Dawn compared the address on the house in front of her to the return address on a battered envelope. She and Spike had been writing back and forth for a while now, but she still wasn’t completely sure she knew where he was living, or what his situation was. His letters were full of witticisms, odd stories about demons he’d killed, and constant encouragements to do her homework and listen to her sister.
There had been no mention made of the fact that he was apparently living in a house, however, even though he certainly wasn’t living in a crypt, judging by the presence of an actual address. Nor had there been any mention that he’d known and understood that she was coming to UCLA and wanted to visit him. Dawn had written three weeks previously to let him know when she’d be in town, but he hadn’t responded to her obvious fishing for an invitation.
“I don’t care,” Dawn muttered rebelliously, never mind that she’d been a near-model student and sister for the past three years. “I want to see him, and I don’t care if he doesn’t want to see me.”
That wasn’t quite true, of course, but she had long decided that you had to do what you really wanted to do or face disappointment. She wanted to see Spike, and she might be waiting until Hell froze over before he asked her to visit.
She’d left Sunnydale the day before, her old truck packed to the gills with the stuff she’d need for a year away from home. Dawn hadn’t bothered telling Buffy that she had no plans on coming back to stay. She and her sister were doing better, but closeness was still something they lacked.
Dawn had done everything she could in the last three years to prove herself an adult. She’d gotten a job, saved for a beater of an old truck that ran like a dream, got good grades. All the while she’d promised herself that she wouldn’t stay in Sunnydale after graduation. She would go to a good college, and get an apartment, and never return. Except for very short visits.
The combination of a scholarship and Spike’s presence made UCLA the obvious choice, and that was where she found herself now. Dawn remembered Buffy’s eyes as she’d left town, worried and sad all at once, but also proud. Telling her to call as soon as she got in, and that she was to go straight to Angel’s. The plan was to spend the night there and then let Angel’s friends move her into the dorms the next morning.
Dawn had liked his friends. Fred had been sweet and funny and reminded her of Willow a little. Gunn was big and bluff, shaking her hand and calling her “girl,” his manner welcoming. Even Cordelia was friendlier than she remembered. The ex-cheerleader had given her a warm hug, and had even been a huge help moving in, giving her decorating tips for a room that needed all the help it could get. Only Angel had not been a surprise; he was his usual brooding self, only a trifle lighter-spirited.
Of all of them, it had been Connor who had held her interest the most, however. He had asked for her phone number before he left, and Dawn had given it to him. She smiled, thinking of Angel’s son with his bright blue eyes and his almost shy smile, who had been endearingly awkward around her.
But it was Spike that she really wanted to see. Letters scattered out over the last three years hardly made up for all the time spent apart. It was his absence that let Dawn know how important he really was. Even when Buffy had forbidden each of them from seeking the other out, he had been there, in the background. Words on paper did not fill in the scent of cigarettes and leather, the sight of piercing blue eyes, the harsh sigh of breath when he was truly exasperated. She had missed him.
This tiny, well-kept house that she was standing in front of hardly seemed the kind of place that Spike would be found, but it was her only lead. Taking a deep breath, Dawn knocked on the door, a little surprised to have it open and reveal a woman on the other side. “Um, hi,” she began awkwardly. “Do you—I mean, I’m looking for Spike. Is this—”
The woman smiled warmly, opening the door a little wider. “You must be Dawn,” she said, her voice soft with a lilting accent that Dawn couldn’t quite place. “He and Wesley are out just now. You can wait for him if you like.”
The girl paused and then entered the house. “Spike knew I was coming?”
There was laughter at Dawn’s slightly befuddled question, though the girl didn’t get the sense that the woman was laughing at her. “Let me guess. Spike didn’t tell you anything, such as the fact that he was living in my basement.” Her face amused, she held out a hand. “My name is Nika Owen.”
Dawn shook hands reflexively. “It’s nice to meet you. Spike lives in your basement?”
“Come into the kitchen. I’ll make tea, and we can talk.” Nika said this last in a conspiratorial way that told Dawn she was finally going to get the dirt on Spike. “Spike said you were starting school this month at UCLA, and you had a scholarship. He’s very proud of you.”
“He is?” Dawn asked, suddenly feeling a warm glow begin. Spike hadn’t just written to her because he’d promised and it was a duty. He cared. He’d told his—What was Nika to him?
