Spike was in a bookstore - a normal one, not a magic shop - scanning the Poetry shelves, looking for old, beloved names. What the
books he sought would contain had been reason enough to live as boldly as he could manage, way back when. Perhaps they would have
continued to lead him to salvation, had he been more talented. But it didn't matter now - they had another chance, a strong
possibility of finding redemption in her eyes. He was going to show her everything. He felt shaky and giddy, brave and crazy.
He wasn't at all sure he could stop himself from making a possibly-stupid move on her, when they met tonight, but he couldn't even entertain the idea of not seeing her. It felt like sleepwalking as he went about his search task - a strange, fearful, euphoric sleepwalking.
He'd found a few books that contained some of what he wanted, but not everything. Hmm - couldn't be everything they had. He looked at the row behind himself - Young Adult Fiction. Maybe the rest was around the other side.
He walked around and read the sign above the shelf, and found himself in Self-Help. Then his eyes dropped to the section's sole occupant, and he found himself in Hell.
Buffy stared at him, a book in her hands, something with the word "surviving" in the title. For a hot, awful second, he wished she'd hand it over. But the book was pink, and not written for the likes of him.
It was written about the likes of him.
Fat lot that book knew - really, who was more likely to survive this particular standoff? The authors had surely not seen Buffy's eyes.
He could see them, and in them he could tell that he'd lost everything. He'd lost any foot in the door, any "in" that would give him a chance to finagle her, smooth-talk her, infuriate her into fighting him, eventually wanting him. He'd lost the chance to even just listen to her, be the good boy and get her talking to him. Her face and eyes were as slammed shut and impenetrable as a steel bank vault door. He could feel the emotions he'd kept at bay flooding forth, his insides melting...
...and not in a good way.
Tara had changed outfits four times that evening. She'd never done that for a man before.
Oh, she'd changed her personality for one before, the one she'd known since birth, suppressed every true thing about herself to avoid punishment and gotten it anyway, but the clothes thing was new.
She giggled, feeling lightheaded. Clothes were a much better sign.
The knock at the door was obviously him. When she opened it, the stumbling wreck she found on the other side barely seemed like the vamp she knew.
He fairly fell into her dorm room, collapsing into her. She caught him in surprise, guided them both to her bed to sit.
"I've bolloxed it," he was starting to weep. "It's all my fault. I've fucked everything up and I'll never get it back..."
His voice broke completely and he began sobbing into her lap, and her bending a little to hug him, stroking his hair and the back of his neck. She murmured to him that she was here, that it was all right. She rose slightly to reach for things to make him more comfortable - Kleenexes, a blanket - but she barely succeeded; he clung to her too desperately and every time she rose he clawed her back down.
"Oh God..." he managed, barely intelligible. "'Sposed to be...takin' care of...of you..."
"Shh, it's okay. I'm fine." She was gently pushing a Kleenex into his curled fingers, running soft hands over his forehead, tenderly brushing his hair back. It felt so good, so bloody good...and Christ, it was killing him.
He knew without a doubt that she sincerely didn't think any less of him, or feel any concern for herself. He knew could stay right here in her lap as long as he wanted, her warmth curled around him for as long as he needed, and that she'd never rush him. She would wait for him to talk when he was ready. Until then she'd hold him and stroke his hair. He could feel it. Oh God...
He'd always known she was kind, but had never been the true recipient of that generosity, the object of her attention. It was so easy for her -- it was the same compassion she would have shown anyone, but for him it was a revelation. He knew he was feeling what true, unselfish loving kindness felt like, minus the kink of demonic intentions shared between. He hadn't lived long enough to feel this from a woman when he was human, and he wept harder to realize what it meant to him...
...that he himself would die before ever going without it again.
And most likely he would. Because she hadn't yet heard what he had to say. He knew what he'd done, and she didn't yet. But she would. And then he would have absolutely no one.
But he couldn't stop from saying it. He felt his heart bursting as the torrent of words sobbed out of him, revealing what he had done, all of what he had done. He told about the pain, his aching frustration, about how Buffy so stubbornly refusing to see, about his fever to open her eyes, show her what they had, show her what she'd done, take back what had been pulled cruelly and senselessly away.
