Sharing an apartment with a sister she couldn't remember and an ensouled vampire who might or might not be in love with her turned out to be less Twilight Zone than Buffy had feared, and more Three's Company.
Spike mostly kept out of her way, much to her relief and his continued good health. Sometimes she'd turn to find him watching her, his blue eyes intense and focused in a way that always made her take a nervous step backwards. But the minute she noticed him, he'd nod and give her a half-smile, and leave.
He'd taken over Lindsey's room, although not without some grumbling about the stench of cowboy, and stayed in there most of the day, leaving Buffy and Dawn to hang out and bond. In the early evening, he'd spend time with Dawn while Buffy patrolled, and then head out to do whatever it was souled vampires did all night long.
And Dawn, it turned out, was pretty cool. Without all the worry and distrust that had surrounded Buffy in England, she found herself quickly growing close to the younger girl. Rather than trying to remind Buffy of the relationship they used to have, Dawn seemed intent on forging a new one with her. She'd answer questions Buffy had, and sometimes she'd point out habits or likes and dislikes that were still the same, but otherwise she did her best not to pressure Buffy into being a sister. It suited Buffy perfectly. Instead of trying to live up to the sister Dawn remembered, she could just be a friend. An older, cooler, amnesiac friend.
It had been a week since they'd moved in with her, and Buffy was listening to Dawn's snuffling snores drifting up from the lower bunk and musing over how surprisingly content she was. She and Dawn had spent the day shopping and eating a ridiculous amount of junk food, then come home and eaten popcorn and watched terrible movies until Dawn had fallen asleep against her shoulder.
Buffy had sat there for a long time, stroking Dawn's hair and enjoying the sense of belonging that had eluded her in England. Things with the younger girl weren't perfect – there were times when Dawn tried too hard, and times when she couldn't hide her resentment or anger with Buffy for having left. But, like with Lindsey, when Buffy was around Dawn she felt like she could make peace with her missing memories, and build a new life.
She wasn't looking forward to giving her sister up so soon after they'd found a way to build a relationship, but Buffy knew it would be selfish to ask the younger girl to stay in Tulsa with her. Maybe, Buffy thought as she drifted off to sleep, she could go to England with Dawn and build a new life there.
It was something to consider.
Buffy woke from a dead sleep, fully alert in an instant. It was pitch dark, and she couldn't tell what had woken her, but the near-silent cries from the bed below soon clued her in. She debated whether to comfort Dawn or allow her the illusion of privacy, but before she could decide, she heard a male voice murmuring words of comfort in a low, soothing voice.
Realizing Spike was in their bedroom despite the shut and locked door, Buffy automatically reached for the stake she'd taken to keeping under her pillow since he'd moved in. She waited, senses straining, to see what the vampire was going to do.
"Tell me the story," Dawn said, sniffling.
"Been awhile," Spike said. "Don't know as I remember it."
"Been awhile since I've had the nightmare."
"I guess now that I have something to lose again… And I know you remember, you big faker. It's only been a year since the last time."
Spike said, "Don't want to wake Big Sis up," and Buffy wondered why he was pretending she was still asleep. He had to be able to hear just how fast her heart was beating. "Getting a bit old for this sort of thing, anyway, don't you think?" he added.
"Please?" Silence ensued, followed by, "Pretty please with a cherry on top?"
The vampire let out what sounded like an exasperated sigh, but Buffy got the feeling he was smiling all the same. The bed shivered and Dawn's bedsprings creaked as Spike settled himself on her bed.
"Close your eyes, then," he said, and Dawn mumbled an agreement.
"Once upon a time," Spike began, "there was a beautiful princess named Dawn. Princess Dawn lived in a small but cozy castle, with a wonderful, loving sister and mother, and she had lots of true and loyal friends."
"Don't forget the knight sworn to protect her."
He chuckled. "Indeed. She also had her faithful knight, sworn to protect her life with his very own. But despite the love and fealty of so many, the Princess's life was not an easy one. A wicked queen had laid a curse upon her as a baby…"
Spike continued on, his rough accent smoothing out as he wove the tale of Dawn's life in fairytale form. Buffy found herself scooting to the edge of her bed and hanging her head over, so she could better hear his soft, deep rumble.
"After Queen Joyce died, Princess Buffy had to be both mother and sister to Princess Dawn. And while Princess Buffy was strong and brave, she was but a girl herself. A girl who had also lost her mother, and was just as much an orphan." Dawn's breath hitched, and Spike paused before continuing.
