Note: Thanks to my beta t_geyer for her unending patience, perseverance and support.
SECTION 2 - ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL
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.])
PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS THE SECOND CHAPTER I HAVE POSTED TODAY (BST). I HAVE POSTED THIS ONE EARLY AS I EXPECT TO BE BUSY TOMORROW MORNING, SO PLEASE CHECK YOU HAVE READ CHAPTER 2.16 (WHERE ROSA AND BRANDON MEET) BEFORE YOU READ THIS ONE.
Saturday, May 18th, 2002
"I so need a shower." Buffy pulled a strand of mud splattered hair down in front of her eyes. Their patrol, after they had dropped off Brandon at his father's house, had proved to be considerably more detrimental to her clothing than their encounter at the bus station earlier that evening.
"Uh-huh." Spike agreed with her, but it didn't deter him from continuing to hold one very muddy hand in his own rather cleaner one.
"You could at least have helped."
"I held your coat. I'm still holding your coat. And with the cheering... I like to think I gave you some very constructive advice."
"Well, maybe if I'd known what goolies were and my feet hadn't been mired in nine inches of mud, then I could have kicked him in them."
"I did everything but wave pom-poms. 'Sides if I'd joined you in all that mud neither of us would have ended up bothered about catching our semi-aquatic friend... And I can definitely help with the shower thing."
"Gross. What is it with men and icky stuff?"
"So the idea of me all wet and slippery does nothing for you?"
"Soapy bubbles slippery? Maybe. Stinky, muddy slippery? That's just stinky."
"Not even a little bit?" Spike's lower lip curved into a slight pout.
"Can it, id-boy. You are not going to get me all hot and bothered when my two hundred dollar boots are oozing mud out of the seams and making squelching noises every time I move. And I smell."
"C'mon, love. You could be encased in Fyarl snot and smell like beef dripping and I'd still want you. At least it's not as bad as the smell of those veggie burgers you used to cook."
"I didn't think we told you about the burgers."
"What didn't you tell me about the burgers?"
"That they were veggie."
"Puh-lease. I have got a nose." He half-towed her the last few yards before the turn for the path leading to the front door.
"But Willow analysed them and everything. We thought they were human."
Spike snorted his amusement. "I suppose on the Hellmouth stranger things have happened, but it really didn't occur to you to ask the one person you know who could tell you exactly what human flesh smells like. I spent hours next to those bloody vents waitin' for you to sneak out the back. I think if they were servin' up long pig, I might just have mentioned it to you... after I emptied the freezers. If nothing else it might have got you to quit."
"Hey. It's not my fault we weren't big with the talking."
Spike gave her a quizzical look.
"Okay, yes, it was my fault we weren't big with the talking."
As they approached the front door Spike seemed to slow. "Look, love. Why don't you head on upstairs and get in the shower, rinse off what you can and then run yourself a nice, hot bath with plenty of bubbles?"
"I thought you were volunteering for back scrubbing duty?" It was Buffy's turn to pout.
"Let's just say that something came up... other than the obvious. Leave the door from the bedroom open and if I don't come up before you finish, I'll just be out back."
"I'm guessing this isn't a slayer something?" Buffy almost whispered.
"Not an ooglie-booglie in sight, but if I haven't got it sorted by the time you get out the bath, it might turn out to be a Buffy something."
"You need a kiss for luck?" she asked, even as she raised herself up on tiptoe.
"Always." Spike's hands cupped her face unmindful of the mud splatters that adorned it, as he drew her into a deep and tender kiss, still tinged with the copper of her very special blood. Spike pulled his keys from his pocket and opened up the front door for her, draping her coat over the banister at the bottom of the stairs before he backed out of the door, pulling it gently closed between them and finally breaking their locked gazes.
"Hey, sweet pea." Spike took a seat on the back step of the porch leaving about a foot gap between him and the girl with the red-rimmed eyes and tear-damp cheeks.
He glanced briefly in her direction before gazing off into the darkness as he spoke, giving her the privacy to cry or pull herself together as she wished. "It's the quiet times that get you. When there's people around and stuff to do, you can pretty much lose yourself. I mean, you don't really forget, not for more than a couple of minutes at a time, but you can pretend you do." He pulled out his pack of cigarettes, looking to the girl for permission before he lit one. Then, after a second's consideration he held the pack out, quick to play the gentleman and raise his lighter to the tip when Tara accepted one and put it to her lips.
She coughed slightly as she took the first deep breath into her lungs, but with the second she blew a series of delicate smoke rings that drifted off and upward into the night sky widening as they moved away from them until they dissolved into nothing.
"How did you know?" she asked, tilting the hand that held the cigarette to demonstrate what she meant.
Spike shrugged. "Father like that, make any kid with a lick of spunk like what you've got want to rebel a bit, but you're not the type to do anythin' hurtful. So smoking, maybe a bit of pot, nicking that brother's bike and clearing out for the day to leave them to wash their own skivvies an' cook their own dinner. I mean that's why you learned, isn't it? The only way you could get out of that house free and clear where he couldn't find you. 'M I right?"
