Disclaimer: I don't own or profit from BtVS.
Many thanks to ObscureBookwyrm for her continuous efforts to make me a better writer.
Spike sat alone in the cheery kitchen. Above him, he could hear the murmur of female voices and the rush of running water. He opened his senses, intuiting a dark hollow in the earth beneath him.
He flexed his foot and was nearly overwhelmed with blinding pain. But burning pain was better than icy numbness. He wouldn't be kipping to his feet anytime soon, but he wasn't going to be laid up for endless months either.
Dodging murderous sunbeams, he belly-crawled towards a door he innately sensed led to the basement. He slithered along the floor, picking up dirt and lint like a Swiffer mop. He hated being weak and defenseless. Hated himself for being those things while in his enemy's house.
He tried to ease his way down the steep wooden steps, but his useless legs were pulled by gravity and he tumbled head over teakettle to the bottom. He fell into a boneless heap on the cold, damp cement, groaning as shivers of pain ran up and down his spine. When he could lift his head without it exploding, he glanced around, his amber eyes piercing the unrelenting darkness.
It smelled of gym socks and mildew. Old boxes were piled to the side, and straight ahead were a washer and dryer hooked into the structural wet wall that ran the plumbing for the entire house. There was no cot or sleeping bag in sight and he didn't relish lying on the cool, seeping cement.
He dragged himself towards the washer, where two baskets full of dirty laundry towered next to the wall. A mature working woman, a fashion-conscious teenager with a dirty job, and a rambunctious preteen who still liked to play kickball in the schoolyard with the boys produced a monstrous amount of laundry.
Spike tipped over the baskets, gathering the clothing into a good-sized heap. He burrowed into the middle, nesting in slithery silk, shimmery satins, and worn cottons. He inhaled deeply, falling asleep saturated in Summers family scent.
Buffy sat Dawn gently on the closed toilet and turned away to start the bath. The sisters were silent, the sound of rushing water louder than Niagara Falls in the small, enclosed room.
Buffy didn't look Dawn in the eye as she knelt at her sister's feet, slowly slipping the large round buttons of Spike's leather duster from their holes. Their mom had done them back up to Dawn's chin after realizing her too-young daughter was naked beneath the coat. After realizing why she was naked.
She slid the heavy leather off Dawn's small shoulders and meticulously examined every inch of her bare skin. Dawn was uncharacteristically silent, staring down at the crown of Buffy's head, her eyes trained on the white line where her sister's blonde hair parted. Buffy's strong warrior-hands were gentle as they traced over the smooth lines of Dawn's coltish legs, lingering over the swollen kneecap before continuing on. She swept Dawn's brown hair forward and fastidiously skimmed over her naked back, looking for whip marks, finding only pale, unmarred skin. Buffy shifted Dawn's face towards the light as she examined the scratch mark on her sister's cheek, her fingers probing to gauge tenderness. Dawn trained her eyes to the corner of the room and didn't wince. Finally, Buffy came to the nearly invisible bite mark in the crux of Dawn's elbow. There would be no scar. As soon as the holes healed and the pinkness faded there would be no reminder that a ruthless vampire had bitten her.
"He didn't bite you on the neck."
Dawn tore her gaze away from the white walls of the room and looked at her sister. Buffy refused to meet her gaze. Instead she kept her green eyes trained on the traitorous bite mark. It should be blaring Spike's evil like a siren. It should be red and angry, the skin torn and brutalized. It should scream evil, but the only thing it screamed was compassion.
"He said biting the neck was for killing, and that he didn't go through all he did to let me die." She paused before adding, "Ever."
Buffy's fingers tightened on the underside of Dawn's elbow. For the first time since entering the room the sisters locked gazes. Buffy's eyes were wary and sad-regretfully hopeful. "And what all did he do?"
