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Life In Shadow Chapter 2

Well, slightly later than planned (due to a trip to the movies and some housekeeping chores) here is the next chapter of the Spike/Tara story Life In Shadow; the beginning can be found HERE.




Life in Shadow


Chapter 2: Outside


The trouble with living for the moment was that the moment would inevitably come to an end. It hardly seemed like any time at all before it was her birthday, bringing with it uncomfortable reminders of her mortality and that she might not ever have another one. Halfway to her fateful appointment with Spike. No birthday party; she hadn’t made enough friends in College for it to be worthwhile. Too much of her time was spent learning to be a Slayer. Training officially with Mr Giles, training secretly by herself with the aid of the book she had been given by Spike, and trailing around in Buffy’s wake hoping to learn something. She never did.

The Scooby Gang had more or less written her off, she supposed. There was always one of them stepping in between her and the vampires, shielding her, protecting her, but stopping her from getting any real experience and in so doing making it more likely that she would die at Thanksgiving. And she couldn’t tell them. A couple of times Buffy had stepped back and let her finish off a defeated vampire, a newly risen, bewildered, creature already beaten into a dazed and defenceless state by the flashing golden warrior girl. Tara had complied, but had been unable to feel anything but pity for her victim. As preparation for a battle with Spike, when she would have to knock him down three times or he would kill her, it was worse than useless.

She was going to die soon. Unless she told the others, let Buffy deal with him, let them shelter her again. The temptation was there; but it wouldn’t be right. Not fair. Spike had spared her life, and she owed him for that. In a way she felt as if she belonged to him. If she brought in Buffy she’d be cheating; and she’d be buying her life at the price of her self-respect. The only way she could both live and live with herself afterwards would be to do exactly what Spike wanted her to; work hard, train, and manage to impress him enough that he’d let her live.

She opened her birthday cards in private. That way she could dwell on her happy little fantasy that there’d be a card from Spike. An impossible fantasy, as she hadn’t even told him when her birthday was, but a girl could dream.

Cards from her father, from Donny, from Cousin Beth. Dad’s card contained two hundred dollars and a letter that seemed to be designed to make her feel as guilty as possible about deserting them to attend a University eighteen hundred miles from home. Donny’s was one of those so-called ‘humour’ cards, really crude sexual innuendo about College girls, but there was a twenty-dollar bill inside and that was a nice gesture because Donny was always short of money. Cousin Beth had included a letter as well, a long screed about Tara’s dereliction of her duty to her family. In other words, Tara thought, Beth was getting bullied into doing domestic chores for Dad and Donny as well as her own parents, and resented it. “Tough shit, Beth,” she muttered, and blushed at her own daring.

There were cards from the Scooby Gang; bland Hallmark standards, for an acquaintance not a friend. Presents. From Xander, a hand-carved stake, which he’d probably never give her the chance to use if it was up to him. A voucher for an appointment at a hairdressing salon from Buffy. Willow had baked her cookies, delicious and wickedly sinful, and a very nice thought. Oz gave her the CD ‘Celtic Woman’, a compilation of tracks by contemporary female Celtic artists, and so obviously he’d been listening when she mentioned her interest in her Celtic heritage; unlike Buffy, who’d obviously tuned out and departed into some inner world of hairstyles and shoes. Oz hadn’t quite got it right, her tastes in music had been heavily influenced by Donny’s predilection for Grunge, and this album was a little too soft for her. She’d have preferred something by the Foo Fighters or Creed, but she couldn’t blame him for getting it wrong; she’d discovered soon after arrival in Sunnydale that Creed were not considered cool and she had kept her tastes to herself.

She had come to know Mr Giles well enough to know that he was certain to give her a book, and he did as expected. ‘Women Warriors: A History’, by David E. Jones. She smiled and thanked him politely. It was an attempt to build up her self-confidence, she presumed. As, perhaps, were his words that followed.

“You have made significant progress recently, Tara. I’m rather impressed, actually. You are using moves I haven’t shown you, and that I don’t believe are included in the rather basic texts I’ve given you. Are you getting some training from somewhere else?”

“N-not really. I got a book.” She saw the question in his eyes, and continued. “It’s ‘Ultimate Fighting Techniques’ by Royce Gracie.”

“Ah. I would have thought that was rather an advanced work for you, but it seems to be working.” He smiled at her fondly. “I’m glad to see that someone appreciates the importance of books.”

“Unlike some,” Tara completed the unspoken portion of his thought. “Mr Giles, w-w-wouldn’t it be a good idea for B-Buffy to practice with me?”

