Rating: NC 17 by part three
Spoilers: Post-Season 7 Finale.
Summary: It's five years after the events of BtVS Season 7. Uses some actual plot points from the finale and some that are purely my own invention. I'm bad that way. Originally posted April 17, 2003, after reading the script and thinking about it way too much.
Distribution: Ask and ye probably shall receive.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet!
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...
A/N: I found this very disturbing to write. So I thank all of my spoiler whore betas and LJ Friends who were willing to look at this and offer their input, especially Chris, Kelly, Mezz, Chen and Estepheia. And Colleen, I missed having you on this one! But I get the whole spoiler virgin thing. Good on you!
Laura, a personal and special thanks to you for archiving this.
She still couldn't figure out why she'd wanted to return so badly. Supposed it might be that college wasn't really going so well. Could have been that last break-up with her boyfriend. But regardless of the reason, she was here now. And giddy with excitement.
'Giddy'. Where had she heard that word before, she thought idly?
She smiled. A Xander word. She might even get to hear it come out of his mouth, live and not memory-ex. Because after five years away, Dawn Summers was back in Sunnydale.
The last apocalypse had cost them, but it had given them something, too. Freedom. The freedom to make a fresh start somewhere - anywhere - else.
Buffy had swallowed her pride and contacted their father.
'No choice', she'd mumbled.
Buffy had never taken any more money from him after the initial stake. And she'd only done that because of Dawn. The former slayer still had her mother's old Cherokee, which was definitely the worse for wear around the edges. She'd gone to the financial aid office at Mesa College and applied for any money that she could qualify for by any stretch of the imagination. She was still Dawn's legal guardian, after all, and had been since their mother had died.
No, Buffy wouldn't take their father's money, but Dawn would. And did. Often.
She didn't feel guilty about it either. Their dad owed them, Buffy most of all, so what Dawn took from him covered some small comforts around their apartment - and one big one. The big one that meant Buffy didn't have to chauffeur her around.
Dawn had a car.
That morning early, she was on the road in the blue metallic VW her father had bought for her eighteenth birthday. Arizona to California had been an easy trip for her, the Bug clipping on down the road smartly to Kitt's house.
Kitt's parents had come back soon after the apocalypse was averted. Others had been slower returning. But an influx of new people, people who hadn't looked too closely at the idea of California real estate at rock-bottom prices, had picked up the slack.
The renewal of downtown was almost complete. Dawn was on foot, walking the business district which now had some small boutiques scattered around. Somehow, the pain that she felt when she thought of Sunnydale was just a dull ache now. Something manageable. Almost bittersweet.
She'd surprise Xander later. He was still here, of course, even if Willow had moved on. Once the town had begun to rebuild, her friend had started taking construction contracts, hiring the labor, instead of *being* hired labor. Xander had been in on the ground floor of the whole renewal movement, sporting his rakish eye patch and hair that was just a little too long for the old school Sunny D business guy type.
Everything he did, everything he tried, worked for him. Dawn had been worried that Anya's death would break him. Instead, it had seemed to make him stronger.
And the eye patch was... well, damn sexy. Of course, she'd never say that out loud. Especially around Buffy.
He was going to be so surprised when she showed up on his doorstep. She'd never even seen his house and he'd been in it more than three years.
He *had* been to Arizona a few times, though. Even if about two years before, his visits had stopped abruptly. He'd pleaded his thriving business as an excuse, but Dawn thought it was probably seeing Buffy the way she was now that kept him away.
These days, Buffy was bronzed by the sun and whipcord thin, all sinews and sharp angles. The last of the baby fat had melted from her face, leaving behind a stern woman who laughed seldom and cried never. She was very, very busy, frenetically filling her time with college. As a teaching assistant, Buffy spent hours on the computer at home, gone only for coursework and the self-defense class she taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays for extra cash.
Dawn didn't mind. Her sister was kinder than she'd ever been. And quieter. The funny little wrinkle she used to get over her left eye when she frowned was a permanent etching now.
Buffy worked out every single day, shaking with exhaustion and frustration by the end. Still, no matter how hard she trained, the old slayer strength and speed couldn't be recaptured. It was gone, along with all the Potentials who had died. With Anya.
Her sister wasn't the slayer anymore. Dawn didn't think there *was* a slayer now. The world didn't need them and therefore they 'weren't'. It had been an unlikely gift for the girl who had just wanted a normal life, Dawn thought. And it had come from the unlikeliest of givers.
The girl stopped walking and gazed at the old Magic Box. It was barely standing, abandoned and lost. No renewal efforts had touched it. It would have broken Anya's heart to see it. It tugged at Dawn's.
She had come a long way from the girl who had stolen from her friends and every retail establishment within walking distance in a passive-aggressive plea for attention.
