Chapter 52 is finished! No, the novel is not finished, there will be a coda, (soon, with luck, but you know me). I promise: All Will Be Revealed.
All previous parts here.
Grateful thanks to my betas calove, lillianmorgan, married_n_mich, and myfeetshowit, but they're not all. This next-to-last chapter is also beta'd by kk_d, who knows Britspeak (my betas emeritus calove and lillianmorgan having moved on, but who remain in my heart) and by the exotic, erotic beanbeans. Yes, you heard right—here be smut! Those under the legal age to view smut, begone!
I owe thanks to pinch-hitter betas claudia_yvr and curiouswombat, curiouswombat also having helped with some Victorian ideas of Spike's, notably Victorian attitudes toward capital punishment. And calove and julia_here for help with horsemanship terms, and speakr2customrs with Victorian currency, weaponry, and the "nuclear button" idea. In this last chapter, I thank appomattoxco for her presidential slur and mores0ul for the Chinese translation (my own meager knowledge of the language limited to how to say "thank you" in in three dialects, but all three of which she merits!)
I can't forget Jeff the Wacky Wiccan, even though he'll never read this. Thanks, man! Which reminds me, in earlier chapters, some pagan and Wiccan sources were googled and not properly credited. I tried to correct this, but in some cases, I could not track down who to credit. My apologies. If they're yours, please let me know and I'll credit you or remove them, at your discretion.
If I've forgotten anyone, please know that I'm so grateful. I would never have finished this without you, my lovely readers. You've made me one very happy ficcer.
Last, this chapter contains a scene heavily influenced by the schoolroom proposal scene in Anna Karenina, for you Levin/Kitty shippers out there.
Here is the last of many lovely Spike\Tara banners made for me. This one's by mary5958. Tara looks like a wet dream of my poor lonely Spike's (click for larger image):
Dedicated to diva_stardust, who believed in me.
The Long And Winding Road
Rating: up to NC-17.
Spoilers: Something Blue, Seeing Red, Villains, Two To Go, Grave and well, all BtVS season 7 (although AU by then.)
Author Notes: Post BtVS and AtS. This fic's not big with the 'splainy about how Spike got out of the pickle he and Angel's gang were in at the AtS series finale. You just know it was damn heroic, though.
Summary: Spike time-travels on a mission of mercy to rescue Tara, courtesy of Willow.
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. I'm just having fun with them.
After the destruction of Sunnydale, William spent most of the summer awash in a sea of alcohol. He emerged in the autumn, subdued but with renewed resolve to fight evil. Determined not to have another annus horribilis as he'd had in 1881 when he first lost Tara, he avoided Westbury and the inevitable mention of her by Birdie. Before cutting off all contact with the coven, he was gratified to learn, however, that his other self's immolation on the Hellmouth seemed to have done the trick. Sunnydale was wiped off the face of the earth, and evil, at least evil as it was to be found there, was no longer a problem.
There were other fronts, though. In his long unlife, he'd arrived at the opinion that evil was like an unspayed cat, and the ensuing apocalypses its inevitable litters of kittens. You could count on them.
Or in the words of his old compadre Eliza, evil never sleeps.
Except on infrequent business, he seldom went home. He knew Gary and Dan had expected him to pair off with Tara, but he couldn't talk about her. He'd never been one to confide, and rarely discussed personal things, let alone anything as important as the reasons for their breakup. With unusual delicacy, the boys gave him to understand that Tara hadn't taken up permanent residence there, even if it was her home now. On her rare visits to them, they said, she didn't sleep in William's apartment; she stayed in the guest room they'd fashioned from Rain's old room. (Lad had relocated to Westbury, on an extended visit to his aunt Birdie, who, devastated at Fritz's loss last spring, needed family around her in her bereavement). Gary and Dan, taken up with each other though they were, rattled around the big old house like a couple of empty nesters. They urged William to come home.
But he didn't trust them not to wank some "chance" meeting with Tara, so he mostly stayed away. He had a crypt in Colma, not far from Wyatt Earp's, and an old bricked-over fallout shelter three levels below the Russian embassy on Green Street he'd broken into from the San Francisco tunnels. They suited a creature of the night like him well enough.
There was the job, and it provided workaday satisfaction, and he felt a grim, growing excitement in what he thought of as "covert ops" in LA—laying the groundwork to pluck the Black Thorn from humanity's ass once and for all.
It hadn't been as hard hiding his involvement from Angel and Spike as he'd feared. The astute Fred had nearly stumbled upon the secret, but dissembling came easily to William, and it was a mercy that his earlier self appeared in what was virtually a uniform for him: jeans and the inevitable leather coat. With a little peroxide, it was easy for William to "pass" as Spike. Although William's memories of the Black Thorn affair were 120 years old, the buildup to the LA apocalypse progressed without a hitch, or perhaps it was more accurate to say, any hitches encountered were planned by him.
He managed to avoid being seen with Spike, and the few times their paths nearly crossed, he hastily decamped. He had a real reluctance of getting in proximity to Spike, and not only for fear of discovery. Who was it that said that it'd cause space and time to implode—Eliza? Perhaps it had only been Marty McFly. No matter.
His thoughts returned to Fred. Back then, with Buffy out of the picture he'd been secretly a little sweet on Fred, as dear and unattainable as Harmony had been... the reverse. With regret, he thought of all he'd done and not done. Back then it'd been his seduction of Harm the moment he'd regained corporeality. The bitterest pill to swallow was his more recent failure to stop Fred's infection by the spores that made her, or her "shell," Illyria's new home. What stayed William's hand was the belief that the white hats needed Illyria's strength in that last fight.
To his shame, Fred's death fell into the "acceptable loss" category.
Originally, William had a horror of manipulating the timeline, but by now, any damage was done. He had no trouble risking himself and there was real ground to be gained. The fiddling, fascinating problems did make him wish for someone skilled in magickal machinations on a world-wide scale, and he found himself missing Eliza. Yes, there was plenty to occupy his mind these days.
