The Letter

Chapter 7:
The Dinner

The Letter
The  Coat
The Man
The Truth
The Talk
The Visit
The Dinner
Friends Come Visiting
Epiphany
Making Contact
Back in the Saddle Again
Pennies from Heaven
The Prodigal
Revelation
Reconciliation
The Salon
A New Beginning
Tea and Sympathy
Convergence
Encounters and Interludes
Desperate Measures
Dancing in the Dark
The Vampire, the Witch and the Watcher
A Week in the Death of William the Bloody
Phoenix Rising
Picking Up the Pieces
I Love a Parade
Mr. and Mrs. Summers

Spike followed Dawn up the steps to 1630 Revello Drive with some trepidation. He'd been an entirely different man the last time he'd been here so many months ago - the events here had precipitated his transformation, but it had been coming for some time. Still, he hoped that this return to familiar places wouldn't also mean a return to familiar behaviours. A soul was only a useful guide if you took the time to listen to it. Fall into old habits and soon it would be just an irritating background noise, easily ignored. He took a deep breath and crossed the threshold.

He was surprised at how dark and uninhabited the house seemed as they entered. All the curtains had been drawn and there were no lights on. Dawn moved into the kitchen, flipping switches as she went.

"Witches not home today, Niblet?" he asked, curious. The last thing he expected was Dawn's stricken face as she turned back to him. He knew then that he hadn't been the only one to experience catastrophic changes.

"Oh Spike... Tara's dead." Her face crumpled into tears as she relived the traumatic events of the spring. Spike enfolded her in his arms and steered them both to the couch. He held her tightly, stroking her hair until she calmed and her shaking shoulders stilled many minutes later.

"I'm sorry I'm such a baby, Spike," Dawn managed at last, wiping her streaming eyes on her sleeve and reaching to the table for the box of tissues there. "I forgot that you weren't here when everything happened."

"I don't think you're a baby, Dawn," he said gently, taking a tissue and blotting the tears that she had missed. "But I think you had better tell me what's been going on while I was away."

**********

An hour later he was still trying to digest the implications of everything he had learned: Tara dead, shot by Warren who had in turn been killed - flayed - by Willow turned to dark magic. Then the world had been in danger of ending as she tried to drown her pain. The only thing that had been able to stop her when even Giles had been overcome was Xander. Wouldn't have thought Harris had it in him, he thought with grudging admiration. Might be more to the whelp than I realized.

"I wish I had been here," he offered solemnly when she had finished. "I could have helped, somehow."

"There was nothing you could have done - we all tried. I'm just glad you're back now. Buffy is too," she insisted. "She just doesn't know how to say it yet."

Even in the face of her grim story, she could force a gloomy smile from him. Can't be anyone more hopelessly optimistic about romance than a teenage girl. Something that came with the hormones, I suppose. Dawn jumped up suddenly, startling him and making him quickly review the past few moments, fearing he might have actually said some of that aloud.

"Omigosh, the bathroom!" she cried. "I completely forgot. Wait here and I'll just get some of my stuff out of the way. I'll get you a robe so I can get started on your laundry." With that, she darted up the stairs, leaving him to contemplate that there was probably also nothing more mercurial in mood than a teenage girl.

To the accompaniment of mysterious bangs and thuds from upstairs, Spike stood and began to wander about the main floor, recalling some of his previous visits to Buffy's home. There hadn't been so many in all that he couldn't remember individual details.

The kitchen reminded him strongly of Joyce. Every corner brought back memories of talks and laughter they had shared in the most unlikely circumstances. He wondered what Joyce would make of him now, and whether she would have granted him her blessing in his rocky and intermittent courtship of her eldest daughter. He liked to think that she had seen something in him beyond the demon, and sent a few stray thoughts heavenward, praying for grace.

One by one he moved through the rooms, cataloguing memories, until he ended up at the base of the stairs. His hand caressed the worn newel as he remembered. The first time he'd come in, as they plotted to defeat Angelus; seeing Buffy alive again, descending the stairs - were it to happen now, his heart would surely stop; his ignominious flight down these same stairs... Given the strength of the emotions engendered by even such everyday environs, Spike began to have doubts about the wisdom of entering the bathroom itself.

