Rated: R Category: Drama
Disclaimer: Like you'd think for a moment that these characters were mine. Just having fun while Joss isn't looking.
Spoilers: Takes place right after - and I mean right after - the S6 episode Dead Things. There are no spoilers for any eps after Dead Things.
Distribution: You want it, take it. Just let me know.
Feedback: Yeah, ya say you're goin' call but ya never do.
"What's okay about that?"
"It's not that simple," answered Tara, glancing at the staircase behind them. She thought she had heard someone but it must've been her imagination.
"It is! It's wrong. I'm wrong. Tell me that I'm wrong, please..."
Buffy couldn't hold back any longer and the tears began to flow.
"Please don't forgive me, please...please don't..." begged Buffy, sobbing uncontrollably now. She slid off the table onto the floor, kneeling as she put her head in Tara's lap. Tara hesitated, then awkwardly raised her hands to hold Buffy's head.
"Please don't forgive me..." cried Buffy, her voice muffled.
Tara was unsure of what to do, how to comfort Buffy. If this was Willow...Tara gently stroked Buffy's hair with one hand.
"Don't tell anyone. Please!"
"I won't. I promise," soothed Tara.
"The way they would look at me...I just couldn't..."
"Buffy, shhh...don't cry," whispered Tara, still stroking Buffy's hair. "Don't you think I understand? I've had to hide who I am...even from you."
Sniffing, Buffy slowly raised her head and looked at Tara with red, puffy eyes. Tara smiled.
"You think it's easy loving another woman, even today? Sure, I'm out, but...but you wonder about people judging you and, and as far as public displays of affection..."
"Tara, no. I..."
"I'm only saying that it's okay to have these feelings. It doesn't make you a bad person," smiled Tara.
Buffy's lower lip was trembling but, still crying, she tried to smile back.
On the staircase behind them, hidden from view, sat Willow, her eyes wide open and her face just a little more pale than usual. She swallowed once and nervously leaned forward to peer around the corner.
"Thank you," managed Buffy, her voice barely a whisper. Tara stopped stroking her hair and rested her hands on Buffy's shoulders.
"If you ever need to talk or, or..."
"I know," sniffed Buffy, wiping her eyes. "Thank you, Tara. I, I couldn't talk about this with Willow. Not yet."
"Maybe...maybe if I w-wa-was there. With you, I mean. W-When you tell her," winced Tara.
"Tara...you're nervous about seeing Willow?"
Tara looked away, the ache plainly there on her face.
"I'm sorry. Okay, uh, maybe. Thanks. I'll think about it. Um...ya know, I think I should walk you home now," said Buffy, standing up.
"Oh, you don't have to," protested Tara.
"I want to," insisted Buffy, holding her hand out to help Tara up. Tara smiled and let Buffy help her, eyes on their clasped hands as she stood. She tried to let go but Buffy held on to her. Tara met Buffy's gaze as Buffy put her other hand over Tara's as well.
"I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable, going behind Willow's back like this. She's my best friend, and I just can't...I don't think she'd understand. I know she wouldn't!" sighed Buffy.
"Buffy, the first time she told you about me, what was your reaction?" asked Tara.
"I...I was thrown. But just a little!" added Buffy, her face turning red.
"And then?" prodded Tara, smiling. Buffy gave Tara's hand a little squeeze and then let go.
"I get it," nodded Buffy. "Thanks."
"Don't be afraid of what you're feeling. And, when you're ready, you should tell her."
Buffy took a deep breath and nodded. When they walked by the staircase it was empty.
Buffy softly shut the door behind her and made her way up the stairs. She paused for a moment in front of Willow's closed door. Her light was still on and for a moment she considered knocking. But Buffy simply didn't have the energy. Walking into her room without turning the light on, she slipped out of her pants and slid under her covers, shivering for a moment in the cold bed. Closing her eyes, she slowly exhaled, puffing out her cheeks.
She knew he was there even before she felt him ease into the covers beside her. Not long ago she would've been angry at this intrusion or at least nervous about Dawn or Willow finding him here in her room. Still, opening her eyes she glanced at the door to make sure it was closed before she rolled over to face him. She allowed him to see just a hint of smile before it faded, receding like water melting into sand.
The moonlight from the window silhouetted his form but kept his face in shadow. Buffy raised herself up on one elbow, staring at him, taking in his lithe body. Her lips parted, eagerly awaiting his kiss and yet so enjoying the anticipation, knowing what was to come. And yet...there was something different about him this time. It took a few moments, but then she understood.
