Part 3

The Host opened his mouth, hopefully to provide some explanation for the circus act he had led through Spike’s door, but before he could speak, Tara’s eyes closed again, and Spike heard her heart-rate plummet alarmingly.

“Never mind,” he growled. “Tell me later.”


The Host took Tara’s hand, murmuring to her urgently as Spike stood and jerked his head at Phil. When his second-in-command reached him, Spike said briefly, “Meeting’s adjourned. You know what to do, so clean this lot up and get to your assignments.” He selected a key from the ring and tossed it over. “I’m taking the van. Use the car as needed. Check in with any problems. Questions?”

Phil looked at the Host and Tara, opened his mouth, caught Spike’s expression, and altered whatever he had been going to say to, “No questions.”

Spike smiled humorlessly. “Good boy. I’ll be in touch.”

He watched Phil walk away, calling orders as he went. Having learned his lesson with Harmony, Spike had been careful when forming this group. Rule one: no idiots. Other rules included no one who’d either be attracted to or have a grudge against other members due to sex, species, or whatever, and no one with some holy or unholy mission that would bollix up paying cases.

He was careful in how he treated them as well, being only as nasty as he had to be to maintain order and his position as leader. A certain amount of fear led to a healthy employer / employee relationship, but too much, and you had to worry about a stake in the heart, ‘accidental’ exposure to the sun, or being sold out. He shared out pay fairly, didn’t kill anyone simply because he was in a bad mood, and didn’t tolerate mistakes.

Spike turned back to the Host and Tara, ignoring the pang he felt at the sight of the witch’s pallor, contrasting harshly with her blood-soaked blouse and hair. He kept both face and voice matter-of-fact as he knelt and slid his arms under her shoulders and knees. “Where’s Willow?”

The Host blinked. “A better question might be, who’s Willow?”

“Her girlfriend.”

The demon shrugged. “No idea. She showed up at Caritas alone.”

That was odd. They had been inseparable, and he would have thought it impossible for them to break up. He’d only seen her alone once. When … Spike dismissed the thought and headed for the door, Tara in his arms. “There’s no time to look. We’ll have to leave her at the hospital and let her sort it out. The cops will be all over this when they get a look at her, and I don’t fancy greeting dawn from a cell.”

“Dawn,” Tara murmured. “Glory.” She stirred slightly, frowning, and he held her closer.

“I know where we can go,” the Host said, hurrying after Spike. “A Druid who’s a retired doctor. She runs a clinic for the occult types.”

“Not some quack, is she?” Spike asked suspiciously. He shifted Tara enough to hand the key to the Host, who unlocked the back doors of the van and scrambled inside to help steady Tara as Spike climbed in.

“No, no. Very reputable.” He smiled and touched the witch’s hair with a gentle green-skinned hand. “I wouldn’t trust Marianas with just anybody.”

“Fine,” Spike said briefly. He laid her down carefully on the hard floor of the van, shrugging out of his duster to slide it under her head. She flinched at the movement, and her eyes fluttered open. She looked at him in some confusion, moving a hand weakly towards her neck.

“Easy,” he said, smiling. “I’m not the one bit you. You’re safe.”

A faint smile crossed her face before she slid back into unconsciousness. He caught her hand before it could fall and laid it gently back by her side.

Straightening, he found the demon looking at him with bright-eyed interest. “What?”

“Nothing, nothing. Look, one of us should keep her steady. Why don’t I drive, since I know where we’re going?”

Spike scowled at the innocent-looking Host, but couldn’t find anything wrong with the statement. It did make sense for the one who knew the area to drive, and someone did need to keep Tara from rolling around in the back of the van. Still, he had the feeling that something else was going on.

He tossed over the keys with bad grace, and the Host scrambled into the front seat while Spike settled with his back against the wall of the van. Not seeing any other way, but still feeling manipulated, he rearranged the witch so that her head was in his lap and laid the duster over her, putting an arm around her waist to keep her in place.

He didn’t dignify the Host’s, “Comfy?” with a reply, mostly because now that he wasn’t dealing with an immediate crisis, Spike had to concentrate to keep his fangs from descending and the rest of his body from reacting to the scent of Tara’s blood. He had a 50% success rate. Incarceration by the chip had given him a strong control over the demon, and he shook the fangs away with little difficulty. As for the rest, Spike had gained ample practice in ignoring that in Sunnydale as well, and simply made sure that Tara wasn’t leaning against anything that could poke her in the back.

Spike had rather less success with avoiding thinking about who was lying in his lap, and looked down at her pale face. Five years hadn’t made much of a difference, longer hair maybe and he didn’t remember those circles under the eyes, but it wasn’t as if he’d looked at her that closely.

I only saw the Slayer. This one was just another Scooby. Will’s adoring little shadow.

There had been hints she was something more, although he had ignored them in his obsession. Through the occult gossip mill, he’d heard that Tara had been the first to realize something was wrong when Slayer Faith did her body-switching act. He was also fairly sure he hadn’t fooled her when he tried to drive the Scoobies apart to make them fodder for Adam. Will had been angry with his ‘trendy’ comment, but Tara had merely suggested speaking with Buffy.

Then had come the day she’d stepped from Will’s shadow once and for all and shown up at his door, white with terror but resolved to help. And help she had, first with the invisibility spells, and then …

None of the others, not Buffy or even Dawn, would have neutralized the chip if they could. They didn’t trust him, which Spike supposed he couldn’t really blame them for, although the pain of having his efforts rejected had been sharp. But Tara, whose only contact with him had been a well-timed punch in the nose, had done it because it was necessary for him to survive.

Marianas, the Host called her, that deep and deceptively quiet Trench. Not a bad name.

Tara was drifting in and out of consciousness as they rode, and when the van bounced over a pothole, her eyes opened and she looked at him with recognition. Spike expected her to be frightened or upset, but before he could reassure her, she sighed contentedly and snuggled against him, before slipping into sleep again. He swallowed hard, unprepared for the wave of protectiveness that went through him.

She’s delerious. Thinks I’m Will or some such.

“Yours, huh?”

