All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12

Wolf
By Kimi

Sequel to Two Days; part of The Voicesverse

Rating: PG 13

Spoilers: The Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories universe picks up from "Grave" and moves on accordingly through an AU Season 7. This is my Season 8 AU.

Summary: Spike returns to Buffy and Sunnydale, with the first team of Initiative-made vampires in response to a brutal serial killer's trail of blood and death. But the killer is literally more inhuman than the usual run of killers and is bent on satisfying a vendetta against our boy and the slayer. There's a wild card in the pot - and an old friend to help balance it out.
Feedback: You beta, you beta, you bet! kimi615@hotmail.com
Disclaimers: All Joss, all ME, all the time...

Author's Notes: Back on the horse, by God! Thanks for being so patient! This is for Chris, Kelly, Colleen, Cindy and Chennie, who continue to encourage and watch the Voicesverse/Shepherd Stories continuity like hawks.



Chapter 11

"Shepherd? North here. Four minutes on that transport."

Spike thought about it. And it wouldn't do. Buffy was continuing to bleed, the flow slowing a bit, but not stopping. She was still losing enough blood that *he* was light-headed from it. He couldn't imagine how light-headed she must be.

"This can't wait then." Nothing for it. He had to stop the blood now, not wait for the medics. The thing was, Buffy wasn't going to like the method. "And it better not be a bleedin' second more," he warned Daniel. Feeling like he was exerting some control helped him center. "Slayer's made a fine mess of herself. Can't do much without dressin's and such," he rambled. The main gate was in sight. Jostling her more than he intended, he hurried on. Needed to get started, and to do that, he needed to get to the rendezvous point.

Spike had a sudden thought. "No vamps on that truck, right?"

After a moment, Daniel replied crisply. "Just support personnel, Shepherd."

Not that it was normal that there would be, but this night was far from normal. "Right, then." Looking around, he noticed a particularly large live oak near the gate, but still somewhat concealed by shadows from the street. It would have to do.

Xander was saying something, but Spike didn't have time to ask what and the man didn't ask again. He switched off the mic on his headset.

"Buffy, gonna have to do something about the bleeding. Need to set you up against this nice, big tree."

"Great," she mumbled weakly. "Love sitting on the damp ground..."

His spirits soared as he carefully set her down. Yes, she was with him, bitch that she was. Never had he been happier to hear her all out of sorts.

"Now this is gonna hurt, Slayer," he said warningly.

She let out a pained breath as she settled against the trunk. "Sitting against the tree," she said gamely, but reduced to a whisper, "or your next brilliant move?"

"The move," he answered as he grabbed the hem of his tee-shirt and ripped it away. Of course, there was no seam on the side, so he made one, easily ripping the gray cotton knit until he had a long narrow tube. He began wrapping it around Buffy's arm above the still sweater-adorned wound. Her eyes followed his hands, watching as he worked. "Sweater's seen better days, pet," he commented to distract her.

"Occupational hazard," she said gruffly. Her voice grew a little stronger. "Are you really doing what I think you're doing?"

"Yep," he answered as he tied the ends of the shirt together. "If you hadn't been so bloody stupid, I wouldn't have to," he said tightly. Reaching down, he grabbed a stake-sized stick, jammed it between the cotton loops and began twisting it to tighten the cloth.

Buffy gritted her teeth and gasped. "I hate you," she managed finally. "Really a lot."

"Yeah, well," he muttered as he secured the stick. "Right now, I hate me, too. Reckon we'll both get over it."

First aid handled, Spike gathered Buffy back up and set her on one leg, while the other was knee down on the sod. Holding her close with one arm, he used the other to reach for the switch on the headset. He'd waited long enough.

"M'at the main gate. *Been* here," he said into the mic.

Sure the slayer was trussed up, but it wasn't the same as being tended to by a real medic. Besides, the irony of a vampire *stopping* the bleeding wasn't lost on him. She needed a sodding doctor, someone trained to *save* lives, not take them.

