Word Count: 4,038
Giles had been thoughtful. Buffy had a month to get settled before the new slayer arrived. If it was just her that wouldn't have been an issue, but with kids. Well, it would take a while for Marcus in particular to adjust. Sierra loved that they weren't far from the beach. Dawn had taken Sierra and Marcus to Disneyworld their first week here, giving Buffy a full day to work on the house with only Cat as a distraction.
Tasha didn't live far from Buffy, but not so close to where being friendly was going to be forced upon them. Not that Buffy didn't like Tasha even if she didn't know the girl real well. She was nice enough, but she was nineteen to Buffy's thirty-two. They had very different lifestyles and priorities in their respective lives. Buffy was there to train and act as a research person who had the ability to help slay if the going got tough. Once comfortable in the area, though, she'd be on her own in general.
No doubt that was when Giles would start looking for someone to send to Sunnydale. They'd rebuilt her former home. It had taken them some time, but it was there. New and shiny above ground, all dark and evil below.
Buffy had no doubt that her next stop after training Tasha would be Sunnydale to train the new slayer there. At the very least LA, discreetly setting the groundwork for getting her back home where she had no desire to go again. Giles was just breaking her down, getting her back in the saddle before hitting her with the tough stuff. Setting foot in Sunnydale again would be tough. He probably didn't realize she'd think that far ahead, but she knew eventually one day someone would be in Sunnydale again. The hellmouth was still there and would need a guardian.
So, she was glad Giles hadn't gotten them houses right next to one another or expected them to live together because Buffy moved here to train her. Hopefully doing so would help ensure she lived for a long time. At first Buffy had laughed at the thought of training someone because she wasn't eighteen anymore. Except, to look at her, one wouldn't know that wasn’t the case. Her strength and agility hadn't gone away at all. There were times that she had to remind herself that she wasn't the slayer anymore because she didn't look or feel any different. There was a reason for that, but only a few knew what it was.
She had to admit, the idea of getting out there again but knowing she wouldn't have to every night had some appeal. She missed it in a crazy sort of way. Not that she'd ever admit that to anyone, especially not Giles. She was sure he'd find her something to do beyond merely training a slayer if he knew she was willing and capable of doing more.
Of course, there was the possibility Tasha and Dawn would become friends and Buffy would end up spending time with her regardless. They were both single and Buffy couldn't expect Dawn to be home every night. She just wanted her kids safe from all of it. It would not come to her house if she could prevent it. She hadn’t been good at keeping it away from her home in Sunnydale, but that was different. She no longer had a target on her head for simply existing in the eyes of the bad guys.
Buffy spent a lot of her time getting adjusted to the area. There was lots to do like mapping out area cemeteries, hospitals, and funeral homes. The Internet and her being much more proficient at computers these days helped. Personally, figuring out where Marcus and Sierra would be going to school, how to get there, and a daycare for Cat if Buffy ever needed one.
All that working around Dawn’s schedule when she went on interviews. Buffy knew it wouldn’t take her sister long to find a job. Buffy hoped that her Council stuff didn’t interfere with her job, but Dawn knew what she was getting herself into by agreeing to come here. Agreeing to be Tasha’s watcher.
Buffy was getting enough from Steve's pension and Social Security that she didn't need to get a job anytime soon. She still needed to know there were places for all of her kids to go just in case. Dawn was living there to be around at night in case Buffy needed to go out not to give up her career.
Buffy had to think about what she'd do when the time came for her to get a job. She'd worked as a secretary for Steve's department. It hadn't paid a lot, but they liked knowing the person typing up their reports and answering calls had some knowledge of what was going on. One who wouldn't run away screaming. She hadn't gone back after Steve's death, though she supposed no one expected that she would.
"So, you and Tasha are going out tomorrow for the first time, right?"
"Yes," Buffy said as she and Dawn cleaned up the kitchen from dinner. Spaghetti with meatballs had been the meal du jour and as expected, Cat’s high chair was the messiest of all the spots to clean. You’d think she’d learn after the first two kids not to serve spaghetti, but Cat loved it so Buffy always caved and gave it to her.
It was nice having someone to help with the cleanup. Steve worked nights, understandably given the department he worked in. So, five days a week she was on her own to get dinner on the table, clean everything up, and get the kids ready for bed. By the time nine o'clock rolled around most nights, she was beyond exhausted. The two nights he was home, the kids still came to Buffy for things because they were just used to her being the one to go to. Steve always helped, but sometimes it was just easier for Buffy to do what they wanted instead of explaining to him all over again what they needed.
