The Eternity of Minutes

The aftermath was like a battlefield after the sound of canon fire had died.

They had won the day but none of them felt the pleasure of victory. Buffy was shaking in the wake of Angelus’ words and too many seconds ticked by as she tried to remind herself that the meeting that Angleus had taken such relish in stating prior to his departure was already a thing of the past for her. The wounds he had sough to inflict were long ago healed and if there was some consolation to be had, Angel himself had seen to it that Angelus would never escape again. Of course, he had left Buffy to do it but in her heart, she knew he was just as torn as her about the decision. Unfortunately, all the rationale in the world could not change the fact that he had once again cleaved her heart in two and left it at her feet in bloody tatters.

"Buffy," Ezra Standish made his way to her, clutching his injured hand because he could see the shattered look in her eyes she tried so hard to hide. He had looked in the mirror too many times himself and had been confronted by the same mask.

She looked up at him, lips quivering and did not resist when he pulled her to him in a warm embrace because she needed it.

"I’m okay," she said softly into his coat, careful not to aggravate his injured hand. "He just gets to me that’s all."

Ezra who knew something of Buffy’s history with Angelus understood completely. "He prides himself in being cruel to mask his fear of what the future holds for him. I believe that what he has seen did frighten him and his decision to withdraw from Four Corners reflects just how much. You tell me he is not one to relinquish his obsessions. What he has seen has certainly shaken him. I have no doubt that until he feeds upon his gypsy victim, he will spend every waking moment trying to avoid his situation."

"He won’t," she replied after a while and pulled away from Ezra, drying her eyes. "Thank you," she replied gratefully. "I needed that."

"The least I could  do for family," Ezra crooked a little smile in her direction.

Buffy returned his smile and looked around the room, taking account of the destruction that had followed in the wake of Angelus’ retreat. Vin was helping Tara to a pew. The young Wiccan looked exhausted and Buffy felt a wave of concern over her effort, not to mention intense gratitude at giving them the means to drive Angelus away. However, it appeared as if Tara was in good hands with Vin tending to her needs. Nathan Jackson’s instincts as a healer had kicked in as he soon closed the distance between himself and Ezra to deal with the gambler’s broken hand. The others had suffered minor bruises and cuts which could be tended to later but for now her ancestor, seemed to be the most serious casualty of the battle.

Chris Larabee was peering through the fissure as if he could see through the darkness. Buffy had no doubt that Chris would not take Angelus on his word that he was leaving until the gunslinger could verify it himself. Chris was not one to take chances and as he stood at the edge of the hole created by the dynamite, he appeared like a dark god keeping an eternal vigil on the town that had earned his protection. The youngest of the seven appeared somewhat dazed with disbelief that the fighting was over. Buffy found herself smiling a little because it was the same expression she had seen on Xander too many times. However, that did not stop him from helping Giles to his feet where Angelus had struck him.

Then she caught sight of Spike.

The vampire was alone in the corner of the room, staring past the wooden pew that blocked the shattered window, seeing nothing. The expression on his face was one she could not fathom and his features seemed as if they were carved from marble. However what struck her most was the deep overwhelming sadness that seemed out of place on a face she knew mostly for its arrogance and its sardonic humor. The expression in his eyes drew her to him almost involuntarily, forcing her legs to move as she crossed the gap between them and knew as she approached that it was not merely distance.

"Spike?" She called out.

"Slayer," Spike turned to her and acknowledged her presence with that brief statement.

"You’re hurt," she remarked, noting the blood on his abdomen.

"It's nothing that won’t heal," he replied.

"What’s wrong?" She asked concerned even though she knew what it was. It was probably the same thing that was bothering her – Angelus’ cruel words.

"Nothing," he shrugged.

"Is it was Angelus said?" She ventured a guess, hoping to draw it out of him.

"No," he shook his head. "It's nothing you would understand."

"Try me?" Buffy urged.

"He’s right you know," Spike said not looking at her. "No matter what happens. You’ll always love him."

