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Dia de los Muertos by pfeifferpack
Part 1
Part 1
Spike rolled off the sarcophagus, avoiding the last stabbing blades of sunlight aimed at his all too flammable body.  “Bloody hell, Bit!”
“Sorry.  I didn’t know you’d be topside, Dead Pirate Roberts!” 
Dawn looked chipper for a change, chipper and…odd.  “Where’d you get the headgear and why?”
“Like it?” She modeled the large escapee from some Derby hat museum that was perched jauntily on her head.  “I’m officially representing La Catrina for the occasion.”
Spike raised an eyebrow and suppressed a grin.  Okay, he’d play along with this bit of silliness.  His Niblet had had far too little reason for giggles and silly hats for far too long.  “Where’d you hear ‘bout La Calavera Catrina?  You’re a mite pale to be Aztec and I don’t think your family traces to México.”
Dawn gave him a bright grin, setting down the shopping bag she carried before plopping herself in his best, okay…only, chair.  “Ding, ding, ding, and the vampire wins the prize.  My new friend, Araceli, is from Cabo San Lucas and she told me all about this neat tradition honoring the dead.  Catrina,” she stated her newly learned factoids proudly, “sorta represents death.  Like the queen of the dead, I guess.  It goes back to, like, forever, just like you!”
Spike snorted a laugh.  “Older than me, pet.  Skeleton girl prob’ly goes back to the Aztecs with some tweakin’ from Spain along the way.”  He smiled at the girl he had become so close to over the seemingly endless 147 days of summer. “She’d be right proud to wear a hat like the one you’re sportin’.”
Dawn touched the hat and bit her lower lip before confiding, “I kinda swiped one of Mom’s old sun hats and added the flowers and feathers to make it look a little like the pictures.”
Spike walked around the girl as if he were a fashion critic there to deliver his opinion.  “Did a pretty good job, Bit, and I’ve seen the real thing.”
Dawn’s eyes grew two sizes as her mouth dropped. “You mean there’s a real Catrina?”
Spike laughed, “No,” he drew out the ‘o’.  Meant the mural. ‘Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central‘s’at the Rivera museum in Mexico City.  Course, I last saw it at the Versailles Restaurant at the Hotel Prado right soon after he finished paintin’ it.  The Senora next to Catrina’s actually Rivera’s wife, Frida Kahlo, another brilliant artist and one time flirt of Dru.”
“Shee-yeah!” Dawn scoffed.  “Next thing you’ll be telling me you’re in the picture too.”
“He did ask, but didn’t want to stand still for a portrait.  Bloody borin’, that!”
“Yeah, Araceli said it’s really all political about the history of Mexico; rich people and poor people and police beating up on the poor people while the rich people mostly don’t pay attention.  Catrina’s all dressed up like how some poor people liked to dress up and kinda pretend to be rich and not be themselves, like with this hat.”
“Your mate’s right smart, Bit.  Course, Catrina was around long before Diego put her in his mural.  There’ve been statues and whatnot of her for a long time.  Kinda goes back to the Aztec goddess Mictecacihuatl. Was a way of thumbin’ your nose at death.  Everyone’s equal in the end; she’s supposed to remind people of that."
“So how’d you get so smart and art historian-y all at once,” Dawn teased as she hid how impressed she really was.
“Live forever and you’ve gotta find more things to do than just killin’.  Chatted up Rivera while he was workin’ on the piece.  He explained the legends and symbolism.  Fascinatin’ bloke.”  Spike leaned against the pillar and lit a cigarette.  Good times.”  He shook his head as if to clear it of old memories. “Reason his mural was so political was ‘cause the man himself was.  Was a Communist back in the 20s and 30s.  Leon Trotsky even lived with him and Frida for a while.  Pissed off a lot of people in his day.  My kind of guy.”
Dawn rolled her eyes at the rebellious vampire. “Like you ever even voted!”
“Hey, missy!” he sounded a little affronted at the implication.  “Have you know I nearly went for a seat in the Commons back before I was turned.  Family expected it.  Was glad I avoided that duty, dead bore all that yammerin’ about issues and gettin’ nothin’ done.  Rather do somethin’ lot more interestin’.”
“You never met Trotsky,” she taunted.
“Ate plenty of wankers who fancied themselves as saviors of puppies and underpaid workers.”  He sighed and shook his head.  “Enough about politics and art.  What’s in the bag?”
Dawn smiled. “You’ll just have to come with me and find out.”
