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Chapter 1
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Chapter 1

"I want to speak to the Powers That Be."

Angel and Lorne stared helplessly at Buffy. She stood in front of them, wearing that glowering, determined expression that Angel had seen before and knew with a sinking feeling meant that neither hell nor high water—and certainly no entity, human or otherwise—was going to stop her from getting her own way.

Around them, the Hyperion Hotel was buzzing with the voices of Buffy’s army, all the young Slayers-in-training who had survived the battle, plus their mentors like Giles, Willow, Faith and the others. The group had arrived a week ago after the destruction of Sunnydale and its Hellmouth. Giles was now the head of the new Council of Watchers and had nearly completed arrangements for all of them to leave for a more permanent location.

Buffy had been remarkably silent all that week, but Angel had known from the grim look on her face that she was planning something.

"You can’t speak to the Powers That Be, Buffy," Angel explained. "Though there are channels..."

"What channels? You’ve used them. Tell me."

"Well, Doyle and Cordy used to get visions..."

"Visions." Buffy dismissed that with an irritable flick of her hand. "I want to talk to them."

"There are the Oracles," suggested Lorne tentatively.

Angel shook his head. "They’re dead."

"They’re never dead. There will have been replacements."

"Replacements sound good." Buffy smiled with frightening satisfaction. "Where do I find them?"

"Angel knows," said Lorne and beat a hasty retreat. He didn’t know what Buffy was planning and he didn’t want to know. He liked all the SITs and Scoobies, but Buffy Summers scared him. He didn’t have to ask her to sing to feel the intensity of rage and grief in her, and he didn’t want to be anywhere near when she found an outlet for it.

"Under the post office?" said Buffy incredulously.

"Well, I didn’t choose the venue," muttered Angel, embarrassed. "I’ll show you."

"No. Draw me a map and tell me what I have to do to get my foot in the door. I’ll do the rest alone."


"No," said Buffy flatly and Angel capitulated at the dangerous look she gave him.

Now she stood in a cave lit by torches, staring at a white marble arch with words in a strange language written at the top of it. Gateway for lost souls was the translation, Angel had said. Pretentious.

She tossed the powders Angel had given her into the brazier and said coldly, "I want to talk to the representatives of the Powers That Be."

"You beseech access to the Knowing Ones," a disembodied male voice prompted.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever."

There was a hesitation, then the white marble blocks that filled the archway slid back onto a white marble room. She strode in. At the far end of the room, two shallow steps led up to another archway that opened on a passageway that seemed to recede forever. Two figures were stepping out of it.

Angel had spoken of a blond man and a brunette woman. But now the colors were reversed. The woman was blonde, the man dark-haired, both dressed in black, Grecian-style robes. Their skin was a metallic gold patterned with blue. They looked at once strange, beautiful and entirely supercilious.

"What gift have you brought?" the woman asked.

"Right. You want a gift. One gift." Buffy laid a rose made out of crystal on the marble table in the center of the room. Then she laid a real rose beside it. "You choose."

The woman smiled. "A challenge. Amusing."

The man frowned. "You dare challenge us, lower being?"

Buffy scowled back. "That’s what I do. And I would have thought that higher beings would have learned courtesy. To all."

The man’s frown became thunderous, but the woman laughed suddenly.

"I like your style. What is it you want of us?"

"You’re Oracles. You should know."

"Your vampire."


"We cannot bring him back."

"You can," said Buffy flatly.

"He burned from the inside out. He is ash on the wind."

"Find a way."

"Why should we waste time on such a petty, childish matter?" the man demanded. "You threw the creature away and now you repent of it? Live with your error."

She had thrown Spike away, spurned him, rejected him. Always. Of course, he hadn’t believed her when she told him she loved him there in the Hellmouth. ‘No, you don’t, but thanks for saying it.’ And then he had chosen to burn up, because all he had thought she was giving him was a sop for a dying man.

The fact that the Oracle was right did nothing to lessen her rage. She glared at him, shaking with fury, wanting to break him in half, wanting to tear this stupid, sterile, white marble tomb of theirs down around their arrogant, narcissistic ears. She dug her nails into her palms in an effort to control herself. She had spent the whole of the last week fighting not to let her rage and pain and grief tear the whole world down around the world’s oblivious ears.

