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Fic: Motherhood

Motherhood
By PaBurke
***Summary: Sequel to Membership and such. Buffy shows up to call in a favor. ***
***Disclaimer: I play, am not paid, do not own. No infringement intended. ***
***Spoilers: Season 5 Buffy, and Bitten. ***
***Distribution: The Nook ***
***Warnings: Character Death. Evil!Characters. Torture.


The night was dark and stormy. The lightening and thunder echoed through the house. Jeremy sat at his desk. Clay and Elena cuddled on the couch. Oz sat on the ground and leaned against the wall. His guitar was in his hands, but he wasn’t playing it. He just stared at the instrument. The last few days, Oz had become disturbed and in true Oz fashion grew even more silent.

Both Jeremy and Clayton had become restless with the new Pack member’s withdrawal. They knew so little of Oz. He had been loyal; he had proved his loyalty several times. He had stood by the Pack, but he had gone out of his way to make sure his history and personal problems did not touch the Pack. Every couple of weeks, Oz would disappear for a few days. He would always return bruised and bleeding. He refused to tell Jeremy where he had gone and he refused to tell Clay who had beaten him. He insisted that it wasn’t related to the Pack and therefore none of their concern.

The last trip had been worse than the others; for Oz had returned broken in spirit as well as body. His eyes had lost their brightness. His shoulders were bowed under a weight he refused to share. He watched the creatures of the wood with no interest in a chase or food. The werewolf had actually skipped meals, spending time in deep mediation. Jeremy watched Oz carefully but the younger wolf had shown no signs of losing control. Oz was waiting.

Jeremy, Clayton and Elena were waiting with him, but they didn’t know for what.

The first pounding at the door had been drowned out by the thunder. Elena wasn’t even sure she had heard it, she just saw Oz drop his guitar and sprint for the front door. Clayton nearly dumped Elena on the library floor in his hurry to follow the slight male.

The person at the door pounded again.

Oz opened the door mid-knock. Elena’s first thought was: false alarm- stranded travelers. A tiny female stood in front and Elena could hear the baby in her arms whimper in the cold and wet. The girl did as any mother would do and stepped into the house without an invite. Clayton growled at the human intrusion but the girl’s cool, green eyes -dead eyes gave him pause. The two taller people behind her remained out on the doorstep. It took a shift in the wind for Elena to realize that the male and the female were both werewolves.

Oz started the introductions. “Buffy, this is Jeremy.” Buffy nodded at Jeremy with no emotion. Jeremy waited. “Jeremy, this is Buffy, Jordy, Buffy’s sister Dawn and Baby Amber. I told you about Jordy.”

“You did not tell me about Dawn,” Jeremy replied.

That was news to Oz. His eyes shot to Buffy’s. “What happened?”

She shrugged, so very tired. “We had to change Dawn’s magical signature in a hurry.”

“By biting her?” Elena blurted out. “That’s one hell of a solution.”

Buffy agreed. “It’s quick, drastic and unexpected.”

Oz nodded. “You going to fight . . . her now?”

Buffy sighed. “Yeah,” She handed Oz the baby and the diaper bag in the car seat. “All the paperwork’s inside. You have guardianship of all three of them . . . if something happens.”

Oz curled the whimpering baby into his warmth with one arm. He dropped the diaper bag and the car seat without a care and enfolded Buffy with his free arm. “I could come.”

Buffy clung to Oz for a moment, then she pushed away. “No. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.”

Oz looked relieved. “Than kick her ass.”

Buffy kissed her daughter’s forehead and stepped out into the rain. She hugged Jordy for a moment and hugged Dawn for an eternity. Their tears mixed with the rain. Buffy did not attempt to brush them away, but Dawn did. Buffy turned and left, soon invisible through the storm. Because Elena was listening for it, she could hear the soft murmur of a car’s engine outside of Stonehaven’s gates.

“Can we stay,” Oz asked Jeremy.

Jeremy stared out at the blurred figures on the step. “How old are they?”

“Sixteen and seventeen,” Oz said.

Very young, but then Buffy wouldn’t have had paperwork made for someone who was legally an adult. “And their control?”

“Jordy’s good.” Oz looked at Dawn. “How did you do?”

She shrugged. “Spent it drugged. We couldn’t stop anywhere to train me.”

“I would prefer not to leave,” Oz admitted to Jeremy.

Clayton and Elena watched Jeremy make a decision and as much as Elena would like to be consulted on the matter, she wasn’t sure what her opinion was. She hadn’t known about Jordy, who was practically a shoo-in for the Pack. Jeremy finally nodded. “Daniel, go warm up some of that soup you made.”

Oz smiled and jerked his head at the very wet pair. He turned to do his Alpha’s bidding, Amber asleep in his arms. Jordy stepped in first and Dawn walked in behind him. She shut the door quietly. They both dropped their backpacks at the door.

“Hey,” Jordy said Oz-like.

