Summary: After escaping the Summers house, Spike and Tara talk.

Disclaimer: All of these characters remain the property of their owners/creators. . .I'm just borrowing them for a spell. . .

Rating: PG-13, for themes.

Time Frame: Immediately after "Older, and Far Away." (spoiler warning!)

Archiving: Be my guest, but e-mail me (eilandesq@aol.com) to let me know. . .I like to know where stuff I write ends up and I might want to see what else you've got.


EMPATHY


Spike chuckled at the irony of it: he lived in a crypt, yet being released from the rather less cramped confines of the Summers house felt absolutely wonderful, even if Buffy was staying behind to have a little heart to heart with the Niblet. * Never noticed what a talent she had for nicking things. . .if I can keep Buffy from finding out, maybe we can have ourselves some fun some night * He paused, considered that for a moment, then shuddered as his imagination-as informed by his long experience-created a rather gruesome image of how Buffy would likely react to that particular plan. Deciding that some opportunities were best left unexplored, he dismissed the subject from his mind and glanced around him to see what the others were doing.

His demon acquaintance Clem had long since disappeared into the night, as had Buffy's annoying co-worker Sophie. Xander had finished loading the wounded boy-what was his name again?-into his car, and Anya was complaining loudly about the prospect of bloodstains on the upholstery. Spike shook his head and watched as Xander nodded patiently as he secured his passenger, then quietly spoke a few words, causing Anya to smile and cease complaining. As the car pulled away, Spike chuckled. * He's got quite a talent for keeping her more or less content. . .took me years to get the trick of that with Dru * He turned to his right, and caught a glimpse of Willow heading in the direction of Main Street, alone. Spike frowned. * She shouldn't be out alone like that, particularly if she's not going to use magic to protect herself. If she gets hurt, Buffy's going to be looking for someone to blame *

Not pleased with where that line of thought was taking him, Spike turned and was preparing to follow Willow when a quiet voice came from the shadows: "Willow will be fine, Spike. She's just going to have some coffee and give Buffy and Dawn some time alone."

Spike raised an eyebrow and turned to see Tara walk out into the light coming from the street lamps. He noted that the young witch looked calm, even serene, and was unable to resist the temptation to retort, "It's not like demons are going to care if Red's trying to give Buffy space. . .not that I care one way or another, of course."

Tara smirked at him, then asked quietly, "Spike. . .why don't you have a name for me?"

Spike was startled by the non-sequitur, and paused a moment before responding, "I beg your pardon?"

Tara stepped forward and favored him with a faint smile before replying, "Buffy's 'Slayer': that was an easy one for you, like calling Giles 'Watcher.' Willow's 'Red,' and I think you get a real kick out of calling Xander 'Droopy Boy.' You've got a whole bunch of snacky-sounding names for Dawn, and even Anya gets to be 'Demon Girl.'" Tara blinked, then met his eyes with an expression that Spike couldn't interpret before concluding, "So why don't you have a name for me?"

Spike paused again before answering: it was a rare occasion when someone asked him a completely unexpected question, even on an apparently trivial topic like this. He grinned wickedly at Tara, then replied, "Well, luv, I suppose I could come up with one, given a bit of time. Never had one for Joyce either, now that I think about it." He studied the young witch carefully, and noticed that she seemed far more composed than seemed normal for her. He raised an eyebrow, and added, "What's gotten into you? You've talked to me more tonight than you have in the last year and a half. . .something on your mind?"

Tara shrugged, and casually turned away from him, looking up at the stars as she replied, "What could possibly be on my mind, Spike? We're out of the house, it's a lovely night, and no one's trying to kill us: a pretty good night, as far as Sunnydale goes." She paused, then added in a faintly mocking tone, "How's that cramp in your pants, Spike?"

Spike stared at Tara, and several previous disassociated things that he had noticed abruptly resolved themselves into an obvious conclusion. His eyes narrowed, and he whispered accusingly, "You know, don't you?"

Tara turned around, and Spike could see a twinkle in her eye as she responded, "I know a lot of things, Spike: how to make ice burn, where to stab a Suolak demon with an enchanted dagger to render it helpless, when to conduct the Ritual of Dolonna to guarantee fertility in a marriage. Was there something in particular you had in mind?"

Spike glared at the visibly amused witch, wondering when and why she had become so damned annoying. He gritted his teeth, then met Tara's eyes calmly and stated simply, "You know that Buffy wasn't trying to help me work out a muscle cramp."

Tara sighed, and Spike noted that her expression had fallen slightly before she nodded once and turned away from him. Curious, he walked over next to her and joined her in looking up at the stars for a moment before he asked quietly, "Did she tell you?"

"Kind of. . .she asked me to find out why you could hurt her, and when I explained what it was, she said something that let me figure it out." Tara's voice was subdued, and Spike saw her direct an accusing glance at him before she turned back to look at the stars.

The vampire frowned, and turned to give her an accusing look of his own before snapping at her, "Damn it, you're supposed to be the sensitive one in this little group. . .couldn't you have found some way to break the news to her about being a demon without making her go to pieces?"

Tara started to laugh, and the sound of it was bitter. Spike watched her in growing confusion until she turned to him, and he recoiled slightly at the anger in her eyes as she grated out, "You damned fool. . .she's not a demon: she never was. She's upset because there's absolutely nothing wrong with her, and that she's still doing things that she despises in spite of that."

