Disclaimer: It all belongs to Joss and Mutant Enemy. I’m just playing in their sandbox.
The Past is a Different Country
“You can’t leave,” William said, forcing himself upright. “Not after… after this…”
Dropping her hand from her mouth, Buffy turned away, unable to bear the heartrending look of betrayal he wore. “I… I’m sorry,” she whispered, staring down at her hands as they clenched in the covers. “I’ve got to go back home.”
“You… you could stay,” he said softly, “if you want to… as my wife…”
She gasped, tears filling her eyes at the sudden pain his words brought. With an effort, she met his gaze. “Part of me really would like that,” she replied. “In fact, most of me would. But… I have to go back. I have a… a duty at home, responsibilities…”
“If it’s your duty to your mother,” he interrupted, “let her come to London as well, Buffy, please. From all you’ve said, she and my mother would…”
Sadly, she shook her head. I wish it hadn’t come to this. “No, I can’t. I… I’m not from here, William.”
He tilted his head a little to one side, his eyes bright with emotion. “No, I know, Buffy. You’re from California, but truly, it doesn’t matter where…”
“No,” she interrupted firmly, not willing to hide this truth any longer. “It’s not just that I’m from California. It’s that I’m from a hundred years in the future.”
William stared at her, mouth open in shock. After a few seconds, he shook himself, as if to rid himself of a ridiculous notion. “Buffy, be serious! I…”
“I am being serious,” she said. “I’ve got to get home, I’ve got to do my duty…”
“What duty?” he asked, voice tight. “What duty could be more important than…”
She flinched and dropped his gaze. I already decided that saving the world is more important than love, she thought, Acathla filling her mind. When does love get to be more important?
When she still said nothing, William took an unsteady breath. “I see,” he choked. “It’s not that there’s a duty, it’s that there’s no love save mine.” He flung back the covers and climbed from the bed, to begin gathering his clothes.
The anguish in his voice knocked the air from her body. “No,” she breathed, feeling the words stop in her throat to strangle her. “No, it’s not that at all…”
The expression he wore was a mixture of confusion and fury and hurt, and hauntingly familiar in her memory. “Then why, Buffy? Why say…” his voice broke and he had to take several breaths before he could go on, “that, and then talk of leaving?”
“Because it’s true,” she answered simply. “I never planned to fall in love with you – with anyone – while I was stuck here in the past. But it happened. And before I left, I wanted you to know, even though you probably won’t remember when I’m gone.” She couldn’t bear the look he gave her and glanced down, hitching the sheet higher under her arms. “You… you knew I’d have to leave eventually, even if I was what I said I was.”
“I hoped you would be persuaded to stay,” he replied in a whisper. His fingers stilled in the midst of pulling on his waistcoat. “I still hope that you will, despite… despite this fantastic story…”
“But I have to go!” Buffy cried, scrambling from the bed. When he looked away from her nudity, she flushed and quickly shimmied back into her chemise. “They need me back home. No one else can do… what I do. And I really don’t belong here, anymore than you…” She swallowed the rest of what she would have said, remembering Spike. Spike did belong there, then, despite being a vampire… or maybe because of it.
Then it hit her, as she was studying William’s face and thinking of Spike, that as hard as she’d tried to keep them separate, they weren’t. They never had been, except in her mind. They were the same. The look she saw on his face now was exactly the same one she saw that night Spike had first come back to Sunnydale, after Drusilla had left him. He tried to hide it behind his smirks and leers and that tongue-curling thing, but it was too great a pain for anything to hide it.
The man she’d come to love and the… creature she called the bane of her existence were the same person.
The knowledge left her even more shaken, and she shivered from a sudden chill.
William stuffed his tie into his waistcoat pocket and pulled on his shoes. Her heart sank, and she was truly afraid that if he left before she could make him see, nothing would ever be right again.
“Please don’t go, William.” She scooped up her dress from the floor.
He paused, his hand on the door. “You say you won’t stay, even though I ask,” and the bitterness in his voice was overwhelming.
“William, please. I love you…” The dress crumpled in her hands, her grip was so tight.
His eyes caught hers then, and she could see that he wanted to believe her, but her own admission wouldn’t let him. “If you loved me,” he said with a calm that didn’t disguise the emotions rioting in his eyes, “you would stay.”
With that he left, slamming the door behind him.
Still struggling into her dress, she debated chasing after him wearing just her shift, but modesty prevented her from following though on that idea. I can probably catch him if I really hurry, she thought, her fingers awkward on the buttons on the bodice of her dress in her haste. Hurry, hurry, can’t let him go… As soon as she had yanked on her boots, she reached for the doorknob.
