For the Dawn entry at 12 Months of BtVS; set during season VI but off canon, it is pretty much a Spuffy fic but with Dawn at the center of the action.   

 

Title: To Fix That Which is Not Broken (8/17/05)

Author: Slaymesoftly

RATING G or PG

Season VI

Word count 8402

All disclaimers are in effect – they aren’t mine. We all know that.

Dawn learns a bit more about what comes with being a very old key….

 

Many thanks to Always_jbj for her encouragement, beta assistance, and the title.

 

 

TO FIX THAT WHICH IS NOT BROKEN

              By Slaymesoftly

 

    Chapter One

 

              “Hello?”  Buffy’s knew that her tone was less than cordial, but she had just finished a long shift at the Doublemeat and her feet hurt.

 

             “Buffy?”  The familiar voice was a surprise; not necessarily a welcome one.

 

              “Yes, Angel?”  She tried to keep the impatience out of her voice.  Whatever he was calling to warn her about, she was sure it could wait until she’d had a shower and a good night’s sleep.

 

               “Buffy…I need…I mean, I’d appreciate it if you would…” He blew out his breath in a loud sigh. “I’d like you to check on Spike for me.”

 

               “He’s not hurting anyone, Angel. Leave him alone.”

 

                “I know he’s not hurting anyone.  I’m worried about him.”

 

                The growl in his voice was very obvious and she snapped her attention back to the phone.  She couldn’t remember ever hearing Angel growl at her except when he’d come back from the hell dimension in a feral state.

 

                “You’re WORRIED about him?  I thought you hated him, Angel.  And why would you be worried about him?  I’m sure he’s fine.”

 

                   She smothered the guilty pang she felt, knowing full well that after their break-up the vampire was anything but fine.  On the other end of the line she heard a heavy sigh.

 

                 “He’s not my favorite person, Buffy, but he is my grandchilde and I feel a certain amount of responsibility for him.  Spike can be very…emotional. I just want to know that he’s not going to over-react and do anything foolish.”

 

                   For a brief, terrifying second, Buffy thought Angel knew about the months long affair she and Spike had been having and about the way she broke up with him.  She was speechless as she tried to comprehend Angel’s being worried about Spike’s state of mind rather than furious at him for touching her.  Then the rest of what he was saying penetrated her tired brain and she repeated out loud what he was saying.

 

                  “Drusilla is dust?  She’s dead?  How do you know?  How would Spike know and why would he care?”  This last was said in a querulous whine.

 

                   Across the room, Dawn had shot to her feet at Buffy’s words and run to the close.  Buffy looked back and forth from the phone, where Angel was trying to answer her, to her sister who was frantically pulling on her jacket.

 

                “Dawn!  Where do you think you’re going?”

 

             “I’m going to Spike.  Where do you think I’m going?” Dawn asked in disgust.  “Maybe you don’t care about him, but I do.  If Dru is dead he’s going to need somebody.”

 

              “Dawn – you can’t go to the cemetery at night without me!   Angel, I’ve got to go.  We’ll check on Spike. I’m sure he’s fine.  He probably doesn’t even know yet.”

 

               “Buffy, “ Angel’s voice was sad and heavy, “he knows.  He knew it the instant it happened.  Just as I did.  She’s family.  She’s his sire.  Trust me.  He knows.  And I don’t know how he’s going to react.  With that chip in his head, it’s not like he has a lot to live for anyway.”  He sighed.  “Just see what’s going on, OK?  I don’t expect you to take care of him, but—“

 

          “Dawn’s already left.  I’ve got to go.”

 

         While her older sister waited impatiently for Angel to end the phone call, Dawn flew out the door and began running in the direction of Restfield Cemetery.  “Wait for me, Spike.  Wait for me. I’m coming.  I won’t leave you alone.  Wait for me,” she chanted to herself as she ran.

 

              Buffy hung up the phone and ran out the door after her sister who was rapidly disappearing into the distance.  She tried to force Angel’s last words out of her mind, but they echoed in her head as she ran.  “…not like he has anything to live for anyway.”

 

 

             Even with her enhanced speed, she had a hard time catching up to her long-legged sister.  Not for the first time, she wondered if Dawn had inherited some of her Slayer skills when the monks created her from Buffy’s DNA.  Dawn did not say a word when Buffy finally pulled abreast of her, just continued to propel herself toward the familiar crypt as quickly as she could.

 

            Without knocking, she burst through the door and stared around the dark room, straining her eyes and ears for some sign of the vampire she loved liked a brother.

 

                “S…Spike?” she almost whispered, fear seizing her heart with an iron fist.

 

              No one knew better than Dawn how much the vampire loved her ungrateful older sister. While Buffy was gone they had grieved together and she understood the depth of his feelings for the dead slayer better than anyone else.  But she’d also seen him grieve for her mother.  She knew that he was capable of fierce devotion to more than one person and that the loss of any one of the women he cared for, whether it was herself, Buffy, or the vampire he’d loved and protected for over one hundred years, would be devastating to him.

 

               Buffy remained just inside the door, wondering what she could or should do.  As the slayer, she felt nothing but relief that a very old and very dangerous vampire no longer walked the earth.  But she knew enough vampire lore to know that losing one’s sire was a pretty big deal among the undead.  Spike himself had explained to her once how astonished he and Dru had been to find out that Angel had staked Darla to save the slayer’s life.  So she knew, in some small way, that the vampire she refused to admit she cared anything about was dealing with more than just normal grief over the death of an old girlfriend.

