Though she had seen the sun rise many times before, it had never been like this. And Dawn doubted very much that she would ever tire of the sight. The first peek of light over the still English horizon, pouring golden drops of lemonade across the plains that she was forced to think of as home.
In truth, they hadn’t been in England all that long. A few days, maybe, but it felt like much longer. Maybe because Dawn was still on California time—she felt she had to be. That was where Buffy was.
Sleep was nearly impossible, though Giles implored her to make more of an effort. Whatever rest she got came in short spurts. The past few nights, Dawn had passed out on the couch or propped against a table. She didn’t stay there, though, as Giles thought it best that Joyce not find her youngest having exhausted herself with worry. With Buffy gone, their mom had enough to worry about.
Dawn did enjoy English mornings, though. Almost the exact opposite of Los Angeles, or what her false memories recalled of Los Angeles. The hurry. The noise. The urgency. That had been home. The first home she remembered.
For a long time, Dawn had resented her sister for getting kicked out of Hemery. For causing, as she’d seen it then, their parents’ split. For forcing Dawn to part ways with her friends and the only home she’d ever known.
Yet though she hadn’t admitted it for years, the sky in Sunnydale had won her over almost immediately. The sky without smog. And her classmates had been a little nicer.
Or so the monks had made them because she’d never existed. She’d never gone to school. Never had sleepovers. Never attended birthday parties. Never done anything at all, save pop into Buffy’s life a handful of months earlier.
Now she was in England, and this was not a false memory. In an English cottage tucked into remote countryside. How Giles had found this place, she did not know. Perhaps it was a family estate. Perhaps it belonged to the Council. He had mentioned who owned it, she knew, but she hadn’t been listening at the time.
Her mother was sick. Her sister was gone.
And Spike was off to rescue her.
It wasn’t as though it was a surprise. The guy was totally in love with Buffy—obviously—and he was horrible at hiding it. Hell, he always had been. Dawn vividly remembered the night that he’d come home with Buffy for the first time, when her sister had finally dropped the Slayer bombshell. Not that Dawn had been in the room then—either in reality or in her false memories—but she had lurked on the staircase and listened to them as they plotted how to take Angelus out. Together. United in what turned out to be the first of many alliances. And true, while his heart had been pledged to Drusilla at the time, Dawn had seen how he’d looked at her sister. That sheath of hatred that only barely covered the mixed confusion and longing beneath. She had been too young to know what she was seeing, but the image had never left her.
The past few months had been a severe eye opener. Dawn was fourteen now. She was still young, of course, but she was becoming skilled at reading guys—at least, the guys in her life. She lacked her sister’s confidence in school, always felt more like the punch line than the comedian. But she was good at reading people. Very good. And prior to this unfortunate mess, Spike’s behavior had been even stranger than usual. It hadn’t taken long to piece together. Piecing together what she’d seen that first night to what she saw now, and Dawn was convinced that Spike loved her sister.
Good for him. True, that pretty much meant her crush on him was a big dead-end, but she’d figured that much from the start. Even if she lived to be the oldest woman in history, she would always be regarded as the baby.
So was the woe of being the youngest child.
And she was the youngest. The youngest fourteen-year-old in the world. She hadn’t even lived a full year. Not really. Memories were just, but they were nothing more than pictures. Images. Things some monks wanted her and her family to believe in order to keep a hellbitch from getting her hands drenched in Key-blood.
In need of a distraction, the Scoobies had filled the days since leaving Sunnydale with endless research. Willow and Tara spent hours perfecting their craft, enhancing the protective, however unseen barrier that kept them concealed from the outer world. It was not infallible, they had explained, but were Glory to show up, they would be well aware, if not prepared before she kicked the door down.
Buffy was not in their conversations. She did not make visits to the dinner table. She did not drift in and out of research sessions. She was, for all intents and purposes, gone. Dawn never doubted that she was in their thoughts. It was easy to see. There was constant worry on Giles’s face. Xander’s eyes were always empty and sad, even when he was laughing at something Anya said or playing a board game with the rest of the gang. Willow and Tara had all but mastered the art of nonverbal communication. Even Anya remained rather mute on the matter. There was an unspoken code. They couldn’t mention Buffy. Couldn’t. It was too easy to refer to her in the past tense, and that was something that no one was prepared for.
