Tink hasn't moved an inch in over an hour.
And. It's. Driving. Me. Up. The. Wall.
Hasn't moved, hasn't spoken, hasn't done _buggery_!
Just sitting on the slab, legs crossed, not moving.
Now I get _why_ she's doing it - part of the meditation thing, keeping the demon in check - which's all well and good.
But does she have to do it in the bloody crypt?
Ain't a person to snoop on for God knows how far - definitely further than _I_ can go from her.
Got so bored one time I actually counted how many paces it took before I stopped - 'bout fifty, I think it was.
And when I say stop, that's what I mean. Just stop short, right there. Can't go another step 'less she moves. No mystical barrier, no tugging feeling pulling me back, no feeling of agonising pain if I go another step. I just... stop.
Which's all well and good if you're hanging out in the middle of town, but quite frankly sucks rocks if you've set up shop in the middle of a cemetary.
Sod all to snoop on, bar burials and raisings, and once you've seen one, that's pretty much it.
Okay. How about TV? Somethin' to listen to while she's doing the whole 'om' thing?
Apparently _not_. Apparently, she don't want anythin' distracting her.
No telly. No-one to snoop on. No-one to talk to, with Tink incommunicado - and I'll be damned if she opens her eyes to see me talking to the kitten. Ain't sunk _that_ low just yet...
And of _course_ the kitten's followin' me about, all curious 'bout what the funny see-through man's doin'...
Tink shifts, settles a little.
And could it be? Is she actually gonna open her eyes?
Finally, Spike gets a break!
Hey, it may not seem much to you, but _you_ try spendin' a couple a' months as a ghost and see how _you_ like it, 'kay?
'...We've got a visitor.' she says, soundin' almost... puzzled.
'Heightened vampire senses strike again.' I tell her. 'Works wonders. Any idea who?'
Tink shakes her head as she uncrosses her legs. 'Someone... someone familiar... ?' She trails off, looking sheepish. 'Well, it would be, wouldn't it? Who else would it be...?'
'Someone you know, or the body knows?' I ask.
'...Someone I know, I think.' she says.
Which means Buffy, Anya, Clem, or Dawn.
Anya'd probably just teleport in, and as for the Slayer... know her too well to expect she'll be hanging out 'round here any time soon, not 'less she has to. Likes her walls strong, she does.
Which means Clem or Dawnie.
Bets on it's Dawnie. Been 'xpecting her after last night's run-in.
'Dawnie, most likely.' I say.
She nods, not quite surprised, begins to say something.
And then Dawnie pushes the door open.
Score another one for old Spikey.
'...Tara?' she says.
'Still me.' Tink says. 'No Spike-moving-back-in-head just yet...'
The Niblet almost - almost - smiles at that one.
Then she catches sight of the kitten.
'Oh my God...' she whispers. 'Oh my God... Tara, where did you-?'
'...She got left behind after a game of kitten poker.' Tink says. 'And, well, I couldn't throw her out, so...'
Niblet hunkers down near the kitten. 'Hey... hey, it's okay, it's okay, I'm not gonna hurt you...' She looks up at Tink. 'What's her name?'
'Ziggy.' Tink says.
Niblet frowns. 'What, like the pinhead?'
'Sort of, but not quite.' Tink says. 'It was, um... after the computer in "Quantum Leap".'
'...Right.' Niblet says, as she digests this.
'Don't leave any crossbows near her.' Tink adds.
Niblet huffs. 'Hey! That was only one-'
She catches Tink's expression, the smile on her face, and can't help smiling in turn.
And it's been a long, long time since I've seen that, seen the light of her smile.
Then, just as quickly, the smile's gone, faded, as she stands up.
'...It is you, isn't it?' she says quietly. 'It is you.'
Tink nods, looking down. 'Yes.'
'...Why?' Niblet says quietly.
'I don't know, Dawnie.' Tink says, honestly. 'If I knew, I'd tell you... but I don't think Spike meant this. I don't think he even knew... what had happened.'
'Didn't stop him from screwing you over.' Niblet says. 'Couldn't even get a soul without doing that.'
'Do you think he would have, if he'd known?' Tink says softly. 'Do you think he'd have thought about it... and then done it anyway? Taken someone else's soul, rather than his own?'
