"Tweed is to Watcher, like deerstalker is to Sherlock Holmes, like stake is to slayer, like lock is to—"
"Don't even go there."
Maybe she should have listened to Andrew and worn tweed thought Dawn as she tugged on the sleeve of her linen dress suit, willing it to cover her wrist bones. Stupid growth spurt. Stupid wrinkly linen. Of course, it was listening to Andrew that got her into this situation in the first place. If the Council or, even worse, Buffy found out she wasn't in California touring colleges... She patted her hair, reassured that the French twist was still in place. She could do this; sure she could.
Behind her the conference room door opened. She took a deep breath. This was it.
"‛S not the best time for drop-in appointments, sweets. Better be bleeding important ‛s all I'm saying – even if you do have legs that go on forever."
Pivoting around in her stylish yet professional pumps, Dawn savored the moment – the way Spike's face shifted from leer to surprise to something that might have been fear before he backtracked to surprise.
"Andrew," he growled.
Her heart raced, which sucked when you were trying to play poker with a vampire. The best defense was a snarky offense. "Wow, I'd take issue with the fact you can't tell us apart, if it weren't for the list of other offenses trumping that faux pas."
"Aw, Bit... Dawn," he pleaded, moving into her personal space. "You must know—"
"Know what?" she asked with enough frost to freeze him in his tracks. "That you're alive or at least not part of the Sunnydale dust bowl? Know that you thought this was in Buffy's best interest?"
She bit her lip. She was not going to let her anger get the better of her. She most certainly wasn't going to cry. This was a mission; it wasn't about her hurt feelings. It wasn't new news that there was no space for her within Spike's Buffy obsession. Ass.
He couldn't exactly blush, but at least he had the good manners to look uncomfortable. Didn't stop him from asking his next question, though.
"Is she... Does she... Does she know the truth?"
Dawn stared at Andrew as the various watchers and slayers filed out after the debriefing of his L.A. trip. He'd been far too reserved in his telling. Sure, it was still over the top with the 27 eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, but where had been the epic retelling of Andrew's adventure where he was Luke Skywalker, Frodo and Neo rolled into one? Everyone else had been too relieved to question it, but Dawn just wasn't mystically created that way. Anyone who ever listened to Arlo knew that glossy photos never told the whole story. He was hiding something big.
"What?" he asked nervously, collecting the leftover handouts littering the room.
She leaned back, crossed her arms, and cocked an eyebrow. He sang like a canary.
"What is truth?"
"Don't go getting all Pontius Pilate on me, Bit."
She'd forgotten how observant he could be. She had to focus, stay on script. She gestured to a rather plush conference chair. Wolfram and Hart had a way better budget than the Watcher's Council. "Do you mind?" she asked, imitating the haughty smoothness she'd seen Ms. Chalmers use; of course it came easy to Ms. Chalmers, being all old and British and everything.
"Be my guest," said Spike, flopping into a nearby chair.
Seating herself, Dawn primly crossed her legs. How could he be so at ease? Eyes narrowing, she studied him, knowing it had to be practiced ease. Had to be.
Steepling her hands in front of herself and feeling way too Andrew-like, but too late to take it back, Dawn began. "This is not a social call, Spike. I'm here on official Watcher business."
"No offense, but aren't you a mite young to be an 'official Watcher'?"
They'd anticipated this, and her answer was true, mostly. "As you know, we," she made sure to stress the 'we', "experienced an unprecedented level of loss last year. Exceptions were made."
He snorted. "Take it Andrew was Exhibit A of that policy? 'Course you've always been a different kind of exceptional."
He even sat up when he said it. Her face felt warm, the room felt warm. She almost felt guilty. More than almost.
"She didn't find out because of Andrew," she blurted. "Well at least not voluntarily. Word traveled faster than a burly broody vampire guy and a platinum blond vampire guy roaming around Rome on a Vespa."
"But the Council's official stance is—"
"Oh please, just because we're interns for them doesn't mean we have to agree with them. It's because Buffy let loose, isn't it? She was pretty scary that day."
"You weren't there."
"Up a floor and a room over. That day? Same diff."
"Aha!" Andrew declared. "Unwittingly you prove my point. No secret, no matter how noble, is worth the ire, the wrath of a slayer scorn—"
"Are you going to help me or not? Aren't you the one who declared Spike to be 'a lamb of milk-white locks caught in the briars of Wolfram and Hart's den of iniquity'?" she asked while wondering how he came up with these images. "Doesn't he deserve more than to be sacrificed to what the Tradëscan Codex says?" Or seemed to say. Just because no one agreed with her translation didn't mean she was wrong.
Andrew clamped a hand on her shoulder. "Nothing is impossible, not even ironclad prophecy, for one who is true of heart."
She smiled in what she hoped was an encouraging way. If there was one thing she'd learned from watching the watchers on this side of the pond, it was letting others believe what they wanted – as long as it got them to do what you wanted them to do. Everybody else, including her sister, might be willing to ignore the nightmares, but if the bleed-through slayer dreams she'd been getting were any indication… Dawn shivered. Death, blood, and despair. The aura of evil everywhere, surrounding all of them. And in her opinion, it all hinged on who this reconstituted Spike really was.
"Thank you." She pulled a book from her bag, flipping it open to the Post-It noted page. "I've got an idea to test his mettle, but to make it work I need this gem."
"Yeah, not Brooding Italiano's best-laid plan."
Realizing he wasn't referring to her or her plan, Dawn smirked. "So Angel forced you to travel to Italy and to wrap your arms around him while riding a scooter?"
"Hey now, Old Man Spike knows quite a few stories about a certain slayer's sister that I doubt she wants out. There must be some completely unworthy Euro trash boy you're seeing and wanting to impress."
