Actions

Work Header

do you wanna break bread with me?

Work Text:

Spike pushes open the crypt door one-handed one night in late June, balancing the pizza box in the other, and kicks his foot back to prop it open long enough for Dawn to grab it behind him. 

He lopes into the crypt, dropping the pizza box on top of the sarcophagus concrete, turns and—

“Oi! Hands off the matches, Nibblet.”

Dawn scowls, stepping back from the candle she was attempting to light. “Is it even worth me doing the whole ‘I’m fifteen and plenty old enough to light a freaking candle, so calm down Grandpa ’ thing?”

Spike snatches the matchbox from her, then strides over by the TV set to flip on his little reading lamp, fixing her with his best scolding look. “No, it’s not. But points for trying.”

She stomps over to the sarcophagus, hinges up to sit on top of it, and starts unloading out of her backpack all the garlic powder and dried oregano and crushed red peppers that she snatched from the Summers’ kitchen.

Tossing open the box and grabbing that little white plastic table thing to fiddle with it, she turns to Spike, who’s just finished lighting enough pillar candles to see by. 

“Hey! I thought we were getting half bell peppers, half mushroom.” 

“Bell peppers on pizza is a fucking crime, Nibblet. Try the olive, you’ll like it.”

She takes a theatrical bite of a mushroom slice, sneering at him.

Rolling his eyes, Spike hops up on the other side of the sarcophagus to join her, then gets to work covering his olive slice in enough red pepper flakes that it’ll actually taste like anything to his long-dead tongue.

It would be easier to do pizza night in the dining room at Revello Drive, they know. But Willow and Tara are off with Xander and Anya doing something or other. Which means it would just be both of them alone in the house with the Buffybot, and they silently agreed neither of them can bear that tonight.

Pizza night was Spike’s idea—give the Nibblet a little bit of fun, like she deserves.

Dawn’s been crying herself to sleep too many nights this week. Tara told him. She heard it through the walls.  

Dawn picked the menu, which is how they ended up with extra large orders of garlic knots and mozzarella sticks, plus three gigantic cannolis for dessert, and a zeppole thrown in there for good measure.

“Gonna eat yourself sick, Little Bit,” he told her as they milled around behind the glass counter at the pizzeria, Dawn’s reflection in the glass coming up next to nothing at all.

“That’s the plan!” she answered brightly, beaming the way she sometimes used to, before everything. 

 

*

 

Dawn’s gnashing her way through slice number three and a half (the half on account of how she doesn’t eat the crusts, which Spike finds just plain offensive, but she has moved onto the olive slices, which softens the blow), when she looks up at him, a question tugging at her mouth.

“Hey … Spike?” she stretches out the syllables all tentative. “I’m gonna ask you something.”

“At your service, Nibblet.”

Dawn takes a huge, oozey bite of mozzarella stick, then says: “Okay, well, this thing … kind of happened?”

“A thing, right. Care to pepper in some more— or, any —details?”

Dawn sighs. “Come on, you know! That thing! Where, where something happens and then it’s like, okay, well, that’s never gonna un-happen! Guess that’s always gonna have happened , and, and that’s really weird, because like, you don’t know how you feel about that thing? Or where to go from it? But you’ve gotta go somewhere about it, and you’ve gotta figure that out soon or else it’s all gonna get majorly weird.

“Oh, so this is a love thing, then?”

Dawn pouts, her posture slumping sullenly. “Yes. Obviously .”

“And you’re not gonna tell me what the thing actually is?”

No .”

“Right, ‘spose that’s obvious as well.” Spike runs a hand over his cheek, thinking. “One more followup question? If you’ll allow it, your excellency.”

He puts his hands up defensively.

Dawn formally nods her assent.

“You’re okay, yeah? I mean, this thing in question, this wasn’t—sodding hell, did somebody hurt you, Nibblet? Because I’ll find a way to kill them if they did, migraine or not.”

Dawn balks. “What? No, no it’s fine. Zero hurt. Or, okay, like, some hurt? But like, not the kind you have to go and brutally murder anybody about.”

“Well, that’s a relief.”

“I’m just like? All confused? And stuff? Because like, ugh, she had to know this was gonna make things so weird between us, and like? It’s not like I’ve never thought about it, but I’d never do anything about it. But that’s Janice for you, it’s like, she’s never heard of not acting on a whim—and that’s the other thing!”

Spike leans back on his hands, nods for her to go on with her rant.

“She’s just so impulsive . Like, if I was gonna kiss my best friend, I’d moon about it for at least three years to make sure—and I’ve only been mooning about it for one at this point, so it’s not time yet. I mean, right?”

“Only sensible.”

“Thank you! Like, how do I know she’s not gonna be over this in a week and by then I’ve done like, fifty-eight embarrassing things about this for nothing.”

“Fifty-eight’s a lot. You sure you’re up for it?”

Dawn nods emphatically. “I’ve done like, seven already, and I’ve got several more lined up to go next time I see her, so.”

“I stand corrected.” Spike exhales a light laugh through his nostrils. “But actually, wouldn’t you and Janice be more Willow’s department, Little Bit? Not sure I’m your expert here.”

“Oh, I already got Willow’s advice days ago. But now I have to do a comprehensive poll of everybody else. That way I can make an informed, data-driven decision.”

Spike snorts. 

“Well what did the witch say then?”

Dawn rolls her eyes. “Ugh, so lame. She said to go talk to her. And ask why she did it and what she wants from me, and have an honest discussion, and then mutually decide whether we should keep making out. And then, you know, make out some more. Pending said mutual discussion.” 

Spike snorts again. “That’s rich coming from her.”

“It is?”

“Well, Red’s not exactly Little Miss Healthy Communication now is she? ‘Course, she talks a big game—it helps she’s all razor-smart, makes her seem like the sensible one if you don’t think about it too hard. But when the stakes get heated she’s the bloody same as the rest of us. She’d probably storm over to Janice’s at exactly the wrong time and kiss her and make a right mess of it, like God intended, if she were in your position.”

Dawn chuckles, then makes sudden, sharp eye contact with Spike, something impish in her face. 

“Hey, have you ever been in my position? I mean you’re like, a million—”

“—Hundred and forty-seven!” he cuts in, trying to play off his actual outrage as mock outrage.

“—Years old. I mean, you must’ve kissed a boy like, somewhere in there.“

Spike grins.

“Quite a couple somewheres in there, yeah.”

Dawn perks up in her seat. “Can you tell me about it?”

Spike thinks for a long moment, trying to scrounge up a single story that’s fit for Dawn’s ears. Which is none of them. 

Except maybe… 

“Right, so it’s, what, 1870?”

Dawn grins big, like she always does when he tells a story from the eighteen hundreds. Fucking nerd. He quashes an urge to ruffle her hair fondly. 

“Weren’t you like, human then?”

“Heartbeat ‘n’ all. Now mind you, this is Victorian England. And I mean, mostly all that rot people feed you about gay people not existing until 1969 is, well, rot. I mean, I knew this vamp who was in the French court in the 1700s and let me tell you—”

Dawn sits up way too alertly.

“—Or, let me not tell you, because Buffy’d kill me if I did.”

They both wince a little, at her name.

“Right. Anyway, my point is, lot of history isn’t actually as repressed as all that. Except when I grew up, which absolutely was. So I don’t even really realize it—what I’m feeling—at the time. But there’s this bloke, see?”

“Oooh, a bloke ,” Dawn says as though it’s an innuendo, which Spike ignores.

“And we’re, what, seventeen? Theodore—that’s his name. And we meet at Eton. Play cricket together. And I’m rubbish at cricket, mind you, so nobody’ll ever really play with me, but he does. I mean, I can’t hit to save my life, but he’s there, running after the ball every time, real patient.”

Dawn’s looking at him all pitying and soft.

“Goes without saying, you tell anyone this and I’ll—”

“Ugh, save the idle threats, okay? Your gooey candy center’s safe with me.”

They pinky swear solemnly on it, at Dawn’s insistence, and Spike goes on.

“And he’s, well. He’s gorgeous, is what he is. Really dark hair, and he’s got this presence, you know? You can tell when you look at him that he’s strong, but he doesn’t make a big show of it.”

God, that boy’s gotta be all earth and bone now, but damn if there’s not a wet pang in Spike’s stomach thinking about the way his shirtsleeves clung to him.

“So what happened?”

“How d’you mean?”

Dawn rolls her eyes at Spike the way you do at people who say incredibly stupid things. “Ugh, you know. I’ve read romance novels—that’s the lead-up. Next is you guys like, make out on the moors at midnight but then it starts raining but you keep making out in the rain but then one of you gets a deadly cold but you recover and then you make out some more.”

“What happened is by the time I work out I’d even wanted to snog him, I was already dead. And he was already married.”

Dawn’s pouting. “Come on, you have to have a better story than that.”

“Got plenty of ‘em. That you can hear in ten years’ time, give or take.”

 

*

 

Dawn is back to working on her pizza after a very important cannoli interlude, when she pauses, mid-bite with a gooey string of cheese stretching out of her mouth, to say: “But what about Buffy?”

Spike’s insides twist up hard. “What about her, Bit?”

Dawn finishes her bite, looks up at him. “Well you’re all in love with her still. And, and you loved Drusilla!”

“That I did.”

And that girl you told me to never to bring up again? The one who like, totally rejected you all brutally?”

Spike pushes down the crest of anger rising in him. “We nearing a point somewhere in here, Nibblet?”

“Just, you’re always in love with some girl or other. But you still, I mean, in your own lame Victorian way it sounds like you were all hot and heavy for this cricket guy too?”

It clicks for him.

“You can do both, Nibblet. It’s allowed.”

“I can?” she asks, voice all small and eyes all huge, and he remembers again, how young she is.

“Pshh. Now this is what really gets me about you bloody humans, everything’s all black and white for lot. ‘Cause say what you will about vampires—”

“—That you’re all pretty much vicious murders who lack a conscience,” Dawn deadpans.

“Well yeah. But at least we don’t put on airs.”

Spike bites a mozzarella stick, which mostly tastes like nothing to him, but the crunch on the outside is nice. 

He swallows it, and keeps on going: “Because the truth of it, Nibblet? Most of us, human or not, don’t know a damn thing. We’re just walking around, getting all hot for somebody with no idea why and no idea how to stop it. The whole lot of us! Just ... flesh puppets at the mercy of our hormones. I mean, I’ve been around more’n a century and I’m still a fucking mess about it.”

Dawn’s frowning. “That wasn’t comforting.”

“Well it wasn’t supposed to be. Or, or maybe it was, and you just gotta adjust your idea of comfort,” he muses, jabbing an accusing finger in her direction.

“...You for sure stopped making sense somewhere in there.” 

She bites a big floppy piece of cheese off the top of her pizza, and Spike snatches up one of her discarded crusts from the box to bite off the end.

“Look, kiss whoever you like, Nibblet, as long as they’ll have you. That’s my official stance,” he tells her. “And let Janice know if she hurts you, I’ll make her wish she was dead.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dawn humors, smiling at him. “Pass the garlic powder?”

He hands it over. “You watch where you’re sprinkling it this time. I’m still itchy from your last slice.”



***



Dawn steps down into the Summers’ living room a week later, all dolled up in a dark purple dress with little lilacs on it and a choker she borrowed from Willow and platform shoes she’s a touch wobbly on.

“Ugh, I hate this, it’s too much! She’s gonna think I dressed up for it!”

“You did dress up for it, Nibblet. Sorta the point, innit?”

Spike is perched on the arm of the couch, behind where Willow and Tara are standing.

“Maybe you could switch to flats, Dawnie?” Willow offers. “I mean, I think you look adorable. But if you’re worried about being overdressed, that’s an easy swap out.”

Spike scoffs. “You know, in my day you were supposed to dress nice to court someone. Nothing wrong with letting her know you’re interested, Bit.”

Dawn makes a fake vomit noise. “You did not just call this ‘courting.’ God, you’re so old.”

“And you’re bullying the elderly,” Spike snips back. “So who’s really in the wrong?”

“I thought the courting thing was sweet,” Tara tells him softly.

“See, the whole problem is I still barely know if she’s interested,” Dawn continues, pacing. “I mean like, is this even a date? God, I should just wear jeans, right? I’m just gonna wear jeans.”

Dawn doesn’t wait for their response, just scurries up the stairs, almost twisting her ankle as she does. 

Then stops halfway, slows back down them again.

Or , what if she does think it’s a date and then I show up in jeans and she’s all offended?”

“Jeans can be date clothes!” Willow posits. “With a fancy top and some cute shoes? Total romance material. And hey, you’re covered for the cute shoes already.”

“What makes you think it’s not a date, Dawnie?” Tara asks. “What did she say?”

Dawn blushes. “She said ‘Do you wanna go to the movies tomorrow? We can sit way in the back.’ And then she winked.”

Willow grins. “Oh, it’s on.” Then scrunches up her face all concerned. “Are you old enough for it to be on?”

“I so am!” Dawn insists. And then: “You really think it’s on?”

Willow turns concerned to Tara and Spike. “Back row smoochies at fifteen? I mean, the back row, we’ve all seen it! It’s a cabaret down there. A cabaret with cupholders. Are we terrible? We are. We’re terrible, awful parents and she’s gonna be scarred for life!”

“She’ll be fine,” Tara says to Willow. Then to Dawn: “You’ll be fine. And yes, it’s on.”

Dawn looks at Spike, eyebrows raised, for final confirmation.

“Oh, she’s got it bad for you, Little Bit, no question.”

Dawn grins self-satisfied to herself, hops off the bottom step onto the ground floor. “Okay, cool. Oh my god, this is a date. I’m going on a date .”

“Yeah you are, Dawnie,” Tara grins. “And if you need anything just let us—”

“Yeah cool whatever bye!” Dawn says, grabbing her little purse from the side table and rushing out into the afternoon sun. She calls, bounding down the porch, and almost falling over in her platforms again: “Don’t wait up!”

Willow and Tara slump back down onto the couch next to Spike. 

“They grow up so fast!” Willow says, her voice genuinely a little sad.

“You want me to vamp her? Then she could stay little forever,” Spike proposes, then stands up with his hands all defensive at their horrified looks. "I’m kidding! What, you’re a mass murderer for a century, and suddenly you can’t make a bloody joke?”

“I thought it was funny!” Tara offers sympathetically.

“No, you didn’t,” Spike says, sitting back down on the coffee tale.

“No, I didn’t,” she admits. “But I think it’s nice you’re trying!”

Tara gives him a little pat on the shoulder, and Spike lets her. 

He’s about to get up and grab his blanket to make his sunlight mad-dash for the sewers when the front door springs open again. Dawn barrels in, barefoot, carrying her platforms in one hand.

“Twisted my ankle three times before I even made it down the block,” she tells them without turning her head, scurrying up the stairs.

There’s a lot of scuffling sounds coming from Dawn’s room, then the sound of her door swinging open, and her footsteps rushing into Willow and Tara’s room.

 “Willow, I’m stealing your lavender ballet flats, and don’t even try to stop me!”

Downstairs, the three of them make fond, crinkly-smiled eye contact.



***



The next night, Spike’s on Dawn duty again while the Scoobies are off doing some nonsense—Spike imagines them all sitting around with a talking stick in a big circle to chat about their feelings and cry together, then applaud each other for sharing. 

The thought actually sounds a little nice. 

He winces internally. God, didn’t he use to be cool?

He’s sitting on Dawn’s bedroom floor, smacking her nail polish against his palm with a ferocity to get the clumps out. 

His stomach clenches, listening to the house. The Buffybot’s moving around somewhere on the floor. He can feel the footsteps. 

He looks up from his work to find Dawn in silent hysterics.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m just—” she pauses, tries to tamp down her giggles enough to speak. “I’m just imagining explaining to myself four years ago, like, remember that guy Mom hit with an ax on parent teacher night? Who you had nightmares about for a week? Yeah, he’s trying to de-separate our sparkly purple nail polish now.”

Spike can’t tell if that’s a compliment or an insult.

“Well, sorry to disappoint, but I think this thing’s permanently buggered.” He holds up the nail polish, whose contents look much more like a lava lamp than the manufacturer intended. “Guess you’re stuck with my pick.”

He fishes his black nail polish from the inner pocket of his duster, and Dawn wrinkles her nose. 

“As if! I’m just gonna go steal that greenish one from Willow.”

She hops out of the room to grab it, when Spike suddenly realizes, and calls after her:

“Hey! You really had nightmares about me?” 

“Ew, don’t sound so pleased with yourself. I had way more nightmares about Evil Angel.”

“That stings , Little Bit.”

 

*

 

Dawn’s blowing on the wet nails Spike just painted, waving her fingers in the air to speed up the process.

As she grabs the black polish to do Spike’s nails, he asks:

“So, Platelet. How did it go?”

“Like I’m gonna tell you!”

“I’m an invested party now! Come on, gimme the good gossip.”

