It comes back too quickly and too slow.
She wakes up in the dark and it is familiar. It is frightening. It is wrong. But it’s familiar.
She wakes up in a coffin, in a black dress, with no voice. Things come back too quickly then. A lifetime of choices and mistakes and blood and death and nothing at all. She breathes in and there is no air.
She screams and no one hears anything at all.
She breaks out, she reenters the world, and when she looks at her name etched into stone it’s like reading someone else’s name. Like the grave belongs to someone else.
(There is a before and there is an after. There was an in-between too. She can remember that. But she can’t form the words.)
It comes back too quickly and too slow.
The violence comes easily. She has it down, throws her body into it. It is muscle memory as she destroys the monsters around her.
(She was made to destroy, to change the world, to be strong and make sure the world did not suffer.
She was not made to be indestructible herself, to not suffer herself.)
Buffy hits and kicks and there is a stake in her hand and it makes sense. For five minutes or maybe an hour (or maybe it is more or less than that), it all makes sense.
For one hopeless moment it all makes sense and she hates it.
(She was made to destroy and be destroyed, another one called in her place.
So why was she there?)
She stares at the telephone when it rings and keeps ringing.
She is alone in the house. Dawn is at school and Tara had made her breakfast and Willow was at the magic shop and Tara had gone to her classes.
(Buffy had heard all of this in the background.)
The phone rings and it rings and she knows she’s supposed to pick it up, pick it up and say something. But she can’t remember the words.
There were words, forgotten somewhere in her head. Words she was supposed to say when she answered the phone. Words she was supposed to say when she hung it up.
She answers the phone and waits for muscle memory.
No words come out.
“Buffy?” Someone asks. It’s loud and she closes her eyes, knowing they can’t see her.
It’s a male voice.
Giles? Spike? Angel?
Does she know anyone else who would care enough to call? She can’t remember.
“Buffy, are you there?”
Are you there?
It repeats over and over in her brain.
“I’m here.” She says and she forces a smile on her face that they can’t see, but she thinks they might be able to hear.
“Oh, good.” The voice says, “I just wanted to check and see if you still needed me to pick up Dawn from school today.”
Xander. It was Xander. He had a car and he drove them around. He did things like pick up Dawn because that was what he did when she wasn’t there. It was a system they worked out. Xander picked up Dawn and he drove her home to Tara and Willow or to the Magic Box to Anya and Giles. He picked her up and drove her to the mall to meet her friends. And Buffy lied in a box in the cemetery with a gravestone above her and her spirit somewhere else.
Xander drove his car and he brought Dawn to safe places. (She thinks.)
“Yeah, yeah…that would be good.” She says, “I—I really appreciate the help.”
“No problem, Buffster,” He says, “You know me and my wheels are always here to help.”
The words come easy to him. They roll off his tongue, no stops or pauses or confusion.
“Thanks.” Buffy says. One word. Then she hangs up the phone.
She does the laundry.
Because she can do the laundry. She remembers, whites in one pile, colors in another, and blood stained clothes (white or dark) in another, special to scrub away at.
There are labels on the bottles and directions that she reads and understands, but she looks at too long.
But she remembers how to do this. She does.
She throws the white in first. Takes the bloody clothes to the sink and she scrubs at the blood with soap, having done it too many times before. She watches the blood and water mixed together as it goes down the drain and then she hears the timer go off and the shirt falls to the sink as she goes to put the whites into the dryer.
(She forgets to go back for the shirt in the sink. The last of the blood sets in and it can’t be washed out. She’ll have to throw the shirt out.
It was blue.
She thinks she likes blue.)
Buffy stays in the cemeteries at night, walks and wanders, and the monsters find her.
She attracts them, you see.
And it all comes back, muscle memory, and she kicks and hits and the dusts settles and she is alive, technically, and they are nothing anymore. Nothing at all.
Dust in the wind, literally, and Buffy is still there staring at the spots they used to be in until another one arrives.
Another one always arrives.
