Title: The Admirer (1/1) Author: Sandy S E-mail: ssoennin@juno.com Rating: R Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Joss and UPN Spoilers: Set approximately two and a half years after season 6 Dedication: For my brother whom I am trying to convince to watch BTVS...again. He knows what I mean. Summary: Buffy and Spike have ironed out many of their issues, and Dawn admires Buffy and Spike's relationship. Let's just say, she's not the only one. The story is written from Dawn's point of view for the most part (because my brother likes Dawn-no egg and tomato throwers, please!) but there's still lots of Buffy/Spike interaction!

The Admirer

"Love whispers its breath, But the smell is pungent.... I feel my freedom slipping away... He says I owe him... I refuse to surrender to his terms But dread stepping out the door...." -Excerpt from a poem written by me on July 2, 1995

stalk (stôk) vi., vt. 1. To walk (through) in a stiff, haughty manner. 2. To advance grimly. 3. To pursue (game, etc.) stealthily. -From Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language (1984)

"Stalking is an abnormal or long-term pattern of threat or harassment that: a) is directed repeatedly toward a specific individual; b) is experienced as unwelcome or intrusive; and c) is reported to trigger fear or concern." -From StalkingHelp.Org: Resources for Victims of Stalking (2001)

Jolting me out of my fascination with calf-length toast-colored leather boots in the shoe store window across the way, I heard Buffy's familiar giggle behind me. I spun to face my sister, my chestnut-streaked hair fanning out in a slight arc behind me.

"Dawnie, look!" Buffy had her arm raised, waving an object at me.

"What?" I tried my best to sound annoyed, but the tone of my voice came out all wrong. I actually sounded interested,...which I sort of was.

Buffy passed the object in her hands to me. I found in my grasp a set of black leather earmuffs lined with the softest wool. The differing textures intrigued my fingertips, and the material emitted the rich smell of leather that partially reminded me of...

"Spike...wouldn't Spike look goofy wearing earmuffs?" Buffy giggled again. Sometimes I forget that my sister is older than me, and when she and I shopped together, she seemed to slip back to being a girl my age again. I especially liked those times because it was almost like I had the sister of the past back. Of course, I wouldn't trade the new Buffy for the old one any day of the week. The new Buffy smiled a lot more.

"Yea, but is this really what you want to get him for his birthday?"

Spike and Buffy had been a couple for two years now. Because they were settled-well, as settled as they could get given their personality quirks-into their relationship, Buffy had taken it upon herself to find out new and interesting facts about him. When Spike had been reluctant to admit his birthday to her, Buffy had surprisingly hit the research books, an extremely unusual day to be marked-no, highlighted in neon yellow marker- on the calendar. One thing about dating a one hundred plus year old vampire and being a vampire slayer, rich documents were available to be perused for dirt on your significant other. Despite her hard work, which had greatly amused Spike and I, Buffy had come up empty. Not to be defeated, she randomly chose tomorrow as the day to celebrate his birth. Spike had been grumbling about his "birthday" all week as the date approached.

Buffy frowned at the earmuffs in my hands. "No, not really." She grinned at me. "But it would be worth it to get them just to see his face when he had to wear them."

I returned her grin. "Well, he might not wear them for you, but he can't resist his Dawn girl. Maybe I should get them for him."

"Really?" She wore a bemused expression. "He'd look so cute patrolling with me in earmuffs."

Checking the price tag, I groaned. No more leather boots for me, not even if they were on sale. "You sure know how to pick them, Buffy."

She read my mind. "Don't worry, Dawnie. I've got room in my pocket book for those leather boots you've been eyeing."

I squealed and clasped her into a tight hug. "Have I told you lately what an awesome sister you are?"

"Yep, just keep the compliments coming. You just have to help me figure out what I can get Spike."

I mock saluted her, "Of course! That's what sisters are for."

We were walking toward the register when Buffy's stomach rumbled. "But, first after you pay for those, lunch. Food court, okay? I'm starved."

"Boots, then food?" I reminded her, giving her my patented pleading look.

She linked arms with me, giving me a brief hug, and nodded consent. "All right. Then, salad, pizza, and gossip. I'm dying to hear the latest about Daniel."

* * *

She was beautiful and delicate like an ethereal fairy as she floated across the room. Whenever I saw her, my knees felt like they might buckle underneath me, my heart galloped like a race horse out of control, my hands trembled like I had Parkinson's disease, and my ears perked to hear and cherish every word she said. The days I did not see her, I could not focus and had difficulty breathing. She was like my air...my oxygen. I wanted her for my own, but before I could make her mine, I had to test her...and myself. For now, I could wait.

* * *

Buffy and I bustled into the kitchen carrying packages and bags from the numerous stores we had raided at the mall. The kitchen smelled heavily of spices and felt warmer than usual. Spike met us at the door, pushing past the clutter and embracing Buffy tightly. Ignoring how she smashed her purchases, she returned his hug eagerly. I liked watching them together, enjoyed observing the many changes their relationship went through over time. No matter the changes, they still loved one another.

At first, after Spike had returned to Sunnydale with a soul and he and Buffy became a couple, they fought...they fought a lot. As I had when my parents were divorcing, I would lay awake listening to them yell at each other from the safety of my bed. The good thing about Buffy and Spike's fighting was that no matter what they fought about and no matter how much they got on each other's nerves, they always resolved whatever issue was at hand. Sometimes the resolution took a week or two, but never had they threatened to leave one another even in a heated moment. Buffy told me they had made that promise from the beginning. Granted, they did not yell all the time resolve disagreements. Many times, they had heated but quiet "discussions." Sometimes, they went out to slay vampires together when they were angry at each other. And, once the discussion, argument, whatever was over, the issues were never brought up again in a hurtful way. The coolest thing about their relationship was that as they matured and changed, their love grew. I wanted love like that one day.

Spike broke away from his embrace with Buffy and circled his arm around my shoulders tightly. "So, Nibblet, what'd you buy me?"

"Nothing." I said with a blank face. "Was I supposed to?"

He raised an eyebrow at me. "I thought the whole purpose of your shopping expedition today was to buy things for my 'birthday' tomorrow." Taking my load of bags, he peered into the one with my boots. "Oh, those boots I've been wanting! I can't wait to try them on!"

I snatched my purchases back. "Don't you dare! You'd get them all stretchy and out of whack with your big feet!" I bonked him over the head with the shoe box.

He threw his hands up in front of his face. "Hey, that hurt!"

Pot lids clattered from the direction of the stove. "Ooo. Food getting all flavorful in heated pots again just for us," came Buffy's voice. "So, Master Chef, whatcha cooking?"

Spike smiled. "Chili. Ready to eat."

"Mom's recipe?" Buffy asked.

For the first time, I noticed cookbooks and our mother's recipe index cards scattered across the table.

"Yep, Joyce's recipe." He gave an evil smirk, resting his chin on Buffy's shoulder. "With an extra kick," he added, swatting her behind. She jumped, shrieking.

"Hey!"

"Is what a horse eats," Spike added.

"Ass," Buffy replied.

"That's me. A bloodsucking donkey." Spike cocked his head in thought. Then, he added, "A handsome bloodsucking donkey."

"Oh! Quick, Dawn, jot this moment down. Spike just admitted that he's stubborn!"

"Only as stubborn as you," I replied.

Deliberately, she faced Spike, blinking up at him. "Does that mean I'm a donkey, too?"

"A very beautiful, blond-headed, green-eyed donkey." Spike bent to give Buffy a brief kiss on the lips.

I rolled my eyes at their silliness. "I'm going to wash my hands."

Buffy turned from Spike toward me, "School tomorrow, Dawnie."

"Ugh." Then, I brightened. "And you two have work!"

I smiled as their groans followed me down the hall.

* * *

Finally, the weekend was almost over. I was going to see her tomorrow! Making sure my clothes were laid out and appropriately ironed was the first step to getting her to notice me. Humming to myself, I tried to picture how she might respond to me. Then, the test would begin. Relationships were all about manipulating the other person to gain control over the situation, and I could not wait to try my hand at doing just that.

* * *

My jaw dropped as Daniel walked around the corner and approached my locker, carrying his books under his tan, well-muscled arm. He smiled his easy smile and winked a blue eye at me. Daniel, who had been my best friend for the last year, was looking quite...hmm, what's the best word...yummy.

"Hello, gorgeous," Daniel greeted me, using his usual nickname for me. "How's it going? How was your weekend?"

"W-wonderful. Buffy and I shopped for her boyfriend's birthday, which is today." I busied myself inside my locker, hoping to hide the red tinge of embarrassment in my cheeks.

"Cool. How long have they been going out now? Are you celebrating tonight?"

