Spoilers: Post Dead Things
Disclaimer: Never been Joss, never will be Joss. The characters are his, even if he is mean to them at times.
A/N: genders swapped in Carole King lyrics to suit the story. You'll get the picture. This story was begging to be written. Thought DT was one of the more disturbing episodes ever, and I felt Spike needed to process what happened.
She hit me and it felt like a kiss
She hit me and I knew she loved me
'Cause if she didn't care for me
I could have never made her mad
She hit me and I was glad
---lyrics by Carole King
Sunnydale had turned in for the evening. Nearly three-thirty, the last of the Bronze revelers had long headed back into the night. Only the demons wandered the streets at this hour.
Tara made a left at the blinking stoplight and steered toward the cemetery on her way back to her Spartan apartment. Humming to the tune on the radio, she barely noticed the staggering figure limping his way down the sidewalk, his lean frame hidden by a long, black coat.
A leather duster.
In an instant she recognized the man. But Spike's confident swagger was oddly missing from his stride. In fact, aside from the clothing and shock of platinum hair, this man barely resembled the vampire she knew. His gait was stiff and tentative, his head hung low with defeat. She slowed her car to watch him as he stopped momentarily and leaned awkwardly against the wooden telephone pole before resuming his painfully slow journey.
Pulling her Escort over to the side of the road, she leaned over, rolled down the passenger side window and tried her best to shout out the opening. "Ss-spike?" she stammered.
But the man kept walking, not bothering to look back as he limped past the car. Maybe she'd been mistaken, and it wasn't the vampire. Mustering up the courage to call out louder, more confidently, she took a big breath and shouted, "Spike!"
Slowly, the man turned, and Tara grimaced when she saw the gory evidence of recent abuse heaped upon his battered body. Bloodied and bruised, he squinted at her. His right eye was nearly swollen shut, a black and blue shiner spreading under his pale skin. Sticky blood rimmed his nostrils, and his lower lip was split open with an angry gash. Whatever he'd faced had obviously had the upper hand.
"Innit past your bedtime?" he asked, his tone guarded and flat as he resumed his trek down the pavement. "Wouldn't want you to be caught with some filthy beasty, now would we?"
"Wait," she added, gently pressing on the gas and urging her rusty car to follow him. "Are you okay?"
Halting once again, he let out a nervous little laugh before answering, "Bloody well been better, that's for sure." A cough tore through his body, doubling him over with a painful spasm. His eyes screwed tightly shut for a minute before he added, "Really, I'm fine. Go home, Glinda."
"Get in," she insisted, proud of her new found assertiveness. She wasn't going to let him off that easy. Teasing the lock and opening the passenger door, Tara continued. "Spike, I mean it. Let me take you home. You don't look like you'll make it to the end of the block."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," he sneered. "But really, I'm a big boy. I can take care of m'self, luv. It's what we demons do."
"You...y'know," she stuttered. So much for being sure of herself. She hated it when he glared at her like that. "This testosterone thing - it doesn't work on me, remember? Look, I just thought you might need a little help. Let's face it, Spike, you're not looking too big or bad right now. Just let me do this for you, alright?"
The vampire let out an obligatory sigh of concession and wordlessly slid into the passenger's seat. Tara couldn't miss the they way his head lolled back to lean wearily on the headrest or how his hand shook as he carefully swiped at the blood under his nose. Broken, it was a good word to describe what she saw.
"On second thought," she said, putting the car in gear and merging into the main traffic lane, "let's go back to my place."
"No," he quickly replied.
Before he could even argue, Tara added, "You wouldn't stand a chance if whatever did this to you came back for round two."
Staring intently out the passenger window, he retorted, "Might be a right, merciful thing. Put me out my misery once and for all."
"Spike..." she pleaded, trying her best not to be annoyed with his stubbornness.
"Fine," he interrupted with a hiss.
