Spike gently pried the mug from Dawn's hands before she shattered it. Emptying the contents into the sink, he tried to wash the residue out. "I think you may have killed the crockery, love." He hoped that a good soak in hot water would help with the degunking process, but he wouldn't have placed a bet on the outcome.
"I'm sick of Xander attacking you, Spike. It's not fair."
Dawn had been working on her homework in the Magic Box after school, when Spike had arrived via the basement. Her appreciation of Shakespeare was limited to drooling over Leonardo DiCaprio, so she had requested Spike's assistance based on the fact that he was both closer to Shakespeare in terms of age and one of the few people she knew who was actually literate.
Xander, who had finished for the day and seemed hell bent on getting under Anya's feet as much as possible, must have seen Spike's arrival as the perfect diversion and immediately launched into his usual round of unimaginative insults.
Spike had given as good as he got, running on autopilot and slinging rebukes between notations on Dawn's work, until Xander played his trump card.
"We all know you only hang around Dawn to try and score points with Buffy." Spike's jaw clenched, pain and anger flashed across his face. Xander, not recognising that he'd hit close to the bone, went for the kill. "You're useless, who could possibly have any use for a neutered vampire?"
Xander may not have noticed how deeply he'd hurt Spike, but Dawn did. She knew what it was like to fear the loss of something real, it was more than she could take seeing Spike attacked.
Dawn was out of her chair and had a surprised Xander pinned against the wall before he could react, she threatened a screaming tantrum if the man didn't shut up and get out of her sight. Xander babbled incoherently, back-pedalling to get away from the girl with violence in her eyes.
A gentle hand squeezed Dawn's shoulder. "It was worth it to see the look on his face. You scared the shit out of the prat."
Dropping her head to her arms, Dawn sighed heavily. "I'd love to teach him a lesson about messing with us."
"I think you taught him a lesson today, Sweet Bit." He had been so proud of his girl.
She shook her head. Dawn wanted something more, something that would get through Xander's thick skull, something that would teach him that behaving like a schoolyard bully was not acceptable. Barring that, a good prank never went astray and it cut out the tricky problem of training Xander in proper etiquette.
Dawn sat up straight and grinned widely, it was a smile that promised pain and suffering. "Maybe we could get back at him another way." She outlined her idea, getting Spike's full attention and enthusiastic suggestions.
It didn't take long before they had the basics of a plan together, but Dawn's yawning put paid to any further plotting. Spike agreed to meet her after school at the library and packed her off to bed before letting himself out.
Spike watched as Dawn opened the browser on one of the library's public computers. "What are you looking for, love? A hit man?" The home page of a large grocery chain appeared on the screen. "Who deals in frozen produce?" Spike tilted his head, examining the web page. Maybe it was a cover business. If you ordered three bananas, a can of sardines and a 40W light bulb, a hefty man with a baseball bat would be dispatched to rearrange the kneecaps of your nominated victim.
Dawn gave Spike a long steady look. "It's just a regular shop. They deliver Corn Flakes and Twinkies, not violence and mayhem, and we need supplies." A whole array of products scrolled up the screen as Dawn searched through the site. She selected several items and hit the checkout button to review her order. "There, that should do it. What do you think offers the best possibilities for fun, havok or embarrassment? Or all three?"
"Still not getting the whole online shopping thing, Bit." Several packets, boxes, canned goods and vegetable items were displayed on the monitor. Spike chose one of the tinned products.
"These guys will sell in bulk and they deliver to your door." Dawn deleted the other items and submitted her order. "Xander shops there all the time."
"So how do you plan on paying for all this?"
Dawn looked over her shoulder at Spike, a huge grin on her face. "That's the best part, this is Xander's account." She giggled at his expression, torn between shocked and proud. A few keystrokes and she had cleared the browser history and cache, removing the evidence of her electronic shopping expedition. Hanging around Willow rubbed off. "He uses his name as both login and password. No concept of security." If Anya ever found out about Xander's internet cluelessness, they wouldn't have to worry about their prank backfiring, Anya would kill the man for them.
Spike gathered her books and homework together. They had actually managed to get the assignment completed in the relative quiet of the public library before Dawn's online supply trip. The presence of a leather-clad, menacing-looking man, even if he was behaving himself, was enough to keep the rest of the patrons at a distance.
"Have I mentioned how much I love smart women?" Dawn turned a fetching shade of red, she avoided looking at Spike as she helped gather her things together. Spike lifted her chin, gently forcing her to meet his eyes. "You are an evil genius, a diabolical schemer. How could I not adore such talents?"
"You're just trying to get on my good side," Dawn joked. She wasn't used to praise, let alone appreciation of her skills, and Spike's ebullience was a little unexpected.
"Maybe a little," Spike smiled winningly, charm personified. "But I do love you for more than your talent with a computer and your delightful sense of vengeance. Still, we'd better get you home for dinner."
Spike pulled Dawn into his arms and twirled her around the room in celebration of phase one of their plan running smoothly. Conspiratorial laughter, providing the rhythm to their dance.
"What are you two up to?" Joyce smiled at the tall blonde man who was dancing with her little girl. They were an odd pair and yet they complemented each other well.
Joyce understood Dawn's frustrations at always being treated like a child by Buffy and her friends. Spike wasn't like that, he treated Dawn as an equal and was extremely protective of her. Joyce always felt safe when Spike was around. She slipped a delicate jewelled flower in each ear, the earrings completing her outfit perfectly.
Spike released Dawn in a gentle spin, pirouetting her into Joyce's arms. "You look beautiful." She hugged her mother tightly. "Those stuffy accountants will throw money at you."
Joyce held up crossed fingers. "Here's hoping. If we can reach an agreement, the gallery could be supplying all their offices."
