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I wonder which sheet she's under. I didn't think there'd be any other bodies in here. I mean, it's a morgue, right? There's supposed to be bodies here. I guess I thought mom was special. She should get a room to herself. Time to herself. Without me around, she would have had more time with Buffy. More time for dating. Maybe more time...

One foot in front of the other. I wanted to see her, and now I can. No one will think to look for me in here. What sort of sicko wants to see her dead mother's body, anyway? Even if she is just a foster-type mom. Buffy got to see her. Giles got to see her. I get told she's dead, and I want proof. I won't believe until I see her. I can't believe until I see her.

Why did I pick this one? Is this her? I know it's her, even if the face is covered by the sheet. I can't bring myself to lift it, though. Something holds me back.

I wonder if she's as cold as I am. I can't feel anything. Anything. I screamed it all out at school, dripping hot tears on the cold linoleum. Funny how the only thing that had any warmth to it was the tears leaving my body. Cold brings numbness and numbness lets me pull down the sheet. Should she be staring like that? What's she looking at? I don't see anything up there, but she might be seeing something I'm not. She doesn't look dead to me. I can see the sparkle in her eyes. That special look she reserved for me. Just me. The look that said, 'I'm proud of you, Dawnie'.

Why'd you have to have a brain tumor? Did I have something to do with it? Is everything that's wrong in this world my fault? Why don't I have any answers? No one can tell me anything. The doctors say it was a blood clot or something. That you knew the risks. Why didn't you tell us? Why couldn't we have some sort of warning? You were better. You had a date Saturday night. You were trying on dresses and being nervous and had a smile on your face the next day. You were excited, talking with me and Spike about work again. I missed those talks. It felt like old times. Times that don't really exist, but they're nice false memories. Whoever made me at least gave me those. No horror stories about abuse or parents using drugs or living on the streets. Just a semi-civil divorce, thank you very much, and I was too young to remember it anyway. As young as a thousands of years old thing can be, I suppose.

Did you honestly love me? Did you feel repulsed when you hugged me? Did you mean it when you called me your daughter? Did it matter that I'm not even human? Why is your shoulder wet? I didn't think I had any tears left. They're cold. You're cold. Bloodless cold. Like Spike. Your skin is soft like his, too. Are you like Spike, now? Is your soul gone? Did it go to heaven? Is there such a place? You used to like a song that asked if there was a heaven. You used to hum it to me so I'd fall asleep. What was it called? Who sang it? I want to hear it again. I need to hear it again.

Your shoulder's wet again. Why don't I feel the tears falling? Why don't I feel anymore? Will I ever feel again? Should I even be feeling? Maybe this is how I'm supposed to be. No feelings. No pain. No sadness. No love. My hand is shaking. Why won't it stop? Cold. So cold. Can't get warm.

"Dawn?"

God, Buffy, scare me why don't you. Your hand isn't warm and comforting on my shoulder. It's as cold as the body lying on the cold slab of cold metal in the cold room. I shrug it off, and keep my arms wrapped around myself. If I let go, I might fly apart. "Go away," I say, wishing that my voice didn't catch.

Buffy's voice cracks. "Dawn, you shouldn't be in here."

"I said I wanted to see her. Why is that so hard to understand?" I still can't feel anything. I should be angry. I should be upset. Should be. I'm not. I'm not anything. I'm -- not.

She's got her hand on my arm, trying to pull me to the door. I'm not budging. "Come on, Dawn. Let's go back out to the waiting room."

I wrap my arms tighter around myself. "And do what? There isn't anything to do."

Buffy's pulling me harder now. "We're going to get in trouble being in here."

"I want to be with mom." I won't tell her about my non-feelings. She wouldn't understand. Probably call me a freak, too. She'd be right. I am a freak. What sort of thing wants to be around her dead mom?

Her hand finally drops off my arm, and she's got tears in her eyes. "We can't stay. We need to show respect for mo--..."

"The dead?" That shocked her. It's hard to miss the "just slapped" look on her face. Yeah, I'm a freak with no feelings. That means I don't feel other people's pain, either. I know I don't belong here. Not here here, in this room, but here on this planet. She’s my family, but not my family. This is my life, but not my life. This is my body, but not my body. I still don't quite understand it all, but I've accepted it. Other teenagers have identity crisis's. So mine is a little more extreme; that doesn't make it any less real.

Good. Buffy's gone. Looked like she was starting to cry again. She held my head as I lay on the linoleum at school, crying my guts out. She was crying too, just not as much as me. I don't know if she cried before, but I haven't seen her cry since. At least she can feel again. I still don't feel anything.

Mom's still looking at the ceiling. There's still nothing up there. Is she looking at the place her soul went? Where do souls go? I know someone who might know. He doesn't have one, but he's been around a long time. I know Buffy told me to stay away from him, but he's my friend. I don't abandon my friends. Besides, I doubt anyone's thought to tell him, yet. Mom liked Spike. They sat and talked about Passions and he laughed at her jokes, and really listened to her. Too bad he was a vampire; he would have made a good boyfriend. Spike as a stepdad; now that should be funny, but I don't feel like laughing. I don't feel.

The walk over to Spike's is automatic; I know the way. No one stops me or questions why I'm not in school. I guess I've got that 'non-person' aura around me or something. Tara would know. She was cool about things like that. Her and Willow both, until the whole uninviting Spike thing. Telling me I couldn't be his friend anymore because he had a thing for Buffy. What do I care?

So what if I had the tiniest crush on him? He can't see anyone but Buffy. He's pathetically transparent with his feelings for her. She's just too stupid to realize it. So's everyone else. I guess they don't think Spike counts, or something. Are all non-humans considered outcasts? How come Anya is accepted, but Spike isn't? Are they that different? What about Willow and Tara, with their powerful spells? That isn't normal human activity. And what about me? What about me? Will I vanish into oblivion when my purpose is discovered? Will I have these memories with me, or will they disappear along with this body? What sort of creature am I?

I'm scared and upset and angry by the time I get to the cemetery. I don't bother with knocking. I give the crypt door a good shove, and it bangs open. Spike jumps out of his chair, yelling about courtesy and knocking and brushing crumbs off his shirt.

I walk right up to him, as close to nose to nose as I can get. "Make me feel something."

He continues to clean his shirt. "What?"

I grab his arms and pull him down to my eye level. "Make me feel something. Anything. Love, hate, sick to my stomach, angry, happy, anything. Make me feel again."

His hands are as cold as mom as he grabs me and holds me away from him. "Whoa, little bit. What's this?"

"I look at her, and I don't feel anything." There's a surge of something deep within me. I don't know what it is, but I can tell it's going to hurt. A lot. "What kind of freak am I? Why can't I feel anything?"

He's strong; too strong for me to break his grip. I think I'm going to be thankful for that. "What's happened?" he growls.

"Everything," is all I'm able to get out, but Spike knows. He knows. His arms slack and I fall against him, and rest my cheek against his chest. I can't feel a heartbeat. Just like mom. The coolness of his skin reaches me. It's cool just like mom. But he's standing and holding me, and mom can't. Mom can't. The world blacks out, and all I feel; all that I am, is this aching, twisting pain.

I shouldn't have asked to feel again.

Even though Spike's T-shirt is black, I can see the wet stain across the front. I guess I could still cry. It feels like I cried out my entire inside, and all that's left is an empty shell. Maybe that's all I am. Maybe that's all I'm supposed to be.

"How you doing, Little Bit?"

I'd almost forgotten that Spike can talk. It feels like days have passed. His hand is stroking my hair, like mom used to do. Smoothing it back, tucking it behind my ear. I still can't hear a heartbeat. His body is solid, and he breathes every once in awhile. It's a shaky breath, and I look up. He's got wet streaks on his face. He's crying. I reach up and trace one tearstain, along the sharp cheekbone, down to his jaw.

I expect him to jerk away, but he doesn't. He stares down at me and asks, "How?" His voice sounds as bad as he looks.

My hand starts to shake, and I clench it in a fist. "It was the brain tumor thing still. The doctor said she knew the risks. Didn't tell us. Why didn't she tell us?"

I don't expect an answer. I didn't think there could be one, but Spike tries.

"She didn't want you to worry about her. She wanted you to live your life. She didn't want you to waste a minute of it."

I look up at him, hopeful. "You know that for a fact?"

It takes a long time for him to answer, and he doesn't meet my eyes. "Yeah, I do."

"She told you, didn't she?" I expect to feel anger; I don't. Maybe a part of me is glad that mom had someone to talk to.

Spike's voice washes over me, breaking through the swirling mass of pain. "We talked when she was feeling better after her surgery. You were at school. We talked a lot. Watched Passions. Talked some more. She felt bad at what you were going through. Didn't like that you weren't her daughter. Didn't really want to believe it." His eyes lock with mine. "You know she loved you even more after she found out about the Key business."

More tears start to fall as I choke out, "No. I didn't listen to her. Didn't believe her. Then I just sort of went on with my life. I never told her I was sorry. I didn't tell her..."

Spike crushes me against him in a hug so tight, I think I'll have rib imprints on my cheek. It feels good. "She knew, Bit. You have no reason to believe me, but it's the truth. She was young once, you know. She remembered how tough it was growing up. I think she did a bang-up job raising you two."

It takes me awhile to be able to speak again. I wipe at my eyes and sniff a few times. "That's just a false memory. She didn't really raise me."

