For those of you who are still staying with me … please do read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, and Chapter 3 before starting this one. This story will be posted in its entirety in Seasonal Spuffy before going anywhere else.
In Ripples on a Hellmouth, Buffy went back in time seven times to fix her past and stop the world from ending. Each trip back showed her a different ‘present’, until by the end she barely recognised it. But she still ended up with almost everything she’d ever hoped for in a happily ever after.
At least part of that was because of Spike. Just … not the same Spike she found herself married to in 2023. It was a different version of Spike – one who Buffy met in passing in one of her intermediate futures – who made just the one time jump, back seven years in time-travelling-Buffy’s timeline to when Buffy’s husband died.
This is his story.
Spike had never dared imagine what Buffy would’ve done with herself if she’d lived. He’d agonised endlessly over what she’d think of all his big decisions – her disappointment cut no less deeply without her there to roll her eyes and sigh despairingly. And he missed being able to talk with her about Dawn so badly it felt like a lost limb. But what she might be getting up to when not laughing hysterically at his latest balls-up? He had gate crashed her story, then done the unforgiveable and fallen in love with her. What right did he have to presume?
In spite of all that, he’d had this back-of-a-beer-mat picture in his mind that whatever her life was, it’d be … epic. Mythic, even.
In retrospect, he’d eaten far too many fanboys who believed all vampires were bezzy mates with every single rich or famous person since Shakespeare for Spike to believe in ‘mythic’ anymore. Still, it wasn’t like the life emerging from his spy cameras was destroying some ideal Slayer’s LifeTM he’d been carrying around in lovingly wrapped tissue paper all this time. He’d just never thought it could be so full of shouting and chaos and so safe and domestic all at the same time. Where were the despairing lows that made the highs that much sweeter? It was almost enough to make him miss his life of carnage with Dru.
Well, not quite so bad as all that. But he and Dru’d certainly never had to babysit teenaged slayers having hormonal rage episodes or baby werewolves with no control over their metamorphoses.
That first afternoon after he planted the cameras, Spike woke up with the sun low on the horizon and switched on the feeds to be greeted by the screeching of children, of all things. The Pale Imitation was in the dojo with two little kids somewhere around five and ten having what looked and sounded suspiciously like a tickle fight. For a long time, Spike just watched, mesmerised. He couldn’t quite decide whether to be scandalised or jealous. It wasn’t the sort of thing he’d ever pictured himself doing. Anouk and Michelle were at least as human as Dawn, which meant far too breakable for Spike to risk roughhousing like this.
Then the (older) girl’s eyes turned a disturbing shade of yellow and she opened her jaw like it was on a sodding cartoon hinge and clamped down on the other Spike’s arm. Only, instead of yelping and throwing her across the room like any other bugger’d do, he just turned around very slowly and looked at her. The little boy got really over-excited at that point and did the same creepy hinge-jaw thing and leaped up to clamp his teeth around the pillock’s neck, unerringly getting the jugular in what would’ve sprouted an arterial geyser in a breather. The other Spike’s only response was to laugh – before telling off the girl for getting beaten to the kill.
This was by no means the weirdest playtime Spike saw. Those kids got dropped off at least a couple times a day for a week. Sometimes teleported in by Willow – which, what the hell happened to any kind of boundaries? She never knocked – and sometimes via the front door by a harried-looking guy Spike vaguely recognised but couldn’t put a name to. The little boy was invariably sticky with food, or wearing glittery craft supplies or stolen makeup. Or crying. More often all three. And the older one had enough suppressed rage to fuel a nuclear power station. But it was always Uncle Spike who corralled them into the dojo and entertained them until they got picked up again.
Spike gathered, eventually, there was a sick middle child at home, and the parents were struggling to cope during full moon week. How any of this was Willow’s business he never did figure out. Uncle Spike sure made for a great chew toy, though. The freak.
That same night, Spike fount out why the guest bathroom smelled of blood. In addition to the little kids, there was a whole troupe of girls in their teens through early twenties stomping through the house at all hours. In and out all day for books or weapons or wanting to be shown some bit of technique or other. Chits ate anything not locked down while they were at it, too. They had to be the other slayers.
He couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen any of them out and about before.
The answer came eventually – while he’d been following Buffy and the Sad Send-Up all around Cleveland the girls had been away at some training retreat, and the grown-ups’d had to pick up the slack. Far as he could tell, the baby slayers were supposed to be doing the bulk of the hunting, with bigger guns on call if they ran into anything they couldn’t handle.
Unlike the practicality of the afternoon visits, late-nights were all about getting patched up by Buffy, and as much to do with one-on-one time to brag about their exploits and be told they were doing well than any actual need for help with the injuries. That first night, Olivia needed to be super-glued up where another girl had ‘accidentally’ nicked her with a sword. It was obvious from everyone’s reactions she was a right menace: constantly goading the others into throwing the first punch, then wiping the floor with them after. Spike liked her immediately; her ferocious prickliness reminded him of Dawn.
But for all Spike saw the girls competing way too hard for Buffy’s approval, they’d sure as hell walk through fire if she so much as considered asking for it. It was so different from the way she’d led all her chums when she was younger. She hadn’t understood her power, then. She definitely understood it now.
Spike was so entranced getting to know Buffy as an adult, he didn’t pay that much attention to the other slayers at first. Though they all looked distinctive enough he’d probably recognise them if he saw one in a different context. But it was hard not to like shit-disturbing Olivia: always putting on the biggest, baddest, brattiest front she could muster to keep anyone from seeing her desperation to be liked. So like Dawn at that age. And Kiara reminded him of the Buffy he’d once studied on videotape, for all they looked nothing alike. She was so earnest it almost hurt to watch, and breathtakingly beautiful when she fought.
He couldn’t figure out why Buffy would choose to do any of it, though. Cleveland was a Hellmouth, sure, but it was a much bigger city than Sunnydale, with too many full-humans wandering about mucking things up to really get your evil on undisturbed. It didn’t attract the kind of enemy worthy of a slayer of Buffy’s calibre, and she was wasting her talents training these little girls to handle never-ending waves of minor bads. Sure, she was good at training – she was a born leader. But that wasn’t all she was good at.
He started thinking she’d be much better off travelling around to take out the truly dangerous ones, like Faith had. Only Faith was a loner – practically allergic to putting down roots – while Buffy was the first slayer in history to deputise her nearest and dearest. And that was when he realised: grown-up Buffy wasn’t surrounded by her friends and family anymore.
No Dawn. (Spike eventually heard it mentioned she was living in New York, still with Michael thank Christ.) Willow popped in and out like it was her own home true enough, but there was neither hide nor hair of the two boys. And whoever the parents of those kids were, and whatever their connection to Buffy and Willow, they weren’t part of any Cleveland equivalent to the Sunnydale Slayerettes. No Watchers Spike ever saw, either, though the girls all whined about them often enough. Whatever research or fighting the good fight there was, Buffy was the support system now, without anyone really supporting her.
Spike couldn’t help but think she deserved better.
If he ever wanted to stop watching and waiting and finally participate, he knew he had to make sure he and the other Spike were physically indistinguishable. A haircut and dye job later, you’d never know they weren’t the same person unless you saw them together. It freed Spike up a lot more to find out what they did when they left the house.
He’d forgotten how much the bleach blistered and burned, but thankfully the expected sting of betrayal wasn’t making it worse. He supposed it was because he’d already started forgetting his Buffy in favour of this new one. Spike had no idea how to feel about that.
One night, he even managed a few minutes with her, just to see if he could. The useless one had wandered off somewhere, and Spike stepped in to help with a big group of fledges too young and stupid to realise they were already dust in the wind. Buffy’d been doing fine – Spike had no delusions he was rescuing her from anything – but it was so long since he’d fought at her side. It felt like flying.
He still scarpered as soon as the last vamp was gone. He wasn’t ready to risk eye contact, let alone a conversation. Not yet.
Two weeks into watching and waiting, and Spike was only getting more frustrated and confused by the relationship he saw unfolding between Buffy and his doppelgänger. For all he’d had his share of fights with Dru, and later with Faith, it’d always been against a background of a hell of a lot more shagging. This sad, wet bastard poured his emotions into telling Buffy off and then all they did was have a bit of a cuddle afterwards. Pathetic! Where was the passion?
