Hello, everybody, and thanks to enigmaticblues for sponsoring this fine event! I have two stories to post today, one of which is funny and silly, and the other of which, um, isn’t. They both take place in the Raising/NE/POM ‘verse, and if it’s any consolation, the funny one takes place after the angsty one. *g* Angst first:
By Barb C
Disclaimers: The usual. All belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy, and naught to me.
Setting: Post-Gift AU
Distribution: Ask and you shall receive, I’d just like to know where it ends up.
Synopsis: When a demon sends them traveling randomly through Sunnydale’s past, Spike and Buffy must find a spell to return them home, and resist the temptation to meddle too deeply in their own pasts.
Author’s notes: Major angst. This story takes place in the same universe as “A Raising in the Sun” et. al. It’s part of the same series of stories as “A Stitch In Time.” Many thanks to typographer, brutti_ma_buoni, wildrider, slaymesoftly, rainkatt, kehf, and deborahc for beta reading!
“Fuck!” Spike swore as they rounded the corner, skidding to a halt.
Buffy stared up at the windowless brick wall cutting them off. “That’s not supposed to be there!” She felt an irrational urge to stamp her foot and scream.
“Not in the twenty-first century, anyway.” Spike sagged against the brick, one hand pressed to his side, eyes squeezed shut. Between his pale fingers a wet black stain was spreading slowly, slowly across the fabric of his shirt. Not slowly enough.
“There they are!” Darla shouted, furious. “Bring them down! The Master commands it!”
The minions hesitated only for an instant before deciding that they were more afraid of their mistress than of an over-age Slayer. Six of them started warily down the cul-de-sac, swinging chains and nail-studded boards. Buffy clamped down on rising panic. When had she had her last tetanus shot? She could hear Spike’s harsh breathing behind her, the low rasping growl that said If I’m going down, you’re bloody well going with me.
The lead minion worked up his nerve and swung. Buffy dodged and lashed out with a side-kick, felt cartilage snap beneath her heel. The universe rippled and twisted and turned itself inside out, along with her stomach. Oh, God, it was happening again. She heard someone scream “Earthquake!” and the ground lurched sideways beneath her.
Buffy fell to her knees as the windy December midnight disgorged them into a bright spring morning. Spike hit the grass beside her with a pained grunt, curled into a ball around his wounded side. She looked wildly around – where were they? When were they? No, right now where was way more important. Grass, swingsets, and sunshine, way too much sunshine. A park. Cars cruised past in the distance – late nineties or early…oughts? Zeros? Why wasn’t there a better word for the first decade of the century? Spike groaned, and Buffy put a hand under one armpit and hauled him upright, scouting for the nearest shade. “Can you walk?”
“‘m on my feet, aren’t I?” He draped an arm across her shoulders and leaned heavily against her. In the sunlight the blood drenching his shirt-front was a brilliant red. Anything human would have bled to death within minutes, but whatever the heck Spike was these days, thank God it wasn’t human. “Why’s it always you dragging me off the field of sodding combat?”
“Possibly because I’m not the one who keeps thinking he can still play chicken with a Colt .45?” Buffy steered him towards the trees, seconds ticking off in her head. “It’s been fourteen years, Mr. Stupid Vampire Stupidhead – when are you going to get it through your thick skull that you’re not immune to bullets?”
Spike winced, game-faced with pain. “‘Nother fifty years should do it.”
The shade was illusory safety, at best. Buffy bit her lip, looking around. She needed to get Spike inside, somewhere safe, so she could get him patched up. The scenery said Glebe Park; she recognized the swings. She had approximately twelve minutes before Spike started to charbroil in a serious way, and maybe another fifteen before he went crispy critter altogether – not much, but infinitely better than the minute or two’s grace period he’d had when he was undead. In half an hour she could find them a motel room – or no, she couldn’t, not when all her credit cards didn’t exist yet, and paying cash would entail an attention-drawing wrangle with the desk clerk over whether or not her Depression-era bills were counterfeit.
Crap, crap, crap. The park restrooms wouldn’t work; anyone could barge in there, and the last thing she needed was someone calling the police. Spike’s crypt was out because past!Spike was probably there right now, sleeping or watching TV or, ew, jerking off in front of his creepy little Buffy shrine and OK, that thought was kind of perversely hot.
