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He was lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling. He rolled over so that he could look at me.
'Little bit?' he said.
He looked terrible. I mean, okay, hard to imagine Spike looking anything less than perfect, but his eyes seemed hollow, his skin stretched tight over his skull. He ran a hand through his bleached blond hair in an effort to straighten it.
'What are you doing up?' he asked me. 'Won't big sis have a fit or something?'
'I was out patrolling,' I replied.
'Patrolling?' He laughed. 'They let you do that now?'
He pointed at the stake still clasped in my hand.
'You won't be needing that,' he said.
I left the stake where it was.
'Suit yourself,' Spike muttered. 'Guess I deserve that.'
'You bet you do,' I snapped. 'You shouldn't have come back. After all you've done, how could you?'
'This is my home,' Spike said, leaning on the armchair to haul himself to his feet.
'Well find a new one,' I told him.
'Chicken wing?' Clem offered.
'Do you really think I don't feel like hell for what I've done?' Spike asked me.
'No, I don't think you feel anything,' I replied. 'I don't think you can.'
'Dawn, I ' Spike took a step towards me, hand outstrectched.
I shrunk back, the stake raised between us.
'Dawn, I don't want to hurt you,' he said.
'It's got nothing to do with what you want,' I shot back. 'You can't hurt me, not with that chip in your head. You've been neutered, Spike, but a neutered dog is still a dog.'
'Once a killer always a killer, is that what you think?'
'I trusted you, Spike. I even liked you.'
'What do you think?' I asked. 'I hate you. You're an animal, Spike. It'd be a mercy to stake you right now.'
'Now, hold on a minute,' Clem began. Not that anyone was listening to him.
'A mercy,' Spike repeated. 'You could be right, there. So why don't you.'
He spread his arms wide.
'There you go, a nice big target for you. All you've gotta do is run me through. Well, what are you waiting for?'
'I I can't,' I admitted, turning away.
'What's the matter? Can't even hurt a defenceless animal, even if it is a vampire,' Spiek taunted. 'Then let me do it for you.'
He lunged forward and grabbed hold of my wrist in both hands. He was close enough that I could smell the cigarette smoke on his breath.
'Clem!' I screamed.
Spike hauled on my wrist and I could feel the bones grinding against each other. The sharpened tip of the stake scratched against his shirt, tearing the fabric.
'Come on then,' he shouted, face contorted by pain. 'Be a hero. Kill me. Kill me!'
'No,' Clem said. He clamped his massive hands on Spike's shoulders and dragged him away from me. As soon as he let go of my wrist, the fight seemed to go out of Spike and he collapsed against Clem.
'Kill me,' he whispered. 'It's got to be better than this.'
'Now, don't be silly,' Clem told him. 'All this talk of killing is ruining my appetite. So why don't you just sit down and maybe we can help.'
'Yeah, right,' I muttered, trying to massage some feeling back into my wrist.
Spike slumped in the armchair.
'You think I don't feel anything?' he asked me again. 'You couldn't be more wrong. Where do you think I've been?'
'Like I care,' I responded. 'I just wish you'd go back there.'
'I went to Africa,' Spike continued. 'Lousy trip. I went to get a soul.'
'Yep, little bit,' he replied, 'Spike now has a soul in residence. Just like your friend Angel.'
'You're nothing like Angel,' I told him.
'And that's supposed to depress me?' he mocked. 'That's the best news I've had all day.'
'I don't see what difference it makes,' I said, 'whether you've got a soul or not. You're still Spike and you still ' I hesitated. I couldn't say it, didn't even want to think about it. 'You still did what you did to Buffy.'
'And how do you think I feel about it, what with a soul and all,' Spike replied. 'The bloody thing's making replay everything I've ever done since becoming a vampire and it's tearing me up inside.'
I tried not to let any pity show on my face. He deserved it. He was a monster and he deserved everything he got. At least, that's what I kept telling myself.
'But you know what the worst of it is, munchkin?' Spike continued.
I shook my head.
He grinned up and me and there was a glint in his pale blue eyes.
'Part of me enjoys it,' he said.
* * *
I didn't bother sticking around for cartoons. Instead, I headed straight back out into the early morning and hurried home. I climbed up the trellis on the wall and hauled myself through the window I had left open.
Buffy was waiting for me.
'Surprised to see me?' she asked. 'You think I haven't tried this trick enough times myself.'
