Dawn lay on her rock hard bed well into the day, hung over. Her head felt like it was too heavy to lift off the pillow. Finally, she stumbled to the Lost in Time café inside the hotel and tried to shove down a donut and coffee. She ended up back in her room on her knees vomiting inside the 'iron maiden,' which was what she had taken to calling the bathroom since she could sit on the toilet and nearly rub knees on the other wall.
It was one in the afternoon by the time she tried to find a way to distract herself. Finding a way to live again was taking a lot of work. Dawn so totally got her sister now, and regretted any impatience she might have had with Buffy back when they had pulled her back into the land of the living.
Dawn wasn't ready for the big crowds of the theme parks. Her short time in New York proved she wasn't into crowds, so she went to the Blue Springs Manatee Festival. It was only a few miles away, and she wanted to see the manatees in the wild. She never did anything normal. She didn't have a life outside of Buffy's little world, no interests that weren't hooked into slaying. Going to see manatees was normal so she wanted to do it, even if she wasn't feeling all that well.
She wandered around the festival. It wasn't very large. Some arts and crafts, some ecological booths, a Native American display and a chance to eat alligator nuggets. If she wasn't still hung over, she might have tried it just to be experimental. She poked around the fairgrounds but the Native American drumming felt like it was going on inside her head so she took the shuttle to the springs. There were too many people, and she had to fight for the glimpse of the manatee she managed to see or at least thought she saw.
It had gotten too hot for her tastes. It really wasn't any hotter than Sunnydale had been but the humidity was overwhelming. It was like trying to breathe through a wet sponge. Winter shouldn't be that hot and humid. She gave up on the rest of the festival. She had seen most of it and as fun as it might be to pose with a Florida Panther, she decided to save the money and grab herself a pizza, feeling up to eating finally, and get out of the sun.
Off a tip from a local, she found Angelina's and got the special. She went back to the Cassadaga Hotel and enjoyed one of the best pies she had ever eaten. It felt good to cool down. Her skin looked a little pink. Dawn knew she shouldn't bitch. Where Buffy was, it was freezing cold. Dawn was learning to enjoy the cold, however. It was easier to warm up than it was to cool down.
Back in England, she'd curl up under the covers with Connor. He was so warm, even if he was nothing but skin and bones. He put out huge amounts of heat. Many nights, she slept with nothing but a sheet over her because of the heat Connor was throwing off.
Dawn thought about what it would be like to curl up with Spike. She knew his flesh would be cool. Buffy, Willow and Faith had been comparing and contrasting lovers once over margaritas. Buffy had invited Dawn to join. Maybe it was the fact Buffy knew Dawn had a lover that earned her the right to sit at the adult table and listen to the big girl talk. Dawn hadn't said much that night but she had listened.
She learned that a vampire didn't get any warmer than the room around them, not even during sex. They remained cool even when they worked up a sweat, that they had a slightly odd odor when they perspired and that they didn't blush. From that, she knew Spike would have a chill to him. He would remain pale, no matter what. He couldn't get that rosy flush that touched Connor's chest and neck when they made love. Connor's lips, always a deep shade of pink, turned ruby when they made out. She could expect no such thing from Spike. It should have put her off but it didn't. The fact that he had been Buffy's lover didn't quell her desire.
Spike was her first real crush. Dawn had distinct memories of having a crush on Xander when she was younger but they had tried to figure out when she had been implanted into Buffy's life. All her childhood memories were fake. No matter how real it felt, her first crush on Xander never happened. Spike came after she had been made flesh. It was real.
But did she want it to be? Could she possibly be in love with him? She was here with him now but Connor kept filtering into her thoughts. She hadn't thought much about Spike when she was with Connor but things were different now. She had been the Key again. She was adrift and she needed an anchor. Dawn knew it couldn't be Connor. He was still pretty rudderless himself.
She was in Florida thinking about him all the while thinking about her feelings for Spike, wondering what he'd feel like, taste like. Was Connor in England wanting her but touching Cally's hair, thinking on the things they shared now that she too grew up in a different dimension? Did he want Cally?