Needing an emotional lift, she decided to head toward the spot where the Espresso Pump used to be. Or at least somewhere that had milkshakes. Her eyes wandered to the alley behind the Magic Box.
It was unused, littered with refuse. But not completely abandoned.
A homeless man was sitting on a box near the delivery entrance. The slump of his shoulders was familiar somehow.
With a small shiver, Dawn sped up and left the disturbing sight behind.
She finished her burger and took a huge pull on her milkshake, working toward a major brain-freeze that would drive the deserted look of the Magic Box out of her mind. A waitress was clearing off the remnants of a meal at the next table.
"Must have been Old Will," the young woman said in response to Dawn's comment about the homeless man. "He ends up everywhere at one time or another," the waitress said knowingly. "Mostly hangs out at the convenience store on Vine, though."
"Old Will? I don't remember him," Dawn said, puzzled. "I used to live here," she explained.
The girl shrugged. "Well, I haven't been here but about a year. But if you're here more than a few days, you'll see him again. Haunts the streets."
Dawn started slightly at the choice of words. "Haunts?"
Laughing, the waitress mopped off the table next to Dawn's. "He's outside rain or shine, summer or winter. About July, his hair is all white at the ends, curly as it is. I don't think he's as old as he looks. Just the mileage, being in the sun all the time, I guess. He doesn't say much, doesn't work either." She grinned. "Unless you could call playing with blocks working."
"Blocks?" Dawn was intrigued
"I can't think of what you call them. Little black blocks... thin. With white dots. Starts with a 'd'..."
Dominoes? Now what made her remember that?
"Right. They say he stays with this guy at night." She rolled her eyes. "Some businessman in town." The girl leaned toward Dawn conspiratorially. "Guy's not married or anything. Think he'd be a little more discreet than just moving him in."
"The man's name is Will?" Something was tugging at Dawn, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
"That's what folks call him. He's got a sweet face, pretty eyes popping out of that tan, but hey, you never know, do you? Guy could be a serial killer for all we know." she said wisely, finishing off the next table. When she looked up again, a ten-dollar bill was on the table, as the front door swung shut.
She hurried back the way she'd come, almost running. The Magic Box wasn't far and maybe she was nuts, but...
Dawn tried to mentally reconstruct that night. The night she'd decided she wanted her dead mother back on any terms.
Spike had found her at her mother's grave, securing the dirt she'd need for the spell. Already had the book she'd stolen from the Magic Box. But instead of leaving her to try something equally stupid or marching her straight home to Buffy, he had taken her to visit someone who could help.
Okay, maybe Spike *had* needed the soul, she thought in retrospect.
Spike had taken her to Doc.
And Doc had given them the spell to resurrect her mother.
Doc had also bled her on a platform high above the streets of Sunnydale in an attempt to open a portal to another dimension, but that hadn't been anything personal.
'That guy.' She remembered Doc had asked Spike if he was 'that guy'. The guy that played dominoes on the corner.
Dawn tore into the alley behind the Magic Box at a lope.
She stopped, breathless with disappointment.
It was crazy, she thought, shaking her head. She was crazy. Just as crazy as thoughts of Sunnydale always made her. It was ridiculous that she could even think something like this. That Spike *wasn't* gone. That he *was* here. Because, of course, he wasn't. He *couldn't* be here.
'The convenience store around the corner', she remembered.
She began moving again, jogging toward the more downtown part of downtown, near Sunnyrest Cemetery to the area where Doc's place had been. Toward the convenience store on Vine.
Where the woman had said Will was known to hang out.
Where Spike had been known to nick cigarettes and beer.
Nick. Another word she hadn't thought of in years.
She stopped dead in her tracks. A man sat on a weathered stool to one side of the entrance, two wooden crates stacked on top of each other to make a table. His head was down, concentrating on the small black rectangles in front of him.
The hair was too long, the wrong color, and very, very curly. As his hands rested lightly on the crate, she noticed his skin. It was as weathered as the stool. Her first impression had been wrong. He couldn't be homeless. His hair and clothes were way too clean.
The man swung his feet against the stool softly. She looked around, trying to get her bearings.
There was a single gas pump there that looked as if it got little use. No parking other than the side of the street. The store seemed to have a pedestrian clientele. All downtown business people and locals from this 'other side of the tracks.'
It was obvious that this was a familiar place for him. As customers came and went, they spared him a brief glance. Some actually greeted him with some simple pleasantry.
Dawn realized she was breathing shallowly. Which was silly. There was nothing about this man that even faintly resembled Spike. Nothing.
She shook off the strange feeling of familiarity. Just wishful thinking. The need for some kind of happy ending. One less loss.
Kitt would be wondering where she was, but she couldn't go. Not just yet. The man was fumbling with the dominoes now, trying to match the dots together in some complicated fashion.