There was no lying to him on this, Buffy was not even about to try. "I guess I will."

"I think I should go," Spike declared.

"Go?" Buffy stared at him with suspicion. "Go where?"

"Anywhere you’re not," he met her eyes for the first time. "I think in the long run it will be easier. You don’t love me, no matter how hard I wish it were otherwise. I’m just cutting myself up into pieces hoping that you might."

"You don’t know that," she replied softly. "I do care. I just don’t know how much."

"I can forever to find out," Spike confessed, feeling his inside ache with the words he was saying. Angelus had hurt him deeply. He hated that his Sire knew about his love for the Slayer but worse yet, he hated the fact that Angelus was right about every bloody thing he had said to both of them. "I would wait forever to find out but what scares me more than anything else is knowing that you might die before that ever happened."

"Spike please," her words escaped her in a strangled whisper. "I don’t want you to go. I don’t know if I can love you but I thought we were sort of friends. Maybe what’s been happening between us has scared me a little and I haven’t behaved better but I don’t want you to go. You’re the only one who seems to understand me right now, the only one I can stand to be around."

"What happens when that changes?" He met her eyes with a harsh unyielding stare.

"I don’t know," she admitted. It was the truth, she didn’t. "I just don’t want you to go just yet."

She reached her hand to his, praying that he would take it because the implications that he would not was more than she could stand. He was the one place that she could run to when all else seemed too hard lately and to know that he was gone, like Angel, Giles and Riley before him was a loss she could not endure. Perhaps this was insanity, this path they were spiraling down, a sickness that would kill him first before it took her, she could not rightly say for certain.

All she knew was she needed him to feel.

Spike met her eyes and knew that for now, she was earnest in her desire to have him stay but her reasons for wanting that were so mixed now that even he had trouble discerning what her true intentions were. She was a mixed bag of contradictions, passion and glacial coldness wrapped up in the form of a beautiful young woman he would always love and even though he lived forever, she would kill him a thousand times before her own life ended. However, he belonged to her and so there was no question of what he would do, despite the brief moment of sanity that surfaced in his mind when he considered leaving her.

He took her hand.

+ + + + + + +

Almost four days had passed since Angelus had freely chosen to leave Four Corners with his ‘family’ before the vampire hunters of Four Corners were certain the threat to Ezra Standish and the time line was done. Mary’s inquiries at Eagle Bend and beyond indicated that a group of European travelers had boarded a train bound for Denver the night after their climatic battle in town. Mary continued to trace Angelus as best she could and by all accounts the Master Vampire had held true to his word that he and Four Corners were finished with each other. The Slayer remained in Four Corners none the less, taking up Mary’s hospitality during the length of her stay, as did Tara. Giles and Spike seemed happier to remain out of sight at Chris’ shack although the vampire did ride to town during the night to play lengthy bouts of poker with Ezra.

However, it was soon apparent that it was time to go home and as much as Buffy enjoyed getting to know her southern ancestor, none of the visitors from Four Corners could remain indefinitely. Buffy was eager to return to her life and particularly to Dawn. Although Dawn was almost sixteen, Buffy could not help feeling anxious about her sister’s welfare and would not rest easy until she was back in her own time. However, she could not deny that she worried what would happen to Giles and Tara if they were to return to the future. The timeline that was home to them may not exist and if it did, she was not entirely pleased to send them back to a world where vampires ruled the night. However, Giles was adamant that he could not remain and was determined to return. Tara however, did not seem as certain.

During the remaining time left to them, Vin and Tara spent most of it together and it was plain to see that departure would be exceedingly difficult for both. Buffy wished things were otherwise, aware that the Tara she knew in the future was not this girl with whom the tracker was so smitten. That Tara would never know what Vin was to her because she would love Buffy’s best friend Willow. At first, Buffy had found it strange to see Tara with anyone else but Willow but then the heart was never the most predictable fixture in one’s body. After seeing them together, she knew without a doubt that Vin and Tara could be happy if things had been different. Unfortunately, there did not seem any way to resolve their situation and it soon came to leave Four Corners behind.

