Let the World Spin

by WesleysGirl



III. Across the Valley

Dawn bounces in the seat a little bit when they finally pull away from the building, and Spike protests with a mutter. "Sorry," she says, patting his shoulder.

"S'okay. Just take it easy there." He's quieter than usual, and she figures it's because he's hurt.

It's taken them a lot longer than she thought it would -- getting their stuff together didn't really take that long because most of it she didn't care about, but they'd had to paint all the back windows of Xander and Wesley's -- wow, weird combination there -- car so that Spike could ride in it.

"So where are we going?" Dawn asks after a minute.

"South," Wesley says, looking back at her from the front passenger seat. "Warmer, fewer vampires..."

"More sunshine," Spike says glumly.

"Yes, but we can make accommodations for one," Wesley says. "Whereas others will be more likely to settle in areas where the days are shorter."

Spike shifts his body a little bit on the seat and makes a pained noise that goes right to Dawn's stomach. "Not if everyone else has the same idea as you," he says. "Vamps will go where the food is."

Dawn looks down at him, sliding her fingers through his hair gently while he and Wesley, with the occasional comment from Xander, argue about where they're going to go. She wonders if she should point out that this might have been a good conversation to have before they, I don't know, left the school, but she's too busy being grateful that Spike's okay. And it's nice to be able to touch him like this, to kind of make him feel better, even a little bit, while he's too distracted to pretend that he doesn't like it.

"It's okay," she says quietly, just for him, when there's a pause. "It'll still get dark at night just like everywhere else. And I can stay up with you. It'll be good."

And Spike turns his head on her thigh so he can see her. His eyes look darker than usual, and kind of soft. "Yeah. It'll be good." He puts a hand up and rubs her cheek, and she smiles.

When she looks up again, Xander is watching her in the rearview mirror. He turns around, a quick glance because hello, he's driving, and then looks forward again. But he doesn't say anything.

Dawn thinks that she'll have to talk to him later, so that she can explain about her and Spike. Wow, so not looking forward to that conversation.

"Got something to say, Harris?" Spike asks.

Or, you know, they could talk about it now.

"Who me?" Xander says, not even glancing in the mirror now. "Nah. What could I have to say about the fact that you're all over Dawn like a cheap shirt?"

"All the shirts are cheap now, they're bloody free," Spike says, almost like he's bored. He doesn't sound mad, at least, and that's good. She thinks.

"That's not what I meant, and you know it." Xander sounds irritated.

"She's right here," Spike says, defending her ability to stand up for herself, which gains him so many points as far as Dawn is concerned. "She's not a piece of furniture -- ask her about it, if you want to know."

Eep.

That's not exactly what Dawn was hoping for -- she's not sure she's ready to try to explain this to anyone, especially Xander, and now she's, like, on the spot. "Wait. Who's a cheap shirt?"

Xander glances at her, his eye meeting both of hers in the mirror for like a split second. "It's just... you guys seem, you know. Pretty touchy-feely."

"And?" Dawn can feel her jaw tightening.

"And he's a vampire," Xander says.

"A vampire that's spent the past what, year and a half helping you lot save the world," Spike puts in, like he can't keep his mouth shut. Which, okay, is probably true.

Dawn thinks the 'save the world' thing must strike them all the same way, because for a really, really long minute the inside of the car is totally quiet.

"Perhaps this isn't the best time to discuss this," Wesley says.

Since he's facing forward, Dawn can sort of study him without him knowing. He looks -- well okay, maybe not actually all that different, but somehow he seems different anyway. It's mostly that his hair is messy instead of perfect, and his clothes are normal instead of being all Mr-Proper-Suit-Guy. He has stubble on his face too.

It's when he talks that you really notice it though.

In Sunnydale, Wesley was... well, there might not be a polite way to put it. But he talked too much about stuff no one cared about, and he didn't care about the right things. Plus he was a jerk and he walked like his shirt still had the hanger in it.

Now he doesn't say much at all, and when he does, it's in that soft voice that makes everyone listen, especially Xander. Well, except for when he was holding the gun on Peter. Then Wesley had sounded cold and hard, like some kind of... convict, or something.

Dawn's cautiously optimistic about him, she decides. He obviously has more of a clue than he used to, and Xander trusts him, so...

She gets that Xander doesn't want to talk about what happened to his eye -- it's not like talking about it will change anything, and mostly, talking about stuff you can't change just makes you feel bad. She wonders if it's all icky underneath the eye patch, or just, like, an empty socket. Okay, she's grossing herself out.

Her fingers are gently stroking through Spike's hair again, and he makes a little noise of appreciation, rubbing his cheek against her thigh. "You okay?" she asks.

"Been better," Spike says.

"You're going to need more blood," Dawn says, a little bit more loudly than she needs to because she wants Wesley and Xander in the front seat to hear too.

"Well he sure as hell can't have mine," Xander says.

"Wouldn't take it if you were the last man on earth," Spike says. Wesley turns to look at him. "No offense, mate."

Wesley actually looks kind of... amused, or something. "None taken."

"He won't anyway," Dawn says. "Not even mine. I asked. Kind of." She'd more hinted really.

Xander's hands tighten on the wheel, but he doesn't turn around. "What, you just said, 'Hey Spike, if you start feeling hungry, feel free to consider me a walking, talking snack bar?'"

Dawn rolls her eyes. "Yeah, that's exactly what I said."

"Doesn't matter what she said," Spike says. "'Cause I said no."

A tiny pause. "Well... good." Xander glances at Wesley and slows down the car -- SUV, really -- to go around another one that's abandoned in the middle of the highway. "We're gonna need gas soon."

Wesley leans over and looks at the dashboard. "Next exit?" he suggests.

"Yeah."

Dawn isn't sure if she should be glad that the conversation about the blood thing is over, or worried because she knows they're going to have to go back to it at some point in time, but she doesn't want Spike to be all stressed about it. Which he is, even if he'd deny it. She can tell just by the way his shoulder is tense. She rubs it, trying to get the muscle to loosen up, but doesn't say anything.

She wonders if it's possible to get, like, poisoned from secondhand testosterone.

"So, we're gonna stop soon?"

Xander nods. "Yeah."

"Good," Dawn says.

"Are you all right?" Wesley asks, turning to look at her.

"Yeah. I just have to... you know." She widens her eyes a little bit, although she's not sure why. It's not like doing that's going to tell Wesley that she has to pee.

But surprisingly, he seems to get it anyway. "We'll find somewhere with a bathroom then."

"Cool." Dawn thinks Wesley's probably just realizing now what a pain it's going to be to have her and Spike around -- a girl who can't just relieve herself on the side of the road the way guys can, and a vampire who can't be out during daylight hours.

They pull off the highway. "Gotta be a gas station around here somewhere," Xander mutters, then he spots one and drives over, stopping the car next to some others instead of near the pumps.

"How are you going to get gas from over here?" Dawn asks, confused.

"We have a system," Wesley says calmly, bending forward like he's reaching for something under his seat. "In any case, most of the pumps don't work anymore."

"Oh, right." Dawn slides sideways, grabbing her sweater off the floor and then sliding it under Spike's head so she can get up. "Don't try to get up or anything, okay? We don't want you bleeding all over the car." Saying it makes her think about their other car, the one that she ruined before they got to the school and Peter.

Spike grimaces. "Don't worry -- not planning on going anywhere." He looks meaningfully toward the door. "Sunshine, remember?"

They set up the side sliding door of the car with a heavy black blanket over it to make going in and out easier, and Dawn slips between the two carefully before opening the door and stepping out into the daylight.

She looks around. It seems weird to be outside during the day -- she has to squint against the glare -- but everything's totally quiet. She spots the restroom sign on the side of the building.

"I'll be right back," she says.

* * *

The bathroom is totally gross -- dingy, the inside of the toilet bowl practically brown, although Dawn is pretty sure that's because the water's been sitting in it for a long time. It doesn't really smell or anything -- at least, not like anything but mildew. She pees quickly -- it feels weird leaving Spike, even if she knows he's with Xander and Wesley -- but when she goes to wipe, there's blood.

Great.

Not that there's ever a good time to get your period, but when you're with three guys in a car, it's pretty inconvenient. Not to mention she doesn't think she brought the tampons with her when they left, so even if she wanted to go back to the car and get them, she can't.

Dawn glances around the room and, wonder of wonders, there's actually a tampon dispenser on the wall. Now, with her luck it just has to be empty, right?

Nope. Tampons galore.

Unable to believe it, she takes care of her little problem and sticks the other tampons into the pocket of her jeans. Washes her hands -- well, rinses them anyway -- and unlocks the bathroom door.

Steps out into the sunshine.

And the SUV is gone.

* * * * *

Spike's not even sure how it happens -- it's quick, plus he can't see out the windows. Harris and Wesley get out, presumably to start fiddling around with the petrol. He hears the very faint sound of the bathroom door opening and closing as Dawn goes in and then, much closer, a muffled sound and a dull thump, and the blanket covering the door's being opened.

He pulls back from it instinctively as the sunshine comes pouring in, scrabbling as far over on the seat as he can as Wesley's unconscious form is dumped onto the floor

"What the bloody hell...?"

"Shut up, vampire," the Grak'cktar demon that's pushing its way into the vehicle growls, jamming the muzzle of its gun into Spike's side not far from where he's still oozing blood from the last bullet. He grits his teeth and manages not to make any noise about it -- whatever the hell's going on, it might be better if the demons -- he can hear at least one more outside -- don't know he's hurt.

Harris gets back in the driver's seat. There's blood running down the side of his face and matted into his hair, and he's holding up his hands when he can, trying to indicate to the other Grak'cktar that he's not gonna try anything funny. Other one's got a gun too, and comes around to get into the passenger seat, gesturing at Harris with it. "Drive," it says.

Xander glances back, his eye moving over Wesley's still form and then up to meet Spike's.

He can see right away that Xander knows better than to mention Dawn, not that leaving her here on her own's much better than protecting her from these blokes.

"Where do you want me to go?" Xander asks.

The demon sitting next to Spike slides the door shut, carelessly letting another shaft of sunlight into the back seat. "That way," it says, gesturing back in the direction they've come from.

"You want to kill us?" Spike says, knowing what the Grak'cktar's have got planned for the humans anyway -- known delicacy. "You want the car? What?"

"Eh, we're greedy," the demon in the front seat says. "Want both." It turns around and looks at him appraisingly. "And you."

Brilliant.

Wesley stirs briefly on the floor, and Spike leans down and pats his shoulder. "Easy, mate."

They've started down the road away from the petrol station, Spike trying not to think about how Dawn's going to react when she comes out and finds herself alone.

He sits up straight again, watching Harris' face in the crooked rearview mirror and cursing whatever it is that makes it so Harris can't see him back. A little eye contact could come in handy about now. "What do you want with me then?" he asks, since there's no point in keeping quiet. "I'm dead, I'm no good to you either way."

The Grak'cktar next to him smiles a sharp-toothed lizard grin. "Oh, we have plenty of use for you, vampire."

Not sure he likes the sound of that.

On the floor, Wesley groans and stirs some more. Starting to come around, seems like. Spike leans down again, trying not to favor his gut, and brushes Wesley's long hair away from his face so he can see his eyes. "Easy," he says again, running his fingers over Wesley's skull and finding a big knot on the back of his head.

Wesley turns his head slowly and blinks, his gaze meeting Spike's and sharpening with understanding of the situation way quicker than Spike would have given him credit for. He coughs, brings a hand up to his face, and nods, just a tiny motion of his chin.

His foot kicks upward, boot slamming into the Grak'cktar's clawed hand and knocking the gun free to clatter into the well on the other side of the blanket.

The demon in the front seat whips around, gun still pointed at Harris, and Spike doesn't hesitate, just throws himself toward it. He gets hold of the demon's forearm and forces the muzzle of the gun toward the front of the car. It goes off, the sound loud in the enclosed space, tiny perfect hole and a cobweb of cracks appearing in the windshield as Harris swears and ducks and the car swerves wildly.

Grak'cktars are strong, but no stronger than vampires, and Spike has the beauty of adrenaline on his side as the two of them struggle briefly over the gun. Lucky thing they're driving away from the sun or the front seat'd be full of daylight, Spike thinks, then manages to wrestle the gun away. It flips through the air, up over the steering wheel, and lands on the dash for a few seconds before skittering down into Harris' lap. Xander swears again, car swerves again as he steps on the brakes and Spike uses the motion of the car to get the heel of his hand onto the Grak's chin and snap its neck.

Turns back toward Wesley, who's somehow managed to get hold of the gun and has it pointed at the second demon's temple. "I don't think it deserves to live, do you?" Wesley asks flatly.

"No argument from me," Spike says, and almost instantaneously Wesley pulls the trigger and the Grak'cktar's head explodes, most of it flying onto the blanket behind it.

In the front seat, Xander clears his throat. "Great," he says wearily. "Now we're gonna have to find a new blanket."

* * * * *

Wesley's swaying a bit on his knees, face pale, gun wavering in his hand. Spike takes it from him gently and pushes him down into a sitting position on the floor. "You okay to drive?" he asks Harris.

Xander is watching Wesley worriedly, but he nods. "Yeah, I'm okay."

"Then get this bloody thing turned around and back where we came from," Spike says, kicking the Grak'cktar's body down behind the blanket as best he can and tucking the gun behind the front seat before turning Wesley's face to look at him. Wesley's eyes are glassy and dazed, like he can't focus properly behind the glasses that are, surprisingly enough, still on after all this. "Think he cracked your skull?"

Wesley blinks, but has better sense than to shake his head. "No, I don't think so."

"Good." Last thing they need is someone with a serious injury slowing them down.

Harris gets the car facing the other direction and starts driving. The sun's starting to set, but it's right in front of them now, so Spike's got to keep back. Can't see anything that way, so he keeps an eye on Wesley instead, tense until he hears a sigh of relief from Xander.

"She's there," Xander says. "I can see her, she's fine."

"She won't be fine until she's back in this car," Spike says, but he can't deny to himself that he's relieved as well.

Another minute and the car stops, Harris putting it into park. He hands the other gun back to Spike without a word, then he gets out, leaving the engine running in what Spike thinks is a stupid move.

"Sorry," he hears Harris say. "There was this little thing with a kidnapping. Or maybe it was a car-jacking. Anyway... you okay?"

Spike can hear the relief in Dawn's voice too when she answers. "Yeah. Are you guys okay?"

"Uh-huh. Too bad I can't say the same for the inside of the car." Harris opens the passenger side door, says, "Look out," and dumps the Grak'cktar's body out onto the road. "Here, get in front, Wes is in back."

Dawn climbs in and looks back at Spike. He can just about smell the fear on her -- unless that's the little bits of Grak'cktar brains that are spattered all over the blanket.

"Look out, Spike," Harris says, sliding the back door open so that he can dump the second body out too. He sticks his head in tentatively, trying, Spike thinks, not to get demon guts on him. "Wesley? You okay?"

Wesley raises his head from where he's been resting it on his arm and looks at Xander. "I'm all right. It's not the first time."

"Yeah, I know. That's kind of why I was worried."

"What happened to Wesley?" Dawn asks, shutting her door.

"Bit of a bump on the head," Spike tells her. "You all right?"

She nods. "Other than the mild freakage that occurred when I came out and you guys were gone? Yeah."

Harris shuts the door and comes around, gets in and puts the car back into drive, turning it around again to take them back to the highway. "I think it's time we find somewhere to hole up for the night -- it's gonna be dark soon." He glances into the rearview mirror, and Spike can tell he's worried about Wesley.

Wesley must be able to tell too. "Don't stop early on my account," he says, from his position with his head cradled on his arm again. "Spike?"

"Yeah?"

"Beneath your seat there's a first aid kit with chemical cold packs in it. Would you get one out for me please?"

Spike reaches underneath and feels around until his hand makes contact with a cardboard box -- not a proper first aid kit, but it'll do. Puts the gun in the box -- might come in handy at some point. Takes him a minute to locate one of the cold packs and read the instructions, then he activates it, working it with both hands before passing it to Wesley.

"Thank you," Wesley says, holding it over the knot and wincing.

"Not a problem, mate." Spike suddenly catches the faint scent of blood. Not Harris' -- that's been a fine tuned little symphony since he got back into the car the first time with it running down the side of his face -- and not, he thinks, Wesley's. "You hurt anywhere else?" he asks anyway.

Wesley closes his eyes. "No."

"Bit? You okay?"

"What?" Dawn says, looking back at him again. "Yeah, I'm okay. Didn't we already do this part?"

"You're bleeding." He says it flatly, surely.

Dawn looks confused. "No, I'm -- oh." She flushes, the color pale peach along her right cheekbone instead of its more normal pink because of the sunset ahead. "Yeah."

Harris glances over at her from behind the wheel. "You're hurt."

"No," Dawn says, with that little upswing in her voice that should be fair warning not to push further into the conversation.

"Then what... oh." Xander sounds mildly horrified. "Thanks for bringing that to everyone's attention, Spike."

Dawn is hiding her face in her hands.

"It's perfectly natural," Wesley offers, without moving. Spike's surprised he's even managed to follow the conversation. "There's no reason to be embarrassed."

"Oh my God," Dawn mutters. "This is so not what I needed."

None of the men reply. Spike thinks it's because they don't know what to say.

They keep driving.

* * * * *

It's way after dark by the time they finally get settled, but Dawn doesn't really care. She's not tired.

The house is in the middle of nowhere -- well, not really, but it's the only one on the street, and that makes it feel safer. They don't have to worry about people or demons hiding out in other houses, because there aren't any.

Dawn's not stupid. She knows that in some ways other people are just as scary as the monsters are.

There's a really big living room with a bunch of couches and a fireplace, like whoever used to live here threw lots of parties. She can almost picture it -- a long table over against the far wall, piled high with fancy dishes and food, and candles everywhere, and people in fancy clothes. The men in suits, or even tuxes, and the women in long dresses with high heels and lots of sparkly jewelry.

She looks down at her own grubby clothes and sighs.

Spike collapses onto one of the couches with a groan, and Wesley sinks down onto another one while Xander goes over and checks out the fireplace. It's dark, and they have a couple of good battery operated lanterns, but a fire would be nice. Cosy.

"I'm gonna go find a bathroom," Dawn says, and Spike turns his head to look at her.

"You want someone to go with you?"

"I think I can handle it," she says.

She takes one of the lanterns with her. The rest of the house -- the hallways especially -- is darker than that one big room, but it doesn't seem spooky or anything. It's kind of peaceful, and she wants to explore, but first things first.

The bathroom smells a little funny, which is kind of normal, she remembers. She's just glad that there's water, even if it's not hot, so that she can wash her hands after dealing with the whole tampon issue. She flushes the toilet and washes her hands, drying them on the little white laced navy blue towel that's hanging from the towel rack next to the sink before picking up the lantern again.

It's no surprise that the kitchen smells way more than a little funny, but Dawn knows that if she doesn't open the fridge at least it won't get worse. She goes through that room into another, smaller living room on the other side of it, then follows that one back around toward the front of the house until she finds a staircase leading up.

There are five bedrooms on the second floor, and two more bathrooms. Every room has its own theme, its own set of colors, all of them muted and pale like a Martha Stewart magazine or something. Pale yellow in the master bedroom, pale blue and green in what looks like a boy's room -- some kind of robot boy, Dawn figures, since it's way too neat to be the room of any actual boy -- and a pale peach in what must be a teenaged girl's room.

She looks through the drawers -- carefully, neatly, because it seems wrong to make a mess in this museum-like room -- and finds clothes that are close enough to her size, so she peels off the stuff she's been wearing and gets dressed again in some dead girl's clothes. Well, for all Dawn knows the girl isn't dead -- maybe she's halfway across the country in someone else's house, putting on a different girl's clothes -- but it seems pretty likely. It also seems kind of weird to put on someone else's panties, but heck, they're clean, and Dawn figures there are so many worse things that could happen to her than whatever might because she put on someone else's underwear.

Panties, khakis, and a red top with three quarter length sleeves -- she keeps her own bra -- and she feels better. There was something about wearing stuff that had Spike's blood on it -- even just little smears, since she'd left the really gross clothes back at the school that afternoon -- that bothered her. It's better wearing this stuff, even if it smells like someone else.

There's a dressing table against one wall, so Dawn takes the lantern again and goes over, sitting down on the little stool in front of it. In the mirror she looks pale, her eyes big and dark in her white face. Her hair is a mess, all tangled, and she reaches automatically for the brush on the shelf to her right to straighten it. She brushes with one hand, pulling through snarls so stubborn that it makes her eyes water to rip them free, and uses the other to look through the little drawers on both sides of the table. Makeup is tempting, but seriously impractical, and she's pretty sure Spike would look at her funny if she sprayed on some perfume.

