Wounded Soldiers

~ Part the Second ~

A Buffy One-Shot

By Nichole (Neko) Johnson

Written: February 1-4, 2003

Summary: the second part of "Wounded Soldiers", being the continuation of events after "Potential". For a summary of "Potential", head to this link: shows/buffy/episodes/season07/show_

Disclaimers: I still don't own the rights to Buffy (that would be Joss Whedon, lucky bloke…) If I did, I'd have way too much fun with Spike. ^_~

Spoilers: no Spuffy this chapter; just some good old-fashioned Spike/Dawn bonding

Author's Notes: Whoa. This one took me awhile. I'm terribly sorry about that—everything sort of hit me at once these past few weeks and I just couldn't find the time to get to the computer. And then when I did, I practically had to drag myself by the seat of my pants through this chapter. I wanted to write this part, and I knew vaguely what needed to be said here, it was just a matter of finding the right words. Spike and Dawn's scene actually got written out two times with two different conversations. It was tiring. But I made it through and I think I'm satisfied with the results. I hope all of you will enjoy it as well. Let me know on that. ^_^

Dictionary Notes: A tête-à-tête is a private conversation between two persons.

~ "Tête-à-tête" ~

Weapons were a funny thing.

Funny how they'd become something so familiar to her, and yet remained unknown. How they could be the very thing she needed in a situation, and at the same time, be a burden to her that came unwanted. They were something she need fear when in the wrong hands, but in her own, they required trust and dependence.

Weapons were her enemy, and at the same time, her most important ally.

She had become all-too familiar with them in her six-and-a-half years as the Slayer; had learned their names, their uses, the strength and skill required to use each one properly. But there had always remained this distance there, between the knowledge and herself. The knowledge was there, but it was not a part of herself. Weapons were still just objects; still just tools of the trade which she relied on when the weapon she had made her body into just wasn't enough. She was a reluctant ally of weapons, in the end; no matter how much it seemed she relied on them.

She relied on that separation between her and the weapon. It was the one thing that kept her grounded when it seemed she could only be sucked in further by the killing and death that was her trade.

I am my own weapon.

The words had seemed to entrance the Slayers in Training. She had hoped they would do as much; hoped they would encourage their growing trust in their own abilities.

As soon as she had awoken that hidden potential within each of them, the lessons had begun to take hold. Things fell in place, just as they had when she had first discovered her purpose.

I am meant to do this. I am the power.

No, none of them had the strength and power she did. But they had the instincts. Instincts were all she needed from them right now.

Buffy paused a moment in her thoughts, gripping the handle of the ax she held in her hand. Eyeing it critically for a moment longer, she loosened her grip and placed it gently into the weapons' chest along with the others.

Footsteps on the stairs alerted her to the other girl's presence, but she didn't turn her head; continuing to go through her cache of weapons, inventorying them as she returned them to their chest after the day's training.

"You remind me of my Watcher," came Kennedy's calm voice from the stairs, breaking into Buffy's monotony with a nostalgic tone. "He was always going through the weapons after practice. Think he just liked the feel of them in his hands."

The blonde finally turned from her work, shooting the potential a stern, but not unfriendly glance. "You should be resting, Kennedy. We're going to get started a lot earlier tomorrow."

The dark-haired potential came further down the steps, smiling wryly. "I'm still a bit wound up after the training session you put us through," she commented, coming into the basement, "I'll get some sleep in a bit."

She took a seat on one of the benches that graced the training area, looking to the Slayer with sudden seriousness. "I was actually looking to talk."

Buffy straightened up from her work, shooting the other girl a surprised look. She seemed to have been caught off-guard. Her eyes widened in a comically innocent expression.

"Talk?"

Dawn stifled a yawn, trying to deny how tired she had become over the last few hours. The pages opened before her had become white blurs covered with incomprehensible smears of ink in her exhaustion. Not that the hard-to-decipher texts had been any clearer when she had been fully awake, but it was obvious that she was getting nowhere at this point.

