Dawn in Rome Part Deux.
Most of this property of Joss Whedon, except for what belongs to Alan Ball, to whom thanks for Six Feet Under.
Slash, and nameless narcissistic perversity.
Thanks to various people, especially Jen, for on the spot beta-ing.
Hanging with Kennedy has all sorts of plus points.
Apart from the whole ' is she trying to seduce me, and do I want her to be' side of things?
Which is not a minus, not exactly.
The thing is, she pays attention to me.
It's sweet, and it's kind of gallant.
I mean, I'm Buffy's kid sister and everyone's super-nice to me, and, in research mode, everyone listens to what I say. But they don't listen to me, just to what I say.
Kennedy, though. Well, maybe it's the cute bod and maybe I'm just another possible notch on some antique bedpost somewhere, but that's not how it feels.
Every time I catch her looking at me, she seems glad to see me.
There's this smile she does, like she is the smartest person in the world to have thought of looking at me just at that moment when the view was perfect.
Also, she knows this city really well, and I thought I'd got it sussed in all sorts of ways.
But not like her.
She keeps dragging me into cafes and saying you have to try this pastry here, the almondy one, or this particular sort of ham and cheese toasty which they get absolutely right here. And she is usually right, but she has Slayer metabolism to burn off all the extra special tasty carbs.
She spent years here when she was a kid, turns out.
We'll be walking down a street and she'll duck into a back alley and shout to me to join her.
I'm used to that meaning slayage or emergency, but with her it's thirty seconds of lecture on some guy who was stabbed there in the Renaissance.
It's all 'Cola di Rienzi set up his standard here' or 'Caravaggio fought a duel here'; it's like we are in a geek competition that I didn't even enter.
'Slow down,' I say to her. 'I've done enough sights today, and eaten enough snacks in neat little bars. I want to go home and lie down, by myself, in a dark room.'
Because it is Rome, in late Spring, and I am hot and tired and there is no shade anywhere.
'But I've got' she says 'to show you this amazing church with a statue of St. Theresa being shagged by God.'
'Hey,' I say,' now that does sound interesting, as a concept at least, but we don't have to see everything today, or tomorrow. I'm not going anywhere. We're just hanging.'
'It's how I do Rome,' she says.
'No,' - I make a wild guess -'it's how your parents or whoever they hired to do Rome, do Rome. We don't have to; we won't win prizes for it. You already learned it; I can learn it from you at my own speed. Just saying.'
Kennedy looks sullen at me.
'You don't understand,' she says. 'It's this whole thing of being expected to be the best thing ever. I'm their kid, so I have to be special. So I'd get a good husband and give them good grandchildren. And when they found out I was a Potential, that meant probably no grandchildren - so it all got transferred into wanting me to be Superslayer. I had tutors before and now I had them for a whole bunch more subjects and my father would see me once a week and review my progress in demon languages or swordplay and offer treats if I did better.'
'Well,' I say, 'you are a Slayer now. And maybe one day you'll be as good as my sister, or Faith. But it's a job, not a competition. I was around when it got to be a competition before, and that really really sucked. I really like you as you are, so relax already.'
She smiles and pounces a kiss onto my lips, and grabs my butt. Which is tingly, in a good way.
'I love taking orders from you, Dawn.'
'And that's what it is,' I say. 'About the whole over-achieving thing. You treat being a dyke just the same way. Just relax. I know you want me and I just don't know.'
She starts to speak, and then thinks better of it.
'You won't get me by chasing, or by kissing me, nice as that was, just by waiting and seeing. No, I don't know what I want; when I know what I want, I'll tell you. So just wait and hang.'
She does that face again. The Faith face.
'Enough,' I say.
She smiles again.
'You said you might,' she says. 'You actually didn't say no.'
And she does cartwheels, five of them, in the middle of the street.. And jumps six feet in the air at the end of them..
It's her showing off, I guess, but I think it's cute. Especially because she is showing off just for me.
