Twelve Time has been transformed
This narrow isthmus ’twixt two boundless seas,
The past, the future,—two eternities!
Thomas Moore, Lalla Rookh. The Veiled Prophet of Khorassan.
For a man can lose neither the past nor the future;
for how can one take from him that which is not his?
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations. ii. 14.
Time has been transformed, and we have changed;
it has advanced and set us in motion; it has unveiled its face,
inspiring us with bewilderment and exhilaration.
Kahlil Gibran, "Children of Gods, Scions of Apes
Time is not a line, but a series of now-points.
When she came to, Kirsten realized she needed to get out of there quickly, and head back to where she belonged, the right place and time. And since it was daylight, her father wouldn’t be able to follow her. Making an excuse about how she needed to go home, Kirsten stumbled to her feet. Twice she had to refuse assistance from Dawn, once accidentally mumbling something about her brother meeting her on his way home. Kirsten caught the slip, covering it up by mumbling some more, but within minutes of regaining consciousness she was out in the sunshine, heading straight for Restfield.
As she suspected, the crypt was empty, though the signs of recent occupation were still there. The old refrigerator was still tucked away in the corner and she headed right for it, hoping there might be something edible there. An old bottle of water, thankfully unopened, was the lone offering, but Kirsten stole it gratefully. I promise, Dad, I’ll replace it . . . later. At some point.
Every muscle and bone protested her movement, though Kirsten ignored the pain to move into the ugly green chair dominating the room. Her body gave out and she curled into the musty-smelling piece of furniture. Tears of exhaustion and fatigue seeped from behind her closed eyes. I wanna go home. I just wanna go home. I don’t wanna be here anymore.
I’m so tired.
Kirsten succumbed to the fatigue, and the bottle slipped from her lax fingers, spilling onto the cold cement floor. Her body flickered, the edges of her form blurring into the ether and between one heartbeat and the next, Kirsten winked out, disappearing from the crypt.
"Do I really have to?"
Annie looked from one parent to the other while sneaking looks at Connor.
"Anne." Spike’s voice filled the suddenly quiet room, and she curled closer to her mother. "Pick your head up, poppet."
Relieved to be hearing her father call her that, Annie lifted up her head. "Okay, Daddy."
"Spill it all, now."
There was no resisting her father when he looked at her like that, or had that tone in his voice. None of them even bothered trying, because he had a way of looking at them that had them spilling all their secrets. With one last look at her father, Annie started talking, hesitantly at first, then as no one interrupted her, she gained speed and her voice got stronger.
At the end, they all stood there, staring at the small girl. All save Spike, who was staring at Buffy. Her eyes had gone dark green, no golden lights showing through, and he easily read the emotions swimming in her veins. Her hand threaded through Annie’s wild curls and she bowed her head, brushing a soft kiss on their youngest daughter’s brow.
"Shit," Robbie groaned from his position on the couch, his body curling into a fetal position, while his attempted to stifle the tremors beginning to snake through his muscles. "I wish to hell she’d freaking stop this crap already."
Whatever Spike had been about to say to Buffy died on his lips, concern for Robbie overtaking his need to make amends for something that hadn’t really happened. One look at the boy had him scooping him up in his arms. "He’s going into shock. Connor, get the shower goin’. Glinda, need something warm an’ sweet."
Connor raced up the stairs, taking them three at a time, while everyone else scrambled to help Robbie.
"Annie, you and Taryn go to your room and stay put." Buffy dumped the ten year old on the couch, following after the males. "Jake, get him something warm to wear."
A thought struck her as she was racing down the hallway toward the bathroom. "Spike, Kirstie could be on her way back."
"Fuck." He and Connor were working rapidly to strip off Robbie’s boots, then Connor stepped into the shower fully dressed, easily taking Robbie’s almost convulsing form in his arms. Spike adjusted the water temperature, pushing Robbie’s head up so he could make sure his eyes were open and he was still conscious. The action caused him to groan and weakly push Spike’s hands away. "Dunno where’s she’s gonna pop in, kitten. We need to get the troops moving. Rob. . . Robbie. . . where did your sister disappear from?"
Something unintelligible, too low for even Spike to make out issued from Robbie and Spike tried again. "Rob. . . c’mon, boy, it’s your ol’ man talkin’, pay attention here. Where was your sister when you las’ saw her?"
Again incoherent murmurs sounded in Robbie’s voice. Spike was done playing, he needed to know where his daughter would be likely to show again and he needed to know before she popped back in. He growled, doing it a second time when Robbie seemed to react. "James Robert Summers Pratt, where the bloody hell is your sister?!"