He told about Buffy's injury. He told about her cries of pain which, for the first time in decades, scraped nails of hurt through him as well, but had failed to stop him. He recounted the anguish in her face and the cold in her voice once she'd finally thrown him off. His choked words conveyed the details of watching everything he'd ever hoped to be draining away from him, ungraspable as water, fury and self-hate skinning him alive as he realized that the contents of his heart meant nothing, that gravity couldn't be opposed.
He felt Tara go stiff beneath him, her knees shifting as she sat up. Her hand stilled on the back of his head.
Here it came. He didn't want to be here for it. He snuffled, quickly wiping his nose on the back of his hand. "I suppose you'll want me to go," he rasped.
Her hand moved quickly to his back, stroking again, though her pose didn't relax. "No," she said. Her tone was a mystery.
He lay still, just breathing for what seemed like ages.
He rolled backward a bit, casting a ravaged, red-rimmed eye toward her face. He expected tight lips and tensely controlled anger. He found instead...wonder.
Something was happening. "What is it, pet?"
She looked down at him as though just remembering he was there. "You surprised me. I-" She was searching for words. "I never saw a...situation...like that from the other side before."
The resulting realization made Spike's stomach squeeze. He wanted very much to know more, but didn't interrupt her. She was on the brink of something.
"I never realized..." she breathed. "...that the aggressor is really...really...the weaker one."
Her words were guileless and meant no rebuke. Spike saw this. Tara saw only her inner world. At the place in himself where Spike would have expected bluster and defiance, he found only blistering sorrow. His face crumpled and he dissolved into quiet sobs, turning again to bury himself in Tara's knees. She started in realization and bent to his aid, folding herself tightly over him and squeezing his back and arms everywhere she could find a handhold. "I know, baby, I know..." she whispered. "It's so hard...it's all so hard...I'm here...I'm here..."
With Spike's sobs shaking Tara atop him, together they wept as one animal.
They were slumped together on the floor, propped by the bed behind them, each a comfortable crutch for the other. Daylight was creeping back in to claim the world.
Spike's head cradled in the hollow of Tara's warm shoulder, and though the fog of his weariness seemed to weigh tons, he still knew to resist the urge to turn his face and lose himself in the comfort of her breasts. In his mind he was nuzzling one and groping another, thanking whatever royally fucked deity was out there for the moment of sanctuary. He knew to resist, but he didn't want to. He forced himself to think of something else, remembered something he'd wanted to know.
Spike paused, not wanting to bring up what he'd done even after she'd already heard it. "Something like...what I tried to do to Buffy... happened to you, didn't it?"
She was silent a moment, toying with his fingers at their place on her knee. "Something like it."
It was clearly all she would offer. Spike felt a renewed pang. "Then how the bloody hell can you forgive me?"
Tara's head shifted against Spike's, her hair making a soft shuffling noise to accompany her sigh. "It's mostly just that...it's not my place to render sentence," she said. "I mean, you don't need me to tell you what you did was wrong. I couldn't have made you more remorseful if I'd tried. You were feeling every ounce of that weight when you came in here." Her soft fingers traced the sharp outline of one of his heavy silver rings. "That made a difference, really," she added quietly.
A moment passed between them. Tara's fingers moved onto a different ring. "Would you be willing to apologize to her?"
Spike snorted. "Bloody hell, of course! If I thought it'd do any good." He huffed out the futility of the very idea.
Tara's voice turned quietly flinty. "I don't mean just for that."
Spike quickly sobered. He pulled back a bit to look at her, and she let her eyes shift toward him, though the rest of her face didn't. "I didn't mean just to get her back," he said, though he had at the time. "Yeah, just to make things right, I would. But seriously, ducks, I don't think she'd let me to talk to her that long, much less forgive me."
Tara granted her whole face to him, accepting this. The moment was soft. Spike felt his heart and body stirring, looked away and replaced his head where it had been.
Tara's brain began turning with something. "You know, if you had the chance, your only job would be to apologize. What she did with your apology would be totally up to her."
Spike grunted. "Easier said than done." He didn't like to think of his apology bouncing off the Slayer's frosty fašade, clattering impotently to the floor, lying there for her to stomp on.
"Right, I know," said Tara, warming to her topic. "But that's the way to avoid pain, you know, let go of expectation. You can take action toward the thing you want, but you have to be okay with whatever happens." Spike pulled back and frowned at her. She snuffed a little laugh through her nose. "I read it in a metaphysics book. One I thought was kind of...reassuring."
