By Estepheia and Marcee
Part 32 - Pigeon on the fence
Well, to tell the truth, so was he. He was simply better at hiding his feelings under a veneer of professional detachment. Unfortunately, he had no idea how to cheer up a sad and frightened teenager. He felt another one of those unprofessional surges of emotion that habitually threatened to cloud his better judgment. He still wasn't comfortable with the way his paternal feelings always manage to sidestep his rational composure. Perhaps a few words of encouragement were in order. "Dawn?"
She flinched and looked up from her pad.
"Not to worry," Giles said, loud enough for Anya to hear, too. "I'm certain we'll have all three of them back in no time."
Dawn relaxed visibly, but her heart was still racing. For a moment she'd thought he'd somehow found her out, read it in her face or something. She nodded and forced a smile. "Yeah, I know," she said, when really she was so scared it made her want to scream. Scared of being caught; scared of being pushed away, if she were exposed; scared of losing Buffy again, for good this time; scared of losing Xander and Spike, too; scared of so many things. It all boiled down to one big knot of fear and resentment. If Giles or the others really cared about her, shouldn't they somehow sense that something was wrong? *I'm being blackmailed and he doesn't even notice!*
"Good good," Giles mumbled, already focusing on other things, namely an idea that had just popped into his mind. While he didn't think that it was a smart idea to leave Dawn and Anya marinating in their gloom, there was still one more avenue of investigation he felt he ought to explore. He stood and collected his printouts. As he tidied the pile and placed it neatly into a folder, he called:
"Anya, with Maeve to keep you company, would you be able to look after the shop and take care of Dawn for a while? Something just occurred to me and I would like to check it out right away..."
"What is it?" the young woman asked. "If it's to do with a spell, maybe I can help."
"Nothing of the sort," the Watcher replied hastily. "I should think there's been enough spellcasting already. Anyway, this shouldn't take long. I trust you and Maeve will be fine for an hour or so."
Dawn followed the exchange with growing resentment, feeling left out and annoyed at how everybody talked as if she weren't there. It was so unfair. No one gave her anything useful to do. No research, no magic for her. When the door chime marked the Watcher's departure, Dawn was actually relieved.
No longer pretending to do her homework, she checked on what Anya and Maeve were doing. Anya was squatting behind the counter, organizing books and paperwork on the shelf below the cash register. Occasionally, Dawn could see the top of the ex-demon's head, but mostly she just heard her rummaging around. Maeve was crouched on the floor near the new window, carefully arranging crystals on glass shelves, where the light of the afternoon sun made them sparkle alluringly.
Neither Anya nor Maeve were paying attention to Dawn. Even so, the teenager had the disconcerting feeling, no, the knowledge that she was being watched. From one of the shelves, the replica of a human skull seemed to be staring at her maliciously. It was hard not to scan for the hidden camera she knew was there - or thereabouts. Hard to keep from staring straight at the spying headpiece. *How long have they been watching?* she wondered. *What else have they seen?*
She surreptitiously closed her notebook and wandered about the shop. She let her fingers drag lightly over random items on shelves and tables as she glanced over her shoulder. *Now, where is that book?* She remembered that Giles had taken it with him to the shop this morning. But he hadn't taken any books with him just now, only his folder.
Another thought stopped her in her tracks. *Where else do they have cameras? In my house? In my room?* She shuddered. When the creepy guy had shown her the photos she hadn't really been thinking straight, but now she remembered that two of the shots had been taken in Willow and Tara's room. *If there's a camera in their room... ew! I have to tell them!* Except she couldn't. Because then she'd have to tell them how she knew about the spyware, about the pictures and Willow's scarf and Anya's earrings. No way! *The book. Concentrate on finding the book!*
There were two places she could think of, Giles's secret drawer behind the counter, where he used to hide his notes, or the office.
If the book was in Giles' office, she'd have to pass both Anya and Maeve to get there. *And what good excuse can I use for going in there?* She's stolen plenty of stuff before; it was never a big deal. But if they outright asked her what she was doing, she'd actually have to lie to their faces and it would have to be believable. Buffy was easy to trick, but Anya might be harder to convince. Dawn suddenly felt a flicker of doubt. She paused in her scheming, a pang of guilt seeping into her conscious. *If I get Buffy back, I promise I won't ever lie to her again,* she pledged silently. She felt wetness in her eyes and took a deep breath.
*They're watching me. I have to take it. It's no big deal. It's just a book,* she tried to convince herself. But her usual nobody's-gonna-miss-it attitude didn't work in this case. This was different. The book WOULD be missed. She tried to push the thought away.
She wandered toward the office slowly, internally devising a reason for going there just in case she was asked. *Cleaning. I'm going in there to dust. Yea, like they'll believe that.* She reconsidered, *I left a book in there that I need for math. That's not bad.*
Maeve looked up at her as she passed. The girl-who-looked-like-Buffy smiled. Dawn smiled back, but it took great effort. *Buffy trusts me. She has no idea. If I don't give them the book it'll all come out and everybody will freak and tell her when she comes back and then Buffy will freak too, and I'll be grounded till forever...* The Slayer's sister paused, took a deep breath and looked down at her sneakers. *But what if I give them the book and they do something with it, like, make sure Buffy never comes back...* A tear slipped from her eye and plopped gracelessly onto floor.
Maeve was at her side in an instant. "What is wrong? Are you hurt?" she asked.