He took off his glasses and cleaned the lenses before replying. “I’ll have a word with her. We’ll see.” He donned the glasses once more and smiled. “No practicing tonight, however. I believe my young associates have other plans for you.”

Tara guessed his meaning; the Scoobies were going to drag her along to the Bronze on what was theoretically a party for her, but in practice would involve them having fun around her while she sat and watched. “B-but you’ll ask her?”

“I’ll have a word with her, certainly,” he promised, but he didn’t sound confident of the result.

* * * * * *

“Buffy, may I have a word?”

“That never means anything good. So, what’s the sit? Some big bad coming? Prophecy?”

“Oh, nothing like that. I merely wish to ask you a favour.” Giles adjusted his glasses. “It would be most advantageous if you could assist Tara with her training. Perhaps spar with her. Not only would this benefit Tara, but I’m sure that you would gain from it also. A practice partner who almost equals you in strength and speed is not an advantage to be lightly dismissed.”

Buffy avoided his eyes. “C’mon, Giles, she’s a total spazz. I’d hurt her, or she’d mess up and hurt me. Forget it.”

“As a favour, Buffy. It would mean a lot to me, and to her.” He saw her mouth twist, and spoke again to pre-empt her reply. “I understand your reasons, but I assure you, Tara is nothing like Faith. Not in any way at all.”

“I – I know,” Buffy said unhappily. “It’s just – I can’t go through that again, I just can’t.”

“I understand,” he repeated softly. “Then may I explain to her? She believes you regard her as worthless. She lacks self-confidence anyway, and your attitude is not helping, but I’m sure if she was made aware of the reasoning behind your apparent scorn she would sympathise.”

Buffy bit her lip. “Sympathise. Yeah. You think she could deal? Really? I had to kill Faith, we were friends and I had to kill her, and I don’t want to get too close to Tara in case one day I have to kill her too. Tara’s not big with the fighting, and I can’t stop myself feeling just a little glad, because maybe one day it might make killing her that bit easier. You think that would make her feel better about herself, Giles? I don’t think so, and I know damn well it’s not gonna make her feel good about me.”

“She might surprise you. But I’ll refrain from telling her if you so desire. However, I still must insist on you doing at least something to further Tara’s development. She tells me that you, and Xander and Willow, are preventing her from fighting any vampires unless you have already defeated them. Give her the opportunity to gain at least a modicum of practical experience, Buffy.”

“Modicum? That’s a teensy bit, right?” Buffy forced a smile to her face. “Yeah, I suppose I could let her have first crack at a vamp, and then step in to save her. Okay, I’m cool with that.”

“Thank you, Buffy. You may find she surprises you.”

“Yeah, you already said that. Whatever.”

* * * * * *

The vampire swung his leg high, hit Tara in the face, and sent her sprawling. Buffy rolled her eyes and poised to jump in to the rescue. Tara lashed out with her arm, caught the vampire behind the knees, and knocked him from his feet to join her on the ground. She seized his left arm with both of hers, pulled it straight, and wrapped her legs around it, planting one foot in the vampire’s armpit in the process. The vampire struggled to free himself, but to no avail. He clawed at her with his free hand but couldn’t reach anything apart from her leg, and before he could do any damage with his fingers Tara wrenched the arm against the leg bar with all her strength. The vampire screamed as the bones in his arm shattered.

“S-s-sorry,” Tara told him, releasing the hold and coming to her feet.

The vampire scrambled up, clutching the broken arm with his other hand. “Bitch! You broke my fucking arm!”

Tara pulled her stake from the pocket of her cargo pants. “I’m s-sorry,” she repeated. “I have to do this.” She struck out with the stake, pierced the heart, and the vampire was gone.

“Way to go Tara!” Xander congratulated her.

“Yeah, full marks for the move,” Buffy said, her brow furrowed, “but minus several million for repartee. Sorry? You apologised to a vampire?”

“I d-don’t like hurting things,” Tara told the other Slayer. She brushed her wayward hair away from her face. “I know it has to b-b-be done, but I don’t like it.”

“For someone who doesn’t like hurting things you sure put some serious hurting on that vamp.” Buffy remembered Faith’s attitude – ‘Slaying's what we were built for. If you're not enjoying it, you're doing something wrong’ – and admitted that Giles had been right when he told her that Tara was nothing like Faith. He’d also been right with his comment that Tara might surprise her. “Nice move. Giles hasn’t taught me that one.” She tried to keep the trace of jealousy out of her voice, but wasn’t sure if she’d been successful.

