Summary: AU from some point during Tabula Rasa, when the crystal doesn’t get broken and something else happens to it instead. Events not dissimilar to those in kallysten and kantayra’s excellent story Tabula Rasa Ad Aeternum are taking place simultaneously with this story, but off-screen. Author’s Note: Willow uses an expression in this chapter which is deeply offensive in Britain; perhaps the worst thing you can say, in fact, short of a couple of racist terms and the vilest of obscenities. It is, however, canon that she uses the term (in six different episodes), obviously oblivious to its British meaning, and so I have included it despite my own misgivings.
Buffy bit her lip and hesitated. This probably wasn’t the best time. Spike was sitting with Minsc, Dawn, and Tara and all four were engaged in an lively and animated discussion. They were smiling, laughing even, and Boo was scampering around on the table. No, she wouldn’t interrupt them.
Then Boo ran up Minsc’s arm and sat on his shoulder. The tall warrior drained his goblet and stood up. Dawn stood too, and the pair said goodbye to Spike and Tara and walked off together.
Buffy frowned. Dawn and Minsc? Should she be concerned? Yeah, Boo was bound to be the attraction rather than Minsc himself, but then perverts did use cute puppies and things as lures to ensnare children. However, the idea of ‘pervert’ applying to the heroic and amiable, if perhaps not terribly bright, ranger was ridiculous and Buffy dismissed her concerns. The way was clear now and she stepped forward.
“Spike, could I have a word?”
Spike half-turned and looked at Buffy over his shoulder. “Yeah, sure, Slayer.” He waved a hand vaguely in the direction of the chair vacated by Dawn and turned his gaze back towards Tara.
“Uh, I kinda meant in private,” Buffy said.
Spike turned back towards her and raised an eyebrow. “Something to say that you don’t want Tara to hear? Can it be? Oh, be still my unbeating heart!”
“Shut up, Spike,” Buffy snapped. “Look, I was kinda going to apologize to you for some things but, if you don’t want to hear it, that’s fine by me.”
Spike’s expression turned serious. “Sorry, Slayer.”
“Uh, I’ll just, uh, go and see to my flowers,” Tara said, and stood up. “Maybe put them in some water.”
Buffy’s brow creased. “Flowers?”
“Tara’s got admirers,” Spike said. “Stage door Johnnies. Was just telling us about the flowers she got from somebody who saw her singing.”
“Uh, yeah,” Tara said. She blushed and dipped her head so that her hair swung in front of her face. “I’ll, uh, see you.”
Once Tara had departed Buffy sat down at the table. “Uh, well,” she said. “Yeah. I, like I said, I’m kinda sorry about some things. I don’t get why you’re not being all rampaging monster-y, ‘cause hello, vampire, but you’re not and I should give you credit for that.”
“Thanks.” Spike looked straight into her eyes. “Tell you, Slayer, it bloody hurt when you started up with the ‘let’s stake Spike’ thing. I’d thought we were past that.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said again. “Yeah, we were past that. You were, well, kinda good to me after I, you know, came back. It’s just, well, it’s always been kinda on my mind that when the chip stopped working you’d turn on me again.” She held up a hand to cut off Spike’s protest. “I know, I know, kinda dumb of me, but hey, you’ve done plenty of things to make me not trust you. You were our enemy a lot longer than you’ve been a kinda friend.”
“A ‘kind of’ friend?” Spike grimaced and raised his eyebrows.
“Okay, a friend,” Buffy said. “But, hey, I really, really, did think that, even if you didn’t turn on me, you’d go back to eating other people. I mean, you’ve always kept on saying that you’re evil. So if we didn’t trust you it’s kinda not surprising. But, well, I think these days you’ve earned some trust.” She lowered her eyes towards the table and then jerked her head up again. “Only absolutely no eating people unless it’s in a fight that we’re all part of and it’s a sensible combat move. That’s flat.”
“I can live with that,” Spike said. “That’s the way Tani wants it anyway.”
Buffy bit her lip. “What is it with you and Sock-it-to-me anyway? You treat her like she’s some kinda princess and you’re her, like, faithful knight. You haven’t, uh, gone off me and fallen for her, have you?”
“You jealous, Slayer?” Spike’s eyebrow raise and head tilt conveyed cool amusement and Buffy’s cheeks acquired a tinge of color.
