Exaggeration and Blank Verse
Bone White and Blood Red
Battlestar Galactica
Horatio Hornblower
Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel the Series

"I'm just talking about going to the mall, Mom." Buffy's voice was patient, her hands loosely holding their mother's. Buffy was always touching Mom these days, Dawn thought, staring out the window at the dull gray of the sky and...well, everything, really. She could smell the thick heavy smoke, even through the air freshner Buffy was always spritzing around and the wet towels Mom had used to block off all the cracks around doors and windows. Turns out they'd just been lucky for the past six years; eventually, fire season would turn toward Sunnydale.

"I'd really prefer that you girls stick around home base," Joyce said, squeezing Buffy's hands. Always touching, since last fall, since Buffy came back. Dawn frowned a little, like she always did at the memory, even though everything seemed to be better now. Of course she was glad to have Buffy back. But it had been such a rough year...watching Buffy struggle to really come back, watching Mom be all wrapped up in helping her, having Mom be so whitely angry about what Willow did...

And that made her wince, the thought of What Willow Did, because that made her think of the other thing Willow did, the reason that she was off in England now with Giles, being punished somehow, probably having the magic sucked right out of her. The reason that Xander was so pale and quiet, and Buffy didn't have anybody to go to the mall with but Dawn, and beyond that, the reason Tara's laughter wasn't there to make Dawn smile anymore.

"What's the matter, sweetie?" Her mother's voice cut through Dawn's thoughts. "Come away from the window, Dawn, it's going to be all right."

"The fires aren't supposed to come anywhere near here," Buffy pouted, slumping lower on the couch. "So why do we have to stay in the house all day?"

"Just in case," Joyce said, an edge of angry-mom creeping into her voice. "And because I said so." Buffy rolled her eyes at that, and Dawn had to agree- she was 21 and the Slayer, after all. But they both kept quiet, because they didn't argue with Mom anymore. Little things like going to the mall were so much less important than almost dying, and dying and coming back, and actually being a mystical key...

"I bet they won't finish the high school on time now," Dawn said, obediently turning away from the window. "I mean, they're not working on it at all because of the fires, so how will they have it done by the end of August?"

"Xander says it'll be ready," Buffy said, reaching for the remote control.

"Oh, well, if Xander says so," Dawn muttered, sticking her tongue out at her sister. "He hated high school, I can't believe he won't help me out by sabotaging the whole thing."

"He's kind of fond of getting paid. It's crazy, I know." Buffy flipped restlessly through a few channels and switched the TV off again. "God, I'm so bored..."

Joyce looked up. "There's someone at the door." As soon as she said it, there came three loud knocks.

"How do you do that?" Buffy mumbled, swinging her legs down from the coffee table and walking over to the door. She opened it and jumped back as a figure huddled under a blanket, streaming smoke, stumbled into the room.

"Spike!" Dawn cried, rushing to his side as he dropped the blanket and slumped against the bannister. "You came back!"

"Hello, niblet," he said, just as Buffy snapped, "But he's not staying."

They glared at each other for a long moment, while Dawn looked back and forth between them, until Joyce's voice came from the couch. "Of course he's staying. Spike, what on earth are you doing out during the day anyway?"

"Joyce," he said warmly, walking over to the couch and reaching out to squeeze her hand. "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Spike," she said, smiling up at him. "But what happened to you? You look awful!"

He did; Dawn frowned at the gray ash streaked across his face and caked in his hair, and the horrible state of his jacket. Nice leather like that deserved better care.

"Run into a spot of trouble," he said, smiling sheepishly. "Fires are getting close to the cemetery with my crypt in it. Can't stick around with the firefighters moving in. I just needed somewhere to get out of the daylight- at night I can move around easy enough, get away if the wind shifts, but during the day I'm a sitting duck."

"You'll stay here, of course," Joyce replied, just as Buffy snapped, "Why don't you go somewhere without fire, then, like maybe Canada?"

"Buffy, stop being such a witch!" Dawn said, reaching out to take Spike's other hand. Things had been weird between Spike and Buffy ever since she came back- he was always following her around, and she was always being so horribly mean to him. Dawn didn't understand all of it, but Xander had let it slip that they'd had a huge fight right before Spike left Sunnydale, back in the spring..."Where have you been, Spike?" she asked. "Clem said you said something about changing things. What have you changed?"

