Disclaimer: None of these people is mine. Maybe Nil and the Razoth Beast, though Nil would argue that he belongs to the High and Shiny Glorificus, but I digress. They belong to the High and Shiny Joss and David G. I’m just borrowing.

Note 1: Surprise, Tanja, I used your title. Thanks for the feedback!

Note 2: Takes place after "Forever"/ "Disharmony"

Feedback: To quote a popular Sunnydale saying, "Duh!"

Dawn and the Dead

By

HonorH

***

Chapter 1: Drawing Comfort with Angel

She’s never gonna forgive me for this, thought Buffy Summers. Her eyes tracked to the back seat of Xander’s car where Dawn sat, moping as only a 14-year-old can. A scowl was planted firmly between the girl’s eyes and a hint of a pout was in her mouth as she stared sullenly out the window. Dawn hadn’t said a word since they’d left Sunnydale, nearly two hours ago. She hadn’t needed to. Her silence screamed her discontent.

Buffy sighed and traded a look with Xander. He’d given up a work-free afternoon with Anya to drive them to L.A., and for his trouble, he was sharing the number one position on Dawn’s blacklist with Buffy. He shrugged lightly and gave Buffy a hint of a sympathetic smile as he returned his attention fully to the road.

Yeah, she’ll hate me, thought Buffy. But if this keeps her alive, it’s worth it. I can’t bear to lose anyone else, especially not her . . .

***

Cordelia’s eyes took a moment to adjust as she, Wesley, and Gunn entered the Hyperion. They normally would not have been here at this time of day. Their sudden appearance seemed to worry Angel, who was descending a ladder, plaster dust frosting his short-cropped hair.

"Did I do something?" he asked nervously.

Wesley looked startled at the inquiry. "No, actually, Cordelia had a vision and called us."

"Someone’s coming," Cordelia said. "It was one of the vague ones. All I got was that someone’s coming here with a request, and we need to say yes to it. Well, that and it’s a girl, and she’s sad." The three descended further into the hotel lobby, and Cordelia shucked her coat on the couch.

"Coming here?" Angel asked.

"Well, duh." The words came out perhaps sharper than Cordelia had meant them, and she once again was wishing that everything could go back to the way it had been last summer, before Darla, before his Crazy, before everything went down the toilet. Before she had to worry about her tone of voice with him. Before she and Angel had to walk on eggshells around each other.

She also wanted a private jet, while she was dreaming.

A moment later, the doors to the Hyperion opened and admitted three more figures. Cordelia immediately forgot about everything else.

"Hi, Angel," said Buffy quietly.

"Hey," greeted Xander, giving a general wave.

The girl between them, Buffy’s little sister, Dawn, said nothing. She was sulking almost audibly. Great waves of sulk were rolling off her. A sulk demon would surely manifest soon.

"The answer’s yes," was how Angel greeted them.

Buffy looked puzzled. "But you don’t even know what I was going to ask you."

Angel inclined his head toward Cordelia. "We just got a message from the Powers That Be that someone was headed here with a request, and we’re supposed to say yes to it."

"Want to know what the request is?" asked Buffy, nonplused.

"That would also be a yes," answered Cordelia.

Buffy breathed in. "Okay. Angel, I need a huge favor. There are portents of Big Bad Things in Sunnydale, it looks like I’m going to be fighting all weekend, and I need someone to look after Dawn, because of . . . you know, and I was wondering if, just for the weekend, she could stay with you, because I’ve really got no one else to turn to, not that you’re a last resort or anything . . ." She trailed off.

Angel took this in. "The answer’s yes."

"Great. Could we talk a moment?"

"The answer’s yes."

Buffy and Angel withdrew to his office. Xander looked around and cleared his throat. Dawn ascended to yet another level of sulk.

"Cordy. So, how are those visions?" asked Xander finally.

Inside Angel’s office, he and Buffy talked quietly. "So, Giles thinks that all these Vorik demons and the conjunction mean the Hellmouth has a chance to re-open this weekend?"

Buffy nodded. "That and some other portents. It rained Indian corn on Mrs. Billingslea’s house for an hour last night, and you don’t even want to know about some of the bugs that have come to town. We don’t know if it’s just your run-of-the-mill Hellmouth crisis or if Glory’s going to get into it, but there are a lot of mystical forces converging." The Slayer gave a humorless laugh. "What was that Riley used to say about needing to know the plural of ‘apocalypse’?"

"And you want Dawn out of the way of whatever it is."

"Yeah." Buffy’s eyes lowered. "While . . . while Mom was alive, I didn’t worry about Dawn so much, but now, especially with Glory in town—Angel, I just can’t take the chance. She’s too precious to risk."

During their talk after the funeral, Buffy had confided Dawn’s nature to Angel. He’d taken it well, in spite of his own recollections about the seemingly normal child. Buffy had also told him that should anything happen to her, she wanted Angel to take Dawn. He had agreed to that without qualification.

Angel nodded. "It’s not a problem. I’ll protect her."

"I know. But Angel, she’s also really fragile right now. She’s accepted Mom’s death, but she’s hurting. Bad. And on top of everything else that’s happened, I’m sending her away to be babysat by my vampire ex-boyfriend, and she’s hating me about now."

"I get it." Angel smiled gently, brushing a few strands of hair away from Buffy’s face. "I’ll do my best. Promise."

Buffy nodded. "I know." She looked into his face for another few moments, feeling their connection and drawing comfort from it. "I’m really sorry about this. I tried to call, but I didn’t get anyone, and . . . I just couldn’t think of anything else to do. I guess I panicked. You’re the only one I can trust with her."

"I’m glad," Angel said softly. And he was. Being there for Buffy, being someone she could turn to and trust, made him feel like he was coming back to himself after so long. "Don’t worry about a thing. It’s no imposition."

"Thank you." There were tears in Buffy’s eyes for just a moment, but she blinked them away. "Listen, Xander and I should be going. We’ve got to get back before sunset, and . . ."

"Rush hour. I know. Are you doing okay?"

There was a long silence. "Sometimes. And then there are the other times." She swallowed. "I need to get back."

They walked back out into the lobby. Xander was doing small talk with Cordelia and Gunn while Wesley consulted a book. Dawn hadn’t moved, still radiating sulk.

"Dawn?" Buffy sighed inwardly as her sister refused to even acknowledge her presence. "Dawn, Xander and I will be back Sunday evening, and you can call anytime. I’ll be calling tomorrow, too." Dawn continued to pretend Buffy wasn’t there. A black cloud seemed to be spreading outward from her small figure. Buffy braved it to kiss her sister’s forehead. " ‘Bye, sweetie. Everything’ll be okay. Promise."

Xander said his goodbyes and he, too, kissed Dawn’s forehead. "See ya soon, Dawnie." He tossed a "She gets hurt, you get staked" look at Angel, who received it with his usual equanimity, and then both he and Buffy were gone. Dawn remained, having taken her sulk to truly epic proportions.

Angel broke the resultant silence. "Dawn. Welcome to the Hyperion."

No response.

The vampire cleared his throat. "You’ve met Cordelia and Wesley, of course. This is Gunn. Gunn, this is Dawn, Buffy’s little sister."

Gunn gave Dawn a friendly wave, which she acknowledged in no way, shape, or form. More awkward silence followed.

Cordelia considered, really considered, leaving Angel to deal with this on his own. After all, he did deserve it. In the end, though, the sadness she’d felt through her vision decided her. "Well," she said, getting up, "I should head back to my apartment and get some stuff if I’m going to be staying here all weekend."

Dawn actually gave some indication she’d heard that. Angel did a double-take.

"Cordy, you don’t have to . . ."

"Oh, yes, I do." The Seer gave the vampire a baleful look. "Come on, Angel. What do you know about 14-year-old girls? Besides, if I get another vision, someone has to stay here with Dawn while you go fight the baddies. I think I’m elected. ‘Kay?"

The look of relief that flooded Angel’s face was almost pathetic. He got it under control quickly. "You’re right. Thanks, Cordy." I owe you, he mouthed.

She gave him a look that said he most certainly did. "I’ll just be borrowing your car."

As she left, Angel approached Dawn. "Look, Dawn, we seem to be stuck with each other for a few days," he said softly. "If you don’t want to talk, it’s okay. I won’t make you. I’ve been known to go whole weeks without saying a word, myself." Dawn’s eyes flickered briefly to his face, then down again. "C’mon. Let’s find you a room with a shower that works. Then you can look through the bookshelves if you want something to read. I’m afraid I don’t have a television here, but I’m sure we can find you something to keep you from being bored out of your mind."

"Homework." The single word represented a one hundred percent improvement in Dawn’s apparent verbal skills. Angel hid his satisfaction, instead forcing himself to look puzzled. Dawn caught the look and made an impatient noise. "I’ve got my homework. And a book." She lapsed back into silence.

A small triumph, but better than none. "Okay. Let’s find that room."

Angel had explored the Hyperion extensively and knew that on his floor, only two rooms other than his own still had functional (and not-scary) plumbing. Of those two, one also had electrical outlets that worked. It was, fortuitously enough, just adjacent to his room. He led Dawn in, showing her the room’s amenities and turning on lights, then left her in order to find bedding. He’d been able to salvage quite a bit in the way of blankets and sheets. After a few minutes, he returned to Dawn’s room with a set of sheets, a blanket, a down comforter of his own, and a lamp that actually worked. The bedding he set down on the bed, where Dawn had placed her duffel. The lamp went on the nightstand.

"You hungry?" Dawn shook her head. "Cordy will probably bring back pizza or something, so whenever you are hungry, there’ll be food." The girl still wasn’t talking. Angel felt compassion welling up for her. "If you need me, I’ll be downstairs. Otherwise, my room’s right next to yours. Just call. There’ll always be someone here if you need anything. Okay?"

The gentle note in his voice had some effect on Dawn. She swallowed hard, flicked Angel a glance with watery eyes, and murmured, "Okay."

Angel left her room, breathed a long sigh, and headed back downstairs. Gunn took one look at him, verified he was alone, and busted a gut laughing.

"Man, you must’ve made the Powers That Be mad! That kid’s got one serious ‘tude going there."

Angel smiled ruefully. "Yeah, I doubt this is her idea of a good time." He sobered. "Actually, she hasn’t had any good times lately. In the space of a few months, she learned she’s not really human, found out a demon god is after her, and then, to top it all off, her mother died."

Wesley looked up, puzzled. "Dawn? Not really human? What is she?"

"No one knows. Or at least, no one who’s talking." Angel went over to look at the book Wesley was currently perusing. It was mostly prophecy. "Whatever she started out as, she’s currently a grieving 14-year-old girl with a grieving Slayer as her only family. This weekend should be interesting."

"That’s one way to put it." Gunn slipped back into his coat. "I’ve got some things to do. If the Fair Cordelia gets a vision, I’ve got my cell." With that, Gunn was gone.

Wesley pointed to something in the book. "Does the current crisis in Sunnydale have anything to do with Vorik demons?"

"And a conjunction."

"It’s a millennial apocalypse," Wesley deduced. "A minor one, however. The Slayer ought to be able to deal with it. Now, what’s this about Dawn not being human?"

Angel was about to answer when Cordelia entered, bearing pizza. "How’s Dawn doing?" asked Cordelia.

"I got a few words out of her." Angel shook his head. "She’s dealing. I don’t know how well, but she’s dealing. Thanks for staying, Cordelia."

"Yeah, well, you owe me in a major way." Cordelia popped open the pizza box and took a slice. Angel winced at the garlic smell. "What I can’t figure is why Buffy felt the need to send her sister all the way here. I mean, I know she sent her mom and Dawn away at graduation, but this is just, like, portents, and doesn’t Sunnydale always have those?"

"Actually, Buffy never sent Dawn away before. There’s something you two need to know . . ."

Some time later, mind still reeling from Angel’s revelation about Dawn, Cordelia climbed the stairs, pizza in hand. The door to Dawn’s room was shut. Angel had given Cordelia the extra key, but it turned out to be unnecessary. Dawn hadn’t locked it.

Cordelia’s recollections of Dawn were chiefly of the indirect sort—references made by Buffy, Xander, and Willow. She’d only "met" Dawn a few times, and they’d had almost no interaction.

Correction. They’d never interacted before at all. The thought twisted Cordelia’s brain into a pretty knot. She couldn’t imagine what Dawn must feel about it all.

"Hey, Dawn," said Cordelia as she saw the girl sitting, doing homework on her neatly-made bed. "Pizza. Half veggie, half Hawaiian." Dawn said nothing. Cordelia smiled inwardly. If Angel could get this nut to crack, there was no way she’d stand up to the might of Queen C. "Listen, Angel said that this was the only non-scary room on this floor besides his—although, considering Angel’s idea of scary and non-scary, that might or might not be a good thing—so I’m gonna sack out on the couch. Pizza’s here if you’re hungry, and since I do not trust the water in this place, heck, in L.A., I brought a couple bottled waters with me. Feel free to help yourself."

