Fic: Under My Skin - Prologue
Word count: 1800-ish
Characters: Dawn and Buffy
Summary: Dawn catches Buffy in an unusually self-reflective mood on the morning of a big day.
Warnings: Talking heads.
A/N: Takes place some months after my entry from last round, With This Ring. Inspiration and beta provided by the inestimable clawofcat, but don't hold it against her. AU Angel Season 5.
Dawn was surprised to see Buffy already sipping her morning tea, but she supposed that her sister must feel the Christmas-morning-esque thrill, too. It was only natural.
“Morning! Are you excited?”
Buffy shrugged. “Hoo boy. It feels like there’s so much to do. And, I’m still processing my guilt about last night.”
“Guilt? Why guilt? Everybody had a great time!”
“I know. I just don’t know if it was appropriate for the girls to see that. I know you shouldn’t have.”
“What! Why? Just because I’m not a slayer, I’m not capable of appreciating a good-looking guy? You’re kidding, right?”
“Not so much. It’s not the slayerness. It’s the little sisterness.”
“Buffy, I’m going to college in a few months. Little sister’s not as little as you think.”
“I know,” she said sadly. Dawn saw the faraway look, and followed her hunch.
“It’s not about me, is it?” she asked.
“I guess not.”
“You’re going to be a great mom, you know.”
“Sure. Great. Between the slaying and the male strippers, I’m a prime candidate for mother of the year.”
“Buffy, it’s not like that. If we’d been in England, all those girls would’ve totally been of age. All of us were biologically old enough for an educational expedition like that. Under controlled conditions, of course.”
Buffy snorted. “You call Rona controlled? That guy doesn’t know how lucky he is that Kennedy was running interference.” She sighed. “I suck at being the grownup, sometimes.”
“I think all grownups suck at it, sometimes. You’re amazing. You are,” she emphasized when Buffy shook her head. “But you don’t have to save every speck of the world every minute from every little thing.”
“Actually,” said Dawn thoughtfully, “those dancing firefighters last night looked very capable of doing some serious saving of their own.”
“Minx,” said Buffy, smiling into her herbal tea.
“I have a thing for heroes. Must run in the family.”
Dawn busied herself making a super-sized pot of coffee for the houseguests, and watered a couple of plants while she worked up her nerve. After a thorough wiping of the countertops, she was ready.
“Buffy, can I ask you something? About you and Spike?”
“Well, do you think you’d be doing this, if it wasn’t for the baby?”
Buffy shot her a look and put down her cup. “Getting married? Yeah. Eventually. Probably.”
“That doesn’t sound like a ringing affirmative,” said Dawn, twisting the tea towel in her hand.
Buffy reached for banana from the fruit bowl on the island. “You know I love him, right?”
“And he loves me.” It wasn’t a question.
Buffy stared at the banana in her hand for a moment, and then looked out the window.
“But I’m starting to think that marriage is about something besides love. It’s taxes and health insurance. It’s travel documents and citizenship papers. Groceries and car payments. Pensions. Real estate and kids. It’s friendship. Family. It’s life. It’s way more complicated than love.”
“I can see that, I guess. Not very romantic, though.”
Buffy huffed a short laugh. “Romance is not the problem area with Spike. Of course, his idea of a hot date runs more toward the decapitation of demons than dinner and dancing. And that’s okay, mostly. It’s great, actually. But we don’t need to get married to have that.”
She put the banana down and looked directly at Dawn.
“When I thought I’d lost him, I knew I’d survive. He’d given me so much of his strength those last few months in Sunnydale. So much. And he never asked for anything back, you know? Nothing.”
Dawn nodded, afraid to say anything now that Buffy was ready to talk.
“Then I got him back. Another Sunnydale miracle. A one-in-a-gajllion second chance. I never wanted to let go of him. I had so much to make up for. I wanted to give him all the things he’d given me. To fix everything I’d ever done wrong.
“But that’s not the way it works. Not long-term. I mean, we’re barely scratching the surface of long-term, but even I could figure it out after a while. The only way it’s going to work with us, is if we’re both giving and taking. It’s not always equal. That’s not it. There’s a balance to it. It’s a dance, like he says. You move together, you move apart, you do something different, then you come together again.”
She shook her head. “I’m getting too philosophical, aren’t I?”
“I like philosophy,” said Dawn.
“You would,” teased Buffy. “Anyway, once we found the balance, it just felt right. I’m not saying we’re always going to be in one place. You know better than anybody that it isn’t all roses and chocolates with us, right?”
“But that’s not bad. Not for us. We just realized that’s what we are. We’re ourselves, but we’re us, too. Does that make sense?”
“Almost,” said Dawn with a grin.
“Funny girl. I just mean that we found a way to be Spike and Buffy, and to still be just Spike and just Buffy. I’m making is sound easier than it is. Especially because of the brand new humanity element.”
Dawn turned to get juice glasses out of the cabinet. “He seems the same, mostly.” She considered a moment. “Well, the nude sunbathing is new.”
