Title: Winter Lights [6/6]
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.
I dream of him, the eve of the battle. We’re lying entwined on his narrow basement cot in Revello Drive. I feel aware, like when it’s a slayer dream, except this is different somehow – I don’t question it. Instead, we talk.
“Stay awake,” he says. “Stay with me, Buffy.”
I burrow deeper into him. “I’m here.”
It’s still, so still and peaceful, and my thoughts slow down to match. I feel relaxed for the first time since… god, too hard to even know the answer to that. I don’t want to think of it now. He doesn’t even breathe, just like those nights, as though afraid of shattering the fragile peace. The only movement is the twitch of fingers, restless in the presence of skin: mine on his lower back, the slip of skin between waistband and t-shirt, his on the skin below the point of my jaw, hand buried in my hair and thumb stroking tender sweeps. We’re close, kissing distance, sharing a pillow, but while I see desire in his eyes, I don’t think it’s for that. I understand completely – after so long, I’m starved for the sight of him.
“I’ve really missed you,” I say in a small voice. “Why wouldn’t you let me see you?” His thumb travels along my jaw to trace the bow of my lower lip and I close my eyes to savor it. “Where have you been?”
“Funny story, that,” he says. “Been helping the old man out in L.A. this last year.”
It’s not what I asked, but I go with it. “Angel? Why?”
A low, deep chuckle rumbles up from his chest and straight into mine. I push into it, greedy for all his sensations.
“Nowhere else to go.”
“Oh.” That’s not right but I accept it for now. No point picking a fight when it’s just a dream.
“Good that you’re here now, though, pet,” he says, pulling me closer to tuck my head under his chin, chest to chest, legs slotting together like puzzle pieces. “Got another big bad to take down tomorrow. Probably won’t see out the night, so it’s good to see your face one last time.”
“Weird,” I tell him. “I’ve got an apocalypse too.”
“That time of year.”
I murmur his name then, not to add anything, just to say it, and turn my face and press it into his neck, breathing in the scent of his skin. “I love you, you know.”
I feel the press of a kiss on the crown of my head and when I look up he’s giving me a sweet, sad little smile. “No you don’t, but thanks for—”
I push my fingers over his lips. “Don’t. I fought too hard to— just don’t.”
His eyes widen slightly, turning somber, before he kisses my fingers and pulls them from his mouth.
“Okay. Guess it’s what I want to hear right now, anyway, given the circumstances.” He’s taken my hand and pressed it over his still heart. “Gonna be a big one, tomorrow’s fight. Don’t think I’ll be coming back from it.”
“What, again?” I ask wryly.
The soft snort of his laughter stirs my hair and I smile, holding him tightly. “Hey, you’d be the one to—
Someone pounds on Buffy’s door and she flails awake, distraught. “No!” But it’s gone, and in the end all she can do is get up and ready herself for battle.
The silence on the other end of the line feels way longer than it probably is. Buffy is weirdly on tenterhooks.
“Yeah, I figured,” Dawn snipes. “You’re alive, then.”
The flip statement feels unaccustomedly weighty after everything. How long has it been since they talked? Over a month, she thinks. It’s a little hard to tell if her sister really is still pissed with her or just putting on a show, but either way that’s not important right now.
“Yeah, I’m back in Endurance, and this payphone is really expensive so I don’t have long I’m afraid.”
A snort down the line. “Whatever. As if that’s anything new.”
“Dawn,” she says warningly, before taking a deep breath and trying to rein it back in. “How are you? Is Andrew back now?”
“Yeah he’s been back a couple of weeks.” She hears familiar whiny tones in the background, and Dawn’s response, “No, it’s just Buffy. Yeah, I’ll tell her.” A put upon sigh. “Andrew says hi and he’s sorry about your sock drawer.”
“Never mind, you’ll see when you get back.” She pauses. “Which will be…?”
“Um, tomorrow, I think? In the afternoon.”
“You want us to come get you?”
“No, the traffic’ll be bad.” The traffic’s always bad in Rome. “I’ll get a taxi.”
“Sure, if you want.”
She waits, gnawing her lip, but nothing more is forthcoming and this stilted conversation is killing her. “Listen,” she says, “Dawn, there’s something I want… I need to tell you, and I don’t have much time so I’d like you to just listen, okay?”
The response is a little faster, a little more interested. “Okay…?”
Buffy takes a breath, and another, and then realizes how stupid she’s being, because she’s just faced down a small army of bad guys, seen the blood of the good guys painting the snow, heard her own screaming as Michaela went up in flames, and Bridge…
“I envied you,” she says all in a rush. “Because you could grieve and have regrets, and talk about it. I couldn’t talk about it because then I would have to feel it, how much I’ve lost. And I just… I’ve lost so much, Dawnie, and nobody knew, so it just felt easier to keep it all locked away inside somewhere really deep. But I am grieving, Dawn, I am, it just hurts so much and I don’t know how to get over it.”
