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.
At Christmas, the house got locked up so Buffy and her lesser half could go stay with Dawn and Michael. Spike was all set to follow them there, only he chickened out at the last minute. Seeing Buffy with another version of himself was a pain he was (almost) learning to live with. But Dawn? He didn’t trust himself not to do something stupid that might end every hope he had of building a new future for himself here. Particularly since this should be the Christmas she’d tell them about peeing on a stick Christmas Eve, and Spike didn’t think he could handle watching them all fall in love with the Adèle-bump only to bury her. Not again.
Instead, he got black-out drunk, alone in his motel room, and didn’t even approach full consciousness again until the twenty-eighth. Still wasn’t the worst Christmas he’d ever had, but the never-ending hangover made for a fitting monthaversary for his trip into the past.
By the time they were all back in Cleveland again, Spike couldn’t take the watching and waiting and barely interacting anymore. Fighting aside, Faith was the last person to touch him. From January, he snatched at any and every opportunity to stand in for the other Spike. And with the baby slayers, too, not just Buffy. He even risked a full night of routine hunting with Olivia once, gambling she’d never find out her Spike stayed home. He reckoned he might even have taught her a thing or two. Christ knew the other Spike didn’t care enough about any of those girls to pay proper attention. Spike thought it was because they were Buffy’s, not his. It drove him nuts.
He couldn’t risk being himself, which was its own kind of hell. But at least he was starting to live a life again. He’d worry about making it his life later.
In the middle of January, Spike was masquerading as the inferior copy again when the call came through. Some bizarre Christian cult was trying to open up a new Hellmouth somewhere in Colorado, all hands on deck.
Bloody inconvenient, is what it was. Buffy’d expect the other one to know all about it if Spike listened in; so he did his best to at least look like he was too busy busting heads to pay attention. But he couldn’t help reacting when he realised it was Rupert Giles on the other end of the phone. It was the first sign he’d seen or heard she still had any contact with the bastard.
His Buffy had been livid when her Watcher suggested they kill Dawn to stop Glory, and Spike certainly hadn’t ever forgiven him, nor had anyone else in their dimension. Not once Spike told them about it, anyway. This Buffy’s well of forgiveness must run deep, and for more than just reformed vampires. For all he thought Giles deserved at least another twenty years in the doghouse, it gave Spike hope some things might come out alright in the end. Even if his plans exploded in his face like every other time he’d tried to do anything more complex than making it up as he went along. Because if Buffy could forgive Rupert Giles wanting to sacrifice Dawn to save her, she could forgive anything.
Spike scarpered before the call ended, racing back to his motel to pack up. It was time to finally put his plan into action. He just hoped he’d learned enough for it to work. It was all happening much faster than he’d expected – much nearer seven years in the past than six.
There was a freak heat wave in Jasper, the temperature rocketing up to the low teens. It even made national news. And the night they arrived it was raining fish, of all bloody things. Spike tried to remember if this had happened in his own past, but even though he vaguely remembered Faith talking about things getting biblical a few years back, he’d assumed at the time it was a Samuel L Jackson reference. Still might well have been – no telling whether they’d been fighting the same fights all these years.
It was chaotic and wet and slippery. Too much wind and nowhere near enough visibility. The air stank, and it bloody hurt being pelted with each frantically wriggling fish, all of them desperately trying not to suffocate. Spike could feel he was moving towards wherever Buffy was – always could sense her, something he’d actually forgotten about after she died. He had a vague notion there were more slayers around, too, but he was almost completely sense-blind otherwise. The world had shrunk to one tiny, wet, stinking circle no more than a foot around him in any direction. Whoever was running this shit show, they’d done themselves a hell of a disservice. Magicking up weather this idiotic, any vamp and most demons’ senses would be as useful as a full human’s. Or a slayer’s.
Spike was slipping and sliding through a maze of alleys created by stacks of building materials and shipping containers, waiting to pop out into the wide open space where the laying of foundations for a new apartment block had unearthed something mystical and dangerous that the cult they were after was using to open up a new highway to hell. Or so said the sycophantic infant aspiring to Watcher-dom the Wanker General himself had sent over two nights ago.
