The next few weeks were a blur of activity as Buffy and the gang came up with a way to channel their powers together and defeat the Frankenstein monster from hell that defied being destroyed in a conventional way. Spike had sold them all out, the jerk! He had sided with Adam after all they had done for him after the Initiative had chipped him!
Still they had prevailed. Adam was now a pile of tissue and junk metal on the floor of the now defunct government lab. Spike slithered back to the crypt he had moved into after Giles had finally gotten rid of him and it was time for a Scooby celebration.
Buffy’s mom had gone to bed, not having the adrenaline high that the others had. In fact, the details of the ordeal her baby had just been through had been skimmed over out of concern for her natural motherly worry instincts. Even Giles was planning to join in the movie and popcorn fiesta of successful demony slayage.
The first dream had come to Willow. The others noticed her nod off and weren’t too worried as she began to mutter and twitch. After all they had just gone through, Willow more than earned any nightmare she might be having.
Xander crashed next and his sleep pattern seemed much like Willow’s. He muttered something crazy about being a comfortadore, whatever that might be. Maybe Xan was dreaming of being a bullfighter?
The film they had been watching, Apocalypse Now, was enough to cause more than one nightmare on its own. Buffy had to laugh at the apt choice it had been. Once more they had averted doom of the apocalyptic kind and lived to joke about it.
Giles was the next to be embraced by Morpheus. Buffy began to get a bit wigged as her normally stoic Watcher writhed in the obvious throes of a nightmare of his own. When Giles began to sing unintelligible words to a power ballad, Buffy began to genuinely worry about the whole group, only to find herself sinking into the sleep of the exhausted.
Eventually, Buffy awoke, having put the First Slayer firmly in her place. They all nervously discussed the odd dreams they had experienced, not daring to reveal everything they remembered.
When everyone left, Buffy remembered the words of dream Tara, "You think you know what’s to come…what you are. You haven’t even begun." Buffy felt chills as those words rang in her mind. "What’s to come." That crazy old lady had told her about defeating Adam, Spike’s betrayal, the dreams, and then hinted that she knew what was to come in Buffy’s life…that it wasn’t what Buffy thought would happen at all. "Maybe," Buffy thought, "I should hear the rest of her story after all."
The next morning heralded a bright, sunny day almost devoid of clouds of any kind. The kind of day to keep most of the demon population, even those with sun tolerance, at bay. Mischief and evil were things for the dark. Speaking of evil things, Buffy decided to drop by Spike’s crypt and have a nice game of wack-the-vamp for his helping Adam the way he had. They had been damned good to the evil bloodsucker and he had nearly destroyed them.
She kicked in the door of the crypt, managing to allow a stray sunbeam to hit the prone vampire before he yelped and slid off the sarcophagus to shelter from the daylight. "Bloody hell, Slayer. This is the middle of the night for us vamps! You nearly turned me into a soddin’ torch. Have a care when you decide to come for an unannounced visit with the undead."
"I don’t much care if you fry, bake or grill, Spike. You nearly got us killed by that freak. You want the chip out so bad, fine. I’ll pull it out of your skull for you. Of course, then I’ll have to stake your ass too, but I’m thinking that won’t be any big loss either." Buffy was furious, far more than she understood why. If she thought about it, there was no reason to be feeling the betrayal she was feeling from Spike’s actions. After all, they weren’t friends.
Spike barely hid the hurt look that flashed across his face at her obvious desire to see the end of him. He was puzzled by the emotions her clear loathing brought up within him. This was the Slayer. He hated her and she hated him. He would have killed her if they hadn’t shoved that bleedin’ chip in his head. So why did it hurt so much that she still hated him? Why did he secretly wish she had come by for a friendly chat or to ask his help in some demon fight?
"Don’t see why you’ve got your knickers in a twist, luv. Helped fight off the bad guys in the end, didn’t I? Did a right good job of keepin’ the whole Scooby crew safe as houses while they did that mojo you used to beat tall, pieced together and ugly." Spike could see her anger had not abated one bit. "I can see you’re not here to thank me for my timely help, so I’ll ask you to leave my home and come back at a civilized hour and in a civilized way."