It nearly took his mind off Tara.
In the spring, he got a call from one of his sources, Mickey, his contact in the Chinese community. A pack of Qwieng demons had teamed up with B'tai lowlifes and it'd be a hot time in the old town tonight. Not world domination, true, but ugly, and no place for it in his city.
To learn more, he decided to swing by Mickey's restaurant near SFSU. It was raining like billy-o, the sky the color of slate. No fear of sunlight that morning. He would have driven, but parking there was impossible, so he took the the M train, eying some of the more fantastical get-ups—tats and piercings—worn by commuting students. Kids these days.
The squally weather brought back memories of the day he put Tara away for good. He wished he could forget! The previous winter, remnants of the K'osq cult who'd escaped his mopping-up efforts last apocalypse, had got hold of Alison. Her lover Rain had gone black as iron and torn out searching for her, only to return two days later... no Allie. But by then, William himself had found her and had to break the news ...
William bent over the dead girl, so like her darling grandmother, Penelope. He'd find them. Make them pay... hurt them like they had Alison. The slash at her throat nearly parted her head from her body. His filling eyes widened as her injuries, too many to count, faded. The gash in her neck healed, and the Technicolor bruising, red and black and blue, melted into the perfect alabaster skin of a vampire.
Stomach turning, he found himself wishing her head had been cut off.
The thing that had been Alison rose, daintily brushing dust off her long skirts. Allie had known she resembled her ancestress and dressed to play it up, a tiny forgivable vanity. God knew William had told her often enough, and there had been was Penny's portrait, Lovejoy's engagement gift to her, still hanging in the great hall of the Grange.
It approached, gait slinky. Where did they learn that? he thought irrelevantly. His Drusilla catwalked like a model, ankle over ankle, and would mesmerize her marks with it, before pouncing.
"Uncle William, why didn't you tell me? You were holding out on me!" She'd stretched like a cat, then rose en pointe, spinning into the alley, a giddy swirl of skirts. "Wait'll I tell Rain!" Her light laughter chimed.
"No you don't." He didn't intend to debate the advantages of being undead with this horror. Pulling his stake, he went after her, a black wind. Unlike Hungerford, she put up a fight, but fledges were easy enough to catch and dust. But then, like Hungerford, she reassembled, the whirling dust reforming itself into the image of Drusilla. "That wasn't nice," it scolded, crooning, shaking a slim finger. "She wanted to share it with her boy, as I did you, my darling. Merry as grigs, we were."
So... the First Evil. He forced himself to stay calm and pricked up his ears. Never knew what it'd drop. Perhaps he'd pick up some new bit of intelligence to pass along to the Slayer.
But the thing wearing Drusilla's face just sang to him, a rhyme remembered from childhood, "Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St. Clements." It danced around him, graceful hands waving, white fingers fluttering, making playful feints toward him with her sharp nails.
William tuned it out, knowing it couldn't touch him. Terror and demoralization were its specialties, but what was its point? He nearly missed the twist on the final lines of the rhyme: "Here comes a copper to put her to bed, here comes a chopper to chop off her head!" Whose head?
"Whose head?" he roared.
Drusilla's dark beauty morphed into a figure as familiar as his own skin. A taller, fuller figure, with hair the color of ripe wheat. Tara. She gave him a sly half-smile.
The image of his beloved melted into that of an earlier love: Buffy. She wore her Slayer face, stating with grimness, "In war, you have to decide what are acceptable losses."
It was then he understood the First Evil's meaning. Not just its threat to the world, but to him personally. He'd go home, break the news about Allie to the boy, but for himself, he understood that the threat to him would be an attack on Tara, unless he stayed away.
He never told Rain how he'd found Allie. What they'd done to her, to pay him out for the thwarting of their hopes of—what else?—world domination.
Whoever said evil was banal was right.
William shook himself, bringing himself back to reality. The job, yeah? Back to business.
He got off at West Portal, and followed his nose toward Mickey's restaurant, which bore the improbable name of "Kweichow Koffee Kup," and then a whiff of something else, from a remembered dream—
He could scent her on the air, in spite of the rain, food aromas, and the restaurant sign's animatronic dragon belching realistic-looking smoke. Attar of roses, combined with the smell of her skin and damp hair. His nostrils flared and he changed course, veering toward campus.
He hugged the low wall of the student center, an ugly Mayan temple of a building, and stayed out of sight. There she was! Tara, passing the library, almost unrecognizable in a plastic rain cape over jeans and boots, the hood hiding her face, but her walk was unmistakable. She reached the administration building and entered.
William waited in the shadows. Why was he doing this? This stalkerish behavior? He'd done the right thing by giving her up, hadn't he? Why the curiosity, or obsession? He'd just give into the craziness a moment longer, no more than a half hour or so, catch one more glimpse, then move along. This was madness, wasn't it?
With a sense of outrage all out of proportion to the situation, he saw Kennedy pull up outside the administration building's front entrance. Must have driven up from Hillsborough or whatever rich enclave she'd crawled out from.
Straddling a fancy little red Vespa (which didn't seem nearly macha enough for her) she shrugged out of a raincoat, pulling it up and over her head in a tent-like arrangement. She'd cut her hair and looked like a beautiful boy, all slayerish business. No fluffy Buffy beauty for her. (How he'd admired that lovely/lethal combination in one petite package!) After shaking droplets of water from her sleek dark head, Kennedy pulled a cell phone from an inner pocket and dialed. William hunkered beside a hydrangea bush about thirty feet away, but could hear plainly: "Tara babe? I'm outside."
"Babe"! Bloody bint had a lot of nerve addressing his wife— He stopped, reminding himself that Tara wasn't his wife, and could never be. His bile rose. It had been—he calculated rapidly—about one hundred and twenty years since he'd fought a slayer, but it'd be a real pleasure right about now to rip one's throat out. Especially one particular slayer on a red scooter. He had a sudden image of hefting the thing, its weight as nothing to him in his rage, and smashing it down on—
Tara reappeared, blinking up at the rainy sky, and looked around. William crouched lower to avoid being seen. She paused, shook her head, and hopped on the back of the scooter, pulling the cape's hood over her head and wrapping its sides—and her arms—around Kennedy's waist. They putted away.