Spike jerked. “What?” he said, pulling his hand away where it had somehow come to rest against her jaw.

“That’s what you said to the guy in the warehouse. That she was yours.”

“Just vamp talk,” he shrugged irritably. “Bit of posturing and such to get his attention.”

“Oh,” Lorne said politely. “I thought maybe …”

“You thought wrong. I used to know her is all. She did me a good turn once. Some mojo type you are,” Spike added in derision. “Didn’t even see she’s not into blokes. I said she had a girlfriend, did you forget?”

“Hmmm? No, no. I didn’t forget. Here we are.”

As he spoke, he parked the van in front of a small building that appeared deserted except for a small light over the door. “Rose likes to keep a low profile,” he explained, holding the van door while Spike climbed out with Tara. “The people who need to know where she is can find her.”

Spike’s skin prickled as they crossed the parking lot, and he was fairly sure a ward had been triggered. His guess was proven correct when, despite the lack of windows, the door swung open as they approached, revealing a woman in her 60s, gray hair cut uncompromisingly short.

“What have you brought me, Lorne?” she asked.

“My friend here got bitten by a vampire. Not him,” he added hastily as Rose’s eyes flicked to Spike. “Got bashed on the head too.”

“And something else, I think,” she said, her eyes on Tara. She stood back, gesturing them in and through a small lobby.

He was relieved when they entered a sterile-looking examining room, and he saw the standard doctoring equipment. Spike knew the efficacy of magic, but all that New Age crystal-waving and chanting gave him a headache.

He laid Tara on a padded table as Rose directed, then gritted his teeth as she traced the contours of the witch’s body, hands held about an inch above her skin.

“Minor concussion,” she said. “Just enough for a headache. She’s lost a lot of blood, though.”

“No kidding,” he said sarcastically. “Her aura tell you that? Or did the bite-mark and blood-stained shirt give it away?”

She looked at him coolly but spoke to Lorne. “She’s also burned herself out spell-casting and needs to rest. I’m going to start her on some fluids and a little blood to begin putting back what she’s lost. What’s her type?”

“A-positive,” Spike said without thinking, the tang unmistakable on his lips.

The Druid’s eyes narrowed, and her hand dropped to the squirt bottle resting in her belt. He realized it must be holy water, and his fangs began to descend as he shifted into fighting stance.

“Why don’t we just wait outside?” Lorne said hastily, moving between Spike and Rose.

She smiled humorlessly. “Why don’t you?” She turned back to Tara, unbuckling the pack the witch wore at her waist and handing it to Lorne. The demon urged Spike back into the lobby as she began pushing the witch’s sleeve up to bare her arm.

“Do the words ‘flies and honey’ mean anything to you?” Lorne asked in exasperation. “As in you catch more of one with the other?”

“I ever want to catch flies, I’ll keep it in mind.” He twitched the pack from Lorne’s grasp and unzipped it.

“Hey!” Lorne protested. “Privacy issues!”

“Sod privacy issues,” Spike said absently as he nudged aside a business card, wallet, and hotel key. “Ah, here we are.” He held the cell phone up in front of the demon’s disapproving visage. “Willow’s probably tearing the city apart. I can contact her, hand Tara off to someone competent and be on my way.”

He ignored Lorne’s sniff and punched the speed dial. To his surprise, the call wasn’t immediately answered with urgent cries for explanation and location. Instead, the receiver was picked up after three rings, with sounds indicating at least one fumble, and a very sleepy voice said something like, “Wazztfl?”

“Willow?” he said cautiously. Maybe she didn’t know her lover had gone wandering. That was the only reason he could fathom that she would be asleep. Still, it didn’t quite sound like the witch.

After a moment of somehow threatening silence, a cold voice said, “Who is this?”

Spike stared confusedly at the phone. What was going on?

“Slayer?” he said cautiously. “Is that you?”

“Spike.” Yep, no question of identity now. No one but Buffy could give his name quite that venomous twist. “What the hell do you want?”

“I’ve got Tara here,” he said, not thinking of how his words could be interpreted. “She’s hurt and …”

He wrenched the phone away from his ear, wondering for a moment whether it was going to explode from the force of the Slayer’s reaction. Fury ran her words together, but the general gist seemed to be that all previous kickings of his ass were going to be mild in comparison to what would happen when she got hold of him.

“I didn’t do it!” he shouted into the phone. “What, you think I’d call you if I was the one hurt her and …?”

“Gloat? Sneer? Gee, how would I ever get the idea you’d do something like that? Oh, wait. Because you have!”

“Well, I’m not this time,” he said, trying to calm down. Lorne was staring at him wide-eyed, and Rose opened the door, glared at them both impartially, and closed it again. “I saved her, as a matter of fact, and I’m trying to reach Willow, so if you don’t mind …”

He could hear a deep voice talking to Buffy, apparently trying to quiet things on that end. Angel. And given the time of night and the Slayer’s sleepiness, he’d been in bed with her. There wasn’t time to think about how that made him feel or even to feel anything.

“Willow and Tara aren’t together anymore,” Buffy said, obviously making an effort to control herself. “Where are you?”

“What happened? Is Will all right?” he asked, surprising himself.

He seemed to surprise Buffy, too. “She’s okay. Look, Spike, just tell me where Tara is.”

“Trouble in Paradise, then? Some wicked temptress pull the lovebirds apart?”

Even as he said the words, Spike didn’t know where they came from. He didn’t mean them. He was, in fact, sorry that the two women had parted. They had seemed genuinely happy together, their relationship something he’d envied if he let himself think about it.

“Spike …”

So why this anger he couldn’t control? Why the urge to taunt and tease? “Oh, wait, maybe that’s what this business card is about.” He fished it out and squinted at it. “Sophie. New friend, perhaps.”

“ANYA’S DEAD!” Buffy’s voice broke on the shouted words. She drew a long sobbing breath and went on more quietly. “You complete son-of-a-bitch, Anya’s dead, and Willow’s with Xander. Okay? That clear it all up for you?”

