DL 2.8

Aug. 13th, 2005 02:07 am
[identity profile] eee1313.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] dancing_lessons_archive
Episode Eight: Subterfuge

by Nmissi
Possum Kingdom by Toadies

Shout Outs: Thanks go to the talented writers working on each part of the story. I’m so honored that you invited me to the party. It’s been an amazing experience to work so closely with such a talented, hardworking group of writers. Thanks to my husband for keeping the kids occupied while I was writing. Lastly, special thanks to my roomies at GenCon. They don’t even follow the show, and yet they tolerated me all weekend as I babbled about my fanfic chapter and worried about whether I’d get to see James. Erin, Debby, and Michelle: Thanks for putting up with me.


Plink. Plink. Plink.
Dawn rolled over in her bed, while the rain continued outside. Plink. Plink. Plink. Thud. Plink.
She sat up suddenly. That’s not the rain, she thought.
Her head turned towards the window just in time to see the pebble hit the glass, before falling away. Then she watched as another one hit it. Plink.
Her bare feet hit the floor softly, and she padded over to the glass, and pushed back the curtains.
The rain poured outside, in thick sheets that cast the world outside in a grey haze. She could see someone standing on the ground below. He raised his face to her through the deluge. She clicked the latch and pushed up the window.
“Doug,” she hissed. “What are you doing down there? You’re getting soaked!”
He shrugged and smiled. “Wanted to see you. Can I come up? Or will you come down?”
She looked down at herself, clad in only a nightshirt. She needed to get dressed. He was probably freezing down there. But Buffy would wig if she had a boy in her room, and there was sufficient wiggage already. She poked her head back out the window. “Let me throw some clothes on and I’ll be right there.”
She ran over to the dresser and rummaged around in the dark, locating jeans and a sweater by their textures alone. Her drawers were a jumbled heap. It was a miracle she could find anything in here since Mom died.
She went to the door and pressed her ear against it, even as she shimmied out of the nightshirt and pushed one leg into the jeans. Below her, she could still hear them arguing. The knot in her stomach was eerily reminiscent of her childhood. She could remember countless times just like this one, where she’d stood at the door, listening to Mom and Dad fight.
His rock hit the glass, and she was reminded of the urgency of her situation. She shoved her head into the sweater and grabbed the brush off the dresser as she ran back to the window. It slid up with a soft rattle, and she poked her head back out.
“WHAT?” she whispered.
He grinned at her, the rain matting his dark curls against his forehead. “Hurry up. I’m cold, and I’m hungry. Plus I’m scared your sister’s gonna find me lurking in the bushes and give me what-for.”
The easy smile and the affectionate look in his eyes gave her a pleasant warm tingle in her stomach. She raked the brush through her hair, then gave a look at the rain and tossed the brush onto the bed behind her. It didn’t matter what her hair looked like anyway. She shoved bare feet into canvas tennis shoes without bothering to untie them, and climbed out onto the trellis, and began inching her way down carefully.
He met her at the base of the trellis, reaching up to help her down the last part of the way. His hands grasped her around the waist, and held her steady as she picked out the ground with her feet.
She tossed her hair out of her eyes, and smiled at him. “Hi.”
The rain was still pouring, her sweater was damp and her hair had begun to drip already. But the look in his eyes made her feel warm all over.
“Hi yourself,” he said. He had his hands in his pockets now, and seemed suddenly unsure of himself. He looked at the ground for a minute, sort of shifting in place. The silence seemed too empty, and so Dawn rushed to fill it.
“What are you doing here? Hello- Raining. We’re gonna get soaked.”
He looked up at her from underneath his brows, his dark hair falling forward over his eye a little. The effect was charming. “I just…missed you, I guess,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to see you again. And it was raining, and I thought, ‘I think I’d like to see what Dawn looks like in the rain.’”
She made a face. “I look like a drowned rat in the rain,” she stated. But he shook his head. One hand reached out to push wet strands off of her face, and lingered beside her ear.
“No. You look beautiful. Sweet enough to eat, honest.”
He dropped his hand to her side and took her palm in his.
“Let’s go,” he said.
Dawn was uncertain. Good sense warred briefly with optimism. She felt very exposed, unsafe even just out here in the yard. “Where, exactly?”
