Chapter 1: Plan B
“We did this,” Anya said, for probably the hundredth time. “The Eye made that very clear.”
“There’s no use in dwelling on it, Ahn. What we have to deal with is now, not two years ago.” Xander rubbed his temple under the strap of his eye patch.
“Sometimes I really hate being human. Everything seems to have uncomfortable consequences attached to it, like guilt and remorse. Life is easier when you can ignore all of that.” She caught Spike’s eye. “But then, I guess you don’t have to be human to be saddled with guilt.”
Spike put down his mug and left the kitchen without a word. Buffy watched him, fighting an urge to follow him to the basement. She turned to Willow, whose cheeks were red with shame again, as they were every time Anya repeated her lament. The guilt and anguish that surrounded them all was ever-present. This was one of the days it seemed to be on full display. Buffy bit her lip. “I guess now's as good a time as any.” She took a deep breath. “Wils, what if you didn’t do this?”
Buffy came down the stairs slowly. She stopped on the bottom step and sat down. “Plan B is a go,” she said. “With one adjustment.”
“Earlier. Is that ok with you?”
“I hate this. I hate being here. I hate that you have to be here. I hate that there's evil, and that I was chosen to fight it. I wish, a whole lot of the time, that I hadn't been. I know a lot of you wish I hadn't been. But this isn't about wishes. This is about broken things. This is about fixing them. I believe we can beat this evil. Not when it comes, not when its army is ready, now… Well, two years ago, actually. Tomorrow morning I'm going to go undo the damage. I'm going to take away the opportunity for The First to rise. I'm finishing this once and for all… by making sure it never starts.”
Silence covered the living room like a fine coating of dust. Buffy looked around at the still young faces, their expressions etched with disbelief. She hoped she could pull it off, could save their lives before they were ever in danger, could save the lives of all the other potentials and watchers who never made it to her door, could save everyone around her the misery of the last few years… including herself.
Kennedy was the first to speak. “Two years ago? Making sure it never starts? You’re talking about time travel. Is that even possible?”
Willow stepped close to Buffy’s side. “It is. It’s big time magic, and kind of risky, but it’s possible. If we can stop me from resurrecting Buffy, The First never gets a solid foothold on this plane, not enough power to start all of this.”
“So you’re going to let Buffy stay dead?” Amanda squeaked, her eyes wide.
Buffy smiled tightly. “The goal is for me not to die in the first place, which is part of why I'm actually going back three years. But we’ll also have a backup plan in place.” The smile turned to a grimace. “I’m taking someone with me to make sure I stay dead if we can’t change that part.”
Dawn abruptly stood up and stalked out of the room without a word. Apparently, their private chat earlier had not made the girl more amenable to hearing those words.
Kennedy looked to where Faith stood, leaning against the door frame. “You?”
Faith replied with a choked laugh. “I’m not gonna be any good to her. I’m in lock down in the time she’s going to. I’m just glad she’s not going back to undo her first death.”
“I’m glad I don’t have to,” Buffy whispered over her shoulder to her sister slayer. Turning back to the room, she explained. “My first death was very brief, and I was brought back with CPR.” She threw a smile at Xander.
“It was all very simple and human. I drowned. I was resuscitated in a normal, human way. It was natural, and the calling of another slayer was natural. From that moment forward, I was not a regular slayer. I still had the power, but the slayer line flowed through a girl named Kendra. Then Faith was called when Kendra died. It was normal slayer-calling for them. On my end it was a little odd. Odd, but still a natural shift in the flow of the power, one that was corrected the second time I died. But I was brought back, through magical means this time, and it made things… unbalanced. If I could have been brought back without my power, as a full human, it might have been ok. But I came back as I was, as a slayer. The use of dark magics to do that is what made things lopsided enough for The First to come out and play. The shift of power was no longer natural and balanced.”
Buffy paused for a moment, again surveying the faces around her. They looked like they were struggling to take it all in, but were slowly getting it. “So I’m going back, memories in tact, to see if I can keep it from happening, keep any of you from ever having to go through all this.”
Rona shook the dumbstruck look from her face. “Ok, if –and that’s a big if- this crazy idea can even work, do we have time to try it?”