Hair scrunchies, on the other hand, are a definite two thumbs up, and she uses one to pull her hair back into a ponytail before selecting a few more and slipping them into her pocket. That makes her remember the tampon stash in her old pants, so she goes back for those too, then decides that it's about time she went back downstairs.

"Get lost?" Spike asks when she goes back into the big room.

"Yeah," Xander says. "We were getting ready to send a search party."

"I could have," Dawn tells them, sitting down on the arm of Spike's couch. "This place is huge. Do you think some millionaire lived here or something?"

"Fat lot of good his money did him," Spike says, reaching out and rubbing her thigh gently. His hand stops moving. "You changed clothes."

"Uh-huh. There's a whole room full of stuff upstairs." She realizes she hasn't eaten in kind of a long time when her stomach growls. "Is anyone else hungry?"

Xander sits back on his heels and looks at the fire burning brightly in the fireplace. "I could do food. The post-apocalyptic meal -- it's not just a chore, it's an adventure."

Spike has his feet up on a small table, his boots unlaced like usual, and Wesley is slouched on his couch, his lips thin and pressed together like he's really hurting.

"I'll pass for now," Wesley says tiredly.

"You sure?" Xander asks, getting up and going over to him, moving the cold pack that Wesley still has held against his head and running his fingers through Wesley's hair. "Yeah, that's quite a bump."

"There might be some aspirin or something in the bathroom," Dawn says. "You want me to check?"

"Yeah," Xander says, answering for Wesley, who weirdly doesn't say anything about that. "Thanks."

"No problem." She takes the lantern back to the bathroom, where it takes less than a minute to find two bottles. She brings them, along with a glass of water, into the living room and hands them to Xander. "There's aspirin and tylenol -- I didn't know which one was better. For head things, I mean."

"Tylenol," Wesley says.

Xander takes two out and gives them to Wesley with the cup of water, watching anxiously as Wesley takes them. "You gonna be okay?"

Wesley smiles at him. "Of course. You know the drill."

"Wake you up every two hours," Xander recites, like they've done this more than once before. Dawn wonders if it's some kind of bad side effect of being a Watcher, the getting hit on the head thing. "Just try to stay awake for a little while, okay?"

"All right."

Dawn leads the way to the kitchen with Xander right behind her and they start going through the cabinets, looking for anything unopened, canned foods, stuff like that.

"Beef stew," Dawn says, setting it on the countertop. "Chicken soup, red beans, mandarin oranges. Ooh, maraschino cherries." Those are in a glass jar, but the seal is still good. She twists it open and takes a cherry out with her thumb and forefinger, looking at it for a second before popping into her mouth. She swoons. "Oh my god, these are so good."

"You could try something with actual nutritional value, you know," Xander says, but he's grinning at her as she eats another one.

"I like these," she says. "I'll eat other stuff too."

Xander rummages around in a drawer until he finds a can opener. Then, like he's trying to be casual, he asks, "So what's with you and Spike?"

Dawn frowns with the next maraschino cherry halfway to her mouth. "What do you mean?"

"You know what I mean," Xander says.

And yeah, she does, and she's not sure whether she should be flattered that Xander actually realizes how stupid she's not, or annoyed that he wants to talk about it. Talk her out of it, more like. "See, I kind of think it's none of your business."

"Okay, that's fair," Xander says. "Except for the part where it is my business, because we came a long way to find you and make sure you were okay, and somehow finding out that you and Spike have some kind of a... thing going on doesn't leave me with that impression."

"Why? Because he's a vampire? Or because you don't like him?"

"Both," Xander says. "Although on the subject of being fair, I'll point out that I didn't like it when Buffy and Angel had their thing going either, and Angel had a soul. Well, most of the time."

"Spike's good," Dawn argues.

"Just because he's got a chip in his head, that doesn't make him good," Xander says. "He's just like a dog with one of those muzzle things on. It doesn't mean he's not going to bite you the first chance he gets. And okay, I didn't mean that literally. I just meant... you can't count on him."

Dawn shakes her head, thinking she'd better not mention the whole chip-malfunction thing. It's probably better if Xander and Wesley don't know about that part. "I can," she says, pretty calmly. "You don't know because you haven't been... a lot of stuff happened. And I know I can trust him."

When she looks up, Xander is watching her. "Just -- please tell me you're not having sex with him."

Um... hm. Dawn figures she's past the point of lying -- shouldn't they all be? Seriously, it's not like Xander has any say in what she does, plus they have to be able to trust each other.

She can tell by his face that she's already waited too long, which she can't say she feels bad about, given that it means she doesn't have to actually answer. "I don't like this," Xander says finally.

"Yeah. I know." Dawn turns to look through the nearest couple of drawers until she finds some spoons. "You don't have to like it," she says quietly, gathering up the canned stuff into her arms. "I guess... well, you just have to get used to it."

Without waiting for him to say anything else, she heads back down the hallway to the living room, leaving Xander there with the rest of the food and the can opener and the lantern.

Dawn really hopes she doesn't trip in the dark and drop everything. That'd be such a typical way to spoil her cool exit.

* * *

Dawn and Xander eat dinner in the living room. Spike'd be able to tell that something happened between them by the slight strain in their voices, even if he hadn't managed to overhear a fair bit of what they said even from the kitchen. He's proud of Dawn for standing up for herself -- for not taking Harris' shit.

Wesley's quiet, refusing Xander's offers of food and staying very still on the couch. Need to keep an eye on him, Spike thinks. Could be he's more seriously hurt than he's letting on.

Dawn finishes eating a small can of honey roasted peanuts and licks her fingers. "So how did you know where we were? Was it, like, a magic thing?"

"Nah," Xander says, shaking his head. "It was more a word of mouth kind of thing. At first, anyway." He takes another huge bite of whatever it is he's eating, something straight out of a can. Eats like he's starving, and by the look of him and Wesley the two of them have been staying just this side of that.

"We searched Sunnydale for two days before leaving there," Wesley says quietly from the other couch.

"He did," Xander says, putting the empty can behind him on the edge of the hearth and opening a bag of crisps. "There wasn't any 'we' about it. I was... pretty out of it for a while." He looks over at Wesley, and Spike does too, in time to see a gentle smile on Wesley's face.

"But you were the one who overheard it," Wesley says.

"Well yeah, but... not like we both didn't overhear plenty of things we'd rather not have."

Spike guesses from the sound of Harris' voice that they heard some pretty horrific things. "You come across a lot of people then? Live ones, I mean."

"I wouldn't say a lot," Xander says, holding the open package of crisps toward Dawn, who takes a handful. "But some, yeah. And when there aren't a lot of people to talk to, you're kind of glad when all of a sudden there is. Apparently apocalypse and gossip-mongers go hand in hand."

"In hand in hand in hand," Dawn adds, snickering through her mouthful of crisps. Xander and Spike both look at her, and she says, "What? You know, if there were demons? And they had more than... two... hands. Okay, never mind." Still, she looks moderately happy, and that makes Spike smile too, even if she's a bit daft sometimes. Not like he's not used to that, after all. "So there were people talking about us?"

Xander nods. "This guy in Sunnydale, he'd heard about a vampire who came and shot up a building or something, rescuing a girl. So we thought..."

"You were right," Spike says, without moving. "I'd do anything for her. If you don't know that by now, you never bloody will."

Harris' one eye looks at him for a long, long time, while no one says anything. There's just the crackle of the fire and nothing else. Then Xander nods slowly. "So anyway," he continues, like there hadn't been an interruption, "we were going to head in the direction the guy thought maybe you'd gone." He's mostly talking to Dawn, but Spike doesn't feel like he's being ignored.

"Not that that would have worked out very well," Wesley says.

"We had to go back," Xander says. "To your house." He's apologetic. Least he's got enough sense to know that the thought of it might upset Dawn.

"How come?" she asks, quiet.

"We needed something that was yours." Xander glances at Wesley, then he eats another handful of crisps.

Wesley's voice is getting softer. "There's a spell," he says. "There were times when we weren't sure it was working -- it seemed as though you'd go in one direction and then turn around and head in the other. We weren't certain what was going on."

"So we just kept going," Xander says. "Then, when you stopped moving more than a little bit here and there, we knew we had a chance."

"If we hadn't met Peter..." Dawn looks at Spike. "You guys might never have found us."

It's his fault they met Peter, Spike thinks, but on the other hand it's a good thing they did. He doesn't think Dawn would still be alive if they hadn't.

"Well it's not like we were going to stop looking," Xander says. "We'd have caught up with you sooner or later. But I can't say I was sad when you decided to stay put for a while."

"Me either," Dawn says. She sounds wistful. "I mean, it was nice to have somewhere safe to be."

Spike snorts. "Safe if you think bunking up with the Boston Strangler's a good idea," he says.

"Why did you stop there?" Wesley asks from the other couch. Spike glances over at him and sees that his eyes are closed, like he's getting ready to drop off to sleep.

Dawn looks at Spike again, and for a minute he thinks maybe she wants him to tell it. But then she says, "I was kind of sick."

"Sick?" Xander's trying to sound casual, Spike's sure of it despite the fact that he's not succeeding. "Sick how? Like food poisoning?"

Dawn is looking down at the rug she's sitting on.

"She was pregnant," Spike says. "Lost it." He can see from her eyes when she looks up again that it was the right way to say it. Some words hurt more than others.

"Pregnant?" Xander says. "But you... how..."

"I'm pretty sure you can figure out how," Dawn says, a little bit flatly. "It just happened, okay? Anyway, it's over now."

They're quiet again. Spike sees Xander start to reach out to Dawn, like he's going to pat her shoulder or something, then pull his hand back without touching her.

"I'm sorry," Harris says finally. "I didn't... I don't know what to say."

"Don't have to say anything," Spike tells him, shifting slightly on the couch and wincing as his slowly healing gut wound twinges painfully. "It's in the past. Talking about it doesn't change it."

Dawn gives him that look again, gratitude with a little touch of hero worship in it, the look that Spike likes so well. "I'm gonna go to the bathroom again," she says, straightening up off the floor and moving to take the lantern they've shut off to conserve batteries with her.

When she's gone, Xander says it. "She was raped." It's not a question. He knows the answer, just wants confirmation.

"Yeah," Spike says. "Bunch of guys. Before we even left Sunnydale."

"God," Xander says. Then again, softer this time. "God."

"I'm thinking he left the picture a long time ago, if he ever existed in the first place," Spike says.

The fire spits and pops, and Xander turns to add another log before propping the screen in front of it. "Yeah," he says, like it's a revelation. "Yeah, I think you're right."

* * * * *

When Dawn comes back from the bathroom, they're all quiet. Worn out, Spike thinks. She brings some blankets and pillows with her, a big armful, and gives some to Wesley and Xander before coming over to Spike's couch.

He shifts so that she can curl up with him, draping the blanket over them both as she sighs and rests her head on his shoulder.

"Am I hurting you?" she whispers.

Not exactly comfortable, even if she's not lying right on his healing wound, but he wants to hold her, so he shakes his head and after a moment she relaxes against him. "Might not be the best place to sleep," he says softly. "You could take one of the other couches, maybe?" Not that he's trying to get rid of her, but she needs the rest.

"No, I want to stay with you," Dawn says. The sentiment warms him as much as her body does. "I mean... we could go upstairs, there's bedrooms and everything..." She yawns. "But I think we should all stay together."

"Yeah. S'all right. Go to sleep now."

Within minutes she's just about snoring on his shoulder. He shifts her a bit so that he doesn't have to listen to it, and she sniffles and settles back into a quieter sleep.

Spike lies there for a long time. Wesley falls asleep next, heavily, his breathing steady. Takes Harris a lot longer, over on the other couch, tossing and turning for more than an hour before finally dropping off. Something about lying there and listening to the three of them sleep is soothing, but it doesn't make him want to sleep himself.

He thinks about how Xander and Wesley followed them, looking for Dawn, wanting her safe. It makes him feel confused, know that they care about her that much -- or maybe only Harris does, and Wesley was just along for the ride. Although Spike gets the distinct feeling that there's been some riding on both sides of that equation. That surprises him -- not that Xander would want to, because he always suspected the urge was lurking there underneath the surface, like if it was denied long enough it'd wither and die, but that Xander would act on it.

End of the world makes you think about what's really important though, doesn't it.

Spike dozes off then, in and out for a few hours. Next time he wakes up properly, he knows right away that something made him wake up. A sound, something. He doesn't tense up much -- figures the four of them are a match for plenty of situations, even with his gut aching. He just stays still and listens.

Then relaxes as he realizes what it is.

"Shh," Xander whispers. "Here, just..." There's the soft hush of fabric on fabric, a slight grunt -- also from Harris, Spike thinks -- and then a sigh. "There. You okay?"

"Yes," Wesley says.

The voices are quiet, but Spike expects they'd be plenty loud enough for Dawn to hear if she were awake, so he doesn't move. He can't see them from where he is, but he picture it plain as day -- Harris on the same couch he'd been on, only now with Wesley draped on top of him.

"You're not going to be able to sleep like this," Xander says.

"It doesn't matter. I wasn't sleeping anyway." Wesley sighs again. It sounds like a combination of pain and exhaustion.

"I know." Spike can hear the gentle brush of a hand slipping between shirt and skin, rubbing soothingly. "Shh. It's okay." Wordless murmurs, then the soft sounds of kissing.

Spike lies there with Dawn cradled in his arms and drifts back to sleep.

When he wakes up again it's morning, and Dawn is standing next to the couch. He's cold, his skin where she was warming him until a minute ago more sensitive to the touch of the air now that she's gone. Spike looks up at her face, and she's got a bit of a deer in headlights expression, staring.

He sits up and looks where she's looking. Harris is on his back on the sofa with Wesley stretched out on top of him, Wesley's head cradled on his shoulder. Doesn't look comfortable, but Spike knows the emotional comfort is something else entirely.

"They're..." Dawn whispers. She sounds surprised, but not upset.

She doesn't really need an answer, so Spike just says, "Let them sleep, yeah?"

"Yeah, okay." She nods toward the hallway behind him. "I'll be right back."

Spike listens to her go off and shut the bathroom door. He rubs a hand over the mostly healed wound in his gut, feels the sensitive skin of the exit wound on his back. On the other couch, Wesley and Xander stir, then struggle to a sitting position awkwardly as they realize that Spike's awake and that Dawn must have seen them.

"Hey," Xander says, looking everywhere but at Spike. "We must've... um..."

"Relax, Harris," Spike says, amused. "I'm the last person you're gonna get grief from on that front." Wesley is looking at him speculatively, but doesn't say anything. No reason to think he hasn't guessed -- he's obviously not stupid, and if he was that close to Angel, chances are good he's been able to put two and two together to come up with five.

"What about Dawn?" Xander asks.

"She didn't disown the witches, did she?" Truth be told, Spike's not quite sure what Dawn thinks, but either way he figures she'll come around.

Xander's eye goes a little bit flat. It's almost enough to make Spike sorry for mentioning them. "Yeah, but... that was different," Xander says.

"Don't see why." Spike shrugs and then winces as the movement pulls at his gut. It occurs to him that it's a shame Harris didn't figure this out a year or two ago, when it would have made really spectacular blackmail material.

Instead of trying to explain how it's different -- thank fuck -- Xander says, "You really don't think she's going to freak out?" just as Dawn comes back, and Spike tries to hide his smirk.

"Freak out about what?" Dawn asks.

He might as well have some fun with it. "The fact that Harris and Wesley here are apparently shagging each other stupid whenever we're not looking." He glances at Xander's open mouthed expression and his smirk widens -- it's what this is about, seeing how Xander reacts. "Well okay, stupider, in Xander's case."

Dawn gives him a funny look. "Uh-huh." She looks at Xander and repeats, "Why would that make me freak out?"

"It's not like that," Xander says, glaring at Spike. If he had ten bucks for every time someone'd glared at him, he'd have been rich by now... and yeah, okay, it wouldn't have done him a bit of good, not with the way the world's turned out. Harris is trying to explain to Dawn, who doesn't look like she needs an explanation. "We're, you know..."

"We care about each other," Wesley says, coming to Xander's rescue.

"Well duh," Dawn says, pushing her hair back and putting her hands on her hips. "So what's for breakfast?"

* * * * *

They're back in the car an hour later, driving again.

She's sorry that they have to leave the house, but it's not like they can stay. Spike needs blood, for one thing, and even if they can ever really settle down anywhere, it's not going to be in some big house in the middle of nowhere. Well, unless it was a farmhouse or something. Dawn doesn't think that would be bad idea actually -- there could be, like, cows and things, for them to eat, and for Spike to get blood from.

Thinking of which, he's got to be hungry, even though he's not saying anything about it. Which isn't like him. He has that look though. Dawn feels guilty that she has this perfectly good -- well, totally gross, but not to Spike -- blood leaking out of her, and Spike needs it but there's nothing she can do. The thought of him licking down there makes her squirm on the seat next to him, and Spike's hand comes down on her thigh, squeezes, and Dawn just about comes in her seat.

Spike looks over at her, and she's pretty sure from his expression that he can tell exactly what she's thinking. She blushes and quickly says, "I wanted to go to New Orleans, but Spike said no." Anything for a new train of thought, right?

"I have to say I agree with him," Wesley says. He's still in the passenger seat, even though he said he could drive if Xander wanted him to, but he looks better than he did the day before. Not as pale and looking like he might throw up any second. "The city's probably crawling with vampires."

Xander says, "What we want to do is find somewhere safe to settle down. Somewhere the vampires won't want to go."

"I didn't want to go to New Orleans," Spike points out.

"I mean normal vampires," Xander says.

"Now I'm not normal? Like you've got so much basis for comparison." Spike sounds offended, but Dawn can tell it's a fake kind of offended.

"Hey, I had Angel hanging around mooning after Buffy in Sunnydale for, what, three years?" Xander says.

Wesley is sitting funny in the front seat, and everybody else is quiet.

"Hey, he could still be alive, right?" Dawn asks hopefully, leaning forward. "Or, you know... still undead, or whatever. Maybe he's trying to figure out a way to get back to L.A. right now."

"There won't be anything for him to find if he does," Wesley says. "Well... I did leave notes in a few places, spell-protected, just in case... but I don't think there's much hope." Dawn can tell by his voice that he really cared about Angel, and she wonders what that means to Xander, who never liked Angel, not really. She wonders if that's like a sticking point between them.

Six hours, one pee-break -- with Dawn silently thanking the Goddess of tampons -- and one lunch stop later, she's thinking that finding somewhere to settle down soon would be a good thing, if only because it would get her out of riding in a car with three men. Once Xander and Spike get past their little snark-fest, they just egg each other on toward worse and worse behavior. At one point there'd been almost a straight hour of dirty limericks, with Wesley supplying his fair share -- okay, maybe with a little bit less evil grinning than the other two, but still. It's like junior high all over again, which is seriously scary.

"There once was a man from Nantucket..." Spike starts, and Dawn can't take it anymore.

"Stop! Stop."

Spike turns his head and looks at her. "What?" he says, sounding surprised.

He can't be that stupid. Can he? "Enough with the limericks," Dawn says. "I think my brain melted." She leans forward between the front seats. "I want chocolate. Can we stop somewhere and get some?"

Xander exchanges a glance with Wesley, one of those Oh-God, female-hormones kind of looks, which makes Dawn want to smack him.

"There are some chocolate bars under your seat," Wesley says.

"Ooh, really?" Dawn starts to rummage underneath her, pulling out a cardboard box that's almost falling apart and looking through it.

"Um..." Xander says, and Dawn looks up. "Yeah, actually, there aren't."

"There were at least a dozen the other day," Wesley says.

"And yet now, not so much," Xander says, looking straight ahead at the road.

Dawn is surprised that Spike isn't saying anything through this, but he just looks into the box -- which, yeah, doesn't have any candy bars in it -- and then slides it back under the seat where it came from. The thing that doesn't surprise her is that Xander ate them. "So, can we stop somewhere?"

They're on a long road that's not a highway, or at least not what Dawn thinks of as a highway. Sometimes there are strip malls and things, but they haven't seen any signs of life at all. It's still a couple of hours until sunset, and she figures if they're going to stop, this would be as good a time as any.

In another minute, Xander slows down and puts on his turn signal.

"There's no one around for miles," Spike says, making a sound like he's choking on stupidity.

Xander glances back over his shoulder at them. "So?"

"So what are you putting the bloody indicator on for?"

Xander shrugs as he pulls the car into the parking lot of the big drug store. "I don't know. It seems like the thing to do."

Dawn thinks she gets it. "It's, like, proving it," she says. "That we can still do things right, even if everything's wrong."

There are two other cars in the parking lot, but they both look like they've been there a really long time. Xander pulls right up underneath the overhang -- so that the car's half on the sidewalk -- and shuts off the engine. "Driving Miss Dawnie," he says, tipping an imaginary hat, and Dawn giggles despite herself.

"Dork," she says affectionately.

The inside of the drug store smells gross -- not like rotted stuff, but like the air is all stale and dusty. Actually, everything's pretty dusty.

