Title: Winter Lights [5/6]
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.
He would get nightmares sometimes, before the soul. I mean, after the soul it was a given, but then? Not so much. I would get angry with him when he did, though I never knew why. Didn’t think about it. Pretended to be asleep or got up and left. I hated the way he would cry my name, reaching out for me in sleep, always reaching out. I think they were dreams about falling, about death and portals and failure, and the times I played possum I would lie there and remember, what he said to me before it all got twisted up between us – every night I save you.
I hated that he felt everything and I felt nothing. I hated that the only time I felt anything at all was with him. I guess I thought, part of me – when I wasn’t too busy insisting that he couldn’t really feel at all, just so I could know that I was worse than a soulless monster – I guess I thought he was so full of emotion, brimming over with it, that I could catch some of it from him.
Catch it. Like a disease or something. I was so dumb. Because in the end what he made me feel again was love, and now I can’t get rid of it.
They’ve been three weeks on the ice and are almost at their destination when Buffy wakes with a jolt. It takes her a minute of listening to Bridget’s even breathing, the whistling of the wind outside, before she realizes what’s wrong. Struggling out of her sleeping bag into the frigid air she starts yanking on clothing, yelling at Bridge to wake up.
Outside, the sky is dark. Not like how it is sometimes, with the sun hanging low on the horizon and filtering feebly through thick cloud: now it’s dark like night, a black expanse of sky like Buffy hasn’t seen since she landed north of the Arctic Circle.
They stand there a moment, side by side and perfectly still, until Bridge curses and pulls the GPS out of her pocket.
“Damn it,” she mutters after a moment. “We’ve drifted.”
“And that’s bad?”
“Yeah,” she breathes, glancing up at the sky again. “We’re on sea ice, so we’re shifting around a bit day to day, but… Shit. We’ve been coming up a ley line to hide our approach from the pigiitchuat, but we’ve drifted nearly ten miles off course since last night.”
It doesn’t take the genius she isn’t to figure out what that means. “They know we’re coming.”
They both stare at the sky, a yawning black void free of stars, of moon, of anything.
They’d still been over a day’s run from the coven as it stood, and further now, but it’s an easy decision to take the last leg in one go, straight through. Digging out the tent and packing up the sled together, Buffy thinks they’ve never been so in synch.
The wind picks up until it’s howling in her ears, the roar of it filling the world. Snow blows in almost sideways and she pulls up her face mask and pulls down her hat and hood until the only part of her exposed is a narrow strip across her eyes, lashes so thick with ice it aches to blink.
Time goes in weird chunks as the cold and the exhaustion settle in, sometimes five minutes between checks, sometimes two hours. Around the time they would usually stop to put up the tent for the night, the snow eases, the clouds begin to clear and the stars come out. With it comes the aurora.
The darkness makes the light shine brighter, and it is so, so beautiful. Buffy lies back on the sled to take it all in, all the bright dome of the sky. Funny how in the daylight everything seemed so flat and empty; in the dark there’s a grandeur to it all, and it feels somehow familiar.
It might be magic, and it might be bad news, but it’s only after weeks and weeks of sunlight that she appreciates the night for what it is.
She must sleep, because eighteen hours into their run Bridge is shaking her awake and the dogs have stopped, milling around with tongues lolling out.
“We gotta walk,” Bridge tells her, rummaging around beneath the tarp and withdrawing a pole with a long barb on the end. “Midnight smelled water.”
“Aren’t we, you know, surrounded by water?” she asks distractedly, stamping her feet – sleeping in the open, not good. Inside her bunny boots, her feet have gone numb.
“Smartass,” Bridget says without rancor. “He can smell liquid water beneath the ice. Means the ice is too thin.” She huffs, spearing the ground in front of them before deciding on a course. “Winter break up’s getting earlier every year,” she mutters. “Damn global warming. As if demons and vampires and whatever the hell else isn’t enough.”
Buffy trudges along in her wake, careful to follow her path precisely. She really, really would like to avoid another dip in the frigid ocean. The lead pair is at her heels, and Buffy glances back at them, Roxie and Midnight, feeling a weird sense of gratitude for one mystery solved.
“You smell water, huh?” she says over her shoulder. Midnight seems to grin back at her. Every dog has its role in the team, she remembers.
All in all, as metaphors for her life go, tonight seems to be laying it on pretty thick.
They arrive all of a sudden. One moment, Buffy is driving the sled while Bridge takes a break. The next, the air shimmers like at Rack’s place and they’re driving into some kind of courtyard surrounded by a large, horseshoe-shaped building.
