The Second Year
Twelve months later, to the day, Dawn Summers re-entered Alan’s Tavern. She didn’t know why she had decided to come here again…all right, so she knew. She didn’t know why she hadn’t returned the couple of times she’d found herself in DC in the intervening months, but she hadn’t, always finding some reason to go somewhere else, as though to return to this place on any other night would somehow sully it in her mind.
She placed her order for the bottle of Tequila, but requested three shot glasses, just in case. Just in case of what she didn’t allow herself to think.
She sat at the table and allowed her thoughts to wander. There were new names to be put on the list this year, only just added, and her throat swelled at the thought. She found herself loath to pick up the tiny glass and drink to those names, but knew that she would. She owed it to them, she owed it to all of them who paid their lives so dearly in the defense of humanity and reality itself to at least be the one who remembered and honoured their sacrifice.
She checked the time, and leaned back against the chair with a soft sigh. Fifteen more minutes to try not to think about why she was here. She preferred not thinking about it until the alcohol was in the glasses and one of them was raised; it made it easier to get to that point, kept her hands from shaking too much to pour that first glass. She had refused the offer of limes and salt; this wasn’t drinking for pleasure, but for remembrance
The minutes ticked down as the tide of humanity flowed around her. A cute Indian guy with a slight British accent paused to say hello, but she just smiled politely and shook her head. Maybe, though, she should return another night, when she didn’t have…business. This place certainly seemed to attract quite the handsome crowd.
Checking the time once more, she unstoppered the bottle and poured two glasses, setting one in the middle of the table, leaving the third to one side, just in case. She set the other in front of her and looked at it, one hand pressing against her pants pocket where the soft crinkle of paper betrayed the letter that she had carried for the last two weeks.
She hadn’t been expecting it, and she knew that was stupid. For over a year she had felt a pit of dread in the bottom of her stomach every time she got mail, any mail, but somehow it had faded and she hadn’t been expecting it, so when it came it had been a double kick in the stomach – once for its contents, and once for the fact that she had forgotten, for just a short while, what it was that those who were left risked every day, what they courted as they moved from place to place, fight to fight.
She didn’t pull out the letter and read it again; she felt as though its words were burned indelibly into her brain. Keeping her hand steady by force of will alone, she removed it from her pocket and took the glass, raising it in the customary salute. “To those fallen in the fight. Gone but never forgotten. Faith,” she whispered, eyes watering as they hadn’t been able to for the past two weeks. She hadn’t been able to cry for the loss of the last Chosen one, the tears denied her even as she felt lost in her grief and her guilt. Biting the inside of her cheek to banish the tears, she tossed back the shot in a manner that would have made the Dark Slayer herself proud.
She refilled the glass, her hand still shaking more with grief than with drunken clumsiness, and raised it once more in salute. “Rona.” And again. “Vi.” The last three who had been in Sunnydale, who had known who ‘Dawn Summers’ was in person, and not just as a story. The last person, in Faith, who had known what ‘The Key’ was, a secret Dawn now bore alone. There had been three sealed letters in that thick envelope, in addition to the short note that had given her the particulars in an oddly stilted way, as though the person writing it had somehow questioned her right to know. Each of the girls had written their ‘just in case’ letter to her; she didn’t quite know why, but the words of the dead now echoed in her ears, their hopes for her and their goodbyes clinging to her. Those letters were safe at home, only the short, stilted note carried with her, unfolded and refolded so many times that the ink was already starting to disappear from the grooves worn in the paper.
There were other new names to add to the list this year, names of those who had just been confirmed dead, although it had been suspected for some time. She refilled her glass and lifted it, about to start, when a body dropped into the seat opposite her. Before she could move, the shot glass was off the table and drained by the man opposite, a tall, bulky specimen with what she assumed was meant to be a charming smile on his face.
“That wasn’t for you,” the words could have turned the entire bar into an ice rink, so cold were they, but the man didn’t seem to notice.
“Pretty girl like you shouldn’t be drinking alone,” he told her, his words slurring slightly.
“I believe that is my call to make,” she snapped, each word clearly enunciated as her tone became even frostier, if that was possible.
“Well, looks like I just took the decision out of your hands, girly. What do you think someone like you can do about it?” He looked her up and down with an odd mix of appreciation and derision as he reached over to snatch the liquor bottle. And Dawn’s previously controlled temper finally snapped.
She was around the table before she really thought about moving, her arm pulling back, then flying forwards to land a sharp jab on the man’s nose, causing a spurt of blood down his chin, then grabbed his hair and dragged him out of the chair, shoving him away from her table. “That,” was all she said before she sat down once more, her stony countenance daring anyone to comment.
She knew she shouldn’t have come back here; it wasn’t the type of bar for this activity. Until last year, she had gotten into the habit of using the military’s haunts, because there if people saw you sitting with an extra glass on your table and no one there to drink it they knew what you were about, or if they didn’t someone would clue them in before they actually interrupted you. But no, she had to come back here, because of that stupid hope that said that maybe HE would be here again. Also, if things did end up involving a small amount of violence, people in military bars didn’t care so much. But this was a yuppy bar; things weren’t expected to be solved with blows, and she could feel eyes on her now as she sat at her table. Deciding to brazen it out and see what happened, if the worst came to the worst, she could probably get out of it by pulling her badge, but she’d really rather not.
She heard the man stumble towards the front, but didn’t watch him go, instead lifting the bottle, she refilled the glass he had drained, then her own. “Spike. Best friend, you will be missed,” she whispered the soft words of benediction before throwing back her shot, then poured another. “Angel, Wesley, Fred,” she drank to the three at once, then refilled the glass once more and was about to start on the older names when a hand appeared on her table.