“There’s a maintenance shed west of here.” Spike’s voice was starting to slur. He coughed, and blood spattered his sleeve. “Got a sewer entrance.”
The Sunnydale sewers weren’t exactly what she’d call safe, but they weren’t in any position to be choosy. Spike’s cheeks and the bridge of his nose were already starting to redden, but beneath the incipient burn he looked paler than ever. Sweat glistened on his brow ridges. She wrapped an arm around his waist and they set off across the park, pinballing from tree to tree. A pack of teenage boys playing basketball stopped to watch them as they lurched past the court. One of them pointed and started to follow, until Spike bared his fangs and they backed off.
The maintenance shed was a small cement-block building half-hidden in rattling stands of bamboo. A small metal grate beside the front door led down into subterranean gloom, but Buffy wasn’t ready to go there just yet. A peek through the dusty windows revealed rickety shelves holding a miscellany of rusty clippers, cobweb-shrouded spray bottles, and grimy lengths of rolled-up hose. Even the graffiti scrawled across the side was faded. One sharp yank snapped the padlock on the door, and Buffy muscled Spike inside. She wedged the door shut behind them and glanced around – no handy-dandy refrigerator to store blood, but at least there was a sink, and if the brackish puddle on the floor was any indication, the faucet still worked.
“Th’ Codex…” Spike pawed at his shirt-front with one hand.
“Codex shmodex,” Buffy snapped, but she tugged the twice-folded sheet of ancient, creamy vellum free of his belt anyway. One edge was stippled in crimson. She almost flung it aside, but pages ripped from skeevy tomes never flung well, and after all they’d risked to get it… She set it on the nearest shelf and returned her attention to the important, bleedy stuff.
A pile of burlap sacks in one corner made a rough pallet once she spread them out on the concrete floor, well away from the filtered light of the windows. Spike collapsed onto the makeshift bed. Buffy knelt beside him, yanked his suspenders down, and with a moment of regret for real mother-of-pearl buttons, ripped his shirt open. Normally at times like this she took a moment to appreciate the finer things in life, of which Spike’s torso was definitely one, but right now all her attention was riveted on the three – no, four – neat red holes punched into his pale flesh. She ran her hands over his belly and side, fingers probing firm muscle. She’d gotten a D in anatomy, and Spike’s was unique in any case, but if he was coughing blood, at least one of those shots had to have nicked a lung. Not immediately life-threatening for a guy who could hold his breath for half an hour if he had to, but…
Spike hissed as she tipped him up to check the exit wounds, which weren’t nearly as tidy. And only three of them – crap. “Not so bad, is it, pet?”
The absence of bitching and moaning was more worrying than the presence of blood. “Could be worse.” She tore off a strip of shirt-tail and wet it in the antiquated sink. The edges of the bullet holes were already beginning to heal when she cleaned away the clotted blood, and Buffy allowed herself a small breath of relief. Spike wasn’t invulnerable any longer, but in some ways his weird post-Mohra-blood metabolism was even more resilient than Slayer healing. Still, wounds this deep would take a couple of days to heal completely, even for him. Assuming it didn’t get infected – Spike’s seventy-two degree gut housed a completely different set of helpful bacteria than a human’s did, but she didn’t want to bet that none of them would turn nasty. And where exactly was that last bullet? “Don’t register for the Boston Marathon any time soon.”
Spike lay freakishly compliant while she rendered the rest of his now-vintage shirt into vintage rags and wrapped his middle as tightly as she could. She tucked the last loose end of bandage in and stretched out alongside him on the scratchy burlap, burying her nose in the curve of his neck. In a world which was constantly pulling itself out from under them, the smell of tobacco and the dark, peaty odor of vampire-sweat was home. After a few false starts Spike’s arm found its way around her shoulders, and they lay tangled together in numb exhaustion.
