Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy. I’m just playing in their sandbox.
The Past is a Different Country
The world resolved into solidity around her, and Buffy was somewhere else.
She froze, trying to get her bearings, and was immediately jostled by someone bumping into her from behind.
“Oi, watch it!” a rough voice growled.
“Sorry,” she replied, purely in reflex, and tried to move out of the way. Except she chose the wrong way, and nearly stumbled off the edge of the curb into the street. Only her reflexes saved her from falling, and an instant later, she had her back pressed against the relative comfort of a wall, trying to take in air and failing.
Oh, God, what’s happening? she thought wildly, and dug her fingers into the brick and mortar behind her, as if scrabbling for purchase on her sanity. She relaxed only a very little bit on discovering she was solid again. While she’d been fighting, she’d gone all ghost-y, her punches and kicks not so much connecting as phasing through. It was just nice to feel the reassuring weight of the wall at her back and not have to worry about falling through it.
There were too many things to notice all at once – something cloth-like swishing around her legs and ankles, the constriction around her chest and stomach, the pull against the delicate skin behind her ears…
The way that the close Sunnydale alley she’d been fighting in only moments ago had suddenly transformed itself into this strange street.
I’m not going crazy, she told herself, glancing up and down the street with wide eyes. I’m not going crazy…
A glance down at herself made her try to breathe even harder. She was wearing a long dress of a kind that she could only associate with Civil War mini-series; miles and miles of fabric, long sleeves swathing her from neck to wrists, and even there it didn’t end, as she was wearing gloves, too. A cloth bag or purse dangled from one wrist by its drawstring closure. Exploring further, she laid a hand on her side, and felt a ridge of some kind beneath her fingers, then another, an inch or so apart from the first. She pressed on them more firmly, and they dug into her flesh and ribs. Okay, that’s what’s keeping me from breathing, she thought, but why am I wearing these weird clothes in the first place? Calm down, Buffy. You’ll probably pass out if you panic any more, because you can’t breathe because you’re wearing this torture device… Thwarted once again on taking a deep breath, she resorted to shallow little ones, and those seemed to work better. Even if it feels like I’m hyperventilating…
Breathing again made her feel a little less frantic, and a little more conscious that she might be watched. Casually, she reached up, as if to brush a wayward strand of hair back. Her hair was pulled up and back, into an intricate knot on the back of her head. Perched on top of her head was a hat of some kind; she could just make out the shape of it with her gloved fingers.
Having determined the extent of the changes to her wardrobe didn’t make her any happier or less confused. I want my leather jacket and my jeans and my boots… where did they go? Where am I?
That made her look around. The street in front of her wasn’t wide, not as wide as the streets she was familiar with in Sunnydale. But it was old; if it was Sunnydale at all, it was an old Sunnydale. The street wasn’t smooth with blacktop, it was covered with stones as big as both her fists, all packed close together. A horse was pulling a buggy or cart or something, and she could hear the ‘clip-clop’ of its hooves against the stones.
It was night, and it felt like the hour was late. When Buffy glanced up at the sky, searching for the moon or some other indication of the time, it was hazy, veiled by the smoke she could see drifting from chimneys all around.
Considering the number of people still walking about, though, she decided it might not be as late as she thought. The guy with the horse and cart had disappeared down the street, and there were other men walking about, in heavy trousers and worn coats. They walked quickly, with purpose, as if they had somewhere to be and didn’t want to linger. There were even a few women, too, in dresses similar to her own.
Okay, so. It looks like sometime in the 1800’s. I don’t want to be in the 1800’s. I want to be in the year 2000, back where I came from! Giles, you can figure out what happened and bring me home any second now. Buffy swallowed heavily, as the thought of her Watcher – and her friends and mother and all the things that were familiar – made tears threaten. Despite the way her eyes burned, she lifted her chin, pulling up all the Slayer resolve she could find. All I have to do is wait until Giles breaks this spell or whatever it is. I only have to wait a little while and then I’ll be home again. She forgot that she couldn’t take a deep breath, and was reminded when that thing with the ridges under her dress prevented her.
