Title: These Wounds Won’t Seem to Heal
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Walking Dead
Rating: I guess PG-13? No worse than was on the show. I’m really bad at guessing ratings for writing.
Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN. Characters from The Walking Dead are property of Image Comics, AMC, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, Frank Darabont, and anyone else that I might have forgotten.
Original story: “His Brains, Her Steel, Their Strength” by jedibuttercup
(The “I’ve Been Alone All Along” Remix)
There were whispers, rumours, of the tiny golden girl that would rescue people from herds of zombies, maybe stay for a meal or a night, once or twice staying as long as a week, before taking off again and disappearing ‘in search of the dawn’. She was the opposite of the boogeyman, the opposite of ghost stories whispered around campfires. She was a story of hope, a story of survival, told in hushed whispers to remind people that not all was lost yet, when it seemed hopeless they might still be rescued.
Dawn knew, statistically, that it probably wasn’t the same girl in each story. That some of them were going to be made up, and of the ones that were true, it was probably a handful of surviving Slayers, probably some normal girls as well that had stepped up after the apocalypse and learned how to be strong on their own.
But Dawn knew, emotionally, that the stories were about Buffy. Even if Buffy herself didn’t appear in them all, they were still about her, about her spirit. About her legend.
Now Dawn just needed to find her.
Dawn had been in Chicago when the outbreak had first hit. She’d had the damn bad luck — or maybe the damn good luck, she didn’t actually know anymore — to have come down with the flu, so she’d been holed up in her apartment for two weeks, sleeping and eating soup and feeling miserable and sorry for herself. By the time Dawn had realized that it was an actual apocalypse and not just Buffy freaking out on her voice mail again (look, Buffy freaked out the same amount whenever she didn’t hear from Dawn for more than a week, regardless of what was going on, it was well under way and Dawn’s options were pretty well limited to ‘get the hell out of Dodge’ and hope that she and Buffy would eventually land at the same safe house that the Slayer’s Council had set up, because there were a lot of them scattered across the world.
Getting out of Chicago was a lot easier said than done. She wound up having to steal her neighbor’s truck because her cute little Honda couldn’t get out of its parking space due to being blocked in by other cars, and she wasn’t about to try to push the cars out of the way, not when there were claw marks on the interior and blood smeared on the inside of the windows. Besides, it wasn’t like Dave was around to use it anymore; Dawn had gone door to door in her building to see if there was anyone still there that wanted to get out with her, and she’d had to kill a few of her neighbors in the process. Rekill. Kill again?
Things got muddy, okay.
Dawn said a quick thanks to Spike, wherever he might be now, for teaching her how to hotwire a car one of the times he’d been stuck babysitting her. It had taken a lot of wheedling to convince him, but it had come in handy the few times she’d needed the skill; even if it hadn’t come up very often over the years, the few times she’d needed it, she had really needed it. Dawn clicked her seatbelt into place, because if some zombies managed to get on the truck she’d be stopping suddenly and would like to not send herself through the windshield in the process.
Dawn finally got out of the city, white-knuckling her way through. She had to run a few zombies over, and there were more than a few harrowing moments, but, well, she survived and that was the main goal. Secondary goal was to try to reach someone from the council, anyone, even Andrew, but the cell phones were down and magic seemed to have gone, for lack of a better word, wonky, so she couldn’t use some of the other methods she normally would.
She should try to check Cleveland, it made the most sense, but that meant dealing with another city, one with a Hellmouth underneath it, and Dawn wasn’t a Slayer. Dawn didn’t have a Slayer with her. She didn’t have an unlimited supply of weapons. She just had herself, and the truck until it ran out of gas, unless she managed to siphon gas from other cars, but that … just seemed like a recipe for disaster.
Dawn had gone to college in Chicago because it was close enough to Cleveland to get there in an emergency, but far enough away that she could live her own life and not be in the shadow of her sister or who she’d been as a teenager. That decision was biting her in the ass, and now she wished she’d been with her family when the apocalypse hit.
No, south was the way to go. Keep moving, keep going south, check in at some of the safe houses, stay there if it was, you know, safe, keep moving if it wasn’t. There was a plan for this (mostly because there was a plan for everything), and Dawn needed to stick to the plan.
It would be a lot easier to stick to the plan if there were someone with her.
