Sighing, Xander tried very hard not to feel insulted. Willow had been babbling for ten minute straight on all the things he’d need to do while they were gone, repeatedly mentioning where the weapons were stashed, the protection charms she and Tara had created—and the more mundane things like how to call the police or what to do if there was a fire.
“I think Tara’s gonna leave without you,” he pointed out in one of her few pauses for breath. “It’s okay, Wills, really. Go. Have fun. Recharge. Think of me when you’re doing spells with Tara.”
Okay, as humorous, tension-relieving cracks went, that wasn’t one of his better ones. It did what it was supposed to, though, making Willow grin-glare at him and finally pick up her bag. “I just worry,” she muttered. “You know me, I’m a worrier. I know it’s gonna be fine, of course, it’s just that I can’t—”
Insulted won out. “Jeez, Will, if you thought I was this stupid, why aren’t you taking Dawn with you, after all?” The words were just barely out of his mouth before he knew he’d blundered.
How the hell did girls do that? Just blink at you, their eyes suddenly big and shiny like they were bambi on two legs and smelled a whole lot better. Her lower lip even trembled for just an instant, before being caught between her teeth with an audible hitch. Groaning internally—because otherwise she really would cry—Xander put his arms around his best friend and rocked her a little.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into strawberry-scented hair. Buffy’s shampoo. She’s using Buffy’s shampoo. “I know how hard this is. But we’ll be fine, I promise. It’s just two days, it’s been relatively quite on the Big Bad patrol—and Giles will be back tomorrow to make sure I’ve been a good boy. Okay?”
“Of course I trust you,” she whispered back, hugging him hard. “But it’s only been three weeks and Dawnie is still so. . .” Fragile. Well, sort of. Sometimes, it seemed like she was the strongest of the tattered remains of the Scoobies, but more often she was a four year old trapped in an adolescent’s gangly, gawky body. “She’s all we have left, Xander. I don’t want to leave her alone and have her think that we’re leaving leaving her.”
“You know she doesn’t. She’s the one who suggested this. C’mon. The Wonderful Wiccan Weekend awaits.”
That got the you’re-such-a-doof expression and, as Willow gave him one last hug and turned away, a sweet, understanding grin from Tara. He grinned back, silently asking her to take care of Willow. Sad eyes and a suddenly twisted smile promised she would.
Xander waved as they climbed into Tara’s beat up little toyota, not stopping until the car disappeared from sight. It was quiet out, the pre-dawn gloom full of a stillness that Xander rarely associated with night. Colors were muted and dull, a misty, blurry gray muffling shapes and edges. Everything felt fuzzy, like nothing was really there. . . just the afterimages like when you stared at the sun too long.
He stood there while the sun came up, seeing a different kind of gold than the liquid fire that hung in the sky. He’d turned just quickly enough, time flowing like syrup as she’d floated so gracefully in the sky. . .
No. He’d promised to stop thinking about that day and concentrating on living for what was left. For five more days, that had been Anya. Then she had cracked, returned his ring and fled back to D’hoffryn to beg to be made a demon again. As far as Xander knew, she was. Bye, bye Anyanka. Part of him envied how easy it was for her to simply give up like that, to cut all the ties he’d thought she’d made. The rest of him felt sorry for her. It hurt now, yeah. It probably always would. But there were things that made it all worth it.
One of those things was still sleeping upstairs and if she wanted a functioning house, he was going to have to get going. The crack in the picture-window, since that’ll be quiet. Dawn’s nightmares were starting to ease, but loud noises were still causes for serious alarm.
He worked steadily as the sun rose and began to heat the already nicely toasty air. It was nice, doing this kind of manual labor. He liked working with his hands and he could occupy his thoughts with how much he thought all three Summers’ women would appreciate this. The house had needed some general repairs since before Mrs. Summers’ got sick and afterwards, fixing a leaky faucet had been the last thing on anyone’s mind. So he could fix the things Buffy hadn’t had time for, the things Joyce would have had to pay for, and make sure that Dawn’s home was in good condition. It satisfied him in a way very little did anymore.
