One evening in a place where winter's idea of being winter was to be dark by five in the evening with a minor chill coming down out of the mountains, a little girl wandered into a bear's lair, causing a minor ruckus.

Which went as follows:

Spike had spent nearly two hundred years clean-shaven, whenever he had the time or inclination.

Problem was, mirrors were useless so he either had to get someone to do it for him - an exciting but dangerous prospect with Drusilla which could either end in a smooth face, painful bloodshed, or somewhere in between, do it himself because barbers who did back-door business with demons after sundown were expensive, or grow a beard.

Highly fashionable in the 1960s and 70s, beards had their advantages. For one thing, growing a beard was a lot safer than handing Dru a razor, plus it allowed Spike to blend in with the hippie crowd relatively unnoticed. On the other hand, a beard made things a bit, well, messy. A beard tended to soak up blood and attract flies, making sleeping difficult when living rough, and Dru, not the most fastidious of creatures at times, objected to sleeping with all that buzzing and crawling going on next to her.

Then there was the issue of leftovers. It's hard when trouble's going down when the first thing your hunters notice is your beard oozing blood – being able to take a quick bite before wiping your mouth off on your sleeve on had its advantages.

Punk, a look and a movement born in the early 1970s which Spike had embraced with wide open arms, an enthusiastic scream of, "Hell, yeah!" and exposed fangs, had been a beardless relief. Having no truck with peace and love (dope being an entirely different kettle of fish), punks eschewed the rampant facial hair that was the hirsute badge of the Woodstock generation (anyway, the music was better). Lurk amidst punks and nobody looked twice at you if you shaved: quick bite + sleeve blot = no problem (thank you Sid Vicious and Joey Ramone!)

Anyway, by the time he'd landed ungracefully in Sunnydale, Spike had learned to shave by feel out of self defense, which was what he was doing when Dawn slipped in, dumped her backpack by the door, and began poking around his crypt uninvited.

Hungover, towel around his waist after an excruciatingly cold pour bath, and using the loud, expensive battery powered Braun shaver he'd scored a few evenings before while helping Joyce move some boxes around in her basement, (So what if he'd had to dig three layers down to find it?) Spike didn't notice Buffy's younger sister's explorations of his version of the single life at first.

Spitting out a mouthful of stale beer, Buffy's brat kid sister immediately put the beer bottle she'd found beside the stale-smelling hassock back where she'd found it.

She then kicked over the remains of a Wheat-A-Bix and blood mid-day cuppa from when he'd got up to watch Temptations, and gagged without wiping it up.

Finally she found a bag of Bugles, opened it, and crunching loudly, sat down on the couch Spike had dragged in from the city dump when he'd first started squatting here.

And got right back up with a squeal when a broken spring speared her in the behind.

Eating Bugles while rubbing her backside, Dawn then perched on the (somewhat) matching chair beside it, only to get up exclaiming with disgust when she noticed the wank-mags and the overflowing ashtray stacked on the battered seat beside her.

Finally she sat down on Spike's favorite chair, eating his Bugles, watching him before he'd turned around, shaving with one hand while scratching with the other, "Bloody Hell!" he'd exclaimed, nearly losing both shaver and towel.

Dawn giggled at him around a mouthful of his intended first meal of the night.

"Does your mum know you're here?"

She swallowed, "Nope. Does mom know you have her best guest towel and dad's old shaver?"

"Go away." (Anyway, if Buffy's mum didn't want him to have that towel, and those sheets, and that pillow and pillowcase, as well as that duvet, why'd she leave 'em out where he could easily walk off with 'em?)

Crunch crunch, "No." Crunch.

"Does your sister know you're here?"

Crunch, "Why would she care? Ooooh, Twizzlers!"

"Put those down, they're mine."

"Want one?"

"No. Now go home, I hear your mum calling."

"Nope, she's doing the book club thing tonight. I got bored."

"Go home and do your homework, then." Dry mouthed, Spike gestured towards the door with the disputed Braun.

"Already did it – Hey! That's one of mom's good guest towels… uuuummm, I'm telling... so that's where the duvet and pillow from the guest bedroom got off to – mom'll be sooooooo mad!" The Niblet knocked over another half bottle of stale beer pointing at the bedding spread on a nearby sarcophagus.

