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Part one of

Episode Four: Open Doors

by Aurelio Zen
You Look So Fine by Garbage
(The Porch Scene)
Thick Skin by Joydrop
(Dawn)
Perfect World by Liz Phair
(Faith & Anderson)

Shout-outs: To adjrun, cousinjean and fenwic (in alphabetical order!) for holding my hand through, listening to me whinge and complain, propping up my shaky ego, and generally cajoling me into finishing this chapter - particularly The Scene. This was just insanely difficult to write, and I couldn't have possibly done it without you guys, so big huge love to you three. And much love to Abby, jrs, and fiona for betas and feedback.


*
Spike rifled through the CDs in the glove compartment of Hank's shiny new SUV, hoping that an alternative to the three-disc set of The Best of Disco had materialized in the last five minutes. He grinned at the thought of Hank in tight bell-bottoms. Bit of a poser, Buffy's dad. Take this two-ton manifestation of mid-life crisis. Who needed an off-road vehicle in sodding LA? Still, it came with nifty features like darkened windows. They meant that a vampire could wait in air-conditioned comfort in the heat of a summer afternoon while Buffy and Hank went through the formalities of discharging Dawn from the hospital.
About bloody time. He was sick of seeing Dawn with tubes and wires sticking out of her at crazy angles. Sick of listening to machines beeping and chuffing and hissing in complicated skeins of rhythm that threatened to drive him insane. Sick of the stench of disinfectant and despair seeping into his skin.
Buffy had spent her waking hours hunched in a chair by her sister's bed, wrapped in misery and the quilt he'd given her, plum-colored shadows blossoming under her eyes as she waited for a sign that Dawn would recover. The first night and the second and the third he'd tried to be cheerful for her. But he'd seldom enjoyed lying, and Buffy could read him like a book anyway, so he'd stopped torturing them both with platitudes and they sat together in silence. She was the braver one - he couldn't bear more than an occasional glimpse at the still figure in the bed, but her gaze never wavered from Dawn. After the first week, she'd come back to Hank's with him to sleep. She took fitful naps, and he held her close to his heart and stared dry-eyed at the ceiling, trying to read the future in the stucco above.
He couldn't even offer her the momentary forgetfulness of sex. Even if either of them had been in the mood, the bed in the spare room creaked and groaned in protest if he so much as pulled the blankets up. So their caresses had been as decorous as any Victorian dragon-mama could have wished. Spike conceded that Hank probably hadn't arranged the noise on purpose. But something told him that Buffy's dad wouldn't shed any tears at the thought that his daughter and her disgraceful boyfriend had spent four weeks of enforced chastity.
He'd tried other things too. Buffy had been too spent to patrol, so Spike had gone out hunting alone a few times. He needed to feel bones splintering beneath his fists, and the punch of a stake through skin and muscle into a vampire's heart. Violence had diverted him for a while - until the night the people in the flat next door had a party around the swimming pool. He'd stood on the balcony, smoking, watching them, when a red wave of anger washed over him. He'd hated the men in their pastel polo shirts, toasting petty triumphs on the golf-course or the stock-market, and the women, all perfume and painted toenails. All of them enjoying their easy flirtations and their sleek, painless lives. All of them heedless of Dawn broken in the hospital and Buffy's grief and his own. For a millionth of a second, he'd imagined teaching them a lesson, drowning their gaiety in blood. Hard to laugh with your throat ripped out. His hand had tightened convulsively, crushing the glass he held, and the sudden pain brought him back to himself. He'd shuddered and slipped back inside. Except for his nightly visits to the hospital, he'd stayed indoors after that. At least Hank had five hundred channels of cable. And Buffy hadn't noticed the cuts on his palm.
Then, two weeks ago, as they began their evening vigil around Dawn's bed, she had squeezed Buffy's hand for the first time. Spike had sprinted off for a doctor, and when he'd returned, holding a nervous intern in an iron grip, Dawn's eyelids fluttered. Buffy had given him a radiant smile. That was when he'd finally wept.