"Where the fuck is that bleedin' truck?" he ground out. Gabriel could always come back. Could be out there in the trees right now. Waiting. Spike couldn't sense anything except Buffy's blood, and his brain and body were throbbing with it.

"Under two minutes," Daniel answered.

"Well, bloody hell," Spike said in disgust. What was the good in having a crack team if the team couldn't get cracking? And dammit, the blood was distracting as hell. Even if she stopped bleeding, he could still get lost in the smell of it. If *he* could, after years of being accustomed to Buffy's scent, what about the vampires at the base? "Get a White Room ready for the slayer," he said tightly. "Now."

"Yes, sir." Daniel's answer was almost automatic. Spike heard him direct someone to prepare a room. Which meant that at least one of them was functioning.

His mind was moving like molasses and there was more to say. Unconsciously, he pulled Buffy closer. "And don't bring us in through the Pit," he directed Daniel. "Not if there's any vamps there. Bring us another way." He should make it clearer, but nothing was particularly clear at the moment. "But a quick way. No dawdling."

Spike waited impatiently for Daniel's acknowledgment.

"Done, Shepherd."

He pushed out a breath. Nothing left to do now but wait for the truck. And he needed to remember to send someone after his later. If they could pry it off the tree he'd hit on his way there.

*

Spike's ears sharpened at the sound of a throat clearing in his headset. "Um, Spike?" There was the sound of a finger tapping on the microphone, then more words, stronger. "What is the nature of Buffy's injury?"

Closing his eyes in relief, the vampire thanked whoever was in charge, whether it be God, or simply the Council of Wankers, that at least one of his prayers had been answered.

"Watcher?" His voice felt thin, thready. He hoped he wasn't dreaming, or that this wasn't some strange hallucination having to do with being engulfed in the heady scent of slayer blood. Which now seemed to be drying into the threads of Buffy's sweater. Amazed, he realized he had actually stopped the bleeding.

"Yes, of course," Giles said in reproof. "Now to Buffy?"

Spike felt Buffy raise her eyes to his. He looked down. They were slightly glazed, but surprised. Her lips were pale, but she was with him. He smiled, and pushed her hair away from her forehead. Yes, it was for her, too, this thing he'd somehow managed to make happen. Shepherd needed Giles for the Project, but the slayer needed him as well.

"Needed a new watcher, love," he said quietly. "Rupert's it."

She squeezed his arm and relaxed against him. With a sigh, he returned his attention to Giles and the base. Words began to pour from his lips as he described how he'd found Buffy, the injury she'd taken, his treatment of it. He spoke quickly and concisely with no embellishment. Still, if he'd needed breath to live as well as talk, he'd be dead. Finally, he halted, surprised that telling so much had taken so little time.

"You've done all you can, then," Giles said reassuringly. "And I'll make certain that everything is prepared properly for your arrival. Just keep Buffy safe."

Spike saw the fog lights before he could make out the outline of the black vehicle. Getting to his feet, the slayer in his arms, he headed to the van.

*

Rimbold turned back to the second-in-command. "They've got 'em."

Despite his massive case of Buffy worry, Xander couldn't help but stare at Giles, decked out in an Initiative-headset. Maybe all that old-fashioned, tweedy Gilesness was just a ruse. Because he looked like he'd been wearing it for years.

And man, sure would have been better that summer than having Willow firing off orders in his head!

Which still hurt like a mother.

"How long?" Daniel asked.

"ETA six minutes. Belay that. Five. Five minutes."

Daniel turned to the man slowly. "How did it go from six to five?" Seemed like everything was falling apart. His people couldn't even fix on a simple estimated time of arrival.

"Shepherd, sir. He..."

Nodding, Giles' chin was firm as he reached for the switch. Somehow, he found it quickly. "Spike?"

Spike's voice came over the headset. "Yeah?"

