posted on 21-Nov-2002 12:32:11 AM
Author: DMartinez
Email: shockerdm⊕icqmail.com
Disclaimer: Characters belong to Whedon, Katims, Metz, Fox and UPN. No infringement intended.
Rating: R
Summary: Sequel to A Close Encounter of the Strange Kind. Dawn's all grown up and seeking out her pen pal.


Presumptuous

Max twirled his pencil around his finger and turned to his 'brother.' One of them had to remember this date. "Zan, what's the War of 1812 got to do with anything?"

"Beats me." Zan shrugged and adjusted his body jewelry. Ears, chin, nipples and belly. He pulled his shirt over his head and raised his eyebrows. "I'm out."

"We have a test tomorrow." Max protested and rose to his feet. The two stared at each other for a long while before Max relented and let his shoulders sag.

"And I'll scan the chapters in the mornin'. Not too hard. Shay's at the club tonight." Zan wiggled his eyebrows and made for the door.

"Chief!" Max called him back. When Zan turned with a look, Max gave him one back. Max had already learned the hard way to tell Zan when he had mail but without telling him that he had mail. "Check the mail."

Zan ran his eyes over it and plucked out the envelope before shoving it into his pocket. He'd read it later. Shay was waiting. "See ya tamarra."

"Zan." Max sighed but his twin was already out the door… and the baby was already awake. Max shut his eyes and prayed the little boy would just go back to sleep.

"Daddy?"

"I'm coming." Max shoved away from his desk and went to see to his two-year-old son. "Daddy's coming."

--

Zan scanned the club for Shay but didn't find her. The blonde might be slammin' but he wasn't waiting around for her. He stepped out into the alley and jumped for the nearest fire escape. He pulled himself up and onto the second tier before he settled down to read his letter.

'Zan,

Guess it's been awhile since my last letter but lots of crazy things have been going on. I'm not going to get into it. It's too much and I know I don't want to hear about it myself.

Good news. I think I've finally been cured of my kleptomania and of the IOUs at all the places I stole from. Buffy's stopped trying to kill Spike. Don't know what that's about, really, after what he did to her. Xander and Anya are friends again. Willow's better… she's been smiling at least. And I met a werewolf.

Bad news. Giles went home and came back and went home again. I miss him. Loads of crazy stuff like I said.

This will probably be my last letter. I haven't really heard much from you lately. Makes me worry a little. I know that you're busy and all that. You'll graduate undergrad next year and all… I'm busy myself, getting ready to graduate and hoping no demons will wreck it like they did my sister's. I've been seeing someone but I'm not sure where that's going. Just thought… I'd say good-bye is all.

Dawn.'



Zan rubbed his chin. He had no clue what she was talking about for most of the letter, but he understood the end. Three years was a long time to keep tabs on someone. Three years was a long time to wait and he hadn't wasted much time on waiting. Shay had to have been the tenth girl he'd been with since arriving in Roswell.

It's not like he didn't remember what he told Dawn but he was male and human to some extent. No promise but there was that expectancy. That knowing the other would be there. Three years was a long time to go on faith but it was a deal. Maybe he had humored her at the time. Maybe she was a moment's flirtation, a way to make Sunnydale palatable for a few days. That was before she had helped to heal him. The second she became an other, it shifted the balance of their friendship. It was one thing to take up a friendship with a human, another with a human who knew the truth and yet another with someone who had a secret just as big. It was too serious. It could either work great or badly. Max was a prime example of that.

Shaking his head, Zan leapt from the fire escape and headed home. He shouldn’t have left Max alone to study while the kid was sick. Shay or no Shay, Uncle Zan should be home to keep the kid off Max's back long enough for him to absorb some history. He crumpled the letter in his fist and shoved it into his pocket. "No Shay, no Dawn."

The walk back to the apartment was long, dark and lonely but he pretended he didn't notice. When he finally made it back, Max was dozing with a book in his lap and a kid under his arm. "Bro. Wake yo ass up." Zan nudged him with his foot and reached over to pick up the kid. "You got studyin' to do. It's early still."

"What time?" Max looked at his watch and then his head snapped back up to Zan. "No Shay?"

"No Shay. Bitch. See if I take up another one of her invites." Zan grunted when he hefted the little boy into his arms. "And you gotta stop feedin' this kid. He weighs a ton."

"You taking him?" Max struggled to pick up his book but he was exhausted.

"Yeah. Me 'n' lil' chief'll git some z's. You fill that brain up wit some no-ledge." He thumped Max on the head and disappeared into the room he shared with Max.

"Zan, I want my daddy." Christopher mumbled against the foreign chest. Sniffing a little, wiping at his nose.

"No can do, Chief. Daddy has to study."

"No…" the little boy whined.

"Yes. Come on. You can sleep wit me tonight." Zan stretched out on Max's double and patted the bed. "'Mon. Sleep."

"No."

"Chris. Sleep." Zan rolled over and shut his eyes. He didn't feel the boy's weight. "Christopher Robin…." Giggle. "Christopher Robin…" Light weight on the bed. "It's bed time, Christopher Robin." More giggles. Zan rolled over and tucked the pillow under his head. Chris settled into bed next to Zan and shut his eyes, pretending to sleep. Soon enough though, pretend sleep turned into real sleep. Pulling the sheet over his head to block out the night-light, Zan drifted off as well.

In the morning, he was wakened by an arm around his waist and a hand in his pants. He couldn't help it. He arched into the hand, urging her to keep stroking and let out a moan. "Mmm. Cherry, didn't know ya cared."

"What?" She screeched in his ear.

He pulled the sheet down off his head and winked at her. "Knew ya couldn't resist."

"Oh god." Liz rolled her eyes and clambered off the bed. "You're not telling him this happened."

"'tween you 'n' me, Sweets."

"Stop calling me that." Liz whined and found her way into the living room.

"If ya were hard up, all ya had to do was ask." He called after her. Then he switched from teasing to civil. "When'd ya get back?"

"This morning. Where's Max?"

"School. Finals."

"And the baby?"

"Prolly at Ma's." Grumbling he made it out of bed and out to the bathroom. "Thanks a bunch, Cherry. I gotta take a cold shower now."

"What were you doing in his bed anyway? Is there something I should know about?"

"Bro was studyin' last night, kid wouldn't leave him alone. So we hit the sack. He's a little punk." Zan turned on the cold water and cursed when it hit his skin. "He's got a Pooh obsession."

"A what?"

"Winnie the freakin' Pooh. He thinks he's Christopher Robin." A smile crossed his face when he heard her laugh. "Max don't get home til noon. He's got an hour and a half before work."

"It's one."

"What?" Zan's eyes popped open. "S'not one."

"It is ten after, actually."

"No, no, no." Zan leapt out of the shower and wrapped a towel around his waist. He ran out to the living room and threw open his history book. Hand over the pages, he absorbed everything he could.

"Forgetting your clothes, Zan?" Liz raised an eyebrow at him.

"I'm late. By the time I get to school, the doors will be locked." Zan took a breath and rushed back to throw some clothes on. Shoes. He needed shoes. Where were his shoes? "I'm gonna flunk!"

TBC

[ edited 3 time(s), last at 4-Feb-2003 1:37:05 PM ]
posted on 24-Nov-2002 6:23:47 PM
Part 2

"Dawn! You're gonna be late for school!" Buffy yelled up the stairs. She pinned her hair back and smoothed her uniform. She scratched at a stain and made a face.

"I'm not going." The response floated down the stairs.

"So he broke up with you. It's not the end of the world. You're graduating next week and I'm bound and determined that nothing and I mean absolutely nothing happens." Buffy called up. "It's going to be perfect."

"He promised and he just left with her. With her. With Kelly Taylor." Dawn dragged herself down the stairs. "I need to get away. I have to get out of Sunnydale."

"After graduation, me and you will do a little road tripping, how's that?" Buffy patted Dawn's shoulder as she guided her sister out the door. "Just me, you and a trunk full of weapons. We'll go demon-hunting and you can pretend that each one is Jared."