It was nearly noon before he decided to take a break. Dawn was awake—he’d knocked on her door before going into the bathroom, so he knew she was—but hadn’t made any move to open her door yet. Quietly knocking, Xander said, “Dawnie? You okay in there?”
“I’m fine. Go away.”
Great. Just what I need. Willow and Tara go away for the Wicca Retreat thingie—at Dawn’s suggestion, no less—and I get stuck with the sullen, weepy teenaged brat. Her mood swings, while understandable, were starting to grate on everyone’s nerves. He’d thought she was going to be okay, since the last two days had been relatively peaceful and bordering on cheerful. Apparently not.
“Do you want some lunch? I can make sandwiches. Turkey or salami?”
Okay, granted neither of the lunch meats in question were great but they shouldn’t induce barf-noises. “Dawn? Are you okay?”
“Just go away! I’m tired and I want to take a nap.”
“It’s not a nap if you don’t get out of bed first,” Xander explained reasonably. Then he shook his head and put his hand on the doorknob. “Can I at least come in?”
Long ago, when they had time for things like after school jobs, Willow had babysat for the Irwin’s down her street. He’d come along one time and got to sit there and listen to two small brats scream their lungs out. Willow had happily played with the crying children, repeatedly telling Xander that this was just fussy-crying because they were teething. She’d know if it was serious.
Xander suddenly knew exactly what she meant.
Muttering brief thanks to Giles for asking him to remove Dawn’s lock, Xander quickly entered the room. Dawn was still in her pajama’s, curled up on the floor with knees pressed tight to her chest, staring in dreamy horror at the blood-smeared sheets dripping onto the floor.
“Dawn! Oh god, are you okay?” Skirting the shiny-bright liquid, Xander crouched and shook her lightly. She just blinked and continued to stare, like all her energy just disappeared when the door opened. “What happened? Dawn? Dawn!”
“Is it gonna happen now? The portals. Are they gonna open?”
“No, they aren’t going to—Dawn, what happened?” Xander grabbed one of her weakly batting hands, chaffing her wrists lightly. She was icy cold, but it didn’t seem like the cold of too much blood-loss. Her skin wasn’t too pale or anything and—my god, there’s so much blood. “Are you hurt anywhere? Did you—did you cut yourself again?”
Not that Xander really believed that was possible, no matter what Willow said. It wasn’t being destructive or wanting to hurt herself. She wanted to see if she was real enough to literally bleed. Which, yeah, look at the irony. It wasn’t a metaphor, though, Wills, just plain old curiosity—morbid and really not smart, but it doesn’t mean she’s going to be the next poster child for cutting.
“No,” Dawn said faintly. “I just woke up and it was. . . Xander, I don’t feel good. It hurts.” She whined low in her throat like a wounded animal, pulling her knees in tighter.
“What hurts? Sweety, tell me where it hurts?” His hands ran over every part of her that he could reach, frantically searching for any kind of cut or scrape or large, gaping wound. . . If she really is hurt, Willow is never going to forgive me.
“My stomach,” she whimpered. “It feels like something’s twisting inside of me.” Big, shiny eyes turned to him. “Giles was wrong, wasn’t he? That I’d used up my Keyness with the—the ritual. And even though she—she’s gone, I’m still gonna need—I’m still gonna be—”
“Hey, ’bit!” a forcefully cheerful voice called. “I’m—what the hell?”
It was so unreasonably wrong to be grateful that Spike was here.
Heavy boots clomped up the stairs, hurrying down the hall and into the room. “Dawn? Dawn are you—hey, now.”
Xander watched, hating the helpless, worthless feeling as Dawn willing curled up into Spike’s arms, two fat tears trailing down her cheeks. What, is it genetic? Did Buffy pass down the must-turn-to-the-evil-undead gene? What is it about the bloodsuckers that I don’t have, anyway? I thought a body-temperature—plus the ability to get a tan—was a good thing!
