovers, the chance to get away from parents, new and fun experiences.
"I don't know." Buffy stopped pushing the pram and sank down to her knees, turning away from Joyce. With her back to her mother she put her face inside the pram towards the doll, petting it's dark curls. Joyce thought she heard her mumble something.
Running her fingers through her own curls, Joyce tried again. "Has Olivia said something mean to you?" She earned another head shake. "Are you scared of being there on your own?" Another shake. "Then what?" Joyce shook her own head, exasperated. Buffy still didn't emerge from the pram.
At this moment another figure came toddling into the living room. Immediately Dawn ran straight over to her sister, pulling on her blonde locks.
That was when Joyce understood.
"Dawn" she said and the little girl turned and ran to her mother. Joyce smiled and stroked Dawn's surprisingly dark hair that didn't look a thing like Buffy's or her own. "Has Buffy told you that she's going away for the night tomorrow?" she asked, eyes on Buffy's back as she spoke.
She thought she heard a small "I'm not" from inside the pram
Immediately Dawn's eyes grew to an unnatural size and she shook her head. After this afternoon Joyce was going to have had enough head shaking for a lifetime. "Buffy can't go" Dawn said, continuing to shake her head in panic.
"Dawnie, don't you think Buffy needs this?"
"Friends, places to go, independence, new experiences…" Joyce watched Dawn as she looked down at her mother's lap sadly. "Friends her own age, that is. And that aren't her sister."
"No" Dawn muttered. "Not if she's gonna leave me." Her still wide blue eyes filled with tiny tears. Joyce brushed the few that fell away with her fingers, cradling her daughters head.
This dependence the Summers' sisters had developed was a beautiful one. Two sisters being friends was a rarity, Joyce knew. It was sweet that Buffy would protect Dawn, tell her stories, teach her things. It was adorable how Dawn latched onto her sisters every word, wanted her around, looked up to her. However, the fact that neither was yet sure how to spend much time apart from one another was a point of concern.
Later that night Joyce had a talk with Hank in hushed voices with several concerned looks towards Buffy's bedroom door. Then the next day Joyce packed her eldest daughters required possessions in an overnight bag and placed it on her bed. Buffy would find it when she arrived home from school and if the closed door kept little Dawn out during the day then she wouldn't find it at all.
Sure enough Buffy found the bag and came rushing to her mother instantly. "Good, you're all ready to go? I'll drop you there as soon as I'm done peeling these potatoes for dinner."
"But I want potatoes for dinner!" Buffy cried, dropping the bag to the floor. "I said I didn't want to go. I won't-"
Joyce cut her off, turning from the potatoes. "Leave Dawn?" she asked, crouching down so she was on Buffy's eye level. "That's what this is about isn't it? You know Dawn doesn't want you to leave her."
"And I don't want to leave her" Buffy mumbled, looking down towards the bag and away from her mothers' knowing eyes.
"Oh, honey" Joyce sighed. "You know one day you'll have to leave. Someday you'll want to leave. You need to spend time away now. Spend time with people who aren't your little sister."
"Why?" Buffy demanded. "Are you punishing us…me…her?" Her words were jumbled in confusion. "What will she do without me to read her Buffy's Book of Bedtime Stories?" The last question was hopeless, Buffy's face falling further with every word.
Patiently Joyce nodded along. "How about I read it to her tonight?" she suggested, taking Buffy's hand.
"It's not Mommy's Book of Bedtime Stories" Buffy pointed out irritably. "You can't read it to her, it won't be the same."
"Look, sweetheart…" Joyce took Buffy's other hand and held the two together. They were of equal heights with Joyce crouching at the touch of her mothers' hands Buffy finally looked right into her eyes. "It's not just you who needs independence. Dawn doesn't know how to spend a single night without you and she needs to learn to. She cries when you're gone at school and in a couple of years she'll have to go to school all on her own too. It will be good for both of you if you take one tiny step back from each other and make a little bit of a separate life. Do you understand?"
Buffy nodded solemnly and then asked, "Does she really cry when I'm at school?"
Joyce simply smiled.
A few minutes later Buffy was ready and in the car being whisked away to the unknown. Back at home Dawn cried for the first hour her sister was gone with loud choking sobs that Joyce and Hank could only watch helplessly and wonder whether they had done right by their daughters. But finally Dawn calmed down, picked up one of Buffy's dolls and began playing all by herself, perfectly happy and they knew they had done what they needed to as parents.