Author’s Notes: Written for effulgent_girl, who requested that S7 Buffy and Spike be sent back to S4, which got me to thinking. Always a dangerous thing.
Chapter 1: Desperate Times
“We’re not going to beat this thing,” Buffy murmured.
Spike glanced over at the Slayer, surprised at the words that had just come out of her mouth. “You can’t think like that. Looks bad, yeah, but we took on a Hellgod and won.”
“Glory wasn’t something that couldn’t be destroyed,” she pointed out. “We know why the First Evil is here; we know it’s because the Slayer line was weakened. That’s not something that I can fix, though. I’ve got a dozen girls looking to me to make it all better, and there’s nothing I can do, Spike.”
“Buffy—” he began.
She met his eyes. “Willow never should have brought me back. This wouldn’t be happening if I’d stayed dead.”
The worst part was that Spike couldn’t argue with her. The Eye of Beljoxa had been clear enough about that—if Willow and the others hadn’t performed the resurrection spell, the First wouldn’t have been able to manifest as it had. There was literally nothing they could do to stop it. They’d been wracking their brains for days, with no results.
“Too bad we can’t go back in time an’ fix it all,” Spike observed idly, grateful for the small blessing of having Buffy by his side. She’d said she wasn’t ready for him to be gone, and she seemed to be following up on that sentiment by actually spending time with him. It was a nice change from being chained up in the basement alone.
She leaned her head back against the wall. “When did everything go wrong, Spike?”
“When I didn’t keep Doc from cutting Dawn,” Spike said steadily, feeling the familiar stab of guilt, his constant companion these days. He didn’t think he’d ever be completely free of it—no matter how much time went by, or how much good he managed to do.
Buffy laughed shortly. “That would have made things easier,” she agreed. “If the portal hadn’t opened, I never would have had to jump, Willow never would have brought me back, and we wouldn’t be facing the end of the world. Again.”
She glanced over at him, and Spike knew that he hadn’t quite managed to hold back the wince her words had caused. “I’m sorry, Spike. That made it sound like it was all your fault.”
“Isn’t it?” he asked quietly. “If I’d done my job—”
“It’s just as easy to say ‘if Willow hadn’t brought me back,'” Buffy reminded him gently. “That’s where this began. It wasn’t anything you did or didn’t do.”
Spike shook his head, unable to bring himself to agree with her. Ever since Anya and Giles had told them what the Eye had said, Spike hadn’t been able to think of anything else. What if he had stopped Doc from cutting Dawn? What if he had found a way to kill Ben as soon as he had realized what the other man was, chip or no chip? What if he had stopped Willow from doing her resurrection spell? What if there had been something—anything—he might have done to keep the First Evil from rising?
“What do you know about time travel, Spike?” Buffy asked thoughtfully.
Spike raised an eyebrow. “Know it can’t be done.”
Buffy didn’t look convinced. “I don’t believe that. There has to be a spell of some sort.”
“You’re not supposed to change the past, Buffy,” Spike replied. “There’s no telling what altering one thing would do. Could end the world early.”
Buffy shook her head stubbornly. “That’s just it, though. The world is going to end, unless we can find some way to fix the Slayer line. We might not be able to undo my resurrection, but we might be able to prevent it from happening.”
Although he was ready to dismiss the idea out of hand, Spike hesitated to say anything. They didn’t have a lot of other options at the moment, not if they wanted to stop the First. “You going to talk to Willow about it?”
“Yeah,” Buffy said slowly. “I am. I don’t know if she’ll be able to do anything, but I’ve got to try, right?”
“Just promise me one thing,” Spike said seriously.
Buffy smiled. “What’s that?”
“If you can, take me with you.” Spike met her eyes. “You’re going to need backup.”
He watched as she swallowed. “If I can, I will.”
They all stared at her as though she was crazy. “You can’t possibly be serious,” Giles said.
“Give me another option,” Buffy snapped. “You were the one who told me what the Eye said; I don’t think that me dying now would stop it.”
“It wouldn’t,” Anya confirmed. “This isn’t something that can be repaired, Buffy. The weakness is there, and the First has already exploited it.”
