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Spoiler Warning: If you haven't seen the fifth season finale of Buffy and don't want it spoiled, DO NOT READ FURTHER! This picks up within two or three days of the finale.

Time: Just after the end of Fifth Season
Place: Sunnydale

Runaway Dawn

Willow opened her eyes to the urgent sound of her lover's voice demanding that she wake up. She looked into the worried eyes of Tara. "What?" she asked muzzily, wishing she could go back to sleep. Sleep was safe.

"She's gone." Tara looked unhappy.

"I know," Willow agreed softly, her eyes filling with tears at the thought, at finding the empty hole in her existence that had been filled by a friend.

"No! Not Buffy. Dawn - Dawn's gone!"

Willow's eyes widened and she sat up abruptly. "What?" She looked around wildly, as though maybe the young girl had hidden herself somewhere Tara hadn't found yet. She flopped back against the pillows feeling foolish. There weren't a lot of hiding places in the apartment.

"She can't be." She wasn't certain whether she was reassuring herself or Tara.

Willow threw off the thick comforter and got out of bed, the hem of the night t-shirt she wore slid down her trim legs to her ankles. A part of her mind chuckled again at how it always ended up around her hips while she slept. Fully awake, she looked around and confirmed that there was no fifteen-year-old, dark haired, orphaned and alone girl hiding in the apartment.

"Breakfast?" she grasped at straws.

Tara shook her head. "I don't think so. Her back pack is gone."

"School."

"She's on leave. I - I tried - a finding spell."

Willow's already pale face dropped two shades of color. She shook her head, her deep red, shag cut hair falling in her face. "No - "

"She's alive," Tara hurried to assure her, stepping close and putting her arms around the more potent witch. "I'm just not sure where."

They blinked back tears, swallowed hard and decided that Giles, Buffy's Watcher – ex-Watcher - was the man for the mission. Whatever the mission was. Half an hour later, they burst into the Magic Box, Willow blurting out her news and fears before she realized that there was something seriously wrong.

Rupert Giles, looking as though all the life had been drained out of him, was packing. Anya, his able, if somewhat odd, assistant stood behind the counter looking woe-begone.

Willow stopped moving and talking. "Giles?"

He stopped also, a book half in the box on the table. He blinked uncertainly. His heart was hollow. He felt as though the light had gone out of the world. Finally, he set the book next to its fellows in the box and turned to look at Willow. The despair in her face was like a physical blow. "Willow. Tara," he greeted them. It occurred to him how much the insecure red haired techno-pagan had changed in the few short years they'd known each other. She had grown into a lovely young woman with abilities far beyond her years. Standing there, haloed by the light from the doorway, he was struck by her presence. It hurt to see her without - yet it made his heart glad as well.

"Giles - you're - packing?" she said uncertainly.

"Uhm - yes."

"Giles, you can't. Dawn -"

"Is perfectly safe now. The - crisis is over."

"Giles! This is Sunnydale!"

"Er - uhm - yes. Well, - yes." He had to concede, she had a point. Leaving the "key" in Sunnydale could be a problem. But a Watcher without a Slayer was - summoned home. This time, very swiftly. The Council was disturbed. Under normal circumstances... But what had ever been normal where Buffy was concerned? When a Slayer died, a new Slayer was called. Buffy had died at the hands of the Master, five years ago. Kendra had come. Then Faith when Kendra died.

Faith.

Faith was still alive, awaiting trial for the murder of one of the Mayor's assistants. The Council deemed her too flawed, too twisted to use and let her stay in jail, awaiting her fate. The world was effectively without a Slayer. Buffy's death defeating the mad god Glory and her servants had not triggered the calling of another Slayer. The Council was frightened.

He stopped and wiped his glasses, replacing them carefully and meeting Willow's wide, panicked gaze. "Well, I suppose Dawn will go to - her father."

"She's gone," Tara broke in, realizing that Willow was bereft of speech.

"What do you mean, gone?" Giles asked with a frown. Could the key have returned to its original form when the menace was over?

"She left. She - we – searched - the house. She's not there." They looked at each other as though trying to figure something out. There had been something missing at Buffy's house, if only they could figure out what.

