Era: Season 1, Time Travel
Warnings: No Spike until Chapter 4; thank you for your patience
“I was going to tell a joke about time travel, but you didn’t think it was funny.” – Jesse to Xander, winter 1997
Willow had neglected to mention the nausea associated with trips into the past. Buffy only just made it to the bathroom in time to avoid blowing her cookies all over the carpet.
“Buffy?” Her mother’s voice called out from the hallway. “Are you alright, honey?”
“Fine, Mom!” Buffy croaked back, more weakly than she’d like.
Joyce poked her head in, frowning. “You don’t have anorexia, do you?”
Buffy raised her head blearily. “You’re thinking of bulimia, and world of no. Ew.”
“Well, I suppose it could just be first-day jitters.” Joyce stepped the rest of the way in and touched the back of her hand to Buffy’s forehead. “I’m sure you’ll be fine after a little breakfast.”
That set Buffy off again, and any hopes she’d had of a meaningful reunion with her dead mother were well and truly dashed. She was running so late by the time she stopped vomiting that Joyce practically threw her into the clothes past-her had laid out the night before – hello, criminally short skirt! – before driving her to school. All through the drive, Joyce was rolling out every bit of advice she’d ever come across on how to help your child (for which read six-year-old) feel less nervous about their first day of school. Buffy smiled and nodded while praying to every power she could think of that her mother wouldn’t circle back around towards eating disorders and more appointments with Dr Wallace.
Oh dear god, Willow and Xander were so young! And what’s-his-face, who Xander ended up staking as a vampire … she’d forgotten all about him. And Giles! If Buffy squinted really, really hard, she could almost see the alternate dimension where she might’ve been interested. But maybe that was just because Buffy was now about the same age he’d been then. She was sure she remembered him being much, much older the last time she’d lived through this.
Giles eagerly thumped the Vampyr book down on the table in front of her, making Buffy jump. Then sneeze. No one had asked her to read dusty old books in a very long time; she’d almost forgotten how much she hated them. She’d definitely forgotten how much he loved them.
“That’s just what I was looking for,” Buffy said, forcing a smile only her mother would believe. And 1997-vintage Giles, apparently.
He bounced around like an overexcited puppy and Buffy wished she’d picked any time but this one, when Giles’ eyes burned with the fire of the true believer. “Into every generation a slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the—”
“Yeesh, can you quote that whole book verbatim?”
Giles laughed nervously. “Well, of course, you know all about that already, don’t you? You’ve slain vampires before.”
Buffy laughed. Then stopped. And now Giles was looking at her like she was crazy. Plastering on yet another wide, bright smile, Buffy said, “Look, I heard this place was some kinda hot spot for mystical stuff, hence me being here and all.”
Giles’ face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. Then there was babble. From Giles. Mystical energy, incubi, succubi, werewolves, zombies, and, of course, vampires. Lots and lots of vampires. And something special and evil happening very, very soon!
Buffy had to bite her lips to near-bleeding to stop herself from interjecting with the right answer while she listened to Giles try to work it all out in front of her. It was like some weird parody of her school experience: a teacher who didn’t even know the test questions, let alone the answers, while she knew everything. Giles finally ran out of steam, though, and when he obliquely mentioned slayer dreams, Buffy was able to take him up on a ‘nightmare’ cue and oh-so-tentatively stammer out the H-word.
After way too long forcing herself back into the mindset of a sixteen-year-old with barely a year’s slaying experience, Buffy was able to get him away from the research he would do as soon as she left, and onto the subject of training. It began with Giles asking whether she could sense it when a vampire was nearby. Buffy nearly wept with joy. It had taken her the best part of ten years to do that reliably, and she was hoping she might halve that if she just swallowed her pride and asked for help. As luck would have it, it turned out to be Giles’ greatest wish to teach her how to sense vampires. He even had three different musty old books on the subject, all highly rare and valuable.