Gone was the urgency, the hunger. The insatiable need. Sensing her hesitation, Spike slowly raised a hand and gently brushed her cheek, his fingertips merely glancing across her hot skin. Buffy narrowed her eyes and bit her lower lip. He held her gaze and simply smiled. And for this first time since they had been together, Buffy was afraid. No, not afraid, just...nervous. He had told her that he loved her, had actually said the words out loud.
And she had cringed.
But now, right now, he was showing her what he felt. As Spike cupped her cheek with his palm, she leaned into it ever so slightly. Lost in his eyes, Buffy saw both happiness and pain, bliss and fear. And still he stared into her.
Buffy looked away.
His hand pulled away but Buffy still couldn't look at him. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and in one practiced motion eased her blouse over her head, shaking her hair as she tossed it aside. She reached behind and unsnapped her bra, letting it slide free of her shoulders. When she finally raised her eyes to again meet his, she was startled by his reaction. Spike wasn't looking at her body. No. But he was still smiling. He held out a hand to her, his eyes not once leaving her own.
Buffy cautiously and apprehensively lay down beside him on her back. Encouraged by a soft nudge, she lay on her side with her back to him. First brushing her hair from her neck, Spike wrapped an arm around her, cupping a breast.
And he simply held her.
Buffy nervously swallowed, her eyes darting about, her body trying to understand what he was doing. Sensing her tenseness, Spike kissed the nape of her neck. And Buffy closed her eyes. He didn't have to speak. Buffy finally understood. This was about trust, about merely listening to her breathe, holding her...this was love. Buffy nestled closer against him and relaxed, trying not to think, only trying to savor the significance of her skin against his. This was just so unexpected, so unforeseen. She smiled as his lips again caressed her neck, his breath a whisper, a promise...
Buffy bolted up in bed and turned, looking down at him. And gasped. Shocked, one hand flew to her mouth and she stared in disbelief. It wasn't Spike that lay with her.
It was Giles.
He lay there, just looking at her, a ghost of a smile upon his lips. But there was such sadness in his eyes. He was shirtless and maybe more, the sheet wrapped around his waist. And then he did smile...
Terrified, Buffy sat up and opened her eyes, her hands gripping the sheets, a cold sweat swiftly chilling her. She was alone. The bed beside her was empty.
"I've got to stop eating those chicken nuggets from the Doublemeat," sighed Buffy.
She noticed three things at once. Her blouse in a crumpled heap on the floor, the curtains moving from a breeze through a window she hadn't left open, and an impression on the bed next to her. As if someone had been laying there.
"Spike," spat Buffy, venom in her voice.
She shook her head and traced the sunken sheets beside her with a hand. And knotted her eyebrows together, at first in confusion. And then in fear.
The bed beside her was warm.
Rubbing her eyes, Buffy stumbled into the kitchen and almost didn't notice Willow sitting at the table. She didn't look up at Buffy. Instead she just idly pushed around her now very soggy cereal with a spoon.
"Hey. Morning," mumbled Buffy, making her way over to the counter to pour herself a cup of coffee.
"Hey," managed Willow, putting her spoon down. Buffy paused in mid-pour and glanced back at Willow.
"Um, Will, don't take this the wrong way...what I mean is, well, it's just...I'm concerned, you know? You look..."
Willow raised her eyes but quickly lowered them again.
"Rough night?" winced Buffy, ignoring her coffee and pulling a chair out to sit down next to Willow.
"Didn't get much sleep?" asked Buffy.
Willow slowly shook her head once.
"Wanna talk about it?" yawned Buffy.
Willow took a deep breath and again looked at Buffy. She began to say something but hesitated and then, her mouth slightly open, changed her mind and lowered her eyes.
"No," sighed Willow.
"You sure? Because I..."
"Buffy, was there someone here last night? I...I, um, thought I heard voices," shrugged Willow.
"Oh. Um...no. No, just me, probably talking to myself. Oh! I didn't wake you, did I?" frowned Buffy.
Willow didn't say anything for a moment and when she realized that she was staring at Buffy she shook her head as if to clear it.
"What? Oh! No. No, I wasn't sleeping, remember? Hence the lack of waking up. Uh, you know, I'm not really hungry," said Willow, standing up and dumping the contents of her cereal bowl into the trash under the sink.
"Hey, you know, I'm kinda beat. I think I'll go back to bed, try to get some sleep," announced Willow with a nod, already walking away before Buffy could object. Buffy stood up.