Her hand passed through it, slowly, so she could feel the cool of the metal surrounding her fingertips.
She stared at the door in shock, then at her hand. While the one seemed solid enough, she could see vague outlines through her palm, as if she were fading away.
Fading away, she thought, clenching a fist. Just like… like when I was fighting just before I ended up here. I couldn’t hit them, and then poof! I was here… Oh! No! No, no, no, I can’t go back now! I’ve gotta find William! I’ve got to explain… Taking a deep breath, she flung herself toward the door, hoping that she was already out of phase enough that she wouldn’t knock herself out.
Instead, she dove right through it headfirst, to land sprawling on the carpet on the other side. “Well, that worked,” she muttered, and picked herself up as fast as she could. She hadn’t taken the time to fight with the corset, and even though the buttons on her dress gaped open in some places, its absence made getting up – and running – much easier.
Luckily, the hallway was nearly empty of people, and she was able to run down its length without going through anyone, despite the shrieks and stares that followed her. The stair into the hotel foyer was more crowded, the screams of fright louder and more numerous as she forced her way down. A couple of women fainted, falling gracefully to the highly polished floor.
Buffy didn’t care; all that mattered was finding William. She pushed through the people in the foyer, though most gave way when they saw the way she flickered transparent. Having gained the door to the street, she gritted her teeth and threw herself through it.
She could feel her limbs starting to tingle, and it felt just like when her foot would fall asleep, except all the way up her calves and forearms. The very same thing had happened when she had been fighting the demons that had sent her here. She had fought it then, not knowing what it was. Now, knowing, remembering, she fought it even harder. Not now! she thought, desperately looking for William, this way and that. I can’t go back now! I have to find him… make him see the truth…
She caught sight of him then, just the top of his sandy head as he disappeared around the corner, heading back toward the house he shared with his mother. Balling her skirts in one hand, she followed, running as fast as she could. “William!” she called, and though some turned to at her cry to gawk at her, they quickly averted their eyes, exclaiming in fear.
Cries of “Ghost!” followed her.
William either didn’t hear her or simply wasn’t going to heed her. He continued on, bumping into others on the street more often than not, but still moving forward. Moving away. Wait for me, you jerk, Buffy thought, pushing her slowly vanishing body to the utmost. I just want to explain…
She was forced to pause, however, on coming to the second corner. Straight on was the most direct path back to where he lived, but she couldn’t even glimpse him. There were too many people, too many carriages, too much movement for her to make William out in that direction. The intersecting street twisted among the buildings, and offered too many places for someone to hide if they wanted to. If he heard me, he might have decided to hide out, she thought, chewing her lip. But he probably wanted to get back home, to be in private… Her own tears threatened at having caused William pain. Come on, Buffy, she told herself, resolve firming. You’ve gotta find him before you fade away. Gotta… She started running again, down the intersecting street.
She was forced to slow down to peer into the alleys she passed, just in case he’d taken it into his head it was a good place to hide. There were fewer people on this street, but she was still falling behind, and now the feeling of fading was getting even harder to ignore. Her legs tingled more than halfway up her thighs, and her arms nearly all the way to the shoulder. Even though it was progressing slower than it had when she was sent here, her time was still growing short, and she hadn’t found him yet. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry ran through her head, endlessly repeating. Please, let me find him…
The narrow street eventually widened, giving out into a more open area. Buffy was halfway through it, somewhat relieved that there were no more hidey-holes every few feet, when the familiarity struck her. Oh, no, she thought, heart in her throat. She glanced around wildly, and began to run once more, knowing where William was.
She’d found him there before, after all. She had followed him back to the same place where she’d arrived.
“William…” She stumbled to a stop in the alley, breathing heavily. She’d found him.
Found them. Drusilla was there, standing in front of William; that sing-song tone and heavy accent could belong to no one else. Not to mention the fact that she was swaying lazily, ever so slightly from side to side. Using thrall, just being deliberately mysterious when William had had too much truth… she didn’t know. I don’t care, either, she thought fiercely, storming forward, but the sight of William gave her pause.
His eyes were red from tears, streaked tracks down his face, and her own heart wept in response. But he was looking at Dru, staring at her in fascination, as if she were the only person in the world for him at that moment.
Buffy knew how that felt, and she didn’t want Drusilla to ever know.
“Do you want it?”
