It was at that moment that they heard footsteps past the door, and a knock sounded hesitantly. The three turned their heads toward the door, but when Buffy called for them to come in, it was not a nurse or doctor coming to check on them as they had expected. Standing in the doorway was Xander and Willow, Tara, even Anya, hanging back very apprehensively and clutching Xander’s arm…
And Dawn. Standing close to Willow and Tara, holding Tara’s hand, was Dawn, her eyes shiny with nerves and what seemed to be fear…
Seeing all of them standing there, their expression a varying display of eagerness, nerves, relief, shock, and gladness, both Slayers broke out into wide smiles; beside them Giles smiled as well. Finally they could see all they loved at once, at the same time, could physically see that they were okay, that they hadn’t lost them. Finally they could see… and as Buffy smiled, a fierce love and gladness coming over her, she spoke up with obvious joy in her voice.
“You’re here… god, I’m so glad to see you all…”
“Even Carrots?” Faith asked pointedly, but the stare she sent in the ex vengeance demon girl’s direction didn’t’ have too much heat, and she smiled again. “Hey everyone…miss us?”
“It’s…it’s so good to see you guys!” Willow burst out with, and she started forward quickly, stopping just short of their beside. Like Xander, Anya, and Dawn, her eyes were scanning them anxiously, checking out the extent of their injuries, but although she clearly wanted to touch them, she was also holding herself back.
“Yeah…you two, anything for attention with this dying all the time,” Xander quipped, but the same emotional response was in his eyes as Willow’s as he came closer, Anya staggering after awkwardly, avoiding their eyes. “Really, you want us all to drop everything and come rushing to your sides to shower you with our concern, all you gotta do is ask us next time…”
Both girls smirked, and as Willow continued to hover near Buffy’s side of the shoved-together beds, Faith addressed her in the same amused tone, her eyes glinting.
“Red, you can hug B if you want… nothing you do’s gonna break her any worse than she already is.”
Flushing slightly, but still smiling, Willow leaned in to hug Buffy gently for several long moments, whispering to her that she loved her. Buffy hugged her back, returning her words softly and ignoring the pain in her ribs. She closed her eyes, just savoring the moment of having her best friend in her arms. When Willow finally released her, both girls were holding back tears… and a few moments later Xander went to hug her as well.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” he said with unusual quiet and seriousness into Buffy’s ear, and she blinked back the tears continuing to threaten, replying that she loved him too.
Faith was watching, her eyes softer than usual…but when both Willow and Xander came around to her side of the beds to hug her too, her eyes widened. Finally she said quickly, just as Tara too was drawing closer, “Damn, you really did miss me…”
Xander and Willow smiled, Xander’s slightly goofy, Willow’s flushed, and Tara looked at her seriously as she stood on Buffy’s die, taking the uninjured hands of each Slayer into her own briefly and squeezing gently.
“Of course we did,” she said softly, and it didn’t escape Buffy’s notice that she was for once not stuttering. “If you had died, Faith, if either of you had… then, I think, part of us would have died too. A bigger part than you understand…or that we could live with. Survive with… yes, but not live…”
Faith stared at Tara, her face slackening slightly with her disbelief at the Wiccan girl’s words…but it was so obviously sincerely stated, and no one contradicted her, that she had to believe she meant it. A slow incredulous smile flickered across her face as Buffy watched, her eyes stinging slightly once more, and she replied slowly.
Her words were hardly eloquent, but it didn’t matter; her feelings were clear enough to them. It took a moment of glancing between all the varying smiles for Buffy to realize that Dawn was still hanging back, her face stiff… and though there was anger in her eyes, more prevalent was her fear. She smiled at her gently, keeping her voice low as love and guilt twisted itself in her stomach… for no doubt her seeming suicide, especially paired with Faith’s, had devastated Dawn in a way that simply knowing of her survival could not fix.
“Dawn,” Buffy said, but she could think of nothing else…what do you say after Dawn had endured what she had?
How could she make it better when she had been part of her pain? Her eyes went to the bandages on Dawn’s arm and she looked back up at her face quickly, knowing that this was where Glory had cut her…
But if Faith were having such difficulties, she didn’t’ show it… she simply smiled at Dawn, raising an eyebrow.
