Quiet as a Mouse

by Miranda

Part 1

“Mouse. Listen to me.”

She hadn’t heard that voice in three years, but it was written on her back brain somewhere, and she knew the gentle, drawling tones instantly.


“Shhh. There’s something you’ve forgot. Something you need to remember.”

“Mama … What?” She turned, trying to find the speaker, but there was nothing around her but darkness.

“The lock, Mouse. The day we got locked out. It’s all right to remember it now.”

There was a sudden warm pressure, as of arms closed around her, then it whisked away and she was alone and afraid in the dark.

“Don’t go. Please don’t go.”


Startled, she opened her eyes and looked into Willow’s anxious face. Morning sunlight poured into their room, and she could hear the sounds of the other girls on their hallway heading to the showers. “Willow,” she said slowly, trying to clear the cobwebs from her mind.

Willow shifted closer and put an arm around her shoulders. “Are you okay? You were talking in your sleep. Did you have a bad dream?”

The word ‘dream’ brought things into focus. “Dreaming, but not bad. It was about my Mom.”

“Probably because of Joyce, huh?”


Willow’s smile faded and Tara felt again the tension between them.

During the course of apologizing for  a) attempting to resurrect Joyce and  b) her anger with the witches, Dawn had let slip that Willow had shown her which book to take. Tara had forgiven her lover the lie — it wasn’t as if she were innocent in such matters, herself — but Willow was still feeling guilty.

“It’s okay,” Tara whispered, stroking back the red hair. “You were trying to help.”

Willow burrowed against her, hiding her face in Tara’s shoulder. “But I didn’t,” she said in a muffled voice. “I was about as far from helping as you could get.”

“You did help, just not the way you meant. Dawn trying the spell made her and Buffy reach out to each other. That’s important.”

“I guess,” Willow raised her head and smiled a little despite watery eyes. “But I sure thought Buffy was going to kick my ass.”

Tara smiled back. “She’s not angry anymore. Everyone’s forgiven you but you.”

“Well, I still think I need to be grounded for awhile. No Bronze for me, young lady. I need to sit home and think about what I did.”

*                              *                              *

Only part of Tara’s attention remained on her morning classes, and she remained preoccupied as she walked back to the dorm. Something she had forgotten. Something her Mama said she should remember.

Despite their renewed closeness, Tara was reluctant to tell Willow the details of her dream. She had learned early to keep silent — children, particularly girls, were to be seen and not heard — especially about what lay close to her heart. Her silence had led her mother to calling her Mouse, although only in private because nicknames were frowned on as silly.

Even though she was learning to trust Willow, Buffy, and the rest, it was still hard for her to speak. And really, what had she to say? She knew nothing of the killing of monsters. She hadn’t even been able to find the words to sway Dawn from her destructive path.

Speaking of Dawn, Tara was snapped out of her thoughts by the sight of the younger Summers jigging impatiently up and down outside their dorm room door.

“Dawn?” she said, quickening her step. “Is something wrong?”

“No, everthing’s fine. I just picked up my stuff so I could start my homework before going back to school, and I thought I’d stop in a minute.”

“Okay.” Tara opened the door and led Dawn inside. “You know, Willow’s in a lab and won’t be back until late this afternoon.”

“I know. Actually, I wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh,” Tara blinked in surprise. “Uh, sure.” She sat down on the bed and waited.

Dawn watched the toe of her sneaker dig into the floor then sighed and said, “Are you and Willow fighting about her giving me that book? Because it was my fault, and if I made you guys fight, that would really suck. So if you have to be mad at somebody it should be me.”

“Nobody’s mad at anybody,” Tara said gently. “It’s all over, and I’m just glad you weren’t hurt.”

“Promise?” Dawn asked suspiciously.


“Good,” she took another deep breath and said in a rush, “Buffy told me about your mom, so I guess you did understand what I was going through, and I’m sorry I was a bitch.”

Tara shook her head. “You don’t have to apologize. It’s different for everybody, so I didn’t know what you were going through, exactly. Besides, none of us were thinking straight.”

