By Dana Woods
Part of After the Opera
Disclaimer: The characters/concepts of BtVS belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, and everyone else who makes money from the show. The rest is mine. Ooh, I bet Joss is jealous.
Refuge had been sought at Giles', because while the apartment held its own set of wretched memories, it was easier to be there than at Revello. Even still, they had bypassed the entire downstairs with twisting guts and wide eyes to climb the stairs and wander dazedly into Giles' bedroom. It held the least stifling memories.
The only illumination came from what rays found their way from the hall light into the bedroom, and they'd hidden in the shadows of the room after having taken care of all the ugly necessities.
Giles was sitting in a cushy reading chair, crystalline tears falling from his eyes as quickly as an amber bottle lifted to his lips. The Watchers had insisted that they not let the demon populace become aware of how vulnerable Sunnydale and the Hellmouth now were. It wasn't unexpected, that request. That's why one body had been removed from the scene, after all. In a soft voice, Giles had asked how she was to get a headstone if they couldn't let anyone know. Perhaps they'd sensed how close to boiling over he was, because one would be arriving from England the next day.
Spike and Dawn had claimed the bed. She was in shock, her eyes wide and frantic but unseeing, her body cold. A thick comforter was tucked around her, but still she shivered. Earlier, she had hyperventilated. Giles had put his shovel down and glared at Spike, his visage alone enough to reprimand Spike for capitulating to Dawn's demand that she be present for the closest thing to a funeral that would take place.
Spike had let his own shovel fall from suddenly numb hands, and thrown himself from the still-shallow grave to pull Dawn into his arms. He'd murmured softly with his mouth as his hands had tried to pry her fingers from the claw-like position that lack of oxygen had twisted them into. He had avoided looking at the blanket wrapped body that was soon to be put in the grave as he returned to the Watcher's side and took up his shovel once again.
Now, he held Dawn close, and his mind was so out of sorts that it didn't even draw the obvious comparison to this blanket wrapped Summers female and the other one.
Their minds were all out of sorts, but none more so than the woman who was pressed into the far corner of the room, her knees pulled to her chest, her wild hair covering her face and giving only brief glimpses of her feral eyes. Willow had attempted to fix Tara's shattered mind, but another of Glory's victims had intervened at the last minute and thrust Tara out of the way. That man, whose head had somehow ended up in the exact same spot that Tara's had been, had reverted back to his normal sane self.
As had the rest of Glory's victims, once her alter-ego had succumbed to the wounds Buffy had inflicted. It was anyone's guess as to whether Tara had also recovered, and then broken again under the strain of everything that had been lost that night, or if she'd simply stayed shattered.
In the end, it didn't matter which it was, because they four were all that was left, and none of them knew where to go from there.
Dawn was sobbing uncontrollably, violently, in the manner of someone who was about to temporarily part company with sanity and destroy everything around her before reverting once again to crying.
"We have to find, we can't lose her," she gasped between her tears.
Holding her to his chest, Spike closed his eyes briefly. "It's all right, Bit," he murmured, walking backwards to the stairs and bringing her with him by way of the arm wrapped around her waist. "It's all right."
His jaw clenched tightly as he quickly lifted her and carried her upstairs. Down the hall they went, to Giles' bedroom. When he shoved the door open, the stench of stale alcohol hit his nose like something tangible: a sick and sour presence that screamed in pain. With angry strides he stalked to the bed and the hand that had been cradling Dawn's head to his chest snaked out and grabbed a hold of Giles' wrist, pulling the passed out man into a sitting position.
Spike heard a groan and he moved his grip to Giles' shoulder and shook fiercely.
"'M up," Giles croaked. "What is it?"
"Find her, Spike. Find her!" Dawn practically screeched. "Oh, God, please find her."
Even that didn't cause the Watcher to do anything more than blink red-rimmed eyes. Spike pushed away from Dawn enough so that he could take her face in his hands. "Look at me," he said firmly, and her terrified eyes locked with his. "You're going to make yourself sick again, pet. Just calm down and stay here with Giles."
Her hands clutched at his shoulders tightly, desperately. "You'll bring her back? You promise?"
He gave her a pale imitation of his usual smirk. "Course I will," he said confidently. "Now, why don't you slobber on the Watcher for the time being, eh?"
She didn't smile, but she did lean her forehead on his chest and take a deep breath before nodding jerkily. "Soon, Spike. Bring her back soon," her mumbled voice begged.
He rubbed her back in soothing circles, and eyed Giles. The fact that the man hadn't winced in pain at Dawn's high-pitched cries meant that he wasn't yet sober enough to be hungover. Not the ideal situation he wanted to leave Dawn in. But nothing about any of this was ideal. Not by a long shot.