Dawn leaned forward until her brow was pressed into Buffy's. "He made me keep my eyes closed." She closed her eyes, and Buffy followed suit. Neither of them wanted to see. Shadows had formed that could cause more damage than their solid counterparts. "But I could hear it all. Buffy-it was horrible." Buffy fought back the hot build of tears behind her lids. She knew if she opened her eyes they would stream down her cheeks in scalding trails. "Every time Angelus came for me, Spike would lure him away. He didn't have to do that for me, but he did. He didn't have to-" Dawn's voice trailed away, and Buffy lifted her head to peer down into Dawn's guilt-wracked face.
"Spike told me that his family would disown him now. Maybe kill him, because he helped me escape. He chose me over his family. What do you think that means?"
Buffy looked away, staring through the cooling bathwater at the no-slip yellow duckies stuck to the bottom of the tub.
"That he's a stupid vampire."
She lifted Dawn into the bathtub, careful not to displace the water onto the floor.
"I don't think it means that at all," Dawn whispered into Buffy's ear, arms still wrapped around her neck. "I think it means he belongs to us, not them."
The door swung open, and the girls quieted as their mother entered the room. The tension was thick between them. Joyce resonated a complicated combination of disapproval, disbelief, relief, and most strongly, unquestioning love-for both her daughters.
Silently, Joyce and Buffy bathed the youngest member of their family, taking care to disinfect the fading bite in the bend of her arm and the scratch on her cheek. They clucked at the chafed skin on her wrists and probed her angrily swollen knee. Buffy looked away when Joyce dipped a white washcloth between Dawn's thighs, hearing her sigh of relief when it reappeared unstained.
"Spike protected me," Dawn murmured softly. Her small voice seemed very loud in the quiet room. "He gave himself over to Angel."
Not 'gave up' or 'gave to', but 'gave over'. Somehow that sounded so much worse. A willing loss of control in exchange for the sanctity of another. The words etched an indelible mark on Buffy's heart. The line between soulful and soulless was starting to blur, and it frightened her. Everything she knew to be true of vampires was crumbling away at the edges, leaving her standing on less than solid ground.
Joyce murmured words of comfort, but it was Buffy who Dawn's watery gaze sought. The sisters exchanged a moment of silent understanding before Joyce's insistence that Dawn lean forward broke their contact.
She soaped her youngest daughter's long brown hair and Buffy rinsed it gently with the extendable showerhead. Dawn closed her eyes and tilted her head back, allowing the sweat-stink of fear that had clung to her for the last twelve hours to run off her naked body.
Dawn yawned when Joyce helped her out of the tub, wrapping her in a fluffy towel.
"Yeah. No sleep," she said simply.
Joyce nodded wisely. "You're home now. Let's get you tucked into bed. We can talk later."
Dawn leaned heavily on her mother as they slowly trudged to her room, failing to notice how Joyce pinned Buffy with a sharp look before leaving the bath.
Buffy stood silently in the bathroom, wringing a discarded towel in her hands. The look her mom had tossed her was clear. She wasn't to go anywhere until they talked. She busied herself by wiping out the tub and drying up the water on the floor. She was straightening their plethora of hair products on the counter when her mother came back.
"Out like a light."
Neither of them chose to comment the why of Dawn's exhaustion.
"Buffy." Joyce lisped out in a long tired sigh as she sank down on the closed toilet. Buffy mimicked her, sitting on the edge of the tub. She knotted her nervously twitching hands and tucked them between her thighs.
"This is a lot for me to take in," Joyce said weakly.
"I know." Buffy assured her quickly. The impotent rage filling her earlier had slunk away, leaving her empty and sad. She felt immensely older than she had only an hour ago. It seemed she wasn't meant to grow into adulthood gradually, but with painful, world-altering spurts that left her feeling unprepared, worn-out, and despondent. First her calling, then Angelus, and now this. Growing up was turning out to be a traumatic experience she wanted nothing to do with. She longed for the days of ice-skates and pig-tails.
