It was late. Just after sunset. They’d deliberately chosen that time, as well as the secluded burial spot, so that no one, especially not the demons and things in the community, would know that Buffy was… dead. It had been decided that the BuffyBot would take over some patrols. Keep up the appearance that there was indeed still a Slayer patrolling Sunnydale. Even though in was mostly the Scoobies who did all the work, and the Bot was just there for show.
Seven people stood around the casket, already placed on the platform that would lower it into the grave. Spike was staring blankly at it, as Dawn gripped his arm tightly, trying not to cry. Giles stood next to the vampire, his hand resting on Dawn’s shoulder reassuringly. One tear was making a track down the Watcher’s face.
Xander and Anya stood not too far away, arms around each other. Xander had his lower lip in his mouth and was chewing almost to the point of bleeding in order to stem the tears that were threatening him. Anya was resting her head on his shoulder, crying openly. Between Joyce and Buffy, she’d been to more funerals in the last year than she’d ever attended in her whole life before that. And, being over a thousand years old, that was saying something.
Willow and Tara however, were crying hard, sharing a box of tissues as the casket was lowered into the hole. As Buffy’s body was lowered into the ground.
One by one, they threw the white roses that they’d brought in, on top of the casket. Dawn first, then Willow and Tara, then Xander and Anya, and Giles. Spike approached the hole slowly, a quiet sound coming from his throat. Giles watched the vampire as he tossed his rose in to join the others, noting that the sound that he was making was getting louder. Whimpering, Giles realized. Spike was whimpering.
Dawn, too, heard the strange noise, and moved slowly to the vampire’s side as he stared down into the grave that now held Buffy’s casket. She gently grabbed the arm of his duster, and tugged it slightly, trying to get his attention. “Spike?”
Chewing his lip, much like Xander had been a moment earlier, Spike glanced down at Dawn. “Yeah, Bit?” His voice sounded… strained, and his blue eyes were glistening with unshed tears.
She blinked, letting the tears that had been residing in her own eyes fall free. “It’s okay to cry. I.. We all miss her. We all love her.” Sniffled, and corrected herself. “We all *loved* her.”
Spike blinked, and pulled Dawn to him in a gentle hug, rubbing comforting circles on her back. “It’ll work out, Nibblet.. You’ll see. Shhh.”
Slowly, the group began to leave. Almost hesitantly. Half expecting Buffy to jump out of the grave and yell ‘April fools’ or something. But, of course, that didn’t happen. Dawn released Spike to go and talk to Willow and Tara. Once she let go of him, the vampire began to slow his walking, dropping back, away from the group. Giles noticed, and slowed his own walk to match the vampire’s.
“Spike,” he said quietly, once he was close enough for the vampire to hear. “Are you okay?” When Spike glared at him, the Watcher quickly amended. “What I mean is, aren’t you coming back to the house with us?”
Spike sighed. “Dunno, Rupe. I just thought I’d… Maybe head back to my crypt. I think I need some time alone.”
“I know you feel embarrassed to cry in front of everyone. I don’t blame you. I do too.”
The vampire glanced at him. “Yeah. But I’ve already broken down once, that’s enough, Rupert. I can’t.. I can’t let them see me like that again.”
Giles put a hand on his shoulder as they walked. “They don’t think any less of you for crying, Spike. You loved her. We know that. We loved her, too. And it hurts. And it’s perfectly alright to cry.”
Spike glanced up at the ‘older’ man, blue eyes glistening. “That’s what everyone keeps telling me. You’ve got to understand, though, Watcher. I was raised to believe that men don’t cry. It was a different time, then. A different age. Not all of what I learned back then has left me.” Even as he spoke, a tear rolled down his cheek.
“I understand. Believe me. I was raised to believe much the same thing. But look up there.” He pointed to where Xander and Anya were now crying on each other’s shoulders. “Xander has no problem with it.”
Spike gave a half hearted snort. “Yeah. I just..” The whimpering sound got a bit louder. “I miss her so much, Rupert… There’s a hole in my heart, and I just want to… stake myself. But I can’t, because I made a promise. I have to take care of Dawn. I promised. Till the end of the world. And I don’t… I can’t…” He couldn’t hold it in anymore, and a loud, shuddering sob broke through his control.
