Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters of BtVS or AtS.

Rating: PG-13 for some language.

Pairing: Not too much shippiness in this chapter (though slight hints of D/C . . . you'll still have to wait a while for the full ship, folks!).

Feedback: Please see author's note.

Author's Note: I just wanted to say that although I appreciate every single review and comment I get, and though I take most of it as constructive criticism, I'm a little wary of the reviews that direct me how to go plot-wise. I appreciate all your comments if you think the story is seriously flawed, but telling me which ships to write is not very relevant. I stated in the summary of the story what the relationships were going to be, so I'm a little perturbed by people telling me to write otherwise. I have a clear direction and plan of how I want the story to go, so sorry to B/A shippers, but that ship will just not be addressed. Thank you all so much for your feedback nonetheless.

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Chapter 6: Help

Conner ascended from the basement with a newfound sense of . . . well he wanted to say comfort, but that wasn't it. Lack of unease, perhaps? Whatever it was, his talk with Spike had calmed him down into a state where he didn't feel mind-numbing rage at the prospect of living with a creature of the undead. His conversation with the vampire was the longest one he had maintained with any one in the last few weeks, and it gave him a feeling of catharsis somehow. For once, there was a person who listened to what he said without casting him down as a rebellious freak. Maybe it was because they were both outcasts and freaks, maybe it was because Spike was far too tired to judge like everybody else or maybe it was because Conner found one other person in the world who hated his father just as much as he did. But it didn't matter what the thread that united them together was. What mattered was that they were kindred spirits now. Not 'let's be best pals' kindred spirits, but begrudging spirits nonetheless.

Conner closed the basement door behind him and went to the fridge to get a glass of water when he heard them talking in the living room.

"We've never dealt with something like this before."

"We don't know that."

"We don't know that?" he heard Xander ask incredulously. "Dawn said she saw your mother! Willow said she saw Cassie!"

A choked, shocked voice abruptly cut in. "You saw Cassie?"

"Dawnie, it wasn't real."

"Still, you didn't tell me! You saw my friend and you didn't tell me!"

"I didn't want to upset you. This whole thing is getting scary enough without me telling you about the various friendly-like forms this Morphy guy takes."

"I wrestled for hours with a dark spirit that was choking my mother's ghost right in this living room. Don't try and tell me what's scary."

"Dawn, you have to understand. Cassie wasn't real. It wasn't important. This thing could have taken any form it wanted if he knew it would effect us. He was pretending to be the ones we loved. He was trying to hurt us."

Dawn's voice grew so small that Conner had to reach to hear it. "So you think Mom wasn't real, then?"

A lengthy pause here. "I didn't say that. I don't know what that was."

"That? It was real, Buffy. She was real. I could tell," Dawn insisted.

"Dawnie --"

"No! You can't try and tell me it wasn't her. She wasn't some evil transmufiguring thingamajig. She was just Mom!" He could hear her voice break and it made something inside his chest stir.

Buffy spoke gently. "This is what he wanted, Dawn. He wants to hurt us. Don't you see?"

At the sound of that, Conner strode quickly to the foyer and grabbed a stake that lay on a side table. His hand went for the knob, but like lightening, Buffy was by his side, blocking him from the exit.

"What are you doing?" she asked firmly, her arms wrapped against the door.

He gave her a quizzical look and tried to lunge for the knob, but she wouldn't budge. He stepped back in confusion and said, "Out."

"Out where?"

Furrowing his brows at her, he mumbled hotly, "Let me go."

She shook her head. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Conner. Wouldn't want you to make a run for it again."

Widening his eyes, he understood. "I'm not running away. I just wanted to go out to --" He paused. How would she take it if he told her the real reason for his 'walk'? Would she be grateful? Or just suspicious, the way she had been this whole time?

Waiting, she cocked an eyebrow at him. "Well?"

He shifted uncomfortably. "I just wanted to go to . . ." He sighed and broke. As the rest of Scoobies began to file into the foyer, he said it. "I wanted to help you."

She gaped at him, confounded. "What?"

"You know . . . with that thing you were talking about. The one that was hurting everybody. I was going to hunt it down for you. Make sure it wouldn't hurt anyone anymore."

Buffy marveled at his abrupt innocence. Underneath the defiant exterior, there was a boy who wanted only to help people. He had the simple, ardent desire to end all their pain and he thought he could do it by merely going out and hunting whatever was hurting them until it was dead. She wished that she could be as naïve as he, still untouched by years of jaded slaying. Softly, she murmured, "Oh Conner . . . that's . . . that's nice of you, but . . . this thing we're looking for . . . it's not the kind you can just go out and easily kill."