"Vampires are real." Joyce felt the very foundation of her world shake apart. She had always known there were monsters, but she was comforted by their innate humanism. They had human faces, human names like Hitler and Gacy, and more importantly they were subject to human laws. But what was a vampire? What was its real face? What law was it subject to?
"And you're a vampire slayer?" Joyce asked speculatively.
Buffy nodded. "Not a Slayer. The Slayer. The only girl in all the world chosen to protect people from vampires and demons." She chose to forgo mentioning Kendra. That would be a little too much for her mother's fragile psyche.
"That seems a little unequal." Joyce's joke fell flat, mostly because of the horrifying truth of it. One girl against thousands. Who the hell thought that was a brilliant idea?
They sat in silence, neither woman able to meet the other's eyes. Joyce had so many questions she could barely keep them contained, but there was one thing of eminent importance.
"I didn't believe you."
Buffy's entire body tightened defensively. On the one hand, she wanted to rush to comfort her mother; on the other, she wanted to rain righteous hellfire down on the woman's head. She chose conflicted silence instead.
"Can…can you at least understand why I didn't?" Joyce asked tentatively.
Buffy could understand. Up until she was fifteen she had lived in the same blissful ignorance as her mother. But that didn't make the agony of betrayal hurt any less.
"But, what?" Joyce urged.
Buffy intently studied the half curtains over the small, frosted window. Green apples rippled on a yellow field as the ventilation fan fluttered the airy material.
"I'm your daughter. Aren't moms supposed to believe in their kids?"
Joyce could hear six year-old Buffy in the softly spoken question and her heart shattered. She hunched over, sobbing in her hands.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. I'm so sorry."
"Shush." Buffy gathered her up, her tears falling into her mother's curly hair as they rocked together. "I know. I'm sorry too. I should have tried harder. Gave you proof or something."
"No, no. I should have believed you. I should have trusted you."
"It's a lot to swallow. I mean, vampires. That's totally wig-worthy."
They smiled at each other, wiping their tears away. Joyce gripped Buffy's arm, suddenly serious.
"The clinic. Please, Buffy. I had no-"
"I get it." Buffy cut her off. "I totally do. The defense attorney explained the whole thing to me. It…it was just easier to be mad at you and Dad. And when Dad left it was just you. And I was so angry. About my calling, Dad leaving, and us moving. I took it all out on you because-"
Buffy pulled her mother into a tight hug, comforted when Joyce ran a soothing hand down her back. "I took it out on you because I knew you'd never leave me. No matter how bad I was." Buffy confessed.
"Never, baby." Joyce reassured her. "I love you and Dawn more than my own life. I couldn't stop you from being sent away, but I could have handled it better. I was mad, too. For the same reasons. Hank, moving, losing my business. But Buffy…" She pulled away and held her daughter at arm's length so she was sure that she had Buffy's complete attention.
"Mostly I was scared. I was terrified that I was losing my baby to something I couldn't protect her against. Once we moved here you were so different, but I chose to ignore it because at least you were here with us, and not getting into any trouble that could get you taken away again. That's why I get so mad when that little troll tells me you are doing poorly in school. I'm petrified social services is going to take you away from me."
"I was scared, too," Buffy whispered. "I kept everything a secret so's not to rock the boat. I didn't want to give you any reason to send me away again."
"Oh, baby." Joyce cried with a broken heart. "I would never willingly send you away. Those bastards took you from me and there was nothing I could do."
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too, and I'm so sorry."
"I'm sorry, too."
They rocked each other in their arms until the gush of tears slowed to a trickle. Together they wetted washrags under the hot tap and cleaned their faces.
"I guess we should talk more often." Buffy said solemnly, staring at her mother in the mirror.
Joyce smiled softly. "I'd like that. We should make a point of it. Unfortunately, Summers women have a long tradition of swimming in denial and reacting badly. It's a habit we need to work on breaking."
Buffy nodded. "I think we can do that. We're totally break-the-mold types."
