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Now...on to the fic! Thanks for y'alls patience! Suki and I appreciate it!
The moment Tara’s face came into view, Spike felt himself relax. Her pink lips curved into a smile and she lifted her arm to wave. Spike waved back and made his way through the thin crowd of people from Flight 815.
She looked good, he thought, as she dropped a large green monstrosity of a handbag to her feet and embraced him warmly. He held her tightly and eagerly, feeling absurdly safe and comforted, like he was in the arms of an older and wiser sibling.
“It’s good to see you again, Spike,” she said.
Spike pulled back and held her at arms' length for a better inspection. “And you. Looking good. Like what you’ve done with your barnet,” he said, indicating the top of her head.
Tara laughed lightly and self-consciously touched a hand to one of the sparkly clips adorning and holding up her hair. “Thanks,” she said shyly. “I woke up feeling funky. In a good way,” she further clarified.
“I like it. Makes you look like a princess. Princess Tara.” She looked like a person who wasn’t crumbling, wasn’t splitting apart at the seams. She looked okay.
Tara laughed again and blushed, her cheeks flushing apple-red. She picked up her bag and pointed off into the distance. “Baggage Claim?”
“Right.” Spike hesitated and looked over her shoulder.
“What?” she asked.
“Giles not with you, is he?”
Tara shook her head and looked at him with an unsure expression on her face. “No. Why would you think he was?”
“I called the coven. She said he was in transit. Had me a bit worried.”
Tara nodded this time, obviously understanding that Giles’ presence would be problematic, at best. “He’s…on his way to New York.”
“Yeah?” Spike tried to sound casual as he scanned the various luggage conveyors for one with Flight 815 displayed above it. Truthfully, he was curious as hell. There was a story here.
“With Willow,” Tara said, continuing as if she hadn’t finished her last sentence.
He looked at her then, stopping alongside a family of four who were busy scanning the twirling suitcases.
“There’s a good reason for that, I take it,” he said carefully.
Tara nodded and looked down at herself, unfastening the two big burgundy buttons on her jacket. “Hot.”
“She’s not coming back, is she?” Spike said in a low voice, his eyes now searching for Tara’s suitcase even though he didn’t have the foggiest idea what it looked like.
“No,” Tara said eventually. “She… She can’t. There’s too much power here - too much darkness. She can’t handle it now.”
“Too tempting?” Spike asked, his eyebrows knitting together in puzzlement.
“Yes and no. Yes. But it’s more than that. It’s like she opened a door that she can’t close. The Hellmouth can see her now.”
Spike understood that perfectly. There was something intoxicating about the Hellmouth, something that made you want to do bad things, something that made you hard and made you want things that weren’t yours to have. It was all very well and good for your average untainted soul, but for those who were accustomed to darkness and who welcomed the evil within, it was a completely different story.
Spike felt the pull every day. It was like a giant hand gripping his whole body, trying to tug him beneath the surface of a better life. But Spike was strong and he was used to fighting his urges now. He wasn’t controlled by the Hellmouth.
But Willow? She was weak. Too weak.
“So Giles is going to settle her in the Big Apple. There’s another coven there, one that’s better equipped, more experienced with this kind of thing.”
“Get a lot of witches on the rampage, do they?” Spike asked sarcastically, but with enough humour that it didn’t sound like he was sniping, even though he technically was.
“Actually, you’d be surprised. It’s more common than you think.”
A bulky looking tapestry carpetbag began circling towards them and Spike pointed at it. “That looks like it might be yours. Bloody Mary Poppins thing.” He turned to look at Tara and grinned when she blushed again.
“Do you think Xander will be upset?” Tara asked when they were in the car and half way back to the Magic Box. “I know New York is closer than England, but it’s still a long way.”
“Don’t know. Maybe,” Spike offered eventually, his eyes cast on the dark road ahead. His fingers flexed on the steering wheel. “Perhaps best not to tell him just yet. Wait until we’re back at the house or something. Bit of privacy, yeah?”
“And if he asks about her?”
“He will - straight away. Just don’t offer that bit of info yet. Say she’s fine and leave it at that. I know he’ll put a brave face on and all that rot, but he’ll still be crushed. I know he will.”
Tara nodded her head in agreement and turned to him, smiling suddenly. “You two are good for each, I think.”
Spike smiled sappily back at her, his gaze leaving the road for a moment. “I think so, too.” He coughed and tried to drop the silly expression when Tara laughed at him.
“I think it’s sweet.”
“It’s not sweet. It’s hot,” Spike corrected.
“Okay, that too.”