“Aren’t you gonna give us a hug, Dusk? Almost die and everyone gets all weird and quiet on you,” she said dryly, her eyes flickering again toward Anya pointedly. Anya had been quiet until then, skittish, not meeting anyone’s eyes as she stayed close to Xander… but now she raised her eyes to the Slayers, taking a deep breath.
“Uh, look… I wanted to- I mean… Xander made me come, I didn’t want to… well I did want to, but the sex kind of coming, not coming here. But I needed- I was going to say-“
Faith fixed such a look on her then that Anya cut herself off immediately, her eyes widening… but as everyone glanced between them hurriedly, expecting bloodshed, Faith surprised them by talking a clear, measured tone without too much overt fury.
“Look Carrots… you’re not okay with me, understand? You and what you did will never be okay with me. I hate you for it, you deserve whatever I could do to you. And I’m never gonna thank you for anything else you might’ve done… ‘cause if it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t have had to do it in the first place. But I’m not gonna kill you either, okay?”
She let a moment go by, then added as a casual afterthought, “Most ‘cause I can’t even stand up right now, so take what you can get.”
Most of the others smiled, Willow’s, Giles’s, and Buffy’s more like smirks; Anya looked a little confused and wary but nodded, apparently accepting.
“I can live with that…” she replied, nodding again. She smirked slightly, as if expecting to get some sort of reinforcing response from the others. When no one commented or seemed to find anything amusing about what she was saying, Anya rolled her eyes, annoyed.
“That was a JOKE, don’t you get it? A pun… because she said she’s not going to KILL me? And I said I could LIVE with it? It was funny!”
When everyone just looked at her, she huffed, crossing her arms. “And you people say I have no sense of humor…”
“Ha ha,” Faith said flatly, and for the first time since seeing Anya she gave her a slight smirk… which was the closest thing they’d ever see her do to show a sign or relenting towards her, and everyone present knew it.
Buffy smiled, glad to see this… but when she turned her head, she realized that Dawn was still standing back almost near the doorway, her face unmoving, her eyes fixed at a spot on the wall just past her head. She had still not spoken a word, and realizing this, Buffy frowned. Was she angry at them… was she still upset?
Stupid question…of course she was upset, of course she was angry and afraid. She had watched them both jump off the tower, preparing and nearly succeeding in killing themselves, as she stood up there alone, tied up, bleeding… she had been kidnapped and terrorized, her life threatened, her arm slashed for the second time in only a few months, and she had been a witness no doubt to the chaotic aftermath of their jump. Even when it had been determined that they were alive, no doubt she had still been ridden with anxiety as they were comatose, badly injured in the hospital…
They had hurt Dawn, through their decision… though they had been trying to help her, to save her, in the end they had hurt her… and how had she not realized this before now?
As Buffy glanced over at Faith quickly, she realized that the brunette was watching Dawn too, her face creasing slightly… obviously she was worried too, was beginning to realize just how much all of this must have effected Dawn.
“Dawn,” Buffy called out to her quietly, trying to catch her eye. “Dawn, come here.”
When Dawn didn’t respond, didn’t obey, Faith’s frown deepened a little more, but she kept her voice light as she addressed her.
“Hey, Dusk, don’t you want to join in on the hug fest too? Almost die and everyone gets all weird and cuddly on you… don’t you want to join the crowd with that?”
Dawn still didn’t say anything; if anything a further tightness came across her features, and she pressed her lips tightly together, seeming now partly rebellious as well as attempting emotional control. Watching her, seeing her lack of response, Buffy felt her heart twist with her guilt and sadness for her. Dawn had been through so much… what if it was too much? What if this was the last straw, and she would not trust them again, not open herself to their love and concern again… what if they had damaged her to the point where she no longer cared?
The others were clearly concerned as well by the interaction between the three- well, with the exception of Anya, who was petting the petals of the flowers Xander had brought in for the Slayers and was frowning slightly in vague but unspoken jealousy. None of the others seemed too surprised by Dawn’s reaction, however, and Buffy wondered with a greater aching in her chest if this was because she had been like this ever since Dawn was retrieved from the top of the tower. What if she was never the same with them again- with anyone? What if she was so hurt, so upset, that…
Giles, Willow, and Xander were attempting to pretend not to notice the discomfort of the three’s attempt at interaction, looking anywhere but at them; Tara, however, was watching with concern, a deep pity and torn sense of loyalty and understanding in her eyes. She edged towards Dawn, subtly putting a hand on her shoulder, but Dawn ignored her too.
