This Time Series
Part 1 - This Time

written by GylzGirl


Rating: FRT
Spoilers: Takes place between 'Bargaining I' and 'Flooded'.
Summary: On Buffy's 20th Birthday, a series of events is set into motion and nothing will ever be the same again.
Thanks: Thanks to Kazza and Meawan for sticking with me through this.
Author's Notes: WARNING: Character death. Angst.
Feedback Author: GylzGirl
Author's Website: Anthony Head @ Midnight Lore


"My God," Buffy spoke, barely above a whisper, "they just keep coming." She wiped the blood from the cut in her lip and moved once more to the front of her cadre. When Giles had first told her that the Razor Fang, a Chinese tong that Angelus had chosen to vamp on a whim in the 1850's, were spotted near town, she hadn't wanted anyone to back her up. Giles had tried to make a point that they were too skilled and deadly for her to face alone. She made it perfectly clear that that was exactly why it was too dangerous for anyone but the Slayer to handle. Giles and her friends had acquiesced, or so she thought.

In keeping with her tradition of birthdays planned by Nostradamus, the Razor Fang had chosen to arrive on the very day she was to turn the big two zero. She bowed out of the gang's carefully planned party and made her way to the warehouse where Willy the Snitch had heard they were holed up.

By the time she found it, the sun was already setting. She knew that this menace could not be allowed to roam Sunnydale for even one night. She loaded her crossbow and made sure that every pocket contained as many sharpened stakes as they would hold. Suck timing or no, she had to go in and stop them. That's when Giles appeared from the shadows, reasserting himself as her Watcher, Council be damned. He informed her that it was his place to fight by her side, and die there if need be. He held a saber at his side and his jacket pocket held the tell-tale bulge of stakes. Before she could argue, Willow and Xander walked into the dim moonlight as well. She gripped a baseball bat tightly while Xander held a mace. One final plea from the Slayer had fallen on deaf ears. She had handed the latecomers extra stakes as back up and led them inside.

Now she was only hoping she hadn't led them to a slaughter. There were so many of them, and Giles was right, they were skilled. They were a warrior clan that had inherited all of Angelus' cruelty. As soon as Buffy's group entered the warehouse, they were flanked by what had to have been a group of thirty. Apparently, since the book Giles' read about them in was published, they had been recruiting.

They had come at them one at a time at first, testing. Soon the vampires had determined the strongest and weakest fighters, and concentrated their forces on both of them. Buffy had taken some painful shots to the head and ribs but was able to hold her own. She had only been able to take out one with the crossbow before it was knocked out of her hands. They kept at least five vampires on her at all times, and she was staking them at a slow but steady rate. Willow however, was not fairing as well.

Willow was keeping the vampires from overwhelming and killing her, just barely. Xander and Giles were aware of her situation and struggling to get to her aid. For every step they took however, it seemed another vampire would engage them, delaying her rescue.

Buffy finally cleared the circle around her. She flipped over to Willow's position and staked two quickly before having to engage the last one in hand to hand. Giles staked the vampire attacking him and moved to hold the one on Xander. With his opponent pinned, Xander dusted him and both men moved to Willow's side on the ground. They found her in similar condition to themselves, bruised, scratched, bleeding and breathless, but not seriously hurt.

Buffy finally managed to finish off the vampire she was fighting and joined her friends, crouched on the ground. "Is everyone okay?" Three heads nodded wearily. "How many did we get? I lost count."

"I'm not sure," Giles answered, surveying their surroundings with a suddenly worried eye. A loud scurrying noise soon echoed throughout the empty room.

Buffy rose to her feet, Giles joining her seconds later. "It sounds like rats."

Giles' smile was humorless. "Very large ones."

"There!" They turned briefly to see Willow pointing to a catwalk above. One vampire jumped to the floor before them, followed soon by another, and another.

