Dawn slurped up the last drops of her milkshake.
Willow gave her a worried look. “Just watching you gives me stomach ache,” she said.
“I have a suspicion there have been too many shakes lately,” Tara said from Dawn's other side.
“That's how it is,” Dawn said and wiped her mouth. “The adults fight and the kids are appeased with candy.” Her grin faded. She looked to her right and her left. “I love the shakes, but I hope you guys are done fighting.”
Tara squeezed Dawn's hand. “We're not fighting,” she said with a less than reassuring smile. “We're sorting things out. Looking at where we are.”
Dawn could not help noticing that Willow remained silent. She sucked her straw again, but there was nothing left but air.
The car came to a halt. “Everyone out,” Xander said from the driver's seat.
Willow was not the only one that could fall into extended silences. Anya had hardly said a word the entire day, and Dawn thought Xander jokes sounded more forced than usual. The awkwardness between the others meant that they were all eager to shower Dawn with attention, which she appreciated, but their facade would constantly break. Things were not right.
“I'm gonna drive around the block and find a parking space,” Xander said as Anya, Will and Tara got out.
“I'll stay here with you,” Dawn declared.
The doors slammed shut and the car started rolling down the street. Dawn put her empty cup down on the floor.
“You doing all right back there, little buddy?” Xander asked, looking at Dawn via the rear view mirror.
“Xander, are you stressed about the wedding?” Dawn asked, ignoring Xander's question.
Xander's fingers danced atop the wheel. “No,” he said, gesticulating with his other hand. “Not more than what I guess is usual.”
“I guess what is usual can still be a lot,” Dawn said, trying to sound wise.
Xander sighed. “Is it obvious?”
“No,” Dawn said. “I'm just very perceptive.”
Xander eased the car into the parking space. “It is nothing to worry about, Dawnster,” he tried to assure her. “It is just nerves.”
“Do you speak to Anya about it?” Dawn asked.
“There is nothing to talk about,” Xander said. He turned around and looked at Dawn. “Like I said, it is just nerves. I don't want to worry Anya about it.”
“What if you are worrying her by not saying anything?” Dawn asked.
“O to spend one day in a world without women,” Xander said and stepped out on the sidewalk.
Dawn followed after him. She could not shake the fear that Xander's worries were more serious than he let on. What if she – Dawn – was the only one who could stop him from making a terrible mistake? Dawn searched her brain for words that might get Xander to open up. Time was running out. Xander walked with quick strides. He was almost at the door. Dawn was about to speak...
… and it was too late. She had missed her chance. Xander opened the door to the Magic Box and held it open for Dawn. She sighed and walked inside. Anya was leaning over the counter with her nose in the ledger. Tara was dusting the shelves. Willow sat in a chair by herself. Her mouth was smiling, yet her eyes were expressing a whole other series of emotions. Xander walked over to Willow and whispered something into her ear, and Willow squeezed his arm in response. Dawn remained by the door, watching the scene with folded arms. They were all so silly. Could they not just talk to each other?
“Are you ready to go yet, Anya?” Xander asked.
Anya did not look up. “Just a minute,” she said.
“Will, do you think you could stay behind and look after Dawn?” Xander asked.
“Sure,” Willow said in an absent minded tone.
“Are you able to stay, too, Tara?” Xander asked.
Tara jumped, as if she had been lost in thought. “To look after Dawn?”
Willow sank deeper into her chair. “He is asking you to look after me,” she said with a brave smile. “They don't like me being alone in the shop.”
Xander smiled apologetically and looked from Willow to Tara and back again.
“It is all right,” Willow said. “I understand.” She looked up at Tara. “And I would love to spend some time with you, but I don't want you to feel pressured.”
“It is all right,” Tara said, not able to hide that she felt she was being put on the spot.
“Are you sure?” Willow asked, looking very uncertain.
Tara nodded and gave a reassuring smile. If Willow had still been using magic, she would likely have used it to make her chair sink into the floor.
Then Willow noticed something that made her spring up from her seat. “Hey,” she said, looking at an item on display on a shelf. “That is the doll's eye crystal I got from Tara.” She looked from Xander to Anya with an accusing look.
