Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by Joss Whedon and is copyright Twentieth Century Fox. The property is used without permission. This is a non-profit making work of fan-fiction.

Author's Note 19/07/02: Someone broke into my house on Monday. I've been trying to get my head round it ever since. In the end I thought I'd put my thoughts down on paper and see where they took me. I guess this is how I deal.

This story takes place during the second half of season six.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Violation

By Duncan Johnson

'So are we still set for Saturday night?'

'Are we ever,' Dawn told Janice as the pair walked home after school.

'No trouble from the warden?' Janice asked.

'Buffy? I don't think she notices I'm there half the time so she's hardly going to notice I'm gone. 'Sides she's pulling a double shift at the DMP Saturday night.'

The girls paused at the junction. They lived pretty close to one another, but they had to part ways sometime.

'So, I guess I'll see you at school tomorrow,' Janice said. 'Unless of course you wanted to sneak over later.'

'Can't,' Dawn sighed. 'Buffy got a letter from the principal about me skipping homework. I mean, it wasn't even my fault, but now she wants to check I've done everything before letting me out in the morning.'

'Ouch,' Janice sympathised, 'that bites.'

'Tell me about it.'

They said their goodbyes and went their separate ways. Dawn hoped Willow would be staying in tonight. Homework was always more fun when Willow helped her with it. Not that she needed help, mind, but she guessed that she might need someone to actually motivate her to do it at all. What with all the other stuff in her life, schoolwork seemed doubly lame.

The door to her house was ajar.

Dawn stopped at the end of the drive and stared at it. The door was never left open. Buffy was really strict about that sort of thing.

Tentatively, Dawn stuck her head around the door.

'Buffy?' she called. 'Willow? Anyone home?'

She stepped inside.

Dawn took one look at the lounge, then turned and ran blindly out of the front door. She collided with something - no, someone - and tried to fight them off.

'Hey, Dawn, it's me,' Buffy said. 'Calm down.'

Dawn paused for a moment to look at the person in front of her. It was unmistakably her sister, wearing a big coat over her Doublemeat Palace uniform in spite of the weather.

'Sorry I'm late,' Buffy said. 'Richard wanted to stop and chat and that guy's really going to have to learn to take no for an answer if he wants to keep all his fingers.'

Buffy paused. Dawn was trembling. She reached out a hand to comfort her sister, but Dawn flinched away.

'Dawnie?' Buffy said. 'What is it? What's wrong?'

Dawn pointed to the house.

* * *

When Tara arrived, she found Dawn on the couch, her knees tucked under her chin. Tara sat down next to her.

'Hey,' she said.

'Hey,' Dawn responded weakly.

'You okay?' Tara asked.

'Sure, why wouldn't I be?'

'C'mere,' Tara said, putting an arm around the other girl. Dawn shuffled closer on the couch.

'I saw the car outside,' Tara began,' so I'm guessing the police are still here.'

'They're talking to Buffy,' Dawn explained. 'And there's a woman upstairs. I think she's dusting for fingerprints.'

'Dawn? I heard voices.' Xander appeared from the kitchen. 'Tara? What are you doing here? Not that I'm saying you're not welcome or'

Tara shushed him.

'It's okay, Xander. I know what you meant. Buffy called me. Apparently she's still trying to get hold of Willow.'

'God, Willow,' Xander said, slumping into a chair. 'I hadn't even thought.'

'What happened here, Xander?' Tara asked.

'Well it looks like they came in through the kitchen window,' Xander said. 'I've been helping Craig fit new glass.'

Tara held up a hand. 'Craig?'

'Guy I know from work,' Xander explained. 'Anyway, looks like after they broke in they basically trashed the place. Upended most of the furniture, emptied all the drawers and cabinets. Then they strolled right out the front door. Doesn't look like there's much broken, but the cops have only just given us the go-ahead to start the clean-up.'

The front door slammed closed.

Buffy joined them in the lounge.

'Tara. Thanks for coming,' she said.

'Any word from Willow?' Tara asked.

Buffy shook her head. 'She told me she was going to be late back tonight, but she didn't tell me why. I should have asked.'

'Hey,' Xander said, 'don't beat yourself up over it. You weren't to know this was going to happen.'

'Thanks, Xand.' Buffy pointed to the couch. 'Room for one more?'

She flopped down next to Dawn.

