This is a follow-up to "Runaway Trains at 3 A.M.", which is posted
under the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" category here on fanfiction.net.
Part 1 tonight, Part 2 tomorrow, and so on; it's all done, but I'm
still in the middle of rewrites. Comments welcomed at
kikimariposa@prodigy.net.

Standard Disclaimer: Clark & Dawn & all other characters belong
to Joss Whedon, DC Comics, Warner Bros., Mutant Enemy, yadda
yadda yawn; the story is my own, and may not be re-posted
without permission. Non-Standard Disclaimer: No long distance
satellites were damaged in the making of this fic.

Spoilers through "Doublemeat Palace" for BtVS, and "Rogue" and "Hug"
for Smallville.

Thanks to the Perri, Dee, Tina, Celli, Lizbet & Val for commenting
and betaing and snickering.

"Lines of Communication" (1/6)
by C. L. Kamnikar
copyright 2002

"Holy mother of cellphones."

Willow looked up from the computer, where she was trying to track down any
trace of Warren, Jonathan and Andrew, without success. The Nerd Herd were
keeping their heads down; Jonathan must have told them about her
interrogation techniques. Either that, or they were all mortally
terrified of Buffy. Proving that they might be only human, but they
were still miles smarter than the average vamp.

Although if they could've seen the Slayer's slack-jawed stare right then,
they would have probably started planning for their next Festival of World
Domination. "What've you got there?"

"The phone bill. At least, I think it's the phone bill. It could be the
serial number to the cordless, easy. Jeez. Did you do this? Look at this!"
Buffy dropped the bill onto the computer keyboard, and Willow picked it
up, then blinked in shock as she read the total at the bottom of the page.

"Whoa. I didn't do this. Nuh-unh."

"Well, I know *I* didn't do this!" Buffy fumed, wildly waving her arms
around in denial. "Two hundred and twelve dollars! How the hell could this
happen? We don't know anyone to run up this kind of bill with! I called
Giles a couple of times this month, but nothing like this!"

"Maybe it's a mistake." Willow frowned. "Or -- ooo, thought! -- maybe
someone hacked your account? The Legion of Dorkness, maybe?"

"It has to be. We don't *know* anyone in Kansas, and that's where all the
calls are going."

"Kansas? That's weird. The Bahamas I could see, or the Cayman Islands, or
one of those 1-900-SEX numbers. But... what's in Kansas?"

Buffy took back the bill and squinted at the long column of phone numbers
and the names of the cities printed next to them. "Some place called
Smallville, looks like." She grinned, relaxing a little, probably at the
hope of an easy explanation. "And take a moment to savor the quaint, there."

"Buffy, we're living in Sunnydale, which sounds like the orange juice
capitol of the world, not the Home of the Hellmouth. I don't think we have
room to mock."

"Yes we do. It's _Kansas_," Buffy responded definitely. "I'm going to call
and find out what the Geek Troika are up to."

Willow was suddenly reminded of a couple too many episodes of the Twilight Zone
that she'd watched with Xander. "Maybe that's their plan, though. Maybe
you'll get sucked into an evil parallel dimension if you call that number!"

"Through the *phone*?"

"Weirder things have happened. To us, even."

Buffy gave her a skeptical look, which you couldn't completely blame her
for. "Yeah, but can you see AT&T putting up with that? Seriously? Anyone
using their fiber optics for evil would infringe on their franchise."

"Well, okay, so it wouldn't be easy, but it might be *possible*---"

"Fine, Will." Buffy picked up the receiver and made a face at the phone.
"Cover me, I'm dialing. If you see a blue swirly doorway start to form, pull
the plug."

"Right. Ready and in position to yank," she responded, leaning over to tug
on the phone cord.

Anyone who'd dated a demon through the Internet learned the power of
"shut it off, Dave" real quick. Hopefully, this wasn't going to be anywhere
near as bad.

Hopefully.

*~riiiiing riiiiing*~
*~riiiiing riiiiing*~

"Hello?"

"Um, hello? Who is this?"

"This is Martha Kent. May I ask who's calling?"

"(It doesn't sound like a demon, Will. It sounds like my mom.)... Uh, this
is Buffy Summers. You don't know me, but I live in Sunnydale, California,
and I just got the world's largest phone bill, and the long distance charges
all have your number on them. I was kind of hoping you'd know what that was
about."

"Funny you should say that... I was just going over *our* phone bill, and we
have more than a hundred and fifty dollars worth of long distance charges to
Sunnydale, California."

"You're kidding."

"I wish I were. This is outrageous."

"*Tell* me about it. It's got to be a mistake. Or a scam, or some creep's
idea of a joke. We don't even know anyone in Smallville."

