Disclaimer: All belongs to a man named Joss.

Reading Between the Lines

He should have known. It was always this way with him, he completely forgot to look the gift horse in the mouth. He just thought he had her. Thought she was his girl. But he was just her toy. Even after being exposed, she still wouldn't accept him into her life. She wouldn't allow him to mix together.

Kind of like blood and alcohol. The blood was supposed to be hot but it was cold. The liquor was supposed to be cold but it was room temperature. Still, when he mixed it and sipped it down, the burn from the alcohol almost made him believe he was drinking the blood of something truly powerful instead of a butchered animal. He could pretend, for a little while, that he was himself again. But it was just a bloody illusion. Literally.

"Does it help?"

Had he been a lesser vamp, he would have jumped. Since when did Dawn get good at sneaking up on people? Last he recalled, she was all teenager- gawky limbs and awkward shifting.

"Doesn't hurt," he replied.

When he looked over his shoulder at her, he barely recognized her. Sure, she has the facade of a teenager girl on, and even now, as she shifted he could see the echo of the child she had been. But when her eyes met his head on without fear or judgment, he saw the woman she was to become. She was right in between, not night or day. She was dawn.

He smirked to himself- he must be drunker than he thought. He glanced up and noticed that he had been quiet for too long.

"Not planning a camp-out, are we?" he asked, glancing at the bag in her hand.

Dawn shakes her head. "No. I'm sleeping over Janice's. Figure Willow and Tara might want some time to, um..."

The blush on her cheek is telling. Even after her wild activity on Halloween, his girl was all purity deep down. He found himself wondering how untouched she really was. Glad that she was going to a friend's house. Jealous because someone else had kissed her first.

"Oh, so the birds are flying again, eh? Ain't love grand."

Even he could hear how bitter he was. He couldn't even hide his emotions anymore. He was the big bad and here he was, sulking, because two witches were going at it and he was alone. There was a time when having a bed mate wouldn't have been a question- he was more concerned with when, where, and how many. God, he was pathetic. He collapsed into his chair, too embarrassed to even meet Dawn's gaze.

"I wanted to stop by on my way and, you know..."

He could feel her trying to get him to meet her gaze. He hated that she still cared about him because it made him feel human in the worst of ways. He felt guilty because he had promised to protect her and here she was, stopping by to make sure that he was okay.

"Everybody's pretty mad at you," she finished, shifting closer to him.

"Yeah. Kinda picked up on that." Was she mad at him too?

And then the unexpected happened.

"You're not going to be coming around anymore, are you?"

She sounded so heart broken. Had he really forgotten how much this girl had depended on him during the summer? How she had kept him from meeting the sun countless times, had managed to make him laugh, and tolerated his mood swings? Had he forgotten how she had fit in his arms the many times he had to hold her in her sleep to keep away her nightmares, how he kept her eating and eventually even functioning somewhat normally? How he and Dawn would find each other at night, staring into Buffy's bedroom and wordlessly hold hands until the sun came up?

He had forgotten her. So wrapped up in blonde hair and slayer blood- so wrapped up in trying to force a woman to love him when a girl had all ready placed all her trust in him.

"It's... complicated, Nibblet."

She laughed. Now she was the one who was bitter. He could sense the anger coming off of her.

"Everybody's been saying that," she bit off, clearly displeased.

"Must be true then," he muttered into his glass.

He didn't think complicated even summed up the emotional whirlpool he had just stumbled upon, wave after wave of forgotten and repressed memories crashing into him and drowning him in his own guilt and self-disgust. Maybe if she left he could make it stop.

"Was it worth it? What you did with Anya?"

He nearly spit his drink out. He almost forgot that he taught the Bit how to play poker and how, surprisingly, for a girl who lies as well as her sister, she had an excellent poker face. She had played him now as she had played him dozens of times. Start off with a bang, show the soft of her belly and those innocent baby blues, and then she would mercilessly seize him by the balls with an ace in the hole.

"Buffy told you?" he sputtered, eyes meeting hers.

Again, she blushed. "Kinda caught the show. There was a camera somewhere in the Magic Box. Warren and Jonathan and... that other guy have been watching Buffy."

"Wankers!"

Now as he observed the blush coloring her cheeks, he couldn't help but wonder what she had been thinking as she saw him fuck Anya. But the blush cleared and steel came into her eyes that he was familiar with. It was the same look that she had when she told Giles that they had to move Buffy's body. When she had grabbed him by the collar of his duster and yelled at him to get into the fucking building now before the sun decided to turn him to ash and took another person away from her.

She moved closer to him and god help him, he couldn't meet her gaze again.

"Do you love her?" she asked quietly. The pain that rolled off of her made his stomach clench.

"Oh no. No," he comforted, using the voice he knew she liked. "It was just a... It was a bad day. For both of us. And we just had a few drinks and, things just-"

"No," Dawn interrupted, surprising him for the second time that evening. "Not Anya."

His eyes snapped to her face to try to decipher her meaning, but she refused to meet his gaze. He could see the tears welling up in her eyes and her determination not to let any fall.

