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4. Dorothy

I've had better Christmases.

Being menaced by angry demons tends to put a dampener on things. Being menaced by demons when you've been shrunk to a mere six inches tall is worse. But when someone has to drag my friends into it - just after I'd promised to try and keep Drew out of this side of my life - well, I can only assume that someone up there has got it in for me.

Maybe I should ask Tara about it, next time she chooses to manifest herself.

'Any bright ideas?' Janice asked, jumping back to avoid a glob of demon saliva.

'How about you talk to them nicely?' Chrissie suggested.

'Or we could try this,' Drew said.

Now Andrew Kowalski is a reporter for the school paper. Drew, however, dreams of better things and is always on the look out for the 'big one', the story that'll get him noticed by the national press. He thought that maybe Sunnydale's supernatural element might be what he was looking for - until he actually met it in person. Is there actually a point to this digression? Well, only to point out that, in support of his quest for the 'big one', Drew always carried a camera with him. I don't think I've mentioned it before - I kinda took it as read - but it's important now so I thought I'd better clear that up.

Anyway, Drew pointed his camera at the demons and snapped a picture. The flash exploded in the faces and the three demons tumbled backwards, shielding their eyes.

'Run!' Drew shouted.

Yeah, like we needed prompting.

* * *

I've had better Christmases.

Okay, they've been few and far between, but I do remember times when my friends were actually on speaking terms. Maybe I'm being a little harsh, but things have certainly been strained this year. What with crisis after crisis, I guess it's hardly surprising, but sometimes I wonder if the constant pressure of the crises isn't the only thing keeping us together.

'You go on home,' Anya said to Trix. 'I can finish up here.'

'Maybe I'd prefer to wait,' Trix replied, ducking to avoid a red and green streamer trailing from the ceiling. 'I thought perhaps I could take you out to dinner. We could try that Chinese place on Stephenson.'

'That's sweet, Trix,' Anya said, 'but I don't really feel like going out tonight.'

She smiled at him, but it was a watery smile and it did not reach her eyes.

'No problem,' Trix responded. 'You could always come to my place. I'll order takeout and we can just slob in front of the TV if you'd rather.'

Anya put a hand on Trix's arm.

'That sounds…great,' she told him, 'but not tonight. I think I want to be alone.'

'Is that what you really want?' Trix asked.

Anya turned her back on him.

'I just need some space, okay,' she snapped. 'I need time to think.'

'Fine. Whatever,' Trix shot back, picking up his leather jacket and putting it on. 'I just wish I knew where we were going with this relationship. We're in some kind of holding pattern at the moment and every time I try and break us out of it you drag us right back in.'

He tugged open the door, but paused on the threshold.

'I just wish I knew what it is you want,' he said before stepping outside.

'I wish I knew too,' Anya said as the door fell closed.

* * *

I've had better Christmases.

I remember Christmases, recent ones, with Willow and Tara. And with my sister. I remember times spent celebrating with a flesh and blood family. Not with ghosts.

'This isn't exactly a good time,' I said to Tara.

'There's never going to be a good time, Dawn,' Tara replied. 'We've already lost so much time, too much time. It may already be too late.'

I was at the back of the group, driving them forward while looking over my shoulder for signs of pursuit. They were sufficiently far in front not to notice me talking to a ghost. Or talking to the air, rather, given that Tara seemed to be invisible to everybody that wasn't me.

'What do you mean 'too late'?' I asked.

'You should already have had over a year to acclimatise to your gifts,' Tara explained. 'That was the grand plan. All of the strands of life were woven into the one thread of fate, until Willow intervened and unravelled it all.'

'Willow?' I repeated.

'She upset the balance,' Tara continued, 'and delayed your ascension.'

'My what?' So I sounded like a broken record. I bet you're not following this any better than I was.

'You were supposed to grow gradually,' Tara said, 'under careful guidance, but there is no time any more. There are many who feel that it is already too late and that matters have progressed too far out of hand to be saved. They are already withdrawing from this sphere, leaving its mortal inhabitants to face the darkness alone. But there are a few of us who feel that the plan can still be saved, that you are strong enough to endure the trials ahead without preparation. And we have the support of the Presence in this.'

'In what?' I demanded. 'What is going on, Tara? What is it you expect me to do?'

'Open your eyes, Dawn,' Tara said. 'That's all. Just open your eyes.'

'What, you think I've been running around with my eyes welded shut or something?' I asked.

Tara stepped round behind me and covered my eyes with her hands.

'Trust me,' she said.

Then she took her hands away.

I was surrounded by people. Old people, young people, men and women. The all walked with their heads bowed and their backs bent as if under a great weight and, while they were in full colour, it was a colour that was weak and faded and washed out. And I could see through them.

'Where did they come from?' I asked.

'They've always been here,' Tara said. 'You just haven't looked for them before.'

'They're ghosts, aren't they?' I said.

'Yes,' Tara confirmed. 'You looking at the Ghost Roads.'

'But…but how? Why?'

'It's your gift,' Tara said.

I shook my head. As Christmas presents went, this one sucked.

'Dawn, what's the hold up?' Drew called.