“Does Willow know about us?” Spike suddenly asked.
“No, at least certainly not from me. I didn’t think it was my place. Besides, I’m not sure she’d be completely happy about it. You’re not really her favourite person.”
“I can imagine. Although, technically, it was you that finally stopped her, not me,” Spike pointed out, remembering the binding spell Tara had used to stop her lover from making the worst mistake of her life, if she hadn’t done that already.
“True. Although I think it has more to do with why you’re still here and she’s been…cast aside.”
“No one has cast her aside!” Spike said, indignant at the accusation. “Christ, she’s got a whole bloody coven helping out her sorry backside. What more does she bloody want?!”
“She wants her best friend to call her,” Tara said simply.
“She tried to kill her best friend, in case your memory is a bit on the iffy side.”
“I know that, Spike. I’m not taking anyone’s side here. I’m just trying to let you know how it feels from her side.”
Spike huffed. “And Xander needs a guilt complex like a hole in the head! Please don’t hit him with this just now.”
“Oh, Spike, I wouldn’t,” Tara said. She put her hand on Spike’s arm and squeezed reassuringly. “I’m sorry-”
“No, I’m sorry,” Spike said, cutting her off with a shake of his head. “I snapped. I shouldn’t have-”
“No, really, Spike, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No, I insist, I’m sorry. We’ve been under a lot of pressure here.” He paused. “The shop ran out of Cherry Coke last week and I nearly had a fit over it. I’ve never seen a shop assistant scurry away so sodding fast. If only the checkout moved as quick.” Spike smiled to further lighten the mood.
“We’re both sorry, then?” Tara asked.
“Well and truly, pet.”
“Tell me what’s been happening, Spike. Tell me what I can do to help.”
Xander picked up the stun baton he'd been looking at and fought the urge to go out and find someone to zap. He also resisted the urge to zap Angel, who had shown up at the Magic Box a few minutes after the sun had set. It wasn't so much that Xander was being nice, but the fact that Cordelia had called first Angel zapping rights and he sure as hell wasn't going to go against her. Cordy not only had a stun baton added to her arsenal, but a brand new can of mace bear spray that could spray up to 30 feet away.
Cordelia was scary when unarmed, and terrifying when holding one of the crossbows. The thought of her unleashing the new weapons she and Fred had gotten for them filled Xander with the kind of terror only Angelus at his most evil surpassed. After seeing her use the stun gun on Dawn's training dummy and leave its groin area a smoking mess, Xander had decided that if his ex ever decided to rule the world he'd just shut up and say, "Yes Ma'am".
Then again, they had all been acting up this afternoon. Xander knew it was nerves, and if he hadn't been just as on edge it would have been funny. After the confrontation with Wes' dad, he Gunn and Fred had disappeared to do "inventory" in the storeroom. Even before Gunn had come out of the room humming, Xander had figured they were doing the same kind of "inventory" that he and Anya used to do.
Dawn had come home from school and gone directly into the training room. The dummy that Cordy had used had had its stuffing pretty well beaten out of it beforehand as the teen worked through her fear. Well, that and massive amounts of egg rolls. As promised, Xander had let the teen order dinner for everyone, and she'd gone overboard ordering from the local Chinese place. There had been more than enough for Tara once she and Spike had shown up at the Magic Box, and that had been hours later.
Now they were all gathered around the big table in the Magic Box, the security blinds drawn in the windows and over the front door. They had their weapons ready and the truck he and Gunn had been worked on was ready for them to take out on a test run, the holy water Wes had procured from the priest filling the tanks in the back, and while Fred hadn't figured out how to add holy water or garlic to the flash grenades, Xander figured the regular ones would be good enough. Not only that but Cordy had been somewhere that afternoon and had brought home boxes of bullet proof vests, gas masks and six shells for the rocket launcher that they had stolen back in Junior Year when the Judge was around. She had been bragging about a sale and now the vests and masks were coordinated.
Xander found he really, really, really didn't want to know.
It seemed as if there were fifteen conversations going on at once. Gunn and Fred were explaining the UV lights to Angel who looked even more vacant than usual, Wes and Tara were comparing spells or something, while Tara kept flicking her eyes to him and Spike while Dawn was asking Cordelia for a catalogue from wherever she and Fred had bought the stun guns. Apparently, there were knives made to look like lipsticks and pens. Dawn wanted one of each.
"Hey. You okay?"
Xander smiled crookedly and leaned on Spike, something he'd been wanting to do for hours. "No, not really, but I'm good at faking it."
Spike snorted. "When it rains it bloody well pours, don't it?"