"Giles," Buffy spoke quietly to the Watcher late that night at Chris Larabee’s ranch. The full moon had been replaced with the crescent version of itself and the witching hour was at hand for Tara to begin her spell to send them back.

"I don’t know whether you or Tara should come back with us," Buffy said sincerely concerned about what would happen to the Watcher and the Wiccan in the invocation of the spell to return them to the future. "I mean here, you have a chance of a future but you might not exist at all if you come back with us."

"Buffy," Giles sighed, aware that she was attached to him in the same fashion as she was to the Giles in her world. Secretly, he was pleased at the emotions she felt towards him but he had to do what was right. "We can’t remain here. Our presence alone could harm the timeline."

"Giles, you and Tara are the most responsible and level headed people I know," Buffy exclaimed. "You wouldn’t let anything like that happen."

"We don’t belong here," Giles pointed out. "I know that there are risks but there’s no other choice."

"I know," Buffy conceding, hating the fact that he was always so sensible. For once she wished he could throw caution to the winds and do something for himself. However, she supposed if he had done that, he would not have been the Watcher that had become more than her guide but her surrogate father. "I just don’t want to see you hurt."

"Knowing the world is a better place because of what we managed here would be ample consolation if I did vanish into thin air," Giles responded with a warm smile. "Seeing you, what you’ve become, knowing that I had some part in the woman you’ve grown to be is more than I’ve ever hoped Buffy. Even if I exist as your Watcher with no idea of what might have been, nothing could make me prouder at this moment then being at your side. It has been my privilege to know you."

Emotions welled up in her eyes and she hugged him. "I always feels so good when you say that Giles, you have no idea how much."

She wished he could return home with her, so he could continue to be her Watcher but he was right. He would be as out of place there as he was here. "I guess we better get this started."

"I guess so," Giles nodded. "I’ll go find Tara."

"Okay," she nodded slightly and saw Chris and Ezra waiting to say goodbye.

Josiah was still too sick to travel although both Spike and Buffy had made their farewells to Josiah, JD, Nathan and Buck. Even though it was evident that Angelus and his family were not coming back, Buffy had a feeling it would take some time before Chris was confident enough to rest easy. The man was just as intensely protective of his friends as she was of hers and so she understood his inability to believe the danger had passed. Buffy also guessed that was likely the reason some of the in town while he, Vin and Ezra saw the Slayer off to her world.

"You okay Slayer?" Spike asked concerned. He had stepped aside to give her a moment with Giles but could tell that she was still worried about the Watcher’s ultimate fate.

"Yeah," she nodded with a sigh. "I hope Giles coming back with us isn’t a mistake."

"I’m sure it will work out," he remarked, although inwardly he did not think Giles would survive the trip back to his world.

"This has been one hell of a trip," Buffy sighed as she approached Chris and Ezra. "I can’t believe I’m related to that guy," she said mischievously and loud enough for Ezra to hear.

"Tell me about it," Spike retorted. "I was sure you were her sire." He looked in Chris’ direction. "You’re both intense enough to be related."

"Awww!" Buffy suddenly exclaimed. "Look at this!" She complained staring at a rip in her heavy coat. "You know much this thing cost? I could just die! I’m never going to be able to replace this!"

"And then again," Chris smirked at Ezra, "I can definitely see a family resemblance."

"And what does that mean Mr. Larabee? Are you indicating a love of fine clothes is some sort of failing? A good coat is hard to replace…." Ezra started to rant.

Chris met Spike’s gaze and replied. "And you were saying?"

"Never mind," Spike gestured in defeat. "I stand corrected."

"Well young lady," Ezra glared at both men briefly and cast his gaze on his future progeny. "I hope you will take care of yourself and remember some of the issues we discussed in regards to your duties as slayer. A Standish’ first obligation is to oneself, Slayer or not. Duty is all well and good but you need to live for yourself and take your comfort where it comes. I know that it is harder said then done but when you come down to it, you have one chance to shape your life, do not waste it because it might go against your nature. Sometimes, you can surprise yourself with what gives you comfort."

