There were tiny bits of dirt, fluff, and other random stuff - all over the carpet.
She'd never really noticed before, because from a distance it looked pretty clean. You had to actually sit down and get bored enough to really pay attention - and then you'd start seeing all the grit, and dust, and - was that hair? eww - that got dropped in here and never vacuumed up.
Dawn let her eyes trail from the carpet, to the nearest chair leg. It was made of some kind of dark wood, and it was still new and glossy, rather than incredibly scratched like all the chairs at home. Probably because they mostly ate on the couch, and when they were sitting here it was usually just the two of them - with eight chairs to choose from. That was four chairs each, so most of them barely got sat on - although, now that Spike was here, they'd only have… um… two-and-two-thirds of a chair per person.
Assuming he stayed.
("How long are you staying for?"
"Not long. There's a fair few things that need to be organised, back at the hotel."
"And you're in charge."
"I am. Shouldn't really leave everything to the others."
She leaned back against the table leg, and nodded. "But you'll be here for a couple of days, right?")
She felt kind of bad for the chairs that never got sat on. Here they were, fresh out of the furniture store, all eager to be used and fulfil their potential, and they got stuck in a two person household where they were basically decoration. Only there to make the table look symmetrical.
If it wouldn't make Buffy think she was crazy, Dawn would totally switch chairs every night, and make sure they all got equal time. Of course, she was already getting plenty of weird looks from Buffy, just by being under here, so a little chair-rotation probably wouldn't make much difference. And after all, just because they were inanimate objects, that was no reason to hurt their feelings.
It was getting cold.
Dawn shivered, and wrapped her arms around her knees. She wasn't going to go get a sweater. She just wasn't.
(Willow had barely left her alone long enough to use the bathroom, and when she'd left for L.A., Tara had taken over the protective-hovering thing. Giles was talking to her in this really tentative, reassuring way. And Xander kept unexpectedly putting his arm round her shoulders and squeezing tightly, without saying a word.
Everyone kept acting like she was about to fall apart at any moment, in a big heap of tears and helplessness - and she really wasn't. She wasn't helpless, she wasn't a baby, she wasn't going to collapse.
She could cope with this. She had to.)
It had been nice and hot a few days ago - perfect sundress weather - and she'd been planning to go down to the coast and find a beach somewhere… but then Spike had arrived, dripping blood all over the bathroom and barely coherent, and she'd forgotten about it.
…and now it was too cold. Well, that sucked.
She heard a door open, and footsteps coming out of Buffy's bedroom. "Dawn? Are you…"
There was a sigh, and Buffy crossed over to her and knelt down. "Still? Dawnie, this is getting strange."
She was probably right. Dawn looked up at her, calmly. "I don't care."
"But you-" She stopped, frustrated, and then tried again. "This can't seriously be because of- I mean, you only met him a couple of times…" Buffy's brow wrinkled, concerned. "Is it about Spike? Honey, I know it looked kinda scary, but he really will be okay. And you know, he's pretty good at fights - even world-endy ones. I mean, sometimes he burns up, and destroys towns, but it's not like that's every… um…"
Dawn couldn't help rolling her eyes slightly. Buffy's idea of Being Comforting (TM) involved talking to her as if she was 10. And becoming more and more incoherent as she forgot what she was saying. Sweet, but ineffective.
"Thanks. That's very reassuring."
There was a short pause.
"So… are you going to come out?"
She wrapped her arms more tightly around her knees. "Not right now."
Frustrated voice again. "Dawn, you can't just stay under a table for the rest of your life."
"We're in Italy. So it's not a table, it's il tavolo."
Buffy stood up, looking exasperated. "Fine. You do what you want." She checked her watch. "I've got to shower, and then I've got training. If you need anything, Spike's in the bedroom… and you are not allowed to bug him, because he's still injured, so whatever it is, just do it yourself. 'Kay?"
Dawn nodded. "Have fun at training."
"Fine, whatever." She stomped off towards the bathroom, and Dawn pushed herself back further, until she was in a darkish, chair-leg-surrounded cave, and she couldn't see any of the room at all except the bits that were less than three feet tall.
Buffy just didn't get it.
(She drew tiny spiral shapes across the carpet with her index finger, watching the little bits of wool twist and change direction underneath her hand.
Maybe she should take up painting. Or something artsy like that.
Spiral, spiral, circle, spiral…
Wesley watched her, not saying a word.
Spiral, triangle, bumpy round blobby thing, two spirals intertwined…
Dawn looked up. "Seen any good movies lately?"
