She is *not* my sister.

I have to keep reminding myself of that every time I look at her. Every time I pick up a picture and see her snuggled next to me and Mom, like she's snuggled next to Mom on the couch now. They're watching some dumb old movie together, and laughing like they haven't got a care in the world.

I wish I could join them. But if I go in there, I'll have to pretend to laugh, too. And I can't.

I never thought the old days would look so good. Back when all I had to worry about was avoiding training sessions, endlessly dissecting my relationship with Angel, and keeping Xander, Willow and Dawn out of.... No. Keeping Xander and Willow out of trouble. Dawn wasn't real; she wasn't there. Right?

But I can see her in front of me -- right now and every time I close my eyes, a hundred thousand images of her. At every important moment of my life -- well, the ones not involving killing things, and even some of those -- she's there. Wound up so tightly in my life that I can't separate her with losing all these chunks of myself.

I can almost do it, if I close my eyes and concentrate really, really hard. In that trance state it would probably easier, to separate the real from the fake. I can tell myself she never met Angel, much less teased me about him for weeks and months on end. I can block out a couple million screaming matches, her stealing my curling iron the morning of my first day at Sunnydale High, the first time she saw Xander and the way her 11-year-old eyes went all wide. I can do that, if I try.

It's not like any of it's real.

But what about the time she cried until she was allowed to go ice skating, just like me, and I held her hands as we both wobbled our way around the rink? Or the first days after the Mayor died and Angel left, when she didn't hassle me once, just brought me endless cups of hot chocolate and told me bad elephant jokes to try to make me smile?

What about the day she was born, when I peeked over my father's arms at this little tiny person, and promised that I would be the best big sister in the world?

How can I give up those memories?

How can I live this horrible, twisted lie?

How could they do this to me?

When I became the Slayer, Merrick made a big deal of telling me that my powers were a gift, that my destiny was something special, something priceless. He was lying. Slaying isn't a gift, and it's not priceless. I'd sell it to any takers for $1.95. After tax, even.

But I took the destiny, and I did what The Powers That Be (formerly known as the Watcher Council) asked of me, and I think I've done what you'd call a pretty good job, all things being equal and if we leave out the part about Angel. What's that thing Xander likes to pop off with, about the reward for a job well done?

Oh, right. A harder job. Thanks a lot.

She looks so little and helpless, curled up against Mom, snuggled under the afghan our... *my* grandmother made before she died. No matter what kind of "energy" she is, what kind of power she has, she *is* helpless, and she needs my protection. I can accept that. They sent her to me because I'm the strongest, the most capable person they had access to. I can accept that, too.

I'm the Slayer, so I'll protect her. Not fun, but... accepted.

But you know the part I can't accept? The part that really sucks about all this?

I would have done it ANYWAY!

They didn't have to do this to my life, to my mom's life, to *her*! I would have taken care of Dawn, it would have been part of the job. You know, the whole defend the innocent, stop the evil thing? I would have kept her safe, all they had to do was *ask*!

But they *didn't* ask, and it's not part of the job anymore, it's not part of being the Slayer. Now it's part of being Buffy. Dawn's all mixed up in my life, as far back as I can remember, and it doesn't matter that someone put her there, shoved her in without even bothering to say 'Please' or 'Excuse me'. I can't lose her now without losing all these other parts of me, and I don't know how to give those up. Maybe I knew how to be an only child once -- but I don't remember. I just think it would be really peaceful.

And really lonely.

Oh god, how am I going to explain all of this to Giles? And Willow, who loves Dawn almost as much as I do? And Mom... no. I'm not even gonna *try* to explain to Mom about mysteriously appearing daughters, and energy forces and keys and dead guys in monk robes. She's had to handle enough without adding that to the load.

But how will she handle it if Dawn ever... has to leave? Which isn't unlikely, 'cause when the universe creates these hugely powerful, mystical "keys", they generally plan to use them eventually, and it ca be pretty hard on the key in question. Trust me, I know. When the thought makes *me* sick to my stomach, even knowing what I know.... what would losing Dawn do to Mom?

Or would she even know? If Dawn went away, would we get to keep the memories, or would they go away, too? Would we even want them?

I close my eyes and lean my head back against the wall. God, the one thing I do remember is when life used to be simple....

Looks like they're out of popcorn; Dawn almost runs me down coming around the corner to get more.

"God, you could tell people you're lurking," she tells me snottily, after she's done gasping and faking a heart attack.

"If you'd walk like a normal person, you wouldn't be running over people," I sneer back on reflex.

"Girls...." Mom sighs from the couch, and we look at each other guiltily, remembering our silent truce. No fighting until Mom is better.

"Um...." Dawn bites her lip, then looks at me. "Wanna watch with us? We're gonna put on 'The Parent Trap' next."

"Original or remake?"

"Remake. Mom wants to drool over Dennis Quaid."

I look at her and I try to see the thing that has been insinuated into my life. The responsibility that I *know* I never asked for, that I could never have wanted. I try to resent her, to distance myself from her, to not care. She's not real, after all; I should be able to look right through her.

But when I try, all I can see is Dawn. The long hair I used to brush for her, the face I rubbed snow into two Christmases ago, the rainbow jammies Dad gave her for her birthday last year that she groaned over because they were so childish and has worn almost every night since....

All I can see is my little sister.

"Sounds good." I grab the popcorn bowl before she can fight me off, and head for the kitchen. "But I'm making the popcorn and we're not making that weird corn-on-the-cob crap you like. Normal buttered popcorn."

"Oh, come on...." She starts whining, and I respond in a responsible, grown-up kind of way ("Because I'm older and I say so!") and somehow, we both survive to snuggle up on the couch next to Mom, so we can all drool over the Quaidmeister together. Quality bonding time for the Summers Women. Maybe I'll even let Dawn put her socky ol' feet in my lap, so she can stretch out over the whole couch. And maybe, if she's really nice, I'll share the afghan with her.

I'm going to have to deal with it eventually, I know that. But right now, Dawn's shirt is gapping open just enough in back that some popcorn could accidentally fall in with just a little help. And it's not like I don't have the right to do it.

She *is* my sister.



Beats me. Came out of nowhere, left the same way. It's weird, because I very, very rarely channel Buffy, and never at all past third season. But, here we are....