All About Spike - Plain Version

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Chapter: 1  2  3  4  Epilogue


Quick and Bitter, Slow and Sweet
By Miss Murchison

Rating: R, for romance. Menstrual play, so don't read or skim if that squicks you.

Disclaimer: All characters are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. Only the lame plots and dialogue herein are mine.

Thanks: To DorothyL and Keswindhover for the beta, and to Devil Piglet for the original idea.



Part Four

The demon, the poet, and the fool struggled within him. The demon raged briefly, but was hushed by the babblings of the fool, who was trying to make sense of this incredible new development on a night already full of marvels.

The poet was even less coherent than the fool, of course. He was lost in wonder at the vision before him, and it was the poet's admiration and awe that held all three of them frozen in place.

Tara was stretched out on the sheets beneath him, relaxed and open, one arm still thrown out to the side, her eyes on that bright, shining object in her palm.

It was a submissive posture, but she didn't look submissive. She looked like a goddess who had just dropped to earth, someone too powerful to feel fear, even as she lay naked and defenseless before a soulless demon.

He knelt beside her, and the demon, the poet, and the fool all fought again for words. Oddly enough, they agreed on the most important aspect of what had just happened. "I hurt you," gasped Spike.

Tara sat up, pulling away from him and sitting up, curling her legs under her. Casually, she reached over and dropped the chip onto a small tray on the bedside table, where it clinked down to rest, harmless and useless, among some bits and pieces of cheap jewelry. She turned back to him, smiling. "It doesn't matter, Spike. It didn't hurt much." The smile turned mischievous, and she blushed. "Not enough to put me off the idea of future experimentation."

"But, why--?" He gestured towards the abandoned chip.

She looked surprised. "I couldn't let it ruin that moment for you," she said simply. "You were so happy."

The fool escaped and blurted out the next words, "You cared enough about that to turn me back into what I was?"

"I don't understand, Spike," she said. She was confused now, the serene confidence of a few moments ago draining away and leaving her hesitant and uncertain. "This doesn't change anything important about you. It was just a dead thing in your head. It wasn't even magical."

"It kept me from killing," said the fool, his voice hoarse and rough.

Her only response was a bewildered, incredulous shake of her head.

The demon escaped then. "You think I'm housebroken?" he demanded. "That the Big Bad is tamed?"

He vamped out. The poet and the fool protested, but they were so paralyzed by their cold fear of losing her that they were powerless to stop the bit of him that would surely drive her away.

Spike shuddered as Tara stared up at him. He had never done this with Buffy, never been this panicked, no matter how much the Slayer had goaded him, no matter how violently she had cursed him, no matter how hard she had beaten him. But, confronted with Tara's gentleness, his resolve had fallen, and he had exposed his true face.

Then the steel that he knew existed behind his witch's shy exterior showed. She didn't flinch, and her voice was even. "No, Spike, I know you're dangerous. You have power, and power always has the potential for danger." She looked away now, but her expression was embarrassed, not disgusted or frightened. "Didn't you guess that's one reason we're here together? You must have noticed by now that's what attracts me." The self-deprecating smile he knew so well appeared and she peeked at him through the veil of her hair. "Silly, isn't it? A frightened little sheep like me, I can't help but fall in love with strength and power. It's what I saw in Willow—that amazing potential she had."

"And you left her when she abused it," he said hoarsely.

She nodded, withdrawing into herself for a moment, leaning back against the headboard. He saw she was reliving that pain, and the poet ached with sympathy even as the demon howled with jealous rage. Then he saw her follow his meaning, her expression changing to dismay and concern. "You don't think that I'll—that because your chip is gone—?"

She leaned forward then, reaching up to run her fingers along the ridges on his brow, to trace the scar over his eye, to meet his amber stare with her own wondering gaze. The fear and rejection he awaited did not appear; instead she rose to her knees and brought her lips to his. She pulled away after that first tentative touch, and he could read only conjecture and anticipation in her expression. Her lips came to his again, her mouth open, her tongue probing him, licking deep inside as her fingers continued to play over his face. He could sense her arousal, and felt the demon within him react with an ardor echoed by the poet and the fool.

