Chapter 4: Time's Colors
Giles admitted the young woman into his apartment with apologies. “I'm afraid Willow has just left. I believe she plans to spend the evening with Xander.”
Tara smiled shyly as she stepped inside. “I know. She told me. I wanted to see you, actually.”
Giles stifled his surprise. He didn't know Tara well, but he had been forced to acknowledge that his paternal role in Buffy's life had at some point extended to her friends. He made the motions of a proper host while he waited for Tara to explain her errand.
He studied her as they sipped their tea. For the first time in his experience, Tara seemed confident and collected. She spoke with unexpected clarity. “Willow told me you're planning on leaving. I came to ask you to talk to Buffy first.”
“I intend to. I won’t disappear into the night without a word.”
“No, I mean you should talk to her about ...her. You know, make sure she's ok, and not having demon trouble or something.”
Giles was confused. “What exactly are you getting at, Tara?”
“Do you remember when Faith switched bodies with Buffy? And that I knew something was wrong because her aura was so mixed up?” At his nod, she continued, “We all went to the beach this past weekend, the first time we have all been together in a couple of weeks. And I saw something...” Tara took a deep breath. “Buffy's aura is wrong again.”
“In what way? Do you believe she is possessed by something?”
“Oh, no! Her aura is entirely hers, but... different. She still has mostly the same colors, but some are brighter, some more faded. And there's something in her eyes... She's Buffy, but not exactly her normal self. Something isn't right.”
Giles mentally tore up his plane ticket as he returned his teacup to its saucer.
Buffy crept into the basement of the old house via the basement door. She felt around for Spike's flashlight in the darkness, and then used it to guide her to the main room, where she lit a few candles on the table. She dropped into one of the club chairs and took up the legal pad that held their notes about coming events. She caught herself dozing in the chair soon after, and relocated to the bed. The next time she awakened, it was to the sound of an irritated roar.
“Dammit, Buffy! What the bloody hell are you playing at!?”
She jerked awake, taking a moment to get her bearings. “Spike. Hi.”
“Hi? Is that all you have to say for yourself?” Spike knelt beside the makeshift bed, eye level with her as she sat up. He gripped her shoulders and inspected her neck carefully, turning her toward the candlelight as she eyed him questioningly. “Good. You didn't just waste two nights of my life.” He released her and shook his head. “Stupid bint.”
“Do you mind telling me why you're freaking out?” Buffy ran a hand through her slightly tousled hair and scooted to the side as an invitation for him to sit on the edge of the mattress beside her.
“You know why.” He dropped into the offered space with a sigh. “You let your guard down in a place that needs no invitation. And this after I spent the last two evenings playing Scrabble with your Mum to keep that poncy bugger from setting up a coffee date with her. Thought we agreed you wouldn't sleep here while he was in town?”
“I was tired. I told you I haven't been sleeping well. And Scrabble?”
He growled softly. “Not the point, Slayer.”
“You haven't called me that much lately, not for a while.”
“Trying to get back into old habits, love.” He scooted back on the bed to lean against the wall. “Just had an unpleasant chat with your farm boy at the crypt. Let it play out like the first time. Didn't bother changing anything. You sure you'll be alright with ol' Drac?”
“Yeah. You blocked his chance to get into the house for a bite of enthralled slayer, but he's still got Xander at his beck and call. I can get Xan to lead me to him when everyone is still in research mode, and shoo him out of town before anyone else finds his castle. Should be pretty painless.”
Buffy grinned as she joined him against the wall. “You know what this means, right?”
“That you'll collect the eleven pounds he owes me? With interest?”
“Hmm. I guess I could do that. It might throw him for a loop. What's the going rate for debts nearly a century old?”
“Whatever's in his wallet.”
She snickered. “Anyway, Count Doofus being in town means Dawn's nearly here. I did some hard thinking about her after that zap Whistler gave us, and my first truly clear memory of her is right around this time. I think Willow only missed the monks by a couple of weeks.”
“Been missing the Nibblet, love?”
“Way more than I expected. I'm really enjoying the Mom-time, of course, but it doesn't feel right without Dawnie around, even knowing she'll be here soon. Haven't you been missing her, too?”
