COLLATERAL DAMAGE

By D. M. Evans

Spoilers - zero. This is set BtVS S2 Between Lie to Me and What’s My Line

Rating - R for violence

Summary - Children are being murdered in Sunnydale and Buffy thinks Angel knows who's behind it

Author's Note #1 - This was written for the Buffy fica thon. http://www.livejournal.com/users/somefairytale/110634.html

Pairing - B/A, Requests: Would love to see a pre-season 3 BtVS with Dawn involved.

Restrictions: No Angelus. Written for S.J. Smith

Author’s Note#2 - This story contains dark subjects and graphic crime scene descriptions.

Thanks to Leni for editing this thing. I appreciate it!


CHAPTER ONE



Buffy shifted on the couch, her lips reluctantly leaving Angel’s. She felt eyes on her and she hadn’t heard mom coming home early. She pretty much had mom’s schedule down to a science. A pair of blue eyes peered around the corner of the living room. “Dawn!”

 

A giggle echoed in the living room, followed by what sounded like two herds of elephants thundering up the stairs.


“Sorry.” Buffy reluctantly dragged herself off the couch. Angel simply shot her that smirk that always made her knees go liquidy and she chased upstairs after her sister. Buffy tried the door to Dawn’s room but it was locked. She thumped on it. “Dawn, get out here.”


“Make me,” the eleven-year-old called through the cheap wood.


“You so don’t want me to do that,” Buffy warned. “Now open this door.”


The door flew open and Dawn scowled up at her, tugging on her nightgown, making the horses on it jiggle. “Happy?”


“No! You’re supposed to be in bed already. It’s a school night,” Buffy scolded. “You’re especially not supposed to be spying on me, now get to bed.”


“Make me!” Dawn stabbed her hand into her hips.

 

Buffy’s lips curled. “I’ll tell Mom.”


“And I’ll tell her about Angel.” Dawn threw her hair over her shoulder, giving Buffy a triumphant look.


“Fine, stay up. Mom will catch you,” Buffy said, not offering Dawn yet another bribe to keep her quiet. She didn’t have to. Dawn pouted and went into her room slamming the door. Buffy felt proud that she had won but only for a moment until she realized she had outsmarted a kid, a hollow victory at best. Still, Dawn wasn’t any kid. She was annoying enough for twelve kids.


Buffy went downstairs and Angel was gone. She found him outside the kitchen door. She shot him a contrite look. “Sorry about that.”


“No problem.” He pointed inside the house. “Your mom just showed up. I should go.”



“I’ll head out on patrol in an hour or so. I’ll see you by the park.”


“I’ll be waiting.”


Those simple words gave her heart wings as she hustled into the living room and pretended to be doing algebra as she waited on her mom to arrive. She could still taste Angel on her lips.


Joyce looked haggard as she dragged into the house. She offered her daughter a thin smile. “Still hard at work, Buffy?”


“I live for math,” Buffy said, regretting her mother’s slightly disbelieving tone.


“I’m sure.”


“How was work?” Buffy didn’t know why she asked other than to see her mom excited about something. She never really knew what Joyce was talking about when she got started about art. Buffy kept meaning to go to the gallery but just never got he chance and she wasn’t very good with art in general.


“We put up a show for an artist who works in mixed media. It’s some good stuff,” Joyce said but Buffy could see her heart wasn’t in it.


“You look exhausted, Mom. Why don’t you go have a long soak and climb into bed? Everything’s handled here,” Buffy assured her.


Joyce gave her a peck on the cheek. “Sounds great. So, how was Dawn?”


“Terrible as per usual.” Buffy’s flippant tone made her mother scowl.


“Buffy, you should give your sister a break. It was hard on her moving here from L.A.,” Joyce said. “You make friends quicker than she does.”


“Because I’m not a brat,” Buffy said. “Besides, it was nowhere near as traumatic for her as it was for me. She’s not even in middle school yet. That’s where the real pecking order gets established.” Joyce shot her a warning look and Buffy knew she was in danger of a lecture about how it was her fault they had to move in the first place. She already had enough guilt about that as it was. She held up her hands. “Okay, okay I’ll be nicer but you tell her to stay out of my room and keep her hands off my stuff. She ruined a perfectly good tube of lipstick.”


Joyce smiled. “Thank you and I will. I don’t want you staying up too late, Buffy.”


“I won’t.”


Buffy waited for her mom to draw her bath before going to her room, just in case Mom was listening for her footsteps on the stairs. She picked up some weapons, touched up her make up just in case Angel saw her in a street lamp’s light, then went out the window as per usual.


As promised, Angel was waiting for her in the park and after losing all her freshly applied ‘pink ice’ lipstick to his nimble lips, she took a step back. “Heard any demon gossip? Any big bads I should worry about?”


“Spike and Dru are still in town,” he replied as they started walking through the park.


“Old news. I can handle short, pale and smarmy,” Buffy snorted.


“Don’t underestimate him, Buffy.” Angel brushed the nape of her neck.


“I know.” She rolled her eyes. “Giles told me about the two Slayers he’s already killed. I have my eye on him.”


“As do I. I’d like to know why he’s still hanging out here, other than he thinks it’s fun.” Angel’s brow furrowed. “But I haven’t heard about anything new coming to town.”


“We know there is....there always is,” she said despairingly, reaching for his hand. She didn’t mind that it was cool and calloused. She simply liked touching him. She had held hands with lots of boys before but it was different with Angel, like his skin was a drug and not being able to feel it made her jones. She hadn’t felt like that with Pike or Ford or Tyler or any of the other boys she had shared not entirely innocent fumblings with back in Hemery High, waiting for the big night, the night she went all the way at last. Now, she was just as glad she hadn’t. She hadn’t really loved any of them, or she had in that hard, fast fickle way of teenagers but with Angel it was entirely different. The emotions were slow, profound, welling from someplace so deep inside her she had never delved into it before. She didn’t wonder if Angel would be the one. She knew that eventually he would be no matter how wrong it was because she was the Slayer and he a vampire. It would work. She was betting her heart on it.


Suddenly he stopped, stiffening. She glanced around and saw nothing. They were barely out of the park and into the housing development. He leaned into the practicably non-existent night breeze sniffing as if to sort something out from the smell of bright yellow wild poppies that were everywhere at the moment.

“What’s wrong, Angel?”


“I smell blood.”


Buffy tried to ignore the subtle longing in his voice as she followed him. Their hands were free now, ready to go for a weapon as needed. When they neared a hedge row, Angel threw out his arm to stop her. She pushed past him, irritated at his protectiveness then wished she had, for once, been the delicate girlie-girl and not looked. A girl, Dawn’s age, was sprawled along the bushes. Her daisy-embroidered jeans were in the bushes a few feet away along with her panties. Bruises dotted her pale, thin legs. Her striped shirt had been pushed up around her neck, which had been slashed, blood pooling over her shoulders and into the grass but not as much as Buffy would have expected from a wound that terrible as if the girl had been killed elsewhere and dumped like so much trash. Her little hands cupped over her privates as if to shield herself from more pain. The worst part was someone had taken the time to smooth out her flaxen hair and tuck a poppy behind her ear.


Buffy could barely swallow past her dry, tight throat. “I knew her, Angel. She went to school with Dawnie. Her name was Ashley Boyd.” Buffy tore her eyes away from the horrible scene. “She lived just over there. Oh, Angel, she died looking at her house...so close to safety.”


He folded her into his arms, pressing her head against his shoulder. He didn’t offer her words of comfort that never really managed to make anyone feel better. He just held her until she regained her composure.


“What do I do, Angel?” She stabbed a finger at Ashley. It didn’t look like a demon had killed her, not with her clothing torn away and a poppy left in her hair. “Do you think a demon did this?”


He shook his head. “It doesn’t look like it. We’ll have to call the police.”


Buffy made a face. “The Sunnydale police aren’t very swift. I can’t be here, Angel. If I call the police, they’ll question me. It’ll be on the news. Mom will kill me!”


He ran an hand up her arm. “Go to Giles’. I’ll call the police from a pay phone and make sure no one disturbs her body. I’ll meet you there.”


Buffy nodded and ran. She hated deserting him. She hated leaving poor Ashley in the bushes. She had seen things like this on the news back in L.A. That was a place you expected pedophiles around every corner, not someplace small, like Sunnydale. She knew that was ridiculous, that it could happen anywhere. She didn’t know that this was what it was, even though looked like it. Suddenly she found herself preferring vampires any night of the week to something like this.


Giles was handing her a cup of tea when Angel arrived. Her Watcher didn’t look thrilled about inviting the vampire in but for her sake he did so. Angel sat next to her on the couch and Giles kept a very watchful eye on them.


“The police came, I presume,” he said.


Angel nodded. “They’re there. I doubt they can even trace the anonymous tip to the pay phone in the park. Hopefully no one saw us out there.”


“I should still be out there,” Buffy said, gulping at her tea, not caring that it burned her tongue.


“There is nothing you can do for her, Buffy. This is a matter for the police, not the Slayer,” Giles said. “You should just make an early night of it and go home. You’ve had a terrible shock.”


“I’m the Slayer, Giles. Terrible shocks are part of the game,” she said, her voice heavy with self-recrimination.


Angel took her hand. “Giles is right, Buffy. You can’t fight all the evil in the world. Your job is to handle the demonic side of it. As horrible as this is, it’s not demonic.”


Buffy shook her head. “Someone killed that little girl. That’s demonic.” She slugged back more tea. “But I know what you’re both saying. I wouldn’t even know what to do with a human bad guy. It’s not like I could slay him.” Buffy stared at Giles and Angel searching their face for answers and found none. “I need to think. Maybe a good night’s sleep...I feel like such a coward even thinking about it.”


“You are many things, Buffy, a coward is not one of them,” Giles said. “I’ll have Willow do her thing with the coroner’s office tomorrow just to be certain that this poor child’s death is exactly what it seems like, if it’ll put your mind at ease that this is not on your shoulders.”


“Thanks, Giles.” She set the cup on the table. “Walk me home, Angel.”


