Ten Time enough to find a world
All are architects of Fate,
Working in these walls of Time.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Builders.
One day with life and heart
Is more than time enough to find a world.
James Russell Lowell, Columbus.
Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonourable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Julius Cæsar. Act i. Sc. 2
The illimitable, silent, never-resting thing called Time,
rolling, rushing on, swift, silent, like an all-embracing ocean-tide,
on which we and all the universe swim like exhalations,
like apparitions which are, and then are not....
He was halfway to Rupert's flat when he realized it.
Sticking his hand out into a shaft of direct sunlight, Spike stared at the glaringly white pallor of his skin. He started counting, running the numbers off in his head. The instant he hit five hundred, he knew something fundamental had changed, he just wasn't entirely certain what.
At six hundred and fifty, his skin started smoldering.
He snatched his hand back into the shadows, staring at the reddened flesh, his thoughts careening from one idea to another. Pacing back and forth in the shade of one of Sunnydale's taller buildings, Spike realized his instinct to head to Rupert's was looking better and better in light of his most recent discovery.
Breaking into a rapid pace, almost running, Spike dodged recklessly in and out of shadows, using his new found invulnerability. Could get used to this. . .
They'd sent the two youngest up to Annie's room, with admonishments to keep the noise to a minimum because William was sleeping in the next room. Ciara went out with the boys, another armful of weapons in her grasp. Neither of the women spoke until Buffy moved to the cabinet, automatically getting out the makings for real hot chocolate. Guess this really is a tradition in this house . . . Not much else you can do when you don't have any answers.
Her attention finally snagged, the shorter blond turned to look at her companion, waiting for her to continue.
"Yeah. I'm no longer so mad I can't see straight." She huffed out a breath. "And hey, my children are almost all safe. So that's a plus."
"No, that's not what I mean." Tara shook her head, pointing to the basement door. "Look."
The calendar she'd long ago taken to hanging on the door was there, which wasn't at all unusual. What were unusual were the notations on the calendar. Buffy looked closer, then shared a look with Tara. Reluctant footsteps brought her closer, and Buffy's eyes grew wide, filling with tears as she moved closer and closer. "Tara?"
"Do you remember?"
Eyes wild, almost golden with disbelief, Buffy turned to face the older woman. Her voice was a strangled whisper. "I do."
The low murmur of the teenagers receded, almost disappearing as her ears were filled with the sights and sounds of a cold, crisp night in late December, more than sixteen years ago. Dawn, huddled over the dead body of her boyfriend, screaming and crying her grief out to the heavens, while Buffy held her away from the blood and gore. Wesley, pacing behind them, his voice concerned and worried - and Spike. Fighting with Angel. Buffy closed her eyes against the threatening tears and replayed the moment over and over in her head. . .
And realized exactly the moment those memories had changed and what had changed them.
Her daughter had somehow managed to bend time and change the past.
Rupert was listening with half an ear; his mind more on the journals laid out in front of him. The instant Spike had started speaking, he'd headed directly for his private journals, hoping to find some mention of the phenomenon Spike was describing. Spike's voice was a rumbling counterpoint to the silent words on the page, when he realized that voice had stopped speaking.
He looked up to see the vampire standing at the window, his attention snagged by something only he could see. Giles watched him for long moments, idly noting to himself that he hadn't seen him this quiet in a long while. The lack of movement was beginning to concern him. "Spike?"
"Fuckin' hell, Rupes." Spike turned away from the window, turning haunted eyes on the former Watcher. "She did it."
"What's that?" Now he was truly concerned, because of the almost resigned look on the other Englishman's face.
"Kirsten. ‘M daughter did the damn near impossible. Somehow figured out how to change things an' she saved Dawn."
The glasses came off, handkerchief polishing as Rupert peered at him myopically. "Say that again?"
"Christ, Watcher, ‘m not sure I can suss out the whole thing in m' head." He huffed out an unnecessary breath, and for the first time since he'd entered the house, Giles caught the fine tremor of Spike's hands. Whatever had happened had him rattled, far more than he'd ever been. "Seems ‘ve got some interesting progeny."