Pain struck him unexpectedly, the quizzical face of the former demon rising up before him. She had been funny and direct, her precise voice pointing out the home truths that the rest of them thought but didn’t say.

“I didn’t know,” Spike said quietly. “Sorry.”

There was a pause broken by sniffling. He heard her say, “No, I’ve got it,” in response to a query from Angel. Then to him, “Yeah, it sucked. So, for the last time, where are you?”

He paused, thinking. “If Tara wanted you to know where she was, she’d have told you.” Buffy started to expostulate again, but he cut her off. “She’s not in immediate danger. I’ll have her call.”

Spike cut the connection and dropped the cell phone into the pack. Looking up, he met Lorne’s gaze, which was serious for once.

“That was interesting,” the demon said. “I thought she was going to crawl out of the phone and kill you.”

He smiled a little painfully. “We’ve always had an … intense relationship.”

“You bring out the worst in each other.” Lorne shrugged. “That happens. Two people are fine apart, but put them together and boom! Instant apocalypse. Fun sometimes, but not the best basis for a long-term relationship.” He looked Spike up and down. “Of course, that’s not a problem for you anymore, is it?”

Spike slammed the pack down on a coffee table. “Have I asked for guidance? Did you hear me sing at any point tonight?”

Lorne patted the air consolingly. “Sorry for speaking out of turn, but you’re giving off body-language a blind person could read. You’ve just had what’s known as a moment of clarity. I know the look. You used to love her, but now you don’t.”

While Spike was still dealing with that one, Lorne retrieved the pack and withdrew the cell phone again. “Since her friend isn’t in the picture any longer, I’m going to call my sweetie and have her bring something for Marianas to wear.”

“Your sweetie,” Spike said flatly.

“Yes, my sweetie. Why wouldn’t I have a sweetie? I’m quite a catch. Own a business, good company, sharp dresser. The girls just line up. She’s very competent, too. We’ll take Tara wherever she’s staying,” he said kindly. “You can tend to that really important business you were mentioning.”

Yeah, like I’d leave her with you lot. You got her into it in the first place.

“I’ll wait,” he said aloud. He headed for the door. “But outside. I need a smoke.”

“Good idea.” Lorne smiled. “You’ve got some thinking to do.”

Outside, Spike lit up and leaned back against the wall of the clinic, drawing desperately on the cigarette. As the calming smoke filled his lungs, he closed his eyes and let the tight grip he’d kept on his features relax.

“You used to love her. Now you don’t.”

He’s right. When did that happen?

After he’d left Sunnydale, he’d deliberately blocked all of its inhabitants, including the Slayer, from his mind. It was the only way he could survive. Twice before he’d left, and twice returned, both times to the tune of his significant pain and suffering. So this final time, he’d refused to think about it at all and filled his mind with the business of survival, coldly keeping emotion at bay.

He’d no interest in ending up chipped and helpless again, scavenging and living in crypts, so he’d been careful. His profile had been so low it had almost been subterranean, and he’d waited and watched for opportunities in various hotspots such as New Orleans, New York City, Orlando (hard to believe what went on at Disneyworld). Opportunities had come slowly but surely, the chances to do favors for important (and more importantly, rich) people who’d run afoul of demons. Favors for demons, too. And slowly but surely, he’d built up a clientele along with employees who had skills he needed.

It was a two-for-one deal sometimes. Phil, for instance, had been a necromancer who was fond of dead people. Really fond of dead people. A woman he’d graced with his attentions had been marked for zombiehood by a former admirer. Phil’s gratitude had provided Spike with a reasonably powerful mage who was too poufy to be a real threat, but who had contacts with the magic community. As long as he kept his relationship issues to himself, Spike didn’t care what Phil did on his off time.

Only once had his control slipped. Despite his deliberate ignoring of all things pertaining to the Slayer, it would have been hard to miss the apocalypse started by Wolfram and Hart and thwarted by Angel and Angel’s subsequent transformation to human. Hating himself, he’d called in a couple of markers and found that the former vampire had returned to Sunnydale and the Slayer.

Even now, he couldn’t recall the entire sequence of his reactions. He’d only awakened a week later, sodden with drink and possessing an entire notebook filled with the most gods-awful poetry he’d ever been privileged to read. He’d read it, burned it, and gone on, shoving the whole subject of Buffy into a box at the back of his mind.

And somewhere along the way, he’d fallen out of love with her. It didn’t even hurt to know Angel was in her bed. Now what?

Spike shrugged, saw that he’d gone through an entire cigarette without noticing, and lit another.

Now, nothing, I guess. The same nothing I’ve been dealing with for years.

He was comfortable with that safe and painless nothing, and he didn’t let anything get past it. There had been several affairs, all of which he’d been careful to keep separate from business, but nothing that engaged him on any level other than the physical. Not that there was anything wrong with the physical. The Kali priestess had almost ruptured his pleasure center, but he’d still left without a backward glance.

It was better that way. Traveling light —l empty-handed, really — made it impossible to be weighed down. Although he wasn’t quite empty-handed, was he? Spike reached into a jeans pocket and pulled out the one thing he’d brought with him from Sunnydale that wasn’t essential for survival.

The tiny mouse, smaller than his thumbnail, still slept with its carved tail curled over its nose. Tara had thrown it to him from her dorm window the night he left, and he’d carried it ever since. He didn’t even think about it anymore, transferring the mouse from pair of trousers to another automatically. A gift, one of the few he’d ever received that didn’t involve someone trying to buy him off. A gift from the woman who’d saved him in more ways than one, and whom he’d saved now. He’d blown her a kiss in return, and she’d smiled and caught it.

Spike was smiling a little himself, turning the mouse in his fingers, when a blue car pulled up and he hastily stuck the carving back in his pocket.

The woman who exited the car was pretty enough, mid-thirties, neatly dressed in jeans and crisply-pressed blouse with her blonde hair pulled back in a clip. Spike tensed, recognizing the no-nonsense walk and the eyes that constantly scanned her surroundings as she crossed the parking lot, a bundle of clothes under her arm. She might as well have had “COP” tattooed on her forehead. She strode up to him with an expression that made Rose look friendly, and the light from the door glinted off the large silver cross she wore around her neck.

