Far Down Within the Dim West
WARNINGS: this story contains mature content which may not be suitable for some readers.
SPOILERS: goes AU just before "Hell's Bells"
NOTES: Kernezelda made me think about the details, Sarah refused to let me vague things up, and Corde caught me where I was falling. Go Team Beta.
"Death has reared himself a throne in a strange city lying alone far down within the dim West..."
-Edgar Allan Poe, "The City in the Sea"
What frightens her most, when she thinks too long about it, isn't that this happened at all. Sooner or later, something had to give. After all, with a few notable exceptions, they were only human. And such children, really. What frightens her most is how simple it all seemed. A chain of events, every little piece, grim in its own right, following fast and faster until it was all out of control.
It started with such a small thing. An errand, a few days before the wedding, to buy the groom's gift. Nothing evil, nothing prophetic. It had rained that day, and Willow lost control of the car. They got the call at the Magic Box, from the police. There's been an accident, please come to the hospital. Xander was already in surgery when they arrived, and they sat with Willow in the waiting room, listening as she wailed that she'd killed Xander, killed her best friend. Anya would say later that Willow had killed Xander with her screaming.
When all was said and done, the earth itself was smoking. Anya left the day after she and Tara broke Faith out of prison and still refuses to say where she'd gone. Tara stayed, at least until everyone was buried properly. They deserved a funeral, even if there weren't enough left to mourn them. Then she left, too, ran like the others. Tara has spent almost a third of her life running, in so many different places she's stopped keeping track. But their lives, Anya says, move in some great gestalt pattern, and it was really only a matter of time before they collided again.
The sound is far away at first, reaching through her haze and touching something deep inside. A familiar growl, low in the chest. Vampire, her mind supplies. Common enough at these parties--they last for days, and if a few people are dead at the end, no one finds it peculiar. But this growl is followed by a quick, sharp sound of pain, loud enough to penetrate her senses. And that sound, that shout, is familiar enough to make her chest ache.
Her eyelids slide open slowly, and she stretches on the velvet couch she collapsed on, who knows how many hours ago. The candles she lit are guttering, and she thinks she must have been out longer than usual. There, in the corner, she can just barely make out a platinum head crouched over a slumping body. A forgotten impulse tells her to get help--but she can see from its limp arms that the body is dead already. Not that she would have bothered anyway. No one who comes here wants to be saved.
She struggles to sit up, lets her head fall against the cushions, and waits for him to finish. Patience is something she forgot long ago, but ennui fills the gap well enough.
Finally he pulls away--it was a girl, she can see now, barely out of her teens. He wipes his face, and turns to find her looking at him. Freezes, and squints in the dim light.
It must be the first genuine smile to cross her lips in years. "Hello, Spike," she says warmly.
"You." He gapes at her--hair mussed, no makeup besides her smudged dark eyeliner.
"Yes, me." Tara stands and tilts her head, evaluating. "I see you got your chip out. Congratulations."
Spike scowls. "No, I still have it. Bloody chip. Think it's starting to short out, though. If I break their necks first, it only hurts for a minute. I can feed afterwards." He grins then, and seems sorely disappointed that she isn't frightened.
She arches one eyebrow. "Still chips ahoy, then?" she asks, almost sympathetic.
"Yeah," he scoffs, "like I've never heard that one before." He inclines his head and she wonders idly if his neck muscles ever get tired. "What are you doing here?" he sneers.
She smiles wryly. "What do you think?" She gestures at the party around them.
They stare, for minutes, and Spike breaks first. "Bugger. Are you drunk?" he asks.
Tara shakes her head, absently. She's still a little fuzzy, but she can feel old ghosts stirring at the back of her mind. "No. I think. Listen," she says, licking her lips. Glancing around, she notices the party has all but wound down. "Listen, do you wanna go someplace else?" Her heart races.
She shrugs. "Elsewhere." The tilt of her chin is defiant, her expression a challenge.
Spike mirrors her shrug. "Sure, love," he drawls. Tara smiles again and leads him toward the door, stepping over the body of the dead girl. He stops. "You've really changed."
Tara turns back to him, disparaging. We've all changed, she wants to say. She settles on, "I'm all grown up," with a twitch of her mouth.
Spike swallows needlessly. She can see the dip of his adam's apple in his throat. "You're not a vampire?"
Tara laughs, throws back her head and laughs. If only. She continues on her way out the door, still laughing, and Spike can do nothing but follow.
Tara stops in the doorway of a smoky bar, inclines her head toward Spike. He looks back for a few seconds, but he's no mind reader. He shrugs off her gaze, heads to the bar. She slides up alongside, and he can feel her raw power at his elbow. She's not exactly the good fairy anymore.
The witch seems comfortable enough here. There's a woman tending bar, and Tara reaches out to rest a light hand on her back. "Bourbon, rocks; make it double."
"I saw you come in," the bartender answers, turning to place a lowball in front of Tara.
The bartender turns to him, then, and Spike almost doesn't recognize her. "Anya," he says, blinking.
"I suppose you want Jack," Anya says knowingly. She's not at all surprised to see him. "I don't have O neg, sorry to disappoint you." Her voice is that false cheerfulness of years before, but it sounds strained and brittle with disuse.
Tara frowns. "Anya, I was going to surprise you."
Anya is empty and hard-eyed and looking, always looking. Even while she addresses him, her eyes rove around the room. Spike thinks a bloke would be hard-put to sneak anything past her.
"Well, well, well," he sneers, "isn't this just a droll little reunion?"
Anya's eyes are glitter-sharp as she slams another lowball in front of Spike, pouring from a bottle of Jack Daniels. "Fuck yourself."
Tara smirks mischievously, holding her drink just under her mouth. "I'm sure he has." She takes a swallow of her amber fire and glides off toward a corner booth.
Spike watches her go, mouth open to respond. He turns back to Anya, whose lips are twisted in bitter appreciation.
"That was an invitation to follow, you undead moron."
He glances back at Tara, just sliding into a seat. There's something...well. There's something. She's older now, of course, and the black mesh dress isn't entirely out of character--but there's something about the way she carries herself, the deliberately sultry pose and the demoralized attitude, that unnerves him. He thinks it's damn sexy, and a pity she doesn't swing his way. "Last time I saw Glenda, she wasn't exactly looking to pick up the boys," Spike points out to Anya.