"Like you’d know civilized," Buffy spat. "I want to know why I should leave here without dusting your worthless hide? We helped you, took you in, fed you and protected you. The first thing you do when you move out on your own is to turn on us. Why, Spike? Are you really just that worthless?"
Spike felt stung at her words. He liked to feel he had some sense of honor, in a vampiry kind of way at least. "Yeah, helped me," he snarked. "Tied me up, chained me up, teased me, insulted me. Right great examples of do-gooders you lot are! Not a kind word from any of you for the starvin’, confused vamp. I coulda just grabbed a minion to kill all the nice, warm walking blood bags for me, but nooooo, I head to you, figurin’ you’d help a poor chipped vamp out. Show me what to do. Stop the bad guys. At least just stake me. Instead I got to be the personal vamp-shaped verbal punching bag for the lot of you. Try out all those snappy little quips of yours, hone that razor tongue. Whelp finally had a way to lord it over a big bad. Not like I could expect to learn civilized from you lot."
Spike was half-sure Buffy was going to dust him anyway and he wanted to go down making sure he put a dent in her smug, self-satisfied opinion of herself. "I’m a soulless, evil vampire. What’s your excuse?"
Suddenly Buffy’s eyes grew large and shone with fear. She heard the old woman’s voice speaking of a man and a struggle to become something good. She couldn’t mean Spike, could she? Buffy was more determined to find the old lady again than ever. "I have to go. Just… just…don’t go against us again, Spike. That’s not how you win friends." She turned and walked briskly out of the crypt, leaving behind a bewildered vampire.
"What the hell just happened here?" Spike had a feeling that it was something monumental but completely mysterious.
Buffy hadn’t been gone long before there was a slight, timid rap on the crypt door. "Now who the hell is it?!" The only person Spike could even remotely envision knocking on his door was the cute, shy blonde bird that nested with the witch. Of course, what she’d be doing there was beyond anything Spike could grasp. Just to be on the safe side, Spike made sure he was in a position to protect his unlife from whoever was on the other side of the door before shouting out, "Well, come in then."
The door opened slowly, carefully and Spike was startled to see an elderly woman enter, a look of near rapture on her face. "Sorry, love, wrong crypt. You here to visit any old friends, they’ve moved on. New tenant here."
Spike caught a whiff of a scent that could not be right. He narrowed his eyes and stared at the silent woman who now had tears pooling in her eyes and a look that somehow combined bliss and torment at the same time.
"Spike…I know I shouldn’t have come here. I had to, don’t you see. I had to see you again. Had to see if your eyes were as blue as I remembered, your face as dear. I had to see the proud tilt of your head, the curls that just won’t stay tamed. I may not have sense enough to listen to myself and I couldn’t die without seeing you. Telling you that you were wrong. I meant it, more than I’ve ever meant anything. I love you still." The woman looked near collapse, as if that odd speech had taken the last of her strength.
"Here now, missus, have a care. You look like you’d better sit a bit before you fall over and belong here." Spike was wary and more than a little unnerved. He knew the Slayer had family. He’d met the mum when they had their truce a couple of years before. But this woman smelled of the Slayer. No, she smelled JUST like the Slayer…the current Slayer…Buffy. It made no sense. The smell was the smallest puzzle piece; her words completely flummoxed Spike.
"Don’t know who you are, but you must have been in the sun too long and gone all barmy." He fought the urge to go to the elder woman’s aid, half in fear of her and the unknown she represented.
The woman smiled fondly and even gave a little laugh. "You know who I am, Spike. You’ve always known who I am. You may not believe what you see and hear, but you know me. I don’t have long, my love, and have to try with that stubborn idiot I was…but I had to see you one more time. If you believe nothing else, remember nothing else…remember that I mean it when I say I love you. I will always love you."
"Okay. This is getting a bit too strange for me and I’ve seen a world of strange. You can’t be who you seem to be and if you are, you sure as hell don’t love me." Spike was circling the sarcophagus as the old woman became mobile again and approached him. For some reason he was more terrified of this slight, frail human than he could ever remember being and he wanted to have plenty of space between them.