Buffy knew that Ezra referred to Spike but she also knew that he had never thought it possible to find contentment playing lawmen in a town in the middle of nowhere. Ezra’s goal had always involved the acquiring of wealth in large quantities. It was too his surprise, as every one else’s that he learnt being rich did not always mean having money. Sometimes it was just having friends. Buffy supposed she had better start doing the same. Even without the issue that was Spike, her life had been trapped in a holding pattern lately. She had been going through the motions, to afraid to live or feel anything else. If she did not start caring about what she fought for, she would end up dead again and this time it would be something worse than a physical death but that of her spirit.

"I will, you old romantic." She teased.

"You were not going to bring that up again," he gave her a look.

"I’m sure whomever she is will love that about you," Buffy chuckled and relished the crimson hue of his face.

"I can still make that ride to a monastery," Ezra returned.

Buffy laughed and ended up embracing the gambler who returned it with just as much affection. He did not show it very often because such displays were often a source of embarrassment to him. But she was family after all. He lowered his lips to her forehead and kissed her gently.

"I trust I can rely on you William to keep her safe?" Ezra looked over Buffy’s shoulder at Spike.

"She’s a bit of pain really," Spike smiled dryly. "But I think I can manage. She’s easy to handle once you get past the attitude."

"Bite me Spike," Buffy retorted.

"With pleasure luv," the vampire grinned at her with an insufferable smile of satisfaction.

"You take care of yourself Spike," Chris replied. "Don’t piss her off too much."

"That’s impossible," Buffy quipped.

"Right," Chris shook his head wondering if he and Mary had ever sounded like that to their friends and prayed to God that they did not. It would just be too embarrassing. He supposed he would just have to work on his relationship with the lady and since they were sharing supper tomorrow night, it was a good way to get started. For the moment however, he could not deny that it had been interesting having Buffy around, vampires and demons notwithstanding that is. He hoped in her world, the spirited young woman would have some reason to keep fighting the good fight and not lose her heart. Whether or not she knew it, her heart was her greatest talent.

"You keep out of trouble," he gave her a patented Larabee look of stern warning laced with affection.

"I’ll try cowboy," she teased and saw his brow arch in response.

"Probably ain’t as easy to do I suppose, on the account that you got such a mouth on you," Chris could not resist adding.

"You have no idea," Spike started to say and received a dark look from Buffy for his trouble.

The conversation ended abruptly with the return of Giles who was accompanied by Tara and Vin, both of whom looked as equally saddened as one another did. Chris could tell by the expression on Vin’s face that the tracker was barely holding it together and he ached inwardly for his friend. Chris who knew how hard it was to lose someone he loved, had perfect empathy with what Vin must be enduring at this point. He had hoped that through all this sorcery and supernatural forces that they had been subjected to this past week, a way would be found to keep the two of them together. Unfortunately, that had not been possible and so they now found themselves about to say goodbye to each other.

Farewells were exchanged but it was laced with a melancholy that no one could seem to get past. As the others stepped into the circle that would see the commencement of the spell that would send them home, Vin and Tara faced each other one final time. The others tried to ignore the painful moment they were enduring while at the same time, feeling a great amount of sympathy to the doomed couple.

"I don’t want you to go," Vin said desperately as he saw the circle and the candles on the ground in the clearing.

"I know," Tara whispered as she placed her hand on his cheek, trying to give him some of her strength. Inside she was dying. She had not known what it was to feel love in such glorious waves of abandon and having known it, she did not think she could be without it again or him for that matter.

"I could take care of you," he swallowed, finding it hard to express emotions when he was so often bottled up but there was no choice. If he did not tell her how he felt now, he never would. "I’d do right by you."

Her eyes glistened with tears, wondering if he knew each word was a knife through her bruised heart. "I have to go," she stammered, glancing over her shoulder at the friends who were waiting, whose eyes spoke of their sorrow for her. "I’m sorry."