"Tara went wandering. I need you to keep the Bit company while I find her," Spike told him, face and voice blank. Giles had become defensive about his coping mechanism, and any sort of inflection might cause his feathers to get ruffled. Even though Spike had not, and would not, judge the man's use of liquid obliteration. In all honesty, Spike himself would have been taking the same path. If he hadn't made a promise.
"Yes, yes, of course," Giles muttered, reaching for his glasses and sliding his feet to the floor. His hand brushed against a half-empty bourbon bottle and a look of longing came over his face, but his hand left the bedside table with only his glasses.
Giles never drank in front of Dawn. Maybe he liked to tell himself that she was unaware, but Spike knew better. She was smart, that girl, and those huge eyes of hers never missed anything. But she was also hanging by an emotional thread and she pretended that Giles wasn't drinking himself into a near coma state every night.
Rising, Giles pushed his feet into a pair of slippers and ran his hands through his unkempt hair. "Come along, Dawn," he said quietly. "I believe there was a movie you wanted to watch…?
Spike left them sitting on the sofa and being sucked from the horrors of this world into the safety of the one flashing on the screen. He pulled his duster on when he was outside and withdrew his cigarettes from one of its numerous pockets. Lighting one, he took a moment to stair up at colorful just-past-dusk sky.
It had been two months since the fight with Glory, and sometimes Spike thought that nothing would ever be right again for those who had survived. Instead of easing up on the drinking, Giles had increased it and was now passing out until later and later. The video store wares that had first helped Dawn shatter the oppressive grief inside of her had become a compulsion, and she became distraught if she was too long away from the television.
He finished his cigarette and tossed it to the side, leaving it to burn out on its own. A tired hand rubbed at his face and then he set out to bring Tara home. Again. He hadn't wanted Dawn to find out about Tara's latest penchant for slipping out of the house and wandering through Sunnydale at night. The girl had lost enough soft, blond women to last a lifetime and she hadn't needed the fear of losing another. But this time, Tara had taken off while Dawn was still awake.
Crossing town took longer than it should have, thanks mainly to some fledglings he came across along the way who needed to be put down. He let the fight drag out longer than it needed to because it felt so damn good to pound his fist into something, to let it all out in some way. After the last had been dusted, it was just a few minutes before he reached his destination.
As he grew closer, a familiar and unsettling sensation prickled along his skin. It spoke to something primal in him, that instinct that sensed when something was off but didn't know in what manner. In his head, it screamed at him to run, run away as fast and as far as he could. Spike had seen humans, vampires and demons alike stop dead in their tracks at the feeling, their throats swallowing convulsively before they turned tail and fled.
Wearily, Spike followed it to the source, to Tara. Her mind had been flung to the four corners of the world and with it, her mental sense of self-preservation. But her innate magic was guided by something other than neurons and chemicals, and it had stepped in to fill the void.
She was where he'd found her every other time she had vanished from the apartment. For a moment he considered listening to that primal voice in the back of his head and walking away. But that promise he'd made had expanded to cover more ground than it originally had, and he continued until he was at Tara's side.
She was huddled on the earth of Willow's grave, dressed only in one of Giles' white undershirts. It had ridden up to expose her panties and bare thighs and legs. The former sleekness of her ash colored hair had been replaced by a tempestuous mess of tangled strands and knots. The face that had once been so serene, so soothing, was highlighted by madness, grief and a terrific guilt that drew away color and flesh, leaving a pale husk in its place.
One hand was pressed against the headstone, covering half of Willow's name. The other had wormed its way into the ground, into a familiar hole that she'd dug out for herself on her first visit. She was covered in blood, from her matted hair to her scuffed bare feet. In another time, another life, he would have found it glorious, her state of deviant dishabille.
A strangled and distraught cry came from her.
"I'm here, pet," he said and sat next to her. "You're a right mess again, aren't you?"
"She won't take my hand," Tara mumbled, lifting blood-dripping eyes to him. "I call and call, but she won't take my hand. No matter how close I get to her, she won't take my hand."
Spike sighed and let his fingers drift over her face, through the blood that had no substance to go with its appearance. "I know."
She moved, then, taking her hand from the cold marble to pull Spike down so that he was lying under her. Her other hand never left the earth as she climbed on top of him and curled into a fetal position. The blood that sluiced from her never made it to Spike, but dissipated in midair. Without conscious thought, Spike's arms encircled her.
When she spoke again, her voice was breathy and almost as non-corporeal as the blood that hadn't remained on the headstone when she'd removed her hand from it. "I don't think this is how it should be. I can't…it should be different. She should take my hand, shouldn't she? I think she should, but I don't know why she isn't."
Silence fell upon them. Despite his earlier reluctance to approach her, he found himself clinging to the moment. Pressed between the living and the dead--that ghostly blood moving along Tara's form in tandem with the beat of her heart--her living hand plunged downwards towards the dead--her heat sinking into the depths of his being.