Spike's got hold of my arms, and he leans down to meet me eye to eye. "To her, it was real. To all of us, it is real. Just because the illusion is shattered, doesn't mean we can't rebuild it a bit. Until the day that something proves us otherwise, you are Dawn Summers, sister to Buffy and daughter of Joyce."

I feel slightly sick to my stomach at those words, but swallow hard to keep it down. "You mean that?"

He lets me go and swaggers a bit. I can tell he doesn't want to talk about this, but he will, because it's for me. "I may be almost 130 years old, but I remember my mum and dad. My dad died when I was ten; mum when I was 18. I remember how I hated the doctors who told me everything would be okay. That mum would be fine. That it was just a little cold, and she'd be better any day now. A week later, they buried her." He's quiet, but moving his hands and feet, unable to keep still. One hundred thirty years has passed, and he still isn't over his parents' death. How am I going to handle it?

His voice softens, drawing my attention. "I told that to your mom. She always did sort of understand me, even when I was trying to kill her daughter. We had a good long talk after I told her of my sordid past, and that's when she told me about her chances of the 'brain tumor thing' happening. I respected Joyce's wishes and didn't say anything, even though I knew it would hurt you two." I've never seen Spike so serious before. A chill goes down my spine as he looks intently at me. "She made me promise something else, but I don't see how it could hurt to tell you. Joyce asked me to watch over you. Follow you home at night, make sure you got there all right."

I can't believe my first thought is for my sister, but I can't stop blurting out, "What about Buffy?"

He backs up a bit, and takes to walking around slowly in a circle. "Before the whole mess with my feelings for the Slayer came out, Joyce wanted me to watch after Buffy, too. Now that I bollocksed it up, she probably won't accept my help. I'll manage to be in the same area she's patrolling for awhile, just to make sure she's up to snuff. I don't think she could take on a gang of vamps right now, or tangle with the Glory-bitch. I'll be there to back her up, whether she likes it or not."

I can't help but think that Buffy's out of her mind. Spike's a great guy. He's willing to do all this for us, because of mom. "It's too bad you're a vampire," I say out loud without meaning to.

He turns and growls, "Get out."

I hurt him. I can see it in his eyes, even though he's trying to be angry. "I didn't mean it like that! Except for the blood and sunlight thing, I think you're pretty normal." My voice is rising to hysterical levels, but I don't care. "You're the only one who talks to me like an adult without being condescending. You listen to me, and you listened to mom. You care about us. I know you like us, or else you wouldn't be hanging around all the time. You can't tell me that's not normal."

The hurt look is gone, but he's not happy with me; I can tell. "How many times do I have to repeat myself to you? I am a soulless vampire."

I cross my arms and narrow my eyes at him. "You can't be that soulless if you claim to be in love with the Slayer. Besides, you kill demons, just like she does."

His grin as he saunters up to me isn't nice. "If you want, I can show you just how soulless I am, little girl."

I'm not afraid of him, and not just because I know he can't bite me. My glare hardens. "I don't believe that. You have a soul."

He yells in frustration and waves his arms. I'm a little scared of him, but I won't let him intimidate me. "Vampires don't have souls; hence the whole 'vampires are demons' thing. Right?"

"But Angel is a vampire and he has a soul," I fire back at him, for a moment forgetting the whole mess with Angel, Spike, Dru and Buffy. I hope he doesn't kill me.

Spike doesn't seem mad about that, though. He's on his own rant. "He was cursed with one. And now he's tortured for eternity with the memories and anguish of all those he's killed for pleasure."

He makes a conscience sound like a terrible thing. I thought I heard something in his voice when he described all the people he's killed. He made sure to make it bloody and gross, just for me, but when he was done, he'd get this look. Wistful. He'd be all excited, then sort of sigh and go into the next story. I'm thinking Angel's not the only one who feels regret. "Don't you feel bad for the things you've done?"

"No," he snaps. He's vehement and loud and it sounds like he's trying to convince himself more than me. "Every person I killed deserved it. They treated me like a lapdog, brought out to entertain, then sent back to the corner when the show was over. Well, I showed them. I had the last laugh. My gorgeous Dru swept in like the black angel she was and saved me from that pitiful life of mediocrity. It hurt like hell when I lost my soul. I felt it being ripped from me, shred by tiny shred, painful enough to remember throughout eternity. The first thing I did after I was turned was to go back to that sodding group and kill them all. I drank the essence of Jonathan, and Richard, and all the others who taunted me. Teased me about my 'bloody awful poetry'. They suffered for their pettiness."

His eyes are practically glowing when he focuses back on me. "Does that sound like a person who regrets their actions?"

I have to swallow a few times before I can speak. My heart is pounding so hard, I know he can hear it. Probably smells my blood, too, and for the first time since I've known him, makes me a little afraid of him, in a vampire way. I'm going to keep up my brave front, though. I won't let him know he got what he wanted. "It sounds like you took revenge on those who hurt you the most. That doesn't make you soulless. That makes you human. They hurt you, so you hurt them back."

He's waving his arms and turning in circles again. I think I really frustrate him sometimes. "I killed them, you daft girl. I drained their blood and then snapped their necks for good measure. Do you need to have massacre defined for you?"

I give him my best annoyed look and prepare my offensive. "You realize you're talking about events that happened a hundred years ago, right? Like, electricity was being invented around that time. Airplanes hadn't been invented yet. All this time has passed, and their memory still haunts you. You can still hear their teasing, can't you?" I don't even wait for him to answer; I can see it on his face. "You wouldn't be this upset if you'd gotten over it. You never left them behind. You still carry their words around with you. You're not that person, Spike. You stopped being that person when Dru found you. Why can't you see that?"

He walks away from me and hops up on the tomb. He stares at his hands as they dangle between his legs. "Because I'm still a lovestruck fool. I still make goo goo eyes and try to impress women with flowers and candy and other trivialities. That's not vampire behavior. That's my behavior. That's me."

I join him on the tomb, then lean into him with a slight bump to his shoulder with mine. "You sound like those crazy poets we read about in school."

He sounds like the guy he was describing; the guy he used to be, all insecure and pitiful. I don't like it. That isn't Spike. "I wasn't a very good poet. I was a bloody awful poet."

I put my hand on his arm and give it a squeeze. "Maybe you were ahead of your time. That's what happened to most of the poets we read about. They were never appreciated while they were alive."

He snorts. "So where would I fall in that? I'm not quite dead and not quite alive."

"I don't know," I admit. I start to swing my legs. "How about you try me? I don't know a whole lot about poetry, but I'm willing to listen. I'll even tell you it reeks if you want me to."

He looks at me again, hopeful this time. "You really want to hear something?"

"Yes," I answer, with a nod of my head to make sure he doesn't misunderstand. "Maybe I'll appreciate your stuff. The things we have to read in class are so boring."

He's quiet for a minute, then begins in a soft voice:

Blood thrums, loud and inviting.
Teeming with life. Essence. Love.
Red stained lips tempt and entice.
Life is taken; life is given.
But not a life.
Not love.

No drumbeat heralds my love.
No rapture fills my soul.
For a soul I do not have.
I love but dare not speak the word.
A life but not Life.

A creature replaces the man.
Demonic; evil and cold.
No warmth cradles his heart.
No love can pierce his soul.

For a soul I do not have.
I love but dare not speak the word.
A life but not Life.
A life taken.
A life wasted.
A life not my own.

He stares at the floor, head bowed, waiting for the ugly words to come. I know without knowing. I know without speaking. Heart pounding in my throat, I reach over, pull his head up, and kiss him on the lips. Cold, but vibrating with movement. His face is wet where I stroke it. He catches my hand and pulls back, staring at the wetness on my fingertips. He slowly kisses it off, and my breath catches in my chest as the tip of his tongue flicks at my skin. I don't know what possessed me to kiss him. I don't know if his poem is good or not, but it made me want to comfort him. Made me want to make him part of this world. 

"This is dangerous territory, Little Bit," he says, and his voice is low and growly-like. I shiver as it washes over me. "You don't know what you're doing."

He hasn't let go of my hand. He's got his thumb over my wrist, and I get the feeling he's counting my heartbeats. There should be about three times more than normal, my heart racing so fast. Do I know what I'm doing? No. Spike is still a vampire, even if he can't hurt me. He drinks blood instead of eating food. But he drinks beer and has Wheatabix in his warmed blood. I've caught him eating chips before. Maybe the blood is just habit. Maybe he doesn't need it. Then he tugs me closer and sucks at my wrist, and I bite my lip to keep from making a sound. I haven't even been out on an official one-boy-one-girl date yet, and here I've gone and kissed a vampire. And I'm contemplating letting him do a heck of a lot more. A lot more.

"Go ahead." Was that throaty whisper really me? Did I really say that? Have I gone out of my mind? Maybe I've done too much thinking. Spike's eyes meet mine, and his face shifts to the vampire before I can blink. I can't look away. I haven't seen him like this in a long time. Eyes yellow, fangs extended, ready to sink into skin. My skin. Maybe thinking is overrated.

His mouth hovers over my wrist. What's he waiting for? Do it already. Do it before I change my mind. Do it before I start to think again. Do it before I hear Buffy's voice, saying how all vampires are demons and evil and only want to kill us.

His lips touch my skin, and I jump at their coolness. I squeeze my eyes shut and wait for the pain, but it doesn't come. I open my eyes and meet Spike's - they're blue again. No more bumpy forehead. No more fangs. Damnit. My face is wet again, but Spike's not letting go of my hand.

