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T H E  H E A R T S T O N E

F I V E

Spike left the back alleys and stole out onto the deserted streets that criss-crossed the centre of town. He walked with a purpose, yet he still kept instinctively to the shadows, alert like a predator on the prowl. Sunnydale at night was no sleepy backwater town. Whilst long-term residents kept indoors, unconsciously shutting out the darkness that prowled the night; there was always someone or something out on the streets.

His destination was a mystery to Buffy; he ignored the turns to his usual haunts, the cemetery or the demon bars he frequented near the docks, and headed out towards the sprawl of UCSD instead. Maybe she was confused because she was drunk, but she couldn’t figure out what on earth Spike could want there. She hadn’t been near the College in awhile, not since they’d rejected her re-application, so why look for her on campus?

The place hadn’t changed much anyway. Students still walked the Quadrangle late at night, unaware that Sunnydale really had monsters that hid in the dark, and frat parties still dragged on noisily into the early hours without a care. But Spike didn’t choose to gatecrash one of those as she expected; his destination was apparently inside one of the many dorms Buffy remembered. The only person she knew in the dorms was Tara, and…

Oh.

Tara! Of course, that made some sort of sense. Tara could sort this out or least help Spike find the witch. Buffy had always liked Tara.

Good ol’ Tara.

Spike stalked through the dorm with a purpose, obviously knowing exactly where he was going, but Buffy was lost. She was sure she’d been to a party in this building a long, long time ago, but the endless rows of firmly closed doors all looked the same now. Seemingly at random, Spike stopped at a door on the upper floor dorm that was as anonymous as all the rest, and he rapped on it hard. A few students who were shunning sleep in favour of last minute essay writing – between runs to the coffee machine – gave him nervous glances as they returned with their drinks, but they scuttled past him without comment when he gave them the Big Bad glare.

It took awhile and some more knocking, but when Tara eventually answered the door, she looked tired and puffy, as if she’d just woken from a deep sleep. Yet she didn’t seem surprised to see Spike at this hour. He didn’t need an invite either, Buffy noticed; it was obvious he’d been here before. And often, judging by Tara’s resigned expression. She turned back inside and Spike followed, flopping down onto a fake fur beanbag as Tara switched on the small reading lamp and busied herself re-making her bed. Bad Buffy. She had never been to Tara’s new room. Since the young witch had moved out of Revello Drive, Buffy had barely seen her. She would have to do something about that.

The room was a single, the tiny space dominated by a bed pushed against one wall and a battered desk against the other. In one corner there was a small basin and a mirrored cabinet decorated with a dapple of bright holographic stickers of cheery rainbows and smiling moons. Spike’s legs took up most of the remaining floor as he sprawled across it, taking up more space than was strictly necessary.

"Are… are you okay?" Tara asked him, her nervous shutter more prominent than it had been in a while. She looked down with a soft, caring smile, but it was plain that, despite any familiarity they had, she was still nervous around the vampire.

"Yeah," Spike grumbled. He sunk deeper into the beanbag and deeper into his sulk. "Peachy."

She sighed with the air of someone who’d had this conversation many times before. "Whatever’s bothering you… you should talk about it."

"I’m fine."

Tara gave up. She sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed her legs under her and waited. An awkward silence settled on the room. She yawned as she picked at the bobbles on her worn pyjamas. Spike drummed his fingers on his jiggling knee. Buffy got bored waiting for something to happen.

Eventually, he straightened, seeming to pull himself together and shake off his funk. "There is one thing you could do for me..."

Tara looked up, her arching eyebrow implying that she’d been waiting for him to get over himself. "You need a spell."

“That’s right. Need a spell. Buffy’s missing.”

“Buffy’s missing?” she repeated.

Spike pulled out his flask and took a long draught to top up his drunkenness. “Yeah, vanished right under my nose.”

“Where? Did you see anything?”

“No. We were out. Patrolling.” Spike explained, then added gloomily as he took another swig, “Like we do.”

Tara didn’t look terribly convinced, but she didn’t interrupt.

