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The first thing I did was to try to phone Xander. He wasn't answering. I couldn't remember Anya's number and I started to panic. Then I saw the scrap of paper pinned to the notice board by the stairs. I tore down the paper and punched the number on it into the phone. It must have rung for a good three minutes before I finally gave up.
I dialled Xander again and this time somebody picked up.
'What?' he said.
'Xander?' I asked. His voice sounded thicker and less distinct than usual.
'Of course it's me,' he replied. 'What's up, Dawn?'
'It's Buffy,' I told him. 'She's gone.'
* * *
Xander drove straight over. The smell of him clued me in that he'd been drinking. I told him that I'd tried phoning Anya. He explained that she and Trix had gone out. Guess that explained the drinking, huh?
'What are we going to do?' I asked. I was rushing around in circles, going nowhere, but somehow needing to be in constant motion.
'I'll go after her,' Xander said.
'Great.' I stopped pacing. 'I'll go with you.'
'No,' Xander said, 'you won't.'
'But I've gotta go,' I insisted. 'She's my sister.'
I was pacing again.
'Dawn, I know that this is hard,' Xander began, 'but for Buffy's sake you've got to try and pretend that nothing's happening.'
'Just think for a moment, Dawn, okay? Imagine what'll happen if Social Services get a hint that your legal guardian's gone AWOL. Do you really think she's going to want to come back if you've been taken into care?'
I collapsed into a chair, arms and legs akimbo.
'Sure, when you put it that way,' I muttered. 'Guess I'll just carry on being little old Dawn.'
'Atta girl,' Xander replied, smiling encouragingly. I was this close to bopping him on the nose, but I didn't have the fight left in me.
'Where'll you start looking?' I asked.
'I'm thinking the airport or the bus station would be a good place to start,' Xander said. 'Did she take much in the way of cash?'
I shook my head.
'I'm guessing she wanted to be sure I had enough to get by without her.'
'Bus station's the best bet then,' Xander decided. 'Unless she's decided to hitch.'
'What's so funny?' I asked, angry that he could find something to laugh at.
'Sorry. Just imagining Buffy giving some wandering hands truck driver what for.'
Now I laughed with him.
'In the good old days we could have used magic to track her down,' I remarked.
'I know,' Xander said, 'but we'll just have to make do.'
Our eyes met and we both knew what the other was thinking, that we knew someone with the power to help, someone neither of us was going to even mention.
'You should get Clem to come over and stay with you for a while,' Xander suggested.
'What, you don't think I can cope on my own?' I demanded.
'I'm sure you'll cope just fine,' Xander assured me, 'but if it was me, I wouldn't want to be in this house by myself.'
'Maybe I will speak to Clem,' I conceded.
Xander got up.
'I'd best be going,' he said.
'You're not driving are you?' I asked.
'Well, yeah,' Xander replied. 'What did you think I was going to do?'
'But, um, do you really think that's a good idea?' I pressed.
'What do you mean?' Xander asked.
'Xander, you've been drinking,' I told him.
'And you'd be drinking too if you're ex-girlfriend was shaking up with a James Dean lookeelikee demon,' Xander snapped. 'I'm fine.'
'No,' I said softly, 'you're not.'
'I said ' Xander whirled at me.
I didn't flinch.
'Oh God, Dawn, I'm sorry.' He flopped into a chair. He ran his hands through his hair and then covered his face with them. 'Look at me. I'm a wreck. A washout. I'm almost glad Willow can't see me now. Imagine what she'd think. I can't even help my friend.'
'Yes, you can,' I insisted. 'You can help me. You are helping me.'
'Thanks, Dawn,' Xander said, looking up. 'You've no idea how much I needed to hear that. Mind if a crash hear until I sober up. I promise I'll go after Buffy as soon as I can.'
'I know,' I replied. 'Coffee?'
Xander nodded and I began to fill the kettle.
'You know, we could try and find Trix and Anya,' I suggested. 'They both like Italian and their aren't that many Italian restaurants in town.'
'And were just supposed to barge in and drag them out?' Xander shook his head. 'Tempting. But they're entitled to be happy. Someone should be.'
'I guess,' I replied. 'I miss the way things used to be Xander. I miss Willow and Tara.'
'I know,' Xander said.
'We were a family then, all of us. We were so close. What happened to us.'
'Life,' Xander explained. 'Life happened.'
I started spooning instant coffee into a couple of mugs.