Niblet opens her mouth-
-and then closes it again.
Doesn't want to agree, doesn't _want_ to admit ol' Spikey might not have wanted to screw Tink over... but can't deny I wouldn't've settled for anything less than my own soul.
And this is what I did to you, without even thinking, without even looking...
How could I blind myself so? Are my promises so lightly broken? A heart so easily cast away?
And I know, oh, how I know...
'...What's it like?' she says, again quiet, as she sits down next to Tink. 'Being a vampire and everything?'
'It's... it's _empty_, Dawnie.' Tink says, quieter still. 'Empty, and bottomless, and you're always _hungry_, always waiting for the only thing that can fill it, waiting for the blood...
'I'm not alive. No matter how much it looks like it, I'm not alive. I don't breathe, my heart doesn't beat, no reflection... none of that. I can breathe, can eat and drink... but that's not the same.
'Stronger? Faster? Maybe... but I was never all that physical when I was... was alive, so it doesn't do me all that much good now.' She tries a smile, fails. 'The "heightened senses" thing is good, though...'
Niblet thinks about this. '...Sounds like a crappy deal to me.'
'...Not everyone gets to choose, Dawnie.' Tink says.
She realises what she's just said, falls silent.
Niblet doesn't say anything, reaches out and rests her hand on Tink's.
'...Spike didn't see it like that,' she says, after a while. 'With him, it was all "fists and fangs", blood and guts, fights and glory... he lived for that... making trouble, causing chaos, screwing things up... or he said he did...'
...Yeah, I did. All about the blood, and the life, and the passion... about _living_ the passion, with everything you were, 'cause nothing else would do...
'Lived to screw things up...' Her face twists. 'Should've listened, huh? Oh no, not Dawn, Dawn has to be all hero-worshipping and "he's so cool"...'
You're not the only one who should've listened. Look at what I screwed up with you...
'And why not?' Tink says softly. 'He was. He did everything he could to protect you, up on Glory's tower...'
Niblet jerks back.
'That's the thing...' Tink says, still in that same, soft voice. 'He fought for you, and he hurt you. Cared for you, and forgot you. Listened to you, and shut you out... all of that, that was him.
'And you found out... you found out he'd hurt you, and you're angry at him, more than angry, and it's _justified_, because how can you forgive what happened? And it hurts all the more because you cared, and you thought he cared, and he _betrayed_ that... betrayed it for his obsession...
'And it hurts most of all because you remember what you had before he hurt you... remember light and darkness both...'
'...Oh my God...' Niblet whispers. 'Oh my God, Tara, I didn't know...'
Tink blinks, looks at her. 'Didn't know?'
'Willow.' Niblet says. 'What happened with Willow.'
'You weren't just talking about me back there, wicca,' I murmur in her ear. 'Sounds like _that_ came from a lot closer to home...'
Tink's eyes widen. 'I...'
'I could leave if you need some time alone.' Niblet offers.
Tink shakes her head "no". 'I'm... I'm sorry, Dawnie. I... I didn't realise... I'm sorry.'
'Yeah.' Niblet says finally. 'Yeah, I know...'
She falls quiet again.
'Anything I can help with?' she says eventually.
Tink takes a deep breath. 'Well... I need to go to Spike's butcher's, do something about the blood... then I need to pick up some new clothes, and the basics for Ziggy...'
'Okay.' Niblet says, getting to her feet.
Tink blinks at her.
'Hello? Earth to Tara?' Niblet tries. 'I'm coming with?'
'Oh.' Tink says, as Niblet's words sink in. '_Oh..._ Dawnie, are you sure-?'
''Course.' Niblet says. 'Come on, let's get going.'
This is... strange.
Not strange in a, you know, "Scooby adventure" kind of way, but strange in a "general background Hellmouth-y weirdness" kind of way.
I haven't really been thinking about what I'm wearing - not exactly my top priority, really, just making sure I wasn't running around half-naked.
...now, I'm looking at some clothes and it occurs to me it's like I'm playing some weird Hellmouth version of dress-up - how would you dress if you were Spike?
And I haven't quite got my head 'round how to dress like a man - especially not Spike. Not yet. I know I _should_, but it still won't go.
It's sort of like moving into a new house, but still half-thinking of it as your old one - you _know_ things are different, but they haven't quite sunk in yet, and that was a really clunky metaphor, I know...