“My point exactly,” Buffy said. “We all know that the First can’t be stopped. We can’t fight it; we can’t even touch it. The only way to make sure that it doesn’t manage to end the world is to make sure it never gets the chance in the first place.”
Xander was shaking his head. “How? You don’t have a time machine. Going back in time is impossible.”
“No, it’s not.”
Willow’s quiet voice broke through the furor, and Buffy looked over at her friend. She’d called a Scooby meeting, no potentials allowed. It was just them—the same people who had been at her side for nearly seven years now. Plus Spike, who had been keeping his mouth shut. He leaned against the doorway, watching them all through half-lidded eyes.
Buffy was as hyper-aware of him now as she had been when they were sleeping together.
“What do you mean, Will?” Buffy asked, tearing her eyes away from the vampire.
Willow took a deep breath, her hands hanging between her knees where she sat on the couch. “I don’t think it’s impossible. I’ve been looking into this sort of thing ever since Anya told us what the Eye of Beljoxa said. I figured since this whole thing was basically my fault, I should try to figure out what I could do to fix it.”
Buffy didn’t bother arguing with her. In a way, this was Willow’s fault. “And what did you find out?”
“That there might be a way to send you back to a different point in time,” Willow replied. “The only problem is that you won’t be able to come back here. It’s not like you’ll go back, change things, and then wind up here, in a different future. You’ll have to live it again.”
Buffy winced. “With another Buffy there?”
Willow shook her head. “If there were two of you, the whole world would pretty much cease to exist. The paradox wouldn’t be good. No, I’d essentially be sending everything that makes you, you back, but not your body. That would still be here.” She frowned. “Although, technically, here wouldn’t really exist anymore.”
Spike spoke up for the first time. “How many can you send back?”
Willow’s eyebrows went up. “I don’t know if I can send anybody back. That’s what I’m trying to say. If this fails, Buffy won’t be here, and we’ll be without a Slayer.”
“If this fails, the world as we know it probably won’t be around for long,” Buffy replied. “And there’s another Slayer. You’ll just have to convince her to give you a hand.”
Giles stood from his position on the couch next to Willow. “This is ridiculous, Buffy. I absolutely forbid you from attempting such an idiotic thing. You don’t know that we won’t be able to stop the First, and if you fail—”
“If I fail, I’ll be dead,” Buffy said, cutting him off. “Which, technically, I should be anyway.” She glanced over at Spike, then back to Willow. “Can you send both of us?”
“Do you know when?” Willow asked, with a nervous glance at Giles.
Buffy felt a little guilty about making her friend choose sides between her and her Watcher, but she felt as though she was being the realistic one at the moment. She was the Slayer, and she knew a losing battle when she was facing one.
She’d known it with Glory, too.
“The night I died,” Buffy replied. “If you send both Spike and me back, we’ll have a better chance at stopping the whole thing from happening. If he can’t get to Doc in time, and I still have to jump, he’ll at least be around to make sure you don’t do the resurrection spell.”
“Buffy,” Xander protested. “You don’t know what you’re saying. We’re the ones that did this; we’re responsible. You shouldn’t be—”
“The one cleaning up the mess?” Buffy asked wryly. “Maybe not, but I think that this is our best shot. Spike and I are probably the only two people with a decent chance at preventing the apocalypse right now. If we can do this, it’ll be worth it.”
“If you can do this, it will be a bloody miracle,” Giles inserted. “I can’t believe that you’re seriously thinking about going through with this.”
Buffy faced him, feeling the power of her calling. She hadn’t had a Watcher for a while now, but that wasn’t her fault. Giles was the one who had left, abandoning ship just when she needed him most. While he might have had the best intentions, Buffy wasn’t about to let him tell her how to do her job.
“You’ve always told me that it’s my duty to save the world, Giles. Live or die, this looks like our best hope.”
Dawn’s voice from the doorway had Buffy turning around. She’d sent her sister to the grocery store with Andrew and the potentials to get supplies, raiding what little savings she’d managed to put away over the last months.
“What’s going on?” her sister asked suspiciously, looking from one face to the other.
Buffy shook her head. “We’ll talk later, okay?”