Anya snorts and rolls her eyes. Turns back to her work. "Men," she mutters.
Spike throws the whiskey down his throat, slams the glass on the bar for another. Anya pours it irritably and without speaking to him. Something tells him that he needs to be very drunk right now. Finally, he joins Tara in the corner.
"You want to explain just what the hell you're doing?"
She looks at him all clear-eyed and innocent. False naivete at its finest. "I don't know what you mean."
"I thought you didn't like men. Didn't really think of us blokes that way." He doesn't mention muscle cramps or birthday parties, because certain names no longer pass his lips and it doesn't matter anyway.
Tara's lips curl in that wicked smile he's rapidly becoming familiar with. If he didn't know better, he'd say she's scheming. And then he remembers that he doesn't necessarily know better. Not anymore.
"What, I have to choose one or the other now? Maybe I've...broadened my horizons."
"And has Anya broadened her horizons?" he leers.
She quirks an eyebrow. "Wouldn't you like to know."
Bitch. Spike growls in frustration, runs a hand through his hair. He feels almost inclined to scrap this game, slide out of the booth and swoop out into the night. He didn't leave Sunnyhell for his health, that's for damn certain. But there's an air of mystery about her that he feels compelled to break open wide. Not to mention the way her breasts push together when she leans on the table like that, and the craving he feels that has nothing to do with blood and everything to do with her lush mouth. He sighs and sinks back into his seat. "You fancy going someplace a bit quieter, pet?" he asks.
A darkness falls across Tara's face, and she's not coy and sultry anymore, but hard and cold and hollow as Anya. Suddenly, it's not a game at all. "I'm not drunk enough yet," she grates, and rises smoothly to make for the bar, not meeting his eye.
There's a Vuyl demon in the corner. She thinks. If the protrusions on the backs of his hands have three spikes and not four. Four spikes would make him a Wassir demon. Her eyesight isn't that good, not anymore.
It's not just the Vuyl she's interested in. There's something about the human he's talking to. The girl seems a bit too calm about the situation. Any normal, rational human would be at least a little unnerved.
She thinks. It's been awhile since she knew what normalcy and rationality felt like.
"Anya," Tara breathes at her shoulder. Breaks her concentration.
"What?" Anya snaps in response.
"Do you remember..." Tara's throat closes up then, and her eyes glaze over. She squeezes them shut very tight.
Anya sighs. "I'm over a millennia old. I remember a hell of a lot. More than you'll ever forget. Now, what?" There's a soft pang where her baby conscience-in-training used to be. Sometimes Tara gets like this. It's a little bit like it was right after Glory.
Tara, sometimes, is just another obstacle in Anya's way. But Anya took care of her when she was a blubbering, drooling idiot, and that does something to a person that even despair can't kill. Most of the time, they prop one another up, anyway. Take one away, and they both topple over.
Anya likes to think Tara thinks it's love. Of course, she knows enough to know she's wrong. Tara doesn't love anymore.
"Do you remember what I told you in the desert?" Tara blurts out.
Anya tears her eyes from the Vuyl and his trollop, looks Tara in the eye. Does she remember.
How could she forget?
"No," Anya says. She pours Tara another drink. "I don't think you said anything in the desert."
"I did," Tara insists. "This is it. I've found going to find it. Tonight." After a moment, she concedes, "Possibly this morning."
Truer words were never spoken, Anya thinks, eying the Vuyl and his girl as they make for the back door.
Eyes narrowed, Anya turns back to Tara for one moment. "You mean Spike?" It doesn't seem possible. Not Spike. It's so...
It's so perfectly rational, from a crazy point of view. Anya wonders why she never thought of it before. Then she remembers she's not crazy, and neither is Tara. Funny what clarity comes with the things Tara does to herself. Anya prefers real, brutal clarity to the artificial.
The girl slips out the back, followed closely by the Vuyl. Alternate universe demon, very powerful in traversing dimensions. His cousin the Wassir is nowhere near as skillful, so the spikes kind of matter.
"Watch the bar," Anya mutters, passing Tara the bottle of bourbon. She doesn't look back as she slinks toward the door, slipping out unnoticed.
A few minutes later she slips back inside, steals around the back of the bar, past the corner where Tara and Spike are. Typical of Tara, not to watch the bar. Just anyone, human or demon, could help themselves. To the liquor or to the cash.
She stops, takes a breath to halfheartedly berate Tara. Instead, Spike fills the silence. No need to breathe, after all.
"Is that blood?" he asks, gaze narrowed on her right hand.
Anya looks down diffidently. Red oozy stuff all over her hand, front and back. She arches a brow at Spike, offering her hand. "Want it?"
Yellow glow in his eyes. Of course he wants it. His tongue is rough like a cat's on her skin, and sends shivers up her spine. She pulls away before he laps her clean, runs her fingers over the quartz granite of his face, almost a caress. Leaves a red smudge. The yellow, hungry glow is back.
Tara gazes up at her with limpid eyes. "It's only my own," Anya shrugs. This time. Definitely a Wassir, definitely four spikes. She felt every one.
Tara doesn't flinch. "I don't care."
Anya turns away, leaves Spike staring hungrily after her still-weeping wound. No venom in Wassir spikes, fortunately.
"I know you don't," she says, walking back to the bar. A little vodka should sterilize the four gaping holes in her hand.
Spike's hunger doesn't abate as Anya walks away. Tara thinks she can still see saffron bursts of craving splinter through his eyes, if she concentrates hard enough. His hunger is golden, like her drink, and it probably burns the way her drink does.
But it's getting more difficult to concentrate, and she plays absently with the sugar packets at the table, ripping each open meticulously and sprinkling the granules in patterns of magical runes and other powerful ancient symbols.
She licks her palm and presses it to the sugar symbols, but a wave of nausea passes over her as she extends her tongue again to lick her hand clean. Spike follows the movements of her body with ever-increasing intensity.
She blinks languidly. "You need to feed."
"Yuh. I s'pose I do." His eyes flick around the room, a little like Anya's. It seems so appropriate, here in a place that's Anya's.
"So soon?" she asks, thinking of the girl from the party. It seems like a human life should sustain one for longer.