It had bothered Dawn at first. The thought that they were to pretend Buffy was all right—or worse—nonexistent. She wanted to talk about her sister. But that passed, as things often did, and she learned that silence was a virtue. As long as they did not mention her sister, she would always be alive.
God, how many days had gone by? The English countryside was lovely, but Dawn wanted to go home—her real home. Her home with Buffy.
The floorboard behind her creaked. “Hey Dawnster. You’re up early.”
She glanced over her shoulder, forcing a smile. “Morning, Willow.”
“You all right?”
“Peachy keen. Peachy keen is me.”
The redhead smiled back and nodded. “Good, good. I’m gonna try my hand at some breakfast. Wanna help?”
“I think I’m gonna stick to cereal this morning, but—sure—I can help.”
There was a curious pause. “You sure you’re all right?” Willow asked a minute later. “You seem to be Deep Thought gal this morning.”
“I’m fine,” Dawn reassured her, turning her eyes back to the horizon. The sun was rising higher. She wondered if that meant it was nighttime in California. Despite her body’s resistance to the time change, she had been at a loss at what the real time was since her watch had broken earlier last week. Time zones were not her specialty.
Dawn snorted. Broken watches. Her sister was being tortured or turned or worse and she was sitting across the globe in a perfect English cottage, watching the sunrise and worrying about broken watches.
That was all it took. In seconds, Willow had sealed the distance between them and taken her into her arms. Dawn didn’t even realize she’d started crying until the first awful pang for air stretched her lungs. She hadn’t cried over Buffy since they left California, but by god, she was crying now.
“Shhhh,” Willow murmured, stroking her hair softly. “It’s okay, Dawnie. It’s okay.”
“No,” Dawn protested, shaking her head. “It’s really, really not. I’m so worried, Will. I’m so…it’s not fair. I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t—”
“No goodbyes, sweetheart.”
Empty promise, that. If living in Sunnydale had taught her anything, it was that saying goodbye was the only certainty there was in life. But Buffy had always been invincible. She had always prevailed. Always survived. It had never occurred to Dawn to make sure she said goodbye to Buffy every time she headed out for patrol, because it might always be the last one. As sisters, they had always been on the outs. Always fought. Always bickered about this and that. She had always resented Buffy for her superiority, for being the one the others favored, for being the Slayer. But with that came boundless love and unfathomable respect. If she lost Buffy without letting her know that, she would never forgive herself.
“I miss her,” she sobbed into Willow’s sweater.
“I know, honey. We all do. But hey—no worries! We’ll—”
“Don’t. Don’t do that.” Dawn pulled away hastily, jabbing at her tears, angry that she had cried them to begin with. “Don’t pretend around me. Just be honest. I can’t stand this pretending. It’s…it’s not right. Buffy’s out there, and we’re…”
A sigh escaped Willow’s lips. “I know,” she agreed. “But Spike’s with her. He wouldn’t let her down.”
“Xander doesn’t seem to think so.”
“What?” Willow scowled. “What has he said to you? God, that little worm. I could wring his neck! Or better yet, turn him into a newt. Stupid guy never learns when to not talk. I—”
“Don’t turn Xander into anything. He’s told me nothing. It’s just obvious.” When she didn’t readily agree, Dawn rolled her eyes. “Come on, I don’t have to have magical powers to know that. Just looking at him’s enough. He doesn’t trust Spike any more than he would trust Anya with a Playgirl centerfold.”
That remark earned a wry grin. “I think he does,” she said softly. “I mean, sure, Spike’s done the entire ‘I hate you because I’m evil’ thing, but really, if Xander was paying any attention the night that he came by—”
“You told me that he accused Spike right off.”
At that, Willow fidgeted. “Well…he did…but…” That wasn’t helping. With a sigh, she shook her head and leaned against the wall. “Look, for what it’s worth, I think if Spike’s gotten this far…or as far as he was, last we heard from him, we don’t have much to worry about. No news is good news, right?” She paused to allow a response, but Dawn had none to offer. “If anything, Spike knows that he has to get her back. ‘Cause if he doesn’t, he’s gonna get his ass kicked by the Scooby Gang.”