Dawn opened her mouth to protest, but then nodded, turning from the doorway. Buffy didn’t miss the half-longing look the girl gave Spike just before she left, though. She felt like their broken relationship was her fault. If she hadn’t used him so badly the year before, if she hadn’t forbidden them from seeing one another—if she’d just been honest with her sister…
So many things had gone wrong, but they might have a chance now to make it right. If this worked, if Willow could send her back—even if she couldn’t send Spike back—Buffy would have the chance to do it all again.
Spike had no idea why Buffy would want him to be present for this, other than the reason she’d given. “I don’t really feel like chaining you up again, so you’ll just have to stick close.”
She was really giving him mixed signals these days. The Slayer had rescued him from the First and had checked him for injuries in front of the potentials. Spike could almost believe that she cared.
Except that Spike didn’t believe in miracles anymore; Buffy would never actually care about him, not as more than a friend, anyway. And he was damn lucky just to get that much.
“You’re doing what?” Dawn asked incredulously.
Buffy sighed. “Look, Dawn, we’re not even sure that Willow will manage it, but it’s this or watch the world end, and I’m not in favor of the second option.”
“Why you and Spike?” Dawn asked, glancing at him. He wasn’t sure how to read the expression on her face.
“Because he’s the only other person who can make sure what needs to happen does happen,” Buffy explained gently.
“You mean you staying dead,” Dawn said, her expression indicating that she felt that Buffy was betraying her.
“Not necessarily,” Spike said, speaking up for the first time. “That’s why I’m goin’, to make sure it doesn’t come to that.”
“So you’ll actually do your job this time around?” Dawn asked snidely.
Buffy jumped to his defense, which still startled Spike every time it happened. “Dawn! That’s not fair!”
“Sure it is,” Spike said quietly, holding Dawn’s gaze. “If I had protected her, you wouldn’t have had to die, and we wouldn’t be in this mess.” He knew why she had lashed out at him; they had both blamed themselves for Buffy’s death during that long summer. Dawn was likely thinking that it was as much her fault as his for their current situation. If Dawn had taken the plunge off that tower, this wouldn’t have happened.
The girl looked away. “I’m sorry,” she muttered.
“Forget it,” Spike said, suddenly weary of it all. Day in, day out, there were the constant reminders of how he’d bollixed it all. His relationship with Dawn, his relationship with Buffy—it just went to show what a total screw-up he was.
“Well, I’m not going to forget it,” Buffy snapped, sounding exasperated. “Dawn, this isn’t your fault, either. And Spike, I’m not going to say this again: you did your best. End of story. Now, you two can shake hands and make up or whatever it is you want to do, because if Willow figures that spell out…” She trailed off, but Spike heard what she hadn’t said.
If Willow figured out the spell, and it went wrong, they would both be lost, with nothing to show for their efforts.
“It’s okay,” Dawn said, sounding just a little desperate. “I mean, I know you guys have to do this, and I’m glad it’s Spike going with you.” She met his eyes again. “You’ll take care of her.”
It was a statement, not a question, and Spike recognized it as the peace offering that it was. “Bloody right.”
“I really must protest,” Giles said quietly, wishing that his Slayer would listen to him for a change. He didn’t remember her being quite this stubborn. “If this doesn’t work, you’ll be leaving us in a worse position than we are currently in.”
“And if I don’t try this, we may not even have a position,” Buffy said.
Giles sighed, watching as Willow made the final preparations for the spell from his position behind Buffy on the basement stairs. Although the witch hadn’t been able to make any promises, she’d professed herself reasonably certain that this would work.
Buffy had been unable to concentrate on anything else after that, even when there was no evidence that it would be successful. Giles feared that if Buffy was wrong, not only would they lose their two best fighters, but Willow would be too drained to be of use.
Giles wasn’t sure that Willow would successfully complete the spell without giving into the impulse for power, and he wasn’t certain that Spike was Buffy’s best choice for backup. Surely someone—anyone—else would be the wiser option.
“But Spike!” Giles remonstrated. Again. “Do you really think that’s a good idea?”
Buffy turned to face him, her expression implacable. “Spike’s going, Giles. Deal with it.”