The door to the shop opened and closed. A compactly built young man with unruly dark hair and bruised looking eyes walked in. He went to Anya who managed a tremulous smile for him. Her heart warmed at the sight of him, as his did for her. "Hi."

"Xander. Dawn - "

"What?" He wasn't ready for a new threat, not yet.

"She's gone," Tara chimed in. She was beginning to feel like a CD with a scratch.

For a moment, he just stood there, focusing on something just beyond his beloved. Then he turned and faced them. He sighed. "So's Spike." The words hung in the air for a long time.

"Spike?" Giles repeated. He wished he could focus better. He hated sounding so fogged.

"Yeah. I - ah - well, he was a lot of help," Xander found himself saying defensively. "So - I stopped by his - place. It's empty."

Even Anya looked concerned at that. Spike had taken an incredible amount of damage in the final battle with Glory and with her snaky minion. His left leg was smashed. In the aftermath of the battle, Giles had seen the angular vampire back to his crypt. There had been some concern among them that Spike would just sit there by Buffy's body and wait for the sun. Buffy and Spike had come an understanding that had included the difficult vampire in the group working to stop Glory. They all knew that he had been captured by the mad goddess and tortured. He'd refused to tell her where to find the key, risking his existence to keep Dawn safe. Giles had felt concern over the demon's continued survival.

As drained as they were by losing the Slayer, Spike had not resisted going back to his crypt. He'd stayed there ever since, lying on top of the coffin, looking dead, his eyes filled with a pain that made the humans want to turn away.

Tara and Willow looked at each other and frowned. They knew Spike fancied himself in love with Buffy. Even now they had a hard time accepting that the vampire could actually be in love with the Slayer, conveniently overlooking Angel. After all, Angel had a soul. He had an excuse. Spike - well, Spike was Spike. But he'd displayed a soft spot for both Buffy's mother, Joyce, and for Dawn herself.

"You don't think -?"

Willow shrugged her shoulders helplessly. "I don't know. Maybe. He – "

Xander stepped into the breach. "I gave my word to a lady," he echoed the vampire's words softly. They all looked to Giles who suddenly felt very, very old.

##################

Spike was walking. He was a somber figure in a black leather long riders coat over black long sleeved t-shirt, black trousers, and black boots, his platinum blonde hair slicked back over his skull. His eyes were embers burning in sunken sockets. If he noticed anyone as he passed, he didn't show it. All he could see was her, lying there, perfect, lifeless. She looked like she was asleep, that was all. But there was no breath in her, no heartbeat, nothing. The spirit that burned so bright was gone.

It had hurt to lose Angelus. It hurt to lose Drusilla, his maker. Those were pinpricks against this aching emptiness, this feeling of raging disbelief. They had fought a fucking goddess and won. But the cost, the terrible cost.

He literally walked into the side of Joyce's car. Thunk. For a moment it didn't register. Then he looked, focused, frowned. He tried the door handle. It was unlocked. The keys were in the ignition. He stared at them for a moment, slid into the driver's seat and turned the key. The engine purred to life. Maybe somewhere else there was life, purpose. Sunnydale was dead. He was so involved in his own misery, he didn't notice the girl asleep in the back seat as he set out. The nose of the car pointed west when he backed out of the drive. West it was.

Sunrise caught him off guard, mesmerized by the flow of the highway under his wheels.

The first rays of the sun peeked over the horizon. What was this? A vampire on wheels? Windows unprotected? The edge of the sun lifted over the horizon sending its deadly rays flashing ahead of it, right through the back window and catching Spike in the back of the head. His hair began to smoke and sizzle.

"Shit!" He yanked the wheel to the right, throwing the car off the road as he applied the brakes. It was a wonder he didn't roll it right down the embankment. He ducked down on the seat, temporarily sheltered. He blinked. The sun. It was a temptation. Just get out of the car, stand there, let the heat and fire take him.

Only it wouldn't take him to her. Nothing would take him to her. No matter where he went, he would be alone, without her light.

A grumpy noise from the back seat startled him. "Who's back there?" he demanded, his empty heart suddenly cold.

Another noise, an uncomprehending, waking up noise. Someone sat up. Dark hair, rumpled from sleep, a slender dirty hand pushed it out of the young face. Dark eyes blinked down at him in puzzled incomprehension. The eyes were red rimmed with crying, tears starting even now as she remembered. She blinked, clearing her vision. "Spike?"

