Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, Joss Whedon, Warner Bros., Inc., Scholastic Publishing, and Mutant Enemy Productions. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Salem at Halloween was full of black-sweatshirted, black-haired, black-eyelinered kids not much older than her, but Dawn shifted her chic new messenger bag to the other shoulder and walked past them without a second glance. She was here for research -- the Salem coven was powerful and had untapped resources and a large library. They might be willing to help, too, and the Council desperately needed the help. Giles had asked her to make some “discreet inquiries,” as he put it. On this, her first real solo mission, she wanted more than anything to bring back what he needed. Her appointment wasn't until three, though, so she blended into the crowds of tourists and went shopping.
The stores were full of kitschy collectibles—black cats and warty, green-skinned witches that would have started Willow on a huge tirade. Everything was completely tacky, but Dawn had time to kill. She was browsing through a rack of t-shirts in the back corner of a crowded shop when she saw it. A plain blue shirt, emblazoned with neat black letters that said "I ♥ WEREWOLVES". She thought of Oz, of how he'd always treated her with such calm, patient respect, of how he'd never acted like she was just a tagalong or someone's kid sister.
By the time reality caught up with her, she had already bought the shirt and put it on over her crisp white button-down. She was standing in the middle of the street when she remembered: she'd never actually met Oz. Not in reality. It was only in her memories, in her totally fake and manufactured memories, that they'd sat at the kitchen table painting their nails together because Buffy had to patrol and couldn't baby-sit. Oz was just a figment of her artificial past. More accurately, she was a figment of his. After all, it was she who wasn't real.
The realization hit her hard. It was something that she never really got used to, over time. Whenever she was reminded of it, it always left her reeling. The strap of the chic new bag slipped from her fingers and it fell to the ground with a dull thud that didn't reach her ears. She stood still in the midst of the swarming tourists, sucking air into her lungs and hoping it would remind her of something, anything. She didn't even know what she wanted to be reminded of, whether it was reality or unreality, existence or nothingness.
She looked down at herself, at her neat pleated skirt and white shirt, chosen to make her look professional, and at the silly t-shirt she'd put on over it. Her eyes filled with tears and blurred her vision so that her body turned into a big blur of blue and gray and pale skin.What was I thinking? Of course I can't--
She crouched down, intending to retrieve her bag, her eyes still blurry with tears. Before she could reach it, another body slammed into her and sent her sprawling. With her blurred vision, the only impression Dawn had was of blue denim and dirty sneakers, and then falling. Her forehead throbbed as though it had been struck by someone's knee, her bag dug uncomfortably into her back, and the cobblestone street was gritty and cold against the skin of her bare butt. She smoothed her skirt quickly, making sure everything was covered, then began trying to stand up, really wishing for once that she'd gone with the full-coverage granny-panties.
Dawn raised herself up onto her knees and looked around, brushing herself off ineffectually. She saw a couple of spiky-haired guys with pierced noses staring unabashedly, and several people turning away, as if their show had just ended, but she did not see the person who had knocked her over so spectacularly. At least, not at first.
"Bloody hell," said a voice, a rough male voice with a British accent and an embarrassed sound.
Dawn turned and saw a tall, lanky guy about her age lying on the pavement behind her, flat on his stomach. His long limbs seemed to stretch in every direction at once, and his dark green sweater was pushed up in the back, exposing a strip of pale, freckled skin above the waistband of his jeans. A mop of carroty red hair covered the back of his head.
He moaned again and rolled slowly to one side, then turned and looked at her. She saw that he had a long thin nose and a little quirk at the corner of his mouth that suggested that this was all very funny. His face was even more covered with freckles than the skin beneath his sweater. She wondered what the freckle pattern on the rest of his body was like. Did he have them everywhere
Dawn collected her bag and stood up, trying to look serious and not at all as though she'd just been picturing this skinny, laughing boy naked.
"I'm sorry," he said, as she was about to walk away. "I didn't mean to knock you over like that."
She tried to hold back a smile, less successfully this time. "It's okay," she said. She looked down at the ground and not at him.
"Oh," he said. "Good." He still seemed a little dazed from his fall.
She didn't know what to say, so she just said, "Okay. I'll, uh, I'll see you later," and turned and fled.
The interview did not go well. The coven's leader, in flowered muumuu and slippers, offered Dawn cookies and then told her firmly that neither she nor her sisters were interested in “gallivanting about after the undead.” When Dawn tried to protest, the woman insisted that she was much too old for such things. “And besides,” she said, “isn't that what the Slayer is for in the first place, hmm?”
To cap it all off, the huge library turned out to be one big fat rumor. So her entire mission to Salem had been a failure and a waste of time.
She was in a dark pub that night, drowning her sorrows with a turkey sandwich and a Diet Coke, when she saw him again. She watched as he walked up to the bar and ordered a beer. The girl behind the bar poured him a glass and didn't even ask for his ID, and Dawn made a face. Not that she even liked beer. It was the principle of the thing.
