The RescueDisclaimer: to see how much I don't own, see chapter one
Warnings: some fairly descriptive violence in this chapter and an instance of non-explicit rape
Sih Mat batted angrily at the drug fog surrounding her, snarling at the audacity of the hyena-son that had captured her. He was not strong enough to be Mate and to take that honor by force, like he was planning, was unforgivable! The haze cleared some, not strong enough to cage her for long, allowing the cries of the leopard-child to reach her ears. No! The leopard-child was hers to protect and she surged toward the surface, the human girl-child that was her-also fluttering her eyes open.
The moon-metal was burning her skin as another cry from the leopard-child drew her gaze to the side. The hyena-son was holding him to the ground, forcing a mating, and Sih Mat snarled. She felt her fangs burst into her human mouth and her claws unsheathe. Gripping the burning moon-metal she turned onto her knees on the bed as the hyena-son stumbled back from the leopard-child, his eyes wide in shock, and lunged around the bed for the case that held the caging drug. She refused to let him use it again and braced her feet against the iron headboard, pulling on the moon-metal chain with all of her strength, elation coursing through tiger and human both when the metal began to give.
Under the Circus of the Damned a small dot appeared on the map of St. Louis spread out in front of the witch and glowed like a tiny sun.
“That’s where they are,” Ghost said.
The dot hovered over a building that had been part of a housing development in the early fifties that was now situated in a lower rent part of town as the city had expanded around it. Damian was at Ghost’s side, studying the map, his eyes sparking with lightning. Striding across the room he gripped the door knob as the others readied their weapons. Anita hadn’t yet seen this teleporting power her vampire servant had somehow gained from Dawn but as long as it just involved stepping through a doorway as opposed to turning into a whirlpool of color, like Ghost’s power, she felt she could handle it. She drew her Browning, clicking off the safety and pointing it at the floor, nodding to Damian that she was ready, then he was throwing open the door, revealing the chaos taking place in a house across town.
Sih Mat rolled with the momentum as the moon-metal snapped, the hyena-son burying the needle intended for her in the mattress where she’d been seconds before. She kicked out, catching him in the face with a bare foot and rolled to the floor as he reared back with a howl of pain, clutching his face as blood spurted between his fingers. Placing herself protectively between her leopard-child and the hyena-son, she bared her teeth and snarled.
The hyena-son roared his outrage, his beast glaring death at her through black eyes, his lower face a mask of red. The moon-metal still burned around her wrists but she ignored the pain. She leaped at the hyena-son, her hooked claws digging into his sides but he caught her shoulders in his hands and flung her to the floor, ripping her claws from his flesh, though she felt one come away from its bed, remaining embedded near the hyena-son’s ribs.
Sih Mat jerked at the sound of her human name, instinctively searching for the one who spoke as the girl-child that was her-also began to take hold. The night-walker who is Mate, Damian, stood in the open doorway, his eyes sparking with the power she’d gifted him with the night of their Mating. There were others with him; her golden sister-daughter and the many-spirit woman but she ignored them as the hyena-son lunged at her, his body shifted to his half-animal form. His powerful jaws snapped shut inches from her shoulder as Dawn dropped her body to the floor and raked her nails across his elongated face. No, she realized, claws. There were tiger claws sprouting from her nail-beds but she didn’t have much time to contemplate the change because the hyena, blinded by blood in at least one eye, was swiping at her with deadly claws. She felt them rake down the arm she threw up to protect her face but then there was another half-shifted hyena slamming into the one attacking her and the two went rolling. The one on top was larger, black-spotted and yellow with a stiff mane of fur running down the back of his neck and into the ripped shirt he wore. He locked his crushing jaws onto the shoulder of the slighter, long-furred hyena and she heard bones crunch over the snarling and cackling of the two lycanthropes.
“Mia alba,” a voice spoke beside her and she blinked, like she was waking from a dream. “Dawn!”
She turned to Damian’s concerned face, the influence of the tigress within spurring her to greet him affectionately, if briefly, with a press of her forehead to his and brush of her cheek against his as he reached for the irritating silver cuffs still circling her wrists, burning his fingers as he fought to break them.
“I can’t get a clear shot!” Anita shouted from somewhere behind them and Dawn heard Spike yell, “Harris!”
