Dawn raised the window shade as the plane began its descent, eyes big as saucers at her first sight of Las Vegas.
"Shut that," Spike growled, wincing away from the dim shaft of sunrise that had found its way into the cabin. "You Hoover-ize me, and it's straight back to Merry Olde for you."
"Geez, you're not going to turn all stuffy now that you're my 'chaperone', are you?" she said, putting air quotes around chaperone.
Spike reached around her and shut the shade himself, hissing when the tip of one of his fingers began to tingle. "I am, and you're going to be bloody grateful for it too. Didn't have to wait for you; didn't have to bring you with at all. I would've been able to cover a lot more Buffy-hunting ground without you as albatross around my neck." Dawn turned to him, those saucered blue eyes filling with moisture, her lower lip sliding out. He didn't relent. "Could've stuck you with Zippy the one-eyed wonder carpenter as chaperone."
"We're in this together. You promised."
Fucking hell, he hated his stupid mouth and its stupid habit of making stupid promises before his stupid brain could think them through. Promise he had. It had been the only way to get Dawn to return to England and finish her school year, something he figured Buffy would very much care about the moment she got de-obliviated.
The things he'd done for them of late, both Summers women ought to be beside themselves with gratitude. He'd flown with Dawn to England, lack of necro-tempered glass and all, danced attendance on her while she finished her final term, then flown back round the world in yet another vampire death trap, just so's he could hold the kid's hand and keep her company.
He was becoming a regular jet-bloody-setting vampire. It was ridiculous.
Dawn snuck her hand into his, worming her way into where he'd buried it inside the leather sleeve of his duster in case some other idiot felt the need to see the sunrise. "Thank you, Spike," she said, laying her head on his shoulder.
Bloody fucking ridiculous.
The citrus-y scent of her shampoo, the same scent Buffy had worn when last he'd seen her, during the Los Angeles apocalypse, tickled his nose. "We'll find her, yeah? You an' me, Bit."
"You and me," she agreed as the plane bumped down.
What they'd do if and when they found Buffy, Spike had no clue. He suspected Dawn had none either.
It was a bridge to cross when they got to it. They had to find her first.
"Vegas was a bust. Got any new leads?"
Angel went silent on the other end of the line, considering.
After Los Angeles, when it had turned out he wasn't dead, hadn't shanshued, and was no longer the head of Evil Inc., or even the head of a supernatural detective agency, Angel had spent his nights wandering the American southwest. Ostensibly he was investigating any Buffy and Lindsey related leads, but from what Spike could tell he mostly brooded, at loose ends, with an equally morose Illyria for occasional company.
Business as usual for his grandsire, far as Spike was concerned. But he'd at least had his ear to the ground while Spike had been off playing big brother across the pond, and had kept him apprised of potential Buffy sightings.
"I don't know," Angel said at last. "Las Vegas was kind of it. I'm surprised you're so anxious to move on; it's your sort of place."
"Not with a kid in tow, it isn't."
"Aw, is she putting a cramp in your style, Spikey?"
"For fuck's sakes, Angel. Piss off." Spike hung up on him, too irritated to bother waiting for anything else the tosser might have to say. He turned to Dawn, who was watching him hopefully from across the hotel room.
Poor kid. She'd been a right trouper, canvassing with photos of Buffy up and down the strip by day while Spike had visited the demon haunts by night. After a week of nothing – zero indications a Slayer was in town – they'd agreed it was time to move on. They didn't have time to waste. Dawn only had a few weeks before her final year of school started, and Spike intended to have Buffy found by then.
After Buffy's swan dive to save the world, Spike had spent a hundred and forty-seven days consoling an inconsolable Dawn, with no way to make it better for her. No way to bring her sister back.
It would be different this time.
"Looks like it's up to us, pet."
Dawn's face crumpled, but only for a moment, and then she drew her shoulders back and nodded. She pulled out the battered map she'd been poring over for the past several weeks and spread it out on the bed. "We know Buffy was here for sure," she said, pointing to the small town with the cyber café. "And they were moving east – at least up until then." Her finger traced the possible routes Buffy had taken, north, south, east, and back west.
"What did you have in mind?" he said, watching the wheels turn in her head. Both Angel and Xander had investigated along each route, independently, without success. Spike figured short of some brilliant flash of insight, they'd end up having to do the same.