“Oh, Buffy,” Dawn says, suddenly gentle in that way she has of making Buffy feel as though she can lay aside the mantle of Sister-Mom for a few moments and just have a friend. It’s a dangerous feeling, and Buffy usually resists it, but this time she lets it be. “Maybe you’re not supposed to get over it. You know? Some things just change you, and… Feelings like that… maybe that’s just how it is. It’s not a crime to give yourself time to process it all.”
How did her little sister get so smart? Oh, right, about the same time she failed to build the cast-iron wall around her prickly, curled-up heart. “I’m so sorry,” she breathes.
“Don’t be,” Dawn tells her. “Look, all I ever wanted was for you to talk to me about it. It’s been really lonely.”
“I know. I know. I’m all scarred up inside, I don’t feel things like a normal person anymore. All I am is just lumpy, ugly scar tissue.”
“But at least you’re not empty, right?”
Buffy lets out a hiccupping laugh. “Yay me.”
“It’s definitely progress,” Dawn agrees dryly, then, more softly, “Are you… are you all right?”
“No, not really. But I guess I… I’m okay with that for now.”
There’s the faintest of question marks tacked to the end of her statement, but Dawn seems to hear it anyhow.
“Remember what Tara said? After mom died? Grief can be weird sometimes, and it’s okay to— what?” There’s another pause and some rustling as Andrew seems to be trying to butt in to the conversation again, and Buffy looks around for a clock. “Oh my god will you can it? Sorry, not you, Buffy.”
“You know I left the key to the weapons chest in the—”
“In the side-table, I know. This is what happens when we limit his PS2 time.”
Buffy rolls her eyes to herself and cracks a small smile. Ah, normality. It might actually be good to get back to it, this time. “I need to get going, anyway. My plane…”
“And our credit card bill. Yeah, okay,” Dawn says reluctantly. “Thanks, you know. For trusting me.”
There’s a finally in there, unspoken, and there’s an it’s not that simple ready in response, but all Buffy says in the end is, “Thanks for not giving up on me.”
“Kinda hard, you do pay the rent.” She pauses, serious again. “We’re not done here, all right?”
But she knows that already. These things Dawn’s just said to her? These are things she’s been holding back for a while now. Buffy can tell. And now the floodgates have opened. They’ve barely even started.
A wet nose nudges at her fingers as she hangs up, and as Midnight tries to wriggle one last petting out of her, Buffy turns to find a familiar frowning face watching her impatiently.
“This isn’t the lower 48, you know,” Bridge says tersely. “The pilot won’t wait for you to make a dramatic last minute entrance.”
Buffy rolls her eyes fondly and crouches to give Midnight a quick squeeze before shouldering her rucksack and going over. The airport is just as tiny and tin-shacky as she remembers, but with her arm in a sling and leaning heavily on a crutch, Bridget seems somewhat smaller.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” she asks. “I could stay a few more days, or get someone sent over to help you out until-”
“I’m fine,” Bridge says firmly, looking mildly offended. “I once walked five miles with a broken arm in knee-deep snow. I think I can manage a few strains and bruises.”
Bridge may hate it, Buffy thinks wryly, but there are definite advantages to slayerhood.
“And you’ll think about what I said, about getting some actual training?”
She just raises an unimpressed eyebrow. Buffy smiles a little falteringly. Eight years ago, when she’d been called, her watcher had assured her that she was one girl in all the world. Finding Kendra had been strange and wonderful and ultimately devastating. Finding Faith had been a mixed blessing at best, forever tinged with regret over the distance between them and the many reasons for it. Since then Buffy has personally met more slayers than anyone else in the world, but in the end, none of them has ever made her feel less alone. Funny how that works. All she ever gets are these strange, fleeting moments of connection before people pass out of her life forever, and she’s always struggled to love properly in these moments, the way people deserve, so hung up on the emptiness that has come before or will be sure to come after. The failure to love – and love well – and in the now – is the fulcrum around which many of her biggest regrets turn, and just as with the will to go on living, this is a lesson she must continually teach herself: that she is full of love, just as the First Slayer told her all those years ago; that she can give it freely, without proviso or condition, and should; that love is so much more than the blade to cut herself and others with; and that the risk is always, always worth it. It took coming to this frozen northern land for her to realize it this time, because it’s huge, and freezing, and she couldn’t have survived here on her own. But in the summer? Even the tundra blooms.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Buffy says a little thickly. “I’m not gonna try to hug you again.”