So I keep things simple: some boxers (I don't think I'm cut out for briefs just yet, especially with the weird feelings I got from Spike's genitals when I tried them on), a couple of blue shirts, a couple of plain T-shirts, some dark trousers - dark blue, dark green, black, a pair of boots... just basic stuff. Not Spike style or Tara style, but nothing that's going to get me (or Spike, I hope) too embarrassed.
I round it off with a tan brown trenchcoat I noticed when I was browsing (and it still amazes me that people don't _notice_ I don't reflect in mirrors). Sort of my own personal touch, something that seems... well, kinda appropriate for the situation.
Taken together, it makes me look kinda like a private eye, sort of that image you get when you think of those old noir movies, except without a hat.
I momentarily consider one, but... I don't know, I just can't see Spike in a hat.
Not that I _could_ see him - well, his body - in a hat right now, anyway...
'Nice.' Spike drawls, when I show him the trenchcoat. 'Very Hellblazer.'
I blink at him. 'Hellblazer?'
Spike raises his eyes. 'Lemme guess. More a "Sandman" kind of girl, aren't you?'
I blush a little. '...Well, yeah.'
Then it hits me. 'Oh, _him_... Sorry, Spike, I'll just go put this back...'
Spike waves it off. 'Hold on to it. You need a bit of style if you're gonna be walkin' round like that, and you could do worse than ol' Constantine...'
'I don't know...' I begin.
'Come on, woman,' Spike says. 'Think 'bout it. You know what makes you, me and ol' Johnny different from all those poseurs out there? We know about the shadows, 'bout the darkness, what it _really_ means. Why? 'Cause that's where we live. 'Cause we face off 'gainst the other things that live there, and we come through. 'Cause we face off 'gainst the monsters.
'We ain't playing at this. This's the real deal, and we _know_ it.
'Like I said, you could do worse.'
I look down at the coat. '...Er...'
Spike rolls his eyes. 'Just get the coat, will you?'
When I show Dawnie, she nods in approval. 'Looks good to me.'
We heft the bags and then we're off again.
I take a sideways look at her as we head down the street..
I don't... To be honest, I don't think I could've got this far without her. When I got to the slaughterhouse, I...
...Just the _smell_, and I began to vamp out.
I could smell it, I *wanted* it, wanted to drink and drink and drink... and Dawnie was there, and I just wanted to sink my teeth into her skin, _taste_ that blood, _her_ blood...
...and oh God this is _Dawnie_ what am I thinking what am I thinking this is Dawnie she's like my little _sister_ and the blood smells so _sweet_ so tangy and this is _Dawnie_ and I can't do this and she's right _there_ and I could just take the blood and _no_, _no!_, this is Dawnie, this is _Dawn_, and I will not do this and this is _wrong_...
...and I asked Dawn if she'd get the blood for me, the demon fighting forward all the while, right there, right _there_...
...and she gave me a... a sympathetic look, I think, and went inside...
'Hit bad that time.' Spike said quietly.
I nodded. I couldn't trust myself to say anything.
Oh God. Dawnie...
'Never like that for me.' he said. 'I was tied up in the Watcher's bathtub most of the time, and by the time I got out I knew damn well what the chip would do if I tried...'
I nodded again. 'Thought... Thought I might be able to handle it again... could keep it down till...'
'Yeah.' Spike said. 'Yeah, I know. The demon don't agree, though. Hard keeping off something when you need it to survive.'
'What... what happens if I _don't_ drink it?'
Spike grimaced. 'Nothing good, pet. If you thought it was bad _now_, see what it's like after a month without it.'
'Niblet was the nearest.' Spike said. 'Been anyone else, would've been _them_. Demon don't care. It just wants the blood.
'Thank anyone who's listening you didn't crash into this soulless. If you had... I'm guessing Niblet and Red would've been first on your list...'
I shuddered again. That was the last thing I needed to hear, especially now.
I could taste the blood, feel the hunger rising inside, the _thirst_, to drink it all down, all of it, never stop...
I closed my eyes, focused on a still space inside, a space apart from the hunger, not the hunger, tried to focus on it, felt the hunger raging within, wanting wanting *wanting*...
...the stillness and the hunger...
'Tara?' Dawnie's voice said.