"It wasn't..." Spike seems agitated, and his eyes still won't rest. "I don't like feeding on junkies, okay? Tastes funny. And that girl was pumped so full of--" He breaks off, looking curiously at her. He's still now, so still, unmoving as hewn granite, and just as cold. He reaches out, and brushes away the tears streaming down her face with his thumb.
"It's the smoke," she says. "I'm allergic."
"Uh-huh." He very gently takes her hand in his and turns it, palm up, brushing away the clumps of sugar still clinging there. Tara doesn't like where this is going. His fingertips come to rest briefly on the veins in her wrist, feeling her pulse.
Abruptly, he pushes her sleeve up her arm. Nothing.
"What were you expecting to find there?" she asks hotly, snatching back her hand and smoothing the sleeve.
Spike growls, a rumbling sound like distant thunder. The air around them is charged, and Tara looks at him sideways. The last of Anya's bourbon disappears down her throat, straight from the bottle.
"You need to eat. We'll go." And she's out of the booth with her skirts swirling around her ankles, and she doesn't spare a glance behind her. Tara knows just the way he's looking at her, half-astonished. She likes it when he looks at her that way. A voice she tries to drown out has always liked it when he looks at her that way.
Anya is hunched at the register, lightly running her fingers over the now-stanched wounds in her hand. The action does not stop her eyes roving about the room.
"You'll infect it that way. You should bandage it."
Anya shrugs. "What do you care?"
Tara returns the gesture. "I'm taking a friend home tonight," she says, inclining her head toward Spike, still sitting in the corner and gaping.
"We have friends now?"
"Consider it a loose interpretation."
Anya nods as Spike finally pushes out of the booth, sauntering in a very nonchalant manner. "I won't be home until early." "Why?"
"I have things to do."
Tara scrutinizes the expression on Anya's face, the way she keeps looking around the bar, the way her wounded hand clutches a folded scrap of paper. "Okay."
It's best, she decides, not to ask. It's best that way all around.
She and Spike slip into the sick tangerine-lit Los Angeles night. It's not what anyone would call the best part of town, and it doesn't take Spike long to find a little snack. This time, a guy in his mid-twenties maybe, longish hair, leather jacket. When she hears the snap of his neck and Spike's brief cry, Tara thinks it's safe to call the guy woefully overconfident.
She's had enough experience with overconfidence for one lifetime. Tara understands the need to get high, to drown in something other than sorrow, but she thinks of Willow, and wonders.
No one knew that Willow tried to bring Xander back one night. They thought she would have learned her lesson. Tara still suspects a certain someone helped Willow, but she never said a word. Never, never said a word, except one night, to Anya, in the desert.
No one knew, until Willow spun out of control.
It's not cold, but Tara feels chilled anyway. Her heart pounds, her head riots, and she knows this is not good, knows she needs to get home, quickly, before something goes awry. "Hurry up, Spike!" Her fingers twist the amulet chain around her neck into impossible knots. Control. Magic is about control, everything is about control. She whispers a few words and her head feels a little quieter.
Spike emerges from the shadows, wiping blood from the corners of his mouth. "Getting a little skittish, eh, Glenda?" he asks.
Tara laughs. "Not exactly." It's not cold, but she feels frozen. She wipes her nose on her sleeve. "A little chilly."
"Well, might as well take the bloke's jacket. He's not goin' to be wanting it." And then Spike walks away, and leaves Tara to strip a dead man of his clothing. She only hesitates a moment.
Spike's veins still thrum with the life he took less than twenty minutes ago. The kill is something he missed, sure. And she knows about the pain. What he doesn't tell her is that he likes it. Likes the pain almost more than the fresh blood. He's a vampire, it's not surprising that he enjoys the ache--but anymore it's part of the draw. Delicious. At the door of her apartment, Tara holds him back from the entrance with an enticing hand on his stomach. She's getting harder and harder to read, and he means that with no pun intended. From a pouch on a long leather strip around her neck, she takes a pinch of some glittery powder. Once the door is unlocked, she blows the powder delicately from her fingers.
A wicked smile in his direction. "You don't want to know what happens if you try to enter without that."
"If I try to enter without that, I get turned away at the door, love. Haven't been invited yet."
A petulant shadow crosses her face, and for a moment she is very like a child. Spike doesn't like that, doesn't like that at all. She's never been small or nymph-like, not like...other girls. But she looks tiny and lost inside that leather jacket, with her hair mussed and her eyes dilated and her face more gaunt than he's ever seen it.
She steps inside the apartment and flicks the light switch. Smiles back at him, and the illusion of little girl lost disappears. The building was probably nice, once, years ago. Not now. The plaster is webbed with cracks and there are strange stains high on the walls.
"Well, come in then," she says.
Her invitation. He slips inside, and the door latches shut behind him.
She lets the jacket slide from her shoulders and crumple in a dead heap on the floor. "Make yourself comfortable. There's something I need to do." And she disappears down the hall swiftly. He hears a door shut and, a moment later, the water starts to run.
Spike makes a circuit of the living room, pausing to focus on some photographs impaled to the wall with thumbtacks. They're not what he thought at first; not wistful tributes to a past that's dead and buried.
They look more like crime scene photos. Bloody, broken bodies in black and white. This one with a throat cut. That one with the head at an awkward angle. He looks a little closer and realizes they've been torn from a book.
While the idea of humans having photos like these as decoration isn't exactly appealing, he feels a familiar stirring, an appreciation for the images and the acts that must have preceded them.
He's already half-anticipating whatever the witch's got brewing, so to speak. His skin prickles. His ears buzz. He's--
An echoing cry from the loo distracts him, sends him rushing to throw open the door.
Tara's on the floor in a heap, with blood running down her arm and a syringe clutched in her hand. Spike is again torn between revulsion and hunger.
"What in bloody hell--"
He grabs her arm and hauls her to her feet, twists viciously, brings it up behind her back and he can hear the muscles and ligaments straining, doing damage even before the bone reaches the breaking point.
It happens like that, in the space between her breaths. She cries out half an instant before he does. But Spike does not let go. He's in love with the pain, maybe more than he's ever loved anything. Or anyone. And Spike knows how to love.
It starts deep in his brain, buzzing, and then flares into something bright and hot that shoots down his nerve endings all the way to his toes. After that initial explosion, a deep, steady ache settles in, pooling around his still heart, his limbs, his groin, in his throat. It's like an orgasm in reverse.
