Dawn remembers being eleven, when her best friend is a vampire.
Dawn remembers how hard it is to make friends in a new town, at a new school. She's happy to have a friend in Drusilla even though she knows Dru kills people. Not that Dru ever kills anyone in front of Dawn—mostly they talk and spin around on the merry-go-round or have tea parties at the warehouse—but she and Spike talk about killing people a whole lot. Dawn's special, though: they'll never hurt her. Dru tells her so when they first meet at the Revello Drive playground. "It'd be like having a dream of biting the heart of a sun. Besides, I'd rather have you tell me more pretty lies about living. Or we could play conkers instead? If you have some string, I have some pixie skulls in my pocket that would make us lovely new none-ers."
It doesn't take Dawn long to figure out that Dru’s crazy, even for a vampire, but Dawn doesn't mind. She thinks all of Dru's stories and rhymes about pixie skulls and lies and killing people just make Dru cooler and more interesting. Dru sees lots of things that aren't really there (unless 'pixie skulls' is British-vampire slang for acorns) but sometimes Dru can see the future too, like on Halloween when Dru tells her not to dress up. Instead they sit on top of the jungle gym and watch all the trick-or-treaters turn into monsters and they steal Chastity Kendall's sack of candy after she screams and drops it while the space monster that used to be Ryan Tudyk chases her. By the end of the night Dawn can't tell whether her stomach hurts more from all the sugar or all the laughing.
(Dawn can't remember ever having more fun on Halloween. She's also pretty sure that hanging out with her psychic vampire friend makes her way cooler than dressing up in some stupid pink princess gown to impress a creepy stalker boyfriend. Dawn remembers eleven as the year when she starts hating costumes; she never feels comfortable wearing one again.)
Dru’s the only person in Sunnydale who doesn't treat Dawn like she's just another dumb kid. Dru tells Dawn the truth about vampires and demons and the Hellmouth. Even after Halloween, everyone else either gives Dawn the same old story about PCP gangs or tells her she has an overactive imagination. Mom sends her to talk to a ‘professional’ who tells Dawn over and over that the divorce wasn’t Dawn’s fault (duh), that it also wasn’t the end of the world (double duh), and that even though new places could be scary and different, Dawn doesn’t have any reason to feel unsafe in Sunnydale (which is a pretty stupid thing to say about a town on top of the Hellmouth).
Buffy tells Dawn to stop making up stupid stories then turns around and warns Dawn to always stay inside at night. Her words sound angry but her eyes look scared. Dawn's shocked into nodding instead of reminding Buffy that she's not the boss of anyone. It's weird enough to make Dawn wonder if Buffy might know about vampires too. But how could Buffy keep a secret like that when she never seems to shut up?
More likely, Buffy's warning is just another way for her to say she thinks Dawn's nothing more than a whiny little girl, so Dawn ignores it. Dawn's not afraid of Dru or Spike or any of the other vampires who follow them around. The other vampires never pay Dawn any attention anyway. With Dru at her side, Dawn doesn’t have any reason to be afraid of PCP gangs either, if they even exist and aren’t just a big fat lie that adults use to keep vampires a secret.
There is one thing about Dru that does sort of frighten Dawn. When Dawn spends time with Dru the world... changes. Around Dru, Dawn's world looks wrong. The edges of Dawn's vision go soft like she's looking through a cloud of green smoke. At times, she swears she can catch little flickers of images or motion in the haze, like there's another world trying to break through. They always disappear if she tries looking right at them, though the smoke sticks around as long as Dru does.
Dawn thinks maybe it's a side effect of Dru being psychic. She worries that Dru's insanity might be contagious. She wishes she could ask anyone else for their opinion.
Dawn doesn't have anyone else to talk to about the changes so finally she breaks down and tells Dru about it, asking, "Does this mean I'm going crazy?" while taking an imaginary biscuit off the china plate Dru's holding up for her.
Dru sets the plate down and giggles, pretending to sip from her cup. "No, pixie, you're not the crazy one."
Dawn looks down, "I didn't mean to say—"
"Oh, dormouse, I pray you not try and equivocate my madness. It knows bigger words than you do and it’s not a matter of settling sums.” They both laugh, though Dru’s sounds less nervous. “So spare my tongue and simply say that I am mad and you are not.”