"They've been together two years. And, yep. Buffy and I are taking him to dinner after I get done with work, and then, we'll do the whole opening presents thing...like normal birthday stuff." Daniel knew about the whole slaying gig, that Buffy was the vampire slayer, and that Spike was oddly enough a "good" vampire. So, he knew that normal was a big deal for me.

"Where are you going for dinner?"

"Chez Suzette." I snuck a glance at Daniel as I cradled my books in my left arm and slammed my locker. We started walking toward English literature.

"French, fancy." He smiled at me. His teeth were unbelievably straight, and his smile glowed. I wondered vaguely if he brushed his teeth a lot. "Guess that means you'll dress up."

"Yep. I got a new outfit and everything."

"Nice. I bet you'll look amazing." We paused outside the classroom door.

"I don't know about amazing..." I trailed off. He was gazing at me with those penetrating brown eyes of his, and his face was so close that I could almost feel the warmth of his breath on my half-parted lips.

"Hey, Dawn!" Buffy's cheery voice broke me out of my reverie.

Damn. "Hey, Buffy."

"Hey, Miss Summers," Daniel echoed. "Are we starting self-defense today?"

"Yea! Gotta be able to defend yourself against the baddies."

"I'm ready to learn!" He winked again at me. I flushed, and I am sure Buffy caught it.

Buffy waved behind her as she headed for the gym. In the last year, she had gotten her teaching certification and now taught physical education at Sunnydale High School. During the last two weeks of every grading period, she taught a special workshop. She had taught one on nutrition and weight control last period, and this grading period, she was training us on self-defense, which was something every young person could use when living in demon-infested Sunnydale. At first, I thought I would be annoyed to see Buffy everyday at school, but so far, she had stayed out of my territory and let me do my own high school thing, for which I was thankful.

Daniel turned back to me with a mixture of admiration and sadness in his expression. "I really admire your sister. I wish my sister was like her." Daniel's sister was addicted to drugs. On several occasions, she stole Daniel's money and other possessions like CD's from his room to sell in support of her habit. Sometimes I thought that drug addiction could attract worse demons than living on the hellmouth. I reached out and rubbed his upper arm in reassurance as the bell rang, signaling the start of class.

We entered the classroom just ahead of our teacher, Mr. LeBlanc. As I went down the row to my seat in the back, he touched my elbow. "Looking nice today, Dawn. I enjoyed meeting your sister's boyfriend at parent- teacher night last Friday." I shuddered. Mr. LeBlanc was creepy. Sometimes he rubbed on my shoulder as he made his rounds in the classroom during tests. He touched me and made comments about my appearance just often enough that I felt disgusted but not enough for me to report him in a way that would do him more harm than me.

Daniel sat in the back next to me and behind my other, newer but equally close friend, Amalia. Amalia was slim, tall, and dark-complected with short, curly dark hair and had just moved to Sunnydale from Arizona. She was always laughing and good natured. She had only been in Sunnydale two months, but I liked her immediately. "Hey, Ama!"

"Hey, Dawn." Amalia turned in her seat to lean onto Daniel's desk. His expression read, what do I do with this? She grinned at me. "Bronze tonight?"

"Nope. Spike and Buffy thing."

"Oh, yea, forgot." She poked her bottom lip out in a pout. "Danny?"

He gave her a small smile. "Sure."

"Cool. I heard there's this new band from L.A. playing. I sure am liking California. It's much better than the desert."

Mr. Leblanc's voice made me cringe, "Miss Summers, will you please quiet your friends and read the first passage from Julius Caesar?"

* * *

My anticipation was growing. Very soon, my plan would be put into action. I just had to wait for the right moment. I smoothed my clothes over my body as I stood. The last school bell rang, and I fairly danced out of the school. I could not wait to get a reaction out of her.

* * *

"Dawn, wait up!" a familiar, masculine voice shouted.

I was just across the street from the Magic Box where I worked after school. I whirled to see Wright, the guy I worked with each afternoon, looking slightly rumpled and running to catch up. "Hey!"

"Hey," he panted. "How are you doing? I saw Mr. LeBlanc touching you again in lit class and thought it probably made you uncomfortable."

"I'm cool. As long as he doesn't do anything more than that, I'll be fine," I replied. Wright knew about Mr. LeBlanc and was a junior who was taking most of the senior classes that I was taking. We talked a lot while we worked, especially during late evening when the store business got slow. "Ready to work?"

He shook his head as we crossed the street. "Nope, got a ton of stuff to do tonight. I hope the afternoon goes fast."

I agreed, pushing open the jangling door of the shop. "Me, too. Tonight's Spike's birthday dinner. I have to dress at the shop and then Xander offered to drop me off at the restaurant to meet them at eight."

"I almost forgot about that. Excited?"

I nodded eagerly. "Yea! They're my family. And it's fun to watch them cause they're so in love. I can't wait for Spike to open the present I bought him."

Wright's eyes sparkled behind his glasses. "Cool."

After working with her for six months, Anya, who was still running the shop for Giles, finally trusted Wright and I enough to leave the Magic Box in our hands for the afternoon. She was taking most afternoons off to pursue her job as a vengeance demon until she could convince her boss, the demon known as D'Hoffryn, to let her off the hook to do what she wanted full time. She told me at one point that she was playing on D'Hoffryn's soft spot for her and had high hopes to be free of him soon.

Wright and I worked the afternoon in companionable silence, straightening and restocking the shelves, answering the phone, and assisting the regular customers. I watched the clock on the wall vigilantly, daring the hands to move to seven o'clock. Finally, I glanced up to see the hands exactly where they should be, and I jumped up.

"Oh, boy!"

Wright started up from the book he was reading. "What?"

"I gotta get ready! Do you mind?"

He smiled. "Nope." He gestured toward the training room where Buffy exercised and prepared for demon slaying. Wright knew I had stored my new outfit and makeup there. "Go on. I think I can handle the shop for a whole hour by myself."

I scampered off to Buffy's training room and shut the door firmly behind me. Slipping off my school clothes amidst my sister's equipment and weapons, I slid into the scarlet-colored, silk skirt, the black sleeveless top, and the black strappy sandels that Buffy and I had picked out to match her short, red and ebony-colored dress and red pumps. Spike's women were going to knock his socks off! I fixed my makeup and curled my hair with my curling iron. The last touch was spritzing on my perfume.

At five minutes until eight, I pranced out the door of the training room. My heels clicked on the shop floor, and I paused in front of Wright whose face looked gratifyingly shocked. I twirled around in front of him.

"What do you think? How do I look?" I asked with a wide smile on my face.

"W-wonderful. R-ravishing," he sputtered. He adjusted the glasses on his nose. Funny, I never noticed how cute he was when he did that.

Xander, one of my sister's best friends from high school, chose that moment to throw open the door to the Magic Box. "Hey! Time to g..." He trailed off and then whistled. "Hey, Dawnie, girl, look at you! Fabulous! All grown up in the red and black. Ready to go?"

I grabbed Spike's carefully wrapped earmuffs and the CD's I had burned him on the school computer. "Now I am! See you tomorrow, Wright! Have a great night!"

Wright managed a smile in response. Then, he returned to his reading.

* * * While eating dinner under the strings of white Christmas lights, she was unaware that she and her family were under surveillance. Fake green vines on the walls and dim lighting hid me from view. She smiled, and my heart clutched in on itself. I almost choked on the mouthful of food I had just taken. Each movement mesmerized me. I wanted to preserve her animations in ice. Then, I could observe her everyday, and no one could take her away from me. She was an angel, wearing the colors of life and death, blood and ashes. I sighed because before I knew what was happening, she and her family were leaving the restaurant. She and her sister carried to go boxes, and the vampire boyfriend held the door open for them, touching their backs tenderly with his hand as they passed him into the night. I counted down for two minutes and then rose to retrace their footsteps.

* * *

"You guys have fun!" I called to Spike and Buffy from the front door.

Buffy laced her arm in Spike's and turned to wave at me. "Bye, Dawn. We won't be too late but don't wait up, okay?"

Waving back, I called, "Don't worry, I'm exhausted. I'm going straight to bed."

Spike glanced back. He was dressed in a new shirt, pants, and leather jacket. His ears were covered in the earmuffs I had given him. Buffy had a silver medallion engraved with Celtic love knot and both their names on the back. I could see the medallion's chain coming out from underneath his shirt. "Night, Nibblet. Sweet dreams, and thanks for the earmuffs."

"Happy pseudo-birthday! You look so cute wearing them, too!"

He smirked at me. "Uh, huh." Turning to Buffy, he gazed at her with admiration. "You and your sis are the cute ones, Dawn. I am not cute."

"You goof." Buffy punched his arm with a gloved fist. "Night, Dawnie."