When she drifted off, the blood faded. He lifted her into his arms and carried her home. Once there, he brought her to Giles' spare room and set her gently on the bed she shared with Dawn, and the teenager clung to her like a lifeline.
Later, when he returned from patrolling, he entered the apartment and two straight months of patrolling, combined with the little sleep he'd been getting, caused something to slip from his eyes.
He saw the veritable mountains of videotapes and DVDs stacked next to the television. He saw the two empty bottles on Giles' bedside table. He saw Dawn burrowed against Tara's soft, blond womanliness. He saw the torn bottoms of Tara's feet from her nightly excursions. He saw the bruises and gashes on his own body.
But, most significantly, he saw only the room behind him when he looked into the mirror in the bathroom, and that was what took him to the phone.
"I need your help," he said to Angel, his mind empty of every impulse that normally would have kept him from ever saying such a thing.
A long pause during which Spike braced himself for a response full of the antagonism that was always present between them. But Angel's voice was soft and blank when he replied, "I'll be there the day after tomorrow."
Angel stopped in the shadows, watching the sight before him with wide and disbelieving eyes.
Earlier, he'd gotten as far as Giles' front door before realizing that there wasn't a vampire inside. Assuming that Spike was patrolling, Angel had gone looking for him. Passing a thousand memories in the process.
He hadn't really expected to find Spike at the park, and a part of him admitted that he'd gone there to indulge in some masochistic remembrances. But find Spike he had. And Tara, as well. On the swings. The swings.
Someone, probably Dawn, had actually gotten Tara to sit still long enough to brush her hair, and the silken fall of it flew out behind her as she rose and fell on a swing. The thin, loose material of her peasant top billowed and flattened alternately against her as she ascended and descended, and the stark whiteness of it--relieved only by some blue embroidery at her chest--shone like a beacon in the dark playground. Her black pants were the opposite, and blended with the night so well that she appeared to be half a woman, with nothing existing beneath her waist except the small bare feet that arched as she climbed to the sky and tucked under as she plummeted to the ground.
"Higher," she called out, her husky voice the perfect compliment to the darkness. And it seemed to not fit the picture, to not mesh with the mentally unstable woman who most surely should have been giggling or squealing in delight.
Behind her, Spike clamped his cigarette between his lips. "Fine, higher. But only a little."
He waited until she descended into arm's reach, then placed both his hands on the metal seat and gave a great push before stepping once again to the side. Tara's eyes closed in what Angel could only call pure, unfettered, tranquility. Everything about her that showed the toll of all that had happened seemed to loosen its grip, leaving her closer to what she must have once been than Angel would have thought possible.
Then something about her demeanor alerted him, and he took two steps toward the swings just as she ascended to the top of the arc, released the swing's chains and let momentum and gravity carry her forward and down. Panic blinded him for a brief moment, and when he could see again, he came to an abrupt halt.
In the spot where Tara's body should have lain, bloody and broken, stood Spike. He must have caught her when she'd been high, because his head was level with her abdomen, and his arms were around the back of her thighs and knees. As Angel watched, Spike tipped his head back to look up at her, and his face…it was relaxed. Angel forced his gaze up, to Tara. Her eyes were still closed, and a soft smile played on her lips. Her hands came to rest on Spike's hair, her fingers rifling through it.
A part of him thought that he shouldn't be surprised, at least not by Spike's actions. Hadn't he seen, first hand, just how good Spike was with insane women? But this was different, and it took him a moment to realize why. With Drusilla, there had been a playful and open exuberance when Spike had catered to her whims. This tableau before him held nothing of that. It was hushed…private…intimate, and Angel suddenly felt like he was seeing something that wasn't meant to be witnessed or shared.
Tara slid down Spike, and his arms shifted their hold to accommodate her movements. Her body wrapped around him, legs at his waist, arms at his neck, like she was trying to insinuate herself under his very skin. Spike seemed to be trying for that as well, and he snaked his arms across her back, buried his face into the crook of her neck, and nudged her head with his own until her own face was against his neck.
Finally, Spike broke the embrace. He unwrapped her limbs from his body and set her on her feet. Still, Tara leaned into him as he positioned her at his side.
"It doesn't hurt here," Angel heard Tara whisper, and somehow he didn't think she was talking about the park.
"No, no it doesn't," Spike agreed, his voice also a whisper.
They walked off, and Angel followed them back to Giles' place. Just moments after the door closed behind them, it opened once more. Spike came into the courtyard and lit a cigarette. Exhaling a plume of spoke, he turned his head in Angel's direction and said, "I thought you broke the stalking habit."
Angel stepped out of the shadows and approached Spike warily. "For the most part," he replied.
"When did you get in?"
"About an hour ago." Spike didn't say anything, and Angel continued awkwardly. "I, uh, would have been here sooner but I wasn't in Los Angeles."
"Hm," Spike grunted as he brought his cigarette to his lips again.