Monsters never leave and never run out. Evil is always there and will never go away.
(Is it wrong that she finds something comforting about that?)
Everything comes back too slow and too fast.
Every little moment and every word she spoke and every good and bad thing she had ever done. Every heartbreaking moment that was cemented in her mind. Every death that had taken a piece of her, one by one by one.
She remembers it all as it swirls around in her mind again and again and—
The microwave beeps somewhere in the distance but she doesn’t hear it.
Dawn sighs and gets up to get the popcorn herself. They’re supposed to be having movie night.
She looks at Dawn walking away, remembers blood dripping down her arm as she asked if she was real. (She is and she isn’t, her mind remembers this too. Dawn is real and she is Buffy’s sister and she loves her with everything she has left to give. But she wasn’t always. She remembers this too, even if she doesn’t remember Dawn not being there. Doesn’t remember Dawn not being her little sister with her wide blue eyes and dark hair. Doesn’t remember a life where she doesn’t exist.) She looks at Dawn and she remembers blood.
Blood like family and blood like the kind that smears across your skin, blood that made her into what she was today.
(Summers blood. They have Summers blood running through their veins. Buffy thinks it might be a curse.)
Dawn comes back, the popcorn Buffy had wanted in a bowl and two sodas in her hand.
“Are you sure you want to watch this?” Dawn asks quietly.
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“You just look tired.” Dawn says as she sits down, “And you said that you still had to go patrolling after we’re done.”
“I’ll be fine.” Buffy says because those are the words she’s supposed to say. She’s learning. Again. Just not at the right pace.
“Okay,” Dawn shrugs, “I guess something relaxing before all that slaying is a good thing.”
Buffy shoves a handful of popcorn in her mouth and murmurs something that might be an agreement. (She doesn’t know because she doesn’t know what words came out.)
She can’t tell Dawnie that the slaying will be more relaxing than sitting on the couch and watching a movie. Couldn’t form the words to say that thinking up things to talk about makes her head ache, that she can’t remember if she’s seen this movie before and she can’t remember, if it will be something she is expected to laugh or cry at and is planning on following Dawn’s cues.
She can’t say these things to anyone, let alone Dawnie.
She wanders the cemetery and it’s quiet. Not just outside but inside her head. There is no need for words. No need to remember what they mean.
There are vampires and other creepy crawlies and they say things, things that sometimes make sense to her and sometimes don’t, but the main point is that they get the pointy end of the stick, of the sword, of whatever it is she has in her hand.
(They die and they don’t wake up.)
The cemetery is quiet.
It calls to her like it’s where she belongs.
(Buffy can never tell anyone that. Not even Spike who knows everything, who she found the right words to tell. He would just say something…something stupid, something meaningful. She doesn’t know anymore. Doesn’t know which one would be worse. Just knows he would say something.
Words strung together, hundred years of words that make sense, and she would watch the way his lips move as he says them as she tried to understand and would probably fail.
Buffy can never tell anyone that either.)
She comes home in the early hours, as the sun is beginning to rise. She hadn’t realized she had stayed out all night until it wasn’t night anymore.
Time was harder than it used to be and she can’t find the watch that she thought she used to wear.
Tara is in the kitchen, cooking again, and smiles when she comes through the door.
She sets her stake down on the counter, sitting down, and watches as Tara stirs the batter in the bowl she’s holding. It’s a soothing pattern to follow, round and round it goes, and she stares because that is what she does now. She stares and she hopes she learns.
“You’re bleeding.” Tara says suddenly and the stirring stops.
“Your arm.” Tara says and she’s around the counter and Buffy looks down at the arm Tara is hovering above and sees the blood.
She had known it was there. Could remember when it happened. A vampire who had gotten in a lucky strike before she had sent him to dustville. (She had heard Dawn use the word the other day, encouragingly before she went off to patrol.) It had hurt a little, but she had kept on.
“We should clean that up.” Tara says and she’s easing off Buffy’s coat and talking and saying something more but Buffy only catches half the words.
