All About Spike - Print Version
Quick and Bitter, Slow and Sweet
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By Miss Murchison
PG-13 for this part, R overall.
All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy,
etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
Notes: Someone asked
me for Spike/Tara. At first I couldn't see my way to writing it,
then I sent her a brief fic that I never intended to post about
Tara and unsouled, vamp Spike as an established couple. But my
imagination kept worrying at the problem of how those two got
together--and another friend who read the story wanted to know as
well. Here's a Spike/Tara romance, in which they are assisted by
an unlikely, sneaky, and frequently whiny Cupid. The story is
complete, with an epilogue coming very soon.
Also, I was having a problem with
Spike's POV, so although this is set in late Season 6 BtVS, I used a
thought that struck me while watching Season 5 of AtS. It seemed
to me that Spike was suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder and
that for some strange reason, none of the other characters noticed.
I don't know if anyone else has written MPD Spike, but here goes . . and
trust me, it's not as goofy as it sounds!
This starts sometime after
"Normal Again" and partway through "Entropy," but the timeline is
scrambled as the story starts to go AU. Tara has been
interrupted on her way to see Willow. And she is in time to
interrupt someone else, who is on his way to perform a different
Vampires were hybrids; Spike knew that. So he assumed it was normal,
more or less, to have warring voices constantly battling in his
brain. But he suspected that in his case there was something extra
that didn't belong there. Something that didn't belong even in
something as fundamentally wrong and contrary to nature as a vampire.
demon's presence he understood. That monster made him what he was,
let him walk and talk and fight like a simulacrum of a man when he
should have rotted to dust over a century before. The demon was the
easiest part of himself to understand, if not always the easiest to
fool was understandable too. A brief, painful effort of memory was
all that was needed to tell Spike where the fool had come from.
Bloody useless William had been the fool incarnate.
the poet that confused him. The poet should have been a part of the
fool, should have shared that idiot's babblings, and most certainly
should have let himself be hushed by the demon. Because it was right
and proper that the demon should always have the last word. If not,
what was the point in being a sodding creature of the night?
there's a question to ponder, asked the poet. What is
the point of being evil? Or of doing good, for that matter? We've
done both, so we have a basis for discussion.
said the demon, that's not the right question. The question
to ponder is where did a silly ass like you come from in the first
I'm the silly ass,
said the fool, and what I want is for the two of you to stop the
damned philosophical debate and find a way to make all of us
Don't want much, do you?
sneered the demon.
We're in love. It's supposed to hurt, said the even less helpful
what do you expect I could do anyway? added the demon to the fool.
much, said the poet. You're the cause of most of our problems,
just how did you reach that brilliant conclusion?
Not even the demon liked being blamed for everything.
know the answer to that,
said the fool. You're the part of us that Buffy hates.
Bugger that, said the demon. The Slayer would never have
looked at you lot if I weren't about. Likes the monster, she does,
even though she won't admit it. Face it, mates, our precious little
Buffy is even more fucked up than we are.
Impossible, said the poet
sadly. Although her confusion and sadness pierces me to the depths
of our unbeating heart. It pains me as much as or more than her
rejection of us.
Just the mawkish nonsense I'd expect from a wanker like you,
mocked the demon. If she wasn't so fucked up, she'd never have
shagged us, so I say it's an ill wind that blew us . . .
Shut up, interrupted the
poet. Saying things like that helped drive her away. If you could
only have realized that and held your tongue . . .
Wasn't me, said the
demon. It was the fool, with his bright idea to get money for her,
but not bothering to ask if those eggs were dangerous.
my job to be clever,
muttered the fool. One of you two should have thought it through,
but all I remember hearing from you bright chaps was that it would be
fun, and that we had to rescue the lady . . .
rattled on, constantly and uselessly.
Buffy for most of his problems, but he couldn't blame her for the
poet. That third voice had become more vocal these past few years,
but it had always been there, whispering at inconvenient moments,
making him fuck up one evil plan after another in ways the fool never
through the cemetery, resisting the impulse to bash his brains against
one of the monuments until all three voices were silenced together.
He'd just wake up eventually in physical as well as psychic pain. He
needed a better solution. A permanent solution.
could only think of one place where he might find it. Only one place
that was open to him, that was. There were other places, but he
wasn't welcome there.
reached the sidewalk and was heading for downtown Sunnydale when he
sensed a familiar presence. He hesitated, but she wasn't anyone he
wanted to talk to just then—or ever, now that he let himself think
about her for a moment. It wasn't that he disliked her particularly,
although her surprisingly sharp tongue had needled him mercilessly the
last time they'd met. She just wasn't someone he bothered thinking
about at all. He was turning away, setting a course for his original
destination of the Magic Box, when she called his name.
"Spike?" Tara heard the question in her own voice. It wasn't that
she didn't recognize him—there weren't many people around who could be
confused with Spike, after all. The hesitation in her tone reflected
her own doubts about speaking to him.
wasn't afraid of him, of course. But she was in a hurry, and she
hadn't really thought this encounter through. She'd been on her way
to Buffy's when she saw him leaving the cemetery grounds, and it had
occurred to her that she could ask him for help. Halfway through
calling his name, she'd remembered that the last time they'd been in
the same house for an extended period, she'd made a point of giving
him a hard time whenever he'd tried to embarrass Buffy.
least he didn't look angry with her. On the other hand, he looked as
if he could barely remember who she was.
to meet his distracted gaze, she fumbled for words. "Something's gone
wrong," she explained at last. Well, Tara, that was lame.
"There's a shocker," he said, confirming the lameness. But he reached
out a hand to steady her. His touch was surprisingly gentle as he led
her away from the sidewalk and the glow of the streetlamp. They
walked into the cemetery and over to a low monument. She sank down on
it gratefully, suddenly realizing how fast she'd been running and how
out of breath she was. Spike sat down next to her, his expression
unreadable in the darkness.
gulped down more oxygen and tried to explain as quickly as she could
without leaving out any important facts. "This friend of mine—she's
kind of a witch, but she doesn't know many spells yet—she said she saw
something scary out by that park just past the old high school. She
didn't want to admit it, but I'm sure she made it happen, because she
and this other guy, who's kind of a warlock, were asking me yesterday
about portals and stuff. I think they were trying to find a way to
stretch time, on account of it being midterm and there being lots of
papers due and exams coming up, so—"
it's spells gone wrong time again?" asked Spike. "And I'm betting
they pissed themselves, turned tail, and ran as soon as they knew
they'd bitten off something that was likely to bite them back."
think so too," said Tara. "It was their first real brush with
something this bad. Coherent isn't the way I'd describe them." She
fumbled in her pocket and displayed a piece of paper. "Danae gave me
the spell she found, and I'm sure I know how to reverse it. But I'm
worried about the Scheite."
what Danae said, I think one was released."
"One of what,
She was mildly surprised he didn't already know. She had the
impression his demon-knowledge was encyclopedic, but now that she
thought about it Scheites weren't just rare, they were from a
metaphysical plane much removed from vampires and other more mundane
demons. If demons could ever be said to be mundane.
an explanation. "A Scheite is a pan-dimensional manifestation of the
demonic energy that was released when Danae and Jess created a crack
in the temporal matrix. And it really can bite. And do worse
course it can," he said dryly. "What with that demonic energy and
all. Well, what do you expect me to do, pet? This is Sunnydale.
laughed, but quickly became serious again. "Spike, it's probably
still hanging out by the portal now, drawing energy from its dimension
of origin, but it will be raising hell all over town by morning if
something isn't done right away."
"Okay," he said in his most annoying drawl. "Any clue what that
should be? A pan-dimensional being, you said? Doesn't sound like
something you can stake or stab."
"Actually, it is," she said in a rush. She stopped, took another deep
breath, and tried to state her conclusions calmly. She was trying not
to seem insecure in her opinions, but it was hard, especially with
someone like Spike who could be so sarcastic and biting. You know
this, Tara, she told herself. Just take your time and explain
to him. He's annoying, but not stupid. He'll get it.
"Scheites are the physical manifestation of the demon in this
reality. Which means they adhere to some of our physical laws, and
can be fought—at least at first."
"That's good," he said.
"What's bad is they can fight back," she said. "And I'm not good at
the bam-bam-pow stuff." She mimicked throwing a few punches, but
realized when he gave an amused bark of laughter that she had done so
very awkwardly. Embarrassed, she dropped her hands back into her
lap. "I was going to Buffy's to see if there was anyone there who
could fight this thing while I close the portal. But I'm not sure
there's even anyone at the house, and I'm kind of in a hurry.
Besides—" She stopped.
didn't ask besides what? Spike knew that the residents of 1630
Revello Drive were still trying to recover emotionally from the last
demon attack, which had left Buffy so confused she'd tried to kill her
friends and her sister. Tara knew that was something she didn't need
to spell out to him.
you could just hold the Scheite back while I do a spell . . . " said
Tara, her hopeful tone trailing off. She didn't know why she should
feel so strange asking Spike for help. The Scoobies had done it all
the time the summer Buffy had been gone. Of course, things had
changed a lot since then. Tara knew that Spike and Buffy had become,
well, intimate, and she thought that would make him anxious both to
help and to spare Buffy pain. But suddenly she was her old insecure
self, out of her depth and not knowing if she'd said something
terribly wrong. She looked down at her hands.
silent for a long time before muttering, "She bloody well
doesn't need more to worry about. But neither do we." He seemed to
be talking to himself, and Tara didn't know how to respond. A moment
later he said, in a louder voice, "I'll do it, but on one condition."
looked up at him suspiciously, but couldn't make out his features.
"What?" she demanded suspiciously. Tara might be naïve about some
things, but she knew better than to promise Spike anything before
finding out exactly what she was getting herself into.
"Afterwards, you make me forget Buffy."
"What?" Tara gasped in astonishment. "Why?"
"Why?" She was astonished at the anguish she heard in his voice.
"Because I can't keep on like I am. It's all wrong—I'm all wrong. I
know that. I need something to make this stop."
what stop?" she asked, although she was sure she knew. When he didn't
respond, she said reluctantly, "Loving Buffy?"
course. That's my disease, isn't it? Caring about her."
wouldn't call it a disease, Spike. I've seen it change you. And—you
did a lot of good things because of it."
tone became even more vehement. "But, see, that's what's all wrong.
Because I shouldn't. I'm a vampire. I shouldn't be like
this. I shouldn't care about these things, and I bloody well
shouldn't be tearing myself up inside because I'm not good enough to
instinct was to reassure, although she wasn't sure how to manage that
with a demon agonizing over his desire to do good. "Maybe that's not
true. You've changed a lot, Spike. I've seen it. Maybe you can
become what she needs. Because she needs something or someone." She
said that in all sincerity. Tara had spent a lot of time worrying
about Buffy these past few months.
know. She's only half-alive, and it kills me all over again to see
it. But I can't fix her, Tara. I've tried. But I'll never be good
enough. She's made that clear. Walked away from me. Won't use me
for anything at all any more—not even a sex toy." He paused, as if
waiting for a response. When she made none, he said, "You knew,
didn't you? That she and I were shagging like minks?"
told me," admitted Tara. "Not in those words." Actually, Buffy's
description had been more disturbing than his. "But she told me."
"Thought so. Thought so when you kept snarking at me during her
birthday party. Knew it just now when you didn't scream at the
notion." There was bitterness in his voice now along with the pain.
"Already had your chance to squeal in horror when Buffy spilled her
girlish confidences. Makes it a bit easier on me."
"Actually," said Tara slowly, "I told Buffy it was okay."
felt him move next to her in the darkness and sensed his gaze on her
face. She remembered that he could see much more clearly than she
could, and flushed. "I told her it was okay," she reiterated
bravely. "I said it was okay if she loved you."
she doesn't think it's okay," he said. "It's not all right
with our Buffy. And, now I've had her, I can't let go of the thought
of her. It's worse than when she was dead. She's with me, every
second, even when I'm alone, and all I can think about is that I'll
never really have her. Because I'm just a dead thing. No good in me
anywhere, she said, and it's the truth. Hard thing to fight, the
you've done a lot of good," said Tara again, deciding not to mention
she'd pointed this out to Buffy as well. She took a deep breath.
"Spike, I'd like to help you. But there's just no way I'll do a
forgetting spell. Not for you. Not for anyone. Maybe I can help,
but not that way."
silent for a long time, and she knew they were both remembering a long
night without memories followed by a dawn of grief and partings.
"Something else, then," he said at last. "You'll work it out. You're
the clever girl. Willow's all flash and sparkle, but you're the one
who thinks things through."
Finally, he had said something that did shock her. "Oh, no. Willow
is able to do the most amazing things, things I'd never even dare
because you've too much sense," he spat out. "One of the reasons I'm
asking you and not her. You've done a couple of foolish things—that
spell to hide demons when you thought you were one, and backing Red
when she decided to bring back the Slayer for another. But you learn
from your mistakes. I don't think you'll solve my problems by
accidentally turning me into a toad."
promised Tara hurriedly. "I won't do that. But—Spike, I don't know
just yet what I can do. I'll need to research, think about
it. It may take a while." She added firmly, "but the Scheite needs
to be taken care of right now. So I need to know if you'll help me.
If you'll take my word for it that I'll try to help you later."
was surprise in his voice when he said, "Never occurred to me not to
trust you, pet." He stood up. "All right then, where is this bugger
you want me to fight?"
turned out to be buggers. Plural. As in four or five Scheites. They
were hard to count because they were not entirely corporeal,
which was something else Tara hadn't expected. And something that
caused Spike to curse long and loudly.
didn't abandon her, though. He waded into the crowd of
not-quite-transparent things, trying to avoid their long claws and
sharp teeth, waving the axe he'd gotten from his crypt and snarling
with his fangs bared. The Scheites fought back, hissing and biting,
their long blue tails waving over their heads as they darted in,
ignoring Tara as they concentrated on attacking him.
gasped as a Scheite's claws raked the side of Spike's head, drawing
blood and even louder curses from him, but the vampire lashed back
with his weapon and was soon holding the other demons at bay. He
spared a glance for Tara as his axe crashed into a wavering body,
causing no permanent damage that she could observe, but making the
thing howl with pain and draw back.
witch, do your bloody spell!" he called. "I don't fancy being at this
nodded and turned towards the garish orange-red vortex that swirled
over a picnic table. It wasn't a happy pan-dimensional rift—it was
emitting raucous blasts that sounded like cries of pain.
some text books and a backpack lying near the table—apparently Danae
and Jess hadn't taken all their belongings with them when they fled
the scene of their crime. Ducking her head and beginning to mutter
under her breath, Tara prepared to undo the damage they'd caused.
counterspell would create a magical patch that would close that space,
like threads darning a hole in a sock. If she could weave her charm
fast enough. She dropped into a light trance, her lips moving
rapidly. Slowly, the mystical energy she generated began to form
itself into the warp and woof of the solution she had chosen.
her chant, a shout penetrated Tara's consciousness. She glanced at
Spike and blinked in astonishment. With the words of her counterspell
creating protoplasmic eddies around her, she could see the Scheites
more clearly. Their shapes were similar to creatures from this plane,
but—"Spike!" she called out urgently.
couldn't hear her. There was too much noise, from the vortex beside
her and from the Scheites' howling. Spike! she called again,
using her mind to reach his.
staggered back, but recovered quickly as he lashed out at two swirling
shapes. Balls, he thought back. I thought only Red could
Willow taught me. Spike, go for their tails.
Tails? his mind demanded incredulously.
Tails, she repeated firmly, trying to hold onto the threads of her
counterspell even as she directed the information to him. Look.
showed him what she was seeing—that the Scheites were drawing their
energy from the vortex, and the tails, so useless in the corporeal
world, were actually the conduits for their strength—
got the message immediately. The sound of Scheites' pained screaming
echoed in Tara's ears as she finished weaving the counterspell and
drawing the vortex almost closed. Its mouth narrowed, first to the
size of a human, then to a shape like a small dog, then to a space
even a cat would have trouble squeezing through.
just yet, pet.
gulped to hear Spike's voice in her mind. She hadn't realized the
channel she'd opened to him was still clear. But a moment later, she
knew why he'd asked her to pause. A Scheite flew by her, dragged back
into the vortex like a thread drawn by a needle. The creature thinned
and stretched out, becoming fully transparent as it was swallowed,
screaming, by the swirling mass beyond the opening. Two or three more
demons followed so quickly Tara could not be sure of their numbers.
Just. One. More.
turned and saw Spike, axe raised above his head, blood running down
his face and across his chest, aim for the last squirming, hissing
Scheite. The creature backed away from him and slid towards the
vortex, spreading its thinning claws.
impossibly long arm raked towards Tara as the Scheite went by, and she
cringed away from it.
Spike's axe rose and fell. The Scheite wailed, abandoned its attack
on Tara, and fled into the hole.
that bloody door!" howled Spike, and Tara, crouched on the ground at
his feet, muttered the final words of the counterspell. As if pulled
closed by the final stitch of a needle, the vortex blinked out of
gone," she whispered, staring up into Spike's yellow eyes. "They're
stared back down at her, fangs bared, covered in blood, his axe still
upraised threateningly. Then his pose wavered, and his eyes dulled
from gleaming amber to fading blue sparks.
was bloody brilliant," he said as he dropped the axe and collapsed at
helped him back to his crypt, surprised at first that he consented to
lean on her strength during the trip, his arm thrown over her
shoulders as he staggered along. She had never been in such prolonged
physical contact with him before, but his scent—mostly cigarette smoke
and old leather—was familiar, and he wasn't leaning on her enough to
make his weight overwhelming. After the initial shock of touching
him, she didn't mind helping him at all. But she was surprised that
he was so exhausted from this battle, when she'd seen him smiling and
energetic after far worse encounters.
Slowly, she became aware of the faint light streaking the eastern
sky. She realized that there must have been a lot of temporal
distortion coming from the portal; it was almost dawn already. No
wonder Spike was so tired—while she'd been muttering a few words of a
spell, caught in a timeless trance, he'd been fighting for hours.
badly hurt. After they reached the crypt, she managed to peel the
black leather duster off his back, and she discovered that in addition
to the head wound, he'd taken a lashing across the stomach from a
Scheite's claw. It wasn't exactly bleeding freely, but it did look
found some first aid supplies in a corner. She supposed even someone
as careless as Spike must have figured out he'd need them from time to
time and planned accordingly.
"Bloody hell. My shirt's a goner, and a few hours ago these were my
best jeans. What about my coat?" was all he asked as she dabbed at
his stomach. His flesh wasn't as cold as she anticipated. No colder
than anyone's would be if they were lying shirtless in this chilly old
crypt. What was strange was that he didn't seem to mind the cold in
the air around him. He wasn't shivering, and no goose bumps marred
his fair skin.
coat's fine," she said, and heard the exasperation in her own voice.
"At least, it's no worse than it was a few hours ago."
"That's all right then," he said, sprawling across the top of the big
sarcophagus that squatted near his refrigerator. "Except you need to
have a serious chat with this Danae bint about setting loose
pan-dimensional beings without learning first how to put them through
planning on it," said Tara as she wiped blood off his belly. The
wound underneath was healing already. "Do you want a bandage on
struggled up to a half-sitting position, leaning on his elbows. "Ta,
but no," he said, glancing at the wound. "It'll be almost gone by
tonight. Not bad enough to scar, that one." He met her eyes. "So,
you're dating another public menace of a witch who can't say 'no' to a
good spell? Or a bad one either?"
Tara was shocked. "I'm not involved with Danae. I'm not involved with
anyone new. I didn't really break up with Willow, you know."
The firm skin under her fingers was amazingly clear of scars,
considering the beatings he'd taken just since she'd known him. But
here and there along his flat belly, she could see the relics of some
wound that had been bad enough to leave a permanent mark. There were
more on his chest and shoulders; on his face she could see nothing
except the white slash across one eyebrow.
next words dragged her thoughts back to Willow. "Oh, so that was just
pretend moving out of the house and refusing to talk to Red for
months, was it?"
had reopened her wounds. She responded as calmly as she could, "We're
talking again. Sometimes. I was even going—"
cocked his head on one side and regarded her intently. "Going to
mind," said Tara. "I'm not going to do it anyway." She looked at the
rag in her hand and grimaced at the blood. "You're right. Doing
spells without considering consequences is really dangerous,
and—and—" She sat miserably, wringing the cloth in her hands until
they were covered with his blood.
hand came up to cover hers and still her anxious fingers. "Didn't
mean to rub it in, pet," he said softly.
looked down at him and tried to smile. "It's okay, Spike." She
dropped the rag in a bowl and wiped her fingers on a marginally
cleaner one. "I'm going to go home now, unless you need something
else. I've still got midterms and a paper to worry about. And other
don't need anything," he said. "It's getting light out. Bedtime for
good little vampires. But you be careful."
will," she said, almost absently.
want you getting yourself killed before you do what you promised. You
won't forget?" he called as she opened the door to his crypt.
won't," she said. "I'll do something to make you stop feeling so bad
Only I have no idea what, she thought worriedly as she scurried
out into the early morning mist. I'll just have to hope I can come
up with something. Something that can change the way he thinks and
feels without tampering with his free will. Because that would be
wrong on so many levels. Except, using magic to change the way
someone thinks and feels is pretty much the definition of taking their
free will, isn't it?
perplexing as that dilemma was, she was oddly grateful to him for
asking for help. Because working on his problem would distract her
from her own. And she needed something to keep her from running back
to Willow, from abandoning all common sense, from telling the woman
she loved that they didn't really need more time before they could get
back together again. This conundrum would be something to keep Tara
from forgetting the evidence of all those hidden magic supplies that
had turned up on Buffy's birthday, to keep her from convincing herself
that it was safe to trust Willow again. Because Tara knew in her
heart that it wasn't safe. Not at all.
I almost did it, tonight. I was on my way to see Willow, to throw
myself into her arms, when Danae showed up. Helping a vampire fall
out of love with a Slayer should be as good a distraction from Willow
as the need to close a magical portal. Shouldn't it?
Well, as diversions go, at least it should be more interesting than
Intro to Statistics or Inorganic Chem.
is helping you move?" Dawn stood in the doorway of Tara's new
apartment, staring incredulously as she watched Spike thump a box down
on the counter in the tiny kitchen area.
"Spike, be careful with that," said Tara, who was on her knees in
front of a box of books on the other side of the room. "There are
plates and things in there, and I don't have enough of them to afford
breakage." She smiled up at Dawn. "Hi, honey. Spike came over to—to
ask me about something. My friends had to leave for their evening
classes, so he offered to stay and help me sort some stuff out."
looked at Spike in surprise, but he just shrugged. "Found the witch
standing like Dido amid the ruins of Carthage. Felt like I should
give her a hand."
did Dido perform in Carthage?" asked Dawn. "Isn't that, like, in the
said Spike emphatically, ripping open his box, taking out a spatula,
and staring at it as if he were trying to decide what to do with it.
He turned to Tara. "Trade you this lot for a chance to sort through
rolled her eyes. "Put all that down, and help me with the bookcase,
"Why do I always
let you females order me around?" he grumbled. "And I meant a
different Dido, Bit. That school of yours isn't just boring you to
tears, you're learning bugger all."
that's what I think," said Dawn, dumping her backpack on the floor and
a bag of fast food on the tiny table that looked as if it was
pre-pre-pre-owned. "No purpose in going at all. But I can't convince
Buffy. Anyway, I'm going to help unpack too. Tara said yesterday
that if I came over after school, she'd give me money to pick up
dinner on my way." She held up her haul. "Look what I brought!"
Bell?" Tara looked horrified. "Dawn, do you have any idea how many
rolled her eyes and plunked the bag down on the kitchen table. She
started unpacking items. "Oh, come on, Tara. It's not fair
that I never get any fast food except that gross Doublemeat Palace
stuff Buffy brings home. And I'm having another growth spurt. I must
need calories or something. Otherwise, I wouldn't crave them, right?
