Part 7: Joined
"Yes, obviously," he said. He leaned back in his chair and looked me in the eyes. "Do you know what the stone is?"
"A ruby?" I was bored already. I never did have the patience to yammer on about jewelry or clothing or other fripperies. I had a century's worth of experience tuning it out.
"No, this is a red diamond."
"What of it?" I said impatiently. "Do you want to buy it or not?"
He gave me a look of complete exasperation. It reminded me strongly of Giles. "The last red diamond to go to auction sold for 1.7 million dollars," he explained.
"Go on," I said my attention focused on his words.
"That ring was less than two carats." He held up Dru's ring. "This one is over six."
My throat went dry. "Are you telling me that that little bauble is worth millions of dollars?"
"That's exactly what I'm telling you." He smiled at me. "Now, obviously, I can't buy this ring." He rummaged in his mahogany desk and came up with a card. "Call this auction house. They specialize in rare fancy diamonds, which is what you've got here." He wrapped up the ring in a square of tissue and handed it to me. "I'd be very careful with it if I were you."
I walked through the tunnel under downtown Sunnydale in a haze. This changed everything. I could take care of Tara. She could stop living off of Ramen noodles and peanut butter. We could move out of the dorm and into a place of our own. I could pay off her loans and put money in the bank. I could take care of my girl, without stealing to do it. I could be a good man.
I broke into a run, desperate to tell her. I entered the section of tunnel underneath the campus and the basement of Tara's building. I whistled as I dashed up the stairs and down the hallway of her floor. A scent that I hadn't smelled in a long time filled my nostrils. Tara's fear.
I ran for the door and found it locked. "You're a filthy little bitch," I heard a male voice say. "You're a filthy little bitch and you don't deserve to live."
A red haze filled my field of vision and my demon took over. I ripped off the doorknob and swung the door open. A man had Tara slammed up against the wall. His hands were wrapped tightly around her neck, choking her. Her eyes were closed and her head lolled back. I grabbed him by the jacket and threw him across the room. The chip kicked in, but I welcomed the pain. It just pissed me off even more. He slammed into the wall face first and fell to the ground. I advanced on him, kicking the bastard over and over until he stopped moving.
"Spike?" said a small voice behind me. I rushed to Tara's side. Her lip was split and I wiped the blood gently with my thumb. She winced and pulled away.
"Are you okay, baby?" I looked her over and saw that her skirt was ripped, her blouse torn. I could smell him on her, smell the stink of his sweat. She stared at me, her eyes wide and lips trembling. "What did he do to you?" She pulled me to her and pressed her face into my shoulder. She didn't cry, just let me rock her back and forth.
I heard a groan behind me and turned to see the man rolling over and trying to get up. I unwrapped Tara's arms from my neck. "I'm going to kill him," I said firmly.
She grabbed my hand. "You can't," she said. Her eyes pleaded at me.
"Why the hell not?"
"He's my brother," she said. "It's Donnie." I looked over at the moaning pile of crap, and I recognized him, vaguely, as the jerk who had shown up on her birthday, telling everyone she was going to become a demon.
"Why did he do this to you?" I asked, confused.
"It's been going on for years," she whispered. "It's just never been this bad before."
"He's been beating you for years?"
"Since we were kids."
"And your parents? They didn't know?"
"My father knew," she said bitterly. "But he never did anything about it. And my mother pretended not to notice. She had enough trouble on her hands with my father."
She began to cry. "There's something wrong with me. I make people hurt me." She sobbed hard. "I thought it was the demon in me, but there isn't one. It's just me."
"You're evil," said a voice behind us.
"I'll show you evil," I hissed. I stormed over and kicked him in the ribs. My chip flared again as Tara pulled me away.
"Stop it, stop it," she cried. "Just get out."
"I'm not leaving you with him," I yelled. "Are you out of your fucking mind?"
"Leave!" she yelled. "Please just go."
"I'm not leaving you!"
She cracked her hand across my face. "Get out!" I stared at her in disbelief. She stared in my eyes and picked up the phone. "Police?"
I turned and left. I was stunned, numb. It was a bad dream, an illusion, a distortion of reality. It wasn't real. My face stung from where she'd hit me. Tara. Hit me.
I did what I always do when my heart gets broken. I drank. I drank at Willy's Bar. I had shot after shot until I felt numb, until I felt like my tongue had been wrapped in cotton and my heart frozen in my chest.