“Well if it’s really important to you I guess I could fill you in,” she’s grinning all giddy. “It was really nice actually. I mean, I kind of expected Janice to be all, like, kissy and suave? Which was freaking me out a little, because I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I’m not exactly like, suave.”

“Could’ve fooled me,” Spike lies.

But she seemed really, like, nervous? I mean, I was the one who had to move to hold her hand. Total role reversal.”

Spike grins proud. “Look at you, Little Bit! A ladykiller in the making.”

Dawn blushes. “It’s just so … I never thought I’d be a—I’m not saying ‘ladykiller.’”

“As is your right.”

“It’s just … I mean, I still do like boys, I think. But, I mean ever since she and I … is it weird if I feel like I want to like girls more right now? Like, boys are still cute and all, but like … what does that even mean?”

“Doesn’t have to mean a bloody thing—I’ve been trying to tell you, you can like whoever you like. I mean, for me, I tend to go more for women, because, you know, women.

Dawn nods emphatically, agreeing.

“But every now an’ then some bloke comes along and I go, ‘ yeah alright.’ But I mean, that’s not always the case. Hell, I spent most of the seventies fuc— snogging half the guys in the punk scene.”

“I’m telling Willow and Tara you almost said fucking in front of me,” Dawn taunts.

Spike glares at her, moving his hands so she can paint his next set of nails. 

“All I’m saying is, it varies. You don’t have to have a preference. Or if you do have one, that’s also fine, you know? An’ none of that’s set in stone. No rules here, Nibblet.”

Dawn pouts. “Well, most people seem to think there’s a lot of rules, actually.”

“One more reason why most people are idiots.”

Dawn paints a stripe of black over Spike’s left thumbnail and smirks. “That makes you one too, you know. You’re most people.”

“I am not most people. I mean, I’m not quite a thinker, you got me there. But if there’s one thing I’m right about, it’s this.”

“What, about gay teen dating drama?” Dawn waggles her eyebrows.

Spike rolls his eyes. “About matters of the heart ; I’ve been known to know a thing or two.”

“Debatable.”

“I do! So, I mostly go for women yeah. But not always. I mean, like with Angel, I was still all about Dru at the time, of course, but sometimes we’d—” 

He cuts himself off coughing, realizing what he said.

“You and ANGEL?” Dawn gapes, accidentally streaking a mess of black nail polish across the whole back of Spike’s hand.

Wrenching his hand away from her, he orders: “You’re taking that to your grave Nibblet, I mean it!”

“What, are you embarrassed he’s a guy? ‘Cause that’s pretty mixed messages from what you’ve been telling me.”

Spike scoffs. “I could give a bloody damn about that. It’s just that it’s Angel . You know what it would do to my reputation, people knowing me and Captain Forehead were all—I mean, you’ve seen his hair, it’s a sodding disgrace.”

“Not as well as you’ve seen his hair, apparently.”

“It was better then! It wasn’t doing that sticky-uppy-thing yet!”

“A likely story.”

He sticks out his pinky finger. 

“I’m swearing you to secrecy here, Bit.”

Dawn sighs, then interlocks her pinky with his.   

 

*

 

They’re lying on the ground while their nails dry, listening to Bjork, (the only one of Dawn’s CDs Spike would consent to), when Dawn sits bolt upright all of the sudden.

“Hey, do you ever wear makeup?”

Spike shrugs. “A bit. Was big into eyeliner in the seventies.”

“You mean when you were fucking all those guys?”

Spike hops up to his feet to glare down at her. “You’d better forget you know that word Nibblet, I mean it. Or you’re painting your own nails from now on.”

Dawn gives him an unimpressed look that says Really? That’s your big threat? Which Spike can’t really argue with. He’s definitely gone soft.

“Why’d you stop?” she asks.

Spike sits down on the desk chair and shrugs again. “Bit hard without a mirror.” He’s silent for a beat, remembering. “An’ Dru used to do it for me, mostly.”

Dawn gets a positively evil look in her eye. “Can I try?”

Without waiting for an answer, she scurries off to the bathroom and comes back with a shiny plasticine makeup kit in bright pink. It’s very much the kind you buy for your thirteen year old kid who begs for makeup but is too young for it. 

She opens it, and it’s a bunch of mostly-emptied divots for candy colored eyeshadows and lipglosses. All very sparkly and very gummy and probably expired and all absolute hell on the pores.

Good thing Spike hasn’t been able to get acne in a hundred and twenty years. 

“Alright, Nibblet, do me up.” He shuts his eyes and tilts his face forward, presenting her canvas.

 

*

 

Dawn paints a disgusting kaleidoscope of glitter all over Spike’s eyelids that, she assures him, is totally working for him, and he’s never been so glad he can’t see his reflection.

Then Spike nicks some actual makeup from Willow and Tara’s bathroom to return the favor, with a classic smudgy black eyeliner look that, he assures Dawn, is really gonna cement her new status as a ladykiller.

The floorboards creak under the carpet behind them, and they both flip around to find the Buffybot, standing in the unlit hallway, beaming at them with too many teeth.

“Dawnie! You look so pretty,” the Bot squees, rushing into the room to crush Dawn in a bracing hug. “I’m so lucky to have such a pretty sister.”

“Um, uh, th-thanks,” Dawn says, and Spike can hear how her heartbeat quickens, skittering like a frightened animal.

The Bot turns to stare at Spike, still wrapped around Dawn’s body, and tells him: “You’re so, so pretty too, Spike! All the colors on your face really complement your manly and chiseled bone structure.”

“Right then, ‘s about time for the Bot to power down for the night, don’t you think?” 

He stands, pulling the Bot back from Dawn by the shoulders with as little skin contact as he can manage, and leading it back over to Buffy’s room.

The lights are dim in here, and Spike doesn’t turn them on. Not that it’s doing much—he wishes it did, but his night vision can still make out every crevice of this room, his vamp nostrils still picking up on the scent of her. God, you’d think the scent of her would have gone by now, but it’s everywhere, everywhere, haunting him.

“You go on and lie down now,” he says to the Bot.

He’s trying not to look at it, not look at her, because it’s too much, it’s all too much, his eyes and his mind know it’s not Buffy, it’s not her, couldn’t be her, but his heart . He swears he can feel it beating, sometimes, the way his chest lurches when he comes upon the robot unexpectedly around a corner, and for a second forgets, only for the realization to crash on him, every fucking time. Not her. Never been her. Never will be her.

“That’s a good idea, Spike. I was getting sleepy. You’re so sexy when you’re having good ideas!”

Spike’s head pounds. He doesn’t look at her as he reaches over to open her stomach panel and press the button that sends her into sleep mode, doesn’t look at her as he flees from the room, stomach clenched to hell, slamming the door shut behind him.

He reappears in Dawn’s room, running two hands hard over his hair, and slaps on a grin for her. “So! I’m thinking it’s not too late for an ice cream run. You up for it, Bit?”

Dawn perks up, grinning evilly: “I’ll treat for it if you go out with the makeup still on.”

Spike smiles at her. “Grab your wallet.”



***



Spike bursts into the Magic Box one afternoon in late August, skin sizzling lightly under the burlap.

“Next time?” he glowers to the room, tearing off the blanket. “We’re meeting after dark.”

“You’re lucky we even let you come to these, buddy,” Xander tells him. “You don’t get to start dictating meeting times.”

“Oh, I’m lucky , am I? How’s about I’m the one keeping you from being picked out of a fledgling’s teeth every night,” Spike chucks the wadded-up blanket into his face, half spitting as he does. “The least you could bloody do is make sure I don’t burst into flames before I get the chance save your miserable life again.”

Xander yanks the blanket off, throws it to the ground. “But if you’re not bursting into flames, what am I gonna do for fun?”

“You piece of—”

“Hey! ” Willow shouts over both of them, and Tara winces next to her from the sound so close to her ear. Willow gestures with her neck towards the back of the shop, where Dawn is staring at her shoes at the bottom of the stairs. 

Spike’s face softens, and he grabs up the blanket from the floor, walking over towards Dawn. 

“Sorry about all the commotion, Nibblet. Didn’t see you were here.”

“I’m not some kid you have to shield from fights and stuff, you know,” she tells him as he sits down next to her, and billows the blanket over her lap.

Dawn wrinkles her nose at the fire smell, and drops the blanket at Spike’s feet. 

Spike says, “What, you, some kid? Please, you’re the one who’s really in charge around here, everybody knows that.”

Dawn grins, then pointedly glares again to remind him she’s still mad. “And also , you are being such a baby, you go places during daylight all the time.”

“Yeah, but that’s when I’m going as I please. Not at Rupey’s beck and call”.

Giles clears his throat from his spot behind the till. “We’ll try to set our next rendezvous for after sundown. Are you happy now?”

“As a peach,” Spike exaggerates a beaming smile and leans back with his neck in both hands.

“Well then, if we’re all done screaming at each other, might we actually begin? I wanted to discuss a few strategic points from last night’s patrol that we could improve upon. It stands to reason we’re not evenly distributing our resources enough, in light of Xander’s, erm, incident.”

Incident ?” Dawn asks Spike in a whisper so bad it’s like she’s trying to be overheard.

Spike grins at her through the side of his mouth. “Went right when Red told him to go left and ended up dangling upside down by the ankles from a Meliko demon’s fist. I had to cut him down. Literally. Cut the demon’s arm off with a sword.”

“Ooh did you keep it? The arm?”

“You’re terrifying.”

Xander calls: “Are you talking about me back there?” 

“Oh! There’s an easy trick for remembering your right from your left, did you know?” Anya informs Xander. “See, if you hold up your left hand like this , it makes an L shape. And L is the first letter in left . I myself have found it a very helpful pneumonic device.”

“I know my right from my left, An.”

“Well, yes, of course you do, but it can be easy to forget.”

Dawn and Spike make eye contact from their peripheral vision. 

“Back to the topic at hand, if we could?” Giles says. “It’s clear we all need to pay closer attention to our instructions in battle. And we need to be thinking about clearer … wording for said instructions.”

“So by we you mean me?” Willow asks, twisting her mouth up in a frown. “Because I’m being as clear as I can up there! It’s not my fault Xander doesn’t know his right from his left.”

“I know my right from my left!” Xander insists again.

“We know you do, sweetie!” Anya tells him, rubbing his forearm.

Dawn smirks, and hands Spike a handful of Red Hots from a candy box she apparently had stashed in her backpack. 

He shoves them all in his mouth at once, to grin at Dawn with his lumpy chipmunk cheeks.

“Your instructions are really clear, honey,” Tara says, smoothing her hand on Willow’s shoulder. “I think sometimes you could work on, um, giving us a bit more of a heads up, sometimes? Because you have been cutting things a little close lately.” 

Willow pouts at her, so Tara adds: 

“B-but I know you’re doing a really difficult job up there. It must be hard to see everything.”

“I’m doing the best I can, Giles,” Willow tells him. “You’ve seen me up there, I’m all … well the only powerful wizard on a tower I can think of right now is Saruman, so please sub in somebody less evil, and that’s me!”

“I know you’re doing your best. Right now. But, but one’s best can always be improved upon, you see. In my training with Buffy, I found that there were skills she mastered later on that would have been a tremendous challenge to her earlier on in her—”

“Okay, but I’m not Buffy . None of us are! We, we weren’t built for this. I mean, I’m exhausted Giles. Doing this every night? I, I can’t take it.”

“Well you’re going to have to, aren’t you? With my impending return to England, I have to know the lot of you will be able to manage things down here. There are lives at stake.”

“Well, nobody is making you run away to London. We’ve got a fucking Hellmouth over here, but none of the rest of us are turning our backs on it.”

Giles does that flustered thing he does with his mouth, starts cleaning his glasses against his shirt. “It’s not that simple, Willow.”

“Isn’t it?”

Spike nudges Dawn lightly in the ribs. “You doing alright there, Nibblet?”

She gives him a very thin, close-mouthed smile, the kind she always does when the Scoobies fight: “Mmhmm.”

“You lying to me?”

“Mmhmm.”

Spike opens his mouth to say something, but quickly reasons out that him talking will only enflame things more right now. Instead, he cranes his neck over to the table, catches Tara’s eye, and bobs his head toward Dawn meaningfully.

Tara, bless her, gets it, like always. “Hey, guys? Do we wanna simmer down a little?”

Willow looks over at Tara, and seems to remember herself. She sighs, plops her forehead down on the spine of the book opened in front of her.

Spike pokes his gaze around the room. God, the lot of them look so bloody tired. Every day, they all just look more and more drained of life. 

And not even in the fun way, he muses to himself, as his stomach rumbles.

“Bit, could you grab me a blood bag from the little fridge in the back?” he asks. Half from the hunger, half because he knows Dawn could use a few moments to deep breathe in the shadows where no one can see her.  

Dawn nods, bounces off to the little eave by the training room.

“I for one propose we take a break from the crushing abyss of the Hellmouth for a few luxurious minutes,” Xander says. “All in favor?’

The group of them raises their hands in unison.

“Anybody got a fun frivolous topic to distract us?” Tara says, combing a gentle hand through Willow’s hair.

“Oh! I do!” Anya declares, and twists around in her seat towards Dawn, who’s emerging back in the main room. “I’ve been meaning to ask you! How’s it going, being a tiny lesbian? Is that nice for you?”

Dawn backs away from her slowly.

Willow smiles. “You crazy kids are going on like three months now, right?

“Three and a half,” Dawn tells Willow, smiling, then glances over all leery at Anya “And it’s … nice? I’m not a lesbian though.”

“Oh, right,” Xander nods, then: “Wait, huh? But aren’t you and Janice…?”

“Yeah, we are. But I still like guys too. In a theoretical, future capacity way, if Janice and I ever break up, I guess, which … well, now I’m just all sad,” Dawn says, plopping back into her seat next to Spike and handing him his blood bag.

“That’s really nice, Dawnie,” Tara tells her, with a soft smile. “Good for you, I think that shows a lot of self-knowledge, especially at your age.” 

Dawn beams, like she always does at Tara. “Aw, thanks! I mean, Spike helped. We’ve been having a whole discussion group about it. It’s like Bisexuals Anonymous.”

“I don’t think that simile fully works, Bit,” Spike tells her, gnashing open the plastic with his blunt human teeth, and tipping the bag back to drink.

Dawn sticks her tongue out at him. “Your face doesn’t fully work.”

He flashes his vamp face at her for a second, just to make a point.

Xander makes his confused thinking face, then says to Dawn: “Wait, you and who now? I mean … Spike’s not …?” 

He makes eye contact with Spike, who’s expression says And what about it? with a touch of his old Big Bad swagger.

Xander lowers his eyes quickly and starts fiddling with the table legs.

“You guys really haven’t heard?” Dawn says. “Spike was a like total gay cassanova in the seventies punk scene. Also hey, isn’t it cool that I just said punk scene like I knew what I was talking about? All nonchalant and everything!”

Spike grins at her. “Yeah, you’re a picture of cool, Little Bit.”

Dawn ignores him, and hops up all excited towards the table, smacking her hands down on the wood. “ Plus , there was this Victorian guy Theodore who he was totally obsessed with and—”

Spike clears his throat. “Right now, I think that’s enough for today’s round of embarrass Spike!” 

What it’s not like I told them about you and—” 

“Do pinky swears mean nothing to you, Nibblet? !”

Willow’s eyebrows shoot up. “Ooh about Spike and who?” she goads. “Won’t yout tell us, Dawnie?”

“No, he’s right. I swore to take it to my grave. Even though it’s so juicy, I mean, you guys would freak.”

Spike glowers, then realizes her back’s to him so she can’t see him glower, so he gets up to go stand behind Tara. 

Glowering again, he tells Dawn: “You stop it right now or you’re never getting any intel outta me again.”

Dawn mimes zipping her mouth shut, throwing away the key.

Spike gripes: “No, see, that only works if you mime locking your mouth. There’s no sodding key on a zipper.”

“I don’t care—I’m a maverick!” Dawn declares. 

“Can’t argue with you there, Dawnster,” Xander says. 

Plus , I’m a key— the Key. So I think I’m the expert on where they do and don’t go, Spike .”

Spike throws up his hands in mock exasperation. “Fine, have it your way.”

Thank you,” Dawn intones, then plops down to sit on the ground right where she was standing, leans back against the bookcase, and pops another Red Hot in her mouth.

Her face—all their faces, really, not that Spike cares much about anyone but Dawn—looks calmer now, somewhat, and the worried clench in Spike’s stomach lets up a touch for now. 

He’d let her tell them all any embarrassing story about him she wants, he thinks, if it could keep her happy like this for a little while longer.

Not that he’s about to publicize that information to her, because the little tyrant would fucking run amok with it.

 

*

 

An hour and a half, and one heated fight and several bandages about just who is and isn’t allowed to use the broadsword later, Dawn suddenly scrambles to her feet, looking at her watch.  

“Gotta go, I’m late to meet Janice!”

