The Reforging of the Key
Chapter One: Deconstruction
Disclaimer::All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Set during the time between seasons five and six. Without Buffy there to anchor her in reality, Dawn begins to fade away. After the Key is remade with Spike as a secondary anchor, Buffy's spirit creates a shared dream for Spike, Dawn, and Tara. In the dream world, there is no chip, leaving Spike to either fight against his nature or raise an age-regressed Dawn to see her own kind used as food.
Author's Note: The chocolate chip cookies mentioned in this chapter are my mom's recipe. They are the best chocolate chip cookies in all of the universe.
Tuesdays and Thursdays, Willow was the only one there for the first few hours after Dawn got home from summer school. On those days, she was given a banana and some juice, asked if she was okay, and helped with her homework. Fridays were Tara days, and the teenager was given tea and allowed to talk or be quiet as she needed before working on homework. Those were nice, but her favorite school days were Monday and Wednesday.
Those were the Spike days. Like with Tara, there was tea when she got home. It tasted different when Spike made it, and when she'd asked about that, she'd been given a withering look and told there was no such thing as an American who actually knew how to make tea. There were also freshly baked cookies, complete with impossible to carry out threats of horrible dismemberment if she ever revealed that he made them from scratch and not premade dough or a box mix.
If she needed to cry, he was right there with her, holding her and grieving over Buffy just as much as she was, letting her know she wasn't alone in her misery and feelings of guilt. If she needed to talk, he listened. If she needed to be talked to, he told her stories, heavily peppered with foul language and wild hand gestures.
This particular Monday, she was getting home an hour later than usual due to Giles insisting on tutoring her in literature. Considering he could barely look at her, but was still obviously trying to do right by her, she hadn't had the heart to tell him that Spike was already helping her with that subject.
She'd made sure her vampire knew about the tutoring session, so everything was as it normally was when she walked through the door. The smell of hot cookies, chocolate chip this time, filled her as she closed her eyes and inhaled, pushing away thoughts and grief for at least a moment.
"'Lo, Nibblet," Spike called from the kitchen as he pulled a baking sheet from the oven and set it on the stove.
Dawn dropped her backpack on the floor beside the door and went to the table, where the teapot, cups, jug of milk, and bowl of sugar cubes was already set out. She poured for both of them, putting milk and two cubes in Spike's cup and milk and three cubes in her own before sitting down.
"It's a wonder you don't end up bouncin' off the walls after all that," Spike said, putting a plate of three cookies down in front of her.
He always made exactly a dozen. Three for her, three for him, and three each for Willow and Tara. Giles and Xander never got Spike cookie goodness, and only he and Dawn ever got them fresh from the oven. It made her feel special.
"I know how to hold my sugar," she said haughtily before taking a sip of tea.
Spike laughed and sat down with his own plate of cookies. "That you do, sweet bit, that you do. So, how was it as the Watcher's?"
"Not too bad. He's trying." Dawn sighed. "Just glad to get away from all the Britishy-ness."
The British vampire sitting across from her raised a brow at that. "Yeah, down with the English. America forever, dude," he drawled in a horrible attempt at an American accent.
She giggled and threw a sugar cube at him, which he caught deftly in his mouth. "I meant stuffy Britishy-ness. Punk Britishy-ness is totally of the good."
"Ever so glad you approve." His tone was mocking, but his eyes gleamed with obvious amusement.
She grinned cheekily and, deciding they'd had enough time to cool, took a bite of one of her cookies. Unlike most chocolate chip cookies, including the ones he'd made in the past, these were thick in the center, rather than being uniformly flat. They had a sort of cakiness to them.
"Mmmm. Sooo good. You are amazing." Dawn practically moaned around her mouthful of chocolaty and pecany goodness. Then she had to fight back laughter at the look on Spike's face. Definitely shouldn't tell Mr. Badass Vampire that he looks adorable with that surprised/shy/preening peacock expression. "You know Willow and Tara are never going to believe these came from a box mix."