Dawn. "What the bloody hell are you doing in here?" he hissed. But he knew. He knew the hollow, the pain, the loss and he suddenly knew why he was still here. Dawn. That lot figured she was safe, didn't they. She was just a kid to be sent off to her Dad now that Mom and Sis were dead. But that wasn't the answer, was it? And here he was, stupidly stuck in the front seat of a car with the sun coming up.

"Dawn," his voice was more reasonable now.

"Yeah."

"The sun's up."

"Yeah?" She was still a bit out of it.

Spike sighed. Dawn looked around. They weren't in Sunnydale any more. "Spike."

"Yeah, lil bit?"

"Won't you burn?"

"Probably."

"Can't we do something?" He could hear the fine edge of panic in her voice.

"It's all right, darlin'. I'm fine as long as it doesn't touch me."

"Well, that's great for now, but it moves."

"Can you drive?"

"What?"

"Can - you - drive?"

"Yeah -" she said uncertainly.

"Good. You crawl up here and you can drive us into the next town."

"Oh - OK."

She clambered over into the driver's seat. She swallowed hard and looked at the dash display as though she'd never seen it before in her life. She couldn't keep from wondering how Spike could fit his six foot frame into the tiny area under the dash on the passenger side of the car. He looked gaunt, skin over bone, the bruises left from the last fight still hard dark places on his too fair skin.

"OK," she said with a shaky breath. "I can do this. It's in Park. Turn the key." The sound of the engine was a nice, normal sound. "Foot on the brake. Put it gently in D for Drive." The engine sound changed slightly, but not badly. She checked her rear view mirror and looked back along the empty highway before gingerly removing her foot from the brake. The car moved. Her hands convulsively tightened on the steering wheel, jerking it a bit to the left. The car moved onto the highway. She worked to keep it in the straight lane.

"Loosen up."

"What?" She looked down at Spike, her hands following her gaze.

His hand shot up and corrected their course so they didn't end up in the ditch. "Keep it straight and relax."

Her eyes had jerked back up onto the highway. She nodded, carefully and struggled to relax the muscles of her arms. After a few minutes, she succeeded. A tentative smile curved her full lips. "Hey, I'm doing it."

"Yeah, you are."

She was aware of his gaze resting on her, watching her, guarding her. Even scrunched up under the dash his presence was a comfort. Although not as much of a comfort as it could have been when she negotiated the off ramp into the next little town. She checked them into a motel. The incurious clerk took her money without asking any questions. The car was a nice one and the money was good.

Dawn unlocked the door to the room and left it open while she went back to the car. If anyone saw the black, smoking figure dash from the vehicle into the room, there was no comment. She helped him move the bed so that not a touch of sunlight could hit it from the windows. On the way in, they'd both noted the Seven-Eleven within walking distance.

"You don't go out," he ordered as she watched him settle on the bed.

"I'm hungry."

He scowled. "All right."

"There's a 7-11™ just up the street. I can get stuff there. I'll be right back." She saw the look that said he didn't want her out of his sight. In daylight he couldn't protect her, not in a strange town, not on the street. "I promise. No smart mouth, no delay. I'll be right back." A terse nod was all she got. She knew he'd watch from the window until she returned.

Dawn walked down the street feeling the emptiness of early morning. The store was open. She made her selections, yawned elaborately as she paid for things, grinned at the lady behind the counter and returned to the motel. She slid into the room, locking the door behind her before dumping the bag on the bed, sorting out things to eat now and things to eat later. She frowned at her haul.

"I wasn't sure if you wanted anything."

He shook his head and lay back, eyes closed, one arm over his face.

"Spike."

"What?"

"Thank you." Her voice was soft.

He looked at her then. "For what?"

She was nonplussed for a moment. "For not telling me I have to go back."

"Oh. That. Right." He lay back down and heard her sniff.

Poor kid, trying to be brave, not to cry, not to let anyone know how much she hurt because they all hurt. He knew the kid was trying not to believe that Buffy's death was all her fault, trying not to see accusations in the eyes of Buffy's friends. The accusations weren't there, because all of them were dealing with self-recriminations of not having done enough, of not having saved her.