His answering smile and twinkling eyes gave her goosebumps.
“Anywhere we want.” He squeezed her hand gently and tugged. She followed him out onto the sidewalk, laughing.
“It’s not as if she disobeyed you, exactly. You never forbade her to leave the dance, after all,” said Spike. His manner was conciliatory and placating. In the days since Dawn’s dance, he had gradually regained his calm. Buffy had not.
“How can you be like this? She could have died, Spike. I should never have let her go in the first place, not with Drac and his bimbos on the loose. Anything could have happened. She put herself and that boy in danger, and she should know better by now. It was reckless and stupid, and I am not going to pretend like it wasn't.”
Spike tried again. “I know that, love. But she's fifteen. She did something stupid, yes. But nobody got hurt, and maybe she’s learned her lesson and all.”
Buffy shot him a glare.
“She will learn it, if we don't go all soft on her. It’s not like I enjoy doing this, Spike. But she earned that punishment. I don’t care how many football games she misses, she is grounded for the next month.” She sighed. “One of us has to be firm.”
“You’re not being firm, you’re being unreasonable,” he argued. He hated to be in the middle like this, but Buffy had tunnel vision where Dawn’s discipline was concerned. It wasn’t right, she was being too strict. It wasn’t right to make her miss out on so much. She’d lost her dad, her mum, and her sense of self. Was it so much to ensure that she got to keep her friends?
“Hah! She’s just got you wrapped around her finger, you know that? The other night, you were seriously pissed. You threatened Convent school and said you were going to lock her up til she was thirty. Now she jerks her chin at you and suddenly it’s “Don’t be so hard on her, Buffy, have some sympathy, Buffy-“
“Don’t be a bitch, Buffy,” he muttered.
She wheeled on him, anger flaming her cheeks and sparkling in her eyes. “I’m NOT being a bitch. And I'm not being unreasonable. I’m just trying to keep her safe. My mother made me promise to look after her, to love Dawn the way she loved us. I’m not gonna go back on that just to earn popularity points with her majesty.”
“She’s a teenage girl!” Spike sputtered. “ Surely you remember what that is like? The phone is practically a prosthetic limb at that age.” He stretched out his hands, palms upward, and lowered his voice soothingly. “I’m not sayin’ she ought to be allowed out on dates again. I’m not sayin’ she can run around the mall on the weekend with her little mates. But you’ve cut off telephone and email access. You’ve pulled her out of her afterschool activities. Do you have any idea how many times a day little bit gets phone calls? Little girls can’t decide what to watch or what to wear without consultin’ ten other girls. You’re forcing her to be pushed aside, left out, for the next month. Who knows if she can ever come back from that. Children are cruel. Bit’s a great girl, but popularity is fickle. She’s got enough black marks against her as it is. She already feels freakish. You keep her out of the loop, and she might never get in. A month is forever to a kid. Maybe you were never an outcast, but I was. It hurts to not be part of the group.”
Buffy ran a hand across her furrowed brow. They’d had this same argument going for the last couple of days, and it didn’t seem likely to get much better. Spike just didn’t understand the delicacy of the situation. He was too likely to be swayed by big eyes and tears. He couldn’t be rational when it came to Dawn.
The phone rang, and Spike gave her raised eyebrows. She shook her head, and he groaned, and went to the wall.
“Hello? No, I’m sorry, Dawn can’t come to the phone right now. Yes, I will tell her that you called. Terri, isn’t it? Yes, I told her yesterday. I’m sorry… No, I don’t think she’s going to make it to tryouts.” He glared at Buffy as he spoke. “ Drill team? No, I don’t think so. But I’ll make sure she knows. Thank you.”
He hung up the phone.
“That was Terri, again. Drill team tryouts are on Friday at four. She noticed Dawn wasn’t signed up, so she thought she’d remind her,” he commented. His mouth twisted. “I guess they’ve got a few vacancies of late.”
Buffy shook her head. “No. I’m sorry, Spike. I can't let her go.”
He turned his back on her, and headed up the stairs. “Fine. I’ll just go tell her that Terri called again. Not like she’s really sleepin’, what with all this racket.”
Buffy sank down onto the couch. Was she being unreasonable? She was trying to do right by her sister, she was trying to honor their mother…
Would Mom have taken back a punishment after she’d set it?