She didn’t talk to him as they walked and for his part, Angel let her have her silence, just giving her the comforting arm around the waist that she wanted. She gave him one quick kiss good night under the tree below her window then scampered up it and inside without looking back. She hadn’t expected to be this freaked out. She had seen plenty of bodies before but few so young. How was she going to tell Dawn in the morning? She felt like a coward again, hoping it would be in the papers and Mom could handle that part of it. She slipped under the covers thinking this was far from over.

 


CHAPTER TWO


“There was another murdered child last night,” Giles informed Buffy as she walked in the library after class. Xander and Willow were on her heels. Cordelia was thankfully at cheerleading practice. Buffy didn’t get why Cordelia had taken to hanging out with them, arguing more with Xander all the time.


Buffy paused, not over the announcement, but because she saw Angel in the shadows of the library stacks. He must have come up through the basement since it was still daylight out and she wondered why he was here. It wasn’t to meet her, as much as she might like that. She never expected him before dark, especially on a school day. “I know. Mom told me. Dawn came home from school early today. All the kids had to meet with crisis counselors then they were sent home.” Buffy sat at the table, casting an inquisitive look at Angel but he offered no explanations.


“Two in three days.” Willow’s eyes screamed her horror.


Giles’ lips pursed. “Oh, do you need to return home immediately then, Buffy? There is nothing here that can’t wait.”


“No. Mom has to work late at the gallery and she didn’t want me missing school so Dawn’s at a friend’s house, Ginny Blake’s. Ginny’s older sister is babysitting them both.” Buffy shrugged. “I don’t have to run home.”

 

“Did Dawnie know the girl who died last night, too?” Willow’s voice echoed with worry, her face more pale than usual.


Buffy nodded grimly. “She knew her. She didn’t like her but she knew her. Will, I know it’s really terrible but did you manage to read the coroner’s report on Ashley?”


“It was still pending. I can look again,” Willow said then sat down with her computer.


“I gotta ask,” Xander said, stabbed a finger Angel’s direction. “Why is he here? Aren’t you supposed to be sleeping in your native soil right about now.”


Angel smiled in a decidedly unfriendly manner. “We don’t do that.”


“I asked Angel here,” Giles said, patting a large book with a cover in need of repair. Its leather was cracked and flaking. “I just got this in and it’s in a dialect of Chinese I’m not particularly fluent in.”


“You read Chinese?” Buffy asked and both men nodded. “Huh. Didn’t know that.”


“I can name a few things he can’t do,” Xander muttered, wandering off into the stacks, looking rather sulky.

Buffy noticed Xander didn’t move out of ear shot. “How’d you learn Chinese, Angel? I figure Giles learned it at school. I mean, he’s so old, he’s studied everything.” She expertly ignored Giles’ annoyed look.


“Spent some time in China,” Angel replied with an enigmatic look.


Buffy wanted to question him further but Willow made a sound between triumphant and horror. “Find something, Will?”


She bobbed her head, her long red hair waving. “Trying not to look at the pictures.” She went a tad green-grey as she scrolled down. “Here we go. Okay, this is a little weird, they’re not sure about the cause of death.”


“How can that be? She had a cut throat. I saw it,” Buffy said, quivering at the memory of Ashley lying in the bushes.


“There wasn’t much clotting at the incision so she was already dead when that happened. There wasn’t enough blood at the scene to account for all her missing blood. The death is consistent with hypovolemic shock.” Willow met Buffy’s eye. “That’s when there’s not enough blood to keep the heart and brain going. They think maybe Ashley’s throat was cut after she died and she was hung and drained. Oh, gross.”


“There’s an image I didn’t need with darkness falling,” Xander said, coming back to the table. He seemed more intent now on the business at hand, instead of on antagonizing Angel.


“They can’t prove she was hung up to drain because the skin doesn’t really bruise and leave marks once you’re dead,” Willow said.


“But that makes little sense,” Giles said. “If she was drained post-mortem, she couldn’t have possibly died of hypovolemic shock.”


“Were there bite marks, Willow?” Buffy said, casting a glance at Angel hearing him shifting around on his chair uncomfortably. He wouldn’t look at her.


“No, but I don’t think it was vampires,’ Willow said. “I mean, she was raped, too.” Pain aged Willow right in front of Buffy’s eyes. She wanted to take the computer away and not let her friend be exposed to the horror any more.


“Vampires can rape, Willow,” Angel said softly.


Willow wrapped her arms around herself then leaned in close to her monitor screen. Buffy tensed at that announcement even though she had already known it. Xander made a disgusted noise. “They found something strange with the semen sample.”


“Those aren’t words that should be coming out of your mouth, Willow,” Xander said, a faint blush on his cheeks.


Buffy and Willow ignored him. “What do you mean, Willow?”


“They found that the rapist had oligospermia and teratospermia.” Willow’s brow creased and she opened a new window putting in the word ‘teratospermia,’ into a search engine. “He didn’t have a lot of sperm and terato....oh, okay, that makes sense. What was there was all misshapen and weird. The report said the sperm was dead, too, so either he raped her and kept her alive for a while or he was doing something I don’t even want to think about to put dead sperm in her.”


Buffy made a face, shuddering. “Okay, enough. That’s all I can take. Giles, you still think this isn’t a demon? That it’s police business, not mine?”


He plucked off his glasses for a cleaning. “I think that is most likely the case. As terrible as these deaths are, they don’t appear to be demonic in nature.”


“So what you’re saying is in addition to all the demons, invisible girls, hyena-possessions and vampires,” Xander hit that last loud and clear like a church bell, glaring at Angel, “we have a good old-fashioned serial killer?”


“Potentially. Florida and California both seem to attract them. Perhaps it’s the never ending sunshine that sets them off,” Giles said, reseettling his glasses on his nose.


“Were there any witnesses? Any leads at all?” Angel asked. “I...don’t really watch the news.”


“None, I’m afraid. There’s nothing I could even tell you and Buffy to be on the look out for on patrol.” Giles glanced out the window seeing the sun would set soon. “Perhaps, given the circumstances you all should head home soon.”


“Giles, you worry too much. We’ll be fine. I’d rather stay here and study in Dawn-less silence. If I don’t pass my next history exam, I’ll be grounded for life and then where would you be?” Buffy said. “You and Angel go back to translating the big pile of mildew. I mean, really? Maybe you should try spraying it with Lysol or something before a student wanders in here and has a massive allergic reaction.”


Giles eyed her sourly. “I’ll take it under advisement.”


Buffy tried to pay attention to Willow’s tutoring but memorizing dates was something that could put Buffy to sleep in a manner of minutes if she wasn’t careful. Xander was doodling in his notebook more so than listening to Willow. The red-head was so wrapped up in tutoring she didn’t notice her tutees were drifting. Buffy was somehow disappointed that Angel actually went back to translating. She doubted he or Giles would miss her if she slipped out now. Feeling wounded took precedence over what happened when some Spanish explorer stumbled over California, as if he could possibly miss it.

The sun was down before Willow realized her study group wasn’t studying. Xander was doing the ‘my head’s too big for my rubber neck’ chicken-bob thing, his eyes shut and Buffy was just openly staring at Angel who was so involved with what he and Giles were doing he didn’t even notice; how unfair was that?


“Okay, I give up.” Willow snapped her book shut and Xander’s eyes flew open as he fell into the well-practiced, ‘I wasn’t asleep’ cover up. “But don’t blame me if you two get a bunch of zero’s on your history test.”


“Sorry, Will, it’s just not griping me,” Buffy confessed.


“I was listening,” Xander lied and Willow rolled her eyes. “We’d better get home. Even parents like ours might be wondering why we aren’t home for dinner. I’ll walk you home, Willow.”


“Thanks. See you, guys,” Willow said, following Xander out.


“Yes, I suppose it is getting late,” Giles said, looking shocked another large chunk of time had slipped through his fingers. “Buffy, are you needed at home or can you go out on an early patrol?”


“Mom’s not due home until nine. Dawnie’s supposed to stay at Ginny’s until Mom picks her up so I could get in a few hours before then,” Buffy said, stretching as she got up. She shoveled her books into her backpack. They were heavy enough to stun a vampire good.


“I’ll go with you,” Angel said.


“Thanks. See you tomorrow, Giles.”


Buffy breezed outside. The night was warmer than she was expecting. She glanced back at Angel with a little smile other lips. “I’m surprised you’re coming along.”


“Oh?”


“You and Giles looked all cozy. I hated to interrupt your date.” Her smile went wicked.


“Well, he does have that cheeky little grin that’s hard to resist.” Angel smirked at her and Buffy swatted him.


“Angel!”


He cocked his eyebrows up. “Hey, you’re the one who’s always telling me I need to get a sense of humor.”


“So now you finally listen to me.”

Angel paused and captured her face in his large hands. He drew her up to him, kissing her softly. “Still think I’m dating Giles?”


“I might need more proof.”


A few minutes of proof later, Buffy led him further from school grounds. The last thing she needed was a cop ticketing her for loitering at the school. That was the sort of crime Sunnydale cops felt comfortable with.


“You seem quiet tonight,” he said, taking her book bag. “Thinking about those little girls?”


“I can’t help it. I can understand demons. I can’t understand how one human being can do this to another human being.” Buffy grimaced.


“They’re amazingly good at it, Buffy. I know that doesn’t make it any easier.”


She shrugged, pressing against his arm as they walked. “I just don’t understand why Sunnydale is still here, Angel. It’s been a Hellmouth for like forever, right? How doesn’t it just self destruct? How do people live here? Why don’t they just move away?”


“It’s not always that simple, Buffy.” Angel pulled her closer, not slowing his pace. “This town just doesn’t survive. It thrives. It has malls, and art galleries and theaters. I can’t explain it. You’d think people would sense something is wrong. I think some of them do. But it’s not always easy to find a new job, afford a new home.”


“I guess. So, you were in China,” Buffy said, desperate for a subject change.


Angel nodded. “During the Boxer Rebellion.”


“Pretend for a minute I don’t know when that was or what it was,” she said, ruefully.


Angel squeezed her hand. “Turn of this century and it was a big war.”


“Were you still...”She trailed off, looking pained.


“No, I wasn’t Angelus then but I had only just gotten back my soul not long before that. I still...I wasn’t ready to give up being Angelus. I wanted back with my family, Darla, Dru and Spike.”


