The doorknob turned easily under his hand. It was never locked, never barred to him, but each time it clicked a metallic welcome, Spike was once again stunned. Doors weren’t supposed to have ‘come in, Spike’ blazoned in metaphysical gold. Vampires weren’t supposed to be welcome guests, but no matter how many hard words or annoyed glances, Spike knew he was. Welcome.

The apartment was dim and cool. It made a pleasant change from the oppressive humidity outside, which vampires did feel, if it was strong enough. Heat so wet it was thick enough to chew and swallow was bloody strong enough. He absently patted at his hair—stuff had a tendency to curl if he let it grow too long, and this kind of wet made him go frizzy like some kind of vampiric poodle. Not the kind of look William the Bloody wanted to sport, but no, he’d dumped enough gel on it and it seemed to be lying as it should.

There were times he really missed having a reflection.

Moonlight washed over the furniture, as brilliant as any of the spot lights dotting the front of the apartment complex. Spike removed his boots, padding noiselessly over to the windows and closing the blinds. Wouldn’t do to wake up mid-ashing. Particularly since there would be trauma afterwards, and that was what Spike was trying to prevent. Certain that he wouldn’t wake up a-flame, Spike hesitated.

He should take the sofa. It was offered to him, and he knew it was cozy; he’d slept there at least once before. But he didn’t want the sofa, or the blankets that were surreptitiously provided for him. What he wanted. . . Spike pushed the bedroom door open just a little, peeking around wood varnish that was cracking along the edges.

It still smelled like Anya inside. Anya, and old spunk. A thin layer of perfume lay over everything like the middle layer of icing in a cake, tear-salt and grief laying heaviest on top. They were both bundled into bed, Xander’s bigger, bulkier form kept chastely to his side of the bed—except for one long arm, stretched out to rest squarely around her waist.

Dawn looked so tiny, next to him.

He hated the necessity of having her stay here. She should be home, snug in her own bed with the witches playing guardian. But mojo had been needed as well as strength, and the Watcher’s place just wasn’t an option. Too many memories inside those walls. That, and Spike wasn’t at all comfortable leaving her with only Rupert for protection. He was too lost in his own grief to adequately handle hers, and the smell of scotch wasn’t the best way to lull a girl to sleep.

So she’d gone to Xander’s, happy as a clam, blabbering and bouncy to be in the one place that contained no references to her losses but for pictures—and those she was starting to deal with a bit better. So off she’d been sent with stern instructions not to let Xander stay up too late, since he had work in the morning, and that chocolate was not its own food group. Spike could smell the remains of a pizza—ham, pineapple, onions, and some kind of spice-soaked meat that may not have been pork—sugary soda pop and some kind of desert. Lemon pie? He’d have to investigate that, later.

No surprise what they were doing in the same bed, either. Dawn hated to sleep by herself. They’d caught her slipping in to sleep next to the ’bot once, and after that she’d been given firm instructions to come to the witches—or Spike. But she came to Spike anyway, now she was just the bearer or official permission when she did it.

She’d been crying. He could see red, puffy skin on her scrunched up face, smell the ache that never really left her skin. Poor thing hated her tears so much it made her cry even harder, turning a mild crying jag into painful, breath-stealing sobs that left her aching from the inside out and exhausted. It’d been one of those tonight and it took everything Spike had not to go slip under the covers next to her. Xander wouldn’t even object, probably.

But lately she’d been complaining she wasn’t a little girl, so Spike remained hovering by the door. No help for it, and it wasn’t like there really had been a question about it, either. Leaving the door half-open, Spike laid himself down in front of the threshold. The sound of their slow, even breathing was his favorite lullaby and Spike let his mind drift.

Going down to L.A. had been more painful than he’d expected. Angel wasn’t around, off healing his soul the old-fashioned way, or some such bullshit, but being around his people had been close enough. He’d forgotten how much disdain grated and dismissal made him seethe and act out like a naughty eight year old. The witches had defended him, but they’d been too busy and too tired to stop wicked mouths from moving when their backs were turned.

He wondered if Cordelia had gotten her dog comment from something Angel had said. Aw, look at him, she’d mocked, once she’d understood he was harmless and helpful. A little fluffy puppy. Do you have a leash? I bet it matches that ratty old coat!

The coat comment had prompted Tara to look back in worry, murmuring something to Red, who immediately called Cordelia over to her side. But it wasn’t the insult to his coat that bothered him—Cordelia had no idea the significance of it, and it was a ratty old coat, since it still had the fucking tear down the back of it.

