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When Dawn Is Due

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Dawn Summers was alone in the house when she cast the spell. She asked for no help this time; she wanted no witnesses -- just in case it didn't work. Dawn spent most of her time alone these days, and had since Tara had moved out; she didn't like being alone, but she was getting used to it. Her elder sister spent her nights patrolling -- her duty as the Slayer, of course; Dawn understood that. But Willow left the house almost as soon as the door closed behind Buffy, and that really hurt, especially since Will was spending all her time with Amy the ex-Rat. Dawn didn't like Amy; she was obviously not quite right to begin with, but when she had realized her memories of Dawn were false, she had banished them and thereafter treated Dawn as if she didn't exist.

Amy's dismissal rankled. Dawn might have begun life as a glowing ball of mystical energy, but great sacrifices had been made to make her life real and keep it that way. At least she hadn't spent the last few years as a rat.

But wanting no witnesses was only part of the reason that Dawn had locked the door behind Willow and retreated to her bedroom lugging an armload of items from the kitchen, now spread on her bed along with the stash of rose quartz pieces and peacock feathers she had...acquired from The Magic Box. The other part had to do with how much she missed Tara and how much she loved the idea of Tara and Willow together. They belonged together and she would make them see that.

The spell to reunite quarreling lovers wasn't nearly as complicated as the one she had cast to draw her mother back from the dead -- and that one had technically worked -- so she was confident that she could pull it off. She turned off the overhead light, lit a candle, and began. A chant and a chunk of rose quartz charged with magic, a few passes with a peacock feather, and Dawn could see a faint pink light; with a gesture, she directed it upwards, intoning the final lines of the spell. "Fiat!" she cried as the light passed through her bedroom ceiling and on its way to draw Tara and Willow back together.

Dawn blew out the candle, turned on the light and began to tidy her room, secreting the rose quartz and peacock feather in the bottom drawer of her dresser. With a glance at the clock, she drew out the blank book she used to record her magical efforts. Tomorrow was a school day, but Tara had taught her to write down spells she cast as soon as she was finished, before the details began to fade. She expected the spell to work by drawing Tara back home to Willow, but that probably wouldn't happen tonight. Maybe tomorrow. She wriggled with happiness at the thought of having dinner tomorrow evening with Buffy and Willow and Tara. As it should be.

~*~*~

Thursday night was Movie Night at Xander and Anya's place, and this week, it was Tara's turn to pick. Steering clear of anything romantic, she had chosen Back to the Future. Although she loved fantasy films, it was safer to watch science fiction or chick flicks with Anya around; the former demon made a habit of dissecting the depictions of magic in movies in such a way that was neither funny nor fun. The only time they had watched Legend together -- a movie for which both she and Willow had a soft spot -- Anya had infuriated Willow with her descriptions of real unicorns and goblins, and by laughing hysterically as Darkness seduced Lily. "He looks just like Uncle Jerry," she'd gasped. Tara had been far less annoyed than Willow, but unlike Willow, who would have tried to get Anya to see what she saw in the film, Tara -- in collusion with Xander -- just chose something else. Since Anya was pretty fuzzy about math (except where it related to money), physics and human interactions, they watched a lot of sci fi, weepies, and action flicks.

Marty was onstage playing "Earth Angel" with the Starlighters, just before the climactic moment when George kissed Lorraine, when Tara smelled jasmine in the air and felt the presence of magic. She glanced over at her friends, but their attention was on the screen, Anya curled up against Xander whose arm was draped over her shoulder. Not long ago, she and Willow would have been curled up like that. She blinked, thinking at first that the pink sparks were from tears, but as they curved toward her, she recognized the love spell. Tears became anger and she moved her hand, flicking the sparks away. The thwarted spell energy flew out the window.

Onscreen, Marty was beginning to play "Johnny B Good," but Tara's attention was no longer on the movie. While not as powerful as Willow (who was, really?), she was easily skilled enough to trace the magic back to its originator. She expected Willow to have cast the spell; to find that it was Dawnie surprised her.

She sighed. She'd have to have a talk with Dawn about love spells, because no one else would. Willow would only be chagrined that she hadn't thought of it first.

~*~*~

Spike leaned on an elbow and gazed at his bed companion. The Slayer's face lost none of its accustomed beauty in sleep -- unlike other women he'd known -- but without the marks of her cares, her extreme youth was revealed. He'd been older than she was now when he had died. He found his mind running into unaccustomed channels, trying to fit words together into pleasing patterns, trying to match rhythm and meter; it annoyed him almost as much as the fact that he -- he of all people! -- had broken into song that night. But he'd been unable to help himself, and now Buffy knew for certain how he felt. He had to admit, though, it'd been a good song.

He'd been around the block once or twice; he wasn't a fool. He knew she was using him, but how could he help himself? He had wanted her for so long; if this was all he could get from her, well, he'd take it and be content.