He remembered how close they had been at one point, how much trust she’d had in him. When Buffy had discovered Dawn was the Key, he had been the one she had come to. At some point, Buffy had begun to turn to Spike, which Giles simply couldn’t understand. The vampire was a danger to everything they were trying to accomplish; Spike was a weak link, and Giles was certain that he would get Buffy killed.
His conscience prodded him, reminding him that Spike had sought his soul, an act that ought to have been an impossibility—both in the impetus that spurred his quest and the attempt itself.
“Where is Spike?” Giles finally asked. “Shouldn’t he be down here?”
Buffy shook her head. “He’s upstairs, getting something to eat, since we don’t know what this is going to do to either one of us.”
“And have you eaten?” Giles asked.
“I’m not hungry,” she replied.
He frowned, knowing how often that had been her response in recent weeks. “You should eat for the same reason that Spike is.”
Buffy shook her head. “I’m fine.”
She wouldn’t say more than that, and Giles knew he wouldn’t get any further.
“Buffy!” Dawn shouted down the stairs. “Kennedy and Rona are fighting!”
“Damn it,” she cursed. “I’ll be back.”
Giles moved aside for her, and then joined Willow. “How is it coming?”
“It’s coming,” Willow replied cheerfully. “I think I’ve managed to pinpoint the time that Buffy wants to go back to.”
“Can you send both at once?”
“That’s the idea,” Willow said. “Whether or not it’ll actually work—I don’t know.”
Giles pulled his glasses off and ran a weary hand over his face. “And if it doesn’t work?”
“Best case scenario?” Willow asked. “Nothing. The spell will fail, and no one will be hurt. Worst case scenario is that their bodies will be here, but their minds—everything that makes them who they are—will be gone.”
Giles swallowed. It was a “worst case scenario” indeed. “And your chances for success?”
“Sixty-forty?” Willow guessed. “It’s magic, Giles. It’s not an exact science.”
“And what will happen to us if it does work?” he asked.
Willow shook her head. “Technically, this time won’t exist anymore if they fix it. We’ll still exist, but only in the past. I can’t explain the mechanics of it, really.”
Giles wondered if anyone could, but he had a vague understanding of the realities, enough to know that what they were attempting was incredibly dangerous. “How much longer?”
“Fifteen minutes,” Willow replied.
Giles heard the creaking of the stairs, and he turned to see Spike and Buffy coming down. “We nearly there, Will?”
“Almost.” Willow gave Buffy an anxious smile. “You positive about this, Buffy?”
The Slayer nodded, crossing her arms in front of her. “It’s the only way.”
Willow nodded. “Okay. Just want to make sure. Where are Xander and the others?”
“I left them upstairs with the potentials,” Buffy responded. “Kennedy and Rona were ready to start something, so Xander’s making them run laps.”
“You haven’t told them?” Giles asked.
Buffy shook her head. “There’s no point. If this works, it won’t matter.”
Giles didn’t bother asking what they were to tell the potentials if it didn’t work; that chore would fall to him.
Silence hung over the basement, and Giles wondered if he should say something to bridge the gap that had opened up between him and his Slayer. “Buffy—” he began in an undertone, just as Willow announced that the spell was ready. There was nothing to be said in the time remaining, and so all he could say was, “Good luck.”
Buffy gave him a half-smile. “Thanks, Giles.” Her attention was obviously on Willow, the spell, and what was to come.
“You’ll want to be touching,” Willow said. “Otherwise, I won’t be able to guarantee that you’ll come out at the same time.”
Buffy and Spike exchanged a look and then Buffy held out her hand. Giles watched as Spike interlaced their fingers, and they simply stared at one another, not saying anything at all. It was that unspoken communication that hit him hardest; it spoke of a connection that went beyond words, and for a Slayer to share something like that with a vampire seemed profane.
Willow cleared her throat. “That’s great. Okay, guys. Hang onto your hats, because I’m not sure what this is going to be like.”
Giles braced himself, listening as Willow began the spell, feeling the magic begin to swirl around the room. He could see the energy surrounding Spike and Buffy, forcing them closer together.
Giles’ vision began to gray out at the edges, and he looked around anxiously, trying to determine whether it was an effect of the spell, or if there was something the matter with him.
He didn’t have time to discover the cause; as Willow spoke the final words of the spell, the world disappeared.