The quick patter of Spike’s footfalls as he ran back down the stairs pulled her out of her ruminations. She looked up, and saw fear and horror in his eyes.
“She’s gone. The window is open and her tennies are missing. I think she's bolted,” he said.
Doug pushed the wooden gate open with his free hand, and together they walked into the backyard. “This is my house.”
It was a two story brick building, of a similar age and style as the Summers’ home. A well-manicured flowerbed lined the base of the high privacy fence, sporting full, healthy plantings that glistened in the early evening rain. They reminded Dawn of her mother, and of the once-lush floral foliage now so pitifully neglected at home. Her mom would probably have liked his, she thought.
“We’re going inside?” she asked. He gave her a small smile.
“Well, the first date was a bust. Tonight we’re sort of wet and too gross to go anywhere people can see us. I’d sort of planned on getting something to eat, but I don’t know that the organized date thing really works for us. We had more fun on the swings anyway.” His hand gripped hers gently, as he led her around to the side yard. “Besides…I just wanted to be with you.”
They came to a halt at the base of a thick tree trunk. Dawn could see small wooden slats nailed against its surface, and as she watched, Doug placed his foot against one and began to climb upward.
She lagged behind, at the foot of the tree, watching him. He turned back to her, leaning slightly over.
“Come on up, Dawn. It’s just a treehouse. Didn’t you ever have one?” he asked.
She put her foot on the bottom step. “No, never did. We did have one of those plastic playhouses on the ground, though.” A treehouse was sort of a boy-type thing, she supposed. She’d never been in one before.
She followed him up into the canopy of leaves, and onward into a beaten structure that seemed to have been compiled out of scrap wood. It wasn’t quite tall enough to do much more than kneel in, but it was fairly wide. Doug crawled across and leaned up against a Far Side poster tacked up on the wall. He watched with bemused interest as she followed him.
“Welcome to my home away from home. Where I go to escape,” he said. She settled next to him, leaning up against his arm, and thought about the sort of stuff she wanted to get away from. But there was a note in his voice that troubled her. He sounded so forlorn.
“From what?” she asked.
He thought for a moment. “From life, I guess. From the parental units, from school… everything, really.” He put an arm around her shoulders lightly. “You know. The usual.”
He’d come out to get her in the pouring rain. He’d brought her up here for a reason. Feminine vanity suggested the obvious, but she didn’t really think that was it. She’d stopped picking up horny-guy vibes back at her house, and was now on to something weirder. A knot was forming in her throat. He seemed mopey and distant.
“What sort of usual, Doug? What’s wrong?” she asked.
He hugged her shoulder gently.
“Nothing’s wrong. Really. For the first time in a long time, a lot of things are really right.” His voice was strong, secure. But Dawn had the sense he was trying to convince himself, more than her. She prodded him.
“Come on, out with it. You’ve got stuff on your mind and you wanted me to hear it, or else you could have called me on the phone or something.” Her mouth twisted in a grimace. “Okay, well, you could have, if I wasn’t grounded for life.”
He turned dark eyes on her, and the hopelessness in their expression gave way. It made her shiver.
“Yeah. You’re right.” He laughed then. “You’re just like that. Always just like that. Always know what I mean to say even when I don’t say it quite right, always know what I mean even if I don’t. Yeah. I’ve got some stuff on my mind - but it’s no big. It’s just… I’m not good with change. A lot has changed around here, and I’m not really dealing.”
She still wasn’t following. She wished he would just tell her what was bothering him. She hoped it wasn’t something she’d done. He’d been all touchy-flirty back at her house, but now he was downright…morose.
“What changed?” she asked.
“Things. My folks, they’re getting along a lot better now. They don’t fight all the time, like they used to. We’ve really pulled together lately, been doing more stuff together as a family. Used to be, they were both really into their jobs at work, and didn’t really have much to do with me. Long as I kept my grades up, they were okay- but we didn’t really have a lot in common. Mom had her friends, Dad had his. We rarely even sat down to a meal together.”
She watched a dark glimmer go through his eyes. “That’s not really much of a problem anymore,” he said.
“Well, that’s good then, isn’t it?” she asked him.
