Dear Stranger

Dear Stranger

By Spiralled

Rating: PG.
Pairing: Dawn/Spike friendship.
Summary: A series of vignettes set within season 7, focusing on the relationship between Dawn and Spike.
Author's notes: I was inspired to do this because I felt that the relationship between Dawn and Spike was short changed in season 7 and that it was a relationship which gave them both a depth that I felt was missing toward the end. This is a WIP, however each scene is fairly self contained. Also, thank you to Mommanerd, my beta extraordinaire.
Spoilers: Through Season 7.

***

REAL
(Set after Beneath Me)

Dawn was laid out flat on the floor, the upper half of her body hidden under the bed, looking for the mate of the shoe on her right foot. An odd assortment of shoes, socks, books, a swimsuit top and a family of dust bunnies piled up around her.

“There it is!” she cried and scrambled back out, grasping the chunky heeled shoe. She set her back against the bed, slid the shoe on and began to lace it when she noticed the book by her foot. It was “The Velveteen Rabbit.” She ran her hand along the embossed lettering of the title, thinking back to when she’d first found out she wasn’t real.

She wasn’t a Summers or Dawn or really a girl. She was a Key. She’d freaked. Slash, burn and run. Trying her best to push them all away. Then one night she’d heard a tapping at the window. Someone was throwing pebbles. She’d peeked through the curtains and saw Spike picking through a collection of small stones in his hand. She’d opened the window and leaned out, but he disappeared. Then she’d looked down at the roof and saw the brown paper package.

“The Velveteen Rabbit” had been inside. She knew the inscription by heart. “Bit, in all the ways it matters, you’re real to me.”

Mom and Buffy never knew that this was what helped her turn the corner. And now… and now it just added to her confusion. She’d been trying to keep her anger up, but then she’d be caught off guard by some reminder, like this book. How could the Spike who had known the exact right thing to say and do back then, who’d done right by her and Buffy more times that she could count be the same Spike who attacked Buffy? The same Spike who ran off to get a soul of all things and returned mad as a hatter? She didn’t know if it made her head or heart hurt more. She could only imagine what it did to Buffy, since she wouldn’t really talk about it.

She squeezed her eyes and the book tight, finally getting it. Why he’d known that this book would resonate. Maybe she should offer it back to him. Maybe it would help.

“Dawn! Hurry up! We’re going to be late,” yelled Buffy up the stairs.

Dawn opened her eyes and sighed. Maybe there were things worse than being formed from a ball of energy by a bunch of monks. She tucked the book back under the bed and loped down the stairs. Later. She’d figure it out later.

FROZEN
(Set during Same Time, Same Place)

Um, guys, Dawn wanted to say as they as the left for the rescue mission with Anya in tow, You’re not going to leave me here alone, are you?

Apparently, the answer to that was yes. Since it was the only option, she sat perfectly still. Surely Buffy would take care of Gnarl and she wouldn’t continue to stiffen up until she suffocated here all alone. Given the not so pleasantness of that train of thought, she tried to think of anything else, which only led to noticing the fact that her nose itched, her head itched and, scratch that, her whole body itched. Maybe that was how Spike became crazy. He was paralyzed all summer.

Dawn froze. Or at least she would have if she weren’t already locked in place. What was that smell? It was worse than the impromptu pig roast after the homecoming game.

“Dawn?”

Speak of the demon. She wasn’t alone. Spike was here! Oh my god, she was alone with Spike!

“Shouldn’t be here. Girl wouldn’t like it,” he said as he came into Dawn’s periphery vision. “Can’t leave her, not like this.”

She watched as he cut a wide arc around her, talking way too much like a Glory brainsicle for her comfort.

“Didn’t ask, didn’t get permission. Should leave.” He moved out of her line of sight and, from the sounds of it, toward the door.

To her own surprise, she found herself wanting to stop him. Please don’t leave me, she thought. Dawn took in as much air as possible and gave it her all, “Hmmm!” she hummed. She heard him stop. “Hmm. Hmm!”

He moved toward her until all she could see was his worse-for-wear bright blue shirt. Crouching down, careful not to touch her, he asked, “You don’t want me here, do you Bit?”