"My God," Buffy spoke, barely above a whisper, "they just keep coming." She wiped the blood from the cut in her lip and moved once more to the front of her cadre. The vampires were eventually joined by a fourth and then a fifth member. "Xander, watch Willow." The boy took up his weapon once more and stood before the redhead. Buffy moved into the fray and Giles was a half-step behind her. Buffy quickly staked two of their opponents, Giles taking out another. Soon Watcher and Slayer circled the remaining vamps who were back to back and suddenly not looking so smug.

"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.

Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth.

Her hand moved up and traced the bruise on his cheek gently. "You were pretty good yourself there." His smile was shy.

In the stillness of the room, a sound like air itself being ripped apart broke the silence. It was a sound to Buffy as primal as a lion's roar or a baby's cry. "GILES!" She had no more than gotten the word past her lips when she saw the crossbow bolt enter his back and exit his front, roughly in the area of his heart. He crumpled to the ground before Buffy could catch him.

Willow screamed and Xander threw her to the floor, covering her body with his own. Buffy, a look of rage and horror on her face, followed the arrow's path up to the catwalk. One vampire stood there smiling, clutching her forgotten crossbow. As he calmly loaded another bolt, Buffy froze, hot angry tears searing her cheeks. The vampire released the arrow. In a split second, Buffy rolled to the side, jumped to her feet and hurled her last stake. It landed square in the astonished vampire's chest. He turned to dust and her crossbow dropped to the ground with a loud clang.

Buffy ran to Giles' side, dropped to her knees and cradled him gently across her lap, careful not to disturb the arrow.

"Hold on Giles, we-we're gonna get you to a hospital an-and you're gonna be fine!"

He lifted his hand weakly to her face once more. His gaze was full of affection. Buffy tried to wipe away the blood that was trickling out the side of his mouth. He turned his head slightly and placed a feather light kiss on her hand. Then he closed his eyes and his chest rose no longer.

"Giles?! Giles?! Please? Oh God wake up! Please wake up!" She held him to her chest and began to rock him as the tears came unabated. Willow and Xander cried as well, each holding onto the other to keep from falling completely apart. "Please don't leave me. I-I can't do this alone," Buffy's voice was weak and choked with pain. Her entreaty having failed to bring her Watcher to her aid one last time, she did the only thing she could think to do. She clutched him tightly and sobbed like a person who had lost a part of themselves.

* * * * *

Willow walked into the dorm room she and Buffy shared. Well, that wasn't exactly true anymore. Since Giles' death three months before, Buffy hadn't spent one single night here. She had all but moved into Giles' apartment. Xander spent more nights here than anyone else, which wouldn't have been kosher with the University if they found out. Nothing was going on, but he was after all a boy, and a non-student. Willow didn't care. It just felt good not to be alone. She had come more and more to think they lost not only Giles but Buffy too on that horrible night.

Xander lay sprawled and sleeping on Buffy's bed. His backside was hanging over the side and half-blocking the narrow path between the beds. Willow smiled and gave it a light swat. "I'm up! Sorry Buffy I'll get out of your..."

"Relax."

Xander turned to lay on his back and look up at his semi-roomie. He rubbed a hand over his sleep-numbed face, trying to wake up. "Will?"

"Sorry to wake you up but your big ole butt was in my way there." She sat on her own bed and looked at him.

He scoffed and folded his arms behind his head. "Yeah, thought you were Slaygirl there for a second. I really must have been dreaming."

"Xander, don't start."

"Why not?" Willow tensed and leaned back against her headboard, producing a text book from her backpack and trying to block out her friend's impending tirade. She'd heard it all before. "She didn't even come to the funeral Will."

"I know. Some people handle things differently. She was in shock from it Xander. If you ask me, she still is."

"Bullshit. After all Giles did for us, all he did for her, she couldn't even come and say good-bye? Christ. Just think of all the shit she put him through and she wouldn't even..." Xander barely managed to duck the text book thrown hard and accurately at his head.

Willow stood beside her bed and glared down at him. "You want to know what I think?! I've been listening to you bitch for three months about what you think, so I *think* it's my turn! I'm mad at Buffy for shutting us out! I'm mad at her for blaming herself! But I'm scared for her too Xander. Have you seen her recently?"