The surgeons and neurologists had arrived in his wake to free Dawn from her cage of plastic and poke her with needles. She couldn't speak at first, but her eyes had been eloquent. Spike had scrunched his hands into fists to keep from hurting the white-coated men who'd inflicted more pain on her.
Giles had come down from Sunnydale to see them the next day, still limping from his own wounds. He'd smiled encouragement at Dawn and frowned when he noticed Buffy's prominent bones. Spike was obscurely touched when Giles took him aside and told him that he needed to pull himself together and for God's sake to get a shave.
The next two weeks had been exhausting for all of them. Tests and more bloody tests. Doctors who rattled off strings of mispronounced Latin and qualified every opinion for fear of lawsuits. Spike had to admit that Hank had been useful then - his talent as a salesman had made him relentless in the pursuit of answers. Hank's dogged persistence had succeeded where Spike's angry sarcasm couldn't, and in the end, it was better than Spike had ever let himself hope - Dawn was conscious and talking. She was a little incoherent from the painkillers, but there was no brain damage, even if they didn't know when or if the swelling around her spinal cord would heal.
So they were going home today. About bloody time.
***
"Sorry about the banner, B," Faith said. "I was trying for Martha Stewart. Kind of screwed that up, huh?"
Buffy looked up at the sign hanging over the living room door. "Welcome Home, Da" it said in bold letters. If you squinted really hard the tiny blob at the end could be a "w" and an "n." It was a gorgeous banner. And her living room looked like heaven after four weeks of shuttling between the hospital and Hank's apartment.
"Anya always said Martha Stewart was a witch -" Buffy began, and then stopped. Not a good way to bring the happy to a party. Some things still hurt too much. "It's beautiful," she said. "You guys didn't have to do all this." She gestured at the dining table piled high with chips, dips and assorted things that came out of cans.
Giles, Lydia and Faith had spared no effort for Dawn's homecoming party. It was so sweet, even though the guest of honor had been exhausted and hurting after the car trip and she'd insisted on going straight up to bed. Buffy had waited with her till the painkillers and sedatives took effect and sleep smoothed away the lines of pain etched around Dawn's mouth. Then she came back down to the party and realized that she was ravenous and not much in the mood for company. Would it be rude to tell them she was tired? Yeah. It would. She didn't want to hurt their feelings. She'd just have to smile and pretend to be having fun for a while.
"No biggie. We're all just psyched that you're back," Faith said, startling Buffy from her thoughts.
"Huh?" Buffy said. "Oh, thanks. But from what I heard, you did just fine without me."
"Well, yeah," Faith said. "We got the job done. Plus, mud wrestling. Always a good time. Even if it's with Gollum."
"Golem," Lydia said from behind her. "Goh-lem. It's not so hard. You'll need to get it right for your resume." She smiled and raised her glass in a mock-toast to Faith as she walked by.
Faith lowered her voice. "Like I was saying, the Goh-lem wasn't the hard part. It was the two of them." She gestured with her chin at Lydia and Giles on the couch. They didn't notice - they were too busy arguing about some Watchers' Council rule about how to write up reports.
Buffy glanced over at Spike. He was sprawled in an armchair, legs apart, possessiveness clear in every line of his body. All he needed to do was growl a couple of times and the guard-dog impression would be perfect. It was all for Hank's benefit, of course. A grudging "Beer?" from Spike and Hank's curt "No, thanks" were the only words Buffy had heard them say to each other. She sighed. She didn't feel like stepping into that minefield just now. Easier just to keep talking to Faith.
"Two Watchers, one Slayer - I'm guessing that wasn't the best mix?" she asked.
"You have no idea," Faith said. "When I'm bored, I watch TV. When Watchers are bored? Look out. Yesterday, they tried to teach me how to make tea." She shuddered.
"I know you think I'm very old," Giles said, "and I have been hit on the head a great many times, but I'm not completely deaf. I heard that. We tried once. For ten minutes. Then we gave up."
Faith grinned at him. "Any drink that comes with an instruction manual better have alcohol in it. I'm just saying." She turned to Buffy. "Mostly I've been playing nurse for Anderson. I think he wants to buy me an outfit."