That was why she’d come back here, to this time. As soon as Willow said direct wouldn’t work, Buffy knew this was what she wanted to change. Training up potentials in Sunnydale had proved how well the Council training programme worked for them – and quite how much it had never worked for her. It’d taken her a long time after that, and a lot of help from her sister slayers, but after the best part of thirty years fighting the good fight, Buffy had designed a training regimen that really worked, not just for her, but for any slayer. It was designed to build control instead of strength, to get a basic grasp of as many fighting styles and weapons as possible instead of mastering one or two, and included a healthy dose of mindfulness and meditation to keep the death wish away. It was practical, interesting, and most importantly, it kept slayers alive longer. Buffy wanted it for her younger self.
She missed out completely on seeing her mother between getting home from school and going out again, but she’d laid the foundations with Giles on how to train her. To Buffy’s surprise, it also laid a foundation between them for what interested her and what didn’t: no books, but videos and conversation were okay. She made a brief mental apology to Merrick for lying quite so much about her time with him, but she was pretty sure Giles wouldn’t be making notes quite so excitedly if she’d said it was all her idea. He even seemed to respect her for the insights she admitted to, like learning new fighting styles from her watcher instead of her enemies, and how frustrated Buffy was with her tendency to telegraph every single movement she made with her shoulders. Admittedly, that hadn’t been a problem for a long time now, but if Giles could cure it any quicker, more power to him.
Buffy felt confident their conversation would be enough to make the changes stick. She’d been totally freaked out and alienated by the books and fight theory Giles had pressed on her the first time around. By diverting him towards more practical training, past-her might actually enjoy learning.
Running into Angel on her way to the Bronze was a shock. Buffy had a stake poking into his chest before she even realised who it was. In her defence, he did look different: she was pretty sure that cut-glass jawline hadn’t been seen for at least twenty years. Did something happen to vampires when they hit two-seventy-five? But the biggest shock was how different everything was from her memories. She totally remembered that cross necklace as a super-romantic first-date gift … not a ‘Hey, stranger-lady. I’m a totally safe vampire, who’s definitely not stalking you by the way, but I won’t tell you my name. And lookee here, I bought this nifty cross for you and I’d like for you to wear it now.’ Buffy was so thrown, she didn’t really react to the rest of what he said to her. Not that it really mattered – it wasn’t like she didn’t already know it was Harvest-time.
As soon as she walked into the Bronze, all Buffy could feel was vampire. She had a very odd conversation with Willow about seizing the day in case you were dead tomorrow. That really wasn’t a philosophy she got behind these days, what with being immortal and all. Yet there she’d been, going on and on about how short life was, while mostly she was thinking about how stupid everyone was acting, throwing themselves around to long-haired idiots playing your standard late-90s music, completely unaware of the danger surrounding them. What a waste. Maybe ‘seize the day’ wasn’t such a bad philosophy after all….
Except for how Willow was now dancing with a vampire. Buffy grabbed her away from him within seconds, claiming a desperate need for a bathroom buddy. On their way, she felt a twinge of old and powerful and saw what’s-his-face talking to Darla. After a whispered conversation with Willow to remind her of his name, Buffy shouted out “Jesse!” He looked very annoyed at the interruption. So did Darla, always a bonus. Buffy garbled out something awkward about needing protection in all those dark and lonely passageways to get to the bathroom, and Willow, shockingly, backed her to the hilt. Complaining bitterly all the way, what’s-his-face walked with them and promised to wait outside until they were done.
“Okay, now spill,” Willow whispered, as soon as the door shut behind them. “That was not about avoiding bathroom line boredom and you don’t strike me as the kind of girl who’s afraid to walk dark corridors alone.”
Buffy shrugged. “Um, well, it’s kind of a long story, but….”
Willow’s hands were on her hips. There was resolve face. Buffy felt her eyes tearing up just seeing her like that again.
“Wow, Buffy, are you okay?”
Clearly not just tearing but actual crying.
“I’m fine,” Buffy said throatily, endlessly grateful for waterproof mascara. Then she had an idea. “The bathroom buddies thing was real. Honest! But that girl that, um—”
“Right. That girl he was with?”
“I, um, I know her and she’s kinda awful.”
Willow nodded more rapidly in sudden understanding. “Jesse’s got a thing for mean girls. He’s been in love with Cordelia since forever.”
