Xander took a deep breath, filling his lungs with the fresh, woodsy air. It felt good to be out here once again. He and Tara had been so tied up in convincing Willow that she shouldn’t bring Buffy back to life that it had been almost a month since he’d last made this trip. When he got there just after dusk, he was surprised by what he found. Buffy’s grave was surrounded with candles that made the whole clearing glow a warm yellow-orange, the entire top of the tombstone crowned with flickering light.
Dawn sat on a blanket near the grave, talking quietly to Spike who was pulling things out of a huge picnic basket. Xander was too surprised by all this to even mention anything about the fact that Spike had kept Dawn out after dark.
“Xander!” Dawn jumped up, stepping across the blanket to give him a hug. “How did you know we’d be here?”
“I didn’t.” He squeezed her tightly. “Just lucky, I guess.”
She pulled him onto the blanket to join them, and he plopped down across from Dawn. Spike gave him a nod, and went back to what he was doing.
“New look.” Xander indicated the grave. “I like it.” There were numerous flowers scattered over the grass, and even more leaning up against the tombstone. He added his own bouquet to the collection. A couple of cloth napkins lay at the base of the tombstone, covered with food: cookies, brownies, sandwiches…
“Is that a fluffernutter?” Xander reached for the sandwich, but Dawn was quick and slapped his hand before he could touch it. He pulled back, shaking his fingers.
“Don’t touch!” she ordered. “I’ve got more, that one is for Buffy.”
Spike spoke up for the first time. “It’s All Soul’s Day, mate, didn’t you realize?”
Xander frowned, “Say what?”
“Spike told me all about it,” Dawn said eagerly. “In Brazil they light candles and decorate the graves with flowers, and in some countries they leave offerings of food. I thought Buffy would like that part, so I brought all her favorites.”
“But you brought enough for us, too, right?” Xander asked hopefully. He’d come here directly from work, so he hadn’t eaten yet.
Dawn grinned, “I didn’t know you’d be here, but I brought plenty.”
He sat there for a while, watching Dawn and Spike work together, surprised at his own lack of concern for how close the two had grown recently. Spike pulled food and drinks out of the basket, and Dawn placed some of everything on the cloth napkins: fried chicken, burritos, French fries…
“Buffy loved pancakes,” Dawn reminded him with a smile.
It was an eclectic mix, but somehow it seemed right. Finally, Dawn was satisfied with Buffy’s offerings and the three of them dug hungrily into the feast spread out before them.
They spoke quietly as they ate; sharing memories of Buffy that made Xander hurt, but in a good way - a cleansing way. He realized how much he’d needed something like this, a chance to remember the little things that made Buffy who she was – not a Slayer, but a sister and a friend.
And to think it was Spike’s idea. He’d been around a lot this summer, helping Dawn with her school work, sitting with her through endless late night movies, holding her when she cried. He’d been rather helpful on patrol as well, not complaining when they’d asked for his help on a regular basis. Well, he complained, it was Spike after all, but you could tell when he was actually angry, and he really wasn’t. As odd as it seemed, Xander had begun to think of Spike as someone they could count on.
Seeing Spike with marshmallow fluff on his upper lip was a real eye opener, but watching him growl at a giggling Dawn while she wiped his game face clean was the true revelation. Dawn was safe with Spike, and she always had been. Strange to think of Spike as anything but an enemy, but he hadn’t threatened to kill anyone in ages, and here he was, toasting Buffy’s life with Xander and Dawn.
Spike smiled fondly as he spoke of the first time he’d run up against Buffy and ended up on the wrong side of her mother’s axe.
“Learned a valuable lesson that night,” Spike said, his arm around Dawnie’s shoulder. “Never mess with a slayer’s mother.”
Dawn smiled sadly at the mention of her mother, but then she grinned evilly, poking him in the side.
“Or her sister!”
Xander realized with surprise that hadn’t seen Spike laugh since Buffy died, but he was laughing now. He guessed that taking care of Dawn had been good for Spike, too.
Eventually, all good things come to an end. Xander carried the basket, and Spike hefted a sleepy Dawn into his arms for the trip back. Tonight had done wonders for Xander; his heart felt lighter than it had in months, less weighted down with sorrow and responsibility. He hesitated to say anything; Spike usually brushed off any gratitude they offered him with mumbled words about his promise to the Slayer. But tonight had been special, and Xander felt the need to say something, so he whispered it softly enough that Spike wouldn’t have to respond, if he didn’t want to.
Spike looked back at him in surprise, then shrugged, turning back to the path they walked. Several minutes passed in silence, but just before they got to Xander’s car, parked along the edge of the woods, Spike replied, “You’re welcome, Xander.”
Xander made a big deal out of opening the back door to hide his shock. Spike had used his given name. He thought that was a first. Spike lay Dawn out on the back seat, taking care to buckle her in carefully. Xander swallowed around the lump in his throat, blinking his eyes to clear out a random tear that hadn’t at all been caused by watching a vampire tenderly tuck a strand of hair behind a sleeping girl’s ear.
He started the car, blindly searching for a radio station that would suit them both, and not wake Dawn. It seemed a lot of what they did these days was centered around Dawn. But then Xander figured that was the way things ought to be.