He nodded towards it. “Y’know, that wouldn’t stop me if I really wanted to bite you.”

“I know,” she responded calmly. “I have a crossbow in the car. Lorne told me you were all right, or I would have just shot you.”

She started to brush past him then suddenly stopped and stared at him intently, blue eyes sweeping over him. Her inspection started at his hair, paused a moment at his scar, and then continued down him until she reached his boots. She blinked, and Spike could have sworn that a look of recognition crossed her face.

He reacted automatically, propping an arm against the wall, raising an eyebrow, flexing various muscles and resting his other hand on his belt buckle. “Like what you see, Pet?”

The woman’s expression settled back into a scowl. “You got a name?”


When she realized that was all he planned to say, her eyes narrowed even more, and she strode into the clinic. Spike flicked the cigarette into the parking lot and followed her.

Personally, he would as soon have bedded down with an iceberg, and a less-likely partner for Lorne would be hard to imagine, except perhaps for Rupert Giles, but when she caught sight of Lorne, her eyes softened, and the demon looked up with a smile.

“How’s my Katie?” he said fondly.

Her mouth curled, and she tossed the clothes on the couch. “What stray kitten did you pick up this time?”

“Be nice.” He took her arm and turned her towards Spike. “Did you meet Spike?”

That assessing expression crossed her face again, and she nodded as if checking something off a list. “Spike, huh? Yeah, we’ve met.”

“Katie,” he smirked.

“Kate,” she said coldly. “That hers?” she added, nodding toward the pack.

“That’s right, and am I the only one who doesn’t snoop through people’s property?” Lorne said crossly as Kate caught up and unzipped the pack in turn.

“No, you stick to snooping through their heads,” Spike said, and Kate grinned slightly.

“He’s got you there.”

“That’s to help,” Lorne huffed.

“So is this. At least, it’s not to hurt.” She held up the hotel key and squinted at the design. “Your stray’s got money. This key is to the Regency. That isn’t cheap.”

The business card seemed to tell Kate something, too. “Sophie Carstairs. That explains the Regency.”

“Who’s Sophie Carstairs when she’s at home?” Spike asked.

“Chief publishing agent for Blackhawk books. Your friend write?”

He shrugged. “I’ve not seen her in years.”

“Hmm. You might want to ask.” She tucked the things into the pack and picked up the clothes. “I’ll see if Rose is ready for these.”

She rapped at the door and the Druid put her head around, the guarded expression fading when she saw Kate. The women vanished behind the door, and Spike looked at Lorne, who was staring after Kate with a besotted expression.

“Beauty, brains, and her own handcuff key. What more could one ask?”

Maybe not getting your hide flayed off every time she opens her mouth.

Aloud, he said “What, indeed? Likes her men horned, does she? That’s a plus.”

Lorne smiled. “You know what I said about some people bringing out the worst in each other? We bring out each other’s best. She keeps me on my toes, keeps me from getting too much ‘more in touch with the universe than thou’ and I … I can make her laugh.”

Spike opened his mouth to say something cutting, but nothing would come, the truth of the demon’s words robbing him of his ability to think of a quip.

“Look, I’ve got to go,” he said, turning away from Lorne’s sympathetic gaze. “It’ll be day soon. I assume between the three of you, you can get under cover safely enough.”

“We’ll manage,” Lorne said gently. “But you’ve got a few minutes. Won’t you wait and tell Tara goodbye? I think she’s awake. Or stop by Caritas tonight.”

Spike could hear the witch’s soft tones added to the other two women’s voices, but shook his head. “Nah. Stuff to do. And singing for my supper isn’t quite my thing. Say goodbye for me.”

He swept out of the door and headed for the van, unclear as to his need to escape, but knowing that it was important.

As he pulled to the edge of the parking lot, his gaze involuntarily went to the van’s side mirror. Tara stood in the doorway of the clinic, leaning on Rose’s arm. He knew she couldn’t see that he was looking at her — sometimes not having a reflection was handy — but her hand raised slightly in farewell before she stepped back and the closing door hid her from his view.

*                              *                              *

That was that; or it should have been that; for any intelligent being it would have been that. However, the following day as he rested in his lair, reviewed the specs for his own next assignment, and checked in with Phil, Spike found he couldn’t let go of the previous night’s encounter.

You’ve just had what’s known as a moment of clarity. I know the look.

He supposed the realization that he was no longer in love with the Slayer qualified, all right. For years, Spike had defined himself by her, hating her, loving her, missing her, always resenting her. Now, he felt adrift. If he no longer measured himself by the Slayer or her absence, what was left?

Spike shifted in his chair, trying fruitlessly to find some position where that damned wooden mouse didn’t make itself known. Finally, he dug carving out of his pocket and glared at it.

I carried the thing for years without a thought. Now, I can’t move without it digging into my leg.

Seeing the carving brought its giver to his mind again, collapsed on the floor of the warehouse, watching as he drove away, content in his arms in the back of the van. He hadn’t gotten that reaction in years, not since Dru, and he wasn’t sure that even his first love had ever relaxed so trustingly with him.

He felt again that surge of protectiveness and growled, “Bleeding stupid Angel-wannabe wanker!”

There was no need to check on Tara, Spike told himself. She’d been on her feet last night, and despite his sneering comment, he knew Lorne was able to get her back to her hotel. If he wasn’t, Kate was. And if Kate couldn’t manage, Tara had magical resources of her own. There was no reason for her to not be perfectly fine.

Except there was fine and fine, wasn’t there? Physically, she might be okay, but the rest? Sitting in her hotel room, alone and sad wasn’t all that fine. Not that there was any reason to assume she was alone. For all Spike knew, she was having an orgy up there. If not, well, since when was nursemaid in his job description?

Admit it, said a voice in his head that sounded a hell of a lot like the Host. You don’t have a reason. You just want to see her.

Don’t be stupid. I didn’t exchange 10 words with the girl from the time she arrived in Sunnydale until the day she showed up at the crypt, and not much more after that.