"She had no time to grieve for her mother, though, because the wicked queen was relentless in her quest to steal the kingdom for herself. Princess Buffy had to be strong and brave, not only for her sister, but for the entire land. A true hero, she was more determined than ever to protect her sister, and to break the curse that haunted them. Fortunately for the Princesses, their friends did not abandon them in their time of need. Princess Buffy gathered together her loyal forces, and marched on the wicked queen's lair."
Buffy found herself holding her breath, enraptured by the low, steady sound of Spike's voice, and the story he was telling. It was the story of her past, of the memories she'd lost, but idealized and removed from reality. For once, she could bear hearing about her heroic deeds, because she didn't feel as though Spike were holding up an impossible standard and expecting her to live up to it.
All he was doing was telling a story, and not even for her benefit.
"... but the knight was defeated. He plummeted to earth, his failure to protect Princess Dawn a more bitter agony than his fall. Princess Dawn's last hope lay with her sister. Princess Buffy arrived, ablaze with the light of righteousness, and smote down the queen's evil minion. She freed her sister, but it was too late. The evil minion had drawn blood, and activated the curse."
"I always hope the story will turn out differently," Dawn said sleepily.
"Me too, Platelet. Me too. Who knows, maybe one day it will." Spike sighed, then resumed his narration, even softer than before. "Princess Buffy didn't hesitate. She loved her sister more than life itself, and so she did the only thing she could. She sacrificed her own life so that her sister could live. And though Princess Dawn, and her knight, and Princess Buffy's entire retinue grieved the loss of the one they'd loved so dearly, they promised each other that they would carry on, and honor her memory every day.
"Each morning upon waking, Princess Dawn would think of her sister's noble sacrifice, and though the memory brought sorrow, she chose to respect the gift her sister had given her. Through her grief, she grew stronger and more beautiful, and as brave as Princess Buffy, becoming a true hero herself.
"As the years passed, Princess Buffy watched over her sister from Heaven. She knew her sacrifice hadn't been a sacrifice at all, but an act of supreme love that she could never regret. She was proud of the woman her sister grew into, and the way she ruled the land with a fair and honest hand. The day came when Princess Dawn became Queen Dawn, with a husband and children of her own. She and her true love grew old together, and lived happily ever after.
"And every day, when Princess Buffy looked down from Heaven, she was at peace…"
Spike trailed off. Buffy lay riveted, listening to Dawn's slow, even breaths, and the soft little grunts the girl made when Spike eased himself out from under her. She hastily wiped away her tears, suppressing a sniffle of her own. A moment later, the vampire's face swam before her, his gaslamp eyes a piercing blue even in the gloom.
"Didn't mean to keep you awake," he said, shifting uneasily. "S'just a bit o' something I cooked up back in the day, to comfort kid sis. She had a hard time sleeping, after Glory, an' after you… died. Had a lot of nightmares."
"That's okay. I liked it. Princess Buffy sounds way cooler than the Disney princesses I probably grew up with." After a small pause, she said, "I take it you're the knight?"
He looked away. "No more'n a tarnished knight at best. But Dawn insisted."
Buffy examined his shadowed profile. Right now, witnessing his devotion to this fragile, human girl, and the way he'd comforted her when she was afraid, it was hard to remember that he was a vampire. And if what Spike had just told her was true, he'd taken care of Dawn years ago as well, even without a soul.
It didn't make any kind of sense. She'd refused to believe the others when they'd told her that Spike and Angelus – two of the worst vampires in recent history – had reformed, but she couldn't deny what she'd just seen with her own eyes.
Maybe there was some truth to it after all.
"Yeah?" he said, face still turned away.
"I'm glad you were there for her. When I couldn't be." After a beat, she added, "Thanks."
He turned back to her, eyes blazing, expression fierce. "Promised, didn't I? 'Til the end of the world."
She swallowed. "I don't remember –"
"Nothing still?" He raised his hand, as if to brush her hair from her face, then dropped it.
"Nada," she said, glad he hadn't attempted to touch her. Having him this close to her bed was disconcerting enough. She loosened her death-grip on her stake, and forced herself to keep an even tone. "And speaking of not remembering – I've somehow ended up with a strange man – vampire – manpire? – in my I'm-positive-it-was-locked bedroom."
"Oh. Right," he said, sheepishly. "I'll just – g'night, lo- I mean, Buffy."
"Goodnight, Spike," she called softly as he closed their door.