“Woah there Dawnster,” Xander says, stepping in front of the door. “You walking there alone? At night? In this town?”

“Okay it’s more evening than night, first of all.”

“Vampires don’t really make that distinction,” Xander tells her.

“That’s true, we really don’t,” Spike pipes in from the back.

“See!” says Xander.

“And second of all ,” Dawn continues, “I’m literally just meeting her at the diner. It’s like, one block from here. If I’m about to get eaten, I’ll give you all a nice loud scream.”

Spike’s about to protest that, but then, the kid does have some killer lungs. That plus his vamp hearing makes for a not totally unworkable strategy.

And?” Willow prompts.

And page you when I get there, jeez.”

“You doing dinner, Dawn?” Tara asks, looking up from the huge, musty spellbook she’s been perusing.

“Nah, we’re gonna do the lingering thing. You know, get fries and more fries, and those gigantic milkshakes that come with the whole extra metal thing of milkshake that nobody ever needs? We might even finish them this time.”

“Impressive!” Willow chirps.

“Maybe you could also get a vegetable?” Tara proposes. “I hear it’s legal and everything.”

“I’ll think about it.” Dawn says solemnly.

Willow tells her: “We’ll pick you up at 9:45 sharp , Dawnie.”

“Toddlers have later curfews than me,” Dawn complains.

“Well, that’s just plainly untrue,” Anya tells her.

“Ugh, 9:45, fine, I got it. Bye!” she tells them all, and pushes out the door. 

Xander sits back in his chair, throwing his arm around Anya. “This seems good for her, doesn’t it?”

Giles glances up from whatever meticulous pencilling and paper-shuffling he’s doing by the register. “I’d say so. Certainly there’s been a lot of, erm, suffering for her. Having an adolescent romance, well, I can only hope it’s lightening that, however slightly.”

“Oh, definitely. But also, you know, the other thing, that’s just cool, right? I mean, cool. For her, obviously. For Dawn,” Xander stammers.

“The other thing?” Tara asks.

“Yeah! You know, the other thing. Bisexuals Anonymous? I mean, for her , that’s nice. Kids these days, they’re all free-wheeling! I mean, in my day I don’t think we were even allowed to do that, but now …

There something you wanna tell us, Xand?” Willow asks, leaning towards him with her eyebrows pitched all the way up.

“Like what?” he asks, and Spike can’t tell if he’s being purposefully obfuscating or if he’s really that oblivious to himself. 

Probably the latter. Bloody humans.

“You just … seem awful interested in the whole … bisexual aspect of the situation,” Willow says.

“Which is perfectly natural to, you know, be interested in,” Tara adds very softly. “Even if you don’t know why yet.”

“I know that!” Xander insists. “But, come on, there’s nothing to know. I’m just very happy for Dawn.”

“Sure you are, sweetie,” Anya tells him.

“I am! I mean, sure, do I have the occasional thought? —Not even thought, more, thought experiment , if you would—well, sure, sure I do! But so does everybody, right? On occasion? Just in a scholarly way, you know! Pondering theories. I’m a ponderer.”

Spike’s not really sure why he’s here now, since likely nobody’ll talk to him now that Dawn’s left, but he’ll be damned if he misses this train wreck.

“What, uh, kinda thoughts, Xand?” Willow pries, and then grabs at the beeper screeching in her bag. “Ooh, Dawnie got to the diner!” she announces, mostly to Tara and Spike.

A drop of the tension in Spike’s stomach dissipates.

“Just regular, normal type thoughts,” Xander continues

“Oh, you mean how you want to have sex with Spike?” Anya says.

I’m sorry, what now? ” Xander and Spike say in the same instant.

Xander seems genuinely shocked, from his expression. Spike, honestly, had considered that possibility before, but it’s a whole nother thing to hear it out loud.

“Come on, it’s very obvious. I thought you were both aware!” Anya tells them. “It’s very plain from the frequency that you glance at him, not to mention some suspect comments you’ve made about how he’s all, what was it? ‘Strong and mysterious, and compact but well-muscled?’”

Well. Harris may be an insufferable git, but Spike can’t disagree with him on that point. 

Still, the whole conversation’s making him a bit uneasy—he really can’t tell if this is about to veer into compliments or insults. Probably the latter, given the crowd. 

“Hey now—” Xander starts.

And ,” Anya cuts him off. “You two are always getting into those very homoerotic arugments. Like before, about the meeting time! There’s really just not a heterosexual explanation for that. I mean, right? You two are experts, did that seem heterosexual to you?” she asks to Willow and Tara.

The two witches make eye contact and say nothing, which pretty much answers Anya’s question.

“I do not want to have sex with Spike,” Xander tells the table, then turns to Spike. “I do not want to have sex with you.”

“Sure you don’t, Harris” Spike says, because hey, why not encourage a little chaos. Things were getting a bit one-note around here.

“It’s okay, Xander. Who among us hasn’t been a little gay at some point?” Anya says.

“When were you gay, Anya?” Tara asks, with genuine curiosity.

“Oh, here and there. Not anymore, but you know, the occasional decade,” she says, nonchalant as anything. 

“Does it work like that?” Willow asks.

“You guys will understand when you’re a thousand,” she tells them. “I mean, it’s just so much time. Things are bound to sort of … flippity-flop, now and then. But I’m not gay currently! I don’t think I’ve been at all gay since like, 1850 at least.”

“Hey!” Spike says. “That’s right around when I was born.”

“Ooh, maybe it transferred, you know?” Willow posits. “Like, there’s a limited amount of gay in the world at any given time, and Spike took yours.”

“Huh!” Anya says with a genuine interest. “Well, in that case, would you say hi to it for me, Spike? Tell it I send my best.”

“Will do, pet.”

“I think we’re all losing the plot a little bit here,” Xander says. “The plot being that, while it’s perfectly nice to be bisexual, I am not bisexual. And even if I were , I would obviously not choose Spike.”

“You don’t have to be ashamed, Xander. We’ve all thought about having sex with Spike. Right?” Anya asks the group.

Spike glances around the room, because it never hurts to be informed. Willow and Tara seem mostly just amused about the situation. The Watcher is carefully hiding his face by examining the shelving, which is … interesting. 

And Xander seems to be having some sort of existential crisis face journey that’s causing him a lot of distress. Which is just plain fun.

“Oh my god,” he says. “Oh my god. Am I bisexual? Was no one gonna tell me?”

“I for one assumed you knew,” Giles pipes in, then busies himself with his books again.

“But, but even if I did, I mean, I don’t …” Xander glances up at Spike. “I mean, it’s not about you . I don’t—you’re not—”

Anya interrupts his sputtering and tells Spike: 

“To cut to the conclusion I’m fairly certain he’ll reach after maybe twenty more unfinished sentences—if you’re interested, a threesome offer’s always on the table. We both think you’re very handsome.”

She smiles bright and casual, like she just invited him for tea.

Spike grins all self-satisfied and flattered to himself. “Huh.” 

Not that he would, of course. 

Then again, anyone with eyes can see Anya’s hot. And Harris, well, personality aside, he does have that whole nice bicep situation going on.

“I’ll consider it,” he tells them.

“Wait, why do you have your serious face on?” Xander asks him, then turns to Anya. “Why do you have your serious face on? Is this a genuine discussion we’re having? Will, you gotta help me over here.”

Willow, who’s been biting down laughter for the last five minutes as she nuzzled into Tara’s shoulder, shakes her head at him. “Sorry, no, I’m just gonna let this one unfold. It’s very fun, and I have this feeling, like it’s just gonna get funner.”

Xander drops his head down onto the table with a thud, and Anya rubs a soothing hand over the back of his hair.

Spike chews the thought over for another moment. Could be nice. It’s been too long. He hasn’t touched anyone, not like that, not since—

God, no, no he can’t do it. There’s this sinking feeling, this sudden slope of ash in him, the one that’s been surging up unbidden whenever he lets his guard down, every spare moment since May.

The last time, that anyone kissed him, anyone touched him like he was someone worth touching, that was Buffy. Buffy, right before everything. Buffy, pressing her soft, perfect lips onto the aching bruise of his mouth in his crypt, and it hurt, anyone touching him hurt, after the hellgod cut her fingers into him. Buffy was touching him, and let all the hurt vanish, everything went numb and clean and sharp and soft, so soft, for just a moment, because she was touching him , she was kissing him, she, for just a second, chose him, and even if she’d lived, she never would’ve chosen him again, he knows that, but just for that second— 

He drops his head into his hands, and tries to steady himself before he can look up again.

 

*

 

Xander is dusting the bookshelves in a manic fury when he finally stops, clears his throat, turns back around to the room. 

“You know what, you guys, I think … I think maybe I am bisexual. I mean, would that be crazy?”

“Considering we all told you that a half hour ago? No, not crazy. And hey, good for you, Xand!” Willow chirps. “Glad to have you on our team, the water’s fine over here.”

“But, did you all know before me? Like, all of you?”

“No! No knowing. Some … idle musing, maybe.” Willow informs him.

“Okay but how ? Dd I say something about someone?”

“No!” Willow says, too quickly. “I mean, yes, a little. But just about Jesse, a few times growing up? And Oz, I mean, the admiration was … intense. But that’s all, I mean it. Oh, and Larry, I guess? In high school? You guys got kinda tension-y, especially after he came out. But that’s it, really, I mean it this time.”

“And you do seem awfully excited about that Tito guy, from work?” Tara points out sheepishly.

“And, I mean, I know I said it before, but I cannot stress enough how clear it is that you want to fuck Spike,” Anya pipes up.

Willow says, “And, I mean, Riley? I can’t even start to get into your whole thing about him … like it was, a lot. But that’s just a few things, really! Hardly noticeable.”

“I’m a doof. I’m a doof and a fool and an ignoramus. How could I not know ? I mean, am I the single dumbest man alive? … Don’t answer that,” Xander rambles, dropping back into his seat, his voice low.

“Hey! Nothing wrong with not figuring out all this right away,” Willow says, her face all scrunched, glancing back at Tara, who gives her a soft, grinning kiss on the temple.

Anya grabs Xander by the hand, says: “Personally, I think it’s wonderful. And you know, we don’t just have to have a threesome with Spike. I have a lot of suitable candidates in mind. Remind me later, I’ll write you a list!” 

Spike, who’s mostly dislodged himself from the conversation, and is only hanging around because it’s been decided they’ll go patrolling once they fetch the Nibblet, perks up again at the sound of his name, and then drops his head back down. 

He’s laying flat on his back on the carpet of the little upstairs area, smoking and fiddling with the glass jars.

“Huh,” Tara says to herself, then looks up at the room. “That’s kind of funny.”

“What is?” Giles asks, as he runs a rag over the counter, and then seems to notice Spike. “And you, get down from there! If you break one of those bottles and end up cursed … well, it would probably give us all a much-needed laugh, but we would be down a fighter.”

Spike flips him the bird, but descends the steps anyway, leans himself against a wall on the main level. 

Tara continues: “Well, I just realized, all of us are gay now, sort of? Or, to some extent. The same thing happened with my high school friends. You know, how you all meet and think you’re straight with maybe like, one gay friend in the mix, and then five years later it turns out, no, it’s very much just all of you.”

“Well, all of us except Giles, I guess,” Anya points out.

They all turn to look over at Giles, who’s wiping down the counter with such force that Spike can’t help but wonder if he’s gonna break the glass.

“Oh my God, wait. Ethan?” Xander gapes. 

“I—I’ll be taking inventory!” Giles sputters, and stomps quickly down the steps.

“Who’s Ethan?” Spike asks.

“Oh, you’d really like him!” Willow says. “He’s that evil guy who turned us all into our Halloween costumes that time you tried to kill us?”

“What, the Fyarl demon fella?” Spike scratches his head, remembering. “Yeah, big fan of his work, actually.”

“Plus, one time he turned the whole town into teenagers with cursed candy. Apparently Giles robbed a whole store?” Xander adds. 

“Didn’t he also sleep with Joyce?” Willow muses. 

Ethan?” Xander gawps.

Willow makes a grossed-out expression “Yuck. No, I mean Giles! From the candy. Buffy told me when we were drunk one time.”

Giles ?” Xander says in exactly the same horrified tone.

Spike stands, walks down to the basement door and calls down the steps to Giles: “Good on you, Rupert! He seems like a right catch!”



***



A few nights later, Spike pulls his car up in front of the address Dawn gave him. He doesn’t even need to double-check the street address is correct, he can tell it’s the house from the teeny bopper music streaming from the open window.

Spike honks as loud as physically possible to get Dawn’s attention, since he’s seen enough Dateline to know someone dressed like him really shouldn’t be rolling up to the doorstep of the local ninth grader house party. 

Some moments later, the front door swings open, and Dawn bounces down the steps. She hops over every other flagstone on the walkway until she lands in Spike’s passenger seat.

She looks like she should—all smiley and loopy and like a regular old fifteen year old, for once, and Spike can’t help but smile at it, though he’s careful to curb the expression before she can see.

“Okay, normally? ” she launches into her tirade with her body still half out of the car. “I would be mad once again at this draconian and uncivilized curfew that you monsters are taking out on me.”

“I’m sensing a but .”

But, ” Dawn says, slamming the car door shut and mashing at the radio buttons until it starts playing the Billboard 100. “That party was sooo lame, so for once you guys did come in handy.”

“Glad to know we’re finally adding something to your life, Nibblet.”

“Same here!” she chirps happily, as Spike puts the car in gear and peels off from the curb.

“So, what was so awful about your little shindig?”

“Ugh, nobody fun was even there. Like, Sara said she was inviting cool people, but literally the the first person I saw when I walked in was freaking Kirstie.”

She pauses, and Spike realizes she’s expecting a response about this.

“Kirstie, really, that half-wit? What a bloody disgrace.”

I know right?” Dawn says, and rolls the window down to stick her hand out into the stream of night air.

“So, what, your girl wasn’t there?

“No,” Dawn sighs. “Her mom caught her smoking cloves, so she’s grounded until school starts. Which like, sucks, but also kissing her after she smokes is so not it, you know? So I’m hoping this works out for me in the long run.”

“See, that’s what I admire about you, Nibblet, always looking at things from all sides. ‘S proper maturity, that is.”

“How would you know what’s mature?” Dawn taunts.

“I read about it once.”

He takes the next turn out of the residential part of town, glancing over to see how long it takes her to notice.

To her credit, it’s only a block and change before Dawn says: “Hang on, this isn’t the way home.”

“Yeah, well, I was thinking, an’ I realized, it doesn’t actually count as being out past your curfew if you’re with me, now does it?”

Dawn sits bolt upright in her seat and hops a little. He can see her smiling from the corner of his eye. 

“No way! See, you still can be cool sometimes. So, where are we going?”

“Oh just—” and then he notices. “ Bit , remember how we wear our bloody seatbelt so that your head doesn’t go crashing through the fucking windshield?”

Dawn rolls her eyes and clicks the seatbelt on. “I’d like to formally withdraw my earlier statement about your supposed coolness.”

“How ever will I go on?” he deadpans. “And where we’re going, since you asked, is the only place in this town open past ten that’s not full of demons who’d love to eviscerate you.”

 

*

 

The creatively-named Sunnydale Diner is the same inside as every other diner in the world—all coffee smell and pleather seats on chrome legs and grease sizzling everywhere in the background. There’s something homey about it. Maybe it reminds him of New York.

They’re way in the back at the corner booth—Dawn’s pick.

“See, it’s the best seat in the place, ‘cause you can see everything. And like, a clear view of the kitchen is really important, so you can emotionally prepare for whether or not your food is about to come? Plus , you can see whoever’s coming in the front door way before they can see you. So, if it’s anyone from school, you’ve already bought precious time to work out whether to avoid them or say hi.”

Spike sips his coffee. “That kinda thoroughness’ll take you far, Bit. Coulda used your planning skills on my side when I was evil.”

“Oh, you could never afford my rates.”

She flips the menu open straight to desserts, which makes Spike remember something the witches mentioned the other day when he was dropping Dawn off.

“Hey, have you eaten any actual food today? The sort with vitamins in it?

“Um,” she says, which means no. “Do chips and dip count as actual food? There were tomatoes in the dip!”

“Jesus Christ, Nibblet,” he says, reaching over to flip the pages of her menu for her. “How’s about the, er … veggie omelet? That sounds nutritious.”

“Tyrant,” she accuses.

But when the waitress gets there, she orders the omelet anyway.

Do they look normal, he wonders? Could they? To the waitress, to the other tables? An older brother, or a cousin or something, treating the kid to a meal maybe, if they had to guess. 

The neutered monster who should’ve been dead some seventy years back. The teenaged motormouth who should still be a ball of green energy floating in the ether somewhere.

Could they look like a family?

God, it scares him, how much he wants them to. He shakes the thought away before it can do any damage.

 

*

 

“Wait, you didn’t hear, did you?” Spike asks halfway through her omelet and his third cup of coffee.

