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Anya had chosen Halloween as the perfect day to reopen the new-look Magic Box. She had also declared the day a combined Grand Reopening and Holiday Sale, so Trix and Anya were more than a little grateful for my help as soon as I got off school. Buffy and Xander were both still at work, but had both volunteered to come over and lend a hand as soon as they could.
Anya had gratefully accepted Buffy's offer. She had told Xander he was welcome to come over if he felt he had to. The shop was open to the public after all.
I was having a hard time working out whom I felt most sorry for. I mean, Xander was trying really hard to make another go at their relationship. He wanted it so badly and Anya was just giving him the brush-off the whole time. But then, he was the one that had left her at the altar. I intend to get married someday. I had planned on marrying Brad Pitt, but he's gone and screwed up that idea. Whatever. The point is that I still have these little girl fantasies of a white wedding with all the trimmings and, like, if my future husband decided to trash the whole thing by telling me at the very last minute that he didn't feel he could go through with it well, I'd probably be far less tolerant than Anya had been. At least she was still talking to him.
Trix's return just complicated things.
Up until that point I had really thought there might be a chance that Xander and Anya might get back together. A slim chance. Like the chance I'm going to get struck by an asteroid in the next five minutes. But still a chance, right? Anya was so lonely and, well, who can really relate to an ex-demon and Xander was there, ready to be all understanding and comforting if Anya would just say the word
and then Trix turns up and all of a sudden Anya has another man in her life and she doesn't need Xander after all.
So I guess I should hate Trix. But I don't. For a demon, he's actually pretty cool. But maybe I'm biased because he's one of the few people that doesn't talk to me like I'm a kid. And if I am? I don't care.
* * *
'You ever been to India, Dawn?' he asked as he rooted around at the back of the shop for a scrying amulet for a woman whose hair was chalk white except for a single black strip running down one side.
'Nope,' I replied as I busied myself with the wrapping and bagging side of things.
'You should go,' Trix told me, ducking to avoid a plastic pumpkin handing from the ceiling. 'Gives you a completely different perspective on the world. It was just so different from anywhere else I'd ever been.'
'I wish I could have seen it,' I sighed, 'but I doubt I'm gonna be getting out of Sunnydale any time soon. I mean, what with the school work and the, uh, extracurricular stuff, my calendar's pretty full for the next few years.'
'Don't rule it out,' Trix told me, handing the customer her amulet and pointing her in the direction of Anya, who was operating the cash register. 'If someone offers you the chance to do a spot of travelling then you jump at the chance. You won't regret it. Trust me. And if by some chance you do happen to be in India in the summer, can I recommend Darjeeling?'
'You know, where they grow the tea,' Trix explained. 'India can get unbearably hot at times, even for someone of my persuasion. But Darjeeling, up in the mountains, is still pleasantly cool. And it's a really, really strange experience. I had a guide taking me up there and he led me over to this rope bridge and there was nothing but mist ahead of us. And we took a few steps out onto this rickety bridge and all of a sudden I'm completely engulfed in this white stuff. I can't see where we're going or where we've been. I looked down and I couldn't even see the bridge. I wouldn't have even known it was there if I hadn't been holding on to it for dear life. And so I'm shuffling along this bridge a bit at a time and slowly, very slowly, this mist clears and I see this vast crop of green stretching out as far as I can see and walking amongst it all are these people picking off the leaves by hand. Hey, I even got to have a go at that myself.
'You know, all these warlocks and the like with their fireballs and the bat's blood and what have you, I don't think they really know what real magic is. Stepping off that bridge into that other world, that was magic.'
'So, was India you're favourite place?' I asked, tearing the sellotape with my teeth.
Trix thought about this for a moment.
'Yeah, I guess,' he mused. 'That or China. Or maybe the Great Barrier Reef.'
'Is there anywhere you haven't been?' I asked.
'Hey, I like to travel,' Trix protested. 'I don't tend to stay in one place for too long.'