"Hey," Buffy said a few nights later, when Spike emerged from his room, yawning and tousled. "I've heard some things about a new nasty in town, hanging around the stockyards and tearing up the cattle. Sounds – big. I was thinking backup might not be the worst plan I've ever had."
Spike scrubbed a hand through his hair, and yawned again. "Give me a mo' to rise and shine and get my Wheaties in. Got any details on what type of demon?" he said, moving to the refrigerator and rooting around in the crisper drawer reserved for his blood.
He withdrew a bag, and anticipating the smell, Buffy made a faint gagging noise before she could stop herself.
Shoulders stiff, he replaced it, then shut the door and straightened. "Let me wash up, and we'll be off."
"Spike… you can…"
"Know you don't like it. And it's fine. I'll eat later."
Buffy shrugged and turned away. He'd been making an effort to keep his vampire nature to himself, and she wasn't about to argue, not when she did prefer it that way. Accepting a vampire into her life had been Dawn's price of admission, but it didn't mean she had to accept what Spike was.
Vampires Bad. Simple.
If only it were still that simple. Too bad Spike refused to fit the mold. The truth was, Spike was – not horrible. He was surprisingly considerate, and not awful to be around, and had a sly sense of humor she couldn't help but appreciate.
And playing big brother to a lonely teenage girl? Major brownie points in her book.
If she hadn't already known Spike was a demon, Buffy might've gone so far as to say she enjoyed his company. Sometimes, she even thought she felt a hint of the old sparkage Faith had mentioned – she couldn't deny that a bare-footed, bare-chested, rumpled-headed Spike was more swoon-worthy than he had any right to be.
But then she'd remember: vampire.
Just – not such a bad vampire as Lindsey-as-Giles had led her to believe.
"You know what? I've got some stuff to do in my room. You have time to eat," Buffy said. He looked at her, startled, and she shrugged again. "Yeah, it grosses me out, but it's not like you can help it. I'll leave. You eat."
After all, Spike was trying. She could try too.
When she came back out a half hour later, Spike looked more put together. His hair was slicked back, he had his boots and brown jacket on, and his cheeks held a faint sheen of color, the mark of a recently-fed vampire.
"Any idea what we're looking for?" he asked when they set out, Spike driving and Buffy riding shotgun.
"Whatever we find at the stockyard that's not a cow?" Smirking, she sang, "Which of these things is not like the other? Which of these things does not belong?"
"Unless it's a cow-pire."
Spike raised his eyebrow.
"You know, like how you vampires look just like people. Makes it hard to spot you. Demons don't usually blend… but if it's a cow-pire…"
He snorted. "Didn't realize you'd gone daft this past year."
"You know –" He twirled his finger about his ear. "Coo coo for Cocoa Puffs. What's wrong with you? Used that word plenty before and you always knew… Oh."
Buffy stared straight ahead, knuckles white atop her knees.
Silence reigned. Fingers drumming at the wheel, Spike let out a deep sigh. "'M sorry. I forgot, and…" He sighed again. "One thing you've yet to learn about me – my mouth's in no way connected to what little brains I have. Say stupid shit all the time, without thinking it through."
"Let me guess, it's all part of your charm?"
He turned to look at her. "Said a lot of things to you over the years, most of which I regret. And, no, the majority of it you did not find charming. Rightly so. If it's any consolation, the little improvement I've managed to make is thanks to you. For not putting up with my bad behavior. You saw the potential for good in me, and insisted I live up to it."
"Oh," she said. "Well… oh." What was she supposed to say to that?
They rode in awkward silence, until they'd arrived at the stockyards. When they'd pulled into the parking lot, Buffy blurted, "What was I like? Before?"
Spike laughed. "The biggest, most self-righteous bitch imaginable."
"Oh," she said in a tiny voice, torn between hurt and indignation.
"And the most compassionate, kind-hearted, amazing woman I've ever met. Had to have big brass balls to be the Slayer, yeah?" he said, amused by her stunned expression. He put the car in park and turned to her. "Had to draw your line in the sand, right from wrong, good from bad, light from dark, to do your job. And you were bloody glorious at it. Best Slayer I've ever come up against. You knew how to fight, and you knew what you were fighting for.
"But…" He reached out to run a knuckle across her cheek, and Buffy shivered under his ephemeral caress. "Under that hard-as-nails Slayer exterior lies a woman with the biggest heart in the world. You see the good in others. You forgive, when another wouldn't. You love, when most couldn't. You've been dealt blow after blow after blow, and you pick yourself up, shake yourself off, and go on doing what needs to be done, when the rest of us would have given up ages ago."