After a long interval, she sat back on her heels and regarded him with one of her serious, quiet expressions. "You're right. I left Willow because she abused her power." For the first time, anger sparked in her eyes. "She had everything, Spike. Brains, talent, people who loved her, good teachers. And yet—" She shook her head and looked at him. Her smile softened, and so did his heart. "But, you. You had nothing. Nothing and no one. And, yet, look what you've done. For Buffy, for Dawn, for all of us." Her capable fingers grasped his hands warmly, as if she were remembering the tasks they'd performed in the service of his ladies.

The poet wanted to accept that admiration. To seize her, hold her, and let her believe that he could be the man who lived in her imagination. To take her heart and hold it for as long as the illusion would last.

He couldn't do it. She deserved more, and he would give her no less than what she deserved. It was the fool who insisted on that. And for once the fool had enough wisdom not to let the others overrule him.

"Tara, you didn't know me before—what I was—the evil I've done. If it hadn't been for the chip, and now that it's gone—"

She laughed at him. He was frozen with shock at the assurance behind her amusement, at the way she leaned forward again and kissed his monstrous countenance with easy affection, at the intimate way her fingers stroked through his hair before she pulled away to say, "Spike, that chip never kept you from doing evil."

For once, he was left speechless. But his usually shy and quiet Tara filled the void with her words. They tumbled over one another, as if she'd thought them often, and they were eager to escape her lips and meet his ear at last. "The chip was a catalyst; maybe it showed you another way to be when you started fighting demons instead of killing people. But it never stopped you from doing evil. When I first met you, you could cause the Scoobies more pain and chaos just by the things you said than most demons could with swords and battle axes. Adam had to go to you to try to tear them apart, because even he couldn't manage that. You had them hating each other in a few hours. You nearly destroyed their friendship."

"Didn't succeed in the end though, did I?" muttered the fool, although he was unsure of the significance of that fact.

But Tara had thought it through. "Because they used to be stronger than you," she said softly. "And because you switched sides."

"Not out of the goodness of my heart, love. Because it was the only way to save my skin." Both the poet and the demon raged at the fool for blurting that out.

"No," she agreed. "The goodness of your heart came later." Her hand was against his bare chest. "You shouldn't be able to do the good things you've done, Spike. The things you feel, they shouldn't be possible. No chip, no magical force should have been able to make a soulless creature into what you are today." Her eyes were puzzled but her tone was confident. "I still don't understand how you've done it. But it's real. It's what I love."

Not even the wonder of that final phrase could release him from his misery. "Tara, maybe I have—maybe I want to—but you know I'm still a monster. I'll always be a monster. Sooner or later—" Even the demon could barely stand to hurt her with these words.

She smiled sadly. "I do know, Spike. You invited me in, remember? I saw out of your eyes, felt what you felt, smelled—"

She shivered, and he pulled away from her. He realized that she did understand, after all.

Tara's voice was quiet and even. "I felt your need, Spike. You can live on pigs' blood from the butcher for weeks, or months, or even years, but sooner or later, it's going to have to be human, isn't it? You crave it. Fresh, human blood, from a warm body. And sooner or later, you won't be able to deny that hunger."

He nodded unwillingly, looking away for a moment before daring to meet her unwavering, gentle gaze again. Amazingly, she was still smiling. "But that's okay, Spike. Don't you see that it's okay? We can make it okay together. We can each be what the other needs. Because, you know, I am human. You proved that, remember? You made me see what I am. What we both are."

"You—?" Before he could ask what she meant, Tara's eyes closed and she began to murmur under her breath. He realized she was moving into a light trance, and again he was lost in amazement that she could be so unafraid of him, so assured of her own safety as she knelt naked and defenseless in front of an unchained demon who had just acknowledged his bloodlust.

He was the defenseless one, he knew then. By removing the chip, she had put him more securely in her power than he had ever been. The demon was now free of all restraints except those created by his need for her good will, but those had become stronger than any material shackles or bonds.

He was confused too, realizing she had knowledge beyond his understanding. Her eyes seemed so candid, but they held secrets. They always would. He would never reach their depths, no matter how often he lost himself in her gaze, simply because she was so wise and he was only love's fool. No matter how much she revealed to him, how much she explained carefully, stooping to the level of his poor understanding, there would always be another layer of mystery, yet another Tara to be discovered.

