Warnings: Spoilers through Season Five (sort of)
Summary: This is how 'The Pack' would have been if Dawn had been around.
FROM THE DIARY OF DAWN SUMMERS:
...so now, thanks to my mother's brilliance, I have to hang out with Buffy after school instead of with my friends. Like that's fun and exciting. I mean, training? Boring as heck. Although I have to say that watching Mr. Giles get all red in the face and bent over is kinda fun, but it gets old fast.
The only good thing is that some days I get to hang around with Willow. She's so nice, and she doesn't treat me like a kid, you know? And sometimes Xander comes by, too. Xander is so into Buffy, and I just don't get it, because Willow is so much prettier and nicer and smarter and everything. And she totally loves him, you know? They should be together...but a part of me is glad that he's all into my sister, and he doesn't realize how perfect Willow is. Buffy's never gonna give him the time of day, and that means maybe someday he'll notice me.
Yeah, right. Keep dreaming, Summers.
But still - Dawn Harris sounds pretty good...
"Hey Dawn! What's up?" Xander asked as he sauntered into the library and straddled the chair next to her casually. Dawn set aside the book she'd been reading without hesitation. She had been hoping Xander would stop by today, had even dressed in her new favorite dress in anticipation of this encounter. Of course, the only reason it was her new favorite was that it was yellow, which Willow had mentioned was Xander's favorite color. Willow was like a walking encyclopedia of Xander knowledge. As he was her pet subject, and as Dawn spent lots of time with Willow while Buffy was training, Dawn had learned a lot.
"Hi Xander," she said, wincing at how little-girly she sounded.
"Like the dress," Xander's offhand comment made Dawn's heart sing, as he continued, "You must have been driving all the young men crazy. So, what kind of literary nuttiness are we into today?" he asked, picking up her book quickly and absorbing the title with a cocked eyebrow. "'Lord of the Flies.' I think he's in my gym class." Dawn giggled and Xander handed the book back to her with a sigh. "Reading, in a library. Somehow that seems wrong."
"What should I be doing?" Dawn asked, and Xander grinned.
"Maybe...thumb-wrestling!" he said. Dawn giggled and the two of them indulged in the silly game until Buffy, Willow and Giles entered the room. The second he saw her sister Xander released her hand and stood up, struggling for cool and managing only awkwardness. Dawn sighed as she watched his eyes follow Buffy's every move, though her sister somehow remained clueless to the scrutiny. Of course, she barely noticed Willow watching Xander as intently as she herself had been, and Xander didn't realize he was under observation either.
"Why do I have to be punished for things beyond my control?" Buffy complained. Xander looked questioningly at Willow.
"Giles wants her to put in extra training tonight because we've got the field trip tomorrow."
"That's right," Xander said brightly. "Call of the wild. Sunnydale Zoo. Excellent."
"I'd so totally agree if not for my slave driver Watcher here," Buffy said sourly. Giles gave a long-suffering sigh.
"It simply won't do to let your training go...discipline is the key to a successful-"
"Spare me, Confucius. Don't worry, I'm changing." Giles seemed pleasantly surprised at her acquiescence, until she added saucily, "I suddenly see the upside in knocking you around for a few hours."
"A few hours?" Dawn reacted with dismay. "But I don't want to stay here."
"Dawn..." Buffy began, directing her already existing annoyance at her sister. Willow put her arms on Dawn's shoulders, giving her a shy grin.
"It's okay, Buffy. I can walk Dawnie home," Willow offered. "And I can stay until you get there, or your mom gets home..."
Buffy's doubtful look made Xander stand as well.
"And I'll bring the pizza," Xander offered. "We'll have a little pizza party."
"Oh, and I can help you with your trig," Willow said happily.
"Math and parties are antithetical concepts for most of us, Will. Now, Willow having just demonstrated what disqualifies her as chooser of party entertainment," Xander said sardonically, "I'm voting the Dawnster as head of the big party fun committee." Dawn positively glowed at the wink he gave her.
"You guys are the best," Buffy said warmly, and Xander blushed. Dawn rolled her eyes as her sister turned to glare at her. She knew what was coming. "And you better do whatever Willow and Xander tell you...and...just try not to be a pain, alright? And don't break anything!"