'So, what's the verdict?' Dawn asked. 'What are we looking at this time. Vampires? Werewolves? Faeries? We haven't had faeries in a while.'

'The police reckon it was kids,' Buffy said.

'Kids?'

'Makes sense,' Xander agreed.

Three pairs of eyes bored into him and he squirmed in his chair.

'It's that hole they made in the window,' he began. 'Dawn might have got through there, but it would have been too small for the rest of us.'

'Kids?' Dawn repeated weakly.

Buffy was fidgeting.

'Are you all right?' Tara asked her.

'Yes. No. I don't know.' Buffy leapt to her feet and began to pace. 'I mean, it's just things, right?'

'What did they take?' Xander asked.

'That's just it,' Buffy replied. 'They didn't take anything. I mean, they snatched a few DVDs, my camera and maybe some bits and pieces from Willow's room, but that's all. They left the TV, the computer, all the stuff that might have been worth stealing. It's like they just wanted to'

'Make a mess?' Tara suggested.

'Well, yeah,' Buffy agreed.

'Kids,' Dawn said again.

'I think you've made your point, Dawn,' Xander said, 'whatever it might be.'

'The police seemed pretty sure,' Buffy added.

'Butwhy?' Dawn asked.

'For the thrill.'

The four looked up and saw Anya standing in the doorway. Craig was hovering behind her.

'I, er, let her in,' he told Xander. 'I figured it was okay, seeing as how she's your fiancée and all.'

'The thrill?' Buffy asked.

'Well, sure,' Anya said. 'By the way, are you aware that a hurricane's been through here. Willow's not up to her old tricks again is she?'

'Ann, honey,' Xander explained patiently, 'the burglars did this.'

'They did this?' Anya repeated. 'Why?'

'The thrill?' Buffy commented dryly. 'I thought that was what you said.'

'I was talking about the window,' Anya said. 'You've got to admit there's a definite buzz in doing something bad.'

'Um.'

'Well.'

'Er'

Four people studiously avoided Anya's gaze.

'You're all behaving really strangely,' Anya said. 'Is that normal after'

'Anya.' Xander cut her off.

Anya huffed.

'Yes, well, anyway, as I was saying, for anyone who wants to listen, I can understand the window and I can understand them breaking in, but all this messit's inhuman.'

'Hey, why's everyone looking at me,' Xander complained.

* * *

Tara helped Dawn right the small bookcase in her room. There had been a glass ladybird on top of it, but the fall had shattered it into several pieces and it had been thrown out with the trash.

Dawn collapsed on the bed.

'What's the point?' she moaned.

'Dawn?'

'I mean it's never going to be the same, is it?'

'You don't know that.'

'Yeah, right.' Dawn leaned forward and cradled her head in her hands. 'You know, I bet you all think this is karma for the stuff I've been doing lately. Isn't that the Wiccan thing: everything comes back threefold?'

'Oh, Dawn, this is totally different.'

'Is it?' Dawn asked. 'I steal from other people. Other people steal from me.'

'Don't be silly,' Tara said. 'You gave back everything you took. You apologised. You tried to make it right again. Your karmic books, or whatever, are balanced.'

'Then why'

Tara sat down next to Dawn on the bed and put her arm around her.

'Dawn, you've not been blaming yourself for all of this, have you?'

Dawn nodded, not trusting herself to speak. Tara gave her a comforting squeeze.

'Now listen to me,' Tara said, 'because I'm a big Wicca and I know stuff. Whatever you may think you've done, you're not responsible for this. The only people who are to blame are the people who broke in here and did this.'

Dawn looked up.

'Promise?' she asked.

Tara tapped her on the nose.

'I just said so, didn't I?'

Tara got to her feet.

'Listen,' she began, 'Willow's back and I'd better go and see if she needs help putting her room back together.'

'Do you have to go?' Dawn asked.

'I ought to,' Tara said. 'Just to see if she's okay. You'll be all right, won't you? I'll only be down the hall.'

'I guess,' Dawn admitted.

'Or you could come along and give me a hand,' Tara suggested.

Dawn beamed and clasped Tara's outstretched hand in her own.

* * *

'It's all my fault,' Buffy said matter-of-factly.

Xander peered over the top of the sofa, dustpan and brush in hand.

'On behalf of the rest of the human race, can I say 'huh?'' he said.

'Oh come on, Xander,' Buffy continued. 'This is my house. I'm supposed to be the one in charge. Plus I've got all these super powers. But I can't even prevent something like this from happening.'