In that moment as he fixed his bright blue eyes on her, his voice sounded like the Spike she knew and trusted. Had trusted. Before the crazy, and the souled and the Buffy harming got layered on top. She pushed away all the “yeah, buts” and stared back, hoping he’d understand that she needed to not be alone.

“I’ll just stay until they get back. Make sure you’re okay, how’s that?”

Dawn put all the smile she could in her eyes.

“Gotta be quiet though. Real still. Shan’t do if she knows I’m here. She’ll be cross.” As he spoke, he backed into the wall and slid down until only his eyes peered over his knees.

He was watching her in that unblinking vampire way she’d read about. She’d never known Spike to be this still or quiet and still qualify as being awake. Which made it disconcerting, although not quite weird enough to distract her from the persistent itching.

Then without warning, she could move. And due to the cramped state of her muscles, she tipped over onto the floor, sending the remote skittering. Dawn tried to sit up, but ironically her body was choosing now to mimic the consistency of jelly. She looked up to see Spike kneeling over her, staring.

“Ah, Spike, help me up?”

He shook his head and his eyes rolled like a skittish horse’s. “Shouldn’t touch. Might be wrong.”

So not the time to start learning good touch, bad touch Spike, she thought. “Spike,” Dawn said in her best impersonation of authoritative Buffy voice, “Help me up to the couch, okay?”

It worked. He scooped her up and gently set her down. She closed her eyes and let her head flop against the back of the couch. Hey, look at that, I’m ready to storm a castle, she mused.

Just then she felt his cool hand cup her check and she heard him whisper, “Safe as houses.”

She opened her eyes to thank him, but he was gone. The front door making a soft click as he closed it behind him.

TRYING
(Set after Help)

Dawn looked down the hallways on either side of her before opening the door to the school basement and slipping inside. As she descended the stairs, she wished for the umpteenth time that Tara were still alive. Then she would have had someone with whom she could have talked this idea through, which was impossible with everyone else. If Buffy found out, she’d kill her. Xander would kill him. And Willow, well, she was still in serious self-blame mode and didn’t feel justified in judging anybody, even Spike. Which wasn’t a huge deal because Dawn wasn’t sure she was ready to trust Willow’s opinion anyway.

At the bottom of the stairs, Dawn stopped and got her bearings before continuing on.

Now Tara, she’d handle it differently. Tara would ask the right questions to help her think it through and let her make her own decision - unless that decision would lead her into serious, gushing chest wound kind of trouble. Dawn sighed. She’d tried to think up the questions Tara would ask. Probably “Why?” Not accusing, but probing.

Because he’s been there for me and now he needed help. Because of Cassie.

She knew Tara’d tactfully ask why the secrecy - as it was usually a sign of the not good. Dawn had a ready supply of examples from the past year to know the truth of that. It didn’t matter now. Here she was.

“Hi Spike. It’s Dawn,” she said as she drew closer.

He looked up at her from the corner he sat in. “Dawn?”

To her ears it sounded like he was mimicking back a foreign word. She knelt down in front of him, shrugged her book bag off her shoulder and rummaged inside, pulling out two packages of blood and holding them out to him.

“Um, I though you might be hungry.”

“Did Buffy send you?”

He looked so hopeful. “No,” she said, watching his face fall and wondering who was more pathetic, Spike for yearning for a whole lot more than any sane person would expect or herself for wanting to matter enough to him that he would stop thinking about Buffy for a whole five minutes.

He still hadn’t taken the bags, so she set them down. “I gotta go. Class and all,” she said, grabbing her book bag and moving away. Then she thought of Cassie again and turned around. “Spike, I’ll be back tomorrow, so drink up, ‘kay?”

Maybe it was just the bad lighting, but she thought he might have nodded. Dawn dashed off, knowing she’d be cutting it super close for Bio. As she took the steps two at a time, her thoughts were not on her class.

Did I do okay Tara?

HER
(Set toward the end of Him)

The train’s whistle blew through him like a furnace blast. And he hated himself for it. He hated the unbidden memories of another railroad yard and other girls. Girls whose screams weren’t quite drowned out by the trains.

He hated the way his body betrayed him. The way his mouth watered and his teeth ached at the memory of their blood. The way it made him second guess himself, leaving him standing by helplessly with Red and Harris as Buffy raced toward Dawn.