Birdsong mingled with the distant shouts of children and the slow plink plink plink of the leaky faucet. If she closed her eyes and tried hard enough, she could almost imagine that they were lying on the living room couch at home on a lazy Sunday afternoon, that the birds were chirping in the big oak tree out front, that the shouts were Bill and Connie out on the porch, arguing over the best way to lay out the track for the Summers-Pratt Grand Invitational Matchbox Death-Race 2015. If she lifted her hand from Spike’s cool, muscular chest and reached out, Alex would be bundled in the carrier beside the coffee table…
“You know what today is?” she murmured. “Our today, I mean. Not whatever’s out there.”
Spike’s chest rose and fell beneath her cheek. “Dunno. Can’t be more’n a few weeks. It can’t be more.”
Not long enough for them to grow old, not long enough for Alex to forget her, nor Bill and Connie’s fear to turn to resentment. “Mother’s Day,” she whispered. “I’ve been keeping track.”
“Christ.” Spike heaved a sigh and levered himself creakily up on one elbow. Buffy rolled off with a little meep of disappointment as he sat up and reached for the folded vellum. “Doesn’t matter. We’ve got…” He trailed off, obviously unwilling to commit to more than, “This.” He undid the creases carefully, scowling at the spot where his blood had half-drowned a line or two of script, and flattened the page against one knee. “Bloody hell,” he muttered.
“What’s the matter? I thought you said you could translate – “
“I can,” Spike cut her off irritably. He squinted at the crabbed writing. “‘S just I don’t have my specs with me. And it’s been dog’s years since I was intimately acquainted with Kennedy’s, and this lot is church-Latin any road, not classical. Gonna take some time.”
Buffy barked out a laugh. “That’s what we’ve got in spades.” She rolled to her feet, brushing dust and flecks of dead grass from her skirt – at least she hadn’t got too much blood on it. If she washed it out now… “OK. Plan. I’ll find out when we are, hit Kohlermann’s up for some pig’s blood, and get you on your feet again. Then tonight we can sneak into the high school library or the Magic Box and borrow a Latin dictionary – “
“That wise?” Spike prodded at his bandages and grimaced. “Don’t like the idea of splitting up when one of us might pull a Billy Pilgrim any minute. Besides, the younger and more annoying versions of you and your little pals are likely to be round and about, yeh?”
Buffy wrung her blood-freckled skirt under the faucet. No, it wasn’t wise, not when they had no idea what random changes they might be introducing into the timeline just by existing – maybe one of those kids Spike had just snarled at was going to hunt up chipped, helpless past!Spike and stake him in retaliation. “After the three-ring circus our last pit stop turned into, it’s kind of hard to get worked up about the idea of accidentally running into myself again.”
“Point. ‘M surprised there’s not a sky full of bloody zeppelins outside.” Spike’s eyes widened in alarm, and he went sheet-white in way she hadn’t seen since the days when his circulation had been a mere formality. “Bugger. Suppose we’ve already…”
Buffy didn’t encourage him to finish the sentence – if neither of them said it, maybe it wouldn’t come true. Bad enough to think they might never get home, but if they’d somehow blundered home out of existence… “We’ll never know if I don’t go look.” She frowned. “Maybe I should try to contact Giles. If anyone’s Responsible Timeline Preservation Guy, he is. We can’t afford to mess this up just because you veni’d when you should have vidi’d.”
Spike growled, a little miffed at the aspersions cast on his translating skills, but she could see that he was considering it – doing something, no matter how risky, was bound to appeal to him more than sitting around trying not to squish butterflies. “I’m never a hard sell for action, pet.” He settled back, eyes starting to drift shut. “Just don’t run off without me, yeh? If we lose each other, too…”
She knelt and kissed the top of his head. “Then we’ll find each other again.”
It had taken some fast talking to get Bernie Kohlermann to put the blood on Spike’s tab, and Buffy felt a little guilty about it – Spike’s finances during the years he’d lived at the mercy of the chip were precarious at best; she’d only realized just how precarious after he’d moved in with her. But it was better than catching rats, and it really was for Spike, even if he wouldn’t get it for a few years. He’d been half asleep when she brought the styrofoam containers back to the maintenance shed, rousing only long enough to wolf down a pint of cold pig. She didn’t think he felt feverish, but with Spike, it was awfully hard to tell; he could be burning up and still be ten degrees cooler than she was.
