When Buffy opened her eyes, she immediately knew that Willow's spell had gone wrong.
For one, there was that odd tingling sensation which she attributed to her slayer senses - a subtle itch building at the base of her spine that told her that there was something wrong with the world. It was a feeling she had learned to recognise based on the experience gained from having been at the receiving end of more than one failed Willow-special.
But what most of all clued her in on the whole spell-going-awry business this time was that when she had closed her eyes - just to blink, because the rain was getting into her eyes - she had been in a small back alley, fighting two vampires back-to-back with Spike, and when she opened them, she was in a stable.
With a horse.
A beautiful white horse that was looking at her curiously with its head tilted to the side in an oddly familiar angle.
She whirled around to make sure that Spike - and the vampires they had been fighting - wasn't behind her. When a quick scan of the room confirmed that there were no vampires, neither friend nor foe, anywhere near, Buffy dropped her sword and took a tentative step towards the horse. The animal was looking at her warily but didn't seem to be afraid, and so she carefully reached out her hand to touch it. The horse whinnied gently, its hot breath ticking her palm as it nuzzled against her fingers.
She took a deep breath to calm herself, trying to swallow past the heavy lump rising in her throat as she gently petted the horse. "Spike? Is that you?"
"Over here, love."
Buffy jumped at the sound of his voice, startling the horse which reared back and crashed into the wooden wall of the stall. Her first thought was "But he didn't even move his lips!" until her brain caught up with her ears and informed her that the voice had actually come from behind her.
She turned around to see a familiar hand with black-laquered nails appear from behind a pile of wooden crates, followed by an equally familiar blond head. Spike ran his hand through his hair to brush away the straws caught in his curls and then looked around blearily until he spotted Buffy. "You planning on helping me up, or is this just a spectator sport?"
Almost laughing with relief, Buffy crossed the room with a few running steps. When she reached Spike, she took his hand and gently helped him to his feet. "Sorry, I thought you were a horse."
Spike swayed as he stood up, and Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist to support him, careful not to touch the large patch of blood on his side. He let out a hiss of pain and then gave her a confused look.
"A horse." She pointed at the animal that was still eyeing them suspiciously from the back of the stall. "That horse. I thought Willow's spell had gone wrong."
With her boyfriend securely in vampire-form, Buffy took a moment to have a better look at their surroundings. The air was thick with dust, and when she breathed, the overpowering smell of animals and straw made her nose tickle. There was very little light trickling in through the layers of dirt on the small windows, but she could see that they were standing in front of a row of wooden stalls, empty but for the one holding the white horse, while a tall pile of hay and stacked crates occupied most of the other side of the room. The various tools made of cast iron and leather hanging on the dirty walls gave the place the feel of an abandoned BDSM dungeon.
Buffy shrugged. "Well, more wrong."
As they shuffled their way around the crates, Spike put his weight on her, leaning down to whisper in her ear. "A stallion of your own, eh? What would-" He leaned further down and his brow creasing into a frown.
Suddenly he pulled away from her. "Oh, ha, bloody, ha, Slayer. The vampires could still be watching so let us not waste an opportunity to remind the world that Spike's a bloody gelding."
Buffy was used to his moodswings which had only seemed to grow worse since Angel's shanshu, but they were on a mission, stuck in a stable somewhere - and somewhen - that was not where they had been just five minutes earlier, and she did not have the time nor the patience to play "mollycoddle the vampire" as Spike would probably put it.
She grabbed Spike's arm to keep him from falling down on his face and forcibly guided him to sit down on one of the crates. They both winced as the movement aggravated the wound on his side, but she ignored the pang of guilt and just took his face between her hands to make him look her in the eye.
"What the hell are you talking about? And what's a gelding?"
He stared at her, his anger slowly fading to confusion, and then shook his head.
"Sorry pet, I'm just..." He closed his eyes and rubbed his neck. "Just feeling a bit strange, is all. It's like-" Looking at Buffy from under his lashes, he gave her an amused smile. "I'd say it feels like someone's walking on my grave, but that doesn't really work for a vampire." He shrugged. "Must be just the after effects of the spell. And getting a sword through my guts isn't helping either."
Buffy sat down next to him and gently pulled his coat away to have a better look at the wound. The hem of his shirt was soaked with blood and he winced when she pulled it up to see the wound. The wound itself was not as bad as she had feared, a clean cut that went straight through his abdomen, and though it was still bleeding, the blood was only sluggishly oozing from the wound. What did worry her, however, was the small web of what looked like black veins spreading from the wound towards his heart.
"Is it bad?" she asked, not entirely managing to keep the worry out of her voice.
Spike just shrugged again. Buffy couldn't help noticing that the gesture was smaller and more careful than before.
"Hurts like a bitch, but I'll manage. Just give me a mo and I'll be as good as new."
She nodded and gently covered the wound with his shirt again. "Willow said that the spell will return us to the exact moment when we left, so it doesn't matter how long we are here. We can rest for a bit before deciding what to do, wait for your vampy-healing midichlorians to start working."
Spike gave her a curious look. "Midichlorians?"