“I got it out of a b-b-book,” Tara told her reluctantly. Suppose Buffy wanted to see the book? She’d see the note inside, and Tara didn’t want anyone to see that. Perhaps she could slice the flyleaf out carefully with a razor blade and preserve it separately.

Buffy laughed. “Out of a book? You were lucky it worked. So, anyone want to hit the Bronze?”

Tara sighed with relief and brushed herself down.

“So, you got a vampire all by yourself,” Willow put in. “Yay Tara! Your first.”

“N-no, not really,” Tara confessed. “I got one the night that S-Spike w-w-w – came to town. A blonde Valley Girl. She attacked me on my w-w-, as I w-, between Mr Giles’ place and the dorms, and I s-staked her.”

“Valley Girl? Was she all, ‘like totally so not fair’, and ‘my boyfriend’s so gonna get you for this’?” Willow asked.

“Yes, that’s how she sounded,” Tara confirmed.

“Harmony! Hey, Tara staked Harmony! Cool!” Xander beamed.

“Well, I think it’s sad,” Willow said. “I liked Harmony. She might have picked on me for years, but we’d made it up, and I was so pleased to see her again. She was nice. I don’t think she’d even have bitten me except the way the conversation went I gave her an opening she couldn’t pass up. And she was so upset when we found her in the tunnel, so broke up about having been dumped, that I was a little bit glad that she got away before we could stake her.”

“S-sorry about staking her,” Tara mumbled. “She tried to eat me.”

“No need to be sorry. I mean, yeah, Harmony wasn’t so bad, she was a big help to me getting things organised for the Graduation Day battle, but the sad bit was her getting killed at Graduation.” Xander was still grinning happily. “The thing walking around in her body wasn’t Harmony. Getting rid of it was a good thing. Vampires should all be exterminated.” The grin faded away as he sensed a sudden chill in the atmosphere. “Uhh, except for ones with souls, goes without saying,” he corrected himself.

“Why didn’t you tell us before?” Buffy asked Tara, apparently ignoring Xander’s faux pas.

“It upset me,” Tara explained. She didn’t want to discuss it further, as that might lead to her inadvertently mentioning Spike, so she sought for a diversionary tactic. “How did Angel get his soul?”

“Gypsy curse,” Buffy said curtly. “You know, I don’t really feel like going to the Bronze any more. You go. I’ll go study and maybe read a book.” She gave Tara a distinctly unfriendly look and stalked off.

* * * * * *

For once Tara had an evening to herself. The other teenage Scoobies had all gone to a Halloween party at a Frat house, even Xander; he might not be a student, but his friendship with Oz could usually get him invited anywhere. They had asked her to accompany them, of course, but Tara was sure that if she did go she’d just end up sitting by herself, or possibly being pestered by someone too repulsive to approach one of the pretty girls, and she’d be too polite to tell him to go away. Easier not to go in the first place. Mr Giles had assured her that supernatural evil stayed in on Halloween, genuine creatures of the night being embarrassed by all the crass commercialism of the occasion, and so Tara could do whatever she liked.

She chose to practice. As well as the jiu-jitsu manual from Spike she now possessed books given to her by Giles, and a Muay Thai tome she’d found in a second-hand bookstore, and she went out onto the campus grounds and began to work her way through a series of exercises. She ducked, dodged, shadowboxed, kicked, and danced her way across the grass. No one seemed to be paying any attention to her, and she speeded up and grew in confidence as she warmed up. A voice interrupted her.

“Bravo, Tara,” Giles called.

She whirled around to face him, her foot lost traction, and she stumbled and fell. “S-sorry,” she mumbled as she picked herself up. “You startled me.”

“I’m not surprised,” Giles remarked. He was wearing a poncho and a huge sombrero, and was accompanied by a girl dressed as a giant pink and white rabbit. Tara stood still and stared. “This is Anya,” Giles introduced the girl. “Xander’s, um, girlfriend. Anya, this is Tara, the Vampire Slayer.”

“The reserve who you are bringing in off the bench, as they say both in football and in soccer,” Anya said. “Enough with the formal introductions. We have to save Xander.”

“We do. And the others, of course. If you would come with us, my dear, I’ll fill you in as we go.” Giles and the rabbit led Tara towards the Fraternity house. Apparently the house had turned into a trap and sealed itself up with the partygoers inside. Giles had his suspicions as to the demon involved, and was confident that he could dispel the evil presence if he could get to the right point within the house. He had brought a chainsaw with which to force access to the house, and Tara’s job would be to get him past any opposition that the demonic presence might produce to obstruct his passage.

