“What do you mean, ‘I can’t tell you’ ?” Dawn scrunched her face in disgust. “Honestly, Spike, I’m not some dumb little kid!”
“I know you’re not, Dawn.” Spike glanced sidelong at the girl, now pouting childishly despite her declaration. “But I’m not tellin’. Deal with it.”
“Stupid vampire,” Dawn muttered, crossing her arms and kicking at the gravel with the toe of her tennis shoe. “You’re just like them, you know! Xander and Willow and Giles.”
“And you lot say I’m the evil one,” Spike muttered, noting Dawn’s pout give way to a prideful smirk when he stopped short to glare at her. Comparing him to the bloody Scoobies? Talk about a low blow.
“Well, you are!” she said. “They’re always not telling me stuff for my own good and you’re doing the exact same thing!”
“I am not.” Spike whirled around to face her, a threatening finger aimed level with her annoyingly right-on-the-money little smile. “You take that back.”
Dawn’s grin widened. “Not until you tell me.”
Spike scowled and lit a cigarette, following Dawn as she started walking again. “Not playing fair, Niblet.”
Dawn scoffed and plucked the smoke from his lips, tossing it to the dirt and cheerfully grinding it out beneath her well-worn shoe. “Nobody said I had to.”
“Those cost money, you know!” Spike said, reaching for the pack again only to find it empty. Growling quietly at the completely cigarette-free carton, he crumpled the useless plastic-covered cardboard and tossed it to the ground.
“They also cause cancer,” said Dawn, stooping to lift the pack off the pavement. “And don’t litter.”
“Already dead,” Spike replied, ducking when the package sailed through the air toward his head. “And I’ll do as I damn well please.”
He turned and gave the cigarette package a farewell kick for good measure.
“I’ll do as I damn well please, ” Dawn repeated, deepening her voice and accenting her words in clear mockery. “Yeah, you’re so evil.”
Spike stomped after her. “I am evil,” he said, coming level with her after taking a couple of long, catch-up strides. “You’d do well to remember that.”
She giggled. “Oh please , Spike. You haven’t been evil for a long time.”
Spike told himself he ought to want to wrap his hands around her scrawny little neck for that remark, headache be damned. Hewanted to want to do it, too, but that little voice in his head that he supposed was some blasted form of a conscience reminded him that chip or no chip, he’d rather die than to see Dawn hurt, by his hands or any other.
Christ, he really had gone soft, hadn’t he?
Spike fought the small smile of concession that threatened to ruin his scowl and muttered, “Yeah, well, just don’t tell anyone.”
“Not like they’d listen to me anyway,” she whispered softly, turning to catch his eye. He saw her expression shift from teasing to serious. “They don’t like you and they hate that you’re the only one who can keep me safe.”
Her words sent a stab of agony through his heart and he pressed on his chest with his palm in effort to smother it before it got the better of him. He felt Dawn’s hands gripping his shoulders and opened his eyes – he hadn’t realized he’d closed them – to find her staring hard at him with a watery gaze.
“Stay with me, Spike,” she said, giving him a none-too-gentle shake. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think—”
Wrenching his thoughts away from their treacherous heading, Spike sucked in a breath and nodded sharply. “It’s all right, Dawnie,” he said, hands lifting to grip her shoulders in return.
She continued to stare at him for a few seconds until she seemed satisfied that he wasn’t tumbling into a breakdown and after a final squeeze, released him and returned to his side. He hadn’t let a casual comment gut him like that in some time; almost a month had passed since Harris’s throw-away remark left him a quaking, sobbing mess behind the Magic Box’s counter. After that travesty of self-control, he’d vowed never again to show such weakness around the human boy who still thought his genuine feelings and attempts at helpfulness an elaborate scheme to get into the Slayer’s pants.
Never mind that all of his plans went wonky well before coming to fruition. Buffy had been dead nearly five months and he’d yet to catch on to the fact that Spike hadn’t quit.
“I’m sorry, Spike,” Dawn repeated, slipping her hand into his and lacing their fingers together.
Spike squeezed her hand tightly, letting up only when Dawn’s quiet gasp suggested he was pressing too hard. “My turn, I reckon.”
Neither of them mentioned the evening two nights ago when Dawn had thrown one of Giles’s books through her bedroom window in a fit of anger, shattering the glass and collapsing on top of it, weeping inconsolably and later staring, almost catatonic, into her bedroom mirror as Spike tweezed every last sliver of glass from her flesh and tended her wounds. They both had their moments and they’d become quite adept at pulling each other back from them in the months since Buffy’s death. The incidents lessened in frequency as the time passed and it almost hurt more to consider a day when thinking of her wouldn’t tear his innards to pieces.
Because then she’d truly be gone.
“Can we go for ice cream?” Dawn asked, snapping his mind away from its dreary thoughts.
