Chapter 1: Falling
Buffy fell, taking a swan dive from a tower to save her sister and the world. It had been so easy in the end, to let it all go. It felt so right, as though she was finally fulfilling her destiny. In a way, that made sense. Although Buffy supposed that everyone was born to die, that concept seemed to apply more to Slayers than anyone else.
She fell for what seemed an eternity. Buffy thought about her sister with sorrow, hoping that Dawn would be happy in the world that Buffy had saved for her; she thought about her friends, hoping they’d eventually be able to move on with their lives. She even thought of Spike, and of the look on his face when she invited him into her house.
She fell, sparing a moment to wonder at the fact that she was still alive, because it seemed to her that she ought to have died right away. Buffy wasn’t an expert on physics or anything like that, but it felt as though the landing was a long time in coming.
When Buffy finally did hit solid ground, it was with less of an impact than she’d been expecting, although it was still enough to knock the wind out of her. She rolled, bruising her shoulder and scraping her hand. When she stopped, Buffy lay on the asphalt for a moment, looking up—and not seeing any sign of a tower.
She scrambled to her feet, still hardly able to believe that she was alive and in one piece—more or less. Buffy could feel the bruising begin to set in; she was going to be really stiff in a few hours. Taking a couple steps forward, she winced. No, she was stiff right now.
Looking around and up, Buffy saw no signs of the construction site, or the seven-story tower she’d just thrown herself off of. No surprise there; not even the Slayer could survive a fall from that height, so it was obvious that something wacky was going on.
She rubbed her bruised shoulder, walking through the parking lot that seemed to have replaced the tower. The lot bordered a collection of shops, most of which she didn’t recognize. In fact, Buffy had no idea where she was, although something told her that she was still in Sunnydale.
The lot and shops appeared deserted, and it well after dark, probably in the early hours of the morning. Buffy wandered down the block, looking for anything familiar.
She could see lights and wreaths on the shops and houses that she passed, suggesting that Christmas wasn’t too far away. The slight chill in the hair had more of fall than spring to it, as well, and so it was obvious that several months had passed at the very least. It had been May when they’d fought Glory, and it was now early winter.
The streets were deserted, which wasn’t anything new for Sunnydale. There had rarely been people out at this time of the night when she’d patrolled regularly; perhaps even if they didn’t know why, most citizens knew to stay indoors after dark.
Buffy felt as though she was living a dream. Everything was different, and yet—the street names were the same. The storefronts along Main Street hadn’t changed, although they looked quaint now, more than they had when she’d last seen them. Buffy stopped in front of one door in particular. It appeared as though the Magic Box was gone; in its place was a small clothing boutique, a bright green and red wreath hung on the door.
“What happened?” she whispered aloud.
Buffy turned, looking up and down the empty street. How long had she fallen?
Spike ignored the impossible scent as it drifted past him. He had caught what he’d thought were glimpses of Buffy for years now—two decades to be precise. After the first few years, he’d gotten used to it, and had learned to ignore the flash of blonde hair just out of the corner of his eye.
Buffy was dead, of course. It had been close to twenty years, and even without a body to bury, they had all known. Giles had told him privately, out of Dawn’s hearing, that he suspected that Buffy’s body had been burned up from the energy of the opening portals. Spike had conceded that it made sense; they had all seen her jump, but her body had never been found.
The transition had been most difficult for Dawn, especially after the Buffy-bot had been destroyed. Spike had believed that they shouldn’t have covered up Buffy’s death, but the others had insisted.
Spike snorted. They’d never listened to him.
He wandered, letting his feet take him where they would. Ever since Dawn’s husband had taken the transfer up north, Spike had found himself at loose ends. For nearly twenty years, his entire purpose had been making sure that Dawn was safe. Now, she was off the Hellmouth, and she had a husband and kids to look after. She was no longer his Bit, although she still called him once a month or so to check in.
That reminded him; Spike would have to think about making the trip up there for the holidays. He hadn’t missed a Christmas with Dawn since Buffy’s death, when all they’d had was one another.
As usual, Spike found himself wandering through Buffy’s old neighborhood. Although the houses were a little more rundown, it was still a pleasant enough place; people still raised their children here, still put up colored lights and greenery.
