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Author's note:  I'd like to send out a big thank you to Vaida  for her great beta job:)    

Story 2: Apologies and forgiveness

    "Where in the hell have you been!" was the first thing out of Dawn’s mouth as Buffy slipped back into the suite they shared. "I was about to call Willow and Giles. Where have you been all this time?"
 Buffy was still reeling from her night with Spike. He was alive. Flesh and bone instead of dust. It was like she was in a wonderful dream, except it was real. Looking at Dawn, she didn't know what to say without sounding like she belonged in a straitjacket. She smiled, trying not to seem too cheerful. "I was out patrolling. Found some nasty demons and it took a while to put them down."
Buffy pushed back a twinge of guilt for lying to her sister, but she knew that Spike wanted to tell Dawn of his return himself. Dawn and Spike's relationship had been full of ups and downs. More downs than ups, really. It was only right that he would be the one to tell her of his return.
 "It took you all night to fight these demons?" Dawn asked, a bit skeptical of her sister's answer. She had learned long ago how to tell when Buffy was lying, and she clearly lying now. Something was up and Dawn wanted to know what it was.
   "Uh-huh," Buffy replied, smiling nervously. She knew that Dawn wasn't buying her story, but she couldn't tell the truth. That was Spike’s place, not hers. "Are you hungry? We can grab a bite at the café downstairs."
  Dawn crossed her arms, her face set in determination. Something was definitely up. Buffy was hiding something from her, and she was going to figure out what it was. She wasn’t about to let her sister distract her from the subject.
    "I already ate,” she replied with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Now tell me the truth. Where were you last night and who were you with?"
Buffy opened her mouth, searching for another, more plausible excuse, but nothing came to her. There was no way out of it. She was going to have to tell Dawn the truth herself. The other girl knew her too well. Her sister knew when she was hiding something and wasn’t going to accept anything short of the truth.
    Dawn frowned. She was regretting her insistence for the truth now. Her sister’s face was an emotionless mask. What was going on? "Buffy, what is it? You can tell me," Dawn sat down like her sister had requested. She was scared. She didn‘t know the reason behind her fear, but it was there none the less. She relaxed a bit when Buffy took her hand in a steady grip. That simple gesture alone made Dawn feel safe and secure. Surely the news couldn’t be so bad that she couldn’t handle it, just as long as her sister held her hand.
    "Dawnie, I need you to stay calm. Can you do that for me?" Buffy bit her lip, wondering if telling Dawn like this was really a good idea.
   "Yes. What's going on? Tell me."
    Buffy's gaze never left Dawn's. She knew that if she looked away, the younger girl wouldn't believe her. "Dawn, last night I was with someone. God, I don't know how to tell you this without sounding like a crazy person."
    "Just tell me. Who were you with? Do I know him?"
    "Yes, yes you do. Dawn, Spike's back. He was who I was with last night."
   There, she had said it. The truth was out and now it was time to see if Dawn could bring herself to believe it. At first, Dawn just stared at Buffy, her expression unreadable. Dawn didn’t know what to think. Just the fact that the Slayer’s eyes hadn’t wavered told her that Buffy believed what she’d said. How was Dawn going to handle this?
&#    "Buffy, I loved Spike too. You know I did. But there's no way you could have been with him last night. He's been gone for months now. You know this."
   Buffy’s heart sank. Dawn didn’t believe her. Really, this didn’t surprise the eldest Summers. Dawn hadn't seen Spike. She hadn’t touched him like Buffy had. To Dawn, Spike was still just a memory. She wouldn’t be able to believe Buffy until she saw Spike for herself.
   "Maybe it was actually the First," Dawn suggested, a bit disturbed that her sister had spent the night talking to the entity, thinking that it really was Spike.
    "No. I punched him. It was Spike."
    "Buffy --"
    "Dawn, look, I'm telling the truth. I know Spike. It's not some trick dreamed up by the First. I'll prove it to you, tonight. He wants us to meet him at the Eiffel Tower. You'll see I'm not crazy. Spike really is back."
   Dawn wanted to refuse. She wanted to take her sister to the nearest grief therapist. But if she did that, Buffy would probably never trust her again. All the work they had done on their relationship would be ruined. The best thing to do would be to just humor her. Let Buffy see for herself that Spike wasn’t coming, that he was truly dead.
   "Ok, Buffy. Fine, I’ll go with you. But if he doesn't show up, you have to promise me that you'll go see a doctor."
    Buffy rolled her eyes. She was in the mind to refuse this. She wasn’t crazy. There was no doubt in her mind that she’d been with Spike all last night. She just wished that Dawn would believe it too. "He'll show up, Dawn.”
    "Buffy, please. Just promise me."
    "Ok, ok. I promise," Buffy relented. There was really no point in fighting with her sister over this. She was right. She knew what she had seen and done the night before. Tonight, Dawn would find out for herself.
    Dawn only nodded, certain that her sister needed help. Buffy seemed so confident, so sure that Spike was back in their lives. But that was impossible. No matter how much Dawn wished it to be true, it just wasn’t. It couldn’t be. Spike would have contacted them long before now if it was.