The desire for information finally won out over the desire to obsessively feel Spike’s forehead every five minutes. And, Buffy had to admit, the desire to walk around without being constantly on her guard for…something. Sunnydale 1937 might as well have been another country, or another planet, full of weird food and weirder attitudes. Sunnydale 2001 was just pleasantly nostalgic, offering up the opportunity to ooh and ahh over gas prices that hadn’t cracked the two dollar barrier yet.
So here she was strolling down Main Street, inhaling sinfully delicious coffee and pastry-smells from the Espresso Pump and clutching a handbag stuffed to the gills with several hundred dollars in practically useless Federal Reserve bank notes. It was a gorgeous day – the breeze was brisk despite the bright sunshine, and the mulberry trees were just starting to bud. Shelves of Valentine’s Day clearance candy in several of the shops put the date in late February, maybe March. And so far, no zeppelins.
Buffy studied her reflection in the windows covertly. Her dress was a little retro, and a little the worse for wear after their pell-mell flight across Sunnydale 1937, but she looked fairly presentable. If she ran into Willow, or Giles, would they recognize her? Or Spike, without the bleach and the leather? Probably. Neither of them had changed that much, and her past self had recognized her once already, on that very first jump.
It’s really simple, Giles. About a year from now, this creep named Andrew Wells is gonna summon some time-hopping Rwasundi demons to help cover up a murder, and Spike’s gonna kill one of them. Who just happens to be the Lord High Muckity-Muck of the Raw Sunday crowd, and about twelve years after that, they’re gonna get their revenge by quantum-leaping us all over Sunnydale’s past. But hey, on our last stop we managed to steal a copy of a time-binding spell from the Master, so all we have to do is translate it correctly and then figure out if it’s a spell we can even cast without blowing the universe up! And in the meantime? We may have accidentally erased our own future! Easy-peasey!
The killer was, Giles would probably believe her. But time paradoxes aside, the winter of 2001 was exactly the wrong time to go to any of her friends and ask them to give Spike a helping hand, unless the hand in question had a sharp pointy stick in it.
“Have you seen my boyfriend?”
Buffy froze, then ducked behind a magazine kiosk. She peered out from behind sheaves of speculation on Jessica Simpson. Over on the corner, a perky, dark-haired girl in a pink-flowered dress was accosting an older woman with a shopping cart. That toothpaste-perfect smile, that psychotically cheery voice…
“His name is Warren,” the girl in the pink dress continued. “I really need to find him. I’ve been looking for a long time, and I’m very tired.”
Buffy choked back an involuntary sound before it could decide if it was a shriek or a sob. She didn’t need to look at the pile of newspapers beside her to know exactly what day today was. She leaned against a rack of tabloids, trying to still the racing of her heart with headlines about alien gorilla babies and the prophecies of Nostradamus, this time for sure! This didn’t change anything. She’d known more or less when they’d set down all along, she just hadn’t wanted to think about…
She glanced over her shoulder at April, who’d wandered off in the direction of the Espresso Pump. She didn’t need to follow; her own past self was already hot on the robot’s trail. She had her own problems. She still had to figure out a way to get money and food and clothes, for as long as she and Spike were stuck here. And where better, really, she thought as she spun around and started running down Main in the opposite direction, than her own house? Stealing from random past Sunnydalians would be wrong, but everything at 1630 Revello Drive belonged to her.
Or would, in a couple of hours.
By the time she pulled up in front of the house Buffy’s all-out run had dwindled to an indecisive jog. She stood on the sidewalk, looking up the front walk at the broad front porch. This was her house. This was the place where she still lived, where she and Spike loved and worked and fought and raised children, their stronghold, their Fortress of Whatever-Was-The-Opposite-of-Solitude. Except it wasn’t. No cars in the driveway but Mom’s Jeep, no overflowing ashtray on the porch railing, no scatter of toys on the lawn. The living room curtains were flung wide to admit the afternoon sun. The rose bushes her mother had planted in front of the porch (only a few weeks ago!) were just little brown sticks, barely sprouting their first leaves.