"Dunno." Robbie winched, brushing away the hands holding him steady. "Gone, Dad. She’s gone. Can’t feel her."
Buffy gasped, meeting Connor’s eyes over Spike’s hunched shoulder. "Spike?"
"She’s not gone, kitten, she’s not. I’d know it." Spike took hold of Robbie’s chin, forcing his son to meet his eyes. "Rob, focus. C’mon, sprog, listen t’your old man here. Where’s your sister gonna show?"
"Crypt." Robbie’s eyes focused, blinking heavily to keep the water out of them. "Why’m I in the shower?"
"Jus’ wakin’ you up." Spike glanced over his shoulder at Buffy. "Get Jake an’ go. I’ll meet you there in a tick."
Connor spoke for the first time. "I’ll change as soon as I get him into bed. Tara and the girls can stay with him."
"Right. Con? You’ve got your kit in the Rover, right?" Buffy was gathering up supplies from the hall closet, her attention still on the males in the bathroom. "Is it fully stocked?"
"Yeah, it’s all ready to go. Don’t have any clean blankets in the back though. Might need a couple." He and Spike were helping Robbie out of the shower and methodically stripping him down. The shaking had stopped and his teeth were no longer chattering, but both men could see the boy wasn’t in good shape. "He needs to sleep."
"I know. I’ve got ‘im, you go change." Spike hefted the naked teen over his shoulder and headed for his bedroom. He pushed Buffy ahead of him with a gentle hand at the small of her back. "Go, kitten, he’ll be fine. We need to worry about Kirsten now."
They parted at the head of the stairs, no time to exchange more than a pointed look and Buffy was gone, calling for Jake as she ran down the steps.
Connor squelched down the hallway, passing the room Anne and Kirsten shared, listening to the two current occupants whisper and speculate. A smile crossed his features as Taryn broke into peals of laughter, obviously at something Annie said to distract her. He must have made some sort of noise, because both little girls appeared in the doorway, smiles wreathing their faces. Connor stopped, dripping onto the rug, staring at them. Annie made a face, wrinkling up her nose and Taryn giggled around her words, "You’re all wet."
"Yeah, thanks. I noticed that. Would you mind getting my other pair of boots out of the Rover?"
Upturned faces, innocent and sweet looked at him for a moment and then Anne blurted out, "What are you gonna give me if I do it?"
"Annie." Connor shook his hair, sending droplets of water over the girls. When all she did was glare at him, he caved. "Fine. I’ll take you for ice cream. Later."
"Okay." She bounded down the stairs, Taryn close on her heels.
He watched them for a minute, idly noting the bouncing curls as Anne raced away from him. They were two very pretty little girls; Anne blond and blue-eyed, looking so much like her father it was startling, and Taryn with long straight strawberry blond hair and dark blue eyes, a beautiful blend of both her parents. Gonna have a time watching those two when they’re a little bit older. ’m glad that’s not my job.
With a shake of his head, Connor slipped into Robbie’s room, preparing to borrow some of his clothes. Robbie was in the bed, curled up into a ball, his eyes opened to bare slits. "How’re you feeling?"
"Like shit." He groaned, pulling the blankets up around him. "I’ve been beaten by fyarls and countless vamps and didn’t feel this bad."
Connor stripped off his shirt, using a discarded towel to dry himself off. "Did you know about this?"
"Only the first trip. Didn’t know she was planning on going back until she’d already gone." Robbie tried straightening out his clenched muscles, only to find his legs cramping and spasming. "I gotta get up."
"What?" Connor dropped his jeans, grabbing a dry pair from the floor. "Why?"
"Leg cramps." He rolled to the edge of his bed, then stretched. "I’m gonna head back to the shower. I’m so freaking cold."
"Don’t use up all the hot water, we’re gonna need to get Kirsten in there." Connor picked up the wet clothes, walking behind Robbie. "I’m heading out. Do you need anything?"
"I’m good. Just need to get warm."
Connor picked up all the wet clothes, holding them away from his body. "Tara’s making you something to eat. Might be a good idea."
"Yeah, I’ll head downstairs in a little while." Robbie closed the shower curtain, trembling with fatigue and cold. "Go bring her home."
"On it. Stay sane."
Robbie chuckled, ducking his head under the water. "I’ll try."
Buffy raced through the streets of Sunnydale, Jake close on her heels. She could feel Spike’s worry fueling her own and she fought the waves of panic threatening to slow her steps. Or, she thought, it could be what’s been happening is just now catching up to me.
Everything had shifted, in the course of the last few hours. Everything. All the animosity and anger she’d harbored for Spike was gone, disappearing into the atmosphere, along with whatever grief she’d felt. Dawn is alive. . .
