All About Spike

Done to Death
By Anne Hedonia

Summary: "You could always leave Tara unattended, without much worry about her catching anything on fire - except tonight."
Author Notes: Beta thanks to the illustrious Herself, who provided bitchin', accurate suggestions, and Lovesbitca, who did the same with a much-appreciated side of cheerleading.

Story Notes: Story Notes: Spoilers: Late S6/Early S7
ALTERNATE UNIVERSE INFO: This happens after "Graves", but assumes that Tara didn't die from her bullet wound -- Willow mistakenly thought she did, and went on her rampage anyway. Spike did try to rape Buffy, but didn't go to get his soul. So basically, it's a few months after The Time Things Got Way Fucked Up.
/Text/ = character's thoughts

Disclaimer: He is Joss Whedon, millionaire. He owns a mansion and a yacht.

Spike didn't know why he was following her, he just knew he was, a fact that neatly summed up his relationship with every woman he had ever found important in his entire life.

He knew a million ways to follow, a thousand instinctual moves to ensure his non-detection while doing so, but it was patently obvious that none of them were necessary just now. His target -- quite unwisely -- paid no heed to her surroundings, which probably had something to do with Spike's interest in her. Something about her tonight was...familiar.

It wasn't like Spike had made any sort of habit of watching Tara. If asked, he would have said she was like the furniture: reliably there, and comfortable, and something you wanted to keep around, but it wasn't like it took undue effort on your part to do so. She seemed utterly trustworthy, and so, to a predator like Spike, utterly unremarkable. In general, his instincts only alerted him to threats, and people who'd make interesting playthings. Tara was neither of these -- too literal, too earnest, too likely to be just plain hurt and disappointed if she found out you were messing with her head, instead of being entertainingly livid. Yeah, there was that whole thing at Buffy's birthday party when she kept snarking on about his crotch -- showed a little promise there, she did. But Buffy's presence, as always, had been a burning supernova to Tara's tealight candle. You could always leave Tara unattended, without much worry about her catching anything on fire.

Except tonight.

What was tickling his brain about her? His eyes clocked the metronome swing of her long skirt as he followed her down the sidewalk through the cool night air, right out in the open, pretty as you please.

Before this, he'd been counting the boundless number of fag ends he'd accumulated in the dirt under Buffy's tree. He had been earnestly considering cleaning them up, before angering at the thought of paying for the privilege of his exile under her window. At the back of his head, though, his anger felt hollow. He was mentally pushing this piece of insight away when Tara and the Bit had come home from whatever it was they'd done.

It was not an option for him to stay where there was even a remote chance of his being seen, a fact which pissed him off. Nevertheless he moved, silent and fluid, to stand behind a different tree a block or so down. Dawn, out of all of them, had been perhaps the most vociferous about hating him now. Something about what he'd been to her before - combination bad boy, big brother and rock star - evidently made the loss of trust sting her more than it did the others. Well, something about the loss of her unwavering acceptance made it sting more for him, too.

Worked both ways, Bit.

He'd been watching the two say goodnight and stewing in his own tangled thoughts when the feeling had first struck him. Dawn seemed herself, but something about Tara had made him take another look. The way she gazed at Dawn too intently at first, hugged her goodbye just a fraction of a second too long, then couldn't quite look her in the eye. Tara was often awkward, certainly, but not this way - this way was too...weighty.

He didn't know yet why he cared. But it didn't stop his feet from setting the course, and just assuming his brain would catch up. If there was one thing Spike was used to, it was acting first, and sorting it later.

He followed her all the way to her dorm and watched her go inside, then climbed a tree to watch through the window that had to be hers. He settled himself on a branch and watched her going about her business, watched her go into the bathroom and come out in her pajamas. She'd scrubbed her face clean and pink, but somehow the color was all but undone by a pallid gloom hanging around her, a kind of nothingness in her eyes. Spike's brow furrowed as he peered harder.

He watched her take a new bottle of peach Schnapps from the cupboard, crack the seal and pour a substantial amount into a battered mug. What was this, then? Tara and booze did not usually find themselves combined - even if he hadn't known her well enough to say so, he'd have known from the Schnapps - drink of amateurs. She drank it quickly, more of it than he would expect, and she downed it like a duty. She continued until she seemed to ease into her new hobby, her shoulders falling if not relaxing, her hand diffidently clasping the bottle and taking it with her as she left the small kitchen.

He kept watching for what seemed like hours, eventually growing bored as she wandered, like she was putting off some chore that she knew she had to do eventually. She would trundle listlessly from place to place inside the small room, as though she couldn't decide what corner of it was best. /They're all the same, ducks, the place is a damn crackerbox, just light somewhere./ Sometimes the whole thing seemed to overwhelm her and she would stop to cry. She sipped more from the bottle then, as if trying to dull whatever wave was cresting. He felt for her, on a certain level, but it wasn't exactly Must See Viewing, either. If it weren't for that damn tickling, he'd have left.

But there it was.

He still didn't realize what he was watching, even as she pulled the bottle of sleeping pills from a cabinet, forced her fingers under the little sealed edges of the cardboard box. It was when she produced the second bottle of them from a small paper bag and then was pouring them out, as many as she could hold in one hand, that it all fell into place.

As he threw himself from the tree branch toward the tiny thin sill of her window, he tried to assign a name to what he'd sensed, felt, almost smelled earlier. It was the recklessness of someone who'd made a drastic decision, one that was so far off from the rest of society's reckoning that he or she knew it'd never be understood, and so didn't bother to tell anyone. The silent, screaming openness of a person who wanted to end the cosmic clusterfuck called life, to cease being among the living players.

Just before his boots hit the ledge, the thought occurred to him that of all of Sunnydale's predators, she was lucky that it was him who'd heard that screaming. He thought of how quickly Dru had rushed to respond to it, all that time ago.

Spike's boots slammed hard against the window's frame, rattling the pane and seeming to shudder the entire building. He watched Tara startle so hard that the bottle didn't just drop from her hands, it flew in an arc across the room as the pills went airborne and she whirled to show her saucer eyes to him. He grimaced as gravity pulled him back, and dug his fingers ruthlessly for purchase in the small wooden ledge above, raking up paint and splinters under his nails, but managing to hang on. He was considering how tough it might be to get invited in, considering the situation, but determined that it would bloody well happen nonetheless.

Spike ducked in under the raised window pane. As his feet hit the floor, a few of the scattered pills crunched under his boots. His first bit of business was to shut the window and the blinds. He grinned faintly. They'd need privacy for this little chat, the former peeping Tom thought ironically.

Tara was breathing hard and looking miserable, shocked and embarrassed. One of her first moves was to put the Schnapps into a nearby drawer. Spike felt an amused affection at the gesture, like he was watching a child.

He assumed the proper stern air. "So...mind tellin' me what's goin' on here, pet?"

The curtain of Tara's hair was working double time, both sides vying for the privilege of hiding her flaming cheeks. "I-i-it''s..."

"Complicated? A long story? Not what I think?"

"...none of y-y-your..." She seemed to have to gasp for air. "...b-b-business." Suddenly she turned and made her way toward the bathroom, apparently rethinking her decision to let him enter and deciding instead to shut herself in.

Nonono, pet. Not how we do things.

Spike beat her easily to the door, blocking her path with a bitter grin and the lazy drape of his body. "Oh, but I've made it my business, haven't I? You've gotten my attention and taken up most of my evening, so now you're going to make it worth my while, aren't you?"

Tara backed away from him, looking everywhere else. "I-I-I don't h-h-have to--"

"You have to if I say so." As he advanced on her, he reflected that he could never pull this shit with the Slayer. He felt a quick flare of rage - hell, so much of Sunnydale was so very over him that he was little more than an old joke. But he could certainly intimidate Wicca here, and he planned to.

In a remote, ugly part of him, it felt good to be back.

"Spike, j-j-just d-d-rop..."

"You know I'm not going anywhere."


She was almost against the wall. "You and me..." His face was nearing hers, and his voice dropped to a menacing whisper. "...are gonna have a talk."

She looked around in a panic. "REPEL!"

Suddenly Spike flew across the room and slammed hard into the far wall, rattling the window pane a second time before he slid down to sit on the floor. He shook his head hard, and looked up to find Tara yelling down at him.

"It's obvious what I'm doing, isn't it?" she shrieked, abruptly stutterless. "Have you become suddenly slow or something?"

Spike kept his face grim. He couldn't tip the hand he was playing, but he experienced a little mental swagger that he was still the unchallenged king of pestering for information. He was also a little surprised at what a fierce pleasure it gave him to hear this timid thing before him so unleashed.

"Just makin' sure you were clear on the concept, ducks," he said, picking himself up. "Doin' somethin' quite serious, you were. Didn't look like you were givin' it the proper weight."

Tara's anger melded with abject hopelessness in her ruined expression. "What the hell," she breathed through fresh tears, "do you know about weight?"

Spike's expression softened, despite all attempts to maintain toughness. "How 'bout you enlighten me?"

She looked confused, glanced away as she wiped her nose on the wrist of her long-sleeved pajama top. "No, it'"

He shrugged. "I'm not leaving."

She turned back to look at him as if for the first time. "Tell you about it? You? "

Spike considered reversing his opinion of her Schnapps-fueled behavior. "Yeah, me! Whass wrong with me?" It hit him quite suddenly what might be wrong with him - in the heat of the moment he'd forgotten.

But Tara's plaintive look didn't seem concerned with that. As she pinned him with her amateur drunkard's gaze, she seemed bereft of a very specific knowledge. Spike decided to go fishing.

"I mean...if you've gotten this far you must not have too many people to talk to. Why haven't you turned to one of the Scoobies before now?"

She frowned, sunk to perch on the arm of a large chair. "I just...I've kind of...pulled away from them lately." She picked aimlessly at her cuticles, her voice regaining more of its usual tentative softness. "They just...they don't talk to me about anything...real anymore, not since Willow..."

Spike was beginning to wonder if she was going to pick her fingers to the point of bleeding. He hoped she wouldn't - not cricket to tease a bloke, you know.

She gave up on her hand, letting it fall to her lap. "I just couldn't make any more conversation about the weather."

Spike pressed a bit further, just to be sure. "What about you and the Bit tonight?"

Tara looked up indignantly, before evidently deciding that of course Spike had been snooping, being Spike and all, and that it wasn't the sin she'd first assumed. "We just talked and clothes and boys she likes. Nothing terribly important. No one seems to want to rattle me." Her eyes filled as her voice got wavery. "No one will even tell me how she's doing, or if she's even ever coming back." She sniffed loudly, cleared her throat. "Not that it matters."

"So this is about Red, then?"

Tara smiled bitterly. "Isn't everything?"

"No," Spike retorted flatly. /It's all about the Slayer, or hadn't you gotten the memo?/ Spike sat on Tara's bed, considering her with a frown. "Why is this botherin' you so much now? You've made it through this sort of thing before."

Tara's face was bewildered; Spike realized his gaffe: "I meant your girlfriend being gone, or...troubled, or whatever, not the girlfriend-turns-into-world-destroying-demon situation, but bloody hell - that sort of thing's par for the sodding course 'round here."

Tara's eyes grew faraway with pain. "She was just...ripped away from me. I finally had her back...we finally had each other back, and then..." She winced, as though mentally watching the replay. "Suddenly my girlfriend's the Devil himself. She couldn't keep it away - life wouldn't let her. It was all for nothing. And now things will never be the same." Her head sunk even lower, and her voice lilted with an atypical venom: "Should've known it was too good to be true."

Tara's words landed on Spike's heart with a familiarity he didn't want to think about. He grew angry instead.

"If you're in love then fight for it." Her head raised to meet his glare. "You got out of that fucked up family of yours. You made Red straighten up and fly right one time already. You just survived a bleedin' gunshot wound. Sorry you don't like it, Glinda, but your secret's out: you're a survivor, masqueradin' as a quitter. Your chance to die's gone by already. This bloody givin' up don't wash."

Tara's eyes narrowed in hurt and anger. Spike was perfectly satisfied - anger was fuel for living, where he came from.

"How do you know what I am?" she accused. "You've never even looked at me long enough to do anything but punch me."

Spike sat forward, challenged. "How do you know where I look? I was lookin' at you tonight, all bloody night, and you'd no idea. All this time you've been tucked in tight with your precious Scoobies, safe as houses, I've been on the outside, where the view is best. Fact is, I'd wager nobody in the world sees more than the unwanted." He paused, trying to regain his track, reign in the snarl that curled his lip. He sat back, faintly self-conscious. "I've seen enough to know this kinda ending don't suit you."

Tara looked away petulantly. "It was good enough for my mother."