“Guess not.” Dawn’s eyes were bright with unshed tears, but she managed a twisted smile. “It’s funny hearing you say not to apologize. Lots of the time it seems like you’re really sorry to be breathing air somebody else might want.”

“I’m s–” Tara started, and they both laughed.

“Can I ask you another question?”


“Do you think you’ll see your mom again when you die?”

Tara shot to her feet, her eyes wide with horror. “Dawn, why are you asking that? Y-y-you wouldn’t … You aren’t th-th-thinking of …”

“No, no! Geez, calm down. I’m not going to off myself, okay? I promise. I just meant when you die in your bed at 98 of really, really natural causes, do you think you’ll see your mom again?”

Her heart slowed a little. “Yes. I think I’ll see her again.”

Dawn’s eyes were back on the floor. “You think your souls will find each other or something?”

“I’m not sure how it works,” Tara said, puzzled. “But love doesn’t die, and souls are how we love, so something like that.”

“But maybe I don’t have a soul,” Dawn whispered. “And Mom was good. If I’m not, I won’t find her again.”

A feeling rose up in Tara. It was so unfamiliar that it took her a moment to realize that it was anger, and not just anger, but wrath. “Who said you weren’t good?” she asked in a shaking voice that brought Dawn’s eyes up.

“One of those crazy knight types that were trying to kill Glory. He said God wanted me dead.”

She sought desperately for the right thing to say, but it was hard to think under the onslaught of memory. Angry shouts: “Women brought sin into the world, that we all must pay for.” Flashes of pain as the belt striped across her back and legs and buttocks, “I will punish your sinful flesh, girl. Purify you of the sin of Eve.”

“People said the same thing about me,” Tara managed at last. “For all kinds of reasons: because I’m a woman, or a witch, or gay.” She swallowed, “Sometimes, I still believe them.”

“That’s not true,” Dawn protested. “You’re not evil. You’re one of the best people I know!”

Tara spread her hands. “And you’re a good person too, Dawnie. Don’t let anybody say you aren’t. Nobody gets to decide what you are but you.”

The girl crossed the room and hugged her awkwardly. Tara held the thin form close. “Your mom loves you,” she whispered. “You’ll find her again. Besides —” She pulled back a little and smiled. “We’re a package deal. If they don’t accept you, I won’t go either.”

“Thanks.” Dawn pulled back and sniffled. “Can I decide I’m really rich and don’t have to take stinky old PE?”

Tara grinned. “If you want. And if that works out, let me know.”

Dawn headed out with a considerably lighter step, but paused in the entrance. “You know, you should talk more.”

*                              *                              *

After Dawn left, Tara made sure the door was locked, then went to her cache of witchcraft supplies for chalk and incense and candle. She placed everything on the floor and prepared to settle herself for meditation, then paused. She didn’t normally use a focus, but the morning’s dream had referred to a specific event from her childhood.

She opened the bottom drawer of the dresser and dug under a pile of tie-dyed sweaters until her fingers encountered the battered cigar box. Tara had given Willow the rock, but there were other treasured mementos; marbles she had won from Donny (so angry to lose to a girl), a feather, dried flowers, and the tiny curled-up mouse, small as the end joint of her thumb that Mama had carved long ago.

Smiling a little sadly, Tara placed the carving on the floor in front of her as she drew the protective circle and lit the incense. Then, she held the mouse loosely in one hand and closed her eyes.

The familiar peace of meditation washed over her and she relaxed into it, joyfully relishing the sense of freedom. In this state, the uncertainty and doubt that shackled her earthly body were non-existent. It was just she and the universe and the sense that she loved it and that it loved her right back.

Regretfully, she turned her mind from its dance and focused on the reason for the meditation. Her breathing slowed, deepened as her focus turned inward. Mama, she thought, her hand tightening on the carving. What should I remember? The lock … the day we got locked out …

There was a sensation of falling, tumbling end over end until Tara found herself standing on sandy, bare earth bleached almost white by the unforgiving sun. It took her a moment to realize that she was in the front yard of the farmhouse where she grew up.