She shook her head emphatically. “No way! It’s just kinda surprising.”
“Don’t worry, pet, I’m not going to chain you both up and offer to kill you for Tani,” Spike said. “Sorry. Bad joke. Which reminds me, sorry about the ‘spit or swallow’ thing. I wasn’t thinking about Dawn being there.”
“Yeah, forgiven, just be more careful in future,” Buffy said. “Uh, so you have gone off me?” She frowned. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.
“Didn’t say that,” Spike said. “Haven’t fallen for Tani, Slayer, that’s for sure. It’s just, she treats me like a man.”
“You said that before,” Buffy said.
“Well, she does. Look, I don’t give a toss about right or wrong, not gonna claim different. Just want to take care of the people I like and the rest can go hang. Like a good fight, don’t much care who it’s against, know what I mean? But I’m not gonna let Tani down. I’ll save the sodding Mexican villagers from the bandidos ‘cos it’s what Tani would want.”
“Mexican villagers? Uh, did I miss an episode somewhere?”
“Oh, right, that conversation was with Red. Anyway, point stands. She’s fighting the good fight and I’ll fight right along with her. For puppies and whatever they have in this place instead of Christmas. And I’m not going to eat anybody who isn’t trying to kill us. That’s a promise, Slayer.”
“I believe you,” Buffy said. “Uh, you seem to be pretty happy here.”
“Bloody right! This place is a sodding paradise as far as I’m concerned. I can walk in the sun! Bloody brilliant, that is. Tell you, it’s a damn sight easier to act like a man when I can step out of the bloody shadows. There’s times that I almost forget that I’m a vampire. Got friends here, decent digs, and I’m getting to be rich and famous! You should just relax and enjoy it, Slayer.”
Buffy bit her lip again. “We’re getting rich by killing people and taking their stuff. I don’t care if they are evil people, it’s still wrong.”
Spike frowned. “All legal. Tani and Yoshi and Anya are at the magistrate’s office right now making a report about what we did to the Slavers. Got all the documentation and stuff. Probably get a reward, on top of what we picked up, seeing as how the Council can probably glom onto the house.”
“Legal isn’t the same as honest,” Buffy said. “Oh, you just don’t get it, do you?”
“No,” Spike admitted. “Look, it was you who were all gung-ho on the ‘kick the Slavers’ arses’ thing. Tani would have left them till another time otherwise.”
“I was worried ‘cause of what those guys in the sewers said about getting a good price for Dawn,” Buffy explained. “And hey, freeing the slaves is a good thing. But it still bugs me. I mean, nobody died and made me Judge Dredd. We’re not the law, Spike, and we shouldn’t be acting like we are. Especially not when we’re making money out of it.”
Spike shrugged. “No use debating it with me, Slayer. Take it up with Tani when she gets back.”
“I might,” Buffy said. “Anyway, I guess we’ve set a few things straight. I think I’ll go take a look at Tara’s flowers.”
“Another bunch, Lady Tara,” the maid told her. “The, um, lady who sent them is still around. She said she’d like a word with you if you have time.”
Tara raised her eyebrows. She had thought that the flowers had come from a male admirer. “Do you know who she is?” she asked.
“Belit the Swordswoman,” the maid replied. “Lovely lass, she is. All flashing eyes and dark hair.”
Tara hid her face with her hair again. She thought she knew who the maid meant; the leather-clad girl who’d been giving Spike the eye the other night after his song, and who Tara had noticed giving her not dissimilar looks at the end of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’. She was indeed a pretty woman in a rough trade sort of way. It wouldn’t do any harm to just have a word with her, would it? Yes, she’d agreed to meet up with Willow for coffee, or tea, but that wasn’t the same as them dating again, and there was no harm in just meeting someone else and maybe flirting a little.
“I, uh, might have a word,” Tara agreed. “Where is she?”
The maid pointed out the room where Belit was waiting and went off about her duties. Tara found a looking-glass and stared into it. She would pass muster, she decided, and set off down the corridor.
The door opened immediately in response to her tentative knock. “Oh, hello, do come in,” the dark-haired swordswoman invited.
“Uh, thanks.” Tara stepped into the room. “Thanks for the, uh, flowers.”
“Don’t mention it, anthropoid,” Belit said in a cold and remote voice. Her face was expressionless.
