The first time the escaping thing happens it’s an accident. Faith is tired of playing Older Sister to the seven newbie Slayers who have shown up that week and she ducks into the first room she can, saying she needs a nap. Only when she looks up does she notice that the room is occupied. “Oh. Um, shit. Sorry.”
She starts to leave when Dawn asks, “They still trying to impress you with their non-existent Jujitsu skillz?”
Faith can hear the stress on the “z.” She utterly fails not to smile. “You too?”
Dawn scoots up the bed. “Pull up some mattress. You’re safe in here.”
Faith has always kept herself safe—except when she was fucking that up. She almost refuses, except that Dawn has already gone back to the book she was reading, neither expecting anything nor being hesitant in her offer of asylum. Faith goes to sit on the edge of the bed and asks, “What’re you reading?”
“Trashy mystery. Wanna listen?”
Faith cocks her head. Dawn must take it as a yes, because she starts reading aloud. She’s in the middle of a paragraph, but she doesn’t dumb it down for Faith. Faith only takes a few pages to catch on.
The second time Faith finds herself in Dawn’s room, it’s because she can’t sleep. She says, “Hi.”
Dawn doesn’t even pause before asking, “Wanna know how the book ends?”
Faith nods her head and sits further up on the bed.
The hundredth time or so, when they’ve gotten so used to each other that if Dawn’s not in a reading mood, they’ll both just sit and do whatever it is they care to in silent companionship, Faith blurts out, “I learned to read in prison.”
Dawn nods. “I kinda figured. You were much more proficient at it when you came back.”
Faith feels the flush that comes up her neck, thankfully not onto her cheeks. “You noticed?”
“You came over to our house this once, and Buffy said to just pick anything from the pantry—“
“And after ten minutes, you came in and deliberated over every damn thing in there,” Faith remembers, catching on.
Dawn shrugs. “I wasn’t sure, then. Just thought maybe. But afterward, yeah.”
“I was pretty good at it, once they convinced me to learn.”
Dawn looks at her then. “Yeah, Faith. There’s a big difference between stupidity and illiteracy.”
“I never felt like it around your sister and Willow.”
“Buffy and Willow were raised with mothers who stressed education and gave them the support to pursue it. Not everyone gets so lucky. How many women were in that class with you, in the prison?”
“A lot. We always crowded in the room.”
Dawn nods. “It’s cool that you did that. I think it would be hard, to learn now.”
Faith shrugs at that. “I’m still not as good as you.”
“I suppose it’s good I like reading aloud to you, then.”
Faith hides her smile, but she suspects, just like that day in the pantry, that Dawn figures out what she’s concealing.
A week later, Faith walks past the kitchen. She then walks back, noticing several of the Slayers who have shown up at different stages, quite a few of them with bruises, or shoes that were falling apart, or other signs of broken or underprivileged home lives.
At the head of the table, Dawn’s holding a junior reader, going through some of the basics that Faith started with in prison. Faith stands in the doorway for a second, thinking she should go, leave them to the lesson, but seemingly unable to move.
Dawn looks up and smiles. “Hey. Wanna help?”
“I—I’m not sure—“
“It’d be good, having someone else to help in the one-on-ones.” Dawn’s look never wavers, and her eyes don’t betray a speck of disbelief that Faith can do this.
“Yeah, um. Sure. Sure,” Faith says, and comes to sit by her. Dawn sneaks a hand down to squeeze at Faith’s knee, even as she picks the lesson back up seamlessly.