What Spike hadn’t expected was another sodding tower, all scaffolding and steel struts rising so far up into the storm he couldn’t even see where it ended. He would’ve screamed if he wasn’t convinced it’d land one of those stinking fish in his mouth.
He wasn’t that far behind Buffy and the Wet Wastrel. But by the time he finally caught up to them and three or four of the Cleveland slayers at the base of the tower, they were already fighting back a medium-sized army of something that looked suspiciously like medieval crusaders, complete with chain mail.
Of course, that could just be the fish clouding his vision, and they were really up against a bunch of circus clowns.
Regardless, Spike threw himself straight into the fray. In all that chaos, he could be Joyce Summers back from the dead and no one would ever notice. As he dodged yet another sword coming at him way too fast, he decided they couldn’t be full-human. Demonic zealots; just what he’d always wanted. He wished he knew how they were managing to fight blithely on, draped in all those crosses. A bit of whatever was protecting them would go down a treat right now, ta very much. Even with everything else pelting down on him from the sky, Spike could still feel the religion stinging faintly wherever his clothes didn’t cover him. It wasn’t long at all before staying undead took up all his attention, and he lost track of where anyone else was or what they was doing.
Then Oliva crashed into him, hands empty, with what was probably her own stake jutting out of her left hip. He’d bet everything he had it was because she’d run into something she couldn’t handle half-cocked without cover. He couldn’t smell any blood, which meant whatever was leaking out of her was getting washed away by the rain as fast as it came out. So long as she got out of the fight, she’d probably survive. Without really thinking about it, he grabbed her arm in one hand, and one of the struts above him in the other, then swung her and himself up onto the scaffolding above. With the floorboards of the next walkway up protecting them from the worst of the storm, Spike could suddenly see again. Olivia looked terrified but brave with it – and like she was expecting a bollocking. He’d always known that girl wasn’t stupid. Right after they landed, there was a brief moment she stayed curled up against him, giving into the pain a bit and letting herself be held. He shocked himself by going along with it and squeezing a little tighter.
In the respite from the rain, all that delicious slayer blood suddenly suffused his senses. Spike vamped out before he could stop himself.
Olivia laughed, all signs of terror vanishing, as she gently pulled away. Then, wincing, she pulled a long knife from a sheath at her back. Clasping his arm with her other hand, like he was the one who needed reassuring, she shouted, “I’ll be fine.” It was only just audible. She cocked her head towards the fray below. “You better get back down there.”
Feeling somehow more battered and bruised by her immaculate shining trust than anything the buggers down below had done, Spike just nodded and jumped off the ledge and onto the back of … someone. Fists and fangs still made sense, at least.
The battle had always been moving slowly underground, as they pushed the super-powered knights back to where they kept springing from. It wasn’t much longer before Spike found himself in a narrow, low-ceilinged tunnel, hemmed in on every side with what he was now pretty sure were original undead Knights Templar. Without the rain and fish offering their dubious protection, the crosses all over their tunics were now making Spike’s eyes sting and his skin blister like he was swimming through bleach. Everything was cramped and awkward, no finesse possible, and any weapon bigger than a baby’s arm was completely useless.
Something got caught up under his feet, and it took him far too long to realise it was a body: one of the slayers. The fact she was a youngish girl, here in this tunnel, told him that much. She was so badly beat up and he was so nose-blind, she could’ve been any one of the three who were that size and colouring. He really hoped it wasn’t Lucy. She fought about as well as Dawn did, which was half-decent for a human and beyond useless for a slayer. But she was a team player like none of the rest were. Without her smoothing the way, Spike reckoned the other girls’d kill each other inside a week. Whoever put that Cleveland team together was an idiot, and it was mortifying the other Spike hadn’t done anything about it.