"I suck with women," I explained to Willy. "I think that I must be cursed."
"Really?" he replied. "What kind of curse?"
"If I love them, they'll smack me in the face."
"That's pretty specific," he replied.
"I loved Cecily," I slurred. "And she smacked me in the face. Metaphorically speaking, you know." I sank a shot from the long row that lined the bar in front of me. "And Drusilla, she punched me in the face. Of course, she was pissed off at me at the time for trying to kill her lover. And the Slayer punched me in the face all the time. It was kind of a hobby for her." I lit a cigarette awkwardly and inhaled. "Some girls ice skate. Some girls collect stamps. Buffy liked to hit me in the face." I took another drag off my cigarette. "This thing tastes funny."
"You lit the filter," explained Willy. I stubbed it out and lit another.
A pale hand with long manicured fingers slid across my chest. I grabbed it and threw it off. "Whatever you're selling, I'm not buying."
"How do you know what I'm selling?" I turned to look at a tall, blonde vampire. She was sexy as hell. Long gorgeous legs, full breasts, a red, dewy mouth.
"I may be pathetic," I said, "But I've never been pathetic enough to fuck a whore." She slapped me, and her long nails clawed a track across my cheek.
"So much for my theory," I said to Willy. "I didn't even love that one."
The next thing I remember, Clem and Lia were pulling me inside their apartment. They dragged me over onto the futon and tossed a blanket over me. "If you need to throw up," said Lia, "there's a bucket by your head." The lights turned off and I rested comfortably in the darkness. The whirling of my head was soothing, reassuring even.
"I wonder what he did to make her break up with him," I heard Clem say.
"I just hope she forgives him," said Lia.
The world got very cold, and black and lonely. I thought about Tara, about her smell, the feel of her in my arms. I missed the way that she held me when we fell asleep. I even missed the cat.
As I passed out, I wondered why my face was wet.
"Time to get up," said a sweet female voice.
"Tara?" I asked. I tried to sit up, but my head swam.
"It's Lia." She handed me a packet of blood. "Drink up."
I rolled on my elbow and propped myself up. I drank the blood, and it made me feel so much better. I sat up and looked around. The room was dim. Lia stood in front of me wearing a low cut evening dress. Her hair fell over her shoulders, curled into long tendrils. "Why are you all dressed up?"
"Anya's wedding is in an hour," she replied.
I stood up. "I have to be there. And I don't have my suit. It's at Tara's."
"She brought it here," she said. "I called her this afternoon."
"Did she leave a message? Did she say anything about me?"
Lia shook her head. "She just dropped off the suit and left." She looked at me. "I would really like to know what's going on, but we don't have time."
Clem walked into the living room. "We should get going honey." He turned to her and she fastened his cuff links.
"I'll meet you guys at the reception," I said.
I pushed open the double doors to the reception hall. Xander and Anya were cutting the cake. A crowd surrounded them, laughing and taking pictures. I looked around the room. It was filled to capacity with dozens of humans and demons. A DJ was set up at one corner of a dance floor. Dawn and Giles were dancing together, and I spotted Buffy dancing with an average looking human guy. I looked for Tara, and saw her standing in the corner talking to Willow. She turned and looked at me. A wreath of pink rosebuds rested on her head, and her hair was long and straight. She wore a pink gown with a ruffled neckline. We stared at each other for a moment, and I felt my heart contract painfully. I made my way towards her. The music stopped and a slow song began. Dawn came up to me, smiling and excited.
"Do you want to dance?" she asked.
"Sure thing, niblet," I replied. I led her in a slow movement around the dance floor.
"What happened to your face?" she asked. I reached up and felt the fingernail marks on my cheek.
"Got in a fight," I responded.
"I have good gossip," she said. I smiled down at her. She wore the same outfit as Tara, her hair up in a bun.
"What's the latest, then?"
"Buffy has a new boyfriend." She pointed across the dance floor. "His name's Richard. He works with Xander."
I looked over. Buffy was looking up at him, smiling and laughing. "He looks decent enough. And it's nice to see Buffy happy for a change."
"He's retarded," she announced. "He brings her candy and writes her poetry."
I laughed. "There are worse ways to court a woman." She chattered on about the stupidity of Richard. I scanned the dance floor, and found Tara dancing with Xander. Her face was animated, and she made the little gestures she uses when she's telling a joke. He smiled and laughed at her. My chest ached. I missed her so much. I hated being apart from her, being estranged. I needed her. I needed her warmth, her smile.
