An Echo, A Stain

Rating: R
Spoilers: None, really. This goes AU after Carpe Noctem and before Flooded. Stuff has been taken and given liberally.
Synopsis: I can’t say no to you, say nothing. Freefalling. Complete.
Pairings: C/A, B/A, slight B/S
Warning: Dark. Very dark. Very very dark. Mentions of drug use, multiple major character death, rape, sex, murder, all that other bad stuff.
AN1: I always felt that from season 6/3 on, Buffy cared more about (loved?) Angel than he about her. Call it instinct (or character mentions). Therefore that’s displayed in this fic. Not that they really love each other anymore (at least in this fic), per se, but Buffy definitely does care more.
AN2: This isn’t a song fic. I just got the title from the song and thought it fit. So – there you are! Feedback: Please. I would love any constructive criticism, praise, or brutal honesty that you have for me.
AN3: This is actually a first for me. I’ve never written real C/A or this harsh of a fic before. All my other fics, the C/A has been kind of a joke because I never took it really seriously. But I did in this one, hopefully to add to the darkness. Let me just say, this has been really emotionally draining for me to write. It’s hard to write an opposite pairing let alone all the other depressing stuff. So hopefully I wrote something dark and serious and without a happy ending, but I cooled it on the drama. Or maybe not, you tell me.
AN4: Sometimes this story is in first person, but I decided not to put it in italics. Just to let you know. For the most part it’s in third person past, but sometimes it’ll be in first person present. Just to let ya know.

 

“She touched
My arm
And smiled

One of these days
Soon
Very soon
Love you 'til then
Love you 'til then

Feel my breath
On your neck
And your heart
Will race

Don't say no to me
You can't say no to me
I won't see you
Denied

I'm sorry you saw that
I'm sorry he did it
An echo
A stain
A stain

I can't say no to you
I can't say no to you
Say nothing
Free falling
Complete”
-Bjork, An Echo A Stain

The day after, she curled her hair in front of the mirror. She decided to do it naked so she could observe herself. She wanted to see every twist and throw of her muscles and bones. She noticed how her hips looked like drums, the skin drawn taut over the bones. Her ribs looked like twin ladders running up her sides. Her face looked pale and shrunken. She didn’t make faces while she scrutinized herself, just curled her hair. She tried to realize why he didn’t want her, but it wouldn’t come. Her body looked like a skeleton with the skin painted on it.

She let out a weary sigh, a sigh of exhaustion, when she was finally done. What happened to Slayer strength? Since when had curling her hair taken the life out of her? She put her clothes on slowly. She decided that she hated him, for making her feel so small. She wanted to break his face open. She suspected this had something to do with the anger that was steadily growing inside of her. She was so filled with it; it was like a parasite. But she couldn’t let it out. She couldn’t get it out. She wanted to kill them all. Every single one of them, but she couldn’t.

She wanted to crack Willow’s skull against the ground for tearing her out of her cocoon and being selfish and presumptuous. She wanted to rip out Angel’s still heart and show it to him before he finally passed out from the pain. She wanted to scream at him and kick him. She wanted to scalp Spike’s white head because he loved her and he would never stop baying at her like a sick dog. There was a new part instilled in her since she came back. An ill part. It grew on her each day. It pushed itself into her thoughts and made her more and more like the vampires that she hunted. Her conscience grew weaker and her darkness crept up on her, tapped her on the shoulder. She was scared of it, but she couldn’t filter out the sick thoughts.

Somehow, it was resolute in her mind that she would never see him again after that day. He had been the one to insinuate it all along, throughout their meeting. Why would he even want to meet me? She thought. He could have just told me that he didn’t want to see me over the phone. Instead he left again, and she considered following him, following back to his hotel and stabbing him a million times before leaving and wiping his blood all over her body. It wasn’t really his anyway. For the first time in her life, she really wanted to hurt people. Innocent people. They aren’t innocent. She wrapped up the iron and placed it under the sink. She had burned herself three times because her hands had been shaking so bad.

Afterwards, she went downstairs. She looked at Xander harmlessly cooking his eggs and felt the bile rising in her throat. The mere thought of food, let alone the scent, made her want to throw up until her stomach was empty. She saw Dawn eating quietly at the table and turned around and left. They hadn’t even noticed her standing there. Of course. I’m not real, she told herself, as she climbed the stairs and slipped into bed. She felt so tired, she always felt so tired.

A couple hours later, she felt him in her room and she wanted to scream at him until he left. She wanted to act as crazy and pent up as she felt inside, but she couldn’t because her body was slow and mechanic. It didn’t work right. She couldn’t feel. He sat on the edge of her bed and she hated that he felt he could do that. Just walk in whenever he wanted and do whatever he wanted. He didn’t own her. No one did.

“Buffy, are you alright, pet?” He asked and she was silent. It was hot underneath the covers, but she slipped lower until she was nearly suffocating herself. Her breath made the space underneath moist. She felt fingers on her back, through the comforter, and she shrugged them off.

“No,” she said, and it was loud and hoarse, and it made him go away. She couldn’t remember the exact time she got sick, but it was soon after. She didn’t get a job, she didn’t talk much, and she could hear the others talking in excited whispers behind her back. It made her hate them more. She stopped eating nearly completely. Then she started vomiting for no reason, until blood came up. But she didn’t tell anyone. Her voice started going away, getting more and more hoarse until it was nothing but a series of squeaks. She knew that she wasn’t supposed to be on this earth. The sky was angry and it wanted her back. She wanted it back.

Two weeks after, she lay in bed and found that she couldn’t move. Every time she tried to get up, her stomach was gripped in cold bubbles, so instead she just collapsed back down. She felt so hot. Why was it so fucking hot in here? She wanted to scream, but instead she bathed in her own sweat and pulled the covers up over her. She felt useless, she felt like nothing mattered anymore. And it didn’t.

It wasn’t for a full two hours that they noticed that she wasn’t around. Willow came into her room and touched her, felt the heat pouring from her in waves. She called Giles. I don’t want Giles, she thought, make him go away. I hate him as much as the rest. I hate being here. Just let me die. She knew that she wouldn’t die. But she couldn’t speak. She couldn’t move. It was like waking up inside her own grave all over again.

She was sticky when Giles came in, but she didn’t say anything. He assaulted her with questions, and she only let out little moans in response. They grated, because her voice was gone. Giles touched her forehead and took her pulse. He couldn’t figure it out, and neither could she. She felt like she was watching all of them from the bottom of the ocean, seeing their wavy faces outlined in the sun on the outside of the water. She moved a little and Giles jumped as if she was an unpredictable animal. If she could, she would have hit him. But she didn’t.

It was three weeks and two days after, before he finally came to see her. Numerous times, Willow had asked her if this sickness had been brought on by the ‘intense’ meeting they had had. She tried to tell Willow that a person couldn’t get sick just from seeing someone else. Well, they could, but it wouldn’t turn into a disease like this was. Finally Willow had just invited him anyway. Why was he here though? The rules were hands off, no more touching or seeing or talking. It had been three weeks since they had last spoken in the gloomy lights by the side of the highway. Now that she thought about it, that hotel hadn’t really been that bad. He was what made it so bad.

She woke up and thought she was delirious, half-dreaming in her fever when she saw him. She didn’t smile, but she stared at his blurry figure, sitting on the end of her bed. She thought she was dreaming, so she decided that whatever was said here could be said and it wouldn’t have any consequences. She could let him know how she really felt.

“What the fuck?” She said in a daze, and her voice was a little better, but still sounded like a rusty gate.

He scooted over so he was closer to her and she felt her stomach roll in anticipation. Finally she spoke, more than she had in the past few weeks. “What the hell are you doing here? Get out of here.” She could see his expression go dour for a second, but she didn’t care. She pushed his thigh weekly. “I said get out of here!” Her mind spun out, it spun out of control until she couldn’t tell what was what. She just kept pushing at him, weakly. “You’re not supposed to be here. You can’t see me. Get out now. I want you out!” She started shouting full force, part in frustration and part in anger. He didn’t waver though; he sat next to her with his hands calmly folded in his lap. Her throat felt like it was collapsing on itself as she shrieked. She said everything that she felt and some things she didn’t until she slipped under consciousness once more.

She heard faint scratching sounds. She rolled over. She wanted this sickness out of her. She’d been encased in it for a long time, and she didn’t even know why she was like this. Was it because she didn’t eat? She didn’t patrol anymore? She didn’t care? The faint scratching sounds grew louder and she wanted to wake up desperately. She didn’t want to see Angel staring down at her. She wanted to kill him. She pushed her eyes up, feeling only heat surrounding her.

She thought she was going crazy. She couldn’t tell one person from another when she woke up at certain intervals. All she saw were blurry shapes and figures moving around. Sometimes she remembered screaming, and she remembered coolness on her face (someone’s fingers?). Sometimes she felt like she was choking on her own blood, dying all over again, and sometimes she felt like she was being reborn into a cold coffin.

By the time she became coherent again, she didn’t know how long after it was. She didn’t care. Her throat felt like crinkled paper, and it felt sharp when she swallowed. When she opened her eyes she was dazed, and she calmly remembered the screaming match she’d had before slipping into the deepest sleep of her life. She didn’t even remember how much time had passed. She barely remembered who she was.

She saw Giles reading a book next to her bed. He hadn’t noticed her. Was she a fucking ghost? No one seemed to notice her. It’s because I’m supposed to be dead, dammit. Not a shell of a girl, not some outer crust.

She felt razor prickles sweep across her arms and she made a movement to let Giles know that she was awake. She hadn’t seen Dawn in forever. “What am I doing here?” She asked, and her voice was still a little gravelly.

“Do you remember who you are?” He asked cautiously, and she had to laugh. She wished she didn’t. She wished she could wake up to a brand new, sunshine world and forget all about the people that inhabited this earth.

“Still me,” she said. She shifted in the heat underneath the covers, the suffocating humidity. Her armpits felt moist. She closed her eyes.