He has to clear his throat in order to speak and even then his voice is low and ragged. "What in bloody hell do you think you're doing?"
She looks up at him, her face streaked with panicked tears. "I was--I slipped on the tile. It was wet. The needle..." She sniffs. "Stupid. So goddamn stupid. I was in too much of a hurry to sit down."
"Before. When I looked at your arm..."
"Magic," she forces out between shallow, erratic breaths.
He pushes her away. "Magic. Bloody well fabulous. You stupid bitch." Blood's still dripping down her arm in thick rivulets, and he just can't stop himself. His eyes go gold, and his fangs slip out, and his rough tongue traces along her arm right to the torn needle-prick. A moment later his human features are back in place, and he grimaces, spitting into the sink. "Bugger. Disgusting."
Her heavy eye makeup is smudged all under her eyes, and the single fluorescent ring on the ceiling sheds a flickering green light over everything. "That's it? I no longer make an appetizing meal, so shame on me?" She arches an eyebrow. Then she shivers.
"You want me to scold you like your friends would have, pet? Somehow I don't see the appeal, but if you're up for it..."
She scrapes a hand through her hair, and he sees a flash of white flesh: the magic is starting to fade, and he can see dark, wasting lines. "Don't," she says.
"You use magic to get high, or just to keep your little habit a secret?"
She frowns, clenches her hands into desperate fists, which only makes the needle wound bleed freshly. She curses and pulls a long strip of toilet paper from the dispenser, wrapping it around her arm like a bandage. "I'd n-never," she stutters, flustered. "I wouldn't use m-magic to... I wouldn't do that, anyway."
"You think this is better than what Red was doing?" he sneers.
Tara's expression hardens, her head snaps up, brief fire flares in her eyes. "Don't talk about Willow," she says, low and dangerous. "Don't."
"So you don't have to think about how far you've fallen off your mighty high horse?"
She's shaking now, or her hands are, but he can't tell if it's rage or the beginnings of withdrawal. There's a flash of vitality in her eyes; she stands her ground. He knows now how much has changed. "It's all relative, Spike," she says softly. "I know how far I've fallen. But I also know how far Anya's fallen. And I know how far you have. Or do you think Buffy would approve that you get off on activating your chip?"
Spike growls. He can't help wondering if it's that obvious. "Leave Buffy out of this."
She smirks. "Maybe we should wait until Anya gets home so we can insult Xander, then."
He laughs bitterly at that, and his subconscious can't help but supply a few choice quips.
Still shaking--not rage, then--she reaches for a packet of powder, tips some into a tin with inept fingers. Lights a fire under it with a few soft words. He catches her arm, and though she tries, she's not strong enough to pull away.
He looks her in the eye. "You're goin' to end up dead, love."
"Maybe that's the point." It's a gut reaction; he lets go her arm and she continues the prep work, her motions odd and ungainly. He watches.
"So, the magic...?"
"Hides the evidence. Keeps the symptoms to a minimum. I'm not stupid," she snaps. The murky liquid sliding up the tube of the syringe. She flicks out the air bubbles. Finally, bitterly, she asks, "Why do you care, anyway?"
He shouldn't care, really. He doesn't know why he cares. He's never known why he cares. Gives a slight shake of his head. "I want to watch," he whispers as she perches on the edge of the tub.
She grinds her jaw and shrugs. He watches her shake out her other arm, clench her pretty fist, tie the elastic around her arm and hold it in her pretty teeth. She checks the dose like some kind of doctor in a gritty back-alley clinic.
He can see fine tremors wracking her entire body. If she weren't such a powerful witch, she'd have lost it by now. She's too close to losing it anyway, and as the needle approaches her flesh, it shakes far too much to do any good.
"Here," Spike says, "let me do it." She looks up at him, her panic thinly disguised, her eyes huge and black, with only a sliver of her usual grey-blue at the edges.
She sniffs, hands over the needle. "You have to hold it--"
"I know how to hold it," he snaps. She bares her flesh for him, just her arm for now, but who knows what it may be a prelude to. Spike uses his teeth, a light scrape, to raise a vein near her elbow. A vampire's instinctual knowledge. Then the needle slips in so cleanly he can't even smell the blood.
He presses the plunger. She inhales sharply and her back arches, she makes a small noise in the back of her throat. And if he didn't want her before, he certainly hungers for her now. She slides to the floor at his feet, face suffused with ecstasy. "Thank you," she murmurs, looking up into his face.
Spike has to grit his teeth against the wave of lust that washes over him.
Later, in the living room, they are seated side-by-side on the threadbare sofa. He sniffs, shakes out a cigarette and lights it. "You want one?"
"Are you kidding?" She flashes him a small, languid smile. "Those things'll kill you."
Spike snorts. "Yeah."
"So." She stretches lazily, her lids drooping heavily over her eyes. "So you're getting off on pain now."
He laughs, shakes his head, takes another drag. "Yeah, what of it?"
She shrugs. "Nothing. Hey, let's both be honest."
She ignores him with the exception of a little sniff, and goes on, "I understand. I understand getting it any way you can." Even now she's soft, her voice is soft and her curves are soft and he can barely believe she has such hard marrow. She pauses, frowns, her lower lip jutting out past her upper. He wants to take it between his teeth and never let go. "It hurt you, on my birthday, when you hit me," she continues. "Did you like it then?"
"Can't say as I did, love."
"You have too many meaningless pet names," she tells him imperiously. There's a soft smile there, as well, and he is reminded of her, in the past. The hard edges disappear for a moment, and everything is almost okay. The softness dissolves into a small, bitter laugh. "You know what's funny?
"Tomorrow is my thirtieth birthday."
"You mean today."
"No," she smiles, nodding to the clock on the wall. It's far past midnight. "I took that into account."
Spike takes a long drag off his cigarette and flicks ash into a disused water glass. He watches the smoke that billows out with his stale breath. "Why's that funny?"
"It just is. The last milestone birthday I had, you were there."
"Don't see what's so significant about turning thirty. 'S not like you're that old. All that rot's just hype."
She gives him a wry grin. "Says the man who'll be young forever."
Spike turns to her then, one eyebrow cocked, suddenly serious. Almost serious. His mind is still filled with the pervading joy on her face as she whispered her thanks earlier. His insides churn. "I could make you young forever," he says softly.