“Ooh, gossip?”

“Well, you set off a little tidal wave the other night at the Magic Box, after you left. This whole domino effect coming out party.”

“I keep telling you I’m so powerful!” she declares, stealing a sip of Spike’s coffee, scrunching up her face at the taste. “Also wait, what? Who came out? Why did you not lead with this immediately?”

“Patience is a virtue … or, so I’ve been told. Anway, long story short, Anya’s been sporadically gay for the last millenium, turns out. And Rupes? Well, he’s been shagging that Ethan guy for decades. Oh! And Harris is newly bisexual. Or, well, he’s aware of it now. That’s the biggest bit of news, I suppose.”

He leaves off the bit about the threesome, and gives himself a little mental pat on the back for remembering again what is and isn’t appropriate to say to the teenager. Tara already gave him a talking-to last week after a particularly graphic decapitation story, and he’s not keen to relive the guilt that her disappointed face apparently produces in him.

Wait, was the Rupert bit appropriate to tell a teenager? He makes a mental note to ask Tara later, in case something like that comes up again.

God, he did used to be threatening once, didn’t he? It seems like a distant memory now.

Dawn laughs softly, then frowns. “Wait, does this mean we have to invite them to Bisexuals Anonymous? Because I don’t think there’s any room left on the guest list for next week’s ice cream social.”

Spike runs a hand over the gel in his hair, considering. “No you’re right, they’d ruin the vibe.”

“Ooh, I have a brilliant solution. What if they’re just at general meetings? ‘Cause like, you and me are co-founders? So it’s only natural we’d need our own private meetings. I mean, maybe Xander could come to take minutes, or something. But he’s not a full board member.”

“I dunno, got official-type business to discuss, haven’t we? Could be too advanced for him. Maybe Rupert could take minutes. He’s just the sorta pathetic sod who’d really enjoy it.” 

“Oh! And Anya should be treasurer! I mean, total no-brainer there. Also, if we’re officially naming positions, I’m clearly the president, right? You can be VP.”

“I’d be honored.”

Dawn grins at him, full on and toothy, and for a moment he feels warm inside, a roaring warmth, that yeah, yeah alright, the whole world’s broken up and gone to hell around him, and no, it’s not gonna let up any time soon. And sure, there’s a new hollowness in him that’ll stick in his bones to the end of time. But then this kid, this amazing little freak of a kid, thinks he’s someone worth smiling at.

So maybe it’ll all be alright.

“The organization’s getting really big though. We might need to start hiring some staff. Just to keep up with the admin work, you know?” she giggles, fiddling with the pendant on her necklace.

It’s not one he’s seen her wear before—a little pink crucifix, bitty rhinestones scattered throughout, on a silver chain.

“That’s,” his voice catching in his throat. “That’s, uh, your necklace. It was—”

“Buffy’s, yeah,” Dawn says, all quiet, her eyes on the table’s formica shine and both thumbs rolling over the cross on her neck.

He wishes the memories weren’t still so fierce, that anything of hers didn’t bluster up his insides into an ache of a storm. But he can see her, God, he can see her. 

She wore that necklace once on patrol, this time that he held this big spiny demon back by the arms so she could plunge a sword in its gut. And the elation on her face, as she slashed it to bits—she’d’ve never admitted it, but there was this look of hers, the heat of battle, the whole world falling to dust at at the edge of her stake, and the power , the raw power coursing through her, and the glee of it.

He’d wanted to kiss her so badly it ached, in that moment. In all the moments, but especially that one.

Fuck, who’s he kidding. Especially in all of them.

And then the demon was just a carcass on the ground and as she shook the red blood from her hands some of it spattered, onto her clothes, and her chin, and onto that little pink crucifix, and she turned the glint of her eyes up to him, the green of them dark as her pupils in the night gloam, and laughed—no, giggled, actually fucking giggled:

“Well, at least the blood goes with my outfit!”

Spike blinks, tries to remember where he is, remember the Slayer is in the ground and she’s not coming back, no matter how alive her eyes are in his dreams. 

He tries to remember he didn’t save her, not when it counted, and it burns, the knowing burns in him, but he needs it. He needs to remember that when he looks at Dawn—there’s still a Summers in the world that needs him. Or he needs her. He can’t tell much of the difference these days.

Not that the specifics matter. Not that any of it matters, except the core of it.

He made a promise to a lady.

“Spike?” Dawn asks, all tentative. 

Last night, Spike knows, the kid broke down. He’d come up the walk as it started, saw a glimpse through the gap in the curtain. Dawn sobbing. Collapsing with her head on Tara’s open arms. The raw screams cutting against the back of her throat. 

So loud that Spike wouldn’t have even needed vamp ears to hear it, from the edge of the street, as he retreated back into the night.

And then the Buffybot must’ve heard, because it—no, she, no it, no—the Bot tried to rush down the stairs to comfort her, and that only made Dawn shriek worse, and the tears wouldn’t stop coming out of her, and the girl was screaming, “It hurts, it hurts, God, it fucking HURTS and I wanna stop, I wanna stop, I wanna STOP, Tara, please let it stop, please, please, it hurts, please.”

She doesn’t do that in front of him, these days. Breaking down.

Sometimes he wishes she would, so he’d have someone to break in front of, too.

But no, that’s not what she needs him for, he knows. He’s the escape. The little place she can run to and pretend the world’s all slick and careless and late night escapades.

“Sorry, Dawn. I, uh, I’m back,” he says, forcing a grin at her, and stealing a forkful of her home fries, though it tastes like nothing.

“I’m sorry, I can … I won’t wear it around you. The necklace? If it … I don’t want you to hurt.”

I don’t want you to hurt. He could almost laugh, the earnestness of it. 

“‘S alright, Nibblet. It suits you.”

Dawn smiles at him, like he’s somebody worth smiling at it, and yeah, yeah it’s all worth it.



***



Spike and Dawn peel away from the curb on Revello Drive on his motorcycle, headed towards town.

And are back in about five minutes—Spike kills the engine, and Dawn hops off the back, rushing to the house, shivering dramatically at the October air.

“I told you to bring a jacket,” he tells her, coming up the walk behind her.

“I didn’t think I’d need one!”

“It’s October.”

“It’s Sunnydale. Key syllable sun ? You know, like sunny Southern California?...  Is that an expression? Or I guess it’s just a description; but like, a common one! Which would make it an expression, I guess,” she rambles, fishing in her bag for her keys.

Spike wonders if he should light up a cigarette to pass the time while she looks—he’s seen junkyards with more order than the inside of Dawn’s backpack.

“Yeah, but as you might’ve noticed by my not bursting into flames, the sun’s having a little kip right now, pet,” he tells her, pitching an eyebrow skyward.

Dawn pauses her scrambling key search to give him a scathing glare.

“Ah, nice death stare, Nibblet. Could wither crops with that one.”

Aha! ” she proclaims, producing a fuzzy, mushroom-shaped keychain from the bottom of her bag. “And thanks! I’ve been practicing in the mirror.”

Dawn pushes open the door, and launches herself immediately up the staircase, two at a time. 

“Be down in like, one to twenty minutes! Just gotta find a jacket that matches my outfit,” she calls, vanishing around the corner.

“You could’ve just borrowed mine!” he reminds her.

Dawn pokes her head back into sight just to tell him: “Your bloodstained cigarette smoke murder jacket? I’m good.”

“I do wash it, you know.”

“What, at the vampire dry cleaners?…Wait, no, don’t answer that yet, ‘cause see, it’s gonna get us on a whole tangent about like, the demon sub-economy of Sunnydale? Which, okay, is there one? But no, look, it’s happening! I’ll get distracted with questions and then I’ll never get my jacket. I’ll be back!”

And then she’s gone again, and Spike hears the sound of her bedroom door swinging open and shut.

He leans up against the doorframe, shoves his hands in the pockets of his duster. 

The house is quiet. He can hear faint movement coming from the witches’ room, and low voices he doesn’t care enough to try to make out. Then there’s the faint gurgle and hiss of the dishwasher a few rooms over, the tumble of the washing machine below it, and then there’s—

 She comes around the corner from the living room so quiet he nearly doesn’t hear her until she’s in full view.

His head skitters, for a second, with the old refrain he’d had to bore into his skull when she was gone.

Not her, you fool, just the bloody Bot. Never her. 

And then he remembers. Every time he sees her, he remembers.

He shakes it away, swallows hard, starts to meet her eye, but she flinches away from it.

“Hi Buffy.”

Can she hear the way his voice shakes just trying to make it out of his mouth?

“Spike,” she says. 

Softly. The soft isn’t because of him, he knows. That’s just how she speaks, now she’s back. A quiet curve of sound from the back of her throat, and you can hear the effort it takes to make it. 

“I, uh, sorry to intrude—’m just waiting for Dawn. She’s grabbing a jacket.”

Something in her face flickers with almost amusement at that—probably the sorry to intrude bit, he’d wager. Which, in retrospect, yeah, that’s pretty bloody comical.

“Oh. Um … It’s getting late?” 

“Right. We sort of—Sunday nights, we’ve been hitting the diner? An’ then a little stroll around town. She uh, she likes to look at the shops, when they’re all dark. She’ll be back in time for a full eight hours’ rest, though. Promise.”

“Shops?”

She’s looking at the carpet, at his shoes, and how the streetlights spill onto them through the thin window at the door.

He glances down too.

Her knuckles have healed now, from her coffin scars. But he keeps looking for them anyway.  

“Yeah. Uh, somethin’ about, she likes to look into ‘em when there’s nobody there? She’s got this whole theory, with the mannequins. That they move when nobody’s looking.”

“Is that a … does Giles know? I mean, the mannequins. Is that a, demon thing?”

“No. Just a Dawn thing. Seen Toy Story one too many times, I expect.”

Buffy looks up at him, just for a second. 

Something on her face … shifts. Again. Not a smile, quite. But a softening. And not the tired kind, that’s in her voice. The other kind of soften.

She looks like she’s about to say something, and everything in him aches to know what it is, but then there’s a horse’s gallop sound clattering down the steps.

“Buffy!” Dawn says, noticing, and then takes the last few steps at a normal pace.

“Your jacket,” Buffy tells her, eying the impractically shiny purple coat Dawn’s landed on. 

“Yeah?”

“It’s cute … It’s also mine.”

Again, not quite smiling, but a hint of it. 

Like she would be, if she could.  

Buffy can feel him staring at her, he knows. She always can.

He should look away. That’s what he would’ve done, before, when he was trying to hide it from her, the way she burns in him.

But now when he’s not looking at her, he has trouble believing she’s really here. 

Every bit of her just seems so improbable. The place where her hairline meets her temple. The tiny cut on her chin from the latest demon. The soft brown of her sweater and the way it sits against the tops of her hands.

He thinks maybe if he could just do nothing for a week but sit and look at her, maybe it would start to sink in.

Dawn thumbs over the buttons by her jacket collar. “Yeah I kinda, well … you weren’t using your closet. So I, um, mingled a little?” 

Dawn pauses, smiling tentative, how she does when she’s prompting for a response. 

Spike gets the sense this is a a riff on an exchange they’ve had often, over the years, their parts memorized like lines in a play.

But Buffy’s not answering. 

She’s staring at the way the streetlights bleed onto the carpet again. 

“So!” Dawn says, her voice too bright for the room. “We’re going out, um—if you …?”

“I heard. Diner. Mannequin recon,” Buffy mumbles.

“You can, I mean … do you wanna come? You can come if you want!”  Dawn asks, her brow all quavery and hopeful.

Buffy looks up, like she’s suddenly noticing both of them are still there. Looks Dawn in the eye like it’s taking work, holding her head up.

A wet pang aches in Spike’s stomach—to walk her upstairs, see she gets in bed and doesn’t get out. He wants to billow her white blankets around her, press a cold glass of water into her palm. He wants her to drink it all down and then to bring her another, wants to shut the door quiet as he goes, so she can sleep for three days, three weeks, three years, as long as it takes for her to feel well, or close to it.

He wants to growl down anyone who tries to disturb her rest, his fangs ablaze.

“No, you guys have fun,” Buffy tells Dawn, and works up the faintest creak of a smile for her. “Got work to do. Here. Um. Sharpen weapons. Finish laundry.”

“Oh, okay! Um, or, or we could stay and help with that, if you want? Spike apparently knows how to do laundry. It’s a breaking story.”

“That’s okay,” Buffy tells her. She reaches up, arm moving so slow, gives Dawn a gentle squeeze at the shoulder. “You should go. Uh, really, I don’t wanna mess up your plans.”

Dawn starts to say something else, but Buffy’s already drifted out of the room, quiet as she came.

“Hey, Nibblet, ‘s alright,” Spike tells her, with a soft pat on the back. “Slayer’s tired, that’s all. Wouldn’t you be?”

“Um, yeah. Yeah, I guess I would,” Dawn says. But there’s still hurt in her eyes as she looks up at him, blinking quick, like she’s trying to stop tears before they start.

He gets this urge then, towards fury—the anger in him, he’s so good at that—to scream at her, to just let the Slayer be, because can’t Dawn see Buffy’s doing all she can, can’t any of them see, it’s so plain, so fucking plain and none of them can take even two steps away to give Buffy an ounce of space, not without making it all weird and guilty, and it’s cruel, it’s all so small and cruel in that way humans are so good at and never seem to see a problem with.

“Do you, um,” Dawn starts. “Do you think she missed me? When she was … there?”

And the rage melts.

He bends his knees so he’s eye level with her—not even that far, the Nibblet’s shooting up so tall these days—puts a hand on each of her shoulders, and means it when he says: Every second of it, Bit. I know it.”

Dawn nods, lots of little ones, like she’s convincing herself of it. Steps back from him to grab her backpack up from where she dropped it on the stairwell.

“Okay, right! Shall we? My BLT isn’t gonna eat itself!”

And then she’s out the door racing to the motorcycle, leaving Spike to scurry after her, shutting the door as he goes.

On the porch, he hears Buffy step back out from around the corner, inside the house, and flick the lock shut soft behind them.

 

 

Dawn finishes her BLT except for a carcass of bread crusts, then reaches over to pick at the grotesque triple-decker sandwich she insisted Spike order, because she wanted to know what it looked like.

“Oh my god, there really are chicken fingers in here—I thought they were bluffing!” 

She yanks one chicken piece out with her fingers, and acts surprised when the entire thing falls like a Jenga tower into a mess of meat and bread and soggy lettuce.

“Hey, I was still eating that!” he scolds. 

“Aren’t you glad I made you get it? I mean, you were all that sounds like a bloody monstrosity, Nibblet . But now? Don’t you see my genius?”

“I had my doubts about the crisps in it, yeah. Not sure why—I mean, same basic principle as Weetabix in my blood, innit?” he muses, then realizes. “And that’s not how my accent sounds.”

That’s not how my accent sounds,” she repeats in the same terrible Cockney drawl.

In revenge, he dislodges a load-bearing coffee creamer from her coffee creamer pyramid.

Dawn watches the little cylinders roll away in dismay, and then meets his gaze, eyes narrowed. “Truce?”

They shake on it, and Spike flags the waiter down for the check.

 

*

 

“Town’s so pretty at night,” Dawn muses as they pass the dark shopfronts. She’s rustling the plastic on the little peppermint she snagged from the diner checkout counter. “It would probably be prettier if you guys let me walk around here alone.

“I just don’t fancy you getting eaten, Platelet. I know that’s a tremendous burden for you, but I do hope you’ll forgive me,” he snarks.

“Buffy got to walk around Sunnydale alone at night when she was a teenager.”

“Buffy’s a fucking Slayer.”

“And Willow—”

“Has got the forces of nature at her bloody beck and call.”

“But Xander—”

“Well, yeah. But, I don’t care all that much if he gets eaten, so.”

That might not be strictly true, anymore, but that’s nothing Dawn needs to know about. 

Or well, Spike still doubts he’d be terribly beat up about it, if the boy got himself killed. But Spike has been hanging out at Anya’s place on occasion, last few weeks—ostensibly just for the two of them to watch silent films and reminisce about the twenties. But then Xander will emerge from the bedroom, not saying a word, sit on Spike’s other side pressed closer than Spike would have ever predicted.

Anya described it later as important pre-threesome bonding, to reduce the initial physical awkwardness that inevitably arises with a new partner!

Which, sure, why not. Though Spike’s official take on it is that it’s just … good. Both of their human warmth surrounding him. His head sort of lolled accidentally onto Xander’s shoulder. 

They haven’t touched beyond that. Spike’s still not sure he can even touch anyone, more than that. Not right now, not yet.

But still. It’s nice. The warmth. 

He snaps out of his daze to find Dawn’s stopped in front of a clothing boutique, her face pressed up against the glass.

“Any leads, Nibblet?”

“Nah,” she sighs. “The mannequins are playing it close to the chest. But I’ll break them!”

