TITLE: Bag of Bones

AUTHOR: Shadowlass

RATING: R

SUMMARY: Spike returns to Sunnydale with his new addition, version 3,829. And no one's rolling out the welcome mat…but someone does have a little surprise for him.

EMAIL: shadowlass2000@yahoo.com

DISTRIBUTION: Feel free, but let me know where it's going.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own BtVS. If I did, Spike would be earning redemption the hard way. Also, he'd give up that unspeakable jewelry.

NOTES: Boundless thanks to my fabulous betas, hold_that_thought, Chris and Devil Piglet.

She knew he was back. The Bit had seen to that. Saw him walking out of the store a couple days before, gave him the most godawful look and then walked off in the other direction. There's no way Dawn didn't tell big sis. She knew.

Hadn't seen her, though. Not that he was looking for her. But he kept his eyes open.

God, how did the kid find out? Was Buffy still there when she got home—in the bathroom? Dawn knew. She wouldn't have looked at him that way unless she knew. Even after last year, with Dru, she'd never looked at him that way.

What did she expect? He was a vampire. They got on, so she expected him to be good? Tame? Heel nicely? And maybe the Slayer would toss him a bone. Maybe he'd be invited to her next birthday party instead of having to work on her friends until they spilled. Although actually being invited to one of those parties was probably more punishment than reward.

He was an outcast again. He should be used to it; it wasn't the first time. The only time he'd belonged was when he was with Dru, and he wasn't interested in a revival, thanks. Didn't want one last year, and it was unthinkable now. Sunnydale—he couldn't say it had been good to him, but he didn't really know where else to go. He was drawn there.

Home sweet home. Christ.

***

When Dawn came back from seeing Spike, she walked past Buffy as if she didn't exist, stomped up the stairs, and slammed her bedroom door so hard their mother's Etruscan chalice rattled on the mantelpiece.

In short, it was just like every other time Dawn entered the house.

But this time, up in her room, Dawn was shaking. She curled up into a lump and sobbed like she hadn't done since Buffy died. It was like she had no tears left. Tara—Tara's death had been horrible. She was the person Dawn had loved best, and she had been splayed out and abandoned on the bedroom floor, bloody and cold, as if she hadn't even mattered. Dawn sat with her all day. It was unspeakable. It was terrible to be there but leaving her alone seemed worse, so she stayed. Mostly she only felt shock. She wondered when she'd wake up, since she was probably asleep. And then—after it seemed like she had been there forever—Buffy and Xander had appeared and whisked her away. Upstairs seemed like a dream. A nightmare. But it didn't end, and Tara never came back. Not like Buffy had.

Spike wasn't supposed to leave. He'd been on the periphery of Dawn's life for almost the entire time they'd lived in Sunnydale. Her mom had said some people were goers and some were stayers, and Spike was obviously a stayer.

Not that she'd actually been in Sunnydale long. But she remembered, even if it wasn't real. She had slipped downstairs the night Buffy told their mother that she was a Slayer—she remembered it. Easing down carefully, knowing that if they saw her she'd be sent up to her room. The police wanted to talk to Buffy. Their mom was at the end of her rope. And she'd peered in and there he was, all silver-white hair and sharp cheekbones and sleek lines, looking around their living room like he'd never seen one before, and then complimenting her mother on the decor. The strangest looking man she'd ever seen, making small talk. If she'd seen him walking towards her on the sidewalk, she'd have crossed the street to avoid him.

But then Buffy had come in and they talked to each other like equals. Not with the queen bee quality Buffy used with her friends—no matter what Buffy told herself, she was about a million times worse than Cordelia. Not with the barely tolerant tone she'd used with their mother. Not with the sappy tone she'd used with Angel when he snuck into her room at night—Dawn had listened whenever she had the chance; her sister had just about used baby talk with him. No, Buffy had spoken to Spike like he was an adult, like he was strong and smart and she needed him.

She didn't speak to anyone else that way, and she never had.

