Dawn twirled, staring into the three-sided mirror she was examining herself in. “Well?”
Spike sank further into the comfortable chair they’d obviously placed for moments exactly like this. Moments of heartbreak and terror and hands covering eyes in a futile attempt to ward off the inevitable.
“I don’t know, sweetie,” Tara said from her chair next to Spike. “I think I liked the pink one better. Orange is a little harsh for you.”
Orange? She was wearing orange? Except wait, wasn’t the pink one the dress that fit her like second skin, belying the supposed modesty of a dress that started at her collarbone and ended at her ankles? The one that had Spike thinking things he bloody well better not, not towards Dawn. The thought alone curled his stomach. Finally opening his eyes, Spike took in the orange and black sequined monstrosity that started just above Dawn’s tits and ended up barely an inch past her ass.
“No way in hell,” he snarled. It wasn’t until the cheap wood cracked under his hand that he realized he was gripping the edges of the chair so hard he was about to break it. Two giggles made him clutch all the harder. “You are not wearing that out of the sodding house, you hear me?”
Dawn pouted at him, her giggles barely hidden underneath. “Come on, Spike, don’t you want me to look good for my date?” Her eyes glowed every time she mentioned the junior wanker who’d asked her to the prom. If Spike’d had his way, Dawn would spend that night at home, under lock, key, whatever spells he could wrangle out of the witches, and a fiercely protective vampire.
Instead, he’d been told that going to the prom was a right of passage every girl went through, and Dawn was very fortunate that a junior had asked her, since she was just a freshman and wouldn’t go otherwise. Spike had seethed for a week before Dawn’s quiet sadness had finally made him relent and say, yes, of course she could go.
He just didn’t tell her that he was going, too. Just to make sure.
“What about that black one I picked out?” he suggested—again—desperately. He knew it was a losing battle, but it looked like the kind of thing old ladies wore to funerals, shapeless and bordering on ugly. Of course, on Dawn it still looked good. It didn’t make her look like the piece of jail bait she was, but still good enough that any bloke with eyes would know what the black cloth hid. Dammit. Maybe he should’ve gone for that tan thing that looked like a burka? She looked awful in tan.
“Spike,” Tara said, her voice gently reprimanding, “she doesn’t need a worried papa.”
Dawn rolled her eyes, losing her giggles into a sigh of remembered frustration. “No, I really don’t. God, Xander is insane about this. At least you’re okay with letting me go. He’s still demanding that Willow witch me to keep me home.”
A thought, but not a very good one—Red was as charmed as Tara was by the invite, which meant the menfolk had lost before their battles began. “Not this one,” he said, falling back on the stubborn technique he’d seen half a dozen panicked fathers use on their daughters since they started shopping for dresses, several hours ago. “It makes you look like a day-glo candy pop.”
That brought the giggles back, as well as a wrinkled nose at his reference, and Dawn vanished back into the dressing room. He tried not to listen as she slithered out of the spandex dress, but it was damned hard to avoid it. Spandex clung to skin in almost audible ways—not as good as silk, but still providing an aural map of Dawn’s—
“Are we almost done?” Desperate and growing frantic, Spike released the cracked chair to hold Tara’s hand in both of his. “Please? I promise you anything you want, cash, gems, a threesome with you and Red, anything. Can’t take much more of this, can I? She’s Dawn.”
Tara’s laughter was more mellow than Dawn’s, a bit of breathiness mixed into richness like a warm, gentle wind on a clear summer day. She smiled at him, shaking her head so her hair swung back and forth. “She’s almost done, Spike. Just two more to go. You’ve been doing great, she’s really glad you’re here.”
Spike was not going to whimper. “She makes Angelus look like a bloody amateur at torturing a bloke!”
More laughter and Tara squeezed his hands before sliding hers free. “She’s glad. You’re the most important person to her, Spike. Of course she wants you here.”
Spike blinked. So this wasn’t a more modern form of how women tortured men since the beginning of time? Which he knew, when he wasn’t being overprotective. Dawn wouldn’t have asked him otherwise, just like she’d flatly forbidden Xander from coming when he asked. But he’d just thought she wanted a male opinion, not that. . .
Dawn slipped back out in a grey and light blue dress that reminded Spike of Cinderella’s gown in the Disney flick Dawn’d made him watch a few weeks before. It made her look like a princess, just like the blonde chit in the movie, as if every step she took landed on a cloud instead of the cold, hard ground. It made her, oddly enough, look like Drusilla. As if she wasn’t quite of this world, ghostly and pale.
