By Miss Murchison
Rating: R, for romance.
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.
Tara 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 . . ."
She 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 . . "
Of 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 delight.
But 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.
Yes, 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.
She 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 ago.
"For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings . . ."
This time, she decided, she'd insist that they do whatever he wanted.
She traced the line of his cheekbones with one finger as his voice murmured on. Moved to his forehead, and—
She 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."
He'd memorized every poem he'd written down for her. He'd probably transcribed them from memory.
Her arms tightened around his shoulders.
Before 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.
"Buffy and the Scoobies," he said grimly, and turned to face her. "Willow's there. And Dawn's with them."
"Oh." She was silent for a moment, then reached down to the floor to pick up the dress she'd worn earlier in the evening.
"You don't have to—"
"I need to," she said. She met his gaze carefully. "Not because it's Willow. Because they may need something important."
He 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.
"Are you sure this is Tara's new place?" asked Xander.
Dawn nodded grimly. "I'm sure. I still visit her, you know." She looked away from Willow as she said it.
"I've been here," said Buffy, adding a bit less defensively, "Months ago."
"Maybe 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.
"Who?" said Dawn. "Amy? One of your evil magic suppliers? That should help a lot."
Before 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 beyond her.
"Tara?" said Buffy in surprise.
"Tara?" echoed Xander. "Um, wow."
Tara 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?"
Tara 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.
"Yes," Buffy was saying. "Something's wrong. We're sorry to bother you, but we need a witch, and—"
Willow 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 her eyes.
"You need me to do a spell for you." It wasn't a question.
"Uh, 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."
Before 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.
Willow 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.
It was 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.
"I'm 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.
It was Dawn who replied. "We're okay. Mostly." The teenager looked at her sister.
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?
Spike 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.
"What do you need?"
Willow cringed 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?
Buffy 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.
"It's not whole," said Tara, staring at it with distaste. "And I don't think I'd like it any more if it was."
"The rest of it is on another plane," said Willow. "I have the coordinates-" She stopped, as Tara cautiously stroked the thing in Buffy's hand.
"I know where it is," said Tara evenly, pulling her hand back. An expression of revulsion passed over her face. "I can sense the place."
"Can you go there and get it?" asked Xander.
"No!" said Spike forcefully.
"You've done it before," said Buffy to Tara, ignoring him. "You did it when Faith stole my body."
"That was something different," said Tara, "and—"
"It's 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 stopped.
"Just a minute," said Tara to the Scoobies.
She 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.
His 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.
After a few minutes, Tara came back out, Spike a step behind her. "I'll do it, but I'll need an anchor."
Willow started forward uneasily, and Tara rushed to add, "Spike will do that."
"No!" Willow burst out in horror. "You can't—not a demon. The anchor—"
"—has to be someone I trust," said Tara flatly. "Spike can do it."
"If 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 this.
"No, I 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.
Tara 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.
The Scoobies 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.
We are together.
Yeah, love. You and me against the overworld.
Tara smiled grimly as she laid her other hand on the talisman. It was indeed broken, fractured. The other piece—
She was far away and in her tiny apartment. Eons passed and the moment froze in time.
The 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 bodies.
A 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 blustery day.
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—
She had it. Now all she had to do was bring it back. Easier said than done.
I can't get back by myself.
You don't have to, pet.
I know. I'm reaching for you, Spike. Hold me tight.
This 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 once?
Tara 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.
Tara 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.
"Take 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.
Tara's 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."
Willow felt her throat tighten. "Let us—let us help," she said. "A—glass of water maybe. I can do that, at least."
Spike 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—
She 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.
But his iron, condemnatory gaze said it was.
Willow turned and ran from the apartment.
Buffy and Xander stared after her in astonishment, then looked reflexively to Spike for an explanation.
Spike 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."
Out on 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.
"What 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 hysterically.
"Go 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?"
Willow 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."
Buffy looked away from her sister. For the first time that evening something like real regret passed over her face.
"I 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.
In 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.
She 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!
He'd 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 same time.
Later, 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.
She'd danced 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 the door.
That knock could have shattered everything she had now. But she wasn't going to let it.
"Love, I'm sorry," he was saying. Anger was creeping into his voice. "And on your birthday—"
"No," 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."
Her 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.
"Let me do you proper then. Gently, make you—"
"No, 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.
"God, Tara, love!"
"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 physically together.
She 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 you."
"Yeah, 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."
"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.
"You still love her too," she said. No need to specify which "her."
"I'll 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 against her.
She 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 matter.
What could she give him that would prove that?
His 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 restraining him.
"I 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."
Had he 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.
"For thy 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 other creature.