Title: Once, When We Were Young (1/2)

Author: Nimue

Rating: PG

Feedback: Yes, please

Disclaimer: All characters belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, UPN, Fox... Just Borrowing.

Summary: What would have happened had Spike never come back from Africa? Or at least Buffy never knew he did. This is my take on Buffy, having survived to old age, looking back on her youth.

Once, When We Were Young

"So, Cassie, tell me more about this boy," the older woman said, neatly

packing clothes into her granddaughter's suitcase. The woman was tiny but never frail. Still as beautiful as a sunrise. It had always amazed Cassie how young her gran still seemed. Her hair was graying and her skin had lost some of its youthful dew, but her beauty was that of a woman half her age. She should somehow seem...older. But even at sixty-four, she turned heads when she walked down the street.

"Gran," Cassie sighed, sitting on the bed, looking starry-eyed and all of twelve years old despite the fact she was departing for her last year of university. "He is *everything*. Everything... good and happy and beautiful about living."

"Seems like quite the catch," the older woman said, tucking another

perfectly folded top into the old leather suitcase.

"He's...."

"Yours?"

"Every time I am around him, I feel...alive. Like my heart sings and my

skin is on fire and... I feel...complete. You know, Gran?" Cassie

continued, gesturing wildly and glowing from the top of her pretty blonde head to her painted red toes.

"I do," her grandmother answered, settling on the bed next to Cassie.

"Have you ever loved *anyone* that much?" Cassie asked, grabbing her

grandmother's hand and squeezing it warmly. The older woman thought a

moment. Not that she had to think about the answer, but rather about how to say it. She'd only really discussed it once before, with Cassie's mother, and that had been hard enough. She had dropped the subject with her friends. Some things were better left unsaid.

"Gran?" Cassie asked again, squeezing her grandmother's hand.

"Yes," the older woman answered simply. "Once"

"Grandpa?" Cassie said, smiling.

Again, the older woman was silent. "I loved your grandfather. Very much. He was a good man, a kind man, and he took very good care of us. Even when... even when he..."

"Drank?" the young girl said quietly.

"Even then," her grandmother answered. "And I have no regrets." That was a lie, but one Cassie did not need to know the truth of. Not yet.

"But it wasn't him?"

"No," the older woman said, her eyes filling as they had every time she

thought about it. She looked at her knees, kicking her feet like a child in a chair that was too tall.

Cassie sat thoughtfully for a moment. She loved her grandfather very much, but somewhere she had always known. Her mother had known. This was too hard on Gran. Time to change the subject. "You know I never drank much at school. I was afraid. Even thought I knew we weren't really..."

"Related?" the older woman said softly.

"Yeah," Cassie answered. So much for lighter topics. " I mean, I know he wasn't Mom's real father."

"No," her grandmother answered, shifting uncomfortably. "But Xander, your grandfather, loved you and your mom. More than anything."

"I know," the young girl answered. She paused, thinking. Might as well

just clear it all.

"It was Mom's real father, wasn't it?" Cassie asked, looking very

tentatively at her grandmother.

"What was, dear?"

"That you loved. Like I love Billy. With...everything."

"Billy," the older woman said softly. "William."

"Yeah," Cassie answered, looking oddly at her grandmother.

"It's a good name," she commented, standing and beginning to pack the

suitcase again. Slowly. Deliberately.

"Was it..him? That you loved?"

"With everything I had. Which wasn't much at the time," the old woman

answered.

"What happened?" Cassie asked, knowing that she'd never know everything. Her grandmother had kept her heart silent when it came to her daughter and her lover.

"Everything," her grandmother said, "and nothing at all."

"But you loved him?"

"Yes."

"Did he not love you?" Cassie asked, trying to understand.

"Oh, he did. Very much. More than I ever deserved," the older woman

answered, remembering just how much.

"Then..why?"

"Why what dear?"

"Why wasn't there a happily ever after?" Cassie said. The naivete of

youth.

"I didn't believe in those at the time," her grandmother answered.

"If he loved you so much, why did he leave you? Especially then... when you were pregnant with Mom?" The resentment in Cassie's voice was evident. Her grandmother's eyes flew open in shock.

"Who on Earth told you that, Cassie? Certainly not your mom!"

"Grandpa," she answered softly. The older woman sighed.

"Well, I understand why he said that," she said with an air of resignation, "But it simply isn't true. Xander never cared for him. Until the day he died, he hated your real grandfather. But that had to do with me, Cassie. Not him."

"Then what did happen?"

The older woman settled back onto the bed next to her granddaughter. "It was a very... hard time in my life. I was still Slayer then. A lot of difficult things had happened. The only one who understood me was your real grandfather, but he wasn't...well...I thought he wasn't ...good enough... for me."

"Why?" Cassie asked.

Why, indeed, Buffy thought. And why was this so hard to tell her? The

child grew up knowing her mother was the Slayer, and her grandmother before that. But telling Cassie her grandfather was a Vampire. It just didn't seem...right. Besides, in the end, it had no bearing. Love is love. "Because he was different. From the wrong side of the tracks."

"Was he bad or something?"

Her grandmother chuckled. "He thought he was. But in his heart, no."

"So then why did he leave?" Cassie inquired again.