I looked up. Tara had disappeared. Typical.

'What's up, Drew?' I called back.

'Isn't that you're friend,' he asked, 'you know, the demon?'

That description didn't really narrow it down, but it did not take more than one glance at the figure across the street to realise that he was talking about Trix.

'Hey, Trix!' I shouted.

'Trix!' Janice added her own voice, jumping up and down and waving her arms as she did so.

'Help!' Drew and Chrissie cried.

We screamed as loudly as we could, we shouted until our lungs burned and our throats were raw, but it did no good. Our voices were as small and insignificant as we now were and Trix was not going to hear us. Soon he had walked away out of sight and, at our size, we had no hope of catching him.

Chrissie sat down on the sidewalk.

'What's the point?' she complained, head in her hands.

'Wild guess here, but maybe to stop the monsters from eating us,' Janice replied, 'probably by, you know, running?'

'Jan's got a point, Chrissie,' Drew remarked. 'Sitting here's not going to solve anything.'

'So you're taking her side no, are you?' Chrissie snapped. 'And what's so good about running? Is that all we're going to be doing from now on?'

'We get to the Magic Box,' I said. 'We can reverse this there, I'm sure of it.'

'Well good for you,' Chrissie retorted. 'And have you any idea how long it's going to take us to get there?'

'We're about a twelfth of our normal height, right,' Janice said, 'and we're, what, about fifteen, twenty minutes away at our usual height?'

'Which means it should take us about four hours,' Drew concluded. 'Add on a little for the terrain, but we should still be there by morning.'

'And isn't that just terrific,' Chrissie said.

Janice raised a hand.

'Who votes we just leave her here?' she said. 'Eating her is bound to slow the demons down some.'

'Better we left you,' Chrissie shot back. 'They'll take longer over more meat.'

'Better we left both of you so Drew and I could concentrate,' I snapped. Had Buffy had moments like this with Xander and Willow, I wondered. I doubted it. They were always so together, so organised. They wouldn't have even got into this mess in the first place.

'What we need,' Drew announced, 'is transportation and I think I've found just the thing.'

A skateboard was resting against the kerb. Its owner had left it unattended while he talked - sorry, shouted - with his friends across the way.

'Lead on, MacDuff,' I told Drew. 'Our chariot awaits.'

'Isn't it 'Lay on, MacDuff'?' Janice said. 'That's what Helena said.'

* * *

Helena was curled up in a ball at the head of her bed. Her father stood at the opposite end, zipping up his pants.

'Happy Christmas, Alicia,' he said before leaving the room, quietly closing the door behind him.

'I'm Helena,' Helena told the empty room.

She rested her chin on her knees and trembled. She felt dirty, worthless. She hated herself, hated herself for what she let her father do to her. Hated herself for not having the strength or the intelligence to end it. She just did not know how.

Her dressing-gown lay on the floor, abandoned after her father had roughly torn it from her shoulders. Slowly, she climbed off of the bed and crouched by the garment. She drew the belt from the loops and tested it between her hands. It felt soft, but seemed strong enough for her purposes.

She went to the folding chair under her desk and moved it under the light, lifting it rather than dragging it so as not to make a noise. The she climbed up on to the chair and tied one end of the belt around the light fitting. She tugged on it. The knot seemed secure. Then she made a noose with the other end. Her fingers fumbled over the job, but eventually she was satisfied with the result.

She put the loop over her head.

She took a deep breath. This was it. Please let this be it.

She kicked the chair away and the belt went taut.

Helena had read that often the cause of death in a hanging was a broken neck. Her neck remained resolutely unbroken. Very well. Choking to death was slower and more painful, but it achieved the same result in the end. Only that wasn't how this was going to go down. The muscles in Helena's neck were tough, tougher than she remembered them ever being before, and her throat refused to be crushed and her airways remained open.

So Helena just hung there, limply, tears staining her cheeks as she cursed her fate.

Maybe I have had better Christmases, but I have no right whatsoever to complain.

* * *

'Everybody lean right!' Drew shouted.

He was sitting directly behind me, but the way the wind was rushing past us it almost carried his words away completely. We all leaned and the skateboard careered around a corner.

'There it is!' I shouted, pointing at the Magic Box.

'Anyone know where the brakes are on this thing?' Janice asked through gritted teeth. She was hanging on to the edge of the board like her life depended on it. I couldn't understand it. Under other circumstances, I would have loved this. I was loving it, if I'm honest.

'Look out!' Chrissie cried.

I looked up. There was a man standing on the street corner, enjoying a cigarette. I hadn't noticed him in the darkness and he hadn't seen us, but we were heading straight for him.

'Lean!' Drew ordered.

'Which way?' I called back.

'Any way,' Janice said.

Somehow, we managed to turn the skateboard and avoid the man. Unfortunately, we struck the kerb, hard and at speed. The board lifted up, throwing the four of us onto the sidewalk.

'I guess we found the brakes,' I muttered. I tried sitting up, but obviously moved to fast because the world started to spin. I moved a lot slower on my second attempt.