I can see how she bulldozed Willow into an affair, now those eyes are turned on me.
Obviously different, of course, we're just friends. Who hang.
Denial is so my friend here. Like I said another time to my sister, hey, I watch and learn.
And, like the woman said, tomorrow is another day...
Except that, when tomorrow comes, Kennedy has toothache. I didn't think that even happened, but apparently wisdom teeth aren't covered by Slayer Healing Power. Who knew?
I head off to the library, watching out for Vespas, because I do learn from experience. And I stop off on the way for a coffee in one of those little bars of Kennedy's.
Only watching for Vespas occupies the part of my brain that should have been watching for huge black Mercedes with smoked glass windows. And men with dark glasses and big guns.
These have not figured in my life, as a general rule.
'Get in the car', one of them says. 'This does not have to be anything more than business.'
Only he says it with an Italian accent, of course. Which means he thinks I only speak English. Which is insulting, but possibly useful.
'We won't harm you,' he says. 'We really love your work.'
So maybe this is a translation gig or something - I heard things like this happen to Wesley all the time. Except love is an awfully strong term.
Only when I am sat down on an expensive pink leather back seat between these two goons with guns and muscles, one of them passes me a cd and a pen and asks me to sign it for his kid brother. And that's spooky, because there is a photograph of me on the album, only with really silly highlights in my hair.
Why don't I think saying 'Guys, you've made a mistake' would be a good idea?
So I look cold and hard and say 'If this is business, you stand in line like the rest of my fans. At a signing. In a record store.'
Because people always understand the language of respect.
And they go, 'Of course signorina. We understand, signorina.'
And I glare at them from over the top of my shades, and hug myself inside.
They are going to be in so much trouble when Buffy finds out. And Kennedy, of course.
We drive round and round the streets of Rome and they keep playing the same record. Obviously they are huge fans and this is as much a fan thing as big crime, because it's very loud pop that no- one would listen to more than once if they weren't a fan, or, like, twelve.
They also keep pulling out cell-phones and looking at them expectantly.
When the cell phone of the guy on my left finally rings, the guy driving jumps so hard he swerves and only just misses hitting a bus.
'I don't do my best work with whiplash', I say.
It's not just Buffy I watch - recently I've been practising channeling pre-saint Cordelia.
Someone is shouting down the phone at left-side guy, and he is mumbling apologetically.
Irritatingly, I discover that, while I speak Italian, these guys talk some dialect in which I can only make out one word in three. So something with a lawyer, and something with an exchange, and something with a witch - or the lawyer is a witch.
The guy finishes his call with a lot of Scusis, and perdonos, and then he turns round and looks at me with the sort of look I've really never liked from store detectives and teachers.
That 'I'm very disappointed in you' look.
'So,' he says with that slownes and careful separation of words they obviously learn in Villain School, 'Miss Summers.'
The jig, I realise, is up.
'Hey,' I say, 'you abducted me. You didn't ask for ID or anything.'
He laughs. Not amusedly.
'As it happens,' - he goes all suave- 'we are not the only kidnappers who made a mistake this morning.'
That so doesn't sound good.
'It is so hard to kidnap people who change their routine,' he confides. 'Just our luck that we picked the day when you go to the trendiest bar in Rome for coffee and Celeste decides to go for her audience with His Holiness. People should be where they are supposed to be.'
'We've ended up with some teenage occultist,' he says to his companions in a version of Italian I can more or less follow, ' and a consortium of demons has Celeste.'
'Oh no,' says the guy on my right. 'They haven't hurt her, have they?'
The air of concern in his voice is kind of sweet, for a gangster.
'No,' left-hand guy says ' apparently the lawyer bitch rang their principals first and they hadn't even strapped her to the table. Which is lucky, given they were using Fyarrls.'
At this point, there is no point pretending not to understand.
'If you're going to hand me over to the retarded snotty minions of demon blood cults,' I say, 'you do need to remember that my sister is the Slayer and she'll take it kind of personally.'
