Dawn sat sprawled next to Spike on the edge of the front stoop, legs swinging, heels thunking against the foundation. She reached into the bag and pulled out another handful of Flamin' Hot Cheetos before offering the bag back to the vampire beside her. In the wee, still hours of the morning, there was little noise outside of the crinkling of the bag and crunching of the corn puffs, and the thudding of her heels.
"Good thing I've got more of these at home," Spike said, shaking the near-empty bag and peering inside with a disgusted look.
"Yeah? How'd you get 'em, anyway?"
"Got connections, haven't I?"
Dawn gave Spike the raised eyebrow treatment. "Connections? Who?" she said disbelievingly.
"Have to kill you if I tell you."
She rolled her eyes, and reached over to wipe the orange goo from her hands on his black t-shirt.
"Oi! Watch it, brat," he said, brushing off his shirt. "If your mother could see you now."
Dawn sighed, trying to shake off the sharp sense of loss his teasing words had evoked.
Spike nudged her shoulder with his, until she looked at him. "She'd be right proud of you, kiddo. Oxford."
"Guess I did alright. The party turned out good, don't you think?"
"No fights, no need to call the cops. I'd say it was a success, least from your perspective. I say it's not a proper party without a good brawl, possibly even a decapitation or two, but…"
"Whatever, Big Bad. And hey, Buffy stuck it out, so yay her."
"That she did," Spike agreed. "Think the real test will be tomorrow, when she has to face Xander and Faith without the cushion of strangers."
"Mmm," Dawn said, wondering how that would go. Buffy had begged off helping to clean up due to an early shift at work the next morning, and gone to bed as the party was winding down. Willow and Bronwyn had already left, for the long drive back to Cardiff, and Giles had gone to stay with an old Oxford friend who taught in the antiquities department. Of the Sunnydale gang, only Xander and Faith had stuck around, spending the night in the spare room.
Dawn didn't even want to think about what that implied. Obviously their non-relationship had progressed since the last time she'd seen them. Ew.
At least they were only staying for another day or two, before heading back to Cleveland. Buffy would be able to handle it. She hoped.
"How're classes?" Spike said, distracting her from her musings.
"All right. I don't think they've changed much from the days when you were here, though."
"Never went to Oxford, Bit," Spike said mildly.
Dawn squinted at him through the gloom, and, failing to detect any false modesty, said, "Seriously? Damn. There goes the twenty quid I bet Giles."
"You bet on me being an Oxford man?"
"Well, duh, yeah."
Spike smiled, giving her that warm, friendly grin he rarely showed anyone but her. Or Buffy. "Sorry to disappoint. What'd the old man bet on, then? Cambridge?"
"Oh. I see. He figured me for an uneducated lout, I suppose," Spike said, and Dawn half-shrugged, embarrassed. "Well, you can tell him I was King's College, in London. Not quite Oxbridge, but respected all the same, in my day."
Sliding from the stoop to the ground below, Spike stretched and said, "Guess I best be getting on, before the sunrise." He patted his pockets, looking for his cigarettes, then pulled out a business card and frowned at it. "You know anything about the Order of Shamaya? Sounds familiar, but I can't quite place it."
Dawn scrunched her nose, thinking. The name sparked a memory, but she couldn't quite catch it either. Damn. Now it was going to bug her, same as a word she couldn't remember, stuck on the tip of her tongue. "I want to say yes? But I don't know why."
"They're looking for our friend Lindsey, if that helps. Some order of little old monk types, according to Harris."
She shook her head. "I know I know it. I just don't know why I know it. I'll look into it tomorrow." Dawn scanned the yard, taking in the scattered remnants of party. "Think I can use research as an excuse to pass on cleaning up?"
"Bet you can talk the houseguests into helping," Spike said. "And on that note – gotta fly, pidge. Have fun with the cleanup." He pressed a kiss redolent of Cheetos to her forehead and sauntered down the walkway.
"Lazy jerk!" she called after him and he laughed and raised a hand in farewell, without looking back.
"Thanks a lot," Dawn muttered. She considered the cans and bottles littering the front porch, then, with a shrug, turned and went inside. They would keep until daylight.
"See you at the discussion group tomorrow, Dawn."
"See you tomorrow, Freddie," Dawn echoed, doing her best to remain cool and collected under Freddie's attention. The tall, lanky third year student with dark, shaggy hair and even darker eyes gave her a searing, knee-trembling smile, and bounded down the handful of steps outside the Weston Library to join his mates.
"Wowsa," she muttered to herself. "They sure don't make 'em like that back at the ol' boarding school." Resisting the urge to stare after Freddie until he was out of sight, Dawn followed after, far more sedately, and turned and headed for the flat.
Book clutched to her chest, she picked up her pace, wishing she'd taken her bike instead of walking. She was anxious to see how Buffy was surviving Xander and Faith, but even without the worry of how her sister was managing, Dawn would be hurrying home anyway. Buffy was there.