Buffy groaned. "I've been spending way too much time with Andrew, haven't I? When we get back, I'm going to make Giles promise that I never again have to make a mission plan with that little twerp. In fact, I'm going to make him promise I never have to make a mission plan, period. Because planning and Buffy are totally un-mixy things."
"Don't sell yourself short, pet. You've got plenty of planning skills. Just remember to schedule in a quickie or two, and you won't find me complaining."
She playfully swatted away the hand that was making its way up her thigh - a vampire shish-kebab he may be, but his libido was still very much unaffected - before continuing. "This one, I'm gonna blame on Andrew, though. I mean, I know technically this was probably all Willow's fault, but I'm sure I can come up with some way to blame this on him as well."
She carefully wrapped her arm around his waist and pulled him closer, ignoring the slippery touch of his bloodstained clothes. "So where is your grave, anyway?"
"That your idea of small talk, Slayer?" He chuckled. "Never had one, actually. Dru took me with her and buried me in the woods somewhere near Hampsted Heath. Wasn't gone long enough for anyone but my mother to miss me and when I came back, I-"
Buffy staggered at the absence of contact when Spike abruptly stood up and walked to the doors.
"We should leave," he said, glancing up at the small windows, "The sun's low so it must be late afternoon out there. We have to get going as soon as it's dark so we can get the cup and get back tonight."
Buffy sighed. She wanted to ask him to come back and tell her what was really going on, but he did have a point, even if his sudden sense of urgency seemed to be prompted by matters other than the actual facts of the mission. The longer they remained in the stables, the more likely they were to be caught by someone, and not even knowing when or where they currently were, she didn't particularly want to take that risk.
She stood up and picked up her sword from the floor.
"Do you still have the spell to get us back?" Spike asked.
Buffy fished the small leather pouch from her pocket and nodded.
The plan had been simple - at least as soon as Giles had locked Andrew out of the conference room, bringing to an end his lecture on the subject of "time travel as demonstrated by the Top 5 Star Trek episodes not featuring the Borg" - to find and bring back an artifact that Giles called "the Cup of Eternal Restoration, and the next person to call it the Grail will bloody well find out where the name Ripper comes from" which was the only thing left that could save a group of slayers poisoned by a vengeful witch.
The problem was that the cave that was supposed to hold the cup was now a construction site for a new shopping mall, and according to the various finding spells Willow and the coven had performed, the cup had been destroyed by the builders. The only way to retrieve the cup had then been to travel three months back in time to before the first work on the construction site had started.
Buffy looked at the small pouch in her hand. "We can't go back without the cup. According to Giles the ritual for the timetravel spell can't be performed again until next summer, so if we go back now, the girls will die before we can try again."
"How about the spell to get the Grail?" Spike asked, while surreptitiously trying to lean to the wall without her noticing. "Any idea if it'll still work even if we're not where we're supposed to be?".
"I think so. The spell's supposed to create an illusion of the cup in the cave to keep us from changing history. I don't think it has a time limit."
Spike nodded. "And according to Giles, no-one has touched the cup since the Middle Ages, so that shouldn't be a problem either." He pushed away from the wall. "C'mon. Let's find out if we're even in England any more."
Buffy walked to the door, opened it to a narrow slit, and looked out. The stable door opened into a shade, and she soon felt Spike behind her, leaning in for a look.
The street outside was definitely not the one they had left. Gone were the parked cars and colourful billboards, in their stead now a cobbled road with horse carriages rumbling past the stable every now and then. There weren't many people around either - she could see a two men talking in front of a small shop across the street and a woman with a small child walking past the stables. Ignoring the possibility that they had somehow ended up in the middle of a really weird ren fair, based on the clothes the people were wearing Buffy concluded that they had been transported to a time period which she could confidently call "history", or possibly "the olden times". For anything more specific, she would need to ask Spike.
She turned around, only to bump into Spike. He was frozen in place, still staring at something on the street outside, looking like he had just seen a ghost. Buffy quickly glanced behind her to see what had shocked him, but she could see nothing that should have elicited such a reaction from him.
She touched his arm, trying to catch his attention. "Spike? What's wrong?"
Spike's fingers splintered the wood as he held onto the frame. "That..." He looked down at her, his eyes wide and terrified. "That was my mum."
There was a quiet rumble of thunder in the distance, and when Buffy glanced out of the door, she could see people on the street hurrying for shelter as the first few droplets of rain pockmarked the dusty street. The woman - Spike's mother - had long ago disappeared around a corner, but Spike was still standing in the doorway, staring after her. Buffy had often marvelled at how eerily still he could be when he wanted - not breathing, not moving, just standing and waiting like a clothed marble statue when he was hunting something. The way he was now, however, with his fingers burrowing into the wooden frame of the door and his eyes fixed unseeingly into the distance, was something completely different.
Remaining by his side, Buffy absently stroked Spike's arm as she tried to wrap her own mind around the reality of their situation. She hadn't been able to get any further explanation out of him of what exactly it was that he had seen, and part of her was afraid to even ask. To have been magicked into the past was one thing - to have been magicked into Spike's past was another, and one that opened a Pandora's box worth of questions on subjects the two of them had so far spent several years successfully avoiding talking about.