It also prevented her heartfelt sigh. I guess I’m stuck here – wherever here is – for now. I suppose I’d better figure out where I am. Looking both ways, not wanting to bump into another grouchy passer-by, she stepped away from the building and closer to the street, looking for someone to ask, and hoping she wasn’t risking mortal embarrassment.
Walking away from her down the street was a tall man with broad shoulders. He was not wearing a hat, and his hair was long and loose, flowing over the collar of his coat. He had one arm around the shoulders of a woman not much taller than Buffy herself. Walking beside them was another, taller woman, dark hair flowing down her back in fat curls.
They looked respectable – well, it looked like they were better dressed than most of the men she saw walking alone, anyway. Something about them made her pause, though, and she stared at them, frowning. What is it about them? she asked herself. There’s something strange…
Just as she was about to take a step toward them and ask them to tell her where she was, she became aware of another man approaching. He stormed along the street, head bent, hands twisting furiously in front of him. Unlike the other men she could see, he wasn’t wearing an overcoat, just what she considered his suit jacket. He crashed into the man with the wide shoulders, and staggered back a few steps, being both shorter and more slightly built. Scraps of paper fluttered from the smaller man’s fingers, and he stooped to pick them up. “Watch where you’re going!” he burst out, his voice harsh with some fierce emotion.
The tall man brushed past him without a word, seemingly without even noticing him, as did the woman he held. The dark-haired woman paused, glancing over her shoulder as the slight man continued his uneven path down the street.
Buffy saw her face then, and her frown deepened. She reminds me of someone… and so do the others…Who?
Then the tall man turned around, and she had to struggle to contain her gasp, her hand rising to cover her mouth. Angel…Then, seeing the cruel twist of his mouth, and suddenly recognizing the women with him, she corrected herself. No, not Angel. Angelus… and… and Darla and Drusilla. I’ve been sent back in time. This must be before he got his soul. I can’t tell for timeframes, but it must be before. No way would he be with them if he had it. She dropped her hand, fingers twitching. She didn’t even have a stake. I can’t take all three of them, she thought, especially with no weapons…
Suddenly, the truth of what she had just thought struck her, and for a second, she felt like she was going to be sick. Angel… I can’t kill Angel…
Drusilla was still standing in the middle of the street, and she and Angel – Angelus – and Darla were watching the man’s progress.
“Or you could just take the first drooling idiot who comes along,” Darla said, one eyebrow arched and wearing an unpleasant smirk, carrying on some prior conversation that Buffy hadn’t been able to hear. Then she and Angelus walked on, leaving Drusilla alone.
Buffy heard Angelus rumble something, to which Darla replied softly, but her eyes were on Drusilla. I wonder where Spike is, she thought absently. He never used to be very far away from the crazy ho’. Then she shook her head. As if it isn’t enough to have just the three of them here! I don’t have to go looking for more trouble. And Spike is definitely trouble.
Except he wasn’t; at least, not any more. Back home, whatever had been done to him had taken the bite right out of him. He still mouthed off, because there didn’t seem to be any way to stop that, but there was nothing behind it now. He was a pain in the butt, but now he was just a harmless pain.
And she did her best to hide it beneath her usual self-righteous attitude and bitchiness, but there were times she almost felt sorry for him. Almost. Of course, every time she caught herself feeling that way, she reminded herself of the hundreds and thousands of people he’d killed, and always ended by thinking, It’s better this way, because at least he’s not snacking on the populace…
Sometimes, though – and it was something that she’d never admit, even under pain and torture of the worst kind – she missed the thrill of fighting him, because he was the only one who gave as good as he got, the only one she hadn’t really beaten, in the now fits into an ashtray sense.
Her attention sharpened immediately when Drusilla started to drift in the direction the man had taken, murmuring softly, something about knights and wise men. Buffy rolled her eyes at the crazy one’s crazy ramblings, but stepped off the curb to follow her.
She caught up with Drusilla just as she reached the narrow alley the man had entered. I still don’t have a weapon, she fretted, casting about a little desperately, looking for something to use. But there wasn’t anything, not even a scrap of wood for a makeshift stake. Wacky chick is about to go in and eat that guy, and he’s just an innocent, he’s got no idea what’s coming, and he so doesn’t deserve it, and damn it, I’ve got to save him…
Maybe I can fake her out? She calmed down a little at that thought. Surely she could outthink the crazy vampire. “Darling!” she called, lifting up her skirts to hurry the rest of the way down the street. “There you are!”