"You owe me. The Powers That Be owe me! How many apocalypses have I prevented? How much have I given up for the PTB? In this last battle, even the First Evil, the ultimate evil, was defeated. And how many more champions do the PTB have for their cause now that all these new slayers have been unleashed all over the world? You owe me, Oracle, and I’m calling in the debt!"

"Foolishness." The man flounced around, swirling his robes about him, and stalked away down the passage. "I have no time for this."

He vanished, but the woman remained, looking at her thoughtfully while Buffy stood in the middle of the room and shook.

"So much rage in you. So much grief. Misdirected—at yourself, at the world. Strong emotions have power. The trick is to channel them to power your purpose, not broadcast them uselessly into the aether."

"I have only one purpose."

"And it is an entirely selfish one. But why not? You are free to be selfish now." She looked at the real and the crystal rose on the marble table, smiling enigmatically, then touched the real rose lightly with her fingertip. "Red. For passion, for love. But you rejected love, Buffy Summers the Slayer. You encased your heart in adamant." She tapped the crystal rose with her fingernail. "You turned your heart into this."

"I was wrong."

"Yes, it might be amusing to find out," the Oracle mused. She lifted the red rose and stroked it against her cheek. "Soft. We cannot bring him back, Slayer. But you can."


"Temporal possibilities. That’s what we play with. Time, like threads in a weave, forms its patterns. But any weave can be unraveled and woven again. If we unravel it, will you weave it differently, Slayer?"


"We can take your essence and place it in your seventeen-year-old self again. If you wish to change the outcome, then it is you who must change the weave. Will you do it?"

"You want to send me back in time?"

"It would be amusing." She held the red rose in one hand, picked up the crystal rose in her other, weighed them both thoughtfully. "Real and artificial. Both beautiful. One has monetary value, the other only intrinsic worth. One is dead and one is not. You wanted to find out which one we would pick, did you not?"

"Yes," Buffy admitted.

"Life. Always life." She tossed the crystal rose negligently toward Buffy and Buffy caught it without thinking. "Go back and change events. Or remain here and accept what is. Your choice."

"And if I wish to go back?"

"Destroy that rose. Destroy the wall you have built around your heart."

Without hesitation, Buffy smashed the crystal rose on the marble table.


The next thing she knew she was lying on her back and Willow was staring down at her. Except it was a younger Willow, her hair parted in the middle and tied tightly into two unflattering braids.

"Whoa!" She pushed herself up onto an elbow. She was lying on the couch in the house at Revello Drive, all of which was now part of the crater that was Sunnydale. "Owie. My head hurts. What happened?"

"I don’t know," said Willow worriedly. "I mean, we got to the house and you just collapsed. I think you hit your head on the floor. I know there’s a carpet, but it was still quite a whack. Are you okay?"

"Oooh." Buffy rubbed the back of her head. "I will be once the headache wears off. How’d I end up on the couch?"

"I dragged you there." Willow frowned in concern. "D’you think you should go to Emerg? Or see a doctor or something? Passing out like that is so not of the good. Might be a sign of something serious..."

"No. It’s just...I, uh, it’s just that I didn’t eat much today. Must have passed out from hunger, I suppose."

"Too worried about that session with Snyder, huh?"


"Forcing you and Sheila to make party favors and stuff for Parent-Teacher night on threat of expulsion. He’s a serious rodent," muttered Willow. "You do remember, right?"

"Oh, right." She couldn’t believe that she had ever worried about Principal Snyder. He seemed so unimportant now, after all the apocalypses and evil Firsts and Sunnydale vanishing into a crater...

She started to haul herself to her feet. She had to get some time to herself, to think, to process.

"I’m just going to get a glass of water."

"Let me do that," said Willow. "You just stay off your feet for a while."

"Thanks, Will."