Dawn knew she was being ridiculous. She had always been furious with Buffy for being jealous, and yet here she was, the same way. Connor hadn't ever given her a reasons to be jealous. He was trying to help Cally readjust, and Dawn knew she was transferring a lot of stuff onto their relationship that wasn't real.
Connor just didn't know how to handle her confusion and fear after being the Key. He tried but even when he did what Dawn wanted, she found fault. It was the reason she had gone first to New York. Finding Spike in Florida had ben an after thought. Connor hadn't wanted her to go, but he didn't try to make her stay. He only did what she asked him to, even though he hadn't wanted to. The night before she left, Dawn had all but knocked him down, and had her way with him. She insisted on it being raw and rough, demanding more and more of his strength until he finally said no. It had felt good. The pain made her feel alive. There had been some blood and Connor had freaked out. He never wanted to hurt her and couldn't grasp the concept of a good pain. Would Spike be able to?
Dawn slapped a hand into her forehead. "Gah, I'm going to drive myself nuts."
She got up and took some tourist pamphlets off the dresser. She needed a distraction. Leave it to her to find a hotel that didn't have a tv in the rooms. The candlelight healing services would start soon at Spirit Lake. It was just down the street, behind the Colby Temple.
"I could use a good healing," she muttered to no one and went outside, heading for the lake.
Spirit Lake wasn't big, more like a glorified pond than a lake. In the moonlight, Dawn scanned the lake, wondering if there were any alligators in it. Seeing that all the healers were women over the age of sixty, she decided to not opt for the laying on of hands, half afraid energies like hers might overwhelm the elderly healers.
Spike sat in a rattan chair, smoking on the veranda when Dawn walked back to the hotel. All he needed was a mint julep. He smirked at her. "Never pictured you as the faith healing type."
Dawn shrugged, dropping into the chair next to his. She looked down the hill at Harmony Hall with its bright Christmas lights, which she assumed must stay up all year. "Figured it couldn't hurt."
"Hung over that bad?" Spike looked vaguely amused.
"Yes, thank you." She eyes him sourly.
"Any time, Li'l Bit." Spike went uncharacteristically sober. "Want to talk?"
"About what?" she asked, evasively.
Spike just raised an eyebrow, lighting another cigarette. "Do you remember anything about last night?"
Dawn kept her gaze on the Christmas lights. It was too hard to meet Spike's eyes. They were such a pretty blue, a lot like Connor's. Maybe that was one of the reasons she had picked the young man. Maybe she should stop looking for reasons, similarities and differences between the men. Dawn knew she had choices to make. She could fake not remembering last night and go back to Connor like nothing had happened, or being honest with Spike and see where it led, if it went anywhere. She felt a shiver race through her, suddenly very afraid. "I remember me making an idiot of myself on the veranda, and then there was lots of vomiting that I'd rather forget." she shuddered, screwing up her face.
"I wouldn't say you made an idiot of yourself."
Spike said it so quietly that Dawn had to lean in to hear him. He was forcing her to look at him and it irritated her. He wasn't going to let her off easy. "Maybe I'm remembering it differently than you."
He took a long drag, blowing smoke rings. "You think you're an idiot for liking me? Thanks, Bit, that makes me feel so good."
Dawn felt a flush hit her cheeks. "Well, why shouldn't I feel that way...a little at any rate, given what you are, what you've done, who you've been involved with, were in love with...and maybe still are." Dawn thought she could almost see her words crystalizing in the air. It was all out there now, no taking it back.
Spike just smoked silently for a few minutes. "I'm not in love with Buffy any more, Dawn." Dawn shot him a disbelieving look. He shrugged. "Hell, I'll always have some feeling for her, I won't lie, just like the big Poof does but I know it won't ever work. We brought out the worst in each other. That's the reason I didn't go looking for her after I came back from the dead."
"I did wonder," Dawn said softly.
"I started for Europe but then I thought about it. She was better off without me." He flicked his cigarette away. "Did she tell you that she told me that she loved me there at the end inside the Hellmouth?"
Dawn's gut clenched. She couldn't do this, not if Buffy really did love him. She'd go back to Connor and pretend this never happened. She wondered if she looked as pale as she felt.
Spike brushed her hair back. "Guess she didn't."