“You scared us, Buffy,” he said in a low voice. She could tell that he meant it, but she didn’t answer. Her body still felt weak and shaky. She felt like she could throw up at any moment.

After a while of hush, he got up and left. There were no more words. How could she say it? They thought she had been in hell. She still blamed them though. She blamed them for not knowing. They were the researchers. The Slayerettes, the Scoobies, they were the bookworms. Instead they had taken her, selfishly. And now her body couldn’t handle this world and she feared that she was so fucked up that she couldn’t be put back together again. Like Humpty Dumpty.

She still felt a little weak, but she stood up on shaky legs and made her way to the bathroom. The house was empty and she was alone. She would say peacefully alone, but for some reason it terrified her. She briefly pretended that everyone had disappeared and she was the only living thing left. It scared her as much as it elated her. She trailed her hand along the wall as she staggered to the bathroom.

Somehow she ended up with the shower on searing cold. She heard a faint knock on the door and felt the spray mist over her eyes. She didn’t have concept of time anymore. It floated in and out, weaved through her head until she couldn’t think anymore. Then she would snap back to reality and hours would have passed. She had faint suspicions that her sanity was leaving her, but she couldn’t be sure. She now realized that she wasn’t standing, she was slumped at the back of the tub.

When the shower stopped she tightened her arms over her slick body and looked up at the dark and looming figure. She couldn’t bring herself to think his name. She covered herself and looked down at the large sticky daisies on the tub floor that prevented her from slipping. They hurt her skin; they hurt her legs and buttocks. She felt like saying something, something outrageous that they would only say in the movies. Maybe something incredibly mean. But she couldn’t come up with anything so instead sat there and shivered. The heat still consumed.

He said her name softly and she flexed her fingers, digging them into the soft skin of her sides. She could feel how pruny her fingers were, how they were a foreshadowing of her old age. Assuming she would live that long. God, just let me die. Please, don’t make me face this.

His fingers bit almost angrily into her arms. She had wondered that, out in that dusty highway, if he was angry with her. Probably. She was angry with everyone else. Did he hate her because she jumped? Did he cry? She savored his pain and torture that she was gone. Or maybe he had just stared and brooded. She hadn’t seen him cry very often.

He hauled her out of her thoughts when he pulled her up, but she refused to look at him. She wanted to spit a ‘fuck you’ in his face, maybe slap him, but her limbs were floppy like a rag doll. They drooped. He pulled her out of the tub and sat her on the toilet seat, and she felt like a little girl. He drew a bath, then put her in it. She was motionless, like a porcelain doll. She stared out of wide eyes to the tile, the faint grime starting to grow there. Her eyes would sweep up to the lime-encrusted shower then down to the metal spout jetting out hot water. It was too hot. It was scalding. He’s angry with me.

When it was done he handed her a towel, expecting her to dry off. Somehow she saw him but she didn’t. There was a slippery fish inside her belly. Was it her nausea, his proximity? He eventually dried her off when she didn’t take the towel. He babied her again. She probably could have run away, just stopped all the sacred duties and been over with it. But he had a lion’s heart and wouldn’t hear of it. Mr. Safety. She felt drowsy. He could never be forgiven. Ever.

He dressed her and put her to bed and distantly, in some vacant but still breathing part of her brain, she thought that she might have bedsores from all this lying around. She was hot again after the bath. She wanted pain medication. The sleeping delusions were driving her out of her mind. There was pain low in her belly and all over her limbs and a fire scraping along her marrow. She desperately wanted to moan but she didn’t want to let him know that she needed anything. I guess I’m proud like that.

It was a week before she was better. He stuck around. He disappeared sometimes, she suspected back to LA, but for the most part he lurked. She never said anything to him, and he only said her name. He didn’t look ashamed, that was the worst part. That was the real part of it all, that he didn’t look like he regretted leaving her. It’s him, she thought, him and his stupid nobility. He can’t just let old loose ends fly free. He always lets that stupid fucking guilt get in the way. She used to think it was beautiful. Now she wished that he would just roll off her back. That she could just forget and go back to Slayerness.

The first time she patrolled in a couple months felt strange. Like a homecoming. Like comfort food and vomit mixed together. She tried to prowl the clipped grass, tried to look menacing. Tried not to look at Spike’s crypt, noticing that the lights were off. She was thinking about it once or twice since she came back, between the sickness. Fucking him, that is. She thought of release, just some kind of false warmth. She also thought of hurting Angel. Not physically of course, but brutally twisting an emotional knife into him. She wanted him to hurt. She wanted his jealousy and his rage, and she wanted Spike to think that he was getting away with something. She wanted to set up both of them for a fall.

There was something growing in her throat. She couldn’t tell when it first birthed, but she knew that it was there and it almost prevented her from speaking. It was like all her feelings were balled up there, a huge orb lodged that could go nowhere. It prevented tears and anger. She had a lot of time to think, and all her thoughts came out angry. She knew it was due to that lump. It was like the lime growing on her showerhead.

He was there one night, shadowing her, and she turned around and looked him right in the eye. She figured this was her big movie moment, the quote that would break him and make him gone for good. Because she couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Get the fuck out, Angel,” the first thing she has said to him in weeks. He didn’t wince; he just looked at her, eyes like a dark pool. Like a Koi pond without the fish, or maybe a universe without any stars or planets. She couldn’t even see any anger in there.

“You can’t keep pushing me away, Buffy,” he said in his clinical voice. She kept walking. Finally she decided to speak, only because she needed something to do. She had it growing inside her chest, hate or insanity or some blackness that she couldn’t understand.

“Do you remember what it used to be like?” She asked, and she could feel him nearly stop behind her. But she kept walking.

“What do you mean?” He approached her almost cautiously. Everyone seems to be doing that lately.

“I used to love the way you smelled. And I thought it was all for me. I never thought into the future because I was too afraid. Afraid of change and what I’d be like when I was twenty, twenty-five. I couldn’t picture life without you in it, but I knew that some things would change sometime and I would grow up.” She finally stopped, looking up at the large moon. It was just setting, a pretty orange color that reminded her of tangerines.

“And you used to be so fucking romantic. Always telling me that I was the only one, and that you only loved me and you would love me no matter what. You remember that? You were a great first boyfriend. I mean, as far as the normal stuff went.”

“Where are you going with this?”

“I don’t know. I just – I guess I hate who you’ve become. I hate how you don’t love me, and the way you used to love me. You make me expect things of you that aren’t true. Maybe I’m the same way, I don’t know.” He stayed silent. For that, she decided to punish him. She decided that she liked sadism. “I thought about fucking Spike today. He wants me.”

“Oh?” He finally spoke up, and she could tell that he was shocked, but he tried to cover it, cool as ice.

“Yes.” She paused for a while, still meandering through the tall and glassy stones that told about the glory days of the dead. “Why are you here? I thought it was best – well, you thought it was best – that we stayed out of each other.”

“I-I care for you Buffy. I don’t know what else to say.”

“Get out, Angel, you’re only making it harder.” And he did. For exactly twenty-three days. She didn’t fuck Spike; in fact, she recoiled away from his touch. Parts of her wanted desperately to take that love, some kind of affection from anyone. She just wanted someone who wouldn’t see her as transparent or ethereal. Who wouldn’t leave her. But she knew he was bad for her so she retreated into herself and patrolled constantly and checked the papers every day to find ways to pay for her house. She was a good girl like that.

In other ways, she saw changes. She, more often than not, watched the vampires make a kill before she staked. She savored that moment. She thought the prey was dumb as a rock and deserved what they got. She didn’t bother burying the lifeless bodies, but instead looked them over. Once she even spread one out in a pose and smeared her whole neck with the blood weeping out of the wound. She didn’t smile or laugh while she did it; she just looked on in curiosity. Tried to think about how, in a few weeks, this vessel would be a home for a thousand maggots.

She became addicted to Crystal Light. She would put too much of the powder in her water and it would burn down her throat like whiskey. Soon it was all she used for nourishment. Her normally thin frame became bony, unhealthy. She knew that the others worried, but still they didn’t push. They didn’t know about the things that consumed her at night, the thoughts and the urges. Spike shadowed her sometimes like Angel would, but she could almost certainly vouch it was only to jack off in his crypt later that night (or was it morning?).

After twenty-three days, he showed again and she was ready to yell at him. Why was he here? Why did he care? She asked him both these questions but he pretended that he wasn’t there so she screamed them. Instead of him showing himself, five vampires rushed her. She got a bite on the outer edge of her left breast, and one of her shirts got ruined. She wondered if she let it happen, maybe she kind of liked it. Maybe she liked playing with death.

When she was nursing the wound, naked, in her bathroom at three in the morning she thought about the smooth skin of Angel’s back. She didn’t know why she thought of it just then, but she did. She clutched when he touched her breasts that night (the only night), when he sucked them like they were full or something. Sustenance, maybe. She reminded herself that it was a long time ago, four years nearly. She didn’t need him, and she couldn’t fathom why he kept coming back.

The next morning, in the barely-pink stages of dawn, she opened her eyes to feel his fingers on her breast. He was pressing lightly right over the twin punctures. He lowered his mouth to a bared breast and sucked some blood from the healing wound. She almost came, but she didn’t. Then she yanked on his hair and pulled him up, staring into those eyes that looked like bleak oak trees. Startling eyes. “Leave,” she grated out. “It’s over.” But he wouldn’t give up. She wondered if he wanted her to be happy. No, that’s not what he wants. He always hurts me. She couldn’t be happy. Not ever again. Neither could he, not really.

He came back that night and pushed himself into her bed, put his arm around her. She was scared at first, at how tightly he gripped her, but after a while she relaxed and felt his false breath near her ear. It whispered over her cheek and caught in her mouth, like a spider web. She didn’t move, and for once, she didn’t push him away. Instead she whispered to him, because she just wanted an answer. Was he even happy? That she was alive? That night at the hotel, she couldn’t tell. It was a place she couldn’t remember that well anymore.

