Fic: Setting Up House (20/22)

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Setting Up House
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Title: Setting Up House (20/22)
Medium: Fanfiction
Creator: sandy_s
Rating: R
Setting: Season 6, AU after “Gone”
Word Count (this part): 6099

Summary: What if the second social worker actually paid a visit to Buffy and Dawn after the incident in “Gone,” and Dawn and Spike convinced Buffy to set up house with Spike? (Eventually, it’s a bit of a crossover fic with AtS.)

Thank you: Extra special thank you to enigmaticblues for beta-ing the final chapters of Setting Up House.

Dedication: This story is written especially for aimeedee, who believes in me! I also dedicate this to _sin_attract, inxsomniax, zarrah04, indiana_jane_, jenniepennie, roxyw, ghostgirl13, lilith77, eyesthatslay, musing_mia, sweet_ali, and Aydin.

Chapters 1-15 can be found on here on AO3.
Sixteenth, Be Honest with Your Ex… and Yourself
Seventeenth, Be Civil to Uninvited Guests… Within Reason
Eighteenth, When Company Becomes Too Much, Strategize to Get Rid of Them
Nineteenth, Appreciate Coming Home After a Trip Away

 

Twentieth, Take Care of Each Other

The first sensation I’m mindful of is how sore every muscle in my body feels. Even my eyelids hurt, and I stir, groaning a little to remind myself that I’m alive. I become aware that there is the softest pillow under my head and the warmest cave of sheets and blankets tucked all around me. Stretching my legs, my aching foot and ankle find another leg, and my right arm scrounges up the energy to reach over.

“Welcome back.” A familiar, fatherly British accent finds my ears.

My eyes flash open, and a small smile touches my lips. “Giles. You’re here. . . not in England.”

Face illuminated by the natural light from my bedroom window, he leans forward in the chair by my bedside, glasses in one hand, kind blue eyes crinkling at the corners with happiness. “I came back to help but discovered that I was needed in… unexpected ways. How are you feeling?”

“Mmmm. I’m here.”

Giles touches a gentle hand to my upper arm as I try to sit up but wince at the resurging pain in my ankle. “Don’t try to get up. You need your rest.”

I gratefully slip back down into my bed’s comforting embrace. “How long was I out?”

“A few days.”

My stomach rears its head and growls at me. “Must have been.”

“I’ll get you something to eat in a moment.” He slips his glasses back on in a memorable gesture.

Remembering why I’m injured, I ask, “Did it work?”

“Yes, Buffy, you did it.”

Relief washes over me. “Faith and I did it. I’m not exactly sure how what with the First Slayer and the way out there fight we had. Is Faith okay?”

“She’s fine. . . a bit worse for the wear but totally fine. She left with Wesley and Fred a few hours ago. She’s headed back to prison. . . for a time.”

“How was she? I mean. . . was she. . .”

Giles knows me too well. “She isn’t angry with you, Buffy.”

“And I’m not angry with her. . . not anymore.” I close my eyes for a few seconds. I hadn’t realized how much anger I had in me still. . . about what Faith had done. . . or hadn’t done.

“I think she knows that. She told me to tell you that she has your back from now on and. . . well, that the First Slayer is a ‘crazy bitch.’”

Hearing Giles say the words “crazy bitch” makes me chuckle but also grimace at the pain in my ribs. “Ow.”

“You know, Buffy, the line reset. . . but not with you.”

“Huh?” I act surprised, but part of me knew. I need to hear him say it.

“What you did. . . the line reset with Faith.”

My heart skips in trepidation. Am I still a Slayer? “What does that mean?”

“If you die. . . again, no Slayer will rise as a result of your death.”

“But a new girl will become a Slayer if Faith dies.”

He nods his head once in confirmation. “Yes.”

Giles still hasn’t answered the question that I’m too afraid to voice. Is part of the reason I didn’t wake up for three days because I’m not a Slayer anymore. . . because I’m not healing quickly enough? I’m not sure how I feel about this. Not being a Slayer anymore will change everything.

Being the observant man that he is, Giles senses my hesitation and clarifies, “You’re still a Slayer, Buffy.”

“Then, why is it taking me so long to heal?” My feelings are too jumbled to sort out.

“Faith was unconscious for a good bit, too. She’s not exactly in top shape now.”