Nika smiled. “Of course. He’s been talking of nothing else since he got your letter. I’m sure if he had known you would be here tonight, he would not have gone out with Wesley. But they had a job come up, and it was necessary for both of them to go.”
“Wesley?” Dawn asked, confused about this new name.
Nika nodded. “He’s an independent contractor who does different things dealing with demons and such. Sometimes he asks Spike for extra help.” Looking amused again, and setting a cup of tea down in front of Dawn, she said, “So, Spike told you all about the demons he fought and said not a word about anything else.”
“Well, he did tell me to be good and listen to my sister,” Dawn said, beginning to see the humor in it. “It’s probably a good thing he gave me a return address, otherwise I’d never have known where to find him.”
Nika shrugged. “I’m glad he did as well. Spike’s always a bit happier when he gets a note from you.”
It was yet another thing that Dawn hadn’t known about him. She made him happy, even over the distance. “Is he doing okay?”
There was a faraway look in the other woman’s face as she replied. “Okay, yes. As okay as he can be, I think.” She smiled slightly. “He wouldn’t have told you how we met. Would you like to know?”
Somehow, Dawn sensed that this was a more important question than did she want to hear a story. It had something to do with Spike and why he was there. “Yeah, I would.”
Nika told her, and Dawn began to understand a little of what his life had been here in L.A. “He doesn’t have the chip anymore,” she stated flatly.
“Yes. You seem surprised that I’d still allow him to live here, but I didn’t know him with it in.” Nika considered the girl’s surprised face for a long moment. “We saved each other that night, I think. He left the next day, without telling me, but he was back a few days later. We drank together and shared stories about the people we loved. It helped a little. Never enough though.”
Dawn nodded slowly. No, it was never enough. Even if sharing helped to halve the grief, she had discovered that you could cut something in half an infinite number of times, but it would still be there. It might get continuously smaller, but there was a piece that would always remain. “Are you and Spike…” she trailed off, realizing too late that it was none of her business.
“No.” Nika shook her head. “No, we’re friends and roommates. That’s all. We love each other, but it’s not the kind you need to build anything lasting on.”
There was a sound from the front of the house, and Nika looked up. “That’s Spike and Wesley.” She smiled, and Dawn thought there was more there than simply happiness that her friends were home.
“Nika? We’re celebratin’ tonight. Got the bugger an’ not a scratch on us.” Spike’s voice floated through the living room into the kitchen easily, and another British voice soon followed.
“It was quite something. I’m not sure either of us would have made it had the fight continued much longer.” The accent was stuffier, and the second voice was vaguely familiar.
Dawn watched as Spike appeared in the kitchen moments later, looking especially pleased with himself. She was actually more surprised to see the man behind Spike, although she couldn’t quite place the familiar face. “Do you think—” Spike’s question died in his throat as he saw Dawn seated at the kitchen table. “Dawn? Nibblet?”
Dawn stood. “Hey, Spike.” There was a moment of indecision, and then she went to wrap her arms around his waist. “Missed you.”
“Missed you too, Sweet Bit,” he replied. Then he pulled back. “School start already? Didn’t think you were in ‘til next week.”
She shrugged. “The dorms opened yesterday. I told Buffy I needed to come early so I could settle in and get my books.”
A strained silence fell, and Dawn winced, realizing that she’d used the B-word. “Anyway…”
“’s alright,” Spike said, smiling at her, and almost managing to look unconcerned. “Dawn, you know Wesley, yeah?”
Dawn looked at the other man and suddenly realized why he looked familiar. She had only met Buffy’s sometime-Watcher once or twice, when her sister had been forced to drag her along to the school library. She remembered him as being stuffy and full of himself, but the man in the doorway was anything but. There was more confidence in the set of his shoulders, and the three piece suit and tie were missing. His face was stubbled and hard looking, and Dawn realized with a start that he was actually pretty hot. Too old for her, of course, but that didn’t mean she was blind.
“Hello, Dawn,” he replied, some of the stiffness she remembered back in his tone. “You’ve grown up quite a bit since the last time I saw you.”