Dawn kept her eyes on the floor and hid behind Jordy, which was kinda hard since she was an inch taller than his Osbourne frame. Elena thought she looked broken, like one of the runaways Elena would see in the city.

“This is my son, Clayton, and his fiancée, Elena,” Jeremy introduced.

Jordy nodded. “Dawn’s my girl and she’s normally . . . much more outgoing.”

“Put up your coats and come fill your stomachs,” Jeremy started the caring tasks of being Alpha.

Dawn reached out and snagged Jeremy’s shirt. Clayton stepped forward, just in case. Jeremy stared her down.

Dawn dropped her eyes again. “Just wanted . . . thanks, for taking us in.”

Jeremy nodded. “Go, eat.”

He walked into the kitchen, Clayton on his heels. Elena followed but took one last look at the pair in the entranceway. Jordy was helping Dawn with her coat and hanging it up. Dawn waited as Jordy shrugged off his hoodie. Then they linked hands and walked into the kitchen.


***


“What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Clayton’s rough voice brought Jeremy, Oz and Elena running to the kitchen. The scene they arrived on made them stop in their tracks. Clayton had Dawn’s arm, yanking her away from the table and the drug paraphernalia there. She was cowering. Jordy was standing, bottle-feeding Amber in his arms. He obviously wanted to intervene but couldn’t put down the baby.

“Jordan?” Jeremy asked. “What’s going on?”

“They’re tranqs,” he explained. “She doesn’t want to leave Amber.”

Clayton snorted his opinion.

“There’s a cage in the basement,” said Oz.

If anything, Dawn seemed more fearful.

“You’ll stay there,” Jeremy ordered.

Dawn shot a frantic glance to Jordy.

“I’ll stay with you, honey.” Jordy looked to Oz for assurance. “Oz can keep Amber tonight.”

Oz nodded. Clayton finally released Dawn. She slumped to the floor but didn’t look any more relieved. Jordy set down Amber’s bottle and started patting the baby’s back. She hadn’t made a sound during the entire ruckus.

“That is one quiet baby,” Oz mentioned.

Clay and Elena became alarmed. They really hadn’t spent much time with a baby, even a quiet one.

“I could start looking for an apartment,” Oz offered.

Jeremy shook his head, no. “Not with a new wolf. You’ll stay until she has control.”

Dawn finally relaxed, pleased that her circumstances were not about to change yet again.

“But babies cry,” Clayton pointed out. “And she’s a human baby.”

Elena laughed at her mate. “You’re the one who keeps asking for kids. And you’re getting nervous over one little-quiet-baby. If we ever had kids, you can bet that they wouldn’t be the quiet types. And kids start out as babies.”

Clayton pondered that. Then his face grew determined, he saw a way to convince his mate and win a long-standing argument. He walked to Jordy. “Give her to me,” he demanded.

Jordy stumbled back and his eyes pleaded with Oz and Jeremy. He clutched Amber closer and she burped and whimpered.

“Clayton is good with kids,” Jeremy offered. “Just hasn’t spent any time with ones that young.”

Oz didn’t hint at anything one way or the other. He had never seen Clayton near a child. Dawn frowned.

“Give her to me,” Clayton demanded again.

“You hurt her,” Dawn threatened. “I’ll kill you.”

Both Jeremy and Clayton were surprised at her ferocity.

“Momma wolf and cub,” Oz muttered.

Then they understood. Amber might not be Dawn’s child, but she was Dawn’s niece and as such, Dawn would protect Amber to her last breath. Clayton had seen what mothers could do for their children in the wild. He didn’t want to fight Dawn, she wouldn’t follow any of the ‘rules’ if she felt Amber had been hurt, emotionally and physically. Clayton had better start tolerating the child and get used to the idea of protecting her.

Jordy finally handed Amber over. He wordlessly coached Clayton on how to hold the baby. Clay tucked the baby in. She stared up at him with bright green eyes. She never made a sound. With a slow grin, Clayton decided that he liked this plucky little girl.

Elena moaned. “Shit.” The last thing Clayton needed in his ‘let’s have kids’ argument was more ammunition.

“Want to hold her?” Clay asked.

Elena escaped the kitchen, mumbling about work and a magazine deadline.

Jeremy, Oz and Jordy were watching him with the baby. Dawn was packing up her tranquilizers and putting them back into her backpack.

“Where’s the cage?” she asked.


***


Jeremy watched Jordy pace the length of the cage. The male had already stripped down to his boxers. Dawn was showing her remnants of modesty and stripping under a blanket. Finally, she was done. Jordy took the clothes from her, folded them neatly and handed them to Jeremy.

Jeremy locked them in.

Showing great poise and experience, Jordy Changed first. In wolf form, he circled Dawn, snuffing her hair with each turn. Then he plopped down near her head. She leaned into him, nuzzling his fur. He licked her dry tears.

She got on all fours and the Change started. She screamed in pain. The Change was awkward, slow and torturous. Finally she collapsed in wolf form, panting. The most dangerous part was over. Jeremy would keep an ear out but, for now, he would leave them in privacy.