"Stop touching my things. I'm borrowing it. I said, go home."

"Hey, Kit-Kat! Want half?" Dawn broke the bar in half and held it out. Spike waved her off with the shaver, "Suit yourself!" she stuffed the candy in her mouth, acting as if she was the audience and he the main attraction about to pull a rabbit or something or other out of a hat.

"Dawn, I'm going below to get dressed. When I get back up here, I want you gone. Got it?"

"What everrrrrrr." Cue eye roll.

Clutching the (ahem) borrowed towel around his waist in one hand and the shaver in the other, Spike stomped barefoot to the small cavern beneath his crypt where he finished shaving and got dressed in peace.

When he came back up freshly guylinered (another skill he'd learned by feel) and combing his hair while mentally debating if he needed to touch up his roots, Dawn was still there, watching telly, feet hooked over the back of the chair, eating the last of the Bugles upside down.

Or trying to, judging by the drifts of crumbs on the already dirty floor and in her hair.

"I said I didn't want to see you here when I got back upstairs."


"Fine." Spike grumbled, tempted to risk adding to his hangover headache by tipping Buffy's brat kid sister out of the chair and onto the floor so he could use it himself, maybe touch up his nails while watching Dragnet reruns, which aside from the local PBS channel was about all he could get without cable – and oddly enough, the Lifetime channel, which Dawn was watching at full roar.

Lighting five candles, Spike sat cross-legged on the other side of the crypt on a sarcophagus, trying to ignore the trendy white suburban misery of the week while re-painting the nails on his right hand black.

Being left-handed, this was easy, no problem, not so much as a smudge and all that rot.

Now concentrating on his left hand with his clumsy right hand, the vampire looked up halfway through redoing his thumbnail for the fourth time and jumped, nearly spilling the only known bottle of China Glaze's Liquid Leather nail polish in Sunnydale while smearing the brush all over his thumb.

"Whatcha doin'?" Dawn was practically in his lap.

"Bloody Hell, kid, what's it look like?" Spike snarled, scooching around so that his back was turned to Dawn, as he tried to clean up the mess. "Anyway, I thought I told you to go away."

"Whaaaaaaat-everrrrr." Dawn ran back to the front door, and dug around in her backpack. "Nails, I do nails, I brought my favorite color!" Pulling out a bottle of rainbow glitter nail polish, she scrambled up on the sarcophagus beside him, "Did you hear about Brittney and Justin?"

"Oh bloody hell, not that!" Spike snarled. He had two options: kill Dawn or ignore her. One led to a killer headache and a staking from Buffy, the other a bad headache that didn't involve the pleasure of slugging Dawn to make her shut up and go away which generally worked well with Harmony minus the soddin' headache - of which he already had one thanks to six too many drinks the night before at the Bronze, some of which he'd bothered to pay for.

"Move over, you hog space worse than Buffy on mom's couch!"

"HEY, whose crypt is this anyway?"

"Yours! Move over, I want to sit here too!" They jostled for position before coming to a compromise – how could a skinny little bon-bon like Dawn take up so much bloody room? Cotton-mouthed, Spike went back to convincing his right hand to do his left had as good as his left hand had done his right as Dawn resumed her prattle, blithely rainbowing her nails to the tune of the latest boy band atrocity sung acapella, something something-something or other about eternal love (ha!) and ummm, what-soddin'-ever!

Still, the body heat Dawn radiated as they sat back to back was pleasant on such a cool night even if the noise that came with it was annoying.

Spike finally got his left thumbnail right when he realized that Dawn was crying.

Big, silent gulping gasping sobs, all hunched over arms around knees sobs.

"Oh bloody Hell, now what?" Waving his right hand in the air to dry the one nail he'd got right, Spike swung his legs and himself around so that he could see what was going on.

Spike was used to tears: Dru would burst into tears and weep inconsolably without warning, while Harmony would tear up at the sight of a porcelain unicorn in a shop window, but this was different.

Dawn was rocking back and forth on the sarcophagus lid gripping her knees; head back, streaming eyes squeezed shut, teeth bared, howling loud enough to make Dru proud had she been there.

Open-mouthed, Spike watched Buffy's brat kid sister's near seizure until he shook his head, opened a fresh pack of menthols, and lipped one out without lighting up before asking, "Oi, pet, what's wrong?"