"Promise?" Dawn perked up. "And can I use the double-edged axe?"

"Sure." Buffy grabbed her purse and shut the door behind them.

"And the crossbow?"

"Sure.

"And the thing with the stick and the chain and the pointy ball?"

"No."

--

Spike was in the house when Dawn returned from school and she couldn't hold in the disdain. Apparently his therapy was making progress but she couldn't look at him the same. His mental health being in question only reinforced her lowered opinion of him. He paced a darkened corner of the living room, muttering to himself. Then she caught the smell. "Spike? Are you cooking?"

He didn't look up but he answered her. "Me. I'm a man… no, a demon. I checked the mail when the tasty morsel walked up. Sunlight burns. It burns." He stepped out of the shadows and she could see the singed shirt over his arm and back. "It burns. Not as much as the heart when it breaks but it hurts."

"Calm down." Dawn held out her hands. She stepped back only once before he had taken her hands in his. "Spike."

"Warm. You're a woman and you're warm. Why can't I be warm? I want to be a man."

Dawn pulled her hands away from his. "Spike, maybe you should find a place to lie down. Rest or something." She gently pushed him back to his dark corner of the living room. "Buffy will be home soon."

"She doesn't think I'm a man." Spike muttered as he did as told. "Xander's a man. Red's a witch. Buffy's a slayer. Lil' Bit's a woman… but Lil' Bit's got a man."

"No, I don't." Dawn wiped a hand over her face. He never turned back toward her as he resumed his earlier pacing.

"Not a human man but a man. Anya's a demon. Giles is a man."

Dawn blinked at him. "What? Jared was human."

"Not him, the other one." Spike let out an exasperated breath. "The star-man."

"Zan?" Dawn blinked at him. "I haven't even seen him in three years."

"You kids." He threw his hands up. "Women." He corrected. "You never had any appreciation for the written word. I wrote poems. Love poems. They were horrible but I tried. I told you. I checked the mail. I got burned for my trouble." Lucidity descended on the vampire. "Where the hell is my blanket? I need some air."

"You didn’t bring it." Dawn crossed her arms. "You wandered in here last night and you've been driving everyone crazy ever since."

"I'll be borrowing a blanket then." Spike turned his pacing to the stairs and took them two at a time. "You got a letter from the alien, today."

Dawn rolled her eyes at him and turned to the table to look and there it was. The first one in months, almost a year. Her heart sped up a little. She wandered into the kitchen and took a seat. Leaning on the island, she stared at the envelope. After a while she ripped it open, her eyes scanning it before she actually read it. It was short.

'Dawn,

You're right, it's been a while. I told you that I'm not much of a writing person. Been busy with school and bro's kid, you know? Glad to hear that people are okay. I'm not gonna pretend I know what's going on or nothing. Glad to hear that you got somebody. That's good. I'm good, you know? It's good you're graduating and stuff. Hope those demons stay put and all that. Guess this goodbye and all that. Sorry I wasn't so good a pen pal. Stuff happens, you know?

Zan'


She stared at it. She groaned when she remembered what she had written to him. That was when she was sure Jared was the one. Then Jared had turned out to be a two-timing jerk. Collapsing against the counter, she banged her head on the ceramic. "I am such an idiot."

The front door opened and shut. Murmurs were heard but nothing discernible. Dawn sighed and waited. Buffy led Spike to an empty stool. She pulled a bag of blood from the refrigerator and tossed it in the microwave. She patted Dawn's head on her return to Spike. "You'll be okay."

"No, I won't. I'm not a man."

"No, you aren't." She shook her head. "I'm gonna go change. You drink up."

Dawn followed Buffy up the stairs and into her room. "Buffy, why do you help him? He's a demon and he's obsessed with you." Buffy ignored her. "You've forgiven him for what he tried to do to you?"

"Dawn." Buffy sighed and turned to her sister. "Dawn, I have not forgotten what he tried to do. I won't. I don't know how many times I have to tell you that he's different now. I don't trust him but he won't hurt us."

"Because he's got a soul?" The younger Summers girl scoffed.

"Dawn, he's insane. He's a big teddy bear wandering around. He can't take care of himself. I'm supposed to help the helpless and currently, Spike resides in the helpless category." Silence held for a moment while Buffy changed. "Why are there burns on his clothes?"

"He forgot who he was and tried to check the mail." Dawn sighed, heavily. "Buffy, what if he accidentally kills himself?"

"Then he accidentally kills himself. I can't, in good conscience, put him out of his misery. I didn't do it when he first got that chip in his head and I won't do it now. He's got a soul and it's damaged him." Buffy shut her eyes. "Do you honestly think I would let him anywhere near you if I thought he would hurt you?"

"I guess not. But I can't forget." Dawn left the room and nearly ran into Spike when he was taking a turn of the house with his warm mug of blood. His game face was on as he sipped from the mug.

"It's never the same." He muttered and then the game face melted away and tears spilled down his face. "I loved her and she spat on me. I shouldn't have killed her."

Buffy bounded down the stairs and stilled at the sight of the crying vampire. She watched him set the mug aside and sink onto the couch, inches away from a patch of light that poured through a hole in the curtain. She sighed and picked up the mug. Sitting on the coffee table, she handed it to him. "Drink. Piles of bones aren't attractive… at least not to most people."

Dawn wandered away from the scene that had become way to familiar. No one else cared what happened to Spike, but to Buffy he fell into the innocent category for the time being. She gathered up her letter from the kitchen and trudged up the stairs to her own room. Four days. Four days and then they would be on the road and away from Sunnydale.

--

Willow stood in the middle of Buffy's room and just… looked her fill. The tears stung her eyes but she knew that it was a good thing. She was moving on. It seemed like yesterday and decades ago that she had last been able to set foot in the room without bawling her eyes out. At the time, it had been a good idea that Buffy take the room and Willow take Buffy's old room. Now she was sure she could last long periods of time in the room she had shared with Tara.

"Will?" Dawn's voice floated into the room.

"Yeah?" Willow rubbed at her eyes and exited, to find Dawn standing at the top of the staircase. "What's up?"

"We're going out to eat. Coming?"

"Sure." Willow nodded and looked at her young friend. "You still down about Jared?"

"Among other things." Dawn wisely decided against asking why Willow had gone into Buffy's room. "Let's go. We're letting Spike out for the night."

"He's not a pet, Dawn."

"He's also not a man, as he keeps saying every five minutes."

"Dawn." Willow stopped her. "I'm not a fan of Buffy's for babying Spike, either." She took a breath. "But it's not like he's a psycho or anything. Drusilla was a soulless crazy… Spike's a crazy with a soul. He knows right and wrong… and it's eating at him. However much we hate him for what he did to Buffy… he hates himself more. Buffy knows that."

Dawn nodded stiffly and trudged down the steps. Too much on her plate. Suddenly, Spike's life looked appealing. She could do all the self-loathing she wanted and Buffy would take care of her and not expect her to move on.

TBC
posted on 16-Dec-2002 9:44:50 PM
Part 3

Zan tossed back a shot and sank down into the couch. He ignored Max's pointed glares where he was seated on the floor with Liz and the baby. Tightening the lid on the bottle, the dizziness washed over him. He sat back and turned his head to stare at the ceiling. He didn't even turn when the couch dipped next to him. "Drinking won't solve anything."

"Because you're an expert." His head rolled around to look at her.

"I kinda am." Liz squeezed his shoulder. "Zan… It's gonna be okay…" No response. "Zan…" Laid her head on his shoulder and tickled his side. "Zan…"

"Should I be jealous?" Max cleared his throat from the floor where Chris was climbing all over him.

"Not my fault if your woman can't keep her hands to herself." Zan managed a weak smile that looked more painful than anything else.

Liz huffed and strode into the kitchen area. She opened the freezer to look for ice cream. "It's one test. Granted, it was the final but I'm willing to bet you'll do just fine."

