Authors Note: This story takes place between the fifth and sixth seasons of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer".

Moving Forward

Buffy had been gone for two months. Spike still missed her every minute of every day. He tried not to think about her. And when he did think about her, he tried to convince himself that he was better off without her. He loved her, but she didn't love him, and now there was no way he could change her mind about that. He told himself he should be moving forward with his life and forgetting about her. He told himself to leave Sunnydale five times a day, but he hadn't been able to make himself do it yet. Most nights he drank himself into a stupor, and once in a while cried himself to sleep. The nights he wasn't drunk he spent with the Scooby gang helping them to slay whatever was around, or helping them to train the Buffybot how to slay better. Last night he had gotten drunk.

Spike was roused from a deep sleep because someone was banging on his crypt door. He groaned and held his head while he yelled, "Hold on! I'm coming."

His yelling produced sharp shooting pains in his head, and Spike wondered for the millionth time why vampires got hangovers. He stumbled around looking for pants when the person knocked again. He muttered, "I said I'm coming."

Once his pants were on, he opened the door to see Tara and Willow who had her arm raised to knock again. Spike squinted and could see the sunlight a few feet away. He said, "What?"

Willow said, "Dawn's missing."

Spike's eyes were adjusting to the light, and once he got a good look at Willow he could see that she was very upset. He said, "Come in."

He stepped back to let the women in. While Willow started talking, Spike looked for a shirt. Willow said, "Well, you know how she's been lately."

Spike put on the shirt he had found under his bed and nodded. The word 'awful' came to his mind.

Willow continued with, "We've been trying to give her some time, but…"

Tara said, "She's been getting worse not better."

Willow nodded and said, "Buffybot got a call from the school today. Dawn has been suspended."

Spike lit a cigarette and said, "Why?"

"She punched someone. The school said that she's going to flunk out if something doesn't change. They also said that they've sent home more than one note about it, which we never got."

Spike gave her a look that seemed to say 'So what'.

Willow said, "The school called early in the day today, and Dawn got home at the regular time. So, I asked her how school was, you know, to give her a chance to tell her side of the story. I thought that way she wouldn't feel like I was blaming her."

Spike looked in his fridge for a beer to help with the hangover.

"Dawn said school was just fine. Then when I told her I knew she had been suspended she said, 'Who cares?'"

Tara squeezed Willow's hand to make her feel better. Willow said, "So I got a little angry and we had a fight. In the end I told her she was grounded for a week, and she stormed up to her room and slammed the door. But then when dinner was ready I went to get her and…"

Spike finished for her by saying, "and she wasn't there."

Willow nodded and said, "It's gonna be dark soon."

"'Bout half an hour."

Willow looked to Tara who said, "Xander and Anya are looking at the Magic Box, The Bronze, and some other places she might be. Giles is still at that Watchers thing in London, and Buffybot is home in case Dawn goes back on her own. We're going to drive around town to see if she's wandering the streets, and we were hoping that you could look through the graveyards."

Willow said, "Not that we think she's going to be there, 'cause she's smarter than that, but just in case."

Spike nodded and said, "Sure."

Willow and Tara both said, "Thanks."

Tara and Willow left to start searching. Spike had half an hour to wait for the sun to go down. As he was waiting he was thinking about how he had gotten himself involved with all these humans.

Spike had tried for over a year not to love the Slayer, but he couldn't stop himself. He eventually accepted it, and even embraced it. He never would have thought that his love for Buffy would spill over to others, but he found himself feeling affection for the people she loved. He often was annoyed with Willow, Tara, Giles, Anya, and especially Xander, but he felt a friendship for them even though he tried to deny it. And there was no way to deny that he had put his life at risk for them many times.

Dawn was a different story. She smelled like Buffy, and had the same mannerisms as Buffy. Spike found himself feeling very close to her and wanting to protect her. At first he didn't call it love, because he wasn't sexually attracted to her, and that was the only kind of love he had felt for well over a hundred years. But the more he was around her, the more he suspected it was love. The kind of love he would have for a sister. Spike didn't like to feel that way at all, so he stayed away as much as possible. Now he wondered if maybe that was a mistake.

The way Spike saw it, Willow was very sad, but she had Tara to comfort her. Xander was very sad, but he had Anya to comfort him. Giles was very sad, but he had been prepared his whole career for his Slayer to be killed in the line of duty. Dawn wasn't just sad. Dawn was broken. She had recently found out that she wasn't even born a real person. She was 'The Key', and had been created by some monks from a big ball of energy. Soon after that her mother had died. Her father was no where to be found, but he hadn't really been a part of her life for years, so that wasn't much of an issue. Then two months ago Buffy died protecting her. Buffy was supposed to be the one to take care of Dawn when their mother died, but now that had been taken from her too.