Dawn’s eyes widened, her head jerking around to the fight taking place beneath Narcissus’ mangled corpse. Xander?
The smaller hyena was pinned beneath the larger who still had his jaws clamped around the darker’s shoulder. Their killer brought a back foot up between the two, raking his claws down the bigger hyena’s belly. The spotted hyena released his biting hold with a roar of pain and the smaller rolled away, bloody and panting and Dawn flung out a hand as the last of the silver fell away. The Sumerian came easily to her lips as the power in her veins called to its kin in the blood that had spattered about the room during her fight with the hyena serial killer and a portal sprung to life behind him at the same moment a gun-shot rang out, deafening in the small room.
Blood blossomed in the middle of the hyena’s chest and he clutched at the wound with both hands, propelled back by the force of the impact he disappeared into the pulsing green gateway.
All was silent as the portal winked out of existence until Dawn picked up the sound of clinking chains over the ringing in her ears. It was coming from the other side of the bed and she struggled to her feet, her arm and hand beginning to burn as the adrenaline wore off and she looked down to find that her nails were back to normal even though one was missing. Her finger throbbed at the sight and she hissed through human teeth, making a tight circle beneath the bloody cuticle with the finger and thumb of her other hand as she rushed to where Caleb was still chained to the heavy iron-frame bed. He was curled in on himself but she could still see the angry red skin where the silver had burned his throat and the torn and bloody place where his brow piercing had been removed the hard way. She hoped that that had been the only one but doubted it as she crouched down close to him, trying to ignore the blood that stained his inner thighs for the moment.
“Caleb?” she asked softly not really surprised when she received no reply.
“Caleb,” she said again, a little louder, reaching out to lay her uninjured hand on his shoulder. The wereleopard jerked like he’d been electrocuted, scared brown eyes landing on her as she held her hands up in the universal signal for ‘I’m not going to hurt you,’ but she didn’t think he was really seeing her. His breaths were coming in fast pants and his eyes darted around the room like a frightened animal instead of the predator that lived inside of him.
“Hey,” she said softly. “Caleb, it’s me. It’s Dawn. You’re safe, honey, he can’t hurt you anymore.”
After a few minutes Caleb’s eyes lost the glassy, far-away look and actually focused on her face.
“Dawn?” he asked softly, his voice cracking in the middle.
“Yeah, honey, it’s me.”
Dawn suddenly found herself with a lapful of shivering wereleopard. Snapping the silver chain surrounding his throat Dawn wrapped him up in a tight embrace, rubbing his back and making soft, comforting noises in his ear as he buried his face in her shoulder and sobbed. A soft blanket that smelled of home, of Dawn and Ghost and Connor and Spike, appeared in her periphery and Dawn took it, wrapping it around Caleb’s shoulders as the sobs began to taper off.
“Thanks, Ghost,” she said and the witch quirked a small smile.
“Not quite,” she replied and Dawn got a good look at her. She could have sworn she was looking at the witch except her hair was shorter and her eyes were the wrong color, a bright, nearly electric blue instead of the soft, almost foggy sky color of Ghost’s.
“If he’s ready to move we should go,” Ghost’s look-alike said softly. “We’ve got everything else cleaned up and Lynn said she called some doctor to look you guys over.”
Dawn glanced over the top of the bed and saw that the other woman’s words were true. Someone had cleaned up all of the blood, probably Ghost though Dawn didn’t see her, and two somber werehyenas were wrapping Narcissus’ body in a sheet to be carried back to the Circus. She nodded; getting a good grip around Caleb’s waist she lifted them both to their feet. The wereleopard sagged against her, his knees refusing to support him, and Dawn shifted, fitting one arm under his legs she held him, bridal-style, amazed at how easy it was to lift him, if a little unwieldy given his height. The other woman, Ghost’s cousin she figured, remembering the brief flash she’d gotten of the two of them when they’d gone to Anita’s to sever the spell Morte d’Amour’s human servant had put on them, tucked the blanked around Caleb’s body.
Dawn voiced her thanks as she maneuvered herself to the door, Damian’s gateway to the Circus still holding strong. Her vampire shut the door behind them.
When Dawn reached the hospital set up under the Circus she almost dropped the wereleopard in shock.
The man offered her a small smile and a soft, "Hey, Dawnie."
