|Maybe it's too much to ask for Dawn to say all the things I have her saying here. Maybe no real 16-year-old would be able to. On the other hand, no average teenager would have been through what she has, either. In any case, these things wanted saying. Tara's gone and Spike's out of touch, so there was no one else.
The Truth (in two days)
Dawn took her cereal bowl and plopped herself down at the kitchen table next to Buffy. "It's nice having you all to myself," she said.
"Enjoy it while you can. Willow will be back from the magic abuse intervention group in about two weeks," her sister replied. Dawn made a rude noise.
"Hey, have a little sympathy for other people's problems," Buffy said, surprised at Dawn's lack of understanding.
"I would, if I thought they were actually treating the right problem," she replied.
"What do you mean?"
"Just take a look at Willow's history," Dawn explained. "Oz left, so she tries a spell to make herself get over him right away. You died, her magic brings you back. Tara argues with her, thinking she's using too much magic, she tries to make Tara forget - eventually leading to a whole barrel of fun for the rest of us, Joan. And when Tara died, she was ready to destroy the world to stop the pain she felt. And now you and everyone else are saying 'the magic made her do it'? That's bullshit."
"Dawn!" Buffy cried, horrified at her cynical attitude, and yet riveted by the younger girl's view of recent events.
Dawn didn't let Buffy's outburst stop her. This was something she'd wanted to get off her chest for a long time. "Willow's problem is that she wants instant gratification, instant solutions to all her problems. I know what that's like. I chose shoplifting. Willow chose magic. She's never learned that some things take time to get better - the way you only learned gradually last year that being alive was something you could accept again - and she absolutely refuses to understand that sometimes nothing you do will help."
"Where do you get these ideas?" Buffy asked.
"Geez, Buffy," Dawn rolled her eyes. Didn't you ever listen in your 'Health and Life Management' classes in high school?"
"Are those the ones where they make you carry an egg around to see what it would be like to be a parent? 'Cause - not good memories there."
"There's a lot more to it than that. I'm guessing you ditched a lot of those classes for Slaying duties?" Buffy nodded. "Figures.
"I've had a lot of help from the therapist from Social Services, too," Dawn added. "You know, figuring out what to do when your family's more dis than functional? We sure qualify. I think I might like to be a psychologist when I grow up. Or maybe a vet. I haven't decided yet."
"Spike's back," Buffy said, out of the blue, to Dawn at breakfast the next day.
"What? When?" she blurted.
"He's been following me around on patrol for about a week, but I only found out it was him last night." Buffy took a bite of her toast and washed it down with some coffee before continuing. "He said he's been back for almost a month, though. I don't know why he didn't tell me - tell us - sooner."
"Maybe because he didn't think you'd be glad to see him," Dawn observed. "You two weren't exactly on the best of terms last spring. And speaking of which - what happened between you two back then? What made him run off that way? I never understood that."
Buffy sat back in her chair and assessed her sister thoughtfully. Since she had stopped trying to protect Dawn from every little thing, she had found that her sister had a remarkable resilience in dealing with events that would have driven Buffy herself around the bend at the same age. Even the succession of - was two a succession? - of vampire lovers. She thought that Dawn would probably deal equally well with knowing the truth about Spike.
"He . . . tried to rape me," she admitted. Dawn's eyes went wide, and she froze in mid-mouthful. Buffy continued quickly, afraid that she might choke. "I know now that he was desperate to get me to love him, and since we'd always . . . played kind of rough . . ." Her voice trailed off. She wasn't doing a very good job of this, she thought, her cheeks turning pink with embarrassment.
"You stopped him," Dawn said, after swallowing her now soggy mouthful. It wasn't really a question.
"Yes. I don't think that he understood what he was doing, but he still hurt me. Not even so much physically, just some bruises - but emotionally I was a wreck about it for some time."
Dawn was quiet for so long that Buffy was afraid she had said too much, that Dawn was still too young to have to face this kind of information.
"That . . . bastard," Dawn said at last, under her breath.
"No. Xander," she said, to Buffy's complete surprise. "He was all hinting around about how something had happened, and then he accused me of having the same blind spot about Spike that you had." She looked up frankly at her sister. "Don't misunderstand - I think Spike deserves a swift kick or worse for what he did - but Xander was deliberately trying to turn me against him, against someone I consider a friend."
Dawn stood and took her bowl to the sink, rinsing it out and leaving it in the dish rack to dry. "I like Spike. I always have," she said, turning back to face her sister. "I guess I have to admit that the chip isn't really the same thing as a soul, if he could still do that to you, but we've known plenty of evil vampires - and Spike just isn't anymore, for whatever reason. He cares about me. He loves you. You know that."
"I know," she acknowledged quietly. "At least, he did. He wouldn't talk to me last night."
"And all of this is what made him leave?" Dawn asked, still somewhat unsure about the sequence of events.