Drusilla stopped at the sound of her voice, which was all of the good, and spun around to stare at her.
Buffy ignored the vampire’s eyes, remembering with no small bitterness what she had done to Kendra, and instead peeked into the alley. The man sat on a crate at the very end where it abutted against another building, having effectively trapped himself. She shook her head, forcing a smile. “He’s always doing this,” she said, as if in confidence. “He’s just a little cracked, but I still…”
“He’s not for you, Slayer!” Drusilla hissed, and Buffy startled at the sound. “Tripping and tumbling your way back through time to snare him… no, he’s to be my knight!” Her hands crept up to fist in her hair, snarling the perfect curls. “Dust and ashes and pain, that’s all your love will bring…”
Right, Buffy thought, tamping down her surprise and confusion and covering with one of her patented eye-rolls. Of course, now I remember that Dru is not only crazy, she can see the future. She risked a glance at the vampire’s face, saw her pretty human features twisted with rage. “You are not going to kill him,” she stated, her tone slow and even. “Not while I’m here.”
Drusilla laughed then, and Buffy shivered, for she’d never truly heard the sound of madness in laughter before. “Doesn’t matter,” she said around her giggles, and her accent was even thicker than Spike’s. She unwound her hands from her hair to point at Buffy, who quickly averted her eyes. “Doesn’t matter now, future-Slayer. The knight can only ever have one princess. Even when you’re not here anymore, you’ll still be here.” With that, she twirled around, skirts flaring about her, and hurried back in the direction from which she’d come.
Slowly, Buffy relaxed from the tense battle stance she’d assumed. And the crazy goes on, she thought. Wish I could have dusted her, but then I’d have all the rest of them to deal with. I’m just glad I saved this guy before she could get to him…
Uh-oh. A thought struck her and she paused before entering the alley. Wait a minute. Maybe I’ve changed things… Oh, no, this is just like that movie that Xander likes, where the kid changes the past and almost cuts off his own existence. What if I start to fade away?
She shook her head, dismissing the possibility. I don’t know whether I’ve changed anything or not, and I just can’t keep second-guessing myself while I’m stuck here. Maybe someone else warned Dru off and this guy is supposed to be saved, and I just did it instead. That’s okay, right? Besides, I don’t think there’s anything I could do now in the 1800’s that would change my entire existence…
She stepped into the alley, senses alert in case Drusilla decided to return. Wouldn’t put it past her… after all, she’s nutso.
The man she’d just saved was still sitting on the crate, tearing the bits of paper he held into smaller and smaller pieces. At last he stopped, and just stared down at his hands. His shoulders shook a little as he did. Seeing that, Buffy realized that he was crying, and felt a pang of compassion for him. Poor guy... I wonder what happened?
He never even noticed her approach, so intent was he on whatever had made him so upset. She took the opportunity to study him in what little light reached into the alley from the street. His hair was kind of a sandy blond, waving with unruly curls. He had long fingers, slim and graceful as they clenched on the scraps of paper. His head was bent, his face thrown in shadow, so Buffy couldn’t make out his features.
“Hey,” she called softly, while still some distance away, trying to get his attention. “Are you all right?”
The man jumped, startled by the sound of her voice, and raised his head. She could see the tears streaking his cheeks, his eyes brilliant blue and filled with pain behind his glasses. “I’m fine,” he said shortly, and looked away, as if trying to hide. “I just wish to be alone.”
Buffy frowned thoughtfully. He looks like someone I know. I know he does…
“You can’t stay here,” she said, putting all the patience she could muster into her tone. “I can’t stay here, either.”
She hadn’t intended him to hear that, had muttered it under her breath, but he faced her again, glaring just a little. “I’m not keeping you here, Miss…” He fumbled for a moment, as if it had just struck him that she was a stranger. Then his scowl lifted slightly, becoming puzzled. “And, indeed, what are you doing out alone?”
