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More Than Blood

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Summary: Hunter Novotny Bruckner starts his freshman year at Columbia, at the same time Dawn Summers and Violet Day start theirs. Their paths cross, and new friendships are made. Then something happens to shake their whole world.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > QAF (UK and US versions)
Television > Law and Order: SVU
(Past Donor)JoyfulFR21130,824871,09722 Mar 1122 Mar 11Yes

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Title: More than Blood
Author: Joyful
Disclaimer: Buffy and Co. belong to Joss Whedon, Hunter & the QAF crew belong to the folks at Showtime. I make absolutely no money from this, it's just for fun. Law & Order: SVU belongs to Dick Wolf.
Fandoms: Buffy and Queer as Folk, with a small cameo by the SVU cast.
Rating: NC-17
Summary: Hunter Novotny Bruckner starts his freshman year at Columbia, at the same time Dawn Summers and Violet Day start theirs. Their paths cross, and new friendships are made. Then something happens to shake their whole world.
Timeline: Post series for both QAF & BtVS, so spoilers for everything, except season 8 (gag). No set timeline for SVU.

Warnings: This story contains mentions of physical abuse, sexual abuse, forced prostitution and underage prostitution. Also contains characters dealing with PTSD, depression, and self-destructive behavior.
graphic depictions of rape, and cutting
Remember, no two people react the same way to rape and abuse.
Also, any epithets used, like fag, queer, dyke, muncher, etc. are words that the characters on Queer as Folk use all the time, so I'm trying to be in character.

Notes: I wrote this story a year ago, over about a 2-week period. Since then, it's sat, mostly untouched, on a flash drive. I showed it to 3 or 4 people, but I never posted it. I was never fully happy with it. But now, a year later, after my second trip to the Clothesline Project (which is where the initial idea came from) http://www.clotheslineproject.org/ I decided to go through this, clean it up a little, and post it. I'm aware that some people are going to have problems with this fic due to the subject matter, but I'd really like to avoid the flames if possible. If stories about rape and it's aftermath aren't to your taste, please skip this, instead of leaving me nasty comments.

Statistics: 1 in 4 college women experience actual or attempted rape during their college years. 1 in 3 women with be sexually assaulted at some point during their lifetime. It is believed that only 48% of rapes are reported.

Not very familiar with Hunter? Best Hunter character study ever, right here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ffy6bhdtl3E


*****

Hunter Novotny Bruckner was excited to start college. When he'd been excepted to Columbia his dads had thrown him a huge party, and Grandma Deb had told absolutely everyone. He hadn't thought he'd get accepted anywhere, considering how honest he'd been about himself in his application essays, but Ben had encouraged him to tell the truth. Now college was going to be a fresh start.

So here he was, Columbia. His dads had loaded all his stuff up in a borrowed truck and driven to New York City. Hunter had bribed Carl to keep Grandma Debbie at home, because as much as Hunter loved her, she didn't always aid in good first impressions.

“So, here we are,” Ben said as he pulled up in front of Hunter's dorm.

“Yep,” Hunter said. He was mildly distracted by a pretty brunette carrying a laundry basket full of books. She had long brown hair, sparkling blue eyes and great boobs. She turned her head and when he caught her eye she smiled. Hunter smiled back.

“Oh, look at him, he's not going to get any studying done,” Michael said, watching Hunter stare at the girl.

“No, I will,” Hunter promised. He and his dad started unloading the truck and carrying all his stuff up to his dorm room. With Ben and Michael's obsessive help, Hunter's half of the room was unpacked and organized in less than two hours. He hadn't started decorating the walls yet, though, he'd wait until his dads left. They were being all weepy and emotional. Ben set up a mini-fridge, making sure all Hunter's meds were there, along with water, vitamins, protein powder and some other stuff.

“Do you have condoms?” Michael asked.

“Yes,” Hunter said, rolling his eyes.

“Hey, I remember college,” Ben said, sitting on Hunter's bed. “You're likely to need those. And try not too drink too much. Yeah, it's something college kids do when they get out of their parents' house, but too much of it isn't good for you, and definitely not good for your immune system.”

“I know, Ben, I know. Besides, I've already got most of that teenage rebellion crap out of my system. I actually want to learn stuff, not just get drunk and high and fuck around.”

“That's our boy,” Michael grinned, and Hunter could tell he was getting misty-eyed again.

“Why don't we all go get something to eat before we drive home,” Ben said.

“Sounds good,” Hunter said.

“By the way,” Ben said, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket. “I did some asking around, and there's a really good clinic a few blocks from here. I want you to check it out tomorrow, okay?”

“Okay,” Hunter said. “And reality hits again. Sometimes I wonder if this college thing is even fucking worth it.”

“It is and you'll love it,” Ben said. “Let's go get something to eat.”

*****

“So, this is our dorm room,” Vi said. “Between my weapons and your books and our desks there's, like, no room for anything.”

“Maybe we should loft the beds,” Dawn suggested. “Then we can stick our desks under them.”

“We'd have room for a couch if we did that,” Vi agreed. “Let's go for it.”

“So, in other words, you do the heavy lifting while I pull things out of your way?” Dawn said with a giggle.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Vi said. “So, who was the boy outside?”

“Which boy?”

“The cute brunet you were having eye sex with.”

“I was not having eye sex!'

“Oh, you so were,” Vi said, grunting slightly as she moved the bed around. “Anyway, I saw him moving in down the hall.”

“Yeah, I saw that too, I haven't met him yet.”

“Well, maybe he'll go to that party tonight. We should go. Even if you don't see the cute brunette, we can meet boys and flirt and stuff.”

“Sounds good,” Dawn agreed. “Let's try not to get sacrificed to any demons, though. You know what happens at college parties,” Dawn said, and Vi nodded sagely. New York City might not be on a Hellmouth, but it still wasn't a demon-free city.

“Oh, I have the cutest shirt to wear to the party tonight,” Vi said, after she finished moving all the furniture around. She and Dawn spent time looking at clothes, and then decided to go to check out the dining hall.

*****

When Hunter's roommate Scott showed up Hunter was hanging a Dark Angel poster on his wall.

“Nice poster,” Scott said. “I'm Scott.

“Hunter. Yeah, Jessica Alba's hot,” Hunter grinned. “Especially dressed in black leather. Besides, one of my dads owns a comic book shop so I get all the geeky shit for free.” Hunter figured he'd get the 'most of my family's gay, do you have a problem with that?' part out of the way, size up his roommate and see if he was a raging homophobe and if he needed to request a new roommate.

“One of your dads?” Scott asked, as his parents helped him carry his stuff in.

“Yeah, I'm adopted and my dads are gay, you have a problem with that?” Hunter asked.

“Nah,” Scott said. “My family's really liberal, they read Heather Has Two Mommies to my little brother.”

“It's very important that every child grows up understanding that no two families are alike,” Scott's mom said, and Hunter held back a laugh. She reminded him of one of the do-gooders from the Center, who gets their kicks feeding homeless street hustlers.

“Do you have any siblings?” Scott's dad asked.

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “I have a little sister, JR, she's almost three. My dad Michael fathered her with a lesbian friend of theirs, Melanie. Mel and her wife Lindsay live in Toronto with JR and her brother Gus, but they spend the summers with their Dads.”

“That's pretty interesting,” Scott's mom asked. Then she turned to her son, who was setting up a mini-fridge of his own. “Scotty, do you have everything? Insulin, juice, syringes? You don't want to forget anything.”

“Mom, I'm fine,” Scott said, rolling his eyes. “She acts like I haven't been taking care of this crap myself since I was twelve.”

“You're diabetic?” Hunter asked, taping up another poster, an autographed poster of Drew Boyd. Drew was pretty awesome.

“Yeah, since I was, like, six. I'm okay most of the time, just gotta be careful.”

“I hear that,” Hunter said, not going any further than that. He was fairly sure he couldn't have a roommate for an extended period of time without revealing his status, but there was always that terrifying fear that came with telling people.

“So, Hunter, were you adopted as a baby?” Scott's dad asked, still interested in Hunter's family dynamics.

“No. They took me in as a foster kid when I was fifteen, adopted me legally when I was almost seventeen, right before Prop 14 passed. We were scared for a while, but now it looks like it's going to overturned, thank God.”

“Oh, are you from Pennsylvania?” Scott's mom asked.

“Yeah, Pittsburgh.”

“We're from Rhode Island,” Scott said.

“Were you in foster care for a long time?” Scott's mom asked, and Hunter tried really hard to restrain himself from calling her a nosy bitch, and telling her to butt the fuck out.

“Sometimes,” Hunter said. “Foster care isn't exactly a wonderful thing. I ran away a lot. Lived on the street. It wasn't a happy time for me.”

It was clear the Hunter wanted to change the subject, so Scott's family humored him. They talked for a bit, Scott's family hugged him while his mom cried, and eventually they left.

“Oh thank God,” Scott said, flopping back on his bed. “I thought they'd never leave.”

“Your mom's kinda cool,” Hunter said. “I mean, she cares about you. My mom's a psycho bitch.”

“You've got two dads though, that's cool.”

“Yeah. Michael's practically my mom anyway, and between his mom and the lesbians I've got more than enough moms,” Hunter said.

Scott dug through his stuff, and pulled out a glucose monitor. Hunter watched as Scott tested his blood. While Scott was doing that, Hunter's watch beeped.

“I suppose you get used that after a while, huh? Sticking yourself?” Hunter asked as he moved to his own fridge and started pulling out his pills and a bottle of water.

“You do,” Scott answered. “What are the pills for?”

“They're antiretrovirals. I should get this out of the way now, in case you feel the need to ask for a room change. I'm HIV-positive,” Hunter said. He swallowed his pills and watched Scott's face, waiting for the look. That “thank God it's not me, but don't let him touch me,” look that most people got when Hunter told them he was positive.

“Okay, that sucks. But since I have absolutely no desire to have sex with you, I'm guessing it won't be an issue,” Scott said, winking at Hunter. “My natural curiosity wants to know how you got it, but if you don't want to talk about it tell me It's none of my business.”

“Maybe when I know you better,” Hunter said. “It's not something I like to talk about, but I didn't want to try and spend an entire year hiding shit from you, scared stiff that somebody would find out. People always find out.”

“People cause trouble?” Scott asked. He watched the news, he knew that a lot of people got pretty twitchy when HIV was involved.

“I was on the swim team in the tenth grade,” Hunter said. “I was pretty good, too. Until I hit my head in the pool and started bleeding. My ex-girlfriend's asshole father told the whole school. I was informed that it would be 'best for everyone' if I was no longer on the team.”

“Harsh,” Scott said. “I had a friend who was a hemophiliac. We were in the children's hospital a lot when we were little. He got HIV from Factor VIII, and he wasn't allowed to do anything fun, people were so scared he'd get hurt.”

“Yeah, it sucks,” Hunter said. “Anyway, there's the obvious stuff, if I cut myself, like a paper cut or I trip and fall or whatever, don't touch it.”

“Obviously,” Scott said.

“If I'm bleeding I have to stop the bleeding first, then I have to clean it up with bleach. It's not likely I'll hurt myself, so don't worry about it. You're pretty chill about it,” Hunter said, surprised.

“Like I said, I've known people with HIV before. And I know what it's like to feel different. Anyway, let's stop with the heavy duty subjects. I need food. Want to hit the dining hall?” Scott suggested.

“Sure,” Hunter said.

*****

“Hey, there's that guy you were having all that eye sex with earlier,” Vi said, pointing.

“I was not having eye sex. Should I wave him over?” Dawn asked.

“Yeah,” Vi said. “Buffy and Xander did give us strict orders to meet new people.”

“This is very true,” Dawn said. She tried to make eye contact with the guy and wave him over. He saw her, smiled, and he and another boy walked over with their food.

“Can we sit here?” he asked.

“Sure,” Dawn said. “I'm Dawn, this is Vi. We live down the hall from you.”

“I know, I saw you moving in,” Hunter said. “I'm Hunter, this is my roommate Scott. You guys freshmen?”

“Of course,” Vi said. “Otherwise we'd have more space.”

“I hear that,” Scott said. “There's barely enough room for our beds and desks.”

“We lofted our beds,” Dawn said. “So that we could put our desks under them, and have room for a couch and TV.”

“That's a pretty cool idea,” Hunter said. “So, where are you guys from?”

“Sunnydale California, originally,” Dawn said. “But we've been living in Cleveland the last couple of years.”

“You were from Sunnydale,” Vi corrected, “I was only there for, like, not even two months before the quake. I'm from Arizona originally, but we've been in Cleveland, like she said.”

“Wow, that must have been interesting,” Scott said.

“Interesting is one word for it,” Vi said.

“Bat-shit insane is another,” Dawn said. “Terrifying, exhilarating, abso-fucking-lutely nuts.”

“That's more than one word,” Hunter pointed out.

“But they all work. Where are you guys from?” Dawn asked.

“I'm from Pittsburgh. I just met Scott, like an hour or two ago,” Hunter said.

“I'm from Rhode Island. Do you guys know what you want to study yet?”

“Linguistics,” Dawn said. “And possibly psychology.”

“Really?” Scott said. “I have no clue what I want to do. I'm just doing the core right now. Get that stuff our of the way.”

“Me too,” Vi said.

“How about you, Hunter?” Dawn asked.

“I'm not entirely sure either,” Hunter said. He looked at Dawn. She had a really nice smile. “I kind of like writing, but both of my dads are writers, and I don't know if I want to deal with that. I was also thinking of maybe going into medicine, but probably not. English is more interesting than science.”

“I thought one of your dads owns a comic book shop,” Scott said.

“He does. He also writes the story for a comic book called “Rage: The Gay Crusader.” A friend draws the art.”

“Oh my God, we have to get that for Andrew,” Dawn said, looking at Vi.

“We totally do,” Vi said. “Maybe it'll finally give him the balls to say it out loud.”

“It's not like everybody at home doesn't already know. I mean, he can spend an hour talking about Captain Archer's arms,” Dawn agreed.

“Got a nerdy gay friend?” Hunter surmised.

“Yeah. And he knows that none of us would have a problem with him being gay, I think he's just scared to say it out loud,” Vi said. “I mean, one of our guardians is a lesbian, and she and her girlfriend are always going at it in the living room.”

“Yeah, and Andrew's there with his camera videotaping the window molding Xander put in and talking about how good Xander is with his hands,” Dawn said, giggling. “Anyway, that's cool you have two dads. Were you adopted, or did they use a surrogate mother, or what?”

“I was adopted,” Hunter said. “I was already a teenager. My little sister Jenny, though, she was the product of insemination, and so was her brother Gus. They live with their moms most of the time. Do you guys have a lot of family?”

“Yes and no,” Dawn said. “Technically, I only have my sister, but we live with a lot of friends. When we got out of Sunnydale, a lot of us didn't have our families anymore, so we all just kinda moved in together. And the ones who were old enough applied for legal guardianship of the rest of us.”

“That's cool,” Hunter said. “I mean, tragedy sucks, right? That's why it's tragedy. But when people help you, that's cool. It doesn't happen very often. People being nice and decent, it doesn't happen very often, so it's great when it does.”

“Dawn, I just noticed something, did you notice it yet?” Vi asked, she pointed to the trays of food the guys had.

“Oh my God, they're eating salads,” Dawn said. “College guys who eat salads without being threatened with bodily harm. This must be a sign of the apocalypse.”

“Well, it's healthier than the deep fried death you guys are eating,” Hunter said, “But not as tasty. I got cake—“

“The cake is a lie,” Scott said automatically.

“What?” Hunter asked.

“Portal reference. Never mind,” Scott said.

“Anyway, if I want to eat something good I have to balance it with something healthy. When I eat crappy my dad gets seriously pissed at me. It's fun to watch him yell about it, though,” Hunter smirked. He knew, logically, that Ben was right. The pills only did so much, it was important to boost your immune system naturally. It just didn't taste as good.

Dawn thought Hunter was funny, even if he did seem kinda guarded. She knew she could be the same way at times, and it was possible she was just projecting her own insecurities onto him. He had one hell of a sexy smirk, though.

“It might be deep fried death, but at least it's tasty death,” Dawn said, dipping her french fries in soy sauce.

“I'm diabetic,” Scott said. “So, I need to watch what I eat. I like being alive.”

“It's definitely of the good,” Vi agreed. “Are you guys going to the party tonight?”

“What party?” Scott asked.

“There's one on our floor,” Dawn said. “I'm not sure I want to go though.”

“I have an idea,” Hunter said. “I mean, this is New York City. Let's go explore.”

“I like that idea,” Dawn said.

So the four freshmen decided to explore the big bad city. They just started walking to see where they'd get. They'd walked about twenty blocks, just talking and laughing at things, occasionally ducking into shops. They were currently trying to spot things they'd seen in movies, considering just how many movies took place in New York. While they were out, the sun started to set, and by the time they were nearly thirty blocks from school it was completely dark. Before long, Vi felt that familiar tug in her gut, the tingle that meant a vampire was nearby.

“Hey,” Vi said, keeping her voice down. “Distract the boys.”

“Demon or vamp?” Dawn asked.

“Vamp,” Vi said.

“Hey,” Dawn said to the guys, “Let's go in here. I need sugar.” She pointed to a bakery that clearly had an apartment on top, and Dawn was hoping the owner counted the store as his residence.

“Where'd Vi go?” Scott asked as the two boys followed Dawn into the shop.

“She's on her cell, and she didn't want to be one of those annoying people, so she'll come in when she's done,” Dawn explained.

“Okay,” Hunter said, looking around.

“Hunter?” a voice said. Hunter turned at his voice.

“Justin? Hey!” The two young men kissed hello briefly. “What are you doing here?”

“My apartment's nearby,” Justin said.

“I mean, it's the weekend, shouldn't you be with Brian?” Hunter asked.

“He flew up to Toronto for Gus's birthday party. I couldn't go because I have a show tomorrow.”

“Crap. Gus's birthday. I completely forgot,” Hunter said.

“Yeah, well, you're you, the munchers will forgive you. What are you doing here anyway?” Justin asked.

“I just moved into my dorm. Remember, Columbia?” Hunter said.

“Oh yeah, I forgot,” Justin laughed. “Who are your friends?”

“This is my roommate Scott, and this is Dawn, she lives down the hall. Her roommate's outside talking on her cell or something. You guys, this is Justin Taylor, he draws that comic book I was telling you about. He's also a really famous painter.”

“I'm not really famous,” Justin said.

“Yet,” Hunter said.

“It's nice to meet you,” Dawn said. This guy was very cute, but he was clearly gay. She wondered if Hunter was gay. She had thought he was flirting with her. Oh well, he might not be gay, if his parents were gay, he might just do that kissing hello thing out of habit. She didn't want to assume, and she really wanted him to be straight. He was cute. “Do you come to this bakery a lot?”

“Yeah,” Justin said. “A few times a week. Everything's good.”

“How about the lemon bars?” Hunter asked.

“Nothing like the ones back home. But everything else is good,” Justin said with a laugh.

Vi walked into the bakery, and Dawn saw she had a little vamp dust in her hair.

“You're bleeding,” Scott said, pointing to Vi's arm.

“Oh, yeah, I tripped and scratched my arm on the brick wall. It's fine,” Vi said.

“Here,” Hunter said, pulling out his wallet. He opened it an pulled out a band-aid and handed it to Vi.