And look at you, doing all this running around, and carrying, and
unpacking. You need something solid to keep you going."
solid all right," said Tara, coming over to the table and staring at
the supersized tray that held about a dozen tacos. "Solid saturated
fat. I can feel my arteries stiffening already."
Spike doesn't mind having tacos for dinner," said Dawn. She had no
fears about asking Spike to back her up on her food choice. This was
the guy who thought the three greatest culinary inventions of the
twentieth century were Cheez Whiz, Cheetos, and those bags the Red
Cross used to collect blood. There was no way he'd turn down a
plastic plate of salty chips covered with yellow, red, and white goop
that might or might not be real cheese, tomatoes, and sour cream.
enough, he was already peeling off the cover of the Nachos Bell Grande
and sorting through the salsa packets looking for the extra hot
sauce. "Your arteries are pumping brilliantly," he told Tara. "I can
hear them chugging along just lovely. And so are the Bit's. But if
you don't want to stun them with a Mexican pizza, I'll eat your
way," said Dawn. "You are not eating the whole thing. You
don't even need real people food." Realizing that the nachos were
already half-gone and that she hadn't had a bite yet, she slapped his
hand away from the plate and snatched it back. He grinned at her,
pulled Tara's desk chair over next to the scruffy kitchen chairs, and
helped himself to a taco instead.
since I can't have real people, or that even that stupid dog on their
like that little dog," said Tara.
licked a streak of hot sauce off the side of his little finger. "For your sake, witch, the dog can live. But only
if you let the Bit and me have our nachos."
sat down next to him, admitting defeat. "Okay," she said, picking up
a taco and staring at it with intense suspicion. "But you have to
promise me that sometime today—"
eat something green," interrupted Dawn around a mouthful of chips.
"You always say that. But look—I already am. I paid extra for the
guacamole. And there's lettuce in those tacos."
"Iceberg lettuce," said Tara. "No nutritional value."
"Yeah," said Spike. "Just the way I like my people food." He took
another bite, showering lettuce and crumbled bits of ground beef over
the table as the taco crunched between his teeth. "You know what else
is brilliant, Dawn? That new pizza they have at the place two doors
down from the magic shop."
deep dish, double-stuffed one with everything on it? The one where
they finally use enough anchovies?" asked Dawn. "Janice and I had
that last week, and then we went over to the ice cream shop for banana
splits." She caught Tara's horrified eye and pointed out, "There was
fruit! Bananas. And, like, peppers and pineapple and stuff on the
know what's even better," Spike went on, "those potato skins with the
cheese all over them. And they make this garlic butter for their
bread that's amazing. They use elephant garlic, I think."
don't know which of you two has worse eating habits." Tara looked
worried. "Spike, I'm no expert on vampire nutrition, but I don't see
how garlic butter can be good for you."
not like I drink holy water," protested Spike. Dawn couldn't tell if
he were amused or touched that Tara had bothered to fret over him. He
certainly didn't look offended.
"Garlic is only a mild repellant to vampires," said Dawn. "And it
loses most of its efficacy once cooked."
was a direct quote from Rupert, wasn't it?" said Spike.
"Yeah," admitted Dawn. "I guess the 'efficacy' part gave that away,
spot on, Bit. Cooked garlic is to vampires as habañeros are to
humans. If you've got the stones to stand it, it's a wild rush to the
guess I learn something new every day," said Tara, who, in spite of
her protests, was already on her third taco. "I just wish some of it
was the stuff I'm racking up huge student loans to learn." She looked
at Dawn. "Speaking of learning, do you have any homework, honey?"
"Nothing that matters," said Dawn.
doesn't it matter?" asked Tara.
"Because I don't know how to do it." She beamed at Tara. "And
neither do you. It's French, and I know you took Spanish."
pis. Donne-moi le livre, Petit Morceau," said Spike around
a mouthful of Mexican pizza.
said Dawn, trying to act surprised and annoyed. "Oh, crap."
as she finished unpacking some clothes and stowing them in the room's
one, inadequate closet, Tara watched Dawn and Spike settle down again
at the tiny kitchen table she'd bought at the local thrift shop. She
felt a pleasant sense of familiarity sweep over her. She'd seen them
like this many times during that long summer when Buffy'd been gone.
Dawn had had to retake two courses to be eligible to go to high school
in the fall, and Spike had helped her with both History and Language
Arts, giving her an accurate, if bloodcurdling, grounding in Twentieth
Century history, and then picking over the grammar and logic in her
term paper on Emily Dickinson. His knowledge of history had been no
surprise; he'd lived it, after all. His knowledge of
poetry—especially Dickinson—had stunned them all, but Spike had
ignored even Xander's heckling because Dawn needed his help.
really had needed him, and not only because Willow had been too busy
researching magic to help with homework, or because Xander had seemed
to spend most of his time arguing with and reassuring Anya, or because
Giles had retreated into himself in an agony of grief. Tara had tried
to step in at first, but she had quickly realized how much Spike's
presence meant to Dawn, so she'd pulled back, watching the blond and
dark heads bent together over the books spread over Joyce's dining
room table. Tara was good at effacing herself, and she suspected that
those two had no idea she'd kept an eye on them during those long, hot
months. She wondered if she was the only one who suspected how deep
the bond between them ran.
Tara knew just what Dawn was up to now. Instead of being repaired,
the girl's family had been fragmented by Buffy's return. Giles was
gone, Tara had moved out, Spike never visited, Anya and Xander were
caught up in their own little melodrama, and most of the time Willow
and Buffy looked more like the walking dead than Spike did. So now
Dawn was seizing the chance to draw Spike back into her life for a few
worked for Tara. She didn't think that Spike was good, but she was
certain he was good for Dawn.
had no illusions that Spike was "reformed." Giles had used that word
once in a puzzled, wondering tone, but Tara had rejected the
description. There was nothing in Spike to reform or redeem. He was
a demon, not a human, and it was absurd to talk about him as if he'd
consciously rejected human values and was somehow coming to accept
had nothing resembling a human conscience. He didn't care about
people in general, and Tara could see no reason why he should, any
more than she should care about vampires as a species. But for the
few people that Spike had inexplicably come to love, there was nothing
he wouldn't do, from letting himself be tortured by a hell god, to
risking his life in battle, to keeping his promise not to smoke
indoors, to apologizing for a sarcastic comment about a sensitive
teenager's new outfit. And Tara suspected that it was those small
courtesies that cost him the most. He adored making grand gestures;
petty annoyances drove him mad.
when Dawn was providing those annoyances, as she was now, with her
stubborn inability to mimic his pronunciation of a phrase. He was
grumbling at her, but with anyone else he would have long since
seemed to Tara that when Spike was with Dawn he was calmer, different,
closer to whatever it was he was becoming than what he had been.
Because Tara was sure that although Spike wasn't redeemed or reformed,
he was changing. He was almost as far now from an ordinary vampire as
he was from a human. She wondered what he would turn into if he
didn't wind up as dust after some wild battle or relapse into savagery
out of frustration and despair.
'j'ai faim,' not 'j'ai femme.'" Spike's coaching was
sounds just the same to me," complained Dawn. "What's the diff?"
one means I'm hungry, the other that I've got a woman," said Spike.
I guess that could cause some confusion in a restaurant," snickered
Dawn. "Although, being a vamp, it could work if it meant you
wanted a woman. But, you know what, Spike, that kind of sounds
like a line you'd use in one of those businesses that we don't
practice dialogues for in French class." She was grinning now. "Hey,
that would be cool! I have to write my own conversation for the
final, and this sadist of a teacher wants it to actually be in French,
and it has to use numbers and stuff. Want to help me do one about
figuring out the prices at a whorehouse?"
was about to protest. There was no telling with Spike—he just might
not understand that this not-so-brilliant idea would be a direct route
to detention and failure for Dawn. But his expression was suddenly
serious, even wounded, and for a moment she thought he really had been
offended by Dawn's comment. Then she heard the knock on the door. As
she stood up to answer it, she saw him pick up his coat and slip
behind the screen that she had found at a garage sale to separate the
dingy sink area from the main living space.
"Hello, Buffy." Tara smiled awkwardly at the Slayer, who stood in the
dark hallway outside her apartment door.
Tara," said Buffy, stepping inside. She was moving slowly, her
clothes were rumpled, and her hair and makeup obviously hadn't seen
any attention for several hours. She saw Dawn sitting at the table
with her books spread in front of her and smiled wearily. "Hi, Dawn."
Dawn's tone was tight, resentful. She cast a glance at the screen and
her lips tightened. She slammed her books shut and started shoving
them in her backpack. "Let's go."
looked dismayed. "We don't have to leave right away. I haven't seen
all of Tara's apartment yet." She stared around the room. Tara, who
had barely begun to brighten its drabness with touches like the
intricately patterned Chinese screen, knew Buffy was finding it hard
to think of something positive to say.
you have," said Dawn before Buffy summoned any words. "This is it.
Now, let's go."
"Dawn!" Buffy gave Tara an apologetic glance. "I'm sorry. I—"
okay," said Tara. "I think she's tired. She was fine, really."
"Thanks for taking care of her," said Buffy, and Dawn grimaced in
annoyance at the implication she needed a babysitter.
took good care of me," Tara hastened to say. "Bringing over
dinner, helping to unpack, and stuff." She hesitated. "How are you,
"Good. I had to pull a long shift and then kill a short demon."
Buffy tried to smile at her own joke and stood uncertainly for another
minute, obviously still searching for something to say. "This is a
nice place," she commented at last.
it's not," said Dawn. "It's a hole. But Tara will make it nice."
She stormed out the door, and Buffy, after another helpless glance in
Tara's direction, followed her.
was still staring at the closed door when Spike stepped out from
behind the screen. He was pulling on his coat. "I'd better go.
You're all moved in now," he said in a hollow tone. He glanced around
again as Buffy had done, as if he were really noticing the place for
the first time. "Except for not having anywhere to sleep, that is."
looked around. That was literally true. The apartment consisted of
one biggish room and a bathroom. It wouldn't take much furniture to
fill it up. But right now, she had only a small bookcase that sat
atop a tiny desk, a table, a few straight-backed chairs, and a couch.
know someone who's leaving school and wants to sell a decent bed," she
said. "I can buy it from her really cheap, but I have to wait a
week. In the meantime, I can sleep on—" she looked at the couch,
which seemed both smaller and uglier here than at Goodwill— "on the
floor in my sleeping bag."
rich Americans," drawled Spike. "No wonder you're the envy of the
rest of the world."
flushed. "I'm trying to make it through school without getting into
too much debt," she said. "This place is fine. It's extra cheap
because it's a basement apartment, and it shouldn’t cost much for
with me," he said, leaning against the wall and reaching in his pocket
for a cigarette. She caught his eye and he stopped, stowing the pack
away with an exasperated sigh. "Look, pet, it's been lovely helping
you unpack your bits and pieces, and I admit I was glad for the chance
to see the Bit again. But that's not why I came here, and you know
it. I came—" and he stared at the doorway where Buffy had stood—"I
came for you to fix things for me. I've been waiting over a week
"Spike, I want to," said Tara. She heard the doubt and fear in her
own voice and tried to sound more assured. "I think I can find
something. But what I've come across so far, I just don't like the
me judge that." His voice was harsh. "What consequences?"
one thing might backlash on Buffy—" she started to say.
His voice was even colder and more emphatic.
the other, well, that could be uncomfortable for you. There's a
possibility of—" She peeked at him nervously.
stood up straighter. "Of what?"
"Impotence," she confessed.
"Impotence?" He looked outraged. "Me? Bloody hell, no! Bad enough I
can't eat anyone, if I can't shag them either—"
said I didn't think you'd like the consequences." Tara tried to keep
any laughter out of her voice, but it was hard. The truth was that
she was smiling as much from relief that he was adamantly against any
harm coming to Buffy as from his reaction to the other option. "And
that I was going to look for some other way."
hurry," he said, and Tara lost all desire to snigger when she saw the
depths of despair in his face. He sagged back against the wall and
grimaced as if in physical pain. "You don't know what this is like.
You can go back to your girl any time. You walk into that house, and
Red will welcome you with open legs. If I so much as knock on the
door, I risk finding I've been disinvited—or worse."
"Worse?" What could be worse? Staking? Surely not. However twisted
Buffy's feelings for Spike had become, she was too aware of how much
she owed him to do that. Suddenly, Tara knew. "Buffy did it, didn't
she? Those bruises you had at her birthday party. That was her."
Tara turned away, sickened. "If that's what she was doing, she was
right to stop seeing you, Spike."
for you to say, isn't it?"
Spike, it isn't easy for me to say, and I know it wasn't easy for her
to do. Not if she cares anything at all about you, and I know she
must. Do you have any idea how hard it is for me not to run back to
that house and go back to Willow? The night I met you by the
cemetery, I was going there. I thought I'd just tell her we could
skip all the waiting and seeing if she was really getting better,
and—" Tara forced herself to meet his eyes and speak firmly. "It was
a good thing Danae called and told me about the vortex. Because it
wouldn't have worked if I'd done it, Spike. I know things would have
gone bad. As bad as one of Willow's worst spells."
but at least you'd have the memory of a few more good shagging
sessions—" He stopped, apparently struck by her expression and rushed
to add, "Sorry, pet. Didn't mean to make you cry." He crossed the
room with a few quick steps, returned with one of the Taco Bell
napkins, and held it out to her, careful to keep an arm's length away
from a crying female. "Keep forgetting, it's harder for you. You
have a conscience and a soul and all. Must be a bitch, that."
had a soul once yourself, Spike," said Tara, dabbing carefully at her
cheeks to avoid smearing them with salsa from the napkin.
time ago. Remember it was inconvenient, though. Do remember that."
Tara tried to imagine what he had been like. A street tough, perhaps,
struggling for a position in some gang in spite of his slight build
and too-pretty appearance? "What did it keep you from doing?"
"Pretty much bugger all," he admitted. "Didn't do much in the way of
enjoying myself until I was turned."
"Really?" She stared at him in astonishment.
eyebrow quirked up wryly, and he grimaced. "Ruining my image, am I?"
didn't press for details. From his expression, he'd just revealed his
darkest secret, and she wondered if even Buffy knew. "It's just—it's
hard to imagine you not finding some way to enjoy yourself. I
mean—even when Buffy was dead, you used to love going on patrol and
killing things, and playing cards and watching TV with Dawn, and
arguing with Xander."
"Yeah." He thought about this. "You know, it was easier to find ways
to be happy when she was dead."
thought this was the saddest thing she'd ever heard him say. "'I'll
find a way to help you, Spike. I don't know what I'll do, yet, but
I'll do something."
looked up at her and added, "Sorry I said you didn't understand." He
reached out carefully and wiped a tear off her cheek with one finger,
then backed away. Before she could think of anything else to say, he
sat down on the ugly little couch and tried to think about how long it
would be before she could afford to buy a pretty throw to cover it
up. But she couldn't stop worrying about Spike instead.
It is harder for him than me. He doesn't have a conscience, and he's
fighting instincts that I can't begin to understand. That chip keeps
him from killing, but it never forced him to do good. He really won't
be able to go on like this without some help.
But Buffy hadn't
looked capable of helping anyone tonight.
stalked through the streets of Sunnydale, running the events of his
very unusual evening over in his mind as he made his way back to the
cemetery. When he'd left his crypt, he'd thought he'd wind up
spending the night chasing down a runaway witch. The last thing he'd
anticipated was working as a furniture mover and a French tutor.
told you two she wasn't lying, said the poet. You made me look
like I was the fool, especially since I'd told her we trusted
Couldn't help being suspicious, muttered the demon.
Yeah, agreed the fool. Leaving a note in our crypt saying she
was moving and giving an address. Sounded like she was skipping town
maybe, and trying to throw us off the scent.
Tara's sort doesn't skip town,
said the poet severely. She's the kind that's so conscientious she
lets a soulless demon know she's moving so he won't think she's
forgotten a promise.
may not have forgotten,
said the demon, but she hasn't helped us either.
will, asserted the poet.
I can feel it.
wants to, the fool
agreed. But she has no idea how to.
Sure she does, said the
demon. You heard her. Castration! That's what she's come up
with! We'll wind up a eunuch if we keep depending on her. I'd like
to keep Spike's balls safer than we did his head, with this sodding
Tara isn't a careless person,
said the poet firmly. Our balls are safe in her hands. He
hesitated, dismayed by his own choice of words. Er—
Now, that I wouldn't mind,
snickered the fool.
the poet and the demon met this comment with stony silence.
Well, I wouldn't,
insisted the fool.
What about Buffy? demanded the poet in outrage.
haven't forgotten Buffy,
muttered the fool. It's just—Tara's not half bad.
Great knockers, agreed
the demon. But she's less than half bad. She's too bloody good.
Never look at us, her kind. Even if she did give us an accidental
sex-change first. So give up thinking about her.
Okay, muttered the fool,
adding rebelliously, But at least she's nice to Dawn. Nicer than
Buffy died for Dawn!
howled the demon and the poet in unison.
Yeah, agreed the fool. But what the Bit needs now is someone
who wants to live for her.
lurked near the entrance to the graveyard, waiting until it was almost
dark. It wouldn't do at all to march into Spike's crypt in broad
daylight, when she needed no escort to travel around Sunnydale. She
didn't want to be tossed back out into the safe sunlight.
few more minutes, the sun's rays would be only a faint, rosy glow on
the horizon, and lots of nasty things would start to stir. No one who
bothered to take the time to worry about Dawn and what she was up to
would let her wander around alone then.
wouldn't. Neither would Tara.
the umpteenth time, Dawn sulked over the fact that it had been Tara
who moved out when she and Willow broke up. It just wasn't fair.
had been miserable when Tara left Willow, and for a time, she'd lain
awake at night hoping the two would get back together. But her rage
at Willow for putting her in danger and making her suffer the pain and
inconvenience of a broken arm had settled into cold anger. With the
absolute certainty of someone too young to perceive shades of gray,
she'd decided that Willow wasn't good enough for Tara.
had reminded her of something, and it had taken a while before she'd
identified the false memory of Joyce and Hank's divorce. She
remembered resenting Joyce for moving them to a strange town and
taking them far away from Hank. But, slowly, she'd come to realize
her father was becoming more distant and had begun to suspect that his
cheating had precipitated the divorce. She would have been indignant
on Joyce's behalf, if her pseudo-mother had ever said a nasty word
about Hank. But, being Joyce, she hadn't.
in this new situation, Dawn's sympathies had swung to Tara. Tara
never said anything bad about Willow either. But Willow had been out
of control, and Tara had been right to leave. Besides, Willow was
gloomy and self-absorbed, while Tara was sensible and friendly. These
days, Tara's apartment felt more like the home Joyce had made than the
house on Revello Drive.
And one of the
things that made it feel like home was the fact that Spike was welcome
had liked Spike, and Dawn was pleased to realize that Tara did too.
No one else did. Except for Dawn herself, of course. Buffy used to
tolerate him, but now she looked at him with an unfathomable
expression that was close to hatred. Dawn couldn't understand that.
Spike had done everything he could to save her on the tower, and he
loved Buffy like crazy. He didn't deserve hatred. Not any more.
used to think that Willow hadn't minded Spike much, but Willow wasn't
liking much of anything these days. She was running Buffy a close
second for the gloom and doom award. And the only other visitor they
ever seemed to have, except for the occasional social worker, was
Xander. Since the wedding that hadn't happened, it hurt Dawn to look
at the constant pain in Xander's eyes.
she'd found Spike helping Tara move into that apartment, Dawn had felt
a surge of hope for the first time in weeks. Here were two of the
people she loved, actually working kind of together and snarking at
each other in a friendly way. She'd pitched in happily, and been
thrilled when she'd successfully manipulated Spike into staying and
helping her with her homework.
months back, Spike had forbidden her to visit him in his crypt any
more. That had caused lots of tears at the time, but now it gave her
a great idea how to lure him into a friendlier environment.
bad Tara's gay. This was a new thought, and Dawn considered it
carefully. Spike needed to stop brooding over Buffy, and it would be
cool if he liked Tara instead. Or it would be if Tara wouldn't be
almost as wigged out about it as Buffy had been. Dawn couldn't decide
if Tara would be wigged or pleased. So she needed to be cautious.
She didn't want to cause trouble. Not really, even though it usually
worked out that way.
just want to be around people who are happy some of the time.
had enjoyed teasing Tara while he helped her move in. And Tara had
been smiling and having a good time too. So it was clearly a public
service or something to get Spike to visit Tara again. Dawn
decided she'd risk it.
streetlight above her head clicked on. Dawn threw her shoulders back
and marched across the cemetery grounds to Spike's crypt.
PG-13 for this part, R overall.
All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy,
etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
for the beta, and
Piglet for the original idea.
Bit, if Buffy says you're supposed to spend the evening with Tara,
that's where you're spending the evening." Spike was yelling angrily,
but Dawn wasn't fooled. She was sure he'd been pleased to see her at
first, before he remembered that he'd told her a few months earlier
never to brighten his doorway again.
fair," she insisted. "I bet you're not doing something as boring
as homework tonight."
"No, I am
going to a demon bar to engage in illegal gambling in a back room
while getting drunk. That's my proper place in the world. And yours
is at Tara's, helping her tack more cheap fabric on the walls so's she
won't have to see the peeling paint, eating whatever tofutti thing
she's made for dinner, doing algebra, and watching The Osbournes."
you're just going to shove me out of here and go off boozing?"
Bit." He picked up her backpack and tossed it at her feet. "It's
after dark. I am taking you to Tara's, and then I'm going
pouted. "It's not fair. You'll be having fun, and Tara will
probably make me work on that stupid paper on John Donne."
stopped in the act of pulling on his duster. "Donne?" he asked.
"Yeah, my teacher says I need extra credit to pass and she gave me
this assignment. But those stupid poems make no sense." She picked
up her backpack. "Tara's reading him too in her lit class, and I'm
not sure she gets him, either."
sure Tara does," he said dryly, settling the coat over his shoulders
and opening the door of the crypt. "She's the clever one, our Tara."
and I'm the stupid one?" Dawn stomped out the door in front of him.
"It's these poems that are stupid, Spike. Like the one about the
compass! What's that about? So the compass goes round and round.
First of all, I read it three times before I figured out it's the kind
of compass you use in geometry and trig. But I still don't see what
that's got to do with his girlfriend."
everything, Bit. He's the one who wanders off, you see, and she's his
calm center. And when he comes home, the leg of the compass comes
erect, and—uh—" His voice trailed off suddenly. He turned away to
pull the door shut behind them.
"Oh!" Dawn's eyes got wide. "I get it now. Wow." She marched
along beside him in silence. "Maybe I should give this guy another
she bounded through the door of Tara's apartment, she'd announced that
Spike knew everything about John Donne and could help them with
their homework. Spike had tried to escape anyway, or acted like he
wanted to escape, but he wound up sitting at the kitchen table with
the two girls, struggling occasionally to explain something to Dawn
without shocking her. Tara, Dawn noticed, wasn't embarrassed at all,
and she seemed to like talking about the poems to Spike. She even
compared them to Shakespeare and someone called Marvell, making Spike
smile in a way that wasn't snarky or mean.
he plays with paradox," said Tara. "Like right here, when he says,
'To enter in these bonds, is to be free.'" And the way he insists
that love is spiritual, but can only be experienced in the flesh."
"''And yet the body is his book,'" said Spike. "'To our bodies turn
we then, that so weak men on love revealed may look.'"
didn't look embarrassed when he talked about stuff like that to Tara.
