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Some Things Change, Others Stay the Same

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Spike shambled down the sidewalk, hands in his duster’s pockets and feeling far too sober for the words tumbling around his head. His promise that no one would hurt Dawn while he was around stung, so much that in the first week or so he’d thought about ending it permanently. 126 years was a pretty good run, right? But Dawn needed him, and she became his reason to keep going—his focus. She’d pulled him out of the sun after the battle, and she never stopped pulling. Spike was fine with that, now. He had failed once—he was going to have to make up for it. He owed the Bit that. He owed Buffy that.

Two months. Buffy had been gone for two whole months. You’d think he would have stopped feeling like he was drowning by now.

He hadn’t.

Buffy had died to save the world, but she wouldn’t have had to if he had done what he was supposed to in the first place. Bloody Powers sure had a real fucked up sense of humor. Spike ambled down Revello drive to drink in peace under the tree outside of the Summers’ house, hopefully followed by a punch out session with something, like usual. Tonight, however, something was different.

Spike didn’t give a lot of thought to Tara. She was of the solid, dependable sort. Sort of like Red’s previous beau, the wolfboy. He’d seemed…steady. Wolfboy and Glinda were of that same cloth. Must be something about Red that attracted them to her. Red herself had come a long way from the awkward kid he’d first caught a little glimpse of. Spike knew best how power could change people.

But that was beside the point—that being he had no bleedin’ clue what to do with Tara, who was sitting curled up on the front porch in the dark, crying her big blue eyes out. For the most part, Spike just wanted to run and leave her to her tears. He couldn’t imagine himself being welcome in whatever problem she was having. Dawn was different; he knew what she wanted when she needed it. By now he could tell when the teen just wanted to be left alone and when she needed a shoulder.

But this was Glinda, a girl he’d rarely given any thought to whatsoever, who he didn’t really know. He had learned more skills in comforting in the past few months, but that didn’t mean he was a sodding therapist. Sides, he was a vampire, why should he care if some human chit was crying or not?

But it was Tara, crying in a place where all manner of nasties could come and grab her, and crying alone. That was another mystery. Girl had all kinds of friends, if she had a problem, she could just go to them, couldn’t she? She had a place with the Scooby lot, they’d very well taken her in, hadn’t they?

Spike let out a frustrated noise. There was just something… He swallowed compulsively when he remembered another time he found a girl sitting on a porch crying her eyes out. She’d been alone, even though she’d had all her friends…

Fine. If she wanted to be alone, he could walk away, simple as that. He’d just ask her what was wrong and if she wanted to talk or if she looked like she wanted someone to sit with her, he could do that, if not, he could say that he’d just come to ask about Dawn or patrol or something.

Spike crossed the lawn and made his way up the porch steps, still not in the best mood but determined. Tara didn’t look up, although her sobbing began to slow and quiet, and he knew she’d heard him. The fact that she hadn’t looked up to see if it was something nasty wasn’t a good sign of wanting to survive in Sunnydale. She knew that—she’d been on patrol long enough. She just didn’t care.

Spike crouched down when he was directly in front of her and tilted his head, watching the moon light play off her hair, making it look like streaming mercury. “Glinda?” he finally asked, “You alright?”

Tara jumped a bit at his voice and slowly began to raise her head, trying to wipe her eyes before he saw the tears. Bit late for that, pet, Spike thought gruffly. Tara’s blue eyes met his, and fuck, he felt…well, he wasn’t sure what it was. But something caught. She was vulnerable, and he could feel that.

“Why aren’t you inside, pet? Lotsa nasties out here.” Spike gestured his thumb behind his back, pointing to the world beyond the porch light.

Tara blinked a bit and her mouth opened slightly in confusion before her chin began to tremble again. “I couldn’t go inside,” she managed to say, voice hoarse from crying. Spike could feel it in his throat, that raw, painful feeling.

He cleared his throat, trying to rid himself of the sensation. “S’it locked? Can pick it if you want, if you didn’t want to wake the girls.” Tara shook her head as she attempted to hide the sobs that had come over her again. She probably didn’t appreciate him staring at her—Bit hated that. Spike slid down to sit and then moved around until he was sitting next to her instead of in front of her and tried to figure out what could have gotten her so upset. Not locked out, why else wouldn’t she go in?