'Just promise me I'm not going to end up alone,' I asked. 'I don't think I could stand that.'
* * *
I was still asleep when Xander left in the morning, but I wasn't surprised that he hadn't stopped to say goodbye. We both wanted him on the road as soon as possible. I was surprised, however, to find Clem in the kitchen helping himself to my cereal.
'Oh, you're up. Hi!' Clem waved the cereal box in my direction. 'You don't mind, do you? Only Xander said I could make myself at home and, well, these are my favourite.'
I ran a hand through my hair, teasing out the knots.
'I don't mind and you're welcome,' I said, taking the box from Clem and retrieving a clean bowl from one of the kitchen cabinets. 'And they're my favourites too.'
I poured a generous helping into my bowl then started to root around inside the box.
'What are you looking for?' Clem asked me.
'There's supposed to be a free gift in here somewhere,' I explained. 'I'm seeing if I can reach it yet.'
'Want me to have a go?' Clem offered.
I handed him the box and crossed to the fridge to get milk.
'What are you doing here, Clem?' I asked.
'Xander asked me over,' Clem explained. 'He said you might need the company. He also explained about your sister. He will find her, you know.'
I carried the carton of milk back to the table and grinned a toothy smile.
'What's the joke,' Clem asked, one hand still inside the cereal box.
'Just never expected to see a demon eating Sugarbombs,' I replied.
'Hey, breakfast is the most important meal of the day,' Clem said, gesturing with his spoon to emphasise his point, 'and don't you forget it, young lady.'
* * *
Another day, another play rehearsal. Between scenes I was measured for my costume and it hit me just how few weeks were left before the big night. Would Buffy be there to see it?
We had just finished The Merry Ol' Land of Oz when Mr Gleeson told me that he didn't need me any more tonight and that I was free to go if I wanted. I was glad of the opportunity to slip out early because I really didn't need another confrontation with Drew, not right now.
Janice was waiting for me by the door, holding my bag for me.
'Want to walk home together?' she asked.
'Sure,' I said, taking my bag from her and slinging it over my shoulder. 'Have you been here the whole time.'
'Straight up,' Janice replied. 'You really think I'm gonna miss the chance to see you and Drew going at it like Ewan and Nicole?'
'So you're just here to make fun, is that it?'
'Like you wouldn't given half the chance,' Janice responded. 'And anyway, you're both terrific. Chrissie and I can hardly wait.'
'Chrissie?' I asked.
'Oh she'll be here on the night, you'll see,' Janice told me. 'She seems to be looking forward to supporting you two. You especially. Since when were you and Darth Sinister so buddy-buddy, anyhow?'
'Long story,' I replied. 'So are we going or shall we just stand around here disrupting the rehearsal?'
Janice raised an eyebrow.
'Lead on, MacDuff,' she pronounced before adding, 'that's Shakespeare, by the way.'
'I know,' I told her. 'I'm not a total culture black hole. I saw Romeo and Juliet.'
'Let me guess, the DiCaprio version?'
'Well, yeah,' I admitted. 'Why else would I watch it?'
'You know, I thought all that time hanging out with that dusty old librarian might have paid off,' Janice said, shaking her head, 'but still the same old Dawn.'
'Actually, that's a misquote.'
Janice and I both turned to look at the girl behind us. It was Helena. She was actually taller than us, but she walked around hunched over the whole time, making us all pretty much the same height. She also wore baggy clothes the whole time, like her parents weren't prepared to give her anything other than her big sister's hand-me-downs. Truth was, I felt sorry for her.
'What's a misquote, 'Len, you being the expert and all? Let me guess, you spend all your time reading plays in the hope that you might find a life stashed in there somewhere.'
Janice obviously didn't.
'Leave her alone, Jan,' I said. 'She didn't mean anything by it.'
'Sorry, I shouldn't have said anything,' Helena apologised, shuffling away. 'I'll just be going.'
'No, don't rush off,' I insisted. 'Not till you've told us what that misquote is, anyway.'
'That line, 'Lead on, MacDuff', it's not actually in Macbeth,' Helena explained. 'The actual quote is 'Lay on, MacDuff'. A lot of people make that mistake.'
Janice harrumphed, but I ignored her.
'So what are you doing here, Helena?' I asked. 'I didn't think your parents let you out much.'
'I'm helping out with the play,' Helena explained, 'making scenery and stuff. I'd better be getting back.'
'Sure. I'll see you around then.'
I raised my hand to wave and, instinctively, Helena did the same.