He goes to lean against the wall next to her, lights up a cigarette.

Puts it out under his shoe when he peers over to see Dawn wrinkling her nose at the smell. 

“Do you think it’ll be like this with Buffy again?” she asks, still speaking into the glass, her voice all muffled with it.

“How d’you mean?”

“Like,” she turns around, blowing at the bit of hair in front of her face. “Like this . You know, all … easy and stupid and good, and like, you know, sibling-y. Like you and me have.”

Spike takes that in, something tender and aching and a little shimmery wrenching in his chest. 

He glances at her again, and if she’s got any idea what it means to him, it’s not showing in her face.

He pulls out the lighter from his pocket, fiddles with the spark wheel under this thumb for something to do with his hands. 

“You’ll have it, the two of you. You will.”

“But—”

“You will. Might not be just like before. Because nothing is ever just the same as before, even for regular old people. Much less ones coming back from—”

God, he almost says heaven , but he pulls his tongue back from it in time.

“—from a hell dimension. But she loves you, Bit. Nothin’ in the world she loves more than you.”

And then he’s knocked three steps back by Dawn. She barrels headfirst into Spike’s chest, hugging so tight it’s like she’s trying to squeeze the unlife out of him.

For a second he’s all scarecrow, arms splayed and stiff.

Then he hugs her back.

And her brand new heart is beating so close to his old dead one.



***



The door’s unlocked, so Spike steps up into to the Summers’ house, broadsword in hand. The house is mostly quiet around him, just the usual pipe creakings. 

Knocking on the inside of the door as he shuts it, he calls: “Slayer? Nibblet? Anyone home?”

“You know,” Buffy says, descending the stairs. “It is customary to knock before you come in.”

“... Didn’t think of that,” he admits. He starts to say something else, about how he’s learning, because it’s not like he’s sneaking in to lurk in the basement anymore, but thinks better than reminding her of that particular era. 

“Just, er, dropped by to return this,” he tells her, gesturing slightly with the sword.

She reaches the bottom of the steps, tips an eyebrow up at him

God, she’s standing so close to him.

“So what you’re saying is, you stole my sword?” 

“Not stole!” he insists. “Stowed.”

“Right.”

“I was! For safekeeping—after that whole broadsword incident in the summer, seemed best to keep the dangerous stuff at my crypt. ‘Specially seeing how I was the only one who could use it, really.”

Well, except for the Bot, but he tries not to think about that., 

And the longer Buffy’s really here—the longer it feels safe to blink around her again, because he’s not afraid she’ll vanish while his eyes are turned—the more the Bot feels almost like this sick lurch of a nightmare. Well, he still goes all sick and uneasy, when he remembers—those long months encountering it, her, and the smell of metal under her skin, and her eyes so glazed and glassy, and all his senses screaming wrong wrong all wrong.

But then he’ll see her, her , all the flesh and the blood and the scent of her and her hair all frizzing at the top and the unsleep gathered under her eyes and the way her nose crinkles, just so, and all of her, all of her so real it hurts, and in a good way.

And then she’ll see him looking, will do one of those little eye movements she does, the kind that mean you’re such an idiot , but in a way where it doesn’t feel like an insult, or if it does, an insult that goes down so sweet. 

And then the long dark months of summer are nothing but dust in the wake of her. 

“Incident?” Buffy asks him, with a flit of her eyes up to his.

“Anya got cocky.”

Buffy exhales an almost-laugh through her nostrils.

She takes the broadsword from him—fingers brushing so slightly against his when she does—and moves to the living room to stow it back in the weapons chest.

He follows, perching against the back of the armchair.

“You know nobody so much as glanced at me funny when I was carrying that thing through town? I mean, Sunnydale populace has always been deeply stupid. But this is a worrying new level, yeah?”

“Or maybe,” Buffy tells him, rearranging the weapons in the chest to make the sword fit. “They were all just trying to ignore the leather coat weirdo with the giant sword? Like, in case you were a serial killer? … Which you are.”

“But a reformed serial killer!” Spike adds, which isn’t quite the comeback he thought it was. Too late to fix it now. “And you do realize leather coat weirdo with the giant sword is probably what your neighbors call you in their heads.”

Buffy frowns as she clicks the chest shut and sits on top of it. “Yeah, it occurred to me as I was saying it.”

And God. God, he loves her.

“Well, you pull it off way better than me, if it helps any”

She glances up at him, just for a moment. “It really doesn’t. But thanks.”

“Any time, Slayer.”

 

*

 

She doesn’t tell him to leave, so when she heads over to the kitchen and makes herself a PB&J, he follows, takes a seat at the center island across from her and lingers there, quiet, as she eats.

She eats right up to the crusts and sets the husks down on the plate, and he can’t help but laugh.

There’s a little gulf of silence after he dies down, and then she asks: “Something you wanna share with the class?”

“Just, well—something must be medically wrong with you and Dawn, is all I’m saying. The crusts are the best part.”

And then she’s the one who laughs a little, just barely, but enough.

“Literally the crusts are the worst part. Don’t bring your weird vampire taste buds into this.”

I have weird taste buds? Please, last week the Nibblet had to make do with the end piece of bread, and she actually—you know, I’ve seen a lot of supernatural horrors, but I don’t even know how to describe this? But she ate it vertical ? Gnawed off the inner bread bits and just left this long crust shell. Enough to turn a bloke’s stomach.”

He looks up and Buffy’s just staring at him, something curious moving behind her eyes.

“You two. You um, spend a lot of time together now.”

He can’t make out just what the emotion is tinging her voice, but he can reason out what it might be, and his insides twist up for a second.

  “I know what you’re thinking, but, I’m not—you know, I’m learning. I’m not, you know, abetting any more Magic Box break-ins, and, and I’m getting better, figuring out what’s, you know, okay to say around her and what’s not? I mean, it was just the one decapitation story, and then I learned my lesson. And I kept her safe, all summer, and, and I’m keeping her safe still, and, and—sodding hell, Slayer, I just mean. I mean, I can be a good force in her life! Or, or at the very least not a bad one, and you might not believe me, but—”

He breaks off, because his voice has trailed up way too loud for the space, and Buffy is just staring at him with her brow all furrowed and he has the sinking sense that he just made a very big deal out of nothing.

“Right, um,” he starts, and he’d be blushing if he could. “I’ll just—I’m gonna go? I’ll see you when—bye.” 

He heads quickly for the door.

Behind him, Buffy starts: “Spike, that’s not what I …” 

She trails off. He guesses he wasn’t worth finishing the thought about.

But then through the little window by the door he can see Dawn and Janice joined at the mouth on the porch, so he turns on his heel right back through to the kitchen.

“Actually, should probably take the back way out, yeah?” he tells Buffy, avoiding her gaze as he reaches for the door. “Don’t fancy interrupting the Nibblet’s good night kiss. I mean, we gotta give the kid a chance, don’t we?”

And then Buffy’s up from her seat, stopping his hand on the door, and he can’t help but shudder a little at her touch, and hope she doesn’t notice.

“I’m sorry, Dawn’s what now?”

“Her—”

“Does Dawn has a boyfriend? ” Buffy asks, dropping back down into her seat, elbows on the table.

“Oh. She didn’t tell you then? That her and—”

But he’s stopped from finishing the thought by the sound of the front door opening in the next room, and with it Willow and Tara’s voices streaming through the hall.

“Buffy?” Willow calls out. “You home?”

“In the kitchen,” Buffy tells her, and then the two of them bustle in, dropping down book-laden tote bags onto the counter. 

Willow says, “God, Dawnie and Janice are really going at it out there! I mean, they barely even came up for air when we went past them to come inside—oh, but dont worry, Buff! I scoped out the situation and all hands were in appropriate hand places.”

Buffy’s eyes go wide: “Dawn’s dating Janice?”

Tara and Spike make a quick flit of eye contact.

“She didn’t tell you,” Tara surmises.

“She so did not,” Buffy answers. “And neither did the rest of you?”

“I’m sorry, Buffy. We just, I mean that’s on us, it is, we absolutely should’ve … I just, figured, you know, that you knew,” Willow tells her with a light hand over Buffy’s back.

Buffy shrugs the hand off, stands up and backs away, towards the edge of the room by the fridge.

“No. No, I really didn’t,” she says, her voice stinging.

“Buffy—” Willow starts.

“I mean, God, I’ve been back already for—God she, she would’ve told me, before. Before , she would’ve. She, she always used to tell me stuff like this. Every crush she ever had, her whole life. She always tells me.”

Her voice is all soft and bruised, like she’s mostly talking to herself, and Spike gets an itchy feeling over his hands, like he’s intruding.

He goes to move towards the exit again, dropping his hand on the back doorknob.

Before he turns the latch, he says: “I can talk to her, if you want? Let her know she should fill you in?”

Buffy’s already turning her back from him, moving towards upstairs when she says: “Fine, whatever, yeah. You do that.”

 

*

 

Spike and Dawn are in his crypt the next night in front of the telly, because Dawn declared it weird public access TV shows that you can apparently only get on pirated vampire cable marathon night.

“Hey, Little Bit?” he asks, tentative, when the creepy monotone Bible show flips to commercial. “Quick question for you.”

“Yeah, what’s up?” she says, glancing up from the math homework she reluctantly brought with her.

“You by any chance mention to Buffy yet that you’ve got a whole girlfriend?”

Dawn looks guiltily back down into her algebra. “Um.”

Dawn.

“I just! I didn’t know how to bring it up!”

“How about, hey, just letting you know I have a girlfriend.

Dawn slumps down in the armchair. “Well sure , when you put it like that.

Spike stands to press down the volume button on the TV, then turns back to Dawn.

“Look, it’s just,” Dawn starts. “I mean, when she left, when she … when she died, she knew me a certain way, right? And, and I know it’s … I mean, God, it must be hard enough, coming out of hell, just like you said! I just figured maybe it would be easier for her, if, if everything was the way she remembered?”

“Dawn—”

“I mean, and that’s stupid, right? Because look, like, she loves me, and, and if I did tell her I know it would be fine, and this isn’t actually as big a deal as I think it is, and like, yeah, it’s hard for her right now, everything is, but this isn’t actually part of that, right? This is just me making up a weird excuse because I’m scared for some reason?”

“Took the speech right out of my mouth, Little Bit.”

She grins at him. “Okay. Okay, you’re right. I’m gonna tell her.”

 

*

 

Dawn opens the door to the Summers’ house an hour later, and Spike shuts it behind them.

She turns to him, biting down on her mouth. “Or, okay, actually, what if I don’t tell her.”

“Bit. It’s going to be fine.”

“Yeah, but what if it’s not , I mean—right?”

“No, not right,” he tells her, sighing, and locking the door behind him. “I mean, look, if you genuinely don’t want to tell her, you don’t bloody have to. You’re in charge of you. I mean, except to the extent that the rest of us are in charge of you, because you know, otherwise you’d probably get scurvy, the way you eat. And I’ve seen scurvy, pet. Not exactly a roaring good time.”

“We nearing a point?” she asks, eyebrows raised.

“Probably. Look, you don’t have to tell her,” he repeats. “I just think you’ll both feel better once you do.”

“Ugh. Fine,” she tells him. “You’re the worst, I hope you know.”

“Oh, I know,” he tells her, and it works, he gets a grin.

Buffy? ” Dawn calls up the stairs. “Can you come down for a sec?” 

There’s no immediate answer, and Dawn turns to Spike all concerned-looking. 

“Wait, is she even home?”

He pauses a second, assessing. “Yeah, she’s here. I can smell her.”

“God, you’re disgusting.”

And then Buffy’s at the top of the steps, coming down towards them. “Why’s Spike disgusting? I mean, I probably agree. But just, curious on the specifics.”

“General vampire grossness,” Dawn informs her. 

Buffy gives Spike a look that says she’s not wrong , and then follows the littlest Summers into the living room.

“Um, thanks for getting her home safe,” Buffy says to Spike. Which he thinks is code for get out of my house now.

“Right, yeah. Pleasure. I’ll just—” he moves to grab the the door.

“Wait, can you—?” Dawn asks. “Um, hang around a bit?”

Spike looks at both of them, sitting across from each other around the coffee table, and nods. “Yeah. Yeah, alright.”

He walks over, sits in his favorite armchair on the far end of the room, hands perched on the arms of it. There’s a sudden chill of deja vu running through him—three years ago, in the middle of an apocalypse. Him in this chair. Joyce at the couch, drink shaking in her hand, a bit of vamp dust still clinging to the sleeve of her cardigan. And the Nibblet, all of eleven years old, peeking her tiny face through the staircase balusters, watching, waiting. 

She’d winked at him. He remembers that. Silently imploring him not to let Joyce and Buffy know she was watching. And Spike winked back. 

“So,” Dawn starts, looking across at Buffy. “I kinda, um, have to tell you something?”

“Oh,” Buffy, bless her, keeps her face a mask of ignorance. “What is it, Dawnie?”

“So um, you know, um, you know Janice, right?”

The corners of Buffy’s mouth raise slightly. “You mean Janice who you’ve been friends with for like, five years? Yeah, I know her.”

God, Dawn must really be nervous, because she doesn’t even fire back with some weird sarcastic comment that’s too confusing to even work as a comeback.

“Yeah, her. Well, she and I, uh, we got a lot closer, this summer? While you were gone. And um, and I, well. She’s, she’s my girlfriend, now? And, and I do still like boys? If you were wondering, or, or worried about it? I mean, not that, that if I didn’t like boys anymore it would be bad of course, but I do like them. I mean not, like them, like them, right now anyway, or other girls even, because I like Janice, and, so I’m pretty much like, all about Janice at the moment, and um, for the foreseeable future. Um, but, anyway, yeah, that’s, that’s uh, what I wanted to …. tell you? That we’re dating. Janice and me. If that wasn’t clear.”

Dawn finally stops, catches her breath, looks up from the scrunchie she’s been tugging and twisting around her fingers the whole monologue.

“Dawnie,” Buffy says, reaching across the table to grab her sister by the hands. “That’s wonderful. Thank you for telling me.”

Dawn grins up at her, her eyes all big and joyed, and Spike remembers, for the millionth time, how young she is.

“I should’ve told you sooner,” Dawn says.

“Well, I would’ve liked to have found out some other way than Spike telling me you guys were kissing on the porch, yeah. But I’m glad you told me,” Buffy says.

Dawn’s face goes bright pink. “You knew? ” she says to Buffy, then turns to Spike. “You told her?

“I thought you’d already filled her in yourself! This is on you, Little Bit” he tells Dawn, then, to Buffy: “And I thought we weren’t telling her you already knew!”

“Um, we never agreed to that,” Buffy tells him.

“There was an implicit understanding!”

“You know that only works if both people know about it, right?” Buffy asks.

“Well, apparently!” Spike huffs back, crossing his arms.

Anyway ,” Dawn cuts in with a sharp look at them both. “The point is you both suck. And also, thanks.”

“Of course, Dawnie. I mean, I …” Buffy pauses, looking suddenly so tired, like it’ll wipe her out to keep talking, but she pushes through. 

And Spike loves her for it, and wishes she wouldn’t. 

Buffy continues: “I just, I wish you’d felt like you could tell me sooner. I mean, did I …? Just, you know there’s nothing you can tell me that would ever, ever change how much I love you. Don’t you?”

“You’re getting really after school special,” Dawn tells her, like she’s not loving this.

Buffy rolls her eyes, and Dawn continues:

“But um, no it, it wasn’t you. I mean I just worried that you’d—I mean, I know you wouldn’t, because like, Willow and all? Hello?— But, the nervous, dumb part of my brain just thought like, I don’t know. When you went … when you … just, last time you saw me I was your regular kid sister. And then you come back, and I’m all … different, and, and maybe that’s not what you’d want for me, and— ”

“Dawnie, what I want for you is to be happy.”

She stands up, goes to sit next to Dawn on the couch, wraps both her arms around her.

Breaking away from the hug, Buffy says: “I mean, God, I’d be one to talk if i judged you.”

Spike thinks: Oh?

Dawn says: “Oh?” 

Buffy blinks harsh, like she didn’t mean to say that, but there’s no getting out of it now. “Well, I mean. Yeah. Right, like, uh …”

“Buffy?” Dawn prompts. 

“Well, me and Faith were a little…”  

Dawn actually squeals.

“No way. No way no way no way no way! Okay, tell me everything right now .”

“Bossy much? Um, no, I will tell you select things, as per the sister gossip code, but you’re not getting it all out of me.”

“I accept that challenge,” Dawn says, grinning.

“Right, well—” and then Buffy looks over Dawn’s head, remembers Spike is still there, and gives him a very pointed look that, no, yeah, this time definitely means get out of my house now.

“I’ll get outta your hair,” he nods to her. “Let you have your sacred girl talk time and all.”

He stifles a grin, seeing them like that, all close and conspiratorial and happy. 