I remember something. “Wait, you said that she’s going back to prison ‘for a time.’ What does that mean?”

The person beside me stirs and turns over, emitting a soft grunt. Dawn. Dawn is resting beside me. I recall that Spike told me that Dawn slept by the Buffybot when I was gone. . . dead. My heart goes to her. She must be so worried that she might lose me again. I didn’t mean to scare her by not keeping her in the loop. Making things up to her will have to be a priority. Poor girl has been let down too much by the people taking care of her.

Giles answers, lowering his voice, “She’s going back to avert the police manhunt, but she and Wesley were talking, and when a sufficient amount of time has passed, they will break her out in a way that allows her to return to slaying without causing such a stir. Frankly, I think it’s a good idea. It’s a waste to have a Slayer stuck in prison, and Faith has changed, it seems.”

I blink. “Oh.” I think I might actually be okay with their plan. I pause for a few seconds and then, “Giles, how were you needed in ‘unexpected ways?’”

Crossing his arms, he leans back in the chair. “Ah. Now that is a tale.”

“Cliff notes version, please?” I whisper.

He gives me a look like he doesn’t know if he can shorten his story. “Well, let’s see.” He takes his glasses off again and taps one earpiece on his lip. “I began making preparations to come back to Sunnydale after we talked.”

“I remember.” I cringe a little inside at how harsh we had been with one another.

“I wanted to help you because I heard through my more trustworthy sources at the Council that Anthony and Jonathan took Hanna and were coming to. . .”

I blink. “Make golem-clay-guy-thingies to kidnap Faith and use a witch to banish her to another dimension?”

“Well, not that much detail, but they did ‘borrow’ a young witch from the coven I work closely with, so I knew that their intentions were nefarious.”

“As Council intentions usually are.” I slip my left arm under my head, elbow pointing out.

“Well. . .” Giles starts to protest my claim, but he cocks his head, “yes.”

“So you came to Sunnydale.”

“Who is telling this story?” He’s annoyed now.

I grin. “You are. Sorry.”

He returns the grin before resuming his serious face. “When I arrived in Sunnydale, I discovered that you had already left for L.A., and Tara contacted me. Dawn had talked with her about. . . well, about what happened with her accident and Willow’s continued problem. Tara and Dawn asked for my help. Buffy, I should have seen it before when Willow brought you back. Well, I did, but I didn’t pursue it, and I’m sorry for that. I shouldn’t have left. Not when you were all still struggling so much. I’ll be here for a while. Hanna will be staying with me, and we’re going to help Willow. . . and I’m here for you and Dawn, too.”

I’ve been wanting to hear him say this but realize something with his apology. “No, Giles, you did what you thought was best. You couldn’t have known Willow would develop a deeper problem, and you didn’t know how much I was going through because well, I’m apparently good at hiding it from everyone I care about. . . except Spike. And I really do need to figure out how to handle certain things. . . like parenting my sister if I want her to stay with me and not go to L.A. to live with Dad. I can’t pawn it all off on you.”

I weakly gesture at the slumbering form beside me. “How’s Dawn?”

“She hasn’t left your side despite our urging to get some rest.” Giles’s tone is affectionate.

“Guess she finally crashed. You know, I didn’t realize how much Spike took care of her. . . .”

“Speaking of Spike.” Giles isn’t going to let that one slip by him.

“Yeah?” Does that sound innocuous enough?

“He’s been living here.”

My eyes light on a lamp from Spike’s crypt just hanging out on my dresser, covered in crypt grime and a few wispy ends of spider webs. I ask anyway, “How do you know?”

“Your closet, for one.” He leans his head toward my closet.

I muster the energy to lift my head a fraction and note the open closet door with the askew hanging rod and an untidy heap of Spike’s clothes peeking out. Right. My pillow calls me, and I plunk back down. Pain shoots along my cheekbone.

Giles’s expression remains soft. “I don’t know what it is, Buffy. You always pick the most. . . well, you already know I don’t think he’s good enough for you.”

I lower my gaze from his.

“But I don’t know if I’ll ever think anyone is quite good enough.” My eyes find his again, and he continues, “I. . . care about you, Buffy. . . like you’re my own daughter.” He fidgets with his glasses, both hands in his lap, and his gaze lowers. “Part of me understands why you’re attracted to creatures like Spike and Angel. You’re more than human, and your life won’t exactly ever be white picket fences and bake sales. At the same time, I can’t condone. . .you have to be caref. . . ” At my inhalation of breath, he lifts a finger to stop himself or me, I’m not sure which, and changes tack. “I understand it more than you realize.” He smiles at me then. “Let’s just leave it at that.”