He nodded. “It is. I mean, I wasn’t all that thrilled when Dad came home the other night, after the dance, and said things were gonna be different around here. Couldn’t figure out what had got into him, you know? He’s decided to prioritize, he says. And now me and mom are a priority. We didn’t really used to be.”
His fingers twined into her hair while he talked, petting her absently with one hand.
“So that’s why I haven’t been at school the last coupla days. Dad’s decided we all need to bond or something. We’ve been hanging out, doing the family thing. It’s a little weird- I mean, he never was really into the whole power structure, ‘I’m the head of the family’ thing before. That’s new for him. But it’s kind of cool, being able to look to him for guidance. I haven’t done that since I was little. And Mom’s paying me more attention now too. She seems really happy he’s home now.”
“Sounds like a big change in him. What happened, he find ‘Promise Keepers’ or something?” she asked.
“Something like that,” Doug answered.
Spike crouched under the trellis, the water soaking into his coat and hair. Two sets of footprints led away from the house, out onto the front walk. So little to follow, but it gave him hope. She had climbed down willingly, and the shoes belonged to a young man, with smaller feet than Dracula. He looked up to see Buffy hurrying over.
“I’ve called all her girlfriends, at least, all the ones I have numbers for,” she offered, shaking her head. “No one knows anything.” She grimaced. “They all assured me that they haven’t spoken to her in days, except at school.”
Spike stood up. “Did you call the boy?”
Buffy nodded. “Nobody answered. Why?”
Spike indicated the ground. “Shoe prints. Male feet. Smallish.” He turned away from her and walked out to the sidewalk, where the trail ended. Buffy followed, and watched him peering anxiously down the street. His hands were fists, his jawline tight.
He turned back to her. “I don’t know where to start looking,” he admitted. The haunted look in his eyes was too much. He ached the way she did, and her anger melted before their shared pain. She reached out a hand towards him, opening his palm and folding her own inside it.
“I’ve got the phone number in the house. I’ll get the address and we’ll head over, see if anyone knows where he went,” said Buffy. Releasing his hand, she went back into the house, and Spike was left with a whole new unpleasant thought.
If the boy’s parents weren’t home, and no one was answering the phone, he might have taken Dawn there.
To his house. Unchaperoned.
Buffy came out onto the porch, and he ran up to meet her. “You have the address?” he gulped. She nodded. He grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the car as he fumbled the keys from his pocket. “Come on. We need to hurry,” he said.
They sat together still, but the conversation had drifted into new territory. Dawn rested her head against his shoulder, shivering slightly.
“You’re cold,” he observed.
“You are too,” she answered. “You got wetter than I did, and you’re still all clammy. I think you really ought to go in the house and put on something dry.”
He cuddled her closer, tugging her into his lap. “Nah. You’ll warm me up in no time,” he said. His hand stroked her cheek, and he smiled into her face. “I really like you, Dawn. Always have.” His hand crept up, and pushed wet strands back off of her forehead. “You’re special. It’s like you light up a room when you come into it, it’s like you make people more interesting just by being around them. You make me more interesting, more special, just because you like me.” He leaned in closer to her.
This is it, Dawn thought. He’s going to kiss me now. Her stomach dropped and her mouth went dry, as she suddenly tried to arrange her features so that she looked kissable but not desperate, available but not easy. His face hovered close to hers for just a second, and she closed her eyes as she felt his lips move against her.
He kissed her softly, exerting just the slightest pressure against her mouth, easing her lips apart with his bottom one. He tasted like saltwater, his lips cool and damp. One hand tangled itself in the hair at the base of her neck, as he pulled her in even closer, tighter. Her heart raced, her pulse beating in her ears like a drum. She kissed him back, tentatively, growing bolder in response to his responses.
She came to realize that they weren’t sitting up together anymore. She was leaning backwards, almost supine, and he was over her. His kisses had drifted down onto her collarbones, his hands had wandered up the front of her shirt.
A voice wafted up to them from below.
“Douglas, I think you should come down here. Now.”
Dawn pulled away from him in utter horror. We are so busted, she thought. She tugged her shirt down over her bra, and bit her lip. Doug cursed quietly under his breath as he crawled over to the doorway.
“What is it, Dad?”
“Both of you. In the house, now.” The voice was firm, calm… and brooked no disagreement.