He could sit there and mentally argue and curse himself for a fool all day, but he knew the truth, which was that he did want to see her. The possible reasons why terrified Spike if he thought about them. Homesick? Lonely? Those were human emotions that served no purpose and should have been discarded years ago.

So, as he stood in front of the hotel Kate had identified as Tara’s, Spike refused to dwell on why he was there. Instead, he considered more practical things, like the fact that this was a big hotel with a doorman and that he didn’t even know Tara’s last name.

He had anticipated and dealt with the appearance issues. His current business occasionally required him to wear something other than t-shirts and jeans, and his white silk shirt and dark slacks and jacket kept him from drawing too many looks as he scoped the hotel. As for the rest, this was Hollywood, where bleached hair wasn’t that uncommon, the sunglasses hid his scarred eyebrow, and the cockiness and arrogance exhibited by so many of the rich and important had been his persona practically since he’d been turned. Unfortunately, he was fairly sure he wouldn’t be able to bully Tara’s room number out of the desk clerk even if he had her last name, at least not without drawing undue attention. Which left the old-fashioned way.

A large group of men in suits entered the hotel, and Spike sauntered along behind, giving off the aura of one without a care in the world other than getting his TV pilot picked up. The doorman didn’t give him a second glance, and he strolled casually through the lobby, smirking faintly as he caught the admiring glances of three women and two men.

Fate must have been smiling, too, because one of the men he was following pulled out his room key as he spoke with the others, but before he could head for the guarded elevator, his cell-phone rang. Grimacing, he pulled out his phone and headed for a semi-private area near the restrooms. Spike aimed toward them as well, and it was the work of a moment for his long fingers to twitch in and out of the man’s pocket, faster than a mortal eye could track. A neat count of ten in the men’s room and he was headed toward the elevator, flashing his key at the guard as he boarded the car and pressed all the buttons.

Now it got tricky, since there were cameras in the elevator. Spike looked down, pretending to fumble with something in his pocket and let his features shift. As he changed to full predator state, his senses extended. He’d tasted her blood, and blood was the key to finding her. It was something like tracking by scent, but more like tracking her force or energy. Her life. He found it among the hundreds that had ridden the elevator, some combination of scent, taste and psychic twang that spelled ‘Tara’ unmistakably. At each floor, he sniffed the air of the corridor, and on twenty-five, he found her.

He exited the elevator and trailed her essence down the corridor until he reached 2513, which he could tell was hers. He started to knock then froze with unaccountable nervousness.

What the bloody hell was I thinking coming here? I’ve got a good thing going, and I don’t need any former Scoobies rattling around and interfering. I should just leave …

The door opened, making him jump, and Tara peered out at him, looking as tense as he felt. “Spike?”

Hastily, he dropped his hand back to his hip and managed a grin. “Evening, Pet. Thought I’d come by and see how you were.”

There was a tiny pause, as if she were thinking over what he’d said, and then she stepped back and opened the door. “Come in.”

Spike entered the hotel room and nodded appreciatively as he took in his surroundings. They were standing in the sitting room of a two-room suite, an open door showing a king-size bed. “Posh setup you’ve got here. Whatever you’re doing, it seems to be working.”

“Yeah, it’s nice,” Tara said, hastily crossing to a large table that contained a stack of papers and a laptop. She threw the papers into a briefcase and shut down the computer, then turned back to him with a nervous smile and perched on the edge of an armchair, waving a hand for Spike to sit on the couch.

He obliged, watching her as he did so. She was somewhat shy of him, which he’d expected, but seemed to be trying to relax. Her jeans, sweater, and bare feet didn’t go with the room’s decor, but somehow she looked fine, while the room seemed overdone.

“So,” he said, trying to ignore the fact that he hadn’t been good at small talk even when he was alive, “Kate says Sophie Carstairs is some sort of publishing agent? Have you written a book or something?”

“A book?” she squeaked, going first white then red. She swallowed. “Yes, a book. I wrote a book. A history book … tying in witchcraft and feminism.”

His bullshit meter went off like a fire alarm.

Sure you did, Love.

“Sounds like a real page-turner,” he drawled. “Topped the best-seller list, did it? Which is why you get the fancy hotel room?”

“Sophie liked it. Anyhow, I’m glad you came by,” Tara said abruptly. “I wanted to thank you for helping me last night. You saved my life.”

It was an obvious subject change, and he normally would have called her on it, but Spike found that he didn’t want to tease her. Let her keep her secrets. If she was secretly Danielle Steel or Mickey Spillaine, so be it.

“Helps make us even, then, doesn’t it?” he said, following her lead. “You saved me from the Initiative. ’Course, you turned off the chip as well, so that puts you still ahead by one.”

“No, you helped me twice, too,” she pointed out. “You proved I wasn’t a demon, remember? So, we are even.” Tara frowned a little. “I don’t think I ever thanked you for helping with my family. I’m sorry. And thank you.”

“Don’t worry over it. I’m used to my good deeds going unnoticed,” he said with a slight bitterness, and saw her face go troubled. “You were a bit busy at the time,” Spike added more gently. Recalling how frightened and miserable she’d been facing her father made him angry. Her reaction to the ex-Initiative member had given him a clue as to what her life had been like.

Wonder if dear old Dad would like a visit from a real demon?

“Still,” Tara was saying, looking at him worriedly. “I should have said something.”

“I forgive you, especially since you helped me out and all. And if you forgive me stuff like working with Adam, we can call it square.”

“Square is good.” She smiled. “I guess that means we can quit keeping score.”

The words were meant to be light, but sounded heavily in the room, and she looked down at her hands, cheeks flushing. Spike felt a little uncomfortable as well, suddenly aware that the blue of her sweater deepened the color of her eyes, and made her hair look even paler. It had obviously been washed recently, the mass of it slightly damp as it flowed loosely down her back past her waist. It was pretty hair, silky and fine, and he found himself wondering what it would feel like.

Actually, she was pretty herself in a quiet way that could pass unnoticed compared to the flamboyant beauty of the Slayer or Drusilla. She was much curvier than they were, the strong delineation of breast and hip not disguised by her loose clothing. Tara looked … natural, very much Earth’s child.