“Was that yours?” Xander asked.
Anya briefly looked up from the ledger. “I just figured that since most of your magic supplies were “borrowed,”” she stopped to make quotations signs with her fingers, “from the shop, we should put them back on the shelves again.”
“But that one was personal,” Willow said, looking distraught. “It was Tara's grandmother's.” Willow looked to Tara for support, but Tara refused to meet her eye, pretending to be distracted by something outside the window.
“I am sure we could put it back in storage,” Xander said. “Unless Tara wants it.”
Tara did not answer. Dawn saw her biting her lip and hiding her face.
Anya came walking from the counter with the ledger under her arm. “This doesn't add up,” she mumbled. “I'll work on it in the car.” She walked right past Xander.
“Well...” Xander said, as he followed his bride to be. “I'll see all you lovely ladies later.”
The door slammed shut behind him, leaving Dawn with only one struggling couple to deal with. She turned around and looked at Willow and Tara in turn. Tara had gone back to dusting. Willow just sat in her chair, squeezing the armrests with her white fingers. Both of them seemed like they wanted be anywhere else.
“Do you want to play Scrabble, Dawnie?” Tara asked as Dawn came walking into the shop.
“No,” Dawn said absentmindedly. She hated Scrabble and only played it, because she liked hanging out with Tara. After spending the day with the four of them, she was starting to get bored of all this attention.
On a shelf behind the counter, Dawn spotted something funny. It was a tall, pointy wizard's hat like the one Mickey Mouse wore in Fantasia. She had not seen it before. Anya must have put it out. It made Dawn laugh. She wondered if she could use it to make Tara's duster come alive. Needing to amuse herself, she walked around the counter, picked up the hat and placed it on the top of her head. It was a bit of a struggle to balance the tall thing. She felt like an African villager bringing water home from the well.
Tara burst out into a giggle when she saw Dawn with the hat. Dawn made some elaborate movements with her hands, pretending she was a mighty sorceress. She tried to focus her mind on making Tara's duster move. It didn't work. It seemed not everything in this shop was truly magic. Dawn looked down at Willow, who looked back at her with an amused expression. Suddenly, Dawn remembered that it was Willow who had bought the hat for Giles as an opening present back when he bought the store. Thinking about Giles made her sad. Dawn realised Giles's absence troubled Willow, too, especially since they parted on such bad terms. Willow was likely wondering if the old man would ever forgive her. Giles had been really angry with Willow for bringing Buffy back. Dawn was just grateful to have her sister with her again.
Dawn's mind moved on to Xander and Anya. They were probably still in the car. Anya must have brought the ledger with her simply as an excuse not to talk to Xander as they drove. Dawn imagined Anya pressing the book so close to her face that her eyes would struggle to read the words and numbers she had scribbled down in her awful handwriting.
Perhaps Xander would finally make up the courage to speak his mind. Dawn imagined he would say something like, “Hey, Anya! You know how I sometimes get really worked up about the little things?”
Anya would look at him with a pout and say something like, “Yes, it is very annoying.”
“This marriage business,” Xander would continue, “it is not a little thing. It is a huge thing. So huge it almost blows my mind.”
“Why?” Anya would say as she slammed the book shut. “What is it about spending the rest of your life with me that terrifies you so much?”
Her eyes would be totally fixed on Xander now, which would almost make Xander wish her nose was still in the book, because when Anya was staring at him, she never looked away, and Xander found himself burning under her scrutiny, but there would be no true harshness in her words, only vulnerability.
“Everything,” Xander would say in a voice that would make Anya jump. “Absolutely everything!” Then he would stop the car at the side of the road, turn his head and finally meet Anya's gaze like a man. “You terrify me, Anya, because I need you so much. You've taken up every space in my life. You are my lover, my confidante, my best friend, my partner in crime...” He would laugh and look away, before becoming serious again. “Anya, this wedding is gonna be the most important day in my life, and if I mess it up, I could lose everything.”
Then Anya would slap him hard across the face. Xander would rub his cheek and wonder what on Earth he said wrong.
“What about me?” Anya would say. “What would I have if I lost you? All my friends are your friends. My demon friends have all disowned me. All I would have left would be the Magic Box, which would be a constant reminder of you.”