Xander stood up.

'Still with the 'huh?' here,' he remarked.

'Where did this ugly thing go?' Anya asked, brandishing an African tribal mask.

'Over there, by the window,' Buffy replied, pointing.

'No one expects you to do everything,' Xander said. 'Sometimes things justhappen.'

'Not to me.'

'Are you sure it goes over here?' Anya said. 'The light's much better in that corner.'

'Yes to you,' Xander insisted. 'To you, to me, to the little old man who plays chess with his neighbour every other Tuesday. Sometimes things just are because that's just how things are.'

'That's crazy.'

'Mind you, you probably don't want the light on this thing,' Anya continued. 'Best place for this is the bottom of a box.'

'Life's crazy,' Xander replied. 'Even I've worked that out by now.'

'But then what's the point?' Buffy asked.

'Still, you know best, I guess,' Anya said. 'If you want thisin your house then who am I to argue. I just think that'

Buffy whirled and snatched the mask from Anya's hand.

'Will you shut up about the stupid mask?' she snapped.

Anya put her hands on her hips and pouted.

'I was only trying to help,' she complained.

Xander interposed himself between the two women.

'Anya,' he said, 'why don't you go upstairs and see if the others need a hand. I think we've got things just about covered down here.'

'Well, if you're sure' Anya headed for the stairs.

'Is that fair?' Buffy asked.

Xander shrugged.

'They've got strength in numbers,' he remarked. 'I love her, I really do, but sometimes'

'It was my fault,' Buffy admitted. 'She was only trying to help out. I justwell, I guess I'm not thinking straight.'

'And no wonder,' Xander agreed. 'What say we leave all this and go see what they left in the kitchen.'

'You know, Xand,' Buffy said, linking her arm with her friend, 'Anya's one lucky ex-demon.'

'Thanks,' Xander said, 'but next time could you try saying that when she's in earshot.'

* * *

Buffy sat up in bed with a start. Instinctively, her right hand reached for the stake she kept under her pillow.

She had heard something. There it was again. Was that someone on the stairs?

As quietly as she could, Buffy slipped out of bed. If the intruders were back then they were not getting away this time.

Barefoot, she padded out on to the landing and down the stairs, wincing as a floorboard creaked beneath her weight. Her ears strained for further clues as to the location of the intruders.

Suddenly, there was a crash that pierced the silence and Buffy bounded into the lounge.

Dawn was crouched over the fallen lamp.

'Sorry,' she said. 'Guess I bumped into it in the dark. You're not mad or anything, are you?'

Buffy shook her head.

'No, I'm not mad,' she insisted. 'But what are you doing down here, Dawn. You're supposed to be in bed.'

'Couldn't sleep,' Dawn told her. 'It's kinda crazy, but I every time I closed my eyes it felt like there was someone else in there with me. I thought maybe you wouldn't mind if I slept down here tonight.'

As Buffy's eyes adjusted to the dark, she could see that Dawn had taken the duvet and pillow from her bed and arranged them on the couch.

Buffy smiled.

'I don't mind,' she said, 'so long as you don't mind some company.'

Dawn dived under the duvet and Buffy settled herself on the floor in front of the couch. Dawn's arm snaked down and her fingertips brushed the back of Buffy's hand.

'It's going to be okay, Buffy, right?' Dawn asked.

Buffy took her sister's hand in hers and gently squeezed.

'Sure it is, Dawn,' Buffy promised, ''cos I'm gonna make it okay.'

Some time later, Willow crept downstairs wrapped in a blanket. Quietly, so as not to wake the sleeping sisters, she slipped into the lounge and curled up in an armchair.

* * *

Xander lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep.

'But all I'm saying,' Anya told him, 'is that that could have been us.'

'But it wasn't us, Ann,' Xander replied. 'Our place is completely secure.'

'Well, yes, that's what I thought,' Anya said. 'But that's what I thought about Buffy's home, too, and that wasn't safe, was it?'

'Well, no,' Xander admitted, 'but that doesn't mean that-'

Anya cut him off.

'And if they can break into Buffy's place and make all that mess, well, they could do the same thing here, right?'

'Anya, you can't think things like that?'

'Why not?' Anya demanded. 'I've done nothing but think about it ever since we got home.'

'And all you're doing is scaring yourself,' Xander retorted. 'And me.'

