All About Spike

Chapter: 1  2  3  4  Epilogue

Quick and Bitter, Slow and Sweet
By Miss Murchison

Rating: PG-13 for this part, R overall.

Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.

Thanks: To DorothyL and Keswindhover for the beta, and to Devil Piglet for the original idea.

Part Two

"Bloody hell, 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.

"It's not 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."

"So you're just going to shove me out of here and go off boozing?"

"Hardly, 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 boozing."

Dawn pouted. "It's not fair. You'll be having fun, and Tara will probably make me work on that stupid paper on John Donne."

He 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."

"I'm 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."

"Oh, 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."

"Just 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 chance."

When 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.

"So 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.'"

Spike 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.

Dawn 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.

Right now, 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.

Dawn 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 washed.

"Well, love is a big deal with poets," said Tara with a smile.

"But how come we don't read any poems about guys wanting to do it with guys or girls breaking up with girls?"

"I 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.

"I'm sorry, Tara," she said. "I didn't mean to remind you of Willow. I mean, you seemed so happy, and now—"

"It's okay, honey," said Tara. She stared down at the dishes in the sink.

"It's 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.

"How 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."

Dawn blinked in surprise. "But you had to figure it out sometime, didn't you? I mean, in high school or somewhere."

"When 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.

Tara 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."

Dawn 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 petty humiliations."

"I'm sorry," said Dawn, her expression showing how inadequate she thought her words were.

"I'm 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--?"

"In spite of everything." She gave Dawn a hug. "Real love is never wasted, Dawn."

Dawn 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.

There 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.

Tara 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.

He 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.

Spike was really the most surprising creature. He could be almost tactful sometimes, Tara thought, smiling as she rubbed Dawn's back.

Tara 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.

I 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.

As 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.

"I 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.

Tara 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.

Soon, 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.

She'd accept 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.

Tara 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.

"'Lo, 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.

She reached out to take it automatically, but stared at the corrugated folds with suspicion. "What is it?"

"Some 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?"

"Not 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."

He 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 gasp, "Oooh!"

"I 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.

His voice was smug as he added, "Didn't look like much, but I could feel the magic in it."

She 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 with it."

"Knew you'd know what to do," he agreed. "Didn't want to touch it myself. Used the cloth to pick it up."

"Good 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.

He 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."

"It's 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 welcomed her.

"You like it, then?" he said, sounding assured again.

"Yes, thank you." Her eyes strayed downward, and she noticed one more object in the box. "What's this?"

"Uh. Not sure about that one."

Tara 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."

"I'm not familiar with his work," she said marveling that her voice didn't quaver. "Well." She paused, searching for words. "The frame is pretty."

"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?"

She 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?"

Their 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."

Tara stepped away from him. "Lethe's Bramble," she said in an angry, tight voice.

His head snapped up at her tone. "Lethe's Bramble?"

She 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."

Tara shook 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."

Her tears 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.

"To another 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 are."

She gulped 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.

They 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."

"I—I 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."

"They say 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 proven that.

"Glory did worse to you," said Tara. "You let her do worse."

"No," he 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 skin.

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.

"Uh," he 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 asked.

"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 behind him.

Tara stared 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.

But, then, 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 unknown.

She dropped 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.

The 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 fingers.

The 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 returned.

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.

A few 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 apartment.

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.

Three 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.

Tara 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.

Spike 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.

Uh, we'd 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.

Take your 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 there.

Spike turned 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.

The fool brayed with laughter. I wasn't! But what do you call kissing her hand?

A simple, polite gesture, acknowledging the lady's bravery. The poet was at his stiffest. I certainly had no ulterior motive.

I'm not 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.

No, 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.

Yeah, 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?

The demon 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.

The Bit wasn't there just now, pointed out the fool inexorably.

No, 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 knife properly!

Thought she might like it, said the fool in a chastened tone. I mean, seeing she's gay and the girl was starkers and all.

Pretty stark bad taste, snapped the poet. I'm trying to match fabric to her eyes and you're giving her bimbos on velvet!

It wasn't the one on velvet! Knew she wouldn't like that one, said the fool, adding after a moment, I kept that one for us.

You did what? cried the poet. If you think you're putting that thing up in our crypt. . .

If you 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.

I've never 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 . . .

The argument 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."

Spike opened 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.

The fence 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.

The fence 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."

"Got more 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 espresso maker."

"The vices don't surprise me," said the fence as Spike headed for the door. "But the friend does."

"Me too," 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.

Dawn 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.

The 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.

Tara 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.

She 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.

Coughing and cursing, Spike pressed his advantage, hacking off first another leg, then the lizard's head.

"Yay, 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."

Tara backed away and let Spike and the teenager finish the dismemberment on their own.

Spike dropped 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."

Dawn's expression of triumph changed to almost comical dismay. "Why? I was just trying to help."

"Help who?"

"Well, 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."

Tara resisted an impulse to tear at her hair. "So, why didn't you tell Buffy?"

That comment 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 Spike."

Tara tried to wrap her thoughts around this new concept. "You're helping Spike find aphrodisiacs to sell on the Asian black market?"

