Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 1 - CHINA IN YOUR HAND
It was a flight on the wings
Of a young girls dreams
That flew too far away
And we could make the monster live again
Oh hands move and heart beat on
Now life will return in this electric storm
A prophecy for a fantasy
The curse of a vivid mind
Don't push too far
Your Dreams are china in your hand
Don't wish to hard
Because they may come true
And you can't help them
You don't know what you might
Have set upon yourself
China in your hand
(T'Pau, Album - Bridge of Spies)
Thursday, May 16th, 2002
Buffy cradled her sister in her arms until her sobs died away to hiccups.
"Want to talk about it?"
"No-o." Dawn's reply was immediately followed by a huge sniff that had the elder girl reaching for the box of tissues that she kept on her nightstand. "I don't even want to think about it. I just want it to have never happened."
"Me too, Dawnie. Me too. And not just me. I'm so sorry. I keep thinking if mom were here, she wouldn't have let it happen."
"That's not true," Dawn told her. "Mom couldn't have done half the stuff you and Spike did when you came for me."
"It feels true. You feel like it's true. You feel like we let you down. It feels like we let her down."
"It still isn't true. It's more my fault than anyone else's. Brandon wanted to call you, but I wouldn't tell him your cell number because I thought you'd be mad that I didn't get permission before I went out."
"Yeah, well, I think maybe you've learned that lesson without being grounded. And since by the time you had reason to ring you would already be drugged, what say we put it down to that?
Look, if we'd known you wanted to go to the Bronze, chances are we would have skipped dinner and gone there ourselves. I know you think we're paranoid, but we just worry. I mean we don't want to stop you having a good time. We want you to have a social life, and believe it or not Spike came pretty close to admitting that he liked Brandon while you were out of it. It's not even as if you have to sit with us."
"I know but it just doesn't feel like a real date when your big sister's playing the chaperone all the time."
"Dawnie, I don't know what to tell you. We try to walk a line between giving you your freedom and keeping you safe, but the truth is it's a trade-off. There's nothing anyone can do to take back what happened last night. All we can do is try to help you pick up the pieces and do what we can to help you feel safe again, even if it means giving Sam a taste of her own medicine. And, yes, thanks to Spike you can take that literally. And as to the chaperones, I reckon you've pretty much shot yourself in the foot."
"Well, you told a certain someone it was his fault. You think he's going to let the same thing happen again? I wouldn't be surprised if he's phoning the school right now to sign us up as chaperones for every event between now and your graduation."
"What? No. He can't come to prom."
"Dawnie. I don't know what he's going to want to do, but you need to talk through what you're feeling with us, especially with him. If he thinks that you hold him responsible for what happened then you probably won't leave this house outside school hours again without your very own stalker."
"God, no." Dawn started to deny the possibility and then remembered exactly who she was talking about. "He.would. Is he on the porch?"
"Nope, moving around outside. I guess maybe I best go start a bath running."
"He didn't stop long enough to grab his boots and the sprinklers have been on."
Xander pushed open the door of The Magic Box cautiously, keeping the length of three by two, which he was carrying, out of sight behind his back. He had been forced to use the key that Anya had had cut for him to open the shop's front door as in a rare spontaneous moment Anya had stuck up a sign saying they were closed for lunch. This alone was enough to worry her husband, even if it hadn't been for the aborted phone call earlier.
He moved as cautiously as he could through the seemingly deserted shop until he was stopped short by a naggingly familiar snort of laughter.
"Ahn, honey?" he called out, as he moved rather more confidently toward the training room.
He pushed the door open to find Anya and Giles sitting on the sofa, tea in hand as Giles dabbed tears of laughter from his eyes.
"You couldn't answer the phone?" Xander asked.
"Hi, honey!" Anya rose from her seat to plant a kiss on his cheek. "Shouldn't you be at work?"
"I could say the same to you."
"Oh, I was just filling Giles in on what's been happening, or as much as I know about what's been happening. I just got as far as telling him about how you're going to be ring-bearer at the wedding."
"I still haven't definitely agreed to do it."