“Fight with Red?” Tara turned to him and he knew from the desperate look on her face that he’d hit the nail on the head. Couldn’t imagine what they’d argue about. Tara’s bottom lip was sucked into her mouth where she began to nibble on it, looking hard pressed. Waiting her out it would be. Spike began to stare at the opposite end to the porch.

Almost painfully, Tara unwrapped her arms from around her stomach and straightened out her legs. A small piece of three-times crumpled paper was in her lap, and he knew where it was from. Nibblet’s latest diary. Girl was always writing in something. Tara’s throat clicked as she swallowed, and she shakily offered the piece of paper over to him.

Spike’s brow furrowed as he watched her, but he took it, leaving her hand to waver in the air before dropping listlessly back in her lap. He unfolded the paper while sneaking glances at her from the side and feeling slightly uneasy. Wasn’t like Glinda to snoop (least, he didn’t think so), and she looked real shaken up from whatever Bit had written.

The first word on the page grabbed his attention, and he read through Dawn’s loopy scrawl quickly, then twice more. When he finished he looked back up to her, not sure what the significance was in regards to her and Willow.

“I found it by the side of the trash can,” she whispered, eyes dropping to the paper in his hands. “Look at the edges.” Spike frowned but did as she asked, inspecting it this way and that until he finally understood. Well, not understood, but…

“What’d she use, an x-acto knife?” he muttered, running his finger along the side of the page that should have held it in the journal. “Why would she—?”

“I don’t think she even remembers writing it.”

Spike’s head whipped up as he fixed her with a confused glare. Something was wrong here, very, very bloody wrong. “Glinda…”

Tara’s gaze shifted to her hands—they hadn’t stopped shaking yet. “I don’t remember doing a spell with Willow and Dawn to find out where Buffy’s…r-r-resting.” His chest tightened as she trembled over the last word. “W-Willow, she said yesterday, she thinks Buffy’s in hell, b-but that paper’s from a week ago, and I f-found Lethe’s B-bramble under my pillow, and—” Tara’s eyes squeezed shut, another tear escaping. “I…I think she’s messing with our m-minds, Spike.”

The paper felt like lead, sinking down. None of it was making a lot of sense, he needed more. His brain had been whirring since he’d read Buffy’s name. “Start from the beginning, I’m not gettin’ it all,” Spike said, searching her face as if it would hold all the answers.

Course, even after she told him the whole story, he still didn’t think his brain was able to soak it in all the way. Willow had stopped grieving and started burying herself in books when she thought no one noticed, there was appearance of Lethe’s Bramble on the dresser in their bedroom (some sort of plant used in forgetting and mind augmentation spells), followed by Tara finding one in the bathroom trash can a week ago… And then there was Dawn’s diary page, dated a few days ago that Tara couldn’t remember the events of, the meeting Willow held yesterday about bringing Buffy back (that no one had told him about, that pissed him off, but he had no time to say so). Tara said she remembered arguing about it with Willow last night, but that she found herself slowly coming around to it this morning, and then in the afternoon she had found the diary page and remembered the flower.

Tara was terrified of going back inside, terrified that her girlfriend would think something was off or found out that she knew what Willow was doing and would do another mind spell. “How could she do…that? She’s been…for who knows how long. And to Dawn, and what she was going to do to Buffy, rip her from heaven.” Tara’s stutter had long since passed, but her arms had wrapped back around herself and she was shaking.

And all he could think, for long, long moments, was let her, let Red do the spell, do it—

But that wouldn’t be right, would it? Wouldn’t be right to her, and christ, if he let it happen, she’d probably come back and kick his ass to hell. He was going there anyway, but he couldn’t fail her like that again. But he wanted to fail. He was flawed, he was selfish, and he was a vampire; he was all of those things, and he wanted her back. Spike’s eyes closed as he banged his head against the railing behind him. Fucking Red. Why did she have to make it so bloody hard to say no? Everything he wanted, just dangling in front of him.