“See you tomorrow, Spike?” Dawn asks as he stands. “‘Cause I think we made it through all the weird Jesus-y end of times shows. But there’s still the whole like, freaky college art kid contingent to make it through, public-access-wise.”

“You can count on it, Nibblet,” he says, and moves towards the door, passing Willow and Tara coming down the stairs as he does.

“We heard giddy shrieking,” Tara says, very seriously. 

Willow tacks on: “Does that mean gossip’s happening? Because if so, we demand in.”

“Pull up a chair!” Dawn commands, patting the couch next to her. “Buffy was just about to tell me how she and Faith used to totally make out like, all the time.”

“You and who now? What now? Buffy !” Willow says, sounding genuinely offended.

“What?” Buffy asks.

“Hello? I’m your gay best friend. This is the epitome of news you should tell me!”

Buffy looks down at the couch cushions. She still looks so, so tired.

“Well you weren’t gay yet! … And then I was doing some hardcore repressing. … And then Faith was all evil, also, so it was like, how many occasionally-evil exes can a girl really rack up without getting a reputation?”

She glances over to Spike to find he’s already looking at her, and flashes her gaze away so fast.

The flush in her cheeks is so faint he might’ve missed it if he couldn’t smell the blood.

“Spike, weren’t you going ?” she reminds him.

“Right on my merry way,” he assures her, heading out into the night, and closing the door behind him with a gentle click.



***



“Remind me why I’m here?” Spike asks Dawn.

He’s sitting with her in their customary spot on the Magic Box back steps as the Scoobies chatter about nothing.

Dawn shrugs. “Gonna take a wild guess and go with … killer demon in town?”

“See, I thought so too, ‘cause why else have me here? But this is an awful lot of dilly dally if there’s a big bad on the loose. An’ what self respecting monster would roll into town the day before Halloween, besides? It’s just shameful, is what it is.”

A realization lights up in Dawn’s face.

“What do you know, Nibblet?” Spike asks, wary.

“Um, who told you to show up to the meeting?”

“Anya. Why?

But Dawn's not answering him, her eyes just going wide with horror. 

“Nibblet, why?

She shakes her head. “Okay, if we make a break for it now, I think we can get out before—”

Everyone!” Anya calls them to attention as she finishes whatever fiddling she was doing with the cash register. “Listen now please!”

“Oh god,” Dawn says. “Brace yourself.”

“Nibblet, I swear to God, if you don’t tell me what’s—”

“Hello! Spike! Dawn! You’re not listening! And you really won’t want to miss this, because I’m about to assign everyone your very exciting roles for tomorrow’s all-day sale.”

“She didn’t say all day , did she?” Spike asks Dawn, 

“Hush,” Anya orders, then turns back to the group with a beaming smile. “Now, as a prelude, I’d like to introduce you all to a jaunty little phrase I’ve picked up from the world of retail. If you have time for leaning, you have time for cleaning.

 

*

 

So, ” Anya says, exasperated. “When a customer asks you, excuse me sir, do you know where I might find the dragon’s blood incense, what would you tell them?”

“I’d tell ‘em,” Spike says, lighting up a cigarette and ignoring the glare from Giles as he does. “That if they wanna talk blood with me they’d better open a vein or sod off.”

No ,” Anya tells him, emphatic. “You’d tell them—wait!”

“Waiting …”

Anya narrows her eyes. “I know what you’re doing! You’re giving exaggerated obstinate answers so I’ll think you lack the social graces and conversational finesse to work in customer service, and won’t make you work here tomorrow.”

“Now what would give you the idea that—” 

But I also know, based upon your frequent, positive social interactions with Dawn, that you do have a great deal of conversational finesse, so you’re not getting out of this, mister!” Anya says, and whisks off back behind the counter.

Spike hunts his gaze around the Magic Box until he finds Dawn sitting with Tara at the front table, messying up the crystal ball with fingerprints.

“You know this is your fault, Bit,” he tells her, striding over.

“Hey, you’re the one who decided to be not-evil anymore. Don’t blame me for your mistakes.”

Tara snickers under her breath. 

“God,” Spike says, sitting down with them. “Does no one here respect me anymore?”

The little bell at the door rings as it swings open, and Buffy meanders in, shedding her coat. 

“Don’t feel bad, Spike—none of us ever respected you.” Buffy flashes a grin at him as she walks over towards Giles.

“Sorry for the lateness,” she tells her Watcher, dropping her coat and stake on the counter. “But you know those pesky vampires. Never give you a call ahead before they try to kill you. So, what’s the what? Demons afoot?”

Giles says: “Well, er, actually, Anya and I were wondering if you—and the others—would oblige us with a bit of a hand tomorrow. The annual Halloween sale is expected to be, er, robust, and we could really do with a touch of extra help.”

In her high-pitched sad voice, Buffy says: “So, no demons afoot?”

“Well, we do have some demon customers!” Anya pipes in. “But you’re not allowed to kill them until after I have their money.”

“You guys are no fun!” Buffy grumbles, and stomps over to where Spike and the others are sitting. “Is it too late for a mutiny?” she asks them.

Spike answers: “I’m thinking if we all charge at once, she’ll never see it coming.”

Buffy smiles at him, ever so slightly, and God, will that ever stop feeling so fucking good?

Xander emerges from the basement then, carrying a massive cardboard box of jack-o-lantern string lights and plastic skulls and other Halloween bric-a-brac.

“Buff!” he says, noticing her as he deposits the box in Anya’s arms to start decorating. “Glad you could join us here in the land of non-stop retail fun.”

“Not half as glad as I am,” she deadpans. 

“So, Dawnster, what do you and Big J have planned for Halloween?” Xander asks.

“Actually, I’m staying over at Melinda’s tomorrow. Janice and I have plans the next day.”

“Aww, that’s nice, Dawnie,” Tara tells her. “I mean, I know you and Janice have all that new relationship glow going on, but I’m glad you’re making time for your others friends too. It’s healthy for you.”

“Um, yeah!” Dawn says, glancing down quickly at her shoes.

“Oh, speaking of gay people!” Xander starts.

“Nice segue, Xand,” Willow says.

“Thanks! I’m known for my subtleties,” Xander replies, walking over to join their little cluster.

“But anyway, “ he continues. “I realized the other day—Tara’s whole big gay friend group theory has a snag in it now that Buffy’s back. But also? Good for us, having a token straight friend. We needed that balance of perspective.”

Buffy looks up at him all confused. “I feel like I really missed something.” To Dawn, she says: “Exactly how many coming-outs were there when I was dead?”

“Just one! Or maybe … five? But they all sorta happened at once—it was a whole domino effect thing.”

“The Little Bit’s very powerful,” Spike intones.

Dawn nods vigorously, agreeing.

Buffy looks at the two of them suspiciously. “Okay, weirdos. That’s even less clear of an explanation.”

“I can fill you in!” Anya says, placing a row of Jack-o-Lanterns in the display window. “Where to start? … Oh! Spike’s going to have a threesome with me and Xander.”

“Hey, I haven’t agreed to that!” Spike leaves off the yet , feeling Buffy’s eyes on him. 

“Last time we discussed it you said you were still considering,” Anya reminds him

“How many times have you discussed it?” Willow pries.

At least four times since it first come up. The last silent movie night was basically entirely devoted to discussing the theoretical logistics. Not that it’s the business of any of the rest of them. Besides, Spike’s sure—well, mostly sure—he’s still not ready for all that.

Spike still winks blatantly at Xander though, because fuck it, it’s fun to watch Harris squirm.

“New subject! Please!” Xander exclaims.

Dawn obliges: “Ugh, you guys are so out of touch. We are all still gay. I mean, Buffy and Faith, hello?”

Xander looks like his eyes are gonna pop out of his head, which is also fun to watch. 

“You and Faith? Faith and you?” He glances around the room wildly. “Why am I the only one being all shocked right now?”

Willow grins conspiratorially at the others, and says, “Really, Xander, you didn’t know? It was pretty obvious from my vantage.”

“Like, so obvious,” Dawn says, and kicks Spike under the table.

“Yeah, Harris, any fool could’ve seen,” Spike tells him.

Xander looks at Spike with a fury in his eyes. “What? You weren’t even here .”

“Well, yeah,” Spike says, trying to think. “But see, that’s how obvious it was.”

Tara gives Xander a sympathetic look, and tells him: “We all found out last week.”

“Fun-spoiler!” Dawn accuses at her.

Xander leans back against the bookcase, taking it all in. “Okay, I’m just still having a bit of trouble here, Buff. I mean, this is Faith. Who you hated. And who also hated you. Right? Same Faith we’re talking about?”

“Come on, like you didn’t also sleep with her,” Buffy points out, then gets a concerned look on her face. “Which, oh, that’s so wiggy. Repressing that now. But, okay, we didn’t hate each other the whole time!”

“Besides,” Anya points out sagely. ”Everyone knows being mortal enemies always gets all sexy.”

Buffy tugs her gaze quickly away from Spike’s dart of eye contact.

Dawn adds: “And like Buffy’s the only one who had a thing with her hot frenemy. I mean, Giles and Ethan? Spike and Angel? Hello.”

Buffy’s busy staring giddy and accusatory at Giles when the second half of the sentence hits her. She turns to Spike, pure shock on her face:

YOU HAD SEX WITH ANGEL?

Spike feels his eyes going uncharacteristically wide and frazzled and has no idea how to stop it. “I … have to go. ” He strides quickly towards the door, then turns back to Dawn, who’s red-faced, in silent hysterics in her seat: 

“And you and me are gonna have some words later, Nibblet!”




***



Charlie Brown’s getting a trick-or-treat bag full of rocks when the crypt door slams open.

“I need your help,” Buffy tells him. 

“Any chance you could need my help after Great Pumpkin finishes?” Spike jokes, and then turns around and Buffy’s face is grave as anything.

“Dawn’s missing,” she tells him.

“Fuck,” Spike says, springing to his feet, grabbing a crossbow from his open weapons chest. “Any leads?”

Buffy shakes her head as the two of them march out into the graveyard, the faint sounds of Charlie Brown still streaming out from behind the closing door.

“She said she was staying at Melinda’s house? But then Willow and Tara saw Melinda walking down our street very much not with Dawn. So we called Janice’s and turns out …”

“The little lovebirds pulled a Houdini?”

“Yuh huh,” Buffy says, twisting her neck around to case the cemetery. “I’m gonna kill her.”

Spike was thinking the same thing, but it wouldn’t sound right coming from his mouth. “She’ll be alright, Slayer. 

Buffy sighs. “It’s just so dumb of her! I mean, what, is she just wandering the streets like fucking vampire bait?”

“Maybe so. But we’ll get to her, nick of time, same as always.”

“Or, God, I mean did her and Janice sneak off somewhere to hook up? Because at fifteen a front porch smooch is all she should be getting, and God I’m gonna kill her.”

And then there’s something in the air, the faintest trace of her. “Think I might’ve picked up her scent,” Spike tells Buffy. He pauses a moment, sussing it out. “Looks like they crossed by the edge of the cemetery a bit, headed down towards that park at the other end?”

She nods, a second of relief passing over her face. “Good! Okay, Giles was checking there, so that’s—” and then she throws her head back towards the sky in frustration, remembering something. “Jesus fuck—that’s a make out park! I’m gonna fucking kill her , did I mention that?”

“Might’ve let it slip once or twice.”

“Good. As long as that’s clear to everybody.”

They walk in hurried silence for a few paces, and then Spike feels Buffy’s gaze lashing at his cheek.

So ,” she starts.

No .”

Buffy balks. “You don’t even know what I was gonna ask!”

Scoffing, Spike glances over at her. “Well, yeah, there’s a one percent chance you were gonna talk more murder plans for the Nibblet, but the other ninety-nine is firmly in the camp of asking about our ex.”

Buffy moves in front of him, walking backwards to glare forcefully at him as she says: “I am begging you not to call him that.”

Spike raises an eyebrow. “Begging, are you?”

Buffy rolls her eyes, turns around to walk in step with him again. “You’re disgusting. And also getting off topic.”

“‘M not telling you a bloody thing, Slayer.”

“You know you could’ve prevented me from knowing about this so easily, right? If it really mattered to you? I mean, you told Dawn for crying out loud.”

“Yeah, alright, she’s not exactly known for being tight-lipped with people’s deepest darkest,” Spike admits. “But, I guess, it just makes her sorta happy, you know? Having a secret to tell. ‘S not so much work for me to oblige.”

Buffy stops dead for a moment, and Spike feels her eyes on him again. 

He turns, and she’s just looking at him, the green in her eyes pupil-dark in the cemetery gloam, an emotion he can’t fathom out welling up in them.

She opens her mouth, he can see the barest hint of her tongue rising against her lips, like she’s about to say something, and— 

And then there’s the unmistakable sound of Dawn’s shriek ripping through the night air, and the pair of them take off through the trees running for it.

 

*

 

How did … how did you know what to do?” Janice is asking Dawn, as Giles helps her up off the ground. 

“I … it’s, it’s …” Dawn stammers, inching towards Janice, who recoils back, ever so slightly.

“You didn’t even seem surprised . I mean, Jesus fucking … their faces , Dawn, did you see their fucking faces?”

Janice is grabbing at her bloodied neck, clutching hard on Giles’ arm. She looks up at the Watcher, asks: “Am I … gonna be okay? I mean, he didn’t—?”

“You haven’t lost much blood, no. You’ll be perfectly fine,” Giles tells her, his voice going soft and calm and fatherly in that way it does. 

Right but , but he didn’t … I’m not gonna … be like him? I’m not , right? ‘Cause I don’t want it, okay? None of that, none of it, ” Janice tells him, breathless, and Spike can hear her blood racing.

A sharp thing in him is shivering, remembering—that was him, once upon a time, wasn’t it? The blood slipping from him out in the dark one night, the life fading away— God yes, that’s what he’d told Dru, and meant it, by God he’d meant it, but then, well, then the pain, the sear of it, blinding, the breath gone from him, and he looks over at Janice, at her bloody neck, looks over at Dawn, in Buffy’s arms, watching Janice’s bloody neck. Both of them shaking.

Was he ever so young as them? He doesn’t remember.

Or, no, maybe he does. 

That only makes the shiver deepen.

“You won’t be like them,” Giles tells her, and Janice’s trembling slows, then settles out, until it’s hardly there.

She makes eye contact with Dawn as she says: “I wanna go home.”

“Right, of course!” Dawn exclaims. “We can go now, come on, we’ll—”

“No, Dawn, just—” Janice says, turns towards the Watcher again. “Can you take me?”

Giles clears his throat, nods. “Of course.”

“Janice—” Dawn starts.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, okay?” Janice says, her voice all thin. “I’ll talk to you … tomorrow. I just, I need to …”

“Okay!” Dawn says, too loud and too bright, and Spike’s chest wrenches to hear it. “Tomorrow—I’ll call you? Or, or I can just come by? Or um, whichever you’d like, and, and we can talk about all of this, um, I promise, okay?”

“Uh huh,” Janice says, starting to walk, and the Watcher follows. “Yeah. Tomorrow.”

Dawn stares after her for a long moment, and Buffy wraps her arms around her tighter until Janice and Giles are all but out of sight.

“Can we go home now?” Dawn asks, twisting around in Buffy’s embrace, her eye flicking between Spike and Buffy. Blinking tears away, she asks them: “Can you take me home?”

“‘Course, Nibblet,” Spike says, taking her other arm, and the three of them start to move out past the trees together.

 

*

 

Dawn hurries up the stairs and slams the door of her room shut the second they get inside.

“Dawn?” Spike raps his knuckles against the door. “Can I come in?”

There’s a sort of stifled sniffly mumbling sound in response.

“Dawnie?” Buffy says, coming up behind him. 

“I said that I’m wallowing !” Dawn shrieks in between sobs. “Can’t you guys just let me wallow?”

Both of them back away from the door slowly with flicker of concerned eye contact.

Down the hall, Tara emerges from her room, pads over to them softly, her eyes suspiciously wet. “Maybe I could talk to her?” 

Spike’s sure any attempt at opening that door’s going to lead to serious bloodshed, but no, Tara slips in without injury, because of course she does.

They both linger in the hall a few minutes longer, ears craned towards the door, and then Dawn’s weeping finally seems to slow. Spike can hear Tara guiding Dawn through deep breaths, exhaling with her, shaky at first, but steadying, and then it’s just both their voices, low and wrought, and he doesn’t expect Dawn would want him listening at this point, so he doesn’t.

He looks back over at Buffy, who’s leaning against the wall, all the energy drained out of her.

“Slayer? You alright?” 

Buffy hums gently in response. “Dunno,” she tells him. 

Slowly, she peels herself off from the wall, shuffles over to her room.

His chest all tensed, Spike follows.

She’s sitting on her bed, eyes tightly shut, knees hugged at her chest.

Spike takes a few tentative steps into the room, not sure where to put himself. He’d give anything, he thinks, to sit beside her, to let her drop her head against his chest and weep or sleep or talk or whatever it is that she needs to feel like the world isn’t pressing in on her.