 

              And yet, she remained frozen in place.  Her senses told her that Spike was somewhere in the crypt, even though he had not responded to Dawn’s increasingly fearful repetitions of his name.

 

             “It’s okay, Dawn,” Buffy finally moved to touch her sister’s arm.  “He’s here somewhere.  I can feel him.”

 

              “Great.” Dawn replied bitterly.  “The Summers who doesn’t care what happens to him can tell where he is, and the one who does care gets to worry that he’s dead because he won’t answer her.”  Dawn knew she sounded petulant and spoiled, but she also knew that Buffy was somehow responsible for the depression Spike had been wallowing in lately and the thought that her sister was the one who could feel the vampire’s presence seemed completely unfair.  She ignored Buffy’s flinch at her words and waited impatiently.

 

             “Well?” she demanded when Buffy didn’t offer any other information. “Where is he?”

 

              Without answering, Buffy went unerringly to the table where the candles rested and picked up a book of matches.  She lit one of the candles and carried it around the room, using it to light several more until they could see the whole interior.  It was obvious from the destruction in the room that Spike had been there when he’d felt Drusilla’s death, but there was still no sign of the vampire.

 

             Dawn folded her arms across her chest and tapped her foot.  She glared at her sister and gestured to the empty room.

 

             “And, I repeat.  Where is he?”

 

             With a sigh and an eyeroll, Buffy carried the candle over to the sarcophagus and set it down on the floor so that she could remove the lid.  Dawn watched in shock as, with an easy familiarity, her sister slid the top off and held the candle over the now-revealed ladder to the lower level.  She had to smother a pang of jealousy that Buffy had known about this hide-away below Spike’s home and she, who had spent so much time with the vampire, did not.

 

             Tossing her head with a snort, she snatched a candle off the table and walked past her sister to descend the ladder.   She was surprised to feel Buffy right behind her as she stepped off the bottom rung onto the crunchy floor of what had obviously once been Spike’s bedroom.  The smell of ashes and smoke still hung in the air and Dawn looked around curiously at the charred furniture, wondering if she was looking at the results of careless smoking or something more sinister.

 

            Buffy took the final rungs of the ladder with trepidation, remembering how she had helped Riley torch Spike’s home to kill the Suvolte eggs.  The first thing she saw were the charred remains of the once-beautiful oriental rugs that used to cover the dirt floor.  Guilt riveted her to the base of the ladder.  She was fearful of going any further into the room that had been her refuge from the world for so many weeks.  Memories of long nights and slow afternoons spent letting Spike’s love-making skills take away her sadness and bring back some semblance of joy in the world warred with her righteous anger that he had risked releasing such dangerous demons on Sunnydale.

 

              The large four-poster bed seemed to have survived with just some minor scorching on the posts, but it was empty and Dawn glanced quickly around the room, searching for the occupant.  She finally noticed him, sitting in the dirt and ashes of the floor, leaning against a dirt wall toward the back of the chamber, his eyes held shut against the light she was holding.   Tear stains streaked his face and the grief consuming his body was palpable.  Without a thought, she dropped her candle and ran, falling to her knees beside him.

 

             “Go away, Bit,” he croaked in a hoarse voice.  “Jus’ leave me be.”

 

              Tears filled Dawn’s eyes as she reached a tentative hand toward his face.

 

              “I can’t do that, Spike.  I can’t leave you here like this.  Please, let me help you.  Let me be here for you.”  Her voice trembled as she moved closer.

 

             “I’m all right, Dawn.”  His use of her real name was proof enough that he was far from all right and she scooted even closer.  “Jus’ go away.  Please. And

take her with you,”  he added wearily, fixing one tear-encrusted eye on the immobile slayer standing at the foot of the ladder.

 

             Stung that he didn’t want her there, Buffy said harshly, “Come on, Dawn. He says he doesn’t want us here.  We’ve seen him. He’s fine.  Let’s go home.”

 

               “He doesn’t want YOU here,” the lanky teen snarled over her shoulder.  “I’m not leaving him like this.”

 

               She knelt beside the still vampire and instinctively put her arms around him, whispering how much she loved him and how sorry she was that he was in pain. He stunned Buffy when, with a sudden sob, he turned his head into Dawn’s neck and began to cry softly.  The slayer watched in amazement as her younger sister held the vampire, rocking him gently and murmuring soothingly as he cried out his loss and grief onto her welcoming shoulders. With a flash of intuition, she realized that she was probably watching a scene they had replayed many times over while she was gone.

 

                Buffy stood awkwardly near the ladder, unsure of what to do with herself.  She couldn’t leave Dawn alone in the cemetery to wander home without her; and yet, she could see that she was neither needed nor wanted by either of the two people on the floor.  Not to mention, the longer she stood there in the wreckage of what had been a beautiful bedroom that she knew he’d decorated only for her, the worse she felt.

 

               Tears of sympathy for the pain Spike was feeling were soon flowing down Dawn’s cheeks and Buffy could only watch with increasing discomfort as the two people who loved her most cried and held each other, seemingly oblivious to her presence. Struggling for the cold detachment she usually presented around the vampire, she found herself unaccountably wishing she could be a part of their sad closeness.  She fought the urge to join them on the floor, to lend her own comfort and sympathy to the vampire she’d hurt so many times.

