by Kyra Cullinan
summary: Dawn keeps a list in her head. Everything they've lost.
notes: written for s.a. for the Femslash Ficathon '04. Thanks to Sophia Jirafe for running the whole shebang. Everything I know about Sumerian I learned from Annakovsky and anything I got wrong is all me.
a/u from Tough Love
by Kyra Cullinan
"Mapped with the scars of my whole life." - Ted Hughes
Willow's hair is getting longer. Tara says she's going to cut it soon, to make it easier to take care of, but for now it lies long on Willow's back and crackles auburn when Tara brushes it.
Willow was the second thing they lost. Dawn keeps a list in her head. The first was her mom, cold and staring and buried in the hard ground. And then after that Willow, her big scary brain all sucked away and swiss-cheesed by Glory.
Things got a lot harder after that. They didn't have a whole lot of magic without Willow, plus Tara was always having to take care of her. Dawn thinks maybe it distracted Buffy, too, seeing Willow like that. Like maybe if it hadn't happened Buffy would have been able to focus better and she wouldn't have --
Buffy is number three on the list and Dawn still has those dreams where her sister is falling forever and ever, suspended against light so bright it hurts to look at.
After that there was no more normal, although they tried to pretend for a while. Xander and Anya and Willow and Tara all moving in like they were some kind of big happy family. Drove her crazy and Spike, too. He left three months later, after his five hundredth fight with Xander. Gave her a knife, three hundred dollars cash and a mumbled excuse. Like she cared what he did with his undead ass. He hadn't been the same since Buffy died anyway, and her list needed a four.
The big thing they lost was Sunnydale. No Slayer, too many suddenly bold demons and vampires and they fought and fought, so hard. That's when they started letting even Dawn come out with them -- after about the sixth time she followed them on patrol, anyway -- taught her how to hold a sword, how to duck and roll, how to push a stake home. All for nothing though because finally all they could do was run, the night half the town went up in flames. They have escaped to here, crowded little apartment two towns over. Right about the same time that Giles went to England, to talk the Council people into letting Faith out of jail, help for the Hellmouth. A year later and he's still not back. When Anya calls him he says he's still working on them, but mostly Dawn remembers the months after Buffy died, how he always smelled like alcohol and wouldn't look anybody in the eyes.
Today Tara is sitting on the couch braiding back Willow's hair when Dawn comes in from school. Willow looks up and beams, reaching toward Dawn.
"Kitty!" she cries, wriggling, and Dawn kisses her on the forehead before dumping her bookbag in the corner and curling up at the table with the text she was working on last night.
"How was school?" asks Tara, and Dawn shrugs without glancing away from the logogram she's looking up.
"Boring," she says. "Can I drop out?"
"Nope," answers Tara, like she does every time. Dawn probably would have anyway, if it weren't for the look Tara would give her. She hates this school, though, full of kids she doesn't know who stare at her and don't understand about anything. At least it's her senior year and soon she'll be done and free. She likes to imagine that she'll be out of here for good, then, take off for the East Coast or Europe or anywhere that's not this stupid little town way too close to so many memories.
Hard to say fuck off, though, to people who've been your family for the past years and years of fighting and dying. People who've stuck around, to take care of her, and Willow, the same way they all still go out patrolling and it's not so much because it's what Buffy would've wanted but because Xander says it's what Buffy would've wanted. Xander who looks at Willow like nothing in the world makes sense anymore, who pays half the rent, who still makes sunset visits to Sunnydale's graveyards to check for fledglings, if he can talk Anya, worried, into letting him.
Across the room Willow is babbling about green things, shiny things, with that perfect blend of intensity and exuberance that makes her sometimes sound so *close* to normal. Dawn can *almost* block it out, the constant reminders of her own incorporeality. Can tell herself it doesn't matter, when she can measure out the years of her actual existence in the marks on her body. A gash on her ribs from a Fyarl demon, scrape on her neck from the first time a vamp grabbed her, the thin line slicing across her mouth that made her cry for days, and oldest of all the faint knife marks on her arms, proof of her own reality. And for each of them a memory of Tara's fingers bandaging her, that concerned attentive frown.
Other things to ground Dawn: these ancient symbols ballpointed all over her hands. She's been teaching herself Sumerian, mostly because they need someone who knows these things and because it's more interesting than the crap they teach in school. She's got ideas, too, that maybe she'll figure out some way to help Willow, to start making things right again. Make Tara get that light in her eyes, the one that sparks when Willow is almost making sense. Except a tiny, selfish part of Dawn isn't in such a hurry to accomplish that part of her plans.
In the corner Willow is singing to her fingers, on the futon where she's been tucked in for a nap. This seems like a good day, no screaming, nothing broken, and Tara's face is clear when she wanders over to perch on the chair beside Dawn. Rests her elbows on the table and inspects the marks on Dawn's hands while she works.
"What's this one?" asks Tara, pointing. Dawn squints at it.
"That's, um ... ul," she says. "It means ancient. Here," she takes Tara's hand. "Let me show you."
Tara's hands are a spiderweb of scars, faint and shimmering lines traced across them from the spell that went wrong, the one she tried to fix Willow. Dawn remembers Xander clumsily bandaging them, right before they buried Buffy, how Tara couldn't stop crying and Dawn didn't think it had anything to do with the angry red lines glowing under her skin. Now, though, they're almost pretty, thin silvery patterns, and she's careful to press lightly on Tara's palm with her pen, tracing out the character.
When she's done, Tara smiles and tilts her head to look at it.
"Pretty," she says, and her skin is warm against Dawn's hand.
"Actually, yeah," says Dawn, suddenly very aware of her own pulse. "It also means beauty."
Tara's eyes flicker up to her, crooked smile frozen.
"Oh," she says softly, in a voice like things suddenly make sense. And Dawn doesn't trust her own voice to add anything else, so instead she lifts Tara's hand to her lips, presses a kiss to the drawing in the center of her palm. Eyes still on Tara's, which widen.
Dawn can feel Tara's scars against her own, tingling somehow, and Tara isn't saying anything or pulling away. And then Dawn's turning her head, leaning in, kissing Tara, warm and soft and sweet. Something excited and happy is bubbling up in her torso, feelings she hasn't had in a way way long time. Impossibly easy to forget all the scars and aches and ugliness when Tara's fingers are tangling in her hair like this. Finally, finally she pulls back, opens her eyes, looks at Tara.
"Dawn," she breathes, smiling, and the world falls away.
(feedback brings all the boys to the yard