“I thought college boys were supposed to keep condoms in their wallets,” Vi mused, taking the band-aid. Hunter smirked and pulled out a condom.

“Got those too,” he said.

Justin laughed lightly, but he gave Hunter a sad look. The fact that Hunter kept condoms and band-aids in his wallet was just a reminder of how much crap he had to deal with. Being positive as a teenager must be horrible. Justin guessed that Hunter's new friends didn't know, and it wasn't his right to say anything, so he didn't.

“Anyway,” Vi said, “I turned my ankle funny when I tripped, so we should take a cab back. I really don't want to walk another thirty blocks.”

“We kinda lost track of ourselves didn't we?” Scott said.

“Vi, what kind of chocolate do you want?” Dawn asked.

“The chocolatey kind,” Vi replied. Dawn knew that even one vamp might be enough to give Vi the 'Double H effect,' so she picked out a couple of big pastries. “You guys want anything?” she asked around. “My treat.”

“No thanks,” Scott said.

“I already got some,” Justin said, holding up his bag.

“What was his name?” Hunter asked.

“I didn't ask,” Justin grinned back.

“Hunter, you want a lamington? They're an Australian treat that's, like, really hard to get here and they're awesomely good and I can't believe this place has them, we're going to have to come here again.”

“Sure, I'll try one,” Hunter said.

Dawn bought her pastries while Vi called for a cab. Justin went home and the four students piled into the cab. They all exchanged cell phone numbers, after a fervent warning from Vi that somebody should only give Dawn their number if they had unlimited texting, because otherwise they wouldn't be able to afford the irbill. Hunter laughed and promised he did, and plugged Dawn's number into his phone.


*****


Dawn Summers loved college. She loved absolutely everything about college. She loved her classes, her teachers, she loved walking through the campus with her books and laptop and the wind blowing her hair back. She loved texting her friends in between her classes, and she loved going out for coffee with friends. So far she'd met about a dozen people who she'd spoken to more than twice. She didn't really know Scott that well, but she and Hunter were starting to become really good friends. The boy had a mouth on him, and she'd heard him utter things that would put Faith to shame. He had weird taste in music and movies, and broadening her horizons was one of those things that made Dawn feel grown up, like walking to class with her textbooks and having conversations in coffee shops. They'd been at school about two months, and Dawn couldn't believe how much she loved it. She wasn't sure Vi loved school quite as much as Dawn did, but Vi definitely liked having some breathing room from the other slayers, and going out, and meeting boys, and she was getting most of her homework done, so she felt things were pretty well balanced.

Currently Dawn and Hunter were on the couch in Dawn and Vi's room, watching a movie. Dawn was curled against Hunter's side. Hunter dropped a hand and was rubbing it up and down Dawn's arm. As the movie ended Dawn looked up into Hunter's face. She stared into his eyes, and smiled.

“Just for clarification,” she started quietly, “You are straight, right?”

Hunter chuckled a little. “More or less.”

“Okay, good. 'Cause I really want to kiss you, and I wasn't sure that would be okay.”

Hunter's breath caught in his throat. Dear God he wanted to kiss her. But he didn't want to mess this up like he had with Callie. Dawn was special. She was cute and funny and sexy and has a twisted sense of humor, and loved studying in really strange ways. She was amazing.

“I want to kiss you too,” Hunter said. “But I have something I need to tell you first.”

“Hmm?” Dawn asked. She stared up at Hunter's eyes. They were a sort of light brown with little green flecks in them, and right now they just looked sad.

“I'm HIV-positive,” Hunter said. He waited for the snap, he waited for Dawn to jerk away. Instead, she just continued to stare in his eyes.

“I wondered what you were keeping hidden,” Dawn said. “I didn't want to push 'cause, hey, I've got my secrets too. I'm not gonna ask you how you got it, 'cause you'll tell me when you're ready. But I went to all those biology classes, I know I can't catch it from kissing you. I'm glad you told me, though; gave me the choice. I still want to kiss you.”

“Oh,” Hunter said, and his smile got a little softer. He leaned down and pressed his lips to hers. She kissed him back, awkwardly, not really knowing what she was doing. But Hunter was a very good kisser. He moved his hands to pull Dawn closer, wrapping an arm around her. His hand slid up under her shirt so that his palm was against the flat of her back. Her skin was so smooth, Hunter rubbed her back gently as he kissed her. This kissing was different that any kissing Hunter had experienced before. It wasn't hurried and frantic in a back room or a car, it wasn't awkward and heated, like in Callie's room, afraid her parents would burst in. It was sweet and gentle, and a little passionate, because he definitely cared about Dawn. There were so many awesome things about her, but sometimes he thought he saw a fear in her eyes that he recognized. It was a fear he had. That fear of getting close because people always leave. She'd told him stuff about life back in Sunnydale, and the different people she loved, and Hunter knew a lot of those people were gone now. They kissed for several minutes before Dawn pulled away. She had a cute, dazed smile on her face.

“Was I really bad at it?” she asked.

“Kissing?” Hunter asked. “No. Why?”

“I've only been kissed twice before, and neither time ended well,” Dawn admitted.

“Well, I think you're a good kisser,” Hunter said, grinning.

“You too,” Dawn said. “But you've probably had more practice than me.”

Hunter bit his lip. He was at that point in which, he trusted Dawn enough to tell her the truth, but at the same time he was terrified. Callie hadn't been able to handle it, she'd been a virgin when they'd gotten together. Presumably Dawn was a virgin too. Why would she want to be touched by someone as filthy and tainted as him?

“Dawn,” Hunter said, his voice breaking.

“Shh, Hunter, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to,” Dawn said.

“I do want to,” Hunter said. “It's just, Callie couldn't handle it. Once I laid it all out, she was disgusted, and I don't want anyone to look at me the way she did.”

“Hunter,” Dawn said, “I'm your friend. And unless you murdered babies in cold blood and stapled their corpses to the ceiling, nothing you've done will chase me away. We've all done things we're not proud of.” Dawn pulled the jelly bracelets off her wrists and held her hands out in front of Hunter. Hunter took her hands in his and looked at what she was showing him. There were scars across her wrists. Her left arm bore about a half dozen scars, in neat little parallel lines, up her forearm.

“I don't do it anymore, I swear,” Dawn said, as Hunter ran his thumb across her scars lightly .

“I'm glad you did it the wrong way,” Hunter said. “I'm glad you're alive.”

“Me too, now, most of the time. But after my mom died, and my sister went away for a while, I felt like such a burden. My sister's friends were taking care of me, and I hated that I was keeping them away from their lives. Willow was so preoccupied trying to get Buffy back. Tara took me to the hospital. She never even told Buffy or Willow. Buffy didn't even find out until the social worker showed up. I did these two before Buffy left, but the other ones were later, after Tara died. When Buffy found out she didn't know what to do. Giles wanted me to go to a psych hospital, but Buffy's terrified of hospitals, she won't let me go to one unless I'm in dire need of surgery or something. It took a while, but I started to realize that maybe I'm not worthless.”

“You're not worthless,” Hunter said quickly. “Dawn, you're one of the best people I know. I love being around you, you make me feel so good about being alive. There are times when I wake up in the morning, and I wish I was dead. You make me want to be alive, and do things. You're awesome.”

“You really think that about me?” Dawn asked, surprised.

“Of course. And I know Vi loves being your friend, and your family and friend call or text you, like, every hour. People love you, and that's totally awesome.”

“I know,” Dawn said. “It's that head versus heart thing. They don't always match up. But like I said. I don't do it anymore. There are too many good things in my life now, and I don't want to lose them.”

“Good,” Hunter said, and then he sighed. “Okay,” he started. He could do this. She just told him a secret, he could tell her his. “You know how I told you I was homeless for a while? Living on the streets?”

“Yeah,” Dawn said, and felt a little sad.

“When you're a teenager, and you're homeless and starving there aren't many ways to get food. So I started hustling. Turning tricks.”

“You were a prostitute?” Dawn translated. “You had sex with people for money?”

“Just men,” Hunter said. “Women don't sleep with street hustlers. I had sex with men. Lots of them, probably hundreds, so I could get money to sleep somewhere warm, or have a hot meal. And that's how I got infected. $50 for a blow-job, $100 to fuck me without a condom.” Hunter cringed as the words slipped out of his mouth. He hadn't planned to tell her everything, not yet. She was sure to leave.

“Hunter, I don't care,” Dawn said resolutely. “I don't care about your past, I love you anyway.” Dawn realized what she said too late. She'd already said it. It was true, but the words still scared her. Now that she'd said it he was more likely to leave.

“You, what? You, love me?” Hunter asked.

“I do,” Dawn said. “I'm not certain when it happened, but I love you.”

“I think I love you too,” Hunter said. He reached out for her again, and he pulled her against him. They just lay there on the couch for a while, just snuggling. Dawn started blushing when she felt his erection through his clothes.

“Sorry,” he said. “It has a mind of it's own, and you're beautiful. No pressure, though.”

“'Kay,” she said. She found herself stroking it idly through his pants. A quiet moaned escaped Hunter's throat. Hunter draped an arm over Dawn, and cupped her breast gently. He ran his thumb over her nipple through two layers of clothes. They laid there for a while, just touching each other through their clothes, enjoying each others' company.

“Hey, you should go,” Dawn said. “Vi should be back any minute, and I really do need to study.”

“Okay. Do you still want to go to that party tomorrow?” Hunter asked.

“Yeah, free Jell-O shots,” Dawn giggled. “Let's meet there at nine?”

“Okay,” Hunter said. “I have a night class, so I might be late. I'll text or call you if I'm running late.”

“Okay,” Dawn said, leaning over to kiss him one last time. She might need a cold shower before she went to bed.

*****

“You're grinning like a Cheshire Cat,” Vi said. “What's up?”

“I told Hunter I loved him, and he said it back,” Dawn said, and Vi let out a squeal in response.

“That's awesome,” Vi said. “I want a boyfriend. Not that making out with random guys isn't fun, but it might be nice to make out with the same guy more than once.”

“That's one way of describing it,” Dawn laughed. “Are you going to this party with me tonight? Hunter's probably going to be late.”

“I need to do a patrol before I can party, there were two deaths last night with suspicious neck wounds. But as soon as I'm done, I'll be there.”

“Cool,” Dawn said, “I don't want to be there alone for too long.”

“By definition, can you really be alone at a party?” Vi asked with a giggle.

“Probably not,” Dawn admitted, “But you knew what I meant.” She stuck out her tongue at her best friend, and then followed her into the dining hall for lunch.


*****


Dawn did get to the party before Hunter and Vi. She was wearing a black leather miniskirt that she'd stolen from Faith over a pair of fishnet stockings, instead of boots with a high heel she wore a pair of Mary Janes—she was already about an inch taller than Hunter, and she didn't want to tower over him. She wore a red shirt that was basically a large red triangle of fabric tied with strings around her neck and back, she she wore her plain gold cross. Her cellphone was clipped to the unnecessary belt loop on her skirt. She didn't wear a bra, and she was just able to get away with it. If she was even a half cup larger she couldn't. Unfortunately she didn't have a lot of places to hide weapons in her outfit, but she had a knife, a stake and pepper spray in her purse. She wore a black leather jacket because it was the first week of November and getting cold. Dawn knew she was sexy, and couldn't wait for Hunter to see her like that. In the meantime, she was going to dance a little, and do a couple Jell-O shots, while she waited for Hunter and Vi to show up.

Dawn did two Jell-o shots and then started dancing. There were a couple people she knew, and she danced with them. And there were definitely a few guys who wanted to dance with her, especially once she took off her jacket. She got a text from Hunter, saying that he was running even later than he thought, but he'd be there as soon as he could. So she did a third shot, but decided that would be it for a while. She was getting really light-headed and a little dizzy. So she just rode her buzz, dancing with some guy, who was much taller than her, but nowhere near as cute as Hunter. She was feeling thirsty, but didn't want another shot. She mentioned it and the guy quickly produced some water for her, which she drank down.

“I'm kinda warm,” Dawn said. She felt like she was floating. “I need some air.”

“I'll help you outside,” tall, dark and kinda handsome said. She couldn't remember his name. And his hand was on her, pulling her out to the back deck of the off-campus house the party was at.

“The stars are nice,” Dawn said in a haze, “but you can't really see them here.”

“Not as pretty as you,” the guy said. And he was kissing her. She kissed back for a moment, before her brain registered that she had Hunter, a boyfriend who really cared about her. She tried to pull away, but her muscles weren't fast enough, and he was too strong. He was kissing her hard, pushing her against the wall. She felt her cell phone buzz, and she reached for it, but was only able to press the answer button before he had both her hands pinned to the wall. She could feel his erection press against her hip, and she wanted to fight against him. She wanted to kick and punch and scream, but she couldn't make her body respond.

“No,” she said. “Stop.” The hand that wasn't holding her hands was grabbing her breasts under her shirt, one after the other.

“Stop,” she said. “Don't.”

“Quiet. You know you want this,” the guy said. “Don't fight it.”

And then Dawn was on her back, on the floor, pinned beneath him. She tried to thrash about, to push him off, but she couldn't manage it, even with all the self-defense training she'd had. Her skirt was pushed up so that it bunched around her hips. She felt him tear her stockings; heard the threads break in his strong fingers. He must be strong as he had both her wrists pinned above her head with one hand. His other hand jerked her thong hard, and she felt one of the strings snap.

“Ow!” she cried out.

She felt his fingers there. She tried to shut her legs, but his hands wrenched them apart. Her hands were free now, and she clawed at his face, hitting him. She wanted to punch him but her arms felt like wet noodles. She had no strength. She felt something force itself inside her, the scratch of an uneven fingernail against her inner wall.

“Ow! Stop, please stop!” she cried out. She knew nobody could hear her on the back porch with all the music playing inside. She felt relieved when the fingers went away. His hands were off her, and she thought she could get away. When she tried to move away, he slapped her across the face.

“Stay still bitch. You'll like it. You know you want it, dressed up the way you are, you little whore.”

And then he was there, forcing himself inside her. She cried and she screamed, and she tried to push him off, but her thrashing made her feel like she was swimming in tar. He was in her, slamming in and out, grunting while she cried.

*****

Hunter was almost at the party. He'd had to talk to the professor before he could leave, and then he had to walk to the off-campus house. When he was about two blocks away he pulled out his cell phone to call Dawn. The phone was on. He heard her pick up, but it was strange, she didn't answer, and there was nothing but background noise. And then he heard her scream.

“No, stop, stop, don't!” he heard through the phone. He was already running. He saw Vi down the street, and when she saw him running, she started running too. He ran as fast as he could, listening to Dawn cry out in pain and fear as he ran to the party. He looked around, but didn't see her anywhere.

“Fred, have you seen Dawn?”

“She went out onto the deck for air, I think,” Fred answered. Curiously, he followed Hunter out onto the back porch, Vi quickly behind them.

Hunter saw the guy on top of Dawn, heard her cry out for him to stop, and remembered something he'd tried to bury. He remembered the first time it had happened to him. He was twelve years old and his mom had sold him to her dealer for $50 and two hits of something, Hunter wasn't even sure what she was on then, maybe heroin, maybe crack. He'd tried to fight the Jake off at first, but it was no use, the man was twice his size. The memory was so real. Hunter felt the man's hot hands on his skin. He remembered crying out in pain when the Jake's cock slammed into his ass, it hurt so bad. And then the his hand was around Hunter's cock, and Hunter felt disgusted when he realized his body was responding. At twelve, he was only just learning his own body. He was crying when he came, his body working against him, betraying him. He threw up afterward.

Hunter was on the guy in a second, pulling him off Dawn, hitting him and kicking him and punching him. He was screaming unintelligible things, although Fred was able to make out 'Fuck you Jake,' and something about his mom.

Vi was calling 911 on her phone, while sitting next to Dawn. She pulled down Dawn's skirt to give her a bit of modesty.

“Break that up, will you?” she said to Fred and several of the other guys who were just standing there, shocked, watching Hunter attack the guy. They stepped in finally, and pulled Hunter off him. Two of the guys held the rapist down, while they waited for the cops, and another two guys tried to restrain Hunter, but he was thrashing and fighting pretty hard.


*****


When Detectives Benson and Stabler made it to the scene, uniforms and paramedics were already there. They caught the eye of a uniform and flashed their badges.

“What do we have here?” Stabler asked.

“Girl was raped,” the officer said. “Her boyfriend and another friend were looking for her, found her on the porch with the perp on her. Boyfriend went ballistic and attacked the perp, took four guys to pull them apart. Perp's in bracelets over there,” the officer pointed to the back of one of the squad cars, where a battered and bruised young man was sitting, with a uniform guarding him.

“The girl's there,” he pointed to where the EMT's were loading a gurney into the back of an ambulance.

“I'm gonna ride in with her,” Olivia said, and walked toward the ambulance.

“And the boyfriend?” Stabler asked.

“There,” the officer pointed. Two paramedics were strapping the other boy onto a stretcher. He was thrashing and fighting, and they were holding him down.

“That's the best friend,” the officer said, pointing to a crying redhead who was talking into a cell-phone.

“I'll talk to her,” Stabler said, “See if they can calm the boy down before we talk to him.”

He walked over to the girl and flashed his badge. “Okay Mr. Bruckner, the cops want to talk to me now,” she said, between sniffles. “I'll call Justin and ask him to pick you up at the airport.” She hung up the phone.

“I'm Detective Elliot Stabler. What's your name?”

“Violet Day,” she said still sniffling. I was calling Hunter's parents, they're flying out. I already called Dawn's sister.”

“That was very thoughtful and productive of you,” Stabler said gently. “Can you tell me what happened?”

“We were all supposed to go to the party together,” Vi said. “But Hunter had a night class, and I had a paper I needed to finish, so we decided to meet up here. I was walking over, and I saw Hunter running like a bat out of hell, his phone in his hand,” she held up his phone. “So I ran after him, and we found Fred and he said Dawn was out on the porch, so we went out there and,” Vi let out a sob, “And Travis was on top of her. She cried out and Hunter was on him in a second. He was kicking and punching him. He wasn't calling him Travis though, he was calling him Jake,” Vi looked confused. “And I think he might have called Dawn 'Mom,' I'm not sure. It was weird. Some of the other guys pulled them apart, and I called 911. When the paramedics came, I called their families. Hunter's dad said to tell the paramedics that he's HIV-positive.”

“I'll go tell them,” Stabler said, “Listen, Violet, you did a good job calling 911, and taking care of your friends.”

“I should have been there,” Vi said. “I should have made her wait for me.”

“This is not your fault,” Stabler said. “Do you want to go to the hospital with them?”

“Yes,” Vi said.

“Let's see if they'll let you get on the ambulance with Hunter.” Stabler walked over to the ambulance. The one with Dawn had already left. He spoke to the EMT for a minute, and they let Vi climb in with Hunter.

“He's positive,” she told EMT as she sat next to him. “He has HIV.”

“Okay,” the woman said.

“Hunter?” Vi said, he wasn't struggling anymore, but he was still shaking and crying. “Hunter, it's Vi.”

Hunter didn't respond. It was like he didn't hear her.

“I don't understand what's happening to him,” Vi said.