Just last night, they’d been at it again. The same bloody fight practically every other day.
“Doesn’t have to be you,” the bellend snapped.
“Who else?” Buffy snarled. “You think Lucy’s ready to take on Grapplar demons?”
“Course I don’t. But Kiara? She’s good. Maybe even better than you were at her age.”
Spike groaned, certain he’d never lived up to his adopted hair colour so spectacularly. Even if he was right, the himbo ought to know better than to make comparisons. But he just kept digging himself deeper into that hole.
Buffy’s face had gone pinched and white with rage, but the Spike in the room with her didn’t even notice.
“Any one of the girls who fought in Sunnydale could’ve done what you did tonight. Or any other bloody night.”
“Sure,” she said, a fixed grin spreading across her face.
“Lucy’ll never be ready if you don’t let her try,” Captain Oblivious continued earnestly. “They have to learn what it’s like to get their arses handed to ‘em. You coddle the lot of ‘em.”
Buffy’s jaw dropped. “And you think one of them dying will help with that?”
He just rolled his eyes; still completely missing how angry she was. “Don’t put words in my mouth.”
Spike resisted the urge to go over there and bang the wanker’s head against the wall.
“Why bother when you’re doing such a good job all by yourself?” she simpered, sweet as belladonna pie.
He finally seemed to notice that wide, manic grin she’d plastered on. Scrubbing his hands through his hair and pursing his lips, village-idiot-Spike said quietly, “We are not spendin’ the rest of our lives babysittin’ Hellmouths.”
“The rest of my life, you mean,” she quipped. “You’ll be free to do whatever you want once I’m gone.”
This was a brand new and terrifying addition to their endlessly repeating argument about whether to stay in Cleveland training baby slayers or move to Europe and strike out on their own, doing anything she wanted so long as it wasn’t slaying. The one and only thing Buffy was born to do.
Spike was temporarily paralysed. It wasn’t like he’d given up anything worth having for this shot at a better life, but he also hadn’t yet thought through the fact that he’d almost certainly outlive Buffy, second chance or no. It was only the floor-shaking roar of “Don’t you dare start up that shite again!” that snapped him out of it. His lacklustre lookalike had suddenly dialled the rage up to eleven, and it took Spike aback. He hadn’t believed such a waste of space had it in him.
“Fine.” Buffy shrugged carelessly, her expression reminding Spike of that long-ago evening she’d made him desperate enough to go after her with a shotgun. “But it’s nice to know you think dying alone is so much better for everyone.”
“They’re not alone, you daft cow! Got each other, for a start. Then there’s the half-dozen Watchers underfoot. What the hell do they need you for?”
“So you’d abandon them? Just like that?”
He sagged suddenly, as if exhausted. “You’re not their mum, love. You made sure they kept theirs.”
That was when she took her first swing at him. Spike thought Buffy’d never looked more shaggable. In fact, he fully expected the shouting to turn to exactly that. But no. There was about thirty seconds of her throwing punches so wild he almost wondered if there was another bodysnatcher about, before it dissolved into words too quiet or muffled for the mic to pick up. He shuddered, watching his mirror image start in on the cuddling. Just like that soft git to try to live up to some women’s magazine version of masculinity. Certainly nothing like what Spike himself would do.
Annoyed, he switched off the screen and stomped outside to kill something. He’d thought spying on Buffy with one of his Initiative jailers had been painful. It had nothing on watching her with such a washed-out, meek version of himself.
There were better moments, like watching Buffy go through her bathroom routine each morning. He’d watch her turn off the alarm and stumble out into the bathroom. Then he’d switch the feeds for teeth being brushed and the shower turning on. The first time Buffy began undoing the buttons of her depressingly sensible flannel pyjamas, Spike realised he’d never actually seen her naked before. She always stripped casually, perfunctorily, making him wish it was her choice to share. Not because he wanted a striptease, although that was also true. Just … stealing intimacies hadn’t improved any over the years.