He reached over and pulled the girl to him, his cold arms and heart offering what solace they could. She trembled in the circle of his arms. Something inside her broke and she cried as she had in her sister's arms the night she tried to bring Joyce back. So much hurt, so much pain, all for her. And in the distance of her own sobs, she could hear an echo. The vampire holding her shook with his own grief, tears of blood sliding down his face to soak into the leather of his coat. For a while they clung to each other, needing the comfort, the knowledge that they mourned for someone dear to both of them.

Exhaustion claimed them and they lay asleep in each other's arms.

#################

Darkness came. Spike awoke, his eyelids jerking open. He could hear soft breathing, a heartbeat. He could smell the perfume of a woman's hair. Dawn. He lay very, very still, his arm trapped beneath her. She shifted, stretched and yawned.

"Spike?"

"Yes, luv."

If he expected her to be embarrassed, she wasn't. She sat up, releasing his arm. "Sorry. I guess I fell asleep."

"You needed it."

There was a noise of crunching cellophane wrappers as she moved off the bed. She turned on the light as she headed into the bathroom. When she came out, he was sitting up, listening. She halted, alert, watching him.

"It's all right. I heard a dog."

"Oh. Spike. Why did you take my Mom's car?"

He looked puzzled for a moment. "Did I?" Memories of Joyce came to him. Joyce who had accepted him, fed him chocolate with little marshmallows, fed him – What was it about the Summers women that drew him? He could have taken all Joyce had to give, drained her dry and left the husk for Buffy to find, yet he didn't. Instead, he'd told the woman about Drusilla leaving him, his heart broken. He'd gone to Joyce when he couldn't feed and she'd given him sustenance – given it, no strings attached. Now he'd stolen her car.

Dawn sat on the bed and started unwrapping Twinkies™. "Yes, you did. I was asleep in the back."

"Why were you sleeping in the car?" he countered.

"I - just was. Why'd you steal the car?"

Their eyes met. She knew why. She just wanted to hear him say it.

"I - I just did." Something sort of like a smile touched his face for a moment.

Dawn grinned at him. "OK. So, where are we going?"

He accepted the "we" without hesitation. He'd promised he would take care of Dawn. He had given his word. Buffy's death changed nothing. Where were they going? Good question. "London."

Dawn considered this. "Aren't we headed in the wrong direction?"

"Airport. LAX. Get a flight out from there."

"Right. Makes sense. Why London?"

"Why not?"

They both looked bleak. "Yeah. Why not."

"Hey. - You can go back. You don't have to come with me." He watched her from under his lashes, concerned that she might figure out that he did have to go where she did.

"Go back? To what?" Pain, bitterness.

"Giles. Willow. Tara. Xander. Even Anya," he said softly. "They'll take care of you." /And I'll be there in the shadows./

"No, they won't. They'll ship me off to my Dad. To Buffy's Dad. He's not my father. I don't have a father. I'm - this - thing! -"

"Hush." His tone was sharp. "You're not a thing. You're a - a young woman. You're a beautiful, young woman. You've got a life ahead of you."

"Until the next nutcase god comes along," she shot back.

He reached over and cupped her chin in his hand. "That's over. I'm not going to say that you won't attract strange stuff. I'm not gonna say that you don't need to learn - to -" His words suddenly stuck in his throat. Dawn was created from Buffy's blood. Dawn was then, in her own right, capable of handling the duties of a Slayer.

"What?" Dawn looked worried.

Spike smiled. It was a genuine smile, even if he looked like a death's head at the moment. "You've got Slayer in you. A part of her is with you, forever. Not just in your heart, in your blood, in your bones, in your flesh."

She looked panicked. "You mean I'm a Slayer?"

"No. But you've got what it takes to learn to defend yourself if you need to."

"I can learn to fight? Really fight?" She was an excited kid now.

"Yeah."

"You'll teach me?"

"Yeah."

A long silence developed while she ate. She handed him a bag of jerky. "Best I could do at 7-11."

He took the bag and tore into the dried meat. It wasn't great, but it would help sustain him for a while longer.

"Spike."

"Yes."

Her dark eyes met his gaze directly. "Don't leave me."

"I won't."

She regarded him seriously for a moment, then nodded.

Fin