He said to the air around him, "What should I do Buffy? If I start to get involved I won't be able to stop."

Getting no response he shook his head and went to get some blood from the fridge. He drank it cold. He hated pig's blood, but since he had been 'neutered' it was the best he could get. He could tell the sun was setting, so he put on his boots and coat and headed out the door.

Half an hour later he found her. She was just sitting there beside Buffy's grave. Spike stood back for a while to see what Dawn would do. She had been crying, but wasn't any more. After fifteen minutes of no movement Spike was bored. He walked up behind her and said, "Time to go home."

Dawn was startled, and jumped at his words. After she saw who it was she turned her back to him again and said, "Home isn't home anymore."

Spike knelt down next to her and said, "It's still home, it just isn't the same home."

"It's NOT a home. It's just a place to live, and I don't think living is all that great any more."

Spike frowned and said, "Being dead isn't that great either."

Dawn wasn't sure if he was joking or not, but she didn't want to talk to him. She said, "Go away Spike. I'm not going home."

"Can't do that kid. Wil sent me to look for you, and everyone else is looking for you too. And really, what are you gonna do if you don't go home?"

"Just sit here."

Spike rolled his eyes and said, "There's a well thought out plan. Look…"

"NO! You look! I'm staying here, and you can screw off!"

Spike gave her an incredulous look and said, "Even if I wanted to leave you here, which I don't, I couldn't. If I did, the whole gang would be out to kill me."

"Fine. Stay. I don't care."

After five minutes of silence Spike said, "Okay Dawn, I can understand you wanting to come out here and be with Buffy for a while, but not in the dark. You know what's out here, and you're just sitting here like live bait."

Dawn looked in his eyes and said, "So what?"

Spike blinked a couple of times and then got mad. He said, "So what? Buffy died so that you could live, and you want to throw that life away? I don't think so."

Spike stood up and said, "Get up. You're going home."

Dawn looked up at him with disdain and said, "And you're going to make me? I doubt it."

Spike was very sensitive about the fact that he couldn't hurt any humans because of the chip in his head, and Dawn knew it. Spike glared at her and said, "Get. Up."

"No."

Spike reached down, and quickly but carefully picked Dawn up. He had one of his arms under her knees and the other behind her back. He didn't want to accidentally hurt her if she started to struggle, because that would produce sharp shooting pains in his head, so he held her close to his body and held on tight.

Dawn didn't realize what Spike was doing until she was already in his arms. She started to push on his chest to get herself down, but found out that he was very strong. Spike started walking towards the Summer's house, and after a couple of seconds of Dawn trying to get away she yelled, "Put me down! Right now Spike! Put me doooowwwnn!"

Spike ignored her and kept going. After about a minute of her struggles, Dawn could see it wasn't working, so she leaned over and bit Spike's shoulder. Spike grunted with pain, but kept a tight hold on Dawn. He was glad he had worn his leather coat.

After a few more minutes of struggling Dawn gave up and let Spike carry her. Once she had calmed down Spike said, "I know you've been hurting since Buffy died. We've all been hurting, but it's not a good enough reason to want to die. Willow, Tara, Xander, and Giles all love you. Buffy loved you so much that she gave her life for yours. And even though I don't want to, I love you too. You have to start doing better. You need to stop giving Tara and Willow a hard time. You need to start doing your schoolwork again, and stop getting into trouble. Buffy would be ashamed of the way you have been behaving."

Spike decided to let her think about that, and they were quiet again until they were about a block from the Summer's house. Dawn said, "Okay Spike, you win. I'll go home. You can put me down."

"No tricks. You hear?"

"Okay. No tricks."

Spike put her on her feet. As soon as he let her go she kicked him in the shin as hard as she could, and took off running back towards the graveyard. Spike had been caught off guard with the kick. He grunted in pain and lost a few seconds of pursuit while he stood there trying to figure out why he had been so gullible. He muttered, "Bloody hell."

He was after her a second later. He was much faster than she was, and caught up to her two blocks away. He couldn't tackle her without hurting her, so he yelled, "Dawn! Dawn you get back here!"