--

Her knees were skinned. She was on the other side of the train tracks. Her belly stung from crawling under the train. She had to get away. She had to. She saw the blood welling up into little bubbles on her knees and she smeared it around, ignoring the smarting sensation. She was supposed to be coming back from patrol right about now. Instead she leaned against the motionless train. She wished it would move. What would happen if one of the wheels crushed her skull when she was crawling under? Would Willow bring her back? She felt her joints creak. Her knees hurt worse.

He found her this time. He could find her when Spike wouldn’t. When Willow couldn’t. She guessed he wanted to find her, although she couldn’t figure out why. A pounding headache immediately assaulted her, as he always brought with him. One huge complication after another. She sometimes wondered if he enjoyed pulling her back and forth, pushing her away and drawing her in.

He sat next to her, leaning against the train too. She decided to try to have a civil conversation with him. It was an impossibility, but there was nothing else to do.

“Angel, do you have a life?”

His head snapped up, then he looked at her bloody knees. “You know I do.”

“Then why do you follow me around?”

“You need someone to watch out for you, Buffy. No one around here is doing that.”

She was silent for a second. “I’m fine by myself. People need you. You were right. We should just stay away…from each other. You shouldn’t be here. Not when you have things back home.” She leaned her head back against the cool and flaky metal behind her and looked up at the sky. The railroad tracks dug into the small of her back. She looked down at the splinters in her hands. “I should be out patrolling now.”

“Buffy, I love you,” he blurted out.

She just looked at him while he waited expectantly. “What do you expect me to say, Angel? ‘Oh my God, I love you too’? No. I don’t. You should leave.” She was lying, and she liked it.

“No, I’m not leaving.” She could see the hurt in his eyes and it made her feel powerful, it made her feel so much more than what she was.

“Why? You want to pity me? Does that make you feel better than me? Cause you’re so fucking angry with me that I killed myself?” She felt strangely nervous, suddenly, for hurting him. But he’s hurt me, numerous times. She still felt horrible, like she was going to throw up. It was the first remorse she’d felt since she dug herself out of her grave with bloody fingers.

“What if I am?” He whispered.

“Go back. Go back to Cordelia.” He had told her. At the hotel, not the Hyperion of course. But he had told her about the brief and passing thoughts he had had about Cordelia. She was flipping back and forth between whether it was the truth, or whether it was embellished just to hurt her.

“No.”

“She needs you more than I do.”

“She doesn’t,” he said, as though trying to convince himself.

“What do you tell them, huh? What do you say to them when you leave? You just pick up and go and it doesn’t bother them? It doesn’t bother Cordelia?” When she had first heard she had the same reaction that Willow had about Xander and Cordelia. She had been disbelieving. But now, after time spent in the quiet shadows, she had thought about it. She decided that Cordelia Chase got whatever she wanted, regardless of whom it supposedly belonged to.

“They are none of your business, Buffy.”

“And I am none of yours,” she countered, but she sounded so tired that it nearly took all the fight out of her voice. She rested her hands on her stomach and continued to let the night sky burn into her retinas.

“You need somebody.”

“Not you. You would have left. You would have left me.”

“I would have, but…”

“But what? Willow called you, again? If she had never called you, you wouldn’t have known I was alive at all.” He nodded his agreement. “It probably would have been better that way. Go, leave. You’re not needed here. LA needs you now.” I swallowed the taste of metal down my throat, the feeling of razors. “Cordelia…needs you now. Not me.”

He seemed to refuse this for a second, before he got up and jumped up on the train, dropping silently behind it. She didn’t know if she would ever see him again. He hated her refusal of his love, she could tell. She hated his admission of growing feelings for another woman. How could he? Did he expect her to not feel betrayed? How could he care for two people at once, love them? Be in love? The thought of he and Cordelia together, laughing and kissing and making love, made her get up and slide underneath the train. Her belly felt huge, as though she were carrying a child. She wiped her palms on her pants, pushing in the slivers further.

--

It wasn’t till after the first time she fucked Spike that she called him. It was like her insides her spilling out. She was overflowing. She had run away from Spike and all she could see was dark hair, dark eyes, tall physique, power. For a second after her orgasm, she felt so high that she actually considered pounding on him, then staking him. Instead she had pushed him out of her and shoved her clothes on, running back to Revello drive.

Her lips felt cracked, and she tasted the copper of her blood in her mouth. Her clothes suddenly felt too big, and she hazily realized that she had left one of her socks in his crypt. She didn’t care. She needed to get home; she needed to call him. She didn’t know if she was ready for an admission of love, but she needed to tell him she was sorry. She needed absolution.

When she entered her room she scrabbled frantically for his card. It was somewhere around here, some big garish figure of an Angel on it. But she couldn’t find it, and she couldn’t remember his number. She raked her hands through her hair, and she honestly thought that she was about to lose it. She was about to rip the fucking room apart if she didn’t find that number. She was about to cry. I can’t have that. No, no more tears. I promised myself at that stupid hotel. No more tears.

She kept raking her hand through her hair before she realized that she was practically ripping her hair out. Her thighs were chafed and sore, and she could still feel his wetness between them. It made her ill. It made her ill that she craved him. She needed to make things right. Right now.

She sat down on her bed for a second, prepared to start unleashing it before she thought of Willow. Willow would have his number. She leapt out of the room, pounding recklessly on Willow’s door. She didn’t realize that it was nearing five in the morning. “Please,” she kept moaning against the door, “please.” She was mindless, like an animal. Finally Willow opened the door and she tried to swallow the tears, make them slide past that lump in her throat. Willow didn’t see her, she knew. She just gave her the number and went back to bed. She was in a sleepy daze, and Buffy tried not to blame her for not seeing but she did. She did.

She sat for a long time with his card in her shaky palms, wondering what to do. When she first rushed here, she had been so desperate to get his number, just to call him and feel familiarity. She would have even taken Riley, had he not been in the jungle. But now that the thread of reality hung in front of her, she wasn’t prepared. She rifled through things she could say to him, in her mind. She shuffled through answers and rejections. I need him. I need him so badly. I just need someone who knows me, who won’t see through me, and who won’t fuck me into the floor.

She dialed the number carefully, almost cautiously. Her stomach was shuddering and she leaned her head back against the wall. She felt so worn out and she didn’t know what she would do if it was his rejection. She didn’t know what she would do.

The phone rang endlessly, and she congratulated herself for not hanging up immediately. It kept ringing and soon her pride faded away into fear. She squeezed her eyes shut tight and thumped her head hard enough on the wall to see stars.

“Pick up pick up pick up,” she rasped. He didn’t though.

--

Three months later, when she was lying sleepily in the bathtub, she wondered what that statistic was about men and women committing suicide. Men always wanted it fast and brutal and women always did it for a cry of attention. This wasn’t a cry. This was a howl, a scream, an ending. She always wondered why women were so dramatic. She was like that, once, when she was fifteen or sixteen. Weren’t all teenagers? Now she was something transparent and hollow. Almost a spirit. Are spirits really real? She was never very philosophical.

You ignored me, you ignored me, was all she could think. And of course, she knew it was with reason. Of course they had ignored her. Of course he had ignored her. She pushed him away when he wanted to leave because she wanted something more. Then she pushed him harder and harder, and became crueler and crueler. The water around her looked pink and frothy. She had put bubble bath in; it was a last meal for her. It didn’t bubble well. She didn’t want to do pills because pills were too easy. Pills were for people who had some formless recollection of living and still wanted a chance. They wanted a scare; they wanted attention. All she wanted was escape. Escape from the way Spike’s eyes glowed darkly underneath the moonlight. They were an unreal blue. The way Willow and Xander avoided her because they could still smell that stench of dead leaves and rot. Dawn didn’t even look at her. They don’t need to now. Because I’m not crying for attention. I’m not a sixteen-year-old swallowing pills, or clumsily trying to hang myself.

It was six o’clock in the morning and all she could think of was her mother as her lifeblood seeped out of her. It filled the water, clouding out. Becoming even. She wished she could have stayed dead the first time. It just seemed so much more noble.

--

She awoke and groaned, the sound echoing off the white walls. She didn’t remember heaven being like this. Her memory of heaven had faded somewhat, but this looked like a hospital. Immediately she thought of Faith, memories assaulting her from all sides. She thought she was dead. But obviously someone had found her, attached a bag of water to her arm, and here she was. Faith had had to survive this hell, but she didn’t deserve it. Am I in hell? Is that what this is? She tried to think of what Faith would do, or what she did. How long had it been? It was scary. The room was pristine and looked alien.

She sat up and her bones felt like sand. She yanked the needle out of her arm and rubbed it unconsciously. The room was circular, making her dizzy and disoriented. She swayed a little, looking down at her white gown. It matched the walls. Her lips felt dry, translucent. She touched them a little, and they were like pavement. She took shaky steps towards the door. Her vision was swooping. Was that a door? All of this felt so futuristic and surreal that she couldn’t be sure. Her gums made dry sounds when she moved her mouth, and she could feel the chapped edges of her lips burning. Heaven? Hell? She couldn’t tell. She was supposed to be dead. She felt herself die. She made herself die.

She wandered out of the unlocked room. Her bare feet slapped on the white tile. She remembered when she was a little girl, and used to chase the reflection of the lights on tile like this. It was white, flecked with gray. She looked down endless hallways, all in unmarred white. Nowhere did she see any windows or any sign of life. Or a way out. She felt filled up, and she felt sick and weak. Finally, after a thousand coiling walls, she met up with a door. She tried it and it slid open easily. Obviously, whoever these people were, they weren’t bent on keeping prisoners. The hole in her arm from the IV itched.

She saw large windows and…rain. Endless rain. It was gray and stormy outside, gloomy even. She looked around the room she was in and realized that it was an entrance room. She saw a receptionist sitting, chatting on the phone with what she assumed wasn’t a customer.

“He told you no! Oh my God, Lori! And you’re marrying him? I always told you he wasn’t the one.”

