Buffy placed her flowers in the permanent vase. Unlike what she normally brought here, this bouquet was made of silk. Three individual white roses and one red soon followed, placed on the ground instead of in the vase. They'd whither and die while the silk ones wouldn't, but that wasn't important to her today.
"Ow," Sierra said softly.
"What happened?" Buffy asked.
"I hurt my finger."
"Oh. Let me see," Buffy said. "Owie for sure, that does look like it hurts. Here," she said, stooping carefully so that she could take hold of Sierra's fingertip and kiss it.
"There. All better," she said, running the pad of her thumb along the small prick spot.
"Thank you, Mommy."
"You're welcome, Princess."
"You'd think she would know how to hold it without catching a thorn," Marcus said.
"I know how," she said defiantly.
"Do not," Marcus taunted.
"I do, too. I just forgot."
"You just want Mom to pay attention to you instead of Cat."
"Yes, you do. You act like you're still a baby."
"Stop it, both of you," Buffy said, straightening carefully so as not to dislodge the aforementioned Cat from her hip. "This doesn't belong here. It was an accident. We all have them. Sierra didn’t do it on purpose, Marcus, any more than you fell off your bike last week intentionally."
"I don't know why we had to come here anyway."
"To say goodbye."
"I already did that."
"Well, we're going to be away for a while, Marcus. I don't know when we'll be back."
"I needed to leave these flowers, honey. I don’t like the idea of there being nothing here until the next time we come."
Buffy sighed softly, adjusting the front of Cat's jacket and the bonnet that matched. This was hardest on Marcus, and she tried to understand that. Buffy was an adult when her mother died. Marcus wasn't close to being an adult. Joyce Summers wasn't killed by the things that Buffy hunted.
Buffy didn't have to look Dawn in the eye every day and know that if she'd been out there doing her job that Joyce might still be alive. Or if she'd somehow equipped her better. With that thought, she grazed the silver cross-shaped lapel pin that she now wore everywhere she went.
Buffy had to look at Marcus every day and know that his mother was perfectly capable of stopping what had hurt his father. Taken him away from him. All of them, of course, but Marcus most especially. Buffy knew what killed Steve, just not who.
As easy as it would be to do nothing with her time but hunt down who made her a widow and her kids fatherless, Buffy knew she couldn't do that. Besides, the police would find him and ensure justice was dispensed.
Steve had been one of their own and they had access to research that Buffy couldn't compete with. Willow's computer skills could only get her so far and it wouldn't net her answers the same way as his department's connections would for them.
"So, we're saying goodbye before we go."
"I don't know why we have to leave," Marcus said as they walked toward Buffy's SUV. Another aspect of all of this that was hardest on her son. Moving to Sunnydale hadn’t been a picnic for Buffy at sixteen, but she knew the reasons behind it. Marcus had no clue why they were leaving the only house, neighborhood and friends he’d ever known behind and moving clear across the country. To a town where he knew no one but his mother and baby sisters. Not cool as far as he was concerned and Buffy tried not to take it personally. It wasn’t easy some days, though.
"People move, Marcus."
"None of my friends have."
"Well, it happens. Believe me. Aunt Dawn and I did when I was older than you are. And we're going. Mr. Giles has things for Mommy to do."
“I know,” he said, begrudgingly.
Their things were already on the way. Buffy could have had the SUV towed with the moving van and flown with the kids, but she decided to make a mini-vacation out of it. There'd been so much sadness and grief recently that it seemed like a good idea. Marcus' attitude was making her rethink it, but there was nothing saying they had to stop anywhere but at hotels to sleep.
She'd said goodbye to everyone from this life over the past month or so. If he thought this was easy on her, he was sorely mistaken. Not that she’d ever let any of the kids see how hard it was for her to leave this life she’d led with Steve behind.
And what a life it'd been.
She'd done it. Led a normal life. Granted, it was a life in which the monsters still existed, but it wasn't steeped in it. She'd met Steve one night while on a patrol. He’d thought at first she was an intruder to his crime scene. It wasn’t instant love, but she knew that she liked him when he didn’t question her credentials or poo poo inviting the Slayer into the investigation.
Like grew quickly into fondness and incredibly (to her) love. That was over ten years ago. They were married fourteen months later; Marcus came a year after that. He hadn't been planned, but Buffy couldn't say she was unhappy with the turn her life had taken. There was a four-year gap between Marcus and Sierra. Three years separated Sierra and Catherine.