She got the easier end of the deal, though. Steve was home with Sierra and Cat during the day while he was supposed to be sleeping. She at least had nights off so she could sleep without the kids pestering her. They had a couple of women and older school kids who helped by watching the kids for a few hours, but it wasn't the same. He didn't sleep well, knowing the kids were awake.
She wondered how she would adjust to having that type of schedule again. Sunsets being a bad thing, all-nighters being the norm rather than the odd happenstance, and the sunrise representing the end of her day. A schedule that matched that of vampires and demons.
"Are you anxious?"
"A little. She seems nice, just not much experience, but Giles wouldn't send someone here who couldn't handle it."
"Right. It's not like it's Boise."
"Are there even vampires in Boise?" Buffy asked.
Dawn gave a soft laugh. "You would know better than me."
"I've never been there, so I don't know."
"They have to be everywhere, right?"
"I guess so, though I think they live places they're less likely to stand out. I'm not sure they could pull that off in Boise. I mean, could you imagine Spike trying to keep his secret there?"
"Well, yeah, but they're not all like Spike. I mean, Angel would blend in."
"To a point, sure," Buffy agreed.
"So, how long do you think it will take for her to get comfortable here?"
"I'm not sure. Why? You dreading having your nights occupied already?"
"No, you know I am totally looking forward to some good Auntie time."
"As if you haven't spoiled them already. A trip to Disneyworld their first month here."
"They deserved it. You have to admit, Marcus has been better since."
"Yes, he has. Did you threaten him or something?"
"No, I think he just realizes that it's not going to be so bad here. Auntie’s here with more disposable income than you have since I don’t have kids or a husband. Plus, you're happier, too, and I think he sees that."
"I'm not any happier than I was two months ago."
"You are so."
"No, Buffy, listen," she said, putting the last of the plates away.
She poured them each another glass of wine. One of the last Buffy would have for a while no doubt. Drinking and slaying didn’t mix. Well, she could pull it off, sure, but she didn’t like to risk being off even just a little bit. She wouldn’t have it on her conscious Tasha got hurt or died because Buffy had been even a beat too slow due to impairment.
"I'm listening," Buffy said, taking a seat at the table.
"I think getting out of St. Louis was the best thing you could have done. It'll take Marcus a while, but I've seen you smile and heard you laugh in the last couple of weeks."
"That's not a crime."
"No, of course not. It’s a great thing, but the past year you've acted like it just might be."
"I've been mourning my husband, Dawn! Meanwhile, caring for three kids by myself and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for them. It’s not easy when on the inside I wanted to do nothing but lay in bed all day."
"I know, and I have been, too. I loved him like a brother. He gave me a great nephew and two beautiful nieces. You’ve been doing a great job with them. Anyone can see it, even Marcus."
"He gave them to you?"
"Well, you both did, of course, but he got you to love. You know? I didn't think you'd do that again for a while there. To want to get married and have those kids. So, yes, he gave them to me. He wouldn't have wanted to see you so sad, acting like your life ended, too."
"He'd understand, Dawn."
"For a while, sure, but he would have wanted you to continue on with life."
"I am continuing with life. I’m here, aren’t I? I don’t have a choice in the matter anyway! Where is this coming from? As if you knew him so well. You saw him once or twice a year for a long weekend, maybe a week."
"You'd be surprised. There were days after what happened with Davis. I needed to talk, you were working and Steve was home. We’d talk. I’d talk, he listened mostly. Sometimes he’d offer advice, but most of the time he listened and told me I’d be all right."
"I didn't know."
"I asked him not to tell you, because I didn’t want you to worry about me more than you already did. Besides, he helped me realize Davis was just maybe the exception to the rule of there not being good guys out there."
"No, I'm fine now. It's just, God, do you know how useless I felt?"
"You didn't do anything wrong."
"I know that, knew it then, but it doesn't mean it didn't hurt. I mean, it's bad enough I'm defective."
"You're not defective. Not being able to have kids does not make you defective. Thousands of people who didn’t have the beginnings you did can’t have their own kids. Deciding to stop loving someone because they can’t reproduce is defective."
"Being a former ball of energy makes me defective."
"That's so not true. There are a ton of kids who need good homes, Davis just couldn’t accept that."
"That's so not the point. And this was about you. How glad I am to see you moving on. I have moved on from Davis. I didn't like you being there by yourself. I know you had friends, but they were all your friends with Steve. There wasn’t anybody who really understood who and what you are. Coming here, accepting Giles' offer. That means you're moving on. Even if it's just a little."