Then Xander would get an idea, and he would say. “Well, what if we didn't mess it up? What if we walk up to that altar without tripping, read our vows without stumbling our words and live happily ever after?”
Anya would roll her eyes. “That would never happen,” she would say. “We will likely fight very much, which will lead to great make-up sex, but sometimes we will say things that hurt, and sometimes I will worry that you care more about your Scooby girlfriends than me, and sometimes...”
And Xander would find himself filled with love and he would cup Anya's face in his hands, kiss her on the forehead and bring her in for a hug. “I can live with that,” he would stay. “Just live with me, and I can live with that.”
That would be neat, Dawn thought to herself, as she span around in the little office chair behind the counter.
“We'll just be in the next room.”
Willow was looking down at Dawn from over the counter. “Tara and I are going to the back room to talk.”
“Oh...” Dawn thought she could sense an aura of hopefulness emanating from Willow. “Good luck,” she said, giving her two thumbs up.
Willow smiled and vanished through the back door along with Tara. Dawn span around in her chair again. She wondered if they would be able to work things out. Willow had been so sad since Tara left. She did not lock herself up in her room, because she was afraid people would think she was studying magic in secret. She simply sat in the living room with the most abstracted expressions, making brave smiles whenever someone spoke to her. Tara was less visibly affected, but she seemed tired.
Dawn looked at the locked door Will and Tara had passed through. She wondered what they were saying to each other. Willow was probably trying to make up yet another apology to which Tara would patiently listen. Yes, that is probably what would happen. No, wait. Maybe Willow would do something different this time. Dawn had thought she had sensed that Willow had almost given up hope. Maybe Willow would look at Tara and say, “You don't have to come by any more.”
Tara would be completely shocked. Her jaw would drop and her eyes would widen. “What do you mean?” she would stammer.
Willow would suppress the tears that were pressing and take a deep breath. “I mean that I am fine,” she might say. “My friends are looking after me and I am getting better. You don't have to check on me any more.”
That would make Tara's mouth start to quiver, and pretty soon tears would be flowing down her cheeks. Willow would freak out and run over to her. She would hoover around Tara, wanting to comfort her with hugs and kisses, but not knowing if that would be crossing the boundary that had been set up between them.
“I am so sorry,” Willow would say, getting down on her knees in front of the weeping Tara, and now she would be crying, too. “I just … I never thought I would be capable of causing you such pain.” She would need to stop to catch her breath. “I am not a good person to be around.”
Tara wouldn't look up. She would pull Willow in for a hug and burrow her face in her shoulder, wetting Willow's sweater with her tears.
Willow would cautiously place her hands on Tara's back. “I'm so sorry,” she would whisper. “I am so sorry.”
After a few minutes, Tara would pull back. Her eyes would be red and swollen. “I am not leaving,” she would say. “I am staying right where I am.”
“Why?” Willow would say. “Why, Tara?”
“Because you found me,” Tara would answer. “You found me and you promised you would always find me again. You filled your body with that filthy black magic to save me. You fought with a god. I can't believe how brave you were.”
“I wasn't brave,” Will would sob. “I was terrified. I think I went to fight Glory, because if I could not beat her, then I wanted her to kill me.”
“Don't say that,” Tara would say.
“But it is true,” Willow would say. “I wasn't brave. I was so scared. I was so scared that I did the thing that felt easiest. I swallowed all that magic and I ran to fight Glory. Then... It made me wipe your mind, Tara. I was so scared that I wiped your mind. Who does that? What am I?”
Tara would think for a moment, then she would say, “I don't know, Will ... but what am I?” She would try to smile a little. “Do you remember when I thought I was going to turn into a demon? I cast a spell on you to hide my transformation. It was so stupid. It would never have worked. And it was dangerous. I almost got everyone killed.” She would stop to brush away some strands of hair that had fallen over Willow's face. “You forgave me immediately. I never got that. I tricked you, but it was as if it didn't matter.”
“You were so lost,” Willow would said. “I couldn't just abandon you.”
Tara would laugh. “We're two lost souls, then,” she would say, “trying to hold on to each other.”
“Will you hold me?” Willow would ask.
