Dedicated to Rinso, Taste Like Special, RAGAnne, and jackiemack916 for the reviews.

I decided to change stuff up a bit. So those returning characters who I promised for next Tuesday? They made it into this chapter instead. As a result, this one is a bit long compared to the usual ones I post. It just seemed to make more sense like this. Some time next week there may or may not be some developing tidbits on the Big Bad front...

See you Tuesday!

Chapter 6

Buffy was so over the school thing. She wasn't really sure why she'd gone to college, other than the fact that her mother would've killed her if she didn't. Since she didn't much feel like playing waitress in LA again, she instead suffered through World History. Dawn was supposed to meet her at the magic shop after they were both done with school so they could walk home together. Buffy wasn't big on letting her sister out around town on her own with the hell god on the loose, and since her super strength-having vampire boyfriend was sun allergic, Buffy was playing covert bodyguard.

Giles and Anya were arguing in front of one of the display shelves when Buffy got in there. Buffy slipped past them, narrowly avoiding having to pick a side. She headed for the training room, where she figured Dawn was hanging out and (optimistically) doing homework. When she walked in, a crossbow spring released and an arrow hit the scarecrow dummy set up near the wall.

"No, see? Arm shot's not gonna do the trick there, Platelet. Gotta aim a bit to the left with—" Spike adjusted where her sister had the crossbow pointed.

Buffy cleared her throat. She stood with her feet apart and her arms crossed over her chest as the pair of them turned to her. Then she pulled the raised eyebrow of "Just what the hell are you doing?" that she had so easily perfected since being Spike's girlfriend.

"Uh, Slayer."

"Buffy! I thought you had class 'til four," Dawn said. She not-so-swiftly held the crossbow behind her.

"Three." Buffy let the word linger a minute as her boyfriend and her little sister exchanged guilty, panicked expressions. "Anyone want to try and explain this one to me, or should I just get Giles in here for a big lecture?"

"Oh, please!" Dawn griped. "You weren't that much older than me when you started staking vampires."

"Bit..."

"Well it's true."

"Yes, but I'm the Chosen One, Dawn. If we need an expert in stealing someone's sister's jewelry, we'll give you a call." Buffy tightened her lips as she shifted her attention to Spike. "And what're you doing out of the house this time of day?"

"Passions was over. It was go stir-crazy or come through the tunnels to hang out here. Take your bloody pick."

"She's too young to be doing this kind of stuff. I don't want her getting hurt." Buffy let her glare do most of the talking for her. If Dawn did one thing wrong, she could've killed herself or Spike. Not to mention the fact that her sister had a stubborn and reckless streak that meant she might try sneaking out at night to roam around cemeteries, especially if she thought that she was trained enough to be up to the task. If they wanted to just hand Dawn over on a silver platter, this was a good flippin' start.

"She's the Slayers' kid sis," Spike said with an I'm not saying everything out loud glare of his own going. "Baddies are bound to pounce her at one point or another. Last thing the girl needs is to be helpless."

Buffy thought back to the other night, when she'd told Spike that very fear about herself. Of course she didn't want Dawn helpless. Hell, she also didn't want Dawn in imminent danger that was going to blindside them. The Hellmouth didn't care about want; The Hellmouth cared about blood. "Whatever. We're going home. You've got algebra to do."

Buffy spun on her heel and could hear the other two dragging their feet behind her. They probably didn't really anticipate that she was eavesdropping, or that she could on account of Slayer hearing. They seemed too wrapped up in their private conversation to care.

"For what it's worth," Dawn whispered to him, "I totally agree with you. What am I supposed to do if Drac breaks in? Shriek for Buffy?"

"Yeah, Bit. I know. Just better hope your mum don't find out." Spike's voice was loud enough that he probably wanted Buffy to hear this part. "You'll get grounded. I'll get thrashed."

"You're seriously scared of our mom? She has Buffy kill spiders for her half the time."

"Yeah, I am."

"Wuss."

"Watch it."

Buffy couldn't help a smirk as she rolled her eyes and opened the front door to the shop. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike pick up an old scratchy-looking blanket from a nearby chair.

XXXXX

Buffy bought the hugest cookie the Espresso Pump had behind the counter. It was made to look like a pumpkin and had icing all globed on top. (Her favorite kind of sugar came with more sugar.) But she'd only taken one little nibble of it. Now she sat at the table she shared with Wills and Tara, pouting down at the pretty much untouched cookie. She was getting plagued by big thoughts. Did Spike have the right idea about protecting Dawn by training her? Extra danger factor aside, Buffy didn't want her baby sister to see the things she had, for as long as that was possible, anyway. But Spike had that whole future knowledge thing going on, plus being super perceptive on stuff and...