She hesitated. "Buffy ran away with Lindsey. Not by herself, but with Lindsey. Before we figure out where, we have to figure out why. What if…" Dawn hesitated again, biting her lip, then raised her eyes to his and said, all in a rush, "What if she wasn't just using him as an opportunity to start a new life? What if there was something between them?"
Spike flinched, unwilling to consider the implications, but his mind went there before he could stop it.
Lindsey could have told her they were more than Watcher and Slayer, and Buffy wouldn't have known otherwise, at least at first. Or maybe something had developed between them over time. The urban cowboy was young and attractive enough, and Buffy had the added cachet of being Angel's girl. Lindsey had a bit of a hard-on for taking what was Angel's, same as Spike. It made an unpleasant sort of sense.
"She ever mention anything like it to you?" he said.
"No… but we weren't exactly sharing secrets. She barely mentioned him at all after she realized he'd tricked her."
"Hardly seems likely she'd still fancy him after that. If she ever did in the first place."
"Going with him at all just doesn't make sense," Dawn said, still tracing routes on the map.
Leaning back, Spike let his gaze go out-of-focus, transforming the map into a fuzzy, abstract blur of lines. "Turns my stomach to think along those lines," he admitted. He scratched at the back of his neck. "Think we need to look at it from a different angle. Buffy doesn't want to be found, so that's going to rule out any place big enough or dangerous enough to warrant a Slayer's attention, and by extension, Rupert's attention."
"But she probably wants to keep slaying – it was the only thing she ever really got excited about. Which means someplace not too small."
"And even if she knows it's a lie now, she was conditioned to think of Lindsey as her Watcher. Likely she wanted him along as her slay buddy," Spike said, pleased with his observation. Better than Buffy wanting McDonald along as her fuck buddy.
Dawn's look was sympathetic. "Yeah, maybe." She turned back to the map, tucking her hair behind her ear. "They could be anywhere by now…" she said.
"Slayer's got a sort of freedom, these days. She could travel wherever she wants. Make up for the vacations she never got to take before."
"So she's, like, on a slay-cation?"
Spike grinned. "Sounds like my sort of holiday. All right, I think we're on to something here. Where'd Buffy always want to go, but never got the chance?"
"There's just one flaw with your logic."
Dawn sniffled. "She doesn't remember wanting to go anywhere."
"Oh, bollocks." When the sniffles turned to full-fledged tears, Spike pulled her to him. "Moron, here."
Shaking her head against his chest, she said, "No, it was a good idea. We just have to keep brainstorming."
"Sun's almost down," Spike said with a glance at the clock. "Let's brainstorm in the car."
Dawn scrubbed her hands over her eyes. "Can we ride the rollercoaster at the top of the Stratosphere first? Speaking of things people might have always wanted to do but never got the chance…" She focused hopeful baby blues on him, lashes damp with tears.
Spike sighed, and tugged his wallet from his pocket. How could her refuse her anything?
Especially when it was on Rupert's dime.
Just the sort of place Spike had never cared to go.
He cruised the quiet town, alternately squinting at the address clutched in his hand and the post boxes lining the sleepy streets. The cool night air was dry, a little dusty, and sweet with the smells of sun-warmed earth. It was hard to believe Evil could lurk here.
Then again: small town Texas.
Home to one Sheldon McDonald, warlock and distant cousin of Lindsey McDonald. Bottom of the barrel far as leads went, but they'd all been bottom of the barrel for so long now. Besides, tenuous though it was, at least it was a lead. Spike hadn't had one of those in weeks, and being Rupert's American gopher, running the errands nobody else wanted in between searching for Buffy, wasn't as much fun as – well, it was no fun at all.
On the other hand, 'working' for the council kept Spike on the move, kept him occupied, kept him in cash. Gave him something to do in between scouring the North American continent for one intentionally missing Slayer. Jason Bourne would have been easier to track.
Sheldon proved to be evil with a lowercase 'e', about half as evil as Andrew at his worst. Then again, it was hard to feel too trembly around most magical types after Willow. A My Wicca can beat up your Wicca kind of thing. Sheldon also had zero information to impart concerning his cousin. Lindsey had worked a few contracts for him back in the day, but since then? Nada. Hadn't heard from him; had never seen the pretty blonde girl in the photo before in his life. But wasn't that the Slayer?