Bugger it all, I swear if a hair on Dawn’s head is out of place, I will hunt the git down and rip his throat out. Surprisingly, his shiny new soul didn’t put up much of a fuss at the idea. A refreshing change from the waves of guilt he felt when he looked at Dawn. One of the other unexpected side effects of getting a soul.

“Hey, Buffy Dudley Do-Righted Dawn!” Xander shouted.

Relief swept over him, followed closely by dread as the Summers women walked toward them. He knew Buffy would look everywhere but at him and he could handle that. But with Dawn, those eyes of hers were like the eyes of those angel figurines. They saw everything with too much clarity. And he didn’t like what they saw. Plus, when he looked in those eyes he could see all the Dawn-like girls who’d perished at his hands. It was so hard to keep facing that. Maybe too hard.

Xander nudged him, “Let’s say you and I take care of old RJ now.”

Spike realized he must have quirked an eyebrow at Harris because he was talking again.

“Not like that Spike. Just get the jacket and destroy it. You think you can handle that?”

Spike nodded. This he could do. Maybe it’d get him a step closer to being the man who’d measure up to those eyes.

PAUSE
(Set between Him and Conversations with Dead People)

Spike folded back the flaps of the box and peered inside, his mouth twitching into a semblance of a smile. He ran a finger across the labels. Clem, you are a saint.

He pulled out the first tape, popped it into Harris’ VCR, hit play and settled into the couch. A grin spread across his face as the music started. So this is what they meant by ‘guilty pleasure.’

Spike frowned as a knock at the door interrupted his viewing pleasure. “Harris innit here.”

“Spike, it’s me,” called Dawn.

He hit the ‘pause’ button as he got up, moving to the door to let her in.

“Dawn. What brings you to this neck of the woods?”

“I’m supposed to meet Xander.”

“Oh,” he replied, watching as she fell instantly into the thrall of the refrigerator, drawn unbidden to the contents within.

“Mmm, Hawaiian.”

The child’s metabolism never ceased to amaze him. “Help yourself,” he said with a smirk. Good news was it most likely signaled that her boy induced funk was over, which was a relief. He was not wired for cheer up duty.

“Thanks. Whatcha watching?” she asked, using her slice of pizza to point at the freeze frame of a woman on her hands and knees, scrubbing a floor.

“Nothing,” he said, trying to feign casualness as he edged toward the box.

“Hmm,” she replied, making a beeline for said box and peering inside, “looks like a whole lot of nothing.”

Spike groaned inwardly and braced himself as she continued to inspect the contents.

“‘Passions’? You’ve got tapes and tapes of ‘Passions’? What’s up with that?”

Spike shoved his hands into the front pockets of his jeans and shrugged. “Clem taped them while I was, ah, away.” Tentatively he looked up to see her reaction.

She grinned at him. “Obsess much? You sooo over identify with Timmy. And that can’t be good considering…” She looked at him curiously and plopped herself on the couch. “I shouldn’t say, should I? So come on, whatcha waiting for?”

He knew there was something the girl wasn’t telling, but figured anything about the show wasn’t worth making a fuss over. He considered snarking about what had her in such a generous mood, but he thought better of it. Instead, he sat on the couch and decided to go with the moment. Pretend everything was as it used to be. When Joyce was alive and entertained him in the kitchen like he was family, listening to his brokenhearted laments or talking soaps while Dawn snitched and shrugged on his duster, the length of it pooling on the floor. He didn’t deserve this reprieve, but damned if he was going drive a stake through it.

“Miguel is sooo clueless,” said Dawn, rolling her eyes.

Spike nodded. “Git doesn’t know his arse from his elbow.”

Dawn snorted and yelped. He looked over to see her hand over her mouth and nose, tears streaming from her eyes.

“Soda up your nose, eh?”

Dawn nodded and Spike leaned back, spreading his arms across the back of the couch. “Soap watching isn’t a sport for lightweights, Bit.”

“Whatever, Spike,” she replied, rolling her eyes again.

He knew the lot of them would find her eye rolling aggravating, but to him it was like pennies from heaven. He wracked his brain, willing to give up his eyeteeth if only he could think of something that would get this brown-eyed girl to give him another such reaction he could add to his keep.