"Geez, Buffy, you make it sound like I'm not housetrained or something," Dawn complained, embarrassed. To both Summers women's surprise, Xander put an arm around Dawn's shoulder and gave Buffy a stern look.
"Yeah, she's a kid, not a wild animal, right Dawn?" he said. Dawn nodded mutely, a goofy grin plastered on her face. The feel of his arm draped around her shoulder made it easy for her to simply ignore that he'd just called her a kid. She felt so mature and womanly this way...
She stuck her tongue out at her sister as they left.
Now they understood what they were.
They had been together for some time, realizing that they were stronger together. Using that strength to bully their weaker classmates. Insults usually; sometimes more...physical kinds of domination. Rules weren't just made to be broken, they were challenges, designed to instigate thrills. The kinds of thrills that you had to experience as a group...they belonged together, were a part of something. That was all that mattered.
They had brought the stupid weakling against his will into this forbidden place...there would be violence here. Rules broken, maybe even blood spilled. But then they felt the call. And when the other came to interfere, rather than disrupt the group he became a part of it, as if he had always been. The animals within them howled in recognition. He knew them now, as they knew him. One of their own. One of their kind.
They belonged together. They were a part of something. That was all that mattered.
"Hey, thanks again for watching Dawn last night," Buffy said as she and Willow waited a bit less than patiently for Xander to emerge from the off-limits hyena exhibit.
"Oh, it was fun, Buffy. We Milton-Bradleyed Dawn into a stupor, she was out like a light. And then Xander and I did some studying."
"You pretended you were on a date, didn't you," Buffy teased knowingly as the two girls took a seat on a bench with a good view of the hyena exhibit.
"Yeah...only with baby-sitting and math," Willow confirmed excitedly. "Once, when I told him he got a right answer, he hugged me and I smelled the garlic on his breath." Off Buffy's look of amused disgust, she buried her head in her hands. "I'm hopeless, right? Buffy, I need help."
"At the risk of out-Giles-ing Giles in the category of mind-numbing repetitiveness, you're never going to have a chance with Xander if you don't take one."
"I know, you're right. And I'll tell him how I feel...sometime before I collect Social Security," Willow sighed. "Sometimes I wish I was still a kid like Dawn. In her case it's just love of the puppy variety."
"Yeah, it must be nice to...know what the heck you're talking about."
Willow stared incredulously at her friend.
"Come on, Buffy, you know...Dawn...likes Xander. Really really likes." An almost comic series of emotions played across Buffy's face, ending with disbelief.
"She's just a kid," Buffy protested weakly.
"Need I even say the words New Kids on the Block? Xander's totally Dawn's Jordan Knight." Both girls sighed dreamily, lost in memories for a moment before Willow continued, "It's just a phase. Don't tease her about it, Buffy. And don't say anything to Xander, I don't think he has a clue."
"I don't like it," Buffy groused. "Dawn's got a crush on my best guy friend...you just know that's gotta spell trouble."
Dawn almost skipped onto Sunnydale High campus until she remembered she was trying to appear more adult. Instead she swung her hips widely in a failed attempt to imitate Buffy's effortless grace. In spite of her distraction she quickly registered that there weren't as many students around as usual, and the ones that were around were huddled in little groups of intense sadness. Dawn figured it was more misery courtesy of the Hellmouth; the mourning of the latest coed victim of impromptu neck rupture or whatever.
Which didn't explain why the hackles on her neck rose as soon as she started down the unnaturally quiet hall. Dawn couldn't explain why the echoing sound of her footsteps made her heart beat so fast. She found herself trying to move soundlessly, looking over her shoulder at the empty hallway behind her. The sensation was inexplicable and strange but completely unmistakable.
Someone was watching her.
Dawn resisted the urge to run, but picked up her pace. She stole a glance behind her when she heard a strange inhuman laugh echo through the hallway, but she saw no one. When she looked back around she plowed into someone, giving a little scream as someone grabbed hold of her arms. She sagged in relief when she saw who it was.
"Xander! I'm glad to see you. I think something's...someone was following me."
"Really?" Xander drawled, a small strange smile on his face as he stared at her intently. Dawn frowned nervously.
"Yes...I mean, I thought so...someone laughed, it was all weird. I think they're gone. You probably scared them away." When Xander didn't move or react other than to continue to smile at her, she tittered nervously. "You, ummm, you can let go of my arms now." He continued to stare at her with that little smile, and Dawn felt fear tickle across her stomach, something she never thought she would feel with Xander. "Xander, I said let go of me. You're hurting me!"
