Lo, the Dawn
He’s feeling down and not especially necessary after the latest patrol, so Xander’s not exactly Mr. Eye-on-the-Ball and it’s probably not all that surprising that someone has managed to sneak up on him.
Clutching his chest, he whirls around and… “Dawn? What are you doing out this late? Your sister’s going to…”
“Be too busy worrying about the shoes she just ruined or something cryptic and mysterious that her beloved Angel said” – she says the name of Xander’s least favorite vampire mockingly and he decides he’s so very glad to see her – “to notice whether I’m home when she gets there or whether I sneak in through the window. Give me some credit, would you? I thought you at least, out of all of them, realized I’m not just some dumb kid.”
The look on her face reads ‘genuinely disappointed’ and… is it sadistic that he’s flattered? Because after a night of being shoved to the side ‘for his own protection’, by all the super-powered people – namely everyone who isn’t named Xander – it’s amazingly appealing to the old ego to have something as small as his opinion be important and meaningful to someone named Summers, and if it’s not the Summers who stars in his more x-rated dreams and fantasies, well… he’ll take what he can get.
“I’m sorry,” he says, savoring the power he can taste in those words as he watches the expression on her face change. “I know you’re not a dumb kid.”
“I just want you to be safe, that’s all.”
And at this precise moment, the little world where Xander was a king for a brief, shining moment is stormed by Visigoths, or maybe they’re Vikings – one of those V-hordes – and razed to the ground. “I’m just as safe out here as you are.” Which hurts, because she’s right, isn’t she? Xander’s no more able to fight off vampires and other assorted baddies than a gawky, klutzy twelve year old girl who has posters of kittens and guys wearing lots of really disturbing eyeliner on her wall. Great. Because it’s not nearly bad enough that his sole contribution to tonight’s slaying fiesta was not getting impaled on the iron fence after getting thrown through the air by a demon, is it?
Well, if there’s one thing he’s learned from years of being bullied, it’s that you never – never ever – let the enemy see you crumble, so, deciding that nothing matters nearly as much as getting away from Dawn as fast as possible, he turns and heads for the not-exactly-a-shortcut that adds fifteen minutes to his travel time but comes in handy on the nights when he knows his parents are doing some serious drinking.
Or the nights when he’s trapped and has no other way to escape.
A second later, though, he realizes he should have asked Willow for some tips on storming off – great, one more thing Willow’s better at than he is – because Dawn is on his heels, grabbing at his shirt. “Xander, wait! I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to make you mad.” Mad? She doesn’t think he’s hurt. She thinks he’s mad. He turns back and her eyes are wide and liquid and he can hear the yelling of the construction crew as they set to work rebuilding the Imperial Palace. Not quite the pleasure dome of old – as in three minutes ago – but it’ll do.
“I just want you to see… I want to be as cool as you are, okay?” Scratch the ‘not quite’, because those words are an Olympic-size pool stocked with every Playmate of the Month from the last ten years… all perfectly preserved and competing for his affections… except let’s leave out the part where they end up coming after him with axes, because that is so junior year and if his relationship with Cordelia taught him anything, it’s that it takes at least ten years for something to become retro – a year old something is just hopelessly out of date.
Kind of like that relationship with Cordelia, which has only been over for a month, but feels like it happened ages ago.
It feels like she dumped him an hour ago.
“Thanks, Dawnie,” he says, probably ten seconds or so too late, but hey, at least he’s saying it. Emily Post won’t show up at his house, all slavering jaws, bearing a burning book listing all his transgressions against etiquette and reading from it before ripping out his entrails and then serving them to him on the finest bone china.
Not that he had nightmares like that or anything after he went to that one cotillion class with Willow back in second grade.
“I should probably walk you home, huh.”
Her shoulders slump with the burden of being sent back to the kid’s table… but then her eyes go shrewd before the guile disappears and she squeals in that childlike way she has. “Or we could talk. There’s a bench over there and everything.”
The answer is no, of course, because this is way past Dawn’s bedtime and Xander’s a senior now and expected to be on his way to responsible adulthood, but… She’s looking at him like there’s no one in the world she’d rather be with right now and dammit, no one, not even Willow, looks at him like that anymore.
Screw responsibility. “Sure thing,” he says, and he strides manfully over to the bench, only just remembering to wait for her to sit down first. Emily Post is once again held at bay.
Now they’re sitting… and silent. It’s way past wacky that two people who are only slightly less talkative than Willow have nothing to say. (It always seems to come back to Willow… or to Buffy; his life revolves around women… like a harem eunuch.) But even without talking, it’s nice, and even though it’s awkward, it’s still more comfortable than he’s been with anyone in the longest time. Okay, she’s a preteen, but still… It’s like she’s not just sitting with him because he’s the only person around, but because she’s glad she ran into him – him specifically. Is he lying to himself? If he is, he doesn’t want to know.
“It sucks,” she says suddenly and the words are pretty much out of left field, but whatever they’re about, they probably fit because, from where Xander’s sitting, everything really does suck.
Still, he asks, “What sucks?”
“Everything.” Is she reading his mind? Then she goes on. “I mean, I get that she’s the Slayer and everything, but does she have to be so high and mighty about it? I could help, you know, but will Buffy even let me do any research? Oh no. It’s all ‘we’ve got this’ and ‘Mom will yell at me for giving you nightmares’. Like I even get nightmares.” It’s right at this very moment that Xander finally – finally – understands what the expression ‘high dudgeon’ means. Should he tell Dawn that she’s succeeded at something Willow couldn’t manage?