"Your phone number is 962-555-1157, isn't it?"

"Yeah, that's us. Mega-bizarre. I think I know who to blame, though. So, are
you with a software or video games company? Or a woman's lingerie catalog?"

"Neither. We raise organic produce."

"Hunh. Didn't see that coming. Maybe they just liked your phone number.
Maybe it's one of those, those math thingies. The square root of an exotic
number, or one where it's the same backwards and forwards? No, that can't
be it...."

"I don't know about the square roots, but are you saying you think someone
deliberately ran up these charges on our bills?"

"Uh, I kind of know these guys... they're not my biggest fans, and they're
into this sort of thing, hacking and illegal stuff--- it's exactly what
they'd pull. The only part I don't get is why they charged phone time off to
you, too. You haven't annoyed any geeks lately, have you?"

"Not that I'm aware of."

"Okay. Uh, sorry about this. I'm going to call the phone company and try to
get the charges removed--- you should probably do the same thing.
Otherwise, knowing these jerks? They'll just keep doing it."

"Well, thank you for calling. I really -- Clark, you put that cookie back
this instant, dinner's in half an hour! Honestly... I really appreciate
your help in trying to figure this out."

"Clark?"

"I'm sorry, I was talking to my son. Who does *not* need more sugar in his
system."

"Your son's name is *Clark*?!"

"Yes, it is. Why? You sound upset---"

"I'm going to kill her. I'm going to shake her until her tiny teenage brain
cells rattle, ground her until she's seventy, and then I'm going. To. KILL.
Her!"

"*Excuse* me?"

"Buffy, what's wrong?"

"My sister's just trying to put my blood pressure through the stratosphere
again, that's all... Mrs. Kent, do you know, I mean--- has your son
mentioned anyone named Dawn to you?"

".... Oh, dear. Clark, you get back down here! Right now!"

"You are so right, 'oh dear.' I can't believe this. I can't believe she
*did* this."

"Miss Summers, I am so sorry. I had no idea--- he'd mentioned Dawn
to us, but the way he talked about her, I thought she was a new student at
Smallville High. And I certainly didn't know he was calling her long
distance."

"Mom? What's up?"

"Plenty. Want to take a look at this phone bill, and see if there's anything
you need to tell me about?"

"Dawn said he was helping her with her math homework. And she was giving him
girlfriend advice. I thought *he* was the new kid *here*."

"Martha? What's going on?"

"Your son has made a little mistake with his phone charges. What do you have
to say for yourself, young man?"

"... Oops? And, I'm very, very sorry and it'll never happen again? Ever?"

"'Oops' my foot, and darn right it won't. Look at this, Jonathan."

"Whoa. How on earth...?"

"I guess Dawn and I kind of lost track of time. We've just had a lot to talk
about, lately... and she's really cool...."

"Mrs. Kent?"

"Yes, Miss Summers, I'm still here. I'm sorry for the distraction. My son is
trying to cute his way out of this."

"I'm not! Well, not much...."

"Could you ask him how he knows my sister in the first place? Because if
she's making new friends through the internet chat rooms, that's a whole
'nother argument I need to have with her."

"Hang on, I'll ask him...."

"I'll tell her about Moloch again, if that'll help."

"... Fat chance. I think she's been kidnapped too many times to be scared
when she should be, the little psycho...."

"Clark, Dawn's sister wants to know how you and Dawn became
friends. Did you meet online? I thought you understood why we didn't
want you to trust people you've never met personally---"

"Ummmm... That's kind of .... "

"Well?"

"Son, now is not the time to be stonewalling us. Where did you meet this
Dawn?"

"See, the thing is? I've already been punished for how Dawn and I met,
but... I'm not sure she ever told her sister about it."

"What?"

"Clark, you're not making any sense. Just tell us the truth. You won't be
getting your friend into any more trouble."

"Actually, I kind of will be. And I don't want to. But since it's already
mostly out in the open... Remember what happened before Christmas?
When I sort of freaked out and, uh, left town?"

"Ye-ess..."

"I met Dawn in Denver. Right before Lex got there."

"Okay. So why wouldn't her sister know about this?"

"Because she was running away too and then this guy who's a friend of her
sister's showed up and took her home, and I don't think they ever told Buffy
about it because Dawn was supposed to be on a campout, and she didn't want
to get her sister upset or get in trouble and I think... I think they kind
of just ... never mentioned it. To her. Buffy, I mean."

"Oh, *dear*."

"Aw, Clark...."

"I'll pay for the phone bill, Dad, I swear...."

"Mrs. Kent? What's he saying?"

"I think you need to have a little talk with your sister, dear."

"That bad?"