Spike glanced through the dirty window and noted the sun would soon be far enough down to take a turn with his girl, provided the Slayer didn’t find out.  He was still in Buffy’s good graces after helping rescue Dawn from a near fatal dating choice and didn’t want to chance pissing the Slayer off once again.  Dealing with the newly resurrected Slayer was like juggling nitro.  Never knew when it was going to blow and Spike kind of liked all his bits in one piece.  They were on their way to buildin' a right decent friendship at the moment too.
“So plannin’ on a whole thing of it?” Spike kept trying to peek into the bag Dawn closely guarded as if it held treasure.
“I’m no expert.  I only really know what Araceli told me, but it sounded cool.”  Dawn looked up at him with doe-like innocent eyes that once would have marked her as Spike’s next meal.  “Besides, I hardly see you anymore.  What better time to vampnap my favorite dead guy than on the Day of the Dead?”
They walked the familiar path to the grave in companionable silence.  It had been months since they had gone to pay respects to Joyce.  The previous summer had seen the odd pair make the pilgrimage first to the Summers matriarch's resting place, then a stop at Buffy's all too fresh grave after.  Spike had tried to convince Dawn that neither lady was in any cemetery, but "most likely sittin' on some fluffy cloud laughin' at the rest of us poor sods muckin' about down here." 
Dawn had merely given him the evil eye and replied, "So I should just talk to clouds?"
Seeing how much comfort the girl got from her visits, Spike gave up the argument and provided escort.
They arrived at Joyce Summers’ grave and Dawn knelt down to clean imaginary dirt off the headstone. "First you make everything nice and pretty," she instructed Spike and pointed to the single dandelion sprouting too near the sacred site. 
Spike obliged and pulled the offending weed. "And your next order, Princess?"  He grinned at the girl as she juggled the large bag while trying to keep her hat firmly on her head instead of skittering away with the wind across the graves.
"Now we set up an altar," Dawn instructed.  She began to take out an eclectic collection of photographs, knick-knacks and an old cameo brooch Spike remembered Joyce wearing more than once. 
"What ya got there, Bit?"
"Well, you're supposed to bring pictures and things that remind you of the person you are visiting."  Dawn set up the items then began to sprinkle marigold petals all around them.  "This time of the year is the time when the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest."  She gave a shiver, clearly not considering she was already in the company of the dead, at least technically.  "The altar is supposed to show them you welcome them coming to visit."
Spike tilted his head in curiosity.  "Don't reckon I've ever noticed many family reunions.  Then again, evil creatures like me don't often get many invites."
Dawn gave him a sharp look.  "Maybe vampires and demons don't have many people left to want to visit them?  You live a long time after all."
Spike was surprised at how much that thought actually hurt, but he refused to let it show.  He knew his little Niblet hadn't meant to rub in the fact that Spike wasn't liked by many and was mourned by none.  He wasn't ready to think about all the people he now cared about whose graves he'd one day stand over and mourn.
Dawn began taking out a small collection of candles, setting them on the makeshift altar and on the headstone.  "So how'd you get to be the expert on talkin' to the dead?" Spike grinned as he took in the hodge-podge of things now gathered.
"I've been talking to you for years," Dawn smiled up at him.  "Sometimes you're the only one who listens."
Buffy wandered distractedly through the cemetery looking for any beastie that hadn't gotten the memo that all the cool demons stayed in around this time of year.  It was only when she recognized the sound of her little sister's voice that she really looked around and realized just where she was.  'Mommy!'
She blinked back the tears that instantly threatened to overflow. That had been the start of it all.  Losing her mother had begun the great downward spiral that eventually led her into death, then darkness and despair. 
'I didn't even get to really grieve for you,  Mom,' she bit her lip to hold back a sob.  'I had to protect Dawn and then finally I was going to get to rest, maybe be with you again.'
That was part of the hell she was experiencing.  She couldn't get a clear focus on her time in heaven.  Only pieces had come back with her and not one piece held so much as a glimmer of Joyce.  She remembered being happy and complete and even loved but nothing like the paradise everyone was told waited for good little girls and boys.
'Wasn't I good enough, Mommy?  I don't remember seeing you and then Heaven spit me out.  Didn't I do enough good?"
If Joyce were listening in on her daughter’s thoughts, she gave no answer.
Buffy tried to shake herself out of her well of sadness and sighed.  Naturally Dawn would be doing the stupid.  Twilight in a cemetery was not of the good.  At least this night was likely to be slightly safe.  She was going to give Dawn the kind of scare only one very pissed off older sister could pull off.
