The Keeper of Truth

Chapter 1

Summary: "There's always consequences." Spike is proven right when Willow's spell brings Buffy back, years from where she's supposed to be. He'd be bragging that one up, if Spike of season 2 knew what the hell Buffy was talking about.

Rating: R for now. Maybe more later.

Disclaimer: The usual. BTVS is not mine.

Distribution: If you want it, email me..

Feedback: Oh yes please. Dragolyn@hotmail.com

Author's Note: Due to the fact that for some reason, I can't post italics on ff.net, thoughts are put into brackets like these.

Thanks to Wendy for the beta work. Good luck with the wisdom teeth!

And (not to be redundant) thanks to Sass Angel for WAY more help than I deserve. Beta work, listening to my plot ideas, the summary… you're the best! Thanks so much! This wouldn't have been written without you.





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I'm the keeper of

this little piece of paper

this little piece of truth

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If I could take the hour Death moved into you

undeclared, unnamed -even if sweet, if I could take that hour

between my forceps, tear at it like a monster

wrench it out of your flesh, dissolve its shape in quicklime

and make you well again

no, not again, but still…

- Adrienne Rich

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At first, all Buffy knew of the world was the smell of rain on grass. Rich, pungent… but not heavenly. Something was wrong. Several minutes passed before she could feel the slick wetness against her cheek. Rain she thought, That can't be right. It doesn't rain in heaven Sensation slowly returned to her body. It crept up her legs and over her torso, a warm, muddy feeling so heavy that she gasped for air as it hit her chest and face. This is… being alive. But…

Blinking in the stinging light of a streetlamp, she realized that she was lying facedown in the grass. Over her head loomed the gray arch of a gravestone. Maybe if I lay still, I'll go back to heaven. Or, I'll wake up and this will all have been a dream. She pressed her body down hard against the grass and rolled her cheek over the wet blades, as if trying to sink back into the grave beneath. That's stupid. There are no dreams in heaven.

Groaning, she rolled onto her back and looked up into the night sky. Tears slipped out of the corners of her eyes unnoticed. "No," she whispered in a rough voice. Coughing to clear her throat, she tried again. "This… this is wrong. A mistake, someone made a mistake. I'll just stay lying here 'till they let me come back." She closed her eyes and covered them with her hands. Mommy, she thought, her inner words half-yearning and half- pleading. This has to be a mistake.

Buffy felt the fight before she heard it. Slayer senses, though long out of practice, sent icy prickles down her skin. All her doubts were dispelled by the awakening of her awareness. She must be alive, because there were vampires nearby, at least a dozen of them. She could feel their aggression, their hunger. But if I move, this will be real. I'll… I'll be real. A scream broke through the fog inside her mind, followed by a raucous laugh. Later, Buffy, she told herself. Act now, think later. She jumped to her feet, cursing at the way her muscles pulled and ached. "Dead or alive, I guess I'm still the Slayer," she said, searching the shadows for the vampires. "Lucky, lucky me."

Thirty feet away, near the back wall of a concrete mausoleum, two groups of vampires were huddled over what appeared to be two bodies. The larger group, apparently playing with their prey, moved around the corner, out of her view. Buffy advanced towards the smaller group first, picking up a stick on the way. She quickly killed the three vampires before they even knew she was behind them. I may've been dead, but I'm not out of practice. That's gotta be a plus. Vamp dust sprinkled over the bleeding body of their victim: a teenage girl, barely older than Dawn, and obviously dead. Feeling disassociated from the reality of her situation, Buffy looked down at the corpse. She passed her hand over the air above the girl's slack face in a silent gesture of apology. You'll like it, where you're going. I did.

Slinking along the wall, Buffy paused at the edge of the corner. She peered around the bend. Ten of them, one of me, she thought, tightening her grip on her stick. Pretty bad, but it's been worse. The vampires talked loudly and out of turn, shouting to be heard over each other's voices. She struggled to discern meaning from the ruckus, but could only make out fragments of what they were saying. Their victim was hidden from site, but Buffy could tell from the way the vampires directed their taunting words downwards that he or she sat on the ground in the center of their gang.

She stepped away from the wall and, without warning, staked the closest vampire and the one standing beside him before the others could react. A third vamp charged her, growling. She shoved the stick into his chest, then turned to give the same treatment to another. And another. They fell on her, a rush of arms and foreheads and growls. Focusing most of her energy on staying upright, she tried to take them one at a time. The dust from their bodies coated her hands, making them slip on the stick. Three more, she thought, kicking a vampire in the chest and staking the one next to him. Two

The last vampire backed away from her, his hands held in the air. "Please, please don't," he whined, his eyes wide. "I won't do nothing, just don't hurt me."

