By Nan Dibble
Disclaimer: Effulgent Spike (and Buffy, and Dawn, and everybody) belongs to Mutant Enemy and Joss Whedon, to whom be all praise. I promise to return him in chains and only slightly damaged. No infringement nor profit intended, only more SpikeJoy for everyone.
He was there but his eyes had gone away, and only Dawn noticed because she was the only one watching. And Dawn didn’t say anything because she was still officially angry, furiousfuckingmad, at him even though Buffy apparently had decided trying to rape her wasn’t such a big deal after all and had collected him like a bloody carved souvenir of the Hellmouth as soon as the Uber-vamp was garroted and dusted, three nights ago.
Dawn had heard them come in, past midnight. Nothing was right on its hinges anymore: everything had to be pushed. Preferably slammed, to be sure the latch caught. Hearing the scrape of the front door opening, then shutting, she’d clambered over five sleeping Potentials, slid silently to the head of the stairs, and peered down, thinking what would be most hateful to say if Buffy had the unmitigated gall to try to bring him upstairs where actual people lived. Close enough to hear whatever they said, if they said anything. But they didn’t. And Buffy didn’t try to bring him upstairs, so that was wasted, too.
She was just about dragging him. He looked awful, which served him absolutely right. Hanging, leaned crookedly against her, inert and ungainly as a rolled-up carpet, bare feet mostly dragging. Dawn wondered why Buffy didn’t just carry him, Slayer strength and all (how Spike would hate that), and Buffy should just pick him up and pitch him as hard and as far as she could instead of supporting in half-steps, awkward pivots and shrugging adjustments, the pretence he was doing anything like walking on his own.
Except for the silence, the stillness, they looked like a pair of drunks seeing each other home.
Before Dawn had thought of a hateful downstairs thing to say, they’d passed below, out of sight. The basement door creaked.
Nothing happened after that, so eventually Dawn stepped high over the Potentials sleeping on the floor and edged back into bed, nudging Rona and Cho Anh away from her allotted eight inches, sullenly collecting her share of the covers and jerking them as far as she could over her shoulder.
The next morning, foamy toothbrush alternately in hand and in mouth, Amanda excitedly reported that there was a vampire in the basement! The Slayer had said so. The basement was now officially off limits 24/7 to all but authorized personnel, namely her Slayer self, but no one should worry because the Slayer said he wasn’t that kind of vampire. What other kind was there? Amanda wanted to know, looking for a place to spit. Dawn did a big yawn and dragged the pillow over her head. It wasn’t as if it was a school day, after all. And she was certain he’d lied about the soul.
Later bouncing down the stairs, Dawn found Buffy in chore-face with a bucket, a brush, and a rag, trying to soak marks out of the hall runner. Dawn told her they’d never come out: they’d set overnight. Buffy rubbed a wrist across her forehead and said, “Thank you, Bob Vila,” as Dawn went by. Dawn didn’t deign to reply, partly because she wasn’t sure who Bob Vila was. Trading Spaces, maybe, but she’d never seen anybody trying to get blood out of a rug on that show, so maybe not.
The SITs who’d seen Spike before were nervous. Amanda and the others who hadn’t were alternately curious and terrified. Big honkin’ deal, Dawn thought, discovering plastic jugs of pigs’ blood behind the orange juice. Again. She must have missed the morning delivery. She imagined a white truck, big Red Cross on the side, arriving with a jingling bell: four of the usual, giant gallon economy size, for Revello Drive.
A discovery greeted with even more unanimous yuk was wads and mounds of bloody gauze in the kitchen trash. Dawn made the world safe for digestion by carrying the tied bag at arm’s length to the can in the back yard.
Sunday, more nothing, except more yucky congealed gauze before breakfast. Lots of it. Half a trashbag full. Before completing her stiff-armed ritual of disposal, Dawn swiped a piece in case she could talk Willow into doing some blood magic. Willow kept away from the bad stuff now, the things Dawn knew enough to know were powerful, but you never could tell: Willow had been known to slip. At least dis-invite him. The whole house was charmed within an inch of its life, charms thicker than the paint, layers and layers of barrier spells that would need renewing because insane-o Buffy had brought the unwanted, unholy stray through all the protections. Maybe Willow could just eliminate the flaw, the exception, make the spells seamless. Or at last resort, the gauze would be handy for a locator spell if he got snatched again. So much blood….
Monday there was school, although only she and Amanda had to go, being local, and afterward it was Xander’s turn to make supper, which meant stacked pizza boxes in the living room, everybody trying to do the most disgusting thing with the rubbery, stringy cheese and it didn’t matter, the whole house was trashed anyway. Then Buffy delegated Xander to count heads, then take them on practice patrol, just the old graveyards where nobody had been buried in the last century, where they were unlikely to run into anything interesting but maybe could polish their stalking skills and learn more about the Greek phalanx formation that Dawn thought of as “synchronized staking.” Since none of that had anything to do with Dawn anymore, it wasn’t hard to slide into the hall closet in the confusion of leaving. Wasn’t as if anybody was actually looking for her.