Dawn was alive and Kirsten had risked her own life to save a sister she hadn’t met. In a different world. Her mind was reeling, trying to make sense of what Annie had told them. All of it. Everything. Annie held the memories, while the rest of them just adjusted to the changes Kirsten’s intervention made, marking the alterations as they occurred.
So now she and Jake were racing toward Spike’s old crypt, hoping that Kirsten was going to reappear there. Buffy didn’t understand how it all worked, how Kirsten was able to move through time, or how Annie was able to know things she shouldn’t. . . or how Robbie could practically move faster than the rest of them could see . . . or how strong Connor was. She couldn’t understand it or really explain it. But her children, every last one of them, was special.
And she’d almost lost two of them.
She stumbled to a halt, nearly running into the crypt door. Only her reflexes kept her from slamming into the hard wood, and Buffy let out an "Ooooff", pushing away from the mausoleum.
Jake pulled up next to her, gasping for air. "Fast," he panted out, then grinned at her. "For an old lady."
She grinned back, slapping the back of his head. "Funny, Jake. Really. I’m guffawing."
Pushing open the iron door, Buffy headed into the crypt.
There was no sound, save the faint beating of her own heart. There was no light, only darkness surrounding her, encircling her.
She was spinning, whirling in a vortex, unable to slow her movement.
Kirsten curled in on herself, tucking her legs into her arms. Nausea rose in her throat. The noise might have been better, detracting her senses from the spinning, allowed her at least a pretense of knowing what direction she was headed.
Curling into a ball didn’t help, but Kirsten was deathly afraid if she loosened the hold she had, the spinning would increase, spiraling too fast for her to control. She whimpered, the noise sounding like a shot in the darkness.
Once the dam broke, the noise started, echoing against the blackness, shifting her perceptions further, until Kirsten couldn’t hold on. A loud scream erupted from her throat, as tears coursed down her cheeks.
Then everything stopped.
Kirsten was falling, spinning, dropping faster and faster until she simply wasn’t.
Her body slammed into something hard and solid, and she knew nothing more.
Spike had opted to wait for Connor, knowing he’d be right behind him, driving the Rover straight to the crypt. There was a back road into Restfield that took an almost direct route to his old haunt, through the oldest part of the cemetery and though barely more than a footpath in some spots, Spike knew the Rover would easily make it. However, right now he was rethinking that decision. Not that Connor was driving cautiously, careening around corners and zigzagging between slower drivers.
No. That wasn’t it at all. It was the slamming fist into his gut, doubling him over. Connor glanced at him, reaching out a hand to pull him upright. "Spike?"
"Fuckin’ hell," he groaned, then sat up, his head leaned back. Panting for unnecessary air, he growled, "Don’t stop."
"You all right?" Connor floored the gas, the big black vehicle shooting through a changing light.
"Will be. Think Kirstie jus’ made it home."
"Hold on." Connor wrestled the Rover onto the dirt track, barely missing the rusted gate. "Less than five minutes."
The Rover shuddered to a halt, then both men were out, leaving the doors open. Spike leaped over the headstones, clearing them easily, while Connor raced around to the back, grabbing his emergency kit and the blanket they’d grabbed on the way out of the house.
Signs of the rituals the children had conducted were clear, sand and chalk lines on the cement floor, overturned candles and the faint traces of incense filled the crypt. Buffy moved cautiously inside, stepping around the signs of magic. She’d rather not disturb the remains, though, just in case it was the only thing anchoring Kirsten to this time. There was no way of knowing if this was the focal point for her daughter and Buffy didn’t want to take the chance of damaging it, if it was. Jake followed her lead, skirting around the markings on the ground floor, plopping himself on the sarcophagus. She leaned against the wall, her arms crossed over her chest.
"Any idea how long this could be?"
Jake shrugged his shoulders in answer, his forehead wrinkling in thought. "Probably not long, since Robbie woke up. That’s what happened before."
"Okay. That’s good."
They lapsed into silence, broken only by the tapping of Buffy’s small foot.
It wasn’t long before the residual stench of whatever demon Spike had killed the day before reached Buffy’s noise. "Oh, my God, what the hell is that smell?"
She gagged, moving toward the crypt door, intent on opening it up to the early night, in an effort to get some fresh air into the confined space.
"Huh. Still pretty nasty." Jake angled away from the hole in the floor, but didn’t move from his spot. "Spike killed it."
Buffy had just turned to say something to Jake over her shoulder when a loud thud and a groan of pain caught her attention. Whirling around, she nearly unbalanced when Spike crashed into the crypt behind her.