The smoking man, still oblivious to us, threw the remains of his cigarette to the ground and wandered off.

'Is everyone okay?' Drew called.

'Define okay,' Janice said, getting to her feet. 'I'm going to be back and blue for a week.'

'Join the club,' I remarked. 'Where's Chrissie?'

'I'm here,' she said, 'but I'm stuck.'

Chrissie had landed in a discarded lump of chewing gum and she couldn't get free.

Drew hurried over to her.

'I'll have you out of here in no time,' he assured her.

'This is disgusting,' she said.

'And just think about the person who's been chewing on that,' Janice said.

'Don't remind me,' Chrissie replied. 'I'm heading for upchuck city as it is.'

'Then maybe that will take your mind of it,' I said. 'Look out!'

Chrissie turned. And screamed.

A kitten was padding towards her. And let's not forget, this kitten was, relatively speaking, the size of an elephant.

It purred and licked its lips hungrily.

'Shoo!' Chrissie said, waving her arms at it.

'Yeah, like that's gonna help,' Janice sneered.

'Quit with the sarcasm and do something,' Chrissie yelled back.

'I'm thinking,' I called back.

'Think faster!'

I looked around. That kitten was getting very close. Maybe it wasn't going to eat Chrissie. Yeah, maybe it was just going to play with her because that would be so much better.

'Dawn, hurry it up,' Chrissie shouted. 'Please! I so do not want to end up as that thing's chew-toy.'

'I'm working on it,' I insisted. 'Jan, give me a hand with this.'

Together, we lifted the discarded cigarette butt. The man had not bothered to stamp it out and it was still smouldering.

'Sorry, kitty,' I whispered. Then I turned to Janice. 'Ready?'

'As I'll ever be,' she replied.

'Charge!'

Holding the cigarette like a battering ram, we charged forward and shoved the smouldering end between the kitten's eyes. The kitten yelped and then scampered away, clearly deciding that this particular prey was more trouble than it was worth.

'Thanks,' Chrissie said as Drew pulled her free of the gum.

Janice was staring at the door of the Magic Box.

'Not that I want to depress everyone or anything,' she began, 'but how exactly are we going to get inside?'

'Through the letter box?' I suggested.

'Yeah, because I'm really going to be able to climb up there,' Janice pointed out.

'You might,' Drew said, 'with a little help.'

He was holding a handful of chewing gum. He slapped his hand against the door and it stuck fast.

'What do you think?' he said.

Janice wrinkled her face in disgust.

'At least let me put some gloves on first,' she said.

* * *

Wesley Wyndham-Price was unpacking a suitcase when he heard the buzz of the (inaccurately named) doorbell. Finding accommodation in Sunnydale wasn't difficult, even at short notice. Apparently, many properties were vacated suddenly. (Odd that.) Still, as Wesley filed his books on the shelves (by subject and then alphabetically), he lamented the lack of space. It wasn't that he himself needed a lot of room, but he had brought a lot of his things down with him (one can never be too prepared, he believed) and it was looking like they were going to remain in their cardboard boxes indefinitely.

Dropping the book he was holding on to the bed (much better than potentially misfiling it), Wesley went to open the door.

'Who is it?' Wesley asked.

'It's me,' came the reply.

Wesley sighed and peered through the spy-hole.

'Halfrek, isn't it?' he asked.

'Got that right,' Halfrek replied, hands on her hips.

'Isn't it a little…late for house calls?' Wesley asked.

'Hey, you're still up, hon,' Halfrek pointed out.

'Yes, but - and I don't mean to be rude - couldn't this wait until morning?'

'Why wait,' Halfrek replied. 'You and I need to talk.'

'I really don't think…'

Wesley trailed off. Halfrek had teleported into the room with him.

'Isn't that a little rude,' Wesley asked.

'I could always go back outside, if you want,' Halfrek offered, 'assuming you're going to open the door this time.'

'You're not going to go away, are you,' Wesley deduced.

'Got it in one,' Halfrek told him. 'There are some ground rules you need to understand.'

'Ground rules? What…no, firstly, I want to know how you even knew I'd arrived?'

Angel had come to Sunnydale with Wesley, hence the late night arrival. Wesley suspected that the vampire had wanted to be sure that Wesley was safely out of his hair. He couldn't blame Angel, not after what he had done. Why was it that doing what you thought was right always ended up costing people? With hindsight, would he have done things differently? It was a stupid question. He hadn't known then what he knew now and, based solely on the information he had had back then, he knew that he would have done the same thing in a heartbeat. He had regrets, sure, but not about making that choice.

'What can I say?' Halfrek asked. 'I've been keeping an eye out for you. Like I said, there are a few things we need to get straightened out.'

'Such as?' Wesley asked.

'Dawn,' Halfrek replied. 'She doesn't need a Watcher. She's not the new Slayer and you'd do well to remember it.'

'I will, don't worry about that,' Wesley assured her. 'I'm not exactly here through choice, remember.'

'Look, Dawn's been through a lot lately,' Halfrek continued, more than you could possibly imagine.'

Wesley ran a finger along the scar on his throat.

'I can imagine quite a lot,' he said.

