The Death and the Dream
Buffy was running faster than she had thought her legs could carry her, but at that moment she didn't particularly care. Giles had been distracting her, keeping her busy while Principal Robin Wood was supposed to kill Spike. The only reason she wasn't hyperventilating and letting tears drop was because she needed all her energy to run, to stop something horribly irrevocable from happening.
Suddenly, not a moment too soon she was in front of the door behind which she heard the sound of some unfamiliar tune, she forced the door open almost lifting it out of its hinges. The sight that greeted her there nearly stopped her heart, the room was covered in crosses of all shapes and sizes and in the middle of the room beaten and bloody with Spike kneeling in front of him lay Robin Wood. Her entrance distracted Spike from saying something and he turned towards her, the human laying on the floor used that split second of Spike's lack of attention to grab a stake and shove it in the blond vampires back. Buffy didn't have the time to warn Spike before the piece of wood had pierced his heart. The last thing she saw before he turned to dust was blue eyes gazing at her in betrayal.
She could only stare as the dust of the most unique vampire Buffy had ever met slowly fell on the ground. At first she didn't notice Wood slowly picking himself up and coming towards her, she didn't hear him calling her name, but the moment he tried to touch her shoulder she bolted backwards as if his hand could burn her. Buffy looked at the face of the man who had just killed the only friend she had had when she was pulled from heaven. She saw somebody that dusted the vampire who took care of her sister when she was gone. Murderer of the man that had loved her enough to get a soul and she didn't see a bit of regret. The only expression she did see was of smug satisfaction. So she proceeded to do what she always did when emotions came at her too fast to be properly processed, she punched the nose of the closest monster in her vicinity. This time that monster just happened to be human.
Then she bolted.
By the time she came into Revello Drive she was shivering, the adrenaline had left her system making her feel cold. Her cheeks were wet from crying and her makeup was smeared across her face, there was a tear in her black jacket and streaks of hair were out of place. She looked like a mess.
So when Buffy entered her living room she barely even noticed the silence that had descended the moment everyone saw her unflattering state. Then everyone started speaking at once and the sudden sounds ruthlessly jolted her out of the denial she had slipped into.
"Buffy, are you alright?"
"Were you attacked?"
"Who did this to you?"
"Do we need weapons?"
Buffy was still so heavily in shock that she didn't understand a word anyone was saying, she just stared mutely at everyone. Dawn seemed to recognize the look from when Buffy had first come back from the dead and the Scoobies had crowded towards her just like they were doing now, so she took a hold of the situation.
Dawn's scream quietened everyone down. Once certain no one would interrupt her, she softened her tone and repeated one of the questions on everyone's minds.
"What happened, Buffy?"
It was like another much louder explosion had detonated in the room, Buffy didn't have time to say anything else before everyone was talking again. Only Dawn stayed quiet, she being the only one to notice her sister's state couldn't be because of something Spike had done. Buffy would have been angry if that had been the case and she looked more heartbroken than furious. That revelation filled Dawn's heart with dread and suddenly her eyes pleaded Buffy to say something that would prove the thread her thoughts were taking to be unfounded. Before Buffy could answer her sisters silent plea, her fuzzy mind caught up with something Xander had said.
"The Evil Undead tried to rape you again didn't he? I told you he hadn't changed, like a soul could do anything for that monster."
The slap surprised everyone. Even Buffy showed astonishment at her own actions until she remembered why she had done so, then her face transformed into something the vampire currently on everyone's minds would recognize as the expression she had been wearing a year ago when she beat him up in that dark alley near the police station. When Buffy started speaking her voice was raw from crying and very, very quiet. It gave everyone in the room chills.
"You don't know anything Xander. He didn't even try to rape me then, not in the way you understand it, not even the way you had tried to do it to me once. My relationship with him is… was too complicated to be explained in a way your prejudiced mind could understand. He hurt me, but before that I had hurt him so much more. I used him and I abused him and I didn't care because he was evil and he had no soul, so he couldn't feel anything anyway, right? I punished him for what you all had done to me, because punishing you would have been wrong, right?"
Xander had paled and everyone looked at him suspiciously, with slight confusion. As always he decided that his best defense was a good offense, so he came up with the only trump card he had left.
"Well if Spike was so great, then why did he cheat on you with Ahn?"
Buffy laughed, but no one could mistake it for a happy sound and Faith actually flinched hearing the tone. For a while there that was the only kind of laugh she herself could produce, totally fake and completely dark.
"He didn't cheat, by the time your Wedding from Hell came around I'd already broken up with him. Months later he had every right to sleep with anyone he desired. The only reason I was so upset, was because I was jealous and I didn't like the fact he was actually trying to move on. Spike was many things, but he was never a cheater and you should know."