“There was this bird,” Spike continued. “A witch like you and Red. Think she cast a spell. Knocked me clean out. Woke up and Buffy was gone.”

“Where did she go?”

“Dunno. She disappeared.” He shrugged. “Just went poof!”

“So why aren’t…?”

“Why aren’t I out there looking for her?” Spike exploded onto his feet and began to pace angrily, though the tiny space didn’t really give him enough room to truly get his rant going. Tara recoiled and backed up across the bed until her back was pressed up against the wall.    “Gang’s onto it,” he spat venomously. “They can handle it. Apparently.”

“They w…wouldn’t l…let you help.”

“Don’t need them. Can look myself.” Spike whirled around and stared Tara down. “Find her for me.”

Tara nodded, relaxing a little as Spike collapsed back onto the beanbag. After his display of bluster, the energy that fuelled it ebbed away and the maudlin drunkenness returned. “Need to find her.”

Tara shuffled off the bed. “I can try a location spell.”

“That’d be dandy.”

Tara reached into a cupboard and dragged out a small chest. As she rooted around inside, she pulled out all sorts of interesting items before finding what she was looking for; a jar of coloured sand, a long crystal of clear quartz and some incense. Buffy watched her hesitate as she pondered what candles to use, her fingers lingering over the red, but after a quick glance at Spike, she chose pink.

“You need all this?” he asked.

Tara’s head jerked up. The circle of sand she was making gained an unsightly bulge. “I need them to…to focus. You… you m…make me nervous.”

“Don’t be. Wouldn’t kill you.” Spike reached out, tilting his head as he pushed aside her curtain of hair with a fingertip. “Even if I could.”

Tara swallowed and blushed. She smiled sweetly though. “You just want me to do your spells.”

“Not true! Lot of people I wouldn’t kill. Might want to,” Spike conceded, “but I wouldn’t, whatever the Slayer might think. I’ve changed.”

“Thank you. I think.”

Tara bent back to her task, closing her circle off with the remaining sand. The space was limited and by the time she reached the apex of her arc her hand was dangerously close to bits of Spike that Buffy thought no lesbian should ever have to contemplate.

She hesitated and stared at her hand. “Um. Spike? I… I need…”

“Oh, right.”

He shifted. A little. He was no longer sprawling like a big lazy cat, but as he crossed his legs under him to create more space, his hands unconsciously fell into his lap, framing his valuables.

Tara swallowed, apparently well aware of all the primal male sexuality on show, but trying to ignore it. She closed the circle with the sand and set the candles out at the cardinal points, plonking the last one dangerously close to the delicate parts of him that he was drawing her attention to. Her hand lingered on the thick column of wax, her fingers gently sliding towards its base. She gave him a wickedly sultry look, her eyes sparkling under heavy lids.

Buffy sensed Spike’s amusement at Tara’s challenge as he raised a quizzical brow. The irony of the witch’s hand clasped around a pink candle wasn’t lost on him. He raised a curious brow. “Didn’t know you leant that way.”

Tara sat up again and lit a match. Her eyes glittered with mirth as she gave him a sly, but surprisingly sexy smile that Buffy felt Spike respond to. “I don’t.”

“Yeah, well, remind me not to get you shirty.” He grabbed a purple batik cushion from the bed and placed it to protect his crotch. “There might be… sparks and stuff,” he explained, the entendre slipping from his tongue in a raspy drawl. “Not that I'm worried or anything.”

Tara’s eyes slowly dropped from his. “I’ll be careful.”

Buffy tensed. She didn’t understand what was going on anymore, how everything had got all sexy. Tara couldn’t be thinking straight. Not that Buffy was jealous or anything silly like that. She was just concerned. For Tara. That was all.

Honestly.

But the strength of Spike’s erection pushing against the cushion wasn’t lost on Buffy at all. “’Course you will.”

Tara lit the candles and unfolded a map of Sunnydale, pressing it out across the floor inside the circle. “I’ll need a focus. Do you have anything of Buffy’s?”

Spike reached inside his coat and pulled out Buffy’s discarded panties. “Got these.”

