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Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by TalesofSpike
Chapter 2.07
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Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support. Thanks also to Lori for stepping in again when I started to panic because of delays in reaching Chris. Of course, Murphy's Law being what it is they both replied within a minute of each other.


So what happens now?
(Another suitcase in another hall)
So what happens now?
(Take your picture off another wall)
Where am I going to?
(You'll get by, you always have before)
Where am I going to?
(Don't ask anymore)

(Barbara Dickson, Lyrics and Music by T Rice and A Lloyd Webber
[I know. I know. I'm eternally sorry but the lyrics kind of fit.])

Chapter 2.07
Friday, May 17th, 2002

Tara looked at the meagre pile of trash bags and boxes that were arrayed on the front porch of the house. Considering that Willow had lived there for almost a year, she really didn't have much that was her own. Or was it that she was prepared to let whoever was around her provide for her? The Wiccan chided herself for the ungracious thought.

She caught sight of a corner of fabric peeking out of the top of one of the bags and picked it up, carrying it back into the house. She had felt when she moved out before that it would have been petty to strip the comforter that she'd brought from her original dorm room from the bed. She had been moving into single accommodation. Now that she would be in need of double bedding again, it wasn't like she could afford to simply replace it.

Her mother's will had provided a small trust fund that was helping to pay her way through college, but it only went so far and, unlike Willow, Tara was going to be left with some hefty loans to pay off by the time she finished college. Her father had made it clear that he didn't hold with wasting money on a college education when she would be getting married soon enough. Until then, there was work enough around the house that needed doing, or so he had asserted.

She'd packed her things and left anyway. He hadn't bothered to stop her. Tara was sure it was because he thought she would be forced to go crawling back sooner or later. After the revelations of her twentieth birthday Tara had known that, come what may, she would never go back to the town where she'd been born and raised, or any other town like it.

She opened up the front door and called out to let the others know she was there, before her eye was caught by an array of items that were spread out on the stairs.

"We're in here!" Dawn called back from the living room, where she and Anya were sorting through the contents of a couple of cardboard boxes that Spike and Buffy had brought from his apartment.

"Buffy's." The girl pulled out a couple of candles from one of the boxes and added them to one of several rapidly growing piles.

Anya on the other hand sorted through a stack of books she had next to her. "Giles, Giles, Giles, pre-Giles, Giles, pre-Giles, present from Tara, Giles, Giles, Giles."

"What's with all the stuff on the stairs?" Tara asked, putting her bags down on the floor.

"It's for you. In case you leave before Buffy and Spike get back." Dawn answered, leaving Tara almost more puzzled by her explanation than the lack of one.

Spotting her confusion, Dawn continued. "Spike says he can't have anyone being a bad influence on me and riding a motorcycle without wearing the proper gear. This from the guy who refuses to wear a helmet. He said, since me and Buffy were a couple of stick figures, you wouldn't be able to borrow our leathers but that our 'heads were likely big enough' that you might be able to borrow one of our helmets.

Anyway, he left his duster for you to try, and the biker's jacket and the other helmet are Brandon's. I checked with him. He's cool if you need to borrow anything of his. Spike had them in the trunk of the car from when he picked them up from The Bronze. Basically, help yourself to whatever fits best, and if neither of the jackets fit, Spike left two hundred and fifty bucks for Wes to take you to the bike shop before you head to LA. And he said to make sure you knew that he'd 'have your guts for garters', if you dared go any further than the bike shop without proper gear. And what the heck does that actually mean? Are garters something else in England or is he really threatening to use your insides for women's underwear? 'Cause the idea of Spike in stockings and a garter belt is just weird, even if they are made of entrails, and he couldn't make Buffy wear them, well, not ones made from anyone's guts.

Anyway... Congratulations! I think you've officially joined the ranks of 'Spike's women'. Prepare to be harassed at frequent intervals by an over-protective vamp."

Tara shook her head. "No, I'm sure it's just like he said. He doesn't want to have me setting a bad example for you... And I couldn't take his money anyway."

