Camelot


Author: Trixie

Disclaimer: It's all about Joss. I'm his bumpy minion

Rating: NC 17

Summary: Four years after The Gift, Buffy returns to her darkest nightmare realized

Category: B/A, B/S, Da/S


Hope climbs atop of the piano
Reaching out towards the warmth of the sun
Some man tries to ask her down, but now maybe that's where she belongs
My god she said "I'm the sunflower that wants"
My god, he said "this woman is gone"
Into the dark is there anybody there? My god, she said


Our Lady Peace "Hope"

(Little shivers and white noises---)

I'm Buffy- the Vampire Slayer- and you are?

Nobody messes with my boyfriend


I live with that every day

We're not friends
never were

(She's weeping
)

I'm never gonna change
I want my life to be with you

Dawnie
what did you do? What DID you do?

Willow! Willow wanted me to tell you


(LIES! All lies
)

You think you know


No friends. Just the Kill. We are alone.

Do you love me?

It's not the demon that needs killing Buffy. It's the man


(no
. NO! Stay with me just stay with me- fight the monsters--)

-- what's to come
who you are?

Dream, darling
sleep darling

I'm just gonna go. Go. I'm just gonna--

- You haven't even begun


I fall, into blue. It looks like the ocean for a quick startling flash, and it's beautiful in it's crystalline coldness. My face burns with the heat of death and I feel my eyes being pushed back into my head. It's a quiet kill- my suicide- I don't scream as I dive like a bird with outstretched wings into the drowning deep. My voice remains silent.

I yearn to close my eyes. Things must be over. Everything goes black as his eyes and I see a raven arc across my vision, it's night soaked orbs seeking me out with bloody intent. I do scream then. I scream all the way into nothing.

Nothing


~~~

Soft rain spills across my face as I open my eyes. I'm lying on a street corner, in a gutter swollen with water. Touching my cheek gingerly, I graze the flesh with hesitant fingers.

Where am I?

It's a stupid question. I must be in Sunnydale. I must be home. But I can't remember. I can't remember how I came to be on this road. Did I fall during a bad fight? Is the demon waiting to finish me off
see the look of peace upon my face when it drinks my blood? Springing to my feet, I groan as the bones in my legs and arms creak with a sorrowful agony.

Sighing, I glance around and feel my ears roaring louder and louder as I do.

Sunnydale is a shell.

Burnt out and blackened, it's crumpled edges begging to come back into view. Tears blur my eyes as I whirl round and round, trying to see what happened, trying to see who did this. Stumbling as I walk, I rub my neck with shaking hands, wondering if this happened while I was asleep. I see no bodies. But everyone must have died. No one could survive a devastation of this magnitude


-- the acrid smell of ashes and smoke reacches my nose and I feel the light splattering of air mixed with foreign matter hit the skin of my face. Buildings lie like fallen angels underneath the rain, the charred wood drenched with soot and thick rivers of dirt. What in the fuck happened? I can't breathe and my stomach rolls with confusion. Breaking into a run, I ignore the shouting of my brittle muscles and look at the street signs.

There it is. Revello Drive. My home. Where my mother drew her last startled breath. Where my sister lives- where she sings boy band songs in the shower and brushes her long strands of hair every morning (always getting tons in the sink, which grosses me out to no end).

I stop, my feet skidding on the slick street. A grey sliver of foundation and bits of soggy grass lie where my house used to stand, and I fall to my knees, wondering who the hell did this- and where I can go to kill them. It's not going to be enough though. I have a life. I had a life. That someone obviously took while I was sleeping.

Flashes come to me. My head aches.

Willow. Xander.

Giles.

Oh God.

No.

~~~

No one is alive. I walk alone in this dead town. The sun blankets the sky now with pale orange light, and I glare balefully at it with malevolent eyes. The graveyard is a mess of stone and grass, of greedy dirt and decaying crypts. Bits of bone poke out of the earth, and I feel vomit sting the back of my throat as I wonder if pieces of my mother are trying to escape from the ground.

As I come across Spike's old crypt, tears abruptly make me dizzy. Laying a hand on the stone, I half expect it to vibrate, stir, show something happened here- but all I feel underneath the pads of my fingers is cold, cold rock, smoothed over with rain and drying in the heat of the sky. Shouldn't there have been a warning? I should have known this was going to happen. Why in the hell did I stay blacked out long enough for this
I realize right then that someone must have made sure I was kept in a deep, deep rest while this was going on. While everything I know was being destroyed. I swallow back the bile as I step into his crypt.

Spike is sitting on a chair. Asleep.

Spike. Spike is still here. I watch him closely to make sure I haven't just imagined him, and walk over with careful steps, laying a hand on his cool neck. He's real. Oh, God.

I'm on my back in a second, with a knife to my throat.

The blade feels strange against the skin of my neck, and I stare up at the vampire with his devil eyes. It feels good. He blinks, and then snarls with utter rage.

"Who in the fucking hell are you?" he growls and I almost laugh, but I'm afraid I'll start sobbing, and why would I do that around Spike? He'd just see it as a weakness, and I can't show weakness around him. My heart aches. Mommy
I want to see my mother more than anything in the world right then.

"Spike
" I say, trying to be calm. "It's Buffy. Of course. Who else would it be?"

He blinks again and then shakes his head slowly, as if he's drunk and can't see straight. "You're not Buffy," he enunciates. "Buffy's dead. Chit's been in the ground for four years."

I gulp back new spates of sobs and whisper, "No. I'm here. And would you get off of me? You're cutting off my air supply. I realize that's deemed un-important by undead such as yourself, but I do consider oxygen to be somewhat of a necessity."

He laughs suddenly, hysterically, deep from his throat and belly. And then I feel silver splashes across my cheeks and realize he's crying. "Well Slayer," he murmurs, and his hand is trembling as it cups my cheek. "So you're back. Wait till the lil bit hears about this."

"Spike!" I cry. He's scaring me. I don't know why- perhaps it's just that I've never seen that look in his eyes before. The knife slips a little and I feel the thin slide of blood down my neck, dripping onto the cream of my sweater. Pushing him with all the neglected strength in my contorted muscles, I fling his lithe body across to the raised coffin in the center, and stand, breath coming from my lungs in pants.

"Tell me
" I demand. "What is going on?"

He gleans me for a moment and then rocks back on his heels, his eyes glinting sharp like fire in the dim light. "You don't remember?"

"I told you I don't!" I yell shortly, terrified and yet strangely hopeful. Maybe nothing is as bad as I think. Maybe Giles and Willow and Dawnie and Xander are somewhere else. Maybe they escaped. Maybe they're safe.

"They all died," he tells me flatly. "Glory went down, but the veils between the worlds were open a little too long. Things started to crack and pretty soon, it was a bloody mess. 'Course the Dale went first."

My lips feel chapped as I bite them. "Willow, Xander?" My voice cracks and I wish I could lie down and sleep for a long, long time. I think I need to. Nothing makes sense anymore.