His voice is strong, but quiet. "You don't want this. Your mum wouldn't want this for you. She never said it, but I knew she felt sorry for me. Not being able to do normal things like humans. Living in California and never being able to tan on a beach. Never having a normal life. Yeah, the whole drinking blood to survive thing grossed her out, but all in all, I think she liked me. She trusted me with taking care of you, and I'll be damned again if I'm the cause of your turning. I won't do this to you, and I won't allow it to happen to you."

Was that what I was going to do? Wasn't I just offering Spike a drink? Maybe the Key's blood would override the chip in his head, and he could go back to being a normal vampire. Then he'd see that he wasn't a bad person. He wasn't the killer he'd made himself out to be in all the stories he told me. I open my mouth to explain, but he cuts me off.

"There are two things I can't stand from humans; pity and arrogance. Arrogance I can beat out of them. I can't fight pity. Pity just degrades me more; reminds me that I'm not all I can be. That I'm only half a man."

Now I'm mad, but I don't know what I'm mad about. Him turning me down, or me offering in the first place. I jerk my wrist out of his grip and yell at him, "That's not why I wanted you to do it. I don't pity you. I envy you. You're strong. You're able to fight back. What can I do? Get used as bait for the Slayer. Get in the way. Get shoved aside so I'm protected."

He yells back, "That's because you're fourteen! It wouldn't matter if you were the Slayer's sister or not. You'd still be underfoot. You can't help in the demon business."

"I live in this town, and it's just as much my problem as everyone else's!"

He tries to reach out to me again, but I jump off the tomb, out of his reach. "Bloody hell, girl, don't you get it? You're too young."

I'm the one doing the pacing, jabbing at my chest and waving my arms in the air. "I may be a ten thousand year old thing! Don't you dare tell me I'm too young to do anything. With my powers, I could crush you and this entire town!"

He chuckles and slides off the tomb. "Powers? What powers? I haven't seen any demonstrations."

Some of my anger dies down, but not all of it. Okay, the powers thing was a stretch, but I don't know. No one knows. "I could have them. Maybe they're triggered by something. Maybe I can fly. Maybe I can move objects with my mind. Maybe I can turn all of you into little ants and step on you like you deserve."

His attitude is back, full force. "Don't push me little girl."

I snap back without thinking, "Don't call me a little girl. For all you know, you're supposed to bow down and worship me."

He chuckles again and looks me up and down. "I've never bowed down in my life. I'm not about to start with you, all right?"

I hit him. It isn't the powerful punch that Buffy can give, but it jerks his head and gets his full attention. "I'm sick of everyone treating me like a baby. I may look like a teenager, but I'm a Key, damnit. The Key. For all you know, I'm the answer to all the mysteries of the universe, so start treating me with some respect!"

He rubs his jaw and glares at me. "What is it with you Summers' girls? Always hitting me. You like to play rough, little girl?" He's swaggering toward me, and I'm backing up. I wanted to make him mad. I wanted to make him listen, but not like this.

"Stay away from me," is all I can manage around the lump in my throat. My fingertips touch the cold stone of the mausoleum wall a second before my back does. I have nowhere else to go. Screaming won't do a bit of good; I've seen too many movies to know better.

His hands rest on either side of my head, and he's towering over me by like fifty feet. It feels like fifty feet. I shrink down as little as I can go. "So you think your blood can save me, is that it? That why you're doing this?"

I feel tears at my eyes. "I wanted to help you." It sounds so lame now. What good could I do? I'm just the kid sister of the Slayer.

He leans closer, whispering, "Let's give it a go, eh?"

His face shifts again, and I'm looking at the demon. I know now that it is a demon, and not something human. The human part of Spike died a long time ago. The second Dru found him. He licks my neck, settling his lips over the pulsepoint right under my chin. I close my eyes and wait for the pain. Maybe this is better. I won't be in Buffy's way anymore. I won't be the annoying, always underfoot kid sister. Now I won't have to grieve for mom. But maybe I'll do that anyway. I feel the prick of Spike's fangs pierce my skin.