He turned and scanned the room briefly, and she thought about ducking under the table. It was too late, though—he caught her eye before she could hide, and a big goofy smile lit up his freckled face. Embarrassed as she was about tripping him and then flashing half of Salem, she couldn't help but smile.
"I heart werewolves," he said to her in greeting. "Hullo again." He was wearing the same green sweater he'd had on earlier, but the cuffs were pushed up around his elbows, a concession to the warm and crowded bar.
"Hey," she said, craning her neck to look up at him. "It's just Dawn, actually."
He leaned over the table and extended a hand in greeting. She shook it, and noticed that he had long scars running up his forearm, twisting ribbons of pink marring the freckle patterns. "Ron Weasley," he said. "This seat taken?"
"Oh no, please." She motioned to the chair, and he pulled it out and sat down. What was she doing? She was the good sister, the careful sister, the lacking-in-superpowers one. She couldn't afford to pick up strange guys in bars who could be demons. Tall, sexy, freckled demons, but still. It could happen.
"So, just Dawn." He set his beer down and leaned toward her, resting his elbows on the table.
"So," she said teasingly, trying not to stare at the strange pink scars that she now saw were on both of his arms. What would cause an injury like that? Something mystical, for sure.
"Werewolves?" His tone was light and teasing, but she sensed some purpose behind the question.
"I've never met one I didn't like," she said cheerfully. Which was true, since she'd only ever met Oz. Only, not really. Right.
"Oh?" He still had this strange, half-joking, half-guarded tone. She couldn't quite place it. "You've met a lot of werewolves, then?"
That was it. It was the tone they all used on someone right before the "Vampires are real and they're trying to eat you" speech. Was he really about to give her a warning about things that go bump in the night? Her? Oh, please. It was a little too late for that.
"Spare me the warnings," she said frostily. "My babysitter was a werewolf. And if this is your pick-up line, it's not a very good one." Normally she would not have discussed such things in a public place, but there was something about him that made her think he wouldn't be surprised. Besides, he was pissing her off.
He raised one red eyebrow, and the freckles above it folded and crinkled. "Babysitter, eh? I think this calls for reinforcements." He leaned back in his chair, resting it on the back two legs, and signaled for the waitress, pointing first to his pint glass and then holding up two fingers.
The beer tasted bitter and horrible to Dawn, and she drank only a few sips of it. Still, as a peace offering it had the desired effect. By the time he offered to walk her back to her hotel, she took it as a romantic gesture, not a creepy protective one. Outside the gabled inn, he rested one hand on her shoulder and leaned in toward her. The October night air was cold on her face, but she could feel the warmth of his hand through her jacket. Standing on tiptoe, she closed the distance between them and touched her lips to his. They pressed together once, twice, three times: soft, dry kisses. The next time, she parted her lips a little, and let it deepen into more, until his tongue slid over hers.
The kiss was soft, it was firm, it was delicious, it made her knees melt… until a strange sound reached her ear. It was the type of sound that was made by things that liked to eat kissing couples, the kind of sound you got used to, growing up in Sunnydale. She pulled back from him and looked around the darkened yard.
At first, nothing looked out of place. A large maple tree stood near the inn's porch, covered in vivid shades of red and yellow. One leaf broke off and fluttered to the ground.
Dawn started to feel a little foolish. Right in the middle of a great kiss, the first one she'd had in a long time, and she freaked out.He must think I'm insane
, she thought. But she knew she'd heard something. She continued to scan the yard.
"Behind you," Ron said in a low voice, and she spun around. He had a long, thin stake in one hand. He looked confident, but he held the thing awkwardly, as though he'd never actually had to use it.
"Good idea," she said, reaching into her bag and grasping the thick wooden stake she kept there. All the same, she couldn't help wishing for a crossbow. Or a slayer.
At the edge of the lawn, two figures stepped into view. They looked just like the goth kids Dawn had seen hanging around the historic district earlier: torn jeans and black sweatshirts, with too much eyeliner. These two had the whole "creature of the night" thing down a little better, though: their fangs gleamed and their yellow eyes shone even in the dark.
Ron looked at Dawn disbelievingly. "You sure you know how to use that thing?" he asked her.
"Of course," he said, sounding offended. That was a good sign, she thought. "Only… are those vampires
That was probably a bad sign. Of course, it fit in perfectly with the complete failure that was her first business trip. She briefly wished that the guy she'd picked up really had turned out to be a demon. At least he would have known what a vampire was.
“The pointy end goes through the heart,” she said abruptly as the vamps advanced on them.
“Relax, little girl, we're not going to hurt you,” the first one said.
“No? Sorry, but I can't say the same,” Dawn replied. Her heart was pounding, and her hand against the stake was sweaty, but she tried to act unconcerned. A little witty banter always put fear into the hearts of the vampires, or so she'd been told.
Next to her, Ron was muttering something under his breath. “I learned this,” he said to himself. “I know this. I should
, anyway...” She ignored him, and focused on the vamp, who was getting closer.