"Stop staring at me," she said without opening her eyes, and he knew the moment was lost. "What time is it?"

"Getting near dawn," he answered.

She groaned. "I left Dawn alone all night."

"But Willow -- "

"Willow has been spending all her time elsewhere," Buffy said acidly. "I've seen her out with Amy. It's not like I can get Dawn a babysitter every night."

"She's plenty old enough to take care of herself, luv," Spike said. "She knows about talking to strangers and inviting scary nasty creatures into the house. She'll be all right."

"I'd've thought so, before Halloween," Buffy answered. She sighed and got out of bed, collecting her clothing from the various corners of the room, while managing to avoid looking in Spike's direction. She held her torn blouse in front of her. "I won't be wearing this again. Good thing I have a jacket."

"You look good without it." Spike leered. Buffy threw him a look that was not hard to interpret, and finished dressing. She left him without a word, but Spike was getting used to that. She'd be back.

~*~*~

Dawn spent Friday on tenterhooks, positive that Tara and Willow would already have made up by the time she got home from school, so at first she couldn't understand why the house was echoingly empty when she opened the front door. Two notes were propped on the dining room table; the second, newer one was from Willow; she wouldn't be home this evening. The older one, partially blocked by Willow's note, was from Buffy. She was working a double shift -- "Double shift at the Doublemeat," Dawn said not quite whimsically -- and patrolling afterward, so she would not be home until very late.

Dawn sighed and put the notes down. She had to be the only fifteen-year-old in Sunnydale who had complete freedom to do whatever she wanted, with no parents looking over her shoulder, and she was completely miserable. Maybe she could call her dad and pick a fight with him.

She went into the kitchen to see what she could cook for her lonely dinner.

~*~*~

Buffy hung her apron and visor on a peg with a sigh. Her feet hurt. She supposed she should go home and shower before going out on patrol, otherwise the nasties would smell her coming from blocks away. She hated this job, but she had to keep a roof over her and Dawn's heads somehow, and accepting a stipend from the Watcher's Council was right out. Especially since she made more in a week at the Doublemeat Palace.

Fortunately, she didn't have to stay until closing tonight, so she did have time to shower before she went on patrol, though that brought its own complications; Dawn would undoubtedly turn on the puppy-dog eyes. Buffy squirmed inwardly. She really needed to spend more time with her sister. Really. Maybe tomorrow? She checked the time before she opened the back door, but she already knew that the sun was down.

"Hello, pet."

Of course. To make her night complete.

"Spike, please," she said wearily. "Go away."

"I don't think that's what you really want, pet."

She sighed. "What I really want is a ride home so I don't have to walk because my feet are killing me, and a long, hot shower. Which I will have to take on my abused and murderous feet. Go away, Spike. I stink of grease, and I need a shower."

"Anticipating your need as I did," Spike said, "I have brought transportation." He nodded back over his shoulder to his parked motorcycle. A spare helmet -- and not Dawn's ridiculous football helmet -- was sitting on the seat.

"I could almost like you sometimes," Buffy said, too tired to do other than accept the ride home.

"It's a start," Spike answered as she settled in behind him on the bike.

But it wasn't home that Spike took her. Despite her -- admittedly, weak -- protests, when the bike shuddered to a halt, they were in the cave Spike used as a garage. Several passages led from here to the lower level of his crypt.

"What are we doing here? I told you to take me home, Spike."

"You didn't say whose home, pet." All at once, he lunged at her, and it was a mark of how tired she was that even her Slayer's reflexes didn't save her from being swept up and tossed over Spike's shoulder. He ignored her curses and her not inconsiderable blows to his back, but he really did have her at a disadvantage, and she was not able to get free before he dumped her on the floor again.

She scrambled to her feet, falling into a defensive stance, and then her remaining senses caught up with her belated reflexes. The air was warm and scented with vanilla, the light golden. She straightened, her hands relaxing at her sides, as she took in the scene Spike had obviously gone to some pains to prepare for her. Candles flickered everywhere around the underground chamber, one she had not seen before. A deep, claw-footed bathtub had been set in the center; steam rose from the clean water within. She had a suspicion that the flowers here and there had been looted from funeral arrangements.

"How--?"

Spike shrugged. "Bloke owed me a favor," he said, as though it was no big deal, but Buffy could tell that he was pleased. "He magicked the tub for me." Deep down, she felt a niggle of guilt, but the odor of grease rising from her hair overwhelmed the little twinge, and she began shedding her clothing.

Spike was there immediately, of course; she turned her back on him, but he only reached out and pulled her tightly to him, leaving no doubt about his plans for the immediate future. He dropped his mouth to her neck, his human teeth nibbling at her vulnerable skin. She shivered, then turned into the kiss, the tub and her sore feet momentarily forgotten.