"Sorry," Xander said mildly, his tone completely insincere. He leaned in towards Dawn, who instinctively shrunk back as he audibly sniffed, looking disdainful.
"What are you doing? Xander, let me go!" Dawn squeaked, starting to struggle in earnest. Xander seemed to be enjoying her squirming and imperceptibly landed kicks. "Buffy!" Dawn wailed desperately.
"You know," he said softly, ignoring her as he propelled her roughly by the arms, nearly pushing her into an open locker, "all I ever wanted was her. But I was too weak for her. Too nice. She doesn't want a nice guy." He leaned in to smell her again, almost purring into her ear, "But it's okay now. I'm not nice anymore."
"Wh-what happened to you?" she asked falteringly. He smiled down at her, releasing one of her arms to move his hand to her face, brushing her hair almost gently off it. Dawn found herself unable to look away from Xander's fixed cold stare. His eyes were filled with some kind of odd wanting.
"I saw the error of my ways. You know, I think it's good that you learn this now, Dawn, while you're so young, and," he leaned in for a long sniff, "fresh. The world doesn't reward the nice and weak. It's survival of the fittest, and finally I'm one of the survivors."
"I don't understand. What's wrong with you? I...I don't like you like this." she whispered, tears threatening. He raised an amused eyebrow.
"Wow. Dawnie doesn't like me. No more puppy-dog eyes, no more little hearts with my name and yours intertwined in your notebook...yeah, I knew about that," Xander drawled at her shocked and wounded expression. "It's okay, Dawnie. Because, you see, I still like you...in fact, I think I like you even better now. Know why?" He grinned. Almost like his old smile, only now it was different, predatory...
"Because now you're..."
Dawn suddenly recognized the look he'd been giving her. Her knees threatened to give way.
The animal with Xander's face snarled.
Dawn screamed like she had never screamed before.
Xander smiled at Dawn, his eyes glowing as he smacked his lips ravenously. Her knees finally failed her and she sagged, just as Xander's head snapped up. He sniffed the air curiously, and his smile widened. Dawn slumped momentarily, falling against the lockers, then began inching away. She was trying desperately to stay quiet, but couldn’t seem to stop whimpering. Xander didn’t notice; something else was holding his attention.
"Buffy," he purred, breathing deep and taking in her scent. The scent of his mate. She would be, before the day was out. He knew it. She hadn't seen him that way before, when he was weak and nice, but now...
Now he was just what Buffy wanted.
He was so engrossed in his fantasy that he didn't immediately realize that dinner was running wildly down the hall. Xander eyed the retreating girl lazily for a moment, then sauntered off in leisurely pursuit. He knew Buffy was nearby, getting closer. He had less desire to settle for Dawn, but her fear exhilarated him.
Dawn wanted to scream, but didn't have the necessary air in her lungs. She wanted to check to see how close Xander was, but was too afraid. Instead she just ran, down seemingly endless corridors until she ran into familiar and welcome arms. Buffy steadied her sister, her face drawn with concern.
"Dawn! What happened?"
"Buf...Buffy," Dawn panted, almost fainting in relief. "Xan...Xander..." To Dawn's mingled relief and dismay, Buffy's expression made it clear she already knew about Xander.
"Did he hurt you?" she demanded. Dawn managed to shake her head, feeling her breathing start to normalize.
"I'm...okay. What...what’s going...on? Why is Xander...?" Dawn struggled with a term for what Xander was, gesturing helplessly. When Buffy answered, she seemed to be choosing her words very carefully. Dawn knew that meant things were worse than her sister wanted her to believe.
"It's a long story. Xander is ...sick...but we're going to make him better. You go to the library. Willow and Giles are there. Stay there and wait for me."
"But-" Dawn tried to protest, but her sister cut her off, practically pushing her down the hall.
"Go! Hurry!" Buffy hissed. Dawn knew that commanding tone, even though it was rarely directed towards her. It was times like this she became fully aware of how different her sister had become since she learned she was the Slayer. Dawn wanted to run, but her legs felt like they would collapse. She half-ran, half-walked until she reached the library, bursting through the library doors, again out of breath. She grabbed hold of a chair, the room starting to swim towards blackness. Willow turned from her computer screen, startled. She hurried over and grabbed the younger girl's shoulders to support her. Dawn flinched at the contact and Willow dropped her hands.
