"C'mon...c'mon," urged Willow. For the past forty-five minutes, she'd been hacking into motor vehicle records across the country. Rushing over after Buffy's frantic call, she'd set up shop in the Summers' dining room. It had started out as a simple location job but had turned into so much more.
Tracking down the elusive truck had been harder than expected. It had turned out that the biggest clue they had was actually a mystery. The tag number didn't exist in California. Since Dawn hadn't written down the truck's description, it had become a dead end. So now, on a hunch, Willow was systematically breaching every state's vehicle records. It was slow going and everyone was getting impatient.
Joyce had arrived home exhausted. After drinking a cup of coffee, she'd sat stoically in the living room, staring into space. Buffy, Xander, and Spike were currently playing ring-around-the-furniture.
"Anything yet Willow?" requested Buffy.
Willow glanced at her watch. It was the third time she'd asked in two minutes. Sending her a soft grin, she shook her head. "Nothing yet."
"Why don't you magic it up? Houdini it," suggested Xander.
Willow sighed and tapped some more keys. She was already up to the "M" states. "Because Xander, I'm trying not to blow up my computer. Just be patient."
Finally tired of pacing, Spike pivoted out of the three person loop-de-loop and settled on the couch beside Joyce. Sending her a sideways glance, he tapped his feet. "You know we're going to find her."
Joyce sent him a small, tired smile and looked away. Sighing, she set her coffee cup on the table and reached out a hand hesitantly. Settling it on his shoulder lightly, she shook her head. "Spike...I know you will try everything in your power to find Dawn. She's—she's your best friend."
Grimacing, Spike stared at the floor. His hands clasped and unclasped, tightening until they were white with strain. "That time...that I was away...being tortured...I just kept thinking ' Cripes. No one will know'. I didn't figure myself for friends. None of the bints around here really cared. Thorn in their side I was. Figured I'd left, drinks all around."
Swallowing harshly, he closed his eyes. Rubbing the back of his neck, he glanced at Joyce. Giving her a small grin, he mused, "Then one day, after a break from torture, here comes Niblet. Riding in at the front of my rescue, like a bloody general. Don't remember much...but I recall her crying as she tried to carry me out through a blaze of fire."
Pursing his lips tightly, he looked away and blinked. As if trying to bring the room back into focus. "She wouldn't leave me behind."
Joyce sniffled softly and rubbed his arm again. "She loves you."
Spike gave a strained chuckle. "Bleedin' tell me why."
Sitting forward, Joyce leaned into him, looking him in the eye. "Because you're her best friend. She can go to you about anything. Talk to you about anything. You may be extremely older than she is but you think a lot alike." Chuckling softly, Joyce crossed her arms. "As much as I hate to admit it, she listens when you talk. You tell it to her straight and don't sugar coat it. Even when we talk, she'll bring up advice you gave her or some quirky anecdote." Joyce smiled and bumped his shoulder. "For an old guy, she thinks you're pretty cool. Besides the fact you're old enough to be her great-grandfather, she respects you. I think that's reason enough why."
Staring off into space again, Joyce clenched her jaw. "I've never been a part of Buffy's missions. Her fights. But this, this isn't some monster. This a human we're dealing with. A sick...man. He has my daughter, doing God only knows what."
Spike cleared his throat and bowed his head. "What are you saying Joyce?"
Joyce glared at him and sat up straight. "I'm saying, before the cops appear...before Buffy jumps in...if you get to him first..." sniffling loudly, she firmly shook her head.
Spike frowned. "Joyce?"
Staring him straight in the eye, she said, "You save me a piece of that bastard."
Spike stared at her in disbelief. Joyce firmly nodded her head, then grabbed her coffee cup. Slowly walking around a silently pacing Xander, she went back into the kitchen to refill her coffee cup.
Biting his bottom lip, Spike rubbed his hands together and popped to his feet. "Slayer's mum for sure," he murmured.