“I can go, if you like,” he tells her.

Buffy shakes her head so slightly. “That’s okay. Um, could you just shut the door?”

Spike nods, even though she can’t see him, reaches a few fingers behind him to press the door shut. 

Walks over and perches on the wicker footboard at the edge of her bed.

There’s a long, quiet moment, where he’s just watching her.

“Been a long bloody day, hasn’t it?”

She opens her eyes a crack, gives him a tiny, tired smile. “Mmm. They’re all long, bloody days.”

She’s wearing that pink crucifix, he notices. The one Dawn wore over the summer. The one that got all spattered over with demon blood way back when she’d only just died the once.

“I just—I know she’ll be fine, right?” Buffy muses, drops her body back to land with a plop on the soft of her pillow.

“‘Course she will.”

“It’s almost normal. First fight with your first girlfriend. Like, if she were any kid, she’d have this. Probably wouldn’t be about vampires but still, you know?”

“Sensing a but here, love.”

But . God, I just, I don’t know if I can—I’m so tired, Spike. And, and she has you guys, which is—but I’m supposed to be able to do it? I should be the one who knows what to say? Who can know if I should go into the room even when she says she wants to be alone, and help her take deep breaths. But I can’t even—I mean, I even spend too long even talking to too many people at once these days and I feel like I’m gonna pass out.”

“To be fair, you spend all day working sodding retail on a sale day? Even the Energizer Bunny’d be knackered.”

She laughs, just barely, but it fades quick. “Not just that kind, though. Always. Even—even my friends, even—and when’s it gonna stop? When am I—’cause I’m her sister . I’m the only family she has left, and if I can’t be that for her, then—”

“Rot,” Spike tells her. 

“What, our dad? ‘Cause he’s not exactly—”

“No, no, rot to the whole—” Spike breaks off, tries to settle the tide of anger before he speaks, but it’s all just so— “You bloody humans, you know? All these fucking rules and lines you put up just ‘cause somebody says they’re—I mean, God, her only family? Christ, Slayer, I’d kill somebody for that girl. Hell, Tara’d kill somebody for that girl and she’s the one what sets spiders free in a little cup instead of squashing ‘em. So no, you’re not alone in this. Neither of you.”

Okay, so maybe the anger-quashing didn’t quite go as planned there.

He coils back towards his spine, inching away, waiting for her to tell him him to get the fuck out of her room before she throws him out.

Buffy says: “You really love her, don’t you?” 

Her voice, all quiet, a little rasped, and it would take the breath out of him if he had any left.

You don’t know what feelings are —she’d told him that once, but now — 

“Buffy …” he starts, not knowing what’s going to come out of his mouth next, but, God, if he grabbed her hand right now, would she flinch away? Maybe she …

But he looks at her, and she’s so tired. She looks like she could fall asleep right now, if they all let her.

“I should go, let you get some rest,” he tells her. 

She sits up, just looks at him. “No, this … fuck. This is helping. The talking? I just … I need …”

Tell me what you need and I’ll give it to you , he wants to say. Just tell me and I’ll burn the whole world down for you and then the next world over if it would make you sleep easier.

“Can you just distract me?” she asks, clutching the stuffed pig on her bed to her chest. “I need to … decompress.”

Spike grins at her. “Always happy to lend a hand to your decompressing, love.”

She lobs a sharp gaze at him.

“I swear, I really wasn’t trying to make that come out as innuendo,” which, actually, for once he really wasn’t.

She ignores him, then gets a sudden devilish look on her face.

“Wait, I know how you can help me decompress.”

“Oh?”

Buffy blushes. “God, it just sounds dirty no matter how you put it, huh?”

“‘Fraid so.”

She springs up onto her knees and plops back down to sitting at the edge of her bed, just inches from him.

“Okay so, ” Buffy starts. “How many times?”

“Gonna need a few more nouns in there, Slayer.”

She rolls her eyes. “You know . You and Angel. How many times did you … you know? Because I’m sorry, but I physically just cannot get over this.”

Her eyes are so fucking green, and this close he can see every speckle of them.

“It’s none of your business,” he tells her.

“It so is.”

“Look, you don’t wanna know.”

“Oh my god, ew? ‘Cause see now I’m all with the wild-imagination-run-amok-ing and it’s not pretty in there.”

“No, I just mean. Bleeding hell—I can’t remember, alright? How many times. ‘S too many to count. To even begin to count, I mean …”

Buffy’s eyes go so wide. 

“Don’t act so shocked—we traveled together for twenty-some-odd years. Lotta downtime in there.”

“I just,” there’s this strange little grin tugging at her mouth as she shakes her head at him. “I can’t believe you’ve had sex with Angel more times than me. I mean, how’s that for wiggy?”

“If it makes you feel better, you seem to be much better at it. I mean, I doubt I could’ve shagged the soul out of him, even if he’d had one to lose.”

She thinks about that for a moment. 

“It does actually help a little, yeah. But come on, it was good, right? I mean, when you and he used to … was it good?”

Spike scoffs. “You think I’d’ve shagged him so many times I can’t remember if it wasn’t any good?”

And then she’s blushing again. 

Spike feels a prickle in his skin, from her looking at him, and he realizes she’s thinking about it.

Thinking about him.

God, it’s so bloody good he doesn’t even mind she’s thinking about Angel at the same time, and then he hears—

“Damn it, Nibblet, would you stop listening at the door?”

Dawn opens the door with a squeak of the hinges and slips inside.

“Yuck. Your vampire ears are so creepy,” she tells him, dropping onto the bed beside Buffy.

Buffy snorts a little through her nose. “Okay, Miss Stones in Glass Houses. Like listening at keyholes isn’t creepy?”

Dawn scowls, shoves Buffy a little, and Buffy nudges her back.

“How’re you feeling?” Spike asks her. 

Dawn sniffles a little, but nods, tucking her knees up against her sternum like Buffy had hers before. “Okay? Better. Tara and I talked it out.”

“If you wanna talk it over more, Nibblet, get any more opinions? We’re here. Or if you don’t, that’s good too. Whatever you need.”

“Uh, sure, I guess? Well, okay, Tara said I should just try to see it from her perspective, right? ‘Cause it’s traumatic, isn’t it? Getting attacked by vampires? Finding out about vampires? Both of those happening at the same time? And, and she must be so freaked, thinking I hid it from her, you know, that they exist? Which I guess I did, but like, we all do? But anyway, I just mean like, I wasn’t thinking. And I so get that, I put us in danger by going out there, and—”

“—And you’re very grounded about that, by the way,” Buffy adds in.

“Figured.” Dawn pulls a sulking face. “But like, I should have thought ahead, and, and I should’ve known that could happen, and, and she probably just needs time, to process and settle down, and like, sure, I’d like to run over there right now and try to talk it out, but it’ll be healthier to go tomorrow—If I can I still go over to talk to her tomorrow?”

“Yes,” Buffy tells her. “And then right back to your dungeon.”

“Fair,” Dawn assents. “But yeah, I can explain all this to her tomorrow, that I’m sorry, and that I get it must be so intense for her, and, and just, see how she feels, you know? I mean, what do you guys think?”

Spike and Buffy take in a beat of eye contact.

“Yeah I think Tara pretty much covered it,” Spike says.

“Mmhmm,” Buffy agrees. “Like, I totally would have thought to say all that too, because I’m also as emotionally intelligent as Tara, clearly. But yeah, pretty much a good plan.”

“Me too, I’d’ve thought of all that on my own too,” Spike tacks on.

Dawn grins at them. “You guys are so freaking lame.”

“Speaking of—where is Tara?” Spike asks. “She seemed a little, I dunno, upset. She alright?”

Dawn’s eyes go a little wide and wavery. “Uh-huh. Um, she said she was just tired, and, and had to go talk to Willow about something. Why, do you, uh, do you think they’re like … fighting?”

Any ninny could see that they are. Been nothing but tense glances and white knuckles between the two of them lately.

“No,” he tells Dawn. “‘Course not. I expect they’re both just worn out from the day.”

She nods, placated. 

So,” Dawn says, waggling her eyebrows at the both of them. “What were you guys talking about?”

“None of your business,” Buffy glass.

“Ugh, it is so my business. I heard you talking about Spike and Angel.”

“If you heard us, why’d you ask?” Spike says.

Dawn shrugs. “See if you’d lie?” 

Damn it, he’s taught her too well.

“I think I still missed how that’s your business though,” Buffy says, her face all annoyed but her voice mostly amused.

“Ugh, you’re so out of the loop ,” Dawn tells her sister, and then gestures between herself and Spike. “ We have a discussion group” 

“Oh?” Buffy asks, an eyebrow raised towards Spike.

“Bisexuals Anonymous,” he tells her. “I for one am against the name, I’ll have you know.”

Buffy considers it for a second. “Yeah, the analogy really doesn’t work.”

“That’s what I’ve been saying!” Spike shoots a look at Dawn that says see?  

She sticks her tongue out at him in response, which, fair.

Buffy muses: “Like, it should be closer to like, I don’t know … Bisexual Support Group?”

Spike poses: “Bisexuals Book Club?”

Buffy sighs. “Ugh, none of them have the same ring as Bisexuals Anonymous.”

“I know,” Spike agrees, dejected. “Isn’t it infuriating?”

Ahem!” Dawn cuts in. “The point is, you can’t shut me out. I started this club, so you’re the interloper, actually.”

She jabs an accusing finger towards Buffy.

“Woah, down girl,” Buffy says, hands held up. “You’re never gonna attract membership with that kind of attitude.”

“Tough,” Dawn says.

Buffy grins at her. “Ugh. Can I bribe my way in?”

“Let’s talk terms. Like, say … unground me?”

Buffy says, “Very no. But, counter-offer: ice cream. Lots of it.”

Please . I’m way too old to be bribed with just ice cream anymore.”

“That’s news to me, Little Bit,” Spike pipes in.

“Yuh-huh. It’s cold, hard cash now. Or maybe, like, half cash, half ice cream?”

Ooh ,” Buffy says, locking eyes with Spike for a second, which makes him nervous in a nice way. “What about the inside scoop on all the Spike-Angel gossip? Straight from the source.”

“You bloody traitor,” Spike tells her, as the two of them just giggle at him, and, God help him, he starts to laugh too, and for a few moments everything feels warm.



***



“So, as I understand it, she’s not mad at you?”

“No.”

“And she was remarkably cool about the whole, sister is a Vampire Slayer, you’re actually a mystical Key thing.”

“Yes.”

“Right. And we’re still panicking because …?” Spike poses, and Dawn glares at him. “Look, perfectly happy to panic with you, Nibblet, if it’ll make you happy. Just trying to get a firmer grasp on the situation, to better suit your needs.”

The two of them are sitting at the dining room table surrounded by half-eaten bowls of combo cereal concoctions—most of which were frankly mediocre, in Spike’s opinion, though the Rice Krispies-Count Chocula double feature is actually pretty damn spectacular. 

“Ugh, because she says she’s cool about it now, but like, you saw her yesterday! Totally freaked! And she’s not exactly winning the Nobel for being good at difficult conversations, you know? So what if she’s just pretending to be chill about it to avoid a fight, you know?”

“So, our plan is …?”

“That the second I’m ungrounded I take her on a bunch of super cool, super romantic dates, so she totally forgets she was ever freaked to begin with,” Dawn says, and bites another spoonful of Froot Loop-Franken Berry medley. 

Spike thinks about it for a moment. “Seems pretty foolproof to me. So what, we’re brainstorming dates?”

Exactly.

There’s a long, long moment of silence.

“Just waiting for you to get the ball rolling, Nibblet,” Spike tells her.

“What, me? Hello, first relationship ever, over here, I got nothing. You on the other hand dated Drusilla for like a zillion years, so start coughing up ideas, pal.”

“Right, ‘course. Ideas. Got loads of ideas.”

Another long, long moment of silence.

“Literally how ?” Dawn says.

“‘S not my fault! Most of the dates for most of my unlife centered around committing murder together, which I’m guessing is off the table for you two.”

Dawn sighs. “What, the whole time? Like, what did you and Dru do on your first date?”

Spike makes pointed eye contact. 

“... She murdered me.” 

“Point taken.”

  They’re both still sitting in ruminating silence munching cereal when Buffy comes down the stairs and through the kitchen, and spots them.

“Dawn, you gotta stop roping people into your gross cereal experiments. It’s inhumane,” she says, sitting down at the head of the table in between them.

“Yeah, but Spike’s not human. And he liked it—tell her about the Count Chocula!”

“Count Chocula?”

Spike looks up from the bowl at Buffy all sheepish. “The irony’s not lost on me.”

Dawn says, “Buffy, you got any good date ideas for me? We got nothing.”

Stealing Spike’s cereal bowl, Buffy says: “Trying the whole preemptive romance fight avoiding thing, huh?” She takes a bite, then says. “Wait, Spike, how do you have nothing ?”

He grabs an empty bowl from the stack. “Extenuating circumstances.”

“All his date ideas are about murder-based, apparently,” Dawn says. “But you must have some ideas, right?”

Buffy thinks as she chews, and then a look of genuine disturbance crosses over her face. 

“Oh, God—I think all my date ideas are about killing things too.”

See ,” Spike says, emptying out the Count Chocula box with one last angry shake into his bowl. “Not so easy now, is it?”

“Yeah, but you’re like, two hundred—”

“Hundred and forty-seven!”

“—whatever,” Buffy says. “So I think it’s still more pathetic for you than for me.”

“You are really old,” Dawn says. “Like, so old.”

“Thanks ever so,” Spike says as witheringly as he can.

Dawn goes on, not caring: “I mean, way old. Like, did they have electricity when you were a kid? Oh my god, did they have toilets? Or, ew, did you have to use chamber pots?”

Buffy stops chewing mid-bite. “ Please stop asking about Spike’s bowel movements.”

Dawn wrinkles up her whole face. “Oh my god, never say bowel movements again. We’re eating.”

Buffy wrinkles her face up back, but in an angry way. “You’re the one who brought them up! I was just describing the thing that you insisted on talking about in the first place.”

Dawn turns to Spike way too intently, and asks: “Wait, okay, on the subject, do vampires even use the bathroom? Like, I feel like for blood you wouldn’t? But you eat human food all the time.”

“Not all the time!” Spike says.

Buffy gives him a look. “A lot of the time.”

Dawn nudges at his bowl of cereal with her own, like they’re making a toast. “Like, most of the time.”

Spike sighs. “Nibblet, I’ll pay you thirty dollars never to ask about my bowel movements again.”

Buffy wrinkles her nose again, in the disgusted way this time. “Yughhh. Dawnie, you’re right, that phrase is way gross.”

“Right?!”

 

*

 

Later that night, cemetery is quiet, except for a pair of fledgling vamps, who make a racket screaming as Buffy plunges a stake in one, and then the other.

Then they’re dust, and it’s back to the quiet.

It’s been like this every time he’s patrolled with her, since she’s been back. Buffy talks, sometimes, when she can, when she wants to. But mostly it’s just them walking, silently, stakes in hand, the night around them, side by side.

And that suits Spike just fine.

They’ve dusted a third vamp and moved onto the next cemetery over before either of them says a word.

“Question,” she says.

“Hit me.”

He shouldn’t be surprised when she punches him in the chest just for the joke of it, but apparently his mind’s not running the quickest today.

“You did tell me to, in my defense.”

“Hey, no complaints over here,” he tells her with a sidelong grin.

Ew ,” she says, but she’s grinning too. “But anyway. I keep wondering—your whole threesome situation, with Xander and Anya? Will that be more or less awkward now that they’re engaged? ‘Cause I feel like it would either really raise, or really lower the stakes, but I super can’t tell which.”

“They’re engaged ?”

Buffy looks at him all confused, then remembers. “Right! Forgot you ducked out like, halfway through the Magic Box shift. Which, rude, by the way.”

“You’re just mad I didn’t sneak you out with me.”

“Obviously, yes,” she says, laughing, just a little, in that way she does. “But anyway, they announced that night, after we closed up the shop.”

There’s a strange look on her face about it, so he asks: “You don’t exactly seem thrilled for the happy couple.”

“It’s not that,” she shakes her head a little, thinking. “More just like, since when are we even old enough to get married? It just feels so … I mean, Xander’s engaged. Xander is. And I’m what, still figuring out how to wanna get out of bed in the morning?”

She’s stopped walking, is just leaning against a tree, eyes sloped up to the dark boughs, hands cupping her chin. 

Spike looks at her for a moment, trying to suss out if this is the kind of mood where she’d need distraction or catharsis.

Distraction, if he had to put down money on it.

“Way I see it, engagement sorta smooths the whole thing out,” he tells her.

She swings her gaze back towards him, mouth all wry: “And how’s that?”

“Well see, this way, I don’t have to think about what I’m getting them for a wedding present.”