She hadn't spoken to Spike like that since—was it Halloween? He'd helped save Dawn from her first vampire boyfriend. Following in her sister's footsteps already, he'd said on the way home. She'd heard Buffy thank Spike for helping and told him what a good job he'd done. After that it was all curt tones and cutting remarks. They'd played hearts at Buffy's never-ending birthday party, but didn't really say anything, just gave each other looks that made Dawn squirm. It was a good kind of squirm, though. It was better than what was to come.

No matter how Buffy treated him, it hadn't changed how he'd treated Dawn. He'd still come around. They'd played cards and Nintendo, and Spike had cooked for her a few times, with varying success. That had been before Buffy came back, when Dawn didn't have anyone to do those things for her. She still didn't, but she was supposed to. Dawn was fairly sure Buffy didn't want to hear how Spike had taken better care of her than she was.

Then Xander had told her that. It was hateful, it made her sick. And then everything was clear to her. She couldn't believe how stupid she'd been.

And now Spike was back. He'd just waltzed into town like nothing had happened, like they didn't have a right to be angry with him. She didn't even know how long he'd been back. Maybe months. Like he had every right. Like he thought everything was okay.

It wasn't. It hadn't been for a long time. And she was going to make him pay.

***

"What was that?"

Buffy jerked her head around to face Xander. "What?" She'd been staring up the stairs after her incredible disappearing sister, who had gone from complaining about not getting enough attention to avoiding her at every opportunity. The promise of late spring had evaporated, and they were more awkward than ever. Buffy wasn't sure how things had deteriorated so completely, but she couldn't believe how difficult it was to deal with her sister. She was only five years older than Dawn, but it was as if there were generations between them. She had no idea how their mother had managed with her.

"The slam and stomp," Xander explained. "Dawn. Not a word. Didn't even look at us. Everything okay with her?"

Buffy smothered a sigh. Xander wasn't Percepto Man. Dawn had been like that all summer, and Xander was just now noticing? Dawn was even more of a joy than she had been before—

Before Spike left. Why not say it? He was gone. Had been for a long time. You think she'd be used to it—it's what they all did, wasn't it? Shut up, she thought. But why? It wasn't anything but the truth. People left. Especially, they left her.

"Dawn has, uhh—it's been a bad summer," Buffy finally replied. Xander didn't want to know about how much Dawn missed Spike, and Buffy didn't want him to know that Dawn was still angry at Xander for telling her about the attack. Dawn hadn't really trusted him after that, Buffy knew—Xander. He'd destroyed Dawn's childish admiration for Spike, who had been larger than life—a sexy punk in black leather who listened to cool music, snarked with the best of them, and took care of her when the others were too involved in their own lives. Until the moment Xander told her about the incident in the bathroom, Spike had been something special to her, a refuge. Dawn didn't have many of those. No wonder she was angry.

So are you, whispered a voice in Buffy's head. She tried to ignore it as Xander resumed his discourse on the value of latex paints. Finally she stopped trying to listen; she didn't care about the relative merits of flat vs. glossy anyway, and if she'd ever been able to concentrate when she wasn't interested her grades would have been better.

It wasn't right. Xander had had no right to tell Dawn about Spike. That was for her to decide, not Xander or anyone else. And if she didn't want Dawn to know, that was her business. Why did Dawn have to be told? Couldn't she have one thing that wasn't spoiled?

Dawn hadn't mentioned Spike since that day.

"And so my final vote: Satin," concluded Xander.

"What?"

"Uhh…Buff? You were asking my advice on repainting Will—your mom's room," reminded Xander, catching himself. "Satin finish. No question. Non-reflective, but still washable."

"Satin," she repeated weakly. "Yeah."

They looked at each other, then glanced away. How long had they had trouble talking? Before he found out about Spike. Before she jumped off the tower. Before Riley left? She wasn't sure. She never confided in him about their relationship, but she never really had confided in him that way anyway. That was more a Willow kind of thing.