He’s got an accent… sounds kind of like Giles’s, she thought a bit irrelevantly, her mind whirling to come up with some plausible excuse. I think I’m in England. “I was… out. Walking,” she added quickly, as his frown returned. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with her hands, clasping them in front of her, then behind, feeling the purse bump against her leg as she moved. “I needed some air, so I went for a walk, and now I don’t know where I am. I’m not from around here,” she finished, raising her eyes to him in what she hoped was a winsome look.
It seemed to work. He appeared to gather himself, then stood up, and gave her a short bow and a polite little smile that wobbled only a bit. As an afterthought, he swiped away the tracks of his tears with the heel of one hand, which she pretended not to see. “William Pratt, at your service, Miss…” He looked at her expectantly, eyebrows raised.
“Summers,” she said without thinking, distracted more than a little by the wave of familiarity that swamped her again. She managed a smile through her confusion. “Buffy Summers.”
For just a moment, his smile widened and was genuine. “How do you do, Miss Summers?”
“Very well, thank you, Mister Pratt,” she replied, grinning and bobbing a slight curtsey. Grandma couldn’t have known that I really would need to know when she taught me how to respond to that. But hey, it worked! Go, Grandma!
“Where are you staying whilst you are here in London?” William asked, and just how did a man manage to look so shy? He was kind of peeking at her over the top of his glasses, through a few wayward strands of hair that fell over his forehead. He’s kind of like a cute little puppy, she thought, and her smile softened and warmed. At the sight of her smile, he blushed and glanced away. “I-I’ll escort you back,” he stammered. “It would never do for you to be… accosted.”
Oh, damn, Buffy thought, he’s got no idea I can take care of myself better than he can. And what if Dru comes back when he’s on his way home alone? And… hey, just where am I going to stay while I’m here? And how am I going to pay for it?
“Miss Summers?” Now he was frowning at her a little, brow quirked in worry.
In a flash, Buffy decided the course it seemed she would have to take. I am so not the damsel-in-distress, but if I’m going to make sure he gets home safe, I suppose I’m gonna have to do some damsel-ing. Drusilla will probably lose interest, since he wasn’t so easy to catch as she thought, and after that I can focus on getting home. When she met William’s gaze once again, she allowed tears to well up in her eyes. “I… I got so lost… I don’t even know what direction to take to get there. Would it be all right for me to maybe stay with you tonight?” Then, catching sight of his nearly horrified look, she remembered again that she wasn’t in her own time. And asking to stay over is probably not done at all in these times… She rushed on, “I mean, I don’t mean with you, obviously, I just mean on your sofa or… and only if it’s no trouble, I don’t want to put you out…” She bit her lip, putting a purposeful stop to her rambling. Please don’t ask me the name of the hotel, please, please, please…
William’s cheeks were flushed, and he wouldn’t – or maybe couldn’t? she thought – look at her when he replied. “This is quite improper, Miss Summers. I’m not at all sure how things are done where you are from, but…”
“Please? Just for one night, I promise, and I’ll be out of your hair tomorrow…” Not sure it would help at this point, she intensified her pleading look.
He sighed. “Very well, Miss Summers. I do hope Mother is not too scandalized by this,” he muttered.
Relieved, Buffy gave him her brightest smile. “Thank you, Wi – Mister Pratt.”
The color in his cheeks grew even brighter, and in a very Giles-like move, he pulled a handkerchief from his breast pocket and quickly wiped his glasses. He replaced them carefully, and seemed surprised to find her watching him. He forced another polite smile and tilted his head, offering her his arm. A little mechanically, she took it, and allowed him to lead her from the alley.
For in that instant where he was not wearing his glasses, it was blindingly clear to Buffy of just who William reminded her. The knowledge drained all the blood from her face and knocked her breathless. Oh, my God, she thought, stunned. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before…
William was Spike.
“Willow, are you quite sure that these are the demons that Buffy was fighting?” Giles’s hands trembled just a little as he picked up the book again.
“Yes, Giles,” Willow replied, her eyes wide and solemn. “That’s them.”
“Ugly and horny,” Xander added, then winced. “Lotsa horns, I mean. G-man… What did they do with her?”
“Were they engaged in a-a ritual?”