William reached out, hand trembling, but stopped before he touched Drusilla’s cheek, letting his hand come to rest instead over her silent heart. It was the same way she herself had guided his hand a bare hour ago. “Oh, yes,” he replied, voice unsteady, fervent, in a way that Buffy had never heard him speak before.
He agreed… “No!” she cried, hands outstretched to grab Dru’s hair, her shoulder, her skirt, whatever she could.
But she was even more ghostly now, could clearly see the outlines of the bricks and cobblestones through her arm, and her fingers couldn’t even disturb the lie of Dru’s curls. Buffy overbalanced and nearly fell.
William’s face reflected slow-dawning horror when she looked again, and her heart sank as Buffy realized that Dru must have vamped out. With surprising fastidiousness, the vampire moved William’s collar aside then slowly moved in to make her bite.
He flinched, his face twisting in pain, and Buffy remembered the pain and horror she’d felt when the Master had bitten her. “Ow,” and he twitched, an abortive movement to push her away, but Dru just tightened her grip on him. “Ow… Ow! OW!”
“William, oh, no, no….” Once more, she tried to take hold of Drusilla, to pull her away from him – you’re hurting him, you bitch, aren’t you listening? – but again, her hands passed right though the vampire, and if her phantom touch even made her shiver, Buffy couldn’t tell.
He collapsed, still crying out, and Dru followed, eager to take every last drop of his blood. Stunned, Buffy could only watch as his eyes dimmed, as his breath became erratic. I can’t do anything, she thought, one hand covering her mouth. I can’t save him, why can’t I save him?
Finally, Drusilla raised her head, lips smeared delicately with his blood, and oh, Buffy felt she had never hated someone as much as she did in that instant. Moving precisely, Dru removed her glove and carefully drew up her sleeve before tearing open her wrist. “There,” she cooed, lowering her bleeding wrist to William’s mouth. “Mummy will make everything better. You’ll be my darling boy.”
Just then, the tingling strengthened all throughout her body, and Buffy knew her time was up. She kept her eyes locked on William’s face, devoutly ignoring the way Dru stroked his hair back and crooned to him as her blood filled his mouth. His eyes flickered open and he seemed to see her at last. She took her hand away from her mouth and reached out to him. “I’m sorry, William,” she whispered, but before she could say anything else, the I love you that clung to her lips, he closed his eyes and swallowed.
Everything disappeared in a spiral flash.
The world resolved into solidity around her, and Buffy was… home.
Not home-home; she was still in an alley, but it wasn’t the same one. This one reeked of tar and refuse and incense rather than hay and horses. More importantly, William wasn’t there. Drusilla wasn’t there, stealing away William’s life while she watched, helpless. Sunnydale, she thought, feeling nothing but numb, and slumped backward, against the wall of the building behind her. I’m back.
She could see the diagram the demons had chalked on the pavement for their ritual. One candle lay on its side, still lit, but starting to gutter out. She wore the clothes she had been wearing that night, the ones she’d missed every day of her stay in the past.
And yet, none of it mattered. Slowly, she slid down the wall, landing in a boneless heap on the filthy floor of the alley. She stared fixedly at the candle without seeing it, until at last it sputtered out, leaving her blind.
She killed him, she thought, and took a deep, shuddering breath. She killed the man I love right in front of me and turned him into something I’m supposed to kill. Something I’m supposed to hate. Tears stung her eyes, and she opened them wide, trying to keep them from falling. How can I hate him now?
She never registered that there was someone else in the alley with her until they stepped into her line of vision. She looked up but made no move to rise, even when she recognized the demon that had been in the center of the ritual. He looked less demonic now – the horns had shrunk significantly, and his skin was a pale blue in tone, though he still had webbed fingers.
“We travel through time in search of truth,” the demon said. His voice was soft, modulated, almost as if he were speaking with himself in thirds. “The truths of the universe, our own personal truths… it doesn’t matter. That’s all we seek. We don’t concern ourselves with your kind. We fought you simply to defend ourselves. Had you let us complete our ritual, no harm would have come to any of your people.”
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, her voice trembling a little. She rested her head against the wall behind her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”
The demon surveyed her in silence for a moment or two. “Sometimes,” he said, and his tone was gentle now, “sometimes the truth we find is a painful one. But that, too, is part of the journey.”
“I love him,” she whispered. “I told him I loved him and then I told him how I wasn’t supposed to be there… and then I started to fade away… I couldn’t save him when she turned him.” She gulped back a sob.
The demon nodded. “Finding the truth to bring you home isn’t always the most difficult part.”
In spite of herself, Buffy looked up. “What do you…”
“Sometimes, it’s just admitting what you know to be true.” With one last nod, the demon turned and strode toward the street.