"Dawnie? What happened?"
"Xander..." Dawn panted, then didn't know how to continue. She couldn't yet process what had happened; it was still too unbelievable. Willow was looking her over almost frantically. *She's looking for bite marks,* Dawn thought suddenly, swaying again. Willow steadied her and led her to a chair, gently pushing her into a sitting position and placing her head between her knees.
"Take deep breaths, deep as you can. Are you hurt?" Willow inquired gently, frowning with worry.
"No. I'm okay...Buffy said Xander's sick. I think...I think he was going to try to eat me."
"Oh God," Willow said, paling.
"Willow, what's going on?" Dawn lifted her head and followed Willow's gaze back to the computer screen. There was some kind of nature film playing, a bunch of strange animals running around. She winced as they attacked an animal carcass. "What are those things?"
"Hyenas," Willow said. "We think Xander might have a small case of hyena possession."
"Oh," Dawn said dazedly, not sure how to react to that news.
"But it's gonna be temporary,” Willow insisted, her tone hopeful but unsure. “I mean, it's not really temporary, but we're working on it. We're going to help him."
"What can I do?"
"Well..." Willow began doubtfully, the sounds of the library doors slamming open making the answer temporarily moot. Buffy was dragging an unconscious Xander in, clearly freaked but trying to hide it.
"What happened?" Dawn squealed, seeing her sister's somewhat disheveled appearance.
"Oh, God, Buffy, he isn't...I mean, you didn't..." Willow added in a low voice, unable to take her eyes off of Xander's almost peaceful expression as Buffy dragged him into the library cage and locked the door. Buffy shook her head breathlessly.
"He'll be fine...I just had to knock a little unconsciousness into him. With a desk."
"Did he try to eat you?" Dawn asked anxiously. Buffy looked up with a strange expression.
"Not exactly. Let's just say that wasn't the only basic biological need that Lind-o Blair here wanted to fill...and you're not old enough to hear about it."
"I'm old enough. You mean that you and he...eww!" Dawn said, scrunching her nose. "Gross," she pronounced.
"Oh, Buffy, the hyena in him didn't...?" Willow stammered, eyes wide in horror. Buffy hastily shook her head, smiling reassuringly even as she rubbed the fresh bruises on her arms.
"Nope. It's amazing how discouraging a desk can be. To think they never taught us that in life science class.” Buffy smiled wider, but her eyes were serious and still a bit afraid. “He's strong, though. Must be the hyena. Weird and not of the good." For a second her smile faltered altogether, then she finished assuredly, looking pointedly at her sister's still-ashen face. "The cage'll hold him...where's Giles?" Buffy was surprised at how badly she wanted her Watcher right now. The incident with Xander had left her more shaken than she wanted to admit.
Willow responded, "He got called to some teacher's meeting."
"What are we gonna do? I mean, how do we get Xander back?" Dawn asked, never taking her eyes off of the unconscious boy. Buffy eyed her sister and her friend with a thoughtful frown.
"Right now I'm a little more worried about what the rest of the pack are up to," she replied as Giles entered the library, looking a bit paler than usual.
"The rest of the pack were spotted outside Herbert the mascot's cage. They were sent to the principal's office."
"Good, that'll show 'em," Willow enthused, then seeing Giles' grim expression, added weakly. "Did it show 'em?" Catching on to the gravity of the situation, Buffy turned to Dawn brightly.
"I think you should go into Giles' office for a few minutes."
"What? No. I want to know about Xander. What did the principal do? Is Xander in trouble? Who's Herbert the mascot?"
"I think that Buffy is right, Dawn. I don't really think you're...the things we have to discuss are not really appropriate..."
"Oh, like it's less appropriate than Buffy's hyena sexfest with Xander?"
Giles stared for a moment, then blinked.
"P-pardon?" he said in a small voice. Buffy glared at her sister.
"Dawn!" she said, her tone brooking no argument. Dawn tossed her head sulkily.
"Fine. I'm going. But I'm still gonna tell Mom you and Xander were having wild hyena sex." With that parting shot, Dawn flounced into Giles' office and slammed the door. Buffy shook her head vehemently, trying to get her emotions back under control.