He felt a nudge and looked over to Dawn. “What’s that, Bit?” She was eyeing him with concern. Must have been trying to get his attention for a while. I couldn’t have been out of it that long, could I?

“It’s Sheridan and the whole amnesia thing. You’re all quiet when you should be all snarky.” She narrowed her eyes and studied him, saying, “You’re still having those memory lapses, aren’t you?”

He groaned. He’d been so desperate to get her mind off her miseries from the whole jacket fiasco that he’d told her the first thing that had come to mind. Why he picked the truth he’d never know. She wasn’t supposed to dwell on it. “Why do ya want to know?”

“I’ve been thinking.”

And there goes the other shoe. Spike looked at her intently. “Please tell me ya haven’t been thinking out loud to anyone.”

Dawn matched his look. “No,” she said slowly, “but I might.”

“Hrmph.”

“Come on, just let me tell you.”

Spike unpursed his lips. “Okay Dawn, what’s on your mind?”

She took a deep breath and it all tumbled out. “I think you should see a counselor. I did this summer. Because of, of… being with Tara when she was… after she was… shot. Child Services people made me see one. He made a difference. I thought you could talk with him too. Try to figure this out before it really becomes a problem.”

He knew she meant well, but given the tears she was fighting just mentioning the bird’s name, he wasn't convinced this was the great solution she thought it was. “Hard to believe Sunnyhell has that many doctors.”

“Well, he wasn’t exactly a doctor. More like an intern. But he really helped. Honest.”

“No.”

“Why not?” She crossed her arms in front of herself.

He crossed his arms in front of himself. “Oh, I dunno. Let’s start with the fact that I’m a vampire.”

“It’s Sunnydale. They just skim over anything too supernatural. Or they think you were tripping on PCPs. Or that you’re really cerebral and talking in metaphors.” Dawn shrugged. “That’s why I’m in AP English this year.”

“No.”

“So what is your brilliant plan?”

“Anything but this.”

The jangle of keys announced Xander’s return. “Dawn, you’re here. Give me a minute and I’ll be ready.” He moved toward his bedroom, loosening his tie and then turned back toward them. “Everything okay here?”

Without taking her eyes off Spike, Dawn answered, “We’re fine. Just watching TV.”

“I’ll be right back.”

“Come on, Spike,” Dawn whispered. “Say you’ll think about it. He’s got evening hours and everything. Otherwise…” She tipped her head toward Xander’s room.

“That’s blackmail,” he hissed.

She shrugged and began studying her nails.

When she was in a mood like this, there was no changing her mind. And he couldn’t afford to wait her out. “Fine,” he bit out, “I’ll think about it.”

“Yea!” she said, smiling broadly.

That smile. Damn near makes it worth it, he thought.

“You ready Dawn?” called Xander.

As he came back into the room, she stood up and pulled a card out of her back pocket, slipping it into Spike’s hand.

“Yep,” she chirped.

Spike met Xander’s gaze.

“Spike.”

“Harris.”

Dawn pulled at Xander’s arm. “Come on, we’re going to be late.”

Spike watched as she pushed Xander out the door, glancing back at him. He waved the card and pasted a smile on his face. She smiled back, nodded encouragingly and then closed the door. He turned back to the show, but couldn’t focus. The apartment felt quiet and claustrophobic, but there was nowhere he could go for at least another half-hour.

He wandered into the kitchen, absentmindedly worrying the dog-eared corner of the card before tossing it onto the counter. He opened the fridge, hoping some better quality beer than Harris’ standard swill might have mysteriously appeared. It hadn’t, so he settled for blood. He poured a mugful and queued it up in the microwave. He closed his eyes and leaned against the wall, waiting for the blood to warm.

“My girls get to you like no one else, don’t they?”

His eyes flew open as the sound of Joyce’s voice. It looked just like her. Down to the curl of her hair and the motherly look of concern on her face. She took a step toward him and he scrambled back.

“Joyce? Is that you? It can’t be you.”

“Is this some sort of riddle? Something Buffy has you working on?” she asked, shaking her head, “I just can’t keep up with it all.”