"I love you," he whispered. "Don’t go."

"Please don’t make this any harder," she was almost to the point of weeping. Another word and she would.

"I’m sorry," he collected himself as she started to pull away.

"I’ll never forget you," she replied hurrying to the circle.

Vin watched her joining her friends. He watched her eyes as she started to chant her words. He watched the others going on this journey with her holding her hand as if their presence alone could make the hurt any less. He felt Chris’ hand on his shoulder, squeezing it tight, offering a gesture of support as he watched the only woman that he had really loved prepare to vanish out of his life forever. As the words she spoke became more fevered, her painful expression disappeared and suddenly he saw something else, something that reminded him of the medicine women when he lived with the Indians. The power emanated from her as the clouds began to rush towards them, blocking out the light of the moon. The air felt strange and Vin could feel tingles on his skin. When her eyes turned completely black, there was blinding light and a sound that could thunder, tearing through the air, making those who were remaining behind flinch. There was an instant of blinding light and suddenly, they were gone, vanished without a trace with only a wisp of smoke fading into the settling air.

They were gone, except for Tara.

"Tara!" Vin exclaimed as his feet started moving before his mind could grasp what had happened. Spike, Buffy and Giles were gone but she was still there, having dropped to her knees in the center of the circle.

"What happened?" Chris demanded as Vin skidded to his knees in front of her.

"Did it work?" Ezra’s voice followed soon after.

Tara raised her head slowly. She was panting hard and the exertion was more than she was going to be able to stand. This was definitely the last time she was doing this spell again, she thought as she wiped a smear of blood from her nose.

"Tara, what happened?" Vin asked as he grabbed her by the shoulders to make him look at her. "I thought you had to go with them."

"I sent them back," Tara met his eyes with a weak smile. "I don’t know if I can exist here but I know I don’t want to exist there without you. I love you Vin."

He started to smile and responded by pressing his lips to hers in a kiss of passion. She felt so good and he knew that even if they had weeks or days, he did not care. She had chosen to stay with him and if took him the rest of his life, he would never make her regret it.

"I guess we’ll just have to see how long we have together," he grinned when they finally pulled away from each other. "And make every minute last."

As Chris and Ezra watched their younger friend with his new love, they had a feeling that for Vin and Tara minutes could be an eternity.

+ + + + + + +

Rupert Giles woke up in his little flat in Bath with something of a start.

For a moment, the Watcher had no idea where he had been even though the familiar surroundings of his bedroom and the sheets warmed by at least a couple of hours of slumber was evidence enough of what he had been up to. However, as he lingered there in his mattress, letting his gaze sweep across the room filled with boxes of belongings that he had not got around to unpacking yet, he could not help feeling as if he had been elsewhere. His dreams had been so vivid that he felt the need to go out and rent an old Yul Brynner western from the video store or in absence of, sit through another viewing of the Terminator. Most peculiar.

It would have been completely disturbing if not for the feeling that he had been with Buffy in the dreamscape and once again, he had been there when she needed him. Knowing that made him rest easy and as he laid back on his pillow, thinking about the Slayer that he had watched grow from a spirited young teenager to a woman in every sense of the word, the feeling that came over him was one of pride. Whatever course her life would take, Giles knew one thing for certain; she would never disappoint him. What she was and his part in it would be something he took to his grave because she had been more than just the Slayer he had been appointed to watch but the daughter he always wanted to have.

+ + + + + + +

The night after they had returned to the present and found everything as it was and as they remembered, Spike had a surprise visit from Buffy in his crypt. When they had realized that they were home, there was a moment of euphoria and pleasure before the realities of their lives once again fell over them like a mist. Buffy had been eager to get home to Dawn even though by their reckoning, neither she nor Spike had been gone for any more than a few hours. The body of the human who had given himself to Chronozon was still lying where Spike had killed him and after disposing of it, the duo went their separate ways. Spike did not expect to see Buffy for some time and anticipated that she would return when she had another itch to scratch. However, he had resigned himself to his fate. He was her creature, whether or not he liked it and until he gained the courage to leave her once and for all, that would not change.