"We were not...never mind. What happened with Principal Flutie? He's okay, right? They didn't hurt him?"
"The pack...I'm afraid...they ate him." Suddenly unable to feel her legs, Willow slumped into a nearby chair. Buffy blinked at Giles in disbelief.
"They ate Principal Flutie?" she repeated dully.
"Ate him up?" Willow said in a small, shocked voice, trying to process this information through her overwhelming sense of horror.
"The, uh, official theory is that...wild dogs got into his office somehow. There was no one at the scene," Giles said, polishing his glasses and looking down, unable to meet their stunned gazes.
"But Xander didn't. He tried to eat Dawn but Buffy stopped him, and then he was with her," Willow said in desperate triumph.
"NOT 'with me' in the having wild hyena...you know..." Buffy said quickly. Giles gave Buffy a sharp look before sighing.
"Yes, ah, small mercies, on both counts."
"Giles, how do we stop this? How do you trans-possess someone?" the Slayer pleaded.
"I-I'm afraid I still don't have all the pieces. The accounts of the Primals and their methods are a bit thin on the ground. There is some talk of a-a-a predatory act, but the exact ritual is, is, ummm..." His brow furrowed in thought, Giles picked up a book and began flipping pages. "The Malleus Maleficarum deals in particulars of demonic possession, which... may apply...yes, one, one should be able to transfer the spirits to another human."
"Oh, that's great. Any volunteers?" Buffy answered sarcastically, and Giles colored.
"Right. Good point."
"What we need to do is put the hyena back in the hyena." Buffy paced a bit, then whirled, caught up in a sudden thought. "Betcha that zookeeper could tell us. Maybe he didn't quarantine those hyenas because they were sick."
"We should talk to him," Giles agreed.
"Okay," Buffy said, starting for the door, then stopping short. "Wait, someone needs to watch Xander. And Dawn, I can't leave Dawn."
"I'll stay here with Dawn, and keep an eye on Xander, too," Willow piped up in a small voice. Buffy looked torn between gratitude and doubt.
"Will, are you sure? If he wakes up..."
"The cage will hold him. We'll be fine," Willow said firmly, holding her hand out for the key to the cage. After another moment of hesitation, Buffy placed the keys in Willow's hand, giving it a soft squeeze at the same time. Willow gave her a faltering but sincere smile.
"I don't want to leave you alone with him," Willow said firmly. Xander had yet to move from Buffy's special desk-induced attitude adjustment, and they hadn't yet heard from Buffy or Giles. Dawn had finished her homework and was now eyeing her babysitter with exaggerated patience.
"That’s okay. I'll go."
"No!" Willow said quickly.
"Willow, I'm dying of thirst, and the soda machine's just down the hall. It'll only take a minute."
"I said no. You need to stay here," Willow slowly stated, coming to an uncomfortable decision. "I...I'll go get us sodas. I'll get one for Xander, too, in case he's.... But you need to promise me you'll stay away from that cage. No matter what."
"Trust me, I have no desire to go near him right now. Tried to eat me, remember?" At Willow’s look of skepticism, She rolled her eyes and gave an exaggerated sigh. “I promise to stay away from the cage. Scout’s honor.”
“You’re not a scout,” Willow rejoined seriously, only her eyes betraying her amusement. Dawn grinned.
“Fine. Slayer’s sister’s honor. Okay?”
"Okay," Willow breathed, still uncertain. "I'll be right back. Just don't..."
"Sitting. Quiet. Thirsty. Not going near the cage," Dawn said, sitting near Willow's computer and looking innocent. Willow gave her one more dubious look, then headed down the hall.
Dawn turned and saw Xander rolling onto his side so that he faced her, wincing painfully. In spite of her promise she stood and took a step towards the cage before stopping herself.
"Xander. How do you feel?" she asked, unable to keep her voice from shaking. Or from sounding hopeful.
"Like someone hit me with a desk," he moaned, then immediately looked confused. "What am I doing here?"
"Buffy thought you'd be...safer..." Dawn said, surprised to find herself lying, and even more surprised that it was coming out so lame. Xander looked wounded, and Dawn took another step towards the cage without thinking.
"You guys got me locked up now?" he said, not really asking it as a question. Dawn blushed and said nothing. "What's the matter, Dawnie? It's me, remember?"
