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Author: Nestra (nestra@postmark.net or nestra1@yahoo.com)
Title: The Thought of You Shines Bright
Summary: "Sometimes, she thinks, it sucks to know the truth."
Spoilers: Big ones for The Gift; also for The Body
Rating: PG
Author's website: http://bifictionalbedlam.slashcity.net/~nestra
Distribution: List archives. Anyone else, please ask.
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Joss and company. The lyrics belong to The Ramones. The title comes from a Stephen Sondheim's song "Losing My Mind", from the musical "Follies".
Thanks: To Shrift, who finally saw the finale and could beta this for me. To Jonquil, for watching my Spike and my inner logic. To grit kitty, Athena, and Celia, since only one of you actually watches this show, but all of you read this. To ita, for watching my Briticisms.


The sound threads through the air, appropriately mournful.

"Twenty-twenty-twenty-four hours to go...I wanna be sedated..."

Dawn stops and listens for a moment, then continues walking through the maze of gravestones.

There he is. Sprawled on the ground, propped up against a tree, a pale figure in the wan moonlight fighting its way through the clouds. An empty bottle keeps him company. He barely lifts his head at her approach.

"What do you want?"

Dawn shrugs. "Nothing. I wanted to see how you were doing, I guess."

"Go away, little bit. Nothing here to see."

"I don't know about that. You look pretty pathetic to me."

He makes a sound that's supposed to be a laugh. "I'm not surprised. I feel like shit."

Dawn studies him for a moment, not sure of anything except his pain. Their pain. "If Buffy saw you like this, she'd kick your ass."

"Watch your mouth, girl. Shouldn't be using such language." He looks up then, his eyes bleak and blurry with self-medicated pain. "And don't say her name."

Great, Dawn thinks. He 's just as bad as the rest of them. "Why not? I'm not going to pretend like she didn't exist just because you can't handle it. She's dead, Spike."

He blurs into motion, unexpectedly standing before her, only the slight waver of his body betraying exactly how drunk he is. "Don't you lecture me, girl. You think I don't know death? I'm on bloody intimate terms with death!" He leans forward, whiskey-soaked words pummeling her. "I know she's dead. I hid under a tree and saw them put her in the ground. Watched as they piled dirt on her. I've brought death to enough people to know it when I see it."

"Big deal," yells Dawn, furious at his self-pity. "I know it too. You're standing on my sister's grave, right next to my mother's grave. You think you're some kind of expert? You've been dead for over a hundred years. I don't see how death can mean anything to you when life doesn't mean anything to you."

He sneers at her and turns around, dropping to his knees, his weight indenting the soft earth. "Go away, child. Go be with the poor deserted Scooby Gang. At least they're alive."

"Fine. It was stupid to come here anyway." She stares at the back of his head for a moment, determined not to storm away like the child he's accused her of being. She'll make a dignified exit...as soon as she can think of a good parting shot.

More soft singing, slow and breathy, "nothing to do, nowhere to go, oh...I wanna be sedated..." trails off into an uncomfortable silence.

"Dawn? How'd you know I was here?" he asks finally, head hanging limply, chin resting against his chest.

She sniffs derisively. "Everyone knows you come here. Every night."

A hollow chuckle. "Do they, now. Suppose I shouldn't be surprised. They always were a bunch of gossips."

"They've been watching her grave," Dawn says. "Giles says they should, just in case..." She doesn't want think about the many ways she can finish that sentence. Figures Spike will finish it for her.

"Because when you live in good old Sunnyhell, you never know how bad 'just in case' might be."

"Right," she replies, in a voice softer than the sound of the clouds passing by overhead.

He shuffles around, resettling himself with his back to the side of the gravestone. "Doesn't matter, girl. I won't let anything happen to her."

"Kinda late for that, Spike." She knows it's a cheap shot, but she can't seem to care.

He turns to look up at her, and he looks deader than she's ever seen him, as if he no longer cares about mimicking humanity. Pale face, empty eyes, whisper-soft voice. Maybe with Buffy gone, there's no reason for him to try. "Tell you what," he says. "You don't blame me, and I won't blame you."