Dawn tossed her hair. "Yeah, right. He went out... without... his... duster... Spike. Outside. No duster. Think about it. On the off-chance that it might fit you better than Brandon's jacket.

You might as well just go and change your name by deed poll to either Summers or Giles, because like it or not, I'd say you've been adopted... sis."

Tara opened her mouth to argue, but realised there really wasn't much she could say. Instead, she moved onto the next most obvious question. "So where are Spike and Buffy?"

Dawn gave an evil smirk. "At the mall. Shopping for Rogue. Come see the stuff I picked out for her on the store's web site. Good job we never got round to shifting Spike's PC to his apartment. I wish I could've gone with them, but Buffy said resting did not mean going to the mall. I mean she had me helping clear Willow's stuff out all morning, but I suppose it means I get out of carrying, but I wish I could see Spike's face."

"Em, weren't they worried that Willow might turn up when they were gone?"

"Phht!" Anya's snort of derision was loud and clear. "That would mean she would have to do something for herself. Why would she do that when she can rant at Xander for half an hour about not telling her about the curse and then turn round and get him to borrow one of the vans from work and move her in his lunch hour? ...Which he could have spent with me, on my day off." Then the former demon seemed to calm down slightly. "But he did tell her that he wasn't coming to get her last night, and he said she couldn't stay with us, not that any of you aren't welcome to stay at our apartment any time you need to, just not to move in."

"And they took the dog?" Tara asked.

"Well, Buffy said it was the only way that they'd find out how much they should be feeding her, and it'd be easier to pick a basket and stuff.

Oh, and this is for you." Dawn picked up the front one of three almost identical envelopes that were propped up on the mantelpiece. "They came in this morning's mail. Oh, Spike's fake papers came earlier, too. It's so not fair. He even looks cute on his passport photos."

"The pet store is that way," Buffy said, tugging at Spike's arm. "Even the dog knows where it's going better than you."

"We've got somewhere else to go first. Trust me. That bitch of Finn's made my girl feel like a freak. We're going to get her something that'll make her feel like she's a girl again, and a damn special one at that."

"And the puppy doesn't tell her she's special?"

"Well, she needs a necklace and some earrings to go with that dress you bought her, and a purse." Spike pulled up in front of a jeweller's store that Buffy had never even dared to set foot in and began to peruse the window display. Within seconds he had seen what he wanted.

"Those." He pointed at a simple set of diamond studs in a cylindrical white gold setting that came with a matching pendant. "What do you think?"

"They're beautiful. She'll love them."

Spike could feel the smallest hint of disappointment that Buffy was unable to contain emanating from his mate, even though she was happy for her sister.

"Look, love, another time I'll get you somethin' real nice. I promise. I know it's kind of crass bringing you here to help me pick this sort of stuff for your sister and I wouldn't normally do it without getting' you somethin' as well. It would just sort of defeat the purpose of the exercise if the Niblet ended up feelin' like she got the consolation prize."

"It's fine, Spike. Really. Besides, I think maybe you just found my 'something borrowed'."

"You're sure?"

She stood on tiptoe to kiss his lips as his answer, letting him feel how much she loved his concern and thoughtfulness regarding her sister. "I think it's a great idea, not that extravagant gifts are going to cut it on their own. It's going to take time and patience, but I think it's a nice touch."

"What about a watch? Does she have a proper watch? She can't be wearin' some stupid Swatch thing with that dress."

Buffy smiled. "Mom had one that'll fit with them, a vintage one, with marcasite around the face and on the band. So, if you want to spoil her then just admit it. Don't blame the dress."

"Well, she'd probably like the idea of having something of Joyce's."

"And I just happen to have this diamanté purse back at home."

"So, if we get those, then she's sorted."

"If that means that she'll have everything that she needs, then yeah. Come on, or Willow and Xander will be turning up before we get back. And if Dawn keeps running that smart mouth of hers, then Willow will probably turn her into a toad or something."