He was in the middle of Passions when he caught her scent and heard her approach. He wondered if he was expected to perform once again for her pleasure but was rather surprised when she appeared with something that looked like an old family album and what smelt deliciously like pizza.

"Hey," she greeted sheepishly.

"Lost?" Spike asked in typical antagonistic fashion.

"Nah," she shrugged of his hostility, more than accustomed to it by now. "I thought I’d just drop in and see you. I brought pizza, no garlic."

"How thoughtful," Spike said sarcastically. "You going to feed me before you give me a tumble?"

"If you gonna be a pain in the ass I’ll take my food and go," she gave him a look as she planted herself on the step behind his chair. "I actually had a reason for coming here other than just coming."

"Ooh nasty slayer," Spike smiled, becoming intrigued by this whole situation. "Alright, I give. What’s the play tonight?"

"I found these," she said glad that he was giving up his annoying manner. "It’s a family history that my mom put together a couple of years ago. I guess being a museum creator meant that she wanted to keep track of her own past, not just everyone else’s."

"Anything about him in there?" Spike asked, naturally curious about Ezra Standish after everything they had been through in the town of Four Corners

"Not much, just a couple of pictures and a little bit of a history." Buffy remarked as Spike sat down next to her. She spread open the album to the pages in question that was covered in a collection of sepia toned photographs that were faded and worn from time.

Spike’s gaze immediately fixed on what appeared to be a wedding photo with Ezra Standish clearly the groom. His wife, a petite beauty whose hair and eye coloring were difficult to tell thanks to the black and white picture was looking at him adoringly and he could not help thinking that Standish’ lady had Joyce’s wan smile.

"I saw it too," Buffy smiled, noting the way he looked at her great, great grandmother Julia. "She looks a little like mom."

"Say who she was?" Spike asked.

"Yeah," Buffy pointed to a little paper clipping in the corner of the page. Spike did not have to ask whether or not it was from the Clarion News, some things were just too obvious.

"Her name was Julia Pemberton," Buffy announced. "She owned the local emporium or something. Guess that meant she was rich." She could not help smiling thinking about the conversation she had with Ezra on that count. There was no way the gambler had married for money, not if the manner in which he was staring at his bride was any indication.

"Well at least you know he didn’t join a monastery," Spike teased as his eyes scanned the other pictures. There were pictures of twin children born to the couple later on in their lives as well as large picture of the wedding guests since a photographer was something of a luxury so the habit was to fit as many people into the frame as possible. The wedding guests were all familiar to him and Spike had trouble believing that it was only a few days ago that he was talking to most of the people in the picture, not a century. That event was a hundred years into the past and the moment he had stepped back into their time, they were already long dead.

Chris Larabee was there, standing next to the lovely Mrs. Travis and it appeared that their positioning in the picture was not coincidental, the two were clearly attached. The picture was too faded to make out but Spike was certain he could see Chris’ hand draped around the widow’s waist. Considering that the gunslinger was too traditional to be so forward with a goodly Christian woman like Mary, Spike had to assume that they were married. However, it was who was standing next to Vin Tanner that caught his attention.

"What a minute, is that…..?" he exclaimed.

"Yeah," Buffy nodded having felt the same astonishment when she first saw the picture. "It’s Tara."

"She stayed," Spike mused, not really surprised after the tearful farewell between the tracker and the lady. "Good for her."

"I wonder how long they had," Buffy sighed, leaning her head next to his shoulder.

"Doesn’t matter," Spike rested his head against hers, enjoying the intimacy she was showing him that was more than just sex. "They were together."

"You’re a hopeless romantic of a vampire, you know that?" Buffy chuckled wondering what she was ever going to do with him.

"I know," he nodded his head in agreement before meeting her gaze, "so fancy a shag then?"

"That’s it," Buffy groaned, "I’m getting Mr. Pointy!"

The End

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