“So,” he said hastily, making them both jump. “You’re all recovered, then?”

“Oh, yes,” She touched the bandage that covered part of her neck. “I’m a little tired, but much better. I rested a lot today, and drank about a ton of juice. Rose and Kate were very firm about that.”

“I would imagine those two are very firm about everything. Speaking of which, did you let the Slayer know I wasn’t torturing you to death?”

She nodded silently, looking away from him again.

“It’s all right,” he said, surprised to realize that it actually was. “I can see where she’d think it was me hurt you. There was a lot of hate between us, and even when I tried to change it, I didn’t do a very good job.”

The corner of Tara’s mouth quirked. “The chaining her up thing was sort of a bad call.”

Spike gave a startled bark of laughter. “Very bad. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

“You weren’t. You were just hurting, and you do wrong-headed things sometimes when you’re like that. Things like casting spells to make demons invisible. Still, I’m sorry stuff didn’t work out for you.”

He waved it away. “We’d have been at each other’s throats all the time. She can have that with Angel.”

Tara cocked her head. “You don’t think they can make each other happy?”

“I don’t know that anybody can make each other happy, Pet,” Spike shrugged. He leaned back on the couch and stared at the ceiling. “Particularly not those two. I remember they thought they could just be friends once, which was a laugh. Too much passion and heat for that. No, it’s fighting and shagging and hate for them. I’m well out of it.”

He looked back at Tara and saw that she was regarding him with a horrified expression. “Is that what you think loving someone is like?” she asked incredulously. “Tied up with anger and pain, and … and ferocity?”

“What, you think I’m different? You think it’s got something to do with me being a vampire?” Spike shook his head. “Look at the rest of them. Buffy tried normal with Captain Cardboard, and we saw how that worked out. Xander treated Anya like some sort of extra-smart pet. Oz left Willow for the wolf-girl and then later had to leave again because Willow called out the wolf in him. You and Willow seemed good together, but here you are, and she’s with Xander. He’s who she betrayed Oz for earlier. He’s the one who calls out her passion and anger.”

“Willow didn’t betray me,” Tara said steadily. “Not with so much as a kiss. Xander was leaving so it wouldn’t grow into something more. I looked at him the night of his farewell party, and I knew … I knew that he would kill himself within three months, and that would destroy Willow. So I left, because I loved her and because Xander was my friend. Part of me will always love her. She was the one person I felt … safe with. Maybe that isn’t the passionate love you were talking about, but it was enough for me.”

“But you left,” he pointed out. “If it was all perfect love and perfect trust and such, you could have set up some sort of group thing. Or been content to be their friend …”

He trailed off as her eyes filled with tears. Tara rose hastily from the chair and walked to the window, arms tight across her body.

“I didn’t say it didn’t hurt,” she said unsteadily. “Maybe if we’d been better people, if I’d been a better person, we could have … but I couldn’t watch … and I couldn’t let him die, there’d been too much …”

Spike didn’t remember moving. He was just suddenly behind her with his hands on her trembling shoulders, unbearably moved by her tears.

“Don’t talk to me about you needing to be a better person,” he said roughly. “Buffy’s right, I am a complete son-of-a-bitch. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

Her voice was a whisper, but he heard it plainly. “I’ve tried hard not to think about any of it. You’re right, Xander didn’t always treat Anya as an equal, but that was changing. They were so happy for a while. Anya was pregnant, did you know?”

“No,” he said, gently turning her to face him. “I didn’t know.”

“Willow and I looked and we saw it was a girl.” She smiled suddenly. “After they found out, Anya would walk up and just stare into strollers and then say ‘I’m sure ours will be better looking than that’ or ‘I hope ours won’t be as noisy’. Very loudly.”

“That sounds like her.” God, if she didn’t stop, he was going to start crying, too. He’d told Tara once that the closest things he had to friends were the Slayer and the Scoobies, and it was true. Other than Dru, they were what constituted family.

“And then one day she went to the bank, and a man came in waving a gun and telling everyone to get down on the floor. A baby started crying, and he pointed the gun at it and threatened to shoot. He probably wouldn’t have, but Anya didn’t understand that and tried to get the gun, and he shot her, and she was gone, and we couldn’t even say goodbye …”

Her voice broke, and he pulled her into his arms. Tara buried her head in his shoulder as the sobs shook her.

“Here now,” he whispered, rocking her slightly. “It’s all right. Don’t cry.”

He knew it was nonsense even as he said it, but he had to say something to keep his own tears back. With stunning irrelevance, he noted that her hair did indeed feel silky against his jaw as he hugged her, the faint scent of herbs teasing his nostrils.

She pulled back from him at last, scrubbing at her face with her sleeve. “Sorry. I don’t know where that came from.”

“Nothing to be sorry over.” Spike pushed her hand down and brushed his thumb across her cheek, and she looked up into his eyes and tried to smile.

He felt the change as her breath suddenly caught in her throat, her heartbeat became hard and staccato, and her pheromones engaged, sending out the ancient signals of arousal and desire.

I’m misreading this. I have to be. She’s gay, for one thing.

But he knew he wasn’t. To a human, the changes were subliminal, but to vampire senses, they might as well have been flashing neon. Involuntarily, his body responded, hardening with need. The hand that still rested lightly on her waist slid further around her back and tightened and his other hand moved from her cheek to grip the back of her neck.

He was waiting for protest or anger or denial that he had sensed any such thing in her which would have let him leave, telling himself that she was a tease like the others. Instead Tara’s eyes darkened and her hands slid up his arms to his shoulders, twining in the fabric of his shirt.

And then her lips were warm and sweet beneath his, parting even as he thrust his tongue between them. He pulled her closer, and she came willingly, pressing herself to him and returning his kiss with a fervor and passion that startled him.

Still waters do run deep, I guess.

Her response aroused him still further, sending fire and lightning through him. Spike shoved Tara back against the wall by the window and leaned into her, his hips pressing insistently against hers. She made a sound in the back of her throat, one hand twisting into his hair.

