"Crap," he muttered. He turned around under her window, and looked up, planning the assault.
"Hm. I'm a git, here's the deal. I was... Argh. Bloody hell"'
A vivid mental image of his former self, curls and all, appeared in his fevered brain, and he winced, wondering if there was some way that could possibly be tweaked to be, well, something less git-like. He took a breath, assessing the tree he'd climbed so much earlier in the evening and had just descended, wondering how he was going to handle this.
He jerked around at the sight of a disembodied head floating at the corner of the house, but it was just Dawn, eyeing him curiously. At four AM. What the hell? He glared at her severely, but she was unimpressed.
"What are you doing here?" He snapped at her.
"What are you doing here?" She repeated pointedly. "Looking at Buffy's window?"
Perfect excuse, even though he didn't like to lie to the kid. Just some things she wasn't ready for.
"And your point would be?"
He lit a cigarette, and tiptoed toward the back porch, trying not to look like he was tiptoeing.
"Well, I thought maybe you were here to talk about my route, you know...."
She shrugged in a very self-effacing way that was so Buffy and Joyce-like that he stared, simultaneously touched and freaked at the same time. He regrouped and plunged in.
"What route would that be?"
He sat next to her on the deck, patting the wood next to him, and exhaling a smoke ring. Dawn cocked her head and grimaced at him, or perhaps the smoke, but she sat. They stared into the Summers back yard for several minutes, Dawn sleepily, and Spike with a certain degree of panic. There was a five second rule for retrieving fallen cookies from the floor, and there was a totally arbitrary time limit for retrieving one's ass from one's girlfriend after it had been pitched into the fire. He was afraid he was getting close to his expiration date. He also had the distinct impression that Dawn had something on the tip of her tongue, and was reluctant to spit it out. Family trait, that.
"All right, kid, what is it?"
"Buffy didn't ask you?"
"She might have mentioned it, but you know how fast she talks. Why don't you fill me in?"
Dawn took a deep breath and clasped her hands between her knees. He saw for the first time she was wearing her jammies, which had little white sheep and moon and stars printed all over the tops and bottoms. She was also wearing little cow slippers; it was these that caught his eye, because they so perfectly embodied all her contradictions.
Catching his glance, she grinned in a nose-wrinkling way he could've sworn he hadn't seen since the spring, and stomped one foot down, hard, on the deck. The slipper mooed. He blinked. Dawn did it again, and he shook his head, rather disturbed. The second demonstration sounded as if the cow was in pain... or heat. Either way, definitely a fine end to a very odd day.
"Well, I like them." Dawn said rather sullenly.
Aha. Now he knew what he was dealing with: 100% sulking American teenager, a creature much easier to deal with the half sulky/half sweet Dawn who kept changing her moods as fast as... well, her sister.
He exhaled more smoke, and Dawn winced. She waved her hand in front of her face, and he was amused to see it; his smoking had never before bothered her, so he wondered exactly where she'd gotten that habit. Someone new she was hanging about with, maybe? He made a mental note to explore that area later.
"So?" He prodded.
"Well, I want to get a paper route." She blurted out.
He sighed, knowing where this was going. Good lord, Buffy was working in that awful place, now Dawn wanted a paper route. He knew perfectly well why she wanted one, but it had to be asked.
Dawn sighed an exact copy of his sigh, and he bit back a smile at that. It was obviously a delaying sigh, exactly as his had been, and he could see her weighing her options in her head. Explanation, or just spit it out?
She spit it out.
"We need the money."
"Buffy told you this?"
"Oh, no," she said disgustedly, irritated at not being kept informed. It had clearly never occurred to her that Buffy wanted to spare her any adult worries. "But I hear stuff, so I know."
"What about your Dad?"
Dawn waved a hand dismissively.
"He's off boinking his secretary and pretending he doesn't have us."
Spike flinched at her careless dismissal of her father, then wondered at the practiced way she'd said it. Then he wondered at the man who could ignore his girls in favor of some....
Dawn interrupted his thoughts.
"So I know I eat a lot, and there's bills and stuff..."
And that way, if I pay some of the bills, people will have to pay attention to me. If I help pay, then I get to decide stuff, too.
I want cable.
"You don't eat a lot."
"Well, we don't have a lot of stuff anyway."
Spike looked at her, puzzled, and she tossed her head, then jumped to her feet, and led him into the kitchen.
She wasn't exaggerating; there were lots of things like crackers and pasta in the cupboards, but there was nevertheless lots of bare space there. The fridge was even worse; only one shelf was half full, and there were only a few things scattered on the rest. Dawn caught his eye and shrugged.
"Mostly, that's Willow's."
"Meaning, hers alone?"
"No. Another shrug. "She says we can eat it, but she never has anything we like."
Hm. Hm indeed. He sat down at the table, and ran his hands through his hair.
"Does Willow pay rent?"
"I don't think so." Dawn said doubtfully. She hopped up on the counter, and poured herself a glass of water. "So what do you think?"
"How, exactly, do you have a paper route with a broken wrist?"
"That's where you come in."
Spike closed his eyes, suddenly picturing himself sullenly hawking papers on street corners while wearing a newsboy cap or something. So much for the Big Bad.
"So..." he said dryly. "I do the actual paper delivering, and you get the money?"
"No!" Dawn giggled, as if affronting his vampire dignity was amusing. "No, no, you just drive me there and drive me down the street while I toss the papers."
"Can you even throw papers like that?"
"They said I'd have to wait till my arm was better. But I got up early today so I could see what it's like.'
"Well. Did you?"
"Did I what? See... how it was getting up early?" She shrugged. "I pretty much already know what that's like. I really haven't slept later since Mom died."
He paused for a moment, thinking of Joyce.
"Did you think of any reasons why this might not be such a good idea?"
"And what else?"
"Demons? And uh, other things... Is that why there aren't any paper boys in Sunnydale?"
"Could be. What made you want this particular job?"
"I don't want Buffy's kind of job. You just do this and it's over for the day."
"It's a daily?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah."
Dawn looked in his eyes, and saw him wavering, why, she didn't know. She knew he'd help her, he always helped her....
"There's got to be a better way, Niblet." He said slowly. "There just has to be. Is it really that bad?"
"It's not good," Dawn countered. "Buffy has a whole drawer full of those bills. And she's tired all the time."
"She didn't seem too bad..." Spike stopped himself abruptly. Oh, no, she hadn't seemed too bad, but had he actually seen her working?
"She's working a lot." Dawn's tone seemed an equal mix of resentment and worry.
He hadn't been paying any attention to much else outside of her that night, and to be honest, there hadn't been a lot there; just her, and the store. What had he missed?
"Much too much." Dawn clarified. "She's never home." She looked at him suddenly. "What, did you see her?"
"Huh?" Spike blinked at her, caught. "Yes. Ah, yes, I did."
"So? Wasn't she tired?"
Spike considered his options very carefully.
"You know, I wasn't paying attention to that."
"You were probably just, you know, paying attention to her..."
"Oh, come on, Spike, I totally know how you feel about her..."
"Subject is closed, Niblet."
"So, are you going to do it?"
"I have to think about it."Spike said. "And there's something I have to do first."
Continued in Chapter 8