They were finally left alone, the elder and younger members of the Hellmouth guardians. Sure, some of the SIT's were younger than Dawn and those with demonic backgrounds held many years over Giles but of the core players, both ends of the spectrum were represented by the remaining individuals sitting quietly in the Summers living room.
Everyone managed to busy themselves, seemed to know their place, understand their duties. Xander forever ran errands and helped reconstruct the often collapsing structure of the Summers household. Anya offered her expertise and associations with demon and beast alike. Willow wielded the mystical arts and labored to peaceably mend the never-ending rifts threatening to tear apart the remaining Scoobies and SIT's. There was Buffy, whose burden weighed too much for her to bear, making her outwardly wavering under the challenge thrust upon her. That's why she depended on him so much, why she felt she needed the soulful demon still haunting her heart. Spike was the wild card and everyone waited to see just who would put him into play, Buffy or The First.
And then there was Giles, a singular voice of reason and responsibility, risk and sacrifice. That's why Dawn needed to talk to him. She knew the time had come.
"Tea?" Dawn's soft voice broke the peaceful silence so rarely heard in recent times in the Slayer household. She waited for the Watcher to acknowledge her offering, taking in the absorbed expression donning his features as he examined another text. "Giles?"
"Hmm?" He responded with his usual distracted hum.
"I think it's break time. Your glasses are fogging over from brain activity overload," she smiled. "I want cocoa. You want tea? I'm going anyway so I might as well make you some."
Giles marked the page with a piece of scratch paper and pushed the book away with a gentle sigh. "That would be a welcome relief from this bloody unproductive research session. Thank you."
"Yep," Dawn nodded and stepped toward the kitchen, glancing back to see Giles remove his glasses and rub his fatigued eyes. He'd been working much to hard with little to no benefit to justify his actions. It had to be taking its toll on his morale. Dawn figured any little thing she could offer to help would be appreciated.
Giles smiled as Dawn returned with a tray of tea, cocoa and cookies, the contents of which surprised him. Keeping a well-stocked kitchen was near impossible with the imposing crowd overtaking the house every day.
"Where did you find these?" Giles asked as he took a cookie.
Dawn set the tray on table and took her cup of cocoa. "I have my own hidden stash. For special occasions." She dipped her cookie into the chocolaty liquid and bit into the mush that was created from the mixture.
"So...what makes this a special occasion?" Giles raised a curious brow as he poured some tea. "Let me guess, we finally have the house to ourselves? The bathroom is unoccupied for the first time in months?"
"Nope...it's just special... to me," she grinned shyly. She'd never told anyone about what this date meant to her, what it represented.
"Try me," Giles took a sip of tea and grimaced as the scorching fluid burned his lip. He decided to let it sit for the moment.
"It's silly," Dawn dismissed the suggestion with a subtle gesture of her hand.
"I could use silly right about now," Giles smiled, seeming genuinely interested. "Please, enlighten me."
"It's stupid...really. It's my anniversary," she mumbled and took another bite of cookie.
"Anniversary?" Giles brow creased with confusion.
"Totally guess-timating here...but based loosely on your journals..." Dawn glimpsed Giles stern expression and hesitantly continued on. "I figure I was created or materialized or whatever around three years ago. I don't know the exact date so I chose this date as the day... my kinda real birthday I guess." She watched Giles hardened features soften to kindly appreciation as a smile spread along his lips.
"I see," he tried another sip of tea. "This is certainly cause to celebrate. Happy birthday, Dawn." He held up his cup and she followed his lead, silently toasting the significance of the occasion.
"Thank you," they drank and she felt a little sense of relief. "I'm glad you didn't wig out. I thought you might think it's stupid or you would be mad at me for reading your journals."
"It isn't at all stupid. I think it's only fitting. I'll get back to you later about reading my journals," He snickered at her ingenuity.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to snoop into your personal stuff but had to know something. You guys haven't exactly been a fountain of info spillage," Dawn explained. "Didn't read it all. I skipped all the boring stuff... up to the parts about me. I stopped after Buffy's death. It hurt too much. Besides, you write so small and use big words. But I figured it out. Most of it," she took another cookie and continued bathing it in her cocoa.
"Most?" Giles eyes widened with the sudden realization of what information those pages held, all his thoughts and opinions, detailed descriptions of varied circumstances and possible actions to take to avoid the coming apocalypse.
Dawn saw his face pale with concern. "Giles...don't get all freaked on me. I understand," She insisted.
Giles swallowed nervously at her odd reaction. "Dawn. We didn't know who or what you...I mean I could never...would never..."