That wasn’t fair to Spike, though, or even Dawn. He knew why she trusted Spike so much—didn’t agree with it and was definitely not at all happy about it—but intellectually he understood it. So he said nothing as Spike kicked the bloody sheets out of the way and got both him and Dawn settled on the bed, stroking her hair with a kind of tenderness that was still disturbing to see. Even worse was that perfectly sympathetic, almost paternal expression. Spike wasn’t supposed to do the comforting, dammit. He was.
“Here, now, luv,” Spike crooned softly. “What’s with the tears, hm? Why’s my pretty girl so unhappy?”
“I—I’m bleeding,” she sniffled, face pressed against his chest. “And it hurts, Spike.” This, from the girl who never once complained about her still healing cuts, not even when they entered the itchy, burning stage. Um, wouldn’t that mean that it’s not serious?
“Got cramps, do ya? Hey, Harris. Go check the bathroom, see what the Witches have there, yeah? And maybe find some clean sheets, too. Gonna need to change the bed, air out the room some.”
“What the—Spike, what the hell are you talking about? Cramps?” And why were the duh-I’m-a-moron bells suddenly clanging in his head?
“Bloody hell. Harris, you spend all your time with birds and you don’t know what’s going on?” Rolling his eyes, Spike went back to cosseting Dawn. “No wonder you’re so scared, baby. Bricklayer here probably terrified you half t’death about cuts and bleedin’ and such. Well, don’t you worry now, Spike’s here. Gonna take good care of you, I am.”
It was only the unspoken ‘like I promised’ that kept Xander from hitting Spike. Okay, and Dawn sitting in his lap. He still made sure to take ten deep breathes. “Spike?” he asked slowly, “what, exactly, is going on? I didn’t find any injuries but there’s so much blood and—”
“And you’re an idiot. Her monthlies, Harris. She’s got her monthlies. Your first time, too, right baby?”
Dawn whimpered again. “My what-lies?”
This time Xander knew she was consciously making herself feel small and pitiful so he didn’t mind allowing some of his own annoyance to color his voice. “Your period, Dawn. You got your period. And I think I need to go wash my mouth out, now. That’s a horrible word.”
Spike snickered, still stroking Dawn’s hair and—rubbing her stomach? Well, yeah, that was one of the Anya Prescribed things that he himself had done, but it was still creepy seeing Spike do it. And there was no way he was going to ask why Spike knew to do that. Or how he though it would work since there was no heat or vibration. One day, I’m gonna make my brain stop before it says the scary stuff.
“Is there supposed to be so much blood?” Dawn was looking a little better, now—probably due to her greatest fear being answered. She wasn’t suddenly coming apart or reverting to her non-corporeal key-shape or any of the other things that had flashed through Xander’s mind. She was just being a normal girl. “I thought that there wasn’t that much—the first time?”
“Not normally, no,” Spike answered, leaving Xander again feeling grateful to the blood-sucking demon-vampire. It was not a good feeling. “But it’s not that unusual, neither. Every woman’s body is different—an’ you’ve been under a lot of stress, lately. That’ll force the body to do odd things.”
“Like gush out multiple pints of blood?”
Spike gave her a mock glare, lightly tapping her nose. “No cheek from you, missy. Here now, up you go.” Easing Dawn to her feet, the vampire kept an arm firmly around her waist. “Into the bathroom with you. Clean yourself up good while Harris and I take care of your room. Take a shower—or a bath might be good, too.”
Wavering, Dawn wrinkled her nose. “I haven’t taken a bath since, like, I was five. I’ll shower.”
“Anya used to take bubble baths,” Xander said. Boy, that was totally inane and yes, I deserve the look Spike’s giving me.
Turning back to Dawn, Spike offered a small smile. “Hot water’s good for the cramps, is all. Go on. Take some of that, uh, mi—mot—pain killers, doesn’t matter the brand. The Sapphic duo probably have what you’d want, anyway. An’ clean yourself up good!”
