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One Dead Summer

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Chapter 5


The Pampers, the weird little phobias, the Slayer-size tantrums…were all sometimes just too much.


Which was why Faith was currently on the balcony smoking a cigarette, watching Buffy press her red screaming face against the locked sliding glass door of their now-wrecked apartment as she raged with all the force of the Terrible Twenty-Twos.


The weary brunette just needs a minute, dammit, just a minute’s peace…


The sun is shining, with a blessedly cool breeze blowing from the east. It’s so pleasant out here that Faith can ignore the muffled sounds of Buffy’s fit (not without a pang of petty, vengeful pleasure) and close her eyes to tip her face into that sweet caress of balmy air.


Another scream, then the cacophony of shattered glass.


Faith whips her head around to see Buffy lying inside the ruined doorframe with both hands covering her face, cries reaching a pitch Faith had never heard before.


The panicked brunette leaps forward, her smoldering cigarette landing unnoticed atop a bare foot.


“Oh shit B, NO, are you okay? White Jesus!”


She tries to pry the protectively cupped hands away, but Buffy’s louder squeals of protest echo off the apartment buildings around their apartment block.


“I’m so sorry, B, please, just let me see. I’ll give you ice cream for dinner, two flavors.” Faith promises, fighting to sound as calm as possible over a thundering heart, cool as if she were merely asking for a light.


Her bruising grip on ever-so-breakable wrists turns gentle through an act of incredible self-will.


Reluctantly the blonde relaxes her pain-tensed muscles to allow shaky hands to be lifted from her face.

There’s a shard of glass three inches long protruding from the delicate pink tissue at the inner corner of one watering eye.

Faith struggles mightily not to lose her immediate shit at the gruesome sight.


She leads her sobbing patient inside, removes the glass, cleans the wound as best she can, tapes on a clumsy bandage and breaks out the Kit-Kats.


Soon B is perched on the couch cross-legged with both hands and her mouth full of chocolate as she squints at a rerun of ‘The Price is Right.’


Faith is snuggled beside, close as curtains, determined never to let her enemy-turned-victim out of sight for even a second, ever again. She’s still shaking so hard her teeth click together every once in a while, and it takes hours of showering guilty attention on the injured Slayer before she feels almost okay.


By the same time the next day Buffy has healed completely and seems to have utterly forgotten the whole ordeal.


Faith hasn’t.


Even as she’s nailing plywood over the balcony doors while chewing nicotine gum she can still see that fat bloody tear welling up to slither sensuously down a face grown familiar as her own.


She is still terrified.


If she weren’t a Slayer, Buffy might have been killed.


And it would have been all Faith’s fault, per the usual. Another death to further bloody her already filthy hands. Even if it was an accident, what was she, some kind of Typhoid Mary? Why did all those around her die?


So Faith decides that her new mission of redemption is to keep her sister Slayer alive as long as she can.
From now on the ever-irritating, ever troublesome blonde was going to be well cared-for. Like, rich bitch lapdog cared for.


Like,


        autistic white kid in California cared for.


Maybe B had the autism. Faith had heard you could catch it from toilet seats or something.


…or was that taxis?


Faith decides to teach Buffy to wipe down the toilet seat every time she goes, just in case, and resolves never to take a cab again if she can help it.

=============================================================================


Sunnydale’s only skatepark, or “The Tit,” as it was known to locals, was a sad affair.


A few prefab ramps on a bib of concrete, all heavily tagged and falling into disrepair. Still, it was almost always full of teens and local riffraff who somehow knew that in a town such as this there was safety only in numbers.


When Willow pulls up she can spot Dawn immediately, sitting on the table of the half-pipe and chatting with a bald girl sat beside her.


The redhead jumps out of her car amid catcalls and curious stares at her pantsuit and sensibly low heels.


She stalks up to the side of the ramp on Dawn’s right.


“Dawn, it’s time to come home.” She pronounces, to the teen’s utter horror.


Instead of the immediate compliance the witch expects, the young girl just looks back at her.


“Why?”


“Because it’s dangerous to be out after dark, Dawnie, and you know it!”


Baldy snickers at the stupid nickname.


“Don’t call me that!” The youngest Summers bursts out, red-faced.