"Fiddlesticks. You told Dawn you would do it. You think you have a hope of backing out now, then I suspect you're sorely mistaken."
Xander gave up on getting an answer as to why he had had to stick his fingers down his throat until he threw up half his lunch in an effort to convince his boss that he was ill and needed to leave. It obviously wasn't going to happen.
"So, G-Man, what excitement and derring do brings you back to good old Boca del Infierno?"
"Well, I suppose you could say it was the wedding." Giles seemed reluctant to clarify matters further.
"Wedding's not for another two months, and I don't seem to recall the bride-to-be mentioning that you were expected."
"Since it would appear that our every communication is likely to be intercepted, I deemed it better to present our listeners with a fait accompli." Giles balanced his teacup carefully on the arm of the sofa. "I think perhaps I should go and find myself a hotel and get a few hours rest until such time as the occupants of Revello Drive are receiving visitors."
As he reached the door into the main shop, Giles turned to address the younger man once more.
"Xander. Those orbs. Where are they at the moment?"
"Well, Spike has them, actually. He-."
"Good. I suggest, for the present, you leave it that way. I'll be in touch."
"I didn't mean it." Dawn took a seat on the porch and waited for Spike to join her. Instead he stood several feet away, smoke curling up in front of him every so often as he exhaled.
"Yeah, string bean. You did. You meant every last syllable and you were right."
"But it wasn't your fault."
"S'got nothing to do with how you feel. I made you a promise I couldn't keep an' I shouldn't have done that. You've got every right to feel betrayed."
"Doesn't give me the right to hurt you."
"Comes with the territory, kitten." The vampire finally turned and came to sit beside her. "We always hurt the ones we love."
"You caught that, huh?"
"You meant me to, didn't you? 'Course I caught it.
Anyway, you think when those wankers got their mitts on me I was prepared to admit to myself that it was my own stupid fault for being too distracted to notice six clod-hopping army boys in hob-nailed boots coming up behind me?"
"So who did you blame?"
Spike treated her to a lascivious grin. "The distraction."
Dawn gave a sigh. "Do I even have to ask?"
"What?" Spike teased with a false innocent air. "Was just doin' a bit of recon to see if her fightin' had improved any."
"You are so."
"So charming, debonair and roguishly attractive?"
"You want to go with debonair, lose the muddy feet."
"Critics, always critics."
His arm slipped around the teenager's back. "Look, if you need somebody to shout at, to blow off steam about this little lot, then that's understandable. Just make sure that it's me and not sis'. She might not cope too well with it at the moment."
"So how do you cope? What's your secret to dealing with assholes who treat you like you're less than human?"
"Joyce wouldn't be very happy to hear you using descriptions like that even if they are justified, pet. And, I pretty much ignore Harris as much as possible. The rest, I spend many a happy hour plotting in great detail how I'll exact my bloody revenge, but you're one up on me there. Finn's rebound bitch should be locked up for the rest of her natural with any luck."
"Buffy said you gave her a dose of her own medicine."
"Yeah, well, at first I was going to use her to test the antidote, then when I heard that tape, I decided I wasn't in a hurry for her to get better."
"What happened to that tape?"
"Still in my coat pocket. GI Joe wanted it for evidence, but I told him that was up to you. If you wanted it destroyed, it would be destroyed."
The vampire drew deeply on his cigarette and then exhaled in a long grey plume before he continued.
"Bitlet, you have to know she was wrong. You may not be average. You may have been made rather than being born, but you're all human. You're your mother's daughter and sometimes you're so like Buffy it just wrings my heart out.
All the Key stuff, it means you're special. It doesn't make you a freak or give anyone the right to treat you any differently, and it's not what defines you as a person. It's not why we love you."
"Are you sure? You were all programmed to love me before I even existed."
"Me? Are you kidding? How long d'they reckon you've been around now?"
"Maybe coming up on a couple of years."
"Events, pet. What was happening?"
"Dunno. Maybe round about when Drac paid a call."
