[AN: Some of the dialogue in this chapter is lifted from Season 7.01, "Lessons".]
'So what are you going to do now?'
Demon girl's watchin' us over the buffalo wings, watchin' us warily, almost... scared.
Looks like it's put up or shut up time.
Tink sighs, like she really doesn't wanna get into this.
I'm watchin' her too. Wanna see what she has to say.
Haven't really talked about this, not since we found out what Red did. No, she decided to do a bit of crypt-cleaning, clean the place up, make it a bit more liveable for her and the kitten - not like I need it, not now, but what the hell, it's my place, isn't it?
'We've got... some things to sort out.' Tink says eventually. 'Well, find out if we can sort out, anyway.'
She doesn't say _what_ things, tho' - we all know what. The same things everything comes round to.
Demon girl hms, thinking this over. 'What are you going to tell them?'
Tink sighs, even deeper. 'I can't play Spike - no offence, Spike, but I'm... I'm not that good an actor. I... I can't _be_ you, even with you there to coach me.'
'None taken.' I say. 'Wasn't gonna ask you to do that, anyway.'
'So how are you going to tell them?' demon girl asks. 'Is there anything you can tell them? Something only you know, like maybe secret tattoos only you know about? That usually works on TV...'
'Um... not really.' Tink says. 'I think most of it is Willow-stuff, and she's not here, so...' She lets out a deep breath. 'And I think most of the other stuff I know is stuff Spike was there for...'
I *blink* at that one. Even with the whole break-up with Red, I thought she'd still know some stuff...
'What about Niblet?' I say. 'Two of you were pretty close, way I seem to recall...'
'We were...' Tink sighs again. 'But I guess I'm not... not a "personal" kind of person. Not good on the whole "sharing personal details" thing... just on being friends. On being there.'
'Well, _that_ certainly screws things up.' demon girl says. 'I mean, if you waltz up to them and say "Hello there, I'm Tara, back from the dead in Spike's incredibly well-formed body", they're likely to think you've - well, Spike's - gone insane. And if you try the magic thing, they're likely to think "insane, magic-wielding Spike" and stake you on sight.'
'Like they weren't already?' I say.
'I still have to try.' Tink says.
'Well, that may be all well and good,' demon girl says, her tone managing to convey she thinks we don't stand a chance in Hell, 'but even supposing you get away with that, what are you going to tell them about Spike?'
Tink can't look at me. 'I'm going to tell them... I don't know.'
'Why not tell the truth?' demon girl asks.
Tink lets out a breath. 'Because I'm afraid... I'm...' She closes her eyes. '...Because I can't do that to him.
'If I tell them, what are they going to do? You and I are the only ones who can talk to him - no-one else here can. They can't talk to him, can't see him... can't interact with him. Knowing he's walking around, that he could be somewhere, anywhere, unable to talk to them, speak with them, reach out to them... only able to watch...
'...you don't think they'd think he's in Hell?'
I shudder. Too perceptive for her own good, this girl. Too perceptive.
'And whatever I tell them - whether I tell them about Spike or not - I'm afraid they're going to try to do something about it. Try to find a way to sort it out.
'Soul magics are powerful magics - there aren't many who have the power to cast them. And in all honesty, I don't know _what_ they'd do to us...'
'...Point.' demon girl says. 'And after the Buffy fiasco, I am _not_ in a hurry to see what they come up with for a sequel.' She eyes us. 'Personally, I would have thought one or both of you would have been all for it - or at least for something to get things the way they should be.'
'It's not the best-case scenario, no...' Tink says. 'But we haven't taken the time to look it up yet.
'And...' She takes another breath. 'As it stands, we've still got some things to sort out.'
'Suppose you did sort everything out.' demon girl says. 'What would you do then?'
'No switch.' I say quietly. 'No way in Hell.'
Tink glances over at me, blinks.
'Yeah, I might want a bod again - and yeah, I _know_ Tink'd rather anything than bein' a vamp - but you think I'm gonna go outta my way to find a new and different way to shaft her? No chance.'