Hundreds of thousands of images cram themselves into my head, and I scream as everything goes white.

~~~

What in the bloody hell was that? I've got to hold my head onto my shoulders with both hands. It feels like I've been on a drinking binge for days. I know I haven't been. I was talking to Little Bit. She was upset -- Joyce died. Brain tumor thingy. I recited a poem, and she kissed me. And then...and then...I squeeze my head harder, making it hurt more. I bit her. I drank from her. After I promised Joyce I wouldn't harm her. That I would protect her. The Slayer's going to kill me for sure this time, and I just might let her. Something came over me. Some instinct I haven't felt - ever before. It was new. I didn't analyze it; just went with it. And now I've got a decision to make. Bring Dawn back, or let her stay dead. If I bring her back, we'll have to leave town. The Slayer won't be able to see her sister-Key-whatever as a walking undead. As much as Buffy's hurt me, I can't hurt her that way. But losing her mum and sis on the same day will shatter her. Damn. Is it better to live half a life or to die? If I had my choice again -- if I had been given a choice -- what would I have chosen? Come back with the possibility of change, or die as I was, a mediocre poet unworthy of love, taunted by my peers? The choice is clear.

I push myself to my feet and look around, but there's no body. How long have I been out? Couldn't have been that long. Could she have been taken by another vamp? I don't smell anyone else here. I don't smell anything, actually, except dust. And I sneeze. I sneeze until my eyes water, and I wipe them dry. I bring my hand to my lips out of habit and lick at the tears. They don't taste right. Salty. I stare at my hand. No blood. Just wet. Clear tears. My insides churn and I run to throw up in the corner. Blood. Lots of it. Panicked now, I pry open the fridge and gnaw at the plastic bag of plasma. My teeth aren't sharp enough. What in the hell is going on? I throw the bag back in the fridge and slam the door. Another bout of nausea courses through me, and I throw up again. More blood. I'm sweating now. It's clear and salty. My heart is pounding in my chest, and I settle my hand over it to calm myself.

Heart.

Pounding.

That isn't possible. Yet I can see the rise and fall of my chest as I take breaths, and I feel the thump under my hand. What sort of devilry is this? I try to stop breathing, but have to take a breath before a minute is up. The pounding in my ears gets louder and I gasp for air. Oh, God. What's happened to me? Is this a spell by Red and her woman? Is it a curse like Angel had? A new demon in town taunting me?

I order myself to calm down. I've got to think this through. Dawn was here, and now she's not. Did she run out? The door is wide open, so it's possible. That would mean I didn't kill her, which should make the Slayer very happy. I did bite her, though. I remember the scent at the first breach of her skin. Ancient, powerful, destructive. Then the world went black. No, white. Everything went blinding white. Pure white. Cleansing white. Bloody hell. Am I dead? Officially dead? No more taunting the Slayer dead? No more scaring the Sunnydale citizens dead? Bloody hell.

What am I, then? If I've got a heartbeat, then I'm not dead anymore. Or undead. Or whatever. Does that mean all of my vampire traits are gone? I take a good look around, and notice all the windows are broken. The boards I had over them are splinters scattered across the floor. I ball my hand into a fist and stick it into the sunlight. It feels slightly warm, but no burning. I stare at my hand in amazement, then turn my gaze to the open door. Do I dare just walk out into the daylight? Something inside me revolts at that, so I grab an old blanket I keep for such occasions and step outside. I don't feel uncomfortable, just slightly warm. Not the sizzling I'm used to feeling under the indirect rays. I step under a clump of trees and drop the blanket. Nothing happens. For the first time in over a hundred years, I tilt my face up and let the sunlight warm it.

I don't understand what's happened to me, but I know who might be able to help. I walk through town - in the daylight - toward the Magic Box. It's closed. I don't know why I thought it would be open. Giles and the others are probably with the Slayer, dealing with Joyce's death. I'm sure I look silly carrying a tattered blanket with me through the streets of Sunnydale in broad daylight, but I can't accept this is a permanent thing until I talk to the gang. They'll know what happened to me. They'll know what caused it. Do I want them to change me back if they can? There's a thought that stops me in my tracks. What if this is permanent? What if I'm -- human again? Do I want to go back to being a vampire? What good will I be as a human? I've got some smarts. I know my way around a computer; who doesn't nowadays. I'd have to get a real 9-5 job to pay bills. Bills. A house all to myself. Does this mean I can have the wife and kids, too? That thought staggers me. Kids. Little ones that come from me. My little ones. Mine.

Stupid me, I feel tears on my cheeks again. I love Dru dearly for what she did for me. Gave me power and strength to show those twits just what I was capable of. But I've always regretted that I couldn't have kids. A little bloke, to carry on the family name. Not that it meant much back then, but it was still something that was all mine. It was the one thing that my beloved Dru couldn't give me. I hid it well, though with her uncanny senses, I'm sure she knew. She couldn't have kids, either. Angel saw to that. I think, in a way, we found each other. Angel had Darla; Dru had me.

But that was a long time ago. My pet was well again. She was happy with her Fungus demon. I miss her company the most. The sex was always nice, because she was a trip in bed as well as in her head, but that wasn't why I kept her around. She understood me. I'd like to think I understood her. We needed each other. I still miss her. Harm was a poor substitute. Still don't know why I took her in. That's a lie; I took her in because she had no one else. I was her, in another life. Newly turned and different from everyone else. The rush of power outweighing every decent sense you used to have. The kick when you drink for the first time. The addiction. 

I shake myself out of those memories. I'm hoping they're in my past, now. It's been a grand century, but I'm ready for something new. Something normal.

My stomach rumbles; I'm hungry. I've got a few dollars on me, but it's been so long since I've sat down and eaten a real meal, I wouldn't know where to begin. No burgers. I don't want my first real taste to be of some greasy spoon. No, I want decent food. Maybe something I haven't had before. The smells of a Mexican restaurant remind me too much of Dru; I pass by. Thai has that spicy tang that I love, but I'm not in the mood. I don't even look at the multitude of coffee houses and cafes. Russian. Ukraine, to be exact. I wasn't expecting to find the little family run shop, but the prices were reasonable, and I gorged myself on flavorful, authentic food. It's been decades since I was in the Soviet Union, just before the First World War. The owner commented that I ate like I hadn't seen food in a week, and I chuckled along with him, but inside I cringed. Would people recognize me on the street? I'd terrorized a good portion of Sunnydale, not to mention ticked off most of the demon population. I was defenseless again. Instinctually I knew I had a good two hours of sunlight left, but I paid for my meal and quickly headed to the beach. If this all ended when the sun went down, I was going to make the most of it. I was going to see the sun set again, this time over the ocean. Even though I was well traveled in my youth, I rarely got to the coastal cities of England. Most were poor ports that cultured men like myself weren't allowed to frequent until I traveled on my own, but even then, I feared the ocean. The vastness of it; more powerful than anything I'd encountered, including the steam engine, overwhelmed me. Today, one hundred and thirty years later, I stand at the shoreline barefoot, watching the sunlight dance across the breaking waves, waiting for the sun to set. Surfers are calling it a day and swimmers have long since left the rising tide. The waves are up to my ankles, yet I don't move. I can feel the shifting sand around my toes as the water swirls around them. The sky is streaked with flames of red and orange as the sun touches the horizon. 

We take so many things for granted. Simple things that are always there, like sunsets and sunrises. The wind rustling leaves in the trees. The crash of the powerful ocean against a cliff. The stars I'm used to. They've been my companions for years. I take a moment to look up at them, too, through my new eyes. The vastness of the sky nearly overwhelms my sense of inferiority at the ocean.

Could this be it? Could this be my salvation? Have I changed for good; truly changed? Or is this something that will be snatched away at the first light of dawn? Dawn. What happened to Little Bit? I'm remembering more of our conversation, and a twisting pain takes hold of my gut. She believed I could be saved by her blood. Is that what happened? Then were did she go? What was she a Key of? Did she return to whatever dimension she came from? What form did she take? If she's truly gone, how will the Slayer take it? Should I go to see her, or should I keep my distance? Will she worry about Dawn, or is she consumed by her mum's death? I think she'd be worried. I don't want to go to her without information though. She's going to have questions that I don't have the answer to. And my lack of answers just might end my new-found life. Right, Giles, then. Assuming he isn't at the Slayer's house. I take a chance, and breathe a sigh of relief that the lights are on. That could be a bad thing; the Slayer and the gang might be there instead of at the Summers' house. I peek in a window, but don't see anyone. I knock and ring the bell, but no one answers. He must have just picked up and left in a hurry. It doesn't take a genius to figure out what happened. Buffy would have called him first. He would have dropped everything to be at her side.

The house seems empty, but I hear noises. I push open the door, but don't see anyone. The telly is on. I click it off and empty the half-full tea cup before it stains. I know how much Giles hated stains in his tea cups. 'Course when I used them, it was blood stains, and he told me to keep the cups I used. I flip through a few books he has laying about; very ancient texts. I guess he's researching the Glory-bitch. If Glory wants the Key, then they're connected somehow. Without my strength I can't confront the goddess, so I'll have to contend myself with reading. I prop my feet up on the coffee table and settle in with a sorcerer's book on ancient spells. I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I know, I'm being harshly shaken awake. I don't even care who's doing the shaking, I want them to stop. "Bloody hell, have a care. This is a valuable book."

"And I'll thank you to leave it alone," Giles' voice snaps as he yanks the book out of my hands. "What are you doing here, Spike? Weren't threats enough for you?"

I run a hand through my hair and rub my eyes, trying to wake up and focus. "Look, I've had a very strange day, okay? I didn't mean to fall asleep on your couch. I’m here for some answers."

He's got me by the scruff of my neck, like I'm some sort of stray animal. I want to force my hand, but I can see he's exhausted. His hands are shaking and he's barely got a good hold on me. I'm more afraid he'll drop me than rough me up.

"I don't care if you're looking for the Holy Grail; get out." He stops by the door and looks at me. "How did you get in, anyway?"

I take the pause to get myself out of his grip. He doesn't protest. "Door wasn't locked. I figure you left in a hurry. The telly was on, too." I glare up at him. "And why aren't you with the Slayer, anyway?"

"It was?" Giles takes off his glasses and rubs his brow, like I've seen him do countless times. Giles in frustrated mode. "I suppose I did leave in a rush." He looks at me then, like this is the first time he noticed me. "And just what do you mean, why aren't I with Buffy?"

I can't quite meet his eyes. I can see he's wondering how I could know already. Why are they always surprised that I know what's going on? Aren't I a member of this community, too? "Look, I know what happened. She probably needs you right now."

He dismisses my concern with a wave of his hand. "She's with Willow and Tara now. And how do you know what happened?"

I wasn't quite ready to tell him yet, but now is as good as any, I suppose. "Dawn told me."

Giles sits down pretty quickly. I think he did it before he fell over. "You've seen her? Is she okay? When I realized she vanished out of the hospital, I didn't know what to do. I couldn't tell Buffy, and I couldn't leave Buffy's side to go in search of her."

He's on the verge of hyperventilating. "Rupert, remember to breathe. The kid was scared. She wanted me to make her feel something. Seems she went pretty numb after -- you know."

"I think we all did," he admitted.

I knew Giles and Joyce were pretty chummy - she mentioned it to me once or twice - but he was taking this pretty hard. "Hey, you okay, mate?" I ask softly, not really caring, but sooner or later, Giles is going to remember my obsession with the Slayer and kick me out. I'd rather appeal to his sense of decency first.

"Yes. Yes, I'll be fine." He doesn't look all that fine to me. He looks pretty bad, actually. "You said you spoke to Dawn?"

It sounded like a prompt. Oh, right, now I'm supposed to tell him where she is. Except I haven't the faintest idea. "We talked. I recited some poetry to her. She cried buckets."

He's nodding like he's agreeing with me, then he looks up at me with this incredulous look. The same look I gave him when he started practicing the guitar and singing. "Did you say poetry?"

"Unfortunately," I butt in, not wanting to follow that thread, "she disappeared."

Worried Giles look again. "You mean you don't know where she is?"

I rub at my temple. I'm getting a killer headache, and I still have no answers as to what happened to me. "Hold on a bleeding minute, will you? Look, I had reasons for coming here. I need some answers from you, but there's no nice way to ask the questions. No matter what I say, you're going to take it the wrong way and you'll sic the Slayer on me before I can blink."

He's on his feet and towering over me, which is damn impressive as he's only a few inches taller than me. "What's happened?"

His tone is ominous, so I figure I've got about a minute before he explodes. I hold my hands up in a defensive posture, hoping I'm still fast enough to deflect any blows that might come my way. "It's like this. She's begging me to make her feel something. She tells me what happens and starts to cry. I try to comfort her. She asks that I recite some poetry, so I do. She gets mad and starts to taunt me. I get mad and threaten her. She gets madder and hits me. After that...I'm not sure what happened."

He's advancing on me, and I'm backing up. I bump into a stool and fumble to keep it upright.

"Did you hit her back? Did she storm out?"

"No." Unfortunately, my voice chooses that word to crack on. "I didn't lay a hand on her, and she didn't leave. I backed her against the wall. You see, we'd been talking about me being all vampire and bloodsucking, and she thought she could help. She thought she had a cure for me."

Giles' voice about dropped to the basement. "What did you do?"

