by Nex

Lorenz (1972)
THE BUTTERFLY THEORY: Chaos theory contends that complex and unpredictable results will occur in systems that are sensitive to small changes in their initial conditions. The most common example of this, known as the "Butterfly Effect," states that the flapping of a butterfly's wings in China could cause tiny atmospheric changes which over a period of time could lead to a hurricane in New York.

In the old days, cities were alive or dead if there were or were not people in them. It was that simple. But these aren't the old days. Cities don't die. They sleep. And in their sluggish imaginings and drowsy slumbers they remember how once it was or how it might have been.

Dawn reckons it's pretty much the same for houses. Or her house at least which has been smothered in so much magic, wriggling about the floorboards and sniggering, that really, it has to be a little bit different, a little bit special. Just like Dawn.

She imagines that in the future her and her house will be one of the interesting quirks that the historians write about in the textbooks. Maybe, a couple of centuries ago, it would have been forgotten completely because they didn't have computers then, not even typewriters and things took longer so they needed to prioritise. But in this day and age when Dawn can talk into a microphone and have every thought, every memory turned into a word, she's hoping for at least a small reference, even just the footnotes would do her.

Buffy gets sad when she comes over sometimes, chewing her lip over a house that used to spit and hiss so much at her, where every room was of that time or that place, that day or that thing. Buffy still doesn't get it when the door opens on her like a smile. But she will. Someday. Dawn's always been the clever one in the family and when time is so unreliable, she's the patient one too.

Or maybe the sadness is just because Buffy's got more that's then most people, especially Dawn. Because really, when it comes down to it, just how inventive are monks? These are men who live in complete solitude; browns, blacks, greys and more greys for years -- so how the hell could they make up fifteen years of a girl and make it alright with the universe? Just where did they get off thinking they could choke the throat of fate like that and what on earth made them think they could squeeze the butterfly back into a caterpillar? They were just monks, afterall, not Gods. So how could they avoid putting in any that's?

They'd have to have left out the that's. Wouldn't they? Dawn thinks. Because otherwise it's all so mucked up and if they didn't put in any, well -- then she's the one that's mucked up. But she's not, she's utterly, unfortunately sane and so yes, it is mucked up, totally. And it became that way the year that it changed, the year Buffy died, the year Dawn was born -- when free will came into play.

Back when she first found out what she was and started to think about time, stars, fate she wished they'd have made her with slightly bigger boobs, or better hair, and she wondered if monks were really so mean that they made her skinnier than a rod and with hair that had to be straightened and washed every morning otherwise it would look like a fuzz. But she couldn't just stop straightening it because than she'd have to give into the fact that the monks didn't know them, not at all. She wanted to forget about the fact that the insides of people are as stupid, illogical and unknowable as the sky at night, so when she actually lived rather than just echoed in everybody's heads -- that wasn't how she actually was. That wasn't how any of them were. So the monks got everything wrong, a lot. Like that time Dawn read Buffy's diary before they left for Sunnydale she'd have gone insane, not just forgiven her when Dawn gave a puppy dog face like the fake memory in her fake head told her had happened.

But then Buffy's not Buffy. Not really. Just like Xander's not Xander and Willow is notWillow who lives with notKennedy, who might not have even been Kennedy let alone notKennedy if it weren't for fifteen years of what if that and what if not that?

Because, Buffy made friends with Xander and Willow, not notXander and notWillow, she didn't ask notGiles to stay, she begged Giles to stay and he did, not notGiles though. And when she was notinlove, she wasn't notinlove with notSpike, she was notinlove with Spike who was the biggest not of all. But then that bathroom, became this doorway where the last time they were here Spike hesitated at the threshold half feeling an invisible barrier in front of him, feeling the lost words with a raised hand.

And in the not world when Buffy said, "Me and you, even without souls and fighting and all the other meant-to-be mortal enemies stuff, we can't get over the fact that time isn't as easy to ignore. I'll age and you won't, not really. You'll never be old, not like I'll be." Spike replied, "Well, I'll be older than all the dead ones in the world at least pet." And so in the not world, Buffy and Spike are.

Because of that Dawn loves them both like family even though time, and even they, don't acknowledge the bond. She loves them because they think time is an asshole just as much as she does. And that gives her hope, because if they can kick time in the shins, maybe she can too.

