Title: Winter Lights [4/6]
Media: fanfiction & fanart
Creators: the_moonmoth, wolveswithhats, kylathelurker, bewildered
Characters: Buffy, Dawn, Giles, Andrew, OFC
Setting: Set shortly after ‘The Girl In Question’ and imagining it took place a little earlier than its air date.
Length: ~18,000 total (each chapter ~3,000)
Warnings: Attempted suicide and character death (both off-screen, but discussed)
Summary: Life, death, love, grief. Buffy takes a mission in the Arctic Circle with a slayer who never wanted to be and an enemy that barely compares to the one inside her own head.
Go here for notes, acknowledgements and chapter list.
The night after our little chat, I dream of following that glowy green pathway high up into the sky. I have a message to deliver, but everywhere I look is deserted. I mean, it’s the sky, so – duh. But it makes sense in the dream. I finally find him in a dark room, some weird little space with the stars turned off.
“I can’t see you,” I say, and even though he doesn’t answer I know he’s there. “I have to tell you something, it’s important.”
“Shh now, pet,” he says. “It’s too late.”
Then I see him, his back pale as the snow in moonlight, draped over a cross. “Shouldn’t you be burning?” I ask.
“Too late for that, too.”
I will him to turn around, show me his face, but he doesn’t, and I can’t move.
Then we’re in the old Sunnydale crypt, lying spooned together half beneath the rugs. We’re naked, and his body is pressed all along my back, his knees against the backs of mine, his arms cradling me close, his lips pressing kisses to my neck. I feel so happy I can barely hold it all in, but I don’t dare move in case he stops.
“Why’re you crying?” he murmurs into my skin. I wasn’t until then. “What did you do?”
What did you do? comes Bridget’s soft echo.
“Ah sweetheart, don’t do this. We’re both free now, made sure of that.”
But I don’t feel free, and he’s gone. Even in the dream these things are indelible. “Free of life? Got another name for that.”
He’s quiet then, withdrawing his touch, but when I roll over to apologize, to cling tighter, to kiss him, it’s over.
She wakes thinking – inexplicably – of Andrew, and that answering machine message from Giles with the news that he was handing the boy over to them for a time. It was the same night she’d met the Immortal, trying to slay him in the private area of a swanky club because he set off her demon tinglies.
Funny how it can never just be one thing followed, sometime later, by another. No, in Buffy-world everything always runs together, a deluge of this and this and, oh, this too, with never any time to come up for air.
It only occurs to her for the first time now, as she rubs the sleep wearily from her eyes, that maybe that has less to do with the never ending carousel of evil that is her life, and perhaps, maybe, more to do with her.
“But why here?” Buffy whined, happily switching roles with the actual teenager for the satisfaction of a good grump. “Wouldn’t we all be happier if he had his own space? Like, say, on the other side of town?”
“C’mon, Buffy, you heard Giles – Andrew’s depressed. He’s probably got that survivors’ guilt thing Dr. Kaur was talking about.” Buffy took a moment to silently curse that woman, her psychobabble, her appointment to the Academy, and her very existence; as if her sister needed any more ammunition. “He needs to be around people who care about him.”
“And again I ask: here?”
Dawn just rolled her eyes and that, it seemed, was that. Andrew appeared the following day with a single small suitcase and a hangdog expression that barely lifted on discovering their new PlayStation2, made himself comfortable in their living room, and didn’t look likely to be on his way any time soon.
At least he baked. And tidied. In fact, sometimes invasively so. Buffy took to locking her bedroom door when he went on one of his benders lest he arrange her underwear drawer by color again. But on the whole he made himself useful, what with the hot meals and regular laundry runs – she and Dawn hadn’t been so well catered to since before Mom got sick, and there was something undoubtedly refreshing about that.
He’d put on weight since they last saw him in Oxford, losing the stretched-out teenage boy look. He was quieter, too, more serious – something that could only be of the good, in Buffy’s opinion, especially since she’d been dreading having to deal with that slightly terrifying hero-worship thing he had going. He talked more to Dawn than to her, anyway, and when he did it was only about day to day stuff, occasional questions about the Academy, the odd bit of research. In fact, he spent half his time with his nose in some musty old tome or other that Dawn would retrieve for him from the library. He never tried to talk about things she couldn’t… wouldn’t… He turned out to be a good opponent on Tekken 4, or better than Dawn, at least.
She saw, for the first time, what Giles said he saw. Beyond the silly dreamer, something that might one day become a half-decent watcher.
“I actually don’t know what the problem is,” Buffy admitted to Dawn one morning as they were making breakfast, Andrew still sacked out on the couch in the next room. “I like him better like this.”
Dawn turned to her slowly, her whole body swiveling as though on gears. It would have been funny, except for the unpleasant expression on her face, a mix of disdain and incredulity. “Suicidal?” she asked.
“What? I – What?”
“Guess you didn’t bother listening to that part of the message, huh?” She hadn’t. She’d been too intent on calling Giles back to try and talk him out of it. Somehow the reason behind the decision had failed to come up. “He tried to top himself, Buffy. He’d just been released from the psych ward when he came here.”