Although I want to ask more questions, I’m not sure he wants to tell me the answers. Somehow, I’m okay with that. Perhaps I’ve had enough revelations for one awakening. . . or maybe a year or two.

So I simply say, “I love you, too, Giles.”

“You need your rest, Buffy.” He rises from the chair. “I’m going to fix you some soup.”

At that, my stomach betrays me again and loudly agrees with this plan.

Bending, Giles kisses my temple and exits the room.

* * *

My room is filled with the shadows of night when I wake a second time, several hours after my talk with Giles. Dawn is gone. Soft lamplight fans in an arc from the lamp on my dresser, and someone new is sitting in the same chair that was earlier filled with my Watcher.

I’m quiet for a moment, studying the chair’s occupant. He’s leaning on my dresser, his platinum blonde hair almost glowing in the radiance and his eyes focused on a tattered paperback that he holds open with a thumb and finger. A small furrow creases his brow, and I wonder at how he so rarely shows this side of himself. . . the quiet, reflective side. I guess I’m always too caught up in whatever dilemma that I’m facing that I miss it. Maybe I’ve been too afraid to see it.

Spike is so absorbed that I almost hate to break the spell, but I find myself really wanting him to look at me. . . to reassure me that he’s still with me whatever that means.

I manage a soft, “Hey.”

With an inhalation of surprise, his worried eyes fly to my face. “You’re awake, love.”

“Yeah.” I stretch, scanning my body for pain. Much less. Score one for the Slayer rapid healing abilities.

“How’re you feeling?”

“Feeling much better. Guess I needed a long sleep.” I regret my choice of words as soon as I say them and catch the fleeting sadness in his eyes that he quickly banishes. Pushing myself into a sitting position, I apologize, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“Reading a good book?” I nod at the object that is still propped open against his palm. “It’s a good look. Kinda sexy. You should do it more often.”

If vampires could blush, he would have. He closes the volume, not bothering to mark his place. “Truth be told, pet, I haven’t been able to focus with you laid up. I probably read the same page about a hundred times now waiting for you to wake up.”

“You’ve been waiting?” He wasn’t here earlier, but I’m not sure where I thought he had been.

“Where else would I be?” His gaze is warm on me.

“I dunno. I guess, well, now that things are done with everything, I thought maybe now that things are done with the whole social worker-Slayer line resetting saga and Giles being here and everyone else. . . .” I can’t look him in the eye. Where is this insecurity coming from?

In a fluid motion, he moves to sit next to me on the bed. With his forefinger, he lifts my chin, forcing me to dive into his sapphire eyes. “You think that after what I overheard you say to Angel that I would let your Watcher get in the way of me being here? Rupert doesn’t scare me, but he headed over to check on Red. Your friends don’t scare me, but Harris and Anya are home, most likely arguing over party favors for the wedding. The only things that frighten the hell out of me are you not waking up and you not meaning what you said.”

I bite my lip. Did I mean it? I search my hodgepodge of complicated feelings and realize that somehow, I’m not sure how or when, Spike has moved into my heart. Somehow, I’ve gone from seeing him as a soulless monster to seeing him as a person who is loyal to a fault, brave, protective, persistent, intelligent, and utterly stubborn. I reach up to squeeze his hand. “I meant it.”

His relief is tangible. “Good.”

We’re still holding hands when Dawn bounces into the doorway, her long ponytail wildly swinging. “Hey! You’re up!”

I smile at the buoyancy in tone. “Yep. Almost ready to run a marathon, too.”

“Haha.”

“How’s your arm?” I nod at her cast.

She shrugs. “Better. But bathing with a cast. . . seriously getting old.”

“I can imagine.”

Her smile fades into a scowl, and she crosses her arms, legs in a wide stance. “Now that Buffy’s awake, and Spike is here, too, I have something to say.”

“Got our full attention, lil Bit.”

“I’m mad at both of you.” She rolls her eyes up to the ceiling in thought. “No, strike that. I’m royally pissed off at both of you.”

“Royally, huh?” Spike is amused.