"Yes...you could," she grinned with understanding as she spoke. "And should. I mean it made sense then. What's one life in the balance of the end of the world?"
"Had Buffy not realized the alternative..." Giles eyes stared regretfully into the accepting eyes of the clever young lady. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" Dawn shook her head, wanting to reassure her troubled friend. "Giles, you were right. Buffy shouldn't have sacrificed herself. The world needed its Slayer. There wasn't any way of knowing if another would be called and Faith was locked away."
"It wasn't wrong... what Buffy did. I admit I felt that way at first but she did what she felt she had to do to protect you. She loves you so much."
"I didn't need protecting...the world did!" Dawn's voice cracked with emotion as she spoke. "Like it does now. You knew it then and you know it now."
"What I know is besides the point. I am not the Chosen One. It's not my place to act," Giles stood up flustered and began to pace, obviously uncomfortable with the conversation. "It's Buffy's duty to perform. I am only a tool to which she can turn."
"Oh come on. You are so much more than that, " Dawn said fervently.
He stopped for a moment with his back to her, avoiding looking on her. "You don't understand..." He whispered sorrowfully. "I intended to kill you. I was prepared... calculated the risks you see. With the pandemonium and confusion of the encounter against Glory, I knew I could take your life. Once the...the task was completed, I'd offer up my confession to a vengeful Slayer, willingly accepting any punishment she'd impart on me. I never dreamed that failing in my murderous plan would punish me well beyond anything Buffy could have fashioned for revenge." Giles turned to look at Dawn, expecting to see shock and horror at his admission. Instead, her kindly features expressed only empathy and understanding of his grief. "That is why I am so sorry, Dawn. I do love you with all the heart a father could, but I was willing to sacrifice you for this...this unworthy wasteland, this contemptible existence. You deserved better, and Buffy knew that."
"Buffy was blind.... is blind," Dawn stood up and took a step toward Giles. "You guys may not think I know what's going on. But I do, I listen, I see. There is danger here, a danger that shouldn't be here, a danger that can be avoided but she doesn't do anything about it. You see it, I see it, we all see it...except Buffy. We have potential Slayers to protect and Buffy isn't seeing things with her mind, she's feeling them with her heart. The world needs saving Giles. I'm not sure Buffy's the one to do it."
"I can't believe that..." Giles mumbled forlornly.
"You do. I can see it in your face every time you look into her eyes...every time you see her look into his."
"I will be here for Buffy...I will support her in her decisions..."
"But will she support you in yours?" Dawn knew she was wedging into areas of Buffy and Giles relationship she didn't understand. It wasn't her place to intrude. "I'm so rambling, forget it... I'm mental. It's just...I'm worried is all. Everyone has a job and I feel useless. I have way too much time to think about these things."
"No... you're right, Dawn. Buffy is struggling with many issues at the moment. But I have to hold onto hope...I must have confidence in her to see this through."
"That's why you're the Watcher," Dawn smiled admiringly at the man that had come to represent a solid, dependable father figure. She took another step towards him, unaware of her craving to just be closer to him.
"Perhaps," Giles felt the doubt within him but didn't want Dawn to see it. She didn't need to see weakness; she needed strength.
"I can't help but wonder, if you had...um, you know... took me outta the picture, where would we be now?"
"I honestly don't know," Giles bowed his head, contemplating the answer to her question. After an awkward silence he took a step towards her, closing the gap between them. "But I do know this..." he lifted his face and Dawn couldn't help but smile as his soothing emerald eyes looked down on her. "I thank the powers that be every day for the gift of your life and friendship."
Dawn felt a tear trickle down her cheek as Giles slipped a large hand around her shoulder and gently guided her into his arms, embracing her with his comforting strength and resolve.
"How do you do this? How do you make it through these things and still keep yourself together?" her muffled voice reverberated off his chest as she nuzzled into the consoling warmth of his sweater.
"It's what I do, I suppose," Giles gave her one last reassuring squeeze and pulled her away, wiping the tears from her eye with his thumb as he affectionately cupped her chin. "We'll get through this."
Dawn nodded uncertainly and wiped the remaining tears away, suddenly embarrassed by her show of emotion. She was bursting into tears much too often these days and it wasn't helping anyone.
"I don't believe you but keep on trying. Someday I might." She took up the tray of tea and cookies and headed towards the kitchen, pausing as she lifted her cocoa cup.
"Oh, and about not killing me..." Dawn looked back with an appreciative grin, "Thanks!"