Their life hadn't been perfect or a monetarily rich one. She expected that when she said yes to a cop. While they had arguments over the years, their life had been comfortable and loving just the same. What they may have lacked in physical riches they more than compensated for what was missing with rich personal lives. Good friends, good jobs, good family, and enjoying good times with those family and friends. Even with the kids, it seemed they were always doing something on Steve’s days off. He was all in like that, and Buffy had loved it, as did Marcus who reaped the benefits of being one of the only players on his teams to have a dad show up at every game.
Buffy had learned that doing things like taking a trip to the zoo with her kids didn't have to end in anyone getting possessed by hyenas. A trip to the science museum didn't result in a mummy coming to life. Chaperoning school events didn't mean hell hounds were going to be unleashed. Buying a Halloween costume could be done without batting an eyelash. Marcus could play baseball without it ending in everyone’s nightmares coming true.
Life, for lack of a better way to describe it, had been ideal. Steve and Giles liked one another, so the rare occasion Buffy got taken away for Council business Steve didn’t get upset or resent her responsibility.
Ideal at least until Steve requested a transfer to his department's preternatural team. The night they had met had been a fluke; he hadn't been thrown into the lion's den yet. He'd known vampires and demons existed but he hadn't actually fought any to that point.
He was a detective. They’d met a few times while he’d been investigating a murder or crime that was more her territory than his. They were paired together about a month after their initial meeting when his murder case and her hunt for a vamp were obviously connected. It was his first time working a vamp case full-time, and would be his last for years.
She'd tried to talk him out of the transfer, not wanting to lose him. She knew she'd lose him. It was inevitable when you fought the things that went bump in the night and weren't gifted with enhanced goodies. She’d died twice even with the enhanced goodies.
He'd insisted, though, and no matter what Buffy had said as an argument he'd transferred. That was in response to the death of one of their friend's teenaged daughter. She hadn't just died, she'd been turned and had to be staked in order to stop her killing spree.
Fortunately, Buffy had not done the staking. She would have, it was never easy to stake someone she knew but the job had to get done. She just wasn’t sure Steve and Jill’s parents would understand her being the one to turn their daughter to dust. And not in the ashes into an urn kind of way.
He'd been gone almost a year now, taken from her less than two years after his transfer. She’d gotten longer with him than she originally thought. Cat was only one month old when Buffy got the late night visit a cop's wife feared more than anything. Their youngest daughter would never know him beyond pictures and stories.
There were nights Buffy still cried herself to sleep. His side of the bed remained untouched. Cold. She hated that because one thing they'd had in their marriage had been warmth, closeness. Love. He always came home at night. To her. To their kids. He was able to leave what he'd seen at the door. Not to say he didn’t talk to Buffy about things that happened, but the kids never knew any of it bothered him.
When Giles called wanting Buffy to work with a slayer being assigned to a newly discovered hellmouth in Florida, she'd balked at first. St. Louis had been her home for so long now she didn't want to think about living anywhere else. Her life with Steve was here and she didn't want to lose those memories.
She was no longer actively slaying despite the fact she could be, but Giles was nothing if not convincing. Buffy was familiar with life on an active hellmouth in a way no one else was. She'd cut her slayer teeth on one and though it'd been forever since she was active on one she remembered vividly.
Really maybe a change of scenery would be good not just for her but for Marcus, too. One day she'd be able to tell him the truth behind his father's death. A truth that went beyond Killed In the Line of Duty. He wouldn't believe Buffy at first, but lucky for her there was an endless supply of evil baddies out there for her to prove to him she was telling the truth.
So, she’d accepted Giles’ offer, put their house on the market, and made arrangements to move her family to Florida.
A new chapter in her life. She doubted any of the kids would mind Florida winters. She didn’t mind the cold so much, but she was admittedly kind of looking forward to a green Christmas for the first time in a decade.
The house sold surprisingly fast. The Council picked up the tab for movers to pack and move the heavy stuff, Buffy did the rest herself with some help of her friends and neighbors. She would miss it here, but no one seemed completely surprised when Buffy mentioned moving.
A trip that should have taken barely two days took three. Buffy didn't mind. The kids didn't seem to either, even Marcus enjoyed being able to spend time swimming in hotel pools. The route they took wasn't the most scenic or one filled with things to do, but Buffy had tried to make it fun. And they’d all enjoyed the trip through the mountains never having seen them before now.