She shot a glance at the clock, groaning slightly at the late—or rather, early—hour it indicated. It was a good thing that the day wasn't a school day, or Buffy would have gone into Lecture Mode for her benefit, she was sure.

Shaking her head slightly to clear her daze, the girl attempted to turn her attentions back to the task at hand.

"Shouldn't you 'ave turned in quite sometime ago, niblet?" came a familiar, lower-London accent from behind her.

Dawn started sharply, turning to glance in surprise at the vampire leaning in the doorway behind her. She calmed somewhat from her spook, eying Spike with familiar, teenaged defiance at the interruption. But her eyes softened somewhat at the unfamiliar lack of smugness to the peroxide-blonde's stance. He looked tired, she realized. Tired and worn, a mask of wry humor trying unsuccessfully to cover his exhaustion up.

Spike smirked half-heartedly, pushing himself off of the doorjamb and slipping further into the room. "Big Sis'd have a turn if she knew you'd been up all night at the books," he added, his tone more concerned than teasing for a change.

The brunette turned back to her books hastily, her posture stiff. The memory of her last exchange with the vampire was still fresh in her mind, and it wasn't a pleasant one. A lot had happened since then, that was sure, and she didn't know quite how to face him.

"I was researching. Guess I lost track of time," she replied, her tone growing a bit cold. She began to close the books before her hastily, getting up from her seat and making as if to leave.

She didn't see the hurt that flashed in the vampire's eyes. Spike sighed softly, allowing the façade of humor to fall away. "Dawn," he began, his tone raw and drained.

The girl paused, caught off-guard by the use of her name, instead of his usual monikers for her; and also, the tone of weary seriousness that invaded his voice. She was reminded once more of the vampire who had looked after her the summer following her sister's death, the one who had shared her pain but had still tried to remain strong for her.

She turned to him again, pursing her lips in agitation as she did so.

Noting the painfully serious expression on the girl's face, the blonde vamp attempted a small smile for her benefit, lightening the mood a bit. Fishing in the pocket of his jeans for his smokes, he waved vaguely in the direction of the front door with his other hand, motioning for her to follow.

"Come on. I've got a few minutes before the sun comes up," he muttered gently, a cigarette already between his lips as he fished for his lighter, his eyebrows raised towards the door.

Dawn looked down at the stack of books she had been perusing for a moment, uncertainty in her stance. Then, nodding softly, she shot him a consenting glance, smiling slightly; and followed him out onto the front steps.

Kennedy's dark eyes were wide, contemplating the blonde Slayer in a new light. Her tone sounded impressed when she spoke.

"Really? Three times?"

Buffy smiled softly at the other girl, her eyes sad. The two sat, side by side on the bench amidst the training equipment. After Kennedy's request, Buffy had realized just how exhausted she was. She had joined the girl on the bench, allowing herself to be questioned about her life as the Slayer; choosing which details to share and which not. For her part, the dark-haired potential had ignored the gaps in Buffy's answers with penetrating glances; allowing the blonde her privacy, but expressing her interest despite it. She was different than the other Slayers in Training, in that she didn't press Buffy for details or reasons for her answers; she seemed only interested in learning what it was like to be the Slayer.

Buffy found she could respect the other girl's interest, and so she had relented. She felt like a mother passing down womanly wisdom, or an artisan sharing her trade with an apprentice.

The dark-haired girl leaned back thoughtfully on her hands, looking amusingly disbelieving. "Is that normal? I mean, are there a lot of Slayers who've died and come back like that?"

Buffy smiled again, wryly. "No. 'Fraid I'm the one and only," she replied modestly. "At least, so far. But, there were…factors involved." Her eyes widened slightly, almost childishly, as she attempted to further explain. "L-like, the first two times, were really just flukes. I mean, anyone can die for a moment and be revived with CPR—it happens all the time on ER."

Kennedy shot her a look, which was tinged with humor. "But the third time you were like, buried and everything. People don't normally come back from that. Unless you're a vamp."

Buffy raised an eyebrow, surprised at the other's knowledge. Kennedy grinned, somewhat sheepishly. "Hey, I…hear things," she muttered, shrugging her shoulders carelessly.