Dawn panicked and screamed when she felt a hand on her arm. She had known Spike was after her, but she hadn't realized he was so close. She was so startled, that she stopped running and almost fell. As soon as she got her footing she glared at Spike and tried to pull her arm away. When she couldn't get away she kicked him in the other shin and yelled, "Let me go!"

Spike completely lost all patience. He knew it would hurt, but he didn't care. He kept a strong grip on Dawn's arm, turned her to the side and swatted her butt. Dawn yelped with surprise, and put both her hands back to cover her butt. At the same time Spike screamed in pain and doubled over holding his head with his free hand. It was all he could do to keep a hold on her arm for about two seconds until the pain faded.

Dawn stood there in shock staring at Spike. Once the pain was gone Spike stood up straight again and glared down at Dawn. He shook her a little and said, "I said no tricks!"

Dawn looked both hurt and still surprised when she said, "You hit me."

"Believe me when I say it hurt me more than it hurt you. And you bit me, and kicked me twice! You're damn lucky I can't do more."

Spike took advantage of the fact that she was standing still and picked her up again. This time she didn't fight him. It was a silent three blocks back to the Summer's house.

Spike put Dawn on her feet as soon as they were inside with the door shut. Buffybot greeted them. Both Spike and Dawn still felt a stab of pain every time they saw her. Buffybot hugged Dawn and said, "Dawn, you're home. Everyone is looking for you. I'm glad Spike found you."

Then Buffybot hugged Spike and said, "Spike! I'm so glad to see you. I haven't seen you for two days, four hours, sixteen minutes, and….."

Dawn looked disgusted and said, "Why can't Willow fix that?"

Buffybot said, "Fix what? I'm not broken."

Spike said, "You should be glad that Willow can keep her working at all. I don't know what would happen if your school found out that….."

Spike trailed off.

Dawn said in a emotionless voice, "That she's dead."

Buffybot said in a happy voice, "Dawn is suspended for two days."

Spike said, "Dawn has been a complete horror for a month and a half, and it's going to stop tonight."

Spike turned to look at Buffybot, and for the first time since Buffy had died, he was glad that the robot was in love with him, and programmed to do whatever he told her to do. He said, "Buffy, be silent and do what I tell you to do for the next ten minutes."

Buffybot smiled up at him. He turned to Dawn and grabbed her upper arm. He started to pull her into the dining room. She yelled, "Let me go!"

Spike called back to Buffybot, "Follow us."

In the dining room Spike pulled out one of the chairs and sat down. He pulled Dawn face down across his lap and held her in place.

Dawn yelled, "Don't you dare hit me again! Willow already grounded me."

Spike was unimpressed. He said, "Fat lot of good that did. Buffy, I want you to hit Dawn's butt with the palm of your hand. Use about one fourth of your strength."

Buffybot did and Spike could feel Dawn's body jump a little, but not much. Then a split second later Dawn started to really struggle and she yelled, "Willow will stake you when she finds out what you did!"

Spike said, "Okay Buffy, I want you to do it again, but this time use one third of your strength."

This time Dawn yelped, "Ouch! I hate you!"

Spike ignored Dawn and said to Buffybot, "Good. Alright Buffy, now I want you to keep using that amount of strength, but try not to hit the exact same spot twice. Move your hand around so that you eventually cover all of her bottom and upper thighs with swats. Give her one swat every half second."

Buffybot started and Dawn yelled "Ouch! Buffy Stop! Ouch! Damn Robot….Owww…Don't listen…Ugh….to Spike! Aaahhh! Willow will…Owww…disassemble you! Owww! Spiiiike! Make her…Aaahhh…stop!"

Spike said, "Stop."

Dawn was still trying to get away, but she stopped yelling when Buffybot stopped swatting her. Spike said, "Dawn, I was serious when I told you that I love you. I can't stand it that you want to die. You're the only part of Buffy that I have left. I have tried not to love you; just like I tried not to love her, but it won't go away. So, from now on I'm gonna be here for you whether you like it or not. I'm gonna be making sure that you start behaving the way Buffy would want you to, and I'm damn sure going to protect you from yourself when you need me to."

Dawn was silent through his speech. She didn't have any good reason to, but she actually believed what he was telling her. She heard Spike say, "Give her ten more swats."

Dawn yelled, "Nooooo!"

It didn't do any good, and Buffybot started swatting.

After three swats Dawn tried to cover her butt with her hand, but Spike caught her hand and held it at the small of her back. By the time the swats were done, Dawn was breathing hard from all her kicking and squirming, and she was close to tears.