Willow piped up again. “If the spell works and Buffy is able to change what happened, we have all the time in the world. None of this will have ever happened. If either part fails, we’ll have only lost the time we’ve spent getting ready and performing the spell. They’ll be caught back up to our time almost immediately after the spell is complete from our perspective, but in the past, they’ll have lived through just under three years.”
“I don’t think I want to know how that works.” Kennedy shook her head. “So if it’s not Faith, who’s going to be your back up?” She lifted her chin defiantly, trying to look as strong and capable as she could, hoping to be chosen for this, at least.
“She can’t take any of us, Kennedy,” Vi said. “Faith said she can’t help because she was in prison. I think that means Buffy needs someone who was here at the time.”
Willow nodded at the other redhead, looking like a proud schoolteacher. “Exactly. None of you girls were with us back then, so you’re all off the hook. Buffy’s back-up person has to be someone who already knew us then, and can interact normally with past-me, and past-Dawn, and past-everyone. Otherwise, past-us will know something weird is going on. It might make an even bigger mess than the one we have. It has to be someone we already knew.”
“So it’s a Sunnydale local, a Scooby,” Kennedy sniffed, feeling left out of Willow’s inner circle yet again. “Your back-up person is one of the people who resurrected you in the first place? That’s who you’re trusting to not bring you back?”
“I’m taking someone who would have stopped the resurrection, had he known about it. And he can help me prevent even needing to make that jump.” Buffy watched the girls’ eyes swivel around the room when they caught on to her choice of pronouns, sizing up each man. She let them guess for a moment, smiling to herself as a couple of them even scrutinized Andrew.
“I’m taking Spike.”
Buffy threw her hands up in irritation. “Oh my god! Will you please stop pacing? I can’t think!”
Spike stopped mid-step to study her as she bent over her letter. “You not nervous? Magic is what got us into this mess.”
“And it’s going to get us out of it. Look at it this way: We're un-breaking something. The slayer line, the power balance on this plane, the Bringers killing all those watchers and potentials? That's all broken stuff. We can undo it. It's the best possible plan.”
“I suppose. Still don’t like it.”
She smirked at him. “Are you chickening out on me?”
“Buffy, we could change things we don’t even mean to.” Spike fell into a chair across the table from her. “Too much can go wrong. Could ruin something important, something that needs to happen.”
“Trust me, this feels right.” she shrugged. “Besides, it’s a hell of a lot better than Plan A.”
He eyed her warily. “Glad you didn’t let Red try that one. Fixing an unnatural slayer problem by making more unnatural slayers was about the most hare-brained scheme ever.”
Buffy shrugged again. “I was short on ideas. The First gave me one. It kept harping on how alone I was, how all slayers are alone. Then I realized it wanted me to think of making more slayers. That was the point of the conversation. After I picked up on that, I realized a better plan was right in front of me the whole time.”
Spike tilted his head at her, curious.
“You. You were sleeping across the room when it was talking to me. That’s when I put the pieces together.”
The curiosity on his face deepened into confusion, tinged with fear. “What do you mean?”
“I suddenly remembered you talking to me about the same thing, telling me I was alone, and all that kept me alive was having friends and family. You were right, about more than one thing. I'm still alive because I've had people around to help. People who brought me back and caused this whole First Evil mess, yeah, but the same people have helped me, countless times. If I tell them about Dawn sooner, let them help me sooner, all of this--” She waved a hand toward the ceiling and the sounds of teenagers chattering nervously in the rooms above. “--could go away.”
Spike stared at his hands in his lap. “Wasn’t them didn’t get the job done the first time ‘round.”
He lifted his head at her commanding tone.
“We all could have done better, all of us. Besides, we aren’t going to let it get to that point this time. We know more; we can make sure things turn out differently. Memory is a huge asset, if it's used right.”
“So you’re gonna tell them when we get there?”
She nodded. “As soon as Glory shows up, if I can. They’ll need to know.” She glanced toward Spike's cot, squinting at her alarm clock on the floor beside it. “We should finish these and get upstairs. Willow wants to talk out the details tonight. She's pretty excited.”