"Wait here," Wesley says, while they're still blinking and waiting for their eyes to adjust, and he walks along the front of each aisle, looking down. "It seems all right," he says, coming back and picking up one of the plastic baskets. "Just be careful. And quick." He and Xander disappear down one aisle, talking about first aid supplies.

Dawn and Spike grin at each other.

"Chocolate," she says.

Spike shakes his head and gestures at the wall of cigarettes behind the cash registers. The locks are mostly broken and some of the cases are spilling out, but there are plenty of boxes left.

She wants to stay close by, and anyway there's a whole display of candy bars in front of the checkout stand, so Dawn grabs a basket and starts to fill it with candy, hoping that the chocolate is still okay after sitting out all this time.

"Chocolate doesn't go bad, does it?" she asks.

Spike finishes jumping over the counter and surveys the cartons of cigarettes. "Wouldn't think so," he says. He turns around and looks behind the registers, then he takes a big plastic bag and starts to load it up with cartons. "Why?" he asks. "Does it smell off?"

Dawn lifts a wrapped bar to her nose and inhales. "No, it smells okay."

"Probably okay then." Spike shrugs, steps back. "No lighters," he says, sounding frustrated. He jumps back over the counter, leaving the bag sitting on it.

"Maybe they're all out?" Dawn asks doubtfully.

Spike shakes his head. "I don't think so. Must be in one of the aisles. Come on."

She doesn't want to stay at the front of the store all by herself -- maybe being cooped up at the school for so long made her paranoid, or something -- so she follows Spike, the basket full of candy bumping against her leg as she walks. It doesn't take long to find a display with lighters.

"Here, take these too," Spike says, tossing some lighters and a box of matchbooks on top of the chocolate. "Never know when they could come in handy."

Dawn can't help thinking about that other drug store, when she found out she was pregnant, and how crazy that had been.

"Anything else you need while we're here?" Spike asks, stepping closer to her and sliding an arm around her waist. She lifts her face up and he kisses her, with his lips all hard and demanding the way she likes it. When he kisses her like that, she believes that he really wants her. "I can smell you, you know," he says in a low voice, and his hand slides up and cups her breast, his thumb rubbing over her nipple. "All that hot blood between your legs."

She can feel her cheeks flush, but she always loves it when he touches her, even when she's all blushy and doesn't know what to say.

"You know what I'd do if we were alone?" Spike asks.

Dawn thinks she can guess, but before she can say anything, they hear Wesley's voice call to them. "Are you both all right?"

"Fine!" Spike shouts back, and she can hear the irritation in his voice. "Bloody Watchers," he mutters.

"He just wants to make sure we're okay," Dawn protests.

Spike lets go of her, stepping back and making this noise like he's really frustrated. "There'd be plenty of yelling if we weren't, don't you think?" He says it loud enough that Wesley and Xander can probably hear him.

She's torn between loyalty to Spike and wanting to defend Xander and Wesley, who so far have been pretty cool, all things considered. That moment of indecision on her part makes Spike snort and throw his arms down, and he turns and starts toward the front of the store.

"I'll be in the sodding car," he says, not looking back at her or anything.

Dawn sighs. What is it with guys and being so difficult? Is it some territorial thing? She's not even sure she wants to know.

She follows Wesley and Xander's voices two aisles down. They've got an almost full basket of bandages and cold packs and antibiotic cream and stuff, and Wesley is still looking at other boxes on the shelves. "Where's Spike?" he asks.

"He's waiting in the car," Dawn says.

Xander gives her a funny look, but doesn't say anything. Maybe guys have brain cells sometimes.

"Well, why don't you and Xander go and see if there are any torches -- er, flashlights -- and batteries?" Wesley sounds distracted, which for some reason makes him sound more British instead of less.

"I was gonna look for food," Xander says, like he's reminding Wesley.

Wesley looks up at him and smiles. "I forgot. All right, why don't you do that and I'll go with Dawn."

They don't touch each other as they go their separate ways, and Dawn wonders if they would have if she hadn't been there. She should probably say something at some point about that, so they know she doesn't care.

She and Wesley have to go almost to the back of the store to find the flashlight spot, and once they do most of the flashlights are long gone. Looted. There are two little ones, so she takes them -- they're better than nothing, right? -- and Wesley turns and starts putting the few packages of batteries that are left on top of the first aid stuff in his basket.

Dawn gets that weird thing all of a sudden, that thing where the little hairs on the back of her neck stand up, and she turns her head really, really slowly, telling herself that when she looks there won't be anything there.

In the darkness at the back corner of the store, she can see two glowing yellow-green eyes, kind of like a cat's eyes. Only these eyes are six feet off the ground, and then there's this clicking, growling kind of noise, and Dawn reaches for Wesley's arm without taking her gaze off it for a second, even though really all she wants to do is run. "Wesley," she says.

And thank god, Wesley doesn't say "Hm" or ignore her. He turns and looks in the same direction she's looking, and the demon steps forward where they can really see it, and it's huge and wrinkly and its face is kind of ridged, and it's gross.

"Oh dear," Wesley says.

The demon moves at them in a flash, so quick that Dawn can't even tell what's happening, and all she can do is scream Spike's name.

* * * * *

Spike doesn't go as far as the car -- he stops right outside the building, under the awning, and leans up against the wall. Rips open one of the cartons of smokes, opens a box, lights a fag, inhales.

Sometimes he thinks the only reason he likes to smoke is because it's so much like breathing.

He knows he's acting like a prat, storming off on Dawn when she didn't do anything to deserve it, but he can already tell that being cooped up in a car isn't going to be any better than being cooped up at the school was. Although -- and chances are good he won't admit this ever, or at the very least for a really long time -- Harris is a better verbal sparring partner than Peter ever would have been. And Wesley... well, Wesley's all right. It's grudging praise.

He's halfway through the fag when he hears Dawn start to scream, and it's only a second later, as he's slamming through the doors with enough force that one of them shatters, that he hears the gunshots. He's between the aisles when they stop, and then there are too many sounds to sort out -- Dawn still screaming, the sound of a demon growling -- no, snarling -- someone else shouting, crashing noises.

And then the unmistakable sound of a man's hoarse screaming as he rounds the corner, and the hot wash of blood fills Spike's senses. Wesley's down on the floor, writhing, but Spike can't spare him more than a glance because he needs to get the big demon away from Dawn, who doesn't seem capable of doing anything but standing there as it turns toward her.

He pulls her out of the way, quick and not at all gentle, and punches the thing in the gut. Takes all the skin off his knuckles doing it too, although at least the demon doubles over. It's got a big horn on its head, and Spike thinks vaguely that he's seen one of these before, even if right now he's too busy to sort out when or where. Too much going on at once, and he's aware of Dawn and the other two behind him, something going on there, breathing heavy, sounds... all of it just adds to the chaos, and he can feel the power surging through him like he's channeling everything in the room.

The demon's upright again and moving towards him. Spike doesn't want to step out of the way because the thing will end up going right for Dawn, so he turns, backing up, luring the demon in the other direction.

"That's it, you big ugly brute," he says with a wide sneer, figuring the creature can't understand what he's saying anyway. "Come on."

It moves a hell of a lot faster than he would have given it credit for, slamming into him and driving him back into the shelves behind him. They collapse down on top of both of them, spilling plastic bottles of pills everywhere, and Spike can't roll because the demon's bulk is weighing him down. He kicks it instead, and the demon grunts and gets up, stomps a foot toward into Spike's midsection that he manages to scramble far enough away from that it smashes into his pelvis instead. Just about feels the bones crack, but he can't pause.

Spike rolls to his feet, wishing for a weapon of some kind, any kind, He hits the demon in the gut again, since that worked out pretty well the first time other than the bleeding knuckles thing, and when it wheezes and clicks something at him, he turns and grabs onto the edge of one of the fallen shelves, using all his strength to wrench the piece of metal free.

The demon straightens up a bit, and Spike swings the shelf at its head, hitting it flat on, making it stagger. He can feel the reverberation all through his frame, jarring. "Like that, do you?" he asks, watching the demon try to recover. He takes advantage of the moment when the demon shakes its head to clear it to swing the shelf again, only this time he changes the angle so the shelf becomes a giant blade, slicing through the air and demon flesh, cutting a huge gash in the thing's chest.

Another set of clicks and snarls -- stupid thing doesn't even have a proper language -- and blood all over the floor, yellowish and oozing. The demon just about slips in its own blood, and again Spike takes advantage of the brief moment in which the creature is off guard to swing the shelf, only this time he's learned his lesson. Uses the sharpest edge and aims for the throat, and his blow just about cuts the demon's head off -- goes three quarters of the way through its neck. There's a burble, but no more of those clicks, as the demon wavers and falls to the floor, hitting hard.

It takes a good few seconds for Spike to realize that even though the fight's over, the building's far from quiet, and when he turns he sees why.

Wesley's on the floor, struggling with Xander. Spike needs another few seconds to sort out what his eyes are telling him -- that Xander's trying to hold Wesley, who's making some of the worst sounds Spike's ever heard come out of a human, because his left arm's gone above the elbow, and there's a growing pool of blood underneath them both. Harris is trying to staunch the flow, but it doesn't look like he's having much luck.

Dawn's standing to the side, both hands pressed over her mouth, but her look of horror's nothing compared to Xander's when he glances up at Spike, desperate, haunted.

There's no time for hesitation here. Xander and Wesley might be humans, but damn it, they're Spike's humans, just like Dawn is, and he'll be damned if they're going to die if he has anything to say about it.

He turns to Dawn, grabbing her by both shoulders and giving her a little shake to get her attention. "Bandages," he says.

"There," Harris says, surprising Spike with his ability to pay attention to anything other than the writhing man in his arms. He nods toward some supplies that are scattered across the floor not far off.

Dawn blinks, then she seems to snap out of it and flings herself onto her hands and knees, dumping out the rest of the contents of the basket that's lying on its side, looking.

Spike gets down on the floor next to Xander and grabs hold of Wesley, keeping him still. "Tighten that if you want it to do any good," he says, referring to the belt Xander's got wrapped around what's left of Wesley's arm. "I've got him."

"It's gonna be okay," Xander says, doing like Spike told him, hands slippery with blood fighting to get a good hold on the leather. "Wesley? It's okay."

Not much point in talking to him, Spike doesn't think -- all the struggle's gone out of Wesley now as shock settles in. His skin -- where it's not covered with blood, at any rate -- is cool and clammy, his breathing impossibly fast. The blood's still pouring out of him, and Spike knows if they don't get it stopped, and fast, it's all going to be over.

Dawn skitters over, pale but with her hands full of gauze packets.

"Won't be enough," Spike says, barely noting her frantic look.

"We have to do something," Harris says, grabbing a handful of the gauze and pressing it over the bleeding stump of Wesley's arm -- Spike wonders where the hell it went -- and biting his lip.

God, the smell of the blood is fucking glorious.

Wesley's body is tense in Spike's arms, like he's holding himself still by sheer force of a will Spike doesn't think's gonna last much longer. "Cauterize," he says tightly, and it's clear that the one word costs him a lot.

Xander's one eye meets Spike's, then flickers back to Wesley's face. "With what?"

Knowing from the way Wesley feels against him that no answer's going to come, Spike thinks about their options. Wesley might know the right sorts of chemicals to do the job, but the rest of them won't, and chances aren't good any of that stuff would be available here anyway. He listens hard -- should have done that before, should have checked out the whole place before assuming it was safe -- and then nods. "Go look," he says, to both Harris and Dawn, pushing Xander's hand out of the way and replacing it with his own. "Break into the back rooms and find something. Whatever might work. Go!"

Harris has enough sense to get up immediately, not wasting any time. "Come on, Dawn."

They disappear around the corner within seconds, leaving Spike alone with Wesley a dying meal in his arms.

* * *

There's nothing they can use in the first aid section, not that Dawn really thought there'd be. It's not like it's a hospital supply shop or something, and band-aids aren't going to do it. Xander is knocking everything onto the floor, using both hands to sweep stuff off the shelves like he thinks he might find something that way. It reminds Dawn of how Buffy used to search through the refrigerator shelves looking for something good to eat, like maybe there'd be something really good behind that bottle of olives -- well, except for the throwing everything onto the floor. Buffy didn't do that.

She realizes that her hands are shaking, but she's trying not to think about what's happening. She's never heard anybody scream like Wesley was screaming for those first few seconds, when she still didn't even know what was wrong -- the sound of it made her feel more sick than looking at him did, what with all the blood and the...

Okay, she really can't think about this.

Xander growls and slams his fist into a shelf. "Fuck!"

"It'll be okay," Dawn tells him quickly, scared because if Xander is freaking out, she doesn't know how they're going to find anything to help. "We'll find something."

Brushing off her tentative hand on his arm, Xander heads toward the back of the store, breaking into a stumbling run, and Dawn follows him.

She really hopes there aren't any more monsters back there.

* * *

"My... fault," Wesley says. His voice's barely above a whisper, his breathing still quick and shallow, like he's really working at it.

"Shh," Spike says, tightening his grip on the end of Wesley's arm. Wesley doesn't seem to feel it -- Spike thinks maybe there's too much nerve damage for that. The pain's gotta be everywhere, so this one spot's no worse or better than any other. "Wasn't your fault."

Wesley rolls his head where it's resting against Spike's chest, like he's saying no, but at least he's got the sense to save the rest of his breath for what really matters.

He's still bleeding, and the smell of it is dragging Spike into a place he doesn't want to go, not here, not now. "You're gonna be okay."

Wesley twitches in his arms, and it takes Spike a few seconds to realize he's laughing. "You're..." Wesley coughs, shudders, "a terrible liar."

"I've seen people get through worse than this," Spike says, and that part's the truth.

"If I won't..." Sounds like Wesley is choosing his words carefully, trying to conserve energy. "You don't turn me. Don't even think about it."

Spike wouldn't have. "Not a chance, mate. It wouldn't be what anyone would want. Not you, not Harris... and if you think I'd do anything to put Dawn in danger, you don't know me at all."

Wesley takes another shuddering breath, and makes a terrible soft sound on the exhale. Under almost any other circumstances, from anyone else, Spike would have liked to hear it. "Good," he whispers.

Besides, Spike thinks, if Wesley dies, there's no way Spike's giving even a drop of whatever blood's left in him at that point back.

* * *

It takes Xander like six tries to get into the locked room at the back of the store by slamming his shoulder into it. Dawn winces as the edge of the door finally gives with a splintering sound, and then they're in.

"Check over there," Xander says, pointing off to the right.

Dawn goes, her eyes scanning everything they can focus on. It's pretty dark, and they didn't think to take any flashlights with them, but once she gets close enough to stuff, she can see. It's, like, the store room for the pharmacy or something. There's tons of smallish cardboard boxes, but when she pulls them down to look through them they just contain bottles of pills and stuff. Medicine. Which might come in handy later, sure, but right now they aren't much help.

She drops the box she's holding onto the floor and turns, keeps looking. Nothing. More and more boxes, and more boxes, and some rolls of paper towels, and... well okay, maybe those might be better than nothing. Dawn tucks two rolls under her arm.

"There's nothing here!" she calls to Xander -- she doesn't know where he is, exactly, but she can hear him crashing around nearby. Almost as soon as she says it she feels like kicking herself -- way to be positive and hopeful -- but then Xander appears in the doorway with a funny yellow canister thing in his hands.

"Yeah there is," he says. He flicks something on the thing and clicks it, and it shoots out this little blue flame.

* * *

Wesley's breathing too fast, too labored. Spike doesn't like the sound of it.

He does like hearing the running footsteps as Dawn and Xander come back though. She's got a couple of rolls of paper towels and Harris has a propane torch. "We found these," Dawn says.

"Good," Spike says, looking at Xander because he's the one who's gonna have to do it. "Used one of those before?"

"Yeah," Xander says, his hands tightening on the propane canister.

"Well, stop wasting time and get down here then."

But Harris just stands there, holding onto the torch and, Spike thinks, sweating. Wesley is still tense against him -- not unconscious yet, although Spike's sure he will be soon, one way or the other. Doesn't think Wesley knows what's going on, though -- or if he does, he's got the sense to stay quiet about it, let it play out on its own.

"Xander," Spike says, giving his voice a hard edge, hoping to get through to the part of Harris that can handle anything. "Get the fuck down here and do this."

Xander swallows. "I can't."

"You bloody well can," Spike tells him. "And you're going to. Someone's got to hold him steady, and there's no way in hell you'd be able to do it."

"I can't."

Disgusted, Spike starts to say fine, we'll just let him bleed to death then, guilt the boy into action, but Dawn speaks up before he can open his mouth.

"I'll do it," she says.

Spike and Xander both turn their heads to look at her.

Dawn pushes her hair back behind her ears. Her lips are set tight, and her hands are clenched into fists, but the way she says it doesn't leave any room for argument. She relaxes one hand and holds it out toward Xander, gesturing at him to hurry up and pass the torch over already. "I can do it."

* * *

What's going on inside Dawn's head is pretty much 'Oh god, oh god, oh god.'

Not in an actual god kind of way -- she gave up on God as a concept when Glory killed Buffy. Okay, maybe Glory wasn't the one to do the actual killing, but it was Glory's fault. That's what Dawn tells herself when she doesn't want to believe that it's her own, anyway, which is most of the time. There might be, like, gods, but there isn't one up there in the clouds watching over them. She's sure of that.

Anyway, it's more like a personal mantra than a religious thing, and that's just because she can't think of what else to repeat to herself when things start to go wrong. She'll think of something better some other time, when she's not kneeling down on a hard tile floor that's slippery with blood, when she's not shaking with fear and disbelief, when Xander isn't pacing behind her with his hand over his mouth, muttering something that's she's pretty sure is a religious thing and, she thinks, crying.

Dawn looks at the torch thing, which doesn't seem too hard to use, then she blinks and thinks about it for a second. "Wait. Aren't we supposed to use, you know, metal? Or something?" There's this image in her head of, like, hot pokers. Brands.

Spike blinks like he hadn't even thought of that. It makes her want to smack him. A hundred and whatever years, and she's the one who has to think of everything? "Harris," Spike says. "You see anything that might work while you were back there?"

"No. I was a little bit busy looking for something to set my boyfriend on fire with," Xander says, stopping the pacing and looking at them wide-eyed.

There's a tiny twinge in Dawn's heart at the word 'boyfriend' -- that's so cute -- but it's obvious that Xander's totally freaking out, so she's more focused on that. "Okay, think. Something metal, with a flat edge..."

Wesley stirs in Spike's grip with a low moan like he can't help it. "Gun," he says, without opening his eyes.

Oh god. She's been hoping maybe he was unconscious -- she really, really doesn't want to do this to him when he's awake. Please, please let him pass out in the next five minutes. Please.

She and Xander look around until they find the gun Wesley used before -- it's still a little bit warm actually, and Dawn knows that it's empty because she heard the last two 'clicks' right before the demon slammed into Wesley and... right. She's so not thinking about it could have been her instead.

But the whole gun is metal, and there's no way she's going to be able to hold it while it gets hot enough to... do the thing it's going to need to do. "I need an oven mitt," she says out loud, then realizes that chances are good there are some in whatever kitchen aisle there is.

"What?" Xander says.

"An oven mitt. Go find one." Dawn kneels back down on the floor next to Spike and Wesley as Xander goes off.

Spike's hands are both busy, but when he looks at her she can tell that he wishes he could hug her or pat her shoulder or something else comforting. And it's actually just as well that he can't, because if anyone's nice to her now, she's totally going to lose it. She has to concentrate until this is done. She has to.

"You can do this," Spike says.

"I know."

"You're my girl. You can do anything you set your mind to."

"I know," Dawn says, reading the instructions that are on the sticker on the side of the torch again. It's easy, like a really big lighter -- flick the little safety valve off, then click the torch on. Piece of cake.

The gun, when she looks at it carefully, isn't as straightforward. If the point of this is to stop the bleeding, then she needs something flat to hold against the wound, and no part of the gun is big enough or flat enough. That means it's going to take longer, because she's going to have to do it more than once, which is totally unfair. Isn't once going to be hard enough?

Xander comes back with an armful of oven mitts and two long barbecue utensils with wooden handles. They're like long spatulas or something. "What about these?" he says, dropping everything onto the floor next to her. "I thought..."

"I don't know," Dawn says, picking one up and looking at it. She glances at Spike.

"I think the gun's the way to go," Spike says. "Better leverage, and it's heavier. It'll hold the heat longer."

She's thinking too fast -- her head is spinning, and she can feel blood soaking into the dead girl's khakis she's wearing, making her knees damp. The smell of it is sickening, but she knows it's going to be much worse in a few minutes.

Deciding to go with the gun, Dawn sets it down on the tile floor. "Will this stuff burn?" she asks, rapping her knuckles against the cool tile.

"Eventually," Xander says. "But it should be okay."