"Night." I kept my eyes on them until I could no longer see them in the shadows. Finally, shivering in my nightgown, I shut and locked the door fast. Inhaling the fresh night air that lingered in the hallway, I sighed happily and hugged myself. My family was complete, and I never ceased to marvel at and treasure that fact.

* * *

Creeping in the shadows, I watched the pair head into the Bronze for an evening of dancing. Quietly, I snuck in behind them, wrinkling my nose at the nauseating blend of cigarettes and beer. Music thrummed in my ears. Now my plan would be carried out. I fingered the concocted pills in my pocket. The chemicals should be strong enough to knock out a slayer and a vampire after a slight delay. Certainly, the research I had done was thorough and accurate.

The vampire bought them each a couple of drinks and led his date to an empty table. They chatted for a few minutes before the band-I think they were from Los Angelos-started playing a slow, haunting song. The vampire stood with the grace of an English gentleman and extended his hand to the goddess. She willingly placed her hand in his and lightly jumped off the tall stool she had been perched upon. When they reached the dance floor, the vampire pulled his lover close to his chest, and they flowed as one to the steady sway of the music that permeated the air. I was almost dizzy in the headiness of the dance.

Regaining my senses, I casually slid through the cramped throng of people until I was directly behind their table. Reaching into my pocket, I grasped the pills and pulled them out of my pocket, ready to drop the rapid dissolving capsules into the drinks.

Without warning, a voice sounded in my ear, "Hey, how are you doing?" A hand clamped on my back. The drink in his hand sloshed onto my shoes. I turned to face a very drunk young man. "I'm surprised to see you here."

"I'm sorry. Who are you?" I tried to force the quaver out of my words.

"Richard," he practically bellowed, "you know, from your lit class!"

Oh. I recognized the stereotypical football jock from English literature. I desperately wanted him to go away.

The gods must have been looking out for me. "Richard!" an equally drunk but feminine voice warbled from the bathroom area. "Did you get my drink?"

Richard held the drink up high in the air, spilling the liquid a little more. "Here, sweetie!" He turned back to me. "Great to see you! I might or might not see you tomorrow, depending on how my night goes...if you know what I mean." With that, he staggered off in the direction of his girlfriend.

My heart beating wildly, I focused my attention back on the two on the dance floor. Thankfully, they were still lost in each other. Unleashing my clenched fist, I dropped the capsules into the two drinks on the table. I slipped back into the shadows as soon as the song ended. A fast-paced number blew out of the speakers on the coattails of the previous melody, and the all important couple remained on the dance floor.

By the time they came off the dance floor, the two were breathless...well, the young woman was anyway. Have you ever seen a breathless goddess? Absolutely exquisite. With satisfaction, I observed the vampire gulp down his drink while his partner took her time sipping.

Within minutes, the vampire's lover was touching her hand to her forehead. "Spike," I heard her say over the crowd, "I feel funny."

"Cor, pet. Do you want to go home? Are you okay?" came the anxious British accent of her companion as he rubbed her shoulder.

"Y-yea, I think so. 'M probably just tired."

They stood as one and moved toward the coat check, and then the door with urgency. Even as he helped her with her coat and gloves, she kept holding her head. I crept close behind, running to get my truck once I was safely out the Bronze exit. Collapse should be imminent.

Sure enough, as I drove my truck out of the alley where I had parked, I saw them both crumple into a heap together. I hastily pulled up next to them, pulled the tailgate down, and dragged the two bodies into the truck bed. Smoke vapor puffed out of my mouth as I struggled with the weight. I wondered at the contrast between the vampire's pale cool and the slayer's warm golden skin. Leaping off the back of the truck, I slammed the tailgate closed, pulling back on it to make sure it had latched. I hurriedly climbed back into the cab and drove away from the dance club. Now the test could begin.

* * *

With an unpopular click, my clock radio emitted a loud blast of music from the local radio station. Groaning, I rolled over and hit the snooze button once, as was my habit. Buffy, on the other hand, always hit her snooze several times. I know because her alarm usually went off at the same time as mine, and I could hear the noise through the wall between our bedrooms. However, this morning her alarm did not go off with mine. No biggie. She and Spike stayed out late last night and probably needed to sleep in a few more minutes. Maybe they had set the alarm for a later time.

Stretching my arms over my head, I yawned widely and squinted my eyes halfway open. Sunlight streaked golden ribbons across the room and over my bed covers. Rubbing my eyes with both hands, I climbed out of bed to land on coltish, wobbly legs. Shuffling down the hall to Buffy's room, I peered around the open doorframe. I blinked and noted that the bed remained untouched.

Yawning again, I moved slowly down the stairs to the kitchen for some orange juice and a bowl of cereal. I glanced at the answering machine on the way to the refrigerator. The recorder flashed a big zero at me. Guess Spike and Buffy had ended up at his crypt again. Sometimes after a long night of slaying or if they just wanted to get away for private time, they would stay the night in Spike's old crypt, which still housed a bed in the lower level. They probably went there to finish celebrating Spike's birthday. I smiled at the thought.

After dozing my way through breakfast, I made myself a sack lunch, showered and dressed for school, grabbed my backpack, and headed out the door. Luckily, the sun was breaking over the horizon, and the sky was free of storm clouds, so I would have light and not rain for the journey to school. Sometimes I enjoyed walking to school because the neighborhood during the day was so busy with life and so colorful in the light.

Daytime was a stark contrast to nighttime in Sunnydale. The time of the moon was filled with creepy shadows and the greater possibility of something scary jumping out of the dark and attacking people. Funny, I did not used to take the night so seriously. After all, if Buffy could handle slaying the demons that harmed people, why couldn't my friends and I have fun? A couple of years of experiences made all the difference, and now I had a new respect for the night and the evil that lurked there. In the same vein, I had a new appreciation for the safety of daylight.

I arrived to school ten minutes early, so I gathered my books from my locker. Then, I headed to the gym to see if Buffy had arrived yet. I waited until the first bell had rung, and Buffy still had not arrived. Giving up finally, I dashed at a half-jog to English literature. Sliding into my seat as the second bell rang, I settled down and sadly discovered that Daniel was absent.

Amalia whispered, "Hey, girl. How was the thing with your family?"

"Awesome. We had a wonderful time. Spike loved his earmuffs."

"Cool. The band was fantastic at the Bronze last night. I think I saw your sister and her boyfriend. They looked really sweet dancing together. Boy, those two have passion. You can see it in their movements."

"Yea, I agree. Say, did Daniel end up meeting up with you?"

"Nope. Course that didn't mean he wasn't there. The crowds were pretty thick last night. I couldn't find Sarah for an hour and a half after she called me on her cell phone to say she was there."

I raised my eyebrows. "Wow, the Bronze hasn't been that crowded in a long t..."

Trailing off, I noticed Mr. LeBlanc's hand pressing firmly on my upper back. "If you two ladies are done with your conversation, would you mind getting busy on your research papers on Caesar?"

Shrugging off Mr. LeBlanc's lingering touch, I started pulling papers and supplies out of my notebook. Amalia rolled her eyes at our teacher's back as he headed back to his desk at the front of the room. Busying myself with my work, I hardly noticed that the hour had passed until the bell rang.

Eager to retreat from that particular class, I shoved my materials together and squeaked out the door past some students who were lingering in the doorway. I hurried to my locker to get my supplies for advanced calculus. As I was walking toward the stairs to the second floor math wing bemoaning that Daniel was not at school today, Wright hurried up to me.

"Hi. Dreading the quiz on related rates today? I think I might be. I just don't understand them, and Mr. Fitzgerald is so tough," I complained.

"Those problems are easy. I'll explain them to you later at the Magic Box if you want." He adjusted his glasses and shifted his books, so he could hold onto the stair railing.

"Lotta good that'll do after the quiz."

"Oh, but the quiz is just so he can see how well the class is understanding the concepts, so he can go over them again if needed."

"Well, I guess so. I'd appreciate your help if you're willing. You don't have to cause I can always call Willow for later." Willow, Buffy's other best friend from high school, had moved out of our house into an apartment of her own across town, closer to the university where she was working on her master's degree in computer science. Last year, she had finally graduated with a bachelor's degree in computer science and psychology. I liked hanging out at her apartment because she was teaching me some simple spells. None were black magic, of course, because Willow had difficulties with the power that came with the dark spells. The magic she taught me merely involved milder spells that I could use to take care of myself. And, usually if I went over after work for school help, she'd feed me cookies and milk.

"No, I don't mind."

We reached the top of the stairs. "Say, Wright, have you seen Buffy today?"

He shook his head. "Nope. I heard she wasn't here today. They had to call in a substitute."

"Oh. Did you hear if she just didn't show up or if she called in?" I asked worriedly.

"Yea, I was in the office turning in my yearbook money when I heard her call the secretary."

