At some point during Buffy’s story, she and Daryl ended up sitting on the ground; he on one side of the tree, her next to him on the other. Their shoulders would brush when Buffy would make a hand gesture.
After she had finished they sat quietly together for a long time. Daryl watched Oz sniff the air. Every once in a while the wolf’s head would swing towards the trees and he would growl. “I seen somethin’ like him before.”
Buffy held her breath waiting for him to continue. “Everyone always thought I was crazy or high.” He paused looking at her out of the corner of his eye. “It was a lot smaller, but it looked damn similar. Thought it was a Chupacabra.”
Buffy smiled. “I think that’s a pretty accurate assessment for someone who didn’t know what they were looking at.” She shrugged. “If it was as small as you say, you were probably seeing a cub. It’s good you didn’t try to attack it. If the parent was watching, which I’m sure it was, you probably wouldn’t be sitting here with me.”
Daryl was silent again for a while. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye and smirked. “You really blew up your school on graduation day?”
She looked at him blankly for several seconds, blinking owlishly. “Is that all you have to say after everything I’ve told you?”
He snorted, and his smirk turned into a grin, “You have to admit it’s pretty badass… Most kid’s dreams I expect.”
Buffy chuckled, shaking her head. “If you think that’s cool, you shoulda seen me with the rocket launcher.”
His eyes widened, and his head turned so fast they almost bumped noses. He stiffened, and turned back around biting on the cuticle of his thumb. He shook his head trying to get the close up image of her eyes out of his head.
Buffy blushed, “Well, Spike’s ex, decided to put this really old demon back together.” She made a face. “He supposedly couldn’t be killed by,” And she made air quotes as she said this, “any weapon forged, but I mean it’s not like they had C-4 or a Nuclear weapon back in the fourteenth century when this guy first appeared.” She shrugged. “So we improvised, broke into the military base and stole a rocket launcher.”
“Damn.” He said, shaking his head and chuckling. “Did it work?”
She grinned at him. “Well, we’re still here aren’t we?
He grunted. “Can’t imagine a bunch of high school kids breaking into a military base and getting away with it. How old were ya then?”
“Well let’s see,” She paused thinking about it. “I had already dropped the organ on Spike and broke his back. He was in a wheelchair then. I remember.” She bit her lip, thinking harder.
“Oh…” she uttered quietly, her face losing color when she remembered exactly how old she was, and how horrible of a year that had been.
Daryl watched her out of the corner of his eye, saw how her shoulders slumped in defeat and the myriad of emotions that started to play out on her face at the memories.
“I was seventeen.” She whispered. Her voice cracking at the lump that formed in her throat. “I know this because my birthday had been a couple days before. Angel… H-he had just lost his soul.”
Daryl raised his eyebrow. “Your ex, the cursed vampire?” He shook his head. “How’d that happen?”
She shrugged, looking down and pulling at an imaginary thread on her jeans. Her voice came out baby soft as she said. “The curse can only be broken by a moment of perfect happiness.”
Daryl faced her fully then. His eyes widening as the realization of what she wasn’t saying hit him. “Jesus girl.” He breathed. “Fuck, I’m sorry.”
Buffy looked away. “Nothing to be sorry for. It was a long time ago.” She got to her feet, brushing off her backside. She wouldn’t look at Daryl for a long time, trying to compose herself from the emotions reliving that time always caused her.
“We should head back to camp.” She held out her hand finally meeting Daryl’s eyes, and helped him to his feet.
“Ain’t you worried about your friend?” He asked quietly, gesturing with his head to Oz who was watching them intently now with glowing eyes. He wasn’t making much noise and Daryl had a suspicious feeling he was listening to them.
Buffy waved him off and shook her head. “The dead won’t mess with him, especially when he’s like that.” She pointed. “He doesn’t smell like food to them.”
“Have to admit,” Daryl looked behind him one last time. “That’s one hell of an asset to have on your side.”
Buffy nodded. “That’s why we’re headed to Alabama. There’s a pack we know that live there. That’s where my family was headed. That’s where my baby sister is.”
As they stepped back into camp Buffy headed into her tent. He heard her rustling around for a minute, until she stepped out holding a bottle of Jack Daniels and a backpack. She grinned at him and sat on the sleeping bag, patting the spot next to her. He came and joined her. “I could use a drink, how about you?”
“You sure we’re safe out here?” He asked, eyeing their surroundings.