There was a mark on the back of her hand.
'Is that a bruise, Helena?' I asked. 'Looks nasty.'
Helena pulled the sleeve of her sweater down to hide it.
'It's nothing,' she told me. 'I just caught myself with the hammer earlier. Wasn't paying attention.'
'Still, you should get someone to take a look at that,' I replied.
'I will,' Helena assured me, hurrying away.
I watched her go.
Janice gestured to the door.
'Lay on, MacDuff,' she said sarcastically.
* * *
There was a shortcut that ran through Weatherley Park. I didn't like the idea of walking through the park after dark, but when I told Janice this, she just laughed. I couldn't exactly tell her that I was scared of the monsters in the park, could I? Janice had spent the best part of the past year repressing her one and only encounter with the undead and I can't say that I blamed her.
'So what do you say we get together Saturday night, the whole gang,' Janice was saying. 'We could go to a movie or just hang out at the Bronze. Something.'
'I don't know,' I began.
'Come on, Dawn,' Janice pressed. 'You never hang out with us anymore. We miss you.'
'I just don't know if I'll be able to make it,' I replied.
'Oh yeah, because you'd much rather be hanging out with your friend with the, and I quote 'skin condition',' Janice shot back. 'Bring him along. We'd all like to meet him.'
'I don't think that'd be a good idea,' I said.
'Why not? Are we not good enough for you all of a sudden?' Janice demanded. 'Dawn, we're worried about you. You've changed - and not in a good way.'
I didn't know what else to say. Fortunately, I was save from embarrassment by the arrival of three vampires.
'Well, lookee here,' the first vamp said. He was still wearing a Sunnydale High sports jersey. 'Dinner. Still young and tender, too.'
'Stay behind me, Jan,' I ordered.
'Why, what are you gonna do, pretty-pie?' the vampire asked.
'Oh, you know,' I began, sauntering up to him, hands behind me back, 'I thought we might be able to come to some kind of arrangement.'
'What kind of arrangement?'
I stood on tiptoe as if trying to whisper in his hear.
He leant forward so that I could reach.
I rammed the wooden stake I was holding through his chest and he exploded in a cloud of green dust.
'Chalk another one up to Dawn the Vampire Slayer,' I said.
'You're the Slayer?' one of the other vamps asked.
'Well, no,' I admitted.
'That's a relief,' he said. His hand shot forward and clasped around my throat as he lifted me clean off the ground.
I pedalled in the air with my legs and kicked him in the groin. He dropped me. Sometimes the old tricks are the best.
I scrambled to my feet. When it had become obvious that I wasn't going to stay out of trouble, Buffy had started teaching me a little self-defence in the hopes it might keep me alive. It had worked so far.
The vampire lunged towards me, totally lacking in style. I dropped low and swung out with my leg, tripping him. He impaled himself on my stake as he fell past me.
His buddy had Janice pinned against a tree. She screamed as he opened his mouth, baring his fangs.
I threw my stake at him the way I'd seen Buffy do it. The stake bounced off the back of his head.
'What was that?' he asked, turning to face me.
'Lame?' I offered.
'Got that right.'
He released Janice and she collapsed in a heap on the ground. Then he sprang at me. I tried to roll out of the way, but he landed on top of me, pinning me to the floor.
'Now let's see if you taste as spicy as you act,' he said.
'Let's not and just say we did, 'kay?' Janice said.
The vampire exploded and I could see Janice standing behind him, holding my stake.
He eyes were wide as saucers.
Okay, so how was I going to explain this?
* * *
Helena could hear her parents shouting from outside the house. Hunching her shoulders, she turned the key in the lock and stepped inside. She intended to creep straight upstairs to her room, but her dad had heard the door.
'And where do you think you've been, Helena?' he demanded.
'I was helping out with the school play,' Helena explained.
'Did we give you permission for that?' her dad asked.
'No, but ' Helena began.
'Dont contradict me, young lady,' her dad snapped. 'You know the rules and while you are under this roof you will obey them.'
'I'm sorry, Dad.'
'I should hope so.'
'I just want to have a life, you know,' Helena continued. 'How am I supposed to make friends if I'm under curfew the whole time.'
'You can worry about friends once you've sorted out your grades,' her dad shouted at her.
'Your mother and I have been looking at your report card.'
'What's wrong with it?' she asked.
'Look at it,' he dad ordered. 'Not a single A grade among them. No daughter of mine is going to be a failure, do you understand me?'