Cat was the only one who seemed more than ready to get somewhere fixed and permanent. She did very well, but Buffy could tell when they pulled up in front of the house Giles had arranged for her family to live in that Cat was tired of riding in a car all day long.
If all went off without a hitch, the house would be setup with everything ready to go. Except Marcus' room. Buffy had promised him he could do as he liked with it. Buffy hoped that would make moving seem a little more exciting. Sierra was starting school this fall where Marcus had to leave his friends behind and start at a new school all over again. Buffy couldn't say she blamed him for being mad.
Buffy's biggest concern with taking Giles up on his offer was what to do with the kids. None of them was old enough to be on their own. Even if she did feel comfortable leaving Marcus on his own in a year or two he couldn't take care of Sierra and Cat by himself. Giles assured her it would be taken care of.
The house was a nice one. A step up from the three bedroom ranch they'd had in St. Louis. Sierra was absolutely tickled at the idea of no longer having to share her room with Cat. And having stairs to climb that didn't lead to a basement she was frightened of. There was a fifth bedroom off the laundry room, which was furnished but not with anything Buffy had sent ahead of them.
She frowned as she investigated the bedroom. It looked lived in, from the bedspread that looked rumpled to the computer being on and clothes draped over a desk chair. Giles would have told her if she was going to be living with someone. At least Buffy thought he would.
"Hello?" Buffy called, not happy about someone being in her house before she could even settle in. While things were supposed to be set up and put away, Buffy had no doubt she'd have things to rearrange and change the location of.
It was a nice setup, Buffy noticed as she looked around further. It was like a mini-apartment complete with a door off the laundry room that led outside. So, whoever was staying here could come and go without going through the rest of the house.
She heard a door open and turned, eyes widening in surprise.
"Buffy! You made it. I didn't hear you pull up, I'm sorry. I was in the shower."
"Dawn? What are you doing here?"
"I'm your live-in babysitter," she said, toweling off her hair.
"Well, Giles was going to ask for volunteers, but I told him that I'd do it."
"But you have a job somewhere that’s not here."
"Put in for a leave of absence and if I end up having to quit no big deal," she said with a wave of her hand as if it was in fact no big deal.
"I'm going to rent it out until it sells and I can always get another one."
She shrugged at that one. "If it's meant to be, the distance won't hurt anything. And, hey, maybe he'll come down here where the weather is nice."
"Dawn,” she said, ecstatic at the idea but still not liking that Dawn uprooted her life for this. The Mission. Once they’d gotten out of Sunnydale, Dawn had been able to have a life away from preternatural stuff. She didn’t have her head in the sand, and Buffy knew she’d been called upon a few times for her researching skills. Still, Dawn’s life had been normal.
As normal a life as someone who used to be a ball of energy could have anyway.
“Are you sure?"
"Absolutely! I love the idea of seeing my nieces and nephew every day. You, too."
"It's too much."
"Only if I didn't volunteer, which I did, Buffy. Tasha is going to need a watcher."
"Dawn, I don't want to take you away from your life. Coming here part-time is one thing, but signing up for watcher duty is another thing entirely."
"Buffy, you don't think I know what you did for me? What you sacrificed to keep me safe? I’ll be close to you and the kids. I’ve missed you, Buffy. I'm not really doing anything that extraordinary."
She slid into some clothes and Buffy couldn't help but realize how much Dawn had grown. They'd been apart for so long now; it was strange to think they might actually be living together again. Like sisters. Just without Social Services breathing down her neck.
"Moving across several states is not ordinary."
"That's what sisters do for one another. At least when they're the Summers sisters," she said, walking back to what Buffy presumed was the bathroom to put her towel away. “And really, looking at a map, it’s a straight shot down the Interstate from Philadelphia and doable in a day.”
"Yeah, I guess that's true. You aren’t going to want to live with us forever, though, Dawn.”
“No, I know that. Giles picked this house because of the extra bedroom setup so I could have some privacy. Also so that you guys can have your own time, too, you know. Eventually, when my house sells and we know what’s going on I’ll look at getting my own place. I may not like being a watcher full-time. I don’t know.”
“I think you’ll be a great watcher.”
“Well, only because I had a great teacher.”
“Giles is a good teacher for sure.”
“He is, but I was talking more about you than him. Everything I know about slaying I learned from you, Buffy.”
“Well, hopefully Tasha will appreciate you.”
“I’m sure there will be an adjustment, especially being I’m your sister.”
“And you’re certain you want to do this?”
“Positive. I have my own space and everything here, so that’s not a problem.”
