By Girl With Journal
This fic has three parts: the first is the main narrative, which is followed by two "missing scenes." Best read one, two, three.
Although calm on the surface, the Snake is intense and passionate...
She knows this isn’t fair - not to Spike, not to Tara, not to Willow, and not to her own real parents, deceased or absentee. But life’s not been especially fair to her lately, either, and it’s not like her little make-believe is hurting anyone. Besides, it’s nice to walk between them, to be the link. She’s sure that, if she suddenly regressed to age three, she could join hands with them and they’d swing her, make her fly, just like her real mom and dad used to do in happier times.
But she’s not three. She’s fifteen, and she’ll walk with her hands in her pockets and content herself with dinner and a movie.
“What would you like tonight, Bit?” Spike asks quietly. Always so quiet lately. Like raising his voice will make their false bubble of serenity burst. So it’s a hushed, almost Giles-like whisper now: “Pizza? Chinese?”
“Not pizza,” Dawn says. She’s gonna turn into a pizza if she eats another slice.
“Chinese?” Tara prompts gently.
These are their roles: Spike is quiet, Tara is gentle, and Dawn is your typical sullen teenaged brat.
“Fine,” she says.
They’re all very good at what they do.
“I’ve never understood the point of these,” Spike says, crunching between his fingers one of the...little crunchy things that the proprietors of the restaurant have set out to keep customers’ mouths busy while they wait for the real food to come. He sticks one in his mouth, chews. “They taste like paste.”
“Like the British know anything about food,” Tara says slyly. She and Spike exchange a look. Dawn rolls her eyes and goes back to perusing the Chinese Zodiac placemat.
After a moment she says, “Spike, what year were you born?”
“Eighteen-fif--” he says absently before cutting himself off and shooting Dawn a glare. “Rude question, that,” he says, and attempts to hide himself away behind a menu. “You should know better, Bit.”
This warrants another eye-roll. “We already know that you’re way old, Spike. And I just want to figure out your Zodiac sign. Eighteen-fifty-what?”
“I think I’m in the mood for something spicy,” Spike says, ignoring her. “Maybe kung pow, as long as it doesn’t have those awful baby corns...”
Dawn picks up one of her chopsticks and brandishes it at Spike. Tara giggles. “Tell me,” Dawn says.
Spike peeks over the corner of the menu. “Those are enamel, Bit,” he says casually. Tara laughs harder.
“I think I will have the kung pow,” Spike says, setting the menu down. He reaches forward, grabs more crunchy things and chews them thoughtfully. “Eighteen-fifty-four,” he says after a moment. “Year of the Tiger.”
Dawn squeals in delight. “‘Tiger people are sensitive,’” she reads. Spike snorts. Tara pats his arm reassuringly. “‘Sensitive,’” Dawn continues, “‘given to deep thinking, capable of great sympathy. They can be extremely short-tempered, however.’” (“No, you?” whispers Tara.) “‘Other people have great respect for them,’” (another snort from Spike) “‘but sometimes Tiger people come into conflict with older people or those in authority,’” (“Damn right,” says Spike.) “‘Sometimes Tiger people cannot make up their minds, which can result in a poor, hasty decision or--’” Dawn pauses, suddenly aware that Spike and Tara’s snickering has ceased and that Spike is looking quiet again, withdrawn again. She hurries through to the ending: “‘Or a sound decision arrived at too late. They are suspicious of others, but they are courageous and powerful. Tigers are most compatible with Horses, Dragons, and Dogs.’” She sets the placemat down. “Courageous and powerful, Spike,” she says. “Cool, huh?”
“Sure,” he says, but his eyes are gone from her, searching the room for their waiter.
“Read mine, Dawnie,” Tara says gently.
Dawn’s enthusiasm has waned, but she decides this is one of those few times it’s best to do as instructed.
“‘People born in the Year of the Dog,’” she reads, “‘possess the best traits of human nature. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people’s confidence because they know how to keep secrets.’” Dawn and Tara exchange a smile. “‘But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth, yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues...’ I don’t think this last bit is true at all,” Dawn says.
