Author's Notes: Thank you for the reviews! If you've left a review as a guest, I do appreciate it, even if I can't directly respond.
I think that last chapter is going to be the worst of the bunch, graphically speaking. Sorry to put you through it. :(
Buffy limped across town towards the hospital, the baby tucked inside the soldier's jacket she'd liberated from Spike. The little girl had been pale but breathing, and the Slayer hoped she would be okay. She needed to hurry; it was almost dawn and Edith was sure to be waking soon.
When she reached the hospital, she tucked her hair more securely under her cap, buttoned the jacket up to hide her female assets, and hoped nobody she knew was on duty. She pounded on the door, thrusting the little girl at the young man who opened it with a gruff "here", and took off before he could question her. Out of sight once more, she readjusted the bindings around her knee. It was definitely damaged, no question about it, and starting to balloon up. She wondered if she'd be able to fool Edith into thinking she was sick so she wouldn't have to go to work.
And the answer to that would be? No.
"Um, hi," Buffy said to a waiting Edith as she limped in. "Sleep well?"
The other woman's lips pursed. "Have you been selling yourself?"
"What? No! Why would you even-?"
"You're out all hours of the night – don't think I haven't noticed – and now you come back wearing a uniform. What else am I to think?"
Buffy fidgeted, unsure of what to say. It's like trying to hide stuff from Mom all over again. Despite all the other crap she had to deal with, despite the fact that her mother had yet to be born, never mind die, Buffy's eyes welled up at the thought that she would never again have to try to explain away her behavior to her mother.
And that made her think of Spike and his weird reaction to her mentioning his mother, but she so wasn't going there. And didn't Willow say he brought flowers for Mom? she wondered, then pushed that even more disturbing line of thought away and made herself focus.
Although… it would be a relief to tell her. To have a friend here who knew who she really was. Buffy was missing her support group, no doubt about it.
"Look," she sighed. "I… it's most definitely not what you think. And I will tell you… but…. I need to get cleaned up first, okay?
Edith hesitated, then nodded. "Do – do you need help?"
"Hell, yes. Do you think I could get a bath?" Buffy asked, peeling the jacket off, then quickly bringing it back up to cover her chest as her roommate gasped.
"Anne! I think… I think you need to tell me what is going on right now!"
"Edith, please!" she groaned.
The taller woman shook her head angrily, but left the room without another word, leaving Buffy to undress and wrap herself in a robe. "They have the water on," she said when she returned. "Now talk."
Where to start? At least she already believes in monsters…
"Normally I don't tell people because, first, they wouldn't believe me, and second, supposed to be a secret. So you can't tell anybody else, okay?"
Edith waved her hand dismissively and Buffy hesitated. "I shall not tell another soul," the other woman promised.
"Right. Well. Monsters. Are real. And it's my job to kill them."
Edith burst out laughing, her mirth tinged with hysteria, her sandy curls bobbing about her face. "You? How?"
With a sigh, Buffy looked around the room, then scooted closer to the headboard, gripping the straight iron rods and bowing them apart with a grunt. She motioned at Edith to have a go, and the other woman couldn't even budge them.
"Normally I'd offer you more proof," Buffy said, "but, kinda hurt at the moment. Anyhow, here's the deal: I'm the Slayer. In every generation, one girl, she has the strength and the power, fights the monsters, blah blah blah. It's a whole destiny thing."
Edith was silent, considering her with a frown. "Anne… does this have something to do with losing your memories?" she finally said.
"Give the girl a prize," Buffy muttered. "So, here's the part that you might have a harder time believing… I'm not Anne. I'm her great-something daughter, from the future, and I think I died and somehow ended up in her body. I was the Slayer of my time and now I guess I'm the Slayer here too. I'm not really sure."
"Um…" Edith said even more hesitantly. "Did you get hit in the head again?"
"What!? No, I'm not crazy! Geez, thanks Mom, you going to call the men in white jackets now? Hello, you're the one who told me there were monsters around." Edith didn't look any more convinced of Buffy's sanity after that ramble. "Fine. We'll take it more slowly. The monsters that Doc Reynolds saw? Vampires. Do you believe that?"
Edith fidgeted, picking at a thread on her flannel nightgown. "Well, I suppose that could be true."