Admitting what I know is true? she asked herself. That Will – that Spike – that they were the same? That I decided it was all right to change the past? He ended up getting turned anyway. Her sob was so loud that she surprised herself, and she covered her mouth with one hand, trying to hold it back.
Then the pain that had been lurking inside since the moment William had left rose up inside her, closing her throat, choking her. She hid her face against her knees, rocking herself in search of lost comfort as she cried.
Buffy’s eyes still felt raw when she called Giles. Somehow, she’d picked herself up and made her way back to her mother’s house, though she couldn’t remember just how she’d gotten there. Her mother was away on what felt like the 15th buying trip since Buffy had started college, but that was all right, too. Alone was good.
Alone meant no one trying to find out why she was so upset, because she really didn’t feel up to talking about it. Not now, maybe not ever.
She curled up on her bed after telling Giles she was okay. Except I’m so far from okay that I’m not even in the same state, never mind the same zip code, she thought, staring at a room that had become so unfamiliar that she almost couldn’t recognize it as her own.
She slept late in the morning, and after that, it took a considerable amount of time to convince herself that she really should let Giles know all the particulars of her time travel. It was therefore well after noon when she showed up at Giles’s apartment.
Of course, blurting out “I think maybe I changed history” and causing Giles to snap his pencil probably wasn’t the best way to start.
“W-why do you say that?” Putting down the pencil, Giles immediately reached for his glasses and handkerchief.
Shaking her head, Buffy turned away, gazing down at her own hands, watching them clench into fists on her thighs.
“Buffy.” Giles’s voice brooked no argument, and she forced herself to meet his gaze again. His face, however, wasn’t nearly as stern as his tone. “How long were you there?”
“A… long time. At least a month.” She flashed a tight smile. “Long enough to change lots of things.”
“Well, yes,” Giles admitted. “That’s true. But you can’t know that your presence was enough to…”
“I do, Giles,” Buffy asserted, looking away. “I saved… someone from being made into a vampire… And then I kind of spent a lot of time with him, because he was the only one I knew, and…”
“Oh, dear.” She could feel Giles’s eyes weighty upon her, and she hunched her shoulders. “It was Angel – Angelus…” He paused when Buffy gave him a wry smile and an arched eyebrow. “Except,” he went on slowly, brow furrowed, “it couldn’t have been, could it? If you had kept him from being turned, I wouldn’t remember…”
“No, it wasn’t Angel,” she said. “I did see him, but I don’t think he knew I was there, unless Drusilla said something… No. It was Spike.” She was very proud that she kept her voice from breaking as she said his name. She still had to blink to keep the tears away, though.
“Buffy, I can remember Spike as well. In fact, I can quite vividly recall what an appalling house guest he was, and I am heartily glad that he’s departed to dwell elsewhere. If you had saved him, I shouldn’t remember him at all.”
Here comes the difficult part. She took a deep breath. “I did… something, to break the spell that was keeping me there, but it didn’t bring me back all at once. I was starting to fade, and Drusilla…” She broke off; there was a sob swelling in her chest, she could feel it, and she had to swallow it back down. “Just before I came back, I saw… she bit him,” she finished in a rush.
“Then… why are you so sure that you changed history?” Giles still held his glasses in one hand. “If he was turned regardless of your presence…”
Buffy flinched as his words scraped over her tender heart. “But…” She had to swallow again. What if he doesn’t remember me? What if he does? “What about… there was at least a month of people he didn’t kill. Doesn’t that mean something? Those people…”
“It means only that he killed that many less people.” She cringed again at Giles’s harsh tone. “Buffy, the man you came to know while you were in the past died when Drusilla turned him. He no longer exists.”
It was exactly what she couldn’t stand to hear.
Before Giles could say anything else, she ran, and slammed the door shut behind her.
Spike had moved out of Giles’s apartment as well as Xander’s basement. Nobody knew where he’d gone, and nobody really cared.
I care, Buffy thought, wandering aimlessly through one of Sunnydale’s numerous graveyards. I’m not really sure I really want to find him, or what I’d say if I did, but I care where he is.
She wasn’t sure she could stop caring, despite the fact that she probably should. All she was sure of was that the man she loved had died over a hundred years ago, and been turned into one of the vampires she was chosen to Slay. All she knew right now was that she hurt.
A gleam of light through the dusk caught her eye, and she slowed, frowning, then stopped altogether. The doors on the crypt just ahead of her were wide open, and a light flickered inside. As if inviting me in, she thought, and let out a shuddering breath. Is it Spike? It’s gotta be. Who else would be living in a cemetery? I’m not ready…
I might never be ready. She walked reluctantly over to the crypt door, paused for a moment, then stepped in.