He glances at me briefly, and then continues staring into the middle distance. "All your Scoobies died, blondie. With you missing in action there was nothing they could really do. The little witches played with some spells, but it was too bloody late. Sunnydale was completely gutted, and the demons- they were big fuckers- moved on to LA. After that I have no fucking clue." He draws a cigarette from his pocket and lights it. I watch the smoke with curiously dry eyes and feel myself lean over and vomit into the corner of the crypt.

Hands hold my waist and I hear his whisper- so distant- in my ear. "I thought I'd gotten you out of my head, Slayer. But I remember everything about you, though I wish that I didn't." He smoothes his palm down my flesh and I feel the swell of nausea rise in my sore and torn throat. "The curve of your hip, that blasted vanilla you always wear, your right hook." His mouth rests in the place above my ear and I wish for blackout, for nothingness. I almost wish he would sink his fangs into my pulse and rip into me- because I deserve it. For not being here. "You made me feel like I was a man." With cruel fingers, he whirls me around and spits in my face. "But then you fucking threw yourself off that bloody tower and let everyone fall without you."

I'm shaking, and my teeth rattle against the blood stained walls of my mouth as I whisper brokenly, "I don't know what you're talking about. I didn't die. I just
I just got knocked out. I just went to sleep for a while. I didn't die."

He laughs and grabs my arms, biting into the flesh with razor sharp nails. "Are you fucking blind, sweetheart? You died. Four years ago. And your little gang of sickening buddies? They died three and a half years ago. You're the only one left- haven't you gotten that yet?"

The world shifts, and I think I see stars. Waxy black stars- that whirl before my eyes like ravens, with wings that could crush with the weight of their feathers. In a swirling rush, as air seeps across my face, I remember. The white and blue electricity. The tang of Dawnie's cheek against my lips. Glory. The blood on her lip. The dive into nothingness. The peace.

"Noooo
" I murmur, and my knees crumple.

"Oh yeah," Spike whispers maliciously.

"I'm the only one?" I ask, my eyes still dry and burning.

He cocks his head, and I hear the heavy fall of boots strike the floor of the crypt. "Not exactly, pet."

Glancing up, I see long brown hair and black leather.

"Dawn?"

Can you see her standing there,
Trying to find her anywhere
There are flowers in her hand, but she doesn't know why
Offered is advice to you, but all you do is fake it
Mother, she's only yours tonight, and she never
Cries, mother


Our Lady Peace- "Julia"


Red lips curve in a grin as Dawn- my little sister- stares down at me, lying on the stone floor with streaks of blood and vomit on my mouth and aching teeth.

"You're back," she bites, her hand running down Spike's arm caressingly. I feel my stomach bubble with cold sweat as she touches him and fear chokes my throat with an ever increasing grip. The dirt on the floor gets into my nose and between my lips and I hear myself cough, but it sounds so far away.

"Dawnie?" I whisper and I know my voice is lost. Everything is lost. And I'm afraid my friends won't ever be found. Oh,

God. "What's the matter, Slayer?" Spike smiles slow, his eyes like the ravens in my dreams- sharp, menacing and crueller than a drowning ocean.

"No," I say and I think it sounds firm, but it's weak. Dawn makes a mewling noise from deep within her, and I feel sick. It's not her, I tell myself. It can't be her. I didn't die for this person. No, no, no.

Dawn reaches down with her red tipped nails and touches my hair. "When did you rejoin the living, my big sister? It's been quite a while."

"*Stop* talking to me that way," I order, standing, hating the way she towers over me, in spiked heels and a long black leather coat. Oh, Dawnie. She looks beautiful, even though I don't know this being she has become. Spike. Burning rage fills my insides, turning them molten red. I'm going to kill him, this time.

I turn to him, and his platinum locks look tousled in the faint wash of lantern light. He holds up his hands and leans up against the wall, a vee of pale chest showing from the open neck of his shirt. "Relax, pet," he growls softly, his eyes devouring me in that way that always made me hot and furious at the same time. "I didn't turn the lil bit. Well
" he pauses, and licks his suddenly present fangs lovingly, "not all the way."

"What in the fuck does that mean?" I snarl and he appears startled for a moment, but then laughs.

"You never change, do ya blondie? I'd have thought a couple of years in the ground would've lightened you up a bit. Made you enjoy life a little bit more."

"Spike." I take a step towards him threateningly, but to my disconcertion, he doesn't even flinch. He just looks even more pleased.

"After you took the dive into sainthood," he begins, his long fingers curling around Dawn's waist, as she leans into him, her teeth nipping gently at his ear. I watch, disbelieving. Is this what I left her for? Left her so she could watch all our friends die? So Spike could turn her into a vampire? Giles, I think. I miss Giles. Blinking back tears, I nod for him to go on.

"Everyone was a little fucked up. Ol' Rupert took to the drink. He blamed himself for everything, of course. The little witch tried every spell in the book to get you back. Damn shame that she couldn't, of course," Spike smiles slowly, sarcastically. "Xander couldn't forget you- he was such a ponce- Anya couldn't deal so she split- on to bigger and better vengeance, I'd imagine."

"Xander and Anya
" I breathe and feel myself wither even more. "What about" I can't bring myself to give the creature in front of me the name of my sister. "What about her?"

He grins and slips a hand through Dawn's hair, feathering it and inhaling it's scent- which to me, is like rotten wildflowers, dust and blood.

When we were kids, Dawn used to love to play outside. She was usually prissy about things, but not about dirt. I'd always see her in the sandbox, or in the dead leaves of the Fall- her hair mussed and her face streaked with mud. When she would come inside, she's sometimes hug me if we weren't in a fight. I catch a faint wisp of what she smelled like then, now, but it's different. She never had the scent of the dead.

"No one could get her to talk about you," he informs me silkily. "Except me. And so it ended up that she was staying with me, and when the demons came- she was saved because of me, Slayer. I hid her and we escaped it. So she wanted a little taste afterward- she was frightened out of her bloody head. She's had a little bit of my blood- but it's nothing to go crazy over."

"She drank from you?" I spit out. "And you think it's nothing for me to go crazy over? Let me ask you something Spike- do you remember me at all?"

He lets go of Dawn so abruptly that she stumbles, and advances towards me, gripping my arms with his iron palms. My lungs sting as I rasp out my breathing, in such a rage that I can barely see anything but white hot anger.

"Oh yes, I remember, Slayer," he snaps, his nose only a breath away from mine. "I remember what a cowardly little thing you were. Sacrificing yourself for your sister- as if it was the most saintly thing to do. Let me tell you, pet, it was the most selfish act of foolishness I'd ever witnessed. You wanted it. You wanted to die- you wanted that peace- as I always knew you did. But you disguised it- you made a mockery out of it with your dive from that tower. You didn't even have the fucking guts to admit that you wanted to die, you wanted to give up
"

"That's not true," I bite out, struggling with his punishing grasp. "I had to save Dawn. I couldn't let her go."