A sort of curtain descends between them, and she refuses to meet his eyes. The hard edges are back. "No," she murmurs. "You couldn't."
They fall into uneasy silence. She gets up, pours ice and some topaz-colored liquor into a glass. She doesn't offer him any. Spike sits and smokes.
"I never did thank you," she says reluctantly.
"What for?" He tosses the cigarette stub into the water glass as she takes a long swallow of her drink.
"For...proving I wasn't... After I realized I wasn't a demon, everything was okay. For a little while. I suppose I owe you that."
Another ponderous silence threatens to engulf them, because Spike can't possibly think of an appropriate response to that.
Finally he shrugs, walks toward the kitchenette. "So, nice place you got here. Authentic, yeah? Yours or Demon-girl's?"
Sighing, she upends her glass and drains it. "Ours, together," she says finally. "We've lived here for a couple of years, but Anya and I...we didn't find each other in L.A."
She leaves the ice to melt in her empty glass and glides around the room, finally pausing to stand in the doorway of her bedroom. She leans against the door frame, one hand over her head and her eyes half-closed. The corner of her mouth curves dangerously. "Mexico City," she says finally. He watches hungrily as her other hand traces along her thigh. "We were both looking for something."
The great bloody bitch. She knows exactly what she's doing. Spike swallows hard, more for the control in the motion than anything else. "Looking for the same thing?" He feels like he can't move, or he might explode.
She shakes her head, a little wantonly. "No."
He waits, but she just stares back at him with an unreadable expression. "Well, did you find it?"
Her eyes flick away from his, and for a moment the sadness on her face, the lines of her jaw and collarbone, remind him of some great work of art. "No." Her voice is soft. Then, after a moment, she adds, "Anya is still looking."
He can believe that.
She moves closer to him again, keeping hold of the door jam until the last moment so that her breasts push out. "Anya and I have a name for L.A. Los Angeles Caidos."
Spike's Spanish is dodgy, but he picked up a fair spot of Portuguese in Brazil. "The City of Fallen Angels," he hazards. The word is the same in Portuguese.
Tara nods, once, just the barest inclination of her lovely chin. What he wouldn't give for the flesh of her neck... He can see the blood pulsing just beneath the surface, rushing through her jugular vein. This has moved beyond a game, beyond lust for sex and blood. This is a dance, and someone will walk away from it. He doesn't know, doesn't care who. There's nothing but desire, and her flesh, and the certainty that she would taste sweet even with heroin still in her veins.
"Are you the fallen angels?" he manages to rasp, as she comes closer still. He doesn't think he's ever felt so much like prey in his undead life. She shows him no fear, and somehow, from her, that is frightening.
Tara arches one brow, smiling that wicked smile. "What do you think?" she asks, all pouting lips and crystal eyes.
He thinks--all he thinks, is that he can't stand this any longer. And when he pitches forward, reaches out rough hands to grab her hips, crushes her to his body, claims her lips, he thinks that he might get what he wants from her after all.
She has killed for her quest, and she has opened her legs, and she's bribed, threatened, traded on debts centuries old. All to no avail. Anya still remains desperately small, empty, foolish and human. The very things she did for her cause are things she hates, because they only highlight her weaknesses.
When the Wassir attacked her earlier, the stupid girl he was with dropped her purse, the contents spilling everywhere. As they fled, Anya picked up a scrap of paper from among the debris. A single address was inscribed there, and desperate as it might be, she has the cab let her off a block down the street from this destination.
It turns out to be one of the most exclusive demon bars in L.A. Unlisted, unmapped, hidden well from the lower echelons of the demon world. Anya has heard rumors of it waft through her own bar like a gory fairy tale. And after all, every good fairy tale needs a princess. She feels for the knife she has hidden on her thigh and decides she fits the bill.
The bouncer goes down quickly, stupidly, because he's not looking for a threat from a puny little human like Anya. His first and last mistake. Inside, she has to breathe deeply to force her heart rate down, there is so much beautiful potential before her.
Has to force her heart rate down, because in this place she must be Anyanka, Patron Saint of Scorned Women, who could curse anyone she pleased for looking at her sideways. A powerful vengeance demon, who only needs one little favor and then she'll reward you beyond your wildest dreams.
There are plenty of marks here, if she keeps to the shadows. Plenty who could do what she needs. But the one who catches her attention has an almost human face, a golden Adonis shining with her salvation. A Ctath demon.
She slides up beside him at the bar as he's ordering drinks and smiles her most brilliant smile.
Things get dicey for a while, but she does reward him, finally. Beyond his darkest nightmares. He's only half-Ctath, after all, but he still requires a human consort. Together, they still make up a powerful force for creating folds in space-time. The knife slides between the consort's ribs with such ease. D'Hoffryn will be proud. Human logic dictates that Anya should feel remorse, but she feels only relief that she won't have to consider matters such as these much longer.
Why, indeed? Tara asked it earlier, and the Ctath cries it loudly in the alley behind the bar as his beloved mate's blood coats Anya's greedy hands. Why. It should seem obvious, after all. There are reasons for things left unsaid, Anya thinks bitterly. Good reasons.
But maybe good reasons are not good enough. Maybe what's best is what's bad, or worse. A sin against the mind.
Because she has blood on her hands again, and it's not hers this time. It feels the same as in the desert, slippery and sticky. It smells the same, old pennies and terror. And yet it is nothing like the desert she remembers, because her most vivid memories of the desert are of Tara.
Anya came to Mexico by sea, escaped the tourist-clogged, strawberry-margarita-soaked streets of Mazatlan on a rickety old bus up through the Sierra Madres. Seven hours they drove, passing open-air brickworks with crews of young men breaking their backs in the hot sun. They stopped for lunch in a cobblestoned village on the side of a cliff. Anya wandered into the local cathedral, where beetles scurried over the stone floor, and putti and cherubim adorned the ceiling. The crucifix was life-size, and life-like, blood dripping slowly down a broken body, and from this craze for the macabre, Anya knew she was headed in the right direction.
The end of the line was a tiny village high in the mountains, surrounded by jungle. Anya hiked down through the jungle until she finally reached the foothills, and the dense foliage abruptly broke apart, stretching endlessly into sand.