She ran her hand down Spike's arm one last time, finding his hand and gently prying his fingers off the splintered door frame. He resisted only for a second, reluctantly taking his eyes off the street as she wrapped her arm around his waist and then led him back to the crates. She carefully helped him sit down, taking a seat next to him.
"What did you see?"
He was quiet for a long time, his eyes still fixed on the door as if he could see right through it.
"It was my mum," he said finally. "The woman who walked past us, it was her."
Buffy frowned, berating herself for not having had the foresight to run outside and grab the woman's arm to make sure she was real. With the victory over The First having come so easily (and she had to admit that it had been easy, even if the price had been high), she had never quite managed to shake off the nagging doubt whether they had really won at all. Add time travel to the mix and she wouldn't have been surprised to find eyeless goons lurking in the stalls. Octopus razor, or something like that. And if the woman really was Spike's mother, and not a figment of The First... Buffy wasn't sure which was the explanation she would have preferred. Because if she was honest, when it came down to it she had to admit that she had a much better track record in battling ancient evils than having heart-to-heart discussions with boyfriends.
"Are you sure it was her and not the First? I thought you killed..." The words slipped out unthinkingly, the first thought at the top her mind. Mouth, by-pass brain: no filter. She swallowed down the end of the sentence when she saw the horrified look on his face. "I thought... Angel said-"
The change in Spike's expression was so stark that he could have just as well put on his game face. "Oh, Angel said so, did he?"
He stood up and stalked to the other side of the room, eliciting a suspicious glare from the horse as he marched past it. His outburst was slightly hindered by the fact that he could hardly move without grimacing in pain, but that didn't stop him from trying. "Told you he killed his family and because Angel is such a bleeding platonic model of a vampire, if Angel killed his family, then all vampires must have done it."
Buffy buried her face in her hands and waited while Spike went through his usual litany of insults about the state of Angel's hair, soul, sexual prowess and intelligence.
"Angel said you killed your mother," she said when he had finally reached the end of both his pacing and his tirade. The demon was out of the basket, so she might as well finally deal with it. "Did you?"
He stopped in mid-pace, his face completely unreadable. "I had to! She was a vampire!"
Buffy stared at him, suddenly speechless again. Of all the answers she had expected from him, that was so far off the top of the list it wasn't even on the same paper. Possibly not even on the same list. She suddenly found herself wishing that she had actually read the damn Vampyre book Giles had given her all those years ago. "Your mother was a vampire? Then how did..."
Spike's jaw twitched as he stared at her, his eyes narrowing. She recognised the familiar fight-or-flight stance - could imagine the insults and obscenities already forming on his lips - but then suddenly he deflated as if he had exhausted whatever mental resources had fueled his rage. Like a candle being snuffed the hint of golden yellow in his eyes faded back into blue, leaving behind only the silent defeat that she had seen on his face far too often of late. The familiarity of that look terrified her every time, because this time she couldn't trust on magic snow to save them.
He returned to the crate, gingerly holding his side, and then sat down heavily, as far away from her as possible.
"Thank you ever so much for having faith in my humanity. Was born a human being, you know." He looked at her, clearly waiting for a response, but she didn't have one to give. What she wanted was to reach over and pull him to her, to apologise and to comfort him in gestures if not in words, but she wasn't sure he would let her.
"I turned her, okay," he said quietly. "She was dying of consumption and I turned her so that she'd be well again, and then she was doing things that no mother should be doing and I had to kill her." He shoved his hand into the pocket of his duster and pulled out his cigarettes, only to find the pack empty. He swore and crumpled the pack, throwing it angrily at the wall. "And you can go ahead and sing the bloody ditty if you don't believe me, but it wasn't the First. It was her."
Buffy bit her lip in an effort not to contradict him. Spike had hardly been a reliable witness the last time he'd been seeing dead people - more dead than usual, that is - so as much as she wanted to believe him, she wasn't sure if she could trust his judgement. But wasn't that what you were supposed to do to people you loved?
She stood up and closed the distance between them, crouching in front of him to be able to catch his eye. He tried to turn away, but she cupped his cheek and gently made him look at her.
"I believe you," she said, and then slipped her hand behind his neck and pulled him closer until their foreheads touched. "I don't know what's going on, but if you say it was your mother, I believe you."
Spike closed his eyes and let out a shuddering breath. "Thanks," he whispered.
Buffy smiled as they finally pulled away from each other. "So this really is your time? Before you- Before your mother was sick?"
He nodded, and she let her hand linger on his face for a few more seconds before standing up to get a better look around her. The room was darker now, with just the slightest hint of sunlight still filtering through the dirty windows above. The stable lacked good conversation pieces, so she tried to summon the image of the woman - Spike's mother, she had to correct herself again - on the street. She hadn't been really paying attention, but she could vaguely remember a stern-looking young woman holding the hand of-
Her mouth dropped open.
"There was a little-"
Spike interrupted her with a groan. "Yeah, that was me, and yeah, I had hair like a bloody cherub so let's just skip the whole 'you looked like a girl' routine."