“Oh god,” Buffy giggled. “I actually got tired of rubbing aloe on his butt. Who’d’ve thought? He’s such a baby sometimes.” She was getting that faraway look again.
Dawn poured a couple of glasses of O.J. and handed one to Buffy, who took a sip.
“Thanks. He is the same guy, mostly. His heart’s the same. His head: not so much. The demon viewpoint was different. Now he’s more, I don’t know, constructive, I guess. But, he’s used to being indestructible. Which is probably pretty normal for a guy of his - what did you call it? - biological age. But he’s seen too much to really believe it. He’s facing mortality in a whole new way.
“And now that this other being is coming along, I think he’s spun. It’s someone completely dependent on us. Someone who will break our hearts, and fill them up, too. It’s so scary, Dawn. Marriage seems like such a minor change compared to parenthood. He says it’s like he got a bit of immortality back, but sideways, or something. He never dreamed he’d be a dad, not for a hundred years.”
This was the other thing that Dawn couldn’t figure out.
“How did that happen, anyway? Some example you turned out to be.”
“Great. More guilt. Thanks.” Buffy sighed again flicked a brief look of annoyance at her. “I’m only telling you this as a cautionary tale, alright?” She plunged ahead, “I just wasn’t thinking. I hadn’t needed to use birth control in years. Not since before I died. Plus, I hadn’t had a period in months, what with all the stress and running around when the First was in town. It happens sometimes with athletes and anorexics. Mr. Cold Dead Seed certainly didn’t think about it. I’ll bet they didn’t even have birth control when he was last alive. Bastard.”
“So, it was a total accident, then?” asked Dawn.
“Not totally, no. I mean, we didn’t plan it. But, we didn’t not plan it either.”
“That makes no sense.”
“I know. Willow told me something after it happened. She said couples that are postponing pregnancy are much more likely to conceive than couples that are preventing it. See the difference?”
“So, you’re saying that you were going to have a kid eventually?”
“Pretty much. We hadn’t talked about it, much, before. But after we found out, it felt like such an amazing gift.” Buffy picked up the banana and started to peel it.
“In an ideal scenario, I’d be a few years older. Maybe you’d be done with college. But with all the new slayers, now seems like as good a time as any. I’m probably going to be doing desk duty for a while anyway, getting the Council of Slayers set up. Mom was only a year older when she had me.”
Dawn refrained from mentioning that Mom had finished college, too. She took another tack.
“Spike doesn’t seem as calm about this,” she said.
“Spike doesn’t do calm. Except in the most dire emergencies.”
“What did he say when you told him?”
“There were some manly tears. A lot of promises to be a better man. I think he called me a goddess.”
Drama, thy name is Spike, thought Dawn. What she said was, “That’s our Spike.”
“Yeah. Then he went out and got stinking with Clem and lost his car. Which was good, because he was in no shape to drive. That’s something else he’s having trouble adjusting to. Reduced alcohol capacity. He’s such a glutton.”
Dawn gathered up the glasses and put them in the dishwasher. Buffy had her head in the cereal cabinet, and wasn’t looking her way. Now was as good a time as any.
“Do you think I should move out? So you guys can be a couple?”
Buffy whirled around. “What?” No! That’s not… We’re a family, Dawn. All of us.” She took a step and enveloped Dawn in a hug. Dawn looked down at the top of Buffy’s head and hugged her back.
After another squeeze, Buffy let go enough to look into Dawn’s face. “It’s been okay, hasn’t it? The three musketeers?”
“Sure, but he was your boyfriend, and now he’s going to be this whole capital “H” husband guy. Don’t you think he’ll want to have his own castle or something?”
“Dawnie, he’s still Spike. He loves you. You’re his beloved little food product. Which is extra disturbing now that he’s no longer one link up in the food chain. He doesn’t want you going any sooner than you have to, and I think he’d prefer you didn’t leave at all.”
“You guys have talked about this?”
“Sure. When we were looking for houses to rent. We wanted to make sure there was room for everybody.”
“Oh. That makes sense. The kind of sense that Mom would’ve made.” Dawn decided to look through the cereal selections, too. “I think she’d be really proud of you, Buffy, even if you are knocked up.”
“Ingrate,” said Buffy, rolling her eyes. “I don’t know, though. She made being a grownup seem so doable. I’m not sure I’m in her league.”
“Why not? Eventually, I mean.”
“Mainly because I harbor an ulterior motive for keeping us all together.”
“Babysitting on tap” said Buffy, grinning wickedly.
Dawn’s mouth dropped open, ready to object, but just then Willow and Kennedy wandered in, searching for coffee. She decided she could maybe give a little, and instead of arguing, she settled for sticking out her tongue.
End of prologue. Continue on to the main event.
More A/N: While working on my story for this round, I was inspired to write a meta!fic about marriage, which resulted in the above. In truth, it would probably take Buffy a tad longer to arrive at the conclusions I’ve given her, but I’m hoping that all the responsibilities she has shouldered at her tender age and the shock of her (temporary) loss in the Hellmouth would combine to plausibly give her perspective far beyond her years. Did it work?