“Do you—do you want to change into something else first?” Tara asks.
“No, I—There’s a, um, shirt under this.” She says. She peels of the soft fabric, ripped now, blood stained, and probably unwearable now.
She doesn’t know how to sew. That was always her mom’s thing.
“Oh.” Tara blushes a little as Buffy takes the shirt off over her head and hands it to her. “You meant undershirt. I—Well that’s okay, we’ll get you cleaned up and then you can put something on over it. The laundry’s all done.”
“I did it.” Buffy says and Tara smiles at her.
“I’ll go get the first aid kit. Maybe you can pick out a new shirt.”
Buffy goes into the laundry room, finds the colors all of the house’s occupants clothes mixed together, finds something blue and short sleeved. She doesn’t remember it but she takes it anyways.
Tara cleans her wound and fixes her up with a nice bandaid and goes back to making breakfast.
Buffy slips into the simple light blue shirt and watches as Tara begins her morning routine. She’ll begin hers too soon. After she sees Dawn off to school, after she’s made sure she has lunch and a way home and then she can drift off to sleep.
(Sleep is easy. It’s the waking up part that’s hard.)
She’ll wake up sometime after and find something she’s supposed to do or someone will find something for her. Giles might call with something to look up in his books and she’s good at pretending to understand what they say and not appear like she’s just looking at the pictures.
She follows Tara around the kitchen (her kitchen, her mother’s kitchen), and the ease of which she does it. She doesn’t say anything, only throwing smiles in Buffy’s directions sometimes, but she moves with grace. And it’s like Buffy when she’s on the battlefield. When it her against a vampire. The foot movements come easy and she knows exactly what she’s supposed to do.
She envies Tara for that. For having something normal, something regular, to do with such ease.
Soon Willow comes down and she kisses Tara and she eats the pancakes made for her, talking between bites as Tara nods and sometimes says something back. Dawn comes down next and she eats the pancakes Tara had made for her, funny shapes, and she talks and giggles and talks and keeps looking at Buffy, waiting for her to say something too.
There’s a pile of cold pancakes in front of her.
She hadn’t noticed them.
“Oh.” She says quietly and no one notices. She picks up her fork and eats one of them stacked in front of her before she feels full. She eats another though, because everyone else seems to be eating more.
“I made you lunch.” She says and she thinks she might have interrupted because everyone looks at her.
She doesn’t remember hearing any of them saying anything.
She focuses on Dawn. “Last night, before patrol, I made you lunch. I wasn’t sure I’d have time…”
“Thanks.” Dawn says, nodding her head with a small little smile. (All of Dawn’s smiles were little now. They didn’t stretch across her face like they used to. She doesn’t know what to do to fix this. Doesn’t know for sure if it means that something’s wrong.)
“If you don’t like it, I think I have a five in my purse.” She says and it’s almost like a whole sentence. Like a real conversation.
“Either way, I think I should head up to bed.” She says, “I…It was a long night.”
She moves away from the rest of them, up the stairs, and towards her room. She doesn’t bother pulling the curtains closed, just lays down in bed in her jeans and stolen shirt, and curls into herself.
She sleeps and it’s easy. Its waking up, reality setting in as she stares blankly at a wall, remembering one thing after another, that’s hard.
She thinks that she died once already. That it should be easier for her. That she should have learned something from the first time.
She hadn’t learned anything at all. (Except ways to keep the pain from showing.)
She stumbles downstairs, her jeans and blue shirt wrinkly now, but not caring. She’ll change eventually. Before she has to patrol again. (No reason to get someone else’s shirt bloodied.) She goes to the book shelves and finds the dictionary.
She settles down on the couch and opens it randomly, ending up in the middle.
She starts going through the words, saying them out loud one by one by one.
In time she thought she’d learn.
She would have to.
(She was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you see. That was her job; that was who she was. And to be that person, the one her friends and family wanted back, to be that person who was supposed to save the world, she had to learn to be her again.
She had to remember again.
She had to be Buffy again.)