 

                Instead, Buffy picked up the candle Dawn had dropped and relit it before carefully setting it on the blackened dresser closest to her.  Taking her own light, she moved silently back up the familiar ladder, trying not to remember the last time she’d been in the once lushly decorated underground room. 

 

                Dawn felt Spike stiffen in her arms and glanced up to see what might have bothered him just in time to watch Buffy’s feet disappearing up the ladder.  Anger at her older sister flared briefly, to be replaced by sadness that as much as she knew Spike loved her and was grateful for her presence, she was not his first choice.  The woman who could have done so much more to ease his pain with just a word or a gentle touch, was too immersed in her own selfish concerns to be bothered with him.

 

              She knew he hadn’t looked up to see Buffy leave, and again felt a pang of jealousy and regret that he apparently had the same ability to sense Buffy’s presence as her sister had to sense his.  She held him a little tighter, as though to make up for the lack of Buffy’s presence by reminding him of hers and was rewarded with a new round of sobbing as he relaxed back into her embrace.

 

             Dawn lost track of time as she held the crying vampire and tried to absorb some of the pain he was feeling into her own resilient soul. For the first time, she actually felt the weight of her thousands of years of existence as a ball of energy.  Mixed in with the hormones and emotions of a human teenager was a wisdom and a sense of power that both thrilled and frightened her. 

 

              As she held her best friend and wished she could do something to ease his misery, she failed to notice the soft green light that began to envelop them both.  Neither did she consciously reach into the grief-stricken vampire’s heart to begin to heal it.  And yet, the longer she held him, the softer his sobs were until he was finally leaning on her shoulder, taking deep unnecessary breaths that seemed to provide a further measure of calmness with each inhalation. 

 

              Eventually he raised his head and looked into her eyes to see the ancient essence of her soul looking back at him with gentle affection.  He examined his heart and found that the portion of it that had felt the loss of his sire, the part that still ached for her, but now bearably so, was almost healed.  He stared at the human girl he’d loved and protected for well over a year and marveled at what he saw looking back at him.

 

             Suddenly, Dawn blinked and he was once again looking into the soft blue eyes of his favorite human teenager.

 

               “That’s quite a trick you’ve got there, Bit,” he ventured, not sure if she was even aware of what she’d done for him.

 

              She looked at him in confusion, grateful that he no longer seemed as devastated by Dru’s loss, but puzzled that he could have recovered so quickly from the heartbreak she’d felt from him only a few hours ago.

 

               “What trick?” she asked, cocking her head in an unconscious imitation of a familiar gesture.   “All I did was hold you.  I wanted to be sure you knew how much I love you and…and to make up for Buffy’s ice queen performance,” she finished in a mutter.

 

              He smiled slightly in appreciation of her sympathy about her sister’s behavior, but continued to stare at her contemplatively until she began to squirm and move away from him.

 

              “What’s up with the searching looks?” she grumbled.  “Did you think I would leave you here like that once I knew?”

 

               “No, pet, I wouldn’t have expected any less from you.  I’m not surprised you came, just a little gobsmacked about how much good it did me, that’s all.”

 

               “So, you’re going to be okay now?” she asked anxiously.  Although she could still see the sadness that had underlined his entire demeanor for the past month, the raw grief that had emanated from him when she got to the crypt was gone; softened into a gentle ache.

 

                  “I’ll be fine, Bit.  Thank you,” he said softly, dropping a kiss on her forehead before extricating himself from the long arms still wrapped loosely around him.  He stood up and stretched before taking her hand and pulling her to her feet.  He looked into her eyes searchingly until she blushed and looked away from him.

 

                  “Why do you keep looking at me like that?”  In spite of her attempts to brush off his curiosity, she was vaguely aware of having had some sort of magical experience as she tried to comfort her friend.  “You’re wigging me out, Spike,” she complained in an attempt to take his mind off whatever had happened between them. 

 

                  ‘’M sorry, Bit.  Didn’t mean to do that.  Jus’ a little rattled myself that you could make me feel so much better so bloody fast.  Wondering how you did it, is all.”

 

                  “Yeah, well, I don’t know how I did it, so can we just drop it?  I’m just glad Angel called an—“

 

                   “ANGEL called?”  The disbelief in his voice was overwhelming.  “Why did the bloody Poof call you?”

 

                      “He called Buffy, actually.  I think he asked her to check on you, but I wasn’t really listening.  As soon as I knew what he was calling about, I ran out the door.  I knew you’d need someone and I was probably the on-“  She swallowed the rest of what she was going to say, but with a sad smile the vampire finished if for her.

 

                  “You were probably the only one who would care what happened to me.”  His flat, uninflected voice was belied by the sudden pain that flashed across his face.  Old pain, it was obvious.  Pain that was totally unrelated to the sudden death of his sire.

 

                 Making no attempt to pretend she didn’t know why he was hurting again, Dawn put a gentle hand on his rigid arm and said softly,  “I’m sure she would have come, Spike. I just got here first.”

 

                He shook his head, giving her hand a grateful squeeze before taking it off his arm.  “No, Bit.  She wouldn’t have.  Not tonight.  Eventually, maybe, if the Poof asked her to, but not because she cared.  Not for me.”

