All About Spike

Like So Much Ash
By phaelstya

Summary: Dawn ruminates.

Timeframe: Post "Dead Things"

A/N: I envision this as a sort of interlude on the S/W arc glossing and I are still mapping, but it stands on its own rather well. Many thanks to glossing for the conscientious criticism and ass-kicking as well as the compliments, from which I am still blushing.
ETA: jacklemmon caught a faux pas, edited in consideration of the fact Dawn is actually fifteen during "Dead Things".



“Spike?” She always flinches when the door closes behind her. It’s too final, the creak and scrape. Final like being shut in a tomb with a bunch of dead things. Of course when the person you’re looking for just happens to be a member of the reanimation club for demons, final is just a word thrown in among the others that don’t mean anything anymore. Kinda like dead.

No one ever stays dead around here, especially not beloved sister-Slayers, because it’s against the rules to die unless you’re a someone else. But then she remembers Mom, laid out on a metal gurney in the morgue, going under the earth in a box lined with cheesy pink satin Dawn just knows she would hate. Remembers and wonders if the funeral was any more real than the time when she was five and dripped chocolate ice cream all over her lacy, lilac Easter outfit and got her cartoon privileges revoked for a week. All of it feels real, but how can you know for sure when you’re just a green energy blob and never had a pretty purple dress to drip ice cream on.

She’s not even sure she can die.

It should be comforting. But really, how much comfort can you glean from the idea of impending eternity when you’re fifteen and people already treat you like a freak. Spending forever as one sounds pretty unbearable, and there’s only one person she knows that gets it even a little.

“Spike? Are you here?”

Something rustles, but the soupy darkness prevents her from telling whether it’s large and vampirey or small and furry. Her hand goes to the stake at the small of her back out of pure instinct, when what she really should be doing is hauling ass home.

“Spike?”

See that’s the thing. Right now, home is the last place she wants to be. Can’t deal with Buffy’s latest breakdown, the chorus of whys drifting up through the floorboards. It reminds Dawn that her sister would rather be dead than here, and that’s a reality she just isn’t prepared to deal with. Ever.

When the grate clatters against concrete five feet away, she jumps again, cursing herself seconds after for doing it.

“Way to be stealthy. I thought vampires were supposed to be all sure-footed and silent. And who turned your ears off anyway?”

Light flickers out of what amounts to a hole in the ground, and Dawn can’t help but wonder what he has down there that she’s not allowed to see. Spike, startled and more skittish than she’s ever seen him, shuffles over to the sarcophagus and drops on it, keeping to the shadows. He slides the heavy knapsack he’s toting on the stone slab behind him and groans.

“Why are you here, Dawn?” Not ‘Platelet’ or ‘Nibblet’ or one of the thousand other cutesy pet names he’s dreamt up for her as a way of whiling away forever. He’s tired. She can hear it in the sigh and see it in the slump of his shoulders. Like, if he had his choice, he’d lay down and die again. Except he can’t, not really.

“I just couldn’t be at home right now and thought…” Dawn doesn’t really know what she thought, only that she wanted to be somewhere she didn’t have to pretend. Where someone understood what she was and still liked her, maybe loved her. Talk about stuff she can’t share with Janice in their giggling, clichéd, normal teenager, boy-crazy way.

“Thought what? You’d come ‘round and buzz in my ear? Sorry, done my good deed for the day.”

“Oh really?” She tries not to think about when putting up with her turned into just another way to impress Buffy. It hurts too much. But the last thing she wants is to alienate the one person…besides, he sounds fed up with something that has nothing to do with her. “You remember, I’m sure, exactly how well those little experiments go?”

“Yeah. Seem to recall them blowing up in my face a time or two.” And his hand moves, probably out of reflex, to check for damage, then falls limp against his thigh as he twists further away from her, deeper into what’s left of the darkness.

“Screwed up again, huh?” Between the emotional tsunami going down at home and Spike’s mood, Dawn thinks she may have moved a couple more puzzle pieces into place. Something with Buffy. Like that’s new. She feels it whenever the two of them are in the same room, like the air is made of glass. Sharp, hard, and too brittle for anyone else to stick around for long. Not that things were soft or fluffy between them before, but there’s a new desperation to it that Dawn can’t quite pin down. Like they’re both drowning. Clinging to each other to stay afloat, only to end up caught by the undertow gasping around the shards. She knows the feeling. Of course, no one ever bothered to toss her a life preserver.