"Okay." She takes a deep breath, grabs one of the oven mitts and rests it on her thigh, and lights the torch. It seems to work pretty fast -- the metal barrel of the gun goes from shiny gray to red hot in less than a minute.

"Get down here and hold his legs," she hears Spike say to Xander, and Xander does, kneeling down at Wesley's feet.

Dawn doesn't think there's any point to warning Wesley, so she just does it -- puts down the torch, slides her hand into the oven mitt, and picks up the gun. Spike is watching her, and he must be able to see what she needs because he moves his hand out of the way at just the right time.

She presses the metal to the middle of the stump, not letting her eyes dart away when they want to because she needs to make sure she does this right. She tries not to smell the burning blood and flesh, not to see the wisps of smoke as the blood bubbles away. Tries not to notice how Spike and Xander have to struggle to hold Wesley as he arches his body in those first few seconds.

Tries not to hear his scream.

But they're lucky actually. (She reminds herself of this later, later that night when she can't sleep for remembering the stuff she tries so hard not to see.) After those first few seconds, Wesley goes limp, passes out.

Xander is crying almost silently, doubled up over Wesley's legs, his face mostly hidden, by the time it's done. Dawn thinks she did as good a job as she could, considering she had to stop once in the middle to heat the gun up again, and, you know, that she had no idea what she was doing. But the bleeding's stopped, other than a slow seeping through the burned flesh, and that's what's important.

Now, if Wesley just doesn't die from blood loss, or infection, or demon goo in the wound, or any of a million other things Dawn probably doesn't know about...

"Good girl," Spike says approvingly as she slides the torch and gun away across the floor, watching as they both draw a little trail of blood in their wake. He shifts Wesley's limp body in his arms, looks at the stump, and nods. "Yeah, that oughta do it."

"Yeah." Dawn wipes her mouth on her sleeve. There's a sick taste in the back of her throat, and she feels shaky and gross. "What do we do now? Bandage it up?"

"Probably," Spike agrees. "But the real question is, do we stay here or move on and look for somewhere better to hole up for a bit?"

Dawn isn't sure. "Well, there's medicine here. There's probably antibiotics and burn cream and all kinds of other first aid stuff. Stuff we might need. Maybe we should stay until..." She bites her lip, then she continues, "until Wesley's better."

"Harris? What do you think?" Spike asks. Dawn is surprised that he's asking Xander, but not in a bad way.

Xander rubs his knuckles under his eye quickly, and when he looks up he has blood smeared on his cheek. Actually, now that Dawn really looks at him, he's got blood pretty much everywhere -- on his hands, on his clothes. They all do. "I don't know," he says. His voice is hoarse, like he's the one who's been screaming. "Stay, I guess. Until we can look through the pills and stuff anyway."

"We'll need blankets," Dawn says. She thinks there's at least one in the car. "There's water and food here." She looks at Wesley doubtfully, feeling the hard tile underneath her hands.

She's not sure whether to be insanely happy or completely freaked out when it seems like Spike reads her mind. "Need to get some kind of proper bed. A mattress. Something," he says.

"I think there was a department store just up ahead when we stopped here," Dawn says. "They might have something." Which brings up the fun question of who gets to go and who gets to stay behind.

Xander's hand is stroking over Wesley's leg, kind of like he's not even aware he's doing it. "I'll go," he says, getting up, not really looking at Dawn or Spike. "You two stay here. Make sure he's okay." He's staring at Wesley's face.

"You're not going alone," Dawn says. "No way. There's no way to know what might be in there. One person going alone... that doesn't make any sense." She thinks quickly, trying to figure out what does make sense. "Spike could go with you."

"Have you lost your bloody mind?" Spike looks like he wants to drop Wesley onto the floor and stand up, but luckily he doesn't do that. "I'm not leaving you here to get hurt."

Dawn rubs her bloodied hands on the thighs of her khakis -- they're history anyway, no point in trying to minimize the damage -- and frowns determinedly. "No. You're not. You're leaving me here where I'll be fine." She wrinkles up her nose. "And you're leaving me here with some more of Wesley's guns. If anything happens -- which nothing will -- I'll have protection. Right?"

"I don't like it," Spike says. "I promised Buh -- " He cuts himself off, turning his head away with his jaw clenched, then he finishes, with a pause between each word, "I promised I'd keep you safe."

Oh my god. Have they, or have they not had this conversation like three times already? "You know you can't."

"Okay, can we save the meaningful realizations for some other time?" Xander breaks in, throwing his hands up into the air and sounding more like himself again. "Some other time when, oh, I don't know, we aren't in a hurry to get back here before the sun sets and all the monsters come out to play?"

Dawn sighs -- Xander's right, and at this point she'd rather just agree than keep arguing about it. "Then Spike and I can go. That way you can stay here with Wesley."

Spike nods, and after a minute Xander does too, running a hand through his hair. "Yeah. Okay. I'll stay here." He looks a lot less thrilled at the idea than Dawn thinks he should.

He and Spike switch places, careful not to jostle Wesley as they lower him down onto the floor with Xander's sweater tucked under his head and shoulder. Dawn helps Xander figure out which bandages to use -- they don't want the gauze to get all stuck to the burns, but she's not sure how to prevent that from happening. Maybe there's a first aid book in the store somewhere.

"Okay," Xander says, seeming better now that he has something to do. "You two get out of here before it gets any later." He glances up, meeting Dawn's worried gaze. "And be careful."

* * *

Dawn and Spike get the car keys and find one of Wesley's other guns in the car to leave with Xander. Dawn has to drive because of the whole sun thing, even if it's going to set pretty soon, and she has a tight, miserable feeling in her stomach as they drive away from the drug store, leaving Xander and Wesley back there.

She's still not a great driver, but they don't have far to go -- it's less than a mile to Walmart. Just seeing the big blue sign and the cheerful yellow smiley faces makes her feel a little bit better.

"You stay right with me," Spike cautions as they go in through the doors. Right away there's the smell of rotting bodies, but it's not too bad -- they've smelled way worse.

"I will," Dawn promises. "All I want to do is find what we need and get out of here."

There are a lot of windows at the front of the store, but otherwise it's a big warehouse -- dark, the air stale. The camping section is way at the back, and Spike grabs an abandoned shopping cart as they pass it, taking it with them.

"Mom had one of these when me and Buffy were little," Dawn says, gesturing at the selection of air mattresses. "Until this one time when Buffy thought it would be cool to play Supergirl, and we had to do this thing where we jumped off the coffee table onto the mattress, and we popped it. Mom was so pissed off." She trails off as she remembers that this isn't even a real memory.

"Well toss one of them in here," Spike says, gesturing at the cart. "For that matter, get three or four. Might as well all be comfortable." He grabs some other boxes and throws them into the cart too, and Dawn gets into the spirit of things, pretending like everything is normal and they just hit the lottery or something. They get four sleeping bags and a couple of battery operated lanterns, and Spike sweeps most of the shelf of dehydrated food packets in on top.

"It feels weird not to have to pay," Dawn admits as they walk out past the cash registers, rolling the cart around a body that seems to have stopped being stinky. At least, it doesn't smell any worse than the rest of the store.

"Feels good," Spike says. The sun is setting, but he still has to dart quickly into the car to avoid the whole flamey thing. Once he's in there, he takes the boxes and other stuff as Dawn hands them to him, throwing them into the back seat. She passes over the last air mattress, gives the cart a shove away from the car, and reaches out to close the door for Spike, but he reaches out and grabs her wrist instead.

With a squeal, Dawn is jerked into the car and into Spike's lap. She can feel that he's hard inside his jeans, poking against the back of her thigh, and she squirms as a hot rush goes through her, making her legs feel weak and heavy.

Spike nuzzles her hair. "You all right?"

And in that moment this is exactly where she wants to be, in a place where she can forget everything else, even if it's just for a second. "Yeah. I'm okay."

"You were amazing back there," Spike says. "Bloody brilliant."

Literally bloody, Dawn thinks. She's glad there are some clean clothes in the car, that she thought to take them from that picture perfect, pale peach bedroom. Maybe when they get back to the drug store she can clean up a little bit, get some of the blood off. "We should get back," she says, because she's still not ready to talk about this, or even think about it.

"Yeah," Spike says. "Just want to do one thing first." He kisses her, running both hands over her body. One goes to the back of her neck, holding her there, and the other one down to her waist. It makes her shiver, and she opens her mouth to his, letting his tongue inside. "My girl," he says against her lips, his fingers tightening in her hair.

That just makes Dawn squirm some more, mostly because she knows he'll gasp and kiss her harder, which he does.

Guys can be so predictable. She wonders if they're like that with each other too, when it's two guys, and that thought makes her pull away because she remembers Xander and Wesley. "We should go," she says, but she squirms against Spike and kisses him one more time, clinging to him. Wishing that they could stay here and pretend none of this is happening.

"Shh," Spike says, rubbing his thumb over her cheekbone.

"What if... what if Wesley..." She can't finish.

"He'll be fine," Spike says. Lies, more like. Any of them could die any time, and something big, like getting your arm...

Dawn buries her face in Spike's neck and breathes in, feeling his arms tighten around her. Breathes some more, deep breaths, because that's supposed to make you feel better.

And just because she can.

They go back to the drug store, Dawn with a nervous fluttering in her stomach until they park the car and go in through the broken door. "It's us," she calls, not too loudly, but, she thinks, loudly enough that Xander will be able to hear her.

"Hey," Xander says, as she and Spike walk down the aisle toward him and Wesley, who looks like he hasn't moved since they left.

Xander, on the other hand, looks terrible -- blood-stained and exhausted -- but relieved to see them, and Dawn can't help it. She gets down on her knees next to him and puts her arms around him, hugging him fiercely, wanting to do something that will make him feel better.

She feels Xander's arms tighten around her briefly, then he lets go again. "Don't," he says. "Just... I can't do this right now, okay?"

Dawn swallows. "Okay. Right." She looks at Wesley's arm, now carefully bandaged with clean white gauze, only the tiniest bit of icky stuff oozing through. "It looks good," she says, noting that the edge of Wesley's shirt is ragged where it got ripped off. She wonders how much it will hurt him to have to change it. "He hasn't...?"

"No," Xander says, glancing at her and then up at Spike, some kind of guy thing that Dawn doesn't get and probably never will passing between them. "No, he's just been... like this."

"He'll be okay," Dawn says, with more hope than she feels. "Spike says..."

"I've seen folks get through worse," Spike says helpfully, still standing there with an armload of air mattress boxes.

"Great," Xander says. "I'm glad you were basing that on your many years as a vicious killer, and not on some newfound ability to see into the future." His voice is harsh, bitter, his emphasis on the word 'see' something that Dawn can't fail to notice, even though she'd really, really like to.

Trying to keep the peace, Dawn says, "We found mattresses. And sleeping bags, and some food and stuff."

Spike sets most of what he's holding onto the floor and rips open one box, flapping the mattress, then looking at the tile suspiciously. "Maybe we should move this over an aisle," he says, nodding at the drying blood on the floor.

They end up inflating all four of the mattresses and dragging everything else inside too, since they're probably going to be there for a few days at least. Dawn takes the sleeping bags out of their nylon cases and spreads one out on the mattress that's going to be Wesley's, trying to make it as comfortable as possible. She tries not to watch or listen when Spike and Xander pick him up between them and lower him onto the bed, but luckily Wesley stays unconscious.

Even though she should totally know better, she can't help but go over and kneel down next to him, watching his pale face. It seems... kind of unbelievable that his glasses are still on but that his arm is gone. She looks down at her own hand, then up at Wesley's face again. He's breathing okay -- kind of fast and shallow, but not in a way that's really scary.

She has no idea if he's going to live or die.

Xander is standing on the other side of the mattress, looking down at Wesley too. His shoulders are slumped and his face is creased with strain.

"Why don't you go see if there's running water in the bathrooms?" Dawn suggests, thinking that if there is, Xander can at least clean some of the blood off his hands and face, and maybe that will make him feel a little bit better.

"What?" Xander looks up at her, but it's like he has to force himself to drag his gaze away from Wesley.

"Bathroom?" Dawn says gently. "It's okay. I'll stay right here with him."

After a few seconds, Xander says, "Yeah, okay. I'll be right back." He turns and starts for the back of the store, and Dawn turns her head and looks at Spike.

"Could you make sure he's okay?" she asks.

"You want me to follow him to the loo?" Spike asks, incredulous. "He's been going on his own for twenty years, pet. Don't think he needs me to hold his cock for him."

Dawn just barely manages not to roll her eyes. "I'd feel better if I knew the bathrooms were safe," she says. "Plus, did you see him? He'll be lucky if he doesn't get lost on the way there." She smiles a little bit at Spike. "Please? For me?"

That works like she knew it would. Spike sighs and nods. "Right. Be back in a few. And if you need anything, just give a shout -- I'll come running."

Dawn already knows that.

He always does.

* * *

Bathroom's dark -- there's a high window, but they're on the wrong side of the building, plus it's after sunset now anyway. Spike can see just fine without extra light, but he's brought one of the new lanterns with him, and Harris squints as the pale glow fills the room.

"You all right?" Spike asks.

Xander's hands are under a trickle of running water coming from the faucet, and Spike can smell the sharp medicinal scent of antibacterial soap, but he doesn't answer. Just keeps washing his hands, scrubbing them like he's trying to get rid of every trace of blood.

"Lady MacBeth a personal role model?" Spike asks, setting the lantern down on the edge of the nearest sink and leaning against the wall.

"What?" Xander says, and then, right away, "Shut up. If that's the most helpful thing you have to say..."

"Asked if you were all right, didn't I?" Spike says, affronted.

"Probably because Dawn asked you to." Harris sounds like he's more making an attempt at their normal disagreeable interaction than like he really means it.

"Well yeah." Now that he's admitted it, he and Xander exchange a glance that includes tiny smiles, acknowledgment that they'd both be wrapped around her little finger if she wanted it.

Xander finishes washing his hands and looks around, finds a paper towel dispenser on the wall. With his back still to Spike, he says, "He's gonna die, isn't he."

Spike can hear the hopelessness. Recognizes it as the same he was feeling when he and Dawn had turned up on Peter's doorstep, with her blood all dripping down him and the terrible certainty in his heart that she was as good as gone. "No," he says, because no one should have to feel like that. Not anyone halfway decent, at any rate. "We won't let him."

Harris crumples up the brown paper and lets it drop to the floor before he turns back around. "He saved my life," he says.

"Yeah."

"If he dies..."

"You listening? We won't let him die." Spike looks at Xander fiercely and lies as easily as breathing comes to humans, or to ones that aren't at death's door anyway. "He'll be okay. Lost a lot of blood, but not enough to kill him."

The look Xander gives him is grateful, and Spike's not sure how he feels about that.

* * *

Dawn sits next to Wesley and listens to him breathe. He's pale -- okay, actually he's really, really pale -- and there are some tiny little flecks of blood on his face. She's not sure if there was more, before, and Xander cleaned it off, or if somehow this was all that got on him. Which would be pretty weird, considering.

He probably saved her life, she knows that. If he hadn't been there, with the gun and the distracting, that demon would have come after her instead. She doesn't like the thought that he had to pay a price like this -- his arm -- for it, but she's not stupid enough not to be thankful.

Part of her wishes he would wake up, so she could tell him that. Well, maybe not in exactly those words. But the rest of her's glad that he's not awake, because right now he's probably not thinking about it.

She hears the creak of a door, and footsteps, the low murmur of Spike and Xander's voices as they come back from the bathroom.

Xander looks better -- he cleaned off most of the blood, and he seems a little bit less tense than he had when he left. He gives Dawn a quick smile before sitting down next to her. "Thanks," he says, and she knows he means for staying with Wesley.

"It's okay. He didn't, you know, move or anything." It's not like she knows if that's a good sign or a bad sign, actually.

"You should try to get some sleep," Spike says, looking at Xander, and Dawn feels better that Spike's making an effort to be nice.

Xander shakes his head. "I don't think I could sleep."

"You'd be surprised," Spike says mildly, then he looks at Dawn and jerks his head toward the back of the store. He's still holding the lantern he took with him. "You need to use the little girls' room?"

Oh yeah, the whole tampon thing. "Uh-huh," she says, getting up and then realizing this would be a good time to change clothes and stuff too. "Um, hang on a minute."

She quickly gets a few things together, and they walk back toward the bathrooms. The store is quiet, obviously, but it feels... different now, too. Quiet in a creepy way, now that stuff's happened here.

Spike goes into the women's bathroom first, pushing the door open and checking before he lets her go. He follows her inside, too. Dawn is weirded out that she's not more weirded out by that, but it seems normal, after all the time they've been together. Having Wesley and Xander around is good, but she still feels like she needs Spike there with her, like she's safer that way, even though the whole safety thing is something she definitely won't bring up because they always end up arguing about it.

She pees and changes her tampon -- with the stall door closed, thank you very much, since doing that in front of Spike would just be icky -- kicks her jeans off and into the back corner of the stall, and then comes back out into the main part of the bathroom.

"Ew," Dawn says, pulling her bloodstained shirt off and stuffing it into the trash barrel. "Too bad they don't have a shower."

Spike puts the lantern down and pulls her close, kissing her and then trailing his mouth down along the side of her throat, licking her skin, giving her goosebumps. "Could clean you off, love," Spike murmurs, and Dawn shivers.

"That's..." She was going to say something else, but Spike's hand is on her ass, pulling her in against him, and then his other hand is pulling her bra strap down over her shoulder, and he's licking her collarbone, and she forgets whatever she was going to say and just moans softly.

She could turn her head and look in the row of mirrors behind the sinks, but she doesn't want to, because she knows the only reflection will be hers. So instead, Dawn shuts her eyes when Spike frees her breast and closes his mouth around it, sucking hard. It makes her knees weak, and she clings to him, biting her lip.

Spike moves around behind her, pulling off her bra and taking both bare breasts into his hands, kneading them while he kisses her neck. "So proud of you, Bit. Such a strong girl. My girl."

Dawn can't even protest any of it, because what he's doing feels too good and she wants more. She reaches back and gets her hand in between them so she can kind of awkwardly cup Spike's erection, and he growls and pinches her nipples harder, grinding against her hand. "Spike," she gasps.

"Mm." He sucks on the side of her neck, and she thinks she's going to have a really nice big hickey there probably, but she doesn't really care. Spike slides his left hand down over her stomach and underneath the elastic of her panties, one fingertip sliding into the curls between her legs.

"Spike... I can't." Dawn whispers it, even though she knows there's no way Xander can overhear them as long as they're not too loud. "I'm still... you know."

"I know," Spike says, teasing her nipple with light touches. "Don't care."

She blushes harder, if that's even possible. "I do. It's gross."

"No. It's not." His fingers slides down and slicks over her clit, making her whole body twitch and drawing a whimper from her. That reaction seems to decide him, and in moments Spike has her totally naked and pushed up against the bathroom wall, and he's on his knees in front of her, his tongue licking up her thigh. Dawn makes a wordless sound of protest, but Spike just soothes her with his hands on the backs of her thighs. "Shh. Just want to make you feel good."

And he pushes his tongue in, sliding it wetly over her, and Dawn bites down on her lip and leans her head back, not caring about anything but Spike and the fact that he loves her. He has to, right? To want to do this, and to take care of her the way he does.

It feels like he licks her for a long time, until she's shaking and whimpering and coming, coming so hard that she knows she'd have fallen down if Spike hadn't been holding her. He gets up, his tongue licking his lips clean, and he looks... kind of happy. And hungry.

He rubs against her, and Dawn can feel him hard against her thigh even though he's still dressed. "You taste incredible, pet," he murmurs against her throat, his hands braced against the wall to either side of her. "My sweet girl."

Dawn loves it when he talks like that. She moans softly and puts her arms around him, grabbing onto his ass and pulling him closer, encouraging him to thrust against her.

"God, I want you," Spike says, still in that low voice. "You make me so hard, love. Never been like this with anyone else."

She moves her hand around to the front of his jeans and fumbles with the fastenings, wanting to touch him. When his cock pushes into her hand, making her fingers slippery, Dawn shivers. "I could... um..."

"What, pet? Anything you like. Anything." Spike thrusts his hips forward slowly with a soft groan, and that's what decides her -- Dawn drops down onto her knees on the tile floor and nuzzles hesitantly at his cock with her cheek, feeling how soft the skin is and thinking about what she's heard about sucking guys off, which has mostly been vague and has always actually sounded kind of gross.

But it doesn't seem that way with Spike, not even when she licks the salty bitter pre-come from the head of his cock, the taste of it bursting over her tongue and making her mouth flood with saliva. He trembles, and Dawn thinks it's because he's trying not to scare her or push her into doing more than she wants to.

"Yeah, love," Spike whispers, reaching down to caress her hair.