How plain and sad it looks, she thought, seeing it almost with a stranger’s eyes. The house was neat, clean, and in good repair, but there was no color, no flowers other than the marigolds used for cow feed, no swing to soften the uncompromising lines of the front porch. Buffy’s house had some peeling paint and her yard could stand a good mowing, but there was the sense that people lived there and were usually happy.

She turned as an old station wagon pulled into the yard, and her sadness over the house turned to joy at the sight of the woman who climbed out. Her mother had never been conventionally beautiful, with a stocky, sturdy farmwoman’s body and brown hair skewered into an uncompromising bun, but there was kindness in her eyes, and despite the hardness of her life, her mouth seemed ready to smile.

The little girl who climbed out after the woman had no such inclination to smile, and Tara felt a sudden desire to rescue the solemn-faced child before realizing she gazed on her own younger self.

“Can you carry that bag for me?” Mama asked, and small Tara nodded gravely and held out her arms for the lightest grocery bag. “Thank you. You’re a big help.” She smiled encouragingly, but it faded when the child only regarded her expressionlessly for a moment before starting toward the house.

“Oh, no,” she murmured, following along behind the child and sorting through her keys. “Oh, no, I’ve lost my house key!” She thought a moment, then sighed. “I took it off for Donny to use and forgot to put it back on. I’ve got to get this food in the house or it’ll spoil and go to waste.”

The child’s eyes widened. Even then, Tara had known it was a sin to be wasteful.

Her mother looked around swiftly, making sure they were alone, then knelt down by the door. “Want to see a trick?” She smiled as she put her hands on the deadbolt and closed her eyes. Both Taras watched in fascination, the older version recognizing that magic was being done. After a moment, the child reached out and touched the lock with one finger.

And she was inside the child’s head, seeing what the child saw, seeing the interior structure of the lock down to the molecular level, although of course, she had not known such a word existed. She only knew that she understood how the lock worked, that she knew how to talk to it, and when she told it to open, it did.

Her consciousness split back off and Tara saw her mother regarding her smaller self with surprise as the door swung open.

“Well,” she said. “You are just full of surprises, my Baby Mouse.”

At that, the child Tara did smile, an engaging gap-toothed grin that made her mother’s eyes shine with sudden tears. “What a pretty smile. I wish I saw it more.” She shook off the emotion. “Let’s get these groceries in the house before they go bad.”

As they started back for the car, her mother said, “Tara, why don’t we not tell Papa about what happened today? He’d think it foolish.”

The child stopped. “Tell a lie?” Her chin began to quiver, and even the older Tara felt a chill. Liars went to hell, and if you got caught in one, sometimes hell came to you.

“No, no, not lie. If he asked, we’d tell, but if he doesn’t …” her voice died off as a tear fell down the child’s cheek. “You’re going to fret, aren’t you? Well, never mind.” She put a hand on the child’s head and closed her eyes again. “You won’t have to lie to Papa because nothing strange happened today. Nothing at all. We went to the store and came home, and nothing was different.”

*                              *                              *

Before Tara could try to process what happened, the scene shifted. Now, she was watching her mother and another version of herself, about 13 this time, her own hair tied back severely, in a hot close room where Sarah Watkins was struggling to give birth.

“There’s something wrong,” Sarah’s mother-in-law was saying, sounding almost pleased. She jerked her chin at Tara. “The child ought not be here.”

“She’s old enough to learn the mid-wife trade,” her mother said shortly. “That means knowing sometimes things go wrong. Not that I know there’s anything wrong yet.” She patted Sarah reassuringly. “He could just be taking a rest in there.”

But that was a lie. Tara knew it, and so did her mother. The cord was caught around the baby’s neck, and there was no time to get to a hospital even if their group held with such things. Stillbirths were God’s will.

“Tara, bring the lamp and stand right here so I can see.”

The girl, ungainly in her long dress and apron, obeyed silently, taking a position that blocked some of Mrs. Watkins’ view.