"You...you're not yourself right now, Xander," Dawn said, with just the slightest shade of doubt. He seemed a bit more intense than normal, but other than that he seemed to be the Xander she knew. Her Xander. Not like he was before. He closed his eyes briefly before locking gazes with her again, his expression earnest.
"I know...there's a problem, Dawn, and I know I scared you. I didn't mean to...but I'm not going to get better in here."
"But Buffy-" she protested, and he slammed his palms against the cage door angrily, making the metal rattle. Dawn instinctively took a step back.
"God, Buffy! Buffy's not helping, don't you see? She thinks she can just boss everyone around, make decisions and everyone has to do what she says because she's the Slayer. Shouldn't this be my decision? I can't just sit around getting worse because Buffy thinks she knows everything, Dawn. I need to get out of here. Please, you’ve got to help me."
"Buffy is trying to help you, Xander. She is," Dawn protested faintly. Xander shook his head and tilted his head forward, his eyes searching hers for something. Dawn didn’t even realize she took a step forward this time.
"You're the only one that can help me. I don’t need Buffy. I need you, Dawnie. Please."
"I...I can't," she whispered.
Another step closer.
"Look, if I'm so dangerous, how come they left you alone with me, huh?"
"We didn't." Willow stood stiffly in the doorway, holding two sodas. She locked eyes with Xander. "Dawn, back away from the cage."
Dawn suddenly realized how close she had come and retreated to the safety of the table. Willow set the sodas down and approached Xander, her eyes uncertain.
"I wasn't gonna hurt her, Will. I'd never hurt her, or you. You're my girls, aren't you?"
"Everything's gonna be okay, Xander. We're gonna help you," Willow answered, searching his eyes. Xander smiled, leaning his head on the metal mesh.
"Yes! I knew I could count on you guys. Now let me out and we'll figure this thing out together. The three of us."
"I think he's better," Dawn said softly, as Willow moved closer, her eyes locked with her best friend‘s. At the last possible moment she saw Xander reaching for her and moved away, leaving him swiping at air.
"I'm guessing not," Willow said coldly, crossing back to Dawn quickly, her back to Xander so that he couldn’t see her disappointment. “Are you all right?” she asked Dawn, seeing the girl was trembling.
"Yeah." Dawn’s answer was nearly drowned out by Xander's violent rattling of the cage door. Willow whirled around, her arm going around Dawn’s shoulders.
"Let me out! Let me out!" he screamed, and the two girls both flinched, backing away. He shook the door again, the grating metal sound filling the library.
"The cage will hold," Willow said to Dawn, and they both pretended she sounded confident when she said it.
Just as Buffy had suspected, the zookeeper did notice something wrong about the hyenas and had quarantined them because of it. And, even better, he had studied some of the same African Primal whatever stuff as Giles, which meant that they were trying every last ounce of Buffy's already in short supply patience. Finally the zookeeper said the words for which Buffy had been hoping.
"Look. I think we may have enough information so that together we could pull off a reverse trans-possession."
"What do we do?" Buffy asked, all business.
"We've gotta get those possessed students over to the hyena cage right away. I'll meet you there. We can begin the rituals," the zookeeper responded, his eyes alight with purpose.
"W-we can guarantee one of them, but there are four more, and we have no idea where they are," Buffy admitted. The zookeeper shook his head dismissively.
"No, I wouldn't worry about that. After hyenas feed and rest they will track the missing member of their pack until they find him. They should come right to you."
Buffy turned to Giles, a look of sheer panic on her face.
"Dawnie! And Willow!"
"Willow.." Xander called mockingly, and enjoyed the sight of her back tensing. She and Dawn were ostensibly reading, drinking their sodas, but they couldn't help but be aware of him, the boy that was now an animal that would sooner tear them to pieces as look at them.
"Just ignore him," Dawn said, echoing the advice that Willow had given her just a moment earlier.
"Dawnie..." Xander cooed.
"We're not listening," Willow called out firmly, not turning around.
Neither girl noticed the two high windows slipping open just a crack, or saw the faces of the other pack members pressed against the glass, grinning hideously.
"Willow..." cooed their leader, Kyle, mimicking Xander's sing-song tone. "Dawnie..."
