Sometimes Dawn thinks she should have been made from Willow instead. Witchy woman to give the Key flesh and bone, and it would explain why they loved the same, and why Willow always knew the best ways to break her heart.
He never uses a nickname for her, he isn't like Xander and his "Dawnster" or Willow and her "Dawnie" or even Buffy and her "Pain in My Ass." He's always slightly formal when he talks to her, which isn't often. Not that he babbles at anyone else, but she thinks, with her, he chooses his words with extreme care. She wants to know his secrets.
Buffy's being super weird lately, and that cute guy, Angel, hasn't been around.
Boys, she scoffs, but then Oz grins at her and she kind of gets it. He's got a quirky smile, a little crooked, and it makes her want to run away.
"Hi." She knows she's grinning at him maniacally, but she can't stop. She's happy to see him, and not just because she thinks he's great. Buffy's tense, and Mom's worried about her, and Willow barely says two words to Dawn, she's too caught up with Buffy's problems.
Oz, though, he always makes time for her, and he's way more relaxed than everyone else.
He's not her baby-sitter, exactly. Buffy's supposed to stay home with her, and Willow comes over to study, and Oz is with her, and then Buffy gets a phone call and says she has to go, and she needs Willow, and suddenly Dawn is left alone with him.
He's got his guitar. Dawn's allowed to watch tv after dinner, but she'd rather be with him. She likes his silence, even though it makes her uncomfortable. Sometimes she wishes he would talk more, so she could listen to him. His words should have been more precious because he used so little, but all it did was make her want more.
The guitar stays in the case. He makes popcorn and finds a horror movie marathon. She's not a big fan, sometimes they give her nightmares, but it's Oz. Of course she's going to watch.
First they catch the end of some ghost movie, and it's creepy enough that she gets an afghan to cower under.
He doesn't ask if she's cold, just pats her on the shoulder. "Sure you want to keep watching?" he asks.
"Yeah, of course." She tries to sound cool, and older. She's not a little kid. "It's fun."
The next movie is An American Werewolf in London.
He laughs, and she doesn't understand.
"Oz, hi!" Dawn waves, and bounces over to him. "Where have you been? I haven't seen you!"
He nods, and rubs the back of his neck. Buffy and Willow are somewhere behind her; when she turns to look, they're right there, and Willow looks anxious. She knew something was wrong, when Willow spent the night and Dawn heard her crying.
"Hi Oz." Buffy jerks her head at him. "We were on our way to get coffee."
It's a lie, or maybe Dawn just doesn't get told their plans.
He nods again. "Music shop," he says. "I need guitar strings."
Willow opens her mouth and then shuts it and turns away, wrapping her arms across her stomach. Awkward. But Dawn's missed Oz a lot.
"Can I go with you?" she asks. "I want to look at the keyboards again."
"You know Mom isn't going to buy you one." Buffy's exasperated, but she doesn't care.
"She might!" She really believes it, too. "I want to be ready when she does. Knowledgeable." It's a good use of the word, it makes her sound older. She crosses her arms over her chest and sticks out her lip. Okay, so maybe that's kind of childish, but Buffy's doing the exact same thing.
"Fine! If Oz doesn't mind you tagging along, I don't care."
He shrugs. "It's ok."
And just like that, they're walking together, just the two of them.
Dawn babbles at him a little, telling him about school, and music class, and the best lunchroom gossip. There's nothing really different in his silence, but eventually she realizes he's unhappy.
Not at her, and she's not sure how she knows it. He's hurting, and it makes her sad.
She takes his hand, squeezes it, and then hurries into the store so he won't see her blush.
There are lots of keyboards set up, and she plays with them awhile, making mindless, tuneless music.
When she gets bored, she goes to find him. He's with the guitars, of course, and already has a little brown sack with the strings in it. The store's mostly empty, and she doesn't feel bad at all when she sits down in the aisle to listen.
Oz glances at her, and then picks up an acoustic. He's played for her a couple times, usually songs from his band, but the stuff he does now is slower and sadder, wordless but still heartbreaking.
She pulls her legs up to her chest, hooks her arms around them, and rests her chin on her knees. Mostly she likes the thought of growing up, of getting older, of becoming an adult. Oz looks so tired, shadows under his eyes and stubble on his jaw, and so sad.
She doesn't like this, not knowing what to do, not sure what everyone's emotions mean.
Dawn thinks maybe this is how a broken heart looks, and she doesn't like it one bit.
Tara doesn't want to let her know she's crying, but Dawn can see the tears lingering in the corner of her eyes.
She hates Willow then, just a little, for all the ways she hurts people, for all the broken hearts.
disclaimer: Characters belong to Joss Whedon.