She turned back a moment later to meet the slight rise of Spike's eyebrows. The sulk in her face softened. "It wasn't exactly like...this. It wasn't sudden, "she amended. "She--she was sick for a long time, and everybody thought she'd just tried to take her meds on her own and that the overdose was accidental, but...I was the one who looked after her. I knew better." She briefly closed her eyes against a memory. "They knew better too," she said wryly.

Spike was at a momentary loss. "Somethin' else you survived," he said finally.

Tara looked suddenly fervent. "That's exactly it, in a way," she said. "I'm tired of life being something to survive. I don't want to stick around to find out what the next kick in the head will be."

Spike found himself growing impatient. "Kicks in the head are life in a nutshell," he said. "Nothing for it but to kick back."

"I don't want to kick anybody. I just want to be, without feeling miserable. And evidently I can't." Her face dissolved into a self-pity that Spike thought looked terrible on her. "I've come to believe that I'm just...inherently bad."

"Oh, come on..." Spike fought the urge to shake her where she sat. "Consider your audience."

She shook her head. "Everywhere I've been in my life, people go mean or freak out. First they just took it out on me - now if they can't have me to abuse they'll apparently just go after the whole world."

Spike sat back against the wall. "Well, look at that. Earth really does revolve 'round you."

Tara glared at him sullenly, then reached for the drawer where she'd deposited the Schnapps. Spike's long arms beat her to it. He plucked it from the drawer, opened the bottle and took a generous swig, then wiped it on his sleeve and presented it to her chivalrously. She looked at the proffered bottle suspiciously, but her need for comfort evidently beat out any concern over vampire cooties.

He leaned forward as she sipped. "You are not the reason fucked up people act fucked up," he told her. "Hate to burst your center-of-the-universe theory, but it's true. Not with your family, and not with Red."

She grimaced faintly as her last sip went down. "So what if I'm not? The outcome's the same."

"Look, you're a gambler, you are, and you need to own up to it." The chipped nail polish on his pointing finger waved accusingly. "You went after Big Love With A Troubled Person, and that's never tidy. Big Love costs big - you pay with your soul. You want Nice Neat Tidy Love, you can do that too - cost is much lower, but so is the payoff. But in any case, that's not what you did."

"I just want Healthy Love," she sniffed.

Spike rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, well, I've never seen that particular brand. Don't know if they still make it."

Tara studied the bottle, peeling an edge of the label. Spike could smell its syrupy tang all the way across the room. "I just feel like I've done everything I set out to do when I was little, and it's all been unsatisfying. I don't want to try anything else. I understand how life works, I really do." She looked at Spike earnestly. "I understand the 'it kicks you, you kick back' thing. The rules are the way they are. I just don't want to play. I'm just done."

Spike, out of the billions of creatures roaming the earth right then, truly knew what death was. He knew just as certainly that she was not of it. She was nothing but life, a radiantly lovely woman sitting there, flimsy nightclothes hiding none of her womanly assets, while she miserably, obliviously thought she was worthless. He found himself suddenly, alarmingly aware of the thin drape of the cloth over her curves, of how obvious it was that she wasn't wearing a bra. Not the time, Spike ol' boy, not the time.

For distraction, he turned to scan a nearby bookshelf. Bingo. He grabbed the proper volume, flipped through it and read out loud the Wiccan Rede: "'Do what ever you want to, as long as it harms no one, including yourself. This belief constantly reminds us that there are many consequences to our actions and we must consider all possible outcomes before acting. The Wiccan Rede thereby binds Wiccans to do the right thing.'" He shut the book with a satisfying snap. "Gonna argue with the witch code?"

"No," she said simply. "Just going against it."

Bugger. Spike was starting to realize he'd gotten invested in winning this argument. "Don't care what it does to your friends?"

A thick moment settled over them both. Without meaning to, he'd invoked a specter: What would Willow do if this happened? Spike frowned - he hadn't meant to make her feel responsible for the whole damn world.

"I've thought of that," she said, with a quiet dignity, " just to keep from hurting someone else is enough reason to pause, to consider, but ultimately...not enough reason to stay. It wasn't enough for my--" the word caught at her lips "--mother, and now I see why, in a way. I can't live someone else's reasons."

Spike sat back in faint surprise. Tara watched him curiously. "You're right," he announced. "Then that's what we'll fix."

"How do you mean?"

Spike rose from the bed and thought a minute, then paced back and forth distractedly. His duster flared behind his knees as he did, like a dangerous, living thing among her cozy furnishings. He stopped suddenly and pointed at her, his bearings apparently found. "I'm offering you a deal - every day, I'll show you one reason to live, one reason to stay here. Every day, if you don't agree that whatever I've shown you is a good reason, you're free to do as you please. But if you agree with it," he smiled sympathetically, "you have to remain a member of the lowly living for one more day."

Tara stared at him, mouth open. She closed her mouth momentarily, only to have it fall open again.

"What've you got to lose? You're in control, aren't you? The pressure is all on me to produce. You don't have to do a thing except not do one specific thing." Spike found himself liking his own plan more and more.


Tara smiled in embarrassment and looked around the room, squirming under the laser focus of Spike's stare, but eventually finding herself drawn back to it. There didn't seem to be anywhere else to go, anything else in the room, nothing but those black clothes, those sharp features, that sleek blond hair.

It made no sense whatsoever - a deal offered by a former killer to keep her alive. The nonsensical nature of it made it somewhat of a relief - it meant it required total abandon to go along with it, no thinking. And if there was one thing Tara was tired of, it was thinking...

And Spike could teach a bulldog about tenacity. He certainly wasn't going anywhere.

"Um...okay, yeah. You have a d-d-deal."

Spike's face relaxed into a pleased smile.

"B-b-but...why are you doing this?"

The smile fell off his face as if greased. Tara hurried to soften her question. "I mean, it's kind of an amazing thing for anyone to offer, but from're a vampire who's proposing a lot of work to make sure a human goes on living." She offered her shy smile as a peace token for asking. "I'm just curious."

He didn't mention Buffy, or his own aimless nights since the...incident. He hadn't examined his feelings too closely since it had happened, and he didn't want to. He told another truth instead.

"I've been you," he confessed simply. The quiet, obedient one, he thought, who doesn't make a fuss, never asks for anything more than he's given? He understood what a person had to hold in to keep himself like that. "I'm not you anymore," he explained patiently, unnecessarily, and paused while hundred year-old events passed by his faraway eyes. "...but I've not forgotten."

Tara nodded, not really understanding. The liquor and the excitement caught up with her in a sudden wave, and she felt herself almost sleepwalking through the next few minutes as Spike made her get into bed.

She suddenly realized he was making himself comfortable in her chair. "Um...what are you doing?"

Spike was rifling through potential reading material. "Stayin' here tonight, ain't I? Make sure nothin' goes on that I wouldn't approve of." He picked up a magazine and waved a hand at her. "Off you go then, get some shut-eye. I'd wager you need it."

Tara blinked, nonplussed. "I - I can't sleep with you sitting there, watching me."

Spike didn't even look away from his copy of Wiccan Weekly. "Just going to have to, now, aren't you?" He glanced over at her and breezily repeated his hand wave, then reached up and extinguished the light.

Tara settled down under the covers, deciding not to ask about how much light vampires needed for reading. A second's more reflection about vampire super-senses and she rolled over with her back to him, the better to hide the tears of relief in her eyes.

Tara knew the sun had risen even before she opened her eyes. Frankly, she was putting off opening them. The liquor and the mood from last night had worn off and she was feeling acute shame at her melodramatic behavior. She squinched her lids shut a little tighter - melodrama that was witnessed by somebody else. Someone who still in her stupid dorm room. Someone who was not known for his understanding or kindness.

Wait - she nixed that thought. Something told her that Spike didn't plan to tease her about any of this. For some reason she could even confidently believe that he wouldn't tell anyone else - just something about the way he'd been. But still...she'd made some sort of deal with him and she needed to make sure he wasn't taking it seriously. She intended to tell him he could go home now and that he didn't need to do anything else -- it was just a bad night and she was being maudlin.

She rolled over, a speech poised on her tongue, and found that Spike was not there to tell.

She blinked, looked around the small room. She found her magazines neatly stacked on her coffee table. She saw her mug sitting in the dish drainer, evidently washed. When she got up, she found the pills she had dropped were no longer on the floor, and the Schnapps bottle had been drained and thrown in the trash.

Tara felt her eyes well up again. She felt ridiculous, pathetic, but there seemed to be no stopping it. She smiled a little at the thought of how Spike had probably drained the rest of the liquor - she'd doubted he'd let it go to waste.

Even so, she thought quickly, she had to find him soon and make sure that he knew he shouldn't go through any more trouble on her account. It wasn't exactly sage advice to let Spike take over her counseling. He was a vampire, chipped or not, and she was naive to trust him. For one thing, he was obsessed with Buffy and would probably forget all about her the minute Buffy threw him a bone. Her cheeks flushed hot - she felt stupid for not remembering that sooner.

She would be fine.../until the next time I'm not/ she thought cynically. A cold, knowing wave passed over her, but she shook her head against the knowledge it brought. /If it gets bad, I can always...go to the counseling center, or something.../ she thought thickly. She turned toward her bathroom, dimly considering a shower or perhaps just going back to bed...

She found a note, taped to the inside of her front door.

Tara felt a tingly flash of something like fear or excitement. She unfolded the note, which simply said that he'd had to go to beat the sunrise, but that he certainly expected to see her again that evening, safe and sound. Tara wondered how he could tell that she'd do what he asked, because he was right.

The last part of the note told her to open her door. She did so, to find a bag at her feet. On the bag was scrawled "Reason #1."

She opened it, to find a thermos. She unscrewed the lid and her nose was immediately hit by steam and the aroma of chocolate. Hot cocoa?

She stared at it a minute, sniffed it, then took a careful sip. The warm, fragrant goodness flooded down her throat and into her belly, and the sugar rush shivered into her limbs. She stared some more, and then laughed out loud.

"Okay," she giggled to herself. "Chocolate's a gimme."

Later that night, she was staring at a neon sign, listening to its buzz, and wondering what on Earth she'd gotten herself into. She looked back to Spike, whose face held a kind-but-closed, no-arguments expression. Her stomach flipped with fear - he would never let her out of this.

"A tattoo?"


"That's ridiculous, Spike."

"So's offin' yourself."

Tara felt a fresh wave of panic. Why couldn't she be home right now? She screwed up her courage and turned to him, her face as stern as she could make it. She wondered how stern that was. "You have to already know I am not the kind of person to get one of these."

Judging by Spike's calm, almost amused reaction, 'not very stern' was her answer. "I know that," he said patiently, "which is why you need me around to think of these things." And then his hand was on her shoulder, steering her toward the door and the bell was ringing as they entered and she was in this fluorescent-lit hell with scary buzzing sounds from the next room and ugly pictures all over the walls.

"So what are you going to get?" he asked.

"Nothing." she said. Her heartbeat hammered in her ears. "I can't do this."

"You can do anything you want to."

"I don't want to."

"Well then, anything you want to, plus this."

"Spi-ike." She immediately regretted the little whine in her voice. "This isn't me. Tattoos are ugly."

"I dunno," he mused. "I think the proper tattoo on a woman's right sexy."

"Do you have any tattoos?"

His face twisted in a leering smirk. "None that I could show you in public."

/Ick, Spi-ike./ She huffed out a sigh and turned her back to him.

"Look at it this way, love: if you die soon, you won't have to live with it long."

Tara's whirling brained suddenly slowed. For some reason, this bit of Spike-logic was calming her. She looked at him, and he at her. He did a kind of shrug with his face.

She sighed. "Okay."

He grinned. "Atta girl. Now whatta you fancy?"

She looked back at the samples on the walls. Her face scrunched up in distaste. Naked women, dragons, guns - things with too much swirly detail and far too much menace.

"Perhaps the lady might prefer something we've got over here." Tara looked to find a man behind the counter, a tall, barrel-chested guy with bright blue hair and a stud through his bottom lip. He seemed nice enough, though, and endlessly calm, like he'd seen everything. She smiled nervously at him, then followed his pointing hand to a new wall of samples.

Oh, he was right, these were different. She drew closer to the wall and traced a few designs with her finger. Yin-yang symbols, Celtic designs, moons and stars, all smaller and more discreet. She turned and smiled again at the blue-haired man, who nodded politely and walked away, taking a drag on his cigarette.

She looked at an ornate pentagram. "Maybe this one..." she said thoughtfully.

Spike peered at it over her shoulder. "You fancy that?"

Tara shrugged, finding she suddenly had to blink a lot to keep the wall from blurring. "Willow and I sometimes talked about getting matching pentagrams of some kind or another."

Spike thumped his hand over the pentagram picture, covering it. "No," he said adamantly.

Tara started, forgetting her former emotion in favor of gaping at him in surprise. He met her gaze. "It can't be a you-and-Red thing," he said firmly. "No intruders. You have to choose something that you love, all by yourself."