There was a newspaper lying on the coffee table. She leaned over to look at the date. Monday, September 22, 1997. The Oracle had kept her word. She had sent Buffy’s twenty-three-year-old self back into her seventeen-year-old body. With all her memories intact. Which meant that she had a real chance of changing events over the next few years.

It was going to be unnerving trying to pretend to be a teenager again, with all the teenage worries and concerns that now seemed so unimportant, like the Snyder business and high school. God, having to go through high school again! Serious downer. While also trying to hide what she really was from Willow and Xander and Giles. That was going to be tough. Should she hide it? She didn’t know. She’d try it for a while and see how it worked out, tell them only if she had to.

On the plus side, keeping her Mom and Spike from dying. Changing a lot of the bad things that had happened. Oh, yes! There were a lot of pluses!

Timelines. She tried to remember the sequence of events that had happened six years ago. Parent-Teacher night had been Thursday. That was when Spike and his gang of vamps had come crashing into the school. Working backwards then, she had first seen him two days earlier, which would be Tuesday. Which was tomorrow. Which meant that he and Dru were either in Sunnydale already or would be driving in tonight.

"Buffy? Buffy?"

She realized that Willow had been holding the glass of water out to her for some time.

"Oh, sorry, Will." She downed the glass without stopping for breath. She needed the cold water. It was either that or a stiff drink—which would freak everybody out, she being only seventeen now.

"I think you should lie down," said Willow worriedly.

"I think I will," Buffy agreed to get Willow out of the house. She needed time to think, to plan.

Selfish, the Oracle had said. Damn right she was going to be selfish. Oh, she’d make with the Slayage and the saving-the-world schtick. She wasn’t going to stop doing that. But she was through worrying about other people’s opinions. She was through being Miss Goody-Goody with a stick up her ass. This time she was going to have what she wanted. This time things were going to go her way.

It wasn’t her Spike she was going to see tomorrow. Not the Spike with a soul, the reformed Spike who didn’t eat people anymore, the loving Spike who looked at her like she was the center of his universe. That Spike was not going to be around for a very long time.

The Spike she was going to see tomorrow was the unredeemed killer. The Spike who ate people and licked the blood off his fangs and laughed. The Spike who loved Drusilla and who would tear Sunnydale apart to find a cure for her. The Spike who wanted to make Buffy the third notch on his Slayer-killing belt.

All of that was going to take some getting used to. Somehow she had to find a way to keep him around until he changed. Somehow she’d have to get a leash on him—a very long leash it would have to be and spider-web delicate, otherwise he’d roar with rage and rip it off if it killed him. Oh, she knew Spike. She had never allowed the knowledge to percolate into her consciousness in the other reality, but underneath, way down in her subconscious, she had always known him. She knew how he would react, knew all his buttons. And she was perfectly willing to lie, cheat and manipulate to get him.

Women were always more dangerous than men. Way more ruthless. Morality didn’t exist when it came to what really mattered to them.

She was going to be all badass this time. She was going to channel her inner Faith. Don’t think she hadn’t noticed how he had reacted to Faith. Souled up and all, still he hadn’t been able to keep from flirting with Faith, lounging there in front of her, half-naked on his cot. Damn him.

Badass appealed to him. Appealed to the vamp that he was. The light held him, but the darkness pulled. She could be badass, no question. She too had darkness in her. That month they had nearly eaten each other alive, ripped each other apart, had proved it. Want, take, have—Faith’s old motto. But there were variations to that, not quite as destructive. It would be a juggling act, but she could do it.

She went up to her room and studied herself in the full-length mirror. Little Miss Innocence. Her twenty-three-year-old mind rebelled against that dewy, seventeen-year-old body. The light gray slacks and purple top would pass, but the make-up and the hair? Didn’t want to look like a ho with too dramatic a look, but surely there was a way to get a tad more sophistication? Let’s see. He liked her hair loose. She experimented. Parted to one side, leave her forehead bare. Not bad. She found a little gel to hold it in place, then tore through drawers and clothes closet, choosing and discarding, ended up with a look that satisfied her. Still innocent, but a little more elegant, a little more...sultry. She’d see how it went across in school the next day.

God, could she be more shallow! But, hey, anything that worked, right?