Tara shrugs. “Go ahead and finish it.”
“‘Dog people make good leaders,’” Dawn begins reluctantly, but smiles when she finds herself back on happier ground. “‘They are compatible with those born in the Years of the Horse, Tiger, and Rabbit.’” She laughs. “Hey, you and Spike are compatible!”
“I’d be compatible with some food right about now,” Spike says grouchily.
“How can you even be hungry for human food?” Dawn asks. “Shouldn’t you be more interested in the waiter’s neck than in--” She cuts off abruptly as said waiter appears. Somewhat mortified, she mumbles “moo shu chicken,” and goes back to staring at her placemat and playing with her chopsticks. She trails the tip of one around the outside of the Zodiac circle, then around the outline of the Tiger (which, to Dawn, looks to be in possession of too many legs) then around the Dog, then back again, listening absently as Spike requests that his Kung Pow be “Extra spicy. Extra extra spicy. Yes, I can bloody well handle--”
Dawn yelps. She drops her chopstick and clutches at her hand. She feels like she’s been burnt.
“Sweetie, what is it?” Tara asks, gently taking the injured digits and cradling them in her hand. “Did you get a splinter?”
“They’re bloody enamel, remember?” Spike says, but he looks concerned, too. “You all right, Nibblet?”
Dawn nods. Her hand is unmarked, and the hot burst of pain is gone. “I’m fine,” she says. “I’m just going to go wash up.” She pushes back her chair and retreats across the restaurant. She feels strangely light headed, but the feeling passes once she gets to the bathroom and splashes water on her face. She glares at her reflection in the mirror and tugs despondently at her hair, which she thinks looks limp and stupid, before washing and drying her hands. I am so sick of all this melodrama, she thinks, throwing the crumpled paper towel away. I am going to go back out there and have a normal meal and not be Miss Drama Queen 2001. Thus resolved, Dawn tugs the bathroom door firmly closed behind her, and marches confidently back to her table.
The waiter is gone when she gets there. Tara is leaning over the table, whispering something in Spike’s ear.
“Talking about me?” Dawn asks cheerfully, plopping back in her chair.
Tara jumps back. “No!” she says, and the same time Spike says, “Yes!”
Dawn rolls her eyes. “Real smooth, guys,” she says. “But you don’t have to worry. Dawn’s not going to have any more psycho freakouts for the rest of the evening.”
“Good to hear,” Spike says, and Tara giggles.
Dawn raises an eyebrow, but is much more interested in the new bowl of crunchy things that has appeared on the table. Eating some, she says, “I’m disappointed the food didn’t come. That going-to-the-bathroom trick always worked when I was little.”
She looks up and realizes that neither Spike nor Tara is paying attention to her; that Tara has, in fact, resumed whispering in Spike’s ear. “Hey, that’s really rude!” she says. “I’m sitting right here, you know!”
“Sorry, Dawnie,” Tara says, withdrawing. “The bathroom trick is a classic. I think I might try it.” She sets her napkin on the table and stands. Passing by Spike, she gives his shoulder a squeeze.
Dawn looks down, checking to see if Tara’s having problems balancing on her new heels. She seems to make it to the bathroom successfully, however.
“You know,” Spike says after a moment, “I think I should try it, too.”
“You have to go to the bathroom?” Dawn says incredulously.
“No,” Spike says, standing. “But my hands are dirty. Vamp dust. Nasty stuff.” He disappears around the corner.
Dawn stares dejectedly at the wall. Eats more crunchy things. Sighs loudly.
After a few minutes, the food comes. Dawn waits a couple more minutes for politeness sake before her growling stomach overrules manners. She rolls a moo shu pancake and nibbles thoughtfully at the edges.
She’s just staring to wonder what kind of horrible, slimy monster could have possible attacked her guardians somewhere between here and the bathroom when Spike and Tara emerge. Spike’s hair is sticking up at odd angles, and Tara...