"Not really. Running a detective agency doesn't leave much time for anything exciting."
"Cause killing demons is so boring."
They shared a tiny grin.
"Oh, absolutely. Although I did go to a different dimension with sword-fighting, two suns, and some very odd dancing."
He nodded, accidentally bumped his head on the bottom of the table, winced, and rubbed his scalp ruefully. "Two suns."
"Yes, it was rather interesting.")
It wasn't like she was going to stay here forever - of course not.
Actually, she'd already gotten out twice to pee, although that being essential hygiene, it didn't exactly count, but still, she had, so she wasn't planning to be under here permanently, or anything.
And it wasn't nearly as crazy as it looked.
Okay, maybe it was.
It was just…
Everyone had run around taking care of Spike, and fetching extra blood, and patching up his leg, and throwing bandages everywhere, and trying to stop Buffy swearing bloody vengeance on anyone who accidentally made him wince…
And then he'd told them about what had happened, and how Angel had been cut down by demon number 5172 of the horde of thousands, right in front of Spike's face - and Buffy had backed away and sunk down on the couch, looking ashen, and just stayed there, frozen, for over an hour, with all the other Slayers not having a clue what to do until Dawn took charge and got her moving again…
And Spike told them all about the plan, and the battle in Los Angeles, and how Wesley was stabbed through the chest and died in the first assault…
…and everyone said "Oh, okay," and got on with what they were doing.
It just didn't… it didn't seem fair that his death had been another random extra, forgotten as soon as it was mentioned.
It wasn't fair that Dawn had barely noticed either - for three whole days.
Three days when she'd worried about Spike, and worried about Buffy, and cried about Angel, and never even once remembered that anyone else had been hurt at all.
Because clearly Angel and Spike were just so much more important.
Dawn grimaced, and looked at the carpet some more.
(She made herself ice-cream garnished with chocolate sauce, Twinkies, maple syrup, and Snickers Bars - a combination which Mom would never have let her get away with, on the grounds of "it will ruin your appetite, and taste ridiculous", and Buffy wouldn't have let her try either, on the grounds of "you're using up all the Twinkies, and I need some to eat post-patrol".
And she almost had an attack of conscience, threw the whole thing away, and ate an apple instead. Almost - but not actually, because Xander and Anya were on "Shadow Dawn" detail, and they would have asked why.
They all thought it was important for her to open up, and talk to someone, and it was nice having people around, but she just didn't want to talk about it, not now not ever, that would make it all real - and it shouldn't be real, not yet, it had only been two days.
Dawn almost flung herself into Anya's arms, and howled.
Instead, she sat on the counter and ate Snick-Twinkie Supremo Ice-cream, and Xander and Anya sat on the floor with their backs against the fridge, and looked like they didn't know whether to make awkward small talk, or just leave the room.
Anya didn't know what to say. That was… kinda scary.
…and then Giles' car drove up outside the house, and it was Willow, obviously, bringing Angel in the passenger seat, here to say goodbye.
Except it wasn't Angel at all.)
If you looked carefully, you could see the exact point in the carpet where Buffy went from vacuuming between the chairs and trying to maneuver the hose as far underneath as she could without moving furniture, to giving up and deciding that, hey, no-one's going to look under the table anyway.
Dawn mentally drew a line across the floor, noting the dramatic increase in miscellaneous bits of dust once it got out of easy reach.
They really should hire a proper cleaner. She'd have to talk Buffy into it, after… everything. It'd be expensive, but they could afford it if Buffy would just stop buying commemorative spoons at every touristy spot she found.
Dawn grinned. Who was she kidding? Their spoon collection was soon going to be large enough to fill every drawer in the kitchen… and they'd still be doing their own cleaning. Expecting Buffy not to buy Made For Clueless American Tourists junk was pretty much a lost cause.
…it probably came under "youthful enthusiasm". It definitely came under "exasperating".
Funny, she still remembered that entire list.
It was, what, three years ago? Three years later, and it was still right there in her memory, just waiting to be thought about.
She really hadn't seen him for three years.
A door opened at the other end of the apartment, and Dawn heard footsteps slowly starting to walk towards the table.
("Do you like pizza?"
"I'm pretty sure we're having pizza for dinner. Unless we go all-out and get Doublemeat." Dawn shrugged. "Willow's not much good at cooking. So, if you have pizza preferences, speak now."
"Ah, I see. I'm sure pizza will be fine."