"Yeah, we can't seem to catch a break. Fred hacked some computers: car rental companies, local hotels, that sort of thing. She couldn't find any record of Wes' dad or anyone, really, so we have no idea if he's still in town or not, which sucks. Add in Riley trying to find Dawn and I'm ready to have a big case of the wiggens. Only I can't because Dawn will get them too, and she doesn't need that."
Spike's foot kicked him in the leg softly. It was more an affectionate gesture than anything else. "No worries. We'll get us a plan sorted out, you'll talk to Glinda and when we get home later tonight I'll fuck you into the bed and you can have the biggest case of...the wiggens you want."
Xander shifted, uncomfortable with the thought of having a heart to heart with Tara. She was a friend, sure, but she was so quiet. In a way he still considered her as Willow's girlfriend, even though he wasn't sure if the two were together or not. In fact, he hadn't even really talked to Willow since she'd left Sunnydale. He had no idea what to say, and the longer he put off talking to her, the more difficult it was to say anything. 'Hey, have you raised any zombies lately?' wasn't exactly a good conversation starter. It might have been cowardly, but it was easier to just not talk with her at all. Besides, he figured she should email or call first, with the attempted murder and all. There had to be a rule about that somewhere.
"Right. Let's get this thing started, otherwise we'll be nancying about the rest of the night." Spike shoved him gently and Xander let him stand up. "Oi! Enough chit-chatting. Glinda's gonna be here a week; let's take care of Captain Cardboard and his little friends and then you birds can gossip all you like!"
Wesley took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose in a manner that reminded Xander of Giles. "Yes, well...we need a plan. Thanks to everyone's help, we now have a good amount of new weapons and a strategy to use on Riley, one that hopefully he will not expect of us."
"I think we need to keep the plan KISSed. These guys, they're military. Well trained. They're going to be overconfident and paranoid, all at once. That gives us an advantage."
Angel looked at Gunn in confusion. "KISSed?"
"Yeah, man, KISSed. Keep It Simple Stupid. We're best at direct assaults: find the demon, kill the demon. Anything complicated just gives us a greater chance of getting our asses killed."
Xander found himself agreeing. "That's true. All we need to do is find their nest. I mean, Wes found some tracking spells. Me, Dawn and Wes go out on patrol, but we're bait while the rest of you follow, the humans in the truck and Angel and Spike on the rooftops and in the shadows. Big fight happens, we make sure to let one or two of the bad guys get away, but only after Wes or Tara do some sort of tracking spell. You guys do have a tracking spell, don't you?"
Tara exchanged glances with Wesley. "I think I have something that might work. It sort of tags a person's aura. I'm just not sure if it'll work with a vampire."
"Try it out on Spike. I've always said he needed a leash."
Spike turned on his Sire. "Shut it, Peaches. I'm not the one who ponces off into the night like the bloody Batman!" He turned to leer at Xander. "Unless you want to dress up as my Boy Wonder. You'd look cute in short pants and pixie boots, luv."
"Okay, no. Just no! You two can be pervy all you want as long as you don't bring the Bat into it. That's just wrong."
Gunn sounded disgusted and others around the table were pulling faces to match. Xander, however, was torn between laughing at everyone else's expressions...and imagining Spike in a black rubber suit with nipples.
Batman and Robin may have been the cheesiest of the four movies, but George Clooney sure as hell looked good in that outfit. Xander could admit that now, thanks to Spike. He really should thank his lover for that.
Xander ducked and rubbed his head where Cordy had just smacked him. "What?!"
"Plot now, have kinky sex with Spike later. Preferably when I'm in the next state because EW!!"
"That's nothing, you missed the entire Xander and Anya show. Me and Tara are used to hearing about Xander's sex life; the only difference is that he's getting it on with Spike now."
Xander groaned and ignored Dawn's taunting and everyone's laughter, although he could just feel Spike's smirk. "Right. Let's get back to the meeting. Tara can practice her spell on both the vamps; that way we'll be sure it works. And I can track where Deadboy is while Spike pours Nair in his shampoo. So we go, track the bad guys to their lair and pretty much blow it up. Sounds good to me."
Angel shifted where he was sitting. "It may not be that simple. Their lair might be underground in the old Initiative tunnels. Or in the caves where Adam was based. Either way, it'll be difficult to blow up that big a complex. At least not without caving in the entrance so we can't get in while they probably have multiple exits out. That's what I would do, at any rate."
"What about taunting them? I mean, it worked for Buffy. Then again, most of the vamps she fought weren't that smart, well, except for you guys. I mean, if I stood out there and called Riley out, wouldn't he come to kill me? After the obligatory rush of minions, that is."