Dawn glares at him. “We hung out together all summer, and you took care of me while Buffy was gone. You protected me when things got bad. You cooked for me and watched TV with me a-and brushed my hair. Then, Buffy comes back, and you stop talking to me?! How do you think that made me feel?”

“I know, pet, but when big sis came back, the rest of the Scoobs weren’t exactly welcoming anymore,” Spike says with genuine guilt.

“That’s not an excuse! It’s not like they liked you all summer. You stuck around then. You told me you promised Buffy you’d protect me and that didn’t mean you should go away if Buffy is around. And don’t say you left to give Buffy space because that’s not an excuse either.”

Spike submits, “You’re right. I shouldn’t have pulled a disappearing act like that. I was shortsighted. Won’t happen again.” He says the words so solemnly that I’m sure that he means every one.

No wonder Dawn was so eager to have Spike back in the house. I witnessed how he was with her over the couple of days when they convinced me of this setting-up-house scheme, but I guess I didn’t realize exactly what he means to my sister.

Dawn turns her laser eyes on me next. “And you! You didn’t tell me you were going to some alternate dimension to re-do some Slayer line thing. You could have died!” Her eyes go soft with unshed tears. “I could have lost you again.”

I reach out for her, but she retreats. “I’m not finished!” She draws a deep breath, blinks back the tears, and reasserts her stern face. “And how could you not tell me that you’re dating Spike?!”

Though I’m tempted, I decide now is not the time to bring up the stealing. “Well, most people wouldn’t exactly have approved.”

“I wouldn’t care. I *just* got done telling you how much Spike means to me, too! And the soul thing. . . that’s just. . . well. . .” I feel Spike stiffen beside me in what’s becoming a familiar way, and Dawn’s eyes skip to his. She puts the brakes on. . . something. “Let’s just say that Spike cares about both of us. He wouldn’t intentionally hurt us. And he’s. . . different than Angel.”

Spike practically beams at my sister. “Glad *someone* around here noticed.”

I try hard to sound sisterly. . . Giles would be proud. “Dawnie, I’m sorry I didn’t call you about the Slayer thing. I love you and promise to work on being more open and honest with you. . . if you work on the same in return.”

She knows what I’m talking about, and part of her blaze is doused. Her arms drop to her sides. “Okay.”

“I need to talk with Spike. . . alone. We were sort of in the middle of something.”

She looks from one of us to the other. “Right. Want me to make you some blood and tea?”

I wrinkle my nose. “Eww is all I have to say to that.”

“Blood sounds fine, Bit.”

“Right. Blood for Spike. Tea for Buffy. Coming right up!” She dashes off. Her voice comes tiny from the staircase as she bounds down. “And I’m still pissed!”

Spike’s grin betrays his feelings for my little sister, and I’m so grateful for his caring toward her. “She always fix your blood for you?”

“When I let her. Did she tell you about the time I told her I like the blood spicy with the burba weed and all and she somehow found and mixed in some of that ghost pepper?”

My eyes grow round. “What did you do?”

“Spent the evening rinsing my mouth with milk and eating Weetabix to tame the inferno.”

I giggle. “Bet you never asked for spicy again.”

He chuckles and shakes his head. “Nope. Or I fixed it myself.”

Spike is excellent with the distraction, but I’m not letting him get away with it this time. My feelings really have changed though because I decide to ease him in rather than pounding him over the head with demanding questions.

Curling on my side with one hand propping up my head, I ask, “So how did we get back here? I’m assuming everyone came here after.”

“Yeah. How’d we get back? You were both out and bloodied up. I carried you despite Harris’s protests, and he carried Faith.”

“Bet Anya gave him an earful when she heard that.”

His grin is way too enthusiastic as he nods. “More than.”

“How did I get clean?”

“Bathtub.”

“How?”

He sighs. “Don’t worry. I didn’t do anything untoward to your unconscious body. Nibblet supervised. None of the rest gave me too much flack though I wouldn’t have cared if they had.”

“And who bathed and stitched up Faith?”

He rolls a finger around my pinky. “Don’t know. Wasn’t focused on her, love. Just you.” His voice is quiet and deep.

I’m not quite ready to go there yet. “The Slayer line is with Faith.”

“I heard.” He waits, listening.

“I’m actually okay with that. And I’m glad I’m still a Slayer.”

“Are you? Didn’t have some fantasy about being a normal girl?”