And that wasn’t the end. Cordelia kept up a running commentary as she unpacked her bag, ranging all the way from her high school days to her ghostly roommate, until finally, Dawn set down her pencil.

"If I hold a conversation for five minutes, will you please let me finish my homework?" The teen’s tone was aggrieved.

Cordelia hid a smile of triumph. "Deal. If you’ll eat something, I’ll even throw in dibs on the first shower in the morning."

The ensuing conversation took considerably longer than five minutes and thoroughly covered how irked Dawn currently was at her sister. During the course of Dawn’s vent, the teen consumed no fewer than four slices of pizza and half a quart bottle of Evian. Cordelia capped off her successful evening with a few Xander stories. Just as Dawn caught herself laughing, though, she suddenly seemed to remember her homework and clammed up again. Cordelia sensed she’d pressed things as far as they’d go and withdrew.

As Dawn turned off her lamp, Cordelia watched her from the couch, where she’d made herself a bed. The Seer considered that thread of deep, deep sadness she’d felt through her vision. She didn’t know if it was Dawn’s or Buffy’s or both, but it didn’t matter. This girl needed help beyond just a place to stay for the weekend.

With that thought in mind, Cordelia fell asleep.

***

Dawn couldn’t sleep. Too much was going on in her mind. Anger warred with worry when she thought about Buffy. Whatever happened this weekend was going to be bad, and if Glory showed up, it would only get worse. The thought of losing Buffy made Dawn’s chest feel heavy. If something happened to her, what would become of Dawn? Would she just have to stay here, guarded by Angel—who’d always scared her a little, even before she’d known he could go bad?

And how could Buffy do this, anyway? How could she just pass her own sister off on a vampire? Especially with Mom being . . . dead. Maybe Buffy didn’t really care. Maybe it was just the spell the monks cast that made her think she cared, and now it was wearing off.

Dawn turned over again, trying to get away from her thoughts. From the other room, she heard Cordelia’s breathing, slow and steady with sleep.

The teen threw off her blankets and slipped from the bed. She put on her slippers, walked to the door, dimly illuminated by the ambient light from the city outside, and left the room as quietly as she could.

The Hyperion seemed cavernous and frightening to her in the darkness. There was light coming from the direction of the stairwell, though, and Dawn followed it. She descended into the lobby and found the light was coming from the office. Inside, she saw Angel sitting, wearing dark pants and a white tank top, and it looked for all the world like he was drawing something. As she crept closer, Dawn realized that’s exactly what he was doing.

His eyes flicked up to her figure, then went back to his drawing. He didn’t seem surprised to see her or in any way concerned that she was awake and out of bed. Curious, Dawn plucked up her courage and walked into the office itself.

"Hi, Dawn," Angel said quietly. "Couldn’t sleep?"

Dawn shook her head. "What are you doing?"

"Sketching." Angel turned his tablet toward her. There was a series of skillful pencil sketches on it, ranging from Cordelia’s face to a small bird to a fanciful sword.

"I like art," Dawn told him, hoping to keep him from sending her back to bed. "It’s my favorite class at school. The teacher says I’m pretty good, too."

"Drawing? Painting? Sculpting?"

"Drawing, mostly. I’m not all that good with painting. My friend Lisa’s better at that. We haven’t really gotten into sculpting yet, but Mrs. Jennings says we will soon. I like using charcoal."

Angel seemed to take this in, still sketching. "I like pencil drawing best. Sometimes it clears the cobwebs out of my head." He gave a short, rueful laugh. "Then again, sometimes it doesn’t."

"Do you think you could draw me?" Dawn blurted suddenly. She sat down on the desk, a few feet away from him, and drew her knees up to her chest.

Angel stopped his sketching and looked at her. "I could, I suppose. Do you want me to?"

Dawn nodded. The heaviness in her chest was trying to choke her. "Would you? Now?"

"Dawn, it’s the middle of the night."

"I know." She felt herself starting to shake and forced it away. "But you see, the way Buffy figured out I wasn’t her sister, wasn’t really, was that she went into this trance, and when she was in it, all the photographs of me kept fading in and out. So I thought, you know, that whenever the monks take me back or whatever, I might just fade out of all the photographs, and Buffy would have nothing to—to make her remember me, and she might just forget, and I thought that maybe if there was a drawing or a painting of me or something, that would stay, and even if she didn’t really remember, she would still have that. She says she’ll never forget me, but maybe—maybe she won’t have a choice, you know? Like the monks made her remember me, and they might make her forget me, too, so I was just thinking . . ." Dawn couldn’t stop the shaking. She could hear it in her voice.

And Angel was there. Standing right by her, even though she hadn’t heard him move at all. Standing there with such pain in his eyes, as if he was feeling everything she was. Somehow, seeing that empathy in his dark eyes crumbled every last one of Dawn’s defenses. The heaviness in her chest burst, pushing out a deep sob.

A moment later, Angel was seated beside her on the desk, gathering her into his arms. Leaning into him, surrounded by that cool strength, she let all her misery flow out. For a time, she just wept uncontrollably. Angel held her close, stroking her hair and making soft shushing noises.

She never would know just how long she cried in his arms. When the tears finally slowed, though, his skin had warmed next to hers.

"I don’t know what I am, Angel," she choked. "I don’t know what’s going to happen to me. What if Buffy beats Glory and the monks just take me away again? What’ll I be then? Or what if Glory gets me?"

"Nothing bad will happen to you, Dawn," Angel soothed her. "Buffy won’t let it. She won’t let the monks take you away, either, if you don’t want to go."

"But what if—what if I’m something evil?"

Angel stiffened. "Dawn, you are not evil."

"But Glory said . . ."

"I don’t care what some demon god said." Angel pulled back, then took Dawn’s face firmly in his hands and forced her to look at him. "You are not evil. You’ve got a lot of power locked up inside you somewhere, but power isn’t about good or evil—it’s all in how you use it. Glory wants to use it for something evil. But that doesn’t make you evil. Do you understand that?"

"I-I guess." Having Angel’s legendary intensity focused on her was by no means comfortable, but it wasn’t as scary as she’d have thought.

In another moment, his face had gentled with humor, and he began to gently wipe the tears from her face with his fingers. "Besides, take it from someone who’s been there—you’re just not it. Evil’s kind of like crazy, in a way. If you can ask whether or not you are, you probably aren’t."

Dawn managed a watery little laugh at that. Angel’s face grew sober again. "Dawn, just before you came, Cordelia had a vision that said we were to help you. The Powers That Be want me to protect you, and they’re the powers for good in the universe. Would they want me to protect something evil?"

She hadn’t thought of that. It made her feel better. "I guess not."

Angel reached back and found a box of tissues. "Here. Clean your face up, and we’ll see about that drawing, okay?"

"You mean you’ll do it?" Dawn wiped her face dry and blew her nose, then got another tissue.

"Of course." Angel brushed her hair back from her face with one hand, tucking some loose strands behind her ear. "It won’t take long. I’ll fill in the background after I get your figure sketched."

"How do I look?" asked Dawn, giving her eyes one last wipe. She was fairly certain she looked like a wet rat.

"You’re very pretty." Angel went back to his chair and picked up his drawing pad, flipping to a clean sheet. "No, don’t look directly at me. Find something on the bookshelves to look at."

Dawn obeyed, commenting as she did so, "You’re being really nice. Maybe I was wrong about you."

A soft chuckle answered her. "No. I’m sure you weren’t. Tell me about school."

The teen did so, describing her classes, teachers, friends, and Kirstie’s little clan. Angel, in response, reminded her about Cordelia’s clique from when she’d been in high school. Dawn resolved to wrangle some teen queen combat tips out of Cordelia sometime this weekend.

The late night and emotional upset, though, were catching up with her. Dawn found herself yawning and nearly nodding off before long. The soft scratching of Angel’s pencil didn’t help matters any. If she listened, she would get lost in the sound . . .

And then he was there again, setting down his pad on the desk. One arm reached around Dawn’s back, the other under her knees, and she leaned contentedly into him as he lifted her smoothly from the desk. Just before she closed her eyes, Dawn caught sight of the drawing Angel had done: her small figure, suspended alone in the middle of a white page.

***

Angel set Dawn down gently in her bed. The girl was deeply asleep and didn’t even stir as he pulled the covers over her and smoothed them.

As he looked down at her face, a sudden pang shot through his heart as he realized just who she reminded him of. On impulse, Angel leaned down and kissed her forehead, whispering, "Sweet dreams, Dawn."

"Angel." The whisper came from the sitting room. Angel walked over and hunched down by Cordelia’s couch.

"What is it?"

He could see Cordelia’s eyes, wide and concerned, in the night. "Is she okay? I woke up and she was gone, and when I went downstairs to find her, I saw her crying with you."

"She’s okay. I think." Angel furrowed his brow, realizing what a thoroughly unsatisfactory answer that was. "There’s a lot she’s dealing with right now. She doesn’t know what she is. She’s worried she might be evil, and hey—who’s the expert on that?" He grimaced. "I think I managed to talk her out of that thought."

"What a mind job for a 14-year-old. Those monks couldn’t have made her just a little older?" Cordelia shook her head. "I think she needs some good, old-fashioned distraction."

"As long as it doesn’t involve taking her out of my general vicinity. Buffy was pretty specific: I leave her alone, I die."

Cordelia appeared to consider it. "Tempting as that sounds, what I’m thinking won’t involve going anywhere. Trust me."

"I do." Angel stood. " ‘Night, Cordelia."

 

Chapter 2: Girl Talk with Cordelia

Waking up found Dawn thoroughly disoriented. It took her several minutes to remember where she was, and why, and who might be moving about the sitting room.

"Cordelia?" she mumbled.

The Seer appeared at the bedroom door. "Hey, Dawn. Breakfast is on, if you’re hungry. Angel made pancakes."

Dawn blinked at her. "Angel cooks?"

"Yep. He’s pretty good at it, for a dead guy. Get some clothes on, and I’ll show you where the breakfast nook is in this mausoleum."

Cordelia went back to the sitting room, and Dawn dug into her bag for some blue jeans and a shirt. She didn’t really know why she was bothering; Angel had, after all, seen her in her pajamas last night for quite some time. Dawn blushed at the memory. It was always embarrassing to face someone you’d cried all over, but when that person was your big sister’s ex-boyfriend, and you were in your jammies at the time, a whole new level of humiliation could be attained.

When she got downstairs, however, Angel was nowhere to be found. She helped herself to some pancakes and milk and sat down with Cordelia. "Where’s Angel?"

"Napping, probably," said Cordelia with a shrug. "Even vampires need to sleep sometimes. Scream and he’ll come running."

Although Cordelia spoke casually enough of Angel, Dawn had a strange feeling that all was not quite right there. It occurred to her that she’d barely seen them interact at all, though Buffy had mentioned the two of them had grown close. She filed it away under "What’s with that?" in her brain and concentrated on breakfast. Cordelia was right; Angel could cook. He could cook very well, in fact.

"Like I said last night, you can have the first shower," Cordelia went on. "I need to touch up my highlights, anyway. Looks like I’ll have some time today."

Dawn noted Cordelia’s blond-streaked hair with some envy. She’d wanted to do something daring with her own hair for quite some time, but never quite had the nerve—or the money.

Cordelia made an off-hand gesture. "Heck, I could probably do yours, with the time we’ve got." She touched her fork to her lips as if considering. "Want me to? Just a bit around your face?"

***

". . . so Kirstie thinks she’s *so* hot just because her father owns Sunnydale First National now. I swear, she wears her labels out just so you can see all her clothes are designer. And she’s always talking like she knows everything. Like, if someone comes to school with a sprained ankle, she starts telling stories about how they got it in a gang fight, and it’s totally not true, but she’s not going to admit she doesn’t know everything."

Dawn talked from her perch on the bathroom counter as Cordelia separated out another lock of her hair and painted it with color. Both of them had foil-wrapped hair sticking out in all directions from their faces, which were covered in turquoise mud masks. Had they but known it, they looked remarkably like a pair of young Korvah demons.

"You know," opined Cordelia, "teen queens aren’t really that tough. Want the 411?" Dawn nodded eagerly. "This Kirstie of yours knows her position’s precarious. One slip, and the next-highest-ranking girl, who would be . . ?"

"Allison," supplied Dawn with a roll of her eyes.