Ice cream sounded like just the thing to put a bit of cheer back into the night. “Sure, Niblet. Let’s.”
Spike let Dawn take the lead as they crossed the road, heading for the cross street that would take them to the little shop tucked away between a laundromat and a pet store. The skinny fellow behind the counter nodded at the two of them as they stepped into the brightly lit and well air-conditioned store. Spike handed Dawn a wad of bills and slumped into their usual booth in the corner, away from the windows and his supreme lack of reflection.
Spike suspected that the kid, who worked nearly all the nights he and Dawn drowned their sorrows in ice cream, knew he was a vampire. He didn’t seem bothered by it and had enough brains in that striped-visor-wearing head of his not to say anything. Had to give him points for that; not too many night shift workers in this part of Sunnydale handled demonic patronage so casually.
Spike told himself the teen’s lack of fear had nothing at all to do with his alive and very much unbitten human companion.
Dawn chatted with the boy in her usual bubbly way while waiting for their order, though her shoulders slumped and her eyes refused to carry her smile. A lot more than just Buffy had died that night.
Waving a weak goodbye, Dawn grabbed their desserts and headed toward the booth. The young fellow followed her departure with interested eyes, clueless to the way Dawn’s forced smile fell the instant she turned her back to him.
Two cups of ice cream dropped onto the table and Dawn slid into the booth facing him, quickly covering the tops of the containers with her hands.
“Go on,” she said, wearing that same not-quite-into-it smile as she’d worn at the counter.
Spike leaned down until his nose touched her left hand and inhaled. “Rocky Road ,” he said, pulling back. “Gone a bit skimpy on the marshmallows though, haven’t they?”
That earned him a little spark of real amusement as she pulled her hand away to reveal the predicted confection and its too-few marshmallows.
“For you or for me?” Spike asked.
“Me.” Dawn slid the other container closer. “I got something new for you.”
Spike raised his eyebrow at her but didn’t comment as he prepared to guess at this evening’s ice cream selection.
A sweet burn tingled Spike’s nasal passages as he inhaled a deep breath over the second covered cup. It took a moment to place the scent; it wasn’t something he normally associated with ice cream.
When he got it, he smiled at Dawn, head still bent over the cup. “Cinnamon hearts?”
Dawn nodded and moved her hand aside, revealing a cupful of vanilla ice cream with pinky-red streaks bleeding out from the dozens of heart-shaped candies scattered throughout.
“He said nobody’s buying this.” Dawn tossed her head back toward the counter. “Flavour’s too strong, or something. But I thought maybe you’d like it, you know, ’cause you like spicy things.”
“Sounds right up my alley,” Spike said, covering Dawn’s hand with his before taking the cup.
“And it’s hearts,” Dawn added, almost in a whisper. Spike glanced up at her, his spoon half way to his mouth. A blush rose to her cheeks and her lips turned up into a self-conscious smile. “I care,” she said. “Even if nobody else does.”
She was too bloody adorable sometimes. The blush continued to colour her cheeks even when she looked away from him to tackle her ice cream. He reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, and Dawn looked up and smiled softly.
“I know you do, Dawn,” he said. “Nice to hear it now an’ again, though.”
Spike stuck the spoon in his mouth, and the cinnamon hearts ice cream lit a flavourful blaze on his tongue. Nodding appreciatively, Spike looked up to comment on her good choice when a little giggle erupted from the girl in front of him.
“Oh yeah, you really are evil, aren’t you?”
He’d already scooped in another bite, and his response was lost in an ice creamy mumble of protest that only made Dawn laugh harder, but Christ, he’d wear the bloody white hat or a pink tutu or paint his nails in sparkles if it kept that look on her face. When she laughed, the shadow of grief and the weight of guilt she wore like a blanket lifted, and she was the Dawn of his memories again, carefree and innocent, beautiful in her adolescent way.
With the giggle winding down, Spike scowled his best irritated vampire scowl and flung a spoonful of ice cream at her.
It hit her directly on the forehead. The giggle fell away, replaced by a startled gasp as the pink-stained glob slid over her nose and dropped into her lap. For a moment she sat still, almost rigid, mouth open in shock. Then she raised her spoon and fired a round of rocky road back at him.
And she was laughing again the moment her missile lodged itself in his left eye.
Back and forth they launched their respective desserts in an enthusiastic assault punctuated by girlish giggles and Spike’s own laughter. The table, walls, and floor bore the brunt of the damage as the two of them dodged each other’s missiles and threw quick retaliatory attacks without bothering to aim. Both of them were laughing too hard to hit much of anything effectively by the time the kid ventured out from the safety of the counter and raised his voice above the din of their fun to ask them firmly, if shakily, to quit making a mess and to please leave so that he could clean it up.