Buffy heard the remorse in his voice. “I didn’t know you felt that way.”


“Sometimes a vampire’s family group is important. Ours was and even though I couldn’t kill innocents any more, I wasn’t ready to be on my own. It was...scary.” His eyes met hers as he said that and Buffy felt guilty because she didn’t know how to comfort him. She wasn’t sure she was supposed to.

“Why China?”


“Darla always loved the Orient. I think that’s why they were there. Or maybe Dru was lured there by the war. She always did like a good conflict. Could be Spike just couldn’t wait to see a Slayer for real. Ever since I tried to scare him into behaving with tales of the Slayers all he wanted to do was meet one.” Angel wagged his head ruefully.


“Wait a minute, you used me as the bogey man?” Buffy sounded miffed.


Angel smiled. “Not you, not yet. But yes, there are surely vampires out there telling their new vampire children to beware of the big bad bogey man named Buffy.”


“That isn’t funny.” Buffy stopped. “Do you hear that?”


“Sounds like young girls.”


Buffy picked up her pace, pondering that one would think kids would know to stay inside but realized that people her age and younger didn’t really think much about death, at least not the kind that came from outside. Suicide yes, being murdered in the street, no. She stopped and Angel nearly plowed her down. Buffy had been totally unprepared to see Ginny and Dawn walking down the street.


“Dawn!”


Dawn’s head snapped over, her eyes deer-in-the-headlights huge. “Buffy, what are you doing here?”


“Me? What are you doing here? You two are supposed to be at Ginny’s!” Buffy felt Angel holding her back gently which was probably a good thing because she was ready to strangle her sister.


“My sister and her boyfriend were making out all over the house. It was gross.” Ginny shuddered. “So we were going to your home.”


“Without telling anyone? Did you two somehow miss two girls from your class were raped and murdered!” Buffy regretted the shrill tone to her voice but she couldn’t help it. A cold pit had opened up inside her. What if she hadn’t come across them? Dawn could be the next girl in the bushes dying, reaching out to her home and the safety there in.


“Those girls were alone,” Dawn said, seeming suddenly dubious of her own logic. “We aren’t.”


“Besides, it’s not that far,” Ginny said.


“I don’t care. What makes you think you two can escape from someone so terrible he can cut a girl’s throat and leave her in the bushes?” Buffy snapped and both eleven year olds just seemed to get more defiant, instead of showing the proper fear.


“We can handle ourselves.” Ginny drew herself up to her tallest.


“Besides, you’re always out all night,” Dawn put in, with a sharp lift of her chin.


Buffy’s mouth worked soundlessly as she tried to find words to express her rage and fear. A rusty old Ford Escort swooped close to where they were on the sidewalk and screeched to a halt. Amanda, Ginny’s older sister whom Buffy had only met once leaned out the window. Buffy assumed it was her boyfriend driving.


“Ginny! Where do you think you’re going? Mom is gonna kill us both. Get in this car.” Amanda demanded.


“No. You two are gross and I don’t wanna see it,” Ginny said.


“You’re going in that car,” Buffy said, deciding she had enough. She pushed Dawn into Angel’s grip and snatched Ginny’s arm. She dragged the girl to the car and Amanda helped her stuff the kid into the back seat kicking and screaming.


“Thanks,” Amanda said, looking as frazzled as Buffy felt.


“No problem.”


As they pulled away, Buffy stalked back over to Dawn.


“You’re such a freak,” Dawn shrilled.


Buffy grabbed her arm, pulled her free of Angel. She shook her. “So I’m a freak. Big deal. At least now you aren’t walking the streets alone. We’re going home right this minute, now march.”


Dawn stomped down the sidewalk ahead of them. “Great, now I have to see you two kissing.”


“If you see anything, Dawn it’s because you want to. I don’t want you spying on me every second,” Buffy said, then leaned over to Angel and whispered. “Thanks for keeping out of this.”


He just shrugged and followed them along, looking more than a little uncomfortable.


“I should just tell Mom on you,” Dawn whined.


“Go ahead. I’m getting tired of the threats. Better yet, I’ll tell her myself,” Buffy said, hoping Dawn wouldn’t call her bluff. She so didn’t want to have to explain to Mom she was dating an ‘older’ man.


Dawn looked over her shoulder, obviously fuming. Buffy could swear she felt flames shooting off her sister. Dawn turned the corner and crashed right in to someone. “Oh, sorry. I didn’t see...” Dawn swallowed her words then shrieked.


Buffy looked to the bushes for some threat she had somehow failed to see. Angel was already moving past her towards Dawn and the girl she had ran into. Buffy’s eyes widened, her fingers feeling dead with fear, seeing muddy, blood-streaked hands on Dawn’s throat just before Angel knocked her away. Dawn hit the ground hard but it was better than having her in the hands of Ashley. Buffy felt mired in cement, her eyes captured by the gash in the dead girl’s throat. It wasn’t as deep as the night she and Angel had found the girl’s body. It seemed to be healing even. She looked innocent in her little white dress, now stained with dirt, grass and blood oozing from the wound. Buffy had seen vampires claw their way out of the earth but she wasn’t prepared for a little girl vampire. She should be. She had seen the Anointed One, heard rumors Spike had killed the child vampire but he had been cleaned up, looking alive and normal. Ashley’s little face was ripped with bumps and her fangs were too long for her mouth and she was still focused on Dawn.


Buffy cocked back her arm, ready to throw her stake like a dagger. She knew she could hit Ashley but she didn’t have to. Ashley didn’t recognize Angel for the threat he was. With amazing calm, he simply reached out, his fingers diving into the slit on her throat and he pulled. The gruesomeness of him tearing off her head was some how softened a bit, in Buffy’s eyes, by the girl turning to dust. Dawn screamed even louder. Buffy fell to her knees at her sister’s side, capturing Dawn in her arms. “Shhh, Dawnie, it’s all right. It’s over. It’s all right.” She repeated it again and again. Dawn knew Buffy was the Slayer. She had overheard Xander and Willow talking to Buffy about it. She had snuck away from Joyce during Parent-Teacher night and had seen some vampires get dusted but this was the first time for her up close. This time it was a friend. Dawn couldn’t talk. She just held onto Buffy, weeping loudly. Buffy smoothed her hair, rocking her.


Buffy looked up when Angel touched her hair. His eyes were incredible sad and at the same time a secret lurked in them. “I have to go,” he said. “I have to check something out.”


“You know what’s going on, don’t you? There’s no normal serial killer. Willow’s report...she said Ashley’s throat was cut after she was dead. A vampire did that, to hide the bite marks. He knew that a cut like that wouldn’t stop a vampire, wouldn’t get in the way of her rising.”


Angel nodded. “I think I know where I can find some answers.” He turned, took a few steps then stopped. “Want me to walk you two back to your house?”


“I want you to tell me what you know,” she said, flatly.


His gaze went furtive. “I don’t know anything for sure yet.”


Buffy gritted her teeth. “Then please, help me with Dawn first.”


When Buffy couldn’t get her hysterical sister to stand up, Angel scooped the girl up. Dawn flung her arms around his neck, holding on tight. He carried her all the way home and deposited her on her bed. He gave Buffy a regretful kiss and an ‘I’m sorry’ but she wasn’t exactly sure for what and then he was gone.


Dawn’s weeping had slowed to a sniffle. Buffy made her hot chocolate and promised not to tell Mom that Dawn had been out on the streets with Ginny. Dawn made Buffy sit with her until she fell asleep. By then Mom had come home and Buffy eat a very late dinner with her. It was after ten before she called Giles to tell him that the young girls were actually victims of a vampire and that she would have to deal with Emily Newmark, the second victim. She was rather surprised Giles was actually home instead of at the library.


Buffy filled the tub with water almost too hot to stand. Ashley in her grave dirt stained dress had been even more chilling than seeing Ashley half-naked and tossed in the bushes. Buffy felt a serious need to get warm.


CHAPTER THREE


Saturday, she should be home with her history books so she didn’t fail her exam on Monday. Instead she was on the way to the library to meet with Giles, Willow and Xander. Cordelia had cheerleading practice which was just as well. Buffy wasn’t in the mood for the Queen of Mean.


This morning Dawn had been very subdued over their frosted mini-wheats. Joyce took her to the mall to help ease Dawn’s mind, thinking the loss of two classmates was what had turned Dawn blue. She had no idea her youngest had seen her friend turn up as a vampire covered in grave dirt only to end up as dust. True to her word, Buffy hadn’t told their mom what Dawn had done and luckily Amanda hadn’t seemed to tell her mom either so no one was going to call and rat her out.


Buffy felt a little numb still. She had been hiding from that feeling for a long time. She had hid all summer in L.A. with her dad after the Master’s death, trying to feel something other than numb. She had killed vampires there, too, thought once about seeing Pike for old times sake but couldn’t. It felt like cheating on Angel, even though she and Angel weren’t exactly a couple, so the numbness grew. She came back to Sunnydale and it got worse. She pasted on a smile for her friends and family until the whole thing with the Master’s bones happened. Even Cordy was calling her a bitch. She hadn’t felt like one. She would have liked to. It would have been better than the unrelenting numbness. Pounding the Master into dust helped. Exploring her heart with Angel helped more.


She was no longer numb. Angel made her feel alive, feel love, feel pain, feel like dying. All of that was better than the emptiness inside her. She knew the dangers Angel represented, that he was still only a stop gap in the loneliness. So long as she was the Slayer the hollowness would always be part of her life, like a shadow. And it was getting harder to let the sunlight in to drive the shadows back to the corners of her soul. Still, three bits of sunlight waited to brighten her.


 It was convenient to tell her Mom she was going to the library to study with Xander and Willow under Mr. Giles’ watchful eye. Buffy never failed to be amazed that in a country-wide school environment of near fascism, metal detectors, passes to merely walk down a hall and needing escorts to go to the principal’s office, that Principal Synder had no form of discipline when it came to after hours and weekend. Anyone could stroll on or off campus. It surprised her, given Synder’s otherwise Nazi tendencies, almost as if he was under orders to leave the school vulnerable to attack. Buffy wanted to believe she was being paranoid about Synder. Sunnydale had that effect on her.