"Your team is accessing Buffy's medical records. There's not a great deal of information, but we do have her stay in the hospital when she was in high school and the aftermath of the Warren Meers incident."

Spike was silent for a few seconds. When he spoke again, he sounded as if he needed to clear his throat. "Right. Might want to get me a change of clothes, Watcher. M'covered in her."

Turning to one of the low-level techs, Daniel quietly directed him to get fresh clothes.

Giles considered the ramifications of that statement. Taking a steadying breath, Giles spoke again. "Is Buffy conscious?" He kept his voice level and calm.

The question hung in the air. Xander realized he was holding his breath. After a moment, they heard Spike's voice drop to a murmur.

"How you holdin' up, pet?" he said softly.

After a beat, Spike's voice came back to them. "She's awake," he said grimly. "Wouldn't exactly call her alert, but... Ow!"

Giles smothered a smile. Xander didn't. With a huge grin, he threw up his hands, regardless of the pain in his head. "All right!"

"Well," said Spike resentfully. "Her pinchin' mechanism is workin' fine." The relief in his voice was clear even over the headsets.

*

"This is... well, the tissue here is already healing. Healed, I mean. At the edges."

The doctor was using her for a slayer anatomy lesson. All ooohing and ahhing over her accelerated healing powers. Buffy didn't think she was nearly accelerated enough. In fact, she wished she could slam her foot on the gas. If there'd actually been some kind of gas pedal thingie for healing, she'd be one happy little slayer. Her head hurt when it wasn't all in the clouds somewhere. The one thing that she was sure of right now was that a) she hated hospitals, b) she hated the smell of antiseptic, and c,d, and e) she really, really hated the white wardrobe choices that the medic and techs were turned out in. Didn't they know it was December? And those white shoes? Now that was definitely a fashion rule. No white shoes after Labor Day. Everybody knew that.

Not that she was going to be in much better shape, she suspected.

They'd cut Buffy's sweater off, but she'd managed to hang on to her bra for the moment. Even with the spots of brown on the pale peach lace, it was better than what she was about to be subjected to. Soon, she thought, they'd be bringing in the lame hospital gown of the fashion victim. And she'd be expected to wear it.

Why hadn't she packed something at the house yesterday?

The doctor said that Gabriel had torn the brachial artery, that she'd lost about a liter of blood, and that she needed an IV to plump her blood back up to a better volume.

And that's what Spike and the medic were arguing about now. Though, why, exactly, she had no idea.

She was tired and her arm ached. At least, partway. From somewhere around the wound and down, she was numb. And she couldn't wiggle her fingers. They said the nerve was bruised. This called up images of a little black and blue string running from her shoulder to her pinkie finger. Maybe a bandaid would help?

All she knew was that it had better get unbruised fast. It was her right arm, which was her all-purpose sword and good staking-arm. What was a slayer if she couldn't hold a stake? Or a sword?

How 'bout 'dead slayer'?

Both Spike and the medic were getting on her last nerve.

And where did that expression come from anyway? How did you know when you were down to your last nerve? When you started screaming?

"Okay, enough. What's the problem?"

Spike rounded on her. She struggled up onto one elbow. She knew she was pale, but she got as much 'stormy' into her eyes as she could. He'd get the message. He'd better.

"This pillock wants to jam a needle in your arm," he explained.

She sighed. "Not exactly my idea of a good time, but fine. Anything to get me up and out of here. I want to see Giles."

"Buffy, how in the hell is he supposed to get the needle in? Hell, I can't even black your eye with a good right cross. And God knows, I've tried."

The doctor and techs stared at Spike.

Ignoring the doctor's raised eyebrow, Spike continued on. "And as far as sewing up her arm, well, you might as well get out the big adhesive bandages and tape her up. Cause there's no stitchin' her," he continued.