Dawn licks him again, then takes his cock into her mouth and tries to suck on it, which doesn't work out all that well. She doesn't know what to do with her tongue and teeth -- where the heck are they supposed to go? -- but at least she finally gets those jokes about old women taking out their dentures to do this, because it would be so much easier if she didn't have to worry about nicking him.

But then Spike stiffens, straightening up, his muscles going all tense, and he growls a little bit, or maybe snarls. Dawn's not sure what the difference is. When she looks up, she realizes that it doesn't matter, because Spike is in vamp face and he's staring at her with a hungry, feral gleam in his eyes.

She remembers suddenly how long it's been since Spike really fed.

Oh shit, Dawn thinks. I'm in so much trouble.

* * *

Spike has known he's been courting disaster since the moment he dropped to his knees and buried his face between Dawn's sweet thighs, drinking her in. Even the small taste was enough to push him to the brink of control, and when she'd shuddered and come, making enticing whimpering noises as she did, he'd lost it. Stopped caring about anything but her body and what he wanted to do to it, which was a hell of a lot more than just fuck it.

When she gets down and sucks on his cock, that's it. Game face comes on and he growls, and there's just barely enough of himself left to wrench control back from the demon and try to warn her. "Get out of here," he tells her. "Before I... just get out."

"Spike, I -- " Dawn looks terrified, her eyes wide, and that just makes him want her more.

"Get out," Spike roars, slamming his head back into the wall behind him in an attempt to distract himself or, if he's lucky, knock himself senseless. "Just get out of here until I can..."

Finally, she moves. Scrambles to her feet, but it's too late -- he's lost again, just from the scent of her blood in the air and the rapid stuttering pulse of it just under the thin skin of her throat. Reveling in it, Spike grabs onto her and jerks her toward him, lowering his mouth to the sweet juncture of neck and shoulder as Dawn shrieks at the top of her lungs, struggling in his arms.

Makes it all the better when he bites through and begins to feed.

She moans in pain, and that makes it better too. Then, to his surprise, she stops fighting. He can feel her breath hitch, then she says, "It's okay, Spike. I -- I want you to." And in the moment Spike relaxes, lets down his guard and sinks his fangs a fraction of an inch deeper, his entire body singing as the blood rushes through him, Dawn lifts her knee and slams him in the balls with astonishing force.

Releasing her is something he can't help but do, his body curling up, trying to protect itself. He's only dimly aware of Dawn scrabbling away from him -- only dimly grateful, the rest is hidden beneath the hunger -- as he waits the needed few seconds for the agony to subside. She won't be able to get far, after all. He's so much faster.

Then the bathroom door bangs open, and Harris is standing there, his face glowing in the pale light from the lantern that's still on the side of the sink. "What the fuck is going on?" he asks, just as Dawn runs over to him, struggling to pull a little t-shirt on over her head to hide herself.

"He was... we were, and then..." She can't form a sentence. Xander takes another step into the room, holding the door open with his arm high so that Dawn can duck under it and behind him.

"I told you you couldn't trust him," Harris says. He's acting calm, but Spike can hear the fine quiver in his voice that gives him away.

That's when Spike sees that Harris' got a stake in his other hand. "Gonna dust me?" he asks, forcing himself upright despite the deep ache in his groin, tucking his cock back into his jeans as casually as he can, trying not to wince.

"If I have to," Xander says. He doesn't turn his head to look at Dawn. "Are you okay?"

"I think so." Dawn's voice is small, and a twinge of something in Spike's gut makes him wince. "It's not his fault," she says.

Spike snorts, trying to maintain some sort of distance from the whole situation. "Don't fool yourself, Bit. Who else's would it be? This is what I am. Told you so plenty of times, haven't I?" He doesn't want to hurt her -- that's the truth. Control just got away from him for a minute there. He's been running too close to the edge for too long.

"It was an accident," Dawn insists. "He tried to warn me."

"Not quick enough though, was I." Spike leans back against the wall, physiological reaction to the hunger making him tremble. "Just get her out of here for a while, Harris. Give me a few minutes alone."

"So you can do what? Come back out and decide which one of us looks like the easiest meal? No, thanks." Xander shakes his head, and Spike thinks they both know who the easiest target would be if that were the case. "No. We have to figure out the right way to handle this."

Surprised, Spike says, "Get the hell away from me, that's how."

"No," Dawn says. He can hear the gratitude in her voice. "We're a team, right?"

Spike wants to say yes, but he's shaking with the effort of holding back as it is. "Not if it means you being in danger," he says stubbornly.

"Then we don't let her be," Harris says, still doing a good job of acting calm.

"What's your solution, then?" Spike asks, his teeth itching with the need for blood. "Gonna feed me yourself?" He knows that'll never happen.

"If I have to." Xander says.

The trembling has spread to Spike's hands like a palsy, and he has to clench them into fists to make it stop. "Harris," he says slowly. "We're not friends. You don't want to do this. Just get her out of here and give me some time. I'll... I can control this."

"He can't," Dawn says stubbornly. "If he could, he wouldn't have -- "

"Get her out," Spike says, full of rage that they're ignoring him, and slams his head back into the wall again. This time he breaks something -- the wall, not his head -- and a small shower of plaster chips falls down into his hair and over his shoulders.

Xander says, "No." He steps sideways into the room, leaving Dawn to hold the door open on her own, and gives her the stake. "Here. Take this too." He reaches inside his shirt and pulls out a chunky gold cross on a long chain, long enough to take off over his head without unfastening it, which is what he does, only half-turning away from Spike as he puts the necklace on Dawn. Then, cautiously, he moves toward Spike.

"You don't know what you're getting yourself into," Spike tells him, staying where he is only through supreme effort.

"Yeah, I do." Harris holds his hands out to the side a bit, which just proves to Spike that he really doesn't know what he's doing. A gesture of surrender isn't the way to deal with this. "Dawn has a stake and my cross. If you fuck up, she'll stop you. Right, Dawn?"

Spike can hear her swallow from across the room. "R-right." Then, more strongly, "Right. Isn't there some kind of police saying like this? Um, 'take it nice and slow and no one gets hurt?' Oh. No, I think that's a bank robber thing." Her voice rises, high and quavery, and in that moment any chance Spike thought there was of this not ending badly is shattered.

Unfortunately, so's his resolve.

"All right," Spike says.

Harris starts to take off his shirt, and as his thin but muscular torso comes into view, Spike thinks that he should tell him to keep his shirt on, that it'd be safer to do this from his wrist. But he doesn't. Just waits for Xander to come closer, eyeing the juncture of throat and shoulder with hunger, reaching a hand out for Harris' waist as he gets within touching distance.

"Oh, no," Xander says, stopping despite Spike's growl of frustration. "We have to do this the right way. Turn around like this." He indicates that Spike should stand sideways rather than facing him, then moves around so that his back is to Spike, both of them facing the mirrors.

Good boy, Spike thinks. Submit.

"This way Dawn can stop you if she has to," Harris says. "And she can see my face, so she'll know. Okay?"

Spike hears Dawn say, "Okay," but he can't wait a second more, he's already wrapping an arm around Harris' waist from behind and sinking his fangs through the salty flesh at the nape of Xander's neck, sweet hot blood bursting into his mouth.

Xander chokes back a pained sound, then says, "It's okay. It's okay." Spike's not sure if he's saying it to Dawn or himself, but either way, his girl's smart -- she moves further into the room, the stake clenched in one hand and the cross in the other.

Spike feeds.

It's so good -- better, somehow, for knowing Harris instead of him being a complete stranger. Xander's stomach muscles flutter underneath the sensitive skin of Spike's inner elbow and forearm, his hitched breathing like music to Spike's ears as he swallows mouthful after mouthful. He can smell Harris' arousal as his own cock hardens, and can't -- doesn't want to -- stop himself from thrusting forward, rubbing himself against that warm human ass. He drinks slowly, knowing that sooner or later it's got to stop, and he wants it for as long as possible.

"Spike..." Xander says, then, "Dawn?"

She steps closer, and immediately Spike forces himself to let go of Xander and back up. It's harder than he'd thought it would be, stopping, but he's in control again. "Yeah. Okay."

Harris claps a hand over the wound on his throat, the smell of the blood still thick in the air, and turns around to look at Spike. "You okay?" he asks cautiously.

"Yeah," Spike says, looking at the floor because it's easier to keep hold of himself that way. He swallows. "Better."

"We can't let this happen again," Dawn says, as Harris pulls his shirt back on.

"It won't," Spike says shortly, wondering what changed since the time she tried to offer to let him feed from her. Learned she can't trust him, he guesses. He adds a lie. "None of you are food. Don't want you to be."

"No, I meant you getting this hungry," Dawn says. He looks up into her eyes, which are far more understanding than he probably deserves. "There's got to be somewhere else we can find blood. Can we go somewhere there are a lot of cows or something?"

"That's not a bad idea." Harris takes the stake back from her, but doesn't say anything about the necklace. Seems just as happy not to talk about what just happened, which is just fine with Spike. "Look, I'm gonna go check on Wesley. Dawn... you want to come?"

Spike gets that Harris is trying to give him some time alone, which he probably needs, and he's more grateful for that than he is for the blood. "Yeah, you go on, Bit. I'll be along in a minute."

Dawn looks at him, big eyed, a small stain of blood seeping into the collar of her t-shirt, and Spike wants her so much in that moment that he knows she'd be better
off without him. "Okay. We'll be right out there."

They both leave, neither of them taking the lantern with them even though Spike doesn't need it and they must know that, and that's when he leans against the wall and slides down along it to sit on the floor. Spike stares at his hands dangling between his thighs and wonders what the bloody hell he's going to do now.

* * *

Dawn doesn't know when it happened, but she's holding Xander's hand as they go back to where Wesley is still sleeping, or lying unconscious. Xander crouches down next to the pile of first aid stuff and rummages through it, and she crouches with him, discovering that she doesn't want to let go of him.

"It's okay," Xander says, finding a box of really big bandaids and gently prying his hand away from hers. "Here, pull your collar back."

She does, baring the spot where Spike bit her, realizing then that she's shaking. "It wasn't his fault," she repeats, as Xander wipes the blood away and sticks on a bandaid.

"No, I think it was probably the chip's fault," Xander says, sitting back on his heels and looking at her. "Were you planning on telling us that it had stopped working, I don't know, ever?" But he doesn't sound as mad as she'd thought he would.

Dawn looks down at her hands, then moves and picks up a bandaid, starting to unwrap it. Her eyes keep darting over to Wesley, and she can't help but see how wrong he looks with his arm just... not there. "It's not like I didn't know you'd find out sooner or later," she says, gesturing at Xander to pull his shirt out of the way. She wipes off the little bit of blood that's kind of oozed out with a piece of gauze, then puts the bandaid on carefully. "Anyway... I trust him."

"Yeah, well, that'd be more convincing if he hadn't just tried to eat you," Xander points out.

"He couldn't help it," Dawn says miserably. "He's, like, starving." That thought makes her more upset and sad than the fact that he lost control for that one instant. She knows it was a mistake.

She doesn't want to think about it being a mistake that could happen again.

"Then we need to find him more blood," Xander says. "Because I don't know about you, but I'm not willing to become a walking, talking human blood bank for a vampire."

"I wouldn't mind," Dawn says very quietly, twisting the bandaid wrapper into a little toothpick shape.

Xander pauses, then says, "What?"

"I told him before," Dawn says. She raises her eyes to meet Xander's. "That if he needed to, you know, drink some of my blood sometimes, it was okay with me." She knows they've had basically this same conversation before. "But he said no."

"Well I'm glad one of you has some sense," Xander says. He rubs his forehead. "Wait. I just admitted that Spike has sense, didn't I."

Dawn smiles a little bit. "Maybe."

"That's not what I meant. I just meant..." Xander sighs.

Beside them, Wesley stirs and makes a small sound of pain, and Xander's attention is instantly diverted. He moves closer, reaching out to touch Wesley's hair gently without touching the mattress at all, like he doesn't want to jar him. "Wes? Wesley?"

Under his touch, Wesley seems to settle again, the lines on his face smoothing out.

"It's okay," Xander soothes. "I'm here."

It hurts Dawn's heart to watch. "I'm in love with him," she says, while Xander's still focused on Wesley. "I can't help it. I just am."

And Xander turns to look at her with his one eye, his hand still hovering over Wesley's hair. "Yeah. I know."

* * *

Spike sits there on the floor of the bathroom for a long time before he finally comes out, bringing the lantern with him. Dawn and Xander are sitting next to each other on the floor near Wesley, not talking.

"Gonna go smoke," he says. He doesn't want to do it without Dawn at least knowing where he is, and, to be fair, he wants to see what she'll say. If she'll offer to come with him. Not that he knows if he'd agree to it or not.

But Dawn just says, "Okay," and lets him go.

Spike's not sure how he feels about that.

He goes out and smokes, listening hard for any sounds that might be suspicious, but hearing nothing but the soft murmurs of Xander and Dawn talking inside. Spends a long time out there, and by the time he comes back in, Xander's asleep on a mattress next to Wesley's and Dawn is curled up on one of the other two. Her eyes follow him as he kicks off his boots and crouches down. "You okay?" he asks quietly.

Dawn props her head up on her hand. "Yeah. I'm okay. Are you?"

"Better," Spike says. He'd said it before. Seemed to work then.

He starts to lower himself onto the free mattress, but Dawn frowns. "What, do I suddenly have cooties or something?"

"Thought maybe you might like some space," Spike mutters, keeping his eyes down.

"No, I want to sleep with you," Dawn says. "I always sleep with you." As if it's that simple, as if this is the only life she's ever known, which is both untrue and fucking depressing as far as Spike's concerned.

Still, not like he wants to argue with her, and now that he's fed, he's feeling in control again, so he's not worried about being a danger to her. For now. He lies down next to her, the feel of the air mattress odd underneath him, and puts his arm around her automatically, not even thinking about it.

Like it's the only life he's ever known, too, and at least that's a little less depressing.

"There's stuff I need to do in the morning," Dawn says, stifling a yawn behind her hand. "There's a ton of medicine back there -- pills, mostly. And I figure there must be books too, some way to find out which ones are for what." She lowers her voice even though the other two are asleep. "Antibiotics. You know, so Wesley doesn't get an infection."

Girl's too smart for her own good, which just might be enough to get the rest of them through this. "Yeah. He's not gonna be up to traveling for days, probably. Unless there's no other choice. Plenty of time to sort through it all."

"Well, I want to do it sooner and not later," Dawn says. Her voice is warm against Spike's neck.

"Whatever you want," Spike tells her.

She squirms a bit, trying to get comfortable. "What are we going to do about the blood thing? If we're here for days, I mean?"

"Don't worry yourself about that. I'll think of something." He'll have to go out hunting, is what. Won't be the first time or the last, and at least Dawn won't be alone.

"I could still -- " Dawn starts hesitantly, and Spike shakes his head, cutting her off before she can finish.

"No," he says. "You saw what happens."

"But that was because you waited so long," Dawn says, continuing stubbornly even though her voice is still low. "If you didn't..."

Spike shakes his head again. "No," he repeats. "It's not up for discussion. I'm serious."

"Yeah, well, so am I." Dawn sighs, seeming to give up for the moment, at least.

"Been a long day," Spike says. "You should try to get some sleep."

She nods against his chest, snuggling in closer, and it's not long after that he realizes she's fallen asleep in his arms.

* * *

Dawn wakes up to a sound that's wrong on such a deep level that for several very long moments she has no idea where she is or what's happened, just that her stomach is clenched into knots.

Then she realizes what the sound is, and that doesn't help her feel better, because it's Wesley, and he's... crying.

Well, except not, because he's not letting himself. But it's such a close thing that he might as well be, rough low sounds of pain on every exhale and shaky indrawn breaths like Dawn gets after she's cried for a long time, when her chest aches and her face is wet with tears.

She's alone in the bed, and when she opens her eyes, she sees Spike crouching next to the mattress Wesley is on, and Xander's there too. Xander glances in her direction and Dawn quickly shuts her eyes. She's not sure why -- it just... well, it feels like this isn't something she's supposed to see or know about. Probably Wesley would be all embarrassed if he knew she'd seen him like this, and maybe Xander's embarrassed for him.

"...kinds of stuff back there," Xander is saying in a low voice. "But I don't know what any of it is."

"Last thing we want's to overdose him," Spike says, agreeing with Xander. It's kind of weird to hear them talking like that, like they're working together, even though it's happened a few times before. "Hang on."

Then Spike's voice again, coaxing.

"Wesley? You hear me?"

Wesley gasps and shudders -- Dawn might not be looking at him, but she knows it anyway. "Yes," he says.

"All kind of drugs back there -- stuff we can give you to dull the pain. But we need to know which ones and how much."

It's really quiet for a long time except for the labored sound of Wesley's breathing. Then he says, "Percocet. Vicodin. Demerol." Another shuddering breath. "Morphine, but... probably intravenous."

"Will you know how much is safe?" Spike asks.

Wesley coughs, and the sound tapers off into a whimper that hangs around for the next couple of breaths. "Don't worry," he says finally. "I won't... let you kill me."

"I'll go," Spike says. "You stay here with him."

Xander doesn't argue, and Dawn listens as Spike goes off to the back of the store, keeping her eyes closed because that seems to make more sense than getting up and following him, even thought that's what she really wants to do.

About a minute later, it's what she really wishes she'd done, because Wesley's pained breathing turns into what sounds more like actual crying, just little tiny sounds like he's trying to hold them back, but can't.

She takes a chance and opens her eyes just the tiniest bit. Wesley's hand -- his only hand, and god, how weird and awful is that -- is over his face, and his shoulders are shaking, and those little noises keep escaping him. Xander's petting Wesley's hair, and the look on his face is so sad that Dawn closes her eyes again quickly, determined to keep them closed this time no matter what.

"It's okay," Xander says, his voice breaking. "Hang on, Wesley. It's gonna be okay."

Wesley doesn't say anything -- he just keeps crying, the sound of it making Dawn want to cry too. Guys -- men -- aren't supposed to cry like that. No one's supposed to cry like that.

Xander's still talking. "Shh. Wes... don't. It'll just hurt more -- trust me, I know. Shhh. It's okay. I'm right here, okay? Shh."

"Xander..." It's like that's all Wesley can say, even if it's barely a whisper between gasps for air.

"Yeah, I'm right here." Xander sounds so upset. "It's okay, Wes. I love you. You know that, right?"

Wesley doesn't answer.

It feels like a really long time goes by, while Wesley sobs those quiet little sobs and Xander talks through what sounds like tears of his own, even though his sound different -- frustration and helplessness instead of pain. Dawn wishes she'd just gotten up and followed Spike, because she shouldn't be hearing this. This is private -- Wesley's pain and the things Xander says to him are things she shouldn't know about, not when they don't know that she's basically spying on them.

She's hugely relieved when Spike comes back, even if it doesn't seem like Wesley can stop the noises he's making. Like once he started, he can't stop.

"Got Vicodin and Percocet," Spike says, probably to Xander. Dawn knows him well enough to be able to tell just from his voice that he's worried about Wesley too.

"Is there any way to tell which one's better?" Xander asks. "Or how much you're supposed to take?"

"Don't know enough about it," Spike says. More gently, "Wes? We need your help here, mate. Vicodin or Percocet?"

Quiet while Wesley thinks. "Percocet," he says. "...dosage?"

Another pause, then Spike saying, irritatedly, "Give me that. Here. Says five, three hundred twenty five, whatever the hell that means."

There's the squeak of an air mattress, and Wesley makes a worse sound, a scary sound. But it fades quickly back into the sounds he'd been making before. Dawn can feel tears at the corners of her eyes. "Two now," Wesley says finally. "Then one... six hours."

"That gonna be enough?" Spike asks, concerned.

Wesley makes another sound, and it takes a minute for Dawn to realize he's laughing. "No," he says.

Dawn tries not to listen while they find water and manage to get the pill down Wesley's throat. She doesn't want to hear it -- her stomach is all tied up in knots. But after a while, Wesley stops making any sound at all except for slow breathing, and she relaxes too.

"Thanks," Xander murmurs to Spike, his voice soft. "Why don't you try to get some sleep? I'm good."

"No. I'll stay."

Opening her eyes again, Dawn sees the two of them sitting next to each other, thighs touching. She's glad Xander's not alone -- glad none of them are.

Later, Xander falls asleep, and Dawn must doze off too, because she's surprised awake when Spike lies down next to her again, pulling her close.

"You all right, love?" he asks. "Knew you were awake."

"You did?" Dawn whispers, surprised.

"Yeah." Spike's hand cradles the back of her head tenderly. He smells like cigarette smoke and leather, and Dawn squirms to get closer, wanting as much of their bodies to be touching as possible. "You all right?" he asks again.

She nods against his chest. Then, after a minute, shakes her head.

"No? What can I do?" Spike sounds so sweet and caring that Dawn starts to cry softly with her face pressed against his t-shirt. "Bit. Dawn. It's all right, love. It'll be fine."