“Hi, guys,” she said with more enthusiasm than she felt as she walked into the library. Her friends looked glum, even Giles, which made her nervous.


“How are you doing, Buffy?” Willow’s eyes were wide with sympathy. “Giles told us about last night.”


Buffy flopped in a seat. “I’m fine. It gave me a wiggins though. I mean Ashley’s slept over with Dawn I can’t tell you how many times. It was majorly creepy seeing her as a vampire.”


“Trust me, I know.” Xander tilted back on his chair. “When I saw Jesse with that bumpy face...”


Willow reached over and patted his hand. “Buffy, we found something else.”


Buffy gritted her teeth. “I’m afraid to know.”


“Two more kids were murdered in Shoreville,” Giles said.


“That’s just a few miles from here,” Buffy said.


Giles nodded. “I went to the graveyard there early this morning. Both graves looked like they might have been disturbed but it’s hard to tell with fresh plots.”


“Why would anyone want to make a bunch of kid vampires?” Buffy felt like she had a bad taste in her mouth. She couldn’t keep the welling of disgust down.


“Maybe you can ask Angel. Giles said he took off on you last night,” Xander said.


Buffy didn’t like his tone. She knew he was trying to look out for her but he was also jealous and that colored everything he said. “He didn’t take off, Xander. He took Dawn home and went to check on things for me because I couldn’t just leave her.”


“Guess we’ll have to wait until night to find out if he knows anything,” Xander said, turning down the heat of his tone.


“Not necessarily,” Angel said, coming through the swinging doors, startling Xander so badly he and his titling chair nearly tumbled over backwards.


“Angel.” Buffy looked surprised, knowing she shouldn’t be. She knew how he could come up through the basement. She just wasn’t expecting him because part of her was with Xander. Angel had cut out on her last night. She had needed him to comfort her and he just left her.


Angel skirted patches of sunlight and took refuge in the shadows of the stacks behind Giles’ chair. The Watcher turned so his back wasn’t to the vampire.


“You found something,” Giles said.


Angel’s countenance went darker. Buffy knew she wasn’t going to like this. “I think so.”


“I could tell last night you knew who did this.” Buffy’s voice was soft, sad, almost a whisper.


“Is this another of your wacky kids like Drusilla?” Xander’s eyes hardened.


“If it were, I would have known in time to save the second girl.” Angel’s voice didn’t raise above his normal tone but the threat was there in every word.


“Please, just tell me who it is.” Buffy dragged a hand through her hair. “It’s not another Master, is it?”


“Not exactly. He’s old though, one of the Master’s children. He’s just a little older than Darla but not by much. Darla hated him.”


“What’s his name?” Giles headed for his stash of Watcher’s diaries to double-check whatever Angel was about to reveal.


“Ilya Borzilova. He’s Russian and he was a monster long before he was ever made a vampire.” Angel settled back against the shelving. “He came to the States with the Master, was with him when Darla was made.” Angel paused and Buffy could see pain in his eyes, wondering what was causing it. She could see the conflict in him, watching him intently as she listened to Giles paging through his books to find the name Borzilova. “Darla was a prostitute, a very wealthy one. She was one hell of a business woman, holding land and money in a time were that just wasn’t done by women.”


Buffy hated the almost reverent tone in Angel’s voice, jealous of the respect he was giving Darla’s achievements. He should be hating her for trying to turn him back to evil, for making Buffy think he was out to kill her family. “So what’s this got to do with Borzilova?” She broke in, not wanting to hear more about Darla.


Angel gave her an irritated look. “It has to do with why he might be in Sunnydale. Borzilova has had it in for me, Darla and Dru for over three centuries...well, for Darla. Add me and Dru in later. I’m not sure he knows Darla is gone.”


“Why does he hate you?” Willow asked.


“Darla’s...career came with a lot of hazards. Venereal diseases for one. She was dying of something when the Master turned her,” Angel said. “Babies were another hazard. I don’t know how many she had. Once in a fit of...I don’t know, remorse maybe, Darla told me about some of them. She was only eleven when she had her first child.”


“Eleven!” Willow’s fingers flew over her mouth.


Angel nodded distractedly. “A set of twins went to live with one of her rich clients in the place of the stillborn twins his wife had. It was a very good placement for those children.”


“What does this have to do with anything?” Xander asked. “You’re as bad as Giles.”


“I’m getting to it.” Angel glowered. “Ilya disliked Darla from the time she was made. The Master doted on her.”

“She became the favorite and he was jealous,” Buffy said.


“Exactly.”


“I don’t like where this is going,” Willow said.


“You shouldn’t.” Angel shoved his hands into his pockets. “Ilya found out from the Master who Darla’s daughter was. He raped and killed the girl.”


“Darla still had feelings for her child...I can see why she’d hate him,” Buffy said.


Angel took a few steps back as the sun, now slightly higher in the sky, was tossing rays into his shadows. “Buffy, it’s easy to forget your family when you’re a vampire, easy to kill them yourself. It’s a training step for a lot of fledgling vampires. It was for me.” Angel’s shoulders slumped. “Darla might not have had feelings left for this daughter, if she ever had them in the first place. Ilya took something from her and that’s what mattered.”


“Glad you’re here to explain creepy vamp motives,” Xander grumbled.


“But his victims are kids...I don’t...” Willow looked at her hands. “How does anyone have...you know...how can you do that to a kid?”


“Back then, Willow, it was common for girls to be married by the time they were thirteen,” Angel said. “Not that I’m excusing anything Borzilova did. Having sex with children didn’t have the same meaning back then but rape did. Of course, they were just as likely to blame the girl....at any rate, Borzilova savaged any child he got his hands on before killing them. He was doing this before he was a vampire. It’s what brought him to the Master’s attention.”


“So that’s what it takes. And he brings the kids back as vampires why? Just more normal vampire hijinks?” Xander asked.


“Xander!” Buffy hissed, wishing her friend had an off button for his hostility dispenser. “Angel’s never converted a kid, right?” Her eyes fastened onto him, begging for him to back her up.

 Angel carefully met no one’s gaze as he replied, “No, I haven’t.”

 

Buffy felt winter roiling into her heart, knowing he was lying. A quick glance at her

friends told her they seemed to be buying it, except for maybe Giles. He had that look he got in his eyes when he knew she was telling him a whopper. She kept her suspicions to herself. She would never let herself say that she knew Angel just as guilty of the horrible crime as Borzilova. If she said it, it would make it true and she didn’t know how she could love him if it were true. She reminded herself that Angel wasn’t responsible for anything he had done without his soul. She had to think on that. It eased the pain.

 

“I don’t know why he converts his victims other than to get into people’s homes where he can get his hands on an easy meal, their money and property,” Angel said.

 

“That makes perfect sense,” Giles said, not looking up from his books. “The child goes missing and when she comes home again the parents welcome her in and she kills them. Only he’s getting careless in his old age or he no longer cares otherwise, he would have hidden his victims better here in Sunnydale.”

 

“Or he wants me to know he’s here,” Angel said.

 

“So he’s taunting you...all these kids died just to draw you out.” Buffy hated that her temper lashed him because it wasn’t his fault.

 

Angel bore it without flinching. “I’m afraid so. The children could be collateral damage in this war with he’s waging against me and Dru.”

 

“So what does he have against you?” Xander asked. “I can see why your ex hated him.”

 

“Darla and Dru caught hold of Borzilova once and paid him back for things he had done to them by burning off his testicles with holy water,” Angel said, bluntly.

 

Xander shuddered, crossing his legs involuntarily. Even Giles looked up from his books.

 

“Ouch, okay vendetta explained.” Buffy made a face. “So um...how’s he raping the girls now if Darla and Dru burnt off his nasties?”

 

Angel smiled thinly. “Vampires have remarkable healing powers, Buffy, given time parts can even regrow, especially with a little magical help. He’s whole.”

 

“So, the question is, now what? He’s just a normal vamp right?” Buffy asked. “I killed the Master, I can kill him.” She didn’t have to ask if Angel would help her. Now that the Master was gone, Angel was like a changed man, braver, more confident. She wondered about it. When she first met Angel, he hadn’t wanted to get involved but now things were different. She didn’t want to be so vain as to think it was because of her that he changed but she knew deep down that had to be the reason for Angel’s about-face on the whole getting down and dirty policy.

 

“He’s smart. Ilya won’t be easy to kill. You can’t exploit his weaknesses without putting children at risk,” Angel said.

 

“What about Drusilla?” Willow asked. “Couldn’t we use her as bait somehow?”

 

Buffy saw pain flicker across Angel’s face. She knew he had some kind of feelings for Drusilla, knew he ached over what he had done to make her the way she was. She wondered if he could kill her since he had let her go at least once Buffy knew about.

 

“Dru is weak, weaker than I’ve ever seen her. Rumor about town is she’s dying,” Angel said, a hint of regret in his voice. “It could be Borzilova knows this and that’s why he’s here. And if it were just Dru, you might have a chance at making her bait, but where she is, there’s Spike.”

 

“And we know he’s killed two Slayers,” Giles said, handing the book to Angel. “Has Borzilova?”

 

“Not that I know of.” Angel looked down at the reproduced portrait in the book. “That’s him.”

 

Buffy took a peek at the picture and made a face. “Yeah him a million years ago,” she said, seeing the seventeenth century hairstyle, beard and clothing.

 

“It’s the best I can do,” Giles said, taking the book back from Angel and giving it to Willow so she and Xander could get a look.

 

“It’s a place to start,” Angel said. “Buffy, I’ll see what I can find out about where he’s living. Your best plan of attack would be to catch him in the day when he can’t run.”

 

“School kinda gets in the way of that,” she said, knowing he made sense but she hated it. She didn’t want to drop out of school to hunt vampires by day. She wanted a normal life as best she could.

 

“Hopefully I can get a lead on him then you can worry about when to attack,” Angel conceded.

 

“Buffy, Emily’s family is Catholic. They won’t be burying her until Monday,” Giles said. “We can’t risk waiting until then to deal with her. She might rise before then.”

 

Buffy shuddered. “Guess that means I’m staking out the funeral home tonight.”

 

“I’ll meet you there,” Angel said, heading for the door and Buffy knew it was a quick trip to the basement then into the sewers for him.

 

“This is so wrong,” Willow whispered.