He was shaken out of his reverie by the sound of Dawn thundering down the stairs. "Okay, the bathroom's relatively decent now. Here's a robe you can wear. Sorry it's kind of girly." She tossed it to him from the landing. Spike looked up to catch it, and froze.

The blue silky fabric caught the air and fluttered open, spreading like an avenging angel come to strike him down for his sins. Thin cloth warmed by her skin moulded to her breast, belly and thigh beneath him. He needed her so much, and her struggle only inflamed his desire. Slick, slippery material in his grasping, clutching hands, tearing with a stuttering fabric scream as he pulled it from her shoulder...

Spike clutched at the thin material of the robe, his breath cawing harshly in his throat and his heart pounding fit to break his ribs. "Can't... I can't..." He trembled, and buried his face in the robe.

Dawn slowed uncertainly as she came down the stairs. "Spike, what's wrong?" she asked, entertaining heroic visions of having to apply CPR or artificial respiration in the middle of the living room floor.

He raised a pain-hollowed face to hers. "She was wearing this..." He couldn't finish.

"Oh," she replied, confused, then when understanding dawned: "Oh! Oh Spike, I'm so sorry... I'll find something else right away."

Despite his reaction, he was strangely reluctant to release the robe, forcing Dawn to pull the silky fabric through his clenched fingers. She took it and wadded it up in her hands.

"Maybe I should go," he suggested. "My being here... wasn't really a good idea."

"No, don't. Please. It was my fault for not thinking. I'll find you something else." She ran back up the stairs in search of a garment not so laden with painful associations.

Spike spent the time while Dawn was upstairs again consciously trying to control his breathing and force his heart rate back to something approaching normal. He was back in control of himself when she returned bearing a large floral print terry robe that must have once belonged to either Willow or Tara. Buffy would have swum in it. Best of all, the overwhelming flowery scent that clung to it wasn't anything like hers.

**********

He wasn't sure he'd be able to face entering the bathroom, but apparently his body had exhausted its adrenaline reserves for the time being. The only sensation he could manage was a numb heartache, as though his heart were a limb to which circulation had been cut off for some time. Sighing, he removed his clothes and left them in a heap outside the door for Dawn to collect.

For the longest time he just stood under the scalding spray with his head down and his hands braced against the wall in front of him, trying to overcome the shuddering in his limbs. The shakes gradually subsided, and he turned the temperature down to a less skin-searing level, found the shampoo, and in the mundane process of washing up began to recover.

Spike emerged at last from the steam-filled bathroom, his hair slicked back and feeling slightly ridiculous swaddled in the voluminous floral dressing gown. He padded barefoot quietly down the stairs to where he could hear Dawn singing along with some unidentifiable boy-band on the radio, accompanied by clattering dishes. The sheer domesticity of the scene made him laugh, and he rounded the corner feeling lighter of heart than he had in some time.

"Smells good, Niblet," he said, startling Dawn out of her song. She grinned at the uncharacteristic sight of Spike in a bathrobe, and he felt a twinge of trepidation. "I hope you can keep a secret - this would be devastating to my hard won reputation if word ever got out."

"Oh didn't I tell you? Xander's coming over this evening to check up on me," she said, deadpan. Her eyes twinkled at the sudden look of panic on his face.

"You had better be joshing with me, Bit," he replied in a tone approaching his former growl.

Dawn couldn't contain herself; she burst into giggles. "I'm kidding, I'm kidding," she insisted, between fits of laughter. "But you should have seen your face! It was priceless!"

"Very droll, I'm sure," he said dryly, seating himself at the table and carefully managing the folds of the robe around him. "How much longer do I have to endure this humiliation?"

"I just put everything in the dryer, so about another hour. Supper should only be another ten minutes or so. It's another Dawn one-pan special," she said critically. She turned back to the stove and poured some mushroom soup over the cut-up chicken and broccoli already in the pan, then reached for the curry paste.