I stared at my feet.
'Where the hell have you been, Dawn?' she snapped. 'I've been worried sick. We've all been combing town looking for you.'
Was there actually anything I could say that wouldn't make things worse? Maybe if I told a big fat lie she'd think it was so incredibly unlikely it must be true. On the other hand, judging by the way she was looking at me, that was what she was expecting. She was right, she had done this before.
I settled for the truth. She did this kind of thing herself. She'd understand.
'I had to do something,' I protested. 'There were people in danger.'
'You should have told me,' Buffy insisted.
'I I would have done,' I admitted. 'I was going to. But then I saw you going through Willow's things and, well, I didn't know if you were ready. I mean, all of this, it's kinda knocked us all for six and you most of all. I just wanted to give you time, Buffy.'
'So rather than confide in me, you decided to go it alone,' Buffy said, 'walking straight into danger.'
'Well, um, I was just trying to do what you'd do in my place,' I replied.
'I'm invulnerable,' Buffy shot back. 'You're not.'
'Look, I'm tired,' Buffy said, 'and everything seems to have turned out okay so what do you say I forgive you this time out. But if you ever pull a stunt like this again.'
'I won't, I promise,' I told her.
'You'd better not,' Buffy said.
Buffy got up and headed for the door.
'Buffy,' I called out before she could leave.
'There's something you should know,' I said. 'Spike's back.'
* * *
She left the back door open for him.
At first I thought she was crazy, but the more I thought about it, the more I could see why she had done it. They were going to have to confront one another sooner or later. Better for it to be on her terms.
We ate dinner in silence. I tried to start a conversation a few times, but Buffy wasn't interested. Her murderous boyfriend was back in town. She had other things on her mind, big time.
After dinner, she sent me up to my room. When I started to protest she told me that I could stay the night with Anya. I wasn't going to leave Buffy alone, not tonight, so I went upstairs without complaint. I lay on my bed staring at the ceiling. I doubt Buffy really expected me to sleep, she just wanted me out of the way. I'd respect that, as far as it went, but if I heard anything downstairs that I didn't like, I planned to be down there in a heartbeat. I guess that was why I was clutching my stake so tightly that my knuckles were white.
Shortly after dusk, Spike let himself in.
Buffy was sitting in the lounge. She didn't have any lights on, but the moon was full and its light streamed through the windows.
'Spike,' she said, when she saw his silhouette appear in the doorway. A crossbow rested loosely in her lap, not pointed in any particular direction.
'Buffy,' he replied, taking a step forward.
'Stay exactly where you are,' Buffy commanded. 'Rule number one, Spike: make any moves I don't like the look of and I will shoot you. You're fast, but not that fast.'
'Oh, I dunno about that,' Spike said as he risked another nonchalant step forward.
A crossbow bolt embedded itself in the wall inches from his head.
'The next one goes through your heart,' Buffy explained coldly. 'I'm not playing games, Spike.'
'No, of course you're not,' Spike replied, taking that step back. 'Sorry.'
He didn't seem to know what to do with his hands so he stuffed them into the pockets of his leather coat.
'What do you want, Spike?' Buffy asked.
'What do you think I want?' he replied. 'I want to make things right between us.'
'Never gonna happen, Spike,' Buffy told him. 'Now, if that's all you wanted, I'd like you to leave. And if I never see you again it'll be too soon.'
'Go, Spike. While you still can.'
'Buffy, don't think I don't feel bad about what happened,' Spike told her. 'I see everything replayed on a camera in my head and it's eating me up from the inside out.'
'Dawn told me about your soul,' Buffy said. 'I kind of see it as poetic justice - you should appreciate the irony.'
'Buffy, I '
'I'm not finished,' Buffy snapped, jumping to her feet. 'You may have a soul and you may be suffering agony for everything you did without one and maybe I should feel pity for you because of it. But frankly, I don't care. I don't want any more to do with you.'
'Buffy,' Spike began, 'if I could take back what happened, you know I would. All I can say is that I'm sorry.'
'Sorry?' Buffy's voice was breaking with emotion. 'Is that the best you can come up with? Spike, you tried to rape me.'
'But I didn't,' Spike protested. 'I would never do anything to hurt you. You know that.'
'The only reason you didn't go through with it,' Buffy told him through gritted teeth, 'was because I stopped you.'
