California Dreamin'
by Tesla1321

For quite a while, Dawn actually liked Rome. She finished high school the first year Anno Sunnydale, in the American School. And Giles had tracked down Hank Summers, in Espana, and they had child support money---back child support, actually. And insurance, from the natural disaster, so Buffy wasn't worried and Dawn wasn't scared, in a way neither of them had been since Mom first reached for ibuprofen. But Dawn stopped being thrilled about being an expatriate way before her sister had. Buffy was all about killing the Italian vampires with the new Slayers, about going to Milan for the fashions and Vatican City for the Papal-blessed rosaries and the designer holy water, to Capri for the sun, to Florence for the wine and Venice for the shoes.

And to the Immortal for the orgasms, as Anya would have said.

Dawn really missed Anya these days.

See, Dawn was losing her hold on the false memories, the ones that had her wearing footie pajamas and watching Spike and Buffy plot to take down Angelus; the ones before that, where Angel shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down his sharp nose at a very short Dawn; the ones where she knew Hank Summers. She remembered everything from the time she materialized in this life, and Anya understood that like no one else did. "Hundreds and hundreds of years as a demon, but only four as a human being," Anya said. "It's almost like a movie I saw over and over again, a movie I really like and watch on television whenever it comes on, like Xander does for Charlie Brown, but it's not me." She had looked straight into Dawn's eyes. "We're the oldest beings in Sunnydale, but we're only a few years old. Sometimes it gives me a headache."

"Me, too," Dawn agreed, flooded with relief.

"So it's interesting that we both focus on consumer goods," Anya had pursued. "I want to make more and more money and buy things, and you steal them."

"Whoops," Dawn had said.

That was Anya, always bustin' your chops, as Dina Colatta called it. Dina was American by birth, Italian by heritage, and a Slayer by calling. She was in Rome visiting her cousins, when she found herself dusting vamps. She was always trying to impress Dawn with her street- cred and her Slayerness. "Spend a few years on a hellmouth and come back and talk," Dawn had finally said. She had slid her Versace sunglasses down her nose, and channeled her inner Audrey from "Breakfast," in a cold stare.

"You lookin' to throw down with me?" Dina asked, going red. (The magic of inner Golightly often caused very satisfying reactions.)

"Not unless you really, really want to," Dawn said. Of course, she knew that Buffy was standing in the doorway, all along, but it sounded good.

That was when Giles had decided that Dawn really didn't need to live with the Slayers 24/7. Buffy was more than happy to get a nice apartment in an ancient building, built with the goldy-orange stone, but with modern plumbing. Owned by the Watcher's Council, of course, but that meant owned by Buffy and Giles. It had a courtyard, and a garden, and was close to the Campo de Fiori, as if that meant anything to people who didn't go to the flower market, or to the pubs, or did anything but talk about the Possible New Signs of Impending Doom.

Dawn couldn't hear anything that went on in Buffy's rooms, or Giles', or Andrew's, or whatever new Slayers were brought in by Willow or Xander or Robin. In fact, she and Buffy were across the courtyard from any of the Slayers.

Not that they were the Slayers-to-be that had lived on Revello Drive, because just about all of them had gone to Cleveland with Faith. Dawn missed them, because this Euro bunch? Didn't know shit about real evil-fighting or hellmouths. Dawn bet none of them had been trained with a real vampire, or, for that matter, ever had a real vampire play cards with them and complete bitterly about the size of the pot. And Dawn may not have had actual sex with vampires, as Buffy had been all too prone to do, but she'd kissed one, and, actually, when she thought about it, two.

She e-mailed Janice, who lived in Seattle, and bragged a lot about learning Italian, and about Italian guys, and about Italian food and how she could drink whatever she wanted, and what real espresso was like, but it was all just talk. She didn't like international school, and international students, and saw no reason to sit in a stupid classroom, not after what she'd seen and done.

So Dawn took her equilivency exams, and finished school. Giles had told her that European kids had a gap year, where they travelled or volunteered, or worked, before staring university, as he called it. Giles was commuting between Bath, where he had a nice house, and Rome and his Slayers.

Which worked out, since, by that time, Giles was the only one Dawn wanted to talk to. And the only one who wanted to talk to her.

"I do like seasons, here, but I must say that California has spoiled me for the sun. Lovely sun here in Italy," Giles said, sitting in the central courtyard of their building. Dawn was being Mother and pouring tea for them. He sighed, contentedly, looking at the blue, blue sky through his sunglasses. "But there's something special about California. I know you're laughing at me, because I did complain about it when I was there."

"Tweed," Dawn said, stirring sugar into her cup. "Starched shirts, nubbly woolly sweaters. You and--and Wesley. Englishmen abroad, isn't that what you called yourselves?" She grinned. "What? I read your Wodehouse and Sayers."