I nodded, not opening my eyes. 'In... In a moment, Dawnie... Is it... is it safe away...?'
'Yeah.' Dawnie said. 'All neatly bagged up.'
'Thank... thank you...'
There... the blood is _there_... the blood is _there_...
And, oh, I could still smell the blood, still taste Dawnie's blood and...
...stillness stillness stillness....
...and the hunger was still _there_, still _wanting_, still raging...
And I opened my eyes.
Dawnie was looking at me with concern. 'Are you okay?'
I shook my head. 'Not... not yet. Could... could we just get away from here?'
'...All right.' Dawnie said.
And we... we did. We got away. Kept walking.
And the hunger subsided again.
If she... if she hadn't been there...
If I'd lost control... if I'd lost control _when she was there_...
And there's _no way out_. No way out of this.
The hunger... the hunger, always with me, a part of me...
...and blood, have to be near blood, can't live without it...
...and I have to keep control, have to, otherwise people are going to die, people are going to die and I'm going to kill them...
...and I _can't_... can't kill them... can't...
And Spike's there, Spike's watching me, and I can't read his expression... don't know if he can read mine...
'Hey...' he says quietly. 'Hey. No brooding, okay? No brooding. That's Deadboy's schtick, and I'll be screwed if it's ours.'
I manage a smile, mouth 'I'll try' at him.
'Yeah?' Spike says. 'We'll see.
'Okay...' Niblet says. 'Do we need any peroxide?'
Tink gives her the "huh?" look.
'Your roots are showing.' Niblet explains.
Tink's hand flies to her - my - hair. 'Roots-? Oh...'
'No reflection's a bitch sometimes, isn't it?' Niblet says sympathetically. 'So... peroxide?'
'I...' Tink says.
She shoots me a pleading look.
Trouble is, it's knocked me off my step too.
Now, the thing is, I've been peroxiding my hair ever since the 70s. It's part of the whole Spike look, the whole "Big Bad" thing. Never missed out. Never given thought one to dumping it - this's the way I look, and if you can't handle it, tough. This ain't someone you mess with.
'Cept... now it's Tink in my body, and she's not doin' the whole "Big Bad" thing. "Big Bad" and Tink do _not_ match up by _any_ stretch of the imagination, and she ain't gonna pull it off without digging my rep even further into the ground.
Yeah, I've said it couldn't get any worse. Shows you just how much I know, huh?
Now, the "Hellblazer" look could work either way, whether she uses peroxide or not, - that said, I know _I_ wouldn't mind her usin' it; be nice to have _some_ trace of the old Spike around, huh? - but...
'No luck here, kid.' I tell her.
'...I'll let it grow out.' Tink says finally.
Niblet eyes her. 'You sure?'
''Kay...' Niblet says. 'Now, the nail polish remover...'
And it's interesting, watchin' them as they trot round the shop.
Tink's... on edge, ill at ease; that last attack of bloodlust knocked her right off balance, and bein' near the girl you were thinkin' 'bout eating definitely ain't good for her either. Think this's why the "Hellblazer" look seems to fit right now. Focusing on the little things, getting them sorted out, out of the way, so she don't have to worry 'bout them.
Niblet, on the other hand... she's concerned.
Been like that ever since she showed up; probably what got her over to our place in the first place.
She's concerned 'bout Tink, wants to make sure she's okay, doin' that "little sister fussing" thing she does. Did it for me, back when... when Buffy died, that time after. Doesn't even realise it, just does it 'cause she's worried, tryin' to help out.
I know the kid - tellin' her _not_ to help is exactly the wrong thing to do.
Fortunately, Tink doesn't do that.
Trouble is, the Slayer pretty much _does_, leaves her out, doesn't want her involved, doesn't tell her what's going on.
Like I said, builds her walls strong, even with her own family.
But that ain't the way to handle Niblet. Never has been. Always has to do _something_ - like her big sister like that.
Still not easy with this - hell, _we're_ not easy with this, why should anyone else be? You can see it, see the expression on her face when she expects to see Tink's body, hear Tink's voice, rather than mine, see when she remembers this's _my_ body, and what I did. Only a couple a' times, showing through the concern, but still there.
Tink can see it too, bouncing off her own unease, but she's looking past it for the moment, trying not to chase her away, make sure she's safe - let her help, do what we came to do, get through this.