He stood in front of 1630 Revello Drive, looking at the big oak tree under which he’d spent so much time. The new owners had painted within the last few years, and the house was now an odd gray-green color that Spike didn’t much care for, although it seemed to be popular. That was really the only change, though, and if Spike let himself, he could picture Buffy coming down the walk after a long patrol. She’d see him standing there and bitch at him for hanging around. Or, maybe she’d invite him inside; she’d softened towards him in those last days, so it was possible.
Spike shook his head, cursing himself for a fool. Buffy had been gone a long time now, and he still hadn’t been able to move on. Maybe because his life had been all about keeping his promise to her and so it was impossible to forget. Maybe because there hadn’t been anyone like Buffy.
Maybe because he was Love’s Bitch, and he always would be. It was hard to say.
Spike turned to leave, then blinked. He was imagining things; he had to be. What he was seeing was impossible. And yet—
The girl looked like Buffy. If he’d been downwind, Spike might have been able to say that she smelled like her, too, but he wasn’t. The breeze was blowing in the wrong direction for that. What decided him, however, was the fact that the girl was wearing the same clothing that Buffy had the day she jumped from the tower. Spike didn’t think he could forget that.
She was limping a little, and holding her right arm as though she’d been hurt. Spike swallowed as he realized that he could now smell the blood as she grew closer, and he was nearly certain that it was Buffy.
The only thing that kept him from believing was the impossibility of it all.
Spike stood still, waiting as she drew nearer, her eyes focused on her old house. He wondered if she’d recognize him, if she even knew what had happened.
He could tell the moment when she realized that the color of the house was different, that it was really her house she was looking at—or that it had been. When she came to a stop, Spike took a step closer to her. “Buffy?”
She whirled to face him, her eyes widening. “Spike?”
“Yeah.” He took another cautious step closer. “You—you okay?”
“I don’t know.” The girl looked from him to the changed house. “What happened, Spike? Everything is different.”
When she didn’t seem to insist on putting more space between them, Spike moved a little closer. He could feel the heat from her body at this distance, and he was suddenly quite certain that it was really Buffy, the girl she’d been on the night they’d defeated Glory at too great a price.
She hadn’t changed a bit.
“It’s been twenty years, luv,” Spike said gently.
She stumbled backwards, beginning to shake her head. “No, no, it can’t be. It’s impossible, Spike.” Buffy looked around her wildly. “Where’s Dawn?” she demanded.
Spike reached out and gripped her arm, feeling flesh and bone beneath his hand; the reality of her took his breath away. “Dawn’s safe,” he crooned, using the same voice that he had for Drusilla when she’d been taken by one of her visions. “She moved out of Sunnydale months back.”
Buffy allowed him to draw her away, taking one last look over her shoulder at the house. “That’s not my house any longer, is it?”
“No,” he said gently. “Come on. I’ve got a place. We’ll be safe enough there.”
To his astonishment, she didn’t argue with him, and instead followed him home.
Buffy felt numb, allowing Spike to lead her like a child because she didn’t know what else to do; of all the possibilities she had considered, this had not been one of them. How was it possible that so much time had passed?
Spike was the only thing she’d seen so far that hadn’t changed. Or, not by much.
Buffy had vaguely noticed that he was dressed a lot more like he had the night he had revealed his feelings for her, but it was still Spike. The sight of a familiar face was so welcome, Buffy wasn’t registering much else—until they stopped in front of what looked like an old warehouse.
“Where are we?”
“My place,” Spike replied.
Buffy pulled back, extricating herself from his grip. She hadn’t even noticed that he still had a hand on her arm. “What about your crypt?”
“Moved out of there ages ago,” Spike said. “Wasn’t safe for Dawn to visit, then when she went off to college…” He trailed off. “Come on. It’s a long story, an’ it’s not one that I want to tell on the street.”
She nodded, entering the building when he waved her inside. “What is this place?”
“They renovated a bunch of warehouses in the area more than a decade ago,” Spike explained. “Since I was one of the ones clearing it out, I got a pretty good deal.”
Buffy suddenly realized exactly where they were—in the old warehouse district where Spike had first stayed when he’d come to Sunnydale, where he’d reassembled the Judge. It was an area that had been rundown and dangerous, even for the Slayer. “Where’s the bad part of town?” she asked as Spike waved her into a service elevator.
Spike shrugged. “You know how it is. They renovate one area, and the rabble moves to another.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Buffy agreed faintly. She didn’t know how it was because she’d never seen it happen before. She wanted to ask about her friends and about Dawn again, but Buffy wasn’t sure she could handle the answers.