The Slayer sighed, sounding frustrated with the news of her friends' flapping gums. "Well, radio silence couldn't last forever, I guess…" she muttered dryly to herself.

Kennedy sat up once again, her smile fading into an expression of grim interest. "Buffy," she began, sounding very serious, "although I'm really curious about the whole 'coming back from the dead' thing—which, by the way, whoa! Major dedication to the cause 'n all—I have to be honest with you."

The blonde turned to meet her gaze, green eyes attentive at the other's sudden change in tone.

The Slayer in Training continued unhindered. "I didn't come to you for tid-bits about life as the Slayer." Kennedy sighed roughly, sounding frustrated with something. "I know the rundown; I've read the Handbook. Unlike the other girls, I had a Watcher. I was fed all the regular lines: "In every generation there is a Chosen One" blah, blah, blah, "fight…the forces of darkness" etcetera, etcetera.'

"I was told this gig was a solitary, lonely deal. I was told it was a destiny and I couldn't avoid it, if I was chosen. And I accepted that." She took a moment to release a breath, sounding lost for the first time since she'd arrived in Buffy's care. Her expression was tight, uncertain, as she turned to the blonde once again, meeting her gaze levelly.

"But ever since I got here, it all seems to have been proven wrong. You operate without your Watcher, you're surrounded by friends; you involve civilians in apocalyptic matters. You save vampires, instead of staking them; keep them and other demons in your group as allies. And, if I'm not mistaken, you've been romantically involved with vampires as well."

Buffy opened her mouth as if to object, defiance dancing in her eyes, but the expression on Kennedy's face stopped her from doing so.

Kennedy continued, her voice taking on a tone of awe. "And I realize, I don't know anything about what it is to be the Slayer. Books, guidelines—none of that prepared me for what you are." She sat forward suddenly, eagerly, her eyes pleading. "Buffy, I don't want to go by what Watchers have told me, by what books have told me. I want to hear it straight from the source."

There was silence for several heartbeats as Buffy seemed to digest this. She lowered her eyes in thought, and when she raised them again, the look of defiance was still there. But Kennedy realized it was the look she had always worn. It was the look of the Slayer; hard and defiant and ever strong; laced with a sadness that would always be hidden there, but quickly replaced with the righteous, warrior's determination that defined her.

She met Kennedy's eyes levelly, green eyes glittering. "Alright. You want to hear it from me? Being the Slayer isn't about handbooks; it isn't about the tests they give you, the lessons they drill into you, the rules they want you to follow. It's not about Watchers and it's not about the Watcher's Council.'

"It's about you. You're the power. The Slayer is power. And you can let them wield you, or you can wield yourself."

The blonde looked suddenly small, frail, as she looked down at her hands for words. "When…" She took a breath, as if willing herself to continue. "When I first found out…I was the Slayer, I was terrified. I wasn't trained; I didn't know about vampires, or the "forces of darkness". I thought I had gone insane. I thought, this was all just a terrible nightmare and I just needed to wake myself up."

Looking up from her hands, she gave the other girl a soft, assuring smile. "You may not agree with everything you've been taught—and Lord knows I sure don't follow the books—but you, and the other potentials…" Her smile seemed bittersweet. "You're lucky to have any prior knowledge or training at all. I never had any of that."

Kennedy looked sympathetic, meeting the Slayer's eyes with her usual show of self-assurance. A frank smile touched the corners of her lips.

Her smile turned sardonic. The blonde Slayer patted her thighs energetically, rising to her feet. "'Course, even after I did receive training, I ignored much of it and defied the Watcher's Council anyway, so hey, maybe it's not all that much of a plus…"

The dark-haired potential chuckled slightly in amusement, though she gave Buffy a thankful glance. "I think Mr. Giles is right. You definitely are a unique Slayer." Her gaze softened genially. "A unique person."