“Dawn, c’mon!” Willow half-implores, half-commands.


By now several skaters have noticed the commotion and are watching their interaction with amused interest. One blonde kid with a man-bun cruises up the half pipe to land perfectly atop the table between them, board seeming to float up into his hand.


“All good?” He asks, addressing them both though he only had eyes for the visibly upset teen.


His concern would be touching if he didn’t so closely resemble every jock who’d ever picked on Willow in high school.
He irritates the redhead on sight.


“No worries, Lincoln.” Dawn simpers, a hand shooting up to self-consciously smooth her tousled hair, making their relationship patently obvious.


The sole surviving Summers has a crush on this (admittedly) handsome boy.


Every sad-eyed pregnant teen Willow has ever seen on a highway billboard flashes through her little red head.
Willow decides to pull out the big guns.


“Dawn, if you don’t come home right now, I’m throwing away all your CDs. Even the Backstreet Boys.”

 

Dawn dies, her stomach lost in free fall.

 

No one could survive such utter embarrassment without suffering complete organ failure.


She jumps up and races to Willow’s car with spooky speed, throwing herself inside to sit facing stoically forward at nothing.
Everyone stares after her in shocked surprise.


The uncomfortably long silence that follows is broken by a cultured, timid voice.


“Don’t forget Dawn’s board, Mrs. Summers.”


The bald girl is standing and offering said item to Willow, her surly pierced face made radiant by a friendly smile.


The stunned redhead numbly accepts the offering, too stunned to even correct the young woman.


“Thanks.”

The car ride home is painfully silent.


When they get home Dawn races upstairs, presumably to check on her beloved CDs. Thankfully, Tara doesn’t seem to mind much that they’d come home sans eggs. Dinner consists of salad, vegetarian lasagna, and a careful dance of conversational avoidance between the two injured parties.


Tara pretends not to notice and chatters inanely on, skillfully managing to talk with both Dawn and Willow separately without forcing either of them to interact with the other.


It’s harder than it sounds.

 

 

 


Willow can only stew in her own juices for a few hours before she is desperate for a hand out of the pit of guilt she’d dug herself. It hadn’t been that long since she was a teenager, had it? How could she not have realized she was committing essential social slaughter by embarrassing her (best friend’s) little sister in front of half the high school’s counter culture?


She’d acted like the worst version of her own mother. In doing so, she’d managed to further alienate a young woman she loved who was already grasping desperately for any sort of acceptance, of security.


When was she gonna stop fucking up??


She feels familiar despair try to take her over, tightening her chest. After debating with herself for a moment she goes into the bathroom and takes two Xanax from the bottle she’d been prescribed, washing them down with tap water.
If there was ever a moment she needed relief from anxiety, this was it. She steels herself.


Willow Rosenberg, witch turned adoptive older sister, fighter of all things evil and scary, would need all the help she can get to face this looming battle.


The Eating of Crow.

 

 

She has Tara knock at Dawn’s room and call out to her. When the brunette invites her girlfriend in, it’s the redhead’s slim form that slips through the door.


Dawn’s lip curls at the sight of her. She goes back to her homework, staying sprawled on her stomach on the bed so the redhead doesn’t have a place to sit.


So the witch stays standing, fiddling nervously with a tube of mascara lying on the dresser.


“Please don’t touch my stuff.” Dawn says, breaking the by-now rubbery silence between them with the verbal equivalent of a hurled icicle.


Willow flinches visibly at the barb.


The little tube stays clenched in one sweaty palm, forgotten as she faces the sulky teen for the first time.


“Dawn, I…I really messed up, and I’m truly sorry. I just…”


She leaves off talking for a second to try and steady her suddenly-trembling voice and hands.


“I just care about you, so much. We all do. And after what happened, we can’t lose you-“


(-too.)


She can’t say the last word, and doesn’t have to. Both their eyes instantly go to the photo in its silver frame amid the clutter on top of the bureau, one of a much younger Summers family grinning into the camera as if they’d never suffered tragedy and never would.


They’re both crying now. Dawn buries her face in her folded arms, creasing the pages of her textbook.


Her voice comes out muffled but still audible.


“I love you guys. I’m sorry too. I saw all those texts and calls, and I ignored them. I just wanted to get away for awhile. I want to forget about everything…”


She’s sobbing too hard to say anything else.