“Huh?” Tara frowned at the girl. There was something odd about her and the hairs on the back of Tara’s neck began to prickle. The room door suddenly slammed shut. Tara turned and saw no-one at the door. “What’s going on?”
A voice spoke from an unoccupied corner of the room, a brief phrase in an archaic language, and suddenly a cloaked woman brandishing a staff materialized out of nothing. Tara opened her mouth and repeated her question. No sound came forth.
A Silence spell. Tara spun and headed for the door. A fist met her and halted her rush. Another figure appeared, this time a man in leather. Tara was shocked, scared, and confused, but she struck back instinctively. There was little force to her punch, however; Tara lacked both muscle and combat technique and without a mace to give weight to her blows she could achieve little.
She tried to cast a spell of her own but the Silence spell negated her attempt. Another fist slammed into her head and she saw stars. She had a Ring of Protection on her finger, and it took just enough of the force out of the blow for her to remain conscious, but she was dazed. Frantically she tried to get past the man and make it to the door and safety. One shout for help and Spike, Buffy, Minsc, and others would be racing to her assistance. Whoever these people were they would be no match for the force that would come to her aid. Except that she had no way of summoning her comrades.
Belit brought down a cudgel across the back of Tara’s neck and the world went black.
Giles strummed his guitar. His audience was small; Hendak; one of the bouncers who had been a slave gladiator; an off-duty maid; Minsc; and Dawn. Spike wandered up and joined them.
“Old pirates yes they rob I,” Giles sang.
“Sold I to the merchant ships.
Minutes after they took I,
From the bottomless pit…”
Spike sat down and lit a cigar. Hendak listened, entranced, as did Minsc. The pretty maid gazed adoringly at Giles, who was completely oblivious to the effect that he was having. He was also oblivious to Jaheira’s appearance on the upstairs balcony overlooking the room. Jaheira stood still and silent and stared down at Giles. Spike noticed her and tried to read the enigmatic expression on the half-elf’s face, but Jaheira’s expression gave nothing away.
“Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
’Cause all I ever had,
All I ever had,
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.”
Giles brought the song to an end and lowered the guitar. Jaheira slipped quietly away.
“Magnificent,” Hendak praised. “I will miss you while you are away, and not just because we will not draw in such crowds. I hope you are not away too long.”
“We’ll try not to be,” Giles told him. “I must say that I enjoy playing here. And it’s nice to have a safe haven in which to base ourselves.”
Buffy adjusted the flowers in a vase and then turned as the door opened. “Hey,” she said as Tara walked in. “I put these in water. Seems a shame to just let them die. Where’d you go?”
“I was just chatting to the girl who sent them,” Tara said.
“Girl, huh?” Buffy grinned. “Any sparkage?”
Tara’s brow creased. “Huh? Oh, no. Nice flowers, but that’s it. I’m going to get some rest now, okay?”
“Yeah, you do that. Gonna be a long day tomorrow, I guess. Where’s Dawn?”
“I don’t know, Buffy,” Tara said. “Around.”
“Oh, yeah, with Minsc still. I’ll go drag her away.” Buffy wandered out of the room.
Tara examined the room and checked the clothes beside each bed. She lay down on her own bed and stared up at the ceiling. Her eyes remained open and watchful.
A body lay on the bed of the river near the supports of the bridge that gave its name to the Bridge District. It was wrapped in chains to keep it from rising to the surface. Crabs scuttled over the corpse, wielding their pincers busily, and fish darted in to bite off tiny fragments of flesh. The long black hair was beginning to come loose from the scalp. The dark flashing eyes were sightless and opaque.
It had been under water for a day now, and the skin had become wrinkled and pale, but the marks of powerful fingers were still visible as livid marks on Belit’s throat.
Buffy’s mouth twisted as she looked up at the horse. “I don’t ride,” she admitted. “Never learned.”
“Me neither,” Xander said. “I did ride the mechanical bull at the – nope, no power on earth is going to get me to tell that story.”
“I can ride,” Sorkatani said, “but I lack practice.”
“Ah, you should practice that skill, my lady,” Yoshimo said. “The art of fighting on horseback is regarded as essential among the noble warriors of Kara-Tur.”
“Perhaps you could tutor me?” Sorkatani suggested.
