: Sixby Mhalachai~*~
Buffy hung up her cell phone, a frown on her lips. She had been talking with Dawn, who had just returned from a doctor's appointment at the hospital. In all the testing after she had been kidnapped and semi-possessed by Bolverk, something odd had come up. I mean, it's probably just mono or something,
Dawn had said, trying to reassure Buffy. I'll be fine!
But there was a slight tremor in Dawn's voice. They didn't know what it meant, for an ageless mystical force like the Key to be turned human. Could Dawn get sick? Get weaker and weaker until one day...
Buffy dropped the phone to her side and balled her hands in her hair. Buffy couldn't even form the words in her head. There was no concept for it. Dawn, her Dawn, could not die. It wasn't going to happen.
Sucking in a deep breath, Buffy picked up the phone again and hit a preprogrammed button on her phone. She didn't know what she was going to say, or even what she wanted to hear. She just couldn't sit there in silence, with the sudden fears of Dawn's mortality hanging like an axe over her head.
"Giles?" Buffy blurted out, clutching the phone so tightly she heard something crack.
"What's wrong?" Giles demanded. "Is it Dawn?"
"No! I mean yes, but not like that." Buffy stood up and paced across the room to the window. "She's fine, except maybe not, and I don't know if it's because of me or just because of her or--"
"Buffy," Giles interrupted. "Stop. Tell me what's happening with Dawn."
As she stared out the window on the dark wintry night, Buffy told Giles about Dawn's unusual medical tests. When she finished, Giles was silent for so long that she had to ask if he was still there.
"Yes, I am," Giles said in a thoughtful voice. "The doctors think it has something to do with Bolverk's attack?"
"She didn't say."
"It might be something else," Giles said, so softly that Buffy's stomach twisted.
"She probably just has the flu, she'll be fine!" Buffy protested, even though she didn't believe that herself.
"Buffy, we don't know what sort of impact Dawn's origins--"
"Stop it!" Buffy exclaimed, hardly able to draw breath around her heart pounding so hard in her throat. "We are not going to talk about this!"
Giles swore under his breath. "Buffy, it has been years, she deserves to know!"
"She does not need to know this! Not now, not ever! This has nothing to do with whatever is wrong with Dawn!"
"We don't know all of what impact her parentage--"
"Don't say it." Buffy's voice had turned to ice. Without a doubt, she knew that if Giles finished that sentence, she'd fall apart. Years of keeping things from Dawn, always waiting for the right time to tell her, now having everything collapse in on her like a house of cards.
Giles let out a sigh. "Buffy, what do you want me to do?"
Buffy sank into a crouch on the carpet, unable to stand up any longer. "I don't know."
"Is this why you're staying in St. Louis? Because of Dawn?"
She didn't answer.
"We have everything under control," Giles said after a brief pause. "Faith's back in Cleveland. If things get out of control, she knows where to find us."
Buffy knew the Slayers didn't need her as much anymore, but to hear Giles say it so casually just hurt.
"Yeah, whatever," Buffy said, suddenly needing to not hear Giles's well-meaning voice in her ear. "I'll call you later."
She hung up the phone before he could say anything else. Her heart still raced in her chest, as if she'd just escaped a horrible fate. But she hadn't escaped. Giles had dredged up things she hadn't wanted to think about, not now.
She didn't want what was happening with Dawn to be her fault.
A heavy knock sounded at the door, and Buffy was on her feet, instantly alert. It was too early for it to be Rafael. Every instinct screamed a warning as she dropped the phone to the bed, and pulled out a stake and her knife. It was after dark; any manner of creature could be seeking her.
Sensation increased as Buffy approached the door, screaming Vampire
. At least a vampire couldn't kick down the door, not with the charms she'd put on the door to make it like a home.
A quick peek out of the spy hole let Buffy know exactly what flavor of vampire was gracing her doorstep. She took a step back, confused. What was he doing here?
Putting the stake into the edge of her back pocket, Buffy opened the door, careful to hide the knife behind the door. Standing -- no, posed against the opposite wall, was Jean-Claude, Vampire Master of the City.
