She's not a child anymore.
If he hadn't looked twice, he never would have realized it was her, so much has she grown up.
But he has looked twice.
He almost wished he hadn't.
It would have been easier to forget if he hadn't.
The Summers women have always been a weakness of his, though he is loathe to admit it. First Joyce welcoming him...then Buffy spurning him...
Buffy's death hitting him squarely in the chest and making him mourn for the first time in what felt like an eternity.
Little, innocent, sister to the Slayer Dawn.
The nibblet, as he'd taken to calling her during those horrible months when Buffy had been dead and buried.
The months when Dawn came to him to comiserate...to mourn without mourning...
Why she sought him out, he still didn't understand.
At the time, he accepted her company...not admitting to himself that maybe he wanted it...instead deciding that it was more trouble to try and rid himself of her than it was to let her come.
He almost convinced himself of that, too.
He always thought her name to be the right one...where some people didn't fit their given names, she did.
She was like the dawn. Bright and shining like the morning sunlight when the last of the night's gloom was chased from the sky.
His inner poet insisted that being in her presence was as close to being in the sunlight that he'd ever get without the danger of bursting into flames...though sometimes he thought the emotions she elicited might force him to do the same anyway.
It wasn't love, exactly...it wasn't affection...not in any way he could explain.
He was...fond of her. He was tethered to her and she to him.
Not quite like a father and daughter, but not quite like brother and sister either.
He certainly wouldn't call her his friend...
But he could call her his companion.
For an entire summer she was his and his alone...
When she shut out the others, she opened up to him...
Inseperable companions for one grief filled glorious summer.
He'd been too blinded by his own pain to see just what had been staring him in the face the entire time she'd spent with him...and even when Buffy returned he was too busy to notice Dawn's fading into the background.
Now though...now he was painfully aware of just how much warmth she'd brought to his sad little existence.
Genuine warmth. The warmth and love that only a child can give. The innocence...the purity...the inner light that she cast on him with just one smile.
Her love for him. Unwavering.
Her faith in him. Unshakable.
These things he knew he wasn't good enough for.
Now that those things are gone...now that he has caught a glimpse of her once more...he realizes just how much has been stolen from him by his own stupidity.
Now she is a woman. Nothing left of the child he'd...been fond of.
The fact he didn't recognize her at first is proof of that.
She is a grown woman...in her mid twenties, if his math is correct and he remembers her birthday...
Grown women have no need for a savior in black leather...grown women have no need for fantastic tales from centuries gone by...
Grown women have no innocent love to give to creatures like him without prejudice...
The woman who enters the club in too tight jeans and her hair done up perfectly isn't the nibblet...
And she isn't the key...
And she isn't his adoring companion any longer.
She isn't the beauty who loved a beast...she is just a beauty.
That makes him meloncholy. To know just what he's lost...to know just how good he'd had it not so long ago...
To know how he's thrown it all away...
Even knowing all these things, even feeling that unfamiliar tug in his chest that urges him to go to her...to talk to her...even knowing that the very deepest part of himself wants her to be his companion again, he can't bring himself to approach.
The time for them to be companions is long since past; a time that is preserved only in his memory and could never be duplicated because that summer when they leaned on each other so desperately would never be repeated.
She is still light...and he is still dark...
And he'd most likely do more harm than good.
He isn't selfish enough for that. Maybe he should be. Maybe at one time he would have been...
He gives her one final look, taking in everything about her...
Just one last glance to last him before he slunk back into the shadows...just one last memory is all he needs.
Just a touch of the dawn to warm him in the darkness.