“And when did I ever say that I was noble?” Yoshimo grinned. “I can stay on top of the beast, more or less. Most of the time.”
“To bounce atop such an animal bruises my buttocks,” Minsc said. “And it makes Boo seasick.”
Viconia’s expression was obscured by her hat and veil but the set of her shoulders revealed that she was nervous. “I have never ridden any animal like these,” she admitted.
“I ride, and well,” Jaheira said. “Stay close to me, drow harlot, and do what I do.”
Viconia sniffed. “So acting like an idiot is how one stays on a horse?”
“Well, I can ride,” Anya said.
“I also,” Giles said. “Rather well, in fact, although I have had few opportunities in recent years.”
“Me too,” Spike joined in. “Back when I was alive a gentleman couldn’t get by without knowing how to ride. Rode to hounds a time or two. Hated it.”
Buffy’s eyebrows performed an impression of a condor soaring above the Andes. “A gentleman?”
“Oh, bugger.” Spike shut his mouth tightly.
Willow shuffled her feet. “I’m kinda nervous,” she said. “I’ve never done anything like this and you know I’m kinda a spaz. I’ll fall off.”
“Me too,” Tara said. “I can’t ride.”
Willow stared at her. A deep crease formed between her eyebrows. “But you can. You told me that back home you used to ride all the time.”
“Well, uh, that was a long time ago,” Tara said. “I was, uh, just trying to make you feel like I was in the same situation as you.”
“Shame I did dance class instead of riding,” Dawn said. “I always wanted a pony.”
“It seems that we must look for gentle and sedate horses and not for mighty steeds of war,” Sorkatani said. “Well, so be it. It shall still be preferable to walking.”
“Hi, Warren.” Jonathan’s greeting was cursory. He walked past Warren with hardly a glance in his direction and headed straight for his PC.
“Hi,” Warren grunted, barely looking up. His attention was concentrated on his bowl of cereal and a graphic novel.
Jonathan sat down at the computer and looked to see how Buffy and her friends were getting on in the City of Athkatla. The game had been running all night, since before the Trio had gone out bowling, and he wondered what he’d missed. “Hey, Sorkatani’s got Celestial Fury,” he remarked almost straight away. “We missed the Guarded Compound fight. Bummer.”
“Yeah, bummer,” Warren agreed absently, and sipped at his coffee.
“That’s odd,” Jonathan went on. “I don’t see the icon for Tara.” He searched the screen. “I see her avatar, but she’s got a blue circle. Like, she’s left the party.”
“That’s, like, strange,” Warren said. “I guess she must have had another fight with Willow or something. Or maybe with Buffy.” He turned a page of his book and ate another spoonful of cereal.
“Wow!” Jonathan said. “They’re getting horses. Horses, dude!”
“What?” Warren sat up straight. He laid the spoon down in the bowl, set aside his graphic novel, and pushed back his chair.
“Actual horses. Animated and everything.”
Warren rushed over to look for himself. “Oh, man. That is awesome.” He peered closely at the screen. “The tails even twitch. This is the best ever, dude. It’s just doing all the work for us.”
Eventually they exhausted the topic of horses and Warren remembered what Jonathan had said about Tara. “So Tara’s left the party? Weird. I mean, she’s still tagging along with them. With them, but not of them. That doesn’t make sense. Can you select her?”
Jonathan clicked on Tara's figure. Nothing happened. He selected Yoshimo, the only one of the characters that he still had any control over, and then clicked on the Tara avatar as it stood beside one of the party’s newly purchased horses. “What the…?” His eyes widened and his jaw dropped.
“Oh, shit,” Warren breathed. “That is not good, man. Not good at all.” He stared, horrified, at the text that had appeared along the bottom of the screen.
“YOU CAN NOT INITIATE CONVERSATION. DOPPELGANGER APPEARS BUSY.”
The characters in this story do not belong to me, but are being used for amusement only and all rights remain with Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, the writers of the original episodes, and the TV and production companies responsible for the original television shows. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER (c) 2002 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All Rights Reserved. The Buffy the Vampire Slayer trademark is used without express permission from Fox. I don’t know who currently owns the copyright to Bioware’s game ‘Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn’, but it isn’t me, and characters and dialogue extracts are used without permission and with no intent to profit from their use. Lyrics from “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley are also used without permission and no attempt to profit.