“A lot longer than you have.”
Buffy's exuberance faded. She drifted into thoughts about the last real year of their lives, and the distance that had developed in various factions of her makeshift family.
Spike drew them both back to the moment by jumping to his feet. “Come on, then. I'll risk walking you home so that bugger doesn't try to waylay you.”
Despite her fatigue, Buffy was in no rush to get home. She was trying to find the words to say something she'd been putting off, and hoping the walk would be long enough for her to speak.
Spike didn't know why she'd led them three blocks out of their way, but wasn't going to complain about extra time with her. However, the silence had grown uncomfortable. “Time to spit it out.”
Buffy jumped, surprised at the sudden break in silence. “What do you mean?”
“Been watching the wheels turning in your head for the last half mile. Talk.”
“OK… You know what you said about how I have to hate you in this time? I vote no.”
Spike kept his facial expressions still and his tone casual, completely belying his emotions. “Yeah? How's that gonna work?”
“Well, everyone knows by now you like killing things, including demony things. What if I convince them you're my new patrol buddy? Will that explain you being around a lot?”
“Your mates won't like it. Your Watcher even less. Thinking your boyfriend's gonna stake me and solve their problem, though.”
“Oh, don't worry about him. I've got things figured out there.” She pointed over her shoulder, vaguely referencing the safe house. “I just added that plan to our notes before my nap.”
He tried to hide the hope in his eyes. “Not smart to patrol together 'til that happens, I think.”
“What if we let it get out that you and Mom are friends? And you and Dawnie? Then they'll understand you staying close as protection.”
“Don't think Harris believes vampires can have friends. Likely stake me for just being near the house. They aren’t all like your mum, love. And not much like what they themselves will be in a few years, where I’m concerned.”
Buffy fought back the instinct to pout. This wasn't going as she had hoped. “Can we try it, Spike? I need... to have your help, and this is the best I can think of for making that happen without...”
“Telling them all about being chained up?” he supplied, hoping he was catching her meaning.
She nodded. “What you said then... It's really none of their business.”
Spike fell silent. On the one hand, he was shocked that she was respecting his feelings and his privacy, something she'd never done before. On the other hand, he wasn't sure if this was her way of telling him she meant to rewrite their personal history in a 'just friends' sort of way. Still, he nodded his assent. “Alright. We'll try it.”
Buffy's next surprising action did nothing to settle the question. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him around to face her, and into a warm hug. “Good. I've missed having you around.”
Buffy thought it had worked out perfectly. She'd driven Dracula from town without him gaining access to her neck or her house. She’d been able to expedite the matter, so now she was going to Giles' apartment in the evening, rather than the next morning, as she had done originally.
Everything had fallen into place just the way she wanted it. She'd go in, have a heart-to-heart with Giles to ask him to be her active Watcher again, and Spike would conveniently pop by to collect the money she'd taken from Dracula, just when she was about to leave. It would look totally natural if he left with her to patrol together... right in front of Giles. She could start sowing the seeds for justifying Spike's presence tonight, no need to wait until Drusilla came back to town, no need for her to crassly announce his feelings for her to everyone they knew. Perfect.
She knew something was off as soon as she saw Tara was there... and without Willow. But she stayed the course, babbling on about wanting to be trained and taught again and glibly asking what Giles had wanted to discuss, expecting a dismissal of the unknown topic. It didn't work out that way. Within minutes, she was getting an education on aura reading from Tara, a barrage of questions about recent slaying events from her watcher, and was silently begging Spike to be late. He wasn't.
Giles answered the door with a frown. He had dearly hoped this conversation with Buffy would go uninterrupted. His frown deepened with irritation at the sight of the vampire at his threshold.
“Watcher.” Spike nodded in greeting. “Nibblet said I could find the slayer here.” He brushed by without waiting for a response, entering the room as Buffy rose from her place on the sofa.
“Nibblet?” Buffy whispered. She sighed with relief at his subtle nod, glad to know her sister had finally arrived and their memories seemed to have survived the transition. She quickly recovered herself, changing her expression to something far more stern. “Oh yeah, what you came for...” She grabbed her bag and fished out a plump little leather pouch, which she tossed to him. “Just call me the Vampire Debt Collection Agent. You owe me one, Spike.”