“You could say that.” He fumbles at his pockets, presumably looking for cigarettes, then stops as if he’s just now remembered he doesn’t smoke when she’s around these days. Yet another edict from on high.

“What’d you do this time?” A few steps and she settles in beside him, but every time Dawn tries to meet his eyes he turns away, hiding something. She never thought he’d need to. Not from her. So she simply strives, at odds with possibly saner parts of herself, to keep him from becoming like everyone else, treating her like a kid, making decisions for her. Sometimes she wonders if she’s the only one who realizes that well-informed is well-armed. Except Giles, and if he had his say she’d be locked in a box up on a shelf with the other mystical artifacts.

“Look, I can’t…Just go home. Not right for you to be hanging about. Your sis’ would have my hide.” Still edgy and avoidant, leaning as far away from her as he possibly can. Dawn takes a chance, reaches out and wrenches his chin around, so she can catch his gaze, make him see her. Even knowing that she shouldn’t be able to doesn’t stay her hand. As soon as she meets his eyes, she knows why he’s hiding. Shame. Not over getting his ass kicked. At least, probably not. No, usually if he gets to the other side of those fights alive, he wears the wounds like a badge of honor. Something to proclaim, “I was useful. See?” But Summers women, Summers women who are not Buffy, possess a maternal instinct permanently kicked into overdrive, and the sorry state of his face makes Dawn want to hug him until the marks fade to nothing. But Big Bad scoffs at comfort, so she doesn’t. She does what she can do.

“What did this?” The other obvious questions she ignores. Things like, why and when don’t matter much when someone you care about is bleeding all over the place. It’s the one way she’s not ashamed to say she is like Buffy. Revenge first, sticky inquiries later.

“Not a what.”

“Then who?” There are only a handful of possibilities and Dawn doesn’t want to entertain any of them. Even with the chip, she only knows one person that could wield the kind of power necessary to rip his face up like that.

“Dawn, just leave it. I’m fine. ‘Sides, I’ve got somewhere to be,” he says, tone bleak, dismissive and when he shoves himself to standing without glancing at her a second time, Dawn feels the sting singing along her veins like wildfire. Somewhere to be. Everyone has a somewhere to be but her, and he should know better than to think he’s getting off that easy. He’s the one who taught her how to be stubborn. Buffy tries, but it’s hard to take lessons like that seriously when all you’ve seen the teacher do in the past six months is give in, give up, roll over and play dead like a good doggie. Like she left something behind when she pushed up through the grave dirt and wants nothing more than to go back and find it. Buffy always smelled of cemeteries. Dead lilies and turned earth. But now the scent oozes from her pores constantly instead of just after patrol. Even Dawn realizes that’s a very bad thing.

“Did Buf…”

“I said leave it.” Spike never shouts at her, not really, but now his voice bounces back off the crypt walls with a hollow quality that’s almost tangible. Thick, desolate, defeated. And in that moment, she resents her sister more than she ever has. Knows that the Chosen One, the Warrior of Goodness and Light has broken a vampire that survived a century of lunatic ravings, a wire and plastic brain implant that took away everything he was, several nasty battles, a Hell God, and Buffy’s own death. Five seconds and a sigh later he’s resolved, resigned. “Now c’mon, I’ll drop you by the house.”

“She did, didn’t she? Buffy did this to you. I am so gonna kick her ass.” And one of the saddest facts of this whole mess is that her sister would take it. It scares Dawn in a way slimy, wriggling demon things don’t. That all the strong ones, the people she thought she could count on to do right, to get it done, they’re all crumbling like so much ash.

“This,” he gestures to the blacked eye and swollen lip, the bruises purpling angrily around his nose, “is between me and Buffy. So bloody well leave it.”

He’s through the door and halfway across the cemetery before Dawn can react. Somewhere to be. Apparently without the misshapen knapsack. She slings the strap over her shoulder with that disgusted huff only teenagers can truly pull off and nearly topples. Figures Spike would pack like a woman. But there’s no give in the fabric and if the loud clanking is to be trusted, he’s carrying a small arsenal. Probably Buffy’s best battleaxes, but Dawn could care less, even if he strapped both of her sister’s weapons chests to the back of the bike and they never saw the contents again. Might be a relief in a “lay your burden down” type way.