"Yes, well, I admit it. I clung to the stereotype when I was actually in California, but as I drive through the endless rain of an English spring, I actually miss California."

Maybe that conversation was what triggered the dreams. In her sleep, Dawn went back to Sunnydale, back to Revello Drive and the high school and the Magic Box, back to the beach, back to the mall, back to Mom's grave and back to Xander and Anya's and Xander's apartment, back to the basement where her vampire had lived, the one who saved the world for them.

She wanted Sunnydale, like she wanted her Mom, and Spike, and Anya; and she could never have them, ever again. She was too big to cling to Giles like a baby, now, or to Buffy, but Dawn needed something, wanted something.

Dawn wanted to go home, and there was no home. So she wanted to go to California. It was close enough.

That's when she started playing "California Dreaming" on her IPod.

That's when she actually started dreaming about California.

Not about Mom, maybe because she'd already grieved for her. And not really about Spike, because they hadn't been close for a while before he became a pillar of fire. Besides, she didn't believe it, anyway. Buffy, no one stayed and watched, and just as Dawn was something one- of-a-kind, so was Spike, and she didn't believe that Spike and his one-of-a-kind-ness was gone. And she wasn't talking about being a vampire with a soul, either.

She dreamed about playing on a beach, a Californian beach with no Cinzano umbrellas, but with a certain dark-haired, brown-eyed guy she remembered.

"Xander," she said in her sleep, and woke up at the sound of her own voice.

She missed Xander? But it fit, somehow, because her dreams and memories were all of things that happened the first year she'd been really and truly Dawn. Xander was as solidly in her head as second- year Spanish, as Giles.

No one bothered to tell Dawn that Xander was actually on his way back from Africa, until the week he was supposed to come back.

Buffy gave Dawn a stare of honest bewilderment. "But you never care about when someone comes or goes," she said.

Dawn stamped her foot. "Xander," she said, with exaggerated patience, "is not someone. Xander is Xander, and I would like to know if he's going to be here."

"So you can what, put flowers in his room and fresh sheets on his bed?" Buffy said. "That's covered. And it's not like you go anywhere, that you'd miss him."

"No," Dawn said. "No, I'm just so very unimportant that I need to be sure I'm here, so I don't miss him, like I missed Faith last month."

Buffy got that look on her face, the one that meant Dawn was so very wrong and Buffy didn't have time to deal with her, because Buffy had places to go and shoes to try on and demons to kill, or possibly, have sex with.

Dawn turned on the heel of her stamping foot and snatched up her bag.

And then, Xander was there, in Rome, right there,at the building. Dawn saw the taxi driving slowly down the street, and saw a dark- haired man hanging out of the window. She stepped off her cute, candy- apple red Vespa, at the same time the cab stopped. "Pardon, signora," he began in his terrible Italian. He didn't know who she was, and for a few seconds, she could see how she looked to him: a tall young woman, with hair smoothed back and hidden under a scarf, trendy sunglasses, sweater tied across her shoulders, sleeveless top and cropped pants and stilettos.

And then she blinked, and saw him as if for the first time: tall, broad-shouldered, dark longish hair curling behind his ears, dressed kind of like Jeff Propst in Survivor, all khaki and pockets and kind of dusty.


"Xander, it's me," she said, taking off her sunglasses. With her heels, she could almost look him in the eyes.

His tanned face was suddenly split by his big grin, and Dawn impulsively leaned forward, touching him lightly on the shoulders, and kissed him on both cheeks. "It's how we say hello in Roma," she said, and yeah, saying "Roma" was over the top, but it made Xander grin even wider.

"Well, when in Roma," he said, and then dropped his manly travelling bags and picked her up in a Xander-hug and swung her off her feet, kissing her on both cheeks while she squealed in a very non-adult way. He set her down on her feet, and she was unsteady on her heels, so they clung to each other for a moment, smiling.

Dawn put her hands on his dear, familiar, Sunnydale face and kissed him on the mouth.

For a moment, Xander kissed her back, really kissed her, and she felt his big hands on her waist, his fingers spread. Then, there came the high-pitched shrieks of recognition from the courtyard entrance, and they broke apart, staring at each other.

"Xander!" yelled Buffy, running out onto the sidewalk, Andrew following at a more restrained pace, his pipe gripped firmly in one hand. "Oh storied, hallowed traveller! Oh wounded warrior!"

"What's he been reading now, " Xander asked no one, before Buffy and Andrew leapt upon him.

Dawn put her sunglasses back on. She'd forgotten that one of Xander's eyes was glass, until Andrew brought it up.

Predictably, the Important Adults had a private meeting with no Dawns invited. "I'll show you where you're staying," Dawn said.

Buffy took one of Xander's bag. "You're over---where are you going, Dawn?"

"Xander's next to me," Dawn said.