Buffy smiled weakly. “Look, Will, seeing as how Xander’s not here and, um, Jethro there has a fatal attraction to the dark side, d’you think you could maybe convince him to call it a night?”
Willow nodded. “I could get a headache and ask him to walk me home. He won’t say no to puppy-dog eyes.”
Buffy smiled gratefully. Maybe Willow and Xander’s friend dying was one of those fixed points she couldn’t change, but she could at least stop it from happening tonight. She remembered them commemorating his birthday over the years, and it felt good to think she might be able to save him.
“Thanks, Will.” Buffy squeezed her arm gratefully.
Willow and what’s-his-face left – what’s-his-face looking downright murderous – and Buffy slipped back into the crowd to find Darla. If Buffy could take her out tonight, it might make things easier for everyone down the line. And since Darla wasn’t that great a fighter; it would be a believable achievement for past-her.
But of course, Darla was nowhere to be seen. Or felt. And then Buffy ran smack into Xander – ow! – who was carrying an honest-to-god skateboard. Since when had he skated?
“You’re leaving already?” he asked.
“Well, it’s kinda dead in there,” Buffy said.
Xander looked disappointed. “I guess Sunnydale’s pretty tame compared with LA, huh?”
“Oh, no!” Buffy said, cringing with embarrassment. “That’s totally not what I meant.” Even if true. “Just, um, Willow wasn’t feeling great and your, um, your other friend took her home, and I don’t really know anyone else here, so….”
Xander immediately brightened. “Well, c’mon little lady.” He was trying to sound like a cowboy. It really wasn’t working. “I’ll take you for a turn around the old dance floor!”
Buffy stifled a giggle. She’d forgotten goofy Xander. She looked around and couldn’t see or sense anything. She had absolutely no idea where that mausoleum was. Sunnydale Memorial? Or maybe that tiny Catholic one on the hill? “Yeah, sure, why not?”
They went back in and straight onto the dance floor, where Buffy, at least, was dancing. She wasn’t entirely sure about Xander. But it wasn’t long before she felt vampire again. So she smiled winningly at her dance partner and motioned that she needed to go to the bathroom. Buffy really hoped Willow and Xander never compared notes on how often she had to pee.
She walked the corridors around the edges of the club. Had it always been this dark and creepy? There was still no sign of Darla, but…. Aha! There was the fashion disaster that had wanted to eat Willow. And he’d found someone new to snack on. As Buffy followed them outside, she realised she should probably trail them all the way back to the mausoleum instead of dusting him straight away. Maybe even take out that big hulking idiot who’d nearly killed her and – oh! Buffy suddenly remembered it was Angel’s cross that had saved her from him the first time around. So their meet-cute had probably always been that lacking in cute. Man, past-her had been dumb.
Vampire Boy and New Girl – Holly Something? Or maybe Denise. She definitely went to Sunnydale, whoever she was – had just turned the corner ahead of her, when Buffy felt a hand on her shoulder. She grabbed the hand, and flipped the body over her shoulder and onto the floor.
“Ow,” Xander gasped out hoarsely. “Okay, I get it, no touchy without asky.”
“Sorry!” Buffy said, wincing. He must have followed her. She looked ahead, trying to see the couple, then back at Xander. “Look, I’m really sorry, but I need to go after that guy.”
Xander sat up gingerly. “Oh, well, hey, I hope he’s not a vampire. ‘Cause then you’d have to slay him.”
Buffy blinked. “Uh, yeah, pretty much.” Then she ran off.
Buffy just caught sight of Vampire Boy ducking into a familiar-looking mausoleum and ran after him. Quiet Haven it was, then. “Well, this is nice,” she quipped, stepping into the gloom.
Lisa Hamm! Not Denise or Holly but Lisa Hamm! Buffy was proud of herself for keeping all that in her head instead of blurting it out. Lisa Hamm was huddled in a corner. Right next to what’s-his-face. Buffy felt heartsick; she had so hoped she’d be able to change something tangible. The two vampires stopped their quiet conversation and turned towards her, shocked.