She'd heard plenty about her heroic deeds from her friends, and from Dawn, their eyes shining with love and admiration as they told her. Hearing the same from the formerly Evil Incarnate was doubly hard. Even this creature seemed to revere her. Who could live up to such ideals?
Buffy bit her lip, trying to stop the quivering, but it didn't work. "You know I'm not her, right? That Buffy is gone. Me? I gave up. I ran away." Her breath hitched, and she wrapped her arms around herself, trying to hold in the sobs that wanted to escape.
"Nah, you were just taking a much-needed breather. Don't blame you. There's only so much of your do-gooder lot I can stand myself."
She let out a watery laugh, but Spike's attempt to cheer her up didn't help, not when she felt the old, familiar pressure weighing her down, making her want to run. Formerly evil vamp or not, she couldn't bear the thought of disappointing him, the way she'd disappointed everyone else, but what other outcome could there be when held up to the paragon that was Buffy Summers?
Then again, he'd also called her a self-righteous bitch. Maybe he hadn't pedestaled her quite as much as she'd thought.
Surprisingly, that eased the tension.
"So, I'm a self-righteous bitch, huh?" Buffy said lightly, wiping away her tears.
"Oh, fuck, yeah. The biggest. Never happier than when you were putting me in my place," he said, the tease evident in his voice. Spike cocked his head, smiling softly. "Ready to go find us a cowpire, Slayer?"
Buffy climbed out of the car and waited for Spike to come around to her side, rolling her head in an attempt to ease the stiffness in her neck. "Are there vampire animals? I've never seen any, but that doesn't mean much." She grimaced. "Or maybe I have and I forgot..."
A week later, when Spike joined her on the tail end of her patrol, Buffy didn't even blink. After the cowpire demon – which had turned out to be a pariksit demon according to Spike, but which she perversely insisted on calling a cowpire despite its lack of resemblance to a cow, if only to catch him grinning at her when he thought she wasn't looking – he'd taken to joining her on her patrols after his nightly Dawn date.
"Slayer," he said by way of greeting. "Anything much going on?"
Buffy kicked at a gravestone as she passed. "No. I think it's time to move on from this one-pony town. Besides the cowpire –" – and there was the eye-crinkling grin she was starting to grow awfully fond of – "I've had zero action this week."
"Is that right? Zero action, eh?" Spike's mouth twitched. Buffy narrowed her eyes, and his expression turned to one of wide-eyed innocence. He patted his jacket pocket until he found his smokes, then lit up with an air of studious concentration.
Tossing it away after a few quick drags, he said, "We could spar. If you wanted. Get the ol' heart rate going, get some of that nervous energy out."
"Aw, you nervous around me, Spikey?"
"Bloody right I am. You're itching for a good slay, and I'm the only evil creature at hand."
Buffy twirled the stake in her hand, considering. Without Lindsey around, and the complete lack of demon-y activity, she did have a lot of pent up energy. And Spike could probably provide a challenge, something Lindsey hadn't been able to do this last year since he'd lost his supernatural enhancements.
"Since you offered," she said, spinning sideways and catching him in the back with a light kick.
Spike twisted away and righted himself. Tongue curled behind his teeth, he beckoned with a come-hither gesture. "Come on, then. Show the Big Bad what you've got, little girl."
Eyebrow raised, Buffy said, "Who are you calling little?" and launched herself at him.
The blows they traded soon went from pulled punches on Buffy's part to an all out attack as she realized that Spike not only could keep up, but possibly even take her if he wasn't so clearly holding back. She redoubled her efforts, and then, in what seemed to be an instinctive move, went straight for his nose.
"Ow!" he yelled, stomping in an agonized circle as he cupped his profusely bleeding face. "You bloody bitch! What is it with you and my nose?"
"Sorry." She tugged at his arm, trying to get a look, and he shook her off. "I didn't mean to! My fist just sort of… aimed straight for it."
Wiping at his face with the back of his arm, Spike glared and said in a thick, clotted voice, "Guess it's a good sign something in you remembers." He probed the bridge of his nose with cautious fingers, and Buffy apologized again.
Spike shook his head, scrunching and relaxing his facial muscles. "Almost good as new. 'Sides. Should've expected it."
"What with me being a bloody bitch and all."