"I didn't think she honestly loved you," Dawn managed to squeak out, not meeting his eyes.
"She didn't, still doesn't. I think she knew whoever wore that bauble wasn't bloody coming back from the fight."
"She wouldn't have just sent you to your death." Dawn was horrified by the very idea.
"Sure she would, 'Bit." Spike shifted in the high back rattan chair. "There was no choice. We both knew it. Hell, the big Poof knew when he volunteered for duty, and she told him no. I knew I was signing up for a kamikaze mission."
Dawn contemplated that. If Buffy had known, that meant she wanted Angel to live more so than Spike, or maybe she had planned on wearing it herself, going back into the land of the dead they had dragged her kicking and screaming from. Dawn didn't know which was worse.
"I think she said it because she knew I wanted to hear it." Spike shook his head. "She never could lie to me. She still loves him, Dawn, even if she can't admit it."
"Yeah. I saw that kiss she gave him when he got to Sunnydale." Spike glanced away. "You don't French casual acquaintances. The fire is still there. I was never part of that. She cared for me, Dawn, don't think hard of her for not caring. I offered her what she needed at a very bad time in her life."
"You got your soul for her," she said. Dawn wondered how she had forgotten that or at least not take it into account. How could she compete with the power of emotion that it took to do such a thing?
Spike's eyes went furtive. "I keep telling myself that."
Dawn was stunned that he even suggested that there was another motive. "So, it's not why you did it?"
His knuckles thumped against the table. "I told the creature that did this to me that I wanted to give the bitch what she deserved. Does that sound like love to you?"
Dawn shuddered. "No."
"Didn't plan on this, Dawnie, but I like to pretend I set out to be a poor man's Angel." Spike tapped his chest. "It makes me feel even better about myself. I got my soul because I wanted to, not having it forced on me as a punishment. What a blighter I am. Truth be told, I didn't know what I was getting but in the end, it was good thing. I tried to be a good man for her...for all of you. Angel made it look so easy. I had forgotten how barmy he was when he first go the soul. He's been doing this for a hundred years or so. I never knew it took so much work, to be good."
"It does. I mean, it has to be easier being evil," Dawn broke in. "You don't have to care who might get hurt or any of that stuff."
He bobbed his head. "Exactly."
"Spike, I get that you care for Buffy, but I need to know, did you ever care about me?" Dawn asked softly.
Spike leaned over and kissed her cheek. She knew it would be a cool kiss. She just hadn't known how cold. "Dawn, my girl, I have always cared about you, even before the soul. I cared about each and every Summers girl. Your mum was the first person since I was turned to treat me like a man instead of a monster. If anyone can get credit for saving me, for giving me reason to be a good man, it's Joyce."
Dawn's eyes widened. She had no clue Spike felt like that about her mother. "I know you used to talk to her."
"Maybe more than you knew. I started going to the gallery at night when she'd close so she wouldn't have to be alone during demon time." He shot her a sheepish look. "She'd show me the new art she had. I know it makes me as big a poof as Angel but I like art."
"It doesn't make you a poof." Dawn smiled. "It's sweet."
He pointed at her with his cigarette. "That's worse. Anyhow we'd talk. You have no idea how good it feels to have an adult to talk to. Tried it once or twice with Rupert since he's in the same position, surrounded by teens, but Watchers and vampires just don't mix. Your mum knew what I was but she never was afraid of me." A scowl touched his lips. "It irritated me at first, like I was losing my touch or something but I got past it and realized 'hey, it's nice to have someone to share a cuppa with.' It hurt when she died. You might not know it, but I tried to go to the funeral. Harris stopped me."
Dawn sucked in a gulp of air. "Why?"
"Because I'm a vampire. Hurts like bloody hell. He even trampled my flowers." Spike's lower lip quivered. "I was gonna show up and read my poem at the grave, the one your mum liked best. She liked my poetry but Angel was there with your sis and she needed that time with him so I didn't intrude. I went the next day alone. That was for the best. Didn't need Harris to see me blubbering anyhow." Spike smoothed an imaginary wrinkle in his shirt, deep green a color Dawn had never seen him in before.
