Sequel to Bonding; part of The Shadowverse
“I’m not a bint. Or a frog.”
Dull, listless voice; not even a hint of anger, and Spike debated between just hauling her out of bed and being truly concerned. Wasn’t his fault she was depressed, was it? Nor his job to make her happy again, either. All he had to do was keep her safe, and let her friends worry about all the other things a girl needed to grow up right.
And one day, he might actually let them.
Kneeling down beside her, Spike folded his arms on the mattress. “Pretty fascinating up there. One of your crushes grow horns, is it?”
He had a plan, of course. One so bad even he was hesitant about implementing it, but he was running out of choices. Ten bloody minutes he’d been here, and the only thing he’d gotten out of her was that denial, and not even a proper one at that. He’d listened to Red when she said just leave Dawn be, she’d get over it herself, but enough was enough. Girl didn’t even want to watch Dawson’s reruns with him anymore!
“Dawn, shift your bloody arse, will you? Witches are gonna come upstairs soon, and I want to be gone by then.”
That got her to look at him, but there was none of the excitement he’d hoped to see flaring emerald in her eyes. Just more of the listless intensity that he recognized from too many years with Dru gone moody and difficult: a kind of depression that was more belligerence than actual sadness, a childish need to make someone else pet and cosset—which always sent Spike into a fury, since that’s what he’d been doing, anyway.
Well, yeah, alright, he hadn’t, so much. Not cause he didn’t want to, but cause the Watcher’d sent him and Harris on an errand that took a few days. By the time they’d come back, Dawn was past the point where a stroke and a pat was going to fix it, and he’d listened to Red and let it go for another few days. Then he said ‘fuck it’ and did what he’d wanted to do in the first place.
This was gonna get him staked. He knew it.
“If you want to go,” she said slowly, stiffly, “then just go.”
Spike took a deep breath, not sure what to tackle first: her misunderstanding or the forced indifference that was scattered through the words. Not just that of a self‑centered teenaged brat, but of someone who was slowly giving up and starting to mean it. Right, then. Time to get her moving, and see if he could shake some of this loose.
He glared his fiercest glare. “I meant, miss martyr, that we need to be gone. Before the witches find out I’ve spirited you away for a bit. We get caught and all you’ll get is grounded; me, they’ll stake.”
“You know Tara won’t stake you,” Dawn retorted, but she was—thank Christ—starting to move. Slowly, like her string‑bean limbs weighed a ton, and the air had gone thick and nearly solid around her. More things Spike remembered, so he threw himself onto her bed and waited until she was dressed in something more than a teddy bear t‑shirt and flannel bottoms. “I don’t need make‑up, do I?”
“No!” No sodding make‑up, and if she chose that top with the sparkles near her tits, Spike was going to have to growl. And stop thinking about ‘tits’ in relation to Dawn. “Clothes you can run in, okay? And get a move on. Monroe said she’d keep Red down there the entire movie, but I’ve been catering to you for almost ten minutes.”
Dawn tossed him a withering look, one he almost cheered to see. “Why did you start calling Tara ‘Monroe’? And if they’re watching Titanic—again—they won’t be up for hours and you know it. Chill, Spike, I’ve snuck out before.”
He remembered, thanks. “Monroe,” he explained, “like Marilyn?” Dawn’s blank look made him roll his eyes, a habit of hers he’d picked up, to his annoyance. “Marilyn Monroe, pin‑up actress and model from the sixties? Symbol of feminine beauty?”
“Oh!” Pleasure at her recognition rapidly disappeared when Dawn pulled on a shirt not quite as daring as the one with spangles on the front, but instead cut to show off her belly. “Wasn’t she, like, a size fourteen?”
Spike loved being a vampire. Not having any blood‑pressure was a damn, damn good thing when spending time with sodding children. “What? I don’t know what the hell size she—never mind,” he growled, yanking down a more appropriate top from her closet and handing it to her. “Put that on over your shirt. Marilyn Monroe was a beautiful woman, certainly better looking than a coltish tomboy like you.”