Spike said, "I better not catch you alone in the graveyard at night again, or this will seem like nothing. You hear me?"

Dawn whispered, "Yes."

"Six more swats Buffy."

Dawn started to cry with the first swat, and continued to yelp and cry until it was done. Spike said, "Okay Buffy, go wait for us in the kitchen."

As Buffybot left, Spike let go of Dawn's hand and patted her back a few times. She pushed herself up, and as soon as she was standing, Spike pulled her back down to sit in his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and cuddled her close. Dawn thought she should hate him, but instead of yelling and fighting, she found herself hugging him back and resting her head in the crook of his neck. She thought his cool skin felt nice against her flushed face. They sat in silence while she tried to stop crying.

Once she had her crying under control, Spike said gently, "It's not your fault that she's gone you know."

Dawn said, "That's a lie." and started crying again.

"It's true Dawn. All of us have felt guilty about her death. If only I had gotten to you sooner. If only Giles and the Watchers had found out a way to stop Glory. If only Willow had found a spell to stop her. If only you had never been made human. If only, if only, if only…. But the fact is that all of that was beyond our control. We all did everything we could to stop it. The truth is that Glory is the only one to blame, and no one else."

Dawn could actually feel a small amount of the guilt she had been carrying around for the past two months lift. In between sniffs she said, "You don't blame me?"

Spike thought Dawn sounded very young when she said that. He said, "No I don't, and neither does anyone else."

"Promise?"

"I swear it."

Dawn sighed and relaxed into his arms. They sat that way for fifteen minutes before Spike said, "We need to call Willow. She was very upset that you were gone."

Dawn cringed. She didn't want to face anyone, but she knew she would have to. She nodded and got off Spike's lap. Spike stood and put his arm around her shoulders as he walked them to the kitchen. Buffybot was looking at them expectantly. Spike said, "Okay Buffy, you don't have to be silent anymore."

Buffy went to Dawn and hugged her. She said, "Are you okay?"

Dawn nodded and said, "I guess."

Buffy looked at Spike, and Spike swore she looked hurt when she said, "I did not like that Spike."

Spike rolled his eyes and said sarcastically, "Well it was just a picnic for me."

He turned his back on her and picked up the phone. He called Willow's cell phone first. Dawn listened to Spike's half of the conversation while she blew her nose and wiped her eyes with some tissues.

"Willow? Yeah, she's here at home with me….. I'll let her tell you when you get here."

Next Spike called Xander's cell phone and basically said the same thing.

While Spike got himself a beer, Buffybot said, "Are you hungry Dawn? Willow told me to give you dinner when you got home."

Dawn said, "I could eat."

Dawn ate standing at the counter while Spike drank his beer, and Buffybot cleaned the counter top for the hundredth time that day. It was a comfortable silence.

Xander and Anya arrived first. Xander went to Dawn and gave her a hug. He said, "Where were you? You shouldn't have run off like that. We've all been worried sick about you."

Anya said, "Yes. You've ruined a perfectly good night of TV watching for us."

Dawn said quietly, "Sorry."

Both Xander and Anya were surprised at the tone of Dawn's voice and looked at each other. They were used to Dawn yelling and being snippy with them, but it actually seemed like she was sorry tonight. Xander said, "Well… Okay then."

Willow and Tara arrived a few seconds later. Both of them went to Dawn and hugged her at the same time. Willow said, "I'm sorry I yelled at you Dawnie. I should have let you explain."

Dawn felt guilty again and said, "No Willow, you were right. I was being awful. I'm sorry I ran off. It won't happen again."

Willow and Tara were also surprised at the attitude change and looked at each other with surprise. Tara said, "Where were you?"

Dawn looked down and said, "I went to be with Buffy."

Everyone was silent for a few seconds. Then Willow said, "It's not safe to go to the graveyard after dark sweetie. You should have told me, and we could have gone together earlier in the day."

Spike couldn't believe the way they all babied Dawn. No wonder she was so out of control. He said, "When I found her she was just sitting there out in the open oblivious to everything around her. Then she fought me all the way home kicking and yelling. She went there hoping that something would hurt her."

Dawn couldn't keep eye contact with anyone, and her face got bright red. She didn't like the way it sounded when Spike told them what had happened. She knew it was true, but it sounded more childish when he said it.

They were all silent for a few seconds, and then Buffybot asked Spike, "So Dawn wanted me to hit her like that?"

The room was in an uproar for a few seconds while everyone talked at once. Willow said, "You hit her?"

Tara said, "Are you okay Dawn?"

