Disclaimer: When I say ME owns this, you know I mean Joss and Mutant Enemy, right? Not mine.


The slamming door heralded her entrance, and he looked slightly surprised as he glanced up from his book.  She knew, however, that he must have heard her stomping down the corridor to the apartment long before she arrived.  One eyebrow arched, its very familiarity making her feel better.  “Rough day at the office?”

She sighed and kicked off boots covered in demon goo.  “I just don’t understand how this place can have any more nasties than Sunnydale had.”  She slumped onto the couch next to him, wincing a little as strained muscles made their presence known.  “And yet, somehow, it does.”

“They don’t call it the Eternal City for nothing, you know.”  As soon as she had seated herself, his hands were on her neck and shoulders, rubbing in gentle-firm circles.  “How’s that, then?”

She groaned and relaxed into his touch.  “Good.  No, better than good.  Better than better than good . . .”

His hands soothed a particularly sore spot.  “So I shouldn’t stop now?”

“Mmm, never stop.”

He chuckled, that sound low in his throat that made her heart flip in her chest.  “I could do this forever, but do you really want me to?”  He leaned closer, almost purring into her ear.  “Think of all you’d have to give up . . . eating, sleeping . . .”

Words were so very difficult to form with his breath wafting across her skin. “Uh . . . can go without eating . . .”

“No more hugging . . . holding . . . kissing . . .”

“Teasing me . . . evil.”

Another soft laugh.  “Guess I am.”

She found that she had closed her eyes.  “Dawn?”

“Tucked in and sound asleep, secure in the fact that Big Sis is on patrol.”  His fingers deftly undid another knot in her back.

“Good.”  Reaching around herself, she took hold of his hands and drew his arms around her, then she leaned back into his chest.  “Mmm, thank you.”

“Buffy . . .”

Humming at the way he said her name, all husky and sexy, she tilted her head, giving him access to nibble at her neck if he wanted.  “Yeah?”

“I can’t stay . . . Buffy . . .”

She tried to sit up at that, tried to turn around to face him, but found she couldn’t move.  “What?”

“Buffy, wake up . . . Buffy!”

She jerked awake, not knowing where she was.  Warm sunlight streamed through her bedroom window, and she felt an instant of panic, because the covers were wound around her legs and he . . .

Dawn stood by the bed, looking angrier and even more sullen than she usually did.  “You forgot, didn’t you?”

Reality slammed into her, and once again, she couldn’t even form words.  All she could do was just lie there and blink up at her sister.

“You said we could go to the Galleria today and shop!  And you forgot, didn’t . . .” Dawn caught herself mid-tirade, looking into Buffy’s drawn face and brimming eyes.  Her tone changed, softened.  “And . . . that’s not what you forgot, is it?”

Buffy shook her head, tears overflowing.  She levered herself upright just as Dawn sat on the edge of the bed, and then she was crying, great gasping sobs against Dawn’s shoulder.

“I can’t . . . Spike . . . Dawnie, I miss him so much . . .”

“I miss him too,” Dawn whispered, stroking her hair.  “I miss him every day.”

Somehow, over the years, Buffy had trained herself to cry only for very short periods, no matter how the grief tore her up inside.  It was only a few moments before she swallowed her tears and leaned away, wiping her face.  “I dream about him.  Every night.”  A tiny smile quirked her lips, little more than a twitch at one corner of her mouth.  “And . . . and I just want to sleep all the time, because he’s with me then . . . because I won’t wake up and know that he’s not here . . .” Her voice broke and she spent a moment fighting for control.

She saw the words in Dawn’s face before her sister could speak—you’ve got to live, Buffy, he wanted you to live—and it made her angry because she knew she was right.

But she just couldn’t move through this pain.

Then Dawn reached out, her expression softer than Buffy had ever seen it, and combed her fingers through her tousled hair, tucking it behind her ear.  “It’s all right, Buffy,” she murmured.  “You have to get up and face the world tomorrow . . . but today, it’s all right.”

Shock was what allowed Dawn to push her back down onto the pillows, what allowed her to straighten the sheet and blankets and tuck her back in again, just like Mom had when she was small.  She lay there unresisting, completely stunned as Dawn dropped a light kiss on her forehead.

Only when the door had closed gently behind her did Buffy notice that Dawn had drawn the blinds and curtains, that her room was as dark as it could be in midmorning.

A bit guilty—but much more grateful—she closed her eyes.


August 17, 2006

©randi (K. Shepard), 2006