She took a hesitant step, and stopped, hugging herself tightly. This was a bad, bad idea. She should turn around right now. But her feet were moving down the walk and up the front steps, and her hand was fumbling in her bag for the key. Bad, evil hand! Her fingers shook as she fit the key into the front lock. The run hadn’t tired her, but she was breathing in hard painful gulps anyway.
This was their foyer, with the old familiar coat rack on the wall. The bouquet of flowers her Mom’s last date had had delivered was already displayed in a vase on the side table. Maybe she was already too late. Maybe if she turned to look at the living room, she’d see her mother’s cooling body already laid out upon the old brown couch she and Spike had so memorably broken.
It felt like she stood there for years, shivering, unable to force herself to move. But when she finally looked, just the barest slide of eyes, the couch was empty. Buffy caught hold of the bannister, her knees weak with relief and disappointment. What had she been thinking, coming here? Lucky for her, Joyce Summers wasn’t even home yet – still over at the gallery, or out running errands, or doing any one of hundreds of mysterious Mom Things.
Buffy took a deep breath, forcing herself to relax. As long as she’d taken the risk, she might as well make it pay off. Mom kept a couple hundred in emergency cash in her dresser upstairs – she remembered finding it when she and Dawn had gone through Joyce’s things. She started up the stairs on tiptoe, instinctively avoiding the creaky places in the steps. A quick foray through her younger self’s closet might not be a bad idea. If any of it fit. She glanced ruefully down at her chest. Even after three kids she wasn’t exactly Busty the Vampire Slayer, but she had a good cup size on Past!Buffy. She probably couldn’t fit into her old size 00 jeans, either, but there should be blouses and skirts that would do. Her past self would assume Dawn had pilfered them.
She paused at the head of the stairs to listen, knuckles white on the newel post. Nothing. Her room (no, still Mom’s room, here and now) first, and then her old room. Buffy the Cat Burglar strikes again! On the way out, she’d grab some easily transportable food from the kitchen. Maybe later she could sneak into Spike’s crypt and steal some of his clothes for him. She took hold of the doorknob, and turned.
Joyce Summers stood in front of the dresser, half-turned to face the door, a stack of folded clothing in her hands. A slight frown creased her brow. “I didn’t expect you back this soon, honey. Did…” The frown grew deeper. “You’re not Buffy,” she said, taking a step backwards. “Or…” Another step forward. “You – Buffy, what happened to you?”
“Mom,” she whispered. Mom, Mom, Mom, living and breathing and standing there, Mom putting away socks, Mom smelling like White Shoulders and peanut butter, wearing, oh, God, the sensible brown skirt and cream blouse her daughter would find her dead in, only hours from now. Mom with an aneurysm ballooning in her brain, blood pounding against fragile distended vessels, right this very minute.
And before she knew it, she was across the room and holding her mother in a Slayer-fierce hug, tears spilling down her cheeks, chanting, “Mom, Mom, oh, Mommy, I’m so sorry, Mom, I shouldn’t have come but I had to, I had to see you – “
“Buffy!” Joyce grabbed her shoulders and shook her a little. “Tell me what happened! What’s wrong? You look – ” She pulled back, studying Buffy’s face in perplexity.
“Pretty rough for twenty-one,” Buffy hiccupped, tears threatening to morph into loopy giggles. “But for thirty-four? I’m fantastic.“
There was coffee. Buffy wasn’t sure caffeine was the answer, but she’d totally lost track of the questions, and puttering around with the grinder and the press gave her mother something to do, and Buffy was more than willing to sit at the kitchen island and drink in the sight of her. Her mother had insisted upon a shower and a change of clothes, and she hadn’t argued too hard, though the guilty thought of Spike languishing back in the maintenance shed took a lot of the enjoyment out soapy goodness and fresh-pressed cotton. Any other time she’d have brought him over – her mother had always had a weird soft spot for Spike, at least up until the cattle prod-and-chains incident, which, unfortunately, had been just last week. But that was OK, she could get them a hotel room tonight, courtesy of the Bank of Mom. Apparently there’d originally been five or six hundred dollars in Mom’s stash – did that mean that Mom had already given some to her future self? Or was the only apparent effect of their meddling in 1937 that sixty-five years later, Joyce Summers stuck a few dollars more in her coffee can?
