When Spike opened his eyes, it took him a few seconds to remember where he was, until the voices from the television and the heavy weight of Dawn curled in his lap anchored him back to the here and now. He'd been dreaming of Buffy again, just like he had dreamt of her every time he'd closed his eyes since her death. And in his dream he'd saved her, just like he had in every dream. Every night he was faster, smarter, stronger, someone who could have saved her, someone else than the pathetic excuse of a vampire who had let a scrawny little demon like Doc beat him.
On the television screen Bob Barker smiled at the camera and Spike reached for the remote. The screen blinked black, but Dawn said nothing, just curled into a tighter ball.
It had been six days since Buffy's death. They had buried her in the forest by the St. Margaret's cemetery, Willow's spells hiding the grave from anyone but them.
There was a change in Dawn's breathing, signalling that she had finally fallen asleep. Spike reached down and absentmindedly stroked her hair. He could feel his own eyes grow heavy, the tiredness spreading like molten lead in his veins, but he shook his head, trying to clear it. It would be so easy just to sit there with Dawn and let the sleep take him too, but he didn't want to fall asleep - it always hurt too much to wake up - and so he carefully lifted the girl and carried her upstairs to her room.
On his way back down he stopped at the door to Buffy's room. He closed his eyes and pressed his cheek against the wood. If he concentrated hard enough, he could still smell her, could imagine her in the room, sleeping or cleaning her weapons, could almost hear the sound of her breathing and the quiet flutter of her heartbeat, all the little things that made her Buffy. He pulled away and shook his head. Everything in the house was a reminder of her, reminder of his own failure. Because he had been the one who had killed her, the one who had betrayed her trust by failing to save Dawn and forcing her to sacrifice her own life for the girl.
To kill this girl, you have to love her, Angelus had said, and turns out that the old bastard had been right.
"We should have called Angel."
Xander's voice rose above the usual din of what was now the Rosenberg-Mclay-Summers household, almost as if to voice Spike's own thoughts. He slipped back down the stairs and past the kitchen where the Scoobies were arguing, only stopping when he got outside.
"And where do you think you're going?"
Giles appeared from the shadows, his face illuminated by the yellow gleam of the cigarette between his lips.
"None of your business," Spike replied, and fished his own cigarettes from his pocket, tapping one out. "'M not your pet demon."
"Dawn will be worried."
"See if I care." He pointed his cigarette at Giles. "Look, I'm not a sodding nanny. If she wakes up, you go tell her a bedtime story."
He turned around and stalked across the lawn without looking back.
Willy's place was packed, every table filled with demons. As he crossed the room, Spike could hear the anxious whispering of the other patrons that was cut dead as he approached. He sighed. They would have to do something eventually, to find some way to cover Buffy's death. The rumors were already spreading, and it wouldn't take long for some of the more enterprising demons to take advantage of the situation. He shook his head. Not his problem anymore, was it? Let them open the Hellmouth and burn down the whole city, see if he cared.
He grabbed a bottle of cheap whiskey from Willy's hand as he passed, and then reserved himself a booth at the back of the room by bodily throwing the K's'haa demons occupying it to the floor. The demons glared at him as they scrambled away, but Spike ignored them, just like he had ignored the look of disappointment in Giles' eyes back at the house.
Somewhere around the third glass Spike's brooding was interrupted by an overly enthusiastic voice right next him.
"Hey, mind if I sit here?"
When he looked up, there was a short, badly dressed man - demon, he corrected himself, when he smelled him - standing in front of him, holding a bottle of beer. He started to object, but the demon was already sitting down across the table.
"I'm Whistler," he said and extended a hand. Spike ignored it. "And if I'm not mistaking, you're William the Bloody, also known as Spike. I used to hang around with your grand-sire a few years back, you know. Heard a story or two about you too."
Spike glared at him. "If you're such bosom buddies with Angel, then tell me why wasn't that bloody wanker here when we needed him?"
Whistler shrugged. "Don't know. Nobody knows. He was supposed to help the girl stop Acathla and Glorificus. He was supposed to be the Chosen One's champion." He gave a sigh and downed his glass. "They put me on another case after the whole Acathla mess, but I've heard things. Angel asked the Powers That Be to turn back time so that he could be on the Slayer's side when the darkness came, but something went wrong and the Chosen One died because her champion was too busy feeding lawyers to vampires."