Oooh, big authority on slayer healing. Buffy wanted to pop him in the nose. Or at least pinch him, but she was too busy thinking about the IV. "So getting the needle in my super-duper, tough-stuff skin is the problem?"

"Well, yeah," Spike said in frustration. "That and gettin' it in the vein all proper like. Which would be bloody difficult for the doc, seein' as he's human and all." Spike looked down his nose at the doctor. "And a bit on the puny side at that."

She stared at the ceiling for a moment and looked back at the vampire. "I think I had an IV once."

The pronouncement fell flat in the middle of the isolation room. Spike stared at her. In fact, all of them did. Spike, the two techs, and the doctor.

"What?" she asked impatiently. "Did everybody just go deaf? And is there a problem with that?"

"Yes, that's what the records say." The doctor spoke first, just after he cleared his throat. "At the wrist. But this particular IV needs to go into the vein at the elbow. Which might be a little more of a problem than the thinner vein at the wrist."

"Well, try it. If you can't, Spike can. It's no big." This was beginning to get boring and annoying and all the things Buffy hated most.

"There's a certain amount of training involved here, Miss Summers," he said reproachfully.

Spike's drawl rolled through the room. "You think I can't find the vein?" he asked in a derisive voice, staring at the doctor. "Cause I assure you, I can find the fuckin' vein." His voice began to rise.

Buffy winced. She had a headache and he wasn't helping it. "Down, boy," she said, forestalling the inevitable description of what veins and arteries Spike could find from twenty paces. "Look," she said to the doctor, "just try it. And Spike, you relax. If the doctor can't do it, you can get the little needle in and he can do the rest. And I can get out of here." Her voice carried more than a little annoyance.

"Miss Summers," the doctor began, "you've lost blood. Your arm needs time to heal." He held up a hand to stop her from speaking. "And you need rest, even if you *are* already beginning to mend."

"Hey, I've had worse than this..." She stopped. Had she *had* worse than this? Well, other than the whole 'dead' thing? Her head was spinning and she felt nauseous.

This was not going the way she expected. Buffy looked at Spike entreatingly. "Will you fix this so I can see Giles? I really, really want to see Giles." She looked at him appraisingly. "You look like you've been in a car wreck. A bad one." She looked closer. "Is all that my blood? Cause, well..."

Spike threw up his hands. He looked at the doctor. "Get the bloody needle and try it."

As the tech began to pull what they'd need and began explaining it to Spike as he set it up, Buffy closed her eyes, sinking down into their now near whispers. God, she hated doctors! And Spike was really being a pain in the ass.

*

The vampire walked out of the isolation room and right into Giles and Xander.

"They drugged her, but she's not out yet." Spike looked at Giles. "She wants you."

Without a word, Giles moved past him and into the room. The vampire looked at Xander. He took in a deep breath and started to speak. "Not blamin' you for this, so you shouldn't either. She's stubborn sometimes. Never should have gone after Gabriel alone. And she knows it, even if she won't admit to it."

Xander nodded, accepting Spike's words. "Things are bad out there," he said bluntly. "Daniel's handling it, but still..." He pushed out a pile of folded clothes to Spike. "You might want to get out there and make sure everything's going okay."

Spike let out the breath. "Things went belly up tonight, no mistake." He took the clothes, turning as he heard footsteps coming down the corridor. "Daniel..."

The fledgling began to change as he approached, suddenly in full game face. Xander pressed himself back against the wall in shock. Spike took one look down at his clothes and threw the clean clothes into the air and his body at Daniel, pinning him against the wall of the narrow hallway.

"Daniel," Spike hissed. "Get a grip." In answer, the fledgling bucked against him, trying to get at him. His eyes flicked toward the door to the isolation room.

"Stupid ass," Spike muttered in annoyance as he drew back and slammed his fist into Daniel's chin. As the back of the fledgling's head hit the wall, Spike crowded close, face inches from Daniel's golden eyes.