And when she opened those eyes to look at him now, he saw a Tara he had imagined but never thought to encounter in this glorious flesh. A serene and powerful goddess, she leaned forward to kiss his demon confidently, her tongue flicking over his sharp incisors, her fingers tracing the length of his arm. She was warm and so very beautiful, and he was overwhelmed with the sight and scent of her—

He jerked away suddenly, snarling in surprise and gut-wrenching desire as an unmistakable aroma assaulted his senses.

She lay back on the sheets, laughing up at him. He crouched over her like some monstrous incubus, his fangs bared, an involuntary growl of hunger crawling out of his throat. But she was welcoming, relaxed and open as if she faced the gentlest of lovers and anticipated only the lightest of touches. "You said once I was a clever girl, Spike. This is just a little trick I learned to avoid inconvenience and embarrassment. Not even magic, really, just a bit of biofeedback combined with some advanced yoga. It was almost time for it to happen naturally, anyway."

"I can't—" The poet protested while the demon cried at the back of his mind that he must. The fool was too confused and awestruck to even try to make sense of it all.

"Why not?" Those beautiful lips were twisted into the crooked smile he loved. He felt as if it had twisted and wrung his heart. "Why not, Spike? You need it, and it's not as if I have any other use for it." The smile grew. She was a siren now, incredibly seductive. "And it's not as if there's nothing in this arrangement for me."

He stopped breathing, but it was no use. The intoxicating scent of her was inside him, gnawing at him, demanding that he let the demon feed. His body shuddered with the effort it took not to touch her.

She saw his struggle and was serious at last, but the loving expression in her eyes didn't waver. "I trust you, Spike," was all she said. "Completely."

That was the final bond, the last chain she wrapped around his heart and his will. Demon, poet, and fool joined to worship her.

Spike bent his head to hers, and his bestial lips were gentler than Tara's human ones in the embrace that followed. As tenderly as possible for the rough creature he was, he caressed her with his mouth and hands, careful not to mark her flesh, marveling how she lay quietly beneath him even as his fangs approached her throat, her breasts, and the softness of her belly. The thud of her heart grew louder in his ears, but it throbbed with desire instead of fear, until it seemed to hammer its way directly into his skull, as if it were beating for them both, keeping them both alive.

And so it will. He kissed the soft flesh on the inside of her thigh, his hands gentle against her, his fingers seeking her clit, spreading those lovely pink lips, and then he was inhaling the warm, moist scent of her arousal—and of something stronger and even more enticing. Instinctively, he slipped back into human face. As was right and proper. Because even though he was a monster, this was the way he had approached every woman he cared for; this was the face he had presented in the most intimate and loving moments of his unlife.

This was an act of love. For both of them. There was giving and taking on both sides, and that aspect was so novel and heart-wrenching that it overwhelmed every other thought and emotion. This was something new, something Buffy had denied him even as she had indulged in every other practice he had suggested in bed. But from this she had fled, refusing to come to him on the days and nights when it would have been possible.

He knew why Buffy had refused. What he couldn't understand was how Tara had offered so freely and joyously.

He couldn't understand. But he could accept with equal joy. And, as he did so, he felt a strange release that felt almost like freedom.

At the first rush of her blood, her essence, he almost fainted away. It was too much even for his jaded tastes. This was something richer and more powerful than anything he had ever experienced. He had ripped blood from the veins of a Slayer, stolen her life force, and even that did not equal the power of this gift. Lapping at the thick, vital flow of Tara's menses, he realized that for the first time he was savoring the nectar of creation and not destruction.

He moved quickly into a divine drunkenness, in which his world was centered on that ruby elixir and yet he remained fully aware of Tara, not just as the goddess who had granted him this boon, but as the woman whose body quaked beneath his hands and lips. Her moans of pleasure echoed in his ears, and he felt the blessed touch of her hands against his hair as her fingers stroked him gently.

It was absurd, but he thought her voice reflected wonder and disbelief as she gasped in delight. He chuckled involuntarily at the foolishness of that thought. Because how was it possible that a magical being like her could imagine herself fortunate to have a poor, foolish servant like him?