“My best guess,” the EMT said, “Is that he's having a flashback. Something he saw or heard or smelled triggered a memory. It's a symptom of PTSD. In his mind, he's not at a college party, he's wherever he was when the trauma happened.”

“That's awful,” Vi said. “I've known him a couple months, but he hasn't told me much about his past. I know he was street kid for a while before his parents adopted him.”

“I'm going to give him something to knock him out. Hopefully when he wakes up he'll be coherent.”


*****


“Do they have to take pictures?” Dawn asked in a small voice.

“It's for evidence,” Olivia said gently. “So that we have proof to put him in jail for a very long time. Do you think you can tell me what happened?”

“Okay,” Dawn said in a small voice. “I got to the party a little early. Hunter and Vi were supposed to meet me there, but they were held up and I wanted to dance. I did three shots,” Dawn said. “I'd never done more than two before, I don't like getting really drunk. I felt dizzy and light-headed, but not like normal vodka, like, I couldn't control my arms very well, and I was tripping on my feet.”

“When did you see him?” Olivia asked.

“We were dancing,” Dawn said, “and I got dizzy so he got me some water. I'd never met him before but he seemed nice. I got dizzier and hotter after the water. He seemed so nice.” Dawn was in tears again, and her hands were shaking.

“Take your time,” Olivia said.

“He helped me outside, 'cause I wanted air. I said something about not being able to see the stars or something stupid, and then he was on me, kissing me. I told him to stop, but he didn't. He pinned me against the wall and put his hand up my shirt.” Dawn's tears were flowing freely, but she kept talking. “He threw me onto the floor and pushed my skirt up. I screamed and I tried to kick and fight and push him off me. I scratched at his face, but he didn't stop. He put his hands between my legs and tore my stockings and my underwear. He stuck his fingers in me,” Dawn's voice broke again with a sob. “And I could feel his fingernails, they were jagged. Then he put his,” she paused again, “his penis inside me. I told him to stop, because it hurt, but he kept going. Then he was off me, and Hunter was there, and I wanted to die.”

“You have a very brave boyfriend,” Olivia said. “I bet he really loves you.”

“He just said it yesterday,” she cried. “It's not fair. I was waiting, I wanted it to be Hunter. It was supposed to be Hunter, it was supposed to be good.”

Olivia didn't know what to say to that. All rapes were horrible, but there was something even worse, something a tiny bit more sad when the girl was a virgin. All rape was evil, but sometimes it seemed that without a positive sexual experience to compare it against, it took victims longer to heal.

Someone, a nurse or a doctor was there, with a piece of paper, and Olivia stood up to walk across the room.

“The tox screen was positive for GHB and muscle relaxant. Make sure she understands that there's no way she could have fought him off with that in her system.”

Olivia talked to Dawn for a while, just being there for her. Eventually a woman stuck her head into the room.

“Dawn,” she said gently, “Your sister is here, would you like her to come in?”

“Yeah,” Dawn said quietly.

Buffy came in the door, and Dawn saw her eyes were rimmed with red.

“Wow,” Dawn said, trying to make a joke, “things must be dire if Buffy's in a hospital.”

“Ha, ha,” Buffy said. “Are you okay, sweetie?” Buffy asked coming over to take her sister's hand. “That's a stupid question.”

“I don't know,” Dawn said honestly. “Don't want to think about it. I feel really stupid.

“Not your fault,” Buffy and Olivia said together.

“Just keep repeating it until she believes it,” Olivia said to Buffy. “Dawn, I'm going to go down to the station to file the report. I'm going to leave you my card in case you remember anything else, or if you just want to talk. We've got him in custody, and with your statement and witness statements we should be able to convict him.”

*****

“Dude, I didn't do anything she didn't want,” Travis said. “You should be arresting that psycho who jumped me. Started calling me Jake and punching me. I'm totally going to sue his ass, and all your asses for arresting me. If that little faggot gave me AIDS I'm going to kill him.”

“It may come as news to you, Travis, but when a girl says 'No' it means she doesn't want you to rape her,” Detective John Munch said.

“Whatever. Did you see what she was wearing? She was just playing hard to get.”

Out in the observation room, Cragen, Huang and Benson were watching.

“George, I'd like you to go to the hospital. Try to interview the boyfriend when he wakes up,” Cragen said.

“I'll try, Don, but people with PTSD, after they have a flashback, often don't remember the triggering event,” Huang said. “We may need to make do with just Dawn's statement and the best friend's statement.”

“A couple other kids gave statements too, right?” Olivia asked. “I mean, this Hunter kid looked in pretty bad shape Cap, I'd hate to make it worse by interrogating him.”

“Just ask a few questions, Doc. Not enough to push him over the edge,” Cragen suggested.

“I'll try,” Huang said.

*****

Dr. George Huang asked at the front desk where Hunter Novotny-Bruckner was. He made his way there and stood at the door to the room, were two men were standing by the bed. The boy was in soft restraints, and sedated.

“Excuse me, I'm Dr. George Huang, a psychiatrist with the police. I was hoping to speak with Hunter.”

“We're his parents,” one of the men said. “I'm Ben Bruckner, and this is my husband Michael Novotny-Bruckner. He's asleep now, and I'd rather not have him interrogated.”

“I have no desire to interrogate your son,” Huang assured. “We're just trying to get a full and complete understanding of what happened.”

“Honey, he's just trying to do his job,” Michael said. “What do you want to know?”

“What do you know about what happened?” Huang asked.

“His girlfriend's roommate told us that he walked in on his girlfriend getting raped. He flew into a rage and started calling the boy 'Jake',” Michael said.

“Do you know who Jake is?” Dr. Huang asked.

“Jake was his mom's pimp and dealer,” Ben said. “When Hunter was twelve, his mother sold him to Jake for $50 and a couple hits. When Jake was done with him, his mother was so pleased with the results that she started pimping him out. After she stabbed his father, Hunter was put in foster care. He found those situations abusive as well, and ran away. When he was living on the streets, he hustled. He was fifteen when we found him.”

“When the doctor told us he was HIV-positive, we knew he belonged with us,” Michael said. “There aren't a lot of foster families willing to take in positive teenage hustlers,” Michael grimaced. “We adopted him legally right before Prop 14 passed.”

Huang made a grimace in response to the mention of Proposition 14. Legislation like that made him sick to his stomach.

“So he was sexually abused from when he was twelve to fifteen?” Huang asked.

“He was sixteen when he finally stopped hustling,” Ben said. “When he realized we weren't going to throw him out.”

“But he has a girlfriend now, so he identifies as straight? Bisexual?” he asked

“Mostly straight,” Ben said. “He's found himself attracted to a few men, but because his first sexual experience was so traumatic, it took him years to come to terms with his sexuality. He thought he was gay because men were attracted to him.”

“I can imagine it would be very difficult to deal with. Does he have flashbacks or panic attacks often?” Huang asked.

“Not so much anymore,” Michael said. “He hasn't had a flashback in months, even the nightmares were letting up.”

“Well, walking into a rape is a very powerful trigger,” Huang said. “You should be made aware that the rapist, Travis, is threatening to sue Hunter for exposing him to HIV, and even if he's convicted for rape, given the stigma that the disease has, he may make some serious headway.”

“We'll call our lawyer,” Ben said. “She'll come down if she needs to.”

“Also, if there are legal records of Hunter's past, Travis' lawyer may try to use them to his advantage, make Hunter look like the bad guy. I doubt it will work, but you need to be prepared,” Huang said.

“Thank you Doctor,” Ben said. Hunter stirred a little on the bed.

“Ben?” he asked out, his voice hoarse from screaming.

“Hunter? I'm right here, so's Michael.”

“Where am I?” Hunter asked.

“The hospital,” Ben said.

Hunter tried to moved. When he felt the restraints against him he flinched.

Dr. Huang looked down at Hunter, he could see that being restrained was uncomfortable, and that Hunter was apt to have another panic attack if he wasn't released.

“Hunter, I'm Dr. Huang, if I take off the restraints, will you stay still?”

“Yes,” Hunter said.

Huang removed the restraints. “Hunter, what do you remember?”

“I,” Hunter paused. “It was Friday?”

Huang nodded, “What happened on Friday?”

“I had class. I was going to a party with Dawn and Vi. Dawn, where's Dawn?” he asked, slight panic in his voice.

“She's here. She'll be okay,” Huang said. “What do you remember?”

“I was walking to the party,” Hunter's face was confused, trying to pull all the pieces together. “I called her on her cell phone, but there was only screaming.” Hunter's brain connected things, and the three men watched the agony fill his face as he remembered what he'd walked into.

“Dawn. Dawn was raped,” Hunter said, his voice still scratchy.

“Yes,” Ben said. “Where did you go, in your head?”

“The crack house. When she gave me to Jake.”

“Hunter,” Huang said gently, “Have you ever seen a therapist? Or talked about what happened to you with more than just your dads?”

Hunter shook his head.

“There's a really good rape and sexual abuse support group at Columbia,” Huang said, writing down some information for him. “Even if you don't want to go for yourself,” Huang said, seeing that Hunter wanted to protest, “It would probably be good for Dawn, and she might feel better going if you go with her.”

“I'll think about it,” Hunter said quietly.

“You've probably heard this before,” Huang said, “But it is often much harder for male victims of sexual abuse to come forward. We live in a society that tells us that men have to be strong and dominant, and never show weakness. That men who are abused or raped aren't men anymore. Do you know what I see when I look at you?” the profiler asked.

Hunter shook his head.

“I see a strong young man who loves his girlfriend. I see a man who will never raise his hand to a woman in anger, who will never use fear or intimidation to dominate or gain power. If you continue to live like that, you will be a good man. And it means you won't let them win.”

“Thanks,” Hunter said.

*****

Two days later Dawn's bruises were the height of obvious. Large purple blotches on her face, arms, legs, fading to a sickly yellowish green around the edges. She was home now, but didn't want to leave her dorm until the bruises faded. Willow had gone back to Cleveland, but Dawn had asked Buffy and Xander to stay for a few days. Dawn thought it was great that Buffy and Xander had finally gotten together, and wanted to focus completely on them and their new relationship, trying to keep her ordeal out of conversation. She didn't want to think about it, and she didn't want to talk about it.

During a movie marathon, Xander got up to go out for a bit of a walk and get some coffee, in the hallway recognized one of Hunter's dads.

“Hey, you're one of Hunter's dads, right?” Xander asked.

“Yes, I'm Ben. Who are you?”

“Xander,” he said, offering a hand. “Dawn's sister's boyfriend. I was just about to get a cup of coffee, care to join me?”

“Sure,” Ben said.

“So, they finally released Hunter?”

“This morning,” Ben said, “Once they were certain he wasn't a threat to himself or others. He's currently working up the courage to talk to Dawn. He's not sure she'll want to see him.”

“She does,” Xander said. “She'd come over and see him, but she doesn't want to leave her room until the bruises fade, and I understand that.” He gestured to his very obvious eye patch.

“Do you mind if I ask?' Ben asked.

“Psycho stuck his thumb in it,” Xander said, “Crushed the optical nerve. Too much damage to the socket for a glass eye.”

“That sounds horrible,” Ben said.

“You know,” Xander started, changing the subject, “I've helped raise Dawn since she was fourteen. We didn't really do the best job, but we tried. Now this happens and I don't know how to handle it. How do you?” Xander asked.

“Slowly,” Ben said. “Be there for her when she cries. Tell her it's not her fault. Remind her how much you love her, how beautiful she is, how lucky everyone is to have her. And be prepared for the self-loathing. When the nightmares start, and she wakes up screaming, just hold her until she stops. We tried family counseling a few times, but Hunter never wanted to open up to strangers. Just be prepared. She might fall into self-destructive behaviors. Don't let her.”

Xander nodded in response to Ben's statement. “I don't know if you know this, but after the Sunnydale collapse, those of us who were legal adults petitioned for custody of the underage kids that escaped with us. Now, several of them, have PTSD, but I've never seen an attack as intense as what Hunter went through.”

“From what I understand—and I only know two men with PTSD, Hunter and Justin—it's different for everyone. Of the two, Hunter sustained repeated abuse for several years, and Justin went through a single, extremely traumatic incident, when a classmate attacked him with a baseball bat. I wasn't around back then, but I know Justin still has nightmares.”

“We all have nightmares. You can't watch your friends and family die, have your hometown literally collapse into nothingness around you, and not have nightmares.”

Ben winced. “I've used the expression 'my life is falling apart,' but I've never imagined it literally.”

“We're doing okay,” Xander said. “It's been a few years, they always say time is a great healer. And Dawnie always bounces back. Question.”

“Yeah?”

“When you found out what happened to Hunter as a kid, how did you stop yourself from finding the bastard and killing him?” Xander asked, his fists clenching as they walked into the coffee shop.

“It wouldn't fix anything,” Ben said. “If we resort to violence we become like them. That being said, there was a bombing a few years ago, and a charity event for gay rights, and Michael was very nearly killed. During the candlelight vigil, some protesters started yelling about how Michael deserved to die and burn in hell.”

“Assholes like that deserve their own threats,” Xander muttered.

“Yes,” Ben agreed. “I lost it. I started punching the guy. I never lose control like that, I felt so weak. On top of that, if I'd bled, I'd have had to notify him of my HIV status, and things could have gotten even more out of hand.”

“I can imagine,” Xander said. “I really feel for you guys. It's not a nice disease.”

“Definitely not,” Ben agreed. “I think it's worse for Hunter, because of how young he was. Making friends is not easy for Hunter. If they don't leave when they find out he's positive, they usually run when they find out how he got it. I really hope Dawn and Vi continue his being his friends.”

“They won't stop being his friends over a things like HIV, or being abused. Maybe if he was decapitating puppies or summoning demons,” Xander said.

The matter-of-fact way in which Xander said something so absurd made Ben laugh, and they shifted to more pleasant topics.

*****

“Remind me again why I can't kill the guy who raped my baby sister?” Buffy asked Xander as they patrolled.

“You know how haunted Willow is, about killing Warren. Even if he deserves it. Dawn wouldn't want you to. He's in jail, and he's going to go to prison,” Xander rubbed Buffy's back while they walked. “Trust me, I want to kill him too.”

“I hate feeling so helpless,” Buffy said.

“Me too, Darling, me too,” Xander held his girlfriend's hand while they walked. They were more on a stroll than they were actually tracking vampires, but Xander hoped they found a couple of demons soon so Buffy could beat some of her rage out.

*****

Taking a breath, Hunter knocked on the door. It opened and Vi was there.

“Hey Hunter,” she said. “Dawn, it's Hunter.”

“Come in,” Dawn said from her spot on the couch.

Vi stepped aside and let Hunter into the room. Hunter looked at Dawn, with bruises on her face, her neck and her arms and winced.

“I'm so sorry,” he whispered.

“The next person who apologizes is getting hit across the face with this,” she said, holding up a giant textbook.

“Sorry,” Hunter said, making Vi laugh.

Buffy and Xander were washing Dawn's laundry for her. Well, to be fair Buffy was doing the laundry and Xander was keeping her company.

“Dawn,” Vi said, “If I run down and get pizza, you gonna be okay here?”

“Sure,” Dawn said. “Anchovies?”

“Of course, Hunter, would you like pizza?”

“Sure,” Hunter said. “Pepperoni?”

“Sure,” Vi said. “I've got my cell if you need me,” she said to Dawn.

“I'll be fine,” Dawn said, rolling her eyes. Vi turned and left the room, leaving Hunter and Dawn alone.

“Um, I'm gonna come sit on the couch, but if it freaks you out, let me know.”

“God, everybody's treating me like I'm made out of glass,” Dawn said. “I'm okay, just come here and sit with me.”

Hunter smiled and sat down on the couch. Dawn shifted and leaned against him, using him as a pillow.

“So,” Dawn said. “I don't really remember, but they told me you freaked out pretty bad.”

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “God, I don't know why you'd ever want to be with me. I'm so fucked up, Dawn. I'm broken. I'll probably never be okay.”

“Hunter, I already told you that I don't care about your past. I love who you are now. I want you in my life.”

“You seriously don't care that I used to suck cock for a living? That I've probably fucked more guys then a dozen porn-stars combined??”

“No,” Dawn said. “Compared to some of the guys my sister's dated you're practically a saint. I mean, it makes me a little sad that I won't be your first, but I love you anyway.”

Hunter's eyes bugged out a little. “You still want to sleep with me?”

“Not right now,” Dawn said. “I know I'm not ready for that. And it'll probably be a while before I am. But eventually, yes.”

Hunter touched his hand against Dawn's arm, she flinched automatically, but as he ran his hand lightly up and down her arm, she relaxed into it. The touch felt nice. There were bruises shaped like fingers along her arms, but Hunter was careful not to press too hard.

“You are a gift from the gods,” Hunter said with a sigh.

“I aim to please,” Dawn said, her voice wavering a little. Hunter knew she wasn't okay as she wanted people to think, but he wasn't going to let on, at least not yet. “Just hold me, okay? Remind me that I'm worthy of it.”

“You got it, babe,” Hunter said, kissing the top of her head. “You are definitely worthy.”

****

“Alex,” Olivia said as ADA Alexandra Cabot walked into the station. “How's the Travis Thompson case going?”

“Not well,” Alex said, as the detectives gathered around her.

“Why not? We caught him red-handed, several people saw him raping Dawn Summers,” Stabler said.

“The defense attorney must have done some serious digging. He's found records that show that Dawn Summers used to self-injure, and is claiming that she wanted rough sex, and all the witnesses saw was rough sex. And the overreaction of her boyfriend didn't help. The attorney is presenting testimony that Hunter Bruckner used to be a street hustler. He's claiming that he attacked Travis Thompson to get attention.”

“That's horrible,” Olivia said. “Are they completely overlooking the pictures of Dawn's injuries?”

“No, but the pictures also show scars on her abdomen and wrists. He's claiming that Dawn also was seeking attention, and that the sex was consensual.”

“Christ,” Stabler said.

“I need you guys to do some digging,” Alex said. “Find another victim, find evidence that Thompson's done this before. Find me some history of violence towards women.”

“We'll do what we can,” Stabler promised.

*****

He was on her. Pressing his body into hers. She could feel him inside her, forcing her open. His hands pinned her down. His lips pressed against hers, but not sweet or sensual. There was pain and violence and cruelty. He slammed into her while she cried. She tried to push him off, but it didn't work. There was nothing she could do to stop him.

“Dawn, Dawn,” Vi was there, trying to wake Dawn up. It had been a few weeks, and Buffy and Xander had gone home.

Dawn screamed and thrashed as she woke up, hitting Vi hard in the face. It was a good thing Vi was a slayer, or else it really would have hurt.

“Vi?” Dawn said, coming back to reality. Even though she was awake, she could still feel his hands on her.

“Hey,” Vi said, a concerned look on her face. “It's just a nightmare. He's never going to touch you again.”

“I'm gonna go take a shower,” Dawn said, getting up and grabbing her stuff before walking out to the girls' showers on her floor. It was about three in the morning, so the showers were empty. She turned on the spray and made it as hot as she could, just standing there for several minutes. She lathered up her scrubby and started running it across her body. Down her arms, under her breasts, down her legs, scrubbing hard. She ran the scrubby between her legs, using more force than she should, but she could still feel him there. She just wanted to feel clean again. The hot water pelted her skin, and washed the salty tears off her face as she cried.