Somehow, somehow, he managed to push those thoughts from his mind long enough to get a grip on the other issue at hand. Funny enough, Red was still the cause of it. Dawn. He needed to think about Dawn. Well, Nibblet and the soggy witch on the porch. Bringing Buffy back, oh, he could understand the sentiment. But didn’t Willow know how fucked those resurrection spells were? She bloody well should—they never turned out right, or hardly ever. What if Buffy didn’t come back right? What then? Kill whatever came back? They never could.

Fuck, there he went again. If this was a trial, he was two ticks away from failing it miserably. Spike clenched the paper angrily and tried to focus on the heartbeat of the girl next to him. He breathed in deeply, in and out, trying to find some sort of center. Breaking all the rules he could understand, he wasn’t called a rebel for nothing, but Red had intruded on their lives in a more personal way then he could ever have imagined (and he was glad he never had). But if sweet, nerdy little Willow could do this to her sweet, loving girlfriend and her best friend’s sister, who knew what the hell else she’d do.

His job was to protect Dawn, and right now the threat was Willow. Spike quickly ran through his options. He probably couldn’t forcibly kick Red out of the house, not with the fucking chip in his head. Sides, doin’ that was like poking a bear, and he wasn’t having it. He could take Dawn and Glinda to the Watcher’s, but he’d have to tell him what Willow planned on doing. It was hard, very hard, to discount that as an option. Rupes would probably descend on the house with another one of his flaming bats, and he didn’t know if he wanted Willow to get punished or if he wanted her to find a way to do the spell anyway. Going to the Whelp’s house was against his very nature, and the boy was about as much use as soggy toilet paper.

After a moment, he finally opened his eyes and stood, then got Tara to her feet as well. He turned her toward him, placing both of his hands softly over her upper arms. “Get a bag. Over pack. Don’t wake Red, got it?” Tara’s eyes widened in shock. “I’ll grab the Bit. Set you both up in a hotel for a while, stay there to make sure nothin’ weird goes on.” Shit would go to hell if Willow thought the girls had been stolen away in the night. Girl was getting right strong. “Then we’ll…figure something out,” Spike finished lamely. There was also the much simpler option of pretending they didn’t know anything, but Tara didn’t look like she’d be able to pull that off.

Tara didn’t argue—she simply nodded. Girl probably would have followed him to Rio without questioning it. Spike quietly opened the front door and led her in like he’d done with Dawn, like he’d done in happier times, with Dru. They both made very little noise as they crept up the stairs, and Spike followed Tara to the master bedroom, where the wiccas had moved in. He paused to listen. Slow heartbeat, deep breathing. Asleep like a baby.

He could rip her limb from limb.

Still, he opened the door for Tara and left her to grab whatever she needed. He had to get Dawn. Spike moved back down the hallway and went into the Bit’s room. She was tossing fitfully in her bed, her mouth working soundlessly. Gently, Spike crouched down next to the bed and put a hand on her shoulder, giving it a few soft shakes as he softly called her name. Dawn’s eyes popped open and cleared as they focused on him. “Gotta fly, pigeon. Grab some stuff,” he whispered. Spike helped her sit up and pressed a finger to her lips when she began to speak. He meaningfully raised his eyebrows and Dawn nodded in tacit agreement not to speak.

“Trust me?” His voice was a harsh whisper. Another nod.

Spike moved to her closet and grabbed the duffle bag from the floor of her closet, holding it out to her. The bed squeaked lightly when she got off it and she padded to her dresser, pulling out clothes and tossing them in the bag haphazardly, followed by some of the stuff on her dresser and her diary. Dawn ushered herself to the bathroom to grab what she needed from there.
Spike didn’t like the thought of Red coming into his Nibblet’s room and messing with her memories. Dawn had found out her entire life was fabricated, and Red was going to willfully take away the precious ones she’d made for herself?

"Would you have done differently?"

He was about half a second from kicking the wall and blowing his grand escape plan when Tara found him. He nodded to her as if nothing was wrong and went to collect the Nibblet. She came out of the bathroom looking ready and alert. His brave little Bit. Dawn looked at Tara and then frowned, gesturing with her gaze to the master bedroom. Tara looked at him pleadingly and Spike looked back down at Dawn, who had seen the exchange. He shook his head slightly and hefted her bag over his shoulder and guided her away with a hand on her elbow.