Willow comes over to wrap her arm around her shoulders in the best semblance of a hug she can manage in their awkward position.


They both cry for awhile.


“If you answer the phone when we call…” Willow says slowly through a throat still clogged with tears and snot, “You can hang out past curfew, wherever you want. As long as you carry a stake. And if there’s ever any sign of vampires, demons, Satanists or any combo of the above, you have to run straight back here.”


“I will, I can, I swear. But you have to promise never to touch my CDs. Like, ever. No matter what.”


“Deal.”


The slight click of the door opening startles them both. It only opens a gap before a box of tissues slides across the floor to rest in front of the bed directly in front of them both.


The door clicks gently shut again, and Dawn gives a phlegmy, relieved giggle that Willow echoes as she heaves herself up to retrieve it.

=============================================================================

 


The dark Slayer would never admit to how she’d hang around clusters of young mothers at the park and the children’s section of department stores to eavesdrop on the unaware ladies’ child-rearing tips.


Baby Einstein DVDs and the use of sign language to communicate with non-verbal toddlers were both hugely successful results of her snooping.


Buffy picks up on ASL with spooky speed, expanding her vocabulary ten-fold.


Faith has a harder time but studies doggedly to keep up.


Speech seemed difficult for the little Slayer, but her dark counterpart did her best to keep her talking, or trying.

 

After cajoling a horny neighbor to hook her up with stolen cable in exchange for a brief striptease, Faith quickly found out how dangerous television could be to a developing mind.


Buffy gets hooked on the Wiggles.


Those four silly twinks in color-coordinated shirts soon take over the little blonde’s soul, prompting pleas to watch them daily and tantrums when they were off the air.

 

 

Their days slide smoothly into a routine.


Buffy rises early, Slayers not needing much sleep. Around 8:30 she was usually up and demanding breakfast, no matter what time they’d gone to bed.


Mealtimes are a challenge until Faith discovers finger foods & baby wipes are the best bet to cutting down on messes. Buffy is a grown woman, so a sippy cup was out of the question. Yet a regular cup was still a bit hard to handle. A collection of straws, both bendy and regular proved a logical solution.


Fairly fast she was able to break B of the habit of tilting a glass to have a look at how much was left, which thankfully cut down on spilled milk and the tears that inevitably followed.
She wants her deposit back, after all.


B watches those wretched Wiggles while eating, and Faith tries to jolt herself awake with unsafe amounts of caffeine.
Around 9 they train for a bit. Stretches, weightlifting, and light sparring followed by another diaper change. After that came mental stimulation. Puzzles, pictures, blocks, at least 5 new ASL vocabulary words. Once Faith is able to pry her charge away from these distractions, its lunch, change, and a nap Buffy always protests vociferously.
Around sundown…

 


                                 …they slay.


Their world begins to seal itself around the two, and it’s a peaceful one despite the nightly violence.


Faith’s cellphone is chock full of pictures of the Chosen One doing the most adorable and inane things. She scrolls through snapshots daily, struggling mightily with the most difficult of decisions; which to delete in order to make room for more.
Buffy for her own part is eager to please, asking for nothing in return save for her Slayer counterpart’s constant attention. She says the other woman’s name about a million times a day.


The Boston-born woman hadn’t known the potential range of expression a single syllable could hold.


Speaking of which…any second now she would hear…


“Faith!”


Buffy pointed proudly at the finished puzzle.


The Dark Slayer clicked her stopwatch.


“2:42. Very nice, B! You shaved off ten seconds with that trick I showed ya!” Faith claps and whistles shrilly through her teeth, which she knows the blonde loves.


“Faith.”


Buffy bounces up and slings her arm around her counterpart’s neck, still bouncing a bit and looking at her expectantly.


“I think you’ve earned a trip to the park, B.”


'Swing!’ Buffy manages to sign as she bounds away to put on her boots.


Faith can’t help but wonder why this felt so good, so right, taking care of the sister Slayer she’d once betrayed.


It was more like a family than anything Faith had ever had. And it satisfied her more than she’d ever thought possible.

 


But Faith of all people knew far too well that the more you’ve got, the more you’ve got to lose.