Buffy rose and went to the writing desk in the corner. Pulling open a drawer, she rummaged briefly and returned with a much worn and folded piece of heavy paper, which she placed in front of Dawn. "Read this. You'll understand."
Dawn unfolded Spike's letter and read it through, several times. She didn't think Buffy wanted to hear that she could tell from the worn creases the letter had been read hundreds of times before. Some things Buffy really had to figure out for herself.
She refolded the paper and smoothed it between her hands and the table. "He must have felt awful," she said in sympathy for the pain he had revealed in the letter, unconsciously brushing a tear from the corner of her eye. "And you still don't believe that Spike has something Angel didn't?"
"Angel has a soul. Spike doesn't. That's the difference between them," Buffy insisted.
Okay, maybe she wasn't going to figure this out by herself either. "Buffy, stop and think for a minute. You're saying that Spike left town because he was so upset over what he had tried to do. That he felt guilty."
"That's right. So?"
"Since when do evil, soulless vampires feel bad about hurting someone?" Buffy closed her eyes. She had no reply to that.
"You know what really has you spooked?" Dawn went on. "If Spike can love you and care about us without a soul, then what was wrong with Angel? How come he couldn't love you enough? You'd have to admit that Angel wasn't as much of a Prince Charming as you remember - and that would just tear you up inside."
"You can't blame Angel for what Angelus did. He didn't have a choice," Buffy said hotly.
"You really don't see it, do you?" Dawn asked, surprised that Buffy didn't understand.
She was genuinely mystified by Dawn's question. "See what?"
"The hole in your argument big enough to drive a stolen RV through, dummy. If you're right about Angel and Angelus being different people, then Spike doesn't have a choice about how he behaves either. But he still made one. He left because he knew what he did was wrong - even if he only figured it out because of the way you reacted - and he's trying to make it better.
"And even worse - you have to admit that just going to Spike and using him to make you feel something again was wrong. You were wrong. Because he's shown that he's more than just some thing there for your convenience."
Against her will, Buffy found herself remembering when Warren had killed Katrina and made her think she had done it. Spike had tried to keep her from turning herself in, and her response had been to beat him bloody and nearly senseless in an alley, while accusing him of being nothing more than an evil, soulless thing because he couldn't understand her guilt. Buffy was silent for a long time. "I did that to him. I did . . . Oh god."
She leaned her face in her hands. He couldn't feel her guilt; he wasn't wired that way - but he had wanted to understand her pain, and she hadn't even granted him even an attempt at an explanation, hadn't thought him capable of understanding. Whole swaths of the past year unfolded again before her eyes in this new light, and what she saw of herself made her cringe. A couple of weeks later, she was ready to sleep with him again because Riley had turned up and made her feel like a failure - and she knew Spike would never turn her down. He had never said a word about how she had hurt him. And more than a year ago, before they had faced Glory together, he had thanked her for treating him like a man. Silent, shamed tears began to spill from her eyes.
Dawn cleared Buffy's dishes from the table, since it didn't seem as though her sister was interested in any more breakfast. She was going to be late for school, but she figured she could afford to blow off at least one of her morning classes now that her attendance and marks had improved. Buffy really needed someone to listen to her today.
After about ten minutes, Buffy raised her swollen eyes and saw Dawn sitting quietly across from her, doodling on the telephone pad. "Was that more wisdom from your health classes?" she asked at last, reaching for a tissue to repair some of the damage.
"No, from the AP Psychology course I took by correspondence over the summer, remember? When I was desperate to make up some of the credits I lost skipping last year?" She smiled. "You should remember; you complained enough about the cost at the time."
"I have to go to him. I have to . . . apologize, at least."
"Do you think you two will get back together?"
"It can't be about that. If you're right - and I think you are - then I have to apologize simply because it's the right thing to do. Otherwise I'm no better than what I always accused him of being. I'm supposed to be the one with the soul. After that . . . I don't know what will happen."
The pounding at the door echoed through the dark, candlelit crypt until Clem pulled it open. "Why Slayer! What a pleasant surprise. What can I do for you?" His wrinkled, homely face developed even more lines as he pulled it into an earnest welcoming smile.
"You can tell me where Spike is," she said. "I need to talk to him."
"Spike? He left. I haven't seen him since the spring," he began, offering his cover story again as he had to Dawn many times over the summer.
"It's all right, Clem." Spike emerged from the shadows. "She saw me last night. Hello, Slayer," he said, bringing a cigarette to his lips and lighting it nonchalantly.
"Spike-" Buffy just looked at him, then over at Clem standing by the door, then back at him again.
He could take a hint. "Clem, isn't there something you should be doing right about now?" he asked his friend.
"No, I don't remember any - oh, right. That thing." He turned for the door. "So sorry to greet and run, Slayer, but there's this really important . . . thing . . . that I have to go do." In a moment he was through the door and gone.
Buffy waited only until the door closed behind him. "Spike," she said, trying hard to keep her voice steady. "We have to talk."
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