Buffy grabbed his shaking body by the throat in a quick, snake-like movement. "It won't hurt a bit," she said flatly, punching the stick into his chest and backing away to avoid the cloud of dust that rose where the vampire had been standing.

"Hey Slayer! You missed one," called a familiar voice from behind her.

She spun around, her stick held in front of her body. "Spike," she said, dropping her shoulders. "It's only you." Closing her eyes, she sighed. Reality came flooding back to her. She had to be alive. There were no vampires in heaven, not even neutered ones. Being upset about it wouldn't change anything, but… I don't want to be here. It's… it's *wrong* here. Keeping her eyes closed, she dropped her stick to the ground. "What happened? Why am I back?"

"You went somewhere?" Spike cocked his head, studying her. "You look worse than I do, Slayer. What, someone drop an organ on you, too?"

"What are you talking about?" She opened her eyes and looked at him, really looked at him, for the first time. The same bleached hair, the same cocky eyes, the same… wheelchair? "What happened to you?" she said, moving towards him. "Was it Glory? Where's Dawn, is she safe?"

Spike snorted and wheeled backwards a few paces, away from Buffy. "What happened? That's cold, Slayer, really cold. Now, me, I'd remember if I put my mortal enemy into a wheelchair. In fact, I'd revel in the moment, you being said enemy and all. But apparently, it meant much less to you."

"I… I did this? But…" Buffy wavered, suddenly lightheaded. "No. That was years ago, Spike. Before… everything. I don't know what your game is, but quit messing around. Something's happened, something bad. I mean, look at me! I'm here!"

"So? It's a cemetery. You're the Slayer. Where else would you be."

"So!" She took deep breaths, but it was impossible to steady her erratic pulse. "Spike," she said, trying again. "Just please stop this. Tell me where Dawn is. I need to know."

"Don? Who is he, your new snogging partner?" Spike moved another few feet away. "Wouldn't want to be him when Angelus finds out you've moved on to warmer pastures. Or is he a vampire, too? You know what they say, pet. Once you've gotten a taste of cold comfort, there's no going back."

Shaking her head in an attempt to clear her thoughts, Buffy said, "Angelus? What… what happened? Angel, did he… the curse, is it…?"

"If you haven't noticed already that your honey's all evil again, then you must be totally off your rocker." Narrowing his eyes, he stilled his hands on top of the wheels. "Is that it? You've gone round the bend? Hit your head or something? Drusilla makes more sense than you are, Slayer, even when she's chatting with her dolls." With a scowl, he spat, "or with her 'daddy'."

"Her… her daddy? Dru and Angel are… together?" Strange and disturbing thoughts began to race through her mind. "Together as in, really together?"

"Hello! Yes! Why do you think I'm out here, talking to you of all people? Don't you think I'd rather be splitting some nice, ripe toddler with Drusilla? But no… you had to go shack up with Peaches and turn him back to our side. And look what you've caused! All I did was let Dru in on a harmless little secret of Angelus's- a secret by the name of Shameless Undead Lapdancer, but still, harmless enough- and what does he do? He's sent my own minions after me, he has! You should know, you just dusted them! I can't show my face anywhere near the factory, which means I can't even be in town since Sunnyhell is such a sodding tiny place!"

"Umm…" Buffy stood near the side of the mausoleum, rubbing her eyes with both hands. Upon opening them, she found the world spinning. She sagged against the wall, slamming her eyes shut. "Spike…stop talking…"

"And it's not like I can hunt like this," he said. "Dru had to feed me like I was some sort of weakling! Then she just sends me out to starve to death, and doesn't care a wit about it. All she cares about is having her 'daddy' back. She'd stake me herself if I went back to the factory! And if she missed, well, then dear old daddy would have me in an ashtray before I got one wheel in the door."

"Spike," Buffy said again, sliding down the wall to the ground. She knelt in the dirt, weak and dizzy, her head bowed. "Please, shut up a minute, will you?"

Spike looked at her, considering. "You better run along now, love. I might not be up to killing you, but Angelus and Dru are out and about, looking for me. They'd be delighted to find you all out-of-sorts."

"Dru… and Angelus. Together," Buffy said, resting her forehead against the cold, stone wall. Her head began to clear as she realized what was happening. It was too insane to be true, but there was no other explanation. "You have no idea who Dawn is. And you're not chipped, I'm guessing, since you're talking about eating toddlers."