Once the chainsaw had done its work the three entered and made their way through the building. Tara was nervous, unsure whether she could do any good against an occult force that seemed to have already neutralised a Slayer, but she heard Giles chant a couple of phrases she was fairly sure were charms or hexes, and nothing untoward interfered with them.

She attempted to make conversation with Anya as they walked. Tara hadn’t realised that Xander had a girlfriend, he certainly hadn’t mentioned her, but she was pleased and relieved. Now she was free of the worry that Xander would make a pass at her, which would have been awkward, and also of the nagging feeling that she must be totally unattractive because even Xander hadn’t put a move on her. Anya was very pretty, at least as far as she could tell with the rabbit costume, and a perfectly acceptable explanation for Xander’s lack of interest.

Talking to Anya wasn’t easy. She didn’t seem interested in anything apart from Xander. The fate of the other Scoobies was of no interest to her whatsoever. Tara asked why she was dressed as a rabbit; Anya had explained that Xander had specified that she was to wear a really scary costume, and nothing was scarier than a bunny.

“Oh,” Tara replied, thrown off balance. She’d guessed that perhaps Anya had ordered a Bunny-girl costume and fallen victim to a misunderstanding at the rental place. “I think it’s very b-brave of you dress in that costume if you’re scared of rabbits.”

“Thank you. You are a nice person,” Anya replied, with a tight little smile. “Now, can we go faster up these stairs and save Xander?”

When they found Xander he didn’t appear to be in any immediate danger, although he did scream when Giles burst into the room with chainsaw roaring. He, and the others, were in a big room at the top of the house, gathered around a pentagram that the Frat boys had drawn on the floor when preparing for the party. Willow had been examining a book, source of the inscriptions copied by the students, and Giles took it from her.

“Gachnar, of course,” he announced, reading the Gaelic text. Tara peered over his shoulder, saw the picture of the fear demon Gachnar, and read the caption. Her lips twitched into a smile. Giles went on to explain that the demon’s presence was affecting the reality of the house, but that it had not managed to achieve full manifestation. He showed Buffy the picture of Gachnar.

“I don’t want to fight that,” Buffy commented. Tara choked back a giggle. “So, we break the spell,” Buffy went on.

Giles began to talk of ways to break the summoning spell. He mentioned destroying the mark of Gachnar, at which point Buffy promptly smashed the floorboards and ruined the pentagram, causing Giles to frown severely and point out that destroying the mark was not one of the ways of breaking the spell and would in fact bring forth the fear demon immediately.

Buffy looked alarmed, until Gachnar appeared in all his glory. All eight inches of him. Xander mocked the puny demon, until he was scolded by Giles for tacky behaviour, and Buffy stamped on the demon and brought him to a sticky end.

With the spell broken they left the house and adjourned to Giles’ apartment to gorge themselves on candy. Tara trailed along too, feeling rather disappointed that she hadn’t been able to contribute anything to the adventure, but she wasn’t going to turn down candy after burning up so much energy training.

“Oh, bloody Hell! The inscription!” Giles interrupted Xander and Anya’s discussion of her costume with an exclamation that spread instant alarm through all of the gathering other than Tara.

“What’s the matter?” Buffy asked anxiously.

“I should have translated the Gaelic inscription under the illustration of Gachnar,” Giles told her, showing her the book.

“What’s it say?”

“‘Actual size’,” Tara chuckled. The Scoobies stared at her.

“Yes, that’s quite correct,” Giles confirmed. “Thank you for spoiling my punchline.”

“S-sorry,” Tara mumbled, lowering her eyes.

“No, I’m sorry. I don’t really mind, girl. You read Gaelic?” There was admiration in his voice, and Tara perked up again.

“Yes,” she told him proudly. She saw Willow glare at her, jealousy evident in her lowered brows, and back-pedalled. “I g-get muddled up between the Scottish and the Irish spellings,” she confessed mendaciously.

“Still a valuable addition to our bank of skills,” Giles said. “You are doing French and German at College, are you not?”

“Yes, I am,” Tara confirmed. She glanced at Willow, saw her expression, and decided not to mention that she spoke both languages fluently already and was taking them simply for easy credits. It seemed as if with everything she did she was stepping on somebody’s toes. Her knowledge of the Cherokee language, she decided, she would keep strictly to herself.

