They meet up after darkness has fallen, in the inappropriately named Lovers' Lane. It's on the edge of a cliff, on the rockier outskirts of Chance Harbor, overlooking the sea. It's neither a lane nor a place for lovers, with the lack of seclusion it provides.
Dawn is all business, both in dress and demeanour, as she settles into the passenger seat and closes the door. She flinches just a little when Charles activates the central locking. Any other time he might enjoy the reaction – he has far more leverage when she's scared of him – but tonight he's oddly annoyed by it. He saved her life, and she still doesn't trust him.
He knows better than to trust her, either. She'd stab him in the back in a heartbeat, squeeze out as many crocodile tears as it took to clean the knife.
“The photographs,” she announces, sliding a small box across to him. Her hand moves, unconsciously, to her stomach. “That treacherous bitch might not have played ball, but the principle is sound. We can still make use of them.”
Charles leafs through the pictures, a succession of fuzzy figures and familiar scenery. “Neither of us is psychic,” he points out.
“We can still sense the crystals' energy, if we can just get close enough. Each of them is from the same source. They'll resonate on the exact same frequency...”
“You're proposing we use science to locate our magic?”
“Nothing else is working,” Dawn snaps. She's clutching at straws, and both of them know it. She pushes back her hair, tense fingers running through it. The moon is bright and high in the night sky, her skin creamy in its light. The line of her jaw is still as sharp as she is, though neither of them is getting any younger. He wonders, briefly, just how old they'll be, when they finally regain what's meant to be theirs.
“Long day?” he ventures.
She nods. “Interviewing for a new addition to our science department.”
“Let me guess – a geologist?”
“Chemist, actually,” Dawn says, but she looks thoughtful. “You know, now that you mention it...”
“I was tied up in court most of the morning,” Charles tells her, responding to a question she didn't ask. “Pre-trial hearing.”
Her eyes dance in amusement. “Are you making small talk, Charles?”
He shrugs. “Just conversation.”
“Okay, then. How's Diana?”
“Dragging the contents of her closet across to your house, the last time I saw her. I believe Faye is hosting a slumber party.”
“Pillow fights and popcorn,” Dawn says. He can't tell if she's being sarcastic, or reliving her own long-lost innocence. “Were we ever that young?”
He holds up a photograph in answer, a snatched shot of most of their Circle. Blackwell isn't in it; if there is any photographic evidence of him, Dawn must have it locked in a shrine somewhere. She leans over, until they're shoulder to shoulder, and studies the picture. She looks wistful, a sentiment he shares. She was the queen of high school, ruling the halls with iron grip. He was never the president of the debating society, but he was its most articulate member. They're the adult versions of those things now, with all the power and prestige that goes with them.
But it's the wrong sort of power, and he gains no pleasure from any of it.
“Since you cut your hair,” Dawn says, “I can hardly tell the difference.”
It sounds like a compliment. He knows better; their partnership was born from necessity, not mutual admiration. Dawn would tell him the sun was purple, if it would benefit her to do so. But it still makes him flush with something that's half pleasure, half surprise. He quickly flattens it, hating himself for being so feeble, and easily flattered.
“I told Faye we were going out,” she says.
“We are.” He nods back at the trunk. “I even brought a shovel.”
She regards him eagerly, face lit with a feral sort of zeal. “And the crystal?”
“And,” he says, feeling down the side of his door and pulling out a flask, “refreshments.” He passes it to Dawn and fumbles for some paper cups, noting the way she holds it at a distance, like a live grenade.
He says so. She laughs, falsely bright. “I'm not thirsty.”
“Humour me.” He gestures for her to pour, watching a parade of emotions – doubt, confusion, suspicion – flit across her face. She settles on resignation, and unscrews the cap, filling each of their cups with liquid that is blood-red in the daylight, ink-black outside it. He raises his in a toast, lifting it toward his lips. Dawn echoes the move, leaving it hovering there, suspended.
“There's no need to worry, Dawn,” he says. “It's not what you think it is.”
Still she hesitates. He takes pity on her, and knocks back his own in one fluid motion.
“Non-alcoholic,” he elaborates. “Can't have the principal caught drinking in public, now can we? My services are at your disposal, of course...if you ever are.”
Dawn sags with relief. She takes a delicate sip, relaxing in her seat. “You never mentioned how you persuaded Ethan to return the crystal.”
“I drugged his drink,” Charles says casually.
Raspberry cordial splatters his dashboard. Dawn wipes her mouth and glares at him. He smiles back, retrieving the flask. She's feisty, Dawn; domineering. He likes that about her, frustrating as it is to deal with. It makes the rare occasions that he has the upper hand all the more satisfying.
Dawn rests her elbow on the door frame and stares out at the sea below. The waves lap white at the shore, stars twinkling off of them. Charles pours himself another drink, appreciating both the view and the peace. The crystal thrums pleasantly inside his shirt, somewhere close to his heart.
“Why did you save my life, Charles?”
The question is abrupt, and unexpected; it catches him completely off-guard. With her eyes boring into him and her chin tilted in challenge, the wind is knocked from his sails. He opens and closes his mouth like a fish; one of the harbour's finest catches, pierced on her hook.
“It seemed like the thing to do,” he manages. Wilting under her gaze, like many an unruly student before him, he adds, “You'd have done the same.”
Dawn doesn't deny it. She doesn't confirm it, either. “That's our only working crystal. Have you any idea how much power it takes to heal someone? It's probably half-drained...”