He looked—Dawn gazed at him covertly for a while to confirm her
impression—he looked the way he used to look sometimes when Buffy was
around. Except, kind of happier.
let them talk while she struggled with her paper analyzing one of the
poems. She read it through, took out some of Spike's insights about
what the couple in the poem were probably up to (no point in
antagonizing her teacher—not over something this trivial) and handed
it over to him for approval.
While Tara packed away leftovers, Spike
settled down on the couch in front of the television he had acquired
somewhere and presented to Tara a few days earlier, along with
promises that there would be no unpleasant consequences to accepting
the gift. The corners of Tara's mouth lifted upwards as she
remembered how he had wheedled her into taking it. "You can't say I
nicked it, pet, seeing as the previous owner is in no condition to own
anything at all any more. And even your kind heart wouldn't mourn
that wanker. Besides, it's cable ready." Then he'd slipped
away almost before she'd had time to thank him.
It was hard
to believe the man who had come to her doorstep with that TV was the same as the one
who had just spoken with passionate insight about the poetry of a man
who had been dead for hundreds of years. Or the creature who'd fought
for hours to guard her back while she closed a temporal portal.
Spike, you are multifaceted.
the set was off, and he was busy correcting Dawn's homework. Tara
reluctantly turned her attention to the dirty dishes in her sink,
leaving him to his task.
came over to help, and Tara was surprised to find the girl was still
thinking about literature. "There's something I don't get. Most of
the poems we read in class are about guys and girls doing it, or
wanting to do it, or complaining they can't do it any more." She
picked up a dish towel and started drying the plates Tara had just
"Well, love is a big deal with poets," said Tara with a smile.
how come we don't read any poems about guys wanting to do it with guys
or girls breaking up with girls?"
don't know," said Tara in a tight voice. "They're out there. It's
probably the evil, homophobic school system. Or the evil textbook
writers. But don't say that to your teachers." She looked up and saw
that Dawn's expression was horrified and guilty.
sorry, Tara," she said. "I didn't mean to remind you of Willow. I
mean, you seemed so happy, and now—"
okay, honey," said Tara. She stared down at the dishes in the sink.
just—I was thinking about, well—" There was a long silence, while
Dawn stood frowning in thought and Tara wondered anxiously what she
was thinking about.
do you know if you're gay?" asked Dawn at last. "Because, like, this
guy asked me out, and I don't really like him much, because sometimes
he's okay, but then the next minute he'll be like, in my face about
stuff. So I said no, but I wasn't mean or anything, only he went and
said to someone else maybe I was a lezzie, and, okay, I know that
mostly only means he's a total asshole, but it made me start wondering
about me. I don't think I am, but—how do you know?"
Well, that's not nearly as bad as some of the questions I was
expecting. Tara shrugged. "I don't know."
blinked in surprise. "But you had to figure it out sometime, didn't
you? I mean, in high school or somewhere."
I was your age, I was too busy trying to figure out what kind of demon
I was and what horrible things I'd suddenly start wanting to do to
worry about sexual orientation. And—to tell you the truth, Dawn, it
was Willow who was always so big on the 'hey, I'm gay now!' thing. It
was important to her. But I never thought about it much. I just met
Willow and fell in love with her."
"So—before Willow, you had boyfriends." Dawn's eyes gleamed. She was
obviously imagining lots of good stories.
grimaced, remembering her life before Willow. She'd just have to
disappoint Dawn on this one. "No. No boyfriends, no girlfriends. No
friends, really, before college." She saw the shock in Dawn's face
and tried to smile. "I didn't exactly fit in back home. I took care
of my mother a lot, when she was sick, so I didn't have time—I
wouldn't have had time, even if people had wanted me. But I was one
of those demon McClay girls, you know. So no one wanted me."
was still now, listening intently, her eyes locked on Tara's face.
"After mom died, I went a little crazy, and I tried to—not to make
friends, I don't think I really understood how to make friends. But I
tried to make people like me. I crashed the wildest parties I knew
about, kissed a few boys, and a few girls too, got drunk a lot, but—"
She spread her hands. "They were afraid of me. And I was afraid of
them. Nothing much happened in my life before Sunnydale, except some
sorry," said Dawn, her expression showing how inadequate she thought
her words were.
not," said Tara. "It wouldn't have been any good with any of them.
I'm glad I waited until I came here. And found Willow."
"You're glad?" Dawn sounded incredulous. "In spite of--?"
spite of everything." She gave Dawn a hug. "Real love is never
hugged her back, resting her head on Tara's shoulder for a moment.
The girl was getting so tall, she had to stoop to do that now. Tara
held her close, hoping that unburdening herself so openly would help
Dawn understand it was okay to give herself time to grow up inside as
well as outside. That there was no need to prove her sexuality—or her
humanity—by rushing into the arms of someone she wasn't ready to love.
was a small noise from behind them. Tara looked up at the faint rustle
of paper and saw Spike sitting by the television, Dawn's homework
assignment spread on the coffee table in front of him. He was
watching the two girls intently.
had forgotten he was there. She gulped, trying to remember exactly
what she'd revealed about herself, unsure if he'd even bothered to
listen to what he would probably describe as girlish confidences.
must have sensed her embarrassment. He gave a quick, sympathetic nod,
and bent his head over the papers again, as if in tacit apology for
hearing too much and invading her privacy.
was really the most surprising creature. He could be almost tactful
sometimes, Tara thought, smiling as she rubbed Dawn's back.
slipped through the door of her apartment and let her backpack slide
to the floor, reaching out a hand to fumble for the still-unfamiliar
location of the light switch. The walk from her evening class had
seemed to take forever, her textbooks growing heavier step by step,
the straps of the pack digging into her shoulders. During the trip
home, this lonely room had been her goal, but now, as she leaned
against the wall and stared around her, she felt a surge of panic.
Desperately, she tried to reassure herself.
can do this. I can live in this room and make it pretty. I can pass
Statistics and all these other courses and get a college degree so
that I can support myself and will never, ever have to slink back home
and ask my father for help. I can make new friends, so that I won't
be alone, even without Willow, without the Scoobies.
she fought down her fear, her eyes fell on the box sitting on the
kitchen counter, and she felt the knot in her stomach begin to
unclench. She remembered Dawn standing at the door that morning,
dropping off the carton on her way to school.
asked Buffy's permission, so don't worry," the girl had said, her
eyes sparking with pride at herself for having carried out her mission
to help Tara. "But
there's tons of stuff in the kitchen we never use, you know that.
Willow's talent begins and ends with burnt pancakes, and Buffy can't
cook at all, so you should keep this stuff from going to waste."
I'm not alone. I have Dawn.
stepped forward to caress the battered cardboard box, its
unprepossessing surface a reminder that there was someone who cared
about her and relied on her. Slowly, she peeled open the flaps and
removed each item.
a fondue pot, a fancy ice cream scoop, an espresso maker, a popcorn
popper, and a waffle iron were lined up on her counter. Conspicuous
by their absence were gadgets like salad spinners and vegetable
steamers. There was, however, a very lovely set of coffee cups that
Joyce used to set out on special occasions. Tara put those aside to
return to Buffy or just hold for Dawn. They were too much a part of
the Summers family for her to keep.
the rest of the gifts, though. They might not lead to healthy eating,
but the presence of these snack-creators would encourage Dawn to come
over and help use them.
was putting the waffle iron away in the cupboard when there was a
knock on the door. She answered it to find Spike standing in the
hall, dressed in that battered leather coat he was so incomprehensibly
fond of, holding a cardboard box even more tattered than the one Dawn
had brought over that morning. He looked tired, and there was a
bruise on one cheekbone, testament to a recent fight, but his swagger
and smirk convinced her he'd been the victor. She was trying to
decide if the sight of him pleased or exasperated her, when she
remembered she still owed him a favor.
witch," he said.
"Hello, Spike," she said uneasily. "I'm afraid I still haven't
figured out a spell for you."
"Guessed that," he said, a look of vague surprise crossing his face,
almost as if he'd forgotten about his request. "Or you would have
said. Not why I'm here. Came to bring you this lot." He thrust the
box into her arms.
reached out to take it automatically, but stared at the corrugated
folds with suspicion. "What is it?"
things I, uh, found," he said. "Thought you might like them."
"Found?" She carried the box over to the kitchen table and opened
it. He trailed through the door behind her, long since past the need
for an invitation to this place. "As in, they fell off a truck?"
exactly," he said, leaning against the wall and watching her. "The
wanker who owned them doesn't need them any more."
"Another one?" she said, glancing over her shoulder at the television
set. "Sunnydale seems suddenly full of people who are disappearing
and leaving their belongings behind."
shrugged. "Sunnydale's full of a lot of nasty things," he said. "And
a bloke like me needs to keep busy. Get too bored, otherwise."
Cautiously, she peeled open the four folded pieces of cardboard that
formed the top of the box. They felt old and musty under her fingers,
as if Spike had found a container that had been lying abandoned in
some dank corner. But when she saw what lay within, she heard herself
thought so," said Spike, as she reached down and picked up the slender
blade that glowed against a sapphire background. She held the long,
elegant length of tarnished silver carefully, turning it over in her
hands as a few phrases of incantation dropped from her lips.
voice was smug as he added, "Didn't look like much, but I could feel
the magic in it."
looked up at him and nodded. "It's been misused, though. But I can
cleanse it. I've already made a start." Carefully, she carried the
dagger over to her desk and laid it next to her laptop. "It's not
something that should be in evil hands, Spike. But I can be trusted
you'd know what to do," he agreed. "Didn't want to touch it myself.
Used the cloth to pick it up."
idea." She went back to the box and reached into it. "So this is just
wrapping—" She stopped again, as the folds of fabric spilled out over
the cardboard and the table, flowing down to the floor.
shifted uneasily, his expression almost shame-faced, although his eyes
glowed with something else. "Not exactly. Thought you'd like that as
well." His voice dropped to a definitely embarrassed mutter. "Hoped
the color would match your eyes."
beautiful," said Tara, her fingers tracing the pattern woven into the
lush sapphire material. "So heavy and rich." Her eyes strayed to the
hated sofa. This would cover its ugliness and change that corner of
the room from something to be ignored to a space that drew the eye and
like it, then?" he said, sounding assured again.
thank you." Her eyes strayed downward, and she noticed one more
object in the box. "What's this?"
Not sure about that one."
was sure enough, but she bit her lip to stop from either laughing or
blurting out her opinion of his third and final gift. "What an—uh,
interesting picture," she said as steadily as she could. She stared
down at what she assumed was supposed to be a woman warrior, judging
by the number of sharp weapons the figure was carrying. But she had
to wonder who would head into battle with so little clothing—and the
lack of a bra would certainly be a problem for a woman so considerably
endowed. Set in a heavy, dark frame, the picture glowed with garish
colors and gleaming, sweaty flesh.
"Yeah, well—wasn't sure you'd like it. Know you like girls though,
and she's—uh--," and a hint of panic entered his tone. "I think it
might be worth something. Frazetta, you know."
not familiar with his work," she said marveling that her voice didn't
quaver. "Well." She paused, searching for words. "The frame is
"Yeah." He leapt on this. "The frame. I thought you could use
that." He glanced around almost desperately for some way to change
the subject, and his glance fell on the box and the new kitchen
equipment on the counter. "Been on a scavenging expedition of your
own, have you?"
put the picture back in the box and turned to follow his gaze. "Dawn
brought me those." She reached out a hand to touch the popcorn maker
and smiled. "She didn't exactly let practicality be her guide."
"Yeah." He came to stand beside her and picked up the fondue pot.
"Haven't seen one of these since the seventies--" He stopped as
something inside the round red belly of the vessel rattled. "What's
that? The ghost of cheese dip past?"
heads bent over the pot as he tugged off the lid and reached inside.
Instead of the fossilized remains of a forgotten bit of hors d'oeuvre,
he pulled out a small plastic bag of some dried leafy substance. He
sniffed it cautiously. "Not even the ghost of Thai stick past. Some
herb, but not the kind that's fun to smoke."
stepped away from him. "Lethe's Bramble," she said in an angry, tight
head snapped up at her tone. "Lethe's Bramble?"
turned away, hugging her arms around her, trying to hide quick tears,
only to have her quavering voice betray her when she said, "It's what
Willow uses for forgetting spells."
"Oh." His eyes seemed suddenly darker, as if reflecting her own
dismay, and he spoke, his words tumbling out a bit too fast. "Doesn't
have to be a secret stash, though, does it? Who knows how long it's
been sitting here? This thing probably hasn't been used for
decades. You know how humans are, hanging on to old kitchen gadgets
long after some infomercial's lured them on to Ronco's latest and
greatest slicer and dicer. Willow probably put this in here months
ago and then forgot her forgetting weed—ironic, that."
her head, denying herself the refuge of his clumsy reassurance. "No,
we made fondue just the week before I moved out. I remember, because
it was one of the last evenings we all spent together. Trying to
cheer up Buffy, and—" She swallowed hard and reached out to take the
pot from him. "That didn’t work either."
"No," he said
softly. "It doesn't, does it? Nothing helps. To make Buffy happy, to
make Willow better."
flowed freely then, her shoulders shaking. He stood quietly, letting
her cry for a few minutes until finally he said awkwardly, "Hard to
know what to say to you. You're not like most women." He caught her
quick glance and added with what he meant to be reassurance, "Not
because you're a dyke, pet. I mean—" He stopped for a moment,
seeming to go through some internal struggle before he went on in a
different, softer tone, his accent more polished than usual.
woman, I'd say, 'forget her, she doesn't deserve you.' But that won't
work for you, will it? Because of the way you are. You don't think
of yourself, of what you deserve. Even your sorrow is all focused
outward. You're standing here, worrying about and loving a woman who
betrayed you into forgetting yourself." There was another pause as he
battled with himself before he uttered, "You're noble, that's what you
back a sob, so astonished by his words she was drawn a bit out of her
despair. "Thank you, Spike. I don't deserve that, but thank you."
He went on
awkwardly. "You're all right, pet. You'll be all right."
She shook her
head, finding herself confessing things she'd been unable to say to
anyone else. "I don't know, Spike. Days like today, I'm not sure I
can do it. I'm not sure I can manage on my own. I'm not noble. I'm
too much of a coward." She ducked her head, ashamed of her words and
made even more miserable by her conviction they were true.
were silent a long time. She stood holding the chipped red fondue pot
in front of her, staring down at it as if it were a crystal ball. He
moved at last, reaching out to touch the slightly-crooked index finger
of her right hand where it was wrapped around the container, and
saying, "This never healed completely straight, did it? After that
skanky hell god broke it."
"N-no," Tara said in surprise.
"After you sat there and let that bitch Glory break it, because you
wouldn't tell her Dawn was the Key," he went on. His finger just
barely stroked hers, his eyes following the movement before he glanced
up to meet her gaze, his expression intent. "Not something a coward
would do, that."
just couldn't think of anything else. I kept trying to think of a
spell, but I was too terrified. I wasn't brave, Spike."
everyone has their vices, Tara, but they definitely left out conceit
when they met you. Don't even have it in you to think well of
yourself for what you did then, do you?"
His eyes were
an incredibly bright blue. It was hard, staring into them, to find
the strength to contradict him. He seemed so sure and certain. It
was even harder, at this moment, to remember he was someone whose
opinions couldn't be trusted.
But she did
know that he could be trusted in some things. She remembered how he'd
"Glory did worse to you," said Tara. "You let her do worse."
said. He spread his hands in a dismissive gesture. "And, me, I'd
boast about it if I had. Because conceit is something I've got
by the cartload. But it's been pointed out by people with less than
perfect opinions of me that vampires aren't much good for lots of
things. And brain-suck happens to be one of them. Whatever Glory did
to me, I always knew she couldn't do that. She could kill me, but she
couldn't steal who I was. But you let it happen to you. Gave all of
yourself. For the Little Bit's sake." He took the fondue pot away
from her and set it on the counter, turning back to take her fingers
in his. Slowly, bowing from the waist in a way that seemed eerily
natural and not the least bit awkward, he kissed the back of her
hand. His lips were cool but not cold, and very soft as they grazed
Her mind went
blank with something that was more than surprise. She wasn't sure
what she was feeling, but it wasn't fear or embarrassment. It didn't
occur to her to be self-conscious until he straightened up, looking
shocked, horrified as if he'd just done something truly outrageous.
Which, considering what he was, she supposed he had. He couldn't
blush, of course, but she thought that he was even paler than usual,
his eyes refusing to meet hers. He backed away hastily.
stuttered, bumping into a chair as he made his way towards the door.
"Better be going, then. Got to see a bloke about—about—"
"A dog?" she
"Something like that," he said, his hand finding the doorknob at
last. He turned it, and slipped through the opening with a "Bloody
hell!" as he tripped over something in the hall. The door slammed
after him for a moment, unsure of her feelings until she heard herself
burst into laughter. She was, she realized with surprise, really
happy, although she couldn't have put the reason into words. It might
have been Spike's insistence that she wasn't as much of a coward as
she thought, or it might have been simple amusement at his
embarrassment. But even as she snickered, the fingers of her left
hand stroked the spot Spike's lips had touched, wondering if she'd
dreamed that unlikely caress. It seemed impossible that the
man who had just bumbled backwards outside her door was capable of
that courtly gesture.
she lived in an impossible world. And it was suddenly easier to continue living in it. It was as if the future had at least
momentarily become something to look forward to, instead of a dreaded
the Lethe's Bramble into the garbage can and shoved the fondue pot
into the back of the cupboard, setting the popcorn popper in front of
it. She decided on a corner of the tiny counter as the espresso
maker's permanent home, although she wouldn't have enough spare cash
for coffee until her next paycheck. She set the empty cardboard boxes
by the door to drop into the apartment's dumpster the next morning.
Then she picked up her backpack from the floor where she had abandoned
it earlier and carried it over to her desk.
As she pulled
out her textbooks, her gaze fell on the dagger Spike had brought her.
The books slipped from her hands, and she cautiously let one palm
hover over the dark grey blade, fingertips approaching the hilt but
not touching it. She was unsure exactly what hand had held it last,
but the emanations made it clear the thing had been evil. Spike had
said his only motivation in killing had been to avoid boredom, but
Tara knew that whether he cared or not, he'd done Sunnydale a favor if
he'd rid it of the thing that had desecrated that weapon.
power that was inherent in the blade itself was neither good nor evil,
though. She would need to pick up a few ingredients before she could
weave a spell that would cleanse the dagger, but she was confident
that in a day or so she would convert what had been an evil tool into
an instrument she could safely use.
Turning her back on the dagger, she went to the table and started to
gather up the length of blue cloth. But she noticed the other object
still lying in the tattered old box, and the fabric slipped from her
picture was completely ludicrous, but the frame was pretty.
She flipped it over, pulled out the backing, and removed the print.
Then she turned to her desk, opening a drawer and taking out some
photos, flipping through them quickly. Her first instinct was to
choose one of her favorite candids of Willow, but when she looked down
at that quirky, smiling face, the leaden feeling in her stomach
Much as I love her, staring at this picture will only bring me pain.
Reluctantly, she slipped the photo back into the drawer.
Several other snapshots, too reminiscent of happier times with Willow,
Buffy, and her other friends, followed. At last, Tara found herself
staring at the most recent picture in the pile, and she was surprised
to realize the corners of her mouth were tilting upwards.
days earlier, Dawn had offered to take Tara out for coffee, showing up
with a digital camera that she had displayed proudly and used ineptly,
deleting picture after picture as she struggled to understand its
mysteries. Tara had been suspicious, but Dawn had told her she hadn't
stolen the device, just "liberated" it from the lair of three stupid
nerds who'd been harassing Buffy. One of them had finally been
arrested for killing his ex-girlfriend, and Buffy and the others had
perused the "evidence." This tale had been less than reassuring, but
Tara felt powerless to protest the continued possession of the camera
when Dawn explained that Willow had a scored a huge haul of
sophisticated electronics and Xander had packed up several boxes of
comic books and Star Wars paraphernalia and taken them back to his
Spike, who had somehow wound up at the espresso bar at the same time
Dawn was insisting she could afford to buy Tara dessert, had been
predictably unappreciative of any moral dilemmas presented by the
acquisition of the camera, but he had been distinctly annoyed at
having his picture snapped a half-dozen times. Dawn had ignored his
complaints, finally handing her new toy to a passer-by and insisting he
take a picture of the three of them. The next day, she'd coaxed a
friend into printing out the result on glossy paper and had presented
the picture to Tara.
pairs of blue eyes peered out from the photo. Spike was slouched in
his chair, one arm stretched out along the table, his features cast in
sharp relief as he mock-glared at Dawn. Dawn smirked back at him,
twitching a strand of her hair self-consciously as she preened for the
camera. Tara, caught between them, looked as if she didn't know
whether to be amused or worried by her companions.
didn't think the three figures in the photo looked the least as if
they belonged together. And it wasn't as if the composition had any
intrinsic artistic merit. But without thinking too much of the reason
for her actions, she slipped the picture into her pretty new frame and
went to hunt for a nail and a hammer to hang it over her desk.
stumbled out into the hall, tripping over the box he'd left standing
outside Tara's door, and almost slamming into the opposite wall before
he managed to regain his balance. Grimacing at his own clumsiness, he
snatched up his second box of loot and hurried out onto the dark streets
of Sunnydale. But once he was on the sidewalk, his steps slowed
again, and he turned to gaze at the warm yellow light emanating from
the basement apartment.
better get busy fencing this lot so's we can get to the bar in time
for a few hands of poker,
said the fool after a few minutes.
time, said the demon,
his voice dripping with sarcasm. Thought I'd be bored, watching
you two chat up the witch. But now I'm all busy trying to
decide which one of you wankers made us look like more of an ass back
and began to walk briskly again.
I'm sure I
don't know what you're talking about,
said the poet haughtily. We
certainly were not 'chatting anyone up,' as you put it.
brayed with laughter. I wasn't! But what do you call
kissing her hand?
polite gesture, acknowledging the lady's bravery.
The poet was at his stiffest. I
certainly had no ulterior motive.
sure you'd know what to do with one if you did,
snarled the demon. Kissing hands and mooning about outside a
girl's house is all you're good for.
I hope so,
said the fool. Because we don't want him to actually start writing
poems again. And I don't remember you complaining about
hanging around Buffy's place.
agreed the demon, as they
reached Sunnydale's miniscule downtown. But we got something out
of that, usually. Until she walked out on us for good.
said the fool,
distracted for a moment by the memory of Buffy's body in Spike's arms.
Eventually, though, another thought occurred to him. But why are
we lurking around Tara's now?
provided a response while the poet was still mulling over the
question. We need to keep an eye on the Bit. She doesn't know how
to take proper care of herself, that one, and we promised to guard her.
wasn't there just now,
pointed out the fool inexorably.
agreed the poet. And do you know what else shouldn't have been
there? That horrible picture you stuck in the box while I was folding
up that cloth and the demon was trying to make sure we handled that
she might like it, said
the fool in a chastened tone. I mean, seeing she's gay and the
girl was starkers and all.
stark bad taste, snapped
the poet. I'm trying to match fabric to her eyes and you're giving
her bimbos on velvet!
the one on velvet! Knew she wouldn't like that one,
said the fool, adding after a moment, I kept that one for us.
what? cried the poet. If
you think you're putting that thing up in our crypt. . .
don't like it, you can just prance off with those pre-Raphaelite
prints you're so fond of and find some place else to hang them,
snapped the fool.
let him put those bloody mawkish things up either,
pointed out the demon. As for you, I don't care if it is a picture
of a naked bird, I draw the line at velvet. Only a wanker like you . .
ceased as the three realized Spike had thumped their box down on a
counter and reached a tentative agreement with a spiny purple demon
over the worth of the various artifacts inside. "Seventy-five bucks,"
the fence was saying. "And I'll throw in two cartons of cigarettes."
his mouth to agree, then stopped, staring around at the piles of
contraband and stolen goods heaped over the floor of the warehouse.