* * * * * *

“It’s not fair,” Tara moaned. “They don’t really want me around. They just think they have to have me because I’m the Slayer, well a Slayer, and I don’t fit in at all. I feel like leaving them to it and going and finding friends for myself and getting my own life.” She caught the vampire’s arm with her left hand and pulled him into a knee strike to the abdomen. He doubled up and she met his chin with her elbow, knocking him upwards again. She tugged again on the arm, dragged him sideways, and brought her leg across to sweep him from his feet. “One!”

“Your life isn’t going to be a problem much longer,” the vampire growled, rubbing his chin. He leaped up and sprang at her; she gave way before his assault, allowing herself to fall backwards, planted her feet in his stomach, and thrust hard. The vampire was sent flying over her head and landed on his back.

“Two!” Tara announced, rolling away and coming to her feet in one smooth motion. “Of course, the allowance I get from the Watchers’ Council is useful, it might be a little hard to manage if I just had the Pell Grant, but it’s so complicated. You know part of the allowance is designated as being for powder and flints?”

The vampire picked himself up again. He was about to attack once more, but stopped and frowned. “Powder and flints? Say, how out of date is that? And I would have thought it’d just be for stakes.”

“Yeah, me too, but I suppose there are demons who are best fought with a musket. Still, they don’t insist on it being spent that way, which is good, ‘cause otherwise the hose allowance would be a total bust.”

“Hose? As in fire, or as in pantie-hose?”

“More like, doublet and hose.” Tara sidestepped as the vampire charged again, chopped him across the throat, and kicked him behind the knee. He went sprawling. “Three! I’m thinking of maybe spending some of it on some really tight jeans, but I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to move in them. Maybe a pair with, I don’t know, Lycra or something in the fabric?”

The vampire had regained his feet. “Lady, I’m not the best to give advice on fashion. I just wanna eat you, you dig? Anyway, what’s with all that counting?” He advanced cautiously.

“One, two, three,” Tara chanted, her stake coming out and licking forward like a striking snake, “and you’re out.” She spun the stake in her fingers and slipped it back into her pocket. “Yay me, as the locals would say. Except I don’t think Spike will be that easy.” She stepped out of the dust cloud and walked on.

Two hundred yards away another vampire lowered his field glasses and slipped away. He made his way to a phone booth and placed a call. “Boss? It’s Ray. Yeah, I’ve just watched her fight Vinnie. Yeah, she was good. Not sure I’d want to try her myself. She took him like Grant took Richmond. No, I wasn’t there, I was turned in 1929 in Cincinnati, remember? It’s just a saying. Okay. She put him down three times before she staked him. Yeah, definitely three. Two leg-sweeps and a sacrifice throw. And she was counting. I think it was sorta ‘three strikes and you’re out’, you know? Okay, I’ll keep you posted.”

Ray left the phone booth and strolled down the street, looking around for a prospective meal for the night. He saw a group of figures at the far end of the street and changed course hastily. Four kids around College age. Two guys; one medium height with dark hair, the other short and fair. Two girls; one redhead, one tiny blonde chick. The Slayer, original model, and her crew of hangers-on. He snorted. Sunnydale was getting too damn dangerous. Spike had better kill at least one of the Slayers when he got here, otherwise Ray was quitting and heading for Cincinnati. Hadn’t been back home in thirty years, might be interesting to see how it had changed.

The vampire slipped down an alley and out into the open ground behind the shopping street. He’d work his way round until he was past the Slayer, then slip back onto the street and look for an isolated victim on the fringes of the crowd. A boot crunched on gravel nearby and he turned, ready to pounce, or to warn off a rival predator.

Three figures, dark military fatigues, ski-masks hiding their faces. Weapons. Uh-oh, this didn’t look good. One of the weapons cracked, not as loudly as a gunshot, and something whistled through the air and hit him in the chest. Pain seared through him briefly, then eased off as he recoiled. Something was sticking into the lapel of his jacket. Shit! Tazer. The multiple cloth thicknesses had saved him from the full effects. He turned and ran, tearing free of the thin wires, and fled for his life with the sound of army boots pounding behind him. No human other than a Slayer could match a vampire for speed, but these guys were fit, they kept in touch for altogether too long. He ran, dodged, turned aside.

