“You’ve got such delicate hands.”
Spike flashed an affronted look before returning to his work. If he buggered this up because she kept making those damned inane comments, he was gonna be pissed. Mostly because she was never going to forgive him. Bint.
“You know I can tell when you think about me, right? You get this weird crease-thingie in your forehead.”
“I do not have creases!” He glared at her even longer, conscious of his forehead wrinkling into—oh, blast, creases. Furrows in his skin, tight and bumpy without the good tingling he gets when it’s game-face bumpiness. This wasn’t supposed to happen to him, dammit. Not the growing up and old part, and definitely not the teenaged girl part.
“Oh, please, how old were you when you were turned? Like thirty?”
Aghast, he stared at her. He did not look thirty! “I was twenty three!” he spluttered, accidentally streaking a line of polish down her pinky finger.
She giggled, rubbing the line of Sea Foam—which happened to be greenish in color, unlike any foam he’d seen on any sea—into her skin. “Twenty three, huh? Cool. Xander thought you were at least twenty eight.”
He should be angry, of course. He’d just been insulted by the one bloke who had nothing on him to insult, no matter how hard the idiotic wanker kept on trying. But Dawn was smiling up at him mischievously, perfectly serene in the face of his anger. Pretty much sucked the wind out of his sails, that look, and the big blue eyes that never had anything but trust for him.
Rolling his eyes to hide the reaction he always had, he switched hands. “You are a very rude little girl to say such things. And since you obviously wanted to know—I’d turned twenty three not three weeks before. Was even wearing the new coat Mother got me.”
His old accent, his old life, had been such a weight to him before, tugging on his neck and shoulders with cloying fingers of poetry and proprietary and the damnable accent he could never really rid himself of, no matter how deeply he’d immersed himself in the gutter. But this one girl, not at all tiny or even that young, never cared. She was his shield between the rest of the world and his own visions of what it should be like, brazenly uncaring of anything except what she wanted. She even made him like this oldest part of him—a little—since his old accent always made her face go back to when she was young and little and he wanted nothing more than to keep her there.
He’d always been fascinated with children. Attributed it to the times when Dru wasn’t much more than a child herself when asked, but he’d always known it was earlier than that.
Dawn was practically convulsing with glee, unable to hold her hand steady and gasp for air at the same time. “More,” she begged, eyes shiny-bright with the good kind of tears. “Please? You sound so—”
“Incredibly proper and like I wouldn’t know fun if it popped out in front of me? Probably give my non-existent heart an attack, I’d dare say, if I did ever find it. Perhaps I should speak like this to Giles?”
Her hair was flying about, bright and shiny as it was dragged through the dust of the crypt. She’d rolled right off the edge of the blanket she’d brought, curled up and laughing too hard to answer his question. Her mirth was deeper than Dru’s, lacking all those twisted edges, but just as welcome to his ears. For a little while, she was free of having to grow up so damned fast.
When she finally calmed, spasms of laughter occasionally bubbling through a body gone weak from the effort, he reclaimed her left hand. Adding more Sea Foam, he silently cursed himself for becoming the thing he’d always feared. And liking it.
“I love your voice.” Dawn was still sprawled onto the crypt-floor proper, staring up at the cobwebs on the ceiling. He’d cleaned for her—not a very good job, but he’d gotten rid of the worst of the grime, just in case one of the Scoobies came by to see if she really was safe from all the nasties out there, demons to germs. She’d caught him at it a few days before and after manfully swallowing her laughter, she’d made him leave the cobwebs. She said they were pretty, like the stars she’d stuck up on her ceiling at home. “I don’t care what accent it’s using. And yes, we should let you speak like that to Giles. Probably give him a heart attack.”
Of course it would, and once he’d recovered, he’d have a bloody mountain of questions to ask Spike about his life pre-vamp-bite. Things Spike would gift to Dawn because she was Dawn, but definitely didn’t want ending up in some damned Watcher’s journal. He’d be getting the chip out sometime, and it wouldn’t do for some new Watcher or—or the Watcher’s charge to know his nearest and dearest, would it? Or, hells—Xander. Little snoop read more than he claimed and a book all about Spike acting like a ponce? Shudder.
“Maybe later,” he temporized, knowing she’d forget about it or he could distract her with something else. “Should hear him sometime, ’bit. As crass and crude as lowly old me.”
“Oh, yeah, Giles used to be a bad ass when he was younger. A hell raiser—literally, Will says.” She continued in that vein for some time, prattling on about a youthfully dangerous Giles and his equally destructive and anti-establishment, magically-taught friends. Not exactly what Spike had meant, but Dawn couldn’t understand the dig against Giles’ parentage. Americans had no real concept of class warfare, and how subtle it could often be.
Nails finally done, he blew on them gently, trying hard not to think about butterfly and fluttering dove-wings and what might rhyme with either. Girl made him think about poetry, the way her sister never really had. All that poetry had been dirty enough to appease the image he’d created. But Dawn. . . she went right past the image, lodged deeper inside his chest than he’d thought anyone could ever go.
“Will you come to the dance with me on Friday?”
“Do what now?”
Rolling onto her stomach, uncaring that her new frock was getting covered in grime, apparently, she studied her already dry right hand. “Friday. There’s a dance. At school. Willow says I should go even though I really don’t want to, really.”