'Whatever. The last thing Dawn needs now is someone looking over her shoulder the whole time.'

'I couldn't agree more,' Wesley replied, 'but I'm here to help Dawn and, while it may not be my choice, I will do my job to the best of my abilities.'

'Just see that you do,' Halfrek said.

Wesley raised an eyebrow.

'Was there anything else?' he asked.

'Well, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to go to dinner,' Halfrek admitted. 'You're new in town and I could show you the best places to eat.'

'I seriously doubt there's anywhere still open at this time of night,' Wesley said.

'Oh, I know of a place or two,' Halfrek told him. 'Or we could stay here and I could keep you company. I'd hate to think of you alone on your first night here.'

'You know, Halfrek,' Wesley began, 'I'm beginning to suspect that all of that guff about Dawn was just an excuse to come and see me.'

Halfrek looked up at him from beneath hooded eyelids.

'And would it upset you if it was?' she asked.

* * *

'Need a hand?' Drew asked as he climbed down the inside of the door. The gum made squelching sounds each time he pulled it off and then reapplied it lower down, like homemade suction cups.

'Wouldn't say no,' Chrissie replied and Drew put his arms around her and carried her the last few steps to the ground.

'What about you, Jan?' I asked. 'You okay?'

'Just thinking about how much I'm going to need a shower when this is all over,' she replied.

I smiled.

'You and me both,' I said.

'Well, we're here,' Drew said as we all gathered on the floor. 'What now?'

'The magic books - the real ones - are all upstairs, out of the way of the customers,' I told him.

'Not more climbing,' Chrissie complained.

'I don't think so,' I said. I looked at Drew. 'Are you thinking what I'm thinking?'

'You read my mind,' he replied, untying one of the helium balloons.

'No way,' Chrissie said. 'You have so got to be kidding me.'

'Oh don't be such a spoilsport,' Drew retorted. 'Live a little.'

Keeping a tight hold on the string in one hand, he wrapped his arm about Chrissie's waist and the two of them began to float towards the ceiling.

'Up, up and away!' Drew bellowed enthusiastically.

Chrissie had screwed her eyes shut.

'Shall we?' Janice asked me.

* * *

'Dawn, breakfast's ready,' Hank hollered up the stairs.

He wandered back to the kitchen where Lydia was reading the morning paper.

'I wonder what's keeping her?' Hank said to her. 'She'll be late for school at this rate.'

The doorbell rang.

'Answer that, would you, dear?' Lydia said. Hank was already on his way.

'Good morning, Mr Summers,' Wesley said. 'I don't believe you've met…'

'Halfrek,' the woman said, offering her hand. Automatically, Hank took it and Halfrek shook his hand vigorously.

'Halfrek,' Hank repeated. 'That's an unusual name.'

'Well it gets a boring just having the usual ones,' Halfrek said.

'What can I do for you both?' Hank asked.

'We just stopped by to wish Dawn luck in the musical today,' Wesley told him. 'You'll be there, of course, won't you?'

'Try and stop me,' Hank replied, beaming. 'My little girl's playing Dorothy. It doesn't get much better than that.'

'No, it doesn't,' Wesley agreed.

'But I'm afraid Dawn doesn't seem to be up yet,' Hank continued.

'Not to worry,' Wesley replied. 'I'm sure we'll run into her later. Sorry to have bothered you.'

'No bother,' Hank responded. 'Besides, Dawn should be up by now or she'll be late. Lydia, could you go and check on Dawn?'

'Why me?' Lydia called back. 'She's your kid.'

'Please, Lydia, just do it this once,' Hank said. 'For me.'

'Whatever,' Lydia sighed before stamping upstairs.

'You'll have to forgive Lydia,' Hank told his guests. 'She's not a morning person.'

'She's not in her room,' Lydia called down from upstairs.

'Not in her room?' Hank repeated.

'Oh yes, that's right,' Wesley said hastily. 'She was going to school early to put in some extra rehearsal time. I completely forgot. Silly of me.'

'I wish she had thought to tell me,' Hank said. 'She always seems to be coming and going as she pleases. Come to thing of it, I don't remember hearing her come in last night.'

'She's hardly likely to have been up all night, is she?' Halfrek remarked. 'Not like some people, eh?'

She gave Wesley a playful dig in the ribs. Wesley swallowed.

'Try not to be too hard on Dawn,' Wesley said to Hank. 'She's been through a lot of upheavals recently and she needs time to adjust. I'm sure you do to.'

'That's true,' Hank agreed, 'but there still need to be ground rules and limits.'

'Absolutely,' Wesley replied, 'just try to see things from her point of view, that's all.'

Hank gave a wry smile.

'Yeah, I remember what it was like to be a teenager, too,' he said.

'Well, if Dawn isn't here, we had best be off,' Wesley said. 'If you see Dawn before we do, will you let her know we stopped by? Merry Christmas, Mr Summers.'

'Merry Christmas,' Hank said.

* * *

Chrissie stretched and yawned.

'I thought witches and wizards were meant to be exciting,' she complained, but this is so dull.'