“Your shirt is on backward!” she hisses.
Tara turns a deep scarlet. “Oh, I, uh...the sink in there is splurty. It splashed water on me. I turned it around so it could, um, dry.”
Dawn thinks this is the biggest load of crap she has ever heard, but the alternatives...there aren’t any alternatives she dares contemplate.
Besides, the rest of the meal passes in relative peace, although Dawn does get the strange impression that Spike keeps kicking Tara under the table.
Spike pays with bills that look somewhat crisp around the edges (“Do I want to know?” Tara asks. “Not a bit,” says Spike, grinning) and they head back out into the night. Dawn tries to resume her position in the center, but Tara keeps drifting left as Spike drifts right, and they continue ending up next to each other. The same thing happens when they get to the theater: there’s an odd shuffling of bodies around seats, and suddenly, it’s not Dawnie in the middle, but Dawnie on the aisle, and Spike and Tara snuggled up together and there is absolutely no way that Tara’s foot is doing that to Spike’s leg!
“Who wants popcorn?” Spike says before Dawn can utter her cry of protest. Dawn makes a gurgling sound that could, by someone as delusional as Spike clearly is, be considered an answer in the affirmative. “Raisonettes, right, luv?” he asks as he brushes past Tara, and she responds by nodding and giving him a peck on the cheek.
That. Is. It.
“What is wrong with you?” Dawn explodes once Spike is gone. “I mean, what do you think you’re doing?”
Tara looks genuinely confused. “What do you mean?”
“What do I mean? I mean, what about Willow? What about you and the no boy parts?”
Tara looks down at her chest, then back up at Dawn. “That’s right,” she says slowly. “I don’t have boy parts.”
“Arrgh!” Dawn screams. The man sitting behind them shushes her. Dawn whips around. “Look, the movie hasn’t even started yet, okay? And until it does, I can--”
The lights dim. Spike reappears, popcorn and Raisonettes in hand. “Oh good,” he says. “It’s starting.”
As soon as I get home, Dawn thinks, it’s eye-bleaching time.
Living on a Hellmouth has prepared her for a lot of out-of-the-ordinary things. Regular encounters with vampires and demons, for example. Discovering you’re really a mystical, glowy Key, for another. It had not, however, prepared her for the experience of having to watch Captain Corelli’s Mandolin while sitting next to her two only real friends - one a supposedly love-sick vampire, the other a supposedly gay witch - while they snogged. Rather loudly, it seemed. The man sitting behind them certainly though so.
Dawn thinks she is going to cry. Especially because she has a niggling feeling in the back of her mind that this horror is all her fault.
But - and this is the worst part, Dawn is sure - it really isn’t all that horrible. And God, just thinking this makes the batch of cookies she is going to owe Willow possibly triple in size, but...it’s actually kind of sweet. Spike and Tara are walking a few paces behind her, holding hands, occasionally pausing to kiss beneath a lamp post. They smile serenely at her whenever she turns to take another peek. They look happy. Carefree. Loved.
Dawn looks down at her shoes, feeling sick.
Suddenly, her hands are seized on each side. Spike and Tara are flanking her, each pressing one palm to hers. Linked.
They laugh and smile. “Think we can still do it?” Spike asks. “I don’t know,” Tara says. “She’s gotten pretty heavy.”
Then they hoist her up, and she flies. Swings between them, and she can’t hold back the girlish giggle that escapes her lips. Spike and Tara are laughing, too. They both look young, younger than she’s ever seen them. They set her down, and Spike turns to her. Smiles. Says, “That’s my girl.”
It would be so easy just to pretend.
But it wouldn’t be right.
“I left something at the restaurant,” Dawn says. “I have to go back.”
“Okay,” Tara says, and they walk with her, hand in hand in hand. And Dawn lets herself pretend a little longer.
Afterward, there’s the inevitable awkwardness. Dawn, the broken chopsticks, the torn placemat tucked away in her purse, is now a necessary barrier as she walks down the street between Spike and Tara. They’re not speaking. They’re not looking at her. They’re definitely not looking at each other.