It's not that she thinks it won't be -- she hasn't give up hope or anything. It's just that listening to Wesley in pain like that was so hard, and she knows that it happened to him because he'd been protecting her, and... she doesn't want to think. She just cries, very quietly, with Spike holding her and rubbing her back and saying soothing things, just like Xander did for Wesley.

And that's when she knows, really knows, that it's not any different. It's just love -- just like her mom and dad when she was little, and they're dead now. Just like Buffy and Angel, and Willow and Tara, and her and Spike. And Wesley and Xander.

It's all love, and Dawn is filled this amazing sense of wonder as she cries, thinking that it's not possible for her to love Spike any more than she already does. He's everything.

Whatever it takes to keep her safe, he'll do.

And she'll do whatever it takes to keep him safe, too. Even if he thinks she doesn't know what that is.

* * *

They keep Wesley well drugged up for the next couple of days -- Dawn finds a book in the back that gives them some idea of what to expect from the drugs, and lets them know how to tell if they're overdoing it. As much worry over the lesser painkiller as the heavy-duty one -- figures, that -- but they're careful. Keep a close eye on him, making sure he looks all right.

Spike can see he's losing weight -- they can barely keep him hydrated, let alone get him to eat anything -- and he and Dawn make another uneventful trip to the department store looking for bottled water. They come back with only two containers, but since they also come back with all their body parts, Spike counts it a success.

Trying to change Wesley's bandage, some time around day four or five, is something that results in Harris being noisily sick in the next aisle of the store while Spike has to finish the job. When it's done, Wesley's pale and covered with a thin sheen of sweat, and Dawn looks like she might follow Xander any minute. Keeps herself together, though. Spike's not sure he even has the words for how proud he is of her.

The next day, Wesley's better. Sits, half propped up, and eats something. Talks a bit. He's exhausted in less than an hour, but it's progress, and the first time that Spike actually believes what he'd told both Dawn and Xander -- he thinks maybe Wesley's gonna live.

And, he's surprised to note, he's glad about it.

The day after that, he waits until there's a lull in the conversation, then says, "Ought to think about moving on."

The look Dawn gives him is startled. "Already? But we haven't even been here that long."

It's telling that she wants to stay in one place, even one as dull as this one. Spike files that away. "Front door's kicked in," he points out, not for the first time. "If we want to settle somewhere, there's better places than this."

"You don't think it's too soon to move him?" Xander asks, glancing over at Wesley like he's done a hundred times in the half hour since the bloke's been asleep.

"Can ask him when he wakes up, can't we." But even Spike knows that any answer Wesley gives is gonna be what he thinks is best for everyone and not necessarily the truth. He sighs. "He'll be fine. Not like he's got to do anything but lie around and recover, right?"

"We could take the back seat out," Dawn offers. "If we put one of the mattresses back there, he'd be pretty comfortable."

Spike resists pointing out that this means he'll have to sit on the floor, which sure as hell isn't his first choice. Not like he hasn't had worse.

"And we'll have to take a lot of the medicine with us," Dawn continues. Now that she's on a roll, she seems more excited about the idea of getting on the road again. "I mean, it might come in handy later, too."

"I think some of that stuff expires," Xander says.

"Yeah, but what would you rather take? Expired cough syrup that only kind of works, or no cough syrup?" Dawn asks.

"Point taken." Xander glances over at Wesley again, then back at Spike. "Yeah, okay. Not like this place is full of good memories."

That night, Spike goes out again. Two nights before he'd found a nest of two vamps and drained both of them, and tonight he knows he needs to find something better. He doesn't like leaving Dawn -- well, any of them, really, but her in particular -- but it's not like he's got much choice in the matter.

He walks two hours before he finds what he's looking for -- small group of humans holed up in a house. Four or five of them, he thinks, listening at the outside wall to their voices, soft, muted. He goes all round the house, checking windows and doors silently, trying to find a way in even though he knows the chances that he'll be able to get in even so are slim to none. But everything's locked up tight anyway.

Spike considers his options. He's hungry enough that, in the end, he decides to chance losing some of them rather than all of them. Doesn't burn the house to smoke them out. Instead, he bloodies his own face and forces himself to breathe heavily like he's a human that's been running hard, then slams his body against the door, knocking frantically.

"Help!" he calls. "Please, you've got to help me!"

He gives deliberate gasps as someone on the other side of the door looks out through the peephole, doing his best to look scared. A terse discussion, then the door is opened. "What is it?" the man on the other side of a barrier he might not even know's there asks.

"Monsters," Spike gasps, reaching up a trembling hand to smear the blood across a cut that's already healing. "Attacked me and my girl. You've got to help -- "

The man reaches out -- maybe to pat Spike's shoulder. Hard to tell, and not like it matters. Spike grabs his wrist as soon as it's across the threshold and yanks, jerking him outside and morphing into game face, sinking fangs into a warm living body that struggles and stinks of fear as the screams and cries of the other people in the house fill his ears in a gorgeous cacophony.

Spike feeds, and just as the struggles of the man in his arms start to die down, he learns something.

Shouldn't have taken his eyes off the doorway.

A stake slams into him from the side, probably aiming for his heart but going into the muscle of his shoulder instead, and he shouts and drops the man in his arms -- falls like a stone, he does -- and whirls to slam his fist into face of the shaking, terrified younger man who's backing away from him. This bloke goes down too, hard, and two more stupid humans come out of the house to help him.

Spike reaches behind and wrenches the stake from his shoulder, snarling at the hot rush of pain. He tosses it to the ground and turns back to the people, grabbing the closest one that's trying to help the young bloke and spinning her so her back's to his chest -- he can keep an eye on the rest of them that way. He holds the woman still with one hand on her arm and the other cupping a full breast and bites into her throat, not letting the explosion of blood over his tongue distract him.

Face-bashed-in bloke's near senseless on the ground, and the first man's so close to drained that he's almost dead where he lies. Another man's trying to drag the hurt one toward the house. Last thing Spike wants is to lose a potential meal -- he sucks the woman in his arms dry and tosses her aside, snagging the shirt front of the would-be rescuer and sinking teeth into him too. He moans, and Spike can feel the vibration against his teeth. His whole body's humming with the thrill of the hunt -- fresh blood filling him up.

Drains that one and lets him fall too, then turns to pick up the man with the bloodied face, dropping to his knees next to him rather than bothering to haul the bloke to his feet -- far as he Spike can tell, there's only one more human in the house.

He licks some blood off the man's face, grinning at the way the bloke's eyes roll and widen, pain and terror so sharp that he can almost taste it.

Then Spike hears a whimper from the doorway and glances over.

There's a girl kneeling on the stoop, one hand clutching the wooden door frame. She's 17, maybe -- long, straight hair. Wide green eyes spilling tears all down her cheeks as she sobs with her other hand balled into a fist and shoved against her mouth to stifle the sound. Her eyes dart from Spike to the face of the young man he's holding, and something in her gaze tells him more than he wants to know.

Heart gets him in trouble time and again, doesn't it. Shouldn't surprise him anymore.

With a sigh, Spike bites into the bloke's throat, but he doesn't take more than what he took from Harris the other night -- not nearly enough to kill the man. Then he gets to his feet, dragging the reeling, stinking excuse for humanity over to the house. "Pissed himself," he tells the girl, as he shoves the young man through the doorway into the house, where he hits the floor without even trying to break his fall. "Hope he's worth something to you, then."

Still, Spike's not a total git. He finishes draining the first man before he heads back to Dawn and the other two.

* * *

Dawn is relieved when she hears the familiar sound of Spike's boots on the tile floor. The way he walks is different from anyone else.

At first she's just glad he's back, but when he walks down the aisle where Xander and Wesley are both asleep and she's been trying to, and she looks up, she can see something in his eyes that makes her nipples tighten and the rest of her feel hot and flushed. He crouches down and looks at her, then reaches out a hand and touches her face. "Come on," he says softly, tilting his head to the side.

She doesn't think of refusing -- she just gets up, lets him take her hand and lead her to the front of the store, through the broken doorway. He turns her around, pushing her gently up against the wall of the building like he's protecting her, and kisses her.

It's a long kiss, and she's grateful for the wall at her back because it makes her knees feel like maybe they aren't going to hold her up very well. Her hands are gripping onto Spike's t-shirt, hard, pulling him close, and he feels so good against her that she can't help it -- little sounds keep escaping her.

Spike's hand is on her breast, kneading gently, his thumb rubbing back and forth across her nipple -- she's not wearing a bra, she takes it off to go to bed, mostly -- and she can feel his erection against her hip. Spike's mouth tastes a little bit like blood, but it's not gross or anything. She's just so glad to be with him, and to know that he wants her.

"That's my girl," he says, rubbing against her. "God, I want you."

She moans her agreement into his mouth, and the kissing is harder now, more desperate. She feels it just as much as he does -- that want, to be closer, to feel his skin on hers, for him to be inside her, as close as he can get...

It doesn't take long for Spike to get her pants off her and to open the front of his own enough so that he can push inside her. He's not gentle, but that's okay, and the wall is smooth enough that it's not uncomfortable. And anyway, Spike's supporting most of her weight, his hands on her naked behind as he thrusts roughly into her, saying all kind of good things like, "God yeah, love, you feel so good."

Dawn kisses him and squeaks when he shoves into her again, the scrape of his shaft against her clit making her crazy. She wants Spike to do this forever, only she can tell that she's going to come soon and then she knows she won't really want him to do it anymore. He pushes her shirt up and leans in to lick her nipples, and she whimpers, squirming, feeling how his cock stretches her open.

"Good girl," Spike growls against her breast, fucking her harder. "That's my girl. Fuck, Bit. Dawn. I'm mad for you."

She keeps quiet -- well, except for the little sounds that she can't keep back every time he thrusts into her -- because she can't help but hope he might keep talking, saying stuff like that. Stuff that she wants to hear. Needs to hear, maybe.

He sucks on her nipple, hard, and she whimpers again, arching her body, desperate for more. "So bloody gorgeous," Spike mutters. "And you've got no idea, have you? No idea how much I love you."

Dawn gasps and starts to cry, and Spike stops thrusting into her, raising his head and looking at her, worried.

"Dawn? Pet? Did I hurt you?"

She sniffles and shakes her head back and forth, squeezing her thighs around him without even thinking about because she really doesn't want him to stop. "You... you said it."

Spike frowns, confused. "Said what?"

Dawn blinks away tears, not like that does any good because there are more waiting. "That you... that you love me."

His eyes clear, and he leans in and kisses her softly, gentle now. "Of course I love you. More than I could say." He pulls back and pushes into her again, slow, making her moan. "You want me to say it again?"

She nods mutely, but she can't help kissing him again, even though that makes it harder for him to talk.

"I love you," Spike says. Dawn's crying, still quietly, but she doesn't know how to stop. "Dawn. Love you. My incredible girl, so brave and strong. Love you, pet."

He's moving steadily again, sliding into her, and her insides feel all warm and melty even though her face is wet with tears. "Spike. I love you, too. I -- " She whimpers, and when his lips close around her nipple again she comes and comes, like it's going to go on forever. She feels it when Spike comes, too, deep in her, groaning and pushing into her with quick little jerks.

"Shh, love," he says when it's over, wiping away her tears with gentle fingertips. "You sure you're not hurt?"

Dawn shakes her head again. "I'm okay," she says, looking into his eyes. He tilts his head to the side with a little encouraging smile. "I didn't really know. If you did, I mean."

"Love you?" Spike asks.

She nods.

"Of course I bloody well love you," Spike tells her, setting her back on the ground, both his hands on her naked butt. "Do anything for you."

Dawn smiles and sniffles, thinking that it's totally stupid to cry about something good. Why do people do that, anyway? She looks at Spike -- he loves me -- and then around on the ground. "Where are my pants?" He loves me.

Spike tucks himself away and fastens the front of his jeans, stepping back and helping her find her clothes. He helps her put them back on, too. "You should get some sleep, love," he says, brushing her hair back out of her eyes.

"Okay. But you're coming too?"

He smiles at her. "Yeah. Come on -- let's be quiet so we don't wake the other two, right?"

They creep back in and get into bed, with Dawn cuddled in Spike's arms.

"You don't seriously think I didn't hear that, do you?" Xander's voice asks quietly from a few feet away.

Dawn blushes and burrows her face into the pillow to muffle her groan of embarrassment, and Xander laughs, still softly. At least Wesley's sleeping.

"At least we tried to be quiet," Spike says.

"Hey, whatever. I'm just grateful you didn't do it right here." There's humor in Xander's voice, for the first time in days, Dawn thinks. That might be worth the embarrassment.

"Please.You'd have loved it if we had," Spike tells him, kind of warm and rough. Like he likes Xander.

Dawn closes her eyes and lets the rest of their words wash over her, soothing her to sleep.

* * *

They're only on the road two days before Spike manages to convince them to do some of their traveling at night. What with Wesley out of the driving pool and Dawn's tendency to get tense and strung out like a junkie waiting for her next fix after an hour behind the wheel, Xander's the only one left to drive during the day, and he can only handle so much.

The second day, after four hours without a break, Spike glances up in time to see Xander's head loll on his neck. "Xander!" he says sharply, and Xander snaps back to attention, correcting the gentle arch the car's been making. Dawn, in the front seat next to Xander, looks startled and worried, and Spike reaches back a hand to steady Wesley as the turning radius changes a bit more sharply than they're used to.

"Pull the car over," Spike says.

"I'm -- "

"Pull the bloody car over," Spike says, not giving Xander time to say something stupid like he's fine. He pats Wesley's chest to reassure him, even though he doesn't think the man's even roused from his drugged slumber.

Xander does. "Sorry."

They hadn't slept enough the night before, none of them. Holed up in a place with far less security than any of them would have liked. "Don't want you to be sorry," Spike says, irritated. "Want you to be awake behind the wheel. There's no shame in needing to get some sleep -- just do it when you're not driving." He sighs.

At least Xander has the sense not to apologize again. He just looks over at Dawn. "You want a turn?"

She nods doubtfully. "Okay."

They switch places without getting out of the car, Dawn giggling when Xander smacks his knee on the gear shift and curses under his breath. Nice to hear her happy. Actually, come to think of it, she's seemed more carefree the past few days. Spike would like to think it's because she is happy -- she says she is, at any rate -- but things are never that easy, are they?

But they only make it another hour before her hands are clenched on the wheel. It's too much to expect of her -- for whatever reason, the girl that can cauterize a man's bleeding stump just can't handle driving for more than short distances.

So Xander takes another turn, and in the end they stop early, which works in their favor because they're able to find a place that's better than the one the night before, a small house without very many windows. Some of them are already boarded up, and the ones that aren't open into rooms that are easy to close off. The four of them bunk in the same room like they've been doing -- more secure that way -- even though Spike can tell that's going to get old real fast.

There are mattresses in the house, so no need for the bloody air mattresses for once -- one of them's sprung a leak and been tossed already, and Spike thinks another's got a slower leak, but he hasn't been able to figure out where. Along the seam, maybe. He and Harris wrestle three mattresses into the room they're going to sleep in -- two singles and a double. They put the singles side by side -- that way Xander and Wesley can sleep next to each other without Wesley being jostled.

Wesley's sitting propped up on one of them as Spike and Xander get the double kicked into the other corner of the room. Dawn's moved a little table over next to Wesley and spread out what they need to change his bandages again.

"Do you want another pill first?" she asks.

"No," Wesley says. "I'll be fine."

"Are you sure? Because I could -- "

"No," Wesley says, sharper, and Dawn ducks her head, her long hair falling forward to cover her face. It reminds Spike of Tara, of how the mildest rebuke could make her blush and stammer like she'd killed the Queen.

Dawn lifts her head again, though, and her chin's set stubbornly. "Fine. You don't have to be a jerk about it."

Xander straightens up. Spike can hear him open his mouth to say something, but apparently Wesley does too, because he looks over at Xander and shakes his head, then says to Dawn. "No, you're right."

It's not a proper apology like Spike would have wanted for her, but Dawn seems satisfied. "It's okay," she says, going back to the basket of supplies and setting out some more gauze rolls. "Anyway, you can always change your mind."

Spike's not looking forward to this job, not after last time, but he does it himself rather than risk either of the other two being sick. They're eating well enough now, but neither of them can afford to lose a meal because of a weak moment. Turns out to be a lot easier than the previous round, though -- there's been a lot less bleeding, so taking off the old gauze isn't as painful a job, and Wesley makes it through without too much trouble. He's still got that white look around the lips, the one that tells Spike that his blood volume's low, but he's better. Brighter.

Still goes to sleep a good couple of hours before the rest of them though, which means Spike and Dawn get to entertain Xander. It's annoying, sometimes, but worth it -- better than leaving Harris to fret, although he seems to be doing less of that as Wesley heals.

"Hamburgers," Dawn says wistfully. She's lying with her head on Spike's arm, her hair tickling his nose. "With cheese."

"Real french fries." Xander's on the mattress closest to theirs, lying on his back and looking at the ceiling. Good thing Wesley can sleep through just about anything on the drugs he's taking, even though they keep their voices quiet.

"Ice cream," Dawn says.

This is the first time they've played this particular game, and Spike's not sure it's a good idea, but he doesn't say anything. They seem to be enjoying it -- for now, at least. He just hopes it won't make it harder on them in the morning, when they're back to canned food and the last of the packaged stuff that hasn't gone off.

"Toast," Xander says. "From fresh bread, with lots of butter."

Dawn moans softly at the thought. "Scrambled eggs and toast. With fresh-squeezed orange juice."

"Cake. Chocolate cake with those little sugar flowers on top." Xander sighs.

"We could probably make cake," Dawn says.

"We'd need eggs." Xander rolls onto his side so he's facing them. "And milk, right? Is there milk in cake?"

"I don't know." Dawn slides her hand down and laces her fingers with Spike's where his hand's resting on her stomach. "But there's canned milk. And what about that powdered stuff? I mean, you wouldn't want to drink it, but it would work for baking. I think."

Spike leans forward and kisses her hair, and she turns her head to look at him, smiling. He loves looking into her eyes -- hazel-green, with little flecks of brown. He wants to write sonnets about her eyes.

By the time Dawn turns her head again to look at Xander, he's asleep, still on his side facing them, his chest rising and falling slowly. "Oh, good," Dawn says softly. "He was really tired."

"Almost got us all killed," Spike agrees. "Well, you lot, anyway. I'm already there."

Her hand squeezes his. "If I didn't freak out every time I start to drive, he wouldn't have to do so much."

"If we drove part of the night, neither of you'd have to spend so much time behind the wheel," Spike points out. He'd brought it up earlier and Xander had dismissed the idea, but he thinks that if he can get Dawn to see reason now, she'll be able to talk Xander into it.

"I know," Dawn says. They're barely talking above a whisper. "It's just... you know. Scarier. At night."

Spike turns her around so she's looking at him, running his hand over her hair. "Won't let anything happen to you, pet. What if we started out three or four hours before sunrise? I could drive until then -- that way if there are days when you and Xander aren't up for it, we'll still make time, yeah?"

Dawn nods. "And maybe we'd get there sooner." 'There' isn't anything but a vague region on a map at this point, but they've all talked it over, the four of them, and agreed that they'll try it. Drive around, see if they can't find a place to settle. It's good farming country, crops and cows, which means food for all of them. If it's not the right place, they'll know soon enough, and Wesley's got two or three other options waiting in the wings.

"You'd like to, wouldn't you," Spike asks her.

"Get there?" Dawn smiles. "Yeah. I mean, it'd be nice to have somewhere to stay, you know? For good."

For the first time, Spike thinks maybe he does. It's not simple, but with Dawn there, and a couple of other blokes to talk to, humans that accept him -- well, yeah, he's a bit soft in the head for that sort of thing, and he knows it. No point denying it to himself.

It might not be what he'd have hoped for, if he'd been planning the perfect world for himself, and her. But it's close.

* * *

Driving at night isn't as scary as Dawn thought it would be. For one thing, she can sit in the front with Spike, which makes it better. No matter what she's said to him -- no matter what she knows, deep down -- it does feel like he can protect her. Keep anything from happening to her. He's safety.

After the first night, it's already a pattern. Get up when Spike tells them it's time, groggy and half-awake. Dawn wishes for coffee then, even though she never really liked it, because at least that would make the transition easier. But she knows it won't take more than a few days for their bodies to adjust, so it's not that bad, really.

Between Spike and Xander, they get Wesley to the car. Wesley can walk now, but he's not very steady, and the thought of him falling is enough to make Dawn's stomach flip with anxiety, so they walk with him, one on either side. He's still pale, but he looks better, Dawn thinks. At least a little. And he's awake more, and eating more, and those both have to be good things.

Wesley sleeps in the car -- he still sleeps a lot, actually, which Spike says is good -- and Xander sits back there with him. Sometimes, when Wesley is awake, she can hear them talking. Just soft little murmurs, and sometimes the tone of Xander's voice that means he's trying to lighten the mood.