"So what else did this friend of yours say to do for this little reunion you've got planned?" Spike's voice was gentle but still managed to startle Buffy.
The Slayer ducked back behind the small grove of trees just close enough to hear what was going on and still not be seen.  She only hoped that the famous but ooky vampire sense of smell worked like a dog in other ways besides being helpful in tracking.  She was downwind and hoped Spike wouldn't notice they had company.
'What the hell is he thinking bringing my sister out here at night?' she fumed.  'I told him to stay away from Dawn.'  Spike was going to get his wish once she got Dawnie back home in one piece.  Buffy was going to pay his crypt a visit all right, just not for the kind of touch Spike would be wanting.  'More like a broken nose,’ she vowed.
Dawn's giggle rang out clear and sweet, surprising Buffy given their location.  "It's funny today, but I was majorly steamed the other night."
Spike quirked an eyebrow but let her continue.
"I went to Araceli's after school last week to make the sugar skulls and Buffy got royally mad 'cause she thought it was Tuesday instead of Wednesday and that just had to mean that I'd been kidnapped or some demon was on a rampage and grabbed me. It was pretty embarrassing at the time but funny now." She began to set out the colorful, decorated skulls around the altar. "Like I get in trouble every Tuesday!  Yeah...right!"
Spike laughed softly, but kept his opinion about Dawn's track record to himself.  This evening was supposed to raise the girl’s spirits, even if no other spirits were likely to show up.  "Dru used to swear her pixies got real vocal round this time of year.  Had lots of visions, said she had visitors, not all happy Caspars either, since we made more than a few of the ghosties ourselves."
"Ew, gross, Spike.  Remind the kid about all the people you killed, why don't you?" Dawn's harsh words were tempered by her teasing grin. 
Sometimes Spike thought the child didn't actually realize he had truly been a vicious killer until government doctors handicapped him and then her sister had collared his heart and leashed him firmly.
"So your wacky ex celebrated Dia de Los Muertos too?"
"Lots of cultures hold with the idea of the dead visitin' round this time, Platelet.  Druids called it Samhain, celebrated October 31st.  Pagans and Wiccans still celebrate that, though no one knows all the things the ancient ones did in their rituals.  Dru's family came from a long line of Celts.  Said that's where she got the sight. You lot call it Halloween and changed the meaning completely.  Was once religious, whether it was pagan or Christian."
Dawn fumbled with the bag as she took out the small hand-baked bread for the altar.  "I wish I could have asked Buffy to join us.  I know she misses Mom a lot too."  She rolled her eyes and plopped down on the ground next to the grave. "Buffy's too busy doing who knows what to have time for me, let alone some cool ceremony with Mom."
"Hey now, Bit, not bein' fair there," Spike chided her.  "Big sis has way too much on her plate right now for you to be puttin' on the pout.  Gotta be there for her."
"Why? She's not there for me?"  Dawn turned the pout on the vampire instead.  "You're not even there for me anymore.
"You're not neglected," Spike reminded her.  "Got a house full of witches, a private chauffeur in droopy boy and a big sis doin' all she can to make sure you have a decent roof, three squares and a basement not filled with water."
"She's not happy, Spike.  Everyone seems to think she should be dancing around like some drugged up hippie at Woodstock, but she's sad all the time.  She thinks I don't know, but I can hear her cry at night."  Dawn's voice broke, "Is it because she doesn't want to be back here with me?"
"Not that simple.  Comin' back like that, diggin’ her way out of...."  He shut up at Dawn's alarmed look.  No point in reminding the kid about that particular horror.  "Came back in the middle of a battlefield right out of Road Warrior too."
"But she's been home for a month already!"
Spike almost laughed at how impatient the young were for everything.  Just try waitin' a century for somethin' you want badly!
"Came back to a mess of unpaid bills too.  Most chits Buffy's age don't have to worry 'bout that sort o' thing.  Should be classes and what color to paint her nails and what party to go to on the weekend.  'Stead she has to worry about new pipes and mortgage payments and how to keep the lights and water on."  He leveled a sharp glance at the frowning girl.  "Not to mention savin' little sisters who insist on lying so they can slip off an meet a boy that turns out to be as pulse negative as yours truly."
"Buffy’s tired all the time and gone all night."  Dawn looked worried, because deep down she really was.