Buffy uncapped it, taking a large swig. She made the most adorable face Daryl had ever seen anyone make while drinking, and nodded. “When we were right outside of Tampa, Oz and me were attacked by some men. I got shot and he turned, ended up getting shot too.” She paused taking another drink and making the same face.
“When he howled the walkers that were around us turned around. It wasn’t until Oz tore into the men and got covered in their blood that they came back.” Buffy shrugged and handed him the bottle. “Like I said, he doesn’t smell like food to them and his howl sends them running, or hobbling to be more accurate.” She snorted at her own joke, reaching into her backpack and pulling out a large Ziploc stuffed with pictures.
Daryl took a swig of the alcohol as he watched her dig out a handful of photos. “I thought you might like to see my family.” She leaned against him a little and he leaned back, feeling a sliver of warmth enter his chest at her touch.
He realized as she handed him the pictures with a warm smile, that he really didn’t know what to make of Buffy Summers. She was beautiful, and kind, and so far out of his league she was in a different hemisphere. He didn’t know why she had taken such a liking to him, why she had allowed him a glimpse of her world and the knowledge of who she was. He was grateful for it though.
He had a feeling if it had been someone else, someone more like Shane or Merle; she would have helped them, because that’s who she was, but he doubted she would have brought them back to her camp and shared such personal information. The thought made him feel good in a way he’d never experienced before. She made him feel special, like he wasn’t some dumb piece of redneck trash. It was an exhilarating feeling.
He remembered his dream of Merle. His brother saying everyone thought he was a freak. That everyone was laughing at him. Then his brother’s face had faded and there she was. She had saved him from himself. Erased whatever feelings of hopelessness he was having in that moment. Her trust in him was giving him strength he didn’t even know he was missing.
“Sorry.” She said as he began to flip through the pictures. “When Sunnydale sunk we lost everything. I went picture happy at first. There’s a lot of them.”
He picked out a picture of her. “You look different here.” Her eyes were cold steel in this one, bitter and angry. He felt as if he was looking at a complete stranger compared to the girl currently leaning on him.
She acknowledged the photo with a tilt of her head. “I was.” She whispered.
As he flipped through more she pointed out the people she had mentioned before. Willow was a red headed woman with kind green eyes and a nice smile. Xander had dark hair, an eye patch and a goofy grin. Faith looked like the type of women his brother would date. Angel was a dark haired man with a permanent scowl and sad brown eyes. Spike looked like Billy Idol with his leather jacket and bleached hair. Though when he said as much, Buffy was quick to point out that Spike was a hundred and thirty and if he ever met the vamp not to mention it, unless he wanted his ear to fall off from the rant that would follow.
When it got to her Watcher her voice clogged with emotion. “And that’s Giles,” she said quietly, running her finger down the side of the photos face. “He was the best father I ever had.”
“Was?” Daryl asked looking at her. “Before or after?”
“After.” She whispered. “I was able to check my voicemail right before cell phones lost their signals.” Buffy sighed heavily. “He got bit.”
Daryl nodded in understanding, flipping to the next one. A young woman stared back at him. She had large blue eyes and the same nose as Buffy’s. “This your sister?”
Buffy smiled lovingly, plucking the picture out of his hand and caressing it. “Yeah, that’s Dawnie. Biggest pain in the ass you ever met.” Buffy snorted, “But also one of the biggest hearts I have ever known. Smart too. Smarter than I ever was.” She gently rubbed her finger along her sister’s hair line. “She’d just graduated from Oxford and moved to Rome to start her Watcher training when this all happened.”
“I thought the airports were the first thing they closed?”
Buffy smiled. “You underestimate the pull our organization has. We have ties with almost every major government and political party around the globe.” She shrugged. “And if all else fails there’s always Willow.”
She handed him back the photo and Daryl smiled, he couldn’t help it. “You love her a lot.” He said before flipping the photo to the bottom of the pile.
“I died for her.” She whispered, grabbing the bottle from Daryl and taking a large drink. She took another and handed it back to him. She could see the look he was giving her, but that was a story she wasn’t going to get into tonight. It was one of the darkest periods in her life. The person she had become after her resurrection, the monster, she didn’t even want to think about it.
“You smoke?” She asked, trying to change the subject as she dug through her pack. “I know I have some cigarettes somewhere.” Her fingers wrapped around the half empty pack at the bottom of the bag. She pulled it out and tossed him one as she proceeded to light her own. She took a drag, and exhaled, handing Daryl her lighter. “Oz calls me a closet smoker because I only do it when I’m drinking.”