From anyone else, an insult like that would make Dawn droop like a wilted daisy, certain that it was a serious comment. From him, she just crossed her arms over her exposed belly and glared. Finally. “It’s like, eighty degrees in outside the shade, Spike. I’m not wearing a sweatshirt. And I’m not a tomboy.”
“You wanna come with me? Put on the damned shirt.” The contest of wills was a short one, Dawn slumping after only a minute or two. She huffed with artificial annoyance as the fleece went over her head, nostrils flared like a high‑strung filly’s when she was free again. “And you asked why I was callin’ Tara Monroe. Well, that’s why. Now, come on. Out the window, but don’t go down till I’m on the ground, yeah?”
It was a compromise they’d worked out. She could sneak out her window, provided she was with Spike, and he was already on the bottom, just in case. Most of the time she complained that sneaking out under supervision took the fun away, but Spike didn’t give a crap. He didn’t even raise a fuss when she sometimes dimpled at him or called him cute. Mostly.
While she clung to the trellis, Spike dropped noiselessly onto the ground. “Right, pet,” he called softly. Tara was in on the little scheme, although Red wasn’t. She’d gotten overprotective of Dawn in the last few weeks, and Tara had reluctantly agreed that no, she’d just overreact if they did tell her what Spike was planning. Not that Tara knew all the details, either, really, which meant Spike had a bit more leeway than he was saying—Tara’d blushed so fetchingly when describing how she’d ‘distract’ Willow, if necessary. Good thing, too, since Dawn moved like a clomping elephant and rustled every damn leaf she could find. Finally, though, she was safe and sound on the ground.
“Off we go, then,” Spike said, gesturing for Dawn to precede him. He could see the questions seething under her skin, the gleam he’d been waiting for slowly gaining brilliance as she looked up at him, flicking the ends of hair behind her shoulders. “And no asking me where or when. You’ll see soon enough.”
The only good thing about living in a small town was the ability to walk anywhere you wanted. He took short cuts through back alleys and a deserted park, washed cold gray in the moonlight, doing his damnedest to confuse her. This was supposed to be a surprise, wasn’t it, and surprises weren’t supposed to come without some anticipation. Ten minutes in and Dawn was bouncing beside him, anxiously begging for just a hint, just the littlest hint, please please please.
Oh, yeah. Red’s method of just ‘leaving it alone’ was holding up fine. Idiot girl.
The closer they got, the slower he walked until they were just a few yards away, stopping them both. “Listen up, now, ’bit. Gotta promise me to be on your best behavior.”
She gave him a disbelieving look. “You’re asking me to behave,” she deadpanned. “The vampire who, when he took me to the movies, threw popcorn at the screen and threatened to rip the head off the guy in front of us if he didn’t slouch down?”
“That’s different. This is serious. Now hush up and behave like a good girl.” Tucking her arm firmly into his, he ignored the giggles and entered their destination.
Dawn shut up gratifyingly quickly inside, eyes huge as she tried to see everything at once. It made her look like a kid in a candy shop. Not exactly the image he wanted to put forward but, well, he’d been expecting it. He kept a tight rein on his features, ignoring the warm sodding fuzzies he always got when Dawn depended on him like that. This wasn’t the time or the place to turn into soppy git.
“Frank,” he greeted, ushering Dawn onto a stool before taking his own.
“Evenin’, Spike,” Frank answered. The red‑neck flannel and jeans didn't disguise the dull green color of his skin, or the shark‑like teeth that gleamed every time he spoke. The symbol of his office was slung haphazardly over his shoulder, almost brushing the low‑hanging, pointy ears. “This the one you were talkin’ about?”
“Yeah.” Frank didn’t talk much, but that was just fine. Spike had chosen this place for its safety, not its chatty owners. “Name’s Dawn.”
“Ah.” Swiping with the absent rhythm of a creature who’d done that exact motion more than he’d inhaled, Frank smiled with his lips staying shut. “What can I get for you?”