Horrified, Buffy could only watch as Tara took them delicately between two fingers – she didn’t look too happy about them herself.

“It’s not what you’re thinking,” he told Tara quickly as she placed them on the map with her crystal.

She looked up. “It’s okay. I know.”

Surprised, he lifted his head higher. His head tilted a little. “Yeah? That right?”

Tara nodded.  “Buffy told me you’ve been together.”

He frowned bitterly, staring into the flask at the dwindling contents. “If that’s what you want to call it.”

“I think…” she started, but trailed off as Spike signalled for her to stop.

“Just get the spell done,” he said.

Tara gave him a long but sympathetic look and lit the incense. “Diligo Addo Gaudium!”

Woof! The candles leapt upwards in bright flares. Reflexively, Spike recoiled sharply into his corner, drawing in his limbs as tightly as he could, avoiding the flames as they threatened to scorch the inseam of his jeans where the small cushion couldn’t protect him.

As the candles began to burn with an odd, dark fire, Buffy felt a strange but pleasant sensation surge through both their bodies, crackling at their nerve-endings. In Spike, the sensation quickly faded away, draining out of him like water through a plughole, but it flowed into her like honey, the sensation calm, loving and oddly wholesome. Her skin felt sensitive and tingly, and it was actually her skin, not his; she could feel its warmth and the way it was flushed with life. For the first time since the spell in The Bronze, she was aware of her own body again, yet at the same time, she could feel his too, all opposites; hot and cold, male and female, dead and alive. Freaky.

She relaxed into the spell’s heart-warming embrace, it felt not unlike the peace of heaven, but the comfort came from life not death. For the first time since she’d woken in her coffin, she felt like a part of the world again; glad to be alive.  Unfortunately, the soothing warmth didn’t last, taking with it her sense of her own separateness, but her new-found positivity remained, even when she found she was still trapped inside Spike.

But… But… Wow. Willow’s location spells had never felt like that.

“What… what was that about?” Spike stammered as the candle flames died back to normal size and colour.

“It was just a charm.” Tara didn’t look surprised at all. “It was just a bit more powerful than I expected.”

“A what?” Spike straightened again, folding his arms tightly around him. “I don’t think that…”

“Shhh!”  Tara evaded his glare and his question. She concentrated on the contents of the circle instead. “Aradia, we call on you to aid us this day.

As she spoke the words, the air around them thickened, becoming charged and electric. The atmosphere had already been tense, but now it felt… expectant.

Send us your spirit to guide us.”

The candles flickered as the incense swirled and condensed, forming a ball of light in the centre of the circle above the crystal, like some miniature star being born in a distant nebula. As it grew, it started to burn with an intensity that lit the room with a pale, ethereal glow and its heat singed the lace trim of Buffy’s panties. It hovered above the map, waiting patiently for its instructions as Tara continued her invocation, calling on otherworldly powers to aid their search.

Let your light lead the way to the one that is lost.”

The light pulsed as if listening.

So mote it be.”

The light started to move, but then it hesitated, circling as if unsure of where to go. Buffy felt it connect to her, a soft tug that tingled her insides, and she realised that her willpower alone would determine whether or not it came to her. Right then, she didn’t know what she wanted to do. She could disappear now and no one would ever know. No more responsibility. No more Slaying. No more Doublemeat Palace. No anything. She could ditch everything that had weighed her down since her resurrection in one swoop. She could stay in the sanctuary of Spike’s head until he was dust, unless he got the chip out and then… Okay, she didn’t want to think about that.

The idea would have sounded good a few minutes before, but the first spell had made her feel differently and living didn’t seem so bad right now. She didn’t want to disappear. She wanted her life back!

Decision made. She urged the light towards her and it came. Fast. It shot into Spike’s chest like a one-inch punch, knocking him backwards and cracking his head on the wall beneath the window. The vase on the sill above rocked ominously, then toppled onto the carpet, narrowly missing his head. He looked at it woozily, trying to grasp its significance then blacked out for a moment, plunging Buffy into a black void she couldn’t escape.

