It feels like a fever.
The pain in her neck is searing.
One minute she's so hot she's going to burn through the mattress. Buffy casts the covers aside, sweat soaking her back, sliding down her temples. As soon as it can't get worse the temperature swings callously in the other direction, has her grasping weakly for the comforter, shaking with uncontrollable chills.
It's always been a numbers game.
Her mind aches. Willow tries to explain it to her. High school algebra, something to do with exponential growth.
"Imagine," she's saying, fussing with Buffy's pillows and smoothing back her hair from her raging forehead, "that the rate at which you kill vampires is 'x', and the rate at which they make new vamps by biting people is 'y'."
Willow's hair is different. There's something confusing about it. "If Giles lets me have more time in the library, I'll build you a model on one of the computers," Will says reassuringly, scooping up an armload of books from the floor, hugging them to her chest.
Buffy found math hard enough when there were only numbers involved. Add the alphabet and it's game over. Is she supposed to be in the library? That seems a long time ago. Maybe she's late for class. She rolls over, ankles tangled in the sheets.
"I'll keep killing them, Will," she mumbles, closing her eyes painfully against the light. "I'll kill them as fast as you need me too."
It feels like a hunger.
Feed a cold and starve a fever? Was that what her mother used to say? Dawn always got it the wrong way round, picking food over symptoms. But now Buffy can't remember which she should be doing.
Dawnie has a plate heaped high with muffins, still warm from the oven. She puts them down beside Buffy's bed. The smell makes her nostalgic. Also nauseous.
"The thing is, people tell you we are going to run out of food. But they're wrong." Dawn has flour on her cheek, the bridge of her nose. She's wearing an apron, like some 1940s throwback. It's incongruous over her cargo pants and army boots. Buffy's vision is a little blurry, but she thinks Dawn leaned a bolt-action rifle carefully against the wall behind the door on her way in.
"I'm not sure it's safe here, Dawnie. I mean, you're up here all alone. Do you know how long it took me to find you?" Buffy's calves twinge, she tries to stretch them. The sheets feel clammy under her skin. She feels like she should get up, but it seems late. Or early. Or something.
"Of course I'm not alone," Dawn says, shaking her head with a dismayed smile. "Xander used to visit, before he fell in love. And there's a farmer, in the valley over. He brings me eggs. His chickens lay more often than mine."
"You should come with me," Buffy whispers hoarsely. "We'll go back to L.A." Her feet are burning up, she toes off a woolly sock.
"There is no L.A., silly. There's nowhere now, Buffy. Eat the blueberry first. They're yummier than the banana."
It feels like sickness and disease.
Xander even looks a little like Riley slumped on the floor against her wall. Sunken eyes with dark shadows underneath. Fresh wounds on his neck and around his wrists forming bloodied jewelry. It makes her skin crawl.
"Don't judge me," he growls.
She feels bile rising in the back of her throat.
"I need you," she reaches an arm weakly toward him from under the covers. "I need to stop this. You need to help me stop this." It had taken her a long time to find him, hadn't it? It had seemed like they were here in her bedroom, but that wasn't right. The paint on the walls is peeling. She can hear music thudding in the next room.
"It's not what you think. This is home for me now. We're in love."
"She's destroying you." Buffy coughs weakly.
He spits at her. There is venom in his voice, poison in his eyes. "You're the only one allowed to fall in love with them, Buff? You're special somehow? You fucked two of them. But you're exempt?"
"Spike. Angel. They would never...they would never have..." Her tongue feels thick, tired. She can't finish her sentence. Can't open her eyes.
"You only think that Buffy. The undead came for you long ago."
"No," she shakes her head, muffled in the pillow.
It feels like hallucinating.
Like the time she and Faith drank too many tequila shots and she could have sworn Faith kissed her.
Faith looks out the window at the New York skyline. She's cut her hair short. When did that happen? "We should walk the high line this afternoon, before the sun goes down."
Buffy presses the heel of her hand into her eye sockets. Her skin feels tender and raw. The cuff of her pajamas chafes her wrist. "I don't think I..., Faith, I'm so tired."
"Then nap, B. There's a bar on Fifth, goes nuts around two. We should definitely be there. The DJ might be dead, but damn, can he drop the tunes."
Buffy feels weak, underprotected. Something. Faith has knives strapped to her boot. The muscles in her back defined under her t-shirt.
"It's a new dawn, B."
She tries to get up, but her arms aren't co-operating. "No, Faith, I need your help. They're winning. I ... we need to regroup."