This was shouted through the firmly closed door, Dawn muttering rebelliously inside the bathroom. Back in the room, Xander stripped the bed and opened the window—careful to leave the thick heavy fabric down. A request for black-out curtains had been the only thing Dawn had said that first, horrible night. Protests—even Spike’s—were met with frighteningly focused deafness and it had been easier to let her sun-proof the house than argue about how much influence they wanted Spike to have. Dawn knew what she wanted and none of them were going to deny her.
“Oh, thanks.” Spike dropped the Care Bear sheets onto the bed, bending down to sniff at the old, bloodied sheets. “She’s right, y’know. Shouldn’t have been so much.”
“What are you doing?”
Spike rolled his eyes. “You lot amaze me, sometimes. How you just block out the things that bother you. Hello, vampire.”
Without thinking about it, Xander found himself making the bed. Cute, innocent stuffed bears stared up at him. “Whoa, there, wasn’t accusing,” he said as he worked. “The confused, curious tone of my voice should’ve indicated lack of understanding, not condemnation. I just meant, what are you doing?” He offered a sideways grin, hoping to calm the tension before it blew up.
“Oh. Right.” Without any opposing hostility, Spike wilted. “Sorry, I just—yeah. I, uh, was smelling it. For mojo.”
“Um, didn’t you just tell Dawn that this was normal?” It was disturbing to see Spike act so—broken. He hid it well, especially when he was around the girls, but when it was just Xander or Giles, the vampire seemed to collapse in on himself. Like all his remaining bluster was to keep Wills and Dawn from realizing how much he needed them. “Spike?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. S’just—she’s right, she shouldn’t have lost so much blood. This is probably about a pints’ worth, which most women’ll lose over the course of her whole cycle. Not in a few hours.”
That got him to stop mindlessly smoothing down the already smooth covers. “So, what,” he asked quietly, “we’re thinking foul play?”
Something in his voice must have alerted Spike because the bleached-blonde head—were those roots?—jerked up immediately. “No, not like that. Just wonderin’ if all this key-business might have. . . side effects. Nothin’ bad.”
“Nothing bad, yet you were sniffing for magic?”
“No, you moron, I just—hey, bitlet!” The snark immediately evaporated into the same tender concern as before, Spike pulling a sleepy, squeaky-clean Dawn to rest against him. She sighed in his arms, snuggling in close. “You take those pills?”
“Midol,” she confirmed. “Hope it works fast.” One arm curled around her lower belly, pressing down tightly.
“Should. C’mon, lets get you downstairs. We can watch videos and just veg-out, yeah?”
“You sound so silly saying that,” Dawn giggled. “‘Veg-out. I bet you start saying all kinds of American things now. Like ‘cool’. Or, um, ‘radical’.”
“I am not saying ‘radical’!”
“Ha! You just did!”
Xander grinned at their good-natured bantering, following behind as Spike chivvied Dawn down the stairs and onto the sofa. Despite Dawn’s very clear preferences, Giles had been extremely reluctant to let the vampire continue his relationship with the former key. Watching as Spike fussed around her, piling blankets and arranging her until she was perfect, Xander was glad that he’d supported the decision to let Spike stick around. Dawn needed all the friends she could get—and so long as Dawn was there, Spike would stay sane.
“Okay, I know you hate it but, can we watch Pretty Woman?” Dawn asked, worrying the edge of the bottom-most blanket.
“Sure, Dawnie.” Xander fielded that one, digging out the tape and popping it in. Two whole days of All Estrogen, All the Time? Shudder. Not that I’m gonna tell that to Dawn. “Want some ice cream?” he asked once that was taken care of. Girls liked ice cream, he was certain of that. Chocolate in particular.
Except when they liked vanilla.
“Start with chamomile tea,” Spike interrupted, looking sternly at a pouting Dawn. “You keep that down and then you can have ice cream.”