“Oh.” Inside, something angry and sneering raised its head, but rational-Buffy knew that that was Wrong and so she swallowed it back down. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”
Dawn just stared at her some more before shaking her head. “It’s not all about you, you know,” she muttered, before snatching up her Pop Tart and shoving past. Buffy didn’t try to stop her. She didn’t know what to say.
It was a week or so afterwards that she was sneaking in from a secret not-patrol of the tourist quarter when she heard their voices coming from the lounge. Frowning at the lateness of the hour, and on a school night too, she stopped by the door to listen in.
“-better,” Andrew was saying. “I still think about her sometimes, though. Sometimes I talk to her, like she’s really there. Pretty lame, right?”
“No, not really.” That was Dawn. “Dr. Kaur told me to try writing a letter.”
Buffy tensed. She remembered that – Dawn had wanted her to try it too. Another pointless fight.
“Did it help?”
A pause. “Some.” She could practically see Andrew’s narrow-eyed nod. Dawn added, “I got angry and burned it.”
“Angry at him?”
“Angry at me.”
“I get that,” Andrew said softly. “Every day, before I… before I tried to… I would think to myself, Anya died a hero’s death. I’m alive because of her. I should be treasuring every second. But instead I… and then I felt guilty, for not doing better.”
There was a faint rustling and Buffy pictured Dawn reaching out to him – always reaching out – hand on his shoulder or arm.
“Did it get better? Do you still feel like that?”
A choked, wet-sounding yes was all Buffy could take before turning right back around and leaving them to it.
Her first reaction had been right after all, she thought, swiping at her eyes as she thundered down the stairs of their apartment building. He was weak, just like Chloe had been weak. As if no one else had—
Of course you could treasure the seconds, you just had to try. Andrew was pathetic, he was… profane, and god, she hoped Xander never had to hear him talking about Anya’s memory like that, like he had any right to—
She’d go see Giancarlo. Yes. Tell him he could take her out to lunch after all. Tell him he could take her tomorrow, beg him if she had to. Tell him, maybe, to let her stay the night, because otherwise she’d have to go back to that, and tomorrow wouldn’t come soon enough.
Buffy rises to find the house empty, and moves about slowly, drifting and blank as snow. Eventually, the sound of barking draws her out, coffee in hand, and there is Bridge beside the dog shed, loading up the sled. Her heart skips a beat when she realizes what it means. With the start of May bearing down on them and the twilit night down to a couple of hours, she’d known they couldn’t wait much longer, but still, the sense of relief is immense; movement will help, she’s certain.
For a while, it does. The sound of dogs barking, the wind in her face, the prickle and sting of the sparkling fog kicked up from undisturbed powder – all these things spell freedom, release. Having to jump off and run alongside the sled when it flounders on wet snow is a joy so fierce she finds herself grinning beneath her face-mask like a wolverine, and the burn in her lungs from the freezing air is a pleasant kind of pain. She’s so pent up she could run all day, and has to rein in her annoyance when it’s time to jump back on board again. That night she sleeps like the dead, and doesn’t dream.
It’s like that for the first week, and then, abruptly, it isn’t. They’re heading due north and really into twenty-four-hour sun territory now, so it’s kinda hard to name it ‘morning’ because that implies some kind of night came before it, but Buffy wakes one day and the mindless simplicity of it all is just gone. She lies in her sleeping bag staring at the tent wall, fighting desperately against the upwelling of dread until Bridget stirs and they start their day.
A day in which there’s no sound but their breath and the dogs’ panting and the metallic hiss of the sled on snow, nothing to see but land so white it makes her eyes ache. That raw, wide-open feeling creeps over her again, that fear-fascination for the emptiness of the landscape, until she feels bowed under the weight of it, silence buzzing in her ears. Maybe it’s in self-defense that her focus turns inward, but her mind quickly takes her back to thoughts of Andrew, and Anya, and the fifteen-year-old girl they lost to a demon just last month, and from there a progression of images and memories she would rather not have but can’t seem to escape, until she’s seeing in fire.
“Why are you doing this?” Buffy asks later. She means it more as distraction than interrogation, but it comes out accusatory anyway, and she wonders briefly if she’s lost the ability to have a simple conversation without layers and layers of subtext.
Bridge is terse as she sets up the camp stove for what could laughably be called dinner. “This?”
“World saveage,” Buffy clarifies.
“What, am I horning in on your gig, Slayer?” She has that vaguely annoyed look on her face again, the perma-frown, and it chafes at the part of Buffy that was just trying to be friendly.
“Stop calling me that,” she snaps, surprising herself by the rancor in her tone. “I mean,” she stumbles back on track, “you don’t care about sacred duty. You pretty much hate all things slayerly. Half the time I think you hate me…”
“Half the time I do.”
The words hang there like the small, white sun above the horizon, unexpectedly piercing, until Bridget looks away. Buffy senses that neither of them intended the conversation to take this fractious turn, but here it is nonetheless: the ice and the snow and the sky shouting back.