The resulting epiphany made Tara's arms cover with goosebumps. She stared at Spike, wide-eyed. He took in her look, smirked faintly and then turned his head down and away, seeming embarrassed.

She turned back to the wall, her fingers floating over the many drawings like they were rendered in Braille. She moved to a new wall, then squatted down to peer at something in a low corner. Her eyes lit up. "Oh!"

Spike squatted too, recovering his decorum with a crooked grin. "I take it we have a winner?"

Tara turned her now-glowing face to him, her finger settled on a picture of a quirky little laughing bear with his paw extended, the old Bear wheel alignment logo. "The Happy Bear! I can't believe they have this! I used to walk by a mechanic's shop with this bear on the sign, every day when I went to grade school." She turned back to trace it lovingly. "It was my favorite."

Spike peered at it, then nodded in amazement. "I 'member that. Those used to be all over the place, way back when. Way before your time, actually." He looked approvingly at the 20-something before him. "That's a classic. You've got taste."

They kept looking at each other just a moment more, smiling and nodding.

Tara couldn't quite describe the feeling of getting a tattoo -- sort of like being stung over and over again by a very angry, precise bee - millions of times a second, it felt like. The scraping sensation came right up to her pain threshold, but although she kept expecting it to, never went over it, never became more than she could stand. She glanced backward at the blue-haired man, wishing she could see what he was creating just to the left of her shoulder blade, but also not wanting to move too much or fidget. To be honest, she was not worried, just sort of giddy with the anticipation of it. She trusted him.

In about a half an hour, he was finished. "All done," he announced, in that calm way.

Spike nodded approvingly when she showed him, and with the help of a hand mirror she was finally able to see the results in another mirror on the wall. She was delighted at how perfect it was - she couldn't imagine how Mr. Blue Hair had gotten it so exact.

"Now then," Spike said carefully, once they were outside. "I want you to describe to me the process of what's just happened."

Tara looked at him quizzically. Spike's eyebrows said "humor me".

"Well," she began. "First I didn't want to get a tattoo, and I was scared and skeptical, and then you wouldn't let me not do it, and I found something I liked that I didn't expect to, and then, when I was getting it it kind of hurt but I could take it, and now..."

She peered back at her shoulder, ridiculously, since the new decoration was covered by a bandage and her shirt and coat. She couldn't help it - she was dizzy with a kind of happy disbelief, still charged with adrenaline.

"Now," she resumed, "I feel really cool and brave and I have something to show for it."

She giggled a little, and offered her face to him, to find his expression had become significant, and impossibly soft.

"There you are, then."

Spike walked back to the crypt with a bounce in his boots that he would have thought bloody poofy, had he thought about it. But he wasn't thinking about it.

He felt pretty damn good about tonight's events. About making an impact on Tara, making an actual difference in her view of something, even if it was just tattoos. For changing her mind.

He felt a sudden warm flush up his neck and over his scalp: for touching her.

Without, you know...touching her.

Whatever you called it, it was a hell of a lot more satisfying than pounding his head against the Wall of Slayer. Granted, it was only a temporary distraction from that wall. An unpleasant wave replaced the warm, shivery one of a moment ago.

But then it was gone. Things were still nice for now. He resumed grinning.

And then he saw them.

They were headed his way, but when Dawn saw him, he watched her suggesting another route to her friends, steering them matter-of-factly away, with them never the wiser and Dawn shooting him an icy glare before turning to join them.

He wanted to fucking kill something.

He wanted to destroy everything in sight. He saw a mailbox near him and could instantly see himself ripping it free of its anchors and throwing it down the block toward the Bit and her adolescent disdain. He could see it pounding and scraping down the pavement, frightening the piss out of her and her diaper-clad friends who'd look back with everyone else on the block to see him in full game-face, roaring at them with power and madness. He'd trash everything within reach, terrorize every human in view, ripping limbs and draining blood till he was gorged.

The resulting pain in his skull would feel well-deserved.

The impulse shot through his limbs once, twice, barely contained, his whole body wracking with effort of stopping himself.

Because he had to.

If he ever wanted another chance with the Slayer, if he ever hoped to ride out this latest bit of Scooby hysteria and be granted even a moment of her time...he couldn't make things worse. He had to keep it together.

He stood rooted in place, still except for the angry heaving of his chest, the useless twitching of his fingers. He turned toward the mailbox, galled by its continued presence.

"S'your lucky day, you piece of shit," he muttered at it.

The mailbox did not respond.

"Breaking things?" she asked skeptically.

"No, not 'breaking things'," he said with a bit of forced patience, and a gentle mocking of her polite tone. "Smashing things. Annihilating things. Busting things wide open." A grin warmed his cold features. "Do your meek little heart good, it will."

Tara picked through the scrap metal and car parts at her feet, looked out over the rest of the junkyard with an unconvinced air. "Do you come here a lot?"

"M'a junkyard dog from way back, I am." Spike commented dryly.

"Speaking of which..." she said politely, "Nice job of, um...disabling the one we saw. Without hurting it."

Spike shrugged easily. "Oh yeah, well. That vampire thrall stuff works on more than just people."

Tara nodded dutifully, then returned to an uneasy perusal of her surroundings. Spike wondered vaguely if he'd unconsciously thrown a thrall on her. She had sunk back into a dour, listless mood by the time he'd come to get her that night, and had followed him out so absently, sleepwalking through the trip.

"You gonna start wearing tank tops and stuff, show off your new ink?"

"What? Oh." She smiled faintly. "Maybe, when it gets warmer."

Spike was unconvinced that any such thing would happen - her tone suggested that she would still inhabit the Land of the Baggy Shirts. At least...for now. He still had a fair amount of possible influence planned.

Would be a shame not to see that bird in a tank top sometime.

"All right, here's a good place to start..." Spike approached a dilapidated 70's-era car that sat near a cement block wall. A couple of good swift kicks soon had the front end loosened, but not off. Spike felt his blood pleasantly quickening with each blow from his boot, but Tara stood back a bit, wincing at the violence. Spike was surprised to find how much this reaction angered him, in a faraway part of his consciousness. He pushed the feeling aside and redoubled his determination to show her what he meant.

The front end finally fell with a noisy crash, and Spike ducked in for the headlights. "Here, one for each," he said, yanking a bulb free and tossing it to her. She caught it in surprise, looked at it and then him. Spike yanked his own bulb free, then rose and fumbled in one jacket pocket as he walked back over to her. He produced some safety goggles.

"Now put those on like a good girl..." He turned to face the cement block wall. "...and we'll have our lesson for today." Tara had no sooner secured the goggles when Spike flung the bulb viciously at the wall. It exploded with a delicate crash and a fallout of dented aluminum.

Tara stared. Spike gestured gallantly that it was the lady's turn. She blinked through her new eyewear, looking endearing. "Oh." With what seemed like a maximum of awkwardness, she reared back.

"Be sure'n chuck it hard, love, so it'll break."

She nodded distractedly, and seemed to gather some small bit of pent-up anger she kept saved for such occasions. She let fly. The explosion was much like Spike's, except this one had come at her hands, and it made her stand back, and breathe a little, and allow her mouth to drop open in a small, crooked smile.

Spike grinned. He knew he'd read her right.

After a quick hunt, he recovered a stash of glass soda bottles. His reward was Tara's broadened smile. He smoothly pitched one to its death against the wall, then she followed, her eyes increasingly amused behind the plastic. She wasn't terribly strong or coordinated, he noted, but what she lacked in finesse, she was quickly making up for in enthusiasm. Together they precipitated a small soda-bottle holocaust. When she turned to him after her last bottle was up, the flush in her cheeks told him everything.

"What else can we do?" she asked breathlessly.

Spike's face was all evil mirth. "What can't we?"

He was right. There seemed to be no end to the kinds of creative destruction afforded them. There were big slabs of sheet metal to be dented, and piles of things to be knocked over and a resulting gleeful din to be appreciated. They climbed onto a small, ruined go-cart that still had enough roll in the tires to take it down a small incline, and sailed it into a large stack of hubcaps. The noise and mayhem of the hubcaps' collapse was glorious, and Spike seriously thought he'd never seen Tara laugh so hard.

Tara found a pile of porcelain fixtures to be sacrificed, and against them there were metal poles to be wielded, chains to be swung, missiles to be thrown. Spike finally decided their annihilation of a large sink had not gone far enough. He sat it atop a pile of junk and determined to drop a cement block on it. A nearby cherry picker cage had been left low enough to climb into, high enough to still be impressive. He hauled both himself and his heavy projectile up, aimed carefully, dropped the block...and missed. Tara laughed as Spike cursed in frustration. Spurred on by her amusement, Spike impulsively launched himself over the railing with a howl and landed on the sink with both feet, cracking it nicely but taking a tumble down the pile of junk.

Tara's laughing turned to gasps. She ran around the pile to check on his safety, sighing in relief when she found him simply dusting himself off. She chastised him for scaring her, and he took it with the proper - if smirking - little boy air, but heard very little of what she said. As he followed her out into the junkyard proper, he found he was immensely pleased at his ability to scare her like that. Not in the usual fiendish way - he'd discovered a delicious, soft thrill at the show of genuine concern. He watched her walk in front of him and wondered what he could do to make it happen again.

His goldfish-like attention span was soon drawn back to the potential of the cement blocks. He picked up another and heaved it with a shout and a great crash through the window of an old bus. Tara took the cue and threw objects through the other windows, till Spike found her eye wandering to a junked car whose windows were all still intact.

He spotted a baseball bat, plucked it up and tossed it to her. "Here's what you need, love." When she caught it, her eyes lit and met his and she grinned at his understanding of her.

Spike felt that soft thrill again.

She marched to the car and whacked the bat into the windshield, grimacing against the potential spray of glass. She opened her eyes to find none had occurred - she'd spider-webbed the glass without breaking it. She relaxed and swung again.

"Atta girl," Spike enthused. He watched her gain momentum. She swung again and again, laying waste to the windshield, as though she'd gone into a trance. Spike sensed something happening. He dropped what he was doing and moved toward her.

"You can do whatever you want," he said, his voice low and hypnotic.

Tara smashed the bat into the metal frame of the window, having exhausted the glass. She seemed to recognize this, but only dimly. She moved back a step and cracked into the passenger's side window.

"You have a choice," he purred. Smash. "You can do something about the things you hate." SMASH. "You don't have to be beholden to anyone, ever again."


She'd worked her way entirely around the car now, but was still swinging fiercely at anything she could find, landing most of her swings but not all. He knew she was crying. Between that and her flying hair, she couldn't have been able to see much. Her obviously tiring arms waved the bat in ever more erratic arcs. Spike moved in carefully from behind, nimbly ducking the flailing bat, reached around her body and caught her hands in his. He fought to still her until she was simply standing and weeping and he was simply holding her.

/Just for her own safety,/ he told himself soberly, as he held her sobbing form secure against the world. She turned to bury her face in his chest, and he helped by removing the goggles. He could feel her heart pounding like a rabbit's. /She was getting careless with that thing...can't have her gettin' hurt./

Somehow, resting his cheek against her tangled hair and closing his eyes made up an integral part of his safety regime.

The moment sat still for a while, quiet except for Tara's small sobs and the occasional, faraway night sound, until suddenly a big arc light flared to life overhead, flooding the place with glare. A slurred voice called out from somewhere behind it: "Hey! Whass going on out here?!"

Spike squinted until he saw a short man in a dirty ball cap, walking the unsteady terrain toward them on even unsteadier legs. He was bathed in backlighting, an effect that would make anyone else look dramatic. For this bloke, it only emphasized his smallness.

"What're you doing?" the man bleated. "Y'all are trespassing, you know that?" Then his small, reddened eyes landed on the car, soon moving between it and Tara's bat. It didn't take him too long to add it all up, but it did take longer than most, Spike noted. If everyone else's brain was the equivalent of a calculator, this guy was still using an abacus.

"Were you doing what I think you were? You were, weren'tcha?" He pointed imperiously at the newly-windowless car. "THAT is a vintage piece of scrap! I coulda gotten top dollar for that thing, but now you've ruined it! I hope you've got money saved because you are going to pay..."

Blah blah blah. Spike barely listened to the prat droning on. He could smell the booze on his breath from there, and knew a little man trying to be important when he saw one. Short work to scare him off. His concern was for Tara, still snuffling and warm against him. He was feeling protective of the moment she'd been having before this wanker showed. He looked down at her face, to see her simply staring past his t-shirt at nothing. Her heartbeat was still fairly fast, but other than that, he couldn't read her.

Spike regarded their new adversary. "On your bike, you. We ain't done nothin' wrong."

The little man puffed up. "Oh, yeah? Well I'd like to hear what a judge'd say about that! This here's MY PROPERTY." He poked himself in the chest so hard Spike was pretty sure it caused the next moment's loss of balance.