“That’s how it looked… there was four of them in like a square… maybe standing at the four points of the compass? And another one in the center. He had a knife. They were all chanting… so, yeah, ritual in the making. Giles… Buffy… she just disappeared!”
“Oh, dear.” Giles took off his glasses, rubbed his forehead with his free hand. Things were rapidly progressing from bad to worse. “No, she didn’t disappear.”
“Yes, she did!” Xander and Willow exclaimed in angry unison.
“Poof!” Willow’s fingers fluttered, miming an explosion. “No Buffy anywhere!”
Giles sank heavily into his seat, still holding his glasses. “No, I mean… she-she’s been sent traveling through time.”
The children were silent for a moment. “Through… time?” Willow asked, her voice small.
Xander brightened a little. “Like in Back to the Future? I mean… just not in a DeLorean. Going back in time because of a funky ritual-y mistake?”
Giles sighed, the headache throbbing right behind his eyes. “Without having seen the popular culture tripe to which you refer, I would imagine so, yes.”
“So… how do we bring her back?” Willow was looking at him as if he had all the answers.
This time, though, he hadn’t. The demons that Buffy had disturbed were known for their limited passage through time and space, but not much had been written about them otherwise. It was always possible that the ritual they had been performing hadn’t yet reached the power necessary to propel Buffy too far from the here and now... but the fact that his Slayer hadn’t yet joined them disproved that.
“I’m not entirely certain,” he responded quietly. “While the ritual was doubtless geared to send one of their number through time, we don’t know to where, or even what year. Moreover, Buffy interrupted them before they were finished. There’s absolutely no way to predict how that would affect the time vortex already gathered, and it could have dropped her far from the demons’ intended destination.”
“Giles…” Willow paused, as if regaining control over her voice, then went on, sounding forlorn. “Are you saying we’ll never get Buffy back?”
He looked up then, saw twin looks full of fear from Buffy’s friends. “No,” he said, with as much conviction as he could manage, and put his glasses back on. “I’m not saying that at all. But it might be a while before she returns, either with or without our help.” He gestured at the books already out on his table. “We should start looking for some way to at least find out where – and when – she is. The sooner we can find something, the less time she’ll be… there and then, and the less likely it is she’ll do something to drastically change the past.”
Willow reached for the book nearest her and opened it. “Is it? I mean, likely?”
Giles started flipping through the book he had taken from Willow, hoping there would be some other reference listed. “Just by her presence, Buffy has already changed the past, but in only a small way, I should think. Hopefully, however, wherever and whenever she’s ended up, she will realize that her actions will change the past – or rather, the future, as it would be for her.”
“What’s the worst case scenario, here?” Xander asked, and Giles was surprised to see that the boy was serious. “I mean, aside from not getting Buff back with us?”
He looked down at the pages without seeing a word. “They are too numerous and horrible to contemplate,” he replied softly, “and could range from negating her own existence to the complete destruction of the world.”
Xander blanched, and had to work to swallow. “So, that’d be bad, then.”
Giles shook his head and forced himself to focus on the words in front of him. “In all likelihood, we wouldn’t even notice. The past is just the past, and we wouldn’t even know that something had changed, because, to us, it would have always been that way.”
Quiet reigned for some time, broken only but the whisper of pages turning.
“Can this be Spike’s fault?” Xander asked, breaking the silence and making Giles and Willow jump in their seats. “I mean, can’t he be like the designated scapegoat? If anything goes wrong, it can always just be Spike’s fault…”
“Xander,” Willow admonished. “It can’t be Spike’s fault. He can’t do bad things like that now.” She tapped her pencil on the table a couple times. “Besides, he wasn’t even there.”
Giles ignored their conversation, engrossed in his research. He compared his copious notes to the book in front of him. Interrogate Spike was one of the items on his list, with a list of questions regarding the demons that Willow had identified.
He frowned. “Who is Spike?” he asked, bemused.
Even as he spoke, the words faded off the page into nothingness.
Willow and Xander blinked at him in confusion. “What did you say, Giles?” Willow inquired, one finger marking her place in her book.
Giles opened his mouth to speak… then closed it again and shook his head. “I’m not sure now. It must not have been important.” He resumed reading and taking notes, anxious to get his Slayer back where and when she truly belonged.