It occurred to him, as he watched the others gather around the prodigal vampire, that he's never had anything that wasn't Angel's first.

They've been calling it an earthquake on the telly and in the papers, and none of the gang has any intention of telling them otherwise -- like they're going to try to explain to the nitwits in this town about walls collapsing between worlds, or any of that. No, it was just an earthquake, and if the nasties out at night are nastier than they were before, well.... lucky for the deaf, dumb and blind of Sunnydale that the patrols go on, even without the Slayer.

Angelus had Drusilla long before he did and, in the moments Spike is honest with himself, he admits that Drusilla always had him, not the other way around. She was the one who made him, she was the one who kept him with her, she was the one who walked away from him. Because of Angel. Because of Buffy.

The vampires have long since gone for cover -- the new demons on the block are too much for them to handle, so they settle for draining the bodies that are left behind. Good enough. One less thing to worry about.

Angel had Buffy first, too. That bloody ponce had the strongest, most beautiful woman in the world all but dying of love for him, and the stupid bastard walked away because he couldn't shag her. And they call Spike the soulless one.

And at least the worst of the nasties went away when the door closed. When Buffy bloody well closed it. She'd be happy about that. But that still leaves a bunch of new playmates for the Scooby Gang to cope with -- and no Slayer there to see the job done.

The 'Scooby Gang' -- Christ, what a stupid name -- Angel had even had them first. Not that Spike particularly wants them -- the whining moron and his demon-bait girlfriend, the self-righteous Watcher.... Well, the two witches aren't so bad. The blonde is at least quiet, and occasionally forgets and smiles at him like he's a person or something. And Red... she's got guts. Yeah, he's always liked Red -- and she left Sunnydale to drive straight to L.A. Straight to Angel.

But even if there isn't a Slayer, there's old Spike, ready to fill in best he can. No one asks him, they just assume he'll patrol. They're right, but he doesn't bother explaining why. He's not doing it for them, for their too-stupid-to-live town, or even for the whole bloody world. He does it for her. Because she'd want it done, and he can't do anything else.

Everything was Angel's first -- everything except for his kills. Maybe that's why he's enjoying this killing so much.

Demons ahead, three of 'em -- ugly bastards the likes of which he'd never seen before a few days ago. Even since Giles returned to the land of the thinking, he and his precious books have been precious little help figuring out how to kill the new arrivals. Spike patrols carrying a sword from the Magic Box; he and Giles -- and Angel and Wussley now -- are the only ones who can use the only type of weapon guaranteed to kill almost anything they run across. Trick is to figure out where to use it, and how many pieces to leave behind.

Even Dawn went to greet the LA. crew, hovering around the edges of the reunion and waiting for Angel to break away and notice her. She smiled when he did, and she hadn't smiled in days, not since they found her sister's broken body on the ground....

Three of them, right enough, and getting closer. They're dragging something behind them, and Spike's eyes narrow when he realizes it's a body. Some kid, too stupid to know to stay inside when Bad Things are afoot. Probably good for the whole evolution thing that he's been taken out of the gene pool young. His feet in their expensive sneakers scrape against the ground as they drag him.

He can still see her -- the Slayer, smashed like one of those kids' pinatas against the ground, the life drained from her face, the strength from her body. Nobody home there anymore. The last time he saw a dead Slayer, sprawled on the floor of a subway car, he took her coat and strode away. Almost danced away. He hadn't cared.

Closer, closer.... Wait for it. Then they cross in front of him, and he steps out of cover, his sword flashing across the neck of the closest one even as he moves. Something thick and purple that smells worse than Harris' apartment comes bubbling out. He ignores it, ducks as a second thing howls and goes for him, and manages somehow to get the swordblade lodged in its stomach. He pulls frantically, it fights frantically, and suddenly there are two demon pieces on the ground, and none standing. And his sword is dissolving.

He walked away from this Slayer, too, but the only thing he took was her sister. He wasn't able to protect her, and Buffy paid the price. *His* Buffy -- for all that Angel had her first, it was *Spike* she'd turned to at the last, *Spike* she'd trusted with her precious baby sis.