The disdainful looks, that most of the assistants gave the blonde duo as they walked into the shop with their chained mongrel, lasted right up until the point where they caught a glimpse of the ring that Buffy was wearing. By then the blond vamp had already decided that the young girl who had actually made an effort to greet them as they entered the store would be the recipient of any commission that was to be made on the sale. He stated what he wanted, making it patently clear from his description of the pieces in question that he knew at least as much about their business as the sombre-suited salesmen.

"Perhaps the lady would like to try them on before you buy them," one of the suits asked ingratiatingly whilst the girl was busy removing the jewellery from the window, obviously hoping to share in the sale.

"The lady probably would, but seein' as the lady in question doesn't happen to be here, then it'd be a bit difficult now, wouldn't it?" Spike practically snarled at the suddenly obliging man. "Now, if you'd be so kind as to excuse us, Miss Seymour was attending to our needs, and will be attending to all our future needs for as long as she continues to be employed here."

He smiled sweetly at Buffy. "You know, pet," he continued loudly enough for the staff to hear. "We're really supposed to buy gifts for all the bridesmaids, too. I don't suppose we have time today, but maybe we should check what days next week Miss Seymour will be here."

By the time the pair left five minutes later, Buffy was having a hard time restraining her giggles. "You are such an inverted snob," she accused the vampire.

"Well. Snotty buggers assumed that just because we haven't got a proper lead for our mutt an' we're wearin' jeans instead of Armani crap that we've got no money and don't know our arse from our elbow. Sod them. Least the bint was willing to speak to us before she saw what was on your left hand."

"So are we really going back next week?"

"Don't see why not. Do you?"

"So we tell her it's out of stock."

"She'll never believe you."

"I am not going to be seen walking the mutt when it's wearing that." The vampire picked up a glittery purple dog collar, holding it at arm's length as if he could catch something from it. "All the other dogs'll laugh at her, never mind if I meet another vamp."

"So buy both and swap when you take her out." Buffy passed him a heavy black leather collar with shiny studs and a nameplate after checking its size in comparison with the dog's neck. "I like it actually."

"You would." Spike tossed the purple collar into the bottom of their shopping cart, nudging a sack of dried kibble so that it fell over on top of it. He swiftly added a proper choke chain and also a black extendable lead for once the puppy was better trained. The cart was overflowing and Buffy thought that it would take both their supernatural strengths to get everything back to the car in one trip. "An' try an' keep the mutt away from the trolley. At least let us get the stuff through the till before she chews it."

Spike managed to stop complaining for a full ten yards. "Where's that book?" the vampire asked. Buffy pulled a volume entitled 'So you own a puppy' from the front end of the cart and flicked to the page listing all the paraphernalia necessary for a young dog, ticking off the various items that filled the cart. All that was left was to visit the engraving bar and get a couple of tags and the collar done. "An' no, before you ask, we're not getting' the ones that are shaped like a bone."

Buffy simply smiled at the vamp's brusque act as he felt his manly image was under threat. "Actually, I was going to ask what name we should put on the tags. Summers 'cause it's Dawn's or Giles 'cause we'll be the ones paying all the bills? Or both?"

The vampire had to deliberately force down the grin that decorated his face at Buffy's casual use of the pronoun 'we' in relation to his new name.

"If it'll fit, you might as well stick Maclay on there as well, pet. Way I see it, there might be three names, but it's one family. Was thinkin' you might want to look at doin' the same with the mailbox as well. Sort of let people know where things stand."

"Let Tara know where she stands, you mean?"

"That too."

"Ah! 'These are my women. Mess with them and deal with me.'"

"Anything wrong with that?"

"I prefer 'This is our family. Mess with one, deal with us all.'"

"So you're saying you want Bit and Glinda getting pulled into our fights?"