Willow stopped and turned back to face her friend.
"Buffy, you look a little beat yourself. Why don't you join me? Oh, not, I mean...in separate beds, of course! To sleep. In a not together thingy. I mean, you don't...at least I...no, you...well, you know what I mean," winced Willow. Buffy wrinkled her eyebrows in reply.
"Not really," frowned Buffy.
"There you go. See, I'm tired and need some sleep."
"Okay. If you see Dawn, tell her to get ready for school," answered Buffy. Willow nodded and again hesitated, seeming about to say something. Instead she just nodded once more and walked away.
Buffy poured herself a cup of coffee, glancing once in the direction Willow had gone.
Buffy knocked again on the door and again took a step back into the full sunlight. And waited. She took a deep breath and chewed on a fingernail until she realized what she was doing. Discouraged, she turned to leave but then spun around and pounded on the door yet again, this time hurting her knuckles. The door opened but she stood where she was. Rubbing his bleary eyes, Spike stared at her with his head slightly tilted to one side.
"Let me guess. You're supplementing your burger flipping income by selling girl scout cookies door to door."
"This visit has nothing to do with my cookies! And hey, I'm on counter now, not grill and, and why am I even...Spike, where you in my room last night?" demanded Buffy, hands on her hips.
"You're disturbing my beauty sleep for this? Slayer, if I was in your room last night you would very much remember the visit," answered Spike, eyeing her suspiciously now.
Buffy lowered her hands to her side and looked down at the ground in front of her.
"What's wrong?" asked Spike calmly yet with concern.
"I...I don't know," shrugged Buffy. "Maybe it's nothing. But there was the open window and the warm bed and Gi...um, never mind. Probably just a dream."
"So now you're dreaming about me, eh?" smiled Spike.
Buffy tried to frown but it came out more as a pout.
"Why are you standing out there? Why don't you come inside and we'll...talk," winked Spike.
"No. No, I can't. I've got to get to work," said Buffy firmly.
Buffy took a step forward.
"I'm on the lunch shift," added Buffy weakly.
Spike just stood there, motionless, watching her.
"I can't be late," whispered Buffy. "And, and I'm free tonight..."
Buffy stepped into the crypt and looked up at him, biting her lower lip.
"Tonight would be better," whispered Buffy, her eyes focused on Spike's lips.
He simply watched her. And waited.
"Okay, enough with the arm twisting already! And this doesn't necessarily mean I'll be back tonight."
Spike smiled and shut the door.
Unable to sleep, Willow brushed her hair, pulled on a windbreaker and went for a walk. By listening to the sounds around her she was able to do what she needed right now and that was simply to not think. Distracted by the chirping of birds, the sound of the wind in the trees and even the noise of traffic, Willow hadn't paid attention to where she was going. When she did look up she froze in mid-step, her shoulders slumping and her breath escaping in a silent sigh.
Willow stood in front of the Magic Shop. Closing her eyes for a moment, she shook her head and turned to leave, almost bumping into someone.
"Oh! Excuse me, I...Tara!"
"Hey," smiled Tara. Her smile faded only a little when she glanced past Willow.
"I wasn't going to go in," winced Willow. "And, and I don't. Not unless someone is with me. I wouldn't."
"I know. You told me that last time. And Buffy told me you've been doing real good. With the magic, I mean," nodded Tara.
"I was just out for a walk, enjoying the bright sunshiny day and I didn't plan on, what I mean is, well, old habits and such, so, here I am. But it doesn't mean..."
"Willow. I believe you," said Tara.
"But...you do?" replied Willow, smiling hopefully. Tara nodded and smiled in return.
Willow really smiled this time.
"Thank you," she whispered. Then her smile disappeared and she couldn't look at Tara.
"What?" asked Tara.
"Not that you have any reason to believe me," pouted Willow.
"That's not true," tried Tara, her voice betraying her doubt.
"Returning that already?" asked Willow quickly to change the subject, motioning with her hand to the book under Tara's arm.
"Yeah," agreed Tara uncomfortably, shifting the book so that it was a little more out of sight.
"Last time I saw...last time we met, you were just borrowing that. Gotta stop meeting like this. People might talk," said Willow with a forced laugh.
"Wouldn't mind if they did," smiled Tara. And again Willow couldn't help but smile back in return.
They both looked at one another, suddenly aware of the silence between them.
"Willow, maybe...maybe we could...I mean, it would help if we were honest with one another, you know? No more secrets?" suggested Tara.