'No, Miss Summers,' he says in what is meant to be a reassuring tone. 'Apparently the demons have been told to hand Celeste over to the lawyers, and we have to do the same to you. They have jurisdiction over the demons, and they also, it seems, have a claim on you. So both sides lose and the lawyers win, as usual.'
'You couldn't just, like, let me go.'
'No, Miss Summers', he says. 'That would not be a good idea. The lawyers will work something out. The demons will be allowed to leave town more or less unharmed, and not come back for a century or so. We will just have to think of some other way to meet Celeste. Ah well, the ransom money would have been useful. Maybe the lawyers will give us a percentage.'
Right hand guy says something guttural in dialect, which I interpret easily as meaning 'Yeah, right'. Sometimes you just get the rhythm of what people are saying.
Lawyer bitch may or may not be a witch, but she is really odd.
She is all clasp me into the swell of her enormous boobs and 'What must you think of us in Rome, Dawnie, carissima?' and is definitely copping a feel at the same time.
'We are such bad hosts - we leave you and your sister to play incognito and then things happen when we are not protecting you - such distinguished guests.'
'I'm sure your other guest is even more important', I say. 'Or at least worth more.'
'Huh,' she says and tosses her hair like she was slinging a rope with a grapnel on it. I speak as one who has watched ropes with grapnels slung reasonably often.
Her breasts wobble menacingly inside some very classy engineering - how is that even possible? 'She is - a popular singer - ' this gets said in a voice that suddenly sounds like lemons and ice and C sharp -' and you are what is left of the Key. No comparison at all. We will not speak of this further.'
She seizes me by the shoulder and I realize that she is all steel cable under the lushness, and she marches me through a series of vast rooms into a small room with a couch, a bar, some plates of cold meat and salad, and a very annoyed looking girl who looks like me, only with those silly highlights.
'Ilona...!' the girl starts in a high-pitched whine that is really so unbecoming.
'Isn't this nice?' the lawyer says. 'You girls can have a nice chat while I sort out what we are going to do with you.'
And suddenly I am in the room, and she is outside the door and there is the click of several locks turning securely at once.
'So,' says the girl, patting the couch next to where she is sitting 'I gather you get kidnapped a lot. How's this one stacking up for you? It's my first time and so far, it doesn't count as fun.'
'I'm Dawn,' I say sitting down next to her. The couch is strangely soft and I find myself sinking several inches into it, like the early stages of being eaten, but in a good way.. 'Dawn Summers.'
'I know that, everyone kept going on about you, but what I don't understand is why everyone seems to think you are more important than I am. I mean, my album went platinum last week and you'd think that would count for something.'
'Wow,' I say with a cheesy smile because I've always found you have to get on with people you're sharing a cell with. 'That's really umm. good. I heard your album in the car; my kidnappers are like your biggest fans.'
'And that's another thing,' she says. 'My kidnappers were wearing Armani, I could feel the weave, and I was mostly blindfolded, but what I saw of them was kind of weird. Like they were a funny shape and had horns and spines and things.'
We are going to have that conversation, I realize.
'OK,' I say. 'Here's the thing. There are demons and vampires and monsters out there, in secret.'
'Well, duhhh,' she says, ' I sort of got that. Already.'
'My sister and her friends fight them, and save the world. A lot.'
'So you're superheroes, right?'
I suspect her of humouring me.
'No, my sister is. And her best friends. Many of whom live with us in, like, this vast floating international commune of slayage and magic. But I'm just a girl. With no highlights in my hair. And no platinum disc.'
' Well, ' she says, 'lots of people don't have platinum discs. '
She is trying to be consoling, and niceness really doesn't suit her because she sucks at it.
'And you're the Key?', she says.
'Well,' I say, 'here's the thing. Apparently I used to be a primordial sphere of green energy that's a gateway between dimensions. But that was a while ago. Just no-one ever lets me forget it.'