The three of them trooped quietly down the stairs and out the front door, Tara looking like a ghost, drifting down the porch steps behind them. Tara and Dawn kept up admirably with his quick pace to Restfield. Tara’s arms were wrapped around her again, trying to keep herself together, and Dawn’s eyes were steely, as if she were preparing herself for the next attack on her life. Christ, she looked like the Slayer, and that was the problem, wasn’t it? That was the same look Buffy used to wear, and the diary page stuffed in his back pocket began to feel like it was burning a hole in his pocket. ‘You treat me like a man’… Buffy was at peace—Dawn was not. How could he bring Buffy back to a place like that, where death would be waiting right around the bend again?

Because you’re selfish, he thought. Spike tried to stop himself from snorting out loud. Yeah, he was selfish. Funny how every selfish thought he’d ever had ended up being the wrong bloody move.

When they got within view of the DeSoto, Spike fished his keys out of his duster pocket and put them in Tara’s hands, not letting go until he was sure she wouldn’t drop them. “Get Nibblet to the car. Gonna grab some stuff from the crypt. Won’t be long.” He disentangled himself from Dawn and jogged the relatively short distance to his crypt. Really, all he needed was some blood and a few extra shirts. Years of on the run living had conditioned him to keep a lot of stuff in his DeSoto. Too bad he wouldn’t have any time to pick up more smokes.

It took him less than ten minutes to get back to the car. When he got close he could hear dips of conversation, including some of Dawn’s more high pitched tones. They quieted before he opened the door of the DeSoto, and he was both glad that he hadn’t had to explain to Dawn and also sorry that Glinda had to. Dawn’s eyes were huge in disbelief and Tara’s were watery again. “We good to go ladies?” he asked. Tara nodded from the back. Dawn sunk into the passenger seat, eyes unseeing as she stared down the windshield. “Right then.” Spike slid into the car and started it, heading in the direction of one of the nicer hotels in Sunnydale.

It would cost more, but he had plenty of cash to burn. He’d been a bit more active the past month, tracking down demons, killing them, and then scavenging their places for cash and whatever else they had. It wasn’t like he really needed the stuff, but the idea of having enough money to run wherever he wanted was an attractive one. Sides, girls like big baths and hot water, if he wanted to let the girls squat in some dank hole he would’ve just taken them to his crypt.

As a plus, the nicer hotels were further from the Hellmouth and further away from Revello. Spike didn’t want to flee the city, but he did want some distance. He cursed inwardly. Should’ve asked Glinda to bring stuff for a cloaking spell or something. Better safe than sorry, especially if Red went all bloodhound on their asses (or, more specifically, on his ass) like she had with the Hellbitch. He wondered if it was too late to go back and play the pretend game until they had a plan.

Feeling twitchier than he liked, Spike pulled into the parking lot. Dawn did a bit of a double take at the sight of a nice hotel. He scoffed. He was familiar with sparing no expense on women. Spike tossed Tara’s bag and his own over one shoulder and Dawn’s over the other and slammed the trunk closed.

They were both silent when he checked them all in for a few nights, although he saw Tara’s eyes bug out a bit at the sight of him tossing all that dosh on the counter without a thought. That had felt good. The room itself was pretty nice. Small, but with a queen sized bed and a couch for him, plus a good sized bathroom and a microwave, fridge, and T.V. Nicer than anywhere he’d stayed recently, that was for sure.

Dawn made a beeline for the bathroom, and it wasn’t long before he heard the shower go off. Spike tossed his bags of blood in the mini fridge and then sprawled out in a corner of the couch. It took a few moments for Tara to wander from the middle of the room to join him. She sat with her hands in her lap, eyes downcast. Her hair was pulled up out of her face, but he could easily imagine it curtaining down either side of her face, hiding her as it usually did.

He was glad it was up.

Usually he was pretty perceptive with body language—he’d learn to read it a long time ago—but the way she sitting now was a bit of a mystery to him. “Sad” was a given, but it was too broad to be useful. Could just leave her be, but he was already invested in it all now. “Not a sodding therapist” his arse.

“How you holdin’ up there, Glinda?”

She didn’t jump—not like when he’d come up to her earlier this evening. This time, tears of frustration gathered in her eyes, though she didn’t let them out. “I’m always running,” she said, her voice hollow. But he’d caught it, that hint of frustration, a bit of despair…

“Not runnin’, pet,” he replied gruffly. “Leaving. Whole other thing.”