For a moment she was afraid that she had upset him again, but when she looked at him she could see a smile tugging his lips. She sat down on the crate and nudged him with her elbow, very gently so as not to hurt him. "I thought you looked cute."
"Cute. Kinda like a boy Shirley Temple." She leaned over to kiss him, but then pulled away, making a face. "Oh, ew, I'm never going to able to have sex with you again, am I?"
She laughed at his annoyed growl and then shut him up with a kiss. It was a nice kiss, and for a while she thought about giving in to the messages she was receiving from parts of her body that weren't her brain, but in the end the practical Buffy won and she pulled away from him.
"Okay. No more funny stuff, we have a job to do. Do you know what year it is?"
Spike rubbed the bridge of his nose. "I recognise the horse he - I - was holding. Got it from my da when I was four but lost it before my next birthday, so it must be..." He trailed off, his brow knitting in concentration. After a few seconds of silence he began counting his fingers. "Eighteen-fifty-four? Fifty-six?"
Buffy gave him a disbelieving look. "You remember a toy horse you had when you were four but you can't remember what year you were born?"
"It was a good horse! And it's not like vampires celebrate birthdays, is it? You try remembering your birth date when you're... you're..." He growled in frustration. "Hundred and bloody whatever!"
Buffy couldn't help laughing at his ire. "C'mon, are you saying you haven't had a birthday in a hundred years?" She paused. "Okay. Considering the earth-shattering events to gifts ratio of your average Buffy Birthday Bash, maybe that's not such a bad thing. But really, never? You haven't had a birthday since the time dinosaurs walked on earth?"
He gave her a mock-offended glare and then shrugged. "No. I mean, Dru had this thing that she'd sometimes invite people over and-"
Buffy groaned and rolled her eyes. "Stop. I think I know the punchline. Do you have any stories that don't end with you or Drusilla eating someone?"
She regretted her words as soon as they were out. It was a delicate subject, one of the many things in their relationship labelled "Evil Stuff: Do Not Touch" and boxed away to be dug out only during most vicious fights. The fact that he still sometimes remembered fondly parts of his unsouled past. It seemed to bother him at least as much as it bothered her, and she didn't want to admit it, but in some ways, she envied Drusilla. At least he'd been happy with her - evil, yes, but happy - while the Epic Love Story of Buffy and Spike seemed to consist solely of constantly inventing novel ways of hurting each other.
"I'm sorry." She wasn't sure why she was sorry or if she was even the one who was supposed to be sorry, but she was tired of fighting with him. It seemed like fighting was all they were doing lately, and it wasn't even the sexy kind of fighting that used to lead to a bit of quick release behind the mattress pile in the training room and, in one unfortunate occasion, a seriously traumatised Xander. Some days she found herself missing even the violence and the arguments of the darkest times of their relationship because at least that was familiar ground. These days their fights were nothing but unintentional insults and passive-aggressive sniping, interspersed by overly-polite conversation that did not dare to pass to anything more controversial than "Hand me the salt, please".
Sighing, she wrapped her arm around him, gently rubbing his back before pulling him closer. He resisted at first but then gave in, burying his face in her hair.
Most recently it had been Angel and the shanshu that had taken residence as the pink fyarl in their living room. The one time she'd tried to talk to Spike about it, he'd muttered something about being "found wanting" and when she'd asked "Wanting what?" he'd only laughed bitterly and stalked out of the room. She was afraid that she was losing him, like everything they had, everything they had worked so hard for all these years would all be for nothing and that one day one of them would just give up, and that would be the end.
"The sun's down." She couldn't see his face, but his breath tickled the hairs in her neck. "We should leave if we want to get everything done before morning."
"What about your mother?" She could feel it again, that cold dread in the pit of her stomach that she was somehow in the brink of losing him.
Spike turned to look at her, and for for a brief moment his eyes glowed like embers. "It's ancient history," he said, pulling away from her touch.
He wrapped his arm around his stomach and carefully kneeled down to pick up his discarded sword from the floor before walking to the door. "Let's just find the fucking cup and go home."
Warning: This chapter contains some gore and descriptions of harm to animals.
The streets were almost empty when they left the stable. Only a solitary man stood under one of the gaslights, carefully balancing a stepladder against it. He paused in his work as they passed him, starting to tip his hat until they reached the light of the previous lamp. His hand froze in mid-gesture as he stared after them. Spike swore and pulled Buffy into a narrow alley.
"What's wrong?" She asked, frantically looking around to see what danger he might have spotted.
"It's your clothes."
Buffy frowned and looked down at herself. She was wearing a long dark grey cable knit sweater together with grey leggings and the brand new Uggs she'd just won on Ebay for a bargain. Warm and sensible clothing, just like Giles had told her to wear. Sure, he had rolled his eyes at her when she'd come back from changing her clothes, but he always did that.
"What's wrong with my clothes?"
"There's no polite way to put this. You look like a whore." She stared at him in disbelief, her hands curling into fists out of their own accord. Spike took a step back, raising his hands in a placating gesture. "A Victorian whore, I mean. You're showing enough leg to give Oscar Wilde the vapours."