Dawn laughed. As if. In that moment she knew. She knew he'd never tell anybody about those horribly gawky immature years (thank heavens those were over). She knew he would never hurt her or Buffy or join up with any evil plot – well, at least not knowingly. But knowing carried zero weight with the Council, especially with the whole going behind their back thing. If she fessed up to this, she had to follow it up with proof, not feelings.
"Hey now, no getting all pensive on me," he said, placing a hand over hers and giving an encouraging smile. "Two bits for your thoughts."
She tried to smile back; it was shaky at best. Now or never. "We know what you're planning. What all of you are planning."
That stilled him.
"I don't know what you're talkin' about."
"Please. Slayers from all over the globe have been reporting in with these dreams, Buffy included."
"I remember a bird once sang about dreams being a wish your heart makes. Nice to know I've still got it."
He leered. Or at least gave the look of someone leering. It was like Toto'd pulled back the curtain and she could see the real Spike behind whatever bravado he tried to throw up.
"Red piercing roses, drawing black blood. Angel. Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. Charles Gunn. Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan. Lindsey McDonald, for pete's sake. The Old One." She paused, taking a deep breath. "You."
"Dawn," he growled, "I don't want you anywhere near the Black Thorn."
The Black Thorn? Dawn blinked, trying to cover her surprise. She hadn't expected intel like this. "A little late for that, don't you think?"
"This isn't your fight. Or your sis' or any of those bloody dreamin' slayers. Hear me?"
"And it's yours?"
"Then I have something for you." She reached behind her neck, unclasping the chain and freeing the ring she had looped there. She set it on the table between them. "This is my own doing. Trust me, the Council is not aware of this offer."
"It can't be."
"It is," she said, pushing it toward him. "It is the Gem of Amara."
"Heard on good authority it had been destroyed."
"One of a kind," he said, shaking his head, pushing out of his chair and beginning to pace.
"Like a souled vampire is one of a kind?"
"Touché." He stared at it like it would turn him to dust or something. "Why would you give this to me?"
His voice sounded pained. Dawn rose, picking up the ring. She took his hand, turning the palm up and placing the Gem of Amara in the center. "I wanted to protect you. Otherwise…"
Spike stared at his hand. "You don't understand. I was a bastard about this gem."
That was the point.
Andrew looked at her dubiously while she looked at the replica, equally dubious.
"Do you think it will fool him?" she asked, holding the ring up to the light.
"Should you be tricking him? Aren't we about truth, justice and the American way?"
"Uh, Jimmy, I'm not Superman and this isn't Metropolis. We're part of an international organization headquartered in England and known for secrecy, acting first and getting permission retroactively."
"Isn't there some great wisdom about how the truth shall set you free?"
"Like the truth about Buffy and the Immortal?"
"What is it about Spike that has you so star-struck? Besides, this is for his own good. It's a good thing to prove he's not evil – they're not evil. Don't you want that?"
"What if he sees the ring and goes crazy? You've read D. Osbourne's Verses: Spike's Searching, Finding, Losing and near Recovering of the Gem."
"If he gets that maniacal grin and walks out into the sun..." Dawn shrugged. "Then I guess he's evil and we're down one evil vampire."
"I don't want it."
"It's yours," she insisted. "Keep it. Give it to Angel. Do whatever you think is right. Although I'd really prefer you not give it to Harmony."
Dawn willed herself to breathe evenly, willed Spike to choose wisely – did she even know what right would look like? Spike tipped his hand forward, allowing the ring to clatter to the patterned parquet floor. Before she could say a word, he stomped down, crushing it under his heel.
She wanted to cry and to cheer to tell Spike and the whole world that he'd passed her test with flying colors. But telling him would mean confessing her own doubts, lies and trickery. Her blinders were off, her eyes wide open to what she'd done; she'd risked their friendship. She'd risked his life. Her heart beat wildly.
Plans, no matter how clever – and these had been clever - were only machinations if they lacked heart. What had she become? Throwing herself at him, she wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him tight.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, burying her head in the crook of his neck.
His arms wrapped around her, giving a gentle squeeze. "Eh, just because I destroyed the gem doesn't mean I'm going off to a martyr's death, luv. Me and Angel, we've walked away from worse."
Dawn disentangled herself, wiping her eyes. How did she ever think she'd fool him into thinking she was this mature, professional Watcher? "I'm sorry for everything," she repeated. "I should go."
She couldn't even meet his eyes as she exited the room.
His voice, low and tight, stopped her at the doorway. "Funny thing. Angel told me that when he smashed the ring, there was this burst of green light."
There was no turning back. Strangely, she again found herself appreciating the carpeted halls, care of Wolfram and Hart's generous decorating budget. Back in a Council building, her heels would have clicked against cold tile and the rapid staccato would have echoed through the stone corridors, like accusing phantoms. She huddled into herself as she waited for the elevator to take her back down.
"Oi, Dawn!" Spike called from down the hallway. "Even been to a poetry slam?"
That almost sounded like an invitation. Tipping her head, she watched as he closed the space between them; his loose, open body language seemed to match the tone of his words. "Not yet," she answered hopefully.
"Whatcha waiting for?" He held the door of the now-open elevator.
She stepped inside, peeking at Spike from out of the corner of her eye, taking in his profile. This sure wasn't what she'd envisioned when starting down this road. She'd been wrong about Spike, way wrong.
Maybe she was wrong about the prophecy. No more going by what some dusty old book said. But if it was right…
Dawn slipped her hand into his, giving it a quick squeeze. "Thank you."
"Figured you wouldn't be that angry if you didn't care." He gave a gentle squeeze back before letting go.
As the doors opened, Dawn decided she had one more question that needed answering. "So what's a poetry slam?"