Spike flipped through the wad of bills with a satisfied smirk. “Yeah, I'd say that covers the interest the ponce owes me. Nice haul, Slayer. You should have been a pick-pocket.”
“Dracula left it in plain sight like a moron.” She shrugged. “It wasn't exactly difficult. “
He stepped back toward the open door, where Giles still stood, frowning at the exchange. “I’m up for a bit of rough and tumble. Mind if I go with you tonight?”
Buffy eagerly grabbed the opportunity to escape. “Fine. Just don't get in my way.”
Giles closed the door before they reached it. “Putting aside the petty theft, which I'll not pretend to understand, are you saying,” he narrowed his eyes on them. “You intend to patrol... together?”
Tara finally spoke, her normally quiet voice capturing their attention with unaccustomed forcefulness. “You both need to stay. There's something much bigger here than patrol, Mr. Giles. They're connected.”
“Damn!” Buffy threw her bag into Giles' desk chair. They were stuck now. She couldn't see a way out of it. “Spike, can I see you outside for a minute?” To Giles she said, “We'll be right back. I promise.”
Giles reluctantly stepped clear of the door, allowing them to exit. He lingered by the window to listen, ignoring the disapproval on Tara's face.
“We were so close to getting this off on the right foot. But no, we missed one important thing in our little plan, something at least Willow should have thought of. Stupid! And why the hell didn't Whistler mention it? He had to have known! Stupid, stupid, stupid!”
“Buffy, take a breath. You don't calm down, people are gonna think we had the wrong one of us chained up in the basement, yeah?”
Giles heard Buffy release her tension in a breathy chuckle. “Point taken.”
“There now, there's my slayer. Alright, General, read me in.”
“We forgot about Tara. She reads auras as easily as most people read street signs. She noticed mine the first time she saw me. She told Giles, and you walked in on them grilling me about my aura being wrong. So now she knows about both of us. We've barely started and the game is up.”
“What a bloody balls up!”
“Yeah, that's putting it mildly. But what now? We'll have to tell them something.”
“Can't see any good in lying to them, love. Rupert can handle it, even if he doesn't like it much.”
“And we can trust Tara not to say anything, even to Wils, if she sees it's the right thing to do.”
“Shouldn't say too much just now. Don't know...”
“Yeah, I know ...I still feel really stupid.”
“Me too. But we'll be alright, yeah?”
They reentered the apartment and took places on the sofa. Giles followed and sat on the armchair beside the one in which Tara was perched. Silence settled over the room. All were poised for a heavy conversation, but no one seemed willing to be the first to speak.
Spike broke the ice. “How much do you know from listening in, Rupert? And don't insult me by denying it.”
Giles at least had the grace to blush at having been caught eavesdropping. “Well, I, um, gather there is something between you, some sort of … relationship.” He tried not to sound judgmental, but they heard it. Pained looks were exchanged between the pair on his sofa. His judgment clearly represented something terrible to them. “That, in addition to the variances in your auras Tara has seen... I hesitate to ask, for the answer may not be to my liking, but... Who are you?”
Spike leaned back against the sofa cushions, settling in for a long conversation. Buffy took a deep breath before speaking. “We're time travelers. We're still us, just older versions. So that should explain the funny aura thingy. Ok?”
She tried to stand, but Spike's hand on her shoulder pushed her down again. “Not good enough, love, and you bloody well know it.”
She grabbed his hand and used it to pull him upright. “Then help. You aren't here to relax!”
Ignoring Buffy's baiting, he abruptly turned to Tara. “So, Glinda, what does my aura tell you?”
Tara had been observing them with interest. The Buffy and Spike she knew shared some sexual tension, and respect for each other as fighters, but were never comfortable together. The mixture of noisy restlessness and cool bitterness she knew as Spike seemed somewhat understated, muted by... Was that resignation? There was also a very distinct glow to his aura she couldn’t ignore.
Buffy's notorious flippancy had been sharpened into a weapon of retreat, her playfulness faded into cynicism and wry humor. To Tara, their eyes gave them away as easily as their auras, for she had finally identified what she had seen in Buffy's eyes at the beach: a deep, weary, sadness. She now saw that same sad look reflected in Spike's eyes.
