I am an author and thus I am consequently an attention whore and love adulation and pretty things. MistressAshleyhas been absolutely wonderful to indulge me in this desire and she made me a pretty, pretty creation, that you can see on Twisting the Hellmouth. I lavish praise upon MistressAshley quite often but can never do so enough, because she is truly a double threat in fandom – not only are her art manipulations beautiful but her stories are brilliant – not only her style of writing but her imagination and portrayal of the characters. So please check out her work and leave a review, or two. Or twenty. She deserves them.
Dawn crept out of her bedroom at the Council Headquarters while Gabriel and Illyria drifted silently behind her like shadows. After the conversation with Gabriel and Castiel, she knew that they had to leave on their own if they wanted to find the keys to Lucifer's Cage. If anyone else ventured along then they were liabilities that Dawn was not willing to lose. Upon the possibility that Lucifer didfind out what they were doing and captured them, then they had the best chance to survival. Likely Gabriel and Illyria were strong enough to fight Lucifer off long enough to escape and it was her hope that he would not be rash enough to kill her. The conception of that idea stemmed from the fact that, regardless of how he had acted in her dreams, he had not given up on her.
…Of course, she had been wrong before. Many, many times.
The day had grown long and was set to begin anew. A houseful of slayers and hunters was certainly not a house of early risers, so there was still a good deal of movement echoing throughout the Council mansion. They had to be careful not to draw attention and instead get to the garage as quickly as possible and 'borrow' one of the Council vehicles.
"You know, I could still just pop us there," Gabriel offered gleefully, as if he had just read her mind.
Illyria bristled as she inclined her head to give the angel a look of clear disdain at yet another mention of his preference to teleport. "I will not be transported as if I were a sack of starchy tuberous crops."
Gabriel just gave her a look of clear confusion mixed with utter exasperation. "What?"
"Potatoes," Dawn snorted in reply, her lips curving into a mild smirk. She hoped she knew what she was getting into, enlisting these two as her partners in crime.
"Then why can't you just say that?" Gabriel rolled his eyes as they passed the dining room and headed towards the kitchen, intent on taking the service door out of the building to escape.
Their plans were seemingly foiled when Xander walked out of the kitchen with the lights off; apparently her childhood crush had become accustomed to sneaking in and out of the darkened kitchen if he ever wanted to steal the tastiest treats out from under the slayers' noses.
Xander halted in the doorway, his eyes opening in surprise as his mouth engulfed a spoonful of vanilla sundae covered with everything sweet the kitchen had to offer. "Mmm, hey Dawnie," he mumbled as he went to swallow. Then he glanced at Gabriel and Illyria, and his eyes narrowed as he turned his gaze back to her. "Hmm. Midnight. Sneaking around in the dark with your two henchmen," Xander murmured thoughtfully as he pointed his spoon in her direction. "You wouldn't be escaping into the night now, would ya?"
Illyria turned to her with a hard expression. "Great Mother, is it your will that I silence the oafish one before he can notify the Blond Annoying One and Red Witch?"
"Hey! I'm not oafish!" Xander exclaimed. He discretely inspected his less-than-trim stomach and gave the ice cream a suspicious look.
"No!" Dawn said with a quick wave of her hand. She did not want to know just how Illyria 'silenced' people. "Xander's our friend," she reminded the God King.
"Yes, friend," Xander agreed quickly. He paused. "Dawnie, what are you doing?"
Dawnie. She didn't really feel like 'Dawnie', sweet and innocent and young. Of course, she wasn't wholly Dawn or Lailah anymore.
She shrugged. "Just, er, going out for a walk."
Xander sighed and set his ice cream down on the counter closest to him. "Right," he remarked sarcastically. "Listen, whatever you plan on doing, we can help. It is what we do, remember?"
Self-consciously, her teeth bit into the soft flesh of her bottom lip. "Xander," she pleaded in a small voice.
"Look, I know this isn't easy," Xander interrupted eagerly. "Lucifer is probably the biggest bad we've ever faced – well, unless Cthulhu is real and just biding his time – but we've faced the big bads before. Glory, the Master, the First Evil." He shook his head, his brown eyes wide with concern. "Don't think that just because you're suddenly a wee bit older than us that we can't help you."