"Then you don't know Haberman." Max shook his head.

"Habber-man is the debil." Christopher announced, producing a glare from Liz and grins from his father and uncle.

"That's real cute, guys." Liz nodded. "Real cute."

"He is." Max had to laugh. "What on earth are you looking for in the freezer?"

"Ice cre—" Liz caught the look too late.

"Ice cweam?" Christopher's eyes lit up.

"We don't have ice cream." Max sighed. "And he's sick and now he's going to want some and he can't have any."

"Ice cweam." Christopher turned huge puppy dog eyes on his father but Max shook his head. "Ice cweam."

"Nope, sorry buddy." Max pulled him into his lap. "When that cold clears up, maybe. Until then, you know what you get?"

"What?"

"Cherry-flavored decongestant."

"No medcin!" Chris started to scramble from his father's grasp but Zan scooped him up and headed for the kitchen. "No!" Zan held the kind under one arm like a football and popped the lid off the medicine with his free hand. He popped the baby syringe out of the drawer and filled it. "No!" He flipped Chris over and Max was already ready to hold his body still while Zan shot the medicine into Chris mouth.

"Swallow… or there'll be more." Zan warned. The kid sputtered a little but swallowed most of it. "See, it wasn't so bad. We don't hafta do this every time if you just take it."

"Come here." Max hefted Chris up and into his arms. "You good?"

"That is horrible you guys." Liz shook her head at them.

"I'm the bad guy." Zan protested. "I'm the one that makes him take it. Max gets the cuddles and 'I wuv you's. I get the closet monsters and medicine details…" When Max wandered off, he leaned into Liz. "And I baby-sit. That kid is a chick magnet."

"Zan!" Liz swatted him. "You used him to pick up girls?"

"He does it all the time." Max shook his head and settled on the floor with Chris on his lap and a book in front of them. "That's how he picked up Sh--- the last one." He winced when he almost spoke the forbidden name.

"She's a two-timin' whore." Zan bit out and sank onto the couch once more.

"Watch your mouth." Liz smacked him upside the head. "It's no wonder he picks this stuff up."

"Would you stop hittin' me?" Zan shook his head. "You're makin' me dizzy."

"Hey, Zan." Max jerked his head to the bedroom. "Mind?"

Zan made a disgusted noise but nodded after a few moments. He gathered the sleeping boy and disappeared into the bedroom. Liz blinked at Max. "Should I be upset that there is a code?"

"Code?" Max turned innocent eyes on her. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"And that's why Zan was so reluctant and slightly disgusted that he had to go to bed with Chris?" She slid off the couch and onto the floor with him. "Were you planning something?" She settled next to him. "I'm not having sex with you in your living room with Zan and your son in the next room."

"That's not—" Max sighed. "I just wanted some time alone with you." He reached out to touch her hair. "Whenever you come down, it's always me, you and Chris. Or me, you, and Zan… or Maria and Michael, or Maria, or Kyle." His eyes ran over her face. "Just wanted you all to myself for a few hours."

"I'll be here all summer." Liz kissed his lips softly. "I'm getting an apartment for the summer. I've got a job lined up at the hospital. I'm gonna work in the lab. Nothing big or important. They're probably only going to let me type up the reports or something. We'll have plenty of time together. You taking summer classes?"

"No. Gonna get more hours this summer. Mom's going to take Chris when she can." He rested his head on her shoulder. "I've missed you."

"How are things, really?"

"Good. Zan's got his scholarships, makes extra cash by uh… sharking down at the club." Max laughed and pulled Liz closer. "He says the tourists are easy marks."

"They are." She reminded him.

"But you know, he pulls his weight around here. Laundry, dishes, dusting, baby-sitting and all." He sighed yet again. "But sometimes I feel like I'm not spending enough time with Chris, you know? Like I should make more time but it's hard to do without sacrificing school, studying, or work."

"I'm sure you're doing the best you can, Max."

"Yeah, I know but… you know?" He chuckled. "See, I'm tired. I'm not even making sense anymore."

"Well, at least things have been quiet."

"Thank goodness for small favors."

Liz pushed him away and took a breath. "You know, I should go… and when I get that apartment I talked about… um… we'll pick this up again." She got to her feet.

"Pick what up? We weren't doing anything."

"But I was touching you and you were… transmitting and that alone… was a little… too much." She backed toward the door when he stood, a sly grin on his face. "And you're not going to make a liar out of me."

Max couldn't help but chuckle when the door shut behind her. That felt good. Really good.

--

Dawn read over the letters. There weren't many of them and they were all on the short side… a page and a half at the longest. He had never mentioned girls in his letters but from time to time, she remembered, she had alluded to them in her life. Was that why he had never seriously written her back? Had she scared him off? Or had he realized she was too young? Or not what he wanted?

"Hey. Nostalgia much?" Buffy entered the room and sat on the bed. "What is all this stuff?"

"Zan's letters."

"You still write to him?" Buffy blinked and picked up the one on top. "Yikes. What did you do to deserve that?"

"I kinda expressed my feelings for Jared too soon." Dawn shrugged and sagged. "Kelly was gloating."

"Ew. Gloating?"

"Gloating." Dawn brushed away the tear. "I just need to get away from here, you know. It's just all building up and I'm thinking too much. I can't even really go into your room anymore. Mom, Tara. Willow's getting better but it's still pretty bad. Spike is… I'm really ready for the roadtrip."

"About that." Buffy set the letter aside. "I can't leave him here. You saw, he almost dusted himself."

"Buffy—"

"Wait." Hand out, stern tone in place. "We're going on a demon-hunting road-trip. We're going to be gone all summer. Spike could be useful. You can't tell me that he's not there and fighting when we need him to be?"

"Well, yeah but—"

"Willow's going to stay. She's doing really well at the library with the computer room or whatever. She'll keep up the house. It might actually do Spike some good to get out. We can hang during the day while he sleeps and all go hunting at night."

"Yeah, I guess." Dawn nodded.

"What I need you to do… is to chart a course and be map keeper. Don't tell people where we're going though. It could get us in trouble." Buffy kissed her head. "Come on. Three more days and it'll all be over."

TBC
posted on 3-Jan-2003 3:54:19 PM
Part 4

Zan stumbled into the apartment sometime after midnight to meet Liz's angry glare. "What'd I do?"

"You told him." Liz threw a pillow at him.

He had to snicker. Her face was beet red and she looked uncomfortable as hell. "Next time make sure it's him in bed. How'd he find out? I didn't tell him."

"He knew. Max always knows this stuff. He teased me for two hours straight." Liz covered her face with her hands. "You'd think I'd be able to tell you guys apart in the dark by now."

"Where's he now?" Zan pulled a coke out of the refrigerator. He'd done his share of teasing Liz over the past few years. It always made them laugh when she made a mistake. The first time she had come back from college, she had grabbed him the second he walked in the apartment door and shoved her tongue into his mouth. He didn't protest but when she discovered the tongue ring, she had shoved him away and gone to wash her mouth out. They had never let her live it down. Nearly every single time she came back, she did something like that.

"He's on a 7Up run. He's gonna be mad when he realizes that Chris fell asleep the second he went out the door." She managed a smile. "I'm going to put a bell around your neck so I know it's you from now on."

"Bell don't work if you climbin' into bed wit me." He pointed out. "Or jumpin' me in the livin' room. Or walkin' in on me in the shower."

"Okay. I get the point. I'm gonna start calling ahead." She slid down on the couch. "Make my reservation so the two of you can't rag on me anymore."

"You know, if you didn't get so riled up when we tease you, we wouldn't." He fell into the chair near her end of the couch. She shrugged. "If it cheers you up, I'm the one that gets the cold shoulder when you mess up."

"Well, if you weren't hitting on me all the time, he might get over it."

"Tell me you don't like it and I'll stop, Sweets." Silence. "I knew it. You like it."

"Shut up." She tossed another pillow at him. "You talk to Haberman yet?"

"Bastard. I gotta finish gradin' his finals to make up the grade."