Which provoked an even louder howl of anguish from Dawn as snot-nosed and hiccupping she buried her wet face in Spike's shoulder, instantly soaking his shirt. What the Hell could have provoked such an outburst in a kid who'd not two days before on laundry night in her mother's basement had soundly kicked him in both shins before relieving him of the little pink training bra he'd found clinging to his favorite t-shirt when he'd pulled his clothes out of the dryer while calling him names he doubted Joyce had taught her before storming back upstairs and locking herself in her room with a house-shaking door slam?

Awkwardly putting his arm around her because though his usual prey of choice, Spike simply did not understand women under the age of 100 (and older) when they were like this, and it was the only thing he could think of doing because sometimes it worked with Dru... um, usually. Dawn settled down just enough that he could make out words in between howling wails, something something borrowed Buffy's new shoes without asking and spilled paint on them in art class today something (hiccup hiccup) the popular girls called me a FREAK something something (hiccup hiccup) tripped in P.E. in front of a guy I like and he laughed (hiccup hiccup) something something argh – HOOOOOOONNNNNNK (Dawn paused to blow huge load of snot into Spike's last clean towel which he'd foolishly handed her hoping to spare his shirt more disgusting abuse, HOWL and I'm flunking math and I forgot to turn in my essay on Gandhi, something something something and the guy I like laughed and called me a FREAK, too (hiccup hiccup hiccup) and I might as well be invisible, HONK! Nobody likes (hiccup) me and I am a freak and Giles yelled at me HOWL because I spilled Coke on one of his stinky ol' books HOWL something something something and nobody HOWL listens to me and I-THINK-THERE'S-SOMETHING-WRONG-WITH-MOM-BUT-NOBODY-TELLS-ME-ANYTHING-BECAUSE-I'M-INVISIBLE!

Or something like that – along with a lot of heel drumming on the side of the sarcophagus from the paint-ruined shoes.

"Well. Yeah." Spike waved his free hand, fag tucked forgotten behind one ear, "What's this about your mum again?"

Disturbed, Spike settled in for the duration as Dawn got louder and louder until exhausted, she sagged limp against him as he rocked her as he would Dru during one of her cataclysmic meltdowns, head resting atop hers, eyes closed. So, he wasn't the only one who'd noticed something subtly wrong about Joyce the last month or so, a slight unsteadiness of walk, forgetfulness, subtle disorientation, random remarks that made no sense… things that made the predator in Spike sit up and take salivating notice… things that were none of his business.

Eventually the storm passed, subsiding into random hiccups and the occasional whimper as Dawn fiddled with the edge of the towel, with her sweater, with his hand, until mumbling, "You know, you're really bad at nail polish." She reached for the bottle of Black Leather, unsteadily twisted it open, and began painting the remaining nails on Spikes left hand, covering them one by one in quick, practiced strokes so that by the time she'd finished, she was sniffling and occasionally blotting her eyes on her sleeve as she screwed the lid back on and set it aside, red faced and swollen-eyed.

"You done yet?" Spike asked her cautiously, hoping to avoid another Dawnalanche.

"Ummmmmm…" She shrugged, tiny shudders echoing though her slight frame, "Yeah."

"Good." Spike pulled the fag out from behind one ear, gave it a puzzled look and then lit up before blowing out a long slow stream of thoughtful smoke rings.

They sat together like this for two fag-lengths before Dawn wetly blew her nose again, "I want to go home now."

"I'll walk you."

"I'm not a baby. I can take care of myself."

"Like Hell I will, pet. If your sister ever found out I'd let you wander around in the dark by yourself, she'd finish the job on me for sure."

"Yeah, right." Dawn grumbled. Still, she let Spike escort her out the door, through the cemetery and all the way home, unmolested, never knowing what dangerous things she walked past unscathed with Spike in no mood to tell her about it until he'd seen her inside the old house on Ravello Drive with nobody the wiser.

From there, after randomly slamming one fist, and then the other through somebody's SUV windshield, the bear took the long way home, boots on autopilot through Sunnydale's back alleys and empty streets slowly digesting what Dawn had said about her mother, bruised and bloody hands deep in pockets, one fag after another.