"I think I don't want to go there," Buffy said. "How is Anderson anyway?"
"Getting better. Foot's still kinda swollen - he can't drive yet, and walking's a bitch too. He went back to his place - no stairs. He was a little feverish tonight. That's why he's not here," She eyed the door. "I should probably get going. Gotta walk the mutt too."
"Not a problem," Buffy said, "We'll catch up later. Thanks for housesitting and everything." She hugged Faith goodbye. "You can let yourself out, right?"
"Sure," Faith said. "Take care of yourself."
"Mmm hmm." Buffy stifled a yawn as she walked back into the living room.
"I think we should all be getting along," Giles said. "You must be tired." He stood up and hobbled to the door, Lydia in his wake.
"A little," Buffy said. "Plus, Dad has to drive back to LA."
"Actually," Hank said, "I'm planning to stay in Sunnydale for a couple of days. Just till you get settled in with Dawn. I'm sure there's plenty that needs doing, and maybe I can help out some." His voice was firm, very parental, but his eyes on Buffy's were pleading.
This was embarassing. She wasn't used to having her father ask for favors. She looked away, at Spike. He raised an eyebrow, and Buffy knew that whatever he was thinking wasn't going to help. Especially since it probably involved saying "bollocks" a lot. He opened his mouth but Giles got there first.
"As a matter of fact," Giles said, "I've spoken to Mrs. Bacani and she's given me a list of things that Dawn needs. I think we'll be able to provide Buffy with all the assistance necessary." His accent got more English and he bit off his words like they tasted sour.
Great. Now all three men were getting into a pissing contest about the Poor Little Orphans. So not what she had in mind for her first night home. A houseguest hadn't featured too big in her plans either. But this was her dad.
"Thanks, Dad," she said. "That's great. I'll make up the bed in mom's room. We'll be glad to have you here." Spike shook his head behind Hank's back, and Buffy glared at him.
"No, Buffy," Hank said. "That won't be necessary. I made a reservation at the - " he looked down at the card in his hand, "Bluebell Bed-and-Breakfast." He handed the card to Buffy. "I'll be at that number. Goodnight, Miss ... uh, Lydia; Mr. Giles. Spike." He nodded at them. Lydia smiled back, but Giles's face was cold, and he didn't shake Hank's hand before he stepped out onto the porch.
Buffy walked her father to his car, making sure she stayed between him and Giles. "Night, Dad," she said and hugged him. "Thank you. For everything."
"Buffy," Hank said. "I need to talk to you. Can we meet for dinner tomorrow? Alone."
He was making her nervous. "Is something wrong? Do you want to talk now?"
"No. It can wait. Get some rest. I'll see you tomorrow."
"OK," she said. "Around seven? I'll need to patrol afterwards."
"Seven o'clock." He kissed her on the forehead. "Goodnight. Sleep well."
"Uh-huh," Buffy said and turned back to the house.
***
Spike sat on the back steps, smoking. She stood at the door and watched him for a minute. He bent down to stub out his cigarette in the dirt, and the light from the kitchen gilded his hair where it curled into the nape of his neck. She caught her breath, remembering the softness of that fine down against her lips.
He heard her then and twisted around. With other people, Spike always grinned or smirked. Just to piss them off or because he was having fun doing something outrageous. The dazzling smile, full of warmth and joy and love - that was only for her. She was the only one who ever saw his dimples, so out of place in the sharp planes of his face. Her heart turned over and then hammered so hard against her chest that she thought it would deafen her. He stood up in one fluid movement, and moved towards her, silent on bare feet. Without knowing exactly how, she found herself in his arms, caressing the soft cotton of his t-shirt, and the play of muscles underneath.
They kissed. Long and sweet. He tasted like smoke and he stroked her arms with gentle fingers that set her on fire. Her head swam. She pulled away to gulp in great breaths of air and looked up at him. His eyes burned down into hers, as if she was the most precious thing on earth.
She hooked her hand in his waistband, pulling him closer. He bent his head to the hollow of her throat, and she moaned as he sucked on the tender skin.
He lifted his head at the sound. "Dawn?" he gasped.