Xander said, "Did you say you hit her?"

Anya said, "What?"

Dawn tried to melt into the floor, and Spike said to Buffybot, "Yes and No. I'll explain later."

After a few seconds of everyone talking Willow held up a hand and said, "Okay everyone, let's try it one at a time."

Everyone quieted down and Willow put a hand on Dawn's arm soothingly and said, "What happened?"

Dawn opened and closed her mouth a few times, and then looked to Spike to help. Spike sighed and tried to get himself mentally prepared to get beat up. He looked right at Willow and said, "I held her down and had Buffybot spank her."

Willow, Tara, and Xander all yelled in unison, "YOU WHAT?"

Anya said, "That makes sense."

Dawn was so embarrassed she put her head in her hands and started to cry again.

Willow couldn't take the sight of that, and when she looked back in Spike's direction her eyes were black. Spike felt himself flying through the air until he hit hard on the far wall and then fell to the floor. He could feel Willow start to levitate him again, but then he was stopped in mid air. He looked to where Willow was. Dawn was in front of her with a hand on her arm. Dawn was yelling, "Stop it! Willow! Willow, stop it!"

Willow looked at Dawn and after a few seconds Spike dropped to the ground again. Dawn ran over to Spike and helped him stand up. Then she stood in front of him and pointed to everyone in the room with a sweeping motion of her arm when she said, "You all leave him alone!"

Willow looked at Tara who shrugged and gave her a look that said 'I don't know'. Willow looked at Xander who gave the same response. She looked at Anya who said, "What's the problem? All he did was spank her. I mean, I know it isn't that common any more, but it seems to work. Dawn has been much more agreeable tonight than she has been in a long time."

Willow's eyes went back to normal. She looked back to Dawn who had leaned her head into Spike's chest. Spike was hugging her and mumbling, "It's okay. We'll all get along just fine. Don't you worry about it."

Xander said, "Okay is this one of my weird dreams? Because I don't get it, and I want to wake up."

Spike gently pushed Dawn away from his chest and said, "Why don't you go up to your room and start on some homework while the rest of us talk. I think you have a lot to catch up on."

Dawn looked back to everyone else in the room and said, "They might hurt you if I go."

Spike put a hand on her chin and turned her to face him. He said, "I'll be fine. Go on now."

Dawn said, "But if you're gonna be talking about me I want to be here."

Spike said, "Now I'm not asking you, I'm telling you. Go do your homework."

Dawn looked around the room one more time, and decided she would rather not be there. She nodded and left the room without another word. Once they heard her bedroom door shut Anya said, "See. Much better."

Spike looked at Willow again and said, "Look Willow, I know you've been doing the best that you could since Buffy's been gone, and I don't want to step on your toes, but something has to change. Dawn is wallowing in guilt about Buffy's death. All of her acting out is a clear signal that she wants someone to call her on it. She needs someone to put their foot down and tell her to stop, and if you can't do it then I will."

Willow looked at Tara who squeezed her hand in support. Willow said, "Well,…. I….. I'll have to think about it."

Anya looked to Xander and said, "Can we go home now?"

Xander was happy to have an excuse to leave and said, "Sure."

He looked at Willow and said, "Whatever you decide is fine with me. Just let me know."

After they were gone Spike said, "I'm gonna go say good night to the kid, and then I'll be on my way too."

Willow nodded. Spike went up and knocked on Dawn's door. She said, "Come in."

Spike saw that Dawn was lying on her bed reading one of her textbooks and taking some notes. He said, "I'm gonna go home, and I wanted to say good night."

Dawn said, "Is everything okay with you and Willow?"

"I think so. You be good, and I'll see you tomorrow night."

"Okay."

Spike shut her door behind him. He went back downstairs and said, "I'll come by tomorrow after it gets dark, and we can talk."

Willow said nothing so Tara said, "Okay."

Buffybot walked quickly to Spike and hugged him while she said, "Bye Spike. I'm glad I'll see you tomorrow."

As Spike walked home he passed Buffy's grave and said, "Well, I guess I'm stuck with her now. Maybe moving forward doesn't have to mean moving away."

He wasn't sure if he was happy about his attachment to Dawn or not, but he found himself smiling as he went to go find a few vampires to kill.

Willow and Tara talked for a long time that night after saying good night to Dawn. Eventually they agreed that Dawn really did seem better than she had for weeks. And Willow decided she would let Spike be a bigger part of Dawn's life for now. But then she didn't plan on Buffy being gone for too much longer.