But sometimes, Dawn wishes to God Spike hadn't said atleast. Atleast this and atleast that, which sits between more or less. Because with time, with death and life, there's no sitting. None at all. All there is is change and Dawn changed it all. That's why all she needs is footnotes. All she needs now is atleast.

Just a little reference would be good, when people wondered who was the stranger that looked after the house and the hellmouth when it spat all the others out. The witches, the humans, the watchers and the Slayers. When the historians ask; Who the hell would want to stay there on the cusp of a hell dimension with the memory of everything that has been before? Or not as the case may be. It'll just say Dawn. Maybe it'll say nothing else about her is known, maybe that she was a friend, maybe it'll mention the colour of her hair. But just her name would be pretty good, she thinks, because now that she's become notDawn, or in her case neverDawn, and everyone else is instead of is not, eitherway (or just the one way) she's always Dawn.

And when they ask why on earth would she want to stay there? After everything that had happened in Sunnydale, who would want to just sit and wait and watch? Wouldn't she have to know something about the place? Just a smidge of history to be of any use? Well the answer is simple, she can stay there because she's never been there. Never at all.

But she knows this for certain. Places are thicker and harder than times, places are solid; dirt and bricks and they put up a fight. She knows the gang all feel guilty for leaving this place, sometimes at least. Even though they know how much of a fun time Sunnydale hadn't been, at least not near the end, there's still all that love and shouting pumping in their brains for the place. The fact is some things gnaw at you harder than any coincidental memory can.

Even then, that makes place tenuous, fragile. Because sometimes time flirts and winks at place and nudges it in the direction of the little blips in the throbbing souls that stay there. That's why the house had to get rid of the others, because they all stick in different places. Where to put Willow? In the biggest room of all with Tara curled at her side or on Xander's lap in the kitchen as her mother spills conflakes and milk fresh on the floor? And Spike, does Spike mutter to spirits in the basement or is he trying to snap Buffy's neck like a bird's wing by the porch? Is Buffy sleeping in the ground or sleeping in her bed? Fizzing with confusion the house gives up -- to hell with them all, and it throws the intruders out.

But then some nights, the house tries to spit her out too. As if it sometimes it remembers that just as much as it can't decide if the others should be here, it can't decide if Dawn should either. But to the house there's only one Dawn and that has it stumped.

On nights like that she hears the front door drift open. She knows that the whole house has simply leant itself ajar to let the latch free and glide the door wide open in a sigh. She goes to the top of the stairs and sees a creak of moonlight, fresh and new through the door. And the house as much says to her, here is the way you go, tread the cream, walk the milky new path out of this way and away, go, old one, new one go with your memories, come back with your memories. The sour-gum ghost of time is in your stomach. It will never be born. And because you cannot drop it, it will drop you. What are you waiting for?

And she replies I'm waiting for time to spit me back out you son of a bitch. I'm waiting for everything to unravel itself, or ravel itself, or whatever, to undo or do what has been done or undone. I'm waiting for that butterfly to shrivel back into its chrysalis and for the winds in central park to shut up. I'm waiting for everything to be normal, my normal. I'm waiting for myGiles, myWillow, myXander, mySpike. I'm waiting to get myBuffy back.

Dawn's familiar with several horrifying sensations -- sensations because the memories can be lying bastards sometimes. One is her mother dying, soft as cream but cutting sharp as glass all the same. The other is Buffy jumping through that portal instead of her and the days of shivery floating afterwards, the void, the disbelief. But the roughest sensation is the eye stinging grit of waking one morning after having been firmly in place, only to find herself rudely jutted out.

Was time just waiting? She wonders. To pay back the debt, balance the scales, kick her the hell out? Or was she always going to be out? She lived, Buffy died, the line weakened, the mouth opened and instead of swallowing Dawn it's chewing her and painfully, so painfully. These are the possibilities: either she was so much not, that she did not have an effect at all, or she did so much of that everything has eaten itself and all it spits out is never, didn't, not·· shouldn't.

But it did. And maybe that's all that matters. Eitherway she's going to make that maybe disappear, afterall she's got just as much right as any monk, otherwise how the hell does a girl live?

Dawn is the only one who is justDawn, and just what was needed to twist everything inside out, or outside in, she's never sure. And that gives her an edge. This time, she'll make time her bitch.