She crawled after him, and he grabbed her elbow. “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”
Her worried eyes met his. “I don’t know. He sounded pretty mad. You snuck out of your house to see me. I snuck out to see you. Odds are, we are both grounded until we die.” Her shoulders sagged. “This is so not the way I wanted to meet your parents.”
He shook his head and grinned at her, the lazy, goofy grin she liked best. “Nah. I will handle it. Trust me. And my dad? He’s gonna love you, like a daughter or something. He just needs to get to know you, to know the way that I feel about you.”
She couldn’t help smiling. “And how is that? How do you, um..feel about me?” She was pretty sure about him, but she wanted to hear the words.
He laughed. “You know how I feel.” He leaned back over to her, and this time the kiss was brief, but still sweet. “C’mon. We ought to go inside before he gets any madder.”
They drove silently, as the tension rose between them. Buffy gripped the address tightly in her hand; a ripped-out section of the phone book. No one in the Summers household would be finding anything on page 514 ever again.
“Where are you going?” she asked, as Spike turned off of the main road.
“Shortcut,” he mumbled, driving haphazardly on into an alleyway.
He was still seething, she could tell that. His worry was manifesting itself in the lines of his face, and the tightness of his voice. She turned her attention back to the road outside. “I hope you know where you’re going. This doesn’t look like the right neighborhood at all.”
He ignored her, driving up and down alleyways, skirting the evening traffic on the main roads. Somehow he successfully navigated a trip devoid of traffic lights and posessing a minimum of stop signs.
“Here now. It should be the next road up ahead,” he said. He turned the car sharply and drove behind a convenience store to cut off a corner.
“Douglas, get the lady something warm to drink. She’s chilled,” said his father. He raised one hand and indicated the kitchen cabinets. “I think there’s still some cocoa mix in there.” He turned his attention to Dawn, sitting quietly in a kitchen chair. “I apologize for my son’s thoughtlessness. He should have brought you inside where it was warm.”
Dawn shook her head. “I’m fine, sir, really. I’m not all that cold.”
The older gentleman shook his head. “Nonsense.” He took her left hand in his own. “Your skin is like ice.” He raised his head and called back towards the stairs. “Barbara? Did you find something for her yet?”
Doug’s mother hurried down to them, carrying a bundle of clothes. “Here we go. This should do.” She approached Dawn, smiling broadly. “You must be Dawn. I’m Barbara, Dougie’s mother. It’s wonderful to finally meet you.”
That’s weird, thought Dawn. I don’t remember her looking quite like that at the PTA meeting. Maybe they were going out or something.
Doug’s mom was flawlessly made up, and wearing a skimpy black evening gown. She was blessed with a nice figure, and did not look old enough to have a fifteen year old son. Her dark hair had been artfully arranged in an upsweep, revealing the column of her swanlike neck. Jewelry glittered on fingers and ears, and a dainty anklet sparkled above slingback three inch heels. She smelled like Giorgio perfume and hairspray, as she handed Dawn a pair of jeans and a sweater. “I think we’re of a size, you should be able to wear those. Just roll up the hem. The downstairs bathroom is in there,” she said, pointing towards the hall.
Alone in the bathroom, Dawn stripped out of her damp clothes and toweled her hair. Then she slid into the loose jeans, and rolled up the bottoms, following with the fuzzy pink sweater. As it slid over her head, she caught sight of herself in the mirror, and she paused.
Her lips were red and swollen, and the lower neckline on the pink sweater brought the bruise just below her collarbones fully into view. She tugged the sweater back up, and blushed scarlet to see that the hickey-marks continued down onto the swell of her breasts.
God, what was I thinking? she asked herself. Spike and Buffy are gonna kill me if they see this. She pulled the sweater back into place, and spread her hair out over her shoulders, so that it concealed the evidence. Then she placed a hand on the doorknob, and began to open it.
“I didn’t give you permission to do this, son. In fact, I'd specifically forbid it,” Doug’s father said from the kitchen. Dawn paused in the bathroom doorway. She didn’t want to walk back in right in the middle of Doug getting yelled at, that would be way uncomfortable.
“I don’t remember asking it, Dad,” the boy shot back. “I don’t really see how it’s any of your damn business, anyway.”
“Boys, boys,” interrupted the mother, her voice silky smooth. “There’s really no need to fight, here. Darling, our son is lonely. Dougie, your father and I had every right to be informed.”