He just shrugged and ate one of his own cookies. "Think Tara at least has cottoned on to the fact that I know my way around a kitchen. Finish up your snack so we can get the homework out of the way."
He seemed more amused than irritated. Dawn eyed him carefully, trying to figure out if he was drunk or if Willow had been using magic on him again. After the Xander Licking Incident – and really, Xander should have been grateful. The demon bite on his shoulder would totally have gotten some kind of icky infection if Spike hadn't licked it clean after going a little crazy from near starvation – Willow had decided the depressed vampire needed the magical equivalent of happy pills. He'd ranted and raved at her after the fact, and she'd promised to never do it again, but sometimes Willow did things anyway if she thought she was right.
Drunk, Dawn decided. But just enough to be fairly mellow. She wondered, not for the first time, if there was such a thing as AA for vampires. Not that mellow Spike was bad, but if he got completely sloshed he had a tendency to either start crying or do disturbing things like the time he'd called Giles an attractive man before kissing him and passing out.
The crying she could handle. If anyone had the right to sob like a baby over Buffy, it was the two of them. The watcher smooching, though, had just been gross and traumatic, especially since she'd been close enough to see that there had been tongue involved. Now if it had been Xander getting drunken vampire smoochies… yeah, no. Hot, but Spike would've ended up dusty.
Dawn finished up her snack, and the two of them went to the living room for the next step of their usual after school ritual. She sat on the couch with her homework spread out on her lap and Spike's arm loosely draped across her shoulders while he channel surfed.
After every math problem she solved, she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, studying her vampire and trying to gauge how he was doing. He'd started taking better care of himself. He was still a lot thinner than he should have been, but didn't look like a stiff wind could blow him over anymore. So he was eating again, and had gone back to touching up his roots. He wasn't bothering with gel though, leaving the platinum tips to just start to corkscrew, possibly as a "screw you" to Xander and his demented death sheep comments.
However much booze he had downed earlier in the day had mellowed him out, but he didn't really look happy. He hadn't looked happy for even a second since Buffy had… gone away. Not that it had been all that common with him before that.
He's never exactly been all happiness and cheer, she reminded herself. Except… that wasn't actually true, was it? She frowned as the monk created memory of her first meeting with Spike popped into her head.
It had been a few days before the Halloween when Buffy went all swoony princess. Dawn had stupidly snuck out after sunset to retrieve the Barbie she'd accidentally left at a friend's house, and had managed to get there and start back without any problems. She'd been only a few yards from home when Spike had appeared from behind a tree in vamp mode and had grabbed her.
She'd been convinced she was going to die, but hadn't wanted to go out without a fight, no matter how pathetic. So she'd stomped on his foot. To her complete and utter shock, he'd let her go and had laughed. Not at her or maliciously, but like a child who had been expecting Brussel sprouts only to find his favorite candy instead. She still remembered their short conversation after that.
"You certainly have moxie, pigeon, I'll give you that," he said, both his voice and now human features full of glee. "Was gonna feed you to Dru, but with that much spice, you'd likely give her indigestion. Off with you."
Her jaw dropped. "Y-you're letting me go?"
"Well, I s'pose I could eat you. I've a liking for spicy things." He tilted his head and looked her up and down. It should have been scary, but he still looked absolutely delighted that a young girl had had the courage to try fighting back. "Course, you look like the kind of chit who'd kick a bloke in the goolies on the way down, and I've a lady at home to satisfy."
She wrinkled her nose and let out an "ew" of disgust, which just made him laugh again.
"You're too much of a li'l bit of a nibblet to be worth the bother. Now toddle off to big sis, yeah?" He held out his hand and made a walking gesture with his fingers.
"You alright, Bit?"
Spike's voice from the here and now pulled Dawn from her reverie. He was looking at her with that same head tilt, but his eyes were dull with guilt and grief instead of dancing with a cheerful zest for life.
"I'm fine," she mumbled, glancing back down at her homework.