Xander, who was mumbling under his breath as he paced, came to a halt beside the coffee table. "Am I mistaken or did you call me a bint?"
Spike began to chuckle and turned away, following a retreating Buffy into the dining room.
Trailing behind him, Xander groused, "That's not cool man. I can't help it my best friends are girls."
Spike rolled his eyes. "Sure you can. Get out more."
"Shut up Spike," chimed Buffy.
Xander crossed his arms and settled in beside Willow. "I miss Oz."
Dawn hummed to herself as Dak suddenly appeared in the doorway. Stretched out as she was, she couldn't really stand if she wanted to. She was also pretty sure that her ribs were definitely broke. Moving as little as possible, Dawn watched as sunlight filtered in through wooden slats that were boarded over the only window in the room. Drawing figures in the dust, Dawn watched as the dust motes danced in air.
"What do you want Dak?" she sighed.
"I want to chew on your soft skin till your bones crunch," he replied, his voice guttural and grating.
Dawn sighed. "Guess you'll have to order out for more chicken then."
Dak grunted and tossed a plate at her side. A bottle of water rolled to a stop beside it. On the plate was a simple sandwich.
Wrinkling her nose, Dawn glanced back up at him. "What? No chips?"
"Be glad you get that human."
As he turned to leave, Dawn said, "You know, I can't wait until my sister cuts off your other two arms. Then I think she'll have you stuffed and used for sword practice."
As expected, Dak came charging over to her. He stumbled back as the electrical field zapped him. Dawn giggled as he clutched his stomach. "Silly Dak. Just a glorified babysitter."
"So it may seem," replied Dak. Rubbing his stomach, he stepped away. "The look of surprise as I tear out your heart will be enough for me."
Dawn sat silently as he closed the door. Sighing wearily, she pushed the sandwich away. Holding the bottle into the light, she checked to make sure the seal was solid and there was nothing in the water. Riley and Dak couldn't touch her but she wasn't taking any chances. Even as she twisted off the cap, she checked under it to make sure Riley hadn't dripped something under the seal that could be released.
Dribbling a small bit into her hand, she waited to see if she felt any different. After a few minutes of nothing, she slowly wiped down her face and neck. Drying off with her shirt, she swished a little water into her mouth and then spat it onto the floor. As cautious as ever, she made sure not to swallow any water. Riley was a tricky bastard at best.
Setting the water beside the sandwich, she checked the scabs that circled her wrist. After Riley had broken her arm, he'd simply untied her. As he slowly let his guard down, she'd simply been confined to this single room. She couldn't go anywhere with a broken arm. The boards were brand new, as she suspected the nails were too. She definitely couldn't pull them out with only one arm. But just to be sure, he'd snapped her ankle so she couldn't walk. She couldn't escape, he'd made sure of it.
As she peeled the scabs off her wrists, the door opened. Glancing sideways, she froze as she saw the smile on Riley's face.
"So I hear you're taunting Dak again?" he mused.
Dawn tried to act unaffected and just shrugged. "No TV."
As he walked toward her, he slowly circled around until he was a couple of feet in front of her. "Hey kid, wanna play a game?"
Dawn gritted her teeth at the nickname and bared her teeth at him, in what could hardly be called a smile. "What did you have in mind?"
Backing up, he slid his foot across the floor every couple of inches. Dawn watched confused as he made four, then five, then finally six marks in the dust on the floor. Standing behind the sixth mark, he closed his eyes, then opened them to stare at her. "I can't touch you. Whatever spell you conjured made sure that your enemies can't. You also know the Initiative doesn't deal with magic."
Dawn almost couldn't hide her smirk. Almost. "Sucks to be the Initiative huh?"
Riley's eyes glinted, as if he was the only one in on the joke. "We don't deal with magic. We deal with science and facts. So...your spell says we can't touch you."
"What's the game already?" Dawn asked. She couldn't stand the waiting and Riley was pissing her off.