He had a hand on the hem of her sweater when the taste of salt reminded him of her tears a few moments earlier. His brain pointed out that her willingness was no doubt based on the fact that she was lonely and unhappy, and that it was wrong to take advantage of that.

The thought was so alien that it made him break the kiss off without really meaning to and pull back to stare down at her red cheeks and swollen lips. Everything from the neck down wanted to know what the hell his problem was, but his brain continued to insist that he shouldn’t hurt Tara or coerce her into something she’d regret.

He shook his head hard, trying to dislodge the thought, but for one of the few times in his existence, his brain refused to give up control, and the thought stayed where it was.

“Spike,” Tara asked cautiously. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing.” He forced himself to release her and step back. “I … I have to go.”

She frowned. “No, you don’t.” When he didn’t come back to her, she said as if to clarify her statement. “I don’t want you to go.”

Panic and desire warred in him, panic emerging the clear victor. “Yeah … well … thanks. But I’ve got to leave.”

And fast, before we end up on that nice big bed or just here on the floor.

He grabbed his jacket from the couch and headed for the door.

Hesitantly, she asked, “What is it? Did I do something wrong?”

Spike forced a smile as he fumbled with the knob. “No, Love. You didn’t do anything wrong. I just need to go.” And he tore out of the door at something close to a run.

*                              *                              *

I need a drink. I need a lot of drinks.

He hurried through the city, not sure which was bothering him more: the fact that he’d wanted to make love to Tara or the fact that he’d stopped. Wanting to make love to her was bad enough. Shy, bookish, gay Wiccans were about as far from his type as it was possible to get. He liked girls with an edge, a dark side. Girls who wore leather and wanted to go out and spend the night clubbing and drinking. From his time in Sunnydale, he remembered that Tara and Willow’s idea of a great time had involved a really complicated jigsaw puzzle.

But he’d wanted her, wanted her about as badly as he’d ever wanted anyone. Not because she’d represented home or friends, or some psychobabble thing like that, but just because she’d been her. The lush strong body, the shining blue eyes, the fall of winter wheat hair, he’d wanted to lose himself in all of it.

She’d been fine with the whole idea. It hadn’t been some kind of rape situation. He was the one who had stopped because he hadn’t wanted to hurt her, because he had thought it was wrong. William the Bloody, who used to employ railroad spikes in interesting fashion, who had killed two Slayers, and made a good try on the third, who had had his very own reign of terror, was considering the moral ramifications of his actions.

I’ve been body-snatched. I’ve got Angel in here, or William’s come back, or some bloody poufter’s taken over from Big Bad. Oh, hell, what Big Bad? I was more Big Bad when I had the chip. At least I still wanted to be Big Bad.

Alcohol. He needed alcohol. Now.

Spike emerged from his blind fog and found, to no great surprise and some bitter amusement, he was standing directly outside Caritas.

Why fight? He shoved open the door and stomped inside.

The crowd was reasonably light, it being Sunday, and they were all listening quietly to Lorne.

“Lips as sweet as candy,
 Your taste is on my mind.
 Girl, you’ve got me thirsty for
 Another cup of wine …”

Lovely. Just exactly what I needed to hear.

He was swinging around to leave — cadging a bottle off a wino was better to this — when a waving arm caught his attention and he saw Kate sitting at one of the tables. He considered leaving, but that would let her win in some obscure way, so gritting his teeth, Spike went to her table and sat.

“You look … overwhelmed,” Kate commented in an amused voice. “Things not working out like you thought they would?”

“I thought he was the psychic,” Spike sneered.

A waiter appeared, setting a bottle of dark English beer before him.

“I’m used to reading people,” she said mildly. “Goes with what used to be my territory.”

“You’re not a cop anymore?” he said, surprised. It seemed to inform everything she did.

“Nope. It was a hard change.” Kate shrugged. “But it didn’t kill me. Not quite, anyway.”

“So, now what do you do?”

“Private agency. Normally, they’d be here, but one of our associates is opening in a new play and the guys went to cheer her on. We all agreed that I wasn’t intellectual enough to appreciate the depth of her acting, so I came here.”

Lorne exited the stage to applause and swept through the tables, beaming at all and sundry. He reached Kate and Spike, took a look at the vampire and said, “Hoo, boy.”

“What?” Spike said crossly with a swig of his beer.

“I’d say ‘hoo, boy’ pretty much sums it up. Besides, you were very firm about not wanting guidance.”

Lorne began to chat to Kate, and Spike watched them broodingly. They were happy together, the affection plain between them even if they didn’t fall all over each other. They didn’t have to prove it, they just were.

His thoughts were interrupted when Lorne got up to speak to someone else, leaving him alone with Kate. The ex-cop looked at him appraisingly.

“You see the witch tonight?”

“Why do you ask?” he asked, looking at her with suspicion. Maybe that was why the Host took up with her, to have two psychics working the bar.

Kate shrugged. “Something’s got you worked up, and you were pretty worried about her last night.”

“She’s fine, and why should she get me worked up?”

“You tell me.”

“All right, that’s it.” Spike stood angrily, but Kate put a hand on his wrist.

“Look, you came here for a reason and you know it. Like it or not, you’re looking for help. I know exactly how hard it is to let someone see inside, but you can trust Lorne. And I’ve got something that may help you, but you’ve got to sing first.”

“Why?” he gritted.

“Because,” Lorne said from behind him, making him jump and turn. “Unless you sing, I can only get surface impressions. I need to know what’s really going in there.” He tapped Spike lightly on the chest. “And you’re not getting the information until I do. I told you once, I wouldn’t trust Marianas to just anybody.”

He froze, staring at the demon, wanting to ask why Lorne would think this had anything to do with Tara, but there was no point. Those red eyes saw too much.

“Fine,” he said with bad grace. “Sing what?”

“Whatever you want. You can go after this set.”

In the end, he went with a classic, “Scarborough Fair,” instead of one of the rock songs he listened to. He’d known a variation of the ballad in his human days, and the old words came easily to his mind now.

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
 Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
 Remember me to one who lives there.
 She once was a true love of mine.”