"I moved here to help Tasha because Giles asked me to and it’s the right thing to do. Not to forget about Steve. Not to get married again."
" I think a new look at things is good. I didn’t say you were here to get married again, but there’s nothing wrong with seeing what is out there. Being open to doing that doesn’t mean you’re going to forget about him. Or that anyone would think that. You’re young, Buffy, no one would blame you or think badly of you for going out on a date."
"As if I'm going to go out and do anything. I've got kids to raise and the task of making sure that Cat knows who her father is. Slaying again will keep me busy enough I’m sure. I wasn’t able to balance slaying with a social life in high school with no kids thrown into the mix; I doubt I’d be able to balance both now. At least in high school the ditzy blonde thing worked. Not so much now, unless I want to lose my kids because someone thinks I’m unstable."
"I know that, and I know Cat and Sierra will know and love him as much as Marcus does. Sierra’s pretty young, too. It's still a good thing that you were willing to leave your house. Your life there. It means you’re ready for something. Whatever that something is."
"And you, giving up on a boyfriend? Moving across the country to play Mary Poppins?"
"Would you rather a stranger take care of your kids? Giles was going to ask for volunteers, I didn't think you'd be comfortable with a stranger taking care of them every night. Things weren't that serious, Buffy. It's not as if we never talk. We'll see what happens, and maybe it's good for the relationship. Once Tasha's settled maybe you can take over as her watcher or something if I decide to move back."
"I think the kids might have something to say about that. Giles, too. I have a feeling my being open to this today means he'll ask me to do it again."
"We'll see when the time comes. I'm in no hurry either way. And you'd do the same for me if the situation was reversed."
"No maybe's about it."
“So, what did Chris do anyway? Start talking about marriage? Kids? A future?”
“None of the above,” she said without meeting Buffy’s gaze. So, Buffy knew she was lying. “I’m not running away from anything. I promise. I just wanted to help you.”
Buffy took a sip of her wine followed closely by another. She’d had no idea that Dawn and Steve talked. She knew, of course, they liked one another and got along, but she had no clue that Steve had gotten personally involved with Dawn when Davis had left.
Dawn had been a mess for a while there. Understandably. Davis had seemed so nice, and he was at first when he went through testing to ensure the problem wasn’t with him or his sperm count. When he came up fine things changed. There were options that might prove viable to Dawn, but Davis hadn’t stuck around to find out if they would take. As soon as it was discovered that the old fashioned way of making babies wasn’t going to cut it he vanished.
He turned up a few months later with divorce papers in hand. Fortunately, the house had been Dawn’s and he’d laid no claim to it so she hadn’t lost completely everything. Buffy knew at the time, though, it had seemed like it. Dawn would have given up ten houses to have Davis back.
Until she’d spotted him with the bimbo. Before the ink was dry on their divorce papers Davis became a father. Dawn found out by reading it in the local newspaper one day. He hadn’t been unfaithful before leaving, but he certainly hadn’t wasted anytime finding someone once he’d vanished.
"You really talked to Steve that much?"
"Well, it's not like we were having a torrid affair or anything, but we talked more than you probably realize. He never called me or anything. Well, a couple of times he did just to see how I was after a particularly bad time or something, but it was always as my brother. You know? He was looking out for your little sister."
Tears welled in Buffy’s eyes at just how far Steve’s kindness had reached. Of course he would have looked after Dawn and not said a word of it to Buffy. It was just the way he was, same as why he’d wanted the transfer. He didn’t like to see good people suffering. Dawn had been suffering for a while there.
"I didn't realize you talked at all. I mean, beyond him answering the phone when you called and saying hello or whatever."
"Well, like I said, he didn't tell you as a favor to me. It was cheaper than therapy. A couple of times he offered to have him arrested," Dawn said with a laugh. “He was kidding, of course, but just knowing that someone was that mad, too, made it a little better.”
"I'm glad he was there for you when I couldn't be."
“You were there for me a lot, Buffy, but you had kids and a job, I knew that. Sometimes I needed to talk to someone who wasn’t my sister, so close to everything that had happened to me all of my life.”
Buffy could understand that. There was a reason Willow and Xander didn’t know Steve real well. She wasn’t ashamed of her friends or her past, but she didn’t want her life before St. Louis to bleed into her existing one there. Bad thinking perhaps, but she liked having some secrets. Giles knew him fairly well. Steve had gone with her to England on more than one trip and the two men seemed to bond over being the only human amongst a bunch of slayers. She also knew that she could count on Giles not to be overly share-happy with Steve about Sunnydale.
