Title: Chapter 22
Series: The Key, the Dark-Hunter, and the Link
Disclaimer: Nothing belongs to me. Joss Whedon owns anything Buffy or Angel while Sherrilyn Kenyon owns everything Dark Hunter. I am just playing with them.
WARNING!!!: There are big, huge spoilers for the newest DH book, 'Devil May Cry' ahead. Huge ones. If you haven't read it, and you don't want to be spoiled by it, don't read any further. I repeat, Devil May Cry spoilers.
"I've told you time and time again that he was nothing but trouble." Apollo looks down at his twin, disgust marring his otherwise perfect face. "Especially after what happened before but you would never listen."
"Zeus spared my life." Artemis moves to her feet as gracefully as she can, which given the position she was left in, isn't very graceful.
"Out of spite." Apollo reminds her. "It had nothing to do with you. It's time you face reality, Artemis, you lost. Acheron will never be yours again, ever, and if you try to do anything, anything at all like you did before, I won't stand by your side this time."
"He won't kill me." Artemis says.
"You're right, Acheron won't kill you but not because he cares about you." Apollo replies. "He won't kill you because of her. It has nothing to do with you. I suggest you remember that because while he won't kill you, you don't have to be conscious to still be alive. And if anyone can put you in that state, we both know Acheron can." With one last disgusted look, Apollo turns and leaves her chambers.
Artemis crawls into her bed, darkens her chambers, and pulls the covers up to her nose. She's never felt this alone in her entire life. Even the period of time when Acheron ignored her, she never felt this alone. Because she wasn't. But she is now and she knows it's her own fault. She thought she could control everything and everyone around her and while she did, for a very long time, deep down, she knew it wouldn't last forever. In less than a week, she's lost her entire world and deep down, she knows losing Ash isn't the worst part of it. It's what she lost before. "Just curious if you ever think about what he would do to you if he knew." Savitar says. "If he really knew what you stole from him."
"I didn't do it on purpose."
"No, but your intentions stole the things from him that he cherished the most." Savitar reminds her. "Your intentions killed the last part of him that was still human and he doesn't even remember."
"And he never will." Artemis reminds him. "My father made sure of that."
"Your father was protecting himself and Mount Olympus." Savitar argues. "It had nothing to do with you."
"You weren't there when he found out you were responsible." Savitar interrupts with a shout. "He wanted you dead and if it were not for Hera, you would be."
Artemis's face pales. "No, he wouldn't have really killed me. I am his child."
"That didn't seem to faze him in the least." Savitar replies.
"You're lying." Artemis cries. "Hera wouldn't plead for my life."
"You forget, Hera hated her as much as you did, if not more. Zeus treasured her above everything and Hera would rather save you then see Zeus kill you for her. Hera contacted your mother and together they pleaded with Zeus to spare you." Savitar says. "He did so reluctantly and against my advise."
"I hate you." Artemis clenches her fists to keep from crying. Or hitting him.
"The feeling is very mutual, believe me." Savitar growls. "Because of your petty jealousy and inability to let Acheron alone, I lost the most important thing I've ever had. The only child I will ever have. And if Ash were to know what you caused, I'm fairly sure not even your father could stop him from killing you. And if that happens, I will watch it with a smile and I know I won't be the only one."
"It's never going to happen so your threats are pointless." Artemis feels a stab of fear at his words. It can't happen. Her father removed what she did, changed what happened in Ash's mind and while Ash still believes she betrayed him, it's for a different reason.
Savitar nods. "A warning: the human is off limits. She has nothing to do with you."
"She is immersed in my world." Artemis argues. "Her knowledge puts us all in danger."
"I am warning you once." Savitar says. "If you lay a hand on her, touch her in any way, I will kill you." He turns to leave but stops at the doorway. "And not even the king of gods himself will stop me."
Artemis screams, her rage shaking her chambers slightly and in pure fit, she throws a vase across the room. She wants to follow after him, throw things at the self-righteous immortal but she knows better. She starts to grab another vase when she feels a familiar presence behind her. She spins around to see the second most important person in her existence behind her. "Katra."
"What did you do?" Katra Agrotera walks into her mother's chambers slowly, eyes wide as she takes in her mother's normally well-kept state.
"How much do you hear?" Artemis straightens her hair, trying to bring some type of order to her disheveled appearance.
"All of it. I got here right before him but hid myself when I heard him coming." Kat takes a seat on the edge of her mother's bed. "What did you do?"
"Nothing." Artemis shakes her head. "Don't worry about it."
"Savitar was talking about Ash." Kat says. "And something you took from him."
"Katra, I said not to worry about it." Artemis growls.
Kat studies her mother, head tilted to the side, and then replays the conversation she overheard. Savitar threatened to kill Artemis over a girl, apparently one that Ash was with. But what she doesn't understand is what he meant by 'if Acheron knew'. He has to know because if he doesn't, that means somebody removed his memories and she can't even fathom the power that would have taken. In fact, she knows Zeus alone wouldn't have that amount of power….she's not even sure Savitar would. Together, they probably would but what would make them join powers…whoever the girl is, she must have been special for Zeus to have wanted to kill Artemis over it. "Who is she?"
"Katra, I'm warning you." Artemis moves to her feet in a fit of anger.
"What happened to her?" Kat demands.
"Katra." Artemis growls, teeth bared.
Kat stares at her for a second, head tilted to the side, and then steps back, her hand over her mouth. "What did you do?"
"No, you….this girl, Ash's girl, you're responsible for her death, aren't you?" Kat gasps.
"Why do you act so surprised?" Artemis asks. "You know I've had people killed before."
"This is different." Kat says. "Ash cared about this girl, didn't he? More than he's ever cared about you."
"Don't." Artemis warns.
Kat steps forward, intent on questioning her mother further, when something Savitar says occurs to her. He said things. Not thing. Things. "It's me."
"What?" Artemis turns towards her, head tilted to the side.
"Savitar said things." Kat whispers, shock making her voice sound deeper than it normally is. "I'm the other thing, aren't I?"
"Katra, I said to drop it." Artemis growls again, turning away from her.
"No." Kat growls back. "He said if Ash knew what you stole from him…oh, my god, you're not my mother, are you?"
Artemis turns her back to Kat and after a few tense, quiet moments, whispers one word. "No."
Kat drops back down onto Artemis's bed in shock.
"Your mother was killed." Artemis sits down a few feet from Kat. "And yes, I was responsible. Ash…" She takes a deep breath and looks down at her hands. "He didn't handle her death well, at all. It took Savitar, Zeus, myself, and Apollo to weaken him enough to even begin to reason with him. He wouldn't see reason so Savitar and Zeus erased his memories of her….and you."
"How old was I?" Kat asks.
"Five." Artemis replies. "And I don't want to talk about it anymore."