"Okay. 'This is our family. Mess with them, deal with us.'" Buffy's eyes sparkled with laughter. She couldn't help it. A weaker woman might have felt overpowered by the protectiveness that Spike displayed. She knew that while the vampire's nature made him assume the role of patriarch, if it were necessary, or even if she simply wanted it that way, he'd follow her lead instead. It didn't threaten her or stifle her as she'd occasionally felt stifled by Angel. It comforted her and gave her a security she hadn't felt since her mom first became seriously ill.

"Too right." Spike leaned forward as Buffy smiled up at him. Only his lips touched hers, but she felt a series of tremors pass through her whole body at the emotion that lingering, tender touch managed to convey. Likewise, Spike would never admit it, but when they parted, his grip on the shopping cart was playing no small part in hiding his own unsteadiness.

Tara looked at the other two women dubiously.

"You look good. You know, I don't know why I never realised that you and Spike are the same height," Dawn admitted.

"It's one of those personality things." Anya announced. "Spike is always trying to overcome his basic insecurities with the whole bravado thing, and he does have charisma to spare, so he comes across as being larger than life. Whereas Tara chooses to be pretty quiet. Then, there's the whole male personal space being bigger than women's personal spaces. It's all just psychology. You do know that for the era he was brought up in, Spike would actually have been quite tall. Angel on the other hand would have been a massive freak. It's only really after the Second World War with the improvements in nutrition over the last few decades that the average height has risen considerably. And of course Tara does wear slightly higher heels."

"So you're saying Spike isn't really a short-ass?" Dawn asked.

"Even up to about a decade ago, he would have been classed as average height. It's just one of those things about being over a century old."

"What if said heels catch in the hem?" Tara tried to shift the conversation back onto its original subject. "He'd kill me if I rip it."

"You have his keys. Why not take his hog for a spin round the block and see?" Dawn suggested. "If you think there's a problem, there's always the money, and since I can hear Spike's pile of junk pulling in, I think you'll be leaving with one or the other."

Anya squinted against the late-morning sun to make out the shape of Xander's car parked in the driveway. "Oh crap! That isn't Spike and Buffy. That's Xander and it looks like he's driving Miss Daisy."

The two women who were sitting on the floor sifted through the last few items in the boxes somewhat faster than they had been doing and then began to heap Anya's 'pre-Giles' pile into one of the boxes. In just a handful of seconds the last of Willow's things were ready. Tara meanwhile made a quick check to ensure that the bag she had brought in didn't have anything of Willow's in it.

Dawn rose to her feet. "I'll take it." She stooped to pick up the box.

"No, Dawn. I'll do it." Tara insisted, taking it from her. "If resting doesn't include going to the mall, it certainly doesn't include getting in an argument with a potentially unstable and very powerful witch."

Dawn let Tara take the box, but when the honey blonde exited the front door the teenager was straight behind her and Anya right behind that.

"Shouldn't you still be at work, honeylamb?" she asked her husband. Dawn meanwhile was trying her best to see if that thing about looks killing was another one of those things that worked differently on the Hellmouth. Willow meanwhile was only interested in Tara.

"Well, I got to feeling kind of guilty about last night, and I took the rest of the day off. I figured even if we had to make a couple of trips by car rather than just one with the van, since there wouldn't be any furniture or anything, it wouldn't be a problem, and then we could help Willow set up."

"We?" Anya asked.

"What?" the man asked obviously confused.

"You said we could help Willow set up?"

"Well, I figured you've got the day off too and you said that moving was a friend thing."

"Yes, Xander, but I don't count people who treat me and my loved ones as if our lives are theirs to manipulate and who have a reckless disregard for the safety of those around them, not to mention the rest of the world, as my friend."

"Ahn." Xander moved forward and took Anya by the elbow drawing her toward the side of the house.

"You're not helping her, you know," his wife informed him.

"That's the whole point. No one is helping her. Everyone is treating her like she did something unforgivable. Don't you think that curse of Evie's is punishment enough?"

"Xander, she did do something unforgivable. Do you know how unpredictable these time spells can be? Don't you understand chaos theory? Once you take time back even a few minutes there are so many things, tiny little details that can change and affect thousands, millions of people's lives that you just don't do it without good reason."