“Wish I had her optimism. You lot should be wise to the problems with magic by now.”
Buffy pushed her pen into his hand and gestured to the envelopes on the table. “Start helping or I’ll have to beat some optimism into you.”
He tensed, and slowly turned his gaze up to meet hers. When he saw the twinkle in her eye and the smile on her lips, he visibly relaxed. She was only teasing. He gave his head a quick shake. Since when was she playful with him? She was so confident in this plan -so comfortable with him- that she was teasing? He reached across the table to grab her wrist.
She pulled back in surprise. “Ow! What the hell?”
Spike returned his hand to the envelopes. “Sorry. Just checking.”
Buffy nodded in understanding. “Making sure I’m solid?”
“Yeah.” He abruptly turned his attention to the envelopes. “What’s tomorrow’s date?”
“The twentieth. Also, I gave you the pen. The First can’t do that.”
“Should have noticed that.” Across the front of the envelope, in the elegant script of an older generation, he wrote ‘To be opened on twentieth May, 2003.’
“Do you want to hear it?” At his nod, she took a deep breath.
Today, in another timeline, you performed a spell that averted the granddaddy of all apocalypses. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s good. It means Spike and I didn’t have to break the rules. Of course, if you're reading this, I’ve probably been dead for the last two years. But that’s ok, too. Whatever has happened, if my mother’s home hasn’t turned into the sorority house from hell, it means you saved us all. As of today, Spike can answer all your questions. Thank you for sending us back. I wish I were there to celebrate with you.
Spike held out his hand for the letter. He folded it neatly and slid it into the envelope. “Good enough.” He took up his pen. “Which one is next?”
She handed him two sheets of paper, already folded together. “Letters to me, um, mostly notes about Dawn and Glory, in case the monks manage to screw up our… um, future memories. Is that right?”
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Not gonna get into the Star Trek past and future tense conversation with you. Harris and the junior whelp spent the whole afternoon yammerin’ about it.”
His annoyance was clear, so she kept her mouth shut. He wrote ‘To Buffy’ across the front of the second envelope.
“The date on the last one--”
“I know that date, Buffy,” Spike nearly growled.
She winced. “Just date it for the day after, ok?”
With a slightly shaky hand, he wrote, ‘To be opened on twenty-third May, 2001’ across the third envelope. Then he put down the pen. “Right, then. Read it off.”
If you’re reading this, I died last night. I guess I wasn’t able to stop the portal without jumping into it. I’m sorry I couldn’t do better. I can’t explain everything, but Spike will fill you in in a couple of years. Until then, please don't ask. Meanwhile, there are a few things I need you to do for me, since I’m not going to be around to do them myself:
1. Do whatever it takes to keep Dawn with the Scoobies. Give her all the love and support you can. And don’t keep her out of research. She loves it, and she can handle it.
2. Don’t try to resurrect me. You will literally be putting the world in jeopardy if you do. Don’t worry; I’m not in a hell dimension. Kind of the opposite, actually. Please leave me there. If you try to bring me back, Spike will do anything he can to stop it, even kill you if he must, and he would be right to do so. Don’t put him in that position. Let me go.
3. Focus on getting comfortable with your power. That’s a lesson you and I both learned too late. Ask Giles to contact the coven in Devon, get them to take you under their wing for training. You’ll be better for it, I promise.
4. Break Faith out of jail. Get her a new identity and ask her to stay in Sunnydale. Help her. Trust her. She’s a good slayer, and she will be a good leader with a little practice. Try to let the past go and start fresh. You need each other.
“And then I go on with some other stuff.”
Spike’s eyebrows lifted. He snatched the letter from her hand. Silently, he read what she had not.
5. That needing each other thing applies to Spike, too. He has a promise to keep, to take care of Dawn for me, so get him sobered up and back on his feet as soon as you can. Help him help you. He’s still learning what it means to be one of the good guys. He’s going to stumble. Someone should be there to help him up for once. Give him a chance. There’s a good man under all that Big Bad attitude, I promise.
Take care of each other.