"Wow," Xander said. "Have to say that I haven't had a beautiful girl say that to me for, oh, days."

"Days," Dawn said. "Really."

"Yeah. Had a beautiful girl say that to me on the plane. Oh, wait, that was, 'You're not next to me.' Damn."

Dawn opened the door. "We share a balcony," she said. "Heard that before?"

"Dawn, stop flirting with me," he said loudly.

Buffy sighed, so very very put upon, and dropped the bag beside the bed. "Meeting in five," she said, and stamped out.

Dawn opened the glass doors to the balcony. "Looks out onto the courtyard," she said. She turned to look at him. "I'm so glad you're here," she said.

Xander took off his jacket and slung it on the bed. "I'm glad to be here, too." He ran his hand over his hair. "Listen, stop me if I'm wrong, and you're a Summers, so you will---did we just have a Moment?"

Dawn stepped closer to him. "Yeah," she said. "Want another?" And as he parted his lips to reply, kissed him again.

Xander opened his eyes. "You're nineteen now, right?" he asked. "Just checking. And I may need you to pinch me."

"Xander!" Giles said, from the hallway.

"I'll pinch you," Dawn promised.

Xander made an odd sound in his throat, and left.

Dawn, her knees wobbly all of a sudden, sat down on the bed with a thump.

It was days before she had the chance to be alone with him again. Buffy was all into the dealings of an evil law firm, Wolfram e Hart, and she kept saying Angel's name like it was a curse word. Which meant that younger sisters and Scoobies had better not risk getting caught having smoochies.

Finally, by the use of her own super-power of Summers pouting, Dawn dragged Xander off to dinner with herself, alone.

"So this is your favorite place in Rome," Xander said. "Genuine lattes and genuine cannoli. Can't say I blame you."

They were in a high-ceilinged restaurant by the Portico di Ottavia, a neighborhood place, with old, old columns, starched white tablecloths, and people who didn't look like tourists.

"Not cannoli---that's so Godfather," Dawn scoffed. "This is ricotta. We eat it with green grapes and espressos. It's cheesy."

"Cheese pie?" Xander said, dubiously, as she handed him a fork.

"You just got back from Africa, " she protested. "You had to have eaten weird, grotty food."

Xander sliced through the piece of pie with the edge of his fork. "Well, not so much. Canned stuff, chain restaurants. What, did you think I was hacking through jungles?" He took a bite, and a blissful expression spread over his face. His eyes were crinkling at the corners as he chewed.

"Andrew said you were risking your life to find Slayers," Dawn said, leaning her elbows on the table. "D'you like it? Rome is all about the food. I keep wanting Buffy to go on a picnic along the old road, like the Italians do, but she's so not into it. Nightlife, zipping around in her convertible, or hopping on a train; Giles and I are the only ones who want to explore, and he doesn't really have time." She sighed. "It was fun the one time we were tourists." She drew invisible lines on the tablecloth with the tines of her fork. "But everyone else gets bored. They just wanna blend in and be Euros."

"So, what are you going to do, for your gap year? Giles and Buffy were saying something about that. My gap year was kinda two years, one of which was spent living in a basement, with Spike." He put his fork down, and covered one of her hands with him. "Yeah, I noticed how no one talks about him."

"It's like no one wants to really talk about anything to do with Sunnydale, including Spike," Dawn said. "Right away, it was all snark and being cool with it and all of us showing that we were used to seeing our town disappear into the earth. Spike and Anya died, and no one says anything, ever about it." She turned her hand under Xander's and held it.

"It's how people mourn," Xander said. "Some people go to fashion shows in Milan. Some people go to Africa. I guess I'd rather have Buffy buying designer shoes than trying to destroy the world." He picked up a grape. "I can talk about Anya. Maybe Buffy can't talk about Spike."

"Our house, Xander, and your apartment, and the Magic Box. That's what no one will talk about. It's like our history is gone." She heard her voice get thin and querulous. "Our whole memory."

Xander leaned back in his chair and studied her. "My couch," he said. "And your kitchen."

"It was a nice kitchen," she agreed. "The Pacific."

"Wow, you're raising the stakes," he said. "The sky above the Pacific."

Dawn held up her fist. "Wanna play Rock, Paper, Scissors, next?"

"Nah," Xander said. He pulled her dessert plate across the table. "I'll just steal your ricotti."

After they finished eating, Dawn took Xander for a walk along brightly lit market stalls, he with his hands shoved into his jacket pockets, she with her hand tucked into the crook of one arm. It was the end of the day, and the sky was streaked with gold and scarlet. The market stalls were changing from selling flowers and vegetables to selling desserts and drinks and coffees, and musicians were starting set up in the piazza.

They both kept their heads up, watching the crowds. It was a demon- fighting thing. You had to be raised on a Hellmouth to get it.