“Bourbon,” Spike answered. “’Bit? You want to start with beer, or the harder stuff?”
Huge, stunned eyes, went from him to Frank and back again. “I can—you’re letting me—we’re really—uh, beer. I’ll have a beer. I‑if that’s okay?”
“Just said it was, didn’t I? Frank, a beer for the lady.”
Beside him, Dawn bounced like a bloody three year old, and wasn’t he glad he’d made her put on a sweat shirt before coming out? Too much bouncing underneath the college lettering. “Oh, my god, Spike! This is so cool! Thank you! Um, I mean.” Suddenly remembering where they were, Dawn pushed her chest out and tossed her hair back. “I mean,” she said in a horrible attempt at nonchalance, “this is a nice place.”
Spike raised an eyebrow, reminding himself that at least she wasn’t sulking anymore. “Frank runs a decent racket for them that got extra sharp teeth or don’t fancy the girl-pop music anymore. Doesn’t overcharge, much, either.”
Shrugging, Frank placed a shot glass in front of Spike and a larger beer-mug in front of Dawn. “Everybody’s got a gimmick.”
Snorting, Spike tipped his own glass back, the sweet burn of alcohol spreading warm and soothing under his skin. It was early for a demon to be out, barely pushing nine. Nothing really dangerous would show up for a few more hours, and Spike’d have Dawn well away before then. Not that he was saying no to a brawl—he glanced around, studying the few patrons and flashing a grin at the only one that dared to meet his eyes.
“Um, Spike? What kind of beer is this?”
She sounded kitten-scared, like something was going to crawl its way out of the settling foam and bite her. “’S not spelled, if that’s what you mean,” Spike answered, purposefully misunderstanding her. Giving Frank a cockeyed stare, he added, “Least, it better not be.”
“It’s beer. The house special.”
A hint of true fear in Dawn’s voice made Spike grin menacingly. “What he means,” he said silkily. “Is that Frank, here, made it special himself. So if something happens, it means I get to hold him personally responsible for it. You know, I’ve always wanted vest made of fish-scales. Green’s a nice color, too.”
“Oh. Huh. Okay, then.”
The casual acceptance in her voice stunned him, the way it always did. Little girls weren’t supposed to trust big bad demons, no matter how many times he’d argued with the Scoobies that they could do just that. And the prospect of violence definitely wasn’t supposed to reassure her—Red’d admonished him about ‘corrupting’ Dawn and giving her ‘false impressions’ of what the world was really like, often enough.
She was partly right, too, but Spike didn’t bother telling her that. He knew that if anything harmed Dawn, he’d rip it to shreds and put her right again.
Not that he’d need to do that here, posturing on the side. Frank had a couple of sprogs at home; turned the mer-creature into a real sucker for those that had little ones of their own—a conversation Spike never wanted to repeat until he was damned dusty. He wasn’t anyone’s father!
“Uh.” Dawn still hadn’t touched her drink. “Spike?”
“Bloody hell.” Reaching over, he took an appraising gulp of her beer. “See? Now, if you’re telling me that I did all this for nothing, and that you don’t want to drink it—”
“I didn’t say that!” Flustered, Dawn gave him a mulish look and plucked the stein from his hand. Her defiant, oversized gulp immediately turned into a spluttering cough as the bitter liquid made her choke. “Gross,” she pronounced, coughing. “You like that stuff? It looks like urine. And it tastes so worse.”
Oh, yeah. Forcing down the grin, Spike raised an eyebrow. “This from the girl who drinks Mountain Dew like it’s ambrosia?” One plan, very successfully accomplished, if Spike did say so himself. And he did.
Dawn glared at him, all traces of nervousness wiped clean under righteous indignation. “That’s different! Mountain Dew has sugar.”
“Yeah, and enough caffeine to keep you bouncing all night long, so you aren’t ordering that here.”