He gave her a look signifying that this idea was incomprehensible to him. "What kind is it, then?"

"That's the thing. We don't know. Until we do, we have nothing to fight against."

He gripped his stake tightly until his knuckles whitened. "There's always something to fight against."

She shook her head. "No. Not now. Not until we research this further."

He reached for the door again. "You research. I hunt."

She pulled him away from the door. "You don't understand. This thing we're dealing with, it's bigger than you can imagine. 'From Beneath You, It Devours'. You think that just because you've made the resolution to kill something, you can go out and do it?"

He shrugged. "Ten out of ten times, it works."

Xander nodded approvingly. "Gotta say, like those odds."

"Maybe those odds worked in L.A., but you're in Sunnydale now, Conner. We're living over a Hellmouth that's as safe as Alcatraz. You have a whole new set of guidelines and rules here. I just can't have you going out anytime you want."

He set his teeth on edge. "Rules?" He didn't like the sound of that. "I don't live by a set of guidelines or rules."

She gave him an authoritative and leveled stare. "Now you do."

"You don't get it," he retorted sharply, his voice rising in anger. "I'm the son of two vampires. I'm probably just as strong as you are. I don't need to follow any stupid rules you give me. I make my own."

She was growing impatient. "Conner, you live under my roof. Whether you can guard yourself against beasties is your own business. But when you live in my house, you live by my rules." She internally winced when she realized how mom-ish she sounded. But that was the way it had to be. "It's the same for everyone here. Dawn will tell you."

Dawn nodded affirmatively. "It's a fascist regime."

He still had his eyes fixed angrily on Buffy. "It's different. She's just a kid."

Offended, Dawn straightened self-righteously. "I am not just a kid!" she protested.

"This is about keeping you safe. I know you're not a kid --"

"Then stop treating me like one!"

And back to the yelling. Honestly, this kid could go from hot to cold at any minute. Buffy sighed with frustration. "You don't understand. This is about being careful. I would tell Anya or Willow or Xander the same thing."

He looked on the rest with faint disdain. "That's because they can't protect themselves. I can."

Xander frowned. "Umm hey, we're all highly capable here. I defeated a bomb-toting zombie and made sure he didn't blow up the high school. Before we could, anyway."

Willow raised her hand as well. "Yeah, and I nearly burned the world and everyone in it asunder."

Anya had her hand waving too. "Yeah, and when I was a vengeance demon, I totally kicked Buffy's ass."

Dawn cut in obstinately, "And I am not a kid!"

Conner stared at them blankly before turning back to Buffy. "Get out of the way," he stated firmly.

"How many ways do I have to say no, Conner?"

Ignoring her, he suddenly lunged towards the door and roughly pushed her aside, almost forgetting his own strength. Taken aback by his powerful shove, Buffy whirled backwards and slammed into the wall. Shocked, she scrambled to him, grappling him away from the door. When he accidentally shoved an elbow in her eye that sent her stumbling back, she sprang up, instinctively grabbing his arm before he could run and punching him hard in the face. The mighty blow nearly swept him off his feet and he crumpled onto the foot of the staircase. With his lower lip split open, he touched his bloody mouth, astounded, then stared up at Buffy, white and shaken by her own actions.

"That's one way you haven't tried," Anya noted calmly.

Conner still had his dark, fiery eyes fixed on Buffy who was too penitent and guilty to speak. "Oh my god," she murmured. "Conner, I-I'm sorry, I didn't mean to --" She rushed towards him to help him up, but he backed away from her with speed.

"Don't touch me," he spat, half-scared, half-hatefully. Still smearing the blood across his fingers, he squinted at her hard. This was what he got for trying to help? Shaking his head, he muttered in a hushed voice, "It's the same. You're all the same."

"Conner, wait. Please, I'm sorry --"

"Go to hell," was his response before he turned away from all of them, marching up the stairs and off to his room.

He shut and locked the door with a thunderous slam, clenching his teeth, fighting hot, angry tears that crept into his eyes. He hadn't cried for a long time and he certainly wasn't going to cry over this. He was a fighter, a hunter, a man and a loner. He didn't get hurt and upset over people who didn't want or like him.

He should be used to this. He should have learned from the first time. You could trust no one. People could say they were your family, that they cared, but when it came down to it, they would always and without fail stab you in the back. It was the one irrefutable lesson he had learned since he first entered this dimension.