*****

Justin had invited Dawn and Hunter out for the afternoon. They were approaching finals, and they had to testify in court the next day, so Justin thought they could use a break. The three of them were sitting at a table in the bakery enjoying tasty, fattening pastries, when Hunter made a sarcastic comment to Justin, that Dawn thought was a little mean.

“I don't get it,” Dawn said. “I know you like Justin, he's a decent guy, and you count him as a friend, but you're still a dick to him. Why?”

Hunter didn't answer, he just stared at the table.

“I know why,” Justin said.

“Don't,” Hunter said.

“I look like him, don't I?” Justin asked.

“Look like who?” Dawn asked, wondering why Hunter was so upset. She knew that Justin didn't look like Jake, he had been older from what she understood, and had darker hair.

“Jason Kemp, right?” Justin asked Hunter.

Slowly, Hunter nodded.

“Who's Jason Kemp?” Dawn asked.

“Jason Kemp was a hustler,” Justin said. “He was murdered by a dirty cop and thrown in a dumpster behind the Liberty Diner. Debbie found him the next morning.”

“You knew him?” Dawn asked gently.

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “We kind of, well, not really dated, but we were together a couple times. He hadn't learned all the ropes yet. I tried to stop him from going with the cop, but he needed the money.”

“It's not your fault,” Dawn said, automatically. “It's really not.”

“Yeah, I know,” Hunter said.

“You know,” Justin said, “After I was bashed, my mom blamed Brian. Like, it was his fault that I was gay, or his fault that I was dancing with him at prom, or that we kissed in public. She laid the blame squarely on him. Everyone wanted to infantilize me, I hated it. But I wasn't to blame, and Brian wasn't to blame. The only one who was at fault was Chris Hobbes and his damned homophobia.”

“I just wish I could forget the whole thing ever happened,” Dawn said. “I'm seriously not looking forward to rehashing everything tomorrow. And I'm sick of everyone looking at me like I'm this poor little kid, and treating me like I'm made of glass. I think my teachers are giving me As even when I don't deserve them just because they feel sorry for me.”

“Come on,” Justin said, standing up. “Come back to my apartment for a bit.”

Hunter took Dawn's hand in his own, and they followed Justin to his apartment. There were canvases and Masonite boards all over the place, along with easels and tables, oils paints, turpentine, acrylics, brushes, sketchpads, and everything else a struggling young artist needs.

“Lots of paintings,” Hunter said, “You have a new show coming up soon?”

“Yeah, next weekend,” Justin said. He started pick up paintings and leaning them against the wall. He looked at Dawn. “What do you think of them?”

“I knew you were a painter” she said, enraptured by the beauty of them, “But I had no clue how good you are.”

“Pick one,” Justin said.

“Hmm?” Dawn asked.

“Pick a painting. I want you to have one.”

“Really?” Dawn said.

“Really,” Justin said. “Hunter already has one, his graduation present. But you're part of the family now, and you need a painting. So, choose one.”

Dawn looked at all the paintings, before she saw one that gave her serious deja vu. It was a girl standing on a tower, with lightning streaking across the sky. She pointed at it, and Justin smiled. He set it aside, before offering them a beer and something to eat. They respectfully declined, since they had to be at the courthouse in the morning.


*****


“Ms. Summers do you swear to tell the truth so help you God?”

“I do,” she said, then sat down. Alex Cabot approached her.

“Ms. Summers, will you please describe the events of the evening of November 8th?”

“I got home from class, had something to eat, and then got dressed for the party. I was supposed to go with my boyfriend and best friend, but they were running late so I went by myself. I had a couple of drinks, and danced for a while. There was a guy who kept dancing with me. I got dizzy, and he got me a glass of water, and then helped me go outside.”

“Is this man in the courtroom today?” Alex asked.

“Yes, he's right there,” she pointed at Travis.

“Let the record show the witness has identified the defendant Travis Thompson,” Alex said. “After that, what happened?”

“He kissed me, and I told him not to. My phone rang, and I hit the answer button, but I couldn't talk into it, because he pushed me against the wall. I told him to stop, and tried to fight, but I couldn't. He put his hands under my shirt and grabbed my breasts.” Dawn's voice wavered slightly. “Then he threw me down on the ground. He straddled me so that I couldn't move and pinned my hands above my head. He pushed my skirt up, and tore my stockings and underwear,” she sad, her voice was quavering more, and her hands were clammy. “I kept saying no, stop, please don't. I tried to scratch hims and hit him and bite him, but it felt like swimming through tar. I couldn't move right. He stuck his fingers in, in my vagina,” Dawn closed her eyes with the pain of the memory. “I remember thinking how bad it hurt because his nails were jagged. Then he removed his hand,” Dawn discovered that as long as she used precise and clinical words it was easier to talk about it. “The he put his penis inside me. I was begging him to stop, and trying to scratch his face. Then Hunter and Vi showed up and pulled him off me.” There were tear tracks down Dawn's cheeks.

“Dawn, you say you're reactions were impaired?”

“Yes,” Dawn said.

“I'd like to enter this into evidence, this is a tox-screen from the night in question showing that Dawn's bloodstream contained high levels of GHB, a known date rape drug, and a strong muscle relaxant.” Alex looked at Dawn. “Nothing further,” Alex said.

Then the defense attorney stood up to cross-examine.

“Ms. Summers, do you self-injure?”

“Objection, relevance,” Alex said.

“Goes to the witness's state of mind.”

“I'll allow it,” the judge said.

“I used to,” Dawn said. “I don't anymore.”

“Did you also shoplift as a teenager?”

“Again, I used to but I don't anymore.”

“The night of the party, were you wearing a backless halter top, a leather miniskirt and fishnet stockings?”

“Objection!” Alex shouted.

“Withdrawn. Ms. Summers, isn't it true that for your entire life you've hungered for attention, and done everything within your power to get people to notice you?”

“No,” Dawn said, just as Alex objected again.

“Then why did you attempt suicide?”

“Because my mother died, my friend was murdered and another friend had a breakdown and had to be sent away. I felt completely alone. I am much better now.”

The lawyer asked a few more insulting and leading questions, with objections by Alex to each one. Eventually, it all ended and Dawn was dismissed. Vi was next and she gave her story simply and quickly, and before long Hunter was called up to testify. After he was sworn in Alex came to question him.

“Mr. Novotny-Bruckner, will you please describe the events of November 8th as you remember them?”

“I had a night class, and then I needed to speak to my professor about a project, so I was late. As I was walking to the party I tried to call Dawn from my cell phone, and she answered but didn't say anything. I could hear her screaming and begging him to stop, that he was hurting her. I started running as hard as I could. When I got there, He,” Hunter pointed at Travis, “Was on top of her. I went to pull him off her, but I don't remember anything after that.”

“Why don't you remember?” Alex asked.

“I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder,” Hunter said. “I was raped as a child, and when I encountered the situation, I had a flashback.” Hunter didn't want to say all that, but it was what Alex had trained him to say. Alex asked a few more questions, and then it was the defense attorney's turn.

“Mr. Montgomery,” he began.

“It's Novotny-Bruckner,” Hunter corrected.

“My apologies, I was just using your birth name. How old were you when you began prostitution?”

Hunter's face grew dark. “My mother sold me to her pimp for $50 and some drugs. After that she started forcing me to hustle to supplement her income.”

“Is it true that between ages twelve and sixteen you were arrested for prostitution three times, you had sex with a man you knew to be a murderer, and slept with hundreds of men for money?”

“Objection!” Alex cried out.

“Sustained,” the judge said. “Counselor, get to your point quickly.”

“Mr. Bruckner, are you HIV-positive?”

“Yes,” Hunter said, as Alex objected. The judge allowed it.

“Then, wasn't your attack of my client a reckless action? Didn't you know perfectly well that by punching him you could have exposed him to HIV?”

“I don't remember,” Hunter said firmly. The lawyer continued his brutal line of questioning, despite Hunter's insistence he remembered nothing after seeing Travis on top of Dawn. Eventually, after several more objections from Alex, the lawyer cut him loose, and he went back to Dawn, took her hand, and waited for the judge to let everyone go for the day.

“God, he made me sound like a drunken, self-loathing drama queen,” Dawn said, as the walked out of the courtroom. Alex found them before they left the building.

“That was a fucking nightmare,” Hunter said, looking up at Alex.

“I don't think his approach is going to work,” Alex said. “He wanted to shake you both up, but you stood firm. That, combined with the proof that he's done this before, the jury should have no problem convicting.”

“And if they don't?” Dawn said, “If they let him out, what's to stop him from coming after me?”

“We'll file a restraining order against him,” Alex said, “If he gets acquitted, which I don't think he will, we will make sure he can't get anywhere near any of you.”

“Just, make sure they put him away,” Vi said, and for a second, Alex saw something predatorial flash in Violet's eyes. All she knew was that she wouldn't want to bump into this girl, alone in the middle of the night.


*****


“When are you going to tell him?” Vi asked, “About the supernatural stuff?”

“After the trial's over. When all that crap is done, I'll tell him. 'Cause right now, I need him, and if he's gonna bail on me when I reveal the creepiness of my life, I want to wait a while.”

“I don't think he'll bail,” Vi said. “He loves you too much. Plus there's that whole thing about you being the first person to not bail on him after finding out his secrets. I'm, like, positive he'll treat you the same way.”

“'Kay,” Dawn said, “keeping the magic and demon stuff from him is pretty hard. It's just, the revelation can be pretty intense.”

“You'll figure it out,” Vi said. “You're super smart,” she kissed her best friend on the cheek, and was happy to notice that Dawn didn't flinch away this time. Maybe she was making progress.

*****

Christmas holidays went quickly. Hunter was happy to see JR again. He really did love his little sister. Everyone was there for the holidays, and Justin had wheedled and cajoled Brian until he finally persuaded Brian to hold the Christmas festivities at Britin. Brian had kept the manor house, but hadn't been living there. He'd been staying in his loft while Justin was away in New York. Everyone knew, although it was rarely spoken aloud, that as soon as Justin had established himself in the art world, he'd move back to Pittsburgh.

Debbie, Emmett, Darren and Justin were cooking up a storm. There was a massive Christmas tree being decorated, and music and drinking, and all his family and friend around. Hunter was definitely doing better than he was a month and a half ago, and he hoped Dawn was having as good a time at her Christmas festivities. Not that they hadn't been talking every few hours, and texting almost constantly. He still missed her.

“So, Hunter,” Lindsay said, “I hear you've got an awesome girlfriend.” Almost everyone knew, of course, about the incident at the party, but nobody was bringing it up, they figured if Hunter wanted to talk about it, he would.

“She's very pretty,” Ben said.

“What's she look like?” Lindsay asked.

Hunter found a picture of Dawn on his cell phone and showed it to Lindsay.

“Oh, she's gorgeous,” Lindsay said, and she passed the phone around to everyone, who all commented on how pretty Dawn was.

“She really is lovely, Hunter,” Jennifer said. “Does she know about your HIV status?”

“Mom,” Justin said.

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “She even knows how I got it, and she's okay with it. I never thought that would happen. When I told her I was a hustler, she said something like, 'as long as you don't murder babies and staple their corpses to the ceiling, I don't care what you've done.'”

“I like her already,” Debbie said.

“You know, that Xander guy,” Ben said.

“Her sister's boyfriend,” Hunter said.

“Yeah, he said something about Dawn and her roommate wouldn't reject you unless you decapitated puppies or summoned demons,” Ben said.

“Bit of a crazy family,” Blake said.

“Yeah, like we can talk,” Ted said.

“I think she's pretty cool,” Justin said. “She eats the weirdest things, though.”

“Yeah,” Hunter agreed.

“Like what?” Emmett asked.

“Salami and peanut butter sandwiches,” Hunter said, “And she puts honey on her vegetables and ketchup on her pancakes.”

“Okay, that is weird,” Melanie.

“No weirder than some of things you ate while you were pregnant,” Michael pointed out.

“I want to meet her,” Debbie said. “Bring her for Easter.”

“Okay,” Hunter said, “If her family's okay with it, I think her sister's as crazy as you.”

“Does your roommate know you're positive?” Ted asked.

“Yes,” Hunter said. “He wigged out a bit when he found out how I got it, but once I promised I had absolutely no desire to fuck him he calmed down. It's kind of annoying, really. It's becoming common knowledge, like it was at high school. Now I'm Hunter the cocksucking superstar again. But this time, I'm not going to let them scare me away.”

“Good for you, kid,” Carl said. “Good for you.”

*****

Dawn sat in her therapist's office. She didn't necessarily like therapy, especially since there were so many aspects of her life, the magic, the demon fighting, translating archaic prophesies, that she couldn't talk about. But everyone agreed that she needed to talk about her life, after what happened.

“So, Dawn, how's your relationship with Hunter?” the therapist asked.

“Awkward,” Dawn said. “He's being so patient and understanding. He never brings anything up first, he's so hesitant to touch me, he doesn't want to pressure me into doing something I'm not ready for. But I want to be ready. Before the party, I was looking forward to getting into a physical relationship. I was falling in love with Hunter and I couldn't wait to have sex. Now we barely kiss. I want to go farther, but every time we try, I flinch and he pulls away.”

“Dawn, I'm going to ask you a personal question,” she said.

“Okay,” Dawn said.

“Since the rape, have you masturbated?”

“Not really,” Dawn said, blushing.

“I think you should. You need to take your sexuality into your own hands. Get used to touching your own body. Because until you get comfortable being touched by yourself, you're not going to be comfortable letting anyone else do it.”

“Okay,” Dawn said, the conversation making her feel awkward.

“Also, I'm going to urge you to come to one of the meetings for the survivors of violence and sexual abuse. And bring Hunter if you wish. We have a few events coming up, Take Back the Night, and the Clothesline Project, and I think you should look into them.”

“I'll think about it,” Dawn said.


*****

That night, Dawn was alone in the dorm room. Vi had gone out for a patrol, and Dawn knew she wouldn't be back for a while. She lay beneath her covers in nothing but an oversized t-shirt. Remembering what the therapist said, she slid her hands under her shirt. She ran her hands over her breasts, trying to push away the memories of his hands on her. She cupped them in her hands, pinched her own nipples, remembered when she used to do this. It used to feel so good. She was determined to feel good like that again. She couldn't let him win.

She slid a hand down her abdomen, feeling the smoothness of her skin, marred slightly by two thin scars on her abdomen. Her right hand slid between her legs. She bent her knees so that her thighs were parted and ran her fingers through her own folds. A memory of his fingers tried to break through, but she replaced it with her own fantasy, one she'd had before the whole incident. She imagined Hunter's soft, strong hands there. She slid a finger slowly inside herself and imagined it was his. A second finger added to the illusion, since Hunter's hands were larger than hers. She slid her fingers out of her and pressed them against her clit, pinching one of her nipples with her other hand. She circled her clit with her fingers, pressing and pinching. She moved her other hand to press against the flesh there. She slid them into herself again and tried to find her g-spot while rubbing her clit with her right hand. A little moan escaped her lips as she came, picturing Hunter above her.

She laid back in bed again, pulling her nightshirt down and fixing the covers over herself. She really did feel better. Maybe the therapist knew what she was doing after all. She found herself wanting to kiss Hunter, to touch him. Maybe, soon enough, she'd be ready to let him touch her.


*****

“Have you reached a verdict?” The judge asked.

“We have,” the head jurist said. “On the sole charge, rape in the first degree, we find the defendant guilty.”

Dawn and Hunter were sitting in the back of the courtroom, and when the verdict was read, he hugged her close as she let out a sigh of relief. It was finally over.


*****

“So, my Grandma Deb is anxious to meet you,” Hunter said, while he and Dawn were curled up together on the couch, watching some random martial arts movie that neither of them were paying attention to. “She's ordered me to bring you home for Easter.”

“Really?” Dawn said. “Your family wants to meet me?”

Hunter nodded.

“Do they know?” Dawn asked. “About what happened at the party?”

“Melanie and Lindsay know, because Ben went to them for legal advice. Justin knows, and he might have told Brian. Everybody else knows I had a freak-out and nearly killed somebody, but I don't know if they know about why. Nobody's brought it up,” Hunter said.

“Okay,” Dawn said. “It's still, like, three months away.”

“I know,” Hunter said. “But Debbie's persistent.”

“That must be where you got it,” Dawn said.

Dawn leaned up to kiss Hunter. She ran her fingers through his hair. She liked that he kept it kind of long, and didn't crop it short like most of the guys she knew. Hunter slid a hand around Dawn's waist. There was a tiny flinch, but she didn't tell him to stop. She leaned into him closer. They kissed furiously. Dawn loved the feel of Hunter's lips against hers. They were so soft and gentle, so different than the Monster. When he touched her. It was delicate, gentle, loving. She shifted her weight so that she was sitting on his lap, kissing him. She felt him harden under her, and her first instinct was to move away, but she pushed past it. This was Hunter, always sweet and gentle. They kissed passionately. This was the most intense make-out session they'd had since the first one.

“I love you,” Hunter whispered.

“I love you too,” Dawn said. She shifted, and then dropped one of her hands, to stroke Hunter's erection over his jeans. He moaned slightly in pleasure. She undid the fly of his jeans and reached her hand inside. He was poking out of his boxers and she wanted to touch it.

“Stop,” Hunter said, pushing Dawn's hand away. He looked into her eyes and saw the hurt there. “It's not that I don't want you to,” Hunter assured her. “But not without a condom. It's not just regular sex that could infect you, Dawn, you don't want to come in contact with my cum.”

“Oh,” Dawn said, “I hadn't thought about that.”

“I have to think about it,” Hunter said. “Even the idea that I could infect you scares me shitless. I love you so much. So, if you're ready to do more, I'm ready too, but we have to be safe.”

“Oh,” Dawn said. “Okay,” she smiled.

“Do you have any condoms here?” Hunter asked.

“Vi has some, she won't mind if I steal one.”

“Well, if we're going there,” Hunter grinned, “We'd better hang something on the doorknob.”

Hunter got up, grabbed a rubber band off Dawn's desk and hung it on the doorknob, while Dawn appropriated a couple of condoms from Vi's stash. Instead of getting back on the couch, Dawn climbed the ladder to her bed.

“Come up here,” she said.

“Okay,” Hunter said, joining Dawn on the bed. “So, where were we?” he asked, kissing her on the nose.

“I think I was trying to take your pants off,” she said with a grin.

“Shall we continue then?” Hunter asked, winking at her. He slid off his pants, and took one of the condoms from Dawn. Even if all they did was lie there and cuddle, he didn't want to risk it. He cared about her too much. He slid the condom on himself, and then leaned back on the bed. Dawn laid next to him and put her head on his chest. He reached out with one hand and lightly squeezed her breast. He moved to take her shirt off, and she helped him. She reached down to grab his erection in her hand, stroking it, through the latex, squeezing it and pumping it.

“Vi was telling me that she really likes giving head,” Dawn said.

“If you want to try that,” Hunter said, “We can get flavored condoms. The regular ones taste nasty.”

“Okay,” Dawn said, blushing. Hunter rolled onto his side, Dawn's hand temporarily off his cock. He looked at her, her pale blue looked beautiful against her milky white skin. He saw two scars on her stomach.

“Where are these from?” he asked her.