"Oh," I repeated. Relief swept over me, but I was still concerned that she might be hurt...or Spike might be. Maybe Spike got hurt on patrol last night, and Buffy did not want to leave him all hurt in the crypt by himself. Maybe they got hit by a car. Maybe...I stopped myself. I was starting to panic, and Wright was watching me with a look of concern on his face. I would find out what happened after school or after work at the latest.

As I entered the classroom, Mr. Fitzgerald stood in the front with stack of papers in his hand and a smile upon his face as if he knew of my impending doom. Dread swept over me, and my head spun slightly with thoughts of related rates. Time for the calculus quiz.

* * *

Around noon, I descended into the basement to check on my captives. The sight of the room I had constructed to cage my targets sent chills of pleasure down my spine. The prison was twelve feet in length, width, and height-cube-shaped and was constructed of eight-inch thick steel in the walls, floor, and ceiling. The box had no windows and had only one door which was secured with bolts that entered steel on all four sides. The door had a narrow slot through which could be shoved provisions. Several video cameras were hidden from the prisoners' view with illusions and fed into my computer system, so I could watch and manipulate.

Shaking with excitement, I sat at my desk and flipped on the computer to access the cameras' files. They should have awakened while I was away, and I was curious to view their first reactions. Double-clicking on the camera icon, I opened the files at the beginning. I set the program to fast forward to their awakening. Propping my feet on the desk, I leaned back to enjoy the show....

Buffy stirred first. Pulling herself slowly up from the steel floor, she seemed to suddenly realize she was in an unfamiliar environment. Frantically, she searched for Spike. She spotted him laying on his side a foot or two behind her, and she shook his left shoulder in an anxious manner. At first, he did not move. She increased her efforts, rolling him onto his back and calling his name as she grasped his shoulders. Groaning softly, Spike jerked his arms and legs lightly as he floated back into consciousness. He blinked up at Buffy.

"Buffy?" He noticed his surroundings and sat up under her hands. "Where are we? What happened?"

"I don't know. The last thing I remember is that I felt funny and fell. Now we're being held captive in some sort of weird cell."

"Hmm. It was when we were walking home from the Bronze." He hopped lithely up to his feet and helped Buffy stand. Striding to the nearest wall, he tentatively laid his hand upon the metal. "Steel." He pounded his fist onto the metal. "Solid."

Buffy was surveying the rest of the room. "And all around." She observed the steel bed built into the corner of the room and welded into the wall and the toilet and sink with running water in the corner. The floor sloped almost imperceptibly to a drain in the center of the floor. "Looks like someone is going to keep us here for a while."

Spike squatted at the door, feeling with sensitive fingertips around the slight black crack that ran around the edge of the rectangle, marring the silver. Then, he shoved his fingers in the narrow slot located in the lower half of the door.

Returning to his side, Buffy knelt next to him. "Can you get your hand through?"

"Nope."

"Let me try." Spike shifted slightly so that Buffy could slide her smaller fingers into the crevice. She frowned. "All I feel is more metal and no opening."

"Bloody hell!" Spike's temper flared, and he rose rapidly, kicking the door and then punching the wall with his fist. Buffy backed hastily away as Spike let out a string of curses.

As Spike's litany of foul language faded, Buffy spoke, "Brilliant plan, Spike. Fighting with the wall is really going to help in this steel trap."

Like a lion in a very cramped zoo habitat, Spike paced angrily. "Well, damn it! What are we supposed to do? I don't like being trapped by whatever sodding coward put us here! You'd think whoever had the guts to mess with us would have the spine to actually face us!"

Buffy crossed her arms, regarding Spike with impatience. "Well, who could it be? Let's think about this together. Maybe that'll help us figure out what's going on. It might even give us a clue about how to get out of this mess."

Spike stopped and glared at his mate, gesturing with his arms as he spoke. "You think that figuring out who it is will 'get us out'? In case you haven't noticed, we're in a sodding steel cell with mile thick walls and no feasible exits. And, between your enemies and mine, we have a bloody long list to choose from!"

Matching Spike's fiery eye contact, Buffy restated calmly, "Like I said, somebody obviously wants to keep us around for a while. Why else the bed and the sink and toilet? That should narrow down the list some."

"Yea," Spike retorted. "To the people that don't want us dead on the spot. Congratulations! We've now officially narrowed it down to the people that want to torture and play mind games with us for days. What a thrilling prospect!"

Buffy rolled her eyes at her lover. "Well, I for one do not intend to stand and argue about this because it's getting us nowhere, and it's giving me a headache." She crossed the small room and sat on the edge of the bed. Closing her eyes, she began rubbing her temples with her fingers.

After several seconds, Spike's body posture relaxed, and his face softened as he witnessed her physical pain. He followed her to the bed, sitting beside her and rubbing her shoulders and neck. She leaned into his touch and sighed with pleasure. "I'm sorry, pet," he whispered. "I love you."

"I love you, too. And I understand why you're upset. You're just worried." She glanced up at him. "I'm worried, too. But, I need to stay calm in this situation to be able to think clearly. I need you to be calm, too."

"Yea." Spike leaned toward her and kissed her forehead. "You know my temper."

She smiled, putting her arms around his waist and hugging him close. "It's okay. But if you let yourself go, you're letting whoever is holding us captive win...and we come that much closer to not walking away from this."

He nodded in agreement at her words. "All right. I'll try it your way for a while. Let's see if we can sort a way out of this mess."

...The pair continued to talk, but my mind lost track of what they were saying as I thought about what I had just witnessed. So, Spike had a quick temper, did he? Well, that little tidbit could probably be used against him. I would have to think about what to do with the information. Shutting off the computer, I climbed back up the stairs and left the house.

* * *

As soon as school was over, I ran home to check to see if Buffy and Spike had returned. Not surprisingly, every room in the house was empty. I wanted to check Spike's crypt next. On the way out the door, I snatched up the phone and dialed the Magic Box number with tingling fingers.

Anya answered cherrily, "Good afternoon, you've reached the Magic Box. My name is Anya, store manager. We sell a variety of goods and supplies useful in casting spells, invoking and exorcising demons, and predicting the future. We ship anywhere in the world for a small fee. How may I help you today?"

I waited until she finished her standard spiel before I spoke, "Anya, this is Dawn."

"Dawnie! Where are you? You're ten minutes late for work! Wright's already here, and I have an appointment scheduled from D'Hoffryn."

"Anya, listen. Buffy and Spike didn't come home last night, and they aren't home now. Buffy didn't show up at school today, and there's a message on the answering machine from Spike's boss. He didn't show up at work either."

"Wasn't yesterday the day you celebrated Spike's birthday?"

"Yea."

"Well, maybe they got a little bit carried away with their celebrating. Xander and I used to get so carried away that we'd forget how much time had passed."

"But Spike and Buffy never have. I am worried that something might have happened. Buffy wouldn't neglect her job at the school. I heard she called in sick today. Surely, she would have called me, too."

"Hmm, so she did call the school."

"Yea, I thought maybe they might be holed up at Spike's crypt, that maybe one of them got hurt. I'm gonna look there before I come to work."

Anya was calm. "Sure. I can manage to stay for a little while longer. Do you want me to call Xander and Willow?"

I thought for a minute. What if my sister and her boyfriend were not at the crypt? What could I do then? "That sounds great! Thank you. I'll see you in a bit."

Anya and I exchanged goodbyes, and I was out the door in a heartbeat, racing to Spike's old home in the cemetery. Panting after my run, I slowed, entering the door to the crypt, which hung open in the afternoon sun. My heart beating rapidly from both breathlessness and anticipation, I entered cautiously, noting the musty smell of disuse. Spider webs clouded the narrow windows near the ceiling so that filtered light rained down on undisturbed dust that rested in thick clumps on the vacant iron candlesticks, ledges, and floor. No footsteps revealed a pathway in the dirt, and the entry to the lower level of the crypt and the sewers was shut tightly.

Buffy and Spike had not been here last night nor had they entered the crypt in what looked like weeks. The last drop of hope in my heart evaporated, and a sense of dread settled in my stomach. This time I hugged myself in fear. With renewed energy, I headed as quickly as I could toward the Magic Box.

* * *

Time to watch more of my favorite couple. I decided to hook up my laptop upstairs so that I could lay on the couch and stay comfortable. I was dying to see what they had been doing all day. Gathering the popcorn bowl and computer on my lap and sipping my soda, I lounged back comfortably on the cushions as the monitor displayed the cell. Flicking quickly by their lengthy and highly inaccurate discussion about who had imprisoned them, I chose to watch their current interactions....

Buffy sat with her legs crossed on the corner of the metal bed, and Spike sat with legs splayed wide in an opposite corner of the room. Their jackets and gloves were piled together against one wall. Spike appeared disgruntled. "So, pet, when do you think they'll feed us?"