Dawn had a point, as much as Xander hated to admit it. "I dunno, that might work. As long as Riley hasn't read the Guide to being an Evil Overlord yet."
Dawn and Fred both nodded while everyone else looked at him funny. Finally it was Gunn who cracked. "The what?"
Wes sighed. "Let us please keep on track! At the very least, we should be able to draw a few minions and mid-level vampires out and destroy them. We may end up having to settle for doing just that much for now, at least for our first foray against Riley. We have no real information on his numbers. There is a possibility that he has had an internal struggle of some sort."
Spike chuckled. "You make it sound so pretty there, mate. Just say it. All those well trained army officers, the best of the best. None of them are used to taking orders from a little pissant like Finn, especially since he's mucking about with a teenage girl. Not exactly thrilling. If we're lucky, some have taken off for bloodier pastures. Some vamps are mercenaries, get hired by human governments for assassinations and the like. Central American, the Philippines, both of them can be reached easy like from Southern California and there aren't any Slayers or White Hats that will give a shit in those hell holes."
Dawn sat up. "Whoa, you guys didn't mention this before!"
Angel shrugged. "That was before it became obvious that he was targeting you. Before last night his calls to talk to you were probably just Riley trying to wrap up loose ends, find out who was guarding the Hellmouth and take them out. By looking for you at The Bronze last night, it became obvious that he's stalking you."
"And vampires who are supposed to be Masters are supposed to kill little girls, not stalk them. Well, unless they're the Slayer. I don't think he knows that yet, at any rate."
For a moment Angel's eyes flashed at Spike's words, but then he looked like a kicked puppy. Xander pushed that to the side; it was the past and best left there. "Right, so some of his super vamps might have left? That's why he's making so many minions?"
"Possibly. Either that or he's creating minions to use as practice dummies, if you'll excuse the expression. He's keeping his army entertained by creating fledges and then using them for his troops to fight, either to train them or for entertainment purposes. What would be best is if we could capture one of his men, while at the same time letting three of them go, at the very least, with tracking spells attached. Hopefully without them knowing we've captured one of their number. That way we may interrogate our captive for information."
Spike tipped his chair so far back, Xander was afraid it would fall backwards. "Sounds good to me, mate. Been a while since I had a go at a good spot of torture; 's nice to keep a hand in, yeah?"
Tara raised her hand. "I-I have a truth spell. It should work on vampires and it would be a lot faster than, well, torture."
"It'll be less messy too, because I sure as hell am not cleaning that mess up. It's bad enough that Spike and Xander seem to think that only us girls can do the laundry!"
Xander grinned at Cordelia. "But you know so much about clothes, I just figure you know how to wash them right."
"Xander, the next time you leave a pile of your stinky shorts in the laundry room for more that two days, I'm cutting the crotch out of every pair of pants you own. And I do mean every pair."
Spike opened his mouth, but before he could say anything, Angel stepped in. "Shut up, Spike."
"Don't. No one, not even Xander, wants you to go there."
Spike gave them his best pout, the one that made him look like a cartoon character. "Spoilsport."
Xander couldn't help it, he leaned over and pulled Spike into a brief kiss. "Don't worry, Spike, I'm sure we can find you someone to torture."
Angel made a noise halfway between a gag and a growl, and Gunn wasn't much better. "Okay, if you people are going to be nauseating all night, I need some coffee. And a blindfold. Maybe even some ear plugs."
Wes cleared his throat and stood up. "Perhaps it might be best if we adjourn for a few moments for refreshments. We can return in fifteen minutes and finalize our plans."
"You just want some privacy to snog Miss Texas and Magnum here."
"Spike, how many times do I have to tell you it's Gunn? Gunn. I am not a middle aged white dude with a bad moustache."
"Would you like me to call you Nail?"
"Better than Peaches, at least."
"Will you two leave me out of it?"
Xander sat back and laughed. Listening to Gunn and Spike annoy each other was always amusing, listening to them both annoy Angel was comedy gold and he was feeling much more relaxed than before the start of the meeting. Before he could get involved in the snarkfest, though, Tara came up and tapped him on the shoulder.
"Can we talk? Somewhere quiet?"
Any relaxed feeling Xander might have had instantly got up and ran away at those words. The phrase "Can we talk?" had struck fear into men much braver than he was. Still, he looked around the room and caught Spike's eye. His lover nodded, and Xander got up.
"Sure. We might as well use the storeroom since Wes isn't going to be doing anything kinky in there while Gunn's ragging on Spike and Fred and Cordy are playing with their new toys. Come on."