"I know this isn’t fair. Not now, not at this time in your journey. I should have avoided the temptation. I promised myself I’d just look, drink you in from a distance. Then to just hear your voice again…that would be enough, I convinced myself. There was never enough when it came to you though, Spike. I could never get sated, you know. You were both too much and never enough. Oh, it wasn’t your fault. It was mine. If I had only let down the walls and let you in like you deserved, like you wanted…." The woman sighed with a depth of sadness Spike had never heard in all his long years of existence. "You would have been more than enough if I had let you in. Now, it’s just an unending hunger. I’ve paid for my foolishness… paid dearly, my love.
She stopped her movement toward the rattled vampire as if she knew how spooked he was by her words, her scent. "For all eternity I will love you, my Spike, my William. Never forget that I believe in you. You are a good man, a worthy man, a hero who was never beneath me." The woman began to cry at that and Spike couldn’t stop himself from going to her, trying to comfort this strange woman who claimed to feel things for him that he had always craved and never had.
He slid his arms around her slim body and patted her gently. "Don’t cry, pet. I don’t understand a bit of this, but don’t cry. Never could stand the tears, even though Angelus tried to teach me it was better with them. For what it’s worth, your words were nice to hear, Never heard the like…well, me mum loved me, but never heard anyone say what you have. Can tell you mean it too, love.
Don’t cry, darlin’." Spike could tell from this closeness that his nose had not deceived him. Somehow this old woman now sobbing in his arms was the same Slayer that had just left his crypt after coming to threaten him. He had no idea how it could be true, only that it was.
The woman pulled away with surprising strength and straightened up, rubbing at the tears on her cheeks. "Well, I sure know how to wait ‘til I look my best before I pour out my heart to a guy, don’t I?" She laughed and it sounded bitter. "I have to use the rest of my strength on her, me. Don’t forget me, Spike. I’m trying to make it better, make it right." With that, the woman turned and left the vampire standing in shock.
Somehow the same woman had managed to stun him into silence twice in a matter of minutes. The same woman yet totally different in every respect. Spike wasn’t sure if he were still asleep dreaming. He pinched himself and began to curse loudly as the pain proved his wakeful state without doubt. ‘What the bloody hell is going on?’ he wondered for the second time in the same hour.
"Think this calls for a visit with my good friend Jack," he decided and reached for the bottle of Tennessee’s finest with a trembling hand.
Buffy looked all over the campus where the old woman had been weeks earlier. She started to panic a bit when she remembered the woman’s warning that she wasn’t sure how long she had to pass on her message. Maybe she was one of those gypsies like Jenny Calendar had been. Didn’t they always tell you your future? The woman didn’t look like any gypsy Buffy had ever imagined though. Whatever this old woman was, Buffy felt a kinship with her that she could not explain and didn’t want to examine too closely.
Finally the adrenaline that had been fueling Buffy through the meandering trek from her house to Spike’s crypt and now the University campus wore off and Buffy felt the urgent need to sit or fall. She moved to the bench where the woman had started her strange tale weeks ago and sat in the sun, eyes closed.
"Ah, you’ve decided to hear the rest, have you?" Buffy opened her eyes to find herself looking at the wrinkled face of the old woman peering down at her. The woman looked as though she had been crying. She looked even more old and tired than she had the last time Buffy had seen her.
"You tell a good story. I guess I kinda want to see how it all ends," Buffy ventured.
"Interesting choice of words. Well, so you shall. At least how my story ends; how yours does is entirely up to you." The woman took a seat next to Buffy and prepared to continue her story.
THE OLD LADY’S TALE part 2
"Now, where did I leave off? I’m becoming quite the cliché lately with the failing memory and emotional starts." She smiled at Buffy with genuine fondness for a moment. "Ah, yes, recriminations! Now I remember. Why don’t I skip ahead a bit, yes?"
At Buffy’s nod, the lady took a deep breath and Buffy noticed her eyes go out of focus as if she were seeing not the current surroundings but some distant, unknown world that Buffy couldn’t hope to see.
"Yes…there he was. Her gift, you see. Her gift was death they said. She didn’t understand for a long while that HE was that gift, his love. All she had to do was love, forgive, give and it would have all been hers. Everything the girl longed for, dreamed of. She was foolish, as I said.
He died for her, you know. No, of course you don’t know. Soon, dear, you’ll see the possibility. He’ll let himself be tortured for you all too soon. He’ll hate himself for not dying in your place night after night…."
The woman saw the look of shock on Buffy’s face at the talk of her death and quickly changed tactics.