Blinding sun in her eyes at midday, and cold, sandburning nights. Scorpions and centipedes and cacti and dry, prickly things. Anya walked halfway across the desert before the first of many dirty bars and even dirtier men who might, who might just have what she needed. Power, or information, or both.
She never remembered in the mornings how she'd ended up in the places she went to sleep the night before. Not at first, anyway. She woke up that morning trapped under the arm of a native who claimed to be half-demon. If he were telling the truth, there should have been not-inconsiderable fireworks at the moment of completion. Of the dimension-tearing kind, not the normal sex kind. If Anya remembered correctly--and she was by no means certain she did--there had been a profound lack of either.
The one thing she'd stake her life on was that she'd recited the incantations correctly. Well, and that his penis was really far too small for her to be so sore.
She did what she needed to do--that is to say, for her own peace of mind--before she left in the morning. If there were inadequate washing facilities to erase the evidence, it only made her that much more attractive to the sort of people she was trying to attract.
Anya wasn't invulnerable; she knew that. She knew it all too well. It was entirely possible that she might be killed in some horrible way before she even came close to success. She knew that too. Most of the time she could not bring herself to care.
Days passed in a fever dream, and it was only at night, when she went on the hunt, that her mind cleared. It was almost like living as a vampire, except that the sun beat down on her all day, even when she'd been in the jungle, and turned her skin a livid crimson. Sometimes she spent her days peeling strips of dead skin away, leaving her body white and alluring for the evening.
The evening she stumbled into the outskirts of Mexico City, the sunburn was new, a crackly brown-pink with the edges starting to peel back on her nose. It wasn't alluring, but it was more honest than she'd allowed herself to be in some time. She was weak with dehydration, but it didn't take long to find a cantina. The buildings at the edge of the city were dirty and half fallen down, like the dregs of every other city she'd ever seen. It smelled like urine.
"Cerveza," she ordered.
Anya didn't pay close attention when people were talking to her. Her mind filtered out the information she needed, sent up a red flag when someone said something of interest. The bartender set a warm beer down in front of her, and she was drinking it in one long draught when she heard murmurs of the word "gringas."
She shook her hair over her shoulders, and turned.
Tara's hair had been bleached platinum by the sun, and her lip was split down the center. She had a black eye and half a dozen empty tequila shots in front of her. Tara turned, blinking heavy, bleak eyes at Anya. Tara's lips quirked, and though she did not say a word, something in her eyes changed.
She slid off the barstool sloppily and shuffled to Anya's side, wrapping her arms around Anya without a word. She buried her head in the crook of Anya's neck, where the skin was reddest and tenderest. Anya didn't complain when she nuzzled.
The faces of a dozen men watching them fell in disappointment, then sharpened in desire, and Anya couldn't keep visions of Tara, drunk and gang-raped and lying desolate, out of her head. She wondered if it had happened, or perhaps how many times it had.
A long time ago, before--well, before everything, really. A long time ago, they all thought things were as bad as they could get, and Tara was a shadow of herself, docilely following after Willow. And everyone else was far too busy trying to keep a hell-god off the streets to pay any attention. Anya cared for her then. She would do it now.
Anya had never really thought much about lesbians, which is to say, she hadn't considered it for herself. She couldn't quite get used to the idea of sex without interlocking parts. As it turned out, she simply hadn't been objective enough.
The horizon rippled in three hundred-sixty degrees, and the temperature soared. The desert, the world, the universe was melting, mutable. There were only two solidities: Anya's bitter-edged presence beside her, and the one truth Tara knew with such a certainty it twisted her insides. Tara knew she was melting too. She was meant for shadow, and now, here, in the desert, there was only light. Burning, blinding light, like the light of heaven blistering God's own fallen angels. Soon, or someday, or years from now there would be nothing left. She supposed she would find out how strong she was when she reached the zenith, whenever it came that she could take no more.
Nights they didn't search anymore. Perhaps they'd given up. Nights were tequila-soaked and spent huddled in empty ramshackle casitas.
"I never expected to see you again," Tara whispered one night, sheltered by walls with no roof and a canopy of stars. Just outside lay the corpse of what might once have been a man, but it was easy enough to forget if you didn't mind the smell. Anya smiled, a tiny smile, tracing Tara's face with her sweat-slick fingers.
"I have to tell you--I have to..."
Anya's fingers on her lips. "Shhh."
"I'm looking--I was--I think someone...helped W-willow. H-helped her raise Xander. And I was l-looking for him, I--"
Anya, stunned, shaking her head. Her tear-filled eyes were perhaps the scariest thing Tara had ever seen. "Don't. Don't. Don't talk about Xander. D--please. Just."
Tara nodded, and she never spoke of it again.
Anya never wants to talk about it. Never wants to talk about blame. To her mind, Willow is the beginning and end of the story. But Tara knows. Tara knows she's kissing the enemy.
It is the coldest kiss in the history of the world, Spike's tongue in her mouth the chill of the dead, and her blood so far from boiling it might as well turn to ice in her veins.
He doesn't notice. Typical. Or perhaps just typical of a vampire, who had a hundred years of kissing cold women, after all. Buffy aside.
He's good at it, good at kissing. Even she might have been excited by it, if she didn't know precisely what she was going to do. If she didn't know precisely why.
They stumble against the wall, and if he were a man, there would be heat rising off of him, scorching her breasts and her belly. But he's not a man, and the coldness only makes this easier. She nudges him slightly, and he takes the cue, his hands tight on her back and her ass. They stagger into her bedroom and land sprawling on the bed.
He evidently likes dominant women, because he makes no attempt to flip them over. Not that she could stop him if he tried. Her only hope is that he would respond the way she thought he might, and she knows it's not that big a gamble.
He really is good at kissing, his tongue probing and his hands in places she never thought she'd have a man's. The hardness of his body, not just his erection but everything, his arms, the lack of breasts, remind her. Keep reminding her. She mumbles while they kiss, and he should notice. She thinks he should notice.
She has him tied down with magic too strong for even him to break before his lust-hazed brain registers the sound of her voice.
It might be the sudden stretched immobility of his limbs that gets through, or it might be the lack of her warm tongue in his mouth. Either way he blinks off the haze and looks up at her wildly, seeming impressed at the turn of events. "Playing a little game, love?"