I think I'd rather have Giles as a Feyral demon, than this very angry, very upset father-figure. "She asked me to. Told me to," I try to defend myself. It's not working. I can tell by the light in Giles' eyes. "I -- couldn't help myself. Something came over me. Something stronger than anything I'd ever felt before."

I've rarely seen Giles this pissed off before. I try to tell myself that my labored breathing and my shaking knees are because I'm weakened for food. I don't believe it.

I can actually see the colors sparking in Giles' eyes - like a lit firecracker, about to blow. "Did you bite her?"

Courage, mate. Courage. The worst he can do is toss you into the sunlight. He still thinks you're a vampire. Or he could stake you, which would kill you either way. "I didn’t mean to. I didn’t want to. Knocked me clear across the room, though. I don't know how long I was out. When I came to, she was gone. Not a trace of her. I was hoping she'd gone back to you."

Giles backs away, and I can breathe again. I figured I was in for a good thrashing, at least a poke or two, but he's sitting down on the desk. He's getting pretty pale, too, even for him. "No. No, I haven't seen her since she left the hospital." He's looking at me again. "You're positive you bit her? Her blood was spilled?"

I'm straightening my spine, now. There's a tone in Giles' voice that is making me real nervous. "I felt my fangs pierce her skin, yeah. Then it was like everything went white, or something. I can't remember." Giles looks about ready to faint dead away. Then he starts fingering one of the books on the desk. I've spent a lot of time studying this lot; he's thinking. "You know something, don't you? Does this have to do with her being the Key? Was she right? Did her blood do something to me?"

His voice is quiet as he recites, "I finally found reference to the Key in an ancient text. It was so obscure that I don't think anyone would have found it, except I was specifically looking for it. It was also in a dead language, even for demons, which made it hard to translate, but I think I got the meaning correct. It seems that the Key is much more than we realized." Giles won't look at me. My poor new heart is beating double time and fluttering about like a nervous butterfly. "I believe it has the capability of transmuting time. It isn’t just a key to a portal. It’s a key to the past and the future."

My mind doesn’t hear anything else. The past...she couldn’t have. I couldn’t have my old soul - my old body back, could I? She couldn’t have given it back to me. But how would she have known how to do it? Did she mean to? Was that why Giles was so concerned at me breaking her skin? Was that the trigger? Words stick in my throat, but I force them out anyway. "How is it activated?"

Giles is idly flipping through the book, and I can't tell if he's avoiding my question or looking for an answer. "There are vague references to her blood being spilled, and strange occurrences taking place. I believe that it’s possible that Dawn’s bloodshed, however small, could activate the Key."

I close my eyes, unwilling to hear anymore. Dawn didn’t just get rid of my chip; she got rid of me. Of what I am. No, not what I am. She gave me back my life. My actual life. I remember Dru, and everything that’s happened up until I bit Dawn. But with my heart pounding in my chest, and my breath hitching, I know that I’m not a vampire anymore.

"You've changed, haven't you?"

The question startles me. I wasn't expecting Giles to talk, and I wasn't expecting him to put things together. "I walked over here."

"I would hope you didn't steal a car." His flip remark belies the look of concentration on his face. "You’re flushed. And breathing heavily."

I keep my eyes locked on his as I recount my afternoon. "I watched the sun set tonight on the beach. Watched the surfers tame the ocean, if only for a few minutes. Had a grand meal at a small Ukrainian restaurant. Threw up a whole bunch of blood. Felt like my body was rejecting it. I tilted my face up to the sun, and felt its warmth on my skin. I felt - my heart beat."

"Bloody hell," he whispers, and I can’t help but agree.

"Looks like she went and activated herself."

"You don’t understand," Giles snaps. "There aren’t any mentions of the Key after it’s been activated. Theories are that she can only be used once in any given time period, and that she disappears from that time, never to return."

I feel angry tears in my eyes. "No." I've got hold of Giles' jacket in a heartbeat, shaking the daylights out of the infuriating man.

"No. I will not believe that she's gone, poof, just like that. Them monks couldn't just dump memories in our heads and then rip her out of our lives like that. She's just a kid. She has to finish junior high. I don’t accept that she’s just gone. Do something. Find something. She’s got to be here, somewhere."

He shoves me back, and I just glare at him, angry and frustrated and scared, my breath coming in short pants.

His retort is snide and meant to hurt me. It does. "She could have brought Joyce back. Instead, she made you human again."

I shake my head, no longer trying to hold back my tears. "She didn’t know what she could do. And if you knew, why didn’t you tell her? Why’d you let her leave the hospital, anyway? Why weren’t one of you lot out looking for her? Why did she have to come to me for comfort? Why’d she have to trust me? Why’d she want so badly to help me?" I’m hysterical now, and scared. I haven’t been scared in over a hundred years. What’s to become of me? What am I going to do?

The anger is out of Giles’ voice. "I don’t know, Spike, but I do know she liked you. Perhaps she saw a bit of herself in you. Not quite human, but not evil." He rubs his temple again. "I understand you're scared right now..."

My voice cracks. "You're wrong. I'm bloody terrified."

He rubs his temple again. "Right. One thing at a time. How are you feeling? Do you feel like you did...back then?"

"I feel just like I remember. Heart beating, lungs working, and out of my intellectual range."

He got out a pen and started to write. "Do you have any of your vampire traits?"

"No aversion to sunlight, if that’s what you mean. Don’t have any cravings for blood. Don’t know about anything else yet." Haven’t had time to think about much of anything else, really.

He scribbled some more, then removed his glasses and pressed his fingers into his eyes for a moment. "What matters now is how to explain this to Buffy."

"Going to be kind of hard, isn’t it? On the day her mum dies, to tell her baby sis is gone, too." I want to cry out at the unfairness and injustice. I didn't ask to be human. I didn't ask for a soul. Dawn did that bit of deducting herself. Summers' women; always wanting to help. Why couldn't she leave well enough alone?

"Dawn was never real," he says softly, and I hear the desperately held in check tears in his voice.

I don't have that luxury. My tears spill over and my sight wavers. "She was real to me." I turn away and walk to the window. I only hesitate a second before stepping into the patch of sunlight. She's gone. That's what he's telling me. Bit is gone, and Buffy has no one. I have no one. Why didn't Dawn understand that I needed her friendship? I didn't need...this. What am I going to do?

"I don't know if her memories will fade over time, or if we'll always remember her."

Giles' statement slices through me and I shout, "I will always remember her. I've got no bloody choice being human and all now. If this was her last wish, then I've got to live with it." We stare at each other, enemies but not quite enemies, and some sort of new understanding passes between us. "I’m stuck with this, Giles. I didn’t ask for it. Bit thought I would be better off this way. I’ve got to respect that. I can’t let her go so easy."

"Don’t get me wrong, Spike. This isn’t easy for me, either. I’m trying to keep perspective, but today, of all days...it’s hard."

I duck my head and nod toward the door. "Right. You best get back to the Slayer. I’ll putter around, being inconspicuous in the daylight with my very un-tan."

Giles is looking at me like my head got rearranged, but he's gathering his coat and car keys. He's got his hand on the door, then turns and says, "Spike, don't take this the wrong way, but get out."

Even though I'm not a vamp anymore, I'm still not welcome. Right. How presumptuous of me to have forgotten. I've just had my humanity to worry about. I slump my shoulders and walk past him, hearing the door lock behind us. I stare up at the stars, silently asking them if they have any answers. I don't hear anything, so I continue walking back to my crypt. I suppose I'll have to look about getting a job, now that I can't scare people into giving me money anymore. I open the door, and the stench of vomit and the normal crypt smell causes me to gag. I stumble back outside and gulp in fresh air. Great, I can't even stay in my own place tonight. Very few options present themselves. There's my vamp hiding places, but other vamps took over most of those. There's the old high school - will they ever tear it down? - which has possibilities but not much by way of protection.

Xander's basement. I don't think I can go ask him for the keys, but I should still be able to get inside. It takes some doing, but I get in through the small window. There's no bed, but plenty of old furniture, so I grab a blanket out of the laundry basket and curl up on a lounge chair. I'll be safe from vamps here, at least. I just have to keep a listen for Xander's mum and dad. Sleep claims me with that warning in my head.

I jerk awake, heart pounding in my chest. I listen but don't hear anything except my own breathing. I must have had a nightmare. I throw the blanket back on the pile and scrub at my face. I don't remember any of it. Maybe it's for the best.

My thoughts immediately turn to Buffy. How she's doing. How she's handling things. If she remembers her sister, or just Dawn. Will she keep the house, or move in with Giles when she's not at university? I like that house, even if I was tossed out of it more times than I can remember. It'll be full of people the next few days, offering condolences and support and help. But once they're gone, the silence will overtake it, and Buffy won't be able to stay.

I wonder what she's doing right now? Is she staying at the house, or at Giles'? My bet would be on Giles' place. With soldier-boy long gone, she doesn't have anyone else. Well, the gang, but none of them have dealt with this before. They wouldn't know what to do or say. Giles has a bit more experience in that area. I only have experience at the death end of it; nothing afterwards. I only hung around long enough to hear the anguished wails as those I left alive hovered over their loved ones bodies. The pleasure I used to feel at that thought is absent. In its place is something else. Something I don't think I like. It feels and smells like regret. Little Bit's remarks echo in my head, "Don't you feel bad for the things you've done?" So she's given me a punishment, is it? This is her way of making sure I repent and become a good person again? Or is it her way of giving me a second chance? She wasn't the vindictive type, so I'm more inclined to think she just wanted to help me. When Keys want to help, they do it on a grand scale.

My stomach rumbles, reminding me I need food. I don't have any money left, and all I have is blood and beer at the crypt. Even if the Slayer is at Giles', he's my best chance for a handout until I can get some cash. Besides, he's the only one who knows what's happened to me. I leave the door unlocked and head across town. I stay on tree-lined streets and out of direct sunlight. It's going to take some getting used to. Habits of a hundred years are hard to break.

Xander's car is out front, and I can see movement inside. Red and her woman are inside, flanking the Slayer. Xander and Giles are talking, and Anya's sitting on a stool, staring at the floor. She looks like I feel; outcast, unsure of herself, not knowing what's going on. Must be an ex-demon thing.

Then I notice something strange. Buffy's not crying. She's not talking either, but her eyes look clear from here. She looks shell-shocked. I think I like her crying better; it shows she's dealing. I don't remember my dad's much, but I remember mum's. Buffy's only a little older than I was when mum died. I still get a little twist in my gut when I think of it. At least my mum was bedridden and sick; I could see I might lose her. Joyce looked and acted fine, then just...went. Red and Xander are talking to Buffy now, and she's nodding. They're getting up, and I have a feeling they're heading to the funeral home to make arrangements. I duck behind the bushes to hide until they're gone. Giles is the last one out, and as he shuts the door, I rustle the leaves to get his attention. He meets my eyes, and I try to convey my desperation to get inside with just a piercing stare. He's reaching with the key to lock the door, and I make a small noise in the back of my throat. He makes the motion of locking it, then turns and walks to his car. I watch him pull away, stunned. He left it unlocked for me.

I don't waste any time getting inside. I don't think I want to try cooking just yet, but cold cereal is just as filling. The taste is so much different - I have a feeling that everything I eat is going to be like this. Everything is an adjustment. I put the empty bowl in the sink and put the milk away, then sit on the stool and look around the house. Evidence of Slayer is noticeable if you know what to look for. Weapons that appear to be decorative fluff are placed in strategic places. Books on demons are separate from literature classics.

The same book Giles was toying with last night is still on the table, underneath yesterday's paper. More than likely, Giles covered the book with the paper before he brought Buffy here. I flip through the pages. Giles said it was some dead demonic language; I can't understand it. I toss the book down in disgust. My eyes light on today's paper, and I snatch up the want ads. I don't want to depend on anyone, least of all Giles, though we did have some not unpleasant times watching Passions together. But really, the man needed a real job, and bad. The Magic Box has been good for him. Put him back in touch with the Slayer. Gave him a purpose and money to boot. Now if I could just be as lucky. An hour later, I throw the paper down in disgust. I don't know enough about computers to do anything worthwhile on them. All's I'm qualified for is dockwork and dishwasher. I used to be cultured; I used to be classy. That used to mean something.

I'm picking at the polish on my fingernails. It's chipped down to the cuticle. I look at my comfortable, faded jeans and T, and wonder who would hire me looking like this. Not to mention my hair. Can't do much about the complexion yet. I doubt Giles has any fingernail polish remover, but rubbing alcohol works after a fashion. I could color my hair, but again, that money thing. Giles and I aren't the same size, but some of his clothes fit halfway decently. I look slightly more normal. More human. I practice my introductions in front of the mirror, getting more discouraged as the day wears on. Who am I kidding? I'm an ex-demon who used to be a bad poet. There aren't a lot of jobs out there for the likes of me.

I hear the door open downstairs, then voices. Footsteps are coming up the stairs, and I duck in the closet.

Giles whispers, "Spike, are you still here? If you are, come out now and don't try to scare me."

I open the closet door and peek out. "That okay for you, Giles? I didn't startle your old heart, now did I?"

He waves at me, and then stares at my outfit. "Get out of there...are those my clothes?"