Kat ignores her Artemis's tone and grabs the goddess's arm, needing to know more. She needs to know what happened, what Artemis is leaving out because she always leaves something out. The second her hand touches Artemis's skin, memories start to play through her mind, a power inherited from her father, and one she's never used against Artemis, until now. She's not prepared for what she sees but also unable to break the connection. So instead she watches, watches as the woman she thought of as her mother destroys and manipulates everyone around her, including Kat herself. When she finally breaks the connection, tears are flowing down her cheeks and her whole body is shaking. "You had her killed because you couldn't stand him loving someone else. You planned all along for her to die. You knew Ash would go ballistic. And you knew Zeus would try to stop him by any means necessary. You probably suggested changing his memories, didn't you? What was the big plan? The three of us to be one big ole family?"
"Don't talk to me that way." Artemis shouts.
"In a matter of moments and without a second thought, you destroyed Ash's entire life, a man you claim to love." Kat shouts back. "You the worst part of all if it is you don't even feel the slightest bit guilty about it."
"You don't understand." Artemis says.
"Oh, I understand perfectly." Kat wipes the tears from her eyes. "The only being's whose happiness matters at all to you, is you. You don't care about anything or anyone else in the world, do you?"
"I care about you, baby girl." Artemis softens her tone.
"Don't call me that." Kat growls. "You lost that right when you lied to me a few minutes ago." She looks down at her hands. "All you've ever done is lie to me. You said I could never met Ash because it would hurt him too much but the real reason is because he would have known I was his the second he saw me and he also would have known I wasn't yours. He would have known even if I didn't. You weren't protecting him or me….you were protecting yourself, like always."
"Don't." Kat interrupts. "I can't….I've always told myself that in spite of how you make me hide, the coldness you usually treat me with…hell, how you traded me to Apollymo, that deep down, you loved me. But in reality, I was just something else to connect you to Ash, wasn't I? You never really cared about me at all."
Artemis reaches out a hand to stop her but like her father, Kat leaves without looking back. She collapses into a pathetic lump, her arms wrapping around her knees. Katra was right, except for one thing. She does love her daughter. She didn’t think she would, but she does. Katra is the only being in existence that loved her unconditionally. She didn't know how to deal with that, she's never felt that type of acceptance. Some of the time, Kat just reminded her of Ash and that was equally wonderful and horrible. It was like having the thing she wanted the most in the world but at the same time, being as far from it as possible. She could handle that better though, than when Kat resembled her real mother. She could almost convince herself that Kat really was hers until those big green eyes looked into hers, eyes Kat always thought she got from her but in reality, got from her birth mother. And as Kat grew older and more independent, disagreeing with most of Artemis's own point of views, the more she resembled the innocence of her birth mother. The goodness.
But is very much her father's daughter and that betrayed look in her eyes is the same one that she saw in Ash's so long ago. And just like then, she doesn't know how to fix this or if she even can.
"Sweetie, I can't understand you." Dawn hefts Claudia up, grunting when the slayer tightens her arms around her.
Claudia, her face buried in Dawn's neck, sniffles loudly. "Mr. Man, is he dead?"
Dawn sighs, not sure how to answer but also knows she can't lie. "I'm not sure. Maybe."
"It's my fault." Claudia whispers. "The demon wanted me but Mr. Man made me run."
Ash sits down on the arm of the couch and pulls Dawn back against him, not really sure what she needs him to do but needing her to know he's there if she needs him. The little girl in her arms, which hits him in a few ways, is full of power, strength that she shouldn't have.
"Claudia, it is not your fault." Dawn tilts the little girl's head back, inwardly wincing at the blood covering Claudia's face.
"They ated him." Claudia whispers, her bottom lip trembling. "I ran and ran…"
"Claudia, what is the first rule of being a slayer?" Dawn interrupts.
"Don't die." Claudia replies.
"That's right." Dawn taps her nose. "Nothing else matters but that."
Claudia sniffles loudly, her eyes wide as she looks around the room.
Dawn follows Claudia's gaze, sees the slayer take stock of the room like any other slayer, and she knows the second Claudia notices her fangs. The slayer tenses, her whole body ready for a fight. "Sweetheart, I'm not going to hurt you."
"You have fangs." Claudia whispers.
"Where's your cross?" Dawn asks.
Claudia reaches into her shirt and pulls out a large, bulky, silver cross.
Dawn grabs the cross and squeezes her hand around it, while her other hand takes one of Claudia's and presses it against her beating heart. "I'm still me, sweetie, I'm just a little different."
"Promise?" Claudia whispers.
"Promise." Dawn replies.
Claudia nods and tucks her cross back under her shirt.
"You need to get washed up and changed." Dawn says.
"I got blood on my jammies." Claudia wiggles her foot, the footie part of her pajamas bright red with blood.
"We'll get you some different ones." Dawn looks up at Amanda. "Do you have some clean clothes Claudia can wear?"
Amanda nods wordlessly, her face pale white as she walks out of the dining room.
"Who's that?" Claudia whispers, her chin resting against Dawn's shoulder as she looks around the room. "He's big."
Dawn smiles at the amazement in Claudia's voice. "That's Ash."
"Who's he?" Claudia ducks her face when Ash smiles at her.
"He's my boyfriend." Dawn smiles.
"Hmm." Claudia hums, turning her head to look around the room more. "What's wrong with Vi?"
"Nothing, she'll be fine in a minute." Dawn assures her.
"Dawnie, the doggy men maked my skin itch." Claudia whispers. "Mr. Man says that's bad."
"Not always bad, sweetie, it just means something different is nearby." Dawn corrects. "You remember what Buffy told you about that, right?"
"Just cuz it's different don't mean it's evil." Claudia says, the words sounding strange coming from her little voice. "We don't slay different, we only slay evil."
"That's right." Dawn replies.
Claudia wiggles her nose, her forehead wrinkling. "Okay, but like Faithy says, no humping or scratching at my legs or we won't be four by four."
Fang laughs, grunting when Bride elbows him.
Dawn closes her eyes briefly. "First off, it's five by five. Secondly, what'd Willow say about repeating Faith?"
"That she got a potty mouth." Claudia's eyes widen and her hand slams over her mouth. "Sorry."
"It's okay." Dawn smiles at her.
Claudia smiles back, giggling when Dawn tickles her belly.
Dawn looks up when Amanda steps up beside her.
"There are some pajamas and some panties." Amanda hands the clothes to Dawn.
"Thanks." Dawn replies.
"Thank you." Claudia chirps.
"You're welcome." Amanda manages to choke out.
"Do you need me to help you?" Dawn asks.
Claudia just gives her a look. "I'm not a baby."
"Okay." Dawn smiles at her tone.
Claudia wipes her hands off onto her pajamas before taking the clothes out of Dawn's hands. She hops off her lap and then looks back at Dawn. "Where's the bathroom?"
"Up the stairs, second on the right." Ash answers for Dawn.
Claudia smiles at him. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Ash smiles back.
The clothes held away from her body, Claudia runs towards the stairs and jumps up the first seven steps.
"Claudia!" Dawn scolds.
"Sorry." Claudia yells back as she runs up the remaining stairs.
Dawn shakes her head, mostly amused by the little slayer's antics.
"Daddy, why's she all bloody?" Marisa tilts her head back to look at her father. "Did that monster try to eat her?"
"Marisa, why don't you guys go into the living room and watch cartoons." Kyrian says, kissing his daughter's forehead while not taking his eyes off the blood still covering Dawn's shirt.