She lapsed into silence again, and Wesley stopped talking too. He'd been doing that all afternoon - talking when she was talking, and not saying stuff when she wasn't. Dawn felt like she should point out that it was a free country, unlike England or wherever, and he could say whatever he wanted to, he didn't have to wait for permission… except then he might believe her.
Instead, they just looked at the carpet some more.
There were little round dents in it, from where the old table legs had stood before Faith had thrown Buffy into the top of it, and they'd had to get a new one because it kept falling over.
Dawn circled her finger round one of them, remembering.
"Why are you here?" Dawn looked at him quickly, and then looked back at the carpet-dent. "I mean, if it was Angel I'd get it, but you hadn't seen her for like three years. And it's not as if you were really her Watcher, exactly. So… why'd you come?"
For a moment she thought he wasn't going to answer.
But after a short pause, he said quietly, "She was a warrior, and she died nobly, fighting for what was right. That sort of thing should be remembered, I think."
Wesley shifted uncomfortably, and continued, "Also, I… I liked her."
Dawn looked up at him.
"She wasn't exactly a textbook Slayer, and god knows she could be exasperating… but she had drive. And youthful enthusiasm. And… a fair amount of wit." He met her eyes. "If I'd known her for longer, I think I probably would have liked her.")
Dawn couldn't see in that direction at all, but she still could have described exactly what was happening, just going from the sound. With the uneven, limpy steps, and the sharp breaths getting sucked in, and the occasional short pauses where there were bits of furniture to hold onto… he was practically his own orchestra. (Or would "marching band" work better? - not that he was marching.)
She should probably go over there and help him, like any sensible person would, but she just… Dawn crossed her legs, determinedly. She had to stay under here until… until what? Actually, she didn't have a clue, come to think of it. But, right now, she just couldn't. She needed to be here.
There was another sudden intake of breath, and Dawn looked at the floor.
(Why did he breathe when he was hurt, anyway? Reflex?)
It was so weird - she was used to him striding across rooms in those big clompy boots (now drying on the balcony, freshly washed and viscera-free), not hobbling along at snail's pace, wearing Buffy's slippers.
It was… unsettling, pretty much.
Although according to Buffy he'd once been in a wheelchair for months, so, comparatively, this wasn't actually all that big a deal.
There was a crash, and a voice said softly, "Oh, bloody hell." It sounded like he'd leant against the little side table she'd picked up at a market in Florence. She really should get round to fixing its wobbly leg sometime soon.
Then there was a bit more limping, another pause near the back of the couch, a couple more steps, and suddenly he bent over and looked underneath the table, straight at her.
"Afternoon, Short Stack."
"You're supposed to be in bed."
"No need. Got accelerated healing - part of the whole vampire deal." He grinned at her. "Name any demon you want, I'll take it on and win, right now."
"They're tiny! - and also fictional."
"Yeah, that was kinda my point."
And then - "How you doing, Niblet?"
Dawn raised an eyebrow. "It's raining, it's really cold, this carpet is gross, and my sister thinks I'm crazy."
Spike nodded slowly. "Well, that makes sense."
"Which bit? The weather, or the carpet?"
He ignored that. "That your sis doesn't understand. After all, she doesn't remember when-" He paused, and finished softly, "…you know."
There was a small square of sticky gunk on the table leg, probably from a price sticker or something. Dawn rubbed at it with her thumbnail, scraping little flecks off. "How could she?"
"There's that. A bit hard to remember something you weren't around for."
She just looked at him.
He grimaced. "Oh, right."
And now the sticky table-gunk was all over her thumb. Eww. "It's okay - that she doesn't get it," Dawn explained quietly, avoiding his eyes. "I mean, I don't really get it either. It's just- it's important that… I mean… I don't know…"
Wow. Brilliant sense-making there.
Spike nodded again. "It's okay, love. You sit your vigil. I… think I'll head back to bed."
She grinned at him. "You look ridiculous in those slippers."
"Hey, it's not my fault Slayers come with small feet." He looked at them ruefully. "Bloody things are barely staying on." He sighed, raised an eyebrow slightly at her, straightened up, and limped off.
He really did sound wrong when he wasn't striding everywhere.
Dawn closed her eyes, and leaned her head against the table leg.
Sometime soon she'd figure out what to do next. Hopefully. Right now… here was all that mattered.
…and when she did get out, she was seriously going to vacuum the carpet. 'Cause, eww.