“You know that I don’t expect you to stay in your room like a hermit or a servant.”
“I know, but the option is there. I won’t disturb the kids if I can’t sleep or am out late with Tasha.”
“This is the best news I’ve gotten in a long time. I don't know if Marcus will be very excited to see you, but Sierra will be I'm sure."
"Bummed about the move?"
"That's putting it mildly."
"He'll be fine once he realizes it's cool here."
"I hope so, because I don't want to add to what scars he probably already has from Steve dying."
"Well, let's go find out."
"When did you get here?"
"Yesterday. I had it a little easier than you. I don't have kids or anything so I just shipped some furniture ahead of me, packed things up and here I am."
Buffy stopped in the kitchen and gave Dawn a hug.
"What's that for?"
"I just realized it probably seems as if I'm not super excited to see you. To know you’re living here and I’ll be able to see you all of the time. I am. I was just surprised and don’t want you doing something drastic because you feel obligated or something."
"I'm glad to see you, too," Dawn said.
They continued on upstairs where Marcus and Sierra were exploring their rooms.
"Hey guys," Buffy said. "Come see the surprise I have for you."
Marcus was the first to come into the hall. His eyes widened; eyes that looked so much like Steve's it was eerie.
He started to run to her, seemed to catch himself, and then strode up to her almost as if he didn't care. Buffy knew that wasn't the case and she could see the pain that crossed Dawn's face at his gesture. The gesture was more for her benefit than Dawn's.
Dawn couldn't have kids. Her being willing to leave her boyfriend behind probably meant that he'd been talking about the future and Dawn was having second thoughts. She'd been married once before and the scumbag divorced her once he realized Dawn was "defective" in that department. Adoption wasn't an option to him.
If only Buffy could slay bad guys who weren't demons or vampires. She wanted to cut out her former brother-in-law's heart and force-feed it to him when he'd left Dawn for someone who could give him children.
It was one of the reasons Dawn cared so much for Buffy's children. Not that Buffy had ever pictured herself with kids or the life she'd had with Steve in a million years when she'd been living in Sunnydale.
Dawn hugged Marcus tight. Even not seeing his face, Buffy could tell Marcus was loving the attention even if he didn’t hug her back right away.
"Look at you, little man. You've grown to be so tall since I saw you last."
He smiled the first real smile Buffy could remember seeing him give since the talk of moving from St. Louis started.
"Auntie Dawn," Sierra said. She didn't hold back or try to stop. She full-on ran into Dawn's arms once she'd let go of Marcus.
"And look at my princess. Getting all grown up, going to start kindergarten soon."
"She still acts like a baby," Marcus said.
"Well, that happens sometimes, Marcus," Dawn said. "We all act younger than we really are from time to time. Even me and your mom."
“And we both have stories to prove it,” Buffy said from behind them. She was so glad to see Marcus show some sort of emotion, even if he was holding back.
"Yeah, okay," he said, not sounding entirely convinced Dawn was telling the truth.
Dawn kissed Sierra, holding her close as she looked at Marcus.
"I noticed your room wasn't unpacked, Marcus."
"Mom's going to let me do it myself."
"She is. How cool. Can I help?"
"I'd love to."
"Tomorrow," Buffy said.
"But Mom, Aunt Dawn."
"Will be here tomorrow. And the next day. She's staying with us for a while. And you guys need to go to bed. It's been a long few days."
"You mean it?" Marcus said.
"Yes, she's staying. Longer than just a visit."
"I'll be here for a while, Marcus, and we'll work on your room together to be sure it's cooler than cool. You’ll be the envy of all of your friends at your first sleepover it will be that awesome."
"Brush your teeth, both of you. Pajamas and bed," Buffy said.
Sierra ran to the bathroom to start on that. Marcus wasn't so fast.
He followed Sierra into the bathroom they shared. Buffy had her own thank God. It didn't seem to matter how much effort she put into keeping things clean with three children, by the end of the day when it was her turn to get ready for bed the bathroom was always a disaster.
Cat was still sound asleep. Her sleep schedule would no doubt be off for a few days, so Buffy wasn't expecting to have a solid night's sleep as a result. Seeing Dawn, knowing she’d be here with Buffy for a while at least made the lack of sleep seem well worth it.
Buffy stopped in Cat's room to get the baby monitor receiver and brought it down to the kitchen hoping Dawn would be in the mood to talk for a while. Doing little more than drive for three days with nobody but kids to keep her company she was ready for some adult company.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com