She smiles down at him from where she's straddled across his groin. It seems like a good idea to have him as disconcerted as possible.
"Say my name, Spike."
A slow, lazy smile curls the corners of his mouth, and part of her marvels that he just doesn't get it. "I don't think so, pet. Not 'til you make me."
There are always, always a stake and a handgun tucked under her pillow. Both come in handy now. Stake to his heart, gun to her head, no games now. There's more than one way to make him. "Say. My. Name."
Her control is slipping, artificial and inborn. This won't end well. It could never have ended well. Shared history cannot save him, because it damns him most of all.
Spike's face finally registers dumb shock, and he stares at her, slackjawed, for a good minute before he makes a valiant struggle against his bonds. "Bloody hell, woman, what are you doing? Put those down! You don't have to..." He breaks off in a growl. And then there's his game face and he uses threats rather than pleas. A little more pressure on the stake stops his mouth.
"You don't want me to let you go, Spike," she says slowly. "You understand it. I'm not looking for salvation. I never wanted to be saved." Her calm surprises her; she thought that, if this moment finally came, she'd be frantic with grief. But after everything, this just seems right. She lowers the gun from her head, but presses the stake in a little harder. Something screams inside of her, screams that this isn't right. She ignores it. "And you don't want to be saved, either."
"Like hell I don't!" Spike struggles still against his invisible chains, but all she has to do is roll her hips a little, just in the right spot, and he collapses against the bed with a groan.
No salvation in this anywhere. Only darkness and greater corruption.
"What the fuck is this about?" he pants.
Her voice hardens. "I'm only going to ask this once, Spike. Listen very carefully. I want you to think back to the night Willow lost it for good. Remember that night? I'm sure you do, the next morning was pretty memorable. We both know, you and I, that she tried to raise Xander sometime the week before. Someone helped her. Do you know where I'm going with this?"
Spike swallows hard and fear flashes in his eyes. Flashes of fear aren't golden like his hunger is. This fear is blue and quivering down to his bones. "Yes," he finally answers.
"Do you know what I found out later?" She battles for control of her voice at this point. Battles for control, period. "Do you know, with the particular spell she used, what would happen if a creature of evil were the one helping her? A vampire, maybe? I bet you can just guess."
"Oh, God," he chokes.
Willow should have known what that spell would do if she took even one misstep. Even a glance at the spellbook's footnotes would have warned about the potential darkness they unleashed. A mingling of spirits which was supposed to broker greater power, but which let the demon's evil leach into Willow. An evil she had no way to control.
But Willow, by that point, was too beside herself with grief to care about thorough research. And Tara, well. She could only offer Willow cold comfort. She has to tell herself it's not her fault. It's not her fault. Tara refuses to be the one to blame. "Say my name."
There's a plaintive note in the way he says her name. She's not sure she likes it. In fact, she's certain she doesn't like it. The last time anyone said her name like that...
She can still see Dawn's eyes, big and trying to be brave. "Tara, I can't stop it now. You have to. You have to take it." The knife Dawn used to slice her wrists clattering to the floor. Falling weakly to her knees at Tara's feet. Offering up her blood and her little body and her enormous life force, offering it into Tara's hands, because that elemental energy was the only way anyone would be able to stop Willow. She'd already killed Buffy, and killed Giles, and Dawn was the one who saved them all, really. Tara was only her vessel.
All it took was a light touch to Dawn's forehead, a few words, and suddenly there was pure white light, green energy, a feeling like her very soul was being torn in two. Power like she'd never felt before coursing through Tara as Dawn's body literally crumbled to dust. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. But nobody fell down. Dawn only found a new home, snugged right there in the corner of Tara's mind.
Only it was not Dawn, after all. It was that elusive Key. A transference of everything Dawn was and could be. Her voice. Her manufactured memories. Her epochs of wisdom. Her plaintive, shuddering pain. It sometimes takes everything Tara has to keep Dawn from wresting control.
The new power was frightening and thorough. By the time it was all over, by the time Tara and Anya had to kill Willow, there was nothing left of her, only a wild and deviant darkness inside. It was like putting down a favorite pet, gone rabid. That's not what hurts Tara the most--she doubts she could pin that down--but it comes close enough.
And in the years after, Tara had found that heroin would shut up that extra voice, if only for a little while.
Tara. She leans over him and puts her mouth to his ear. She whispers. "All I want, Spike, all I've ever wanted, is someone to blame." Her chest is heaving, the soft swells of her breasts pushing out at him with every shuddering breath, and she's pressing against his erection.
And he's going to die. She's grinding into him, and the stake has pierced the skin of his chest, and he's going to die, and it hurts, and it's pleasure, it's pain. She's right. He does not want to be saved. Maybe he's never wanted to be saved, even back before Glory when he thought Buffy could be the one to do it.
Definitely, he definitely does not want to be saved now, not with Buffy six feet underground and never to rise again. He wouldn't do that to her a second time.
In a moment of glittering clarity, with Tara pressed against him and a stake halfway to his heart, Spike realizes. Realizes it's his fault entirely that Buffy is dead. When Red came to him, frantic for someone to help her, he thought that if he could fix things, Buffy might love him. Or at least tolerate him. Or at least want to live. It was too horrible to see the cold light in her eyes and know she was thinking about death, and thinking about Xander, and not thinking about him at all.
"Are you proud, Spike? Are you proud you killed Buffy? Are you proud you killed Dawnie?" Tara's words are broken by the sound of her sobs.
He realizes. Realizes he should have left well enough alone. Should have known what the spell would do to Willow. Should have known.
Should have gotten the hell out of town long before.
Dawn found Buffy in her bed one morning with a kitchen knife through her chest, and Willow broke down and cried that she was just trying to fix her mistakes, wouldn't they please let her fix her mistakes?
He'd seen it himself, come by under his blanket that morning for God knows what. When he burst into the kitchen, he saw it in Dawn's eyes. After that, she never really looked like a child. He could see her in her last few weeks as she truly was, a millennia-old force trapped in a child's body. He'd somehow made it up the stairs and into Buffy's room. It was the only time in over a century that the scent of blood had made him ill.
Spike's arms are already stretched wide to welcome death. "I'm sorry," he chokes out, and he isn't speaking to Tara. Oh no, though he has plenty to be sorry for. He is going to Hell, and he would pray, if he were allowed, that he won't see Buffy there.