*****

She was awake. Fascinated as he was with everything that concerned her, and lying as he was with his head resting on one lush, smooth thigh, he could hardly miss the signs. He heard the change in her breathing, sensed the slight change in temperature as her heartbeat sped up, and felt her deliciously warm body shift slightly beneath him as consciousness returned.

There'd been little enough sleeping this night, but he was glad she was waking again now. Because his senses also told him that dawn was coming, and he didn't want to creep away without a word. He needed to look into her eyes again, to reassure himself that she didn't regret their night's work.

Although he'd expected to be tormented by doubts at this moment, a wave of certainty passed over him. He was sure that she had awakened as strangely loving and pleased with him as she had been the night before.

The demon, the poet, and the fool were of one accord about that. They seemed at peace, not just with this beautiful woman he loved, but with each other. This unanimity was unusual and astonishing. He didn't dare hope it would last out the day, or even the hour, but he rejoiced that it had happened at all.

He was happy.

The room was still dark, but he could see her clearly. She was lying beneath him, relaxed against the white sheets, more beautiful even than his imagination had painted her. His fingers skimmed the curve of her soft belly, the swell of her full breasts, the lovely line of her expressive lips.

And then he found himself kissing those soft lips, still slightly swollen from his attentions to them the night before. He could feel the corners of her mouth curving up against his. She's happy, chorused the voices in his mind.

"Good morning," she murmured. Her hand traced the length of his arm, touched his cheek, and flitted down to rest against his chest, as if she were reassuring herself that he was really there.

"Last night—" he started to say, and stopped. Neither the demon, the fool, nor the poet could find the words to describe last night.

She ducked her head shyly for a moment, but then peeked back at him with more bravery. Her fingers crept lower, to spread themselves across his belly. "Not hungry any more?"

"Always hungry for you," he said hoarsely.

"I wasn't sure. You didn't—" She blushed all over, the blood that was the essence of her vitality rising even closer to the surface of her skin.

The demon blurted out a sincere but tactless response. "Didn't seem polite, like," he said. "Tucking into breakfast first thing without paying my respects."

"Glad to hear it. My mother brought me up to appreciate good table manners," she said, laughter echoing in her voice.

She actually thought that was funny, gasped the poet, who had been a bit shocked by the comment himself.

Of course she did, said the fool. Not easily offended, our Tara. And she's not the sort to pretend at dawn that she hates what she begged for at midnight.

No, agreed the poet after a moment's reflection. She's too wise, too practical, to hide from her own truth.

But all Spike said was, "I have to leave soon. Sun's coming up."

The dismay with which she greeted this was as reassuring as her laughter had been earlier. "Do you really have to go?" Her eyes flicked around the room, but he could tell from her unfocused gaze she could make out only vague shapes in the dimness. "Can't you stay here? I mean, it's a basement apartment, the blinds are closed, and the sun never reaches as far as this bed anyway." Shyly, she teased him with some of the poetry they'd discussed on one of those long evenings they'd spent with Dawn. "'Why should we rise, because 'tis light? Did we lie down, because 'twas night?'" Then she stretched a little, moving her body against his, in a self-conscious attempt to be seductive. As if she needed to try. He'd been seduced, utterly and completely, weeks before.

He was too entranced by her eagerness to welcome him into her life to respond immediately, and she grew serious, taking his face in her hands and adding softly, "Don't leave to run back to your gloomy crypt, Spike. Stay here instead, in my darkness, with me."

His hand stroked her hair as he answered, his voice cracking on the words, "I'll stay. You know I'll do anything you ask, love. But there's no darkness in you, Tara." His lips brushed hers again. "If you could only see how bright you are to my eyes. You're glowing."

*****

Dawn had bounced into Tara's apartment in a good mood, which got even better when she discovered that dinner was going to consist of Chinese takeout that Spike rushed out to get the minute the sun went down. He didn't complain about being used as an errand boy, and he let Dawn have the last pot-sticker without an argument. But when he dumped hot mustard and about a quart of soy sauce on his own plate instead of sullying the entire carton-full of Mongolian Beef with his choice of condiments, Dawn started thinking things were too good to be true.