“Fine.” Harrumphing, she tossed her hair over her shoulder—winced and brought her knees up to her chest.
“Oh, right! Hot water bottle!” That was actually the first Anya Prescribed thing to do and Xander cursed himself for forgetting it. Sometimes that was the only thing that made the pain bearable for her—or so she'd claimed, at least. ‘Oh, it hurts so bad, Xander—but of course I can go shopping with Buffy. I just can’t try on pants.’
“A what bottle?” he heard Dawn say as he searched for something that could work. Picking a sports water-bottle painted in bright green stars, Xander turned the water on as hot as it could go. Filling the bottle with steaming hot water, he went back to the living room and presented it to Dawn with a flourish.
“Heat, for milady,” he proclaimed. Dawn giggled, gingerly taking the bottle and sliding it under the blankets.
“Wow,” she whispered once she had it positioned where she wanted it. “That’s. . .very nice.”
“There you are.” Spike insinuated himself under the blankets, gesturing for Xander to do so as well. “Now, you watch the flick and Harris an’ I’ll take right good care of you.”
Resting her head on Spike’s shoulder and placing Xander’s arm on her legs, Dawn nodded. “Okay.”
Five hours later, Xander was going insane.
Several bowls of soupy ice cream were littered around the living room. Two half-filled bottles of cold water were on the floor. Blankets were everywhere, one flung all the way to the dining room table, the rest half on the sofa and half off. The Princess Diaries, the third movie of their scintillating evening, was playing unnoticed on the television.
Dawn was in the center, still clutching a third water-bottle to her stomach, glaring at whatever her eyes landed on.
The dreaded mood swings were definitely in effect.
“I want more chocolate ice cream,” she demanded, voice low and dangerous. “Please.”
“Dawnie, we don’t have any more. You ate it a—”
“Are you saying I’m fat?” Even lower, more dangerous, and suddenly Xander remembered why he shouldn’t be upset that Anya was gone.
“Okay, you know what? I’m done. Go take a bath, like Spike suggested. Calm down. Get whatever it is out of your system. I’m not sleeping with you and I so don’t have to put up with this anymore!”
Five stomps, one popped top, and two swallows later, the guilt set in. Great going, he chastised himself. Why don’t we just traumatize Dawn before she ever gets her first date, let alone her first live-in boyfriend. Which isn’t going to happen because Spike and I will eviscerate him first. Maybe she’ll be gay? I bet Wills could wriggle her nose and. . .
Logical, it really wasn’t.
Spike sauntered in ten minutes later, silently grabbing his own beer from the fridge. They drank quietly together, listening as Dawn grumbled and splashed in the bath she’d been bullied into taking. She was not happy about it, her occasionally shouted comments illuminated quite nicely, but she was doing it and right now, Xander was content for her to be away from him and occupied.
“I think she’s real, now.”
Xander blinked, concentrating on the feel of a stray lash brushing against his cheek. “You think what, now?”
“Dawn. Think she’s real, now.” Spike took a good long swig, sloshing the contents in the bottle when he finally came up for air.
“And she wasn’t before?”
“Her mum worried, you know. Fourteen years old an’ barely gettin’ her curves, yet?” Another long swig. “Joyce had it early, said. . . said the women in her family usually did. So she worried.”
Leaning on the counter, Xander didn’t need the long look to figure out what Spike had failed to say. He also really didn’t need to know that about yet another female friend—Willow had called him first, babbling about blood and wasn’t it cool and maybe she’d get breasts now. That had been the first time Xander realized that having a female best friend meant being uncomfortable with more than just playing with Barbie.
“So we’re back to her being the Key?”
“Was the Key.”
Spike wouldn’t look him in the eye. He never did, anymore. Not really. Xander wondered if he’d ever get used to it. “Why’d they make her female, then? Because, well, who’s to say she wouldn’t have been, you know, the same time as the ritual? Fresh blood, no cutting required.”