"What about the monster?" Marisa whispers, her eyes wide. "Is it going to eat me?"
"Of course it's not going to eat you, baby." Kyrian hugs her. "Just go in the living room."
Marisa nods and starts to walk towards the living room though her eyes don't leave the dead body lying on the ground. The rest of the kids follow suit, their parents watching them leave.
"Sims, why don't you go with them." Dawn suggests to the demon, who is currently sniffing the dead hell hound.
"The Simi is awful hungry, akra." Simi replies.
"Sims, you just ate like four turkeys." Dawn says. "But hey, it'll save clean up time. Just um, take it into the kitchen."
"Thank you, akra." Simi chirps as she picks up the demon with one hand. "That Claudia, she's quality people. She brought the Simi a snack."
"Vi, you still kicking over there?" Dawn asks once Simi is out of the room.
"The next time somebody needs to be possessed, I so don't volunteer." Vi mutters, hands held against her forehead as she leans back against Fury's chest. "What happened to Willow?"
"I'm not sure." Dawn replies honestly. "She pretty much hit the ground and then disappeared."
"Claudia, she okay?" Vi asks. "Fury, help me up."
Fury growls as he helps her up, his body tense and riled for a fight.
"Yeah, well, you know she's pretty well used to this." Dawn sighs.
"You let a child fight." Julian growls out. "She's my daughter's age and you let…"
"We don't let her do anything." Dawn interrupts. "She's a slayer, we can't help that, but we do everything in our power to keep her as safe as possible. It's not easy, not at all, but we do our best."
"She's just a baby." Grace says.
"I know." Dawn agrees. "It's not something….we didn't have a choice. Willow had to activate the slayers or the world was going to end. There wasn't any time to think about the consequences of that. You're right, she is just a child and it's unbelievably cruel that she's a slayer but it is what it is."
"How old was she?" Ash wraps his arm around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder.
"Six months old." Dawn shrugs. "Not even a day after the line was activated, she was attacked. Her parents were killed trying to protect her. Willow and Faith barely got there in time to save her. We kept her with us as long as we could but….slayer's headquarters….not the safest place in the world. It's constantly attacked, and I mean constantly. The more slayers around, the more demons that are attracted. And Claudia, well, slayers are like the Crème Brulee of snacks but babies….it's hard to explain exactly but babies are a delicacy. Vamps love the innocent taste of them probably just a little less than they love slayer blood. But a slayer baby…that's a whole new level. Somebody was constantly trying to get her and being around a dozen slayers, just made the exposure worse. Willow tried to use magic but she didn't want to do too much black magic on a baby. Eventually, we realized the safest thing for her was to keep her away from all the other slayers, in the hopes that that would minimize her exposure to demons. A watcher and her husband took her for a few months when she was about a year old but after a few months, they were attacked. And then another watcher and another attack. And another, then another. Then another until we realized it wasn't working. So we started moving her. Basically, she's spent the past three years being tossed back and forth between watchers. She's never spent more than a few months in one place."
"That's awful." Tabitha sniffles. "What kind of life is that for a little girl? She should be playing with other kids."
"We know that." Dawn agrees. "But Willow is the only one that is capable of completely protecting her and she's human. She can't stay awake twenty-four hours a day and there are times when she's needed for something else…."
"Shh, it's okay." Ash runs a soothing hand down Dawn's back.
"No, it's not." Dawn argues. "They're right, she should be playing with other kids but she doesn't. She never has. We weren't prepared for this and we did the best we could but in the end, a little girl will have lost her entire childhood because of something she has no choice over."
The room goes quiet, Dawn burying her face into Ash's chest, taking the comfort he's offering. Claudia haunts all of them. Buffy the most since she thinks it's her fault, since it was her idea to activate all the slayers. Willow is right behind Buffy with the guilt. It kills her not to be able to protect Claudia like she can Phoebe. Nobody thought it was a good idea to use that much magic on a baby and the little that Willow could use, didn't do any good.
Ash tilts his head back when he feels Claudia walk back into the room. He can smell salt, most likely from tears, and he can feel the pain radiating off the little girl's body. Pain she should never have to experience. He nudges Dawn, whispering in her ear.
"Claudia, what's wrong baby?" Dawn wipes her face off on Ash's shirt before looking at the mini-slayer.
"My ribs hurt, Dawnie." Claudia clutches a towel to her chest, the pink pajama bottoms covering her bottom but the matching top in her hand. Her face is scrubbed clean, along with her arms. Her brown hair is matted to her head, looking like a brush hasn't been ran through it in a couple days. "I can't lift my arms."
"Come here and let me see." Dawn takes the towel and pulls it away. "Oh, god, sweetie, why didn't you tell me you were hurt this bad?"
"It didn’t hurt then." Claudia shrugs and then cries out. "That hurts."
Ash grinds his teeth, his body tensing at the bruises covering Claudia's side, along with the huge bite mark on her belly. It's not bleeding but is raw and painful looking.
Amanda gasps, her hand moving to cover her mouth. It's not the first wound she's ever seen but seeing it on a little girl, is something completely different. A look around the room shows similar expressions and she knows her husband is having just as difficult of a time dealing with the little slayer as she is.
"Do you gotta wrap them?" Claudia whimpers. "I can't breathe with that…what's it called again?"
"Ace bandage." Dawn supplies. "And we have to wrap them, you know…"
"They won't heal right." Claudia cuts in, her head shaking side to side slightly as she talks. "I know, Dawn, but I don't like it."
"Come here, Claudia." Ash holds out his hand.
Claudia looks at Dawn who nods.
"Close your eyes." Ash says.
Claudia wrinkles her nose but closes her eyes nonetheless.
Ash waves his hand over Claudia's sides and belly, healing her bruised body with almost no effort. Her hair comes next, the brown locks matted with mud and blood, followed by the few remaining bits of blood on her feet. When he's done, she looks like any other little girl, clean brown hair and bright blue eyes. "You can open them now."
Claudia opens her eyes. "I don't hurt no more."
"Ash made you better." Dawn says. "Come on, let's put on your shirt."
Claudia slips the shirt on, her eyes only leaving Ash's when the shirt is covering her eyes. "You made me better."
"Yes, I did." Ash agrees.
"Why?" Claudia tilts her head.
"I didn't want you to be hurt." Ash tilts his head the opposite way.
Claudia tilts her head to the other side.
Ash tilts his head the other way.
"You're silly." Claudia steps forward, her hand resting on Dawn's thigh but her body leaning against Ash's.
"Sometimes." Ash agrees.
"I like your eyes." Claudia says.
"Thanks." Ash replies.
"What's your name again?" Claudia asks. "I can't remember."
"You got fangs too." Claudia purses her lips. "Mr. Angel and Spikey got fangs but they don't eat people no more. Do you eat people?"
"No." Ash asks.
"Swear?" Claudia holds up her pinkie.
Ash looks down at Dawn. 'She wants you to pinkie swear.' Dawn explains through their link. 'Just lock your pinkie through hers and shake.'