Leaving the now-empty styrofoam cups on the sticky table, Spike and Dawn left the shop, hand-in-sticky-hand and stumbling with laughter.
Winding down into occasional huffing chuckles, Spike threw his arm around Dawn’s shoulders and she tucked herself neatly into his side, her own arm around his waist. They walked that way in silence until they neared the turn that would take them back to Revello Drive .
“Thanks, Spike,” Dawn said.
He didn’t answer, just dropped a kiss onto the top of her head.
Dawn stopped walking, ducking out from under his arm to face him. “It doesn’t hurt as much when I laugh.”
He knew what she meant.
Without words, they sat down on the curb, just out of reach of the nearby streetlight.
“Still want to know?” he asked.
“I do.” Dawn shrugged. “You don’t have to tell me, but… maybe I can help? If I knew what it was?”
Spike sighed and realized that he was going to tell her, against his better judgment. It could only bring pain, but she was right. She couldn’t help unless she knew.
“I got up to the tower before Doc this time,” he said, after a moment’s thought. “Thought it’d be like the others, you know, where I throw him off before he can cut you. And I did, and then—” he paused to take a shaky breath “—Buffy, she got there, and we started down, you know, but you fell on the steps.”
Through his tears, he saw Dawn’s eyes widen, but instead of speaking, she gripped his hand tightly.
“Was a little scrape, on your knee,” he said. “Enough, though, and the bloody thing opened, just like it did. Before I could stop her, she jumped.”
Dawn laid her head on his shoulder, and he didn’t need to see her face to know that she was crying, too.
He pressed on, hating to do this to her but knowing he needed to get it out. “She didn’t…she wasn’t gone ,” he whispered. “I didn’t know, couldn’t get to her ’cause of the light, but the others…they thought—”
Dawn whimpered and gripped his hand harder, her fingernails biting into his knuckles. The physical pain buffered the emotional hurt, and he pressed on.
“They buried her,” he said, around the lump in his throat. “And she…her slayer healing kicked in and she woke up, buried in her coffin just where they left her, and she had to…”
He couldn’t say it, but it didn’t matter. The terrible image of his girl, frantic as she clawed her way out, was something too horrible to pass on to his young charge. She understood without him needing to elaborate.
“Oh, Spike,” she whispered, voice hardly more than a breath. “I’m so sorry.”
A shaky hand touched his face, fingers brushing away his tears before her warm palm cradled his cheek. She surprised him sometimes, like now. Strong in precisely the moments he felt wretched and weak. He should have felt ashamed for his lack of fortitude, but all he could feel was pride for the girl who had every right to fall apart into a billion pieces at his feet, but instead found the strength to comfort him , the vampire who couldn’t stop her sister from dying, except in his dreams.
And even then, he sometimes buggered it up royally.
When the pain softened to a dull roar, he stood, taking Dawn’s hand again. They continued walking slowly the rest of the way to the house where Dawn lived with Willow and Tara . Spike tried not to think of it as Buffy’s house, even though in his head he couldn’t call it anything but. The lights were on in the living room, suggesting the witches had arrived home from wherever it was they’d gone tonight. Their secrecy over their nights out didn’t surprise him, and he hadn’t asked, just agreed as he always did to watch after Dawn.
They stopped and stood facing each other on the porch.
“Tomorrow night?” Spike asked.
Dawn shook her head. “The night after, I think. I’m staying with Janice, and Giles said you guys are going patrolling. Something about a really fat vampire who likes knocking down old people and sitting on them to feed.”
Spike wrinkled his nose in disgust. Some creatures of the night just didn’t understand the meaning of preternatural stealth. “All right. Pizza?”
Dawn smiled, her hand on the doorknob. “No hot things on my half, kay?”
“Got it.” Spike nodded toward the door. “Best get inside before the girls start worrying.”
She nodded, turning to open the door. Spike moved to head off into the night, to patrol on his own aside from the so-called officialpatrols he entertained with the others.
He stopped and spun back around to find her standing with her back to the door. “Yeah, pet?”
“I miss her,” she said simply. “I’ll never stop missing her. But having you around makes it easier. Promise me you won’t ever go away?”
Despite knowing how dangerous such a promise could be, Spike nodded. “Have to dust me before I’d leave you, Dawn. You know that.”
She scrubbed her eyes with the back of her hand and nodded in return. “Goodnight, Spike.”
Dawn disappeared into the house and Spike into the surrounding darkness, though he stared up at her window until the light went out and for a little while after that. She wouldn’t be sleeping yet, not for another few hours.
He’d patrol as he always did and stop by again before returning to his crypt and his trusty bottle of bourbon. Nothing could ease the grief he felt over Buffy’s death, but the few hours between midnight and daybreak that he spent listening to Dawn sleep, sometimes fitfully, others deeply and free from dreams, brought more comfort to his aching heart that he could ever have imagined.