"Asleep."
She kissed him again, hard, ravenous for what they'd denied themselves. Impatient for the feel of his skin, she tugged his shirt up over his head. He hissed when she traced patterns on his belly with her nails and shuddered when she stroked the stiffness in his pants.
He lifted her skirt, his hand trembling as he stroked the inside of her thigh. He tried to hook her legs around him, but she wriggled out of his grasp. She had other ideas. She undid his belt, and he sighed as she slipped his jeans off his narrow hips. He stood, naked, gleaming in the moonlight, lower lip caught in his teeth, hands loose at his sides, waiting for her cue.
She pushed him until he was backed up to the railing, and slid down his body. She kissed her way down his chest and stomach, enjoying the twitch of his muscles under her lips and tongue, until she was kneeling in front of him.
He gave a sharp indrawn breath. "What's this?" His voice cracked.
"What do you think?" she said. "Payback's a bitch." She giggled. "Now shh." She bent her head to continue.
Spike groaned and arched his back. There wasn't much that would shut him up, but some things always worked.
***
She walked down a tunnel, alone in the dark. At the end of the passage she came to a room and stepped over the threshold. Once her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she realized that the oddly-shaped walls were made of bodies, stacked to the low ceiling. Here and there she could see an arm or a leg sticking out from the pile, grey flesh contrasting with colorful shreds of clothing. The room had the sickly-sweet stench of rotting meat. She gagged and turned back, but the door she had come through had vanished. There were no other entrances. The bodies shifted, moved closer to her, hands groping blindly, and the dead whispered warnings too soft for her to understand.
A sudden flare of light dazzled her, and then he was there. "I've been waiting for you, little girl," he said, his voice nasal and silky. "You didn't think I was really gone, did you?"
She froze, her feet rooted to the ground. The Master came closer till she could see the drops of blood on his fruit-punch mouth. He leaned in toward her and brushed the hair back from her face, rubbing the strands through his fingers. His nails scratched her neck. "Poor, brave child," he whispered. "Ready to die alone?"
She pulled the stake from her jacket, but as she looked down, the wood melted in her hand and ran through her fingers. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out.
Dawn woke up, her heart hammering in her ears, her mouth dry and her hands clenched in a death grip around the neck of a stuffed penguin. She took deep breaths, calming herself, and looked around the room. She was at home, in her own bed. The Master was dead. Everything was OK. Everything was fine.
Then she looked down at her legs, stuck out in front of her, cased in plaster and itching like crazy. And she remembered that nothing was fine. Her back ached and the pillows behind her were squished down and too warm. Her neck hurt from trying to sleep sitting up. Tears stung her eyes and she blinked them away. No crying. She wasn't a baby.
She reached for the bottle of water Buffy had left on her nightstand. It was warm now, but she gulped it down anyway. It wasn't enough. Her tongue still felt thick and dry. She wanted something to eat, too. Grilled cheese maybe. Or peanut butter. Except those would make her thirstier. Mostly, she needed some more water.
Buffy. Or Spike. They were around, somewhere. If she'd yelled they'd come running. She knew that. Then she heard the sounds drift up through her open window. Giggles. That was Buffy. And a moan. Spike's voice saying something pitched too low for her to hear. And then more moaning. They were having sex. Under her window. Too busy to care that she was hot and thirsty.
Fine. She didn't need them to bring her stuff. She'd get it herself. Plus, it would totally freak out Spike and Buffy when they found her in the kitchen. Served them right.
It only took her a second to realize the problem. She couldn't walk through a portal. Stupid, stupid legs. She gritted her teeth till her jaw ached.
Still, maybe there was a way. If she did it right, she could just reach out from the bed. She closed her eyes, focused as Willow had taught her. Saw the front of the fridge, covered in magnets holding up old shopping lists and take-out menus. The scent of herbs drifting in from her mother's tangled garden out back. She breathed in and out. Calm. All she had to do was grab the cool metal handle and open the door.
She opened her eyes. There was no fridge. Just the "Max and Liz" poster peeling off the wall. Mom had bought it for her last year. She hadn't had the heart to explain that she was so over Roswell so she'd tacked it up on the bedroom wall. She'd never get rid of it.
