Chapter One: Aftermath
Dawn sat on the floor, her back pressed against the bed, and stared blankly at the wall. She hadn't moved for a day and a half; her legs and back had grown numb, but the numbness felt good. The others had given up on trying to talk to her hours ago. After she had finally run out of tears everything around her had gradually faded into the background, people appeared blurry and warped; sounds seemed to come from a great distance. Every now and then one of them would come and stand in the doorway and watch her for awhile, trying to think of a way to reach her before bowing their head in defeat and walking slowly away. She was vaguely aware of their concern, but the only thing that seemed to be able to hold her focus was the spot in her mind where she replayed Buffy's sacrifice over and over with one thought flashing in her mind every time. “My fault. My fault. MY FAULT!” Her grief was still there, ever present, but greatly overshadowed by her guilt and shame.
As Willow came to the door she saw Dawn lower her head to her knees and was filled with a subdued joy at this sign that Dawn was finally coming out of her stupor. She walked into the bedroom and haltingly said, “Dawnie?” There was no response, and as she continued to watch she realized that Dawn had lapsed back into unmoving lassitude. Hand coming to her mouth to stifle a sob, Willow backed unsteadily out of the bedroom and leaned against the wall, sliding slowly down to land with a bump on the floor. With tears streaming down her face she wondered if they would ever get Dawn back or if they had lost her too.
He shuffled wearily into his crypt, just barely missing the sunrise, and collapsed into his chair to stare at the television. He had hoped he wouldn't make it in time. Then he could be free of the desolation pounding through his body. Well, he laughed bitterly, finally got what you wanted all those years. Except he wished with every ounce of his being that it had been him and not her. His head dropped to the back of the chair as a tear rolled down his cheek. It's my fault. I should have –
“Uh, hey.” Spike jumped up at the hesitant voice, wiping the tears from his eyes.
“Oh, Red. Hi.” Spike walked over to grab a smoke from the pack on top of the TV. He lit it and took a drag, his eyes narrowed, his gaze intense. He must really be off his game; he should have sensed her long before she spoke. “Help you with something?” Willow continued to look at him uncertainly for moment before apparently deciding just to spit out whatever was eating at her. She walked around touching things at random while she spoke.
“I know things are... rough right now for you, everyone, for uh, for all of us. And we haven't always been- well none of us has really ever been friends with you, but I, we, well, we need you. We need your help.” Spike curled his lip in disgust.
“Oh, really? You lot need my help?” He snorted sarcastically. “I don't know if you have enough money to –”
“What do you need me to do?”
He stood in the doorway staring at the unmoving figure of the girl he had sworn to protect. There was a time when she had been vibrant and full of life, but now she was a frail, broken mess. His heart ached at the thought of what she must be feeling. She had been blaming herself even before all this, but now she appeared to be paralyzed with the weight of her guilt. He had to put a stop to it; she wasn't to blame for any of this. If anything, she was the only innocent one involved in all this mess. He took off his duster and tossed it on the bed before sitting down on the floor in front of her. He reached out and took her hands in his, but she remained unmoving.
Downstairs Xander was pacing around the living room, clearly agitated. “I don't see why we need him. He's probably up there making things worse and we're just sitting here doing nothing!” Willow looked at him sharply before replying,
“I've told you why we need him Xander, and would you please lower your voice! We're lucky he even agreed to come. If it had been anyone else but Dawn, he wouldn't have. So I'd appreciate it if you kept your hatred of him to yourself instead of, I don't know, pissing him off so much that he leaves!”
“He won't leave,” Giles said. He had been staring unseeingly at the floor, but now he looked up at them. “Much as any of us might hate to admit it, he honestly cares about her. Just as much as he cared for Buffy. He fought right alongside us, never wavering, and we've all seen how hard this has hit him. So cut him a little slack, Xander, this is tough for him too.” Xander nodded wearily and sank onto the couch. Anya snuggled up against him and rubbed his arm comfortingly.
“Everything is going to be okay,” she said. “You'll see. We'll get through this.”
“Nothing will ever be okay again,” Willow said sadly as she stared hopelessly out the window. They all bowed their heads in silent agreement.
Spike watched her in silence for a few moments. Willow hadn’t told him much, but he got the impression they felt Dawn was overcome with grief. Spike knew better. He knew how crippling guilt could be and he’d wager that his little bit was drowning in it. He reached out and smoothed a strand of hair behind her ear then gently stroked her cheek.