The novelty of living with her sister hadn't yet worn off. She didn't think it ever would. Most kids her age were ready to leave their families behind, but Dawn had already spent far too long without what was left of hers. She loved coming home to find her sister on the couch, flipping through a magazine, or in the kitchen, getting dinner started. Every time she stood shoulder to shoulder with Buffy at the kitchen counter, chopping vegetables, Dawn had to repress tears of happiness.
"Buffy?" she called, letting herself into the flat.
"Upstairs," Buffy called back.
The relief of hearing her sister's voice, grumpy though it was, made Dawn grin. She was still terrified that someday she would come home and there would be no reply.
Abandonment issues. She had them.
Dawn poked her head inside Buffy's bedroom door and found her sister on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. "Rough day at work?"
"Work was fine. After work, not so much."
"Oh," Dawn said with a wince. "Xander give you a hard time?"
Buffy rolled to look at her. "Worse. He was on his best behavior. Xander and Faith both. As if I might break. Or, you know. Run away. Again." She sighed. "It's just so awkward."
Dawn nodded sympathetically, and moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "Speaking of. Where are they?"
"Out," she replied with a vague wave of her hand. "I didn't ask where."
"That's good. It'll give me time to go through this book," Dawn said, hefting said book. An online search had returned little more than a few footnotes on the Order of Shamaya, but one of the footnotes had mentioned a book on medieval Nepal. Lucky for her, Blackwell's had happened to have a copy in stock. Maybe if they could find out more about this Order, they could find Lindsey.
And if they could find Lindsey, maybe Buffy could get her memory back.
"Have fun studying," Buffy said, with a grimace that suggested she didn't envy her younger sister one bit.
"Yeah…" Dawn suppressed a tiny smile of self-satisfaction. Her lead wasn't much, as far as leads went, but still more than either Willow or Giles had come up with as of her phone calls to both of them this morning. Her good cheer faded when she realized that she hadn't bothered to ask Buffy about the Order. Had anybody? Surely somebody had… right? Because if anybody knew anything about some monks looking for Lindsey, it would be Buffy.
Then again, knowing how her sister avoided anything but the most casual of conversations with Giles and the others, there was a good chance nobody had. There was a good chance nobody else would've been willing to bring up anything to do with Lindsey.
Dawn wasn't subject to the same boundaries. She didn't have to be on her absolute best behavior with her sister, not anymore. "Hey – do you know anything about the Order of the Shamaya?"
Buffy's gaze went distant as she thought about it. "Maybe?"
"Some sort of religious order. Xander ran into them back in Cleveland, I guess. They're looking for Lindsey."
"I remember now!" Buffy said, snapping her fingers. She sat up. "Lindsey mentioned them. Just the once. Let me think…" Her brow furrowed, and then she shook her head. "All I remember him saying is that they were the keepers of something. And that they weren't too happy with him."
"Probably why they're searching for him."
"Probably," Buffy agreed. "I saw a couple of the monk guys in Los Angeles. They were on his trail even then." Her gaze went distant once more. "He told me they were dangerous, but then he clammed up and wouldn't say much else. Oh! He did tell me they had something to do with his protection tattoos."
Dawn's eyes widened. "They did?"
If the Order was the reason Lindsey couldn't be found, then maybe they'd know something about why locator spells didn't work on Buffy either. Dawn's mind raced with the implications. Maybe they'd taught Lindsey other things besides tattoos. Something different that he'd done to Buffy.
If only she could remember where she'd heard the name Shamaya before. Dawn glanced at the book in her hand, hoping it would contain the answers they needed.
"I'm going to get to reading this," she said, and headed for her own room, anxious not to waste another minute.
Dawn stood beside Buffy and waved goodbye to Faith and Xander as their car pulled away. As they headed back inside, Buffy let her smile fade, and she heaved a tremendous sigh of relief.
"Wasn't that bad, was it?" Dawn said. When Buffy only groaned, she said, "Well, you did it, at least. Made through the party and an entire weekend of Xander and Faith!"
Buffy raised an eyebrow at Dawn's perky, chipper voice. "Are you seriously patting me on the head for acting like an adult instead of running away? What next, do I get a gold star for tying my own shoes?"
Flushing, Dawn turned away. "I need to finish going through that book," she said, and stalked up the stairs to her room. She could hear Buffy following her, but didn't stop.
"Dawn – I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be such a bitch."
"It's no big," she said, repositioning the Nepalese-to-English dictionary so it aligned squarely with the corner of her desk.
Buffy sighed. "Really, I'm sorry. It's been a hellish sort of weekend, and I took it out on you."
Dawn finally turned around. Now that she was paying closer attention, she could see that Buffy, whose hands were fiddling with the hem of her shirt, did look far more exhausted than she'd realized. "I guess it was too soon to have people stay over…"
"It's not that," her sister replied, her voice so quiet, Dawn had to strain to hear her. "Or, it's not just that." Buffy looked everywhere but at Dawn.