“It sure feels like running.” Tara’s eyes were now trained on the coffee table in front of them. That he could remember; he could connect to that. How many times had he said the same thing in his life? Convinced himself he was leaving, not running scared. But Tara—she was different.

“You’re allowed to leave people that hurt you, pet. Someone hurts you…s’okay to shut ‘em out,” Spike said, shifting a little on the couch. That had been Buffy Summers lesson the first. Course, it was a bit different, seeing as he had been the one on the other side of the door. This time, Tara turned to look at him, a face full of pain. Spike took a deep breath and kept going, hoping he wouldn’t fuck this up.

“Look, she hurt you?” He waited until he saw her nod to go on. “Just say the bloody word and I’ll go—” he paused. Right. That probably wouldn’t be the best thing to say. Spike tried again. “She hurt you. Let you down. It’s okay to hurt, jus’…know you deserve better, yeah?”

Buffy Summers lesson the second.

Luckily, he was saved any of her reaction by Dawn throwing the bathroom door open. She had changed back into the pajamas she’d been wearing earlier in the night, and her hair was wet, leaving small rivulets of water all along the back of her shirt. The teenager stomped over to the couch and flopped in between them, squeezing next to him to place her head on his shoulder and to have his arm behind her. Dawn had slammed past disbelief and into the angry, hurt, and vindictive stage. The fact that he’d given her the missing diary page before they walked into the hotel had probably helped with that.

Dawn’s whole body was curled tight with tension radiating off her in waves, her jaw locked. Spike wondered briefly what she’d be like as a vampire. That was something he’d never want to see.

The three of them sat in resigned silence until Tara got up to disappear into the bathroom. As soon as the door closed and the water began to run, Dawn began to vent. “I can’t believe Willow would do this.” Her voice brooked no disbelief, though, only hurt and anger. “She knew it was wrong and she did it anyway. You know what she did was wrong, right?” she asked, already figuring the answer.

“Yeah, I do,” he replied honestly. It being wrong didn’t mean he wouldn’t have done it, though. Maybe now that someone else had made the mistake he decided he never would, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t have done it before.

“Stupid soul is supposed to stop her from making stupid hurtful decisions, and she did it anyway. What’s the dumb soul supposed to be there for anyway? Guilt? Yeah, worked out great here. God! I can’t believe her!”

Dawn stewed in silence for a few moments.

“Spike?”

“Yeah, Bit?”

She shifted around until she was facing him, her head still on his shoulder. “What are we going to do about it? About all of this?”

Spike sighed, wishing for nothing more than a cigarette. “Don’t rightly know, Nibblet. Get the Watcher on it, maybe. See if he can knock some sense into Red’s head.”

A few more moments of silence. “How am I supposed to forgive her?”

Spike let out a huff of mirthless laughter. When the hell had this become his job? “Asking the wrong vamp,” he said. Spike looked down at the girl in his arms, looking up to him for answers. Fucking shit. “…You don’t have to. I sure as hell wouldn’t expect you to.” That sounded better.

Dawn flipped back around, her wet hair fully pressing into his shirt. “I don’t want her in the house right now.”

“Your house, your bloody rules, I say.” Buffy Summers lesson the first, sub-set B.

“It really is, isn’t it?” Dawn said softly. Spike froze, cursing himself. Fuck. Spike brought his arm tighter around her and despaired a bit when he saw a few tears. Shit. Shit shit shit. It never got easier to see her cry, even if it was no longer combined with the wracking sobs that had possessed them both the first two weeks. Even before this summer, her tears always managed to touch him. Bloody Summers women. “I’m selfish,” she whispered, curling further into his side.

“I am too,” Spike replied simply.

“I hate what Willow did to Tara. I hate what she did to me. But part of me….” she closed her eyes. “I wish we hadn’t found out. I wish that she could bring Buffy back. But I can’t let her—I can’t let her, not after what happened with Mom. Tara tried to talk me out of it then, but Willow…”

Spike shifted, remembering that slice of guilt he had first gotten when he had read her diary page. “Sorry Bit. Shouldn’t have helped you with that.”