“Still, I feel like I failed you not being able to help you out.”
“Unfortunately, your slayer skills weren’t what I needed. You know, he was a good guy, Buffy."
"You think I don’t know that?"
"I think you need to be reminded of that because I don't want to see you close yourself off again."
"I'm not. I won't, but I'm not going to go out drinking at a bar and pick up a new guy every night either."
"Well, the idea that you're open to picking up a guy is good."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means you're open to the idea that there might be another guy out there."
"Well, yeah, sure, one day. I mean, Steve and I talked about it."
"You talked about other guys?"
"No,” she said with a roll of her eyes. “We both knew our lives were risky. Hugely risky. I mean, sure I wasn't slaying all of the time, but if Giles called I helped. So, we both knew one day, one of us could very possibly be left alone with the kids. We wanted one another to know we were okay with moving on, marrying again."
"I'm glad you guys talked about it."
"He insisted. You know me. I'd stick my head in the sand if I could, but we did the whole drawing up wills thing after Marcus was born."
“There are other good ones out there. Chris isn’t so bad.”
“Well, we haven’t gotten real serious. We go out every Friday or Saturday, rarely both nights. Once in a while we’ll meet for a drink after work during the week.”
“I won’t deny I’m scared, Buffy. Davis and I never got to the point of finding out if any of those other ways will work.”
“So you be honest about it. Tell him, and if he leaves or pulls away you know he’s not the guy for you.”
“We’re not even to that point yet. And, yeah, okay, you were right to a point. He’s started wanting to see me more often lately. If we have a date Friday night, he wants one of us to stay over at the other one’s place and extend the date to the next day.”
“Is that so bad?”
“I’m just not ready for that.”
“Not yet,” she said with a shrug.
“He’s made moves?”
“Yeah,” she said.
“I’m fine, Buffy, I am. I didn’t move down here to avoid getting serious. I promise. I don’t want to get hurt again. I jumped in with Davis. Fell head over heels without looking at the whole picture. Without looking at anyone but him ever from the day we met.”
“I know. I remember.”
“I don’t want to do that again. I’m in no hurry.”
“As long as you know what you’re doing.”
“I’m just being careful.”
“Then you’re doing the right thing. I don’t want you to get hurt again.”
“I don’t want to hurt him either. Misleading him into thinking I’m ready for more.”
“So, moving to Florida is a way to pull away without really doing it.”
“Kinda. I guess it’s a test. Not for him, but for both of us. And, really, it’s not that long of a drive if he wanted to come down for a weekend.”
“I know. You’re right. I’m glad you’re being careful, but don’t push me either.”
“You’re situation is different! You had it. Happiness. A good guy. You should want that again, Buffy. Love. You were made to love more than your kids and your weird sister.”
“You were always a little odd.”
“Ha ha,” Dawn said.
Both grew silent, thinking about different yet similar things more than likely.
"So, one last night of freedom," Dawn said finally, obviously she too wanted to lighten the mood.
"Yes, I'm so not ready to give up my life."
"It's just for a while."
"You don't understand, Dawn. If Giles is sending a slayer to a hellmouth here they didn’t even know existed, Sunnydale isn't too far behind. That means he thinks something's brewing. With a capital B. I mean, if they haven’t known about this one before now, how active could it be?"
"Without telling you?"
"He would want the slayers ready for anything not something specific. And you know how evil works. They plot and plan, get their ducks in a row, and make sure the prophecies line up with what they want to do."
"Well, we'll be ready when it comes. Whatever it is."
"If that happens, I want the kids as far away from here as possible."
"That means you, too. You're their guardian, which means you leave town with them. Keep them safe. And you."
"No arguments. I'm not going to leave them orphans without knowing you're with them. I won’t have them go through what you and I went through after Mom died. We don’t know for sure how this whole thing with me works, so I will go into any life threatening situation thinking it could be my last."
"Thank you. If I find out you did anything else, I'll haunt you for the rest of your life."
Dawn laughed. "If it were anyone but you I'd think you were joking."
"I'm not, remember I know a powerful witch," Buffy said with a laugh. "Now, let's go watch a movie."
"So much for a last girl's night out."
"There's nothing wrong with a girl's night in."
"Our lives are just too exciting."
"You chose to come here."
"So did you."
"Not much choice for me. It's part of who I am, I can't walk away from these girls when they need me."
“Oh, yes, Steve’s popper is in the pantry, I think. I haven’t used it since before he died.”
“Well, let’s break it in here.”
“Sounds good, it always made better popcorn than microwave.”
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com