As Dawn continued to listen to Buffy talk, she became more and more upset for the way she herself had treated Spike this year. It seemed that he didn't deserve all of the blame placed on his shoulders. The teen also didn't fail to note Buffy's slip about Spike in past tense. Tears were threatening to escape, but she refused to let them fall until Buffy told her that there was a reason for her to do so. And she really didn't want to hear her older sister say that Spike was anything but fine so she didn't open her mouth to start screaming at her like she usually would have.
The Scoobies were all watching their leader closely, trying to figure out what had caused the blond warriors' disconcerting and volatile mood, while a few potential Slayers were eagerly eavesdropping on the conversation. It was like watching a live soap opera.
Finally Willow got enough courage to steer her best friend back to the original question. Buffy's aura was a mix of grief, loneliness, sadness, regret, anger and heartbreak with a large spoon of betrayal on top and it was confusing the redheaded witch, so she repeated the question she had tried to ask before.
"Are you alright?"
All humor vanished from Buffy's face, leaving her completely blank. Before she answered, she forced all her emotions to the very back of her mind letting the Slayer part of her have enough control to make sure she didn't break down, but not any more than necessary otherwise she knew she would literally tear Xander to pieces. And as satisfying as that might be, she knew she would regret it later.
"Why wouldn't I be? After all, my Watcher didn't take me on a patrol with the sole intention of distracting me while his good buddy, Woody, went about his plan of killing my strongest fighter. I didn't run into that torture chamber just in time to distract a winning vampire. I didn't see Wood shove a stake through his back. I didn't see Spike turn to dust while he thought it had been my plan to kill him. Why wouldn't I be alright?"
The tears that had dried before she entered her house started falling again and all the emotions and realizations that had tried to come out when she saw Spike die struck her with full force. She froze from the sheer pain she felt at that moment. She had thought that there would never be anything as painful as sending Angel to hell, but this was so much worse. As painful as that had been, she had known it had a purpose, killing him had saved the world. The only purpose here was a small man's thirst for revenge and another ones ignorant resolution to take away her main emotional and physical support because it would apparently rob the First of his lackey. And she knew like she knew breathing, that if Spike had really been an agent for the First Evil, it would have hid that fact not advertised it, the thing practically begged her to kill him. That alone should have told everyone that the vampire's death was the absolute worst thing that could happen.
And it was, although at that particular moment she cared little for the world. It was the worst thing, because now that Spike wasn't there and would never again be anywhere in the world at all, she finally knew something she should have known before. She loved him.
Not like she had once loved Angel, that love had been sweet, innocent and had always made her sigh and giggle or feel dramatically depressed when thinking about him. She had finally recognized it for what it had always been, that first ever love when everything is new and surprising and not really lasting. She had been holding on to the idea that Angel had invoked so long ago, because without it there would be only demons in her life and she would have given up years earlier. William the Bloody might even have gotten his one good day with her.
Her emotions towards Spike were messy and real. He could make her feel dizzy, and exhilarated, and special and angry all at once. He could hurt her with a careless word then make her smile and laugh and forgive him even if she had never admitted it out loud. He made her feel jealous and furious and everything else. He made her feel.
And now he couldn't do all those things anymore because the only father figure she had trusted after her girl years had passed had conspired to remove him from her life. And by the Powers did it hurt.
Rupert Giles entered the Summers' household planning the speech that Buffy needed to hear. He knew she would eventually understand that what he did had to be done, so he chased away any guilt he might feel. The living room was quiet so he didn't notice that he wasn't alone until a hand slapped him across his face. He lifted his eyes in shock and connected them with glaring blue ones belonging to his Slayers' younger sister. The girl looked at him a moment longer opening her mouth to say something but, deciding him unworthy, shook her head before leaving out the front door and loudly slamming it shut. That's when he noticed all the other eyes directed at him and sharply pulled off his glasses to clean them.
"Shouldn't someone go after her, this isn't the best time for Dawn to go out alone."
"She's not alone Mr. G," Faith replied without her usual bite. "She went to join B."
"Excuse me, what do you mean by that?"
For a moment no one replied until Anya in her usual style rolled her eyes and huffed in annoyance at their silly behavior. No one here had guts, that's why she missed her demonic friends, at least they spoke what they were thinking.
"She means, because you killed Spike, Buffy took Dawn's and her own things and moved to one of the empty houses on the other side of the street. She told us to tell you and that Robin guy that they don't want to see or hear from you and that we can go there only if our lives are in danger. She'll keep patrolling and fight anything the First throws at any of us, but the moment this Apocalypse is over she's resigning and from this moment on you're no longer her Watcher."
Giles stood frozen in the middle of the room not quite sure about how he should react to Anya's message. Willow was biting her lower lip before looking at the Ex-Vengeance demon and whispering.
"I thought we were going to try to tell it gently."
