RATING: NC-17 overall
SPOILERS: Season 6 through “As You Were”.
DISCLAIMER: All hail Joss Whedon, UPN, the WB, FOX, Mutant Enemy and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation. GO team! Theirs, not mine.
AUTHOR”S NOTE: Lyrics from “Rubber Ducky” from Sesame Street used without permission.
DISTRIBUTION: Please ask my permission first, just so I know where it’s headed.
FEEDBACK: Sure, fire away to firstname.lastname@example.org
Tara and I exchanged glances. “Well, obviously, I’ll need something without a lot of sunlight,” I replied.
“Sweetie, I’ve been finding places for vampires to live longer than you’ve been on a liquid diet.“ She smiled at us, her snakelike tongue flickering against her lips. “I meant, what kind of budget are we looking at here?”
“You and I can talk money after we find something she likes,” I said.
Tara gave me a pointed glance. “Don’t treat me like I’m the little woman, Spike.”
“You don’t have to get all snippy about it,” I replied. “I’m just trying to be gentlemanly.”
“Well, just be your normal abrasive self. You sound like my father.” She turned to the realtor. “We need a two bedroom in a nice safe location. It doesn’t have to be anything special.”
I watched Tara walk around the small apartment. Her footsteps echoed on the wooden floor as she peered in the bedrooms and looked around. “What do you think?” I asked her.
She furrowed her brow as she walked past me. “It’s fine.” She stood in the doorway to the kitchen and stared inside. I walked up behind her, looking over her shoulder to see what she was looking at. It was a perfectly white kitchen, as sterile and cold as an operating room.
“Not very cozy, is it?”
She turned and looked at me. “It just doesn’t feel like a home.”
I turned to the realtor. “What else do you have?”
The next place she took us to was the basement of an old row house downtown. Completely underground, it had no windows. The realtor indicated a hatch in the floor in the utility room. “It has access to the tunnels,” she pointed out.
“Well, that’s a real plus,” said Tara. “That would make it easy for you to get around.”
“Do you mind the lack of sunlight?” I asked her.
She shook her head. “Not really. At least this way I wouldn’t have to worry about you accidentally burning to a crisp.”
We crammed ourselves into the tiny bathroom. “There’s no tub, only a shower,” Tara commented.
“I’d love a bathtub,” I said. “Soaking in steaming hot tub of water is a luxury I haven’t had for longer than I care to remember.”
“I bet you’re a bubble bath lover,” she answered with a grin.
I love bubbles, the more the better. “You’re off your gourd.”
“I bet you have a rubber ducky,” she said teasingly.
I’d had battleships too, back when it was me and Dru. “You’re nuts.”
“Rubber ducky, you’re the one,” she sang. “You make bathtime lots of fun…” I growled and lunged at her, and she giggled and ran away.
I followed her out to the main area of the basement. “One, one tiny living room, ha ha ha,” I said in my best Count von Count voice.
She laughed and looked around. “Boy, this is so small.”
“I don’t even think that we could fit more than a couch in here,” I said as I paced off the room. Unless I was totally wrong, it was about seven by six.
“I would like to have people over,” she said. “That was one of the things I liked about living at Buffy’s house. There were always people coming and going.” I’d liked it to, during the summer. Dropping by to hang out, watch a movie, or play cards.
We went into the small galley kitchen. We both couldn’t fit in it at the same time, and Tara couldn’t even stretch out her arms. She looked at the stove. “Electric range,” she said, and pulled a face.
The realtor stepped up behind us. “Okay, so we like the tunnel access, but we want a larger living room and kitchen area and a tub in the bathroom.”
Tara smiled. “Exactly.”
The next apartment we saw was incredible. It had a very high ceiling and marble floors. Tara and I walked into the dining room, which was decorated with intricate reliefs of angels on all four walls of the room and a pair of marble Corinthian columns at each end. “This would be sure to impress our guests,” I remarked.
Tara leaned her head back. “Oh, wow. Look up.”
We stared up at a beautiful rococo mural of angels on the dining room ceiling. Cherubs sang and played instruments, their smiling faces radiant. “I haven’t seen anything like that since Prague,” I commented.
“When were you in Prague?” Tara asked.
“Right before I came to Sunnydale,” I said. “Prague was where it all started to fall apart.”
She started to speak but Rhonda interrupted us. “So, do we love this or what?” She stared at us, her eyelids blinking fast.
“What do you think, Spike?” Tara asked.
“I think it’s beautiful,” I responded. “But I’d like something warmer, more intimate.”
Tara nodded at me, agreeing. “We want somewhere where we can relax and be ourselves,” she explained. “Somewhere welcoming to guests, and inviting.” We exchanged a smile.