"Did that cookie insult your shoes?"

"Huh?" Buffy blinked up at Willow, who was flashing her post-joke grin. "Sorry. Huh?"

"Geez. Maybe you need a cappuccino with that, Buff," Willow said. She took a sip of her latte, glancing at the menu hanging behind the counter behind Buffy. "Ooh, they have a special until 6 for UC Sunnydale students!"

"What's wrong?" Tara tilted her head. Buffy shivered; she couldn't help it. Sometimes Tara looked at her like she could see right through her. Honestly? Buffy was a fan of the whole sweet mothering thing. Plus, no lectures like with her mom or Giles. Tara was totally non-judgey. "Do you have some slayer-related achies or something?"

"Oh, no. It's not that. It's just..." Buffy sighed. She broke off another piece of cookie, but she didn't eat it. "I'm worried about Dawn."

"Aww. Cutting class?" Willow asked.

"No. Wait." Buffy lowered her eyebrows. "What've you heard?"

Willow and Tara exchanged a look, but Wills shrugged. "I'm just going off of our high school experience. You know, skip fourth period to chase demon hunting puppets. Skip seventh to look up records from the morgue."

"Right."

"Why're you worried anyway?" Willow gave one of those tight, I-totally-have-it-all-figured-out sideways smirks. "Dawnie's got the Slayer as her big sister. She's pretty much untouchable."

"Yeah. I just... I caught Spike training her. There was a crossbow involved. At The Magic Box. She can look at something and break it. What if she broke something?"

"Like your boyfriend?" Tara brought her tea to her lips, gaze never wavering from Buffy.

"Like my boyfriend." Buffy finally ate the newly broken piece of cookie. "Or herself. Or Giles' stuff. You know Anya would throw a fit." The witches laughed. Buffy licked orange frosting from her lips. "And it just scares me, ya know? She's only fourteen."

Tara and Willow responded at the same time:

"I understand."

"I dunno."

The pair of them looked at each other.

"What do... What do you mean you don't know?" Tara winced like she was expecting to get yelled at. "Dawnie could get hurt, or hurt someone else, with pointy objects and stuff. It's dangerous."

"But we weren't much older than her when we got in on the Slayage," Wills said. "And besides, remember when Angelus grabbed her at the high school? Or when Faith tried to kill her back when she was working for the mayor?"

"Or the time with those Parasite Demons?" Tara offered. All three of them shuddered, Willow even adding in a "yeeegh."

"Yeah, she has managed to be about as much of a hostage magnet as Xander is a demon magnet."

"Hey!" Willow scowled, pointing at Buffy. "What's our rule about the M word?"

"At the end of the day," Tara whispered, "what matters is keeping Dawnie safe." She stirred her tea, watching the swirls the surface of the liquid made.

Tara was right. So was Wills. Whether Buffy wanted Dawn to be a part of this or not, she was now. The monks had sent Dawn to her for protection. And damned if she wouldn't do just that. The soul-ed vamp boyfriend with tons of future knowledge they could take advantage of? That was just a Buffy Summers bonus. She bit into her cookie, making her yummy hum when she really tasted the icing for the first time.

XXXXX

Spike had torn apart every last sodding box of baubles in Buffy's room. He'd gone through the one box of stuff he'd brought over from his crypt (which the Slayer had suggested after a night of patrolling and planning to return to Revello Drive). It wasn't among the button-downs, tees, records, and couple of old books. He was about ready to lose his mind and start talkin' about pixies and naming the stars and what all.

When the door to Buffy's room opened on its own, Spike vamped by instinct.

"Geez, jumpy much?" Dawn teased, her lips trembling with a not-quite laugh. "What, are you looking in her panty drawer? 'Cause gross."

"Would you keep it down, Snack Size?" Spike growled. He rolled his eyes and forced back his lumpies. "What're you breakin' into Buffy's room for, anyhow?"

"Uh, I wasn't? I heard rummaging and figured Drac might be back." She raised an eyebrow, playing it cool. Spike decided she was definitely spending too much time with him. "What are you doing?" She scanned the room, things tossed all over. It was only slightly worse for the wear than the way Buffy left it normally, but the Bit was quick on the draw. "Looking for something?" she wagered.

"Maybe." Spike reached into the pocket of his duster, pulling out a cigarette and propping it between his lips as he spoke. "What's it matter to you?"