"Fledge! It's slayer blood! I told you no vamps, and that means you too, you stupid git!" As Daniel pushed against him, he hit him again. And again. Slowly, the fledgling passed back into human face. Spike backed off slightly, very wary.

"Shepherd..." Daniel was shaking his head, struggling not to morph back to demon face.

Xander darted in, scooped up the clean clothes, and jammed them into Spike's arms. "Go!"

Spike took the clothes and stared at Daniel a moment. Seemingly satisfied that the fledgling was back in control, he quickly disappeared down the corridor. Daniel took deep, steadying breaths. Which, Xander had to admit, was real weird, since vampires didn't need to breathe. Still, he'd seen Spike do it a hundred times. Didn't seem any less weird, but at least it fit.

"You okay?" the man asked in a concerned voice. He didn't touch Daniel. Wanted to keep both his arms.

Daniel brought his eyes around to Xander. "Yeah. I think." He closed his eyes and collapsed against the wall. "That was..."

Reaching out, Xander put a comforting hand on the fledgling's shoulder. "Yeah."

Daniel shook his head. "How did... How can he stand it? Why didn't he just...? Cause I think I would have..."

"Look. You need to get back. He'll need you. I'll stay here, wait to see Buffy."

Nodding, Daniel turned, still shaking slightly. "I would have killed her," he muttered. "I would have..."

Xander shook his head. "Nah. You would have been fine."

"No." Daniel swung back and fixed Xander with hard emerald eyes. "I would have killed her," he repeated flatly. He quickly turned and disappeared through the heavy door.

*

Things had been better, but they could have been worse. Just barely though.

The psych was still with Matthews. Doctors and med techs went from one injured vampire to another. Daniel was in his office. 'Recovering', Spike suspected. Xander was with Buffy. Rupert was with Spike. And Dawn?

The vampire shook his head. He couldn't leave her in the slammer forever, could he?

Well, could he? He thought about it briefly, until Giles interrupted his train of thought.

"I must say I like the name Shepherd much better than Spike."

"You would," Spike said in an irritated voice, although he was secretly glad to have the whole line of thought momentarily interrupted.

"Has a certain gravity about it," Giles continued. "Commands respect."

Spike made a rude noise. If Giles saw his military credentials that officially proclaimed the vampire to be one 'Randall S. Giles', he would never hear the end of it. Spike saw a new future as 'Randy,' if he wasn't damned careful.

"Will you leave off?" he grumbled. Glancing up at Giles suspiciously, he realized he hadn't asked. Slipping. Spike was definitely slipping. "And how did you get here, anyway?" he asked in a dour voice. "Got a white horse parked outside?"

"I was in Vail for ten hours, trying to sort through the loose ends, thank you very much. Ralston made quite a muddle of things. I came here tonight in a helicopter to talk with you about some of it. All of this drama is an unwelcome bonus."

Spike was still having incredibly uncharitable thoughts about the project's former watcher. "Ralston. That rigid prick," he growled.

"Careful," Giles said sarcastically. "Some would perceive that as a compliment."

Spike looked up in surprise, and belatedly roared with laughter.

Giles noticed that the laughter lasted a little too long and had more of an edge than it should. "You need to rest," he observed.

The vampire sobered immediately, and shook his head. "You saw. They don't know what to do with her. What if she..."

"I assure you, I'm more than capable of watching over Buffy while you rest. And she's healing quite nicely."

Spike sighed. "Even if she is, there's no rest for the weary, Watcher. Bit's landed herself in jail. Need to go spring her."

Giles mouth dropped open. He closed it long enough to choke out two words. "Good Lord!"

"Well, it wasn't anything near as bad as it could have been, but she didn't have any business doing it, no matter her reasons. Of course, seein's how I was supposed to be there six hours ago, I figure she's probably either good and humble by now, or stewin' away in a godawful snit like her big sis would be."