***


The scream startled Jeremy awake. He was out of his chair and sprinting for the library door before his eyes were fully opened.

That scream had been Dawn and it had sounded even more painful than her Change. She shouldn’t have had any problems Changing back into human form. She and Jordy should have done it in their sleep. Jeremy was already at the top of the basement stairs and heard Clayton and Elena thundering down from their bedroom. Oz, by some miracle, had been faster than Jeremy and was halfway down the basement stairs; Amber cradled to his chest. Jeremy had a second to wonder at a baby, though wide awake, was not complaining at Oz’s sudden movement.

Then Jeremy set eyes on the cage and the baby was forgotten.

Dawn was bucking and screaming in pain. She was in her human form, but it was the green electricity lighting the basement that made Jeremy stop. It was arching from Dawn to Jordy and then the cage. Jordy barely flinched each time it hit him. He was more concerned with keeping Dawn pinned down. It looked like she was being electrocuted, Jordy as well by proximity. But what was the source?

“Shit.” Clayton and Elena had arrived to see the spectacle.

“Open it,” Oz demanded as he deposited Amber into Clayton’s arms.

“Not if she’s going to Change,” said Jeremy.

“She won’t,” Oz promised.

Jeremy waited.

Oz was frantic. “It’s ‘cause she’s magically linked to Buffy. Buffy can’t Change.”

Jeremy accepted the short explanation for the moment and handed over the keys to the cage. Oz unlocked the cage and sent the door flying open with enough force that it crashed into the rest of the cage. The resulting noise startled the baby and she began to cry. Clayton blinked down at Amber in his arms. What was he supposed to do with a crying baby? She hadn’t cried before.

Elena started snickering at his dilemma and then her eyes strayed to the trio in the cage. She abruptly sobered. Oz had joined Jordy. He too was ignoring the shocks sent his way. Dawn’s struggles seemed to intensify. Her screams hit a higher pitch.

Jeremy reached for the cage door. A jolt of electricity hit his hand. He jerked it away. His eyes filled with the realization of what the trio was going through. With renewed determination, he banged the door shut and locked it, leaving the key in the hole for the moment. The grisly show continued to what seemed an eternity. Finally Dawn slumped. Jordy collapsed at her side.

With shaking hands, Oz checked for a pulse. Then he sighed with relief. Amber was still crying, but she seemed to have worn herself out. She whimpered. Clay gently brushed the tears off her tiny cheeks.

“It’s done,” Dawn breathed.

Jeremy, Elena and Clay blinked, surprised that she could talk after all the screaming.

Dawn rolled over and started crying. Jordy gathered her in his arms and rocked her. “It’s done,” she sobbed. “Buffy . . . won.”

There was a brief moment of peace.

“Get out,” Oz rasped.

Jordy and Dawn scrambled for the blankets and then the door. “Open it,” Dawn yelled.

Jeremy saw Oz rushing a Change and hurried to let the youngsters out. They made it just in time. Jordy helped Jeremy force the door shut and hold it there against the raging Oz as it was locked. Jeremy stood back and stared. He had never seen Oz lose control at all, let alone to this extreme. The beast kept throwing itself against the cage door.

Then the smell of blood made Jeremy turn his head. Jordy and Dawn had collapsed on the floor. Dawn was crying and trying to use the blanket to stop the flow of Jordy’s blood. He had taken most of the punishment for locking up the werewolf, automatically protecting his Alpha. For his troubles, Jordy had claw gashes the full length of his left arm and left leg. Oz had even managed to poke holes in Jordy’s abdomen. The blood was streaming to the ground.

Jeremy hefted the teen in his arms. “Clay, get to the bathroom and start setting up the first aid kit. Elena, help Dawn.” And he was gone, Clayton and the baby with him.

Dawn was left, a heap on the floor. Tears were streaming down her face. Elena reached for her and helped the girl to her feet. Dawn promptly collapsed. Elena decided that Jeremy had the right idea and picked up the girl. She was surprised by how light the teen was, nothing but skin and bones.

“Jeremy’s going to nag you to eat,” Elena warned, trying to soften the mood. She had no other idea on how to deal with a crying woman- a crying werewolf. Elena had yet to get used to that one.

“Not hungry,” Dawn muttered.

“Doesn’t matter.”

Elena climbed up to the first floor and closed the door on Oz’s howls. They could still hear him but could more easily ignore him.

“He’ll be okay?” asked Dawn.

It took Elena a minute to figure out the ‘he’ part of the question. Dawn figured that she was trying to break the bad news gently.

“You can lie to me,” Dawn offered.

Elena shook her head and climbed up the stairs to the bedrooms. “Jeremy’s good at fixing us. He’s had years of experience because of Clay and me. Jordy will recover in time.”

Dawn relaxed. “So will Oz,” she reassured.