Every once and a while, his lips moved. Dawn imagined that it was a muttered expletive. She wished he'd look up so she could see his eyes. After ten fruitless minutes, she eased closer, hoping that the movement would draw his attention.
She turned to leave, more certain than ever that she was insane, but already promising herself that she would look in on the man again tomorrow when a large truck swung over the wrong side of the street and parked, driver's side against the curb.
Dawn noticed the eye patch before she noticed anything else.
The driver jumped from the truck. "Will!" he called out.
Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion for Dawn.
For the first time, the man on the stool looked up.
And for the first time that day, Dawn saw his eyes.
Her own stung with sudden, bitter tears.
Sitting full in the late afternoon sun was William the Bloody.
Spike was alive.
Xander's smile faded as he recognized the tall girl with the long dark hair. Not the colt anymore. More like a thoroughbred.
Her eyes were wide with shock.
Sweet Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! What was Dawn doing here?
The man changed course and intercepted her. She looked at him with tears of betrayal in her eyes that dug at him in accusation.
"How. Long." Her voice was flat as she bit off the words.
He held onto her shoulders. "Dawn..."
Looking over his shoulder, her eyes found the figure that was now watching them curiously. She lowered her voice. "How. Long."
"Spike?" Her eyes narrowed. "Bullshit. One look at his eyes and anyone would know." She met Spike's pensive gaze. There was no recognition there. "How long, Xander?"
The jig was up. Xander sighed. "A couple of years now," he confessed. "He doesn't remember anything, though."
The man looked at Spike and smiled reassuringly. "Doesn't say much, either," he continued softly. "Except in his sleep. And that makes *no* sense."
"He's human, isn't he?" Dawn blurted out.
Xander tried to make a joke and pointed up at the sun. "See any dust bunnies?" At Dawn's hard look, he shrugged, embarrassed. "Yeah. Seems to be."
Slowly exhaling, she stared at the man seated on the stool, then glanced at Xander. "Why didn't you...?"
"What?" the man said in annoyance. "*Tell* you? Tell you what? That Spike is alive? Dawn, that's not Spike. Not the Spike you knew. Every now and then, there's a look he gets that's... well, Spike-ish, but it never lasts. And do you know how often that even happens? Maybe once or twice a year."
"But Buffy would want..." she insisted.
Xander cut her off. "Come on, even *I* can admit seeing him like this would break her heart."
Considering his words, she turned back to Spike, who was still gazing at her patiently.
Like a dog, she thought.
"I want to talk to him," she said stubbornly as she started toward Spike.
Xander touched her arm gently, bringing her up short. "No, honey, you don't," he said in a soft voice. "It's... spooky. I'm still not used to it. Still expect him to..."
She pulled her arm from his grasp. "I don't care."
Spike's blue eyes watched her approach. Almost imperceptively, his head tilted to the right in puzzlement.
Xander let out a shaky breath. "Well, that was this year's Spike-ish thing. I was beginning to wonder if there'd be one."
"Hello... Will," Dawn said tentatively. The name sounded and felt... wrong.
His eyes were as open as those of a child. "'Lo," he answered. His voice was hoarse and she thought there might be the faintest trace of an accent, but she wasn't sure.
She looked back at Xander in triumph.
"Do you remember me?" she asked, returning her full attention to Spike.
His eyes didn't change. She deflated.
"I'm..." Her voice trailed off.
Xander shot Dawn a cautioning look.
"A friend," she said slowly.
Spike returned his attention to the dominoes in front of him.
"Come on, Will. It's time to go." Xander slowly reached over and began placing the dominoes into a small cloth bag. "Gettin' late." He turned to the girl. "You're coming with us, right?"
She looked from Xander to Spike and back again. "Wouldn't miss it," she said with a show of spirit.
"Fine." Xander put a hand on the other man's arm. "Will?"
Spike looked up.
"Let's go home."
Buffy's stomach growled loudly. Momentarily shifting her attention to the lower right corner of the screen, she noted the time.
She'd worked through lunch, dinner and midnight snack. It was two a.m., what she used to call the 'slaying hour'. It was the Slaying Hour and she, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, was sitting at home in front of a computer, exhausted.
Closing the Internet Explorer windows one by one, she bookmarked any she might need later and sat back, letting her eyes rest as the screen blurred.
It was a comforting sight. White light.
Feeling another twinge of something she'd come to think of as homesickness, she thought again about making a trip to the desert that weekend. She needed to connect - connect to what she had been, even if she would never be that person again.
One corner of her mouth turned up in an ironic smile. There wouldn't be any more vision quests, ever. Who would have ever thought she'd miss them?
But knowing that didn't stop her from wanting it. And when the want became too intense, she went to the place where the brightness of the sun made her squint.
Where the subtlest spot of color was vibrant.