Angel had seen Spike in a million different moods, but if he'd ever actually seen this quiet, blank and weary vampire before him, he couldn't remember. "What's the trouble?" he asked quietly.
"Trouble," Spike repeated carefully, blinking slowly, then fell silent again.
"Yeah, trouble," Angel said tightly. "The reason you called and asked for help. From me, of all people."
Instead of answering, the other vampire moved with heavy limbs to the wrought iron table near Giles' door and sat fell back into one of the matching chairs like someone had just cut his strings.
Angel had heard. Of course he had. Willow had mentioned it to Cordelia, who had been worried enough about his reaction that she'd been incapable of even the barest hint of tact when she'd burst into his office and blurted it out: Spike's in love with Buffy. Unlike the others, he hadn't marveled at the fact. Spike was as capable of love as any human. Not typical, granted, but it was just a fact of Spike. Nor had Angel been surprised by who, exactly, had captured his heart. For a variety of reasons.
Looking at Spike now, he thought that something had been lost in the translation somewhere. What had happened in the months before Glory's bid for home to toss Spike into this deep pit of grief? Because Angel was damned sure that Spike mooning and being rejected outright wouldn't have done that. Not that he thought the two had become involved in the way Spike had wanted…but something had changed, in some manner, for Spike to be like this.
"Don't." Just the one word, spoken so flatly, and it told Angel what he didn't know. Spike had been rejected but he'd also been invited close at the same time. On that push/pull of his emotions could have done this.
More silence, too much and too heavy for even Angel to take. Then Spike leaned forward to flick his cigarette away, and Angel got his first close up look at him in the light. "You look like shit," he said, taking in the fading bruises, the healing cuts and the gaunt features. "What happened?"
Shrugging, he said, "Patrol."
"I hope Giles got off better than you did," Angel ventured.
Spike ran a tired hand across his face. "Giles doesn't patrol."
Angel's eyes narrowed. Giles was the only other one left who would be able to patrol, which meant that Spike was doing it alone. "Why not?" he demanded.
And for the first time that night, Angel got a response that was more than just a few words.
"Because Giles can't haul his drunken ass out of bed in the middle of the night to take a proper piss, much less patrol," Spike said grimly. "And when Dawn isn't sleeping, she spends the rest of her time watching one movie after another because it takes her away from thinking about the people who aren't here anymore. I go out on patrol five minutes after sunset and come back five minutes before sunrise, seven days a week, and it's not enough to keep this place under control because I'm a vampire and not a Slayer. If the three of us aren't fucked up or busy enough, there's Tara to deal with; she can't even brush her teeth by herself, and lately she's been leaving the house in the dead of night to wander the streets."
Angel's stomach tightened. He hadn't known. How could he? The survivors had closed him out of the ranks from the beginning, deeming him an outsider to their shared losses, their shared experience of that night.
"I didn't ask you here for advice," Spike interjected, looking away again. "I know what to do, and I'm going to do it, but I need you to help me convince Giles."
"Just Giles?" Angel asked, brows lowered.
Spike nodded. "The Bit'll take it hard but she'll listen to me in the end, and Tara is too out of her mind to argue. Giles is going to be the problem because he can't stand me."
Angel shifted uncomfortably. "His opinion of me isn't much higher."
"No, but it is higher. And he respects you. The memories are bad enough," Spike went on quietly, "but the Hellmouth is making everything worse--it sucks you into the pain, magnifies it."
Angel was well aware of that particular trait of the Hellmouth, actually. "What did you have in mind?" he asked.
"They need to leave. All of them."
Angel waited until Spike, Dawn and Tara had gone a block before going to the door. The Watcher blinked at him for a long moment after he answered the bell, then stepped aside and let him in.
"To what do I owe this honor?" Giles drawled tightly.
He had debated a variety of options in presenting Spike's plan to Giles, but hadn't actually decided on one. But he remembered the Thanksgiving that he'd driven in from L.A. and come to this apartment. Remembered the blunt and raw manner in which they'd opted to communicate then, and chose that as his course.
"Do you think she'd want things to be this way?" he asked, gesturing at the glass in Giles' hand.
The Watcher froze, then shut the door with deliberate softness. "Don't talk about her," Giles said almost pleasantly, but there were razors in his eyes. "Ever. You lost the right a long time ago."
That hurt, but he wasn't there to indulge in his own pain. "Fine," he agreed easily. "Let's talk about Dawn, then." He wandered to the television and kicked at a stack of movies. "Why don't we start with her unhealthy avoidance of what she's feeling?"
Giles' face blanched and the glass shattered in his hand. Blood was in the air. "Get out," he rasped.
Angel ignored him and moved to the kitchen table, picking up a coloring book whose open page had been viciously smeared with red crayon. "Tara then," he went on harshly, holding up the picture for Giles' inspection before tossing it at the man so that it slapped him in the chest before tumbling to the floor. "Has she started trying to hurt herself yet, besides wandering around the mouth of Hell unprotected, that is?"