"Maybe I can help. I've been finding her diary hiding places for years now. Gotten it down to four minutes or less!" Her nose curled. "Uh, don't tell Buffy that?"

"Fine." Spike laid the unlit cigarette on the Slayer's bedside table. "It's an old thing o' mine. Doesn't look like much, but it's older 'n I am. Means..." He averted his eyes. "Means a lot to me. Brought it with my stuff, but..."

"Hmm." Dawn chewed on her thumbnail. "I'm going to guess it's not a purple halter top or a pair of cat eye Ralph Lauren sunglasses, huh?"

Spike tilted his head. "'fraid not. Was that the thing she was lookin' for the other day?"

"Wait!" Dawn bounced on her toes. "I think I've got it! Be right back." She raced away from the room. Spike was half convinced it was all an act to divert the attention from the fact that she was apparently built by the monks with sticky fingers, but she actually returned. "Is this it?" Dawn held out a simple gold band with a sizable pearl at its center.

His mother's ring.

XXXXX

"I mean, I feel like I'm going crazy!" Buffy waved her stake in the air as she spoke. She and Spike exited the graveyard. "Do you think I'm going crazy? I bet you and Giles are all 'Oh, that Slayer, she's three sugar cubes short of a cup of tea!' or however you British guys put that."

"You're not crazy, love." Spike's left hand rested in his pocket. Buffy could've sworn he was fidgeting with something, but he didn't give her the chance to ask about it. "Although you're giving a good go at acting it about now, I'll give you that. No one's gonna attack a psychotic slayer."

"Faith still got herself in plenty of scuffles," Buffy grumbled.

"To be fair, half of those were with you." Spike smirked, eyeing her up without exactly turning to face her. He'd taken his hand out of his pocket, but it was clenched into a fist.

Buffy looked around, trying to see if he noticed a baddie she hadn't. Unless she was majorly failing her Slay-Gal pop quiz, nothing. "Uh, what's that?" She pointed to his hand as they continued at a seriously brisk pace.

Spike jammed his hand right back into his duster pocket. "You wanna focus or have a blonde moment there, Summers?"

"Huh?"

"The feelin' crazy? Maybe you have gone completely off your bird..."

"Why, of all the vampires in all the land, did I pick the biggest jerk of them all to date?"

Buffy forced back a laugh. In one huge swoop of black leather, Spike stood in front of her. She stopped just short of bumping into him. He was scowling down at her, and Buffy was half surprised he didn't slip into game face. But then his expression softened and he leaned forward, pressing a long but chaste kiss to her lips. When he pulled back, Buffy bumped her nose against his, fighting her grin. His right hand clasped her left and they continued the walk home. Buffy slipped her stake into the inside pocket of her jacket.

"What I meant," she said, picking up the thing that kicked off this whole conversation, "is that I'm having wig-worthy echoes all over the place. I can't tell what's just your average ordinary déjà vu, what's from the memory spell where I was walking around in your brain, or what's from cryptic Slayer dream symbolism."

Spike tilted his head. "Like what?"

Buffy listened, for a moment, to the steady way their feet fell on the sidewalk—his heavy steps in the boots next to her light steps in high-heeled boots. The moon was super pretty. She rested her head on Spike's shoulder for a few seconds, sighing.

"Like this thing Dracula said. I think... I think my mom said it in the dream? It was... 'You think you know what you are, but you haven't started yet.' Or something? And it's just weird little things like that. I already have a complex about being a ditz. This is actually starting to turn me into one."

"Slayer, I—"

Spike and Buffy were forcibly yanked apart. He went flying behind her, but Buffy stood her ground. She found herself facing two biker gang reject vamps who stunk to high heaven, one of them holding... a unicorn figurine. That was new.

"Okay, I know you only have people over to eat them nowadays." Buffy backhanded the one vamp, sending him flying to the street, well within reach of Spike. "But that's no excuse for bad manners." She dropkicked the unicorn-holding vampire back, landing such a hard hit that he went somersaulting onto somebody's lawn. That's when Buffy noticed they were only a block up from Revello Drive. That was not the usual stomping ground.

"Slayer," the unicorn-vamp hissed from the lawn.

Buffy yawned dramatically. "Read me a new one, would ya? There's classic, and then there's just cliché."

"Brad, a little help over here?"

Buffy twirled to the source of the strained voice: Spike had the vampire she'd sent his way lifted off the ground, his hand wrapped around its neck. "You know," Spike said, his voice low and rumbly, "you really should apologize to the lady."

"Aww!"

Buffy and Spike both looked to unicorn vamp.

