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Stains Never Washed

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“She saved the world. A lot.”

—-

“Should’ve been me.”

Spike doesn’t bother wondering how she knew he was there. Maybe she didn’t, maybe she’s just pouring out her regrets to the headstone at her feet. It’s a human thing, he thinks.

But, no. She’s a Summers. She knows he’s there.

So he steps into place beside her, staring down at the cold grave with his hands tucked into the pockets of his long coat.

“I know,” he says, instead of trying to argue. Because, well, he’s not a liar.

Her mouth twists, but she doesn’t look up from where she’s gazing down at the barely-regrown grass, the words cut deep into a lifeless hunk of rock. Her arms are crossed over her chest, warding off more than cold.

“That’s right,” she says curtly, “you kind of loved her, didn’t you?” She bites the inside of her cheek, looking dull and sharp at the same time, cut from stone. “Better for everybody if it’d been me.”

He sighs. “That’s not really the point.”

“The point?”

He pulls out a cigarette, lights it, offers it to her. She waves it away, but watches him take a drag and blow smoke up into the cold air before he speaks again. “ ‘t’s got nothin’ to do with you, love. Not always about you, despite the impression you might’ve gotten from being the belle of the apocalypse-ball up to this point. ‘t’s not that we’re all so eager to get rid of you. ‘t’s just.” He takes another pull. Shrug. “Should’a been anyone else. Not her.”

“She deserves better,” Dawn agrees. “She’s always deserved better, but. It shouldn’t end like this.”

Spike looks up at the sky, squinting against the gray. Twilight in a graveyard. Safe, now, or safer than before, anyway. The inscription on the gravestone, She saved the world. A lot.

“Let’s walk you home,” he says around the cigarette between his teeth.

Dawn’s slim shoulders tighten. “I don’t need a babysitter.”

He exhales a plume of smoke at her back. Doesn’t respond.

“…But, I guess she made you promise, didn’t she?”

He still doesn’t say anything, and she turns to face him, eyes cool-colored and stripped of any illusion.

“You’d still trade me for her, wouldn’t you,” she says. “If you had the chance.”

Spike takes one last drag and flicks the cigarette away, barely-smoked. “Yeah. I would.” He tips his head toward the cemetery exit, inviting her to lead the way.

“Yeah,” she says as her steps carry her past him, looking straight ahead. “I would, too.”