I beat down an instinct to cower. That's the old me, not the new me. I've had decades of experience since then. "Yeah. I wanted to find a job, you see, but I've only got my jeans and Ts. Not exactly interview material."

He's staring at me in shock. "You were going to find a job?"

What's so surprising about that? Most people work for a living. Just because I haven't done it before is no reason to belittle me. A bloke's got to start somewhere. I swear, I bet Xander had more support when he announced he was getting his first job. That thought makes me angry. Xander probably did have more support. "I have to eat, now don't I? I have to find a place to live. I can't scare people into giving me their money anymore, so I best figure out another solution, haven't I?" I feel like throwing something, but there isn't anything handy to throw.

Giles shushes me. "Keep your voice down. Buffy's downstairs. She doesn't need to -- she doesn't need--"

"To deal with the likes of me on a day like today?" I interrupt him. I heard Giles talking to her when they came in. And aside from what the gang think, I'm not stupid. I know she can't handle my change right now. Besides, I don't want to intrude on her grief. "I had no intention of going downstairs. I don't fancy staying here, though."

Giles is starting to get a wild-eyed, panicked look. "If I give you the money for a hotel, will you go out the back, quietly?"

My immediate reaction is to hold out my hand and make a snide comment, but I can't do either. I can't believe what I'm thinking. "I - I'd rather have your help. Finding a job. Getting set up, maybe even leave town. I don't know how long I'd last with demons out for my blood."

Giles is as surprised as I am. I don't know when I got this pride, but I'm hanging onto it with everything I've got. I've lived my whole life off of other people. Their blood, their money, their homes and cars. I want something that's mine.

"You won't be much safer in another town," he cautions. "Demons are everywhere, and a lot of them relocate after tangling with the Slayer. Word of you has undoubtedly gotten around. A demon killing his own kind isn't an everyday occurrence."

Like I needed to be reminded of this. "Thanks for the recap. Look, I don't have a lot of options here. I stay and keep low; I leave and keep low. Either way, I still need to get a job somehow."

I think I finally have his attention. He looks like he's thinking, anyway. "Do you think Angel might help you?"

Brilliant, Rupert. How many times did I try to kill him? Then there's the whole Slayer fiasco. "Oh, right. The Soulful Gang. Just like old times, only not." I walk to the window, not feeling any better about this than when I started. "Angel's still a vamp. I can't go to him like this. No, I've got to do this on my own. I just don't know where to start." I laugh. "I suppose I could always work for a cartel or the Mafia. I've great credentials in that area."

"Go back to killing?"

I can't look at him; he sounds so disgusted. Yeah, killing. The thing vampires do. Hell, I've tried to kill him a few times, extortion now and again notwithstanding. "I don't want to. But what other choice do I have? It's what I've done most of my life. I don't know much else."

He's quiet for awhile, and I think he's given up on me. Then he asks, "What do you know? What have you done besides the killing, I mean?"

Good question. That's all I can remember right now. "Terrified people. Knocked over a few liquor stores. Hacked into computers."

He sounds surprised. "You know computers?"

I shrug. "Yeah, but not enough to get any of the jobs in the paper. I can't program them; just use them."

"You know, Willow is very busy with University. Classes and Wicca and -- other things. She doesn't have as much time to help me anymore."

I'm getting disinterested in this conversation. It's getting me nowhere. I sigh. "Yeah? So?"

"Do you know the internet? How to swim?"

I turn and scoff at him. "Surf, you git. It's called surfing. And yeah, I've done a bit of it at the library after hours. Some good stuff out there." I give him a lascivious grin, and he gets all flustery. I love doing that to him.

"Yes, yes, fine. How would you like to work for me, part time?"

I wouldn't doubt if my mouth is hanging open in disbelief. Of all the things I thought he would say to me, that was the absolute last. In fact, it wasn't even on the list. "You want me to work for you?"

He takes a few steps back with that silly 'no reason to get excited' grin of his. "Want is such a strong word. Let's just say I'd rather you did something for me in exchange for eating all my food, instead of just eating all my food."

It makes sense. Strange how it makes sense. He is right, though. I'll eat him out of house and home until I'm able to support myself. And really, what other choice do I have? Maybe he'll give me a reference later on, so's I can get me a really good job with bennies and such. I extend my hand. "Deal." We shake on it. I wonder if it feels as odd for him as it does for me. Course, this happened in the middle of everything else happening, so I wouldn't doubt if his mind is all wonky. He may change his mind in a week or two, and I'll be out on the street. But hopefully with a bit of cash.

He tells me to sleep in the guest room, as Buffy pretty much collapsed into sleep the minute she sat on the couch. I was about ready to tell him about Xander's old place, but stop myself. If Giles does kick me out in a few weeks, Xander's is my back up plan. It doesn't take me long to fall asleep.

I lay low in Giles' the next day, while he takes care of Buffy. It tears me up inside that I can't talk to her. Her instincts aren't the sharpest, as she hasn't caught me staring at her from the stairs. I'm worried about her. Any other time, I'd be like she had eyes in the back of her head. Now she just sits, staring at nothing. I asked Giles about me talking to her, but he flat out said it would be a bad idea. He doesn't know that I was the first outside the family to know about Joyce's illness. He doesn't know I was the first to see Buffy cry. I haven't seen her cry since, and from the snippets of conversation I've been able to hear, no one else has, either. She's not letting anyone in.

In the afternoon, Giles leads her out of the house with a hand on her back, steering her toward the car. He told me that morning that they would be at the funeral home most of the day, for the viewing. I take the opportunity to go the Summers' place. It takes some effort to climb the trestle - having to take breaths has seriously slowed me down - but I get up to Buffy's window. I go immediately to her dresser and take out her diary. I don't know how long it's been since she wrote in it, but I'm hoping it will give me some insight into her mind. What she's thinking; what's she's feeling. If she's feeling anything. If she remembers her sister.

Dawn. It's looking like I'm the only one who remembers her. There's been no talk of searching for Dawn, or even noticing that she's gone. If all their memories are disappearing, I'm hoping their words will remain. I stare at the diary in my hand, but put it back down without opening it. There might be stuff in there about Soldier-boy, or Angel. I don't think I want to read about either. Dawn has a room; I should try there first. It looks like a teenager’s room, with posters and nail polish and teddy bears. If she took after her sister, then she has a diary, too. A quick search finds it between the mattresses.

It falls open to a page, and I start to read. It talks about a boy at school, and how she's hot for him. Lavish descriptions of his hair, his eyes, his butt - okay, skipping ahead a bit. My name catches my eye.

I went over to Spike's again last night. Mom doesn't know I sneak out to see him. She'd freak if she knew. He can't help that he's a vampire. He's really cool and he never calls me kid. Okay, maybe once or twice, but I can tell he doesn't mean it like the others do. He's not all condescending and stuff. He tells me stories about sucking blood and killing people. It's gross, but I don't mind. I love listening to his voice. He's got this hypnotic thing that makes my toes curl. Mr. Giles doesn't have quite the same accent, but it's okay. Mr. Giles is too -- British. Spike is dangerous. He's exciting. He listens to me. Everyone else is like shut up, Dawn and you can't see this Dawn, and you're too young Dawn. I've grown up with the Slayer as an older sister; how could I be too young for anything? Besides, I like the way Spike says 'kid'. Or 'Little Bit'. I think that's my favorite one. His voice gets all deep and vampire-like, and it's like I'm going to be a snack, and I like it. I can't tell Buffy about it or she'd stake him. She'd probably stake him for just speaking to me, even though I'm the one who goes to see him. Just because I look beneath the fangs and see a real person there, she gets all protective and says he's a killer. I've been reading up on vegetarians, and they think all humans are killers. Okay, most of us don't eat other humans, but it's still the kill or be killed mentality. Though there was this one girl in the fourth grade. She vanished one day, and the police found her body two days later. Two puncture wounds in her neck. I can't remember her name anymore, even though it was in all the papers. The police report said they suspected wild dogs. It's like the whole town is in denial of being on the Hellmouth. How dumb do they think we are? We know it was vampires. Buffy made a point of going out and hunting them. She's pretty sure she found the ones who did it. I know she felt bad about not saving the girl, but she can't save everyone. She's not God; just the slayer. And no matter what everyone thinks, she's not perfect. She leaves the water running in the bathroom and shaves in the sink sometimes. There was the whole can't see Angel defy mom thing a few years ago, too. Buffy gets to do whatever she wants, but I can't. She could date Angel, but I can't even be Spike's friend. Why isn't life fair?

"Why indeed?" I ask out loud. I sigh and find the last entry in the book. It's dated a week ago.

I know Spike and mom talked a lot. Mom let it slip that she'd talked to him a few times, but never in front of Buffy. I think mom knew that Spike and I were friends. I think she liked him a bit, too. He was a guy who listened to her. She could talk to him about her day and he'd make small jokes and laugh with her. He was nice to her. He was nice to me. Mom doesn't miss him as much, because she's dating this new guy, Brian. But I miss talking to him. I've got so many things I want to ask him, but he's never in his crypt. I guess he's following Buffy, or helping her slay, or doing something else that involves Buffy. It's always Buffy this or Buffy that. I get it; he's in love with her. And now she knows it. The look on her face was priceless. It was like I'd dropped an eel down her back. Then out spews the denial, and how Spike's a killer, blah blah, vampire, blah blah. So I toss out the Angel thing, and she gets real pale and stops talking. It was like words just dried up in her mouth. It was great. I've never seen her speechless before. That'll teach her to poke her nose in other people's business. So what if I was in love with Spike? It wasn't like her love for Angel. He didn't make me all weepy and crazy. He made me laugh. He listened to me. He was nice to me. And she goes and has Willow uninvite him. And I thought she was so cool. I think Tara sensed how mad I was, and talked to me privately. If Buffy would just talk to Spike, he wouldn't be stalking-guy. He'd have a chance to ask her out, and they could go to the movies, and then it would be the end of it. At the other school, before we came to Sunnydale, she'd go through one guy a week. Angel was her first steady boyfriend. Now that Riley's gone, I don't think she's going to try the steady guy thing again. Spike could just be the flavor of the week. Then we could go back to being friends. Or maybe once he got over Buffy, he'd start to notice other girls. Or Keys. I wonder if there are more of us? Or am I the only one? Can I have a normal relationship? Are there rules for dating among Keys? Do I have parents to set my curfew? Can I date outside my species or whatever I am? I know he sees Harmony now and then, but that's just sex. I'm not ready for that, but I wouldn't mind kissing him. I wonder what fangs feel like? Does my blood taste like other human's blood? Can I be turned into a vampire?

I slam the diary closed. What kind of thoughts are those for a teenager? She shouldn't be thinking what it's like to be turned. No teenager should wonder what their blood tastes like. Though it does explain why she thought her blood could cure me. She'd obviously been thinking about it. I wonder if she knew on some level what she was capable of? Or was she thinking too much about me? How to make me get over Buffy, or get Buffy to like me? She was focusing too much attention on me, and that's what allowed my change to happen. It was like events played out. My compulsion to bite her, even though I knew it would -- but it didn't. I didn't feel any pain as I bit her. The chip didn't activate - because she wasn't human. She was only energy in the form of a human. Damn. Why did she have to leave? I have so many questions.

The room is darkening; the sun is setting. I don't want to get caught walking at night without the Slayer in action. I start to put the diary back, but decide to keep it. If I'm the only one who remembers Dawn Summers, then no one will know who this is, or care. I want her to be remembered. She deserves to be remembered. If I'm the only one who can do that, then I will.

I get back to Giles' and make myself some supper. I've got to learn how to cook soon; microwave food gets tacky too fast, and it doesn't have the flavor I like. It's edible at least. I'm upstairs before Giles and Buffy get home. It's well after ten, and I'm concerned. I don't hear voices, but after a fashion, a single set of footsteps comes up the stairs. Giles looks exhausted.

"Everything all right?" I whisper as Giles slips off his tie and drops onto his bed.

"Not especially, no. It was very tiring. Willow, Tara, and Xander had to do a lot of the work; Buffy just didn't respond to anyone. I got her to eat something, though. I had to practically carry her inside; she's asleep on the couch. I don't know what she's going to do at the funeral."

I try not to sound too nosy, but Giles, unfortunately, knows me too well. "It's tomorrow, then?"

"Spike, please tell me you aren't thinking of going. Buffy doesn't need to see you parading around in sunlight."

I'm miffed. I am a member of this community, demon or not, and I did know Joyce. "I won't be parading around. I'll be giving my respects to Joyce. I am allowed to do that, aren't I?"

He's instantly contrite, and it makes me feel a bit better. He takes off his glasses and rubs his temple. "Of course you are. I'm sorry. It's just that, Buffy has barely spoken since I brought her home. It's like she's shut off every emotion, every outside stimulus, to protect herself."

All the more reason for her to get a jolt is my first thought, but a funeral isn't the time to bring Buffy out of her shell. "I'll hang in the back and sneak out before she can see me. All right?"

I can tell he's too exhausted to put up much of an argument. And it's not like he could stop me, anyway. "I suppose. Just make sure to stay in the background. The last thing Buffy needs to see is her mortal enemy who has been stalking her because he's in love with her at her mother's funeral."

"Thanks so much, Rupert." I pick his tie off the floor and toss across his face. I think he's wrong. I think Buffy needs something to shake her out of it. She's got to let someone in.