Muttering under her breath, Dawn pushed the beer over towards Spike with a shudder. “Can I have a coke?” she asked Frank politely. She wasn’t quite there yet. . . Watching the nozzle fill a clean glass full of ice, Dawn suddenly flashed Spike a suspicious look, full of her usual radiance and irrepressible humor. “Undead freak.”
Spike heard the accusation, but didn’t respond. Had he taken her to a demon bar, risking the wrath of one mightly pissed off Red—probably more for not knowing ahead of time, than what he’d done, if he wanted to be honest about it—and given her a beer with the express purpose of her hating it so much she never touched it again? At least, not until she was twenty one, and definitely not if she was driving? Well, yeah.
Something of that must’ve shown on his face, because Dawn started tittering. And that, more than anything else, was what Spike had been waiting to hear again. She’d be all right now. This wasn’t going to fix whatever set her off into a funk in the first place—something no one had figured out yet—but that was all right, then. Relaxing completely, Spike let his shoulders swagger as he chased a bit of bourbon with the remains of her beer, just listening.
Still giggling helplessly, she poked him in his side. “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”
Spike eyebrows went up. “What are you, five?” Uh, she couldn’t get drunk on only one sip of beer, could she? Especially when half of it went into her lungs and not her belly?
“No. Dork. And I’m not drunk either, so stop looking at me like I’m gonna sprout tentacles or something.” Quickly glancing around the room to make sure there weren’t any tentacled-demons around, Dawn drank half of her coke. “Gah. So much better. I have no idea why grownups drink that stuff.”
Could have something to do with her use of the word ‘grownups’, maybe. “Drink your coke, little girl.”
“I’m older than you are, little boy.”
Spike smiled, showing all his teeth. “Say that again after you can eat raw tomatoes.”
“Oh, ew!” Making an ick-face worthy of any of those that Buffy’d given him, Dawn huddled over her drink. “Raw tomatoes are disgusting. Eating them is not a sign of age or maturity, it’s a sign of insanity,” she said haughtily, gaze dropping back to the bar. “Now, drinking non-beer types of alcohol. . .”
“Over my dusty ashes,” Spike ordered. Which wasn’t quite true, since he had plans for when telling her ‘no’ wouldn’t stop her anymore. They involved getting her so bloody drunk with such a wretched hangover that she’d never, ever drink again. “Don’t even think about it.”
Rolling her eyes, she gave another giggle. “Dork,” she repeated, studying the signs and trophies Frank had tacked up behind the bar. “Is that a demon’s head up there? Wait, don’t tell me. Hey, did Willow tell you? I got an A on that paper about Hemingway. And my teacher said that since I did so well with that one, she’s gonna assign me harder stuff.”
Sharing a bowl of peanuts, Spike let her ramble. Her face was all lit up, eyes trained on him while her hands did most of the talking for her. Blathering on about silly teenager things, Spike leaned back and watched her turn into a brown-haired Christmas tree. A happy Dawn never shut up—one of the reasons he took her sullen silence a hell of a lot more serious than Red had.
Spike was still more than demon enough to want to say ‘told you so’.
Deeply in the middle of her recital of what, exactly, Janice had done to get grounded this time, Dawn barely noticed Frank’s quiet, “Excuse me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry!” Dawn flashed a charming grin, completely comfortable now. “Do I have to order another coke or something to stay? Or another beer for Spike?”
Frank’s skin went from greenish to a greyish, a sure sign that he was laughing—Spike’s usual appearances at this bar meant bashed in furniture and a several-hundred dollar tab, not a single shot, two beers, and a cola. “It’s nearly ten,” Frank said to Spike. “You said—”
Dawn immediately swung narrowed eyes over to Spike, arms crossed menacingly. “You did plan this!”
“’Cause me telling you I did isn’t proof enough, is it?” Digging out a twenty, he dropped it on the bar and got to his feet. “Or did you want to stick around while this place livens up?”
For a moment, he was sure she was going to say yes, just to piss him off. She did that often enough, contrariness melting into childish laughter while he spluttered and threatened mayhem. And if she did that here, when the Vorshal demon in the back was already snickering like Spike was behaving like some poncy human father, wrapped around his girl’s little finger. . .