Xander mutely nodded. "She's wasting away Xand. She must have lost twenty-five pounds that she couldn't afford to lose. Those dark circles under her eyes haven't gone away once since..."

"I know," he nearly whispered.

"And I am mad at you! You won't give her a break. And part of you blames yourself so you are taking that out on her. You're being a goddamn two year old and I'm sick of listening to you!" Xander gulped but made no move to speak. "And I'm mad at the both of you for forcing me to be the strong one. You complain to me about her. She complains to me about you. Neither of you are talking to the other. You're both so damn selfish! You're both allowed to let your emotions run rampant but I can't! I'm the one who has to hold it all together and be sane and logical or it all falls apart! And I can't do it anymore!" She burst into tears and sat back down on her bed.

Xander swallowed convulsively to try to clear the lump in his throat. He reached for her, slowly. "Will?"

"And I am so mad at Giles! How could he leave us?! God we need him so much. How do we do this without him? What do we do?"

Xander moved to her bed and put his arms around her. She hit at him at first but when his embrace only tightened, she clutched at him and sobbed against his chest. He kissed the top of her hair. "Shhh Will, please don't cry. You're right, I'm an asshole. I'm sorry. I'll make it up with Buffy. We'll do better. We'll help each other through this."

Xander rubbed at her back until she calmed a little. "Giles wouldn't have left us if he could help it. You know that."

"I do. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I said it."

"If Giles were here, he'd know what to do to fix this. But since he's not, we owe it to his memory to stick together and work through this ourselves. He wouldn't have wanted us to be hurting like this, to be hurting each other like this."

"I know," she whispered and continued to cling to him as he rocked and comforted her.

* * * * *

Buffy sat in the middle of Giles' bed, arms encircling her knees, rocking. She stared at the pictures of Giles that she had placed on the weapon's chest at the foot of his bed. She wore torn up jeans, a tank top and one of Giles' dress shirts. Buffy had taken it from his hamper, because it still smelled like him. It pooled around her tiny frame. Only the smallest part of her mind registered that even her own clothes had started to do that.

For three months, although she had no concept that it had been that long, this was how she spent her days. At sunset, she would patrol. At sunrise, she came back here. Aside from nearly inconsequential slivers of sleep here and there, this was her life.

Xander no longer spoke to her. That was fine. She didn't want to see him anymore. When he looked at her, she could see the blame that she felt mirrored in his eyes.

Willow checked in from time to time, told her that she had explained to the University that Buffy had had a devastating death in the family and had arranged for her to resume her schedule at the beginning of the next semester.

Buffy heard the words, but they no longer had any meaning for her. Nothing did. The only reason she kept patrolling was because it's what Giles would have wanted her to do. Also, she knew one night, she wouldn't come back, and that was what she wanted. She wanted this slow-bleeding wound in her heart to go away. She couldn't feel any way but bad, so she wanted to stop feeling. She was tired of fighting; demons, tears, memories. She just wanted everything to stop.

* * * * *

Willow sat Indian-style on the floor next to the small oaken table she used for an altar. Xander lay snoring lightly in her bed. She had been looking consistently for any kind of spells that could help the three of them through this. So far, it hadn't been working. She sat her latest grimoire in the center of the altar, lit the two white pillar candles to either end of the table, and began the now-familiar entreaty.

"Oh Great Hecate, hear my plea. Book of Shadows before me. Find for me the spell I seek, to strengthen hearts that grief's made weak." Willow watched the book in silence for a bit, then sighed in disappointment. Just as she was about to extinguish the altar candles' flames, the book began to shake.

Willow sat back and brought her hands over her mouth to stifle a gasp. The front cover of the book opened and the pages began to turn of their own accord, faster and faster. "Yes," she whispered as tears formed in her eyes. "Yes work. Please please work!" Suddenly the pages stopped moving, the book open wide to almost the middle. As Willow leaned forward, the candle flames billowed up almost a foot. She screamed and fell back to keep from being burned. Then the candles went out.

Xander awoke in total darkness to the sound of Willow screaming. His heart was pounding out of his chest. God, he couldn't lose her too. "WILL?!"