~~~

The next morning, Giles and Buffy are out the door by 9:30. The funeral is scheduled for eleven, so I have some time to get my thoughts organized. I do want to pay my respects to Joyce. I did consider her a friend, or at the very least, someone who was willing to talk to me without seeing the fangs.

I start to wonder why I'm staying in Sunnydale. I have no friends. Joyce and Dawn are gone. Giles is tolerating me for now, but I know it's based on pity, not friendship. After Buffy gets on with her life, I doubt he'll let me in his house again. All the more reason for me to get a job and a place to live as soon as possible. I'd sooner vanish into the populace of Sunnydale, become one of the nameless faces that gets passed on the street without so much as a look. After I set Buffy right, I should be able to do that.

I've got a considerable walk in front of me, so I get started. It's a nice day with birds chirping and the sun shining, and I assume it's typical. California is known for its sunshine, after all. This is the first time I've had to fully enjoy it. The imminent fear of being roasted into dust is more a startled knowledge, and I'm able to keep to the sidewalks, instead of cutting through the trees.

My original intention was to show up at the funeral home, but the walk takes longer than I thought, so I head to the cemetery. There's quite a crowd, and I settle somewhere directly behind Buffy, though I doubt she can sense me. I'm not a vampire anymore, so there's no reason why she should. The ceremony is nice, as funeral rites go, and about half the people leave immediately afterward. The rest stay to pay their private respects, and I fall farther back. I'm sure I stand out with my bleached hair and one of Giles' dark suits.

The gang is around Buffy, her little circle of support, and it hits me again how much I'm on the outside. Tara and Anya managed to make their way in, but they had to date someone to do it. Anya has her thousand years of memories, and Tara's got the witch thing working for her. Now that I'm not a vamp, what can I offer?

I can see the Slayer's face now. She'd dry-eyed. I wonder if she cried in front of anyone besides me? She's sending everyone away, and they slowly walk off to stand in a huddle by the tree line. I swallow. I'm still behind Buffy, but she can't see me, or she's just ignoring me. I can see Giles out of the corner of my eye, trying to get my attention. I know what he wants, but I can't do it. I have to talk to her. Taking one of my still-new breaths, I walk up beside her.

"She's going to be missed." It seems appropriate to say. I can't look at her. I stare at the ground instead. Buffy doesn't say anything, so I keep talking. "We talked, you know. Your mum and me. About you, and life, and the gallery, and lots of things. Everyday things. She seemed happy. She was proud of you and Da-- she was proud of you." I'm mentally slapping myself for my slip. I shouldn't have mentioned Dawn, but it seemed so natural. Buffy and Dawn had been put into our minds, linked just like that, and it was a hard habit to break. I stop talking before I say something else incredibly stupid.

"You remember Dawn?"

I glance up, startled. Buffy's looking at me, focused and hopeful. Hopeful? "What? Of course I remember her. She was the Key," I stammer. Her gaze is getting more intense, and I find myself backing up a step.

"No. You remember her as my sister, don't you?"

I lick my dry lips and throw my gaze toward the gang. Giles looks expectant, but he's not ushering me to stop. So I answer, "Yeah, I do."