"Dru told me about that," Spike said, staring at his drink. "Said her daddy had gone to the dark side, or something." He rolled the glass in his hands, watching the brown liquid slosh against the edges. "As much as it kills me to say it, we could have used him back there. If he'd been here, maybe..."
He swore under his breath and emptied the glass in one swallow.
Whistler nodded glumly. "We thought it would all get back on the track after they souled him up again, but..." He shrugged. "Looks like even the Powers are infallible."
Spike's glass stopped half-way to his lips when what Whistler had said finally caught up with his brain. He looked up at the demon. "Turn back time? You're saying they can turn back time?"
Whistler shrugged again and gestured Willy to bring him another drink. "They can do whatever they want. Turn back time, wrap it around the world in a nice little bow. The aren't called The Powers for nothing, you know."
"They could bring her back."
"They could, but they won't. Because that would be admitting that something went wrong in the first place. And the Powers ain't big on admitting their errors."
Spike reached across the table and grabbed the demon by the collar.
"Take me to them."
Whistler shook his head drunkenly, ignoring Spike's hand around his throat. "Not that easy, pal, you don't go around asking the Powers to grant your wishes like some lowly vengeance demons."
"Take me to them," Spike repeated, his voice now a low growl even though he still had his human face on. "And I'll make them bring her back."
Spike stared at the narrow alleyway in front of them, his eyes narrowing in suspicion.
"The Powers live behind an UPS office?" He asked, with a dangerous edge to his voice.
Whistler dug a flask from his pocket, took a gulp, and then offered it to Spike.
"Not the Powers, the Oracles. The Powers don't live in our reality, this is the closest I can get you to them. Plus there was some trouble last year with a warrior demon and so the new Oracle prefers to remain in cognito, if you know what I mean."
He nodded towards the alley.
"It's all up to you now, champ. Just don't blame me if you come back in a dustbuster."
Spike took a few cautious steps towards the direction the demon had pointed, and suddenly found himself standing in a brightly lit hall. The only other person in the room was a young man dressed in a toga. He gave Spike a look of barely concealed disdain.
"Greetings, vampire. What have you brought us as an offering?"
Spike fished a pack of cigarettes from his pocket and tossed it to the man. The Oracle caught it easily and studied it for a few seconds before wrinkling his nose and dropping the pack on the floor.
"Why have you come here, lower being?"
"Got a little proposition for you, is all. Heard you could turn back time, and I thought that maybe you could arrange so that the Slayer didn't die. Do your hocus pocus or or whatever, and let me go back to save her."
"There will be a price."
"Always is," Spike said, and picked the cigarettes from the floor. "But the way I see it, I'm doing you a favor here. You fucked things up with Buffy and my dear old grandsire, no question about it. Turn back time and let me save her - you get your Slayer back and I won't tell a soul that you lost her in the first place." He lit a cigarette, ignoring look of contempt on the Oracle's face. "Do we have a deal, then?"
The was a long silence before the Oracle spoke.
"Very well. The Powers have spoken. We will fold the time so that the Slayer does not die. And in return you will restore us the Champion."
Spike frowned. "Angel? What you want me to do with him? Drive off to LA and sign him up for Crazy Bastards Anonymous?"
"You will restore him," the Oracle said, clapping his hands together once as the world was enveloped in blinding white light. "And we will change the past so that the Slayer lives."
When the light faded away, Spike found himself in a long corridor. Even though he hadn't been in the place for several years, he recognized it immediately. Sunnydale High. Somewhere in the distance a woman was screaming, and suddenly Spike knew exactly what he was supposed to do. Giles had always been forthcoming about the many sins of Angel, especially after a few drinks, and Spike had heard this particular tale more than once while being chained in the watcher's bath tub. He smashed the glass covering the fire emergency case on the wall, grabbed the ax, and set out towards the screams.
Spike found them at the other end of the hallway. Angelus and the woman, silhouetted against the moonlight shining from the window on the top of the stairs, Angelus' hands wrapped around her throat, just seconds away from twisting her neck.