“When I was fourteen, this crazy guy tied me to this tower, and tried to sacrifice me to his evil demon god. He made shallow cuts so I'd bleed out slowly.”

“That's horrible,” Hunter said, and he leaned down to kiss her belly. When he was there, at her waist, he undid the button of he pants. “Tell me if you want me to stop,” he said.

“Keep going,” Dawn said. “I want to replace all the bad memories with ones of you.”

He smiled at her, so touched by that idea. He undid her pants and pulled them off her. Her underwear matched her bra. He took off his own shirt, and Dawn saw a nasty scar on his shoulder.

“Where'd you get that?” Dawn asked.

“A fight,” Hunter said. “Most of my scars are from fights of some type. My mother, Jake, tricks, other hustlers.”

“That sucks,” Dawn said, leaning over to kiss the scar on his shoulder.

“You get used to it after a while,” Hunter said. He leaned over and kissed Dawn. She kissed him back, and they were making out again, their tongues dancing furiously. Hunter's erection was poking Dawn in the hip, and she felt the wetness collecting between her legs. She calmed herself in her mind. She was not going to let some asshole ruin this before.

Hunter slowly pulled Dawn's underwear off, waiting for her to object. When she didn't, he parted her legs and lowered himself between them. He remembered the long, awkward conversation he'd had with Melanie and Lindsay months ago, when they gave him a few interesting tips. He reached out with his tongue and licked up her slit. He slid his tongue inside her, his ears alert in case she asked him to stop. Dawn let out a moan as Hunter's fingers pinched at her clit lightly. He rolled it with his thumb while his tongue dove at her center. Then he pulled his hand away and moved his mouth to her clit, circling it and pressing it with his tongue. He sucked, creating pressure as Dawn came with a loud moan. Hunter pulled away and laid next to her placing his head on the pillow next to her.

As she came down from her orgasm she turned her head to face his. “You are incredibly good at that,” she said.

Hunter blushed furiously. “I asked a couple lesbians for advice.”

Dawn lowered her hand to grasp Hunter's latex-covered cock again. “I think, I think I'm ready now.”

“Are you sure?” Hunter asked. “I can wait.”

“No, I'm ready, just go slow,” Dawn said.

“Okay,” Hunter promised. He parted Dawn's thighs again, and positioned himself at her entrance. He slowly entered her, watching her face. She winced. “Should I stop?” he asked.

“No, keep going,” Dawn said. “You're just pretty big.”

“Okay.” He slid in until he was sheathed inside her, and then stilled himself, not moving while he adjusted. He remembered when he was the one in this position, although usually he'd been face down. It was rare that the men wanted to do it face to face, although it did happen from time to time.

“You can move now,” Dawn said.

And Hunter did, slowly at first. He moved in and out of her, slowly gaining up speed, and watching her face the whole time. She looked like she was enjoying it, but she also looked a little scared.

“Do you want to be on top?” he whispered in her ear.

“Okay,” Dawn whispered. With practiced movements Hunter flipped them over so that he was under her and she was on top. She sat up, Hunters arms loosely around her, and moved herself, tentatively. With Hunter's hands on her hips, she quickly fell into a rhythm. Hunter's hands slid around her and pulled her to him, and he kissed her as he came. He rolled them onto their sides and pulled out of her, using one hand to make sure the condom stayed put. His other hand he slid between Dawn's thighs, rubbing her clit again. He moved his fingers rapidly, until she came for a second time.

Dawn felt sweaty, happy and vulnerable all at the same time. She wanted to lay there in the afterglow forever. But Hunter was away from her, climbing down off the bed.

“I don't suppose you have any wet-naps?” he asked.

“Actually,” Dawn said, “We do.” They kept them around for easy clean-up after killing demons, but she didn't tell Hunter that She pointed out where they were and Hunter cleaned himself up. She was curious, so she watched his clean up. He seemed a bit embarrassed, but Dawn watched him tie off the condom, wrap it up in a tissue, clean his penis with the moist towelette, fold that up, wad it all up in another tissue, and put it in the garbage. Then he wiped his hands off, threw the wipe away, and put his boxers back on before climbing back into bed with Dawn, and pulling her into his arms.

“You're really a worry-wart aren't you?” Dawn asked lightly.

“You have no idea how much this thing scares me,” Hunter said. “It's like a monster, but I can't see it. It lurks, under my skin, inside me. Every time I look at you, and think about how much I love you, and how much I want to be with you, have sex with you, keep you forever, I remember the monster, and how it always gets in my way.”

“I'm not scared of getting HIV,” Dawn said. “Of all the ways I could die, AIDS is not the scariest. Not nearly as scary as being eaten, murdered, hacked apart, or sacrificed by an evil cult.”

“You have very weird thoughts,” Hunter said. “Do you honestly think getting sacrificed is more likely to happen than getting AIDS?”

“In my world,” Dawn said, sighing. Pretty soon, she'd come clean about everything, but not tonight, it was all too perfect.


*****


“Are you sure you want to do this?” Hunter asked.

“Yes,” Dawn said, “And you said you'd go with me.”

They were standing outside the campus' women's center, where the sexual abuse survivor's support group met.

“Okay,” Hunter said, and they walked inside. Hunter felt severely self-conscious. He was the only male in there.

“Um, this meeting is just for sexual abuse survivors,” a young woman said, giving Hunter a hard, angry look. He was still holding Dawn's hand tightly.

“And that can only apply to women?” Hunter asked. “Only women can be abused and raped and have everything taken away from them?”

“Of course not,” an older woman said, interrupting that. “You're more than welcome to join us.”

The girl eyed Hunter like there was no way a guy could have been raped. But she backed off and they were all invited to sit in a circle, made of very comfy couches and chairs. Hunter and Dawn sat next to each other, Dawn leaning on Hunter for support.

“So,” the woman leading the group said, “My name is Susan, and I see we have some new faces today. I want to remind you all that nobody has to say anything. Speaking up is completely optional. So, does anyone have anything to say today?”

“The last time I went home was for Christmas,” Dawn spoke up randomly. “And it was good to be around everybody, but everyone kept giving me those looks of pity. And everyone keeps treating me like glass. I hate it.”

“God, I hate that,” another girl said. “And once people find out, they never know how to act around you.”

“Have you tried telling your family that their actions bother you?” Susan asked Dawn.

“No,” Dawn said.

“I remember you,” one of the girls said. She had dyed purple hair and a nose ring. “After you were attacked at that party everyone was talking about you, trying to turn you into some big cause.”

Dawn nodded.

“I hate that,” she said. “My name's Lisa by the way. I was raped on campus, last year at a frat party. I almost dropped out,” she admitted. “It was like, just being here, walking around on campus felt like I was in a box of nails. Everywhere I turned there was something else to stab me. If my mom wasn't such a freak and my dad wasn't such a bastard I would have left that week.”

“Some people shouldn't be allowed to be parents,” Hunter said, looking down at the ground.

“What makes you say that?” Susan asked.

“My mom was a drugged-out whore. I was twelve when she sold me to her dealer for the weekend for fifty bucks and some smack. It worked so well that she decided I'd be a great way to supplement her income. 'Come on Jimmy, you live here too, everyone's gotta pull their own weight,'” Hunter said, looking like he was going to break down.

“How did you want you to pull your own weight?” Susan asked gently.

Hunter pulled his knees up to his chest, not caring that his shoes were on the couch. “You like young dick? For fifty you can suck it, for a hundred I'll let you fuck me.”

Dawn reached out and touched the back of Hunter's neck, rubbing gently. Some of the girls looked scandalized by what Hunter said. They'd heard each others' stories, but they'd never met a hustler before.

“That doesn't define who you are,” Susan said. “You can't let your abuse define you,” she looked around the circle, clearly speaking to everyone. “You are more than what has been forced upon you, each one of you. You are beautiful and worthwhile. You all deserve happy lives, and it's within your power to make your lives happy.”

Susan talked for a while, and then let other people talk some more. A lot of things were spoken about. Low self-esteem, self-injury temptations, eating disorders, the desire to have sex again, and the fear of being touched. Hunter talked briefly about being positive, and the pain and fear and stigma attached to it, mainly how it “fucking sucked.”

After the meeting, they were encouraged to eat cookies and mingle. Another girl, with bleached blonde hair, dark roots, pink eyeliner and pale skin came up to Hunter.

“I used to turn tricks,” she said, looking at him. “I ran away from home when I was fourteen, and I needed to survive.”

“That's how it was for me,” Hunter said. “My mom got me started on it, but once I ran away from home, I needed to keep myself alive. Are you positive?” he asked.

“No,” she said, “I was lucky.”

Hunter nodded. “What's your name?”

“Amber,” she said.

“I'm Hunter,” he held out his hand to shake hers.

“I thought your name was Jimmy?”

“It was,” he said, “But when I was adopted they let me make my middle name my first name. I always liked it better.”

“Your parents, they know about your past?” Amber asked. “And they're okay with it?”

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “It's actually how they first found me. I used to hustle outside their apartment.”

“I went into a group home,” Amber said. “Worked my way through community college and then came here.”

“I was shocked when I got accepted here,” he said. Dawn squeezed Hunter's hand lightly. “In my application essay I was so fucking honest. I talked about everything, my childhood abuse, the hustling, my HIV, being adopted by two dads, and finally figuring out, after years, that I was straight. Well, mostly straight,” he smiled wryly.

Dawn knew that Hunter had had a rough life before he came to college. She knew she hadn't had a perfect life, losing so many people one by one, constantly being demon bait. But suddenly, she felt like she had no excuse for some of her behavior. Yeah, she'd had it tough, but at least she'd never had to sleep on the street. This sudden realization made her feel very guilty for acting like a brat all those years in Sunnydale.

“I hope everyone will come back in a few weeks and make t-shirts for the Clothesline Project,” Susan said.

*****

“I love you,” Hunter said, holding Dawn against him in her bed. Their sex life was improving. Hunter was still gun-shy and worried about infecting Dawn, but Dawn was starting to enjoy sex more. The first time had been good, and had it not been marred by Dawn's rape the previous fall, it probably would have been mind-blowingly perfect. But their sex life was working up to perfect. Dawn finally found herself not flinching when Hunter touched her. In fact, she'd lean into the touches, wanting him to touch her more.

“I love you too,” she said. It was time to come clean, she knew it. “Hunter, what would you say if I told you magic and demons and vampires and monsters were all real?”

Hunter thought about it. “I think at first I'd say you were crazy. But—” he thought about it for a minute, “I think, I think I can believe the vampires part. Some of the stuff when I lived on the street...” he trailed off.

Dawn reached over for her phone, “You should put some clothes on,” she said, kissing him on the cheek, “We're going to go out for a bit.”

“Okay,” Hunter said, confused. He hopped off the bed and put his clothes back on while Dawn called Vi.

“Vi? It's me, come back to the dorm, okay? We're taking Hunter out. I just gave him the basic hypothetical.”

“Give him a tiny demonstration first,” Vi suggested.

“Mkay,” Dawn said.

“Hunter, watch,” Dawn said. She closed her eyes and concentrated, the way Willow had taught her. Her bra levitated off the floor and flew into her hand.

“What was that?” Hunter asked, flabbergasted.

“Magic.” Dawn said. She put her bra and underwear on, and then found some clothes. Hunter finished putting his clothes on as Dawn retrieved the rubber band from the doorknob to see Vi standing out in the hallway.

Vi sniffed the air. “Have fun?” she asked Dawn, winking.

“Yes,” Dawn said, blushing.

Vi opened the chest at the foot of her bed that was usually covered with a blanket. Hunter looked into it and it was filled with weapons. Knives and daggers and wooden stakes and a crossbow and bolts.

“Did you kill a lot?” Dawn asked, as she dug through a similar trunk under her own bed. She grabbed a purse with a long shoulder strap so that she could put it over her head and still use her hands. Hunter saw her pull things out of the trunk and put them in the purse: two crystals, a knife, a stake, and can of pepper spray. She also put some bundle of herbs or something in her purse, along with her phone.

“Just a couple. When you said we were taking Hunter out, I decided to leave a few. I know where they are,” Vi said.

“Here,” Dawn said, handing Hunter a wooden stake, and a knife. “I don't think you'll have to use them, since Vi's pretty awesome, but you might need them, so, just in case.”

“Okay,” Hunter said, still pretty clueless as to what was going on around him.

“Did you give him the speech?” Vi asked.

“I thought the practical introduction would be better, I can give the speech while we walk. Where are we going?” Dawn asked.

“We should take a cab, actually, at least part of the way. We're going down to the docks. There's a polgara camped out there, and there may or may not be a river monster. And we might pass a couple vamps on the way. They like it here, so many people,” Vi said.

Dawn and Vi grabbed a confused Hunter and dragged him out of the residence hall. While they traveled, Dawn gave him the basic breakdown. It wasn't as detailed as Giles would have made it, but she explained how and why the world was full of demons and vampires. She conjured an energy ball in her hand as another example of magic.

“I'm not very good,” she said.

“You're better than me,” Vi said. “I only know, like, two or three spells.”

“Yeah, well, slayers don't have to know magic the way watchers do,” Dawn said.

“And that's what you are?” Hunter asked for qualification, “A watcher?”

“Not yet,” Dawn said. “I haven't graduated. Giles wants to pack my cranium full of knowledge before letting me work in the field much. I can do really simple patrols with Vi, but anything bigger and we have to call in reinforcements from the New York house.”

“This is some pretty heavy shit,” Hunter said.

“The introduction is the hard part,” Vi said. “Once you get used to the idea that the monsters under the bed are real, it's easier to handle it. It just takes a while.”

Hunter reached into his jacket pocket for a cigarette, and lit it. He probably should have worn a warmer jacket, but he hadn't planned on being out long. But he used to wear his denim jacket out in the snow in Pittsburgh all the time, so this wasn't too bad. He'd been in worse situations.

“You smoke?” Vi asked, shocked.

“From time to time,” Hunter said. “I thought this scenario called for one. I don't smoke as much as Justin or Brian, even Michael smokes sometimes, but Ben always chucks the smokes out when he finds them,” Hunter rolled his eyes. He followed his girlfriend and her roommate down the street.

“Shh,” Vi said, her hand at her stomach.

“Vamp?” Dawn whispered.

Vi nodded. She followed the tingling in her stomach to where the vampire was. He made a random pick-up line, and lunched for Vi before she started fighting him. Dawn and Hunter watched from a safe distance as Vi fought the vampire, before she slid the stake in his chest and he crumbled into dust.

“And that's a vampire,” Vi said.

“Interesting,” Hunter said. “And you do this every night?”

“Mostly,” Vi said.

“So, the first day I met you, when we were at the bakery, and you said you slipped and cut your arm on a brick?” Hunter asked.

“There was a vampire,” Vi said. “Dawn led you and Scott into the bakery because there's an apartment above it, so it's a residence. A vampire can't enter a home uninvited. As long as nobody invites him in, he can't come in. They're the only demon really bound by that rule. I think it's 'cause they used to be human. So, Dawn got you guys inside while I fought him.”

“Oh,” Hunter said. They found the polgara demon eventually, and Hunter got to watch Dawn in action as she stunned him with one of her spells, and Vi stabbed him in the heart.

“Want to keep walking a bit longer?” Dawn asked Hunter, “Vi's good for a few more hours.”

“We can walk some more,” Hunter said. He was a little shaken up at the idea of vampires and demons, but at the same time it explained some of the things he'd seen when he was living on the street.

They walked for a while, past a few poorly lit areas, past a couple of all-night diners. Then Hunter heard some yelling that was very familiar.

“Come on daddy, don't you want some young cock?”

“Hey, totally clean, no disease!”

“C'mon, two for the price of one, both of us for a hundred!”

“Hey stud, for a bill you can fuck me all night.”

“Let's go the other way,” Vi said, and Dawn readily agreed with her.

“Wait,” Hunter said. “I know that line.”

He ran towards the group of hustlers standing on the street corner, and Dawn and Vi followed him hesitantly.

“Mike?” Hunter called out.

“Fuck, Hunter?” the boy called Mike said. Hunter ran towards him and the did some sort of strange handshake Vi and Dawn didn't really follow.

“I thought you were still in the Pitts,” Hunter said.

“Nah, bro, I left after Greg got knifed.”

“Greg's dead?” Hunter asked.

“Yeah,” Mike said. “Some asshole rolled him for a hundred bucks and his coat. And Tom's dead too. Some trick roughed him up and threw him out of his car in the middle of a fucking blizzard.”

“Damn,” Hunter said.

Dawn was captivated by this boy that Hunter was talking to. Hunter was thin, but in comparison this boy looked like a skeleton. He wore a t-shirt and a jacket barely warmer than the denim one Hunter was wearing, and it was unseasonably cold for April.

A car drove by and slowed. Mike turned away from Hunter and shouted out his line, lifting his shirt a bit. When the trick waved him over, Mike waved goodbye to Hunter. Hunter didn't know the other guys, so with Mike gone, Hunter walked back to Dawn and Vi, who'd been trying to blend in with the shadows. Dawn took Hunter's hand as they walked down the street, away from the hustlers. A man honked his horn and rolled down the window.

“How much for the two of you?” he asked Hunter and Dawn.

“More than you can afford motherfucker,” Hunter said, holding Dawn's hand tight in his. Vi couldn't help herself. She ran to the car and kicked it hard enough to leave a dent, and then they ran. When they were a safe distance from the hustler strip, they called for a cab to come and pick them up. In the cab, Dawn slid her arms around Hunter and held him tightly. Hunter was resolved not to cry, at least not until he was back at the dorm, but Dawn's touch calmed him down.

“Every time I think I'm past it, something happens to remind me of my fucking past,” Hunter said quietly.

“Is that what it was like?” Vi asked.

Hunter nodded. The cabbie dropped them off at Columbia and they walked up to their dorm. Dawn waited with him while he sat outside for a smoke.

“Well, you got a nice look at my past tonight,” Hunter said. “You sure you still want me around?”

“Hunter, I don't care that you were a hustler, if you don't care that I'm only, like, five years old.”

“What now?” Hunter said, surprised.

And then Dawn launched into her story. Telling him about being the Key. What it meant that she was created by monks, molded into human form, and placed with Buffy for protection. That part of the reason she started hurting herself was because she needed to prove to herself that she was real. She wanted to see her blood and know that it was really blood.

“I'm not even sure you can infect me,” Dawn said. “I'm not saying let's try it and find out, I'm just saying that because my blood has so much mystical energy in it, there's a possibility that I can't catch a blood-borne illness. And even if I did get it, I don't think I'd care.”

“Don't say shit like that. And don't get my hopes up like that.” Hunter said. “It's not fair. Seriously. I can't believe you could possibly say that.”

“I'm sorry,” Dawn said. “I didn't mean to upset you.”

“It's okay,” Hunter said, stubbing out his cigarette, but they both knew it was anything but okay. “Listen, I need some sleep.”

“Okay,” Dawn said. She felt so horrible. She didn't mean to upset him.

*****

Dawn sat in her bed, feeling like the stupidest girl in the world. She couldn't believe how insensitive she'd been to Hunter. She knew how much his HIV bothered him, and she knew that he tried to keep it hidden from her, so that she wouldn't see how worried he always was. This was supposed to be a great night. She'd shown him her world and he hadn't freaked. And then she'd gone and ruined it. She felt like she was drifting away to that scary place, that place she didn't want to be. That place in her mind where Travis was, where Doc was, where Glory was. Where she had no control over anything. She needed to get control back.