Tara would smile and then she would wrap her arms around Willow. Willow would be so happy to lay there in Tara's embrace. For the first time in a long while, the overpowering sense of shame would be gone. Then Tara would draw Willow up for a kiss, and the world was on fire again.
Dawn blinked. She must have dosed off. She stretched her arms and the wizard hat tumbled off her head. She bent down, picked it up and put it back on her head. It was so typical of Willow to buy something like this. Giles would never have worn it. He was too stuffy to wear something silly like this to work.
Dawn wondered what Giles was doing now, way across the ocean in England. Dawn imagined him sitting all alone in a rocking chair preparing a cup of tea for himself. He would sit in his chair for a long time, absentmindedly wrapping the string around the teabag and the spoon to squeeze out the last drops. In the end, the bag would be all shrivelled and dry, but Giles would keep squeezing it, because each drop is precious and because his mind would be elsewhere. Finally, he would pick up the phone. The receiver would be in his hand before he realised he had made the decision to grab it, and his fingers would dial the number without needing the guidance of his mind.
“Hello ...” After uttering the first word, his tongue would tie, and Giles would need a couple seconds to compose himself, before he would say very confidently, “Hello, Ethan.”
Of course, back in Old Blightey, it would already be late at night, and Ethan would probably be drunk. He would be very surprised at hearing his old friend's voice, so he would say, “Rupert,” in a voice that betrayed how shocked he was. Then he too would compose himself and say very confidently, “Ripper, old chap, how have you been?”
Then Giles would call Ethan, “old chap,” and say, “How do you do?” and Ethan would say sorta gleefully that he was, “doing very well, indeed, but how do you do, old chap?” and they would keep going back and forth and be very polite and stiff-upper-lippy but not really that friendly.
Then Giles would put his glasses on the table and pinch the bridge of his nose, as he finally started to say what he had called to say. “I think I miss you, Ethan.”
And Ethan would sit on his sofa with a big grin and hear this and be completely unable to come up with a reply. “Oh!” he would say, just to cut up the interval of silence. Then he would say, “We had some good times, Ripper,” because that would make the conversation feel less dangerous.
“Yes,” Giles would agree, laughing nervously and still massaging the bridge of his nose between his fingers. “Yes, we did.”
“We are only young once, Rupert,” Ethan would say.
“I don't know,” Giles would say, as he thought about how nice it was to be called Rupert, “we are only as old as we feel.”
“That is true,” Ethan would agree, and they would both keep saying these silly old platitudes and lots of other stuff that doesn't really mean anything, but somehow, this would end up being the realest conversation they had ever had, because that is what it's like with old British chaps. They sound like they are speaking a load of rubbish and old nonsense, but they may be communicating on a level the rest of us are unable to even comprehend.
And Giles would start to smile, and it would be a nice and happy smile. Ethan would still have his wolfy grin, because that is just how his mouth looks, but his eyes would be kind and open, and it is very sad that they would not be able to look at each other and see how happy they both were to be speaking so nicely to an old friend. Before long, they would have agreed to meet up later in the week for a pint of lager down at the pub.
“This was nice,” Ethan would say. “It is going to be very nice to meet you again, Ripper.”
“I am so very glad I called,” Giles would say, and he would be immediately afraid he had said too much, but he decides to trust his courage.
The door to the back room sprang open, making Dawn jump in her seat. She had to hold up her hands to keep the hat from falling off her head again. Willow came storming out, looking all giddy.
“I did it, Dawn,” she said proudly. “I finally said the right words.”
“That's great,” Dawn said. “Are you back together again?”
“Oh, boy!” Willow suddenly looked uncertain. “I don't know, mister. It is looking good at the moment, but I don't wanna put any pressure on things by throwing around labels such as girlfriend or back together.”
“That is still great,” Dawn said. She got up from her chair and gave Willow a sisterly hug. “I am so happy for you.”
“I am happy for me, too,” Willow said. Then she pulled back. “Do you know where the herbal tea is?” she asked. “I am making a cuppa for Tara.”
Dawn looked underneath the counter. “I think Giles hid it,” she said. “That stuff offends his British sensibilities.”