“Time travel,” Joyce repeated, pouring hot water. “I suppose that’s no harder to believe in than Slayers and vampires.”
“It’s a heck of a lot harder to live with,” Buffy sighed, blowing damp hair out of her eyes. “I am so tired, and Sp- ” She cut herself off. “Sorry. There’s stuff I can’t tell you. Safeguarding the future, that’s me.”
“Buffy…” Her mother sat down across from her and laid a hand across hers. “Honey. I know you. You wouldn’t be here at all if you thought…” She took a steadying sip of coffee. “I won’t be around much longer, will I?”
Her belly went cold. “Mom! No!” It was so easy to believe that, with her mother sitting there alive and warm across the counter. “You’ve got – “
Joyce shook her head. “Don’t tell me.” She looked down at the hand she was holding, at the ring on Buffy’s finger, and smiled. “I can guess a few things on my own, anyway. Is he anyone I know?”
Buffy managed a laugh. “He’s the last person in the universe you’d expect.”
“It’s not Xander, is it?”
The laugh was genuine, this time. “Xander! No! He married Anya. They’ve got a gorgeous daughter. My husband’s a… difficult kind of guy, sometimes. But I love him, and he loves me. He knows all about the Slayer gig, and he helps out. We’ve got three wonderful kids, two boys and a girl, and I’ve got a day job as a skating instructor over at Ice World, and…and I’m happy, Mom. I never thought I could be happy as long as I was the Slayer, and God knows it’s not always easy, but I – I get a sort of a second chance, a year or so from now. And I took it. Or will take it. Or – anyway. You have no idea how much I’ve wished I could tell you those two things. I love you. And I’m happy.”
Whatever Joyce was about to say was lost in the pounding on the kitchen door. “Open up, Slayer!” a voice bellowed from outside. “I know you’re in there! Tracked you all the way across town, you deceitful minx! Knew you couldn’t resist, soon as I found out what day it was!”
Buffy jumped and whirled around. Spike’s furious and slightly singed face was pressed to the door, his nose flattened against the glass. Brown hair, so definitely her – “Spike!” she yipped. “You moron! What are you doing outside?”
“Wanted some smokes,” Spike snapped. “And a good thing I went for a stroll, innit?”
“Just ignore him, Buffy,” Joyce said coldly. “He’s been by twice this week already, trying to wheedle a new invitation out of me. I told him if he came back again, I’d have you stake him.”
“But Mom -!” Buffy leaned over the sink and peered out the window. At least it looked like Spike had picked up a t-shirt and a heavy jacket, currently flung over his head, on the way. Wisps of smoke drifted upwards from his exposed hands. Stupid vampire! He should be resting and scarfing the rest of the blood she’d brought him, not out cultivating a tan! “Spike, just go back to your… crypt! I’ll see you later!”
“Not bloody likely! You think I don’t know what you’re up to?”
Joyce got up and yanked the curtains closed. “I know I’ve been lax in the past, but with people like Spike you have to establish firm boundaries. Right now he wants your attention, and if you give in and – “
The pounding resumed on the front door. The wall shook, the knob rattled, and then the noise ceased as Spike realized that the door was unlocked. He flung it open and stormed into the living room as Joyce moved to block his way into the kitchen. “Spike! What exactly do you think you’re doing?” Joyce demanded, hands on hips. “You could have broken the door down!”
Spike stopped dead when he saw her, anger instantly replaced by a million emotions that rapidly distilled into abashed embarrassment. His head fell and he scuffed the toe of one boot against the carpet. “Sorry, Mum,” he muttered.
“Excuse me? And how did you get in here?” She turned back to her daughter. “Buffy, you didn’t re-invite him, did you? What did I tell you about mixed signals?”
“No!” Buffy scooted over to Spike’s side, the better to check for sun damage. “I mean, yes! But not now, later. I mean – ” She realized that she was holding Spike’s hand and dropped it as if it were red-hot. “He totally reforms! Mostly!”
But Joyce was already taking in the lack of bleach, the deeper lines on his face, the ring on his left hand. “Oh,” she said, her hand going to her heart. “I – oh. Buffy. You said you were happy. You said I had grandchildren!”