"Doin what she feels she needs to.  Don’t worry, Buffy'll be okay in time.  Besides there’s all that extra evil out there: freezing guards, stealin’ diamonds, demons robbin' banks and the like. Only back a month and havin' to deal with all that would make a body tired.  'Sides there's such a thing as soul tired.  Times when it's all just too much.  Reckon that's part of her problem too."
"So what can I do?  Dawn's eyes were wide.  "I mean besides not sneaking off to date vampires and getting into trouble?"
"Love her.  All you need to do is love her like she loves you, Bit.  Don't forget your sis loves you enough she died to protect you.  Threatened to kill any of us got in the way of her protectin' you, meant it too," He gave her a pointed look.  "Didn't think twice about takin' that jump.  Your turn now to do what she needs.  Love her, give her the room she needs and remind her 'bout all the good parts of livin'. 
Dawn looked thoughtful, "She said the hardest thing in this world... is to live in it. You could help her too. You're good at that--helping, I mean.  Well, you're pretty good at living too, especially for a dead guy."
It was too dark for Buffy to see the wistful look on Spike's face at the thought of him being useful.
Chapter 2
Part 2
Buffy couldn't see the pair now sitting side by side at her mother's grave.  Couldn't hear them either, but that was because they had grown silent, deep in their own separate thoughts.
She was surprised at how close her sister seemed to have become to the annoying vampire.  Sure, Dawn had always had a soft spot for Spike, but this was something more than Buffy remembered from before... before...
She wished she weren't so damned angry all the time.  It seemed the only moments when she didn’t want to lash out at her friends and family were when she escaped into Spike's company.  From the day she gasped and clawed and struggled her way out of that coffin, she had only been able to feel bits of peace with him.  'I belong with the dead; that must be why.'
'He seems to think I can be loved back to life.  I think he must have watched too many of those dopey soap operas.'  That was Spike, though, if she gave it much thought.  Seemed he had two settings--"kill" or "love”--and his impulses for both were pretty much equal.  'He loved Dru longer than anybody I've ever heard of.' Weird as it seemed being coupled with psycho Dru, the love Spike had shown for his Dark Princess had been real.
'Wonder what that would be like?  To be loved that intensely by someone who never leaves?'  Buffy used to be like that herself, loyal to the end and filled with love.  When had that died?  Now all she felt was numb--well, numb with a double side order of angry.  She'd been trying to drown that anger with buckets of her abundant numb for weeks and so far it was keeping her from doing violence towards her nearest and dearest. 'So, hey, win!'
'So tired!  Just getting up each day and slapping a smile on my face takes too much energy.'  She was sick of the hopeful looks on everyone's face.  Looking, always looking!  Needing, constantly needing. What did they want to see anyway?  'They want to see me happy.  See me grateful.  They want the old Buffy back.'  The old Buffy lay in that grave her little sister and her vampire sidekick were sitting next to.  'I can't do this, Mom.  I can't deal.  I just want to go to sleep and not wake up.’ She felt a tear slip down her cheek in an all too familiar and frequent path.
Her mom had been her anchor.  Much more than a good mom and her friend, she had been the only true normal and constant in Buffy's life.  Even her little sister was originally a glowing green ball of energy.  None of her friends except Xander had any claim to normal and his years with her had made that iffy.  She had no safe harbor after her mother died.
'Well, I have felt a little safe in that stupid crypt lately,' she grimaced as the thought crossed her mind.  'See, nothing normal, not even what I call a safe place.  Maybe a crypt is normal for someone supposed to be dead.'
Willow was so smug and self satisfied.  She was acting like she was not only the best thing since sliced bread, but as if she had invented bread in the first place!  Every time Will asked how Buffy was doing and didn't get the kind of response she felt was owed, the frown lines grew deeper.  'I don't know why she's so proud.  She didn't even have sense enough to dig me up before dragging me back here.'
It wasn't just Willow that made her angry.  Tara and Xander hadn't even suggested Willow look to see where Buffy really was or if she wanted to return.  They had assumed she was in hell!  'Why would they think my soul was in hell?  My body was right there in the grave, so I didn't just jump dimensions.  Why would my soul be in hell?'
Anya and Dawn weren't exempt from the ire either.  Anya was no amateur; she knew more than a little about magic and dimensions.  She had been a demon for a long time and had to know about the negative side of resurrections.
And then there was Dawn...needy Dawn...loving Dawn...frightened Dawn...abandoned, orphaned Dawn.  She looked at her little sister and instead of the overwhelming love she used to feel all Buffy saw now was an anchor.  Dawn was the one thing that tied her to this life. 'If I wasn't back here, who would save her every bloody Tuesday?'  Buffy wished she could feel something, anything, other than the anger and despair that were her constant companions.