Buffy picked at the hem of her dress. "Don't know. But, I'm not really hungry."

"You're never hungry when you're upset. That's why you lose so much weight all the time."

"I know, but this time I think that the heat's killing my appetite, not my being upset."

"Heat doesn't bother me as much, but my stomach is churning for something."

She glanced up at him. "I'm more worried about getting out of here than eating."

"We tried everything already," Spike growled impatiently.

"Could we try the lights again?"

"Won't do any good."

"One more time? I want to try one more thing."

He sighed. "Know you won't leave me alone about it 'til we try." He stood. "So, let's go."

Spike cupped his hand into a stirrup for Buffy to climb onto his shoulders. Balancing her carefully with his hands on her thighs, Spike observed Buffy's struggle to work the cover on the flourescent lights off. Earlier, they had searched for screws that attached the cover. Failing that, they had tried to find a way to pry the edge of the cover away from the steel ceiling. Buffy was frustrated now, so she tried a new tactic. She punched the cover with both fists, trying to crack the material. Spike staggered a bit under the influence of her movements before steadying himself.

Nothing happened. The cover was not even dented.

"Damn!" Buffy swore, shaking her sore hands. "That's strong stuff."

"Thought we were beyond punching walls, love," Spike reminded as he set her on her feet gently.

"Well, this time, I was trying to actually do something constructive while being destructive."

Spike took both her hands in his and kissed her knuckles. "Better?"

She smiled up at him. "Yea." She paused. "Let's destroy the camera we found." In their exploration of the entire cell earlier, they had discovered one of the cameras because the illusion had been flawed.

"What's this, destructo girl? I thought we had to think. What'd you do with Buffy?"

"Well, I was thinking if we could destroy something in this place, we'd get our captor's attention. Then, we might have a clue to who they are. They installed the camera to watch us, so obviously, losing a camera would be important to them."

"Ah, you have been thinking." He tilted his head, briefly lost in his own thoughts. "Sounds like a plan."

In the corner where they had uncovered the camera, Spike hoisted Buffy onto his shoulders again. With a well-calculated blow, she smashed the camera into pieces. Once on the ground, she and Spike gathered the remnants.

"That should get their attention," Buffy concluded in a satisfied tone. "We just have to wait and see what happens."

"And, if it doesn't get their attention?"

"We'll think of something else."

"Um, well, pet, I hate to have to bring this up, but what happens if they continue not paying attention to our efforts and not feeding us? You do happen to be the only source of vital nutrition in the room." He glanced at his hands, playing with his fingers.

Buffy looked at him confidently until he returned her gaze. "I trust you."

"You don't know what happens to a vampire when he hasn't fed."

"Yea, I do. You told me once, remember. You become like a living skeleton."

"And ravenous for food. The demon and the bloodlust might become too strong for me to fight."

She stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. "It won't come to that. And even if it does, we'll still make it. We'll figure out what to do."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't."

...The lovers thought that breaking a camera would get my attention. Well, the destruction had gotten my attention, but I was more amused than anything else. I had plenty of other hidden cameras in the room that I could activate at any time. I was well aware that they would likely fashion weapons out of the camera shards, but I was not worried. I had no reason to be in direct contact with either of them.

As for the food, I would feed only the slayer. The vampire did not deserve nourishment, and I had to show them both what a monster he still was. I did not want her to be harmed, but I knew she could take care of herself. Unwittingly, the vampire had given me the ultimate weapons...his temper and his bloodlust. He would dig his own hole and prove himself unworthy of her, and I would have to do nothing.

Before I fed the lady, I had other surprises to show her and her lover. I clicked on the computer icon for environmental controls and adjusted the settings. If they thought the temperature was too hot, they would not think so soon, and they would get a dose of the shower I had built into the wall. Setting aside my computer and snacks, I rose to prepare a meal for my captive. Then, I had plans to see my angel.

* * *

Xander drove me home after he, Willow, and I met at the Magic Box for several hours, trying to uncover where Buffy and Spike might be and what might have happened to them. Anya wanted to stay and help but had to leave to complete an assignment for D'Hoffryn. Not really knowing what to research, we all researched for hours, leafing through the demonology and paranormal activity books Giles had left behind for Buffy and her helpers to use on the hellmouth. Finally, at about four in the morning, my eyes were too blurred to make sense of what I was reading, and Willow had fallen asleep on her stack of books.

Xander decided to make sure everyone got home safely. He dropped Willow off first. After pulling in front of my house, he escorted me to the back and front doors and checked all the windows to make sure no one had broken into the house while I was gone. Satisfied, he waited while I unlocked the front door and entered the foyer.

"So, Dawn. I think everything's secure. And the magical protections are all still intact. Do you feel okay staying here by yourself?"

"I think so."

"Well, keep the phone by your bed and your bedroom door locked. If you feel at all, in any way scared, call me, and I'll be right over," he commanded me.

I nodded. My eyelids felt heavy. "All right."

"And, I'm going to call and check on you in the morning. What time do you get up for school?"

"Umm. Seven."

"Okay. Good night, Dawnster."

I reached over and hugged him. "Thanks, Xan."

After Xander's car pulled away, I shut and locked the front door and climbed the stairs to wash my face and brush my teeth. Sleep sounded marvelous. After I had changed clothes and was brushing my hair, the doorbell rang. Almost jumping out of my skin, my heart started racing. No one I knew ever rang the doorbell. Xander and Willow both had keys, and being a vengeance demon, Anya could teleport into the house.

The doorbell rang again as I crept down the stairs. Peering out the peep hole with my heart thundering in my ears, I recognized Daniel standing on the front porch in the light from the street lamp. With immense relief, I unlatched the locks and opened the door.

Daniel was not smiling. "Hey."

"Hi." I did not invite him inside. I waited to see if he could cross the threshold without an invitation. The last time Daniel had been to my house, he had not been a vampire. Walking in the dark at this time of night and being absent from school, who knows what he might have become. I had made a similar mistake in the past but would not make one tonight.

Daniel looked puzzled when I did not move. Then, he sighed. "Dawn, I'm not a vampire."

He pushed past me, and I felt relief wash over my skin. I hastily shut and locked the door behind him. Before he knew what was happening, I engulfed him in a tight embrace. He was still warm to the touch. "Thank goodness you're here!"

He grasped my shoulders, pushing me back. "I needed to talk with you."

"Oh, I need to talk with you, too. I'm so upset! Spike and Buffy are missing." I took his hand and led him into the living room. I turned on some lamps so that low light filled the room and sat beside him on the sofa.

"W-what?" Concern filled his features.

"They've been missing since last night, and I don't know where they are. Xander and Willow and I did research, but we can't figure it out." I continued until I explained the entire situation to him. When tears poured down my cheeks, he put his arm around me, holding me against his chest. I felt instantly safe and comforted.

After I finished talking, I looked up at him, rubbing at the tear tracks on my cheeks. "What did you want to talk with me about?"

"Nothing important. I'll tell you later." He refused to meet my eyes with his own.

"It's not nothing," I insisted. "You don't usually come all the way over here in the middle of the night. So, tell me."

"I-I just wondered how you were doing. I was absent today, and I missed you."

"Oh." In all the pandemonium about Spike and my sister, I had forgotten that I had intended to call him after school to find out why he was absent. We always brought each other our homework when one of us was not at school for various reasons. "I'm sorry. I just got so caught up with everything."

"Yea, I understand. I was just worried. Are you okay? Do you feel safe being by yourself?"

"I think so. Do you want to stay here the night? You could take the couch. It's really comfy."

"Naw. I think I'll head home. It's almost daylight anyway."

"Well..."

Daniel rose to leave.

I hurried to Buffy's weapon chest. Fishing out a wooden stake, I handed the weapon to him. "For vampires. Just in case."

He nodded. We were both too tired to say goodbye before I locked the door behind him.

* * *

I watched my angel, my fairy through the living room window. She gracefully moved about the room, turning out the lights. I held my breath as she came close to the window, praying that she did not see me standing outside. My precious Dawn...she looked so tired after staying up so late. In a few weeks, she would know what I had done. Her reaction was what I craved, but I could endure the wait.

* * *

Two weeks passed, and none of us heard from Buffy and Spike. I felt like they had disappeared from the planet without a trace. Xander and Willow encouraged me to continue going to school, and I had started staying with Willow at night after work. The house on Revello Drive just did not seem like home without Spike and Buffy.

"Dawnie, breakfast!" Willow called.

I trotted down the hall from the guest bedroom, inhaling the scent of coffee, pancakes, and bacon. "Something smells yummy." Willow had taken the time to cook me breakfast every morning. I loved her for giving me a bit of continuity from home.