"Indeed." Giles looked at his watch. "Go ahead then. I'll see to Buffy. Bring Dawn back and then get some rest. But I would like to see any information you might have gathered on this vampire. This... Gabriel." His mouth twisted in distaste.

Spike picked up the phone and pushed a button. "Daniel. Watcher wants to see what we've got on Gabriel. M'headed to pick up the Bit."

Standing, he fixed Giles with a look. "You know how she gets. Keep her in bed 'til she heals some. Don't fancy pulling the boys off her if she starts bleeding again."

Giles pursed his lips. "I'll keep her in bed if I have to resort to a ballpeen hammer blow to her right temple," he said darkly.

Spike laughed, suddenly more relaxed than he'd been since he'd come back to Sunnydale four days before. Just knowing that there was someone else watching Buffy's back made it a little easier to.. well, not precisely breathe, but... "C'mon, Rupert," he said wickedly. "You'll have to do better than that. She'd think that was a love-tap."

Leaving Giles to polish his glasses as he waited for Daniel, Spike went to fetch Dawn.

*

He would have to stop somewhere soon. Sunrise wasn't far away and he'd known he couldn't get there in the small amount of night that had been left to him.

Gabriel jammed his foot down and almost purred in satisfaction as the big Cadillac picked up speed and hugged the curves of the interstate. Hated leaving his eunuch brother and the pitiful human behind. Hated leaving the sounds of screaming and the smell of charred dead flesh.

Most of all, he'd hated leaving the girl like that, her blood rich on his hands.

After, Gabriel had licked his fingers and felt his own blood burn in response. It had taken every ounce of self-control he had not to go back for her and finish it then. Drink long, deep. Lose himself in her.

Reaching over, he stroked the worn leather coat he'd laid carefully across the passenger seat. He'd retrieved the grail. That was enough for tonight. He'd put it across his back and stroll in, inviting her caresses in a sweep of leather and slayer blood. Push himself deep in her, wearing his trophy. Wipe her tears of joy on the lapel.

He could be there tomorrow night. Get her and take her back with him. He had chains in the trunk, in case his princess got bitchy, along with the body of the man who had once owned the sleek dark vehicle he was driving. He could finish it. Finish *them*, with her at his side, all done up like a dark angel from hell. Receive her accolades like black roses drifting around him until he was buried in the ripe scent. It had to be like that, otherwise, where was the satisfaction? He certainly wasn't getting any from the ones he was hunting.

It was easy. All too easy. He was on schedule. He only hoped she'd managed to ration out her food. He shrugged. It wasn't like she'd starve.

Gabriel reached for the CD player and ejected the disk. He picked up another and slid it inside. He grimaced slightly. A talking book. Next time, he'd have to be a little more discerning about the owner of the vehicle he stole. Or at least bring his own music.

*

It might have taken him six hours to get there, but it only took about six minutes to get them out. All Dawn knew for sure was that the policeman who released them into Spike's custody was all but bowing and scraping on the floor. And was still begging him to call if he needed anything else. The girl really, really wanted to know what Spike's 'papers', as he'd called them, said.

Not that she was gonna ask, cause, no way.

Jonathan was at the same level of bowing and scraping as the police officer. At Spike's flat glare outside, he'd gulped and gotten in the back of the big, black SUV and pressed his back against the seat.

He was probably trying to stay out of arm's length, Dawn thought nastily. Unconsciously, she hugged the vehicle's door, wrapping long fingers around the grip.

Silently, Spike drove to the Magic Box and stopped. They all sat there a moment. Finally, Jonathan cleared his throat. "I'll just... uh, get Xander's car. And follow you, cause..."

Spike nodded curtly and the man fled, door slamming in his haste to get as far away as he could for the time he had left until they returned to the Initiative base.

Jonathan's voice had sounded suspiciously squeaky, Dawn thought acidly.

Then, Spike pulled out from the curb and slowly turned the truck around in the street. Dawn didn't point out that u-turns were illegal. Because, well, Magic Box.