"That’s of no matter now. It should have told the girl much about his character though. She did see it, just denied it to herself and others. He got his soul for her, fought for it by choice. No Gypsy curse for him! Even then the girl held him at arm’s length, deep in denial of how she felt. How she had felt all that year before really. She kept telling herself that once they won this latest apocalypse, then she’d tell him…then she’d let him in. Always tomorrow with her. Finally there were no more tomorrows and he was dust. The world was safe once again, thanks to his willing sacrifice, but he was gone.
He gave her the life she claimed she needed, wanted…a last gift of love. Funny thing was that once she had that life it was as much ash as he now was. Her friends never fully understood the depth of her grief. She probably didn’t either at the time. It was as if a part of herself, the best part, had burned in the Hellmouth with him. She had the freedom she craved but no joy. The friends she had denied him for scattered, as friends will always do. They each had their own lives, their own loves, their own griefs. The very thing she had feared would happen if she let herself love him happened anyway: she was alone. That was a bitter lesson.
She paid them back with wild behavior that frightened them. Took up with a real soulless demon, one with no love in him, only vanity and avarice. Life was one party after another where she could laugh and dance and perform and feel nothing. They finally decided there was something wrong with her, never understanding it was grief. They could never seem to believe that she really loved the good man. Could never see him as a good man…or as a man at all.
After a couple of years, her first love found her. He was human. Rewarded for his years of toil in the service of the Powers. Human, with a clean slate and every intention of eating those promised cookies."
Buffy nearly crossed her eyes in confusion at that statement.
"Yes, I know, stupid analogy. But you did try, dear, however misguided."
"You keep saying ‘you’, am I the girl in the story?" Buffy dared to ask.
"Let’s just continue this tale, why don’t we? I think you are asking questions that you already know the answers to. You were never as slow as they tried to make you think. Just look at how well I speak now! You have a fine mind, Buffy, don’t waste it.
Now, where was I? Oh yes, the return of the once and future love! He came, flowers in hand, and charmed her with his newly beating heart and soft words of adoration. She let herself believe that she was finally going to be happy. She was going to have the life she had dreamed of since she was a lass of sixteen. Finally the empty hole in her heart, her soul would be filled.
Funny how reality and fantasy are rarely the same. He was a good man, just not the man she thought he was. He hadn’t changed; she just saw him clearly for the first time. Of course this didn’t happen until they had been married for a little over a year. The nagging discontent had been there from the start, but she had ignored it.
She discovered some half-truths told long before. He had a son, for one thing. He had done some things that she just could not justify in the years they had been apart. She began to see that he was as he had always been. What was different was that she was actually seeing him now.
The final stone on the tomb of her marriage, her first love, came when she discovered the biggest lie of all. The lie she could never forgive."
Buffy felt herself holding her breath in fear of what horrible lie could have destroyed this forever love the woman had spoken of.
"The man--the one who had died for her, the one she had grieved for and still was grieving for--had come back. It had been a miracle. He had dusted there in the Hellmouth but had been returned. He returned to the very office of her first love. He had been a ghost for a while and her first love had tried every way to get rid of him. No one knew how it was that he was back.
The man who was like a father to this girl had been contacted and they decided that it was safer for the girl to not be told. Who knew the powers behind a resurrection like this and who knew what evil the man might do if he was allowed back in the girl’s life? They all agreed--her first love, her father figure and those same friends who had been the obstacle the first time. The same friends who had been out of her life for years were now suddenly making decisions for her again."
"Surely she went to him, her real love, as soon as she found out, right?" Buffy asked, very much caught up in the story.
"Sadly it was too late." The woman teared up again and choked back sobs.
"You see, this first love had managed to finish the job the girl’s disdain had started. The good man felt himself unworthy. He feared that the love she had proclaimed at last, as he was dying, had been a balm to a doomed man and not a real declaration of love. The first love made certain that doubt and remembrances of his previous evil deeds were a constant reminder of why the good man should stay away from the girl.
The father figure even arranged for the good man, in the company of her first love, to catch a glimpse of her dancing as if she had not a care in the world. They made sure the good man felt certain that his beloved did not and had never loved him.