Ash interlocks his finger with Claudia's, actually touching the child for the first time. Her finger tightens around his, tighter than a child should be able to. Looking into her blue eyes, he's reminded of his own childhood. The pain and the loneliness. Unlike him, she wasn't abused in her youth, but her childhood hasn't been that much better than his. He can see the memories now, the little girl being moved from one older man to another, the men trying their best but having no real idea what to do with a child. The clearest memory is a recent one, the little girl being toted through a Wal-Mart, the watcher whom he's guessing is 'Mr. Man', grabbing supplies while she follows behind him. He can tell by the decorations in the store that it's close to Halloween. She watches the other children in amazement, eyes wide as they run through the store, laugh, and play with toys. The difference between them and her is staggering. She doesn't smile the whole time that they're there, not until they past a rack of costumes. The man doesn't even stop to look at them but she does, fingering the soft net-like material of a fairy costume. And for the first time, she looks like a normal child, a bright smile on her face. That is until the man notices she's not right beside him and rushes back to pull her away, lecturing her on the danger of wandering off.
"That was mighty tasty, akra." Simi skips into the room, fluttering over to stand next to Dawn.
Claudia tenses for a second, head tilting over to look beside her, and then an amazed look covers her face.
"Claudia, this is Simi." Dawn says. "She's a good demon."
"You look like a fairy princess." Claudia whispers, her hand lifting up to touch one of Simi's wings.
"Thank you." Simi grins. "Who was you again?"
"Simi, this is Claudia." Dawn introduces. "She's going to be staying with us for a little bit."
"I am?" Claudia asks, eyes wide with excitement but her tone mellow, like she doesn't want to get her hopes up. "But it's not safe. Buffy and Willow says I gots to keep moving, keep safe."
"You be safe with us." Simi says. "My akri keep us safe."
"What's akri?" Claudia asks.
"My daddy." Simi touches Ash's shoulder.
"My daddy died." Claudia reaches up to touch Simi's horn. "My mommy too. I don't 'member them. You horns are pretty."
"Thank you." Simi grins.
"I like you wings too." Claudia places her hand back on Dawn's thigh. "I wanted to be a fairy princess for Halloween but Mr. Man wouldn't let me."
"I love Halloween." Simi grins toothily. "Lots of candy."
"Not safe." Claudia shakes her head.
"Simi, why don't you take Claudia into the living room with the other kids." Ash says. "I think they're watching SpongeBob."
"What's SpongeBob?" Claudia cocks her head.
"You don't know SpongeBob?" Simi gasps. "Oh, the Simi's got lots to teach you, little Claudia. You watch QVC?"
"No." Claudia shakes her head. "Mr. Man didn't have a T.V."
Simi gasps again, her eyes widening and her mouth dropping open. "No T.V.?"
Claudia shakes her head.
Simi grabs her hand. "Come on, little Claudia, I gots lots of work to do. No T.V., that's barbaric."
Dawn shakes her head, smiling at Simi's carefree chatter.
"Are you okay?" Ash asks Dawn.
Dawn shrugs. "I honestly don't know."
Ash wraps an arm around her and kisses the top of her head.
Kyrian watches his old friend, amazed by the differences in him. Ash is, for the first time, happy. It's impossible not to see it, see how happy Dawn makes him. He's glad for that. Dawn…she's interesting to say the least but the more he learns about her life, the more he thinks the Gods were stupid in their decision to let the humans deal with Hades' creatures. No child should ever, ever have to worry about a demon trying to kill her. She should never not feel safe.
"No, she shouldn't." Ash looks over Dawn to Kyrian.
"What did your friend do to me?" Vane cracks his neck side to side, his long hair covering his face partly and his arm resting over his wife's belly. "I feel…"
"Drained." Dawn supplies.
"Willow's…basically, she's a leach." Dawn explains. "She can suck the energy out of anything. She needed a power boost so she borrowed energy from you and Fury."
"She didn't mess with our powers?" Fury absently taps his fingers on Vi's belly, his arm wrapped around her waist.
"She doesn't have to." Dawn replies. "She doesn't need powers. All she needs is energy. You'll be fine in a couple hours, more or less depending on how fast you heal."
"And Vi?" Fury tightens his hand over her belly.
"Whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." Vi murmurs. "And hey, with the almost dying, I should be pretty damn strong."
"She'll be fine in a couple hours." Dawn explains off Fury's scowl.
Ash moves to his feet, his hand tightening around Dawn's waist protectively. "Somebody's here."
"It's probably Pheebs." Dawn steps out of his embrace and grabs his hand.
"Or whoever's trying to off us." Vi mutters.
"Vi, super-hearing, remember." Dawn says. "And I don't think they're going to find our joking about dying as funny as we do."
Ash leads Dawn through the dining room, holding her hand tightly in his, and to the living room. The kids glance up at them but almost immediately look back at the television.
Kyrian walks behind them and then moves around them to open the door. The first thing he sees is a man dressed in black and the second thing he sees is a gun, aimed at his face.
"Dawn Summers, she here?" The man asks.
"Depends on who's asking." Kyrian crosses his arms over his chest.
"I actually wasn't asking." The man says. "I know she's here the only question is if it's voluntarily or not….and you better hope for your sake, it is."
Dawn rolls her eyes and pushes past Kyrian, Ash coming with her since he won't let go of her hand. "Chad, you can drop the 'tude."
Chad grins at her as he tucks his gun into the back of his pants. "Just being cautious."
"Please, you just want the chance to play with the weapons." Dawn shakes her head. "You can take the boy out of the army but you can't take the army out of the boy."
"You know me too well." Chad says.
"Ash, this is Chad, he's Angel's non-evil pilot." Dawn leans into him, rubbing his knuckles again when he tenses. "Chad, this is my boyfriend Ash."
Chad, who is six-three, tilts his head back to look up at Dawn's boyfriend. "So this is the guy that has Spike and Angel all riled up."
"Pretty much." Dawn agrees. "Where's Pheebs?"
"In the car." Chad sticks his hand out the door and waves it twice. "Had to make sure it was safe."
"Willow didn't get to say much." Dawn says. "How long ago did all this happen?"
"Willow and Phoebe popped into my hotel room about three and a half hours ago." Chad replies. "Then she popped us all over to the jet, which I hope I never have to experience again…"
"Willow's magical travel sucks." Dawn agrees.
"Very much so." Chad agrees. "We prepped the jet and left within fifteen minutes."
"From where?" Kyrian asks.
"London." Chad replies.
"In three hours?" Kyrian scowls. "That's impossible."
"Really fast jets." Dawn explains.
"You won't find a faster jet than Wolfram & Hart has, even military issue." Chad says. "And seeing how I flew for the army for six years, I would know."
"He was part of a demon-military division of the army." Dawn explains. "One of Buffy's ex used to be part of it and Angel hired Chad through him."
Ash tightens his arms around Dawn, head tilting as he examines the man in front of them, the pilot. He's married, for five years, and has two kids. And he's worked for Angel for two years. The other man walks up behind Chad, a tall girl walking slightly in front of him. She's tall, only a few inches shorter than Kyrian, with long blonde hair flowing down her back in soft waves. One scent says she's another slayer but also something else there, something that smells more like his world than Dawn's. Her face is slightly bruised, under her right eyes, and her face is a little cut up, like from flying glass. And it's not the first time he's seen her.