Xander looked at her with his searching dark eyes, and she felt unwelcomed guilt. He was sincere. He always tried. Where had their friendship gone? He still came over, they still talked. They were the only remnants of the Scooby Gang. Had Willow been the center of the group? Because without her Buffy and Xander seemed to have little to say to each other, and it made Buffy ache.

"Are you sure you don't want to go up and see what's bugging her?"

"No, I'll just let her be. We both know what her reaction would be if I went up," she pointed out. She and Xander shared a smile—Dawn's inevitable "Get out, get out, GET OUT!" reply to upstairs queries being legendary among the Scoobies.

After a moment Xander's smile dimmed. "Aren't you going to ask how she is?" he prodded hesitantly.

Buffy looked at him in surprise. "I told you, I—"

"Not Dawn. Willow."

***

The crypt had cleaned up all right. Apparently Clem hadn't just sat around in his underwear, evaluating the relative merits of baked versus fried potato chips. The downstairs was still an ungodly mess, but what did he expect after AK-47's or bazookas or Tommy guns or whatever the hell they were shot out all the supports and splintered every piece of furniture in the place? The first time Clem had seen it he'd said the only way it could have looked worse was if the people from that redecorating show had come by to have a go.

Wasn't any more than he expected from the Slayer, really, not by that point. She'd come into his hands willing enough (don't think about it), dragged off his clothes and taken him without as much as a by-your-leave. Not that he'd minded. It was a good beginning, wasn't it? A nice solid base of trust—who'd she tell about being in heaven, after all?—topped by a lovely glaze of the most luscious sex he could imagine. Like a dream. In the morning she'd been there, flushed and naked, bruised like him from their fighting and their fucking. Both wonderful. But she couldn't even wait for a good morning shag before she attacked him, attacked him because she couldn't attack herself. And so the shape of their relationship was recast, and he kept hoping, but expecting less and less.

When she'd come to him and asked him to tell her that he loved her, he felt a terrible hope. For a moment his heart had forgotten what she'd taught it and he thought, she loves me, she finally realizes it. But an hour later, as they lay together, bodies sheened with sweat from their exertions, he was hugging himself, arms wrapped tightly around his body so that he wouldn't forget himself and touch her and make her leave. And then Captain America burst in, and he saw the reason she wanted his words. Not because she valued them, but because they were balm. And that's what she told him the next day, right? He was a bandage, a crutch, and now she wanted to heal naturally.

"Get out of my head," he muttered resentfully. Hadn't the bint done enough to him already? Christ, he really didn't know why he was back in town. He'd been fooling himself in that cave; if he hadn't been so upset he never would have done it. Now he was all soul-having, like it or not, and he couldn't bring himself to think of her for five minutes at a time without coming off queasy. It had all been a monumental mistake: returning to Sunnydale, going to Africa, falling for the Slayer, getting chipped.

Coming to this stinkhole of a town in the first place.

"So why are you here?" he asked himself conversationally. It wasn't like he had anyone else to talk to. Clem had come by a few times, trying to tempt him with wings and suggestions of poker with the guys, but Spike wasn't feeling sociable. Mostly he just wanted to drink and broo—think—in private.

"Thank god for Jack Daniels. And Weetabix," he added.

Idly, he wondered why the Slayer hadn't been by to see him. It had been three days since the Niblet had seen him, and nothing.

Is that was this is about? Making the first move? he thought. No; since when had he been afraid of anything? Never. Not since he was William, which was a lifetime ago. Several, in fact. And getting the soul hadn't—what the hell was that?

There. In the corner, by the chest. A bright flag of material, startling in the engulfing shadows of the crypt. A scarf, knotted around something. Curiously he worked the knot. Was it a message? Or simply inadvertently left behind by a would-be thief? The bundle rattled as he unwrapped it, carefully pulling the edges apart to reveal short, bleached bones. Human fingers, completely desiccated. It was a message, all right. A "get out of town" message.

Spike whistled. Jesus. Home sweet home indeed.