'Speak for yourself,' Janice retorted. She was crawling across the page of a book, utterly engrossed.

'Found anything yet?' I asked her.

'Loads,' she replied. 'This bit here is about a warding spell. It looks pretty straightforward. I wonder if I could…'

'I meant, have you found anything that'll help us get back to normal?' I explained.

'Oh, sorry,' Janice said. 'Then no, not yet. But I'm sure the answer is in here somewhere.'

'Great, more books,' Chrissie muttered. 'I'll just wait over here…hey, look at that!'

We hurried over to the rail just in time to see Anya finish teleporting into the shop.

'I never get tired of that,' she said to herself.

'Hey, Anya!' I shouted.

'What's the point,' Chrissie said. 'She can't hear us.'

'Sorry, I forgot,' I confessed.

'I can hear you perfectly well, thank you,' Anya said. 'Now where are you?'

Our jaws hit the floor.

When I had recovered my composure, I said, 'We're up here. How come you can hear us, but Trix couldn't.'

'Because I'm a vengeance demon,' Anya said as if that explained everything. Maybe it did. 'I'm guessing you've got a small problem.'

'Could we not make size remarks,' Drew said. 'I'm having some inferiority issues.'

'We got covered in some orange demon dust,' Janice explained. 'Next thing we know we're like this.'

'I thought we might be able to find a spell here to reverse it,' I added.

'Probably,' Anya agreed. 'Unfortunately, I don't really know the books that well. That was always Giles' area.'

'Typical,' Chrissie muttered.

'But Wesley might know,' Anya continued.

'Wesley's back already?' I asked.

'Oh yes, he arrived last night,' Anya explained. 'Stay right where you are and I'll go and fetch him. Halfrek should have finished seducing him by now.'

'Halfrek?' I said, but Anya had already vanished.

'So now what?' Drew asked.

'Sorry, still trying to get rid of that image of Wesley and Halfrek,' I said. 'Freaky.'

'I vote for just waiting until they get back,' Chrissie said. 'Or am I the only one feeling tired after being up all night.'

'You know, I had a difficult enough time working out what Drew saw in you in the first place,' Janice commented, 'but if that's all it takes to wear you out then I really am baffled.'

'Please, no more mental images,' I protested.

'Well, I for one don't want to just sit around here waiting to be rescued,' Drew said.

'You're just trying to impress your girlfriend,' I teased.

'And you point is?' he asked.

'Nothing,' I replied. 'I agree with you.'

'I guess that means we're back to the books,' Janice said with more enthusiasm than was really warranted. 'Drew, could you give me a hand getting this one down.'

'Sure,' he said.

Then all hell broke loose.

The font window smashed as three blue demons jumped through it.

'Where are you?' the first demon said. 'We can smell you. You made a mistake, crossing us and now we're going to hunt you down.'

'And then we're going to eat you,' the second one said.

'But we'll play with you first,' the third added. 'It's more fun that way. For us, that is.'

'Now what do we do?' Janice whispered.

'You stay here and wait for Anya and Wesley,' I told her. 'I'll draw them off.'

I tore a page out of the book Janice was reading.

'My book,' Janice cried.

'Sorry, Jan,' I replied. Then I jumped off the landing using the page as a parachute.

The wind carried me through the broken window and out on to the street. Drew landed next to me, holding another ripped out page.

'What are you doing here?' I asked.

'Running,' he said.

Sometimes the simple plans are the best.

* * *

'Dawn's in trouble,' Wesley said.

'But you said she was at school,' Halfrek replied as they walked away from my house.

'Hallie, I only arrived last night,' Wesley pointed out. 'When exactly did I speak to Dawn.'

'Hmm, good point, Wes,' Halfrek conceded. 'So where is she?'

'Wherever it is it can't be good,' Wesley deduced. 'Dawn isn't stupid and, what with everything else that's going on, she isn't about to start rocking the boat with her father without good reason.'

Erm…

'So what do we do?' Halfrek asked.

Wesley frowned.

'I'm a little out of my depth here,' he admitted. 'I'm the new boy and I'm still learning the ropes. However, I think our best course would be to find Anya and the others and pool ideas.'

'Anya should be at the Magic Box by now,' Halfrek said. 'I'll just…'

'Wesley. Halfrek,' Anya said as she suddenly appeared. 'I've been looking all over for you.'

'Speak of the devil,' Wesley murmured.

'Dawn's in trouble,' Anya said.

'Tell us something we don't know,' Halfrek replied.

* * *

'Do you think we've lost them,' Drew panted.

'Let's hope not,' I replied. Then, off Drew's baffled look, I added, 'If they're not following us, they might double back after Chrissie and Jan.'

'Point,' Drew spluttered. 'I'm sorry, Dawn, but I'm going to have to rest a minute. I don't follow the same demon-hunter workout plan as some people.'

'I do tend to get more than my fair share of running practice,' I conceded as we paused to catch our breath.