Her mother met Tara’s gaze deliberately, before her hands moved to the curve of Sarah’s lower belly and she closed her eyes. Instinctively, Tara leaned even closer, angling her body to further prevent Mrs. Watkins from seeing what was happening. Cautiously, she let her arm brush Sarah, just in time to watch the cord unwrap from the baby’s neck.

Her mother straightened. “I think we’ll be just fine. Push!”

*                              *                              *

Another change. It looked like a laboratory, or an operating room, with a bare metal table fitted with restraints in the center, but the walls were lined with empty cells Where is this? Tara wondered, confused. She had never been here, and never seen the two men who were arguing. “What the hell do you think we can do? We’ve lost all our funding. Ever since Adam …”

Tara eyes opened wide with fear, and she had to fight the instinct to run, even though she knew they couldn’t see her. The Initiative. But I thought they were gone.

“We just need to prove we’ve still got something. Prove the project’s still viable. They want to start up again, if we can give them an excuse.”

“We can’t give them one. We don’t have anything. There aren’t any chips left, and all the hostiles got away. Even the notes were destroyed. There’s no way to recreate the work.”

he first man grinned. “You’re not quite right, my friend. We don’t have much, but we do have a little. I know where one chip is, and a hostile to go along with it.”


“Hostile 17.”

She was back in her dorm room, staring at the guttering candle and shaking with panic. Hostile 17.


Tara’s mind stuttered and quivered as it tried to sort out what she had seen. The significance of the first two sightings escaped her. Did the lock have something to do with Dawn being the Key? That seemed likely, but it didn’t feel right somehow.

There didn’t seem to be any question about the last image. Some left-over bit of the Initiative was coming for Spike to use him to open the project again, and apparently she was supposed to do something about it.

Buffy, she latched onto the realization with relief and hastened to her feet. I should hurry and tell Buffy. She’ll be training at the Magic Box by now.

The Slayer didn’t like Spike, but she didn’t like the Initiative either and would take action. Mr. Giles could help too. He always had good ideas. Anya would be there, and Willow when she finished her lab, and Xander when he finished work. There would be lots of people between her and Spike.

Who terrified her.

Tara sighed as she locked the dorm room door. It was true, shameful though it was to admit since he had actually helped her once. Being around Spike hushed what words she had and made her cleave to Willow’s side like a shadow.

Most men made her slightly wary. It had taken a long time for her to relax even a little around Mr. Giles, although she recognized his fundamental goodness. There was darkness there, though, buried beneath the surface, and it peeked out now and then. It had taken all she had to face the Watcher’s Council, and if she ever met Angel, she would probably run, screaming.

Even Riley had sent off a bad vibe. He was nice enough, but something about him made her shoulder blades prickle. He meant well, she knew, and he had loved Buffy, but he always knew what was best for her and for everyone. And if what was best wasn’t what you wanted to do, he got angry.

Xander had never frightened her, however, and she smiled a little at the thought of him as she reached the sidewalk. He was a stream that ran clear, no malice or cruelty to be found. Kind without being weak. The true meaning of the word ‘gentleman’.

And the opposite of the vampire.

“He can’t hurt anybody now that he’s got the chip,” Willow had said reasonably when she had tried to explain how she felt.

“But he wants to,” Tara had responded. Rage and the desire to cause hurt warred with some inner pain of Spike’s own, and the whole thing stood out around him like a cloud. A true Wiccan would probably have tried to reach out and dispel that cloud, but she just wasn’t that far along the Path yet. Lately the cloud seemed to consist mostly of pain, and she knew he had done some good things, but the habit of avoiding him was strong.

Still, she didn’t want the Initiative to capture him, either. They had been wrong themselves, imprisoning non-humans, keeping them from a free choice. They hadn’t cared that Oz had never hurt anyone. Probably some of the others hadn’t caused harm either, but that hadn’t mattered. They had been designated non-human, evil, less important. She knew how that felt.

I’m not abandoning him, Tara reminded herself as she waited impatiently for the light to change. Telling Buffy and the others is the best thing to do. It’s not like I can go in there with my broomstick blazing.