"Turn on the light! Turn on the light!"

Xander half-fell out of the bed, lunging for the switch on the wall. When the dim yellow bulb came on, he saw Willow sitting on the floor in front of her altar. "Willow?" His eyes darted around the room, checking for whatever Sunnydale had deemed to set on them tonight.

She moved forward, knocking the candlesticks off of the altar in her haste and seizing the book off of the table, her eyes quickly scanning the page. Xander came to her side and set the candles back on the table's surface. He sat next to her and waited, not wanting to disturb her. After a few minutes, she smiled up at him.

"What is it Will?"

"A blessing." She took his hand and squeezed it, smiling brighter than he had seen in months. "And maybe, a solution to all of this."

* * * * *

It was mid-afternoon when Willow unlocked the door to Giles' apartment. She'd called Giles' place looking for Buffy minutes after she found the spell, only to find that she wasn't there. Figuring the Slayer was on patrol, she planned to come by after classes had finished in the evening. She had hardly slept at all that night and could barely focus on her studies during the morning. Then, at about 11 am, the most horrible feeling came over her. Willow tried to shake it off, but it wouldn't go away. When she finally accepted it, she had practically flown over in her car, hoping she wouldn't be too late.

"Buffy?" As she shut the door behind her, she spotted Giles' desk completely cleaned of content except for a picture of Buffy putting a party hat on Giles for his last birthday and a stack of parchment envelopes. Willow moved closer and saw an envelope for herself, one for Xander, and three stamped ones with LA addresses, her mother's, father's and Cordelia's. "BUFFY!" Willow ran upstairs, tripping and landing hard on her knee on the third step from the top. Paying no mind to the fact that it was now bleeding, she hoisted herself up on the banister and tore up the remaining steps.

Buffy was sitting motionless in the middle of the bed. Willow approached slowly, tentatively reaching her hand out, afraid when she touched her she'd fall over dead. "Buffy?"

The blonde turned to face her friend. Her eyes were red and lined with dark rings. "Hey Wills."

She sat gently on the end of the bed. "Buffy what are you doing?"

The Slayer slowly shrugged. "Just sitting. Thinking."

"Buffy, I saw the envelopes." Her friend didn't answer. Willow exhaled. "Where is it?"

"Where's what?"

Willow searched the surface of the bed, her intense green eyes coming to focus on the pillow sitting just to the right of Buffy's knee. She moved it back and her eyes grew wide, filling with tears. A shiny silver .45 lay hidden beneath it. "Buffy...no."

"It's okay Willow. It's gonna be fine. I'm just...I'm just going to go see Giles is all. It's okay, they'll send a new Slayer soon and Sunnydale will be fine. It's okay. It's okay. It's okay."

"Stop saying that!" Willow grabbed the gun and threw it across the room. "It's not okay! You're quitting!"

"I can't do this without him."

"You're leaving us!"

"He left me! What do you expect me to do?!"

"FIGHT!"

"I'm too tired to fight anymore. I just want it to stop."

Willow stood and made a fist. "I said FIGHT!!" She punched her across the jaw.

Buffy turned with a stunned expression as a trickle of blood ran from her lip. "It's time for you to go Willow. I've kept Giles waiting far too long."

"Buffy he spent his whole life trying to keep you alive!"

"And look what it got him. This is the end. No one else dies for me. You and Xander take care of each other. Get the hell out of Sunnydale while you still can."

Willow wiped her tears with the back of her hand. "If you're going to quit now that I've found away to get Giles back, then the gun's over there on the floor and if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see myself out." Willow took off for the stairs.

"Bring him back? Will? Willow?!" Buffy sprang up off of the bed, ran down the stairs and tackled the redhead to the ground just steps away from the front door. She moved off of her friend and gripped her upper arms. "You can bring him back?!"

"No. Only you can. If you're willing."

"Just...just tell me what I have to do."

She brought her hands to Buffy's cheeks and held her gaze. "You have to live."

* * * * *

Buffy sat down silently on Giles' sofa and let go a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. "Okay, lay it on me. What do I have to do?"