To avoid discovery William waited a moment, to give them a head start, then sprinted after them.
They were headed for his destination, Mickey's! He paused in the alley, stalling to give them time to park beside a bike rack. He watched them go inside. A perfect gentleman, Kennedy held the door for Tara.
Though still foggy, the rain died down to a drizzle as William approached the restaurant, and he knew that he might be seen from inside. He stood to one side of the tinted plate glass window, the red neon writing making the mechanical dragon's smoke go red, then white, then red again. He saw Mickey usher them into the dining room, and after a pause William slipped into the vestibule, lurking between a plastic bamboo tree and a coat rack. Tara and Kennedy were seated in an alcove in the rear, though the restaurant was otherwise empty in the post-lunch lull. Even so, William could hear them. They refused menus but accepted tea, saying they wanted to talk for a while.
Teeth grinding, William let most of their conversation pass over him while he drank in Tara's appearance with hungry eyes. What was it about her? She was a pretty enough girl—not outstandingly so—yet she drew him like a lodestone. The wet rain cape she'd left in the vestibule hung beside him, the competing aromas of plastic and warm wet girl filling his nostrils. Now he watched her take off a jean jacket—not what he thought of as the ubiquitous dyke uniform—no, this was the jean jacket with the soaring eagle that Rain had put on her after the apocalypse. As she turned to hang it on the back of her chair, the fabric of her sweater tightened over her breasts, showing off cleavage... and his mother's rubies! Kennedy watched with appreciative eyes, and William had all he could do not to leap forward and throttle her.
Tara turned back to Kennedy and began talking, her soft voice indistinct to William despite his vampiric hearing. His mind churned, his rage at Kennedy turning to illogical anger at Tara's clothing. Why was she in hand-me-downs? Charles had made her—made them all—as rich as Croesus. It wasn't the jacket—he knew that that was a gift, hell, an award—based upon the store Rain had set by that jacket. But the jeans were Gary's, and boots weren't hers. Though to the eye the were perfectly clean, he could smell residual demon goo on them, even at this distance. Must be the castoffs of one of the slayers. They looked fetching on her, though: distractingly pretty red cowboy boots that set off the worn jeans and white top. That at least was new. It was one of those "Marilyn" tops, worn off the shoulder, that girls who lacked Tara's endowment wore in imitation of that other bombshell. Few could pull the look off. And speaking of pulling it off—
He got hold of himself. Back on campus, hadn't he promised himself that he'd bring this to a quick end? He was missing most of their conversation, though, and leaning closer, caught Kennedy's sulky voice, "I don't see why not. We'd be perfect together."
William's urge to bite the bitch rose stronger than ever, and then he was stunned to hear Tara say: "No. No! I'm sorry. I've never deliberately hurt anyone before but you're not listening to me. It can't work, and you know why."
"Fine." Kennedy stood, her chair's legs making a growling sound as she shoved her chair back. Throwing her napkin down, she stalked out. There was no help for it; she would see him in a moment. William tensed for battle as Kennedy reached the vestibule, her dark eyes meeting his in shock. Her reach for the stake in her waistband was reflexive, then she pulled her hand back. "Spike!"
"Nixon," he replied with a curled lip.
She tensed as though to strike him, then softened, but only slightly. "Or 'William'! Whatever you're calling yourself. I'd stake you... but I guess I owe you. World-saver." She made it sound like an insult. "You get a pass this time. The next time I see you, though!" Her voice broke. "Go on then. She's in there." Her head jerked back towards the alcove at the rear of the restaurant, then she let fly one parting shot, "If you're not good to her, I will hunt you down like a dog," each word bitten off. She shoved the door open. The fog had broken and a flood of weak sunlight poured over William. He jumped back as Kennedy strode out.
He paused in the vestibule, safe from sunlight as the tinted door swung shut. Standing behind the bamboo, he wondered what—or if—Tara had heard. It was entirely possible to get away, but then he saw her lift her head. Not just a listening pose; it was as though she were sensing him, a banded wolf on her radar.
Better get this over with, then. He approached the alcove. "Hello, Tara."
Her eyes grew huge. "William. What are you doing here?" A fuzzy soft focus she'd had was gone. She looked as keen as a honed blade.
Tara leapt to her feet and hugged him, her arms surprisingly strong. It was eviscerating.
He bore it for a moment, hugging back, then held her away from himself. Her eyes widened and filled. He gave a tiny shrug, his face hard, and answered lightly, "Doin' good, thanks for asking. But not bein' Keith Richards, I can't pop off to a Swiss clinic every time I need blood. Hi, Mickey." With relief, he gave a cordial nod to the muscular young man approaching with another teacup and place setting.
"Good to see you," Mickey was friendly enough, but he glanced toward Tara, and William understood that the man was constrained in the subject of William's visit.
William waved off the teacup and said, "I wouldn't say 'no' to a mug of AB Neg, or that black beer I had last time...?"
"Like I'd know," William snorted. "Still don't speak Chinese, mate."
Mickey grinned. "Coming up."
"Sounds good. Tara?" She had resumed her seat and he'd been avoiding looking at her but now gave her his attention. What could it hurt? A drink for old time's sake, maybe a meal... if the set-to with Kennedy hadn't ruined her appetite.
Her look was cautious. "Tea's good." She refilled her cup with the last of her pot.
Mickey nodded. "Blood and beer. And another pot of tea." For Tara's benefit, he added, "My wife works in the blood bank at Kaiser—sneaks out bags for William. We owe him, big time," as William's waving hand failed to hush him.
Tara nodded, and then her eyes shifted to William's and hardened. Mickey left with one uneasy, sympathetic backward look at William.
Here it comes, William thought. Before Tara could light into him, he said, "What about lunch? I know you're vegetarian, but Mickey makes Mongolian Beef that'd make a believer out of Linda McCartney."
