TITLE: "The Week After: Visitors"
AUTHOR: Estepheia
PART: one of a series of connected stories; set before my first story "Watching me, Watching you"
DISCLAIMER: The characters are not mine (unfortunately). Don't sue me.
DISTRIBUTION: Want it? Take it. Just let me know where it's going.
FEEDBACK: Yes, please. Estepheia@aol.com
SPOILERS: Post-Gift; incorporates rumors of the upcoming season
SUMMARY: set in the week after "The Gift". Spike has several unexpected visitors, first Tara, then a staking party
RATED: PG-13 (language, violent imagery)
Text between * * equals Spike's thoughts.
THANKS TO: to my dear and clever betas: Kate, Nmissi and Marcee.
SPECIAL THANKS to Marcee, for briefing me on fraternities and baseball teams.

After four days Spike realized he was falling apart at the seams. He sat in his mausoleum, unable to sleep, even though it was close to noon, listening for sounds that would never come. Because she was dead. She wouldn't storm in, deal a few punches and trade a few insults. She had always been so beautiful in her anger. With all that adrenalin surging through her it had almost felt to the vampire as if he could bask in the Slayer's body heat.

Except that she was cold now, dead and buried.
And he felt more cold and dead now than ever before. Hollow.

Suddenly he heard footsteps approaching. For an insane moment his imagination went haywire. Buffy? But no, this didn't sound like her.

There was a timid knock.
The door opened.
"Tara? What are you doing here? Is anything wrong? Somehing happen to Dawn?"

The young woman shook her head. "No! Everything is fine, really. I mean not fine, but, you know, normal."
She grimaced slightly at her own jumbled words.

"Oh, good."
He was pathetically glad to have company. But since he didn't really know how to express that sentiment, or whether it was a good idea to try to, he just leaned against the stone coffin and lit a cigarette.

He looked her over. The first thing he noticed was that her hand was in a cast again. *Looks like Glory did quite a bit of damage.* Tara wore one of her flowery skirts, the pattern so swirly it gave him a headache, with an equally horrible knitted cardigan. It made him want to ask her for a joint, or perhaps a magic cookie, except he didn't think she was into chemicals. She was carrying two brown paper bags that looked quite heavy. Her pigtails were kind of cute. He almost choked, when he caught himself thinking that.

Meanwhile Tara studied him as well. Physically the vampire looked as always, perhaps a bit thinner. His injuries were pretty much healed. There were only a few minor bruises left. His appearance was disheveled and scruffy, his hair unkempt. With a shock Tara realized that Spike was still wearing the same clothes he had worn the night they fought Glory, four nights ago. She could see the cut Doc's knife had made in his shirt and the tears that had been caused by his fall off that tower. When they had buried Buffy he had worn his duster, and he had had to stay in the shade of nearby trees, to avoid being set on fire by the sun. So Tara hadn't noticed that he hadn't changed.

"Don't just play doorstopper, come on in. There's nothing on the telly, anyway."

The young woman slowly entered the crypt, awkwardly setting her bags on the floor. She looked around curiously, taking in the shabby furniture, the televison set, the dozens of unlit candles, the stone sarcophagus and the almost complete lack of decoration. The mausoleum had several arched windows, their panes blind with dirt, that let in a dim kind of daylight. It was obvious that the place was normally kept reasonably tidy but not recently. A few empty bottles, glass shards and cigarette butts lay scattered across the floor.

"Yeah, this is how I live. Welcome to my den of iniquity. Sorry, it's the cleaner's day off."
"It's ... ah ... very ..." For want of an adjective that was both honest and polite her voice trailed off uncertainly.

"Retro? Gothic? Maybe Shabby Chic? Yeah, well, I never was much of a decorator. Never got round to adding a few unholy graffitis but I did order an Iron Maiden from Fingerhut."

"Utilitarian, I was going to say. Is it home?"

"Not really," he answered truthfully. "But it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."
He was beginning to wonder where all this was leading to. "Does Willow know you're here?"
He wasn't used to seeing Tara without her lover.

"No. But I am sure she wouldn't mind. I'll tell her later." The witch replied.
*You're sure? Well, I'm not!* Spike found Willow quite possessive and overprotective when it came to people she cared about. Traits he could wholeheartedly identify with. But he just nodded.

"She's still busy repairing the robot. Putting its head back on seems to be difficult, but I am sure she can do it." The witch told him proudly. "I couldn't really help her with that, so I decided to do the shopping for everybody. I'm on my way to the Magic Shop just now, to drop off some sandwiches. I brought you something to eat, too." Tara continued. She dug into one of the paper bags and pulled out several containers of pig's blood. "You eat, too, I mean normal stuff, don't you? Would you like a sandwich? There's Tuna, Egg Salad or Chicken."