He started, dropping both of their hands and shifting back a little on his heels. "What? Oh. Didn't work out." He stared down at his palms, then balled his hands into fists. "Nothing's changed, pet."

"I'll say," Buffy muttered, dropping into the armchair, her arms folded tightly across her chest. Joyce gave her a reproving glance.

"That's enough, Buffy," she said, sitting up. "I'll go make some tea. Why don't you help me? Spike, make yourself comfortable. Our house is open to you as long as you need it."

"Thank you, Joyce," he said, moving to the couch and smiling up at her. "That's very kind of you." Buffy glared daggers at him as she followed her mother to the kitchen. Dawn scrambled up to sit beside him.

"Are you okay, Spike?" she said, reaching out to touch his shoulder gently. "I'm so glad you came back."

"I'm fine, pet," he said. "Just these fires have made a right mess of everything. And she still doesn't want anything to do with me..." He trailed off, staring at the kitchen. Dawn sighed and stood up.

"I'll be right back," she said, hurrying out of the room.

When she came back, Buffy was standing next to the couch, glaring down at Spike.

"I can't cancel the invitation, because Mom and Dawn would just ask you right back in again," she hissed at him, "but I can make myself very clear. Mom said you're welcome here as long as the fires are going on. That's fine. But as soon as that's over, you're gone, do you hear me, Spike? You'd better not keep coming around here. I mean it."

"Buffy, why won't you even give me a chance?" He sounded tired, worn-out. Dawn felt her hands clenching into fists and tried to relax them.

"Get it through your head, Spike! It will never happen." She glanced over her shoulder and saw Dawn standing there. "Where did you go?"

Dawn held up a damp washcloth. "I got this. So he can wash his face."

"That's a good idea, sweetie," Joyce said, stepping into the room with a carefully balanced tray of tea and cookies. Buffy glared silently as Dawn awkwardly tried to wipe Spike's face, until he took the cloth from her and did it himself.

"Give me your coat," Buffy said finally, expression softening slightly.

Spike glanced up at her. "Why?"

"You're getting ash all over the couch. I'll clean it off a little." She carried the jacket out of the room for a few minutes. When she came back, it almost looked black again instead of gray.

He thanked her when she handed it back to him, and she almost smiled. Dawn bit into her cookie and reached out to wipe another trace of ash off of Spike's cheek. When he thanked her, she smiled as wide as she could.
The fire warnings lasted for another week. Every morning, just before sunrise, Spike would let himself in and wait quietly on the couch until they came down for the day. Joyce still wouldn't let the girls go out, so they watched TV together (Dawn still didn't get the appeal of Passions, but she could tell that Buffy liked it, no matter how hard she pretended otherwise), played board games, and drank endless cups of tea. Sometimes they read books. It was quiet and peaceful and felt so homey Dawn didn't quite know what to do with it. But she knew she liked it.

Buffy and Spike never touched, never really smiled at each other, almost never even made eye contact. Dawn couldn't understand why her sister had to be so cruel to the vampire's heart.

"He loves you," she shouted at Buffy one evening, after Spike had slipped out the door to hunt and do whatever else he did at night. "Why do you have to be so mean to him?"

"I'm the Slayer," she replied coldly. "He's everything I'm against. He's just going to have to get over it."

"There's no difference between him and Angel," Dawn shouted, knowing as soon as she said it that this was the wrong attack to make. Buffy's face turned to stone.

"There's every difference," she said, turning away. The next day, she didn't come out of her room at all. And when evening came, Spike glanced up the stairs before he walked over to the front door.

"Been very kind of you ladies to let me in," he said, resting his hand on the doorknob. "But I think the danger's past, so I'll be headed back to my crypt. Thank you so much, Joyce."

"Come by any time, Spike," Joyce said cheerfully. Spike smiled.

"I'll think on it," he murmured, glancing at Dawn. "Bye, niblet."

And he was gone.
Joyce finally let her daughters out of the house the next day. She sent them to the grocery store and told them to hurry back. She was still wary of the gray haze in the distance.

"Mom's so paranoid," Buffy sighed, shifting the grocery bag on her hip as they walked past the coffee shop. "I want to swing by the apartment and see Xander, but she'd probably send out a search party."