She glared at him, but didn't say anything. He was the one who'd lived in this place - in this time - so he probably was right. She still felt the urge to punch him in the nose, though, and only held back because he was already hurt.
Spike ignored her, and carefully peered out of the mouth of the alley to check the street. When Buffy followed his example, she saw the man with the ladder still standing under the lamp, but he had been joined by what appeared to be a police officer. They were in mid-conversation, with the ladder man repeatedly pointing towards the alley.
Spike swore again, and then grabbed Buffy's arm, pulling her after him. "Come on. I think we can probably cut through the woods. That way we won't be seen."
Their progress once they left the town was slow. Spike had seemed fine when they left the stable, but as the terrain became more rough, the more difficult it became for him to keep up with Buffy. When she glanced over her shoulder to check on him, she saw that he'd fallen behind again, and was leaning to a tree for support, his head bowed as he tried to catch his breath.
"You okay?" she called, as she retraced her steps back to him.
He didn't say anything, just waved his hand, like he was too out of breath to even speak. When he rested his hand back against the trunk of the tree again, a bug scuttled over his hand and up his arm. He looked at it lazily for a few seconds, as if not understanding what it was, and then flinched back, frantically shaking his arm until the bug fell off.
Buffy blinked. "You've gotta be kidding me," she said, her voice almost drowned by the rising wind. "I once saw you eat a cockroach just to gross out Dawn, and now you're afraid of a little bug?"
"I just think that bugs belong on the outside," he said, glaring at her. He pushed back to his feet and headed forwards again, stumbling from tree to tree like a drunken flipper ball.
Buffy watched him go.
"That's it," she muttered under her breath. She caught up with Spike and grabbed his arm, pushing him back against the nearest tree. "Something's wrong. You're not usually this irritable. Irritating, yes, but not irritable. What's going on?"
He tried to wiggle out of her grip but she held on to him, keeping him still.
"Wrong answer, buddy. Either you tell me what's going on, or I'm sending us back right now, cup or no cup."
She let go of his arm and took his hand instead, trying a different approach.
"Look, I know y-" She frowned, and shifted her grip to circle his wrist. "You're hot."
"Can't argue with that, love, but we don't have the time for-"
"No, I mean having-a-temperature-hot." She put her palm on his forehead, her frown deepening. "Fever-hot. What's wrong, Spike?"
She could feel coils of dread pooling at the pit of her stomach. When Spike didn't answer, she let go of his hand and crouched down in front of him to take a look at his wound again. As she carefully lifted his shirt she glanced up, expecting to see him leering at the sight of her kneeling between his legs. But Spike wasn't looking at her. He was leaning heavily to the tree, his eyes closed and his jaw set in a grimace of pain. The sight of him like that made her shiver, and not in the good way. She carefully peeled away the cloth of his shirt where it had stuck to the blood. His abdominal muscles jumped when her fingers brushed against the wound, and he let out a small hiss of pain.
The woods were illuminated only by the dim glow of the half moon above them, but even in that little light she could see that the wound was worse than it had been when she'd first seen it at the stable. The flesh surrounding the wound was almost black now, the dark web of veins covering most of his torso and disappearing under the waistband of his jeans. It was almost as if the wound was infected, except that it couldn't be, not on a vampire. It didn't make any sense, unless... When Buffy thought back at the fight before the spell had backfired, she remembered the odd glint on the edge of the sword of one of the vampires. She swore under her breath. Poison.
Buffy stood up and wiped her hands on her sweater, trying to keep a calm face even though inside she was panicking. Spike's eyes were still closed and she briefly wondered if he had fallen asleep on his feet. She touched his cheek and he opened his eyes, startled, looking confused for a few seconds before his eyes focused on her. She gave him a reassuring smile, her hand lingering on his face as she marvelled the odd sensation of his warm flesh.
There was a certain twisted logic to vampires guarding an artifact meant to heal using poison as a weapon. She tried to remember what Giles' books had said about the vampires guarding the cup. Something about the guardians being able to take away what the cup gave, should someone try to take it by force.
"It should have started to heal already," she said finally. "Do you think the vampire's sword might have been poisoned?"
An odd look flashed on Spike's face, and he seemed to consider her words for a moment before answering.
Spike shook his head. "You can't poison a vampire."
Buffy bit her lip. There weren't many things left untold between the two of them anymore, but some of the potholes they had managed to avoid so far were the size of the Grand Canyon. She could see Spike's face harden, his lips pressing into a thin line. It was almost as if he could smell when she was thinking about Angel.
She broke the eye-contact and sighed. "Yeah, you can."
She gave him a short summary of the time when Faith had poisoned Angel, trying make the story as neutral and unemotional as possible. When she finished, he was quiet for a while, and then tilted his head and gave her a grin. She assumed it was supposed to be a leer but came across more like mild nausea.
"Does that mean I get to drain one of the baby-slayers? What's the name of the one who keeps throwing away my fags?"
"She's Suvi. But you should stop smoking anyway, so you're not biting her. Or anyone." She closed her eyes and then let it out in one shuddering breath. "I want you to bite me."
Spike scoffed. "Oh, right. That's a brilliant plan! I drain you and then you're the one on death's door, assuming that it even works and we don't both end up half dead and flopping around on the ground like fish."