Still . . . he thought it could be different. Different town, different people. Resting his forehead wearily against the wall, he closed his eyes tightly and willed himself to harden again, to put up the fronts and defenses he was used to. A sudden, timid knock on the door interrupted his thoughts, but he just gritted his teeth and shook his head.

"Go away," he snapped harshly.

"Sorry, but no. I'm just as stubborn as my sister and twice as persistent. So you better just save us both time and let me in."

It was the kid, Dawn. He sighed with annoyance, but realized that she was serious, so he unlocked the door and left it open for her indifferently. "What do you want?"

She shrugged. "Buffy told me to go up and check on you." She held up cotton balls and band-aids. "I come to aid the wounded."

Darkly, he grabbed the box of bandages and cotton away from her. "I can take care of it myself," he grumbled, covering up his lip self-consciously.

Surprised at his gruffness, she still nodded. "Umm, okay. Well . . ." Awkwardly, she stood fidgeting in the doorway, aware of his obvious desire to be alone. Suddenly, she grew gentle and sighed. "Sorry for my sister down there. She really didn't mean it. It's just that the Slayer gene kicks in when she's stressed. She feels terrible about that." She began to turn away and walk towards her own bedroom, but Conner, guilty and softened by her amiable apology, murmured a brusque,

"Hey."

Turning around again, she eyed him casually. "Yeah?"

He paused, not really knowing what to say. Thinking for a moment, he finally said, "I'm sorry too. You know . . . for calling you a kid."

"Oh." She nodded in a way to imply that she had forgotten about it already. "That. Don't worry about it. I get it a lot. Don't really know why, I'm the same age Buffy was when she was called as the Slayer, but no, to everyone I'll just be 'Little Dawnie' . . ." She sighed when she realized her mouth was carrying her further then intended. "It's okay. Really." She squinted at him curiously. "But hey . . . why did you want to get out so badly? What was the big deal? Usually I understand if you have your normal case of cabin fever, but there's a serious baddie out there. You have to be careful."

Uneasily, he shrugged, eyebrows knitted tightly. "I don't know. I just . . . I wanted to help."

"Help?"

He sighed. "Yeah. Yeah, I wanted to help. And this is what I get." He tugged his lip morosely.

Softening, Dawn frowned with sudden sympathy. "Oh. But . . . but there are other ways to help, you know."

"No, I don't know. This is what I'm good for. This is what I do. I hunt. It's a part of my life. It's the only way I know how to do things."

Dawn's eyes lit up with understanding. "Oh, I see what's going on. I know what this is about."

He whipped his head up at her scornfully. "You do?"

"Yeah I do. This isn't just about not being able to get out and stuff. It's about you not being able to get your regular adolescent, male, violent jollies off."

"What?"

"Yeah, I totally get it. In that other dimension you were in and in L.A., whenever you felt antsy, you just went out and killed a bunch of demons. But you can't do that here. So it ticks you."

He gaped at her and her simplistic assessment of him. "You think that's my problem?"

"Well, sure. It's totally normal. Every guy your age needs to get out his aggressions one way or another. You've just developed a more Highlander approach to the whole thing. What you need to do is to channel your impulses in a . . . typical-er way."

He cocked a disbelieving eyebrow at her. "You're telling me what to do?"

She tilted her head impatiently. "Conner, are you going to tell me that you don't get all bottled up and pissed if you aren't able to slay a demon a day?"

He opened his mouth to refute her claim, then realized he could not. "I . . . that's not the point."

"Coulda fooled me. Hey, wait here." She abruptly disappeared into her room, leaving him confused and baffled by his own door. She returned, holding a strange looking black box and remote control-looking devices. With a triumphant smile, she handed the pile to him. "This should solve your problem."

He gazed down at the heavy machine in his arms. "What is all this?"

"A Playstation. Complete with GTA3."

He stared at her like she was of foreign, unearthly being. "GTA3?"

"Grand Theft Auto 3. It's a video game. The universal way teenage males get through life without killing people. The ultimate violent diversion. Enjoy."

She walked away and Conner stood astounded, studying his new gift. And though it didn't give him further insight and assurance that he'd be accepted here, he felt comforted somehow. The girl was strange and unlike anyone he'd met before. But she had given him a small seed of comfort, and though he'd like to take it from granted, he couldn't. Maybe along with Spike, she was someone else in this house that he could . . . relate to. Not trust, he wasn't ready for that. But perhaps he could relate to Dawn. Maybe, after a while, they could even be friends. Maybe.

Staring after her, a tiny smile broke across his face before he went back into his room and shut the door.

TBC………Sorry for the wait! I've been busy over the holidays, but I hope you enjoy the update. Thanks for still reading!