On the side of the road, just before sunrise, they drive past an abandoned pickup truck. Next to it is a small collection of gas cans, and they can always use gas that doesn't require the complicated method Xander and Wesley developed for getting it from gas stations, so Spike pulls over and stops the car.

"What's up?" Xander asks.

"Somebody left some gas cans," Dawn tells him. "We're just going to -- "

"I'm just going to check them out," Spike says.

"Since when do you get to decide that I stay in the car?" Dawn asks, opening her door and getting out. She looks around, though -- she might be stubborn, but she's not stupid.

Spike gets out too, slamming his door shut with a loud bang that kind of echoes into the distance. It's so quiet -- freaky quiet. Dawn still hasn't gotten used to that, even in all this time. "Good girls do as they're told," Spike says, coming over to her side of the car, but walking past her and kicking one of the gas cans. It shakes and makes a sloshing sound.

"I thought you liked me the way I am," Dawn says. She's not really worried that he's mad -- if he was, really mad, she'd know it. Everyone would.

Crouching down, Spike opens the gas can he kicked and takes off the lid, sniffing the opening and then wincing back away from it like it smells horrible. Which okay, gas kind of does, and it's probably worse if you're a vampire. "This one's good," he says, checking out the little funnel that's attached to the can. He looks up at her. "You just here for the scenery, or are you going to help?"

Dawn marches over and snatches up the gas can -- which is heavier than she was expecting it to be -- and then goes over to the car, opening the little door to the gas cap. "Look at me," she says. "Helping."

By the time she's done putting the gas into the car, Spike's brought two more cans over for her. "This all gonna fit?" he asks.

"I guess we'll find out."

He stands behind her and watches as she pours all of the gas in. After a minute, Dawn notices that he's inching closer until his front is pressed up against her back. He moves her hair to one side and licks the side of her neck, making her giggle and almost drop the gas can.

"Spike!" she squeaks. "You almost made me drop it."

"Can't help it," Spike murmurs, breathing in. "Like the way you smell."

Dawn concentrates carefully on getting the rest of the gas into the car instead of wasting it on the ground, but it's hard with Spike's hand on her hip and him kissing her ear and neck. His teeth scrape over her skin and she feels goosebumps go up all over.

He's hungry again, she knows that, but they haven't had any luck finding anything in the past few days. She's not worried, though. She wouldn't mind if he wanted to feed from her -- she would have let him do it the last time if he hadn't been so out of control. She knows he'd stop himself from going too far, as long as he wasn't totally out of his mind with hunger, which is one of the reasons she wishes he'd just do it now and get it over with.

But she's not worried. Not yet.

Spike's hand closes around hers on the handle of the gas can, taking it from her and dropping it onto the ground somewhere behind them, his fingers finding her nipple and pinching it, making her gasp as he rubs his growing erection against her ass.

"You guys okay?" Xander's voice calls from inside the car. Dawn's glad the windows are blacked over and he can't see out.

"Yeah," Spike says, sounding frustrated.

Dawn turns in his arms and kisses him. "It'll be sunrise soon anyway," she says.

Spike nods. "Right. Let me just check and make sure we've got it all." He turns back to the abandoned car, bending down to grab the last gas can that even Dawn can see looks empty, and then he freezes and starts to straighten up really slowly. "Dawn, get back in the car."

It's the way he says her name that tells her this is something serious, but before she can do what he says, she hears a sound behind her, a low growl like a dog.

She takes a step closer to the middle of the car, turning so that her back is against it, and sees a vampire. Its clothes are weird, all black leather like a cave man's or something, and it's skinny -- really skinny, skinnier than Spike's ever been. It looks like, well, the walking dead, pale, and its eyes are all sunken and dark, almost black. "Spike?" she says.

That's when she hears another growl and realizes that there are more of them, and that they're totally surrounded.

"Get in the car. Now." Spike's voice is tight and controlled, and Dawn can feel her heart beating way too fast. Louder, he shouts, "Harris! Get in front and turn on the bloody car!"

It's too early -- God, another fifteen minutes and the sun would have been up, Dawn thinks, inching toward the front of the car without taking her eyes off the vampire that's closest to her. She's not even sure it is a vampire -- it looks so freaky and weird, skeletal, like an albino, almost. It's standing there looking at her, but not really moving.

Not yet.

Xander opens the side door, almost bumping Dawn with it, and looks out. "Oh, shit," he breathes.

"Yeah." Spike doesn't turn around as the other vampires Dawn can see creep closer, snarling. "Now start the fucking car."

Dawn can hear Xander scramble into the front seat -- it's awkward to do that even for her, with how tight the space is, so she knows it's going to take him time to get there. Her own hand is on the back of the front passenger seat, her heel balanced just inside the car.

One of the weird vampires growls again, louder, and Spike tells it, "You don't want to mess with us, mate, trust me." He sounds confident, but Dawn knows he's not.

She's inside the car now, and the engine starts up, and that's when one of the vampires rushes forward -- so fast -- and hits Spike, sending him sprawling.

"Spike!"

"Go!" Spike yells at Xander, as the vampire jumps onto him.

Xander guns the engine, like maybe he thinks that will scare off the vampires or distract them or something. "No!" Xander shouts back. "Dawn, get one of Wesley's guns. Now!"

They're under the seat in a box, but Dawn's heart is beating so fast that her hands aren't working right, and she can't take her eyes off of Spike, who's on the ground wrestling with the other vampire. She dimly wonders why the rest of the vampires aren't attacking them too.

"Would you -- " Spike is on his knees, and he punches the other vampire, hard, across the face, but it acts like it hardly felt the blow. " -- Go! Get out of here!"

"We're not leaving you here!" Xander shouts back. He's fumbling in the glove compartment, where Dawn hopes hopes hopes there's another gun, because sometimes they keep them there, and Spike pushes the vamp away from him and gets up.

But the freaky vamp is too fast, and Dawn can see the look of surprise on Spike's face when it grabs him from behind and sinks its fangs into his neck.

She screams his name, and Xander is swearing in the front seat and the other vamps are moving closer, and Dawn can't believe that it's all over, everything they've done and this is it, and...

There's a bang next to her ear, and the scary vamp that's feeding from Spike just... explodes. One second its head is there, and the next second it's just gone, the rest of its body slumping to the ground. Dawn turns her head and sees Wesley on his knees, his elbow braced on the seat and the gun he just used to shoot the vampire still in his hand.

Spike slams into her, the forward momentum of his stagger toward the car something that he can't stop in time, and they both land hard on the floor of the car, Spike on top of her. "Go," he gasps, probably to Xander. "Go, go!"

The car lurches into motion, tires screeching on the pavement.

"Hang on," Xander says, and there's a huge thump, like a thousand times bigger than hitting a squirrel. The car skids and corrects itself, Wesley swearing in the back seat and Xander swearing again in the front, and the door's still open but Dawn doesn't care as long as they're getting away.

When Spike manages to push himself upright and get the door shut -- it's harder than you'd think, what with how fast they're going -- Dawn crawls into the front so that she can look out the sideview mirror, back at the freaky vamps who've already given up on chasing them.

So she gets to see it when the first sun's rays make them burst into flames, then collapse into dust.

* * *

"I can't believe he's dead," Xander says, dejectedly kicking a rock and watching as it spins off into some dust at the side of the road.

"You do realize," Dawn asks him, "that normal people don't call cars 'he,' right?"

"That's not the point," Xander says, gesturing at the SUV and its totally dented-in front. They'd managed to go for about an hour before the car had started overheating, and then they'd limped along until they'd found a good place to stop.

There's steam coming out of the front of the car, and a sharp smell of what Dawn thinks is anti-freeze.

"Let's get on with it, shall we?" Spike calls from inside the smashed-up car.

"Right," Xander calls back, and they go in search of a good replacement car. It doesn't take long to find one, and it's not even all that different from the one they've been using. That's one of the benefits, Dawn thinks, of living in a country where everyone had like three or four cars -- there are car dealerships everywhere, and apparently demons only have so much interest in cars, because this one's barely been touched. The keys to all the cars are in the office, which isn't even locked, and it doesn't take long to find the right ones.

Of course, after all that, the car doesn't start. It tries -- it makes one funny grumbling sound, but then nothing, and they have to jump start it from the smooshed car, which doesn't take long once they manage to push it across the parking lot. They only let it bump into another car once, which Dawn thinks is pretty good considering they don't know what they're doing.

"Look, it's crying," Dawn says, pointing at the two small puddles of greenish tears under the radiator of the old car. "It doesn't want us to leave it."

Xander gives her a weird look. "And you think I'm abnormal because I named the car?"

"Wait, it has a name? I thought it just had a gender!" Dawn follows him as he sprays black paint on the rear windows of the new car.

"You're the one acting like it's upset that we're abandoning it," Xander points out, stepping back and checking out the windows, then adding another few sprays of paint.

"As long as you don't abandon us," Spike calls from the old car. "Getting pretty boring in here, you know."

"We're almost done," Dawn tells him.

Spike has to take the blanket off the inside of the smooshed car and use it to run to the new one before they can put it up again, which works out okay. Then Dawn and Xander help Wesley move too -- well, mostly Xander, with Dawn kind of standing there watching, hovering close enough to help in a hypothetical kind of way, even though what she's really doing inside her head is praying that Wesley doesn't start to keel over, because where is she supposed to grab him that won't just hurt him more?

Luckily, he really is getting better, and he doesn't seem to need much help.

They start driving again after a brief argument between Xander and Dawn about who 'gets' to drive.

"You're the one who smooshed the other car!" Dawn protests. "I think I should get to drive this one first."

"I didn't crash it," Xander says, but he gets into the passenger seat anyway. "A vampire jumped in front of the car! Not to mention hitting the vampire was a good thing." He frowns. "If that actually was a vampire. It was, right?"

"Seemed like it from where I was standing," Spike grumbles, rubbing his neck, which looks a little bit better than it did before.

"It did appear to be a vampire," Wesley says. Dawn can't see him from where he's sitting, but he sounds okay. They checked his bandages, after, and it didn't seem like he was bleeding or anything, even though that was a heck of a lot more action that he's seen in days. "I'd never seen one like it before."

"Where do you think it came from?" Xander asks.

"Hard to say." Wesley hesitates, then adds, "It's quite likely we'll encounter more creatures that are new to us as time goes on. When the Hellmouth opened..."

"All sorts of nasty beasties broke on through to the other side," Spike finishes for him.

"Precisely," Wesley says. "Although I doubt that was what Morrison was thinking when he wrote those particular lyrics."

Dawn looks at Xander, but he just shrugs.

"Vampires are a sort of hybrid between demons and humans," Wesley continues. "It's possible that the ones that attacked us were a purer form."

"That mean I'm tainted?" Spike asks. Dawn can tell he's just pretending to be offended.

"No, not at all," Wesley says quickly. "That wasn't what I meant. I -- "

"Relax," Spike tells him. "I'm just giving you a hard time."

"Wow," Xander says. "I didn't think you'd ever pick on anyone but me."

Spike snorts as Dawn starts up the car, adjusting the mirrors and the height of the seat. "Might as well spread the torment."

Xander is looking back over his shoulder. "So, Wes? Welcome to the club."

"Thanks," Wesley says dryly, and Dawn smiles.

They drive for about an hour before Dawn starts to feel like she's losing it, then she and Xander switch places and they keep going. Spike wants to get an early start again, so they stop before sunset and find a house to sleep in for the night. There's something Dawn likes about going into someone else's house -- or, at least, what used to be someone else's house -- and going through all their things. Every once in a while it's sad, like when she finds some lady's journal and remembers all her diaries, and Giles' journal, and finding out that she wasn't really Buffy's sister, and she tries not to think about that anymore. That was, like, a different life. Totally.

But anyway, most of the time it's cool. She finds clothes, and jewelry, and pictures. It's kind of fun to look through somebody's photographs and imagine who they were. She makes up different lives for them, too.

Spike comes into the house, steam -- or smoke, or whatever it is -- rising from the blanket he has over him. He looks around as he drops the blanket onto the floor next to the door. "Nice," he says approvingly. Dawn's not sure why he thinks so until she sees the scrawny dog blinking at them anxiously from the doorway to what's probably the kitchen.

"I'll get him," she says, crouching down and holding out her hand. "You'll just scare him." Slowly, she creeps toward the dog, crooning things like, "Good boy. It's okay... good dog,,, who's a good boy?" The dog looks nervous, twitchy. It keeps glancing off over its shoulder toward the kitchen.

She's within a couple of feet of him when Xander and Wes come in through the front door and the dog freaks, spinning around and running, its claws scrabbling on the floor. Dawn runs after it, turning the corner around the island in the middle of the kitchen just to see its hind feet as it disappears through one of those pet flap things in the back door.

"Crap," she says, and slams her hand against the door. "Ow!" Stupid, she tells herself, looking at the small but bloody gash on her palm.

"You okay, pet?" Spike asks, coming into the kitchen. Dawn can tell by the way he's walking that he's really hungry -- he looks paler than usual, and the big bite mark on his neck isn't gone yet, when normally it would have been by now.

"Yeah," Dawn says, frowning at him and then her hand. "But look! He got out. Dumb dog."

Spike looks at the dog flap. "Smart dog," he says. "Knew he was gonna be dinner."

"I guess." Dawn watches as Spike takes her hand and looks at it. "It's just a scratch."

"It's more than that," Spike says, lifting her hand to his mouth and licking it.

It doesn't hurt -- at least, not any more than it did already -- and it gives Dawn a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach, kind of tingly. She closes her eyes as his tongue licks across the little gash.

When she opens her eyes again, Spike's in game face. He glances up at her and seems ready to pull away, but Dawn quickly grabs his wrist with her other hand, keeping him where he is. "No," she says. "It's okay."

Spike nods, then, slowly, he pushes her up against the counter and moves his mouth to her throat. "This okay, too?" he asks, his voice different with a mouthful of fangs.

She doesn't need to think about the answer, because it's Spike, and she loves him. "Yes."

* * *

Spike's teeth are sharp, and it hurts as they bite into her, but Dawn's distracted by Spike's hand cupping between her legs, pressing on her in just the right spot to make her whimper softly, in the good way. She can feel her nipples get hard inside her bra, aching a little bit each time Spike sucks on her neck.

"Hey, sorry about -- " Xander comes around the corner into the kitchen and stops. "Dawn?"

"Mm-hm?" Her voice is high-pitched and quavery, even without real words.

"You okay?"

"Mm-hm." She squeaks a little bit when Spike pushes his finger harder over her clit.

Xander looks away. "Okay, I so don't want to be watching this."

"Then don't," Dawn says, curling her hand around the back of Spike's neck as he feeds. It hurts, but it's a good hurt, and she doesn't want him to stop until he has to. The idea that he can stay alive -- well, okay, not alive, but whatever -- from this... it's, like, amazing.

"Are you sure?" Xander asks.

Spike pulls away and turns his head. "Bugger. Off," he says.

"Yeah, well, I don't take orders from guys with... huh. Guess there's no rhyme there." Xander looks disappointed on top of the uncomfortable he was already looking.

"Be a good lad and go give your boyfriend a blow job," Spike says, and Dawn blushes, letting her hair fall forward over her face to hide it. "I'm sure he'd appreciate it."

"Okay... first off, what Wesley and I do is none of your business, And second, what with me letting you sample the Harris vintage, I think I've got a right to make sure this is what Dawn wants." Xander sounds stubborn.

"It is," Dawn says.

"Are you sure?" Xander asks.

Spike gives an exasperated sigh and changes back into his human face. "There, see? Everything's under control, including me."

That seems to reassure Xander more than anything else so far. "Well... okay. I mean, don't get me wrong -- I'm still not thrilled about this. But as long as Dawn says she knows what she's doing..."

"She's not daft," Spike says. "And she's not a child."

That makes Dawn feel all warm and... something. Respected, maybe. Whatever it is, it's a good feeling. "It's okay, Xander."

Xander pauses for a second, then nods. "Me and Wes will be in the other room. Where I will, I hasten to add, not be thinking about the groiny aspects of what I just walked in on."

She probably would have said something else, but Spike just nods and goes into vamp face again, and she forgets about Xander, and Wesley, and pretty much everything else, too, as Spike feeds from her and then turns her around and fucks her against the countertop, with one hand over her mouth to help muffle her cries as she comes.

* * *

They're still straightening their clothes, after, when Dawn says, "I told you it'd be okay."

"What's that?" Spike asks, doing up the front of his jeans. He's still distracted by the faint taste of her blood in his mouth -- he'd been careful not to take too much, but his appetite's sated for now.

"This," Dawn says. "The whole blood-drinking thing."

"Yeah." This time, he thinks. He doesn't let other people hide from ugly truths, and he won't let himself, either, but no point in scaring her. Besides, maybe she's right. He'd been dizzy with hunger after that proto-vamp had fed off him -- good thing Wesley interrupted that when he did -- and not much better when he'd licked the first taste of Dawn's blood off her palm, but he'd managed to keep control of himself.

Xander and Wesley are curled up on the sofa in the front room, with Wesley leaning back against Xander's chest. It's the closest Spike can recall them sitting since Wesley lost the arm.

Dawn's cheeks are flushed, and it must be obvious to Harris that she doesn't want to talk about what he walked in on in the kitchen, because he doesn't say anything except for, "Spike, you want to help me board up a few of these windows?"

"Yeah, okay," Spike says, nodding.

Doesn't take long to find the work room in the basement -- seems like just about every house has one. There's even some wood, though not enough -- they have to pull apart some furniture for that.

"I won't be sorry when we find somewhere to stay," Xander says, grunting with the effort as he kicks one of the legs off an old table they found.

"Be nice not to have to go through this every night," Spike agrees.

"So... how'd it go?" Xander asks finally, as they're gathering up armfuls of boards to carry upstairs.

"Thought you didn't want to think about it." Spike smirks.

"Not that," Xander says, irritably. "The blood thing."

"You saw her," Spike says. "Still walking and talking, wasn't she?"

"Yeah," Xander says. Then he's quiet, like for once he's got the sense to let a matter drop.

Typically, that makes Spike want to say more. "It was fine," he says, then adds, "Last thing I want's to hurt her."

Xander stands up, his arms full of boards, a hammer tucked under his arm. His one brown eye looks at Spike steadily. "I know," he says. "That's why we're gonna make sure you don't have to."

* * *

Spike and Xander are downstairs making crashing sounds while Dawn circles the first floor of the house checking out the doors and windows. The front door's easy -- it wasn't even shut when they got there, but there are good locks, so that's fine. It's not even like boards across the windows are going to keep anything out, not really -- it's more just to give them time to defend themselves, or whatever.

The windows seem simple enough to board up, so she moves back to the kitchen. The back door has glass on it, little diamonds in a pattern so that you can see into the backyard. The sun is starting to set, and with the pale orange glow falling across the green grass in the yard, the world looks... normal.

Mesmerized, Dawn steps closer, pressing her nose against one of the pieces of glass, looking out and pretending, just for a minute, that nothing's changed.

Then she hears the crash of wood splintering in the basement, and she steps back again, making sure the door is locked.

When she goes back to the living room, Wesley is still sitting on the couch. He's taking less pain medication now -- she's not sure how much less, because he has the bottle of pills in his pocket and takes them when he needs them. At least once, she's worried that he might get addicted to them or something, but then she remembers that it's not like it will be easy for him to get more, so even if he does -- which he probably won't -- it'll be, like, a short-term addiction.

"How does it look?" Wesley asks.

Dawn shrugs. "Okay."

"You sound somewhat less than thrilled."

She sighs, then nods. "I guess. It's just... one more place, you know?"

"You're looking forward to finding somewhere to stay," Wesley says.

"Aren't you?" Dawn asks.

"At this point, I'd settle for remembering not to try to reach for things with an arm that's no longer there," Wesley says. "But yes, it would be nice."

Dawn presses her fingers against the sore spot on her throat and thinks there are some times when nice isn't a good enough word.

* * *

Two more days, and Dawn's bouncing on the front seat next to Xander as they drive into the area Wesley's chosen as their first shot at somewhere permanent to stay.

"Calm down," Spike tells her from the back, where he's sitting next to Wesley. "You're shaking the whole car."

"I can't help it," Dawn squeals.

"Here," Xander says, and there's a rustle of paper. "Look at the map."

The car stops bouncing, then Dawn asks, "What am I looking for?"

"I don't care," Xander says. "Pick a street name or something."

There's only a few seconds of silence before the car bounces again, and Dawn squeals, "Cows!"

That piques Spike's interest. "Really?" Earlier, before the sun came up, they'd been driving on roads with fields on either side. Different-looking when no one's been cutting the grass back, but fields all the same, and they hadn't seen a single cow.

"Yes!" Dawn says excitedly.

"Lots of them," Xander adds. Nice to know that someone knows what's important.