'And why do you look like me?' she says. 'Only with hair no stylist has ever touched, which is nice enough in its way, I suppose.'
'Now that,' I say, ' is a mystery to me. The monks who created me were trying to make me look a bit like my sister, is all I ever knew. This was several years ago, so you weren't a famous pop singer then.'
'I used to be in a soap,' she says 'Maybe the monks watched it. I used to get a lot of fanmail from shutins.'
'That must be it,' I say , like I even remotely care.
'So,' she says, ' this losing your powers thing - was that some loss of virginity deal or something? That always strikes me as so unfair.'
'I never had any powers,' I say. 'And come to that...'
'Boy, your life sucks,' she says.
We seem to have exhausted topics of conversation and spend several minutes looking at the room's unappealing corporate decor and not being the first to go and eat any of the highly fattening food laid out for us.
Then she says, 'So you're still a virgin. That a matter of principle or just not getting laid?'
'When I meet cute boys,' I say, 'they usually turn out to be dead. And wanting me to join them. So I end up dusting them, or my sister does it for me. She's the only one in our family allowed to date the undead.'
'I'm sensing a lot of hostility,' she says. 'Not all of it aimed at me.'
'Oh,' I say. 'I'm sorry. Are we supposed to get along just because we're each other's not evil twin?'
'Well,' she says, 'most people who know me, don't like me. So it kind of stands to reason I wouldn't like myself, locked in a room. Must say, though, I find myself appreciating my own hotness more sitting next to me on a sofa.'
And she reaches out and runs her index finger down my cheek.
'It's softer when you're not feeling it from the inside,' she says.
I move several inches away, but don't actually get off the sofa. This is very disturbing.
'Oh come on,' she says. 'Don't tell me that the idea isn't crossing your mind. We're locked in a room for god no how many hours, and that sadistic Italian bitch has left us with enough food to make us go up two dress sizes overnight. We've got to do something to fill in the time, and distract us from high-fat mayo and salami and prosciutto and mozzarella and breaded veal and...'
Her lips are moistening in a way that wasn't even slightly sexual. She can only have been here a hour or so longer than me, but the sight of all that food is getting to her. Obviously I don't appreciate the pressures of being a famous pop star I'd never heard of.
'I've got a show to do in three days time,' she says. 'So I have to look my best. People work for me - I have responsibilities.'
'So,' I say, 'you want to do me as an alternative to pigging out. Some of us have self-control instead.'
'Some virgins,' she says with serious snark in the emphasis she puts on the word, ' would give anything to give it up to a famous rock star.'
'Oh, perlease,' I say. 'Where I come from, pop diva ain't the same thing as rock star. And my crushes tend to be on people who actually do something.'
'Well, pardon me,' she says. 'But last time I looked, none of them was actually in this room, now. So what's her name?'
'The girl you're crushing on?'
'I didn't say I was crushing on anyone.'
'I spend my working life playing crowds,' she says. 'And you can't do that without being able to read people. Plus, I know my own tells and how I cover for them. You're an open book to me, sweetie.'
I really don't like her, but the odd thing is, the more I know how much I don't like her, the more I am noticing her as kind of hot as well as being, well, me.
Thing is, I have issues, body issues. Comes of knowing someone made me up and wishing they had done a better job; comes of living in a household full of highly trained fighting machines without a spare ounce on them anywhere; comes of being the gangly beanpole dork sister of little miss perfect, and having little miss only-slightly-less-perfect macking on me.
But, Celeste? I look at her and I see that gangly can be coltish, which is a word Giles once used about me when he had been drinking, and which I always treasured because, damn, he may be way old, but he has taste and experience on his side. And hair I always thought of as mousy and kind of bleahh - on her it's subtle, except for the highlights which I still think are silly. I've always thought my face had character, which is a way of saying I'll never be glamourous but someone might want to do me for my mind - looking into her amused hungry eyes, I suddenly see that people might actually get lust for me.