He looked almost like he had in her dream those months ago; shaggy, shoulder length hair and mismatched eyes, wincing every so often as Doc Lillian stitched up four long, deep gashes on his chest and stomach. She remembered the long-furred hyena raking claws into the other one and the cat inside encouraged Dawn to taste the air, to confirm that Xander Harris was, indeed, the werehyena that had come to her rescue. The Doc had finished the last stitch and turned to direct Dawn in where to set Caleb when the wereleopard apparently caught the same hyena scent Dawn was getting from Xander and panicked.
“Nononono,” he whined, voice high with fear as he struggled to free himself of Dawn’s hold, forcing the woman to kneel in case she dropped him.
“Hey, Caleb,” she said, trying to get him to focus on her. “It’s not him, I promise. You’re safe, honey.”
But he didn’t seem to hear her. His eyes were wide and panicked, unseeing and, as she watched, they bled to leopard gold as his control started to slip. Xander had moved to the far corner of the room in an effort to keep his scent to himself, the best he could do because Dawn and Caleb were blocking the doorway. Cherry abandoned the cart of supplies she was wheeling in, crouching beside the duo in the doorway to add her own soothing voice and calming scent of leopard to her traumatized pard-mate. Nothing they did seemed to get through to Caleb and Dawn was bracing herself to get clawed up again when a sudden wash of power rolled over them. Even to her tigress the power felt so nice and reminded her of deep, dark jungles with the air so thick with moisture it was hard to breathe and dark, cool dens where warm furred sides brushed together as those within shifted in their sleep. Then, Micah was there, the power flowing off of the Nimir-Raj as he calmed his panicked cat. Caleb stopped struggling and Dawn could feel his racing pulse slowing as Micah purred softly, that warm wash of power continuing to flow over the small group. Cherry greeted her king with an affectionate cheek-rub to the shoulder as Micah petted Caleb’s hair soothingly.
“It’s okay, Caleb,” he said. “Darren’s gone, Anita shot him and Dawn sent him away. He’ll never hurt you again, I promise. You’re safe here.”
“What if he’s not dead?” was the reply, in a voice so quiet only their preternatural hearing allowed them to hear it.
Micah gently urged Caleb to look at him and Dawn was relieved to note that Caleb’s eyes were back to their normal brown when he did.
“Anita shot to kill,” Micah explained. “When have we known her to not kill what she set out to?”
Caleb took a moment to think that over, nibbling his lower lip.
“He’s really dead?”
Micah nodded, praying that he wasn’t lying to the younger leopard. Darren had taken a silver bullet to the chest and even if he’d survived that he’d stumbled into a portal Dawn had pulled into being. Micah doubted they’d hear from the insane werehyena anytime soon, if ever.
Over Caleb’s shoulder Micah could see Doc Lillian assessing the younger lycanthrope’s visible injuries and asked, “Will you let Lillian look you over, Caleb? Make sure you’re alright?”
Caleb cuddled into Dawn, dark eyes hooded as he thought it over, then nodded. He clung to Micah’s arm like a frightened child as the Nimir-Raj helped him to his feet and over to the exam table Lillian directed them to, keeping Dawn in sight until they moved behind a privacy screen.
“Don’t go anywhere,” Lillian instructed the Key. “I want to look at that arm and I’ll need to do some tests to make sure there are no lasting effects from whatever he dosed you with.”
“Yeah, I’ll stay here.”
The next thing she knew she was rushing across the room to be enveloped in Xander’s strong arms.
“You’re alive,” she croaked, her voice thick with emotion. “We looked and looked for you, Xander, but no one knew where you were and then Giles died and Willow got sick…”
“I know,” he whispered, trying to speak past the lump in his throat. “And I’m sorry Dawn, so sorry I wasn’t there for you. I wanted to go back but everything went to hell so fast…”
“Buffy turned,” she whispered and his body locked rigid for a moment before he tightened his arms around her and she hugged him just as tightly, burying her face in his neck and breathing in his scent, still Xander under the hyena and blood and antiseptic hospital smells. He stroked a hand through her hair and she could hear him inhale her own scent, then growl softly at what he found.
“It’s okay,” she whispered.
“No, it’s not.”
The young woman glanced to the side at the sound of her name, surprised to see Micah, and pulled away from Xander, wiping the moisture gathering in her eyes.