"Well, only 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 expedition."

"Now, look—" Spike started to say, but she interrupted him.

"No, Spike, 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!"

He stepped 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."

"Yes, Spike, 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 dragon-slaying!"

Surprisingly, 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."

Tara was still glaring at him when she heard Dawn say in a small voice, "It bit you, Spike. You screamed."

The vampire's expression became indignant again. "I did not scream. I may have uttered a warlike yell, but I did not scream."

"Well, you yelled, then," said Dawn. "But it did bite you. What else could I do?"

"Nothing 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."

Tara 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 his promises.

"Is the fight over?" asked Dawn in a timid voice.

Tara 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.

He, 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."

Dawn went 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."

"It's 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?"

"As 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.

"His 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."

"Oh?" 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. Because—"

"They're cheap," said Spike understandingly.

"And 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."

Spike and Dawn exchanged looks. "Pizza," said Dawn definitely.

Spike nodded towards Tara. "What about the witch?"

"I 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."

Tara 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.

But 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 been different.

Spike 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.

She 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 of Coke.

Spike 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—

Tara pushed that idea away. Aside from the fact that it seemed disloyal, thinking about Willow did her no good.

She began paying attention to the conversation around her.

"And if I buy you this thing, Bit, will you use it for good or evil?" Spike was saying.

"What do you mean?" asked Dawn, falling into his rhetorical trap in spite of her obvious suspicions.

"I may be a demon, but I have my limits. Even a dump like Sunnydale shouldn't be polluted with the sounds of Evanescence and White Stripes."

Tara bent her head over her pizza, hiding her smirk from Dawn as she waited for the teenager's inevitable protest.

Dawn was having a pretty good Friday evening. At least, it was pretty good up until the moment she turned the corner onto Revello Drive.

She'd 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?

Then 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.

"If you ever do this again—" he snarled at her.

Dawn 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 good time."

"Is there 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."

"Oh," said Dawn in a small voice that she hoped didn't sound smug. "So that's why you went to get Tara."

"Yes, 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?"

"Oh, 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 all.

"And what makes you think I'm dealing well?" asked Tara in a level tone. "Dawn, I'm so disappointed in you."

Dawn turned 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 hug back.

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.

Tara and Spike exchanged looks.

So 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.

Then 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.

Then 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 campus bookstore.

But 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.

"I 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."

"Keep 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.

"That isn't fair, Spike! I am not going to wind up in jail. I haven't stolen anything for months and months."

"No? Well, they'll just have to nab you for truancy then, or underage drinking, or—"

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.

But Spike just stared at the other men, all of them taller and bulkier than he was, and gave a single, deep-throated growl.

The gang parted to let them go by.

Dawn waited until they were out of earshot to ask, "What would you have done if that didn't scare them?"

"Gone into game face," he said. "That usually works."

She thought 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."


"No. Just 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 money."

That made 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.

With 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 stomach lurch.

It 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 feet.

Spike realized she was falling behind and turned to look at her. "What's wrong, pet?"

"Nothing," 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?"

He shrugged, 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 moved."

"Yeah," said 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."

"Maybe," said Spike. "But in case you haven't noticed, Bit, I'm not a real estate agent or a financial planner."

"It's just, 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 more."

Clearly, 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."

He always 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?"

She looked 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.

After an 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.

Buffy 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 normal.

"Hi," she said as she headed for the stairs.

"Tara isn't coming in?" Buffy asked with a glance at the door.

"Uh—no." Dawn stuttered the syllables.

Buffy 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 Spike did."

Buffy's voice was as sharp as a stake. "Spike? How did that happen? Why was he around you two?"

"He 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.

I 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!

Buffy 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."

Dawn stiffened. "Why not?"

"Why not? He's evil, Dawn."

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 either."

Buffy 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 eyes.

"You are just never fair to him, Buffy." Dawn's initial pleasure at seeing her sister react, even negatively, about something was fading fast.

"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."

"I 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 door.

Dawn 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.

Why didn't 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 change?

Maybe 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 that.

She'd 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.

Why didn't Buffy understand?

Once 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 words.

The Slayer and the Bit are going at it, said the demon.

Nothing new about that, said the fool.

I 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 Buffy.

Spike 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 roots.

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.

They 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 back there.

Because 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.

She 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 was.

Spike 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.

The poet rummaged through his store of borrowed thoughts and phrases and found some words.

She won't listen, said the demon.

I know, said the poet sadly. She hasn't heard me in a long time.

Do it anyway, said the fool with surprising wisdom. Sometimes the words just need to be said.

So, alone, deep in the shadows, Spike spoke to a woman who was too far away to hear him.

The end was quick and bitter.
Slow and sweet was the time between us,
Slow and sweet were the nights
When my hands did not touch one another in despair
But with the love of your body
Which came between them.

And when I entered into you
It seemed then that great happiness
Could be measured with the precision
Of sharp pain.

Spike 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.'"

He turned and walked away down Revello Drive.

The poem Spike quotes from at the end of this section is Quick and Bitter by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Assia Gutmann. You can read the whole text here.

Continued in Part Three

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