"Something's wrong? What's wrong?" Anya was out from behind the counter almost instantaneously. "Dawn, are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she answered quickly. She didn't want the spies to think she had changed her mind. Dawn looked up into the concerned faces of her friends and used all of her effort to keep from breaking down into tears. Quietly, and with her back toward the skull, she said, "There's something I have to tell you guys..."
Giles knocked firmly.
"Who is it?" an anxious voice could be heard.
"My name is Rupert Giles. We met the other day, when you delivered a letter to me."
The door was opened. "I would like to inform you that I'm not going to invite you in," Charlie Willoughby said. He was holding a cross between him and his visitor. Giles made the mental arithmetic.
"Spike was here." It wasn't a question.
Charlie Willoughby nodded.
Dawn's eyes were wet with tears she refused to let fall. She'd told Anya and Maeve that there was something important she needed to tell everyone but she wasn't ready to spill just then. After Giles returned, she suggested they meet Willow and Tara at the ice cream parlor.
"I just didn't want to go where people could..." she lowered her voice, "spy on us."
"What do you mean?" Willow asked.
"People know where we live. They know where we work. They're watching."
"Dawn, what are you talking about?" Giles sounded concerned. "Who's watching?"
They were sitting in a neon-lit ice-cream parlor. Not the one they usually visited, close to the Magic Box, but one they hadn't been to before. The only one who was still eating was Maeve, but only because Anya had insisted that she mustn't return to her own time without having tried both a chocolate sundae and a banana split first. Maeve had stared into the cold glass cases, mesmerized by the sheer number of flavors and colors available before Anya made the decision for her.
"Some guy," Dawn answered. "He came up to me on the street. He knew things."
"What did he look like?" Willow asked.
"Really creepy. About that high," Dawn held out her hand, "beady eyes, almost bald. He looked kinda familiar. A bit like that big-eared barkeep on one of those Star Trek series Xander used to watch, the one with the space station, except without the ears and stuff. I mean he looked human."
"Quark," Anya interrupted.
"I beg your pardon?" Giles said.
"The guy with the big ears, his name is Quark. Xander owns a signed picture of him." She blew her nose, once again overcome by worry over the fate of her not-yet-official fiancé.
"I remember," Willow suddenly said. "He showed me the autograph. He'd only bought it because he thought it was neat how much the guy looked like Principal Snyder. At least that's what he said." She smiled wistfully, knowing that Xander owned a lot more merchandizing stuff than he liked to let on, like Star Wars models and Klingon dictionaries, not to mention a Backstreet Boys lunchbox. Xander wouldn't be Xander without his geek-y treasures, she thought fondly, before the sobering memory of his current situation made her concentrate on the problem at hand.
"Principal Snyder! But he's dead!" Dawn exclaimed. "Mayor Wilkins ate him when he turned into a big snake demon, right?"
"Yes, he's dead." Willow said. "The whole class of `99 was there when it happened - plenty of witnesses."
"Well, the guy who's blackmailing me didn't look very dead to me."
"Maybe he's a zombie," Anya offered. "Or someone resurrected him. Snyder could have a twin brother nobody knows about. Or..."
"Dawn, you still haven't told us what he is blackmailing you with," Giles said gently. "It was very brave of you to come forward and tell us. I can't tell you how proud I am. But if we are supposed to find out who the man was and what his motives are, we need to know everything he said and we also need to know what he's threatening you with. We can't afford to take any risks. With the necessity to summon the temporal portal on time to get Buffy and the others back we have to eliminate all possible threats."
"And then there was a necklace from that boutique in the mall..."
When she started her confession, the words spouted out between blubbers, sniffles and tear-wipings, but after a few minutes, Dawn began ticking items off at a pace that rivaled the most experienced auctioneers.
"Oh, and a few lipsticks and nail polishes from the drug store. Remember that one with the sparkles?"
The Scoobies listened to Dawn's laundry list with growing horror. That horror turned to rage when Dawn began reporting the items she'd taken from the Magic Box.
"There was a medallion and a crystal..."
"You stole from me?" Anya shouted.
Dawn shrunk into her seat. "I...I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Anya chastised. "You stole! From me! You're a thief and a liar!"
"Anya, calm down," Giles cautioned, although he too felt intensely disappointed.
"She stole from us, Giles. From us!"
"Yes, and she just told us about it, which I'm sure wasn't easy," Tara interrupted sharply. Everybody looked at her in varying degrees of surprise. Only Willow's face showed a proprietary smile and Dawn's showed extreme gratitude.
"It- It's not like we're all without fault ourselves," Tara continued, hunching her shoulders under the weight of everybody's attention. "Remember when I cast that spell on everybody, made you demon-blind? I mean, sometimes you just do dumb things, right?"
"Yes, quite," Giles admitted, not entirely without embarrassment.
Anya looked like she was about to protest, but Tara cut her off: "I'm not saying we should ignore what she did, all I'm saying is: we should skip the shouting and finger pointing and concentrate on catching these creeps."
Giles nodded. He looked at Dawn with obvious displeasure and said, "This is not over yet." Then he turned to the others. "But Tara is right. We have more pressing matters to attend to."
"What are we gonna do?" Willow asked. "I can't trace someone I've never met."
Giles quietly wondered if she meant trace as in computer-tracking or as in witchcraft-tracking. "Well, it seems we must meet them."
"But how?" Anya wondered.
"Dawn must prepare to commit her last criminal act."
"Huh?" Dawn's eyes were wide with surprise.
The corners of Giles's mouth turned up slightly. "You're going to steal our book."
Continued in Part 33 - Watchers' Counsel