Barney’s blond hair shines under the smoky lights on the roof and she just stares at it until it becomes bleached blond and his tone gains an accent. The smell of cigarettes they’re all smoking suddenly becomes tinged with the scent of leather and she quietly moans while breathing it in. The moment is broken when Ted opens his big mouth and she’s sure no one heard the small sigh that passes her lips.
The girl on Ted’s arm makes her freeze with recognition before she realises her eyes are the wrong colour and she’s way too tall and this is the first doppelganger she’d ever seen that scares her so completely. Pushing the unwanted memories to the back of her mind, she tries to be extra nice just so she could make up for everything she’d ever done to the other girl with the same face and the same voice. She catches herself before she calls Ted’s girl ‘Dawnie’ and her hands still shake, half an hour later, when she lifts her beer bottle to her lips and downs her in two gulps.
She’s tired and Marvin’s crying and she wants it all to stop so she lays him on the bed next to her and creates colourful sparks and strings and ribbons of light above his face until he calms down. When her darling falls asleep, she cries herself to sleep and, when Marshall returns the next morning from visiting his mother, she rushes to him and hugs and kisses him until Tara’s just a faraway memory and she doesn’t feel quite so guilty.
Robin calls her a girl that doesn’t know how to fight and, in a bout of rebelliousness, she remembers Buffy, her strength and her movements and Robin’s lying on the floor seconds later, Ted and Marshall both looking at her with something akin to awe and fear she remembers her past self receiving. Barney just blinks and stands, unsure, but, when their eyes meet, she feels a wave of respect washing over her and she feels a bit better until her mind brings Xander up and then she’s in tears in a heap on the floor and she’s apologising to everyone and everything.
Her son is her most prized possession and the voice in her head sounding strangely like Giles keeps hounding at her to protect, to save, to help and to give her life for the boy and she does just that every single day. She takes care of her little darling and she lives for him and it might not be healthy but she just has to make sure he’ll be better off than her. She has to make sure he’ll never know the pain she felt or the horrors she still carries around. If she’s a bit too clingy while doing it, well, better safe than sorry.
Years pass, years of evading and repressing and uncovering the happiness still left for her before she spots a broad back and gelled dark hair; the man dressed completely in black making the ladies in the bar turn. The feeling bubbling under her skin makes her stand up and move towards him, leaving her friends at their booth. When she reaches him they both suddenly become aware of how tired they both are of all the pretending. He hands her a black envelope and hugs her tightly and she whispers ‘Angel’ and then he’s gone.
The envelope has her initials on in silver letters and inside she only sees a note written in Dawn’s round handwriting ‘Please, come. I’m on my own again.’ It takes the breath from her lungs and it takes her minutes to track the girl down and order her to come to New York. Days later, Dawnie’s in her living room, posing as her cousin and avoiding the more prodding questions and all she can do is hug her and cry.
She starts feeling it just might be too much for Ted to look at a doppelganger of his ex-girlfriend every day but Dawn likes him (more than she should, if anyone asks her) and Ted seems to like her more than...Melanie? Samantha?...oh, well, and it makes it harder to ban them from getting too friendly and when Dawn comes to tell her she’s engaged she only sighs and says the regular congratulations, feeling more tired than ever.
The wedding’s grand and evening and Angel’s there, too and she feels a little less guilty as she watches Angel walking little Dawnie down the aisle, praying for Buffy to be watching from Heaven.