Daryl smirked and lit his, picking the stack of pictures back up. He flipped through a few more and Buffy would name off some of the people. Most were girls in their teens. He got to one of Buffy standing on a beach in a light pink sundress, her hair and the fabric billowing out behind her. She had a calm serene look on her face. It was the first picture he had seen where she didn’t look like a different person.
“That’s my favorite.” She said pointing. “I keep it to remind myself.” She paused touching the corner. “I don’t remember who took it, but I remember how I felt that day. I remember that was the day I decided.”
He gave her a questioning look so she continued, lying back on her elbows. “The life I’ve lived." She looked to the sky watching the few stars she could see through the canopy above. “It takes its toll. I spent such a long time trying to hold everything in, to build all these walls up around me so that I didn’t get hurt.” She shook her head biting her lip. “It was all such bullshit.”
She sighed, running a hand through her hair. “In the end it doesn’t matter how much you try to protect yourself from pain or sorrow or guilt. The reality is you only end up hurting yourself more.” She looked at him. “I think in the end it’s not just you that breaks but the people around you, the people who love you.”
She pointed at the picture. “So on that day I decided to let it all go. I decided I wasn’t gonna let myself become the person I was turning into. I decided that my Calling didn’t get to choose if I was gonna be happy or not. I decided I had earned the right to smile again. Even if the world went to hell overnight, I wasn’t gonna let that emptiness take hold of me ever again.”
Daryl took a long pull on the bottle and capped it. “How’s that working out for ya’?” He asked passing her the bottle.
She yawned and shook her head, curling up on her side. “It’s a work in progress.” She yawned again. “Some days are better than others.”
She studied the man next to her for a moment. He was handsome in a rugged, outdoorsy sort of way. She could tell he had no problem roughing it. He was proficient with a crossbow, which gave him major points in her book. He definitely wasn’t the typical kind of guy she found attractive, but there was definitely something about him she found intriguing.
“So, Daryl, tell me a little about yourself. I’ve had enough of me for one night.” She smiled softly, watching as he looked at her out of the corner of his eye.
“Not a lot to tell,” He shrugged. “Just your typical redneck trash.”
She snorted and pushed his knee. “I think you’re too hard on yourself.” Buffy shook her head smiling a lazy smile. “That’s not what I see at all”
“Yah, and what do you see?” He asked a little too gruffly. Turning his head and watching her eyes close as she tucked her hands under her cheek.
“I see a man who risked his life for a little girl that isn’t his.” She paused, stifling another yawn and opening her eyes to look at him. “I see a good man, but one who spent a long time trying to convince himself he’s not. I see someone brave and strong and honest.” Her eyes fluttered shut. “I see…”
Buffy’s voice trailed off as her breathing deepened and she fell asleep. Daryl watched her for a long while. His thoughts were a jumbled mess. She was unlike anyone he’d ever met. The way she spoke, her mannerisms, and how she carried herself was only part of it. He liked the way she thought, how she treated him like he mattered. She said he was a good man. No one ever said that about a Dixon.
He shook his head and uncapped the bottle, downing the rest. He picked up the pictures piled next to him and started looking through them again. He scowled when he saw more pictures of the two vampires, and quickly flipped them to the back of the pile. After going through a few more he found one of Buffy. She had a flower in her hair and her face was turned to the side as she smiled at somebody. He quickly shoved it in his pocket. She might think he was good, but he definitely wasn’t perfect.
He put the rest of the pictures back in the Ziploc and went to put them in her backpack when he saw the blanket shoved inside. He pulled it out and draped it over Buffy. He finished putting her pictures away, when he saw the cigarettes and lighter lying next to her. He grabbed one more and lit it, throwing her cigarettes back in the bag. He moved to the other side of camp and lay down on Oz’s sleeping bag. He watched Buffy for a long time before he finally fell asleep.
A mother loses her daughter.
A man gone mad over jealous lust.
A friendship broken.
A boy losing his innocence.
A Burning Barn.
Screaming, crying, pleading.
So much blood.
A daughter loses her mother.
A father loses his wife.
A son loses his mother.
A good man loses his mind.
Buffy sat up with a gasp, trembling and covered in sweat. Shaky hands reached for her pack and she unzipped the front pouch, yanking out her dream journal. She flipped it open and began to write furiously across the page, tears forming in her eyes.
Daryl was startled awake by her gasp. He sat up watching her with concerned blurry eyes. “You alright?”
She held up a finger as she continued to write. “Give me a minute. I need to write down everything I saw.”