"I'd like that. Oh, I'd so like that," grinned Willow, rolling her eyes.
"Me too," agreed Tara. "Um, I'd better go and return this. I have to get to class soon."
"Me too," repeated Willow. There was another awkward moment of uneasy quiet.
"Okay," nodded Tara, walking past Willow.
Tara turned to face Willow, keeping the book behind her out of sight. Willow took a deep breath.
"Last night, did you stop by? I thought I heard Buffy talking to someone."
Tara frowned but nodded her head.
"Yeah. I was helping Buffy with something."
"I...we thought you were asleep. And I know I just mentioned being honest and all, but I can't talk about it. She...it's personal," sighed Tara.
"Oh," winced Willow. "But, see, I'm her best friend. Why can't she talk to me? Is it about magic? 'Cause that would make sense, me being on the wagon girl and..."
"No. Well, kinda. She didn't want you to have to research...something," offered Tara, holding up the book for a moment. "It's not...Willow, I'm sorry, but I can't..."
"It's okay," shrugged Willow. "I shouldn't, I mean...it's none of my business. If Buffy wants to talk to you, I'm okay with that. You're her friend too."
"Willow, it's not..."
"She doesn't want to talk to me, that's fine. Just wish she wouldn't lie about it," sighed Willow.
Willow grimaced, knowing she had said more than she had intended.
"I asked her about last night. She told me she was alone," frowned Willow.
"Oh. Um, maybe, maybe she just didn't want to talk about, well, not only magic, but with you and I..."
Tara trailed off and Willow sadly nodded once.
"Did you, um, hear what she said to me?" asked Tara cautiously.
"Only a little," admitted Willow. "But I'm sure I didn't hear enough to...what I mean is, um, it didn't make sense. Knowing Buffy. And what I heard. Or thought I heard."
Tara nodded but Willow could tell that she was worried about what she might have heard.
"Something about feelings. New feelings. For Buffy, I mean. So why couldn't she talk to me? You know, hello, best friend here with new feelings, or, well, not so new now, of course but, I told her when they were new!"
Tara tilted her head, more confused now than before.
"Sorry, I'm being rambly girl. It's a combination of lack of sleep and too much caffeine and...shutting up now," finished Willow, again pouting. Tara glanced at her watch.
"Hey, tell ya what. Why don't you call me tonight? We'll talk. Okay?"
Willow tried to hide her smile by nervously swallowing.
"You wouldn't hang up on me again?" whispered Willow, looking down and shuffling her feet.
"No. And I'm really sorry about that. Just...caught me at a bad time, was all," said Tara sincerely.
"Thanks. I'd like that. If I wouldn't be interrupting anything. I mean, you haven't met someone, right?" teased Willow, leaning forward with a grin.
When two people are together for a long time, they notice subtle things that other people would miss, even more so if they've had an intimate relationship. Just the slightest hesitation in body language, a glance lingered a moment too long, a breath held in anticipation...most times it's something not seen, but felt.
Willow stood up straight. When she spoke her voice escaped her in a halting whisper.
"Tara? Have...have you...met someone?" cringed Willow, shaking her head almost imperceptibly.
"What? No. No, Willow...of course not."
But Tara looked away, embarrassed.
"Oh my God," choked Willow, suddenly finding that her legs didn't want to support her.
"No! Willow, it's not like that at all!" protested Tara.
"But it's like...what? Tara, please..."
"It's nothing. And I know I was just talking about honesty, and, and secrets and openness and...okay, maybe I didn't say openness, but..."
Willow didn't move. She just looked down at the ground by her feet, afraid to look at Tara and even more scared not to. Tara stepped in front of her and put a hand on her shoulder, but Willow still didn't look up.
"Willow, breathe," whispered Tara, giving her shoulder a squeeze. Teary eyed, Willow looked up, biting her lower lip. Tara smiled reassuringly for her. Willow nodded but didn't smile.
"There's no one else. I promise. But..."
"But?" gulped Willow. Tara tried not to laugh.
"But since we're on an honesty kick, I was at the Bronze the other night. There was another girl there and, well, she wanted to dance. Wanted to buy me a drink. I declined. I said no. I was flattered, but that's all," sighed Tara.
"You said no?" repeated Willow flatly.
"I said no," smiled Tara.
"Did...did she have red hair, like me?" asked Willow, her voice small.
Tara reached out and softly put her hand on Willow's cheek.