 

                Dawn briefly wondered if whatever she’d done to ease his grief could also be used to heal the damage her sister was doing to the man who loved her so deeply and unselfishly.  Then she realized that since she had no idea what she’d actually done or how, she wasn’t likely to be able to use it to fix whatever was wrong between the two most important people in her life. 

 

                Without the Scoobies’ need to live in denial, she was more aware than they were that there was, or had been, something between her sister and the vampire.  Something that they were not sharing with any of Buffy’s judgmental friends or with her sister.  Something that, she would guess from their behavior, was no longer there for some reason.

 

                “She’s a self-centered bitch,” Dawn spat out, surprising them both with the vehemence of her statement.

 

                 Spike’s shocked face told her he had never expected to hear her speak that way of the sister she’d been so thrilled to have back.

 

                “No, Bit,” he said, careful to keep his voice down.  “She’s not being willfully cruel.  You know that’s not your sis.  She’s still livin’ with the pain of being yanked back to this world from…a better place. A place where she was done and at rest.  And here she is, back where her mum is dead, her sister is in daily danger of being taken away by Social Services for skipping school or shoplifting…” He grinned humorlessly at Dawn’s surprised flinch when he called her on her own behavior.  “She’s got bills to pay, friends falling into magic addictions, calling off weddings at the last minute and turning other friends back into vengeance demons.   She’s got a lot on her plate and no support system to lean on—“

 

             “She’s got you,” Dawn said with a sudden burst of insight.  “You don’t ask her for anything.  She could lean on you.  She DOES lean on you.  She just doesn’t return the favor when you need her for something.”

 

               “She doesn’t need me anymore,” he said quietly.  “She needs to find her own way now.  Learn to be Buffy again.  I was just holding her back.  I was selfish.  Didn’t want to let her go.  But I need to.  Don’t need to be laying any more guilt on her.   And neither to do you,” he added with a hard look.  “Don’t pick on her about this.  She’s doing her best.”

 

                Dawn’s nostrils flared with anger, then she nodded and dropped her eyes so that he wouldn’t see the new determination in them.

 

               “Fine,” she huffed.  “I won’t tell her what an uncaring, selfish, pitiful excuse for a friend she’s been to you.”

 

               Ignoring her tirade against her sister, he just asked quietly, “Promise me?” and smiled briefly at her terse nod.

 

               “Alright, then.  You’d best be getting out of here and try to catch a little sleep before morning.  Big sis is waiting upstairs for you so you can get home in one piece.”

 

              He pulled her into another hug, whispered “thank you” into her ear and gave her a gentle shove toward the ladder.  He watched in silence as she slowly climbed out of his room, the fatigue clearly catching up with her.  Wishing that the watcher had not gone back to England, he tried to decide whom he should speak to about what Dawn had done for him.  He’d been a vampire too long not to recognize magical forces when they surrounded him.

 

             

 

Chapter Two             

                

 

                When Buffy had got back upstairs, she wandered aimlessly around the room for a minute before picking up the over-turned chair and sitting down to wait for either daylight or Dawn’s reappearance.  She mulled over her younger sister’s immediate, instinctive, and surprisingly mature reaction to Angel’s phone call and wondered where her own innate kindness had gone.

 

 (Must have left it in Heaven, along with everything else good in me.

 

                That a normally self-centered teenager would know to run to Spike, to ignore his request to be left alone, and to be able to offer the exact sort of physical comfort he needed while she, his former lover, stood by unwilling or unable to decide what to do bothered her more than she cared to admit.

 

                 The soft sound of Spike’s sobs drifted up to her and she found herself too restless to remain seated.  She ended up wandering around the trashed room, picking up overturned furniture and cleaning up debris.  She suspected that the rather large collection of empty and/or broken whiskey bottles were not all relics of tonight’s unhappiness; and another bolt of guilt shot through her.

 

By herself, in the darkened crypt, she was able to admit that what they’d had between them – as twisted and violent as it could be at times – was a real relationship.  One that had brought her out of her post-heaven inability to respond to anyone or anything and given her back the ability to feel. 

 

                 When she ran out of trash to pick up, she wandered back to the chair and allowed herself to doze off while she waited for Dawn to be ready to leave.  Her eyes were closed and her breathing even when the soft green glow from downstairs shone out the top of the sarcophagus and she missed it completely, waking from her nap only when she heard the sound of voices at the bottom of the ladder.

 

                 Dawn was making no attempt to be quiet and Buffy cringed when she heard herself referred to as a “self-centered bitch”. Creeping closer to the ladder, she was just barely able to hear Spike’s soft defense of her behavior and guilt stabbed her again at the reminder of how unconditional his love was.  The love that she could no longer pretend didn’t exist.

 

                  He loved Dawn.  For some reason she’d always been able to freely admit that, without it impacting on her ability to deny that soulless vampires could love.  He’d clearly still cared for his insane sire, in spite of having fallen in love with the woman he’d sworn to kill for her.  And there could be no doubt that he had not been able to “move on” from his feelings for Buffy as she’d ordered him to do.

 

                  Rather than her epiphany making her feel better, she felt a huge upwelling of self-loathing for the way she’d treated him.  It seemed one more example of how “wrong” she had come back from her grave. Telling herself that Spike deserved better, she resisted the urge to go down the ladder again and offer her own condolences.  Instead, as she heard Dawn start up the ladder, she scrambled away from the opening and waited at the door for her sister.