To his even more excruciating embarrassment, he found himself momentarily ignoring his opponents and reaching for Angelus’ long-gone amulet. But this wasn’t Sunnydale, and there was no magic talisman to save the world today, even if Spike had been willing to use one. He just hoped dying in a column of fire wasn’t on the cards. He didn’t think he could take watching anyone else do that, let alone offering himself up for a second sacrifice.
The irony was not lost on him that was exactly the sort of ending he’d planned for himself just before hopping dimensions.
A few seconds later, Spike bested the last of the knights between him and the light at the end of the tunnel and burst into a blinding ring of construction lamps in the embryonic basement of the apartment building. Blinking, he took in the scene in front of him: Buffy was pinned down in one corner, taking on an abnormally large, grey-skinned bloke who looked like he’d dressed up as Jesus for Halloween. The hair and beard were particularly dubious: more askew than they should be, plus ringlets.
Willow was glowing pure white – which freaked Spike right out – and chanting something over the edge of what looked like a black hole straight through to China. He could feel it sucking air and sound and heat out of the rest of the room, which was closer to what he’d consider normal for her magic. Total normality would be nearly-if-not-outright killing everyone she was meant to be protecting. The doppelgänger and Kiara, plus Tanya, Vanessa, and Nadina (the next three best fighters out of the baby slayers), were in a loose circle around Willow, keeping the remaining Shites Templar from getting too close.
No one had noticed Spike yet, but the melee was too contained and the room was nowhere near big or dark enough for plan A to work anymore. Someone would notice there were two of them eventually. There was a part of Spike that was almost grateful for that. He’d never been that good an actor, and he was bound to get something important wrong after so little time to watch and memorise the details of this particular road not taken. But before he could get to work on Plan B, he had to survive the rest of the knights currently trying to take his head off.
Then Buffy got knocked down. It wasn’t for long – she swept Poundshop-Jesus’ legs out from under him as she went, changing the odds back to her favour. But that one moment was still enough to distract the lot of them. Spike’s sword got knocked out of his grasp, and Vanessa took a hit that would’ve killed a normal girl. The worst of it was Willow: her chanting stuttered and slowed, magic faltering along with her voice, before surging back up again as Buffy leapt to her feet. Only by that point, the damage was done. The slayers had all moved around a bit, losing ground against the onslaught in some places, so when the white light surged back up to full force, its edges bounced Kiara straight into the hole. The Wretched Embarrassment to Vampiredom was still too engrossed by his wife’s barely-there stumble to notice, so by the time he started scrambling to catch Kiara, Spike’d already finished mourning the poor bitch.
Like all life-or-death fights, nothing took longer than the blink of an eye, and yet at the same time every movement seemed to stretch into eons.
As Spike edged agonisingly slowly towards Willow and her protective circle, he could eventually see that Kiara was still alive, dangling from a rocky outcrop a few feet down. To his absolute horror, the Deadweight Dullard dropped onto his stomach and started trying to pull her out again. With at least twenty super-strong trained fighters with swords still bearing down on the remaining slayers, none of whom could hold a candle to Kiara on their best bloody day.
Despite himself, Spike started to panic, desperately trying to make those last few feet to the – now dangerously staggered and wavering – circle of slayers. He felt Buffy’s gaze land on him. It burned as it always did, even in the long-gone days when he hated her. But for all she was watching now, Spike was almost certain she hadn’t seen her husband go down or him bursting through to take his place – she’d been too busy keeping herself alive. But by the time he could afford to look up at her properly, to make certain of it, she’d already turned back to her own fight.
By the time he finally reached them, Willow and the girls had to have seen him coming, had to have realised something strange was going on. But it made no difference: they all remained totally focussed on their tasks. Spike even remembered to be grateful they’d learned from their earlier slip with Buffy.
He had to choose his actions bloody carefully now. Whatever he did, he must make it look as if he was doing his utmost to save the doppelgänger.