 

“Vampires are always wrong, Wills,” Xander said.

 

Buffy resisted the urge to pop him one in the mouth. She looked at Giles, finding comfort in his warm blue eyes. He was worried. That should have scared her. Instead, it made her feel good there was an adult male who actually was caring about her, looking out for her when her own father had decided it was just something he didn’t want to do any more. Yeah, she spent time with Dad a few weeks out of the year but even that felt strained, like he resented her and Dawn being around. She wished Giles would say something to make her feel better. Instead he just started outlining a plan of attack for tonight. She kept her disappointment to herself and tried to put her mind on the task at hand. At least it was better than thinking about Angel killing children and making little vampires out of them. That was going to give her nightmares, she just knew it.


CHAPTER FOUR


“Giles, is this necessary?” Buffy moaned.


“No, Buffy, I put off going to the traveling art exhibit at the Museum of Natural History in Los Angels with Jenny to spend a sweltering evening roaming Sunnydale just because it’s not necessary.” Giles glared at her as he cleaned his glasses.


She rolled her eyes. “No need to get snarky.”


“There was no need the first twelve times you asked,” he said.


“It’s just that I feel bad you had to miss a date with Jenny for a training session.” Buffy honestly felt badly about that. As much as she didn’t want to think about adult smoochies, she liked that Giles had someone to care about. Being lonely was a terrible thing.


“Buffy, you still have this inability to sense vampires. That needs work. It would certainly benefit you to be able to do it.”


“So I could find this Ilya guy faster,” she said with a hint of self-flagellation.


“I didn’t say that,” Giles said, gently. Buffy knew he was thinking it though or else the training session could wait. “It would benefit you in general.”


“I can sense, Angel.” Angel was one of the reasons she was disappointed Giles was with her. It meant no Angel-alone time. Of course, she didn’t exactly know where Angel was and that bothered her. He seemed somehow embarrassed to know Ilya the Ill, like he was somehow responsible for the vampire, only she had no idea why. Maybe there was something Angel held back or maybe he was just being Angel. Buffy knew how he liked to take responsibility even for things that weren’t his fault. She just figured she didn’t really understand men. She certainly didn’t understand why Angle did half of what he did. She didn’t know why Xander was so jealous even though she have never given him any indication she considered him as anything other than a friend, barring that one sexy dance when she had come back to the dale. She didn’t know what was wrong with Giles that he was dodging dates with a woman he was obviously attracted to. He should be in L.A. having fun, not here with her in the park, trying not to step on used condoms in the dark.


“It’s a start,” Giles conceded, smoothing out an imaginary wrinkle in his shirt. Giles was in his casual wear, at least as he seemed to interpret casual; beige Dockers and a short-sleeved shirt sans jacket, vest or tie. That shirt revealed what all his usual layers of tweed hid. There was a human body under them. Even the slightest hint of sexuality in Giles made Buffy shudder. It was like trying to think about her parents together. Buffy held up her hand, stopping him.


“Sense one?” he asked, hopefully.

“Hear that?” she said, knowing she was so disappointing him. She felt a slight tingle. “Actually, yeah I think maybe I do sense one.”


“Angel.” That wasn’t a question and it hurt a little that Giles thought she couldn’t extend her abilities past sensing him. It hurt worse that he was right.


Buffy took off through the park but not so fast Giles couldn’t keep up. She didn’t want him to be alone. He might not be a twelve year old girl but that didn’t mean he was safe from Ilya or any of the other uglies that might be out for a moon light stroll. She stopped behind a hedge row, hearing people talking clearly now. Giles tensed beside her, his breathing sounding a little ragged. She knew he could hear them too. Dru’s wispy voice managed to carry as clear as a bell.


“But Daddy, I shouldn’t let him see me.”


“Where’s Spike, Dru? He needs to know about Ilya.”


Buffy could see Angel through the twists of the branches of the hedge row. There was a look of concern on his face. It made her furious. He should be staking Dru, not warning her.


“Spike doesn’t know I’ve gone. He thinks I can’t hunt for myself, all weak and pale like a baby.” Dru leaned against him.


Buffy wanted to charge out there when Angel’s big hands, the hands she loved feeling on her hair, stroked Dru’s dark mane. He seemed so gentle and the flood of jealousy and confusion threatened to overwhelm Buffy. Giles’ put a hand on her shoulder as if he sense her pain.


“Spike needs to know, Dru,” Angel reiterated as if talking to a child.


“Is Angel trying to put them all together?” Buffy whispered to Giles whose face went harsher than she was used to seeing.


Dru pulled away from Angel and sat on the swings. She started swinging, looking like an overgrown living China doll in her pale blue gown. Buffy wondered about how formally Dru always dressed. She had noticed back when Merrick was still her Watcher that a lot of vampires’ fashion sense never progressed beyond the day of their death. Dru was different. She was formal but not Victorian. Of course, Buffy had no idea where Dru could find Victorian clothes even if she still wanted them. Truth was, Buffy was used to dealing with young, newly made vampires. If she had to admit it, the older ones, the ones who were wily enough to survive, frightened her.


She shoved that thought out and another unwanted one flooded in. Dru looked so exceptionally feminine. She made it seem effortless, the same way Cordy did. Buffy remembered being like that once, before the whole Chosen bit. She missed it a little and she had to wonder, did Angel really not care that she showed up for dates all grass streaked and tousled? Did he secretly want her to look more like Cordelia, like Drusilla and just lied to her to protect her feelings? Did Dru still turn him on? Buffy knew Dru had been his lover. He had alluded to it and Buffy hadn’t needed him to do so. She could tell.


“I should fly away, Daddy, like the doves.” Dru swung higher. “Ilya makes my skin feel like ants are crawling all over it.”


“You can’t go, Dru,” Angel said. “We need this to end here. Ilya will be looking for you. If you go, he’ll follow. It’ll be harder to find him.”


“Daddy’s worried about all the little ones Ilya will eat up,” Dru accused.


“Yes, I am, Dru. But if you and Spike help track him down no one else has to die,” Angel said.


“Spike won’t help you.”


“But you might. Remember what Ilya did to you, Dru. That terrible thing that made you and Darla castrated him.”


Buffy shivered at the oily texture of Angel’s voice. It’s effect on Dru was immediate. The vampire leapt off the swing at the highest point of the arc. Buffy didn’t know how Dru landed so gracefully in high heels. Dru caught the swing and hurled it at Angel. The chains snapped and he swatted the seat away.


“Bad Daddy!” Dru’s nail sliced across his face and Buffy noticed Angel didn’t defend himself. He just causally wiped away the blood. “No one is allowed to talk about that.”


“Sorry, Dru but I need your help. You needed...focusing.”


“Bad, bad, Daddy.”


Buffy watched the insane vampire stalk off. She should go after Dru, finish her off. Buffy knew she could take the creature. Buffy saw how weak Dru was. Of course, that might take away Ilya’s motive for being in Sunnydale and she shared Angel’s fear that the pedophilic vampire might move off to who knew where, killing more children.


She thought for a moment about going to talk to Angel but at the moment she couldn’t fight the unreasonable swell of emotions. She didn’t like being reminded that Angel had an attachment to his childe. She didn’t know why it bothered her so much, why she felt threatened when she knew the only thing that Angel felt for Dru was remorse and guilt. Knowing that didn’t stop her feet and Buffy let them carry her away. She was barely aware of Giles behind her.


“Buffy, I think we should-”


She whirled, coming to an instant stop. “I don’t want to talk about what we just saw, Giles.”


“Buffy, you have little choice. Angel is putting Drusilla out as bait. If Spike doesn’t come to her aid, Angel most likely will spare her to kill the Russian vampire. Ilya is clearly the greater of the evils,” Giles said, his eyes showing concern for his young charge.


“So, do I throw in and help the vampire pack turn on their own?” Buffy snarled, starting back off. She forced Giles to almost trot along to keep up.


“I’m not saying that, Buffy but surely you and Angel working together would do better than either of you apart,” Giles said as they turned onto the streets of Sunnydale’s business section. The Bronze wasn’t too far away. The coffee shop was closer.


“Did you miss the part where he’s inviting Spike to play? Remember Spike? He of the two dead Slayers fame. We know he wants me dead. What makes you think he won’t try for me while I’m busy with Ilya?” Buffy shot a hot look over her shoulder and Giles quieted. She didn’t think it would be that easy. Angel would protect her from both Spike and Ilya but she realized Giles was truly afraid for her should Spike catch hold of her. He hadn’t looked that worried since the Master and the prophecy and all that. Suddenly Spike seemed almost like a greater evil than Ilya.

“It is a concern, Buffy.”


“Well, what I’m more concerned about, is stopping Ilya before he kills another kid.” Buffy sighed. “So I guess I will be talking to Angel about this, but I can’t help thinking if he wanted me in on his plan he would have told me.”


“Would he? Angel seems quite adept at shielding you from things he’d rather not have you know,” Giles said and it stung.


Buffy shrugged. “At least I don’t have to worry about Dawnie. Mom caught her trying to shoplift some lip gloss today at the mall and she’s so grounded. No leaving the house, no Fall Ball next weekend.”


“Fall Ball?” Giles wore the puzzled look he usually did when he didn’t get a pop culture reference.


“Think of it as a homecoming dance for the elementary school. Okay, mostly they get together in the gym with too many parents watching and they pretend to dance and play games. Dawn and Ginny were supposed to go. I didn’t want my sister out there if this sick perv isn’t stopped by then, but how could I tell Mom that a pedophile vampire is stalking the night?” Buffy had given that a lot of thought. She had nightmares about staking Ashley and in place of that poor child’s face she kept seeing Dawn’s.


A scream tore the night air, diverting her from further thought. Slayer and Watcher raced toward the sound, leading them to the alley behind the coffee shop. The angry girl band was still playing inside. Buffy could hear the lyrics. She knew them. They were local. Dawn liked them. The screamer was gone by the time they got to the alley but Buffy saw what the screams were about. Another young girl, throat sliced, panties in a heap near her head, lay in the filth behind the store.

“I should have stopped him before...” Buffy trailed off.


Giles put a hand on her shoulder. “You can’t protect them all, Buffy. You will find him and this will end.”