The vampire let go of Tara reluctantly, stepped up to the little bugger. "I don't bloody care whose property it is."

"Well then you got trouble, mister! Now you get outta here 'fore I kick yer asses!"

Spike cocked his head in faux-earnestness. "I thought we were supposed to pay for the car."

Blink, blink. "Wull, yeah! You pay first and then you get yer asses outta here!"

Spike allowed himself a smirk. This joker wasn't even a moving target. Almost unfair to whip out the bad-ass on him...almost. Spike's smile grew - if he vamped, this one'd probably piss his pants, right here in front of him and a pretty lady. Too delicious, having this ponce to play with. He calculated how much taunting he could indulge in before playing his trump card.

But instead of a trump card, what got played was a wild card.

Spike startled faintly to see Tara's head move into view just off to his right. "Leave us alone," she told the little man, the last of her teary mood obviously turning into anger.

Spike suddenly wished that he came with a warning label: '_Do not try this at home, we are professionals_.' The last thing Little Men Who Were Trying To Be Important needed was to be told off by women. And the last thing Women Who Were Getting In Touch With Their Anger needed was to mix it up with drunken idiot rednecks.

And somehow, the thought of her truly involved in the situation was an instant buzz-kill.

He reached a hand toward her elbow. "Tara, love..."

Tara gently removed Spike's hand, keeping her eyes fixed on the man. "We didn't ruin your stupid car. It was a piece of junk to start with."

The man's face, already mottled with drink, turned the color of borscht gone bad. "Oh, you think you know, do ya?" he sputtered. "That's a very rare model, a collector's item! You owe me a shitload and you're gonna pay me tonight!"

As his arm jerked out to point at Tara, the shift in fabric showed Spike the outline of a biggish gun under his jacket. Spike felt the moment when his face would have blanched, were it still capable. Bloody hell. Nothing he'd have to worry about, of course, but with Tara there - Christ. Is this what his little "lesson" had produced?

"You know it's people like you who make it impossible for the independent businessman to make a living! It's people like you! PEOPLE LIKE YOU!" The guy was losing it at an alarming rate. Spike's muscles were just getting the signal to act, to jump in front of her or possibly push her forcibly out of the way, lest any potential projectiles travel straight through him and continue on toward her. The man's fingers were twitching - Spike imagined they were itching for the gun she didn't know existed.

But in the next instant, Tara's demeanor changed into a type of steel formerly unknown to either of them. She didn't seem to move a muscle or change anything Spike could put his finger on - she just silently and mysteriously became the most intimidating creature conceivable. From the look on the man's face, Spike reckoned his astonishment equaled his own.

"We will do," she intoned quietly. "whatever we want to. Now go."

The man's rage came to a screeching crash. His face crumpled first into uncertainty, then into panic. Spike watched him fumble in his jacket pocket and produce a tiny cross on a chain. Evidently, someone was remembering the kind of things that were rumored to creep around Sunnydale.

When he spoke again, the redneck's voice was a stammering wreck. "Y-y-y'all are lucky. I-I-I'm-a let you g-g-go this once."

Then he damn near killed himself running away.

Spike gaped at Tara in as much glee as astonishment. "What was that? You pull a mojo?"

Tara looked pleased and excited. "No, just me. I just wanted to see if I could do it." Spike's eyes still asked questions. Tara turned sheepish. "I--I just...pretended I was a vampire."

Spike was dumbstruck with admiration. Not only had she made someone else stammer while not doing so herself, essentially she'd vamped out before he could. He put a hand to his chest and stumbled backward a step, a rakish grin splitting his face. "Be still my heart," he drawled.

Tara looked down with a pleased flush, one that sent a little stirring into Spike's groin. Was he imagining things, or was she actually responding to flirting? She looked back up and met his eyes, and the tingle it shot threw him made Spike reach for a joke. He looked at his chest and back at her: "Hey," he deadpanned, "it worked."

They both broke out laughing.

The rays of sun filtering through the dusty crypt windows indicated it was about noon, but Spike was too excited to sleep.

He lay on his couch, one arm behind his head as he stared at the ceiling, a forgotten blanket tangled somewhere around his knees. His brain was on a hamster wheel, whirring as he planned a million things...

...that he and Tara could do.

For over a week now, he'd shown up at her place every night, and every night he'd taken a girl who'd curled into herself and succeeded in drawing her back out into the world. /And each night it took a bit less time,/ he thought with no shortage of pride. He'd taken her out and shown her sides of herself he was positive she'd never even considered.

The surprise of her attractiveness had flickered first on the edges of his thinking, and now appeared daily, fully formed in his mind. He let his thoughts happen, but tried not to linger on them or devise any plans for action, frozen in place by the success of his endeavor so far, and - oh yeah - the fact of her being gay.

Still, he couldn't resist thinking about the expressions he'd seen on her during the times she'd been happiest. A warm, pleasant flush spread over him as he considered her face, so glowing with discovery and joy, so unabashed, so open and willing to share it.

So unlike...well, you know.

Suddenly the Buffy Problem was right back upon him. He frowned as he thought about the weeks before Tara, when he'd been trying to think of another way to approach the Slayer, but nothing would come to him, and every time he considered the situation he just got madder, and it never led to anything constructive.

His only choices for relief had been lying around drinking, fighting demons, occasionally trashing his pad, but even they hadn't been doing for him what they used to. He didn't know what the glitch was -- normally he'd have been onto some new scheme by then. This just seemed...different, in a way he couldn't unravel.

The emotions began to come back, unbidden, and he grimaced at their onslaught. He felt slighted, pissed off, misunderstood, wronged. The idea of apologizing drifted through and was met with a mental tantrum - no sodding way! She'd treated him like shit, after all! Running hot and cold, beating him up, denying her own behavior and the glaring reality of their bond. And for that she was gettin' away scot free! What was a bloke supposed to do, just let his greatest love walk out?

Yeah, he could have taken another tack - probably should have - but it's not like the Slayer was made of glass, for Chrissake. She could give it out as well as she could take it.

He sucked in some air through his nose, blew it out slowly. He turned his thoughts purposely back to what was good right now, to what was working. The mental image of Tara's large, dewy eyes and soft, crooked smile relaxed him, seemed to turn his muscles to butter. That girl was a tranquilizer, she was.

He felt like he was able to be a better version of himself now, better than he'd been in a long time. He was hoping the change was something permanent, that this thing with Tara would break this block of his, that he'd be able to start on it fresh after she was feeling better and able to stand on her own. But he didn't think that he would leave her on her own any time soon. There was plenty of time to keep doing this. He felt strangely serene at the idea.

Plenty of time.

Tara had never considered Spike much in the past, but if she had, she would have had to say he was like a bee in the room - quick, light, potentially deadly, grabbing all the attention the instant he appeared and making everyone feel threatened - though, these days, not too seriously. And as soon as he was dealt with and gone, there was general relief.

How unbelievable that such a person would be saving her existence.

Tara lolled in her bed, lazily looking at the morning spilling in her window through the blinds. When she'd first awoken ten minutes or so ago, her first feeling had been the usual one - of not wanting to get out of bed, of wanting to go back to the cocoon, of the impossibility of dealing with the day. But a few moments later, the feeling had abated, replaced by the calm certainty that whatever she had to do today was possible, that nothing was going to get so bad that she couldn't handle it.

Or more precisely, that Spike wouldn't be able to help her handle it.

She was constantly amazed, whenever she thought about it, at how much kindness was in Spike, at how much selflessness could pour out of him. At the results that occurred when all that busy bee energy got focused into something, especially when that something was her. His blue-eyed, sharp-cheeked attention seemed to fill her up like electricity, buzzing and tickling her to astonished life, animating her limbs into motion that she wouldn't be capable of otherwise.

It seemed possible to get drunk on that attention.

She wondered what it would be like to O.D.

She wondered what he was like before he was turned, at whether or not she was seeing some of that old personality. If this behavior was anything like what he'd done when he was human, he must have been quite a ladykiller.

Before he, you know...went pro with the idea.

Eventually she sighed, sat up and yawned, stretched back her shoulders. She removed the little foam ear plugs she used for sleeping and went to put them in a small wooden box she kept on her nightstand.

She stopped and looked at the box for the first time in a long while.

It was small, with a fitted lid that had a masculine pattern inlaid into its top - a line made up of interlocked, different colored triangles. She was pretty sure that her father hadn't purchased it with her in mind, that he'd actually bought it to give to her brother, and had only turned it into a gift for her when her birthday rolled up sooner than he'd expected and he found himself short of a present.

It didn't suit her. It never had.

She picked it up and turned it around, noticing absently the little nicks and scratches it had sustained through a short lifetime of use.

Forced use. Now a habit.

Her face went sour at the memories coming back, all the baggage that came with it. Her mother had made her thank him profusely for it. She shook her head silently at the idea of thanking a monster, with her mother forcing her, even though her mother surely knew. How did her mother look herself in the mirror back then? No wonder she'd wanted out. She thought of her mother's complicity in the crime, in the tearing down of her childhood self, the whole conspiracy of crap.

Spike, though, was different than other men - the most unlikely source of a good male example she could ever have conceived. She didn't know why she felt at ease with him. Wait, maybe she did: he listened to what she said. Really, without pretending. He took action because of it, on her behalf. And she knew he would not stop acting until any problem she had was solved. She knew there was nothing she could say to him in earnestness that he wouldn't take seriously for her, no matter how small or embarrassing.

She felt almost unbearably grateful for it.

Spike knocked on Tara's door at half past six, just barely past sunset. He'd had to do a little ducking and running to make it this early, creatively keeping to the lengthening shadows on his way over, but staying in his crypt any longer had just not been an option.

When he'd read the flyer about tonight's poetry slam, he'd instantly wanted to show it to her, very much. Sure, the poets wouldn't be doing the kind of verse he'd loved as a young man, but he appreciated the newer stuff too, the aggressiveness of it, and anyway, it'd be kind of a...first stage kind of thing. If it turned out she liked poetry at all, then perhaps he'd find the stones to show her some of his real favorites, the stuff nearer and dearer to his heart.

As it was, he didn't yet have the stones to think about why he wanted to show her that stuff at all.

When Tara opened the door, she was wearing a t-shirt and big flannel pants, no makeup. Spike's stomach sank a little. Was she feeling down again? No, her smile was genuine.

He kept his tone light. "Somebody's not dressed yet."

She smiled apologetically. "Actually, I know you had plans for something, but I was going to see if maybe I could talk you into staying in. I just... don't feel like doing anything where I have to dress up, or be seen by people."

Spike took the news with a nod, reserving judgement. Tara plunged nervously into his silence.

"Couldn't...couldn't we do something like the junkyard again, or something here, in my room?" She held onto the door jamb, and stepped on one white-socked foot with the other. "Couldn't you just tell me about the reason?"

Spike nodded thoughtfully. " I understand where you're coming from, pet, but..." He tried to decide whether he was still keeping her interests in mind here, or his own. He looked at her doe's eyes. Fuck it, they felt the same. "I just think it's better that you get out."

Tara slumped in mock protest, walking away from the door. "I, just, I...haven't got anything to wear."

Spike followed her in, trying to keep from rolling his eyes. He'd been used to Dru's whims, and knew that women found this stuff important, but really -- wasn't one baggy sweater the same as the next? At least Dru had some style.

"You've got plenty to wear. Not taking you to a fashion show."

"And I didn't get a lot of sleep last night. I should probably go to bed early."

"Won't be out late."

She turned to him, her face suddenly betraying the slightest bit of desperation. "Really, Spike, I don't see what difference it would make if we stayed in just this once..."

"Pet." He stepped closer to her, putting his hands on her arms, focusing her on his face. "Tell Spike what it is."

Tara blinked at him, a little miserable. She closed her eyes and sighed. "It's just one of those nights lately where...I just feel ugly."

Spike's eyes got wider, and his mouth drifted open. He blinked twice. "Oh, bugger THAT." He grabbed her by the hand and dragged her across the room. "Right. The plan's changed."

Her expression lifted. "We're staying in?"

He opened the bathroom door and pushed her inside. "No. Now we're definitely going. Times ten. Here, get yourself girled up."

At her protesting expression, he swung the bathroom door shut with a thunk.

Bloody hell, the ideas that got into that bird's head. He turned his back to the door and folded his arms.

He could definitely show her what a dish she was.

Spike was surprised. Really surprised. Bloody gobsmacked. And Spike didn't surprise easily.

He'd known Tara was cute. Never been much for what she called "style", but still, she had a lot going for her. He'd always thought that with a little fashion advice she could be more than she reckoned.

But of this, he'd had no idea.