"Allison will stage a royal coup, and Kirstie will suddenly be at the bottom of the social heap. Happened to me, you know, and all on account of Xander. So anyway, Kirstie knows that her friends? They aren’t real friends. They’re hanging around her because she’s the big fish in the pond, and they want to be popular. She runs the school, she makes them popular, and they make her popular. It’s not real. They’re about as interested in her as . . ." Cordelia thought about it a moment before coming up with her next analogy. "As vampires. They’re just using her."

"That doesn’t sound fun." Dawn wrinkled her nose, cracking her mud mask. "So why would she want them around?"

"Because it’s better than nothing." Cordelia’s voice was quiet. "Teen queens are very lonely people. Why else do you think she’s so mean?" She finished with Dawn’s hair. "It won’t last past high school, of course. For example, she could end up with no money, no boyfriend, and working with a souled vampire in Los Angeles."

Dawn laughed at that. "So what do I do when she’s being a total bee-otch?"

Cordelia thought it over. "You know, I went out of my way to be mean to a lot of people in high school. Some gave it back, some just curled up and took it, but there were a few who just didn’t take it. Never gave it back or anything, they just acted like whatever I thought of them didn’t matter. They were secure, I wasn’t, and they knew exactly what the score was. After awhile, I just avoided them."

Dawn nodded. "That makes sense. My friend Lisa’s kind of like that. Things don’t get to her like they do with me. I guess—I just want to be, you know, the girl people notice. Like you."

"Dawn, you’re beautiful," Cordelia told her very seriously. "You’ve got gorgeous skin and the kind of blue eyes I always wanted. We’re just going to bring out the hottie with a little makeover. You ready?"

"Oh, yeah!"

***

"I’m afraid I’m drawing a blank," sighed Wesley. He’d come over to the Hyperion to look through Angel’s books after his own came up dry.

Angel shook his head. "The Verana Codex is empty, too. There’s nothing about a Key anyplace I’ve looked."

Wesley shut the book he was perusing. "I’ve come across exactly two references. One is in a book about the Knights of Byzantium and involves talk of destroying the Key because ‘this is the will of God.’ Not exactly what we want to tell Dawn. The other was more obscure—a nun named Siobhan, a contemporary of Saint Patrick, mentioned a Key in her writings in connection to battles between spiritual forces, but the reference was so vague I can’t tell if she was speaking literally or figuratively. At least she was more positive than the Knights—but then, they always were a hot-headed bunch." He shook his head. "I suppose it was rather arrogant of me to believe I could come up with something the Watchers Council missed."

Things had gotten a little easier between Angel and Wesley. About the third time Wesley had demanded coffee service, Angel had put his foot down, saying that while he was ready to help out any way he could and willing to atone as long as he had to, he drew the line at being the office’s "man-bitch." The strange thing was, Wesley had actually seemed pleased at that. Still, his English reserve was a little hard to read, even for Angel. Only time would tell if healing had taken place.

"Wait, what’s this? This man." Angel indicated a passage in the Codex for Wesley, who looked it over. The ex-Watcher shook his head.

"No, that man was a Hook. We know what they are."

"A Hook?"

"A person who’s a magnet for spiritual forces. Hooks can become quite powerful, given time and experience."

Angel’s brow crinkled. "Sort of a human Hellmouth?"

"No, Hooks can be good. In fact, there’s speculation that some of the great Saints have been Hooks. There’s a story about . . ." Wesley was cut off as Angel sat bolt upright. "What is it?"

"I hear . . ."

A moment later, Wesley heard it, too. Screaming. They looked up, where the sound was coming from. Suddenly, Dawn’s small figure was running across the balcony, heading for the stairs.

"Angel Angel Angel ANGEL!!!!!"

Two leaps, and Angel met her on the stairs. The girl was babbling hysterically, throwing herself at him.

"Cordelia, there’s something wrong, she fell, she fell and grabbed her head, there’s something wrong with her, Angel, there’s something wrong, she screamed and fell . . ."

Wesley had joined them on the stairs. He traded a look with Angel. "Vision."

Angel had Dawn by the shoulders. "Dawn, listen, Dawn, there’s nothing wrong with her—breathe!"

That word cut through Dawn’s hysteria. She gasped in a breath. Angel could hear her heart racing, smell the panic pouring off her. He took her face in his hands again.

"I’d best check on Cordelia. Take care of Dawn," ordered Wesley, and he headed up the stairs.

Angel turned his attention firmly to Dawn. He helped her sit down on the stairs. "Dawn, nothing’s wrong with Cordelia. That’s the way she gets her visions. Are you hearing me?"

The girl gasped in another breath, her panic starting to ebb. "There isn’t anything wrong—in her brain?"

"No, no. Nothing wrong . . . oh, Dawn." Angel pulled her against his shoulder, realizing. "There’s nothing wrong in Cordelia’s brain. It’s just a vision. I know it looks scary, but she’s fine. I promise."

Dawn pulled away, flushing deeply as hysteria gave way to embarrassment. "I-I’m sorry."

"No need." The smell of fear was fading in favor of the smell of peroxide and shampoo, evidence of Cordelia’s ministrations. Angel brushed a blond-streaked lock of hair back from Dawn’s face. "Come on. Let’s see how she is."

He helped her up, and the two headed for the bathroom where Cordelia had been hit by the vision. The Seer’s hair was still wet, and she was sitting on the floor, taking a couple of pills Wesley had brought her. Dawn, shaking, went to her side and knelt down.

"Are you okay?" the teen asked, voice thick.

Cordelia blinked and shook her head to clear it. "Uh-huh. Just a few sparks left."

Wesley turned to Angel. "It sounds like a Razoth Beast is loose in the sewers."

"What’s that?"

"Something big and spiky with way too many teeth," answered Cordelia. "You’ll need backup for this one."

"Its spines are venomous, and the antidote is nearly as unpleasant as the poison," Wesley added. "Try not to get stabbed. I think I’ll stay here with Cordelia and Dawn—you should call Gunn."

Angel nodded. "Will do. Anyplace I should look for this thing?"

"It’s actually about where our old office was set up, but it’ll be headed toward us."

Pulling out his cell phone, Angel turned and made for the weapons. Cordelia took a deep breath. "Welcome to my world. You okay, Dawn? I’m sorry I scared you."

Dawn had gone into a mope. "Great. Angel’s gonna think I’m a total freak-out."

Wesley hunched down, gray eyes serious. "Dawn, I assure you Angel only thinks what we do: that you’re a young person dealing with things that would send most adults over the edge, and you’re doing a remarkable job of it."

"Do you really think so?" Dawn asked, looking at him pleadingly.

"Oh, totally," said Cordelia. "If it was me at your age, I’d have gone mental."

"Checked out, leaving no forwarding address," agreed Wesley.

That got a small grin out of Dawn, but it faded quickly. "I was just worried—when you fell down like that, that something had happened in your brain, just like . . ." She trailed off.

It took a moment for that to register with Cordelia. Her eyes grew wide with sympathy. "Oh, Dawn," she breathed, and drew the teen into a gentle embrace. "I promise you, there is nothing wrong with my brain."

Wesley couldn’t resist. "Now, that may be a slight exaggeration . . ."

"Oh! You!" Cordelia grabbed the first weapon at hand, which happened to be her half-full glass of water. Wesley got splashed. Dawn laughed. "Get out of here. Dawn’s makeover got interrupted by the Powers That Be."

"The male of the species, finding himself in hostile territory, withdrew," intoned Wesley, and he left, shutting the door behind him.

Dawn giggled as she perched back on the counter, then sobered. "Do you think Angel and Gunn will be all right?"

"Fighting some beast? That’s everyday stuff around here. Now, I’ve got some foundation that’s too light for me, even when I don’t have a tan, and I bet it’d be just about perfect for you . . ."

 

Chapter 3: Spells and Potions with Wesley

Cordelia was just putting the last pin into Dawn’s elegant French roll when they heard voices coming up the stairs.

Wesley’s voice was the first they understood, and he was in full lecture mode. ". . . and while I appreciate that you can take more damage than the rest of us, getting stabbed through the chest with a Razoth Beast’s spine smacks of pure carelessness!"

"Not my idea of fun, either." Angel’s voice, coming with great effort. "It was going for Gunn, and I thought . . ."

"You’re immortal, not indestructible," Wesley reminded him stiffly.

"Hey, he’s less destructible than me. I’m not complaining." That was Gunn, sounding tired and in pain.

"Paramedic Cordy time," sighed Cordelia. "I’ve gotta go. The bandages and stuff are in Angel’s bathroom. You don’t want to come, believe me. Wounded vampire—gross!"

Dawn, therefore, followed Cordelia into Angel’s room. She was the Key by nature, but a little sister by profession. She couldn’t not snoop.

Inside Angel’s room, Angel had taken off his shirt. His back was to Dawn, and Cordelia was just taping a piece of gauze in place high on the left side of his back. Gunn was sitting beside Angel, washing a deep cut on his left arm.

Wesley, meanwhile, was examining Angel’s coat, which had copious amounts of grayish-white fluid all over it. "You said this is the Beast’s blood?"

"That’s what sprayed all over us when I cut off its head, yes," confirmed Angel. His voice was raspy.

"Stuff smells worse than the sewer," added Gunn.

"Well, I’m glad you brought some back with you, because—Dawn, you shouldn’t be in here."

Three heads turned to look at her. Dawn tried hard to look nonchalant.

"Big deal. I’ve seen Buffy getting patched up before, and it’s not like I’ve never seen a guy without a shirt. Cool tattoo, Angel."

To her amazement, the vampire looked shy. "Um, thanks. Would you mind getting me a shirt from the closet? Preferably a button-down." He winced as Cordelia patched up something on his chest.

Dawn rolled her eyes, realizing he was just getting rid of her, and went to the closet. "You want black, black, or black?"

Gunn guffawed. Cordelia sniggered. Angel sighed and winced again. Dawn brought him a short-sleeved button-down, which he started to get into as soon as Cordelia finished with his chest. "Thanks."

Wesley watched the girl with some worry. Angel had told him about her questions from the night before. It seemed to him to be a terrible load for her to carry, and from what he knew, things would only get worse.

Cordelia moved to Gunn. Dawn was looking on with some interest as the older girl began to close the cut on Gunn’s arm with clear tape closures, something they bought in bulk around here. Wesley turned his attention back to the blood-soaked coat in his hands.

"I suppose I ought to get started on the curative for the poison. You’re both going to need it, as I don’t know what effect the Beast’s venom has on vampires."

"I just got winged," Gunn protested.

"You still were infected with the venom," Wesley pointed out, "and it’s much better safe than sorry. I’ll make the potion."

"Potion?" Suddenly, Dawn’s face lit up. "Can I help?"

Wesley started to form the word "no," but stopped. He, too, knew what it was like to feel left out and useless. "Certainly. I’d be grateful for your help. And incidentally, Dawn—you look smashing."

"For you two boys who don’t know the meaning of the term, that’s a compliment. Com-pli-ment. Look it up," Cordelia told Gunn and Angel.

Dawn giggled and bounced and happily followed Wesley down to the kitchen. Wesley measured a few herbs into a mortar, which he handed to Dawn along with the pestle.

"Would you be so kind as to grind those into a powder?"

"Sure. What are all these?"

Wesley told her as he put some water on to boil and began collecting the Beast’s blood off the coat. To his surprise, she knew quite a bit about the properties of most of the herbs.

"Willow and Tara tell me some stuff. Willow even got me a book. Besides, Giles has that magic shop, and I do my homework there sometimes . . ." and she began to thoroughly fill Wesley in on her life in Sunnydale. Wesley listened while adding a few ingredients to the water.

"Is this good?" Dawn asked, interrupting the flow of her narrative.

Wesley inspected her work. "Perfectly. Would you mind getting the orange container from the refrigerator? There’s a root inside we need. You’ll need to grind up a few pieces of it. The larger mortar and pestle are in the appliance garage."

Dawn collected the root and, per Wesley’s instructions, placed a few pieces of the root in the larger mortar and began to work on it.

"Wesley, can I ask you something?"

"Certainly."

"What did the monks do? To everybody’s memories?" She looked over at him. "I mean, we never met, never really met before, but I’ve got all these memories of you from Sunnydale, and you remember me, too. Like, when I used to stop by the library and you’d be there, or when Buffy would complain about you and call you Wesley Wimpy-Spice, or . . ."

"I quite get the point, Dawn." Wesley thought a moment, reflecting only briefly upon how much he hated the Spice Girls. "There is a particular type of spell that has been used since the Middle Ages called Mnemosyne’s Confessor. There was a particular sorcerer, one Teriatus, who actually used it to con wealthy families out of inheritances. You see, he would cast the spell, and the next day, he would turn up at their residence. They would believe him to be an older son. As the spell set in, he would become privy to their memories and begin to insert himself into them. Furthermore, the spell was self-perpetuating. Say he had inserted himself into a memory of going riding with a particular son. When that son mentioned the incident to the person who was actually there for that ride, even if that one had never met the sorcerer, he would suddenly have that same memory—and never be the wiser.