She spun the X-Acto knife in her hands. She didn't want to, but at the same time, she had to. She felt so stupid, so horrible, so out of control. Hunter was so wonderful and she didn't deserve him. She pressed the blade to the inside of her upper arm, where it would be easily hidden. It was still cold enough to get away with long-sleeved shirts. She dragged the blade across the skin, slowly, watching the blood pool up, little red droplets. She drew a second line, pressing harder this time. Instinctively, she licked at her blood. She wasn't a vampire by far, but her blood had the taste of magic. Rust and salt and magic. She cleaned off the knife and hid it away. Fully grounded now, with both feet firmly back in reality, she went to get a gauze square and patch herself up. She felt guilty for giving in, but at the same time, she felt a little special. This was something that belonged to her, that she could keep to herself.

*****

“You ready for this?” Hunter asked as he and Dawn got off the plane.

“Yeah,” Dawn said, “I've been looking forward to meeting your family.”

“Well, you don't have to look much further, there's Ben,” Hunter said. The two college student carried their bags over to Ben who gave Hunter a big hug.

“Dawn, it's good to see you again,” Ben said.

“It's good to see you again too, Mr. Bruckner,” Dawn said.

“Please, call me Ben.”

“Okay,” Dawn smiled.

“Dawn, are you hungry?” Ben asked.

“I am a bit,” Dawn admitted.

“Good,” Ben said, “Because I'm under strict orders from a certain mother-in-law of mine to bring you two straight to the diner as soon as I've picked you up.”

Hunter rolled his eyes, but smiled, and Dawn smiled too. She was glad to see Hunter somewhere he looked so comfortable. In the car, Dawn looked out the window at Pittsburgh. She'd never seen it before. And Liberty Avenue was beautiful, so many colors and rainbows all over the place. Willow and Kennedy would either love it, or hate it because it was too stereotypical. Ben pulled up outside the diner and Hunter and Dawn climbed out of the car. Dawn followed Hunter into the Liberty Diner. There were people everywhere. There were couples kissing in a way that never would have been allowed at a diner in Sunnydale, straight or gay. There were a few men dressed in head to toe leather that reminded her a bit too much of the demon bikers that had torn Sunnydale apart the day Willow had brought Buffy back. Dawn flinched and pressed her head into Hunter's shoulder.

“You okay?” Hunter asked, stroking Dawn's cheek.

“I'm fine. Just a bad memory.”

Hunter pulled Dawn by her hand to a table where two pretty women were sitting with a three-year-old and a child of about six or seven.

“Dawn, this is Melanie and Lindsay, you guys, this is Dawn.”

“It's nice to meet you, Dawn,” Lindsay said.

“We've heard a lot about you,” Melanie said, with a bit of a smirk.

“You have?” Dawn shot a sideways look at Hunter. “It's probably all bullshit, if it came from him,” she jerked a thumb towards Hunter, who replied with a 'hey' of mock indignation. “No,” she continued, “Just kidding.” She kissed Hunter on the cheek.

“Ew, straight people,” a guy in the next booth said.

Hunter responded by giving the guy the finger.

“You wish, sweetheart,” the guy responded.

“Can I watch?” Dawn asked, with an innocent expression. She kept the innocent look for about a minute before it was replaced with a cheeky grin.

“Dawn!” Hunter said, rolling his eyes.

“I like her already,” Debbie said. “Now introduce me to your gal pal here.”

“Dawn, this is Debbie, Debbie, this is Dawn.”

“Nice to meet you cupcake,” the large, abrasive woman said, giving Dawn a big hug. She flinched away at first, and then moved into it.

“Gus, squeeze over so Dawn can sit down,” Lindsay said.

“Everybody!” Deb said, “My grandson's on break from Columbia!” she shouted, “So give him, and his sweetheart here a big welcome home.”

“Deb, do you have to?” Hunter asked, as Dawn blushed bright red while everyone in the diner applauded.

“Yes I have to,” Deb said. “You're my only grandson so far, well, official grandson,” she said, ruffling Gus' hair, “And you're doing so well. The grandma title means I get bragging rights,” Debbie said. “And you both look like skeletons. I've gotta fatten you up.”

“Are you going to bake me in an oven and serve to your customers?” Dawn asked innocently.

“Maybe,” Debbie said, “Are you as much of a smart ass as your boyfriend?”

Dawn's response was to give a big grin.

“Here, give me my little sister,” Hunter said, reaching for the toddler. He hugged her and set her on his lap. “Hey Jenny-bunny,” he said, kissing the top of her head.

“Oh, you call her Jenny-bunny? That's so sweet,” Dawn said.

“Whatcha want to drink?” Debbie asked.

“Um, orange soda?” Dawn answered.

“So, Dawn, tell us about yourself,” Lindsay said.

“Not too much to tell,” Dawn said. “I was born in LA, but we moved to Sunnydale when I was ten. Got on the last bus out as the town sank into a sinkhole, and I've been living in Ohio with a bunch of other Sunnydale survivors since, until I started at Columbia.”

“That must have been really frightening,” Lindsay said.

“It was a bit,” Dawn said, “But we had a lot of disasters and stuff in Sunnydale. It was on a fault-line and near the ocean. Did you ever see that TV show Northern Exposure?”

“A few times,” Melanie said. “It was set in a tiny town in Alaska, right?”

“Yeah,” Dawn said, “And really weird stuff would happen, like the wind would change and everyone would get prophetic dreams, or share dreams, or people would get trapped in a time bubble, or whatever? All this weird stuff happened, but everyone acted like it was perfectly normal. That's kind of what Sunnydale was like.”

“Interesting,” Lindsay said. “So, what are you studying at college?”

“Linguistics,” Dawn said, “And anthropology. I want to study dead languages.”

“Ben must love her,” Mel said. “Where is he anyway?”

“He dropped us off and went to take our bags home,” Hunter said.

“How long do you have off?” Mel asked.

“A week,” Dawn said, “Spring break and all that. Well, technically it's nine days because it's a school week and two weekends. Which is cool because Hunter's told me all about this place and I can't wait to see it all. There was nothing like this street in Sunnydale.”

“Not a lot of gay pride in Sunnydale?” Debbie asked, placing Dawn's orange soda in front of her. Everyone watched as Dawn took a coffee creamer, opened it and poured it into her drink, stirring it so it would foam up. She added a second one, and then a packet of sugar.

“Not really,” Dawn said. “The UC Sunnydale campus had a 'campus lesbians' club, and there was a gay student union. Tara took me there once when she was watching me, after mom died.” Dawn's face grew sad.

“I've never seen anyone do that to an orange soda before,” Lindsay said.

“It tastes like a creamsicle,” Dawn said. “Try it.” She offered the straw to Lindsay who took a sip hesitantly and smiled.

“It does taste like an orange creamsicle,” Lindsay said. “Yummy.”

“Daddy!” Gus said as a man came in through the door. Dawn shifted to get a look at him, as Gus climbed over the back of the booth to run to him.

“That's Brian?” Dawn asked.

“You've heard of me?” he asked, taking off his sunglasses as he picked his seven-year-old son up. His look was so arrogant and snooty that Dawn couldn't help but take a potshot.

“Yeah,” she said. “Dawn Summers. You know, from the way Hunter and Justin talked about you, I expected a sculpted man of wax. I guess you stayed near the flame too long.”

Everybody laughed as this skinny little straight girl insulted Brian Kinney, God's gift to gay Pittsburgh.

“Shakespearean insults?” Brian asked, “I like her, boy wonder, she's almost as bratty as you.”

Dawn answered Brian by sticking her tongue out at him.

“Why would anyone want a man sculpted from wax?” Debbie asked, as Brian settled into a booth with Gus hanging around his neck.

“In Elizabethan England, 'man of wax' was a compliment,” Dawn said, “Juliet's nurse used it to describe Paris when she and Juliet's mom were trying to hook Juliet up with him.”

“Are you an expert in Shakespeare, or just Leonardo DiCaprio movies?” Brian asked.

“Yes,” Dawn answered.

“Fair enough. So, Boy Wonder says good things about me?” Brian asked, enjoying Hunter's blush.

“Yeah, between him and Justin I thought you must be Mr. Perfect. The hot, hunky superhero out to save the world.”

“Aww, and I though you got over your crush on me when you went straight. At least you've stopped propositioning me at the gym. Who knew I could be replaced so easily by a leggy brunette with nice tits?” Brian said to Hunter.

Hunter looked embarrassed. In fact, Dawn thought, Hunter looked like he wanted to melt into the floor. This was so not cool.

“Listen up, bucko,” Dawn stood up and moved so she was staring the now seated Brian in the face, actually towering over him, looking down. She had a spoon in her hand and was waving it menacingly. “I don't care that you're hot shit here, that's my boyfriend you're teasing and I want you to stop. One more 'boy wonder' comment or line about how he should be lusting after you and I'll scrape your eyeballs out with this spoon and feed them to a rabid badger.”

The entire Liberty Diner had grown silent as Hunter's girlfriend threatened Brian Kinney. Jaws were dropping, eyes were popping out, and finally, Debbie spoke up.

“Well, shit. We're keeping her.”

“Tell me somebody got that on tape,” an extremely effeminate man said, walking over to where Dawn was still standing menacingly over Brian, brandishing a spoon.

“Yep!” somebody said, holding up a cell phone. A couple others had also captured evidence.

“Emmett Honeycutt,” he said, holding his hand out to Dawn.

“Dawn Summers,” she answered. “I love that sweater. Not many people can pull off tangerine, but you look awesome in it.”

“Thanks, darling. I'm guessing you're Hunter's new flame?”

“Is five months new?” Dawn asked.

“Five months?” Emmett said, “In this world you're practically married.”

“Here you go,” Debbie said, putting plates of food in front of them. Dawn hadn't remembered ordering anything, but there was a lot of food to choose from.

“Hunter, you know how to pick 'em,” Emmett said, “She's gorgeous.”

Dawn blushed, and then turned back suddenly to Brian. “Wait, did you say I have nice tits?”

“A little slow on the uptake,” Brian said. “Yeah, I'm queer and even I can tell they're nice.”

“Oh, well, thanks,” Dawn said, blushing again. She noticed there were pancakes in front of her, and she reached for the ketchup, which she spread on her pancakes and eggs. On her hash browns she spread honey.

“Do all straight people eat like garbage disposals?” Emmett asked, “Or is it just this one?”

“My sister reckons my taste buds got put in upside down,” Dawn said, with a mouth full of food.

“Christ, she's perfect for him,” Mel said, pointing to the way Hunter was also shoveling food into his mouth.

Everyone sat and ate and talked. Brian didn't even make any wisecracks or sarcastic comments for at least half an hour. Then somebody mentioned something about hustlers and everyone went real still, an awkward silence spreading across the group, except for Dawn and Hunter who were still eating.

“Don't worry about it,” Hunter said though a mouthful of food.. “She knows. She knows just about everything.”

“I can't judge his skeletons,” Dawn said, inhaling the triple scoop pistachio sundae Debbie had made her. “I have skeletons of my own. Some of them are even literal.”

“So, Dawn, what do you think of Pittsburgh?” Emmett asked.

“It's shiny,” Dawn said. “Nicer than LA. You can actually see the skyline here.”

“You know,” Emmett said, “You guys should come back to the house with us for a bit. We're gonna be baking cookies and treats to put in Easter baskets.”

“That sounds like fun, actually,” Dawn said.


*****


After about ten minutes, Emmett and Darren determined that Dawn was not up for cooking, so she, Hunter and Carl were relegated to the role of tasters, and to fill up the baskets with the other goodies.

“So, Dawn,” Carl said. “You're from California originally?”

“Yep,” Dawn said, “Made and raised.”

“Do you miss it?”

“I definitely miss it in the winter, but at the same time, I love the snow. We only ever had snow once in Sunnydale, and it didn't really stick to the ground. You get real seasons out here, leaves turning colors in the fall and flowers coming out in the spring. I love that. There's no real change where I grew up.”

“You two are diametric opposites,” Horvath said.

“He's right,” Hunter said, “When I ran away, when I was sixteen, I went to Florida, just to be somewhere warm.”

“Well, if I was going to sleep outside, I wouldn't do it in New York or Pittsburgh, or Ohio for that matter, in the middle of winter. Desire to be warm is totally understandable.” Dawn leaned over and kissed Hunter on the nose.

“You two are too cute for words,” Emmett said.

“So, Darren,” Dawn said, “Hunter tells me you're a drag queen? It's not rude of me to ask, is it?”

“No, it's not rude,” Darren said. “Most straight people, stammer and look away, and don't know what to make of it. I preform as Shanda Leer.”

“Oh, that's brilliant,” she said, “I love the name. I'd love to see you perform some time. I've never been to a drag show. Never had the opportunity.”

“I'm performing on Thursday, you should come.”

“That would be cool,” Dawn said, then she looked at Hunter, “If it's okay with you?”

“Not a problem,” Hunter grinned.

“I wish I could do something artistic,” Dawn said, “Like sing or dance, or paint like Justin.”

“You don't have to be good at something to enjoy doing it,” Darren said. “Just do whatever feels good, and be passionate about it. If Justin hadn't dragged me out of the house after I was bashed, I probably never would have started dancing again. But I threw myself into it, and it made things better. You should find something to throw yourself into,” Darren suggested to Dawn. “It helps.”

Dawn guessed from the way he looked at her, that he knew about her rape.

“Does everybody know?” Dawn asked, blanching.

“Within our family and close friends?” Hunter said, “Mostly. But nobody's gonna judge you about it. I mean, I sold myself on a street corner for four years and they still want me around.”

“Anyone who can threaten Brian Kinney and get away with it will be welcomed into this family with open arms,” Emmett said, grinning.

“She did what now?” Darren asked, raising his eyebrows.

“Brian was teasing Hunter, embarrassing him, and Dawn walks right up to him, waving a spoon around, and told him that if he didn't shut the hell up she was going to scoop out his eyes and feed them to a rabid badger,” Emmett said. “Best thing I ever saw in my life. And Brian just sat there, with Gus on his lap, cowering like a little puppy. Debbie's already adopted her.”

“But everyone's been staring at me,” Dawn said. “I don't want people to pity me because of what happened last fall.”

“That's not why they've been staring at you,” Hunter said. “It's because you're a 'breeder,'”

“Huh?” Dawn asked.

“Because you're straight,” Emmett said. “Daphne's the only straight girl who ever hangs out with us, apart from Deb and Jennifer, and she's only around when Justin is. Everyone knew Hunter had a girlfriend, but people are waiting to see how you react. Waiting to see if you turn out to be a giant homophobe or freak out because the HIV scares you. Knowing that Hunter's family is mostly gay is one thing, being surrounded by a bunch of crazy queens, that's something entirely different.”

“Oh,” Dawn said. “After my mom died, my sister had to go away for a while. So Willow and Tara moved into our house to take care of me, and they were a lesbian couple.”

“Were?” Darren asked, pouring the cake mix into the pans and sliding them into the oven.

“Tara died,” Dawn said, getting sad. “This crazy guy hated my sister because he was a misogynist and because she turned him into the cops for trying to rob the bank. So he got a gun and ran into the backyard and shot it. Buffy got shot but was okay, but Tara died. They took Buffy to the hospital, but nobody saw the gunshot go into the upstairs window. When I got home, Tara was dead and everyone was gone. I sat with her until people came home,” Dawn started to sniffle. She'd never actually talked about Tara's death before, but here in this warm kitchen with all these men cooking and decorating things, she felt safe. Hunter slid his arms around her, pulling her into his lap.

“Oh honey,” Emmett said, “That's horrible.”

“You want some coffee Dawn?” Carl offered, walking over to the coffeemaker.

“Yes please,” Dawn said. “So, I don't have any problem with gay people. Willow's gay, well, I think she's more bi than a lesbian, 'cause I've seen her check out guys from time to time, but she calls herself gay. And Andrew's totally gay, he's just too scared to say it out loud. We all know it, though.”

“He lets his flame burn bright?” Emmett asked.

Dawn nodded. “So, who are we making the Easter baskets for, anyway?”

“For the AIDS hospice,” Hunter answered.

“What exactly is a hospice?” Dawn asked. “I've heard the word before, but I'm not familiar with it.”

“It’s like a house,” Hunter explained, “but with a staff of nurses and volunteers. It’s for people who are dying to stay while they die. So that they don’t have to stay in the hospital, or die alone. Like Ben always says, everyone deserves to die with dignity and a friend by their side.”

“Oh,” Dawn said. She didn’t really have anything to say about that. “And it’s only for people with AIDS?”

“The Vic Grassi house is,” Emmett said, “There’s other hospices where people with cancer or other diseases go to die, but this one is for AIDS patients only.”

“People forget about it a lot,” Darren said. “With all the drugs out there, there’s this illusion that nobody dies of AIDS anymore. So the terminal patients don’t get enough attention sometimes.”

“That sucks,” Dawn said. “So, who all lives here,” Dawn asked, gesturing to the house around her.

“Debbie, Carl and Emmett,” Hunter said. “Michael, Ben and I live in a different neighborhood, but it's not far. Darren has his own apartment, Justin and Brian occasionally live in West Virginia, but mostly Brian has a fucking sexy loft. It has no purpose other than being a fuckpad.”

“I still can't believe how much you swear,” Dawn said tangentially. “If I ever swore in English around Buffy or Willow, they'd wash my mouth out with soap. Xander would pretend to give a lecture, and Giles would make that angry clucking noise with his tongue.”

“Swear in English?” Emmett asked. “Do you curse in other languages?”

“French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Old Norse, Gaelic and Arabic,” Dawn said.

“She's majoring in linguistics,” Hunter said.

“And anthropology,” Dawn said, “Double major.”

“Nerd.” Hunter said, kissing Dawn on her temple.

“Darn tootin'.” Dawn said.

“Okay,” Hunter said, “Never say that again.”

Dawn answered by sticking her tongue out at him. He kissed the side of her neck.

“How do you like your coffee, Dawn?” Carl asked.

“Milk, sugar and cinnamon,” Dawn said.

“Cinnamon, in coffee?” Horvath asked.

“She introduced me to it,” Hunter said, “It's actually really good.”

“You know what else is really good?” Dawn said, “You take black coffee, and instead of putting cream or sugar in it, you put a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It's great for midnight study sessions.”

“That does sound good,” Emmett said. “I'll have to try it some time.”

“So, Dawn, tell us about yourself,” Carl said, while he divvied things up for the baskets.

“Like what? You know I'm from California, that I'm studying linguistics and anthropology because I'm a big nerd. What else?”

“What kind of movies do you like?” Darren asked.

“Fantasy movies, like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. Anything with Orlando Bloom in it,”

“He is quite tasty,” Darren said.

“Also Marlon Brando and Paul Newman movies, and old musicals. Like White Christmas and Guys and Dolls,” she continued.

“Oh, she has good taste in movies,” Emmett said, “Unlike her hapless boyfriend who thinks Kill Bill volume whatever is the best movie ever.”

“She likes that damn Baby Jane movie you two are always on about. With the dead parakeet and homicidal sisters. She's made me watch it, like, 3 times.”

“Oh darling I love you already,” Darren promised. “Now try this cake and tell me if it's any good.”