"You'll knock 'em dead, love." Spike's appreciative appraisal of her appearance had Joyce blushing like a schoolgirl. "Don't worry about the Bit. We've got some serious film appreciation planned for this evening."
Dawn smacked Spike on the arm and glared at the vampire. "Hey, I thought we were having a Julia Roberts movie night."
Laughing as Spike pantomimed choking to death, Joyce played along. "Chores first, then pizza and movies when you get done. And don't stay up too late, young lady," she admonished with a stern finger, the effect ruined by her inability to keep a straight face. "And, Spike, there will be no slasher movie marathon. Reviewing the classics is not a suitable excuse."
"Yes, Mum." Spike looked anything but chastened. "I'll confine myself to the chick flick and puerile teenage comedy section of the video store." His pained expression was all too real as he remembered the last time Dawn had made all the selections. She had sworn they were watching three different movies, but he couldn't tell them apart. At least he wouldn't have to sit through the entirety of another festival of bad film tonight.
Joyce laid a hand on Spike's arm. "Thank you for being here for Dawn on such short notice. It means a lot to me."
"My pleasure, love." He would have blushed if he could. Instead he just looked at his feet shyly. "Go shake down those suits."
Their first stop was the video store. The threat of being banned had taught them to keep their arguments over movie choice to a civil level. Now, instead of a full-scale slanging match, the other customers we treated to fierce whispers through clenched teeth and wild gesticulations. In the end they opted to shuffle their combined selections and Dawn would avert her eyes and randomly pick three movies. The winners were a Julia Roberts romance, a period drama with Orson Welles and a Sex Pistols documentary. The video store clerk was delighted to see the back of them.
The next stop was Xander's place. Continual Scooby red alerts had necessitated an arrangement with his online grocer, he had a regular delivery driver who had a code to get in the apartment and would then leave the shopping at his door. Several of the other tenants took advantage of the same personal service. Which was wonderfully convenient if you were making surreptitious deliveries for nefarious purposes.
Entering through the garage, Dawn and Spike made their way to Xander's door where they were greeted by a tower of boxes. Dawn opened the door with Xander poorly hidden spare key and they got down to business.
They worked like a well-oiled machine. Grab a can, puncture the top, empty the contents, repeat. It took well over an hour for them to get the job done. They took a quick breather to admire their handiwork, before flattening the cardboard boxes and securing the garbage bags of empty cans. A careful inspection to make sure everything was perfect and they vanished as quietly as they arrived.
Spike started his motorcycle and Dawn swung on behind, fastening her helmet before clapping Spike on his hips to signal she was ready. The bike tore off up the street, the apartment receding from view, Dawn's laughter rang in Spike's ears as she held him tightly.
It was past midnight and Jane Eyre had just discovered that the mad woman in the attic was Mrs Rochester. This was rather unfortunate news and even worse timing, as she was standing at the altar preparing to wed Mr Rochester.
Dawn was leaning against Spike trying to hide that she was crying over Jane's predicament, Spike was playing along and pretending he didn't notice that Dawn was crying at the movie. It would never be mentioned, just like the pair of them singing along to I Say A Little Prayer with Rupert Everett would forever be a secret.
Spike heard Buffy and Joyce long before they approached the door. He relayed their hushed conversation, his whispered words soft in Dawn's ear. She muffled her giggles against Spike's chest as he described Xander's girly scream on arriving home to discover a bath full of creamed corn. Tears of silent laughter were streaming down Dawn's face at the picture of Buffy bursting into the bathroom to rescue Xander and accidentally knocking him into the tub.
At the rattle of the key in the lock, Dawn quickly wiped her eyes. At least she had a suitable movie for cover. "Hi, guys. How'd your meeting with the buyers go, Mom?"
Joyce's huge grin said it all. Not only were the buyers happy, it looked like they were more than interested in future dealings with the gallery. "Thank you so much for keeping Dawn company tonight, Spike, I am so sorry it took so long."
"Sounds like it was worth the wait and movie night with the Bit is always fun."
Buffy peered at the screen. "What ya watching?"
"Jane Eyre." Dawn snuggled closer to Spike as Buffy flopped on the other end of the couch.
"I love this movie." Joyce settled between her girls. "Orson Welles is such a hunk."
"Mom!" Buffy and Dawn were horrified. Spike laughed quietly.
"But he is," Joyce insisted. "All dark eyes and broody."
"Sounds like the poof," Spike pressed his lips to Dawn's ear. She giggled behind her hand, and relaxed against Spike, enjoying the company of her family for the evening.
"I call another Rupert Everett movie next time," Dawn hugged Spike as he left.
Spike thought for a moment. "Deal. Dellamorte Dellamore, you'll love it. I'll bring Nerf guns."
"So we can help Rupert kill the zombies, of course," Spike laughed. "You think Xander will figure out we were behind the great creamed corn caper?"
Dawn shook her head. "He probably thinks it's one of Anya's weird sex game." She screwed her face up at the thought.
"Good thing we didn't opt for the Jello."
"Eew. I so don't need that image."
"See ya later, Nibblet."
"Don't forget the Nerf guns." Dawn waited until Spike was out of sight before she closed the door. Knowing that he would wait in the dark until her bedroom light went out, was always a comfort.
As she snuggled into bed she was warmed by the thought of her upcoming evening of Spike and Rupert Everett. Although Spike mentioning that Weet-a-Bix set like concrete if allowed to dry may well be a useful titbit of knowledge for future Xander attacks.
Part of both The Pavlov Experiment and Mischief!verse, this is dedicated to moonbeamsfanfic and leni_ba who wrote me delicious stories to tempt me into extending Partners in Crime.
Many thanks to nihilistbear for volunteering as beta. Her witty running commentary was hilarious, much of which made it into the story.