"My belief is that the monks used something similar with you. When they . . . created your body, they most likely placed a glamour on you to make you exude a certain familiarity. It would have had to work most strongly upon your family, of course, and from there, it spread to your sister’s friends. It also reflected back to you, as you shared in their memories. The longer the spell has gone on, the more complex it has become; you’re now bound up completely in the memories of those you’ve shared your life with."

Dawn seemed to take it in, still crushing the root. "So—you’re saying it can’t be broken?"

"I honestly don’t know, Dawn. The monks who did this must have enormous power, for it isn’t an easy spell to cast, let alone on this level. It’s possible they could reverse it, but not altogether certain."

The girl nodded. "Is this good for the root?"

"Just a little more."

"So, you’re saying they didn’t really remember me at first?"

"No, not really." Wesley gathered his thoughts as he added some of the Beast’s blood to the brewing potion. "They would have felt that they knew you, and that you were a younger sister. It’s only as they began to think of you, to recollect those million memories we access every day, that they would have begun filling you into them in a logical fashion. Take, for example, someone who was in Sunnydale before you came—can you think of anyone?"

Dawn thought. "Oz, maybe."

"Excellent. Oz. Right now, he has no memory of you. However, the instant anyone mentions you to him, the spell would begin working on him. He would begin reflecting back their memories and adding his own, and a new level of complexity would be added to the spell. He would never recall not having known you, although in fact he does not, at the moment."

"Wow. That’s weird. Now?"

"Indeed. And yes, we can add that to the potion now—careful, it stains horribly if you get it on your clothes. I’d imagine that for Buffy, with her Slayer senses and instincts, there would have been some amount of cognitive dissonance, at least at first."

Dawn finished scraping the mortar into the brew. "What’s that mean?"

"Simply put, while her mind was telling her you were her sister, the Slayer in her would have been screaming that something was terribly wrong, and you were at the center of it."

"So that’s it!" Dawn set down the mortar with a clunk. "She was being such a bee-otch last year, like she couldn’t stand me, and then suddenly, she was okay." The girl’s brow furrowed. "And that was right after she did the spell and figured out I wasn’t her sister, I think. She told me I wasn’t her sister, and then all of a sudden, she started being nice again."

"That would make sense," concurred Wesley. "Once she knew what was causing the cognitive dissonance, it became less. May I ask you a question, Dawn?"

"Sure."

"Why did you never discuss this with Mr. Giles? Surely he would have access to the same information I have, perhaps more."

Dawn shrugged. "Well, Giles isn’t exactly the easiest person to talk to unless you’re Buffy, you know?"

"As a matter of fact, I’ve noticed that myself on any number of occasions. One last ingredient here, and we’ll be done."

"Cool." Dawn looked at the brew with pride. "Can I ask you another question, Wesley?"

"Of course."

"Why do they all call Giles by his last name, but not you?"

Wesley was examining some oil critically. "I would imagine because ‘Wyndam-Pryce’ is rather cumbersome. Step back; if I’ve done this right, this should be perfectly spectacular."

He poured the oil onto the mix, and immediately, purple flames whooshed up from the kettle.

"Cool!" Dawn’s eyes were wide.

"I’d say so." Wesley turned and offered Dawn a hand to shake. "Thank you for your assistance, Dawn."

Dawn shook it. "You’re quite welcome, Wesley."

Wesley poured the potion through a strainer into two mugs. Dawn carried one upstairs, Wesley just behind her. When they got to Angel’s bedroom, Dawn handed hers to Angel while Wesley gave the other to Gunn, who declared preemptively, "I ain’t drinkin’ that." He tried to hand the mug back to Wesley

"What is that smell?" coughed Cordelia, eyes watering. Dawn and Wesley had become somewhat acclimated to it.

Gunn wasn’t nearly so lucky. "Take it back, English, ‘cause I ain’t takin’ it."

Angel eyed his mug, looked at Dawn, who was smiling hopefully, then downed the potion in one gulp. He made a terrible face. Dawn giggled. Angel winked at her, handed her back the mug, and turned to Gunn with a straight face. "It’s not that bad."

"Says the guy who drinks microwaved pig’s blood for breakfast. Not doing it."

Wesley sighed, trading looks with Angel and Dawn. "Very well, Gunn. No need to take it. Not unless you’ve got something against your central nervous system slowly deteriorating as the venom attacks it. The seizures and mental lapses should begin within a week, followed by madness, a vegetative state that should last no longer than a month, and death."

"I hate you, English."

"I’m aware of that. Bottoms up."

"Hold your breath," advised Angel. "It helps if you don’t breathe."

"I hate you, too, Soul-Boy." Nonetheless, Gunn lifted the cup, pinching his nose, and knocked back the potion. Angel’s face was nothing compared to Gunn’s as the young man choked and gagged and finally managed to keep it down. "That stuff tastes like refried . . ." He caught sight of Dawn. "Crap."

Wesley calmly took the cup from him. "I believe my work is done. Mine and that of my lovely assistant, Miss Dawn Summers, of course."

Dawn was grinning from ear to ear. "I don’t see why the Watchers fired you, Wesley. I think you’re great at this stuff."

For some reason, that truly touched him. "Thank you, Dawn."

Dawn babbled on happily. "If you want, I could talk to Buffy and she could get you back in. She made the Council take Giles back. Xander says she’s got ‘em by the . . ."

"Perhaps we should run these mugs back downstairs," Wesley said hastily. "Come along, Dawn."

 

*Author’s Note: Kate-friendly fic ahead. Just warning you. If you can’t handle the concept, feel free to wait for the next chapter. Just don’t go kvetching to me about how much you hate her. You’ll only waste your own time and annoy me.

*Note II: No, the mention of Honor Harrington isn’t a coincidence. Yes, that’s where I get my pseudonym. Go buy On Basilisk Station by David Weber. Promise you won’t regret it. Now, without further ado:

Chapter 4: Growing Life with Kate

Dawn had finished her homework the night before, so when she found herself with some spare time, she fetched her book and sprawled on the lobby couch. It was a good book, one of David Weber’s Honor Harrington sci-fi series. Dawn was one of those readers who could get so lost in her reading that all outside stimuli are filtered out, and she was thoroughly wrapped up in the Star Kingdom of Manticore when she became vaguely aware of a sound that had been reaching her ears for quite some time: singing. Curious, she got up and followed it.

It was a woman’s voice singing, a soft, jazzy alto that was pleasant to the ears. Gradually, Dawn began to hear the words:

"You’ll remember me when the west wind moves

Upon the fields of barley

You’ll forget the sun in his jealous sky

As we walk in fields of gold."

The sound led her to an open, sunny courtyard almost at the center of the Hyperion. Dawn blinked at the brightness, then spotted the singer. A woman with blond hair was bent over a patch of earth, digging industriously. A pallet of flowers sat beside her, and one by one, they were being planted into a flower bed.

"So she took her love for to gaze awhile

Upon the fields of barley

In his arms she fell as her hair came down

Among the fields of gold."

As the woman sang this, she was planting marigolds into what looked very like a field of gold. Dawn wandered out into the sunlight.

"Hi," she said.

The blond woman looked up. She was pretty, with her blond hair and light blue eyes, but not in the same way Cordelia was pretty. This woman looked like she spent very little time worrying about her appearance. Her hair was pulled back into a kerchief, she wore no makeup, and her clothes were serviceable for a day in the garden. Somehow, Dawn couldn’t picture Cordelia wearing tattered blue jeans, a faded college t-shirt, and a flannel that had clearly seen better days, even if she had been digging in the dirt.

"Hello," the woman greeted in the same husky alto she’d been singing with. "You must be Dawn. Angel told me he had a guest for the weekend. I’m Kate."

Dawn walked further into the courtyard. "What are you doing?"

Kate smiled. "A little gardening. I find it relaxing. My apartment doesn’t exactly have the room for this, and since this place obviously needs it so badly—well. Match made in Heaven."

There was something about this woman that Dawn thought was familiar. Something about the look in her eyes. The teen knelt down and began to carefully remove a marigold from its planter. She handed it to Kate, who had dug a hole for it.

"How do you know Angel?" Dawn asked.

Kate seemed to ponder it for a moment before finally answering, "He’s a friend. How do you know him?"

"He’s my big sister’s ex-boyfriend. One of them, anyway. She was worried about some stuff that was happening in Sunnydale, so she’s making him babysit me for the weekend." Dawn punctuated this with a roll of her eyes.

"I hear a lot of bad stuff goes on in Sunnydale." The statement almost sounded like a question. Dawn realized it was.

"You mean all the vampires and demons?" Kate betrayed a little surprise at this, but in such a way that Dawn knew she was in on things. "Yeah. My sister’s the Slayer. It’s her job to kill them, and she was afraid it’d get too hot this weekend, so she sent me to her ex the vampire."

Kate accepted another marigold from Dawn. "Do you see Angel a lot?"

"Nope. Not since he moved away. What about you?"

"Some." Kate shrugged. "More nowadays than I used to. I’m a little . . . between jobs at the moment."

"Got fired?" asked Dawn. She instantly knew she’d stuck her foot in it, though, as pain flared in Kate’s eyes. What had seemed so familiar about the woman suddenly became clear: she was, as Giles would put it, the "walking wounded." Just like Dawn and Buffy. Just like so many people nowadays. "I’m sorry. I . . . that just slipped out."

"It’s okay," Kate reassured her. She went on in a matter-of-fact tone. "I’m taking some time to think about things, and really, I needed some time off. You’ll understand better when you’re an adult, but sometimes it seems like one thing goes wrong, and suddenly everything’s falling apart, and you can’t stop it."

"I understand that now," said Dawn quietly.

Kate stopped her planting and looked at Dawn. "What happened, Dawn?"

It took a moment to get the words out. "My mother died."

There was a sharp intake of breath from Kate. "I’m so sorry, Dawn. I’m so sorry."

Dawn forced a shrug, looking away. "It’s okay."

Two fingers touched her under the chin, and Dawn looked into Kate’s eyes. "No, it’s not. Don’t let anyone make you feel like you have to say it’s okay, not until you’re ready."

Tears burned in Dawn’s eyes, but she forced them away. "You . . . know?"

"My mother died when I was just a child," said Kate. "It leaves a hole in a girl when that happens."

"That’s what Tara said, too. She’s a friend, and her mother died when she was seventeen." Dawn looked at Kate. "Does it—does it get better?"

"If you deal with it, yeah, it does. I didn’t for a long time, and when my father died last year—well, it wasn’t pretty." Dawn processed that and knew her estimate of Kate had been correct. "But I’m dealing now, and it is getting better. Maybe that’s why I’m gardening so much lately. My mother had a garden, and after she died, I kept it up for her. Some of my best memories are of being in that garden with my mother. She used to sing to her plants. Said it made them grow better."

Dawn laughed. "Mom used to talk to her plants. Buffy always said she sounded like a crazy woman."

"I thought my mother sounded like an angel when she sang," Kate said wistfully. "She insisted that they loved Patsy Cline."

"Who?"

Kate laughed. "Patsy Cline. An old-time country singer." She sang: "You know I’m walkin’ after midnight, searching for you."

Dawn shrugged and handed Kate a morning glory. "Never heard of her."

"You’re too young. I personally have this theory that all gardens have their favorites. My flower boxes at my apartment, for instance, love old-time rock and roll, like the Beatles or, better yet, the Byrds. So far, this garden seems to call for Sting."

"Well, it is owned by the King of Pain," said Dawn. Kate gave her a puzzled look. "I heard Willow tell Xander that Buffy told her Riley called Angel ‘Mr. Billowy-Coat King of Pain.’"

Kate sat back on her heels and laughed out loud. "I’ve never heard him described better."

"Am I being mocked?" asked Angel’s voice. Dawn and Kate both jumped. Angel was standing in a shadowed alcove, holding two Nantucket Nectars.

"I was just helping Kate," Dawn said preemptively, jumping up.

Angel smiled. "I can see that. You two thirsty?"

"Very," answered Kate.

Dawn walked over to Angel. Her hands entered the shadow to accept the two cold, sweating bottles of lemonade. She handed one to Kate and took a drink of her own. "Thanks, Angel."

"Garden’s looking lovely, Kate," said Angel. He turned and walked back into the Hyperion. Dawn had a thought that was most intriguing and made a mental note to ask Cordelia about it later.

As Dawn was handing Kate the next morning glory, Kate’s fingers suddenly trapped her wrist and gently turned her arm over. The scar on Dawn’s arm stood out red against her pale skin. Dawn considered lying, but realized that wasn’t going to work with this woman.