Xander's arm was solid, under her fingers, and Dawn stroked the soft leather of his jacket. One thing about living in Rome, you appreciated good leather.

"Don't, Dawnie," Xander said, in a perfectly normal voice, looking straight ahead.

"What? Is your arm sore--you're hurt?" she asked.

"No," Xander said. He took his hand out of his pocket, and she slid hers down to brush his rough palm. Without looking at her, he laced their fingers together, and they walked, silently, through the stalls, stopping to look at vegetables in pyramids and in boxes, flowers in buckets, strings of candy, stacks of cakes.

He kissed her in front of the shaved ice vendor, just as she was trying to remember if gelato was really the word she wanted. He caught her by the elbow and, bending forward, took her mouth so gently, so completely, that she couldn't remember any pause between seeing the intention in his eyes and feeling his soft lips on hers.

She kissed him beside a display of carnations, sliding her hands around his neck and touching his thick black hair, flicking the tip of her tongue along his lower lip until she felt him exhale, and pull her closer.

Romans didn't think anything about couples kissing on street corners, so they stopped in front of a fountain spraying gold-lit water and kissed again.

Xander did not say that he was too old for her, because he wasn't. Dawn didn't worry about what Buffy and Giles and Willow would think, because she didn't care. Instead, she kissed his eyelids, and he kissed her fingertips. She pinched him, and he huffed a breath and pulled her into a fierce, tight hug, cheek to cheek.

"So," she said, into his ear, "you're gonna stay in Rome for a while?"

"Yeah," he said. "You wanna go back to Slayer Central?" He kissed her under her ear.

"Not right now," Dawn said, breathlessly. "All those pairs of ears with super-hearing. And Andrew." She leaned against him, her hands flat on his chest. "I know a little trattoria where we can have a great sambuca."

Xander gave her an indulgent look. "If that's what the Romans call it," he said. "Is this place close to home?"

Home is where you are, she wanted to say. She didn't say it then, but Dawn thought he could see it in her face, because his own grew serious, and his hands were in her hair and his mouth on hers and she thought, You.

"There're no Roman boyfriends who're gonna want to take me on?" Xander asked, as they walked along the sidewalk, his arm looped around her shoulders, her arm around his waist under his jacket. She skritch-scratched his side with her nails, and smiled to herself.

"No one to worry about," she said lightly. "They weren't serious. I like Americans," she said, firmly, and Xander had to kiss her, he said, and did.

Fortunately, there was no one but Giles when they got back, and he was instant-messaging Faith in Cleveland, from his mezzazine office. He waved to them, and was able to witness them going into their separate doors.

They met on the balcony, looking out over the dark garden.

"Okay," Xander said, when they stopped kissing. "Since I get the urge to ask stupid questions, even when beautiful---"

"You said that before," Dawn murmured, unbuttoning her cuffs. "You think I'm beautiful?"

"God, yes," Xander replied. "As I said, I have to, you know, be me, and ruin moments---and God, I love your moments---stop---before we start the unbuttoning and the everything else, please tell me that I'm not going where no man has gone before. 'Cause that would be something I could completely be cool with, but--"

"Madre, no," Dawn said. "I said they weren't serious. I didn't say there weren't any."

"Good," Xander said. "Well, you know that I would say 'good' to anything you said, don't you?"

"Yes," Dawn said. "Take me to bed, Xander."

"Good," Xander said.


The next morning, in the sunshine, Dawn wondered, briefly, what in the world had happened. Why would Xander be in love with her? The kid sister of his friend, the non-Slayer sister.

Good sex, though. Even if he just said he loved her because they were naked, it was still nice to hear.

Dawn grinned to herself. She knew Xander meant it.

She had meant it, too. She dressed carefully, and went out to the kitchen.

Xander was leaning against the counter, watching the coffee drip through the coffee-maker, ignoring the expensive espresso machine sitting beside it. At her footstep on the tiled floor, he looked up.

They didn't let go of each other, even when Buffy called out, "Xander? You in the kitchen? What do you want for breakfast?"

Dawn giggled.

"Hush," Xander said. He raised his voice. "I think Dawn wants to go out to eat."

"Dawn, Dawn, Dawn," Buffy said good-naturedly, walking into the kitchen. "That's all you've asked about since---hi, Dawn." Buffy adjusted her tone. "So, what are your plans, since you and Giles think you're done in Africa? Think you're gonna stick around Rome?" She opened the little refrigerator and was bent over, rummaging about.

"No," Xander said deliberately. "I think I'm gonna go back to California." He took a breath, and reached for Dawn's hand. "I think Dawn's gonna come with."

"Yeah," Dawn said, holding his hand tightly. "I think I'm gonna go home with Xander."

There was a crash, as Buffy hit her head on a refrigerator shelf.

The other two smiled at each other.


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