"You broke it!" The vamp got to his feet. Buffy checked the lawn, where the unicorn had smashed to bits. "I got it for her special!"

"Her who?" Buffy pulled her stake from her jacket. Glory wouldn't be working with vamps, would she? But this close to the house...

Spike's vampire giggled. Spike tightened his clutch around the guy's throat. "He's so sire-whipped," the vamp wheezed.

"Sire?" Spike's mouth hung open. He was remembering something. Buffy recognized the look from the past couple of months, when he'd remember his first go-around. "Wait just a minute." He squeezed until something popped and the vampire that had been in his hand turned to ash. "Harmony. Oh, bollocks!"

"Harmony?" Buffy so didn't get the freak-out. She shrugged and pitched her stake at the second vampire, whose dust floated down over the broken unicorn. "As in your ex slash Cordelia's lackey Harmony? What's the big?"

"Dawn," Spike said. "Harm knows where you live, Slayer."

He sprinted for the house and Buffy followed, both of them pushing their physical limits. It took all of thirty seconds to arrive at the front door. The window was smashed, and Xander was standing in the doorway. Anya arrived next to him, carrying an ice pack. That was when Buffy noticed Xand was cradling his arm, and Anya's head was bleeding.

"What direction did they go?" Buffy demanded.

"The caves," Spike said. "I know where they are. Harris, can I—"

Xander pulled his car keys from his pocket and tossed them to Spike.

"Call Wills," Spike said as he unlocked Xander's car. "Have the Wiccas come and do a de-invite on the place. Fast." He slid into the driver's seat and Buffy took shotgun.

XXXXX

By the time they arrived at Harmony's hideout, she was doing the monologuing. Spike and Buffy staked the three minions near the entrance. They tip-toed toward where they heard her voice.

"I mean, I'm the one who put this group together. Me!"

Buffy and Spike each leaned on one side of the archway. Buffy peered inside, saw Dawn tied up. Harmony was close, but Buffy knew that she and Spike were quick. If they moved in together, with the element of surprise on their side...

"But they treat me like I don't even matter," Harmony complained. "Do you have any idea what that feels like?"

Dawn's nose twisted up. "A little."

Buffy felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. She hated that Dawn might feel that way. Spike drew her attention. He narrowed his eyes, trying to tell her something, comfort her, maybe. When he nodded, they slipped in. Spike kept along the wall, edging closer and closer to where Dawn was bound up. Buffy made her presence very known.

"Harmony," Buffy said, twirling her stake between her fingers.

"Slayer." Harmony turned, popping out her hip. She was wearing even more makeup than she had when she was alive. Which was impressive, considering the lack of reflection and all. "We meet at last.

"We've met Harmony, you half-wit." Buffy shook her head. She tried not to let her focus wander to Spike and Dawn as he untied her, just monitoring from her periphery. "Look, Harm—when you tried to be head cheerleader, you were bad. When you tried to chair the homecoming committee, you were really bad. But when you try to be bad ... you suck."

"Oh yeah? Well—" Harmony shrieked, spinning around. Her arm was sizzling.

Dawn took three steps back toward Spike. Dawn held what looked like an old mini liquor bottle (Buffy didn't need three guesses to know where that'd come from) and raised one eyebrow. "Holy water, bitch."

"Dawnie!" Buffy gasped. All three of the others turned to Buffy. Buffy glowered at her little sister. "Language."

"You hurt my arm!" Harmony pouted. She started toward Dawn. Before Buffy could make two steps in their direction, Spike had Harmony pinned to the cave wall, his fingers around her throat. "Aww, Spikey. It's just like old times."

Dawn snorted. "Uh, ew?"

"C'mon Dawn," Buffy said. "We're going."

Dawn tucked the bottle back into her jacket pocket and walked toward Buffy. Buffy wrapped an arm around her shoulders, the pair of them starting for the cave entrance. They heard Spike talking to Harmony:

"Get out of town, Harm. I don't wanna run a stake through your heart, but—"

"I do."

Buffy saw the guy in all black come into the room from a tunnel on the other side. He had on a ski mask and... The stun gun went off and Spike was twitching on the ground. Buffy shoved Dawn out of the crossfire, then dove to Spike's side. He grimaced, his limbs still rigid from the electric shock. Harmony went into game face and lunged at the masked intruder. Dust exploded in the air and the man in black pulled a stake back from it. Dawn yelped on the other side of the doorway.

Jumping to her feet, Buffy hit the stake out of the guy's hand and away from Spike. Then she used the heel of her hand to slam the guy in the solar plexus, smacked him against the wall. Buffy yanked the huge stun gun hanging around his shoulder, tearing the strap. She aimed it at the guy.