“There are gloves,” Dawn said uncertainly. “I thought they were kind of much, you know? But, I can go wear them, if you want. . .”
Spike rose, holding out a hand to her. She took it and let herself be twirled around in a small circle, suddenly graceful, when before she’d been gawky and adolescent. She was stunningly beautiful. She’d match the tux he’d already nicked perfectly, an ethereal goddess on his arm, when he rescued her from her date’s inevitable misbehavior.
“Get the pink one, love,” he said quietly. “It’s more you.”
“But I’ve got one more—”
“Nah, the pink one.” The one that made her look elegant and beautiful, without turning her into a vision of adulthood Spike, and maybe even Dawn, wasn’t ready to face yet. “Go get your kit on, ’bit. We’ve still gotta get shoes and purses and all that stuff, right? Hurry up.”
He felt Tara’s gaze on him as Dawn disappeared behind the curtain, the warm smile and knowing gaze. “You make a good father, Spike.”
Spike shrugged and made sure his voice was low enough that only Tara would hear. “It’s all about planning, Monroe. In that pink frock, she’s easily noticeable. That grey thing would have her vanish in the crowds, makes tailing her damn hard to do.”
Dawn was trying on her first pair of shoes before Tara finally stopped laughing.
* * * * *
He was on time. Dressed smartly in a rented but still decently fitting tux, his hair slicked back above an anxious, nervous expression, a corsage and flowers waiting for Dawn. He put up with Xander’s grilling. He put up with Spike’s questions, nervous and worried and almost scared as his intentions were thoroughly vetted. His eyes sparkled as he took in the vision standing on the stairs. The whole thing was so painfully polite and just awkward enough that the witches were instantly charmed and even Xander seemed to melt a bit. Well, that could’ve been from Dawn’s joy, surrounding her like the shawl she wrapped around her shoulders, brilliant and blinding and beautiful.
Spike wasn’t fooled. Spike knew exactly what that wanker was thinking of, and wanking better be all he bloody well did!
“Come on, Spike. Even I know when to admit defeat,” Xander said for the twentieth time in the hour after Dawn’s date whisked her off, limo driven by the lad’s parents for the final Too Perfect To Be True touch. “He’s just a normal kid who wants to impress his date. And survive without getting eviscerated. By us,” he added when Spike started looking panicked—they’d already laid a boat load of protections around the school, courtesy of the Wiccas, and Spike had made it very well known that if anyone went near the school that night, he’d take it personally. Very personally.
Comfortably ensconced in blanket and girlfriend, Willow nodded in that condescending, mothering way that made Spike want to goose her. “He kinda reminded me of you, Xander.”
“Hey! I was much more cool than he was, when I went on my prom date.”
“That’s because you were with Anya,” she retorted. After so long, the only reaction to her name was a bit of shadowing around Xander’s eyes. “She didn’t have parents to defend her virtue.”
“True enough. She also didn’t need them, what with the fascinating run down of Anya’s Greatest Curses, complete with eviscerations, beheadings, putrid diseases, and the always entertaining, genital mutilation.” Bowing to the girl’s applause, he turned a look back on Spike. “None of which is going to happen to Dawn. Come on, Spike, you know we have to let her do this.”
Showing his teeth, Spike didn’t respond. Let them think he was whipped to their normalcy and letting Dawn find her footing again. Months after and she was still fragile about normal things! How exactly was going to the prom, as a freshman no less, going to help her find some peace? Hell, going to the prom was the most dangerous thing she could do!
“Spike, why don’t you and I go upstairs,” Tara said diplomatically.
Willow sat up, immediately adopting Bambi eyes. “You want to be with Spike more than your girlfriend?”
The teasing was gentle, and obviously not meant as a dig to Spike, who’d gotten a lot better at reading such teasing as teasing. Tara didn’t even spare him a glance, kissing Willow on the mouth before getting to her feet. “Of course I don’t, sweetie. But remember I made that lavender sachet? I thought maybe that’d help Spike calm down. Watching his girl grow up can’t be easy.”
Two identical ‘hey!’s’ of indignation disputed the ‘his’ in that statement, but otherwise they let Tara and Spike escape upstairs without anymore fuss. Damned good thing, too; Spike wasn’t able to take a lot more. She was out there dancing! Waving her ass around, shoving those tits of hers right up into the way too perfect jackass that’d asked her—
“Do vampires get TMJ?”