He'd overseen her grooming for the evening - to make sure she did things proper, didn't just settle for 'whatever'. Instead of using the one sedate shade of lipstick she owned, he had her paint her entire mouth with her dark lipliner. When she'd applied a modest bit of eyeliner, he'd taken if from her and traced her eyes' outlines in smoky, smudgy dark kohl. Hell, he'd lived through the Eighties, poofy pirate shirts and all - he knew a thing or two about eyeliner.

He'd had her wear her hair down, curl it a bit, tousle it a bit more.

In her closet, he'd found a soft, wine-colored peasant's blouse with a low, loose neckline, and elastic gathers around the waist. He'd also found a pair of fake leather pants that Tara tried to snatch out of his hand, that she swore she'd only bought on a dare and were now too small for her.

Too small, his ass.

Or rather, her ass.

The pants fit like they'd been poured on, and were now showing off a smooth, feminine belly and fondly hugging every curve of said ass in a way that Spike was now quickly realizing he'd love to be doing, given the opportunity.

Focus, he told himself.

The blouse plunged to show off a pair of tits that Spike had figured were nice, but were now proving to be nothing short of glorious. As she walked next to him through the night air, he was powerfully distracted. He could feel her and smell her and see the bounce of her breasts out of the corner of his eye, and the heels on the boots he'd picked out were lending her their bad-ass strut.

Bloody hell, she was breathtaking.

It didn't even matter that she was trying to shrink inside her clothes, and looking around at her new environment with the air of a five-year-old child on the first day of school - he could fix that with the right encouragement. He still found himself dead chuffed to be out with such a goddess.

All right, so the goddess wasn't "his". And the fact that they were headed toward a mixed men's-and-women's gay club would pretty much nix the idea in any of his onlookers' minds that he and Wicca were together, provided it ever entered their minds at all.

/Steady as she goes, mate,/ he told himself. /Bring nothing but heartache, things that go on in your head./

Spike's acquaintance with the doorman let them skip the long line of club-goers and head straight in. Inside, it was the usual warehouse-like structure full of throbbing music, bewildering lights and a mass of pulsing humanity. The two entered onto a small raised area just above the dance floor. Spike watched Tara as she looked down somewhat tiredly over the scene below.

"Not even tryin' to take the piss outta this little trip, are you?" he asked in amusement. She glanced at him questioningly. "Would've expected more objection. What happen, I wear you down?"

"No." She shook her head absently. "I trust you."


That thrill. Soft. And more thrilling than before. Worth a good, deep sigh.

Impetuously Spike grabbed her hand and pulled her to him in a couples' dance pose. Tara let out a surprised sound. Spike looked like the canary that ate the cat.

"I sincerely hope they are no other vamps here," he murmured devilishly, mouth close to hers. "Because you look good enough to eat."

Tara blinked, then rolled her eyes and smiled.

"Dance with me?"

Tara nodded. Still smiling, Spike noticed.

Spike felt himself fairly comfortable on a dance floor - in the punk era, he'd discovered music as a visceral experience and now, if he let it, his body would just go. But Tara danced like she only performed moves that had been examined and deemed suitable, pre-approved, with nothing spontaneous entering her limbs.

'Nuff o' that.

"Here," he called over the music. "Show you somethin'." He moved behind her and gently pushed her shoulders and hips to guide her in a different move. She started out awkward, but soon got the idea, and laughed a little self-consciously.

"Now this." He guided her into a new move. As he did, he occasionally let his hands linger on her arms, or waist, or let his fingers brush her as they moved from place to place. She glanced back at him a little uncertainly, but didn't object.

He was doing it partly, hopefully, to make her feel sensual - get her thinking of her body as more than just a device to transport her brain around...

...and partly because it didn't seem his fingers could resist.

He leaned close to her ear. "Have you any idea how many pairs of eyes turned to you when you walked out here?"

Tara looked abruptly over her shoulder at him, unsure.

"Blokes and ladies," he went on. "'Parently one group wants to be you, other just wants to do you."

She whirled to smack him on the arm, mouth open. Spike laughed. "Sorry, don't make the news, just report it." She turned back to face front, huffing in amused disbelief.

Spike grinned. Amusement was his open door to continue. "Don't imagine you'll be mine for much longer..." As the words left his mouth he spotted a petite brunette approaching. She had curly hair and a mischievous face. The song was ending. Perfect opportunity...

"Mind if I cut in?"

Her words were for Spike but her eyes never left Tara. Tara looked at the girl uncertainly, then at Spike. Spike stepped back with a gracious gesture.

As he made his way to the side of the dance floor, he saw the two start into the next song. The brunette was now the one dead chuffed. Tara's body language was opening up.

He decided to walk toward the open back door, pulling out his smokes. Plan was working perfectly...


Spike had lost track of how many women Tara'd danced with. He stayed on the sidelines, just pleased to watch her body move like it was meant to, watching her throw back her head in laughter and sweat and the moment.

He swirled the ice in his Jack and Coke thoughtfully. His idea to make her feel non-ugly was a raging success.

So why was he feeling so surly?

"I'm sorry, but you don't look like a wallflower."

He looked up into the face of a dark, muscle-bound man. An obvious gym rat, with the hint of a New York accent. Spike smiled wearily. 'Nother heart to break.

"I know exactly what to do to lose that frown," the man continued, his eyes roaming.

"Sorry, mate. Not in the mood tonight."

"I'm offering to put you in the mood," the man teased. He moved closer, but something about the steel in Spike's eyes made him stop.

He made a gracious recovery. "Okay, no means no." He smiled. "If you change your mind..."

"You'll be the first to know," Spike lied. The man's place in line was actually something like...twenty-seventh.

He looked back out at the dance floor - nothing compared to Tara's line, though, was it?

She'd lost so much of her previous inhibition, but was still awkward in a way that made Spike smile - a big, leggy girl who still moved like the colt she'd been when she was barely into her teens.

Spike's smile evaporated. Oh no. Very bad sign. When you start finding another person's awkwardness endearing, it's more than simple attraction then, innit? You are well on your way to being good and truly fucked.

He was distracted from that thought by a situation apparently developing. Tara was trying to say goodbye to a girl on the floor, a tough looking one wearing a wife-beater and a short, blond, man's haircut. The girl was not cooperating. Tara's eyes were becoming worried. Apparently no didn't mean no throughout the club.

Spike didn't remember the trip through the thick throng of dancers - he woke up when he had the blonde woman's back against the wall, his forearm tight against her throat. "'Ere, you new to the language?" he sneered. "Need a translation? She's done with the likes of you."

The woman's eyes were saucers. Spike felt a gentle hand on his arm. "Spike..." He turned to see Tara, eyeing him strangely. "Down, boy." Kind of a joke, and kind of not.

The borrowed blood in Spike's system ran to his face, creating a blush amusingly like that of a live person. He backed off just a step, giving the woman enough wiggle room to scoot frantically out from under his arm and disappear into the crowd.

Spike now wanted to kick the crap out of himself, and oh what a show that'd make. "Old habits," he explained lamely. She nodded. He searched her face - she had relaxed some, but not enough to make him really happy. "Wanna leave the meat market behind a moment and dance with me? Think the wall can hold itself up for now."

There it was - she smiled. "You've been really patient..." She gave him a slow, satisfied blink. "And smart. Thank you for this."

Spike felt awash with warmth. The moment felt dangerous and irresistible.

He wrenched himself back, led her toward the floor. "Well, don't go thinkin' you're the only one's had offers tonight..."

She smirked. "I noticed. Didn't take any of them?"

He shrugged and shook his head. "Choosy."

She smiled in that crooked way of hers, and he watched mesmerized as she revved up to match the music's now fevered pitch. She was entirely warmed up, and he actually felt himself a little behind.

Not to mention aroused, as he watched that luscious body move. Odd struth, aroused as all hell.

He forgot himself and moved in closer, put a hand on her shoulder and matched her gyrations with his own body. She looked up and grinned at his participation, then brought herself in to cooperate even closer with what he was doing.

The lights flashed and the music pounded and he felt drugged. He put his other hand on the bare skin of her waist, curled his fingers and possessively pulled her a fraction closer. He looked down with a dry mouth at the sweaty skin of the breasts heaving so close to his face. He could smell the spray she'd put into the fuck-me hair he'd help style. He sensed her pulse pounding in her sweaty neck, felt the ends of her long locks whip him occasionally as she thrashed her head from side to side.

Her eyes were closed, and he gaped at her helplessly. Oh, Jesus, he was still too achingly far from her...surely she wouldn't let him get closer. She was for all the world just a gay woman dancing with a platonic male friend - no risk, all fun. That was the reason for her openness, had to be. /Stop it, you bloody git, it's not like that.../

Pity the thing between his legs didn't know what was a game and what wasn't. It was taking the proceedings quite seriously.

He startled as her eyes opened and locked with his, keeping him riveted as their bodies mirrored each other, straining closer, almost brushing. Her grin was pleased, a challenge. Spike felt himself take "rock hard" to a new level. Just a game, just a game, no not a game, it couldn't be, what was she doing? Mischievous look, then turning around, her fragrant hair in his face, her shoulder blades against his chest, leaning back, dancing, and then subtly changing position...

...the shock of her ass suddenly grinding deliciously into him...


Tara whirled as Spike jumped back nearly a yard, turning from her quickly to apologize to all the people he'd slammed into.

"Spike!" She sounded shocked out of her reverie. "What happened?"

Spike stood in the midst of the dance floor chaos, his back to her, his chest heaving. He mentally ran through excuses. Somehow, 'trying not to throw you to the ground and rut you like an animal' didn't seem like the thing to say, however true. He barked out a laugh when he considered telling her he'd pulled a muscle, in his pants.

"Just, quite a lot of exercise, all at once," he panted over his shoulder. "Gonna go take a ciggie break. Back in a tick."

He left her standing there, watching him go.

Tara found the ladies' room and entered, smiling at a couple of women she'd spent time dancing with as they exited. She found an empty stall, shut the door, and just sat.

What was that with Spike back there?

She had a very good idea what had made him rush out, and her cheeks were burning with the implications...not to mention the idea that she'd had that much of an effect.

What had gotten into her? She'd so been turning it on with him - just because they were friends and she'd been having a good night - especially good given her recent misery - didn't give her the right to tease him. It wasn't fair, and it scared her that she'd gone there - teasing a man's libido could get a girl in trouble, especially when dealing with a wild card like Spike.

But that rang false. Even Spike's little girlfriend scare-off tonight was all about protecting her. She really didn't feel any danger for herself.

But the jittery feeling remained throughout her body, the close-call feeling of having scraped shoulders with danger. Her mind reeled a moment more before it hit her...

...that Spike's possible reactions weren't what frightened her.

"Where is she?"

"She's taking care of them."

"Shouldn't we be helping?"

"She said to wait here."

Snort. "Typical."

Dawn kicked at the tree beside which she and Xander stood, then picked at the bark with her fingers. Xander glanced distractedly at her out of the corner of his eye, but mostly kept a nervous lookout.

A moment later his lookout revealed something.


Tara approached with another figure he couldn't quite make out. Or maybe, that he wasn't attempting to make out, being far too distracted by her outfit.

"Xander?" Tara sounded surprised. "Um, hi."

"Tara." Before he could stop himself, he'd given her the very male once-over. "Tara," he said again. "Whoa, Nelly."

Tara tugged at the peasant blouse a little, but otherwise just smiled.

Dawn stepped out from behind the tree. "Tara!" she exclaimed cheerily. Her eyes grew wide with appreciation. "Whoo-wee! You go, girl!" Her wide smile lasted until her eyes refocused a yard or so to the right, at the person who was lagging behind. The sudden cold clench of those eyes showed she'd had no trouble identifying him.

Xander was still staring at Tara. Dawn elbowed him and gestured emphatically with her head. Xander woke up and gave his slack-jawed look another flavor.

Spike grinned mirthlessly. "Close your mouth, Harris, we are not a codfish."

Xander wasted no time. "What are you doing with him?"

Tara glanced at Spike, a bit mystified. "We just...uh, went to a club."

Xander nodded. "And again, the question remains, 'with him?'"

Tara's eyes moved even more uncertainly between her companion and the others. Spike stared straight at Xander, offering nothing. "I went with him because...Spike and I have been...hanging out."

"Hanging out." Xander eyed Tara's outfit and Spike's proximity in increasing alarm. "Hanging out," he repeated, louder. "Dressed like that. What the hell are you up to?" he accused Spike.

"Nothin', Doughboy." Spike felt bile rising, along with his own mounting alarm. "Whatsa matter, you confused at hearing about a man staying with a lady?"

Xander's face flushed purple and he balled his fists. Dawn stopped him from pouncing with a small hand and an astonished look. "Xander, she doesn't know."

"Whaddya mean, she doesn't know?"

"She doesn't know! I guess no one told her."

"Told me what?" demanded Tara. "Hello, standing right here."