“Caleb’s asking for you,” the Nimir-Raj said. “Lillian needs to do an internal exam to make sure he’s healing properly. He’s not really comfortable with men right now, even if it’s me, and he needs someone there.”
Dawn nodded. “Yeah, of course.”
“Caleb’s my friend,” she replied. “But the Doc needs to do some tests on me and Xander needs to get with everybody else; I was wondering if you’d help him out. You know what a maze this place is.”
When Lillian finally gave Dawn a clean bill of health and Caleb was sleeping in one of the recovery rooms, aided by a sedative Lillian and some of the others had been working on, with Cherry and another of the female wereleopards curled up with him the younger woman followed her connection to her family to the curtained sitting room.
“Damn, girl,” she heard a voice from the past say. “What kind of hottie lottery did you win? And where can I sign up?”
“Faith?” she asked as she came through the curtain and the dark-haired Slayer grinned.
“Hey-a, little D, how’s tricks?”
“Um, okay,” Dawn said as the Slayer wrapped her up in a hug. The Key accepted the embrace in a daze, blinking dumbly when Spike spoke.
“How’s the kitty holding up, Bit?” he asked.
“Physically he’s going to be okay,” she replied, following Faith back to the occupied seats.
Anita was seated on the sofa with Richard and Micah on either side of her, Jason and Nathaniel curled against her legs while Spike took up one of the overstuffed chairs, Connor leaning a hip against the back of it, Ghost and her cousin nearby. Faith was in another of the chairs, sprawled comfortably with her back against one of the arms and her legs draped over the other as Xander leaned against the faux fireplace. Damian took up the third chair and rose to reach for her as she neared the group.
“Speaking of kitties,” Xander spoke from his spot. He’d been given a pair of non-destroyed jeans, probably courtesy of the never-ending supply of lost and found shared by the shifters who called the Circus home, and was wearing one of the guards’ red shirts. He glared at Spike as he continued, “You mind tellin’ me why Dawn smells like a weretiger?”
The vampire visibly bristled before Ghost placed a calming hand on his leg from her spot on the floor near his feet on the soft carpet.
“It wasn’t his fault, Xander,” Dawn said, reaching for Damian. She hadn’t seen her vampire lover since she and Caleb had been rescued and rushed off to the Doc and some part of her instantly relaxed at his calming touch.
“Well, he’s your… your, Master,” he seemed barely able to spit out the word, “Isn’t he? Isn’t it his job to protect you from things like that? Where the hell was he, huh?”
Dawn clung tighter to Damian, resisting the urge to cry. It had been several very long, very stressful hours and she knew that Xander and Spike had never gotten along; she’d hoped that they’d both grown up with everything that had happened back home but it looked like some things just weren’t meant to be. Prepared to spend the rest of the day, if not her life, playing referee between the two, Dawn was startled when Ghost spoke up.
“Spike wasn’t here because he was in Indiana trying to catch the fucker we just killed not two hours ago. I don’t know you and I don’t know what your beef is with him but Spike has saved all of our lives more times than I can count; both here and back home. Where was he? Where were you? Dawn needed serious help back home but I didn’t see you there so what gives you the right to judge him when you’re no better?”
Xander blinked mutely at the witch whose eyes were blazing tiger green as she glared at him, her hand tight around Spike’s thigh in a probably painful grip as the vampire leaned down to run a hand through her hair and speak softly in her ear. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, a shiver running over her body, but her eyes were back to normal when she opened them again.
“Lynn?” Ellie asked. “Are you okay?”
“ ‘M fine,” Ghost said, standing. “I just… I need some time to think. I’m glad you’re okay, Dawn.”
The Key watched her fellow weretigress exit the room through the thick curtains then frowned at Spike, knowing she’d missed something. The vampire sighed.
“It’s not a coincidence Faith and Harris are here, Bit,” he said. “Apparently, when we formed our… whatever, bond thingy, Asher got bonded, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“He means,” Faith said, “That me, Blondie and grumpy over there are a triumvirate of power.”
Dawn frowned. “When did that happen? And how’d you guys get to this world anyway? When did Xander get turned?”
“Bit,” Spike urged, reaching for her. “Breathe.”
Allowing Damian to guide her over to the chair he’d claimed, she settled in his lap, safe with his arms around her, and said, “Why don’t we start from the beginning?”