Anya poked him in the ribs.

'Ow,' he cried. 'What was that for?'

'For not taking this seriously,' Anya explained. 'Maybe you should be scared, Xander. Do you really want someone coming in here and looking through all of your stuff?'

'Well, no, but -'

'So what are you going to do about it?' Anya asked.

'Me?'

'Yes, you,' Anya repeated. 'Do you think I want some stranger pawing through all my clothes?'

'Well'

'So?' Anya rolled over so that her back was to Xander. 'You're not going to do anything, are you?'

'Oh, Ann,' Xander began, 'it's not like that.'

'Not like what?' Anya demanded, her voice muffled by the pillow. 'Not like you're not going to protect me if someone breaks in to our beautiful apartment?'

'It's not that I don't want to do something,' Xander insisted.

'Just that you won't,' Anya concluded.

'That's not fair,' Xander remarked.

'We'll see how fair it is when you come home to find my headless corpse keeping the bed warm for you.'

'Anya!'

'What? It could happen.'

'Ann, honey, this place is as secure as I can make it,' Xander said, 'but at the end of the day, if someone really wants to get in here, they're gonna find a way.'

'But that's not fair.'

'And I don't like it anymore than you do,' Xander said. 'Come here.'

Anya rolled back over and rested her head on Xander's bare chest. He ran his fingers through her hair.

'This sort of thing's only supposed to happen to other people,' Anya said.

Xander sighed.

'Tell me about it.'

* * *

'Dawn, what are you doing here?' Tara asked as the door to the Magic Box swung shut behind her.

'Homework. Honest,' Dawn said, holding up her textbooks as evidence.

Tara gave Dawn a shy smile.

'I'm not checking up on you,' she said. 'I'm just a bit surprised to see you here. I thought you'd be at home.'

'If it's all the same to you guys,' Dawn replied hurriedly, 'I'd rather spend some time here. And I'm not being any trouble, am I, Anya?'

'No,' Anya agreed. 'For an immature human she's being exceptionally well-behaved.'

Dawn must really be on her best behaviour, Tara mused. She even managed not to rise to the 'immature' remark.

Tara slipped into the chair opposite Dawn.

'You're going to have to go home some time,' she said.

'Yeah, I know,' Dawn replied, giving a small shrug. 'But not just yet, huh?'

Tara took her hand across the table.

'No,' she said, 'not just yet.'

The bell above the door chimed and Tara looked up to see Willow crossing to the counter.

'Willow? What are you doing here?'

Tara got up from her chair and went to join Willow and Anya at the till.

'Um, well, I was just passing' Willow shuffled from one foot to the other.

'Willow?'

'I just wanted to get a few things.'

'Magic things?'

'Well, duh,' Anya said. 'This is a magic shop.'

Willow and Tara both ignored her.

'Willow, look at me,' Tara persisted. 'Did you come here to buy magic things?'

'Well, Iokay, yes, but it's in a good cause,' Willow replied.

'Oh, Willow,' Tara moaned. 'You were doing so well. How long has it been since you last cast a spell? Whatever's gotten in to you to make you want to start up again?'

'It's only a little spell,' Willow wheedled.

'It's still a spell,' Tara responded. 'You know what using magic does to you, Willow. You're staying off it for your own good.'

'I know, but' Willow paused. 'I just wanted to try and find the people that did it. You saw what they did. They weren't just my things, they were our things. Sometimes, I thought they were all I had left of you and they've destroyed that.'

Willow was gesticulating wildly with her arms. Tara took hold of them and gently lowered them to her sides.

'They were just things.'

'No, they weren't just things,' Willow insisted. 'They were our things. Our memories. Do you remember one day at the beach? Xander was trying to explain sandcastles to Anya.'

'I remember.'

'We made a pentagram out of seashells and Dawn took a photo of us with it. The sun was setting and it shone through your hair. I kept that photo beside our bed.' Willow dug into her pocket and extracted the photo. 'Now look at it!'

Tara took the photograph that was shoved towards her. Someone had ground their heel into the image and her own face had been completely eradicated.

'How do you make something like this right?' Willow demanded.

'You don't,' Tara told softly, 'but you can't let it ruin you either. You've been through so much recently and you've come so far. Are you going to throw all that away just because of a couple of vandals?'

Willow hung her head.

'I guess not.'

