When the knock came at her door, Tara felt her heart actually leap in her chest. Her hand jumped and the jar of spaghetti sauce she was holding splashed in all directions. It was Willow! Come to say she was sorry. Come to make things right in some way. Come to tell her that she would never, ever do magic for gain or try to control Tara, or -
She flung open the door, her lips already moving in welcome – "Spike!"
The vampire was leaning against the wall opposite her room, hands deep in his duster pockets. He glared at her and Tara took a step back, then realised he was staring at the red sauce on her shirt.
Her lips twitched and she rubbed at it, only succeeding in spreading the stain even further. "Not blood, Spike. Just tomato sauce. What's wrong? What are you doing here? Is it Willow?" Terror shot through her. "Has something happened to Willow?"
Spike stepped forward, then hesitated.
"Oh, come in!" she'd forgotten the rules for an instant, one more example to show she wasn't a core Scoobie.
"Nothing's wrong with Red, well nothing more than you know about. Heard you'd moved out – thought – well, thought someone should have a look at where you were. Suss out the neighbourhood. You get demons everywhere in Sunnydale. Sodding hell, you could be living next to one and not even know until it battered down your door one night for a quick snack."
Tara felt the quick salt sting of tears. No one else had bothered to check on her. She'd felt as though the waters had closed over her head once she'd left Revello Drive; as if to those people she'd called friend, she had never existed. At the end of the day, their loyalties all lay with Willow.
"That was kind of you, Spike. But I'm fine. This room is – " she waved her hand round the dingy little box, with her sofa bed against one wall, a table and chair on the other, a tiny kitchen built into one corner. Her suitcases still sat unpacked on the floor because there was nowhere to hang her clothes if she took them out.
"This room is crap!"
Tara flinched. She'd never got used to Spike's ability to say exactly what he thought. "It isn't looking its best, I admit. But once I get some posters on the walls and new curtains, it'll be okay."
The vampire prowled round, scowling, then flung himself down on the bed and glared up at her, noticing how pale she seemed, and - thinner. "You should be back at Revello with Buffy and Dawn. Niblet misses you."
Tara sat at the table and worried at a fingernail. "I miss her. I miss – everyone."
Spike grinned suddenly. "Including me?"
Her eyes softened. "Yes, even you, Spike. But – " her tone grew serious. "You know I had to go. I couldn't stay there. Willow – Willow is – "
"Out of control?"
Tara didn't reply immediately. "I love her with all my heart and soul, but she doesn't love me in the same way. She was using me, trying to make me the person she thought I should be. Can you understand that?"
"Apart from the soul part, yes I can!"
Tara hesitated, then said, "You and Buffy – "
Blue eyes flared into suspicion. "Yeah? Me and Buffy what?"
"What happened to her – coming back – she's….vulnerable."
"She's a Slayer."
Tara flinched. She had never imagined she could ever argue with Spike, but oddly, she cared for both him and Buffy and one of them was going to get badly hurt.
"Being the Slayer doesn't stop her having feelings."
"Being a witch shouldn't prevent Red from acting as she does. Perhaps it's what they are that makes them - bloody hell, Tara, I don't know what they are, apart from first class bitches. Hell, my life would be so simple if I didn't love her!"
Tara's lips twitched. She watched as Spike stood up and began pacing round the room again. "Mine, too."
He stopped and stared at her, then reluctantly began to smile and for a second, Tara was bathed in a warmth, an affection, a caring that she had never known before, even from Willow. "I'm a right bastard, aren't I? Moaning on and Buffy's only kissed me a couple of times. I expect I'm lucky to have got that far with her! You and Red – well, that's a whole different kettle of fish."
"We say a whole new ball game over here."
Spike dismissed the American language with a wave of his hand and slouched towards the door. "I'll drop by now and then, if that's OK with you. Let you know how things are back at Revello. Keep an eye on things here. I don't know. You might need – something doing."
He gestured round the room and for a wonderful few moments, the sadness inside Tara evaporated at the thought of asking Spike to help her fix a dripping faucet or change a light bulb. Keeping a grave face, she nodded. "That will be great, thanks."
He opened the door, turned suddenly and she found him standing close to her, running a thin, long fingered hand down the curve of her cheek.
"Fell for the wrong girl, didn't I? Story of my sodding life." His hand left her face and hovered for a moment above the scarlet stain on her shirt. He frowned. "And chuck that blouse away, luv. The blood will never come out."
And before Tara could repeat that it was only tomato sauce, he'd gone.