Buffy seemed to take a deep, grounding breath at this. "Oh yeah…" she muttered sardonically in agreement, the weight and worries of the last week seeming to return to her once more. She turned away from the other girl, picking up a stray weapon that had been left out of the chest and returning to her earlier business, her eyes distant and brooding.

"They should've added a few chapters to the Handbook, just for my sake," she murmured, half to herself.

The smile on Kennedy's face sputtered and died like a fading light, the girl's face darkening along with the Slayers. "What do you mean?" she asked curiously, her tone imploring Buffy to elaborate.

The blonde looked up from the weapon in her hand once again, her eyes seeming to take a moment to focus as she did so. A frown tugged at the corners of her mouth, weighing down the seriousness in her mind, but Kennedy merely turned where she sat on the bench; her posture sympathetic and willing to listen.

Buffy looked away once more, clearly uncertain whether to continue. Although her mind had been plagued with worries for the past few days, she hadn't had much time to think on them. But she had had years to think on other things; other things that now found their places among the many worries and concerns that plagued her now. Things that had started to come into focus, but being only exposed to the dark recesses of her own thoughts, had not yet clearly developed. She was unsure as to whether Kennedy was the right person to be sharing these thoughts with, however.

But the urge to share these things with someone was too great. She realized, speaking with the young potential, that there were some things she herself needed answers to; some things she was dying to get out into the open and take apart with a fine-toothed comb. And perhaps, along the way, she could share some wisdom; could serve as a warning, perhaps to someone who might just possibly succeed her someday.

Her green eyes turned to pierce Kennedy's gaze once more, her features blank and impassive. "Well, for starters, "Don't Fall in Love with Vampires.'"

Vampire and girl were both uncomfortably silent for sometime, Spike absently taking drags off of his cigarette and watching the idle path of its ashes as he flicked them off into the early morning wind. Dawn drew her knees up beneath her in discomfort, tracing the grain of the wood on the front steps with her hand; making lazy patterns out of them.

Another long minute passed in silence before Spike tossed away his butt, pursing his lips in thought as he did so.

"I'm sorry 'bout that potential business, pet," he spoke up softly and suddenly, his low baritone comforting. "Know it must've been a hard blow."

Beside him, Dawn nodded absently, not looking up from her fascination with the wood's grain. "Yeah, well, no big deal," she insisted, her tone implying otherwise. But she gave a small sigh, and when she spoke again, her tone was more assured. "And anyway, Xander said some things to me which really made a kind of sense, and I guess he was sort of right. Being a potential could've been cool, but maybe being normal is more important sometimes, too…"

Spike raised an eyebrow at her appreciatively. He turned away, a faint grin gracing his lips, observing the lightening skies with wan appreciation. "Mighty grown-up of you to think like that," he murmured with equal appreciation, his gaze still on the skies; watching as deep black faded into sharp, midnight blue. He sniffed slightly, enjoying the smell of dawn on the air, and yet dreading it at the same time.

His gaze once again turned to the Dawn beside him, his soft smile almost paternal with affection. "Can see you've done a lot of that in the past year or so, bit: growing up. 'Aven't seen much of you in all that time, it seems."

The girl's head swung up at the sadness in his voice, and she finally turned to meet his gaze. Her blue eyes were equally accusing and equally pained, still tinged with teenaged defiance. But there was fear there as well, though she tried to hide it, but much like her sister, there wasn't much she could hide from the blonde vampire.

"Of course. Because you left," she stated, her tone cold, but laced with other heavy emotions.

Her eyes were sharp and accusing now, as well as her words, and Spike found himself turning away with no small amount of guilt, unable to face those eyes. "You know I had to," he replied in low tones, a muscle in his cheek twitching at the memory.

Dawn nodded emphatically; sardonically at his reply. "Yeah…yeah, I know." She pulled her legs out from beneath her roughly, stretching them out before her over the edge of the steps.

Yet instead of growing further incensed, her tone became suddenly softer. "When Buffy…told me…about that night," she began softly, painfully, her forehead pinched at the weight of unpleasant memories, "I wouldn't believe her at first. I couldn't. I mean, you had been there all that summer when she'd been gone…"

There was a twinge of pain in the vampire's features.