"No one has hair like my Willow," nodded Tara confidently. Willow couldn't help but smile, even as a tear rolled down her face. Tara brushed it away with her thumb and then, hesitating at first, leaned in and kissed Willow on the other cheek.
"I really have to go. Call me," said Tara as she turned and went into the Magic Shop.
Willow slowly raised her hand and touched her cheek, comforted by the lingering warmth of Tara's touch. She walked away with a bounce to her step and, grinning from ear to ear, her hand still on her cheek.
"Oh, my sister just got in, so I gotta go. But I'll see you tomorrow at school, okay? Bye."
Buffy tossed her jacket over the back of a chair and stared at it as it slid off onto the floor. With a shrug she ignored it.
"Buffy. You're home early. Slow night patrol wise? Or did you want to spend some quality time with your sister?" smiled Dawn.
"Yes, yes and yes. If I can stay awake, that is. Talking with Janice about boys again?" asked Buffy as she plopped down into a kitchen chair. Dawn reached down to pick up her jacket and draped it over the back of the chair.
"And how do you know I wasn't talking to an actual boy?" demanded Dawn with false indignation.
Buffy raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, it was Janice," sighed Dawn. "And boys were only part of the conversation."
"Any boy in particular?" inquired Buffy.
"Sadly, no. But there's a dance next month and I might just ask one to go with me. If he doesn't ask first," added Dawn with a smile.
"So there is a boy," nodded Buffy in approval.
"Maybe. Oh, Willow already went to bed. Said she was really tired. I think she had a rough day," frowned Dawn.
"Oh," replied Buffy absently, suddenly feeling guilty about not making time to talk to Willow after their conversation this morning. "Yeah, she seemed kinda out of it this morning."
Dawn looked at Buffy and took a deep breath.
"What?" asked Buffy.
"Quality time aside, you look kinda out of it yourself. Why don't you go to bed? And check on Willow to see if she's still awake on the way. She talks to me but I can tell she's holding back. Doesn't want to upset me," added Dawn knowingly.
"But she doesn't mind upsetting me?"
"What are best friends for?" smiled Dawn.
Buffy almost laughed. She stood up with a groan and stretched, staring at one of the kitchen drawers. Opening it, she pushed aside a screwdriver, a pair of scissors and some envelopes and pulled out a framed photograph. Smiling as she flipped it over, she suddenly realized Dawn was watching her.
"Gonna put that back up? You haven't looked at that since he left," said Dawn.
Buffy glanced at Dawn and then looked back at the photo of Giles. Dawn had taken this one, had caught him by surprise in their kitchen when he had come over for dinner one night. Back when mom was still alive. Dawn had called out his name and the camera had caught him turning, his mouth caught somewhere between a frown and a wonderful smile. Buffy traced a finger over his face.
"Still mad at him?"
Buffy stopped, seeing the doubtful look on her sister's face.
"Okay, I'm still a little mad. He could call once in a while, you know?" sighed Buffy.
"You can't call him?" asked Dawn.
"Right, like we can afford another bill. Long distance to England? Not really in our budget."
Dawn crossed her arms. Buffy pretended to ignore her.
"But I do miss him," confessed Buffy, looking back at the photo. "I think I'll put this in my room."
And finally Dawn smiled.
After finishing up in the bathroom, Buffy walked past Willow's closed door and checked to see if her light was on. It wasn't. She paused a moment, promising herself she'd talk to her tomorrow. Buffy closed her bedroom door behind her and put the photograph of Giles on her dresser, staring at it as she got dressed for bed. Double-checking her window to see if it was locked, she glanced out past the shade into the darkness of the empty street below before turning the light off and easing her tired and grateful body under the covers.
Once or twice she opened her eyes, listening, but the night was still. Turning the light on beside the bed, Buffy got up and stood in front of the photo of Giles. She raised a hand towards the frame, hesitated, then lowered her hand.
"You're never coming back, are you?" whispered Buffy. Not long ago those words would make her angry. Now all she felt was empty.
Buffy crawled back into bed, feeling very far away from Giles, feeling more alone than ever. She closed her eyes, restless and shivering under the covers but soon drifted off, fast asleep.
She wasn't sure if it was a dream or if she had woken up, but she instantly recognized his voice. The curtains billowed outward from the wall by a cold breeze through her open window, carrying a single word like a moan, like a pleading whisper.
Buffy opened her eyes and looked at him, sitting on the edge of the bed. She slowly sat up, releasing a breath she hadn't known she had been holding in. This wasn't a dream. This was real.
Her Watcher had returned.
END OF PART ONE