"I don't want you to think-"
"I don't-" He screwed his eyes shut, his hands clenching into fists. "You don't have to prove anything to me."
"And neither do you!" It wasn't the snappiest come-back in the world, but his slight flinch when she said it made her realise that she had hit a nerve. She blinked as the pieces suddenly fell into place.
"You knew about it. About Angel."
He shrugged carefully, resting the back of his head against the tree. "Yeah, well. Pretty much lived with his royal ponciness for a year, so it wasn't like I could avoid hearing about it. Get a bottle of Glenmorangie into the bastard, and there'll be no end to the stories about the special bond you two had."
Buffy closed her eyes again and pinched the bridge of her nose, making a mental note to add "Kill Angel" to her to-do list, somewhere between "Get back home" and "Kill Spike."
She was still trying to come up with something to say when Spike suddenly went completely still. His head whipped towards the direction that they had been heading and his nostrils flared as he sniffed the air.
"Someone's watching us," he whispered, a hiss of fangs in his voice.
Buffy had been too distracted by their argument and her mounting worry over Spike that she hadn't noticed it, but when she concentrated, she could sense a presence somewhere near them. A vampire.
She raised her sword, taking a place next to Spike. He tried to do the same but his arm was shaking too much, and so he dropped his sword and instead twisted a branch off a tree for a makeshift stake.
They instinctively fell into a fighting position, their backs against each other as they slowly made their way towards the direction where the vampire was. There was a strange, keening sound, echoing from the woods, like something inhuman crying out in pain. When they reached the road, they saw an overturned carriage in the middle of it. The horse in front of it was covered in blood and mud, and it was struggling to stand, keening in pain as it tried to put weight on its broken legs. Buffy felt nausea clawing in her throat as she watched the animal struggle. She looked at Spike, who nodded, understanding.
"Check the cart," he said.
She walked to the cart and crouched down beside it, peering inside. Behind her, she heard a loud crack, and the horse fell quiet.
"It's empty," she said, the words sticking her suddenly raw throat. "Let's look around."
They found the bodies of the people who'd been in the cart stashed in the bushes like discarded fast food wrappers. There were two of them, a man and a woman. The man's face was frozen in an expression of surprise, and there was a dark stain in front of his grey suit, the material of his clothes slashed open to gut him. Buffy swallowed compulsively to keep down the bile that threatened to rise when she saw the soft coils of intestines peeking through the gash in his shirt. The woman's expression was that of terror, and her throat had been torn open, but there wasn't nearly as much blood on her clothes as on those of the man. He must have tried to fight the vampire and had been killed during the struggle, leaving the woman at the mercy of the demon. She shuddered and looked away.
Spike was still staring at the bodies, his brow knitted into a frown.
"That's Mister Weatherby," he said finally, his voice confused. "He was my mum's lawyer. I remember he always used to have sweets in his pocket." He looked up, staring into the distance. "He lived in London, so he must have been visiting us."
Buffy gently touched his arm. "Why didn't you tell me that you used to live here?"
"Didn't. Father owned property here, but we only visited it during summers." He sat down on the ground next to the bodies. "Mother sold the place after his death." He looked up, staring at the darkness down the road. "The vampire's heading towards our house."
Buffy wrapped her arms around her midsection. It was getting colder, and the wind was carrying the first signs of rain.
"What do you think would happen if the vampire killed you? I mean, the old you." She tried to remember what Andrew had said about changing the future before they had left - something about not stepping on butterflies or dinosaurs. She suddenly remembered the bug that had ran across Spike's hand. She hadn't stepped on that, had she?
"Were they supposed to die? The Weatherbys?"
Spike just shrugged. "I dunno."
"Don't you remember?"
"It wasn't... wasn't something people like us talked about." He gingerly crouched down in front of the bodies and started to unbutton the man's coat "C'mon. If we change our clothes, we won't look so conspicuous."
"Hey, what're you-" Buffy grabbed his arm to stop him. "You can't do that, it's wrong."
He shrugged himself out of her grip, almost falling over as he did. "They're already dead. They won't care."
"They're still people! We can't just take their clothes!"
Spike gave her a stony glare and continued to unclothe the man.
"Look, we're still not sure if that even really is your mother and not the First or something like it."
Spike's hands went still, and he was quiet for a moment before finally looking up at her.
"Please," he said. "I can't let it kill her."
There was a look in his eyes that almost seemed like fear, and it shook her to her core.
"Okay," she whispered, and sat down next to him.
They carefully stripped the bodies, choosing those items of clothing that had least blood on them. The flesh of the bodies still felt warm, but still colder than Spike's skin when her hand brushed against his. She helped him dress first, putting the the Victorian clothes on top of his own ones, and then his duster on top of them.
When he was done, she stripped off her sweater and slipped into the dress she'd taken off the woman. Spike helped her put it on, wordlessly adjusting the corset and ruffling the petticoats until they fell into place.
Finally he took a step back and gave her an appraising look. Buffy wanted to say something, to joke about whether or not she passed the inspection, but she could still feel the wetness of the woman's blood on her throat. As if reading her mind, Spike took a step forward and tore off the bloody lace from her neck.