Her face softens with the slightest touch of a smile, with that little exhale she does through her nose. 

So, distraction was the right call, then.

“It’s all still kinda surprising to me,” she says, and they start walking again, but slowly this time. “Like, Xander being into you? That we’d all clocked ages ago.”

“Well, who could blame the boy? “S a well-known fact I’m irresistible”

Buffy slides right past that comment with nothing but a flash of eye contact and a blush he can’t fully see, but he can smell.

She says: “And Anya? I could I get the appeal.”

“Do you now?”

She shoves him playfully. It’s a light shove, for her—but it is still her , so he careens sideways and knocks into a grave. 

Buffy helps him back to his feet, her hand warm in his, and as they resume walking, she continues: “I mean, I’m not personally trying to go there or anything, but yeah, objectively she’s hot. It’s just the you being into Xander of it all. I mean, he’s my best friend, and I love him, but I ... wouldn’t have pegged him for your type.”

“Given thought to what my type is, have you?” Spike asks, and swerves forward to avoid another shove.

“Okay, that’s like three weird sexual comments in a row, I’m putting you in time-out.”

“You’re the one who brought up the threesome situation. Just following your lead, Slayer.”

She pouts. “Just because that’s true doesn’t mean it’s … ugh, just shut up and answer the question.”

“So am I shutting up or am I answering the question?” he asks, eyebrow raised.

Spike .”

He thinks on it for a few paces, and says: “I mean, look, not like I saw him and immediately felt it. Just er, there were … moments.”

“Moments?”

Something about when Spike was rope-tied to that chair, back in Xander’s basement place, just inches from him, and he could tell Xander wasn’t sleeping, could hear the arousal in his blood, could feel Xander reacting to the, if he may say so himself, hot muscly vampire bound up all helpless and in grabbing distance.

Something about some nights, in the summer, the lot of them patrolling, and Spike’s hand wrapping around the nape of Xander’s neck to throw him back from some beastie trying to devour him, and Spike could feel it then too, the hardening rush in Xander’s blood, wanting him, wanting Spike to grab him and throw him around some more.

Something about how it’s just good , to be wanted sometimes, and damn if the boy doesn’t have that whole nice upper arm thing going on too, as a bonus.

And fuck it, maybe Spike was doing some of the wanting too, but if they didn't want him getting horny for any of them they shouldn't have kept tying him up, so that's on them. 

“Yeah. Moments,” Spike says to Buffy.

O kay, cryptic guy,” she says, and then silence falls between them again.

There’s a few minutes of just their footfalls, and then she says, sighs:

“Sorry, I think I’m out of playful banter steam for the night.”

She’s out of walking steam too apparently, because she slows to a halt and leans up against the wall of a mausoleum.

“You know you don’t have to—you don’t need to do any of that on my account, Slayer. ‘M perfectly happy, either which way.”

He leans up against the wall next to her, and the leather arms of their coats are almost touching.

She shifts a little, and then their coats are touching.

“Please, like it’s for you?” she says, and it could have the cadence of a joke, but her voice is all soft and monotone and tired. “It’s for me. It feels good, you know? And I want to feel good. I do, I … I know everyone probably thinks I … but I do. I just … can’t.”

“You’ll feel good again.”

“Not like it was there,” she says, in barely a whisper. 

She hardly ever talks about it. Heaven. He never asks, either, figures it’s too painful to discuss. But sometimes she seems like she needs to.

“I never had to try there. Trying wasn’t even part of the equation.” She looks at him, and he can see a touch of tears in her eyes. “I was enough. I was always enough, and I always would be, and here . I mean, God, if they knew…”

“They might understand, pet,” he whispers, because anything louder than that would feel wrong right now, somehow. “If you told them, I … I don’t know exactly. They’re a complicated lot. But they love you. Eventually, they’d understand.”

“Maybe,” she breathes. “But, but I’m so tired, Spike. I don’t even think I could, could even find the words? Where would I … start?”

“You found the words to tell me,” he points out.

“That’s different.”

He gets that familiar urge in his gut, the ache, towards right, of course. I’m not one of your friends. It doesn’t count, to tell me , and then it occurs to him—

“Hang on, did you mean that in a good way?”

Buffy gets a load of what he’s sure is a mangled-up, hopeful expression he’s got no idea how to tamp down.

“Weirdo,” she tells him. She’s still looking at him as she goes on: “I just want it to stop … hurting … so much … all the time.”

“I know.”

“And I’ve been trying to act like it doesn’t? For Dawnie. ‘Cause sometimes it is. Easy, being all … bright, for her.  But then it almost hurts more? ‘Cause I feel like, like I’m … promising it to her. That I’ll be able to keep doing it, and I can barely …”

She trails off, her expression all ached.

Tentatively, Spike shifts, places a hand on her shoulder. She lets him.

“Listen, I keep trying to tell you, Slayer. You’re not alone in this, with Dawn. We’ve all got her. Me, and the witches, and Harris, and all of us, we’ve got her too.  An’ it doesn’t take away from the two of you either, I mean, you fucking died for her. For all of us. So let us do this for you.”

“It would hurt her. She … she wouldn’t understand. She’s so young . I mean, I was only … I was her age, when it all started for me. But she’s so young, Spike,” Buffy says, and then she shifts again, until her head is against her chest.

So slowly, he moves his other arm so it wraps around her back, and that just makes her burrow into him tighter.

“She’d understand eventually.” he says, into her hair. “You don’t have to protect her from everything.”

Buffy glances up at him, God, she’s so close to him, the scent of her is everywhere, he can barely think, and she’s so close to him.

“Like you wouldn’t be doing the same thing for her, if this were you,” she says.

Well, yeah, she’s got him there. 

Or no, she doesn’t. He’d die for the Nibblet, of course. He’d kill for her. But not the way Buffy can—it’s easier for her. Being good to people. It comes so natural to her, she doesn’t have to think about it, and he knows that’ll never be him, he’ll never be as good as her, not like that, and he knows she sees it, what he is, or what he isn’t , rather, and he knows it must turn her stomach, and—  

And then he doesn’t have time to think anything else about it, because she’s kissing him.

Buffy’s kissing him .

He recovers from the shock as quick as he ever has, and then he’s kissing her back, sliding his hands up her back to tangle fingers in her hair, and she’s kissing him so soft, so soft, and then not soft at all—then her mouth aching desperately towards his like it’s she’s not already on him, then her hands skirting to his sides, slipping under his duster to grab at his waist, his back, his hips, through his shirt. 

Then her tongue, her perfect tongue, lapping against his.

She breaks off, still just inches from his face, her eyes so close to his, exhaling into his mouth like she’s trying to let him borrow her breath.

“I don’t—” she starts, and everything about her eyes is wavering.

“Look, you don’t have to say anything.”

“I don’t know what it means,” she says anyway. “I don’t know if it means anything. Or … if I can even …”

“Buffy,” he breathes, and nothing has ever felt so good in his mouth as her name.

“I just know…I know I feel good? When you’re … and, and I wanna keep feeling good, and, and when I’m with …”

Buffy kisses him again, hard and quick and desperate. 

She shoves him against the wall so he’s pinned there by the force of her hands, her mouth all eager and relentless on his lips, his jawbone, his neck, fuck, so many nights wondering how it would feel, her mouth on his neck, the real thing, not a spell or a dream or the Bot or anything, and it’s nothing like how he imagined, God, it’s so much better.

It’s closer to what he always imagined being dusted would feel like—every bit of him tingling and on fire. And like there’s no way his body could possibly ever contain all of this feeling.

“When I’m with you, it feels good,” she tells him as she pulls away, breath a little ragged. “I don’t know if it can be anything more than that. Is that okay?”

He kisses her again, as an answer.



***



It’s Sunday night. The three of them are at the diner. 

“You know this in no way makes you ungrounded, right?” Buffy reminds Dawn.

Buffy’s sitting next to Spike, their thighs touching. They’re facing the Nibblet in a way that reminds Spike, dangerously, of parents giving their kid a talking-to in a sitcom, and the thought of it feels so good it hurts, and he has to remind himself to slow the fuck down, don’t get worked up over things you’re never gonna have, you bloody wanker.

 Dawn rolls her eyes. “ Yes . I know.

“It’s just a … soft launch of you being ungrounded. Theoretically. In the distant future.”

“You said next week!”

“I said maybe next week.”

“I just wanna see Janice. I, I won’t go anywhere else! I’ll just go to her house for like, ten minutes —not even into her house. I’ll just stand at the fence and throw rocks at her window like an old timey gentleman caller! Please?

Buffy smiles sweetly as she says. “Not a chance.” 

Dawn makes a very exaggerated grumpy face at her. “Kind of homophobic of you, don’t you think?”

From the corner of Spike’s eye, he sees Buffy actually balk for a second, like she’s about to apologize.

Nice try, ” she says to Dawn instead.

“It was a valiant effort, Nibblet,” Spike tells her. 

“Guess you’ll just have to settle for talking to Janice on the phone all night when some of us have calls to make,” Buffy snips.

“Please. Everybody you call lives in our house. Except for Xander, and he’s at our house half the time anyway,” Dawn replies. 

Buffy can’t seem to think of a comeback, so she scrunches up her face and flicks Dawn on the nose instead. And then a thought passes over her face:

“Wait, though, skirting back to the homophobic thing—nobody at school gives you two any trouble, right?” Buffy asks. “Because I swear to God, if they do, I’ll—”

“Yeah yeah,” Dawn says to them both. “You’re gonna rip off their limbs and wear their ribcage as a hat or whatever? Spike gives me this speech like, once a week.”   

Buffy grins at him just slightly through the corner of her mouth. “It’d give you a hell of a migraine.”

“Not as bad as the one I’d give any of them,” he says. “But seriously, Nibblet, nobody’s—?”

“Nobody’s giving me any trouble,” Dawn assures them. “If they do, I promise you guys can do a bunch of disturbing violence to them, okay?”

“Okay,” Buffy and Spike say, in sync.

Today’s the third day since Buffy kissed him. She’s kissed him every day since.

Well, not on Friday, but he didn’t see her Friday.

He’s trying really, really hard not to read into it. 

“Anyway, I’m going to the bathroom,” Dawn says. “I am still allowed to go to the bathroom, yes?”

“As long as you don’t almost get anyone eaten by a vampire on the way there, you bet,” Buffy says.

Dawn throws a wadded-up straw wrapper in Buffy’s face as she stands.

“You alright, pet?” Spike asks her once Dawn’s out of earshot.

She steals a loud sip of Dawn’s soda that makes that slurpy straw sound.

“I’m …” she starts, “I don’t know. My tongue is tired.”

He knows it’s not what she means, but he can’t resist saying, with a waggle of the eyebrows: “What, our little go at it got you knackered already?” 

She gives him her you’re disgusting look, like she’s not the one who shoved him up against the side of her house an hour ago with her hands pushed under his shirt to kiss him dizzy. 

“Am I doing okay, do you think?” she asks, running a hand absently over his thigh. “Am I being too … parenty? I mean, she did almost get them both killed. That requires a certain level of excessive guilting, right?”

“You’re bloody brilliant, is what you are. And nice touch, letting her come out for diner night—gives her a bit of a slack, but you’re sticking firm on the rest.” 

Buffy laughs a little. “Oh. That’s was Tara’s idea actually.”

Spike chuckles into the crook of her shoulder. “Shoulda figured. Still though, I think we can count it as a point for you.”

Buffy shudders slightly as the breath from his talking tickles her ear. 

There’s a little ahem sound as the waitress appears at their table

“You folks know what you’d like to order?” she asks, wearing a tight-lipped smile as she takes them and all their PDA in.

Buffy gives Spike a look, and he begrudgingly dislodges himself from her shoulder.

Buffy glances down at her open menu again. “Uh, yeah! I’ll have the … hmm. A slice of the Boston cream cake? And … oh, a tuna melt? Extra cheese, extra tomato? And um … oh! Fried zucchini sticks?”

“Got it,” the waitress says as she scribbles. “You want the zucchini sticks first or …?”

“Oh, no, you can bring it all out at once!” Buffy says, and suddenly the Nibblet’s eating habits make a lot more sense.

“Just a Jack and Coke for me, thanks,” Spike tells the waitress, and Buffy smacks him in the ribs.

“Um, no . You can’t order alcohol at a diner.”

“‘S on the sodding menu!” 

She rolls her eyes. “ Yeah, and so is the …” she scans the menu page. “Clams casino. Doesn’t mean it’s not fully the wrong vibe and totally disgusting to get it at a diner .” 

Buffy blushes a little, glances up at the waitress. “No offense!”

Another close-mouthed smile. Spike makes a mental note to leave a good tip.

Spike huffs. “A black coffee then. And onion rings!”

“Whaddaya think Dawn wants?” Buffy asks him. “Burger?”

Spike shakes his head. “First and third Sundays of the month are Breakfast Sunday.” He peeks down at the open menu, flips over to the front section of it. “Hmm. She keeps meaning to do the double chocolate French toast. Could we do that and a side of hash browns?”

The waitress nods, and walks away like she can’t wait to be rid of them.

Once they’re alone, Buffy runs a hand over the top of Spike’s hair, her fingertips searching through the locks for his scalp. She scratches, gently, and it feels so good Spike’s afraid to move.

And then her hand vanishes from his head right quick, which means—yup, Dawn’s emerged back from the bathroom and is scurrying towards their table.

Spike’s under strict instructions not to tell anyone—least of all the Little Bit—about their … well, whatever this thing of theirs is. Which twists something up inside him, yeah, but he’s in no position to complain. Not now. Maybe not ever. 

Maybe he won’t have to. ‘Cause maybe one day, he figures, wonders, aches, he’ll be enough. She’ll let him be someone she could want, out in the open. 

It’s a dangerous thought, but he can’t stop thinking it.

For now, he tries to make a show of acting nonchalant, peering out the window as casual as he can, thrumming his hands over the plastic book of jukebox songs nailed to the wall.

“Why do you guys look all weird?” Dawn says, sliding back into the booth.

“Takes one to know one,” Buffy says. “Oh, we ordered for you, by the way.”

“How dare you,” Dawn tells her sister.

“Don’t worry, Platelet, I got your back. Double chocolate French toast, on its way.”

He lets the hashbrown be a surprise. Her face always lights up when there’s unexpected fried potatoes.

“Oh my god!” Dawn squeals. “I totally forgot about Breakfast Sunday.”

“How come he gets oh my god and I get how dare you? ” Buffy asks.

“Don’t ask me to explain my methods,” Dawn says.

“Dork.”

Anyway ,” Dawn says with a roll of her eyes. “Now that we’re all present and accounted for, I’m officially calling this week’s meeting of Bisexuals Anonymous to order.” 

She looks around for something to use as a gavel, and settles for banging the table with her paper napkin bundle of silverware.

“As our first order of business,” Dawn continues. “I motion to temporarily and on a trial basis elevate one Buffy Anne Summers to Honorary Co-Chair. Will anyone second my motion?”

“Seconded,” Spike says.

“Fantastic. All in favor?”

Spike and Dawn both raise their hands. 

“I’m honored, you guys. Really. I won’t let you down,” Buffy says, matching Dawn’s mock-seriousness.

“We’ll see about that,” Dawn says, and starts to say something else, but then— 

But then Spike’s sure he blacks out, or hallucinates at the very least, and really, that would make sense, if the last few days—Buffy kissing him, touching him like she wants him, like she likes him, even—were all a fever dream.

It’s definitely a fever dream. Gotta be. Because otherwise how else do you explain that there’s suddenly a fucking brass band? Playing from somewhere? 

And that all the waitstaff are suddenly on roller skates and know a shocking amount of choreography? 

Or that there’s multi-colored pastel spotlights coming from fucking somewhere? He guesses? Same place as the brass band maybe?

And especially that, as he lands back in his seat, he has the strangest feeling like a pair of roller skates just appeared on his feet too, except they’ve vanished now?

And that he actually fucking crooned a Broadway-style showstopper?

Because God, please let it be a hallucination, because if it’s not then he actually just fucking sang Buffy and Dawn a whole entire showtune about how he wants to be part of their family, and he knows he’s not worthy, but just take a chance on me, and— 

Fuck , it even rhymed?

No, no, definitely a hallucination. Definitely didn’t fucking happen. Right?

He looks at Buffy and Dawn finally, both of whom are staring at him and then each other so blankly and confused and no one’s saying anything, which is good, right? Because if he’d actually just done that then somebody would probably be saying something.

Just a hallucination then. Thank God. Worrying in its own way, but thank fucking God.

Buffy says: “So um, you both heard that, right? The bursting-into-song thing?”

Dawn starts giggling uncontrollably. “Oh, this is gonna be good.”

Spike’s insides twist up in embarrassment, but then Dawn grabs his hand at the same motion as she grabs Buffy’s, and the three of them break into stunned laughter together, and they’re still laughing by the time the food comes.