"Bully for you, you've figured it out. What, you really did get a knock on the head?" He smirked down at her. "This couldn't have happened a few months ago, now could it. No, I finally catch the Slayer at a disadvantage, and I can't do a bloody thing about it." Pounding his hands on the arms of his wheelchair, he growled. "Thanks to you."

"And you're in a wheelchair… which means, either I'm in a mental ward somewhere, or this is 1998." She jumped to her feet, suddenly wary. Bracing herself with one hand against the wall, she said, "I know I'm not crazy, so… umm, if this is 1998, then why are you talking to me? Shouldn't you be running or… well, wheeling away?"

"Not much point to that. You'd catch up before I got ten feet away. These wheels weren't meant to roll on grass. Might as well talk to you- got nothing to lose now, do I?"

"And Angelus?" She clenched her jaw to kill the fear that rose in her throat. This is *so* my life. To go from being in heaven straight to reliving the worst year of my life… but this can't be right. Think! "If all this is true and he really is trying to kill you, he must be close by."

"He's around here somewhere. Unless he and Drusilla decided to go back to the lair and have a bit of a tumble after dinner." Spike scowled, grinding his teeth. "That's always a possibility, these days." Leering at Buffy, he added, "Shouldn't you be staking me about now?"

She looked at him. His body was thin, sickly thin, and curved against the back of the wheelchair in a slouch that told her he'd been in the chair for some time. A curl, damp from the rain, fell over his forehead. If she was in the past, then this wasn't her Spike. This Spike wanted to kill her, not make love to her. This Spike was a true monster, one who hadn't earned the small bits of redemption her Spike had gained by helping her to protect Dawn. All the same, she was grateful that he'd been the one to find her. Buffy could think of a dozen people who'd give her more comfort but, in this situation, Spike was just who she needed.

He watched her with sharp eyes, waiting. She met his gaze steadily, then trailed her eyes down to study his lifeless legs. When she didn't say anything, he rolled a step closer to her. "Well?" An edge sharpened the word, making it sound almost eager.

She raised a single eyebrow, appraising him. Spike wants me to kill him. The only time I've known him to be that depressed was when he was first chipped. Incapacitated. Just like he is now… God, could this really be true? What's more difficult to believe in, resurrection or time travel? Reaching down, she picked up her stick and shoved it under the waistband of her pants. I've gotta figure out what's going on. If I'm alive again, well… than anything's possible. "Don't be stupid," she said, shrugging off his gaze and scanning the shadows for signs of movement. "I don't kill helpless creatures. Not even you. As I'll tell you again in a few years."

Spike jerked as though slapped. "Hey! Let's see you get within arms reach and call me helpless! I won't be in this chair forever, you know."

"Oh, I know. Believe me, I know. Better than you do, apparently. What month is it?" She grabbed the rain-soaked handles of his wheelchair, avoiding the large bag that hung from the back, and pushed him out of the cemetery. The sidewalk was slick with water, but familiar. She was only a few blocks from home.

"Uh… January. What the hell do you think you're doing?" He twisted in his chair, trying to smack her hands off the handles. "Either put a stake in me or leave me be!"

"January. That means if all this is true, you'll have another 4 months of wheeling around while Angelus plays doctor with Drusilla."

Spike slumped back into his chair. "How do you know that? You're a bleeding psychic now? Just dial 1-900-PsychoSlayer?"

Ignoring him, she quickened her pace, turning the corner onto Revello Drive. "I need information. I can't ask my friends for help because, apparently, I'm three years in the past. I've seen enough science fiction movies to know that if anyone finds out I'm here, it could screw up the timeline. Anyone who matters, that is."

"You did hit your head. Or is it drugs? Just how stoned does a person have to be to think they're a time traveler?"

"Just… shut up." From down the block, she could see the glow of lights shining through the windows of her house. Her mother was home, maybe. Mommy Her mind danced with a crazy mixture of hope and fear. To see her mother again… in real life, not in heaven. To have back all she'd lost… Swallowing hard, Buffy tore her attention back to the facts. "You don't have anything better to do, and trust me, you're much less evil than you think you are. And I hardly think that you not being around will screw up my timeline. So, you are going to help me."

Glaring, Spike said, "Or what?"

She paused on the sidewalk in front of her house. "Well you could go back to Angelus. Watch him steal your girlfriend. Let him stake you. Or, you could see how easy humans are to kill when you can't use your legs. Starvation doesn't sound like much fun to me. A better plan might be to help me. I need to figure out what to do. You have information that might be useful, since I'll need to avoid Angel… umm… Angelus. And I'll need someone to keep people from discovering me. In return… well, you need to eat."