Tink blinks, her eyes widening as this sinks in. 'Spike-'
'No.' I tell her. 'Whatever you're gonna say, /no/. It ain't happening.
'You didn't deserve any of this in the first place - you think I'm gonna shaft you with this? Not happening.'
'You /have/ changed...' demon girl notes.
I shrug. 'Got a lot of time on my hands.'
'All right. What about being released? Letting Tara go back to heaven, or wherever she was - although if it /wasn't/, someone's got a lot of questions to answer.'
'I... I wasn't there, Anya.' Tink says softly, painfully. 'I... I was... I saw the light... I got to the threshold... but then I got called back.'
'Besides, I don't think that's the way it works.' she adds. 'Now I'm... I'm back here... I can't go back until.. until...'
She stutters to a halt.
'Do you know that for certain?'
'Yeah.' I say. 'You think I'm gonna let myself get shafted by some poncey "happiness clause"? No chance. It's all or nothing. Just 'cause it's her soul in there instead don't mean that's changed.'
'...All right.' demon girl says eventually. 'Still... there's always the possibility some demon is going to try to use this against you.'
Tink rests her hands on the table. 'We'll deal with that when it happens. Perhaps Spike can stay out of sight if it looks like something like that's about to come up...?'
'Mm,' demon girl says sceptically. 'Perhaps.'
She looks over at Tink's plate, at the debris that's all that's left of the buffalo wings, then back at her own, and frowns.
'Are you going to get this, or...?'
'I'll get this.' Tink reassures her. 'And Anya...?'
'Yes?' she says cautiously.
'If you need to talk, come to Spike's old crypt. Even if we're not there, we should be back sooner or later.
'Oh, and don't mind the kitten.'
'...Kitten?' demon girl echoes. 'When did you have the chance to play kitten poker?'
'She's /not/...' Tink sighs. 'She's our pet - well, my pet, anyway. And we are _not_ using her in a game of poker!'
'Oh.' demon girl says.
For some reason, she doesn't look convinced.
I'm not surprised.
'Huh.' Spike says. 'Whaddya know. Staking out our place tonight. And you needed a spell to tell you that?'
'Shh.' I say. 'Quiet.'
But he's right, in a way.
Tonight, Buffy - along with Dawn - they're patrolling Spike's cemetery.
I mean, it's a very nice cemetery, as far as things go, but I'm still not comfortable with calling it mine. Not yet.
Well, anyway, this's where my locator spell has, um... located them - I didn't want to risk trekking 'round all of Sunnydale's cemeteries in case I couldn't get back by sunrise.
At the moment, they're standing by a grave, watching a vampire pull himself out, while Spike and I are crouching behind the nearby tombstones.
Part of me wants to rush over there and stake him, while the rest of me wants to hang back, see what's going on.
From what Spike's saying, I'm guessing he'd go for option A.
'Come on, come on, stake him already... geez, what're you doing out there, putting on your makeup?! An arthritic snail could've staked him faster than you!'
Over this, my hearing - well, Spike's ears, if we're honest - can just catch what they're saying.
'It's about power,' Buffy says, crouched down by the grave, holding a stake. 'Who's got it... Who knows how to use it...'
She throws her stake over to Dawn, who catches it, still watching the vampire nervously.
'So who's got the power, Dawn?'
'Well, I've got the stake...' Dawn says.
I grin. That's Dawnie...
'The stake is not the power.' Buffy says.
'Got _that_ right...' Spike mutters.
'But he's new...' Dawn argues. 'Probably confused... doesn't know what he wants...'
'Ouch.' Spike says quietly.
The vampire's got both arms out of the grave now, looking at Dawn - somehow, I'm guessing he's not exactly looking scared - as he pulls himself out.
'Blood...' the vampire murmurs.
'He seems to have some focus there...' Buffy notes.
'Yeah, okay,' Dawn says, 'but he doesn't know his strength, he might not know all the fancy martial arts they inevitably seem to pick up...'
'They do?' I murmur. 'I must have missed out on that part...'
'If you're a good little vampire, the Martial Arts Fairy Vamp comes and teaches you in your sleep.' Spike says.