"The spell itself is pretty simple. Anyone could do it, even a non-witch."

"That'd be me. What's the catch? What does it do exactly?"

"This is the trickier bit. It will take your soul, your mind and all your memories, back ten years in time, and it will inhabit your body from ten years ago."

"Huh?"

Willow sighed, sensing a replay of having had to explain it to Xander the night before. "Okay, pretend we did the spell tonight."

"Yes?"

"Your twenty year old soul would inhabit your ten year old body."

"And what happens to the ten year old?"

"Her soul would come to your twenty year old body. And then if the you in the past changed the timeline enough, she'd probably cease to exist."

"So I can go back tonight and fix everything?"

"Buffy it doesn't work like..."

"No Will, don't you understand? I can go back to when I was ten and, knowing what I know, I-I could run away, before I'm called to be the Slayer. Then I wouldn't have ever disappointed my parents and they wouldn't have broken up."

"Buffy you can't..."

"Or I could go back and keep Merrick from being killed."

"Buffy..."

"I could keep myself from ever sleeping with Angel."

"Buffy..."

"I could go back the night before Giles died and arm myself better, keep Giles and all of you away from the battle if I have to tie you up and gag you and throw you in a damn closet."

"Buffy stop!" The blonde blinked twice and fell silent. "You can't do that. What if you run away when you are ten? You weren't the Slayer yet. You couldn't take care of yourself. And your Mom would never have made it if something had happened to you. You know that."

The Slayer lowered her eyes, but Willow crooked a finger under her chin and forced Buffy's gaze to meet her own. "If you stop Merrick from dying, you never would have even met Giles. Would you really wish him out of your life completely? You probably never would have come here, which means half the town would have been toast by now, me included. Remember little Miss Mistress of Pain from the other side? What if you stop Merrick's death and he gets hit by a car the very next day?"

"But A-Angel..."

"You may not sleep with him, but who says that would keep Miss Calendar alive? Do you see a pattern yet?"

"I-I..."

"What if you go back to the night before Giles was killed and some stray vamp gets lucky on patrol? With no Slayer, it's left up to the Scoobies to try to stop the Tong. We barely made it out with a Slayer there. Without you, we all die."

"So what do I do?"

"If you're going to go back, it should be as close to the minute of Giles being wounded as possible."

"But that means..."

"Exactly. If you're going to go back, you're going to have to be alive ten years from now. I won't do this for you. It's you or it's nobody."

"But Will, is that even possible? Have you ever heard of a thirty year old Slayer?"

"You're going to have to make it possible, if you want this second chance at saving Giles. You're going to have to fight and survive. You were willing to die because of losing him, are you willing to live to bring him back? Can you do that?"

"I-I guess I have to, don't I?"

For the first time in months, Willow saw hope glimmer behind her friend's green eyes. She smiled and held her arms open. Buffy leaned forward and clasped onto her, letting the pain and grief she had kept private for so long out, sobbing into her best friend's shoulder.

* * * * *

Buffy sat down with a heavy sigh. She had been pacing for over an hour, waiting for Willow. She knew she didn't really need her to perform the spell, but she was nervous and wanted the reassurance of her presence. In the past ten years, she had memorized the incantation. It was the first thing that went through her head in the morning, and the last thing that she thought about before falling asleep every night. In fact, she had memorized the whole spellbook cover to cover. She had become a not-too-shabby witch herself in the decade she spent waiting for this night. It had given her something to do. She found herself a removed observer in the life going on around her, watching but not letting herself really participate.

Buffy had been happy when she attained her Masters degree in mythology at UC Sunnydale, but mostly from thinking how proud Giles would have been. She'd been happy for Willow and Xander when they had finally gotten married. Buffy hadn't gone on a single date since before Giles died. When she looked into the future, all she saw was this night. And now it was here and she couldn't help but think that Giles would have scolded her for living in the past and not enjoying the life she had.