A dry laugh escaped from Rupert's mouth. "Yes, well, I'm certain of that." He replaced his glasses. "Now tell me what's going on."
"Near as I can figure it, Kirsten somehow managed to travel back to the night Dawnie died." At a look of complete confusion on the other man's face, Spike held up his hand, "Jus' hear me out."
When Giles nodded his agreement to remain silent while he recounted all his jumbled memories, Spike inhaled deeply then launched into the whole story. It took him long minutes, and Rupert spent most of it staring at the vampire, his jaw clamped tightly so that it didn't gape open in surprise. When he finally ran out of words, Spike slumped back against the wall, his hands fidgeting nervously with a priceless Sumerian dagger. He was obviously waiting for some reaction from Giles, and for the life of him, Rupert couldn't find the words to start.
"You do realize the tremendous risks the child took to save someone she'd never met." He glanced down, his eyes riveted upon a Christmas portrait, one taken when the teenagers were all babies, plopped haphazardly in front of a lit tree. Giles picked it up, showing it to the vampire. "Something truly dire must have threatened for her to take such risks."
"Her older sister died, ‘s what happened." In Spike's mind that was more than enough reason to traverse time and space. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do to keep those he loved safe. Even the old man standing in front of him and shaking his head in denial.
"No, Spike, I mean in her original time line."
Spike lost his temper. "Are you listenin' to me? ‘Ve been sayin' it. Dawn died. Kirsten must've found out."
Giles looked back at him, his own temper flaring. "And you're not listening to me." He peered at the agitated vampire, holding up a hand to silence another outburst. "Hear me out. Dawn died long before Kirsten was born, right?" At Spike's reluctant nod, he continued, "So then something else must have occurred to convince Kirsten that taking such an inordinate risk was worth it."
The logic behind Rupert's statements gave Spike pause and something further to think about. He paced through the living room, his heavy boots the only noise in the house. Casting his mind through the miasma of memories swirling in his head, all jumbled together with little sense of what was and then wasn't, Spike tried focusing on threads of events. Start with the beginning, mate. . .
It always came back to Dawn.
Her death had pulled apart what nothing else could have - his relationship with Buffy. Their bond hadn't faltered though, only been stretched nearly beyond all limits. Buffy hadn't ever stopped blaming him, unable to blame herself for not protecting their child, taking out all her anger and grief and hurt on him, laying it on his shoulders. He hadn't been much better, lashing back at her when the sharp edge of her tongue became too much for him to take, fighting back when she swung her fists instead of merely slinging harsh words.
They'd both been to blame for the mess their relationship had become.
Snippets of old memories flashed in his head, the twins and Connor crying in their cribs, reacting to the shouting and anger swirling through the house on Revello Drive. Spike stopped pacing, cocking his head to the side as more and more memories surfaced. They'd damaged their other children for want of Dawn. He huffed out an unnecessary breath, regret for his part swamping him. He'd wanted so much more for them.
He and Buffy had spent years fighting the claim - fighting each other - and to what end? Because neither could face nor forgive what happened that cold December night. Truth was; neither of them had been at fault. Neither he nor Buffy had put Dawn in harm's way. That had been Willow, in her misguided and dangerous attempt to oust Spike from Buffy's life. Nor had either of them been the ones to physically hurt Dawn; her blood was on Angel's already stained hands.
Kirsten and Robbie had spent the first five, almost six years of their lives without a father. Annie wouldn't have been born if Kirsten hadn't gotten sick. And little William . . .
Spike had been so tired of fighting his need for Buffy that he'd come home, hoping the sharp edges of her anger had finally been laid to rest, hoping for a reconciliation. They'd lasted almost a whole year until something trivial and stupid set them off. He'd barely been out of Sunnydale a week, when he'd had to turn right around and come back, because William was born only two weeks into Buffy's sixth month.
He scrubbed a hand over his face, hiding the sudden tears from Rupert. No wonder Kirsten went back.
Any risk had to be worth it.