"What's that?" he said, pointing at a box filled with
squishy-looking gold foil bags.
might have grimaced, but it was hard for even someone as familiar with
demonkind as Spike to tell for sure. "That fancy gourmet coffee they
sell in those dumps where they charge a week's salary for a thimble of
sludge. Some loser dumped it here as part of a bigger haul."
"Throw in the
lot and you've got a deal," said Spike.
reached out a slender appendage, scooped up the box easily, and dropped
it on the counter. "There's enough caffeine there to keep
you awake nights for the next century or so. Didn't know fancy java was one of your vices."
vices than I'm about to share with you," said Spike, carefully
counting out the bills the fence handed him. "And a friend with a new
don't surprise me," said the fence as Spike headed for the door. "But
the friend does."
muttered Spike as he headed out into the night.
"Dawn, be careful!" Tara shouted, watching in horror as the huge,
lizard-like demon lashed out at the girl.
jumped up into a crevice a few feet above the cave's floor, turned
around, and kicked a shower of pebbles and stones at the monster. It
hissed, and raised itself up on its front eight legs. Before it could
strike, Spike stumbled forward, brushing away a trickle of blood where
his face had been cut by the thing's whipping tail.
demon turned back to Spike, and the vampire backed up as he fought,
clearly trying to achieve the dual goals of killing the lizard and
drawing it away from Dawn. In a few seconds, his back was up against
the wall of the cave as his sword lopped off one clawed leg. The
demon responded by using the dozens that remained to dart forward and
slash at him.
realized she was cursing beneath her breath, and forced herself to
stop, trying to modulate her breathing so she could enter trance and
do a spell. Her mind was racing through the possibilities. The huge
lizard was magical, but just barely. Anything too sophisticated might
slide off its scaly hide. It was time for strength, not finesse.
reached into her backpack and slid the now-gleaming silver dagger out
of the sheath she'd crafted for it. As she tried to order her
thoughts, she saw the lizard swipe at Spike's leg and almost rip
through the fabric of his jeans before he leapt to one side. She
didn't dare take the time to utter words aloud. She didn't make a
conscious decision to transmit her reassurance directly, and she was
almost surprised to hear her own mental shout. Hold on, Spike.
I'm going to try something.
Now would be good, witch. His sword blade flashed and she saw
his amber eyes gleam as he moved sideways again, retreating further.
"Bitter, bitter, bite," Tara muttered as she aimed the dagger at the
lizard. A dense cloud emerged from its tip, misting up under the
demon's belly. The lizard's attack slowed.
cursing, Spike pressed his advantage, hacking off first another leg,
then the lizard's head.
Tara!" Dawn jumped down from her perch, picked up the sword she'd
dropped earlier, and cut off the twitching tail. "I don't know what
you did, but thanks for the rescue."
away and let Spike and the teenager finish the dismemberment on their
his sword arm and turned to Dawn, his features morphing into human
form. "That's enough. I think these bits are too small to wander off
on their own and eat anyone else. Now back off and let me collect the
parts I can sell." He picked up an aged carryall that had been tossed
on the floor by the cave wall and opened the lizard's mouth.
Tara felt her
stomach heave and she looked away, catching the teenager's eye.
"Dawn," she said, her relief melting into exasperation and retroactive
terror, "If you ever, ever leave me a message again saying you can't
come over because you're helping Spike kill demons by the hellmouth, I
promise you I'll see to it that you're living with your father in San
Diego by the next sunrise."
expression of triumph changed to almost comical dismay. "Why? I was
just trying to help."
humanity. The world." The words were uttered in an unconvincing
grumble. "By getting rid of the forces of evil and all that stuff.
And it's not like I went out looking for trouble. Some of the kids at
school came down here on a dare and saw that thing. I heard about it
during gym class."
an impulse to tear at her hair. "So, why didn't you tell Buffy?"
sparked a look of indignation, followed by lots of eye-rolling.
"That's not fair, Tara. I don't even know where Buffy is.
Holding Xander's hand while he cries into his beer maybe, or escorting
Willow to a meeting of Amnesia Inducer's Anonymous. There was no one
home, so I found a description in one of Willow's books, and it turns
out you can sell these lizard's tongues for lots of money. People in
China think it helps with their sex life. That's why I went to
Tara tried to
wrap her thoughts around this new concept. "You're helping Spike find
aphrodisiacs to sell on the Asian black market?"
this once. And don't go all tree-hugger on me, Tara.
I mean, I know these things are endangered. But they should be
extinct. They're pretty dangerous."
"Yeah," said Spike, dropping the carryall on the ground at their
feet. It landed with a thud that said it was now filled with
something heavy and disgusting. "Seemed like a no-brainer."
"That's lucky," snapped Tara, turning her attention to him. "Because
you certainly weren't using any brain power when you decided on this
look—" Spike started to say, but she interrupted him.
you listen! I can't believe you brought Dawn down here. I'd ask what
you were thinking, but you've already admitted that you weren't!"
"It's not as
if it was the first time she's been here. Besides, I told her to stay
back and watch!"
closer to her, his eyes sparking amber, but she stood her ground. "And you
expected her to listen? Just how stupid can you be, Spike?"
He pointed at
the carryall. "Look, you showed up in time, the monster's dead, and I
stand to make a few quid out of the deal. No harm done."
there is harm done when you take Dawn into situations like this. This
isn't like sneaking around to let her gorge on spicy chicken wings
before you come over for tofu night at my place. And don't look so
surprised that I know about that. The garlic stink even overwhelmed
the cloud of Marlboro smoke and Bazooka sugar that you two drag along
with you everywhere. But just because I let you get away with taking
her to R-rated movies or teaching her to drive that motorcycle of
yours around the cemetery, doesn't mean you can take her
Tara's words seemed to be having an impact. Spike looked down and
shuffled his feet. "Thought I'd take the thing by myself. Didn't
expect her to jump in and start hacking at it."
still glaring at him when she heard Dawn say in a small voice, "It bit
you, Spike. You screamed."
expression became indignant again. "I did not scream. I may
have uttered a warlike yell, but I did not scream."
yelled, then," said Dawn. "But it did bite you. What else could I
else, at that point," agreed Tara. "And, Spike, just how would it
have been so much better if you had been taken to pieces by that thing
because you were too stupid to ask for help?"
He opened his
mouth to retort, and then shut it again, as if her last words had
presented an idea so novel that he had no idea how to respond. "All
right, witch," he muttered at last. "Won't do it again. Not without
asking you first."
nodded, feeling no hesitation at accepting his word. In spite of his
many faults—and she was suddenly in no mood to dwell on them—he kept
"Is the fight
over?" asked Dawn in a timid voice.
turned to her in surprise, about to say that the fight had been over
for some time. But the sight of the teen's frightened and distressed
face stopped her, and she exchanged glances with Spike.
too, understood immediately that it was the argument between Spike and
Tara that was distressing Dawn, not the dismembered corpse at her
feet. "Yeah, pet," he said quickly. "Fight's over."
over and took him by the arm. The gesture seemed to make him uneasy,
and he pulled away after a moment, flexing the fingers of his hand.
"What was that spell anyway?" he asked. "My hand is numb."
just cold," Tara said. "I figured, being a lizard and all, if there
was an intense temperature drop, it would slow down."
"Cold, eh?" Spike looked at his fingers. "So this should wear off?"
soon as you get someplace warmer," said Tara. "It might take longer
for you than Dawn and me because of your bad circulation." She was
attacked with renewed worry for him, which was ridiculous. He wasn't
dust, so he would be okay.
But maybe he's hurting right now. He has to be, from that cut, even
if the cold doesn't bother him. I don't want him to hurt. If I can't
stop him from hurting because of Buffy, at least he shouldn't always
be getting bruised and beaten. And he shouldn't be so surprised that
others worry about him being hurt.
total lack of circulation, you mean," said Dawn, who seemed to take a
more casual attitude towards Spike's injuries. "Hey, you know where's
warmer? That pizza place with the garlic butter and the potato
skins. And Buffy gave me money for dinner." She glanced at Tara.
"Come on. I'm sure they have something green there too. You can make
me eat that as an appetizer." She set off down the tunnel that led
back up to the surface.
Tara trailed behind Dawn and Spike. "But--but I have a nice,
healthy dinner already stewing in my crock pot."
asked Spike, with a suspicious glance over his shoulder. "I happen to
know it's two days before your payday and I don't recall you saying
you'd won the lottery. What's in this lovely stew of yours?"
"Well—" Tara hesitated. "A few potatoes and carrots and onions.
"They're cheap," said Spike understandingly.
some nice dried herbs," added Tara brightly, but then forced herself
to admit, "And pretty much everything else that was sitting in the
back of the fridge."
and Dawn exchanged looks. "Pizza," said Dawn definitely.
nodded towards Tara. "What about the witch?"
think it's a major act of kindness to drag her away from whatever's in
that crock pot," said Dawn with a shudder. "Hey! That and killing
this lizard makes two good deeds in one day, which means I can be as
bad as I like tomorrow."
sputtered with indignation at this fallacious logic, letting Spike and
Dawn tease her all the way to the restaurant as a way to make up for
her previous, uncharacteristic anger at them.
as she bit into a slice of really excellent pizza and listened to
Dawn's efforts to convince Spike to buy her an mp3 player with his
profits from the lizard's tongue, Tara realized she was proud of her
wrathful outburst. She had asserted herself for once. Well, she did
remember other times when she'd asserted herself. But tonight, it had
had yelled back at first, but he had listened. Really listened. He
hadn't tried to change the subject or say he didn't understand what
she meant. He'd listened, and at the end, he'd agreed with her.
The thought made her almost dizzy.
smiled up at the vampire as he came to the table, sliding over the mug
of beer he'd bought her without being asked and handing Dawn a glass
could be, and usually was, the most amazing idiot. But in addition to
admitting she could be right, he could also say and do astonishingly
nice things. Tara remembered his visit to her apartment and had to
admit it felt good to be praised for being strong sometimes. So
unlike Willow, who had always seemed threatened whenever it was clear
Tara had more experience or—
pushed that idea away. Aside from the fact that it seemed disloyal,
thinking about Willow did her no good.
began paying attention to the conversation around her.
if I buy you this thing, Bit, will you use it for good or evil?" Spike
do you mean?" asked Dawn, falling into his rhetorical trap in spite of
her obvious suspicions.
may be a demon, but I have my limits. Even a dump like
Sunnydale shouldn't be polluted with the sounds of Evanescence and
bent her head over her pizza, hiding her smirk from Dawn as she waited
for the teenager's inevitable protest.
was having a pretty good Friday evening. At least, it was pretty good
up until the moment she turned the corner onto Revello Drive.
been invited to this really wild party by a girl she hardly knew. So
she'd left a note for Buffy saying she'd be at Tara's and then snuck
into Spike's crypt. She'd left him a note saying where the party was
and mentioning there'd be boys and maybe a keg and wasn't that cool?
she'd shown up at the party wearing her best jeans and a shirt that
she probably should have given to charity because it was getting too
small. It was fun for a while, and just when it started to get a
little scary, Tara had come in without knocking and hauled her out
onto the street, where Spike was stalking up and down and growling so
loud Dawn was surprised he hadn't switched to game face.
you ever do this again—" he snarled at her.
took a step back. He was angrier than she'd expected. It was always
so hard to know what would upset him and how much. He didn't mind
letting her see dismembered demons, but apparently kegger parties were
something else altogether. "I thought you'd be glad I was having a
some new monster in Sunnydale that sucked out what little brains you
have? What made you think this was a brilliant idea?" His blue eyes
sparked with gold flecks. "And then leaving me that daft note, and me
not able to get in there without an invitation."
said Dawn in a small voice that she hoped didn't sound smug. "So
that's why you went to get Tara."
that's bloody well why I went to get Tara! Or would you rather I
tracked down your sister and let her find you in there?"
no!" Dawn had no problem looking horrified at this idea. "Buffy
doesn't deal with this kind of stuff well." She just looks at me
with dead eyes and moves on. She hardly ever bothers to yell at me at
what makes you think I'm dealing well?" asked Tara in a level tone.
"Dawn, I'm so disappointed in you."
around, and her heart sank at the sadness in her friend's eyes. "I'm
sorry," she stammered sincerely. "Please, please don't be angry." She
threw herself into Tara's arms and was relieved when she received a
However, Tara's voice was still stern a moment later when she said,
"We're taking you home now."
"But—" Dawn raised her head and looked back and forth from Tara to
Spike. "I don't want to go back to that big, stupid, empty house and
just sit until Buffy finally gets back from killing something
or making burgers or whatever it is she's doing or until Willow comes
in to moan about how she can't do magic any more. It's not fair.
I wouldn't even have wanted to go to that party if I'd just had
someone I could really talk to." She crossed her hands in front of
her chest and sulked.
and Spike exchanged looks.
they went back to Tara's apartment instead. Tara and Dawn made
popcorn while Spike sprawled on the couch with the remote, switching
back and forth between Titus Andronicus and South Park.
Spike went out for a smoke and Dawn used up some of the apartment's
vast supply of coffee by making experimental mochas with the
espresso machine while Tara sat on the couch and paged through her
Statistics text with one hand, using the clicker to switch back and
forth between Xena and C-SPAN with the other.
all three of them squeezed onto the couch together, and after much
argument, most of it from Spike, watched two episodes of Daria.
Sometime after Dawn started wondering why Sick, Sad World
didn't film in Sunnydale, Tara noticed how late it was. Spike
volunteered to walk Dawn home, and Tara said she couldn't go with them
because she had to get up early to go to her part-time job at the
even without Tara's company, the walk home was fun. Dawn chattered
about how it was too bad Tara had to work so hard, but at least she
was around books, and she liked books, so that couldn't be so awful.
"Depends on the books," Spike retorted.
wonder what kind of job she'll get when she's finished with college."
This thought led to an even more intriguing, Dawn-centered
speculation. "I wonder what kind of job I'll get when I'm grown up.
It's kind of scary to think about, you know, because there are so many
different things to choose from."
going the way you have been, Bit, and you'll have to choose something
you can do from inside a prison cell. That should narrow the options
down." She could see the blue flash of his eyes over the glow of the
cigarette dangling from his lips.
isn't fair, Spike! I am not going to wind up in jail.
I haven't stolen anything for months and months."
Well, they'll just have to nab you for truancy then, or underage
Just then a
bunch of guys came around the corner, moving together like a pack of
predators. Dawn stiffened, and started to fumble in her backpack for
one of the weapons Spike had been teaching her how to use.
just stared at the other men, all of them taller and bulkier than he
was, and gave a single, deep-throated growl.
parted to let them go by.
until they were out of earshot to ask, "What would you have done if
that didn't scare them?"
game face," he said. "That usually works."
his expression looked desolate. "Having that chip kind of sucks," she
said inadequately. "You must really miss being able to fight humans."
"I don't like
not being able to defend my girl proper," he said in a voice that
sounded almost as vicious as the snarl he'd used to scare off the
gang. "And I'm not fond of being humiliated by someone I should be
able to toss across the room. But I don't miss fighting humans."
eating them. Barring Slayers and a few others, humans are no
challenge. I'd rather rumble with a demon who gives me a run for my
sense to Dawn. She didn't find most humans good for very much either.
On the next
block, a vampire jumped out from behind a tree, and Spike let Dawn try
out some of the self-defense moves he'd taught her. She managed to
hold her own for almost a minute before he stepped in and snapped the
creature's neck. He tossed her a stake and held the vampire out in
front of him so she could dust it herself before it had time to
recover. Then he said she'd done a good job. That was so cool it
made her completely forget he'd called her a future jailbird.
his approval of the way she'd kicked the vamp in the balls ringing
pleasantly in her ears, Dawn turned the corner onto Revello Drive.
And felt her
wasn't that there was anything scary or unpleasant on the street. In
fact, everything looked way too normal and quiet for Sunnydale. It
was just that she didn't want to go home. She started dragging her
realized she was falling behind and turned to look at her. "What's
Dawn was going to leave her reply at that, but his incredulously
raised eyebrow spurred her into speech. "Spike, how come Tara can live
in her own apartment and make pretty good meals with vegetables and
stuff when she only works part-time?"
his head tilted to one side. "I think she gets some kind of money the
government gives to students," he said. "But that place of hers
doesn't cost much. Less than the dorm, she said. That's why she
Dawn. "I think the grant money she gets goes mostly for tuition.
But—" She stared at the house her mother had bought, trying to think
it through. "If Buffy sold the house, wouldn't it mean she'd have to
work less? I mean, there are lots of taxes and repair bills and
electric bills she wouldn't have to pay."
Spike. "But in case you haven't noticed, Bit, I'm not a real estate
agent or a financial planner."
when Buffy talks about taking care of me, it's all about money stuff.
Getting me clothes and making the mortgage payments so I have a roof
over my head. She never wants to talk with me about other stuff."
Dawn kicked at a neighbor's fence. "She doesn't talk much to anyone
except Willow and Xander. Not like Tara. Tara tries to make friends
with people and go places sometimes. Buffy never has any fun any
Spike wasn't much more comfortable talking about this kind of stuff
than Buffy was. "Bit, I'm not a family counselor either. And I'm not
one to give anyone advice, But this I do know. Your sister's doing
the best she can for you."
looked so sad when he mentioned Buffy. Dawn forgot about her own
problems for a moment. "I don’t know why you're being nice about
her. She never did the best she could for you, Spike."
"I'm not so
sure about that, Bit." She stared up at him in surprise and saw he
was looking up at her house. "When did that happen?" he asked,
gesturing. "Something forget where the door is?"
over her shoulder at the boarded-up front window. "More or less. A
really stupid demon smashed in a few days ago. Xander has the glass
to fix it on order."
"Oh," he said
blankly, and it occurred to Dawn that once he would have known about
an event like that immediately. Once he would probably have been
around to help throw the demon back out the window.
awkward moment, Spike said, "Better get inside. It's late."
She gave him
a quick hug, feeling him stiffen before he responded awkwardly. She
hardly ever touched him any more, but she was trying to change that.
He'd seemed so distant for a long time, until they'd started hanging
out with Tara. He still seemed awfully lonely, and she wanted to let
him know she cared about him. And hugging him made her feel
stronger. She took a deep breath, let go of him, and ran into the
house before her courage failed her.
was coming out of the kitchen when Dawn came in the front door. She
looked tired and kind of depressed, so Dawn supposed everything was
she said as she headed for the stairs.
isn't coming in?" Buffy asked with a glance at the door.
"Uh—no." Dawn stuttered the syllables.
stiffened. "Tara did walk you home, didn't she?"
Better not lie. Dawn made her voice as casual as possible and
started making her way up the stairs as she said, "She couldn't, so
Buffy's voice was as sharp as a stake. "Spike? How did that happen?
Why was he around you two?"
brought something over to Tara's." That would be me. "You
know, she needs stuff, and he's good at finding stuff, and I don't
think she feels comfortable going to the magic shop any more." Dawn
opened the door to her room and tossed her backpack on her bed.
"Dangerous stuff?" asked Buffy from the doorway.
hope not. Not really, even though I know I've been being pretty bad.
She turned to face her sister. "Come on, Buffy, we're
talking about Tara. Do you think she'd be into dangerous stuff?"
There, I managed to not tell the real truth without actually lying!
relaxed visibly. "No, of course not. If we can't trust Tara— But,
Dawn, I don't want you around Spike. Walking you home once in a while
is okay, but you shouldn't hang out with him."
stiffened. "Why not?"
not? He's evil, Dawn."
realized suddenly that Buffy was actually paying attention to this
conversation and that her voice held real emotion. She threw herself
into the argument. "No, Buffy, he used to be evil. Now, he's
whatever it is that he is. Maybe not all the way good, but not evil
shook her head. "Dawn, do you have any idea of the things he's done?"
"Those things don't matter to me!"
"Well, they should!" There was real pain of some kind in Buffy's
are just never fair to him, Buffy." Dawn's initial pleasure at
seeing her sister react, even negatively, about something was
"Fair? You want me to be—" Buffy took a step back, hesitating for a
moment before taking refuge in an old argument. "Do you think he's
changed? People don't change. Not that much. Not from evil to
good." Then she added the clincher, the one Dawn had known was
coming. "Not without a soul."
don't care!" shrieked Dawn, turning up the volume of her voice to its
most ear-splitting. "It's not fair!"
Apparently even Buffy realized that there was no arguing with that
statement, especially when it was uttered at those decibels. She left
the room, her only answer the vicious slam with which she closed the
listened to Buffy stomp down the stairs. She was shaking with
reaction, and she wished that she'd been able to stay calm and try to
make Buffy listen to her. But her sister's words had made her so
crazy she hadn't been able to keep from screaming.
Buffy understand? Why did she insist Spike was still the same monster
who'd come to Sunnydale? Why couldn't she see that some things did
Buffy was right that people didn't change much, but Spike wasn't
human. And things that weren't human could change. Dawn was sure of
changed. She'd gone from shiny ball of energy to whatever she was
now. What used to be a Key was a Dawn-shaped thing, and maybe she had
a soul and maybe she didn't. But she was all right. At least, she
hoped she was. And she was sure Spike was all right too.
didn't Buffy understand?
Dawn was safely through the front door, Spike took a few steps down
the street, moving out of the glow of the street lamp in front of
Buffy's house. At first he moved purposefully, but then his steps
slowed, and he turned back, staring at the lighted windows, straining
to hear the voices within. He could make out the tones, but not the
The Slayer and the Bit are going at it, said the demon.
Nothing new about that, said the fool.
hope Dawn isn't being made miserable on account of us, said the
poet. And I hope Buffy— He stopped, bewildered.
Sometimes it was hard for even the poet to know what to hope for
sensed movement in the front of the house. He stepped further back
into the shadows as the front door opened. "Spike?" Buffy stepped
out onto the porch and leaned over the rail, peering under the tree in
the front yard. After a moment, she went over and laid a hand on the
trunk, her head down, as if she were searching for something by the
Checking for the butts from our fags, said the demon.
Finding nothing, the Slayer slowly climbed the porch steps and went
back into the house, looking over her shoulder. Less than a minute
later, Spike heard the back door open.
Thinks we're lurking out there, said the fool. It always used
to be there, if it wasn't under the tree.
All three of them
realized with some surprise that they hadn't lurked anywhere near
Revello Drive for weeks.
She's waiting for us, said the poet.
Yeah, but why? asked the demon.
mulled over the possibilities. Most likely Buffy was going to yell at
Spike for hanging around Dawn. Or maybe she wanted to tell him again
to get out of her life? Or maybe, just maybe—
Doesn't matter, said the poet with certainty. We're not going
even if she did invite him back into her life for a time, it wouldn't
be with love. Soon, she would reject him again. And she would loathe
herself for her renewed weakness even more than she loathed him for
making her weak. None of them, not even the poet, who was the worst
masochist of the trio, wanted to experience that again. And none of
them, especially the poet, wanted that for Buffy.
deserved better. But he wasn't the man to give her what she
deserved. He wasn't even the man to figure out what the devil that
lit a cigarette and stood where he was, in the darkness, too far to be
seen from the house, but close enough to sense her. He wasn't going
to step into the back yard, but it seemed like there was something
else he should do before he slipped away.
poet rummaged through his store of borrowed thoughts and phrases and
found some words.
listen, said the demon.
said the poet sadly. She hasn't heard me in a long time.
anyway, said the fool
with surprising wisdom. Sometimes the words just need to be said.
deep in the shadows, Spike spoke to a woman who was too far away to
The end was quick and
Slow and sweet was the
time between us,
Slow and sweet were the
When my hands did not
touch one another in despair
But with the love of
Which came between them.