He closed his eyes, willing her away. He wasn’t in the basement anymore. He thought he’d be free of them here. Spike opened his eyes and she was still present, looking even more concerned.

“Let me find you something to eat,” she urged, “I’m sure whatever is bothering you will feel more manageable once you’ve got some food in your stomach.” She reached for a drawer and her hand went through it. She turned toward him, darkly apologetic. “That didn’t work too well, did it? Especially since I was trying to calm your nerves. Thankfully, I have a plan B. Mothers always do, you know.”

With that, Joyce began to hum. He frowned. It reminded him of something, someone from a long time ago that he couldn’t quite place. But then, it suddenly didn’t matter to him.

“Now let’s see who my little pumpkin wants you to meet,” she said, nodding toward the card.

He picked it up and read it aloud, “Holden Webster, Intern.”

“Shall we see if he’s working the graveyard shift tonight?” she asked with a smile.

Spike answered with a wolfish grin.

FINE
(Set at the beginning of Never Leave Me)

“You want me to do what?!” Dawn’s voice exploded on the last word.

On the other side of the door, Willow flinched and gave Spike her big-eyed look. They both knew he was the reason they were arguing. He tried to give her his purse-lipped tough guy look, but he didn’t have the will for it.

“Tell Principal Wood that I’m sick and I won’t be in to work today,” Buffy repeated.

“So you’re going to skip work and put me up to lying for you just so you can handhold that, that… MURDERER!”

Spike’s chin dropped to his chest. He felt tired. So bone tired.

“Keep your voice down, he’ll hear you.”

Spike mouthed the words with her. “That was the point, Buffy.”

He could imagine the two of them, reflections of each other. Their arms crossed, heads cocked and their mouths set in twin lines.

Buffy sighed. “It’s complicated Dawn. If you’d seen him down there…”

“Well maybe if you’d known Mr. Webster before he was turned, it wouldn’t seem so complicated.”

Spike kept his head down. Away from Red’s pitying looks. They distracted from the pain he was owed. He strained to hear as Dawn’s voice dropped and dripped venom. “Oh, that’s right. You did know him.”

“Dawn, it’s not that simple. Spike’s got a…”

“Don’t you even dare point out he has a soul! Do you think I missed that the first dozen times you mentioned it? I wish, I wish he was…”

Buffy cut her off, saying in measured tones, “Do not finish that sentence.”

“Fine.”

“Go get your books. Xander will take you to school now. That way you will have time to talk to Principal Wood.”

“Fine. I’m sure I can think up something believably gross.”

He heard Dawn move to her room, but she didn’t go downstairs. He looked up, waiting for her. She burst into the room with Buffy on her heels. At first she was working her mouth, but not forming words. He thought she might cry, but then her eyes got a cold, flinty look and she said, “You know what happened to Timmy, Spike? Do you? He’s dead! Dead dead. Never coming back dead.”

“Dawn…” Buffy growled.

Dawn gave Buffy the same look and brushed past her, running down the stairs and slamming the front door.

Spike sat perfectly still, staring over Buffy’s shoulder. Me too, Bit, me too.

SCRAMBLED
(Set during Bring on the Night)

What was the etiquette when other people were staying in your room? Do you walk in or knock first? Dawn knocked and the door swung partially open, revealing Molly and Annabelle sitting on her bed. “Uh, hi. Do you have enough blankets and stuff?”

“We’re fine, thank you,” replied Annabelle.

“And we’re really sorry we turned you out,” added Molly.

Dawn shrugged. “It’s no big bunking with Buffy. She’ll be out most of the night anyway. I should get my books though.”

“You’ve got school in morning when there’s the Turok-Han and the First Evil trying to kill us? Ow, whatcha do that for?” asked Molly, rubbing her foot where Annabelle had pinched it.

“You’re being nosy.”

“It’s okay. Buffy has this ‘an apocalypse is no excuse’ policy. Hard to argue with it, since she managed it when she was in school.” Dawn shouldered her book bag. “Any last requests? For tonight, I mean. Not ‘last requests’ in a ‘end of the world last request’ kinda way.” Jeez, good way to reassure them.

“It must be so exciting being the sister of the Slayer,” Molly said as she scooted away from Annabelle’s reach. “You’ve seen vampires, haven’t you?”