"That's nice."

"Witout the key."

"Yikes. He is the devil." Liz turned her head when the door opened. Max took one look around the room, took in the silence and groaned. He set the 7Up on the coffee table and flopped onto the couch on top of Liz. She giggled and ran her hands through his hair. "Sorry." She felt him sigh. "However much you like it there, you're gonna have to move because it's not very comfortable for me."

"Because you're more comfortable feeling up my brother." Max lifted his head in time to see her cover her face with her hands.

"It was your bed. You were supposed to be in your bed, not him." Liz moaned. "I'm not motherly enough to factor in sick babies and wayward uncles."

"You guys're gettin' freaky." Zan muttered and finished off his coke. "I'm gon ta bed." He shoved himself out of the chair. "You people make me sick."

"Night." Liz called after him.

"Night." Zan dragged himself through the door and shut it quietly behind him. He could still hear them talking and giggling. He heard them talking about him. He sank onto his narrow bed with its cold sheets and closed his eyes. Shay hadn't been all that great but she had been something. A warm body to hold and quick wit to banter with. The moan filled the air and Zan glanced over to his nephew, snoring soundly on the big bed by himself. He threw a sock at the door and the moan stopped. He could hear Liz babbling and then the door open and shut. A few moments later, the shower turned on and Zan had to grin. Punching his pillow, he settled in for the night. He was laughing when Max made it into the room.

"Not a word." Max warned as he pulled on a fresh set of nightclothes and fell onto his bed.

"No grind for you."

"I said shut up." Max sighed and rolled over onto his back. He was still mulling over the visions he had gotten from his bed that morning. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"What?"

"Bout the other day."

"What? Wit Cherry? No big, Chief. She got embarrassed, asked me not to say nothin', s'all." Zan kicked off his shoes. "She loves you, yo."

"But why?" Max rolled onto his side to watch Chris sleeping. Dark hair fell over the little face that was just a couple of shades lighter than his father's.

"Give her lil time."

"We have about all the space we can stand."

"No. Give her lil time. Got the impression she's fishin' for compliments."

Max winced. Balancing Liz and Chris was getting easier but sometimes he forgot all the things that he used to do automatically; tell her he loved her, tell her how beautiful she was, how smart she was, how grateful he was to have her in his life. "Yeah, I'll work on that."

"She can't take the shit again, bro." Zan sighed and rolled to face the wall. The first year he had lived with Max and his parents had been hell. He had understood Max's need to figure out how to save the kid but Liz suffered so much. That's how the three of them had gotten so close so fast. When Max took off, Zan was there to comfort. When Liz was nowhere in sight, Zan was there to be a brother… an actual brother. The bond was so different from the one he had shared with Lannie. They had both taught him what it meant to be involved in a family.

"It's not that." Max traced his son's features with a finger. "I'm afraid of us growing apart. I can't push too much without suffocating her and if I give her too much space, I free her permanently from this hellish life."

"Cherry loves you, bro. She loves the kid, too."

"Sometimes I think she loves you more than me. She's not afraid to tell you anything. She's always so comfortable with you." Max turned his head only to see Zan in a position mirroring his own. "I… need her."

"I clear wit her. I play and tease and she knows that that's what it is. I ain't never touched her wit no intention of being wit her." Zan met his brother's eyes. "I'm dead serious. Even if I did come at her, she wouldn't have me unless I was you."

"You kinda are."

"Whateva. You know me an you ain't nothin' like." Zan snorted. "Git some sleep."

"Night." Max nodded and relaxed into a dreamless sleep. Those were the kind he preferred.

--

Dawn woke to cold fingers in her hair and a stream of sunlight across one arm. Buffy's bed was empty. "Spike. What are you doing?"

"Sunlight's pretty to look at. Your hair is soft… so soft." The fingers shifted a little. "Lil bit's not so little any more." His voice got louder. "Child's not a child no more. She's all grown up and slaying demons of her own. What's a fellow to do when his lil bit grows into a Slayer?"

"I'm not a Slayer, Spike. Just feel like kicking some ass."

"At nightfall, love. At nightfall we'll go out and find us a big demon to knock to the ground." He patted her head and sat up. "Big sis gone to get us supper."

"Supper?" Dawn sat up and glanced at the clock. They had slept all day. They were in Arizona, in a small town near a grouping of caves. It should prove interesting at the very least.

"Burgers or whatever they grow out here. Buffy promised me a bag of blood."

"Not so sure the hospitals will give it up easy." Dawn shook her head and pulled her letters out of a pouch in her bag. "Out here I'm sure they guard it will their lives."

"I'll drink pig's blood. It's runny but it'll do." Spike started debating the pros and cons of animal blood to himself as he continued to play with her hair. It was all she could do to tune him out.

'Dawn,

Only the second letter and yu's got a story from me. Thangs're still tense with Max's crew and all that but… he's got a kid. I knew he had one but to see him. Tess (that's the chick he knocked up and took off) came back with the kid, named it Zan. Like I'm not enuff. We all got beef wit her, you know. She killed my sister a while back and she killed Liz's best friend and run off with Max's kid. She's a bitch.

I wanted to kill her. Max wanted to kill her. She tried to say her and the kid was sykikly linked or sumthin'. You fixed us up real good, we knew better. She ended up x-ing herself out to keep the kid safe. Probly a good thang cuz Liz was ready to go syko on her ass. I nearly pissed myself when Lil' Liz up and threw Tess cross the room. You shoulda seen it.

It's weird. Max is a pop and it ain't Liz's kid. Seems kinda wrong but she's in love wit the kid. Max is tryin to keep cool but he ain't cuttin it. Wes gon git a place to raise the kid. Ma and Pa Evans are cool and all but Max wants to do it wit no help. I gotta though. Kid looks just like me, too. Got my GED and stuff squared off. I'm thinking college is gon be cool. Tuff stuff about your gang and all. Lates.

Zan.'


Short yet informative.

She winced when Spike began pulling a brush though her hair but quickly compared the handwriting in each. It slowly but surely had evolved into something a normal person might scribe. It made her smile. "I am insane."

"You forgot, love. I'm the one what's lost his marbles." He pulled the brush through her hair over and over. "Shiny hair for a shiny key."

"Why are you brushing my hair?"

"To make you beautiful, love."

"Sorry I've been such a demon child." She turned slightly to look at him.

"Nonsense. Real demon children are quite tame, unless of course it was a Gifno what spawned it. The buggers come out the womb looking for kill."

Buffy eased the door open, slipped in with her arms full and shut the door with her foot. She set down the food and stared at the bed. "How come I wasn't invited to the pajama party?"

"Because you went to get food." Dawn stuck out her tongue.

"How's deer blood sound, Spike?" Buffy pulled the small Styrofoam bowl from a bag. "I got a couple bowls of it… apparently eating Bambi and selling him in a stew is acceptable here."

"Peachy, love." Spike murmured as he kept to his task.

Dawn put her letters away without drawing Buffy's attention. "So, um, what's the demony scene around here?"

"There's something called a Skinwalker. I couldn’t get much of anything out of anyone." She pulled out a burger and a bag of fries. "So we get to eat good tonight. Tomorrow, when I have more info about this Skinwalker thing, we'll take in a salad and some boiled eggs… maybe some pasta."

"Oh yuck. You're doing that healthy active thing again." Dawn groaned unwrapped her burger and took a grateful bite of the greasy meat. She tasted it, rolled it around on her tongue. "What am I eating?"

"Bambi." Buffy answered as she took a bite of hers. "It's not too bad."

"Guess not. It's interesting." Dawn nodded. She peered over her shoulder at Spike. "He's kinda like a big brother."

"Are we over our hostility?" Buffy shoved an extra greasy fry in her mouth.

"I guess I just needed out of Sunnydale. It's just everything. Willow's all neurotic. Xander's drama with Anya is never-ending. Then there's the avoiding you at school, pleading with the few people who know you are my sister not to tell other people. It's exhausting and just when I thought I had found a guy, turns out he was a loser." The younger Summers woman sighed and sank back against Spike. "I'm sorry I'm mean to you. You're just the only one left."