“You do, Mom!” she said pleadingly, taking her mother’s hand and helping her to the couch. “Bill, and Connie, and Alex – he’s only a year old, and I miss him so much! Spike’s – there was this thing, with the blood of a Mohra demon, and he kind of… came to life. It turned Angel human, because Angel had a soul, but Spike’s – he tries so hard, you wouldn’t believe, even before then! I love him so much, and I always wished you could – “
“You’ve got to know I’ll stand by her forever,” Spike added, eyes all but glowing with that scary demonic fervor. “Or as long as I last. Got an expiration date now.”
“I don’t understand,” Joyce said, bewildered. “All I ever wanted for you was – was – “
But Joyce Summers was falling back against the couch like a puppet with her strings cut, eyes rolling back in her head. “Mom!” Buffy screamed again. “Call 911! Now! Maybe we can – “
Spike grabbed her and hauled her off, spinning around to slap her full-strength across the face. “No!” he roared, vamp-faced with anguish. “Haven’t you done enough?”
She threw off his hold like tissue paper, fist slamming into his jaw. “Where’s the phone?” She ducked under Spike’s wild return swing. “Don’t you get it? This is why we came! So I could save her! So I could – “
Spike’s boot hooked her foot out from under her and she crashed shoulder-first into the carpet. In a heartbeat he was upon her, fangs bared. “If it was anything else,” he snarled, “anything else in the whole bloody world, I’d say sod the future an’ go for it. I’d bleeding cheer you on! But it’s our children you’re risking if you save her! Our family that goes poof if your life goes different from here on in! You want that, Slayer? You want Bill and our Connie, our sweet Alex, never to be? You want us never to be?”
Buffy stared into demon-gold eyes, the possibilities whirling there. Mom alive. Dawn sent off to live with Dad or one of the aunts. Glory foiled. Spike never tortured for her sister’s sake, she herself never facing that final terrible decision on the tower. Spike’s actions never attracting the attention of the First, the Hellmouth never closing – an infinity of worlds, an infinity of choices, and in how many of those worlds would a Slayer and a vampire find a way to come together that wouldn’t destroy them both? When she closed her eyes, Spike’s savage face was gone, but in it’s place was Bill’s, so like his father and yet so unlike; and Connie, so stubbornly herself; and Alex, still a chubby-fisted bundle of potentiality.
She drew a breath, or a sob, or both, and went limp beneath him. She could feel the trembling in his limbs now; he was still weak, and she could have defeated him easily if… if. She opened her eyes. Spike’s, looking down at her, were blue again, and wet with his own grief. On the couch, her mother lay still.
“I killed her,” Buffy said blankly. “Me. It was me all along. If – “
“Don’t be an idiot, Slayer.” Spike got wearily to his feet and extended a hand to help her up. She took it unresistingly. “Buffy. Love. She had a time bomb in her brain, pet. If it wasn’t this, today, it’d have been something else tomorrow.”
“Then she’d have had one more day,” Buffy insisted. “If it wasn’t for me.” She walked over to the sofa and crouched down beside her mother, fingertips ghosting above Joyce’s waxen face. She couldn’t even close her mother’s eyes, could she? “Maybe…” she whispered, “That’s why there’s no zeppelins. Maybe nothing we do matters. We can’t change anything, not really.”
Spike looked at her for a moment, shook his head, and sighed. “It matters.” He patted the pocket of his new jacket, and she heard the crackle of vellum – the page from the Codex, their ticket home, if only they could find the right train. “We’ve got to be off, love. You’ll be home soon.”
Buffy stood, scrubbing the tears from her cheeks – too late for all that. She’d cried for her mother a long time ago. She squeezed his fingers, hard. “I’m going to hate you for awhile.”
“That’s what I’m here for.” Spike opened the front door, squinting out into the sunlight. Out in the street the manhole cover leading to the sewers was lying open – at least, a far-away rational portion of her mind observed, he hadn’t been stupid enough to come the whole way above-ground. His gaze slid down to meet hers. “If we can’t change the past, we’ve still got the future to bollocks up as we please.”
Someday, maybe even someday soon, she’d let that thought comfort her. Buffy took tighter hold of Spike’s hand, and followed him out into the sun.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/266613.html