"I didn't know Mom liked your poetry. Will you read some to me?" Dawn rested her hand over his on the dented and scratched patio table.
"If you promise not to laugh. My poetry is an acquired taste, I guess. Dru and Joyce liked it. Most everyone else just laughed." Spike lit up another cigarette. "Peaches confessed to liking it, made me feel all warm inside." He smirked.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "I would never laugh, Spike, even if I didn't like it. That would be mean. I know how I'd feel if someone laughed at my art. It's hard enough knowing Connor doesn't understand my stuff, even if he doesn't laugh." Dawn gnawed her lip. 'Stupid, don't bring up your current lover to the man you want to be your new one.'
Spike took a long, smooth drag. "The kid's all rough edges, 'Bit. Getting dragged up in hell didn't give him a background to appreciate art. You just have to polish him." Spike snorted. "Not that I'm sure there's enough polish in the world to turn that unnatural brat into a diamond."
Dawn eyed him sourly. "Look who's talking...still, sometimes diamonds in the rough are nice. And you will read me your poetry." She licked her lips hesitantly. "Spike, I'm very glad you were there for Mom, really."
He nodded. "She was a hell of a woman, just like her daughters. You asked me how I felt about you...sort of thought it was clear. You've always been special, Pet. I was willing to die for you, twice. You're just like your mum. You never treated me like a monster...until I did what I did to Buffy. And I deserved every bit of your hatred for that."
"I just don't understand how it got that out of control." Dawn hated thinking about that night. Part of her wished she never found out but mostly she was glad she had. She didn't want to be wearing blinders, not for any man.
Spike whipped the butt of his cigarette away. "I've been haunted by that since it happened. The conclusion is ugly. I'm an obsessive bastard, Pet." He held up a hand against her protest. "Don't argue, Dawn. If you're going to entertain any of those emotions you have for me, you need to understand what I really am."
Her eyes slotted. "And you think you're an obsessive bastard."
"I know it. Look at the evidence. I was too mild-mannered to stalk Cicely but all my poetry was for her. I couldn't let her go, even though I knew I wasn't in her league. It killed me quite literally. I ran from her, right into Dru's arms. My obsession didn't end with the grave. I destroyed Cicely. I mean, she turned into a vengeance demon. I had to be responsible for that somehow. I made Dru my new obsession. I told your sister I was helping her stop Angelus because I wanted to save the world. I figure the world would be a lot less fun if this was hell, but the real reasons is I wanted Dru to myself. I wanted Angelus gone. Buffy pegged it for what it was instantly. I guess she could hardly forget I summoned the Judge to destroy humanity just to give Dru a good birthday."
"That was for her birthday?" Dawn shuddered.
Spike nodded, grimly. "Everything I did was to make Dru happy then the obsession transferred to Buffy. Maybe it was her Slayerness. I've always had a thing for Slayers. Maybe it was I always have to have what Angel's had, or maybe there was love from the start. No matter, it went cock up, and I'm the one who buggered the relationship. She's better off without me."
Dawn wondered if he was giving her a graceful out. Here's the ugly truth now run while you can girl. Dawn wasn't in the running mood. "Are you sure of that?"
Spike snorted. "It was never going to be a healthy thing, Dawn. It had roots in her despair, and it went to hell from there. If it weren't for you being turned into the bloody Key, Buffy would still be avoiding me and this time, I'm taking the hint. The last time I went all around the bend trying to get my woman to love me again I ended up chipped then souled and the fun was over." He smirked, wiggling his eyebrows.
Dawn rolled her eyes. "Incorrigible."
"Sounds like Rupert talking. Ah, 'Bit, I'm a bad, rude man, been that way a very long time, but you never seemed to mind, always hanging out in my crypt. Damn, your sister started using me as a bleeding babysitter. Why I put up with being treated like that, I'll never know."
"You loved it. And I didn't need a baby-sitter," Dawn huffed, watching him puffing up his chest in mock indignity. "And that's not why I stayed with you all those afternoons."
"I know that, 'Bit." He ran a hand through his hair. "If I had even thought to act on those feelings of yours, the Slayer would have killed me and been slow about it."
Dawn pursed her lips. "You're probably right."