A small, wry grin nudges at the corner of Bridget’s mouth. “Good. Wasn’t really looking forward to another punch in the face.”
“Don’t tempt me,” Buffy tells her, and holds out her ungloved hand. Bridge just stares at it a moment, huffs an exasperated sigh, and abruptly envelopes Buffy like it’s competitive wrestling or something. Buffy blinks hard, recovers, and brings her own arms up to complete the circle, and suddenly it’s warmer and more caring than before, and just for a moment, as the skin of their faces presses side by side, Buffy feels the faint humming of that connection going back through the slayer line, that magical link she has only ever accessed once before, of the girls who came before, and the girls who will come after, and all the girls who never would’ve come at all without her. And just for that moment she feels bright and burning and at the center of it all, and she doesn’t feel alone, not one bit.
Buffy sleeps most of the way home, stumbling between flights like an under-caffeinated zombie. She took some injuries too, in the fight, but there’s more to recover from than just that. She only surfaces to eat like a famine victim, blearily stuffing her carry-on with Cheetos and peanut M&M’s at her connection at O’Hare, all that good stuff she hasn’t had in so long.
She wakes finally two hours out of Fiumicino with a body full of aches and a pain in her neck like a vamp took a bite out of her, and spends the remaining flight time staring unfocussed at a three-star rom-com that would definitely have benefitted from more fight scenes. Her mind drifts instead, because after her alarming strength, her remarkable self-involvement has always been a strong second, and she thinks about darkness and death, and how she carries them inside her. And it’s her job, yes, to hold life and death in her hands, but there are places darker still than the dead of night, and since the collapse of Sunnydale she’s been so dark inside, so desolate, that she hasn’t been able to see the way out. She has come to realize, at some point over the last few weeks, that some memories – some feelings – some people – are not a deeper shadow but a light in that dark. Because she needs the dark, it’s part of who she is, but she needs the fire just as much.
Just as Sineya first did millennia ago, Buffy walks that border at the edge of the campfire, standing between her people and what terrors the night may hold. And sometimes it feels as though she can’t do anything without it resulting in her having even more to grieve for. And that’s just life. Dawn was right, as she so often is: that’s just how life is sometimes. The First Slayer told her once to risk the pain; she’s broken herself against that stony shore time and again, and that’s still just life. A hard life, for sure, but that’s why they made her strong. She’s a slayer. The Slayer. She needs to get back to being it.
Rome, when she lands, is bright and warm and loud, but it doesn’t feel awful like it did at the coven. It feels welcoming; kinda homey. And oh, hey, the weather forecast is looking good for shorts later in the week. After so much cold and winter, her tan is definitely in need of a top up. She grabs a coffee and hails a cab and thinks with unashamed delight of the spa day she’ll be charging to the Council to recover from over a month’s lack of beauty regimen. Maybe she’ll convince Dawn to come with. Maybe even Andrew.
She hasn’t even put her suitcase down in the foyer of their apartment before Dawn is there, not running to give her a hug but shoving Andrew forward, jaw set and eyes oddly bright.
“Captain Dweeboid’s got something he wants to tell you,” she says, with enough menace that Buffy is momentarily impressed. Then Andrew starts talking and all she can do is stare and blink and wrap her fingers around the edge of the side-table to prove somehow that this is real.
Emotions howl through her like a hurricane. Anger – rage – at Giles for manipulating her like this again. Disappointment. Fear. Hope. Love.
Oh god, love.
She quakes under the enormity of it.
“Buffy,” Dawn asks, shaking her shoulder almost angrily. “Are you listening? Andrew saw him. He’s alive.”
“Um, was alive. Although our sources say the battle was a glorious—”
“Shut up!” Dawn yells, turning on him. “You don’t know. You don’t know anything for sure. Buffy, you have to call Giles, we have to find out—”
“I’ll go,” she says. “Right now. Dawn, book a ticket for L.A., I need to re-pack my suitcase.”
For a moment neither of them moves, and then Dawn breaks into a smile worthy of her namesake, and engulfs Buffy in a hug that smells of freshly-washed hair and feels like home. For the first time in so long, it feels like home.
“I love you,” Dawn says, “welcome back.”
Then, before Buffy can respond, she disappears again in a flurry towing Andrew behind her, and the small foyer is suddenly quiet and still. Lost for a moment, Buffy touches her face, throat tight, skin tight. The feeling burning through her is almost unbearable, because nothing is certain and this might all be for nothing after all, but of all the warring factions within her, it’s a smile that makes it to her face, and she can’t help but murmur, just for the pleasure and the hope of saying it,
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/517762.html