"Fine." It's late, and she feels what little energy she had seeping out of her body. Eyeing the damp ground suspiciously, she sits down, gingerly leaning against the other side of the gravestone.

They sit there quietly, macabre bookends with the story of Buffy's life propped up between them. Shivering a little in the warm night air, she looks around at the gravestones surrounding her, absently noting how many of the names she recognizes. A classmate over there who died under mysterious circumstances (vampire attack). A teacher killed when her house collapsed (by-product of apocalypse number three). A neighbor attacked by wild dogs (werewolf).

Sometimes, she thinks, it sucks to know the truth.

"Do you think she was glad to die?" The sound of her own voice surprises her, the question popping out before she has time to think about it.

"What the hell kind of question is that?" Oddly enough, Spike doesn't sound upset. Just tired. Tired like Buffy had been tired.

"I think she was glad. I think she was glad to have an excuse."

He twists around a little so he can look at her. "She loved you with everything she had, Dawn."

"I know." She leans her head back against the stone. "I just think she wanted to go. 'Cause it was easier."

She can see out of the corner of her eye that he's shaking his head. "Buffy wouldn't give up, little bit. She never gave up. Not ever."

There's no point in talking about this with him. He's not going to admit the possibility that Buffy was anything less than perfect. Not with her dead. "Whatever," she replies, knowing that he's not really listening.

More silence. She tries not to think any more. Closes her eyes and watches the colors dance on the inside of her eyelids.

"So tell me what's going on over at Chez Summers, nibblet. Moaning and wailing? Gnashing of teeth? Ritual rending of ugly garments?" His tone mocks them all, and himself too.

She rolls her eyes. "They're in total denial. Of course, they wouldn't admit it, but I guess that's why it's called denial. Everyone's pretending that they're okay, but I know they're not. All Giles does is lecture me about the five stages of grief and cry when he thinks I'm not looking. Anya keeps baking these horrible pies and trying to make me eat them, because everybody brought us food when Mom died, so she thinks it's what she's supposed to do. Tara's still really weak, so she just sleeps all the time. And Willow and Xander can't even look at me." She pulls in a deep, hitching breath, fighting past the knot of pain and anger that has erupted in her stomach. "They used to try, but then their faces would always crumple up, and they'd turn away. So they stopped trying."

"Figures," he says, his voice suspiciously flat. "Pathetic bunch of wankers."

She lets out a strangled hiccup at that, not quite a sob. "Please. You're just as bad. Sitting here every night, crying until the sun comes up."

"You think I'm enjoying this? I'd like nothing better than to get the hell out of this fucking town. Go off and toss myself into a nest of demons, go down fighting. That was the only thing I wanted. I didn't want to be the one who survived."

"Yeah?" says Dawn, thinking of an empty house and two fresh graves. "Me neither."

The tears roll down her face and soak into the soft cotton of her shirt, leaving dark blotches on the fabric. She hates crying; she's tired of it. It doesn't help-doesn't make her feel better. It just leaves her feeling empty, like every tear she sheds is another part of her that's gone forever. Just like Mom and Buffy.

Dawn looks up at the lightening sky and wonders if she'll ever be happy to see a sunrise again. "It'll be morning soon. You should go."

Spike doesn't move. "There's time yet."

No, she thinks. No, there isn't. There's no time left for me to tell Mom I loved her, or to tell Buffy I'm sorry for being such a brat when she was trying so hard.

"Looks like it's gonna rain," she says, tired of yet another silence.

"No," says Spike, eyes fixed distantly on the horizon. "I don't think it will."

But she smells the rain in the air. Buffy always liked thunderstorms. "Vamps are as bad as cats," she'd once said. "They hate getting wet. I'm surprised they don't cough up big vampy hairballs." Rain meant Buffy didn't have to patrol. She and Dawn would curl up on the couch with their mother and watch bad weepy movies on Lifetime ("Television for Women!") and laugh in between mouthfuls of popcorn.