'Buffy, if I'd known I was going to hurt you,' Spike said, his voice small and pleading, 'if I had realised '
'How many times do I have to say 'no' before it sinks in, Spike?' Buffy replied.
'But, I though you wanted it,' Spike tried to explain.
Buffy shook her head in disgust.
'That had nothing to do with what I wanted, Spike,' she said. 'That was all about you and your animal lusts. Real human beings are able to surpress their urges, you seem to revel in yours.'
'But Buffy, I've changed,' Spike protested.
'Oh yes, your precious 'soul',' Buffy retorted sarcastically. 'You really think that makes a different. A soul doesn't change who you are and you're still the same old Spike. I could see that as soon as you stepped into the room.'
'That's not true,' Spike replied.
'Isn't it?' Buffy asked.
'Of course not.'
'Really.' Buffy paused. 'When I look at you, I see Spike. I don't see this brand new person you claim's inside your body. I don't think he exists. Having a soul may make you think twice about what you do, but is it really gonna change you. I know you, Spike, and I don't think a pang of conscience is going to hold you back. I'm right, aren't I? I can see it written all over your face. Think about what you've done since you got a soul. I bet it's not all that different from what you did before. It takes more than having a soul to make you a good person, Spike, and you just don't have what it takes.'
'I can change,' Spike insisted. 'You'll see.'
'I doubt that,' Buffy said. 'And even if you could, it wouldn't matter. You said it yourself, you cant take back what you've done. It's over between us. I should never have allowed it to start.'
'You wanted it as much as I did,' Spike told her.
'And that's the only reason you're still alive,' Buffy explained, eyes downcast, 'the thought that somehow I led you on, that I might have been partly responsible for what happened.'
'But we can put it behind us, Buffy,' Spike persisted. 'We can start over.'
'No,' Buffy said. 'No we can't. It's far, far too late for that.'
'But I love you.'
Buffy laughed at him.
'Love me?' she said. 'I don't think so. Whatever you felt, it sure as hell wasn't love.'
'Buffy, I went and got a soul for you,' Spike continued.
'Then you had a wasted trip,' Buffy replied. 'Now why don't you leave. Leave my home. Leave my town. Go find yourself a nice demon girl to pester. I'm sure there's one somewhere with lousy enough taste.'
'But Buffy, I want you,' Spike said. 'Don't you get it, I want you.'
And he lunged forward so fast that Buffy didn't have time to level the crossbow. He knocked it from her hands and grabbed her by the shoulders, holding her firm while he forced a kiss upon her, roughly.
'Enjoyed that, didn't you, Slayer?' he said.
Buffy recoiled in shock.
'You...you bastard,' she breathed.
Then she brought her knee up into his groin and, as he doubled over, she backhanded him, sending him tumbling across the room. He collided with the table, shattering it.
'You still don't get it, do you,' she shouted at him. 'This has nothing to do with what you want. Nothing, do you hear me.'
Spike looked up at her. Blood stained the protruding brow that betrayed his vampiric nature. He snarled at her.
'You see?' Buffy said, pointing. 'You see what I've been getting at? You don't even have to scratch that far beneath the surface to find the true Spike. You know, it sickens me that I once thought that you might be different. That, even though you were a vampire, you might at least deserve a bit of respect. But you're no different to the rest of them, are you? You're just an animal. A monster. Now get. Out. Of. My. House.'
Spike struggled to his feet and shuffled from the room. Buffy watched his every move.
He paused in the doorway and looked back over his shoulder. He wiped the blood from his mouth with the back of his hand.
'You know, maybe you're right,' he admitted. 'Maybe I am a monster. And maybe it's time I started acting like one.'
And with that, he disappeared into the night, the door slamming closed behind him.
I had been sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to their every word. More than once I had been the verge of running downstairs to help, but I owed it to Buffy to let her try and handle things her way. As soon as Spike was out of the house, though, I was leaping down the staircase.
'Buffy?' I said.
She had collapsed on to the couch, head in her hands as she cried.
I sat down next to her and tentatively put an arm around her.
'Buffy,' I repeated, 'it's okay. He's gone now. It's all right.'
Buffy raised her head and looked at me through red-rimmed eyes full of pain.
'You don't understand, Dawn,' she told me. 'He'll never be gone. He'll always be here, inside of me. Reminding me I'm vulnerable. Reminding me I'm weak. And he'll never know how much he's hurt me. Or how much he still hurts me.'
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