And it was at this point that I discovered the one great advantage of my new size. Kirstie and the Sweater Mafia were walking up the street on their way to school. I'd love to say Kirstie is a girl with no redeeming features, but life just isn't that fair. Kirstie is tall and slender and curvy in all the places boys seem to like and her blond curls never seem out of place. Her grades, while never spectacular, are certainly better than average and she's no slouch in the sports department either, confidently holding her place in the volleyball team.

But, most grating of all, Kirstie is popular. Now what's wrong with being popular? Nothing, I guess. There was a time when I would have killed to be popular (nowadays I'd just maim). No, my problem with Kirstie is why she's popular. She's popular for being cruel. She preys on those weaker and less fortunate than herself, mocking, teasing and bullying. Pointing out their flaws for all to see, even making stories up where nice juicy ones aren't all ready and waiting for her. The only way to escape her is to be in with her. That is why she's popular.

I've spent the last few years of school doing my best to avoid her, usually without success, and many was the time I would have killed to be so small she couldn't have seen me. Guess I finally got my wish.

Kirstie was talking to her entourage as she walked. Well, talking at might be a better description. The cardigan-wearing members of the Sweater Mafia would hang on Kirstie's every word regardless of what she was saying. At school, being invited to join the Sweater Mafia was the highest honour a girl could hope to receive (short of being Kirstie herself). They were Kirstie's inner circle, her special little helpers. They turned my stomach.

Strange as it may seem, a few weeks into my first semester I had been asked to join them. I had very nearly said yes. Then I saw Kirstie picking on Janice. Her parents were going through a pretty messy divorce and Janice was caught in the middle. Her folks seemed more concerned over who got custody of the car than who got custody of their daughter. I say seemed because the fact is that both Janice's parents love her dearly, but I've had to watch my own parents split up and I can't even begin to tell you how confusing it is for the kid.

So anyway, maybe I was drawn to Janice because I felt sympathy for her. Kirstie was drawn to her the same way a wolf is to a lamb, because she smelled easy pickings. Soon as I saw Kirstie make a target out of someone for something completely beyond their control I knew I wanted no part of her little gang. Of course, turning Kirstie down is rarely a good idea and I might as well have painted a target on my forehead from that day on. Still, I still had my principles, right? And most days I could convince myself it was worth it.

'And I know you'll all be there tonight to support me,' Kirstie was saying to her clutch. 'It's hardly the part I deserved, but I'm sure you'll agree that I've made the part my own.'

Having failed to be cast as Dorothy, Kirstie had instead landed a part as one of the munchkins. Now, I want to stress that it is neither big nor clever to laugh at other people's misfortunes. Sometimes, though, it can be a lot of fun.

'Now I expect you to make sure that the whole school turns out to see my big moment,' Kirstie told her friends. 'I want to be able to look out from that stage and know that all those faces are there for one reason only - me.'

'But what about Dawn?' one of the Mafia - Stacey, I think - asked.

'What about, Dawn?' Kirstie snapped, turning on the dissenter. 'Do you really think she matters to anyone?'

The strap on Kirstie's bag chose that moment to snap and the bag fell to the ground.

'Now look what you made me do,' Kirstie said angrily.

'Quickly,' I hissed to Drew. 'Into the bag. They'll never catch up with us this way.'

It took me a couple of tries to open the zip, but then Drew and I tumbled inside. I wrinkled my nose.

'Is that her lunch?' I asked.

'I dread to think,' Drew replied.

Then my stomach lurched as Kirstie hefted the bag off of the ground. We were off.

* * *

'Where are they?' Wesley demanded as he burst into the Magic Box.

'Up there,' Anya said, pointing.

Wesley took the stairs two at a time and, once on the landing, he got down on his hands and knees, scanning the floor for his quarry.

'There you are,' he said when he spotted Janice and Chrissie. 'Hard at work, I see.'

'Well, we weren't going to just sit here and do nothing,' Chrissie replied. Janice pulled a face.

'Quite,' Wesley said. 'Where's Dawn?'

'She and Drew are leading off the demons,' Janice explained.

Wesley frowned.

'These demons,' he said, 'describe them for me.'

'Blue. About a foot tall,' Janice began. 'Big elongated heads.'

'Like pigs,' Chrissie added, 'but with more teeth.'

'And they had webbed fingers and toes,' Janice continued.

'Anya,' Wesley called down, 'is there a Jane's Demonology down there?'

'I've got it,' Halfrek said, passing up a large tome.

Wesley flicked hurriedly through the pages until he found the one he wanted.

'Are you all right,' Janice asked, concerned by his troubled face.

'I'm all right,' Wesley said, 'it's your friends I'm worried about. These particular demons are carnivorous. They shrink their prey down to a size they can hunt and then they won't rest until said prey is completely consumed.'

'But you can reverse the spell, right?' Chrissie said. 'Their no threat to us at normal size, are they?'

'No, they're not,' Wesley agreed. 'And yes, I believe I can reverse the shrinkage. But it's a question of time, you see. If the demons catch up with them…well, I only pray we're not already too late.'

* * *

Kirstie shoved her bag into her locker.

'Kirstie, thank god you're here,' Mr Gleason said. 'You haven't seen Dawn, have you?'

'Why would I want to,' Kirstie asked. The Sweater Mafia giggled.

