Spike's gotten so he dreads the ten o'clock news. Not because of the weird bint with the scary makeup who does the human-interest features, though she'd scare anyone in his right mind. But because that's when Dawn leaves. The cheery graphics explode onto the screen like one of his sodding headaches, and she sighs and gets up and mutters, "They'll be worried," and shuffles quietly out of the crypt without looking at him.
Spike knows that Dawn doesn't give a toss whether they're worried or not, so there must be a deal there: Giles is letting her come so long as she's home by a certain time. Giles is cold and quiet these days, and you'd best keep whatever bargain you strike with the bugger, so Spike doesn't whinge or try to get her to stay.
But when the door shuts and he's left alone in the black with nothing but the telly and the news bint and the knick-knack in his head, he can't stand it. Can't stand the silence creeping round the edges of the room. Can't stand the emptiness collecting in the corners. Can't stand the hole in his heart where Buffy used to live. And so now he's looking at the clock, seeing that it's a quarter of, and feeling that he's going to cry, again, like a little nancy schoolgirl, as soon as Dawn walks out the door.
Except that he's not. Not this time.
He knows that Dawn thinks she'll always come there, for a mug of cocoa and Must See TV. She's said that much to him. Girls always do think in terms of forever, at least at first. And he wants that--oh, he has only ever wanted that, right from the start. But it's never been true. Cecily's smiles had been the rotten lies of a teasing little tart. He hadn't guessed he'd miss them until after he broke her neck. Dru, his dark bitch-goddess, had promised him immortality with her, but a century later she was wriggling into the slime of a chaos demon. And Buffy. Buffy drowned him in her, made him learn to breathe underwater, then shoved him back to the surface, leaving him to gasp helplessly in the air that burns his lungs now.
The Niblet'll stop coming, too. Bit by bit. She'll start to grow up. Meet some bloke who'll want to take her to the cinema during their usual time. There'll be homework, and exams, and best girlfriends who can never know about him. There'll be uni eventually, and he'd wager she won't be picking Big Sis's alma mater. Someday there'll even be a bloody husband, and little brats squalling round her feet. All the things that happen to turn girls into women will happen to her, and she'll wander off into the bright daylight of real life, where he can never follow.
Unless he does something about it now. Buffy might not have fancied his plan, but damn Buffy, anyway. If she hadn't wanted him to do it, she bloody well shouldn't have gone away and left him! What the hell did she expect would happen? Did she think he was carved out of sodding marble? He could have taken anything for her, but not without her. Not without someone. He has to look out for himself now. And he's no good at being on his own. Never has been.
After all, she'd only asked him to look after Dawn, and he'll always do that. Always. She'll be his own little sister. She'll like it. She'll feel alive for the very first time, and she won't have to grieve anymore. He knows he can make her happy, just like he could've made Cecily, or Dru, or Buffy. And she'll be different from all the others. She doesn't have to be effulgent. He doesn't want the old kind of fun any longer, just...someone to hold onto. It'll always be like this, the two of them watching the telly and drinking cocoa together in the dark and the quiet. It'll be easy to take care of her now--now that the chip has stopped working.
He looks over at Dawn. She's nodded off over the cocoa he'd mixed for her himself. The way she's trusted him, maybe she even wants it, but just doesn't know how to ask.
There is a way to keep little girls from growing up. It only hurts for a little while, and then it's glorious forever.