Tara put her hand under her friend's chin and lifted it up so that she could look Willow in the eye.

'They'll be other memories,' she promised.

'Really?'

Willow leaned towards Tara.

'Of course,' Tara replied hurriedly, stepping away. She hated hurting Willow like this, especially on top of everything else, but she was not ready to try and put their relationship back together, at least not yet.

'You could always do the spell,' Anya suggested.

'I'm sorry?'

'Well, you're not a magic addict, are you,' Anya continued, 'so there's nothing to stop you casting the spell.'

'I really don't think'

'She has a point,' Willow agreed.

'Not you too, Willow,' Tara said. 'You know I can't.'

'Why not?' Dawn asked.

Tara faltered. Everyone else was looking at her and it made her uncomfortable. She wrapped her arms around herself and turned to face Dawn. Her gaze was least accusatory, more curious than anything.

'M-Magic's not something you can just throw around,' she explained. 'It's not a tool, it's a gift and it's important not to abuse it.'

'But isn't this a good use of magic - finding criminals?' Dawn asked.

'And what would you do when we found them?' Tara inquired patiently.

'Well, I guess maybe we could turn them over to the police,' Dawn suggested.

'And what do we tell them?' Tara asked. ''Here's the guilty party, officer, and we know that for a fact because the magic told us.' Magic isn't going to help us with this, much as we might like it to.'

The bell over the door chimed again and Xander bowled in.

'Wow, four of my favourite women in the same place at once. Must be my lucky day,' he said. Then added, 'I'm guessing I just crashed a 'serious moment', right?'

'We were just finished,' Tara told him, before anyone else could respond.

'Well, if you're all done here,' Xander continued, 'who's up for a night on the town?'

'By night on the town, you mean night at the Bronze, don't you?' Willow deduced.

'There's not a lot of town, is there,' Xander commented.

'Just give me five minutes to lock up,' Anya said.

'I'll help,' Tara offered.

'No,' Anya said sharply, before softening her tone. 'I'd rather do it all myself. Just so I can be sure.'

* * *

The Alibi Room was in the bad part of town, itself just a couple of blocks from the good part of town. Spike had promised to meet Clem there for a drink and maybe a round of two of cards if the evening was kind. He brought the motorbike to a stand just outside the doors. The sound of violence emanated from inside, but that was par for the course as far as the Alibi was concerned so Spike paid it no mind. Instead, he lit a cigarette, threw the empty packet to the ground and swaggered into the bar.

And did a double take.

Willy the bartender was lying half on, half off his own bar, held in a headlock by Buffy Summers.

Spike put his hand to his head and closed his eyes. He should just ignore it. He could have a quiet drink and maybe it would all go away.

He opened his left eye.

No such luck.

He strode across the room and put a firm hand on Buffy's shoulder.

'Let the man up,' he told her.

'Not until he tells me what he knows.'

'He doesn't know anything,' Spike insisted.

'Yeah, right,' Buffy retorted.

'Listen, love, if you want to know about demons then Willy's your man,' Spike explained, 'but the stuff your interested in, he wouldn't have a bloody clue.'

'And how would you know what I'm interested in?' Buffy demanded.

'Oh please, give me some credit,' Spike shot back. 'If it concerns you then I know. Now sit down and you and me can have a little chat.'

'But'

'Sit.'

Buffy sat and Spike tried to keep the surprise from showing on his face.

He turned to Willy.

'Get us a couple of drinks,' he said. 'Better yet, make it the bottle. And it better be on the house or I'll set the Slayer back on you.'

He slumped opposite Buffy.

'So, tell me what a nice girl like you is doing in a place like this,' he said.

'What makes you think I'm a nice girl?' Buffy asked.

'Not personal experience, that's for sure,' Spike shot back.

Willy put a bottle and two glasses down on the table then scurried away. The bottle was too filthy for Spike to tell what was inside.

'Want some?' he asked, making to pour.

Buffy waved him away.

'Suit yourself,' Spike replied, swigging straight from the bottle. 'Actually, you might have the right idea. If I wasn't already dead, this stuff would probably finish me off. As it is, I can appreciate the kick.'

There was a long silence.

'So?' he prompted.

'You're not going to leave me alone, are you?' Buffy asked.

'Well, it's a choice between you and Clem and you're prettier. Slightly?'

'Thanks a bunch.'

'Any time.' Spike took another gulp of the alcohol.