The song ended and I made my way to Tara. Willow stepped out in front of me, and I stopped. "Hi Will," I said warmly.
"I need to talk to you," she said seriously.
"Can it wait?"
"No." She grabbed my hand and pulled me from the room. We stood in the hallway. The sounds of the music and laughter drifted out from the party. "I know what you did to Tara," she said.
"I didn't do anything to Tara," I said, confused.
She jabbed a wooden stake in my chest. "Don't you lie to me," she said in a deadly voice.
"I swear, Willow, I don't know what you mean."
"I sensed magic all around her. I saw underneath her glamour. I saw the split lip, the bruises on her throat, the black eye." She sneered at me. "You come waltzing in here with her scratch marks on your cheek and your bandaged knuckles. Did you think I wouldn't be smart enough to figure it out?"
"Don't say another word." The wood inched closer to my heart. "I warned you what would happen," she said coldly.
"It wasn't him," said Tara. She stepped around me and shoved me aside. "I swear, it wasn't."
"Why are you protecting him?" asked Willow. "Did he threaten you?"
Tara took Willow's hand and pulled out the stake, tossing it aside. "Spike didn't hurt me, Donny did."
"My father died," she explained. "Donny found out the terms of the will. He wasn't really happy with what he found out, and he wanted to make me sign over my share. So he hurt me." Her voice wavered. "He's in jail for assault, and I told the police about the other stuff too." She began to cry in earnest. "About him touching me, and making me touch him."
Willow enfolded Tara in her arms. "I'm so sorry about your dad, and Donny, and everything." She pulled away and smiled at her. "I really love you," she whispered.
"I love you too, Will," said Tara. Willow turned and walked away.
Tara looked at me tentatively. "I'm sorry I hit you," she said. "I had to do it."
"Why did you?"
"I was afraid that if you stayed, I would let you kill him." She bit her lip. "I was afraid that I would ask you to do it."
I pulled her to me and buried my face in her hair. "Oh, Tara. I thought you hated me. I thought you saw me as a monster."
"You are a monster," she said. '"But you're mine." I leaned down to kiss her and she pulled away.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I should give you some space."
"It's my lip," she said. "It hurts."
"Can you take off the glamour?" I asked her. "Can you show me what he did?"
"I can't do it here. There's all these people."
"Is there anything that you have to do? Can I take you home now?"
"Don't you need to stay here?"
"Xander will understand. I'm notoriously irresponsible anyway."
We stood together under the running water. I scooped cream out of the stone jar and rubbed it into the bruises and cuts on her face. "Am I hurting you?" I asked her. "I'm trying to be gentle."
"It feels wonderful," she said softly. "It tingles." I watched the cuts heal and the bruises fade as I smoothed the paste over her skin. Soon her face was whole and beautiful again.
I rinsed her off and carried her to our room. I rested her on her quilt and toweled her off. She smiled at me. I lay down on top of her, our naked bodies pressed together. "I love you," I said to her.
"I love you," she replied. She brought her mouth up to mine and guided me inside her. It was so right, so good to be with her. I felt like I was home, like I had found my peace. The taste of her, the feel of her, it was everything I needed. She pulled away and gasped for air. Her breath hitched and she bit my earlobe. She gripped my shoulder tightly and I watched her come, her face flushing with color as she tightened all around me.
"Tell me," I said to her.
"I'm yours," she cried. "I'm yours forever."
"I adore you," I whispered in her ear. "I worship you."
"Come inside me," she said, as she stared deeply in my eyes. "I want all of you inside me." She pressed her mouth to my neck and bit down lightly. I groaned as I came, and she kissed me gently. She slipped out from underneath me and rolled on her side.
"I have to tell you something," she said.
"I have to tell you something too."
"I'll go first. I inherited my grandmother's cabin in the woods. I want to go live there, and paint, and be with you, and live happily ever after." She smiled at me, rosy and peaceful.
"I'm a millionaire," I informed her. "I'll have enough money for us to do whatever the hell we want, for as long as we want, and we can live happily ever after."
"So we get the fairy tale ending?" she said.
"As much of one as a vampire, a witch and a kitty can hope for."
We curled into each other's arms. "So when exactly does happily ever after start?" she asked.
I kissed her on the lips. "Right now." And it did.