Dawn grinned weakly. “You better believe it.”
Willow’s arm found its way around the Dawn’s shoulders again. “Come on, short stuff. Let’s get cookin’.”
“Short stuff? I’m taller than you.”
“I was referring to your aura, thank you very much.”
“I so do not have a short aura.”
Willow sighed dramatically. “Fine. Have it your way. Why don’t you go feed Miss Kitty Fantastico? I’ll start us up some pancakes. No more of this cereal nonsense. You’re too young to be eating healthy.”
Dawn smiled. “Fine. Twist my arm, why don’t you?”
“Got the wrench all ready.”
That was it, then. The morning would continue as normal. No more mention of her absentee sister or the vampire antihero that had insisted on saving her. Talking about her would not bring her back. No more salt. No more wounds. Just this. This enduring of whatever there was to endure.
Despite its beauty, Dawn did not think she would miss England when it was time to return to her real life.
Even if it was a fake one.
For the first time since arriving in Los Angeles, Spike had absolutely no idea where to go. The Hyperion was dangerous, despite its convenience, and he didn’t feel right being around the others. There was Caritas, but he didn’t want to sing. He was too afraid of what the Host might see in his future, good or bad.
He couldn’t turn a corner, mutter a word, have a thought without his mind dragging him back to her. How much had changed without having changed at all. The feel of her against his skin haunted him. His lips ached with the taste of her kisses. The experience was unlike anything he had thought to feel before.
Perhaps it was the blood. It seemed to connect them, though, on a level he was unprepared for. And what had come before—touching her. Tasting her. Hearing her say she needed him.
Fearing it wasn’t real. Fearing that it was.
It was too much to get through now, so he referred to what he knew. The basics. The fundamental thing that was the Slayer was being held by Angelus, and he had to get her out. Simple as that.
And thanks to Lindsey McDonald, they had a somewhat decent plan.
Okay, a very decent plan. It was merely a matter of timing.
Spike snickered. Funny. Wolfram and Hart—more particularly—Lindsey had him exactly where he was most vulnerable. He would do anything to get Buffy out. Anything. No task was too small, no challenge too great. And yet, the price he’d been quoted was the only thing in the world he would have done for free.
Killing Angelus wouldn’t make up for what Buffy had been through, but it sure would go a long way in making Spike feel better.
In the end, having nowhere to go, Spike decided that Wright’s pit of a motel room was as good a place as any. According to the hunter, the bill was paid throughout the rest of the month—unless Wright had come by to cancel that, but that didn’t seem likely. And even if he had, maybe Spike would just kick the door down and make himself at home. No one would think to look for him there. Angelus might follow, but he doubted it—and even so, Spike reckoned his scent was strewn across nearly half the town. Finding and keeping a lead wouldn’t be easy.
Judging by Lindsey’s ability to send mercenary vamps his way, Spike figured the lawyer could find him, and at the moment, that was all he cared about. So he would go to the motel tonight, and tomorrow—while the big git slept—he would share the change of plans with the rest of the waiting team at Angel Investigations.
Except when Spike arrived at the shithole masquerading as a motel room, he found it was in use.
Very much in use.
For a moment, he didn’t know what to do, so he just stood at the doorway, wide-eyed, watching Wright and Cordelia move together in a tangle of naked flesh before they realized that they had an audience.
It was only when Wright turned to look at him that Spike’s brain clued on and he realized exactly what he was seeing. And promptly threw an arm across his face in horror.
“Oh bloody hell!” he growled. “My virgin eyes!”
“What the fuck are you doing here?” Wright demanded between hard breaths.
“Lookin’ for a place to stay,” Spike replied. “Well, bugger that idea. Glad to see you two made up.” That was it. He left without another word, slamming the door behind him.
Then he paused, considered, and kicked it back open. “I just wanted to say, good on you, mates. I knew you two’d pull it off if you were given a little nudge…” He trailed off, considering. “Well, more than a nudge, if you ended up—”
Cordelia slammed a hand on the mattress. “Spike!”
Wright looked down at her in horror. “Don’t yell his name while we’re…” He gestured inarticulately.
Another awkward beat passed. Then Spike cleared his throat and nodded. “Right. Just leaving. You two—erm—have fun.”