He carefully folded the letter and tucked it into the last envelope. He took his time sealing all three of them, not daring to look into her eyes. He stood and crossed the basement with the envelopes still in his hand, headed toward the stairs. Finally, he stopped to look back at her. “Red’s waiting on us.”
Buffy stood to follow him. “I meant it.”
Spike rubbed the back of his neck in a nervous gesture. “Yeah, well, thanks for sayin’ it.”
Giles ran his hand through his hair in frustration. “How can I make this more clear? Your current selves will be integrated into your past selves. The former versions of you will house your-- your essence... um, essentially. There will only be one active pair in the timeline.”
Buffy held up a hand in surrender. “Ok, ok, I get it. Wils, you wanted to talk about the when?”
“Right!” Willow perked up, having withdrawn from the merry-go-round of ‘Who’s on first’ time travel conversation between Watcher and Slayer about five minutes prior. “We don’t want to put you in at the wrong time and interfere with the spell to make Dawn, so I’m working you in around the monks.”
Spike shrugged. “So we go just before the Nibblet arrives. You already told us that. Going back almost three years, right?”
Willow hesitated. “Well, see, that’s what I wanted to talk about. We don’t know when Dawn was created. We have a good estimate, but not an exact date. Also… um, I’m going to have to overshoot the mark a little.”
“How far?” Buffy frowned. “A week? A month?”
“Um, I don’t actually know. This isn’t an exact science, Buffy. I know you need to go to late summer of 2000 to be sure we don’t screw up your Dawn memories or make you immune to the Key spell. So I aim for then, putting my margin of error further back. You’re going to… bounce a little.”
Buffy glanced at Spike. Her concern was reflected on his features. “Bounce?”
Giles spoke up. “She’s saying you might go further back than intended, but not stay long before you move forward again.”
“Well, like I said, I’m aiming to overshoot the mark. Once I’ve moved you back, I can do the fine-tuning. It’s like when you're wrapping a gift, sorta? You unroll more paper than you need, to be sure you have enough to cover the box, then you roll the excess back up. I’m going to get you as close as I can without stepping on Dawn’s toes.”
“So how long is a bounce, Red?”
“A few hours, maybe up to a day? For you, anyway. It will only be a few seconds for me. I’ve got help teleporting in from Devon, to make sure I don’t go boom with the magic, but they’ll also help me make it a smoother and faster ride. The quicker, the better. You don’t want to risk changing anything before we’ve completed the spell… or you might change something that prevents us from doing it.”
“Try to act as normally as possible,” Giles threw in. “Make only the changes you feel are necessary. Don’t tell anyone about where…erm… when you came from unless you must. Time is delicate and deceptive. It doesn’t tell you what small actions will affect other, later events. Please be careful.” He cleared his throat. “Buffy, I must request again you take me in Spike's stead.”
“No.” Her response was quick and stern.
“We don't know for certain his soul will survive the traveling, or if he will be trying to find a way to kill you, despite the chip.”
“Hey! Sitting right here!” Spike interjected.
Giles continued. “I know I could stop the resurrection, without selfish motives getting in my way. I could even rein Willow in magically, if necessary.”
“Hey!” Willow looked offended. “I'm sitting right here, too!”
Giles kept his eyes locked on Buffy's, trying to convey to her that he was the better choice. “You need someone stable to back you up, who understands the nuances of this venture. Someone who--”
Buffy's expression was as cold as her words. “Someone who might insist on killing my sister if Glory snatches her again? Or go behind my back to do it?” To his silence, she replied, “Spike won't do that to me. I can trust him to fight to keep her alive. I can also trust him not to leave her. He goes. You're not qualified.”
A tense silence filled the dining room until Spike drew his eyes away from the glaring slayer and watcher to catch those of the witch. He held up the envelopes. “We need to take these.”
Buffy rested back in her chair, pointedly ignoring Giles as she explained to Willow, “Those are our insurance. Letters to you. One tells you not to bring me back if I die again, and one is dated to be opened tomorrow. The other envelope holds letters I've written to myself, in case the monks wipe our--” She looked at Spike, who rolled his eyes in anticipation of her next words. “Future memories.”