Tara blushed under Spike's gaze, realizing she'd been lost in thought. “Um, you aren't the same, but not completely different, either. If you’re time travelers, I guess the changes fit. You both would have changed over the years --”
Buffy's derisive snort overlapped with Spike's muttered “Understatement of the century.”
“--so having auras that are different from the ones I know makes sense. It's just that... there are threads between you. I can see them now, with you close together. The big one is your bond to each other. It's strong and bright.” She blushed again, sensing innately she was treading on sensitive ground. “The others are small threads that seem to have been wrapped around your auras and your bond, and stretch between you. They're not a part of either of you. But the magic is... familiar.” Tara's brow furrowed. “Is that Willow's magic? Did she send you back in time?”
“Yeah, this trip is a Willow magic special: one way ticket, misery guaranteed.” Buffy patted Spike's knee with a wry smile. “At least I'm not the only sucker on the train this time.”
“Maybe this is the last train, eh?” At her raised eyebrow, Spike could only shrug.
Giles was skeptical. “That's not possible. A novice witch couldn't manage time travel. A decade’s training wouldn't get her even close to that ability. Exactly how far in the future is your home?”
Buffy stifled a laugh at Giles' underestimation of Willow. Spike's expression was more serious. “This isn't even the heaviest job she's done, Rupert. People, magic, everything -including things that shouldn't- can change fast. That's why we're here. It's gonna get ugly, and if we can make some adjustments, it can turn out better. If it doesn't work, well... end of the world. Again.”
Silence settled over the room once more. Giles took the opportunity to redirect the conversation. “So exactly how long have you been masquerading as our time's Buffy and Spike?”
“Not masquerading. Red shoved us into our own bodies, just in a different time. Same us, just more memories and experience. Got here a couple of weeks ago.”
“So the Buffy I know is gone? When will we get her back?”
“Sorry, Giles. You're stuck with this version of me. Like I said, one way trip.”
“What are you trying to change, exactly?”
“Lots of stuff. More than I can even get into right now. But the main thing is about protecting the slayer line from being damaged or destroyed.”
What the watcher heard in those words chilled him to the bone. “Buffy, did you die ag--?”
Spike’s growl interrupted him. “Yes. And it's not happening this time around.”
Giles was startled and intimidated by the vampire's severe tone... and the dangerous flash of amber in his eyes. The way Spike had spoken to Buffy outside and the protective attitude he displayed now bothered the watcher deeply, though perhaps not so deeply as Buffy's calm acceptance of such behavior. He cleaned his glasses, giving into an urge he'd been restraining since Spike's arrival at his door. “It seems quite a lot has changed in the intervening years. I must ask again, when do you come from?”
Buffy bit her lip, and glanced at Spike for encouragement. “May of 2003.”
Giles and Tara fell into stunned silence, both trying to wrap their minds around the idea that every change in the two of them -and everything they'd alluded to- had taken place over only a few short years.
Buffy closed Giles’ front door behind them and fell against it. “Well, that sucked.”
“Eh, I think we handled it alright.”
“I think we’re lucky to have even gotten out. Giles looked like he wanted to perform a time traveler exorcism.”
“Couldn’t keep us there if he wanted to. Doesn’t know how you can fight now, does he?”
“He also doesn’t know—Oof!” Buffy fought to regain her balance as the door was opened behind her.
“Oh! Sorry!” Tara stepped outside. “I was wondering if you two would walk me back to the dorm. Since you’re here, you know?”
Buffy and Spike exchanged assenting nods and fell into step with her as they exited the courtyard. “You don’t seem as freaked out as Giles does,” Buffy observed.
“I also don’t seem to be as freaked out by Giles as you do.” Tara smiled to soften the harshness of her comment. “Can I ask what happens to change things between you?”
“It’s more than one thing. It’s a hundred little things and a handful of really big things. The short version is that it’s been a long time since I’ve really trusted him. I don’t like him knowing about this. It worries me.”
Tara blushed. “I’m sorry. I guess I could have come straight to you, but I didn’t know what was going on, and he’s your watcher, so…”
“You couldn’t have known, Glinda.”