 

                  The teenager stopped near the ladder, waiting to see if Buffy was going to want to see Spike or say anything to him, but when the older girl just remained stubbornly by the door, she shrugged and walked out past her without saying anything.

 

                   They walked home in silence.  Buffy opened her mouth to speak several times, but each time she realized that she didn’t know what she was planning to say and she shut it again without breaking the silence.  Dawn was aware of her sister’s aborted attempts to speak, but did nothing to encourage her.  The only thing holding in check her anger at Buffy’s callous treatment of the man who loved her was the half-formed resolve to find away to fix them – permanently. 

 

                    She mentally went over a list of people she knew with the knowledge or expertise to help her explore ways to tap into her “keyness” and use it intentionally the way she just had accidentally.  Sadly, the list was very short. Tara was always a possibility when it came to tapping into anything involving auras or earth-centered magic.  But Tara had never heard of the Key before Glory came looking for it and she knew little or nothing about opening portals to other dimensions.

 

                     Giles, if he could access the Council’s resources, could perhaps find something for her.  But he was in England and she really didn’t want to have to explain THAT long distance phone call to her cash-strapped sister. She wondered idly if Angel had anyone on his staff at Angel Investigations with some knowledge of anything that would help her.

 

                  By the time they entered the house, she had determined to talk to Angel as soon as she could make the call without Buffy hearing the conversation.  When Buffy once more tried to say something to her, she interrupted her sister with a quiet, “I really, really don’t want to talk to you right now, Buffy,” and went up the stairs and into her room, shutting the door firmly behind her.

 

                 Giving up on the idea of getting any sleep until after Dawn had left for school, Buffy walked to the phone and dialed a seldom used but familiar number.  After a short, not terribly friendly, conversation with Angel in which she told him only that they had checked on Spike, found him in bad shape when they got there, but that he seemed much better by the time they left.  With a promise to keep an eye on his emotional state, Buffy hung up on her first vampire lover to plan her day so as to have time for the second.

 

                 She went slowly up to her room; having changed her mind about waiting up till Dawn got up again.  She put on her pajamas and went to brush her teeth.  She had just left the bathroom and was crossing the darkened hallway when she saw the green light shining from beneath her sister’s door.  Moving with slayer speed, she was at the door and turning the knob in an instant, her stomach clenched with fear of what she might find.

 

                 Her relief when she found her sister still sprawled across her bed, mouth open and snoring in her usual abandoned sleep position left her sagging against the doorjamb.  She studied the picture in front of her, confused about what she was seeing.  While Dawn appeared to be perfectly normal, her entire body and the area around the bed, was suffused with a soft green glow that pulsed gently.

 

                  She lived with the fear that one day Dawn would turn back into the mystical ball of energy she’d been before the monks sent her to Buffy for protection.  Even with the renewed interest in life that Spike’s steady refusal to let her wallow in her depression had sparked, her sister was still the only person she really cared for with the fierce loyalty she’d always shown her watcher and friends before she died.

 

                 Buffy approached the bed and stretched a tentative hand toward the green light as she reached for Dawn’s shoulder.  Before she could touch it, a motion outside the window caught her eye and she glanced up to see Spike staring though the window with an expression of awe on his face.  She snatched her hand back and gestured angrily for him to get off the roof; pointing toward the back porch as she did so.  As soon as she saw that he was gone, she left the sleeping girl and ran down to the kitchen.

 

                She flung open the door and stormed up to the still bemused vampire, growling, “What the hell do you think you’re doing here?”

 

                Her angry words and tone snapped him out of his contemplative mood and he growled back at her, “I just wanted to be sure she was alright, Slayer.  Wanted to see that the mojo was gone.”

 

               “What mojo?” she asked, standing between him and the door to the house.

 

                “You saw it.  Don’t try to tell me you didn’t,”

 

                 Buffy’s shoulders slumped and she relaxed and stepped back, allowing him to follow her into the kitchen.

 

                 “I saw it,” she responded quietly. “I just don’t know what it is.  She’s never done that before.  Glowed like that, I mean.”

 

                  “Uh, actually, pet, she has,” he said softly. 

 

                  Buffy ignored the little thrill she got from hearing him call her something besides “slayer” and glared at him fiercely.

 

                   “You knew?  You’ve seen this before and you didn’t tell me?”  She thoroughly prepared herself for a verbal assault on the apologetic looking vampire, but before she could continue he began shaking his head.

 

                   “Jus’ tonight, Buffy.  Never saw it before tonight.   But, when she…while I was…back in the crypt…she was holding me and I was…” He stopped in frustration and Buffy amazed them both by touching his arm gently and squeezing it.

 

                    “You were grieving for Dru.  I was there, remember?”

 

                   “Were you?” he asked with the familiar tilt to his head and a penetrating stare.

 

                    For a few seconds Dawn was forgotten as his eyes challenged her to be honest about what she’d been doing at his home.  In the face of his clear gaze, Buffy’s intended excuses for not comforting him herself died on her lips.

 

                   “Not in the way you needed me to be,” she whispered, dropping her head.  “I’m sorry, Spike.  I just didn’t know what to say or do.”

 

                    He nodded once, acknowledging her honesty without excusing her behavior.

 

                    “The Bit was there, Slayer.  Turns out she was just what I needed anyway.”