They stared at each other, and the moment stretched out. "This is going to get real old, real quick, if one of us doesn't decide to issue the first ultimatum," Buffy finally said.
The vampire curled up his lips in a well-practiced and devastating smile. "What if I have no ultimatums for you?" he asked, his voice thick and sweet as molasses. Even though Buffy wouldn't fall for his charms, his voice was still really easy on the ears.
"So why are you here?" she asked. "Threats? Intimidations?"
"Actually, I was hoping you would join me for a drink," he said, a note of iron in his voice underneath all that silk.
"A drink," Buffy echoed. That was rich. He didn't drink... Wine
, Buffy couldn't help but add mentally. The last time she'd had a drink was four months before, after Suzanne, an eleven-year-old Slayer, had--
Buffy shook her head. Jean-Claude was still watching her, face politely blank. She didn't have time for unpleasant remembrances. "Perhaps in the lobby," Jean-Claude suggested when Buffy remained silent. "I would not presume to ask entrance to your rooms." The slight lilt in his voice gave lie to that statement.
Buffy restrained herself from rolling her eyes. "Just a minute." She stepped back, shutting the door in Jean-Claude's face, before bounding across the room. From under the bed, she quickly pulled out a tiny case. Where's that belt?
she thought as she shimmied out of her jacket and unbuckled her tiny belt. The black leather belt in question didn't match the pants she'd chosen for the dinner with Rafael, but he wouldn't notice.
And the other belt didn't have a place for her to hide the Holy water vials.
The case on the bed should have held ten two-inch-long vials of Holy water, but Buffy had worked her way down to three. She removed two of them from the case and slipped them into the loops on the inside the belt. The case went back under the bed.
Buffy really hoped that Jean-Claude didn't try anything. Using Holy water was less of a crime than actually staking a vampire. Without a warrant of execution, killing Jean-Claude would probably mean a long jail term.Some times, I miss the old days.
Picking up her jacket, Buffy paused by the mirror to check her appearance. The threatened tears from her phone call with Giles hadn't wrecked her makeup. Her hair wasn't perfect for a date, but Rafael would have to deal. Jean-Claude's visit was the more immediate problem. I wonder what he wants.~*~
It seemed that Jean-Claude wanted to treat Buffy to whatever she wanted at the bar. When she ordered mango juice, his eyebrow went up, and he actually managed a facial expression.
"How is Anita?" Buffy asked as she put the glass down and leaned back into the soft leather chair. Jean-Claude had "suggested" to the maitre d' that they would sit in the most open and visible spot in the whole bar. Buffy had wondered if that was because he wanted to be seen having a drink with her. Or if he thinks this will reduce the likelihood of me kicking his ass.
Jean-Claude smiled gently. "Ma petite is fully recovered, thank you for asking," he said. "She has her hands full at work, but I believe your sister is proving an invaluable asset to her."
At the mention of Dawn, Buffy's heart skipped a beat. "Dawn can do that," she said inanely, mind racing as she tried to figure out what kind of game Jean-Claude was playing.
"Young Ms. Summers has indicated to ma petite that she will be remaining in town for some time, but she did not know your immediate plans."
Buffy could feel a pounding starting in her left temple. "So that's why you're here."
Jean-Claude spread his hands. "I admit, I am curious as to why a Slayer of your calibre has remained in such a provincial town."
"Which translates into..."
The slightly amused expression wiped off Jean-Claude's face as he sat forward. Buffy made herself stay still at the sudden movement. It wasn't an attack; he was deliberately moving too slow for that. "Do you remain for business?" Jean-Claude asked. He glanced over Buffy's head for a moment, then back down. "Or for pleasure?"
Buffy couldn't help it. She turned around. Standing at the entrance to the bar, a frown on his face, was Rafael. He was staring directly at them, and he did not look happy.
As Rafael began to make his way across the bar, Buffy looked back at Jean-Claude. "Why I am in town is none of your damned business," she said softly, not trusting herself not to cause a scene otherwise. "I'm not after any of your people."
"What about his people?" Jean-Claude asked, nodding his head in Rafael's general direction. "Are you here for any of them?"
