Beta: The wonderful and steadfast All4Spike. Thank you!
Trigger Warnings: depression, suicide ideation.
Feedback: Always welcome. Thanks!
A/N (Revised on May 15): A three-parter story. Posting Chapter 1 here (story revised slightly on 5/15), the rest within a week (all written; being beta’d). This story has a happy ending. Thanks to the mods and everyone here at SeasonalSpuffy! Happy 20th!
Dreamless – Chapter 1
She woke up the same way she always did these days, a blank alertness overtaking sleep, without the harsh interjection of an alarm clock whisking her into action, without the dying whispers of a dream urging her to stay. Neither sudden nor gradual, instead it felt inevitable — like birth; yet always decidedly out of place. What was life after death in a nutshell, if not that?
She’d open her eyes to stare at the ceiling without comprehension, until the surroundings eventually registered as her bed, her room, her house. But it was someone else’s life she was living now — got to be, because she’d lived her own already, tried so hard, did her best, and drawn to a close with what she’d hoped was a valiant ending. Was it not enough?
No dreams. Not anymore. It was like…time stopped as soon as she closed her eyes, and waited for them to open again before resuming. In between, there was only space. Empty and vast and still and hard to navigate. Not unlike life itself.
She no longer held out hope that one day, she’d open her eyes to find herself back in her own life. (Did she mean…her own death?) No, this was a different kind of miracle. The kind that she didn’t ask for. The kind that fulfilled someone else’s wish against her will, at her expense.
She turned to the blank wall, a sheet of textured seafoam green paint — chosen by the previous owner of the house — projecting fake serenity, and closed her eyes again.
* * *
The sun was hovering low in the horizon when she finally got up, got dressed. Flipping to a nocturnal life had been a genius move, her schedule now synched to that of her namesake enemies. All slay and no play was not so much of a problem once avoiding her friends became her number one objective.
For days, they’d been trying to coax her out of her room while the sun ruled the sky. “Tired,” she’d reply with a smile as thin as her excuse, any time her well-being was brought into question, not exactly lying but definitely not volunteering the whole truth either, before shutting her bedroom door on the world outside, smoothing out the corners of her new blackout curtains, and retrieving back into the cocoon of her bed.
What did she have to look forward to? She was on repeat. Stuck. Her whole life a Groundhog Day farce. Was it any wonder that she couldn’t muster up the energy to care? Slipping out her window and sliding down the roof to land near Mom’s rosebush, all leaves and flowerless now that it’d lost its gardener, Buffy kicked off yet another day with routine patrol — the one thing that she (still) did these days that passed for “normal” in the Scoobies’ eyes. She had to get out of the house before she screamed.
It wasn’t until she found herself within the confines of Restfield Cemetery, that she noticed her exit from the hustle and bustle of Sunnydale suburbia. Beyond the wrought iron gate in the land of the living, normal people thrived, progressed, celebrated, sipping life’s sweet nectar from a common spring somehow denied of her. Here, fenced in with the gloom and doom, in the company of only the dearly departed, and the newly-minted evil undead yet to rise, Buffy still managed to be the odd one out. Therein lay the rub, the real cincher in the Slayer’s curse: always alone, forever the misfit, in life as in death. Even, in her case, extending to life after death.
But why had she come to Restfield Cemetery? Of all the hunting grounds in Sunnydale, was it mere coincidence that she found herself, once again, practically at the door of the only Undead she was supposed to live and, well, let unlive? She looked down at her stylish ankle boots with reinforced pointy toe boxes, perfect for delivering extra painful kicks, and admonished, “Bad feet. Lead me here of all places. See if I put you on autopilot again.”
Her cheeks burned at the thought of the bleached blond vampire, a fellow outcast. The bane of her existence for longer than any demon should have the right to be against a Slayer, when did he cross the great divide from archenemy to steadfast ally? When did her attitude towards him shift from seething hate and major annoyance to mild intrigue and begrudging admiration? When did she start thinking about his eyes, his freakishly long tongue, the way he seemed bursting at the seams with life, and his lithe, toned body full of power and pressed against —
And could she stop thinking about him already?
Desperate to yank her mind back on track to duty and world saving and evil stoppage, she searched the ground for signs of freshly turned soil, and arrived at a pair of gleaming tombstones flanked by lovely bouquets of white lilies. Reading the names on the tombstones didn’t ring a bell, and she let out a small sigh of relief. Should they rise as fledges, Buffy would be spared of the whole awkwardness around staking former acquaintances. Less unnecessary trauma all around.
Now where were the vampires when she needed a good slay? A bitter laugh escaped from her lips over the decided lack of demonic activity. It was enough that, at home, she was given a wide berth, treated with kid gloves, molly-coddled. What, now even the vamps were in on it? Nowadays so much was done for her, in her consideration, without including her. As if she had a terminal condition and wasn’t long for this world. (As if it weren’t the opposite.) Or were a spoiled child: her judgement to be questioned, but her whims indulged, by all who’d agreed to do the best for her according to their definition of “best”.