"No big, love. I can take it."

"Because you're a manly Vampire." Buffy snorted. "When did you become Vidal Sassoon?"

"Shiny hair for shiny key." Spike told her seriously.

"Today's not a good day, is it?" She sighed and looked to her little sister. Dawn shook her head.

"At least he's calm."

"You two birds clucking like I'm not in the room." Spike scoffed. "Just trying to make her pretty."

"She's plenty pretty on her own." Buffy commented.

"I'm not so crazy no more. Getting saner, I am." Spike murmured. "I'm not in the basement no more. Above ground now."

"Yes, you are." Dawn patted his hand to calm him down. "How about you stop brushing my hair and have some Bambi with us."

"Right." Spike slid off the bed to gather one of the Styrofoam bowls. The sunlight that drifted in the crack in the curtains had paled considerably. "Skinwalkers aren't really demons. They're Indian murderers wearing animal skins."

"How do you know that?" Dawn grimaced as she took another bite of her burger.

"I'm old."

Buffy laughed and picked up the phone. "I'm gonna call Giles up, see if he can tell me if there's any truth to this."

"I'm telling you. Just people."

"I studied this, Spike. They're the Native American version of werewolves. We know an actual werewolf. I just want to rule it out." Buffy punched the numbers and waited for it to ring. "I think I'm waking him up." She grimaced at the sound of the voice on the other end. "Yeah, I woke him up."

Dawn giggled and nodded. "Tell him I said 'hi' and ask if he misses me."

"Not bad." Spike whispered to his bowl. "Better than cow, anyhow… sweeter than horse…"

"That's actually kinda gross." Dawn groaned and finished off her burger. "Not so sure I'm in love with Bambi-burgers myself."

"Where to next?"

"I figure we should avoid the major cities. No use pissing off the local demon rings." Dawn shrugged and opened the map. "I'm thinking we stick to desert."

"That right?" Dawn looked up at him when he spoke. She could see he was completely lucid at that moment. He smirked at her and sipped his blood. He knew something.

TBC
posted on 4-Feb-2003 1:40:18 PM
Part 5

Zan watched Liz play with Chris and laughed… while he graded the finals. Max was due to be home in two hours and Liz had volunteered to baby-sit. She had even gotten the kid to take his medicine without tears or whining. Each an accomplishment unto themselves.

"This my puzzle but you can play with it." Chris told her as they dumped another one on the floor to break apart the pieces. "Pepa and Mema bought this for me because I was good boy."

"I bet you were." Liz tweaked his nose and set to watching him put the puzzle together. Chris's idea of letting her play was letting her watch him play.

When the phone rang, Zan picked it up, waving his hand over the paper in front of him to fill it with correction marks. "'Lo."

"Hey baby."

Zan slammed the phone down on the receiver and returned to the finals.

"Jeez, Zan. Rude much?" Liz tilted her head at him.

"Shay." He muttered and didn't bother to look up again.

"What exactly happened with you two?" Liz kissed Chris's forehead where he was struggling not to go down for a nap.

"Got a system. Only time we ain't where we say we be, we're together… elsewhere. She didn't leave me no message and she wudn't where she said she'd be. I know where she was." Zan clenched his jaw and hoped Liz let it drop.

"How do you know?"

"'Cause my boy Cy was missing too. Neither one called me all week. Aight? Happy?" Zan threw down his red pen and picked up the phone and began punching numbers. "I wanna a couple orders of Kung Pao, one of General Tso and one of Pork Lo Mein… some of those too…"

Liz tuned him out and worked on tricking Chris into his nap. If Zan wanted to talk about it, he would. She had just gotten Chris to crawl into her lap for a nap when her cell rang. She stretched for her bag and retrieved the phone without disturbing the sleeping boy. "Hello? … At Max's… No, he's at work, I'm babysitting… Not until Monday… Wednesday… Mom… Mom… Mom! It's just for the summer, not the rest of my life… no!"

Zan pulled the phone out of her hand before she had even realized he had risen from his seat. "Hey, Mrs. P. How you doin'? … Same old, same old… You still make that amazin' apple pie with the brown suga and the um, graham cracker crust? … I'ma hafta stop in for a piece and to see your beautiful face… Naw, bro's workin'… They don't get no time to themselves, Mrs. P. It just ain't right. I work nights and Max works days and soon Liz will be workin' some weekends. 'Fore you know it, Liz'll be back in Michigan and Max will be back to pinin' and whinin' over her and makin' my life hell… Sounds cool. Talk to you later, Mrs. P."

"What did you do?" Liz's eyes were wide. "Zan?"

"Your moms is gon take Chris tomorrow so you and Max can have some 'lone time." He flashed her a smile. "You love me?"

"Thank you!" Liz hopped up and gave him a hug. "How in the world did you get my mother from bitching one moment that I'm spending too much time here to getting her to watch Chris? I mean… you're a miracle worker."

"Wudn't nothin'." He shrugged and then tilted his head. "Lil' man's asleep."

"Yeah." Liz nodded and turned to pick up the little boy. "He looks so much like Max."

"I like to think I'm the fox."

"Yeah, you're a fox alright." Liz narrowed her eyes at him.

--

Buffy wrestled with the furry creature and then blew the bone piece into its mouth the first chance she got. The creature gasped and then released its hold on Buffy. Then it scampered off into the darkness. Grabbing her fallen flashlight and catching the sword that Dawn tossed to her, she was off. She could hear Dawn and Spike close on her heels but she was focused on the creature. When she finally caught up with it, it was dead.

She nudged it with her foot but it was already stiffening. "See, there. You learn something new everyday. Skinwalkers are real and you kill 'em with little bone beads."

"I'm beat." Dawn wiped the dust from her face and sank to the ground. "Can we leave now? I'm tired of salads and Bambi burgers and I need to rest."

"Lil Bit's got the idea. Some blood that isn't from an animal would do me right good." Spike dusted off his leather jacket before replacing it on his body.

"Well, Dawn, you're the navigator. Where to?" Buffy lopped off the creature's head for good measure and led them on the walk back to the van.

"I'm thinking about it." Dawn gathered stray weapons as they made the trek through the desert. "He sure could run, couldn't he?"

"Like the devil." Spike muttered and looked to the sky. "Let's hurry, ladies. The sun will be up soon."

"Right." Buffy sped up and urged for them to do the same. "Hopefully the van will still be there."

"And hopefully this is the way we came." Dawn muttered under her breath. They had taken quite a few turns back there. Who knew what direction they had originally come from.

--

Zan scooped another forkful of Mrs. Parker's apple pie into his mouth and felt near to drooling. His taste buds were all over the place. He knew it was possible to think with one head or another but to be at the beck and call of your tongue? "Mrs. P. This is awesome."

"Eat it all if you want. Made it just for you." Nancy patted his shoulder and went about straightening the front counter with the young Evans boy hot on her heels.

"Yus too cool, Mrs. P." Zan helped himself to two more pieces before he was interrupted. He could feel her before she opened her mouth. "What are you doing here?"

"Zan, baby." She slid a hand over his shoulder and tried to kiss his neck but he shrugged her off. "What's your problem?"

"My problem?" He turned to her. "You ain't where you say you gon be."

"Come on. I heard you didn't even stick around and wait for me." She protested.

"Because you weren't there."

"I left and then I came back."

"With or without Cy?" Her silence spoke enough for him. He returned to his pie. "Be seein' ya."

"You're such a prick, Zan." Shay slugged him in the arm and sat beside him. "What is your deal? You weren't there."

"I showed up… 'parently after you decided Cy would be more fun."

"You weren't there."

"I was home. I should have never left. The kid's sick." Zan jerked his head to the little boy wiping at his nose with his shirt sleeve toddling behind Mrs. Parker.