'I'm trying to find the guys whoyou know,'

'Broke into your house, nicked some of your stuff and trashed the rest?' Spike asked. 'Yeah, I know. And you thought you'd find them here?'

'Well, I had to start somewhere,' Buffy said defensively. 'I've not got a lot of experience in this area. Now if I was hunting a demon'

'And why aren't you?' Spike asked. 'Isn't that kind of your raison d'être?'

'I promised Dawn I'd make everything okay,' Buffy said.

'Take my advice: never make promises,' Spike told her. 'You'll always wind up breaking them in the end.'

'Do you work hard to be so cynical or does it just come naturally?' Buffy asked. 'I don't even know why I'm wasting my time with you.'

Buffy got up and stormed out of the bar. With a sigh, Spike stood up, grabbed the bottle and followed her.

'Hey, where do you think you're going?' he called out.

'Away,' Buffy called back. 'Somewhere I can try and get my head together.'

She stopped in the middle of the street and turned to face him.

'This is all so screwy, you know,' Buffy said. 'I mean, what's the point? I'm supposed to be the Chosen One, but I can't even protect my own home.'

'If it's comfort you're after, I'm not sure I can help,' Spike admitted, 'but I might be able to take your mind off things for a while.' He gestured to the motorbike. 'My place isn't far from here.'

'Spike'

Spike took a step closer. His fingertips brushed her cheek.

'You and me, Buffy, we're special together, real special. You want to forget? I can blow your mind. If you'll let me in.'

Buffy pulled away.

'Not tonight, Spike,' she insisted. 'It wouldn't be right. Besides, I wouldn't want to leave Dawn home alone.'

'It's a fine night. At least let me walk you home,' Spike suggested.

'What about your bike?' Buffy asked.

'Who said it was mine?'

* * *

Up on the stage a girl with a guitar and a very loud band was belting out a tune that was not to Tara's taste. She seemed to be in the minority, however. The dance floor was heaving and she had lost sight of Willow, Anya and Xander amid the crowd. Dawn, though, was still sitting in the corner where she had left her.

'Coke?' Tara offered, passing the younger girl a drink.

'Thanks.'

'You okay?'

Dawn shrugged.

'How was school?'

'Odd,' Dawn admitted. 'Half the kids are saying how sorry they are and the other half are avoiding me like they don't know what to say.'

'Maybe they don't,' Tara suggested.

'You know what really gets me, though?' Dawn asked. 'It could be one of them. I mean, the cops reckon it was kids and, well, I'm proof of what we're capable of.'

'Dawn,' Tara admonished, 'I'm not about to let you start blaming yourself again.'

'It's difficult not to,' Dawn admitted, 'seeing it all from the other side of the fence. But that's not what I'm saying. It's just, I'd hate to think it was someone I know, you know?'

'Dawn, if it'll make you feel better, I can always do that spell,' Tara said. 'The one that Willow was on about. That way you could know for sure.'

Dawn thought about this.

'No,' she said at last. 'I think I'd rather not know.'

'You sure?'

'What if we found out it was someone from school? What then?' Dawn said. 'At least if I don't know one way or another I can always assume it was a stranger. And in a funny way, that's almost comforting.'

* * *

'Did you hear that?'

'Hear what?' Spike asked Buffy.

'It sounded like breaking glass.'

'I don't hear' Spike paused. 'It came from over there.'

Buffy was already moving, vaulting first the picket fence and then the gate leading to the back garden. A small figure was scrambling over the garden wall.

Buffy dived forward and grabbed the figure's ankle. The creature lashed out with its other foot, catching Buffy across the knuckles and forcing her to let go. She fell to the ground as the figure disappeared from sight.

'Need a hand?' Spike asked as he helped Buffy out of the flowerbed.

'Just stay out of my way,' the Slayer growled before leaping the wall in a single bound.

'Bloody overachievers,' Spike complained as he began to climb the trellis.

Buffy hit the ground running. The two figures were sprinting down the road ahead of her. Acting on instinct, Buffy picked up the lid of a trashcan as she passed by and hurled it like a discus. It caught the closest figure behind his knees and his legs buckled. He sprawled across the sidewalk, the plastic bag he was carrying slipping from his grasp and spilling CDs into the road.