It fit in a way, for his former true loves were far away and gone from him, and Spike was beginning to understand that he was content to have it so.

The club was quiet a moment when he finished, but as he stepped down, the applause started, and he thought he saw one or two customers wipe away tears.

He reached the table where Lorne and Kate sat and the demon nodded to her. “It’s okay. Give it to him.”

She leaned down, fished a book out of her bag, and handed it to Spike. It was plain black, the title embossed in white.

The Underworld,” he read and looked at them questioningly. “What’s this, then? New religion that’ll solve all my problems?”

“Not a religion, no,” Lorne smiled. “Whether it’ll solve your problems is up to you. Go read it.”

“That’s it?” Spike demanded. “I got up there and made a bloody fool of myself and that’s what I get?”

“Why is showing what you are making a fool of yourself? But okay, here’s one other thing. You did a really good thing tonight, but your decision was based on the wrong information.”

Spike sighed. “And that means what?”

“It means read the book,” Lorne said with finality.

“And look at the publisher,” Kate added.

They turned away from him, talking between themselves and with other patrons, and Spike knew himself dismissed.

He stomped out of Caritas, barely restraining the urge to slam the book into the trashcan.

*                              *                              *

“You think it’ll work?” Kate asked, watching him go.

“I hope so,” Lorne said worriedly. “He’s got the information he needs, but they’re both going to need a lot of coaxing. She’s been hurt and he’s going to have to change his entire worldview. He’s got the ability, but he’s got to want it.”

*                              *                              *

Spike settled in his lair and opened the book resignedly. If this was what he had, this was what he had. He checked the author on the spine of the book, but Claudia Harris meant nothing to him. With a sigh, he began to read.

Jane looked up from the stack of her papers and checked the clock with a sigh. Another late night. Time had a habit of getting away from her at work, and she was always afraid that anything she left undone until morning would lead to the injury or death of another child.

Still, she thought, it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like anyone’s waiting for me at home.

Ten pages later.

She stepped in front of the little girl in a gesture that was futile enough to be amusing. At least, the … things … that surrounded her seemed to find it pretty funny, baring their teeth in cold laughter.

Still, it was too late now, had been too late since she saw the child running towards her screaming for help. Jane gripped her pathetic mace can and wished it was something a little more menacing, although anything less than a hand grenade would probably be useless.

They were closing in, the circle of death tightening, when the strike of a lighter sounded, oddly loud in the tense silence. The small flame gleamed in the darkness for an instant, and then a figure stepped into the dim circle of light.

“What do we have here?” he drawled, drawing deep on the cigarette, light catching on platinum hair.

Wait a minute. Spike sat up, and began to read faster, skimming sections until Jane met her rescuer.

His mouth twisted in a grin that would have frightened her if she hadn’t seen him save her life. The scar pulled at his cheek, making the cold blue of his eyes seem more dangerous.

“You want something, Pet? Get off on being rescued, do you?”

“Oh, my God.”

He went on in a mixture of fascination and horror, until he hit the scene where Thomas, known familiarly as Shiv, seduced the female vampire, allowing Jane to escape.

She knew she should leave, knew he was distracting her captor so she could leave, but her feet were having a hard time moving. Fascinated, she watched as Shiv’s hands stroked lazily over Sylvia’s face and neck. Her own nipples tightened as his hand brushed the side of the vampire’s breast on its way to her waist.

His lips were on Sylvia’s throat, his hands moving to the clasp of her dress when Jane at last made herself hurry away. And even her danger, even the sight of his fangs, couldn’t keep her from wishing that she was in the vampire’s place. That it was her body that he caressed, her skin that he kissed …

Spike closed the book, and wiped sweat off his brow. As Kate had instructed, he noted the publisher, and saw with no great surprise that it was Blackhawk Press, the company where Tara’s agent, Sophie Carstairs, worked.

Given the circumstances under which he’d received the book, he already knew who Claudia Harris must be, but his brain didn’t want to process it. It seemed impossible that the shy witch of his acquaintance had written this. True, there was no actual sex, at least not as far as he’d read, but tension fairly crackled off the pages and promised one hell of a payoff.

And it was going to involve him. There was no vanity-induced mistake. The name, the description, the accent, everything, were his. All she’d done was move the scar. Well, that and make Shiv not entirely evil.

The publication date was 2003, which meant she had written the book three or four years ago, immediately after he left Sunnydale. Suddenly, her response to his kiss made a lot more sense, and he realized that he didn’t have to worry about taking advantage of a momentary weakness. Apparently, she’d thought about this for quite some time, even found it inspiring.

He was rather inspired himself, remembering the feel of her against him, the taste of her kiss. Knowing she had fairly … graphic … fantasies about him sent him to even greater, almost painful, heights.

“After all,” Spike said with a smile, “Who am I to quarrel with the woman’s muse?”

Whistling to himself, he caught up his jacket. He had every right to be angry, used like this without his permission or even knowledge, and then lied to.

The history of feminism and witchcraft, my ass.

Every right to go and tell her what he thought about it all and be fairly stern about it too. And then he rather thought he’d let her apologize.

Spike opened the door, and leaped back from the sunlight that streamed in. “Gaaah!” Day had broken while he read. Damn, he’d have to wait for nightfall.

A prickle of unease touched him, and he picked up the phone.


“Room 2513. Tara xmdlyntld,”

Apparently muffling her last name plus knowing the room number was sufficient, but with growing dread, he listened to the phone ring.

“I’m sorry, sir, there’s no answer.”

“Did she check out?”

“I’m sorry. I can’t give out that information.”

And so it was all day. He didn’t know the city well enough to thread its sewers and tunnels, and when he tried Caritas, he only got Lorne’s chirping voice on the answering machine. Spike paced and cursed, and finished the book, which didn’t help calm his inspiration levels any.

The second it was remotely dark enough he made his way to the hotel, this time not bothering with stealing keys. He wore old clothes, slipped in behind some delivery men, and took the stairs to her floor, vampire speed allowing him to avoid the cameras.

But it was no good. He knew even as he stood outside the door.

Tara was gone.

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