Elena stopped at the bathroom door to let Dawn watch Jeremy sew up her boyfriend. Jeremy never looked up but Jordy put forth a pained smile. Clayton crowded the doorway as well. The baby was close enough to touch. Dawn reached a finger out to touch her niece’s hand.

“I heard her crying,” she whispered. “I had to come back and make sure nothing was hurting her.”

Elena and Clay stared at each other. Dawn’s tone was too eerie.

Jordy frowned. “Buffy?”

Dawn shook her head, as if to clear a haze. “She’s not here anymore.”

“What happened to Daniel,” asked Jeremy.

Dawn wrapped her hand around Amber’s. “Willow went witchy evil in the whole I-want-to-destroy-the-world-way again. This time she was killing off friends. She . . . got Giles . . . and Xander . . . and Andrew . . . and Faith. Well, Kennedy got Faith. Took her out with a gun.” Dawn’s voice tightened with the memory. “Buffy had to stop her and Kennedy . . . I saw Buffy kill them.” All the names meant nothing to the original members of the Pack.

Jeremy waited and stitched the longest cut on Jordy’s arm.

Dawn tried to figure out the best way to reveal Oz’s secrets.

“You’re not getting any lighter here,” Elena prompted.

Dawn almost smiled. “A long time ago, Willow was Oz’s mate.”

Jeremy finally stilled. He looked up at Clayton and Elena. The three shared a realization. How would Clayton react to Elena’s death? Even if it had been needed?

Frightening thought.

Jeremy changed the subject. “Elena, you mind giving them your room?”

“No.” It wasn’t like she had slept anywhere but Clay’s bed in months.

“Put her in there.”

Dawn’s eyes were closed before her head even hit the pillow. Elena tucked the covers around her and walked back to the bathroom. Jeremy was still working on Jordy. The worst of the cuts had been tended but there were numerous smaller ones. The teen never whimpered at the stitches, though he winced a couple times as Jeremy applied antiseptic and the local anesthetic. Clayton was still in the doorway with the baby. Amber had finally cried herself to sleep.

“She’s going to wake in a couple hours-hungry,” Jordy warned.

“Can you guys take care of her?” asked Jeremy.

Clayton looked to Elena and she nodded. After the hell that everyone else went through, they should be able to handle one nighttime feeding.

“And she likes to be fed at the crack of dawn.” Jordy smirked slightly. “Which is ‘bout the time Dawn cracks.”

Clayton said, “Okay.”

Jordy was drooping with every passing second. The loss of blood and the electrical shocks taking their toll. “I put her bottles in the fridge. Just warm it up to warm. Don’t burn her tongue.”

“Got it,” Clay said.

Jeremy wrapped each of the lengths of stitches. “You two keep an ear out for Daniel. I’ll stay near these two.” He picked up Jordy. Clay and Elena got out of the way. Jeremy carried the teen to Elena’s bedroom and deposited him beside Dawn. The two spooned into each other and fell into a deep sleep.


***


Clayton was juggling the fussing baby, the cold formula bottle and his own growling stomach the next morning.

“Darling,” he started.

Elena shook her head and took another bite of the toasted bagel. “You’re the one who wants kids,” she reminded. “I’m making coffee.”

Clayton looked down at the baby and reconsidered his position. Then Amber opened her eyes wide. Yeah, he still liked the kid, even with tears. She snuffled and Clayton put the bottle on the counter and with one hand unscrewed the lid.

Finally.

Then he heard something stumble down the stairs and he jerked. The formula went flying into the sink and Amber started crying again. Elena chuckled at him before investigating the sound.

Clayton swore at the spilled milk and then at the crying baby. Figuring that one more moment of making the baby wait wouldn’t hurt anything, he followed his mate. He had been even more . . . clingy than normal after hearing that Oz had lost his mate.

At the base of the stairs was Dawn, dressed in some of Elena’s old clothes. She stared stupidly at the floor as if blaming it for her fall. Clayton was surprised that she had made it this far without Jeremy stopping her. Where was Jeremy?

Elena was trying to help Dawn to her feet, but the teen didn’t have enough strength. None the less, as soon as Dawn saw Amber she held her arms out for her niece. Clayton waited until Dawn was in one of the kitchen chairs before handing over the fussing baby.

“Gimme,” Dawn said with a sigh.

With both hands free, Clayton hurried and grabbed fresh bottle from the fridge to put in the microwave. On the way passed Elena, he snagged the other half of her bagel and stuffed it in his mouth. She slugged his arm in disgust. Clayton searched the fridge for the leftover ham and slid the plate on the table. He managed to gulp down a slice before the microwave beeped.

He put the bottle back together and handed it to Dawn. The experienced auntie popped the nipple into Amber’s mouth. At last, blessed silence.

Clayton had eaten two more slices of ham, playfully fighting with Elena for each one before he smelled something that increased his hunger.

Dawn wrinkled her nose. “What the hell is that?”

Clayton blinked at her and was reminded that this was a brand new werewolf.