"Dawn!" Phoebe pushes past the guards and runs into the room.
"Pheebs." Dawn drops Ash's hand and steps towards Phoebe. The taller girl throws her arms around her and Dawn hugs her back. She pulls back after a few seconds and brushes the hair off the younger girl's face. "Are you okay?"
Phoebe nods. "It doesn't hurt too much."
"Angel would flip if he saw this." Dawn touches Phoebe's face gently.
Phoebe's bottom lip trembles. "Have you heard anything? Are they okay? Willow took me away almost right after we were attacked and the last thing I saw was dad being thrown into a wall."
"Wills didn't get to say much." Dawn says. "Buffy, Faith, and Connor are all in the hospital. Giles and Xander are okay…."
"Spike and dad?" Phoebe whispers, her big blue eyes tearing up.
"Willow said they're crispy but okay." Dawn assures her. "They'll be fine, Pheebs."
Phoebe nods and brushes her hair out of her face as she looks around the room. The first thing she notices is the kids and she smiles softly at them, wondering if she was ever that innocent. She doesn't feel innocent, hasn't once since she woke up. Angel thinks she's innocent and he tries to keep her that way, protect her from everything but it's pointless. She might be a teenager but she doesn't feel that way most of the time. In fact, the only time she feels like just a girl is when she's with Angel, the rest of the time she feels like something else…something bad.
Ash prods Phoebe's mind, trying to find the woman in the girl, but doesn't get past the forefront of her thoughts. He can't go past the forefront of her thoughts. It's like a huge wall that no amount of pushing will get him past. He could, after a while, find a way past but that would probably be more damaging that helpful. He pulls out when he hears a phone ringing and looks over to see Dawn answering her phone.
"Wes, slow down, I'm fine." Dawn presses her free hand to her ear, head tilting towards the side so she can hear better. "Chad just dropped Pheebs off…yeah, Willow stopped by here…..what happened."
Ash hears the hitch in Dawn's voice, sees her body tense up, and scoots closer to her, arm wrapping back around her waist so he can listen in.
"Oh." Dawn murmurs. "Okay, yeah, I understand the danger….come on, Wes, I've been living with that kind of danger since I was a kid, I'm…..no, I know what that is. I remember that." Her voice quiets to a whisper. "Ash's house is probably the safest place we could ever be, we'll be fine." A small pause. "No, I promise, we won't. Just call when it's over." She flips the phone closed and absently shoves it into her pocket.
"What's wrong?" Ash asks. He tried to listen in on their conversation but the quality of reception on the other end and their choppy conversation made it rather difficult.
Dawn ignores him to look at Amanda. "Does Marisa have some old clothes that I can borrow for Claudia?"
"Yes." Amanda says as she walks to the closet by the front door. She opens it and digs through it for a few moments before returning with a box. "I've been meaning to take this to Goodwill but I haven't gotten around to it yet."
"Thank you." Dawn takes the box.
"You're welcome." Amanda smiles.
"Claudia, Simi, come on, we have to go." Dawn says.
"Dawn, what's going on?" Vi asks.
Dawn ignores her and turns towards Chad. "You have to fly to L.A. and pick up Connor's family and Tracy, they're already waiting at LAX. Then you need to fly to Dallas and pick up Vi's family. They're being held at the police station on Broadway, Gunn's working on getting the paperwork to release them to you, Wes said he'll have it by the time you get there. Then, you….your family's on the plane, right?"
"That's good." Dawn says. "Riley and Sam are stationed on a small base in Argentina, Wes talked to them and you guys are all going to stay there until this is dealt with."
"What about Wes and them, are they staying at Wolfram & Hart?" Chad asks.
"No, Willow's picking them up." Dawn replies. "You need to go, now."
Chad nods, holding his hand behind him to the other man, who places a small bag into his hand. "This is the emergency bag Angel stored on the plane for Phoebe."
Dawn nods and takes the bag from him. "Be careful."
Chad nods and leads the other man out of the house.
"We have to go home now." Dawn looks up at Ash.
Ash clenches his jaw at the real fear in Dawn's eyes. "Dawn, what is going on?"
"They know where I am." Dawn says.
"Who is they?" Ash picks Claudia up when she steps between them and wraps his free arm around Dawn, Simi standing directly in front of them.
"Whoever's trying to kill us to get to Angel and Spike." Dawn moves the bag to the top of the box and holds her hand out to Phoebe. "They blew up my house."
"They blew up your house?" Vi gasps.
Dawn nods. "A couple detectives from the NOPD called Wolfram & Hart to tell them what happened and check if anybody was living at the house, since it's in their name and all. Wes told them I was away for the holiday. I have to go talk to them eventually but not until this is over. Until they figure out what's going on and stop whomever's behind this, we can't leave Ash's house."
"And you agreed to this?" Vi arches a brow in disbelief. "I can't believe you would do that."
"Yeah, well, I know when I'm out of my league." Dawn pulls Phoebe so that she's standing between her and Ash, right by Simi. "And this…this I know I'm out of my league."
"Dawn, it's not the first time somebody's tried to kill you because of Angel, Spike or Buffy." Vi points out. "How is this different?"
"Because whomever's behind this, hired out." Dawn replies. "And now there's a league of assassins fighting over who gets to kill us first."
"What league?" Ash growls, his arms tightening around Dawn, images of her being blown into a million pieces, images that will probably haunt him for weeks.
"It's this group, the Order of Taraka, they…"
"I know what they are, Dawn." Ash interrupts, his hand digging into her skin. "They've been around for a very long time."
"What the hell is the Order of Taraka?" Fury growls out, his arm wrapping protectively around Vi.
"An ancient order of assassins that's been around forever." Vi says. "I don't know that much about them, I heard Giles mention them once. Dawn, I know you and I know what you've grown up with. Why is this freaking you out so much? They come and we slay, end of story."
"It won't matter." Dawn says, real fear coating her tone. "You can kill as many as you want and it won't make any difference. Where there is one, there is another and another, human, demons, vampires…..they can be anyone or anything and you won't know until they're about to kill you. They won't stop, not until they collect their bounty. And right now, me, you, Pheebs, and Connor are their bounty. They'll keep coming until we're dead or until the person that hired them is dead. We can't fight this, Vi, because we would never stop. The safest thing is to hide until Angel and Spike figure out who's behind this and take care of it."
"Where are we going?" Phoebe asks.
"Ash's house." Dawn replies. "Actually, my house now."
"Oh." Phoebe murmurs. "Which is where exactly?"
"Wow." Phoebe looks around Ash's house. "This is beautiful."
"Thank you." Ash sets Claudia down.
"Ash, more guests?" Alexion arches an eyebrow.
"Yes." Ash replies. "Claudia, Phoebe, this is Alexion, Danger, and Xirena, they live here too."
Claudia grips Ash's leg, shyly hiding her face in the leather of his pants.