And when I entered into
It seemed then that
measured with the precision
dropped his cigarette in the dirt and ground out the bright spark.
"'Quick and bitter.'" He looked back at the house for a long moment.
"'Had we remained together, we could have become a silence.'"
turned and walked away down Revello Drive.
The poem Spike quotes from at
the end of this section is Quick and Bitter by
translated by Assia
Gutmann. You can read the whole text
All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy,
etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
for the beta, and
Piglet for the original idea.
sighed and picked up a textbook. She was trying to concentrate on her
homework, but the memory of an unfulfilled promise kept intervening.
She really should keep her word to Spike and start looking for
something to help him get over Buffy. She kept intending to—just as
soon as she could catch up on her schoolwork, stop being distracted by
the need to fight stray demons, and keep Dawn under sufficient control
to get a moment's rest.
She looked down
at the book in front of her, and her brows twitched in perplexity over
the words on the page. It was hard to concentrate on Romantic
Poetry. Spike loved this stuff, though. Maybe if she asked him to
help with her lit paper, she'd have more time to look into his
problem. She'd ask him when he came over later.
she remembered that there was no reason for him to visit her apartment
that night. Dawn had a thing at school, and Buffy would probably be
taking her. And maybe Xander. And most likely Willow, which was why
Tara had no intention of going herself. She didn't want to see
really don't want to see her.
was surprised by her own train of thought, but before she could think
through her feelings, her eye was caught by the light blinking on her
answering machine. She'd been too distracted to notice it when she'd
come in. Setting her book aside, she went to check her messages.
strode along the sidewalk, trying to ignore the voices in his head as
he made his way back to his crypt from downtown. It was depressingly
early in the evening for them to be this confused and angry.
Well, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into, said the
please, moaned the poet, before adding to the demon, I keep
telling you we shouldn't let him watch all those stupid comedy shows.
Yeah, said the demon, you're a good one to talk about where to
tune the dial. You cry every time we see "Random Harvest."
You're no better, said
the fool to the demon. If it were up to you, it would be all Sam
Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino.
porn, said the demon.
Don't forget the porn.
Let's face it, the only things we all agree on are porn and
Kevin Smith films, said
the fool. But that's not the point. I want to know what we're
going to do about her.
All three voices were
silent, contemplating the her in question.
We're no better off than we were before, said the fool at last.
Worse, in fact. At least Buffy liked blokes.
Tara said she didn't think of herself as gay. Just as a woman who
fell in love with another woman,
said the poet. Such a beautiful thought. He sniffled a bit.
Makes me have beautiful thoughts,
said the fool in a very different tone, his mind slipping back towards
Yeah, but when did you ever see her look at us with a real awareness
of the hotness that is Spike?
said the demon resentfully. I'll tell you when. Never. Because I
asked the fool.
If she even starts having those feelings around us, she moves away and
starts doing her Statistics homework. She doesn't want to
think about us that way.
But if she's
resorting to maths not to, perhaps there's hope,
said the poet doubtfully.
said the fool eagerly. Statistics? That has to be avoidance.
Statistics, snapped the
demon. What are we going to do to get through this night?
made a start, said the
fool. Gone to the shops and all.
killed a whole half-hour,
said the demon. Now, find me something else to kill. Because
we've hours and hours ahead of us, and you lot keep telling me we need
to stay away from Dawn and that high school.
will be there? asked the
snarled the demon. And you know Tara will go. And—
happen, said the poet as
soothingly as he could manage. Tara is all honor and integrity.
She knows that Willow cannot and will not control her magical
powers. And Tara has too much common sense not to realize that if she
goes back to Willow it won't make the woman she loves stronger—just
reassuring, said the
said the poet. Because I'm afraid that she also has too much
integrity and common sense to fall in love with us.
There was a long
silence as all three of them contemplated this unpleasant truth.
It's not as
if we would be any good for her, anyway,
murmured the poet.
so bad, said the demon.
We make her laugh, make her smile. Could make her smile even more,
given the chance.
laughed. Yeah, we're just what a wise, beautiful, and powerful
white witch needs for a lover. A toothless, crazy vampire.
We are not
crazy! chimed the demon
and the poet in unison.
Then how do
you explain the Multiple Personality Disorder?
We are not
symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder,
snapped the poet. We are merely a coping device Spike uses to work
out his issues.
device? Issues? mocked
the demon. We have issues now? I knew we shouldn't let a
certain someone watch Dr. Phil.
snarled at all three of them to shut up. He'd almost reached his
crypt, and he had reached a decision, at least for the short term.
The only advice he planned to take for the rest of the evening would
come from Jack Daniels.
his steps slowed, and he felt himself tense, had to stop himself from
slipping into game face. His plans for the evening were about to
Because she was here, and something was wrong.
"Spike!" Tara ran through the graveyard, almost stumbling over a
tombstone in her attempt to catch up with him.
turned, stepping forward to meet her, reaching out a hand to steady
her as she came up to him. "What's wrong, pet?"
Dawn," she gasped, unable to force out anything more as she struggled
to get her breath back.
know it's Dawn," he snarled, and she felt his grip tighten on her
arm. "It's always Dawn. What's the brat up to now? Do I have to
scare more cops away, or has she been kidnapped again, or—"
left a message on my machine," Tara spat out at last. "She's cutting
the dance recital at school tonight."
was a long silence. Tara noticed for the first time that Spike was
holding a grocery bag under one arm. He let go of her, shifted his
grip on the bag, turned to face her, and said, "Well, no wonder you've
got your knickers all in a twist. Here I was thinking she was only
about to be arrested or murdered by demons, as per usual for our
little bit of interdimensional juvenile delinquency. But now that I
know the fate of a bloody dance recital hangs in the balance,
well, I'm just all of a-twitter."
felt no inclination to back down in the face of this sarcasm. "Spike,
you know the principal made her help out with the kids in this stupid
recital as part of her detention for the business with the tennis
balls, the porcupine, and the fetal pigs. It's like she's on parole
or something, and the social workers are all watching her. We have to
track her down and make her go to this thing." Her tone grew more
impatient as she pointed out the train of logic that should have been
as obvious to him as it was to her. "If she doesn't show up tonight,
she'll get kicked out of school. If she gets kicked out of school,
they'll take her away from Buffy and send her to live with her
father. If they send her to live with her father—"
"—we'll never see her," he finished with a growl that showed how
little he liked that conclusion. "But where's Buffy? And W—and the
other Scoobies? I thought the Little Bit would have a posse escorting
her to this thing."
don't know," said Tara. "They're probably on patrol. From what Dawn
said on my machine, I don't think Buffy was planning on going." Which
was a surprise to me. And which means Dawn was left with no one at
all for moral support.
planning—?" He glared off into the distance for a moment, and a
muscle tightened in his jaw. "Right, Tara. Just let me drop my
smokes and blood at my place first." He turned away and began
striding between the tombstones.
hurry up," said Tara, in spite of the fact that she was already almost
breathless again trying to keep up with him. "We need to find her
be too hard," said Spike. He stopped suddenly and nodded in the
direction of his crypt. Tara saw a light gleaming within.
sense the presence of an evil, manipulative creature that feeds on
popcorn, atrocious pop music, and bad TV. Who else could it be?"
Shifting his grocery bag to one hip, he stalked over to the door and
shoved it wide, flinging it against the wall with a resounding crash.
pool of light was emanating from the crooked lamp that leaned in the
middle of the crypt, near the single comfortable chair. Dawn was
sprawled across the battered upholstery, one blue-jean clad leg
dangling over the just-slightly-broken arm of the recliner, her eyes
fixed on the flickering light from the television set. She flinched
only slightly at Spike's dramatic entry.
are you watching?" Tara demanded, momentarily distracted.
a video," said Dawn, reaching for the clicker and dragging herself
into a more upright position. She added, her words tumbling over each
other too quickly, "Just something that happened to be in the
lying little bint," said Spike without anger as he dropped the
groceries on top of his refrigerator. "I was not watching
own that movie?" Tara asked him, even more distracted.
muttered something that almost sounded like, "Probably hoped it would
help him figure out his next move," but that made no sense. Tara
stopped worrying about the contents of Spike's video collection as
certain scenes from the movie replayed themselves in her mind. Not
things she wanted Dawn watching or hearing. And definitely not things
she wanted Dawn asking her awkward questions about. "Dawn, you know
you're not supposed to watch R-rated movies unless you ask first!"
slunk further down into the chair.
the issue of the moment," said Spike. He pointed at Dawn. "You.
That scrawny butt of yours belongs in a flipping pink leotard, on the
stage, at the high school. Now."
howled Dawn. "It's not fair!"
it is fair. It is more than fair. It's a punishment you
deserve for putting me in a position to have to say what I just did!"
The only reason I'm stuck with those brats is those stupid monks
decided to put it in everyone's memories that I used to go Miss
Cherie's Twinkle Toes Academy when I was a little kid. But I was
never a little kid, and I don't think there even is something as dumb
as a Twinkle Toes Academy in LA, so it's just not fair and I'm
Spike showed no
sympathy. "You will wipe runny noses and tie on toe shoes for those
brats or your butt will be in San Diego permanently."
I'm pretty sure your dad will outlaw Kevin Smith movies entirely, but
we let you watch Dogma," pointed out Tara, moving into Good Cop
mode. It felt odd. Usually Spike was the one who bent to Dawn's will
while she stood firm.
sat up straight. "I will not go live with my father," she
announced, her nose in the air. "He didn't even come to mom's
go to the recital," said Tara coaxingly. "It's only an hour or so of
your time, and it will get the social workers off your back."
right, pet, you need to go," said Spike, also relaxing his tone. "It
may be stupid and mindless, but it's bloody important."
Dawn crossed her arms in front of her chest. "It's not
fair. And if it's so important, why isn't anyone coming to see
"Someone is," Tara said, before Spike could respond. "I'm going to go
watch you. And so is Spike."
settled down on a hard plastic chair, smiling to herself with the
satisfaction of one who has completed a difficult but essential
mission. In fact, she was enjoying the unusual sensation of feeling
proud of herself. She had somehow managed to nag both the vampire and
the teenager as far as the high school and into their appointed
places. It had seemed an insurmountable task for anyone, even a
Slayer, and yet, she, Tara, had somehow accomplished it, against
bitter resistance, and in time to meet the looming deadline of opening
curtain. Dawn and the bag containing her dancing gear had been safely
delivered backstage into the care of a harassed but determined-looking
teacher, and Spike had been prodded into the crowded auditorium and
maneuvered into a seating arrangement that placed Tara between him and
the aisle that marked his escape route.
elderly, grey-haired woman in a pink sweatshirt embroidered with the
words, "World's Best Grandma" turned to Spike with the air of Someone
Who Talks to Everyone. "This is so nice!" she announced in a voice
neither Tara nor anyone else within four or five noisy aisles could
help hearing. "It's very exciting, isn't it?"
get out a lot, do you, lady?" drawled Spike.
grasped him by the arm, hauled him back to his feet and plunked
herself in his chair before pulling him back down beside her. She
turned to smile at his erstwhile companion. "Sorry. He needs to be
by the aisle. In case—in case his beeper goes off and he has to
"Yeah," said Spike, reaching for his pocket and leaning forward.
"Funny thing about you saying that just now. Because I'm feeling
these vibes that—"
said Tara loudly, whipping her head around to meet his eyes as
fiercely as she could, "we're both hoping that doesn't happen and he
sits here quietly and enjoys the whole show. Because if the
children can go to the trouble of putting this thing on, the least we
can do is watch them."
subsided and glowered at her.
lights went down just as the woman beside Tara launched into a
recitation of the names of her grandchildren and an explanation of
where the ballerina they were about to see had sprouted on the family
tree. She didn't moderate her voice, even as the tired-looking
teacher standing at the scarred podium begged for silence and good
behavior from the audience. The plea for quiet was further punctuated
by Spike's curses as the child seated behind him kicked the back of
his chair and screamed that he wanted to go home because Yu-Gi-Oh
was on and his sister was a creepy little show-off anyway. Tara
clamped her left hand down over Spike's arm to discourage any further
attempts at flight, but very carefully refused to look at him.
felt his muscles flinch under her fingers as a young man clad in an
elderly pale blue suit began to thump on an ancient, out-of-tune
piano. The first dancers paraded onto the stage, and Tara flinched
"Bugger this," muttered Spike.
needs you to be here," hissed Tara.
"Bugger," he repeated. But instead of leaving, he glanced over his
shoulder. Tara caught a flash of yellow from his eyes, heard a small
yelp from the aisle behind them, and then relaxed, as Spike slumped
back down in his chair and the child seated behind him subsided into
minutes later, they had been subjected to several vignettes starring
small troupes ranging in age from three to twelve and in skill levels
from non-existent to barely mediocre. The tinny music was giving Tara
a headache, and the costumes, which appeared to have been purchased
during a tag sale at the Liberace estate, were causing eye strain.
Some babies in the audience were crying, but instead of being
irritated by the wailing, Tara almost wished she could join them. The
only consolation was that the lighting was poor and their late arrival
had forced them into seats some distance from the stage.
could see the tap-dancers' lips moving as they muttered, "shuffle,
ball, change" to themselves and stumbled along at varying tempos that
seemed to take no cues from the music emanating from the tinny piano.
Still, they were an improvement on the "jazz dancer" who kept tripping
over her flowing robes and striking unimpressive poses.
Spike shifted in
his chair, and Tara tightened her grip on his arm again. Her muscles
were beginning to cramp from holding him so awkwardly, and she slid
her fingers down his leather sleeve to grasp his hand instead. She
felt him stiffen, but instead of pulling away, he grew still, and
after a moment his fingers returned the pressure of hers ever so
final group was announced, and Dawn appeared at last. She was in
charge of a class of some of the youngest dancers, a milling crowd of
kindergarteners dressed with stunning impropriety in sequin-studded
chorus girl outfits. Dawn, obviously mortified to be wearing a
similar costume, had been assigned the chore of standing in front of
the bewildered group and performing the routine that the children had
supposedly learned by heart for this recital. Since the girls had
clearly done no such thing, they watched Dawn and attempted to mimic
her, which put them several beats behind the music. Most of them
didn't know their left from their right, and one made no attempt to
dance at all but stared at the audience in dismay for a full minute
before bursting into tears.
All this would
have struck Tara as funny and adorable if it hadn't been for the
remaining member of the troupe, a blonde girl marginally more skilled
than the others. In contrast to the rest of the children, her makeup
and hair looked professionally done (apparently by someone accustomed
to coiffing hookers and beauty queens), and there was no hesitation in
her demeanor. She marched to the front of the stage, standing next to
Dawn instead of behind her, and performed her two-minute routine
inaccurately, but with an air that proclaimed her conviction that she
was worthy of prima ballerina status. Tara wanted to smack her
smirking face, and Dawn kept casting indignant glances in the girl's
direction. After one particularly pretentious pirouette, Tara heard
Spike growl ominously from deep in his throat.
dutifully performed the simple routine, followed by her inept
imitators, and finally, the torture ended. Apparently, the enthusiasm
of doting relatives was not dependent upon the quality of the
performance, because the audience stood and clapped wildly as the
lights came up. The tiny show-off ballerina stepped even closer to
the front of the stage and began performing curtseys that she seemed
to have practiced more carefully than the dance routine. A young
woman rushed to the stage and rescued the bawling child, and the rest
of the dancers stood as if stunned for a moment before making awkward
bows and shuffling off.
stood quietly, her eyes scanning the audience. She caught sight of
Tara, who was sitting in place with her hand still gripping Spike's.
The teenager's lips quirked upward for the first time since she had
appeared on stage. She gave a slight, bobbing bow and slipped away.
Eventually, the wholly inappropriate applause died down. Tara
released Spike at last, and they made their way to the foyer, followed
by the elderly woman, who was raving about her granddaughter's
performance in one of the first routines. Tara wasn't sure which of
the incompetent dancers had been pointed out to her by a wavering
finger, but she smiled and nodded agreement while keeping a close eye
on Spike. She gave him good marks for not fully vamping out yet, but
she feared his tolerance couldn't last much longer. Now the ordeal
was over, she was anxious to get him away from this particularly
hellish bit of the hellmouth.
looked over her shoulder to see Dawn coming towards them. It occurred
to Tara that the girl could win an award for speedy changes of
appearance when necessary; in her eagerness to escape, she had already
wiped off the excess makeup and donned a t-shirt and jeans instead of
her gaudy costume.
of something nice to say about the performance," hissed Tara, leaning
it was short," he suggested after a moment's thought.
"That's the best you can do?"
"Mercifully short," he amended.
mind. Don't say anything." Tara stepped forward to hug Dawn. "You
did great, honey," she said.
you didn't kill any of them or puke on the stage," said Spike,
ignoring Tara's injunction to silence.
glared at him, but Dawn smiled. "I know. I'm pretty proud of myself."
was standing close enough to Tara that she felt the movement when
someone pulled on the skirts of his duster. She looked down to see
the blonde ballerina who had disgusted her during Dawn's performance.
The child was staring up at Spike intently.
"What?" he demanded impatiently.
hair is stupid," said the little girl in an authoritative tone.
bent down, descending literally and figuratively to her level.
"Well," he said, his voice deceptively gentle, "you have stupid hair
too. In fact, you have big hair, which is the worst kind of stupid
hair. And, your mum is an ignorant cow who should be horsewhipped for
tarting you up like a two-dollar whore. And, you can't dance for
toffee. You dance worse than that stupid purple dinosaur."
drew in her breath, waiting for a wail of anger or dismay, but the
child merely stuck out her tongue and ran off as Spike stood up again.
sweet," announced the elderly woman who had been sitting next to
Tara. She had apparently heard Spike's tone, but not his words.
"It's always so nice to see a young man who's good with children. Is
that your little girl?"
asked Tara in dismay. "That kid?"
I was wondering which was your child. Such a lovely couple you make.
And I thought that little girl looked a bit like you."
Utterly speechless, Tara glanced at Spike and saw him about to open
his mouth. She grabbed him by the arm again and dragged him outside
as quickly as she could.
lighten up, Tara," said Dawn before Tara could begin to scold. "The
only thing that bothers me is that he didn't bite her. Everyone hates
haven't been the most lovable creature around yourself," said Spike.
"Bit, if you ever do anything to make me have to go through an
ordeal like that again, I will personally see to it you're dismembered
and fed to hungry baby Korash demons. While you're still alive."
was unimpressed. "If you hated it so much, you should have torn the
place up, the way Mom said you did once when Buffy had some stupid
thing going on at the old High School."
"I remember that
night." Spike's tone was nostalgic. "Busted me over the head with an
axe, your mum did."
"Mom was the
best," Dawn agreed. "But I guess she would have been glad we behaved
ourselves tonight. In fact, I bet she would have said we deserved a
reward. " Her tone turned coaxing. "Something better than the
Kool-Aid and cookies they're serving in the school cafeteria."
much are you planning on drinking?" asked Tara an hour later, as Spike
slipped back onto the love seat next to her, a glass in his left
slipped his right arm along the back of the couch, scanning the crowd
on the dance floor of the Bronze. He watched intently for a minute,
apparently decided that the pimply youth engaging in embarrassing
contortions a few feet away from Dawn was no danger to her virtue or
her safety, and relaxed back against the cushions. "As much as it
takes to make me forget that bloody horror show of Swan Lake on the
everyone has to start as a beginner," said Tara, mellowed by the
distance of time and a couple of beers. "They're just learning."
"Yeah. Just think how ghastly they'll be with a few years more
couldn't help smiling. As noisy and chaotic as the Bronze was, it was
an enormous improvement over the school auditorium. And she was
comfortable sitting next to him, watching the kids around them dance,
and seeing Dawn smiling and happy.
not too happy. Fortunately. Dawn didn't seem to be crushing on any
of the boys she was dancing with, which was good. Extricating her
from the last few boyfriends, especially the one who turned out to be
a demon, had aged Tara prematurely. She glanced at Spike, thinking
that even he had been a bit frazzled by that experience. But
Tara was extremely glad he'd been there the past few months, to help
her cope with Dawn's tears and tantrums, to rush to wild parties that
had gotten out of hand, to go into vamp face and scare off that cop
who'd been about to haul Dawn in for driving without a license and
breaking curfew, to . . .
had lost track of the number of times she and Spike had gone to Dawn's
rescue recently. They both recognized that the girl was acting up
deliberately, of course, begging for their attention. Probably
because she'd given up on getting Buffy to notice her. She was
behaving worse, crazier, than Tara had after her own mother's death.
between them, Spike and Tara had somehow gotten Dawn through mid-term
exams and bad dates. Tara had even shown up for parent-teacher
conferences when Dawn called one night, panic-stricken, to say that
Buffy was off killing something and the principal was expecting
someone to be there. Tara had rushed into the school building,
knowing she was late for the first appointment on the schedule, only
to find the Language Arts teacher chatting amicably about Victorian
poetry with Dawn's "stepbrother." Tara had introduced herself as a
cousin and made Buffy's apologies. She and Spike had somehow managed
to carry off the rest of the evening, although Tara was sure even a
vampire's toes would have to be sore from the number of times she had
stepped on his foot to shut him up. Tara had let him rage all he
wanted afterwards, while she trudged along beside him miserably. She
knew he was in agony not just because Dawn was being neglected, but
because he hated seeing Buffy so disconnected from the friends and
family that had once defined her unusual strengths as a Slayer.
relaxed now, though, smiling at Dawn's pleasure and sipping his drink
from time to time. Tara watched his profile, enjoying the way his
eyebrow quirked when he was amused, and smiling at his
exaggerated grimace of pain when the set ended and the sound system
dared to blare something by Britney.
slid onto the low table across from them, almost bouncing up and down
in her enthusiasm. "This is so cool! A lot of the kids I met in
detention are here, and we're having a great time. Thanks, guys!"
and Spike exchanged a horrified look, but by the time they faced the
table again, Dawn was gone, heading towards the bathrooms with a girl
in Goth gear.
too young to feel this old," grumbled Tara.
knew before she turned to look at him that he had tensed, and she was
unsurprised to see his hard-faced, steely-eyed expression, so at odds
with his relaxed pose of a moment before.
is it?" she asked.
"Vampire," he said. His eyes were tracking a sultry brunette who was
slinking along the edge of the crowd.
gone, slipping through the crowd towards his prey before Tara could
respond. She looked at his empty glass and reached down to the floor
for the old backpack she carried, pawing through its tumbled
contents. She was sure she had brought something with her that would
help in a fight with a vampire. In spite of his Big Bad aura, Spike
had several drinks under his belt, and Tara had no way of knowing how
old or how dangerous this particular vamp was. She had no intention
of letting him fight alone.
found a vial with some ingredients she could easily infuse with magic
to make a nice bolt of vampire-disintegrating fire, and stood up just
in time to see Spike slink out the back door, trailing the female vamp
and someone else who was obviously her intended prey. Tara was about
to follow when Dawn ran up and grabbed her hand.
not fair!" cried the teenager. "Tara, tell her she can't!"
who she can't what?" asked Tara impatiently, tearing her gaze
reluctantly from that closing door. "Oh," she added in understanding
a moment later. "Hi, Buffy." She looked over the Slayer's shoulder.
"Okay," said Buffy in an impatient tone. "So, you did tell the truth,
Dawn." She folded her arms across her chest. "You're here with Tara.
But I still didn't give you permission to come." Her glance at Tara
was cold. "You shouldn't have brought her here. The only place she
was supposed to be dancing tonight was at the high school."
know," said Tara quietly. "The recital thing. She went. So did I.