"No," Spike said, emphatically. But not too emphatically. Didn't do to seem overly concerned. "Any idea where Lindsey might go if he wanted to lay low?" This after having convinced Sheldon his intentions with regards to Lindsey were on the up and up.
The balding, middle-aged warlock stroked his wispy salt-and-copper beard, eyes closed. "There was a relative – or, we called him Uncle Jed, at any rate – who had a cabin in the deep woods. Over Louisiana way. Lindsey's family spent a summer there, after the little one passed, as I recall." Eyes open now, he scratched his ear. "It was a long time ago. But the old place might still be there. There were powerful magicks around it, too. Good place to be if you didn't want to be found."
Spike thought that sounded a bit too off the beaten path for his quarry, at least the way he and Dawn had figured it. "Anywhere else, maybe with a bit more activity? Of the supernatural type?"
Sheldon considered again. "Linds did have a real fondness for Oklahoma," he said at last. "Could be he's gone up Tulsa way."
Tulsa. Spike didn't know much about the place. It had never rated high on his list of must-sees, meaning the town was no hotbed of excitement. Or evil – same difference, far as the century-old vampire in him was concerned. But maybe there was enough activity to occupy a renegade Slayer and a pseudo-Watcher. At any rate, it wasn't a place they'd looked, or thought to look, before now.
Later that night, he rang Dawn. It was in the wee hours for him, but breakfast time at her English boarding school. "Lo, Platelet," he said when she answered, out of breath from running for the phone.
"Spike! It's only Thursday… Is something wrong?"
When the summer had passed, with no Buffy to be found, Spike had just about had to tie Dawn up and physically haul her back to school. He'd no more wanted to send her back than she'd wanted to go – once Dawn returned to school, it meant summer was over, and with it, his promise to have found Buffy for her before then. If they'd had any leads, at all, he might have been able to rationalize keeping Dawn with him. But they'd had nothing. So, he'd sent her off with a promise to keep up the search, and to call her with updates every single day.
Weeks had passed with nothing to report. Every single day had been reduced to every other day, and then every few days, and was now a once weekly call on Saturdays. Painful as it had been to watch Dawn emotionally disengage from the search for her sister, it had been for the best, to Spike's way of thinking. Dawn needed to live her own life, with her own friends and worries.
It had taken him half the drive from Shamrock to Tulsa to decide whether to share his findings with her now, with the possibility of getting her hopes up for nothing, or wait until Saturday. The knowledge that she'd never forgive him if it turned out to be a real lead was what had finally decided him.
"Think I might have a tip worth pursuing," Spike said.
He pulled the phone away from his ear a split-second too late. "What was that?" he said, phone on the opposite side of his head while he massaged his ringing ear with the palm of his hand.
"Omigod, what, where, how?" Dawn repeated, this time at a reasonable pitch for human and vampire ears alike.
"Tulsa." Spike described his visit with Sheldon, then said, "Makes sense they'd go to ground in one of Lindsey's old haunts. A snake likes the safety of its den, and it's as good a bet as any we've had since Vegas. What do you say, feel like spending a couple weeks where the wind comes sweeping down the plain?"
"I'll be there with my boots on!" There was some more unintelligible squealing, and then, muffled, "Audrey? Anyplace around here sell cowboy boots? And hats?"
"Whaddyawant?" He drew the pillow over his head without waiting for an answer. After months on his own, he'd forgotten what it was like to spend time with a human sort – at least any longer than the occasional overnight with an equally lonely woman. Dawn didn't keep the same hours, and even with his vampire constitution, the past two weeks had left Spike severely sleep deprived.
Dawn lifted the pillow. "I'm going to the mall. Don't freak out if I'm not here when you wake up."
"You were just there yesterday," he mumbled, punctuating his observation with a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Yeah, but I promised Willow I'd get her a pair of jeans from American Eagle, and I forgot yesterday. We don't have that store back home…"
Spike tuned out the rest of her prattle and, waving her off, pulled the pillow back over his head. Nice she thinks of Blighty as home now, he thought as he drifted off, glad Dawn finally felt settled in enough to call someplace home after the two long years since Sunnydale.
Several hours later, he woke, stretching out the kinks and enjoying the temporary quiet of the hotel suite. With a yawn, Spike sat up, running a hand through his bed hair and wondering what the Bit would want to do this evening. After a week of searching high and low for Buffy, Dawn's visit stateside had turned into a proper holiday, or as proper a holiday as a girl could have with a vampire as companion. His sunlight allergy curtailed most joint activities, but they'd been managing to have a good time despite his limitations.