"Lets go," he said, his voice tight.
She nodded, and took his hand, but then turned back. She took the sweater she'd cast on the ground and covered the dead woman with it. Spike gave her a nod, but didn't say anything, only squeezed her hand.
"Now we can go," she said.
Thanks to Rahirah for the beta.
The wind was picking up again, blowing the rain almost horizontally, the ice-cold drops stinging her face like needles. As they made their way through the woods, Buffy found herself wishing she'd she had held on to her sweater. She kept tripping over her feet, the wet petticoats tangling around her legs on every step, and the torn bodice of the dress offered very little protection against the weather.
Spike wasn't faring much better. His clothes may have been more practical, but he was still having difficulties making his way through the rough terrain, his breath coming in short pants as he struggled forwards.
They stopped for a few minutes when they reached the road leading to the house. Spike took the opportunity to rest against the trunk of a tree while Buffy hid their swords in the shrubbery. They kept their make-shift stakes, though, just in case the vampire had beaten them to the house. Spike slipped his into the pocket of his duster while Buffy stripped a piece off one of the petticoats and used it to hide hers in the folds of her dress.
The well-maintained road to the house was a welcome change from the woods, but the closer they got to the house, the more skittish Spike became. Buffy couldn't blame him. She tried to imagine what it would be like seeing her own mother again, the mere thought of it making her throat burn. When they reached the front gate, she wiped her face with the back of her hand, blinking away the tears.
"Buffy? You okay?"
When she looked up, she saw that Spike was watching her with a concerned look on his face. She gave him a small smile. "Yeah. Just thinking about my mom."
He nodded, understanding, and wrapped his arm around her. She snuggled into his embrace for a moment, and then slipped her own arm around him to give him support as they stumbled the last few yards to the front doors of the house.
"Let me do the talking," Spike said, and knocked on the door.
A moment later, the door opened to reveal a young girl. She couldn't have been more than fifteen years old, her clothes - some kind of a maid's outfit, as far as Buffy could tell - slightly too big for her thin frame. She gave them a wide-eyed stare, her gaze flitting from Buffy to Spike, taking in their torn and bloodied attire.
Spike gave her a reassuring smile, or at least attempted one. "I apologise for disturbing you at this late hour, but could we speak to the lady of the house?" His voice was softer, more refined, his accent reminding her of Giles.
"I shall inform her that there are guests at the door," the girl said, her voice trembling, and then closed the door on them.
Alone again, Spike leaned his weight on Buffy. "She was a good woman, Joyce was," he said, continuing their earlier discussion. "Don't know if you ever even knew, but I used to drop by to see her every now and then, before she got sickly and you moved back in. She always had a time for a cuppa and a little chat."
Buffy didn't have a chance to reply when the door opened again.
The girl was back, but she wasn't alone. There was another woman with her, and from the way that Spike suddenly tensed, Buffy guessed that she must be his mother.
Spike's mother looked barely older than Buffy herself. Her dark blond hair had been gathered in a tight bun, the first few grey hairs already streaking her temple, and she was wearing a dark grey dress with a strange black armband on her arm above her right elbow.
Spike straightened his back and gave her a polite nod.
"I'm William Summers and this is my wife, El-"
"Anne," Buffy injected, still staring at Spike's mother.
"It's short for Annabelle," Spike added hastily and then leaned to the doorframe. "I apologise for being this frank, but I'm afraid I must beg for your kindness. My wife and I were travelling to London when our carriage was assaulted by a vicious gang of thugs. They killed our driver, and we ourselves were only barely able to escape with our lives."
When his mother looked hesitant, he continued, his voice taking a pleading tone that she didn't think she'd heard him use since the time he'd been insane. "Please, I beg of you. My wife is most distressed, and I myself am wounded. Your kindness is our only hope. I only ask you to show us the sort of kindness Our Lord Jesus spoke of in the story he told of the man on the road to Jericho who was rescued by the good Samaritan."
Spike's mother was quiet for a few more seconds and then nodded. "Yes, yes of course. Please do come in. There is no value in properness at a moment of need. I shall ask the girl to fetch some water and bandages."
As they followed the woman inside, Buffy leaned closer to Spike. "Why did you do that?"
Buffy whispered. "Why'd you tell her my name was Annabelle?"
There was a pile of small cards on a side table next to the door, and when Mrs. Pratt wasn't looking, Spike took one and pressed it in Buffy's palm. There was a picture of a flower basket on the card, with the name 'Anne Pratt' printed among the roses.
"Oh. So if I'm Anne and you're William, and she's Anne and he's William..."
"It's bloody weird, that's what it is."
Mrs. Pratt led them to the parlour, and then excused herself to go help the servant girl. Buffy slipped the duster off Spike's shoulders and helped him sit down in one of the chairs.
"What name were you going to give me?" she asked.
"Elizabeth." When she gave him a confused look, he continued. "As in, Buffy being short for Elizabeth?"
"It is? Huh. Cool." She looked at the card that she was still holding. "Anne is my middle name. Buffy Anne Summers."