“Rabbit,” said Elena as she followed the scent to the basement.

Jeremy was just coming up. He was clothed in only a pair of pants and he smelled of rabbit blood.

“You went for a run?” questioned Elena.

For Elena, he would grant her an answer. “Daniel’s still Changed and he needs to eat.” He looked at the pair. “Where’s the baby?”

Clayton jerked a thumb towards the kitchen. “With the girl.”

“My name’s Dawn,” the girl in question yelled.

Jeremy led the way into the kitchen. He walked up to Dawn and lifted her face, examining her features.

“I’m just a little tired,” she said.

“She fell down the stairs,” Clayton added.

“You’re going back to bed after you eat,” Jeremy ordered.

Dawn hugged her niece closer. “Not hungry,” she muttered.

Jeremy stole Amber away and handed her to Clayton. After a bit of fumbling and crying, Clayton got the baby and the bottle to meet as designed. Jeremy held Dawn in her chair. “You get her back when you’ve eaten enough and are back in bed.”

“But . . .”

“Or Elena can carry you to bed now and you’ll get a tray of food. There again, you won’t see Amber again until I’ve decided that you’ve eaten enough.”

Dawn looked from one adult to another and realized that they were all serious. She pouted. “Fine.”

“It’s crucial to maintaining your control,” Jeremy started the familiar lecture. He put several slices of ham on a plate with a bagel and then searched through the refrigerator for cheese and fruit.

Dawn watched the growing mound of food on her plate with horror. She finally put out a hand to stop Jeremy. “I can’t, please.” There were tears in her eyes. “I won’t be able to choke down half this.”

Jeremy stopped adding to her plate. “Try. You’re a werewolf now, your metabolism is much higher than before.”

Dawn reached for a grape and started nibbling. “Did Buffy call?”

“Eat,” said Jeremy.

A feeling of dread settled in the pit of her stomach and she put down the ham in her hand. “Did Buffy not call?” she asked fearfully.

The Alpha placed Dawn’s cell phone on the table just out of reach. “Eat.”

Dawn glanced down at her plate. “How much?” she bargained.

“Half.”

Dawn separated the food into two exact piles and started in on one. Her gaze flitted fearfully around the table but neither Elena nor Clay offered any clues. She smirked at the lop-sided diaper on Amber’s bottom. Someone didn’t have much experience with diapers. A few minutes later, Dawn stared down at her plate in surprise. She had eaten the one pile and had started on the other. She pushed the plate to the middle of the table.

“Buffy,” she asked.

Jeremy shook his head. “I’m sorry, Dawn.”

Dawn blanched.

“Buffy did not call. I called the number you had in your cell phone but was shunted straight to voice mail. I did leave a message.”

Dawn swallowed a couple times. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Jeremy scooped up Dawn and whisked her up the stairs to the bathroom. There she cried and gulped air but managed to keep her breakfast down. She sobbed in Jeremy’s arms for several long minutes. Jeremy waited for her to calm down. It took a while.

“And Oz is still wild wolfie?” she whispered.

“Yes.”

“Jordy was in bed.”

“Sleeping and healing, like you should be,” Jeremy reminded.

Dawn thought about it. “Okay.”

Jeremy carried her to the bed with Jordy and tucked her in. Very old and tired eyes watched Jeremy walk out of the room. Then Jordy’s hand reached for hers and Dawn grasped for the peace and oblivion of sleep.


***


Dawn woke to a soft clatter. The room was dark. For once her nose caught up to her brain before her mouth opened. “Jeremy?” Then she wondered how she knew. She wondered how she could identify a person over the smell of food. Her stomach grumbled.

He flipped on the light. “Can you wake Jordan?”

Dawn shook her boyfriend. “Jordy? Wake up, please.”

It took a few moments but he finally opened his eyes. “Hey,” he said.

“Are you hungry?” asked Jeremy.

Jordy thought about it. “Yeah.”

Dawn ignored her stomach and asked, “Where’s Amber? I didn’t get to hold her earlier.”

“You were asleep before Clayton carried her up the stairs.”

Dawn refused any food. “I want to hold Amber.”

Jeremy walked to the door and called down the hall. “Clayton?” He got a mumbled response. “Please bring the baby here.”

Clayton appeared in a moment and handed Dawn her sleeping niece. Dawn instantly relaxed. Jeremy put a full plate of turkey and mashed potatoes in her lap.

“Hey! Auntie-time here!”

“You either do both, or you do one at a time in my order,” Jeremy insisted.

Dawn contemplated her full plate.

Clay could read her mind. “Don’t throw it. It’s a waste of food and it won’t rile him. Take it from two people who’ve tried.”

With a sigh and a suppressed yawn, Dawn adjusted Amber to one side and accepted the fork. After taking enough bites that Jeremy stopped hovering, Dawn asked, “So what does rile him?”

Clayton grinned. “You have to figure that out on your own.”

Jordy finished his first plate-full and was quickly handed a second.