Dawn echoes back, “You are mad and I am not.”
“Perfect,” says Dru. “Did that help?”
“No,” grumbles Dawn. She can tell where Dru’s twisted mind is going with this bit of information and she’s already regretting bringing the subject up at all.
Dru settles back in her chair. “Well if you’re not going to be bothered to remember a pleasant tea time I don’t know why I should bother. It doesn’t matter that it’s my word against a drunken sailor’s or a will-o’-the-wisp’s: no one ever believes the madwoman.”
Dawn sighs. “I think we’re having a lovely time, Dru,” she says, forcing her face into a smile.
Dawn doesn’t breathe again until Dru bobs her head and smiles; she can’t remember why she was holding it in the first place. “That’s much better. I never manage to remain cross with you long.
“It’s because I always let you have your way,” says Dawn, hoping that Dru will leave it alone, but Dru’s already shaking her head.
“No, there’s more to it than that. I look to the stars and watch the dance of the spheres, painting the heavens with stories long past. I feel the rhythm of the Earth's pulse in my bones, keeping me abreast of all its most recent developments. And I listen for the whispers in the darkness, singing to me of things yet to come." Dru's brow furrows and she shakes her fist in the air. "But for all that they know and tell me, none of these cosmic forces ever thinks to shut up for a moment and listen to me," she shouts, then slouches in her chair like a rag doll; Dawn knows exactly how she feels. "You listen to me, though: don't you, pet?"
"Even when you don't make any sense.” Dawn replies, because it’s true.
Dru nods. "That's why I like you best of them all." Dru reaches across the table and twines her fingers through Dawn's hair. "You who are not yet to come, who only remembers seeing what hasn't been and never was." She pouts her lips. "All our lovely times together naught but false memories from a time still to pass, lauds echoed at vespers. 'Tis quite the pity," she adds, running a nail down Dawn's neck that sends shivers through her whole body, "for I've no doubt you'd taste sweeter than ripe berries in the summer sunshine, and twice as bright."
Dawn knows she can ignore the threat but she frowns down at her lap because this is what she's been afraid Dru would say. Dru always tells Dawn she isn't real but Dru's insane.
(Dawn knows she's real. She's remembers the old saying: I think, therefore I am. Some very important philosopher said it and it makes sense to her: if Dawn didn't exist, how could she think? Dawn thinks all the time.)
"Come and give Dawnie a kiss, Spike," Dru says, startling her out of that train of thought. Dawn looks up and Spike's standing over her. He obediently places a soft, cool kiss just at her hairline, a breath of touch barely there but electric all the same. "And a hug for Miss Edith," says Dru and Spike shifts over to give the doll a fond squeeze. "And now a kiss for your princess," finishes Dru and Spike gets a wicked smile on his face and tries to kiss her on the mouth but Dru squeals, "Not in front of the guests," and turns her face away, pointing her finger at her cheek instead.
Spike makes a protesting pout but kisses Dru's cheek. He does it with an open mouth, which Dawn thinks is kind of gross, especially when he pulls away and she can see his tongue give one last lick, but Dru's leaning into it, smiling and giggling even as she scolds him. "Naughty boy."
Dawn shifts in her seat, feeling forgotten until Spike says, "Can't say I mind you making new friends, pet, but must the new girl be such a prude?"
"I'm not a prude, I just don't like watching you suck face," Dawn shoots back at him, making a gagging noise and sticking her tongue out.
Dru laughs at her and bats Spike away while he ignores Dawn and tries for another kiss. "La, Spike, she doesn't want to watch us suck face."
Spike sighs and pivots around faster than any human could, crouching down and pressing right into Dawn's space, eyes yellow and fangs bared. Dawn is frozen with her spine straight up along the back of her chair. "That so? Well, how's about I suck on you instead?" he hisses. Dawn feels her breath catch, but then the lumps and fangs disappear and he's just Spike, blue-eyed and laughing. "Just kidding, Niblet. You're not hardly ripe yet, are you?" he says with a wink before pressing another ghost of a kiss over Dawn's cheek.