“I'll look up here,” Willow said and ran up the stairs. After a few moments of rummaging about she shouted, “Found it!” and came back down, before disappearing back into the room with Tara.
Dawn was alone again. After having spent the entire day with her friends, it felt strange to be left on her own. It was as if she wasn't used to it any more. She wondered where her sister was. Buffy had left for the Double Meat Palace this morning before Dawn even got up. Now that it was almost sundown, she was probably on her way to patrol. Dawn worried about her sister. She hadn't been the same since she came back from the grave. Dawn wanted so much for the two of them to be able to be happy together, but for each day that passed, it seemed like more and more of an impossibility, as Buffy was slipping further and further away from the land of the living and closer and closer to the coffin she had been so forcefully dragged from.
Dawn tried to imagine what Buffy was feeling right now. She was probably sulking as she strolled through the crumbled old gravestones, thinking about her brooding ex-boyfriend and wishing he would be there so they could sit down beside each other on a gravestone and brood in sync. Dawn didn't know Angel very well. Buffy had been so secretive. Still, Dawn remembered back when Buffy would come climbing into the room they still shared together, and how she would have this peculiar smile on her face, as if she thought herself to be the luckiest girl in the world. Dawn wondered when or if she would ever get to wear such a smile herself. Buffy had never smiled quite like that again, which made Dawn worry that the first time she herself would get to smile like that would also be the last.
The light from the window was completely gone. Dawn closed the blinds, so that people wouldn't be looking in. The vampires would rise from their graves and their crypts now. Buffy would prowl the graveyard for them, but her mind would probably long to be elsewhere … in an old-timey hotel in LA with Angel's big arms hanging over her shoulders like a pair of heavy seatbelts. Buffy probably felt herself closer to Angel now than she had ever been. She knew a bit about suffering now and about feeling as though the universe was set against her.
Then Buffy would hear a sound. Someone was reciting, almost singing. Buffy would draw nearer, slowly twirling her stake in her hand. She would silently admonish herself for having been so careless as to not pay attention.
“She walks in beauty like the night,” she would hear someone sing, interrupted by soundless sobs, “of cloudless climes and starry skies. And all that's best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes.” Buffy would peer above a gravestone and see Spike leaning against a crypt with a cigarette hanging from one hand, while limply grasping a bottle of whiskey in the other. “Thus mellowed is that tender beauty, which heaven to gaudy day … DENIES!”
At the utterance of that final word, Spike would fall on his knees and hide his face in his hands. “Drusilla, baby,” he would mumble. “If you could see me now, you would turn your face away in disgust.”
Buffy would walk up to him. He would look so pitiable with his pale face made red from weeping.
Spike would notice her and scowl, embarrassed at being seen. “What are you looking at?” he would ask her.
“You,” Buffy would say. “I am looking at you.”
“No, you're not,” Spike would mumble. “Nobody can see me. Only I see me.”
Buffy would sit down beside Spike. It was likely going to be a quiet night anyway. There had been decidedly less vampires around lately.
“Go away,” Spike would growl. “I don't like you.”
“Oh, yeah,” Buff would counter. “Haven't you been telling me this whole past year how much you luuuve me - el uh vee?”
“Maybe,” Spike would mumble, “but I don't like you any more.”
“Oh?” Buffy would say. “What changed?”
“I used to have this girlfriend before you, you see,” Spike would say. “You remember her … skinny … black hair … brave sense of fashion.”
“It rings a bell, yeah,” Buffy would say, patiently indulging him.
“Now she could be very mean,” Spike would say. “And she did not always appreciate all the things that I did for her … all the people I maimed and killed for her.” His eyes would well up again and his voice grew thin. “But she got me.”
“Don't I get you?” Buffy would ask. “I beat you up … sometimes I sleep with you … not that I'll ever do that again … but what more do you want?”
Spike would look away. After a long hesitation, he would say, “I want confirmation that I am more than just a blood sucking fiend.”
At this Buffy would laugh. She would laugh so much that all the vampires in the graveyard, who all knew to recognize her laugh from any other, vacated to a different part of town.
“And Drusilla would do that?” Buffy would ask. “She would let you think that you was more than just a regular vampire?”