'Who's got the power?' Buffy inquires.
'...He does.' Dawn finally says.
Buffy goes over to her. 'Never forget that. Doesn't matter how well prepped you are, how well armed you are, you're a little girl.'
'And this is an issue 'cause...?' Spike wonders.
'Woman.' Dawn says.
'You're a little woman.' Buffy says.
Both Spike and I have to stifle the giggles at _that_ one.
Dawn knows it too. 'I'm taller than you.'
And she is. Of everything I missed in the months I've been away, this is the most surprising. In the time I was gone, Dawn's shot up to the point where she's taller than her older sister.
And I wish - I /wish/ - I hadn't missed that. Not seeing her grow up...
'_He's a vampire._' Buffy says. 'Okay? A demon. Preternaturally strong, skilled, with power that no human can ever-'
'Got /most/ of it, love...' Spike says.
'Excuse me...' the vampire says, still only half out of the grave. 'I think I'm stuck.'
'You're stuck.' Buffy says.
'Makes me ashamed to be a vampire, sometimes...' Spike murmurs. 'Stuck on your first rising? Dear oh dear...'
'My foot's caught on a root or something. I don't even know how I got down there... if you girls could just give me a hand... '
'Oh /please/...' Spike says.
'So he's got the power.' Dawn says to Buffy.
'Zip it.' Buffy says.
'Never can stand to be contradicted, Slayer...' Spike observes.
She walks over to the vampire, who's still going on. 'I really appreciate it... it's just so dark, and I don't know what I'm doing here... Maybe if you just give me some leverage I can work -'
'What the hell are they choosing for fledglings these days?' Spike wonders. 'Really need to get some quality control in 'round here...'
I have to agree. I may only be a vampire through magic, but even _I'm_ embarrassed by this guy's performance.
Buffy pulls him out by the scruff of his jacket, and sets him on his feet.
'Whoo. Thanks. That was a help.' the vampire says. 'Unfortunately, it was also the last-'
Buffy's hand clasps around his throat.
'-thing you'll ever do.' he manages to squeak.
'Oh dear oh dear oh dear.' Spike says. 'Really _really_ should've listened, mate. This oughtta be fun.'
'Listen up.' Buffy says. 'I'm the Slayer, you don't wanna get into it with me. You want blood, okay? So you can have hers. She's not the Slayer. She's the one to go after. Not me.'
I keep a hold of myself. Dawnie's got the stake, Dawnie's got the stake...
'I was thinking along those lines.' the vampire manages to get out.
'Okay then.' Buffy says.
She lets him go, and steps back.
The vampire takes a step forward, while Dawn readies her stake.
'Power.' Buffy continues. 'He's got it, he's gonna use it. You don't have it -'
The vampire rushes Dawn-
-who rolls back, going under him as he rushes past her and into a tombstone.
'So you use that instead! Perfect!' Buffy finishes.
Dawnie scrambles for the stake, having dropped it when he rushed her, jumps at the vampire, and stakes him -
- a little too far to the right.
He's angry now, backhanding her onto the ground. Before she can recover, he's on her, she's scrambling underneath him to get him off, pulls up a stake, he recoils, hisses, but grabs her arm and twists it till she drops the stake in pain-
'BUFFY!' Dawnie yells, and Buffy's nowhere in sight-
It's not a ball of sunlight, but it _is_ light.
And it startles him just enough that he turns-
-and I'm out there, running for Dawnie.
'Huh?!' the vampire gasps.
'Get off her.' I tell him. 'Now.'
'If that's the way you want it.' This time, I /deliberately/ let the demon forward.
'Hey, I was here first.' the vampire protests. 'If you wanted a go, you should've waited.'
'That's just it...' I say. 'I don't want a go. I want you to get off her. Now.'
I take another step towards him.
He's uncertain, nervous.
The ball of light settles in my hand.
Now he's _really_ nervous.
'Hey, hey, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' the vampire says. He lets Dawnie go, lets her collapse to the ground. 'There. See? I'm off her. I'm off her.'