"What, you want to 'Take back the night', B?" Faith's laugh is humorless. "It is so too late for that."
She slings a messenger bag over her head, checks the line of wooden stakes tucked in the flap.
"This is their show now. Might as well drink up."
It feels like emerging, her mind clearing.
She pushes back the comforter and boosts herself gingerly up on to her elbows. Blackout curtains are drawn across the windows. The only light in the room comes from a low lamp. A moment ago she'd have sworn this was her childhood bedroom, but now her eyes swim into focus she has no idea where she is.
He's sitting on the floor, arms wrapped around his knees. If she didn't know better she would have thought he'd been crying. His eyes are dark, he looks exhausted. There's a cross bow on the floor at his side.
Her lower back aches, her fingers itch. Her memories form, reform, reorder.
"Angel..." her voice is hoarse, sounds foreign to her own ears. He won't look at her.
"You know it was the only way." Her eyes sting, colors leaping from the shadows of the darkened room. "Only way. You can't keep me safe."
His shoulders sag. "How are you feeling?"
"Ravenous. That's not good, right?" Actually that's only one of thousands of feelings crashing around inside her. Vibrant, pulsating, threatening to burst from her skin.
"There's...blood in the fridge," horror in his voice, something broken or gone.
"You're not staying?" She wants to get up but her limbs won't cooperate.
"I can't." Not now. They were always the promise of redemption. The risk of damnation. Not this. She knows somewhere in him a young, Irish drunk is laughing at the futility.
It feels like acceptance.
She could've sworn this bed was moving. Now she knows she's crazy, or dreaming. Or both, or neither. She's propped up somehow, it's like a sun lounger with a big wooden wheels. She feels worn and ragged, like the old woolen blanket drawn over her.
"Like the view from up here," Spike mutters between drags, sitting on the lounger next to her, peering over the edge of the balcony. For a horrible instant she feels like Drusilla. "Have to hand it to them. They just wanted it more," he jokes.
She sees them, innumerable on the streets below. She needs to move. To fight. But they're not coming for her. Not anymore. They wander in pairs and groups. Congregate. Mingle. Socialize. There are no burning cars or buildings. No raining hellfire or brimstone. No shotguns. It's date night at the end of the world.
"We could talk," he exhales smoke that drifts like her thoughts.
"What?" Her own voice thick and heavy. Confused.
"Talk. Words? Beyond 'harder','deeper' or 'faster', I mean."
"I don't remember you complaining," she groans.
"Well I did actually, when you broke my hand." He smiles at an old dirty bandage.
"You're pathetic, you know that?" She's too tired to put any force behind it. She closes her eyes and rests her head back on the wood.
"Then I'm in good company, pet."
It feels like resolution.
These sheets are clean. Fresh. Starched. Her senses are sharp, but she only smells the salt of his sweat. The heat of his blood. He stands naked at the window but for his glasses. Hair tousled and grey. Beard silver and rough.
"This should never have happened." He is hollowed out inside and she wonders which part he's referring to. Her new form arches. Cold. Hard. Lascivious. She still covers it with a sheet like a shy teenage girl.
He sits on the end of the bed and she holds to him from behind. Feels his heart beat on a thousand different levels. That's the only way this did happen. That girl is dead and gone. Her teeth graze his throat. She doesn't bite.
"Come back to bed," she breathes in his ear. Seduction in the whisper. "The dark holds on forever this far North."
"I'm aware of that." Giles sighs and his body convulses, revulsion or the makings of tears. Of course he knows. It's why he's here. Watcher with nothing to watch. Just the end of all things.
"I could do it for you. If you wanted. Say I got with the peckish in the night," she tries to make him smile.
"It would be perversely fitting," his voice is rotten, "I could offer you the same. Incorporate a pair of these perhaps." He kicks at countless pairs of scattered footwear and slumps backward into her.
It feels like release.
She awakens on a camp bed in a basement. Childhood sheets with animals and stars. She can feel the coming of the dawn. Thinks she should get herself a rocking chair and start predicting the weather.
A mirror lies beside the bed in shards. She almost smiles at the thousand absences of reflection. She takes up a sliver and uses it to make runs in the sheets. Starts tearing them into strips and winding them around and around everything. Hands. Head. Feet. Limbs. My Little Pony's take on a mummy.
She climbs out of bed. Clothes old and functional and familiar. The heat of California's no longer a problem. Chafing still isn't much fun. She can carry more now. More crosses. More blades. More stakes. More water. She just needs to be more than cautious with the former and the latter.
They might have wanted it more. But she needs this. It's all she has left.