“Any word from Buffy?”

“No.”

“Is Oz out of the cage?”

“No.”

“Is Oz doing better,” Jordy asked this question.

Jeremy paused. “I think he might be.”

“Have you been piping music down to him?” Dawn suggested. “I know that that’s how Oz first learned to control himself.”

“Any suggestions?” Clayton asked.

“Not Dingoes,” said Jordy.

“We’ll start that after your dinner,” Jeremy informed them.

“Do you know a good witch?” Dawn asked.

Jeremy frowned. “Why?”

“We need someone to scry for Buffy. I’m sure she’s alive and . . . I’m sure she needs help. We need to find her . . . now. Oz can scry but he’s all one with the wild and normally I can scry but the wolfie’s made my magic all wonky. And don’t look at me like that, Jeremy, I’m not doing a babble.”

Clayton laughed at Dawn. Dawn stuck her tongue out at Clayton.

“I’ll think about it,” Jeremy promised.

“Well, think fast. I feel Buffy getting weaker but she’s getting stronger too and that’s not making sense and it’s starting to worry me.”

“Eat,” Jeremy said.

Dawn opened her mouth to argue, but when Jeremy reached for her niece, she promptly shut it.

Dawn finished her plate and yawned. She waved away the new plate of food. “No more please. Clayton can eat it. I just want to sleep.” She settled her niece beside her.

Jeremy plucked her away. “No. There’s always the possibility that you might Change in your sleep. At this stage you would consider her prey.”

Dawn blanched and let Jeremy take Amber without forming a protest. Jordy finished his dinner and cuddled close. The pair was already asleep before the lights were out.


***


“Are you going to call Paige?” asked Elena. She had been listening to the conversation from outside the bedroom.

Jeremy swirled the drink in his hand and did not reply.

“This Buffy girl is something else.” Elena started talking. “She let her sister get bitten by a werewolf for protection. She was on the run with two adolescent wolves. She kept them as safe as she could. She must have covered for them. She left them here for their protection in the guardianship of yet another werewolf. She left her daughter with him too, while she went to save humanity from an evil witch who happened to be Oz’s ex. At least that’s what her sister claims she did, but after that light show in the basement, I’m not sure what to believe.”

Clay threw the diaper bag at Jeremy’s head. Jeremy caught it with a frown but listened to Clay’s words. “She wrote a letter to her daughter. It’s in there. She tells Amber that if she’s having a problem protecting herself to ask Oz to bite her when she turns sixteen.”

Elena stared at the news. “What kind of mother would suggest that? Knowing all that being a werewolf entails?”

“A desperate one,” answered Jeremy.

“I don’t know,” said Clayton. “I think it’s a pretty smart move. There’s just one thing I want to know: Oz knows proper protocol for introductions, so why did he introduce Buffy to Jeremy first?”

Jeremy set down his drink. “Is Amber asleep?”

Clayton nodded. He reached over the edge of the couch and plucked up the baby blanket over the car seat. Amber was sleeping, strapped in. He draped the blanket back over the baby. “I figure she should sleep for a couple hours. I made some more bottles of formula and they’re in the fridge. When she wakes up, she’ll be hungry.”

“Then you two go for a run. Everyone’s asleep here. I can handle it.”

Clayton stood, “Did you call Tonio yet?”

Jeremy shook his head. “I told him that Daniel’s cousin would probably join the Pack but not that he had.”

Elena grinned, “And now we have Dawn and Amber too with Buffy flitting around in the background.”

Clayton sobered. “Maybe you should call Lucas and see if they can find Buffy. I think that Dawn will become a problem and Amber too when she gets older if they think that we didn’t do enough to help Buffy.”

Jeremy nodded. “Enjoy your run. Any meat that you catch and don’t eat, leave on the porch. Oz needs more food.”

They were dismissed.


***


Clayton tackled Elena and all four of her feet went skidding in the dry leaves. She twisted her head around and yanked him to the ground. The tussle went around and around and then Clayton caught scent of yet another rabbit and was gone. The first three they had left on the porch but this one was theirs. They tore into the flesh and soon there was nothing left and the game of tag resumed.

They chased each other to the far reaches of the Stonehaven property. Then Elena smelled it. Human blood, fresh human blood and a lot of it. She followed the scent. Clayton retraced his steps to see what was keeping her and soon was on the same trail.

In a gully, they found the body. It was obvious from the trail that the girl had dragged herself to the spot and had been drinking from the water. She was breathing still, but just. The girl’s clothes were rags and her hair so dirty that it was an indiscriminate color. Elena was pretty sure that the girl was Buffy but couldn’t communicate that to Clay in wolf form.

Clay sniffed too close and the girl flipped him on his back. Clay was too surprised to react to the knife in his throat, or maybe he finally figured out who it was. But she paused before delivering the killing slice. With great effort, Buffy squinted her eyes open. She saw Clay and relaxed. She dropped the knife and sloppily patted Clay’s head. Clay narrowed his eyes to slits to avoid getting a finger in his eye.