"Oh God, oh God."
"Is she okay?"
"Bloody hell." Spike nearly vaulted over Buffy’s hunched form, landing lightly on his feet on the opposite side of Kirsten. "Heart’s beating steadily."
A sigh of relief escaped from Buffy. "She’s too cold. Where’s Connor?"
"Right here." He spoke from over her head, then dropped the blanket down. "We should get her up off the floor."
Tucking the blanket around Kirsten, Buffy eased up off her knees while Spike lifted their daughter from the floor. "Her teeth are chattering."
"Can hear ‘em. Need to get her warm. She’s going into shock." Kirsten’s body shook, her fists flailing around, unintentionally avoiding their efforts to bundle her up. "Grab that hand, kitten."
Working quickly, hands everywhere and together, they managed to get Kirsten bundled up. It was a trick getting her out of the crypt, until finally Spike just hefted her over his shoulder and motioned the others out. "Need to get her home. She’s shakin’ like a leaf."
The ride home was much like the ride there, only this time, Spike and Buffy were in the back, Kirsten’s convulsing form sandwiched between them. Her teeth were chattering so badly, her jaw was clicking until Spike stuck his finger in her mouth. She clamped down, clenching so hard Spike was grateful he had no circulation. "Ow. Bleedin’ Jesus, girl’s got a bite on her."
Buffy stifled a laugh, avoiding Spike’s eyes. She looked forward, catching Connor’s amused expression in the mirror and couldn’t hold the giggle. "She’s your daughter."
"Funny. Really, sweetheart." More at his tone of voice than his actual words, the conscious occupants of the car erupted into laughter. That the laughter was tinged with relief, no one mentioned, not even Spike.
Robbie was standing in the doorway, grilled cheese sandwich in one hand, while the other held the door open. "How is she?"
"Gotta get her into the shower. She’s shaking." Buffy moved past him, running up the steps, intent on heading to the bathroom. "You left some hot water, right?"
"Yeah, should be enough." Connor and Jake hung back, letting Spike rush up the stairs with Kirsten slung over his shoulders.
Buffy was already stripped down to her panties and bra, just turning on the taps when Spike shouldered his way into the bathroom. "Get her ready, Spike. The water’s nearly right."
"On it." He was already unwrapping their daughter’s still form, stripping off her clothing efficiently. "She’s all blue."
Memories of encountering her at different points in the past kept running through Spike’s mind, especially the one first time, when Buffy had been dead. Kirsten had to have made the other trips first, hopscotching through the past, all in an effort to save a sister she’d never met. The entire idea had him reeling, and he wondered, as he handed Kirsten off to her mother, whether Buffy was feeling the same. "Kitten?"
She looked at him steadily, tears giving her eyes a hint of desperation. "She did it. I can’t believe. . . Dawn called earlier. I never even. . . oh, my God, Spike, what Kirstie did."
“I know. Can’t wrap m’brain around it. Chit has brass." A slow smile crossed his lips. "Gets it from her mother."
"Oh, I don’t know. I think I know someone else who would do the impossible for people he loves." Spike eased closer to them, raising the temperature of the water, and holding them steady with the other arm.
"Would do anythin’ for you, you know that." Uncaring of the water, he leaned and brushed a kissed across her brow. "I love you."
Any comment Buffy would have made in response was lost in the low, rolling complaint of pain coming from their daughter. Her hand came up, fighting against the tight hold Buffy had around her midsection, scrabbling to get away from the water pulsing into her face. "Augh. No. . . no. . . hurts, Mommy. Hurts."
"I’m right here, sweetie, I’ve got you." Buffy ran her free hand over Kirsten’s trembling arm, cradling her closer. "Mommy’s right here."
"Hurts. Wanna. . . hurts, Mommy." Kirsten’s voice was a harsh whisper, strained from overuse. The tremors worsened, and her arms twitched uncontrollably. "Mommy!!"
"Shhhh, baby, I’m here." Spike reached across, anchoring Kirsten’s trembling body to her mother’s and Buffy turned, angling their bodies so they could both be supported by Spike. "Daddy’s here too, baby."
Something within Kirsten understood the words, and the hold she must have had on her emotions collapsed. Harsh sobs intermingled with the patter of water on tile and skin, and Kirsten slumped heavily, turning in her mother’s embrace, clutching at her desperately. Buffy eased down, rocking Kirsten, all the while softly crooning nonsense to her.
Spike released them, sitting on the edge of the bathtub, watching them closely. He knew the second Kirsten slipped into sleep, her body unable to fight the effects of the trauma she’d put it through.