More pressure. A sharp sliver of pain. His heart shatters for the last time.
The sun is just rising over the murky Los Angeles skyline when Anya makes it back to the apartment. Annoyed, she pulls a bag of sharp, sparkly powder out of her bosom and blows the stuff over the threshold. She doesn't know why she even bothered to come back here.
Except that, after all of this, Tara should at least know what happened.
She half-expects to find Tara and Spike inside, naked and entwined on the floor. Instead, she is met with empty space and absolute silence.
Anya closes the door, and listens. There. In Tara's bedroom. Small sounds.
Small sounds that turn out to be Tara's sniffling, as she kneels on her bed.
The sunlight streams in through the open blinds, highlighting the side of her peachskin face. She looks up at Anya, her expression unreadable in shadow.
Anya's lips twist, though she tries to look casual. "Did you have sex with Spike?"
Tara laughs, or chokes, or both. "Yes, that's exactly what I did. Because I love men. That's why I've been out for the last decade."
"You seemed to be pretty cozy at the bar."
"No. Of course not."
"Of course not."
That's when Anya notices. The sunlight picks out dust motes floating all over the room. And Tara has a stake and a handgun sitting on the bed nearby.
And the bedspread may not always be clean, but it's never that dirty.
"You killed him."
"Yes," she says, with a little defiant tilt of her chin.
"Well, I'm definitely not jealous now." But at the same time, there's just one more emptiness inside. She may not have liked Spike particularly, but he'd been nice enough to her. Especially back when she was trying to remember how to be human, and he was trying to figure out how not to be a demon. And if there was any difference at all in that, Anya could never find it.
"'Death has reared himself a throne in a strange city lying alone...'"
Tara looks at her with faint surprise. "Edgar Allan Poe."
"He was a talented one, that Edgar. I almost hated to grant that woman's wish. I can't help thinking, sometimes, of what I might have deprived the world."
Momentarily distracted, Tara's mouth falls open. "You mean you killed...Edgar Allan Poe?"
"I suppose it was his fault, really. Always going on and on about tragic love. If he'd been more sensible he wouldn't have led that woman on the way he did. Thinks he's going to marry her, but it turns out he's still pining over his dead wife. Hmph."
"You couldn't you have, like, changed the wish? Gotten by on a technicality?"
"There's not much you can change when a woman wishes her lover would die like a drunk in the gutter." Anya feels a strange stirring of anger for Tara's self-righteous concern, sitting as she is among the ashes of someone who was, at least, an acquaintance. If not who might be called an old ally, whom they had fought beside more than once.
Human logic. She hates it.
Anya reaches into her pocket for her prize, washed already of blood. She was very careful about that. She'll be careful with it from now until the end of time. The end of time--almost an appealing thought. Holding onto the chain, she lets the green amulet drop to sparkle and sway in the sunlight.
"Your powercenter," Tara says, stunned.
"You really did it. You got it..." She trails off, looking at Anya uncertainly. "And how many people did you have to kill to get it?"
More hypocrisy. "Not many," Anya answers casually, leaning against the doorpost. "No one important."
Tara lets out a high-pitched laugh, combing her hands through her hair. She shakes her head. "No one important. That's...that's wonderful, Anya." Her body is stiff and radiates bitterness.
Anya's eyes narrow. "What? What is it?"
It's a long time before Tara answers. "I grew up, my whole life, believing I was a demon," she says quietly, voice heavy with unshed tears. "I can't imagine why anyone would choose to..."
The accusal in Tara's voice touches something in Anya, some idea of the past. They were supposed to be in this together, for what it was worth. "You never said anything before."
Tara looks down at the ash-strewn duvet. "I didn't think--"
"You didn't think I'd succeed," Anya finishes. Anger rises in her chest, flushing her skin. "So, what, it was easy to ignore?"
"I didn't think I'd succeed either," Tara says, almost helplessly, her shoulders slumping as she runs a hand across the bed.
"Well. You did. That's right, rake your fingers through the dust. You're a killer now, Tara. Just like the rest of us."
Tara looks up, annoyance and justification flashing on her face. "He's a v-vamp-pire. He was killing again, Anya, he--"
"I'm supposed to care about that?" Anya laughs. "And you don't either. You know you don't. You killed him out of vengeance. It's really quite serendipitous. Completes things in a tidy little circle. And how often can you say that?"
"I'm not a killer." Her voice sounds desperate.
Tara doesn't respond, just raises the handgun at Anya, cocks it, sights down the barrel with her big wounded eyes.
Anya smirks. "If you pull the trigger, you'll only prove me right."
"You're a demon." Tara's lips tremble.
"You're not one to judge. Would you have killed yourself on your birthday, Tara, if things didn't work out the way they did? Besides, I haven't put it on yet. Still human."
The point of the gun wavers as Tara's hands begin to shake. Slowly, thoughtfully, she lowers the weapon.
"Then...you still have a choice. You don't have to."
"You don't see it. I don't have a choice. I can't, I can't do this any..."
"I really thought..."
"You thought what?" Anya sneers.
With her china-doll eyes trained on Anya, Tara raises the gun again. To press directly to her own temple. She looks like she's struggling against herself, and one side is losing. Looks like she's too tired to keep up the fight. She raises her brows, and waits.
Waits, most likely, for some kind of reaction. Some kind of gasping or pleading. What Tara doesn't know is that Anya suspected something like this all along. Suspected that someday it would come down to this. This is, it appears, a night for culminations.
"Go ahead," Anya says, and she's almost laughing, only it's not a happy sound. "Do it. I don't care." She turns, and at the door she adds, "I don't know what makes you think I would." And even though she might have thought Tara wanted to believe she was in love, there are too many twists there for Anya. Period. End of story. The epilogue might say that she has cared too much and lost too much to risk it again.
Anya moves down the hall to her bedroom, closes the door and pulls a suitcase out of the closet in an imitation of resolve. Will she need the clothes, the shoes? She's too apathetic to remember. She stands in front of the mirror, holding her powercenter in front of her chest. Still, she does not put it on.
A gunshot sounds through the apartment, muffled by the intervening walls.
Anya's jaw tightens just enough to prove that she cares; humans always care, whatever they may tell themselves. She nods, fastens the emerald around her neck.
And is gone.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Shaye
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