Angelus froze in mid-movement, his attention turning from the woman to Spike.
"Spike. Isn't this a surprise." He glanced at Spike's legs, his lips curving to a smile. "Anything you'd like to tell me?"
Spike climbed another step, swinging the ax carelessly. "What can I say. I got bored."
The woman let out a small whimper, but Angelus ignored her, his eyes still fixed on Spike.
"Always thought it was taking you a bit too long to heal from a few scratches."
Spike shrugged. "Can't say that I- Look, a flying monkey!"
As he reached the landing at the top of the stairs, Spike suddenly raised his hand and pointed at the window. When Angelus reflexively turned to look, Spike brought the ax up and swung it at Angelus' head, a hundred years of held-back anger behind the blow. The blunt side of the weapon hit Angelus's temple with a wet crack, and the vampire collapsed on the floor.
The woman let out a small scream of surprise when Angelus took her down with him, and then quickly pulled herself away from the unconscious vampire.
"Idiot," Spike muttered, and then prodded Angelus with his boot before turning to the woman on the floor. "You Jenny Calendar?"
She nodded nervously as she tried to scramble to her feet.
"Go do your spell," Spike said and offered his hand to help her up. She hesitated for a moment before taking it. "I'll try to keep old yellow-eyes here busy 'till you're finished."
She stared at him in disbelief for a few seconds and then started to back away slowly, her eyes never leaving him until she was well beyond his reach. She was almost at the end of the corridor when he called after her.
"Wait," he shouted, and she stopped as if to a wall. "If you don't have enough mojo to do the spell, get Red... get Willow to do it. The girl has more power than you know."
Jenny turned around to give him one more disbelieving look and then ran away.
On the floor Angelus moaned loudly and Spike lifted his ax again. He considered giving Angelus another blow to the head, just to make sure he stayed down, but he was worried he might do too much damage to the vampire if he did. It would all have been for nothing if he accidentally killed the bastard.
He sat down on the steps and lit a cigarette.
"Looks like it's just you and me now, Liam."
"So it seems," said a voice next to him, and before he could react, he was thrown down the stairs by the force of Angelus' fist connecting with his face.
The ax flew from his grip, clattering down the steps. Spike shook his head to clear it and then scrambled towards his weapon, but Angelus was faster, taking the stairs two at a time and stepping on the ax just as Spike grabbed it. Spike cursed as his fingers were crushed under Angelus' heavy boot, but his words were cut short when the other boot swung back and then kicked him in the ribs.
Spike spat out blood as Angelus loomed above him, swinging the ax back and forth like a pendulum. And then suddenly Spike heard it, the distant rumble of the world changing, thunderclouds gathering in the sky outside the windows. There was electricity in the air; the smell of ozone and burning flesh, and then a silence, like the sea rolling back before a tidal wave.
Angelus lifted the axe.
"Can't say that I'm sorry to see you go, boy," he snarled, and swung the ax down.
...and the world shifted.
When Spike looked up, he saw Angelus still standing in above him, holding the ax, but there was a bright light surrounding him, as if he was illuminated from the inside. For a second everything was still, like the world was holding it's breath, and then Angelus' hand went limp, the weapon crashing to the floor with a hollow clang. The echoes continued unnaturally long until they turned into a quiet ringing that rose in pitch as it went on.
"Oh god," Angel whispered, looking around confused.
Spike would have laughed at his idiotic expression if he hadn't been too busy trying to cover his ears, the ringing now so loud that he felt like his head was going to explode.
Then everything stopped.
Tentatively Spike let go of his head, and stood up. It was quiet, too quiet, like in the eye of the storm, and deep inside he knew it wasn't over yet.
"Spike? What- Why are we here?"
Spike opened his mouth to reply, but no sound came out as the wave hit him them, like a rubberband snapping back into shape.
It happened so fast. One minute Drusilla was in his arms, laughing, telling him about all the things they would do now that he could walk again, and then a blink of an eye later she was gone.
Somewhere someone was screaming, possibly Spike himself, and a strangled sob escaped his throat at the memory of Dru's hand turning into dust in his when Angel put an arrow through her heart.
"You bastard," he snarled and tried to lunge at Angel, but the world was already spinning too fast and after a few staggering steps he fell down to his knees.