"So you let yourself go?" he finishes for me, and pushes me away from him, so I fall, knocking my elbow against the wall. I hear it crack and the swelling pain swirls up my arm with malignant speed, swallowing my cells and sending pain molecules straight to my brain.

In a daze, my eyes blurry, I see Dawn's outline as she brushes my side with her boot. It's steel tip presses hard into the flesh of my hip. "Should we kill her again, lover?" she asks coldly.

Spike's laughter rings in my ears. "No, my lil pet. Let her be. She could be useful- you know you want to leave this place."

"Oh, right," she mumbles, as if she's drunk. "I'm so tired. And I'm hungry. Can I
"

"Of course," he whispers low and husky.

All I hear as I pass out into the land of darkness, are soft sucking noises and a vampire's purrs.

~~~

(Screamssssssssssss---)

Meet your new baby sister

I love you. I try not to
but I can't---

I can't do this without you.

I'm sorry. Sorry I couldn't kill him for you---


(Liar. Such a liar.)

No one's ever known me like you do


(More lies! You belong to the night
)

I'm never gonna be a normal
I want my life to

The slayer does not walk in this world

I walk


No


(Sleep, darling. You need the peace)

That look of peace. I just wonder
I just wonder if you'll like it as much as she---

What about me? I love you so much
and I tried- I killed

Is this really happening?


(Think of the peace
)

When you kiss me I wanna die

I'm weak

Buffy-

Buffy----

What's going on?

Buffy?

I don't
I don't

-- remember


"Angel!!!!!"

My face is soaked with cold sweat as I wake. Where am I? God, all these stupid questions I'll never have answered.

A match is lit, I see the flare against the night. I'm outside, lying in the dirt and grass, my eyes upturned to the stars and the cloak of moon. Spike smokes quietly beside me, leaning against a headstone, which I realize sickly- is my own.

I can just make out the edges of the letters
BSumm- saved--- a lot. I never thought of it like this. Never thought my passing would merit a gravestone- merit a funeral or grief. I just did what I had to do. Jesus, why didn't I think it through? Why was I so fucking impulsive?

"So you finally remembered the love of your life, huh Slayer?" Spike asks me, flicking some ash on to my arm. I feel the burn send sparks to my brain, and rub my aching elbow.

"Where is he?" I inquire, telling myself over and over to be calm. He's alive. He's always going to be there
it's Angel for crying out fucking loudof course he's aliv

"He's dead," Spike says blankly. "Died when the demons took over Los Angeles and set the fires. They got rid of the City of Angels right quick, let me tell ya, blondie. Gutted it and burned it into ash. The poufter tried to save everyone and they all got carted off
but he he got killed."

I can't hear him.

I'm not sure I hear anything.

My Angel. Angel.

I feel everything go dizzy and the colours of the night sky blend together, into a mess of red diamond stars and waxy trees and blackened bones. I feel as if I should scream but my throat is so dry I can't even speak. My head lolls back as I slip into oblivion.

I dream of my mother. And my sister. She used to read us the stories of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere when we were children- and we'd sit on her lap, each fighting for balance as she curled us under a fluffy blanket and read from books that smelled like must and old parchment.

(This isn't some fairytale
when I kiss you- you don't wake up and live happily ever after)

I'm going to hit the sky and it's going to break my neck. I think I need to go to Mars. I need to drift into the bowels of Hell.

I need to be where he is.

Angel.

(How's forever? Is forever good for you?)

No more forever. No more chances.

I dream of Africa, even though I've never been. Of the hot sun and the way the tigers and lions come out at night. I dream of the murky misty forests of Camelot- of the knights at the round table and the sword I used to kill Angel and strike him down to the deepest of Hells.

I sleep and dream Angel and turn over and throw up into the graveyard choked with bones. I lie next to my own grave and feel myself die for the thousandth time, without him.

(Maybe I don't want a friend


I didn't say- I was your's.)


I hear the raven, and the flap of wings, beating against my face and cheek. Willow's eyes glare at me with tired hazel hunger and I think I can flood my insides with forgetfulness and everything will be ok.

A finger brushes my forehead, and my eyelashes. "Are you ready to get out of Sunnydale, Slayer?"

"Yes, Spike," I answer coolly, blankly.

"I'm ready."

I feel just like I'm sinking
And I claw for solid ground
I'm pulled down by the undertow,
Never thought I could feel so low
In all the darkness, I feel like letting go


-Sarah M. "Full of Grace"


Angel is dead.

Angel is dead.

Angel is dead.

I keep repeating that to myself as we board the train in Sunnydale Station.

I still don't feel anything.

A vampire greets us as we step into the boxcar, and Spike swigs his whiskey, holding my little sister's hand as he mumbles a sour "bugger off" in the general direction of the demon. I follow, glancing around with disinterest at the wine coloured velvet used to decorate the seats and walls. No one looks at me twice- and the train is packed.

Spike dressed me in leather and blood red lipstick of Dawn's before we left, telling me too look threatening and pissed off. I gave him a blank look and he sighed, touching my face.

"He's gone, pet. Move on. He sure did after you took the plunge."

I felt like maybe I should have hit him for that. But I did nothing. I let him tug the clothes over my naked skin, felt his fingers mussing my sleek hair into a tousled style, tasted the slide of his tongue against my lower lip as he wet it to make the withered, old lipstick go on with greater ease.

"Was that an excuse?" I asked him, as his eyes stared into mine.

"What, blondie?" he snapped impatiently, as he slipped boots over my feet and wiped the streaks of vomit from my face. I puked a lot when I found out about Angel. I can still taste coppery blood on my tongue and occasionally, I swish the salvia around so the bitterness rises in my throat.

"To kiss me," I said, without any bite to my tone.

"When I kiss you, Slayer," he remarked dryly, "you'll know it. Come on then."

We sit on the train, and I watch the dryness of Sunnydale pass in a cracked blackened blur. I hope I never see it again. I imagine every building is dripping with my friends blood. I can see their eyes in the dirt and thick ashen soot, their hands in the broken beams of wood, their hair in the scruffy patches of wilted grass- hear their laughter and screams in every screech of the train's whistle.

Jesus.

I hate this life. I hate this town.

"Why does the train still run?" I ask Spike suddenly.

He looks up, from where he's lying with his head on Dawn's knee. She sleeps, her hair fanned around her in a silken chestnut haze. She's beautiful and she's just a thing now, and I don't know why I did it. Why I gave everything up- why I made the *choice* if *this* was how it was meant to end up. I wonder why I killed Angel all those years ago- why I didn't just send us and the world straight to Hell with a kiss and a strike of the sword?

"Why do you ask that?"

"Because," I point out, "the town's dead, but the train's still running. No sense is being made here."

He looks faintly uncomfortable and shrugs. "Vamps like it. It gets them places. Besides, Sunnydale's still Hellmouthy."