Without even thinking, Giles quickly pulled the ‘younger’ man to him in a fatherly hug, rubbing his back gently as the vampire cried into the Watcher’s coat. “Shhh. It’ll be alright, Spike… I understand.. I know.. It’ll be okay..”
The rest of the group had paused when they heard the strange whimpering/sobbing sound behind them, and all turned at once to see Giles holding a crying Spike in a tight hug. Dawn let out a small wail, and charged back, wrapping herself around Spike from the other side, crying against his duster. Slowly, the others approached, and added themselves to the group hug, all grieving. All crying. All healing, in their own ways. And, in the middle of a cemetery, the Scooby Gang finally welcomed their newest member: Spike.
A month later….
Spike lounged on the couch in the Summers living room. He was Dawn-sitting that evening. Truth was, he was half asleep, and desperately trying to *not* doze off. Sleeping meant dreaming. And dreaming meant he’d fail again. See her fall, again. He hadn’t slept in nearly a week, and it was starting to take a toll. He could barely see straight half the time.
Giles had tried to talk him out of watching Dawn that day. Tried to get him to sleep. To rest. But Spike had refused. Watching Dawn was his sworn duty, now. He loved the Bit. And he would protect her ’till the end of the world’, as he’d promised her sister.
He missed her. No. ‘Missed’ wasn’t a strong enough word for what he felt. There wasn’t a strong enough word in any of the fifteen languages he knew for this… Emptiness.
He was holding one of the end pillows of the couch under his chin, resting his head on it. The scent of the Scoobies, even a little of Buffy’s lingering scent, as well as a very, very faint trace of Joyce, was comforting to him. And it also made his eyes well slightly. He forced back the tears. He couldn’t cry, now. Maybe later, after Dawn went to bed. Maybe then he could find a bit of the release he craved. A soft whimper escaped his marginal control, and he nuzzled the pillow again.
Halfway up the stairs, Dawn watched her best friend silently. In some ways, Spike was taking this harder than she was. Sure, she missed her sister and mother. Sure, she hurt. But there was a marked difference in the way they dealt with their loss. She allowed herself to cry. To seek comfort from the other Scoobies. She let Xander, Willow, and Tara hug her. Let Giles comfort her with his fatherly presence. Spike didn’t. He wouldn’t let anyone in. Wouldn’t let them see how much this hurt him. Not since the funeral.
He’d opened up that night. Let them see how bad he was feeling. Let them comfort him. But not since then. With the exception of one time that only Dawn knew about, when they’d broken down together while looking through one of the Summers old photo albums. And now, she suspected that he wasn’t sleeping. She knew he was barely eating. And it worried her. She decided that he needed to cheer up. But she couldn’t, for the life of her, think of how to do that. With a sigh, she went back up to her room.
The same photo album that they’d been looking at a few days earlier was lying open on her bed. She flopped on the bed next to it, and began leafing through it slowly. She smiled at one of the pictures. Joyce had a ten year old Buffy and a six year old Dawn pinned and was tickling them playfully while they squealed and squirmed. Her father had taken that picture. She remembered the day.
It was a good game. A variation on Hide-And-Seek that they’d invented for playing indoors. No running for base was allowed. You hid, and when the seeker found you, you would be tickled. It had been one of Buffy and Dawn’s favorite games to play with their mom when they were little. Dawn called it ‘Hide-And-Squeal’. She cocked her head at the photo. Hmm. An idea.
Maybe Spike would want to play a game. She didn’t even know if he was ticklish, but… It was worth a shot, right? She got up, closed the photo album, and headed back downstairs. “Spike?”
On the couch, the vampire jerked awake. “Huh? Wha-?”
Dawn blinked. Oops. She hadn’t meant to wake him up. She chewed her lip. Decided to press ahead anyway. “Uh.. I was wondering if you wanted to do something. Like.. a game?”
