Before the Dawn

Author: Cyclone <cyclone[at]>

Feedback: Please be gentle.

Distribution: Gimme credit and a link. Plus, archived at

Rating: I'm gonna go say PG.

Spoilers: Up to Grave.

Disclaimer: The characters depicted herein belong to the almighty Joss. I'm just borrowing them for a while.

Summary: "It's always darkest..." On Kingman's Bluff, healing begins, and an old flame is rekindled.

Author's Note: The title in no way shape or form is meant to convey any focus on the character Dawn. She's not even mentioned here.

I should have known I'd find her here.

There's no temple anymore. We managed to get it knocked down. No sense leaving something like that standing around where any apocalypse-minded demon can find it.

I really should stop scratching these cuts, but they itch, and I can't stand those bandages.

She's staring off toward the east. The sun's not up yet, but the sky's already getting brighter.


She turns and gives a wistful smile, "Hey."

"How are you?"


That's the way it always is these days. She's never good or fine or great. Just better. But I'm willing to take all I can get.

Before I know it, she's in my arms again.

It's different now. It's not like before, when it was just us, when the monsters weren't real, when there were no reasons to be afraid of the dark... when she wasn't afraid of becoming one of those reasons... one of those monsters. She clings to me like a lifeline, like I'm all that's keeping her from losing everything.

What frightens me is that... maybe I am.

She's crying again, and I can feel her tears burning into the cuts on my chest. It hurts, but that doesn't matter.

She's hurting inside, and I can help. That's all that matters now. I'm not going to fail her. I'm not going to let her down.

Not again.

"How long?"

Blinking, I look at her earnest expression, "How long what?"

"How long have you felt like that?"

What is she...?

"When did you fall in love with me?"

Oh, shit.

I don't know what to tell her.

I honestly don't know when I fell in love with her. Maybe it was at our eighth grade cotillion, maybe it was when I stole her Barbie, or maybe it was when she first broke that yellow crayon.

I really don't know. It's been so long since she wasn't in my heart and soul, I can't even remember a time when she wasn't. Cordy... An... hell, even the Buffmeister... none of them ever meant as much to me as she does.

As much as she always will.

She's still waiting for an answer though. She has that same look of fear and hope on her face that she did the day we first met, when I offered to take the blame for breaking that yellow crayon.

So I give her the only answer I can, "I don't know."

But that's not enough, I can see it in her eyes. I try to elaborate, try to explain.

"It's... I love you, Willow," I say, knowing she already knows that, but I have to start somewhere. I can hear my voice cracking, but I push on. "I've loved you for so long, I don't remember when I first started loving you. I didn't... I never admitted it, not even to myself until... until that time... you were in that coma... when Buffy... Angel... soul... hell..."

I can't say it. I've sat on that secret for so long, I can't get it out.

But it looks like she understands.


Good Lord, how can I answer that? How can I explain to her that she's the other half of my soul? That what I feel for her runs deeper than anything the English language was meant to convey?

Hey, weird-looking sentence, that one. _Is_ that a sentence?

"Why didn't you say anything, Xander?" she asks, pulling me off my tangent. "You knew how I felt. You're not as stupid as you make yourself out to be. Why didn't you... why didn't you give us a chance?"

Oh, _that's_ what she was asking. Whew.

Well, maybe that's not so whew-worthy, now that I think about it. That's kind of a toughie, but I think that wacky First Slayer dream really helped me understand.

"I didn't want to hurt you," I say finally. "I mean... Dad... Mom... I didn't want to hurt you like that."

Wait a minute. Backtrack. I knew how she _felt_? As in past tense? Oh, God. She doesn't love me anymore. She's not my Willow anymore.

Of course not. I'm being stupid again. She's Tara's. She hasn't been mine since she called out for Oz.

No, that's not right. She was still mine, even after that. The Fluke proved that much. She hasn't been mine since...

Since Faith.

Oh, God. Now I'm the one crying. When did that happen?

"What's wrong, Xander?"

"I'm sorry," I croak out. "I'm so sorry."

"About what?"


I can feel her stiffen in my arms, and I know it still hurts her, and that in turn hurts me. Well, most of me. There's one small part of me that's happy that it still hurts her, that I still mean enough to her for it to hurt, but that part sickens me.

I finally found some self-worth that night, with Jack and his gang, but I nearly ruined things between me and Wills. I _did_ ruin it, a little. I lost... not her friendship... but her best-friendship.

After that night, I wasn't her Xander anymore, and that hurts more than these cuts or all the concussions I've collected over the years. Hell, it hurts more than what happened with Jesse...

"You don't have to apologize, Xand."

I look up, "But... I... I hurt you, Wills. I hurt you so much."

"And I hurt you," she reminds me. "Xander, I love Tara. I'm _in_ love with her, and I won't ever stop loving her."

I suppress a shudder.

"But in the end, Xander," she says, her voice softening as she reaches up and traces the mostly-healed cuts on my cheek, "it's always just been you."


She didn't... she couldn't have just said...

"When I look into my future, Xander, all I see is you."

Willow lips. Willow lips on mine. Sweet strawberry with a hint of lemon. Mmm...

Wait. She doesn't love me anymore. Not that way, anyway. Why is she...?

Oh, of course. Rebound.

She pulls away and glares at me. "Don't."

"Huh?" I blink. "Don't what?"

"Don't think that, Xander. I'm _not_ just using you as a substitute for Tara."

How did she...?

"I know you too well, Xander," she says firmly. "You went all tense on me, and you think I'm just using you. I'm not. I love you, Xander. I never stopped loving you."

"Wait..." I shake my head, certain this is a hallucination, a wishful dream, "a-are you saying... you... and me?"

"Maybe," she says, biting her lip. "I won't lie to you, Xander. I... I don't know if... if this'll work... if _we_ will work..." she puts on a brave smile, "...but I want to find out."

There it is again, that mix of hope and fear.

I manage a small smile and reply, "Let's find out then."

Now, _that_ Willow smile's a definite keeper.

I guess they're right. It's always darkest before the dawn.