Dawn took a shallow breath and continued. "I knew…I knew you had been in as much pain as I had—I knew! There was more man than monster left after her death, I could see it in the way you acted; in the way you treated me.'

"I felt safe that summer." Her voice was soft, almost reverent. "I didn't feel so alone. And I knew"—she looked at him suddenly, forcefully—"I knew more than ever that you really loved her; you really did! And then you went… then you went and did that."

He didn't need for her to elaborate, the way she spoke. He knew exactly what she spoke of—the very mention of it tore at his recently returned soul with renewed vengeance. It had been his reason for leaving, whether the right or the wrong at the time. And it had been the catalyst for getting his soul back in the first place.

"Dawn," he began softly, his voice laced with pain.

"No, it took me months to get myself to hate you like I should have," she continued, cutting him off. Her tone was now fiercer, bitter. Pained. "I should have hated you. After what you did! It was only right.'

"But if you had only stayed…" Her blue eyes swam, focusing on the grain of the wood in front of her again.

"Dawn, pet…" began Spike once more, his hand flexing as if to rest on her shoulder, but he resisted, fearing her reaction. Beyond the eaves, shades of blue turned ever slowly to slate gray as dawn grew continually nearer; the faintest hints of rose appearing along the edge of the horizon.

Dawn's voice was even quieter than before, perhaps only perceivable to his vampire ears. "I missed you," she admitted suddenly in a frail voice, still averting her eyes from his. "I know I said—"

Spike abruptly cut off her excuses, trying to spare her the pain. "I missed you too, Dawn," he replied in a clear voice, his usual baritone soft with affection. She turned suddenly, uncertain, and caught the flash of a grin on the vampire's sorrowful face. "Though I'd figured you knew that already," he added wryly.

There was surprise in the teenager's steel-blue eyes as his words slowly registered. "You…! No—no, I didn't know…" she began faintly, a slow revelation coming over her features. When her eyes were finally able to focus on him again, they were brimming with unshed tears.

"Y-you…missed me? Really?"

The vampire's smile was bittersweet and slightly abashed. He looked away in embarrassment, his eyes wandering to the exciting pattern of the wood just as she had done earlier. "Well, it's true you're no Buffy…" he muttered uncomfortably, still averting his gaze.

Dawn didn't seem hurt by the casual insult. Spike took an unneeded breath, sighing heavily with discomfiture. "What I mean, bit, is…"

Dawn faint smile melted the words on his lips. "Thanks," she murmured suddenly, finally understanding just what the vampire was trying to say.

Spike turned to meet her gaze once again, confusion in his dark eyes. He pursed his lips in a show of irritation, but Dawn could see that that was all it was: a show.

"Oh, sod it all! You Summers women have got—"

The teenager's smile became a satisfied smirk. "I know; we've got you wrapped around our little fingers," she finished for him, looking smug. She sighed in mock hopelessness. "You are so dead."

Spike pretended to glare at her smugness, but she could see the look of affection in his blue eyes. The wall that had been there since his return from Africa was nearly undone; or at least, a great deal weaker than before.

"Alright. Time for you to run along to your beddy-bye, now…" he grumbled with feigned irritation, signaling the end of their little heart-to-heart. "Or Big Sis will really do a number on me for keeping you up this late."

Dawn climbed to her feet obediently, with only some reluctance, trying to cover up a further grin at his brotherly concern.

"See," she pointed out, her eyebrows raised for emphasis. "You're a slave to our charms…" She was failing horribly at covering up her grin.

"Bed. Now," was Spike's gruff reply, pointing sternly in the direction of the house. She followed obediently, closing the front door after her. But not without a shooting a smug grin in his direction.

After she had gone, Spike allowed himself a chuckle at her spirit as he turned back to watching the sky. For several minutes longer, he watched the horizon blossom with early morning color. And then, somewhat reluctantly, he headed for the safety of the house once more, turning his back as dawn finally burst forth in its full radiance and filled the sky with light.