None of them appeared to be aware that they were being watched, their evening activities observed from a distance. Once they were all inside, the pretty young blonde took one last look up and down the street before closing the door. As lights blinked on in the windows, across the street the orange glow of ash flared in the darkness for a second before dropping to smoulder in the grass. It was extinguished entirely under a black biker boot when the watcher stepped out of the shadows, his blue eyes intent on the house and the moving silhouettes within.
Along with his sight, Spike's self-confident stance and arrogant swagger had returned with a vengeance. The effect was somewhat spoilt by the swollen black bruise on his jaw and around one eye, and the myriad of fading injuries at various stages of healing. As Tara had predicted, her spell had been unable to restore his regenerative powers, and in the end it had taken nearly a day to fully restore his sight. That fact hadn't dissuaded him from embarking on a two night combat spree to celebrate, a rampage that he had finally taken a night off to recover from. Human recovery speed was going to take some getting used to, but for the moment Spike was still riding high on the relief of being able to see again.
Tara, too, had been in high spirits, partly with the confidence boost of having three kills in two nights to her name, partly from the knowledge that her spell had worked after all, but mostly because of the answer machine message from Willow saying she was okay and would be home soon. Spike had learnt of this when Tara had been to see him the previous day, and had ended up staying until late talking for a second time.
As Spike watched the door opened and Tara stepped out onto the porch.
"Are you sure you want to walk home? It's late," Buffy asked.
"I'm okay. It's not far."
They said their goodbyes and Tara set off down the street.
Spike watched her carefully, taking note of the unusually confident and happy stride, and for a moment he wanted to let her go. He had only ever intended to watch them home, keep an eye on them for a while, and maybe find an excuse to talk to Buffy. After all, the Summers girls were the ones he was interested in.
For so long Drusilla had been the one he had loved and protected, shared everything with, dreamed of eternity with. The loss of Drusilla had left a hole within his unbeating heart that over time had become occupied with first one Summers lady, then another. Buffy he loved. He knew it was wrong and hopeless and bloody dangerous, but he couldn't help himself. Dawn he wanted to protect. At first because she was the sister of the one he loved, but over time he protected her simply because she was Dawn. In the past seven days he had discovered with some surprise that the last corners of that hole had been filled by one other. Tara had become... what? His friend? Confidant? He didn't know. Only that their rapport was becoming as personal as it was unexpected, and that he had felt more comfortable talking with her than with any other recently. The spell and the fight with the three vampires had in some indefinable way secured her place along with Buffy and Dawn within the perimeter of his aegis.
With one last glance at the Summers house he flicked the stub of his cigarette away and followed after Tara. Maybe tomorrow he would be able to drain every last drop of that potent blood from her body, and he would savour every moment of the act. But for tonight he would see that she got home safely.