"Why would they need the Hellmouth?" I inquire. "You said the dimensions bleeded into each other anyway."

Spike cracks open on eye and glares at me. "Are you gonna be tired any time soon?" he snarls. "Cause I sure as fuck all need some rest."

"Fine. Sleep," I dismiss him. "It doesn't matter to me. Just answer me one question- is Dawnie a vampire?"

He grins, his white teeth glinting in the faint light of the compartment. "Yeah, my pet, she is. That's what you died for. So your little sis could become one of the creatures you kill. How does that feel?"

I stare at him mutely for a moment, the lights outside blurring and fading before my eyes. There's a slight roar in my ears and I can't really hear it- only just barely
but it sounds a little like Angel's voice. "I don't feel anything," I tell him truthfully. "Go to sleep. Where are we going, by the way?"

"To Europe, blondie," he says quietly. "And if you've got even one lick of sense left in that scrawny little body- you'll close your eyes and have a snooze as well."

I don't say anything and soon I can tell he's asleep. Turning to the window, I press my nose to the glass and breathe slowly, watching it fog like the sun's rays around my head and face. If I run with them all the way to Europe- will I be able to forget everyone I used to know? I keep wondering how they felt after I died
after I ran and ran and it was so loud and then so quiet? Who told Angel? Or did he know? I always imagined that the second the breath left my body, he'd instantly feel something wrong with the world. I think I'm being stupid, and watch the way the clouds drift with their sickly grey swirls.

He's dead.

I breathe out and glance at Spike's hand, resting on the slight swell of my sister's belly. I stare at it but it doesn't make sense, so I give up. A pinging sound makes me look at the window. Splashes of silvery rain spill over the glass, and I feel my insides convulse with remembered pain. If only I'd just stayed asleep that morning. If only I'd just curled up underneath those covers and kept whatever vestiges of innocence I had left. If only he'd never left. I wonder- if he had stayed- would I have jumped from that tower? Would I have had the courage to leave him behind?

The answer starts to scare me, so I go back to glancing at the rain. Its heavy and I can't see outside anymore. It occurs to me that the world as I know is gone. That I'm creating some kind of new life with Spike and Dawn. It makes me laugh
almost.

He's dead.

I bite down on my lips and see the splatter of bright red blood hit the black leather of my shirt. I don't feel anything.

My eyes close and I wish I could die. I need to sleep- for a long, long time.

(Shuuuuuuuuushhhhh)

Close your eyes

Buffy, you know you have to let me go


It stops now! No! it never stops---

Mom? Mom? Mommy? MOM?


(Sleeeeeeeeep
)

You have the power to do real good--- monster--- monster


The body?

So I told him that I loved him---

And I killed him---

And I kissed him---

He just held


- me


(Screamsssssssssssss)

Death is your --- gift

You got burned when Angel left--- left--- burned---

Do you love me?

Do you?

Love me?

The only way
Buffythe only wayis to kill Dawn

-- I kill my sister

When I look into the future---

-- all I see is you--

you think you know
what's to come

(lies
all lies nothing but death.

No one TOLD me
)

What you ARE


ARE

ARE!


Cold sweat pools over my flesh as I awaken with a start, opening my eyes to the darkness. Spike is sitting quietly, smoking with careless grace. Dawn sleeps evenly, I can hear her breathing- and it confuses me.

"She still holds on to some human traits," Spike informs me softly, as if he can see straight into my brain. "Breathing is something she does. It comforts her."

"How would *you* have the first clue of what comforts my sister?" I ask scathingly.

Spike laughs. "Well, pet, I've spent the last four years with her in my bed. While you were off enjoying your peaceful death. Tell me
what did you bloody well think would happen after you sacrificed yourself for the greater good? That things would go back to normal? That it would be a *fabulous * thing for everyone?"

"I saved Dawn," I say firmly. "That's what I wanted."

"You saved Dawn?" he repeats. "Dawn is a vampire, luv. Can you tell me how that translates into saving her?"

"Shut up!" I shout, my voice hoarse. "I did what I had to do. It was my job. You could never understand that Spike. You have absolutely no purpose on this planet. Except taking up precious space."

"So the fire returns, I see," he bites mockingly, lolling back on the seat with studied casualness.

With equal casualness, I take my nails and dig them as hard as I can into my bare arm. In a hot gush, the blood drips down onto the floor, between my boots. I still feel nothing, and stare at the blond vampire, shrugging. "If whoever brought me back wanted the old Buffy, I think they're in for a disappointment."

He eyes me with something akin to fascination and fear. "I wouldn't say a disappointment, pet."

Dawn stirs, sitting up with a slow grace. She takes the cigarette from her lover's hand and brings it to her lips, inhaling deeply. Smoke curls into the air, coming from her nostrils and mouth in little puffs.

"What time is it Spike?" she inquires in a flat voice, and he shrugs.

"I have no idea, lil one. Are you hungry? I brought something along for you."

"What?" she pouts, her nails raking against his chest.

"My arm of course," he says low, and she giggles, bending her head to smell the pale flesh, immediately vamping out. Her fangs sink deep into his skin, and trails of shiny blood flow past her lips. I feel vomit sting the back of my throat and turn my head away, staring out the window at the rain pounding outside.

"Can't look, Slayer?" Spike murmurs tauntingly. "This a little too much for you?"

"No," I reply, acting bored. "But I don't exactly have a burning need to watch it either."

Dawn's head jerks up and I find myself looking at her- wanting to throw up at the sight of her mouth- wide and red- and her eyes- so yellow like dying suns. She growls at me. "Are you going to shut up any time soon? You're distracting me."

"Dawn
" I murmur and for a moment she looks lost.

"No one calls me that anymore," she tells me, and her face shifts back into the girl's I once knew. "There is no Dawn."

"Isn't there?" I ask blankly. "Well then what in the fuck did I die for?"

Spike chuckles throatily. "You died because you wanted to, blondie. Why don't you just admit it? You haven't been the same since pretty boy left
"

I splutter with laughter. "You think *Riley* drove me to suicide?"

His eyes lock with mine and I feel dizzy. "No, you dumb chit. I think you know who I mean."

"Angelllll
" Dawn purrs, as my stomach goes hot and syrupy and I gag, leaning over and pressing a fierce hand to my midsection.

"That is *not* why I jumped," I scream, trying to breathe. Why can't I just cry? I need to cry. "I jumped because
because I needed to save my sister. Don't you get that? I had to. I couldn't let her die. Not then, and not ever."

"Why didn't you love Riley?" Spike inquires suddenly, crossing his arms. "I mean besides the fact that he was about as exciting as powdered milk?"

I glance at him, unwilling to respond. "I did
I did love Riley."

Dawn smiles and cuddles into Spike's chest. "She's lying, lover. Should we kill her? I'm still hungry."