The last demon roars out a battle cry and charges; Spike stands his ground -- then throws the remains of the sword at it and runs like all hell. It follows him, leaving its meal behind, and he curses as he runs. 'Bloody stubborn bastard, why can't you just set yourself down to supper like every other demon? No, I've got to get one bent on revenge.'

It was destiny, the way the Watchers tell it. One Slayer dies, next one's bloody called.

It keeps coming, until they've hit the graveyard. Spike is faster than it is -- the whole muscle-bound shambling thing is hell in a fight, but not much good at hot pursuit -- and the door to 'his' crypt is still wide-open; no vamp in town is stupid enough to mess with Spike's flat, such as it is. He scrambles in the mess he left last time he was here, finds what he's looking for, and swings to face the door as the demon appears.

He wonders if the next Slayer will come to Sunnydale.

It howls, beats its chest a few times, and Spike takes a second to stare in appreciation of its sheer stupidity. Then he lets it have both barrels of the shotgun in the middle of its warty lavender face.

He wonders if he cares.


No one notices when Spike comes in the back door, same as no one noticed when he left. The Watcher and Harris have been doing their best to ignore his existence for the last several days. He knows good and well they don't want him here, and he doesn't give a rat's ass. Dawn wants him here -- at least, she did until Angel showed up -- and he doesn't give a damn about anything else.

Even two rooms away, he can still hear the weepy tragedy of a reunion they've been enacting for the last few hours, so he stays right where he is, hitching one hip against the kitchen counter and staring moodily out the back door. He was happy here one time, with Joyce and Dawn. With hot chocolate, and laughter, and "how was your day?", and two women who treated him like a person. One of them is dead now and he misses her in his own way, although no one out in the living room would understand that. They don't want to -- might make him a person to them, too. Can't have that.

But she was the Slayer's mum, and she defended her daughter with an ax once, and she was good to him more than once. And now she's in the ground, and he misses her in his own way.

The Slayer's heading for the ground, and he misses her with a visceral pain, a slice made by a jagged knife, still raw and bleeding. Like the bruises from that fall -- from his failure -- it shows no signs of healing. Probably never will. He hurts as much as anyone, although no one out in the living room would admit that. Might make him a person....

Someone's crying again -- one of the witches? Cordelia? He shrugs, indifferent. As long as it's not Dawn, he doesn't care.

The coffeepot is empty again; he stares at it over his cigarette, then shrugs again and starts the motions of refilling it. It's not out of consideration for anyone else -- he just needs something to do with his hands. And when Giles realizes it was him that refilled it, the Watcher will have to say 'Thank you' to the vampire, and the expression on his face will be good for a laugh.

Dark days -- he figures he'll take his laughs where he can get them.


He turns when he hears his name, cocks his head at the slight form standing there. "Yeah, witch?" he asks, blowing out a cloud of smoke.

Tara comes hesitantly into the kitchen, her arms wrapped around her waist. The new cast gets in the way and she doesn't seem to notice. "Um, I was going to make coffee, but.... You've done that already, so.... We didn't know you were back from...."

He waits for her with a raised eyebrow; he's curious to see if she can complete a sentence, since he's never actually heard her do it. She stutters her way to a stop and he stubs his cigarette out in one of the ashtrays that materialized when the Watcher finally figured out he wasn't going anywhere.

"Are you okay?"

He stops at the question, looks at her, and finds her looking at his leather coat. There's some new holes in it, thank you demon blood, and he shrugs. "No big. Couple new kids in town, had to show 'em the ropes. I left 'em someplace where they'll stay out of trouble." Chopped into many small pieces buried very far apart, and hadn't that been a fun night's work?

Her smile flashes once, quickly. "As long as you're all right... You should have told us.... You should have taken help. On patrol."

"Yeah, right." He lights another cigarette. "Next time, I'll send out a bulletin."