Dawn stayed behind the half-ajar closet door until she heard what she’d expected: the creak of the cellar door.
The murmur of Buffy’s voice: “Careful. The table.”
His voice, even quieter, hardly even breath, “’S’not gonna attack me, pet. It leaves me alone, I leave it-- Bloody hell. No. All right. Never…never mind. Down now, all right, will you leave me bloody be?”
He must be feeling better: he was swearing. And bonus points for alliteration. It took energy to be irritated or even pretend to be. Took even more energy to be furiousfuckingmad, but that was a small price to pay for something so important.
She leaned out of the closet half an eye’s worth, holding the door’s edge steady with careful fingertips.
Buffy, still in chore-face, fetchingly attired in frayed jeans and a wrinkled blue-check shirt like a Dolly-Parton castoff, was straightening from the crooked couch. Spike sat stiffly, head tipped back and eyes shut, waiting for something internal to change, ease. Then he slowly folded forward until his arms rested on his knees, head bent and back bowed, stiff and careful. Left hand swathed in bandages up past the wrist. Right hand unbandaged but red, raw looking, like the Sunnydale sunburn champion. The inevitable black T-shirt over what Dawn recognized as a pair of Xander’s grey sweatpants at least two sizes too large, shapeless and baggy on him as elephant’s legs. No pockets, but he made the absent gesture anyway, reaching wrong-handed across himself: searching for his cigarettes. Then he let the hand fall. Shook his head slightly to something Buffy said, Dawn couldn’t make it out. Certainly not an offer of a cigarette, not in the house, not in the fucking living room. Mom had strict rules about that. And the ratty couch might be perched on a chunk of wood in one corner and the front window boarded up and the hall runner marked with four bloody footprints, but Mom’s rules still held. It was still home.
“No, pet,” he said, “you go ahead and tell me what-all I’ve been missing around here. Got to get myself caught up again, don’t I, if I’m to be of any use. Fit enough to listen.” He made the effort of lifting his head. Both eyes still swollen and a purple bruise fading diagonally across his forehead and down one cheek, half his face, but eyes clear and steady sapphire.
Rather than make him look up any higher, Buffy upended a wallpaper paste bucket to sit on and launched into one of The Briefings, that everybody generally had to sit through on Fridays after supper, only Spike had missed six of them now (not that Dawn had bothered to count), so he got the personalized one-time-only special extended edition of Buffy interrupting herself, stopping in mid-sentence to add something she’d skipped over or forgotten, or had happened someplace else and so didn’t fit a Buffy-centric narrative with everybody else as afterthoughts, footnotes, and spear-carriers. Dawn had told her she had a bright future as a motivational speaker at the Helen Keller Institute, but then Kennedy had laughed and Dawn had to remember not to belt her because Kennedy could actually hit, which was more than most of the SITs could do, and that had sort of taken the general joy out of it all. Teasing her chore-faced, barely-combed older sister was hardly ever any fun anymore.
But you had to give the demon his due: he was real good at listening. Buffy was sitting on the bucket at an angle, mostly addressing herself to the corner with the broken molding, occasionally making spread-handed up and down gestures like abortive pokes at a volleyball. And Spike with that preternatural stillness he could put on when he chose, or something like it--not just listening, not just looking, but watching: the way he watched TV, some godawful soap or The Iron Chef or Man U, like the fate of the world depended on his not missing a twitch or a line of lame dialogue or another spastic hand lift and fall. One thing Spike had, was focus.
Sometimes, having nothing better to do since it was now quite clear she was the Un-Chosen One, Dawn had tried to practice the focus she’d learned from him watching summer, last year, when things had gone from unspeakably awful to unspeakably joyous to unspeakably awful again and she’d hated herself for not realizing, not being in any way braced, not in the least expecting that the one thing she’d come to rely upon could vanish and be gone as instantaneously as though he’d been dusted, which he should have been. She’d known after Xander had told her and she’d then dragged grudging, constipated confirmation out of Buffy.
At first Dawn had persuaded herself it must be the fault of the Awful Dream, and Spike shouldn’t be blamed for coming a bit unglued, doing something off. But to have just vanished without even having told her why, or goodbye, or anything, that was past forgiving.
She’d stayed in her room for four entire days (not counting meals), being distraught, staring at things and not seeing them at all, unable to take a whole breath, as if she’d been punched right where the breath was and couldn’t get it back.
He breathed, when he thought about it. Or, weirdly, when he forgot about it, humming under his breath sometimes when the clever hands were busy with something, breath enough for humming. And he snored. Never would admit to it but he did, she’d heard him. Watched him do it. Specially when he was completely plastered, legless, AWOL nobody-home drunk. No breath, no motion for five minutes at a time by her watch, and then maybe one noisy intake of breath and settle his shoulder a different way and inert again, not even faking living chest action.