The Watcher was trembling now, the hand that had been holding the glass now resting at his side, blood dripping from it without his notice.
"Hellmouth activity," Angel bit out. "How much longer do you think it will be until everyone realizes there's no Slayer here? Then give me your best guess as to how well Spike will be able to keep it under control all by himself once that happens."
Giles wiped his hand on his pants and took several steps towards Angel. "You have no place here," he reminded Angel cruelly.
"I realized that a long time ago, Giles." The choice of words was intentional. "That's why I left."
"Do you have a point?" Giles asked coolly.
"You can't go on like this," Angel said bluntly. "None of you. Pretty soon, there won't be enough movies, or enough alcohol. Pretty soon Spike won't get to Tara before something else does. Pretty soon this town is going to be overrun by the monsters."
Rage seemed to draw Giles to his full height and bring his foot forward. But it brushed against the coloring book, and when he looked down everything seemed to drain out of him. "Contrary to what you think, I don't see this as a fitting tribute," he said eventually, his voice strained and painful to hear. He lifted his eyes and the desolation in them made Angel flinch.
"I'm well aware," he said, his voice far away, "that we're falling apart and the only reason it hasn't happened yet is because of a soulless vampire." He dragged himself to the sofa and sat dejectedly. "Spike asked you to come here to snap me out of it, didn't he? Sorry to say, but I don't think it can be done."
Angel pulled one of the chairs away from the table and sat so that he was facing Giles. "Spike did ask me to come," he agreed softly. "But not for that reason."
"I'm using him, you know. Using what he felt to let him shoulder it all."
The admission was so stark and bare that Angel sighed. "I know. So does he."
"And you've come up with a way to fix it all, I take it?" Giles guessed.
"No," Angel countered. "But Spike has."
Spike returned to the apartment with Dawn and Tara to find Angel gone and Giles sitting on the sofa, seemingly lost. Spike sent the girls upstairs to bed, and Giles' eyes tracked them up the steps and out of sight. For once, there wasn't a drink in his hand the instant Dawn was out of the room.
"I'll make the necessary calls tomorrow," Giles said quietly. "You do know that Dawn is not going to take this well?"
"Yeah," Spike replied, reaching for the door.
"How bad is it out there?"
Spike stilled and stared at the wooden door in front of him. "Not nearly as bad as it will be," he said as he opened the door.
The next day Giles spent the day in his bedroom. On the phone. A few times his voice had risen to a level that it could be heard downstairs, but the words couldn't be made out above the blaring television and Dawn was none the wiser about what was being set in motion.
Spike didn't actually see Giles until he returned from patrol just before dawn. The Watcher was waiting up for him, looking exhausted and unkempt. "It took some creative lies, and a great deal of convincing, but it's all been sorted out," Giles sighed. He paused, then added haltingly, "I shall endeavor to remain sober through the rest, for what it's worth."
"Up to you," Spike said impassively and shrugged the duster from his shoulders with a wince of pain. His arms were torn up badly, the result of an encounter with a blade-wielding Yaso demon. He'd run into it on his way out of Willie's, where he'd been trying to ferrett out if anyone knew the Hellmouth was Slayerless. Luckily, the duster had escaped being shredded since he hadn't had a chance to actually put the thing on before being attacked. He hung the coat up and then left Giles to whatever he was thinking, heading upstairs to check on the girls.
There wasn't a lot of space in Giles' spare room, so the double bed was situated in the corner. As he'd expected, Spike found Tara trying to push herself through the wall in her sleep. Dawn was latched onto her like a leech and had probably chased her across the bed. The door creaked as he opened it further, and Tara's eyes popped open instantly.
He sensed her fear right before her magic kicked in, and he braced his hand on the doorjamb to steady himself. When she noticed him, the magic faded away, and all that was left were her panicked eyes, staring at the body that was only inches from hers while she clawed at the wall behind her.
One hand reached out to him, and he took it briefly before scooping her into his arms and depositing her on the other side of Dawn. Her blanket had been kicked to the foot of the bed, no doubt thrust aside when she'd felt trapped between Dawn and the wall. Spike settled it over her and she curled onto her side, only her face uncovered.
"All right, then?" he asked quietly, on his haunches next to the bed. She nodded and leaned closer to peer at his forearms. Then she was touching him, barely brushing the tips of her fingers over the gashes. Her brows were drawn together and Spike chucked her under the chin. "It's nothing."
Her frown deepened and he wondered if she realized he'd just told her a bald-faced lie. It would be more than a few days before those gashes were gone. Animal blood took a toll on his healing abilities in normal circumstances, and Slaying every night of the week wasn't helping anything.
