The Downside of Love

Spike stared through the storefront window at the distraught girl sitting alone in the darkened corner, nursing an untouched cup of some frothy beverage or another as tears slid unchecked down her cheeks. Unsure of what to do, but knowing that he couldn't bear to leave her like that, he made his way hesitantly through the all but deserted coffee shop to hover unnoticed by her side.

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

She started, brushing almost guiltily at the tears before stammering an apology, her already reddened face flushing further with embarrassment.

"Shh. No, love. Nothing to be sorry 'bout. Is there?" he added uncertainly.

"I... It's my fault. I made her do it."

"Made who do what, pet?" Spike asked, as he slid uninvited into the seat opposite her.

"She's been using so much magic lately, and I was worried. I... I gave her an ultimatum; told her to stop or I..." her voice caught on a soft sob and she swallowed hard before continuing in a heart-broken whisper... "I'd leave." She looked up, her pain-filled eyes meeting the vampire's soft, sympathetic gaze and with a deep, shuddering breath she steadied herself. "That's why she did the spell. She was trying to make us forget; me and Buffy. So you see it's all my fault. If I hadn't..."

"If you hadn't cared enough to try an' help her, you mean? Is that it?" He watched her face, an array of emotions flitting through her eyes, each warring for supremacy and as the battle raged he reached out to hesitantly pat her hand, silently offering his support to the gentle girl who'd been so kind to him over the long, lonely summer.

"Come on, love, can't sit here all night waiting for some big bad to come along an' take a bite outta you. Let me walk you home." He stood up and offered his hand, a genuine smile curving his lips and lighting his eyes when she accepted without hesitation.

"I moved out of the house," she told him as he made to turn towards Revello Drive.

Relief flooded him and he nodded slightly; the last thing he'd wanted was to run into the Slayer again tonight. Her kiss and run routine was getting old fast and he didn't think he could stand for an encore so soon after her performance at the Bronze earlier that night.

"Right. All the more reason for you to have an escort home."

They walked in companionable silence, making their way through the night-shrouded town to the college campus.

Standing at the door to her building, Tara quietly thanked the vampire and wished him goodnight.

"You need anything you let me know, 'kay, pet? An' don't you go wandering the streets alone at night, you hear?" Spike added gruffly.

" I can take care of myself," the witch reminded him, the overprotective Big Bad making her laugh softly despite her sadness. "I'll be fine." She turned to enter the building then turned back, calling out to the already retreating vampire, "Spike. Thank you," she added when he turned back towards her. With a last wave goodbye she made her way into the building and up to her room, feeling—not better, but a little less bad.