COLLATERAL DAMAGE

By D. M. Evans

Spoilers - zero. This is set BtVS S2 Between Lie to Me and What's My Line

Rating - R for violence

Summary - Children are being murdered in Sunnydale and Buffy thinks Angel knows who's behind it

Author's Note #1 - This was written for the Buffy fica thon.

Pairing - B/A, Requests: Would love to see a pre-season 3 BtVS with Dawn involved.

Restrictions: No Angelus. Written for S.J. Smith

Author's Note#2 - This story contains dark subjects and graphic crime scene descriptions.

Thanks to Leni for editing this thing. I appreciate it!

CHAPTER ONE

Buffy shifted on the couch, her lips reluctantly leaving Angel's. She felt eyes on her and she hadn't heard mom coming home early. She pretty much had mom's schedule down to a science. A pair of blue eyes peered around the corner of the living room. "Dawn!"

A giggle echoed in the living room, followed by what sounded like two herds of elephants thundering up the stairs.

"Sorry." Buffy reluctantly dragged herself off the couch. Angel simply shot her that smirk that always made her knees go liquidy and she chased upstairs after her sister. Buffy tried the door to Dawn's room but it was locked. She thumped on it. "Dawn, get out here."

"Make me," the eleven-year-old called through the cheap wood.

"You so don't want me to do that," Buffy warned. "Now open this door."

The door flew open and Dawn scowled up at her, tugging on her nightgown, making the horses on it jiggle. "Happy?"

"No! You're supposed to be in bed already. It's a school night," Buffy scolded. "You're especially not supposed to be spying on me, now get to bed."

"Make me!" Dawn stabbed her hand into her hips.

Buffy's lips curled. "I'll tell Mom."

"And I'll tell her about Angel." Dawn threw her hair over her shoulder, giving Buffy a triumphant look.

"Fine, stay up. Mom will catch you," Buffy said, not offering Dawn yet another bribe to keep her quiet. She didn't have to. Dawn pouted and went into her room slamming the door. Buffy felt proud that she had won but only for a moment until she realized she had outsmarted a kid, a hollow victory at best. Still, Dawn wasn't any kid. She was annoying enough for twelve kids.

Buffy went downstairs and Angel was gone. She found him outside the kitchen door. She shot him a contrite look. "Sorry about that."

"No problem." He pointed inside the house. "Your mom just showed up. I should go."

"I'll head out on patrol in an hour or so. I'll see you by the park."

"I'll be waiting."

Those simple words gave her heart wings as she hustled into the living room and pretended to be doing algebra as she waited on her mom to arrive. She could still taste Angel on her lips.

Joyce looked haggard as she dragged into the house. She offered her daughter a thin smile. "Still hard at work, Buffy?"

"I live for math," Buffy said, regretting her mother's slightly disbelieving tone.

"I'm sure."

"How was work?" Buffy didn't know why she asked other than to see her mom excited about something. She never really knew what Joyce was talking about when she got started about art. Buffy kept meaning to go to the gallery but just never got he chance and she wasn't very good with art in general.

"We put up a show for an artist who works in mixed media. It's some good stuff," Joyce said but Buffy could see her heart wasn't in it.

"You look exhausted, Mom. Why don't you go have a long soak and climb into bed? Everything's handled here," Buffy assured her.

Joyce gave her a peck on the cheek. "Sounds great. So, how was Dawn?"

"Terrible as per usual." Buffy's flippant tone made her mother scowl.

"Buffy, you should give your sister a break. It was hard on her moving here from L.A.," Joyce said. "You make friends quicker than she does."

"Because I'm not a brat," Buffy said. "Besides, it was nowhere near as traumatic for her as it was for me. She's not even in middle school yet. That's where the real pecking order gets established." Joyce shot her a warning look and Buffy knew she was in danger of a lecture about how it was her fault they had to move in the first place. She already had enough guilt about that as it was. She held up her hands. "Okay, okay I'll be nicer but you tell her to stay out of my room and keep her hands off my stuff. She ruined a perfectly good tube of lipstick."

Joyce smiled. "Thank you and I will. I don't want you staying up too late, Buffy."

"I won't."

Buffy waited for her mom to draw her bath before going to her room, just in case Mom was listening for her footsteps on the stairs. She picked up some weapons, touched up her make up just in case Angel saw her in a street lamp's light, then went out the window as per usual.

As promised, Angel was waiting for her in the park and after losing all her freshly applied 'pink ice' lipstick to his nimble lips, she took a step back. "Heard any demon gossip? Any big bads I should worry about?"

"Spike and Dru are still in town," he replied as they started walking through the park.

"Old news. I can handle short, pale and smarmy," Buffy snorted.

"Don't underestimate him, Buffy." Angel brushed the nape of her neck.

"I know." She rolled her eyes. "Giles told me about the two Slayers he's already killed. I have my eye on him."

"As do I. I'd like to know why he's still hanging out here, other than he thinks it's fun." Angel's brow furrowed. "But I haven't heard about anything new coming to town."