'We were going to have a rehearsal this morning, but she's nowhere to be seen,' Mr Gleason explained.

'Don't you worry, sir,' Kirstie told him. 'If the worse comes to the worse, I could always play Dorothy for you.'

Over my dead body.

Kirstie slammed the locker door shut and the voices receded into the distance. Drew and I clambered out of the bag.

'Any more bright ideas, Dawn,' Drew asked, 'or do we just wait to be rescued.'

'Look on the bright side,' I replied, 'if we can't get out it means they can't get in.'

Drew looked about as convinced by that as I was.

'Why are you even here, Drew?' I asked. 'I thought you didn't want any part of this, but you're jumping into things just as fast as I am.'

'I wasn't about to let you play hero all by yourself,' Drew said. 'What sort of a gentleman would I be then?'

'The twenty-first century kind,' I replied. 'Besides, it's more than that.'

'Truth?' Drew said. 'After you jumped off the landing, Chrissie was all ready to leap after you. She's really into this whole adventure crap. Wants to be the new Lara Croft or something. Well she may dig all the danger, but I don't want to see her get hurt - or worse - so I went in her place.'

'You really care about her, don't you?' I said.

'It's funny,' Drew replied, 'not that long ago, no girl would have given me the time of day, 'cept for you and Jan and Chrissie and I knew you and Jan weren't about to entertain romantic feelings towards me.'

'You'll make an investigative reporter yet,' I told him.

'Thanks, I think,' Drew said. 'Anyway, it was a joke more than anything else, but I figured I'd have a go at asking Chrissie out on a date. I reckoned she'd put me down, again, but I'd heard all the pithy lines before so what could be worse, right? Well, she said yes.'

'Must have been a shock,' I said.

'You have no idea,' Drew replied. 'So imagine, now I have to go through with this date and the really freaky thing is that we actually enjoy ourselves. So we go out on another date and I'm starting to think there may be more to Chrissie than I first thought. I've found somebody, Dawn, and she's special. Don't ask me how, it's not something I can put into words, but she's unique and she's wonderful and I think I might be in love with her.'

'And what does she feel about this?' I asked quietly.

'She knows I care about her,' Drew explained, 'but that I love her? I haven't the guts to say anything. I mean, it's not like she's going to love me back, is it? But I know she's fond of me and that’s something. Whatever happens today, whether we make it out of here or not, I'll always have that and maybe, just maybe that's enough.'

* * *

'Found it,' Wesley announced.

He was sitting cross-legged on the landing pulling book after book off the shelves. The one he was currently holding had a midnight blue cover decorated with gold writing in a tongue Janice did not recognise.

'Well then, what are we waiting for?' Chrissie asked.

'I'm not a magic user,' Wesley explained, 'and nor is anyone else here. I can probably get the spell to work, but it's going to require a lot of preparation and ritual and that's going to take time.'

'But you said Drew and Dawn didn't have time,' Janice replied.

'I know!' Wesley shot back. 'I'll try and work as fast as I can. In the meantime…well, now might be a good time to pray.'

He put the book on the floor, open at the appropriate page and then descended to the ground floor, shouting instructions at Anya, Halfrek and Trix.

'Oh this is just brilliant,' Chrissie complained. 'My boyfriend's going to get eaten just because I don't know any witches.'

'He's not dead yet,' Janice responded as she climbed on to the book.

'Oh yeah? Chrissie asked. 'And how the hell do you know that.'

'I don't, okay,' Janice retorted, 'but I'm not about to give up on them either, unlike some people.'

'Sorry,' Chrissie murmured, sounding genuinely contrite. 'So what are you looking at?'

'That spell,' Janice explained. 'I thought I might be able to spot something Dawn's friend couldn't.'

'Right, because it's not like he's the expert of demonology round here,' Chrissie pointed out.

'I had to do something,' Janice replied. 'Besides, I think I can actually make some of this out.'

Curious, Chrissie climbed on to the book next to Janice.

'Well read it already,' she said.

'But what if something goes wrong?' Janice asked.

'Our friends our about to be eaten,' Chrissie responded. 'How much worse can it get?'

Janice began to read.

* * *

'I should have said something sooner,' Drew said, 'but I haven't really asked how you're coping without…without your sister.'

I looked away so the Drew wouldn't see the tears that had filled my eyes.

'It's okay,' Drew said hurriedly. 'You don't have to answer. It was stupid of me to ask. Sorry.'

'No, it's okay,' I replied, wiping my nose on my sleeve. 'It's tough, you know. She was always there for me. We fought, sure, and maybe I hated her at times, but I always knew that whatever happened I could count on her to catch me if I fell. I don't have that any more.'

'You've got me,' Drew said, 'and Chrissie and Janice. We're here for you.'

'No offence,' I told him, 'but it's not the same.'

'No, I guess it's not,' Drew conceded.

'I've had to grow up really fast,' I continued. 'I'm in charge now. I just want to be a kid again, but I can't, can I? Now I know how Buffy felt when Mom died and I hate myself because I could have been more help to her and I wasn't.'

'That's not your fault,' Drew put in.