*****


Dawn followed along into the hospice, helping to carry stuff. They made a beeline to a man sitting on a couch with a book on his lap, staring out the window.

“Hey Rodney,” Hunter said, “How are you?”

“Alive to see another day,” Rodney said.

“Hey honey,” Emmett said to the man who was at least twenty years his senior. “Brought you some angel food, angel.”

“My favorite,” Rodney smiled. “Who's the little girl trying to look invisible?” he asked, smiling at Dawn.

“Rodney, this is my girlfriend Dawn,” Hunter introduced. “Dawn, this is Rodney. He was Michael's Uncle Vic's partner.”

“Oh,” Dawn said, having heard people talk about Vic. “It's nice to meet you.”

“The feeling's mutual darling.”

“We're going to go hand out these baskets of goodies. We'll be back in a bit,” Emmett promised.

“I'll be here.”

Dawn followed behind, helping to hand out the baskets and feeling generally awkward. She saw some men who looked so frail and thin a strong wind might blow them over. Some of them had several lesions on their faces or arms. Some were hooked up to oxygen tanks and IVs. She was mad at herself for feeling uncomfortable. She was going to step outside for a little fresh air when Rodney called her over.

“Come sit by me for a minute,” Rodney said.

Dawn nodded and came over to sit on the couch near Rodney.

“You look ready to bolt,” Rodney observed.

“No, I just wanted some fresh air,” she said.

“It's okay to feel uncomfortable,” Rodney said. “Everyone does the first time they come here. Hunter's the first positive person you've known, outside of the movies,” He said it as a statement, not a question, but Dawn nodded anyway. “And he's pretty healthy right now.”

“I didn't get it,” Dawn said. “I didn't understand.”

“My guess is that's why he brought you here today. A test of sorts. He's giving you the chance to see what this disease means, so that if you leave him, it'll be before he gets too attached.”

“I'm not going to leave him,” Dawn said. “I love him.”

“It can be hard to maintain a relationship when one person is positive and the other is negative. Of course, you guys are nineteen, so you might not plan on being together forever anyway,” Rodney said. “I'm not trying to be mean or anything.”

“No, I get it,” Dawn said. “Hunter's the first boyfriend I've ever had. Logic states that we'll probably break up someday. I know he worries I'll dump him because of his baggage, but I have baggage of my own.”

“Fair enough,” Rodney said. “So, do you have any questions about this disease you don't want to ask Hunter?”

Dawn was hesitant at first, but soon started talking to Rodney about different questions and misconceptions, and found herself really liking the older man. He was very nice and really understanding. After talking to him for a while she decided to try and find Hunter. She walked upstairs, and started looking around.

“Hey honey, come in here,” a voice said. She turned and saw a man in bed calling her over. She walked over to him.

“Hey blue eyes, what's your name?”

“Dawn,” she said.

“Call me Coco,” the man said. “You have a great figure, you know.”

“I do?” she asked, surprised. She's always found her body awkward, and not in line with normal expectations of beauty.

“Yeah,” he said. “Go into that closet and pull out the third garment bag on the left.”

Dawn followed Coco's directions and pulled out the garment bag. He instructed her to open it, and inside was a beautiful blue gown of satin and chiffon.

“I thought so,” Coco said. “It's the exact color as your eyes. I want you to have it.”

“Really?” Dawn asked, taken aback.

“Really,” he said. “I don't have much use for it anymore, and a gown that beautiful deserves to be worn.”

“Thank you so much,” she said. She sat down in a chair, and got into a really nice conversation with the older drag queen. He gave her some good hair and makeup tips, and she read to him from a magazine for a while. Eventually Hunter came and found her.

“Hey,” he said, coming behind her to kiss her on the cheek. “We're getting ready to go. Are you getting hungry?”

“I am, a bit,” she said.

“Let's go get some dinner,” he suggested.

“Okay,” she said. “It was nice meeting you Coco.”

“It was a pleasure meeting you too, Dawn. Don't forget the dress.”

Dawn smiled at Coco, picked up the garment bag, and followed Hunter downstairs. They stopped to say a goodbye to Rodney, and then went back to Hunter's house.

“He gave you a dress?” Hunter asked.

“Yeah, he insisted that a dress like this needed to be worn, and he wouldn't take no for an answer.”

“I guess we'll have to come up with an excuse for you to wear it, then.” Hunter said. “Ben put your stuff in the guest bedroom, but he's not naïve enough to think you'll actually sleep there much.”

“Really?” Dawn said. “Buffy would insist upon it, nineteen or not.”

“Good thing we're here then and not at Buffy's. Why don't you go hang up the dress and we'll get some dinner. Ben cooked, so it'll probably be health food, but it should be good.”

“'Kay,” Dawn said, stopping to kiss him quickly.

*****

Dawn did join Hunter in his bedroom that night, wearing nothing but an oversized nightshirt and her underwear. She laid down next to him, and pressed her lips to his. They kissed for a few minutes, and then Hunter pulled away.

“So, what did you think today? About the hospice?” he asked, nervously.

“I thought it was a good thing that places like that exist. And I get why you brought me there. I didn't really get the ramifications of the disease,” she said. “But I love you anyway.”

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “But it might not be enough. You're nineteen years old, Dawn. You deserve to have so many experience I probably won't be able to give you. You might want children someday, and I can't ever do that. You deserve somebody who can grow old with you. That won't be me. Someday, maybe ten years from now, maybe even twenty, if I'm lucky, that will be me. Trapped in a bed, hooked up to machines. You deserve something better than that.”

“But I want you,” she said. “You're so sweet and wonderful. And yeah, you have this thing inside you, that someday will rear it's nasty head. I don't live every day wondering if I'm gonna get sick, or if I'm gonna get hurt and infect somebody. So, I don't really get how you feel. But I live every day knowing that some demon could be after me. That somebody might try and kidnap me to get to Buffy. That the magic I practice out of necessity could take over. I don't want to live in fear, so I'm not going to let fear control me.”

“You scared the crap out of me,” Hunter started, “When you said, that night, that you didn't care if you caught it, that there were scarier ways to die. All the deaths you've seen, Dawn, they've all be fast and brutal. AIDS is brutal too, but it's slow and tedious. Someday I'm gonna get sick, and I may stay sick for years, fighting off some disease that will get me in the end, and slowly kill me while I linger. I don't know if you want to see me like that. Hell, I don't know if I want you to see me like that.”

“Let's not think about it now, then,” Dawn suggested. “The future is a long way away. Let's just be Dawn and Hunter now,” she suggested.

“Okay,” Hunter agreed, and moved to kiss her.

Hunter was lying on his back in his bed, and Dawn moved so that she was straddling him. He hand his hands around her waist, and she leaned down to kiss him. They kissed for several minutes, just losing themselves in each other's mouth. Dawn moved so that she could pull off Hunter's sweatpants, which was all he was sleeping in.

“Condoms?” she whispered.

“Bedside table,” he answered. She found one and tore open the packet. She rolled it down his length. She threw off her t-shirt, and straddled him, lowering herself onto his erection. When he was sheathed inside her, she leaned forward, kissing him passionately. Slipping his hands around her, Hunter flipped them both over so that he was on top. She wrapped her legs around him as he started to piston in and out of her. He dropped his right hand between them to pinch at her clit while he worked in and out of her. She lifted her head up to kiss him. He worried her clit with his fingers, and her back arched as she came. He quickly followed her over the edge. As he softened, he slipped out of her, and kissed her quickly before standing up to clean himself up. Dawn laid back in bed, nice and comfortable, and stretched her arms up over her head.

“Dawn, what's that?” Hunter asked, seeing a red mark on Dawn's arm.

“It's nothing,” Dawn said, reaching for her shirt. Hunter stepped in quickly and grabbed her arm lightly. He saw the two red lines on the inside of her left arm, higher up than the old ones, and much newer.

“Dawn,” Hunter said quietly, “You said you weren't doing this anymore.”

“I know,” Dawn said, “I'm sorry.”

“Don't apologize, Dawn, I'm worried about you.”

“Don't be, I'm fine,” she pushed his hands away pulling her nightshirt back on.

“Okay, if you don't talk about this with me, will you at least tell your therapist?” Hunter asked. “She probably knows a lot more about this than I do.”

“Okay,” Dawn said quietly. “Go clean yourself up so we can cuddle.” Dawn had gotten used to Hunter's cleaning routine after sex, and she understood his insistence on it. But she still wished she could just cuddle with him after, without the pause in the middle. Hunter came back to bed, and wrapped his arms around her.

“I'm sorry,” Dawn said again. “I don't want you to think I'm a freak.”

“If you're a freak, then you're an amazingly awesome freak, I promise. And I'm a freak too, so we must be made for each other,” Hunter promised.

“Must be,” Dawn echoed. She sniffled a little, and Hunter wiped the tears from her eyes gently with his finger. He held her close to his chest while they fell asleep.

*****

Dawn woke up in bed alone. She didn't see Hunter anywhere, but grabbed her shower stuff from the guest room and went off to the bathroom. She brushed her teeth, showered, and got dressed before heading downstairs.

“Morning sleepy head,” Michael said. He was setting some food on JR's high chair tray, and Ben and Hunter were nowhere to be seen.

“Morning. Where's Hunter?”

“He and Ben went for a morning workout. Would you like some breakfast?” Michael offered.

“Sure,” Dawn said.

“Hunter said you like scrambled eggs?”

“Yeah,” Dawn said, “Is there any coffee?”

“Right over there,” Michael said.

Dawn helped herself to some coffee and fixed it up the way she liked it, while Michael fried her up some breakfast.

“So, has Hunter told you a lot about our family?” Michael asked.

“Some,” Dawn said.

“So, you know that Ben's positive and I'm negative,” Michael said.

“Yes,” Dawn said, sipping at her coffee.

“Are there any questions you want to ask me? About what it's like to be in a long-term relationship with a positive person?”

“How long have you and Ben been together?” Dawn asked,

“About five years,” Michael said.

“Has he ever gotten really sick?” Dawn asked,.

“Once really badly,” Michael said, “We couldn't have been together for more than six months. He was hospitalized, and I thought I might lose him. He's been in the hospital two other times since them, but neither as serious as that first one.”

“Were you scared?” Dawn asked.

“When he got sick? Or when he told me he was positive?”

“Both,” Dawn said.

“Well, I actually broke it off when he told me,” Michael said, “I couldn't handle it. And then I realized how much I missed him. My mother and my friends didn't like it at first, they were worried about me. But after five years I'm still negative.”

“Do you get tested a lot?” Dawn asked.

“Every three months, and you should too. There's a good AIDS clinic by your school that Hunter goes to for his 'scripts. They do free testing,” Michael said, setting a plate of eggs in front of Dawn, and then poured himself a cup of coffee.

“Has Hunter ever been really sick?” Dawn asked.

“He wasn't very healthy when we found him,” Michael said, “He had a kidney infection, and he was malnourished. But since he got himself healthy, he's only really been sick once, with the flu. His fever got a lot higher than it should have, so he was hospitalized. And that was his junior year, so he hasn't been sick in about two years.”

“That's good,” Dawn said. “I said something really stupid last week.”

“Oh?” Michael asked, but he had a pretty good idea what she had said, because he had said it himself.

“I told him I didn't care if I caught it,” Dawn said.

“I said that once,” Michael said, “And I felt guilty for days after, too. What you've got to remember, Dawn, is that for Hunter, no matter what he's thinking about, talking about or doing, a tiny part of his brain is always aware of his HIV. Always worrying about what happens if he gets a paper cut, if he gets a cold, if the condom breaks. He worries about you getting infected because he loves you and wants you to be healthy. So, when you tell him that you don't care, what he hears is that you don't care how much he loves you. You're disregarding his feelings.”

“I just didn't want him to worry so much,” Dawn said.

“I know,” Michael said, “But that's not something that's going to change.”

“I'm scared,” Dawn said.

“I know,” Michael said.

“When we were at the hospice, all I could think was 'someday, this could be Hunter.' And for a minute I was glad I wasn't positive, and then I felt guilty for being happy that it wasn't me.”

“I know,” Michael said, “I've gone through all of this Dawn, and all I can tell you is, if you really love him, all those worries and fears don't matter. You can learn to live with them, and eventually the fears get quieter.”

“I am so fucked up,” Dawn said. “Why would he want to stay with me?”

“Because he loves you,” Michael said. “Dawn, you are the first girl who stuck around. When you found out that he used to be a prostitute, that he's had sex with literally hundreds of men, you didn't run away disgusted. You continued to love him. Do you have any idea how special you are?”

“Compared to some of the guys my sister's dated, he's practically a saint,” Dawn said. “I've learned to judge people on who they are now, not who they used to be.”

“Anyone who knows Hunter can tell that the two of you are perfect for each other. You both have some problems, but I'm confident you'll work them out,” Michael said. “Now, I think it's time for this one to have a b-a-t-h.”

Dawn giggled as Michael lifted JR from the high chair.

*****

“So, what's on your mind?” Ben asked, as they jogged.

“Dawn,” Hunter said. “We argued last week, and I guess I haven't completely gotten over it. Plus, I'm worried about her.”

“What did you argue about?” Ben asked.

“She said she didn't care if she caught it. That she wasn't worried,” Hunter said.

“Michael's said that to me before,” Ben said, “And I reacted the same way. There's a gap between the two of you. She can't understand what it's like to have this disease, but at the same time, you can't understand what it's like to be constantly worried about losing the person you love. Michael's tried to explain it to me, but I'm not entirely certain I can understand how he feels. But still, I love him so much it doesn't matter.”

“I know that,” Hunter said, “Up here,” he pointed to his head, “But it still scared the hell out of me. Plus, I'm scared for her.”

“Why so?” Ben asked.

“Dawn doesn't have very good self-esteem,” Hunter said. “She tends to beat herself up for little things. And sometimes she hurts herself.”

“Hurts herself?” Ben asked.

“Cuts herself,” Hunter clarified.

“Oh,” Ben said. He wasn't really sure what to say about that.

“She told me she wasn't doing it anymore, and then last night I saw two more cuts on her arm, that hadn't been there a week ago.”

“Is she seeing a therapist?” Ben asked.

“Yeah,” Hunter answered.

“Then I'd suggest you let her therapist handle it. You're her boyfriend. I'm sure it's scary as hell, but it's not your job to be her shrink. Just be there for her, that's all I can recommend. Also, are you seeing a therapist?”

“No,” Hunter said. “Dawn dragged me to a support group for survivors of sexual abuse, but I haven't gone back.”

“Well, I'm always here to talk,” Ben reminded him, “It's one of those job requirements under 'Dad.' But maybe you should see a counselor.”

“I'll think about it,” Hunter said. “And please, don't tell Dawn I told you about the cutting. She doesn't want anyone to know.”

“As long as she's getting help, it's none of my business,” Ben said. “So, want to grab something to eat before we head home? We're not far from the diner.”

“Sure,” Hunter said, smiling.


*****


Debbie put out a big holiday spread. Instead of celebrating on Easter itself, she did it a few days early, so people could drive home on Sunday. But she had Emmett and Darren helping her cook, and all their friends and family had been invited. Dawn got to meet Ted and Blake, who she'd heard of but not met, and Daphne, Justin's best friend.

“Finally,” Daphne said, “Another straight girl. We're seriously outnumbered among this bunch.”

“Yes, but at least there's lots of sexy men to stare at, and no jealous girlfriends trying to smother you in your sleep,” Dawn pointed out.

“That's never really been something I've worried about,” Daphne said.

“Oh, how naïve you are,” Dawn teased, and both of them giggled at the complete absurdity of the conversation.

“Hey, Dawn, what's your tattoo say?” Blake asked. Dawn had kicked her shoes off inside, and the tattoo on the top of her right foot was visible.

“Hū slīþen bið sorg tō gefēran,” Dawn said, pronouncing the words 'hoo sleethen bith sorg too yeferan.'

“What does it mean?” Blake asked.

“Literally it means 'How cruel is sorrow for a companion.' It's from an Old English poem called “The Wanderer,”” Dawn explained. “It's my favorite Old English poem. Several parts of it are paraphrased in Lord of the Rings, including some of the names like Haleth, which means warrior, and Theoden which means king, and eorl, which means nobleman or warrior, and is, of course, the name of the royal house of Rohan in the Lord of the Rings books.”

There were a lot of blank looks pointed in Dawn's direction.

“Holy crap, Hunter's dating a nerd?” Dawn volunteered sheepishly.

“Pretty much,” Hunter said, kissing Dawn on the cheek. “But you're a very cute nerd.”

“Oh, Justin, have you seen this yet?” Emmett asked, and replayed the video of Dawn threatening Brian at the diner, while Dawn rolled her eyes.

“I don't see why you guys are making such a big deal about it,” Dawn said, “At home we threaten death and maiming at least a dozen times a day, and people stop reacting if you repeat yourself.”

“I think I definitely want to meet your family,” Debbie said.

Dawn found herself the center of attention that night, since everyone already knew each other, and Dawn was fresh meat. She spent at least twenty minutes teaching Gus how to play Cat's Cradle, and Lindsay and Melanie were definitely impressed.

“Hey,” Gus said, with all the tact of a seven-year-old. “Where are these scars from?” he touched Dawn's arm, and tried to trace them with his finger before the red-faced Dawn managed to jerk her arm away.

“I, um,” Dawn said, not knowing what to say. “A while back, I got very, very, very sad. I got so sad I thought I could never, ever, ever be happy again. And the sadness lasted a really, really long time. No matter what I did I couldn't make the sadness go away. I thought I was a bad person for being so sad, because I didn't know that sometimes it's okay to be sad. So I punished myself. And I thought, maybe I could make myself mad, and replace the sad with mad. But none of it worked. Then I started going to a special kind of doctor, a doctor for your feelings. And she helps me feel less sad, and less bad, and then I don't want to hurt myself anymore, because it's a very bad idea.”

Lindsay caught Dawn's eyes and nodded, and Dawn realized she'd handled that one pretty well.

“I'm glad you're not sad,” Gus said, hugging her. “I like you. You're pretty.”

“Thank you,” Dawn said. “I think you're pretty too.”

“Boys can't be pretty,” Gus said.

“Really?” Dawn asked. “Justin is pretty,” she pointed to him, “Hunter is pretty, Emmett is pretty, Darren is pretty, and they're boys. Even your daddy is pretty.”

“He is not pretty,” Gus protested. “He's my Daddy.”

“From the mouths of babes,” Lindsay said, grinning at Brian, who looked mildly put out at the idea that he wasn't pretty.

“Think I'm pretty do you?” Hunter asked, flopping down on the couch next to Dawn and laying his head on her shoulder.

“Uh, duh,” she said. “You're a pretty-boy and you know it.”

“Well, I think you're pretty too,” he said, kissing her briefly.

“You are nothing but skin and bones,” Debbie told her, again. “Eat, eat,” she pressed a plate of goodies into Dawn's lap.

“Oh, is this homemade fudge?” Dawn asked, looking at it with a dreamy look. She hadn't had homemade fudge since before her mom died. She and Joyce and Buffy used to make it together every Christmas Eve. It had been tradition. Dawn suddenly resolved herself to get Buffy to do it with her next Christmas. “Mmmm,” Dawn said, as she bit into the fudge, and felt it melt on her tongue. “This is positively orgasmic.”