"I cut myself," she admitted. "I had a freak-out. It wasn’t the smartest."

Kate took this in. "I took a bunch of pills. Again, not the smartest." She took the morning glory from Dawn and planted it. "I think that’s another reason I’m so obsessed with gardening lately. A garden’s full of life, and it’s beautiful. I guess I need that."

Dawn nodded. "My mom has—had a garden. Buffy can’t keep plants alive for anything, and besides, she doesn’t have time. Maybe I can do it."

"Is your father not at home?" Kate asked, sounding tentative.

"No." The bitterness of disappointment welled up. "He’s in Europe somewhere. We don’t even know where he is. He kind of bailed a few years back, stopped coming up for our birthdays and stuff. Buffy and I had to come to L.A. to see him. Now he’s run off with his secretary." She looked at Kate. "Was your dad around? After your mom died, I mean."

"He was." Kate’s eyes grew sad. "And he wasn’t. He didn’t have any idea how to raise a little girl without a mother. I know now that he did his best, but . . . I wish I could have told him that before he died. I wish I could have let him know I forgave him."

"Was it sudden? When he died?"

"Yes. He was killed by vampires." Kate dug another hole and accepted another flower from Dawn. "Needless to say, I wasn’t too friendly to Angel for awhile. I didn’t see how one of the things that killed my father could be on my side."

Just then, Dawn noticed something. "You got chomped!"

Kate’s fingers came up to the scar on her neck. "Yes, I got chomped. But I lived. Angel . . . saved my life that day."

"Cool." Dawn helped with the last of the morning glories. "Angel’s good at that sort of stuff."

Kate wiped her hands. "Thank you, Dawn. You’ve been very helpful."

The teen reached up to push back a loose strand of her hair. "I’m all sweaty. If my makeup runs, Cordy will kill me. She gave me a makeover earlier."

"Sounds nice," said Kate, and again, there was that wistful note in her voice. Dawn wondered if she had any girlfriends. "I’ve still got some time today, so I think I’m going to get a few more flowers for those stone pots over there. Tell Angel I’ll be back in a half-hour, would you?"

"Sure." She and Kate left the courtyard, and the Hyperion seemed very dark and cool by contrast.

 

Chapter 5: Discovery with Angel and Cordelia

Angel watched Dawn and Kate talk for a moment in the lobby before Kate left. He glanced back down at the desk, where the drawing he’d done of Dawn rested. After he’d put her in bed, he’d filled in the background for the picture, but something was definitely missing. He picked the drawing up, eyeing it critically and reaching for his pencil.

Then his hand stopped. He opened a drawer and picked up a kit filled with colored pencils. Selecting a flesh-colored one, he began to add color to the picture, starting with Dawn’s face. He grew so absorbed in his task it took him by surprise when Dawn entered the office, asking, "What are you doing?"

"Working on your portrait. Want to see?"

Dawn hopped up on the desk beside him and took a look. "Can you change it so I’m not wearing my pajamas?" she asked.

He chuckled. "That’s a little hard at this point. Besides, I kind of like the composition. The office around you will all be in dark colors, and you’ll be in the middle of it in those white pajamas. It’ll draw the eye to you. You see . . ." He cut himself off, seeing the amusement in Dawn’s face. "Okay, so I get enthusiastic about art."

"It’s okay. You’re only human."

Angel chuckled at that and continued coloring. As he did so, he felt a little warm weight settle against his shoulder. It was Dawn, resting her cheek against him. He decided he loved the feeling. She smelled good, of warm earth and sunlight, Cordelia’s makeup set, strawberry shampoo—and that cardigan she was wearing was her mother’s. He recognized Joyce’s perfume.

"How are you doing, Dawn?"

There was a long pause before she answered, "Not great. Better than I was, but not great."

"I can believe that."

"Kate said I shouldn’t tell anybody I was okay until I really was. Sometimes it just saves time, though, y’know?"

"Sometimes," he agreed. "But with people who know you and care about you, you’re better off being honest about not being okay. It’s good you know that now, because it can turn you into a real wreck if you have to figure it out later. Kate and I both made that mistake."

A soft sigh. "I was going to ask if it got easier after the first two centuries."

Angel set down his pencil long enough to affectionately rub a thumb across her warm cheek. "It’s not great—but I’m better than I was."

***

From outside the office, Cordelia watched with a soft pang in her heart. The tenderness of the scene inside reminded her all too vividly of good memories: talking quietly with Angel, leaning on him when she grew sleepy or just needed affection, simply being with the man who had become her first friend—her first real friend.

That was what had hurt so much. When Angel had brushed them all aside to go on his vendetta, she’d lost the first person she’d ever felt love from. Wesley and even Gunn, in his way, loved her now, and Doyle had loved her first, but it wasn’t until she and Angel had bonded in the wake of losing Doyle that she’d first truly understood what it was to be loved. And not in a "romantic," hormonal way, though she thought Xander might have loved her in some teenage-boy fashion. Someone had loved her in the way of a dear and true friend, and she’d loved him in return, and that someone had been Angel.

Now she was afraid they wouldn’t be able to recapture that. She was afraid of not being able to open her heart to him again . . . and she wanted to.

"Cordelia?" It was Wesley. "What are . . ." He trailed off when he saw the scene taking place in the office. Angel was comparing two brown pencils to Dawn’s hair, and she was laughing. As the vampire started coloring again, the girl laid her cheek back against his shoulder.

Cordelia sighed. "Once in a while, just once in a while, I remember why we’re giving him a second chance."

"Yes." Wesley seemed genuinely affected, too. "That does remind one. That, of course, and him bribing you with a new wardrobe."

Cordelia rolled her eyes to the heavens as a familiar round of bickering beckoned. "Okay, that would be Snarky British Guy comment number 316 re: the Angel Collection. I swear, Wesley, you can be such a bitch sometimes."

"At least I’m not a clothes whore."

"And again with the bitchy, No-Butt."

"Fashionista."

"Fashion victim."

Wesley looked at his watch. "I’d continue this, but I’ve errands to run."

"Same time tomorrow?"

"I’ll be ready."

Cordelia watched him go with a grin. Wesley really had been irritated with her for practically jumping all over Angel after he’d given her the clothes, but she suspected he was simply milking the situation in order to have something to irritate her with. Which was okay, seeing as her day planner had "Annoy Wesley" written on every page. What were friends for, if not to drive each other crazy?

She looked back at Angel and Dawn and made another decision. She walked to the door of the office. "Hey, you two. What’s up?"

"Angel’s doing a picture of me," announced Dawn happily.

Angel looked at Cordelia, a slight apprehension in his eyes, as if he was afraid of doing something without getting clearance for it first. She felt a knot clutch in her stomach. Why couldn’t things be simple again?

The Seer walked further into the office, casually surveying the drawing. "It’s beautiful. Couldn’t you do something about the pajamas, though?"

Angel actually laughed. "Kathy asked the same thing."

Cordelia froze.

"Who’s Kathy?" asked Dawn innocently.

Angel froze. His eyes met Cordelia’s, and for a moment, she understood perfectly what he was feeling and thinking. Kathy, his little sister, whom he had loved as a human and killed as a vampire, had been one of his confidences to Cordelia during the previous summer.

Of course Dawn would remind him of her, thought the Seer. She returned his gaze, allowing sympathy to flow into her own eyes.

Dawn looked between them, confused. "What’s wrong?"

"I . . ." Angel looked at her, at a loss. "I had a little sister once, too. That was her name, Kathy. I guess you just remind me of her."

"Really?" Dawn’s interest had been piqued. "What was she like?"

Cordelia watched as Angel tried to gather words. This had to be painful for him, but she didn’t see how she could intervene.

"She was like you. Sweet, smart, imaginative, always wanting to be a part of things. Her hair was darker than yours, and her eyes were my color, but her face was a bit like yours—expressive, wide-open, and very pretty."

"Did you two get along?"

Angel smiled sadly. "While I was human, there was nothing in the world I loved better."

Cordelia really hoped the next question wouldn’t be what she thought it was.

Dawn was looking Angel in the face. "You still remember her."

Another sad smile. "There’s no way I could ever forget."

And that seemed to satisfy Dawn, for she relaxed against Angel once more. Angel looked back up at Cordelia, who smiled gently. For a moment, just a moment, that lost connection was back.

Then the phone rang. Angel automatically picked it up. "Angel Investigations . . . hi, Buffy. Everything’s fine. No, no demons, just a Razoth Beast this morning, and it’s been taken care of . . . no, not inside the hotel, in the sewers. Yes, she’s here." He put his hand over the receiver. "Want to talk to your sister?"

Dawn had instantly gone back into her sulk at the mention of her sister’s name. Cordelia covered a grin. This kid was good!

Reluctantly, the teen accepted the phone. "Hi." Huge, long-suffering sigh. "I’m fine. I finished my homework." Deeper mope. "No, I’ll be fine. Go ahead and slay. ‘Bye." She handed the phone back to Angel, who was maintaining his straight face through sheer force of will.

"Buffy? Yeah, I got that. Don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine. Okay, we’ll see you then." He sobered for real. "Good luck, Buffy. Take care of yourself." He set down the phone and turned to Dawn. "Buffy suggests I give you a noogie."

Dawn bolted from the desk, squealing, and hid behind Cordelia. "Don’t let him!"

"Of course I won’t. Angel, you know she was only maintaining her standing in the Little Sisters’ Guild of America. Am I right, Dawn?"

"I’ve gotta make it hard for her," protested Dawn. "It’s in my contract."

One moment, Angel was laughing. The next, all expression had washed from his face, and he’d risen from the desk. It was scary-as-Hell vampire time.

"What is it?" asked Cordelia.

"Cordelia, you and Dawn stay in here and block the door. Something’s here."

The note of command in his voice was so absolute that Cordelia and Dawn were moving into the office almost before he finished talking. Angel walked out past them, shutting the door, and they began to move the desk in front of it.

"What’s happening?" asked Dawn, her voice small and frightened.

"It’s okay, Dawn. Angel will take care of it." Suddenly, there was movement outside the office. Cordelia watched as Angel, axe in hand, took on a Kaliff demon. There were several of them in the lobby now, all of them attacking. There was also another kind of demon, this one smaller and scabbier than the others, and wearing a monk’s robe. The Seer turned and put one arm around Dawn, forcing the girl to sit down on the floor with her. The sounds of battle continued from outside.

A new sound suddenly entered: the low, frightening snarl of a vampire.

"And the fangs come out," breathed Cordelia. "These guys have made Angel mad. Bad for them."

Sure enough, the sounds of the fight abruptly ceased a few seconds later. There was a hard thump, and then Cordelia heard Angel’s voice. Cautiously, she stood. Dawn was already struggling to move the desk.

As they exited the office, they caught sight of Angel on the far side of the lobby, holding the demon in the monk’s robe against the wall with one hand. Angel’s face was mostly away from them, but Cordelia knew instinctively he was vamped out. The rest of the demons—about five total—lay strewn about the lobby, unconscious or dead.

"Come on," she said to Dawn, but the girl wasn’t moving. She was listening to the "conversation" Angel was having with the demon.

"I said, my name’s Angelus. What’s yours?" This was followed by another thump as Angel bashed the thing’s head on the wall.

The thing apparently had had enough. "I am called Nil, a name not worthy of being spoken in the presence of Her High and Shiny Exaltedness. I am but a humble supplicant of the Grand and Pulchritudinous One, the . . ."

"You’re an obsequious little toady of Glory’s," Angel interrupted.

The demon positively beamed. "The Eminent Angelus is too kind."

"What does she want? Why are you here?"

"She Who Embodies Perfection entrusted this unworthy servant only with the information necessary to complete his mission. I cannot say . . ."

The next thump knocked a piece of the drywall out. "You’ll say, or you’ll bleed."

"Well put, O Forceful One. The Magnificent Glorificus wished to know: Why did the Slayer go to the City of Angels? I was graced with the task of learning this, and given authority over Her" (and he spoke it with a capital "H") "forces in this city. There is also a Razoth Beast approaching, even now."

"Killed it this morning," Angel growled. "You can tell Glory she was too late."

Just then, Nil’s eyes flickered to Dawn and Cordelia. "A body might wonder what the Slayer’s sister is doing in the lair of the Formidable Angelus." He gave an "eep" as Angel’s hand tightened around his throat. "Perhaps he is but saving her for dinner."

"A body won’t wonder long." The quietly-spoken words sent chills down Cordelia’s spine. "Cordelia, take Dawn upstairs. Now."

Cordelia took Dawn’s shoulders and steered her toward the staircase. The girl didn’t resist as Cordelia ushered her up the stairs and to their room. Once there, Dawn went to the sofa and sat, spine stick-straight. Cordelia sat beside her, concerned.