“If you want to settle on a place today,” the realtor said, “you may want to consider being a little more flexible.”
Tara’s brow furrowed, and her expression became worried. “We don’t like being pressured,” I said roughly. “You’re trying to earn a commission here, so I’d back off if I were you.”
Tara rubbed my back soothingly. “Spike, just calm down.” She turned to the realtor. “We’ve had a long morning. We’ll have lunch and meet back at your office in an hour. We really appreciate you helping us on such short notice.” Rhonda smiled at her, appeased, and left us on the landing.
“You get really cranky when you go too long without eating,” Tara said. “We need to get you some blood.”
I pulled away, annoyed. “I do not get cranky.”
“Yes you do. When we used to patrol, you’d get all bitchy halfway through and start chain smoking. You’d get all shaky, and you always had a headache,” she said. She looked at me probingly. “I wonder if vampires can be hypoglycemic.”
The girl was stoned. “Oh, sod off.”
“Seriously. The same thing used to happen to my cousin Beth and we’d have to get her some juice or candy,” she explained earnestly.
“I’m fine, Wicca,” I said.
“No you’re not, your head is throbbing. Your aura is flaring up red all over.” She gestured her hands toward the crown of my head.
I batted at her hands. “Quit it, you silly bint.”
She laughed. “Let me just use some acupressure to make you feel better. Hold still.” She took my hand and pinched firmly into the web between my thumb and index finger. “Your chi is blocked at your Hegu point.” She stared into my eyes as she continued the pressure.
Her eyes were so blue. There were little speckles of green and gray in them, and flecks of white. I watched her eyes dilate as her breathing stepped up, and I realized how close together we were standing. My hand was warmed by hers, and I felt the heat spread throughout my body. “I don’t have chi,” I said stupidly. “I’m dead.” My gaze lowered to her mouth, and I wondered if a man had ever kissed her. I wondered what her lips would feel like, how she would taste.
“But your head feels better, now, doesn’t it?” she said breathily, her cheeks were flushed with color. I leaned forward instinctively and she dropped my hand and backed away. We stared at each other for a moment.
“Let’s go get lunch,” I said abruptly.
“Maybe we should have taken that last apartment,” said Tara. We sat on stools at the bar at Willy’s Place.
I sipped on a glass of O neg. ‘”It wasn’t the right place for us.”
She took a bite of her sandwich and looked distressed. “We don’t have anywhere to stay tonight. I couldn’t go back to the motel if I wanted to, not after you scared Mr. Nesbit.”
I got furious just hearing that scumbag’s name. “The bastard got off easy. If I didn’t have this chip in, I would have ripped the sick fuck’s throat out.”
She pushed away her plate. “Thanks, Spike. I feel much better now.”
She didn’t want to hear that sort of talk. “I’m sorry, pet. I didn’t mean to upset you.” I sipped my drink. “It just got me all brassed off. That dirty old man sniffing around you, thinking about you that way.” Unbidden, the image of her nude body sprang to mind. Jesus, I’m a bloody hypocrite. I looked over at her and she seemed lost and confused again, the mention of that crappy motel sinking her back into it. “Tell you what, ducks. If we don’t find a place that we like today, we’ll stay at the Hilton. We can order room service, wear those terry robes they have and take a nice hot bath.”
She turned and smiled. “That sounds nice.”
“We can stay there as long as you like, so don’t worry about finding someplace today. You’re never going to have to go back to that motel. I promised you that I’d help you, and I will.” I never wanted to see her look so scared and desperate again.
“I trust you,” she said simply. “I know you wouldn’t leave me in the lurch.” She looked at me dead on, and I felt a wave of protectiveness.
I pushed a stray lock of hair behind her ear. “Eat up. We’ll have a nice dinner tonight to make up for my bringing you here.”
“I don’t mind it. It’s kind of exotic.” She looked around at the incredibly tacky, lowlife décor of the dump.
I cocked my head at her and grinned. “How so?”
“I’m from Mount Cade, Washington, population 560,” she said with a smile. “Pretty much everything is exotic after growing up there.” She looked at me. “I’m in a bar, with my handsome vampire friend, who is bribing me with a night in a luxurious hotel. What would the ladies from back home think?”
“Probably that you should be breaking out the holy water and crucifixes about now?” I suggested wryly.
Her expression clouded. “They’d probably figure this was about par for the course for the town weirdo.”
“They thought you were weird?” Tara was the most normal of all the Scoobies. What the hell kind of place did she come from?