"Right. And before that, how often had you and me hung out? I remember you peeking round the corner the night your mum found out about vampires. I remember you feeding me blood when I was chained up in the watcher's tub. An' I guess I thought you were a gutsy little thing, but that's about it. The monks didn't bother givin' you memories of me. I was beneath their notice. They had you following droopy boy round as if the Summers women's taste in men was a genetic flaw.
I don't love you because of any false memories, I love you because I'm a soft-hearted wanker that you personally wrapped right around your pretty little finger. Nothin' to do with no monks. Nothin' to do with anyone 'cept you and me, baby doll."
"I think I'm going to have to tell Brandon." The statement apparently came out of nowhere, but the vampire had a feeling that if he listened long enough he'd find out how his future sister-in-law's mind had made the leap.
"You sure about that, Bitty?"
"Well, I think he already sort of knows. He just doesn't understand."
Spike gave her the questioning eyebrow.
"I didn't know whether he was just going out with me because of his dad sort of watching us, except I suppose he wasn't really, but you know what I mean."
"So, it seemed kinda unlikely that out of all the girls in high school he would just decide to ask me out. I mean I'm not Miss Popularity. I'm not on the cheerleading squad. I don't have the right clothes or whatever. I'm the freaky loner, who cuts herself, with a freaky sister who's in a gang or something and always starting fights. So maybe it's kind of hard to accept that out of all the people he could hang out with, that a cool guy like him would want to hang out with me."
"Not so tough, platelet. Haven't I told you before that when you're done growing you're going to give Buffy a run for her money?"
"Yeah. Biased or what? Anyway, I asked him just why he did ask me out. He said, first time he saw me, just for a couple of seconds he said it was as if I glowed. He said I looked like an angel."
"Okay, so the guy's a lunatic?" Spike's face twisted into a teasing grin. "More reason not to tell him, I'd say."
Dawn slapped the vampire on the leg. "Stop it. I'm trying to be serious. He says his maternal grandfather is known to have a touch of the second sight as he put it. What if it's common to all the males in the family?"
"What if it is, love? Like you say he doesn't understand it."
"He thinks it's this whole love at first sight deal. I'd feel like I was lying to him if I let him keep thinking that. And I'm scared, maybe, that if he realises later he was wrong. That if. I mean if I wasn't the key he wouldn't be going out with me."
"You don't know that, honey. For all you know he could be as psychic as house brick. Maybe what he saw is precisely what he thinks he saw. Even if what he saw was the Key, don't you think it's more than coincidence that that would be just the thing to set him off? And for just long enough to make him really take a good look at you? A very clever man once said, "God does not play dice with the universe." If the kid saw you that way, it's because he was meant to see you that way."
"So what're you saying? That it was pre-ordained that he would ask me out?"
"No. We've all got free will. I'm saying that maybe someone somewhere figured it was about time some good-looking guy who isn't about to become your in-law noticed you. The fact that once he did, he's taken the time to get to know you and to learn about who you are, is nothing to do with you being the Key. And if that guy is still interested after getting shot, then, take it from me, he thinks you're pretty special."
"So would you mind if I wanted to tell him?"
"Personally, no, but I think this is one of those situations where your sister would plain overrule me if she disagreed. And if she does, I'll back her up absolutely, regardless of what I think."
"How can you say that?"
"Because when it comes down to it, it's a decision about your safety and the safety of those around you. As you so ably pointed out the other day Buffy is the one who is your designated guardian. If she chooses to err on the side of caution, I will stand up for her right to make that decision."
"So, if Buffy were to say that she didn't think you needed to follow me round everywhere, you would go along with her opinion as my designated guardian."
"That depends. If you've learned your lesson and you're going to act responsibly, by which I mean you let us know where you're going and when you're going to be back, if you call us at the first sign of trouble, then, yes, I would probably go along with it. If you're going to sneak around behind our backs, then, I would just have to err on the side of caution."
Dawn seemed to consider this for a time. "Cool. I guess. So no grounding or anything?"
"Would that teach you anything you haven't learned the hard way? And there's no point stopping you seeing the kid, 'cause he's probably a better influence than Janice."
"Hey." Dawn protested before their discussion moved off into a whole different territory.
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