Tara admitted, "I haven't eaten today," then her voice hardened and she asked, "Why did you leave me?"
With an evasive sigh, William said, "Here's Mickey with our drinks."
Mickey set the teapot down and flicked Tara a glance out of the corner of his eyes. To William, he said, his voice offhand, "That 'hunting party' I mentioned? Doesn't get off the ground until the next full moon, so we've got a couple of weeks. If that's why you stopped by."
William wanted to tell him that it was okay to talk business in front of Tara, but he wasn't sure where he stood with her. He didn't want to presume a familiarity that almost certainly didn't exist anymore. For all he knew, she'd left the world-saving to Buffy and the chits, and gone back to uni like a good girl... if today were any indication. Which was a good thing.
On second thought, best leave her in the dark. That was the plan, right? Keep her safe and out of it altogether. Without missing a beat, he replied to Mickey, "That's fine—I'll see you then. But I don't need an excuse to come in for the best cooking in the city, do I?"
Mickey grinned. "You know it! I thought you might stop by so I whipped up your usual. Or there's hyut tong... blood soup?"
"Load me up. That, an' the pork stew, and more of that fine AB Negative." He drained the mug and handed it back.
Mickey nodded. "Blood, beer, soup, and one order dinuguan... and for the lady?"
Tara had unclasped her damp hair and shaken it around her shoulders. She piled it up once more and secured the loose chignon with plastic butterfly clips, skewering the whole thing with a pair of red lacquered chopsticks. Mickey noticed and laughed. "I won't ask if you want chopsticks."
Tara smiled back with less than her usual shyness. "Spicy mock duck, medium-hot. Thanks."
Mickey nodded and left.
Tara's eyes shifted to William's and she stopped smiling.
To forestall an explosion, William asked her, "You come here a lot?" then rolled his eyes at himself. Idiot.
She sighed, but answered patiently, "Everybody comes to Mickey's Quick Chow. He's a SFSU institution. Don't change the subject. Now... about you leaving me?" Her eyes were hard but a vulnerable quaver crept into her voice.
William reached for her hand, and she let him take it. "Tara—"
"Don't!" She pulled back her hand.
Though he hated to, he let her hand go. "Don't what?"
"If you're going to give me some crap about 'the problems of two little people amounting to a hill of beans in this crazy, mixed-up world,' I will scream." Her voice was tense.
"You're not a screamer," he said, then shifted gears, thinking it sounded like a sexual double entendre. "I mean, I know you can listen and accept what I have to say— I hate to hurt you."
"You sound like me." Her full mouth drooped.
"Letting Kennedy down. 'Letting her down easy'—it's never easy! I hurt her. Just like you're hurting me."
"I don't care about Kennedy—" he began.
"Well, I do! She's a good person. She can't help her feelings. I'm just sorry I can't return them, but... I can't. I love you." Tara's voice was level but her eyes were pleading.
William braced himself. "Tara, if you'll listen, you'll see that I want only your happiness. Your safety." Tara, weeping and unreasonable, he expected. This Tara had an uncharacteristic mulish expression on her lovely face, and while it was one he'd never seen it was still somehow familiar. With relief, he saw Mickey approaching with their food.
Tara said darkly, "This isn't over."
Mickey served Tara first, heaping her plate with rice and spicy mock duck. William had finished the blood soup, tipping the cup and slurping the dregs before Mickey was done serving her. Then he set out the dinuguan, a heady stew of cubed pork meat, intestines, and pig ears in inky blood sauce. William's stomach rumbled.
They ate, mostly in silence. That is, William ate; Tara nibbled and pushed her food around. She would stare at him, seeming about to burst out with something, then close her mouth and tighten her lips.
He was in for it. This last supper probably wasn't a good idea.
William offered her a taste of his dinuguan. From the coagulated black blood sauce, he speared a chunk of golden brown meat and wiggled it at her. She leaned forward, mouth opened, then pulled back warily. "No."
"No?" He popped the morsel in his mouth, enjoying the crunch.
"How does it taste?" she asked.
The look on her face reminded him of the cat Willow's, when offered a tidbit not up to her standards of acceptable catfood, reprehensibly high even for a cat. "Like blood and chocolate," he said. "Almost as good as—" He stopped. This wasn't going to happen. How did he wind up here, sitting across the table from her, with Mickey shooting them sympathetic looks from the kitchen? Tara was as far away... as, as Buffy in Rome. Farther! No. It was not going to happen.
Tara laid her fork down. "I want to ask you something."
She sat up very straight. "I want you to take me home. Take me to bed."
His jaw dropped. "I think that we've established that we're not going to—"
"I think you owe me that. At least that much." Her look was hooded and her voice resentful.
"You claimin' your 'marital rights'?" William tried for a jokey tone and failed abjectly. "You know, we weren't really married, only handfasted." He knew that to her, subjectively, 1880 felt like two years ago. To him it was half a dozen of her lifetimes ago. Double what had been his own already long unlifetime. It wasn't fair to expect her to understand how much he'd changed, but he tried.
Choosing his words with care, to cause her the least pain, he said, "As much as I love you, I've learned that in the hundred and twenty-two years apart from you... that the mission comes first. Before me, before my love for you, even before you. It’s that... it’s become my calling." He used his best Battle of Britain brook-no-nonsense voice, so she wouldn't know that this was killing him, too.
She leaned closer, her faint perfume wafting toward him. "But why? If it's not the 'Angel telling Buffy he wants her to have a normal life' kiss-off, what is it? Oh, I heard about that!" A brief look of indignation flickered across her face, then she leaned toward him. "Is it for redemption? Let me help. I can help." Her voice became pleading.
He though of bloody Benjamin's parable: "'The thralldom of reward is gone—I serve God as a freedman'," and winced. He no longer felt the compulsion to verbalize every stray thought, and decided to spare himself the embarrassment of that little anecdote. "No, it's not reward or for any kind of belief, it's just... because. Because it’s the right thing to do. It's not just what I do. It's who I am now, really."