She looked at it for a moment, trying to figure out exactly what she was supposed to do with it, then followed up its wrist and arm to the attached shoulder, then across to the face that was staring at her.
“I understand that I owe you a drink,” the blond woman standing next to her table said. “I’ve been wanting to break that bastard’s nose for a month now.”
“S’not broken,” Dawn muttered, “din’t hit him that hard. An’ I have all I need, ta,” she added more politely.
“Too bad. Oh well, it was a nice shot anyway. I’m Annie, by the way.”
Dawn frowned, but didn’t want to be too rude. This was a distraction she didn’t need right now, she had business, but somehow she felt drawn to this woman and her bubbly personality which somehow reminded her of Buffy’s.
“Dawn,” she replied. The blonde nodded, then glanced quickly at the glass in the middle of the table, a questioning light in her eyes, but she didn’t get a chance to ask, because another voice spoke behind her, thoroughly distracting Dawn.
“Annie? Did you find the defender of the honour of every woman in the bar?” asked the voice teasingly, and Dawn suddenly tensed. That voice had stayed with her, and she had come here specifically hoping to hear it again.
“Auggie?” she asked, and saw Annie’s eyes widen even as the blonde stepped aside slightly to allow Dawn to see the blind man, who was frowning slightly, clearly trying to place her voice. “You probably don’t remember me,” she told him, but before she could say anything more he interrupted.
“Auggie?” asked Annie, a wealth of meaning in her tone.
“It’s okay, Annie, I met Dawn…it must be a year ago today, right here,” Auggie told the blond with a smile.
“Yep,” Dawn agreed. “Now, little busy here,” she indicated the contents of her table. She had been hoping that Auggie would join her; having someone who could understand her pain, even if he didn’t quite know where it came from had been an immense comfort, but he was obviously here with someone…
“Annie, do you mind if we don’t hang out tonight?” Auggie’s words startled her, and she glanced up quickly. Annie was shaking her head with a smile, then moved off as Auggie sat down.
“Seems like I’m still needed to help prevent misunderstandings,” he commented, and Dawn smiled at the reminder of what had brought him to her table last year. “Where were you?”
“About half way,” Dawn replied, voice very soft. “Quite a few new names this year.”
Auggie closed his eyes for a long moment, and his hand stretched across the table in open invitation. She took it, and he squeezed her fingers in gentle commiseration. He didn’t make any stupid comments, like, ‘I wish I could say it gets easier’. They both knew that it didn’t. But Dawn did have the luxury of knowing that these were the last names that would be added to this list that she had actually known personally. The fact that that meant that everyone she had known from her childhood was gone was something she was trying very hard to ignore. Shaking off the paralysis of maudlin thoughts, she took the bottle and quickly filled her extra glass, as well as her own. Deciding to be more ‘military’ about it to avoid raising unanswerable questions on the high proportion of female names on her list, she started. “Summers,” she offered, and they both drank. “Giles. Rosenberg. Harris. McClay. Jenkins. Chase. Wells.” By the time she had finished the list of those she drank to by name, the bottle was more than three quarters gone.
“Here’s to those who died the way they lived,” she whispered as she refilled the glasses. “With a weapon in their hands and smiles on their faces, selling themselves dearly for the rest of us.” An image of Faith as she had been in the battle of Sunnydale suddenly flashed through her mind, and she smiled through her tears at the memory of the feral joy on the face of the Dark Slayer as she did what she did best. “To those who went the way they would want to,” she added, knowing it was nothing but the truth. She filled their glasses once more, but couldn’t think of what to say. Auggie spoke suddenly from across the table, startling her.
“Here’s to all the brave men and women fallen in defense of the innocent,” he said softly. “Here’s to those with no one to drink to them. To those who gave their all. Here’s to those we honour by living the lives they gave theirs to protect.” They both drank, and Dawn’s tears finally began to flow freely. She pulled a tissue from her bag and pressed it under her eyes, forcing a smile onto her lips even as the tears continued to run.
The bottle was empty, and she reached out with that practiced gesture and flipped the remaining shot glass, trapping the liquor within it, but didn’t leave the table immediately.
“So, do I get a full name this year?” asked Auggie, not sounding half as drunk as he probably should, and Dawn actually managed a soft laugh, though it sounded pained and at least half like hiccupping sobs.
“Dawn Summers,” she told him, wondering if he would remember in the morning. She knew she would; she wasn’t sure if it was because of the Slayer blood or the Key, but while she could get drunk, only on Tequila though, she had never suffered a hangover, never mind a black out.
“Nice to meet you, Dawn Summers. I’m Auggie Anderson,” his voice was gentle, tone saying that he knew she was crying and didn’t want him to know it, so therefore he didn’t. “Think we might see you in here before another twelve months elapse?”
“Possibly,” Dawn replied, a small smile playing around her lips at the thought. “No promises, though.” She did stand then, and crossed to his side of the table, hand settling on his shoulder. “Thank you, Auggie. It helps…” her voice trailed off, choked by tears, and Auggie just nodded.
“I know,” he replied, reaching up to cover her hand with his. “None of your unit?” the question hung in the air, and she shook her head before she remembered.
“No,” she told him softly. “None of them.”
“Honour them, Dawn. Remember to live,” Auggie told her, standing to loom over her, eyes staring unerringly into hers. “Just like you told me.”
“And you do the same, Auggie. I’ll be seeing you,” Dawn grinned, then turned and wavered her way out of the Tavern, leaving an inebriated ex-Army Special Ops, CIA computer genius behind her as she flagged down a cab.