Where the nights made her feel clean with cold.
Where her life felt real.
Setting aside her assignment for a class she hated and could easily flunk out of, she dove into her real work. Once, she would have asked Willow to help her design the database she used. But not anymore. As a result, her Buffy-made one was clumsy.
But it got the job done.
These days, Buffy didn't rely on anyone but herself. Everyone she'd ever leaned on - even a little - was either dead or no longer a part of her life.
John Donne had said that no man was an island.
Buffy Summers was determined to prove him wrong.
Dawn hadn't slept all night. The sun was coming up and her mind wouldn't stop.
She was keeping vampire hours while the man in the other room... wasn't.
The three of them had had dinner in silence, the former vampire managing to eat with no measure of joy in it. Which, Dawn thought in retrospect, was another thing that was *so* not Spike.
Afterwards, he'd gotten up and moved briefly into the bathroom and a little later to a small bedroom down the hall. The door closed softly.
Xander had leaned back in his chair. "See? Not Spike," he said matter-of-factly.
"You take care of him," Dawn stated unnecessarily.
He had looked surprised at her words. "Of course I do. He saved the world, Dawn. What else *can* I do?"
"Oh, come on," she said nastily. "You always hated his guts. And you don't have to do this. You could just put him away somewhere."
Xander's face had gone as red as if he'd been slapped. In a moment, he relaxed. "I thought about it," he admitted. "I really did. But he's no trouble. Well, not so much," he said cryptically as he gazed down the hallway. He grinned brokenly. "Something I never imagined saying in connection with Spike."
She leaned forward, elbows on the table, hands under her chin. "What do you think happened?"
"You want my unlearned opinion?" He was pleased to be asked. "I figure some portal spit him back out after we won. Spit him out but kept the piss and vinegar. The 'Spike' part. That and the vampire thing." He shook his head. "Why human? Damned if I know."
"I bet Willow could figure it out," Dawn had said excitedly. "Go all researchy and..."
Shaking his head, Xander had tried to burst her bubble gently. "No, Dawnie. Willow couldn't." One warm brown eye lost its focus as he invoked his memories. "I'd seen him around for weeks before. Finally, he was in my way one day at the convenience store. It was while I was working on the redo of the old Sunnydale Bank and Trust. You wouldn't believe the kind of damage that place had!
"Anyway, I spoke to him. Just to let him know I was there, thinking he might move out of the way. And he looked up." Xander laughed ruefully. "I almost fainted. He was so thin. Cheekbones like razors. Pretty much unrecognizable with the hair and all. Until you saw his eyes." He looked at her apologetically. "Well, you already got that," he said as an afterthought.
"You called Willow? Willow, but not us?"
Xander had nodded solemnly. "She flew in from Frisco as soon as I called."
"And?" She still couldn't believe he hadn't told them.
He shrugged. "And nothing," he said softly. "Like there's nothing there to read. Besides that was always Tara's thing." He spread his hands in resignation. "He's just Will now. Old Will. An ex-vampire with a hell of a suntan." He chuckled and ran a self-conscious hand through his hair. "Who'd have thunk?"
Dawn had made her decision then. The one that had landed her on the couch at her own insistence. "I'm staying here tonight."
"What good do you think that'll do? Not that you're not welcome. You know you are. Always up for a sleepover from the Dawnster, just like the old days, but..."
"I need to," she had said simply. "Buffy would want me to."
"Buffy can't know, Dawn." He'd leaned forward, eyes dark with worry. "This could ruin her life."
Dawn had thought of her sister then. Of the brutal workouts. Of Buffy's frantic attempts to fill every waking moment of her time with *something*. *Any*thing.
"Xander, her life was ruined the day he disappeared. Just like yours was. Just different reasons is all."
"I'm not," she'd interrupted then. "I'm not going over to that table and making any phone calls, all right? But I think you should have told us... her... *something*."
The man had gotten up in irritation and embarrassment. "Well, if you think of what that 'something' might be, let me know. I'm out of explanations and I need sleep." He had almost slammed the door to his bedroom.
Thinking back, she was sorry she had upset him. Well, not really, she thought, cause he'd kept this from them for a long time. Would have been forever if she hadn't...
Her thoughts froze as the door to the small bedroom opened. Dawn closed her eyes to mere slits as she watched Spike walk, fully dressed, down the hall to the bathroom.
After a bit, he came out and headed to the kitchen. There was the slightest creak, a click and the soft closing of the door.
Jumping up, she scooted into the kitchen to see if what she had heard what she thought she'd heard.
'Will', the childlike man wearing Spike's face, had *locked* the door, like he knew someone might come in who didn't belong.
She laid her head against the glass of the door, savoring its coolness.
What was the hell was going on?
Continued in Chapter Two: Waiting for Dark