“Spike.” Buffy had been trying for a full two minutes to get his attention, but he just sat quietly against the basement wall. “Come on, Spike. I need you.” This was the worst she’d seen him. She wondered how long he had been like this. If he had eaten. She thought not. Finally, in despair, she slapped him across the face.
“Buffy?” He looked up at her with sad, old eyes. “I know you.”
“Spike.” She pulled at the sides of his open shirt. “Get up. Please, just get up.”
“She always talked about the pixies, and I never believed her. But I see them now. Thousands of pixies with their little throats slashed. Do you see them?”
“We don’t have time for this. Dawn needs you.” She pulled him up to his feet, but he might as well have been boneless. As soon as she let go, he slid back down again. “Damn it, Spike, snap out of it.”
“Snap. His neck went snap. Snap and pop. Like a Christmas cracker.” He blinked his eyes slowly. “Nibblet?”
“Yes. Nibblet. Now get up.”
Spike pulled himself to his feet. “Help the Bit? What?”
His sudden focus on her made her uncomfortable. He seemed to turn on a dime. But at least she had his attention. “Dawn’s sick. Really sick. Something bit her, and we don’t know what. Some sort of insect. Maybe not a natural one. Something bad. Her fever shot up, and she’s so out of it.”
“She’s gone mad, so you think the madman can help?” He cocked his head to the side. “What can I do?”
“She’s not mad. Insane. Whatever. It’s the fever.” She kneaded her right hand with her left, trying not to cry. “She’s asking for you.”
“No.” She looked into his tortured blue eyes. “Not really. She’s hurt and confused, but I don’t think she could ever hate you. She loves you too much. And right now, she needs you.”
She let out a relieved sigh. He was going to come. “Sunnydale General. But first, I need to take you home and get you cleaned up. I don’t think they’ll let you through her door in that state.”
Spike stepped dripping into the hallway, only a beige towel wrapped around his waist. It had been difficult to get him into the bathroom in the first place. She’d had to drag him in, constantly reassuring him that she trusted him, and she knew he wouldn’t hurt her. Anything to get him washed up. She was sure that if Xander hadn’t redecorated the room, she couldn’t have got him inside. Then again, she would never have gone in herself again, either.
Her breath caught in her throat when she saw him in the doorway. He looked almost like his old self again. The scars on his chest had healed, meaning he hadn’t hurt himself lately. He ran his hand through his mess of blond curls. “Gel?”
She had to laugh at that. “It’s fine the way it is. And we have neither the time, nor the hair products.”
He followed her into her room at a discrete distance. “My clothes. I don’t think I should wear them.”
“No way should you wear them.” She picked a pair of blue jeans and a white turtle neck from the bed and handed them to him. “The jeans are Dawn’s. They should fit you. And the top is mine. I don’t think you’d look quite right in a peasant blouse, and it’s all I’ve got.”
He fingered the fabric of the turtleneck. “Thank you.”
“Right. Just hurry up and get dressed.” Shutting the door behind her, she stepped into the bathroom. She picked his shirt and jeans up from the floor gingerly. “I’ll wash your clothes for you,” she called back through the door. ‘Or burn them, more like,’ she thought.
Fully dressed, he came down the stairs. Willow had set her laptop up on the kitchen table. “How is he?” she asked Buffy.
“He’s standing right here. Ask him yourself.”
Willow blushed. “Sorry, Spike. How are you?”
He leaned over to look at the computer screen, resting his hand on the table. “Anything to help her?”
Willow shook her head. “I don’t think it was a demon. Some kind of mosquito, maybe? A spider? Entomology’s not my strong suit. I’ll keep looking.”
“I’m sorry,” Spike said quietly.
“Me too,” Willow replied. “I’m not having much luck. Hopefully the doctors will figure it out soon.”
“No.” Spike’s expression was grave. “Sorry about Tara. I heard. She was a good woman.”
“Yeah,” Willow sighed. “She was.”
“I should have been here. To help her.”
Willow lay her hand on his. “It wouldn’t have helped. I was standing right beside her, and I couldn’t help.” Tears misted her eyes. “But thank you.”
Buffy called from the front door. “We should go now.”
Dawn lay on the hospital bed, moist with fever. Around her, three roommates in various states of illness coughed and moaned. She didn’t respond when Buffy sat beside her. “Dawnie? Someone’s here to see you.”
Spike stood beside the bed, as Buffy pulled the curtain around them. “Nibblet?”
“Spike?” Dawn’s face broke into a wide grin. “I was looking for you. I couldn’t find you.” She reached her hand up, and he took it. “Where were you?”
“No matter.” He replied. “I’m here now.”
Buffy stood up and let Spike take her chair. She parted the curtains, saying, “I’ll leave you two alone for a moment.”
“Can we play cards?” the girl asked. “I’ll so kick your booty this time.”
“Cards?” Spike was confused. “I don’t have cards.”
“Poker. You know.” Dawn’s face contorted in grief. “I miss her so much. She can’t be dead.”
“Buffy.” Tears filled her eyes. “I want my sister.”
“She’s just outside. I’ll get her.” But his hand was clamped tight in hers.
“Liar. Don’t lie.” She sang, “Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Suddenly, she stopped. “Do you hear them?” she whispered.
“They’re coming.” Her eyes danced as she smiled again. “Take me out on your bike?”
“I sold it, Nibblet. To go to Africa.”
Buffy poked her head through the curtain. “How are you guys doing?”
“She’s scaring me,” Spike said.
“I hear Buffy.” Dawn looked towards her. “Hi, Sis. Looking good for a corpse.” She pulled Spike’s hand to her chest, holding tight. “Don’t go. Never go again.”
“I won’t. Never again.”
“Good.” Dawn closed her eyes. “I want to sleep now.”
Spike sat beside her until her hand fell away from his. He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. “She’s cool.”
“What?” Buffy touched her sister’s cheek. “I think the fever broke. I’m getting the doctor.”
Spike twitched in his seat in the waiting room, while Buffy spoke to the doctor. “Smells of death,” he muttered under his breath.
Buffy sat beside him. “The doctor thinks she’ll be okay now. He says it was the antibiotics kicking in, but I think it was you.”
“Wasn’t me,” he murmured. “I’m bad. Don’t help. Only kill and hurt.”
Buffy took his hand. “I think it was you. Don’t contradict me.”
He bowed his head. “Yes, ma’am.”
Buffy pulled him to his feet. “When was the last time you ate?”
“Don’t know.” He looked surprised. “I’m hungry.”
“Fine. We’ll swing by the butcher’s shop before it closes, and then we’ll go back to my place. Maybe the butcher’s shop and the pizza place.”
He walked out beside her. A little corner of his mind registered that she was still holding his hand. He let her.