"Shush lil bit," he scowls, and grabs my arm. "You didn't love Riley. You've been a zombie since Angel left. Actually- scratch that- you've been different ever since you sent the ol'bastard to Hell- where, might I add, he should have stayed. You've wanted to die ever since then, Slayer. Don't deny it. I saw it. I knew you'd be in love till it killed one of you."

"I don't want to talk about this anymore," I whisper, drawing my legs up underneath me.

He nods. "Fine. Run away. But I'd like to tell you something. He heard about your heroic turn, he mourned a little, then he got over it. He didn't let his life end, blondie. Think about that for a while."

I close him out, glancing out of the window and seeing ocean. Flat and grey, it stretches out into nowhere. Spike told me before we left that the demons build railways all over the world, and even connected the countries separated by oceans with them, because no demons wanted to be as close to the sun as you are when you fly. I think of what would happen if the tracks gave way and we plunged into the deep, deep ocean.

I think about a lot of things.

Angel is dead.

Angel is dead.

And I think I might be too.

The train station in London is cool and smells like blood. I watch the way Spike grips my sister's white hand as they make their way through the crowds with me following closely behind. I don't remember the last part of the ride over the ocean. I slept- I think- but it's blurry and I feel slightly disoriented. Every so often I glance up at the sky. It's flooded with a grey breeze, and the air is as smooth as chalk dust. I feel like I did that summer after I killed Angel. It was as if I wasn't myself anymore. My skin hurt so much sometimes I'd scream at night and wrench at my hair- begging to be let free, begging for someone to come and kill me. Preferably Angel.

I always wished he'd walk into the room- brandishing a sword and split me open at his feet. I wished that he'd take me in his arms and press a kiss to my forehead, whispering
We're even. Come to hell with me, killer. My love.

I wish that now, too, as I hurry after Spike and see his fingers tugging on the ends of Dawn's hair. I used to do that when we were children. I can't barely remember now. But I recall that Mom would yell at me for it and my sister would cry, because she always acted like such a little brat.

My stomach hurts. I think I need to sleep.

For a long,

long,

long,

long,

long time.

Would you bloody well hurry up, blondie?! Spike growls, jerking my arm with his punishing fingers. I look up in surprise. I hadn't realized he was so close.

I'm going as fast as I can, I mutter, and Dawnie's palm snakes up my neck.

Maybe we should just kill her, lover. I'm hungry. She's tiny but she could be a snack.

I stare at her, not comprehending anything she's saying. Is that my sister?

Is this my life?

God. Angel's dead and I don't understand anything anymore.

Would you *shut* up, Dawn? We're not killing her. Spike snarls, his arm going around my waist as he pulls me close and I smell dust and Sunnydale. I feel like I'm going to throw up and I curl my cheek into his chest, closing my eyes to the swirling silver of the sky.

His voice is low.
What is it, luv?

Nothing, I murmur and my eyelids open slowly as I gaze into the crowds. I feel like I'm dead.

Well you were for four years, Dawn drawls, giggling. Maybe it's just the after effects, huh sister dear?

I'm going to suffocate. Their arms and bodies and fangs are all around me and I have to fight (Fight!) if I'm going to survive. I'm the Slayer. Or am I? Who brought me back to this Hell? I take a step with my incapable feet- try and breathe and wish for tears. I should be crying. People cry when the love of their lives die. When all their friends and family die in one way or another.

But I can't. I was supposed to leave them behind. Angel was supposed to mourn *me* this time. Pulpy gasps leave my cracked lips as I bend over and Spike's palms are rough against my back.

Not now pet, he whispers desperately. We have to get to the hotel. Then you can scream as much as you like.

Not now?

When?

This is a nightmare. It has to be. I bite my lower lip between the sharpest of my teeth and thin trails of blood spill past my tongue. Is it wrong to like to make yourself bleed? My belly smolders with fury. Was I stupid to think that everything would work out if I could *just* save Dawnie? I remember kissing the softness of her cheek, feeling the heavy, thick fabric of her dress beneath my thumbs as I touched her that one last time. She was my sister. I couldn't let her die. I recall the way I ran- if I hadn't ran- I might not have done it- and I saw the white valley as I dived into it.

Too late


Much too late.

I never regretted it. Even when the pain ripped through my skin and the fire flailed the flesh from my body
I closed my eyes and thought of silence. I slipped into the void and it was the sweetest sleep I've ever had. It was as if I had taken a long, deep drink of a salty ocean. I was drifting, bone-less and nothing hurt, or stung, or breathed in me for such a long time.

What are you thinking about? Dawn asks me suddenly, curiously, her head tipped to the side. The ends of her hair brush my arms and I feel goosebumps rise up underneath my skin.

How I died, I snap. For you. Little good it did though, I see. Can I ask you something, Dawn? What in the fuck were you thinking, letting Spike drink you?

She appears startled and smiles, her lips shiny and red.
I wasn't thinking. I don't remember. The big vampires came and we hid. I was scared. Spike helped me, didn't you, lover? I was cold. I remember how blue my skin got. The sun was gone for days, you know. He wanted to help me. He just wanted to help me.

I hear her babble and stare at the platinum blond vampire dumbly for a moment.
Did you make Dawnie into a vampire to save her?

His eyes lock with mine and he laughs softly, yet with harsh intent.
No, I didn't, Slayer. As much as you'd like to believe that wouldn't you? I made her into a vampire because I wanted he breaks off and turns a corner. What does it matter anymore? We're here. This is the hotel. I know the guy who runs it. Morah demon. Nice fellow. If you can overlook the horns and the murderous nature.

Something flickers in my mind.

Morah demon.

(Nooo
it's not enough time) I shake my head.

Angel is dead.

Oh, God. I can't think anymore. Spike leads us into the hotel, which is large and looms over me like a raven with enveloping wings.

For a split second I feel an imaginary flutter of wings against my cheek. Jerking, I glance up but see nothing except black and red ceilings and walls. It's dark in here and Dawn purrs against Spike as he gets the keys from the monster at the front desk.

Our room is large, overlooking the street. A curtain is drawn between the two huge beds, and I glance at them with disinterest, thinking blankly of Angel's apartment with the covers as red as spilled blood. The coppery smell on them when I woke up that morning and had no idea everything had changed forever.

I was such a little fool.

Spinning, I go to the window, and press my nose to the glass. There are so many faces in the crowds. So many demons. Vampires look the most normal- with their only badges- milky pale skin and occasionally the horrific visage.

Xander.

I miss Xander.

I need to cry. Why can't I? My eyes feel as dry as a burning desert, and their flick shut as I remember the way Xander smelled- of musty laundry and
man's cologne as he used to call it with a wry shrug. I wonder how they died. How they screamed and fought and how their blood looked- flowing messily from wounds too deep for---