A blue van drove past her, and she found herself staring at the profiles of the men from her vision. The passenger glanced toward her, and the molecule of her brain that hadn’t started to panic kept her face bland and uninterested.

After it was safely past, a whimper came out of Tara’s throat as she stared miserably along the 10 blocks that separated her from the Magic Box. There was no time to get there, explain what was going on, and get to the cemetery which lay in the opposite direction. The men would be there and gone and Spike with them.

She began to run, cutting through alleys and back ways, taking the short cuts that nights of helping patrol had taught her. Tara was sure she would be too late, but the area was clear when she finally staggered into the street that contained the cemetery.

Even if you get there in time, a cold voice sneered as she hurried through the gate, what will you do? It’s daylight. There’s nowhere to go. You weren’t quick enough to act after the vision. You failed as always.

“Shut up,” she muttered, startling herself. A distance behind her, she heard an engine cut out, and the fear gave her new energy. Tara raced the last few yards to Spike’s crypt and lunged against the door.

Locked. Oh, God, and she was no Slayer to kick it down. Frantically, she hammered with her fists.

“What the hell is it, now?” Spike dodged, barely missing getting decked as he yanked the door open. “Can’t a bloke go a day without one of you breaking down …” He broke off as he got a better look at her terrified features. “What’s the problem?”

“The In– In–” exasperated with her tangled tongue, Tara shifted phrases. “Riley’s group!” she gasped. “Coming …”

Spike’s eyes narrowed and he caught her arm, dragging her inside and slamming the door. “The Initiative? They collapsed, I thought. Soldier Boy went off with the last bit.”

“Not all of them,” Tara found with relief that her mouth had started to work again. “They want to start it again. They’re right behind me. You have to get out!”

“Right. Tunnel,” he nodded, heading for the trapdoor. Then he stopped, scenting the air. “Too late. They’re just outside.” His mouth tightened and he jerked his head at her. “You get down there and be quiet. If they take me here, they shouldn’t search.”

At the realization of what he was offering, the unfamiliar feeling of righteous anger that she had felt when Dawn said she had been condemned, settled around Tara’s heart. This wouldn’t happen. She would not permit it.

“No,” she said, and without giving herself time to think, she grabbed Spike’s hand and pulled him to stand with her flush against the crypt wall. As she heard the scrape of the crypt door, she whispered her mother’s old mantra for safety. “Be quiet. Quiet like a mouse,” and reached down inside herself.

Spells of unimportance swept around witch and vampire as the two Initiative members entered the crypt. Tara was only vaguely aware of Spike at her side, his hand held tightly in hers, as she extended the spells to cover them both. Her focus was on the men as they searched, their eyes always turning away when they glanced in her direction.

One of them ended up directly in front of her, less than two feet away, his cold and assessing eyes scanning their area, almost as if he realized there was something wrong.

He stared into her eyes, and it was so much like her father trying to determine which sin she’d committed that particular day, that it was all she could do not to break out crying and begging for mercy. Sweat soaked Tara’s back and she was amazed he couldn’t hear the pounding of her heart, but she clenched her teeth and poured her strength into the spell even as her knees and chin quivered.

No one’s here, she projected. This is boring. I’m hungry. I need a bathroom.

“We’ll come back tonight,” one said to the other. “He won’t go far. Word on the street, he’s hot for the Slayer.”

The other one laughed, and they left, pulling the door shut behind them.

“They’ve gone,” Spike said in a hushed voice a few moment’s later. “Not a bad bit of spell-casting, witch.”

She dropped his hand and covered her face, shaking all over. His face. His face had been everywhere, looming over her, compelling obedience …

“Look, sit down before you faint,” Spike said, and he put a hand on her shoulder.

What happened next was a blur. Tara thought she heard someone screaming, then realized it was her own voice she heard. She snapped out of her fugue to find herself curled in a ball on the tomb with her back to the wall and her arms around her knees, staring at Spike in absolute horror.

He looked back at her, nonplussed. “It’s been awhile since I’ve got that reaction out of somebody. You do know about the chip, right? I’m not a huge threat at the moment. The Niblet could take me.”