“Menstrual blood’s different. Thicker. Sweeter.” Xander swallowed heavily as his brain flashed extremely disturbing images, making Spike grimace. “Relax, dough-boy. Haven’t done all the naughty things you’re thinkin’ of. Dru was fascinated by it, though. S’why I know how to take care of the ’bit like I’ve been. She got me to—”
“Please, don’t finish that sentence. Or I’ll make you clean up the result.”
“Right, then. Just meant—menstrual blood is dead. S’what the body produces since the woman didn’t get pregnant, right? Means somethin’ inside her is taking the power out of her veins an’ killin’ it.”
Xander blinked. “Huh?”
Spike sighed heavily and drained his beer completely. “Blood was her power, right? Not just the power to keep her alive, but the power t’ open portals to who the hell knows where. Now, though, there’s something powerful inside her own body, takin’ that blood an’ making it useless. Makin’ it dead.”
“Meaning even if she was in the right place with the right sharp knife—”
“The portals wouldn’t open. Yeah. S’my guess, anyway.”
“We’ll have to ask Giles tomorrow.”
An ear-splitting shriek came from upstairs.
“If we make it to tomorrow!” Spike grumbled.
The rest of the night fortunately went better. Dawn was still moody beyond belief, but after dinner Spike got her to take one of Willow’s sleeping pills, claiming that the first day was always the worst and didn’t she want to sleep the worst of the pain away?
Then Spike went hunting.
He called it patrolling, said that he’d made a promise and he was just doing what he needed to fulfill it. And yeah, to a point, he was probably right—they did need to patrol to make sure that the normal kill-quota was met. Because if something out there figures out that the Slayer isn’t around to protect the Hellmouth, then she. . . Then all this was for nothing.
It wasn’t patrolling, though. It was hunting. Spike moved with a stealth and skill none of the humans had ever seen before. Like all the human trappings that held Spike back were gone, now, burned away in eldritch green light hovering above the ground. There was no more banter as he took out demon after demon with quick, liquid swift movements. There was the track and the kill.
Xander stared out of the picture window long after Spike disappeared down the street. He envied the vampire for having such an easy release—even though he knew it wasn’t easy or really that much of a release. If it was, Spike wouldn’t show up in this house every single day, hoping for some scrap of forgiveness he knew he’d never find. But keeping a house in good condition or building table after chair after cabinet paled in comparison to killing a few dozen demons every night.
Revello Drive had become a demonic No-Man’s land. Anything other than human stepped there and they died—Willow was just a jealous a guardian as Spike and her powers didn’t require her to physically be present. They’d even fought about it once, Willow accusing Spike of denying her the chance to have any payback with his nightly forays.
Spiked had just sneered and walked out the door.
When Spike limped his way in at about around five am, Xander was only barely asleep in front of the television. Silently, he sat Spike down, cleaning and patching up whatever wounds he could. Either he or Giles would do this for the vampire, now. It wasn’t a constant thing, but whichever of them wasn’t staying with Dawn that night usually got the honors. They’d mentioned it only once, Giles reminding Xander to stock up on bandages when he went home that particular night.
There were a lot of things they didn’t talk about anymore.
Spike slept outside Dawn’s door, a pale, bleached-out, demonic guard-dog. Dawn nearly tripped over him in the morning, but she didn’t comment on either his position or the multiple bandages that peeked out from beneath his shirt. She’d gotten used to both.
She was quiet and diffident that morning, her requests for things actual requests and often given shyly. Especially her tentative request for Spike to rub the tense lower muscles in her back. Spike just gave her that soft, tender smile and complied.
“Um, Xander?” she asked around noon. Spike’s hands were dancing around her body, switching from back to belly at random intervals. He’d offered to take over that job, expecting his blood-warmed hands to be a bit better at it, but within two minutes she’d requested Spike again. The casual competency the vampire displayed didn’t make Xander feel any better. “I think I’m gonna need some, um. Some amons.”
“Almonds? You want almonds, now?”