“Nice wolfie,” she muttered. “Take me home?”

Clay wiggled out of her reach and stood by Elena. Elena cocked her head. ‘What do we do?’ Clay disappeared into the bushes. A few moments later, he reappeared as a very naked man. He reached down and brushed her head.

“Run back to Jeremy. Tell him to fix another bed. Buffy’s back.”

Elena licked his face and took off at a sprint. Maybe Buffy would take her baby with her and quit confusing Elena’s world.


***


Elena was still panting from her run and from forcing the Change. She charged into the house and toward the library. “Jeremy!”

He met her at the library door with a ‘what now?’ expression on his face.

“We found Buffy. Clay’s carrying her in but she’s hurt bad.”

Jeremy straightened. “I suppose we could put her in Daniel’s bed.”

“After we clean her up,” Elena warned. “I think I scented the witch that she fought on her skin.”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll be ready.”


***


When Dawn woke up, she was still in Elena’s bed with Jordy. She drifted contentedly until a soft cooing registered in her ears. Her head jerked toward the sound. There was Jordy calmly playing with baby Amber. Dawn had to smile to watch the two of them.

She glanced around the room. “What? No food force-age first?”

Jordy chuckled. “Jeremy left a basket of food on my side of the bed.” He reached down and put the overflowing basket in the middle of the bed. “Apple?” he offered.

Dawn hid her face in her pillow. “Not you too! It’s seems that all I do is eat and sleep. Let me tell you, that if my pants don’t fit when I’m out of this bed, I’m going to raise holy hell . . . the non-hellmouthy-kind and it’s all going to rain down on Jeremy.”

“A little food won’t hurt you.”

Dawn peeked at her boyfriend. “You are treading on dangerous waters there. You did not just hint at my weight or my size, did you?”

Jordy thought about it. “Amber?” he offered.

Dawn grinned and reached for her niece. “Hi, little one. You’re looking mighty fine.” It looked like someone had finally gotten the hang of diapers. “How long have we been in here?”

“Define here,” Jordy asked slowly.

“In this bed.”

“Two days?”

Dawn jerked. “Two days? Have they called for a witch yet?”

Jordy shrugged.

Dawn’s brain started working and she grew suspicious. “Jordy, where is everybody and why are we finally left on our own with Amber?”

Jordy met her gaze. “I’m not sure because they were being very careful, speaking in low tones and . . .”

“Spit. It. Out.”

“I swear I smell Buffy.”

Dawn’s feet hit the floor before she had time to analyze anything. Then she got a little woozy and black dots danced in front of her eyes. It took a moment to gain her balance. When she could see straight again, Jordy was sitting on the edge of the bed hold her upright.

Dawn glanced down at the baby in her arms. “Kinda stupid, huh?”

“I won’t tell.”

Dawn passed Amber back. “I need to see.”

Jordy accepted the baby and leaned against his pillows. “You’re gonna get caught.”

“I know.”

Jordy offered Dawn the apple again. “Take that with you.”

Dawn accepted the apple with a grin. She used the bed for support and then the dresser and then the doorframe. She knew her health had to be improving, she wasn’t sweating nearly as bad as last time she had left the bed. She took a deep breath, let it out and listened for movement in the hall. Dawn had a feeling that Jeremy, Clay and Elena would usher her straight to bed if they caught her up. She sent a smile back at Jordy. He was watching her with concerned eyes, but he understood why she had to check.

And to think that sometimes she harassed herself for dating a younger guy. But when your guy was that sweet, and caring, and understanding, and supportive, what was a couple of months?

Dawn could hear no sound in the hallway. It was now or never. Her legs wouldn’t hold her up for much longer. Dawn opened the door. The hinges were well oiled; it only made a whisper of sound. She leaned against the wall and closed the door behind her. If anyone noticed an increase in baby sounds, they might come check on Jordy. She waited, listened and then smelled.

That was definitely her sister, somewhere in the house. If her sister hadn’t camped out at Dawn’s side, then Buffy was hurt and hurt bad. Through the link she had with her sister, Dawn knew that her sister was very weak but getting stronger.

Dawn closed her eyes and breathed deep. She wasn’t used to all the new smells yet. She wasn’t used to all the enhanced senses yet. Jordy and Buffy hadn’t had a chance to teach her while they were on the run. Willow and Kennedy had chased them across thirty-five state lines. They had been on the run for so long, trying to find a way to stop Willow’s reign of terror. But that was over now. They just had to pick up all the pieces.

She could smell her sister, but in which direction was the smell the strongest? She was a smart girl; she should be able to figure this out.

“Use your instincts,” she heard Jordy whisper.

She chuckled at the advice and stumbled to the closed door she thought was correct. “And behind door number one,” she said to herself. The door opened and Dawn knew she was in Oz’s room. It was bare. A laptop set on the desk with a large stack of CD’s. A guitar was propped in the corner. No posters covered the bare walls and no pictures graced the flat surfaces. In the bed was a figure too small to be Oz. Blond hair peeked from the covers.