Dawn giggled, adjusting her grip on her own bag and glancing into the cemetery they were passing. It was a habit she was picking up from Buffy, keeping an eye on the graveyards. "Yeah...hey, what's that?"

Buffy looked up and frowned. "What the...that's Andrew Wells." She set her bag down on the sidewalk and shifted her weight a little, unconsciously going into a fighting stance. Dawn wasn't sure Andrew was worth that. "I thought he was smart enough to get out of town and never come back."

"Well, let's find out what he's up to, anyway." Dawn put her own sack down and walked over to where Andrew stood by the wrought-iron cemetery fence, cursing softly under his breath. "Andrew?"

He jumped. "What! Oh! Slayer's sister!" He tried to glare at her, but she wasn't going to be intimidated by anybody who could write Klingon love poems. "Get away from me! I'm very busy!"

"You're stuck on the fence." Buffy was standing a step behind Dawn, arms folded over her chest, one eyebrow arched skeptically. "And you don't seem to be making much progress on the getting-loose front."

"I don't want to tear my jacket," he mumbled.

"I think the problem's more that you can't tear your jacket," Buffy muttered, stepping closer and effortlessly lifting Andrew up off the fence. As soon as his feet hit the sidewalk, he shoved past her and took off at a dead run. "Hey!" Buffy stumbled back, glaring after him. "What was that all about? Jerk."

"Did you see that thing in his hand?" Dawn asked thoughtfully, picking up her bag again. "He was trying to hide it under the jacket."

"Yeah." Buffy fluffed out her hair and scooped up the groceries. "Looked like a skull or something. He must've broken it off one of the graves, some of them have carvings. It was too small to be real. Still, what a sicko."

"Yeah..." Dawn wasn't sure. That skull had been awfully white for stone. And she thought she'd seen little horns on it. Still, Buffy was probably right. She was the Slayer, after all.

"Come on," the Slayer sighed. "Let's get home before Mom completely freaks out."
A few days later, Joyce lifted their house arrest enough for them to not only go see Xander, but invite him over for dinner. As the three of them walked from the apartment toward Revello Drive, Dawn glanced into another graveyard- Sunnydale had way too many of those- and saw Andrew Wells again. And this time, he was about to become a vampire's early-evening snack.

He was kneeling in front of a small crypt, completely oblivious to the demon-faced figure slipping up behind him. Dawn shrieked and pointed, Buffy vaulted the fence in a single graceful leap, and Xander tossed her a stake that she caught in mid-air. The vampire was dust before Andrew fully turned around.

When he saw Buffy standing over him, he didn't cry or scream or thank her or do any of the things Dawn was used to seeing the rescued do to Buffy. His face contorted in a mixture of frustration and rage. "You again!" he snapped. "Can't you just leave me alone? Geez! I've got things to do here!" He pulled something out of the crypt, shoved it under his jacket, and took off running again. He dodged Buffy, burst out the cemetery gate, and nearly knocked Dawn over in his rush down the sidewalk. She put out her hand as he passed, thrusting it toward his chest, where he was clutching the mysterious object. She felt something warm and slippery under her fingers before he got away.

When Buffy and Xander got to her side, they all looked down at her fingers. They were covered in thick, dark blood.
There wasn't much research they could do on "possibly a skull" and "some kind of blood," so after a few days they had to give up trying to figure Andrew out. But Dawn wasn't really surprised when, on their way back from the trip to the mall their mother had finally let them take, they saw Andrew hurrying out of another cemetery in the dim evening light, so fixated on the items in his hands that he didn't notice that he was walking into traffic.

Buffy burst out with the Slayer speed Dawn wouldn't have even if she'd stayed a Key for a million years, shoving Andrew out of the way and then dodging the FedEx truck herself. The driver shook his fist and cursed at both of them. Dawn reached the sidewalk where they were standing just in time for Andrew to come completely unglued.

"Get away from me!" he screamed, clutching his treasures tightly to his chest and scrambling backward up the sidewalk. "What is with you two? Are you trying to put some kind of a curse on me? Are you stalking me? Leave me alone!"

Dawn stared at the objects in his hands. Long, white cylinders, rounded at the ends. "Bones," she whispered. "Those are bones."