"C'mon, love, the big squishy one's about to make up stories." His hand on her arm and a step away produced no movement. She stood rooted. Spike's anxiety ratcheted up a notch.

"Whatsa matter, Spike?" goaded Xander. "All confused by your past catching up to you?"

Spike's eyes narrowed. "Shut yer noise, you."

"Oh yeah, your 'love' for Buffy--" His fingers carved cruel notches in the air. "-- must've really been everlasting, seeing as you're already out trying to scam the only unsuspecting woman left in Sunnydale."

"Unsuspecting of what?" Tara seemed ready to stamp her foot.

"Shut. Your. Noise." sneered Spike at Xander.

"No! I will not keep quiet about the fact that you tried t---"

Spike cut off Xander's next words with a primal roar, launching himself at his tormentor and slamming him into the ground next to the tree.

"SHUT! YOUR! FESTERING! GOB!!" He grabbed his head in pain as Xander struggled under him, but managed to keep him down. He braced himself with gritted teeth before slamming him back into the dirt repeatedly, punctuating his speech with the blows.

"Think you know everything! Think you got the right to dictate MY BUSINESS!" He reeled from the pain but couldn't seem to stop shaking Xander till his teeth rattled.

Tara and Dawn pulled frantically, futilely at Spike's shoulders. Tara seemed beside herself. "Spike, stop hurting Xander!"

Spike wheeled on her in amazed fury. "Don't hurt him? Don't hurt THIS? Whose side are you on?"

Tara's face slammed shut in an instant. Spike's stomach abandoned him completely. "I'm on my side," she declared icily.

She turned and left. Spike watched helplessly. "Tara!"

Spike was left more than bereft by her departure - he was left off his guard. Xander slammed his knee up into Spike's groin. Spike howled in pain and rage, falling off Xander and onto his side. Xander sprang to his feet, seething.

"Yeah, I think I can tell other people your business," he panted, delivering a swift kick to Spike's ribs. He gained momentum, continuing to pummel Spike's curled form with his feet. " lying, murdering, raping piece of shit!"

"Xander!" Dawn's panicked voice finally managed to cut through his fog. "She's calling us!"

Xander abandoned Spike with one final foot-shove. Spike knew to crawl away quickly before the night got even worse.

"Tara!" It hurt Spike's ribs to cry out. He held onto them and did it again. "Tara! Hang on!"

She finally stopped, without turning around.

Spike got close enough that he didn't have to yell, but then found himself at a loss for what to say. "You shouldn't...shouldn't go traipsing off by yourself, love," he croaked.

She half-turned to him. "You didn't leave me much choice. You were busy."

"Bloody hell, woman, d'you expect me to just stand there while that pillock prattles on about--"

"What were they trying to tell me?"

She'd finally turned to face him, straight on. Spike was momentarily speechless with bluster.

"Is that what this is all about, then?" he finally managed to spit out. "You believe the whelp over me? When I've spent so much time seeing to your--"

Tara's face was growing tighter by the second. Spike hadn't even completed his tirade before she was striding away again.

Spike was gobsmacked for the second time that evening. She wasn't playing by the rules.

He'd never had anyone deal with him in this way -- this no-nonsense don't-come-here-with-your-shit attitude. She was supposed to get flamboyantly mad too, and together they'd have a good bring-down-the-house fight, like with Buffy. Or else she was supposed coo and coddle him until he came down, taking his anger seriously but assuring him she had all the answers, like Dru.

Spike found himself running. "Sodding hell, love, give a bloke a chance..."

Tara stopped and whirled. "Is that what I'm supposed to do? Give you a chance? Is that what I'm for, Spike? Giving people more and more chances to fuck with me until there isn't any 'me' left? How long before you tell me that things'll go better if I just keep my mouth shut?!"

Spike gaped. Was that what she was hearing? What that what he was saying? Her eyes were filling and he hated it. "I'd never say that, pet."

"I'm done babysitting companions," she vowed. Her lip began trembling. "And I was trusting you..."

Spike entered Emergency Mode, wherein he could think of nothing besides doing whatever was necessary to make it better, to end her pain. In this case, it meant throwing aside every petty defense.

"Taking care of you feels like the best thing that's ever happened to me," he blurted truthfully. Another long moment passed. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

Tara took him in, her body still edged away from him. Spike waited -- would she ask again? The predicament had him almost shaking.

"I'm sorry," he repeated softly. "Old habits, really. Just that. Nothing more."

Her face relaxed, and he knew she believed him. The moment had passed, somehow. He was safe, in his deceit by omission. He felt relieved, and sick.

"See you home?"

She nodded. "Yes."

Spike realized he could see her dorm from there, a very short walk. There was little need for his presence, and he was sure she knew it, too.

Her sensitivity overwhelmed him.

Somewhere in the few moments back to her building, Tara reached to grip Spike's hand in a loose squeeze. "Tomorrow?" she asked softly.

Spike closed his eyes and swallowed hard. "Tomorow."

An hour or two later, Tara couldn't sleep.

Despite their quarrel earlier, she was now feeling euphoric that the phenomenon of Spike was going on in her life, that this person had come along to solve her problems for her - or at the very least, point her in the direction of solving them.

But it also felt frustrating, in a strangely ecstatic, frantic sort of way.

She felt floaty-happy that she'd stood up to him and that he'd listened to her, that he'd tacitly agreed to do what she needed. She didn't even care anymore that she hadn't discovered what his secret was. Against her better judgement, she had started to think she didn't want to know.

She was having a door open in her mind, feeling that perhaps something she thought was impossible wasn't.

The scare she'd felt at her feelings in the club was abating. She was accepting the things those feelings whispered.

She snaked one hand down her belly and under the elastic of her panties. She let out a wordless gasp-sigh as her fingers found their mark.

She was accepting that she wanted her savior to be more. She knew she wanted to be...everything with him. She didn't know why. Her other hand snuck under her t-shirt to pinch at a nipple. Her hips began to rock just a little, and she felt sweat break out on her upper lip.

She thought maybe it was a kind of transference, something to do with mixed up feelings of gratitude. But she couldn't seem to make the feelings go away, and they were so strong that she was starting to not care about how - after a lifetime with her brother and father - she'd closed out the idea of men almost like a reflex, decided so young never to get close to a man that way that she'd practically forgotten that it had been a conscious decision. The years of quiet fear and bitterness -- so much a part of her for so long -- seemed to mean nothing now. She was afraid at how quickly she was dropping those defenses -- it felt like she'd done it overnight -- but they didn't make any sense to her in the face of him.

The bed was starting to squeak. Her forearm was cramping. She shook it out as fast as she could and returned to the rubbing with a redoubled moan.

She knew he would assume she was strictly gay. She didn't know how to broach the subject of her attraction to him, didn't know if it was returned, maybe she was just mistaking all this concern for something more. She didn't know what to do.

She came.

Spike was in a bookstore - a normal one, not a magic shop - scanning the Poetry shelves, looking for old, beloved names. What the books he sought would contain had been reason enough to live as boldly as he could manage, way back when. Perhaps they would have continued to lead him to salvation, had he been more talented. But it didn't matter now - they had another chance, a strong possibility of finding redemption in her eyes. He was going to show her everything. He felt shaky and giddy, brave and crazy.

He wasn't at all sure he could stop himself from making a possibly-stupid move on her, when they met tonight, but he couldn't even entertain the idea of not seeing her. It felt like sleepwalking as he went about his search task - a strange, fearful, euphoric sleepwalking.

He'd found a few books that contained some of what he wanted, but not everything. Hmm - couldn't be everything they had. He looked at the row behind himself - Young Adult Fiction. Maybe the rest was around the other side.

He walked around and read the sign above the shelf, and found himself in Self-Help. Then his eyes dropped to the section's sole occupant, and he found himself in Hell.

Buffy stared at him, a book in her hands, something with the word "surviving" in the title. For a hot, awful second, he wished she'd hand it over. But the book was pink, and not written for the likes of him.

It was written about the likes of him.

Fat lot that book knew - really, who was more likely to survive this particular standoff? The authors had surely not seen Buffy's eyes.

He could see them, and in them he could tell that he'd lost everything. He'd lost any foot in the door, any "in" that would give him a chance to finagle her, smooth-talk her, infuriate her into fighting him, eventually wanting him. He'd lost the chance to even just listen to her, be the good boy and get her talking to him. Her face and eyes were as slammed shut and impenetrable as a steel bank vault door. He could feel the emotions he'd kept at bay flooding forth, his insides melting...

...and not in a good way.

Tara had changed outfits four times that evening. She'd never done that for a man before.

Oh, she'd changed her personality for one before, the one she'd known since birth, suppressed every true thing about herself to avoid punishment and gotten it anyway, but the clothes thing was new.

She giggled, feeling lightheaded. Clothes were a much better sign.

The knock at the door was obviously him. When she opened it, the stumbling wreck she found on the other side barely seemed like the vamp she knew.


He fairly fell into her dorm room, collapsing into her. She caught him in surprise, guided them both to her bed to sit.

"I've bolloxed it," he was starting to weep. "It's all my fault. I've fucked everything up and I'll never get it back..."

His voice broke completely and he began sobbing into her lap, and her bending a little to hug him, stroking his hair and the back of his neck. She murmured to him that she was here, that it was all right. She rose slightly to reach for things to make him more comfortable - Kleenexes, a blanket - but she barely succeeded; he clung to her too desperately and every time she rose he clawed her back down.

"Oh God..." he managed, barely intelligible. "'Sposed to be...takin' care of...of you..."

"Shh, it's okay. I'm fine." She was gently pushing a Kleenex into his curled fingers, running soft hands over his forehead, tenderly brushing his hair back. It felt so good, so bloody good...and Christ, it was killing him.

He knew without a doubt that she sincerely didn't think any less of him, or feel any concern for herself. He knew could stay right here in her lap as long as he wanted, her warmth curled around him for as long as he needed, and that she'd never rush him. She would wait for him to talk when he was ready. Until then she'd hold him and stroke his hair. He could feel it. Oh God...

He'd always known she was kind, but had never been the true recipient of that generosity, the object of her attention. It was so easy for her -- it was the same compassion she would have shown anyone, but for him it was a revelation. He knew he was feeling what true, unselfish loving kindness felt like, minus the kink of demonic intentions shared between. He hadn't lived long enough to feel this from a woman when he was human, and he wept harder to realize what it meant to him...

...that he himself would die before ever going without it again.

And most likely he would. Because she hadn't yet heard what he had to say. He knew what he'd done, and she didn't yet. But she would. And then he would have absolutely no one.

But he couldn't stop from saying it. He felt his heart bursting as the torrent of words sobbed out of him, revealing what he had done, all of what he had done. He told about the pain, his aching frustration, about how Buffy so stubbornly refusing to see, about his fever to open her eyes, show her what they had, show her what she'd done, take back what had been pulled cruelly and senselessly away.

He told about Buffy's injury. He told about her cries of pain which, for the first time in decades, scraped nails of hurt through him as well, but had failed to stop him. He recounted the anguish in her face and the cold in her voice once she'd finally thrown him off. His choked words conveyed the details of watching everything he'd ever hoped to be draining away from him, ungraspable as water, fury and self-hate skinning him alive as he realized that the contents of his heart meant nothing, that gravity couldn't be opposed.

He felt Tara go stiff beneath him, her knees shifting as she sat up. Her hand stilled on the back of his head.

Here it came. He didn't want to be here for it. He snuffled, quickly wiping his nose on the back of his hand. "I suppose you'll want me to go," he rasped.

Her hand moved quickly to his back, stroking again, though her pose didn't relax. "No," she said. Her tone was a mystery.

He lay still, just breathing for what seemed like ages.

He rolled backward a bit, casting a ravaged, red-rimmed eye toward her face. He expected tight lips and tensely controlled anger. He found instead...wonder.

Something was happening. "What is it, pet?"

She looked down at him as though just remembering he was there. "You surprised me. I--" She was searching for words. "I never saw that from the other side before."

The resulting realization made Spike's stomach squeeze. He wanted very much to know more, but didn't interrupt her. She was on the brink of something.

"I never realized..." she breathed. "...that the aggressor is really...really...the weaker one."

Her words were guileless and meant no rebuke. Spike saw this. Tara saw only her inner world. At the place in himself where Spike would have expected bluster and defiance, he found only blistering sorrow. His face crumpled and he dissolved into quiet sobs, turning again to bury himself in Tara's knees. She started in realization and bent to his aid, folding herself tightly over him and squeezing his back and arms everywhere she could find a handhold. "I know, baby, I know..." she whispered. "It's so's all so hard...I'm here...I'm here..."

With Spike's sobs shaking Tara atop him, together they wept as one animal.

They were slumped together on the floor, propped by the bed behind them, each a comfortable crutch for the other. Daylight was creeping back in to claim the world.