"It's not your problem. He's not your kid." Shay pushed. They'd had this same argument nearly the entire time they had been together.

"Leave me alone." Zan muttered, the pie didn't taste so good anymore. "If you knew one iota 'bout loyalty, you'd understand."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Amber eyes raked her over from toe to head. "Think about it. It'll come to you in a few days."

"I'm not an idiot, Zan." Those grey eyes of fury bore into him.

"Then stop actin' like if you don't understand then ain't happenin'. It's over. You tell Cy he ain't my boy no more."

Shay didn't wait another moment. She stormed out of the restaurant without a backward glance. Zan didn't move until Mrs. Parker sat beside him. "I didn't like her much."

"Me either."

"It'll be okay. Any girl should be lucky to have you. It's too bad Liz loves Max. You'd be a great son-in-law."

Zan had to laugh at that. That would never happen in a million years. "Thanks, Mrs. P."

"Finish the pie. Jeff is jealous I made it for you. He's buying me a new couch." Nancy kissed his forehead and scooped the baby up before disappearing into the back.

That definitely had Zan in a better mood. At least it gave him enough heart to finish his pie. By the time he was finished, the happy couple had ambled in… fresh from a shower it appeared. "You two make me sick."

"Hey Zan." Liz waved to him as she made her way into the back of the restaurant.

"How was the picnic?" Zan asked.

"Picnic?" Max furrowed his brow as he picked a graham cracker crumb from the pan. His head snapped around at Zan's snort and quick gesture to the break room. "Oh, right. We didn't actually make it out of the apartment."

"You both dropped the kid off."

"Yeah, we forgot something." He cleared his throat.

"Whateva."

They both looked up when the break room door swung open and a light pounding of feet was heard. "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy!"

"Hey!" Max lifted the little into his arms. "Did you behave for Mrs. Parker?"

"Huh?" Chris wrinkled up his nose. "Gramma Parker took care of me."

"Oh really?" Max turned to the back of the restaurant where Liz and Mrs. Parker were emerging.

"Uh-huh. She said I could call her that." Chris nodded. "Right, Gramma Parker?"

"What's that, sweetie?" Nancy turned her head only to find a grinning Max in her view.

"Does this mean I can call you Mom?" Max tilted his head at her with a dazzling smile.

"No. You can call me, Mrs. Parker." Eyes narrowed at him.

"Gramma say you betta marry Wiz." Chris announced.

"Mom!" Liz lifted a hand to her head.

"Well, you keep telling me you won't break up with him and that he's the only one… what's a mother to think?" Nancy turned to her mortified daughter.

Max cleared his throat and wrapped an arm around Liz. "Mrs. Parker, you have nothing to worry about. I have every intention of marrying Liz… after she finishes her school and decides what she wants to do, we'll get officially engaged."

"Is that right? Engaged to be engaged?" Nancy slid her glance over to her daughter. "And you're fine with this?"

"I'm 21, Mom. Do you want me married right this second? We're doing this for you guys." Liz leaned on Max and ruffled Chris's hair. "I've got roughly four years to go and then I'll see where there are jobs and if Max and I can get jobs in the same city… we'll set a date, move… sign some adoption papers…"

"Oh?" Nancy felt the tears filling her eyes. "So, you've discussed everything?"

"Yeah and eventually… when I can, we'll have a baby." Liz nodded.

"Well. It's good you've talked all this out, that you have a plan."

"Mrs. Parker…" Max tried to calm her down but he knew that look. His mother had that same look the first time Chris had told her that he had a 'Mommy Wiz' that lived far away.

Suddenly he was wrapped in Mrs. Parker's arms. "I always knew you were a good boy. You can call me Mom."

Zan snorted and cleared his plate and the empty pie tray off the counter. Liz noticed his lack of enthusiasm and wished he could be happy, if not for them then just for himself.

--

"… So then Suzanne pulls her by the hair and screams 'You bith, he'th mine' cause you know, she's already had her front teeth knocked out." Dawn laughed into her carton of ice cream. "It was really funny when she threw that punch because Layla has like a green belt or something like that and kicked her in the face."

"Beauty friends you got, Dawnie." Buffy shook her head and turned to see Spike brooding over a fountain in Old Mesilla Valley Square.

"They're alright."

"I always wondered why they were sent into the office. I wasn't allowed to counsel because I was still suspended from that guy that turned out to be a flesh-eating demon."

"Right you couldn't really explain how that guy went in for help and you kicked his ass out of the office."

"Yeah." Buffy nodded. "How are you feeling?"

"It's only been a week but I'm good. Sometimes home gets so claustrophobic."

"Which reminds me… you did get those applications turned in on time, right?"

"Yes, I will be attending Sunnydale U in the fall." Dawn groaned. "I still don't know what I want to do though… I can't exactly major in demon slaying." She kicked a rock. "I don't like political science and I could so do without knowing about the insides of people…. I know too much about the insides of demons as it is. I'm definitely not going to college for the dating opportunities because we can all see that I suck at it."

"You know…" Buffy cleared her throat. "I don't think you suck at dating… I think the guys you've been dating suck. You know what I recommend at a time like this?"

"What?"

"Friends. Plenty of them that know all your secrets so you can really… share."

"Really." Dawn glanced at her sister.

"Yeah." Buffy stirred her ice cream around a bit. "I think we're only four hours from Roswell. I think maybe we can stop in and see some aliens."

"You're joking." Dawn pretended to be surprised. "It's that close? We can go there?"

"You so suck at the acting thing. I'm ashamed to say you came from California." Buffy walked off.

"Actually, I came from another dimension."

TBC
posted on 4-Feb-2003 1:42:39 PM
Part 6

Zan shrugged helplessly when the stranger sunk the 8-ball into the far corner pocket. "Looks like you win."

"Looks like." The stranger adjusted his black felt cowboy hat and stood up straight. "I feel so bad for taking your money though."

"Then let me tryta win it back." Zan leaned on his cue. "Come on. Rent's due and that's half my rent in your pocket."

"I suppose if you're willin', I cain't stop you from losin' more money." The cowboy laid out the cash he had just won. "Can you match that?"

Zan hissed uncomfortably. The local onlookers didn't react, they knew the rules of the game. "I guess I'cin make it but my landlord will definitely kill me if I lose agin."

"If you're gon play with the big boys, you gotta play by big boy rules." Cowboy racked up the balls. "That's 40 a ball, now."

"Aight. You got me. Le's go."

"You break."

"Don't mind f'I do." Zan moved around the table and bent over. The local onlookers began chanting (Boom. Boom. Boom.). Zan broke and sank two solids. They cheered. Counter-clockwise, he worked the table, sinking one then two then one. A whoop went up when he sank the rest of the balls one by one. When the white ball finally sank, the crew was cheering.

"You… friggin' shark." The cowboy stammered.

"Didn't think you're special, didja?" Zan scooped up the money and rolled it up. "I hate hicks." He cast one final look at his opponent. "Sorry for takin' your money."

"That's all I got. How am I supposed to find a place to stay tonight?" Cowboy pulled his hat off.

"Beats me. I don't care all that much." Zan slid up to the bar behind a pretty girl. "How's it goin', sweets?"

"I bet you call all the girls that." She brushed her fire-red hair over her shoulder to look at him.

"Naw… I didn't want to offend you by callin' you Red." He tossed back the shot the bartender set in front of him.

"You're the… mighty Zan, aren't you?"

"Some call me that."

"I heard…" She turned to face him fully and look him over. "That being with you is a religious experience."

"Don't personally believe in God myself but I've been known to make the ladies see the light." Zan caught a movement out of the corner of his eye but didn't look until he heard the laughter.

"You pick up girls with that line?"

Zan looked her up and down before shoving off the bar. "Look what the winds blew into Roswell." Long light brown hair, glittering blue eyes and a body that couldn't be more different than what he remembered.

"Get lost, jailbait. This is the big girls' playground." 'Red' scowled at the newcomer.

"Shut up." Zan waved her off and let out a laugh as he continued to look his surprise over. "Look at you, Ms. Summers."