Finally, we've picked up everything we came for, get over to the checkout, and then through.
And much to my surprise, absolutely no-one - like, say, Harris - turns up to ruin things.
Could it be things're actually beginning to look up?
Anyway, we get back to the crypt, and Niblet helps us unpack.
The kitten sniffs around, trying to see what's in the bags. Niblet puts down the litter tray, she goes over and sniffs at it, then sticks up her nose and stalks off.
Oh yeah, gonna be tough crypt-training her...
Put away the clothes and the other little odds and ends until finally, all we're left with is the blood.
Tink eyes it, but she ain't gonna risk it with Niblet around. Really doesn't want to go there.
Apart from that, sorted the crypt out, got most everything we need, so that's _that_ pretty much sorted.
So let's see, what's left...?
We've got Tink's bloodlust, but that's pretty much an ongoing thing.
Pretty much just waiting for Red to get back - 'course, knowing the Hellmouth, probably have one or two other things 'long the way just to make things interesting.
And... I don't like it. It's all been too easy.
'Give them what they deserve', Lurky said, and somehow I don't think we've got to that point just yet. Just waiting for the other shoe to drop...
'Crypt sweet crypt,' Niblet observes.
'Guess it is...' Tink says.
Niblet plonks herself down on the slab. 'So what're you gonna do now?'
'Well, I _could_ go back to UCS, but I don't think they take centenarian mature students, for some reason...' Tink says.
'This _is_ Sunnydale.' Niblet notes.
Tink half-smiles. 'True... I don't know, to be honest. I've got Ziggy to look after, maybe looking into why I came back, and then....' She takes a deep breath. 'Then it's... Willow.'
'_Are_ you going to tell her you're back?' Niblet asks.
Tink sighs. 'I... I pretty much have to, Dawn. Will _knows_ Spike, knows what he's like... I'm going to have to.'
'And then what?' Niblet says.
Tink shakes her head. 'I don't know, Dawnie. I don't know...'
Niblet inclines her head.
'What about you?' Tink says.
'Oh, just about to start at the new fun-filled high school of doom.' Niblet says.
'Yeah... remember my first day.' I say. 'Should'a got out when I had the chance.'
Tink pauses. '...Um, when you say that, you mean it really _is_ a high school of doom, right? You're not being ironic, 'cause, you know, hard to tell sometimes 'round here...'
'Yup.' Niblet nods. 'Actual high school of doom. Built over actual Hellmouth.'
Tink and I double-take. '_WHAT?!_'
'Built where the last high school used to be, before it got devastated by a giant snake.' Niblet explains.
'What kind of idiot would build a high school on top of a Hellmouth?' I demand. '_Again?_'
'...Why?' Tink says finally.
'Got me.' Niblet shrugs. 'No diabolical demony plans turned up just yet...'
Something clicks in my head. Something demon girl said earlier.
'Oh sweet Jesus...' I mutter. '_Harris_. I should've known. Never thought he was _this_ much of an idiot... just when I think he can't get any stupider, he proves me wrong.'
'So what you're saying is...' Tink says.
Niblet nods. 'Lots of fun demony things coming outta the woodwork to kill the students.'
'...Oh.' Tink says. 'So, um, not just the university then?'
Niblet shakes her head. 'Uh-uh. High school's the place where it all happens.'
'She's not messing.' I tell Tink. 'That place is _bad_.'
'And you couldn't, I don't know, bunk off for the next three years?' Tink suggests.
Niblet raises an eyebrow. 'Nope. Gotta sit this one through.'
'Oh... wonderful.' I mutter.
'So, um, taking your stakes?' Tink says.
Niblet rolls her eyes. 'Jeez, you're beginning to sound like Buffy. Yep, ready as I'll ever be - which probably isn't ready enough, but hey.' She hops down off the slab. 'Told Buffy I was going over to a friend's. She'll be expecting me back soon.'
'Um... good luck?' Tink offers.
'Thanks.' Niblet says. 'I'll probably need it.'
''Bye, Dawnie.' Tink says.
Niblet hesitates a moment.
And then the crypt door closes behind her.
'...Yep,' I say finally. 'Looks like the other shoe finally dropped.'
Tink shoots me a Look.