He spun around, falling in line between Tanya’s weak right-hand-side and the yawning gap Nadina was struggling to cover, snarling at them to tighten up the configuration so no one could get past. Then he snatched a sword out of his nearest opponent’s hands and lopped off another knight’s head – even these last few seconds of being limited to claws and teeth was harrowing; he couldn’t imagine how the girls’d been coping with nothing but stakes earlier on. Spike stepped back, straight into his alternate’s place, keeping the knights away from Willow and, now, Kiara’s last shot at survival. He’d keep fighting with them for a bit, at least until some better option presented itself. No point in pissing Willow off when her magic was actually working for once; she might regret it later, but he knew absolutely that she’d kill him in a heartbeat if it was that or the world.
As he took position, Spike finally met Buffy’s eyes. It was the first time he’d had the courage to risk it. His knees nearly buckled from the love he saw there. He’d never truly believed it was possible for her to love any version of him – even half-convinced himself he’d been imagining things when time-travelling Buffy dropped into his life. For all the (far too many) times he’d conjured up a happy-ever-after in his head, he’d never quite been able to parse the details of how it would feel to know she really, truly loved him. But in that shining, sacred moment, everything changed. He realised that any plan he’d made was a delusion. She loved her husband. And Spike never could come between Buffy and anything or anyone she loved.
Insides hollowed out entirely, despair nipping at his heels, Spike let his emotions shut off. He couldn’t think about anything except countering the next strike. Distantly, he knew he was probably taking more damage than was safe, but he didn’t feel a lick of physical pain. The only thing that mattered was that Buffy mustn’t ever be a widow.
By the time the Mock Messiah was beyond all hope of resurrection and the last of the demonic god-botherers were ash, Spike reckoned he’d saved the pallid plonker’s life four and a half times – the half being that moment he’d first stepped into the circle. But the final one was the most impressive. How either of them had survived that last berserker Spike didn’t think he’d ever know. The pain hadn’t hit yet, but he could feel, distantly, that it wasn’t going to be pretty when it did.
Kiara was fine – barely a scratch on her – but Vanessa was gone and Spike wasn’t holding out much hope for Tanya. Without really noticing it, he’d moved back to the very edge of the basement as the rest of them gathered round Willow and the fallen girls in the centre of the room.
“Thanks,” Buffy called over her shoulder, already gone from avenging angel to haggard and weepy after seconds of thinking her Spike was dead. Not only did she fail utterly to notice who saved him, but she wasn’t even curious enough to look up for two seconds and find out. All her attention was focussed on touching every part of that poor, sad, housebroken bastard. Spike legged it, as fast as he could.
Back in the temporary construction office he’d dumped his stuff in, drenched to the skin and so exhausted and hurting he could barely stand, Spike tried to focus on where to go from here. He’d never been so completely without ties before. For the first time in his existence, no matter where he went or what he did, no one knew and no one cared. A bloke could go stark raving mad staring into that kind of abyss.
Spike stripped off his wet things, and checked himself over for injuries. It was bad – if he didn’t get hold of some blood soon, he’d be in trouble – but not so bad as it might have been. He’d be able to get himself out of Jasper without help, which was the most important part.
He took a box cutter to his stupid bleached hair and hacked it all off. He hadn’t been bald since the last time he deloused, decades ago. Once it was all gone, he stepped back out into the rain, naked, and let it wash it all away. He felt clean and weightless, and for the barest moment, he thought he’d be okay.
Shaking with cold, he put on dry clothes, grabbed up his duffel, and was about to walk back out into the still-howling (but now mostly natural) storm and get on his motorcycle when he remembered. He had nowhere to go. No one to go to. Suddenly, whatever he’d been using to hold his pieces together ran out. Everyone he loved was dead, and he’d just frittered away his last hope of getting any of them back again. For the first time since Willow told him she’d be sending Faith back in time, Spike broke down and cried. Great howling sobs that made his jaw ache and set his ribs on fire until he finally passed out on the concrete floor from pain and exhaustion.
When he woke up, Willow was there. The other Willow.
“Hey,” she said. “Spike.”
“You ever bloody knock?”
This is the first story in a fully plotted-out trilogy. Look out for part two, Nothing Lasts!
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/718790.html