I shake my head. “I’m coming to realize that no one has a normal life. Mine just happens to be a little more abnormal than most.” Spike lets me continue, “The First Slayer was there. . . well, not really there but in my head and in Faith’s. She said that we were in the space between or something like that. She said Faith and I had cracks. . . like sidewalks or something and that was causing problems but not problems with the Slayer line exactly. With the fighting, it’s a little blurry. I think I figured it out though.” I push my hand further into Spike’s. He responds by lacing his fingers with mine. “The First Slayer did something to us. She made us channel our anger at one another. . . so much so that I lost my ability to think. It was really. . . primal. And Faith and I. . . we got lost in it. . . . I wanted to destroy her, and she wanted to destroy me. But I don’t think that’s what it was about.”

“What do you think it was about, pet?”

“I think it was about me getting in touch with the anger I have now. I think I have so much anger in me that I’ve. . . that I’ve been stuffing inside and trying to ignore. Put on a happy face and keep going, you know?”

“Makes a lot of sense to me. Seen you doing it.”

“All that anger has to go somewhere, right? I think mine’s been coming out all sideways.” Like toward you because you’ve been an easy punching bag. I study his fingers woven with mine. “And that hasn’t been right. Not when you’ve been there for me.”

Spike remains uncharacteristically silent, waiting for me. . . not wanting to mark the apology or maybe afraid to.

“And I think I need to be in touch with the anger. Remember Kendra?” I know he does because he referenced her in L.A.

“Well, it’s not every night a guy faces two Slayers and ends up in a wheelchair.”

Not exactly what I was going for. I decide not to take the bait. . . or bring up that Dru killed Kendra. “Well, I had a talk with her about emotions. . . about anger. She was insistent that a Slayer does best when she clears her mind or is all Zen or something like that. Well, I told her that what helps me is being in touch with my emotions. . . that my anger gives me the fire and spontaneity to win the fight. And later, she told me something that I forgot about until recently. I think I was going on about wanting a normal life and about how being a Slayer is a job, and she said that I shouldn’t say that because being a Slayer is who I am. And you know what? She’s right.”

His eyes are deep and penetrating when I look up, and I know he gets it. . . know he gets me. Then, he does that little movement with his jaw that has the power to make me melt or drive me crazy. “I happen to like the fire in you. . . in more ways than one.”

I lightly punch his arm. Maybe we’re a little too much alike. “Hold on. I’m going somewhere with this. Anyway, I think the First Slayer meant that I need to get back in touch with that. . . channel it differently so that my fighting will get back on track. I need to figure out how to let my friends know that I’m angry with them. . . even if that means them hurting for a little while. . . so I can find my equilibrium again. Mend my cracks.”

“And Faith?”

I give him a look. “I have *no* idea why Faith’s so pissed off.” I cock my head. “Well, maybe I do.”

Spike chuckles.

“Okay. Your turn.”

He drops my hand and puts his hands on his thighs for a moment, deep in thought. I watch as he stands, paces across my small bedroom floor a couple of times before stopping again. Normally, I might snap at him or throw a figurative or literal punch, but I wait out his small nervous burst of energy.

He closes his eyes and somehow seems so vulnerable that I want to hug him.

Eyelids still unopened, he takes a deep breath and starts, “So you know how Anya caught us in the Magic Box?”

“Uh huh?”

“And she had that book in her hand. And then, there’s the whole thing with Fred and Anya in L.A. and then, back again at the Magic Box.”

“And just now with Dawn?”

“You got that, huh?”

“Spike, just tell me!”

He still won’t even glance at me. “So the project they were working on was for me.”

I blink. “What project?”

“Not magic because. . . well, because after what happened to you.” He shakes his head, studying his feet. “Using magic that way, there’s always consequences. . . and usually not very pleasant ones.”

I can’t stand this. . . can’t see him looking like he’s afraid I’m going to crush him like I have so many times before. Ignoring the remaining aches and tears in my body, I push aside the bed covers and move to wrap my arms around his midsection. “I’m not going anywhere.” He trembles in my arms but then stops. “Tell me about your project.” I rest my chin on his chest and force reluctant eye contact. “I want to know.”

“I wasn’t going to tell you. . . not unless it got properly sorted. . . unless there was a good way to go about it. I wanted to do it right and proper. . . not the way Angel came about it ‘cause well, that wouldn’t be very practical.”