By now, Cordelia was breathless and nodding emphatically, waving at him to hurry. “Sure I’ll get right on that.”
“Or under it,” Wright replied.
“Okay. Officially scarred for my unlife. I’m gone before the damage is permanent.”
This time when he closed the door, it stayed closed.
“Now…” Zack said, panting a little. “Where were we?” He began moving with experimental thrusts that earned him a sharp gasp.
Cordelia seized his biceps for leverage. “I think there,” she replied, arching her hips.
“Ah…now I remember.”
It couldn’t last. Spike knew that the minute he left the motel, more disturbed than he wanted to admit. He wanted to give them their peace, but whatever newfound bliss they were experiencing had to be put on hold. The years had taught him many things, shown him more than he rightly reckoned he’d wanted to see, but watching two people have sex when actual feelings were involved was something he wasn’t accustomed to. Angelus had always made a spectacle of himself: fucking Darla or Dru or some victim or all of the above. That had never bothered him. Not really. But knowing what Wright and Cordelia were doing made him uncomfortable.
Because he didn’t think he’d ever had that. Not even with as much as he’d loved Dru.
Except maybe he had tasted it earlier today with Buffy. Maybe that was what this feeling was. Maybe that was why he felt off.
Spike waited, lounged against the exterior wall, smoking leisurely. He knew it was only a matter of time.
Within twenty minutes, the door to Wright’s motel room opened to reveal a disheveled Cordelia working on the buttons to her blouse. She looked at him directly, then turned to call over her shoulder. “Yeah, he’s still here.”
Spike smirked at her as Wright appeared behind her, looking about as relaxed as he figured the bloke had ever been in his life.
Spike cocked his head with an arched brow. “Top of the evenin’ to you,” he greeted.
Wright grinned. “Oh, you can say that again.”
Cordelia whacked his arm. He shrugged unapologetically, his eyes still dancing.
“God,” she snickered under her breath. “I sure know how to pick ‘em.”
Spike chuckled and puffed on his cigarette. “So,” he began, “when’d this happen?”
“We were going for weapons,” Cordelia said. “The stuff he didn’t bring with him when you two came here a few nights ago.”
Spike grinned like an idiot. “And you what?” he asked Wright. “Seduced her into your pit of filth an’—”
“Call ‘em like I see ‘em, mate.”
“Yeah,” Cordelia agreed, nose wrinkling. “I forgot we were here. Sheesh, you make Doyle’s apartment look like a Marriott.”
Wright frowned. “Who’s Doyle?”
A poignant look overwhelmed her at that—brief but telling. “Old friend,” she said softly. “A good old friend. He’s the one that gave me the visions.”
“I’m not following…”
“He kissed me before he saved us…me and Angel. There was this glowy thing and it was gonna kill us and he…” She trailed off, then gave her head a shake. It didn’t take much to piece together what had happened there, any more than it did the fact that Cordelia wasn’t entirely over it. “Anyway, point being, his place was a dump…but not as bad as this.”
“I can’t believe you’re thinking of the décor after—”
Spike held up a hand. “So, what? Give you two an enclosed area and suddenly you’re shaggin’ like bunnies?”
There was an uncomfortable beat.
“It was because of the plan,” Cordelia said. “Well, sorta. We figured we were on the way there anyway… Well, at least I did. I was sorta…the jumper. You know, just in case it all goes to hell and you guys end up with one dead Seer on your hands.”
Wright grunted. “And she wonders why I want her to drop it altogether.”
“Hey,” she protested. “We don’t have anything better.”
“Actually, we do.” Spike smiled thinly when they looked to him. “Thanks to a lawyer we all know and resent, I got me a helluva Plan B.”
The relief rolling from Wright was blatant, and that alone made the announcement all the more worth it. “What?”
“Apparently, Lindsey has access to the bloke that made the bloody key in the first place. Says he’s agreed to come in and undo it.” Spike shrugged. “Given the lesser of two bad ideas, I’d say his wins the ‘let’s do it’ award, mainly ‘cause I think his stands a chance of being…oh, I dunno, effective.”
“His plan is to call a locksmith?” Wright asked with a grin.