"I put Claudia's room adjacent to ours and Phoebe's next to hers." Ash tells Dawn.
"Where are you going?" Dawn asks. "Ash, you're not going to try to find whoever put this hit out on us, are you?"
"I'm going to put out feelers." Ash replies. "But no, that's not where I'm going. I have something to do."
"But you're coming back, right?" Dawn scolds herself for sounding so panicked, so desperate.
Ash cups Dawn's face. "Baby, I'll be right back."
"I know, I…but, god I hate being scared like this but I remember what it was like before, when Spike sent the order after Buffy." Dawn whispers. "Everybody was freaked out…hell, Angel was scared of them. It just…freaked me out and I'm still freaked out by it."
Ash kisses Dawn's forehead, not liking her fear at all. He wants her to be more cautious but doesn't want her to be scared like she is now. "I will be right back, I promise."
"Ashy's leaving?" Claudia whispers, her arms tightening around Ash's leg.
Ash lifts Claudia up until she's face level with him. "I'll be right back, I just have to talk to somebody for a second."
"Okay." Claudia wraps her arms around his neck. "You gots to be careful cuz I don't want you to die like Mr. Man."
Ash closes his eyes, breathes in her sweet, innocent scent, and kisses the top of her head. "I'll be careful."
"Swear?" Claudia holds out her pinkie.
"Swear." Ash interlocks his pinkie with hers and shakes.
"Come here, sweetie." Dawn holds out her arms and takes Claudia from Ash. "Let's go see your new room."
"I got a room, of my very own?" Claudia's eyes widen.
"Yep." Dawn sets her on her feet and takes her hand, her other hand holding out to take Simi's. "Come on, Sims, let's go show Claudia her new room."
"Is the Claudia staying with us too?" Simi asks. "The Simi will like that cuz then she'll have somebody else to play with when you and akri are having sex. Xirena don't like to play like the Simi does, she says it's not demon like."
Dawn laughs and nods her head to Vi and Phoebe, who both join them.
Ash waits until they're out of the room before flashing himself somewhere else.
"Unky Urian, high." A sing-son voice cries. "High."
"No, that's high enough, little one." Urian pushes the swing lightly, his bright eye, blonde hair eighteen month old niece giggling in a way that always clenches his heart.
"Get used to it, Megs, you're never going to get more than a few feet off the ground." Erik braces his hands on the plastic covered chain of his own swing, and with a grunt, pushes off and jumps but before he can hit the ground, he's caught by the back of his pants, dangling a few feet above the ground.
"Don't even think about it." Urian half growls.
"Come on, uncle Urian, I'm not going to break my neck." Erik complains.
"You never know, young man." Urian sets him on feet and then walks over to push Megan again.
Cassandra rolls her eyes and elbows her husband, who is nodding his agreement. "God forbid when she starts dating."
Wulf glares down at his wife. "She's not dating."
"Any boy that even thinks about thinking about dating her is going to find out why I've been alive for so long." Urian growls his agreement.
"Everyone grows up, Urian, even little girls."
Urian turns his head to see a being he will always hate on some level and arches a brow. "What brings you to the neighborhood?"
"We need to talk." Ash steps forward.
"About what?" Urian asks suspiciously. "Stryker is being relatively quiet lately, though I'm not sure why. I haven't heard anything new and like I told you before, when I do, I'll let you know."
"It's not about Stryker." Ash replies, hands fisting at his sides. He probably shouldn't be doing this, he knows there are some things he shouldn't interfere with, some things he's not meant to muddle in, but he honestly don’t care. Urian deserves to know because if it were him, he would want to know.
"Why else would you need to talk to me?" Urian questions. "Need a bodyguard for your girlfriend cuz with her mouth, I'm thinking she tends to get herself in trouble."
"That she does." Ash nods his agreement. "And she's protected enough but thanks for the offer."
"Who says I was offering?" Urian sneers.
"I do not have the time nor the patience to deal with your attitude right now, Daimon." Ash growls. "You either come with me or I bring you with me, you chose."
"Ash, what's going on?" Wulf steps forward.
"You'll find out in time." Ash replies. "But not now."
"Atlantean, what the hell is going on?" Urian walks forward, his body tensing.
Ash shakes his head and grabs Urian's arm, flashing them both to his home, but in the shade realm as opposed to the real one.
"Damn it, Ash." Urian growls, pushing Ash away from him. "What the hell……Phe?" Urian runs forward, his heart clenching and tears blurring his vision. Because standing only a few feet from where he is, is his dead wife.
"Okay, so it all comes down to who knows about Phoebe." Vi leans against Fury's side, her legs curled up under her so that they can both fit on the same chair. Not that they need to but she likes it, she likes being close to him. It makes her feel protected and given how freaked out Dawn is, that's probably a good thing. "Because whoever's out to kill us, has to know about Pheebs since she's on that list too."
"Pretty much nobody knows about Phoebe and those that do, would never in a million years hire somebody to kill her or us." Dawn's fingers fly over her laptop, her eyes focused completely on the screen. "Simi, do not eat that."
Simi puts the remote down with a pout.
Claudia walks over to Dawn, her hands behind her back and a serious expression on her face. "When's Ashy coming back?"
"In a little bit." Dawn scoots her chair back from the table enough so that Claudia can climb onto her lap. She has to adjust the little slayer to the side though, Simi shrinking herself down to Claudia's size and crawling up beside her. "Why?"
"What's wrong, sweetie?" Dawn wraps her arms around both of them and scoots the chair back towards the table so she can reach the keyboard.
Claudia mumbles under her breath, her face turning to tuck into Dawn's neck.
"I didn't catch that, Claudia." Dawn looks down at her.
"Ashy feels safe." Claudia whispers. "I don't think the monsters can get me with him."
"Nope, they won't lay a hand on you when Ash's around." Dawn kisses the top of her head and then so Simi doesn't feel left out, kisses the top of Simi's. "Ain't that right, Sims?"
"Yep, my akri let the Simi eat 'em." Simi grins widely. "The Simi likes to eat demons; they mighty tasty with barbecue sauce."
"I like barbecue sauce with my nuggets." Claudia turns her head to look at Simi.
"Me too." Simi says. "Akra, when's my akri getting back?"
"In a little bit." Dawn replies. "You just have to be patient."
Simi sighs dramatically. "The Simi don't like to be patient."
"I know, baby girl, but you have to." Dawn reaches for her wireless mouse and clicks on the flashing 'Open' button.
"Is Ashy really your daddy?" Claudia traces Simi's horn with one small finger.
"No." Xirena growls from across the table.
"My akri ain't my real daddy but he's my daddy anyways." Simi glares at her sister. "Just like my akra ain't my real mommy but she's my mommy anyways, right akra?"
"Right." Dawn agrees.
"That's neat." Claudia murmurs. "Is Ashy a good daddy?"
"The best." Simi says. "He loves his Simi lots and lots."
"Pheebs, you okay?" Dawn asks as she signs onto her watcher account. "You're a little pale."
"I'm just tired." Phoebe smiles reassuringly at her. "I'm not used to all this activity."