Now, since she wasn’t a Potential but only the Slayer’s kid sister and therefore not worth anybody’s notice except, disconcertingly, icky Andrew’s and sometimes Xander’s, lounging lanky at the back of the room while Buffy had another attack of speechifying or Rona had a story, chewing on a hangnail, Dawn sometimes tried to focus on the whole room and everybody in it and all the motions and everything said, absorb it all in one grand gestalt, grok the fucking totality and therefore all of the meanings interlaced and poised just so. And sometimes she almost thought she could. For a second, all the motions would balance into a sort of equation, clear focus she could feel but not quite make full sense of.
As she now realized Buffy’s jerky gestures were how hard she was trying not to actually set her hand on Spike’s knee.
And Spike realized it at just the same instant because he slid his bandaged left hand into the reserved vertical gesturing space, and Buffy jerked and sorried and asked if she’d hurt him, and he didn’t say anything but set his right hand on top, hand sandwich, and Buffy looked down on it and lost the thread of The Briefing and apologized for that, coming unstrung wire by wire. Slowly, like balancing a cup, he surrendered her hand to the pedestal of her own knee and then took his hands away, not smirking or even smiling, not even his eyes, withdrawing and letting the interruption go and still attending the same way for as long as it took Buffy to find her thread and go on again.
Dawn hadn’t been listening to The Briefing because it had been tedious and depressing the first eighteen times she’d heard it, or at least all its disconnected parts, and it hadn’t improved. But she must have taken it in on some level because she felt like a prompter in the wings when an actress had gone up in her lines, barely resisting calling out the cue. Dawn had seen Mom; Willow had seen Cassie, and maybe even Tara: Willow’s Briefing, when they’d compared Sightings, had been short and unsatisfying, being all with the crying and the Kleenex and everything, and Dawn had dutifully reported the fact because otherwise, what explanation for the axe-victim living room and microwave, but not what Mom had come to tell her. Unsatisfying, maybe, all around. But of course Buffy didn’t mention that. That had been only Willow. Only Dawn. It was some vamp she’d run into on patrol, nice little social chat with the Evil Undead, that was the interesting part that Buffy had momentarily lost and cued herself back into without prompting.
And Spike’s eyes went away. Not like Bringers, nothing like that. Like he’d heard something and had disconnected from vision, letting his eyes drift, unneeded, untended. Still focused, oh yeah…but not on anything anybody else could hear or see.
Maybe babbling, hallucinating crazy again, holding conversations with people who weren’t there, like before, entombed unalive in the high school basement, hear him through the air vents especially just off the girls’ locker room where the echo was so bad on account of the tile. Nobody admitted to hearing it, of course--this was Sunnydale, after all, wellspring of DeNile--but the post-gym shower contingent dropped off something amazing.
Except silent now. No babbling: that was Buffy, still rattling on. So maybe not….
Into one of Buffy’s frequent pauses, Spike said, “Dusted him finally, did you, Slayer? Or did you two just hang about chattin’ each other up on some gravestone till it got too near to sunup and he had to beg your--“
“Well, of course I dusted him,” Buffy responded, somewhere between puzzled and indignant. “But…I remembered him. Not from before, from college, not that. I had to dust him. But…he wasn’t a thing, Spike. He was a person. A vampire-person who was trying to kill me…. But not a thing. Somebody. Holden Webster. Do you see?”
“’Course I do, pet. Did you do him backhand or forehand?”
Even chore-face could fall. “I don’t remember. Is it important?”
“Might be. Never can tell what’s going to be important, some times.” Spike’s eyes rebooted then. They warmed, the way he could make them do, and the focus recentered itself on Buffy. Or seemed to. Because he was still sitting wrong. Not even quiet but still. The way he was never still unless he slept. Or when he was hunting. He could go still then. Dawn had seen it, lots of times.
Maybe he was just hurt that bad, or wishing Buffy would let him smoke in the living room, or that he had something to smoke. Or something else altogether.
His head turned, just a flick of the eyes and then away, and he rubbed the bandaged hand with the other one, not letting on, but Dawn wasn’t fooled: he’d seen her, smelled her, something. She pushed the closet door away, braced her long legs, and gave him the most fierce-eyed, deathray hateful stare in her entire repertoire, count of a hundred. He wasn’t looking toward her, and of course Buffy didn’t see, but she knew he saw, just the same. Buffy, and the semi-destroyed room in all its nicked detail, and Dawn standing in the hallway, one foot planted on one of his bloody footprints, hating him like Hannibal hating Rome, he saw it all and bent his head a little more, picking at the bandage.
He was ashamed. Afraid to face her or deny what they both knew about him now. Didn’t dare look up. Good!
Dawn took the stairs three at a time and reached her bed in a flying dive, astonishing sole occupant. She bit the corner of the pillow and then covered her whole face with it so there could be no least atomic fragment of a chance anybody she refused to name or even think about might be able to hear her crying her guts out.
Continued in TWO