The one, she thought, as she snuck by. Who ever gets ‘the one’ anyway? Nobody. Where the hell am I? Trapped in some strange facility? Dead? Hell? Her mind drifted over Giles, Willow, Tara…Spike. Even…no, she wouldn’t think that. He was gone to her. Her mind immediately switched tracks. Where was Dawn? She ducked underneath the huge desk and still heard the receptionist and her loud, nasally voice. Did she have a big nose? She didn’t get a good look. Probably, with all that nasaliness. God, that’s not a word. She was still crawling when she saw boots appear in front of her. She looked up, only slightly mortified. Then she collapsed on the dirty tile, defeated.

--

“We have to admit, this was unexpected.”

“Yeah, me too,” she snapped. She rubbed her head. It was throbbing, the blood pushing against her temples until she thought they would explode. “I mean, one minute, I think I’m fucking dead, the next I wake up in some white place. Explain!”

“We found you, Ms. Summers. We found you after the end of days, dead, and we revived you.”

“Ohhh God, not again,” she moaned softly.

“It’s not like that. It didn’t involve magic. You were just barely alive. I can’t believe it myself. We found you in the bathtub.”

“And who are you again?”

“Ms. Summers, you insult me. We are the Council.”

“Ah, great. Just what I needed.”

“Please try to be cooperative.” He took a deep breath, looked worried, and moved on. Which, of course, is exactly how all Watchers are. I should know. Well, all except one. “You haven’t aged since that day, and we couldn’t figure out why. But we’ve studied you, kept you alive. You’ve been in an inescapable coma.”

“How long has it been?” She couldn’t absorb any of this information that he was giving her. It wasn’t possible. Her head was pounding too much, almost moving to its own forceful rhythm. But she pressed on.

“Well it’s-it’s December of 2005, actually. It’s been about four years. Roughly.” Ah, yes, roughly. Who the fuck cares if it’s roughly? Four years? She hadn’t aged at all. She touched her face in amazement. Still the same old face, sans makeup. Still the same fingers and toes. She could have been lying in the bathtub yesterday, or six hours ago. She looked at her wrists and the scars were gone. It was like it never happened and instead she had just run away for four years. Four years that she couldn’t remember.

She bit her lips expectantly, inadvertently tearing the skin off and leaving them sore. “So, where is everyone? I mean, why aren’t my friends here?” She could tell it was coming before it did.

“They all – Buffy, they didn’t survive the End of Days.” Irony. Sweet irony biting me in the ass. She was the only one who didn’t want to be on the Earth, and yet she was the only one to survive.

“So you’re telling me I’m the only one who survived and I didn’t even fight?”

“Well, we took you out in the middle of the fray.” She felt tears choking her for them, all of them. All of them broken, dead bodies. Everyone that she knew.

“And you didn’t think that maybe they needed help?”

“Buffy, I’m sorry, it was too much. We had to enlist Faith to help and even then we barely made it.”

She stayed silent and picked at her fingernails. The white of everything, the brutal sterile was driving her up the wall. The words that the Council member said blurred in and out of her. She would catch some things and other things would slip right through her, as though she were cheesecloth. I’m trying to process it. I’m just trying to get through this. She felt like she was stuck. In quicksand maybe, but that was too cliché. She picked at her cuticles this time, until she bled.

“You’ve awakened to a very different world, I’m afraid.”

“Did anyone survive? Anyone at all?”

He paused for a second and she leaned back in her chair, trying to read his face. It was cold, and stony and very British. “Your vampire survived. And a few others. I’m not sure I can recall their names just now.”

“Spike?” She said, confused and racked for a moment.

“No, the other one. The one with a soul.” Oh. This wind is gushing out of me, the air being sucked out.

“Oh,” she replied. His eyebrows quirked.

“Well, I’d have to say I expected more of a response than that. I thought you two were romantically involved. In fact, if I remember correctly you gave up your duties-”

“That was a long time ago,” she said quickly. “It’s over now. We don’t know…each other anymore. It’s done.”

“Ah. And a relationship like that just ends?” She shrugged. What else am I supposed to do? They ended the discussion there. He knew she didn’t want to talk about it. There was nothing to talk about.

“Anyway,” he continued with pinprick eyes, “the vampire and his lover survived the battle. I believe some of his friends did as well, the ones that were with him.” His lover? Her chest shook a little, and she tried to realize that things were different now. She was over him. She bounced her legs and tapped her knees in time with a nameless tune. Things were different. They were different. She ignored the comment. She could also see that the Watcher knew. He obviously wants to get a rise out of me. There’s nothing there for me to feel, though. She thought of the crushed bodies of her friends and a suddenly sour feeling zipped up her spine. She thought she wanted them killed, but the reality was like the sky squeezing the life out of her.

Later on, they found clothes for her and she took a tour along the winding white roads inside of the complex. It was like a hospital. Or maybe a training center. She couldn’t quite remember. She wondered how the Council still functioned. She found out she was in England, Council Headquarters to be exact.

“When can I go home?” She asked.

“And where is home, exactly, Ms. Summers?” She paused a second, on their tour. Distantly she recognized the smell that reminded her of the doctor’s office. It smelled like gauze and plastic and disinfectant. It nearly burned her nose, and it reminded her of Der Kinderstod. With Xander and Willow. She tried not to cry, but the tears came anyway. They were lukewarm and they made her face sticky. The Watcher, she had forgotten his name, pretended not to notice.

“Where will I stay?” She asked later, as they walked endless miles inside a labyrinth of closed doors. This place scared her and she wanted out.

“I’m not sure. Here, if you like. Have you any other relatives?”

“My father. He lives in LA. At least, I think he does.” She struggled to remember. Her father’s face, what did it look like? Where was he now? Was he fucking his secretary on his desk?

“Sunnydale is decimated. In fact, it really no longer exists. I suggest you contact your father.”

“What am I supposed to say?” Her voice was shrill, demanding. “‘Hi dad, I just spent four years being dead, or almost dead, and now I’m back! Please take me in?’”

“Tell him you ran away. I’m sure he won’t mind. From what I’ve read, he wasn’t really active in your life anyway.” She didn’t wince at this comment. She should have known. She felt strangely numb. The bones in her legs ached.

“When can I go to LA?”

“As soon as you like. Of course, at first you’ll have to be examined by one of our doctors.” She nodded. She just wanted to escape. Would dying for a fourth time help? She would just be brought back. Again and again and again. She would never fucking escape. She nodded again, and he escorted her into another indistinguishable, white, clean room that made her feel sick and hot.

The doctor was male, like everyone in the whole facility, she suspected. The only female watcher she had ever seen was the one that wanted that stupid glove. And she was dumb as shit. This one probed and prodded, and his fingers felt like a robot. When he calmly informed her to remove her pants and step into a chair with stirrups on the sides of it, she calmly spat a fuck you in his face. They gave her a special drug for that and soon she was placed, drowsily, in the chair. She gagged when he stuck his mechanical fingers inside of her, spread her open with cold metal and scraped her insides. She wondered if this was part of the procedure, or if they just taped it to get off. Dominating a Slayer. How beautiful. She was so alone that she let him, and she closed her eyes. Afterwards she pulled on her pants and she felt almost ashamed. Like after she fucked Spike that one day, four years ago. But he wasn’t a robot. He was dead, but he wasn’t a robot.

When she waited for them to get the paperwork, to get her out, she kind of slipped inside of herself. She was very good at doing that. Shutting out the world and letting her memories play like movies. Bright, shiny movies that made her crave heaven. It made her want waffles because mom was on a daughter-diet, and it made her want staying up all night with Willow, smelling Xander’s shoulder when they would hug each other. It made her crave the fear of love with Angel; love that she didn’t know existed anymore. Not only for him, but for anyone. She hated herself then, but at least she had capacity for feeling.

She felt so old. But she didn’t age. Could she age now? What had they done? What had she done? The paperwork came; she could smell the fresh and warm Xerox smell of it. The hot ink. Someone handed her a red Bic pen, and she was surprised those were still around. Well, I was only dead for four years, not four millennia. She hadn’t asked them any additional questions about her past and future. They hadn’t released anything. She figured she was free of duty. She survived something she didn’t even see. Something that she didn’t want to survive. But here she was, twenty-one years old. She had only taken a few semesters of college, and the last job she remembered ever having was at a fast food joint. She felt hopeless, but she scratched her name on the paperwork anyway. She signed the release form.

They practically pushed her out of the door, towards a waiting taxi. She was soaked in the rain, and she felt cold to the bone. She made squishing sounds when she sat in the back. The taxi driver said nothing as he started driving, but there was a defining stench in there. It was boxed in and stale, it was sweat and grease and burgers and fries. She pressed her head against the window and watched the droplets push themselves down. She didn’t register the sights to see; she was on her way to Heathrow, on her way to LAX. She tried not to breathe, not to see. She pushed over a stained McDonalds bag near her foot. They even eat that shit here, in England.

During the plane ride, she slept. She didn’t watch the clouds outside the plane hopefully. She didn’t bounce eagerly in her seat. She felt exhausted, merely from the walk around the airport, so she slept eight hours out of the fifteen that it would take to get to LA. She didn’t want to think about what was waiting for her there. Her father. His girlfriend(s?). Angel, his ‘lover’, his gang, her useless bones. She had a vague feeling that she was no longer the Slayer. In fact, she knew it. She had been near death, why she woke up was beyond her. She should have been dead. She had another desire to drive into her own body, to hurt herself and slip away, but she knew that she would come back. Always, she would come back.

--

Her father was gone, when she arrived. She had taken another taxi, paid via the Council, to her father’s house. Selena opened the door. She was a different maid than Buffy remembered. But she let her in anyway, saying she recognized her from pictures. She would have set down suitcases or sighed gratefully, maybe rushed into the arms of someone, but none of those things existed. Everything that she owned was ruined, except for the few meager things that hung in her ‘room’ here. She trudged up to her enormous room and wondered what awaited her now. She would call her father, but she had forgotten his number. Her stomach growled roughly, and she stuck her head down on the goose feather duvet, suffocating.