"Yeah." Dawn studies the slayer for a few seconds and makes a mental note to check her temperature later. Phoebe is prone to saying she feels fine when she really isn't.
"Will's magical travel take it out of you?" Vi asks, still actually feeling rather woozy herself.
"It wasn't pleasant." Phoebe wrinkles her nose. "I like Ash's way of traveling better."
"Yeah, it's just a little weird but doesn't make you at all sick." Dawn agrees. "Okay, so where were we?"
"Trying to figure out who's trying to kill us." Phoebe replies. "And like Vi said, the list has to be really short since next to nobody knows….." Her voice trails off as she straightens up, looking around the room with wide eyes.
"Pheebs, what's wrong?" Dawn looks over her laptop, concern furrowing her brow.
"Nothing, I just felt….something." Phoebe shrugs.
Fury lifts his head to scent the air. "I don’t smell anything."
"Hmm." Phoebe murmurs. "I must just be imagining it."
Urian twists his head, looking up at Ash who is looking down at him with sympathetic eyes. Then he turns back to what he was looking at and has bites his lip to keep from crying. His hands cup her face but don't actually touch her while he brushes a kiss across her forehead but never actually makes contact. "I've always thought you were a bastard but I never thought you could be so cruel." Urian growls. "You think I don't dream of this every night, every moment I'm awake? That she doesn't haunt me daily, nightly. There isn't a time when I don't think about her and you bring in a mirage of her to make it worse?"
"It's not a mirage, Urian." Ash says softly. "Look around her."
Even as Ash says it, Urian realizes it's not a mirage. They're in Ash's home….his wife is in Ash's home. The shock that fills his body brings him to his knees.
"She doesn't remember you." Ash says. "That is why I brought you this way….I didn't want you to scare her."
"She is my wife." Urian chokes over the word, never having thought he would use it in the present tense again.
"But she doesn't know that." Ash says. "She's a girl, a slayer, that doesn't know her past. She doesn't know she is your wife."
"What happened to my wife?" Urian growls as he stands up, his eyes flashing.
"I'm not sure." Ash clasps him on the back. "But I know if it was Dawn, I would want to know she's alive."
"I need to see her, touch her." Urian whispers, hand moving back to run through her long hair, wishing he could actually feel the lush locks.
"Urian, you can't rush her." Ash advises. "She's fragile…"
"Phoebe is not fragile." Urian argues.
"She is now." Ash cocks his head to look at her. "Something is wrong with her. I'm not sure what yet but if you want to come back with me, you can't treat her like your wife."
After a few second, Urian nods. "I will try, that's all I can promise."
"That's all I can ask." Ash flashes them into the real realm, into the doorway of his living room.
Dawn looks up when she feels Ash. "Hey."
"Hey." Ash walks towards her. "What's going on?"
"Research." Dawn says.
"With weapons." Vi adds, nodding down to the trunk between her and Dawn.
"Just like old times." Phoebe smiles.
"It's a Sunnydale tradition." Dawn explains off Ash's look. "Oh, and hey, you brought not evil guy."
Urian nods, his body tense and eyes focused on one figure.
"Okay, what's with him?" Dawn arches an eyebrow. "Urian, you look like you just got diagnosed with cancer of a puppy."
"Don't, baby." Ash whispers, kissing her forehead. "Now isn't the time."
"You camed back, Ashy." Claudia whispers, her tone betraying the fact that she didn't think he actually would.
"Of course I did." Ash scoops all three of them up and then settles back into Dawn's chair, his arms wrapping around them.
Dawn leans her head back against Ash's shoulder and turns to look at Urian, who is eyeing Phoebe in a way that Angel would kill him over.
Urian takes the seat between his wife and Alexion, his eyes never leaving Phoebe's face. She's younger, actually about the same age she was the first time he saw her, the night when he fell in love with her. She smells almost exactly the same except there's a strong power under her scent, one that wasn’t there before, and one that is also flowing off the redhead sitting on the wolf's lap and the little girl on Dawn's. But it's still her. It takes every once of control he's gained in his lifetime to keep from pulling her onto his lap and flashing her away from here.
Phoebe feels somebody's eyes on her and turns her head to look at the man that just sat down. Her heart skips a beat when she meets his blue gaze. He's gorgeous, that's the first thought that comes to mind, tall, very tall with blonde hair long enough to brush his shoulders. His eyes are smoldering and he's looking at her in a way that her dad used to look at Buffy before they got back together; like everything he wants is standing right in front of him but he knows he can't have it. It should scare her that he's looking at her like that, in a way that her dad would kill him over, but it doesn't. Instead it makes her heart clench and her belly flutter. "Um, hi."
Urian closes his eyes briefly, his wife's sweet voice warming his body for the first time in almost four years. "Hi."
"Pheebs, this is Urian." Dawn gives her surrogate niece a look. "Urian, this is Phoebe. She's my sister's boyfriend's daughter, basically. The redhead next to her is Vi and this is Claudia."
Urian looks at each person as she introduces them thought only to keep anyone from getting suspicious. His gaze returns to his wife the second he can and the small smile she gives him warms his heart.
Dawn's cell phone rings, breaking up the relative silence. "Hello?" Her eyes close briefly, relief marring her face. "Thank goodness, you guys scared the crap out of us."
"I'm sorry, Dawnie." Angel says, his voice huskier than normal. "Are you guys okay?"
"Yep, we're fine and dandy." Dawn replies. "Have you figured anything out yet?"
"No." Angel says. "Willow just left for Wolfram & Hart and Giles is trying his hardest to get Buffy, Faith, and Connor checked out but the doctor's are throwing a fit."
"Yeah, well, that's doctors for ya." Dawn agrees. "Are they okay?"
"Willow healed them." Angel replies. "All three of them are threatening to break out of the hospital if they don’t get released soon."
"Spike?" Dawn bites her lip, scared of the answer.
"He's trying to find us somewhere to stay tonight." Angel says. "He's burnt but he'll be okay in a few hours."
"What about you?"
"Dawnie, I'll be fine, I promise."
"That's good cuz if you go and die on us, I'm going to have to kick your butt." Dawn says.
Angel laughs. "I'll remember that. Wes told me you promised…."
"We won't leave here until you guys tell us it's safe." Dawn interrupts. "I might be careless sometimes but I'm not stupid. I know when I'm out of my league and this is way out there. I will keep Pheebs safe, you worry about kicking some a…butt."
"Thank you, Dawnie." Angel tone's betraying his relief. "Let me talk to Phoebe."
"K, love ya."
"Love you too."
Dawn holds out her phone to Phoebe. "It's Angel."
Phoebe reaches across the table and takes the phone with shaking hands.
Urian tenses, a growl rumbling in his throat, but Ash stops him before he can do anything.
"Her father." Ash whispers.
"I'm fine, daddy." Phoebe assures him. "A little bruised….."
"What?" Angel bellows.
"Dad, it's no big deal." Phoebe rushes to assure him. "I got knocked around a bit and some glass cut me a little."
"Where are you?" Angel demands.