Saving Dawn had saved them all.
Robbie was running the whetstone over the edges of his mother's favorite sword. He was ignoring the others around him, his thoughts focused on Kirsten and what was happening. They'd been outside for almost an hour, and nearly all the weapons were honed to a razor's edge, only the bigger ones were left to finish. He looked up, about to say something to Connor, when he realized his brother was no longer there.
Every muscle stilled, tensed with alert confusion. He scanned the backyard, checking out the shadows, hoping to find Connor lurking there. Nothing. Not a trace of him was left in the yard. Not even the weapons he'd been working on were in the spot he should have left them. Instead, there were more weapons in the unfinished pile. Robbie shook his head, trying to clear it.
Connor should be here. What the hell is happening now?
Jake's voice got his attention and Robbie nearly wigged when he registered the gist of his query. "Dude, is your older brother coming home soon? My dad said his latest job was over. Any news?"
He bit his tongue on the snarky retort, instead answering, "I'm not sure. Dad never said when he might be home."
"Oh. I was hoping maybe he'd show me those moves he made in that fight with the ‘Gnorak demon." Jake kept talking, unaware of how freaked Robbie was getting with each word. His heart started thundering in his ears and he could hear the rasp of each breath as it escaped his lungs. Everything receded, disappearing, even the sound of Jake's voice. Robbie looked up, trying to force sensation into his body, and before Jake or Ciara could react, he pitched forward, out cold. His head thunked hard on the wooden steps, alerting the others to his predicament.
Jake jumped to his feet while Ciara moved to lift Robbie's head from the steps."Shit! What the hell happened now?"
"Looks like Kirstie is heading back." His sister looked up at him with dark eyes. "I hope. You better go get his mom."
"Yeah. Right." Jake stared down at the slumped form of his best friend, wondering what else was going to go wrong.
"Right. I'm going."
He was gone before Ciara realized Robbie's head had started bleeding.
Kirsten followed behind Spike as he boldly walked them past the emergency room security guard, a backpack full of baby supplies slung over her shoulders. Connor had been fussing, whiny and fitful since he'd woken up from his afternoon nap, enough so Kirsten had seriously thought of heading out for the hospital on her own. She'd been shoving necessities into the backpack when Spike burst through the door, bellowing her name.
Ten minutes later they were on their way back to the hospital, Connor strapped into his car seat and Spike anxious to be gone.
So now here she was, walking into the room containing her mother and sister. Kirsten shook off the eeriness, forcing away the total weirdness. Dawn was safe now; as safe as possible, anyway. She knew it, could sense it. Two sets of memories walked side by side through her mind, and Kirsten fought the impulse to tell them everything she knew. Although doing that might be much worse than what she'd already done, and she knew her father wouldn't want that.
It was time. Time to go back - well, forward. She sighed at herself. Return to where she belonged. She knew the spell blocking their memories was about to be broken and they too would be returning to what should be.
Her eyes swept the small examining room, noting the twitching figure on the gurney, Dawn's dark hair hanging down off the side. Buffy – no, Mom – was facing the door, her eyes flickering between fear and amusement as she shifted her gaze between Dawn and Spike. Lines of fatigue bracketed her mouth and Kirsten found herself comparing her with the Mom she'd left behind. . .
And then there was Spike. Her Daddy.
What had happened to the cynical, almost broken man who'd finally come home?
Kirsten sighed, drawing their attention. Physically they looked pretty much the same, but she knew the intervening fifteen or so years had wrought an emotional toll on them, ravaging them both.
She realized, at that precise moment, staring at them both, while Connor gurgled happily in his bouncy chair, that the decision she and the other two had made had been the right one. Their intentions had been pure – almost completely selfless – and in saving Dawn, they'd saved all of them.
A crooked smile so like her mother's crossed her features, and both blondes recognized it. Surprising everyone, including herself, Kirsten burst into tears.
Buffy was the first to reach her, her arms encircling her, and for the first heart-stopping moment since she'd walked through time, Kirsten touched her mother.