We—I brought her here afterwards to celebrate because she did a good
job. I was keeping an eye on her." She glanced at the door again,
and started to edge away. "Buffy, can we talk about this later?
need to talk about this now," said Buffy. "I can't be tracking a
vampire and then get distracted because I find my sister is out
partying all over town, instead of being where I expect her to be."
said Dawn in a cold voice. "So, you didn't come here looking for me?"
would I be looking for you?" said Buffy. "I thought you were at
school. Although why I'm still going with the concept that you'll be
where you're supposed to—"
recital was only, like, a half-hour long." Dawn erupted in rage. "It
was over a long time ago. How did you think I'd get home?"
thought you'd get a ride," said Buffy, backing down a bit in the face
of this logic. "Dawn, you know I had a double shift tonight, and I
couldn't take you—"
our house isn't filled with the safest drivers," said Dawn nastily,
with a glance at Willow.
saw Willow flinch, but she couldn't focus on the argument. She was
distracted by the thought of Spike, three sheets to the wind on Jack
Daniels, out fighting a very voluptuous and possibly dangerous
vampire, while she listened to the Summers girls snark at each other.
"I have to—" she started to say, and stopped. The back door opened
and a black-clad figure slipped inside. She met Spike's eyes, saw him
smile, and felt her lips relax into an involuntary grin when he
brushed his hands together, as if removing dust from his palms.
"Tara!" Dawn pulled on her arm.
"Sorry," said Tara. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Spike's
smile fade as he took in her companions. She moved to shield him from
Buffy and Willow's gaze. His presence could only make this scene
"Dawn," said Buffy impatiently, "I know it's hard on you that I have
to work a lot—"
you?" interrupted Dawn. "Then why do you do it? Because I don't
think it's even about the money any more, Buffy. You could get a
better job, sell the house, move us to a small apartment where you
wouldn't have big mortgage payments and repair bills, but then maybe
you wouldn't have quite so many things that aren't Dawn to worry
have no idea," said Buffy, "just how much it costs—"
I know. A lot. Especially when magic-addicted friends stay for free
and get to hang out with you every night, while I 'm supposed to sit
at home and do my homework."
gaze flew to Willow, and she saw the other witch look away and step
back, her expression hurt and angry.
"That's it," said Buffy to Dawn. "I'm taking you home now.
And you're staying there. You're grounded for the rest of the week.
I don't want you going anywhere else after school."
"But—but Tara and—Tara was going to help me with my history project,"
"Please, Buffy," said Tara, acutely aware that she had no real
standing in Dawn's life. "I was helping her with the project. And
I'll make sure she gets home early after a good meal each night. No
more visits to clubs, I swear."
"Okay," said Buffy, visibly relaxing at the thought of not having to
plan an evening meal on top of her other chores. "But Dawn isn't
researching the history of the Bronze, so I'm taking her home now."
She looked around resentfully. "I've lost track of that vamp anyway."
gave Tara a pathetic backwards glance as she was dragged away, still
protesting that it wasn't fair.
for a minute, and Tara noticed for the first time how pale and quiet
the other witch seemed.
you okay, Tara?" asked Willow in a near whisper.
fine," said Tara, and sought for words to express her worry about
Dawn, about all the residents of the Revello Drive house. She
couldn't find any. "Are you?" she asked weakly.
nodded weakly, as if she couldn't force out the polite response. "I'd
better catch up with Buffy," she muttered, and faded away.
"Bloody hell," said a voice behind Tara a moment later.
"Yeah," she agreed. She looked over her shoulder at Spike. "Buffy
was tracking that vamp you got."
instead she's caught the Little Bit and is going to make the rest of
her evening a misery," he said.
saved the rest of the week, though," said Tara. "She can come to my
place after school."
my name didn't come up, then?"
glanced at him, but instead of looking bitter, he seemed almost
amused. "No," she agreed, "I didn't mention that you were the one
helping her understand the Boxer Rebellion."
"That's a good thing, pet," he said somberly. "A very good thing."
Spike offered to
walk Tara home, and she accepted, even though she was probably as
capable as he of fighting off any random demons that might attack on
the way. The two of them slouched along, side by side, gloomily
staring at the ground as they contemplated Dawn's situation.
This is like
some scene from a Lifetime movie,
thought Tara. The tale of the non-custodial relatives glumping
along after the Bad Mother has asserted her legal rights to the Baby.
Except the Baby is a holy terror of a teenager with possible
inter-dimensional travel abilities. And the Bad Mother is her very
seriously depressed but heroic older sister, who's saved the world a
And who are
we to assume we can do better for Dawn than Buffy can? An
impoverished witch and a drunken vampire.
She looked at Spike. He didn't seem
very drunk now, but he did look depressed. She sought for words to
cheer him up.
was good of you to go to the recital," she told him. "Dawn liked it
that you were there."
lips twitched. "Didn't know I had a choice, pet. Had the impression
someone was going to turn me into a toad if I turned tail and ran."
Suddenly, she felt herself smiling too. "Sorry if I nagged and
stuff," she said.
you're not. Not sorry, I mean. You loved ruling the roost. You let
the Little Bit and me ride roughshod over you too much. We don't mind
it when you lay down the law, you know." He stopped, and she realized
they were standing in front of the shabby apartment house where she
lived. "I'll wait until you get inside, get the lights on," he said,
shuffling back a few steps and thrusting his hands in his pockets.
then do what, Spike?" she asked. "Go back to your crypt and worry
about Dawn?" She saw a flash of blue in the light from the
streetlamps as he glanced at her in surprise. "Why don't you come
inside and we can worry about her together? Over popcorn and bad
TV." She grimaced. "You know what they say about misery and
hesitated for a few seconds before saying, "Thanks, pet," and
following her through the door.
minutes later, she was scrounging through the fridge while he
channel-surfed. "I'm out of blood," she called across the one-room
apartment. "Plenty of coffee, though."
looked up from the small sofa on the opposite end of the room.
"Coffee and popcorn will do," he said.
you sure?" she asked, frowning. "You were bringing blood back from
the store earlier."
doing my weekly shopping for staples. Smokes, Jack Daniels, Cheetos,
Weetabix, peanut butter, and blood. Got any peanut butter?"
can ask a college student that question?" she said, finding a box of
crackers. "Once the Pell Grant funds run out the first semester, we
all discover it's possible to live indefinitely on PB&J and ramen
noodles." A few minutes later, she brought the food over to the small
coffee table that, like the bedside table and the four-foot silver
candlestick, had appeared outside her door one morning with no note or
cloisonné umbrella stand had been the last straw. She didn't even
know anyone else who owned an umbrella stand, and the thing certainly
had no place in an efficiency apartment. So she'd pointed out to
Spike that she was running out of space for furniture. Since then,
she'd been deluged with small statues and various knickknacks that she
hadn't wanted to hurt his feelings by refusing. She was going to have
to say something soon, though. Her place was starting to look like
one of those cluttered Victorian sitting rooms she'd seen in old
settled down beside him, she shoved aside a fertility goddess and a
blood-red crystal vase to make space for the tray of coffee and
decided on a channel, but when she dropped down beside him on the
couch and looked at the screen, Tara felt her stomach lurch. "No,
Spike, not Alien!"
"Sigourney," he pointed out. "A very sexy lady."
very disgusting monster popping out of people's stomachs. Not while
sighed dramatically, but flipped through a few more stations, before
muttering, "Brilliant," and settling back on the couch.
stopped with a cracker halfway to her mouth. "An Affair to
Remember? Spike, this is the sappiest movie ever made."
looked offended. "Cary Grant!" he said, getting a wealth of
indignation into the retort.
rolled her eyes, but didn't ask him to change the channel again,
concentrating instead on her food.
licked a stray glob of jelly off the side of one finger, she noticed
him watching her intently. She raised one eyebrow, silently
wondering," he said, accurately interpreting her expression. "Why
you're spending the night watching a three-hanky weeper with me, when
you could have gone back home with Buffy and Dawn. Buffy doesn't mind
you being part of the Little Bit's life."
know," said Tara. "But Willow would be there too." She leaned
forward, fumbling for more crackers and the jar of peanut butter,
letting her hair fall forward in front of her face, hiding her
expression from him.
"Sorry, pet," he said. "Forgot. Forgot how hard it is for you." She
couldn't see his face, but she thought his tone was harsh. "I know
you want to see her—"
she interrupted him. She stopped pretending to herself that she was
still hungry and faced him. "I don't."
stopped breathing. She'd noticed a long time ago that his chest rose
and fell regularly, and she'd come to the conclusion that he chattered
so much that he'd gotten into the habit of drawing in air so he'd
always be prepared to speak. But at this moment he was completely
immobile; his gaze was unblinkingly bright and piercing.
eyes locked on his. "I was thinking about it tonight, when I thought
Willow and Buffy were going to the recital, and I realized that I
didn't want to run into Willow. I really, really didn't. All that
hoping, praying, that she would get better so we could be together—now
I just want her to get better." She looked away now, fumbling for
words, "I love her, I want her to be strong and happy. But—I don't
want to be with her again."
stopped, then, shuddering with shock as she realized what she did
and Spike were sitting side by side, thighs touching even though that
proximity wasn't strictly necessary, since for once Dawn wasn't also
present on her other side. She'd moved closer to him instinctively,
seeking comfort from his touch without wondering why, without thinking
through the effect it might be having on him.
He knows. He
knows what I'm feeling, what I want from him right now. He can't help
knowing, because of what he is.
It's not just
fear that vampires can scent.
should have felt embarrassment that he could read her emotions so
clearly, but there was none. Because she was suddenly certain he
wanted her as much as she wanted him.
staring intently at the television screen now, refusing to glance in
her direction even though he had to be aware she was looking at him. She reminded herself that they were both lonely and a
bit tipsy, and that anything that happened between them could affect
their relationship with Dawn. Oddly enough, she didn't think of Buffy
or Willow at all. Perhaps she was too caught up in examining the
graceful line of Spike's cheekbones. Or maybe her attention was
wholly caught by the way a muscle twitched in his cheek, and how the
corner of his mouth drooped slightly. A few weeks ago, she wouldn't
have read those signs. Now his need for her seemed perfectly obvious
in spite of his current effort to appear indifferent. She had come to
understand him a little bit, perhaps. And, at last, she admitted to
herself that with understanding had come desire.
wondered what she would say next, but the sound of her own voice
echoed in her ears and she realized her tone had said everything for
and deliberately, he switched off the television and set down the
remote before turning to her. She watched every fluid motion of those
strong, clever hands with fascination, knowing that in a moment they
would reach out for her. As his arms came around her, she looked up
into his face and saw the same tentative wonder in his eyes that she
was very, very good at this, she realized. He knew just how to hold
her, just how to use his lips and tongue to make her mouth open
against his, just where to run his fingers along her exposed flesh to
make her move closer to him, how to make her whole body react to a
simple touch like a piece of kindling licked by a scorching flame.
Encouraged by her enthusiastic reaction to his first efforts, he
pulled her onto his lap, settling her astride him, one hand at the
nape of her neck to guide her lips and the other against the small of
her back, pulling her closer until her hips ground against his.
against something that wasn't his hips. Tara gave a little gasp at
the sensation, at the very prominent evidence of his arousal. Had she
thought about it, she might have pulled away, but she wasn't thinking
this encounter through at all, and instead she rubbed herself against
him experimentally, enjoying the sensation.
growled approval, and his tongue probed her mouth more deeply. The
hand that had been against her back began to wander, not the least bit
aimlessly, finding nerve-endings whose existence Tara had forgotten
during her long stint of celibacy. She realized that her fingers were
entangled in the short, curly locks of his hair, and she disengaged
them to send them on their own expedition, seeking more interesting
"That's my girl," he muttered in encouragement, as his lips released
her mouth in order to seek the softness of her neck. "That's my
these, the first words uttered since this bizarre embrace had begun,
Tara pulled back, her hands on his shoulders, gulping back something
between a horrified sob and an ecstatic moan.
froze, quiet and still as no human could be, only his
eyes seeming alive as he tried to read her expression.
"Spike," she said hoarsely, "if this is about you pretending I'm
someone else, please let me go. Because if you're thinking about
Buffy while we—"
hand came up to stroke her cheek, but his expression remained still,
his eyes profound but unreadable. "Difference between you and me,
pet. I'd want this no matter what—no matter who or what you were
thinking about while you were in my arms. It would hurt, but I'd
still want it. I want it that much."
pulled away from him completely then, standing up and taking a step
backwards, almost upsetting the coffee table before she stumbled to
one side, uncertain how to take this, wanting to ask exactly what he
meant, but unable to form a thought rational enough to put into words.
didn't have to. He opened his mind to her.
gasped, first because she had no idea he knew how to initiate this
form of communication. Then she found herself struggling for breath
as she realized this contact was far more intimate than any mind-touch
she had experienced before.
had learned how to send her thoughts to someone else's mind, and Tara
had used that skill to talk to Spike in emergencies. But he wasn't
just sending her his thoughts now. In fact, she couldn't distinguish a
single, coherent word in the onrush of emotions that struck her like a
blow. At first, she thought she heard a murmur of competing voices
muttering indistinguishably. But they fell silent almost immediately,
leaving her with only the stark evidence of his senses.
was inside his head, seeing herself, experiencing all the passion that
lurked behind that blue gaze. She could taste herself in his mouth,
feel the sensory memory of the touch of her soft skin against his
finger tips, hear the sound of her own ragged breathing and the
agitated, rapid thud of her own heart, smell the rich and erotic scent
of her arousal, so strong it almost masked the salty aroma of her
blood pounding just under her skin, and—
jerked her mind away from his and stepped backwards again, hovering on
the verge of flight. Her first impulse was to run to the bathroom,
flick on the light switch and stare into the mirror. She wanted to
reassure herself that only a plain, nervous creature with dirty-blonde
hair and a shy expression stood there. For the first seconds after
she looked into Spike's mind, the only thing that held her in place
was the fear that she would see the beautiful, glorious creature who
had stood before her as she looked out of his eyes, a woman vibrantly
alive with passion and wholly desirable.
midnight gaze was focused on her again. It was tentative and
questioning now. He was afraid he had terrified her, lost everything
he'd sought to gain by opening himself to her completely.
Yeah, Spike, you've scared me all right. Scared me the way you never
could by going into vamp face, or with the crazy way you throw
yourself into a fight without thinking twice, or with your stories
about your evil past. Because you've suddenly made this about what I
am, not who you are.
woman Spike saw was no one Tara recognized. She was strong, wild, and
fearless. She was—
was what I always wanted to be, but was sure I never could become.
And that's what he thinks I already am.
her body trembled with the need to run from him, to run from this
alien vision of herself. Because she wasn't that woman, she could
Yes, you can. Tara gulped in shock. This time that voice,
speaking with such certainty, came from her mind, not his. He had
pulled back entirely into himself. He was waiting, wondering, afraid.
is afraid of losing me. Me, Tara. No, not me. That other Tara, that
goddess he sees in his mind. He wants her so much.
I understand why Buffy ran from him. I've come to realize the past
few months that it couldn't be just because she believed he would do
evil again. Everyone, human and demon, is capable of good and evil.
No, it was something much more frightening than that.
because this is what he does to the women he loves. He makes them
into princesses, divine beings, something far greater than they are.
That is enough to terrify even a Slayer.
saw her choice clearly now. She could run, hide, retreat back into
the girl she saw in the mirror. But, then, I will always
Or, she could risk
becoming the creature in Spike's mind. Because she had no doubt that
if she risked now, she would have to risk again and again, playing at
being Spike's Tara until that girl became indistinguishable from the
real one, until perhaps even she would see that incredible woman in
took a third step back. She saw Spike's face begin to close off in
disappointment. He stirred, very slightly, as if in anticipation of
his rejection, of receiving orders to leave her, to return to the
long have we been standing here, without words? I have no idea how to
break this silence. I can find no words. Not even words of
hadn't needed words to show her his feelings, and she felt her face
relax into a warm, secure smile as her stronger self took charge,
assuring her it was all very simple.
reached her hands down to her waist and pulled off her shirt, tossing
it aside quickly. Her bra followed a moment later. Then she was
sliding her jeans down over her hips, stepping out of them and
standing before him naked. She'd been inside his head, felt his
overwhelming desire to see her like this, and the expression on his
face told her that so far, at least, she had not disillusioned him.
was in his embrace before she realized he had begun to move. If their
kisses had been passionate before, now they were overwhelming in their
urgency. She began to tug at his shirt. Then she felt his arms shift
around her, and he was holding her easily in his arms.
been swept off my feet!" she said, realizing with astonishment that
she was laughing. Her head was spinning, but not from the speed with
which he had swung her into the air. She was giddy with the courage
of her decision; she felt as if she had released some wild avatar of
herself into the real world.
a name like Tara, it had to happen sooner or later, love," he said,
carrying her to the bed and laying her down there before quickly
stripping off his own clothes.
discovered then how goddesses were treated. She learned that a touch
of hands or lips could be insistent and worshipful at the same time,
and that a true believer was willing to dedicate much time and effort
to his orisons. And Spike was clever as well as devoted, translating
his idol's every move and utterance into instructions on how to
increase her pleasure.
between kisses, amazing words rolled off his lips, words that were as
arousing as the kisses. "'You are mine, mine woman with the sweet
lips, and in your life my infinite dreams live . . . Huntress of the
depths of my eyes . . . your eyes of mourning . . .in your eyes of
mourning the land of my dreams begins . . .'"
came at last, not in sweet release, but in a crescendo of passion,
crying aloud as Spike's hands, lips and tongue continued to worship
called his name. That seemed to surprise him; he looked up at her,
then brought his lips to hers quickly, his skin gliding smoothly
against hers as he moved above her, his eyes darker even than when he
had opened himself to her.
Turnabout is fair play.
it's your turn to come inside," she whispered, opening her legs wider,
reaching up to touch the smooth muscles of his arms, enjoying the
novelty of that hard flesh under her fingertips.
Suddenly, he was tentative again. "Are you sure?" he asked hoarsely.
"You said once that you'd never—I want this night to be perfect for
smiled, and watched his eyes lighten at the sight. "Then don't argue
with me," she said, trying for a stern tone, but collapsing into quiet
laughter. She couldn't help it, she was so happy. "Come on, Spike,
I'm inviting you in."
breathed more thrilling words against her lips. "'She is wild and
innocent, pledged to love through all disaster.'" He accepted her
invitation without further argument, sliding into her smoothly but not
deeply, supporting himself on his hands, at first carefully reading
her expression, but then closing into himself in concentration.
He's holding back. Tara felt a surge of irrational anger at
this. How dare he let her feel just how fierce and dangerous he could
be and then pull away from her now, when she wanted him to release
that part of him? Didn't he understand this night was as much about
him as it was about her? She bent her knees, pressing the soles of
her feet into the mattress and thrusting her hips upwards, flinging
herself into this new experience, heedless of the knowledge that
giving him pleasure could cause her pain.
Except—she had forgotten something. The memory came rushing back as
she felt his body begin to tense against hers and saw the reserve on
his face contort into astonished and overwhelming happiness. He was
too overwhelmed with delight to realize what was happening, and she
reached up, gripping her right hand fiercely against his temple, her
mind and talent racing to complete a sudden, urgent task.
he was collapsed against her, panting in total release.
gaze took in his contentment, and she smiled blissfully. If she could
make him look like this, perhaps that vision of herself had not been
so far wrong.
raised himself on his elbows, staring at her wonderingly. "My love,"
he muttered. Puzzlement crept into his gaze. "Something just
so, you noticed, did you?" she said.
eyebrow acknowledged her teasing. "I think the neighbors noticed
that," he said. He shifted his weight to one hand and the other
reached up to touch hers, which was still pressed against his temple.
she said. "Yes, there was that, too." She dropped her arm,
and it fell almost languorously to the mattress, outstretched along
the white expanse of the sheet. Slowly, her fingers opened and
revealed the small, bright object in her palm.
is it?" he asked hoarsely.
R, for romance. Menstrual play, so don't read or skim if that
All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy,
etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
for the beta, and
Piglet for the original idea.
demon, the poet, and the fool struggled within him. The demon raged
briefly, but was hushed by the babblings of the fool, who was trying
to make sense of this incredible new development on a night already
full of marvels.
poet was even less coherent than the fool, of course. He was lost in
wonder at the vision before him, and it was the poet's admiration and
awe that held all three of them frozen in place.
was stretched out on the sheets beneath him, relaxed and open, one arm
still thrown out to the side, her eyes on that bright, shining object
in her palm.
a submissive posture, but she didn't look submissive. She looked like
a goddess who had just dropped to earth, someone too powerful to feel
fear, even as she lay naked and defenseless before a soulless demon.
knelt beside her, and the demon, the poet, and the fool all fought
again for words. Oddly enough, they agreed on the most important
aspect of what had just happened. "I hurt you," gasped Spike.
sat up, pulling away from him and sitting up, curling her legs under
her. Casually, she reached over and dropped the chip onto a small
tray on the bedside table, where it clinked down to rest, harmless and
useless, among some bits and pieces of cheap jewelry. She turned back
to him, smiling. "It doesn't matter, Spike. It
didn't hurt much." The smile turned mischievous, and she blushed.
"Not enough to put me off the idea of future experimentation."
why--?" He gestured towards the abandoned chip.
looked surprised. "I couldn't let it ruin that moment for you," she
said simply. "You were so happy."
fool escaped and blurted out the next words, "You cared enough about
that to turn me back into what I was?"
don't understand, Spike," she said. She was confused now, the serene
confidence of a few moments ago draining away and leaving her
hesitant and uncertain. "This doesn't change anything important about
you. It was just a dead thing in your head. It wasn't even magical."
kept me from killing," said the fool, his voice hoarse and rough.
only response was a bewildered, incredulous shake of her head.
demon escaped then. "You think I'm housebroken?" he demanded. "That
the Big Bad is tamed?"
He vamped out.
The poet and the fool protested, but they were so paralyzed by their
cold fear of losing her that they were powerless to stop the bit of
him that would surely drive her away.
as Tara stared up at him. He had never done this with Buffy, never
been this panicked, no matter how much the Slayer had goaded him, no
matter how violently she had cursed him, no matter how hard she had
beaten him. But, confronted with Tara's gentleness, his resolve had
fallen, and he had exposed his true face.
the steel that he knew existed behind his witch's shy exterior
showed. She didn't flinch, and her voice was even. "No, Spike, I
know you're dangerous. You have power, and power always has the
potential for danger." She looked away now, but her expression was
embarrassed, not disgusted or frightened. "Didn't you guess that's
one reason we're here together? You must have noticed by now that's
what attracts me." The self-deprecating smile he knew so well
appeared and she peeked at him through the veil of her hair. "Silly,
isn't it? A frightened little sheep like me, I can't help but fall in
love with strength and power. It's what I saw in Willow—that amazing
potential she had."
you left her when she abused it," he said hoarsely.
nodded, withdrawing into herself for a moment, leaning back against
the headboard. He saw she was reliving that pain, and the poet ached
with sympathy even as the demon howled with jealous rage. Then he saw
her follow his meaning, her expression changing to dismay and
concern. "You don't think that I'll—that because your chip is gone—?"
leaned forward then, reaching up to run her fingers along the ridges
on his brow, to trace the scar over his eye, to meet his amber stare
with her own wondering gaze. The fear and rejection he awaited did
not appear; instead she rose to her knees and brought her lips to
his. She pulled away after that first tentative touch, and he could
read only conjecture and anticipation in her expression. Her lips
came to his again, her mouth open, her tongue probing him, licking
deep inside as her fingers continued to play over his face. He could
sense her arousal, and felt the demon within him react with an ardor
echoed by the poet and the fool.
a long interval, she sat back on her heels and regarded him with one
of her serious, quiet expressions. "You're right. I left Willow
because she abused her power." For the first time, anger sparked in
her eyes. "She had everything, Spike. Brains, talent, people who
loved her, good teachers. And yet—" She shook her head and looked at
him. Her smile softened, and so did his heart. "But, you. You had
nothing. Nothing and no one. And, yet, look what you've done. For
Buffy, for Dawn, for all of us." Her capable fingers grasped his
hands warmly, as if she were remembering the tasks they'd performed in
the service of his ladies.
poet wanted to accept that admiration. To seize her, hold her, and
let her believe that he could be the man who lived in her
imagination. To take her heart and hold it for as long as the
illusion would last.
couldn't do it. She deserved more, and he would give her no less than
what she deserved. It was the fool who insisted on that.
