TITLE: Another Side To You

AUTHOR: Spike Girl

PAIRING: Implied W/T

RATING: PG

DISCLAIMER: As much as I'd LIKE to own Spike, I don't.  Joss just lends him to me on occasion.  You know—lending in the sense that he has no idea I'm borrowing him.  Oops ;).

SUMMARY: Written in response to a challenge from Challenge in a Can: http://www.dymphna.net/challenge/.  My challenge was "Tara.  Grateful.  Coat."  Tara's in trouble…

FEEDBACK: Flames are welcome and appreciated. If all you're going to say is I suck—well, I already know that.  At least be creative J.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry to inflict this on you.  Vaguely set around season 5.  But not really ;).  And thank you—Sarah for the site, Alex for the title.
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Her heavy breathing permeated the silence of the alley.  A glance left, a glance right.  Nothing.  Sighing in relief, Tara leaned against a grimy wall and tried to collect herself.  Yes, Buffy had offered to walk her home, but she had refused.  Willow had warned her to be careful, but...Willow told her to be careful when she shaved.  She really hadn't expected anything to happen.  Not like this. 

Tara's thoughts were interrupted by a scrabbling sound at the mouth of the alley.  Oh, no.  Nononono.  Not again.  She raced to the other end of the dark path only to be met by one of her pursuers.  Eyes wide, breath catching in her throat, she took off in the other direction, only to be faced by the other monster.  She fell to her knees in fear, eyes closed, reciting a silent prayer.

'I'm sorry, Willow.  I should have listened.  Now it's too--'

She paused as she heard the demons' heavy footfalls stop.  Why weren't they finishing her off?

One eye cracked open tentatively to assess the situation.  Instead of seeing the two scaly demons intent on using her for their sacrifice, she was met with the sight of a very large, very sharp, axe.

And a hand.  Extended towards her.

Tara shakily accepted the proffered hand and stood up, collapsing into the body.  She noted the decapitated demons on either side of her and relief bubbled up within her.

"I don't know how to...Oh, God.  Thank you."  She trembled in the strong arms, any previous feelings of discomfort she may have had around her rescuer long gone.

"Quite all right, love.  Was out for a jaunt, heard a commotion, thought I'd check it out.  Didn't expect to find you here."  Spike smiled, trying to comfort the frightened girl.  "Looks like I got here just in time.  Mind telling me what you're doing out alone at night?  You of all people should know better."

"I didn't mean...I didn't expect....I was just on my way home, and..."  Tara couldn't manage to calm herself down.  The more she thought about it, the more she realized just how close to death she had been.

'If Spike hadn't come, they would have killed me.  I'd be dead by now.  I almost...'

She wrenched herself away from Spike and sank to the ground.  He looked concerned as she dragged herself over to a pile of rotting trash and vomited up everything she had ever eaten.

"Tara?  Pet?"  He was at her side in an instant, smoothing her hair down, murmuring comforting words.  So unlike the image he tried to present of himself.  Spike helped her to her feet and noticed she was still shaking.

"Here.  We've got to calm you down before you make yourself sick again.  Wouldn't hurt to warm you up, too."  Before she knew what had happened, Spike had his coat off and wrapped snugly around her.  The leather warmed her.  Comforted her.  Unable to articulate her thanks at the moment, she merely looked up at him, the gratitude shining through her eyes.

"Now, now.  None of that.  Just doing my job.  I am one of the bloody white hats, aren't I?"

Tara managed a small smile.  She clutched the duster tighter around her and leaned against him.

"Spike?  Do you think you could take me home?  I don't think I could make it on my own right now."

A smile and a nod.  "Wouldn't have it any other way.  Hell, if Red knew I just left you out here like this, she'd probably turn me into something four-legged and slimy."  He thought for a moment.  "Not that Red will EVER KNOW about any of this.  Or any of the other Scoobies.  Right?"  Spike looked a little nervous, and Tara felt her heart warm up to him.  He probably didn't even realize how cute he could be...Oh.

His words hit somewhere deeper.  He was asking her *not* to tell.  Okay, that's because he was embarrassed, but it also meant...he had saved HER.  Just to save her.  Not to impress Buffy, not to prove himself to the gang, not for money.  He stood to benefit in no way.  They all really had been wrong about him. 

Tara realized Spike was staring at her, waiting for an answer, and giggled.

"I don't know...I think I should tell them."

Spike's scowled.  "You wouldn't."

"Wanna bet?"

"You can't!  They'll think I've gone soft!  I'd lose what little dignity I have left.  Spike, the Slayer's lapdog, fighting the good fight.  It's bloody pathetic!  Please?"  He pleaded.

"Well...There *is* something I'd want in return for my silence, of course."

Spike looked suspicious.  She had never been this forward before.  "And that would be..."

Tara rubbed her hands down the sides of the duster.  "This is just such a nice c--"

"Sod it all!  Tell them anything you want, but you are *not* keeping the coat!"  Spike took Tara by the hand and, despite being slightly annoyed, was surprisingly gentle as he led her out of the alley.

She twined her fingers around his and tugged on his arm.  When Spike turned to see what was wrong, she wrapped him in a warm hug.

"Thank you," she whispered.

Spike said nothing, but Tara noted that he made no effort to pull away.

That was just fine with her.