Spike drops Dawn and Tara off at their house. Submits to the hug she gives him with a quiet “G’night, Bit.” Inclines his head to Tara, politely, but without making eye contact, and disappears into the night, coat flapping behind him.
Once inside, Tara heads straight to the kitchen and to the tea kettle. Dawn follows her, head bent. She watches as Tara busies herself about the kitchen, fetching mugs, milk, sugar, spoons. Watches her hands shake as she pours the tea.
“I’m sorry,” Dawn says finally.
“Not your fault,” says Tara tersely, and sips her tea.
“I just--” Dawn starts. But Tara lays a hand over hers, looks at her with kind eyes.
“You don’t have to explain. I understand.”
She does. Dawn knows it.
“You need to give them to me, though,” Tara says. And Dawn doesn’t have to ask what she means. Wordlessly, she takes the chopstick pieces, the halved Zodiac, and hands them to Tara, who shoves them, without looking, in a drawer. “You should probably go to bed, Dawnie,” she says. So Dawn retreats up the stairs. At the top, she pauses, listens. Two sounds: a drawer opening and closing, then the door. Then quiet.
Dawn tiptoes back downstairs. The remnants of their dinner, of their night, are, of course, gone.
Over the next few days, alone with Spike, alone with Tara, or together, all three, she wants to say something. But she doesn’t.
So the Tiger makes the sensitive, courageous choice. And the Dog keeps her secrets.
“You’re so bad,” Spike says.
Tara is sitting on the counter in the women’s restroom, her feet dangling. She grins when he enters and kicks off her shoes. Stretches out her bare toes and hooks them around two of his belt loops. Gives a little tug. “C’mere,” she says.
Spike doesn’t have to be asked twice. He tucks his body between Tara’s legs, plants his hands on either side of her. Swoops in and kisses her, open-mouthed and hungry. “Feels like I haven’t kissed you in ages,” he breathes into her.
She nibbles on his lip. “I know.”
Her hands tangle in his hair as they explore each other’s mouths. But Tara’s impatient. She slips a hand up under Spike’s t-shirt, trails her fingers along the cool, tightly-coiled muscles. “Want more of you,” she says.
Once again, Spike is more than happy to oblige. “Arms up,” he says, and divests Tara of her shirt. They laugh together as they watch it float down to the floor. Their eyes lock. “You’re so lovely,” Spike murmurs. Gently, he cups one of her breasts, runs a thumb over the lace-covered nipple. Dips his head, but lower, to her soft belly, which he kisses. Lets Tara lean back against the mirror as he slowly moves his mouth up her stomach while his fingers circle, circle, circle. Tara moans; moans and retaliates, dragging one foot slowly up the inside of Spike’s thigh. He shivers against her, gives her belly one last nip, and then moves back up to her mouth. Kissing her, he undoes the back of her bra and slips it off her shoulders.
Bare-chested and blushing, she sits before him. She’s glorious. He says so.
This earns him a pout and another impatient tug at his jeans. “I want to see you,” she says.
“Hasn’t changed, pet,” he laughs.
“Don’t care,” she says, crossing her arms over her chest and spoiling his beautiful view. “Minx,” he says, and guides her hands away from his prize and to his zipper.
He’s already straining against it, so she goes slowly, trying not to jerk every time his tongue flicks across her nipple. Then he springs free, heavy and warm in her hand. She runs her fingers tentatively along the shaft, exploring.
He senses her hesitation. “What’s the matter?” he asks. “You act like you’ve never seen it before.”
“Can’t help being a little awed,” she says, finding a smoother rhythm now. He arches into her touch. “You never cease to amaze.”
Blue eyes sparkle as he kisses her again. Runs a hand up under her skirt and into her wet panties. A teasing touch, just barely ghosting by, but she gasps. He smiles. “Neither do you.”