He unlocked the first door that they came to and waved her inside. Buffy entered, feeling some trepidation, remembering the crypt. She needn’t have been concerned; although the interior was dark, the scuffed wood floor and battered furniture gave it a homey feel, and the heavy curtains were open to the night.
“Sit,” Spike urged her, turning on a lamp and gesturing to his scarred leather couch. “I’ll find something for your hand.”
Buffy looked down at her scraped hand. “Okay.” She sat gingerly, easing back into the overstuffed cushions slowly. This wasn’t a place she would have pictured Spike in, maybe because it felt so comfortable.
She watched as he visibly hesitated before sitting next to her on the couch, holding out his hand for hers. “This is probably going to sting a bit,” he warned when she placed her hand in his, palm up.
“It’s okay,” Buffy said softly, watching in fascination as he gently cleaned out the dirt and debris. “Where’s Dawn?”
“Portland,” Spike replied shortly. “Her husband took a job up there ’bout six months ago.”
“Husband?” Buffy asked, her head spinning with the idea.
Spike nodded. “Nice bloke. She met him—must have been about twelve years ago now. She was staying with me, an’ they met when they were workin’ on the same project.”
Buffy swallowed. “Does he know about you?”
“You mean about me bein’ a vampire?” Spike asked with a quirk of his lips. “Yeah, she felt like she needed to explain a few things, her being the Key an’ all, an’ me not getting any older. He took it well, all things considered.” He finished cleaning up her hand, blowing gently to cool the stinging; she shivered a bit at the sensation. “I’ll grab the latest picture.”
Buffy swallowed, wrapping her arms around herself and wincing as she pulled on her injured shoulder. Spike was back a few moments later with a framed picture in hand. Buffy took it from him and stared at the family behind the glass. Dawn was seated, holding a small girl in her lap. A tall, dark haired man stood next to her, holding a dark haired little boy. “Are—Dawn has kids now?”
“Yeah. That would be her husband, Tyler, an’ their kids, Buffy and Kyle.”
It took Buffy a moment to register that her sister had named her daughter after her. “Oh.”
“It’s Buffy Joyce, actually,” Spike added. “They call her Joy, though.” He glanced at the phone. “I should call her. She’ll never forgive me if I don’t do it soon.”
Buffy took a deep breath. “You guys are close?”
He shrugged. “I was mostly the one taking care of her after.” He made an aborted movement; Buffy thought he was going to pat her on the shoulder, but he pulled his hand back before coming into contact with her. “Just a mo’. She’ll want to talk to you; are you up for it?”
Buffy nodded. “Of course.” She tried to act sure of herself, but she knew that she sounded anything but.
She watched as he picked up the handset, smaller than she remembered their cordless phone. “Dawn,” he said. Spike kept his eyes on her, almost as though he was afraid that she’d disappear if he looked away for even a moment.
Buffy knew immediately when her sister answered; Spike’s face softened, and he laughed a little bit, although it was a nervous sort of laughter. “Easy, Bit. There’s no emergency. Just some news is all. You somewhere you can talk?” There was a pause as he listened to her answer. “Fair enough.” There was more nervous laughter from Spike. “This isn’t easy to explain, but your sister’s back. Seems the portal spit her out again, just like no time had passed at all.” He paused. “No, this isn’t a joke. You know me better than that. Here. You can talk to her yourself.”
She took the phone out of reflex, clutching it tightly. “Hello?”
“Buffy?” Dawn’s incredulous voice on the other end sounded the same—maybe a little older, but not by much.
“It’s me,” Buffy acknowledged. “I—I just—”
“What happened?” Dawn demanded. “Did you just get back?”
“I—yeah,” Buffy said, not knowing how else to respond. “I don’t know. I just…” She trailed off.
“You’re with Spike?” Dawn asked, her voice suddenly gentle.
“Yeah,” Buffy replied, relieved to have a question she could answer. “I don’t know what happened, Dawnie. I was falling, and then…”
“It’s okay, Buffy. Are you going to stay with Spike? I think you should; he’ll take care of you.”
Buffy wanted to tell her little sister that she could take care of herself, but she wasn’t certain that she could. “There really isn’t anywhere else.”
“Yeah,” Dawn said slowly. “Stay with Spike, Buffy. He’s got the room for you. I’m going to come down as soon as I can, but I have to talk to Tyler, and I’ll need to find someone to stay with the kids. Did Spike tell you about that?”