The air was thick with blood and Spike bit through his lip in an effort not to vamp when the rage filled him, his life rushing past him in a cascade of images, sounds, and emotions. The years of drunken stupor and impotent rage; the intricate plans of vengeance dwarfed by Buffy, Angel, and the slayerettes. Kidnapping the boy and the witch to force Buffy turn Angel over to him. Watching from the shadows how Angel put on the gem of Amarra and walked into the sunlight. Getting his ass kicked by the Slayer over and over again; his new life flashing before his eyes in jerky fast-forward animation of Keystone cops on acid. And everywhere he looked, there was Buffy, in every thought and every memory, permeating his very being.
Then suddenly the world stopped moving and he was standing in front of her, just the two of them alone in the dark alley behind the Bronze.
"You know you wanna dance."
She made the first move, a quick kick which he was able to dodge easily. He answered it with a punch of his own, and then they were dancing.
He could feel his memories - the other memories - being taken from him with every punch and blow. Every kind word she had ever said to him, every casual touch and glorious smile, the smell of her hair and the touch of her lips on his, everything was fading away. It felt like he was being drained again, the memories being pulled from him like so much blood.
He was coming undone, he could sense it, his existence unraveling one thought at a time, leaving just emptiness in its place. If it had ever even been his place. Maybe they had made the world wrong, the monks had, when they had created Dawn. Maybe it had never been his place to stand on Buffy's side, but Angel's, and Spike felt a sudden pang of horror that in changing the world he was undoing Dawn as well. But then he remembered her, the frightened little girl hiding behind her mother in the window while he stood outside, shouting obscenities, and throwing rocks and empty liquor bottles at the house. It wasn't a good memory, but it was all he had, and he held onto it.
He staggered when Buffy's boot connected with his face, and suddenly he remembered things that that had never happened, nights of passion and tender words, visions of a future that would never be.
"I believe in you Spike."
Remembered them as they were taken away from him, and a blind terror seized him. Leave it to Spike to screw things up, leave it to Spike to ruin everything in his lack of patience, but it was too late to undo what he had done because even he knew that you only got one chance to make things right.
Her boot connected with his chest with a crunch of breaking bones and he crashed against the dumpsters. He shook his head to clear it and lunged at her again.
I'll kill you, you fucking bitch, I love you.
She shoved him away again, like he was nothing but an annoying fly, and he was thrown across the alley. When he opened his eyes, she was standing before him, hands on hips, a scowl on her face. He felt something tear inside him then, and a mad giggle escaped his lips as he pushed himself back up again.
"What's so funny, Spike?" he heard her ask, but he couldn't tell anymore which one of him was laughing.
Licking the blood on his knuckles, he slipped into gameface and straightened up. "Let's finish this, bitch."
He went for her throat, using his weight to pin her against the wall, which cracked and crumbled as her back hit it. She let out a grunt of pain but blocked him, her elbow catching his chin as she pushed him away. He fell backwards and she went after him, wrestling him to the ground with brute force. They struggled for dominance, abandoning all grace and choreography, tearing at each other like animals, and he couldn't help thinking that there was something wrong, something that he was supposed to remember.
Finally they both pulled back, quickly rolling away from each other as they tried to get back to their feet. Buffy rested her palms to her knees, her breast heaving as she leaned forwards, trying to catch her breath.
"I love you."
No, you don't. But thanks for saying it.
For a second Spike was distracted and failed to dodge when Buffy suddenly hit him with a roundhouse kick. She sent him flying across the alley and before he could get up, she was already straddling him, her knees trapping his arms to the pavement. She looked down at him, her face set in an expression of grim determination, and he couldn't understand why all he could think of was how much he wanted to reach up and kiss her. He didn't even try to struggle when she brought the stake down and the world came into a screeching halt.
He could feel the heat already, the fire of a thousand suns that was now burning inside his chest, but he forced himself to look up. Angel was still staring at him with a confused look on his face, and Spike realized that only few seconds must have passed even though it had felt like a lifetime.
"Don't let her die," he whispered, and then he was beneath her again, for the last time, nothing else left but the knowledge that he had saved her and the touch of her hand resting on his chest as the stake pierced his heart.