"That obvious, huh?" Tara gave him a watery smile.
"That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger. You're one of the strongest people I know. And the most wonderful thing about you is you never let it make you hard. I bet your mother must have been really something."
Tara's smile softened. "She was. I mean, my father he tried to break her, to curb the demon as he called it, but she never let him. She was beautiful."
"An' so's her daughter." Spike shuffled a little closer and brushed away the last traces of her tears with the ball of his thumb, using his clean hand. "I meant what I told junior tonight. All you girls are special, but if we're talking on a straight personality thing, much as I love Buffy you outshine her by far. You know who you are and what you believe in. You have a purity to you that should drive a demon like me to despair, but instead I can't help but love you for it. I took a beatin' for the Niblet that time, but what you gave up was far worse an' yet people seem to forget about it. Great wet sod that I am, you remind me of me mum. An' in a way that's what this all comes down to, your mum, Joyce, mine maybe if Buffy's right, and Red's."
Tara gave the vampire a curious glance. "I don't get you."
"Red turning out like she did. There was bugger all you could do to stop it. The behaviour patterns were all coded in way before you arrived on the scene.
The only thing her parents ever told her was bad was coming second in anything instead of first. They never paid attention to anything she did unless it was shoved under their noses, so she was never punished for anything, hence the idea that cookies make everything better and if you can hide the evidence then no one needs to know if you screw up. She was only ever praised for excelling at things. It's no wonder when she got into magic that all she could think about was learning to be the most powerful witch around. It never even occurred to her that magic's different from chemistry or physics, that you can know too much and not enough at the same time.
They never let her close. They never loved her the way your mum loved you, or Joyce loved Buffy an' the Niblet. An' so she never really learned about being happy because you can make the ones you love happy. Her only happiness was in pleasing herself an' she never hurt for them or got hurt by them, because one way an' another, it's the people you love that hurt you the most.
So, when dog-boy upped an' left, she just didn't have a clue. She couldn't see that these things just have to be borne one day at a time, so she tried to make it go away. An' she's never changed. Whenever anything hurts she just tries to magic it better. An' if you ask me that's why she brought Buffy back. It's just that she's got so damn powerful there's nothing much as could stop her these days.
Factor in Harris and the fact that the stupid wanker basically let her do his thinking for him for eighteen years till Anya appeared on the horizon, and I'll admit that Buffy probably helped that along a bit, too, so that she thought she had the god given right to make decisions for everyone because they're just stupid sheep and she's the shepherd an' you have her benevolent dictator syndrome covered, or theoretically benevolent anyway.
As soon as she picked up her first magic book, it was a foregone conclusion that one day she'd push things too far."
Tara obviously considered most of what he had said, but balked at the last statement. "I don't know. It changed after the resurrection spell. She changed."
"Consequences, pet. There's always consequences. You ask something huge like you guys did and the price is goin' to be huge as well, but Red was too damn sure of herself to believe that."
"Maybe I should have talked her out of it." Tara looked guiltily at the vampire, knowing that if she had he would never have found the happiness that was now his. "Maybe I should have told Giles."
Spike gave her a rueful half smile. "I have every faith in you, pet, but with the best will in the world you couldn't have stopped her. She'd have been out with the Tabula Rasa crap as soon as she thought you weren't on side. An' selfish bugger that I am, now that Buffy's back and happy, I can't say I'm too fussed about what Red's set herself up for. I mean there was a couple of times when I knew where Buffy'd been, an' she was stuck in that bloody awful job, an' I just couldn't seem to get through to her, that I would have quite happily strung the bitch up for bringing her back and then ignorin' her like she did. But now she seems to be happy."
"She is happy, you know. And it's because of you. I mean the stuff with Dawn and you being kidnapped and everything, it all gets to her, but her aura. You can tell that she's basically content, more than content."
"Well, I guess, if it's workin', then this frog's goin' to have to keep doin' his damnedest to convince her he's actually a prince."
"Or maybe we all need to convince the prince he isn't a frog," Tara responded.
Spike shook his head and drew deeply on a cigarette that had half burned down unnoticed between his fingers while he talked. "I try not to kid myself, pet. I'm not a good man, and she deserves way better than I can give her, but I think I have it in me to make her happy an' if that's all I do for the rest of her life, then maybe I won't have made such a hash of things after all."
"Don't you see? If Willow had cared a quarter as much about making me happy as you care about making Buffy happy, then we probably wouldn't be having this discussion."
"Probably not, puss cat, but I happen to think that the reason you an' Red didn't make it, other than her obvious character flaws, is that all them goddesses of yours have someone special in mind for you, but it just isn't their time, yet."
"And why would you think that?"
"Because it would be a sin to put someone as loving and beautiful as you in this world and then not give her someone who can really appreciate her." The vampire placed a chaste kiss on the girl's forehead.
"Now, how do you fancy washing the taste of that cigarette out of your mouth with some cocoa? I'm led to believe that there's some chemical in chocolate that's the same as your brain produces when you're happy, so not only does it taste nice but it's medicinal, too."
