Dawn entered the crypt as quietly as she could. She hadn’t seen Spike in forever, but she wanted to let him know that Buffy’s birthday party was coming up. He probably would appreciate the warning and the knowledge.
It was just after school, so the sun was still up, and she figured he’d be around. The upper level was empty however, and when she called his name there was no answer. Hesitantly, Dawn set her backpack down on his chair and headed towards the ladder. There had been a couple of embarrassing moments the previous summer when she’d walked in on him while he was slightly less than dressed. Though, to be honest, Dawn probably hadn’t minded nearly as much as Spike had.
She descended the ladder slowly, ready to leave quickly if he was indisposed. All she could see in the dim candlelight was a half-full bag on his bed, surrounded by odds and ends of clothes and books.
Dawn knew that she hadn’t actually been there, but she remembered this scene like something out of a bad dream. The huge party downstairs, Dawn trying to make herself scarce, but wanting to hang with an older sister she hadn’t seen in months, coming out into the hallway only to hear Willow and her mom shouting. And Buffy had been standing there with her suitcase half-packed, wanting to take off yet again. Dawn had never quite forgiven her sister for leaving like that.
She wasn’t sure she would be able to forgive Spike for leaving either.
“Why?” It was the only question she could think of to ask, and she knew he was there, even if he hadn’t made a sound.
He stepped half-way into the light then, and the candles only partially illuminated his face. She could see that his face was bruised, but not how badly. “Gotta go, Bit. It’s time.”
“Time?” she demanded. “Why now, Spike? Were you even going to let us know?”
“Who would care?” It was a question that was only partially rhetorical, and Dawn marvelled at the distance that had grown up between them in the last months. Sometimes she wondered if it would have been better if Buffy had stayed dead. Bringing her back seemed to have created more problems than it solved.
“I would,” she protested. Dawn strode forward and grabbed his arm, as though to physically prevent his leaving. “Spike, you promised me!”
He turned his face away from her, and it was then that Dawn could see the full extent of the damage. She let out an involuntary gasp. The last time he’d been this badly injured was after Glory had tortured him, and he’d been restrained. She couldn’t think of a thing on earth that could hurt him that badly and then let him walk away.
Unless he let them hurt him, and they—
“Buffy.” It was a statement, not a question, as Dawn remembered how banged up her sister’s knuckles had been the morning after she’d tried to turn herself into the police. As the Slayer, she would have had to give someone quite a beating for it to be that obvious.
Besides, Buffy was about the only person Spike would let hurt him like that.
He turned his back to her, and continued stuffing clothes and assorted items into the suitcase. “Doesn’t matter,” he asserted.
Dawn stood, frozen, watching yet another person she loved walk out of her life. This time because of her sister. Yeah, she was definitely beginning to think it might have been better if Buffy stayed dead. Though the thought brought on the guilt, Dawn could deal with dead-Buffy. It was this half-alive version that made her crazy. “It matters to me.”
She heard him sigh, and not for the first time wondered at the humanity of him. Sure, he was a vampire, but sometimes it was so hard to tell… “If I stay, one of us will kill the other.” He turned and faced her fully for the first time, and Dawn could see his face clearly. He had been badly hurt, and all the anger she felt at him for leaving drained away.
Dawn wrapped her arms around his waist. “I hate this.”
There was a moment’s hesitation, and then he returned her embrace. “‘m sorry, Dawn.” Spike pulled back from her abruptly, feeling as though he might cry at any moment, and hating himself for it. He was the Big Bad. And even if he wasn’t the Big Bad now, he’d get it back. He’d get it back, and—
Looking into a girl’s eyes, he knew he wouldn’t do anything except stay away. It was all he could do for her. “Will you come back?”
“I dunno,” he replied. “Maybe.”
How to put a timeline on love? Or, in his case, on getting over love? How long would it take to forget the Slayer? “I dunno. When I’m over her.”
Dawn nodded, hiding her own tears. It was their way to be strong for each other. It was their pact from last summer, that if neither broke, then the other one could stay strong as well. “Promise you’ll write me.”
“Promise.” And because he was already breaking one promise he’d made, Spike agreed.
There was an awkward silence, neither of them really wanting to say good-bye, neither knowing what to say at all. Suddenly, Spike stripped himself out of his duster and shoved it into Dawn’s arms. “Here.”
She stared at him, not comprehending his actions. “You keep it,” he said firmly, though still eyeing the coat as if he might take it back at any moment. “Till I come back for it, I mean. ‘s not a gift, it’s a loan, yeah?”
It was a promise that meant something. It meant that he would come back, that he wouldn’t forget, that she would have a piece of him to hang onto in the weeks or months or years that it would take for him to make his way back to her. He might as well have handed her a limb and told her he’d be back for it. “Do you want me to tell—do you want me to tell her anything?”
There was a terrible moment of indecision as Spike tried to decide whether or not to cut the umbilical cord once and for all or if he should leave some small thread of hope alive. “Only if she asks.”
Dawn nodded, her arms full of his leather duster, his scent filling her nose, her mouth—She flung it down on the bed, wrapped herself around him for one last farewell, and then grabbed the coat and ran. Up the ladder, grabbing her pack, and out into the lengthening shadows. She hardly dared hope she would see him again.
And below, Spike finished packing.