"We know there is....there always is," she said despairingly, reaching for his hand. She didn't mind that it was cool and calloused. She simply liked touching him. She had held hands with lots of boys before but it was different with Angel, like his skin was a drug and not being able to feel it made her jones. She hadn't felt like that with Pike or Ford or Tyler or any of the other boys she had shared not entirely innocent fumblings with back in Hemery High, waiting for the big night, the night she went all the way at last. Now, she was just as glad she hadn't. She hadn't really loved any of them, or she had in that hard, fast fickle way of teenagers but with Angel it was entirely different. The emotions were slow, profound, welling from someplace so deep inside her she had never delved into it before. She didn't wonder if Angel would be the one. She knew that eventually he would be no matter how wrong it was because she was the Slayer and he a vampire. It would work. She was betting her heart on it.

Suddenly he stopped, stiffening. She glanced around and saw nothing. They were barely out of the park and into the housing development. He leaned into the practicably non-existent night breeze sniffing as if to sort something out from the smell of bright yellow wild poppies that were everywhere at the moment.

"What's wrong, Angel?"

"I smell blood."

Buffy tried to ignore the subtle longing in his voice as she followed him. Their hands were free now, ready to go for a weapon as needed. When they neared a hedge row, Angel threw out his arm to stop her. She pushed past him, irritated at his protectiveness then wished she had, for once, been the delicate girlie-girl and not looked. A girl, Dawn's age, was sprawled along the bushes. Her daisy-embroidered jeans were in the bushes a few feet away along with her panties. Bruises dotted her pale, thin legs. Her striped shirt had been pushed up around her neck, which had been slashed, blood pooling over her shoulders and into the grass but not as much as Buffy would have expected from a wound that terrible as if the girl had been killed elsewhere and dumped like so much trash. Her little hands cupped over her privates as if to shield herself from more pain. The worst part was someone had taken the time to smooth out her flaxen hair and tuck a poppy behind her ear.

Buffy could barely swallow past her dry, tight throat. "I knew her, Angel. She went to school with Dawnie. Her name was Ashley Boyd." Buffy tore her eyes away from the horrible scene. "She lived just over there. Oh, Angel, she died looking at her house...so close to safety."

He folded her into his arms, pressing her head against his shoulder. He didn't offer her words of comfort that never really managed to make anyone feel better. He just held her until she regained her composure.

"What do I do, Angel?" She stabbed a finger at Ashley. It didn't look like a demon had killed her, not with her clothing torn away and a poppy left in her hair. "Do you think a demon did this?"

He shook his head. "It doesn't look like it. We'll have to call the police."

Buffy made a face. "The Sunnydale police aren't very swift. I can't be here, Angel. If I call the police, they'll question me. It'll be on the news. Mom will kill me!"

He ran an hand up her arm. "Go to Giles'. I'll call the police from a pay phone and make sure no one disturbs her body. I'll meet you there."

Buffy nodded and ran. She hated deserting him. She hated leaving poor Ashley in the bushes. She had seen things like this on the news back in L.A. That was a place you expected pedophiles around every corner, not someplace small, like Sunnydale. She knew that was ridiculous, that it could happen anywhere. She didn't know that this was what it was, even though looked like it. Suddenly she found herself preferring vampires any night of the week to something like this.

Giles was handing her a cup of tea when Angel arrived. Her Watcher didn't look thrilled about inviting the vampire in but for her sake he did so. Angel sat next to her on the couch and Giles kept a very watchful eye on them.

"The police came, I presume," he said.

Angel nodded. "They're there. I doubt they can even trace the anonymous tip to the pay phone in the park. Hopefully no one saw us out there."

"I should still be out there," Buffy said, gulping at her tea, not caring that it burned her tongue.

"There is nothing you can do for her, Buffy. This is a matter for the police, not the Slayer," Giles said. "You should just make an early night of it and go home. You've had a terrible shock."

"I'm the Slayer, Giles. Terrible shocks are part of the game," she said, her voice heavy with self-recrimination.

Angel took her hand. "Giles is right, Buffy. You can't fight all the evil in the world. Your job is to handle the demonic side of it. As horrible as this is, it's not demonic."

Buffy shook her head. "Someone killed that little girl. That's demonic." She slugged back more tea. "But I know what you're both saying. I wouldn't even know what to do with a human bad guy. It's not like I could slay him." Buffy stared at Giles and Angel searching their face for answers and found none. "I need to think. Maybe a good night's sleep...I feel like such a coward even thinking about it."

"You are many things, Buffy, a coward is not one of them," Giles said. "I'll have Willow do her thing with the coroner's office tomorrow just to be certain that this poor child's death is exactly what it seems like, if it'll put your mind at ease that this is not on your shoulders."

"Thanks, Giles." She set the cup on the table. "Walk me home, Angel."

She didn't talk to him as they walked and for his part, Angel let her have her silence, just giving her the comforting arm around the waist that she wanted. She gave him one quick kiss good night under the tree below her window then scampered up it and inside without looking back. She hadn't expected to be this freaked out. She had seen plenty of bodies before but few so young. How was she going to tell Dawn in the morning? She felt like a coward again, hoping it would be in the papers and Mom could handle that part of it. She slipped under the covers thinking this was far from over.