"Because I told him to. If nothing else, he would have done anything I

asked. I asked him to leave."

"But you loved him?"

"Yes."

"Then why?"

"Because I didn't think I should love him," her grandmother answered. She was sure it made no sense to Cassie. It made no sense to her. Seemed to make perfect sense at the time.

"And he left? Even with... Mom?"

"Cassie," the older woman sighed, "he never knew about your mother."

"What?" the young woman said, her eyes flying wide open.

"When I told him to go, I didn't even know."

"And you didn't think he might want to know? You didn't think to find him and tell him?" Cassie commented in true-blue Summers girl bluntness.

"He wasn't the kind of guy that you could look up in the phone book or on some Internet search," her grandmother answered.

"So," Cassie said, "this man has... had... a daughter that he won't ever

know about. That he can't ever meet since.."

The older woman squeezed her granddaughter's hand. So much loss. First, the only grandfather she knew drank himself to death. Then her parents die in combat. All that was left was them. "I'm afraid so."

"But you loved him?" Cassie asked again. "I just don't understand. Why didn't you go look? Why didn't he?"

"Cassie, so many... things..... When I told him to go, we'd both said and done some horrible things. I don't blame him."

"Do you blame yourself?"

"Every day," her grandmother answered, tears escaping.

"Gran, do you still love him?"

" I always will. He was everything good and happy and beautiful about

living," the older woman said, smiling softly. Cassie returned the smile, hearing her grandmother repeat her words. "But I didn't understand that then. I didn't realize it. Or I did and I couldn't face it. He was..."

"Yours?" Cassie asked, tossing her grandmother's words back at her.

"Yes," she answered, closing the suitcase. "So, my advice to you is that if you *truly* feel that way about Billy, don't let him go. Don't screw it up. Don't be proud. And no amount of forgiveness is ever too much."

Cassie stood, taking the suitcase from her grandmother. "Thanks," she said, touching her gran's hand as she took the case. "That it?"

"Everything else is in the car," the older woman said, walking toward the bedroom door.

"Gran?"

"Yes?"

"I'll be back, you know. I don't like you here alone."

"I've be alone all my life, dear," her grandmother answered. "You and your mother have been everything to me, but in every other way, I'll always be alone." She kissed Cassie's cheek and walked downstairs.

*****

Tears rained down as she stood in the driveway, watching Cassie pull away. She stood there, watching, waving, until all that was left was taillights. Another departure on the road of life. For once, she wished someone would come to stay.

Slowly, achingly, she walked back into the house, letting the door click

shut behind her. She walked to the kitchen. Tea. Somewhere along the

line, she had learned to love it. Giles...maybe Anya.. maybe it was..

didn't matter. Tea was salve for all life's wounds.

Thinking, especially about the past, had never been an activity she enjoyed. She remembered everything. Every last detail.

"Tell me again why I could never love you?"

What he did that night was *so* wrong. So completely, mind-bendingly,

wrong. The really strange part was that she understood, with such clarity, why. Once he was gone, all she had was time to think. Made her realize what she had done to him to bring them to that point. Didn't make it right, but made it make sense.

All the things she said. All the beatings she doled out that he had taken without so much as a whimper of defense. What *they* had done had been horribly...wrong. And what was worse was realizing that she loved him as much as he had loved her. With every fiber, every drop of her humanity. Like everything else, it occurred to her a little too late. He was gone and she didn't know where to look.

After that, life had had its brilliant moments, but, for the most part, it felt like looking at the world inside a fishbowl. She had been too absorbed to realize that she was pregnant until weeks after he left. Then having to explain it to her *friends*. The struggling through it with only her sister's help. Finally, accepting Xander because she loved him as a friend and he had always loved her, but mostly because she couldn't have Dawn ruin her life by sticking around when she should be off in college, starting a life of her own.

That she did. Doctor now. She and her husband fly in twice a year from New York. Never enough.

There it was though. Her life.

Laugh, but not all of your laughter. Cry, but not all of your tears.

Now Emma is dead. And Xander. Casualties of life's war. Dawn is gone.

Willow disappeared into nothingness. Anya... well, never truly close

after.. And Giles, bless him, finally just had enough. The only one who just drifted off like people were supposed to drift off. Fell asleep one night and never woke up. Of any of them, he deserved the rest.

Which leaves Cassie. Who is finishing school. Who is in love. And

becoming adult. And leaving. So this house, which had been filled and

emptied a hundred times over, is empty once again. The old woman's heart could never fill it alone. She was too... broken. She ran her fingers over the top of the mug. All it would have taken to change all of it was "I'm sorry" followed by "I love you." Words children say. Then she would have never lost him. Emma would have known her father. Cassie her grandfather. Emma might even have still been alive. But the words escaped her then. She had been reminded of that every night since.

A small rap at the kitchen door startled her to attention. "Coming," she chimed, hopping up and trotting to the back door as if she were twenty-four rather than sixty-four. "Who's there?"

"A friend," Came a smooth, English accent. Relative of Giles?

Tentatively, she cracked the kitchen door, tossing it open, then stopped

dead. Her jaw dropped. Her eyes widened. Her head swam.

"S...Spike?"

"Hello, Buffy," he managed to say before she swooned, fainting dead away and he was darting through the door to catch her before she hit the floor.

To be contd.