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Olives and Arrows

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The kitchen is probably the only place in the house where Dawn could have run into Spike. She never goes down to the basement, and he never goes up to the second floor, and both of them tend to avoid the chaos on the first floor as much as they can. Their relationship, such as it is, mostly consists of careful avoidance and memories that are probably fonder than any of the potentials suspect. They both have to visit the kitchen, though, because that's where things like food and blood are kept. It's also a better study environment than her room in a lot of ways, and Dawn can easily snack while she works on her Latin homework.

Spike freezes when he sees her. Dawn keeps her expression as blank as possible, though she grips the pencil she's holding just a tiny bit tighter. She briefly thinks about the trigger, and how he's still probably unsafe. Of course, he's also probably too injured for it to matter, and as long as she's got something pointy and wooden in her hand, she's sort of too lazy to bother worrying about it. He's not exactly the only murderer wandering freely around their house right now- and isn't that a horrifying thought? It probably wouldn't be a terrible idea to arm herself with something, even when she's inside. A stun gun or something would go a long way in keeping her from worrying about stuff like this.

In the end, Spike's the one who breaks the silence. "Couldn't sleep?"

She opts for neutrality. "I've got homework to finish. What about you?"

"Vampire, Niblet."

How weird is it that even when she wants to be as grown-up as possible, she still gets insanely happy whenever he unthinkingly uses his old nicknames for her?

How awful is it that Spike can try to rape her sister, and she still wants this reminder that they used to be friends, and could possibly maybe be friends again in the future?

How fair is it that she's still holding that against him, when she doesn't hold Angelus's crimes against Angel, and she knows that everyone becomes evil and awful without a soul?

How terrible is it that it was the unsouled rapist who called her Niblet and told her she wasn't evil, and it's that version she thinks of when she remembers what they used to have?

How stupid is it that she trusted him, even though she knew he spoke from experience when he talked about what was and wasn't evil?

How mad is she allowed to be that these questions keep rattling around in her skull, and she can't discuss them with her best friend, because the closest thing she had to an in-the-know best friend was, in fact, Spike, and she hasn't gotten around to replacing him just yet?

"No, I mean, isn't Buffy gonna take you out patrolling or something?"

"'Spect so, soon as I can walk without a limp again." Whoops. She's gotten so used to Spike fighting while he's bleeding and broken that she's forgotten this isn't something anyone should ask him to do. She's so busy berating herself for forgetting that she almost doesn't notice him deflate all of a sudden. "You want me to go?"

Which is, like, what? Why would she want him to go, and why should he care what she wants if they're not friends anymore? Why should he have to stay out of the kitchen, given that he apparently lives here now? Not that she wants him here, but she also doesn't not want him here. At least, not strongly enough that it should be a deciding factor in whether he does whatever he came upstairs to do.

"Nah. It's cool. It's not like I've got a monopoly on the kitchen or anything."

He doesn't look like he believes her, but all he does is sigh and get some blood out of the refrigerator. She goes back to her homework while he pours it into a mug and heats it up in the microwave. Eventually, Spike sits down across from her at the kitchen island and takes a few leisurely sips of his blood. The silence may or may not be companionable. She gets to the end of a paragraph and rewards herself with an olive. It's much healthier than her old method, where the rewards were cookies. Not that it matters, since the First is most likely going to kill them all in the near future, but she likes to maintain the illusion of normalcy.

(Says the girl sitting across from an ensouled vampire, writing her Latin assignment on how Miss Kitty Fantastico met her untimely end as a result of an archery incident. Normal. Ha.)

Spike just sits across from her, drinking his blood. Whenever she glances up at him, he glances down at the table, like he can't even look at her. At one point she keeps staring after he looks down, and when he glances back up, their eyes lock.

Spike looks dead. Moreso than usual, that is, like the light has gone out of his eyes. She remembers the way he used to look, the way he used to wear his emotions so openly that she could see them without even trying. She feels an unexpected pang of loss, realizing that's no longer the case.

Is he still worried about getting set on fire? She doesn't exactly regret saying it, and she certainly wouldn't say she wasn't serious about it, but it's no good if that's going to force them to act all stupid like this, tiptoeing around each other and pretending that their only connection is that they're both important to Buffy.

She opens her mouth, meaning to say that she knows he's an ally and she isn't going to kill him now that he's got a soul. But at the last second, she realizes that she would kill him if he dared hurt her sister after everything she's done for him, even with the soul. She's pretty sure he's not going to, but she doesn't actually want to back out of her threat.

So she says something else. "You want a snack?"

He holds up his mug of blood. "Got mine."

"No, I mean, a food snack."

He doesn't reach for the olives. "Think Buffy's got enough mouths to feed without me in the mix."

Oh.

She wants to tell him that's a stupid worry, but he's right. Things are better now that Buffy's employed as a counselor, but they're still not swimming in cash, and feeding eleven people (or however many they're living with now, minus Spike) isn't exactly the cheapest thing ever. And besides all of that, she understands the impulse not to be a burden. Dawn's been trying to be the ultimate low-maintenance dependent all summer. She's no good at it- she keeps using up food, using up shampoo and toothpaste, using up air. Spike doesn't need these things, so of course he doesn't want to ask for them.

Dawn knows him. She doesn't need to ask what stuff he likes.

She pushes away from the kitchen island and opens the fridge. It's full of assorted crap that was bought with various people, cultures, and species in mind. For a moment, she worries that it's gone, but no. The jar's just been pushed to the way, way back. She fishes it out and places it quietly on the table, then pushes it towards Spike.

Ultra-spicy tabasco sauce, with nothing to spread it on. Yep. She's a friend, all right.