"Angel’s going to kill him, isn’t he?" the girl asked in a flat voice after a moment.

Cordelia took a deep breath. "Yes. If that demon gets back to Glory with the information you’re here, she might figure out you’re the Key."

"This is my fault." Dawn swallowed, shaking. "Buffy keeps getting hurt because of me. All the Scoobies keep getting hurt. Angel and Gunn got hurt. It’s all my fault."

"No!" Cordelia forced Dawn to look at her. "Dawn, listen: less than a year ago, someone tried to kill me, and in a really painful way. They did it to get at Angel. But you know what? I never blamed him, because it wasn’t his choice. He didn’t make them do what they did. All he did was protect me and care for me. The people who tried to kill me were the ones at fault for everything that happened. Buffy and the Slayerettes are protecting you because they love you. Glory’s the one to blame for them getting hurt. Don’t forget that."

Dawn nodded, but Cordelia wasn’t sure she’d penetrated. "My head itches."

"Let’s get those hairpins out, then." Cordelia went and fetched a brush, then seated Dawn on the floor between her knees. One by one, she removed the pins holding Dawn’s French roll. Then she began to brush the younger girl’s hair. Dawn relaxed as she did so, leaning against the Seer’s legs. Cordelia kept brushing until there was a knock at the door.

Angel opened it a moment later but didn’t enter, leaning instead on the doorframe. Cordelia could see the light of battle slowly dying in his eyes.

"It’s over," he said heavily. "I took care of everything. Wesley and Gunn are headed over, and Kate’s already here. Dawn, I called Sunnydale. Buffy said she’s afraid taking you home now would just be a frying-pan-into-the-fire scenario—things are really heating up there—so I told her we’d take care of you tonight, and she’ll come and get you just as soon as she can tomorrow. Cordelia, we’re holding a war council downstairs just as soon as everyone’s here." He breathed deeply. "Are you two okay?"

Dawn said nothing. "We’re okay," Cordelia assured him. "I’ll be down soon."

"All right." Angel turned to leave.

"Are you okay?"

The question was from Dawn. Angel turned back and looked at her.

"Did you get hurt?" she asked.

"No." Angel smiled. "No, I’m fine. Thanks for asking, Dawn."

He left, and Cordelia brushed Dawn’s hair for another few minutes. "Listen, I’m going to have to go down and talk shop with the gang, but I won’t be gone long. Why don’t you . . ."

"I’m going with you," Dawn interrupted.

"Look, Dawn, it’ll just be a lot of boring . . ."

"I’m going with you." The girl’s tone was firm. "I’m sick of people making decisions about me without even checking to see if it’s okay with me. If you guys are going to talk about me, I want to be there."

Not even Queen C could stand up to that. "Okay. We’ll go down together."

 

 

Author’s Note: Sorry, Gunn fans—I couldn’t come up with an idea for a chapter with just him. Take comfort, though; given how terrible I am at writing his dialect, it’s most likely A Good Thing. Love the guy, but he’s impossible to write.

Chapter 6: Telling Stories with Gunn and Cordelia

Gunn, Wesley, Kate, and Angel were all in the lobby when Cordelia and Dawn arrived. Kate gave Dawn a mystified look. Angel must have told her of Dawn’s secret. Cordelia gave Wesley a shrug when he looked at her questioningly. He, in turn, appeared to decide Dawn had as much right to be here as anyone else.

"What’s the plan?" Cordelia asked as she and Dawn seated themselves on the couch.

"Keeping Dawn safe is the priority," Wesley announced. "Therefore, we’ll all be stationed here tonight. All the entrances have been blocked off, Angel has sealed off the sewers, and all routes to Dawn’s room will be guarded. If any of Glory’s minions come back, we should be able to handle them." He paused. "If Glory herself comes, we should at least be able to buy escape time for Dawn. In that case, Cordelia, you’ll be charged with driving her back to Sunnydale. However, Buffy thinks, and I agree, that it is extremely unlikely Glory would leave Sunnydale if she still believes Buffy is guarding the Key personally."

"What about an alarm?" asked Dawn suddenly. "Tara and Willow set up a magical alarm so Glory couldn’t get close without us knowing. Couldn’t you do something like that?"

Wesley seemed startled. "Actually, I might be able to. Now, they’re both experienced witches, so whatever I can do would likely be much less sophisticated, however . . ." He trailed off and fetched a book. "There’s a protection spell in here that’s not too complicated." A frown appeared between his eyes. "Not too sophisticated, either. I’m afraid Angel would set it off just by crossing the threshold."

"Not a problem," said Angel. "I’ll walk perimeter. If I have to come in, setting off an alarm will be a moot point anyway."

"Then it’s done." Wesley set down the book. "I’ll get started on the spell straightaway."

Cordelia felt Dawn lean up against her, and she put her arms around the girl. "See? Not a thing to worry about. These guys can handle anything. Right, Gunn?"

"Absolutely," agreed the young man. "Angel took out five of those things, and I’ve been working the streets since I was your age. Nothing out there we can’t handle. Even English ain’t too bad."

"Your words of praise will be my undoing," deadpanned Wesley.

Dawn looked up at Gunn. "What do you do?"

"I’m a demon fighter, kid. I’ve been fighting vamps and nasties half my life, me and my crew. Best the mean streets have to offer."

"That sounds cool." Dawn relaxed into Cordelia’s embrace. "Bet you’ve got some great stories."

Gunn was on his feet in an instant. "You know it. This one time, me and my boys Domonique and Raul were out patrolling. It was Raul’s first time, and he was all edgy, and Domonique’s just crazy to begin with. I think his mama dropped him when he was a baby or something. Anyways, we were out walkin’ the streets, and Raul’s jumping at every shadow, and Domonique’s giving him a hard time, and I’m just trying to get the two of them to shut themselves up, ‘cause the vamps on the other side of town can hear us, know what I mean?

"So we’re makin’ all this racket, and these four vamps decide we look like good eating. These guys are big and mean and ugly, you know? Like any vamp’s lookin’ good all bumpy-faced, but these guys got hit a few extra times with the ugly stick. I call ‘em Scarface, Snaggletooth, Blondie, ‘cuz this guy had, like, foot-high blond hair, and Moe. Moe’s the smart one, he hangs back when Scarface and Blondie go runnin’ in on us. Domonique stakes Blondie, and it’s even odds. Or it would be if Raul didn’t do a freak-out. That boy’s standing there screaming like a Wesley."

"I object to that remark very strongly," Wesley’s voice informed them from the office.

Gunn grinned wickedly. He was having a great time with his story, acting out all parts while doing the narration. "So anyway, Raul’s screaming like a girly-man, and Domonique and I, we’re just trying to keep from gettin’ sucked. I got my stake knocked out of my hand and had to go in with my fists against Snaggletooth. I knocked some of his crooked teeth down his throat—"

"Without even breaking a sweat," interposed Cordelia.

"You know it. Snaggletooth and me, we’re fightin’, and I see Moe making for Raul. So I go all postal on Snaggletooth, waving my arms and yelling all ‘Aaaah!’ and I swear this vamp was lookin’ at me like, ‘What’s up with this guy?’ but while he’s wonderin’, I’m getting my stake, and poof! There goes Snaggletooth. But Domonique’s still goin’ off on Scarface, and Raul, he’s a sitting duck for Moe. Now, Raul’s got a stake, and he’s holding it out in front of him like this," and Gunn mimed awkwardly holding a stake with both hands about chest high, "like that’s gonna scare Moe.

"So you know what I do? I run over, grab Moe by one arm, and he’s not expecting me. I swing him around like this," Gunn whirled, holding out his arms in front of him, "and he lands poof!" Gunn clapped his hands hard. "Right on Raul’s stake. Domonique finishes killing Scarface, and he’s hooting and howling, and Raul’s tryin’ to hack up a lung, ‘cause he just breathed in a bunch of vamp dust!"

"That’s really gross," opined Angel, gliding past and pulling on his black duster.

"Again I remind you of the pig’s blood," Gunn shot back.

Dawn laughed. "That’s a really great story. Buffy doesn’t tell me stories about slaying. I mean, come on! It’s not like I don’t know what a vampire getting dusted looks like."

Angel knelt down by the couch. "You okay with all this, Dawn?"

"Yeah, I’m fine," Dawn said, and she really seemed to mean it.

Angel leaned in and kissed her forehead. "Don’t worry about a thing. We’re all watching over you." He smiled into her eyes, then stood smoothly and left the building.

Dawn sighed happily, snuggling against Cordelia. "That’s way better than any of my stories, Gunn. All I got was kidnapped by Harmony, and she’s, like . . ."

"Harmony?!?" both Gunn and Cordelia shouted.

"Harmony kidnapped you?" demanded Cordelia.

"Yeah! Do you know her?"

"Vapid Vamp herself, yeah, I know her. I should have staked her so bad." Cordelia made a disgusted noise. "She didn’t hurt you, did she?"

Dawn looked up at her. "No, don’t worry. She had this idea she was going to be the Big Bad in town and wanted to call Buffy out, so she had her minions grab me."

"Minions? Harmony?" Cordelia started giggling uncontrollably. "Did she, like, wear black leather?"

Dawn giggled, too. "Yep. The worst part was when she chained me up in a cave and made me listen to her whine about how much her unlife sucked. Did you know she used to go with Spike?"

This was just getting better and better. "Spike rebounded to Harmony after Drusilla dumped him? Oh, man, does that boy have bad taste in women!"

"Yeah. She called him her Blondie Bear."

That sent Cordelia into convulsions of laughter, falling back on the couch and dragging Dawn down with her. When the Seer finally recovered, she said, "I don’t know if I should tell Angel that one. He could laugh himself right out of his soul."

"Got any more stories, Gunn?" asked Dawn.

"Oh, yeah. You know how I told you Domonique’s makin’ with the crazy? Well, this one time . . ."

***

An hour and five stories later, Dawn had finally been persuaded to go to bed. She and Cordelia laid on the bed together, eating popcorn and talking.

" . . . and that’s when I found out Mark ‘I’m in a serious relationship with my mirror’ Quigman had decided I was going to be his latest conquest. Not only that, he knew where I lived because he’d shacked up with my downstairs neighbor for like thirty seconds. I tried blowing him off every way I knew how, even told him I was living with someone, which was technically true thanks to Angel’s apartment going blooie, but he just wasn’t getting it. Morning after the party, guess who shows up at my place?"

"Mark the Jerk?" guessed Dawn.

"The very same. Now, Angel and I kind of had an arrangement while he was staying with me. Since he stayed up most of the night, I let him use the bedroom after I got up in the morning. I was eating breakfast when Mr. God’s Gift to Women knocked on my door. I started in with the blowing-off again, and just then, my bedroom door opens . . ."

" . . . and Angel came out!" Dawn giggled. "What did Mark the Jerk do?"

"He sized it up pretty quick. Angel coming out of my bedroom, all adorable bed-head and bleary eyes, half a head taller and way the heck more built, gorgeous—that’s competition not even Mark the Clueless could take. I could have kissed Angel for that one. Which reminds me—I’ve got a picture of Angel for you to put up in your locker. That’ll give you one up on Kirstie. You’ll have a genuine, live hottie who you actually know in your locker. Justin Timberlake, nothin’!"

"I don’t even like Justin Timberlake." Dawn wrinkled her nose. "Angel’s way better looking. What do I say if someone asks me about the picture?"

"Just say, ‘Him? That’s Angel.’ And if they press, tell them he’s your friend. Be really casual about it. It’ll drive ‘em nuts!"

The room door opened, and Kate appeared in the bedroom doorway. "Hi. I’m staying in Angel’s room tonight, so I’ll be right next door. Is everything okay here?"

"Just fine. Thanks, Kate," said Cordelia. She still wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the former cop, but the truce with Angel seemed real enough.

"No problem. Good night, Dawn."

"Night. Don’t let the vampires bite," called Dawn.

Kate grinned. "Don’t worry. I won’t make the same mistake twice." With that, she left.

Dawn immediately pinned Cordelia with her gaze. "Do she and Angel have a thing going?"

What a loaded question, thought Cordelia. "Sort of. Once. I think they kind of had the beginnings of a mutual crush, but that got sidelined by . . . a very, very long story with a lot of boring parts. I think any UST between them is destined to remain U. Which is a good thing, seeing as they’re both incredibly stubborn and intense people and what with her blond hair and all, it’d be like Buffy/Angel redux. At least, in my humble opinion."

That apparently got Dawn’s gears working in another direction. "Cordy, did you ever have a . . . you know, thing with Angel?"

"No way!" Cordelia answered automatically. The blue gaze on her face never wavered. "Not a thing. Really. Not exactly." She sighed and gave in. "You can never tell any of the Slayerettes about this, okay? Not one word."