Spike's head cradled in the hollow of Tara's warm shoulder, and though the fog of his weariness seemed to weigh tons, he still knew to resist the urge to turn his face and lose himself in the comfort of her breasts. In his mind he was nuzzling one and groping another, thanking whatever royally fucked deity was out there for the moment of sanctuary. He knew to resist, but he didn't want to. He forced himself to think of something else, remembered something he'd wanted to know.



Spike paused, not wanting to bring up what he'd done even after she'd already heard it. "Something like...what I tried to do to Buffy... happened to you, didn't it?"

She was silent a moment, toying with his fingers at their place on her knee. "Something like it."

It was clearly all she would offer. Spike felt a renewed pang. "Then how the bloody hell can you forgive me?"

Tara's head shifted against Spike's, her hair making a soft shuffling noise to accompany her sigh. "It's mostly just's not my place to render sentence," she said. "I mean, you don't need me to tell you what you did was wrong. I couldn't have made you more remorseful if I'd tried. You were feeling every ounce of that weight when you came in here." Her soft fingers traced the sharp outline of one of his heavy silver rings. "That made a difference, really," she added quietly.

A moment passed between them. Tara's fingers moved onto a different ring. "Would you be willing to apologize to her?"

Spike snorted. "Bloody hell, of course! If I thought it'd do any good." He huffed out the futility of the very idea.

Tara's voice turned quietly flinty. "I don't mean just for that."

Spike quickly sobered. He pulled back a bit to look at her, and she let her eyes shift toward him, though the rest of her face didn't. "I didn't mean just to get her back," he said, though he had at the time. "Yeah, just to make things right, I would. But seriously, ducks, I don't think she'd let me to talk to her that long, much less forgive me."

Tara granted her whole face to him, accepting this. The moment was soft. Spike felt his heart and body stirring, looked away and replaced his head where it had been.

Tara's brain began turning with something. "You know, if you had the chance, your only job would be to apologize. What she did with your apology would be totally up to her."

Spike grunted. "Easier said than done." He didn't like to think of his apology bouncing off the Slayer's frosty faade, clattering impotently to the floor, lying there for her to stomp on.

"Right, I know," said Tara, warming to her topic. "But that's the way to avoid pain, you know, let go of expectation. You can take action toward the thing you want, but you have to be okay with whatever happens." Spike pulled back and frowned at her. She snuffed a little laugh through her nose. "I read it in a metaphysics book. One I thought was kind of...reassuring."

"So a bloke's supposed to want things, and try for them, but not care if he gets them."

"More like 'choose, but don't want.'"

Spike scowled harder, and felt Tara's forehead with the back of his hand. She laughed out loud. "It's just one way of looking at things," she said, her face casting downward.

Spike's face became serious. "How can a bird like you get so depressed when she already knows so many answers?"

Tara looked up and seemed to get lost in Spike a moment, a phenomenon that thrilled him but still didn't let him act. She managed a tiny smile. "Easier said than done."

Spike's face relaxed. "That it is, love," he chuckled, resettling against her. "That it is."

Tara's face drifted to the clock. Spike's followed. "Runnin' out of travelin' time, ain't I? Best be off."

"You don't have to," she offered. "You could hang out here until I'm done with class."

Spike smiled faintly. He had no way to tell her how naked he felt, how skinned, how weak he was likely to be in the face of her body and her kindness. He had to go get some of himself back. "Not that I wouldn't like to, pigeon, but I think right now...better go."

So she let him, and fussed over him before he went, getting him a blanket to use just in case the sun rose, a soft quilt that smelled of fabric softener and that he'd no sooner allow to be sullied with scorch marks than her radiant face itself.

He simply marveled at her as she went with him to the door, hugged him tightly and for almost longer than he could bear, and shyly kissed his cheek goodbye. She pulled her face away and hesitated, staring at his collarbone, then impulsively leaned close again and placed the most gentle kiss Spike had ever felt squarely on his lips. His already-open eyes grew even wider, and she took it as her cue to step away and drop her eyes, smiling shyly. Spike was glad, because his head was spinning and he felt himself hardening faster than he ever remembered doing in his whole bloody life. He was glad she wasn't pressed against him to feel it, and dying for her to be at the same time.

She made him promise to stop by later, an act which struck his wrung-out heart as both impossible and inevitable. "You're not done yet," she told him with a small twinkle in her eye that he hadn't the resources to unravel. He only knew that the potential in it shot a tingle through his groin and put into him the fear of holy God.

That evening, Spike felt stronger.

He'd gone home and slept like the dead thing he was, emptied the fridge of blood, and given himself a mental pep talk. Something about having been so vulnerable was paradoxically strengthening. He was now eager to see Tara again.

Part of him damn near wanted to ask her to marry him. He smiled to himself and shook his head ruefully, considering how he would not be exercising that option. He figured it'd be enough to just think of a way to broach the subject of that goodbye hug and kiss, and whether or not they'd meant what he'd later realized it had felt like they had.

He was no Dr. Phil or anything, but he did have instinct to spare. And he was sure that what he'd felt at least merited a question. If he was wrong, so be it. But there was one other thing he'd felt, which gave him the impetus to go see her, and ask.

Even if she didn't feel the same, he was now sure he wouldn't lose her.

Their relationship had crossed a border, and it had changed everything.

He got to the Espresso Pump, and looked around for Tara. The place was a little crowded, and it took a minute to make his way to the table where she said she'd be waiting.

When he found the table, Buffy was sitting there.

Their eyes met in a replay of the previous night. He was not at all sure he could take this. He tried to make it quick.

"Sorry to pop in on you like this," he muttered. "Lookin' for Tara."

Buffy raised an eyebrow and glared at him for a moment, then evidently decided to drop it. She turned her attention to primly folding the cell phone in front of her. "Strangely, I was too," she said tersely. "Supposed to meet her here, but she just called to say she couldn't make it." She rose quickly and tossed her bag over her shoulder. "I was just leaving," she declared unnecessarily.

Spike saw the strings being pulled, but begrudged Tara none of it - he just seized the opportunity he'd been given.

As Buffy moved to exit, he stopped her with a gentle hand. Buffy shot him a warning glare. Spike took a breath, and shot back from the heart.

"I got a lot of things to be sorry for," he said simply. "Got an eternity's worth of souls alive and dead who'd love to have my arse on a plate and would deserve it. I don't feel bad about them, I admit it, I still don't feel them." She tightened her arm and tried to pull away, but he kept a gentle hold. "But for what I did to whole world is soaked in sorry. Probably always will be."

He thought he saw the tiniest bit of softening in her, along with the surprise, but didn't stop to confirm it as he released her arm, turned on his heel and left.

Tara sat on a small blanket up in the hills surrounding Sunnydale, overlooking the town in a scenic spot just off a stretch of mountain road. The grass was brown this time of year, so she'd had to clear quite a bit away in order to perform tonight's ritual safely. Wouldn't do to start a ceremonial fire to purify one's soul and end up ringing in the start of brush fire season.

There were herbs and a crystal to be used for this particular spell, and a significant artifact of her choosing. Thus, her father's little wooden box sat before her, looking small and forlorn in the fine, beige dirt of the wide cleared area.

With whispered words, she conjured a beam of energy that seemed to shoot out of her chest and into the box, then out the other side of the box and into the dark.

She intoned the words carefully, almost lovingly, savoring their significance, the relief they were already bringing. She got to the final syllables -- renovare, reparare, liberare - and her eyes snapped open and looked out clearly as the beam emerging from her heart dissolved. The rest of the energy swirled momentarily into the form of a hand, one that grasped vainly in her direction. A vague, ghostly form appeared as the owner of the hand. Though his form was indefinite, the fearful look in his eyes still carried. Tara wondered what her father was actually feeling just now. Probably no less than she was.

The hand flailed. The fear in the ghost's eyes became panic. The hand was withering, growing fainter. "Go with love," mouthed Tara, eyes beginning to brim over. The words were not required by the spell.

The specter and all the attendant light disappeared. The box burst into raucous flame and Tara burst into raucous, sudden laughter.

When the box had burned completely and even the smallest embers were out, she stood up and walked down the road a few hundred yards. There she strode out onto a bridge that spanned a small, deep open area.

She clasped a dried bouquet of some sort and murmured some more incantations, and sparkles of magic began to swirl around her body, coalescing down around her ankles, clasping her long skirt to her legs. Laughter still hung around her, bubbling out in small quiet giggles.

She seemed absolutely giddy with whatever was about to transpire.


Spike navigated the DeSoto up the fire road, cursing the lack of signage. He'd never been to this Lookout Point place before, and the snaking, badly-marked roads had him buggered. Bloody typical that on a night when he was this impatient to find someone, she'd have relocated to the arse end of nowhere.

Spke had chanced a phone call back to Buffy, just to find out if Tara had mentioned anywhere she might be just then. Buffy had been polite with the information and the directions, even making a small joke about having to give directions out to the boondocks twice in one lifetime. Spike had expected to have to fight the impulse to take the conversation further, to find out if his apology had changed anything in her. But the amazing thing was, it didn't really happen. All he'd wanted was to know where Tara was, so he could share his triumph. Maybe he just didn't want to ruin things by pushing -- because it would leave him without good news to tell the Witch.

His Witch.

Bloody hell, he grinned, had no idea whether or not that was true. He still didn't actually know if she felt even the slightest attraction to him. Was he out of his bleedin' mind now?

He laughed out loud. If so, good riddance. Maybe his mind had been the problem all along - maybe a mind was only half of what a person needed, and no one's worked proper until it was matched up with the complimentary mind of another.

A few moments later he slammed on the brake and worked to throw the car in reverse. Through a break in the trees he'd seen Tara in the distance, standing on a bridge that he would have come to if he'd taken the last right, just a few hundred yards earlier.

While he was mostly just glad to have found her, her current location sat strangely with him.


Spike pulled up into the wide turnout near the bridge, just in time to see Tara climbing over its railing and standing on the lip of it, arms out and face upturned to the sky.

He felt the world grind suddenly into slow-motion, and the cold fear grabbed him by the bollocks.

'No' was the only word for it. Screamed by every member of the dammed, of whose number he was suddenly one.

He was running, and yelling something, but he couldn't hear himself and what kind of universe would let her do this actually GO THROUGH WITH IT after ALL THAT'S HAPPENED and I'm not enough won't get there in time never enough CHRIST IF YOU LET HER DIE WHEN I GO I WILL CRAWL OUT OF HELL AND END YOU PERSONALLY YOU SODDING USELESS EXCUSE FOR A GOD...

He was suffocating on his own screams and she was tipping and falling gracefully out of sight.

He was failing to notice the magical sparkles trailing in her wake.

He got to the space Tara had just vacated and looked down, wild-eyed, unable to turn away...and then the "trail" of magic suddenly snapped into a tight line and Tara was reversing her trajectory, bouncing back up toward him, the trail curling like a spring. She fell again and he could hear her laughing as the trail pulled tight again, bouncing her gently before she started to swing at its end.

Spike felt like vomiting as the hope choked back into his lungs and his heart. He gaped down again at her, watched her drifting back and forth like the watch at the end of a hypnotist's chain.

He held his head tightly with both hands, as if to keep it in place. "Fuckin' Wicca bungee jumping??"

His answer was her merry laugh echoing through the night air.

Spike didn't want to scold her after the way she looked, after she'd done some crazy Wicca thing to bring herself back up and was blinking at him in surprise. Her face was more than rosy, more than glowing.

It was transformed.

He knew she obviously hadn't expected him, wouldn't have scared him like that if she'd known he was going to be there. Yes, she had fooled him about her whereabouts and left him with nothing else to do but go hunting, but apparently she hadn't thought about that. He didn't want to spoil either of their moments.

Fuckin' hell, was it hard.

He was still trembling, standing in the turnout. As she walked up to him she could sense his mood, and her face turned ruefully apologetic. When she put her hands contritely on his cheeks, they were warm, and made him feel better instantly.

She searched his face. "I'm--"

He shook his head, cutting her off. No need to go there, now that she was touching him.

Her smile bloomed again. "I was taking care of some business. I...had a little funeral for something."

Spike nodded, surprised to find a little anger blurting out. "Coulda been for you if your little mojo there hadn't worked."

Tara warned him gently with her eyes - were they talking about this or not? Spike blew out air through his nose - no, he was back to okay.

"I was also..." She glanced back at the bridge, searching for the right words. "... giving myself over to the Universe. To whatever the future holds."

Spike nodded, remembering how to smile faintly himself. This sounded more promising. He found himself riveted by something in her eyes.

That twinkle was back.


Tara's heart began to pound in her chest. She was sure he could tell, too - a vampire could surely hear. She wished she could conceal her fear, but then, it was about not pretending, from here on in.