Buffy put her hands on her hips and looked around. “A little bare, but a dash of paint, a few throw pillows – call it home.”
“Who the hell are you?” Darla snarled.
Then Xander stepped into the mausoleum. “Whoa, Buffy? Jesse? What’s going on in here?”
“Xander!” Buffy said, exasperated. The idiot had followed her again. “You shouldn’t be here!” Although it was humbling how much he cared – they’d only just met, after all, and he’d spent most of their time together staring at her breasts.
Jesse wavered on his feet, bleeding faintly from the neck. “Can we bail now?”
Vampire Boy tried to rush Buffy, and caught a stake to the heart for his pains. She grinned winsomely at Darla, then back at the three shocked people. “Hey there, Lisa,” she said warmly and only faintly self-congratulatory. Lisa stared back at her blankly. Buffy sighed. “C’mon guys!” She clapped her hands. “Time to get out of here.”
Lisa Hamm pulled what’s-his-face to his feet and ran for Xander and the door. Buffy could only hope that the three of them would actually escape this time. She had better vampires to fry. “Oh, Darla,” Buffy said, grinning only slightly maniacally, “one of my greatest regrets is not staking you when I had the chance.”
Darla frowned. “Do you know me?”
“Let’s say I know your family.”
Darla was just as bad a fighter as Buffy remembered, which was good, because she wasn’t used to her current body and Darla was the same size as her, which meant she needed to be accurate. Buffy’s flexibility wasn’t quite where it needed to be for her kicks to land right, and her muscles didn’t have anywhere near the memory her brain did. So what should have been short and quippy ended up being drawn-out and frustrating. But unlike the first time she’d lived this, by the time the giant vampire showed up and hauled her off Darla by the neck, Buffy’d already kicked out Darla’s right knee. Even for a vampire, that would take time to heal.
Buffy sat up gingerly, shaking her head to stop the ringing. She hated being thrown at walls. Especially stone ones.
“You were supposed to be bringing an offering for the Master,” the massive vampire snarled at Darla. “We’re almost at Harvest and you dally with this child?”
Buffy rolled her eyes.
Darla was cringing on the floor, unable to stand. “We had someone. But she came and … she killed Thomas, Luke. She’s strong.”
“You go. I’ll see if I can handle the little girl.”
Buffy watched Darla curl into the shadows, hiding herself. She was definitely too injured to double back out of the mausoleum and kill what’s-his-face again. Maybe Buffy’d really managed to save him.
As Luke lumbered towards her, Buffy popped up and kicked him in the face. She felt the snap connect; it was a move she’d broken necks with before. But he just shrugged it off. Buffy groaned. She’d forgotten quite how many power ups she’d had since 1997. She was at her weakest right now.
“You’re strong,” he said contemptuously, then slammed her into the floor again. “I’m stronger.”
“Ow!” Buffy shouted. “That’s no way to treat a lady, y’know.” Annoyed to have lost the opportunity to kill Darla, and furious at how magnificent her performance was not, Buffy changed tacks.
The incredulous hulk was a lazy fighter, all grab and throw with no finesse at all. When he ripped off the stone cover of a tomb and threw it at her. Buffy jumped on top of it, tucking her stake under her arm, and hurled her body into his mid-section, stake first, then flipped him over and onto his back, hard. She’d missed the heart, but it still had to hurt, right?
Luke just laughed. “You think you can hurt me? Hurt us?”
Buffy pointed at the stake sticking out of his chest, and the way in which Luke was very definitely not getting up off the floor. “Looks like I already have.” Future-Willow had been right about not taking the direct approach. Everything was so much harder to change up close! But Buffy’d done what she’d set out to do, which was more than Willow ever managed. So there.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with,” Luke growled, grabbing hold of the stake with both hands and crumbling it to dust. Then he picked up what looked like a piece of broken tomb and hurled it at her head.
Buffy gasped out “Oh, shi—” and then everything went black.
End Note: That's it for seasonal_spuffy! You'll need to wait for the rest, which will be posted in regular instalments on Elysian Fields, AO3, and fanfiction.net.