Which is very strange.
And suddenly I realize that I might actually do this. Not because she is some allegedly big star, or because I like her, but just because it would be a very cool thing to do.
For my first time.
For days I've been getting my head round the idea that my first was going to be Kennedy rather than some notional cute boy I've yet to meet. And suddenly I'm getting excited over the idea of its not being Kennedy, of its being someone I don't really know, and never met before, and really don't like very much, simply because how hard can it be to make love to yourself.
After all, in the more usual sense, that's something I've been doing for years.
Also, if the thing with Kennedy is going to have a chance of working, maybe she shouldn't be my first, because I don't want to give her that much power, or that sense of getting to guide me round the turns.
And I am clearly so transparent, because Celeste doesn't say anything more, but puts her finger back on my cheek and kisses me on the lips, quite straightforwardly. It's one of the best kisses ever just because I wasn't expecting it to be simple. I was thinking of the sort of special kiss that pop stars give each other on award ceremonies, rather than the sort of kiss I've been giving boys, and cute friends, since I was nine.
And somehow I find myself relaxing into it with a slight shudder, because it takes my defenses down. I open my mouth and her tongue darts in, so not as innocent a kiss as all that. I'll show her, and my tongue slides all over hers and follows it back up between her lips. And I press my lips far harder on hers, because this isn't about her getting to be in control. Or me come to that. It's about sex, the thing itself, not games.
We're really going to do this, I think, and there's yay me going in there and also a touch of terror that gets sat on, and bubbles under gently in a way that helps the urgency of pulling back a second, and shucking off my top, and kicking off my flip-flops, and somehow getting out of my jeans in a hurry without getting either of my legs caught up and falling off the sofa.
And she's managing the same, and it looks better on her as she does it, which is only because she has more practice, not because I am some sort of enormous klutz and she is going to have second thoughts.
And here I am, naked with my mirror-self and thank god! she hasn't had any work done, because I don't think I could cope with that. On other women, maybe, because I always noticed Tara. and thought, nice!, but not on my body, where they so wouldn't belong.
And she leans over and kisses me again, only on my stomach, just below my breast-bone, and I guess she knows that is one of my places, so I guess that if I run a little finger lightly over the flat surface bit on the inside of her upper ear, I will give her the tingle in the sole of her left foot and the soft burn in the pit of her stomach and oh yes! my hand is on the small of her back and I know that sheen of sweat so well and we haven't even done anything much yet, so I pull back again and we sort of angle ourselves round and that must be what I look like there, which I never did with a mirror, but it looks just how it feels to the touch and sort of neat and a sheen there, not of sweat, but it tastes as salt and sweet as the sweat on my finger from her back and I bring the finger and the wetness together and trail them around together and she is doing something that is probably the same because it feels so good and my lips go onto her and she tastes like heaven and things are opening in me that I didn't know were even locked and my breathing is short and spasms and never quite as good at this before and this is what the fuss is all about and then it dies away a moment and comes back better and then I can't bear it any more and my mind goes blank for a wonderful long second of time.
And I swivel round so that I am looking into her eyes and they are my eyes and I see there what I hope is in mine. Which is a sort of contentment and a sort of naughtiness and a sort of wanting to see if we can do this again.
And suddenly there is a meaningful cough from the door.
And that overstuffed Italian bitch is there, with Andrew, oh god, of all people. Plus some large guy in a suit who looks like a corporate thug and has a headset, so probably Celeste's security.
And Andrew says, 'Umm, which of you is Dawn?'
And I look at him. It doesn't particularly occur to me to be embarrassed because I feel so good, if mussed, and hey, it's someone I've seen tied up and bleeding.
He says, 'Dawn, it's OK. You're safe now.'
And I look at Celeste and say ' See you around kiddo' and she is saying exactly the same thing to me at the same time.
Which is kind of sweet, but also kind of final.
More later on other topics.