Tara changed the subject, her eyes narrowed. "Do you still love her?"
Huh? Women sure were changeable. "The Slayer?" He mulled for a moment. How much of that truth did he want to share with her? A little couldn't hurt, could it? Very well. "Back when the Hellmouth was caving in, we had this perfect moment, Buffy and I. It could never be better, and that instant... the moment's frozen in amber for me. At the time I thought I was done for—didn't have any reason to believe otherwise. Afterward, goin' to see her in Rome—and I did try, though we never connected—it seemed to be a sort of... desecration of that perfect moment. But I do have that... the one time I lived up to her expectations, perfectly.
"I wasn't a joiner to begin with. I was a poet... well, a middle-class, wanna-be Bohemian." He tried to keep self-scorn out of his voice. "I was in love with a girl right out of the top drawer—said I didn't fit in with the society she moved in. After Dru turned me, I embraced evil." What had the poet said? Rage against the dying of the light? But he hadn't raged. He embraced it.
"I wanted to be the best vampire, tear a hole in the society that'd turned its back—" William was quiet for a moment, shook his head. "When I fell in love with Buffy, it was all about her at first. Soon I could see the circle she'd surrounded herself with, and I wanted to be a part of it. I already loved her mum, and the Niblet of course, but I could see adding my strong right arm to the Slayer's cause. Some vampire, eh? That was the first time I wanted to be part of the good, even before I got the soul. Now, well, you know... it's what I do.
"So. Do I love her? Romantic love?" He'd been looking past Tara's shoulder as he spoke, and now looked at her for a long moment, entirely forgetting the point he was making. Oh, right. Buffy. Dear girl. He shrugged. "I've always loved what she stood for."
Tara gave him the gentlest of smiles, piercing him. Women were hard to figure, he thought, astounded he'd said the right thing. Still, he was grateful, if only not to have grieved her more.
He finished, "Full circle. Still not a joiner, but it was she who set my feet on the path. I work alone now." He decided to wrap this up, send Tara packing. "And you, no matter how much I love you, have no place in what I do. I don't mess with magicks—much, anyway," he amended, "—and the last few women who associated with me—hell, women or men! Charles' and Ann's boy Will..."
"I didn't know." Tara's eyes filled. "I mean, I knew she was pregnant, but he... came to you? Worked for you?"
"And died for his pains! They all died... ugly, painful deaths. Rain's woman Allie—Penelope's grandkid—was the latest. I'm not going through it again. Not seein' you go that way. And that's it."
Tara's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry, but... for a guy who 'works alone,' you sure get a lot of help. Why not me?"
He shook his head. "That's different."
"Different how?" she persisted.
"Yeah, I had help. I'm not a researcher, or a wizard, God help me. I've had a priest, a minister, and a rabbi, which sounds like the beginning of a bad joke. I've even had a whore with a heart of gold. Several of them! With the women it's different. Not a weak sister in the bunch, but how they died... Not goin' through it again. Not with you."
Tara folded her napkin with careful precision. "Well, that’s quite the pastel existence you’ve envisioned for me. Thanks."
Perhaps he could insult her? Drive her away that way? He started to say, "I didn't think that you'd ask for a pityfuc—" but before the last word was out of his mouth, she interrupted.
"I don't come to you—what's the word?—undowered." Her look was stubborn. Uncompromising.
"Tara—" It was becoming difficult to say no, when he wanted to bring her home as badly as she wanted to come.
"I'd rather show you. You'll just have to trust me."
He blurted, "What—you get a tattoo?" It was unforgivable. His head rocked back a fraction of an inch. With a tightening of her full lower lip, a tiny movement of her forearm, she "telegraphed" that she had nearly slapped him. He sat back in his seat, watching her warily.
A moment later, Mickey brought them quartered oranges and fortune cookies. William and Tara both leaned back, breathing deeply and trying to look nonchalant.
William snapped his open first, and read silently. He muttered, "No, it won't."
Tara looked alert. "Won't what? Read it to me."
With reluctance, he read, "'What you decide today will be your good fortune'."
"'In b- bed'," Tara said. Her face pinkened but her voice was positive.
William's eyes went round. "Eh?"
Mickey chuckled and said, "It's true. You're supposed to append it." He strolled away, smirking.
"'In bed'," Tara repeated, once Mickey was out of earshot. "'What you decide today will be your good fortune... in bed.'" She gave him that sly sidelong glance that used to devastate him.
"What's yours say?" He felt a slow hot smile begin, then remembered to stop. Breaking up with her, remember?
She snapped it, peeled the wrapper, and read, "'Diplomacy is the art of letting someone have your way'... in bed."
"Guess that's right enough." William twisted round in his seat. "Hey, Mickey! Where's the check?"
Mickey had been hovering nearby. He approached saying, mock-aggrieved, "Your money's no good here—you know that."
William slipped him a folded bill. "Well, I get to tip you anyway. Do me one favor? Bring us more fortune cookies. Lots more." He winked at Tara, then thought, Stop it! Why are you flirting?
Mickey unfolded the bill and grinned. "For fifty, you can have a bucketful of cookies." He hurried back to the kitchen.
William eyed Tara. "You sure you didn't witch that fortune?"
She made a "cross my heart and hope to die" gesture, while he admired the play of candlelight on the rubies above her breasts.
"I like that you're wearing those. I'd completely forgot I'd given you them, but they suit you." He reached out to finger one warm blood-red stone over her heart, then pulled back. He could hear her heart beat faster at his hand's approach. For a break-up, this wasn't going very well.
He looked down at her left hand. She still wore his mother's ring.
She caught him looking at it. "No-one believes it—not that I've told them much. Our marriage was kept secret from most of them. Anya asked me if I found it in a Crackerjack box."
Tactless bint. "She would."
Mickey brought more drinks, and a wine bucket heaped with fortune cookies. "Have fun, kids."