“You gotta problem mate?” Spike asked dangerously.
“You’re William the Bloody, right?” the Vorshal asked, thick, bubbly voice sounding distinctly amused. And condescending. “The one who tore up Prague and started that fire with Drusilla?”
Lips stretched into something some might call a smile, Spike said, “Yeah that’s me. Torched the whole place, we did, and slaughtered thousands. You, however, are a pathetic nobody that’s never done anything.” He ambled a few steps closer, right hand in plain sight while the left surreptitiously reached for his stake. Dawn didn’t move from the bar, her expression long suffering. “And now, you never will.”
“What do you mean, now I—”
Lovely thing about Vorshals was the point they had right above the ear—hit that, and they were dead demons. Not waiting to see the creature tumble onto the floor, Spike asked, “What was his tab?”
Frank smiled, exposing a double row of very long, very sharp shark-like teeth. “Nothing. I’m hungry.”
Dawn huffed, interrupting the manly, demony conversation they were having in favor of glaring at him. “Do you have any normal? friends?” she demanded, making a face. “Or are they all ooky? And never mind, don’t you dare answer that. Bye, Frank!”
“Don’t come back here without Spike,” was Franks parting shot, already out from behind the bar to collect his supper.
Chuckling, Spike allowed Dawn to drag him home. An evil part of Spike wondered if he should tell her about whatever was following them.
Feet finally planted safely in her own room, Dawn turned around to stare back down. “Are you coming up?” she called quietly. The witches were still watching Titanic, Red’s quiet sniffling meaning they were close to done.
“Nah, I’m off patrolling for a bit. I’ll be back by morning, if you want.”
“Duh, of course I want,” she told him. Her casual expression faded, suddenly, leaving her little-girl innocent and shy. “Thanks. For tonight.”
“There isn’t gonna be a repeat,” he warned.
“Right, cause I have to go all the way to a—um, there,” she hedged with a glance behind her, “to have coke. I’m not stupid, Spike.”
He smiled in a way not many other than her ever saw. “No, you’re not.”
“And don’t you forget it,” she admonished, shutting her blinds.
Lighting a cigarette, Spike smoked contentedly. Good. Shouldn’t be much longer now.
“Awwww,” a voice to his right said, exactly on cue. “Look at the big bad vampire playing with the wittle girwl.”
Two fingers rose in the darkness.
Chuckling, Xander stepped out of the shadows. “Did it work?”
Spike snorted. “You didn’t hear her prattling on when you were following us? And you’re improving at that. There were times she almost drowned you out.”
“Screw you, and excuse me for wanting confirmation. Tara was worried.”
A few months back, that would’ve been confirmation that they didn’t trust him. Now, though, he didn’t hear anything but worry over Dawn. “Go tell Tiger Lily that everything’s fine. She had maybe a sip before declaring it ‘disgusting’ and drank coke the rest of the time.” A barely concealed sigh made him look at Xander for the first time, blowing smoke into his face. “I told you it’d be fine, wanker.”
“Hey, I worry. Sue me. Wait here, I’ll go let Wills and Tara know.”
“Tara couldn’t keep it a secret long, could she?” Not that he was surprised. Or worried, really, since Red hadn’t come storming into the bar, demanding that they leave right this instant, Mister, and you are in so much trouble.
“I was called in when Leo was doing the naked-drawing thing and was ordered to be Willow’s eyes. Not in the magical-sense, just the following-you sense. And you owe me for being forced to watch ten minutes of Titanic, by the way.”
“Yeah, yeah. Hurry up, I wanna go kill something.”
A cigarette length later, Xander was back with two beers hanging from his grip. “Wills says to say you’re evil, and also right which means you can’t be smug at her. Tara gives us beer.”
Spike took his, popping the top and clinking the cold, wet glass against Xander’s. Leaning comfortably against the tree, they amiably sipped and watched until the small reading light shining in the window above them winked out.