Rating: PG-13 at most
Disclaimer: It's Joss's stable, I'm just boarding at it.
Setting: Season 8, somewhere between the "Time of Your Life" arc and "Living Doll".
Notes: Just some background to Xander and Dawn's budding relationship, from when she was still a centaur. I have other stuff I should be writing but for some reason this one wanted to get done first. I'm a Xander/Dawn junkie.
Dawn's ex-boyfriend, a "thricewise" demon, has cursed her with a series of transformations because she slept with his roommate. The first one was a giant; at this point, she's a centaur. The Scoobies are located in Scotland, but their original castle sanctuary was recently bombed by Warren and Amy. Dawn saved Xander from the castle at that point by letting him ride her outside, where they met up with some legendary creatures in the forest, including "Lorelahn", a flaming tree guy. The Scoobies and Slayers are now living in some kind of giant cabin that was never really pictured clearly.
Xander woke unpleasantly, twitching from a nightmare that lasted for mere seconds. It had no form and left no memory. He took a deep breath and rolled over, feeling for Anya beside him.
Her absence, followed by the return of his full consciousness and realization that she had been dead for over a year, was the kind of nightmare which he knew well and was beginning to lose its power over him. It had been a long time since his subconscious had slipped back into that time in his life. He didn’t like it, but it was hard to know that one day he might leave it behind altogether, and she would only come into his head when he called her there.
It was early, and there was little that needed to be done aside from his routine surveillance checks. He went over the day’s agenda with Kennedy, waved hello at Buffy and the small group of Slayers she was eating breakfast with, and then made his way out of the building with an apple in one hand and a bag full of them in the other.
Dawn emerged from the trees before he had made it down the hill, and he greeted her with the underhanded toss of an apple her way. She caught it neatly and took a bite immediately, and he frowned. It was so hard to tell if she was getting enough to eat, with her new physiology and extra stomach. Her previous incarnation seemed to have compensated for many of the practical issues it raised: she ate a lot when she was a giant, sure, but proportionally it was still much less than a body her size should have needed. It was a relief that the form came with a safeguard to ensure it wasn’t lethal, but he wasn’t going to bank on the next one functioning the same way.
“How’d the hay-munching experiment go?” he asked when he was within earshot.
Dawn swallowed and shrugged. “Kind of weird. Like, it tasted okay, which was of the weird itself, but then it just took so long to chew that I gave up. And I don’t think I really need it, it’s just this freaky craving I get.”
“Copy that.” He bit into his own apple and talked around it. “Any other freaky cravings? I can go raid the kitchen for you. We’ve got some mouth-watering unidentified vegetable matter.”
She sighed and began lowering herself to the ground, a complicated maneuver that she made look strangely graceful. Each of her four slender legs slowly stretched and folded until they were beneath her and she was more or less at eye level with Xander. “Chocolate-covered gummy bears,” she said ruefully. “Good luck rounding up any of those in Scotland.”
He was mentally constructing a joke about launching a special ops mission for gummy bears when she abruptly spoke again. “Xander, are you alright? You look kind of...”
“Sleep last night was not so much,” he admitted. “Actually, I was wondering.” He scratched his neck. “Fort walls are kind of starting to close in. Do you want to go somewhere today? Just you and me?”
“Go somewhere?” she echoed skeptically. “Whatever techie vehicles you’ve procured by now, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to fit in the shotgun seat of any of them.”
“I was thinking more like...I mean, if you don’t...it worked before...”
Dawn looked completely blank for a moment, and then she laughed. “Yeah, alright. Just don’t tell anyone I let you, or they’ll all think I’m open for free pony rides. And don’t talk about it in ways that make it sound dirty and watch your heels or you end up kicking my ribs.” She flicked her apple core down at where he had left the bag. “Let’s go.”
Mounting a centaur—-no, he corrected himself, that sounded dirty—-getting onto the back of a centaur was actually easier than it looked, especially when she was already lying down. He swung his leg over and steadied himself with a few awkward shifting movements. “Okay, I’m re—-whoa whoa whoa!”
Dawn was standing up, not quickly, but the sudden change in Xander’s altitude made him experience a spontaneous re-evaluation about whether this was a good idea. “Chill out, two-legs,” she said. “I gotcha. Now hold on.”
Easier said than done, Xander thought. Can’t exactly pick up the reins here.. He looked at his options: mane? No, that just looked like a mane but was actually hair and should not be pulled. Shoulders? Too high up to be helpful. Her very human and svelte midriff? Bad idea. Bad idea. “Uh,” he explained.
She twisted halfway around so he could see her grin, and then reached behind herself with both hands and picked up his to place them at the junction of her human and horse halves. “Wow, Dawnie,” he said as each of his palms came into contact with a reassuringly solid curve that wasn’t quite visible to the eye. “You’ve still got a pelvis.”