"Do you really love her?" her chin was trembling slightly and he could hear her voice getting choked up.

And then she looked at him and he felt like a downright selfish bastard because all the pain he thought he had been feeling up to now was being reflected right back at him but he hadn't a clue it even existed until this point. At least Buffy had known how he felt. Sure, she had decided to use that to her advantage and amusement, but she had known. Spike wondered how long Dawn had been sitting in silence and loving him, waiting for him to see her as he stared at Buffy and wondered the same thing.

"Dawn..." he whispered.

"Then how could you do that to her?" A tear slipped down her face and he found himself rising, standing before her.

"How could you?" she accused.

His hand reached out to... he didn't know. Pull her into an embrace, wipe her tears away, cup her cheek. To touch her in anyway to let her know that he did care. But she pushed him away, just like Buffy did.

Anger unfurled in his stomach and he found himself snarling her name.

She met his gaze unflinchingly. "I don't know what happened between you two. But what you did last night..."

She cocked her head at him and raised an eyebrow in a look that he knew mirrored his own too well. "If you wanted to hurt her, congratulations. It worked."

He could sense her urge to leave, could see that whatever strength she had pulled from to deliver that final killing blow was crumbling fast and leaving her with no resolve. As she turned away from him, he saw another tear falling down her face. Too fast for her to stop him, he moved so that he was blocking her way and pulled her into his arms.

Immediately she was fighting him, desperately squirming and throwing out punches that were poorly aimed and had all the strength in the world behind them. He could hear her when she started to cry in earnest and he tightened his hold on her. Suddenly her hands stopped hitting him and instead she curled her fists in his shirt and held him firmly against her. She was love's bitch, just like him. Fire would burn her again and again, but she would go back and beg for more.

Finally she had cried herself out and he was able to scoop her up easily. She was lighter than air and he almost walloped himself when he realized just how poorly his girl had been taken care of. He sat back down in the armchair with the Nibblet curled tightly in his lap.

"I'm so sorry, Bit," he breathed into her hair.

"I hate her," she whimpered, her fists tightening.

He shook his head, kissing her hairline. "No you don't, baby."

"I do. I hate her because I love her so much even after what she's done to me and to you. To all of us. She just... uses people up. She wants our love only when it's okay for her and when she doesn't, we may as well not exist. I kept waiting for her to come back to me, to let me in the way she did after mom died. I would dream night after night that she would return to us, but I didn't realize it would be this."

"A nightmare," Spike finished.

The feelings she spoke of matched his so closely he ached. As he gazed down at the girl who was barely still a girl, he wondered why it had never occurred to him to place his affections on the younger Summers. She was more his type- pale skin, dark hair, fragile with an uncontrollable power trapped inside. Incredibly strong, fierce and fiery and yet so easy to break. And he was the one breaking her.

"Make it stop, Spike. Make these feelings stop. Tell me how to make it stop."

She wasn't talking about Buffy.

He looked at her. "I don't know how, Dawn."

Slowly, she pulled away from him. He let her slide from his arms and into a standing position. But she didn't walk away like he expected. Instead, she took his hand in hers and smiled softly at him.

"You know, I've had trouble sleeping ever since this summer. I guess I got so used to you squishing into my bed with me that it felt too big without you," she laughed a little at herself and looked away.

"Please make the nightmares go away. Just for tonight," she whispered. "Let me pretend just this once that I'm your girl."

He thought about denying her, but the words died on his lips. How could he deny her when he had begged for the same thing a thousand times from Buffy, hoping that the make pretend would turn into something real.

He stood and he saw her flinch, expecting a rejection. Made him feel all the more like a bastard for considering it.

He cupped her jaw and tilted her face to meet his. "You've always been my girl."

His lips swept against hers feather-light before he led her downstairs. He tucked her tightly into his bed before tucking her even tighter into his arms. She snuggled into him, her body fitting against his just so.

They laid together in silence for a while and he could feel her body slowly relax against him. He had almost forgotten how peaceful this was, how easy it was for him to be lulled into his own sleep by her soft heartbeat. Buffy didn't like to be held- she rarely slept beside him and when she did, she slept as far away as she could without falling off whatever surface she was on. Her body never fully relaxed and a wrinkle persisted even as she slept, just between her eyes. Dawn's face was the picture of serenity and even if he closed his eyes and tried to convince himself that somehow this long-limbed nymph in his arms was the solid and strong Amazon he craved, the scent of the sun that just clung to Dawn's skin would give it away. Buffy was all vanilla and honey- but Dawn smelled like her namesake. With her in his arms, he could remember what the sun felt like before it burned him. He breathed her in and bathed in her warmth- this was Dawn.

Before he knew what he was doing, he had mouthed a few words into her ear, glad that he had enough sense not to voice them.

But she must have felt them being pressed into her heart because she sleepily replied,

"I love you too."

When she woke up, he would be gone. She would hate him again, he knew, but this was something he had to do. If he stayed in Sunnydale, the cycle would continue on until one or all of them did something that they would regret. So he would leave. He would become a better man.

Not because she asked him to. But because he had to.

For her.

.end.