Riley finally smiled and reached behind his back. "The game is this." Dawn's eyes widened as she heard 'snick snick'. From behind his back, Riley pulled a small handgun. Waving it around in front of him, he turned it this way and that, examining all the sides. "Not very big, but a .22 can pack a punch." Tossing her another grin, he said, "So here's the game. What do you think you're chances are that a bullet can touch you?"
Dawn began to glance towards the door and then back at Riley. As she began to squirm in it's direction, Riley took one step forward. "Oh no need to be scared. I'm not going to aim for anything vital. Just maybe you're foot...or your hand. But..." Riley sucked in air between his teeth and looked at her, as if to say 'oops'. "If your hand or foot happen to be positioned next to a vital part, or you move off target, can't really blame me can ya?"
Dawn scrambled towards the door even faster, all the while muttering words under her breath. Riley smirked and looked down at his feet. "Now, I'm going to stand behind this line and take a shot. If the field holds, I'll take a step to the next line." Cocking the gun, he leveled the gun in the air. "Let's see how close I can get before it stops working."
"I found it!" yelled Willow. It had taken three hours but she'd finally found it.
"About time!" whooped Xander. Spike and Joyce came hurriedly from the kitchen area. Buffy came bounding down the stairs.
"What? What is it? Can we go search for that house now?" She'd been eager to go since she found the diary but they didn't want to bang on any stranger's door and give themselves away. Just in case Riley was watching.
"Willow found the truck," replied Xander. Joyce started ringing her hands. Spike patted her on the shoulder but was silent.
As Willow scrolled the page, she sighed. "Okay, there's not much here but it does say that it's registered to a Nolan Wiles. He's from Wyoming. Now I looked him up and it turns out that he's Riley's second uncle through marriage. That's why the tag that Dawn had wasn't actually a California plate! Riley must've given it the design but..." She started scrolling again and shook her head.
"What about the house?" asked Buffy.
Willow mumbled under her breath as she read and then grinned. "The house is rented out to Nolan. Leased three months ago."
Xander grabbed his coat and Spike practically was bouncing on the balls of his feet. "Address?" asked Xander.
Willow jumped up and grabbed her coat too. "4738 Crawford Street." As they rushed to the door, Buffy skidded to a halt.
Joyce had grabbed her coat as well. Spike held it for her as she shrugged into it. "Mom, what are you doing?"
"I'm going with you." The look she shot Buffy said 'Don't argue with you mother!'
Glaring at Spike, she waited until he turned away and went to the weapons chest. "Mom, you don't understand. Riley is a military trained professional. You could get hurt!"
"No, you don't understand. Dawn is my daughter. I say we go get her and bring her home. While you do what you need to do, I'll call the cops."
Joyce held up her hand. "Riley is a human. He can't hide from the cops. He will get what he deserves."
"Bloody right he will," chimed Spike. Glaring at the sword in his hand, he gave it a twirl. "What the bloody cops can find, they can have."
"Now that we're all in agreement, let's go," urged Xander from the front door.
Brushing past Buffy, Joyce led them out of the house.
The front door on 4738 Crawford Street imploded with a crash. As it settled on the floor, dust plumed from beneath it.
Xander and Spike entered first, weapons drawn. Searching around the empty room, they sighed. Nothing. It looked like no one had ever been there.
"Dawn!" called Buffy. Rushing ahead of the guys, she ran through to the next room. Willow and Joyce followed behind last.
Trailing off to the staircase, Spike slowly stepped up and inhaled. Joyce and Willow froze as a suddenly demonish growl echoed from his throat. "I smell blood."
Joyce started crying as he bounded up the steps.
"Buffy!" called Willow, following Spike. Xander came running back through and Joyce just pointed up.
"What?" she yelled, running back into the room.
"He—he smells blood," whispered Joyce.
Grabbing her mother's arm, Buffy pulled her up the stairs.
Joyce tried to hang back but with Buffy's strength, she was pulled along. "Buffy, if she's in there..."