"So do we want to play a game of what does this button do, or are you gonna tell me why in the hell you just almost killed my boyfriend and my little sister?" she growled.

"Whoa, whoa, wait." The guy held his hands up in surrender. She recognized that voice. Between that and the Initiative gear, it hardly surprised her when the guy removed his mask and revealed himself as...

"Riley?"

"Hey Buffy." He tilted his head, looking beyond Buffy. "Hey Dawnie. You okay over there?"

Dawn stood. "Don't. Call me. Dawnie."

"She's still a little upset over the whole you-working-for-the-Initiative thing."

"Yeah." Dawn moved toward Spike. "I don't like guys who help kidnap my sister."

"Runs in the family," Buffy muttered. "So do I have to start with the interrogating, or..."

Something static-y made noise. Riley touched a wire wrapped around his ear. "Ten-four. HSTs terminated. No other life forms on site. Will report for debrief at oh-one-hundred hours."

Dawn helped Spike to his feet. He held one hand to his ribs, hunched over as Dawnie supported him. "Remind me again, Slayer, why we don't just waste him?"

"You want to explain what The Initiative is doing this whole still being a thing?" Buffy demanded.

"And why they're muckin' about on our Hellmouth again?" Spike coughed, then righted himself with a heavy breath.

"It's not The Initiative," Riley said. "It's the U.S. Government."

"I'm not really caring," Buffy said. "Are you guys really caring?"

"Sounds like the same diff to me," Dawn said.

"Look, our satellites read a spike in sub-terrestrial energy in the area, so they sent in a team to clean the place up a bit. Then we're returning to..." Riley rubbed the back of his head. "Well, I can't tell you where. But it was high levels of energy, even for a Hellmouth."

Buffy and Spike glanced at one another. Could be Dawn's key energy, or maybe Glory was here? Either way, best to get the army types out of town as quick as possible. They were going to get in the way at bare minimum, try to hurt Dawn at the worst.

"Well, way to go, Captain America," Spike said. "You killed the dumbest vampire ever turned. Now go tell your army gits to bugger off. We'll take it from here."

Riley kept his eyes on Spike and Dawn, though he whispered to Buffy. "You sure you're okay?"

Buffy sighed and lowered the stun gun. "Totally fine."

"Alright. Uh, if you need me, I'll leave my number at your place."

"You're allowed to give out your phone number when you're undercover or whatever?"

"Well, no. It'll be a florist. You have to ask for the white tulips with a red bow."

"Right."

"Anything." Riley glared at Spike. "Anything at all. You girls just give me a call." He left out of the tunnel he'd entered through.

"I seriously don't like him," Dawn said.

"You didn't mention The Initiative'd be in town." Buffy ran her hand over her hair. "Or that Riley would be back, like, ever."

Spike rubbed his nose. "Finn was still here for a bit yet the last time. Whole thing's new."

"Some use you are," Dawn teased, smiling at him. "Might as well call the fortune teller hotline."

"I don't wanna hear it, Nibblet. You're the one who got yourself bloody kidnapped."

"Can we get home before Mom flips out about Dawn being in a hostage situation with the undead members of my graduating class?"

"Let's," Spike said.

As they exited the cave, Buffy thought back to the piece of conversation she'd eavesdropped on between Harmony and her sister, about being treated like she didn't matter. Buffy laced her arm around Dawn's, the way she did sometimes when she and Wills were taking a walk. It didn't matter how she had become her sister; Dawn was her sister. It was deeper than just being related, like Dawn was a part of her. Buffy wasn't going to let anything put Dawn at risk. Buffy glanced at Spike on her other side and grinned. He sure as hell wasn't going to let anything happen to either of them, either.

"So what homework have you got tonight?" Buffy asked.

"Ugh. Do you think I can get a pass on account of trauma?"

"That, Bit, would mean we had to tell your mum about the trauma business. Which would put all of us in that house on lockdown for the next lifetime or two."

"Shoot. Then I've got, like, some dumb sonnets to read and write about and algebra."

"Doesn't algebra totally suck?" Buffy said. Common ground topic achieved. Piece of cake.

"Oh my God, yes! Like, this one time in class, Janice asked Mrs. Tran 'What're we gonna use this for?' and she was all 'Go to the principal's office.'"

Buffy listened as Dawn continued the bulk of their conversation all the way home. She kept her eyes on Spike most of the time, wondering why his hand kept finding its way to his left duster pocket. He caught her watching, once, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, lighting one and puffing away on the way to their front door.