“The whole town hated me,” she said matter-of-factly. “I was always different. As a little girl, I used to talk about seeing things other kids couldn’t see. I’d tell people about things that hadn’t happened yet, or tell secrets no one else should know.” She sighed. “It scared people, and made them nervous. My father was furious with me all the time.”
My heart ached for her. “Same thing happened to Dru,” I replied. “Except back then, they called it being possessed by demons. Her mother took her to the priests, tried to exorcise her.”
“I t-thought I had a demon inside m-me. That’s what they said in my f- family,” she said, clearly upset.
I was the biggest moron that ever lived. I’d forgotten all about her idiot family. “I didn’t mean anything by it, love,” I said. “I’m sorry if I hurt you, bringing it up.” I reached out to her but she turned away.
She stood up and looked at her watch. “We’d better go,” she said. “We need to meet the realtor.”
The afternoon slipped away as we looked at apartment after apartment that didn’t suit us. Tara and I got the system down pretty well; we could tell within a minute whether or not someplace had possibilities. None of them did. “I’m getting a blister,” said Tara as she stopped and rubbed the heel of her foot. “Maybe we should call it a day.”
The realtor consulted her clipboard. “I only have one more listing. I don’t think it’s what you’re looking for, but we can give it a shot.”
We walked through the tunnels and emerged on the edge of a cemetery. Night had fallen and crickets chirped loudly. “Well, this is awfully familiar,” I said. “I wouldn’t feel at home without all the tombs.”
“I don’t have anything against dead people,” commented Tara, “But I’d really rather have the kind of neighbors that want to come over for a pot luck.”
“Some things in this cemetery would love to come over for dinner,” I said.
She looked over her shoulder and raised her eyebrows. “Yeah,” she said dryly. “With me as the main course.” She limped painfully.
“It hurts just watching you, pet.” I walked over and picked her up. “Let me give you a lift.”
“Put me down,” she said, batting at my arms. I knew she was still upset; she’d been distant ever since I stuck my foot in my mouth at lunch.
“I’ll put you down when we get there.” We moved through the night, and I enjoyed the weight of her in my arms, the sweet scent of her hair blowing in the breeze. “I really am sorry about what I said,” I told her softly. She stared up at me and placed her hand on my neck. I smiled down at her, and the tension that had been between us melted away.
We walked past the rows of gravestones and along a dirt track that led into a small clearing. In the middle of it sat a two-story house, built of gray stone with a white wooden door and shutters. “I don’t think that we could afford a whole house,” Tara said doubtfully.
The realtor fumbled with a ring of keys and opened the door. Our footsteps echoed on the stone floor as we walked inside. I set down Tara gently on her feet as the realtor flicked on a light switch. “It is rather rustic in feel, but it does have water and electricity,” she told us. A large fireplace took up one wall and a ladder in the middle of the room led to a large open loft above. The ceiling was high, and framed with large heavy beams. There was a door on the right-hand wall, and two on the left.
She brought us through the door on the right, which gave access to a small hallway. There were two small bedrooms, side to side, and a large bathroom with a claw footed tub. We followed her back into the main room and across to the other two doors. She opened one, which led to a one-car garage. The second door, revealed a flight of stairs, and we followed her down into a large, empty basement. There was a metal door in the wall, which she unbolted. “Tunnel access,” she informed us. We went back upstairs and stood in the middle.
“I like it, pet,” I said to Tara. “What do you think?”
“I love this room. It has enough space for a coven to have a circle. And a fireplace would be good for the spell casting.” She turned around and looked curiously. “Where is the kitchen?”
We looked around the room. There was definitely nothing resembling a kitchen to be seen. “Rhonda?” I called. The realtor scurried up the steps and looked at me. “Is there a kitchen, love?”
She flipped through the sheets of paper in her hands. “There’s supposed to be one off the hallway,” she told us. We walked up and down the hallway, but didn’t find anything until Tara closed the door to the main room. The missing entryway was cattycorner on the wall behind it. We stepped through it and down some stairs, into a spacious kitchen. Olive appliances and orange linoleum placed the decorating of the kitchen firmly in the seventies. “Looks like the Bradys have stepped out for dinner,” I commented. Tara chuckled. We turned the corner and entered a large dining room. A chandelier glittered from the low ceiling. Rhonda pulled off a cover, revealing a long walnut dining room table with matching chairs. Tara ran her hands over the back of a chair, tracing the carving that adorned it. She exuded warmth and happiness.
“You like it here, don’t you?” I asked her. I felt a strong feeling of déjà vu. This moment, this place, felt like home to me.
“I really do,” she said. She twirled around and her golden hair spun out in a cloud all around her. She laughed, and the rich, vibrant sound was so sweet to hear.