“I’m sorry. It’s not p– per– pers– you,” she muttered, leaning her head back against the wall tiredly and closing her eyes in shame over her foolishness.

“Didn’t really think it was.” His voice was quiet, and when Tara dared a look at Spike, his expression was not unkind. “Growing up wasn’t quite like one of those paintings by that Rockwell bloke, was it?”

“No, not quite.” She shook her head, shook the memories away and turned the subject. “Those Initiative men will come back. We should go.”

“Go where, Pet? It’s day, remember?”

She frowned. “They probably won’t come back for awhile, but you could wait in the tunnel just in case, and I’ll get Buffy and Mr. Giles. Then, we can figure out what to do.”

Spike’s expression tightened. “Yeah, I can put myself under Buffy’s protection. Again.”

“You know she’ll help you,” Tara said gently. And she would. Buffy was incapable of refusing to help someone despite her feelings for them.

“Yeah, she would, but the Slayer’s got a lot on her plate right now, what with Glory and Dawn. I don’t think I’m quite at the top of her list. And I shouldn’t be. So what does that leave, move in with Giles again, or Xander?” He smiled painfully. “Room for one more in that dorm of yours?”

“You could leave Sunnydale. Go somewhere else.” She wasn’t really listening to her words as she watched him carefully. Spike’s aura was murky and dark, roiling with pain and frustration and anger, but it didn’t scare her anymore. He had tried to hide her from the Initiative, with no thought to his own safety and no possible benefit for him. He didn’t have Xander’s clear soul, but he wasn’t a threat.

“What’s the point?” His voice threatened to break, and he turned away from her, snatching a cigarette from a pack on the table, and using the business of lighting it to get himself under control.

When he faced her again, his expression was neutral and his voice flat, hacking the words out around the cigarette. “I don’t have anywhere to go, all right? I can’t hunt. I can’t fight. You think there’s some sort of neutralized vampire underground where I can hide? Where I can find food? The closest thing I’ve got to friends is here, which is so bollixed up, I don’t want to think about it. If the Initiative wants me, they’ll get me, and I really can’t do a bloody thing to stop them. They’ve seen to that.”

It clicked in her mind, all the pieces fitting together like a jigsaw. Seeing how the lock worked and letting her understanding manipulate the pieces, watching her mother do the same thing with the unborn child.

She could neutralize the chip. She knew she could, knew it down in her blood and bones. But should she? It wasn’t fair that Spike couldn’t defend himself, but would he stop there? He was a vampire. While he seemed to have changed, wasn’t it in his nature to kill? If she freed him, those deaths would be at least partially on her conscience.

But despite her worry, there really wasn’t a choice. She had told Dawn to decide for herself what she was and would be. Spike must be able to make that same choice freely.

Tara shook her head to clear it, and saw that Spike had stopped ranting and was looking at her warily.

“Are you going off again?” he asked politely. “’Cause I’m standing way over here not being scary or anything.”

“No,” she said vaguely. She scrambled off the tomb and crossed to his television, laying her hands lightly on top of the console, sinking her awareness into its circuitry.

“Missing a show are we? You know, you’re starting to remind me of Dru …” His voice died away as the television came on, flipped through its cycle of channels, then turned off.

“I can see it would be handy to have you about if the remote got lost.”

Tara sighed and took the plunge. “I can stop the chip. Make it so it doesn’t work any more.”

Spike didn’t need to breathe, but air hissed through his teeth all the same. She didn’t even see him move, but he was suddenly beside her, staring down, making her nervous despite her new trust of him. “You wouldn’t lie to a fellow, would you?”

“I’m not lying.” Tara made herself meet his eyes. “I’ll be able to see how it works, Spike, understand how it works, and that will let me shut it down.”

“How long have you been able to do this?” he asked, anger in his voice. He raised a hand as if to grab her arm, but when she flinched, he seemed to think better of it and stepped back.