Grimacing, he said, "That was the pain speaking. Didn't mean –"
"It's fine. Are you okay?" When he nodded, she said, "Speaking of being a bitch…" Buffy looked away. There was something she'd wanted to get off her chest the last few days, ever since she'd begun to get to know Spike. She sucked in a deep breath, darted a glance at his curious face, then dropped her gaze to his boots. "I wanted to apologize to you. For the things I said, way back when, when you and Angel stuck me in that cage at Wolfram and Hart. You were kind to me – or as kind as possible, under the circumstances – and did your best to help me… and I was horrible to you. So, sorry."
Buffy looked back up to find him blinking at her, mouth hanging open. Hands clenched, she waited for his response, and repressed the urge to start babbling into the heavy silence.
"Not – not that I enjoyed hearing the things you said back when," he said at last, "but I never – knew it wasn't you. So…" He floundered some more, then said, "Thank you. Know that had to be hard for you – you were never much one for apologizing. So, thanks."
Relief flooded through her, making her knees weak. "Now that that's over with…" Buffy started walking, and Spike fell into step beside her.
"I suppose I should apologize to Angel too," she said, as much to herself as to Spike. "I'm guessing if I got to know Angel, I'd see Lindsey had lied about him too…"
"Nah," Spike said quickly. "Angel's a right bastard. Best you stay away from him."
Spike lifted his chin, but turned away as she continued to study him, kicking at rocks as he walked.
"Hmm," she said, a faint smile playing about her lips. "I see how it is."
"What?" he replied, lower lip outthrust.
"Worried I'll prefer Luke to Bo? Dawson over Pacey?"
Expression inscrutable, Spike gave her a sidelong look, but said nothing other than, "You're off your rocker." Before she could respond, he changed the subject. "And speaking of our renegade Pinocchio. Any word?"
"Who, Lindsey? Nope. Nothing."
"Tosser knew something about your memory loss, I'd stake my life on it," said Spike, scowling. "If I ever get my hands on him…"
"You'll hand him right over to me," Buffy said with a hard look. "I know you two have issues, but Lindsey saved my life. And I don't need you rushing in, playing hero. Understand?"
Spike huffed out a sigh. "However you want to play it, Slayer."
Worn out from yet another day of shopping with Dawn (who insisted it was just fine to put it all on Giles' credit card, and that he wouldn't even notice the increased purchases), Buffy collapsed onto the couch and put her feet up on the coffee table. Beside her, Dawn did the same.
Taking advantage of the current warm and fuzzies, Buffy said, "So, I'm thinking about going back to England, maybe, when you go."
Dawn turned to look at her, eyes huge. "Really?"
Buffy shrugged. "Lindsey was the one footing the bills. Now that he's gone, I'm going to have to get a job at the very least. May as well move too." She looked down at her hands folded in her lap. "If I go… I don't want to go back to London, with all the other girls. That was too much – too many people, too much pressure… But I wouldn't mind being not so far away from you. We could, like, pop over to each other's for tea and scones, or something."
"Oh," Dawn said, and tucked her hair behind her ear. "I didn't want to be an ocean apart either. Which is why I applied to transfer to the University of Tulsa."
"What? Not a chance! You got into Oxford. With all those A-levels thingies you were waiting by the phone to hear about! You're going, missy."
"But I'd rather be with you. That's way more important to me than –"
"Dawn," Buffy said, tearing up. "Oh, Dawnie." She reached her arms out, and pulled the other girl into a tight hug. "I'm – I –"
Come on, Buffy, she told herself. You can say it. If you can apologize to Spike, you sure as hell can do this.
She took a deep, shuddery breath, and said in a rush, "I love you. I know I abandoned you last year, and I don't remember being sisters, but you are. My sister. I know it now. I love you. I can feel it." She pulled away, and looking into Dawn's tear-filled eyes, placed her hand over her chest. "Here."
Dawn's lower lip wobbled, and the tears spilled out. She buried her face in Buffy's shoulder, and Buffy stroked her hair. "Even if I never get my memories back, I'll never leave you again. Promise."
"I love you too, Buffy. I l-love you, and I missed you and – and –" Dawn sobbed, her entire body shaking against Buffy's.
"You won't have to miss me anymore. Okay?" Dawn nodded, and Buffy squeezed her closer. "So we're good? You're going to go to Oxford, and I'm going to go live with you in Oxfordia, or wherever the heck Oxford is. Okay?"
"Okay," Dawn said.
"Okay," Buffy repeated. "Okay."