The smell of blood suddenly permeated the room. His head whipped up and he saw Tara holding her wrist out to him, that frown still on her face. The index finger on her other hand was smeared red, and he realized that she'd cut herself open with her own nail. Bloody fucking hell.
Her wrist moved, and Spike froze as it came nearer and nearer to his face. Oh, it was tempting. That small, jagged tear in her skin, the low-tide tumble of ebb of fresh blood. Offered so willingly. From someone so pure. Innocence wafting through the air. And insanity, too. Mustn't forget the insantiy. She jumped when his hand grabbed her arm and lowered it firmly, and her frown changed subtly to become tinged with confusion.
"It's not that I don't appreciate it," he said thickly, the scent overwhelming him. "Or want it. Because I do. Want it. I just…I'm not…" He closed his eyes and tried to find something else in the room to distract him from the scent of blood. There. Just beneath it. The cucumber and melon shampoo that Dawn used on her hair. He focused on that, keeping his eyes closed even when he felt Tara shift under his grip. They flew open an instant later when her free hand came to rest on his arm.
Her fingers were bloodier than they'd been, and he saw the fingerprint marks in the congealing blood next to the tear on her wrist. She was rubbing her blood against his wounds, exerting pressure. Regaining his senses, he let go of her and jerked back, falling on his ass. Wide-eyed, he stared at her. She was smiling softly, eyes on his arm. Following her gaze, he saw that the gashes had almost closed up.
She reached for him again and he backed away. "No," he choked out. "Tara, don't."
And her mind couldn't form the questions it needed to ask, if it was even trying, so she just watched him with large tear filled eyes. Which was just fine with him, because what the hell would he have said? That every time something healed quickly and cleanly--fading away while he slept until it could have never been there to begin with--he wanted to scream until his throat bled?
He tucked Tara's arms back under the blanket and smoothed her hair from her face. "You haven't cornered the market on issues, pet. Not in this apartment." She smiled. Widely, this time. "Get some sleep. We've got a rough couple of days ahead of us."
It had been a mistake to have Angel there. Spike knew it as soon as he started talking, and he was proven right when Dawn's accusing eyes narrowed on Angel. It took half an hour for Spike to convince her that none of it had been Angel's idea. Giles remained at the kitchen table, silent and pale, throughout the scene and explanations. When Dawn finally believed that Angel--the interloper--wasn't responsible, Spike wasn't sure if the betrayed look on her face was actually better than her rage.
She stumbled away from him, like he'd struck her, and collapsed onto one of the steps leading to the second floor. "You want to get away from me, is that it?" she asked lowly. "You wish you'd never made that promise to Buffy."
Spike sighed and sat next to her, nudging her with his arm. "Yes, Bit, that's it. Instead of just leaving town and going someplace else, I thought--what the Hell, I should do it the hard way."
"Then, why?" Dawn asked, her hair hiding her face.
He raised his hands to her chin and tilted it in his direction. "What's here for you, pet?" he asked her soberly.
"You," she said fiercely. "And Giles, and Tara. You're all here."
"You're forgetting the Hellmouth, the house you can't bear to go into, and about a million painful memories every where you look. 'Sides, Giles and Tara aren't here for much longer."
She rose to her feet, indignation and pain sending tears down her face. "That's why you saved me for last," she cried. "You took them away so that I would have nothing here."
Spike got to his feet and put his hands on her shoulders, resisting her struggles. "That's exactly what I did," he agreed softly.
"I'm not a child! You can't just make decisions for me like this. And I won't let you send me away to him!" she screamed and bolted for the door. Spike cursed and slammed a fist into the wall, leaving behind a dent when he hurried after her. She was still in the courtyard, sitting at the table and sobbing brokenly.
Spike pulled a chair out and sat so that he was facing her. She didn't physically resemble her sister, but she had the same stubborn streak that had been Buffy's best and worst trait, depending on the situation. Spike was hoping she also had the same need to put others before herself, under her typical teenaged selfishness.
"Giles is an inch away from being an alcoholic," he said eventually and watched her stiffen. "And as much as you love Tara, she needs more care than any of us can give her. Am I wrong on either count?" he pressed.
"No," she gasped reluctantly. "But we could--"
"What?" he interrupted harshly. "Erase Giles' memories of the Slayer who was like a daughter to him? Hug Tara really tight and hope she'll be sane when you let go?" He shook his head and leaned back in the chair. "Look, I'll make you a deal." Her head lifted and she watched him cautiously. "Giles going back to England--Tara going to a place that can take care of her--look me in the eye and tell me that's not what they need, and we'll call it all off."
She opened her mouth and Spike forestalled anything she might have said by lifting a hand. "Catch is, you have to believe it. You say you're not a child?" he queried rhetorically. "Then give me the adult answer."
Spike credited her with trying. So damned hard that it hurt to watch. But in the end her blood won out and she shook her head miserably, the last light in her eyes starting to flicker out.