Spike leaned back on his hands, trying damned hard to be disgusted or offended or annoyed or anything negative enough to get him out of a bloody high school dance. “Not gettin’ dressed,” he said instead. Too much effort pretending when they both knew he’d agree.
Dawn nodded solemnly, still not looking up. She did want to go, of course, badly; but if it’d been four months earlier, she would’ve had her sister lurking in the shadows while Dawn complained loudly at the over-protectiveness and Joyce would be watching, silently approving of both her girls. But it was now, and she’d chosen him. It shouldn’t have made him feel so proud, but he was learning to just go with things like that.
“Gonna let me bring some tunes?” he asked, tugging on a bit of her hair and twisting it into elf-locks. “Not listening to Christina bloody Aguilera for hours on a Friday night. Should be out, you know. Away from prepubescent little girls and pimply boys who don’t know what to do with ’em.”
“You aren’t going to kill anybody who tries to touch me, are you?” The indignant trepidation was an obvious cover, but when she squinted up at him like that, his first instinct is always to quail in terror and find some way to appease her. He’d call her a bitch for it, but he can’t do that even in his own head. “Because Jeffery is going to be there and if he asks me to dance I will dance with him.”
“An’ how old is this Jeffery?” They’d already had the ‘no one touches you’ talk, and she was still sufficiently subdued from her prior boy-craziness that Spike wasn’t worried about something untoward happening. He was more worried that if it did happen, she’d come to him—something he refused to think about since Willow’d brought it up the week before.
“He’s sixteen. And he’s in summer school ’cause he got sick, like people think happened to me, not because he’s some stupid slacker or anything. He smokes.”
The last was added shyly, lowered lashes attempting to hide the way she studied him. Little girl thought she could play him, could she? Well, she could, and better than most. Because he let her, of course.
“So?” he asked, swinging around so he was on his back beside her. Dirt never gave him pause, although he did cup his hands behind his head. Trying to wash your hair when you lived in a cemetery lacking in indoor plumbing was a bitch. “Nothing wrong with a good pack or so a day.”
“Spike! I thought you told me you’d rip my lungs out and show me the black crap if I even so much as tried to pick one up!”
He smirked at the ceiling. “Said he smoked, didn’t you? Well, there you go. Perfect reason to not dance with him. Smell like a cat-house, too, probably.”
She didn’t know what a cat-house was, but she knew he was teasing her and huffed and puffed and generally acted like a girl who loved every second of attention she was getting. Spoiled little thing, and not just by him, who never knew how to do anything but, for the girls he loved.
“One dance,” he said after they’d argued for a bit. “An’ I’m there the whole time.”
“Of course,” she answered in exasperation. “That’s kinda why I asked you to come, doofus.”
“Doofus, huh? You know where most of your insults come from?”
“I do now since you gave me that long lecture on what, exactly, a ‘geek’ is and why I shouldn’t ever use that word with you. Even though you were.”
He growled at that, low and long, which made her laugh. Couldn’t frighten her at all, anymore, not even when he tried. Well, not like this, when he didn’t really mean it, and pointed didn’t try to remember the few times he’d wanted to frighten her and had succeeded. Effective for parenting, Willow had told him before he’d snarled at her, too, and stomped off. Bloody stupid witch, head stuffed full of the nonsense in Joyce’s parenting books and not an ounce of real life to base it on.
“Will you take me there? The dance?”
“Why, nibblet. Are you asking me out on a date?” He made it light, joking, but he could hear the pitter-pat of her heart speed up while she forced out a chuckle, the hands on her belly tightening before she made them relax.
“No! I—I know it’s just stupid summer school but—no one’s asked me.”
He picked up her hand, testing the slippery-smooth feel of the polish on her nails. Totally dry, now, and cool as silk. “Can’t have that at all, can we? I’ll show those boys how a lady like you should be treated.” A trace of the old accent, the old chivalry coming through, and it prompted him to add in a soft voice, “Sure you don’t want Xander, then? Anya’d let him go for a night, if you asked, ’bit, and he’s not so bad for makin’ the boy’s jealous.”
“Don’t want Xander.” Shifting, she pillowed her head on his shoulder, her own hunched up in expectation of the arm Spike threaded around her, pulling her close. Knew him too well, this girl did. Wrapped him around her like a bit of bubble-gum, tugging and pulling whichever way she liked. “I want you.”
“Then you’ve got me.”
“Good.” The quiet mood reigned for thirty more seconds, and then she chirped, “I know I promised that you don’t have to dress up, but can I paint your nails silver? Pleeeease?”
“Pretty please with sugar on top and the pack of cigarettes that Tara bought you but was too nervous to give to you so I brought them over too?”
Bloody hell. “Fine. Brat.”
“Your brat,” she replied with sunny cheer, retrieving the polish and sitting back on the blanket. “Right hand first, please.” She held out her own, blithely confident that he’d lay his in hers, which he did without even pausing to glare at her presumption.
He watched as she bent over him, face twisted in concentration as she moved the brush. Her hands were long and almost knobby around the knuckles, still not fully grown yet. The skin was soft, a little dry, and cool from being in the drafty crypt, the fingers cradling his carefully. Her touch was light and sure.
Good hands to belong to, Spike decided. Very good.