“My plan was effective!” Cordelia growled.
“Yeah,” Wright agreed, rolling his eyes. “A real effective way of getting you killed.”
“Now, now, children.” Spike held up his hands. “Let’s not make a big thing outta it.”
There was a sigh of concession. “Fine,” Cordelia offered. “Fine. So Lindsey’s idea is better. It would bet—he’s a lawyer.”
“Right,” Wright deadpanned. “That’s the only reason.”
She ignored him. “When’s this going down? We gotta get everyone—”
“No,” Spike said. “Too dangerous with the lot of us goin’ in. Zangy and I’ll handle this alone.”
“I gotta agree,” Wright replied. “Sounds far less risky with just us.”
“You’re just looking for an excuse to lay waste to the place.”
The two men exchanged a mischievous glance. “Yeah,” they said in unison.
“Fine,” Cordelia grumbled. “Fine. When do you go in?”
“If all goes according to Lindsey’s schedule,” Spike said slowly, “we’ll move in tomorrow while the wankers are sleeping the day away. In and out. No bloody hassle.”
“That’s it?” Wright arched a brow. “Sweep in, sweep out, presto Slayer? I don’t think so. Nothing is ever that easy, especially where these guys are concerned. Hell, Spike, if I know that, then—”
“Just for bloody once,” Spike snapped, “we can hope it otherwise. Either way, I’m gettin’ her outta there tomorrow, and god help the man who stands in my way.” A sigh rolled off his shoulders. “Gettin’ her out’s the priority. Let them kill me first. All right? Zangy, I know this is a bloody no-brainer, but I’m counting on you to get her out if I can’t. You understand?”
A thick silence stretched between them, a troubled look falling over Wright’s face. Not hesitant, per se, but unsettled.
“I mean it,” Spike repeated.
“I know. Getting Buffy out’s the priority. I know.”
Another pause. Spike shrugged a minute later to show his indifference. “It’s no big concern,” he said. “I plan to be there for the whole bloody ride. Just need a little insurance policy’s all.”
“I get that. And how.”
Cordelia pursed her lips pursed, then turned to Spike, eyes ablaze with understanding. “Right,” she said slowly. “What do you want us to do?”
“Stay at the hotel,” he replied. “Lindsey’ll call if there’s trouble.”
“You sure you won’t take Gunn or Wes with?”
“I’m sure. Zangy and I are all the muscle we need. Relax, pet, it’s a simple retrieval. Once the warlock bloke works his mojo, getting her to safety’s only a matter of minutes. ‘Sides,” he added with a somewhat impish grin. “Someone’s gotta stay behind and protect the womenfolk.”
“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”
Zack smirked but turned to Spike all the same. “You’re staying here tonight?”
“Yeah. Gotta maintain a low profile. I’ll be by early in the morning.”
“How early’s early?”
Spike winced. “Too early for a vampire, let’s put it that way. You two better run on…get in a nice long shag before the sun comes up.”
“Hey!” Cordelia whacked him again, ignoring the mock-wounded look that slid over Wright’s face.
“‘Hey!’?” he repeated, only mildly serious. “Why ‘hey!’?”
“Didn’t mean to get you all skittish,” Spike said. “Just thought I’d offer some advice. Reckon the lot’ve us are gonna be tense and hankerin’ for relaxation tonight. Better take it where you can get it.”
At that, both parties glared at him. “Hey!”
He ignored them. “You two run off,” he said. “Do what you gotta.”
“What are you gonna do?” Cordelia asked.
A sigh. Spike glanced up, doing his best to keep the all-consuming worry that had dominated him since seeing her that afternoon at bay. “Try and get some sleep,” he answered. “Try and see past tomorrow.”
Something told him, as all things were, that the task would always be easier said than done. But he was a stubborn bloke. He always had to try.
The night was the last Buffy would spend in captivity. He knew that without knowing anything else. Except he worried—fuck how he worried—that it might be the last she saw at all. Hell, it might be the last for all of them. Buffy, himself, and Zack Wright. There were a thousand things that could go wrong between now and tomorrow.
But he couldn’t think of those things. Because he’d made a promise—a promise he’d die to keep.
Buffy would get out, and she would get out alive.
Even if he did not.