"Shut up, Xander!" Dawn said tightly. A moment later shattering glass made both girls turn and scream as one. One by one the four other possessed teens dropped through the broken windows, as Willow grabbed Dawn's arm in panic.
"Dawn, come on!" she cried. The two girls flung themselves down the hall, Dawn with an incredible sense of déjà vu. Behind them they could hear hooting and the tearing of metal, and Willow suspected that the cage, after all, would not hold. They skidded to a stop at the hallway intersection.
"Which way?" Dawn panted. Without a word, Willow turned right, still holding Dawn by the hand. She ran to a nearby classroom and pulled on the door, finding it locked. Panic tightened her chest as Dawn gave a soft whimper. Together they moved to another door and Willow almost fainted in relief when it opened easily. She pushed the young girl into the classroom and pulled the door shut as quietly as she could.
"What-" Dawn panted, and Willow quickly held a finger over her mouth. She pushed Dawn gently through the darkened classroom and ducked behind a desk with her, holding her close. The only sound at first was their panicked breathing, then they heard Xander's mocking voice in the hall.
"Wil-low! Daw-nie!" Xander called out mockingly as he confidently stalked the hallway with his fellow pack members. They split up at the intersection. Dawn could hear the footsteps of at least two of the hyena-possessed teens coming towards them and tried to calm her breathing. Looking into Willow's eyes, she saw the same fear and the same conviction that she herself had.
Xander was going to find them.
The two girls silently flinched as they heard the door bang open. They could hear footsteps step into the room and stop, and they held their collective breath. Then they heard the steps slowly walk out. The door closed. Dawn sagged against Willow in relief. After another long moment they crawled out of their hiding place and stood...and saw Xander blocking the door, a cruel, triumphant smile on his face. Dawn screamed as he lunged for them. Willow pushed Dawn behind her and grabbed at the desk for anything that she could use as a defensive weapon, grabbing a textbook that she threw underhanded. Xander ducked the missile easily and kept coming. They continued moving back, Willow knocking over desks to slow Xander down, knowing she couldn’t stop him, realizing that she was inexorably backing them into a corner, that this would shortly be over for them.
"Take me, Xander. Let Dawn go," she begged. "I know you don't really want to hurt her." Xander laughed, the sound so malicious that Dawn began to cry.
"Ah, Will. That's so...you, you know? You always think you know what's going on in my head. And you're always...so...wrong."
He tensed to spring, and Dawn screamed. Then in a blur the door was kicked open. Buffy ran in, holding a fire extinguisher over her head with both hands. She bashed Xander from behind, knocking him to the floor. The Slayer tossed aside her makeshift weapon and dragged the dazed boy out into the hallway. Giles ran inside, Buffy at his heels, and the two barricaded the door, holding it closed. Dawn and Willow joined them, wincing as all the possessed teens pounded on it, howling in frustration. Finally the beating ceased and they heard the pack clambering down the hall. The four looked at each other wearily, and Dawn ran without thinking into her sister's arms.
"They could be faking," Willow said in a small voice. Buffy shook her head, shaking in her intense gratitude that somehow the two of them were unharmed. She had feared the worst when they had seen the busted cage in the library.
"No, they're hungry. They'll be looking for somebody weak. Willow, I am so sorry. I didn't know they would come after Xander." Buffy took her sister's head in her hands, begging for forgiveness with her eyes. "I'm sorry, Dawn."
"It's okay," Willow said. "We're okay."
"Yeah," Dawn agreed with a shaky laugh. “We’re tough.”
"We must lead them back to the zoo if we're going to stop this," Giles said suddenly, his eyes conveying apologies to Willow and Dawn before settling on the Slayer. Buffy reluctantly released her sister, a fresh bout of anger began fueling her resolve.
"And before their next meal. Guess that's my job, huh?"
Giles flashed her a look of warning.
"Individually they're almost as strong as you. As a group they're..."
"They're tough, but they're getting stupider." She drew herself up, stealing one last look at her sister before moving to the door. "Take Dawnie home and get to the zoo. I'll get them there."
Before any of them could say more she was gone. Giles gently placed his hand on Dawn’s arm, but she shook him off.
"Come on, we must hurry," Giles insisted.
"Take me with you," Dawn demanded. The Watcher shook his head.
"No, Dawn. It's going to be far too dangerous."