This was a pretty good table. Even from underneath. Smooth, well made, nice colour, and high - the Summers women had always been into tables with plenty of space underneath. Which was helpful, really, because she was getting too tall for this sort of thing.
Wesley had been way too tall for it.
Dawn pressed her lips together firmly, and wrapped her arms round her knees again - folding herself into the smallest, shortest ball she could. She wasn't going to cry, she wasn't…
She didn't even notice Spike coming back towards her until something landed right in front of the table.
Dawn reached out, and picked it up. It was a bag of Doritos she'd been hiding above the fridge.
Spike's steps limped away again.
(She wasn't going to cry, she wasn't going to cry, she wasn't going to…
Not that. Not now. What-
What could she-
The table. There was a table. And it was big, and had six legs, and was perfect for eating at, or doing homework at, or racing marbles across, one each, when Mom wasn't home, 'cause if Mom caught them putting scratches in the varnish she'd kill them, but they did it anyway, because they'd been marble-racing as long as she could remember, that was their thing, and Buffy always let her win at least one, 'cause that's what older sisters…
No. She wasn't going to cry. Not ever.
Dawn sat still, and looked at nothing.
Tara and Anya were in the kitchen, talking in hushed voices - probably about her. Xander was helping Willow move her stuff upstairs. Every few minutes he opened the door again, holding another big box. And all the others were in the living room, it sounded like. Including Spike �" he'd finally come back, stinking of lots of alcohol varieties Dawn couldn't identify by smell, and still way too sober.
She'd almost gone and sat next to him, but he was just sitting there looking like her sister was dead… so she'd said hi politely, and gone back to looking at the wall.
And now she was under here.
With carpet, and chair legs, and nothing else, there was nothing else in the world, not if she didn't think about it. And she didn't-
She couldn't just-
Carpet. Chair legs. Table. And Dawn.
Dawn wrapped her arms round her knees, and blinked furiously.
After all, it was possible that nothing else actually existed. That she'd only started existing five minutes ago, under a table, with lots of fake memories making her think the rest of everything was really there. Was really happening.
It made sense.
One of the chairs moved out from the table, and Dawn looked up as someone bent down and looked underneath.
"Enough room for one more?"
She nodded, and he crawled in, pulling the chair back behind him.
The rain was getting heavier again.
She could hear drops hitting the window in a million tiny splashes, one by one. They were going to soak everything in sight …including Spike's boots. Oops.
Or maybe the rain hadn't gotten heavier - maybe it was just because Buffy had finished her shower, and so now the water outside wasn't getting drowned out (uh, sound-wise) by the water running inside.
Maybe it had been raining forever.
She ate some more Doritos, leaning back against the closest chair. It was getting cramped, under here.
More footsteps - this time not limpy slipper-covered steps, or exasperated Slayer steps. Dawn was still trying to figure out how to describe them to herself when Buffy dropped to her knees and started crawling in beside her.
She edged herself in, banging her head on the table, and shuffled round until she was sitting at Dawn's side, hands rather awkwardly playing in her lap. She took a breath, and said tentatively, "Spike's been getting all explainy…"
"…and… I decided I felt like eating some Doritos." She reached over, and took a handful.
Dawn bit back a smile, and stole a glance sideways. Buffy's eyes were looking about as gentle as she got.
An arm went round her shoulder, and Dawn leaned in and felt herself relax.
("I liked her too," Dawn whispered, tears prickling at her eyes.
Wesley nodded. "I'm sure you did."
"She was nice."
"Really good at marble racing."
"An excellent markswoman."
"And she… did really funky stuff with her hair…"
Dawn put her chin on her knees, and swallowed. "I remember her too." …and then she was crying, and crying, and for a long time Wesley just held her and let her cry, right there underneath the table…
The doorbell rang, eventually.
Dawn blinked, and looked up. It sounded like the nightly pizza delivery was here.
"They'll… probably want to set the table."
"You might be right."
"Maybe we should, um, get out?"
Wesley nodded in agreement, and she smiled back tentatively, and started crawling out.
Wow. This carpet looked really gross.)
"You're not allowed to eat all my Doritos."
"Hey, who pays for the groceries around here?"
"And these are my Zesty Ranch Collisions, which I have to get specially imported. So back off."
"Back off yourself. Or I'll use my awesome Slaying powers to-"
"To what? Dust the packet?"
"Exactly. My Doritos, my rules. Which mean alternating handfuls."
"Okay, bossy boots. Your rules."
"I think I'm going to miss him."
"I know, Dawnie."