“Well,” replied Dawn, leaning back against her desk and amazed to see both girls lean forward. So this is what it was like to have people hang on your every word. “I’ve actually killed a couple of vampires.”

“Really?” squealed Molly. “My Watcher wouldn’t let me. Said my coordination needed improvin’ first. Say, if you know about that I bet you can answer another question of… ouch! Annabelle, quit pinching me. I want to know!”

“Molly, no. Mr. Giles will provide us with any information we need.”

“Maybe they forgot we don’t know and they won’t think to tell us what they think we already know.”

Dawn gave up trying to untangle that logic knot and cut through the debate saying, “We’re really not that formal here, if you have a question, you can ask any of us. So ask away.” It was kinda fun being the one with the info for a change.

“What’s a spike?” blurted Molly.

“A wah?” said Dawn.

“Tonight your sis and Mr. Giles were talking about a spike being important. But that other lady? Anya? She didn’t sound so keen on finding the spike. What is it? Is it a special kind of stake? That’s what Annabelle thought.”

Annabelle blushed to the roots of her hair while giving Molly a look to kill. Then both girls looked at Dawn expectantly.

It was a good question, Dawn reflected. Too bad her mind had gone completely blank. Well, not so much blank as overloaded with information that was jockeying to connect with her mouth. She finally managed, “He’s a… it’s a… he’s a vampire.”

“So why does your sister want to find him?” asked Annabelle.

“Yeah, I thought that we were supposed to make them dusties,” added Molly.

Again, good question.

“Spike’s different. He helps Buffy,” replied Dawn. “Usually.”

“Oh!” said Annabelle with a tone of comprehension that Dawn hadn’t expected. “He must be the vampire with a soul my Watcher told me about. But I thought his name was Angel.”

“I thought my Watcher said his name was Jealous. Or something.”

“Yes and no and yes and no,” Dawn replied.

“Which one is it? Yes or no?”

Dawn followed the voice and found Kennedy leaning in the doorway. She suddenly felt very trapped. “It’s not an either or answer. Spike isn’t the vampire with a soul your Watcher told you about. That’s Angel. Except when he doesn’t have a soul and he’s super psycho, then he goes by Angelus.”

Molly bounced on the bed. “Yeah, that’s the name. Angelus.”

“So Spike is a vampire without a soul and your sister is looking for him and thinks he will help us?” asked Kennedy. “Somehow, I’d imagined the Slayer having a better plan than that. Or any plan other than that.”

“But he does have a soul,” Dawn protested, “it’s just so new I doubt the Watcher’s Council would have known about it.”

“So is it a curse like Angel’s?” asked Annabelle.

“I…” Dawn paused. Again a good question. “I don’t think so. I’m not sure how it was put in place, but he sought it out. He wanted his soul back.”

“Then why was Anya all grouchy and talking about him having the crazies and killing people?” asked Molly.

Dawn began nibbling on her lower lip. She wished Kennedy wasn’t blocking the doorway. She wished that she hadn’t gotten cocky and thought she was a know-it-all. And she wished Kennedy would quit looking at her as if she could read her thoughts.

“He’s killed since then, hasn’t he?” asked Kennedy.

“Yeah. We think the First Evil has been possessing him since he got his soul, making him kill people. It was kinda unexpected because he hadn’t killed anyone in a long time before getting his soul.”

They all got quiet. And it wasn’t a good quiet, but the nervous kind. Dawn sighed. She should say something reassuring, but she was with Anya on this one. Spike was crazy and dangerous. Buffy’s stubborn Summers streak was widening daily when in came to Spike and her trust in him was so misplaced it was surprising she could even find it. But then, a lot of Buffy’s most successful plans could be described as having large doses of stubbornness and loyalty in them.

Looking around, Dawn could see that Molly was picking at the pills on her bedspread, Annabelle was scribbling furiously in her notebook and even Kennedy didn’t seem to know what to do with her hands, especially since Dawn’s room was weapon free.

She’d thrown them into the deep end of the pool, hadn’t she? She’d bet money that none of them, not even Kennedy, had ever seen a vampire. They were so far out of their element. She couldn’t tell them what she was feeling, even if she had managed to downgrade her desire from really wanting Spike really dead to just mostly dead. It would only feed into their panic.