Dawn made a zipping motion across her lips. Good enough, Cordelia decided. "Angel and I had a Moment."

"A Moment?"

"A Moment. It was only a little while after Doyle died. I’d sort of been developing feelings for Doyle, and when he died . . . they say the saddest words are ‘What might have been.’ I don’t know how much more I’d have felt for him, and his death made me feel sort of empty and clingy, like I had to hold on extra tight to the friend I had left. That, of course, was Angel. Wesley had made his appearance, but he wasn’t really close to us yet.

"Anyway, about a month after Doyle’s death, I was still getting used to the visions. One day, I was down in Angel’s old apartment—I don’t even remember why—when a vision hit. I already had a headache at the time, and it just seemed cruel. Angel made me lie down on the couch before he left to go take care of the Monster du Jour. I was meaning to just lay there until my head cleared, but I guess I fell asleep.

"When I woke up, I was in Angel’s bed. He’d returned to find me asleep, and you know how smooth he is—I never even woke up when he moved me. As I was stretching, Angel came in and knelt by the bed, asking how I was doing. I said I was fine and asked him how things had gone, and he started telling me.

"Then he reached over and brushed a bit of my hair behind my ear, and all of a sudden, we were having a Moment. Our faces were only a few inches apart. If either one of us had moved, we’d have kissed. And boy, did we want to."

"How could you tell?" asked Dawn, eyes all dreamy. "I mean, that he wanted to kiss you?"

"Oh, you can so tell when a guy wants to kiss you. Dead giveaway: he can’t keep himself from looking at your lips. His eyes will attract like they’ve got magnets in ‘em."

"And that’s what Angel did?"

"Twice. I wasn’t exactly keeping my eyes to myself, either. Just an inch, and gravity would’ve taken us in."

Dawn sighed. "But you didn’t."

"But we didn’t. The Moment passed, and Angel stood up and asked if I wanted something to eat. There hasn’t been anything like that since." Cordelia paused, thoughtful. "I can’t say I’ve never wondered what it’d have been like, but . . . I’m glad things turned out the way they did. If we’d have given in and kissed that day, it would have changed everything. Everything."

The teen across from her looked puzzled. "Why? I mean, it was just a kiss, right?"

"No." Cordelia reached over and brushed Dawn’s hair behind her ear. "No, not that kind of kiss. You give a guy a kiss like that, you can never take it back." Dawn still looked puzzled. "You’ll understand someday."

"Hope so," Dawn murmured sleepily. Cordelia picked up the popcorn bowl and dumped the old maids in the trash. She turned off the lamps in the sitting room, then wandered back into Dawn’s room to shut the curtains. As she did so, she saw something that made her smile.

"Dawn, come here." Curious, the girl got out of bed and walked over to the window.

"What is it?"

"Just wait a moment—there!" Below, a dark figure glided soundlessly through a misty pool of light. "Guardian Angel."

Dawn smiled, too. "He’s really nice. I didn’t think so back in Sunnydale, but I think he’s nice now."

"Yes, he can be," agreed Cordelia a little wistfully.

Dawn was looking at her now. "Is there something wrong? Between you and Angel, I mean. I’ve been getting this weird vibe whenever you two are in a room together."

The girl’s perception startled and dismayed Cordelia a little. "The truth is, Angel had some problems earlier this year, and we’re all just starting to get things straightened out again. And yeah, I had a real problem with some things he did. He’s getting better, and things are getting better between us, but . . . I still feel like we’re tiptoeing around each other, and I hate it."

Dawn nodded sagely. "Yeah, Buffy and the Scoobies had a big blow-out last year, too. One night, she, Xander, and Willow yelled at each other for like an hour over at Giles’ place. I heard them talking about it later. But Buffy says they’re closer than ever now."

"I hope that happens. I really do. I mean, I still love him, I’m just not always sure I like him anymore."

"I get that." Dawn looked out the window again. Angel’s figure had vanished. "When I had a fight with my best friend, Buffy told me that you can never go back to the way it was before the fight—but a fight can make things better than ever if you can work it out."

Cordelia considered it. "That was a smart thing to say. She must’ve gotten it from Giles."

Dawn giggled. "Probably."

Cordelia gave her a hug. "You should get back to bed. I’ll be on the sofa."

"You don’t have to, you know," said Dawn. "I mean, it can’t be comfortable, and the bed’s big, and I swear I don’t thrash or try to snuggle, so if you want . . ." She trailed off, blushing even in the darkness.

"You know what? That’s a great idea. I’ll get my pillow."

A few minutes later, she and Dawn were both in bed. Dawn fell asleep almost immediately, but Cordelia stayed awake.

She could still feel Dawn’s emotions. It scared her. Lately, it seemed like until a case was put to rest, she could still feel the vision and the people in the vision. She didn’t know if it was just something she was more attuned to nowadays, or if the visions themselves were changing her, but ever since her vision, she’d felt Dawn: a sharp-edged mixture of ever-changing adolescent emotions, weighed down with the burden of grief and anxiety.

Cordelia closed her eyes. She wondered if she should talk to Wesley about it, but what could he do? He’d just fret, and Angel and Gunn would worry, too, if they found out. They were already enough like three mother hens.

No, she decided. It’s just part of the job. Another part of Doyle’s gift. He trusted me, and I can handle it.

Her hand brushed her pajama top, and she smiled to herself. The fine, brushed cotton, straight from the Gap, was another part of the Angel Collection, as he’d given away a set of her pajamas with her other things. It wasn’t the clothes that pleased her so much, although new clothes were always of the Good; it was the fact that what he’d bought was so very much her style. The fact that he’d paid that close attention to her, to what she liked and what looked good on her, was a reassurance that she still mattered to him.

With that reflection in mind, she fell asleep.

***

During the night, the Hyperion came under attack by groups of Kaliff demons twice. Neither time did any get past the threshold, and in her room, Dawn slept peacefully unaware.

 

Epilogue: Lazy Sunday with the Fang Gang

Sunday morning dawned bright, with no indication of the violence that had taken place earlier. Dawn awoke to the odd sensation (for her) of sleeping in the same bed as someone else. But it wasn’t so odd.

After the resurrection spell debacle, she and Buffy had cried together for over an hour, holding each other, apologizing, and reassuring each other that they’d be okay. Eventually, exhausted, they’d gone upstairs, cleaned up the remains of the spell paraphernalia, and gotten ready for bed. As one, it seemed, they’d headed for their mother’s room. Neither had been in it since she’d died. Dawn had climbed into her mother’s bed, the sheets of which hadn’t been changed since Joyce’s death, and Buffy had climbed in with her. There, surrounded by her mother’s scent and her sister’s powerful arms, Dawn had fallen into the deepest sleep of her life. She and Buffy had slept for a good nine hours and awakened refreshed for the first time in far too long.

The teen sighed, looking across at Cordelia’s face. The pain wasn’t going away, but slowly, she was learning to live with it.

Cordelia drew in a deep breath and opened her own eyes. She smiled.

"Sleep well?" she asked Dawn.

"Mm-hmm." Dawn stretched.

"Hold it right there, tall, dark, and lurksome," Cordelia suddenly ordered, pointing at the doorway.

Dawn looked. Angel was there. She’d never even noticed him—a six foot plus, heavily built vampire, and she’d never noticed he was there.

He smiled fondly. "Just checking on you two. Sounds like you had a good night."

"How’d things go on your end?" asked Cordelia.

Angel shrugged. "We had a few uninvited visitors, but it wasn’t a problem holding them off. No one was hurt except a few Kaliff demons."

"That’s good," said Dawn.

"Oh, by the way, Dawn, Buffy called earlier. She said things went pretty well for an apocalypse. No one got hurt badly, just some scrapes and bruises. She sounded pretty exhausted, so I told her you’d be okay here until she got some rest. She and Xander will be by around four this afternoon to get you. Is that okay?"

"Sounds good." In truth, Dawn was perfectly happy to stay at the Hyperion for another day. She decided she’d needed a change of scenery.

"Come on downstairs. I’ve got breakfast ready, and since Gunn already ate his five helpings, you won’t have to compete with him for food." With that, he left.

Dawn stretched again and threw back her covers. "Angel can’t eat, right?"

"Oh, he can," said Cordelia. "He gets the urge for something crunchy once in awhile, and while he was at my apartment, I couldn’t keep popcorn around for anything. It’s just that food doesn’t nourish him, and he doesn’t taste it right."

"So why does he cook?"

"Just part of being Angel. He likes to make food for us, and he’s good at it. I’m not complaining." Cordelia stretched and yawned hugely, then got out of bed.

Breakfast was fun and relaxing as Dawn, Cordelia, Angel, and Wesley talked and ate scrambled eggs, sausages, toast, and orange juice. Afterward, Dawn showered, then wandered back downstairs. Angel was in the office fussing with something.

"What’cha doing?" she asked.

"I found an antique silver frame," he said. "I’m polishing it up, and then I’m going to put your portrait in it."

Dawn took a look at the frame. It was a simple design, but very elegant. She approved. Sitting on the desk was not only her own portrait, but Angel’s sketchpad. She picked it up. Angel, surprisingly, reached over and took it from her. All he did, however, was flip to the latest picture he’d done.

Drawn in dark, dark brown oil crayon was the face of a girl about Dawn’s age. It was a strikingly familiar face, but Dawn couldn’t place her.

"This was my sister, Kathy," Angel told her. "I did it this morning."

Now Dawn realized she bore a strong resemblance to Angel—very similar eyes and mouth, in particular. "She was pretty."

"Very," agreed Angel, and there was pain in his voice. Dawn thought it both wonderful and sad that he still remembered her so vividly after so long. She flipped back to the front of the pad. The first drawing was the face of what Dawn though to be a perfectly delicious young man with dark hair. The portrait was black and white—except his eyes, colored a bright blue-green.

"That was Doyle," Angel said. "He was the Seer before Cordelia. She encouraged me to draw him . . . and then promptly told me I’d made him look too much like a saint in this picture." Angel chuckled. "Doyle was certainly no saint. A hero, yes, but no saint."

The next picture was of Cordelia, in full color. Her hair was still long in it. After that, there was a page full of Buffys. Buffy in almost every mood Dawn could think of, with and without weapons, her face, her hands, her figure, every aspect of the Slayer, it seemed.

"Do you still love my sister?" asked Dawn.

"Always," answered Angel simply.

"Do you hope the two of you can get back together someday?"

That soft, sad smile again. "Hope is too strong a word. It’s a dream, one I don’t think will ever come true, but I can’t give it up."

That was sad, Dawn decided. She flipped another page and found a surprise.

Spike. It was Spike, drawn in a striking and eerily beautiful way. The entire page had been colored black, and Spike’s face, as if emerging from darkness into strong light, was present only in the absence of that blackness.

"Wow," was all she said.

"Drawing sometimes helps me exorcise my personal demons. Spike’s one of them. Besides, he’s got great features for drawing, not that he’d ever sit for me," Angel said.

Dawn suddenly realized a page had been torn out of the sketchpad. There was just a little bit of paper left at the top. She touched it and looked at Angel questioningly. His face had gone sober and a little bleak, and he just shook his head. Dawn knew she couldn’t ask whose portrait had been torn out.

She returned to the portrait of Spike. "What’s a sire?"

"Well, if you’re a vampire, your sire is the one who turned you."

"Spike said you were his sire." Dawn looked at Angel. "I thought Drusilla turned him."

"She did. But I turned her, so Spike is in my line of descent. Furthermore, I was there from the start, and I taught him all about being a vampire, so he’s always considered me his sire." Angel looked uncomfortable. "Dawn, where did you hear all this about Spike?"

"He told me," she answered automatically, and from the look on Angel’s face, that wasn’t what he wanted to hear. Dawn decided he wanted to hear about Spike’s thing for Buffy even less. "It’s okay, he’s got that chip."

"I just don’t want you getting comfortable with him," said Angel. "Spike is still dangerous. That chip only prevents him from physically harming humans. There are other ways for him to make trouble, and believe me when I say he will."

"You sound like Buffy," Dawn grumbled.

"You should listen to her. I know Spike; I was there the night he rose as a vampire, and for twenty years afterward. I know he can be charming, but he’s no friend to humans."

Dawn felt her ears starting to burn. A tight knot of anger welled up within her. "He’s always been nice to me. He said he liked my mother."

Angel was silent for a moment, and then his next words caught her completely by surprise. "I wouldn’t be surprised if he did." Dawn looked at him. "But that doesn’t mean he’s human. It doesn’t mean what he feels for you or your mother is what a human means by friendship."

"I don’t get that."