“Dawn? Are you in there, sweet?” Nothing. “I know that you think there’s something you could have done, but you’re wrong. She made her decision. You think she’d have been able to live if she let you go ‘stead of her?” A single solitary tear rolled down her face, but she still didn’t move. He awkwardly gathered her into his arms, and held her tight. “You have to come back to us; she wouldn’t have wanted this. They all need you to be okay. It’s not your fault.” A slight tremor. “It’s not your fault Dawn; none of it. You were not to blame for this.” Another tremor so he continued the litany, telling her over and over again that it wasn’t her fault. It was the only thing he knew to do, and he seemed to be getting through. As he held her and rocked her he felt his own tears wet on his face and for a brief shining moment he thought that maybe things would be okay again – someday – but for now he just let his grief flow over him.
Time passed. Minutes? Hours? He didn’t know, but his tears had dried and he was feeling the beginnings of exhaustion when he felt movement. He tensed as he looked down and saw Dawn begin to stir. She blinked twice as though awakening from a deep sleep. Then she noticed who was holding her and her eyes widened. She reached up and touched his face as she looked at him tearfully.
“Thank you,” she said softly, fervently. Then she threw her arms around his neck and began to weep. Spike just held her until the tears subsided. When she raised her head again he looked at her, a question in his eyes. She knew what he wanted and just nodded her head. Spike carefully got to his feet; Dawn still clutched tightly to his chest, and walked downstairs to the others. They all leapt to their feet as he entered the room, all of them speaking at once,
“Oh, my god!”
“Is she alright?” Spike silenced them all with a wave of his hand and settled on the couch with Dawn by his side. She stretched her stiff legs as she glanced around at all of them. They all waited expectantly to see if she was really okay.
“Uh, hey guys. I- I’m sorry I worried you all s-so much. I think I’ll be alright now. Just a little stiff and sore.” She was still shaky, her voice barely more than a whisper. They all looked at her uncertainly. “Really. It’s okay. Thank you all for, well for everything. It was just all too much. I just...” Her voice cracked, and Spike broke in.
“It’s alright now, bit. You just relax; we’re all here for you. You just take your time. No one’s going anywhere.”
Tara figured Dawn was probably starving so they all set about getting her food and drink and making sure she was comfortable and just fussing over her in general. Spike never left her side. He sat holding her hand, quietly reassuring her again whenever she started to get that haunted look in her eyes. The others noticed their quiet communion and wondered at how a vampire as vicious as Spike could be so tender with the fragile girl.
It took some time, but Dawn finally fell into a relaxing sleep. Spike watched her for awhile as she slept. Well, he thought wearily, she deserves a rest after all she’s been through lately. He figured he had better go face the others; he needed to have a little talk with them. He walked into the kitchen where they were cleaning up, and Willow took a step towards him as she spoke,
“Thank you so much for, um, whatever it was you did to bring her back. We can, uh; I guess…we can take it from here. If you want to, you know, if you have stuff you need to...”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Spike said flatly. “So you can just forget about nudging me out of here, Will.”
“Now wait just a minute-” Xander started, but Spike broke in before he could say anything else.
“I’m not going anywhere until Dawn tells me to. I’m staying here as long as she needs me. Buffy...” His voice broke on her name, but he pressed on. “Buffy asked me to protect her. I promised her; I vowed that I would, and that is what I’m bloody well going to do!” He was practically shouting, but then his voice dropped to a whisper and he said, “She’s- It’s all I have.” Willow shot Xander a silencing look as she put her hand on Spike’s arm.
“Of course you’ll stay,” she declared. “Dawn would want you to.” Xander didn’t look happy about this development, but he kept his mouth shut. Giles, who had been leaning against the counter, stood up straight and ran his hand wearily through his hair as he spoke,
“Well. Right then, I guess we better set up a room for you.”
“Yeah,” Anya chimed in. “You’ll need to cover up those windows. Wouldn’t want your peaceful slumber ending in a fiery death.” They all looked at her until Spike finally responded,
“Yeah. Right. Thanks for the frightening imagery.” He shook his head, suppressing a grin as he turned to follow Giles. Wow, he thought. Demon girl made me smile. Haven’t smiled since- and with that thought the smile abruptly disappeared.