With precise slowness, he turned the knob and then soundlessly pressed on the door, letting only a sliver of light enter the room. Open it too wide and she’d wake, ready for a day that didn’t start for hours. But if he limited the light just so, it would cross over her hands and no further, letting him gaze on her angelic face in the soft shadows.
But the swatch of light found only a wrinkle of blankets and sheets. Hank pressed the door a bit more, revealing the whole canopied princess bed, but no Buffy. Hank’s pulse sped as he pushed the door wide. She had to be here. “Buffy!”
Her face popped out from beneath the bed ruffle. “Hi, daddy.”
“Why aren’t you in bed, young lady?” he asked as he scooped her up and plopped her on the mattress.
"There was a monster under my bed.”
He ran his hand over her hair, catching up the dust bunnies. “There was, was there?”
She nodded, her eyes large, calm pools.
“So you were hiding from the monster?” he asked, a smile on his face, remembering his own childhood imaginings.
The corners of her mouth bunched down, her chubby fists on her hips. “No, daddy. There was a monster under my bed.”
“And you went after it?” He asked incredulously before he thought it through.
“Yeah.” Her chin went up and she smiled. “And I got it.”
The books never mentioned this. “That’s... great,” he said, forcing a smile. “I hear monster-getting is tough work. So you need to get some sleep.”
“But I’m not tired,” she protested. However, she blinked slowly, once and then again, and was unsuccessful in stifling a yawn.
He looked at her as if he were looking over spectacles. “Really.”
Her shoulders drooped. “Fine.”
After she snuggled down into bed, he pulled the blanket up to her chin, tucking her in tight - as if it would keep the strangeness at bay. “Sweet dreams,” he whispered, kissing her forehead. Then he reversed his entrance, turning the knob open before quietly closing the door.
She shook in silent terror as the claw as shiny as mommy’s ebony sculpture plucked at the blanket, dragging it off of her. Then the claw returned, the points of its nails tearing through the sheet, scraping along the mattress until the sheet slipped away to pool with the blanket on the floor.
She imagined herself climbing over the foot of the bed, running to the door, and then turning the knob, but try as she might, she couldn’t make herself move anything more than her eyes. The claw returned, the nails walking forward until it found her leg, wrapping itself into a fist around her tiny ankle. Then it pulled. She couldn’t even move enough to wrap her own fists around the posts of her bed. Only as she fell from the bed did she flail.
With a start and a wail, Dawn woke in her bed and scrambled backward until her back found the headboard. With her knees to her chest, she pulled the stretchy pink nightgown over her legs, then wrapped her arms over that. A dream? But it felt so real. But mommy and daddy always said there were no such thing as monsters. Still...
“Mommy?” she asked softly into the dark. Down below, the muffled sound of her parents continued.
“Daddy?” she called out. Their voices were louder, maybe they were coming. She held her breath, waiting, then realized they weren’t coming. They were having a “difference of opinion”.
She sobbed in gulping breaths, stuffing the end of her sleeve in her mouth, no longer wanting them to hear her. When the knob turned, she flinched, squeezing her eyes shut against the light, then heard the door click shut again. Her heart thudded, fearing the click of those terrible claws. Instead, slight arms wrapped around her.
“Dawn, it’s me.”
Her eyes flew open. “Buffy!”
“Shhhh,” said Buffy. “I’m not supposed to be out of bed.”
“Again,” said Dawn, trying not to laugh.
Even in the dark, Buffy’s eyes twinkled. “Totally.”
For a moment they sat in silence, Dawn resting her head on Buffy’s shoulder. Then Buffy said, “What happened?”
"There was a monster under my bed.” Out loud, it sounded silly. Buffy must think she was a total baby. In a hurry she added, “but it was just a dream.”
Hopping off the bed, Buffy said, “I’m gonna double check.” Crouching down, she lifted the bed ruffle and slid under. “Umph!”
She came out from under the bed, holding a dust-covered figure in her hand. “I wondered where Ken had run off to.”
Dawn could feel her sister’s narrowed eyes on her. “Sorry?”
Buffy shrugged and then scooted in next to her, saying, “I should have given them to you eons ago.”
“Thanks.” She felt lots better, yet she didn’t want to be alone. “Will you stay?”
Buffy’s nose wrinkled up as she considered it. “Better not.” She sighed, then brightened, sliding off the bed and pulling Dawn with her. “Come on.”
At first Dawn thought Buffy was taking her back to her room; Dawn wouldn’t get scolded for that, not the way Buffy would if she stayed. Instead Buffy led her toward the window and they slipped under the curtain. Pointing up, her sister asked, “See that star?”
There weren’t many stars in LA, but the one Buffy pointed to was bright. “Uh huh.”
“That’s a watching star. I’m officially asking it to keep an eye on you. Not just tonight, but every night. As long as it watches, then the monsters can’t get to you. Okay?”