'So you are.' Buffy says from behind him, and before he can turn around-
-she's beheaded him with a sword.
And it's only now I notice the bag of weapons nearby, and Spike standing next to me, his attention on Buffy.
Buffy's attention is on Dawn, where she sits on the ground.
Dawn's attention is on me - and the expression on her face is stunned and /scared/ and /hard/ and /cold/ and oh God Dawnie...
I close my hand around the light, and it blinks out of existence.
Finally, Dawn returns her attention to Buffy.
'Let's get out of here.'
'In a minute.' Buffy says, looking over Dawnie, checking to see if she's okay, then holding out her hand.
Dawnie takes it, and Buffy helps her up.
'Good. No damage done.' Buffy says.
'Well, I had a plan the whole time.' Dawn says.
'Yeah. I planned to get killed, come back as a vampire, and bite you.'
I catch the smile on Spike's face at that one.
Oh God. Oh God... I've missed this. I've missed this. The banter, the staking, the whole... everything.
I've missed it all.
But not as much as the girls standing in front of me, not by a long way.
'You wanted to be trained...' Buffy says.
'"The stake is not the power",' Dawnie mimics. 'Thank you, Master Prada.'
She looks over at me, obviously trying to decide what to do, before she turns away again.
Buffy sighs, before turning to me. 'Spike-'
I can see the cogs turning in Buffy's brain as she adjusts to this. 'Okay, William-'
'No.' I say. 'No. It's not Spike. It's not William. It's not /them/...'
'Then who...?' Buffy's looking... she's looking uncertain, shocked. She wasn't expecting this, wasn't expecting /me/.
'Spikeus?' Dawn suggests. 'Williamus?'
Spike is quiet, watching me, watching _them_. He says nothing.
'Tara.' I open my hand, let the light free again. 'It's me. Tara.'
And Dawnie's face gets harder and colder and...
'Tara?' Buffy's reading me, reading my face, Spike's face, trying to see - insane? Demented? What? - but it won't work like that, I know.
'I'm not insane, Buffy.' I tell her softly. 'I've been insane, I know what it is... but I'm not. Not any more. And I don't know what I could tell you that would convince you I am who I say I am.'
'Funny shapes or rounds?' Dawn says abruptly.
'Funny shapes.' I answer without thinking. 'You'd ask for rounds, but I made the funny shapes. I was never any good at rounds.'
'What'd I sing about with that whole singing demon thing?'
'Well, you told me math. I don't know if you got the chance to sing anything else.'
'What did you tell me Spike'd built the Buffybot for?'
'Checkers.' I say. Spike _looks_ at me. 'Well, it sounded good in my head.'
'Okay.' Dawn says. 'Either Spike's been doing his research or it's Tara, and I'm guessing... not heavy on the research.'
Her mouth drops open as the realisation sinks in. '...Tara?!!'
Buffy's hand comes down on her shoulder. 'Careful, Dawn.' She looks up at me. 'What did you ask me when I told you about Spike, what we were doing?
Dawn shoots a _look_ at her sister.
'Do you want me to-' I begin, nodding to Dawnie.
'I asked if you loved him.' I say softly. 'You couldn't answer... you said you were using him, that it was wrong.'
Spike nods at that one.
'...Tara?' Buffy says finally.
'As far as I know.' I say. 'You don't really get a change of ID with this, you know?'
And suddenly Dawnie's on me, pummeling me on the chest. If I was still breathing, she'd be knocking the breath out of me.
'HE KILLED YOU!!' she bawls. 'HE KILLED YOU! YOU WERE DEAD!! HE SHOT YOU AND YOU WERE _DEAD!!_'
I don't say anything. I _can't_. I just let her pummel her fists against me, whudwhudwhudding into the skin until she falls against me.
'You were _dead_...' she whispers. 'You were dead and I couldn't let you be alone... not like that... I couldn't leave you...'
'Shh... shh... shh...' I tell her. 'Shh... I know, Dawnie. I know. I know.'
She falls quiet, simply holding me.
Then I look up at Buffy and Spike.