She lopes after Spike, bag jostling awkwardly against her thigh, thinking. Always thinking. Dawn's sure that under all the destiny bullshit, there's a real reason why they keep on keepin' on, but whenever she asks, the answers sound the same.

There are obvious things. Love and family. Making the world a better place. Feel good stuff she buys into when life is less empty.

Then, after they get really frustrated there’s the old standby: “If we didn’t, no one would.”

Dawn already knows the answer he’d give if asked directly. Two syllables, begins with a “B” and sounds like fluffy, which she most certainly isn’t. Knee-jerk authenticity aside, the response she’s hunting has absolutely nothing to do with her sister or the possibility, impossibility really, of Spike getting anywhere near her coveted knickers. And the only other thing he’s ever said is, “Promised, didn’t I?” But really, as much as she likes Spike, the sworn oaths of soulless demons mean less than PowerPuff Girl cartoons.

No one understands why it’s so important. Least of all him.

Taillights wink red up ahead and she hears the bike turn over with a rattling grumble, Spike’s voice just loud enough to carry over the noise.

“Move your arse, ‘Bit.”

Dawn rolls her eyes and slides in behind him, nudging an elbow against his spine in the process. “And I do what with this?”

“Oh, right. Bag. Thanks, love.” He chews his lower lip, looking for a good place to secure the knapsack. It’s a habit so endearingly human that if Dawn hadn’t already fallen for the coat, the walk, the hair that alone would be enough.

“Hang on to it for a bit?” Spike slips the strap on her shoulder again and over her head, adjusting it until the weight settles firmly between her shoulder blades. She can only hope that there’s nothing sharp enough to cut through the canvas, since she can feel one hard something nudging her ear and another her hip, cumbersome and comforting. Dawn buries her face in his duster and inhales, wrapping her arms tighter than tight around his chest. Even she learns after a tumble or two. Then all that’s left is wind, the roar of the engine, and odd thoughts she’s been trying to make sense of for six months. Just one more victim in a long line.

And the subject, a tangled mess of contradictions and misplaced loyalties, keeps getting more complex. Futile effort figuring him out, she knows, like a crossword puzzle where the clues keep changing, but it’s more entertaining than prime time TV and she’d do about anything to avoid homework.

Like now. Sliding to a stop a block from the house, Spike plants his boots against the pavement and throttles the bike down to an idle.

“Um. Spike? Not that the fire hydrant isn’t great and all, but I live up there a ways.”

“You think I don’t know that?”

“So, why…”

“Suddenly clueless, then?” She makes a mental note to mark the calendar. Spike doesn’t want to see Buffy.

“No. Sorry. I’ll just…I still don’t want to be here.” Not now, preferably not ever. Why can’t she have a normal family? For two seconds Dawn thinks about asking to go with him, but knows that there’s no chance in hell he’ll agree and would rather not suffer the indignity of rejection. Even if she can’t play tagalong, she understands why he needs to get out of Dodge for awhile, so she just slides off and sets Spike’s bag down on the asphalt beside him.

“I’ll watch from here. And no funny business.” Despite a certain amount of lingering petulance, she marches down the sidewalk dutifully, knowing Spike will watch and chew her ear to bits and pieces if any of her business is remotely funny.

On a whim Dawn turns and trots back, covering the distance with long-legged strides she knows aren’t as graceful as she wishes they were. When her arms snake around his neck Dawn realizes there’s nothing she can say to make it better and freezes. All that comes out is a mumbled tumble of words she won’t even admit to saying tomorrow. He probably won’t admit hearing them either, but in the moment it’s something.

“Love you.”

Spike’s Adam’s apple bobs against the side of her neck half a dozen times and then she feels him return the embrace, clumsy and one-armed. Dawn ticks off the seconds until he gets uncomfortable, gets to fifteen before he starts to pull back, twitchy and avoidant again.

“Go on then,” he says on a growl, voice rough with some emotion she could probably name if she wanted to, “Past time for naughty little girls to be tucked up asleep. Worry them enough and they’ll ring Glinda. Set a locater spell on you.”

“Yeah.” She smiles at him; a little too contented considering the way he’s treated her tonight, then starts down the block. It helps that she lost all ability to stay mad at him a long time ago. Something stops her halfway to the house and suddenly worried, she throws a glance over her shoulder. “Spike? Wherever you’re going? Be careful, okay?”

“Always.”

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