Dawn punches him in the shoulder and Dru hits him on the head. "Ow," Spike mutters, rubbing his head first, and then, almost as an afterthought, his shoulder. Dawn knows she isn't as strong as a vampire, so of course her punch doesn't hurt as much as Dru's slap. "Fine then, if that's how you're going to play, I'll leave you birds to talk amongst yourselves. Someone's got to get work done around here," he announces before stomping off, his long leather coat billowing behind him as he hops down the stairs.
Dawn thinks she would have a crush on Spike if he weren't Drusilla's boyfriend, but Dru's her friend and it's wrong to have a crush on your best friend's boyfriend, so she tries to concentrate on how much of a jerk he can be instead.
Dawn turns back to Dru, realizing that while Spike's a giant jerk, he's also proof that Dru must be wrong about her. "Spike sees me," she says. When Dru doesn't say anything, Dawn adds, "He's not crazy."
"He's crazy about his princess," sing-songs Dru, still staring after him.
"He is," Dawn agrees with a laugh, "But at least he likes me."
Dru freezes, her tea cup half raised to her mouth as Dawn says this. Her eyes focus on some point past Dawn's shoulder. She sees that Dru's eyes aren't just distant, they're also glassy with tears. "What's wrong, Dru?"
"He will like you, ever so very much," Drusilla whispers. "My sweet Spike will never hurt his little Niblet. Even after—" Dru stops and hurls her teacup across the room where it shatters to dust against the wall. "No! I won't hear it!"
Dawn stumbles to her feet as Dru starts pacing, pulling at her own hair and crying in mumbles. She wraps her arms around Dru's waist, following her around the room. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's okay, Dru. Don't cry. Come back to me now." Dawn's not sure why she says the last bit, but it seems to help. Dru returns Dawn's hug, her arms deathly cold and painfully strong and then they're swaying together and dancing to music that Dawn thinks only Dru can hear. Dawn decides it doesn't matter if the music's real or not because Dru's not crying anymore and if dancing's what Dru needs right now, then Dawn's happy to dance with her.
"The whispers taunt me with awful lies of you, Dawnie," Dru says after a long while. "They stuff my head with such a wretched confusion, nothing but glowing cobwebs and green smoke and I'm always so terribly alone."
"You're not alone, Dru," Dawn says, even though the green smoke's grown thick around them. She squeezes her eyes shut but the glowing cobwebs lurk behind her eyelids. "I'm here with you," she insists, because these things have to be part of Dru's madness, they have to be.
Drusilla steps away and tucks her finger under Dawn's chin, tilting her face up. "No, sweet lamb: you're not here at all." She shushes Dawn's protests with a finger to her lips. "I'll hear no more slander of the ineffable tonight. You make the motes of darkness vibrate contrary to the metronome and I'm too tired to sort them to rights. Fly away, now."
Dawn leaves the warehouse and goes home. The smoke in her vision clears and the world is normal again. Dawn kisses her mother and brushes her teeth and listens to the familiar thunk of her sister sneaking out of the window while she lies in bed and thinks.
(I think, therefore I am: that's what the philosopher said, but he didn't say what he was.)
Dawn thinks of all the things she could be. She thinks she's an ordinary girl, so normal that hardly anyone notices her. She thinks her teachers think she's a good student; good students don't need any extra help or discipline. She thinks her mother loves her as the easy daughter, the one who doesn't get into fights or burn down school buildings. She thinks her father never thinks about her except when she goes to visit. She thinks that Buffy thinks she's an annoying little sister, and Dawn thinks Buffy's an annoying big sister and wishes Dru was her sister instead.
Dru is Dawn's only friend and she worries about what that means. Dawn knows that Dru's crazy but she also knows Dru knows her better than anyone else. Dawn worries that Dru might be right about her. Dawn decides she's never going back to the warehouse; she's not going to go to the park after dark anymore.
Dawn thinks she loves Drusilla but she wants to be more than a vampire's imaginary friend. Dawn rolls over and turns off the light. One day, she thinks, she will be.
(Sometimes Dawn remembers eleven differently. But of all the lies Dawn remembers, this one feels closest to the truth.)