"No probablies about it."
"It didn't stop me from feeling that way." She wanted to grab him, make him feel that love.
"The heart wants what it wants. Emotions are stronger than logic, Pet. Anyone who tells you different is a fool," Spike said. "But you were just a kid. Okay, in my mortal days you would have been marrying age but that's not how things are done any more."
"I'm not a kid any more," Dawn said softly, feeling her pulse picking up.
He looked at her, brushing her hair back. "No, you're not."
"And I still want you."
She leaned over the table and kissed him. She broke the kiss, getting up. Dawn took his hand and pulled him to his feet. She kissed him again, more warmly, so to speak. He tasted like an ashtray but she could get used to that, she assured herself.
"Dawn, are you sure?" He sounded gentle, sweet, unsure of himself. It was a vulnerability she had heard in him only a few times.
"You said it yourself, you were willing to die for me. How can we not explore this?" She rested her head against his shoulder. "Come inside."
Her hands shook as she led him into the tiny hotel room. Once the veranda door closed, there would be no going back, no undoing things. Spike just looked at her for a moment, giving her that time to change her mind. She didn't take it.
They made love on her rock hard bed with the ceiling fan's pull chain hula-ing above them. He took it slow and tender. The cool skin was a distraction but not as bad as she would have thought. She was right where she wanted to be, with whom she wanted to be with. When he finally had to leave a little before sunrise, she let him go reluctantly before dropping off contentedly. It was all she had dreamed and more.
She waited for him just like she said she would, a half hour past sundown. Mosquitos buzzed lazily in her ear as she stood on the veranda. He was late so she took a walk around the narrow very 1920's hallways of the hotel, and Spike shocked her by being in her room when she got back. He was packing her bags. She shut the door behind her, mouth standing open.
He looked up as he zipped her bag. "It wasn't locked in any serious way."
"Why are you packing my luggage?" Her voice was tight, her heart thudding.
"Because you're going home to London," he replied.
Dawn grabbed his hand, yanking him away. "No, I'm not."
"Yes, you are. I'm going to continue to look for that ruddy book, and you're going back where you belong."
"I belong with you." Dawn felt the tears pricking her eyes. How could he do this to her?
"You belong home, Dawn. You have too much unfinished business there." His eyes were flat, no emotion, like he had found a way to shear it out of his soul.
"Is this because you think I'm using you to get back at Connor? I know you felt Buffy used you but I would never do that," she said, her voice getting shrill.
He went over to her, cupping her chin. "I know. But you have a young man waiting for you back home. You owe it to him to tell him to his face that it's over. Remember how Buffy was gutted when Soldier Boy just left or the Poof taking off without much warning?"
Dawn bit her lips, tears trickling down her cheeks. "I remember."
"A terrible traumatic thing just happened to you, Dawn. You needed last night. I'm not going to argue that but you still need to pull your life together. Starting this in the middle of that...I've already been down that road a time or two. It's not the way to start. I should have remembered that last night and just said no." He wiped away her tears. "I didn't and I'm sorry."
She hugged him fiercely. "I'm not."
"And if you're still not in the future, then we can try this. Give yourself time to really think about what you want, Dawn. Think about the repercussions. Save yourself some heartaches."
"You walk out that door without me...how does that save me heartache?" she whispered.
"It's not forever, 'Bit." He kissed her. "You need to recover more. You're still too raw."
Dawn grabbed his hand, not willing to let him go. "And if I say I'm not?"
"I'll know when you really mean it." He smiled at her and headed out onto the veranda, his fingers slipping out of hers.
Dawn collapsed on the bed, smothering her cries in the floral bed cover. She could smell his cigarette wafting back to her, like a siren's call. She knew he wouldn't budge on this. She knew how stubborn he could be and damn him if he wasn't right. But that didn't mean it didn't hurt. God, it hurts. He was gone, for now leaving her with the sound of silence. It was crushing.
The noon sun found her over the Atlantic, but a large part of her was mired in Florida. She knew he would come back to her if she wanted him to. Time heals all wounds, whoever said that was an idiot but love endures, she reminded herself. She would take her time to heal and deep down she knew who would be at her side when the healing was done.