 

                     A pang of jealousy sliced through Buffy’s hard-won indifference to the vampire before she could swallow it enough to speak.

 

                   “So it seems,” she choked out.  “You seem much better now.”

 

                   “I AM much better, Buffy.  Which brings me back to the Bit’s imitation of a green light bulb.  Something happened down there while she was holding me.  Don’t know what it was, but suddenly it wasn’t Dawn any more.  Or not jus’ Dawn, anyway.  When she finished being all green and glowy, I wasn’t hurting anymore.  Somehow she took the worst of it away and left me just like I was before I felt Dru dust.”

 

                 “So, green, glowy Dawn made you happy again?” Even as she said the words, Buffy was cringing inside.  He wasn’t happy before Dru dusted.  She knew that.  She knew who was responsible for it.

 

                   To his credit, the vampire didn’t bother to call her on it, just gazed at her steadily until she looked away in shame.   Then he shrugged and answered, “I was back to how I’d been before. With maybe a little more acceptance of my situation, now that I think on it…”

 

                    Buffy remembered his over-heard defense of her behavior toward him and inhaled with a soft gasp.

 

                    “What do you think it means?” she asked apprehensively.  “What’s happening to Dawn?  Is she turning back into the Key?”  The fear in Buffy’s voice sparked an automatic reaction in the vampire, and he put his arms around her in a reassuring hug before either of them realized what was happening.

 

                     “Ah, no, love.  We’re not going to let that happen.  Not going to let her leave us.  I promise.”

 

                    Rather than throwing him off, as he’d expected, she leaned into his comforting embrace briefly before shame at her own lack of empathy earlier in the night made her recoil with self-disgust.

 

                    His face closed down to hide the agony her rejection evoked, but not before she’d seen the pain.

 

                    “Oh, God, Spike!”  Buffy reached toward the retreating vampire, not sure what she wanted to say or do, but knowing she couldn’t let him think she was rejecting him.

 

                      “’S, alright, Slayer.  Just forgot myself there for a second.  Won’t happen again.”

 

                        Waves of self-loathing and hatred roiled through the slayer’s body as she thought about the ways she’d used and damaged the man in front of her.  She clenched her arms around her stomach and moaned with genuine pain at her own inability to say or do anything to make him feel better.   Telling herself he was better off without her, that she wasn’t worthy of the admiration and respect he insisted on giving her, she struggled to control her tears.

 

                    “Spike, I—“ A sound from upstairs interrupted whatever she was going to say, and she found herself sprinting behind the vampire racing toward Dawn’s bedroom.

 

                   The two blond super-beings burst through the door, only to find a groggy, but non-glowy Dawn lying on the floor beside her bed.

 

                    “Are you alright, Bit?”

 

                     “What happened? Are you okay?”

 

                   She peered up at the two anxious people through the hair hanging in her face.

 

                   “I’m fine,” she huffed.  “I just fell out of bed, that’s all.  Sheesh! What’s wrong with you two…Spike?  What are you doing here in the middle of the night?”

 

                    “Was just checking on you, pet.  Wanted to be sure you got home safe.”

 

                      His explanation sounded weak even to his own ears.

 

                     Giving him a disgusted look, Buffy said with great authority, “We heard the thump and thought something…bad…might have happened to you.”

 

                      She stared at them in disbelief.  “And, I repeat, what is wrong with you?  I fall out of bed all the time.  Suddenly I need super-strong people to help me get back in?” 

 

                       She trained blue lazers on the vampire shuffling his feet near her door.  “Why did you follow me home?  What made you think I wouldn’t be okay?”  She turned toward her equally embarrassed sister,  “And why aren’t you asleep yet?  What were you doing downstairs with Spike?” 

 

                       Dawn couldn’t prevent the little tinge of hope in her voice as she looked at the two people she loved most and wondered if they had somehow healed the rift between them without her intervention.  A hope that was smashed when they began to argue about whether they should tell her what they’d seen.

 

                      She listened impatiently for several minutes until the argument looked like it might get physical, then she gave a piercing shriek that halted all conversation and brought Willow and Tara running from their room.

 

                      “All right.  Now that I can hear myself think, somebody needs to tell me what is going on.  Either that, or get out of my bedroom so I can go back to sleep!”  With as much dignity as she could, Dawn got off the floor and climbed back into her bed, sitting up and crossing her arms over her chest.

 

                     Spike and Buffy exchanged looks that lasted long enough for Willow and Tara to begin to clear their throats.  They were taken aback when Dawn hissed at them and waved her hand for silence as Buffy and Spike appeared oblivious to anyone else in the room.

 

                      “I guess we should tell her,” Buffy finally said quietly. 

 

                      “It’s only fair, pet,” he agreed, stepping closer to her. 

 

                       Dawn held her breath as it looked briefly as if he was going to touch Buffy’s hair with his upraised hand.  She let out a little sigh of disappointment when he dropped it to his side and Buffy turned away, biting her lip.

 

                        “Okay, let’s have it.  Why am I suddenly all center-of-attention girl?”

 

                      At Buffy’s nod, Spike stepped to the bed and sat down next to the puzzled teenager asking, “Do you remember that neat little trick you pulled off in my crypt earlier?” 

 

                      Buffy shushed Willow’s barely started question and waved the two witches away from the bed.  She watched Dawn’s narrowed eyes and nervous sidelong glances at the other people in the room. 