“I had a strange dream last night,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady. “And I meditated this morning and had a vision that reminded me I did something like this when I was a child. I wouldn’t have … wouldn’t have not …”

“No, I suppose you wouldn’t have. Sorry.”

His voice had softened and when she chanced a look up at him again, his eyes had softened too, causing an unfamiliar and somewhat alarming flutter down in the pit of her stomach. Stop that, she ordered it. We’re gay, remember? Not to mention in love with somebody.

“We’d better go ah-ahead,” she stammered. “I don’t kn-know when they’ll be back.”

He nodded and held still as she raised a trembling hand to his forehead.

Gray. Circuits. Nerve endings twisting and turning every which way with little flashes running along them that might be thoughts. Tara resolutely kept her eyes away. This wasn’t mind reading, and she wouldn’t violate his privacy. Besides, she wasn’t terribly sure she wanted to know what he was thinking.

The chip lay in the center, easily visible to her psychic eyes, although she knew it was tiny in reality. She curled her awareness around it, sinking in, careful not to touch the surrounding tissue. She watched the millions of thousands of tiny commands flicker past, saw the wiring into the nervous system that tracked the adrenaline associated with anger. Watched and learned and understood it all.

And when she told it to shut down forever, it did.

Tara pulled her awareness back and hastily dropped her hand from Spike’s forehead. “It’s done,” she said.

He frowned. “I don’t feel any different.”

“I guess you’ll have to test it out. You could hit me in the nose again,” she offered timidly.

“Pet, you rescued me from the Initiative and at least tried to fix the chip. I’m not particularly annoyed with you at the moment.”

“Oh.” She thought for a moment, then said, “You know it was, uh, pretty stupid of you to let the Initiative catch you to begin with. You’re an … an idiot! No wonder Buffy doesn’t care about you!”

Spike stared at her a moment then burst out laughing. “Oh … oh, God,” he howled. “Pet, I’ve been insulted by everyone from Angelus to Buffy and back again. You are just not that vicious.”

She felt vaguely annoyed but saying, ‘I am so vicious!’ seemed a little silly.

“Go home,” he said more calmly, wiping his eyes. “I’ll find out soon enough if it worked.” Tara bit her lip, troubled but not knowing what to say.

“Don’t say anything to the others,” Spike said quietly. “I won’t attack Buffy or the Scoobies. Beyond that, I can’t promise, especially about the Initiative blokes, but I’m not sure what will happen. And it’s not on you anymore, it’s on me.”

She nodded silently and turned to leave.


She stopped at the doorway of the crypt and looked over her shoulder. He smiled at her, a real smile, about as far from his usual sneer as it was possible to get.

“Whatever happens, thank you. For giving me the chance.”

*                              *                              *

Two nights later.

She woke with the strong feeling that someone was waiting for her.

Gently disengaging herself from the sleeping Willow, Tara padded to the window of her dorm room and looked out.

Spike was leaning against one of the trees, smoking. She was a little surprised at the depth of her relief. True to his request, she had said nothing of what had happened and hadn’t even gone back to the cemetery. She had a feeling she would have known if something happened to him, but it was nice to have the confirmation.

Tara whispered a quick phrase to deepen Willow’s slumber and slid open the window.

At the sound, Spike straightened and smiled up at her. They couldn’t speak without shouting, but he jerked his head toward the street and she followed the motion to see the black van parked at the curb. He held up a backpack and grinned wickedly.

She shook her head. Apparently the chip was defunct now, and he had defeated the Initiative remnants. Now, he was on his way.

She would miss Spike, she thought. Would miss him and worry and hope that he found peace. Tara held up a hand for him to wait and hurried to her dresser.

She felt a slight pang as she watched him catch the tiny object, but it eased while she watched him study the sleeping mouse, then raise his head to favor her with one of those actual smiles as he slipped it into the pocket of his duster. She didn’t need a talisman to remember her mother’s love, but perhaps he could use it to remember a friendship.

Spike started to turn away, and Tara began to close the window, but then he stopped and raised his own hand, kissing the palm and blowing it to her. And she caught it with a smile and pressed it to her heart.

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