"Yep. I made your faves this morning." Willow smiled at me around the strands of red hair hanging in her face. She and I both still wore our nightclothes.

"Wow, you're really spoiling me. Can I stay here permanently?" I placed a fork full of food on my tongue.

"Of course, my Dawnie is welcome anytime." Willow fixed herself a plate and set glasses of orange juice and mugs of coffee on the table for each of us.

"Cool. Thanks for breakfast."

We ate in companionable silence for twenty minutes or so. Then, I cleared the table. Willow ambled down the hall to get ready for school. "Don't forget, I have to leave fifteen minutes early today, Dawn."

"Okay." Willow also dropped me off at school, which was nice because she lived a long way from the high school campus.

We ended up piling into Willow's car with our class materials and lunches twenty minutes earlier than normal. Willow was cheerful as she dropped me off. "Meet you at the Magic Box after school for more research? I think Xander wants to share what he found out from Giles."

I nodded. "Okay." Xander had finally broken down and called Giles in England for information on what might have happened to Buffy and Spike.

Once inside the school, I went to the library to return some books and browse for a biography to read for American History. While I was searching, I vaguely wondered if Daniel would be in school today. He had been absent every day for the last two weeks. Every time I tried to call him, his mother said he was not home. His mother left him messages, but he never returned my calls. My thoughts turned from Daniel when I uncovered a book on Anne Morrow Lindburgh. I flipped through the pages and read the jacket cover summary. Satisfied, I checked the book out and headed to my locker.

Turning the combination without much thought, I opened the locker door. When I saw what was inside, my jaw dropped. A red rose wrapped in green paper and a note rested atop my textbooks and spiral notebooks. Trembling, I opened the note and read the words written elegantly on the page:

"Dearest Dawn,

I want you to know that I have been watching you from afar. You are the most beautiful creature I have ever seen. You move with such grace and are so passionate. I do not normally operate in this manner, but I wanted you to know that you are admired and treasured. I long to hold you in my arms. I would never hurt you. I could never hurt anyone. Someday soon I shall reveal myself. I know we will be very happy. At that time, I will share some information that I have about your sister. Until then, please be patient with me. I love you.

Love, Your Secret Admirer."

As soon as I finished the letter, I crumpled the paper in my fist, sinking to the floor and dropping my books. Ignoring the stares of the other students, I knelt there for several seconds, fighting back tears. Then, I pocketed the note, gathered my books and folders, and slammed my locker shut. Hurrying to English literature, I sank into a slouch in my seat, hoping Mr. LeBlanc would not pay any attention to me. Amalia glanced at me worriedly, and I noticed that Daniel was not in class for the tenth class day in a row.

I stumbled through the school day. I was shocked into inaction, and I pondered what to do with the information I had received. I could hardly focus in any of my classes. At lunch, I sat with my friend, Sarah, as Amalia, with whom I usually sat, had been avoiding sitting with me for the last several days.

Sarah sat before me with her tray of chicken fried steak and mashed potatoes as I pulled out my sandwich. "So, Dawn, I have some interesting news." She set a carton of milk down for me.

"Thanks. What?" I pulled the crust off my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

As she cut her meat, she murmured, "Daniel and Amalia are together."

Of all the things she could have told me, that was the least expected. "What?!" A flash of pain shot through my stomach. I threw the sandwich down on my paper sack. Suddenly, I was not so hungry anymore.

"Yep. For two weeks now." Sarah seemed concerned at my expression. "Are you okay?"

I did not know what to say. Instead, I got up from the table and hurried out of the cafeteria, tossing my lunch in the garbage as I left. Amalia knew how much I cared about Daniel and knew I wanted to be with him. I thought she was my friend! When I reached the girls' restroom, the tears fell unbidden. I sank against the wall and slid to the floor. Everything was falling apart at once. I could not take anything else today. I just could not.

The remainder of my classes passed uneventfully. Thankfully, I did not see Amalia. When the last bell rang, I was eager to see Xander and Willow at the Magic Box. In the school parking lot, I saw Wright ahead of me. Quickening my pace, I caught up.

"Hi, Wright."

He smiled. "Hey. How was your day?"

I decided to be truthful. "Crappy. Can we chat a minute?" I desperately needed to confide in someone.

"Sure. Why don't we go sit under that tree over there for a few minutes?"

Once seated, I told him of my continuing concerns about Buffy and Spike, about the strange letter and rose, and about my friends' deceit. He listened closely, taking his glasses off, so I could see his eyes more clearly and know that I had his full attention. Again, I noticed how attractive he was. When I started crying from the stress of everything, he pulled me close with his forehead touching mine. With gentle fingertips, he swept away my tears and murmured reassurances to me. Before I knew what was happening, his lips were warm upon mine. Soon, I was kissing him back. The moment was matchless and indescribable, and I felt truly cherished. Was this how Buffy and Spike felt when they were together?

* * *

Two weeks had passed. Today, I took my first step toward my fairy angel, Dawn, by leaving her a rose and letter in her locker. I allowed myself this one step because I was getting tired of waiting and wanted something in response from her even if only in a small way. Without a doubt, I received the response I wanted.

Two weeks had also passed since I fed Spike. He was slowly weakening, and his deterioration was interesting to watch. Buffy took care of him and kept offering him her own blood, but he refused. He slept most of the time now. I fed the slayer, the goddess because she deserved to eat, but the vampire did not. I was adamant about that fact.

Settling into my now usual position on the couch, I prepared to watch the day's events. I started the recording when Spike showed signs of waking....

Spike was curled up in a fetal position atop the bed. Buffy lay behind to him with her head propped up by her arm. She ran her hand down his arm in a soothing, fluid, and repetitive fashion.

"Shhh," she whispered. "It's okay."

Spike did not respond. Silence reigned for a several minutes.

Buffy spoke again, "Sweetie, I wish you would eat something. You're so weak. It won't hurt me. I won't let you hurt me."

At last, Spike growled out almost unintelligibly, "No."

"I'm fine. I'm strong. Whoever it is has been feeding me, and I'm not dead, yet. A little blood from my system would do you good." She paused. Then, she pleaded, "I don't want to lose you. If you take just a little, you can come back to me....Please, I need you to be okay."

Spike growled again but did not speak this time.

"Come on, love. You told me once that slayer blood is more potent than regular. You'll be yourself with just a bit. Not very much."

Buffy sat up when Spike grew silent. Bringing a piece of the broken camera to her arm, she slid the metal into the flesh of her arm so that crayon red blood flowed from the wound. She held the dripping arm near his mouth.

Spike's reaction was instantaneous. He unfurled his body and flew across the room so rapidly that he was almost a blur. He stood hunched in an animalistic stance as far from Buffy as possible. His face was transformed into an ugly, twisted semblance of his human visage. His irises glowed a golden yellow, almost blending with the whites of his eyes, and his teeth hung jaggedly down from the corners of his open mouth.

Buffy did not flinch away. She advanced on him with her violated arm outstretched. "Please, Spike. I'm so worried about you. Please drink."

"No! How many times do I have to say no! Stay the bloody fucking hell away from me!"

Buffy continued approaching, and Spike responded by swinging an arm at her and knocking her across the small room. Blood from her arm sprayed through the air as she fell. She lay on the floor for a few seconds, balancing her upper body off the ground with her arms. Her flaxen hair hid her face.

Spike remained on his side of the room, inhaling heavy, unnecessary, emotional breaths. He glared at his fallen partner. "See, I am the monster you always thought I was. I hope you learned your lesson."

Fiercely, Buffy leapt to her feet in an aggressive, angry stance. "How dare you put words in my mouth?! I haven't called you a monster in over two years!"

"You don't have to say the words. Just because you stopped saying it, doesn't mean you don't believe it! You've always thought it deep down no matter how much you said you loved me!"

"You're not a monster. I thought we had worked through this a long time ago." She moved slowly closer to him. "I thought you knew that I believe in you...that I love you, and I could never love a monster."

"No! Can't you see it! Aren't you looking at me!" He lunged at her so that his face was inches from hers. He grasped her shoulders roughly. "Really look at me! Do you see anything remotely human here?"

Buffy reached up to touch his face, saying words that echoed what she had told him in the past, "I see a man...a man I love."

Spike balked and shoved her away. "Foolish idiot! I am a vampire! I could drain you dry in seconds!"

"But, you won't. I trust the man in you."

"And you can ignore everything that I've done in the past? All the lives I took? I relished killing! I killed and maimed thousands of people and bathed in their blood! It was intoxicating and powerful! Aren't you even a little afraid? You should be! You could wake up tomorrow and everyone you love could be dead at my hands!"

Buffy said nothing but punched his face with her fist as she had not done in years. "Don't make light of my trust and my feelings!"