Letting loose a bitter chuckle, Spike shook his head. "What is this? I scratch your back, you scratch my… mine?" His words dripped with innuendo.

"There will be no scratching of any kind! You do what you can to help me and I'll feed you. That's it, that's the whole deal. If you even hint at more…" With a blink, she remembered suddenly a past he hadn't yet lived through.

'What's wrong,' he had asked, looking down at her. She'd been sitting on the steps of her back porch, crying with fear for her mother. Though she had noticed he held a shotgun in his hands, she couldn't bring herself to fight him, especially when his eyes radiated concern and worry. 'I don't want to talk about it,' she'd said, misery hanging from each word. Though she'd sensed his internal struggle, she had done nothing to make it easier for him. 'Is there anything I can do?' he'd asked, wanting to act. Wanting to help her. She'd been unable to answer, but the pressure of his hand when it touched her back in a comforting pat reached her deep inside.

Looking down at the wheelchair, she lectured herself silently. Stop thinking about that. He was chipped then. This… this is a different creature. I can't expect him to be happy about helping me. Not yet. "That's the deal," she repeated in a firm voice. "Take it or leave it. Leave it and you'll die. Doesn't seem like much of a choice to me."

He cocked his head to the side, confused by the conflicting emotions that he'd watched pass over her face. "For the record, I'm not happy to be helping you, Slayer. This is unnatural, you realize that? Like birds and cats taking tea together or something. But a man does need to eat."

"You don't see me jumping with joy either," she said, looking up at her house. "But we're both out of options." She saw a light on in the living room window. Leaving Spike on the sidewalk, she walked up the path and onto the porch. She looked inside, then, gasping, ducked back into the shadows. Oh God, that was…

"Idiot," she whispered to herself as she rushed back towards Spike. Grabbing the handles of the wheelchair, she said, "I should've known."

"What? You look as pale as I am. And I can smell your pulse racing." He leaned his head back towards her and baited her with a malicious smile. "Like melted chocolate. Delicious."

"Change of plan," she said, pushing him hurriedly down the street. She tried to ignore the sick feeling of fear that unwound inside of her stomach. "We need a place to stay. Somewhere no one will find us."

"There's a place," Spike said in a bland, indifferent tone. "It's not far. I'd planned on hiding out there anyways. You could come, I suppose." He tipped his head farther back to meet her eyes, but she avoided him. "But I thought you wanted to go home."

"It seems that I'm already there," she said, fighting down nausea. She glanced back over her shoulder as if she could still see inside the window, still see herself lying asleep on the couch.





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Sunnydale

2001

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"Osiris! Let her cross over!"

Willow knelt over Buffy's grave, suspended in red light. Her eyes glowed black and sightless, but she could still hear. Forcing herself to focus on her magic, she trusted that Tara, Xander, and Anya would protect her from whatever was causing the motorcycle noises and the screams.

"Release her!" Willow shouted, still deeply into the spell. She ignored the voice of the Buffybot. It stood behind her, shouting over the din of the engines. If this worked, they wouldn't need the Bot. Buffy could come home.

"Osiris!" she screamed, commanding the god to listen. "Let her go!"

As if from far away, she heard the sound of something breaking. A burning pain rose inside her chest, tearing at her lungs. "No!" The red light dissipated, dropping Willow to the ground. "No," she panted, half- conscious. She used the last of her strength to drag herself towards the broken bits of the magical urn.

Clutching the pieces of ceramic to her chest, she saw Xander and Anya rushing towards her, hand in hand. She watched them dodge a demon on a motorcycle. You're too late she thought as they approached. The urn… we failed Buffy. I failed. Then, suddenly, they both vanished. Nothing remained where they had once been standing.

"Tara!" Willow said, shouting above the racket of the motorcycle engines. "Did you… did you just see that? Xander… Anya… they disappeared!"

Tara peeked out from her hiding place behind a bush. She ran over to Willow and dragged her to safety. "What are you talking about, Will? Are you okay? Those demons just came out of nowhere! So much for an evening walk in the woods, huh?"

"What?" Willow laid her head in Tara's lap, dizzy and nauseated. "A walk? No… the spell… something went wrong. Xander…"

"Honey, shh," Tara said, stroking Willow's hair soothingly. "Those demons must've really freaked you out. You're all confused. Xander's been dead for years, remember? I've never even met him."

Willow's eyes rolled back in her head. She fell away from Tara and laid on her back in the dirt. With the last of her consciousness, she thought, What happened? What did I do wrong?