As the meal went on, she noticed that the smile hovering around Tara's mouth and the self-satisfied gleam in Spike's eyes refused to go away, even when Dawn used some forbidden words, mentioned her Algebra grades, and dropped the news that she'd been invited to the Spring fling dance by a Senior. Tara condemned the vocabulary and set up a study schedule for math, and Spike threatened to eviscerate the boy in question, so it wasn't as if they'd been replaced by pod people or anything. But the smile and the gleam persisted.

Dawn's curiosity grew as the evening went on without Spike making any rude remarks for really long stretches of time—like five or ten minutes at once. And, after dinner, instead of reading her fortune out to the others and laughing over it, Tara just dropped the slip of paper on the table while she chewed thoughtfully on bits of cookie. A minute or so later, Spike picked up the fortune, read it silently, and smiled to himself. By the time he stood up to carry the dirty dishes to the sink without anyone having to get out a cattle prod first, Dawn was wild to know what had happened between him and Tara.

Dawn was pretty sure she knew when he stepped behind Tara and obviously felt her up, one hand rubbing her butt. (Well, it was obvious to someone who was pretending to go through the backpack she'd dropped on the floor, but was in fact peering through the legs of the table with her neck craned to see anything that happened in the kitchen.) Tara pushed Spike away immediately, but not in a How dare you, you nasty monster! kind of way. No, it was definitely a Not in front of the child! shove. And Dawn was pretty sure the glance that went with the rebuke said, Later! instead of No!

Still pretending to look for a schoolbook, Dawn snuck the scrap of paper with Tara's fortune on it off the table and read it. Your evenings will be filled with romance.

Dawn sat to attention when Spike came back to the table and put out his hand for her schoolwork. Tara fussed around in the kitchen area for a few more minutes and then went over to sit on the couch and pull out some of her own books. Tara wasn't watching them, exactly. She was peeking at them every once in a while, though, and chewing on a pencil thoughtfully, the corners of her mouth still twisted upwards.

Meanwhile, Spike was taking his time reading through Dawn's paper. Much too much time. She peered at him and realized he was sneaking long looks at Tara, losing his place, and starting over. Dawn folded her arms and tapped her foot on the floor. Spike ignored her, but, very eventually, he reached the last page.

"Well?" said Dawn at last.

"You have a bit more work here, Bit," Spike said dryly.

"Oh?" Dawn crinkled her nose. "I thought I did a pretty good job. What did I get wrong?"

"For one thing, the Boxers didn't have anything to do with men's undies," he commented, his gaze sliding sideways to catch Tara's reaction.

Dawn snatched at the papers. "I did not say that!" she objected.

He laughed, but fielded her hands away easily, smirking happily at Tara's snort of laughter. "Maybe not, but this is almost as bad—"

*****

Tara curled up on the couch, watching Dawn's face crease with concentration and annoyance as Spike marked up the draft of her paper. After his first teasing jibe, Spike took the task nearly seriously, attacking both grammar and content with ruthless efficiency.

He could be very efficient, she knew, dropping her head so that the fall of her hair would hide her reminiscent grin from the two sitting at the table.

She shouldn't have gotten takeout after promising Buffy she'd feed Dawn a good meal. She could barely afford it, for one thing. But she'd kept putting off the day's scheduled activities, deciding to skip one class after another and postponing cooking, until she'd suddenly realized that she had only a few minutes before Dawn arrived. Since Spike was still there, it was easy to ask him to run out for the food. Well, except for the part where he was out of her sight for a full twenty minutes. That had been hard.

It was hard now to sit across the room from him, watching his blond head bend over Dawn's assignment, noting each twitch of his shoulder and every movement of his strong hands, knowing she couldn't go over to touch him. Even after spending an entire night and day in bed with him, Tara could hardly wait until it was time to walk Dawn home so that she could get him alone again afterwards. Those long hours had barely been enough time for her to begin to realize what he was like as a lover, and to enjoy the novelty of being with him. She didn't know if it was the same being with him as it would be with a human man, and she didn't care. It was Spike she wanted.

Even so, she knew that it was going to take her some time just to figure out who Spike was. She'd already discovered he could be wild, romantic, and just plain silly in turns, as if she'd gotten herself three lovers instead of one. She almost purred to herself in satisfaction at the thought. Not a bad deal, if that was the case.