Another fevered meeting of mouths. At the same time, they both seem to remember that Dawn is waiting. Tara hastily pushes her skirt up as Spike guides her panties down. Draws her flush against him, the head of his cock teasing her entrance. Meets her eyes again, feels the reassuring touch of her warm hands on the back of his neck, and thrusts up. Tara grunts and shimmies, settling herself around him. Rests her head on his shoulder as he withdraws, gasps against his neck as he picks up a rhythm.
“Mmm, so tight,” Spike pants. “My beautiful, gorgeous girl. Do you know what you do to me?”
“Yes,” Tara says, locking her feet behind his back. She suckles at his jugular, kisses him. “Yes. ‘Cause you do the same to me.”
He smiles, beautiful white teeth flashing, the little laugh lines at the corners of his eyes showing. A warm, familiar ache blossoms deep inside her. “I love you,” he says. “Love you,” she counters.
It’s like magic.
“Oh, it’s you,” Spike says when she pushes open the crypt door.
She says nothing, just stands there in the doorway, holding broken chopsticks and torn paper to her chest and feeling foolish.
“I already know what you’re going to say,” Spike says. He has a bottle in his hand, Tara realizes. The smell of cheap whiskey assaults her nose.
“And what’s that?” she asks.
“‘Tell anyone, and I’ll stake you.’ ‘Mention this ever again, and I’ll stake you.’” He takes a swig from the bottle. “Lots of stuff that ends with ‘stake you,’ basically.”
“I’m not going to stake you,” Tara says. She holds up one broken chopstick. “Remember? Enamel?”
Spike’s eyes focus on her for the first time. “What’re you doing with those?” he asks.
“I thought--” and even as the words leave her lips, she realizes how stupid they are, how careless. “I thought you might want them. Half.”
Another swig. “What the bloody hell for?”
He barks a laugh. It echoes off the stone walls. It’s not a pleasant sound.
“Remember what? That tonight was the happiest I’ve been since...since the last time someone cast an idiotic love spell on me?”
“What last time?”
“Ask your girlfriend,” Spike says, turning his back. But she can still sense the malicious curl of his lips when he spits out his next words. “Red-haired bird, name of Willow. Remember her?”
It takes all her restraint not to hurl the chopsticks at him and storm out, but Tara remembers her lessons and takes a calming breath. “Stop it,” she says. “Just stop it.” He fixes her with an icy glare. “This isn’t you.”
“And how do you know?” he shouts. Loudly, an explosion of sound. His bottle flies out of his hand and shatters against the wall. He pushes close to her, uncomfortably close. “All you’ve ever seen’s the neutered version,” he hisses at her. “You have no idea what I am.”
“Yes, I do,” Tara says, meeting his eyes. “You’re a Tiger.”
He flinches, pulls back. Tara reaches out a tentative hand and rests it on his arm, trying not to think of the last time she touched him there. This is more important, now.
“You’re capable of great sympathy, Spike, I know you are. And I know you love Dawn.” A sob escapes him at the sound of her name, but she presses on. “So let’s put this behind us. For her.”
Spike gives her a searching look. “And the part that doesn’t want to put it behind us? What about that?” Tara shies away, but it’s Spike’s turn to take her arm. “Don’t lie to me, Tara. We’re past that.”
Tara swallows. Straightens, stands tall. “We’re also adults, Spike. And that means--”
“I know what it means,” he snaps. “Just so we’re clear.”
All too clear, Tara thinks. “See you tomorrow, Spike,” she says, and heads to the door.
“Wait!” Spike says. She turns back. His features are calm now, almost relaxed. “I want my half,” he says simply.
Wordlessly, she hands him two broken chopstick pieces and a torn chunk of placemat. Doesn’t flinch when their fingers brush. Good.
“No,” Spike says as she turns to leave again. “Not this one. The other.”
He’s holding the ripped piece of paper out to her. She looks down at the matching half in her hand, the strange cartoon caricature of the Dog, gold on red.
They perform the switch in silence, and Tara leaves with a tiny piece of her Tiger clutched tightly to her breast.