When Spike blinked, surprised out of his furious thoughts, Tara smiled that lovely, motherly smile that made Spike wonder if she’d ever take him up on his threesome suggestion. He knew Red would be a firecracker, but it was Tara who had the sweetness that fascinated him—he bet she’d put Red to shame, there.
“You’re thinking bad thoughts again, Spike. I’m not going to help you if you do that.”
Following her into the room she and Willow shared, no longer Joyce’s room after a redecorating spree and the orange ginger scents they preferred covered the remaining hint of White Diamond, Spike quietly snarled but said nothing. He needed her help, too. With no minions or Dru to ensure he looked okay, he was going to smear eyeliner all over his face after giving it up for so long.
She gathered her supplies from the bathroom while Spike slipped into the tux he’d nicked—and payed for fitting!—for just this occasion. Sitting on the bed while Tara lined his eyes and fussed with his hair, he said, “Why are you doing this, anyway?”
“You said you’d let me style your hair, if you gave permission, remember?” Her voice said that he was not in anyway backing out of that part of the agreement. Why did all birds get a kick of seeing his hair with the buggering curls ungelled? “And then you asked for help with your makeup.”
Taking her hands into his was a posture he’d adopted sometime over the last few months. He didn’t know when or how it really started up, just that serious conversation always took place with Tara’s hands firmly captured between his, their gentle warmth the ground he needed for the words. Looking up to the true stability Dawn had in her life, he asked, “No, Goddess. Why’re you letting me crash her party?”
Leaning forward, she kissed him on the forehead. The scent of ginger overwhelmed him, spicy and rich and so utterly Tara that he couldn’t smell it without being reminded of her. “Because, Papa.”
Seconds ticked by while Tara twisted his head this way and that, checking him over. “Because what? And you don’t get to call me Daddy. Less you’re doing it in a sexy way, in which case, call up Red.”
Leering was second nature, though Tara’s leer was always watered down with a caring he still marveled at. She ignored it—the leer, not the caring—the way she always did, laughing and thumbing something off his cheek. “That’s all the answer you’re gonna get. Now go. Take the long way. By the time you get there, the prom will be halfway over and you can sneak in without tipping her off.”
Standing up, Spike smoothed down the lapels of his jacket. He always felt ridiculous in this kind of monkey suit, but he knew he could pull it off. The look in Tara’s eyes certainly said so, and for Dawn. . . well, for Dawn he’d do just about anything. Even wear a tux.
“Distract ’em for me, won’t you, Monroe?”
“I’m not flipping up my skirts!”
But distract them she did, allowing Spike to slip out the back before anyone realized he was leaving. Constantly checking the watch he’d ‘borrowed’ from Xander, Spike arrived at the high school as nervous as a human berk late for his date, and with enough of a time-cushion that his entrance should go unnoticed. Flashing the ticket he’d nicked, Spike slipped into a world of teenaged hormones, the most awful candy-pop music known to man, boys dressed up in varying degrees of nancification, and girls. A sea of girls, all as different in color and style as the dresses they wore. Once upon a time, this would’ve been the tastiest feast he’d seen in an age, and with the way several girls started pestering him for dances within moments of his arrival, an easy one, too.
Now he only had eyes for one girl.
Sipping punch he spiked with the flask he brought specifically for this, Spike found a quiet niche and settled back to watch. Was there some kind of rule that said proms must come with paper maché monstrosities? This one was unidentifiable, but the streamers and the giant sign told Spike the theme itself was Spring. Apt for Dawn, really. She was in the middle of the floor, arms on her date’s shoulders, his hands on her waist—not hips—with a respectable distance between them.
What, did she know he was watching?
Hopefully not, especially since he really didn’t want her seeing the expression he knew he was wearing, watching her dance. She’d grown up in the last year, more so than a normal fifteen year old should. Forget about all the problems a parentless child raised by guardians who didn’t have half an idea of what to do had to deal with—Dawn still had otherworldly problems making her already troubled life horrific.
She looked like a flower out there, the soft pink of her dress like the barest blush of dawn, petals only just unfurling from the bud, reaching up for light and warmth and all the brightness the day had to offer. With her face tipped up to smile at her date, glitter on her skin making her sparkle under the lights, she looked radiant. Lovely the way her sister never had, because Spike had never seen her free of her burdens and able to just be.
