DISCLAIMER: The Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel characters are the property of Mutant Enemy, Joss Whedon, and Fox Studios. The story contents are the creation and property of Djinn and are copyright (c) 2001 by Djinn. This story is Rated PG-13.
Sounds everywhere. Noises that even muffled made her jump. And people, seen through fuzzy eyes, all around her, trying to get to her. Xander. Willow. Anya and Tara. She remembered them even if their names didn't make it to her lips.
They looked at her and it hurt. They talked and she wanted to scream. They wouldn't leave her alone. She could feel their eyes on her, even if they didn't touch her with their hands.
She fled. But Dawn found her. Dawn saved her and she saved Dawn. But from what? She wanted to flee again. But it was too late. The others found them at the base of the crumpled tower. "Buffy," they shouted and ran toward her. Their feet stomped painfully on the concrete, filling her ears.
Inside, she pulled away. Wondered again, is this hell?
They joined Dawn, kneeling down, staring at her. Voices coming all at once.
"Buffy, you're back."
"Buffy, say something."
"Are you insane?"
"Can you hear us, Buffy?"
"Don't ever leave me."
She shuddered. This was hell.
She turned and tried to find a calm corner to hide in. Somewhere dark and quiet and free of hands and voices and eyes.
There were no corners.
She allowed them to pull her, bundle her along with them. They led her home, to her old bed, stood around her and smiled down. Large, open-mouthed smiles. So many teeth. Blinding her. She tried to close her eyes. Their smiles faded, but they didn't leave.
She wasn't tired. Wouldn't have slept if she had been. Knew instinctively that waking up would be terrifying. Dark and stuffy and all alone. Alive again and in a box. Her fingers suddenly ached as they relived clawing to freedom, bursting through the dirt finally and into the night air.
She sat up so suddenly she scattered them as they stood above her. "No," she gasped. Her voice sounded like the grave. She looked at the others and knew from their faces that they didn't like what they saw. Felt guilty. Felt angry. Felt despair.
This was hell.
"Buffy, what's wrong?" Dawn's voice. Too loud. Too shrill. Please be normal, it said. Please be my sister again.
"Leave me alone," she said, her voice a croak. "Go away."
The faces were firm. Her friends didn't move. She felt panic set in as they tightened the circle around her.
"No!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. Or tried to. Her voice barely filled the room.
"We better leave her alone for a while."
Yes. Willow. Good. Smart friend. Leave me alone, she thought desperately.
"Maybe I should stay," her sister said.
"No." Willow again. Seeing the truth. Seeing the failure.
This was hell.
She wanted to be dead.
She could taste their disappointment as they backed out of the room, eyes not quite meeting hers.
Freak. Monster. Buffy.
She sighed in relief. The panic withdrew. She slid down the bed, pushed herself out the window and onto the roof so she could breathe deeply of the burnt night. Better than inside, better than being buried. Fresh air, if slightly sulpheric. Hell was like that.
"Slayer." A soft voice. Gentle.
She turned slowly. Waited for the touch, the shout. The seconds passed.
He didn't move. His eyes drank her in, but his hands stayed at his side. He was silent. Expecting nothing.
She remembered him. Felt emotions rage through her.
Bad. He was bad. Like the bikers. Her hands formed fists.
Good. Or at least not bad. She saw him falling from the tower she had walked up tonight, had run up before. He had been selfless. His life for Dawn. Or it would have been if he were mortal. She unclenched her hands.
"Not sure who you are?" His tone held no urgency, no pleading. No judgment.
"Yes. Slayer." He smiled. Showed no teeth.
"Slayer." She repeated. "Buffy."
He slowly eased himself down next to her. "Yes. Buffy. Buffy the Slayer."
"Vampire slayer. You're a vampire." Her memories were jumbled. She saw him too many ways all at once, falling again from the tower, attacking her in the school, with Drusilla and Angel, fighting Adam's demons in the Initiative, standing in the sunlight taunting her. She remembered each thing, how it felt. The memories re-sorted themselves. She moaned.
"Hurts. I know." He handed her a cigarette. "This might help."
She shook her head and frowned. "This is hell."
He lit the cigarette for himself and nodded, laughing very softly. "Without a bleedin' doubt."
"Death is my gift." She blinked back sudden tears. "They took my gift away."
"Maybe you living is everybody else's gift?"
"They want too much. I can't do it again." She closed her eyes as the memories assailed her. Joyce on the couch, eyes staring lifelessly. Angel as she thrust the sword through him. Kendra bleeding on the library floor. "Too much." She shivered.
He didn't say anything. Just took off his coat and wrapped it around her.
"They want me just like I was." Her voice was getting stronger as she became more like the Buffy that wandered her memories. The sad one anyway. Not the light one, even though she remembered that girl, could see her laughing in the library, running a Scooby meeting in Giles' living room, trading quips with Faith. "They want it all to go back the way it was."
"Can't go back." He looked out at the fires in the distance; his eyes reflected their glow.
She felt the mantle of doom settle over her again. All the responsibility. Closed her eyes, resignation already filling her. "I'm the Slayer. I have to go back."
He turned to her. "Not right away, you don't. Take some time. Let them think you're coming around slow. I won't give you away." His smile was sad.
"How long can I pretend?"
He looked back at the fires. "As long as you need to. As long as you have to."
She didn't answer and they sat in silence for a long time. Finally she stirred. "Sun's coming."
She took off his coat and handed it to him. "Thanks."
"Yeah. You will." He put his coat back on. "Don't let them push you, Buffy."
She crawled back into her room. Then she poked her head out. "You're the only one that doesn't seem happy to see me. Thank you."
He laughed, a small angry sound. "Bringing you back to hell? Not sure I'd wish that on my worst enemy, much less someone I care about."
She looked down. As he started to move off, she called out softly. "Come back tomorrow?"
He turned, smiled. "And the day after that, and the day after that, and the day...."
Her mouth lifted just slightly as she closed the window. Her bed finally beckoned. She lay down slowly, curling into a ball as she closed her eyes. Sleep was long in coming, but finally it carried her off. Her dreams were jumbled nightmares and snatches of memory. When she awoke a few hours later, her face was wet.
She heard the others stirring, considered joining them but then curled up tighter. She would take a little more time. Pretend just a bit longer. As long as she needed to. As long as she had to. As long as it took to get used to this.
And this was hell.