Tara looked over at the vampire, as she rose to her feet letting him slip an arm around her shoulders to guide her back into the house. "Did you have little sisters when you were growing up?"
Spike shook his head. "Only child. Father died when I was young and after that there was just me and mother. She never remarried. If I had had though, I'd have wanted one like you and one like Bit, a dove and a wild thing, both with hearts as big as the sky."
"Did anyone ever tell you that you've got the soul of a poet?" Tara asked.
Spike smirked at the irony of the comment. "No, love, I don't think they ever did."
Buffy looked round the room that had been hers for years. It looked so different with her mother's furniture instead of hers. Tara's knick-knacks, few as they were, adorned the room's surfaces and the blankets that Buffy had covered the windows with had finally been taken down when the sun dropped behind the houses opposite. It had taken them all most of the day, barring a couple of hours for the visit to the tailor and for Spike's coiffure, but now everyone was in their new homes.
"Seems strange, doesn't it?" the Wiccan asked, nodding not only to what was now her room, but also the house across the street. Some phone calls to determine which stores actually sold beds and other basic furniture from stock rather than ordering them in, had resulted in some rushed shopping on Wes's part before he was due to drop off the U-haul trailer at their nearest branch, but he now had most of the basics covered. There hadn't been anything arranged the previous night, but somehow everyone from the two houses and later Brandon, too, had ended up pulling together, first to get Wes settled in, then to move Buffy's things into the master bedroom and get Tara's things from the dorm.
Spike had sent Buffy out with Wes on one of his trips to pick up a bookcase and a desk and chair for Tara's room as a surprise gift, mindful of the fact that the Wiccan's end of year exams must be fast approaching and she would need a proper place to study. The desk she had found had a matching chair and a tooled, maroon, leather top, which had obviously been lovingly cared for as not a single blemish marred its surface despite its age. It was made from a rich dark wood that matched her mother's bed. Once, it had graced the office of the local bank manager, before homogeneity became the order of the day and it was sold off simply because it didn't tie in with the latest theme. It was a little on the large side and the room seemed slightly overcrowded but homey as a result. She had had to settle for a plain pine bookcase, but she thought the Wiccan would prefer the natural material to a more finished looking product made of melamine. Actually, she knew that she could have brought back a wooden orange box for the girl to store her books in and Tara would have been pleased at their thoughtfulness, which was part of why Buffy was so pleased to find something like the desk which she knew the Wicca would love.
Funnily enough, even though Buffy and Wes had been the ones to unpack the furniture from the trailer Tara had known without asking, exactly whose idea the gift had been, and the first of many tearful hugs had been for her freshly bleached and trimmed male housemate.
"Good strange, I hope," Wes commented as he and Spike made their way back into the room each carrying several cans of soda, which were swiftly passed out between the room's occupants though Spike didn't bother.
"Definitely good strange," Buffy answered for all of them before moving to stand where Spike could wrap his arms around her like an animated stole. "For the first time since mom died, it seems like we're a family. All of us." Her gaze rested on Tara in particular and Spike's arms tightened into a hug for an instant in acknowledgement of her words, knowing that they were meant for him, too. She lifted her free hand and wrapped it over his before turning to Wes. "And of course it's a novelty to have neighbours who don't avoid us, let alone ones we'd call friend. and I'm not just saying that because of the spa we found hidden away in your back yard."
"It's only mostly because of the spa they found hidden away in your back yard," her fiancé teased.
"Spike. Stop it. He might believe you."
"I think he's already had some pretty fair indications of how much he's appreciated round here, pet. He's bright enough to work out when I'm just yankin' your chain."
"That would be most of the time, I believe," his fellow Englishman responded.
"See... Now, who's first for the shower? 'Cause I make it about an hour an a half to go before we're all due at Lily's. An', Wes, do us a favour and take the kid across to yours when you go. That way, I can concentrate on gettin' ready without havin' to worry about what state of undress him and the Niblet are in. She can ring an' let him know when she's decent again."
Tara glanced round the room, seeing both couples seemed reluctant to part. "I guess I'll take that first shower."
"Then, I guess we should all give you some privacy to get ready." Wes was the first to excuse himself from the room, but the others soon followed, dispersing to make their own preparations for the party.
Spike drew Buffy into their new bedroom. "Happy?" he asked indicating her furniture that now filled the room.
Buffy's reached up with a fingertip that was damp from the condensation on the soda can she had been holding and traced the outline of his lips. "Let's see, today's been quite the day. I've got a wonderful man who has shown he can be nearly as considerate to my friends as he is to me. I'm going to have a wonderful dress and so are all my bridesmaids, assuming, of course, that Willow is speaking to me again by then. I have my loved ones around me and a night with friends ahead. I think that's enough to make anyone happy. Providing Xander doesn't do anything to mess things up tonight."
"I have a feeling Anya will be keeping him on a tight leash. I don't think you need worry."
"Then, yeah, Will," she replied pushing him gently backward until his legs pressed against the side of their bed and he pulled her with him as he tumbled backwards. "I'm happy." She nestled her head against his shoulder curling up on the bed next to him like a contented kitten until it was their turn for the shower.
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