Mom. No. That was bad. Sometimes she could think about Mom without it hurting. This wasn't one of those times.
She thought about the water again. Maybe she hadn't focused enough. She'd try again. She imagined herself pulling out a bottle, tipping her head back. She could feel how cold it was as she swallowed.
Her eyes popped open. Nothing had changed. It hadn't worked.
Everything was gone. She wasn't the Key any more. She was just a sixteen year old girl who'd been in a bad car accident. They'd smiled at her, the doctors and the nurses. "Aren't you the lucky one?" they'd said. "Not many people would have survived that crash."
Like it was a good thing.
***
Anderson looked up at the alarm clock. 5:30. Fifteen minutes later than the last time he'd checked. His ankle hurt like a bitch, and it was time to admit that he wasn't going to sleep any more.
The sun was just coming up and if he squinted, he had enough light to read. He sat up, rearranged the pillows, and reached for his book from the nightstand. Jack Russells for Dummies. He had to get a handle on what made Dog tick if he was going to keep him.
He glanced over at Faith. She was asleep on her side with Dog curled up in the crook of her legs. And he decided that waking up at the crack of dawn wasn't all bad. He could watch her without her getting all uncomfortable the way she did when she was awake. She'd squirm or spin him into a dance or stick her tongue in his mouth to distract him. Like she was scared he wouldn't love what he saw. He enjoyed just looking at her - the way people looked at paintings in museums for hours. Except paintings didn't have skin like cream, and gorgeous, pouty lips that made you want to lean over and nibble them. He sighed. Too bad he'd never found a copy of Faith for Dummies. He could've used a guide.
He leaned in and brushed a stray curl off her face. The movement woke her. She smiled at him and stretched, yawning, much to Dog's displeasure. He grumbled for a minute, shot them both a filthy look, and then settled back down at the foot of the bed.
"What's up?" Faith said. "What time is it?"
"It's early. Go back to sleep."
"Are you OK?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. A little sore from last night." He grinned.
"Hey, that was your idea. You told me to squeeze." She frowned. "You're sure you're OK?"
"Just kidding," he said. "My ankle's bothering me, that's all. Nothing to worry about."
"I do," she said.
"What?"
"Worry. When that thing got you? I was gonna kill you if you - That didn't come out right."
He laughed. "I know what you mean. C'mere." He pulled her closer until her head nuzzled his neck and her soft, sleep-tousled hair ticked his chin. God, this felt nice. The one good thing about almost getting killed was that Faith had stayed with him every night since he'd come back from the hospital. She hadn't gone running back home to Mr. Giles's apartment the way she used to. She'd even brought some of her stuff over. Lacey panties and teeny-weeny tank tops scattered through the drawers of his dresser, cohabiting with his Jockey shorts and mismatched socks. He liked it that way.
He wanted to go to bed with Faith every night and hold her while they slept and see her face when he woke up in the morning. He wanted to hear her yell "Son of a BITCH" at the coffeemaker when it didn't go fast enough, and watch her sneak little pieces of pizza crust to Dog.
He wanted her here, with him. Always.
"Faith," he said.
"Mmm." She was already drifting back to sleep. Maybe this wasn't the right time. But he had to ask.
"Faith, I - um ... I've been doing some thinking."
"That'll get you in trouble."
"I'd like - would you, maybe, think about - moving in here with me?" The words came out in a rush.
"What?" She sat up so fast her skull cracked his chin, and he bit his lip.
"You and me. Living here. Together." He was babbling. He could taste the blood on his tongue.
She said nothing. Just looked at him, her eyes huge. Terrified, he would have said, if he didn't know how brave she was.
"You don't have to - it's a big decision. I know," he said. "But we're together every day anyway, and I thought maybe it would be - " He shook his head. "It's OK. Just a wild idea."
"No, no," she said. "It could be great. It's just - kinda sudden. I need a little time." She smiled and he made himself believe he'd imagined the fear.
"Of course," he said. "Take as long as you need. I'm not going anywhere."

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