He’d thought it would be boring, watching Dawn and fending off girls—and the occasional teacher—wanting a go on the dance floor. It wasn’t. Dawn’s vibrant energy filled him as he watched her, enthralled as she danced and laughed, chatted and ate the silly appetizers her date brought over with unspiked punch. Other couples came up to speak to them, and at one point, Dawn split off with her date to dance with another boy, while his date cornered Dawn’s.
Strange how tremendously crappy rap could start sounding like warning bells.
He recognized the little Latina girl’s expression, a mix of contrition and determination Spike knew he’d worn before, and the reasons for it. The easy way Dawn’s date slid his arms around her only confirmed it. Buggering hell. He’d asked Dawn out to make his ex jealous! That slimy, two-bit, absolutely foul excuse for decent men everywhere, hurting Spike’s little bit like that! He was gonna—
—almost break his own neck, whipping it around from the offending boy to find Dawn standing next to him, watching him with a tiny smile she had to have taken lessons from Tara to get down so very pat. “Hey. Um. You, er, weren’t supposed to—”
“Relax, Spike. I saw you when you first came in. Since you weren’t making a fuss, I figured it was okay to let you stew for a while.”
She didn’t sound very upset. Approaching her the way one would a nervous beast, Spike held out a hand. “You saw me?”
She grinned, rolling her eyes at the same time. “You have bleached blond hair, Spike. It’s hard to miss. Plus, Mrs. Whitt was totally trying to mack on you.”
Spike opened his mouth to defend himself, then hesitated. “Er, Dawn? You all right? I mean, since you should be here with your date, not me, and if you want him killed I’ve got the most perfect method of slow torture you wouldn’t believe. Shake him right out of that fixation with—”
“With Jane?” Threading her arm through his, Dawn rested her head against Spike’s shoulder and sighed. A blissful sigh, the kind girls made when something soppy and romantic happened. “Relax, Spike. I knew Charlie had just broken up with her and there was a chance they would get back together. I wasn’t, like, hot for him or anything. I’m actually kinda glad she’s with him, again—he really loves her. I just. . . wanted to see what it was like, you know? The dress and the date and the dancing. Getting picked up at the front door and escorted into the night.”
Spike sorted through that. “So no death?”
Laughing, Dawn smacked his shoulder before replacing her head in the same spot. “Dork. No, no death. Charlie was really nice. He didn’t talk about her once, and I think I liked not having to worry about him macking on me. And don’t start,” she said firmly, stopping him mid-opened-mouth. “Nothing happened. It was perfectly innocent.”
The kiss Charlie and Jane shared on the dance floor was anything but innocent, and Spike was stuck feeling something he didn’t know how to explain to himself. The relief that his girl was safe with him again was one thing. The disappointment that Dawn hadn’t had a date that wanted her, however, was another. Or the weird feeling that he was somehow responsible, that he should do something. . . that he didn’t understand. Not really. But when she sighed, not quite as soppily as before, his arm slid free of hers and he was tugging her before him.
Bowing at the waist slightly, he offered her his hand. “Care to dance?”
The light in her eyes blinded him. “Just as friends? I mean,” she immediately babbled, “you know you’re hot, and it’d be really cool for everyone to see me dancing with this really hot older guy since they don’t know you’re Spike, but you are Spike, and I love you and it’s not fair that you’re so hot and that all I really want is—”
Hand over her mouth to stop the babble that would’ve done Willow proud, Spike smiled down at her. Suddenly he understood exactly why Tara had let him do this. “Dawn. Dance with me?”
Smiling shyly against his palm, she nodded. On the dance floor, she slid into his arms the way she never had with Charlie, resting her head against his shoulder with a sigh of happiness. “Thank you,” she murmured, body swaying to a surprisingly danceable song, young idiots all around them casting odd glances.
Spike ignored everything but the way her body fit against his, warm as the sunshine on the summer days he could only barely remember, crackling with life and a contentment he rarely saw in her. “Thanks for being scary stalker guy?”
She didn’t even giggle, just snuggled even closer. “Thanks for being my Spike.”
It took everything he had not to tear up on the dance floor. Just barely managing, Spike kissed her temple because he knew that he’d never allow himself to go any further than that. No matter how she might ask—not that she would. The shadows of other couples swirled around them, none coming close enough to remind them of anything but each other. “Love you, too, Dawn. I love you, too.”