A smile knit on her tired face and she gave Xander an impulsive hug. "Just a 'wee' bit older?" she asked with a muffled chuckle as she pressed her face into the crook of his neck.
Squeezing back tightly, Xander nodded. "At least you look good for your age."
Dawn let out a snort of laughter as she pulled back from his embrace, her emotions betraying her by the tears glistening in her eyes. Part of her decision to leave without word resulted from the idea that people hated her for what she did to Buffy and Willow. But maybe she was wrong.
"We should probably go, Dawn," Gabriel pushed her, clearly wanting to not involve the others. Idly she noticed that he never called her Lailah like he had in the Beginning. She wondered why, and if her true name was too painful for him to recall.
"Go where?" Xander questioned.
She grinned. Xander was the most persistent person she knew, danger be damned. "We have a plan."
"Great, I love plans. Let's tell the others," Xander smiled happily.
"No," Dawn shook her head. "It's kind of a just-me-and-my-invincible-friends plan."
"Yes, it is preferred that the squishy humans do not get involved lest they inevitably burst and release their innards," Illyria sniffed.
Xander paused to glance from Illyria and then at Gabriel, who was smirking. "She's all curves and leather and hotness, and then she speaks," he complained despondently.
"I think she just becomes hotter when she talks dirty like that," Gabriel remarked mischievously.
Illyria turned to Dawn, her eyebrows furrowed. "They are speaking once again on my body temperature. Is this normal topic of conversation?"
"Unfortunately, yes," Dawn sighed before she shot the boys a glare. "Anyways, we need to get going, Xand. Let Buffy and Willow know I'm sorry, okay?"
"Why don't you tell us yourself?" Buffy's voice called softly from behind them.
Dawn cursed her luck and turned around guiltily, like she used to when Buffy caught her wearing her clothes. Spike was standing next to Buffy, looking at them suspiciously, while Buffy wore a forlorn expression.
"Dawn? Why are you leaving? Without good-bye?" Buffy asked.
"Sorry 'Lil Bit, but I heard you, angel boy, and Blue walking around and thought the Big Sis might wanna know," Spike apologized with a shrug.
"We've got a lead, Buffy. We can stop this. So…we're going to go," Dawn explained abruptly. Hot guilt churned in her stomach like molten steel; she knew when her nerves calmed that steel would cool and sharpen, piercing her painfully even after her departure. Every time she looked at Buffy she remembered the feel of her hand breaking her cheekbone and bloodying her nose.
"Don't," Buffy spoke quickly, her long blond hair swishing around her shoulders.
"Why?" Dawn felt like there was more to something than just her leaving that was bothering Buffy. "I should go. I'm a danger to people until I know for sure I can lock him out." Him. Dawn did not dare say his name out loud. It would make her traitorous plans all too real.
Buffy stepped closer until she was right in front of Dawn. Her shorter, yet 'older', sister stared up at her and caressed her cheek. "What you did wasn't your fault. I'm not mad at you. But…I have this weird feeling, like if you leave us I may never see you again," Buffy confessed, her eyes shining with unshed tears.
Dawn felt something hot burn behind her eyes but she refused to cry. She had to be strong. "You'll see me," she promised. It fell from her lips heavily, the weight of the lie echoing through the halls. In all honesty she had not given much contemplation to her life after Lucifer was set back into the Cage.
If she was really honest with herself that was because she couldn't imagine a life after that.
She hugged her sister quickly. "I'll be in touch. If anything, Gabriel will pass information through Cas to give to you."
"That wide-eyed fellow angel fellow?" Spike mused. "Why isn't he going with you?"
"Cas and I…aren't exactly seeing eye to eye right now," Dawn explained hesitantly. Like he didn't trust her not to go all evil on them, plus he was still more interested in finding Daddy, aka her brother, to fix everything.
Fat chance of that happening. Even if he did, Dawn wanted nothing to do with him. Not after what he did to her. She may be happy in her new life and now understood that what she did when she left Heaven was wrong, but she was still angry at Adanal for what he had done to them.