~*~*~

The knock on the door startled Dawn enough that she squeaked. Her heart thumped a bit; it had, after all, not even been a month since she'd been kidnapped right out of her own bedroom, and the sun had been down for an hour or so. Tara must not have her key, she told herself. Now that the time had come, she found herself nervous, and delaying a bit to get to the door. How would Tara feel when she found out about the spell? Dawn didn't think she could keep it secret for long.

But as Dawn put her hand on the doorknob, it was a man's voice that called, "It's all right, Dawn. It's just me."

This time, Dawn's squeak was more like a squeal of pleasure. She opened the door and flung herself at the man on the other side. He rocked a bit, but held firm. "Whoa, there, Glad to see you, too."

"Oz! What are you doing here?"

"Looking for Willow," he answered. He'd obviously been travelling a while; he was scrufty and the duffle bag over his shoulder had seen better days.

"Willow lives here now," Dawn said, "but she's not home. Nobody's here but me." She stepped aside in obvious invitation. "You could wait for her." Oz got a troubled look on his face and Dawn's heart sank. "Or you don't have to. You didn't come to see me."

"I'm sorry," Oz said gently. He glanced over his shoulder, torn.

"You could wait," Dawn offered, again. "She'll be home. Eventually."

Oz nodded and stepped through the door. He dropped his bag inside the door and tossed his jacket on top of it. "So what's new?"

"Well...Buffy died a few months ago," Dawn said. At Oz's start, she waved her hands. "No, it's okay, she's back." And she proceeded to tell him the story of the hell-god Glory, the Key, and how Buffy saved the world. Again.

"So...we've never actually met," Oz said when she finished, cocking his head at her.

"If you want to be technical about it, then no," Dawn answered warily, thinking of Amy's dismissal.

Oz stuck out his hand. "Hi. I'm Oz."

She smiled delightedly as she shook hands with him. "I'm Dawn."

~*~*~

Willow stopped in surprise in front of the house. The lights in the living room were on. Dawnie should be in bed now, and Buffy was supposed to be out...doing whatever it was that Buffy had been doing since Willow's memory spell had so disastrously failed. Avoiding Willow, no doubt, just as Willow was avoiding everyone else.

Her heart began to pound suddenly. Could it be Tara? She practically ran up the porch stairs and burst through the door with the first hint of eagerness she'd shown in days.

"Hey, Will." The man on the couch stood to greet her.

She faltered. "Oz."

He nodded, waiting. "Yeah. Hug?"

She closed the front door, stalling, trying to compose herself. "Where's Dawnie?"

"In bed. It's late." He paused. "It's okay, Will. I know I'm not who you were hoping for," he said softly.

Willow's face crumpled; she could almost wish Sweet were still here so that she could sing her pain, and then Oz's arms were around her and she was snuggled against his chest. He held her until she stopped crying.

She snuffled and sat up, digging in her pocket for a tissue and coming up with nothing. Oz handed her a clean hankie, which she accepted with thanks. "Don't take this wrong, Oz, because I'm really glad to see you, but why are you here? How?"

"Sunnydale has an excellent bus station."

"But I thought you--"

"-- were out of the country?" He shrugged. "Family stuff. And...I had to see you."

"And here I am. Being seen."

"My turn to say 'don't take this wrong,'" Oz said. "You stink of magic, Will." He wrinkled his nose. "And not in a good way."

Willow looked down at her hands, suddenly self-conscious. "I usually take a shower, after."

"After?"

She nodded. "After...Rack. He's this guy that Amy introduced me to." She slanted a look up at Oz. "Do you know about Amy? I finally figured out how to turn her back!"

He nodded. "Dawn told me."

"What else did she tell you?"

He shrugged. "She's lonely. I know how she feels." He reached out and tugged on a lock of red hair, then laid a hand alongside her face. "I've missed you."

Closing her eyes, Willow leaned into his palm. Goddess, his touch felt good. "I've missed you, too, Oz."

She felt him shift on the couch, and then his lips were touching hers. She leaned into the kiss, surprised at how right it felt. When she opened her eyes again, pink light sparkled around the two of them. Oz looked faintly surprised, and then she was kissing him again, and his warm, rough-skinned hands -- he hadn't lost his guitar callouses -- were on her and she was unbuttoning his shirt, and....

Neither of them heard the soft sounds on the stairs, nor the door closing above.

~*~*~

"No, no, no, no, no!" Dawn whispered frantically to herself. "What went wrong?" She had already gone over the spell several times, and come up with nothing. She had cast it perfectly. Why Oz? Why not Tara?

She had excused herself as soon as possible after she realized why Oz was here, for once hoping that Willow would be later than usual getting home, to give her a chance to undo the spell. But she couldn't figure out how, and now it was too late. She was going to have to call for help.