“Hey,” Faith spoke up suddenly, her voice still casual but with a noticeable undercurrent of meaning as she looked around at the others. “Can all of you guys leave for just a minute… let us talk to Dusk a while?”
Buffy realized quickly what she was doing and gave her a quick little smile, even as anxiety rose in her at her anticipation of the talk to come. She just hoped dawn would listen… and even more so, that she and Faith would be able to figure out what to say to her to make it all somewhat better.
“Oh, of course,” Giles said quickly, nodding and looking around at the others for confirmation. “We’ll be nearby… just let us know…”
As the others left, shutting the door behind them, Dawn still stood exactly where she had been before, meeting their eyes with veiled wariness. Buffy swallowed, saw Faith exhale beside her, and she knew it was time to start the repairing.
“Dawn… she began, her voice slightly hoarse, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to hurt you or scare you…we just wanted to save you. And I wanted to save Faith, and she wanted to save me… we didn’t think how it would hurt you to see that. But Dawn, if we had…if either of us had hesitated… then I think one or both of us would be dead now.”
Buffy paused, swallowing, as she looked away for a few moments, not even liking saying the words referring to Faith’s possible death when she had come so close to it before. She could feel Dawn’s eyes on her now, and even though she still did not respond, she knew the other girl was listening.
“Dawn… Faith wanted to save your life… both of us did. But when I…when I saw her jump… all I could think of was that she was going to die,” Buffy whispered, and she squeezed Faith’s hand tightly, glad when Faith squeezed back. “If she had died… I don’t think I could have lived. But Dawn… if it had been you up there, instead of Faith… if you had been the one…”
For a few seconds Buffy couldn’t continue, for her throat was too choked… but after a few seconds she managed, “If it had been you, I would have done the same. I’m sorry we hurt you, we never meant to do that. But Dawn, if Faith were dead…I wouldn’t be able to live. The same thing goes for you too though… if you were dead, I wouldn’t be able to either.”
She sighed somewhat raggedly, her hand tight in Faith’s as she looked into Dawn’s eyes. They weren’t quite so controlled now, her posture not quite so rigid, but neither was she yet speaking…
“Dawnie… you and Faith are the most important people in my life,” Buffy told her quietly, not letting Dawn’s eyes stray from hers. “I love the two of you more than anything in the world… that’s why we wanted so much to save you. That’s why I couldn’t conceive of living if one of you was gone. I’m sorry we hurt you… but I won’t apologize for feeling or loving either of you in that way.”
For a long several moments no one spoke… Dawn was watching them both, her eyes flickering between them, seeming to be assessing their words, their expressions, as her own remained still. When she finally spoke to them for the first time, both her words and her expression were very carefully controlled, almost indifferent.
“You got a speech for me too, Faith?”
“Well, I guess I sorta did, but B kinda beat me to it,” Faith replied wryly, shrugging and giving Dawn a quick smile. “She kinda covered it all, probably said it better than me too-“
“So that’s all?” Dawn cut her off, and her voice was abrupt, her words almost rude… but there was something in her eyes now, a shifting of light, that made both Slayers think she was finally bending. Faith shook her head quickly, not wanting to let this go….
“No… no, Dusk, not yet. Look, we know you’re upset, that you’re mad… we scared the hell out of you, so you deserve to be. It’s alright…but look Dusk. We love just want you to know we love you… I want you to know,” she said quietly, looking Dawn in the eye. “We’re sorry that you had to see us do what we did, to be upset and worried about us…but Dusk, we’re glad that you didn’t have to do it. The whole time, the whole reason for that… we both wanted to keep you alive.”
Dawn’s eyes were definitely changing now, the hard blankness almost entirely gone… and along with it, her taut features. She was visibly loosening her muscles, visibly seeming to grow younger, more vulnerable, before their eyes… for now the uncertainty in them was clear. The battle between trust and mistrust, resentment and forgiveness, anger and relief, love and fear…all flickering across eyes that had been holding back so much, at such a young age.
Even had she been capable of getting up and going to her, of pulling her close and trying to take her pain away, Buffy knew that would have been the wrong move. Like she always had tried to do with Faith, she needed to give Dawn time now, let her make the first move on her own…
And eventually she did. Exhaling slowly, she looked down, then back up at the Slayers again, her voice quiet, controlled, but with a layer of vulnerability neither missed.