"Tuna's nice."
"Then Tuna it is." She passed him the sandwich and the containers.
"Cheers. You're having one, too? You know what, you make yourself comfy in that armchair and I'll sit over here." He sat down cross-legged on the stone sarcophagus and unwrapped his first solid meal in at least a week. Chewing food always cheered him up, especially since the Initiative chip prevented him from getting his fangs into necks and other parts of the human anatomy. He'd drink a pint of blood later, no need to spoil Tara's appetite. She had lost some weight, too.

"What's it like?"
"The sandwich?"
"No! Living on ... you know ..."
"Oh, you mean the blood. Pig's blood is perfectly putrid, especially when it's cold, let me tell you. But normal food doesn't keep me goin' and human blood's a bit hard to come by, these days. Unless ... you wouldn't need a bit of bloodletting urgently?" He made himself sound hopeful. Tara shook her head, smiling. "See?" Spike shrugged with mock disappointment.

*There! For about 10 seconds I've managed not to think of Buffy. Great going!*
He sighed and picked up a bottle.
"Wanna drink?"
Tara shook her head.
He took a good swallow, straight from the bottle. The alcohol was warming him as if he were mortal.

"Does it help?"
"Drinking? Not much." Spike admitted. It dulled the pain, the sense of loss. It didn't dull the self-loathing, the feeling of having failed Buffy or the urge to embrace the sun, though. He was treading a very thin line, there.

Tara looked around the crypt searchingly.

"You have electricity for the tv and the fridge, but no running water and no ... you know."
"No loo. Don't need one. Don't ask me why, never bothered with the scientifics of it all. Do you need to...?"
"Oh, no!" she hastily declined, a bit embarrassed at the turn the conversation was taking.

Spike watched as a delicious blush crept over her features. He couldn't help but notice that she smelled nice. There was just a hint of Willow on her, which on better days would have led him to playfully fantasize about a nice threesome with the two witches. Thought was free, after all. Right now it just reminded him that they had each other to console, while he was alone.

"So, where do you wash ... your clothes, I mean?"
"And myself?" Spike said, making a conscious effort not to brood. He lit himself another cigarette. "My, my, you are an inquisitive little witch. Normally, I sneak into a motel and use the bath there, or I take a quick shower somewhere on campus, plenty of more or less public showers there. But sometimes I go for a swim in the Pacific. And the rags? Laundrette."

He tilted his head and regarded Tara with curiousity. *Well, well. Am I seriously having a real conversation, here? We haven't insulted each other and she is in no particular hurry to get away from me.*
Aloud he said lightheartedly: "What else do you want to know? Do I brush my teeth? Yes. Do I sleep naked. No. Do I wear briefs or boxers? Neither. What is this, a quiz show? Are you researching a homestory for Witches Weekly? You didn't come here to admire my humble crypt. So, tell me, why are you here?"

Taken aback by the sudden change of topic Tara blurted out: "I came to apologize."
"Huh? Good Lord, girl, what on earth do YOU need to apologize for?" *You're one of the most inoffensive beings I've ever met. Angelus would have really gotten off on killing you. Or on turning you into another Dru...*

"Your hands. I burnt them, in the RV, when ...you know ... I'm s-sorry I hurt you."
"Oh, you remember that? Well, then you'll also remember that I wasn't cross with you, then. Look, all healed." He held his hands in front of her eyes flipping them back to front and wriggled his fingers, then he smiled. "Besides, I hit you on the nose once, so I guess that makes us even."

"You have a very strange concept of ‚even'", Tara observed. "That b-blow was one of the kindest things anyone's ever done for me."
"No! Don't say that word!" He made a pained face. He knew he couldn't fool her. Not any more. But he went through the motions, anyway "'Kind' and ‚vampire' don't mix. Those two words are entirely incompatible."

That punch in the nose and the painful bit of zap-Spike's-brain that the Initiative chip had punished him with had proven to her and the Scoobies that Tara was a hundred percent human, no matter what her backward relatives said. As he had known it would. *She always did smell human to me.*

"Oh, like ‚living' and ‚dead'? I don't think so. A-actually, I think you knew that chip would hurt you and went ahead, anyway."

He shrugged, but he was moved. To hide his feelings he busied himself by lighting another cigarette. He remembered vividly how Buffy had claimed Tara on that day, how all the Scoobies had stood up for her. For a passing moment he had secretly wished he could be in her place. Had wanted to belong. God, how he hated being lonely!

"Spike?" He looked up and found her looking at him. For a few heartbeats they just looked at each other. "Thank you." Tara finally said, sincerely.
"Any time, luv, any time."

She was about to say something but Spike suddenly raised a hand to silence her. She noticed how alert he looked and guessed correctly that he was listening to sounds she was yet unable to perceive.

"Someone's coming." Spike said. "You expecting someone?"
Tara shook her head.