“It didn't have to be true,” Spike would mumble. “It was enough that she would believe it. We were different. We represented a different kind of freedom. A different kind of understanding. And there was love in everything we did.”
They would sit around in silence for a while. The only sound was the wind softly rattling the leaves on the trees and on the ground. Buffy would start to feel annoyed that the cold blooded vampire next to her kept his warm leather coat all to himself.
“I used to have a boyfriend, too, you know,” Buffy would say, once the silence became too much to bear.
“Was he that boring old ponce with the poncy name?” Spike would grumble.
“He would have been good to have around now,” Buffy would say. “He had this way of making me happy just by looking at me. When something was troubling me, he would let me speak my mind before commenting.”
“Did he now?” Spike would grumble, before taking a deep swill of his whiskey.
“And he never stalked me … or not that much … and he didn't steal my panties or chain me up or...”
“Sound like a swell guy,” Spike would say. “He was a bit different when I knew him. I could tell you so many stories.”
“It wouldn't matter,” Buffy would say. “I know what I know.”
“Yeah?” Spike would say. “I know what I know, too.” Another moment of silence would pass. “I really do miss Dru, you know,” Spike would say. “I think I needed to say it to another person to make it feel more real. I tried saying it to Clem, but he has never had a girlfriend, so I don't think he really gets it.”
“I get it,” Buffy would say. “... or … I don't get it … you two were completely messed up … but I can pretend like I get it.”
Spike would take another swig of whiskey. “Good enough,” he would say. “And I don't get how anyone could miss Mr Backstreet Boy Vampire, but I see that you do, so I respect that.”
Buffy would laugh a little, because it all seemed so silly. She was a young girl in love with a vampire, currently seeing another vampire, she had survived death twice... Maybe she was crazy? Maybe she was locked inside a mental institution in LA somewhere, imagining all of this. She would look up at Spike. He did not laugh. He was too much a part of all this craziness. For him, it was all real. He never stopped to think about it, like she did … or at least, Buffy didn't think so. Maybe he too sometimes thought he was an ageing bachelor locked inside a small flat with his mother, dreaming of a more exciting life.
They would not speak any more tonight. They rarely spoke much, anyway. They were brought together only by circumstance … by their mutual isolation from the rest of the world. Buffy could think of so many other people she would rather be sitting there with. There was Angel … and … yes … Angel. There was no way she could bring him perfect happiness now, as she felt herself drifting closer and closer towards perfect misery. Maybe she should just jump on a bus and head over to LA right now tonight. Ha, no, she would never do that. She had Dawn to think about. Or would she? No, she definitely wouldn't. Or maybe... but it was nice to think about anyway. Buffy wondered what would have happened if she did show up in LA. Would they be able to pick up were they left off? Where did they leave it? Was it all the way back that night she turned 17? No... They had never left it. They had left each other, but they had never left it anywhere. It was still there … somewhere … waiting to be picked up and polished again … pushed to the back of her mind but always present.
Spike would be sitting silently next to Buffy in deep contemplation … or whatever counted as deep contemplation for him. He would try to wish that he wasn't so pathetic, but he found that he couldn't. It is like that old clichéd saying … it is better to have loved and lost … or it is better to be denied love than to be incapable of feeling it. The people who can live alone and be happy like that, they were little more than zombies, he though. He didn't want that for himself. He'd rather be miserable and let people see it.
He would sigh and look over at Buffy. She wasn't a zombie. She would say she was, but she was wrong. She was still there. She was just a little tired. For him, she was never gone. He could sense her aura always, even when she wore those blasé expressions. Or at least, he thought he did.
He sighed. Then he would stealthily let his hand crawl across the space between them, and she would look down and be surprised to see it so close to her. Without knowing why, she would put her hand on his, and they would both look up to meet each other's eyes and pretend to be surprised at each other. Then they would look away, but would keep holding the other's hand in their own … and bit by bit, they would move a little closer. Spike would finally notice that Buffy was shivering, so he would wrap her in his coat. She kept him warm, so it was only fair that he would do the same for her.
The telephone rang, causing Dawn to roll off the chair and fall flat-faced onto the floor. Surprisingly, the hat did not fall off her head this time. It was as though it had grown into her. She pushed herself up and grabbed the receiver.