Taking a quick right before driving past campus, Tara was a bit surprised that his vocal protests died as quickly as they had erupted. His will to fight was gone, and his apathy actually frightened her more than his physical injuries. She'd have time later to ask him about it, but for now, she settled for comfortable silence for the remainder of their short journey.
She was happy to find a parking place close to her building. Hopping out, she waited for him to pull himself to his feet and follow her up the steps. She fumbled briefly with her keys before opening the door and heading inside.
"It's not much to look at," she explained as she flipped the lights on and nervously tucked her long hair behind an ear. "But the housing options are pretty slim when you move in the middle of a semester."
Turning toward the door, she felt her cheeks flush with embarrassment when she realized that Spike silently stood at the doorway, unable to cross the threshold. "Oh, god," she stammered. "I'm so sorry. I forgot, Spike!" Taking his hand she quickly drew him inside. "Come in."
"One of the few rules I've gotta play by," he sheepishly explained.
She set her backpack on the dinette and tossed her coat over one of the mismatched plastic chairs arranged around its periphery. Afterward, she helped Spike slide out of his coat, careful not to stir up any new agony from the large bruises riddling his body. He stiffened and bit back a groan as he wriggled his arms out of the long leather sleeves.
"Let me get a washcloth," she explained before vanishing into the darkened hallway.
When she returned, Spike was leaning heavily against the kitchen counter and hunting the cupboards for a glass. Successful in his search, he filled it from the faucet, he took a small sip, swished the water around his mouth for a few seconds, than spat a mouthful of bloody water into the sink. He repeated the process two more times until the backwash was no longer a gory shade of red.
After he set his glass on the countertop, Tara pressed the dampened washcloth to his nose and gently blotted away the crusted blood. "Let's get you cleaned up," she offered. He winced once but never protested, letting her continue her careful ministrations.
"Do..." she faltered, unsure if she had a right to ask. "Do you think it's broken?"
"Pro'ly," he answered into the washcloth. "Wouldn't be the first time."
"Are you still bleeding?" she asked. "I mean, I think you're supposed to pinch your nose to stop a nosebleed."
Pulling the cloth away, he offered her a small smile and limped toward the brown plaid couch in the living room. Typical college furniture, second-hand and tattered. Slowly he lowered himself into the waiting cushions. "Think the worst of the bleeding is over, luv," he answered. "But could I have a bit of ice? Can't see much out of m'eye."
"Ice," she repeated with a small nod. Did she hear correctly? Was Spike actually being polite? "Sure, I think I can come up with something that resembles a cold pack."
She bumped into the scratched coffee table on her way back to the kitchen. Rummaging through the freezer, she groaned when she realized the ice-tray was completely empty. But she found a bag of frozen peas. They'd work fine in a pinch, cold and compact.
Returning to the living room, Tara sat down on the coffee table, wrapped the pack of frozen vegetables in a clean dishcloth and handed it to the injured vampire.
"What's this?" he tried to joke, eyeing the package suspiciously. "Some wonky vegetarian version of a cold steak?"
"I...I didn't have any ice cubes," she explained handing him the impromptu cold pack. "Besides, my mom used to use these all the time when one of us got hurt. It works the same."
"As long as it's cold," Spike answered as he pressed the bag against his right eye and cheekbone and leaned back, "I really don't care what it is."
She studied him for several minutes, watching the silent ebb and flow of his chest. He certainly didn't need to breathe. Perhaps it was habit, something that made him feel a bit more human and less of a vampire. Maybe she'd ask him about it some day when he was feeling better.
Glory had taught her that vampires bled the same crimson as humans, and Buffy's death had taught her that they also were capable of very tangible emotions, including devastating grief. She'd seen that first hand as she'd held the keening vampire and had wiped away his tears in the wake of the slayer's death. He'd looked so utterly lost then. Just as he did now.
"Would an aspirin even help?" she asked, not sure of its effects on the undead.
"The way I feel," Spike answered with a sigh, "I'm way beyond 'take two and call me in the morning.'"
"Wait, I have an idea," Tara said, her face brightening as something came to mind. "I...I could make you some tea. You know, some chamomile, arnica, stuff like that. They have some pain killing qualities."