“I’ll tell you about sacred duty,” Bridget mutters harshly, and when she meets Buffy’s eyes again there’s something dark and bleak and furious in them, and suddenly the tent feels very small. “What use are super powers when the only thing worth saving is already gone? You flounce in here with your lip gloss and your hero complex and expect me to be grateful for this thing? I don’t think so, Slayer.”
Inside Buffy, everything unravels.
“Well I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry you hate it. I’m sorry it’s such a burden to you. I’m composed entirely of sorryness. But there was no choice. The world was going to be destroyed and this was our only chance to stop it. There was no time to think about consequences, I admit it, all right? But don’t go acting as though I’ve come out of this golden. I lost the man I – I lost my man –” and suddenly she’s panting, heaving for breath, because she hasn’t said it before, not out loud, and the words claw at her throat but she can’t keep them in. “He died. He died to save the world. It’s because of him we’re here today, any of us. It’s a gift.”
Then the tent really is too small, and she can’t get out of there fast enough. She runs until she collapses, and on her knees in the snow she weeps and weeps until she’s screaming with it.
And later, when the energy has gone but not the tears, she lies on her back staring up at the clouds, soul so raw it’s circled back to numbness, eyelashes starting to freeze.
“Come on, continental, time to wake up now.”
The words seem to circle slowly around her head without penetrating, until she’s hauled up roughly into a sitting position, something warm and sweet pressed to her mouth.
She swallows, and asks groggily, “Did I fall asleep?”
“Yeah, and I’m your prince charming come to wake you up. You idiot. Are you trying to get yourself killed?”
I don’t know, she thinks, I don’t know anymore. But he didn’t save her life just so she could waste it. This is the thing she tells herself over and over in the dark of the night, when she questions what she’s doing – in Rome, in her life, in bed with Giancarlo. She’s been trying so hard, and never once dared wonder, what if I’m just making the same mistakes all over again? And now there’s no night, no dawn at which everything seems brighter, just tangled, difficult truth spilling out in the searing light of this permanent day, and she has no idea how to stuff it back in.
“I feel so lost,” she murmurs, and when she opens her eyes she realizes she’s propped up on Bridget, slumped like a discarded toy in her ridiculous red jacket, and the other woman’s face – what she can see of it – is ashen.
“Then next time take the GPS, or at least one of the damn dogs.”
On cue, something in the vicinity of her legs lets out a sharp snuffling sound, and Buffy creaks her neck down to see one of the huskies sprawled across her lower body.
“Midnight,” she says, and tries to reach up to pet him. Only then does she notice the pain, cold so deep it hurts. Snorting again, Midnight half-rises and shuffles up her body until he can lick at her chin, her jaw, the tears that Buffy didn’t even realize had started up again, looking up at her with soulful eyes that ask nothing of her except her continued survival. As a sled dog he’s pretty worthless, too lazy to pull his weight, so it’s beyond her why he’s on the team, but his gentle temperament means he’s always been her favorite. Warm, too. Oh god, so warm! Bridget makes her finish the drink and that combined with the husky blanket thaws her out enough to get her limbs moving again.
“Think you can walk?” Bridge asks, pulling her to her feet. “I can go get the sled, but it’s better for you if you do.” The wind is whipping up, sharp in their faces, and Buffy steadies herself on the other woman’s shoulder as she shivers convulsively.
“I can walk,” she says between chattering teeth.
Wordlessly, Bridge slips a supporting arm around Buffy’s waist and they turn back in the direction of their tracks, Midnight leading the way. It only strikes her later, with the tent in view, that Bridge isn’t overly fond of Midnight, which means she must have brought him for Buffy’s sake. She doesn’t know what to do with that information.
That night (and for once it even feels a little like it, with the sun behind thick grey cloud) Buffy lies quiescent in her sleeping bag, watching as Bridget goes through her routines, checking equipment, re-packing supplies, setting the alarm. It’s strangely soothing and she feels quiet within herself.
“Who did you lose?” she asks, for the sake of both curiosity and parity. Bridget’s hands pause long enough to make regret rise up in her, always so close to the surface these days, but she speaks before Buffy can take it back.
Buffy’s breath hitches, a sympathetic stab of heartache, and nods. I’m sorry doesn’t cover it, no words do, and so she says none. Bridget will tell her more, or she won’t – pointless to wonder anymore if they’re friends when they’re all the other has right now, here at the top of the world.
They’re quiet together for a moment more before Bridget speaks without turning to her. “Did you love him?”
No need to ask who.
“Yes.” The word comes out on a long breath like a hiss, and she feels her mouth vibrating with it, tongue and teeth and palate. Her bones vibrate with it. Her whole architecture shakes and trembles for the admission that streams out now like steam from a pressure valve. “Yes, I loved him. More than I ever knew was possible.”
“But if love was enough, they’d be here right now, wouldn’t they.”
No words cover it.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/517155.html