She was changed. She knew that much. She knew it first when she came back, because she had a glimmering. But that was a faint change, a purple streak inside of her. But when she came back from a useless revival, she knew she was really different. Very different. Speaking made her choke. She wasn’t polite to the maid, and she went into her father’s office and stole his credit card. She was hungry. She would call him later. Maybe she could walk by Angel’s hotel. What was it called again? The Hilton? No, that was a famous hotel chain. Paris Hilton. I’m bony like Paris Hilton. Something with an H.

When she walked down the street, she thought about Spike. She couldn’t think about Willow or Giles or Xander or Anya or Dawn. Her little sister. Dawn was so young, and Buffy had died for her and now she was dead. So instead she found it cleaner to think about Spike. He was so simple. Just feeling. Raw power, burning. She knew that he loved her, but she felt nothing for him. Not hate, not indifference, not love. Maybe not even lust, just hopelessness. Falling into him, letting him use her. Letting him love me but really not, because he pounded me ruthlessly. She wanted that now. She wanted cold stone scraping her back and her crying and her screaming and her coming. He was so cold. He was like someone else she had known but different. Her mind slammed shut. She was here, at the little far set place. It was dirty and the food was greasy and settled heavy in her stomach. But it was cheap. It was good enough for her.

She kept ordering beers. She kept drinking them. She knew it was bad to drink on an empty stomach. But then she ate the greasy fries and she had to go in the bathroom with the red swinging door and throw up. The bathroom smelled like the giant roll of paper towels in the corner. They hurt her mouth when she used them to wipe her mouth off. She didn’t pay the check, but instead walked out. She had Daddy’s credit card, but she didn’t feel like paying. She was drunk. She liked this feeling, this out of control, dirty feeling. It made her so different from the girl that she was; she thought she could just lose herself. It didn’t matter if it was beer or sex or something else. It didn’t matter. “Nothing fucking matters!” She screamed, and she didn’t notice the homeless people staring at her, or the people walking down the street, giving her strange glances. Because she was drunk and that was all that mattered.

The next thing she remembered was seeing a familiar face. It had felt so long since she had seen one. She liked being a dirty girl. She felt like Faith, so clean and free and bursting with inhibition. There were stars pulsing inside her head. The world was tilting. Cordelia was calling out to her.

“Buffy!” She cried, and it was a joyous sound. It’s not joyous to me, of course, but she sounds joyous. I guess that I’m alive. She stumbled a little and looked at the tilt-a-whirl Cordelia, smiling and shiny and happy and alive. I’m so fucking wasted, on beer? Diner beer? No way.

“Cordelia. Cordelia. You’re here. You’re alive, huh.” She leaned against a post, and pulled her British and scratchy coat around her. It was fairly warm outside, but still she hugged it to her.

“I should be saying the same thing! We haven’t seen you in four years! What’re you doing in LA?”

“Stealing my dad’s credit card,” she murmured. Cordelia didn’t quite hear her. “I was revived,” she said loudly. She was often told that she was loud when she was drunk. “I was revived from the dead, again. I can’t believe it, Cordy.”

“Buffy, you’re drunk,” Cordelia said plainly. She looked into Cordy’s big brown eyes and realized that she’d changed. She’d become smart somewhere along the way. It’d been so long, such a stretch of road since high school. Long, hot pavement with millions of little yellow dividers. God my head hurts. Her hair was long, her makeup was perfect and Buffy was shot to shit.

“Why don’t you come home?” Cordelia said softly, grasping her elbow.

“I need to call my dad!” She cried helplessly, and Cordelia shushed her as she led her along. She led her down the street, to the hotel that was still there. Buffy looked at it. Solid, sturdy, brick, tan, beautiful, big, looming, courtyards, oh god it’s tipping. Everything was sliding like the earth was a tipping disk. Sliding, sliders, death, coming back. Death, I came back, I come back everything is sliding oh my god. Where am I going, don’t let me go Cordelia please don’t.

She stumbled a little and Cordelia grasped harder. She could feel Cordelia’s desperation, her wonder. There was a salty stickiness in her throat, pushing down on her, making her drunker. Oh God, she was gonna see Angel and she couldn’t and she couldn’t and she wouldn’t see him again because everything was so fucked up and she hated his stupid face. She hated him coming into her life. She never wanted to meet him why did they make her meet him? I hate him so much and the world is spinning, spinning off its axis.

Cordelia led her inside and sat her on one of the bouncy chairs but no one was there. She wondered if Angel was dead, in between cloudy senseless drunk thoughts that made her silly. “God, I’m so fucked up,” she moaned and Cordelia quieted her gently again. When did Cordelia become caretaker? Especially of me? She can’t be different, I can’t be different. It can’t be 2005 and I can’t be Buffy the revival girl who smells like beer. She wanted her mother in that moment, more than anyone. Not Cordelia, just her mother. Just her. She looked at Cordelia, and her brown hair, a little past shoulder length. Still slender, still big boobs. I feel thin and waify, I feel gross. I feel drunk.

Cordelia gave her a glass of water, which she quickly retched up and choked on. She bent over and heaved.

“Buffy,” she said quietly, in cautious tones, “I hate to ask you this while intoxicated but – what are you doing alive?”

“Watcher’s Council,” she moaned, putting an arm over her eyes, “brought me back. I was alive in a coma or something. God – please make it stop spinning.”

“Wow,” was all she could reply. Buffy just lay there and let blood pound her into the couch, into oblivion.

“So – who are you staying with?”

“My dad.” She giggled, but it held no humor. “I’ve died so many times…too many times. I fucking committed suicide and went through the End of Days and it didn’t help! Someone needs to kill me, now.” She rolled over onto her face and suffocated herself again. She liked the way it felt. The cloth felt moist against her lips and it crushed them against her teeth. Cordelia rolled her over, telling her things that she couldn’t understand. She tried to push her away but it was weak. “I’m so weak now. I’m weak.” She shut her mouth and drifted far, into a lake of stars or maybe a pool of oil. God, it’s so black.

-- When she awakened it was dark. Dark inside, dark outside. It smelled like old paper, like tangy metal weapons. There were sheets against her cheek, and they had Tide smell. She knew because her mother used to use Tide and the whole basement smelled like it. Just clean clothes, and dryer sheets. It was cold in the room and goose bumps came everywhere, affecting her skin. Her head felt like it was wrapped in something, and all the blood was there. It felt tender. She shook it a little, and she could hear the blood sloshing around. She had to call her father; she had to let him know that she was around. That she wasn’t dead. She had to be Buffy Summers again, but she didn’t want to be.

“Cordelia!” She shouted, and for a second she thought she was alone. She heard footsteps softly out on the carpet. She pushed her face in the pillow before sitting up. She felt sweaty and she needed a shower. The Council hadn’t given her much. A young girl peeked into the room.

“Hello?” The girl said cautiously. She looked really young. She made Buffy ill because she reminded her of herself. She reminded her of what she was and her parents and her friends and her loves and everything. She could feel faint tears, a faint lump, but nothing otherwise.

“Hello,” she replied in a gritty voice. There was sand in her throat.

“I thought you were here.” The girl sounds knowing. That wouldn’t be new; everyone seems to know everything but me.

“Who the hell are you?” Her head is spinning and everything is dizzy and she thought she stopped being drunk a long time ago.

“I’m the Slayer, Katrina.” She stuck out her hand but Buffy ignored it and instead studied her fuzzy face.

“Oh,” she replied. “The Slayer. The Slayer.”

“You were the old Slayer right?” I know that she’s naïve so I can forgive her. She sat up in bed, rubbing her head. “Yes, that’s right.”

“Oh.” She fidgeted near the doorway for a second before Buffy motioned her inside.

“What do you want, K-Katrina?” She leaned back against the pillow and watch the girl. She had limp, sallow hair and she was skinny. Awkward, and way too young.

“I just um…wanted to see the legend.” The little girl reminds me so much of Dawn that I have to take a breath, a breath like glass shards, and close my eyes. It hurts. I can’t pretend that it doesn’t. She pushed herself up.

“I’m not a legend. Just a girl who died three times. Well, kind of.”

“The first Slayer after you died after only two years. You lived for six years, Buffy. I don’t think anyone could beat that. And I mean – look, you’re still alive!”

“Yeah,” there was a shaky laugh and she bowed her head. She wasn’t used to praise and in some form she hated it. It reminded her how much she had given up, how much she had fucked up.

“Plus, you fell in love with Angel. It’s not like a couple of stories can’t be written about that.” Buffy’s face, for a second, went blank and Katrina closed the subject quickly. She looked embarrassed, as though she had tread on sacred ground. Buffy hated how she could never let anyone talk about them. It was because she knew that it still affected her, whether she wanted it to or not. She wanted so badly for it to just slip past her, to a point where she could say “yes!” and tell all the stories without feeling shaken up and betrayed and jealousy and all the other completely wrong feelings. She tried to shrug it off and ended up knocking her head back against the wall. Katrina gave her a look of pity before telling her a meager excuse and slinking off. Everyone was always disappointed after meeting her, the infamous Slayer. They could see how much her mind had flaked off. I haven’t even seen…him…yet. I just wish I could get over this. He is the only one left, though. The only one left that was close to me.

She fell back into a half-sleep, and it was sweaty and delusional. She dreamt of the times that she promised ‘forever’ like some stupid romance novel, and he touched her face and she didn’t mind that he was her worst enemy because love was the end all. It would be her salvation and everything would be perfect because it was love and oh how could it not be? She dreamt of when he held her briefly at that stupid Motel 6 that looked more like a cabin, and how you could see those bright stars from the highway. He felt so cold and distant and closed off, and she had thought – if we could only have more time. She thought that if they only could she could grab his mind and climb into it and they wouldn’t be strangers anymore. They wouldn’t be icy to each other, without feeling. He didn’t care was all she could think when he told her curtly that he was leaving. He never fucking cared at all.

This time, she got up and stretched her body. She was still shaky from sitting around for four years, stuck inside of her own mind. She crept out of the hotel room. No one had come in to check on her, no one had cared. “It’s nothing new,” she murmured out into stale air. Recently she had started saying things that she thought aloud. It could have been construed as crazy, but she was oblivious. Her hair felt greasy, so she searched for a bathroom but she couldn’t find one. Instead she traveled down the huge staircase that felt like a sea. She saw him down there and felt an awkward, frosty feeling that shot up her stomach, rocketed to her eye sockets.