Dawn, however, isn’t finished. “You know, I don’t think her Slayer powers are that big a deal. I mean, most demons are guys, right?” Xander nods, not knowing where this is headed, but fearing another round of being blamed for the crimes of his gender. Instead, though… “Have you seen how she dresses? Totally distracting. The vampires are too busy staring at her boobs or trying to see up her skirt to put up a real fight.” You know, it’s scary how logical Dawn is. Xander has to admit that he has, more than once, tried to do all the same things she just mentioned so it stands to reason your average fledgling… “But she’s not the only Summers in this town who can fight the forces of darkness. Someday soon, I’ll be wearing miniskirts and stiletto heels. Then they’ll fear me.”
Okay, Xander’s a teenage boy with all the raging hormones that come with the territory, so the first thing her words do is make him picture her in that very get-up… which is what leads to his second response, which is sadness. Because she’s a little girl and she should have a puppy and be playing with Barbies, not worrying about competing with her very grown-up older sister. As much as Buffy is the object of his fantasies, Dawn… Dawn should be Dawn, not a Buffy-clone. Not that he thinks cloning Buffy would be a bad idea – though with his luck, even if there were a thousand Buffy’s, they’d all have the hots for the undead – it’s just that Dawn should be herself. Her normal, no-super-powers, preteen self.
It occurs to him to wonder if some of this is more about feeling left behind while everyone else gets into the VIP room than is strictly kosh… wholesome. (God is he tired of all roads leading back to Willow – and yeah, he knows that’s because everything’s been so complicated since they crossed the line and also because now she’s one of them and not like him anymore… and if this is what it’s like to have lots of thoughts, then he officially hates it and has no idea why anyone does it voluntarily.)
What he hates more than anything is the idea that Dawn might feel anything like he does.
Judging by the way Dawn is looking at him, it’s way past time for the Xander portion of this exchange, so he struggles and tries to find some words that might be right. “You’re not Buffy,” he begins, and of course it’s the wrong thing to say, because he gets interrupted immediately.
“That’s what everyone says. Like I need reminding! Like I don’t look in the mirror! I know I’m not as pretty as she is, or as strong. I don’t have some special destiny or a bunch of amazing friends who go out and save the world with me.” She’s crying now and her face is red and puffy – nose running as she wipes it on her sleeve.
He doesn’t care; he wraps his arms around her and pulls her close. “You’re wrong you know,” he says quietly, figuring she won’t hear him, which somehow makes words so much easier to find. “You are beautiful.” He means that. He sees it. Here, at this moment, she’s the most beautiful girl in the world. “And you’re smart and you’re funny and you’re special. Not the way Buffy is. The way Dawn is.” She’s still crying; hasn’t heard a word, has she? “You’re special,” he says again, “One more special person. Way more than…”
“You’re special, Xander.” Her voice shocks him. Oh god. She heard all of that? This could easily get humiliating. She nestles against him, head pressed to where the heart everyone stomps on beats and she keeps talking. He waits for the other shoe to drop… right on that heart. “You’re not the Slayer and you’re not a Watcher and you don’t do magic.” Yeah. Thanks. Because he really needed a list of all the stuff he’s lacking. But she’s not done and he braces himself for the pain as she keeps talking. “But you’re braver than anyone in the world, because you fight anyway. You go out every night and you face demons and vampires and you win. You win! And that’s way more awesome than having super powers and stuff, because anyone can save the world when they have powers. But hardly anybody could do what you do.” He looks down, and he’s gazing into eyes that are looking at him like he’s… special.
Does it make him a girl if he wants to cry?
“I want to be like you,” she says, and this is every ruined Christmas and painful birthday made wonderful all in one shining moment.
Of course, he has to do something about it. “Buffy might kill you if you start wearing Hawaiian shirts.”
She shakes her head, looking angry in a way that’s absolutely adorable and absolutely terrifying. “Why do you do that?” She’s an uncomfortable mix of little girl and almost-woman and it’s… not so easy to deal with.
There’s a whole repertoire of goofy retorts he has for this very question and he’s used most of them successfully on Willow and Buffy, but Dawn is Dawn and he just can’t use them on her. So he shrugs and gives her the closest thing to the truth he can manage with anyone he knows is actually listening to him. “I don’t know.”
The sigh he hears is all grown-up, and, like her question and that shake of the head, it doesn’t seem right coming from a girl with a puffy face wearing a t-shirt with a unicorn on it. Then she cuddles against him, a child again, and he throws up his hands – well, so to speak anyway – and gives up. He doesn’t understand her. Then again, that’s not new, is it? “I should take you home,” he says after a long moment. Another sigh – this one all little-girl grouchy – but she gets up and so does he. They don’t talk as they walk back to Revello Drive, but she kicks rocks and he’d bet half his comic book collection that he hears her grumbling under her breath.
When they get to her house, she doesn’t even say goodbye as she stomps toward the tree she’ll climb to her window, so he leaves. She’s home and safe. But when he’s halfway down the block he hears running footsteps, and turns just in time to catch an armful of soft, warm Dawn. She’s crying again and this time it’s all he can do not to join her. “You really are special,” she says, before she breaks away and dashes back home.
“That wasn’t weird,” he mumbles to himself as he watches her feet pounding against the pavement as she runs.
She believes in him. Which is completely wrong and strange and very uncomfortable. As hard as it is to be the incompetent clown, it’s harder still to have someone think he might be more.
Oh well. She’s twelve. She’ll get over it. With age will come wisdom and she’ll figure it out.
He only hopes it doesn’t hurt too much when she does.