'Sam, don't you think you're being a little hard on her?' Helena's mom offered.
'No, I don't think I'm being hard enough,' her dad said. 'We've had this discussion before, haven't we, Helena, and still there's no improvement.'
'Maybe I just don't have what it takes,' Helena muttered.
'Don't answer back to me!' Her dad's tongue lashed like a whip. 'You'll just have to find what it takes. No more excuses. Why can't you be more like you're sister?'
'Alicia's dead, Dad,' Helena responded. 'You can't expect me to replace her.'
Helena's dad clenched his fists at his side. He was shaking with barely contained fury.
'How dare you!' he rumbled.
'Sam,' his wife cautioned.
He rounded on his wife, his back to his daughter.
'Go to your room, Helena,' he ordered. 'We will continue this discussion later. Your mother and I have things to talk about first.'
The sound of raised voices followed Helena upstairs to her bedroom.
She threw her bag down in the corner and in landed next to the first aid box. Then she scooped up her teddy bear. His name was Geoffrey and, though he was missing one eye, his fur was lovely and golden and soft. She held him close. Moonlight was streaming through the thin curtains and Helena crossed to the window and started counting the stars in the sky, all the while looking out hopefully for a shooting star and the chance to wish herself away from her excuse for a life.
She was still staring out of the window when her dad opened the bedroom door.
* * *
The bus was hot and crowded. Her bag cradled in her lap, Buffy was wedged between the window and an old woman doing her knitting. Buffy didn't mind. So long as she was moving away from Sunnydale, everything was just peachy.
Other than the bus, the road was empty. It ran high into the hills as it trailed over the top of the dam. On one side of the road, the reservoir stretched out into the distance, the water glittering mysteriously in the moonlight. On the other, the wall of the dam descended a scarily long way down to the valley below.
There was a woman standing in the middle of the road.
The driver slammed his feet on the brakes. He wrestled with the wheel, desperate to avoid the person caught in the headlights. The bus skidded, the frame creaking, wheels screeching as they tore across the tarmac. Then the bus rolled over onto its side, sending its passengers careening about inside it like the balls in a pinball machine. Sparks flew into the air as the bus continued its remorseless progress. The figure in the road continued to stand there, arms folded, a smile on her lips.
The bus finally ground to her halt, hanging half on, half off the road, balanced precariously above the reservoir.
The woman outside leaped on top of the bus and it rocked alarmingly. Those who had so far not screamed thought now might be a good time to start and those already screaming cried all the louder.
Drusilla punched out one of the bus's windows.
'Did you she really think she could run from me, Miss Edith?' Drusilla asked as she stuck her head inside. 'Justice must be served.'
'How's this?' Buffy asked, grabbing hold of the luggage rack above her head and swinging upwards so that her feet connected with Drusilla's jaw. The vampire fell backwards off the bus.
'Service with a smile,' Buffy remarked. She turned back to the driver. 'Get everyone out of here. I'll keep her busy.' Then she launched herself up and out of the bus like a cork from a bottle.
She landed in the middle of the road, a stake already in her hand.
'It's just you and me, now, Drusilla,' she said, circling the vampire. 'It's me you want so leave them out of it.'
Drusilla cocked her head to one side.
'Ah, the Slayer,' she said, 'she's so confused, thinking she is all we want. We want justice. We want vengeance. We want her to suffer as we have suffered, don't we, Miss Edith. And does she know what we're going to do? We're going to find all of her friends and then we're going to rip their lungs out. She can watch if she likes.'
'You're crazy,' Buffy snapped.
She lunged forwards.
Drusilla barely moved, but now the stake was in her hands.
'Silly girl,' she murmured, 'thinking we would be scared of a piece of wood.'
She lashed out with the heel of her hand, striking Buffy in the chest. Buffy was flung backwards down the road.
Buffy recovered quickly, though she was still breathing heavily as she charged the vampire. Punches and kicks descended with both speed and abandon, but Drusilla blocked each and every one.
'What's that, Miss Edith?' Drusilla asked. 'Yes, I agree. Bored now.'
She grabbed Buffy by her wrist, crushing it so that she could hear the bones grinding against each other. Then she hauled Buffy off her feet and carried her over to the edge of the dam, holding her suspended over the vertiginous drop.
'It will take you a while to hit the ground,' Drusilla told Buffy. 'Promise me that you'll spend the time thinking about your friends. The friends I'm going to kill just like you killed my precious Spike.'
Then she let go.
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