Amazing how shyness turned into outrage. “No!” And then just as quickly back again. “I want—”
“You know, for a girl who’s lost so much blood, you sure are blushing like a—erk.” So he was really slow sometimes. “Right. Some almonds. There aren’t any here?”
“No.” Dawn was flaming red now, which only highlighted how pale she had been before. He made a mental note to buy spinach or some kind of iron supplement—wasn’t it really easy for skinny girls to become anemic? Willow must have mentioned that at some point. “And we’re out of. . .”
She trailed off in total mortification, leaving Xander staring at Spike. She’d gotten the dreaded request for, um, almonds out so what could she possibly be embarrassed about now?
“Nibblet, what’ve you been using before now?”
More blushing. She was so red that her skin looked hardly able to contain the fierce rush of blood. Xander idly wondered if it was such a good idea for her to be sitting so close to a vampire when she—
“Oh! What were you—I mean—before the almonds you—?”
“We’re out of those, too.”
Xander exhaled slowly. Okay. He could do this. Not like he hadn’t in the past, thankfully not that often. He even knew which kind Anya preferred—although, actually, that might not work for a teenage girl that had damned well better be virginal.
Bad thoughts! Bad thoughts to have about the girl who could be your little sister and has a crush on you!
Well, on Spike too. And wasn’t that disturbing.
A sudden thought made him stare at Spike in horror. “Ah, Dawnie? Do you know how to use almonds?” Blue eyes widened in terror when the red‑faced girl said nothing. “Okay. Um. How about we don't get those, right? Because I'm thinking neither of us is really, um, qualified to explain to you how to use them.”
“But it feels like I'm wearing a diaper!”
The wail cut out abruptly, Dawn turning deathly pale in the silence.
“Ah, Platelet, why is this an issue. . . now?” Spike asked delicately. Xander smirked, wondering how long it would take the disturbed vampire to sidle out from under Dawn. Apparently talking about feminine products squicked vampires where actual bodily functions did not.
“Well, that was all there was when I, you know,” Dawn complained, “and I thought that would be okay, but there aren’t any more and I didn’t see anything else, and I—”
“Okay! Okay, Dawn, okay. Far too many details for a couple of guys.”
Spike nodded, successfully squirming free without the girl even realizing it. “Have you ever used a, whatacallem, almond before?”
“Jeez, can’t you just call it a tampon?” Dawn demanded. Apparently shame had a short shelf-life when there were two guys wriggling in discomfort to needle instead. “I finished all the pads Willow and Tara had and now I would like some tampons. Please.”
“Right then. Have you ever used a tampon?”
Xander settled back in his spot on the floor, content to watch the Spike and Dawn show play out.
“No, I haven’t. So what? It can’t be that difficult!”
“Look, not even Dru could figure those blasted things out, back when she was all set on trying one. You need more’n just a diagram on a piece of sodding paper. You need someone to show you and that is not gonna be me! So just turn those big eyes of yours onto someone else cause I—”
“So it’s my fault that I happen to be a girl?”
“No, actually, there’s a soddin’ group of monks that I can blame!”
Neither combatant noticed the phone ringing, so Xander hurried into the kitchen to grab it. “Hello?”
“Ah, Xander. How are you?”
“Hey, Giles. Just peachy.”
“Anything going on, or do you mind if I don’t come over? I’m afraid the drive was rather long and I’m quite tired. Maybe I can bring dinner over in a few hours?”
Xander peeked around the door, watching Dawn and Spike scream at each other. Thank god it doesn’t travel through the phone well. “How ’bout a rain check? Dawn’s tired, so it’s just me, the boob-tube and a bucket o’ wings.”
A yawn stifled Giles’ agreement and then half his good bye. Once he hung up, Xander slipped out the backdoor and around the house to his car. A quick drive to the supermarket, a few humiliating minutes deciding which types and brands to buy, and then he was back.