Giles nodded with reluctant approval, impressed by her attention to detail, despite his reservations about the plan itself. She ignored the gesture.
Willow scrunched up her face for a moment, lost in thought. Her face lit up with an idea. “I can enchant an item to move with you. You know, something that can hold stuff, a container of some kind… There’s only one hitch. It would have to be something you have now that already exists in the past, something you’ll have access to through the entire timeline. We'll just do a different version of what we’re doing with your essences. We move them through time, putting them in that time’s version of the same container or person.”
Buffy scrunched up her face in thought, too, mentally going through her collection of handbags to try to remember their ages.
Spike stood up and walked out of the dining room. He returned a moment later with his duster over one arm. He handed it to Willow.
She held the leather loosely in her hand for a moment, squinting at him in confusion. Then understanding dawned on her face. “Of course! You’ve had this forever!” She inspected the exterior pockets. “Plenty of room for a few letters, and any other little things you’ll need.”
Spike took the coat back for a moment, and dug Angel’s amulet out of an interior pocket. He gave the timeworn leather back to Willow, and handed the amulet to Giles. “This don’t work, might need that thing in a fight. It needs to stay here.”
Giles gripped the crystal, nodding. “I must say,” he addressed both Buffy and Spike. “I’m surprised at this willingness to take such a great risk with such small odds of success.”
“This is our best chance, Giles. I’m willing to try anything to make this madness stop.”
“Desperate times, Watcher,” Spike grumbled.
“There’s no coming back, you know. This is a one-way trip. The only way back to this time is to live through the intervening years.”
Buffy sighed in exasperation. “We know that, Giles. We know it’s going to suck at times. But if it works, it will be worth every day of it. We have thought this through, you know.”
Sensing another round of the ‘Buffy and Giles Almost-Silent Power Struggle’ beginning, Willow stood up and clapped her hands once to draw attention. “We need to finish getting ready. Spike, I’m going to get your coat prepared. You two figure out if there’s anything else you need to put in it. Then get some sleep. You could get dropped into the middle of a battle in the morning, for all we know. We don't need either of you getting knocked into coma-land on the first bounce.”
Nods and quiet ‘good-nights’ were exchanged. Willow went up to her room, and the time travelers returned to the basement. Giles, still in the dining room with his books, heard the tell-tale hisses of a whispered argument from below a few minutes later. He barely resisted the urge to slip down the stairs to eavesdrop.
She rarely came back after she left for her morning shower. He had learned not to expect her. She had to go be General Buffy. There weren't enough daylight hours to waste them with the vamp downstairs. This morning was different. She came down the stairs slowly, took only one step onto the floor of the basement, and then stopped. “They're ready,” she said quietly.
Spike, sitting on his cot, his back against the wall, turned to look at her. They studied each other for a long moment before he broke eye contact. He hopped to his feet. “Right. Curtains closed?”
Buffy nodded. But instead of turning to lead him upstairs, she stepped forward. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have argued with you last night.” She pretended not to notice his surprised expression. She felt uncomfortable at being reminded how unaccustomed he was to receiving apologies.
He stepped toward her, closing the gap. “Love, fighting is what we do. Wouldn't be us if we didn’t.”
“Taking photos with us was a stupid idea.” She moved to meet him, and rested her forehead on his chest. “I should have just let it go. I'm just scared. ...Of forgetting, of not having a connection to this life.” She shook her head as she lifted it to meet his gaze. “I'll miss...”
“Having a passel of baby slayers taking over your house?”
“Maybe a little. And I'll miss my friends, these grown up versions. I'll miss almost-grown up Dawnie. I'll miss... us, being close like this.”
Spike took her chin in his hand. “I'll still be around, love. You won't forget. As for the Nibblet, fair to say she'll remind you a lot, if you let her.”
Buffy smiled, turning her cheek into his palm. They stood that way for a moment, and may have stayed that way for a long time, had a loud whisper not drifted down the stairs. “Hey! If you two aren't busy boinking, can you get up here already? Willow is starting to nag. It's very unbecoming.”
He shook his head. “Be right there, Anya. Hold your horses!”
Buffy took his hand from her face and held it for a moment. “Ready?”