"You're one up on me already," Spike admitted. "I haven't a clue in the kitchen. Back when I had to eat... food, we had a cook who took care of it. Cooking was one of the things one left to the servants, you know," he teased, then threw his hands up in defence when Dawn brandished the spatula at him, laughing.

"Maybe we should arrange a trade," she suggested. "Cooking lessons and dinner once a week, in exchange for some Slayer-type training?"

"Have to test the quality of the cooking first, don't you think?" He ducked nimbly to avoid the balled-up dishrag she threw across the kitchen.

**********

Whatever qualms he might have had over Dawn's cooking vanished when she set the plate before him. Poured out over rice it made a hearty plateful and he set to with a will. All conversation came to a halt as he wolfed down two servings almost before he remembered to breathe.

"Wow, you really were hungry," Dawn marvelled, and he looked up somewhat shamefaced. She only smiled. "It's always more fun to cook for someone who appreciates it. Buffy always looks at me like I might be trying to poison her. Maybe you'll let me try out some more interesting recipes on you."

"Well, noble self-sacrifice in a good cause ought to net me something for the positive side of the cosmic balance," he said with a grin as he collected his plate and utensils together. "Can't pass up any opportunities, you know."

Dawn got up from the table and took another plate from the cupboard to fill with what remained in the pan. "But you've got a soul now, right? Doesn't that automatically make you one of the good guys?"

"A soul isn't a 'get out of karma free' card, Bit. I'll have to live a long time to make up for the things I've done. And 'soonest begun, soonest mended', as my mum used to say." He sighed. "But thanks for the vote of confidence."

"I always thought you were already more on our side than you wanted to admit. Not to mention it's hard to be Mr. Evil now in a flowery bathrobe," she laughed.

Dawn covered the plate with cling film to leave in the fridge for Buffy while Spike cleared the table. They were just finishing up the dishes together when the kitchen timer rang, indicating that the dryer was done at last. Spike set the last of the dishes back into the cupboard. "I'll go retrieve my laundry." And maybe some dignity along with my pants, he thought as he descended the basement stairs.

He pulled the laundry from the dryer, enjoying the warmth. Before bothering to fold anything back into the shopping bag, he drew a pair of jeans from the pile and tugged them on impatiently, hissing as the hot metal of the studs met newly sensitive flesh. The tee shirt by contrast was pure pleasure; the heat soaked into his skin and further relaxed his muscles. A bloke could definitely get used to this.

He stood barefoot in front of the dryer as he packed up his other jeans and few shirts. As he turned to make his way up the stairs, his eye was caught by assorted camping equipment stacked on the shelves by the stairs. He moved closer and was fingering the thick fabric of a sleeping bag thoughtfully when Dawn called out for his attention down the stairs.

"Are you decent?"

Now there's an interesting question. "Well I'm dressed at least, Bit," he replied. "Can't claim more than that."

She came down the stairs bearing a large paper bag. "I put together kind of a care package for you. You know... some quasi-food-like items that don't have to be cooked. Oh, and I had an extra toothbrush from the last time I was at the dentist, so I threw that in along with some toothpaste, soap and a towel. I thought you might be a little short on the amenities back at your crypt."

He couldn't speak; his voice caught in his throat and he leaned heavily against the shelf, knocking the sleeping bags to the floor. She doesn't know the goodness in her; it's simply in her nature to be kind. This is what I could have been... this is what I have to strive for now. I don't know if I can.

"Spike?" She looked at him in some confusion. "Did you want to borrow some camping gear?"

And I am not going to cry in front of her like some damn pansy. He used one arm to pull her close and kissed the top of her head - a more difficult task than it would have been even a few months ago, she was still growing so quickly. "Thank you," was at first all he could manage without betraying quavers in his voice.

"Are you okay?" Dawn asked as he released her.

He bent and picked up the sleeping bag from where it had fallen, using the move to disguise his swipe at his suspiciously damp eyes. "I think I'm going to be, yeah." 

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