“You should have asked us before you brought her here. She places our entire family in jeopardy.”
Dawn’s stomach sank. They hated her. They blamed her for the Bronze attack, they blamed her for placing Doug in danger. She swallowed hard and tried to keep the tears out of her eyes.
“You two are so full of it. You think maybe I ought to ask nicely about who I can see, what I can do, after what you’ve done to me? I don’t owe either of you a damn thing. You’re not my parents anymore. You’re just some sick freaks who screwed up my whole life,” Doug shouted. Then he yelled for her, even louder. “Dawn. C’mon out here. I need you.”
Oh God. He was putting her in the middle of this, and she didn’t want to be there. But her feet moved of their own volition, and she found herself standing in the dining room, outside of the kitchen. Doug came over to her, and took her hand in his. Together they stood awkwardly facing his parents. Doug’s entire body exuded defiance.
“Thank you for letting me borrow some clothes, Mrs. Merritt,” Dawn began, but the woman interrupted her.
“Barbara. Call me Barbara, sweetie. I want us to be close,” she said. Her words were warm and welcoming, but for some reason the hair on Dawn’s forearms was standing up, and her nerves were on edge. She drifted over and put a protective hand upon her son’s arm, then leaned in close and kissed his forehead. “Doug, I know it hasn’t been easy for you lately. I realize how isolated you must feel.” She turned back to her husband, who glowered by the kitchen doorway. “We had always planned to have more children,” she lilted. “And she’s really quite lovely, isn’t she?”
Dawn’s head swam, as she struggled to make sense of the words. Something was seriously off here. What is going on? she thought desperately.
Beside her, Doug squeezed her hand reassuringly and tugged her closer to him. He released her palm, and slid his arm around her shoulders, coming to rest at the small of her back. The gesture failed in its intent, as Dawn began to feel confined as well as confused.
Doug’s father stepped into the dining room, shaking his head. “Barbara, it’s a bad idea.”
The woman pouted, then sidled back over to her husband. She placed one hand on his lips. “Sssh,” she whispered. “Don’t start telling me why we shouldn’t or why we can’t. Doug wants her. I want her. She’s perfect.” She tossed her head back, and Dawn watched in sick fascination as her laughing features melted into game face, her eyes glowing amber.
Without turning her head, Dawn knew that Doug had vamped as well. She backed away from him sharply, suddenly. But he was faster than she was, and on her again in a second. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of his parents, entwined in each others arms as they kissed. Then Doug had hold of her and was dragging her up the stairs.
He shoved her through a door, and closed it behind him. Dazedly she looked around. His room, she thought. The comic books and posters were a dead giveaway.
He shook off game face and he was just Doug again. A guy she might be falling in love with. Only his smile looked a little bit like a leer, and as he stepped towards her it was with a catlike grace that human Doug had never known. “ I’m sorry you found out like that.” He shook his head at her, and she backed unconsciously up against the desk. “I never wanted you to be scared. I thought I’d do it quick, before you knew what was happening.” He scowled. “I’m sorry he messed things up for us tonight.”
Dawn raised shaking hands before her, as she spoke. “You don’t want to do this, Doug. My sister is the Slayer, and if you kill me-"
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said. There was pain in his voice. “Don’t you know that? I just want to be with you.” He was standing right in front of her now, smiling down at her with such affection. “I’ve loved you for so long. But I didn’t think you liked me. Not the way I like you.” He ran a finger down the side of her face, lovingly, and she shivered. “It won’t hurt. And when it’s over, you’ll like me again. Like you did before you knew.”
Her brain was mush, but she tried to put words together anyway. “Doug, listen. You don’t have to do this. I can help you,” she began.
His eyes flashed angrily. “You’re being fake now, see? Already. You’re afraid of me, so you’re lying to me. I see how your mind works. You’re already trying to think of a way to escape.”
It was true. Her eyes darted around the room, as she hunted for a weapon. But he had an iron bed, a metal desk, and metal bookshelves. The dresser looked to be made out of plastic. It was all very modern and totally useless.
“Doug, no. It’s not like that. Please, listen to me. I don’t want to hurt you either. But I don’t want to join the club, alright? I’m not much of a meat eater. Remember biology class? I am totally squeamish. I’d make a lousy vampire.”