'So when do you reckon you'll be moving on again?' I inquired.
'I don't know, he admitted, looking over at Anya. 'I've never had a reason to stay before.'
Buffy and Xander arrived soon after. Buffy went to help Anya at the till while Xander was banished to deal with book purchases at the far end of the shop.
By this stage, things in the shop were starting to wind down. There was the early evening rush as people stopped in on their way home from work - often with kids in toe, resplendent in their Halloween costumes (maybe I'm a little wacko, but I always think the home-made ones look better than those bought in a store) - but once we had survived through that particular brand of craziness, things were very nearly dead in there and we were free to do a bit of tidying up. And the place sure needed it.
Xander, the tallest, started taking down the hanging pumpkins, while I set about gathering up the decorations taped to the counter and the shelves and the table, and boxing them all up ready for next year.
'We keeping you up?' I asked jokingly.
'Hey, you try going out slaying every night,' she retorted.
'Promise?' I asked.
'Kidding,' I told her.
'Well, at least I can get a decent night's sleep,' Buffy commented. 'The one night of the year I don't have to feel guilty about taking some time off.'
'Assuming little sis doesn't decide to go dating the undead again,' Xander remarked.
'Or we don't get a visit from an Irish fear demon,' Anya added.
'Or become possessed by our Halloween costumes,' I said. 'Not that being a dragon wasn't fun an' all, while it lasted '
'Enough already,' Buffy laughed, waving her arms defensively. 'I'm taking the night off and there's nothing you lot can do about it.'
Trix leaned across and whispered in my ear.
'Is there some kind of guidebook you can lend me,' he asked, 'because I'm getting really, really lost here?'
Then the bell over the door chimed.
As one, we all turned to look at the intruder.
'Um, Hi,' Jonathan Levinson said.
* * *
We hadn't seen Jonathan since Willow had tried to kill him several months earlier. His friend had split town, but Jonathan had tried turning himself over to the cops. Guess he must have had a sudden attack of conscience. Too little too late, if you ask me. Directly or otherwise, that guy had been responsible for the deaths of two of my friends, people I thought of as family. I wasn't planning on forgiving him ever.
As I said, Jonathan had tried to hand himself over to the police. They refused to charge him, except maybe for wasting police time. There just wasn't any evidence to tie him to his crimes and when he started going on about magic and demons, well that only served to convince them he was nuts. The death of Warren's girlfriend had already been declared an accident and as for the attempted robbery at the amusement park like, sure a midget could up-end a heavily laden security van. He hadn't been the one to shoot Tara and Willow had been trying to kill him, not the other way round.
So much as I might want to see him behind bars - as much as he might want to be locked up himself - Jonathan Levinson was still free.
Free to give me an emotional punch in the gut the moment he walked into the room.
'We're closed,' Anya said. 'Perhaps you would care to come back and spend your money tomorrow.'
'Anya!' Xander complained. 'How can you even bear to be around this low-life.'
'He's a paying customer,' Anya replied. 'I don't have to like my customers to value their money.'
Trix smiled wryly.
'You haven't changed.'
'I-I'm not here to buy anything,' Jonathan stammered.
'Then why are you here, Jonathan?' Buffy asked. She folded her arms across her chest. I crossed the room to stand beside her and did the same.
'I, well, I, um, I just wanted to let you guys know, that, well, I'm really sorry about what happened, y'know,' Jonathan said. 'I didn't want it to end like that. Really.'
'Well that's real big of you, short-stuff,' Xander taunted.
'And I just wanted to say t-that I feel really bad about it and if there's anything that I can, y'know, do to help '
'Yes, you can leave,' Buffy told him.
'But,' Jonathan whined.
'She said you can leave,' I snapped at him. 'Or have you forgotten you and your buddies tried to kill us.'
'B-but I'm getting to be a really powerful warlock,' Jonathan said. 'I thought that maybe you might appreciate a bit of, well, magical help.'