"And Dawn isn't good reason?"

"No one person would ever be good reason. And I'm talking about minutes, she wanted days. She's like a toddler playing with a nuclear bomb.

She's manipulated you into helping her even though you know you've had too much time off work lately. Your boss is going to start thinking you're undependable and you won't get that promotion you wanted and it'll be her fault. She uses people and even if she's using psychology to do it rather than magic it'll still be picked up by the curse. The effect might not be so profound but it will still be there. The more you let her manipulate you, the worse you're making her because as long as you let her get away with it she'll keep doing it."

"Anya, Willow is my friend. I am going to help her, even if you won't. End of story."

"Fine. But are you helping her because she's your friend, or because she made you feel guilty?"

"What sort of question is that?"

"The sort of question a wife asks when she sees her husband being taken advantage of, when she's worried about him being hurt, and when she knows that he'll go ahead anyway whatever she thinks." Anya turned and went into the house through the nearby back door closing it firmly behind her.

"You know, at first when Buffy got together with Spike I was a bit worried, but she seemed happy, so I left it." Willow addressed her softly spoken words only to Tara, ignoring the teenager who stood beside the blonde on the porch.

"Then, there was all the trouble with Xander. Next thing I know, Spike's turned you all against me. Don't you see, because we're her oldest friends he thinks we're a threat and he's trying to cut us out of the picture? As soon as he thinks you're a threat, you'll be gone, too."

"Willow, don't." Tara's voice was firm.

"I'm just trying to explain."

"No, Willow. You're trying to shift the blame. You aren't a threat to his relationship with Buffy. Even before they made the claim you could see it in their auras. They belong together and if you or Xander choose not to see that, all you will do is drive a wedge between you and Buffy. If Spike has influenced Buffy in this at all, he's done it with her interests and Dawn's in mind."

"And yours. I see Buffy wasn't the only one to get a new leather coat."

Dawn could contain herself no longer. Tara wasn't going to resolve anything with the former redhead today and the teenager felt she was due her say. "That is so much B.S. Are you really deluding yourself that there's some sort of conspiracy against you, or are you just feeding Xander that line so he keeps thinking you're the same poor, little, victimised Willow that he knew in first grade? Spike has never been anything but fair to you. Well, not for years anyway.

The only reason you don't get it is that you've never cared more about anybody else in your entire life than you care about yourself. If Spike treats Tara like she's family, it's because she is. He knows she loves me and Buffy just as much as if we were blood-related. He knows that she'll be there for us when we need her because that's what family does. That's enough for him to give part of his heart to her. He would have done the same for you, but not only were you too busy with your little power trip to notice that anyone else might be in trouble, you put the rest of us in danger. He knows that Willow's first priority is always Willow.

You never had a real family and you don't understand the concept. Families are meant to look after each other, even when it's hard for them. From what I heard, you tried to say that you wanted to do that spell to save me from what happened. If you really cared about me then you wouldn't have been trying to undo it, you would have been trying to help me get over it, and not with magic or quick fixes, but with long-term support and long-term care. You just didn't want to be looking at me and still feeling guilty tomorrow, never mind years from now. Not that you'd remember to be guilty for long. When you broke my arm, as soon as my cast came off, you thought everything between us should be back to normal. The minute there wasn't a physical reminder of how you hurt me I was supposed to be being petty not to welcome you with open arms.

You didn't get that you betrayed our trust, and just when we were thinking maybe we could begin to trust you, you did it again. I'm not talking about all this 'end of the world' messing with time, either. You used black magic. You knew if Tara found out it would break her heart and you did it anyway. You hurt my family. You saved Brandon, and I guess I should thank you for that, and I would, if it wasn't for the fact it was your arrogance that got him shot in the first place.

The blame for all this lies squarely on your own shoulders and if I hear you or even hear of you trying to say that it's Spike's fault ever again, I will make sure that Buffy knows that as far as I am concerned, you are never to set foot in this house."
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