"Look at you." Dawn gestured to him. "You haven't changed much."

"But you have." Zan held out his arms. "Come give some love, girl." She stepped hesitantly into his embrace but relaxed once in his arms. "You feel good." Keeping one arm around her, he began to lead her away from the curious eyes of his crew. "When d'ja get in?"

"A couple hours ago. I, uh, went by your place." Dawn bit at her lip. "No one was there. Um, Buffy heard this was the place to be if you're wild."

"It's pretty tame actually." He guided her to a table in the back. "I'm used to much, much wilder."

"Nice hustle you pulled over there on the cowboy." Dawn pointed to the guy on the phone.

"You know what? I'm in a good mood." Zan pulled the roll from his pocket and plucked four twenties out. The eyes of his crew were set on them and with the shot he had just taken, now was not the time to introduce Dawn. "Let's get out of here and I'll leave him some room money. Where's your sister?"

"Hunting with Spike." Dawn managed a smile. When she saw him with that girl, she had been scared to approach him but when she heard them talking she had to laugh. She had to admit he looked really, really good. "Where's Max and the gang?"

"Max took the baby and the little lady to a movie. They invited me but I needed to make my rent money and they could kill with their love. It's really very sickenin'." Zan rolled his eyes.

"I think it's sweet. They're all in love and they got the kid." Dawn had to smile at Zan's disgust.

"Can we talk 'bout somethin' else?" Zan tossed the money to the cowboy as they passed. "Why are you here, anyways?"

"I needed away and so we're on a cross country demon hunt. We happened to be passing near here and Buffy suggested we stop by." Dawn snuck a look at him.

"That's cool. So you hunt, now?" He guided her through the streets of Roswell. It was a quiet night. "How's the boyfriend feel 'bout that?"

"He never had much of an opinion." Dawn shoved her hands into her pockets, uncomfortable with the mention of the mightily hated. "I never told him."

Zan eyed her for a moment. "Roswell ain't much for entertainment. We left the only spot I consider, when I consider."

She cracked a smile. "That girl… was she a girlfriend?"

"Not so much. A prospect for the… for awhile." Zan led the way through the dark streets to the apartment. "So, I never got a call on someone's birthday."

"Yeah, I… got busy. Finals and that stupid surprise party." Dawn nodded and then laughed, leaning into his body as they walked. "I'm just glad to be away from Sunnydale."

Zan popped open the door and held a hand out to a lamp. "You want something to drink? Have a seat."

Dawn looked around the apartment as she sat. "Just a soda if you've got one. This is a nice place."

"It's aight." Zan tossed her a bottle before grabbing his own and taking a seat beside her. Silence strung out as they sipped their drinks, dragging the mood down. "What happened to goodbye?"

"There's always hello?" Dawn scratched at her throat. Eyes turned down. "Maybe your response wasn't… it bothered me that it was so casual. You just kind of accepted it and it made me sad."

"You came all the way to the ass end of nowhere to tell me that?"

"Yes and no." Dawn admitted. "I may have made it convenient to stop through here."

"Is that right?" A sly grin crossed his face as he leaned in. "You were passing through and decided to stop by?"

"Pretty much." Had she leaned in? Is that why she could smell his breath? "Yeah."

He had been about to do it. He really had been. She was right there and the flirting was good and he wanted to… but then there had been that last letter and the guy that was The One. "Sorry."

"What?" Dawn's eyes snapped open. "What?"

"I was gonna. I want to but you got a man and he ain't here to defend himself."

"I don't… have a man. He's been gone a while." Dawn licked her lips.

"In that case…" God, her lips were soft.

--

Liz shifted the sleeping boy in her arms as Max guided them up the steps to the apartment. He fumbled for the keys in the dark. She caught the glow from the window. "Max? Did you leave a light on?"

"No." Max glanced at the window as his key turned. "Maybe Zan's home… it's kinda early for that though." He pushed the door open and tilted his head. "Zan?"

"Hey." Zan sat back and wiped a hand over his face. "Ya'll're home early."

"It's 11 o'clock." Liz cleared her throat as she stepped into the apartment with Chris. "And who is the new girlfriend? I don't believe we've met."

"Liz…" Zan groaned and righted his shirt.

"Come on. You brought her home. We get to interrogate." Max cleared his throat and took his son from Liz. "I'll be right back." He disappeared and then reappeared only to find his girlfriend in a certain amount of shock. "Liz?"

"You." Liz pointed to Zan's guest. "You're… um… that girl. Max, it's that girl."

Max rounded the couch to finally get a look at Zan's friend only to find that he recognized her, as had Liz. "Dawn?"

"Yeah. Me." Dawn crossed her arms over her chest and tried to shrink out of sight but that didn't seem to be working.

"Oh my god. Look at you. You're all grown up." Liz exclaimed and shoved Zan away so she could sit next to the girl. "It seems like forever and yesterday."

"Yeah. For me too." Dawn tried to sit up a little but the couch was a little crowded. "I should get going. Buffy's probably worried."

"She's here?" Max sat on the arm of a chair. He nodded to Dawn's nod. He tossed the Jeep keys to Zan. "Give her a ride." When Liz started to protest, Max rose and pulled her into the kitchen area. "We'll stay away until you're away."

Zan fingered the keys and turned to Dawn. "You really ready to go?"

"Yeah. I think so." Dawn got to her feet and waited until Zan followed. She waved to the kitchen area. "Later guys."

Max waved them off and kept Liz silent, for which Zan was grateful. Dawn was quiet on the way to the hotel. Zan kept looking at Dawn, constantly amazed at the total transformation in her. He had liked the fact she looked like an innocent girl with secrets. Now, she looked to be all secrets. He pulled up to the hotel and they just sat there. His booze addled brain had begun to clear since their heated makeout session on his couch. "Don't break the brain."

"What?" Dawn turned her face toward him. "Oh. Sorry. I'm just a little tired."

"Where were you guys?"

"Las Cruces. It's just a really long drive… I mean. Not far but it always seems long when there are no big cities between."

"I know what you mean. I wandered the country for a year." Zan reminded her.

"I don't want to leave here. I kinda like it. It's quiet and there are people I trust here."

"You just got here. When you leavin'?"

"Don't know."

"Then don't worry about it until it's time to go."

"I should go in. Spike keeps looking out the window." Dawn swallowed and reached for the door handle. "Um, I'm not in the habit of… sucking face with random people."

"S'cool. I'll be here tomorrow." Zan sat back in his seat. "See you tomorrow."

"Yeah." Dawn escaped the Jeep and rushed up into the hotel room. Spike sat and sipped his warm blood and jerked his head to the bathroom. Buffy was in there getting ready for bed. "Hey. I found him."

"I see. Fix the lipstick." Buffy pointed and finished brushing her teeth. "You know… I'm not so sure about this anymore." She reached for a towel to wash her face with. "I figured you guys would catch up and all that. I wasn't expecting you to come home all rumply and smeared lipstick."

"Kinda just happened." Dawn wiped at her lips nervously. "I like it here."

"Don't start that. You're rebounding. Don't do this. Please." Buffy moved around her sister and climbed into bed. "I expect that you'll be gone sometime before I wake up. One rule. If he breaks your heart, I get to kick his ass and tell you I told you so."

"Deal." Dawn whispered and turned to Spike, who turned back to the window.

TBC
posted on 4-Feb-2003 1:45:03 PM
Part 7

Zan winced when the sunlight invaded his eyes. His head throbbed just like it always did the morning after he had a shot of anything. The phone rang and it shook his brain. "Go away." It kept ringing until finally he had to pick up. "'Lo?"

"Zan, is something wrong, sweetie? What took you so long to answer?"

"Nothin's wrong, Ma Evans." Zan cleared his throat. "Just sleepin'."

"What time did you get in last night?"

"Early."

"Zan."

"Um… around midnight. I think."

"Where's Max?"

"Work?"

"Zan."