'We don't need your help,' I told him.
'Are, are you sure?' Jonathan asked. 'I mean, now that Willow's gone and '
'Don't,' Buffy said. 'Don't you dare mention her name ever again.'
'Sorry,' Jonathan said, squirming. 'I just '
'The lady's already asked you to leave once,' Trix drawled. He tipped back his baseball cap revealing his horns. 'Don't make me come over there and carry you out.'
Jonathan paled at this, but, to give him credit, he stood his ground.
'Go!' Xander shouted.
Jonathan back-pedalled through the door as fast as his legs would carry him.
* * *
'Manjit, will you stop stepping on Neil's tail!' Mr Gleeson snapped. 'This is getting tiresome.'
I was up on the stage with my three co-stars. We were supposed to be rehearsing that song - you know the one - but we couldn't seem to get through the few lines of dialogue leading up to it. Or, more accurately, Neil didn't even get to deliver his line because every time he stepped forward, he was jerked back by someone standing on his tail.
'Sorry, Mr Gleeson,' Manjit said. 'It was an accident.'
'Accident my foot,' Mr Gleeson roared. He was usually a really nice guy, for a teacher, but I'd learnt during the first week of rehearsals that he could work up quite a temper if you crossed him. Fortunately, he seemed to like me.
'The first time might have been an accident,' Mr Gleeson continued. 'When we get up to six I become convinced you're doing it deliberately. If it happens again we'll be looking for another Tin-Man.'
'Stupid play anyway,' Manjit muttered.
'What was that?' Gleeson snapped.
'Nothing, dude,' Manjit replied.
'Mr Singh, I will ask you again to repeat what you said,' Gleeson said. 'I'm not going to ask you a third time.'
'I said it's a stupid play. Sir,' Manjit said.
'A stupid play,' Gleeson repeated. 'In that case, why are you here?'
'My Mom's a fan,' Manjit confessed. 'She really wants to see me perform in it.'
'Well, that's a shame,' Gleeson remarked, 'because as of now you are out, mister. The rest of these people actually want to be here and I won't have you ruining things for them. On the plus side, I'm not going to throw you in detention for your behaviour tonight. I've a feeling having to explain this to your mother will be punishment enough.'
'Now what?' Neil whispered to me. 'The Tin Man's like one of the major parts.'
'Well, duh,' I whispered back.
Mr Gleeson turned to face the audience.
'Mr Kowalski,' he said to Drew, 'how's the ankle?'
'Good as new, sir,' Drew replied. He was sitting right in the middle of the empty auditorium. He claimed that the sound was best there. Me, I couldn't tell the difference, but I wasn't about to argue with him.
'Good, good,' Mr Gleeson murmured. 'A little bird tells me that you're a big fan of this production.'
'Straight up,' Drew replied.
'The same bird also tells me that you were going to audition for the role of the Tin Man before your accident.'
'Well, here's the deal then,' Gleeson continued. 'I'm giving you the weekend to prepare. You audition for me on Monday and if I like what I see then the part's yours.'
'Absolutely,' Gleeson confirmed. 'I've heard good things about you, Kowalski. Try not to disappoint me. The rest of you, let's call it a night. Great work, people, but Neil, you really need to learn those lines. You're not going to be able to hold your script on the night.'
'Hey, Drew,' I called out, skipping down the steps at the side of the stage, 'congratulations!'
'Thanks, but I haven't got the part yet,' Drew cautioned.
'Well, yeah, but still wow-ness, right?' I said.
'Definite wow-ness,' Drew agreed. 'Listen, you want to go down the Bronze to celebrate.'
'I can't, Drew,' I said, 'not tonight. I've got stuff.'
'Stuff.' Drew frowned and I shifted my weight from foot to foot guiltily. 'You know, you always seem to have something else going on these days.'
'What can I say?' I shrugged. 'I'm a busy girl.'