When did he lose it? she wondered. It had taken a blow when Dru had left him, but he'd still had enough to tease Angel when her sister's broody ex had turned up to interrupt cocoa time. The whole thing with the commandos and the chip had definitely had a hand in snuffing out his inner sense of joy, but it had started to come back once he realized he could fight demons.
The Scoobies did this, she reluctantly admitted to herself. The commandos had taken something wild and free and had muzzled it, but he had been adjusting to that. It was the nasty, hateful words and constant rejection that had finalized the transformation from a dangerous but happy wildcat into a defensive, prickly hedgehog of snark. To be fair, the snark had always been there, but before it had been mostly overshadowed by an almost childlike delight in the world.
She glanced back up at him when she realized the TV had been stopped on some random toddler show instead of flickering from channel to channel. He was watching her intently, like a cat studying a mouse hole.
Under the unnerving stare, the words she always promised herself she wouldn't say popped out, just like they did every day. "You don't have to stay with me. I'd understand if you had something else you wanted to do."
He looked away, but not before she saw the surge of pain in his eyes. "Not gonna leave you alone," he said quietly. "All kinds of nasties can get in even without an invitation. Won't leave you to be hurt."
He didn't say it, but she knew the most dangerous "nasty" of all was depression. He wouldn't leave her alone to be swallowed up by it, just like she did her best to make sure it didn't eat him alive either.
She opened her mouth to repeat her assurances that he could leave whenever he wanted. She hated herself for it, but she always had to say it. She always had to push at him, to get the reassurance that no matter what, he wouldn't leave. Sometimes, just once or twice was enough, but other times, she couldn't stop herself until she'd pushed him to the point of anger.
Before the words could pour out again, everything went gray and swirly. She felt herself pitch forward, heard Spike's worried shout, and then everything went black.
Dawn. That was her name. She was Dawn. It floated in the darkness with her, the subtle difference in the vowel sound important for some reason. Only two people said it that way. One she didn't want to deal with right now. The other….
She fought her way towards consciousness.
Spike slid forward off the couch and onto his knees in a blur of motion, just fast enough to catch the girl before she hit the floor.
He cradled her close and gently tapped the side of her face, trying to wake her without hurting her. Bloody buggering hell! What's wrong with her? For a panicked moment he wondered if he'd cocked things up and somehow mistook rat poison for flour or sugar or something.
Don't be a daft git, he thought to himself in annoyance. The witches aren't going to have soddin' rat poison in something that says "Sugar" on it. 'Sides, would've smelled off and wouldn't have cooked up proper. Now stop being a panicking nance and figure out what's wrong with the li'l bit.
She didn't smell sick, injured, or poisoned, but her scent was… fading? He looked her over in confusion, his eyes widening in shocked horror when he saw her hands. They were turning transparent.
"Bit!" He shook her and gave her a slap across the face just hard enough to send a twinge of pain zapping through his head. "Don't you fade away on me!"
"S-Spike?" Dawn's eyes fluttered open. "W-what's wrong? You look scared."
A tiny part of him was indignant that she would dare to suggest that the Big Bad was scared, but most of him was too busy being pants-shittingly terrified to pay that part any mind. He couldn't lose her. He had promised to protect her. She was part of Buffy. She was his. His Dawn. His Nibblet.
Dawn lifted her hand, freezing for one moment when she got a look at it. Then the moment broke and she started screaming. She scrambled away from him and got to her feet, staring at her hands and making soft animal whimpers.
"Wha-what's ha-happening? I-I'm disappearing. I'm gonna fade away…."
"No!" he shouted, jumping to his feet and pulling her tightly against him. "I won't let you fade away, Dawn. Fight it!"
Her knees buckled, dragging them back down to the floor. She squirmed suddenly, and he eased his hold on her just enough for her to twist and sink her teeth into his arm. It wasn't just a bite to muffle sobs or try to work through pain. She took a chunk out of him, then looked up in glassy-eyed shock, his blood all over her face as she swallowed something.
Before he could even finish the pet name, she exploded in a shower of green sparks.