He glared at her, eyes wild and face twisted in a crazed grimace. This wasn't the mostly-harmless Andrew she remembered. "Yes! Bones! They're mine, you can't have them...stay away from me..." Spit flew from his mouth and flecked his lips. Buffy took a step back, grimacing, and he turned to make a break for it up the sidewalk. They were going to lose him again.

Suddenly another shape flew out of the cemetery shadows and across the street, hitting Andrew like the truck didn't. They rolled down the sidewalk together, snarling and growling, and it took Dawn a minute to realize that the second shape was swathed in black leather, and its head gleamed faintly in the streetlights. "Spike!" she cried.

He was in full demon face, pounding Andrew's head against the pavement. Buffy stepped forward to break them apart, but Dawn grabbed her arm. "Look," she whispered. "Andrew isn't passing out. He's..."

"Glowing." Buffy stared in fascinated horror. "He's turning green. Oh, ew."

A hazy green cloud rose up from Andrew's body, hovering over the sidewalk. A faint outline of a face formed in it, hissing at Spike before it disappeared. The vampire rocked back on his heels and shifted back to his human face, reaching down to pry open Andrew's eyelids. "Help me get him to my crypt, Slayer," he said wearily. "Gonna need to talk to the lad when he wakes up again. Didn't mean to hit him so hard, but that's the only way I know to make a Zag'ra loosen its grip."

"Why was Andrew possessed by a Zag'ra?" Buffy asked warily, walking over to the fallen boy.

"Long story," Spike said, glancing over to smile at Dawn. "Hello, niblet. He'd better help tell it."
"You went to Mexico?" Dawn asked. "You left Sunnydale and followed them to Mexico?"

"Yeah." Spike looked over at where Andrew stood in front of a small brazier, chanting softly. "How's it going there, mate?"

Andrew looked up and blinked the eye that wasn't swollen shut. "Hand me the heart."

Buffy wrinkled her nose as Spike passed the bloody object from the second cemetery. "So you had Jonathan and Andrew do a spell for you."

"That was the plan." Spike nodded approvingly as Andrew passed the heart over the skull and bones, chanting softly as blood dribbled down to stain their white surfaces. That heart shouldn't still be bloody after three days, but what did Dawn know about demon organs? "Jonny put the Zag'ra in Andrew here to tell him the spell. But you got away, didn't you, you slippery little bastard?"

"Wasn't me," Andrew mumbled, holding the heart over the brazier. "It was the Zag'ra."

"Right. Lucky for you you still remember the spell." Spike shoved his hands into his pockets and leaned back against the wall. Buffy glared at him.

"What exactly is this spell supposed to do, Spike?"

"If all goes well, Slayer," Spike said, staring at the bloody bones, "when Andy drops that heart into the flames, there should be a bloody big spurt of magic, and it will...change things."

Andrew dropped the heart. There was a flash of light and a high-pitched scream that didn't come from any human throat. Dawn felt Buffy's arm fall heavily across her shoulders, knocking her to the floor. She covered her head and huddled into a ball and waited for her heart to slow down again.

When she sat up, Buffy was already standing, staring down at Spike. He lay sprawled across the floor, trembling, chest heaving.

Chest heaving. He was breathing.

"Spike!" Dawn gasped, scrambling across the floor to his side. "You- you're-"

"Human, pet," he chuckled, wheezing slightly and struggling to pull himself to a sitting position. "It bloody worked, I can't believe it, I'm-"

"Still a monster," Buffy hissed. She turned on her heel and ran out the door. Dawn and Spike stared after her.

Andrew whimpered pitifully, a crumpled heap near the altar. Spike glanced over at him, then looked at Dawn again.

"Go after her, love," he said, squeezing her hand. "It'll...it'll be all right. I'll see to Andrew." Dawn stared into his eyes, wishing she could do something for the disappointment and hurt she saw there. He'd really thought this would change Buffy's heart. "Go on," he repeated, and after a moment, she did.
He was wearing a white dress shirt and a tie, which was why Dawn didn't recognize him at first. She'd never imagined Spike in those clothes, not even for a minute. But there he was, grinning bashfully and standing on their front porch, holding a bouquet of roses out to her mother.