“Buffy,” he said in that way, and she still wanted to kill him. I don’t love him. I hate him. I don’t know him. But he knows me. She felt like yelling all of the sudden, maybe throwing herself down the stairs. Every time I see him I feel like doing something dramatic, because I can’t convey my feelings to him. Do I have feelings? Does he have feelings? It doesn’t seem like it.

She descended the stairs, feeling like any moment the jig would be up and this would be a dream. It would be a limbo until she could get to heaven. Maybe it was a hallucination, a poison, some kind of demon bite. Instead she slumped on the staircase and wouldn’t look him in the eyes. “A-Ange…” She didn’t say the ‘l’ because she couldn’t say it. It couldn’t happen, not again. She looked up at his face, but she didn’t see him. She looked at Wesley’s shocked face behind him, holding the papers aloft. She looked at the high ceilings, and the soft couches and the only slightly dusty carpet. She pushed on a bruise on her knee, something she got when that doctor took his cold, gloved fingers and poked her.

She felt desire when she saw him, a real human feeling that she hasn’t felt in a while. She couldn’t tell if it was just from seeing someone familiar (really familiar) or if it was from the memory of kisses. Would she feel the same if Riley were standing there? Even Spike, maybe?

She spoke into her hands, resting her face in them, feeling the sweat of her palms. “It’s me, I’m really here and it’s really real.” She was answering his questions the first time she came back. Buffy, is that you? You’re real? It’s all really real? Then he shut inside of himself, he was locked away and she wanted to beat his feelings out of him. I don’t know you anymore! She never wanted to hear those words. Ever. He hadn’t said them but God…

“How did you come back?” She explained the tired story for the fiftieth time, but this time she did it into her hands, because she couldn’t look at him. She couldn’t even look at Wesley. His stare seemed to go right through her. He looks the same, which I guess he should. He’s immortal. Am I? I left out that part to everyone. I kind of forgot that part myself. I’m still twenty-one. I’m the princess, or something. I’ll never age; I’ll be stuck in time. At the end of her spiel there was silence so she repeated the colors of the rainbow inside her head. ROYGBIV. ROYGBIV. Redorangeyellowgreenblueindigoviolet. She finally looked up and saw that Angel was still staring at her and he hated her. She could feel that hate like a palpable thing, like an animal whipping around the room, spinning maybe. But how many animals spin?

“I’m sorry, Buffy,” he said. She looked at him and grimaced a little. “It’s not your fault. I need to go see my father.” She changed quickly, like the flip of a coin. She needed to be straightforward about all this, no beating around any bushes. She couldn’t get caught in a web of memories and feel something for him that wasn’t there. She didn’t know him. He certainly didn’t know her. He didn’t want to.

--

Three weeks later she was kicked out of her father’s house. He found out that she had stolen his credit card and also some of his things. She had found his pot stash and pocketed it. She wondered if he noticed. He didn’t. But he still kicked her out, with only a few pairs of clothes. And the marijuana, of course. She thought of Angel’s place, fleetingly, but she didn’t want shit thrown in her face. So she decided not to go there. Angel stared at her all the time with his dark wintry eyes and he knew. He knew lots of things about her but there was still this distance that kept growing and it made her belly grow a space just as large inside of it.

She could smell smoky, dirty fires burning in the alley and walked towards them. She saw a few homeless men standing around, and figured she could find a lighter off of one of them. She wasn’t hungry, but she had enough weed to last her at least a week. She needed something to mellow her out, just for a little bit. Until she could figure out what to do. She asked the first one, and he had a Zippo. She thought of Spike, until she inhaled her first cloud, then she thought about nothing. Literally, she couldn’t think about anything. She just stared and felt her eyes grow heavy and felt the boards of the house press into her back.

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, craving the warm sun on her face. She just needed to figure out…she needed to figure out. She was halfway through her first joint when a shadow came over her. The sun was below the hills by then, and purple shadows were everywhere. He hauled her up. She giggled.

“What the fuck are you smoking, Buffy?” He asked and she blew some in his face. It’s not like he’d never done it before. She was sure of it. He’d had to have done drugs some time.

“Weed, bitch,” she drew the phrase out and she laughed again and she felt hungrier than she had in weeks. She kissed him hard, and she could taste the mint he’d been sucking on. He put her down and walked away, wiping his mouth. She shouted after him, but even she didn’t know what she was saying.

The day after, she started growing hungry. The weed had made her hungry, and she had stolen a Twinkie from the 7-11 on Fourth Street. That was all she’d had to eat. That was when she was desperate and she found someone. Someone to fuck and go down on, and someone’s money to take.

She didn’t know his real name, at first. His name was John D. Everyone called him that and strangely she thought it sounded so corny, like something out of a cop movie. That one with Danny Glover. He was skinny and greasy and he never smelled good. He smelled like desperation and death and cocaine. He offered her some the first night she stayed with him but she declined. She didn’t want to get that fucked up.

When she smoked a bowl with John D. she would tell him about vampires, and the one vampire that she had loved. And she would tell him how she came back from the dead three times and he would ignore her, occasionally shove her off when she became too excited. The sober parts of her were glad that he took her stories for inane bullshit. Other parts of her wanted him to care.

“I have no one!” She shouted once, right in his face, and he smacked her so hard that her lip bled. She hadn’t hit him back, because she didn’t want a fight. But I’m a Slayer, I’m supposed to fight evil, and demons, and abusive boys who take things too far. But she wasn’t the Slayer anymore. She was just a girl getting high with a guy. That’s all.

In a month she lost ten pounds. She was now about ninety-seven pounds and severely underweight. She couldn’t figure out how she lost it all. She thought she ate a lot, for the money that she had. I have to get a job, God I need a job. But I can’t go back to Angel, no I can’t. I can’t go back. He has a life and I have…what do I have? I have three deaths; I have a world with no one in it. She wondered sometimes about her father. Did he have remorse for what he did? She wanted to be his little girl so bad but the little girl was swallowed somewhere, in a fissure. She was gone.

In a month and a half she considered cocaine. Wondered if she would die a fourth death, the least noble of them all, in a dirty gutter. She would feed the rats at least, or maybe poison them with the drugs in her blood. She had never done cocaine before, because she wasn’t that far along yet. That far along…what did that mean? But she considered it. How far had she come as a Slayer? What was her mother saying about her in Heaven right now? What was heaven? Her brain was so fried that she couldn’t remember.

A black man walked past her, out in the sunlight, and she was drowsing after getting some pill she didn’t know the name of from John D. She was in the shade of an old house, feeling the dry wind pull over the rags of her clothes. She could smell herself, and she was disgusted, but she couldn’t do anything. I can’t do anything!

The black man turned around and looked straight at her and her head lolled up. She smiled goofily at him, because he was emitting strange colors. When she looked straight at his face she couldn’t even feel the constant gnawing in her belly. She couldn’t feel the bruises standing out on her face. Some of them were from John and some were from stumbling when she got really drunk. Days blended together, so did the bruises. They were all one big swallowing mass. The black man came closer and picked her up. She was so weightless, se felt like she was floating. He could have been a serial killer for all she knew, but she was so high that he was a bird. They were shooting off into space, riding on a starburst. Everything faded into darkness, like everything for her always did. I’m such a big fuck up. Big fucking fuck up loser Buffy.

--

The first night that she was back at the hotel, she was cold and shaky. She could admit to herself, by this point, that she liked staying in dirty houses and taking drugs that she didn’t know the names of. She loved it and she craved it and she didn’t want to go into withdrawal for drugs, because she couldn’t really take that. What have I been reduced to? The Great Slayer, the Slayer that little Katrina looks up to, is a dead girl. A walking, breathing, stick figure, dead girl who does drugs in the streets of LA. Fucking ingenious if you ask me.

She didn’t see Angel that first night, and she didn’t even want to know how his friend recognized her. But she heard him, behind her head, through the paper-thin walls. She heard his moans and the panting and the screaming with another woman. She tried to picture a bunch of pretty, unknown girls underneath him, clutching his back and loving it like she had. She couldn’t so she closed her eyes. His moans made him sound like he was in pain. She couldn’t even remember if it was that way with her.

In the morning she saw him in the hallway. He looked up her body, obviously surprised by her anorexic frame. It was unhealthy. She wanted to tell him something, something snappy about how to keep his fucking down to a low tone. But her mouth was so dry it was stuck together and it wouldn’t open. She didn’t eat breakfast that morning; she didn’t join him (them). She stared after Cordelia, who pretended not to notice her while she slinked out of the hotel room after him. How the fuck did she end up here?

She couldn’t die; she could feel it in her bones. She wasn’t able to die. She wondered suddenly why the Council had let her go without a fight. She thought they would have wanted to study her more, wondered why she was now immortal. Would she die with decapitation, a stake, fire? She wasn’t a vampire. She was never tired anymore; her body just ached like branches swaying in the wind. She forced herself to sleep only because she couldn’t go anymore, but she didn’t yawn. She didn’t feel tired. She didn’t daydream about sleep like she used to, when she was younger.

Cordelia offered her the chapstick, looking at her lips in a matronly way. She felt them. They felt like rock, hard and solid. They looked white and pebbly. It was spreading to the sides of her mouth. She knew that it wasn’t herpes, just severe chapping and infection all spread and mixed together. Angel looked on her with pity, there in the hotel lobby, and for the first time in three months she felt like crying. She was alone, and it was seeping into her heart like hot molasses.

“Buffy,” Angel told her, his tone trying to be comforting. Somehow, to her ears, it reminded her of New York traffic. Hot, loud, brutal, fast. “You need to start taking care of yourself. You’re going to die if you don’t stop this.”

She laughed and it sounded flecked, like there were tiny pieces of glass in it. She guessed it was from all the smoking. Unfiltered cigarettes were just peachy. She probably smelled pretty good too. “Shut the fuck up. I can’t die. Remember? Come on, try me. Try to kill me!” But she had never told him about the immortality, so he didn’t ‘remember’.