Now, sitting alone in the warehouse where she'd lost him, she realized the ten years had proven one thing to her. Giles was indeed an irreplaceable part of her life. One she craved to have back. His loss was a pain neither time nor distance had lessened. He was the missing part of her and she needed him to be whole again. When she looked into her heart, she had found love for him. Complicated love that a schoolgirl, overwhelmed by her first affair with a dark forbidden stranger, had been completely blind to. Angel's return to Sunnydale had proven that as well. He left again in less than a month, finding her beyond uninterested in anything but reclaiming Giles.

She heard Willow's car pull up outside and cast a furtive look at her watch. One hour to go. Buffy smiled down on the picture of Giles she brought with her. "You kept me alive a whole 'nother ten years and you weren't even here. I can't believe I'll be looking into your eyes again in just one hour. I won't let you down this time Giles. I promise. I won't let you die again."

* * * * *

"Are you ready?" Willow asked.

Buffy smiled at her friend and pulled her into a hug. "I've been ready for ten years Will."

Buffy pulled away and dropped her robe, stepping naked into the chalk circle on the floor. Once the Slayer had crossed the threshold, Willow closed the last remaining gap in the circle. "Good luck." Willow smiled at Buffy and backed into the shadows, beyond her sight.

Buffy sat between the two white pillar candles within the circle. She struck a match on the ground and lit the candles. When they were both burning brightly, Buffy lit the center candle. She focused herself on the candle's flame. Once she was completely relaxed, she began to recite the incantation.

* * * * *

"Heads up," Xander called as he tossed Giles his fallen saber. The Englishman caught it expertly and spun to take the head of the vamp before him. As his companion disintegrated, the remaining vamp took a step back, right into Buffy's strike zone. Before he could blink an eye, he joined his friend as a pile of ash on the floor.

Xander helped Willow to her feet and kept a hold of her hand. The foursome moved closer together, visually inspecting each other to ease their minds. Giles tilted Buffy's chin up till her eyes met his. He smiled proudly and used his finger to wipe away the blood that had formed on her lip once more. "Good job." A smile twitched at the corner of her mouth, then her face went blank and became very pale. Her eyes rolled up and her knees collapsed. "Buffy?" Giles caught her, holding her up. She recovered quickly, standing strong and tall.

Her ears picked up the sound of the crossbow bolt being fired, a sound that had replayed itself in her nightmares for ten years. Buffy took a firm grip of Giles' lapels and shoved him to the ground, she herself landing on top of him, providing as much shield as her petite body could afford him.

Buffy could feel the wind from the arrow cutting through the air as it passed just over her head, ruffling her hair. As soon as the arrow moved beyond their position, Buffy sat, straddling Giles and pulling her last stake from her pocket. She flung it at the vampire on the catwalk with a Slayer's accuracy. As the creature crumbled to dust, her forgotten crossbow dropped to the floor with a loud clang.

Giles sat up, a bit stunned. Buffy turned to him and smiled brightly, tears filling her eyes. "You're alive! Oh God!" She threw her arms around him and embraced him tightly.

His hand came reassuringly to her back, rubbing. "I'm fine, thanks to you." She felt him tilt his head slightly up, then heard his breath catch. "Oh God no."

Buffy pulled back and looked at his face. His eyes were filling with tears. He looked like he was in shock. She followed his gaze. When she looked behind her, she observed Xander, crying, shaking and speechless as he cradled Willow's now still body, an arrow protruding from her chest. "NO! No Will no!!!" Buffy scrambled off of Giles and moved to Willow's side.

Xander curled his arms around her body tighter, protectively. "Don't! Don't touch her! You killed her!" He buried his face in his best friend's red hair and sobbed.

Buffy moved back against the wall, tears falling from her eyes as the truth of Xander's statement sunk in. Soon she felt Giles' hand upon her shoulder, easing her into his embrace. She clutched at his shirtfront. She'd been so focused on saving Giles, she never once had considered that the others might be in danger. She never meant to sacrifice anyone in Giles' place. Giles held her tightly as she fell apart, knowing there was only one way to ease the guilt and pain tearing at her. In ten years she would recast the spell, and this time she would get it right.

Read the next part: Next Time