'Maybe,' Drew replied, 'but it gets me that you don't trust me enough to talk to me about it.'
'It's not that I don't trust you, Drew,' I began.
'Then what is it?' he cut in. 'There's something strange going on with you, Dawn. Don't think I haven't noticed. You may have everyone else fooled, but I've got a reporter's nose.'
'Well, maybe you should give it back,' I joked.
Lame. This is what I'd been afraid of. Drew had spotted a story and now that he'd caught on to it he wasn't about to let go. What he didn't know was that with this story that type of attitude could get him killed.
'Look, Dawn, there's always been weird stuff in this town,' Drew continued. 'You'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to notice. Just because most folks round here like to bury their heads in the sand doesn't mean it isn't there.'
'I totally have no clue what you're talking about,' I lied.
'Sure you do,' Drew replied, 'because you're at the heart of it. You and your friend with the what was it? Skin condition.'
Okay, deception wasn't working. Time to try the direct approach.
'Drew, just drop it okay,' I said. 'Please.'
'You know I can't do that, Dawn,' he said. 'I've never let go of a story before and I'm not about to do so now. So either you tell me what's going on or I'll just have to figure it out the hard way.'
'Drew, you've already been hurt chasing after this stuff,' I pointed out. 'Haven't you even stopped to think that this might be dangerous?'
'I laugh in the face of danger.'
'What, from your hospital bed?'
So much for the direct approach.
'Hey, Drew, I thought we were going out tonight,' Chrissie called from the doorway. She was, as usual, wearing a daring black-on-black ensemble. 'You know I don't like to be kept waiting.'
'You and Chrissie?' I said, my mouth hanging open. 'Go Drew.'
He couldn't meet my eyes.
'Yeah, well, even I've got to admit she's kind of cute, once you get past the, well, you know '
'The freakiness?' I supplied. 'Hey, I thought you laughed in the face of danger.'
'Speaking of which,' Drew said, 'I wouldn't have to risk my neck if you'd just tell me what was going on.'
'Sorry,' I said, shouldering my bag, 'gotta run.'
When all else fails, bail.
* * *
I was at the Sun Cinema when it happened. I'd promised I would spend the evening with Clem. I had been neglecting him a bit lately and he was starting to feel a bit lonely, especially since we'd dusted his best friend. Not that he blamed us for it. He had always known that it was just a matter of time with Spike, but he still missed his favourite cards partner.
Anyway, Clem wanted to see the latest Disney movie and I'd promised to go with him. I had invited Buffy to go with us, but she wanted to catch up on some of that sleep she had been missing out on recently. Fair enough. As Clem said, all the more popcorn for us. Besides, we'd have only argued over it. Clem and I preferred the salted stuff whereas Buffy had a sweet tooth. Do Slayers get tooth decay? Or is that covered as pert of the whole Slayer package? Strength, speed and a free dental plan.
The point is, that while Clem and I were munching and giggling, Buffy was alone in the house.
Or, at least, she was supposed to be.
A shadow crept over the bed where Buffy slept and she shivered.
The other woman in the room reached out a cold hand and stroked Buffy's cheek.
Buffy sprung to wakefulness, lashing out with her foot and sending the intruder flying across the room while at the same time grabbing her stake from beneath the pillow and rolling off of the bed.
She glanced over the edge of the bed and got a good look at her attacker, silhouetted by the moonlight.
'Hello, my pretty,' Drusilla said.
* * *
At this point in time, Jonathan was making his way up the drive. If you ask me, it was a little late to be paying house calls, but he wanted to speak to Buffy alone, to have another go at convincing her that he was genuine in his offer to help. If it had been me I'd have told him he could be as genuine and regretful as he liked, it still didn't mean I trusted him further than I could throw him. But then maybe that's why he wanted to speak to Buffy and not me.
He reached out a hand to knock on the door and it swung open as soon as his fingers brushed across it. The lock had been shattered.