Slayer Spike says in my ear, his hand on my hip.
What? I ask huskily, my mother's face swimming before my glowing eyes. Joyce Summers. I think I hear windchimes. If I went back there- to that room- would the vomit stain still be marring the carpet? Would the sun still be hot on my face as I listened to the children playing and saw the crumpled paper towel out of the corner of my eye?

(Probably. It would probably wouldn't have made a difference. The exact word they used was 'probably'. I haven't told that to anyone--)

I loved her. Because she was my mother. But she's so blurry now.

Is she just a memory? The woman who birthed me?

No.

No.

Mommy.

Angel's dead. I need to sleep. Jesus. Please
help me.

Slayer Spike's voice sounds so far away.

What? I answer for the second time.

Are you all right? Dawn and I need to go get some things. Supplies. Will you be ok?

What do you care? I slur, the air whirling as I stumble to the bed, sitting down and pressing aching wrists to my temples.

I feel the quick, dry slide of his mouth against mine. It's too quick
but it feels goldenand he murmurs, I care, pet. Sleep, now.

I sink down onto the heaviness of the covers and feel my eyes drifting into oblivion.

I dream of the night.

Of patrolling. The taste of the dust when it would settle over my face after the kill. The sleekness of the wood in my hands- how I'd get splinters sometimes and Angel would pick them out for me, impatient with my grumbling- yet tender


(It'll only take a second. You have to get them out, or they'll get infected.

Are you sure this isn't some ploy to get to my blood?

Buffy


Ok. Fine. But for the love of
well, for the you not wanting to get your ass kicked, be careful and don't hurt me.

(slight smile) I won't. I'll never hurt you.)

Such a liar.

I dream of the library- of researching long into quiet nights with only the stench of the musty books to keep us company. I dream of my Willow- of my best friend. Perhaps we got a little less close as the years went on. So many things happened. Riley. Oz leaving. And I didn't care enough. I never took the time, or she never took the time. But she was always my Willow. My best friend. I dream of her and she's in a field of sparrows and flowers, her smile like the birds. I grin and wave and she---

She--- whispers,
Buffy you need to remember. Remember yourself.

I'm confused.
What do you mean, Will? I'm right here. Hey, I know me better than anyone.

She still sits, and strikes a match against a smooth stone, the flame shining from her eyes.
You'll never be able to let go if you don't make peace, she murmurs. With so many things. You've never remembered that girl, Buffy. The girl you once were.

Willow? I yearn for her to hug me, to say something and laugh with her laugh that sounded like a million melodies in one joyous song. But she is serious, and the match continues to burn.

Don't let anyone smother you, she says softly. Don't let anyone hide you away with lies. Remember who you are, Buffy Summers. Save everyone who needs saving.

I stare, as the field dissolves, and the sweet music of the sparrows gives way. I slip deeper into slumber and everything is dizzy.

I see nothing.

Angel's dead.

(Remmmmmmmmmmmember
)

The body's cold? No! No!

My Mom


You still my girl?

Still?

Always

My girl?

Keep your Slayer friends out of our---

Out---

--your friends

If there's a chance Riley's the guy


(No
no you forgot him)

I'll never forget


Never


-forget
evernot enoughtime

--- your heart beat

I have someone

-in my life


(worthless life. Liar. Liar. You forgot)

that I love

Is that her? No. That's not her.

she's gone.

Buffy? Buffy?


(hand outstretched. Acathla's hungry tonight
save him? There's no saving him. He's a killer. You're a killer.)

Hello, lover

Mommy?

We're not supposed to touch the body

the body?

Who else can claim that pathetic a social life?

Oz is gone.


(So is Angel. And no one cares. Screamsssssssssssssssss)

What are you? Who are you?

I'm the Slayer.

Look it up.

You think you know?

What you are?


Angelllllll! I scream as I wake up, and feel the joints in my bones throb.

Dawn mumbles in the next bed over. I see the flicker of a lighter and feel the burning splash of orange and black ash on my neck. Spike lies stretched out beside me and his hand strokes the wet hair from my face.

Can't stop having those nasty dreams, can you, Slayer?

Spike? I question shakily.

Yeah?

Why don't you ever call me by my name?

He sucks in unneccessary breath.
She's dead, blondie. That girl's gone. I bled for her a long time, and it's over. Just be content with who you are, now.

Who am I? I ask, not even sure.

I can tell he smiles. Sadly. Bending over me, he lets a swirl of hot sweet smoke punch between my lips. I choke a little. He's smoking a joint, I realize and inhale deeply, the drug weaving through my brain cells with mellowing force.

Don't ask me, blondie. I don't even know what in the fuck you died for. He kisses me, sort of, his mouth touches mine and it feels like fire- cool fire- from the marijuana and the sweat and the pain.

Neither do I, I laugh quietly, and turn over onto my belly, snuggling into the pillow. Life's a bitch.

And then you die, he finishes. Go back to sleep, pet.

I don't sleep. I lie awake for the rest of the night and wonder again if I would have leapt from that tower had Angel still been with me and loving me.

No.

I wouldn't have.

That hurts.

When the first lights of dawn streak the sky, I slide from the bed on aching legs and wobbling knees, walking over to the window, ready to draw the curtains for my two companions.

That's when I see a flash of cool blonde, far down on the street.

Darla? I breathe.

She keeps crying out your name
But her screams sound the same
How fickle fate can be


-
She Cries Your Name Beth Orton

The blonde disappears into the crowd, and I watch dumbly, staring into the overcast sky with its swirls of black and grey. I remember Angel staking his sire so long ago. When we had barely met, barely kissed- he killed the woman who made him
for me.

I bite my lip. A thin drip of red spills onto the carpet, running from my chin. I don't feel anything. If only I could cry- I think I'd feel better. Or something. I'm not sure anymore. I don't even remember what I died for. What I fought for all these years. Was it so Darla could walk the streets while Angel is ash somewhere? Ashes to the wind
blackened bones?

Something stings the back of my throat, and as an acrid taste floods my mouth, I realize its vomit. Stumbling, I make it to the bathroom and fall to my knees, emptying my insides into the basin. My elbow cracks against the side of the bathtub as I collapse, shaking, and it's just a dull ache compared to the inferno in my brain. I can't see. Little pinpricks of light send sparks down to my belly and I feel myself tremble with rage.

Angel is dead.

I'm dead.

Everyone is gone. How do they expect me to live in this world?

I feel a hand stroking my hair.

You shouldn't cry over the bastard, Slayer, Spike's gruff voice intones as he slips down beside me and hands me a wet towel for my face. Dragging my tongue over my lips, I realize they are streaked with blood.

I'm not crying, I whisper, and wipe my cheeks with the warm material. I'm so tired.

You're puking, he reminds me. That's bad enough. For all of us, I might add.

Oh I'm so sorry, I bite caustically. I'll try and cut back on the throwing up so you don't have to deal with it.

He laughs and leans into me slightly. I let him.