He grinned, and his fangs extended below his bottom lip. They looked sharp. Dawn swallowed hard.
The vamp rushed her, and she stepped to the side and dodged him. He ran clumsily past, then turned around and came back at her. She tried to evade him again, but he followed her this time and grabbed her arm, holding it tightly.
She struggled against him, twisting and turning and trying to get away, but he was too strong. He was holding her right arm, and she couldn't use that hand to swing her stake.
“Dinner,” the vamp said, licking his fangs, “is served.”
“Oh, please.” Even in her terror, she recognized the cheesiness of this line. “Get some new material.”
,” yelled Ron. Dawn felt her arm slip out of the vampire's grip, and something pushed her backwards. She flew off her feet and into the air, landing in a bush several feet away. The neatly-trimmed branches scraped across her face and tangled in her hair.
The vamp looked about confusedly, but his partner, who'd so far been hanging back and observing, yelled and charged toward Ron.
“What the...” she said out loud to no one. What had just happened?
“What else?” yelled Ron, apropos of nothing. She didn't answer, and he yelled again. “What else, besides the pointy end of the stick?”
“Beheading,” she yelled back. “Holy water. Sunlight.” Her head was spinning with panic. She couldn't think. She was missing something, but what was it?
“What the bleeding hell is holy water?” he asked, looking at her with his brow furrowed. By this time, the two vampires were circling around him, waiting for the opportunity to attack. He was crouched in a defensive position, but still holding his stake as though he didn't know what to do with it.What kind of person has never heard of holy water?
she thought, distracted.
He seemed to shake off his confusion, and the issue of the holy water, and his face became serious again. “C'mon, what else?” he yelled, his voice sounding slightly panicked.
She knew she'd forgotten one. “Staking,” she said to herself, counting on her fingers. “Sunlight. Beheading. Holy water. Fire.” That was it. “Fire,” she said more loudly. “Fire!”
Without a pause, he shouted, “Incendio!
” and pointed the stake at the nearest vampire. A fireball shot out of the end and onto the vampire, catching on his black sweatshirt almost instantly. The vamp screamed and dropped to the ground in what might've been an attempt to 'stop, drop, and roll,' but in another few seconds, he was dust.
Behind him, the other vamp was backing away slowly.
“Ron, the other one!” Dawn called, struggling up out of the bush. Her mind was still spinning from the excitement, but she knew this was definitely a good thing.
,” Ron said again, pointing what she now realized was definitely not a stake at the vamp. He dodged, and the inn's white picket fence went up in flames.
The vamp ran through the gate and down the street.
,” Ron said, and the fire on the fence sank to a low smolder and then to a smoking ember.
“Um,” said Dawn, standing now and still clutching her stake tightly. Not that she'd made much use of it. “What... um...”
“I'm sorry,” he said, in the same unassuming way he'd said it earlier that day, when he'd tripped her on the sidewalk. “I didn't mean to scare you. I should've...”
“Nono,” she said quickly. “Go right ahead. Feel free. Anytime.”
He walked slowly toward her, watching her face carefully. “Have you ever... ever seen anything like that before?”
“Um,” she said. “Sort of, but not...” Willow was a pretty powerful witch, but even she didn't go around lighting people on fire with a flick of her wrist. “Do you have some kind of a flame thrower in there?”
“Flame thrower?” he asked, standing close enough to her that she could feel her skin warming up at the thought. Right,
she thought. Hasn't heard of holy water, or flame throwers either. He's obviously been living in a cave somewhere.
“Nevermind,” she said. “But how did you do that?” Her mind was already turning, examining the situation, trying to figure out how she could put it to use for the slayers.
“It's kind of a long story,” he said, looking down at her seriously.
“I figured,” she said, looking up at him.
“Those were vampires, right?” he asked slowly.
“Yeah,” she said. “It's kind of a long story.”
“I figured,” he said, with a smile. He lowered his face to hers, and kissed her again, bringing them back to where they'd been before the vamps had interrupted.
This kiss was not tender. It was a searching, hungry kiss, and she met it eagerly, tangling her fingers in his hair and pulling him close as he swept her mouth with his tongue. She didn't know if it was the panic or him, but her heart was racing and her skin felt hot all over. She was about ready to tear off her jacket, and the rest of her clothes with it, when he pulled away. He looked down at her, breathing heavily.
“You knew just what to do with those guys,” he said. “Do you, er, fight vampires a lot?”
“Yeah,” she said simply, not bothering to explain that it was pretty much her full-time job, and the reason she was in Salem to begin with. She'd been doing it her whole life. Well, depending on how she defined her whole life. She looked into his eyes, and saw a spark of interest there, and she stopped worrying about the unreality of the past. They watched each other for a moment, and a broad smile spread across his freckled face. Whatever had happened, or hadn't really happened, this was real now.
Her hand was still wrapped around the back of his head, and she pulled him down into another kiss.
Maybe she'd found the ally she'd been looking for, after all.