"Um, I'm not exactly sure." Phoebe answers honestly. "It's like another reality, I think. It's not on Earth but Dawn's been living here for the past while so I guess it's close enough that we can go home whenever we want to."
"I want to talk to Ash." Angel says.
"Don't threaten him." Phoebe half pleads. "He's nice and Dawn totally loves him. You wouldn't want to make her sad, right?"
"Just let me talk to him, baby girl." Angel says. "I don't have a lot of time."
"Okay." Phoebe agrees. "Be careful, please."
"I will, little one." Angel assures her. "I love you."
"I love you too, dad." Phoebe says and then holds the phone out to Ash. "My dad wants to talk to you."
Ash takes the phone, curious as to what the vampire could want with him. "Hello."
"I'm assuming by now you know what Dawn and Vi are. And that you are also aware of what I am."
"A vampire, yes, I am aware of that fact." Ash agrees. "I am fully aware of what you are."
"I highly doubt that." Angel says.
Ash arches a brow at the smooth, silky, almost languid tone that Angel is using. There is power in it and Angel uses it as if he knows the fact. As if he's done it countless time. It's akin to the tone Daimons would use to tempt their prey.
"Dawn tends to….gloss over my past, as does her sister." Angel replies.
"But I won't." Angel growls. "If something happens to them, anything at all…well, I haven't got to torture anyone in years but I do remember how. I will kill you if something happens to my daughter, Dawn, Claudia, or Vi. I haven't done that in a while but I will never forget how."
Ash flips Dawn's phone closed and hands it to her with an amused smile.
"What's so funny?" Dawn asks suspiciously.
"He threatened to torture then kill me if anything happens to you four." Ash replies, amused by the threat. "It felt strangely familiar."
Phoebe giggles, her arms moving to cross on the table and her head resting on them. "He's really been in a threatening mood lately. We went out a few nights ago and some boy asked for my number. Dad and Spike went ballistic. It took Buffy, Connor and Willow to drag them away before they attacked him. Totally not needed, by the way, I wasn't going to say yes."
"Why not?" Dawn runs her hand through Claudia's hair, the slayer half asleep against her chest.
"He just…gave me the creeps." Phoebe shudders. "It just felt completely wrong."
"It's because of the dream guy." Dawn says. "You feel like you're cheating on him. Trust me, I know. When I went on that date right after I met Ash, I completely felt like I was cheating, especially when he touched me…"
"He did what?" Ash growls.
"Akri, you being too noisy." Simi complains. "Me and Claudia are trying to sleep."
"You're at the table, sweetie." Dawn says.
"That don’t matter none." Simi waves her hand. "He don't need to be so loud."
"Ash, it's no big deal, he just touched my back." Dawn turns her head to kiss his throat, trying to calm him. "And maybe did that whole rubbing thing but that's it."
"What is his name?" Ash growls.
"I am so not telling you that." Dawn shakes her head. "I don't want to be responsible for some boy's death."
"Was he cute?" Vi asks curiously.
"In that dumb jock way, yeah." Dawn replies. "Way too all American boy for my taste."
"I meant Phoebe's boy." Vi says. "And jock, what the hell where you thinking?"
"He wouldn't leave me alone." Dawn replies. "And he kinda got me when I was still half asleep."
"He was cute in a Xander way." Phoebe wrinkles her nose. "I love Xan but so not my type."
Urian and Ash both tense, growls rumbling their chests and scowls wrinkling their faces.
"Angel would flip if he knew you even had a type." Dawn says. "It would be a funny heart attack though."
"No heartbeat, remember." Phoebe reminds her. "How's he going to have a heart attack with no heartbeat?"
Dawn shrugs. "Angel would find a way."
Phoebe smiles, though it looks a little forced. "Do you really think they'll be okay?"
"Yeah." Dawn says. "They've lived through worse."
"What are you doing?" Ash asks Dawn, his chin moving to rest on top of her head.
"Only a select few know who Phoebe is and where my house is." Dawn explains. "But we keep meticulous records on all the slayers and watchers, where they live or are stationed, any injuries they've received….pretty much everything down to when they ovulate…if they ovulate. My real address is in there."
"What about Wolfram & Hart?" Vi asks. "They keep pretty close watch on Angel and they had to of noticed him buying a house in the same city you were going to college in. And Lorne said they bugged the hotel once so maybe they did again and that's how they found out about Pheebs."
"Angel's cracked down on Wolfram & Hart's employees lately." Dawn replies. "They've been firing and/or killing about forty percent of them. Lorne's been doing readings pretty much everyday and Willow's been screening them too. Besides the occasional mail person, everybody working there is basically either somewhat good or amoral."
"What about Kennedy?" Phoebe yawns and shifts on her chair, her long legs curling up under herself. "She did meet me."
"And almost killed you." Dawn adds. "But it's a moot point since Willow erased Kennedy's memory of it."
"She could have gotten them back." Phoebe points out. "You can't completely erase somebody's memories; they're there no matter what. Maybe something happened and the memories came back."
"Do you think Kennedy could do something like that?" Vi asks Dawn. "You know her the best."
"Alone, no." Dawn shakes her head. "But there is somebody that would know enough about magic to maybe get past Willow's memory spell and also has a really good reason to want to."
"Who?" Ash asks.
"Amy Madison." Dawn replies. "She's a girl Buffy, Xander, and Willow went to school with and she totally embraced the dark side. She's no where near as powerful as Willow but does have a decent amount of power. And she hates Willow with a passion. The only thing is, I don't think either one of them know who much about the Order of Taraka and I know there's no way they could get in contact with them."
"It fits though." Phoebe murmurs, her words slurring slightly and her eyes drooping closed. "If Kennedy got her memories back, she'd totally want to torture dad and Spike after remembering they almost killed her."
"I'll call Wills in a bit and run this by her." Dawn closes her laptop. "Right now though, Pheebs, you need to get some sleep."
"I'm fine." Phoebe yawns.
"Sweetie, you know you're not." Dawn argues. "You're pale as hell and you can barely keep you eyes open. Willow's magical travel weakens Buffy so I know it probably drained you."
"Yeah." Phoebe yawns and uncurls her body. "I'll see you in the morning."
"Okay." Dawn says. "You know where our room is if you need us, k?"
"K." Phoebe stands up and starts to walk from the table when her legs buckle. She braces herself to hit the ground but instead finds strong, warm arms wrapped around her.
"Are you okay, Phe?" Urian murmurs.
"Uh huh." Phoebe nods sleepily. "Just feel weak. I'll be fine."
Urian lets her go but keeps his hand braced on her waist. When she stumbles again, he forgets heeding Ash's warning and scoops her up into his arms.
"Third door on the right." Ash says, his arm tightening around Dawn to keep her on his lap.
Urian nods. "Thank you."
"You're welcome." Ash nods.
Phoebe rests her head against Urian's shoulder, face turning to breathe in his rich scent. She snuggles comfortably in him, more content than she's been in years. "Missed you, Uri."
Urian comes to a dead stop and looks down at the girl in his arms. She's mostly asleep, barely conscious, and just called him by a nickname only she's ever been allowed to use. A small smile graces his lips because no matter what happened to her, some part of her still remembers him.