"What!?" Buffy demanded, incredulous, as Rafael finally made it to their table
"Is everything all right?" Rafael asked, placing his hand on Buffy's shoulder.
"Oui, everything is perfectly fine," Jean-Claude said. "Would you care to join us for a drink?"
"Would I?" Rafael asked, looking down at Buffy.
She managed a brief smile and shook her head. "No, we were just finished." She stood up. "And the answer to your question is no."
Jean-Claude rose to his feet gracefully. "I am most pleased to hear that," he said with a slight bow. "I wish you both well this evening. Mademoiselle, enchantez."
After he was gone, Buffy stepped away from Rafael. "We should get going, if we want to make our reservations," she said. She focused on doing up her jacket buttons.
Something in his voice made Buffy look up at him. There was something lurking in his eyes, something Buffy wasn't sure she could name. "Didn't you make a booking at a place to eat?" she asked.
"No," Rafael said. "I have reservations."~*~
The heat in Rafael's car was working perfectly, but it didn't dispel the chill between them. "How was your day?" Buffy asked. The thick silence was beginning to choke her.
Rafael slipped the car into a higher gear and concentrated very hard on the road. "What did Jean-Claude want?"
Buffy turned her head from the window to stare at him. "What do you mean?"
"I mean, what did Jean-Claude want?" Rafael repeated. "He presumably came to see you for a reason. Threats? Conversation? A business proposition? What?"
"He just wanted to talk!" Buffy said. "And what are you talking about, a business proposition?"
"Why else would he come alone?" Rafael directed the car onto an off-ramp, slowing as he merged into traffic between two SUVs.
"I'd go alone," Buffy said. This conversation was making her stomach tight with anxiety, and she really just wished he'd shut up.
"Go alone to what?" he pressed.
"Going to see a dangerous person." Buffy looked back out the window at the traffic. "That way, no one else gets hurt."
Rafael jerked the car around a corner, cutting off several cars as he did so. He drove for half a block down the side street, then pulled into an empty spot by the curb, before turning off the engine.
"What are you doing?" Buffy demanded.
Rafael leaned over and gently grabbed her shoulders. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "I thought you wanted me in, but you keep pushing me out!"
Buffy pulled back, out of his grasp. "What are you talking about?"
Rafael fell back into his seat. "A Slayer does not have a drink
with the Master vampire of a city!" He raked his hair back from his face in a violent gesture. "If you don't want to tell me why, then say so, but do not pretend--"
"God, stop it!" Buffy exclaimed. "You want to know what Jean-Claude wanted? So do I! He was all innuendo and snide little comments, but he didn't say anything real
"He wanted to know why I was staying in town," Buffy said. Why was her heart pounding so hard, as if this was a fight for her life?
"And what did you say?"
The sudden silence in the car was intense. Buffy had a hard time swallowing. "I said that I wasn't after anyone. It's not.... I'm not here to fight."
They sat quietly, not able to find the right words to say what they needed until the cold began to seep into the car. Then Rafael started the engine and drove away.~*~
The awkward silence lasted until the waiter had taken their drink orders and vanished into the crowd. Buffy toyed with the edge of her menu. She so wasn't hungry any more.
"You look very nice," Rafael said, not looking up from his own menu.
Rafael made a sound that was an awful lot like a sigh. "I said, you look very nice this evening."
"Oh." Buffy had been so worried, first with Dawn, then with Jean-Claude, that she'd forgotten how she'd dressed. I'm never that worried.
"Yeah, well, you said it was a date." Had she even gotten a good look at what he was wearing?
"I did." He dropped his menu to the table and leaned over to her. "Is this just Jean-Claude? Has something happened with your... work?"
Buffy's throat constricted. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe. A warm hand settled on hers. She turned her hand in his and held on tight.
"Can I help?" Rafael's voice was barely audible in the loud restaurant, but it was the only thing that mattered.
"It's Dawn" she said before she thought. Rafael's hand tightened on hers. She opened her eyes and made herself look into his eyes. "There's something wrong with Dawn, and I don't know if they can fix it."... to be continued