"It wasn't in the internet chat rooms. And, well... my son has never been to
California. In fact, the farthest west he's ever been is Denver. Right
before Christmas."

"Oh God. Oh, *God*. Are you saying---"

"I *really* think you should be discussing this with your sister, Miss
Summers."

"I'm not just going to kill her. I'm going to *eviscerate* her... Well not
really, of course. I just can't believe she... Thank you for clearing this
up, Mrs. Kent. I have to go find my sister and interrogate her now. Possibly
with hot lights and a truth serum. I'm so, so sorry about your phone bill.
It won't happen again. Dawn's never going to be allowed near a
phone again for the rest of her natural life, however long that is."

"Well, I've got a teenager here who's looking at the same thing, at least
for the next two weeks. I think the blame is pretty equally distributed in
this case."

"Aww, Mom... C'mon, it was an accident... Mostly...."

"Don't even try, Clark. I'm very annoyed with your behavior right now."

"Let her cool off before you mount a defense, son. Especially since we both
know you *know* better than this."

"Thank you for being so understanding, Mrs. Kent. I just... I'm really,
really sorry. I have to go."

"That's okay, dear. Please explain to Dawn why she won't be hearing
from my son for a while."

"Yeah. I'll do that. Tell Clark the same thing, okay?"

"I certainly will. Good-bye. And remember, she had help in this little
fiasco. Try not to be too hard on her."

"Right. Like that's possible... Good-bye, Mrs. Kent."

"Good-bye, Miss Summers."




Willow was watching her anxiously as Buffy slowly replaced the phone
receiver, still furious. "Well? What did they say? Where did Dawn meet
her friend Clark?"

"I still don't know that, but the bad news is? It wasn't online. And Clark
Kent's never been west of the Mississippi. Or, wait. Which side of the
Mississippi is Kansas on? It's another one of those stupid square states,
right? So that's in the middle part---" Buffy scowled, distracted, trying to
remember which square one was next to Iowa, then she gave up. "Whatever,
he's never been past Denver. Which is nowhere *near* California."

"Oh." Willow blinked, then blinked again, her face reflecting the shock
and horror buried way down underneath Buffy's anger. "Oh! Oh, no.
You mean Dawn..."

"I mean she has some 'splaining to do, and I must be even more blind and
clueless than I thought, if she managed to meet a boy from Kansas somewhere
else completely while my back was turned." She crumpled the phone
bill up in one hand, then stopped to straighten it out with short, choppy
gestures, wishing she could tear it to pieces. Too bad the phone company
would just print out another one. Too bad it wasn't five minutes ago, when
she'd just been annoyed at Warren and the Goof Squad, instead of
half-ready to threaten her sister with a good staking. "God, Will, I am
going to strangle her if she tries to lie her way out of this. Or lock her
in the basement until she's ready for menopause.... How could I *miss*
this? How stupid am I? I can't believe---"

"Calm down, okay? She won't tell you *anything* if you come over all Spanish
Inquisition," Willow interrupted, sounding like the pre-meltdown Willow
of a few months ago again. NormalWillow kept peeking out from behind
StressWillow the last few weeks, which was great. Buffy only wished
NormalDawn hadn't decided to leave the building in the meantime,
and possibly Sunnydale, without telling her about it. Willow patted
her on the arm. "Just let her tell her side of it first. You can do the
cross-examining if she clams up."

Which was very good advice. And it wasn't like she was stupid.
"I know, I know. Calm. Mature. Understanding Buffy. This is me,
being Wise and Sensible Big Sister. Ready to listen and advise. Yup."

Willow was giving her a 'humor-the-loony' look. "Uh-hunh."

"What?"

Will winced and pointed. "You kind of... crushed the receiver,
there. Maybe you should wait until your fingers unclench before you
talk to her."

"Damnit." Buffy stared at the phone and the broken casing, then
slammed it back down into the cradle. "Damnit! You know what?
Screw understanding. She's at the Magic Box helping Anya. Maybe
the presence of witnesses will keep me from losing it. And if not,
at least I won't be destroying any more of *our* stuff when I
freak out."

Nodding carefully, Willow followed her as she stomped toward the
front door, snagging her purse on the way. "Sounds like a plan.
I'll drive, okay? 'Cause you should probably practice that breathing
thing on the way there."

"Right." Dawn was *not* going to make her crazy. She was *not*
going to make Buffy lose her temper. And she would not, no, definitely
not, mess this up. Dawn was going to see reason, tell the truth,
and explain everything, because she could handle this. She was the
grown-up, damnit. And nothing the little twerp could say was going
to change that.

***

Chris Kiki Chaos }|{
Kikimariposa@prodigy.net
More to come...