"Your sister got hurt tonight," Spike said in a low voice, without preamble.

Dawn turned, eyes wide, her plans to stay quiet forgotten. "Hurt?" she said weakly. She *so* didn't want to hear the next part. But it was like a train wreck. Couldn't look away.

With a curt nod, Spike continued. "Out huntin' you."

That was when she remembered that talking wasn't in her survival plan.

"It's dangerous out there right now for anything that even slightly stinks of me. And whether you like it or not, Dawn, that's where you fit in this. Harris and Daniel got banged up, too. Lookin' for you. Tryin' to track you down, because you weren't where you were supposed to be."

Dawn quickly glued her eyes to the scenery passing along in the side window. It was shadowy where the street lights met the trees and buildings.

"How did you get in?"

A direct question, she thought. No hope now.

"I 'did' it." The queer emphasis on the word 'did' ought to tell him all he needed to know.

Spike nodded again, but slowly this time, as if her answer was no surprise. "You may think you're all adult now, but you're not. That's why you have people lookin' out for you. To keep you safe, show you right from wrong. Up to you to pay attention."

The words rushed out before she could slap her hand over her mouth. "Spike, I know you're pissed, but..."

Spike slammed a hand down on the steering wheel. "Pissed?" The word dripped with anger and sarcasm. "Had your sis' blood all over me tonight. Found Harris unconscious. Daniel damn near cut in half. Jeffries is dust, and a half a dozen vampires smell like half-cooked barbeque. 'Pissed' doesn't come close!"

He glanced at Dawn. "But you now. You're 'pissed'. At me. Want to know why, no dancin' around it."

Despite her better judgment, Dawn told him. "You know, I used to count on you. Buffy did, too. Now you just come and go like our lives are some kind of revolving door. I think I liked you better without the soul. At least you stayed put!"

Her angry words seemed to echo in the car. She winced away from them a little, then stuck her chin out. Hadn't said anything that wasn't true. *Too* true, she thought.

Spike drove on. The street lights moved unceasingly across his face, highlighting a cheekbone, shadowing his eyes until they were like hooded sparks staring into the light.

"That's fair," he said finally. "The only fair thing so far tonight. Here it is then, and you hear it now, 'cause this is the end of it. Buffy and you both deserve better than me. I know it. Still, no one loves you as much. Hell, I'd die for you, Bit. Both of you. So I do the best I can. Until somethin' happens that makes me remember that I'm not good enough. It hurts, Nibblet. And I go. To try to fix it. Try to be better for you both."

He took a deep breath. "Can't be a man for Buffy, a father for you, but I can be your friend."

"You already are," she said grudgingly. She hated it when he talked bad about himself.

"That's your say on it?"

Dawn sat a moment, reflecting. "Maybe. I think. Yes."

"Fine, then. Here's mine. M'here to keep you safe. So you gotta help. Got enough other going against me. I'll talk to Buffy about the Key thing. It's part of you, not something we can forget and hope it goes away. But you've gotta show you're responsible. This hare-brained crap has got to stop. People are getting hurt."

Dawn nodded.

"Now I don't know anythin' that'll help, but maybe someone else does. Rupert's come back."

Her head swung around, a smile playing around her mouth. It faded as abruptly as it appeared.

"For how long?" Her words were cold.

Spike sighed. "For as long as he can and will, I guess. No need to get all pissy about it. Life's all about going away and coming back, or going someplace else entirely. Arrival, departures. Life, death. Goin' and comin'. Sooner you get it, the happier you'll be." He stopped, let his words sink in. "Give us all a break, will you?"

Dawn thought about it. And suddenly decided it was time to cut everybody some slack, if only because, one day, she'd be in the departure lane.

"Okay, I'll try," she said firmly.

"All I'm askin' for."

She watched him drive for a while. Maybe the soul hadn't been such a bad thing after all.



Continued in Chapter 12

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