He was shaking his head again. “It doesn’t matter. Once I make you, you’ll understand. There’s no guilt, not after the first time. And it’s like nothing you’ve ever tasted, Dawn, honest. It’s like a kiss you can feel with your whole body, everywhere.”
His eyes were pleading with her now. “And afterward, we’ll be the way we were.” His mouth twisted wryly. “You won’t look at me like that after its over, you won’t think I’m disgusting anymore.”
“Doug, I don’t think you’re disgusting,” she began.
“You’re lying again,” he hissed. “I have eyes, I’m not blind. I saw the way you looked at my mother downstairs, how grossed out you were at the ridges, the fangs. You see me as a monster.”
She interrupted him. “No. Doug, you’re wrong. I’m scared you’re going to kill me, but I’m not grossed out by the fanginess.” She gave a bitter laugh. “God, if you only knew. Doug, that guy Spike, my sister’s boyfriend? He is a vampire. He’s got the ridges and the teeth to prove it. But I love him like I love my sister. He’s my family.” She was insistent. “He can help you, Doug. He can teach you to live without killing people, to control the demon, instead of letting the demon control you.”
Doug cocked his head to one side, listening. Then he stepped up close to her. His eyes were bright and hopeful. “They’re coming up,” he whispered. “But it’s going to be okay. You’re mine, and I’ll take care of you.” His hand on the back of her neck was possessive rather than gentle now, and he held her firmly as he brought his lips down to her mouth. She struggled in his hands as he kissed her roughly. She saw his eyes glow yellow as his head moved lower, and her pulse hammered in her throat.
Oh God, no. Please no. Buffy, I’m so sorry, she thought. Her nails dug into the flesh of his arm, as he pinned her legs against the desk. It’s going to happen, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’m going to die. I’m going to become the thing that Buffy kills. Buffy is going to have to stake me. I’m going to be evil. Her mind was awash in fear and terror.
The door broke open as she felt his fangs graze her flesh. He attempted to be gentle, and it was the tiniest scratch, but it felt like ice. She was shaking with adrenaline and fear. His parents entered the room, and he raised his head and growled at them. The blood welled up on the surface of her skin, and one bead-droplet fell away as he pulled away and stepped in front of her.
Suddenly the blood droplet seemed to fan outward, forming a thin network of lines in midair, separating herself from the rest of the room. She could see the room then, through this haze of thin red spiderweb, but it seemed very far off and distant. The lines began to crack open, and she heard a cacophony of muffled noise as each one added its voice to the din.
The room lurched and the floor gave way, as blackness swallowed her and she lost consciousness.
Spike pulled into the driveway just in time to see the house implode. Windows caved in, in a mass of glass shards, and the porch tried to migrate into the living room. There was a horrible sucking sound coming from inside, and he tore the car door open as he slammed the car into Park. Buffy was already out of the car, and rushing for the building. Then the sound inside ceased, and everything was quiet.
“Dawn!” Spike shouted. He put a hand to the place where the front window used to be, and pulled back sharply. He turned to Buffy, who was surveying the damage with round, frightened eyes. “It’s hot,” he explained, stepping back. Buffy walked around to the side of the house, and he followed her.
Here the damage was more extensive. The brick exterior seemed to have melted off, exposing the house’s interior through a dripping molten mass. Spike pulled his coat over his head and ducked inside. Above him he could see night sky, and a quick look around informed him that he was standing in the space formerly comprising the dining room. Also that the second floor had collapsed in on the first.
He had a sudden mental image of Dawn trapped beneath layers of drywall and wooden splinters, and froze in place. “Buffy, don’t move. Don’t come in here.”
She stood outside, still in shock, as she asked him, “Why not?”
He leaned over and lifted the charred end of a two by four, uncovering part of a bathroom sink. “Because I don’t know where she was when this happened, and I could be standing on her,” he answered. He tried to swallow the lump in his throat.
“Oh, God,” she whispered softly. “God, Spike, what are we going to do?”
“Dawn! Dawn, are you in here?” he shouted. As he called out to her, he moved pieces of plaster and splinters of wood. He lifted the rubble gently, searching. Here was part of the stairwell. Here was an intact drawer front. The pink stuff with the blackened edges might have been insulation. It was lying in a pool of fresh water that had formed in a crater on the edge of the kitchen. He noted with wonder that there were several fish swimming in it.