Buffy slowly released her mom and nodded. If Dawn was in there, she wasn't going to let their mother see her like that.
Falling in behind Xander, she breathed slowly as they inched down the hall. Spike paused outside one door and growled again. "Demon," he said.
Reaching for her knife, Buffy asked, "Is it in there?"
Spike shook his head and inhaled again. Curling his lip, he spat, "Dak."
"Oh shit," whispered Xander.
Willow started muttering a few words under her breath and suddenly the door turned to a solid slab of concrete. They turned to her in surprise and she just shrugged. "Just in case."
Buffy's mind whirled as she caught on to what Dawn had figured out. Riley and Dak were working together. It figured in to what Dawn had found out but she almost couldn't comprehend it. Riley had fully went over to the dark side. Gripping her knife harder, she relished the thought of showing him just how wrong that action would prove.
As Spike approached Dawn's supposed room, he felt along the door for traps or minor explosives. Finding none, he inhaled again and turned his head sharply. The smell of blood was strong and recent.
Pushing it open, he glanced around into the darkness. Finding silence, he entered and allowed the rest of the group to follow. Standing along side the nearest wall, he closed his eyes as the smell of blood, sweat, urine and even fright assaulted him. It hung in the air like humidity.
"She's not here," whispered Joyce.
"No, she's not," answered Buffy.
"She was," remarked Spike. Trailing his hand along the wall, he approached to where he knew Dawn had been held those long, tortuous days. "We need light Red," he murmured.
As Willow worked her mojo, a ball of soft light appeared in the middle of the room. Buffy approached behind Spike as he knelt at Dawn's last resting place. They silently studied the walls where Dawn had scratched into it with her nails. Blood was spattered in some places. Other places were smeared hand prints.
"It looks like she didn't really eat," commented Willow. Dawn's stale dried out sandwich lay on a broken plate under a boarded window. Beside it was a crushed water bottle.
"What the hell is this?" exclaimed Xander. Walking in a circle, he gestured to the lines drawn in the dusty floor. Standing beside them, he realized he faced where Buffy and Spike were positioned.
"Magic's been done here," murmured Willow.
Buffy frowned. "Riley doesn't know magic. The Initiative doesn't believe in it."
"Dawn knows some," replied Willow. Noting the stare she got from Buffy and Joyce, she ducked her head. "I taught her some simple defense spells."
"Such as?" inquired Joyce.
Willow shrugged. "Such as a protection spell. But the ones I showed her needed the person's blood. I think she did it somehow."
"Thank you," whispered Joyce. Clutching her coat around her, she studied the walls. "There are holes in these walls," she observed.
"Maybe they're from the previous owners," suggested Buffy.
Xander approached one wall and traced his finger around one. "No. No. These aren't nail holes. They are bullet holes."
Joyce covered her mouth in horror as Xander stepped back to the lines. They watched, horrified, as he raised his arm up and pointed at Spike and Buffy.
"The bastard shot at her?" squeaked Willow.
Buffy spun in a circle and looked around the floor. "There's no blood."
"Oh there's blood alright," sighed Spike. Motioning to Willow, he said, "Bring the light over here Red." The group watched over Spike's shoulder as the ball of light hung over his head. They held their breath as Spike slowly and carefully pried a piece of the foot board loose.
Hidden behind the carefully stuck board were smears of blood. They stared at it, squinting their eyes. Turning their heads from side to side, they tried to figure out what it meant.
"What does it say?" asked Buffy.
"Bloody hell," whispered Spike.
"It says 'bloody hell'?" asked Xander, confused.
"No," responded Spike, in a clipped voice.
"Do you know what it means?" asked Joyce softly.
Spike rubbed the bridge of his nose and sighed. "While I was helping Dawn with her history, sometimes she would tease me about England. I know what she wrote, I just can't bloody interpret it."
"Well what does it say?" urged Willow.
Spike sighed and said, "It says 'Queen's git'."