I lose my patience when he mentions Angel, especially after I’d been so careful not to mention Dru, and I release him but catch my temper before moving too quickly away. I don’t want to leave him feeling alone. “Spike, what are you talking about? Just spit it out. . . in English! Please?”

“I want you to know that I started researching this partly for you but also partly for myself. . .” His laugh is short and low before he corrects himself, “Who am I kidding? It started out mostly for you, but the more I looked into it, I realized that maybe part of me wants it for me, too.” Blue meets green then, and my heart starts beating faster. “I like who I am when I see myself in your eyes. . . in Dawn’s eyes.”

“You want what? And how does this relate to Angel?” The answer is blooming in my mind, but I want him to spell it out for me.

He says the next words so softly that I barely hear them, “I wanted to find a way to get my soul back.”

After Dawn’s slip and Spike’s rambling speech, I kind of knew what he was going to say, but the realization hits me in the gut as my emotions swirl all over the place. “Wow. . . that’s just. . . wow.”

He’s so sensitive to my reactions that hurt passes across his features. I stroke his arm to reassure him. “I have so many questions. First of all, when did you decide this? Did they find a non-magical way. . . you and Anya and Fred? And not in the whole moment-of-happiness-soul-goes-poof way?”

He nods his head, still uncertain. “I started thinking about it after you got back. Started thinking that maybe William might not be a bad bloke to have around.”

Spike speaks about his soul in the third person, and my mind immediately goes to my Angel-Angelus mantra. Angelus is not Angel. Angel is not Angelus. This doesn’t seem to hold much water anymore as I remember what Spike told me about William. . . what a good person he was before he was turned. . . unlike Liam who was full of himself. . . kind of like Angelus. And maybe just maybe William has more of an influence on Spike than he realizes. I see it in how he treated Dru. . . how he treats Dawn and me. It’s striking me that Spike is an anomaly among vampires. . . even more so than Angel.

These thoughts flash through my mind in an instant, and I find myself even more present with Spike than ever before as he continues, “I started researching on my own and then asked for help. It took a while, but yeah, we found a way. A demon in South Africa.”

“How does that not involve magic?”

“Well, I’d have to go there and. . . earn it. In trials.”

“Sounds dangerous.” I want to offer to go with him, but something stops me. Maybe it’s how serious he’s being about the whole thing. Maybe it’s because he is not just doing it for Dawn and me but for himself, too.

He rubs the back of his head. “It is. . . well, at least we think it will be. There’s not a lot of information out there about the what and how of it. ”

Worry and fear rush through me but not for the reason I expected, not because I’ve been relying on him. I’m afraid for him, but my words don’t convey it. “When will you go? Wait, were you going to go and not tell me?”

He hesitates.

“You were!” I playfully whack him a second time. “You better be glad you didn’t.”

His eyes glint at me, and he arches one eyebrow. “Oh yeah?”

I can’t help myself then, and my lips find his. He lets me guide the kiss at first, and I try to convey my growing feelings for him. . . the change in my perceptions of who he is. . . as a man. He deepens the kiss then for a brief moment, and desire sweeps through my core. He breaks the contact first, our lips hovering so close that our energies almost hum. I want more than anything to feel his weight against mine. . . to pull him onto the bed and make love to him for the first time.

Spike’s tone tells me that he senses the change in me and almost can’t believe what he feels from me, “Buffy, I. . .”

A cheerful voice sings out, “Sorry to interrupt the smooch-a-thon, but I come bearing beverages!”

My sister leans with her head and body against the door frame, a smile of contentment on her face as she watches us. Don’t quite know when she got so stealthy. . . must have picked up something from being around the slayage. Not sure if that’s good or not. She balances a tray laden with mugs and a pile of cookies atop her now sling-free cast, and I smell a melding of the scents of chamomile tea and blood.

Spike smiles at my sister and takes the tray from her. “Thanks, Bit.”

“Welcome.” She reinserts her arm in her sling.

Spike carries the tray to the bed as Dawn smoothes out the sheets and plops down. She joins him, pulling both legs up under her until she sits cross-legged. She hands him a napkin, and he grabs a cookie, dunking it in his cup. As she pushes her teabag under the hot liquid in her mug, she smiles at him. He grins back. I marvel again at the ease between them.