'Wasn't it?' I asked. 'Doesn't matter anyway. What's done is done. What's happening now is that I'm drowning beneath the pressure.'

'But you don't have to,' Drew said. 'You don't have to be the grown up. You've got you dad and whatshisname, Wesley, to look out for you.'

'Oh yeah, I'm supposed to just curl up in a corner because poor Dawnie isn't up to fending for herself,' I said.

'That's not what I meant,' Drew insisted.

'I know,' I assured him, 'but that's how it feels. That's how it feels the whole time. Like I'm some kind of failure. Like I'm failing Buffy. You know, I'm almost glad she can't see me now.'

'You don't mean that,' Drew said.

'Don't I?' I asked. 'All I wanted was to keep you and Janice and Chrissie out of this and look what I've done. We're all going to die because I screwed up.'

'We're not dead yet,' Drew said, 'but we would be if it wasn't for your bravery and quick thinking. Your sister would be proud of you. As for keeping us out of it, what, do you think we need to be hidden away because we can't cope with your life. We're your friends, Dawn, and that makes us a part of it whether we like it or not.'

Drew put his hand on my shoulder.

'We're a team, Dawn,' he said.

I reached up and gave his hand a squeeze.

We both jumped back as something hit the locker.

'We know you're in there,' the demon said. 'Are you going to come out or do we have to tear our way in?'

I could hear the sound of claws scraping against metal.

'I'm sorry, Drew,' I said.

* * *

'Maat, goddess of truth, we beseech you to lift the veil and restore to us our true natures and form. Cast out the distortions and the lives and show such things as they are meant to be.'

'Well that was a waste of time,' Chrissie remarked. 'Not even a little bit taller.'

'I don't know,' Janice said cautiously. 'I thought I felt something. It was like the hairs on the back of my neck all stood up at once.'

'Probably a draft,' Chrissie said.

'No, it was more than that,' Janice insisted. 'Let me try again.

'Maat, goddess of truth, we beseech you to lift the veil and restore to us our true natures and form. Cast out the distortions and the lives and show such things as they are meant to be.'

Chrissie shivered. It was like an electrical shock passing down her spine.

'I felt it too that time,' she admitted. 'Do it again.'

'Maat, goddess of truth, we beseech you to lift the veil and restore to us our true natures and form. Cast out the distortions and the lives and show such things as they are meant to be.'

The spell still had no effect.

Janice hit the page with her fist in frustration.

'Dammit,' she said. 'I'm so close, but I just can't get it.'

'Hey, it's okay,' Chrissie said.

'Okay?' Janice snapped. 'Dawn and Drew are going to get eaten because I just not quite good enough and you call that okay?'

'Calm down, Jan,' Chrissie said and she put her hand on Janice's.

There was a blinding flash of light.

* * *

The locker smashed open as Drew and I grew back to our normal size and tumbled out into the corridor. The three blue demons didn't look quite so threatening from this height. I grabbed Kirstie's bag and stuffed the demons, kicking and screaming the whole time, inside.

'That should hold them until we figure out what to do with them,' I told Drew.

'And what if Kirstie happens to open her bag in the meantime?' Drew asked.

'I'm not going to lose any sleep over it,' I replied.

Mr Gleason came running into the corridor.

'What's all that racket?' he said. 'Drew, Dawn, what's going on here?'

'Nothing to worry about,' Drew said.

'Just a small problem,' I added. Drew groaned.

'Yes, well never mind that now,' Mr Gleason said. 'You're late for rehearsal. Go and get into costume. I expect you on stage in five minutes.'

I turned to Drew.

'Shall we?' I asked.

* * *

The hall was full of noise as people took their seats ready for the performance. Everyone was there. Xander's wheelchair meant they all got to sit at the front. Any was sitting between Xander and Trix. She was trying to make small talk with the pair of them, but didn't seem to be having much luck. Wesley and Halfrek were sitting together, sharing a programme, and Hank and Lydia sat next to them. Lydia clearly didn't want to be there, but Hank actually looked like he was looking forward to it. Of course, he could just have been a good actor - I had to get it from somewhere, right? Janice and Chrissie were sitting at opposite ends of the row. I wondered what that was all about. Even Clem had come to see me. He was standing at the back of the hall wearing an overcoat and a big hat.

'Oh my god,' I whispered to Drew. 'Everyone's out there. Everyone! Bring back the demons.'

'You don't mean that,' Drew said. 'Besides, you know they're only hear to see Kirstie.'

I gave him a playful dig in the ribs.

'Break a leg, everyone,' Mr Gleason called.

'Been there, done that,' Drew called back.

We all laughed.

'Nervous?' Drew asked. I nodded. 'Just try picturing the audience in their underwear.

'Even Hank?' I asked.

'Okay, maybe not him,' Drew conceded, 'but if you could just describe Anya for me…'

I gave him another dig in the ribs, harder this time.

The lights started to dim.

'Go make your sister proud,' Drew whispered to me.

I've had better Christmases, but I doubt I've had many that have been more memorable.

Taking a deep breath, I stepped out on to the stage.

 

 
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