 

                       “You TOLD?”  Her sister’s voice quivered with righteous teenage anger at the seeming betrayal.

 

                        “Didn’t have to, love,” Spike attempted to sooth her.  “Was a little more to it than just what we talked about, and when I got here, your sis was seeing the same thing I saw.”

 

                         Dawn shot a look at a nodding Buffy.  “What was there to see?  You didn’t say anything about seeing stuff – just that I made you feel better.”

 

                       “You glowed,” he said softly.  “You glowed green.  Could feel it all around me, pulling the pain out.  Was why I followed you home.  Didn’t know what was going on or if it might have hurt you.”

 

                         “So, why did you tell Buffy,” she asked petulantly, trying to smother the first taste of fear that she might not be in control of her body.  “Why didn’t you tell me first?”

 

                        “I saw you, Dawn,” Buffy spoke up and moved to sit on Dawn’s other side.  “The light was shining out from under your door and I came in to see what was happening to you.  You were glowing while you slept.  All green and…and…glowly,” she finished lamely.

 

                        “I fixed Spike,” Dawn said abruptly.  “So it has to be a good thing, right?  This can’t be anything bad, can it?”  She looked from the vampire and the slayer to the two puzzled witches.

 

                      “You fixed Spike?” Willow asked slowly.

 

                      “Dru dusted tonight,” the vamplre said tightly, his voice carefully under control. “I was a bit…distraught.”  He caught the incredulous looks at his use of a Giles-type word and grimaced.  “It’s not like I never got an education,” he grumbled to no one in particular before going back to his explanation for the witches.  “While Dawn was hugging me, she…changed…” He looked quickly at the girl to see if she was still afraid, but she was just calmly waiting for him to go on, nothing on her face but curiosity.

 

                      “We were surrounded by this soft green light and…and she just pulled the pain right out of me.  Could almost feel the rip in my heart mending.  And, when I looked at her….” He let his voice trail off, reluctant to tell Dawn that he’d seen someone or something else staring back at him from her eyes.

 

                      Tara studied Dawn intently for a few minutes, and then said softly,  “I can see it.”

 

                    “What?  What can you see?”  The fear in Buffy’s voice reminded them that regardless of how much better Spike felt, this was not necessarily a positive event.

 

                   Tara smiled gently.  “Nothing bad.  It’s just that her aura has picked up a definite green glow.  It looks…it looks very much like that of a healer,” she finished quickly.  “My mother’s aura looked like that.  But Dawn’s is much more defined.  There is a lot of power in there.  A lot of power.”

 

                 Everyone missed the anger that flashed briefly across Willow’s face at the suggestion that someone other than herself might be able to wield mystical powers.  The anger came and went quickly as she remembered that Dawn was, in spite of the memories they all carried around, not your average teenager.

 

                “You mean I could help other people?  Not just Spike?  Could I help anybody I care about?”  She looked directly at her sister as she asked the question and Buffy squirmed uncomfortably beside her. 

 

                  “You can’t fix me,” she whispered, even as from the other side she heard Spike’s warning, “Bit, you promised…”

 

                 “I’m sure once you learn to use it, you could help just about anyone.  I…I could get you started…” Tara offered timidly. “At least until we can find someone who knows more about what else a Key might be able to do.”

 

                  “That would be great!”  Dawn was almost bouncing on the bed in her enthusiasm.  “Can we start now?”

 

                 “Uh, I was thinking more like…tomorrow?  After classes?”  Tara was taken aback at Dawn’s excitement and wondered if she was promising something she wasn’t going to be able to deliver.

 

                  “Oh,” Dawn sighed in disappointment.  “Okay.  I guess it can wait…” she looked sideways at her older sister who was glaring at her suspiciously. “Maybe I can practice on my own a little…”

 

                    Buffy jumped to her feet and immediately began to shoo everyone out of the room. 

 

                   “Okaaaay.  We’re all good here, right?  Dawn’s not going to spontaneously combust.  Tara’s going to help her learn to heal…”

 

                  “I’ll call Fred tomorrow and see if anybody at Angel Investigations might know something about interdimensional keys,” Willow volunteered eagerly, ignoring Spike’s growl.

 

                   Buffy surprised herself and him by punching him lightly on the arm and saying, “What do you have to growl about? If it wasn’t for Angel, you’d still be sitting in your crypt—“

 

                   Her sentence was cut off by a cool hand over her mouth and she looked at the vampire with wide eyes.

 

                   He dropped his hand quickly, muttering, “No need to tell the whole world what a ponce I am, Slayer. It was just habit.  I hear, ‘Angel’, I growl.  It’s a thing.”

 

                  Before her sister and the vampire could move apart or get into another fight, Dawn grabbed each of them by the hand and held on tightly.  She waited until Tara and Willow had gone back to their room before pulling them back down beside her on the bed. 

 

                  “You know I love you both very much, don’t you?” she asked earnestly, looking back and forth between them.  

 

                  “I love you too, Dawnie,” Buffy said, looking at her with confusion.  “And so does Spike,” she added, her lips twitching when the vampire stared at her with his mouth open.

 

                  “Then do you have any idea how hard it is for me to watch you hurt him?” she asked, squeezing Spike’s hand when he tried to interrupt her.

 

                “Dawn… this really isn’t…” Buffy was too shocked to think clearly and through habit she looked to the vampire for help.