He felt her shake her head lightly. “No, I’m… I’m glad—not glad.” She sighed and started over. “It makes it easier, this time. To say Buffy shouldn’t be resurrected. To leave her happy where she is. I can’t blame her for wanting to bring Buffy back. We’re all selfish. But what she did… I don’t know if I can forgive that. Things won’t be the same anymore.”

Girl got there faster than he had, that was for sure.

Tara came out of the bathroom wearing flannel pajama bottoms and a tank top. She looked steadier on her feet, although she was starting to look paler than he was. Dawn got up from his arms to give Tara a large hug. Tara placed her chin on Dawn’s head and closed her eyes.

“Dawn, do you have any jewelry in your bag?” Tara asked, withdrawing slowly. Both Spike and Dawn looked at her with curiosity.

“Yeah…I think so,” Dawn answered.

Tara showed off her own necklace in her hand. “I’m going to charm mine. Make it…m-make it—” She closed her eyes again to reign in her stutter. “The charm is supposed to work against memory spells.”

“Oh. Um, yeah, I think so.” Dawn went back over to the bathroom door to pick up her bag and riffle through it.

Tara turned to Spike, her hands clasped around her necklace. “I can do one for you, too. I-if you want.”

Spike tilted his head as he considered her. Huh. Well, he sure hadn’t expected that. “Yeah. Could come in handy. Er, thanks…” he added, the words strange in his mouth. Spike pulled the ring off his thumb and held it up to her. “That okay?” Tara nodded and walked over to take it from his hand. Dawn added hers to the collection and sat down on the ground in front of the small coffee table, her diary and the pulled out page in hand. Tara placed the jewelry on the other side of the table and went to go grab her bag. She was more prepared than he was; he admired that.

As Tara set up a few ingredients and a spell book, Dawn was looking skeptically at her diary, finally matching the place the page had been pulled from. “What’d she do, magic it out?” she muttered, looking at how perfectly the page’s edge was.

Spike didn’t miss Tara’s small flinch at the words. “Probably,” she said, methodically setting up the charm and looking miserable.

Dawn offered her a contrite look. “I’m sorry.”

Tara shook her head. “It’s the most likely answer, I can’t deny that. I hate it—more than I can… But ignoring it doesn’t do any good.”

Dawn nodded and bit her lip. She fitted the page back into her diary and flipped around until she came to the next empty page and started writing. She was going to need a new diary soon, after the night they were having. "Maybe I’ll buy her a new one," Spike thought, watching as she scrawled along the page. "Might cheer her up". Both girls worked furiously, and as the only one with nothing to really do, Spike mindlessly watched them instead. The three of them seemed to do silence well.

Tara charmed Dawn’s necklace first and Spike helped Dawn put it on, having small flashbacks for doing the same countless times for Dru. Tara charmed his ring next, which he fitted back onto his left thumb. It thrummed lightly against his skin. It was easy enough to just let the magic fade into the background, but he focused on it, interested in the new sensation.

“Your magic all feel like this?” Spike asked, twirling the ring around his thumb.

Tara looked up from her work curiously. “You can feel it?”

“Feel what?” Dawn asked, looking between them and placing a hand over her necklace.

“The magic. Special vamp privileges.” As a vampire he was able to sense magic more keenly than humans, the darker it was, the easier it was to sense. He asked mostly because he was surprised—Willow’s magic felt very different. Red’s magic had more of the pull, but he had assumed that hers was on the lower scale of dark to light. Now he realized how wrong that assumption had been.

Tara finished her own charm and easily attached the necklace around her neck, the small crescent moon on the chain hanging just below the dip in her collarbone. “My magic isn’t as strong as Willow’s. It’s, um, more Earth magic.” Spike nodded and relaxed back into the couch, still focused on the ring. That made sense. It was softer and didn’t pack the same punch, but Tara’s magic felt anchored. Willow’s magic was like a cannon ball.

Dawn frowned as she looked down at her necklace. “Why don’t I get any special perks for being the Key? Lame…” she muttered. Tara gave her first, heartfelt, shy smile. Well, there was progress.

“You two should catch some sleep.” Spike motioned to the bed with a nod of his head. It was late—at least one in the morning. Tara sighed and moved to sink into the couch.

