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Life is for the Living

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Spike leaned silently in the doorway, waiting for Willow and Tara to depart. It was a Monday night, the day before it would have been a week since Buffy died. The group still didn’t trust or want him in the house while they were all there, but Spike was always the first they called when they had somesuch Scooby business to attend to. Classes or whatnot. Someone had to look after Dawn. Considering how royally he had buggered it the last time he had tried, he personally questioned their choice in putting her in his care.

But she was family. Not his family, per se. Buffy’s. She was a part of Buffy, and he had a promise to keep.

His charge had reportedly barely spoken in the passing week. Not since Buffy… not since he had failed the Summers’ women. He knew the feeling; his throat was raw from crying, smoking, and drinking himself into a stupor for the first few days.

Yet Spike had to admit: Though he felt more shame than he knew how to process when he thought of her, he had longed to speak to Dawn that week. They had a rapport, and she was the only one of the group who treated him like… well, anything. And he didn’t want her to hurt, if he could do anything to stop it.

Yeah, you could have done something. You fucked that up.

Oh, shut up, will you.

“Spike?” A ghost of a voice carried from the entry to the living room. Dawn stood there in her brightly-colored pajamas, hugging herself tightly against the chill of a breeze he was allowing in. The witches were gone.

“Hey, Nibblet. Sorry, was just… let me get that.” He turned around, closing the door while resisting the urge to bash his head against it.  

“Willow said you’d be here. But… I don’t need a babysitter. I’m just going to bed.” The words sounded so familiar – her complaints against babysitters were infamous, but there was no life in her voice. There was only emptiness.

“It’s only just sundown. Some teenager you are.” He tried to smile, but they both knew it fell flat.

Dawn shrugged. “Better than being awake.”

Spike took a step closer. “Have you even eaten, pet?”

“Not hungry,” she murmured, stepping back.

“You need to eat.”

The girl scoffed and rolled her eyes. “You’re one to talk.”

As he slid his coat off his shoulders, Spike raised one eyebrow. “Pardon?”

“You haven’t been eating, either.”

Damn. Busted.

“How the bloody hell do you know that?”

She shrugged again. “Your face. You’re all… sunken.”

“Well, that’s between me and my babysitter, innit? Until then, you’re my ward and you’re eating.”

Dawn glowered. “You can’t force me to eat, Spike. I bet that chip won’t even let you try.”

“Hells, Dawn. I’m not going to force you to do anything. Just… you have to keep eating.”

“Why do you care so much?”

“Because you’re fucking alive, and I intend to keep you that way!” Spike hadn’t noticed his hands balling into fists, but he suddenly felt his nails digging into his skin.

Dawn’s eyes brimmed with tears immediately, and he saw her physically shrink away from his words.

He had words he wanted to say, but they could not escape the clenched pain in his throat and chest. Spike stalked into the living room and away from the teenage girl staring at him as he cried.  The words in his mind were racing, and each thought was a small dagger in his back.

Right, asshole. Scaring little girls is what we do again?

How can you protect someone who’s afraid of you?

Useless bloody cock-up.

Expecting to hear nothing but the patter of feet, and maybe the sobs of a young hurting girl as they flew up the stairs, Spike was startled by the shuffling behind him. He ground his jaw and flexed every muscle he had to slow the emotional onslaught, to focus on the person who mattered.

Though he turned to face Dawn and apologize, he instead gave a short yelp of surprise as her slender arms wrapped around him like he was a safe harbor in a storm. Her tears were warm and wet against his black t-shirt, but he let her stay there against him, sliding one loose arm around her back in as much of a comforting gesture as he could manage.

“Dawn…” he started. “I shouldn’t have said… I’m sorry.”

She sniffled against him, a pathetic sound he understood all too well.  “No,” she said, refusing to look up at him. “You… you’re the first person to show me that they hurt as much as I do.”

“Nibblet, the Scoobies miss her,” Spike spoke in a hushed whisper, holding her closer.

“They don’t show it. They’re so damn strong all the time. Trying to make things better. Trying to make me pretend things are okay. They’re all trying so hard, Spike. And I can’t. I can’t try. It hurts too much.”

“I know,” he sighed. “Shit, I know.”

Dawn drew back from him, wiping at her eyes uselessly. Through the haze of grief, he saw a small spark behind them. More than he felt. “So don’t apologize, please. I don’t need you to be fake, too. I just need to know I’m not alone.”

Spike set his jaw firmly, no longer caring if she saw the tracks of tears down his cheeks. “I’m never leaving you alone again, Dawn. You understand?”

She nodded, a weak smile on her face. “I do.”

After releasing a sigh that weighed a ton, Spike glanced around the living room. “So.”

“Yeah,” Dawn shrugged.

“Will you let me order you a bloody pizza?” Spike looked back at her.

She rolled her eyes, and the spark grew stronger. “I guess. I want anchovies, though. And you’re having some blood.”

He growled, but extended his hand to shake on it. “Fine.”

Dawn’s fingers were warm and full of life when they gripped his hand. With that pact, he felt the small spark in her eyes catch in his chest. Maybe they would make it through this after all.