Spike's expression is grim, as if one of his worst fears had been confirmed.
Buffy's expression... I can't read it, can't read what she's thinking.
'What happened to Spike?' she asks.
'I... I couldn't say.' I tell her. 'I... when I came back... he wasn't there.'
'But he left before you died...' Buffy murmurs. 'Didn't he...?'
She shakes herself, bringing herself back under control.
'I... I don't know.' I say. 'When I... came back... I was in a cave in Uganda, and there was no sign of Spike in my head. Whatever happened to him, it probably happened there.'
Spike nods - good, good.
'...But what _did_ happen to him?' Buffy murmurs. 'Was he looking for something, or-'
Her eyes widen.
'You've got a soul!'
'I-I _think_ I do...' I demurr. 'I mean, I have real trouble - not chip trouble, _real_ trouble - with biting people. It's not the "how" of it, it's actually, you know, _doing_ it. I'm not exactly sure how you could prove I've got a soul, though...'
'You've got a soul.' Buffy repeats. 'He gets a soul - and it's not _his?!_ What _happened_ to him?'
'Maybe he just couldn't live with himself?' Dawn says, as I let her free of my arms.
Spike gives her a major _look_.
'_Dawnie!_' I gasp.
'Maybe he couldn't...' Buffy says softly. 'Not any more. Maybe he didn't _want_ souled-him to remember what he'd done, wanted to be sure...'
'...And brought Tara back.' Dawn finishes. 'Waow...'
'What'd he done?' I say. 'I mean, from what you're saying, he'd left Sunnydale, and he hadn't told anyone...'
'Maybe his demon friends.' Buffy says. 'But I didn't ask.'
'Why'd he leave?' I ask. 'I remember the whole... um... well, Willow was saying about Anya and him, was that it?'
'That was a part of it, yeah.' Buffy says, 'Most of it... I think you'd have to ask him.'
Spike and Dawn's expressions darken.
I look at Buffy and I _know_ she's being evasive - that she doesn't want to tell me what happened.
And in not wanting to tell me, they've as good as told me what he did.
Not the details. Not why he did it. But what he did... I know. I've known ever since he told me he hadn't killed anyone. Hadn't left because he'd killed someone.
It drove him to Uganda, drove him to ask for a soul - and set all this in motion.
I told Buffy, I told her that he loved her - and she told me she was using him. Using him to feel - feel something.
Feel what? Pain? Guilt? Anger? Hatred? Rage? I don't know. Something that would make her feel alive.
The two of them... hurting each other for their own reasons, hurting and _wanting_ each other... wanting something to live for...
...and then it detonated.
And as long as I'm here, as long as I'm wearing his face... there'll be the memory, what he did, in the back of her mind. Of Dawnie's mind.
...do any of the others know? Anya, I don't know... she said Buffy was feeling pretty vengeancy, but not why...
I don't know. I don't know...
'Oh.' I say. 'I was, um, hoping someone would know... I mean, coming back like this? Kind of like to know why.'
Buffy looks down. 'Sorry.'
'It's not your fault.' I tell her. 'I mean, I knew I'd... that I'd... gone on... but, well, kind of wondering why I was back.'
'Don't think we're gonna know anytime soon.' Buffy says.
'Probably not.' I agree. Seeing the discomfort on Buffy's face, and the black expression on Spike's, I decide to change the subject, something they'll be wondering if I don't ask - but it's still uncomfortable, even so... 'So, um, how's Willow? I, um, haven't been able to find her anywhere...'
Buffy and Dawn share _that_ look between them.
'Um...' Buffy begins. 'Well... um, after you were shot - it was Warren, our resident evil geek-guy and serious screwup - Willow, um...'
'Went on a rampage.' Dawn finishes. 'A magical rampage.'
Buffy nods. 'And... Tara, I have to tell you this... she... she killed Rack and Warren in the process.' She hesitates. 'Deliberately.
'In the end, Xander managed to get through to her, reach her, and then, um, Giles took her back to England.' And Buffy _knows_ I know Giles wouldn't come back unless it was something big, something massive. This is the best way she can tell me at the moment. Hint at it, hint around it.