'Is this how you get your kicks?' Buffy shouted. 'By preying on other people? By breaking into their homes and terrorising them? Do you think it's funny to scare people like this, to make them feel insecure in their own homes, afraid to sleep at night? Is that the sort of thing you think makes you a real man? Is it?'

Buffy took hold of the collar of his jacket and yanked him up as she pulled back her other hand ready to strike.

He was just a kid, no older than Dawn.

'Please don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me,' the boy repeated, shielding his face with chubby hands. 'We didn't mean nothing by it. It's just a game.'

'A game.' Buffy lowered her arm.

'Well, yeah,' the boy said. 'I mean, it's not like we ever take anything important. Just a few bits and pieces no one'll really miss.'

'You break into people's homes,' Buffy said. 'You violate their personal space, the place they feel most secure.'

The boy looked bemused.

'So?' he asked.

Buffy released her hold on his jacket.

'Just get out of my sight,' she said, turning away.

The boy did not need to be told twice.

'What the bloody hell's going on here,' Spike demanded, as he caught up with the Slayer. 'You're letting them get away.'

'Yes,' Buffy agreed quietly, 'I suppose I am.'

'I thought you wanted to make things right,' Spike said. 'What happened to you promise to the little bit?'

'And you think me beating up kids is going to make it right?' Buffy asked.

'Hey, don't knock it till you've tried it,' Spike retorted.

'Every time I think you can't sink any lower' Buffy spun on her heel. 'Good night, Spike.'

And she stalked off into the darkness.

* * *

Jamil caught up with Kevin on the corner of the block, near the convenience store.

'Hey, what kept you, man?' Kevin asked. 'Did the pretty girl beat you up?'

'No way,' Jamil insisted, 'but damn was she fast.'

'Either that, or you're way too slow,' Kevin mocked. 'And you dropped all our stuff.'

'It's not as if I meant to,' Jamil insisted. ''Sides, we can always get more at the next place.'

'Straight up,' Kevin agreed. Then his jaw dropped open. 'What the-'

A black shape dropped from above them, its black coat billowing behind it like bat wings. Its face was distorted, freakish and contorted into a snarl, exposing long, vicious-looking fangs.

'Can I play too,' the creature asked.

The two boys ran screaming down the street.

Laughing, Spike allowed his features to morph back into a more human appearance.

'Now that,' he remarked to no one in particular, 'was fun.'

* * *

Dawn woke with a crick in her neck and a pain in her lower back. Sleeping on the couch was not fun.

'What time is it?' she called out, but nobody answered.

There was noise coming from upstairs.

Putting on her slippers and wrapping herself in her duvet, Dawn decided to investigate.

All of her things were lying out on the landing. Oh God, she thought, please don't say it's happened again. I couldn't face it.

But she had to know, so she reluctantly pushed her head around the door to her room.

'Hiya, sleepyhead,' Willow called out.

'So you finally decided to join us,' Buffy remarked, arms folded across her chest. 'I thought you were going to sleep till at least lunchtime.'

'Still might,' Dawn replied. 'Wanna tell me what's going on in here?'

'We're redecorating,' Anya said, 'or we would be if we could settle on a colour scheme. Xander is under the ridiculous impression that Sky Blue is superior to Tuscan Sunrise.'

'All I said was that blue looks good on anything,' Xander replied. 'See?'

He dabbed the tip of Anya's nose with a wet paintbrush.

Everything went very quiet.

Anya crossed her eyes to examine the spot of blue.

'Hmm,' she mused, 'you could have a point.'

She picked up a paintbrush of her own and flicked a large arc of blue paint in Xander's direction.

'Hey, watch it.'

'You started it.'

'I think I'm safer out here,' Dawn commented.

'I think you could be right,' Buffy said, stepping outside to join her.

'So what's the big occasion?' Dawn asked.

'You, doofus,' Buffy replied. 'We figured that since you couldn't face this room anymore as it was, maybe you could face it if we redecorated for you. You can start over with a new blue room.'

'Or Tuscan Sunrise room,' Willow added. 'Depending, obviously, on who wins the paint-throwing contest. My money's on Anya.'

'You guys are the best,' Dawn said with a grin, engulfing her big sister in a huge hug, which Buffy eagerly returned.

'I said I'd make things all right,' Buffy remarked, 'and I am a Slayer of my word.'

'This is better than all right,' Dawn said. 'This is incredible. There's just one thing.'

'Yes?' Buffy prompted.

'I think it was less of a mess before you guys got involved.'