“We’ll take it.”
I pushed a shopping cart down the aisle of the Super Mart. It was piled high with food and household goods. Tara consulted a list that she’d made up in her swirly handwriting. “Pillows,” she said.
I looked around. “Over there, ducks.” We made our way to the aisle and stopped in front of a wall full of pillows and mattress covers.
“These pillows are only three dollars a piece,” said Tara, picking one up. She plumped it between her hands.
I grabbed it away from her. “That’s because it’s stuffed with lead. It’s like a brick.” I pulled a goose down pillow from a rack and handed it to her. “Soft, fluffy, comfy. All the things one could ask for in a pillow.”
“They’re too expensive.” She clutched the pillow in her hands and stared at the floor.
I clamped down a sigh of exasperation. “Stop obsessing about this. It’s only money. It doesn’t mean a thing to me.”
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “You’re spending all your cash. I feel guilty picking out so much stuff.”
I shut my eyes and tried not to yell. “We’ve had this discussion about every bloody thing in this cart. I want you to have the soft pillows, and the pretty dishes, and the plush towels, OK? This crap doesn’t matter to me.”
“It isn’t crap,” she volleyed back, annoyed. “It’s the little things that make a house a home.”
“Fine. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Whatever you need to be comfortable, to be content; buy whatever you want.”
She narrowed her eyes. “So I should just decorate the house in big, pink frills then? Please only myself and not even consider you?”
What the fuck was she going on about? “I spent a century living in one dollhouse after another. You’re the lady of the house. This is your domain. All I have to do is pay the bills.”
She stuck her chin in the air, and I knew she didn’t like that answer. “Why are you so Victorian about the house? You’re stuck in another era. Don’t you want to have some input on the way your own house looks or what’s in it?”
“No, pet. I just don’t give a bloody damn.” Someone would probably just come along and blow it up anyway.
She picked up four goose-down pillows and angrily tossed them in the cart. “Fine. I’m buying four of these, and they’re insanely expensive.”
“Go for it, love.” I crossed my arms and chuckled.
She pushed the cart down the aisle and picked up two gigantic plastic bags. “I‘m buying us each a goose-down comforter. Because they’re soft and warm and you’d like sleeping with one, you aggravating son of a bitch.” She stuffed them underneath the cart, and then put her hands on her hips, defiantly.
I tilted my head curiously at her. “So you’re punishing me for being a right bastard by forcing me to buy myself some nice things for my bed?”
She flushed, but didn’t look away. “Well, yes.”
“If I really piss you off, will you make me buy myself some silk sheets, pet?” I said saucily. Her eyes flashed as she tossed a wastebasket at my head and stalked off.
I stood outside the doorway of our new house and watched Tara sweep dirt out over the threshold. She propped the broom in a corner and lit a stick of incense. “Come on in, Spike,” she said as she waved her hand, filling the room with smoke.
“What are you doing, exactly?” I asked her.
“I told you, I’m cleansing the house of any lingering spirits and any negative energy. It’s important to do this before we settle into the house. We want to start off with a clean slate.”
“Won’t it kind of ruin the cleansing when if I come back in?” I mean, I am evil, after all.
She came outside and pulled me through the doorway. “You’re positive energy, Spike. It’s your house.” She handed me a dish of water. “Sprinkle it in the corners after I purify with the incense.” I followed her from room to room as she chanted and waved her smoke in the air, and I flicked droplets in each corner.
In my new bedroom, she did her chanting thing once again. A misty shape rose up from the floor and drifted over to us. I dropped my dish and wrapped my hands around Tara’s waist, pulling her away. A wraith formed, a pretty young woman holding a baby. My skin tingled uncomfortably as I regarded the shades. “Tara,” I said quietly, “Please make them go away.”
“They’re just lost,” she said. She stepped forward and I grabbed her hand, clenching it tight. “They won’t hurt you.” The ghost turned to stare at me, her image flickering. Tara reached out her other hand to the spirit. “Move on,” she said kindly. “Move on to a better place.”
“I was happy here,” said the shade, her voice thin and silvery. Her voice made me shiver and I held Tara’s hand tightly.
“I’m sure you were,” said Tara soothingly. “It’s a lovely home. It has wonderful energy. There is so much love here."
“I don’t want to go,” said the spirit. The baby in her arms turned and looked at Tara, and the witch stroked its cheek.
“It’s our turn now to be happy here,” said Tara. “It’s our time to make this our home.”
“I like it here,” said the ghost. “I don’t want to move on.”
“We all have to move on,” said Tara softly. She murmured a few words and with a wave of her hand, the ghosts disappeared.
Continued in Chapter 3