She needed something more dramatic for tomorrow night though. That would be the first time Spike would see her. She needed something that would have impact, something that would make an impression. What had she worn the last time? Some kind of dark pants, a pale blue top, some ridiculous shirt open over it when she got to the alley. Spike had once said that he had wanted her from the first time he saw her. But he had taken three years to come to that realization. This time, for her plans to work, she needed it to hit him right away.

She heard the front door open and close. Mom!

She flew down the stairs and flung her arms around her mother. Joyce nearly fell over with shock.

"Uh, Buffy. Are you feeling all right?"

Buffy hugged her one more time, then stepped back, wiping at her eyes and ruining the new make-up.

"You’re alive. I thought you were dead. I-I had a bad dream..."

"It’s nice that you’re concerned, honey," said Joyce, pleased. "But I’m not going to die for a long, long time."

"Gonna make sure of that," said Buffy under her breath. "How were things at the gallery today?" she asked aloud.

Joyce told her, a long and convoluted story that a teenage Buffy normally would not have had the patience to listen to. The adult Buffy lurking in her head now not only listened and asked the right questions and laughed in all the right places, but found the tale interesting. Wasn’t that a kick?

They made dinner together, then watched television together while Buffy explored the contents of her purse.

"Why do I have a yoyo in here?" she muttered and Joyce laughed.

"Still my little girl. What are you looking for, dear?"

"I wanted to get a new outfit and I was checking to see how much I had."

"Didn’t your father gave you a gift card for your favorite store a while back? Surely you haven’t used it up already?"

"Ooh. Hope not."

She hadn’t. She went shopping after school the next day and wore the new outfit triumphantly to the Bronze. Black leather pants, sleeveless black leather vest with nothing but the briefest bra under it so that it would show off her tanned arms and every now and then the odd peek at her toned abs. Sexy, but not overly so. Sleek. More grown-up than anything that was presently in her closet. And, from the way Xander’s tongue was dragging on the floor, effective.

"Whoa. New look, Buffy?" asked Willow, looking good herself in her black pullover, with her hair loose.

"Experimenting. Let’s get back to the French," she sighed. Buffy couldn’t see herself ever needing to use French, so she couldn’t understand why they had to study it. It wasn’t like she’d be able to go to Paris, what with the constant guard duty at the Hellmouth. And even adult Buffy was lousy at French.

The reason she had been cramming her French at the Bronze instead of at home the last time was because she had thought Angel would show. He hadn’t, of course. But Spike had. Interesting, if one thought about it. Even back then, she could count on Spike to be there.

"C’mon, one dance," Xander was saying. "You’ve been studying nearly twelve minutes."

"No wonder my brain’s fried," said Buffy. Willow started to protest, then laughed as Buffy and Xander pulled her onto the dance floor.

Buffy had her Slayer sense fully extended. There! she thought, feeling that tingle of vamp presence, that oh-so-familiar signature that meant Spike. The last time she had felt that, the last time she had seen him, was in the Hellmouth, burning away into ash. She wanted to run to him, grab him, hold him tight. But this wasn’t that Spike.

The band was playing ‘Stupid Thing’. She moved to the music, deliberately sensual and sexy, deliberately provocative, searching for him under her eyelashes. There. Circling the dance floor in a leopard prowl, watching her. Tears stung her eyes at the sight of him—the familiar white-blonde hair, black duster, fallen-angel face and beyond-sexy body. She blinked the tears away. She couldn’t afford that now, had to play this very carefully. That face wasn’t soft and tender, the way she was used to seeing it. Oh, there was lust there as he watched her dance; but behind it, that face was cold and hard, calculating and deadly.

He turned and said something to a man, no, a vamp beside him. The vamp moved away obediently towards the back door of the Bronze.

A few minutes later, Spike was behind her, demanding, "Where’s the phone? I need to call the police. There’s some big guy out there trying to bite somebody."

"Stay here," she said to Xander and Willow, then headed for the alley, snatching her stake out of her purse on the way.