Eventually he lost them. He stopped and gathered his thoughts. That was it, Sunnydale was definitely too risky. Still, he’d better tip Spike off before he blew town. The English vampire was far too dangerous to double-cross, but was usually fairly reasonable if you played straight with him. Double back yet again, find another phone booth. Now, where was he? Ray looked around, recognised where he had ended up, and an uneasy feeling crept over him. Get out of here fast. He saw the cemetery gates and began to jog towards them.

A figure popped up from behind a gravestone and smacked him across the throat with an arm like a bar of iron. His legs flew out from under him and Ray landed on his backside with a painful jolt. He looked up and saw a slim female figure, and a soft voice said a single word that sent a stab of fear through his unbeating heart.

“One!”

* * * * * *

Thanksgiving was nearly here, and Tara’s roommate had already departed to spend the Holiday at home. Eighteen hundred miles for hardly more than a long weekend didn’t seem worth it to Tara, and she probably wouldn’t have gone even if she had never had the encounter with Spike. The long-awaited confrontation was nearly due. She’d made all her preparations; bought a couple of pairs of tight stretch jeans and practiced moving in them, used the hair salon voucher from Buffy to have her hair styled and highlighted, bought a top that was a slightly tighter fit and lower at the front than her norm, and she had staked twenty-six vampires. She was as ready as she would ever be.

There had been a few distractions recently. Buffy had been temporarily turned into a cavewoman by enchanted beer. Oz had dumped Willow in dramatic circumstances and left for parts unknown. A paramilitary force appeared to be operating in the area, its purpose unclear. None of these had really impacted on Tara so far, other than Oz’s departure having deprived her of the closest thing to a friend she had among the Scoobies, and she’d been free to spend most of her time outside of class and training in thinking about Spike.

She lay sprawled on her bed, Creed’s ‘Human Clay’ on her CD player, two books open on the bed in front of her. Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’, and the jiu-jitsu book. There was a knock on the door. Her mouth opened to call ‘come in’, but then Giles’ oft-repeated warnings kicked in and she changed her words. “Who is it?” she called.

“Tara Maclay?” a voice answered from outside the door. “Is that you, pet?”

Her heart pounded. She knew that voice. “Hang on a minute, Spike.” She sprang from the bed and dashed to the mirror. Hair, check, looking quite good. Make-up, no, but she couldn’t really keep him waiting while she applied it. Her face would have to do. Luckily she was already wearing the tight jeans. Off with the baggy sweater, on with the new top, check her hair again.

“Come on, girl, get a bleeding move on,” Spike grumbled as she changed. “’Bout sodding time,” he greeted her as she opened the door, a scowl on his face, but then his tone softened. “Love the hair. And I see you’ve taken my advice about showing off your arse. Turn round and give us a gander, love.”

She obeyed, blushing slightly, and then turned back to him. “You can’t come in until I invite you, that right?”

“Yeah, that’s right. Let us in, pet, promise I won’t start anything just yet.” He seemed ill at ease. In fact, Tara would have said that he didn’t look well, impossible as that might seem for a vampire. He’d lost weight since she saw him last, and looked almost gaunt. There were dark circles under his eyes.

“Will you promise not to make use of the invite to eat my roommate?” She gave him a hard stare.

“She’s not here, is she?” Spike looked alarmed at the prospect.

“She’s gone home to Fresno for Thanksgiving. Promise?”

“All right, pet, I promise. No eating your roommate. No eating you either until a mutually agreed time.”

Tara stepped aside. “Okay, come on in, Spike. But we’ll go outside for the fighting, okay? I don’t want the furniture damaged.” Spike entered, swaying as he walked, and sat down heavily on the bed. Tara frowned. Something wasn’t right. “Spike? Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

Spike didn’t answer straight away. “I hear you’ve been doing well lately. Dusting a few vamps, putting some good moves together. Love the hair, like I said, and you’ve lost the stammer.”

“Have you b-been w-w-watching me?” she asked, suddenly nervous, and the stammer returned immediately.

“Had some blokes keeping an eye on you, yeah,” he admitted. “Wanted to be sure you’d got past the baby seal stage, love, and got to say you’ve done me proud. You’d have had a decent chance of knocking me down, probably, and I’d have been happy to keep my part of the challenge. But it’s not going to happen.” He swallowed hard, and his eyes were suddenly full of fear as he let his defences down. “I need your help, love. Spike had a little trip to the vet and now he doesn’t chase the other puppies any more. I can’t bite anything. Can’t feed. I can’t even hit people. If you wanted to stake me I couldn’t bloody stop you. Help me, Tara, please. Help me.”

* * * * * *

The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER ©2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox.

Tags: fic, life_in_shadow
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