"That would be lovely," he answered.
"If you'd let me..." she continued, uncertain how receptive he would be to her idea. His distrust of magick was well known. "I could add a few other ingredients that might make it more effective."
Slowly the vampire lifted the pack from his face, opened his eyes, and flashed her a suspicious glance. "No thanks. I'll pass on the black arts."
"No dark magick. Honest." she insisted. It was one area she didn't want to explore anyhow. "Just some herbs and maybe a healing spell to hold it together. Think of it as a vampire Tylenol."
Pinching the bridge of his nose with his free hand, Spike answered with a nod, "No funny stuff."
"Scout's honor," she promised with a smile. "It might make you a little sleepy. But I promise, nothing funny."
It didn't take long for the water to come to a rolling boil. Tara carefully wrapped her collection of herbs in a thin cloth, and steeped it in the bubbling water, softly whispering her incantation of healing comfort. The brew slowly darkened to a deep amber hue, and she poured a generous amount into a ceramic mug before returning to the couch.
"You're too kind," he smiled through his swollen lip. Setting the cold pack on the sofa arm, he reached out for the steaming mug, firmly clasping it with both hands as though seeking its warmth between his palms.
Tara took a seat on the coffee table. Her house, her rules. Her father wasn't there to scream at her for sitting on the table. "So..." she began, resting her elbows on her knees to get just a touch closer to her guest. He looked like he needed an ear to bend. "You going to tell me what happened?"
He stared at the swirling eddies above the cup for a moment, then took a small sip. Spike didn't bother to look up when he finally answered. "Not much to say, pet. Face versus fist. Fist won."
She let out an annoyed sigh. He knew that's not what she meant. They obviously hadn't beaten his notoriously stubborn streak out of him. This wasn't going to be easy. "I can see that," she countered. "I mean, what did this to you? Some demon or other messed-up nasty?
"Something like that," he answered, withholding as much information as possible while he shifted the mug in his hands and took another sip of the tea. He was definitely hiding something.
Something about his hands caught her attention immediately. They had been bloodied and torn after their battle with Glory. His knuckles had been shredded when a group of Fyarls had ganged up on him last summer. Battle scars, he'd once explained, proud of the injuries, a badge of honor. But tonight, his hands were untouched, not even a ragged hangnail marred his fingers. He hadn't been in a fight. He hadn't even raised his hands to protect himself. He had let whatever had done this to him attack him, brutalize his body, and leave him for dead. He'd been a willing recipient.
There was only one person that he would ever yield this much power to.
"She did this, didn't she," Tara thought out loud, her voice barely above a whisper. An assertion, not a question. Bile rose in her throat at the image of her friend beating him to a bloody pulp. She was supposed to be one of the goody good guys, not an ugly bully. "You let Buffy do this to you."
His one good eye widened. Was it guilt or fear? Perhaps even a bit of shame flashed across his face. "I don't know what you're talking about, luv," he denied as he set his mug beside her. He was such a hideously poor liar when he was nervous.
"Why?" She didn't know what else to say.
Yes, Buffy was the slayer. She was supposed to kill vampires. But Spike was different. The evil façade was just that - a thin veneer, an illusion for the outside world to believe. He'd done a lot of good, she reminded herself. He fought by their side long after everyone had expected. She vaguely remembered his kindness when her own sanity had been stolen. He'd watched over Dawn like an overly-protective big brother. He'd loved Buffy with every part of ounce unbeating heart. He didn't deserve this. Not even dogs deserved this.
His face tightened and a sharp edge of defensiveness crept into his voice as he tried his best make a hasty exit. "Right, then," he said, "I'm not much in the mood for an inquisition. So if you don't mind..."
Tara quickly leapt to her feet and followed him to the door. She couldn't let him leave. He wasn't in any shape to head home on his own, not after the hornet's nest she'd just stirred up.
