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“T-thank you.”

The soft, tremulous voice from behind him startled Spike from his whiskey-soaked reverie. What the hell…? “Glinda,” he slurred as she came around to face him. “Fancy meeting you here.” That was an understatement, wasn’t it? A park bench on a dark night wasn’t the safest place to be human in Sunnydale and Willow’s timid Sappho was the least skilled at combat of any of that so-called Scooby gang. He took a swig from a bottle of Jack Daniel’s cloaked in the finest of brown paper bags. “Where’s the missus?”

She shrugged and he wondered what the devil her game was, but then he seemed to remember she’d started this conversation with something that wasn’t hello, or even good evening… Damn if he could remember, though, and it occurred to him that he might just have crossed the line in his alcohol consumption tonight. Staring at the ground, he counted the number of bagged bottles lying as drained as ever his mortal victims of old had been and… okay, he was on his fourth bottle, and for all that demons had a higher tolerance, it might be wise if he were to take a bit of a break.

Then he heard the echo of Buffy’s voice telling him he was beneath her and… Why stop now? This party was only just beginning. “Have a drink?” he offered, marveling at the reddening of Tara’s skin as she shook her head. If a bloke offering her a drink was enough to make her blush… Guess that explained her membership in the Pink Brigade. Bit of a pity that, he thought, as he idly gave her the once over – twice.

Hey, in love with Buffy he might be, but he wasn’t… well, all right, technically he was dead, but he was still a man, and that was a nice pair o’ tits Tara was walking around with. Couldn’t expect him not to notice, not that she’d th… That was it! She’d said ‘thank you’, hadn’t she? “What was that you were on about? Thanking me?”

She started and he had to admit that any sort of fear from a human was a thrill for which he was almost pathetically grateful. If he’d said it once, he’d said it a thousand times since he was chipped: If only he’d stopped and smelt the corpses.

“I… I should have said it before. I w-was thinking about it. I just… tonight I d-decided to just do it. Thank you.”

What was she on about? “Not that I don’t appreciate a spot of gratitude and all, but what the devil have I ever done for you?”

Now she looked confused. Nice not to be alone in that. “You h-hit me. When my f-family… when I thought I was…”

That? That was what she was here, so earnest and sincere in the dangerous darkness, seeking out the lowest demon on the face of this miserable planet for? “Don’t mention it. It was almost…” He’d been about to say it was almost worth the headache, but that would have been a lie. Hadn’t won him any points with a bitch who put Drusilla to shame for her ability to grind him into the dust he dreaded becoming someday. “Don’t mention it,” he repeated.

“You’re… you’re drunk.” She said it as if she had just suddenly realized it and Spike laughed.

“Aren’t you a caution? Notice the bottles, did ya?”

She nodded, a little too briskly. Chit was still nervous as all get out. As the weight of her gratitude sank through the mire of his intoxication, he began to feel sort of guilty about that. How many others had ever thanked him? For anything? Since his mother…

No, no thinking about her, not now. No bottle in the world big enough to hide from those memories once they took hold, and yeah, he’d learned that the hard way. “If you were a chipped demon, you’d drink too,” he said without thinking. Dammit. Not that she’d use it against him, but vulnerability was something he thought he knew better than to show any of that crew to which she was attached.

“You’re in love, aren’t you? W-with her, I mean. Buffy.”

He’d been looking off into the distance, but when she said… His head whipped around and he fixed her with the kind of stare that had once sent brave men running in terror.

She remained where she stood.

Damn that bloody chip! He took in some of the air he hadn’t needed since before the days of electricity and calmed himself. “The Slayer?” he snorted. “What makes you think that?”

“The way you look at her. I… I look at Willow that way. And she…”

“Looks at you that way, too,” he finished for her. How often had he mocked those two… and had it always really been envy? Guess so.

Before he could figure out what to say, Tara was sitting beside him, her hand on his arm. “I didn’t… before tonight, I didn’t know why you… why you showed your weakness in front of strangers. Now…” Her eyes locked on his and he was stunned to see the shine of tears there. “You love her. And she doesn’t see it, does she?”

It wasn’t a good idea to open up and show her his secrets, but he did. “Yeah. But you’re wrong that she doesn’t see it. She just doesn’t care.”

The shine remained in those sweet, soft eyes and her hand was still on his arm. “Something happened. Tonight.” No questions, just truth.

He nodded, but he didn’t elaborate and she didn’t pry. They sat in silence for a while and he wished they could stay like this forever. Nothing could hurt him in this safe quietude. But it had to end, so he ended it – better him than something or someone else. He stroked her cheek, the barest touch of finger to flesh. “Your Red, she’s the luckiest girl in the world, and you can tell her I said so.”

That pink flush was back in her cheeks but her smile was mysterious and sad. “You deserve…” Then it was as if she was worried about something because she looked at her watch and then hustled to her feet. “I better go.”

“I’ll walk you.” But he stumbled as he rose and she chuckled before putting her hand over her mouth and flashing him an apologetic look.

“I’ll be all right.” No need to argue with her; she had to know he’d never just let her go. He played the game, though, and merely watched her as she began to walk back toward the well-lit sidewalk. “Spike?” she said, turning around. “You’re better than him, you know? I mean, I never knew him, but I know. You’re better than Angel.”

What the… ? “What makes you think that?”

“You stay.” The mysterious, sad smile was there again and he wondered if anyone was aware of just what was inside this girl. “That’s something, you know – staying. Maybe someday she’ll see that.”

“And if she doesn’t?”

“Then you’ll find someone better.” Those words nearly knocked him down and the ones that followed… “You deserve it, you know – love. Just because you’re a demon, it doesn’t mean you’re not… You’re worth it, Spike.”

Once she had made it to the sidewalk, he pulled himself together and followed her stealthily home. She’d sobered him up, hadn’t she?

Later he’d play every moment of their encounter over and over in his head and he’d remember a kiss on the cheek. It hadn’t happened, but in his mind it had.

That was what mattered. That and the words.

” You’re worth it, Spike.”

They almost drowned out…

Almost.

But almost wasn’t good enough was it?

That was all right, though. Because neither was he.


The End.
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