"Hello, Joyce," he said. "Hello, Dawn."

"Spike," Joyce said warmly, reaching out to embrace him. "Dawn told me what happened. I'm so happy for you!"

"Thanks," he said, giving her a careful squeeze in return. Dawn wondered what his arms felt like without vampire strength in them.

"Come inside, come inside," Joyce laughed, tugging him along by the hand. "I guess you don't need an invitation anymore, do you? The roses are lovely." She swept them off to the kitchen to find a vase, calling up the stairs as she passed. "Buffy, come downstairs!"

"How are you doing?" Dawn asked, following him into the living room. "Where are you staying- not in the crypt anymore, right? What are you going to do now? Where'd you get those clothes?"

"Easy, niblet, easy," he laughed, taking three small boxes out of his pocket and lining them up on the coffee table. "I'm fine. I got a hotel room down by the bus station. And a friend bought me the shirt." He looked down at it, frowning slightly. "Not too too, d'ya think?"

"I don't even know what that means," she assured him brightly. He flushed, but smiled at her. Oh, she loved that smile. His eyes shifted to a point over her shoulder, and it faded. She knew without looking that her sister had descended the stairs.

"Well," Joyce said, hurrying back into the room with the vase of flowers. "What brings you by this afternoon, Spike?"

"Can't stay long," he said, still staring at Buffy. "Just wanted to bring you these." He twitched his hand toward the boxes. "Got the names on them, if you want to take a look."

Each box contained a necklace and an envelope. Joyce got a pendant set with amethysts, Buffy a chain with tiny dangling rubies, and Dawn an intricate multiered arrangement of silver and gleaming white diamonds.

"Spike, they're all so beautiful," she gasped, staring at it against the black velvet of the box. "But how..."

"Don't worry about that," he said, trying to smile at her but still looking at Buffy. She had opened the envelope and was reading the message inside with a funny twist to her face.

"What is this supposed to mean, Spike?" she asked, her voice trying to sound curt but mostly coming out as choked.

"It means goodbye," he said in an oddly similar tone. "I'm off, tonight. Going to see a bit of what the world looks like in the daytime. Find a place for myself. I won't trouble you any more, Slayer."

She stared at him for a long moment, then at the paper and gems in her hand. "Thank you for the necklace," she whispered, and she fled up the stairs again.

Dawn stared at Spike, hands shaking. "You're leaving?" she shouted, throwing the necklace down on the couch. "That's it? You turn human and you leave? How could you?"

"Dawn, Dawn," he said, reaching out to catch her hands in his own. He drew her close, ignoring her struggle, until he could bend his head and whisper in her ear. "Read your note, all right? Just read it." He released her and she bolted, running to the kitchen to cry in peace.

But she scooped the envelope off of the couch as she passed.
Later, when she had time to think about it, she realized that he must've talked to Joyce after she fled the room, back in August. There was no other reason her mother would've agreed to this, her baby daughter taking a trip to New York City, alone, at Christmas time.

But here she was, standing at the foot of that giant Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, staring up in wonder at the snowflakes falling down. She'd only seen snow once before in her life, on an enchanted Christmas night when a vampire was allowed to be in love...

"Dawn." She spun around, and there he was, smiling at her, standing with open arms. She ran to him and fell into his embrace.

"Oof!" he laughed, wrapping his arms around her and holding her tightly but oh so gently. And her August question was answered; his arms still felt very, very good. "I'm so glad you came."

"Your poem was so beautiful, how could I say no?" she asked, pulling back a little to smile up at him. "Why didn't you tell me? I thought you were in love with my sister."

"I was," he said, tracing one gloved hand over her cheek. "But I realized...took me longer than it should've, but I finally realized...if she couldn't love what I was, she would never really love what I became. No matter what I became." He paused, gazing into her eyes for a long moment. "She never loved me and she never could. But you...you always just loved me. Even right from the beginning, when there wasn't a damn reason in the world. And it finally sank in through my thick skull that that was a pretty damned amazing and precious thing, what I'd been looking for all along, and I'd missed it...And I could only hope I hadn't wrecked it all by waiting." He hesitated. "Did I?"

She reached up and caught his face in her hands. "No," she answered, smiling softly. "You didn't."

And she kissed him as the snow fell down.

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