What she wanted to happen next would be the most important event of her little night of rituals. It would be the most natural, the only one that was magic-free, and yet somehow, ironically, the scariest yet.

What did she do now? How did she start this? She hadn't planned it to be here, but suddenly she didn't feel like hesitating. She'd always heard that with men it took little to no encouragement, which sounded so different from women, but then...maybe not.

He was staring at her, at nothing but her. That tickle-buzz of his attention was all over her...

...throbbing between her legs.

He could probably sense that, too, she thought, which somehow made it better/worse.

She decided she'd just go with where that feeling led.


"Spike..." /OhGoddesshelpme.../

"Yes, pet?" /She's moving closer.../

"I...need your help with something." /Am I making a fool of myself?/

"Anything." /Anything./

"I...I don't know if you'll believe this..." /The way he's looking at me...oh./

"Try me." /Literally./

"It's something I...I can't myself..." / My hand is on his chest. My hand is on his chest!/

"Uh huh." /Her bloody hand is on my chest. I can't be wrong.../

"And...I only want to...with..." /Forgetting how to talk, now. Hands in my hair...oh Goddess...oh God.../

"Nnhhhmm..." /Pull her in, she's not stopping me God I'm not wrong I'm not wrong I'm not wrong.../

Tara mentally went over her first discoveries: men's lips were soft, too. Their faces had stubble, like soft sandpaper, and felt good, in a new way. They tasted kind of the same, except for the cigarettes - first time for that. And Spike's mouth wasn't warm, but it felt alive, and his tongue and lips were nimbly pulling her apart by the nerve endings.

Spike discovered how gentle a kiss could be and still drive him mad. He discovered that both his hands could nearly span her head as they threaded through silky hair and pulled her closer. He discovered how unbelievably bloody soft her breasts were against his chest as she accepted his pulling and added her own pressing.

Impetuously, he wrapped his arms around and pulled her in so tight he had to be careful of crushing her.

Tara's pressed her nose against the cool skin of Spike's neck and let her brain race. Men didn't yield like women when you embraced them - Spike felt like stone, everywhere. They also came with, um, extra parts, she thought as she dissected all the feelings tearing through her and centered on what was pressed against her lower belly.

Her mind reeled. She'd done that to him. This was the real thing, s-e-x like most people did it. Her stomach was torturing her with awful, delicious flip-flops. She couldn't believe he wanted her, he so wanted her...

...more than wanted her.

She could feel it in his near-strangling embrace. She was being handed his heart, all of it. Her blood ran cold a moment - this couldn't just be her little experiment. All this power and strength was now at her disposal, and if hurt, all this power could turn very, very ugly...

The fear began slowly ramping up, until he pulled her back to kiss her again.

His mouth roamed hers with a tender, unbearable reverence. His fingers were dancing almost nervously along her cheeks and she wasn't sure but she thought she heard a tiny sob. She opened her eyes to see the rogue tears escaping down his sharp, pale cheeks. His face was contorted in bliss, and breathtaking gratitude.

She let the fear run through till it was arousal, and trust. It didn't matter.

She jumped off the bridge in her heart.

Spike relished the feel, the idea that it was her hands roaming his back, his sides, running up to hold onto his shoulders. His own hands drifted down to brush over a full breast with a small, tight nipple. She groaned in surprise and pleasure, and Spike wished he could just crawl inside her completely, somehow.

Oh, God! Spike was touching her breasts, caressing and flicking and brushing and it was a much better thing than she'd ever figured on, somehow. He pressed into her so hard that she couldn't keep in one place, and soon felt her rear end bump into the hood of his car.

Spike hitched her up onto the car's bonnet and let her drape back. He applied both hands to her breasts now, and was rewarded with the sound of her moans and the sight of her eyes growing heavy and her mouth falling open. God, she was splayed out beneath him, face glowing yet eyes drugged, her already-full lips drunk on his kisses. She was writhing, responding so honestly. /Can't go too fast, mate, she can't be used to this, don't scare her off.../

Tara impetuously wrapped her legs around his waist and pulled him in closer. The resulting grind of her pelvis into his made her cry out, and only added to the yell that ripped from his own throat.

Well, then.

Tara was becoming increasingly aware of what all the shouting was about, the potential at least, this boy-and-girl thing. She tentatively placed her hand between them, seeking out the bulge in his jeans and rubbing it. Spike grabbed her hand and pressed it three times harder.

Well, then.

She didn't recognize what possessed her as she sat up and let her hand travel to his jeans' button, opening it first and then his fly. She felt hypnotized, moved by remote control, and her heart beat so fast that for a ridiculous second she actually feared for her own health. She laughed, nervous and soft, and so did he, his eyes locked on hers, searching, so intense. It comforted her and made everything worse at the same time.

She couldn't stop shaking. /It's okay, he knows I'm not experienced, he knows.../ She kissed him for reassurance, freely given, tentatively slipping her hand inside the fly of a pair of very worn boxers... /ohGodohGodhere goes.../

Spike wasn't recognizing his own life. Oh, it had looked pretty familiar up to the point of the girl falling off the bridge, but everything after that was a complete derailment of his usual train of events.

The girl didn't usually bounce back up, and into his arms.

He hissed and jerked hard into her hand - Oh fuck she was touching him, pulling him out. He was shaking with need, held back by concern. He wanted to be the kind of bloke who'd stop and take her home and continue there where it was proper...but it was so delicious, so gentle, so obviously new to her, so brave of her...

So. goddamn. good.

She was looking down to watch what she was doing, then back up, reading his face with her large eyes and a childlike openness that made him kiss her fiercely until her hands' movements made him gasp.

Tara nervously deduced by Spike's reactions that she couldn't be far off the mark. She squirmed against her seat on the car's hood, reeling at the stabbing bolts of pleasure his reactions were sending to her crotch. Her mouth was mashing to his as she trailed her hand down her leg to reach under her rucked-up skirt...and met Spike's hand on the way, obviously with the same intention.

Her eyes opened half-way and she breathed into his mouth as he reached up her leg, into her panties. His fingers slid between her wet lips and unerringly found her clit, her opening. "Oh...!" She fairly jumped off the hood. He grinned like he had that night in the junkyard, and she laugh-moaned against his lips as his fingers kept moving.

His fingers kept moving, and so did her hands. Foreheads leaned together, eyes closed. Both their chests kept heaving and moans escaping. Their bodies hummed through a long moment of hot, desperate sensation and escalating need.

Tara felt the jerk of thwarted momentum as Spike suddenly grabbed her hand to stop it. She opened her eyes a little fearfully, but shouldn't have worried - his look was so enflamed and needful she missed a breath.

"Not here," he gasped. "Not for you. Somewhere nice, with a bed..."

"Okay," she gasped back. She lay back against the hood and laughed. "Next time."

He looked at her pleadingly - he was trying here. Tara opened her eyes again, and Spike swore he could actually see her swinging from her former magic bungee in their sloe-eyed, luminous depths.

She grinned at him, soft and playful. "Go with it, Spike. I'm having a breakthrough here."

He was no match for it. It was the affection in her smile that convinced him...and made hope catch in his chest.

No thinking then, with the shuffle of both their fabric moving aside and down, and Spike's erection springing free of his lowered pants, so pale and straining, and him close on top of her, and she loved the closeness and then scooting into place so awkward and funny and not wanting to hurt her and whispering don't worry - Willow and I, we...just trust me and of course he did, still awestruck that she did though the thrill wasn't soft anymore, it was urgent and hard like the pushing into her, like with the thing with Willow only it was better, hot and hard/yielding and indescribable, touching so many good places and squeezing and fuck she was molten inside, and he couldn't believe he was there and she was letting him and he felt like his whole life had been worthwhile if it only meant her and him and now and he was gentle and fierce at the same time and it thrilled her and made her impatient, working on how to come in this new arrangement and the squirm and the squeeze was his undoing, sending him crashing and the look on his face, defenses utterly gone with the astonishment and release and she'd have to call it love, was the best thing of all, a clench in her heart as good as getting there herself.

He collapsed over her, breathing like a finished runner - out of habit, she supposed. Her hands went around him with a protectiveness she'd never imagined she'd see he needed, and she smiled with the dearness of him.

He rose up, looking at her like a little boy, wondering if she accepted his secret. She couldn't wait to show him how much she did.

"Owe you one," he breathed, a little sheepish.

She stroked his face and watched him smile, feeling the magic sparkles catching her again, buoying her, keeping her safe from the bottom.

They both marveled at learning the meaning of the world "content".

"I'm not worried."

Later -- someplace nice, with a bed -- Spike had his way.

Finally getting to see her body bare, and touch it any way he wanted, any place he wanted, showering her with proper homage, losing his fingertips in those ample breasts and tracing the slope of every other curve. Paying her back for her sweet charity with her first time, oh my love you will be rewarded dearly for your courage...

When she could form thoughts, Tara could not conceive that a man could be this good at cunnilingus. She just didn't know how he'd know, except that he did pay such attention to her every response and well, 100 years of practice and vampire senses and oh God she was climbing again and there there THERE hold onto that sensation clench down tight around it and his fingers and don't stop don't stop don't STOP UNNNNHHH...

Sweet wash of hormones through every molecule. Rumble of a chuckle against her thigh and the scrape of stubble as he turned to kiss it. Oh, Goddess be praised.

He grinned all wicked as he came up to kiss her, not wiping his mouth and her eyes flew open to meet his challenge and grin back to his unspoken question, yes she was indeed used to that taste. Though preferably not from herself.

/Bastard./ Her own smile went crooked too. / In a good way./

The moment made her thoughts wander along with the gentle sweep of his hands. /Should I be missing her?/ she asked herself suddenly. /Am I wrong to be happy? Should I be preparing for something awful if she comes back?/

She watched him. His eyes caressed every bit as much as his hands. They found her face and she suddenly realized she'd gotten her wish, to drown in his attention.

She smiled. He didn't seem to be running out.

/Love her already,/ he was thinking. /Don't know when I'll be able to tell her, but.../ The situation was already ten times better than the last time he'd given his heart. It suddenly seemed so simple to him why it had not worked. This was when it did. This had been the goal all along, but he simply hadn't known what it would look like.

Her hands drifted down his ribs, over his hips to his ass. She squeezed mischievously, shifting her swollen, drenched pussy to rub against his cock. He closed his eyes and exhaled with the abrupt feel of it.

"I want to try it again," she purred. A vixen already.

"Anything you ask for," he breathed. The scoundrel in his eyes again. "'Specially when you ask for that."

Without warning, he rolled them over to place her on top. He smirked. /New skill to learn, love,/ he said with his waggling eyebrows. She cocked her own eyebrow back, processed her new location with a little chuckle, then rose up on her knees, experimentally reaching down to join them. He helped, enormously endeared by her inexperience, or rather, her openness with it.

She was about to sink down, when she stopped. Her eyes found him and melted a bit, and the question blurted out of her.

"Am I supposed to love you already?"

Bloody hell. Gobsmacked again. And racing with every emotion he could name.

He flailed for the best way not to scare her. He smiled ruefully, running his hands up her forearms. "Dunno. Not exactly the bloke to ask."

She might have been scared, if not for the sheer adoration on his face.

She sank down on him slowly, with a tiny whimper. Spike squeezed his eyes shut and vowed to make up for the terrible things he'd said to God earlier.

She leaned over him, smiling. "Why aren't you the one to ask?"

" the same boat," he breathed. He opened his eyes, and found her eyes glowing softly at him. His smile widened. "Got the same ailment. Not impartial. Besides, I got a...bad track record."

She shrugged. "I do too, sort of."

"Been followin' me round. Wish I could have it - what's the word? - expunged."

She nodded and smiled, then leaned down to kiss him. She tried an experimental move, and they both gasped and laughed softly.

"Consider it done," she said.

But that wasn't the truth, of course.

Neither of them was done.


Final author's note:

You wouldn't know it to read me, but I am the self-recognized Fag Hag Queen of Los Angeles. Therefore, I have approximately one bazillion close gay friends (of both genders), a half a bazillion close bisexual friends (one of whom I even made out with once - not telling which gender :-P) , and a much smaller group of friends who fall into a gray area. These are people whose sexuality seemed to be at a turning point at some time in their lives, and was eventually tipped in one direction or another by a defining event, usually a traumatic or abusive one.

I took Tara's emotional situation in this story - obliquely referred to as it is - from the experience of a woman friend of mine, who was with another woman for eight years but eventually found herself wanting to be with a man, despite previous, strongly forged notions about them. She's now is married to a lovely specimen of the gender. She's probably bi, but she didn't have a choice in her own mind when she started out dating.

This is all to say that I was in no way trying to make the point that abuse makes people gay. It doesn't. Gay is gay and straight is straight...and, uh, bi is bi, which is kind of the point. Sexuality, in my experience, is a lot more liquid and elusive to definition than it makes us comfortable to think.

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