The front door opening stilled the current argument—which sounded like they were debating the merits of fluffernutter, although he wouldn’t swear to that—and Xander dumped the bag in Spike’s lap. “I bought ’em, you show her.”
“I what?” Spike did outrage so well, with the artfully widened eyes and the dropped jaw. “I am not showing my baby girl how to shove somethin’ up her—”
“Well, I bought them!” Xander interrupted, not wanting any of them to hear what Spike was going to finish with. “I did my part. Remember? Two person deal. We split things.”
“I’m gonna split your bloody head!” On his feet, Spike’s fists opened and closed although he didn’t take a step closer. “Just because my bollocks are in a sling cos of Wonder Boy and his merry band of pals, doesn’t mean that I am any less a bloke than you are. An’ excuse me for not wanting to set myself on fire while I go buy ’em! You can show her.”
“Wow.” Lately, anger was increasingly more difficult to maintain and faced with Spike’s instant rage, all he could feel was awe. “Do you spend all your time thinking up things like that? Or is it natural?”
“The slang-y insults.” He tossed a grin to Dawn, who was currently sneaking off to the bathroom, bag firmly in hand. “You’re always quick with a quip, so I’m wondering. Do you spend your copious free time thinking up insults or is it something that just comes to you? Cause I’ll admit to spending a few class periods thinking up some cunning replies. Usually for Cordelia, I might add. But then there were the ones that just tripped off my tongue, no forethought required. So I’m curious.”
Spike blinked, lips moving slightly as he tried to work out what Xander was talking about. Then he grinned, settling back on the sofa. “A master never explains his tricks,” Spike said with a mock-lofty attitude. “Gotta wait till my book comes out an’ then you can pay nineteen ninety five like all the rest of the imbeciles out there.”
“Oh, please. Like you’re gonna be anything more than a cheap paperback.”
They continued mock-arguing a few minutes more, purposefully ignoring Dawn’s stifled yelp of pain and doing their best not too look at her red face when she returned. “Thank you,” she told Xander quietly. “For, um, getting both.”
It was Spike’s conspiratorial grin that he responded to, absently patting Dawn’s knee as she sat between them. “No problem, kiddo.”
“Can we watch Independence Day now?”
Spike whooped, lifting Dawn up and spinning her around. “Thank you!” he crowed, kissing her full on the lips before plunking her back down. “If I had to listen to one more minute of that namby-pamby, boo-hooing drivel that—uh, that I had no problem at all watching the last two days and will happily watch again any time you’d like.”
Dawn puppy-eyes of Doom.
“Hey.” Spike and Dawn broke off their play—Dawn attempting to tickle the vampire—to look at him questioningly. “We all good now?”
Dawn’s brief burst of manic energy slid into a tiny, pleased smile that so reminded him of her sister that Xander had to blink tears away. Nodding, she tugged him until she was half sprawled over his body, Spike sliding in behind and underneath her the way he had been for nearly the entire time.
Their arms, both wrapped tightly around this small, fragile little girl, were pressed close together.
Xander was the only one awake when Willow and Tara came home a few hours later. He was catching up the few games he liked to keep track of on ESPN2, volume low so not to wake the tangled mess of Spike and Dawn. Somehow, as Independence Day had become something that starred a guy in a loin-cloth, the two of them had twisted and stretched so that Dawn lay cradled in Spike’s arms, both of their heads resting on Xander’s thigh.
Willow stared at that, hard, while Tara gently put down their bags and hurried over to the bathroom.
“Xan? Is everything okay?” Willow whispered, eyes still not moving.
“Yeah. We’re good. Just worn out, I guess.”
Nodding dumbly, Willow crab-walked toward the kitchen. Tara stopped her halfway, holding a crumpled wrapper and something long and vaguely tube shaped. Together, their eyes traveled from the object to the ice cream dishes—new ones, since Spike that thoughtfully washed the old ones yesterday—to Xander and then back to Dawn.
Xander held out his arm, allowing Willow to curl up next to him, holding her while she cried.