William eyed Mickey as he walked away. "He's, what, all of thirty? Young whelp." He snapped a second cookie and read aloud, "'You're the greatest in the world'," then added with reluctance, "in bed." The next cookie read, "'You are sociable and can get along with anyone'...in bed," and the next, "'People find it difficult to resist your persuasive manner'," he finished sourly, "in bed." Here was a way out. They'd never discussed it, but now was as good a time as— especially if he were leaving her! A final cookie read, "A half-truth is a whole lie."
Say it! "I wasn't faithful to you." He looked at the candle between them.
That should put paid to it. Sort of good to hear it said, like his girl Shawn's "go ahead and amputate." (Not that it'd saved her). He drained the mug of blood and looked down and away... only to feel Tara's light touch on her betrothal gift to him, her class ring that he still wore on a chain round his neck.
Her fingertip hooked and gently tweaked the ring. "This isn't a ring in your nose. Did you think I thought you were faithful for a hundred and twenty-two years?" Her voice was quietly scoffing and her eyes held no condemnation. "You're a passionate man. No reasonable person would expect you'd be celibate that long." Her eyes shone. "You must have been so lonely. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry? What you are is too good to be true," he muttered.
"No, I'm not! I- I wasn't faithful myself." In spite of her assertion, it was plain she was lying.
He took her hand again and this time she let him. He squeezed gently, stroking her palm with the pad of his thumb. "Bollocks. I could smell it on you if you were, and you're not. Haven't been, that is. You and Kennedy?... hugging-close. No more. Same as the lads, although you could make them rethink their sexual orientation if you'd a mind to."
Tara rolled her eyes, but blushed.
William leaned back in his seat and smiled in lascivious remembrance, rubbing her hand. "Now you and the other witch, that's another matter. You and she smelled like a Sapphic garden of delights, which old Kennedy could only dream of." It was petty of him, but a large part of him enjoyed Kennedy's thwarted hopes.
Tara's tone became tart. "Yeah, we did it a lot... when she wasn't pulling mind games on me. I'm over her, thanks to you. It's you I want." She seemed to catch herself, and lowered her voice. "If I wasn't unfaithful, it's because I had a lot on my plate. That last apocalypse kind of took all my attention."
William knew he owed her, if not an apology, at least, an explanation. He had left her holding the bag in Sunnydale, even though the second front in Cleveland, minor as it had been in the grand scheme of things, did need settling. Try telling the families of Hungerford's victims that their losses were minor.
While he was choosing his words, Tara said, "You never did say what you were doing."
He shrugged. "Doin' good. As opposed to doin' well. I'm not, very. But I kept Yoko Ono out of the neighborhood." He hooked his thumb toward Russian Hill. At her blank look, he added, "Back in the 80s." He cringed inwardly, humbled to learn he was still capable of sounding like a complete idiot. Now for a nice save. "Oh, recently, of course. I sorted out Cleveland twice. I guess Faith's got a couple of her girls on it now. Good to be home, but not for long. I keep busy. Got to."
"I'm sorry you're not happy. I am. Very. I'm not a gaping hole of need. I miss you, though." She selected another cookie, broke it apart and read aloud: "'Pleasure awaits your company'... in bed." She picked another, reading, "'You will have success as you desire'... in bed," then, "'Others admire your flexibility.'" She gave him another look from under her eyelashes. "In bed."
"That's true," William admitted. "That 'ankles over the shoulders' bit always impressed me." He compressed his lips. This break-up could be going better. It wasn't only himself he was teasing—this was making her girly parts swirl, too. Time to put a sock in this.
Tara seemed to feel his stiffening resolve, or stiffening something. She picked three more cookies and snapped them. "'Be prepared to modify your plan'," then, "'Forget yesterday: tomorrow will be a golden day for you'," and finally, "'Your dearest wish will come true'...in bed."
He shook his head. "You're witching these, I swear."
Her eyes were huge and innocent. "No, I swear. It's meant to be. I'll show you." She spoke to Mickey, who had just sidled up, "Here. Try a couple."
Mickey broke open five cookies and in quick succession read them to William: "'Everyone around you is rooting for you. Don't give up'," here he shot William an earnest look, "'You'll accomplish more later if you have a little fun this weekend'," this accompanied with a wink, "Things are often the opposite of what they seem," a sage nod, then, "'Go ahead with confidence'," and finally, "'Romance is about to blossom'."
William glared at him.
Mickey gave a shrug and a semi-apologetic half-smile, then strolled away.
William looked at Tara with suspicion. "I get it—you got your mojo workin'."
Tara shook her head. "It's not that. It's really meant to be, I promise." She had cracked half a dozen cookies and the fortunes were arranged in a little fan in front of her. She picked one up and intoned, "'You will discover the truth'."
"In bed? Got nothin' to discover. A couple of positions we never tried, but vampires got memories like elephants. 'S'what makes a soul so uniquely tormenting. Every nook an' cranny I ever plundered—"
She made a pursed mouth at him, a mother. "It was your nature—in the past. Stop brooding. You're as bad as they say Angel is." She picked up and read another, and read, "'You will be showered with luck'."
"Showered with somethin'," he said, standing. "I give in. Come on. It's all I'm good for—killin' and one other thing." He hesitated, peering at the sunshine outside. "Usually, I'd take the tunnels, but they can be dangerous—"
"I don't mind. Danger is my middle name." Tara withdrew a lacquered red chopstick from her updo, and struck an unconvincing slayerish pose.
"Yeah, right." He called out, "Mickey, will you ring up a taxicab?"
When the taxi arrived, William entered quickly, coat pulled up around his ears, and sat on the shady side, hooded back to the window. He directed the driver to his Russian Hill home.
They entered the apartment. A fire burned in the huge old stove, its isinglass windows twinkling, champagne was chilling in a bucket by the bed, and Frank Sinatra's Songs For Lovers on the record player.
William groaned. Removing one boot, he pitched it at the stereo, nailing it. Frank was abruptly silenced mid-do-be-do-be-do.