Spike. He was lounging in a tattered green chair, booted feet stretched out in front of him and a bottle in one hand. Candles flickered from various surfaces, giving his skin a warm hue. When he glanced up at her entrance, she had to stifle a gasp. Even without the glasses, the look was one she’d seen William wear in her not-to-distant past; eyes wide and so blue, mouth slightly open as if he couldn’t believe…
“Slayer.” He settled more firmly in his chair, and the William-expression faded into his habitual smirk. He tilted his head to one side and raised one eyebrow as if in question. “Come to roust me out, have you?”
It took a moment for her to catch her breath, to make sure her voice was steady enough to answer. “No, not here to… to roust you. What does that even mean, anyway?” she mused, taking refuge in the inconsequential.
“Kick me out, I should say, then,” he amended, eyeing her.
The wariness in his gaze was a trial she hadn’t expected, and she discovered that sometime over her last month, she’d misplaced both her ability and her desire to match wits with Spike. “No, not for that, either,” she said. Before her knees could decide to give out, she sank down onto the steps into the crypt, still watching him.
He tensed; she could see every muscle in his body – what a lovely body, she thought distantly, and didn’t berate herself for thinking it – coil as if preparing to leap. “Then what brings you to my humble abode?”
“I saw the lights,” she said. “Wasn’t sure it was you, and decided to check it out…” But that wasn’t the whole truth, and she knew it.
I needed to see you… could I see you again and not… She shoved the thought into a corner of her mind. I can’t think about that now, I just can’t. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly, biting back the I love you she wanted to add, that she hadn’t been able to give to him before she had returned to the present, before he died.
“For what?” Spike seemed honestly surprised by her apology. He straightened a little in his chair and studied her intently.
She opened her mouth to say because I couldn’t save you, to remind him of the night he was killed, then snapped it shut again. It’s still just last night for me, she thought, heart-sore. It was a hundred and twenty years ago for him… if he remembers me at all. As soon as she had that thought, she wished she could unthink it. The very idea that he didn’t – or couldn’t – remember all the things they had said and done, that she was the only one who remembered their time together made her want to curl up and wait for the pain to go away. I guess I wanted him to remember it after all…
Somehow, she made herself answer him. “For lots of things,” she said, and her voice didn’t shake at all.
Will – Spike was still watching her, his eyes assessing her as if for weaknesses, and he was so like William and so foreign all at once that her mind and heart just rebelled. I can’t, she thought, more than a little despairingly. I just can’t be here anymore. She forced some Slayer resolve into her legs, and tried to at least make it look easy and nonchalant when she stood. “I like the candles,” she said, feeling like she was about to choke. “They make it kinda homey.” Inside, she was already running, desperate to get away, but every motion was controlled as she headed for the door. “See ya.”
She left the door open, not quite able to let it slam shut behind her, and only started to run once she was sure she was out of Spike’s sight.
Spike settled back into his slouch, frowning. Slayer’s actin’ strange, he thought, and ran his thumb over the neck of his bottle of bourbon. Wonder what that was all about? He shook his head – never understand what that chit’s thinking – and waited to make sure she wasn’t going to come back.
When it seemed the Slayer really was going to leave him alone for the rest of the evening, he opened the hand that wasn’t holding the bottle. Folded carefully against his palm was a length of green ribbon, worn and frayed by time and touch. He’d found it in his waistcoat pocket after he’d risen. He had thought at first to throw it away, not remembering how it had come to be there. But, looking at it, in a dim half-memory, half-dream, he had seen green eyes laughing, swimming in sorrow, shining with something that could only be love, and he’d tucked it away again, careful not to let Dru see it.
Sometimes he thought about it, about the green-eyed girl who might have looked at him that way, but whenever he did, he just grew frustrated, because he couldn’t remember anything clearly. He’d long ago decided that she never really existed, and if she did, she didn’t care about him that way.
Spike wasn’t quite sure why he’d felt the need to get out that old bit of ribbon tonight, but he had, and now he ran his fingers lightly down its still-silken length, seeing those dancing eyes once more. After another moment, he shook his head. Bending forward, he fished a small box from beneath the chair and tucked the ribbon carefully back inside. “It’s just a dream, mate,” he told himself, as he had for more than a hundred years, and took a long pull from the bottle. “Just a dream.”
May 22, 2009
© randi (K. Shepard), 2009
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