“I couldn't just let you die,” he snaps, ignoring the proprietary our. “I need you.”
She quirks an eyebrow.
“To get my power back,” he says quickly, hoping it's dark enough to obscure the heat, crawling up his cheeks. He might have regained the crystal, but the upper hand is rapidly slipping from his grasp. His victories are hard-won, and almost always short-lived. He is suddenly, horribly conscious of how easy it is for her to get beneath his skin.
“Would you rather I'd let you bleed out? Left your daughter an orphan, like...”
He trails off, sentence left unfinished. Cassie would qualify; but he feels no guilt about Amelia, which was a means to an end, and has led to her daughter living in his house, the sister Diana has never had. Nick is another matter. It's no longer an open wound, but it will always be a sore spot, deep inside.
Dawn hears all too clearly what he can't bring himself to say. Befitting their struggle for dominance, the way they dance and spar, balance shifting back and forth between them, it's her turn to take pity on him.
“Of course not,” she says, voice soft. “That's the last thing I want. You know that. I was just...surprised. After you'd threatened me.”
“You threatened my mother,” Charles says. “I trust we're quite clear on how I feel about that.”
“Crystal,” Dawn says impatiently, without a hint of irony. Her voice regains its bite. “Is that why you showed up at my house the other night? To carry out your threats?”
Charles doesn't confirm it. He doesn't deny it, either. “To demonstrate that the drugs really do work.”
She rolls her eyes. “Don't let the kids hear you say that.”
“Oh, Diana's much too sensible for that kind of thing.”
Too late, he realises how it sounds. But Dawn seems distant; lost in thought. If she hears any reference to Faye at all, it's coloured by the reminder of how close she came to losing her. If Charles hadn't turned up, it would have been Faye who'd found her, lying bloodied and lifeless. Neither of them are strangers to death; they've spent the last sixteen years in its shadow, doling it out when Dawn deems it necessary.
But the prospect of your own is different, and with a child who's already lost one parent to consider, profoundly unsettling. Dawn is more shaken than she cares to admit. He ponders how best to exploit it.
“You keep saving my life,” Dawn says, slowly. She meets his eyes. “And I keep having to thank you.”
It's a still night, but the air is suddenly taut; charged with possibility, like a gathering storm. Everything else drains away: everything but the heady scent of her perfume, and the heat of her body, so dangerously close to his. Things are different in the dark, but he's sure he's not imagining the way she's looking at him, as if she's never fully appreciated what she sees.
He's tired of being held up to Blackwell, and always found wanting. Even her husband could never compete. But Tom is dead, just like Lizzie, and just like John. Charles is very much alive, and the crystal makes him bold. He leans in towards her, something he never imagined having the courage to do; and she makes no move to stop him.
They spring apart at the squeal of tyres, headlamps sweeping through the car like a searchlight. Another car parks up next to them, a pair of lovers on their own late night assignation.
The moment is gone. Dawn clears her throat, and smooths down her hair. He drums out an awkward rhythm on the steering wheel. Just as the silence becomes too much to bear, Dawn holds out her empty cup. He pours her another drink, and then one for himself, glad of the distraction.
She lifts her cup in another, silent toast: a thank you of sorts. He taps his cup against hers. You're welcome, it says in answer. And adds in postscript: I hope I don't live to regret it.
“I hope you've changed your sheets this week,” Dawn says.
Charles splutters on his cordial. He covers it with an exaggerated cough. She stares at him, eyes chips of cold steel.
“I told Faye I'd be out all night, let the girls have the place to themselves. Where else do you expect me to stay?”
He doesn't know what he was thinking. It would have been like kissing a viper. A praying mantis, if his limited experience is any indication. “Uh, well, I suppose it is Valentine's...”
“And we are supposed to be dating...”
“And here we are,” he says, recovering. He waves his cup at the edge of the precipice. “On Lovers' Lane.”
“Leap,” Dawn says.
He frowns, fearing for a moment she's trying to spell him. “I'm sorry?”
“My mother-in-law called it Lovers' Leap. You don't know the legend?”
Charles shakes his head.
“A young girl was forced into marrying a man she didn't love. But she was already in love with someone else: a local boy, her childhood sweetheart. And since they couldn't be together in life, they chose to be together in death. They met up here, the night before her wedding. They joined hands and jumped, as one, over the edge of the cliff.”
He wonders if it's some twisted parable about teamwork; decides to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Dashing their brains out on the rocks below. How romantic.”
Dawn swallows back her drink, looking a little pensive. “She always said this place was haunted. And I never let Tom take me here... Just in case.”
“A strange superstition for a witch.”
“Looking back, I think she was just trying to stop us making out in his car.”
“Well,” Charles says, looking over at the one next to them, its windows already steamed up. “No danger of that now, is there?”
Dawn almost smiles, a cryptic little curve of her lips. He fixes a careful, enigmatic expression to his face, and meets her gaze, unblinking. The struggle goes on: and even with the crystal safely back in his possession, he's not sure which of them is winning.
“It's getting late,” she says, crumpling her cup and tossing it to the floor, cool and businesslike once again. “We'd better get on with it.”
He removes the crystal from his pocket, a thrill running through him at its touch. They watch it shimmer in the moonlight, united in awe; drawn to it like moths to flame. But it's such a lovely way to burn. He moves it out of reach – just in case – as Dawn stretches over and takes the box back from him. Her hand brushes, warm and fleeting, against his.
Charles shivers, and blames it on ghosts.