“You won’t do it again.”
It was more of a statement than a question, but the older girls nodded, understanding the need for assurance behind her seeming command.
“No…no, Dawnie,” Buffy said softly, and Faith, ever more wary of promises, qualified for them quickly.
“Well, we’re not planning on it Dusk… can’t promise, ‘cause we can’t know it all… but we’ll never do it if there’s another option, a better option. Okay? We don’t’ want to leave you…. We just don’t want you leaving us either.”
Buffy half expected Dawn to protest that THEY had left HER, that there was a double standard somewhere in there, and that would have been true. But either Dawn was too tired, or too desperate for their reassurance to notice. Either way, she only nodded slowly again, lowering her eyes before bringing them back up and scanning their bodies almost shyly.
“So…so, do you hurt? I mean…”
Her eyes darted from their battered faces and bandaged hands to Faith’s broken arm, Buffy’s bandaged hand, to their bandaged torsos under the hospital gowns and Buffy’s broken leg under the sheets. Though it wasn’t’ true that they weren’t- both Slayers were growing exhausted, almost light-headed, and both had steady pain in most injured areas, they both shook their heads quickly to placate her.
“Nah, we’re good, Dusk… five by five…”
“No, Dawnie, we’re fine… Slayer healing, remember? We’ll be out of here in a day or so.”
Dawn nodded again, swallowing, seeming to be trying to convince herself to believe it. When she spoke again her words were tentative but poignant, soft.
“So…so if I hugged you… would I hurt you?”
Buffy’s throat constricted at this, and as she felt Faith’s hand take hers once more and squeeze, she didn’t dare to look at her, not wanting to see whatever emotion might be in her eyes.
“You hurt us, Dawnie?” Buffy managed, her voice a little thick, and she blinked. “Never…”
“Dusk, get your ass up here already,” Faith put more helpfully, and she disentangled her hand from Buffy’s and beckoned with it for Dawn to come to them.
Dawn hesitated for another few moments, unmoving…but then she started forward in a burst, seeming to have been holding back from doing this all along. She didn’t head for a particular side of the bed… she clambered clumsily right through the middle of both of them, climbing into the small space between both girls’ bodies where the guard rails had been shoved down. Gently but with fierce passion she wrapped an arm around each Slayer’s waist, burying her face into Buffy’s shoulder. Buffy felt her paper gown grow damp and knew Dawn was crying.
“Don’t leave me,” Dawn whispered, her words tiny, barely audible. “Don’t leave me again, I love you, don’t leave…”
She was hurting both of them, even with the slight pressure of her arms against their ribs, but neither said so. They wouldn’t have dreamed of it. Both were barely suppressing their own emotion as they stroked her back and hair with their good hands, not quite able to hug her back.
“We’re not, Dawnie…we won’t…”
As the two of them let Dawn hold onto them, let her release some of the emotion she had kept back, did what they could to soothe her without quite stopping her, an odd slowly spreading peace and joy became to come over them. In spite of Dawn’s tears and their sadness for hurting her, their injuries and their losses, they felt that they were complete in some way, that they were satisfied…
They had defeated Glory, of course…they had saved the world…but even more so, they had saved their family. The three of them were safe, together, their bond unbroken no matter how badly abused…and somehow all that happened was verging on okay now, even right. And perhaps it was… maybe it had been fate of some kind, their destiny, starting back to the first day of each of their lives. How else could the three of them have endured so much, come so far…how else could they have been drawn together? A bubbly Californian cheerleader…an angry abused Bostonian…and a girl who was not a girl at all, a girl who had never been born…and yet here they were, together, bonded in a way beyond explanation.
Fate, destiny, luck…whatever it was, as Buffy stayed in close contact with her sister and her love, savoring their closeness, she was grateful. For the three had come full circle, just to end up in the circle of each other’s arms, and she could not ask for any more than what they had.
So appropriately enough this fic that ends on Christmas Day is posted two days before Christmas in completion :) Funny how that works.
Thank you to all who read…I greatly enjoyed your comments and support. I’m not sure I’m entirely happy with this- letting Anya off so easy, for one- but I wanted a happy ending after all they’ve gone through and this is what came out. Special thanks to Lupo. Couldn’t have finished without you. Hope everyone enjoyed.