“Welcome,” says a woman whose choppy red hair reminds her joltingly of Vi but who turns out to be called Michaela. She explains briefly about the magical barriers protecting this place, then there’s activity everywhere as people appear to unpack the sled, feed the dogs, and Buffy’s fingers twitch for a weapon.
And isn’t that just…
After all this time in the bush or the wilderness or whatever she should call it, it turns out Buffy can’t remember how to be around people any more. Everything at the coven seems too loud, too warm, and the nape of her neck creeps so that she constantly seeks a wall at her back.
The building itself is an abandoned scientific outpost on a tiny island amid the sea ice, but inside the witches have made it pretty homey. She and Bridget are taken to adjacent rooms with a communal shower at the end of the corridor. Her room is carpeted and comfy, a hand-crocheted comforter on the bed. It all feels slightly absurd.
She showers in a daze, and sleeps for not long enough, and then there’s – oh god – coffee and donuts, and plans to be made, but as soon as they break for five she’s outside in the courtyard leaning back against the wall and glorying in the quiet and the steaming of her breath.
“And this is how you end up living by yourself on the edge of a nowhere town with no one for company but your dogs,” she mutters to herself. Strangely, it isn’t enough to make her rush back in, and for now that’s just dandy.
She isn’t the only one feeling confined, though. The amount of time Buffy spends politely backing out of conversations, it’s pretty much inevitable she’d eventually find herself in the same hidey hole as the loner she rode in with.
“Hey,” she says, coming to stand beside her on the funny little observation deck attached to the commissary. Figures the only one she can tolerate for any length of time is Bridge.
“Hotshot. What’re you doing out here?”
She’s smoking one of the weird-smelling cigarettes she’d occasionally rolled for herself back home. She’s been smoking them a lot more since they arrived. Buffy envies her the excuse.
“Sky pretty,” she shrugs, and leans on her elbows against the railing. There’s no aurora, but the sky is clear as glass and the stars look like a painting. In the distance, an orange glow breaks the darkness, splashing fire across the frozen wasteland. “Is that them?” she asks.
“Yeah.” Bridge breathes the word out slowly with a lungful of smoke, as though savoring it. There’s something very watchful about her tonight, focused, and yet weirdly peaceful.
“Tell me about them,” Buffy says. “I know we’ve talked tactics and spells and weapons, but… how did this happen to them? They were people once, weren’t they?”
“Yeah, but they’re not really human, not anymore,” Bridge says, taking a long, unhurried drag, a little pop on the end as her lips release that is achingly familiar. “They make human sacrifices to summon bad spirits and let them possess their bodies.”
Bad spirits, does that mean – “Demons?”
“Sounds kind of like vampires,” she muses.
“Wouldn’t know, we don’t exactly get a lot up here. Stupid bastards don’t notice the cold and freeze solid. Never met one walking and talking.”
Buffy can’t help but snort softly at the image of Bridge staking vamp-sicles as they lay scattered across the snow. “I thought this was a one-time deal. Not been slaying on the sly, have you?”
Bridget huffs, looking uncomfortable and a bit guilty. “Don’t get excited, Summers, only ever seen a couple. I figure most of them dust when the sun comes back over the horizon.” Buffy opens her mouth to probe further, because god knows she needs to get her fun somewhere, but with a shrewd look Bridget flicks the butt into Buffy’s not-quite-empty coffee mug and changes the subject. “Do we need to talk about what happened a couple weeks back? You gonna try that crap again?”
And she’s done that thing again, where the sheer bluntness of the non-sequitur startles Buffy into honesty.
“No, I… no.” She sighs. “I get it now, what you meant about mirrors.” Bridge grunts, and Buffy feels the weight of her scrutiny. She meets her gaze levelly. “All that emptiness, it makes you face yourself, but… you already knew that, and you did it anyway.” She frowns in thought. “I don’t know why you don’t think you’re a slayer.”
Bridget is the first to look away, breath steaming. Her voice is very quiet when she speaks.
“What you’re made of, Buffy – I’m not made of that.”
There’s something here, in the tone of her voice, the set of her shoulders, the acceptance. It’s wrong somehow, but she can’t pinpoint it.
“You know,” she observes instead. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you say my name.”
Then it hits her, in this strange little moment, that link to a severed past – it hits her right between the eyes and square in the heart, and she knows what’s wrong, knows it, because hasn’t she been here before, in a basement that doesn’t exist anymore, with a man who only ever used her name when it was serious? Bridget doesn’t intend to survive the coming fight.
