Tara blinked her eyes until they adjusted to the dim light in the Magic Box. Funny how the sun never penetrated to the interior, in spite of the large window. Probably because of all the magics and wards. Sunshine and magic weren't mixy things.

She headed toward the voices and laughter. Anya stood behind the counter and Buffy and Willow leaned over it from the other side. They were deep in conversation and Tara heard Spike's name uttered more than once.

Tara smiled. They evidently didn't realize he was behind them, slouched against the door at the top of the storeroom stairs.

Anya thrust out her jaw and issued her challenge. "Come on, Buffy. You have to admit he's hot!"

"I do not! Not hot ... he's not." Buffy seemed to flounder and Anya was quick to pounce.

"Admit it. He's all sexy with the hair, and the tongue and teeth thing and the accent." Anya swept her own tongue behind her teeth and gave a reasonable facsimile of a Spike leer.

"Exactly! With the hair and tongue and ... ewww ... not sexy at all." Buffy seemed more assertive now but Tara thought she blustered a lit-tle too much.

Willow saw her and broke away from the hen party. "Tara!" The wattage in Willow's smile lit up the room.

Tara melted into Willow's embrace but couldn't help noticing the open book on the counter and that Willow slid an invoice sheet over the page as she moved forward. Tara was pretty sure she wasn't supposed to have noticed. Was Willow researching a spell? Why was she trying to hide it from her?

Anya was quick to query Tara's position on the subject at hand. "So, you being the girl-on-girl type. I suppose you don't appreciate the hotness that is Spike?"

Tara looked away from the book. "Well, you don't have to be a horse to appreciate the stallion running in the field. Rippling muscle and flowing mane. Nature's artwork, so to speak." Tara stole a look at Spike. He seemed as gobsmacked as her friends were.

"Tara!" Willow's expression was a picture. Humor laced with horror. Buffy's was just horrified.

Anya patted Tara's other hand. "Good for you. Might as well enjoy the scenery even if you don't intend to ride." Anya turned back to Buffy. "Ok. You don't want to admit to the good looks but he is fun to flirt with. Don't look at me like that. I've seen you flirt with him!"

"Have not! What he does isn't flirting. It's disgusting. Annoying."

Willow chimed in, "He does get a little mean sometimes. He gets all sympathetic and understanding, and then all of sudden you've admitted to hiding Xander's pants in your desk in second grade, and he makes you feel all guilty about it and stuff." Willow held onto Tara's hand but, lost in her speech, was no longer paying attention to her.

Tara didn't look down but moved the invoice sheet so she could see the spell Willow was researching. My Will Be Done. Wasn't that the spell that had caused so much trouble last year? The one that caused demons to attack Xander and made Spike and Buffy get engaged? Hadn't Willow learned her lesson? Spells like this were dangerous. Tara read to herself. 'Harken all ye elements ...'

"Pffft." Anya flipped her hands. "He just tells you the truth."

"No, you tell the truth. At least what you think is the truth. He makes you see the truth yourself but not in a nice way!" Willow shook her head.

Buffy spoke. "He twists the truth so he can use you."

Tara heard the grim note in her voice. She thought about interruptingSpike was listeningbut Anya jumped in and Tara went back to the spell. She let the conversation thread in and out of her attention.

"Oh, well, Miss Perfect. Just what would it take to make Spike acceptable, then?"

"Oh, let's see. No smoking, no drinking, no swearing, no sneering." Buffy seemed to warm to the theme. "No posing, no innuendoes ..."

"No accent," Anya piped in.

"No! Keep the accent!" Buffy and Willow chorused together.

"Yeah. The accent's okay." Buffy thought for a moment. "Where was I?"

Anya wrapped one hand around Buffy's wrist and one around Willow's and shook them to emphasize her point. "I'll tell you where you were. You were describing a Spike that was about eight years old!"

Tara startled at Willow's guffaw.

"An eight year old Spike! He'd be darling!" Willow made a sound that couldn't decide if it was a giggle or a snort.

Buffy screeched "Eccch! That'd be ... he'd be ... " Buffy couldn't seem to find words to describe a child Spike and she slapped Willow lightly on the shoulder.

Tara finished reading the spell 'So mote it be ... ' and felt a jolt. A connection seemed to form, starting with her hand, the hand that Willow held and humming through Buffy's hand, the hand that rested on Willow's shoulder, then sliding down to Anya's hands, the hands that held Buffy's and Willow's. Magic!

Panic seized Tara by the throat and she couldn't speak. Couldn't warn Willow to stop and Willow spoke ...

"I can just see an eight year old Spike!

And Anya said, "He'd be like an Alex in Wonderland!"

And Buffy said, "Oh right. The perfect Spike."

The connection broke and Tara waited, her breath held deep within her lungs.

Willow and Anya burst into mad giggles and even Buffy snickered.

Tara sighed in relief. Nothing had happened. She moved the invoice sheet so it covered the spell again and moved away from the counter. She was as bad as Willow. Careless to even be reading a spell like that. She saw Spike move into the room and come up behind Buffy. His lips were pursed and she thought he was probably annoyed by the discussion of boy Spike.

He put his hand on Buffy's shoulder and Buffy reacted. Overreacted. She swung around as though under attack and punchedhard. Spike spun sideways and Tara tried to move out of his way but stumbled instead and their heads collided.

Tara saw stars and she fell ...

And fell ...

And fell ...

TBC ...