“Buffy, I care about you.”

“You don’t love me, though,” her eyes shifted to Cordelia, who pretended to look at casework.

“No,” he admitted after a little while. She wondered if she had a heart; it didn’t crumble at that admission. “But I care for you and I hate to see you this way.”

“Screw that. I’m getting out of here. John will be looking for me.”

“Buffy, no,” he said, and he grabbed her arm, and it snapped like a toothpick. At that point she wondered if she really was wasting away. She couldn’t though, she was going to stay twenty-one forever. I just need a drink and everything will be okay. Where’s John? Angel smells clean and cool, like everything that I despise. He smells like reality. My arm hurts.

She woke up with bleary eyes to another white room. She panicked for a second before she realized that she was in a regular hospital, not in the strange Council hospital. Angel sat at her side, dozing lightly. He looked…pained, tired. It’s all because of me. She couldn’t feel anything anymore. There was a dull pain in her left arm, where he had snapped it. She didn’t blame him though. She didn’t blame him for loving someone else, for changing and being someone else. She was someone else too, someone that she didn’t want to be. She didn’t notice him staring at her until after a few minutes.

“You’re awake,” he remarked. She nodded weakly, looking down at her arm in the cast. Her bones looked weary, thin, disgusting.

She waited a few minutes, staring at the walls and the clean curtains and the dead flies on the window. “Why are you here Angel?” She finally sighed. Without any drugs in her system, or any food, she felt exhausted, like she was hung out to dry.

“I’m worried about Buffy. We all are. Wesley, Gunn, Fred.” Who the hell is Fred? I don’t know a Fred.

“You shouldn’t be,” she laughed and it grated like an old woman. “I feel like I’m dying but I can’t. You’ve felt it before – that loneliness. God, it’s so deep inside of me.”

He didn’t say anything but he stared at the floor, slumped in his chair. She tried to look inside of him to see any trace of love, but she couldn’t. She wanted to get to know him again, to get to love him again, but it wouldn’t happen. He was with someone else again. Could I even love him again? Could we be friends and go through all that again, or is it lost?

“I know, and I’ll always be here for you Buffy. I’ll always be here as a friend…but-”

“Save it,” she snapped. “I don’t need another loss. At least while I’m lying here I can just pretend that I still have you.” He sighed and there was silence for a while. “I used to hallucinate about you, when I first came back. I wasn’t in a dirty alley, I was with you. And we didn’t know each other, but that was okay, because it was the getting-to-know each other part again that was the fun part. We were friends, then we went through it all again, the pain and happiness. Then I would wake up and John would be sitting next to me with vomit on his shirt. But I didn’t cry. I mean, I can’t cry for you anymore.”

“Buffy, stop.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t mean to hurt you, but we’re different people. I don’t know you; I can’t love you, Buffy. Besides – Cordy. We…we’re close, and in love.”

“Ah, right.” Tears clogged her chest, but she kept them back by pressing her head back hard into the pillow behind her. “I guess I just…can’t see it.”

“Maybe we should call Riley,” he said and she shook her head.

“No. I don’t want that. I don’t want someone else turning me away. Don’t make me go through that.”

“He won’t turn away.”

“Not like you,” she rasped, and wondered why she still cared. She could still feel the memories bleeding inside her head, memories of her and him and the Scoobies and GilesMomXanderWillowAmyWitchesAcathla. “Everything we did was for nothing. Everything I cared about was for nothing.”

“No, Buffy, it was worth it while it lasted.”

“Yeah, I guess it was.” There was another gap of silence before she pushed her heart up her throat and choked the words out. “Why don’t you kill me? I don’t belong here. I’m not even a person.” Her spine feels like a whip running up her back. She can feel her bones about to burst through her skin. They’re so sharp.

“I could never do that, Buffy.” He at least had the decency to look slightly mortified, she noted.

“What did you think, when I killed myself again, Angel? What did you think?”

“I didn’t think,” he answered quietly and she didn’t know how to take this.

“Well, don’t think this time, just do it. Crush my head, cut my throat, decapitate me. Hell, even drive a stake through my heart. I know you’re mad at me. For one reason or another, you’re mad at me.”

She saw his throat jump a little and couldn’t believe that they really had no feeling for each other anymore. No, that wasn’t true. She wanted something with him, she wanted to be someone with him, but it wouldn’t work. She felt selfish for wanting that, for trying to take away the bridge that he had built with Cordelia.

“Why don’t you just do it yourself, Buffy? You did it the first two times, you can do it again.” She could hardly believe him when she heard his anger. Actually advocating her suicide? This was new.

“You don’t know. Leave, Angel. If you’re not going to end it, leave.”

“You’re weak.”

“You’re right, I’m so weak that I feel like nothing. A skeleton, maybe. Go fuck Cordelia. Go now.” He got up, because he always ran away when she asked him to. He always took such an easy scapegoat. She slept and dreamt about him, about the insignificant moments in her teen years that meant so much to her.

--

It could have just been because it was her birthday. It could have just been a load of bullshit, some line that he was feeding her, because he wanted to sleep with her. Then she realizes that they can’t sleep together, and that he’s tender and sensitive and smart. He’s not a teenager, and he’s not a human, and he’s well read. Every word that he says he means, because his life will mean nothing if that isn’t so.

She sits up, staring at him in front of the fire. She knows that things will change soon, but she loves him so much that she doesn’t know if she can take that. She remembers how it killed her to stick something sharp through his belly and tear into his flesh. He didn’t even have a chance to bleed before he was sucked down to hell. He doesn’t deserve it, she thinks, any of it. He doesn’t deserve the demon or the death or the guilt. He doesn’t even deserve me because he loves me too much and I’m so young that I can’t see things right in front of my face.

She knows that things will have to change soon. Maybe not in her conscious mind, but somehow she knows that things will turn and revolve and she won’t like it. But she’ll deal with it. She loves him so much that it hurts her (and it’s a conscious love), it makes her weak and trembling inside, it makes her young. It makes hurt more than anything, but she thinks it’s normal, because aren’t pain and love synonymous?

She watches him sleep and wishes she were a vampire, for a brief moment. They wouldn’t need anything but each other. They could roam the countryside and she wouldn’t need friends or family. Just him and blood. She laughs aloud at these thoughts because they’re so silly. But she’s so weak right now, her Slayerness is so gone that it makes her a little crazy inside. She always wanted to be someone different but now that she is she doesn’t know what to do. I have him, though, she thinks. I have him and no one else does and I can’t let him go, no matter what. If he leaves I’ll go psycho and tear myself apart because I can’t ever be with someone else. She feels wild. She slips a hand over his sleeping face and thinks about his fangs punching into her skin with a loud pop, and the messy drinking sounds that would come forth from his throat. She thinks about the blood that would run down over her breasts and the way her mouth would go slack with death.

She presses him close to her heart and wonders how it’s possible to love something so much that you’re willing to die and hurt and be tortured. She feels a little extreme right now, just a little, before she drifts off to sleep, inhaling him and his black sweaters and his dark eyes.

--

The next day she was released from the hospital. They didn’t say anything about how underweight she was. She cried after her last dream. Not only for Angel, but for the old her, and the way things used to be. Why did she try to kill herself? She couldn’t even remember now. She was doomed to stay on the earth until it exploded with the sun, she knew. She could distantly remember that kind of love, but she hadn’t felt that kind of intensity in a while. If only I could have the chance. But she could never have the chance; he was lost to her. She thought she should feel worse about that, but she couldn’t feel anything. Why do I still want things that are gone, things that I can’t have, and things that don’t exist?

There were toy trains in the window that she walked by. She was wearing dirty rags on her bones, faint remnants of her clothes from her fathers’ house. He probably just figured that she had found some friends and stayed with them. She had to have friends right? She was more alone than she had ever been, and she didn’t want the company of people. She didn’t want to see Gunn’s face, the way it looked at her in surprise and disdain. The way Wesley avoided her because she could tell that she depressed him. She didn’t want to hear Cordelia and Angel having sex in the next room, reminding her of her loneliness. It’s about the scariest thing there is.

One day she found someone who tried to lure her with the promise of coke, just a quick taste. A free sample, like at Costco. She took it. She remembered exactly what the dirty mirror looked like as she took her first line off the kitchen sink. It was cracked in the left corner and there was a baby spider hiding there. Her nose felt funny and full and she almost sneezed after she sucked it up. She didn’t feel the high begin to sink in until fifteen minutes later, when the dealer pushed her out the broken door and she stumbled onto the street.

She noticed his hotel and she saw bright, shiny pinks and yellows coming off of it. She felt loose and open, like every pore in her body had just slackened and her muscles released themselves. She saw that everyone was gone and thought she would go into Angel’s room. She just needed to see him for a second. Just for a little minute. He was the only one left.

For a second she was so high that she didn’t realize where she was, or when she was. She found Angel sleeping on the couch in his suite and she knelt next to him, and touched his face. He didn’t awake so she started stoking his cheek, watching his eyelashes. They fluttered but otherwise he looked like a corpse, lying there. He is a corpse, Buffy. She wanted to laugh at her own silliness. She wanted to laugh at everything. He opened his eyes after a few minutes and watched her, but didn’t say anything. She was transported to another time, another place.

“I thought I’d find you in the mansion,” she murmured. “You’re always here, waiting for me. You’re the only one who knows me. You knew I’d come here.” He just stared at her strangely; threads of sleep still tangling his mind. Her eyes were milky. “You’re always going to love me, you told me.” She swallowed thickly. “You don’t know what it’s like – to have someone tell you that. The comfort, it’s almost too much sometimes. Like it’s too good to be-”

“Buffy, what are you doing? What are you doing here?” She stopped stroking his face and started to pace. She looked restless and nervous, on edge.

“The air tastes like butter. Can you taste it? Can you? All I can smell is you. You smell like – like Tide. My mom used to smell like Tide. God, I’m gonna fall, I’m gonna fall. The mansion…it looks different, what-” But she didn’t finish the sentence as she collapsed and crushed her face into the carpet, clutching it reflexively with spastic fingers.