“Oh my god, that’s what this is? This whole wise woman of the wilderness routine? Just a—” She is floored. “Just a death wish.”
Slowly, deliberately, Bridget straightens and turns to face Buffy head on, eyes shining with fury in the low light.
“My child is dead,” she says, words clipped and very precise. “They killed him. And six months later, I get the power and the opportunity? You’re damn right I’m going to go straight to the heart of them.”
“No,” Buffy insists fiercely, shaking her head. “Not like this. You told me, you told me, don’t die on a dark night.”
“It’s not really night, cheechako, we just had lunch,” she says, and the tone is too flippant, too knowing, and Buffy loses her composure all at once and hauls off and punches her. “Jesus fucking…!” Bridge steadies herself on the railing, glaring. “Shit, Summers. Didn’t know you cared,” she says, rubbing her jaw, and it’s deeply sarcastic but it’s still true, just like everything she says, and Buffy’s never been good at apologizing so instead she closes in and hugs her tight, this strange, prickly woman who was linked to her by magic but to whom she’s now connected by something far deeper, and wills herself not to cry again.
She told Dawn once, at a moment not unlike this one, that the hardest thing the world could ask of them was to live in it. It’s a lesson she’s had to teach herself over and over again, but to make this woman see it now – she doesn’t feel equal to it.
“Please,” she whispers. “Please don’t. We can win this. We will. We just have to fight for it.”
Bridget stands rigid for the longest time, then exhales shakily and tentatively lets her forehead fall to Buffy’s shoulder. “I’m so tired of fighting,” she whispers roughly. “How do you go on, when everything just gets stripped away?”
Do all slayers go through this? she wonders, hearing her own words from years ago like a harmonic to Bridget’s empty question: I don’t know how to live in this world if these are the choices.
“I don’t know, but you do. You have to. Because no one else will. And at some point, eventually, something will make it worth the struggle.”
She has to believe that; it was true before.
They disengage, and don’t meet each other’s eyes. Buffy bends down to scoop up a handful of snow for Bridget’s jaw and hands it to her awkwardly.
“I still hate you,” Bridge says, taking it.
“Yeah? Well I never said it before but I hate you too.”
Bridget laughs at that, honest to god laughs, and only then do the tears come.
Buffy stands aside and lets her weep without comforting noises or any of the coddling she’d give to Dawn. That’s the kind of person Bridget is (though when she winds down Buffy passes her the packet of tissues from her pocket so she doesn’t get all icy inside her nose).
It’s only when they go back inside for more coffee that Buffy connects a certain set of dots.
“You bitch,” she realizes. “This is why you made me learn all that survival stuff, so I could get home without you. It is, isn’t it!”
“Don’t be stupid,” Bridget tells her. “The ice will’ve melted back home by now.”
“Then how was I supposed to…?”
Bridge just shrugs. “I don’t know. Magic? Airplane? I’m sure you’d have figured it out.” She pauses a moment, eyes on her mug, before looking up at Buffy, defiant. “Don’t know what you think you saw just now, but I didn’t make any promises,” she says.
It sounds kind of like a promise all the same.
Buffy goes out by herself not long after, needing space to process it all. She doesn’t go far, and takes both Midnight and a GPS this time, but it’s enough distance to allow the lights from the coven to fade into a diffuse white glow and the stars to shine even brighter. Overhead the Northern Lights are starting up, strains of hazy green writhing against the splash of the Milky Way. She’s going to tell the others soon, when she goes back in, that tomorrow it’s time to attack. For now, she holds the knowledge inside herself, and tries to decide if she’s scared or eager. Either way, it’s time.
“So I don’t know if this’ll work,” she tells the aurora. “Bridge definitely isn’t a believer. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that magic is weird and powerful and… if there’s even a chance, I have to try to tell you.” And so she does, and thinks real hard about those spirits carrying her message across the boundary between worlds, because Giles has always stressed the importance of visualization.
Bridget told her – when? Last week? – that she’s been walking around as raw and obvious as a bloodstain on snow. Now, baring her soul to the judging silence of the land, far too late to truly do any good, in her red jacket with her broken heart, it’s exactly how she feels.
Don’t die on a dark night, she thinks. But what if the darkness is carried inside?
Her words have trailed off as her thoughts turn ever inward, and so she isn’t sure exactly what she’s said and what she’s merely thought, but the aurora just then brightens and extends to something truly magnificent, the reds and violets flashing along the edge of that streaming curtain. Breathtaking. It feels like acknowledgement.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/517450.html