At his nod, they broke apart and headed upstairs, their focus shifting away from each other and to the mission at hand.
Spike slipped into his duster and reached into the right hand pocket to make sure the envelopes were present, suddenly glad she'd made him address them. He could claim them as his personal property if they fell out of his pocket. Her handwriting was hidden within, only his showed on the exterior. Photos were all she had wanted to bring along, and he didn’t know of anything else worth taking, so the letters would be all they had, their only connection to a truth they’d be unable to share with anyone else for years to come.
He stepped into a small circle of green sand and waited in silence, pointedly ignoring the bustle around him. After her last-minute detour to the powder room, Buffy waded through the chaos to get to the circle. She calmly surveyed the room from her place beside Spike.
Willow and Giles were checking their watches and chattering anxiously about the position of the sun and its significance to the spell. Xander was pushing the last of the furniture against the wall, making room for the arrival of teleporting witches. Dawn was ordering Andrew to the backyard with the Potentials. He reluctantly trudged out of the room, and was soon heard whining in the kitchen, over the voices of Faith and Anya, who were trying to drag the last stragglers away from their breakfast. Wood stood in the doorway, as far away from the activity as he could be without losing sight of it. His unease blended well with the anxiety of everyone else, but he eventually excused himself with a murmur to Dawn, opting to join Andrew and the girls outside.
Buffy took the sudden arrival of three unfamiliar faces in her living room in stride. These days, she didn’t know most of the people in her house. Strangers within its walls had become so common, they were barely noticed. She watched in silence as the elderly woman Giles and Willow greeted as Althenea flopped down on the sofa. Buffy waved Willow over to her. “Wils, she looks exhausted. Are you sure she’ll be able to help you?”
Willow gestured to the other two new arrivals. “That’s my help, Buffy. Althenea just came along to do the teleporting, so Bryn and Elsa wouldn't be drained when they got here.”
“Oh.” Buffy withdrew, comforted that the witches seemed to had thought of everything. She looked at Spike, who stood beside her in the circle of green sand, staring at the fireplace. His face was stony, giving nothing away. Buffy opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it again. What was left to say? Well, there was one thing. “Thank you, Spike.”
“Not doing it just for you,” he mumbled, his gaze still fixed on the cold hearth.
“I know. There are a lot of people this will help. And I’m sure you’d like to do a few things over. I know I would… But you don’t have to go with me. I just realized I hadn't thanked you.”
Spike finally turned to face her, about to form another response, when movement in their direction caught his eye. “Time to say good-bye, love.” He nodded over her shoulder.
Buffy turned to see Dawn approaching the circle. “Dawnie, I’m going to miss you,” she whispered. “It might be weeks –to me, anyway- before I see you again.”
“Hug Mom for me?” Jealousy shimmered in Dawn’s damp eyes.
“I’m going to try to save her, too, you know.” Buffy stepped out of the circle to pull her sister into her arms. “I’m going to make things better for you, as good as I can get it.”
Dawn buried her face in Buffy’s shoulder; her lanky body bent low to get closer. The distance that had been building between them for so long melted away. “Just don’t die,” she sniffed.
Spike stepped outside of the circle to join them. “I'm not gonna let her jump, Bit. I promise.”
Dawn released her sister and whirled to face him. “You take good care of her, or I’ll make what that Turok Han did to you look like a moonlight stroll.”
Both Spike and Buffy were silenced by Willow’s loud clap. “Get in the circle now, you two. We're burning daylight. Dawn, back away,” she commanded.
All the tense conversation and thoughts of personal issues were brushed aside. The room grew quiet. Dawn retreated to the sofa to sit between Xander and Althenea. Giles stepped away from the witches, backing up to the doorway.
Buffy and Spike returned to the circle, this time facing each other. Each searched for second thoughts in the other’s eyes, ready to call a stop to it. But there was no hesitation to be seen, just two warriors with a job to do and no thoughts of failure. Each projected an air of complete confidence for the other to see. Whether it was real or not, it was enough.
As the chanting began, Buffy whispered, “If this works, I’ll owe you the world.”
Spike whispered back, “If this works, you’ll have time to explain what that means.”