Dawn kept moving. When the gas on the truck ran out, she started walking. She had her sword and her crossbow, and she learned how to whittle replacement bolts with the knife Xander had given her for her birthday. Wooded areas were the easiest, because zombies weren’t fast, weren’t smart, and couldn’t climb. They were slow and relentless, they were inescapable death, but humans used to hunt by chasing their prey until their prey dropped of exhaustion. Dawn did her best to not attract zombies, and dispatched the ones she did as swiftly as she could. She slept in trees at night, she walked carefully during the day to be as quiet as she could.
And she avoided people because she’d learned already that travelling with people would just get you killed. Either you’d risk yourself to save them or you’d let your guard down and feel safe, or they’d do something stupid. It was easier to be on her own.
It was safer to be on her own.
Oh, sure, sometimes she’d fall in with a group and eat with them before heading her own way. It’s how she started hearing the stories. But she always went her own way, sometimes circling around for hours to make sure that they weren’t following her.
Buffy, she was sure, was loaded for bear and still looked freaking amazing because Buffy always looked great. Buffy had probably gathered a group together and set herself up as the protector. Buffy had adapted to this new life the same way she’d adapted to being the Slayer.
Buffy always adapted, and Dawn always felt like the ugly duckling next to her sister, not quite fitting in, not quite able to keep up. Dawn had found her niche in languages and school, but that hadn’t seemed like important things. Dawn was bristly and sometimes a brat, and Buffy was … Buffy was likable, Buffy made friends easily. Buffy was good at all the things Dawn had wanted to be, cute and athletic, winning skating contests when she was younger while Dawn had spent her childhood with scraped knees and hands because she was constantly tripping on herself and other people.
So Dawn had no doubt that Buffy was succeeding in this new world the way she’d succeeded in the old one. Better, even, since the things Buffy was good at was necessary for this new life, and the things Dawn was good at … didn’t really translate well.
But Dawn kept moving. She might not be naturally good at this, but she could learn. She got better at making crossbow bolts. She got better at shooting with the crossbow to begin with. She got better at not drawing zombies’ attention, and killing them when she did. She got better and she learned and she kept going, she kept moving, because she was going to find her sister.
Of course, when she did find Buffy, Buffy was making goo-goo eyes at a scruffy guy with a crossbow that put Dawn’s own to shame.
Dawn couldn’t really judge on the scruffy; most people were scruffy now, after all. Dawn was acutely aware of how long it had been since she’d taken a real shower, because of course Buffy was clean even if wearing very non-Buffy-like clothes. Buffy wasn’t really one for floral shirts, but this one suited her. Dawn was wearing a tank top and jeans that had seen better days, a flannel shirt thrown over to protect her arms, and solid boots that she’d pilfered from an army surplus store that had been raided before she got there for the guns and ammo but not the women’s boots.
Dawn heard Buffy before she saw her, freezing at the sound of her voice and spending several long moments trying to decide if she was really hearing Buffy or if her mind was playing tricks on her. It wasn’t the first time she’d thought she’d heard Buffy, after all. She’d decided to brave a deserted town to see if there were supplies that she could replenish, and had been surprised to hear actual people talking, and even more surprised when she’d gotten close enough to really hear.
But, no, it was actually Buffy, and Dawn … Dawn didn’t know how to handle it.
She didn’t actually know how long it had been since the zombie apocalypse had started, because she’d lost track of time. But however long it had been, she’d spent it looking for Buffy, avoiding people when possible, and avoiding zombies as much as she could and killing the ones she couldn’t. She’d watched people die that she couldn’t save, she’d walked away from people that she knew would probably die without help, and if Dawn had stayed to help she’d have died, too, but maybe she could have made a difference and she’d chosen herself.
She’d chosen herself every time.
Listening to Buffy speak, Buffy had been killing zombies, and Dawn didn’t think she’d been doing much else.
Dawn’s people skills were rusty. She felt like a feral cat, wanting to come inside in the snowy winter, but not really sure how to go about it or if it was even the best thing to do.
This should be easy. It was Buffy. All Dawn had to do was say Buffy’s name, get her attention, and Buffy would be glad to see her and give her a big hug. There would be tears and ‘look at you’s and ‘I was so worried about you’s and more hugs. All she had to do was say something. Anything.
Instead, Dawn froze.
Dawn froze and couldn’t make herself do anything while Buffy and Scruffy Boy walked away, presumably back to the camp that Buffy had found.
Maybe tomorrow. Maybe Dawn would be able to talk to Buffy tomorrow.
Maybe tomorrow Dawn wouldn’t feel like she’d let Buffy down.