 

                “Bit,” he said firmly, “Whatever it is you think you’re seeing, it’s between the Slayer and me.   Back off.” 

 

                  She ignored him and fixed piercing blue eyes on her sister.  “Do you LIKE being so cruel?” she demanded.  “Is this how you want to be?  The kind of woman you want to be?”

 

                  Buffy squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip.  She could hear Spike’s warning rumble from behind Dawn and felt a flash of gratitude at his support.

 

                 “Look, Dawn.  I came back wrong, okay?  This is me now – I…I don’t like myself very much sometimes…” She was careful not to look at Spike as she spoke, but she felt his flinch.  “…but it’s how I am.  Something’s missing.  You can’t fix it, cause it’s not broken.  It’s just not there.”

 

                      Dawn stared at Buffy with open dismay, tears springing into her eyes as she absorbed what Buffy was putting into words for the first time. 

 

                    “That…that’s not true.  I won’t let it be true!  I’ll learn how to channel or manipulate or whatever I have to do to be all glowy-girl again and I’ll make it better. I’ll make YOU better.  And you’ll be happy Buffy again, and you won’t keep hurting Spike and then he’ll be happy, and …” Her lower lip came out and the tears ran down her face as she looked back and forth between Buffy’s sadly resigned face and the vampire’s anguished one.  Buffy just shrugged and turned to leave, while Spike stared after her, his horrified look telling Dawn that Buffy’s words had meant something more to him than they had to her.

 

                      “What does she mean, she came back wrong?” she demanded of the vampire.  “She’s not wrong.  Not like when I tried to bring Mom--  She’s not wrong!”

 

                    “No, Bit, she isn’t,” he said firmly, staring at Buffy’s rigid back and willing her to believe him.  “It’s just something some stupid git said to her one time.  It’s not true.  She’s perfect.  Just like she always was.”

 

                      Even as Buffy was shaking her head in denial, the vampire was moving to stand behind her. He tentatively put his arms around her and pulled her lightly against his chest as he whispered in her ear, “You know it’s not true, love. Even I didn’t believe it.  I was just trying to get a rise out of you. Never thought you’d take it to heart like that.  I’m sorry, Buffy.  It’s not true.  Never true.”

 

                  “Of course it’s true,” she responded, choking back a sob. “If it wasn’t, I would never…how could I treat you…there has to be something wrong with me. There has to!”

 

                   Dawn watched fearfully as the two most important people in her life stood together having the conversation she wanted them to have but of which she feared the result.  When it appeared that Buffy would pull away from Spike’s whispered attempts to restore her faith in her own goodness, Dawn leapt off the bed and wrapped her long arms around both them.  She squirmed around until she was facing Buffy, effectively trapping the slayer between herself and the vampire.

 

                   When Spike tried to pull away from the sisterly embrace, she grabbed his arms and pulled him back, stretching as far as she could in an attempt to keep her arms around both of them.  Just as it had in Spike’s crypt, the pain pouring off the two was so palpable that she could feel it entering her own body.  Without conscious effort, she began to glow again, the soothing aura expanding to contain all three of them in a cool, green cocoon of energy.

 

                     When Buffy’s tears changed from anger and pain to tears of happiness, and the vampire’s anguished expression softened into the adoration with which he had formerly looked at them both, the green glow began to fade away.  It wasn’t long before a muffled, “Dawn! Let me go, I can’t breathe,” forced her to release them with a delighted laugh.

 

                  She met the vampire’s grateful eyes over her much shorter sister’s head and smirked proudly before backing away and pushing them toward the door of her room.

 

                  “Okay, I’m done now.  I’m going back to bed and you two are going back to…to whatever you’d be doing if you weren’t standing in my room looking at me like I had three heads.”

 

                She flounced to her bed and jumped in, bouncing lightly before she pulled the covers up and closed her eyes.  Buffy had turned around to watch Dawn, putting her face to face with Spike and still wrapped in the arms he’d put around her to prevent her from leaving the room. 

 

                “What WOULD we be doing at this hour of the night, Spike?” she murmured, softly.

 

               “Don’t know about you, pet, but lately, I’m usually passed out drunk around about now,” he said wryly.  “What are you usually doing?”

 

                She toyed with the buttons on the front of his shirt, carefully avoiding his gaze, as she said, “I’m usually in my bed, trying to sleep and wishing I wasn’t alone….”

 

               “That ugly little pig not enough company for you, Slayer?” he rumbled in her ear. 

 

              “Mr Gordo is NOT ugly!” she hissed indignantly, pulling back slightly and glaring up to see his eyes laughing at her.  “And HE doesn’t snore!”

 

              “Hey! I don’t snore!” he responded just as indignantly.  “I don’t even breathe!”

 

                 “You do when you’re sleeping.”

 

                 “Which part of I’m going to sleep now wasn’t totally clear?” came a whine from the head buried under the pillow on Dawn’s bed.

 

                     “Come on, love.  Let’s leave the human light bulb to get her beauty sleep,” he whispered in Buffy’s ear as he urged her toward the door.  “She’s going to need it, what with all that green stuff all over her and…”

 

                     “I can HEAR you!”

 

                    The former, and perhaps future, Key listened to the sound of her door closing and her sister’s bedroom door opening and closing; then fell asleep with a satisfied smile on her face.

 

The end.

 

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