"Only one Chairman of the Headboard in here tonight." William kicked off his other boot, while Tara stood hugging herself, watching him dismantle the romantic scene laid for them.
William shut off the skipping stereo, then stalked to the foot of the bed. "What—no chocolate on the pillow?" He picked up a note and read aloud:
Eeee! I'm so happy for you!!! I love you both, and so does Gare. We'll be at the Russian River over the long weekend. No crises a-brewing, phone calls going straight to voicemail, and no-one home to overhear you —make as much noise as you want!
William lifted his eyes heavenward. "Psychics." He crumpled the note, tossing it toward the dustbin. He missed.
Tara didn't answer, her palms cupping her opposite elbows.
He waved a hand at the champagne. "You want any of this? I want a real drink."
She still didn't answer.
He lugged the champagne bucket into the kitchen, then dropped his coat and sweatshirt on a chair. Pouring himself a crystal lowball full of Glenfiddich, he sipped and promised himself a pub-crawl soon, perhaps ending in that nasty little demon bar in Oakland, just outside Emptyville. He figured by this time tomorrow, he'd be boiled as an owl, his foot up some deserving demon's ass.
William knew he couldn't let himself go with Tara. Part of the pleasure of making love to her had paradoxically been the holding back. It had been like the teasing, doling-out pleasure of bondage. This time, he would let himself cross the line. Just enough to show her she had no business with a demon.
He returned to the bedroom. She balanced on the edge of the love seat, like a bird about to take flight, her stretchy little sweater like sexual gift wrapping. Made him half-hard just looking at her. Make it nice, he thought. No! Make it nasty. Make her afraid.
He downed his drink. "Want me to build up the fire?" She had to be cold. Her nipples were prominent in the thin spandex sweater.
She shook her head, still hugging herself. Her silence was beginning to unnerve him.
He nodded. "I didn't use to like the cold, but I do now. I got a glimpse of Hell, back in LA about a century ago. I figure I'll spend eternity toasting, so I might as well enjoy the cool while I can."
Still she didn't speak.
"Want to change?" He jerked his head toward her room and its closetful of lingerie. "There's a little pink frilly—"
She spoke at last. "No little pink frilly."
"Well, then. Why don't you show me your tits?" The sound of his voice grated in his ears.
She stood fast at his approach, his old sex-on-a-stick jungle cat walk. She muttered, "The only reason I don't—"
"Don't what?" Maybe he could get her to walk out. That would solve his problem, wouldn't it?
"I'll make you eat your words. Every last crummy word." She jerked her top down, and her breasts popped out with a sumptuous jiggle. He grabbed her and captured her mouth with his. It was wide and soft and opened to his questing tongue. Her breasts crushed against his chest, and he wanted to hold her away from him, and look at and play with them, but he didn't want to let go of her. Kissing her should not be rushed. He remembered their first time, kissing.
Moaning and groping each other, they sank to the loveseat, and he knelt before her. Make it nice. He unbuckled her belt, red like her little shit-kicker boots, and pulled her jeans and knickers down to her ankles, pinioning her. She wriggled forward so he could pull them all of the way off, but he kept them on, and held her feet apart so she couldn't toe them off herself. Her knees sagged apart.
He sat back on his heels, surveying her and enjoying tantalizing her with a few moments' frustration. He'd see to her, oh yes he would.
The sweater pinned her arms at the elbow and hugged her ribcage like the corset she used to wear. She was naked from her waist to her ankles, and he ran his hands from her silky calves, up her trembling thighs, their fine blond hairs soft to his touch, and up to the neatly trimmed and waxed mound. "This is new," he said, stroking it. "One of the girlies must have taken you in hand. The Slayer?"
"Anya. We... went to a day spa in Bath."
"For that git Xander?" William kept caressing Tara's legs, feeling them tremble, enjoying her arousal, knowing her frustration would be brief.
"No, for Mr. Giles. It's been almost a year, and she has hopes—" She could barely speak above a whisper.
"Of seducing Rupert?" William hooted. His voice softened. "He's a lucky bloke." The conversation was fast becoming irrelevant, and he wanted to bring her off soon, take off the edge. "So am I." He stroked the smooth sides of her mons, his voice was as silky as her skin. "For me? You shouldn't have. I miss my natural girl, but discovering this smooth new you is just as—"
"Oh, shut up! Just— please." Tara's voice was ragged.
He crouched down and ran his tongue up her left leg from ankle to groin, circling her clit, tantalizingly close, and ran his tongue down her other leg. She wore the mark of his bite on her right upper thigh. He licked and blew on it softly, and watched goose flesh rise. And speaking of rising, his jeans were uncomfortably tight. He rose to his knees, unbuckled his belt and lowered his jeans. That was better.
He could last all night, and before he was through, she'd know it couldn't be. Wasn't meant to be. Maybe he had only to make it nice, over and over and over, until she was worn out and sleeping. He could slip out in the night, go somewhere and—
"You have only to ask." He lowered his mouth to her. Her nether lips were as swollen as her beautiful mouth, and her pussy was wet, so wet. It was a good thing, as he was big and penetration had always been a problem, at least at first. He inserted one finger in her, then two. Still licking and sucking her, she began to peak, crying Ah, ah, ah softly. She was so tight. He pulled his finger out, twisting two together and pushed them in, twisting and bumping her G-spot. He bent his fingers, pressing up, hard, and with a shout she came again with a spurt of fresh wetness. He let her float back to earth, licking her slowly.
That'd do for starters. William waited until her eyes opened and she looked up at him, half-resentful. Her temples and hair were wet. He remembered she sometimes leaked tears when she came. He could see the old look of trust she had for him was gone, but he could see the love in her eyes. Now it was his job to kill that love and send her on her way.
"Why I don't burn you down where you stand—" she muttered. Her eyes started to fill again, and she looked away from him with her jaw clenched.
"Hush. Put your mouth to good use." He raised up and finished working his jeans off, standing naked before her.
"Of all the sexist—" she began, but then breathed, "Oh my."
