A/N: Three things you should know about my Buffy Fic. I can't get away from the summer after The Gift; I can't escape Spike; and I can't do anything but angst.

Enjoy.

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"What does it feel like?"

The words jar Spike so badly that he almost leaps from his seat.

For a full week his companion has been completely silent...Dawn hasn't said a word since Buffy...

Since Buffy...

Well, she hasn't said anything in seven days. That's what counts.

And now, with the house empty save for himself and the bit...now that the people who've been so worried about her near catatonia are out of earshot...

Now she speaks...

Typical that he hasn't a bloody clue what she's talking about.

After the initial knee jerk reaction, he composes himself well enough to slip back into cool, unaffected vampire mode.

If Dawn notices the slight shake to his hand when he reaches into his pocket and retrieves a cigarette, she has the decency not to say anything. He lights it and takes a drag, remembering the frown that Joyce would have graced him with, had she been here to see his current course of action, and a smile almost touches his lips.

He can remember Joyce fondly now; but the wound for Buffy is still too fresh to allow him any feeling of pleasant nostalgia--no matter how brief it may be.

"You'll have to be a tad more specific," he replies in a measured tone, hoping to force her into talking again, rather than sliding back into whatever darkness had consumed her for the past week. "What does what feel like, pet?"

Her voice is but a whisper when she speaks next, the word coming out on the wings of a sigh. "Dying."

Without thinking about it, he gets up, crosses the room and parks himself next to her on the sofa, where she sits with her knees drawn up to her chest and her arms wrapped around her thighs. She's trying to make herself as small and unnoticeable as possible, though her words demand attention from him. Perhaps, somehow, she thinks that by drawing in on herself physically, it will make her emotionally charged question seem smaller…perhaps she feels as though by whispering some of the impact will drain away and he won't deny giving her the answer she seeks.

Spike reaches over and cups her chin in his hand delicately, bringing her to face him head on.

"Why do you want to know that, platelet?"

Her eyes snap to his, and he locks onto the large, doe-like orbs that stare at him, brimming with a week's worth of unshed tears.

The demon within him sees that look and rages to get out…to have such unabashed, unadulterated innocence sitting next to him calls to the deepest part of the beast inside, but the warning tingles in his brain courtesy of the chip keep the bloodthirsty animal caged.

Dawn draws in a shuddering, steadying breath and blinks a few times, trying to regain control of her emotions and keep the tears from slipping down her face. Her eyes burn as she fails, and her nostrils flare at the sudden scent of salt that comes with the breaking of her emotional dam.

"I…I want to know if it hurt…if it hurt when Buffy…" A hard lump forms in her throat and she tries to force it down so she can speak. "When Buffy…"

Her bottom lip trembles and her eyes slide shut, water slipping out from between her lashes as she struggles with herself; desperate to remain strong and act like an adult, but equally desperate to throw herself at the nearest source of strength she can find and weep until she can't breathe anymore.

Spike gathers her up in his arms and shifts her into his lap, cradling her with tenderness that should not be possible for a man without a soul; but he senses that she needs this, and the moment she is safe in the circle of his embrace, all of her brave little soldier façade falls away.

Dawn shakes and cries, and sniffles into his shirt, and he sits quietly, reassuringly strong as he whispers nothings into her ear that have no real meaning but make her feel better none-the-less.

His fingers spear through her hair as he rocks her slightly, and waits for the opportunity to speak to present itself once she's all cried out.

It takes close to half an hour for her breathing to turn from short pants between sobs into slower, more regular breaths between sniffles, but when she rubs her face against his neck--sand and grit from her eyes scraping across his clod flesh, he knows she's finally reached her limit and has run out of tears.

"It should have been me, Spike."

His jaw clenches, then relaxes, and he shoves down the selfish part of him that almost wishes that it had been Dawn instead of Buffy to take that leap.

Spike can't bring himself to comfort her on this point, so he glosses over the statement with a single shouldered shrug. "Don't be daft, pet. It shouldn't have been anyone. There's nobody alive who should've had to make that sort of sacrifice…nobody; and definitely not you."

She sniffles again. "Not Buffy, either."

He speaks softly when she curls closer to him, hanging on for dear life as she takes unsteady gulps of air. "No, not B--" his voice tries to crack as he stumbles over the opening syllable to her name, and he covers it with a swift change of word: "No, not her either."

"It's not fair, Spike."

"No…it's not." He leans his head to one side so that his cheek rests on her hair.

Her voice is meek when she returns to her original question, maybe fearing that it will set off another weeping fit, maybe fearing what the answer will be. "Do…do you think it hurt, Spike?"

"No, nibblet, no...a death like that doesn't hurt the one dying." He strokes her hair and leaves the rest of his sentence unspoken, though he cannot deny the words within the confines of his mind as he holds the deceptively delicate last of the Summers women in his arms like the world's most coveted treasure.

It's just hell on those left behind.