She had tried to lean a bit on Giles, like letting him handle Dawn after the vampire boyfriend incident.  He made it pretty clear that he didn't want to be Buffy's leaning post. 'How am I supposed to know how to be a parent to a teenager?  Giles has been doing it for me and the whole gang for years; he's been good at it.  Why does he suddenly want to abandon me like my real dad?'
Maybe the worst part was being angry at herself.  Being Depresso Girl with a walking death wish who only finds peace with her ex-mortal enemy had to say something about her, something not good.  'Maybe that's why heaven didn't want me.'
"So why don't you come see me anymore?" Dawn turned her Bambi eyes on Spike.
Spike didn't want the girl he'd come to love to know that he had been pretty much forbidden to visit her by Buffy.  Better he just give the reasons Buffy had given to him, even if his heart knew it was all bollocks.  "You're human, Bit, case you've forgotten.  Not even a mystical Key anymore.  Need a nice, normal life with nice, normal people around you.  Don't need to be hangin' ‘round cemeteries and crypts with an old vamp likely to corrupt you."
"That is so lame, Spike!"  Dawn stood up and glared down at him.  "You used to care about me.  I know you weren't faking it.  When Buffy was gone and no one else could even look at me, you were there telling me it wasn't my fault she was gone."
He couldn't look at her.  He could hear her tears and that was bad enough without having to see them.  "Still care.  If I didn't, I'd not put what's best for you first."
Dawn sniffed back a sob.  "You took care of me, made me feel safe and like I mattered.  You never looked at me like you wished I had been the one to not come back from that tower, like I shouldn't be."
It was all Spike could do not to pull the tearful girl onto his lap and console her as he had many a time during the dark days of summer.
"Sure, Willow and Tara moved in, but nobody even wanted to look me in the eye for a long time.  Tara cooked and Willow magicked the house clean.  They should have let Anya take care of the bills, I guess, since it looks like that got forgotten just like me."  She wished Spike would at least look at her.  "You were the only one who saw me, who made sure I knew I mattered.  That seemed glad I was alive."
"They're all happy you're alive, Bit.  You're a right piece of sunshine," Spike tried to reassure her. 
"So why did you stop caring?"
He couldn't do it.  Buffy would likely run a tree branch through him but he just couldn't let his Niblet think she didn't matter.  "Never stopped caring, never will.  Just tryin' to do the right thing by you.  Knowin' what that is may not come natural to me.  Hard on me too, Bit." He stood and gathered the drippy girl to his chest as he had longed to do again for so long now.  "Don't have to be right there to love you."
"But it's like you've forgotten all about last summer."
"Remember that line in the TV show we binge-watched?  “Robin of Sherwood”, bloody brilliant, that was; kept us both watchin' till we'd seen 'em all."  Dawn nodded and smiled at the memory.  "Remember when Robin said, 'nothin's forgotten, nothin's ever forgotten'?  Well, that's true. When you love someone, you never forget, even if you never see each other again."
"Wait," Dawn sounded panicked, "Are you trying to tell me you're going away?"
Spike shook his head, "No!  Not gonna leave.  I stay till I'm forced out or dust."
He placed a gentle kiss on Dawn's head.  "Just want you to know that it doesn't take my bein' in your pocket to mean I think 'bout you, care 'bout you, love you."
God, how he wished Buffy would let him at least drop by from time to time!  It was harder than he had ever imagined being kept away from this girl. 
"We kept each other sane this summer," Dawn reminded him.  "You and me.  We were the ones blaming ourselves for Buffy being gone."
"Told you then, wasn't your fault!" Spike shook her gently.  "I was the one broke my promise.  I was the one didn't get the job done.  I'm the one didn't check to make sure that bugger Doc was dead good and proper.  I'm the one didn't take the bastard down with me when I fell from the bloody tower."
The two now silent figures clung to each other in shared guilt and memories of grief.
Buffy was near to tears herself listening to them.  She'd been so sure she was right to insist Spike stay clear.  Seems the peace she felt in his company was something Dawn had also felt while she was dead.  'I've ripped her from her peaceful place just like they ripped me from mine.  I didn't know they were that close.  I never wondered what it was like for them with me gone.'