Buried in her own thoughts, she doesn't realize anything's wrong until she smells the smoke. She turns to look, and he's smoldering all over, smoke escaping from any patch of exposed skin. A quick look at the eastern horizon shows a rapidly growing band of sunlight, stabbing through from under the clouds.

"Spike, you have to get up. The sun's rising."

No response. No movement.

She pushes herself off the ground and runs to stand in front of him, leaning down to tug at his sleeve. "Spike, get up, please get up, c'mon, you have to get under cover, get up, get up..."

He continues to ignore her, and she's so furious and afraid that she screams "Get up!", and the sound of her terror seems to finally register with him. He casts one last longing look to the east, and then scrambles to his feet, heading for the shade of a nearby tree. As she collapses next to him, panting from exertion and adrenaline, she realizes that it's probably the same tree that sheltered him while he watched Buffy's funeral.

His face is turned against the bark, and he's weeping.

She's still angry with him. Angry enough that she doesn't even consider comforting him. Angry at another person who is turning his back on her, just like Giles and Xander and Willow.

After a moment, words mix with his sobs.

"I never wanted this. Anything but this."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He turns on her, snarling. "That bitch! She made me promise to watch out for you. And I tried. But I didn't know it was some un-lifetime commitment. Never realized she was chaining me to you like a fucking convict."

"You're not chained to me," she says, amazed that she can get any angrier. The rage spins like a buzzsaw inside of her, shredding her into little bleeding pieces. She hadn't expected this from Spike, who had always treated her like an equal. Like a person.

Like a human.

"Of course I am, you stupid bint." Palpable contempt at her stupidity. "I failed her. I can't just go off and leave you. I'd be failing her again."

"Spike, you almost set yourself on fire."

He meets her gaze with a bleak amusement. "Never said I was good at keeping promises."

"Yeah. You and everyone else." She hears the litany in her head.

Dawn, I'll never leave you.

Everything's going to be fine.

I won't let anyone hurt you.

We would never blame you.

"I don't care if you promised Buffy. You don't have to protect me."

He shakes his head. "Not your decision, little bit."

"Yes, it is."

"No, it bloody well isn't." He looks more alive now, his face animated. "I won't do it again. No more trips to the self-tanning booth for Spike. I promise."

She lets that irony pass without comment. "It's my life," she insists. "If a Key even has a life. And I say you don't have to protect me. I already have one dad who can't deal with me. I don't need another one."

He moves closer, sliding across the ground to put a too-tight hand around her wrist. "I am not your daddy."

"So quit trying to be one. Leave if you want to. You don't have to stay here for me."

The hand tightens. "You want me to leave?"

"I don't want to be the one everybody makes sacrifices for. Not any more." She pulls against his grip, and he lets her go. Watches her as she pulls her knees in tight and wraps her arms around them, holding herself together.

"I'm not going anywhere. Not yet." His voice is quiet, but sure.

She turns her head and rests the side of her face against her knees, the denim rough and warm. "I thought you said you wanted to leave town. So go ahead. Get yourself killed."

"You don't get to choose whether I stay or go. I make my own decisions."

"And you've decided to stay?"

"For now."

She wonders how long "now" will last. Until he gets bored, until the grief fades, until the chip in his head stops working.

Until she finally starts to depend on him.

He turns away, reaches into a pocket, and pulls out a crumpled plastic package. The flame from the lighter flickers briefly across his face, then fades into the glow at the cigarette's tip.

"Can I have one?"

He looks back over at her, smoke escaping from his mouth. "You want a smoke?"

She shrugs. "Why not?"

"I can think of a few different reasons. The fact that it will eventually kill you, for one."

She unwraps an arm and extends it. After a moment, he shrugs, taps another one out of the pack, lights it from his own, and hands it to her. "Don't burn yourself."

She lifts her head and stares at the cigarette, watching as the tip shrivels away into ash. "I won't if you won't."

--End--


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