Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine.
Author's Note: This was written for a challenge over at Jossverse_las on Livejournal. The challenge was to rewrite the end of a season finale.
Willow never could get things to work out the way they were supposed to.
She even screwed up ending the world. When she funneled enough power into the effigy of Proserpexa, the world was supposed to burn to a cinder. The end of everything. Eternal blackness. A final relief from all of life's pain. Sweet, peaceful oblivion.
And there was burning. Proserpexa's followers had definitely gotten that part right. Fires sprung up from the earth and consumed crops, houses, and most major cities. Vegetation and wildlife were turned to ashes in the wake of what Willow unleashed. Any person who got close enough to the towers of flame burned as well, of course.
But the earth itself remained intact. It was charred and nearly uninhabitable, but there were those who survived the forty days of flames. Willow had thought they would burn forever, running on some mystical fuel source, but the fires all died after forty days.
She still had more pain than she could deal with, but the earth-shattering amount of guilt that now weighed on her shoulders stopped her from any further attempts at vengeful world-ending. Of course, at this point, it might have been better if she'd succeeded. The fires had taken out all sources of electricity, along with almost anything people could eat. The water was all polluted with ash, among other things. A thick cloud of black smoke blocked all direct sunlight, and the air had a harsh quality that made it hurt to breathe. Even the survivors were slowly dying now. She'd heard almost all of South America had started to resort to cannibalism, but that could just be a rumor.
The Scoobies had all miraculously survived. Maybe it was because they knew what she was up to, so they were able to get away from anything flammable. She wished Xander had reached her in time. It seemed only right, somehow, that a stupid accident would lead to the end of civilization as they knew it. He'd fallen and hurt his ankle. He'd still run to her, but his limp had slowed him down just enough that he only got there about three seconds after she'd finished. He was fast enough to catch her when she fell, exhausted from all the power she'd drained out of herself. But he wasn't fast enough to save the rest of the world.
What constantly amazed Willow nowadays was that her friends had actually forgiven her. They were all more inclined to blame themselves than to blame her. Xander wished he'd run faster. Buffy wished she'd fought harder against her obvious addiction to magic. Giles wished he hadn't come to help, bringing with him all the magic that made her sympathetic to the pain of humanity.
None of them wished they'd killed her when they had the chance. Willow wished they had.
Now, she spent most days in the ruins of the Magic Box. Some of the books inside had been well and magically protected from the fires, and she dug through them, trying to find some way to take back what she'd done. She found a few books she'd already drained, but most of what remained were the books on light magic.
It was slow going. Several times, she had to learn new languages to read the books, and Rosetta Stone had gone the way of the rest of technology. When Spike finally returned, he started helping her translate. They'd all thought he was dead, but it turned out the real problem was that, even with the speed of a vampire, it took a long time to find his way from Africa without any modern transportation to help.
"This one might do," Spike said, sliding an old book over to her corner of the floor.
"What language is that?" Willow asked. She could tell that it was Oriental, but couldn't distinguish it further.
"Chinese," he muttered. "Learned it after...well, nevermind."
He looked away from her, refusing to meet her eyes even when she made the effort to move. That usually meant it had something to do with a past kill that he didn't want to talk about. So Willow didn't ask.
"Anyway," he went on. "The spell isn't time travel, like we were looking for, but it can open up a channel of communication between you and the person you were, say, six months ago. You could warn yourself about what happened after you tried to end the world."
Willow shook her head. "I don't think that'll work. I don't think that version of me cares much about what happened to us. I was in too much pain."
Spike finally locked gazes with her, and she saw how very deeply he understood pain. "Then go back a bit further and tell yourself to make sure Tara doesn't stand so close to the windows. That's what ended the world, Red. If we can't prevent her from dying that way, then we'll always just end up back here, or somewhere worse."
She sat in shock. It had never even occurred to her that she could save Tara, much less that she would have to in order to save the rest of them. "I don't deserve her anymore."
"Probably not," Spike agreed, not bothering to argue with her guilt. "But if she's not with you, the world ends. So do the bloody spell and let's see what changes." He tore a blank page out of one of the black arts books she'd drained and wrote out the list of ingredients in English before handing it to her.
Willow looked it over. She had everything she needed. "Fine. Let's do this."
In the end, the spell changed things enough that neither of them was still there to see if it worked.