Had she really done to her little sister what had been done to her?  Had she pulled Dawn from her place of peace by keeping her away from what looked to be her closest friend? Something broke deep inside Buffy at that thought. Perhaps it was a bit of the ice she had carefully packed around her heart since her rising.
Whatever had happened to draw those two together was strong and important.  'Maybe I should let Spike drop in sometimes.  Dawn might stop walking around looking as sad as I am.'  Buffy felt a small stirring of the old feelings of love and care for her little sister.  It was a start.
'Funny how easy Spike could be to talk to,' Buffy remembered how he had been the only one she had told the ugly truth to.  'Back a week and the only one I could be honest with was the one we all tried to push away for years.'  Maybe it was because she knew he had nothing to do with the resurrection.  Maybe she knew he could take it.  'No, that's not it.  I didn't even tell Angel where I'd been and he had nothing to do with it either.'    Maybe it was because she didn't care as much if she hurt Spike with dark truths. 'That's not it either.  Guess he can just be easy to talk to and, in some weird way, I can trust him.'
She'd given Spike a powerful weapon to use against the Scoobies, people he mostly hated.  All he had to do was tell them where she had actually been, why she was so sad being back and it would devastate all of them.  'I knew he wouldn't do it though.  He promised and he's good at keeping his word,' she thought in surprise. 
She turned her ears again to the two murmuring beings standing at her mother's grave and wished she had enhanced hearing not for the first time.  At least Dawnie had stopped crying, but from the looks of her face. the waterworks had been heavy while Buffy had been lost in thought.  'Spike's shirt must be sopping.'
"So, thought we were here to visit Joyce, share a meal?" Spike prompted.
"Yeah," Dawn brightened. She pulled out a slightly crushed box from the bottom of her bag. "I brought wings, extra picante like you like them."
Spike smiled and took the box from her.  "Never could get Joyce to see the true beauty of extra cayenne pepper."
Dawn laughed at the memory of one time when Spike had brought wings on a visit with her mom and her while Buffy was off at college.  "Mom's ears turned bright red when she took a bite," she giggled.  "I never saw her drink do much water in my life!"
"Coughed a fair amount too," Spike grinned. "Game lady, your mum.  Always willin' to give a bloke a chance."
"You know she looked forward to you dropping by.  She was kinda lonely when Buffy headed off to college and it was just me and her there all the time."
"She was proud of Buffy, don't forget that," Spike reminded her.  "Always hard when the chicks leave the nest, so I've been told."
"Still she loved you dropping by."  Dawn swatted playfully at Spike's arm, "She knew you stole those flowers you'd bring.  She always felt guilty taking them until I lied and told her you just stole them from graves on the way over."
Spike looked affronted, "Never give grave flowers to a lady like Joyce!  Stole 'em from the best florist in this hell-hole of a town!"
"She just liked having a grownup to listen to her sometimes.  I never cared about all the art stuff she wanted to share, but you two could make it sound interesting, just like you did about that painting down in Mexico."
"I 'preciated her listenin' skills too.  Bloke needs an ear from time to time, one without a stake tucked up somewhere hidden."
Dawn swallowed her bite of hot wing and looked around carefully, "Do you think Mom's here with us, Spike?"
"Not really." He felt guilty seeing Dawn's crestfallen face.  "I think Joyce is gettin' fed fat grapes by angels--the real kind, not that ponce in L.A. She's up in heaven, just like a fine lady like her deserves.  Not gonna hang around a graveyard mixin' with the evil undead."
Dawn looked a bit less upset with the image of her mom being pampered in paradise.  "Think she knows we're even here?"
"Now that I do think," Spike said reassuringly.  "She'd never stop lovin' you either.  Like I said before, don't have to be right there.  Wouldn't want to pull her away from such a nice place, would we?" 
Buffy noticed the pained look on Spike's face as he made the comment and knew he was thinking about her as he said it.
"I'd love to see her again and hug her, tell her I love her.  But, no, you're right.  I'd never want to drag her back here, that would be selfish."  Dawn shuddered as she remembered having thought to do just that in the immediacy of her grief when her mother had died.
"Least you'll get to see her again," Spike said softly.  "Not gonna happen for an evil creature like me."  He hugged Dawn tightly and blinked back tears he had no intention of showing in front of the girl.  "You're gonna have to give my hug to her yourself a long time from now when you get there with her.  Maybe give you a list of a few others."
"Maybe you'll get to do it yourself, Spike.  You're not really evil much, haven’t been for a long time.  At church, they say everybody can be forgiven for anything," Dawn looked up at him with hope in her eyes.