She wanted to believe him. The band had stopped playing and she heard people coming out of the store. The screamer must have gone inside to call 911. In the crowd pushing out of the coffee house Buffy saw something that made her blood crystalize. A pack of young girls stood there, looking guilty at getting caught out breaking curfew, looking scared knowing one of their number was missing. Dawn and Ginny stared at Buffy before breaking into a run. Their friends followed in their wake.


“Go, Buffy. Get them home safely. I’ll stay here with this poor child,” Giles said. “And I will call your mother, tell her that I saw Dawn here, if you don’t want to be the one to tell her.”


“Thanks, Giles,” Buffy said, already in motion. She was ready to kill her sister. In the end she settled with rounding up as many of the barely pubescent brats as she could and taking them home.


CHAPTER FIVE


Buffy felt guiltier than maybe she should be. She deserved a life, didn’t she? She didn’t think taking a few hours off of patrol was being that selfish. They had gotten their grades back from the history test and she had done far better than she thought she had so why not take a little time for herself? She had to kill Emily as she sat up in her coffin last night. Buffy deserved a break from having to think about that. Right now the police were searching for the child’s ‘stolen’ body. What much Emily’s poor parents be feeling, first their daughter slain then her body ‘taken’? Buffy knew, of course, that Ilya and any number of other baddies could be out there at this very moment doing evil but if she let herself think about it she might go nuts.


Of course her mother thought she was studying at Willow’s. On the other hand, Willow’s mom wouldn’t guess that her daughter was sneaking out on a school night to go clubbing. Buffy looked around the Bronze, almost stunned at how many kids there were inside the place on a Wednesday night. Didn’t anyone care where their kids were? How was she supposed to keep any of them safe when no one paid any attention to curfews?


Buffy glanced at her watch. Maybe she should be going out on patrol. Willow was wrapped up in watching Dingos playing on stage. Buffy was always shocked that the Bronze could book a band any night of the week. Of course, the Dingos had some room for improvement and probably didn’t rate a weekend slot yet. It didn’t seem to bother Willow. Xander had cut out on them under the guise of heading for the men’s room. Buffy would have wondered if he had fallen in or needed to eat a bran muffin or something as long as he had been gone. Then again, on the tightly packed dance floor, it was next to impossible to miss having girls brush up against him, so Buffy decided she didn’t want to know about what Xander was doing in the bathroom.


“What’s wrong, Buffy?” Willow looked at her with sad puppy eyes.


Buffy stabbed at the ice in her vanilla coke with her straw. “Nothing. Just thinking, I shouldn’t be here having fun. I have work to do.” Buffy was content that at least it wasn’t a lie. She was worried about that. She worried more about the fact that she missed Angel. She had been avoiding him ever since she saw him in the park with Drusilla. She had gone out of her way to make sure their paths remained uncrossed. She lied to Giles about Angel being next to impossible to find when he asked about if she had hooked up with Angel to do the planning thing. She had even hidden in the tub - telling herself she needed that extra long soak - when she had sensed Angel outside her window. She knew she was being childish. She hated herself for it. She just couldn’t help it.


“All work and no play makes for a cranky Buffy,” Willow said. “Besides you should be celebrating that B you got in history.”


Buffy lifted her coke, wiggling it. “See me celebrate.” She thumped the glass down and sighed. “I can’t get Chrissy’s face out of my mind, seeing her in that alleyway. It could have been Dawn, Willow. They were all together in that coffee house. My sister came this close to dying and she can’t even see it.”


“I’m sure she knows that now, Buffy,” Willow said.


“You haven’t been in my house in the last two days. She and Mom are about ready to kill each other. She’s all mad because she’s going to miss the Fall Ball. She wants me to talk Mom into letting her go and I won’t because what if I don’t dust Ilya by then? It’s only two days away. It took me a lot longer than that to defeat the Master. I still haven’t finished off Spike but at least he’s not out there raping and killing girls...that I know of.”


“Angel would have told you if Spike was like that, Buffy,” Willow said, not sounding convinced.


“I wish I could believe that, Willow. But they’re vampires. They don’t have souls, not like Angel. They probably wouldn’t think twice about it. Spike was more than happy to use those kids turned into demons at Halloween.” She shoved her drink toward the center of the table. “I should probably go. I’m bringing things down.”


“Buffy.”


Instead of Willow admonishing her that she wasn’t being a downer, her name was uttered softly by a far more masculine voice. Buffy turned, looking over her shoulder, thinking back a few nights. She hadn’t sensed Angel approaching this time. Giles was right. She needed work. She mustered up a smile, trying to pretend everything was all right. “Hey, Angel.”


“We need to talk,” he said, as business like as the first time she kicked him to the ground in that alleyway.


She gestured at Willow. “It would be rude if I just cut out on my friends.”


His brow lowered but Xander’s reappearance cut off anything the vampire might have to say. They gave each other a brief hostile look like pack members circling each other. Xander quickly proved to be the omega and covered by turning to Willow, “Hey Will, I love this song. Wanna dance?”


“Oh sure.” She gave Buffy a nervous look, obviously sensing the tension. “Buffy was about to go out on patrol anyhow.”


Buffy scowled at Willow’s lack of solidarity. She could have at least pretended Buffy wasn’t actually a free agent. “Unfortunately true. You kids have fun.”


Buffy didn’t wait for Angel as she stomped out of the Bronze. She knew he was following and that he’d have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to sense her mood.


“Why have you been avoiding me, Buffy?” His strong fingers caught hold of her shoulder.


She squirmed away. “I’m not.”


“Buffy, I’m not a fool. You’ve been avoiding me ever since I told you about Ilya.” He dragged her to a halt as they left the back alley behind the Bronze and stepped out into the light of the street. “I had nothing to do with him coming here.”


“No, but you could have told me you were trying to work with Spike and Dru.”


His face fell. “I thought you might be in the park. I’ve been trying ever since to tell you about my plan but you have been...unavailable.”


She dug her fingers into her hips, tossing her head back. “Did you think to tell me before hand?”


“Because I knew it was a long shot. Spike is never going to let me use Drusilla as bait but if I could get her so worried that Ilya might hurt her again that she might take the fight to him with Spike protecting her. Spike would do just about anything for her, even work with us.”


“You still should have told me,” Buffy huffed.


“You know now. You would have known three days ago if you’d been speaking to me.” His gaze knifed her. “I don’t get why you’re so angry about this.”


“You had the perfect opportunity to kill Drusilla that night and you didn’t take it.”


“Neither did you,” he countered as their path took them into a near by cemetery. “And you aren’t mad at me because I didn’t kill Drusilla.”


“How would you know?” Buffy lifted her chin defiantly. It wasn’t why she was mad but she could hardly admit she had been jealous.


“Because I’ve been around long enough to know jealousy when I see it,” he replied.


Buffy held his gaze for a few long movement then sighed, looking away. “We’re both sad, you know that? You get jealous over Xander because he gets to be with me when the sun’s out, even though I keep telling you that is not the best light to view me in. And I’m jealous of someone from your past. I know Dru’s the past. I know there’s plenty more in your past, too. I mean you’re how old?”


“Dru is most definitely my past, Buffy but we still have a connection.” He caught hold of her, to insure he had her full attention. “She is my childe and I am responsible for her. It would be far easier to stake her or let you do it but...”


“She’s family?” Buffy’s eyebrows raised.


“Yes, actually she is. It’s not an easy thing to turn on your vampiric family. Some vampires don’t care about that sort of thing. They don’t even bother to stick around long enough to see their children rise. Ilya is like that. Others bond. My family bonded. Darla, Spike, Dru, we were close like you are with Willow and Xander.”


“Sort of a blood sucking Brady Bunch,” Buffy said and his lips puckered at the pop culture reference. She wondered if he got the second reference to “The Lost Boys.”


“I suppose.” He leaned down and kissed her. “And I’m sorry Drusilla makes you so uncomfortable, Buffy. I don’t love her. I never really did, not in any romantic sense. She was a tool, a doll to play with. What I did to her...it was far worse than the crime I’m being punished for. But she isn’t a threat to you...well, she is in the usual vampire is a threat to the Slayer sense of things.”


“That I can handle,” Buffy assured him, catching hold of his neck to pull him in for another kiss. She stopped, cocking her head to the side. “Do you hear voices?”


“Sounds like a group of kids.”


“In a graveyard?” Buffy rolled her eyes. “This is so not a make-out place.”


“Oh, you’d be surprised,” Angel said, heading off toward the voices.


Buffy groaned when they came across a pack of Goth wannabe’s drinking and making out in the cemetery. She counted eight of them. She knew most of them from school including Amy, who wasn’t really Goth and Ham, who was an okay kid from Buffy’s science class who just didn’t seem to get if he didn’t dress like this, maybe people wouldn’t pick on him so much. She was about to go talk to Amy, to shoo them out of the graveyard when a voice sounded behind her.


“Look tasty, don’t they?”


Buffy whirled. Spike was leaning on a half-sunken headstone, poking at the cross on top just to hear his skin sizzle. He wore his finest as far as she could tell; the deep red shirt, the only splash of color relieving the black. His black nails and eyeshadow made him fit right in with Amy’s crowd. “Oh, you are so the last thing I need.”


“Don’t worry, Slayer. I didn’t come to fight with you and Peaches.” Spike lit up so casually Buffy thought maybe he considered her no threat at all.


“Peaches?” Buffy asked, seeing the irritation pinching Angel’s face.


“What do you want then, Spike?” Angel stepped just in front of her, enough to both protect and annoy her.


“Not nice, Angel, putting my Dru out there as bait.” Spike blew smoke rings. “She told me what this wanker did to her last time. What? You wanted to give him another bite at the apple?”

“I want him gone. Dru is the fastest way of drawing him out. She probably told you what she did to Ilya,” Angel said.


Spike snorted, smoke curling out of his nostrils. “Makes your nadgers want to crawl back up inside you, just thinking about it.”


“So what did you come here for then, Spike, if you don’t want to fight?” Buffy didn’t trust the idea of a truce with Spike but for Angel’s sake she’d play along.


“Feisty, this one is, better than that first Slayer I met...course, couldn’t understand a word that bint was saying.” Spike took a long drag. “Don’t worry, love. I’m not here for your precious Nancy boy. Dru and I have plans for him, we do and it don’t involve him getting dusted.”