One night when Buffy comes to remember, to think, to atone or whatever it is she's doing when she comes and sits on the step and glares out at the warm blood darkness that is the centre of Sunnydale, she actually speaks to Dawn like she used to in Dawn's head.

She says she can't understand it. How down here it can be so vast, so empty when before it was so full, when it was everything to her. Dawn sits down beside her and bites back the urge to lean her head on Buffy's shoulder, to feel Buffy's pale hands stroking her hair.

"It's funny but in the house, even if I pull all the curtains, shut the doors, even if I close my eyes I still know that it's all gone. I can't kid myself in there, but out here·."

Buffy trails off and lays back on the porch staring up into the sky, Dawn lies next to her and hitches a breath when their knees bump. "They just don't care do they? If I breathe or don't breathe, live or die, if I do kill vampires, if I don't. They just don't care that it's all gone."

She's seized with the same old terrors, the old sense of beauty and the old silent crying that Dawn feels all the time. That time, space, death - it doesn't have a care for small humans lost in so much size.

"It's stupid but I just thought something would change you know? Earth got sucked into hell and back and good ol' Sunnydale was the only place that got left there. Like a Hey Buffy, thanks for sending earth back but we're gonna have to keep your home town for travel costs, okay?"

Buffy pulls a face that Dawn knows so well and somewhere there's a rumble of thunder as if the stars were fiercely gazing at them both. Inside her heart's going thud thud thud and she's half hating, half loving Buffy for knowing all this but not knowing that next to her is her little sister; lost, hurt, wandering, afraid, just trying to avoid the stab of time that threatens to pin her soul writhing against the backside of her flesh.

"I just thought that after everything I've done for this stupid world I might get you know- just a little pat on the back from whatever it is that's out there. Does that make me conceited? I don't know if that makes me conceited, I just feel like it can't all be for nothing."

Buffy looks at her with hot wet eyes, eyes that say I can talk to you, why the hell can I talk to you when I don't even know you? Her once sister fixes her with a shutterless and unblinking gaze and it feels so nice, to be fixed. And Dawn, a mystical shard of Buffy's flesh, stares back and winces just a little bit.

"Where do you come from Dawn? It's stupid but I can't remember where you said you come from." Buffy shakes her head and smiles uncertainly, looking a little frustrated but trying to push it back. Dawn knows the scholars are wrong; time, memories, you can push them back easy.

"All over, I'm from all over."

Buffy gives a little laugh like she knew all the time, chiding herself for being such an idiot. She found the lie so smooth, so true. "That's right, I remember now." Content, she looks away but grips Dawn's hand tight as if she's afraid the empty void will swallow her too.

"You're a Godsend, you know that right? No one knows this hellmouth like you do, no one could do what you do. Just wait here and watch. I know I couldn't."

Yes you could. Plenty of people could, Dawn thinks, but I'm the only one you'll trust. Because Buffy's made of guts, and Dawn's made of her guts. You can trust Dawn, they murmur, you can trust her because she's blood. Or is she? Is this the Buffy who made her flesh? Is this her Lazarus come undone, is this her life and her resurrection? Is she hers? Dawn can't decide whether this Buffy is not or is and so she sits, holding a stranger knowing only herself. Knowing that she is a pretty much just a fly caught in a web. She walks on a water of space. She stands upon a transparent flex of a great eye, and all about her as night on winter, beneath foot and above head, in all directions is nothing but emptiness, stars.

But she has a plan. She once read in one of her science textbooks, back when she had a life, time only changes, the universe only changes because it is expanding and that sooner or later for some reason or another it'll stop and the universe will reverse. Everything will fall together and be crushed in a big crunch, the universe will be closed and everything will go back.

Tomorrow she will wake up and look out the window with crossed fingers praying that the hellmouth will shrink, that the stars will move, that time will stop biting and give up the flesh. Give up her friends, give up the memory of her mother, give up Buffy. But what Buffy? What Buffy does she want? That one or this, her at her side or not her, which Buffy is Buffy, before or after?

Which Buffy is that Buffy? Which that is that? If she doesn't know who she's looking for how will she ever get them back? She can't even remember which one she wanted in the first place.

The memories, like the words, they just fall short.


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