There was so much she wanted to do with and to him that her fingers itched with the desire to trace themselves over his white flesh, to experiment again with the reactions she could draw from him with hands and lips. A snatch of the poetry he'd quoted the night before came to mind. My America, my new-found land. He was like a new world for her to discover, and she wanted to embark on the next voyage.

Because he was a very delightful and responsive new world. All night and all day, he'd been loving, gentler than usual in word, and more forceful, but still considerate, in deed. She wrapped her arms around her torso, remembering the way he'd made her feel, as if she mattered more than anything else in the universe. The only thing that had distracted him from her was the realization that Dawn was on her way over—then he'd been quick to help her prepare for the evening. And, except for that moment in the kitchen, he'd been pretty careful not to give things away in front of the teenager.

Suddenly, Tara's pleasant train of thought ground to a halt. She stared at the two sitting at her kitchen table, working on Dawn's homework, just as they had on many nights over the past few months. As if nothing had changed. Because, of course, neither Tara nor Spike had dropped any hints about what had changed to Dawn.

Why "of course?" Why don't I want Dawn to know? Tara thought. Dawn loves him. She loves both of us, I think. Why can't I let her know we love each other?

The answer was obvious. Because he was a soulless demon, and good girls didn't admit to sleeping with bad boys.

That's what Buffy had thought. She had kept her affair with Spike a secret. And Tara had done the same thing, without thinking about it.

And Spike had assumed that's the way it would be. He hadn't complained, or even asked. He just assumed that he would have to pretend in front of Dawn. And when Tara had called her friend Rachel and said she wasn't feeling up to getting out of bed today and would she be able to borrow Rachel's class notes, he'd lain at her side and listened quietly, not doing anything that would make her giggle or moan to betray her. He certainly didn't ask Tara when or if he'd be allowed to meet Rachel.

He expected to be kept a secret.

Tara's stomach clenched as she remembered how Willow had once kept her a secret. How Willow hadn't introduced Tara to the Scoobies for the longest time, how she'd come to visit Tara only when her friends had stood her up. And how much that had hurt. Of course, Willow had explained after a while that she had done it because she wanted to keep Tara all to herself. That had helped a little.

To be completely honest with herself at last, Tara had to admit that it had still hurt. That the memory of it hurt even now. But, at the time, she hadn't thought she deserved anything better. So she'd never complained.

Tara dropped her book on the coffee table and walked across the room to the refrigerator. Spike and Dawn stopped arguing about a semicolon, and Tara felt their eyes on her as she opened the freezer door. "I'm ready for dessert," she said. "Does anyone else want something?"

"Well—" drawled Spike, and she looked over her shoulder to see him turned towards her. With Dawn safely behind him, he smirked at her, one eyebrow raised suggestively.

She frowned mock-sternly. "I meant, from the fridge," she said, and had the satisfaction of seeing his jaw drop in surprise at her flirtatious tone. His head snapped around, checking to see if Dawn had noticed. Tara noted with satisfaction that the girl most certainly had. She was looking much too prim and proper to have mistaken Tara's meaning.

Tara pulled out a container of ice cream. "Chunky Monkey," she said. "I was saving it for a special occasion, and I've decided tonight qualifies. Who wants some?"

"I do," said Dawn. "Chocolate, walnuts, and bananas, yum. Weird, but yum."

Spike wanted some too, so Tara took down three bowls and filled them while Dawn asked Spike questions about some Empress or other.

He responded absently, and Tara was conscious of his gaze as she picked up two of the bowls and carried them to the table. She dropped one in front of Dawn, giving the girl a quick, one-armed hug as she did so. Dawn smiled, surprised but pleased at the attention.

Tara gave Spike the other bowl, meeting his puzzled blue eyes with a reassuring smile before bending down and dropping an awkward, lopsided kiss that she aimed at the top of his head. She caught him on his scarred eyebrow instead, but that was all right. She rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment before brushing his hair with gentle fingers and turning back to the kitchen counter.

Her gestures had been casual, but they carried the clear and deliberate implication of intimacy. She was sure that even a self-absorbed teen would be able to read their meaning. Her back to the others, Tara waited for reaction, but heard only silence. Utter, complete, and very unusual silence. She turned around.