She stutters again and he rolls his eyes, cutting her off. "I think Joyce kept the trays over the fridge -- get 'em out if you're doing the whole good hostess thing."

"O-okay," she stammers, and comes the rest of the way into the kitchen. He has to help her get the trays down, of course, since she's too small, and he wonders idly why Joyce kept them up so high. Not a tall Summers woman in the bunch to get 'em down.

Tara works silently; she's been helping Willow feed the rest of the lot for five days, and she knows where everything else is now. He leans against the counter and stares out the back door again, appreciating the smell of the coffee as it drips into the pot. Even he can't hear much from the living room -- just the constant murmur of voices, and the occasional crack as one of those voices breaks. Cups chitter softly against the tray as Tara sets them out; the coffeemaker gurgles to a stop, and she slips past him with an almost silent "Excuse me" to begin filling them. He doesn't watch.

So the tap at his arm surprises him; he turns sharply and almost knocks the mug out of Tara's hand. She jumps back, squeaking, and he catches himself. "Sorry," he mumbles, and she swallows, then nods.

"H-Here," she says, extending the mug again, more carefully. "I thought... You're probably hungry. After patrol. And you need to eat. Um, drink. Or...."

The mug is half-filled with blood, from the stash he stuck in the refrigerator a few days ago, over the moron's loud and annoying protests. He looks at her, then takes it carefully, so he won't startle her again. She waits, blinking expectantly, until he takes a sip. He swallows and nods once, in thanks; she gives him another one of those hesitant smiles, and he admires Red's taste. If the witch had to change sides of the street, this one isn't so bad. Beats the hell out of Harris or Wolf Boy.

She turns away to pick up the tray -- he should offer to carry it for her, he supposes, but that would involve being nice, and going into the living room, two things he feels absolutely no desire to do right now. But Dawn's voice rises from the living room, high-pitched and on the edge of tears, and he goes anyway.

"You weren't here!" She's standing in the middle of the room, her arms straight and her hands fisted at her side, screaming up at Angel. The poof stands over her helplessly, arms limp and face baffled, and doesn't do anything. The rest of the room stares silently, and Spike sees agreement with Dawn written on most of the Sunnydale faces. The L.A. faces are standing, ready to defend their Fearless Leader, but Spike doesn't care about them. Any of them.

"Dawn...." Angel tries to say, but Dawn cuts him off.

"No! You weren't here! If you'd cared, you would have been here, you wouldn't have left, and Buffy would be alive!"

"Dawn." It's Giles this time, speaking up from the corner where he's slumped, glasses off and eyes closed.

Dawn shakes her head once, violently, tears streaming down her face. "No! You left and she *needed* you and now you come here and--" Her voice breaks, tears raggedly down the middle, and Spike steps in. Not because he gives a damn about Angel's tender feelings -- far as he's concerned, Little Bit's got it right straight down the line -- but because he won't stand by and watch Dawn hurt.

"That'll do, Niblet," he says calmly, though his muscle are twitching to take Angel on, the demon in him howling to beat the crap out of him because he wasn't here, because he didn't die in Buffy's place, because the fucking son of a bitch is still walking around and Buffy loved him and it's all wrong, this isn't how it's supposed to be.

But Buffy treated him like a man, and Joyce and Dawn treated him like a person, so he tells the demon to go to hell. For now. "Don't go gettin' yourself all worked up, Niblet. Not over him."

"Spike, stay out of--"

Spike ignores Angel; his attention is focused on Dawn. He cared about Joyce, he loved Buffy, and only Dawn is left. Fuck anything else. Tears are still running down her face; he takes one of her clenched fists in his hand, shakes it slightly. "Come on, Niblet; past your bed time. Let's go."

Dawn finally lets herself be drawn away towards the stairs and if he cared, Spike would take vicious pleasure in the stunned shock on Angel's face, the angry resignation on Harris', the jaw-dropped amazement on Wussley and Cordelia's. But he doesn't care, until Angel tries to take Dawn's arm as she goes past him. "Dawn...."