“I just might have to find those chains again if it gets dicey,” Buffy grumbled.
“Don’t blame him for what he hasn’t done yet, Slayer. Still hope for the old man.”
Tara frowned at this apparent role reversal. She looked at Spike. “I didn’t tell him about the other thing I saw, but can I ask about it? How long ago were you cursed?”
“Wasn’t.” Spike turned his focus to the movements of his feet.
“He chose to get it back,” Buffy explained. “He fought for it.”
“Whoa. That’s… That’s… Whoa.”
Buffy stole a glance at Spike. “And it should stay quiet, like everything else, ok?”
“Of course.” Tara shook off her stupor with a nod. “But can I ask one more question, Spike?”
Buffy’s gaze flicked again to Spike’s dark expression. “Something I can answer?”
“Um, maybe… Why isn’t he proud of it?”
“Because…” Buffy thought back to the last time she saw Spike before he went to Africa, to the incident she was sure had been a big part of his decision to go. “Because people sometimes do amazing things for the wrong reasons,” she whispered.
“There’s a story there.”
“There are a few.”
Tara didn’t push the issue, though she was gripped with curiosity about her companions. The bickering sworn enemies she had known had been replaced by an emotionally close pair who obviously relied heavily on each other. From what well had sprung such changes? Was it Buffy’s unexplained death and resurrection? Something even bigger? Tara shuddered, unsure she wanted to know, but fearing she would learn.
Buffy shocked Giles by requesting a slayer training and shopping day. She had chosen to retain this bit of their history, the rebuilding of the watcher-slayer relationship that had been a part of her strength for so many years. Spike had strongly encouraged her to give Giles another chance, and she’d been unable to argue that there would ever be a better opportunity. But she didn’t want to be alone with the watcher quite yet, not trusting what he’d do or say in her time travel partner’s absence. So she shocked her sister, too, by inviting her to tag along.
But even Dawn’s distracting, bouncing exuberance had moments of pause, particularly after chugging three glasses of Coke with lunch and walking across downtown to the Magic Box. She handed a package of incense to Buffy with a frown. “I don’t know what Nag Champa is, but it smells funny. Also, I have to pee.”
Buffy waved a hand toward the back of the shop. “Second door on the right.”
“Wow, you spend way too much time shopping with Willow.” Dawn shook her head and made her way through the crowd of shoppers to the door her sister had indicated.
Buffy watched her go with wide eyes. “Oops,” she whispered.
“Will you be spending more time here in the coming years?” came a murmur from her left.
“Enough to know where the restrooms are.” She turned her attention back to the incense display. “Shopping with Willow and Tara, of course.”
“Of course.” Giles was not convinced. “Will you at least answer one question for me?”
Her mind raced with the possibilities. “That depends on the question.”
“What need could you possibly have for training I’ve already given you?”
“I could use a refresher course. I’m an old slayer, Giles. I need to stay on top of my game.”
“You’re a terrible liar, Buffy. You’ll have trouble with this… mission if you don’t have help.”
“I have help. You know the guy. Bleach blond, leather coat, bad attitude? Ring any bells?”
“I’m referring to help that can be relied upon. Whatever sort of connection you have to him, it cannot change his nature. I fear your trust in him is gravely misplaced. Saving slayers is not exactly what he is known for, if you recall.”
She looked up at her watcher, seeing the same expression on his face she had seen on her last night in 2003. He was determined to have some element of control over the situation, and bore a deep mistrust of Spike. Nothing was different, save that he wore glasses instead of contact lenses, and had a bit less grey around his temples. “You never change,” she whispered.
“Which is something you need. Stability. I can help you avert this apocalypse. Only tell me--”
“No, what I need is someone who trusts my judgment and always has my back. That's not you.”
“And that’s Spike?”
“It has been for a long time. You can be my watcher. I’m willing to give you another shot at that, but you can’t replace him on this mission. No one can.”
The quiet conversation came to an abrupt halt as Dawn approached them. Buffy looked relieved. Giles looked frustrated. Dawn frowned at the package still in her sister’s hand. “You were arguing about buying that stinky Nag Champa stuff, weren’t you?”