An untidy heap of melted stuffing and shreds of fabric began to move, and he saw one thin arm covered in brownish-grey dust come up through the mass, shoving aside the burned framework of a doorway. Carefully he picked his way over to it, and taking hold of the limb he pulled Dawn up out of the mire. Her face was bloody, and her eyes were wide and horror stricken.
He enfolded her in his arms, as she began to weep against him. Buffy climbed inside, crawling over the rubble to join them. “Dawn, you’re okay. Oh, thank God you’re okay.” She put her hands to each side of the girl’s face, wiping blood out of her way with her thumbs. “We’ve got to get you to a doctor. Where is Doug? Was he with you when the building exploded?”
Dawn started to laugh, but it was an ugly noise, a high-pitched, uneven sound that set Spike’s nerves on end. “Buffy, this was no explosion,” he said quietly. “Look around you. Look at the damage. Not even a tornado can do something like this.”
Buffy turned her head and looked, really looked this time. Scorch marks on the walls. Melted plaster. Molten brick. Standing rainwater. Metal struts and brackets dripping from the bits of ceiling, broken window frame pieces filled with sand.
“Dawn, what happened here?” she asked. One hand gently stroked her sister’s hair as she spoke.
“I don’t know, Buffy. I was just so scared... They were coming upstairs, and there was no way out, and then he tried to bite me, but they interrupted us, I don't think he really meant to hurt me, he was just so lonely now, Buffy." Dawn's hollow eyes were pleading for understanding as she babbled. "The blood ran out and got on my clothes, and into the air- it was everywhere. And then all of a sudden these little windows were opening up, and I could see through them, and rain was pouring out of one, and fire out of another one, and one of them let lightning into the room, and Doug was right in front of me, then all of a sudden he wasn't anymore, and the last little window swallowed all the other ones up, just before the floor fell in."
Spike took it all in. The key. Somehow, Dawn had activated it inside her, and had opened portals. Lots of portals, by the looks of it.
She turned back to her sister. “Buffy, I killed them. Mr. Merritt’s head ripped off and he exploded in dust. Mrs. Merritt burnt up.” She looked uncertain for a minute, her eyes far away and not lucid. "I don't remember what happened to Doug," she added. Then gripping her sister's shoulders tightly, she begged, "Why don't I remember what happened to Doug?"
Buffy began to collect herself. She looked around, and realized how bad this looked for her family, for her sister. “Dawn, we have to go now,” she urged. But Dawn was shaking her head.
“No. No. Doug. I didn’t see what happened to Doug. Maybe he’s okay, maybe he survived. I have to find out, I have to stay and find him.” There was hysteria in her voice, as she bent back down towards the ground.
Spike put a hand on her shoulder. “Buffy’s right, sweet pea. We need to get out of here. Doug… He…You can’t help him now,” he said.
She jerked back up to look at him. “He’s a vampire, Spike. His own parents turned him into a vampire. He doesn’t know any better, he didn’t want to hurt me. But you can help him, you can make him better, right? Like you are. You can teach him to be good, once we find him”-
Spike bit his lip, shaking his head. "Dawn, I don't think he made it."
“NO!” She screamed at him, shoving him away. “He’s not dead. He’s not. He was right there in front of me. I just have to find him.” Dawn began rummaging through the rubble, shoving pieces of debris out of her way as she called out to him, over and over.
Spike raked his fingers through his hair, watching the girl with a heart that ached. “Buffy,” he whispered.
“I know,” she answered. Then she moved toward her sister, and put her hands on her shoulders. “Dawn, we have to go now. The police will be coming soon.”
Dawn shook her off, and put her hands back into the piles. “No. No, I have to find him.”
“Dawn, you can’t be here when the police arrive. I can’t explain this to social services. They will take you away from me, do you understand? They will take you away from us,” Buffy pleaded.
"I can't. Don't you see? Not if there's a chance he's still alive," cried Dawn.
Spike stepped in close to her, and wiped blood and telltale ash from her nose. Then he raised her own dusty hand to her face, and spoke, his voice choking on the words. "You're covered in his ashes, pet. He's not coming back."
She dissolved against him in tears.


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