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spoonfuls of sugar need not apply

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"Aw, c'mon. Not cards again," Dawn wrinkled her nose as Spike dropped the deck on the coffee table. "Can't we go see a movie instead?"

Spike arched a dark brow at her as he cut the deck, squaring it off with a practiced, carelessly exact flick of his fingers. "Not enough time tonight, is there? Witches would come back from their meeting to find an empty house, and I don't think either of us would be best pleased with what would follow."

Dawn rolled her eyes at the dry-as-vampire-dust tone, but conceded the point. She got why everyone was still so hyper about leaving her alone; it was too soon after ... after what happened with Glory. But it totally grated on her nerves to still have a sitter at an age when all of them had been out roaming cemeteries and hanging with their friends and dating all the wrong people. Even probably Mr. Always Been Bad himself, if she believed all his stories; and hadn't Giles gone through a rebellious phase in his teens? She still got the occasional flashback to the Day of the Chocolate; Mom might have gone from schedule-happy concerned parent to treating her like a tagalong younger sister at the drop of a Milkbar, but she still hadn't been willing to leave Dawn at home alone. Dawn had spent a lot of time underlining things in her journals that evening, in lieu of brain bleach.

Or remembered she had, at least; so many of her early memories consisted of her following either Buffy or Mom around. Easier for the monks that way, she supposed. And now that they were gone....

Dawn threw a guilty glance toward the ceiling, where the Buffybot was charging in her sister's room. All she had left was the Scoobies ... and most days, it seemed like the only one of them persuadable to treating her like a growing-up human being was the one who was only grudgingly a part of the group in the first place.

She heaved a theatrical sigh. "There's gotta be something else we can do."

"Like what, pet?" Spike smirked at her, still practically fondling the cards as he turned them in his hands. "Not gonna catch me playing one of your kiddie board games. Nor showing you any more moves 'til your ankle's fully recovered – and Red's cooled down some on the subject. Seems to think it's the Watcher's job to teach you how to fight. When the time's right."

Dawn snorted, affecting nonchalance. "So, the twelfth of never. I swear, half the time they treat me like I'm five, not fifteen. You're not going to stop, are you?"

"If you're gonna stay in Sunnydale, you ought to know how to defend yourself," he replied, then gave her a shrewd look. "Think they're probably more worried you'll try and follow the 'Bot around on patrol."

"I know better than that," Dawn scoffed, tossing her hair back. One of the things she appreciated about Spike; he almost never tried to talk down to her, or hide the truth, or treat her like she was some fragile, breakable thing. Like Willow had any room to talk, anyway, after patrolling with – after helping save the world so many times. "She'd just try to take me home again, like – like anyone else would."

"Damn right," Spike affirmed, mood souring.

Dawn cleared her throat, eager to change the subject, then made like she was doing a bicep curl. "You could show me arm moves that wouldn't stress my ankle?"

"You mean I could let you stand still and throw me around? Nice try, pigeon. But I'm not in the mood for another talking-to from the Scoobies on the subject so soon after the last one."

"Not in the mood for much, are you?" she scoffed, squelching disappointment. "You could ... show me how to pick a lock?" That time he'd helped her break into the Magic Box, she'd been too impatient to pay close attention to how he did it.

"What for?" He gave her a wary look, like he was worried the mere mention of locks and keys would summon a Hellgoddess, or something.

"Not because I was the Key," she crossed her arms over her chest. "Because it's, like, a life skill. What if the 'Bot does get found out and they send me to a foster home, or something?"

"First off, that's not going to happen." Spike set the deck down and pointed a finger at her, expression going all stern and determined. "Watcher'll think of something, if it comes to that. And even if he doesn't, I'll follow you, you hear me? You need something that badly, I'll get it for you."

That wasn't actually a refusal; but Dawn knew better than to push. When he got that scowly far-off look in his eyes, it always had something to do with his promise to Buffy – probably some version of 'Big Sis would not approve.' But she kind of liked the vision of Spike following her wherever the state might take her, if something did happen. Of keeping at least one person in her life who'd always back her up.

She smiled at him again, with a wheedling edge this time. "Driving lessons, then? You're definitely over 25; it wouldn't be illegal, and the car's here tonight."