"That doesn't mean that I can't stay here," she breathed.
"Right," Spike said sarcastically. "A strange Watcher, the ex-rogue Slayer and a soulless demon taking care of a teenager on the Hellmouth." He rolled his eyes and snorted. "I'll tell you what sounds better: a human father taking care of his human teenage daughter, in a big city, with all the resentment and rebellion that goes along with it."
"Well, if they were television shows, I know which one I'd watch," she grumbled, and he smiled.
"You're not losing them, Niblet," he reminder her. "You know loss, and this ain't it. Tara's only going to be an hour away from you, and Giles got your Dad to agree to let you visit her whenever you want."
"Giles," Dawn whispered, huddling in on her self. "He'll be so far."
He got to his feet and held his hands out to her. It took a while, but finally her shaking ones grasped his and she let him pull her to her feet. "Far?" he echoed teasingly, lifting a brow. "Just as far as your computer or phone. He bought one of those 'dread machines'."
Her eyes widened. "No he didn't."
"Yep, he's been practicing, too. Only took three days, but now he can turn the bloody thing on without consulting the manual." A weak chuckle limped from her lips, then keeled over and died. "And do you think he'll leave me and the others to our own devices on the Hellmouth? Trust me," he drawled wryly, "he'll be visiting. Frequently. Won't take any effort at all to stop by and see you."
"What about you?" she said in a small voice.
Spike sighed hugely. "Me? Well, I expect I'll have to get a flat in L.A. since I'll be there so much," he said, sounding put-upon.
Arms crept around him and squeezed. "You won't just send me there and forget about me?"
Hugging her closely, Spike looked at the gashes on his arms and said, "Never, Bit. Never."
The next day was a blur of activity, and things happened so quickly that Spike didn't have much time to take it all in. Not that he really cared to. Better to let it flash by in his peripheral than look at it dead-on.
Giles took Dawn out to the graves in the morning, then the survivors sat quietly in the master bedroom, their positions almost the same as their first night back there. The only change was that Tara was on the bed as well, this time.
Hank Summers arrived that afternoon to take Dawn to Los Angeles. He told Giles that the police had given up searching for his eldest daughter, who they surmised had run away due the pain of her mother's death. Spike had never seen Dawn resemble Buffy more than at the moment when she kissed Tara's hair and then walked out of the apartment--back straight, chin high and tears streaming down her face.
Faith arrived only an hour after Dawn left, slightly singed around the edges from the fatal car crash that had been staged mere hours after her escape from prison. She climbed out of Angel's Plymouth and went directly into Spike's DeSoto. On the ride out to the airport, Giles roused himself from his grief long enough to remind her of the duties she was shouldering.
They got there just in time to meet the disembarking Eric Olson, the Watcher that Giles had handpicked for Faith. Paperwork was taken care of at a coffee stand, and a few signatures later the lease to Giles' apartment and one-half of the Magic Box were in Faith's name. The other half of the shop belonged to Olson.
On the way to Giles' gate, Faith and Spike let the Watchers get ahead of them. There were heated whispers, wide-eyed glances in their direction, and terse nods. The two rebels rolled their eyes and promised Giles they would most definitely make sure someone was at the apartment the next day so that the shipping company could pick up his belongings.
Giles dallied at the gate, his eyes falling on Faith rather often, but in the end he sighed and said nothing. For Spike there was only the manly meeting of eyes, and a very British nod that seemed to say a million things that Spike could only guess at. He supposed that the nod he gave in response elicited the same feeling in the Watcher.
The ride back to Sunnydale consisted of much babbling from the back seat and cynical sneers from the occupants of the front seat. For Spike, everything was still on the edge of his awareness, but that changed when he, Faith and Olson entered the courtyard.
Tara, barefoot, was pacing the small enclosed area. Spike narrowed his eyes. No, pacing was too precise a word for this. This…this was something else entirely. She was tossing herself around, hurling forward and sideways from one foot to another with about as much awareness as a zombie, rabbit-quick movements that zig-zagged when he least expected it. Incoherent ramblings sprinted from her mouth only to fade away into nothingness, and her hands…one was buried in her hair, fist curled around a lock as though to rip it out by the roots, and the other was batting the air around her.
"Oh my," Olson murmured.
"I don't know what's wrong," Angel said with concern. Spike dragged his gaze from Tara's frantic form and looked at Angel blankly. "She snuck out, but I caught up to her here. She didn't try to go any further, but she wouldn't go back inside."
Spike didn't respond, just turned back to Tara. "Ready for a last midnight romp?" he called out loudly.
She stopped. As much as was possible, at any rate. Even though it appeared that every muscle in her body was ridged, she still seemed to be trembling. Her back was to him, and she pivoted on her heel to peer at him through a mess of ash-blond. Only one faded hue of an eye was visible, and it was wide and mistrusting.