“Hey now,” said Dawn, trying to give them a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry. Buffy believes we’ll find a way to fix it. And Buffy always finds a way.”

Dawn couldn’t believe that had just come out of her mouth. Maybe this was a little like what Buffy was always dealing with. Saying what needed to be said, even if it wasn’t what she herself was fully feeling inside.

And for a moment Dawn thought it would be good enough. Until Annabelle looked up from her notes.

“So to summarize, Angel is a vampire with a soul. He doesn’t kill humans when he has a soul, but when he doesn’t have a soul, he’s crazy and kills people. Buffy even killed him once because of that, right? Whereas Spike without a soul doesn’t kill people and helps Buffy, but with a soul is crazy and does kill them. And knowing all of that, Buffy wants to rescue him and bring him here.” Annabelle looked at the others two and then added, “Certainly Mr. Giles can’t be in favor of such a plan.”

“Well…” Dawn replied.

Kennedy raised her hand high, saying, “Show of hands. Who thinks Spike’s not the only crazy one in this scenario?”

There was a perceptible nod of agreement from both Molly and Annabelle.

“Hey!” Dawn snapped, “How dare you! Have you stopped an apocalypse lately? Or caused a statistically significant drop in the local death rate? Or how about killed a nest of vampires? No? Okay then. Buffy has. If her intuition says that our best shot involves getting Spike back, then it really is the best shot. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got class in the morning.”

Dawn pushed past Kennedy and tried to look dignified moving down the hall and firmly shutting the door to Buffy’s room behind her. She sagged onto the bed, the righteous indignation draining away. She squeezed her eyes shut. Saying those things felt right at the moment, but now the memories and the anger were flooding back in. She couldn’t not defend her sister, but defending her meant defending Spike and she wasn’t ready for that. She didn’t want to think about it tonight and if she were sleeping, she wouldn’t have to think about it.

Dawn reached under the pillow for her pajamas, only to realize they were under her own pillow. Well too late now. She kicked off her shoes, peeled off her shirt and jeans, and climbed into bed, not even bothering to turn off the light.

BRUISED
(Set after Showtime)

Dawn watched them chatter in the living room as if she were looking through a picture window. Andrew was trying to get Kennedy and Rona to reenact Buffy’s fight with the Turok-Han for Giles, but it looked more likely that the reenactment would happen to Andrew if he didn’t back off.

She slipped into the kitchen, turning off the lights as she entered. It stung that they hadn’t shared the plan with her. Did they think she was that bad at keeping a secret? Bad enough to leave her freaking about Buffy’s safety way longer than necessary? What would it take for Buffy to believe she was mature enough to handle stuff? She could be old, like 30, and Buffy would still think she was too young to be in on the big things.

So, if they weren’t going to tell her anything then she’d just to pay closer attention to the details and try to anticipate what was coming next. Buffy hadn’t said where she was going when she’d told Willow and Xander to get them all back home, but it wasn’t rocket science to figure out she was rescuing Spike. Or that she’d bring him back here. Dawn tucked herself into a chair that faced the back door. Buffy would bring him in this way, especially if the lights were out. She’d ideally want to slip him down into the basement without an audience. And when they arrived, she’d be waiting.

She imagined Buffy’s reaction and practiced her response. Maybe if she framed it just right, Buffy wouldn’t close her out. Maybe.

***

She started awake. How long had she been sleeping? There were still people in the living room, but she could also hear a bunch of them upstairs. Had Buffy found Spike? Then Dawn realized that what had woken her was the sound of foot falls on the back steps. The door was opening, just as she’d anticipated.

He was with her, leaning heavily upon her but moving under his own power. Dawn felt her anger and frustration toward both of them start to knot in her stomach. How could he break so many promises? How could she trust him more than her? Pulling off the whole new and improved mature Dawn thing was going to be tougher than she’d thought.

Then they took another step forward and a shaft of moonlight fell across Spike’s face. Dawn gasped and clapped a hand over her mouth. But it was too late. They’d heard her and now noticed her.

“Dawn, what are you…?” Buffy whispered.

“I thought you’d need help. Unless you want Xander or Giles or someone. I could go tell them you’re both back.”