Willow wanted to destroy the Earth.
Buffy's watching my face, watching for a reaction.
'Thank you, Buffy.' I say quietly.
And I can feel the tears trickling down my cheeks again, feel the hurt, knowing...
Knowing she killed someone.
'If you wanna come back to our place...' Dawn begins.
I take a shuddering breath. 'T-thank you. Thank you, both of you... but I think... I need to... um, to go find myself a crypt.'
'You're sure about that?' Buffy asks, the concern evident on her face.
I nod. 'I need... I need some time alone. I'm sorry, Buffy.'
Buffy and Dawn's concern is still evident.
'You know you're always welcome at our place.' Buffy says.
Dawn nods. 'Uh-huh. Whatever you need, you know, we'll be there for you. Always.'
'Thank you.' I tell them. 'And I promise I _will_ come round some time... just not...'
Buffy nods. 'I know. Take as long as you need.'
'Maybe you could use Spike's crypt.' Dawn suggests. 'It's not like he's using it.'
'I'll... I'll check it out.' I say. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the expression on Spike's face - if he were physical, he'd be in full demon face by now. 'Thank you, again.'
'Any time.' Dawn says. 'And if you need anything, you know where to come.'
'I do.' I can't hide the expression of relief that flitters across my face when she says that.
'Anyway, Spike's crypt is...' Dawn cranes around. 'Over _that_ way, I think. Buffy?'
Buffy glares at her, but nods. 'Uh-huh. If you take the next right on the path, you should get there no problem.'
'Thank you.' I say again. In fact, it seems to be all I've been saying recently. 'I'll... I'll, um, I'll see you around?'
'Well, _duh!_' Dawn says.
Buffy nods. 'Yeah, pretty much a gimme.'
'I guess.' I say, my mouth twitching again. 'Well, um... see you, then.'
'See ya!' Dawn says, almost bouncing on her feet.
'See you.' Buffy says.
And with that, I'm off.
Behind me, I can hear them talking.
'Waow. I mean, just... waow.'
'You know, I'm just guessing here, but I think you're impressed.'
'And why not? I mean, Spike goes off and gets a soul... and it turns out to be Tara's. If _that_ isn't incredible, I don't know what is... hey, I wonder if she's got a happiness clause?'
'Even if she does, it's not gonna kick in any time soon...'
'...Yeah, I know, I know, but even so... waow...'
As the conversation fades, Spike falls into step beside me. 'Did you _hear_ what those two were saying? "Not like he's using it"! Thanks a soddin' bunch, Niblet...'
'Mm.' I say.
'I mean, who'd the Slayer think she was tryin' to con? I mean, it's not as if "By the way, your girlfriend tried to destroy the world" is exactly a _little_ thing, is it?'
'I think she knew that.' I observe.
'And what about "I think you'd have to ask him", huh? She knows. It's about her. It's _always_ about _her!_ "Couldn't live with himself"... hah! You _wish!_ Like you're _that_ important!'
'Spike?' I say.
'Yeah?' he snaps.
'Um... When Buffy said I was welcome any time, did that mean...?'
Spike nods, his expression still dark. 'Uh-huh. Free to come and go as you please, any time you like. Open invitation.'
'No problem.' Spike says. 'So, now that _that's_ sorted...'
'Well, next up...' I think it over. 'Next up, we've got to find your butcher's, then pick up some new clothes and then the basics for Ziggy.'
Spike _blinks_. 'Ziggy? What, we're building a supercomputer now?'
'No.' I say. 'Ziggy the kitten.'
'Ziggy the...' Spike groans. 'Oh bloody Hell, woman. _Ziggy?!_ Sounds like a complete pinhead!'
'I know...' I say. 'But... it seems _right_, you know? Sam and Al and Ziggy?'
'You know we're never gonna live this down if this gets out.' Spike grouches.
'We're dead, Spike.'
'You know what I mean.'
'I guess I do.' I say, the smile twitching at my face. 'Come on. Let's get inside.'