Dawn had frozen in the action of licking her spoon, her eyes wide. Tara realized that the girl's expression was less astonished than triumphant, as if she'd had a suspicion confirmed.

Spike was almost completely still, his mouth slightly open, his eyes flicking back and forth between Tara and Dawn. They came to rest at last on Dawn, and Tara saw his shoulders tense anxiously.

"So," said Dawn slowly, "Special occasion, huh?" She swallowed a mouthful of ice cream and grinned.

Tara picked up her own bowl and went back to the couch, reaching for her textbook.

Spike had turned in his chair now to stare at her, something like awe in his face. There was a long silence.

Dawn interrupted at last. "Spike, if you're not going to eat that ice cream, can I have it?"

"No, brat, you may not," said Spike levelly. "And don't think I've forgotten that semicolon."

Dawn rolled her eyes, "I think—"

"Not a matter for opinion. Start a war over commas if you like, but you don't have a bloody debate about a semicolon. Either you need one or you don't."

Dawn opened her mouth, shut it again, and finally replied grudgingly, "Okay, that's fair."

Tara blinked in surprise at this response. It really was a day for new experiences. She turned to Chapter 12 of her Statistics text. For once, she was smiling as she picked up her notebook and tackled the problems on the page.

*****

Later that night, Spike and Tara watched Dawn walk up the path to 1630 Revello Drive. They stood on the sidewalk, just outside the pool of light cast by the streetlamp, waiting until the Little Bit was safe inside. Neither of them had any place in that house any more.

And we're holding hands! burbled the fool. She held our hand all the way over here.

How sweet, said the demon sarcastically. And if she had any books with her, she'd probably have let you carry them too.

The poet rushed to the fool's defense. You know why he's excited. It's symbolic. Like the kiss with the ice cream. She's really, truly invited us in. Into every part of her, into every part of her life. And she's not ashamed of us.

Ordinarily, the demon would have fired back with some cutting, pessimistic retort. But even the demon was feeling calmer and happier than ever before, and he held his peace, rejoicing with the others at the sensation of Tara's hand in his, breathing in the intoxicating scent of her, and savoring the anticipation of what he knew the rest of the night would bring.

The front door opened as Dawn approached it, and Buffy stepped outside. The demon's quick ear picked up the sharp tones with which the Slayer questioned her sister about the night's events. Dawn gestured over her shoulder as she assured Buffy she'd had an escort home, and the Bit disappeared inside the house.

The Slayer lingered on the porch, staring blankly down the street, her gaze wandering. She was obviously unable to make out Spike and Tara's figures in the murky shadows, but she had to know they were out there somewhere. After a moment, she crossed her arms, hugging herself, as if she feared some strange menace that paraded only before her blank stare. She turned to follow her sister into the house.

Buffy's still ashamed, said the fool. Foolishly ashamed.

And sad, said the poet. Heartrendingly sad.

And angry inside, said the demon. Fearsomely angry.

Spike became aware that Tara was watching him. "I didn't do what I promised, did I?" she said sorrowfully. "I never made you feel better about Buffy."

"No, love," the poet said, still staring at the house. "But I release you from that promise. It was my bloody stupid idea, and only your sweet caution saved us. Because you couldn't have done it, and you shouldn't even try, any more than I should try to make you feel better about Willow." He turned to face her, and the sadness ebbed. "But you did heal me. In a way I never expected."

Most girls would be screaming out of jealousy right now, said the fool nervously.

Not our Tara, said the poet with confidence. She understands.

She more than just sodding understands, said the astonished demon. Don't know how you did it, mate, but you just made her want us even more.

Tara's eyes were sparkling with tears, but she broke into a smile. "I think I healed myself too," she said in an awestruck tone. "I guess you were right about something, Spike. I am a clever girl, after all." She slipped her arm around his waist, pulling him close. They set off down the street in the traditional lovers' pose, his arm around her shoulder, heads bent toward each other. Anyone seeing them would know she was his clever girl.

"Come on, Spike. Let's go home."


The End
(Except for the epilogue.)


Continued in Epilogue


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