Buffy didn’t look pleased, but Dawn expected that. But she was pretty sure Buffy would pick practical over pleased.

“ Since you’re already here, get some warm water and clean rags. And quietly. Okay?”

Dawn pulled a bowl filled with clean cloths from under her chair and held them up for inspection. She felt a surge of mini triumph when Buffy looked pleasantly surprised. She wasn’t quite sure what the look in Spike’s one good eye was saying.

They got him down to the basement and onto the cot with minimal noise. Dawn filled the bowl up with water and brought it over to Buffy. She stared at Spike’s injuries. It was hard not to. It had been one thing to imagine what they were doing to him, it was quite another to actually see unhealed cuts carved across his chest and bruises overlapping bruises.

“Buffy I’ve never seen him look this bad.”

Buffy said nothing, but wrung out the cloth and began wiping Spike’s face.

“‘S nothing, Bit. Compared to when Glory had her way with me, I feel fine. Better ‘n fine even.”

Dawn tried to catch Buffy’s eye, but her gaze stayed fixed on Spike as she rewet the cloth. “He knows who you are. That’s a good sign.”

“Getting slapped around by evil is getting to be a habit with you,” chided Dawn. She realized too late that she’d said it out loud. Buffy was going to kill her. But then Spike started to laugh. Well it sounded like he wanted to laugh, except it turned into a bloody cough.

After the spasms passed, they worked in silence. Dawn periodically changed the water while Buffy methodically washed Spike’s arms, back and chest. Finally, Buffy appeared to be satisfied that all the cuts had been cleaned.

“He needs blood,” said Buffy.

“I’ll go get it,” Dawn offered.

“That’s okay,” said Buffy, standing up and flexing her shoulders. “I need talk to Giles about what he and Anya found out anyway.”

Then Buffy looked down at her and Dawn felt as though Buffy was really seeing her for the first time that day.

“Would you mind staying with him? Just until I get back?”

“Sure,” Dawn said, trying to sound casual.

So she sat next to Spike, who was either passed out or too exhausted to speak. She tried to think of anything else that should be done and found herself at his feet, loosening his boots and easing them off. Then she freshened her bowl of water and began to wash his feet, her hair hanging around her like a curtain. She thought about the other cuts and bruises, the ones Spike had worn with pride after a particularly invigorating fight with a demon. The ones from last year that caused him to clam up when she’d wondered about them out loud. The ones from Glory that Spike had played down. At least until tonight.

“What are you doing?”

Dawn looked up. “You’re awake.”

“Yes, I know. But I asked about you.”

Dawn looked down at the bowl of water. It seemed rather obvious, but okay. “I’m washing your feet.”

“You’re crying.”

Dawn wondered if he was caught in another delusion, but then with a dried hand she touched her face and realized he was right. She had been crying. “Oh.”

Spike nodded his head. “Come here, Bit.”

Dawn moved back to the chair and slipped her hand into his. He gave it a gentle squeeze. She blinked a few times. It seemed to help.

“You shouldn’t have had to see me like this,” said Spike.

“It’s not that. It’s, I dunno, it’s nothing.”

He didn’t say anything to that. She wanted to tell him everything. Like she used to. But she wasn’t sure she remembered how. The silence lengthened and she wondered why Buffy wasn’t back yet. He still hadn’t said anything. Maybe he was asleep. Or maybe he was waiting. Sometimes he was pretty good at that.

“Spike?”

“Hm?”

“You’re right, it’s not nothing. I was thinking about the last time I saw you and the first time I saw you and all the in between parts. And I guess I feel kinda guilty.”

“You’ve got no reason to.”

“Yeah, yeah I do. And I’m sorry.”

“Ah, Dawn.” He sounded so sad. “You shouldn’t, but I’ll go along with it on one condition. You let me say I’m sorry too.”

“Okay.”

“I’m sorry Bit.”

She wanted to say, it’s okay, but it came out, “Maybe you should try to rest. I won’t leave.”

He closed his eyes and gave her hand another squeeze. She squeezed back. The good side of his mouth turned up in a smile. Then a bit later his body relaxed into sleep.

In the blanket of silence Dawn whispered, “Thank you.”

To Be Continued.

The End

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