"Dawn! You're gonna be late for school!" Buffy yelled up the stairs. She pinned her hair back and smoothed her uniform. She scratched at a stain and made a face.
"I'm not going." The response floated down the stairs.
"So he broke up with you. It's not the end of the world. You're graduating next week and I'm bound and determined that nothing and I mean absolutely nothing happens." Buffy called up. "It's going to be perfect."
"He promised and he just left with her. With her. With Kelly Taylor." Dawn dragged herself down the stairs. "I need to get away. I have to get out of Sunnydale."
"After graduation, me and you will do a little road tripping, how's that?" Buffy patted Dawn's shoulder as she guided her sister out the door. "Just me, you and a trunk full of weapons. We'll go demon-hunting and you can pretend that each one is Jared."
"Promise?" Dawn perked up. "And can I use the double-edged axe?"
"Sure." Buffy grabbed her purse and shut the door behind them.
"And the crossbow?"
"And the thing with the stick and the chain and the pointy ball?"
Spike was in the house when Dawn returned from school and she couldn't hold in the disdain. Apparently his therapy was making progress but she couldn't look at him the same. His mental health being in question only reinforced her lowered opinion of him. He paced a darkened corner of the living room, muttering to himself. Then she caught the smell. "Spike? Are you cooking?"
He didn't look up but he answered her. "Me. I'm a man… no a demon. I checked the mail when the tasty morsel walked up. Sunlight burns. It burns." He stepped out of the shadows and she could see the singed shirt over his arm and back. "It burns. Not as much as the heart when it breaks but it hurts."
"Calm down." Dawn held out her hands. She stepped back only once before he had taken her hands in his. "Spike."
"Warm. You're a woman and you're warm. Why can't I be warm? I want to be a man."
Dawn pulled her hands away from his. "Spike, maybe you should find a place to lie down. Rest or something." She gently pushed him back to his dark corner of the living room. "Buffy will be home soon."
"She doesn't think I'm a man." Spike muttered as he did as told. "Xander's a man. Red's a witch. Buffy's a slayer. Lil' Bit's a woman… but Lil' Bit's got a man."
"No, I don't." Dawn wiped a hand over her face. He never turned back toward her as he resumed his earlier pacing.
"Not a human man but a man. Anya's a demon. Giles is a man."
Dawn blinked at him. "What? Jared was human."
"Not him, the other one." Spike let out an exasperated breath. "The star-man."
"Zan?" Dawn blinked at him. "I haven't even seen him in three years."
"You kids." He threw his hands up. "Women." He corrected. "You never had any appreciation for the written word. I wrote poems. Love poems. They were horrible but I tried. I told you. I checked the mail. I got burned for my trouble." Lucidity descended on the vampire. "Where the hell is my blanket? I need some air."
"You didn’t bring it." Dawn crossed her arms. "You wandered in here last night and you've been driving everyone crazy ever since."
"I'll be borrowing a blanket then." Spike turned his pacing to the stairs and took them to at a time. "You got a letter from the alien, today."
Dawn rolled her eyes at him and turned to the table to look and there it was. The first one in months, almost a year. Her heart sped up a little. She wandered into the kitchen and took a seat. Leaning on the island, she stared at the envelope. After a while she ripped it open, her eyes scanning it before she actually read it. It was short.
You're right, it's been a while. I told you that I'm not much of a writing person. Been busy with school and bro's kid, you know? Glad to hear that people are okay. I'm not gonna pretend I know what's going on or nothing. Glad to hear that you got somebody. That's good. I'm good, you know? It's good you're graduating and stuff. Hope those demons stay put and all that. Guess this goodbye and all that. Sorry I wasn't so good a pen pal. Stuff happens, you know?
She stared at it. She groaned when she remembered what she had written to him. That was when she was sure Jared was the one. Then Jared had turned out to be a two-timing jerk. Collapsing against the counter, she banged her head on the ceramic. "I am such an idiot."
The front door opened and shut. Murmurs were heard but nothing discernible. Dawn sighed and waited. Buffy led Spike to an empty stool. She pulled a bag of blood from the refrigerator and tossed it in the microwave. She patted Dawn's head on her return to Spike. "You'll be okay."
"No, I won't. I'm not a man."
"No, you aren't." She shook her head. "I'm gonna go change. You drink up."
Dawn followed Buffy up the stairs and into her room. "Buffy, why do you help him? He's a demon and he's obsessed with you." Buffy ignored her. "You've forgiven him for what he tried to do to you?"
"Dawn." Buffy sighed and turned to her sister. "Dawn, I have not forgotten what he tried to do. I won't. I don't know how many times I have to tell you that he's different now. I don't trust him but he won't hurt us."
"Because he's got a soul?" The younger Summers girl scoffed.
"Dawn, he's insane. He's a big teddy bear wandering around. He can't take care of himself. I'm supposed to help the helpless and currently, Spike resides in the helpless category." Silence held for a moment while Buffy changed. "Why are there burns on his clothes?"
"He forgot who he was and tried to check the mail." Dawn sighed, heavily. "Buffy, what if he accidentally kills himself?"
"Then he accidentally kills himself. I can't, in good conscience, put him out of his misery. I didn't do it when he first got that chip in his head and I won't do it now. He's got a soul and it's damaged him." Buffy shut her eyes. "Do you honestly think I would let him anywhere near you if I thought he would hurt you?"
"I guess not. But I can't forget." Dawn left the room and nearly ran into Spike when he was taking a turn of the house with his warm mug of blood. His game face was on as he sipped from the mug.
"It's never the same." He muttered and then the game face melted away and tears spilled down his face. "I loved her and she spat on me. I shouldn't have killed her."
Buffy bounded down the stairs and stilled at the sight of the crying vampire. She watched him set the mug aside and sink onto the couch, inches away from a patch of light that poured through a hole in the curtain. She sighed and picked up the must. Sitting on the coffee table, she handed to him. "Drink. Piles of bones aren't attractive… at least not to most people."
Dawn wandered away from the scene that had become way to familiar. No one else cared what happened to Spike but to Buffy, he fell into the innocent category for the time being. She gathered up her letter from the kitchen and trudged up the stairs to her own room. Four days. Four days and then they would be on the road and away from Sunnydale.
Willow stood in the middle of Buffy's room and just… looked her fill. The tears stung her eyes but she knew that it was a good thing. She was moving on. It seemed like yesterday and decades ago that she had last been able to set foot in the room without bawling her eyes out. At the time, it had been a good idea that Buffy take the room and Willow take Buffy's old room. Now she was sure she could last long periods of time in the room she had shared with Tara.
"Will?" Dawn's voice floated into the room.
"Yeah?" Willow rubbed at her eyes and exited, to find Dawn standing at the top of the staircase. "What's up?"
"We're going out to eat. Coming?"
"Sure." Willow nodded and looked at her young friend. "You still down about Jared?"
"Among other things." Dawn wisely decided against asking why Willow had gone into Buffy's room. "Let's go. We're letting Spike out for the night."
"He's not a pet, Dawn."
"He's also not a man, as he keeps saying every five minutes."
"Dawn." Willow stopped her. "I'm not a fan of Buffy's for babying Spike, either." She took a breath. "But it's not like he's a psycho or anything. Drusilla was a soulless crazy… Spike's a crazy with a soul. He knows right and wrong… and it's eating at him. However much we hate him for what he did to Buffy… he hates himself more. Buffy knows that."
Dawn nodded stiffly and trudged down the steps. Too much on her plate. Suddenly, Spike's life looked appealing. She could do all the self-loathing she wanted and Buffy would take care of her and not expect her to move on.