Spike knocks his arm away in one violent blow, suddenly chest-to-chest with his grandsire, Angel's shirt clenched in his hand. His game face isn't on because it might scare Dawn, but the bloodlust is still there. "Give me a reason," he breathes, so quietly only Angel can possibly hear. "Please, god, give me a reason."

Angel's demon flickers below the surface, and he knows there's going to be a fight soon. He looks forward to it, looks forward to pounding Angel's face into something long and hard, so he can pretend it's Doc's face. Ben's. Glory's. "Not here," Angel finally says from between gritted teeth. "Not in Buffy's house."

"We agree on something, at least. Stay away from Dawn." It gives him even more pleasure to know he beat Angel to that warning, that there's nothing Angel can do about it.

"You don't belong here," Angel finally says, wearily, bitterly. "Not in Buffy's house."

"Dawn's house, now," Spike sneers back, gloating. This is his place, and it doesn't matter that Angel was invited in first. "And looks like I'm the welcome one."

They stare each other down until Angel finally turns away, leaning against the front door and looking out at the night. Spike would feel sorry for him -- that place in his own chest where a piece called Buffy was torn out is still bleeding -- but even the blast of hatred from a moment ago is fading, and he can't work up the energy to care.

Dawn leads the way up the stairs, clutching the railing with her hand; she hasn't let Spike carry her since the first morning, although he would, gladly. He stays in her room while she changes into her pajamas in the bathroom. He can hear the voices from downstairs begin again, Wussley's quiet voice overlaid by Cordelia's shrill one. Willow's rises and falls in counterpoint, backed by, amazingly, Tara's. They're probably talking about him and he still doesn't give a damn.

There's no ashtray in Dawn's room, but he hasn't smoked here since the first morning. As he stares out at the darkness, he wonders idly what became of the robot. He should ask Willow -- not because he wants it back, he knows now it's no replacement for her. He knew that all along. But it has her face, and her mind, even if it was programmed, and so it deserves better than to lie in a rubbish heap somewhere.

Dawn reappears and he watches the reflection in the window as she quietly gets into bed. She huddles there a moment, her forehead on her knees, her arms wrapped around them, then straightens to turn out the bedside lamp. The darkness falls around them.

"Spike?" she whispers after a little while, as she always does.

"Yeah, Platelet," he answers as he always does.

"You'll tape Passions for me tomorrow, right?"


"And you won't watch without me?"


He can hear her head nodding, the rustle of the sheets as she turns over and pulls the sheets more tightly around her, completing the ritual. She takes a long time to fall asleep, time that he spends staring out the window, remembering the nights he was on the lawn below, waiting for her sister to fall asleep. Locked outside, barred from this room, this house.

He'd trade it in a second if the Slayer was asleep there.

The voices downstairs are quiet when he finally leaves. Dawn's breathing is steady, and he brushes her hair away from her cheeks with the awkward affection he rarely lets anyone see him show. The fine strands stick to the remnants of the tears she rarely lets anyone see her cry.

He stops in Buffy's room for a new sword, goes down the stairs and silently past the living room, not looking inside. He knows there will be people sleep on the sofa, on the floor, upstairs in Joyce's room. They're Angel's concern, and Giles'. Not his.

Someone, probably Tara, put his mug of blood back in the refrigerator. He gulps it cold, and it tastes terrible, but he doesn't care about that, either. He puts his coat back on and leaves through the back door. The big bad with wings is still out there, along with some other nasties, and he's got a few hours before dawn to kill things, and pretend they have Doc's face. Or Glory's. Then he'll be back to put a tape in the VCR, and sleep until Dawn gets home from school.

Angel had everything first, but Dawn is his now. Buffy gave her to him, and he'll hold onto her with his last bloody breath. 'Til the end of the world.

"For you, Slayer," he mutters, as he catches a glimpse of something slimy, possibly evil, and sure as hell ugly, and heads off in pursuit. "Whether you like it or not."




Feedback: Perri Smith

The Darkest Dawn  


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