"Hey, it's okay." Wiping away the tears, Buffy glanced down into the teen's eyes. Understanding came on reluctant feet and try as she might to fight it, Buffy couldn't play denial girl. "Time to go, huh?"
Kirsten slowly nodded her head, unwilling to meet either of their eyes.
Spike had moved closer, standing just behind Buffy, his eyes watching both of them intently. His expression darkened as he watched two of his girls, and he found himself memorizing Kirsten's features, imprinting them in his head.
It was done. Now it was time to let her go back, and Spike found himself fighting the urge to beg her to stay, knowing how very impossible that urge was. Buffy pulled back a little, her eyes scanning Kirsten's face as Spike's arm stole around her waist, his left-hand curving over the lines of Buffy's still flat belly. Her right hand linked with his and her left brushed the hair back from Kirsten's face. It was a gesture she used often with Dawn and Buffy's eyes filled with tears again.
"Yeah. I have . . . I need to go back." Her voice hitched and broke more than once, like some weird vocal roller coaster, and Kirsten tried hard to keep from crying again. She shook her head once, fighting the tears and stepped back away from their embrace. "I know it's like, really uncool to say it . . . " Kirsten made a funny face, scrunching up her nose, and continued, "But, I just. . . . I love you."
Buffy reached for her again, but Kirsten shook her head and stepped further away. "I gotta go."
With a last look into both their eyes, Kirsten headed for the door. It was only Spike's voice that stopped her. "How're you getting back to where you're supposed to be?"
She paused with her hand on the doorknob, looking at them over her shoulder. "Same way I got here, I just kinda . . . close my eyes and make it happen."
"Jus' close your eyes? What in fuckin' hell . . . What the bloody hell do you mean, just close your eyes?" His agitation, which had been hovering at dangerous levels for hours now, rose again, and only Buffy's hand on his arm held him back.
"Look, I don't really know how to explain it. Pop does a better job than I do, but then, he's good at this kind of stuff. All I know is I can make time . . . I can sorta make time kinda fold in on itself." She shrugged, then relented at the looks on their faces. "I don't know exactly how I can do it. It's like Dawn's ability to open dimensional walls and Connor's freaky super strength, and - " She paused, thinking better of letting slip anything else. "So, yeah, it's like that. Super side benefits of being hybrids."
"If you can do that, princess, why is it you need to leave this room?" Spike was suspicious, and there was a lot of this he was taking on faith that someday he'd understand it all, but he wasn't exactly thrilled with everything that was happening.
"I don't. Not really. I'm just kinda . . . "
"Used to sneaking around?" Once she thought about it, that scenario made so much more sense than any other, and Buffy just had to say it.
Looking for all the world like the busted teen that she was, Kirsten just gaped at her parents. "Um, yeah, I guess."
Buffy and Spike shared a look Kirsten didn't want to understand, but she thought maybe she did, and when Buffy spoke, she was sure of it. "Did you think we wouldn't figure it out? I used to sneak out of my house all the time, trying to hide what I was doing from Mom. Even after she knew, I still climbed out the window some nights."
There wasn't anything Kirsten could say to either of them, and she had the sinking feeling she and her siblings were never going to be able to get away with much. A deep sigh emerged from her and Kirsten didn't meet their eyes. "I really have to go."
Neither one of them spoke, waiting for Kirsten's next move. She stepped forward to hug them one more time and smiled nervously when Spike whispered, "I'll see you after, bit."
Hiding the frisson of fear creeping down her back, she stood away from them, and ducked her head, unwilling to meet his intense gaze. "Okay, Daddy."
She closed her eyes, concentrated on her own heartbeat, ignoring the sounds from the others in the room with her. Time slowed as her heartbeat did and Kirsten concentrated on the last thing she'd seen in her time line. . . and her connection with Robbie. Focusing heavily on that, Kirsten felt the edges of her consciousness alter; thinning, stretching out endlessly, and she took a step forward. While Buffy and Spike looked on, she disappeared.
Her last thought as darkness closed around her was - I've just got one more thing to do before I go home.