"Vampires are real. And demons." Buffy waited for Edith's acceptance then went on, letting herself speak like Buffy for once. "I've been called, part of that whole destiny thing, to keep the balance. I get super strength, enhanced healing, and some other bonuses in exchange for going out and kicking demon ass. Putting a stop to their evil." She held up a hand to forestall Edith's disbelief. "I know, little girl, big can o'whupass, sounds crazy. I'll demonstrate for you another time. Because last night I got my own ass whupped – by one of those vampires Doc Reynolds told us about – and I need some time to recover."
There was a knock on the door and one of the chambermaids stuck her head in to say the bathwater was ready. At least, that's what Buffy thought she said, what with the girl speaking French and all. She stood with a whimper. "Do you think you can cover for me today while I play hooky?"
"If you are not from the future, I can think of no other reason for your bizarre manner of speech," Edith said, and Buffy had never heard her sound so stuffy. "What is 'hooky'?"
"Take the day off. Be sick. There's no way I can make it out to Fricourt and back today."
"Perhaps it would be better if you did go, and allowed the doctor to examine you. He, at least, would not be disinclined to believe your wild story."
Buffy shook her head. "Tomorrow. Gotta fix my knee, get some sleep so it can heal." Just thinking about trying to fix her knee herself left her sweaty, but she'd seen these doctors and their operating. She was better off on her own, lining everything up and letting her body do the work it did best.
Edith helped Buffy to the bath and back, then helped her to bind her leg, peppering her with disbelieving questions the whole time. Buffy was grateful when her roommate eventually left. She sank into an exhausted sleep, dreaming of Giles patching her up after brutal fights and a faceless man making it all better with tender kisses.
When Buffy woke, the afternoon light slanted across the bed, and there was a tray of food on the small dresser. She sat up, stretching, grateful once more for Slayer healing. The slashes across her chest were no more than thin, angry scabs, her shoulders felt fine, and only her knee still hurt. That, she figured, would be tender for several days more.
She limped over to the tray, snatching at the fruit and bread, shoveling the food in to quiet the angry gnawing in her belly. It tamed the beast, but not by much. Slayer healing equals Slayer metabolism equals need waaaay more food than that…
Oh well. She had to go out anyways. After carefully dressing, Buffy picked her way down the stairs and across the cobbled street, heading for the small inn where they ought to be serving lunch. She still hadn't picked up much French, so she resorted to holding her coins out to the server and asking, "Je mange?" The elderly woman took her coins with a smile and nod, seating her by the window, then bringing out a huge bowl of stew, a loaf of bread, and a hunk of cheese. Buffy could feel the nutrition working its way through her body and she sighed in relief, enjoying being encouraged to eat as much as possible by the matronly innkeeper.
Especially the cheese, she thought, taking another bite. French bread? Yum. The cheeses? Almost enough to make Buffy glad she'd been punted into the past.
Then it was on to the less pleasant task of the day. She limped to the butcher, purchasing a quart of blood and a packet of sausages – just to have something else to buy – and on to the abandoned cellar on the outskirts of town.
Fortunately, her restraining skills were superior to Spike's, but then she'd already had plenty of practice restraining the vampire, even if he didn't know that. Walking into the small room, seeing him chained and bound against the wall, she was overwhelmed by déjà vu, images flashing through her mind of a peroxided Spike chained in her Watcher's tub, threatening her much as he was doing now.
"Settle down, you big baby," Buffy told him. "I'm not even hurting you."
She rolled her eyes. It was dank in the cellar, but still. "Vampires don't get cold, Spike. And look, I even brought you a present."
He sniffed the air as she uncorked the container. "As if! I won't be reduced to eating that swill!"
"Well, it's this or nothing, your choice," Buffy shrugged. "Do you want it or not?"
"Fine. Don't complain when it's all congealed and yucky, I don't have any burba weed for you."
"What are you playing at, Slayer? This some new game, pet vampire? 'Cause if it is, you're sick. Trying to keep me like a bloody dog."
Buffy fought the urge to pound her head against the wall. "Right. Because you keeping me chained up – that was all good and normal, was it?"
"S'the natural order of things," Spike said. "Me – vampire. Evil. You – Slayer. Make with the staking. Not this."