"Totally," Joyce agreed, wrapping one arm around Buffy's shoulders supportively.
Their moment was interrupted by a furious pounding on the front door, interspersed with the ringing of their doorbell.
"Who could that be?" Joyce hurried from the room.
"Giles." Buffy followed, her stomach sinking.
"What is it with your librarian?" Joyce shot a look at her as she glided down the stairs.
"He's my Watcher."
Joyce rounded on her. "Your what?" She sounded imperious and righteous. She did not approve of any man watching her daughter.
Buffy ducked her head and didn't answer. Instead she opened her door to reveal the flushed watcher, practically bursting with weapons. Several sword hilts bristled from sheaths strapped to his back, a bandolier of spikes wrapped around his chest was rumpling his usually immaculate tweed vest, and he was awkwardly carrying two heavy crossbows in his hands.
"Thank God, Buffy!" he gasped out. Buffy peeked her head outside, scanning to see if any nosy neighbors were watching, before grabbing a fistful of tweed to haul him inside.
"I dare say!" he protested, struggling under the weight of the weaponry.
"Giles, what are you doing?" Buffy waved a questioning hand.
"You were distressed over the phone and then it went dead. I suspected the worst and rushed over prepared for a battle." He glanced furtively around the room, his gaze landing on her mother. He shuffled, trying and failing horribly to hide the crossbows behind his back.
"Oh." Buffy warmed. She felt guilty for worrying him, but his unquestionable support and concern for her made her gooey inside. She wished her real father were as loyal as Giles.
Giles pinned her with a questioning glare that was pure Watcher once he realized she wasn't in immediate danger. Embarrassed, Buffy busied herself with disarming him and piling the weapons in the corner by the door.
"Buffy?" he queried.
She straightened, looking him in the eye as she took a deep breath. "Angelus took Dawn last night."
"Good Lord!" he burst out. "We must act quickly before she comes to harm."
Buffy raised her hands in a placating manner. "She's here. She's fine. Except for a badly wrenched knee." Buffy shot a warning look at her mom, and Joyce nodded imperceptibly. There was no need to mention Spike's bite.
Giles produced a white handkerchief and mopped his sweaty brow. "I see. How did she escape?"
Buffy lowered her gaze. Omissions were one thing, but she couldn't outright lie. Besides, the vampire in her kitchen would be a hard thing to miss, and he had said some awful things about Angelus ending the world that she hadn't given due consideration yet. Spike was evil, but he wasn't a liar. He had information they needed.
"Spike brought her back."
"What?" The shock was so palpable it could have blown them over.
"She couldn't walk on her knee, so he carried her here. He's in the kitchen now. He says he has some information about Angelus trying to end the world."
"He's lying," Giles said icily.
"Maybe," Buffy agreed dubiously. "But I've got to find out for sure."
"You aren't to speak to him alone," Giles ordered imperiously, and both women arched a brow. He shifted nervously at the combined power of it.
"I will speak to him alone. He won't talk to you. Besides, you have more pressing concerns."
"I do?" Giles' face clouded with confusion.
Buffy turned to her mother to beckon her forward. "My mom knows about vampires and me being a slayer, but she doesn't understand it all. I need you tell her everything. What I am. What I do. And what a watcher is."
"Oh." Giles tucked his handkerchief in his pocket and eyed the older woman speculatively. Buffy gifted her mother with a weak smile before turning back to her watcher.
"But, Giles… Mostly I need you to explain to her how being Chosen isn't a choice," she said in a small, quiet voice, and Giles softened.
"Of course, dear." He patted her awkwardly on the shoulder.
Buffy backed away and glanced between the two of them. "I'll leave you to it, while I interrogate Spike."
She started to turn away when her mother stopped her. They shared a glance. Joyce's eyes were full of worry. Not just for her daughter, but for the vampire who had saved the youngest of their small family. Buffy nodded in understanding. She wouldn't hurt the vampire. Much.