"Here. Nobody else eats this stuff." Probably because it would burn their taste buds off, a problem Spike doesn't have. He just stares at her, like he's wanting to ask a question and thinking better of it. "Uh... I think it's from September of last year, but it should still be good."

Had to be September or early October, because it was sometime before last year's Halloween that Buffy freaked about putting blood and Spike-related foods on the grocery list. It's a reminder that they've been drifting apart far longer than just this past summer. Their friendship was strained long before the attempted rape. That was just the breaking point. Near-breaking point. Unless their friendship really did break. Can it unbreak? Is she even allowed to want that?

"Andrew was freaking out about whether we could outlast a zombie apocalypse, so we checked the sell-by dates for all the food. Tabasco sauce is good for, like, a year and a half."

It's actually really depressing that she's having inane conversations with Andrew, but not with Spike. Because Andrew? Is responsible for both murder and attempted rape, and unlike Spike, he had a soul when he did that stuff. There's every possibility that she's just being petty by keeping Spike at arm's length, and that bothers her. But the other thing is, Andrew did that stuff before they met him. He was an enemy, so in relation to them, it's more like all the people Spike raped and murdered before he came to Sunnydale. Andrew's actions were evil, but unlike Spike's, they did not constitute a direct betrayal of her family.

The idea of fully welcoming Spike back into the fold before he's earned back their trust bothers her more than the possibility of pettiness, so she keeps her mouth shut. She does think he's capable of earning it back, given the circumstances, and she's willing to wait until then.

Spike just keeps staring at her, and for a moment she sort of panics, because she's out of things to add. Then he reaches out for the jar, unscrews the cap, and dips a finger in. He licks the sauce off, and it reminds her of the weird, chunky cereal-blood he used to eat all the time, although the color is definitely lighter. "Thanks."

His tone is neutral, but it's been so long since he's said that word. He never used to say it.

She means to say you're welcome, but the words stick in her throat, and all she can do is give him an awkward nod before sitting down again. She stares at her paper for a few seconds. She's so distracted that it takes her several seconds to realize that she doesn't know what comes next.

"What's the Latin word for arrow?"

She knows it's a word she should know. She would know it, too, if she hadn't been focusing on stuff like ancient Sumerian (for portal spells) and Mandarin Chinese (for when Giles brings that new potential), but the inability to think of the right word still stings, because she's supposed to be good at this.

For a second Spike is silent, and she frowns. Is he disappointed in her? Is he not gonna help? But he just takes another swallow of blood and sets his cup down. "Don't need my help, you know that one. 'S got a constellation named after it."

She tries to remember. Spike taught her the constellations once, a distraction from their shared grief. She hasn't gone over the knowledge in far too long, so she probably couldn't find all of them in the sky, but she does still remember the names and the stories. "Sagittarius?"

He nods. "The archer. So arrow is..."

"Sagitta?" He smiles at her. She can almost believe he's proud. "Thanks."

"No problem. My Latin's rusty, but any time you need help..."

"Really?" Her response is sharper than intended. It reveals too much, how much the offer means to her. How much she wants this connection that she really shouldn't care about.

Their eyes meet, and for a second there's nothing between them. No First, no trigger, no army of ghosts, no 'but what will Buffy think?'. It's just them and the weak, bruised, wounded little tie between them that she used to call friendship.

"Sure." He says this like it's nothing, and she has to admit it really isn't much, especially since she's already pretty good at this stuff. Embarrassed, Dawn goes back to her homework. She ends up really focused on it, and it isn't until she finishes that she realizes he's behind her. For a second she freezes, because firstly, when did he move? And secondly, why is he so uncomfortably close- and why is it uncomfortable? Does she really not trust him (and she shouldn't, because triggercrazyrapistvampiretraitor), or has it just been so long that she's not used to his presence? And thirdly, why is he reading her homework over her shoulder?

"Spike?" There's this stupid little quiver in her voice, because she is uncomfortable, even if she doesn't want to be and doesn't know exactly why.

"Kitty wasn't your fault."

She gets the distinct impression that he's talking about something else. He says it the way he said you're not evil, after his first round of torture, courtesy of a hellgod, right after the Buffybot fiasco. She'd thought him a traitor then, too.

"No, it was. I made bad decisions and she ended up... I'm just lucky something even worse didn't happen. I screwed up, and there's nothing I can do to change that, and I'm going to try to be better about it going forward, because that's really all we can do."

Spike's eyes narrow just a bit. He looks very focused, as though she's just said something profound and he's committing it to memory. She's not really sure what it could have been, but apparently Spike thought it was important. It's a little comforting, actually, given that it's the theme of her piece, and her Latin teacher is scarily intense about that stuff.

Neither of them says anything for a long moment, and then they both open their mouths at once.

"Spike-"

"Dawn-"

They both stop, each waiting for the other to go first. There are so many things she wants to say to him. She wants to tell him that she forgives him, that she doesn't hate him, can't hate him for more than a few weeks when he's being helpful. She wants to ask him if he's really and truly on their side now, a member of the team. The trigger, the intermittent insanity, the demon, the whatever- if he's on their side, they'll deal. She just needs to know that he won't hurt them.

Mostly, she wants to tell him not to screw this up. Because Buffy still cares about him for some reason, and Dawn still cares about him for reasons she'd rather not examine, and she doesn't want to feel obligated to hate him anymore.

She doesn't say any of that. Instead, she nudges the plastic bowl towards him. There are only three paltry olives sitting at the bottom. They're all either shriveled, crushed, or suspiciously discolored, the semi-defective ones she didn't want herself.

"You can have the rest. If you want."

It's not much. It's all she's willing to give.

Spike eats the olives.