Buffy hated the slipperiness of Spike’s tone. She didn’t want to think of him and Dru planning anything for Angel. Before she could say anything though, Spike’s expression turned to one of bemusement.


“Of course, things sometimes don’t go as planned, like that.” He pointed at the same time as someone screamed.


Buffy whipped back around and saw a vampire in the midst of Amy’s friends. He looked very much like the portrait in Giles’ book, only he was clean shaven now. Buffy didn’t wait for Ilya to get his hands on one of the girls. They might be slightly older than the ones he had been raping and turning but from the looks of things, this perv didn’t mind them just old enough to drive.


“Buffy, be careful,” Angel hissed, as he broke off from her to come at Ilya from a slightly different angle.


Buffy hurtled a headstone and tossed a spin kick into the vampire. He was like hitting stone. She was shocked at how small he was, not much bigger than her. She was expecting some hulking giant, a fairy tale monster that loamed over the little girls before ripping them apart. He was short, built like a wrestler, and she found out fast he hit like a sledgehammer.


She hit ground as Angel and Spike simultaneously took on Ilya. Her breath slammed out of her. She heard Spike blustering about how no one goes after his Drusilla. She was shocked to see Spike go flying. He hit a crypt hard enough to crack the stone. He slid down the granite and puddled on the ground. Angel shoved Ilya back, bearing him to the ground. As he was trying to get the stake out of his coat pocket, Ilya tore up the bronze flower vase from the ground and clocked Angel with it.


Buffy forced herself up, wondering if she had broken ribs. It didn’t matter. She had to get to Angel before Ilya could finish him, but the vampire was far more interested in snaring one of Amy’s friends and running. Buffy didn’t know the girl who had been paralyzed by fear and hadn’t run when the rest of the kids scattered. Now, in the vampire’s hands, she was very much animated, kicking and shrieking.


“Let her go,” Buffy said, taking out two stakes, one for either hand.


Ilya grinned at her. “You must be the Slayer. How nice of you to come. I guess my little party will have to wait.”


Buffy couldn’t dodge the girl as Ilya threw her like a sack of flour. Both girls toppled to the ground and Buffy’s head smashed into stone. Through the stars in her eyes, she saw Ilya dart off. He slipped into one of the crypts. “Angel, the tunnels, he can get there from that crypt.”


Angel was back on his feet. “You get the kids home. I’ll go after him.”


Buffy didn’t have a chance to argue as much as she wanted to. Her head felt like someone was trying to crack it and make scrambled eggs. She noticed Spike had gone, too. She had no idea if he had just beat feet or if he was down in the tunnels with Angel and Ilya. She wanted desperately to go after Angel.


“You’re bleeding,” the girl who had narrowly escaped being Ilya’s next victim said, touching Buffy’s head.


Buffy put a hand to her scalp, feeling the gash and the warm blood. “So I am.”


“Do you need to go to the hospital?”


“Nah. Do you?” Buffy helped the girl up. She saw Amy and two others still in the fringes of the graveyard, unwilling to just abandon their friend and yet too afraid to help.


“I don’t think so.”


“Come on, I’ll get you home,” she said, knowing she had a duty to the innocent. Angel could handle himself. She’d get her classmates home then she’d try to find Angel. Giles’ scolding rang in her head the whole while as she walked them home. She hadn’t sensed any of the vampires. She had to be the worst Slayer ever.


 CHAPTER SIX

 

 “This is ridiculous,” Cordelia moaned, checking her lipstick for the thirtieth time in her gold compact.

 

Buffy wondered if it really was honest to god gold. Knowing Cordy, yes it was. “Look Cordy, if you think I wanted to be doing ‘service learning’ chaperoning the elementary school’s Fall Ball you’re nuts. Mom had to get a last minute babysitter for Dawnie. We didn’t even tell Dawn this is where I’ll be since she’s still fuming about being grounded and missing the ball.”

 

“I just don’t see the point of service learning. Isn’t service the reason we have servants in the first place?” Cordelia applied another layer of gloss to her full lips.

 

Buffy figured those lips could provided light should they need to go outside.

 

“Yes and how many of us can afford servants, Miss Fendi?” Xander’s sarcasm was practically visible.

 

Cordelia gave him the hair eyeball. “Do you actually know what Fendi is or were you spanking your monkey to your Mommy’s Cosmo’s again?”

 

Willow clamped a hand over Xander’s mouth. “Kids present! Buffy, it’s not so bad. I mean wouldn’t this be like a candy store to a vampire who likes kids?”

 

“The thought has crossed my mind,” Buffy replied and it had, a bit belatedly but it had. When she first been assigned this service project in Sociology, she had been furious that she would miss out on a night of looking for Ilya then it dawned on her that Ilya would find the Fall Ball a smorgasbord. She was so glad that Dawn was under Mom-Enforced house arrest. Of course, it wasn’t really Mom-Enforced. It was a last minute arrangement with Dawnie stuck with Amanda and Ginny at Ginny’s home. It had been uncomfortable when Joyce realized how much she relied on her daughter to help out with Dawn and worse, she really didn’t have friends her own age in Sunnydale that she could ask to babysit. Buffy felt guilty to no end about that. “Think of it this way, Cordelia, we could have got stuck with the other service learning project, helping at the nursing home.”

 

Cordy shuddered. “I’d have taken the F. Oh hey, Harmony, wait up!” Cordelia darted after her friend.

 

“Yeah, I’m just as glad I didn’t pull granny duty,” Xander said and Willow elbowed him. “Hey! Just saying. I would have missed out on seeing my two girls looking so fine.” He draped an arm around Buffy and Willow.

 

Buffy smiled. Her pale lavender dress might be poorly designed for fighting but she looked good in it. Willow had accepted her help in fashion and was sporting a green micro dress that the red head was more than a little uncomfortable with its hemline. Xander had cleaned up pretty well, looking good in his blue suit. It was a shame he had such a blind spot when it came to Willow. Of course, Willow was looking at other men finally, much to Buffy’s relief. She hated seeing her friend all hung up on Xander and miserable. She was thinking she was going to have to slap Xander to wake him up.

 

“Hey, you two, none of that,” Willow said, sliding out from under Xander’s arm, heading for a young couple kissing. That sort of thing was strictly forbidden at the dance, for that matter so were all slow songs. It was less a dance than a corral for kids with games in the auditorium, dance music in the gym and punch and cookies along the walls. Her scolding done, Willow bopped back over to her friends. “So, Buffy, do you think Ilya will show up?”

 

“I’m afraid so.” Buffy knew that it was an ugly possibility. Ilya had eluded Angel in the tunnels. “But Angel should be here soon.”

 

“Ooo, a gaggle of pre-pubes and Angel, it’s my best night ever,” Xander said, sarcastically.

 

“Xander, would you like a high heel in the butt?” Buffy shot him a warning look.

 

“I think I’m going to snag cookies,” Xander said and hurried off.

 

Willow gave Buffy a quick smile then sobered. “Are you and Angel okay?” Willow brushed nervously at her hair which Buffy had spent a good deal of time curling and fluffing. She playfully slapped Willow’s hand. “Things seem tense between you.”

 

“A little, I guess. It’s just me being stupid over Dru. I know she’s not what Angel wants but I can’t help feeling jealous.”

 

“Buffy, you know Angel only has eyes for you. As old as he is, there’s lots of baggage.”

 

“I know, but I’m better off not thinking about it. You pointed out once there had to be dozens, if not hundreds of other women. I can’t be jealous of them all.” Buffy slumped. “But the rest of them are long dead and Dru is here where I have to deal with her.”

 

“No, you don’t.” Willow clamped her hands on Buffy’s shoulders.

 

“How do you figure?”

 

“You could just her once Angel’s done using her as bait.” Willow’s eyes were utterly sober and unapologetic.

 

“Willow, so blood thirsty,” Buffy said, almost surprised. “But you’re right, I guess.”

 

Willow smiled suddenly and pointed toward the door. Angel stood there, looking a bit bemused.

 

Buffy bounced over to him. “Hey.” She took a long look at his face. It was too smooth to have lines she could read like she did with Giles. Still, she could see worry in his eyes. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I saw Spike heading out of town with Dru.”

 

Her face fell. “Oh. So much for bait. Are you sure?”

 

“Saw a De Soto with black painted windows. That’s a sure sign of a vampire driving. I know Spike has a De Soto, heard about it at Willie’s. Spike’s taking Dru where Ilya can’t get her,” Angel replied.

 

Buffy blew at a strand of hair hanging in her face. “Even though he still wants something from you?”

 

“He probably isn’t going far. If Dru wasn’t so ill, Spike wouldn’t miss this fight for the world,” Angel assured her.

 

“So now what?” Buffy felt suddenly disheartened. She had been hoping that Dru would be the target. She had entertained Spike and Dru as dust as a result of the fight with Ilya, the good kind of collateral damage.

 

“I’m loathed to suggest it but...”

 

“This dance is one big playground for Ilya,” Buffy finished for him and he nodded. “Yeah, it crossed my mind, too.”

 

“How many kids are here?”Angel asked.

 

“More than fifty.” Her lips thinned. “No way of watching them all as much as we chaperones try.”

 

“I don’t like this.” Angel’s eyes swept over the gym. “We should coordinate with Willow, Xander and Cordelia. Between us, we should be able to watch the entrances.”

 

“You go round up Willow and Xander off the dance floor and I’ll see if I can find Cordelia,” Buffy said.

 

She found Cordelia and Harmony outside the gym, decidedly doing nothing that resembled chaperoning. They had gotten some chairs, probably from the auditorium, and were conducting their service learning by sitting in the hallway calling out fashion tips to the kids going to and fro from the gym, auditorium and rest rooms. Buffy stabbed a fist into her hips. “Cordy, I could use your help inside.”

 

Cordelia scowled. “Why?”

 

“Angel would like it, too,” she added, hating to do it. Cordelia’s eyes took on that eager and predatory look just as Buffy was counting on.

 

“Buffy, maybe you ought to teach your little sister how to put on make up. She looks like a tramp,” Harmony said as Cordelia got up.