“Hi, Dawn Star! It's Xander.”
“I heard that.”
“I am just calling to tell you that Anya and I decided we want to go on a date tonight.”
“A date? You're engaged. Engaged people don't go on dates.”
“Yes, they do. What do you know? You're a kid.”
“Does this mean you spoke to her?”
“Yes. We spoke.”
“Cool. I'm proud of you.”
“Can you ask Tara if it's all right if she stays a little longer? Tell her we'll owe her one.”
Dawn looked towards the door to the back room. “I don't think she's planning on leaving any time soon,” she said.
So, that was it. Xander and Anya weren't coming back for quite a while. Buffy would be out patrolling. It would probably be best to leave Will and Tara to themselves. How was she going to spend the next couple of hours, then? She could not walk back home. Walking through Sunnydale after dark was not advisable for a young girl.
It seemed as though everybody's relationships were fixing themselves. Xander and Anya were on a date. Willow and Tara were having snuggly talks out in the back room. Only Dawn was alone. She sat down in her chair and thought about Kevin. Kevin had been so attentive of her lately. He had been a good friend after her mother died, but they had sorta drifted apart during that time Dawn was being chased by time travelling knights and given up as human sacrifice to a hell-god hermaphrodite. Now they had started to hang out again. Kevin was the only one who didn't seem put off by her weirdness. He had gotten really good at drawing. For her birthday … “birthday” with quotation marks … he had given her a charcoal drawing of herself. It was very pretty. Kevin had been a little generous in the way he drew her curves. Not by a lot, just enough for Dawn's self-conscious mind to notice. She did not know how she felt about that... a little offended … a little slighted, yet another part of her was oddly flattered by it. It meant Kevin thought of her as a woman. Spending almost all her time with people who were older than her meant that she always saw herself as a little kid. That was not true any more. She had just become so accustomed to that perception of her. If she and Kevin became … a thing … then she could be something different … in his eyes if not in her sister's.
He said he was going to draw something new for her, when he had gotten a little better at it. Maybe he was doing that just now. Maybe he was sitting up in his room trying to remember the exact features of her face and the curve of her nose. She had let him take that polaroid of her, hadn't she? Maybe it would have been more fun to let him draw from memory again. Or maybe he had already drawn the picture and was on his way to give it to her. Maybe he had been making up the courage for a long time, because when he gave her this picture that would also be when he would finally ask her out. Maybe he was on her way to see her right now. But she wasn't home. She was here. If he went to her house, then he would find it empty.
There was a knock on the door.
Dawn almost screamed in surprise. She had been so lost in her thoughts. Who could it be? Buffy wouldn't knock. Could it be Spike? No, it wasn't Spike. It was someone else. Dawn ran to the door and pulled it open in such a swift motion that Kevin, who stood on the other side, leapt back two feet.
“Kevin?” Dawn begged her heart to stop beating quite so fast and for her lungs to allow her a little bit of air.
“Hi, Dawn,” Kevin said with that shy smile of his. He pulled back some of his hair, which the wind was tossing around. “Can I come in?”
“Sure,” Dawn said in way too loud a voice. She gestured with her hand. “Step right in.”
“How did you know I was here?” Dawn asked, once she had closed the door behind them.
“I just had a feeling,” Kevin said as his eyes took in all the weird sights the shop had to offer. He turned back towards Dawn. “What's up with the hat?”
Dawn's eyes widened. She had completely forgotten about the goofy hat. She took it off immediately and as she did so, it was as if her senses were suddenly both a little weaker and a little sharper than before. “I was just goofing around,” she explained as she tossed the hat to the side. “Bored, you know.” She shrugged and tried to seem cool.
“I guess I do know,” he replied, seemingly suggesting much.
“By the way,” Dawn said as she slowly moved closer to him. “Did you finish that drawing by any chance?” She was now standing perhaps a little too close to him … a little closer than she was entirely comfortable with. She was just a little taller than him, which made it feel as though she towered above him.
“No,” he said. “I decided to give that up.”
“Oh,” Dawn said, unable to not sound disappointed.