He waited until they were behind closed doors, figuring that only Angel and Spike would hear what they were saying. Spike, he didn't mind, and hopefully the others would annoy Angel enough so he wouldn't listen in. Even if he did, Xander doubted if Angel would say anything. He might not like Angel, but he was good about not gossiping.
He turned to look at Tara and even in the dim light he could see the sadness in her eyes. "Willow's not coming back, is she?"
"No. She can't. Her magic...it's all messed up. The Hellmouth has tainted it. If she comes back...well, it would be bad. Very bad."
Xander took a deep breath. He could believe that. After all, with a few exceptions, Willow's magic never did work quite right. The whole demon magnet thing leapt to mind. "What is she going to do, then?"
"Go to New York. There's a coven there, as well as a psychiatrist who's a mage. And we can both transfer our school credits to ESU in time for the winter semester. It's far away from both American Hellmouths."
Xander sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "Was she ever going to call?"
"I think she's waiting on you."
Xander grit his teeth. "Great. I have no idea what to say to her. I used to think we could talk about anything, but after Buffy died it's like she was a different person. One I have no idea how to talk to. When she left, I promised her she'd always be my best friend, but that doesn't make it any easier. I mean, I don't want to talk about Buffy, or Anya. That brings up bad memories. So does patrolling the Hellmouth. God forbid I tell her about Spike because she'd be big on the wig and then I'd get pissed off at her again...it's like there's this herd of elephants in the room I'm not supposed to talk about, but there isn't anything else to talk about."
"If-if it helps, I think she feels the same way. With the talking and all. Maybe if you talked about nothing, that would help?"
"Huh? How can you talk about nothing?"
Tara sighed and pushed a bit of hair out of her face and behind her ear. "You know, the weather, Dawn's school. Cordelia and Fred's new weapon obsession..."
"YAY! So I'm not the only one to notice! I mean, don't get me wrong, I like the idea of using the stun batons on the bad guys, but Cordy is taking it to a whole new level."
"See, that's something good to talk about to Willow...Cordelia's penis envy."
"TARA!" Xander wasn't sure if he could blush any harder but she just gave him an innocent look.
"What? Those batons are clearly phallic replacements. There have even been studies about why the police are so aggressive that made the correlation."
"Okay, that both frightens the hell out of me and makes sense, all at once. And now I'm going to get even more paranoid about having batteries in the house." Xander stopped and took a deep breath. It was time to be a grown-up. "Look, you're gonna call Willow later? Or in the morning, right?" Tara nodded and he continued. "Tell her...tell her that after we kick Riley's ass I'll email her. And it'll be a big email. With possible attachments of funny dogs that Dawnie keeps sending me in hopes I'll let her get a pet. Hopefully, after a few emails we can call and things will get better again."
Tara gave him one of her smiles that always seemed to say that she knew the mysteries of the universe. If she had been his type, snarky and somewhat violent, he so would have fallen for that smile. "I will, Xander. It'll be good, for you and for her. There are still hurt feelings, for both of you, and maybe if you write you'll both be able to put them behind you."
Xander sighed. "I hope so. Still, I don't want to piss her off again, and I probably will. But I need to do it, if just for me. I just need to get my head out of my ass and write."
Tara patted him on the arm and gave a soft laugh. "You haven't had your head misplaced anywhere; you've been taking care of Dawn. And Willow...she's been busy too so it was hard for her to write. Maybe if you just start, it will happen."
"Yeah, it probably will. Once Willow gets started talking, all I need to do is nod and make the occasional uh-huh noise. What about you? Are you and Willow still happening?"
"Maybe. Sort of...not really. I love her still, but I don't trust her just yet. We're going to start couple's counseling, but we're not actually, you know..."
"Doing spells together? So you're spelling yourself?" He leered and waggled his eyebrows and Tara smacked him.
"XANDER!" She laughed and for a moment everything was okay in the world. He smiled and offered her his arm.
"Come, milady, we have an Evil Overlord and his Legions of Terror to dust."
Tara took his arm. "Why, thank you, kind sir."
They made their way back to the main room and sat back down at the table, and Xander couldn't help but notice that he felt just a little bit better.
Now if only Riley and Roger would drop off the face of the planet, everything might be okay. But since that wasn't going to happen they had to get ready for the fight.
Besides, Xander really wanted to use that stun baton on someone before the week was out. It wasn't fair that Cordy got all the fun.
AN: Just for fun here is the Evil Overlord Rules link: http://www.eviloverlord.com/lists/overlord.html