“You psychic too, or something?” He asked running his hand down his face and lying back down.
“I’m not a seer if that what you mean, but I do get prophetic dreams.” She continued writing, having to swallow the bile that rose in her throat from everything she just saw.
“They’re usually messages or warnings from the pricks that run this dimension. Considering I haven’t had one in months, I’m guessing this little apocalypse we’re having wasn’t exactly scheduled on their time table.” She reread what she had just written, making sure it all made sense. “Apparently they finally pulled their heads out of their asses.” She tossed the journal at him. “You know anyone on there?”
Daryl caught the notebook, his eyes widening in horror as he read. “You sure?”
“I’ve never been wrong before.” She said gathering up the blanket and shoved it into her bag.
Light began to filter in through the trees around them. Buffy grabbed the towel and Oz’s clothes. “I’m gonna go get Oz so he can sleep a few hours while I pack up. After that I think you’re gonna need to take me to this farm you’re staying at.”
Daryl reread the notebook one more time. It had everyone’s names from his group written down with a brief description next to each one. He grinned when he saw Shane’s name with psychotic written in parentheses next to it. He frowned when he saw Lori’s had pregnant in capital letters and exclamation marks next to it. He read on, feeling like he was dreaming at the level of accuracy with each description. What scared him though, what really frightened him, were the words written at the bottom of the page.
‘Hundreds of walkers leaving Atlanta, heading right for them.’
165 miles away Faith awoke with a start. She was breathing heavily and shaking. She looked around her cabin, running shaky hands through her sweat soaked hair. She sighed heavily, forcing herself to get out of bed, strapping on her weapons in the process. As she headed out to go find Rona, the girl was already headed her way.
“Yep.” Faith finished.
Rona sighed. “Looks like were not alone in this after all.” She paused. “You felt her too, right?”
“Oh yah.” Faith nodded. “When we’re all tapped in like that you can’t help but feel her.”
“So it’s confirmed then. Buffy’s alive.” Rona stated.
“It’s what I been saying the whole time. If she was dead, Red woulda felt it.”
“Someone needs to tell Dawn.” Rona said.
“I’ll do it.” Faith said grabbing onto the nearby rope ladder. “I’m assuming we all got our own mission on that one. Be prepared to move out in an hour. Looks like the Powers want us to start saving people.”
Vi popped her head over the railing above as Faith started to climb. “Faith did you…?”
“Yep, I’m on my way to tell little D now.” She got to the top and vaulted over. “Do me a favor; go tell Thomas to be expecting more company. Looks like Buffy’s gonna be delayed a little longer, but I have a feeling she ain’t coming alone.”
“On it.” Vi said, hopping the railing and sliding down the ladder.
As Faith walked the platform high in the trees, she spotted Micah. “Yo, you seen Dawn?”
Micah turned and nodded, “I just saw her heading to the lab with Willow and Rose. Everything all right?”
“Yah,” Faith said, heading towards the rope line that would allow her to cross to where Dawn was. “We just had our first Slayer dream in a while. Figured she would want to know her sis is alive.”
“Any word on Oz?” He asked, helping her secure her foot into the rope.
“She didn’t feel alone if that helps, besides that I couldn’t tell either way.” Faith pushed off the platform and swung over to the one adjoining it. She landed gracefully, tying the rope onto the railing, and opened the cabin door.
Dawn was, as usual, nose deep in an ancient book as she took notes on a pad next to her. They had been trying to find any type of mystical cure that could help with the insanity that lived outside their gates. Unfortunately they hadn’t had much success, but Dawn was determined to make a breakthrough. After everything that happened in Scotland and all the guilt she felt for having to shove a sword through Kennedy’s head, she refused to give up.
Willow walked out of the storage room, followed closely behind by Rose and both stopped short at the sight of the Slayer. “Faith,” Willow said, surprised to see the other woman. Research wasn’t exactly her forte after all.
Dawn stopped what she was doing and looked up expectantly at the brunette Slayer. “Everything alright?”
Faith nodded, smiling at all of them. “We all just had a Slayer dream.”
Dawn stood, her eyes wide, tears already gathering in them. “I-is s-she.”
“She’s alive.” Faith confirmed.
Dawn fell back in her chair. The emotion, the relief, everything she had been holding in since this all started came out in one chest rattling sob. “O-oh, thank the gods!”
Willow walked over to the young brunette, putting her arms around her as her own eyes began to weep happy tears. “I knew she would be all right.” She whispered in her ear. “It would take a lot more than this to kill your sister.”