Spike, on the other hand, looked rather bleak.  "'Fraid I lost all chances of that a few hundred killin's ago or more."
Dawn folded her arms in front of her and gave him a determined look, "Well, I refuse to believe that! I won't give up on you and I won't let you give up on yourself either."
Spike let out a short laugh, "You do that, Bit. Who knows, if an evil sod like me can win the love of a pure soul like you and the regard of a fine lady like Joyce, I might just live long enough to at least try for that forgiveness."
Buffy was startled at the idea that Spike, who still claimed loudly and often to be evil, might actually want forgiveness, much less realize he needed it to begin with.  Then again, the whole conversation she'd been listening to had been one surprise after another.
She had already had to grudgingly admit that Spike was capable of love, maybe not healthy romantic love, but it was clear he had the whole friendship kind of love down pat.   ‘Actually, it’s more like family.  He’s acting like a brother to Dawn,’ she realized to her shock.
Chapter 3
Part 3
"Wish I could talk to Joyce about now," Spike mused.  "She'd know just what to do to help set big sis to rights. Know it must grieve her plenty seein' Buffy struggle."
"Mom would make Buffy glad to be back. Wish I could," Dawn said wistfully.
"You're all Buffy's got and she's all you've got.  It'll happen.  You'll take care of each other through the bad parts and then look back and see it was all okay in the end.  That's what people do: they take care of the ones they love."  Spike explained.
"Why can't you take care of Buffy too?  I know you love her."
"Slayer thinks it's not real.  Won't let me in." Spike sighed painfully.  "Love to help take some of the burden off.  I've been tryin' to figure how to help with the money stuff.  She might let me help there, asked if I knew anything about finances when those pipes started makin' an indoor pool outta your basement."
"Yeah, that whole job search thing Buffy did only made her feel worse.  It just didn't work out.  She was too strong for construction and I don't think even Slayer strength could help someone work for Anya and not feel like a failure!"  Dawn shook her head at the memory of the defeated look on Buffy's face with each disaster.  "I saw her looking in the paper for jobs in fast food."
"That's beneath her!" Spike was appalled at the thought of his precious girl having to do anything she didn't really enjoy.  Wasn't it enough she had to save the whole bloody world on a regular basis?  "Council of Wankers should be payin' her livin' expenses.  They have plenty of dosh and live like kings with private jets, prime real estate in London and other places, libraries worth a fortune. All those berks get a decent salary too.  Slayer's their whole reason for bein' and they don't even make sure she has decent kit.  Need to replace all the clothes that get destroyed fightin' their battles too."  Spike lit a cigarette and paced as he ranted.  "Not right."
"I don't think they're going to start paying her a salary though," Dawn said.  "She'll probably have to get a job or we're going to be homeless."
"Never be homeless, Bit, not so long as I'm in one piece," Spike vowed.
"It wouldn't be so bad if only she could get something she actually likes.  It might even cheer her up."
"She likes killin' things, at least she used to," Spike mused.  "Don't see her bein' a hit man for the mob.  Make right good money doin' it though," he teased.
"Yeah, it's too bad there's not a legal way to make money killing things.  Buffy's good at that!"  Dawn’s voice was filled with pride in her older sister.
Spike crushed his cigarette and grinned.  "Maybe not kill, but she could make a decent livin' teachin' her moves to silly college bints."  He grabbed Dawn and kissed her forehead in glee.
Dawn was confused.  "What do you mean?"
"Rupert has that training room in the back of the Magic Box so Buffy can work out, yeah?"  Dawn nodded.  "Well, why not use it to run a Dojo?  Teach mixed martial arts and street fightin', put up notices on the campus, especially the women's dorms.  Bet there'd be plenty of students in no time.  Ol’ Rupes could let her use the training room and not charge rent, so no overhead.  Would be all profit and she'd get in her training time at the same time."
"Maybe Mom is here, Spike.  Maybe she gave you that idea about a Dojo.  She'd be worried about Buffy too, after all."
Buffy blinked in surprise.  'Dojo!  I hadn't thought of that.  I'd bet Giles would let me use the training room for that.  Anya will have a fit about not charging rent, but the Magic Box does belong to Giles....'  The possibilities were playing out in her mind and she began to feel a slight lift in spirits.  Perhaps she could make enough to put food on the table.  'Maybe Giles could even get the Council to chip in a little for the mortgage?  It would be worth asking.'