Spike shoved the pillow that he’d still been holding off to one side. “Bit, I’m a little.. old, for games.” Shrugged. “But, I don’t have anything better to do, so.. What game?”
Dawn grinned. “Hide-And-Seek… Kind of. No running for base allowed, though. It’s indoor rules.”
Spike cocked his head. “Okay. I guess. You hide, then.”
She shook her head. “Oh no. You can find me too easy. With your scent tracking and stuff. I want *you* to hide.”
Spike stared at her for a moment. “Uh.. Alright..” There was a strange look in Dawn’s eyes, and Spike wasn’t entirely sure that he liked it. She looked like she was planning something. Something that he probably wouldn’t like at all. But.. He wanted to make her happy. She seemed to want to play, so.. He’d play. He got up, made sure that she was counting on the couch, and couldn’t see where he went, then he went upstairs slowly.
Hiding place. Where to hide? Closet? No. Too obvious. Bathroom? Hmm. Possibilities. But, no. Better just to find another place. A good… Hey. Almost empty clothes basket. BIG almost empty clothes basket. He grinned. This was a good place. He took the few clothes that were in the basket out, climbed in, then arranged them on top of himself. This was good. There was no way she’d find him in there.
“Ready or not, here I come!”, Dawn called. This would be easy. There weren’t that many places in the house that he could hide successfully. So all she had to do was check every one till she found him. It took a good fifteen minutes before she even got an idea of where he was. So maybe it *wasn’t* as easy as she’d thought it would be. But! Now that she was upstairs, there REALLY weren’t that many places that he could be. She was relatively certain that he wouldn’t go in Buffy’s room. Or in Joyce’s old room. They were like… almost sacred places. Nothing had been touched since the other two Summers’ passing. So she was sure that he wouldn’t go in there. That left the bathroom, which was empty, or her room. Which was where she was now.
“I know you’re in here somewhere, Spike,” she called. “I’m gonna find you…” Playfully taunting tone of voice. She remembered that, when her mom would talk like that, it always set her off into fits of giggles, knowing that she’d be found soon. Of course, Spike didn’t have the benefit of knowing what would happen when she *did* find him. She found herself giggling in anticipation.
In the clothes basket, Spike was being totally silent. Not even breathing. But it was getting harder. He could see Dawn’s socked feet standing no more than three feet from his hiding place, and he suddenly found himself having to struggle to fight down laughter. Something about this made him feel like laughing. Maybe it was a memory from when he was human. He remembered playing Hide-And-Seek with his Nanny and his little sister. Remembered the thrill of anticipation before he was found. The same thrill he was feeling right then for some reason. A thrill that made it almost impossible not to laugh. But he couldn’t give in, could he? He’d lose the game if he did.
Dawn closed her bedroom door. She was certain that he was in there. Somewhere. She just didn’t know where. Not in the closet. Not under the bed. Where was he? And why… Why was the clothes basket shaking slightly?
Spike’s shoulders had begun shaking with quickly repressed laughter. It was only an instant, but it just happened to be the instant that Dawn chose to look at the basket. She cocked her head, grinning playfully. “Hmm. I *wonder* where Spike could be? Spike, can you hear me?” A faked gasp. “Oh my! The clothes basket is alive!”
A snort from within the basket, and a half chuckle.
Dawn stepped back in mock horror. “Oh.. What do you want, Clothes Basket? Are you hungry?”
Another chuckle, and the basket began shaking again.
She gasped again, putting a hand to her forehead. “Oh, please don’t hurt me, Clothes Basket! I’ll find you some yummy clothes to eat, just don’t hurt me!”
Spike lost it at that, and just started laughing hard, causing the basket to tip over and spill him onto the floor. But Dawn wasn’t done yet.
She pointed at the basket. “You ATE Spike?! You horrible basket!”
Spike was trying to scramble to his feet, despite laughing hysterically. He just made it, when Dawn suddenly flying tackled him onto the bed. “OOF!”, the vampire yelped. “Hey, Bit. I thought you said no running for base. I wasn’t going anywhere.”
She grinned at him. “Oh, did I forget to mention the extra rules that are in place of that part of the game?”