“I don’t think I can,” she said, resting her head on the couch back.

“Me either,” Dawn frowned. “Can we watch T.V.?”

“Sure, pet.” Spike tossed her the remote from the side table by the couch and then picked up the T.V. guide to see what was on. Dawn went over to the bed, pulled the heavy blanket off with a few harsh tugs, and then descended on the middle of the couch, the covers poofing up around her. She settled the blankets around them all like a nesting animal, and Tara helped by pulling one corner around herself with a small smile. Dawn then burrowed back into Spike’s side, and feeling daring, working the covers around him too. She found a channel with some bad cartoons, and within an hour she was asleep and slightly snoring.

If Spike hadn’t gotten what Dru said about him not being demon enough for her, he sure as hell got it now. ‘You treat me like a man, and that’s…’ That’s what? Being treated like a man was…well, he sure had an idealized sensation of it. Painful. The whole fucking thing was painful, and confusing. And it wasn’t easy. Demons had it easy. He’d lived 126 years living it up, and now he was here, having to do things like make decisions with people depending on him. Very breakable people.

He had no fucking idea what he was doing. And how should he? He was a vampire for fuck’s sake. What the hell did he know about human problems? He was living by a new set of rules without a compass. And really, what did he think he was going to do by whisking Dawn and Tara away to a hotel? Red would probably wake up tomorrow, notice that Tara and Dawn weren’t around and then freak the buggering hell out, round the troops, and he’d get his ass staked before he could even explain. Not like people ever listened to him (and why should they, he didn’t know what the fuck to do 95 percent of the time).

“I left a note.” Spike’s gaze whipped over to Tara. She was watching him, and probably had been for a while. “I told her Dawn and I were going out for a day at the mall. For when she wakes up.” Spike nodded numbly. Again, she was one step ahead, and he was both impressed and relieved. “We can call Mr. Giles tomorrow, maybe? See if…see if he can get through to her.” Tara picked at the blanket on her lap. That was what he had told Dawn they’d do, but it was better knowing that someone else was on the same line of thought. His own plans never worked.

Tara turned her attention from the blanket to him, her eyes still puffy from the crying jags she’d had. “Thank you for bringing me here. You didn’t have to. It—it was very kind of you.”

Spike tilted his head. If he didn’t mean it then—and he did—he especially meant it now. “You don’t deserve this. What’s goin’ on.”

Tara’s eyes dropped to Dawn. “Bad things happen to everyone. I’m no different.”

Spike picked one handedly at his nail polish. “Still doesn’t mean you deserve it,” he scowled. “It’s not right.”

“St-still, I should, um, pay you back. For the hotel.”

Spike waved his hand dismissively. “Money’s not a problem. What the hell else ‘m I gonna spend it on, a mortgage?” Tara opened her mouth to argue and he raised an eyebrow as a challenge. He could have let her shell out some cash anyway, but he really didn’t give that much of a fuck. Red was the problem that needed solving.

“Nibblet doesn’t want Red stayin’ in the house.”

Tara nodded slowly. “I understand that,” she said softly, playing absently with the charm around her neck.

“You’ll still be around?”

Tara’s eyes met his again. “I-if she wants me there, yes, I hadn’t…” She let her sentence go unfinished, changing the topic instead. “You really love her, don’t you?” Tara said, her eyes soft as she regarded Dawn, still squished up into his side.

Spike squirmed a bit under her gaze, choosing not to answer. “You, uh, should probably try and sleep.”

This time, she finally seemed to listen to him, and she curled up under the covers and rested her head on the arm of the couch. Somehow things would end up okay. How, he didn’t bloody well know, but Spike decided he’d trust Tara with Dawn. Out of all of them, she was probably the most trustworthy—the one who knew what was right and did it. So he’d trust her. He’d look after Dawn. And things would somehow work out right between the three of them.

It didn’t take long for Tara’s heartbeat to slow down in the same rhythm of Dawn’s, and Spike let himself consider what she said. Did he, he wondered? He wasn’t used to feeling like an older brother, someone to be looked up to. Not for many, many decades.

Spike closed his eyes and drifted off, dreaming of a golden haired slayer. Some things didn’t change. It was still all about love and the girl, whichever girl it was.