Title: This is the way the world ends
Overall Rating: NC17
Chapter Rating: R
Disclaimer: I claim the plot (such as it is) and only that.
Warnings: Abandon all hope ye who enter; this way lies pain.
AN: Happy B'day to the effulgent shakatany
He listened to his Master's orders with a sense of detachment that left him taking precious seconds to comply. Physically he looked calm; face blank and body collected. He thought of nothing, letting the orders wash through him, wash him clean. But in a small corner of his mind that he didn't dare acknowledge, what was left of him railed. They knew, and he couldn't protect her.
Originally they'd been specific in their questions, and the memories threatened to drown him.
"How do we get to the Slayer's sister? How can we get through the wards on the vampire's lair?"
It had taken him a while but eventually he'd caught on; it was never "How do we get to Dawn?" it was always "How do we get to the Slayer's sister?" He’d been right; it was always about blood. Buffy's blood, Dawn's blood.
They wanted Dawn because she was Buffy. Blood never lies and theirs was identical, separated only by flesh and magic, and now death. And that had made the demons furious; they needed life-blood. Straight from the vein - hot and full of emotion. But the dead don't bleed, and they don't feel, which left Dawn.
He knew there was more, knew there was a reason they'd kept him alive, even after he'd forgotten it all and knew only how to bleedscreamkneelobey, but he hadn't been smart enough to figure it out.
So now he focused only on his Holder, carefully rolling each word that came out of those pale lips around in his mind, trying to find any and all meanings. He thought only of his Master, and tried to breathe through the feeling that the last vestiges of himself had died.
His Holder was on the phone, talking to someone in soothing tones that reminded the hidden part of him of blue nail polish, the smell of acetone and cold hands kneading the world out of his muscles. The memory went away when they stopped - when had they gotten into a car? - and blue eyes were focusing on him with such intensity that instinct told him to lower his eyes. The muscles in his neck had barely had time to twitch when the order came again to look, to always look, unless there was another order to supersede it.
So he looked and waited while his Holder seemed to decide something, "Gonna take you inside, Harris."
There seemed to be a warning in that, a premonition of something to come, but he was too lost to find the answer.
"Yes, Master." The answers were easy now.
Fabric was thrown at him, but his Holder hadn't told him to move, so he kept still while it settled on his shoulder, brushing lightly against the wounds on his back. He'd learned that lesson very early on; even if it seemed like reflex, never move without the order. So he kept still and tried not to frown in confusion at the snort of annoyance from his Master.
"Put these on, gonna take you inside." Again a warning for something he couldn't name, sitting heavily in the air between them, so to try and appease his Holder he kept his movements as fluidly graceful as possible while he struggled to remember how to button and zip up jeans.
They were in the doorway while his mind was still trying to puzzle out his Master's warning. The flurry of movement inside startled him, but he knew better than to flinch. He kept his eyes focused on a blonde head, while his Holder took a step forward and called out.
"Bit, we're home." He heard the squeal from the other end of the house and a muscle in his hand twitched.
He held his breath for a moment, but his Master didn't notice the slip. Then he didn't have time to think of it because a brunette was running towards him, her face split in a wide grin despite the tears running down her face. She flung herself at him and his breath came out in a rush but otherwise didn't move.
He could feel the hidden part of himself screaming itself hoarse - it hadn't stopped since she'd come tearing down the hall.
He didn't know what was happening until he felt the air trickle past his lips, a barely there sound muffled by her hair: "Dawn... Run."