Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss Whedon and his cohorts, but never to the WB. WB sucks. I own some fabulous shoes, Rebecca Martin-Pryce, and all original portions of this fic. Please do not borrow without crediting me kthxby.

Note: Takes place roughly four months after the events of "Not Fade Away." This is probably my most-researched fic, by the way. It's purely amazing what you can find about ancient gods and civilizations on the Web.

Note II: Thanks to Gyrus and Selena for the betas, and thanks to Abe Zapruder for the information on All Things Italian. Without you guys, this plot bunny would never have gotten out of the hutch.

Past Perfect By HonorH

It gave Buffy a little more sympathy for Dawn, being on the opposite end of spending time with your sister's boyfriend. She recalled eleven- and twelve- year-old Dawn casting suspicious glances in Angel's direction and occasionally asking Very Embarrassing Questions. Fourteen-year-old Dawn had been much the same, only a little taller, and mature enough that she (somewhat reluctantly) actually started to like Riley. Then there was Spike and his relationship with Dawn, which covered all bases from the sweet to the nearly-homicidal.

That being said, Buffy thought it was a whole new level of awkward to be playing hostess to your little sister's (very cute) boyfriend while said little sister and your nerdy apartment-crasher were dawdling about fetching groceries for a nice, home-cooked meal to impress said boyfriend.

"So . . . you grew up in California, Connor?" Buffy asked, setting a cup of coffee in front of the boyfriend in question. He and Dawn had been going out for almost a month, starting practically from the second Connor had set foot in Italy.

"Um, yeah. Well, not totally. I mean, I was born in Oregon, but Dad got a job in Los Angeles when I was nine," said Connor. He looked about as comfortable with the situation as Buffy felt.

Awkward silence. Buffy cleared her throat and said, "So, Stanford. How's that working for you?"

"Um, yeah." Connor took a quick sip of the coffee. "It's good, I guess. My dad wanted me to go to Notre Dame, but I got accepted at Stanford, so . . . yeah."

They both nodded as if Connor had said something profound.

"How--how long are you in Italy again?" asked Buffy before the silence stretched into eternity.

"It's a semester abroad. I'm leaving a week before Christmas."

"Right."

They both sipped their coffee and prayed for Dawn to get back.

---

"She'll kill me, she'll kill me, she'll kill me . . ." Dawn chanted her mantra as she hurried back to the apartment, silently cursing her high- heeled sandals. "Connor's gotta be there by now, and my God, could the situation be any more awkward?"

"Oh, don't worry," panted Andrew, barely keeping up. "She and Connor are probably having a nice chat."

"The less I think about that, the happier I'll be," snapped Dawn. "I don't even want to know how Buffy the Vampire Slayer is interrogating my first actual boyfriend boyfriend. I'll just be happy if he isn't my first ex- boyfriend by the time we get back. What were you looking at for so long, anyway?"

"I need new soap. The kind I've been using is making me all itchy, and I don't care for the smell. Maybe I'll have Giles send me some from England."

Dawn threw him a dark glance. "Aren't you supposed to be headed back to England, like, any day now?"

"Well, technically, I--"

"Shh!"

Andrew immediately stopped talking and slowed, looking in the same direction that Dawn was. Something was coming their way.

In the mottled light from the street lamps, it was hard to tell exactly what the being looked like as it approached. It walked upright like a human, but there was something about the way it moved that was definitely . . . other.

"This could be trouble," murmured Dawn.

"I've got your back," said Andrew. Fortunately, thanks to Giles, that statement wasn't nearly as ridiculous as it would've been a year ago.

It continued its purposeful approach. Dawn could now clearly see a shiny reddish leather suit that looked somehow organic and blue tints on the being's face and in its hair. It was staring fixedly at Dawn.

Finally, it halted about four feet away from Dawn and Andrew. It--or she, for it looked something like a human woman--looked Andrew up and down briefly before returning its gaze to Dawn. Somehow, it managed to be strangely beautiful as well as alien.

It tilted its head and said, "I will take the Key now."

There weren't many words that could've panicked Dawn more than those.

"No!" she screamed, and threw her bag of groceries at the demon.

It batted the bag aside, and when Andrew tried to step between it and Dawn, it batted him aside just as easily. Andrew went flying across the street.

Dawn turned and ran. She was no Slayer, and she'd been drilled enough by Buffy to know that when your instincts tell you to get the hell out of there, you run.

She hadn't made it more than five steps when a strong hand closed around her upper arm and pulled her off her feet. Dawn kicked and screamed, trying to attract attention or get loose. She wasn't that far from home. If only she could get there, back to Buffy . . .

A brick wall slammed into her back, knocking the wind out of her. Dawn found herself staring into the crystalline eyes of the demon.

"You resist me," it said. "I did not anticipate this. It is of no significance. You are mine, the creation of my own power and energy, and I will have that power back." Its eyes dropped for a moment, almost softening. "There is much that needs to be undone."

Before Dawn could even begin to comprehend what she'd been told, the being bashed her head back against the wall. All went dark.