Tara's words struck Spike like a hammerblow, and he was only partially aware of walking over and sitting down on a nearby bench. When he looked up, Tara was sitting next to him, the anger on her face now visibly mixed with compassion. The vampire shook his head in bewilderment, then asked, "She's all right? Then what--?"

Tara blew air through her lips in frustration and replied, "Spike, it's a chip made by a bunch of government scientists without a clue as to what really makes the world work. . .why did you think that it was some exalted arbiter of whether Buffy was human or not? You just didn't think: you saw a chance to exploit her vulnerability, and you took it. Are you happy with what you got out of it?"

Spike opened his mouth, preparing to reply in the most indelicate manner that he could manage, but the memories of recent days stopped him, and he looked down and smiled self-deprecatingly before whispering, "Thought I was. . .we've had a lot of shaky times, and the whole mess with that girl dying ended up being a bit inconvenient." He gestured casually at his damaged eye, and Tara's eyes widened in comprehension as Spike continued, "But there were times that it was more than us enjoying ourselves. . .she seemed happy, Tara. She'd get that little smile she gets when she's feeling peaceful and relaxed and not worried about anything. . .then it would leave, and usually she'd leave right after it." He sighed, then added, "When I found out about the chip, I was furious at her for running hot and cold, then. . .well, less than complimentary when I called her on it. I was tired of her throwing the fact that I wasn't human in my face. . .I wanted to get even, and I thought it might make her change the way she looked at things. I was right. . .and I was wrong." He blinked, then concluded, "The hell of it is, it doesn't really matter. I love her, human or not. . .problem is she doesn't really believe it, and probably never will."

Tara saw the desolate look on Spike's face, and struggled with herself for a moment before she replied quietly, "I think she believes it, Spike. . .it's her own feelings that she's dealing with, and you'll just have to let her work those out." She sighed, then added, 'Love is important, Spike, but sometimes there are other things that get in the way of it, no matter how much we'd like it to be otherwise."

Spike looked at her, and he nodded slowly as he asked, "Like you and Red?" Tara flinched, and turned away, and Spike frowned and continued, "It doesn't take a genius to see you still love her. . .and that little confrontation you had with Anya tonight was an eye-opener. What happened with you two, anyway? It can't just be that she botched that spell she meant for Buffy."

Tara tensed, then looked back at Spike and started to speak in a flat tone, resembling neither the hesitant manner that Spike was familiar with, nor the confident, playful one that he had seen at Buffy's party. She told him about how Willow had stolen one of her memories to end a fight, and how she had violated an agreement with Tara to cast the memory-removing spell that had led to near disaster. When she finished, she looked away and concluded quietly, "You know the rest."

Spike nodded, and considered what he had heard for a few moments before asking, "You know that this whole addiction thing isn't her problem, don't you?" Tara remained silent, but nodded once, and Spike continued, "When she brought Buffy back, I told Xander and Anya that there was always a price for that sort of thing. She had touched true power, and she was starting to enjoy it. When the Watcher called her on it, she threatened him." Tara paled, and Spike paused to let her recover before adding, "You did the right thing tonight: she didn't know what to do, she might have made it worse, and it might have screwed her up worse than she was before. . .but sooner or later, the moment's going to come when we really need her to come up with a nasty spell to keep us from a date with the afterlife. What then?"

The young witch sighed, then looked back at Spike and responded, "She's been getting better, and learning to get stuff done without magic: she even saved Buffy's life from that creepy monster at the DoubleMeat Palace with an axe. She had that stuff stashed away, though: she's still thinking of magic as a fallback for when stuff goes bad. Once she really believes she can live her life without magic, we can try to show her how she can make it so she doesn't have to. She needs more time, though, and I'm going to try to make sure she gets it."

Spike nodded, though he had his doubts about whether Willow was going to get that time. He stood up, nodded in leave-taking to Tara, and started to walk away, only to hear Tara call out, "Spike?"

Spike turned, and was mildly startled to see a flare of light out of the corner of his eye. He finished turning, and saw that Tara was standing there, a ball of flame resting in the palm of her right hand as if it was meant to be there. He tensed, but was silent as Tara continued, "We've gotten along pretty well since I came back from Glory mind-sucking me, and I'm very grateful for you being someone Buffy could talk to after. . .after what we did to her. I'm not going to let that stop me from looking out for her now, though. I know you love her, but I'm not going to let you hurt her, even if it means doing something that I'd rather not." She tossed the ball of fire like a baseball, and it splattered against the sidewalk a hundred feet away, exploding in a spectacular display that left a scorched mark and rising smoke that quickly dissipated. She raised an eyebrow at him and concluded quietly, "Do we understand each other?"

Spike shivered inwardly, then grinned at Tara. Tara frowned at him and asked in an annoyed tone, "What's so funny?"

Spike shook his head and replied, "Nothing. . .I was just thinking of how the first time I met Joyce, she was holding a fire axe and saying something a lot like what you just said." He inclined his head respectfully at her, then turned away, calling out, "Good night, Tara."

Tara watched him vanish into the darkness, then sighed and considered Willow's trip to Main Street. She began walking in that direction: it wouldn't hurt to keep an eye on her without her knowing about it. She glanced behind her once more, concerned about Buffy and Dawn, then sighed again and resumed her long walk.




As always, comments are welcomed and desired