"So a bloke's supposed to want things, and try for them, but not care if he gets them."
"More like 'choose, but don't want.'"
Spike scowled harder, and felt Tara's forehead with the back of his hand. She laughed out loud. "It's just one way of looking at things," she said, her face casting downward.
Spike's face became serious. "How can a bird like you get so depressed when she already knows so many answers?"
Tara looked up and seemed to get lost in Spike a moment, a phenomenon that thrilled him but still didn't let him act. She managed a tiny smile. "Easier said than done."
Spike's face relaxed. "That it is, love," he chuckled, resettling against her. "That it is."
Tara's face drifted to the clock. Spike's followed. "Runnin' out of travelin' time, ain't I? Best be off."
"You don't have to," she offered. "You could hang out here until I'm done with class."
Spike smiled faintly. He had no way to tell her how naked he felt, how skinned, how weak he was likely to be in the face of her body and her kindness. He had to go get some of himself back. "Not that I wouldn't like to, pigeon, but I think right now...better go."
So she let him, and fussed over him before he went, getting him a blanket to use just in case the sun rose, a soft quilt that smelled of fabric softener and that he'd no sooner allow to be sullied with scorch marks than her radiant face itself.
He simply marveled at her as she went with him to the door, hugged him tightly and for almost longer than he could bear, and shyly kissed his cheek goodbye. She pulled her face away and hesitated, staring at his collarbone, then impulsively leaned close again and placed the most gentle kiss Spike had ever felt squarely on his lips. His already-open eyes grew even wider, and she took it as her cue to step away and drop her eyes, smiling shyly. Spike was glad, because his head was spinning and he felt himself hardening faster than he ever remembered doing in his whole bloody life. He was glad she wasn't pressed against him to feel it, and dying for her to be at the same time.
She made him promise to stop by later, an act which struck his wrung-out heart as both impossible and inevitable. "You're not done yet," she told him with a small twinkle in her eye that he hadn't the resources to unravel. He only knew that the potential in it shot a tingle through his groin and put into him the fear of holy God.
That evening, Spike felt stronger.
He'd gone home and slept like the dead thing he was, emptied the fridge of blood, and given himself a mental pep talk. Something about having been so vulnerable was paradoxically strengthening. He was now eager to see Tara again.
Part of him damn near wanted to ask her to marry him. He smiled to himself and shook his head ruefully, considering how he would not be exercising that option. He figured it'd be enough to just think of a way to broach the subject of that goodbye hug and kiss, and whether or not they'd meant what he'd later realized it had felt like they had.
He was no Dr. Phil or anything, but he did have instinct to spare. And he was sure that what he'd felt at least merited a question. If he was wrong, so be it. But there was one other thing he'd felt, which gave him the impetus to go see her, and ask.
Even if she didn't feel the same, he was now sure he wouldn't lose her.
Their relationship had crossed a border, and it had changed everything.
He got to the Espresso Pump, and looked around for Tara. The place was a little crowded, and it took a minute to make his way to the table where she said she'd be waiting.
When he found the table, Buffy was sitting there.
Their eyes met in a replay of the previous night. He was not at all sure he could take this. He tried to make it quick.
"Sorry to pop in on you like this," he muttered. "Lookin' for Tara."
Buffy raised an eyebrow and glared at him for a moment, then evidently decided to drop it. She turned her attention to primly folding the cell phone in front of her. "Strangely, I was too," she said tersely. "Supposed to meet her here, but she just called to say she couldn't make it." She rose quickly and tossed her bag over her shoulder. "I was just leaving," she declared unnecessarily.
Spike saw the strings being pulled, but begrudged Tara none of it - he just seized the opportunity he'd been given.
As Buffy moved to exit, he stopped her with a gentle hand. Buffy shot him a warning glare. Spike took a breath, and shot back from the heart.
"I got a lot of things to be sorry for," he said simply. "Got an eternity's worth of souls alive and dead who'd love to have my arse on a plate and would deserve it. I don't feel bad about them, I admit it, I still don't feel them." She tightened her arm and tried to pull away, but he kept a gentle hold. "But for what I did to you...my whole world is soaked in sorry. Probably always will be."
He thought he saw the tiniest bit of softening in her, along with the surprise, but didn't stop to confirm it as he released her arm, turned on his heel and left.