"That's just a coincidence," Spike whispered, suddenly agitated again. "And if Dru's real name happened to be Anne too, that doesn't mean anything either. It's not that I even knew it was your name, or Dru's name until afterwards, so you can't say that-"
Buffy covered his mouth with her hand to shut him up.
"What the hell are you talking about?" she whispered. Spike gave her an alarmed look, and Buffy turned around to see his mother standing in the doorway. Her hand dropped from Spike's mouth.
"We were, uh, we were just-"
"She's American," Spike said, and to Buffy's annoyance, Mrs. Pratt seemed to accept this as a valid explanation for everything.
It was only then that Buffy noticed the small boy standing behind the woman, and even when she did, it took her a few seconds to make the connection. She let out a gasp of breath, the reality of their situation finally hitting her. Spike - the young, human Spike - was watching her curiously, clutching a white wooden toy horse. When he realised that Buffy was looking at him, he ducked behind his mother's dress, to hide from her, before running away and disappearing into the corridor.
The servant girl appeared into the doorway, holding a few towels and a tin pail with wisps of steam rising from it. She set it down on the floor in front of Spike, and then hesitantly looked from her mistress to Buffy.
"Thank you," Buffy said, and took the pail of water from her hands. She knelt down in front of Spike. She could feel the gazes of the women on her as she dipped one towels in the hot water and began to carefully wash the blood and grime off Spike's face and hands.
When she looked up, she saw that the servant girl had left, but Spike's mother was still standing in the same place. The woman looked like she was torn between leaving to give them privacy and staying to make sure they weren't going to steal anything. Buffy tried to give her a reassuring smile.
"Could you give me the bandages, please," she said, when she was finished washing Spike's wounds.
That seemed to wake Spike's mother from her stupor. She handed Buffy the wad of cloth the girl had brought.
"Have you been married for long?" she asked.
The first image that came to Buffy's mind was the night when they'd teamed up together for the first time to fight Angelus. In a way, they had been married ever since, their lives entwined long before they'd even realised it themselves.
"Eight years," she said, and when she looked Spike in the eye, she could tell he'd figured out her math.
"Eight years?" Spike's mother sounded suspicious, and Buffy swore under her breath. She'd known Spike for so many years, seen him change so much, that sometimes she forgot that to other people he still looked the age he'd been when he'd met Drusilla.
"I am indeed younger than my dear wife," Spike said. There was a strain in his voice, but she couldn't tell if it was from the pain, or from simply having to be in the company of his mother. "We met while I was touring the old colonies as a young student. My dearest Annabelle had been recently left by her first husband. He was an Irish lout, an absolute brute, if you will pardon my language. In hindsight, my darling wife should have been able tell he was no good by the shape of his skull alone. Enormous forehead, and a brow that truly proves those recent theories of Professor Darwin."
From the way that Mrs. Pratt's eyes widened in reaction to Spike's words, Buffy could tell that he'd said something that he really shouldn't have said. She was about to nudge him to warn him not to do or say anything stupid, but then froze when she met his eyes. His gaze was glassy and unfocused, and there was a sheen of sweat on his forehead. When she reached to touch his face, his flesh felt even hotter than it had in the woods. She could feel tendrils of panic coiling at the pit of her stomach again.
Mrs. Pratt appeared to have noticed that something was wrong. "Does he need a doctor? We don't have a carriage, but my solicitor and his wife are supposed to arrive today from London. He could take you to the town when as soon as the storm calms down."
Buffy shook her head, trying not to think of the mutilated bodies in the woods. "No, he just needs to rest."
"There is a guest room you can use. I had it prepared for the Weatherbys, but I'm sure they will understand when they arrive."
Buffy forced a smile onto her face, desperately trying not to think of the dead bodies in the woods. "Thank you," she said. She slipped her arm around Spike, and helped him to his feet. Mrs. Pratt watched them for a moment, and then, seemingly making her mind, walked to the other side, and hesitantly took a place on Spike's other side, supporting him.
Once upstairs, Mrs. Pratt left them to fetch something to eat, while Buffy helped Spike take off his shoes and lie back on the bed.
There was the sound of footsteps outside, and when Buffy looked up, she saw little William appeared in the doorway. He quickly glanced into the room, and then ran away, clutching his toy horse. A moment later he ran back to the other direction, then raced past the doorway again, this time holding a book. He repeated it several times, each time holding another book.
The next time the boy appeared in the doorway, again holding a book, Spike raised himself to his elbows.
"Hey!" he called out. William froze at the sound of his voice and dropped the book, covering his eyes with his hands before running away. A moment later he reappeared, grabbed the book from the floor, and ran away again.
Spike settled back on the bed and pushed the heels of his hands to his eye sockets. "Do me a favour, love, and see where boy wonder there is heading and take the book away from him."
"Why?" Buffy asked, glancing quickly towards the door before leaning over to whisper to Spike's ear. "Is it a magic book?"
Spike raised his hands from his eyes long enough to give Buffy a disbelieving look.
"No," he said, and covered his eyes again. "Just that it looks like Little Lord Fauntleroy there is planning to use a bleeding first edition copy of Christmas Carol to build a fort."