When she didn't add to her statement, Dawn said, gently, as if she were the older sister, "Then what is it?"
"You and me? The sister stuff? That's good, right? Better than I ever thought it could be. But I'm not…"
Buffy came to sit on the edge of Dawn's bed, still not looking at her. "I feel like there should be more. In my life. This weekend, I realized everybody's got plans and goals. Careers. And I'm –" She waved her hand helplessly. "I serve coffee. Slay the occasional baddie. Make us breakfast by day and hang out with an ex-evil vampire by night. I dunno," she said with a sigh. "Maybe I'm expecting too much. It doesn't sound like I had all that fulfilling a career before…"
"Oh, Buffy." Dawn sat beside her and put her arms around her, ashamed to have not noticed how unhappy her sister was. "I didn't know –"
"Neither did I. But it sort of hit me this weekend, you know? How I've just been drifting. Getting by, instead of getting on with life." She made the helpless motion again.
"What do you want to do?"
With a half-laugh, Buffy shrugged and said, "Hadn't got that far yet. Was still processing the idea that I want more in the first place. And anyhow, it's all pie in the sky anyway. Not like I have any skills besides killing things. Or serving pie. With ice cream, or without, take your pick. That'll get me far."
"You can always go back to school –"
"Yeah, maybe. I'm still thinking things through. It's not like I have a clue what I do want." Buffy stood abruptly and moved to the doorway. "I'll get back to you when I figure it out."
Recognizing that Buffy was going into her patented repression mode, Dawn went after her. "Hey. It's not like I know what I'm doing either. I just came to Oxford because it's what all the other cool kids were doing."
Her sister frowned, surprised, then shook her head in mock disgust. "Guess it's a good thing jumping off bridges is completely out of style, then."
"Totally," Dawn agreed. "Otherwise – splat."
Buffy laughed a little, and Dawn said, "I get scared too, you know. About school, the future – it's scary. For everybody."
"You mean I'm not special?"
"Thanks," Dawn said.
Buffy squinted at her. "Huh?"
"For telling me."
"Oh." She gave Dawn a sheepish smile. "Guess I should probably take advantage of the whole having a sister to share my problems with thing, huh?"
"Hey sisters are for sharing more than just clothes."
"And now I know what happened to my new green top I thought I misplaced."
Dawn blinked, innocence personified, and Buffy shook her head. "Nope. Won't work on me. Hand it over, kid."
"Oh well. It was worth a shot."
While Dawn rummaged in her wardrobe, Buffy said, "So, while we're in sharing mode…"
"Yeah?" Dawn kept her back to her sister, hoping it would encourage to say whatever it was she needed to say.
She heard Buffy take a deep breath, and then say, all in a rush, "I-think-I-might-sort-of-like-Spike. Am I crazy?"
Dawn froze. She wasn't shocked, only surprised that Buffy would admit it. And to her. She felt the press of grateful tears, and blinked them back. Getting all sappy would only make them both uncomfortable. Extracting the green shirt from her wardrobe, she turned slowly to face a terrified Buffy.
"I think you'd be crazy not to. Now that you've gotten to know him again."
"But he's a vampire. A walking, talking corpse."
"No offense, but so are you." At Buffy's pained look, Dawn said, "All I'm saying is don't hold it against him. Spike may be a vampire, but he's not dead, not any more than you are. And he's not even morality-challenged, not for a long time. Tact-challenged, maybe, and definitely patience-challenged, and really, really definitely good-taste-challenged. But none of those amount to a reason to check yourself into a mental hospital if you're feeling the urge to play kissy-face with him. The blood and booze breath, on the other hand..."
"There is no urge to play kissy-face!" Buffy said with an affronted glare. "I just meant I like him as a friend!"
Dawn shot her sister a look of supreme disbelief. "If you say so." When Buffy's mien turned distant, she reminded herself she was supposed to be encouraging her sister to open up, not push her farther away. Which meant suppressing the impulse to tease, no matter how much she might really, really want to right now. She marshaled her fugitive tact. "I'm sorry I misunderstood what you meant. As nothing more than a friend, I can highly recommend him."
Buffy relaxed at Dawn's conciliatory tone, the tension draining from her taut posture. "He's not so bad, is he?"
"No," Dawn said. "He's really not. Spike's grown up a ton these last few years, which is a funny thing to say about somebody who's been alive for close to two centuries, but whatever it takes. And he really cares about you. Not to mention? Total hottie."
Buffy choked, and turned a deep shade of red. "I hadn't noticed," she said in a squeaky voice.
"Uh huh. 'Course not." Dawn was going to hell, she was sure of it. But the look on Buffy's face was worth it. She handed Buffy her shirt, which Buffy clutched to her chest like a shield.
When Buffy continued to stand there, blinking like a deer in the headlights, Dawn shooed her out of her room, a small smile on her face. "Go on, take your shirt. I've got studying to do."