The girl could see in his eyes that he was vaguely impressed, much as she was with the changes he’d gone through. It was the sort of admiration you could have for an acquaintance you hadn’t seen for a while, but not have it mean much more than that. “You too,” she replied cheekily.
It startled a smile out of Wesley and warmed his eyes, which had been almost icy. “Spike has been talking non-stop about your acceptance into university. Congratulations.”
“Thanks.” Dawn noticed that there was a much more relaxed atmosphere in the room now that everyone had met and no one had seemed to take an instant disliking to each other.
Nika cleared her throat. “Spike, why don’t you show Dawn downstairs. I’m sure she’d like to spend some time with you.”
Dawn watched as her eyes met Wesley’s, and thought there were two other people who might want some time alone. “Yeah, sure,” Spike said, catching the hidden signals as easily as Dawn had. “You gonna need to go back to the dorm tonight, Bit? ‘ve got a couch that folds out.”
She grinned. “I thought you’d never ask.”
They sat together on the couch for a long time after she’d followed him down the stairs, and he’d given her the tour. It wasn’t much, as apartments went, just one large main room with a wet bar and micro-fridge, bathroom, and a bedroom. But, as Spike pointed out, he didn’t need much more than that.
Like at their leave-taking, neither of them were quite sure what to say, and a three-year separation didn’t seem to help. Dawn finally broke the silence. “So, you got the chip out.”
“Yeah,” Spike admitted. “Nika told you.”
The girl nodded. “She said how you met, but not why you’re staying here.”
Spike shrugged. “’s nicer than a lot of my other options, an’ it just happened that way. I dunno.”
“You’re not killing again.”
“That would mean your sis was right about me, an’ I hate it when she’s right.”
Dawn laughed at that one. “Me too. Why didn’t you say something?”
“I wasn’t sure you’d want to know, luv. Seemed silly to tell you, I s’pose. An’ I didn’t know if she would find out. Didn’t really need someone comin’ after me,” he explained.
“I understand,” Dawn replied, and Spike could hear in her tone that she did, but that she was also disappointed he’d never told her. “She doesn’t know.”
Spike swallowed. He’d wondered if Buffy would ask about him and his whereabouts, but she obviously hadn’t. It was more of a disappointment than he’d wanted it to be. “Right. Well, s’pose it’s for the best, then.”
“You work for Wesley?” she asked, for lack of anything else to say.
Spike looked at her, surprised. “No, ‘course not. Don’t work for anybody. Sometimes I give him a hand, an’ he might split the fee with me.”
“Does he live here too?” Dawn asked. She was still trying to get a feel for this new life Spike had somehow found himself in. It was strange to see him being so friendly with people other than her sister or the other Scoobies. Spike had never struck her as someone who would actually have friends.
Spike laughed. “No, Wes has his own place, even if you’d never know it, him bein’ over here so much. He an’ Nika are pretty close.”
“But you and her aren’t…you know.” Dawn didn’t think Spike was quite over Buffy yet. For one thing, he’d never come back to Sunnydale. For another, just the way he didn’t say the Slayer’s name, referring to her as “your sister,” even in his letters, told her that the vampire was still in love.
Spike shook his head. “No,” he replied softly. “Nika—she shouldn’t even be friends with me, strictly speakin’. Everybody she ever loved was killed by vampires. Somehow—somehow it didn’t matter so much with us two. But—”
“So, you’re saying you’re the odd couple,” Dawn said, striking for levity.
“Somethin’ like that,” he said, smiling at her. “’sides, ‘m still in love with—her. An’ Nika’s—not my type.”
“More Wesley’s type,” Dawn commented.
Spike shook his head. “Not sure what happened there. One day they were all friendly an’ the next they’re makin’ eyes at each other. Not that they’ve done anythin’ about it yet.”
“Is it okay for me to be here?” Dawn asked suddenly. “I mean, I know you didn’t say anything about me being able to come.”
“No, ‘m glad you’re here,” Spike said, interrupting her. “Like a touch of home, Bit.”
“Good,” Dawn said, suddenly relaxing back onto his shoulder. It was suddenly like it had been that summer, the good one. In a really, really miserable sort of way. It was the two of them again, and Dawn felt complete for the first time in a while. It wouldn’t last, though, she knew that much. There were too many other people who were missing from her life. But for now, for the moment, it was good.