My sister looks up at me. “Don’t just stand there.” She pats the comforter.

My legs find their ability to move, and I find myself joining their little picnic, picking up my mug and swirling the tea bag in the hot water. My knee brushes Spike’s thigh, and he holds his cookie in his mouth long enough to gently squeeze my leg. Dawn passes me a cookie, and I take the proffered pastry. I admire the chocolate chip-dough ratio and the crispy edges. . . just the way Dawn and I like them.

They taste just as good as they look, too. “So who made the cookies?” I say around a mouthful of deliciousness.

Dawn looks pleased. “Spike did.” She takes a giant bite, and a little melted chocolate sticks to her upper lip. She licks it off and adds, “While you were sleeping.”

“Really?”

Spike smirks and takes a sip of blood. “Yeah, well.”

Holding her mug on her knee, Dawn is eager to share, “He made cookies a lot, actually. . . when everyone else was out patrolling or doing other grown up research-y stuff that I wasn’t invited to. He followed Mom’s old recipe. . . you know the one with the secret ingredient that she thought we never figured out?”

“Mom’s recipe?” I knew they tasted familiar.

My sister nods. “We made them together. . . mostly when I was feeling down about. . . you and Mom. There were a lot of middle of the night bake offs.”

I don a look of horror. “On school nights?”

She glances between Spike and me. Spike is nonplussed, but Dawn hastily amends, “W-well, no, only on weekends and holidays.”

I smile gently at her and sweep a loose hair behind her ear. “Don’t look so serious. I’m kidding. I’m glad that you had each other.”

She returns the smile. “I’m glad we all have each other.”

We sip and eat and relax in silence for a few minutes.

“Erm, whatever happened to the cameras?” I turn my head behind me, straining to see the corner where I remember the camera being mounted.

“All gone,” Dawn assures me. “Thank goodness. And guess what Giles discovered when he went through the house?”

“What?”

Spike speaks up, “Seems there was an extra camera that wasn’t really part of the Watchers’ setup.”

“Yeah,” my sister says, “It was in the garden gnome in the front yard. And there was another one in the Magic Box.”

My forehead wrinkles in my confusion. “Garden gnome? We don’t have a garden gnome.”

Spike sighs. “Apparently, you do. Well, you did. Short version. Giles and Glinda tracked down the owners of said cameras. Warren was spying on you. He’s now in lockup for theft and aggravated assault. Remember the frozen bloke from the museum?”

I nod.

“Warren was responsible. His little cronies confessed to everything in exchange for probation. You don’t have to be worried about them messing with you anytime soon.”

“Thank God.”

Then, Dawn changes the subject, “Did Spike tell you about the soul thing yet?”

“What? Yes!” I narrow my eyes at the vampire on my right. “Did everyone know about this before me?”

Spike scrutinizes the ceiling for a moment. “Let’s see.” He ticks off his fingers as he lists names, “Anya, Fred, Dawn, and Giles. Nope, not everyone.”

My mouth gapes. “Giles knew?!”

The corner of Spike’s mouth quirks up at my surprise. “Well, yeah, but only recently.”

My fingers fiddle with my big toe. “No wonder he didn’t. . . he was so. . .easy on me about you living here when I saw him earlier.”

Spike shrugs. “Might be why. Don’t know. Don’t care. I’ll take it.”

Dawn ducks her head. “I just hope you’re careful. How long will you be gone?”

Spike softens at her worry. “Don’t know, love. But I promise to come back, and you know I keep my promises.”

“You promise?” She sounds a little reassured but also uncertain.

He briefly squeezes her shoulder. “I promise.”

I know she’s afraid to lose someone else she cares about.

So am I.

She traces a thumb over the handle of her mug. “Are you scared?”

“Yeah. But I think that’s a good thing because it means I’ll be on my toes no matter what they throw at me.” He’s always honest with my sister. . . ever since the night they discovered she was the Key together. “And I’m more than a little scared about what the soul’s gonna do to me. Done a lot of bad things, pet, and it might eat me up for a while. But I also promise it won’t take me forever to work through it. . . not when I know that you’re waiting for me.”

The words tumble out of my mouth before I can think, but I know without a doubt that I mean them.

“Come home. We’ll take care of you.”

His eyes are full of wonder as he smiles at me, and I can’t believe how happy I feel for the first time in a long time.

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Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/528528.html

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