A piercing shriek cut short Buffy’s train of thought, and unable to spot the threat with a quick survey, she dived for cover behind a nearby tree, and witnessed, from her relative safety, one of the new tombstones crushed to smithereens beneath an enormous claw. The impact sent tremors up the tree trunk, peppering Buffy with fallen petals of the palest pink.
It would’ve been pretty if she weren’t focused on the oversized claw that’d inflicted that damage. She must’ve wished a little too hard for monsters.
Jumping to her feet, Buffy blurted out the first thing that came to her, “Hey! Show a little respect for the dead!” It felt good to finally get that out of her system. (Although since her friends hadn’t managed that, why would she expect it of demons?) Seeing the monster drawing up to its full height and the dismissal in its return gaze almost made her regret speaking up.
Because as demons went, this one definitely belonged in the heavy-weight class, easily twice her height, wide as an SUV, and built like one, too — if SUVs were like bulky bipedal crocodiles and pointy all over: with lethal-looking claws, a protruding jaw crowded with sharp teeth, and a spiked tail. To Buffy’s advantage, it also suffered the turn radius of an SUV: as its body changed course in a sudden left turn to come at her, its tail decimated everything in its path with a wide, oblivious sweep. On second thought, maybe that should count as more of the bad, too.
A firm believer of striking first and striking hard, she rushed the demon, swinging her fists as high as she could reach, unleashing their momentum on its scaled… belly? So the height disadvantage was totally going to suck, but she’d never let it stop her before.
“I’m Buffy the Vampire Slayer!” she shouted in between swings, “and you are —” The beast roared again, and Buffy held her breath against the stench. “Ugh, you’re in need of a breath mint!”
Proving that it was no fan of small talk, the giant lizard didn’t even bother with a retort. It swiped at Buffy with the boredom of someone dismissing an annoying but harmless gnat. And as she skidded to a stop, crashing head-first into a gravemarker some 15 feet away, unflatteringly spread-eagled and face down, she begrudgingly acknowledged the stinky beast’s superior strength.
“Ow,” she spat out dirt and wiped her face on her sleeve, limping to her feet. “That was not dignified!” Though, remarkably, as she mentally inventoried her vital organs, light on the damage scale. The lone casualty from her first round? Not counting her pride in tatters, one last season’s blouse which Buffy concurred with the beast that it had outlived the trend.
Oddly, Lizard Face seemed to have forgotten about her and found a diversion in digging. Or maybe it’d always been a sandcastle enthusiast? A treasure hunter? Certainly not a tunnel-borer judging by its size. Picking up a fallen tree branch that extended her reach in a makeshift lance, she approached the beast from the side on silent steps, tracking the repetitive motion of the scaly arms, the reflexive twitch and thump of a spiked tail.
Expecting an attack, she was caught entirely off guard when Lizard Face dragged a coffin out of the earth, pried open its protective shell like an oyster, and — oh God no — slurped its contents in one fluid motion, fabric and all. And there it was, the mystery solved: This encounter had not been about a demon challenging a Slayer. This had been, simply, a scavenger looking for an easy meal.
Buffy’s knees buckled as the sickening crunch reached her ears, and gagging, she found herself on all fours, desperately trying to unsee —
— the body, already decomposing, limp and light, like a rag doll —
It was a thought she’d resisted, relegated to the dark recesses of her mind but now could no longer repress: had she looked like that, laid to rest six feet under, in the company of worms, after life had departed and nature taken over? How much of her had seeped into the ground, evaporated into the atmosphere, absorbed by blue myrtles and weeping willows? And the magical restoration that’d brought her back — had all of her returned, reassembled from cuttings of overgrown cemetery greenery, her soul recalled from —
She bit her tongue to stop the word from escaping, until the taste of copper flooded her mouth. It was all of it she had left, all that she could hold onto: a name, wisps of memory. Fingernails digging into the earth, knees numb from the weight of her own physical existence, she saw her face superimposed onto that of the ragdoll and thought that she might never be able to look into a mirror again.
All because of the creature before her. Pain and rage compelled Buffy to her feet, swift and decisive as she ran toward the monster. Swinging the silvery tree branch up to a nice forward momentum, she aimed for the soft hide of the quivering chin and —
— faltered, the tip of her makeshift weapon spearing into the ground after making a wide arc.
An idea popped into her head, crystal-clear as if etched on a grave marker, and froze her to the spot. It’d be so easy, a treacherous voice whispered in the back of her head, to simply — let it happen. But of course! A super-sized, carnivorous demon made an ideal candidate: given the size of her opponent, who could blame her for losing? And if there was no body, then there would be nothing for Willow to resurrect. Her final rest would at last go on uninterrupted, in eternal peace.
Wouldn’t that be nice? She was just so tired. Resolutely, without a shred of regard for this wretched world that could risk her turning into a pillar of salt, she closed her eyes.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/588639.html