“He did,” Buffy assured her. “They’re beautiful.”
“They’re a pain some days,” Dawn replied, but she said it in such a way that told Buffy exactly how proud she was. “I’ll be there as soon as I can, Buffy.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “Come when you can.”
“I love you,” Dawn blurted out, sounding desperate to say it. “I’ve missed you so much. Is it really you?”
Buffy smiled, hearing the echoes of her younger sister in the words. “It’s really me.”
“I’ll see you soon,” Dawn promised. “Can I talk to Spike again?”
Buffy handed the phone to the vampire wordlessly. He listened silently for a moment, then asked, “Would you mind makin’ the calls, luv? I can call Rupert an’ Tara, but you know…” He trailed off and was silent for a long moment. “Yeah. Tomorrow will be soon enough, though I’ll call Rupert here shortly, since the time will be right for him.” There was another pause. “Sure, Bit. We’ll see you soon.”
Spike put the phone down and then turned his gaze to her. “Is there anythin’ I can get you, Buffy? Something to eat, or…” He trailed off uncertainly.
She looked down at her grimy clothing. “I’d like to get cleaned up.”
He winced. “Some host I am. ‘Course you’d want to shower. I’ll see if I can find somethin’ for you to wear.”
“No, Spike, it’s—thanks,” she finally managed, unable to explain what it was she felt at that moment. He was the only familiar thing in a world that had changed drastically, and Buffy couldn’t help but be grateful for it.
And who ever would have thought that she’d be grateful to see Spike?
Spike waited until he heard the water running in the shower before calling Giles. He’d seen how shaken Buffy had been just talking to Dawn on the phone, and he wanted to give her a little time to settle before unleashing the others on her.
He still couldn’t quite believe that she was here, in his apartment, and apparently not loathing the sight of him.
Of course, she’d softened quite a bit right before the end, and it appeared as though no time at all had passed for her. It made sense that her attitude wouldn’t have changed all that much.
It still made him feel damn good, though, to know that he was the one to be there for her.
Spike spoke Giles’ name, waiting for the phone to ring. “Hello, Spike.”
They didn’t speak often, although they were on fairly good terms. The fact that Spike had been the only one—other than Tara—not to abandon Dawn had done a lot for Giles’ opinion of him. “H’lo, Rupert. Didn’t get you up, did I?”
“No, although I didn’t wake up too long ago,” he replied. “What can I do for you?” His tone sharpening. “Is there something wrong?”
“Not wrong,” Spike hedged. “Was out on patrol this evening an’ I ran into Buffy.”
“That isn’t funny,” Giles said flatly. “I wish you wouldn’t joke about something like that.”
“Do you honestly think that I would?” Spike asked, wishing that Giles could be a little more like Dawn, who knew him well enough to take him at his word. “That’s not something I’d joke about, Rupert. I was walkin’ near her old house, an’ I saw her comin’ down the sidewalk. She looked just like she did, was even wearin’ the same clothes.”
There was a long pause. “What was she wearing?”
“Gray pants and a white sweater, but I remember that well enough,” Spike said. “I’d let you speak to her, but she’s in the shower. Wait a few hours an’ call Dawn. Buffy already spoke to her.”
“I see.” Spike could hear the man take a deep breath. “I’m going to be flying over as soon as I can. I had planned on spending the holidays with Dawn this year, but I can take a little extra time.”
“They can do without you for that long,” Spike agreed. “Don’t think you’re indispensable yet, old man.”
“Look who’s talking,” Giles shot back. It was an old gibe, though, and without malice or heat.
“I’ll have her call when she’s settled,” Spike suggested. “Talking to Dawn shook her up a bit.”
“I can only imagine. How does she look, Spike?”
Spike knew what the older man was asking. “Looks like she did that night, Rupert. She hasn’t changed a bit.”
“I see. I’ll call you when my travel plans are finalized.”
Spike hung up, wondering how long it would be before the Scoobies descended on them. He didn’t mind Giles or Tara—or Dawn, of course—but he didn’t think that either Xander or Willow had improved with age. They put up with him for Dawn’s sake at the occasional gathering, but Spike had always attempted to arrive either early or late, so he could spend as little time as possible with them.
Now that Buffy was back, it was unlikely that relations would improve.