And for once the fool had enough wisdom not to let the others overrule
you didn't know me before—what I was—the evil I've done. If it hadn't
been for the chip, and now that it's gone—"
laughed at him. He was frozen with shock at the assurance behind her
amusement, at the way she leaned forward again and kissed his
monstrous countenance with easy affection, at the intimate way her
fingers stroked through his hair before she pulled away to say,
"Spike, that chip never kept you from doing evil."
once, he was left speechless. But his usually shy and quiet Tara
filled the void with her words. They tumbled over one another, as if
she'd thought them often, and they were eager to escape her lips and
meet his ear at last. "The chip was a catalyst; maybe it showed you
another way to be when you started fighting demons instead of killing
people. But it never stopped you from doing evil. When I first met
you, you could cause the Scoobies more pain and chaos just by the
things you said than most demons could with swords and battle axes.
Adam had to go to you to try to tear them apart, because even he
couldn't manage that. You had them hating each other in a few hours.
You nearly destroyed their friendship."
"Didn't succeed in the end though, did I?" muttered the fool, although
he was unsure of the significance of that fact.
Tara had thought it through. "Because they used to be stronger than
you," she said softly. "And because you switched sides."
out of the goodness of my heart, love. Because it was the only way to
save my skin." Both the poet and the demon raged at the fool for
blurting that out.
she agreed. "The goodness of your heart came later." Her hand was
against his bare chest. "You shouldn't be able to do the good things
you've done, Spike. The things you feel, they shouldn't be possible.
No chip, no magical force should have been able to make a soulless
creature into what you are today." Her eyes were puzzled but her tone
was confident. "I still don't understand how you've done it. But
it's real. It's what I love."
even the wonder of that final phrase could release him from his
misery. "Tara, maybe I have—maybe I want to—but you know I'm still a
monster. I'll always be a monster. Sooner or later—" Even the demon
could barely stand to hurt her with these words.
sadly. "I do know, Spike. You invited me in, remember? I saw out of
your eyes, felt what you felt, smelled—"
and he pulled away from her. He realized that she did understand,
Tara's voice was
quiet and even. "I felt your need, Spike. You can live on pigs'
blood from the butcher for weeks, or months, or even years, but sooner
or later, it's going to have to be human, isn't it? You crave it.
Fresh, human blood, from a warm body. And sooner or later, you won't
be able to deny that hunger."
nodded unwillingly, looking away for a moment before daring to meet
her unwavering, gentle gaze again. Amazingly, she was still smiling.
"But that's okay, Spike. Don't you see that it's okay? We can make
it okay together. We can each be what the other needs. Because, you
know, I am human. You proved that, remember? You made me see what I
am. What we both are."
"You—?" Before he could ask what she meant, Tara's eyes closed and she
began to murmur under her breath. He realized she was moving into a
light trance, and again he was lost in amazement that she could be so
unafraid of him, so assured of her own safety as she knelt naked and
defenseless in front of an unchained demon who had just acknowledged
the defenseless one, he knew then. By removing the chip, she had put
him more securely in her power than he had ever been. The demon was
now free of all restraints except those created by his need for her
good will, but those had become stronger than any material shackles or
confused too, realizing she had knowledge beyond his understanding.
Her eyes seemed so candid, but they held secrets. They always would.
He would never reach their depths, no matter how often he lost himself
in her gaze, simply because she was so wise and he was only love's
fool. No matter how much she revealed to him, how much she explained
carefully, stooping to the level of his poor understanding, there
would always be another layer of mystery, yet another Tara to be
And when she
opened those eyes to look at him now, he saw a Tara he had imagined
but never thought to encounter in this glorious flesh. A serene and
powerful goddess, she leaned forward to kiss his demon confidently,
her tongue flicking over his sharp incisors, her fingers tracing the
length of his arm. She was warm and so very beautiful, and he was
overwhelmed with the sight and scent of her—
He jerked away
suddenly, snarling in surprise and gut-wrenching desire as an
unmistakable aroma assaulted his senses.
She lay back on
the sheets, laughing up at him. He crouched over her like some
monstrous incubus, his fangs bared, an involuntary growl of hunger
crawling out of his throat. But she was welcoming, relaxed and open
as if she faced the gentlest of lovers and anticipated only the
lightest of touches. "You said once I was a clever girl, Spike. This
is just a little trick I learned to avoid inconvenience and
embarrassment. Not even magic, really, just a bit of biofeedback
combined with some advanced yoga. It was almost time for it to happen
can't—" The poet protested while the demon cried at the back of his
mind that he must. The fool was too confused and awestruck to even
try to make sense of it all.
not?" Those beautiful lips were twisted into the crooked smile he
loved. He felt as if it had twisted and wrung his heart. "Why not,
Spike? You need it, and it's not as if I have any other use for it."
The smile grew. She was a siren now, incredibly seductive. "And it's
not as if there's nothing in this arrangement for me."
stopped breathing, but it was no use. The intoxicating scent of her
was inside him, gnawing at him, demanding that he let the demon feed.
His body shuddered with the effort it took not to touch her.
She saw his
struggle and was serious at last, but the loving expression in her
eyes didn't waver. "I trust you, Spike," was all she said.
That was the
final bond, the last chain she wrapped around his heart and his will.
Demon, poet, and fool joined to worship her.
Spike bent his
head to hers, and his bestial lips were gentler than Tara's human ones
in the embrace that followed. As tenderly as possible for the rough
creature he was, he caressed her with his mouth and hands, careful not
to mark her flesh, marveling how she lay quietly beneath him even as
his fangs approached her throat, her breasts, and the softness of her
belly. The thud of her heart grew louder in his ears, but it throbbed
with desire instead of fear, until it seemed to hammer its way
directly into his skull, as if it were beating for them both, keeping
them both alive.
And so it
will. He kissed the soft
flesh on the inside of her thigh, his hands gentle against her, his
fingers seeking her clit, spreading those lovely pink lips, and then
he was inhaling the warm, moist scent of her arousal—and of something
stronger and even more enticing. Instinctively, he slipped back into
human face. As was right and proper. Because even though he was a
monster, this was the way he had approached every woman he cared for;
this was the face he had presented in the most intimate and loving
moments of his unlife.
This was an act
of love. For both of them. There was giving and taking on both
sides, and that aspect was so novel and heart-wrenching that it
overwhelmed every other thought and emotion. This was something new,
something Buffy had denied him even as she had indulged in every other
practice he had suggested in bed. But from this she had fled,
refusing to come to him on the days and nights when it would have been
He knew why
Buffy had refused. What he couldn't understand was how Tara had
offered so freely and joyously.
understand. But he could accept with equal joy. And, as he did so,
he felt a strange release that felt almost like freedom.
At the first
rush of her blood, her essence, he almost fainted away. It was too
much even for his jaded tastes. This was something richer and more
powerful than anything he had ever experienced. He had ripped blood
from the veins of a Slayer, stolen her life force, and even that did
not equal the power of this gift. Lapping at the thick, vital flow of
Tara's menses, he realized that for the first time he was savoring the
nectar of creation and not destruction.
He moved quickly
into a divine drunkenness, in which his world was centered on that
ruby elixir and yet he remained fully aware of Tara, not just as the
goddess who had granted him this boon, but as the woman whose body
quaked beneath his hands and lips. Her moans of pleasure echoed
in his ears, and he felt the blessed touch of her hands against his
hair as her fingers stroked him gently.
It was absurd,
but he thought her voice reflected wonder and disbelief as she gasped
in delight. He chuckled involuntarily at the foolishness of that
thought. Because how was it possible that a magical being like her
could imagine herself fortunate to have a poor, foolish servant like
She was awake.
Fascinated as he was with everything that concerned her, and lying as
he was with his head resting on one lush, smooth thigh, he could
hardly miss the signs. He heard the change in her breathing, sensed
the slight change in temperature as her heartbeat sped up, and felt
her deliciously warm body shift slightly beneath him as consciousness
little enough sleeping this night, but he was glad she was waking
again now. Because his senses also told him that dawn was coming, and
he didn't want to creep away without a word. He needed to look into
her eyes again, to reassure himself that she didn't regret their
expected to be tormented by doubts at this moment, a wave of certainty
passed over him. He was sure that she had awakened as strangely
loving and pleased with him as she had been the night before.
The demon, the
poet, and the fool were of one accord about that. They seemed at
peace, not just with this beautiful woman he loved, but with each
other. This unanimity was unusual and astonishing. He didn't dare
hope it would last out the day, or even the hour, but he rejoiced that
it had happened at all.
He was happy.
The room was
still dark, but he could see her clearly. She was lying beneath him,
relaxed against the white sheets, more beautiful even than his
imagination had painted her. His fingers skimmed the curve of her
soft belly, the swell of her full breasts, the lovely line of her
And then he
found himself kissing those soft lips, still slightly swollen from his
attentions to them the night before. He could feel the corners of her
mouth curving up against his. She's happy, chorused the voices
in his mind.
she murmured. Her hand traced the length of his arm, touched his
cheek, and flitted down to rest against his chest, as if she were
reassuring herself that he was really there.
"Last night—" he
started to say, and stopped. Neither the demon, the fool, nor the
poet could find the words to describe last night.
She ducked her
head shyly for a moment, but then peeked back at him with more
bravery. Her fingers crept lower, to spread themselves across his
belly. "Not hungry any more?"
for you," he said hoarsely.
"I wasn't sure.
You didn't—" She blushed all over, the blood that was the essence of
her vitality rising even closer to the surface of her skin.
blurted out a sincere but tactless response. "Didn't seem polite,
like," he said. "Tucking into breakfast first thing without paying my
"Glad to hear
it. My mother brought me up to appreciate good table manners," she
said, laughter echoing in her voice.
thought that was funny,
gasped the poet, who had been a bit shocked by the comment himself.
Of course she
did, said the fool.
Not easily offended, our Tara. And she's not the sort to pretend at
dawn that she hates what she begged for at midnight.
agreed the poet after a
moment's reflection. She's too wise, too practical, to hide from
her own truth.
But all Spike
said was, "I have to leave soon. Sun's coming up."
The dismay with
which she greeted this was as reassuring as her laughter had been
earlier. "Do you really have to go?" Her eyes flicked around the
room, but he could tell from her unfocused gaze she could make out
only vague shapes in the dimness. "Can't you stay here? I mean, it's
a basement apartment, the blinds are closed, and the sun never reaches
as far as this bed anyway." Shyly, she teased him with some of the
poetry they'd discussed on one of those long evenings they'd spent
with Dawn. "'Why should we rise, because 'tis light? Did we lie
down, because 'twas night?'" Then she stretched a little, moving her
body against his, in a self-conscious attempt to be seductive. As if
she needed to try. He'd been seduced, utterly and completely, weeks
He was too
entranced by her eagerness to welcome him into her life to respond
immediately, and she grew serious, taking his face in her hands and
adding softly, "Don't leave to run back to your gloomy crypt, Spike.
Stay here instead, in my darkness, with me."
His hand stroked
her hair as he answered, his voice cracking on the words, "I'll stay.
You know I'll do anything you ask, love. But there's no darkness in
you, Tara." His lips brushed hers again. "If you could only see how
bright you are to my eyes. You're glowing."
Dawn had bounced
into Tara's apartment in a good mood, which got even better when she
discovered that dinner was going to consist of Chinese takeout that
Spike rushed out to get the minute the sun went down. He didn't
complain about being used as an errand boy, and he let Dawn
have the last pot-sticker without an argument. But when he dumped hot
mustard and about a quart of soy sauce on his own plate instead of
sullying the entire carton-full of Mongolian Beef with his choice of
condiments, Dawn started thinking things were too good to be true.
As the meal went
on, she noticed that the smile hovering around Tara's mouth and the
self-satisfied gleam in Spike's eyes refused to go away, even when
Dawn used some forbidden words, mentioned her Algebra grades, and
dropped the news that she'd been invited to the Spring fling dance by
a Senior. Tara condemned the vocabulary and set up a study schedule
for math, and Spike threatened to eviscerate the boy in question, so
it wasn't as if they'd been replaced by pod people or anything. But
the smile and the gleam persisted.
grew as the evening went on without Spike making any rude remarks for
really long stretches of time—like five or ten minutes at once. And,
after dinner, instead of reading her fortune out to the others and
laughing over it, Tara just dropped the slip of paper on the table
while she chewed thoughtfully on bits of cookie. A minute or so
later, Spike picked up the fortune, read it silently, and smiled to
himself. By the time he stood up to carry the dirty dishes to the
sink without anyone having to get out a cattle prod first, Dawn was
wild to know what had happened between him and Tara.
Dawn was pretty
sure she knew when he stepped behind Tara and obviously felt her up,
one hand rubbing her butt. (Well, it was obvious to someone who was
pretending to go through the backpack she'd dropped on the floor, but
was in fact peering through the legs of the table with her neck craned
to see anything that happened in the kitchen.) Tara pushed Spike away
immediately, but not in a How dare you, you nasty monster! kind
of way. No, it was definitely a Not in front of the child!
shove. And Dawn was pretty sure the glance that went with the rebuke
said, Later! instead of No!
to look for a schoolbook, Dawn snuck the scrap of paper with Tara's
fortune on it off the table and read it. Your evenings will be
filled with romance.
Dawn sat to
attention when Spike came back to the table and put out his hand for
her schoolwork. Tara fussed around in the kitchen area for a few more
minutes and then went over to sit on the couch and pull out some of
her own books. Tara wasn't watching them, exactly. She was peeking
at them every once in a while, though, and chewing on a pencil
thoughtfully, the corners of her mouth still twisted upwards.
was taking his time reading through Dawn's paper. Much too much
time. She peered at him and realized he was sneaking long looks at
Tara, losing his place, and starting over. Dawn folded her arms and
tapped her foot on the floor. Spike ignored her, but, very
eventually, he reached the last page.
Dawn at last.
"You have a bit
more work here, Bit," Spike said dryly.
crinkled her nose. "I thought I did a pretty good job. What did I
"For one thing,
the Boxers didn't have anything to do with men's undies," he
commented, his gaze sliding sideways to catch Tara's reaction.
Dawn snatched at
the papers. "I did not say that!" she objected.
He laughed, but
fielded her hands away easily, smirking happily at Tara's snort of
laughter. "Maybe not, but this is almost as bad—"
Tara curled up
on the couch, watching Dawn's face crease with concentration and
annoyance as Spike marked up the draft of her paper. After his first
teasing jibe, Spike took the task nearly seriously, attacking both
grammar and content with ruthless efficiency.
He could be
very efficient, she knew, dropping her head so that the fall of
her hair would hide her reminiscent grin from the two sitting at the
have gotten takeout after promising Buffy she'd feed Dawn a good
meal. She could barely afford it, for one thing. But she'd kept
putting off the day's scheduled activities, deciding to skip one class
after another and postponing cooking, until she'd suddenly realized
that she had only a few minutes before Dawn arrived. Since Spike was
still there, it was easy to ask him to run out for the food. Well,
except for the part where he was out of her sight for a full twenty
minutes. That had been hard.
It was hard now
to sit across the room from him, watching his blond head bend over
Dawn's assignment, noting each twitch of his shoulder and every
movement of his strong hands, knowing she couldn't go over to touch
him. Even after spending an entire night and day in bed with him,
Tara could hardly wait until it was time to walk Dawn home so that she
could get him alone again afterwards. Those long hours had barely
been enough time for her to begin to realize what he was like as a
lover, and to enjoy the novelty of being with him. She didn't know if
it was the same being with him as it would be with a human man, and
she didn't care. It was Spike she wanted.
Even so, she
knew that it was going to take her some time just to figure out who
Spike was. She'd already discovered he could be wild, romantic, and
just plain silly in turns, as if she'd gotten herself three lovers
instead of one. She almost purred to herself in satisfaction at the
thought. Not a bad deal, if that was the case.
There was so
much she wanted to do with and to him that her fingers itched with the
desire to trace themselves over his white flesh, to experiment again
with the reactions she could draw from him with hands and lips. A
snatch of the poetry he'd quoted the night before came to mind. My
America, my new-found land. He was like a new world for her to
discover, and she wanted to embark on the next voyage.
Because he was a
very delightful and responsive new world. All night and all day, he'd
been loving, gentler than usual in word, and more forceful, but still
considerate, in deed. She wrapped her arms around her torso,
remembering the way he'd made her feel, as if she mattered more than
anything else in the universe. The only thing that had distracted him
from her was the realization that Dawn was on her way over—then he'd
been quick to help her prepare for the evening. And, except for that
moment in the kitchen, he'd been pretty careful not to give things
away in front of the teenager.
pleasant train of thought ground to a halt. She stared at the two
sitting at her kitchen table, working on Dawn's homework, just as they
had on many nights over the past few months. As if nothing had
changed. Because, of course, neither Tara nor Spike had dropped any
hints about what had changed to Dawn.
course?" Why don't I want Dawn to know?
Tara thought. Dawn loves him. She loves both of us, I think. Why
can't I let her know we love each other?
The answer was
obvious. Because he was a soulless demon, and good girls didn't admit
to sleeping with bad boys.
Buffy had thought. She had kept her affair with Spike a secret. And
Tara had done the same thing, without thinking about it.
And Spike had
assumed that's the way it would be. He hadn't complained, or even
asked. He just assumed that he would have to pretend in front of
Dawn. And when Tara had called her friend Rachel and said she wasn't
feeling up to getting out of bed today and would she be able to borrow
Rachel's class notes, he'd lain at her side and listened quietly, not
doing anything that would make her giggle or moan to betray her. He
certainly didn't ask Tara when or if he'd be allowed to meet Rachel.
He expected to
be kept a secret.
clenched as she remembered how Willow had once kept her a secret. How
Willow hadn't introduced Tara to the Scoobies for the longest time,
how she'd come to visit Tara only when her friends had stood her up.
And how much that had hurt. Of course, Willow had explained after a
while that she had done it because she wanted to keep Tara all to
herself. That had helped a little.
To be completely
honest with herself at last, Tara had to admit that it had still
hurt. That the memory of it hurt even now. But, at the time, she
hadn't thought she deserved anything better. So she'd never
Tara dropped her
book on the coffee table and walked across the room to the
refrigerator. Spike and Dawn stopped arguing about a semicolon, and
Tara felt their eyes on her as she opened the freezer door. "I'm
ready for dessert," she said. "Does anyone else want something?"
Spike, and she looked over her shoulder to see him turned towards
her. With Dawn safely behind him, he smirked at her, one eyebrow
mock-sternly. "I meant, from the fridge," she said, and had the
satisfaction of seeing his jaw drop in surprise at her flirtatious
tone. His head snapped around, checking to see if Dawn had noticed.
Tara noted with satisfaction that the girl most certainly had. She
was looking much too prim and proper to have mistaken Tara's meaning.
Tara pulled out
a container of ice cream. "Chunky Monkey," she said. "I was saving
it for a special occasion, and I've decided tonight qualifies. Who
"I do," said
Dawn. "Chocolate, walnuts, and bananas, yum. Weird, but yum."
some too, so Tara took down three bowls and filled them while Dawn
asked Spike questions about some Empress or other.
absently, and Tara was conscious of his gaze as she picked up two of
the bowls and carried them to the table. She dropped one in front of
Dawn, giving the girl a quick, one-armed hug as she did so. Dawn
smiled, surprised but pleased at the attention.
Tara gave Spike
the other bowl, meeting his puzzled blue eyes with a reassuring smile
before bending down and dropping an awkward, lopsided kiss that she
aimed at the top of his head. She caught him on his scarred eyebrow
instead, but that was all right. She rested her hand on his shoulder
for a moment before brushing his hair with gentle fingers and turning
back to the kitchen counter.
Her gestures had
been casual, but they carried the clear and deliberate implication of
intimacy. She was sure that even a self-absorbed teen would be able
to read their meaning. Her back to the others, Tara waited for
reaction, but heard only silence. Utter, complete, and very unusual
silence. She turned around.
Dawn had frozen
in the action of licking her spoon, her eyes wide. Tara realized that
the girl's expression was less astonished than triumphant, as if she'd
had a suspicion confirmed.
Spike was almost
completely still, his mouth slightly open, his eyes flicking back and
forth between Tara and Dawn. They came to rest at last on Dawn, and
Tara saw his shoulders tense anxiously.
"So," said Dawn
slowly, "Special occasion, huh?" She swallowed a mouthful of ice
cream and grinned.
Tara picked up
her own bowl and went back to the couch, reaching for her textbook.
Spike had turned
in his chair now to stare at her, something like awe in his face.
There was a long silence.
at last. "Spike, if you're not going to eat that ice cream, can I have
"No, brat, you
may not," said Spike levelly. "And don't think I've forgotten that
Dawn rolled her
eyes, "I think—"
"Not a matter
for opinion. Start a war over commas if you like, but you don't have
a bloody debate about a semicolon. Either you need one or you don't."
Dawn opened her
mouth, shut it again, and finally replied grudgingly, "Okay, that's
Tara blinked in
surprise at this response. It really was a day for new experiences.
She turned to Chapter 12 of her Statistics text. For once, she was
smiling as she picked up her notebook and tackled the problems on the
night, Spike and Tara watched Dawn walk up the path to 1630 Revello
Drive. They stood on the sidewalk, just outside the pool of light cast
by the streetlamp, waiting until the Little Bit was safe inside.
Neither of them had any
place in that house any more.
holding hands! burbled
the fool. She held our hand all the way over here.
said the demon sarcastically. And if she had any books with her,
she'd probably have let you carry them too.
The poet rushed
to the fool's defense. You know why he's excited. It's
symbolic. Like the kiss with the ice cream. She's really, truly
invited us in. Into every part of her, into every part of her life.
And she's not ashamed of us.
demon would have fired back with some cutting, pessimistic retort.
But even the demon was feeling calmer and happier than ever before,
and he held his peace, rejoicing with the others at the sensation of
Tara's hand in his, breathing in the intoxicating scent of her, and
savoring the anticipation of what he knew the rest of the night would
The front door
opened as Dawn approached it, and Buffy stepped outside. The demon's
quick ear picked up the sharp tones with which the Slayer questioned
her sister about the night's events. Dawn gestured over her shoulder
as she assured Buffy she'd had an escort home, and the Bit disappeared
inside the house.
lingered on the porch, staring blankly down the street, her gaze
wandering. She was obviously unable to make out Spike and Tara's
figures in the murky shadows, but she had to know they were out there
somewhere. After a moment, she crossed her arms, hugging herself, as
if she feared some strange menace that paraded only before her blank
stare. She turned to follow her sister into the house.
ashamed, said the fool.
said the poet. Heartrendingly sad.
inside, said the demon.
aware that Tara was watching him. "I didn't do what I promised, did
I?" she said sorrowfully. "I never made you feel better about Buffy."
"No, love," the
poet said, still staring at the house. "But I release you from that
promise. It was my bloody stupid idea, and only your sweet caution
saved us. Because you couldn't have done it, and you shouldn't even
try, any more than I should try to make you feel better about
Willow." He turned to face her, and the sadness ebbed. "But you did
heal me. In a way I never expected."
would be screaming out of jealousy right now,
said the fool nervously.