"You can’t take me home! There’s no time. We have to get to the zoo to help Buffy. A-and Xander!"
"Now, Dawn, you have to-"
"I know how you feel, Dawnie," Willow said softly, cutting off Giles. Dawn looked into the girl's weary face and knew that was the truth. Willow's fear for Xander and determination to help Buffy were exactly what Dawn herself was feeling. The young brunette nodded as Willow continued, "The best way you can help Buffy is by letting Giles take you home. She needs to know that you’re out of danger, after everything that‘s happened today. And if Xander...if you got hurt, I know he'd never forgive himself either."
Dawn looked down at her feet for a long moment, then sighed.
"Okay. Take me home," she relented. Giles smiled, his expression growing somewhat uncertain when Dawn added, "Under one condition..."
“Buffy, it’s a trap!” Willow squeaked as the Slayer skidded to a stop, seeing her friend held helpless by the zookeeper, a knife at her throat. Before she could react Xander had reached her, knocked her down, falling with her. Buffy felt the other four land on top of her, growling ferociously. Then the zookeeper shouted words she didn’t understand. The teenagers’ eyes flashed, and the zookeeper dropped the knife, growling as he moved closer to Willow, teeth bared, ready to bite...
“Willow!” Xander shouted, rushing at the zookeeper and knocking him away from Willow. The other teens began trying to escape, and Buffy regained her feet, seeing the zookeeper punch Xander, sending him reeling. She returned the favor. Moments later, the man went flying over the railing into the hyena pit, and flailed, screaming. Buffy ran to try to pull him free, but it was too late. Xander cradled Willow with one arm while he worked at untying her bonds, and a slightly unsteady Giles appeared at a side entrance, holding the back of his head.
“Did I miss anything?” the librarian asked, tongue in cheek. Buffy rolled her eyes.
“Ummm, guys?” Xander asked, his tone subdued and meek. He pointed at Giles. “What he said.”
“You don’t remember?” Willow asked, and Xander shook his head emphatically. Giles looked thoughtful as Buffy smiled.
“You haven’t exactly been yourself,” she said slowly. “We can fill you in on the particulars in the morning, but the important thing is you didn’t hurt anyone.”
“Okay,” Xander said dazedly.
“Yep, I’m just fine. And so is Dawn,” Willow added soothingly. Xander looked even more stricken.
"Come in," Dawn said at the soft knock at the door. The door swung open, but Xander didn't step inside. Hands in pockets, he peered in at her from the hallway, the light pooling around him in a halo effect. He cleared his throat awkwardly.
"Hey," he said softly.
"Xander! Are you okay?" Dawn scooted to the end of her bed closest to the door, but didn't go to the door. Xander sighed, all too aware of the reason why.
"I'm okay. I don't remember...Will said I scared you pretty bad."
"It wasn't you," Dawn said, her voice trembling just a bit. "You'd never hurt me."
"That's right," Xander said. "I know it's going to take some time, but I hope you'll be able to...trust me...know what? I should go. It's - ooof!"
The impact of the eleven year-old torpedo at his midsection made Xander take a step back. He looked down and smiled, the first real smile since he’d lost the hyena. Dawn's head was on his chest, her arms wrapped around his midsection in a crushing hug.
"I'm glad you're you again," Dawn said, her voice muffled by his shirt. She pulled away, her nose wrinkling. "But you stink bad." She made a show of holding her breath.
"Sorry. Guess it's too much eau de zoo." He frowned in mock annoyance at her puffed out cheeks and red face. "Okay, I get the point! I'm going." Dawn exhaled in a rush, laughing. He shook his head and chuckled along, then met her gaze seriously. "We're good, right?" he asked a bit anxiously. Dawn nodded vigorously.
Xander grinned, reaching out and touching her hair, then giving it a light teasing tug.
"Happiness. Cause, you know, what would I do if I lost my Dawnie?"
Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked down the hall. Dawn stood frozen in place for a long moment, before finally making a small delighted squeak.
FROM THE DIARY OF DAWN SUMMERS:
I still can’t believe it! He called me his Dawnie.
It made the whole almost being killed and eaten thing worthwhile, you know? Well, okay, almost. But that part doesn’t really matter, because he doesn’t remember doing that, and probably never will...and it wasn’t really him, you know? Not my Xander.