He sucked in a breath in anticipation.
Tara's eyes had gone round at the sight of him, and she sank to her knees and took him in her mouth. "I hope I remember..." she mumbled around his thickness, before slowly sucking him a third of the way in.
"'S'like riding a bicycle... Oh, Tara." He closed his eyes and was lost in incredible sensation: warmth, suction, and the feel of her teeth scraping the underside of his cock. He was too long for her to take him all of the way in, but she held the base, squeezing hard, like he'd shown her during their time together. He nearly came from the feel of her, the delicious slippery friction, and steadied himself with his hands upon her shoulders.
"Tara... stop." Was he insane? No, but he had a conceit about not coming right away, and not only that, he didn't want to shoot in her mouth. He also knew if she kept it up, he'd be only so much putty in her hands. Hers to command. "Tara. Puppy. Please stop."
She slowed but did not stop, sucking harder.
William was close. He began to babble, "I don't want— I don't want to—" and with a superhuman effort, pulled himself out. He started to spurt, ropes of white come shooting toward her face. She took it on the chin, eyes closed, breathing hard, and licking the underside of his cock, sucked his still-hard member into her mouth once more.
"No, precious. This is supposed to be for you, not me." With aching regret he pulled himself away from her, and took her in his arms. "I'm sorry, my girl. Tara, I know you'll wind up regretting this, but the way I feel right now, there's about an even chance you can talk me into anything. So let go and let me do this for you."
Her moist eyes filled and she hugged him hard, leaking tears against his neck. He held her with as much gentleness as he could muster, wanting to bite and plunder her as he did. He pulled away and finished undressing her. With real regret he unclasped the ruby necklace, admiring the contrast of blood red stones against pearly skin, the gold borrowing warmth from her body. She unhooked the earrings and they clattered to the table alongside the necklace. William sat her down on the loveseat, pulling her jeans and boots off.
He pulled her to the edge of the loveseat, her bottom half-hanging off its edge, her back almost flat along its seat. Her head propped against its back, she watched him, legs spread, as he ran the head of his cock over her pussy lips, up and down and around the clit. She licked her lips as she watched; it took all his self control not to plunge into her. As he teased her stiffened clit, she began to pant, feeling her own breasts. He knew that when aroused, she liked them handled roughly, with deep kneading, so he did, first squeezing the nipples into hard nubs. She gasped with pleasure.
He just had to taste them. Still teasing her opening, he lay along her, kissing her throat and gently biting it, then squeezing and suckling her breasts. He badly wanted to bite her, but this was going to be for her alone. He licked the scar he'd made from his first bite. She moaned, her hips nudging him into her slick opening. He pushed the tip of his cock into her tightness, and she gasped the first time it went in. He eased in and out several times, Tara panting and moving against him. He thought it must be uncomfortable for her, but she had told him once that his size and the pain it caused was a big part of her pleasure.
She dug her nails into his buttocks and urged him deeper, but he held back; grabbing her wrists and holding them above her, stretching along her upper body, joined at the hips only by the big cock head pushing in and out of her opening. She writhed underneath him, one leg snaking around his and trying to pull him in deeper, and he finally gave in. He rose to his knees, kneeling in front of her splayed out on the loveseat, and let her wrap her legs around him, pulling him in deeper.
William gritted his teeth and tried to simply enjoy the view. He wasn't used to dissociating himself from his sex partners, not that there had been many in recent years. Tara had said she'd forgiven him for the few lovers he’d taken, but he hadn't forgiven himself. He looked down at her, watching the play of expression on her face, trying to ignore the sensations of his beautiful girl working herself on his cock. He could see her eyes narrowed in bliss, then wincing in pain—no doubt the pain of his rejection of her. Then an expression of hope his words had given her—you can talk me into anything, and her trying to lose herself in her own sensations. He slowed the movement of his caressing hands, trying to communicate to her the love he didn't want to put into words. No use leading the poor girl on, but if this was to be their goodbye, he would make it a memorable one.
Gasping and groaning, Tara was working her way through one minor climax after another, building up to thermonuclear meltdown, but it eluded her. She was coming, but whimpering with frustration at the same time. It was near impossible to continue holding back as half his cock was squeezed by her clenching inner muscles; he was panting too, and didn't know how much longer he could hold out.
Tara rose up from the loveseat, half-impaled upon him, and toppled him backwards. She worked her way down upon him, rising and sinking slowly, as he watched her, enchanted.
William could hold out forever at this change, content to watch her ride him deliciously. His hands roamed over her, stroking her back, kneading her beautiful breasts, fingering her as she rose and fell on his slick length. His own orgasm waited like a coiled snake, but it could be delayed as long as she needed him.
She bounced on him, harder and harder. He was buried nearly all of the way in her, and it had to hurt her. He tried to hold her hips and slow her down, thinking to bring her off with the pad of his thumb, but she was having none of it. He rolled them over and worked them toward the bed. She wrestled with him but moved with him, too. At the bottom of the bed, he pulled out, making them both groan, and set her on its edge. Again he rose to his knees and buried himself in her.
Tara lay back and looked at him with the old look of love, and damaged trust. There was something more there, something William didn't stop to analyze. Some lovely gift—a surprise for him? He couldn't bear disappointing her, and realized that the time had come to lose himself in the moment, and her. He fucked her across the bed to the headboard. Still, her huge orgasm eluded her. The loss of trust was a joykiller in more ways than one. At this rate he'd open his box of sex toys soon. He redoubled his efforts to please her. He'd meant what he said—he'd do anything, even let her stay, but he couldn't tell her that.
He slowed down, moving against her and grinding his pubic bone into hers. With a sharp cry of frustration, Tara reached up and grabbed the twisted metal bars of the wrought-iron headboard. She pushed back against the headboard, to have him more deeply.
With a clanging crack, the headboard broke.
William stilled all movement. A thousand ideas were at war within him, all clamoring to break loose, but all he could think to say was, "When were you plannin' on telling me you'd become a Slayer?"