"And a house!" Dawn says. "A big one, and there are fences, and... two houses!"

"That's a barn," Xander say dryly.

"Oh. Okay. One house and one barn."

The car slows and turns, the road under their tires less even, and Spike reaches out a hand to steady Wesley. "Okay?" he asks.

"Yes, thank you." Wesley's level of alertness, at least, seems just about back to normal, and the stump of his arm's making progress toward healing, even if it's got a long way to go. No infection, though, and Spike thinks that means there won't be now unless something drastic happens.

Slowing to a crawl, the car bumps and trundles its way up a slope. "I'll go check the door," Xander says, stopping the car and putting it in park.

"Don't go in," Spike says. "Let me check it out first."

"There are like a thousand windows," Xander tells him. "Unless you want to burst into flames, I'm gonna have to make at least a quick pass."

"No," Spike says stubbornly. "Got a blanket, don't I?"

"I could go with Xander," Dawn offers.

"No," Spike and Xander say at the same time.

"Fine," Xander says, sighing. "Give me a minute to deal with the door and we'll go together." He gets out and starts for the house, which Spike can't really see from where he's sitting.

"You got a weapon?" he asks Wesley.

"Of course," Wesley says.

"Good." Spike thinks chances are good that they're about as safe as it gets, if there are a bunch of live cows walking around, but still. At least he knows he can count on Wesley to protect Dawn when it comes down to the wire.

"The door's open," Dawn says.

"You stay here," Spike tells her, grabbing a blanket and opening the door, running toward the porch. Once he's under the porch roof, he gets a chance to actually look around for the first time. Big house -- and yeah, like Xander said, lots of windows -- and lots of land.

"I don't think anybody -- or anything -- s'been in here for a long time," Xander says, standing just inside the doorway.

With the blanket still over him, Spike nods. Place smells like it's been empty since the apocalypse -- full of dust and stale air and something else even less pleasant. "Let's check it out, then."

They circle the first floor, where everything's got such a thick coat of dust on it that there's no way the house is anything but empty, then move to the second floor, where they find the cause of the unpleasant smell Spike's been aware of since downstairs -- one demon and one human, both dead and in pieces, half-mummified, skin stretched thin over broken bones.

"Gah," Xander says, going over to open one of the windows while Spike stayed near the door, away from the stripes of sunshine on the wood floor. "Okay, seriously gross."

"Better dead than alive," Spike says pragmatically. "Have to clean the place out good, but it could be worse."

"Oh, I'm not arguing with you there," Xander says. "Dead demons are way higher on my list than live ones." He stands there looking down at the remains. "I wonder if there are hazard suits in any of the closets."

"We'll worry about it later," Spike says. Worse comes to worst he can take care of the bodies himself, although he doesn't think he'll say that just now. Wouldn't kill Harris to build himself a stronger stomach, after all.

Rest of the house is fine. There's things they'll need to change if they end up staying, but Spike feels reassured.

In the foyer again, Spike and Xander exchange a long look and tentative smiles. "Should we bring them in?" Xander asks.

"Yeah," Spike says. "Let's bring them home."

* * *

"Would you stop bloody laughing?" Spike asks crossly, shooting Dawn an annoyed look.

"Sorry," she says, from where she's perched on the fence. "It's just..."

"Yeah," Xander says, panting slightly. "A little less laughing and a little more help could be a thing."

"I don't want her in here," Spike says, not for the first time. Cows might be stupid -- not that you'd know it from the way they're getting away from him and Xander -- but they're also bloody big animals, and the last thing he wants is for Dawn to get stepped on.

Xander creeps closer to the two cows they've managed to lure closer to the house with a bucket of grain, a loose loop of rope in his hand. He gets within a yard or so of the cows before they turn and trot off again. "Yeah, keep this up!" Xander yells at them. "You'll be hamburger."

Dawn moans softly from her seat on the wooden fence. "Hamburgers..."

"We'll have to be patient," Wesley tells her. "Sooner or later one of the herd will injure itself seriously enough that it can't be saved, and then you can have as many hamburgers as you like."

"From one cow?" Dawn asks, giving him a look of disbelief.

"I'll point out again that one well-placed bullet could solve this problem for us," Xander says, coming back over to stand next to Spike and watching the cows as they cautiously amble back toward the bucket of grain.

"We have to think ahead," Wesley says. "If the herd became ill, we could lose most of them almost overnight. We need to wait until we build up their numbers before we start killing them."

"And Spike can take blood from them without killing them," Dawn says. "If you guys can ever catch one, that is."

They'd spent the first night in the house sleeping all in one room on the second floor -- they'd got used to it, Spike thinks, plus the other decent sized room with a bed big enough for two people had moldering dead bodies in it. Once they'd got up, late morning, they'd spent a few hours boarding up most of the windows on the first floor and covering the ones on the second with blankets and towels so that Spike can wander the house without worrying about stepping into a stray beam of sunlight.

House is old-fashioned, which works in their favor in more ways than one. Old claw-foot bathtub in the bathroom on the first floor, which means they'll be able to heat water on the wood stove in the kitchen and bathe somewhere other than the river, which is too bloody cold, at this time of year, at least. There's a water pump in the side yard -- they have to lug a bucket of water from the river to prime it, but after that it starts up ready enough, and the water seems good -- bit metallic tasting, Dawn says, but not bad.

The best thing is the cows. There are just under fifty of them, if Spike and Xander's attempts to count them are in any way accurate, and they've been doing just fine all this time on their own. Fenced in, river running through the back end of the field. There's a smaller fenced area that was obviously meant to contain the bull, but apparently once the people stopped coming to check on him he decided enough was enough and broke down the fence, joining the rest of the cows in the bigger field. Must have had himself some fun, too, since a couple of the cows look like they're expecting.

"I wish the babies would come over so we could see them," Dawn says.

"They're skittish now, but they'll get used to us in time," Wesley says, leaning against the fence with his hip and draping his good arm over the top rail. It's the most relaxed pose Spike's ever seen him in, if you don't count when he was unconscious. "And they aren't babies -- they're half-grown. Newborn calves will be much smaller." He lowers his voice. "And cuter."

"I think we should be worrying less about 'cute' and more about 'cooperative.'" Xander says over his shoulder, as he approaches the cow with her face in the bucket of grain from one side and Spike moves slowly around on the other. Xander sneaks closer, then kicks a rock with his foot, and the cow lows and bolts, scrambling off two dozen yards or so before turning and looking at them warily. "Or maybe we could breed them to be slow," Xander suggests, running a hand through his hair. "And since when are cows nocturnal?"

"It's been months since they've seen grain," Wesley says. "It shouldn't come as any surprise that they're eager for it."

The rest of the cows are standing further off, milling around. The bull, thankfully, seems more nervous about being around humans again than any of the rest of them, and is off in the back corner of the field. Spike thinks he might even be dozing. "Heck of a job he does, taking care of his family," he comments, before thinking about how it might sound.

But neither Wesley nor Xander says anything about it, for which Spike is eternally grateful.

Well, five minutes grateful, at any rate.

"I think once you catch one, we should leave it tied up," Dawn says. "Otherwise we're going to have to do this every night."

"No bloody way," Spike says fervently, wiping his muddy hands on his jeans again.

"If we want to keep her tied, we'll need to move her to water and grass," Wesley says.

"I'll do it," Dawn says. "I don't mind. I think they're kind of pretty."

"You would," Spike tells her.

"Shh," Xander says, waving a hand at them. "I think I've -- " He lunges forward suddenly, looping the rope around the startled cow's neck. She moos in protest and tosses her head, backing away frantically. "Uh, Spike... a little help here?" he says as the cow drags him several feet.

Spike grabs onto the end of the rope that's draped on the ground and hangs on, digging in the heels of his boots. With Xander's weight and his both, the cow stops, and after a minute she lets Xander lead her over to the fence, where he ties her up carefully.

Dawn jumps down -- on the other side of the fence, Spike notes -- and comes over closer to the cow. "Good girl," she says, reaching through and petting the cow's face. "It's okay. No one's going to hurt you." She looks up at Spike. "They can't tell when you're lying, right?"

"Not a chance," Spike says, as Xander climbs back over the fence.

"Good." Dawn goes back to soothing the cow with pretty lies, and Spike looks at the beast doubtfully. It's one thing to drink cow's blood that comes in a nice packet, but something else to go at it direct from the source.

"You might want to use a sharp implement," Wesley suggests. "A quick jab into a large vein would be relatively painless, and you could collect the blood in a bowl."

Dawn grimaces. "Eww."

"The Masai in Kenya mix cow's blood with milk and drink it," Wesley says. "Of course, they also block the hole in the cow's jugular with a mixture of dung and mud."

"Okay, again I say, eww," Dawn says. "Can't they just use a band-aid?"

Xander chuckles. "Yeah, from one of those conveniently located Walgreens."

She gives him a look and tosses back her hair. "Well, it's not my fault they live in, like, the middle of nowhere."

"Dawn, look around," Xander says, gesturing with one arm. "We live in the middle of nowhere."

Dawn does look around -- they all do. It's dark, but the moon is more than half full and they can see clearly across the field all the way to the far side. Well, Spike can, at any rate. Hard to know how much the rest of them can see.

"Yeah, okay," Dawn says. "But we're here, and we're together. That's what matters, right?"

Not caring what Xander or Wesley think, Spike reaches his hand through the fence toward her, and Dawn puts her warm little hand in his. "Yeah," Spike says, his voice a bit less steady than he'd like it to be. "That's what matters."

* * *

Epilogue: Six months later

"God, yeah," Spike groans, collapsing down on top of Dawn as he finishes coming, his weight warm and comforting under the thick wool blankets. He props himself up enough to be able to kiss her again, then licks the side of her throat where the little wound from a few days ago is almost totally healed up. It still makes her shiver, though.

"I love you," she tells him.

"Love you, too." Spike pushes his cock deeper into her, but she knows there's no way she's going to come again.

The other big bed in the room across the wide hallway squeaks and thumps against the wall rhythmically, and in a high falsetto, Xander calls, "Wes! Yeah, give it to me good, big boy!" and Dawn bursts into helpless giggles, covering her face with one hand in embarrassment even though Spike's the only one who can see her.

"Shut the bloody hell up!" Spike calls back.

"Hey, it's not my fault that you're so loud," Xander says, but then he does shut up. Dawn can imagine Wesley shushing him, telling him to stop teasing them.

It's not like, with the bedrooms right across the hall from each other, they don't all know what's going on. But it's true that Spike's the loudest of any of them, even if Dawn has heard Xander and Wesley on more than one occasion. At least they try to be quiet about it, though.

Spike is grumbling something as he moves off of her and collapses down onto the mattress, on what's usually her side because that's where the room is. Her pillow, already hanging half off the bed, falls onto the floor, and he grumbles again and leans down to get it.

There's a pause that's just long enough for Dawn to realize what he's discovered, but not long enough for her to think up a good excuse. So when Spike pulls himself back up with the handful of old magazines in his hand, she still hasn't thought of what to say.

"These yours?" Spike asks.

"What?" Dawn asks, wondering if she can just pretend they aren't.

"These magazines with the folded over corners," Spike says, holding up the stack so that she can see the top one. It's her favorite because there's a big article with lots of quotes from readers. She's stared at it so many times that she can almost picture in her head what all of them look like, even though she's never seen any of them. And of course they're probably all dead now anyway.

"Nope. Not mine."

But Spike opens up the top one and a candy bar wrapper, carefully twisted into a bookmark just like she always twists them, falls out onto the bed. "Really," he says.

"Yeah, okay, so they're mine." Dawn snatches the magazines away from him and flounces out of bed, going over to the bureau and shoving them into one of the open drawers. "I like looking at them. So what?"

Spike just looks at her, then says, "Come here, pet."

It's not fair, Dawn thinks. He knows that when he calls her that, she gets all melty. She goes over and sits on the bed, and he pulls her down and into his arms, untangling the ponytail holder from the end of her braid and sliding his fingers through her plaited hair until it's all loose and wavy.

He kisses her softly. "Don't have to hide stuff from me."

"I know," she says, even though some things are just too hard to talk about.

Spike slides his hand down to her stomach and runs his fingertips over the skin there, making her shiver. "You been thinking about it?"

"Sometimes," Dawn says. It's not that she wants to think about it, but sometimes she can't help it.

"It's just as well," Spike says. "Way the world is now... you wouldn't want that."

"I wouldn't?" She buries her face in Spike's chest as soon as she finishes saying it, because it's not like she doesn't know that it's a messy topic for discussion. Which is why she hadn't planned on bringing it up. Like, ever.

But Spike moves back, gets a hand under her chin and makes her look up at him. "Love? Tell me what you're thinking."

"Why?" Dawn asks miserably. "What's the point?"

"Might make you feel better," Spike suggests, rubbing his thumb across her lower lip. "Whatever it is, we'll deal with it."

She can't, though. She knows talking about it isn't going to change anything, and it'll probably just make her feel worse. So she tilts her chin up and kisses him instead, parting her lips and letting her tongue flick hesitantly into his mouth to meet his.

Spike groans softly and pulls her closer, sliding his hand down to fondle her ass as he makes the kiss deeper. She's wet between her legs from before, and it doesn't take more than a minute of kissing for Spike to get hard again. When Dawn reaches down to curl her hand around his cock, it's sticky and warm.

She loves that he's so easily distracted -- it makes getting out of conversations like this one so much quicker. She can get him all hot and bothered in about two minutes, and by the time they've had sex, he almost always forgets what they'd been talking about.

"Fuck, pet," Spike gasps, pulling her up onto her knees, sliding two fingers into her. "Here, love, turn around. Like this." He guides her into position on her hands and knees, facing the head of the bed, then gets behind her and thrusts inside.

Dawn bites her lip when he starts to move. It doesn't seem possible that anything could feel this good, but it does, every time. One of his hands is on her hip, and the other one slides slowly up her side to cup her breast, the edge of his finger rubbing back and forth over her nipple with every thrust. Her breathing is faster now, quick little gasps that get more high-pitched as Spike fucks her harder and then pulls her up onto her knees again. He wraps an arm around her waist and mouths at her neck, sucking at the skin. It always makes her shiver when he does that.

"Not gonna bite you," Spike murmurs, slipping his hand down to play with her clit. "But God, I love to. Love to taste you."

"Spike," she whimpers, trembling.

"That's right, pet. You know I'll always take care of you." And Spike makes her come.

He comes, too, growling and continuing to thrust through it, but more slowly, and when they're done and lying down again, with Spike curled up around her, even Dawn has almost forgotten what they were talking about.

* * *

There are times when Spike thinks that Dawn underestimates him. They aren't often enough that it bothers him, but he knows it, and what's more, he knows how to use it to his advantage. Knows how to wait until she's thinking about something else before bringing it up, throwing her off balance and getting an honest answer out of her, her eyes startled and wide.

They talk about it three or four times, once in the kitchen while they're cooking dinner -- he doesn't mind helping, even though he doesn't eat the food, himself, more than a bite or two -- just before Xander and Wesley come in and interrupt them. Dawn goes quiet, then, her lips pressed tightly together, and Spike knows not to push her.

"Everything okay?" Xander asks.

"Yeah," Dawn says, sitting down.

It's an uncomfortable meal -- Wesley and Xander can tell something's wrong, but they don't know what. Spike waits until they're in bed that night to bring it up again.

"Might make you feel better to come right out and say it," Spike says.

"What?" Dawn asks, feigning innocence.

Spike sighs and runs a hand through his hair. If she won't say it, he will. "That you want to have a baby."

She's tense in his arms. Doesn't say anything, although Spike notes that means she's not denying it.

"There's nothing wrong with wanting that, love," he says soothingly.

"But we can't," Dawn says in a little voice.

"I can't," Spike corrects her. "Doesn't mean you can't."

She turns her head to look over her shoulder at him.

"And don't think I'm trying to talk you into it," Spike says. When it comes right down to it, he doesn't like the idea -- there are enough chances for Dawn to get hurt as it is, without adding childbirth to the mix -- but he also doesn't like the thought of her being unhappy.

"I'm really tired," Dawn says quietly, twining her fingers with his and pulling his arm around her more tightly. "Can we just go to sleep?"

"Sure, love," Spike says. He kisses her shoulder, and after a bit they both drift off to sleep.

They go back and forth on it for weeks. Spike just wants her to talk about it, even if they don't find a solution right away, but she does her best to keep the conversation from happening. Answers with one word, tries to change the subject, comes up with 'no, really, seriously important' things that she needs Spike to do.

They've settled into a schedule that suits them all now -- sleep until noon or a bit later, to bed some time around 2 or 3 in the morning. That way they can get stuff done during daylight hours that needs to be, but Spike's not stuck in the house all day and then awake while they're all sleeping. It works.

One night, just before sunset, Wesley comes in from outside, careful to adjust the blanket that goes over the door. "Another calf," he announces, looking as pleased with the news as if he'd given birth to the bloody thing himself. "That makes six in all. And five of them heifers."

Spike knows that's good, but since Dawn stormed out not ten minutes before after shouting at him to stop talking about it, it's a bit hard to work up any sort of convincing expression.

"What's wrong?" Wesley asks, concerned.

"S'nothing," Spike says, shaking his head.

"Somehow, I doubt that." Wesley shrugs out of his jacket and hangs it up, the movement easy, as if he's been doing it one-armed all his life. "But if you don't want to talk about it..."

Spike shrugs, hoping Wesley won't take what he's going to say the wrong way. "Not mine to talk about."

Wesley looks at him, then nods. "All right." Then he goes into some long explanation about the next time they'll be able to breed the cows, which Spike couldn't care less about, and that's the end of the conversation.

He's starting to wonder, though, if he's ever going to have a conversation with a proper end to it again.

Finally -- and it's not even all that long, because he's not a patient bloke -- he pushes her until there's no other choice but to have it out. And then there's shouting, and Xander knocking on their door to make sure everything's okay, which it's not.

Dawn opens the door. "It's okay," she tells Xander, her face flushed. "We're just, you know."

"Yelling and screaming?" Xander asks helpfully.

"Yeah. But don't worry, We're fine." She shuts the door again and turns back to Spike. "This is why I didn't want to do this," she says calmly.

"Because Xander was bound to come knocking on the door?" Spike asks. "Because you'd have to own up to the fact that you're upset about it?" More gently, he says, "Love, you haven't been sleeping, you're distracted... you can't just keep pretending nothing's wrong."

"Why not?" Dawn says it like she knows she's being unreasonable but is determined to be stubborn anyway. It's one of the things Spike loves about her, even if it does drive him mad.

He sits down on the bed. "Come here, pet."

After a moment's hesitation, she does, curling up in his lap like the little girl she isn't any longer. "I know it's stupid," she whispers. "I don't want to want to. You know?"

"Yeah. But don't worry, It'll all work out."

"How?"

Spike nuzzles her hair. "We'll make it, won't we? Can do anything if we put our minds to it."

Dawn snorts. "Can you make sperm?" Her tone makes it clear that she's teasing, and he likes hearing her sounding more light-hearted.

He laughs and holds her tighter. "No. But trust me, we'll find a way around that. All right?"

"Okay." She sighs and relaxes against him. After a few seconds, she says, "Spike?"

"Yeah, pet?"

"Thanks. For, well... you know."

He knows.

* * *

Two days later, with Dawn's hand clutching Spike's and her heart beating a little bit faster than it should be, she and Spike go into the living room where Xander and Wesley are arguing good-naturedly over how to put the sewing machine Xander found in one of the closets back together. They're both sitting on the floor, with the pieces of the machine spread out on a blanket, and just looking at all those little parts makes Dawn's head hurt.

"No, this part has to go here," Xander says.

"It couldn't possibly," Wesley says, pointing at the machine. "If it did, there wouldn't be any way for the mechanism to move."

"Yes, there is. Here." Xander fiddles with the machine for a few seconds, then turns the handle and the gears move a little bit. "See?"

Wesley looks kind of stunned. Dawn's not used to seeing that expression on his face. "Hm," he says finally.

"You don't have to sound so surprised," Xander says, grinning.

"No, I'm not. Well, not because -- " Wesley glances up and sees Dawn and Spike standing there in the doorway, and raises his eyebrows. "Yes?"

"We interrupting?" Spike asks.

"No," Wesley says, at the same time that Xander says, "Yes." They look at each other and grin.

"Maybe we should wait," Dawn says. "I mean, we can always talk to you later." She starts to back up, but Spike doesn't let go of her hand.

"No, it's okay," Xander says. "What's up?"

Spike squeezes her hand, and she takes a deep breath, thinking about all the ways she could say this, and trying really hard not to think about what their answer might be. Either way, she has Spike, and that's what matters, right?

"There's this thing," she says. "That I want."

She glances at Spike and he nods, and then she looks back at Xander and Wesley, who are both watching her, waiting for her.

"We were hoping maybe you could help," Dawn says.


End.


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