Maybe I've been a bit hard on Jonathan because at that moment he had the perfect opportunity to turn and run. Instead, with no small amount of trepidation, he stepped inside.
* * *
'Say hello to Miss Edith, pretty one,' Drusilla purred, holding her doll aloft. 'No? Cat got your tongue? Maybe it's clawed out your eyes and buried them in the earth, somewhere deep. Miss Edith, say hello to the girl who killed our darling Spike. She's a Slayer, Miss Edith. Yes, and we've tasted Slayer before, haven't we, me and my Spike. He killed two, he did, and there should be a balance in all things, I think.'
Drusilla glided across the room, her head cocked to one side.
Buffy tried to maintain her grip on her stake, but her palm was sweating and the wood kept slipping between her fingers.
'Do you hear that?' Drusilla asked in her singsong, child's voice. 'The stars, they're singing to me. They've got beautiful voices. And they're so old, the stars, so very old. There's nothing they don't know, nothing at all. The stars are singing about you, my pretty one. Isn't that nice of them? They're telling me that you are a venom-filled child, but then we knew that already, didn't we, Miss Edith? You killed my Spike just because he was sick. That's not the way nice people behave. No, that's not nice at all. You've been a very bad girl, haven't you, and you deserve to be punished. But don't you fret, I'll make it quick on account of how you were so nice to my Spike. Before.'
Drusilla vaulted on to the bed, her brow extruding and fangs growing within her mouth as she showed her vampire face.
'Oh boy,' Jonathan said as he stepped into the room.
'Oh, lookee here, Miss Edith,' Drusilla said, turning her yellow eyes on the new arrival. 'A new toy to play with. What games shall we play together, hm?'
'Er, hide and seek?' Jonathan suggested. He backed up and collided with the dresser. 'You could, um, close your eyes and count to one hundred.'
'Oh, we like this one, Miss Edith,' Drusilla purred. 'We shall enjoy him.'
'That doesn't sound good,' Jonathan said.
He reached behind him and grabbed the first thing that came to hand.
'I call upon Bast to protect me and repel you from this place,' he declared, holding out the object in front of him.
Then he looked at what he was holding
'A stuffed pig!' he shouted, throwing it to the floor. 'Why can't you be into kittens like a normal girl.'
He scanned the room, frantically looking for something he could use in a spell.
'Is the little man afraid?' Drusilla asked. 'We like fear. It tastes so sweet. But you don't taste of fear. You reek of death. So much death. So much blood on your hands. It's beautiful, it is.'
'I didn't kill anybody,' Jonathan protested, shuffling towards the bookcase. 'That wasn't me.'
'Oh no,' Drusilla agreed, 'you haven't killed anybody. But you will. The stars are telling me in their song.'
'Oh g-great,' Jonathan stammered, his hands closing round an ornament on the shelf. 'Singing stars. Must be true.'
He picked up the small cat figurine and held it in Drusilla's direction.
'I call upon Bast, goddess of protection, to come to my aid,' he chanted. 'May you both protect me and repel my enemies.'
Drusilla snarled and spat.
'Little man is not playing nice,' she complained. 'We don't think we like you any more.'
'W-well, the feeling's mutual,' Jonathan replied, taking a step forward.
Drusilla sprang back, out of the reach of the cat.
'That's it,' Jonathan told her, 'keep your distance if you know what's good for you.'
Drusilla sprang forward, her nails raking along Jonathan's cheek, drawing blood.
Jonathan fell backwards, tripping over the corner of the bed and ending up on the floor. But he kept hold of the cat figurine, which was now glowing. The shadow of a cat crept up the far wall.
'Kitty wants to play,' Drusilla mused. 'Not tonight.'
Then she turned and threw herself through the window, glass shattering around her.
Not trusting his legs enough to try standing, Jonathan crawled over to where Buffy was huddled.
'It's okay,' he said. 'She's gone, I think.'
He put a hand on Buffy's arm.
She was shaking.
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