After an emotional but carefully contained goodbye with Wesley, Spike successfully saw both him and his passenger off, Joyce looking back over her shoulder until they were out of sight over the hill. She had managed to hold back the tears that threatened, but he wondered how quickly they would fall now that she was safely away. Stepping back inside, he checked the clock on the wall in the lobby and groaned, rubbing his hands roughly over his face. If he was going to have lunch with Tara, he needed to have his shit together twenty minutes ago. Flipping open his cell, he dialed Clem's. Luckily for him, he knew the owner.
A quick, friendly chat later and the promise of speedy delivery, Spike made his way over to Tara's office. He slipped inside without a knock; the door was open, a sign that the psychologist was welcoming any and all visitation. She was firmly ensconced behind her large oak desk, the burled wood glowing warmly with care. She'd had the thing for as long as Spike had known her, a ridiculously large piece of furniture that she had none the less carted between dorm rooms, and apartments, often with his help. Her head was bent over a sheaf of papers as she scribbled furiously, a terrible shorthand that he had never seen anyone else decipher. Knowing better than to interrupt the flow of her thoughts, he quietly took a seat and waited for her to finish.
"Almost done," she promised, her eyes never leaving her pen.
"Take your time pet," he murmured softly, when all he really wanted was to get this over quickly. He was exhausted, and had decided to cut his losses, heading home as soon as they were done. He didn't have any classes or one on one's today; he tried not to schedule them on intake days, so he was free and clear to scarper off to his bed and pass out.
As he waited, he thought back over the events of the morning. He'd been glad to see Wesley. Guilt twinged in his chest; it had been far too long since he'd seen the man. Perhaps he would invite him down for a beer in a week or two, when this new case was up and rolling. Buffy Summers. Well. She hadn't been what he'd expected, had she? It was strange - he was so used to seeing girls who were either entirely broken or spitting mad at the world that her quite strength had struck him. There was something about her, something about her being here that was off. He thought that perhaps her mother may have struck on it, something about their conversation flittering around in his head, telling him that he knew the answer. He just couldn't seem to pin it down.
And that brought him round to the mother. She'd surprised him too. He saw a lot of her in her daughter. And it had been… God it felt like years since he'd been hugged like that. His mother had died when he was a child, and he and his stepfather didn't have the type of relationship that expressed care in a physical manner. Part of it was a British thing, stiff upper lip and all that rot, but part of it was just him. He knew that. He accepted it. He detached himself from the world, distanced himself from those around him, and he lived with the consequences. Even Tara, open and affectionate Tara was usually shied away from, his nerves and some small, stupid part of his brain telling him not to get that close.
Spike looked up as she snapped her file shut, tapping all her papers flush on the edge of the desk. He'd never asked her about it. Perhaps he would someday. She'd say that was good. That he was taking an interest in the people around him. Seeking a connection.
"Ready?" she asked, getting to her feet and slipping into a light cardigan.
He smiled in response, standing and ushering her through the door ahead of him. "Food should be on its way," he said. "Told Clem we'd pick it up out front."
The walk down to the gate was brisk and short, the cool fall air crisp and light around them. Neither spoke, simply enjoying the weather and stretching their legs with their companion. They passed a small group of women out on one of the lawns, laughing and waving when they passed. Tara returned the wave, as did he, though for some reason today it felt strangely obligatory, like he would feel guilty if he didn't. And then of course he felt guilty for thinking that. Spike sighed quietly. It had been a long morning.
When they reached the entrance they found a delivery car waiting, a pimply young man chatting easily with the rugged Charles Gunn across the safety glass of his booth. Spike forked over a generous tip, though he and Tara kept running tabs at Clem's to be paid at the end of each month. The restaurant and bar was a popular place and not far from the complex, making it the go-to choice for most of the employees at Effulgent. No skin off his nose anyways; he'd gotten the crumpled wad of bills hustling pool tables over the weekend, and he remembered what it was to work your way through college.
Accepting the carryout bags, Spike and Tara had a quick chat with Gunn and headed back up to the gym. It was empty but for Jenny and a girl named Trisha, who had come to them with a half-way healed fracture in her leg. The physician was carefully guiding the girl through a series of weight lifting exercises, strengthening the muscles in the unused limb. Moving quietly around the edge of the room so as not to interrupt, they climbed the stairs to the catwalk.
The gym was an extensive place; not only was there a weight room with lots of cardio equipment, there was also a full basketball-cum-volleyball court, a swimming pool, and two separate studios, one suited to dance and yoga with its wooden floors and mirrors, the other to judo and karate, the floors and walls thickly padded. The upper level was a maze of ramps running overhead, allowing for easy chaperoning and instruction by the staff. Spike, who was heavily involved in many of the activities here, also maintained a small office on the second floor, over top of the locker rooms. It was against the wall of this office that he now leaned, sinking slowly until he was sitting on the corrugated metal of the gangway. Slipping out of his jacket, he shook it out for Tara to sit upon. Once she was seated, her skirt tucked carefully around her knees, he dug into the take-out bags, his stomach turning at the mere thought of the food inside.
"A chicken salad wrap on whole wheat for the lady," he said, handing over the foil wrapped roll with a flourish. It was closely followed by a cardboard carton of steaming sweet potato fries and a bottle of grape soda.
"You do know my favorites," she smiled, popping a fry into her mouth.
Spike smirked, pulling out his own lunch; a thick, greasy cheeseburger made rare with bacon and mayo, and no lettuce in sight. He'd found that stuffing himself full of fat and salt after a binge helped cut the nausea, though you had to fight through it to get the thing down first. Pulling out his own box of fries, he smiled into the bag.
"And Clem knows mine," he chuckled, shaking out the handful of hot sauce packets in the bottom.