There were no scars he could see, but there was a beauty mark about where he’d aim to hit her right kidney if he were still so inclined. It was always too far away and small for Spike to make out whether it was flat or raised – to guess how it might feel against the silk of her back – but it was a gift to know it was there all the same, however undeserved.
It was in that bathroom he looked his fill of her breasts for the first time. Not as perky as he’d imagined, and he’d imagined a lot. But this Buffy would be thirty-six in a couple months. The lingering roundness of childhood she’d once sported in her cheeks and chin and stomach were long gone, and that was the only obvious sign she was ageing. Her eyes had always been impossibly old. His Buffy had been getting leaner, towards the end, from too much crying and not enough eating. This Buffy was honed but healthy – no protruding bones or over-developed muscles. But she still moved like poetry, even if sleepiness made her clumsy. He’d never known that about her before, and he hated finding that out like this. Hated himself for doing it this way.
It always felt like porn once she got in the shower; most – some – days Spike turned it off. He still hadn’t decided whether the mornings he kept watching ‘til she finished stroking over every inch of her skin with some kind of body butter were better or worse than the ones that he didn’t.
They did shag. And in ways and locations that Spike couldn’t bring himself to hate entirely, much as he wanted to.
But no matter how many times he told himself he’d watch it all the way through next time, he still ended up switching off the feed as soon as it started getting interesting. Spike couldn’t understand it. He’d spent what felt like half his life at the time lurking outside her bedroom window or hiding in her basement, having a giggle at Finn huffing and blowing and totally unable to give a girl an orgasm.
He’d thought he was torturing himself back then: listening to Buffy gush over a young prick with terrible stamina and no clue what he was doing because she didn’t know yet how it could be. Spike had never fooled himself Buffy might love him, but at least he knew he could satisfy her sexually. He’d studied every sound she made until he could almost map out how he’d touch her to make her scream.
He couldn’t even listen to her now, let alone watch. Maybe it was one too many stolen intimacies, when she deserved so much better. But he’d never aspired to be what she deserved – might as well wish for the moon. And it was hypocritical as all get-out considering how much quality time he’d spent with Mrs Palm and her five daughters watching Buffy soap up in the shower.
Eventually, he decided it was because he just couldn’t bear knowing how it might be between them second hand – without experiencing it for himself. Feeling her touch him, the heat of her gaze. Her love. He wouldn’t be a voyeur, not for that.
He accidentally caught them just afterwards once, sweaty and breathless and holding each other. There was the slightest smear of blood around his lips and the way she looked at him … Spike stopped pretending even to himself that he’d watch more after that. It was just too painful.
Spike had initially been pretty pleased with the long-let motel he’d found to hole up in. But the longer he stared at the comings and goings at Buffy’s place, the more he recognised all the ways she’d managed to create a home – for herself, and for anyone who visited. His room felt poky and barren and depressing in comparison. She might not have inherited any of Joyce’s good taste in décor, but there was always such warmth there. Warmth that he watched for hours and hours every day but could never touch. He was always so cold.
Some days, imagining that eventually he’d be able to feel it himself – that the scenes he was studying could be stitched into his life – made it more bearable. Other days, he was just jealous and frustrated and incandescent with rage that it wasn’t him in that house, loving her better. On those days, he embraced the artic bitterness of the Cleveland winter and went out to kill his own kind with his bare hands until he was exhausted enough to hope for a dreamless sleep. He should have known better.
His nightmares had revolved around Buffy for years. For the longest time, whenever he woke up, he’d dreamt he saved her, then had to relive the loss along with the horror that it was all his fault. Once the reality of her death finally sank in, that changed to watching her relive all his worst memories – sometimes he’d even be trapped in someone else’s body, inflicting them. Now, the new reality Faith had birthed for his own dimension was entering the mix: there were so many ways he could’ve got Buffy and Dawn killed. And he was certain that whatever solution Faith found, it revolved around his actions. It was the best reasoning he had for why Dawn was so anxious to have him gone.
He could not afford to fuck up a second reality. He had to learn as much as he could and make absolute sure he got it right this time.
Stay tuned for Chapter 5 (the final chapter)….
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/716149.html