Spike! Her mind screamed.

Spike didn’t respond to her mental shout. Moments felt like aeons in the abyss and Buffy was adrift. She was just starting to worry that he might never wake up when he came to, his eyelids fluttering as Tara inspected his head for injury. His chest ached and his head was spinning like a rinse cycle, which made Buffy feel dizzy too, but there appeared to be little for a vampire to worry about beyond a few bruises.

Tara moved the map aside and knelt over him, her loose pyjama top inadvertently giving him a decent view of the kind of cleavage Buffy could only dream of having, and he perked up, surrendering to Tara’s caring hands. But what was much more interesting to Buffy than his lechery was that with the bump, something had shifted inside Spike’s mind. There was an opening, a small fissure in his consciousness that she could squeeze through.

She grabbed the opportunity and pushed herself through it. Spike? Can you hear me?

Astonished by the invasion of another voice inside his head, Spike jolted.

"Spike! Are you hurt?" Tara asked. “I don’t know what went wrong. It’s not supposed to do… do that. The moon phase must be making the magic more powerful.”

He nodded, still stunned.

Tara pulled back and looked at him. “Spike?”

Spike, Buffy said urgently, you heard me before. I’m inside you!

"She’s…" Spike stuttered to Tara. "She’s speaking to me. In my head."

"The spell didn’t work. I think you hurt yourself." Tara frowned.

Exasperated, Buffy tried to shout louder. I’m trapped inside you!

What?” Spike snapped as he winced at the volume.

“Spike?” Tara asked. “What’s going on?”

Buffy ignored their confusion.  Spike! Listen to me.

“Buffy?” he asked, aloud.

“Spike? Spike! It’s Tara.” She reached out to him again.

Yes, Buffy urged him. It’s me! Tell Tara I’m in here.

Spike squeezed his head with his hands. “Shut up!”

Tara looked hurt, but she tentatively removed his hands. “Spike, are you okay?”

Tell her!

“I can’t talk to both of you at once.”

“Both? Who’s there?” Tara’s eyes grew huge.  Buffy?”

Spike gently pushed her away. “Tara, need a second.”

Tara sat back and Buffy noticed how concerned she still looked. She remained quiet as Spike stood up and went to the basin, but she was watching intently just in case. He bent down, avoiding the mirror, and splashed some water onto his face.

Spike. Buffy gasped, she’d seen something... Look up!

He covered his face with his hand. " Give us a minute."

You have to see this! Look in the mirror.

"There’s nothing to see, pet," he said gloomily. Yet despite his protest, he did what he was told and looked up. Buffy’s face stared back at them. Startled, he leapt back. “Bloody hell!”

“What’s wrong?” Tara asked as she whisked the candles away before any parts of vulnerable vampire or the carpet were singed.

Spike didn’t notice the gesture, absorbed as her was by the sight of Buffy’s face. “It’s…”

“It’s what…?” Tara got up. She looked where he was pointing, back at him, then at the mirror again. “Oh.”

“It’s Buffy, Tara,” Spike said, numbly.

Tara knows who I am, Spike..

He brought his hands to his temples, but rubbing them didn’t do him much good. “She’s stuck in my head.”

I’ve been inside you since we were zapped.

Tara turned back to him, squinting as she looked over him closely. “Your aura. It’s changed.”

Spike finally managed to wrench his eyes from the mirror. “My aura?”

Tara blushed. “Usually vampires, they have auras that are kinda black and oily. Yours is grey now where they’ve mixed together. I think you and Buffy have combined.”

Buffy’s stomach dropped like a plummeting lift. Oh my god.

“You’ve become like one of those Russian dolls,” Tara went on. “You know the ones that fit inside each other?”

Spike frowned and turned back to the mirror, narrowing his eyes as if he was trying to see the effect for himself. Buffy was frowning too. “She’s there. Chattering in my sodding head.”

And you have to get me out again, she stressed.

Spike sighed and squeezed his eyes closed. Bloody women, you’re giving me a headache.

I heard that!

    

Six

 

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