 

“What are you talking about? My sister isn’t here,” Buffy said.

 

“Sure she is. She’s in the auditorium with her little friends.” Harmony primped her bottle-blonde hair, getting up to follow Cordy.

 

Buffy turned on heel and stalked into the gym. She grabbed Angel’s hand and yanked him away from Willow and Xander. “Change of plans. Harmony just said Dawn is here.”

 

“Oh, she wouldn’t,” Willow said.

 

“Of course, she would. I told Mom letting her and Ginny be together was a bad idea. Amanda is not a good babysitter. I know they were ticked off they couldn’t come to the dance. How much you want to bet the minute Amanda’s boyfriend showed up, Dawn and Ginny were out the door,” Buffy stormed, heading for the auditorium.

 

“But surely she has to know the dangers,” Willow protested.

 

“She’s a child, Willow. They don’t think of danger,” Angel said.

 

“If she’s here, Buffy, I’ll take her home,” Xander offered. “I’m not the first string when it comes to fighting and if someone even notices I cut out on the service learning, what’s another failing grade to me?”

 

“Thanks, Xander. There she is.” Buffy pointed to the auditorium’s stage where Dawn was playing Twister with several of her classmates. Buffy never understood how that could be an acceptable game when slow dancing wasn’t. She snatched Dawn off the stage before the girl even knew she was there.

 

“Hey!” Dawn slung her long hair back then lost all color when she saw it was Buffy. “What are you doing here?”

 

“I’m the chaperone. Better question is, what are you doing here? Mom is going to kill you, if I don’t do it first,” Buffy snapped.

 

“You’re not going to tell her.” Dawn said, jerking her head at Angel for emphasis.

 

“If I don’t tell her, Willow or Xander will. You’re coming home now, young lady, so march,” Buffy said.

 

“What’s the big deal? Are you always such a downer?” Ginny asked, jumping off stage.

 

“Yes, and you’re coming along, too,” Buffy said.

 

“You heard her. I’m taking you girls home,” Xander said, putting a hand on Dawn’s shoulder.

 

“Why? It’s not like we’re doing anything bad,” Dawn said. “It’s not like we’re outside the building smoking like some of the other kids are.”

 

“Yeah, there’s a nice guy out there sharing his smokes with a bunch of girls,” Ginny said. “He’s kinda cute?”

 

Buffy made a face. “Angel, would Ilya qualify as cute?”

 

“Why are you asking me?” The vampire gave her a look.

 

“Okay, change of plans. You two stay here until I’m sure it’s safe to go to Xander’s car. Willow and Xander will stay with you just to make sure you do,” Buffy said.

 

Angel followed her out. Cordelia and Harmony had left their post in the hall and kids were streaming in and out of the front door more or less unchaperoned. Buffy went outside not needing Angel’s sensitive nose to hone in on the smoking. The kids stared at her with horrified looks at getting busted.

 

“Who gave you the cigarettes?” she demanded to know.

 

“Some guy,” one of the replied.

 

“Where did he go?” Angel asked and the kids quelled.

 

“Inside. He wanted to check out the dance.”

 

Buffy raced back in and nearly plowed into Xander who was hobbling up the hall. “Xander, what are you doing?”

 

“Dawn kicked me in the shins and took off. Willow chased her and Ginny into the gym,” he replied.

 

Buffy made an exasperated sound and jogged into the gym. She spotted Ilya talking to some girls near the D.J’s speakers. “We have to clear this room.”

 

“Suggestion?” Angel said.

 

Buffy went to the table with the punch and cookies and grabbed a napkin. She used it to cover her hand as she pulled the fire alarm, which spewed blue powder onto the napkin. Most kids knew how to get around the powder they used to figure out who was prank pulling the alarms during school days. As the kids started bolting out, she and Angel fought up stream against them. The other chaperones were trying to help the kids out. Buffy saw Dawn near the gym’s exit to the practice fields, where Harmony was helping to herd the kids out but her sister would have to get passed Ilya to get to the door. Luckily, Ilya was more interested in Angel and her advancing on him than he was in the kids around him.

 

“See, Buffy, I told you your sister was here!” Harmony hollered as Dawn made for the door.

 

Buffy froze, horrified. She was going to kill Harmony when this was all said and done. Ilya’s rugged face lit up and he lunged for Dawn. She shrieked as he pulled her to him. Ilya twisted with her, giving Buffy a good view of how he had her sister pinned to him.

 

“Angel...,” Buffy whispered.

 

“We’ll save her,” he said tightly, putting space between him and her, trying to give her room to fight.

 

“So the Slayer has a sister,” Ilya purred then ran his fat, pink tongue up Dawn’s face. She squalled, struggling in his arms. “She’s a tasty thing.”

 

“Hurt her and you die slowly,” Buffy said, knowing she couldn’t be less imposing than she was in her heels and lavender dress. She had to keep reminding herself, this was just an ordinary vampire, not a Master. She killed vampires every day and twice on Saturdays. She could handle Ilya. He has my sister.

 

Ilya laughed, confirming that fear. “And you think you can stop me? I’ve never understood why the Powers That Be puts such power into cum dumpsters. It’s an insult to the power.”

 

Buffy’s lips skinned back. “Did you just call me a cum dumpster?”

 

“Don’t let him get to you, Buffy?” Angel said, trying to find a way to edge around behind Ilya but there wasn’t anything to hide behind now that the gym had emptied out.

 

“Ah, another land heard from. What a pity I had to see the crawling pansy Angelus has become.” Ilya gave Dawn’s budding breast a squeeze and she whimpered. “What would that bitch of yours say?”

 

“Darla’s dead. I killed her,” Angel said, watching Buffy slip off her high heels.

 

Ilya grinned broadly. “Too bad I missed that. Did you enjoy it?”

 

“Not really.”

 

Buffy hefted her shoe. “Dawn, duck!” Her sister did and Buffy winged the high heel. The heel embedded in Ilya’s neck. He stumbled back, tearing at it. Dawn didn’t need anyone to tell her to make a run for it. She bolted for the door. One of Ilya’s hands tangled in her hair. Dawn yelped as she left that hunk of hair behind.

 

Angel was on Ilya as the vampire tore the high heel out of his neck. Buffy screamed Angel’s name as Ilya buried the heel in Angel’s cheek. Angel staggered for a moment and that was all Ilya needed to toss him into the D.J.’s set up. Metal cracked and the torn wiring hissed as Angel crashed through it.

 

Buffy, regretting not having the ability to bring much in the way of weaponry to a school dance, scythed the other heel at Ilya. He caught it and tore the shoe out of her hand. Buffy twisted and tried a high spin kick. Ilya moved faster than she thought a stocky little man could. He caught her ankle.

 

He grinned again, looking up her skirt. “Nice view. I think I’ll have a taste before I kill you.” He hurtled Buffy into the cinder block walls of the gym.

 

She heard Angel growling that strange vampire growl they all made in a fight. He tackled Ilya as she tried to make the stars stop dancing in her vision. She got up as the two vampires wrestled, nearly clocking herself on the peg board that hung on the wall for the sheer purpose of torturing grace school non-athletes. She reached up and pulled down two of the pegs from the board. She tossed one at Angel. “Catch.”

 

Angel snagged it out of the air, nearly getting intercepted by Ilya. Their hands were moving so fast Buffy could barely see the trade of blows. Angel was doing his bit to keep Ilya distracted or kill him whichever came first. Buffy went for the Russian’s back at the same time Angel stabbed him with the peg from the front. Buffy grunted as her hand stung. It was so much harder to do it through the spine and ribs but the peg went in just as Angel shattered breastbone from the other side. Ilya’s scream was cut off as he powdered away. Buffy’s hand found Angel’s, their fingers touching amidst Ilya’s dust.

 

She wanted to toss herself into his arms but there were kids to worry about. The vampire might be dead but if she let any of them wander off there’d be hell to pay. She reached up and gingerly touched the ragged bleeding hole in Angel’s cheek, cut there by her shoe. “This looks bad.”

 

He captured her fingers, gently pulling them away. “It’ll heal.” He turned away from her, self-consciously. “You need to go take care of your sister...and the firemen. I hear the trucks coming.”

 

She nodded regretfully. “I know. You’d better go.”

 

She hated to see him go but she didn’t want to have to explain a non-chaperone being at the school. Instead, she went out to find Dawn and make sure she was okay, or as okay as she could be given the circumstances.

 

EPILOGUE

 

“A coffee house?” Buffy looked at Angel in surprise as he led her to the near Sunnydale U campus building.

 

“The Bronze is always so noisy. We practically have to scream to hear each other.” He stroked her hair as they went inside. “Here we can have a nice conversation.”

 

“And the Irish band that’ll be playing later has nothing to do with it?” She raised an eyebrow.

 

He smirked. “That’s just icing on the cake.”

 

Buffy laughed and let him buy her a cup of cappuccino big enough to swim in while she went and bogarted a couch along the back wall. It was soft and enveloping like a big bear hug and was even better when Angel joined her. They’d be able to hear the band perfectly once they took the coffee house ‘stage.’ She snuggled up against him, giving Angel a kiss. She might not be ale to do all the kissing she’d like with him at this point, being out in public, but just pressing up against him, having coffee was nice too. She sighed contentedly.

 

“You look happy.” His big hand rubbed her shoulders.

 

“I am. Ilya’s gone. The kids are safe...or as safe as they can be in Sunnydale. Dawnie’s finally understanding how dangerous my life is and how she isn’t making it any easier by breaking curfew and running off when she’s been grounded.”

 

“That’s a good thing.”

 

“Even seeing Spike driving back into town isn’t going to bring me down,” she assured him.

 

“That’s good. You deserve an easy night.” He rested his chin on the top of her head.

 

“No arguments.”

 

Buffy nestled up against him, as one of the band members started tuning an instrument that sounded something like cats being tortured. She canted her eyes up at Angel.

 

“Uilleam pipes. Don’t worry, they won’t sound so bad with the rest of the band playing.” He smiled.

 

“I sure hope not.” Buffy took a drink of her caramel cappuccino enjoying the rush. Even if the band was bad, she wouldn’t care. She was here with the man she loved. The latest monster had been destroyed and for one night, she could pretend all was right with the world.

 


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