Sounds more like the girl I used to know.

You said I wasn't that girl anymore, I murmur, and my head lolls back as I stare at the ceiling. Water that was squeezed from the washcloth trickles over the sides of my face and into my ears. Maybe I don't want to be her. I don't even remember who she was.

She was a stuck up snob, Spike informs me. A right bitch with an attitude.

But you loved her, I whisper dully.

He laughs again, harshly.
Yeah, I did, Slayer. But she died, and that's over with. Now I *love* her little sister.

I lock eyes with him and get up, my knees wobbling as I walk.
I should kill you for that.

Yeah, he agrees roughly and grabs my hand, crushing my wrist with his fingers. But you aren't going to. Why not?

I gaze down at him blankly.
Maybe I just pity you.

My wrist almost snaps as he presses down on the bone, but I make no sound. It doesn't hurt. I don't feel anything. That should worry me, but I have more important things to think about.
Don't you ever pity me, pet. I survived those four years- none of your little Scooby gang did. Think about that.

I can't think about that, I mutter. If I do- I might really lose it, Spike. Do you want that?

Maybe I want you to lose it with me, he grinds out, bringing my palm to his lips. The cool kiss and the touch of his tongue startles me.

Jerking my hand away, I shake my head. I can't answer him. I once said it would never be him. Never. That's a big word.

(I'm never gonna change. I *can't* change. I want my life---
)

My belly hurts. Everything stings. God, I can't think. What did I see on the street? And then I remember.

I think Darla's alive, I say apathetically and he hesitates before asking;

Why do you think that? She's dust, blondie.

I saw her this morning on the street.

He glances at me and shrugs.
She's dead. You were hallucinating.

I wasn't, I deny staunchly.

He sighs and stands, unbuttoning his shirt.
I'm gonna take a shower now, Slayer. Unless you want to join me, you'd better get out.

As a sliver of his pale chest is revealed, I stand there and breathe. Wouldn't it be so easy to forget? Wouldn't it be so easy to step forward and go into the burning frostiness of his embrace? I can imagine him sliding inside me. I wonder if he'd make it all go away. His hands still on the buttons as he gazes at me blankly.

Buffy?

Who is that? Buffy
I haven't heard her name for so long. I remember the way Angel used to say it- it was never just a name. He made Buffy so much more than that. It was a lament- a groan, a sigh, a tortured rasp, a tender whisper- never simple.

Maybe that's why when he left- everything got so quiet.

I stare at Spike, and know that he could make things loud. He'd drown out the silence. Tipping my head back, I watch the way the ceiling shimmers, and think I see the sky- black as pitch and just as thick and murky. My throat feels swollen and I swallow, everything rolling into oblivion. Angel


I imagine I hear the wind chimes that jangled in the breeze the day my Mother died and I imagine I hear Angel saying my name-
Buffy Buffy and then everything shifts as Spike shouts, and there's a crack as my face hits the floor. Blood splatters onto the tiles and everything is dizzy as he carries me into the bedroom and lays me down gently.

Spike? I grab his shirt and pull him close.

Yeah? he asks huskily.

I woke up in a gutter, you know.

He flinches and strokes my hair.
I didn't know that, pet.

I did and I saw Darla. I know I did. We have to find her. Maybe she's she could be up to something bad.

Everyone's up to something bad, he laughs harshly. C'mon, Slayer. Get with it. This is a world run by demons. Chaos reigns.

But shouldn't I try and stop it? I argue, and my head feels clearer. I am still the Slayer. Whoever brought me back must have wanted something.

I think that if I just take care of Darla- maybe they'll let me die again. Then I can be back in the vacuum of nothingness where I've spent the last four years. Trapped in the blurring nowhere. For a moment I picture Angel waiting for me there and smile.

Spike looks surprised and grins.
What are you thinkin' about, blondie? That's the first time you've cracked a smile since you've been back.

I blink.
I wasn't thinking about anything.

I can feel his breath on my face as he leans close. It smells coppery- and I wonder if he's been feeding.
You were thinking about my bloody sire, weren't you?

No, I deny quietly, and he shakes his head.

You have to forget about the bugger, Slayer. As I told you, he mourned you for a bit, but he soon closed that book and fucking well moved on. As you should.

I have moved on, I say, weary. I moved on a long time ago. I forgot. I made a new life.

(liar. Liar. LIAR)

He appears doubtful and I want to scream. My eyes are dry- and my inside yawn with emptiness.
Let me sleep. Where's Dawn?

Out getting something to eat, he says casually, and begins to tuck a blanket around my trembling legs. Get some rest, blondie. We're all going tonight.

Where? I murmur as my eyes begin to close.

I feel the kiss brush my brow, and his hand smoothes my cheek.
Doing some recon, luv. We need to see who's in town besides us.

I barely hear him as the blackness claims me and I fall headlong into the raven's eyes, it's feathers tickling my hair as I fly.

Willow sits in the grass of the field, sparrows landing on her shoulders. She sings sweetly, her fingers caressing their wings as she feeds them tiny seeds. Flowers adorn the brightness of her hair and I stare, transfixed at the beauty of the sight.

Hello Buffy, she says liltingly. How are you?

A little confused, I whisper, and take a step closer to her. I realize she's wearing the purple gown my sister wore on that night- but don't see any blood marring the heavy fabric. What are you doing here?

This is your head, she laughs. You tell me.

No, I say firmly. You're here to tell me. Not the other way around.

She smiles sadly.
You've forgotten.

Forgotten what? I mutter.

Everything. Everything there is to remember, you've forgotten. Your past, your future- you've tried to make yourself into someone you're not, Buffy.

What do you mean? I ask, frustrated. I pick a flower, and it withers in my hand, turning black as ashes and soot. I drop it, watching the dust spin in the air and coat my skin. I don't understand, Will. What do I need to remember?

You've forgotten, she repeats. You promised you'd never forget, and you did. But it's not just that, Buffy. You haven't been the same in a long time, and you need to figure out what's missing. You need to save everyone. A lot of people need saving.

Who? I cry. The world is a demon paradise, Will! Do you want me to save them? Do some demon therapy?

She grins, and she looks so much like my old friend at that moment I moan with pain and fall to my knees amongst the fragrant blooms, their perfume flooding my nose.
I miss you, Will.

I know, she says softly. But you need to look closer, Buffy. You're not seeing everything. You need to look closer.

I don't understand, I murmur, and lay back, the grass and reeds enfolding me in their embrace. I just need to sleep. For a long time.

Her voice is ominous.
Sleep. You'll need it for what's to come.

(Sleep
sleep and dream, darling)

Ok, killer--- if that's the way you want it- you're on your---

-- own

Death is your gift

It has to have the blood

It's Summers blood----

-- just like

- Mine

They told me to lose my soul


--- in you

(You're scared so powerfultoo much for you)

the kid who got his finger stuck in the duck


- dyke. It's another word for dam