"Besides," Gabriel scoffed. "I doubt he'd want to leave his favorite pets for long." Gabriel enjoyed making fun of Castiel's devotion to the Winchesters although even Dawn reminded him that Cas hadn't been the one randomly popping into their lives for special lessons over the last three years.
"So you're…what? Going to build that demon army we were talking about?" Xander asked.
Dawn gave him a blank look.
"Like…you know, you use your 'Great Mother' powers of persuasion to amass denizens of evil against a greater evil?" he added helpfully.
"Oh…no," Dawn said with a shake of her head. "We have a new plan. Something a bit less confrontational—" Well, sorta. Until the actual 'toss him into the Cage' part. "—and much more effective."
"What is it?" Buffy inquired.
"Er." Dawn shrugged uncomfortably. "Basically we're going to find the keys to his Cage and then put him back in there." Yup. Totally easy.
Buffy's eyes narrowed. "Dawn, do you think—"
"—It's a good plan, Buffy. Don't worry." Dawn sighed, tired of all this back and forth. Time was running out – either before Lucifer discovered what they were doing or before she lost her nerve to go through with it. "Listen, we have to leave. We'll talk soon."
"Okay, Dawnie," Buffy said quietly. She could see her sister's green eyes glowing in concern and her lips pressed tightly together, as if she had to force herself not to order Dawn to stay here, safe and sound. Buffy had matured over the last few years and, as Dawn became older, grew to be less demanding. Her sudden fondness for her sister in that moment materialized in a soft kiss against Buffy's forehead and then she walked away after a quick good-bye.
This was why she was going to go through with their plan – for Buffy, and for the others. There was no other way to save them all.
Gabriel had, of course, stolen Giles' personal red corvette.
"Pssh, it's not like Giles needs this," Gabriel grinned as his hands clenched protectively around the steering wheel as the car barreled down I-90 West. "With the world ending he won't have a chance to drive it again anyway."
Dawn raised one eyebrow in response, her face framed in the look of disciplining mother.
"Not that it will end, of course," Gabriel finished with a nervous chuckle.
Illyria, from her position in the backseat, leaned forward to interject in her cool and ancient voice. "We are going up against Lucifer, the Fallen Master and Ruler of Hell. While he is no match for the Great Mother, she is currently in a weakened state. Further, the Great Mother is an outlaw from Heaven and if one of the other angels discovers her presence on earth it is extremely likely they will attempt to smite her."
Dawn turned slowly around in the passenger seat, eying Illyria with an almost tired smile. "Thanks, Illyria, for summing that up," she said dryly.
"Such a little ball of sunshine," Gabriel muttered as he passed a semi-truck.
Illyria beamed at Dawn like a child whose report card had just been placed on the fridge. "Thank you, Great Mother."
"So, who are we after first?" Dawn asked.
"Well, the Tweedledee and dum twins had already taken out War and nicked his rings a couple months back," Gabriel stated. He smirked. "I, of course, stole it."
"So it's Pestilence, Famine, and Death." Dawn bit her lip harshly at the thought of confronting the latter Horseman. He had been the one to steal her father in her old world; the one who had started all of this by forcing her and Adanal to leave, and cursed them, in a way.
"Such a shame," Illyria sighed forlornly. "I rather liked Pestilence once upon a time. He made the humans turn such amusing shades of green and black.
Gabriel smirked. "Like I said, ball of sunshine."
"So, which one first?" Dawn asked her angel. "Have you heard about either Pestilence or Famine lately?"
Dawn looked at Gabriel like he was crazy. "Rather not. Not until we have to."
He nodded. "Well then, guess it's time for hunting through the newspapers and supernatural bar crawling for clues." Gabriel shot a grin at Dawn and Illyria. "Time to get this road trip started! Woo!" With a laugh he honked his horn several times in quick succession.
Illyria sighed irritably and leaned back in her seat. "I do believe I dislike this angel even more now than when he threw me into the Deeper Well."
Readers of my stories will note my enjoyment of road trips – Crescent & Spike's Most Excellent Adventure, Finding Faith, and Living as Lenore (which is a road trip through history, albeit no car!). Gah, it is my life dream. I've jet-setted across America but a road trip would be awesome.
Thanks for reading everyone! There'll be quite a bit more action in future chapters and, of course, some Lucifer appearances.