Spike smirked, "Like you didn't deny mine for years!" He took advantage of the tears that sprang up in her eyes and kicked her legs out from under her.

Buffy reacted with the reflexes of years of training and demon slaying by moving with the direction of the fall and landing neatly in a squatting position. In the same instant, she rolled behind Spike, bouncing to her feet and landing a well-planted kick into his back. Spike stumbled forward, whirled, and began matching her kicks and punches with his own. They fought with equally matched grace and precision and utter ferocity.

Within minutes, Spike began to tire, and Buffy ended the fight by pinning his body beneath her own. Sweat and blood mingled and poured from her brow, dripping onto his face. He closed his eyes as she glared at him. Holding him down, she reopened the wound on her arm, shoving the torn flesh to his mouth.

"Now," she demanded. "Drink."

Tears poured down his face as his demon took over, and he sucked hungrily on her arm. He drank for several seconds with his yellow eyes fixed on her green ones. Then, abruptly, he turned his head to the side, demon features melting. Weakened slightly from the exertion of the fight and the light loss of blood, Buffy collapsed on top of his body.

"I love you," she whispered with fresh tears mingling with the ones Spike already shed.

Spike did not reply.

...A broad smile spread across my face. I had the evidence I needed to show my Dawn just what a monster her beloved Spike was. Glancing at the two ash-filled clay urns on the coffee table, I reminded myself that all vampires were monsters and deserved to be dust.

* * *

I lay awake in the bed at Willow's house. My thoughts would not leave me alone. Finally, I slid out from under the sheets and entered the kitchen. I was startled by the presence of Willow at the kitchen table. She grasped a mug of milk in her hand.

"Hey, Dawnie," she breathed quietly.

"Couldn't sleep." I shuffled to the table. The chair I slid out scraped loudly against the tile.

"Me either."

"Worried about Buffy?" I asked.

"And Spike," Willow added in a way that surprised me a little. I had not realized quite what kind of niche Spike had managed to make for himself in our group...even among some of his staunchest critics.

"I can't believe it has something to do with someone I know."

"We'll figure it out, Dawn. I mean, you have a few suspects."

"Yea, but none of them seem too convincing. I mean, just because Mr. LeBlanc is sleazy, doesn't mean he's evil. And just because Daniel and Amalia hurt me, it doesn't mean they would know something about Buffy and Spike and not tell me."

"Well, the research I did on the laptop indicated that Mr. LeBlanc has a history of sexually harassing other female students. Most of the claims have been silenced by the school board, and those particular students were either removed from his classroom or sent to a private school," Willow reiterated her earlier findings to me.

"But, didn't you find that several claims were recent...like in this school year?"

"Yea. Don't worry, Dawn. I anonymously sent the entire package of information I had to the police, certain members of the city council, and the state government. If it's been kept on the down low until now, it won't be much longer."

"Good....I still don't know about Daniel and Amalia."

"Well, you tried calling him several times. You'll find out tomorrow when we talk with Daniel at his house before school."

"He might not be home."

"We'll find him. And even if it's not him, we'll have a better clue after we hear from Giles on Buffy's location." Willow patted my arm reassuringly and rose. "Want some milk?"

"Mmmm. Got any cookies, too?"

Willow chuckled. "Chocolate chip."

Willow filled a fresh glass of milk for herself and for me and hauled a foil covered plate of cookies out of the pantry. Taking the plate from her, I peeled back the foil and snagged one of Willow's cookies. Dunking the treat in my milk, I took a quick bite and relished the sweetness of the chocolate on my tongue...almost as sweet as the kiss I had shared with Wright earlier today.

"Well, Giles and crew are doing the location spell tonight. We should have some more news early in the morning." Willow resumed her seat and took a cookie.

"Yea. I just hope we find them before something happens to either of them."

"We will," Willow responded confidently.

* * *

Curious to observe the aftermath of the fight between Spike and Buffy, I left the computer on, setting the machine to beep if movement was detected in the room while I was engaged in other tasks. An hour later, I heard the beeping sound from down the hall and rushed to view what was happening. Although the environmental controls shut off the lights at night, the cameras were built for infrared recording....

At some point, Spike and Buffy had moved to the bed, using the coats as a cushion. Spike cradled Buffy in his arms in the spoon position from behind. His arm was tucked snugly around her, and she pressed tightly against him. Spike was stirring in his sleep and seemed to be slowly awakening. He opened his eyes briefly, realized where he was, and then buried his face in her hair, sighing with resignation.

Buffy woke with Spike's slight rustling. "Spike?"

"I'm here." His voice was muffled.

"How do you feel?"

"Pretty damn crappy" was Spike's instant comeback.

"I meant, physically."

"Much better, pet, much better."

"You certainly proved how stubborn you are." Buffy turned in Spike's embrace so that she lay facing him. Blind in the dark, she explored his face with her fingertips. "And I still love you."

"Love, we need to talk about what happened."

"What about it?" she asked as if she wanted to avoid the conversation.

"What we said to one another...what I said to you. We haven't spoken to each other like that in years."

"Product of starvation and temporary insanity due to being locked in such a small room with each other for two weeks straight. We haven't had a break from each other," Buffy reasoned. "Will you eat next time instead of being so fussy?"

"Yea, I'll eat," Spike replied grudgingly. "But no matter what our situation, it still doesn't take away what we said," he insisted.

"I already forgot what we said."

"Buffy."

"I know, I know." She sighed against his chest. "Okay, I'll start." Taking a deep breath, she whispered, "It really hurt that you doubted my feelings and my trust in you. And that you dismissed my belief in you as unfounded." Tears fell unbidden.

"I'm sorry. I-I guess, I didn't realize it, but I still feel insecure about what I did in the past and doubt whether what I am now is real."

"Why do you say that? You've more than proven who you are and what you feel in your words and actions. They say you can predict someone's future behavior from their past behavior. Well, your recent past behavior to me and mine has been consistently good and not anything like your behavior in the past. You've gone above and beyond what any demon, let alone most human beings, would ever do to change your behavior. I believe in you. Do you believe in yourself?"

Spike was silent for a moment. "Keep believing in me. It's getting easier to believe in myself. Just sometimes, I feel like such a failure when I do things like earlier today...when I hurt you."

"We're in a relationship. Just that fact means we're going to hurt each other sometimes. Plus, in this instance, you were half out of your mind with hunger."

"I know, but I want to make sure I don't hurt you often," Spike countered.

"You don't. I feel secure with you and that's a good feeling. I don't go around wondering when you're going to do something hurtful, and I don't feel like I'm walking on egg shells. With you, I can be myself, and it's anything but boring. I hope you can be yourself with me because it's such a wonderful feeling."

"I can. I feel the same." Spike ran his fingers through Buffy's hair. He added in an almost inaudible tone, "I would never kill you or yours."

"I know. I'm not planning on doing you in anytime soon either."

Quiet permeated the air. Then, Spike spoke, "We haven't brought up the past like that in a long time."

"Yea," Buffy agreed. "But, maybe we needed to air it out a little...to remind ourselves where we are today."

"Maybe. I don't like doing it often, though. It hurts both of us."

"I agree."

Spike touched the bruise on Buffy's head from their fight. "Hurt?"

She winced. "Yea." After a few seconds, she murmured, "When you told me that you are a monster and got in my face, it reminded me of when Angel told me that he was leaving me because he wanted me to have a normal life and not some freak show. What you said...it scared me."

Spike was silent for a moment as if stunned by her words and her vulnerability. Then, he put both arms around her and pulled her close. "Oh, love, don't think that. I'm not...him. I'm far too possessive to ever do what he did. I'd be too jealous when you hooked up with a new bloke. And, I love you too much to go."

"You still love me?"

"Of course, pet." He kissed her softly on the lips. "I love you."

"I love you, too." She returned his kiss. "I love all of you...the demon and the man. And you are not a monster."

...Their kisses grew more intense as the passion flared between them. The lovers had not been intimate in days, and their pent up emotions seemed to overwhelm them both. I tried to turn away from their lovemaking, but there was a certain revolting fascination with watching them in what they probably thought was a private moment. I could not believe such a beautiful, healthy young woman would allow herself to participate in such a disgusting act with a vampire.

* * *

While Willow went to Daniel's house and Xander called Giles, I decided to confront Amalia at her house in case Daniel might be with her. As I approached her front door in the cool morning breeze, I reminded myself that I was there to ask about Buffy and not about her relationship with Daniel.

The door opened before I could ring the doorbell, and Amalia appeared in the doorway with a shocked look on her face. "What are you doing here?" she growled.

Anger shot sparks through my belly, and my mouth formed words before I could think. "Why do you think? Why didn't you tell me about you and Daniel?"