"Like there's any way to do that. He would have taken this badly however you would have worded it, I at least did it quickly. It's a bit like pulling off a Scarnian Hell's Leech, the quicker you're done with it, the longer you'll live."
Giles was only partially listening to what the children were saying. Suddenly he realized that he might not have done the right thing by working with Robin. But surely Buffy would see that he didn't have a choice? It had to be done and this childish response only proved he was correct in his conviction that Buffy would never have been able to do it.
Buffy lay awake in the unfamiliar bed with Dawn sleeping in her arms. She had cried herself to sleep and while Buffy herself felt like sobbing her heart out, she didn't allow herself the relief it would bring anymore. Her chest was hurting and the ache she felt was almost physically perceptible. She concentrated on it, as long as she did so she wouldn't have to remember those last seconds where Spike was still alive and she hadn't done anything to keep him that way. Soon though, even her nocturnal half couldn't keep her awake and she slipped into the world of nightmares.
She felt herself running through a very deep, unnaturally dark forest. She needed to escape. Something wanted to have her heart and she couldn't give it away. She could feel eyes on her, they were primal and seductive and they urged her to slow her steps. But it was so important to keep going, she needed to move faster, if she got caught it would hurt, she couldn't let those eyes carve out her heart and leave.
She was almost there, the clearing was only feet ahead of her, just a few more steps and she could be there again. Everything would be back to normal if only she stepped into it. It was so familiar, so easy. Suddenly it also seemed to be gray and ordinary. She hesitated and looked back. The forest had changed, where before the trees were black and seeped with savage fear and hate, now everything about them radiated wilderness and something completely unknown, but beautiful. Blood started to pump in her veins with more force, the only thing she could hear was her own heart beating against her ribcage. If she crossed into the clearing she could keep her heart, but it would still be broken. If she returned to the forest it would stop its beat, but she could have everything.
Before she could make a choice a figure stepped out of the tree line. It was a woman, she moved like an untamed beast looking for its prey, her dark skin covered with white clay and her face and arms were painted with symbols unread since their creation. Something about the woman's eyes made the girl pause and urged her to trust, still silent the woman extended her arm in invitation. Without thinking she grasped the painted palm and watched everything around them change.
Buffy was suddenly in the desert, memories returned and she was finally aware of being in a dream. She wondered what this vision was about, she was too tired for doom and gloom. Maybe she would finally receive some clear answers.
'You must choose.'
The words weren't spoken aloud, she could understand them in her mind, but it was like she got the meaning behind them not the sentence itself.
Buffy furrowed her brows. No not clear. This looked more like one of her cryptic visions she could never understand even when she did.
'Unlife with your mate. Life alone. Choose!'
She knew who the Primal Slayer meant, if she had ever let herself think about it she would have known before. Her mate was Spike, the Slayer was giving her the chance to get him back. But she would have to become a vampire to have him, her life really was unfair. First things first though, she had to make sure she would do the right thing if she did choose to get her apparent mate back to join the unliving.
"Is he in heaven? I can't rip him away from that."
'No. Mind interfered with the greater design, your mate shouldn't have died. He needed to be there to halt the First Evil, he would have saved the world. He can't gain Peace until he risks everything for the good of all.'
She was both relieved and saddened, if there was any vampire deserving of Heaven it would be him and knowing he was currently in Hell seemed just wrong. But now she had the chance of getting him back and she needed that hope. Her breath hitched as a thought struck Buffy.
"I can't lose Dawn. I can't live knowing she will grow old and die, and I'll still be there always fighting and watching everyone leave."
'Energy is immortal. The Key is energy.'
"Fine go with the cryptic. And anyway Dawn isn't the Key anymore, remember why I jumped right? That 'energy' is all used up."
'Energy is endless. The Key is energy.'
"Should have known it couldn't have been that easy," Buffy grumbled to herself and rolled her eyes.
This was why she hated visions, she always learned something she didn't want to know. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Dawn was immortal. Spike would be immortal if she ever got him back. She would be an immortal undead if she wanted to have Spike back with her. Spike was meant to be her mate. Well, at least that was good. The question now was did she want the actual love of her life or her mortal friends and they're ideas of normal?
Buffy opened her eyes. She was alone standing on the line between the clearing that she could see the end of and the forest that might be endless. Between life and death. She looked towards the gray field and saw no life there. She ran deeper in the forest, her heartbeat slowly stopped, her temperature dropped and her vision was assaulted by images of a ritual.
Buffy opened her eyes and a smile curled her lips. She laughed in relief, the last pieces of the guilt she felt about loving a demon vanished. Her friends might judge her, but now she knew that the Powers That Be and the Slayer within her approved of her feelings towards William the Bloody and that was more than enough.
The only thing left now was getting her vampire back from the afterlife and telling him the three words he always wanted to hear from her. She was finally ready to say them and mean it.