    Dawn rubbed her shoulders, trying to warm herself against the cool night air as she looked down at the brightly lit city below. They had been waiting for an hour now and there had been no sign of Spike. Dawn was just going to have to face it. Spike’s death had been too much for Buffy to handle. Buffy was losing her mind.
    "Buffy, it's been an hour. He’s not going to show. Let's just go, ok?" Dawn placed a gentle hand on her sister’s arm.
   "No, Dawn. He’ll be here. We just have to wait," Buffy shook her head. "I know you think I’m losing control of my grief, but I swear I’m not. Spike will be here."
    Dawn’s heart filled with pity and fear for her sister. She couldn’t imagine what it was like to realize that you were in love with someone, just to lose him like Buffy had lost Spike. She obviously wasn’t handling it well.
    "Buffy listen --" Dawn paused mid-sentence as she caught the familiar scent of cigarettes and leather. She turned to find a pair of piercing blue eyes looking at her intently. Eyes that she had found comfort in many lonely summer nights without her sister. "S-Spike?"
A smirk graced his lips as he looked at the girl he had come to think of as a sister. She had grown to be nearly as beautiful as her sister was. She was taller and her hair was longer and had more body. But her eyes were what really caught his attention. Wide and full of innocence, yet strong, just like her sister’s. He was going to have to beat the wankers off with a stick when they returned to the States.
    "Niblet. You’re a sight for sore eyes, luv. Getting as pretty as your sister there," Spike grinned. "I take it that the whelps are already knocking at the door."

    Dawn blinked, stunned. She reached out and grasped a leather-clad arm, finding it strong, muscular, and solid. Nope, it wasn’t the First. Which meant...
    "Dawn!" Buffy exclaimed in alarm as her sister slapped Spike, eyes blazing furiously. "What are you doing?" She hadn’t been expecting this. She thought Dawn would be ecstatic over her surrogate big brother’s return.
    Dawn ignored Buffy’s question and glared angrily at her former protector. "Where have you been? Do you know what we went through? We mourned for you, Spike. And now here you are, alive and well. All that grief and pain, it was all for nothing! How long have you been back? Why are we just now finding out?"
    "Dawn," Buffy stepped forward to stop her sister’s tirade, but Spike shook his head.
    "It's alright. Let Niblet have her say. She has a right to be angry."
    "Hurt is more like it. Why, Spike? Why didn’t you let us know you were back?" Dawn asked, her eyes wide and glossy with tears. "I thought you loved us."
    "I did and I still do, Li'l Bit."
    "Well then why did you stay away? Why didn’t you come find us the minute you got back?" Dawn inquired, her blue eyes holding him responsible for the heartbreak she’d experienced in his absence.
    Spike stared at his feet, running through all possible explanations in his head. They all seemed rather lame at the moment. "I couldn’t do that Dawn. It’s a long story, too long to tell at the moment. Let’s just say, I was stuck in LA with the Poof as little more than a ghost. If it hadn’t been for a friend, I still would be a ghost."
    "That doesn’t explain anything Spike," Dawn’s anger grew. He was avoiding her question, the one thing she’d thought he'd never do.