"She’s sleepin, pet." Without waiting for her to say anything, he turned off the taps and grabbed the dry towels he’d spied earlier. "Lemme take her."
Buffy brushed a kiss on Kirsten’s wet hair, holding her close for just a minute longer. "I don’t wanna let her go."
"Yeah, I know." He started blotting some of the water from the two of them. "But she needs to be dry an’ warm. ‘Sides, I’ve got her."
The wistful smile in his eyes caught her attention and Buffy opened her arms, helping Spike lift Kirsten into his arms. "I know you do." She climbed to her feet, stepping out of the tub. "I’m gonna get changed. I’ll meet you in her room."
They’d put Kirsten to bed, Buffy on one side, Spike on the other. He was, as always, closest to the door, guarding them both from any trouble. Buffy had long past given up trying to understand why he always slept closer to the door, though she figured it had more than a little bit to do with his wanting to protect them. It had been a habit he picked up while she was pregnant the first time, and he just never stopped.
A soft smile crossed her features and she tightened her arm around Kirsten’s middle. She could barely make out the curve of Spike’s shoulder in the dark, though she knew he was there and that he wasn’t sleeping. Groping around, Buffy located his clenched hand, fisted in the blankets over Kirsten, and her fingers wound around his hand. He didn’t jump, merely uncurled his fist, his fingers entwining with hers.
His voice was low, barely more than a whisper, soft so as to not disturb the exhausted teen sleeping between them. "She came to see me, while you were gone. Told me she was there to give me hope, so’s I wouldn’t give up. Told me about everythin’, only didn’t come out an’ say it clearly. Wouldn’t’ve believed her if she had. . . Truth would’ve sent me round the bend, ‘m sure." His thumb brushed over the back of her hand, making idle patterns. "She was somethin’ else. Couldn’t put m’finger on it, jus’ knew there was somethin’ different. . . From the first, she reminded me of you. Her laugh, way she scrunched up her nose. . . "
He raised up on his elbow. His eyes rested on Kirsten, glowing golden in the darkness. "Thought I was dreamin’ when she appeared the second time. Fightin’ off those daft knights like she’d been doin’ it her whole life. Didn’t know how true that was."
Kirsten stirred, but didn’t wake, responding to the sound of his voice. "We could’ve lost . . .” He paused, trying to get his emotions under control and almost failing. "M’m’ries of the other are fading. . All I know is nothin’ was right. Not between us. Kids were all messed up. . . Don’t want that to happen, ever."
She wasn’t aware of her own tears until Spike disengaged their hands and reached across Kirsten to wipe them away. His hand was unusually warm, heated from the shower and cuddling with the two of them. Buffy reacted as she always did to his touch, nerve endings sparking with every contact. Her own hand covered his, holding his flesh against hers.
"We won’t let it happen." Buffy paused, letting Spike’s fingers cross her lips. "Everyone’s safe, all of us."
"Don’t wan’ to lose any of you, kitten. You’ve changed m’life." He felt her lips curl into a smile, then purse into a soft kiss as his fingers feathered over her skin.
"I don’t know what I would have done without you, when I came back." Spike’s hand cupped the curve of her cheek and Buffy nuzzled into it. "Do you remember when they were born? How tiny they were? How . . . how scared we both were?"
His low chuckle sounded in the dark, quiet room and his fingers threaded through her hair. "Yeah, I do. Was worried about all ‘f you." Spike grew quiet, then said in a very low voice, "Didn’t know who to trust. . . whether the wankers were gonna take you all away from me or whether the hall monitors were. . . "
She reached across the slumbering form of their daughter, her hand this time searching out his face. "We made the right choice. And hey, we even got more out of the Council, so trusting them was of the good."
"Least they weren’t looking to dust me an’ then take you."
Silence fell between them, both lost in their own thoughts, until Buffy spoke again. "I was more angry with myself, I think. When the other happened, with Dawnie . . before the twins were born. I just took it out on you. I’m sorry for all the things that happened between us."
"Wasn’t jus’ you, pet. Had a hand in all the badness. Left you, when I should’ve tried to stay, an’ work things out. . ." His turn to lay a soft kiss in her palm, his turn to bask in her touch.
"It was both of us. Neither one of us was right or wrong. Promise me . . . promise me, we won’t let it happen again." Buffy’s voice faltered, tense with the need to make sure they didn’t repeat the mistakes Kirsten had defied time and reason to fix.
"Promise, kitten. W’ everything I am."
"That’s good enough for me. I promise too."
This time, when they lapsed into silence, neither one felt the need to fill it.