He wanted a show; she would give him one. She wasn’t the seventeen-year-old Slayer still learning how to fight. She had six more years of moves in her head. She was experienced. Boy, was she ever experienced. She had sparred with the best; she had sparred with Spike and Angel; she had even sparred with Dracula with all his gypsy tricks. This vamp didn’t have a chance.

She pulled the vamp off his victim and told the girl coldly, "Run." The girl, for once with laudable common sense, obeyed.

"Slayer!" snarled the vamp.

"Slayee," she retorted, amused, then proceeded to take him apart. She played with him like a cat with a mouse. None of his blows landed. He was nothing but a punching bag on which she could demonstrate her moves, all the different blows and kicks, showing off. Always a canny adversary, Spike would be watching, studying her technique. She wanted him to know that when he took her on, he would be fighting the best. She wanted to be a challenge. He never could resist a challenge.

At last, when the vamp could no longer even move, she staked him with a casual flick of her hand.

Spike came out of the shadows, slowly clapping his hands.

"Nice work, luv."

She turned to face him, smiling.

"William the Bloody," she purred, her voice intimate and seductive. "Hello, Spike."

His brows rose. "You know who I am."

"Your reputation precedes you."

He grinned. "Flattery will get you everywhere. But don’t kid a kidder, pet."

"Knew you’d come. Darla and Angel were already here."

"Advance warning. I see. Is that a past tense I hear?"

"Sort of. Darla’s gone. Dust."

"Ding dong, the bitch is dead." He shrugged, smiling. "Never could stand that old cat. And Angelus?"

"Had a change of soul and doesn’t play with the other puppies any more."

"Care to translate that?"

"Long story. Maybe later. Why are you here, Spike?"

"Came to kill you." He grinned at her and she grinned back.

"Might have a problem with that. I’m...very good. Very...inventive."

No subtlety. Everything right out there to startle, catch his attention, be unexpected coming from a Slayer.

He laughed aloud. "Are you now?"

"Especially in...the little deaths."

His eyes flared with laughter. "My favorite. Might take you up on that, luv."

"Any time."

He licked his teeth. "Wanna get it on? Be glad to oblige."

"Gotta warn you though. Takes a guy with a lot of staying power to keep up with me."

They were circling each other slowly, the first steps of the long dance, both of them smiling. His eyes were alight. He was enjoying himself. His thumbs were tucked into his belt, fingers framing his groin. Her hands were in her back pockets, arcing her back and thus emphasizing her breasts. His gaze ran over them and his tongue curled behind his teeth.

"Oh, I’ve got staying power, pet. Should I demonstrate?"

"Why not?" Her gaze deliberately copied his, running down over his torso to linger below his belt. "Think you can take me?"

They were both laughing, their parted lips only a breath away, teasing each other with their open mouths as they circled.

"You’re ba-ad, Slayer," he said, delighted.

"You have no idea."

He leaned forward, clearly tempted, then caught himself. "Saturday."

"Why wait?" she purred. "Scared?"

That really amused him.

"Not of fighting. Or...of fucking," he said, laying it right out in the open as he always did, straightforward as ever. "Got a lot of years of experience, pet. In both."

"Never had one like me, pet," she mocked. She had to keep him amused and intrigued, had to keep him coming back for more. Spike had told her what Faith had said to him once and she used it now, deliberately. "I could ride you at a gallop until your legs buckle and your eyes roll up. I’ve got muscles you’ve never even dreamed of. I could squeeze you until you pop like warm champagne and you’d beg me to hurt you just a little bit more."

His eyes went black as his pupils dilated. She could see the heat flare within them. His mouth opened to say something. They leaned slowly, hypnotically, towards each other.


"What the hell?" Xander’s voice exclaimed. "What’s going on?"

Neither of them had heard the back door of the Bronze opening. They both whipped around to see Willow and Xander staring at them.

"Sod this for a game of soldiers!" Spike muttered furiously under his breath. He had clearly remembered who he was and who she was. And that anything but death between them was wrong. He pointed a finger at her, almost brushing her nose, and said violently, "Saturday I kill you, Slayer!"

Then he whirled and was gone, black leather disappearing into black shadow in an instant.