Angel sighed. "Okay. How to explain this." He paused. "Spike’s not human. He has what was at one time a human body and what used to be a human mind—or what’s left of one after 120 years of vampirism. The fact is, when he looks at a human, he sees food. It’s been like that ever since his siring. He doesn’t see a being he has a connection with. Humans look a bit like him, but that’s it. That doesn’t mean he can’t become fond of specific ones, but in general, he doesn’t see them as being on his level."

"I still don’t get it."

Another sigh. "Forgive this illustration, but I’m Irish. Think of a farmer with a flock of sheep. The farmer eats their meat and uses their wool and sometimes sells them at market. Now, he’s grown fond of a particular lamb and keeps it as a pet. He wouldn’t kill that one, but that doesn’t mean he won’t treat the rest of them like commodities. It doesn’t mean he thinks even that lamb is on his level. Sheep are still the prey, and he’s still the predator. That’s what vampires are: predators. Humans are our prey."

Dawn didn’t like what he was saying. "You’re different. You’ve got a soul. Spike’s got a chip. Doesn’t that make him different, too?"

"Only in effect," Angel argued gently. "That chip only prevents one specific type of behavior. He can’t kill a living being—and note that the chip doesn’t discriminate between a rat and a human in that. The chip can’t give him a moral center. I have a human soul, yes. It gives me a connection to humanity, a sense that in some way, I’m one of you. I know it would be wrong of me to hurt you or another human. I feel that. Spike just doesn’t. He has no idea of why it would be wrong for him to kill a human, any more than a lion would feel guilty about bringing down a gazelle. You could explain it until your face went blue, but he wouldn’t ever feel it. It’s not his fault; it’s just what he is."

At that, Dawn remembered the stories Spike had told her. He certainly hadn’t felt guilty about any of the things he’d done. It suddenly hit her: all the people he’d talked about killing had been real. It wasn’t just campfire stories. Real people had died, killed by Spike. She shivered. Angel’s hand rested gently on her shoulder.

"That’s what a soul does. It tells you what’s wrong and what’s right. You wouldn’t kill anyone, even if you could get away with it, would you?"

"Of course not!"

"See?" Angel smiled. "That’s your soul talking."

A sudden, horrid thought struck Dawn. "Do you think I really have one? A soul?"

Angel froze just a little, then relaxed. "I know you do. Vampiric demons have a certain reaction to souled beings, which is why I can’t hang around with vampires much, even if I wanted to. My demon feels your soul. It’s there."

She relaxed a little at that. Then another thought occurred to her. "Angel—what happens when you die? I mean, you died, and your soul went somewhere, and then you got it back. Do you know where your soul went?"

Angel sat beside her on the desk, putting an arm around her. "I’m sorry, Dawn. My soul was conjured out of time, from the moment it left my body. It didn’t really go anywhere." He stroked her hair gently as she leaned on him, craving comfort. "But I believe there are places souls go after death, and the Powers That Be aren’t so badly organized that they’d let your mother go anywhere bad."

That was all Dawn had wanted to hear. She rested in his arms again, more tears coming, but tears of comfort this time.

***

Outside the office, Kate leaned against the wall, a tear of her own running down her face as an old, old wound finally closed.

***

Less than an hour later, Cordelia was in the lobby with Angel as he matted and framed Dawn’s portrait.

"Hey. Where’s Dawn?"

"Gardening with Kate."

"Is that Kate’s voice I’m hearing?"

"Yep."

"Wow. She can sing. I mean, she can really sing!"

"I think so."

"I mean, really sing. Who knew?"

"I didn’t."

"The Host would go crazy over that voice."

"Probably."

"You know, you should take Kate to Caritas. The Host could give her some direction for her life, y’know? That would be of the Good."

"Kate in a karaoke bar full of demons. That’d do wonders for her state of mind."

"Okay, bad idea."

"Yep."

"But funny mental picture."

"Eh."

"Anyway, I was just asking because I thought Dawn and I could do a manicure before Buffy gets here. Guess I’ll do my own nails. You mind the smell of nail polish?"

"I don’t breathe."

"Right. Forgot. Dawn and I can do the makeover thing whenever they run out of flowers."

"Could be awhile. What do you think of Dawn’s portrait?"

"You did a gorgeous job. She’ll love it."

"Thanks."

"Think she’ll be okay?"

"I hope so. I really do."

"Yeah. Me, too."

***

Two stone pots of flowers, one manicure, hairset, and makeup job, and a long lunch later, Dawn was seated on the couch with Cordelia, listening to more of Gunn’s stories. He was wildly embellishing a vampire attack from last summer. Cordelia was keeping up a running commentary, although she hadn’t been there for the attack itself.

Kate was gone for the day, having left Dawn with the last four marigolds "to chase away bugs and the blues." Dawn noted that Kate didn’t seem especially comfortable with the Fang Gang (as Dawn had christened them). That seemed strange to her, as Kate was definitely Good People in Dawn’s estimation. But then, at one time, Dawn hadn’t liked Cordelia. Of course, that was mostly because Cordelia had been dating Xander . . .

She sighed, a little sorry to be leaving. It was relaxing, being away from Sunnydale. It would be good to see the Scoobies, though, and she really did miss Buffy.

Cordelia put an arm around her. "I like Dawn," she said. "I want one of my own."

Dawn snorted. "Talk to the monks who made me. They might be taking orders."

***

Xander’s car pulled up outside the Hyperion.

"Well, the place is still standing," he noted. "Can’t have been too bad."

Buffy wasn’t so sure. "Angel said things were fine, but I hope he wasn’t just covering. Dawn probably moped all weekend."

"And Angel can throw stones about that? We’re talking about the King of Brooding."

"Brooding and moping—not the same thing. Moping is way more annoying. Take it from someone who’s done time with both." Buffy steeled her resolve and opened her door. "You want to wait while I get Dawn?"

"Nah. I’ll come in and say hi."

They both headed for the front doors. Buffy took a deep breath, bracing herself for the onslaught of Dawn’s bad temper, and walked into the lobby.

"There I am in the middle of Wolfram & Hart, Evil People Central, and I go, ‘Evil white folks really do have a Mecca!’ They didn’t think it was as funny as you do. I’m goin’ off on them, and then my watch alarm goes off, so I call to my boys. And what do they drag in but Vamp-in-a-Blanket, just exactly when Angel’s entering the building. Vamp detectors go off, only they think it’s just one vamp, not two. They stake our vamp, think everything’s fine, and Angel’s prowling around stealing stuff! Cool, huh?"

Buffy blinked at the animated young man telling the story, and then her eyes found her sister. Dawn was on the lobby couch, leaning against Cordelia, obviously enjoying the story. She also appeared to be wearing quite a bit of makeup, her hair had been set with hot rollers—and were those highlights?!

My little sister’s been Cordeliad, Buffy realized. Well, as long as she’s smiling . . .

"Hey," Buffy said, announcing her presence.

"Hey, Buffy," said Cordelia.

"Hey, Buffy," repeated Dawn.

Buffy descended into the lobby. Story-telling guy walked up. "I’m Gunn. You Buffy, the Vampire Slayer?"

"That would be me," confirmed Buffy.

Gunn looked her over. "Shouldn’t you be taller?"

Buffy smiled her best "If you’re a vampire or demon, you need to be leaving now" smile. "Well, you know what they say: size doesn’t matter."

Gunn guffawed. "You’ve got an attitude. I like that."

Buffy decided she liked him. "Where’s Angel?"

Angel and Wesley chose that moment to emerge from the office. "Hi, Buffy," Angel greeted.

"Hello, Buffy," said Wesley.

Buffy went to talk to them about the weekend. From the couch, Dawn sighed. "Guess I’d better get packed. Hi, Xander."

"Hey, Dawnie," he said. "You know, you suddenly remind me of this girl I used to date in high school."

Dawn giggled, then jumped up. "I’ll get my stuff." She ran upstairs.

Xander watched her, then turned back to Cordelia. "How’d she do?"

Cordelia sighed. "You mean other than breaking down and crying in Angel’s arms for an hour the first night she was here? And her really simple questions for him, like asking if she was evil, or if she had a soul?"

"Oh, man," murmured Xander.

"I think she’s doing pretty well, considering," Cordelia told him. "She’s got a heavy load, though, and the worst part is, she doesn’t see the end of it anytime soon. The best we could do was to take her mind off it for awhile. That might’ve helped."

For some reason, Xander hadn’t expected such an insightful response from Cordelia. He still had her fixed in his mind as the girl he’d known in high school. Evidently, she’d changed. A great deal.

Cordelia continued in quite a different tone. "Of course, I also think she’s got a tiny bit of a crush going with Angel now."

Xander gave an explosive sigh. "What is it with vampires?"

"What?" asked Angel as he, Wesley, and Buffy re-emerged.

"Nothing," muttered Xander, deflated. Being dethroned as Dawn’s crush by Spike had been bad enough.

"I really can’t thank you guys enough for taking such great care of Dawn," Buffy said to the room in general. "Especially you, Cordy. Angel told me how much time you spent with her."

"Oh, that was like, no problem." Cordelia pulled herself off the couch. "She’s fun and she’s cute and I think I could get used to having someone to mold in my own image." She gave Buffy her brightest smile. Buffy gave Angel a "She’s kidding, right?" look. He grinned.

"Cordelia!" Dawn was running down the stairs, duffel slung over her shoulder and a small bag in her hand. "Can I really keep this?"

It turned out to be a makeup bag, stuffed full.

"Oh, totally," Cordelia said. "Those colors look better on you than me, anyway. I mean, that plum lipstick doesn’t even show up on my face." She smiled at Dawn, looking suddenly misty. " ‘Bye, sweetie. Take care of yourself."

Dawn dropped her duffel and hugged Cordelia tight. "You’ll email, right?"

"You know it. Every day, if I can."

"Hey, Gunn." Dawn got a high-five handclasp from Gunn.

" ‘Sup, Squirt? You keep in touch."

Wesley held out his hand. "Dawn, it’s been a privilege."

"Thanks for letting me help with the potion." Dawn shook his hand and turned a smug look on her sister. "Wesley let me help with a potion."

"A curative," Wesley added hastily. "No danger whatsoever."

Buffy raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Angel handed Dawn a frame. "Hope you like it."

Xander got a good look at it: a beautifully-drawn, colored portrait of Dawn, sitting on a desk and looking just a little sad and thoughtful. He put the pieces together pretty quickly, especially when Dawn set the picture down and threw her arms around Angel.

"I love it," she said quietly. "Thanks so much, Angel. Thanks for everything."

Angel hugged her back, kissing the top of her head. "Anything you ever need, just let us know."

Dawn let him go. "Tell Kate thanks, too." The girl gathered up her duffel, stuffed the makeup bag in it, handed Xander four marigolds, and gave Buffy the portrait. "Angel drew me. Isn’t it cool?"

"Beautiful," Buffy agreed. "Actually, he showed me in the office."

"Do you like it?"

"I love it." She hugged her sister.

"Good. ‘Cause it’s yours." Buffy looked startled. "It’s like a present, you know?" Dawn immediately busied herself with her duffel.

Buffy’s eyes connected with Angel’s. They seemed to communicate without words for a moment. "Okay," said Buffy finally. "Thank you."

Dawn re-settled her duffel on her shoulder. "I’m good to go. Ready?"

"Ready." Buffy gave an inward shake of her head over her little sister. No wonder Mom had always had that look on her face . . . "Thanks again, you guys. I swear I’ll send you a fruit basket or something."

There was another round of goodbyes to Dawn, and they left. The Fang Gang stood around the lobby for a moment in their wake.

"Did it suddenly get very quiet in here?" Cordelia asked.

"Does seem a bit empty," Wesley agreed. He wandered back into the office. Gunn, never one to stick around one place for long, left, and Angel sat down on the couch with his sketchpad.

Cordelia walked over to look at what he was drawing. Actually, he was coloring again, this time a drawing of Kate and Dawn planting the garden in the courtyard.

Cordelia considered the situation. There were still times when she was so angry at Angel she could hardly stand to be around him, but the side of him she loved was still intact. Whatever had happened, whatever he’d done, hadn’t changed that. And he was trying to make things up to her. She needed to meet him halfway.

Casually, she sat down on the couch next to him, watching him color a marigold. She gave it a bit of thought, then rested her cheek against his shoulder, the way Dawn had.

Angel’s pencil froze, just for a moment.

"I missed you, Cor," he said, so softly she could only just hear him.

Smiling, she relaxed. "Well, duh."

***

And that’s the end, folks. Thanks for sticking with the Amazing Plotless Story. If you liked it, kindly feed me back, and check out my other stuff while you’re at it. Incidentally, Kate’s song in Chapter 4 is Sting’s "Fields of Gold." To hear the version that inspired my selection, get Eva Cassidy’s album "Songbird." ‘Bye now!

 



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