This is the third bit in my string of related ficlets (which I've decided to call "The Cycle Series." 'Cause some of it cycles back to earlier, canon Buffyverse insane character stories. And because there's a motorcycle. And because I couldn't come up with anything else.) Sequel to Deja-Bleu and Songs in the Key of Insanity. Spike/Fred; PG-13; set post-Not Fade Away.

A Time to Gather Stones Together

Fred's improved…somewhat.

The ink on her arms has started to fade, and she's agreed to wear clothes.

There's a nice breeze coming off of the lake on the other side of the railroad tracks, and it cools the porch of the old hotel and brings with it a mourning dove's soft cry and the pale-sweet scent from an ancient, feral rose bush. The creaking of the porch swing, though, is Spike's doing. He's leaned back into it and is swaying it to and fro, just a bit, with the heel of his boot braced on the floor for leverage. The sensation is very lulling, and he'd like to close his eyes and drift off to sleep (Can we rest now?)…but there's miles to go before he can sleep, and Fred to look after as she picks blackberries in the brambles that have overtaken part of the courtyard. He'd decided to risk letting her wander a little, although he made sure first that there were other boarders and the old Fae woman within shouting distance in case Fred took it into her head to run down to the lake and sink heels up like mad Ophelia.

He can't say when he became aware that someone was sitting in the rocking chair nearby. But he turns and looks, and recognizes her…and is quietly amazed that he's not all that amazed. After the incredible things he's witnessed in his life, though, why should he be surprised to see dead Tara?

"Hullo, Glinda."

"Hi." Her mouth breaks into a little crook of a smile; she casts him a brief sidelong glance and goes back to gazing peacefully across the courtyard, just as he'd been doing. Still shy, then. And still wearing the tie-dyed and flower-child-inspired medieval Earth Mother clothing she'd worn in life; her legs are hidden by its ankle-length skirt, her knees drawn up under her chin and her arms resting comfortably across them.

The shrill of the cicadas rises to a fever pitch.

"It's nice here," Tara murmurs. "Fred really likes it. And it's got nice people. You can't stay, though."

"Yeah, I was thinkin' that, myself. Gotta find her some professional help. I can protect her, but I can't get inside her noggin and fix what's broke." A notion strikes him. "Don't suppose you can do anything about it?"

"She saw some of what happened." Tara's voice never wavers from that calm, quiet timbre. "She knows that Wesley's dead, and she remembers being constantly shoved and jostled and crushed down underneath Illyria. It scared her to pieces. And it hurt. Every time Illyria accessed her memories, it burned her like an electrical shock."

"Bloody hell." His words hiss out in a horrified whisper.

"…And Illyria's coming. She's angry, and she wants Fred's body back. Cordelia's tried to reason with her, and Anya offered her money, but she won't give up. She's not content to be just a spirit."

"But Perc- I mean, Pryce -- he's one, isn't he? And she was right fond of him, what I saw."

"She can't reach him. If she'd calm down, we could help her."

Spike regards her through suddenly narrowing eyes. "How do I know…how do I know that you're really Tara? How do I know that you're not that little piece of mouse-shit First Evil?"

Wordlessly Tara straightens her legs and places her feet on the porch floor. She looks at her feet; focuses hard on them. Her face tightens. Seconds pass. More seconds. And then slowly, steadily, her toes begin to resist the surface of the floor…and her rocking chair rocks.

Tara smiles. "How-ow's…that?"

A grin of relief lights up Spike's face. "Smashing!"

Tara proudly wiggles her toes. "Little trick I learned by watching you."

They fall silent for a moment.

"She's coming," Tara says again. "You need to go to Cleveland. You'll find help there."

"Haven't you got any abracadabra left in you, Pet?"

She shakes her head 'no.' "Not the kind you need. Your landlady can mark you with a seven-point fairy star before you leave here; it'll give you some protection against evil. But see, the thing is, Illyria's not evil. She's just pissed off."

He tilts his head and studies her. "We're not Scoobies; never were a part of your circle. Why're you helping us?"

"Because you and I both know how bad it feels to be crazy. And because you helped us, even though you didn't have to. And because when I was crazy, you were nice to me."

For a moment he doesn't recall what she's talking about. Then he remembers: the flight from Glory in the Winnebago, when a brain-damaged Tara had opened the blinds and burned his hand.

("No biggie. Look, the skin's already stopped smoking. You go ahead and play peek-a-boo with Mister Sunshine all you like. Keeps the ride from getting boring.")

In the west, a flash of heat lightning flares silently, illuminating the red horizon and some distant, roiling black clouds in the sky. The air has become sultry. Fred returns to the porch from her berrying, picking seeds from her teeth and licking her fingers. She stops and panics when she notices the juice stains on her hands, and it takes a bit of time for Spike to convince her that it's harmless; that the patches are not blue, but purple. As he reassures her, he feels briefly the pressure of a hand, small and feminine, on his shoulder; when he looks behind him, Tara's chair is empty.