Spike looked up at her. “What ‘extra rules’?”
Dawn giggled. “Are you ticklish, Spike?”
Just for an instant, the vampire’s eyes got wide, then they returned to normal. “No, Bit. I’m not.”
Dawn smiled at him. She’d seen his eyes widen before, and KNEW that he was most likely lying. “Then this won’t bother you at all.” She dug her fingers lightly into the vampire’s ribs. There was an instant response from Spike, a loud snort of laughter, as he tried to suppress his body’s instinctive responses. Dawn grinned. “So. You’re not ticklish, huh, Spike?”
Her fingers moved to his stomach, and Spike lost control before he could answer her. He started howling with laughter, trying to squirm away from her without throwing her off the bed. After a few more moments of this playful torture, Dawn stopped, and sat back, giggling.
Spike lay there, panting, and totally unable to stop grinning. And, even more embarrassing, he was still giggling slightly. He looked at the Key, and gave a growl that came out more like a purr. “Don’t you ever do that again, Nibblet.”
She laughed a little. “It was fun.”
Poked him. “For you, too, Mr. Big-Scary-Vampire.”
Chuckled. “Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”
She bit her lip. “You aren’t… mad, are you?”
He sighed. “I suppose I *should* be. But I’m not.” Chuckled again. “In fact… I feel really good.” Yawned. “Tired, but good.”
She smiled and bounced on the bed a little. “Good! It worked, then.”
Cocked his head. “What worked?”
Patted his stomach. “I cheered you up. That’s what I wanted to do. Mom used to play this with us all the time.”
Spike smiled. “That sounds like Joyce, alright.” Laughed softly. “And you’re right. I feel a lot better now.” Grinned at her, sitting up slowly. “So.. I take it that you’re ticklish, then?”
Dawn yelped, leaped up and ran for the door, Spike hot on her heels. He caught up to her near the couch, grabbing her in a half headlock and tickling her ribs with his other hand. She squealed, and fought back. Pretty soon, the pair were flopped at opposite ends of the couch, panting and still laughing slightly. After a moment, Spike switched on the TV and they relaxed, watching a CSI rerun.
An hour later, Dawn had dozed off, and Spike carried her upstairs and put her on her bed, tucking her in gently. Gave a little sigh when she smiled in her sleep and snuggled down against her pillow, hugging her stuffed rhino. He backed slowly out of her room, and shut the door behind him.
He headed downstairs to collapse on the couch. Something told him that, for the first time in over a month, he wouldn’t have nightmares. Then, just as he went to stretch out, his stomach growled. Loudly. He got up again, went into the kitchen, and got himself a quickly microwaved mug of blood. The first real meal he’d had in days.
Heck. The first time he’d felt HUNGRY in days.
He returned to the couch, after finishing his meal, left the mug on the coffee table, and stretched out on the couch again. Yawned, and nuzzled down against the pillows, taking in the scents of the Scoobies again. Somehow… It didn’t bother him, this time, that he knew that Rupert would come in while he was asleep. It didn’t bother him that he might be seen cuddling a pillow. Not this time. Slowly, he dozed off. Content.
A couple of hours later, Giles unlocked the door and came in. The TV was on, but there were no sounds of breathing. Oh. No wonder. Spike was… sleeping… on the couch. Giles smiled. Seemed that he’d finally gotten some sleep. Smiled even wider when he noticed the mug on the coffee table. He was eating again. Good. Giles put a blanket over the slumbering vampire, and went into the kitchen to wash out the mug and get a cup of tea. Once he got it, he returned to the living room and settled in the recliner. Watching the evening news.
On the couch, Spike nuzzled the pillow again, sighing happily. Giles smiled again. Seemed that something had finally made the vampire relax enough to sleep. He couldn’t help but wonder what had brought on that change, but… He could ask Spike in the morning. For now, he was just glad that Spike was finally getting some sleep.
Whatever had caused the sudden change, Giles was grateful for it. He’d begun to worry about Spike. But, finally, it seemed as if he was starting to leave his period of mourning. And that was good. Finally, the healing could begin.