He’d been called lapdog before. But fluffy puppy was something he’d once said about Angel, and later to Angel when all the furor had died down to approachable levels. He’d chosen those words carefully, cognizant of their weight and import, tossing them into Angelus’ face for each and every one of the comments he’d ever made about Spike—all of them related to good canines.

Spike didn’t bother objecting to it, after so long. He’d gotten used to the insults that poured forth from his almost-Sire, but more, he’d learned how true they were. He was a dog, or like enough to one for easy comparison. Angelus used to delight in calling him a mongrel. William, a mix of blue blood and rich blood, money squandered away to nothing while William was barely into his teens. As an adult, he’d been kicked around from one party to another, not quite wealthy enough for some, nor poor enough for others. His blood wasn’t blue enough, yet too blue, his mannerisms lacking, too posh, his interests unacceptable. Alley to all he’d gone, until Drusilla had found him, petting the pretty cur that sniveled and slobbered at her feet.

Spike traced cracks in the ceiling, noting that he’d have to tell Xander to tell his landlord. William the Domesticated and helpful, but that wasn’t unusual either, was it? Not when Angelus’ second favorite name for him was bitch. Spike’d co-opted it for his own, later, but it’d been from Angelus that it first appeared. He’d been Angelus’ bitch first. Spike had called it hunting partner, maybe even friend, but to Angelus he’d been just another in a long line of bitches to use and toss away. And like the faithful creature he always was, every beating bound him further to his chosen master.

How Angelus must have laughed when he heard of the insanely devoted couple, Spike and Dru. He’d know, not that anyone else would, that it hadn’t been Dru Spike wanted, but someone to devote himself to. Like a good dog, he needed a master to be faithful to, and Dru was the nuttiest choice he ever could have found. She loved him, though, in her own way. Cared for him and enjoyed him, giving him what he’d needed for nearly a century. But it wasn’t affection that kept her by his side. She knew the power she had over him, and she loved that more than anything else. She used to whisper about leashes, pretty twists of leather that bound him still. For a long time, he’d thought she meant bondage games. He’d learned. But he’d never left, never even conceiving of being on his own.

Not that he’d done particularly well when fate—and Dru—forced his hand. Spike couldn’t think of the last two years without wincing, turning over onto his side to shoulder the memories away. Pathetic, broken shell for too long, then hounding after the Slayer like getting between her legs was as close to heaven as a creature like him wanted. Foolishness, all of it. That wasn’t to discredit his feelings, though, which had been very real. Were real. But he knew why it’d been Buffy that he’d fallen for, and the knowledge tainted the emotions more then reality did. He’d wanted the power in her, so similar to Angelus’ and Dru’s. The scorn wrapped up in beauty, the hate that always felt like love. So he’d panted after her until she too, was gone.

A sleepy murmured rolled him over, trying to see into the bedroom. Dawn was wrapped around herself, balled and shaking under the covers. A nightmare. Falling, cutting, glowing green energy—all those things featured heavily in her night time horrors, and Spike ached to go over there and hold her. Make her feel how safe she was. But a strange touch now would scare her further, and he couldn’t leave his chosen post.

He watched, resenting and grateful, as Xander half-woke enough to rub her arm softly and murmur slurred reassurances. Dawn whimpered again, almost crying out—and then quieted as Xander pulled her a little closer, still whispering soothing promises. She subsided gradually, falling back into true sleep.


Safely shrouded by darkness no human eye could penetrate, Spike smiled. “Hey.”

“Don’t have to sleep down there, you know.”

“Go to sleep, Harris.” It wasn’t an answer, and no matter how many times Xander asked, Spike would never give him one. The human wouldn’t understand that yeah, he did have to sleep down there. That was where guard-dogs stayed, after all, protecting the ones that gave them food and shelter and even affection lying snug and safe within.

“But it’s uncomfortable,” Xander protested, already mostly asleep again.

Spike waited until his breathing even and he was lost to dreams where Anya hadn’t survived only to return his ring. As broken as Dawn, in his way. Spike had started this for himself, unable to bear Dawn away from him for periods of longer then a few moments. For days he’d shadowed her, playing tag with sunshine the few times she ventured outdoors. He stayed for her protection, acting the toy poodle with a ferocious bark, reassuring her that despite the bad, nothing more would happen.

But it wasn’t just Dawn he guarded. Because it wasn’t just Dawn who needed him.