"Spike, wait!" she called out as she wrapped her arms around his waist in an attempt to prevent him from leaving. Immediately he bit back an anguished cry that reminded her of a wounded animal. "Oh my god," she added, releasing him and trying her best to suppress the anger bubbling up from within. The slayer had inflicted some serious damage. "How many ribs did she break?"
"One," he groaned, twisting away from her grasp. "Maybe three."
"So it was her."
Spike didn't answer. Rather he closed his eyes and hung his head in defeat. His dirty little secret was out. With a tiny nod, he whispered, "Yeah."
"Talk to me, Spike," Tara urged. He was one of her friends. She wasn't sure when he went from enemy to ally. It didn't matter. She might not be able to patch him up very well, but she wanted to do something to take away his pain. "I want to help."
"Look," he stuttered, pacing the room anxiously, cornered, "you know too much as it is. What happened is strictly between me and Buffy, and I'd be much obliged if you left it that way. Those Scoobies would just as soon come after me with a stake for rattling her cage. They wouldn't understand."
"Well *I* want to understand, and what's said in this room, stays in this room," she promised. "You have my word on that. I won't tell them."
He put up no resistance as she lead him back to the couch. Not saying a word, she resumed her perch on the table and waited. She would have felt better had he at least feigned some big bad refusal. Instead he gave her something she'd never seen in him - hesitation.
If he was going to talk, it was going to be at his pace and on his terms. But it seemed like he was willing to sit there forever. For several minutes, she granted him his wish for silence, but when she grew tired of him silently staring at a ragged spot on the carpet, she again asked, "Why?"
"My fault, really," his confession began, but he wasn't looking for absolution. "Got in her face, pushed a bit too far."
"You're always getting in each other's faces," Tara tried to reason. He was minimizing the situation, and it made her uneasy. "But she's never gone this far before. Spike, she could've killed you."
"But," he insisted, "she didn't."
"And that's supposed to make it better?"
"No," he sighed "But it was something she needed to do." That defensiveness was back. He was one step from bolting again. She'd never seen him so skittish before.
She cupped his face, trying her best to get him to look her in the eyes. "Why are you defending her?"
"I let her down once," he tried to explain. Guilt, it was such an agonizing bedfellow. "I don't want to make that same mistake again. It cost Buffy her life last time. I don't think I could deal with losing her again."
"No," she said shaking her head. How could he still feel responsible? "No, it wasn't your fault. You did everything you could. We all did. Don't blame yourself for her death."
"Not that easy, ducks," he answered, picking nervously at a cuticle as he continued. "When she was...gone, I saw her every night in my dreams. Came up with bigger and better schemes to save her. Was quicker, got to her little sis in time, kept Buffy from jumping. I saved her every one of those hundred and forty-seven nights. But on the one night, the one bloody night that it counted, I let her down. Might as well have been the one who tossed her off that soddin' platform!
"I had to do something tonight. I wasn't going to lose her again. It was either take it out on me - and I can handle what she dishes - or take it out on herself."
"But, Spike," she replied, "you can't help her at all if you're dead. What if she'd been holding a stake? She could've killed you."
"You've said that," he interrupted. "Besides, I'm already dead, remember?" Damn him and those well- honed defenses. That bitter edge crept into every word. "You know, evil, unclean, and empty on the inside. Who better to take it out on? Sure as hell can't have her working out her frustrations on somebody with a soul, now could we?"
Her heart ached for him. After everything he'd done for Buffy, did he still think so poorly of himself? Sure, he wasn't all the way to good, but he was working on it. It was a start. "You really don't believe that, do you?"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said, running a hand through his disheveled hair. "I'm reminded of it every bloody day of my unlife. But answer this for me - if I'm supposedly so soddin' empty on the inside, why is this so hard?"
"Because you're not," she answered, gently placing her hand over his heart. The tremble in his hands returned, and that chink in his impenetrable armor had just grown a bit larger. "Because they're just that - words. They're only true if you let them be. You're not empty. You're far from empty."
Spike leaned back in the couch to stare at the cracked ceiling. "But what if that isn't enough?" he asked.