“Thanks for noticing,” she said dryly. “Now, for real. Hold on.”
The warning was timely; as soon as the sentence was finished, they were off at a canter. Xander had a moment to doubt his ability to stay on top, and then his mind turned to marveling at how secure he felt in comparison to their mad dash from the castle after Warren and Amy’s attack. His hold on Dawn’s hips kept him centered, but it didn’t feel like he was gripping a pair of handlebars—-more like she was his dance partner and for once he wasn’t required to lead.
“Can I yell ‘yeehaw’?” he asked, finding that his mouth was close enough to her ear that she could hear him over the thunder of her hooves and the wind whistling in their ears.
“Knock yourself out,” she replied.
His exuberance nearly made him lose his seat, and Dawn, who could apparently feel it, slowed momentarily. “I didn’t say knock yourself off!”
“I’m good, I’m good, I just...say, are we going to a real place or a we’ll-know-when-we-get there place?”
“Why, you want me to pull over and ask for directions?”
Xander carefully removed some of her hair from his mouth before answering. “No, but how am I gonna know what to wear? I mean, next time I see Lorelahn I want to make an impression, you know, put on my formal eye patch.”
Dawn went into a bouncy trot which lasted for only a few strides before smoothing into a comfortable walk. “Oh, we’re not going to the forest. Lorelahn, well, he really doesn’t like you. It’s funny, he’s too legendary to say it outright, but whenever your name comes up—-are you eating my hair?”
“You could tie it back,” he began to protest, and then was distracted from it by his own thoughts. Dawn talked about him with her forest friends?
With the landscape no longer whizzing by him quite so quickly, Xander began to look around. He saw why Dawn had fallen to a walk: they were headed up a steep incline, and he would have slid right off her rear if she was moving any faster. He resumed his hold on her hips and eagerly tried to see what was at the top of the hill.
At the top of the hill was a view, and it was one well worth the journey. The ocean was sprawled out beneath them, not a placid horizon but a lively stampede of grey and white waves breaking on the rocky cliff. Some splashed so high that Xander could feel mist on his face, despite the tremendous drop between himself and the water. The sky was endless and blank above them, waiting for weather to be written on it.
Dawn shivered and rubbed her arms, left bare by her sleeveless black top, and he took off his sweater and offered it to her. “Thanks,” she sighed as she slipped it over her head. “So what do you think?”
“It’s amazing. I can’t believe I didn’t know it was here. I mean, I knew the ocean was here, but...”
“I found it when I was a giant. It’s just a few really big steps from the castle.”
He chuckled and let go of her hips to link his hands at her belly, not really noticing that he had done it until she folded her own hands over his and leaned back against him. Pleased, he gave her a little hug and let her head find a spot to rest on his shoulder.
“Xander,” she murmured after a few silent minutes of watching the sea. “Is this weird?”
He considered that. “Do you want it to be weird?”
“Pretty much since I hit puberty.” She chuckled, a sad sound and one he would never tell her contained a trace of an equine whicker. “But I didn’t really see it happening like this.”
“No, but Dawn...you’ll be human again, and then...”
“Don’t talk about ‘and then’. Maybe there’s good things coming, maybe you and me, I don’t know, but right now there’s nothing. I’m just waiting to be human. Waiting to have a life again.” She took a deep breath, and Xander could feel her shudder through the thick material of his sweater. “I figured out why Kenny picked these forms for me. I still have my own face, my own mind, but I can’t be with anybody. I can’t even think about being with anybody, because even in my head it seems perverted. He won’t let me love like a girl.”
Xander took this in with mild shock. They had already discovered that the transformations were Kenny’s idea of revenge, but he had never put much thought into why the thricewise would choose a giant or a centaur. Dawn’s conclusion made sense—-she had lost many aspects of her normal life, but the restriction on physical intimacy must have been the core intention of the curse. “Son of a bitch,” he breathed.
Dawn shrugged unhappily. “I cheated on him.”
“I don’t care. He didn’t have any right. Nobody should be tinkering with your body unless you let him. Kenny needs to get punched in whatever body parts a thricewise has. Twice. Thrice.” He put one hand on her shoulder and leaned forward so that he could see her face to face. “Dawnie, it’s okay to feel bad about what you did, but don’t ever believe you deserved this. Not from him, not from anyone.”
“I thought you were jealous about me being a majestic creature of legend.”
“Can’t deny it. But you’ll always be a majestic creature in my heart.”
“And a girl?”
“And a girl.”
She smiled at that and tucked her head under his chin, but he could feel her sigh from her second pair of lungs. It was, truth be told, weird. He didn’t mind.