"Hey! Little... help... here," Buffy hissed as the vampire choked her with a powerful forearm.
Spike leaned against a large, expensive-looking gravestone. "You just said to stop interfering."
"Son of a..." Buffy flipped herself over the vampire and kicked hard with her heel into the side of his knee. As the vampire screamed in agony, Buffy glared at Spike. "Six years we've known each other and you still can't tell when I'm joking?"
Spike shrugged and lit a cigarette. Buffy staked the vampire before he could stand.
"You know what your problem is?" Spike said, kicking some dirt off his boot. "I mean, other than your new bangs?"
"Kidding. No, your problem is, you're not clear on what you want."
"Right now, I am quite clear on wanting you to shut up."
"Well, that's a start."
Buffy pursed her lips, trying hard not to smile. "Let's head back."
Buffy glanced over at him, trying to read his expression. "You should ask her yourself some time."
"Yeah." Spike sighed as they approached Buffy's house. "Tried talkin' to her a few times. It was so bloody awkward. And not just because the little twit is as tall as me now."
Buffy turned and looked up at him. He looked a little more rested, more relaxed than he had a few weeks ago. He still kept a lot in. He was dealing in his own way, and she respected that. He went from being aloof, to distantly polite, and now he was slowly coming around to being a sarcastic pain in the ass, finally.
"You want to come in and say hi to her?"
Spike dug his hands in his front pockets and stared at the front door of the house. "It's late."
"So, I hate the way she looks at me. All polite and disinterested."
"Aw, poor Spikey."
"Don't start, I'll kick your arse."
"You and what insane visiting spirits?"
"Ha ha." Spike gave Buffy his meanest look, then glanced back at the front door. Finally he sighed. "Look, just tell her I miss her. Tell her I... don't tell her anything. Maybe dealing with one Summers woman is penitence enough."
Buffy was about to say something witty and cutting when she realized how close they were standing. It was a natural thing these past few weeks. They fought better sticking close together, and they ended up walking close together as well. But here, tonight, as she listened to leaves whispering overhead, she realized they were standing under the tree. Their tree. The lovely tree Spike used to spy from, the tree they once made crazy love against on a night just like this.
Spike seemed to follow her chain of thoughts. He glanced up, frowned, then stepped quickly back, away from the shelter of the tree.
"Goodnight, Slayer. Don't be too tough on the tots, tomorrow, eh?" He nodded brusquely and walked away. She watched his receding back, her mouth suddenly dry.
"Goodnight," she whispered, even though he was too far away to hear her. She stayed there for a minute, remembering despite herself, then went inside.
Dawn had a variety of screams. Some were shrieks of surprise, some were shouts of indignation, sometimes they were just yells of fear. But this one was a sheer yelp of joy. Buffy pushed back her covers and went downstairs. Dawn was doing what could only be surmised as a happy dance.
"Did we win the lottery?" Buffy yawned. Dawn was all ready for school and was grinning at the phone in her hand.
"Better. He's coming back for Thanksgiving!"
Buffy absolutely loved these moments. These little moments of happiness they got to share, when for a split second all seemed right with the world.
"You got it! He just called. I thought you were still sleeping. Buffy, he's coming home." Dawn looked so happy, as happy as Buffy felt, and she put her arm around her sister's shoulders.
"We don't have much time. Lots to do, lots to plan. We'll have it here, of course. Invite everyone."
Dawn gave her a strange look. "Everyone? As in Spike too?"
Buffy busied herself with the coffee machine. "You think I should invite Spike?" she asked casually.
"Oh, sure. Let's invite some other mass murderers over too while we're at it."
"You mean like Anya?"
"That's different. I can't believe you're defending him." Dawn's voice was cold and accusing.
"And I can't believe you aren't giving him a tiny chance, Dawn. Jesus, even Xander has lightened up."
"Oh my God. I am not having this discussion with you." Dawn grabbed her bag and left the kitchen. Buffy heard the front door open and close. Well, at least she didn't slam it.
"Crap," Buffy sighed.
The knocking was loud and insistent, even for Sunnydale standards. Spike put down the reference book on demonology and went to the door.
"Jesus, I said hold..." Spike's words died when he saw Dawn standing there. "Hey."
"Hey." Dawn pushed past him and walked in.
"Xander's not here."
"I know. They're all helping Anya out at the Magic Box. Grand reopening is this weekend."
Spike leaned against the back of the sofa and crossed his arms. Boy, did she look mightily pissed. He almost grinned out of affection but saw the coldness in her eyes and reconsidered.
"Well, I'd offer you something to drink but from the shards of hatred coming out of your eyes I see this isn't a social call."
He watched her hesitate for a second, then stand up straight. "Wow, you're observant, Spike. Does that come with having a soul?"
Spike sighed and rubbed his eyes. "Get on with it then. Say what you have to say."
"You're not invited to Thanksgiving."
Spike let out a tired laugh. "You don't say. I was expecting an engraved invitation any day now."
"I mean it."
"Little girl, what makes you even think I'd want to spend Thanksgiving with you all?"
"I'm not a little girl. And you're a shit." Dawn's voice wavered slightly. "But, hey, at least you're not using me to get to Buffy like you did two years ago."
"I didn't use you. And you're right, you're not little anymore, so stop acting like such a prat."
Dawn slapped him hard across the face.
"You can do that again if it makes you feel better," Spike said, rubbing his cheek. She went to do it again, but he grabbed her wrist.
"I didn't mean that literally," he said.
"I hate you," she whispered. "I can't believe I ever thought you were my friend."
She turned to go but Spike's voice stopped her. "I was."
"Until you got her," Dawn bit out. "And then you just forgot about me. And then you hurt her, and you left us."
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, realizing this was the first time he said those words to her. Those useless words that she still probably needed to hear. "Please believe that I'm sorry. I did... I did get so wrapped up in her that everything ceased to exist. That wasn't fair to anyone."
His words seemed to float in the air between them until Dawn turned to look at him. Spike saw the pain and doubt in her eyes, this girl who once treated him like a king.
"I'm just sorry, Bit. I did care about you. And I missed you."
"You missed Buffy. You left for her, you came back for her."
"It's not as simple as that. And nothing's the same."
"No. One thing's the same. You're still the same person that tried to rape my sister." Dawn said the words to hurt them, and it worked. Spike accepted the pain, just looked at her sadly.
"I guess there's nothing left to say then." Spike walked to the door, opened it, not looking at her. Finally, she left, not saying a word. Spike shut the door slowly. He closed his eyes and pressed his forehead against the cool steel. Another loss, another punishment, another world of regret to haunt him, and still he felt she let him off easy.
Continued in Chapter Four