He picked her up and set her on the couch, looking at her large pupils and the way her breath came in gasps. He could hear her heartbeat making irregular thumps and clatters against the spindles of her ribcage. He could see them through her shirt.

“God, my heart, can you hear it? It’s so loud; it sounds like a river. A river of blood or something.” She was gasping like a fish at this point. “Where am I? Where-where, I can’t remember. Help me remember Angel.” She smiled and there was blood in the cracks of her teeth. She realized dimly that her nose was bleeding but she couldn’t understand why. She wiped it away. She couldn’t die. This was torture. Am I dying? Is this me, dying right now? God I can’t breathe, and the happiness is gone. I’m drowning, but there’s no water! Where’s the ocean? Where’s the fucking ocean? He could now hear her heart doing irregular skips; sounding like a scratchy CD, playing over and under and weaving in and out like a ribbon.

She heard him, but just barely over the roaring in her head, like an angry lion. She could see the colors again, but this time they were angry reds and oranges. Spots and splats and stars in front of her eyes.

“Buffy, keep talking to me. Stay alive, keep speaking.” How? Her mind wondered. How can I die with my first time on coke? Slayers are supposed to be strong and resilient. I should be swallowing rat poison and being able to run a mile.

“John D. is dead Angel. He’s dead. Now I have no one. I can’t meet anyone anymore. Am – Am I dying?” She could see him, far away, like he was floating on the sea and she was on the shore. He wasn’t listening to her but talking on the phone in hurried tones. “Watch me die again. Witness the amazing dying Slayer. This would be volume number four. My life just keeps repeating. Angel you’re not – you’re not…” She finally slipped off, and her heart still beat like a rabbit’s. It slipped and skipped upside down and right side up. All around.

In the ambulance, he was there, and she thought it was so dramatic. Like those shows on The Discovery Channel. Some plastic thing was covering up her face, and her eyes were narrowed. People were rushing around, as though she was stuck in ice and everything was on fast forward. She couldn’t move. They were pinning her down. She pushed the plastic thing off her face and they yelled at her and a few tears slipped out. They still exist? I didn’t think I could cry. Angel was sitting beside her.

“I’m gonna die alone,” she spat out, trying to shove the paramedics away. Trying to get the scary plastic thing away from her face. She laughed and blood bubbled up like a fountain, it shot out of her mouth. Someone wiped it away.

“You’re not alone, Buffy.”

“I just thought you should know, I wanted to love you, love you again. I wanted-” Someone shoved her on her back, and she hear a response. She couldn’t finish. Crazy lights and bells were going off inside her head like she had won a prize. She didn’t see his face, or his reaction. The oxygen was pressing itself inside of her. It was forcing its way, like John D.’s dick. It had hurt me, badly. But I got something from it; I got a warm body next to me at night and oblivion. I got cheap, greasy food that made me vomit more often than not. I didn’t fight because I’m not the Slayer. I have no duties. Do I matter? No. It hurts. Blackness.

--

I have dreams about my father. He’s shoving me off a cliff, into a squishy patch of leaf curls below. There are thorns in the curls and I howl when they puncture my skin. I also dream of Dawn. She hides underneath the patch of plants and she calls to me, but I can’t swim down and find her. It’s too thick. I walk on top of it. The sun beats down on me, making my neck sweat. The sweat is cold. I look at my father, his silhouette high on that cliff, and I scream to him but he doesn’t reply. Is this really real?

Spike sits, glowing radioactive in the sun. “Aren’t you hot?” He shrugs, but doesn’t sweat. I can’t remember if vampires sweat or not. His duster looks hot, long and leathery. I touch it once and it burns me. “Oh, Slayer,” he mumbles, and I wonder if I could actually feel remorse for his death. “Aren’t you sorry you fucked me?”

“I’m not sure.” Walking is like moving underneath water.

“I loved you, but you had to go, didn’t you?”

“I know it was wrong.” I feel weak, shaky and sweaty. “I-I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize to me. I fought, Buffy. I fought for you.” There’s a cool, black hole in my stomach and it’s swirling around, pulling me inside out. My mother and sister sit on the ground. It really is a desert out here, barren with a sun like a griddle. They just sit and stare at me. They look like giant dolls. Dawn reminds me of my mother, when I found her murdered by an aneurysm. Her eyes are huge and glassy and her mouth is set in a pink line. She needs a frothy dress, I decide, to make the doll theme complete. Drusilla could collect her and keep her in a case.

I sit next to them. “Dad doesn’t care about me.” They stare, and their bodies are large and creepy. “He threw me off a cliff. I’m addicted to drugs now, did you know that?” I have to laugh a little, at the ridiculousness of the situation. I leave off the Angel part though, because that part skewers me so hard that I can’t even feel it. Have I been pretending not to feel it? Have I been shrugging it off? “Dad also kicked me out.” I sit there for a little, drawing circles around the cracks in the ground with my toe.

“Listen – I’m sorry that I couldn’t save you guys. I’m sorry that I killed both of you. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again because…I can’t die. I just can’t.” I start crying then, real heaving sobs. Except I know they’re not real because this is a dream. This is the only place I can cry. “I can’t even fucking kill myself anymore, because I know that I’ll come back. Why did the Council keep me alive? Torture?”

I see a figure in the distance, in front of the water-smooth heat waves dancing above the ground. She comes closer and closer. Faith. She looks perfect. Like a ghost, except better. She’s wearing black just like Spike and I wonder how they can stand it. But her face looks clean, not dirty and stained like in high school. She smiles at me, like she’s happy. I look back to my doll family but they aren’t there, they’ve gone. They moved when I turned my back on them.

“Hey, girlfriend!” I slump my shoulders but don’t answer. “Why so glum?”

“Are you dead?”

“Define ‘dead’. I’m living out here, I’m living. But I’m not where you are.”

“Oh.”

“I think you’re the one who’s dead.”

“I wish,” I mutter.

“Maybe you should make it happen.”

“Maybe.” She’s away in the flash of the air, the shininess above the cracked hard sand. I want to tell her ‘don’t go’ but I can’t mouth the words. By now I’m drenched in cold sweat. It smells like death and burning and regret out here. There are two people sitting in plush chairs in the distance and I want to run to them and scream ‘Willow, Xander!’ but my throat is so swollen it’s bulging. Instead I let the sweat stream between my breasts and I stare into the sun and feel my cheek against the fractures of the ground. It’s so hot.

--

She was awake suddenly and she could hear the air conditioner throbbing in the corner. Tubes stuck out of her like numerous garden hoses feeding her. Angel was sitting in the chair next to her, and she knew that if she had a nickel for every time she was caught in a bed, sick, she would be a millionaire. Giles sitting beside her in her post-mortem sickness seemed like a billion years ago. Like it was the dinosaurs. She felt stickiness between her thighs. She felt stickiness in her hair. She knew what she must have smelled like to him: a disgusting, rotten meal. She raised a shaky hand and touched his. She smelled him too, though. He smelled like jasmine. He smelled like-

“The garden in the mansion.”

“What?” He asked, looking into her eyes with a dark ferocity. She had forgotten the burning there, eyes that could make your head split open with their intensity.

“Oh, um…nothing. Nothing.”

“Buffy,” he sighed, “I have no idea why you’re doing this to yourself.” Suddenly anger welled up inside her, anger and resurrected jealousy for Cordelia.

“Fuck you,” she said quietly. “You have no idea what it’s like waking up in a world like this. No idea at all. I’m alone, Angel. My friends, my Watcher, my mother, are all dead. The last real boyfriend I had is somewhere in fucking Africa, my first boyfriend could give two shits about me and my father refuses to acknowledge me.”

“I would have taken care of you.”

“No, you wouldn’t have. Not the way I would have taken care of you if the situation was different.”

“Buffy,” he warned, but she cut him off by putting her weak hand on top of his and squeezing.

She laid her head down on his thigh without asking. Who the fuck cares if I do or don’t love him? I need him. I need him. She pressed her nose into his stomach and she thought he would throw her off, push her away, spit on her. Instead he stroked her hair while her tears slipped out like silk threads.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, wondering if he could hear. “I’m sorry I came back and fucked everyone up.”

--

In the middle of the night, she was awakened by tears on her face. She heard quiet sobbing in the next room. At first she thought maybe it was the baby-faced Katrina, that long-limbed teenager who never deserved to be shoved into her prophecy. Or maybe it was Cordelia, figuring out that Buffy had shattered her life by coming back, had shattered all of them.

She quietly closed her hotel room door behind her. She felt the familiar ache of weakness inside of her bones and shivered and clutched herself. Her left arm was still broken, and it still ached. The cast was hard against her fragile rib cage.

The door to their room was slightly open, and yellow light illuminated the carpet in a sliver. Like a crescent moon. She decided right away that she needed a smoke, a joint, something. But there was nothing around. Food made her belly shiver in fear. Or maybe what made her shiver was inside the room.

She put her eye to the crack and saw Angel crying, sobbing really. Big, heaving, shuddering sobs that she never thought he would be able to create. It ran through him like a shooting star, taking over his body like possession. She heard someone coming and quickly stepped away, back into the safety of her own room. She leaned her ear against the wall, somehow getting comfort out of his pain. It was synonymous with her own. She heard a feminine voice, muffled and blurred.

“Oh, Angel, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?” His sobs were muffled further as he pressed into Cordy, she suspected. “I love you, Angel, don’t ever forget that. I’ll never stop. We have each other. It’s okay. Don’t cry.”

She could picture the dark head, bowed and shuddering. She turned so her face was mashed into the wall. The wallpaper crushed her nose and her eye was pressed into her skull, and she didn’t want to hear anymore. She didn’t want to hear the world. She thought about razor blades and bloody bathtubs and deserts and the end of days and resurrection and the last/first slayer and the council and her family and her virginityvirtuevalues (will I die? Willidie?willidie?ever?). There was dust inside of her. The memories were ash.

I love you, Angel.

 


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