"Because you haven't exactly been available lately." She planted her hands on her hips.

"Amalia, who's there?" Amalia's mother called from inside the house.

Amalia called back over her shoulder, "No one, Mom! I'm going to school!"

"Okay, dear. Have a good day!" Amalia stepped onto the porch, closed the front door, and started walking down the sidewalk.

Slightly thrown off by Amalia's actions, I caught up to her. "You knew I liked Daniel and that I've been wanting to be with him for a year."

"So?" She refused to meet my gaze and kept charging down the sidewalk.

"So, I thought you were my friend."

She halted so quickly that I almost kept moving past her. She looked at me squarely. "Look, I've only been here a couple of months. You've known Daniel for a year. You could have taken any of that time to pursue him. You didn't. Maybe the timing was just never right for you and him. Now he's with me. End of story."

"But, I trusted you with my feelings."

"So? Maybe you shouldn't have."

"I guess you were never really my friend."

"Guess you weren't really Daniel's," Amalia countered.

"What does that mean?"

"Well, you've been so caught up in yourself and your stupid sister's disappearance that you didn't even notice Daniel anymore. And he's been through hell when you weren't looking!"

"W-what do you mean?"

"You don't know? I thought he said he told you when it happened."

My thoughts raced back to Daniel's late night visit several days ago. My voice softened, "He tried."

"Let me guess, you didn't listen. Not that you deserved to know, but his sister overdosed that night. She was in ICU. She has been for the last several days. That's why he hasn't been in school. He turned to me when you weren't there for him. I was." She pointed at her chest to emphasize her last words.

"Oh."

"Yea, oh. Goodbye, Dawn." Amalia continued toward the school, leaving me unmoving in shock.

My real reason for pursuing Amalia this morning filtered its way back through my raw emotions. I called after her, "Wait!"

Impatient, she turned. "What?"

"Have you heard anything about Buffy?"

"Dawn, I don't know anything about what's going on in your family, and I don't want to know. All I know is that your sister is in some major trouble after disappearing without a trace and not even calling into work to say what's going on. She's in danger of being fired."

My brain was confused. "I heard she called the office."

She rolled her eyes. "I work in the office, remember? She never called."

Amalia left me frozen on the sidewalk. Buffy never called to notify the school? Where had I heard that she had? I felt the blood leave my face to pool in my feet.

* * *

From the early morning shadows across the street, I witnessed the heated conversation between Dawn and Amalia. My sweet Dawn was upset with Amalia for betraying their friendship. I was not prepared for Amalia's words about Buffy. My angel took off toward home as Amalia continued to school. Events were unfolding more quickly than I intended. Perhaps the way things were happening now was for the best. Without hesitation, I followed Dawn.

* * *

Trembling, I stood in my kitchen and dialed the number to the Magic Box.

Xander answered on the first ring. "Hello?" Anya could be heard in the background, "Hey! Follow the script!" Xander covered the phone, "An, hold on." Into the phone, he reiterated, "Hello?"

"Xander! Put Anya on!"

"Dawn, we know where Buffy is." Xander's voice came out in a rush. "Giles just called. She's alive."

"Wright. She's being held by Wright," I provided.

"Hey, how did you know?"

Scuffles could be heard, and Xander was replaced by Anya. "Dawn, we figured it out."

"Yea, me too. How did you hire Wright?"

"Well, he shopped here for various things in the past. Mostly, informational volumes on vampires. One day I asked him why he was buying the books, and he said his parents had been killed by vampires. When I asked him how, he replied by saying he knew you and Buffy. We talked for a while, and he mentioned that he was looking for a job, which turned out to be perfect timing..."

"Anya," I interrupted, "where does Wright live?"

Anya gave me the address, which I scribbled on the notepad by the phone. Ripping off the sheet, I shoved it in my pocket. I could not believe Buffy and Spike had been so close all this time. Without warning, a hand grabbed my arm, spinning me around so that the cordless phone clattered to the floor.

"Dawn, my sweet. You owe it to me to hear me out."

I flinched at the familiar voice that had once provided comfort. "Let go of me," I spoke evenly.

"Just for a few minutes. I have something to show you." His fingers tightened on my arm, cutting off my circulation.

Reacting with my instincts, my leg flew up in imitation of the kicks I had watched Buffy unleash on many a vampire. My foot connected sharply with Wright's head, knocking his glasses across the room. His unconscious body hit the floor with a solid thump. With an adrenaline rush, I was out the back door at a run to Wright's house two blocks away.

* * *

My mind floated back into consciousness. Scrambling for my glasses, I pursued my Dawn. I caught up to her as she entered my house. My arms encircled her waist, trapping her arms. I kicked the door shut as she screamed and slammed her against the wall to shut her up.

"Now, listen. I have something to show you. Then, you'll understand."

Dawn squirmed in my arms but remained mute. Jerking her arms so that they were pinned behind her back, I hustled her forward to the living room where my computer remained plugged into the camera recording system. Throwing her against the sofa, I tied her arms and legs together with the rope under the coffee table. I grabbed a role of duct tape to bind her mouth closed. She began squirming a bit, so I slapped her face.

"Now, listen up. I went to a lot of trouble for you."

Through the stars in her eyes, she glared at me.

"Don't look at me. Look at the computer screen and watch."

I clicked on the icon of the carefully edited scene that showed Spike attacking Buffy like an animal and threatening to kill all of her family and friends. I studied my angel's face as she watched and was satisfied that Dawn's eyes filled with tears. The clip ended, and I closed the lid of the laptop.

"Now, you see what a monster your beloved Spike really is. You see, all vampires are monsters. The vampires that killed my parents transformed them into horrific beasts. I thought my parents were alive when they came home that night after going out for dinner, but I awoke to find them peering over me with hunger in their eyes and disfigured faces. I had to kill the creatures my parents became." I gestured to the urns on the table, tears welling in my eyes. "All that's left is the dust, and that's really for the best."

My Dawn was watching me with fear etched onto her face. I stroked the place where I had hit her with my hand. She winced. "I only did this to save you from becoming a horrible monster, too. I love you. I wanted to protect you from everything dangerous. I hope you understand."

Dawn's face melted into calm. Triumph soared in my chest. She understood! Then, I glanced over her shoulder. A lamp floated in the air. As soon as I noticed the object, I glanced at Dawn. She was not calm in acceptance of my words; she was concentrating. Little witch, I thought as the lamp connected with my head.

* * *

Happily at home in the living room, I sank back against the sofa cushions, safely sandwiched between Spike and Buffy. I smiled at Willow, Anya, and Xander across the room. They had arrived at Wright's house shortly after I knocked him out with the lamp, using the spell Willow taught me. Anya had wanted to teleport over, but the ever interfering D'Hoffryn had prevented her from using her demon abilities to help. Instead, she rode with Xander and Willow. Anya had untied me while Xander called the police, and Willow figured out how to release Buffy and Spike using Wright's computer system.

"So, how many years do you think Wright will get?" I asked.

Willow replied, "Well, they'll probably try him as a juvenile, but hopefully, he'll have to serve some time in adult prison as well."

"Let's hope so," Buffy commented. "I can't believe he did all that because he had a crush on Dawn."

"A very twisted, psycho crush," I added, laying my head on Buffy's shoulder. "And some distorted views of vampires."

"Of Spike," Buffy cautioned. "Not all vampires. He's right about most others."

"Yea," Spike added, circling his arm around Buffy and I. "Other vampires are not to be messed with."

The doorbell rang. Anya leapt to her feet, "I'll get it."

Xander followed her to the door. "Ooo, pizza's here." He casually brushed his hand across Anya's back. Anya let him.

"I'll get plates and stuff. Everyone want soda?"

"Yea," Buffy called.

Spike rose from the sofa. "I'll help Red."

I glanced at Buffy as the gang left the room. "I'm so glad you guys are okay."

She smiled at me. "I'm glad you're okay. You've been through a lot the last couple of weeks."

"I sorta feel like I've lost all my closest friends." I stared at my hands.

"With friends like those, you don't need enemies," Buffy quipped. Seeing that did not phase me, she paused. "You haven't lost all your friends. You have all the people in this house right now."

"But, it's not the same. You are all older. I don't belong."

Buffy forced me to meet her gaze. "Hold on there. You do belong. You always will. I mean look at us, age doesn't matter. Xander, Willow, and I are the same age, but Anya is over a thousand years old, and Spike's over one hundred."

Spike and Willow reentered the room bearing soda cans, plates, and napkins. Raising an eyebrow, Spike asked teasingly, "Are you calling me old?"

"If you're old, what does that make me?" Anya demanded playfully.

"Beautiful," Xander commented.

I smiled as I continued to watch my friends banter while laying out dinner. My family was complete again.

The End.