"And look what I have here," she replied, waving her stake in his face. "I didn't have one this morning. Now I do. So – happy to oblige."
"What's that, then?" he demanded, nodding at the blood. "Last meal for the man on death row?"
Lowering herself onto the stone step, she said, "It can be. If that's what you want. It's all up to you."
Spike glared at her. "You back on this kick? Spike's a good boy deep down inside? Thought I'd relieved you of that daft notion."
Buffy looked into his cold, hard eyes for a long time before answering. When she'd first limped away, the child in her arms, her only thought had been to come back and stake him. To rid the world of his evil, and Darla and Drusilla too. Maybe that was why she'd been sent back.
Because the more she thought about it, the more she questioned whether she was actually changing the past or not. Spike had never mentioned Buffy the Vampire Slayer being in his past, which made sense because she wasn't Buffy, but he had also never talked about Anne the Vampire Slayer, or any other Slayer during his 'most evil' period. Buffy felt certain that he would have mentioned Anne during his confession in the back of the RV. She was sure her encounters with Spike would have been memorable for him – but he had said the next Slayer he'd met up with after the Chinese one had been in the twenties. And since he hadn't mentioned Anne, Buffy was no longer hopeful that whatever she chose had already happened in her future.
Which left one alternative – that she was changing the future. And if she was… then she was faced a monumental decision. She didn't have to leave Spike alive. She could save thousands upon thousands of his future victims. Throughout her lunch and her walk here, Buffy had debated this option. Weighed it against the knowledge that staking him now would mean her future would transform into a Spike-less one.
Logically, it was the best choice. For the past three years, even chipped, Spike had been nothing but a source of trouble. Sure, he'd helped her with Angelus, but only by taking care of Dru – who wouldn't have been there in the first place if not for Spike. He'd also helped out with Glory, but who was to say anything he'd done had made a difference? Buffy had still had to die to save the world. She couldn't think of a single reason she needed Spike to be there in the future, especially not when balanced against all the trouble he'd caused, all the people he had killed.
And yet… imagining a future without him seemed empty. He'd been an annoying, snarky part of her life too long to want to simply erase him from existence. Especially… Thinking everything through earlier, away from his current, more evil incarnation, Buffy had been able to recall Spike as he had been those last few weeks before she'd died. She'd recalled the way he had selflessly and heroically fought for her – and… well, she kinda liked that man. She couldn't bring herself to erase his existence.
So she continued to hesitate, searching Spike's eyes until he turned his head away. "I have to go soon," she said, "but I'll come back. Do you want to eat before I go?"
"I get out of here, you're going to be sorry."
"Probably. I'm probably going to regret not staking you. But I don't know if I'm ready to change everything." Pushing herself back to her feet, she said, "And besides, I can always stake you later."
Buffy held out the blood again. "I can't exactly put this in the non-existent fridge, so if you don't eat now you'll have to wait until I can buy more."
"Why the bloody hell are you being so nice to me?" Spike burst out. "It's unnerving is what it is!"
His battered, bruised face flashed across her mind, the marks he'd endured at Glory's hands standing out in stark relief against his unnaturally pale skin in her memory. "Because someday you're going to deserve it."
Half-crouching next to him, favoring her injured knee, Buffy reached out to touch his cheek. Spike flinched backwards, away from her. "Spike… do you really think you can love? Like, real love, selfless and pure?"
He seemed caught up by her serious tone, giving her question his full consideration. "Yes," he said, his blue eyes boring into hers. "Do anything for my Dru. Anything."
"What about… what about somebody not evil. Could you love somebody who wasn't evil? Who was innocent and good?"
"Christ almighty, I don't love you, you sodding freak!" he shouted. "What the hell is wrong with you? Bad enough you want me to give up evil, now you want me to love you too? Bloody nutcase, you are."
Buffy stiffened. "I didn't mean me." Yes, I did. "I meant in general. Do you… is that in you?"
He turned his head and refused to look at her, emotions she couldn't identify flitting across his features. When he turned back, it was with the face of a monster. "Bring me back that little girl and I'll show you how much I can love someone innocent and good," he smirked. "Show you how to get some innocence in me."
She slapped him across the face, his head rocking backwards, and he howled with laughter. "Eeeevillll, Slayer, figure it out why don't you?"
She turned and ran.