"Except for the part where I don't have a legal California license. And where you don't have your provisional one, yet. And where if you drive anything like your sister, I want to be far, far away the first time you get behind the wheel," he replied. Then he paused for a moment, looking amused. "Though if we were to, say, borrow the Watcher's car for the endeavor...."

Dawn snickered, imagining the look on Giles' face if she pulled up outside the Magic Box behind the wheel of his car. "Or Xander's," she offered.

"Tempting, bit; but no," he grinned back. "And before you keep going," he held up a hand, ticking off a finger with every point that followed. "I'm fresh out of stories fit for innocent ears; you already had dinner, so no talking me into ordering pizza; no Passions on tonight; you won't catch me undead watching any of the videos Harris and Demon Girl left behind; and if you wave any of those fashion magazines at me, so help me...."

"What, I'll find your handwriting already all over the quizzes?" Dawn laughed.

"Hey, now, that was only the once, when I was trapped here all day," he began, indignantly.

"Not judging," she giggled, holding up her hands. Then she frowned at her fingernails; they weren't totally oogly yet, but definitely looking a little worn. "I dunno, we could paint our nails, I guess? You don't have any of that black polish on you, do you?" The look on Willow's face would be pretty funny; though she thought Tara would probably smile.

"What, you think I carry that kind of thing around in my pockets?" Spike gave her a disbelieving look. "Really reaching there, pet. Something go wrong today? You're all fidgets, worse than usual."

"Aside from Willow and Tara taking me shopping today?" Dawn wrinkled her nose again. "Kinda don't want to think about the school year starting up. Like, at all." As long as it was summer break, she could kind of pretend; school starting again would make everything more real.

"So it's a distraction you're after – and cards with ol' Spike is too boring for you tonight?" He picked up the deck again, shuffling the halves back together. "Not even that game with the made-up rules and the name that sounds like the noise a kitten makes?"

"You mean Mau?" Dawn perked up a little at the thought; he usually refused to play that one. But that was usually because Xander was dealing, and tended to take the opportunity to set rules with conditions that only affected Spike. Which backfired on him occasionally, when they caught Anya too for some reason; but, yeah. She'd learned more British swears the last time the Scoobies played it than she'd heard Giles say in all his time in Sunnydale. But ... "It's not nearly as fun with just two people, though."

"Picky little thing, aren't you?" he said, stilling again and studying her speculatively. "You know, there might be something I could teach you tonight that wouldn't threaten the ankle. Though, if you're not feeling patient enough for a card game...."

"I can be good!" Dawn sat up straighter, curious what he might be talking about. Something else from his Big Bad days, maybe?

"Not just good," he insisted. "If I show you this, you have to promise you won't tell anyone where you learned it. Not a peep; not even to Glinda."

It had to be something really cool if he was going to such lengths; Dawn nodded avidly. "Yeah, of course. What is it?"

He cocked his head at her assessingly, drawing her impatience out for a few more minutes, then nodded decisively. "Don't suppose you remember where your mother kept her knitting basket, then?"

... Or, it could be something totally dorky, that he just didn't want the others teasing him about. "Knitting?" she objected, eyebrows shooting up. "Are you serious?"

Spike's grin widened, all white teeth and a hint of fang. "Not talking baby booties and sweater sets here, Dawn. Though it is bloody useful for darning your own socks. You people love to talk about shovels, but you'd be surprised just how many ways there are to wield a knitting needle." He made a stabby motion. "Not to mention, it's good for dexterity, and most folk that see you with 'em will still think you're unarmed."

"You're serious," Dawn repeated, more interested this time.

"Even offered to introduce Captain Cardboard to 'em once; sadly, the git declined."

The words were entirely too snarky for that to be the whole story; but Dawn was curious, now, and not at all inclined to talk about another person who'd left her – and certain others – behind. "It was in her room; I think Willow and Tara kept it, though they don't really use it. I saw it on the top shelf in the closet last time I was in there."

"For entirely innocent reasons, I'm sure," he drawled, a knowing glint in his blue eyes.

"Of course." She gave him her best innocent expression, then got up off the couch. "I'll just go get it – I'll be right back. And you better not be making this up."

"Would I do that to you, pidge?" Spike replied, turning to put the cards away.

That wasn't worth an answer. Dawn sniffed at him, tilting her chin up, then walked carefully up the stairs, filled with enthusiasm for the first time all day.