He turned, hearing a sound behind him. Spike had dug out a pair of boxers that Dawn had given him for Christmas one year, and that he’d never worn, as well as one of his t-shirts. He couldn’t deny that it was more than a little arousing to see Buffy wearing his clothes.
“Everything alright?” Spike asked.
Buffy nodded. “Yeah, it’s great. Thanks.”
An awkward silence fell. “Do you want somethin’ to eat?” Spike finally asked. “Don’t have much here, but I’ve got juice, water, maybe some of those energy bars that Tara likes.”
Buffy shook her head. “No, I’m fine.”
Spike nodded, somehow doubting that, and yet not wanting to push her. For the first time since he’d known her, Spike saw Buffy as fragile, as though he could break her without even trying.
“I called Giles,” he finally said. “Thought he’d try to get here as soon as he could. He was plannin’ on spending the holidays with Dawn anyway, so he’s not changin’ his plans by much.”
Buffy nodded. “Where is he?”
“England,” Spike replied. “He went back after—you know. Figured we had things under control here, an’ losin’ you about killed him.”
Buffy wandered over to the couch and sat down, wrapping her arms around herself. “What about the others? Willow and Xander?”
Spike grabbed the fuzzy throw blanket that Tara had given him the previous Christmas and offered it to her, watching as Buffy drew it over herself. “Willow moved out east. She’s working as some big-shot professor now. Xander runs his own construction business in Las Vegas. Things were picking up a lot faster out there than in Sunnydale, an’ he had others to support.”
Buffy frowned. “Anya and Tara?”
“Anya’s still married to Xander, last I heard,” Spike replied. “Although the last time I saw them, they were fightin’ pretty much constantly. Tara’s still here in town. She stuck around for Dawn, an’ then I think she just settled here. She’s married to a decent girl.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “Wait. Tara’s married? But—what about Willow? I thought—”
Spike realized that from Buffy’s point of view, it probably seemed strange that Willow and Tara wouldn’t be together, but he hadn’t thought of Tara as Willow’s ex for years now. “Tara broke it off with Willow not long after you disappeared. Willow kept tryin’ different things to get you back. She had herself convinced that you were in some sort of hell dimension. Tara got worried about her, told her to lay off. Willow wouldn’t…” He shrugged. “You’d have to ask one or the other of them for details.”
Buffy shook her head. “Did anything stay the same?”
“They say the only constant is change,” Spike said, feeling more than a little sympathy for her. The entire world had passed Buffy by while she’d been falling off that tower, and Spike could understand because he often felt the same way. “Don’t think I’ve changed much.”
The Slayer waved her hand around his apartment. “This is a big change.”
“This is location, pet,” Spike said gently. “That doesn’t mean much. I’m still the same vampire you knew and hated.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t—”
“I’m sorry,” Spike said, cutting her off, needing to say the words he’d wished he could say for years now. “If I’d done my job, you never would have had to jump, an’ you wouldn’t be in this spot. I know I buggered it up when it counted, and I’ve thought of a hundred ways to make it right, a hundred things I could have done differently. Would have rather it’d been me that died, an’ not you.”
She just stared at him for a long moment, then squeezed her eyes shut.
“You’re tired,” Spike observed. “I should let you sleep. Got an extra bed, if you want it.”
“It wasn’t you.”
“Pardon?” Spike asked, not understanding what she meant.
“It wasn’t your fault.” Buffy looked at him. “I wanted it; I didn’t want this.”
Spike took a deep, unnecessary breath. “Yeah, I get that. Come on, pet. You should sleep.”
To his surprise, Buffy followed him back to the second bedroom that had once been Dawn’s. “This was Dawn’s room,” she observed.
He blinked, surprised that she’d figured it out without him telling her. “Yeah. How’d you know?”
Buffy wandered over to the dresser and picked up a photo in a frame. “This was one of the last pictures we took with Mom. Dawn had it in on her dresser.” She set it down again. “She didn’t take it with her.”
“I asked her to leave it,” Spike confessed. “Didn’t have any pictures, and she had a few. She made a copy for herself and took it with her.”
“Oh.” She ghosted her fingers over the faces.
“Go to sleep, Buffy,” Spike said. “I’ll be here whenever you wake up.”
She nodded. “Thanks, Spike.”
“Anything you need, just let me know.” He closed the door then, reluctantly, not wanting to let her out of his sight. Spike feared that she would disappear, but he knew that she needed sleep.
With any luck, things would look a little brighter in the morning.