With a possible plan beginning to form in her mind, Buffy slipped into the darkness and headed home. She planned to be there when Dawn got home.  They had a few things to talk about.  'I never even thought about how Dawn was feeling.  I do love her so much.  It’s time I started showing it.'
Spike looked around and sensed it was starting to get pretty late.  "Time to get you home and tucked in nice and safe, Platelet.  All the nasties will be comin' back out pretty soon and you're a right tasty lookin' morsel."
Dawn giggled and began to gather up the odds and ends that had been set on the altar.  "Mom, I hope you were here with us.  I miss you SO much.  I hope you look in on us every once in a while.  Buffy and I kinda screw up with you not there to keep us in shape.  Oh, and Spike says ‘hi’ too."
"I'll see her home safe, Joyce.  Get back to your grapes and no worries.  Help with Buffy too, even if I have to let her break my nose a few dozen times before she'll let me."
Bag repacked and goodbyes said, the two headed out of the cemetery and towards Revello Drive.  Buffy would just have to accept that Spike was keeping Dawn safe by walking her home.
The back porch light spilled down on the slight form of Buffy sitting on the steps clearly waiting for Dawn. 
"Slayer, I can explain," Spike began trying to direct Buffy's likely ire his way and off the teen.
"I'll bet you can," Buffy said and gave them both a stare that wasn't as cold as they had been expecting.  "Right now, I want my little sister to get her rebellious butt in the house and put Mom's hat back where she found it. Dawn, sunhats are for wearing in the sun."
Dawn scampered into the house and up the stairs, grateful for a reprieve from the worst of Buffy's likely lecture.
"Well?" She prompted, quirking an eyebrow at the nervous vampire.
"There's this thing, see, this sort of ceremony called Dia de los Muertos that the Bit wanted to do. No talkin' her out of it, important to her.  Felt she'd be safer with me along.  Not tryin' to go against your rules."  Spike drew in a deep breath.  "Maybe you could go a bit easy on the kid?  She was missin' your mom pretty bad.  Feelin's right on her sleeve and all."
"Sit down, Spike.  We should probably talk."  Buffy's voice was surprisingly mild.
He carefully sat on the step with Buffy making sure he didn't try to get too close in spite of his desire to pull her into a comforting hug.
"I've been thinking." She grinned a bit, "Yes, I can still do that."  She got a timid grin in return.  "You've proven I can trust your word.  I mean, you haven't said anything to anyone about what I told you.  About where I've been.  If you promise you won't encourage Dawn into her worst behavior, then maybe I can trust you to come around from time to time."
Spike gulped, his heart filled with more emotions then he knew what to do with.  She trusted him!  She noticed he was trying!  She was going to let him see Dawn!
"I swear, Slayer, Not gonna do anything to ever hurt the Niblet.  Till the end of the world."
Buffy remembered he'd already made that vow and had been willing to die trying to fulfill it.  Maybe she was making the right decision after all.  "I was going to make some cocoa.  Want to stay for a bit, have a cup?"
Spike blinked in surprise and fought to keep his manly cool demeanor.  "I could drink a cup, sure."
Dawn came barreling down the stairs and into the kitchen, nearly colliding with Spike.  "Spike!  You're still here!"
"Big sis invited me to have a cup of cocoa.  You got too much homework, or are you gonna join us?"
Dawn's eyes were wide as saucers as she looked from Spike to Buffy and back again.  "For real?  You don't have to leave right now?"
"I've decided that Spike may not be the worst influence on you.  If you keep going to school like you're supposed to and keep your grades up, stop sneaking out at night and keep the visits to here and not some moldy crypt, then I guess Spike can visit."
Every dog in the neighborhood howled from the pain the girl’s high-pitched scream had caused their ears.
Buffy leveled a sharp gaze at Spike as she poured the hot water into the mugs.  "And you...no corrupting my little sister," she warned.
"Promise, no corruptin' the little sis," Spike didn't promise not to try a bit of corruption of the BIG sis though.
"It's a pretty night," Buffy said as she looked out the kitchen window.  "Wanna take these outside?"
It seemed like a tiny bit of progress, Buffy actually noticing things around her and approving in some small way.
They took their mugs out and sat on the stairs in companionable silence and drank Joyce's special recipe.
It was a fragile peace, but a real one.  One that held promise.  One that could be a foundation to build upon.
As Buffy sipped, she turned her eyes skyward, thinking of her mom for the first time without tearing up, and watching in wonder as a shooting star lit the sky.