For a bit they both shut up, Tara watching surreptitiously as Spike eyed his food. For the first few bites his stomach rolled and he was sure that he would boot, but then the hot sauce seemed to open up his sinuses and bring his taste buds to life, reminding him of how long it had been since he'd eaten a real meal. At that point he dug in with relish, finishing off the burger and working his way steadily through the fries, munching away contentedly and occasionally stealing a sip of Tara's soda.
"So what do you think?" he asked, when the psychologist was well tucked in to her own fare.
"Off the top of my head?" she asked, dabbing at her mouth with a napkin. Spike nodded. "This is going to be a hard one," she sighed. "Obviously I haven't spoken to Buffy yet, but from what her mother's told me…" Tara paused and looked at him with a frown. "I don't know," she said finally. "Something doesn't fit. Something's… different."
"I got that too," Spike said quietly, though he knew they were speaking of two different things.
"She reminds me of you actually," she tossed out casually.
"You haven't met her yet ducks, remember?"
"There's two sides to her," Tara continued, ignoring his protest. "Her mother knew it, could see it. Two faces, one coin."
Spike chuckled deprecatingly, almost a sniff. That was him all right.
"She got into some bad behavior when life got tough. She made herself harsher, darker in order to deal. She bought a leather coat."
Spike stared off the edge of the catwalk, imaging the slight blonde in black leather and smoke, the spark he'd seen in her eye flaring bright. What would she be like come to life; how bright could she burn when whole?
"I'm not saying it's a bad way to cope." Tara's hand was on his knee, a gesture meant to reassure, to placate. And he was a mite offended. They'd had this talk before. Wednesday nights like clockwork. "I'm just saying that it's not always the best way."
Spike shrugged her hand off. "Doesn't really matter does it?" he asked. "She dropped the act when it got old. Doesn't have anything to do with present circumstances, why she was with someone who hit her."
He knew that was wrong. He said it anyway. Tara was quick to correct.
"Of course it does Spike. You and I know better than most; the past doesn't go away. As much as we try to shake it, it stays with us. It affects everything we do, the people that we become."
Spike frowned, irritated that he was being scolded, guilty and annoyed because he knew he was being a prig, but his headache was back again, and he scrubbed one hand roughly through his carefully combed hair. "What's with the desk?" he asked suddenly, a violent change of topic that left his friend reeling.
"What?" she asked. "W,w,what do y,y,you…"
Shit. She was stuttering. He'd ballsed up. He opened his mouth to apologize, but Jenny appeared abruptly on the ramp, popping up over the stairs and heading their way.
"Whew!" she smiled, wiping her brow. "That Trisha's going to be running circles around me soon."
"She's doing b,b,better then?" Tara asked, her cheeks pink with embarrassment as she avoiding looking either of them in the eye, collecting their trash and stuffing it the carryout bag.
Spike felt like there was a knife in his gut. He hadn't meant to… well, ok, maybe he'd meant to throw her off, but not to hurt her. Never that. He hadn't realized that he was digging at old scars.
"Much better," Jenny replied, tucking her dark hair behind her ears. Of strong gypsy heritage, something she was quite proud of, Jenny's coloring reminded him a lot of… Spike shook his head. "Her leg's completely healed, and we've almost got her muscles back up to where they should be. I'm very pleased."
"How's Sam?" Spike asked, enquiring after the girl who'd had the allergic reaction that morning.
"Also much better, thank God." The physician hugged her middle with both arms. "Gave us all a good scare. I swear, that girl is allergic to everything but water, air, and sunlight. And I'm not even sure about those. But I missed out appointment this morning," she said, looking for confirmation.
Spike nodded. "New girl, Buffy Summers. You have her file?" Jenny nodded. "She came in with a broken arm and severe bruising on her neck. Also a pretty bad concussion we're gonna need to keep an eye on."
Tara was climbing to her feet, sweeping off the back of her skirt, so Spike did the same, picking up his jacket and shaking it out before slipping it on. "I was hoping you could get her in tomorrow morning?" he asked.
"That's not a problem," Jenny replied. "I'll need to double check, but I'm sure I'm free until five."
Spike nodded, and together they descended the stairs and headed for the exit. "That's good then. She'll have her first session with Tara on Thursday, and Fred's planning the hall dinner for Friday night. I told her it was a soft Saturday for the first sum-up; that work for you ladies?"
"Works for me," Jenny smiled. Tara only nodded.
"All right then. I'm clear for the afternoon," he said, "Think I'm gonna scarper."
"Are you feeling all right Spike?" Jenny asked. "You're looking a little pale."
"I'm fine," he lied. "Just a headache."
"Are you having migraines again?" the physician asked, concern immediately coloring her tone. "Have you been sleeping?"
"I'm fine pet," Spike repeated gently, though he wanted to bolt. He should've just snuck off. Should've known better than to say anything in front of the gypsy girl. Jenny frowned, but nodded, taking him at his word and giving them both a little wave before heading off towards the clinic.
"The nightmares are back?" a quiet voice asked. Damn the perceptive women in his life.
Spike sighed heavily. "I'll tell you on Wednesday pet," he replied. Boxes. Everything in its place.
"Will you?" she asked.
Spike turned to her, a sad little smile on his face. "Tell you what," he said, "I'll talk on Wednesday. Really talk. And then maybe, if you want, you can tell me about the desk. Ok?"
Tara looked at him warily, and Spike thought that he might have seen a tear glint in her eye, but then she was biting her lip and nodding, looking at the ground. Reaching out, he hooked a finger under her chin and lifter her face.
"Friends again doc?" he asked.
Tara smiled and gave him a quick, tight hug, careful not to hold on too long. "Go home Spike," she said. "Get some sleep. You do look pale."