Dawn slid into the room and closed the door. A Japanese wall-hanging was nailed to the back of the door. She recognized the symbol for peace but not the others. She would have to study up. Her fingers traced one of the unknown signs. Magic tingled through her fingertips. She could feel the protective ward and the blessing embedded within. The hanging had been a gift to Oz, by someone-a female- who had cared for him. Dawn pitied the girl.

“Stop procrastinating,” Dawn scolded herself. She gathered her strength and her courage and pushed off the wall and toward the bed. Dawn caught herself on the bed frame. The slight jerking of the bed woke its occupant.

“Dawnie?” Buffy never opened her eyes.

“It’s me.”

“I’m cold.”

Dawn winced. Buffy had a mound of blankets covering her as it was, so her body was too injured to regulate its temperature. Dawn made her way to the head of the bed. She placed the apple by the extra pillow and then slipped under the covers to join her sister. Buffy grunted as Dawn cuddled close. Dawn jerked away. She must have hit a wound.

“No. S’okay. You’re hot.”

Dawn chuckled. “Thanks.”

“Amber?”

“She’s good.”

“Crying?”

“No Buffy, she’s not crying anymore.”

Buffy relaxed and went back to sleep. Dawn tried to keep her eyes open but didn’t have the strength.


***


The next time Dawn awoke, she was sweating. She automatically started kicking off the covers before a movement made her pause. Oh yeah, Buffy was back and she was hurt.

“Dawnie?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m thirsty.”

Dawn rolled over and opened her eyes. Jeremy was sitting in the chair, watching her with a very stern expression.

Oops.

Dawn tried a grin. If anything Jeremy looked even more disapproving. He handed Dawn a glass of water. Dawn accepted it. She was very pleased that her hands only shook a little. Dawn helped Buffy sit up enough to drink. After a couple sips, Buffy laid back exhausted.

“More?” offered Dawn.

“Wait.”

While Dawn was waiting, she snuck a peek at Jeremy. “You didn’t tell me she came back,” Dawn accused.

“You were too hurt to leave your bed.”

Dawn rolled her eyes. “See what I’ve had to put up with?” she asked her sister.

“What a tyrant,” her sister teased in a weak voice. She coughed. Dawn responded by helping her sister up for more water.

“Good?”

Buffy thought about it. “For now. Amber?”

Jeremy answered. “Clayton is feeding her now.”

Dawn handed back the water to Jeremy. “He is a tyrant,” she started. “He’s always wanting me to eat and stay in bed and he restricted my time with Amber. And arguing with him is like yelling at a wall or with Giles without the Ripper part of him swimming inside.”

“Poor baby,” Buffy murmured.

Jeremy handed Dawn a plate full of food and Dawn was pretty sure she saw a glimmer of a smile softening his lips.

“Eat,” he said.

“Eat, eat, eat,” Dawn mimicked. “I swear every time he talks to me, food is somehow involved.”

Her sister chuckled. “Food good.”

Immediately Dawn speared a potato cube and held it to Buffy’s lips. Slowly, laboriously, Buffy opened her mouth to accept the food. Dawn watched carefully to make sure she didn’t choke. Buffy chewed and chewed and finally swallowed.

“More?”

“Wait.”

While Dawn was waiting, she scarfed down the meat and vegetables on the plate. Dawn glanced to Jeremy but he had slipped out in the last moments.

“More?” Dawn asked again.

“I’ll try another.”

Dawn fed her another butter soaked potato, this one cut a little smaller. “Good?”

Buffy finally opened her eyes and smiled. “I’ll be fine.”

“As long as nothing hears about you in this condition and comes hunting,” Dawn grumbled.

“Oz will . . .”

Dawn shook her head. “He took the news of Willow real hard.”

Buffy couldn’t say she expected any different. “Jordy?”

“He was with me when I caught your backlash.”

“I’m sorry.”

Dawn snorted. “For what? I know you were protecting me from the worst of it.”

“I took some of your strength.”

“You borrowed it,” Dawn corrected. “And I offered it for your use.”

“Did I say thanks yet?”

Dawn shook her head in amazement. “You used everything you could to kill your best friend who happened to be on a world destruction path and you’re thanking me?”

“I wasn’t alone, even when I stood against them.”

Dawn didn’t bother to argue with her sister. “More potatoes?”

Buffy was slow replying. “Sure.”

Dawn fed Buffy another bite. “Thanks for not dying, by the way.”

“I heard Amber.”

“I know.”

“It was selfish. I wanted a chance to be her mother.”

“That’s not selfish, Buffy.”

“Was it?”

Dawn decided not to waste her breath. “You’ll be a great mother.”

“Good example,” Buffy whispered.

Dawn watched Buffy fall asleep. “Yes, we had a wonderful example. But you’re still a great mother.”


*