"I don't know. I just woke up." Zan forced himself to sit up. "I haven't even opened my eyes yet." Opening one eye and looking to the open doorway, he could see sunlight pouring in through the living room windows. "He's prolly workin'."

"Then where's Christopher?"

"You ain't got him?"

"No and that's why I'm calling."

"If you ain't got him, then Mrs. P's got him."

"Who?"

"Mrs. P." Zan repeated then shook his head slowly. "Liz's mom."

"Oh."

"Yeah, she likes the kid or somethin'. I think you gotta share 'im now." Zan smirked at her huff. She was peeved. She had obviously been expecting to be the only grandmother for a good long while.

"I suppose I could stop by for a visit. Join me for lunch?"

"Ma…" Zan groaned and flopped back on his bed.

"Zan, come on. I never see you anymore. With Isabel and Jesse always running around and Max always working… now I have to share Chris with Nancy. Keep me company."

"Yeah. I'll be 'round 'bout an hour." Zan sighed heavily and threw his legs toward the floor.

"Okay, sweetie, see you then. Buh-bye."

"bye." Zan hung up and then attempted to sit up. "I neva axed for no mother. I ain't neva deserved no mother. Why the hell cain't I tell the woman no?"

--

Zan was going stir crazy, they had been in the restaurant for ten minutes but already he was feeling confined. A group of girls had walked past and Zan had looked them all over and he was about to go after them but Diane cleared her throat and he stayed put. Sometime into the meal and after several other women had walked past, Diane sighed. "How is that girl you're dating?" At his confusion, she sipped her water and clarified. "The one that only wears half a shirt."

His expression darkened suddenly. "We broke up."

"Oh, Sweetie, I'm sorry." She reached over and patted his hand. "I just assumed because of the… hickey on your neck. You really need to be more careful."

"I have a what?" Zan leaned forward.

--

Zan followed Diane up and down every aisle at the supermarket, while she tried to guess who his new girl was. Funny thing was, he never picked up girls after he drank. Usually he took his shot and went home. What had happened last night? Finally, Zan looked in the basket. "What're you doin'? You don't eat all this junk."

"But you and Max do." Diane didn't even miss a beat. Zan followed but he registered something in his peripheral and before he could get a good look, she was pulling him along. "How about that nice girl we ran into a couple of weeks ago?"

"No. I'm telling you, I don't remember." Zan sighed and ran both hands through his hair.

"You know, both you and Max do the same things when you're frustrated with something. Is that… an inherited trait? I mean, was that something your donor did or the king did?" Diane puzzled over it for a moment. "I suppose we'll never know but it's all very intriguing."

"Yeah, sure." He shook his head.

"Zan, sweetie, you are in a horrible mood today. Are you sure you didn't stumble in at the crack of dawn?"

"Yeah, Ma, I'm sure." Zan leaned against the cool glass case that held all of the meats for the store.

"You look plenty hung over to me." A voice spoke on the other side of him. Zan turned to find a familiar blonde but the name wouldn't come to him. "Buffy."

"Right! What are you doin' here?" Zan straightened and held a hand out but when she didn't take it, he leaned forward. "It's pretty clean. I wash."

Buffy really looked like she didn't want to but she took his hand and then found herself crushed against him in a stiff hug. When she escaped her grasp, she crossed her arms. "Are your intentions… honorable or whatever?"

"What?" Zan blinked at her. Then something hit him. "Did Dawn come with you?"

"To the store? Yeah. She's somewhere around here." Buffy nodded and stifled a laugh when a blue-eyed woman poked Zan in the ribs none too gently.

"Right. Ma, this is Buffy. Buffy, my br—" He cut himself off and looked at his surrogate mother. "My mom."

Buffy thought she saw some happy tears in the woman's eyes when Zan uttered those words. Ignoring it for the moment, she reached forward to shake her hand. "Buffy Summers."

"Diane Evans. Nice to meet you." Diane looked between the two, a little hopeful. "Are you a former girlfriend?"

"What?" Buffy laughed and shook her head. "Not on my life."

Zan shut his eyes and shuddered. "Never."

"Which reminds me, don't ever hug me again." Buffy jabbed him in the side.

"Aight. Whatever you say."

"Hey, Buff! I can't find those cracker things that Spike likes." Dawn stepped out into the aisle and froze. "Oh. Uh. Hi. Zan."

"And who is this?" Diane prompted when Zan suddenly looked speechless.

"Yeah…" Zan snapped to himself quickly and looked between his mother and the new goddess in front of him. "Ma, this is Dawn. Dawn, this is my mom."

"Hi." Dawn gave a little wave and tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear.

Zan reached out to give her a hug. "It's good to see you. Um, when'd you get in?" He knew there was something wrong when Dawn stiffened in his arms. She stepped away from him, danger lurking in those blue depths. She stomped on his foot and tore down the aisle. He looked to Buffy but she grabbed her white paper bag from the counter and followed her sister. "What did I do?"

Diane just sighed and led him down the aisle so she could finish her shopping. "Zan, sweetie… where were you last night?"

"What?" He blew out a breath as he eased himself after her. His foot throbbed like crazy. "I was out at the bar."

"Did you drink before or after you left the bar?" She looked up at him and that face that she had seen many times on Max's face over the years. Every male had that face. Philip sported that look when he worked late on their anniversary by mistake or forgot her birthday. "Sweetie, that hickey came from last night and you were drinking at the bar last night…"

"Yeah, I got it. I screwed up."

--

"How dare he not remember? Did you see him?" Buffy ranted all the way to the room. "I'll bet he does this all the time. I always thought he was the type to stomp on a girl's heart."

"Can we not talk about that?" Dawn interrupted. "I'm going for a walk."

"Dawn!" Buffy called after her but it was too late, the teen had already rounded the corner and disappeared from sight.

--

Zan was still beating himself up when they finally stopped at the Crashdown to visit with Nancy. She had given him a look when she heard about some strange girl he had pissed off. The women were still chatting when Max arrived to pick up his son. "How are two of my favorite ladies?"

"They're great." Zan forced a smile on his face. "They're telling me about all the stupid mistakes men have made since the beginning of time."

"I'm sorry ladies," Max bowed his head slightly. "I'm gonna have to take these boys and re-infuse them with testosterone." He ducked a swat from his mother and began gathering Chris's toys and coloring books.

"Hey Daddy, look what I got." Chris held up a Polaroid, an old one from the look of it. Max let a soft smile cross his lips when he saw a ten-year-old Liz dressed in a lab coat, goggles and rubber gloves. "It's Wiz!"

"Yeah, it is." Max nodded and turned to the women. "Thanks for watching him."

"It's no trouble." Nancy shook her head. "He's a really good boy."

"That's gotta be Liz's influence." Zan snorted.

"Bye Mom." Max ignored Zan and kissed his mother's cheek. "We'll stop by later or something." Zan followed them out and climbed into the back of the car with the kid. He'd rather avoid Max's insight but after a day with the women, he needed it. Max just stared at him through the rearview the whole time. "You idiot."

"I didn't know."

"When we got home, you guys were fixing your clothes."

"I had a shot."

"At the bar."

"Point taken… but she doesn't know that."

"You're an idiot."

"I think we've established that….." Zan waited a good while. "You think Liz would go talk to her for me?"

"We'll ask her but no promises because you know she's going to kick your ass first." Max swore under his breath. "I don't envy you."

--

Spike crept out after sunset and found Dawn sitting in the park. "There's the Lil' Bit. We had gotten worried that maybe a demon had stolen her away or taken her soul at the very least."

"No you didn't. Buffy told you what happened." Dawn sighed.

"There are no demons in this place. It feels strange to me." Spike muttered.

"No carnage to your liking."

"There's plenty of old carnage around but the place makes my skin crawl." Spike shuddered. "I imagine my brethren feel the same and that's why there aren't any here." He smacked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. "They don't even make my mouth water… the blood tasted funny."

"Don't worry, we'll be leaving soon."

TBC