He pulled his jeans on and settled in with a microwaved quart of blood in front of the telly. There was something on the news about a rash of gruesome animal attacks near the university, which Spike watched with interest. Animal attacks tended to be code for demonic activity, something he hadn't seen much of in Tulsa. He'd dusted the odd vamp during his nightly forays, and happened upon a demon or two, mostly the harmless kind, but the city had been lacking in the type of action that would hold a Slayer's interest.
Spike was wondering what the odds of running into Buffy were now that there was a clear need for a Slayer in town when Dawn came bursting through the door.
"Spike!" she called, cheeks flushed and eyes wild, chest heaving. "Spike, where are – oh. Get dressed, hurry!"
"Buffy," she said. "I saw Buffy."
By the time they'd sussed out a way to get him from the fancy hotel without covered parking to the car with necro-tempered windows, and then into the mall without covered parking, all without going up in a ball of fire or providing one hell of a show for the muggles, Spike was feeling more than a little cranky.
Dawn had pulled as close to the mall doors as she could on the shady side of the building, and now Spike made a run for it, the smell of charred flesh mingling with the overwhelming stench of department store perfumes as he dashed through the doors. He smoothed back his hair with a sniff, and returned the clerk's stare with one of his own until she looked away.
Dawn found him examining a display of women's shirts a few moments later. "This way," she said, tugging his arm. "She was at the food court. Maybe she's still there."
"You sure it was her?" he said, for what seemed like the millionth time.
"Please." She managed to pull off contemptuous even while double-timing it around the mid-afternoon browsers. "You think I wouldn't know my own sister?"
"Why didn't you talk to her?"
Dawn shot him a terrified look. "I panicked, okay? And what if she decides to run? Not like I can keep up with her if she does. You've got that whole supernatural speed advantage, not to mention smellementary powers"
Long strides easily matching Dawn's hurried ones, Spike wondered just what they would do if the Slayer was still there. After close to a year, his efforts to find her had become a habit, automatic and perfunctory, his original motivation worn down by time and failure. Buffy was gone, and didn't want to be found, and Dawn seemed to have made peace with the idea. But now – now it was real. Spike's heart stuttered in his chest, elation and anticipation mixed with trepidation. What if Buffy did run? What would it do to Dawn?
Hell, what would it do to him? His carefully nurtured stoicism would be destroyed in a metaphorical heartbeat. Just the thought of seeing her...
His chest seized up, and his hands trembled, imperceptibly, enough only he would notice. Spike stuffed them into the pockets of his inconspicuous brown jacket. With his left hand, he caressed the pack of fags therein, taking what comfort he could from the crinkle of cellophane and the weak odor of tobacco. Beside him, Dawn's heartbeat hammered away. She grabbed his arm again, pulling him to a halt when the corridor widened into a food court.
"I don't see her."
"Be calm," he said, hardly calm himself. "Easy does it."
"Can you smell her?"
That was the question, wasn't it? Tracking Buffy had been impossible for so many reasons, not least of which was her altered scent. "I dunno," he said at last. "So many scents, and if Buffy's is still off…"
"Oh, god. It's my fault we lost her. I should have gone after her right away."
"You did the right thing," he said absently, his focus honed in on their surroundings. Was that the barest whiff…?
Spike couldn't scent Buffy, not enough to track her. "Tell me again what you saw."
Dawn sagged. "She was sitting right there –" She pointed. "She had a tray with food and a drink, and a couple of bags by her feet. Gap, Old Navy, Foot Locker..."
"So she'd already finished her shopping."
And that had been an hour ago, which meant no time to waste dithering. "Let's get moving," he said. "If she's still here, maybe we can catch her."
The two of them took off, not quite running, into and out of each store, up and down the concourses of the mall. They didn't stop until they were back at the perfume counter where they'd first gone in.
"Should we look again?" Dawn said, a little out of breath.
Through the doors, Spike could see the sky slowly darkening. He shook his head, the newscaster's grisly lead story looping in his mind's eye. The apathy he hadn't realized he'd fallen prey to until now fell away, and his blood hummed, thrilling to the anticipation of the hunt.
"No need." His smile was predatory. "Have a feeling I know exactly where the Slayer's going to be tonight."