"I could call Giles," she whispered to herself. "He'd get all stuffy and tell me to stop messing about with magic, but he'd tell me what to do. And then he'd forget all about it by the time I saw him again. Assuming," she added darkly, "I ever do see him again." But Giles would tell Buffy. The thought of her elder sister finding out about her attempts at magic made Dawn extremely uncomfortable. That left only one other choice. She'd have to call Tara and confess what she'd done.

She picked up the phone and dialed before she could change her mind.

~*~*~

Tara found Dawn in her bedroom, the paraphernalia of the love spell spread out about her, frantically going through her Book of Shadows (Tara ignored the boy band on the Book's cover), whispering to herself.

"Oh, Dawnie," she said sadly. "Not you, too."

Dawn looked up, tears leaking down her cheeks. "What did I do wrong?"

Tara sighed and sat on the edge of Dawn's bed, one leg curled under her. Her fingers ranged over the items from the spell, settling on the peacock feather. "For one thing, when you try to solve problems with magic, you only end up with more problems, just like when Willow tried to fix Buffy's memory."

"But you two belong together! I just wanted to show you both that." Fresh tears coursed down her face.

"Oh, sweetie." Tara gathered Dawn into a one-armed embrace. "That's one of the things that no one but Willow and I can decide, and we have to decide it together. Do you understand?"

Dawn sniffled and nodded. "I suppose." She wiped her nose on her free hand. "What was the other thing?"

"You tried to cast a spell on a more powerful witch -- who was paying attention -- and she deflected it."

Dawn looked puzzled.

"I saw your spell coming, Dawnie," Tara explained, "and I sent the energy elsewhere. So what's going on downstairs is partly my doing. But also, there's this." She held up the peacock feather she'd been toying with. "I'm not positive that the spell would have settled on me even if I hadn't been paying attention. Peacock feathers are for male lovers."

Dawn blushed. "Oh. Um. Oops?"

Tara twirled the feather in her fingers and it sparkled and was unmade. "Next time, Dawnie, ask me, okay? I'll answer any question you ask me, I promise."

Dawn nodded. "Um...will you stay with me a while? It's just...I don't know when Buffy will get home, and I bet those two will both leave again."

Tara smiled at her. "Sure, if you want."

"Thanks, Tara." Dawn started cleaning up the stuff spread on her bed, and Tara silently gave her a hand.

From downstairs, there came an abrupt cry. Shortly after, the front door slammed, and they heard someone moving around. The sounds were obviously not made by Willow.

Tara closed her eyes briefly in pain. When she opened them, Dawn was frozen in one place, horror-struck. "It's all right, Dawnie," she whispered. "I'll go talk to him."

She descended the stairs slowly, giving Oz time to set himself to rights. She waited at the bottom of the stairs as he gathered up his things.

"Did you do this?" he asked, eventually.

Tara shook her head, though he wasn't looking at her. "No," she said when he continued to avoid her eyes. "At least, not entirely. The spell was meant for me and it hit you instead. I'm sorry, Oz."

He looked at her, then, the pain in his eyes hard to bear. "Who cast it?"

Tara's jaw firmed. "I've taken care of it," she answered.

Oz glanced upstairs. "Ah. I'd better go." He shouldered his bag, stepped past Tara to the door, then stopped. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"For making her happy." The door closed behind him before Tara could think of an answer.

~*~*~

The lowering moon found Buffy standing atop a hill overlooking Sunnydale. Sore feet or no, she had walked for hours. She had bathed, eventually, and now smelled faintly of vanilla -- and Spike.

She ought to feel grateful. She ought to feel at least a glimmer of happiness. All she felt, though, was revulsion at herself. She was using Spike, and she hated herself for it. And worst of all, Spike knew she was using him...and accepted it.

She turned her face to the gibbous moon, wondering how this was all going to end.

Below, in the shadows, Spike hesitated, wondering if he should go up to her. A rustling in the grass alerted him that someone else was climbing the hill and the mingled scents of magic and perfume identified the climber. He stayed where he was.

"Oh, hey, Buff," Willow greeted her best friend. "I didn't realize you were out here, too."

"I was walking," Buffy answered.

"Yeah, me, too." Willow said.

The two friends stood silently together, yet each alone in the moonlight as the eastern sky slowly lightened. Lower on the hill, Spike had eyes only for Buffy, though he could feel the impending dawn. Farther below, at Sunnydale's excellent bus station, Oz boarded a bus without looking at the moon. No need; its pull was a constant in his blood. He settled himself in a seat away from the other passengers. He doubted he'd ever return to Sunnydale.

Across town, in the house on Revello Drive, Tara sat at the bottom of the stairs, weeping silently. Eventually, she pulled herself together, scrubbed her hand across her face, and went back upstairs to where Dawn was waiting for someone to keep her company.