“Come on, they’re almost done down there.” Buffy let her back to bed, gathering the bedding from the floor and tucking her in. “Good night, Bed Bug.” Then she padded to the door, tipping her head as she listened before slipping from the room.
He could name a thousand stupid things he’d done in his time, but this outshone them all. Here he was, voluntarily in the home of a slayer. Not just her home, but her bedroom. And not lying just on her floor, but at the foot of her bed.
Like some panting puppy. Pathetic, cooed Darla’s voice in his head.
He pushed back against her voice, loathing himself for thinking of her at all, especially here. No!
No, no, no. Daddy’s not her puppy, grandmummy. Fancies himself her fierce and fanged guard dog. Rrrowl.
No, he repeated,driving Dru out.
He hated their intrusion, yet he knew why thoughts of them had thrust their way in - to keep him from lying to himself. She might think he was nothing but a college guy who had an inkling about what goes bump in the night. But he wasn’t just a guy. “Just a guy” wouldn’t be able to hear her heart beating a little too fast, even as she pretended to sleep. And the knowledge he made her pulse race? It was pleasure and pain. She was still innocent enough to invite him in her window and give him a place to sleep.
But he wasn’t innocent. He was the monster under her bed.
She could not believe this was happening. In fact, it was going to unhappen right now. Finally, someone was picking up the phone.
“Hello, Rosenberg residence,” said a male voice.
“Is Buffy there?”
“I’m sorry, there’s no Buffy Rosenberg at this address.”
“Xander. I know she’s there. Put her on the phone. Now.”
“I’m good, thanks for asking.” Then the phone hit something hard, clattering so loudly she pulled the phone away from her ear. But she could still hear the sing song “Buuuuuffy! It’s for yooooou!” As Cordelia waited, she watched Regan and the kid play some sort of hand slap game on the couch. She should be glad he was smiling again and not wailing, but that didn’t stop the irritation of knowing she should be the one playing a different hand slap game with Regan on the couch.
“There’s a monster under the bed at the Thomkin house. 1229 Cherry Street. It should be, what, 10 minutes, max from your place?”
“Who is this?”
“Please. You were standing less than four feet from me when I told Regan I’d be babysitting and invited him to watch a movie with me once Tommy went to sleep. And then after he left, I made it clear I’d only agreed to the arrangement because Regan’s into mentoring kids. Good thing he’s hot and athletic, otherwise I wouldn’t be caught dead doing something so gauche as providing child care.”
“Someone named their kid Tommy Thomkin? That’s more wrong than Cordelia Chase assuming the universe revolves around her.”
Cordy narrowed her eyes. Not that Buffy could see her. So she dropped her voice to chill and low “There’s a monster under Tommy’s bed. I don’t do monsters, you do.” She paused, realizing how that sounded given the whole Angel-without-a-soul thing. Oops. Nothing for it but to push ahead. “As in you are the slayer, so it’s your raison d'etre or whatever. While in my case, dealing with anything other than imaginary monsters? Not in my job description.”
There was silence at the other end. Which was a good sign. If she’d hung up, there’d be a dial tone by now. Then she heard the sigh. The I-don’t-want-to-be-responsible-but-I-am-dammit sigh.
“I take it you’re all safe for now?”
“Yes. We jammed the knob so it can’t open the door.”
If Cordelia didn’t know better, she’d think Buffy sounded impressed.
“Okay. Call Giles and give him the description of the thing. See if he’s got any ideas. Monster Slayers R Us, here we come.”
As Angel slipped out of bed and walked away, Buffy stared. She wanted to memorize everything about him, starting with the way his tattoo moved as he poured glasses of water and not stopping with the dimple in his hip. She was still staring hungrily when he turned around, and realized she didn’t care that she’d be caught. Besides, by the widening grin on his face, he definitely didn’t mind her undivided attention. He raised an eyebrow and then downed his glass of water, which did interesting things with the muscles of his abdomen. She licked her lips, thirsty on so many levels.
Part of her had worried that her attraction to Angel was fueled too much by the impossibility of it, by the wrongness of loving a vampire. That his attraction for her was for all the wrong reasons. Or worse, that he’d gotten over her. Then when everything because instantly awkward after they realized he was human, it was as if all her fears were true.
Thinking of their mad scrabble of broken dishes and broken buttons in their mad rush to find every curve and corner of one another, of the fun with ice cream, and now the simplicity of shared thirst, Buffy reveled in how wrong she was. She wondered how many more times she could be proved wrong yet this night.
“So are you going to stand there all night and taunt me with that hard, round cylinder of water in your hand or are you coming bed?”
He huffed and tried to look pained. “You just want me for my filtered water.”
“Exactly. I’ve had L.A. tap water. So,” she said, pulling back the covers and providing him with a view from her hip to her toes, “what’ll it take to get that glass away from you?”
Later, as spooned herself against his chest and closed her eyes, she imagined endless nights of sharing his bed without the monster between them.