“Does all chocolate elicit that response, or just fudge?” Ted asked, nodding to Dawn's delight.

“Depending on her mood, any chocolate usually makes her moan like that,” Hunter said.

“Oh shush, you,” Dawn said. “I haven't have homemade fudge since before my mom died.”

“When was that?” Debbie asked.

“About five years ago. I was fourteen. She'd had a brain tumor, and they'd managed to remove it, but they left some damage or something and she had an aneurism,” Dawn said, a touch of sadness in her voice. “My sister, Buffy, raised me, with help from some family friends.”

“Where was your dad?” Debbie asked at the same time Brian said, “Buffy? Seriously?”

“Hey,” Dawn directed at Brian. “There's nothing wrong with Buffy. She's the best sister ever.” Buffy gave Brian a death glare. “And you're a giant butthead.”

The pure immaturity of the insult aimed at Brian made everyone laugh. When there was a pause in the laughter Dawn turned back to Debbie.

“My dad was too busy living out his midlife crisis in Spain with his secretary. He didn't even call to check on us after Mom died,” Dawn said with a sigh. “But we don't need him. We do perfectly fine without him.”

“Dinner's ready,” Emmett said, pulling the Easter ham from the oven.

*****

“I want to be able to stop,” Dawn told her therapist.

“Are you sure?” Shirley, Dawn's therapist said.

“Yes,” Dawn said.

“Why?” Shirley asked.

“Because I hate how people look at me, when they see my scars. Because I hate the look in Hunter's eyes. Because I hate how it makes me feel.”

“Good,” Shirley said. “I want you to start journaling again. Every time you think you're going to go into that place, you start writing. It doesn't matter what you write, just write. And I want you to try a few safe alternatives.” She slid a rubber band onto Dawn's wrist. “When you feel like you want to cut, snap it. Pinch yourself, if you need to, bite your knuckles. Little things to ground you that don't do permanent damage.”

Dawn nodded.

“And any time you need to call me, do it,” Shirley said.

“Okay,” Dawn said. She liked Shirley, she reminded her of a combination of her mom and Anya, with a little bit of Xander's gentleness.


*****


“So,” Hunter said.

“So,” Dr. White said. “Why are you here?”

“I don't know,” Hunter said. “I promised my dad I'd see a therapist.”

“Why?” Dr. White asked.

“'Cause I have issues,” Hunter said.

“Why don't you tell me about yourself, Hunter?” the man asked.

“Well, I go to Columbia, I have an amazing girlfriend, Dawn,” Hunter smiled as he thought about Dawn.

“Tell me about her,” Dr. White suggested.

“Well, she's awesome. She's from Sunnydale, that town that collapsed in that giant earthquake a few years ago, she and her friends barely got out alive. She's studying linguistics, and she's learned a ton of languages. I worry about her a lot, though.”

“Why?” Dr. White asked.

“Well, she hurts herself,” Hunter said.

“Physically?” he asked.

“Yeah, she cuts herself. She's seeing a therapist who's helping her, but it scares me anyway. And I keep seeing her, in my head,” Hunter winced. “Last fall, Dawn was raped. And I walked in on it, and every time I think about it, I...”

“It must have made you feel very powerless,” Dr. White said.

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “But that's not exactly a new feeling.”

“How so?” Dr White asked.

“See, this is why I don't like therapy. I hate talking about this stuff, but you have to ask so nicely in a way that I can't not tell you.”

“I promise you I won't judge you, and I won't tell anyone what you say here. It's confidential,” Dr. White promised.

“I know,” Hunter said. “It's just, I don't like thinking about my childhood.”

“But you think about it all the time, don't you?” Dr. White asked.

“What makes you say that?” Hunter asked defensively.

“The expression on your face. What was your childhood like?”

“My mom was a drug addict, my dad was abusive and a drug addict, my mom stabbed my dad and almost killed him, and then I never saw him again. I lived on the streets and I hustled for money.”

“When you say hustled, do you mean you tricked people into give you money, or you were a prostitute?” Dr. White asked gently.

“I was a prostitute,” Hunter said. He sighed, and then launched into his story, telling Dr. White everything. His mom, his dad, living on the street, Jake the asshole, losing Jason, finding out he was positive, losing Callie, getting harassed at school, wondering every day if he's going to die, finding Dawn, almost losing Dawn, and the gut-wrenching fear he had about infecting Dawn. He talked to the psychiatrist for two hours, letting all of it spill out, and Dr. White could tell that Hunter had never really let it all out before. Maybe now that he'd released it all, he'd be able to heal and move on.


*****
*****


“I'm glad you came back, Hunter,” Susan said. There were shirts and paints and decorative things all around.

“I wasn't going to,” Hunter said. “I didn't really feel like I fit in.”

“Yeah,” Susan said, “I understand. Most of these events are centered around violence against women. We forget that it's more than just women who are hurt.”

“So, tell me about this project,” Hunter said.

“We're airing our dirty laundry. You take a shirt that applies to your situation, and put your story on it. You can be vague, or you can be in-depth. There are different colors for different acts of violence. White symbolizes somebody who's died because domestic or sexual abuse. Red and pink stand for rape, beige and yellow are for survivors of battery or abuse. Green and blue are for survivors of child sexual abuse or incest, and purple is for violence because of sexual orientation. Normally, all of the shirts represent women. But this year,” Susan looked at Hunter, “Since I'm running the event, I've decided to open it up to all victims of abuse. We try so hard to get the message of 'stop violence against women' out there, that others get lost in the cracks.”

“Do you mind if I invite a friend?” Hunter asked, “My friend Justin was gay-bashed after his senior prom. He almost died.”

“Sure,” Susan smiled. “This is about airing our dirty laundry.”

Hunter smiled, then pulled out his cell phone. After a short conversation, he decided that this event might not be so bad. He decided he wanted to paint a shirt. Now he just needed to figure out what color to pick. Technically most of them applied to him. In the end, he picked a green shirt. Justin showed up about a half hour later and, after having the event described to him, picked a purple t-shirt and started painting.

Susan walked around the space, smiling. Of course, reading the shirts usually made her sad, but the purpose made her feel good. This was a purge. Airing the dirty laundry. They had clotheslines spread out all over the courtyard, and a tent where anyone, not just students, could decorate a shirt if they felt the desire. There were volunteers taking finished shirts and hanging them up with clothespins. Susan enjoyed this event every year. She hoped the police officers she'd invited would come. She knew the detectives at the Special Victims Unit. Everyone in the city who worked with rape victims knew who they were. And she knew that they, like her, saw the ugliness of violence every day. So she'd sent them all invitations for the event, hoping they could find a little beauty in their lives.

*****

“That is a work of art,” Susan breathed, as she looked at a t-shirt a young blonde man was painting. It was a picture of a man painting, with another man behind him, his hands around the painter's waist. There was a bloody baseball bat on one sleeve and a gun on the other. Across the bottom of the shirt, in carefully printed letters, it read, “After you bashed my head in and left me for dead, they said I'd never draw again. I could have killed you, I had the chance. But now I draw and paint and love. You have no power over me.

“That's my job,” Justin said. “And it was a long time coming.” His right hand was twitching, like he couldn't control it. “They said I'd never draw or paint again. I had to prove them wrong.”

“Good for you,” Susan said, “When it's dry we'll hang it up.”

“Cool,” Justin said. “I like doing things like this. It means that they don't win.”

“Exactly,” Susan said.

*****

“This is brilliant,” Munch said, looking around the courtyard.

“I recognize at least five people,” Fin said, surprised.

“Well, the event coordinator practically begged us to come,” Olivia said, “Said we needed to find 'beauty in the misery.'”

“Isn't that the girl who was raped last November?” Stabler asked, pointing at a girl hanging a pink shirt.

“Yeah, Dawn Summers,” Olivia said.

“And that's her boyfriend, Hunter,” Dr. Huang said. The four detectives and the psychiatrist walked over to the to young students they recognized.

“Hi, Dawn,” Olivia said, walking over.

“Olivia,” Dawn said, smiling. “I'm glad you could come.”

The shirt Dawn was hanging up had a picture of a girl painted on. The drawing was crude, but Olivia could tell the painted girl was wearing a short skirt and a tank top. There was writing on the shirt, and she leaned over to read it.

You said I was 'asking for it' with the clothes I wore. But I won't let you force me into a canvas sack. I am free to dress sexy, and not feel like an object for you to play with and break.

“I like the sentiment,” Olivia said.

“Me too,” Dawn said. She smoothed her hands over her short skirt. It had been a gradual process, but she'd stopped wearing clothes that covered every inch of her skin.

“You look very nice,” Olivia said.

“You should look around,” Dawn suggested. “Some of the shirts will make you cry, but a purge can't come without tears.”

“Another good sentiment,” Olivia said. “How are you doing, Dawn?”

“Much better,” Dawn said. “I'm going home to Ohio this summer, and Hunter's going to come with for a while. I haven't seen my family since Christmas.”

“Family's important,” Olivia said, “Even if they're not blood relations.”

“Sometimes the family you choose is stronger than the one you were born to,” Dawn said, glancing at Hunter.

Olivia was glad to see the smile on Dawn's face. It was a beautiful contrast to her first memory of the girl.

*****

“I like it,” George Huang said, looking at Hunter's shirt.

“I stole the first part from a movie,” Hunter admitted, “But it seemed fitting.”

Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children.” The shirt proclaimed. Then there was a messy drawing of a car and a boy sitting on the curb. There was a syringe and a few dollar signs on the curb next to the boy.

Motherhood is not selling your child to a pimp for drugs and money.
I thought God had forsaken me. Until He brought me to real parents.
” At the bottom of the shirt were two stick figures, side by side with a little red heart between them.

The Crow right?” Dr. Huang said. “I saw it once. A bit gruesome, but a good movie nonetheless.”

“I like it,” Hunter said. “I want to thank you for giving me those numbers. Talking to someone that isn't my Dad has helped.”

“I can tell,” Huang said. “You're not trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders anymore.”

Hunter smiled. He saw Dawn talking to Detective Benson, and watched a real smile light her face up. Debbie might say that Justin had the most beautiful smile, but not even Sunshine could hold a candle to Dawn.

*****

“I'm glad to see you're doing better, Lisa,” Odafin Tutuola told the purple-haired girl.

“Me too,” Lisa said. “I never really got the chance to thank you. Thank you for saving me. Thank you for finding the guy, and thanks for locking him up.” She hugged the black detective briefly, then turned and went back to hanging up her t-shirt. Somehow, Lisa knew that today was a day for new beginnings.

*****
*****

Three Years Later:

“Hunter Novotny-Bruckner,” the dean called out. Hunter walked across the stage, took the diploma and shook the dean's hand. He had done it, he had graduated. He could heard Debbie and Michael and Emmett screaming louder than the rest of his family, but everyone was there. He could hear Dawn's family cheer for him too, and it made him smile. He was looking forward to later that evening. He walked off the stage, back to his seat, and waited to watch Dawn walk across the stage.

Dawn grinned proudly as her family cheered for her. She could hear Hunter's Grandma Debbie cheering for her on as well. Vi and Hunter had already walked across the stage and gotten their diplomas, and now it was her turn. She couldn't wait until the big graduation bash that night. All her family was there, and all of Hunter's family was there, and even Vi's mother and sister had come. Giles had rented a huge banquet hall, and after calling Ben and Michael to tell them he was planning a joint graduation part for Dawn, Vi and Hunter, Giles was directed to Emmett and Darren, the best party planners in Pittsburgh. The party was huge. There were three tables set aside, each with a picture of a graduate on it, for presents, and they'd all had a pretty decent haul.

“So, Dawn, what's life have in store for you next?” Lindsay asked, her new baby Sara in her arms.

“Graduate school,” Dawn said. “After a nice relaxing summer off. Hunter and I both got into Yale, so we'll be moving to Connecticut soon.”

“How exciting,” Lindsay said.

“Yeah,” Dawn said. “I can't wait. We found a really nice apartment there. You'll have to come and visit some time when we get settled it. I know Hunter misses JR.”

“We'll have to do that,” Lindsay agreed, and both women looked across the hall to where Hunter was spinning the giggling six-year-old around.

“Hey Dawnie,” Buffy said, coming behind her, “You gonna introduce me to people?”

“Lindsay, this is my sister Buffy, Buffy, this is Lindsay. She and her partner are the moms to Hunter's sister Jenny.”

“Ah,” Buffy said. “Dawn explained that some of your family dynamics are confusing.”

“Yeah,” Lindsay smiled. “And this is Sara.”

“She's so cute,” Buffy said, one hand on her own pregnant belly. She and Xander had been married for a year, and were happily expecting their first child. “How old is she?”

“Six months,” Lindsay said. “When are you due?”

“Next month,” Buffy said. “Now if I can just get Xander to stop suggesting names from comic books.”

“Ahh,” Lindsay said, nodding knowingly, “We've got one of them ourselves,” she did a head-nod towards Michael who was having a heated discussion with Andrew and Xander over the superiority of Captain Astro.

“Do you know what you're having yet?” Linsday asked.

“A boy,” Buffy said. “Name's still up in the air. How did you come up with Gus?” she asked.

“Actually, Justin picked it out,” Lindsay said, “I was leaning towards Gus and Melanie wanted Abraham, and Justin was the tie-breaker. That was the first night we met him.”

“Justin is the guy who painted that picture I gave you for your wedding,” Dawn said.

“He's amazing,” Buffy said.

“He really is,” Lindsay said. “He gave me permission to tell everyone in the art world I 'discovered' him, since he was still a high school senior with a sketchbook when I met him, and I was an art teacher at the time.” She smiled at the memory.

“So, I'm gonna steal my little sister from you, for a while,” Buffy said, smiling.

“No problem,” Lindsay said. “I think Miss Fussy here is getting hungry anyway.”

Buffy pulled Dawn over to the side of the room and looked up into her little sister's eyes.

“Dawnie, I just wanted to tell you, Mom would be really proud of you. I think she is proud of you. I know because I'm so proud of you,” Buffy said. She pulled her sister into a hug and kissed her on the cheek.

“Thanks,” Dawn said. “I know it's true. But on days like this, I really miss her.”

“Me too,” Buffy said. “So, all of these people I don't know, this is all Hunter's family?”

“Yep.” Dawn said.

“Introduce me,” Buffy suggested.

“Okay,” Dawn said, grinning as she pulled Buffy over to a large, loud woman with vibrant red hair Buffy could tell was a wig. “Debbie, this is my sister Buffy.”

“It's nice to meet you, Buffy, Dawn's told us a lot about you.”

“She's told me a lot about you too. You're Hunter's Grandma right?”

“Yep, and this is my husband Carl, except he's not legally my husband because I refuse to get married until Michael's allowed to get married.”

“Nice to meet you, Carl,” Buffy said, smiling.

“And that's Blake and Ted,” Dawn pointed out. “That's Melanie, JR's mom, and Emmett and Darren are flitting around somewhere, they're the party planners. That's Eli and Monty, they're Ben and Michael's neighbors.”

“Which one's Mr. Asshole?” Buffy asked.

“Brian,” Dawn pointed, “Gus and Sara's dad.”

“The one who keeps ogling Robin?” Buffy said.

“Yeah,” Dawn said.

“Somebody should warn him off, before Faith has his testicles for earrings,” Buffy said.

“Let him learn his lesson,” Debbie said, “Eventually Brian's going to have to stop hitting on anything with a dick, and appreciate the guy he already has.”

“The cute blonde who looks like he's twelve?” Buffy asked.

“Yeah,” Dawn said, “Justin.”

“He's adorable,” Buffy said.

“You know, you all are the first people who haven't commented on the age difference between Brian and Justin,” Debbie noticed idly.

“What's the difference?” Buffy asked.

“Only twelve years,” Dawn said.

“Twelve? Hah, like that's anything,” Buffy scoffed. “It's not a problem until your boyfriend's had a bicentennial.”

“I like you,” Debbie said. “When are you due?”

“Next month,” Buffy said. “He's a boy,” she rubbed her stomach, “But we haven't picked a name yet.”

“I guess you're tired of people asking the same questions over and over again, huh?” Debbie remarked.

“Pretty much,” Buffy said. “So, how proud are you all that Hunter's going to Yale?”

“It's un-fucking-believable,” Debbie said. “Considering how many times he dropped out of high school.”

“Dawn had trouble finishing school too,” Buffy remarked.

“Buffy, I didn't drop out, the high school collapsed into a crater!” Dawn pointed out.

“True,” Buffy conceded. “Why don't you go mingle with your guests. I can make my way around.”

“Kay,” Dawn said, lightly squeezing her sister on the shoulder, before bounding across the room.

“You've raised a great kid,” Debbie said.

“I have, haven't I?” Buffy mused. “When our mom died leaving me in charge of a fourteen-year-old, I wasn't sure I'd make it. I had to drop out of college and work at a fast food place. If I hadn't had such amazing friends to help out, I probably wouldn't have made it. Then, after our hometown got leveled, and we'd lost our house and everything we owned, I didn't know what to do. All I can say is thank God for FEMA. Also, thank God that bank had put all the records on computer the year before.”

“I can't imagine what that must be like,” Debbie said.

“It could have been a lot worse,” Buffy said, “There were a lot of little quakes before the big one, so most of the town was empty by the time the big one hit, and we were on the last bus out of town.”

“I'm glad you all survived,” Debbie said. “Especially that sister of yours. She's worked wonders on Hunter.”

“He's a great kid,” Buffy said. “He's done wonders for her self-esteem.”


Across the room, Hunter was trying to figure out how to quiet down a ballroom full of people. He walked over to the DJ that Emmett had hired, and asked him to cut the music. He took the microphone from the DJ and spoke into it.

“Hey,” Hunter said, “Can I have everyone's attention for a minute?” Everyone got quiet. “Okay, so, I want to thank everyone for coming to our graduation party. Everyone, congratulate Vi, 'cause I'm about to steal her spotlight, so Congratulations Vi!” Hunter said, giving everyone the chance to clap for Vi, then he spoke into the microphone again. “Dawnie, come over here.”

Confused, Dawn walked across the room to where Hunter was. Hunter handed the microphone back to the DJ and pulled something out of his pocket. Before anyone had a chance to say anything, Hunter had dropped to one knee.

“Dawn Summers, will you marry me?” Hunter asked.

Dawn felt her breath catch in her throat, Hunter wanted to marry her? Really?

“Yes,” Dawn said. “I'll marry you.”

Hunter slid the ring onto Dawn's finger to the sound of applause from everyone around them. Then Hunter stood up and pulled Dawn into a kiss.


*****
*****

“Hey, what's this?” Olivia asked, pointing to something on her desk. There was a cookie tin with an envelop sitting on top. The envelope was addressed to Manhattan SVU. Olivia picked it up and opened it. “Hey, Elliott, Huang, come here.”

The detective and the psychiatrist walked over to see what Olivia had in her hands. It was a wedding picture. The three of them spent about a minute trying to recognize the couple, before realizing it was the girl and her boyfriend from that rape case at Columbia about five years earlier. Dawn Summers looked radiant in her wedding dress, and Hunter looked blissfully happy. Somebody had scrawled two words across the bottom of the picture in black marker. Thank You.

*end*

The End

You have reached the end of "More Than Blood". This story is complete.

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