Soon after, her first love started a war, a terrible war against a force of evil they had no chance of defeating. The good man once more gave his life fighting the forces of darkness, forces he was once in service of as a mighty warrior. This time there was no miraculous resurrection. The good man lay down his life saving her first love during the battle never to rise again. The first love survived and was given the prophesied reward. He was made human again, free to come to the girl, free of guilt and sorrow."
"God! This is just not fair! It can’t end like this! The girl tried to do the right thing and lost everything that mattered. How is that fair? The good man who loved her died thinking he wasn’t loved! That’s so not fair. Even the marriage to her first love didn’t make it to a second anniversary. Tell me there was a happy ending somewhere?" Buffy had forgotten this was more than just a romantic, tragic story and was caught up in it as if it were a chick flick..
"I’m afraid not. No, the girl grew older. She cut herself off for a long while from those who had deceived her, manipulated the two of them. In time, the love that was at the core was remembered and they were friendly again. It was not the same, of course.
She watched as her friends created the families she had been denied. They loved freely whom they chose and grew old in the comfort of that love. In time, one by one, they aged and died. First the father figure, maintaining to the end that he had acted in her best interest.
The girl, now a woman, had many a scheme that she tried to get her friends to help her with, ways of getting her beloved back again. Resurrection spells were suggested only to be abandoned as excuse after excuse was given as to why it would not work properly. The idea of ripping the hero from a heavenly reward was the strongest argument against it. The woman knew anyone who had done the deeds he had done had to be in paradise, not some hell his soulless self may have deserved at one time.
As the woman became older and older and science and magic merged more and more, the possibility of time travel appeared. It was forbidden, of course, because of the dangers that come from changing the past. Still, the woman longed to go back, make those changes, take the happiness that should have been hers. They always had the right words to prevent it though…until one day she was alone in fact as well as feeling.
The woman looked in the mirror and saw her days were coming to a close. A wasted life in so many ways. Finally, in an ultimate act of what some would call selfishness, she decided to take the biggest chance of all. The chance that she might say the right thing to change it all. That she might keep this story from being a tragedy and instead make it the grand, epic love story it was intended by the Powers to be. She stepped through the glass and came face to face with herself." The woman looked hard at Buffy, willing her to see the truth of what she claimed.
"I am you, my dear. I cannot change what I did in any way but this. You have the power now. You can see Spike for who and what he is. You can help him be the good man he is trying to be, show him the way. You can love him as no one else ever has and let him love you better than you dreamed you could be loved." The old Buffy was pleading with her with every look, every word. "Don’t let it end badly again."
Young Buffy was shocked. Did she say SPIKE? Why did that just seem like something she already knew? She needed no proof, not really, she knew in her bones, in her soul, the truth that this older self had spoken. The tale felt real…like she’d lived it, suffered under the weight of it. Now she realized she had the power to change it all, a chance to grab the happiness she craved even now.
Older Buffy saw the belief in her younger self’s eyes and sighed in contentment. "I went to see him. I had to. You’ll find him ready to be molded, if I’m not mistaken. He’s been rattled to the core, the dear, but he’s really remarkable. You’ll see. Go. Be happy. I don’t know how YOUR future will be, but I imagine it will be wonderful. Willow and Xander will either come around or they won’t; you have power there too. They love you, you just have to trust in that love and in his."
Younger Buffy felt the tears as they began to course down her cheeks. She wasn’t sure what to do with the information she now had, not sure if she should say a thing to anyone, least of all Spike. Spike! She had been attracted to him but would never have dared to act on it. Maybe it was time to slay her own demons, kill her own fears. She was the Slayer and no coward. Perhaps it was time to act like it.
As Buffy came to this conclusion, she glanced over where the older version of herself had been seated and found nothing but an empty space on the bench next to her. Just as she began to wonder if she might have dreamed the entire thing up, she noticed a ring lying on the bench: Spike’s skull ring from their spell-induced engagement. Buffy had kept the ring for some reason and here it was on the seat next to her. She quickly opened her purse and felt around the bottom, gasping a bit as her fingers touched that same ring, her version of it at any rate, right where it had been since the ending of that engagement…in the bottom of her purse.
Now with one in each hand there was no way to dismiss the truth and no way to thank the Powers for this third chance, or first in her reality. She wouldn’t waste it. Not again.