“I decided it was time to give that up and just get on with it and ask you out,” he said, looking her straight in the eyes.
“Oh!” Dawn took a step back. “Oh,” she repeated.
“If you're not doing anything just now,” he said, pressing his hands deep into his pockets. “Would you mind taking a stroll with me? Perhaps get something to eat?”
“I would,” she said, but the word came out weird. “I would like that,” she repeated a little more convincingly. She smiled without planning to and she could feel herself blush. “I'll leave a note telling my friends we're at the diner down the street.”
They left the shop hand in hand. Dawn felt as though she was leaving a lot of things behind. She did not think she would spend another evening wondering about the love life of her sister or her older friends. From this evening forward she would be living her own life … completely. It was a first step into something new. She knew from watching others that it would not always be a fun ride, but... maybe tonight she would come home wearing that same smile that her sister had worn those few times.
And so the day drew to an end and everybody were feeling a little less alone in the world than they had when the day had started. Over in England, Giles sat cross legged on the floor, leaning against a stacked-up pile of pillows, lazily strumming his guitar in time with the song from the record player. Yet unbeknownst to Giles, Ethan stood on the porch, waiting for the courage to enter and secretely admiring Giles's flexible wrist through the window. If Giles had looked up, he would have seen him silhouetted against the full moon back drop. For a few moments more, Ethan held on to expectation before surrendering to reality.
In the alley behind the Magic Box, Willow and Tara lay atop a blanket, drinking tea and looking at the stars. The night was so cold that Willow several times had to lean into Tara for warmth. The sixth time, Tara leaned back. She put down her cup and pulled her arm around Willow's shoulder.
“I finally feel comfortable being where I was meant to be,” one of them whispered to the other. I can't remember who.
In a diner down the street from the Magic Box, Xander and Anya were enjoying a meal as well as each other. For so long, all their talks had been about serious things … buying an apartment, the end of the world, resurrection spells, wedding invitations, flower arrangements … the kinds of things that can suck the romance out of a relationship … the kinds of things that can make two people forget that they are friends that don't need anything external to enjoy each other's company. Things was always better when they just relaxed and didn't worry about putting on such a show.
In the middle of chewing an obscene chunk of cheese cake, Xander noticed something that completely took him out of the moment. Dawn was sitting at a table in the opposite corner. Not only was she enjoying the nth milkshake of the day. She was sharing it with a boy that Xander did not know, whose intentions were definitely unsuitable for sweet little Dawnie.
“Look at that,” Xander said without swallowing.
Anya turned to see where he was pointing. “What?” she asked. Then she noticed Dawn. “Oh. How sweet.”
“Sweet!?” Xander swallowed his cake so he could speak without firing crumbs across the table. “That is not sweet. That is disturbing.”
Anya rolled her eyes. “Why?”
Xander searched his mind. “Well … she didn't say anything,” was all he could come up with. “Does Will and Tara even know she's here?”
“I am sure they do,” Anya said, eager to get back to her cheese cake.
“Why would Dawn tell Willow and not me?” Xander said, clearly heartbroken.
“I don't know,” Anya said. “Maybe because she's a girl and you aren't … even though you mostly act like one.”
“That little minx,” Xander exclaimed. “She gets all up in my relationship, but doesn't say a thing about this boy she is seeing. I tell you...” He waved his spoon in front of Anya. “... that little girl is way craftier than she lets on.”
So, Xander calmed down, deciding that ruining a good night out for himself and Dawn would be a little overwrought. He had to remind himself that he had been dating bug-women back when he was Dawn's age. She would probably be able to make more prudent choices than he had done.
Dawn hadn't noticed Xander and Anya when she walked in with Kevin. Her attentions were elsewhere. She couldn't get enough of seeing her reflection in Kevin's eyes. She was lovely, because he though she was, and he was lovely, too.
Meanwhile, back in the graveyard, even the two people who earlier in the day had thought themselves the loneliest creatures on this bleak earth now lay wrapped up in each other's arms. Neither Buffy nor Spike said a word. They communicated solely by the way either of them would suddenly stroke the other's arm or hug the other a little tighter. It wasn't all that it could be, but it was more than a little and very close to enough.