Giles woke suddenly from a troubled sleep. His hands reached out automatically to defend himself against the figure perched before him on the coffee table.
"Wait! No!" it cried.
He sat up, blinking, and reached for his glasses.
"Dawn? Is that you?"
"Guess you thought I was some monster, huh?"
"What are you doing down here? You should be asleep."
"I guess." The girl shrugged. After a moment's hesitation, she spoke again. "Do you...do you think it's true, Giles?"
"Do I think what's true? Let me put on the light..."
"No! I...I don't want to wake Buffy up."
"Alright, it's okay," Giles said softly, as if soothing a half-wild animal. "I won't turn it on, if you prefer it dark. Now what is it you want to know, Dawn?"
"Do you...do you think Buffy really was in Heaven?" she asked timidly.
"She gave her life for yours. Do you really think she could have gone somewhere else?"
"Yes, I suppose you're right, at that." He reached out a hand to touch Dawn's shoulder. "I know things aren't...well, they aren't always fair. But if there's any sort of justice in the universe, Buffy did go to Heaven, and she'll go there again one day."
"She got to be with Mom." Dawn's voice shook with unshed tears. "She said Mom was there."
"Yes, she did." He took off his glasses and toyed with them briefly. "I was...well, I wasn't surprised by that, either. Your mother was...she was a fine woman. I liked her a great deal."
"Did you really have sex with her?"
"Bloody hell! How did you hear about that?"
"Oh come on! Buffy was screaming about it at the top of her lungs when she found out. She was way pissed off. And Mom kept zoning out with this funny look on her face. It was gross." The wattage of Giles' glare was diminished in the dark, but Dawn still saw it and quailed. "Sorry. I wasn't ever supposed to say I knew about that."
"And now you know why." He sighed, relenting. "But yes, it's true. It did happen once."
"That's not how I heard it."
"Alright, twice, but in one evening. Now let us never speak of this again."
"Nobody ever wants to talk about anything interesting around me," she grumbled. "I don't know how anyone expects me to learn about stuff if they won't ever talk to me."
"And yet you know far too much about my personal life."
"I sneak." She shrugged again. "It's how I find out stuff."
"It's not nice to spy on people, you know."
"So...does that mean..." She turned her head away suddenly. "Never mind."
This time, Giles did turn on the light. He looked more carefully at the figure huddled on the coffee table. Dawn might be six years younger than Buffy, but she was both taller and broader than her sister. For once, though, the teenager looked fragile. Her eyes had the same haunted look her sister's often did. He could see it, even though they were directed at the carpet to one side.
"Dawn?" He waited for her to meet his gaze. "Are you afraid you won't be found worthy of Heaven when you die? Is that what this is all about?"
"I was made to open the doors to a hell dimension. Sounds pretty bad to me."
"You're not bad. And you're not a key, anymore. Glory's gone. She won't be back."
"Yeah. I know." She returned her gaze to her knees. "I saw Ben. When you guys brought me down. Did Buffy do that?"
"Dawn...I'd rather not talk about that." His brain filled with images of Ben's face when he comprehended that help wasn't coming. He could still feel Ben's feeble struggle for breath against his hand. He felt sick. "You don't need to worry about that."
"It's okay if she did. I thought he was nice, but in the end, he was just as bad as Glory. He was gonna kill me, too. Then again, so were you." She idly ran her fingers over her the narrow white line on her wrist. "It would have saved a lot of trouble if I'd just done it myself."
"Don't say that!" Giles' hand reached out and grabbed hers, almost involuntarily. "You must never say that."
"But it's true. If I'd just cut myself the long way instead of across, I'd have died then and there and the key would have been gone, and Buffy wouldn't have had to die, and a whole bunch of bad stuff wouldn't have happened. Maybe you would even have forgotten about me. I mean, it's not like I was real to begin with."
"You're very real to us all, Dawn. No matter how you came to us, you're here now, and we want you here."
Giles' heart sank at her matter of fact tone. As much as he wanted to deny it, Buffy had changed. There were times when he barely recognized her.
"I...I think...your sister...needs time," he said slowly. "And she needs our support. She's been through something...something terribly traumatic. Something none of us can completely understand."
"I know that." Dawn finally looked Giles in the eye. "And I know it's my fault."
"No. Don't say it. Like you said, she died in my place." She looked at the floor again. "That's why she hates me."
"No," Giles protested. "No, she doesn't hate you. She's just...she's...she's in a lot of pain, right now. People...people do strange things, sometimes when they're hurting. Things they wouldn't normally do. But given time, Buffy will be better. You must believe that."
"Any particular reason I should? Or is that just wishful thinking?" When Giles' eyes focused on his own hands rather than her, Dawn had her answer. "So she's not gonna get better, is she?"
"She will. You all will. It won't be fast, and it won't be easy, but Buffy will be...will be better one day."
"But she's never gonna be the same, is she?"
"No. She won't." He finally looked at her again. "She can't be."
It wasn't a question.
"Dawn, you must understand..."
"That you're gonna ditch her? That you're gonna ditch me? And Willow and Xander and Tara? We need you, Giles."
"No you don't. You're grown. You don't need me to watch over you and tell you to brush your teeth and say your prayers. You're quite old enough to handle life without my interference."
"I'm fifteen." Her voice was smaller than he'd ever heard it. "I'm still a kid."
"Your sister isn't."
"But she's all messed up!"
"She'll find her way."
"You could show it to her a lot easier. Please, Giles, don't go. Don't leave me."
"Is it because you did stupid stuff when you were her age?" At his startled look, she continued. "More sneaking. I heard Buffy and Willow talk about it once. About how you had this funny tattoo and you raised demons for sex and stuff. Did you really kill a guy?"
"That's none of your business," he managed over the rising bile. It never failed. Whenever the subject was raised, he could hear Randall's screams. It never got easier. "Go back to bed, Dawn. And please, don't tell your sister about this. I want...she should hear it from me."
"Okay, but can I see the tattoo first?"
"Why do you want to see that?"
"'Cause you're Giles, and it's weird to think you've got one."
"Well, I'm afraid you can't see it, because I had it removed while I was in England. I ought to have done it years before."
"Go to bed. Get some rest. We won't discuss this in the morning."
"See?" Dawn grumped as she rose from her perch. "Nobody ever wants to talk about anything interesting around me. Guess I have to keep sneaking."
Giles watched her climb the stairs, every step exaggerated for full effect. He wanted to smile, but the humor had left him. His hand crept unbidden to the spot where the Mark of Eyghon had been so recently. The skin was unblemished. He wished he could erase the marks from his mind and soul as easily.
As soon as she was gone, he pulled out the letter from the Council and re-read it.
//Dear Mr. Giles,
In light of your recent appearance at headquarters, and your refusal of further Watcher duties following the death of your Slayer, and in light of Miss Summers' repeated refusal to accept our authority, we respectfully decline your application for Council psychiatric treatment for Miss Summers. So far as we are concerned, her most recent death has terminated our association.
We recommend you have no further contact with Miss Summers. If she is as unstable as your recent letter indicates, she may be a danger to herself and others. Your well-being is a matter of no small importance to us.
You are recalled forthwith to Headquarters for reassignment. Several interesting portents require your attention as soon as arrangements can be made.
Giles crumpled the paper. He could read between the lines. Not only would there be no help from the Council, the black ops team would be here soon if he didn't arrive in London.
Not for the first time, he cursed the fate that had brought him to this place. Not for the first time, he wished Eyghon had taken him, rather than Randall.
Would Buffy be the third?
His fingers brushed lightly over the small white scar on his right wrist. Like Dawn, he had cut across, or it might have been over then.