Not our Tara,
said the poet with confidence. She understands.
She more than
just sodding understands,
said the astonished demon. Don't
know how you did it, mate, but you just made her want us even more.
Tara's eyes were
sparkling with tears, but she broke into a smile. "I think I healed
myself too," she said in an awestruck tone. "I guess you were right
about something, Spike. I am a clever girl, after all." She
slipped her arm around his waist, pulling him close. They set off
down the street in the traditional lovers' pose, his arm around her
shoulder, heads bent toward each other. Anyone seeing them would know
she was his clever girl.
Spike. Let's go home."
(Except for the
R, for romance.
All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy,
etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.
for the beta, and
Piglet for the original idea.
reading to her.
ran her hand through his hair, along his shoulders, down the curve of
his spine. His head was resting on her breasts as she sprawled on her
bed, her shoulders supported on a pile of pillows. The book was under
his hand, propped on her stomach and her naked, upraised thighs. The
pages were caught in the warm light from the lamp on the bedside table
as his voice murmured the lush, beautiful words.
"When in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my
outcast state . . ."
smiled, listening to Spike's voice recite the poetry that he'd copied
into a leather-bound journal in his astonishingly beautiful
handwriting. This was a gift she'd never anticipated from anyone,
especially not from someone like him.
"Yet in these thoughts of myself most despising, haply I think on thee
. . "
course, there really wasn't anyone else like Spike. She'd never slept
with another man, and she'd certainly never been with a vampire
before, but she was sure of that. It had been months since they first
made love, and in many ways he was still a mystery to her. She never
knew exactly what to expect from him. One day, he would woo her with
silly jokes and absurd humor, her laughter melting into joyous ecstasy
as he indulged them both in lascivious play. Later that night he
might become so wild that she would find herself shivering with the
realization of just how dangerous he could be. She had been
astonished to find that instead of cowering from him, an untamed
corner of her soul responded on those occasions with an almost feral
tonight, she had a considerate and romantic lover. He'd made love to
her twice already, and now he was lying in her arms, his body pressed
close against hers, holding the promise of more lovemaking even as
those gorgeous words flowed continually from his lips.
there was promise of more. The fingers of his left hand strayed from
the binding of his book occasionally and skimmed the softness of her
breasts and belly, gently, almost worshipfully. But she could feel
him where he pressed against her thigh, and she knew that each time he
touched her like that, he became more aroused. Soon, he would be hard
and passionate, his hands would become more insistent, and he would
turn his attention to bringing her to climax once again.
wondered idly how they'd do it this time. If she expressed a
preference, he'd honor it, of course. He'd do anything to please
her. He'd proven that many times, most recently less than an hour
"For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings . . ."
time, she decided, she'd insist that they do whatever he
traced the line of his cheekbones with one finger as his voice
murmured on. Moved to his forehead, and—
stopped. His eyes were closed. She looked down at the book, realized
he hadn't turned a page in some minutes, and saw that the words on the
heavy linen paper didn't match the ones flowing from his lips.
"That then I scorn to change my state with kings."
memorized every poem he'd written down for her. He'd probably
transcribed them from memory.
arms tightened around his shoulders.
she could tell him she'd discovered this new secret of his, he
stiffened and the recitation stopped. He closed the book and sat up,
staring at the door to her tiny apartment.
"What—?" she began to ask as there was a knock on the door.
and the Scoobies," he said grimly, and turned to face her. "Willow's
there. And Dawn's with them."
She was silent for a moment, then reached down to the floor to pick up
the dress she'd worn earlier in the evening.
don't have to—"
need to," she said. She met his gaze carefully. "Not because it's
Willow. Because they may need something important."
slid out of bed as she stood up. She called, "Just a moment," as she
slipped the dress over her head, feeling the soft silk swirl around
her body before she turned to the door.
you sure this is Tara's new place?" asked Xander.
nodded grimly. "I'm sure. I still visit her, you know." She
looked away from Willow as she said it.
been here," said Buffy, adding a bit less defensively, "Months ago."
we should try someone else," said Willow. A few minutes
ago, she'd been thinking that it would be worth almost anything to see
Tara again, under any circumstances. But now a cold conviction
that this was a very, very bad idea was taking hold of her gut.
said Dawn. "Amy? One of your evil magic suppliers? That should help
anyone could reprimand her, the apartment door opened halfway. Tara
stood in the gap, flicking on the light switch by the door, her body
positioned protectively as if she were hiding something in the room
"Tara?" said Buffy in surprise.
"Tara?" echoed Xander. "Um, wow."
glanced down at the low-cut green silk dress she wore, as if noting
for the first time how its folds molded to her body and just how much
of her it revealed instead of covering. She didn't seem particularly
embarrassed by that fact, just puzzled, as if she'd grown accustomed
to admiring stares and found the visitors' astonishment
disconcerting. She raised a hand to her tumbled hair as she asked,
"Is something wrong?"
seemed to be avoiding Willow's eyes. Willow, on the other hand, was
staring with painful intensity, taking in Tara's rumpled appearance,
taking in the fact that the first garment that had come to her hand
after midnight was a very expensive and sexy dress, taking in the
state of her lips, which seemed slightly swollen and fuller than
Willow remembered them.
Buffy was saying. "Something's wrong. We're sorry to bother you, but
we need a witch, and—"
caught the Slayer's glance and winced. No need for Buffy to add,
and the one we have is worse than useless these days. Willow saw
Tara's reaction, the tightening of those tender lips, the narrowing of
need me to do a spell for you." It wasn't a question.
yeah." Xander looked over his shoulder, down the narrow hallway of
the small apartment house. "Can we come in? Not a story we want to
shout out to the neighbors."
opening the door, Tara looked back into the room, over her shoulder.
She seemed to meet someone's eyes and see a message there. She stood
very still for a moment, then nodded before stepping back and opening
the door to let them in.
had heard the rumors, of course. And Dawn had hinted that they were
true, as ridiculous as they'd seemed. But it was still a shock,
something that seemed beyond the possibilities even of her magical
world, to see Spike standing by the bed, doing up the front of his
black shirt before reaching for the buttons on his cuffs. The shirt
looked new, as did his jeans, as if he'd expended special effort on
his appearance. His gaze was steady but guarded; he appeared ready for
anything from a violent verbal outburst to an attempted staking.
even more shocking to see Tara move over to the bed with a decided
swish of those silken skirts, to see her stand beside him, clearly
stating her new loyalties before she turned to face the Scoobies
again. Willow noted irrelevantly that Tara wore jewelry she didn't
recognize, a set of intricately wrought silver earrings.
"Are—are you okay, Tara?" asked Willow. It was a stupid thing to say,
but she hadn't seen her ex-lover for months and she felt as if
something were called for. It was impossible to shout, What are
you doing? Why are you with this creature? How could you reject me
for misusing magic and then have sex with a monster? Because the
having sex was no longer in doubt. The rumpled bedclothes, most of the
sheets kicked aside, confirmed what she'd known must have been
happening as soon as Tara had opened the door. The bottle of
champagne and half-empty glasses resting on the side table next to a
leather-bound book were a bizarre romantic touch that seemed designed
to make the insult hurt as much as possible.
fine," said Tara, almost impatiently. "How are you?" She made the
"you" include all the Scoobies, her gaze resting interrogatively on
Buffy and then lingering worriedly on Dawn.
Dawn who replied. "We're okay. Mostly." The teenager looked at her
Buffy was watching Spike with that blank, dead stare that Willow had
come to hate so much. After a moment, the Slayer shifted and shrugged. Willow
thought that Spike's pose relaxed a fraction. He seems glad she's
not upset. What does that mean? Is he happy she doesn't care?
was looking at Tara now, and all the concern that had been missing
when he looked at Buffy was there in his eyes. Yes, thought
Willow. He's glad Buffy seems not to care.
Whatever Willow had expected, it wasn't this. After her first rage of
jealousy at hearing the news, she'd solaced herself with the
conviction that even if it were true, Tara and Spike could only be
drowning their misery at losing the real loves of their lives,
clinging to each other while pining for Willow and Buffy.
But they didn't
look like two desperate people who were marking time together while
dreaming of others. They looked like—
They look like they belong together. She and Tara had looked like
that once, and Willow'd hugged tightly to the hope that they would
again some day. The last few times they'd met, she'd assured herself
that there was still longing in Tara's eyes. But Willow now realized
just how hard she'd had to work to convince herself after the last
time they'd run into each other in the Bronze. And she finally
admitted that she'd avoided later meetings out of fear of shattering
her fantasies of a reunion.
All hope was
gone now. Tara didn't share Willow's grief and despair at their
breakup any more. I'm the only one still in love with that past.
She's moved on to something new.
do you need?"
at this strange, all-business Tara. Well, what do you expect?
You've dragged her out of the bed she was sharing with her boyfriend,
and she knows you're expecting a favor. How many people would be
thrilled to see you under the circumstances?
opened her palm to reveal an ugly lump of twisted silver. "It's a
talisman," said the Slayer. "Willow and Dawn did some research. We
can use this to find the lair of a creature that's killed a dozen
people in the past three nights."
"Except it doesn't work," said Xander.
not whole," said Tara, staring at it with distaste. "And I don't
think I'd like it any more if it was."
rest of it is on another plane," said Willow. "I have the
coordinates-" She stopped, as Tara cautiously stroked the thing in
know where it is," said Tara evenly, pulling her hand back. An
expression of revulsion passed over her face. "I can sense the
you go there and get it?" asked Xander.
said Spike forcefully.
"You've done it before," said Buffy to Tara, ignoring him. "You did
it when Faith stole my body."
was something different," said Tara, "and—"
bloody obvious this thing you want her to get doesn't live on
Sunnybrook Farm," said Spike harshly. "You come here, in the middle
of this of all nights, after not even stopping by to ask after her
health for months, and want—" Tara touched his arm lightly, and he
a minute," said Tara to the Scoobies.
tugged at Spike's sleeve, and he followed her behind the Chinese
screen that hid the kitchen from the rest of the small apartment. She
pulled him just out of sight, but Willow could sense her leaning
towards him, whispering words in his ear.
responses were low mutters, obviously angry, but controlled. The
debate went on for some time. Willow and her friends shifted on their
feet, and she was suddenly very conscious that they hadn't been
invited to sit on the small couch or the single desk chair that
adorned the opposite corner of the room.
a few minutes, Tara came back out, Spike a step behind her. "I'll do
it, but I'll need an anchor."
started forward uneasily, and Tara rushed to add, "Spike will do
Willow burst out in horror. "You can't—not a demon. The anchor—"
to be someone I trust," said Tara flatly. "Spike can do it."
he's convinced you of that—" Willow's voice stuttered to a stop. She
couldn't imagine what it meant if Spike had actually talked Tara into
convinced him," said Tara. She reached out her hand for the talisman,
and reluctantly, Buffy handed it over. Willow noted almost
automatically that the Slayer's eyes were dark, perhaps angry, perhaps
sad. Because of what she had lost when she'd rejected Spike? She
claimed she had never really wanted him. Willow shrugged helplessly.
Maybe it was just Buffy's perpetual fury at having a job that put her
life and the lives of her friends in danger.
It had been a
very long time since Willow had been able to decipher Buffy's
thoughts. She gave up the futile task.
sat down at her desk, pushing her laptop aside and carefully piling a
few books away from the talisman. She looked up at the Scoobies and
saw Willow, Buffy, and Xander watching her curiously, with Dawn
standing a little off to the side. Poor Dawn. She can't break
into that charmed circle, any more than Anya or Spike or I could.
Except these days, it seems cursed rather than charmed.
might never have fully accepted Tara, but Spike was right that they
had no trouble using her. On the other hand, they were fighting in a
good cause, and she should help them. Tara stared down at the ugly
little talisman resentfully, then took a deep breath and reached one
hand up over her shoulder. Spike grasped it, and Tara's heartbeat
began to slow and calm. Carefully, she touched his mind.
Yeah, love. You and me against the overworld.
smiled grimly as she laid her other hand on the talisman. It was
indeed broken, fractured. The other piece—
was far away and in her tiny apartment. Eons passed and the moment
froze in time.
other half of the talisman dwelt in a strange and evil place. Demons
abounded. These were monsters that were spirit instead of flesh, and
the more frightening for that. These things ate souls as well as
soulless force rushed to her rescue, chasing away a foul-smelling
thing that had been reaching for her hair. Her savior wrapped itself
about her, supporting her like a strong arm around her waist on a
Spike. You're here too.
Part of me. Just enough. Get what we need quick, love. I've got
your back. You find, I'll fight.
She let him chase away the monsters while her magic sought out what was
needed. It was cleverly hidden, but she was clever too. She'd never
stopped learning. Not in Willow's way, by wild experiments, but by
her own slow, careful, scholarly means. She remembered a passage in
an arcane book, about a particularly crafty demon ruse. She saw the
riddle then, convoluted and ugly as it was. Her mind moved quickly
now, working like deft fingers sorting fastidiously through warped and
perversely shaped puzzle pieces, searching for the right one—
had it. Now all she had to do was bring it back. Easier said than
can't get back by myself.
don't have to, pet.
know. I'm reaching for you, Spike. Hold me tight.
wasn't the first time she'd tapped into his strength. Each time she
did, she was amazed at her daring, because she could feel the
viciousness of the monster that raged within him. But she had grown
secure in her conviction that together she and Spike had caged that
animal, and now she drew on it to build a psychic bond, thick as rope,
strong and taut, that stretched between her and her lover. Surges of
power like living vines were thrust out by his half-demon spirit and
twisted around her astral body, around and inside her insubstantial
form, penetrating her, holding her in so tight a grip that Tara knew
if she were lost, he would be too.
Bloody hell, she's reaching deeper inside me than she's ever done
before. How can my pretty love be so gentle and so daring all at
was clasping hard to the part of Spike that had once raged
uncontrolled. He was still uncertain why he'd leashed that creature,
and sometimes only her confident gaze assured him that his will could
continue to master it. Now, with everything that mattered most to him
at stake, Spike held both Tara and the monster within him firm in his
grasp. Held on, somehow, for eons of time that passed in less than a
second. His features twitched and almost changed, but he stayed in
human face, even as Tara's body froze beneath his fingers and the
talisman fell from her fingers, glowing gold and silver in the banal
light of her desk lamp.
slumped down, her hand dropping away from the object on the desk.
Willow stepped forward, but Spike had already caught Tara in his arms,
picking her up and cradling her like a child. He nodded at the object
on the desk.
the bloody thing and go. It's what you came for."
"Tara?" Dawn reached a hand out towards the witch's face.
"She'll do," said Spike roughly. "I'll take care of her." He spoke
directly to Dawn.
eyes fluttered open and her arms reached up to hold Spike's
shoulders. "It's all right, love," she murmured against his neck.
"I'm still here. You kept me here."
felt her throat tighten. "Let us—let us help," she said. "A—glass of
water maybe. I can do that, at least."
glared at her. He took a step backwards, still holding Tara
protectively against his chest. "No. I'll manage. Said I'd take
care of her, and I will."
But Willow had already taken the few steps needed to cross the room
and was looking behind the screen, eyes seeking the kitchen sink,
perhaps a glass—
froze and stepped back, her hand rising to her throat in horror. She
turned and met Spike's eyes, finding herself pleading with him. With
him, of all people. Tell me it's not true.
his iron, condemnatory gaze said it was.
turned and ran from the apartment.
and Xander stared after her in astonishment, then looked reflexively
to Spike for an explanation.
was already settling Tara on the bed, and he gave them only a cursory
glance. "Go take care of Red. You lot have done enough here tonight."
the street, Buffy and the others found Willow bent over the curb,
vomiting the remains of her dinner into the gutter. "What?" Xander
looked over his shoulder at the apartment house. "What did you see in
there?" Then he looked at Dawn, suddenly fearful of having her know
whatever it was that had affected Willow this way.
did he do?" asked Buffy. Her voice was cold and detached. "What's
Spike done to her?"
"What's he—?" Willow raised her head and began to laugh almost
ahead and tell them," said Dawn. Her voice was cold. "I can guess."
Buffy's voice became more urgent. "Willow, you have to tell us. What
frightened you like that?"
wiped her hand on the back of her mouth and at last gasped out the
response. "Presents," she said, and laughed harshly again at their
stunned expression. Willow sat back on her heels. "Books, some
incense, chocolates, a few other little things, most still in the bags
and boxes. They must have piled them on the counter when they came
back from wherever they'd been celebrating."
"Presents?" Xander said, his initial confusion giving way to an ache
in the pit of his stomach.
"Presents. Lots of them. From lots of people, judging by the
different wrappings. That's what was going on in there, with the
dress, and the champagne, and—"
"Yesterday," said Buffy, with a faraway look, as if she'd been
conjuring some more arcane fact than the date on a calendar. "Last
night was her birthday."
"Yeah," said Dawn. After a long moment she added, "I got her a book
she wanted. I brought it over yesterday afternoon with some cupcakes,
but Spike ate the last of those while Tara and me were out at the
movies. He stayed home because he said it would turn his stomach to
listen to us drool over Orlando Bloom and Liv Tyler. I couldn't go to
the party tonight because I'm too young to get into the club. So I
wound up tagging along with you."
looked away from her sister. For the first time that evening
something like real regret passed over her face.
didn't remember," said Willow. "She used to be my everything, and I
didn't even remember it was her birthday. All I did was beat on her
door and ask her to—" She turned and retched into the gutter again.
Spike's arms, Tara gulped the remains of the champagne, leaning back
against his shoulder, pressing against him for reassurance that she
was back on this plane and safe in her own bed again. The drink
coursed through her system, energizing her briefly with a hit of
alcohol, although most of the bubbles had long since fizzed away.
"It's all right, love," he was murmuring in her ear. "I've got you,
you're here with me." She clung to him, feeling the brushed cotton of
his shirt under her fingers until she became impatient with that
barrier between them.
sat up, pulling her dress over her head and casting it aside, quickly
but not ruthlessly. That dress had been the first of the day's
presents—she'd discovered it in a clumsily wrapped box on the kitchen
table when she'd woken up alone that morning. Wear this tonight,
love, the tag had said. And, no, I didn't steal it!
given her the earrings she wore too. Those had been his public gift,
presented at her party and opened with those of her friends. His
other public gift had been the way he'd laughed and joked about movies
and music with her companions from school. The people she'd spent the
past few months slowly and carefully connecting with as she built
herself a life without Willow. Most had been amused by his acerbic
wit, but a few had seemed wary. Still, Tara gloried in the surprising
treat of enjoying his company and that of her human friends at the
she'd danced with him, feeling no shame at holding and kissing him in
front of everyone. Then they'd gone back to her apartment, where he'd
presented her with the champagne, made love to her twice, and then
shown her the journal he'd prepared with his favorite love poems.
with Willow in a different club two years to the day earlier, but she
hadn't thought about that other birthday until the knock had come on
knock could have shattered everything she had now. But she wasn't
going to let it.
I'm sorry," he was saying. Anger was creeping into his voice. "And
on your birthday—"
she shook her head. "It's way after midnight. My birthday was
yesterday. My birthday was perfect. And now," she leaned against
him, "you're going to make things perfect again." Her fingers were
undoing the buttons of his shirt and she was straddling his hips,
rubbing herself against him. She stifled his protest with a
passionate kiss. "Don't tell me you can't," she murmured against his
lips, "because I can feel how hard you are."
hands were at the zipper of his jeans now, opening them enough for her
to get her fingers inside and touch him. He was responding, thrusting
his hips up against hers, one hand moving as if of its own accord to
touch her clit, rubbing her expertly even as he murmured a protest.
me do you proper then. Gently, make you—"
Spike, no. Now. Fast and hard. I need to feel alive. I need to
make sure I'm real. That I'm really here." She already felt alive,
now that his hand was on her, his body moving with hers. She ripped
at his jeans, pulling them down over his hips until his cock was free,
and then she reached to move him inside her, a moment later taking his
hand in hers and pushing it against her so that he would keep
massaging her clit even as he penetrated her.
"Don't come yet," she ordered, knowing he'd obey, that he'd do what
she needed, because he always did. When he loved, he wanted most to
give his lady what she desired, and he focused all his considerable
power and ability on that task. Tara wondered why Buffy had never
understood, had never realized the strength that came with that.
Perhaps Buffy had been frightened of the responsibility of being loved
so much. Well, it had frightened Tara too, but then she had looked
deep into those azure eyes and realized that she wanted to give him
back all the happiness in the world. And, somehow, that knowledge had
freed them both.
Tonight should have forced her back into patterns of fear and regret,
but now, staring into the midnight of his eyes and knowing that his
love and concern and desire were all for her, she felt only a greater
freedom. The last vestige of guilt for no longer needing Willow as
she once did, for no longer making her ex-lover the center of her
universe, had fallen away. It wasn't just that Willow and Buffy and
Xander had so obviously stopped thinking of Tara as a person with a
life outside of their dysfunctional little group. It was realizing
that she could still love the part of Willow that she carried in her
heart and yet feel nothing but relief that the two of them weren't
discovered with astonishment that she was murmuring all this in
Spike's ear as she moved above him, telling him of her feelings for
Willow even as she thrust down hard against him, her hands gripping
his shoulders until her fingertips had gone white.
"Spike, I'm sorry," she sobbed now. "I love you, you know I love
Tara," he said, holding her still for a moment, reaching up a hand to
push her hair from her face and brush away some tears she hadn't
realized she'd shed. "I know. You're here with me now, all of you."
understand?" she whispered incredulously.
"Yeah," he said, eyes on hers, and she remembered how he'd glanced at
Buffy only to gauge the Slayer's mood, not showing any anger or
longing of his own.
still love her too," she said. No need to specify which "her."
always love her," he told Tara. "But I'm in love with you. I belong
with you. I didn't with her. Never could. I'd die for her tomorrow,
if she asked me. Owe it to her. Promised her. But I want to live with
you. I want to be in you." He bucked his hips against hers, grinding
gasped with the force of him moving inside her, his hand reaching
again to touch her just there, and then she forgot Willow,
forgot Buffy, for the moment at least. She knew that someday soon
their past loves would call again, and they would answer, putting
everything at risk to help the Slayer in whatever crazy battle she had
been forced to fight. But, tonight, only Spike could be allowed to
could she give him that would prove that?
own words, of course. His own borrowed words, thrown back at him.
"I am with you, Spike, here in this moment and always." She bent her
head until their lips were only inches apart. "When in disgrace
with fortune and men's eyes, I all alone beweep my outcast state . .
." She whispered the verse gently, and he gasped beneath her,
almost coming, only the knowledge that she wasn't ready yet
used to think I was worthless, that I'd always be alone, an outcast .
. .Yet in these thoughts of myself most despising, haply I think
on thee . . . "
"You listened," he gasped. "You heard."
thought she wasn't listening, then, earlier, when he'd rested
against her and pretended to read from that book? Did he think she
hadn't listened on those other occasions when he'd murmured such words
into her ear? Did no one else ever hear him when he whispered the
poetry he loved so much? Tara tried to imagine Drusilla or Buffy
listening, really listening when he'd tried to gift them with those
beautiful words. They'd have let the glorious phrases slide over
them, of course, Drusilla because of her madness and Buffy because of
her other obsessions. Tara had drunk them in, and they were as much a
part of her now as they were of him.
sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings . . ."
Her head bent to his cheek, kissing him, feeling the wetness of his
tears against her lips. Their salty warmth was harsh against her
tongue, and made her clench her thighs convulsively, forcing him
further inside her, pulling him even closer. He spasmed and moaned,
and she felt her body move to climax with him.
"That then I scorn to change my state with kings."
And so it was. Here in this shabby room, on this serviceable bed,
their bodies locked in an embrace that left them no room to envy any