Tears glitter in her eyes. "No one's mentioned her for days. I thought I'd lost my mind, wondering where Dawn was, and why no one else talked about her. It's like she didn't exist." She wraps her arms around herself. "I haven't seen her since the hospital. I ran out on her. Ran out on mom. She scared me. What she was saying." She's starting to break down. I can see it in her eyes; the way she's shaking. "She wanted to see mom, but she can't, because mom's dead. Mom...mommy..."

I take a step closer as she starts to fall, and cradle her in my arms as she starts to scream. It's the same as the heart-wrenching, pain-filled screams that I hear in my dreams, from all my victims' families. Decades of anguish, death, loss, and fear are pouring out of the Slayer, and I can't help but cry along with her. We're on the freshly mowed grass on our knees, me supporting her, her tormenter and the only one who can understand the depth of her pain.

Her screams die down to hiccupped tears, and I'm able to pull myself together. I rest my chin on her head, searching out the gang. They're gone except for Giles, who is wiping his eyes. He nods at me, and I lower my eyes in answer. I don't want thanks for bringing this on. I want her in my arms out of love, not of despair. I'm glad I could give her this, though. She needed the release. The tidal wave of emotion could have devastated her if she held it in much longer.

I feel as though I'm her human shield, blocking out the rest of the world; her protector until she can protect herself again. The feeling doesn't last long, as she's soon sitting up and wiping her eyes. It feels like seconds and eons have passed. Despite the tears and red face, I see a bit of the old Buffy there; the one who takes on bands of demons and walks away with barely a scratch. It's good to see that fire again.

"Spike."

She's searching my face now, apparently realizing who I am for the first time. I feel like running and hiding, but I hold my ground. I lift my chin and meet her gaze steady. "Yes."

Her voice is neutral as she states, "You're not a vampire anymore."

No sense in lying. She can plainly see I'm not frying, and she can't sense the demon in me anymore. "No, I'm not." Before she can ask, I say, "And it's not due to some ring or spell or curse or anything. At least I don't think so. I'm not sure how it happened, really." The lie doesn’t easily slip off my tongue, but I refuse to avert my gaze. She’ll know for sure, then.

She studies me again. "Dawn. Something about her changed you."

I'm surprised. I'm flat out stunned. "Yeah."

"How?" she demands.

"How? I don't know." I never could lie very well. I can't meet her eyes, and I just know the lie is screaming from every inch of my face.

Buffy's adamant. She always is when she wants information. "She did something. Or you did something. What was it?"

I can see the closeness - no matter how it came about - fade rapidly as I form my answer. I probably don't even have to say it, because it looks like the Slayer knows, but I force the words out anyway. "I bit her. We were talking and she insisted and I tried not to, but I couldn't help myself..."

"Shut up, Spike." She doesn't raise her voice, so I've got some hope left that she won't just get up and leave me. "Her energy changed you. Whatever she is, she made you human again."

I feel guilty all over again. I honestly didn't ask for this. I'm not completely sure I want it. I don't even have to say anything; Buffy just reads my expression. One of the drawbacks of my old self; a bleeding heart poet usually wears his heart on his sleeve for the world to see.

Her voice gets all quiet. "She's gone, isn't she? That's why I haven't seen her."

Finally, something I can be truthful about. "I don't know where she went. When I came to, she was gone. Not a trace of her to be had."

Her eyes turn to the freshly dug grave. "So I've lost all of her."

I get the feeling she's not talking just about Dawn. Dawn would have been another person who loved Joyce as much as she did. Even if Dawn wasn't really her sister, it's like she's lost two people, like I was worried about. I want to take her in my arms again, but I know it's not possible. I had my time. Now it's someone else’s. I look up as Giles approaches.

"Buffy, are you all right?"

She laughs, and it sounds like she's on the verge of breakdown. "Stupid question, Giles."

He's immediately contrite. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean..."

"She knows you didn't," I interrupt his apology. He glares at me. I glare back. "No one knows what to say at times like this, and nothing you say makes it all right. It's all babble right now. The only person who knows how Buffy feels is Buffy, and no one but her can understand what that means."

Giles starts to say something, but it's Buffy's turn to interrupt. "He's right. No, he is, Giles." She smiles half-heartedly, but it's more than I've seen in awhile. "But I appreciate everything you've done." She reaches up and takes Giles' hand, and I can't help but feel a stab of jealousy. She looks up at him and asks, "Could you leave us alone for a minute? I have some stuff I need to talk to Spike about. Then I want to go home."

Giles is looking between us, confused yet willing to do whatever Buffy says. "Of course."

She waits until Giles is out of earshot before she says, "Did she want it? I mean, was it her decision?"

I should have figured the Dawn conversation wasn't done with yet. "I've been thinking about it, and yeah, I'm pretty sure it was her decision. I certainly didn't ask for this. I never asked for this." I'm staring down at Joyce's grave, and it starts to hit me that this is what I have to look forward to, now. I don't even care that my voice cracks. "Why would I ask for this?"

Buffy's hand covers mine, and I jerk back in surprise. As much as I love her, I don't want her this way. She's barely started grieving. She may not remember the full extent of what I've done. What I used to be. A demon can't change overnight.

Her voice is matter of fact. "If you did this to get to me, human or demon, I'll kill you. But I don't think you did. I also don't think that any of us will accept you because of what you've done in the past."

I tell her of my offer to leave town. "I'll take my chances in another city. Maybe my reputation isn't as widespread as I liked to believe."

She counters, "And maybe it is, and you'll be dead before you hit the city limits."

Now I'm getting angry, but I try to control it. "I said I'll take my chances. I - I know you don't want me around. I understand why, and I don't blame you. If I were you, I wouldn't want me around either." I'm willing myself not to cry as memories of all our dances play through my mind. All the close calls. "But before I go, I just - I wanted you to know - I'm sorry." I said it for so many things; for tormenting her for years. For torturing Angel. For being the one to bring her to Riley in that vampire nest. For my obsession with her. For Joyce. For Dawn. For my change.

She sort of steels herself, and nods. I guess this is it. This is goodbye. I stand up, and offer her a hand. She accepts and I pull her to her feet. I can't help it; I let my hand linger a bit longer than proper before I let it drop. "Can I - can I have a minute? I'd like to pay my respects."

She looks surprised, but nods again and walks over to Giles. I sigh and direct my gaze to the flowers again. "Joyce, you raised a hell of a daughter. She's got a lot of your spirit in her. Stubborn. Feisty. Caring. Concerned about others. She's going to protect the world, you know." God, this is harder than I thought it would be. I wipe my eyes and clear my throat. "I know you were always scared of her out on her own, fighting the big bads, but let me tell you, she can hold her own. She can win against the forces of darkness. Her sister saw to that. I don't have to tell you that Dawn was special. She allowed me to become the person I used to be, before I met up with Dru and Angel. I know it's something you thought I should have. A chance to be normal; to live my life. I think with you and Dawn pulling for me, you got your wish. I have to leave, though, because there are people here who would see me dead before allowing me to draw breath. I want to give this new life a chance. Giles will look after Buffy; see to things that she needs, but Buffy can take care of herself. You gave the world the best gift it could ever have received." I don't think I can go on. My throat's all tight and I can barely see. I take a few steadying breaths. "Goodbye, Joyce."

I'm unable to move for a few minutes, but then my legs carry me to the remaining few cars. Giles is walking toward me, away from the convertible. Buffy's inside.

"Thank you, Spike." He smiles. "I never thought I'd say those words, but thank you for getting through to her. I don't want to think what would have happened if you didn't."

I'm staring at the back of her head, resting on the car door. "Take care of her, Rupert," I manage through my tight throat. I turn my gaze to him and stare hard, trying to say so much more. "Take care of her."

His expression softens, then hardens in determination. "She will be well cared for." He takes my hand and shakes it, and I can feel something in his palm.

I raise my eyebrows in question, but he frowns. "Don't look at it here. I don't want her to see. It's all the money I have on me. It's the best I can do. Good luck."

My gaze slides to Buffy again. I can see in the side mirror that she's got her eyes closed. It's a perfect last view of her. I have two requests before I go, though. "There's a journal in your spare room, in the dresser drawer. She should have it. And one last thing; I want her to have my duster. She'll know why."

He looks confused, but agrees.

I take a deep breath, wistfully dreaming that I can smell Slayer in the wind. "Goodbye, Giles. It's been...it's been." I can't say anymore, but I don't think I need to.

He gets his understanding look, and for once, I don't mind it. "Yes, it has. Goodbye, Spike."

"Will," I say on impulse. Somehow, the name Spike doesn't have the same meaning for me. It's from a past life. It isn't the real me. "The name's Will."

Giles looks thoughtful, then gives one of his almost-smiles. "Very well. Will."

That gives this whole mess perspective. Spike died in Sunnydale, along with Joyce Summers and Dawn Summers. It's time for Will to continue the life that was interrupted so long ago. I nod and turn without looking back.

As I walk away, I think of all the things I could tell them. Where all the vamps hang out. Where demons are drawn to in Sunnydale. How to kill certain ones. Translate books for them. Help them defeat the forces of evil. Ask them, if Dru ever returns, to tell her I'm sorry for what happened between us, and to not stake her. I keep walking, not saying a word. I've got about $85 in my pocket, seven hours of sunlight left, and a new life to live.

Blood thrums, loud and inviting.
Teeming with life. Essence. Love.
A new Dawn breaks
Life is taken; life is given.

A man replaces the creature
Human again
Ready to learn, to grow, to live
Warmth fills his heart
Love touches his soul

I love yet dare not speak the word.
A life given
A life cherished
A life; my own.

The End