    “You're right, it doesn’t. All I can say, Bit, is that I didn’t want to disrupt your lives. I knew Buffy would be trying for the normal life scene. She didn’t need a vamp from her past coming around, mucking everything up."
    "Well you obviously changed your mind. Why?"
    Spike took another drag off the cigarette and looked at Buffy, feeling more confident and sure of himself each time he saw her. Privately, he wondered how he had ever gone on without her. She was his strength, his heart. Dawn was right: he was a fool for staying away from his girls for so long.
    "A friend told me I was being daft. That the two most important women in my life deserved to know that I was alive and OK. Even if it didn’t work out, at least I had tried. And she was right. I was being a even bigger poof then the Poofter himself."
    Dawn looked at Spike then, and instantly forgave him. She had learned her lesson: never hold grudges, because you never know when you could lose the person you're angry with. They could go away without knowing how you really felt. "You big Poof," Dawn lightly punched his arm, her eyes sparkling with humor. "Don't ever do that to us again."
    Spike chuckled. "So does this mean I’m forgiven?"
    Dawn looked at Spike, her smile fading as she remembered her guilt from the day before. This was her chance to work things out with Spike. Her chance to let him know how she felt. "Only if you can forgive me."
    "What?" Spike’s eyes dimmed in confusion. What was the Bit talking about? She didn’t need to be forgiven for anything. He was the one who stayed away for much too long. He was the one who had caused them needless grief. "What are you talking about?"
    "Spike, I was horrible to you during those last months. It was just that...I was so angry about what you had done to my sister the night you left. I couldn’t find my way around it until-until you were kidnapped by the First.. I meant to tell you then that I forgave you, that I still looked up to you my big brother, but everything got so screwed up and I lost track of time. Next thing I know, it was time for the apocalypse and then you were gone," she choked out between sobs, hot tears leaving trails down her face. "I’m sorry Spike. I never meant to hurt you! I never meant to let you die thinking I hated you when I loved you so much! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!" Dawn dissolved into tears, trembling hands covering her face, unable to face him any longer.
    Spike slipped his arms around the girl and held her tightly against him, stroking her hair. He had no idea she had been so devastated over his "death." He’d do anything to take her guilt away. "Shhh, Li'l Bit. Nothing to cry over. I knew all along that you still loved me. You were just angry, and rightfully so. I would’ve been angry, too. I knew you forgave me. Swear I did. There’s nothing to forgive there, Dawn, so dry those tears."
    "B-but I-I never told you," Dawn wiped at her tears, starting to calm down as the weight of her guilt began to melt away.
    "But I knew. Doesn’t matter if you told me or not. Actions speak a lot louder than words, Bit. Remember that." Spike squeezed her shoulder. "Now, sit up and give ole Spike a smile. Can't bear to see you cry. Neither can big sis over there."
    Dawn sniffed, her shame completely gone. For the first time since the destruction of Sunnydale, she felt like herself again: a sixteen-year-old girl on the adventure of a lifetime. "I love you, Spike. And so does Buffy."
    Spike smiled over at his Slayer, who had tears of her own welling up in her eyes. Tears of joy. Finally, Dawn was at peace again, and, what’s more, so was she. They had Spike back in their lives and they were never going to let him go again. Even if she had to fight a million Ubervamps to make it happen.

    "So, where do we go from here, Buffy?" Dawn asked, looking at her sister, eyes free of tears, filled only with curiosity.
Buffy frowned as she thought about their next step, which seemed pretty obvious at the moment. Spike had been back for a while now, but the one person she had thought she could trust had kept them in the dark. The one person she thought would never lie to her. The same person had kept her away from Spike. "I say we go to LA. I have a few choice words for a certain brooding vampire."
Spike and Dawn glanced at each other and back at Buffy, who was wearing the infamous “resolve face.” Spike didn’t want to go back to LA, but judging by the look on Buffy’s face, she would brook no arguments on the matter. She had some issues to settle with his Grandsire and it was probably best she settled them now and let Angel know what his place in her life was going to be from now on. Crushing his cigarette, Spike wrapped an arm around each of his girls. "Anything you want, pet. Lead on; I’ll follow."
The trio disappeared into the darkness of the night. Apologies had been made and forgiveness granted. It was now time to look to the future stretched before them, bright and endless

9; 9; 9; THE END