It was all he needed to see to realize the problem. "Bloody hell! You thought--" He broke off and snorted. "Nice to know you have such a high opinion of me, pet." Sighing, he shook his head and waved an arm. "Come on."
She ran to him, jerky motions and fumbling feet, and tried to launch herself into his arms. Spike huffed and held her away. "Oh, so you think I'd do something like that, but you'll still--oof!" Tara had crept behind him and leapt onto his back. "Soddin' hell, Tara. A little warning next time would be nice," he groused. Her hands released his neck so abruptly that she fell to the ground.
Spike spun around and grabbed Olson's arm before his hand touched Tara. It still startled her and she scurried back a few feet, scampering like a crab. The air tasted differently then, like dread and fear, and Spike released Olson before he crushed the man's wrist.
Angel and Faith took several steps back and then steeled themselves. They were tense and wary, but they were there. Olson, however, fled to the face of the apartment building and pressed his back against it, eyes alarmed and hands shaking.
"What--what the fuck is that?" Faith asked shakily, her nails clawing at her arms.
"Bloody Hell," Spike snapped, grinding his teeth. "No one touches her--shit, no one even thinks of touching her. Do you hear me?" He glared at each of them in turn. Angel's nod was tight, Faith's was a little less controlled than it could have been but was still serviceable, and Olson looked like he hadn't heard a word. Which he probably hadn't.
Dropping to sit on the ground in front of Tara, Spike caught her eyes with his own. Her dishwater blue orbs were panicked, and she was breathing heavily. He wanted to reassure her, calm her, but what he said instead was, "I've had a fucking shitty day all around, Tara." He rubbed his forehead tiredly. "You know damned well that you're safe, so stop the drama."
Her eyes skittered around the courtyard before coming back to him. She watched him for a long while and then her brow creased and she rolled off her back onto her knees. One trembling hand stretched out and settled on his calf, tentatively at first, and then convulsing tightly. Spike saw her lips tremble and he brushed his hand across the top of hers, a fluttering drive-by of a touch. A tremulous smile took over her lips and the dread left the air.
"Goddamn," Faith exclaimed. "I think the Watcher just pissed himself."
On the earth. Tara as a blanket. Hair tickling his nose. Night sky above.
It was an effort for Spike to focus on what Tara had just said. Speaking somehow seemed…wrong, but that was the whole point of this after all.
"Yeah," he confirmed softly. "Don't know how much you picked up on the past few days, but the Bit is with her father again and Giles is on a plane to England right now."
She nodded her head, and he wasn't sure if it was an acknowledgement of the facts, or an agreement with what had been done. What the hell. He was already lying on Willow's grave with her lover on top of him, might as well go for delusional and decide that Tara was giving her approval of what he'd done.
"And as for you, ducks," he continued quietly, "well…it's Los Angeles for you, too. Peaches went hospital searching last week. Found a private place out near some woods. All nature-y, like you Wiccas prefer. He took me there a few nights back. Doesn't look anything like a hospital, and the people who work there will treat you good. Watchers are springing for it all."
He waited. For distressed mutterings. For troubled rocking. For thick dread. None of it came. Instead, Tara withdrew her arm from the burrow and tilted her head up. Spike tucked his chin to his chest and looked at her curiously. Her hand lifted and when it touched him, his mind stopped.
Dirt on his cheek…drifting up to brush against his eyelids…sweeping across his forehead then back…sliding down his temple to the other cheek… settling on his mouth. Lips against his throat…vibrations thrumming into his body…fingers gaining entrance…tongue coated with earth--and blood?…oh, a nail torn low by the burrow….breath on his neck…and then his mind spun.
Emotions….every one of them just pouring over him like it was his own…joyandloveandsafetyandcomfortandpeace…and after…the guilt…oh god, his nerves were exposed….but the pain…it dug into his bones…hurt to move…and touch…touch made his muscles burn…fire like a thousand candles…turning everything inside to ash….soontherewon'tbeanythingleft…something cool…andnothingburnswhenthecoolisthere…blackness…scratching at his skin…clawing into his pores…worse so worse…
Spike's back arched and he sucked in a breath. His arms tightened around Tara as he sat up, taking her with him. Pushing her back with shaking hands, he stared at her. Her head tilted to the side and tears spilled down her face.
"Goodbye," she begged on a sob, desperate and fraught. And again, "Goodbye" but this time more insistent, more demanding.
He ran his hands along her face, through her hair, down her back. Her right side was against his chest, her knees on his thigh. He tucked her knees under and then lifted his own so that she was sandwiched between them and his chest. And he locked his arms around her, trying to hold every inch of her to him, trying to cool the burn, and he leaned his forehead on her head, and he made another promise.
"Goodbye," he swore, strands of her hair clinging to his lips.
Continued in Part Two