"I want you to listen to me, Spike," she insisted, realizing for the first time how much she sounded like her own mother. "Nobody expects it to be enough. You've proven that you don't need a soul to love. And that counts for a lot. Buffy's been in a dark place since she's come back. She may not admit it, but she needs your love right now. But don't lose yourself in the process. It's not your job to save her."
"Tara," he began, his voice cracking, betraying him with every word he spoke, "have you ever loved somebody so much that a little part of you dies every time they hurt?"
She could feel her own heart begin to ache with his, and suddenly she understood why he felt this compelling need to protect Buffy. She'd made the same sacrifice herself.
"Every day," she answered. "I thought if I could just try a little harder, I could keep Willow from slipping further over the edge. In...in the end I couldn't save her from her cravings. For the longest time I thought that it was all my fault."
"Leaving her was one of the hardest things I've ever done," she continued. "But now I realize I was drowning in the process and would have only pulled her under with me.
"If you want to help Buffy, don't drown, Spike. Don't let your love for her get in the way. She needs to find her own way out of this. You can help show her the way, but the journey is hers."
"You make it sound so easy," he replied.
"I never said it would be. But some days will be easier than others," she answered, getting up and heading to the window to pull the curtains shut. "She needs all of us to be there for her.
"She's scared and angry. Can you blame her? She needs us to listen and give her space to work through these feelings at her own pace. She needs our support, Spike. And there will be some days when she isn't going to want our help. But her journey, no matter how hard, doesn't give her the right to hurt anyone - including you."
"But..." he started only to be quickly interrupted.
She wasn't going to back down on this one regardless of whatever compelling excuse he was about to spin. "Spike, nothing - not being a demon, not having a soul, not even loving her so much you'd do anything for her - makes hurting you okay. You're her friend. And friends don't do this to each other. I know you want to help her, but this isn't the way."
The telephone's shrill chirp echoed on the against the cider block walls, ringing three times before Tara could reach it. "I better take this," she explained, worried that the call announced some sort of middle of the night emergency. No one in the right mind would be calling her at that hour. Grabbing the receiver, she answered, "Hello?
"Buffy...where are you? What's wrong? Will and Dawnie are okay? ...Oh, that's a relief. I got worried when the phone rang. I figured it was bad news...No, no one ever calls this late. That's why I panicked."
Spikes eyes were immediately on hers. The slayer's name had quickly gathered his attention. Holding a finger up, she silenced the vampire as words were about to form on his tongue.
"...N-no, you didn't wake me...Yeah, I was at the Magic Box studying...Uh, no, I haven't seen Spike...He's not in his crypt?...Maybe he went to Willie's...I'm, sure he's safe...I don't know, I just have that feeling...Yes, I know he can take care of himself. I'm sure he's fine...Sure, I'll do that... You too. G'night."
Replacing the phone in the cradle, Tara put her hand up again to halt Spike. He was already on his feet and obviously ready leave again. "She's at home," she explained. "She's safe."
"Thank god," he interrupted.
"And so are you," she continued. "Let's leave it that way for tonight, Spike. Stay. You've been through a lot, and what you really need is some rest."
Amazingly, he didn't put up the fight she'd imagined. She half-expected him to be rushing out the door, black leather swirling behind him, as he rushed to Buffy's. Instead, he gave her a slight nod and leaned back into the couch.
"It's really late, and the sun'll be up in a few hours. You can crash here. I've got a mideterm at ten, so feel free to sleep as long as you want. No one will be here to wake you up. So why don't you finish your tea, and I'll go get you a pillow and some blankets."
"Tara," he said, the second time tonight he'd actually called her by her name, must have been a record. "Thanks."
"You're welcome," she smiled. His eyes spoke of gratitude he'd never be able to express. Evil? Hardly. He'd left that back about two exits. Turning toward the hall, she added before vanishing into the shadows, "And Spike?"
Tugging his boots off, he looked up and answered, "Yeah, luv?"