Title:  What Comes Next

Author:  Diva Stardust

Rating:  PG-13

Summary:  What comes after "The Gift".  Spike and Dawn friendship.

Distribution:  Just ask first if you want to archive this somewhere, please. I will most likely say yes!

Disclaimer:  All characters belong to Joss Whedon, Marti Noxon, Mutant Enemy, UPN, FOX, etc. I'm not making any money off this.

Acknowledgements:  Thanks to Spikeyvamp for the beta!

~*~*~*~*~

It hung in her closet like a shroud.

Dawn hadn't known what to do with it. No one wanted to talk about it after they came home. She took a bath and tried to wash the smell of failure and guilt off her. It wouldn't come off. The scent of bitter sadness filled every bubble, every tiny soap sud that Dawn tried to count so she wouldn't think about other things. She kneeled in the tub so she wouldn't get her bandages wet; so they wouldn't unravel and come undone. Everything else already had.

Spike stood outside her door, guarding her in silence like a wounded soldier. When she came out in fresh clothes that smelled of things that were gone, like hope and sunshine, and asked him what she should do with it he didn't have any answers. His hand was bloody and shaking when he touched it. His knuckles so badly scraped you could almost see the bone. For the first time ever he really did look like death.

His eyes looked like the ocean at night. Dark blue and watery as his head moved tentatively upwards and looked at her. It was hard to look at Spike's face like that. He looked the way she looked. Like an open wound, their eyes conveying too much.

Spike moved his hand from it to her cheek. Rubbing his palm against her skin, dried blood meeting tear stains. She wondered if she felt the same as it, if her skin felt like damaged velvet and satin.

"I don't know what to do with it," she said quietly, her voice shaky. "I don't know what to do," she said, sounding scared.

His thumb rubbed at a sensitive spot underneath her eye where tears had fallen like rainwater earlier. "Me neither, Sweet Bit."

Dawn was lost and so was he. Both without ties to the world now, floating aimlessly without a home. "What are we going to do, Spike?"

He said nothing, the silence filling the hallway completely. "What are we going to do without her?" she asked, begging him for answers.

The dress fell from her hands as he pulled her towards him. She was shaking as he held her against him, hugging her for the first time. At first his hands moved awkwardly against her back as if he didn't know how to touch her, didn't know how to hold a girl as broken as he was, but then he relaxed and everything felt natural. His hand was steady now as it moved against her hair, stroking it with care. Maybe they could belong to each other she thought. Their jagged, broken pieces fitting together to form something that didn't hurt so much.

Spike's voice said comforting things into her hair even though his voice still sounded scared and unsure. Things about protection until the world of the world and promises that would always be kept. The sound mixed in with the voices downstairs. Everyone trying so hard to be quiet but failing. All of them arguing about what was to be done with her and about what they were going to do next.

It seemed no one knew where she should go. If she should stay here, or be sent to a father that had stopped caring about her a long time ago, or maybe somewhere else new entirely. Spike's voice sounded like a tiny pearl of hope that she clung to desperately as it told her that he'd take care of her no matter where she went.

Dawn didn't tell him that she thought he needed to be taken care of too. She kept her thoughts about how they could take care of each other silent, unspoken. She wanted to look after someone else's wounds besides her own and wanted to have a friend that hadn't been created for her.

When she went inside her bedroom to go to sleep Spike stood outside her door, unmoving and determined to stay where he was. She could hear everyone outside her room arguing about how he should go home and look after his own wounds but he refused to budge. Finally yelling for the first time about how he wasn't going to leave her; he wasn't going to fail this time. Everything was quiet again as they left him there and silently made their way down the stairs, trying to figure out what came next.

Dawn took her bloody dress with the slashes in it and hung it up in her closet before getting into bed.