-- damned--

because I wanted to

become

I saw you. And I loved---

Hello, lover

The part at the end of the night where we say goodnight


Goodbye


(You never said Goodbye. Never
ever. Kill him? No. Always with you)

love is forever

is there a problem, Ma'am?

We're not supposed to touch


- the body?

No, my Mom!

Ok, what do I want?

All I want is you

You even look pretty when you go to sleep


(You could never sleep without him---)

What are you afraid of? Me? Us?

It's my Mom-

- she's not--- not breathing


the body's cold?

NO!

Mommy


You can't do this alone

You don't have to do this alone

How's forever?

I'm never gonna- change----- is this really

-- happening?

(You are alone)

You think you know?

What you ARE?

I love you

(Death is your gift
)

Close your eyes


I wake up to the familiar cold sweat bubbling down my neck, soaking my T-shirt. I feel a hand on my arm. It's cool and soft.

Dawnie? I whisper.

You were crying out in your sleep. Her voice is strange, lost. Spike's not here. He went to get us weapons.

Weapons? For what? I ask, sitting up, and rubbing my forehead.

Just for protection. Lots of bad people out there. Bad bad people. Spike told me, she mumbles, and I grip her wrist, turning her towards me.

Dawnie do you remember anything about our life before?

She stares at me with hollow eyes. I remember the girl she once was- who cut her wrists bloody, who wrote a page every night in her glitter covered journal. Who fell to the floor and screamed when I told her our Mom was gone. I remember her and feel myself wanting to weep and rage, but I can't.

Yes, she murmurs in a sing-song tone. You were so pretty. You were my big sister. We fought and Mom always scolded us. Those memories are so weird, though they're not real. Spike gave me something real. He gave me a gift.

No I moan, holding her shoulders. I was supposed to be giving you the gift, Dawn! I gave up everything for you don't you understand that?

She gazes at me and then twists in my grasp, her hands jerking nervously.
I don't remember. I'm telling you I don't remember!

Why did you drink Spike's blood? I ask her, trying to stay calm.

She blinks and her fall of silken hair covers her face.
I don't know. I wanted him. I loved him. I love Spike. He was so nice to me. Even when Angel came and I wanted to go with him- Spike- Spike- he made me see that I shouldn't go anywhere

I interrupt her, my voice deadly cold.
Angel came to Sunnydale?

She looks scared and babbles,
Oh no I wasn't supposed to talk about him. I shouldn't be talking about himSpike, he told me not to. Oh no he's going to be mad at me

Light starts to dawn, and I remember the way the horizon shone when I jumped and I lay my hands firmly on her face, cupping her cheeks.
Don't move from this room. I'll be back. I press a kiss to her forehead. I love you, Dawnie. Stay here.

She looks so alone as I leave, but I know now. I have to talk to Spike.

He knows more than he's telling me.

London closes in around me as I walk. Stale and dust soaked air gets into my lungs and I cough slightly, my Slayer senses on overdrive from all the demons strolling the streets. The sky is grey and swirls of silvery black clouds roll in from the east. It's not going to be a pretty day. I would guess that it hasn't been beautiful in this city for a while.

I smell the air. The scent of Spike is getting more and more pungent, and I move in and out of the crowds, ducking into a pub that reeks of him. I glance up at the name-
The Pretty Penny and gaze around the room, trying not to choke on the smoke that crawls up my throat.

Angel is dead.

No.

I won't think about that. I won't think about anything but the answers I need. My eyes search the large space, until I catch a flash of platinum and black leather, and make a silent path towards the table where Spike sits
with Darla? Her lips are curved into a moue of displeasure at whatever he's telling her and I feel the sinuous burn of rage slide into my belly.

He's going to pay for this.

Laying a cold hand on Spike's shoulder, I chirp brightly,
Hope I'm not interrupting a family gathering here.

I feel his surprise, shooting down his spine. Darla's cat eyes look into mine and she smiles slowly.
Hello Buffy.

Hello Darla, I mock, sitting down and facing the two blond vampires with a cold glare. Spike- is there anything you want to tell me? Besides the fact that the whole, Darla's dust, blondie spiel is out the window.

He looks sick, and bows his head slightly.
I was going to tell you, Slayer.

Were you? I ask, and blink at him. I almost kissed that lying mouth. I feel my tongue recoil and my anger flash bright. Or were you just going to keep lying to me, you bastard?

No, I wasn't. I was going to tell you everything. I came here so we could meet up with Darla after he breaks off and I immediately put it together in my head.

After you made me into a vampire? What did you think- you and I and Dawn were going to be one big happy family?

His lips twist and he says furiously,
I saw my chance with you and I took it, Slayer. Don't make it seem like I'm the big bad here. I'm not. There's tons of fucking weird shit going down, and I'm hardly a part of it.

Darla watches us closely, but with a strange detachment. She looks like winter and I think if I touched her my fingers would run with blue. How did Angel ever lie between those cold thighs? Her lips are pink, shiny and she looks beautiful. Untouched.

What haven't you told her, Spike? she inquires, and her voice is tinged with authority. I realize that they really are family. She's his Elder- in the Order of Aurelis and it scares me momentarily. They have lived and loved and fought for centuries. Who am I then? Compared to them?

He winces.
Not a lot. I mean I haven't told her a lot.

I break in.
Like Angel being in Sunnydale after I died. You wouldn't let him take Dawnie. Even though you *know* that's exactly who I would have wanted her to be with.

He laughs low.
You were *dead* pet. Do you think anyone gave a fuck what you wanted?

Angel obviously did. My voice gets soft. He knew how much Dawn meant to me. He didn't turn her into a vampire, Spike. Not like you.

Of course, he snarls, startling me. Not like me. Angel's such a bloody saint. Get over it, Slayer. He sure as all hell got over you. He's dead. He's fucking dead, and you're going to have to live with that for the rest of your pathetic little life. He died not loving you.

I feel my stomach bubbling with cold sweat and thick hot blood. Syrupy liquid floods my mouth and I swallow, coughing, wanting to fall into the raven's eyes that I see every night and dream. I picture Willow with her sparrows and the flowers in her hair. I see Angel with his bedroom eyes and slight smile. I'm shaking, but I can't feel it. I'm going to pass out.

Actually that's not true, Darla says quietly. About Angel getting over her.

What? Spike growls, warningly. Darla looks undaunted. She pushes back her silken rainfall of white blonde hair and reaches out to touch my hand. I jerk away, but not in time to avoid the frosty brush of her fingertips. My skin burns and I rub it, staring at her with malevolent, dead eyes.

What do you mean?

She shrugs, sipping the cup of blood I suddenly notice in front of her. It pearls on her lips, and I see her as if through a seaweedy dream, her mouth full of glowing teeth and dripping red. Blinking, I wish I could cry. I need to get out of this messy brain I've fallen into. Would Angel take me away if I screamed for him?

God, I can't do this.

Please
someone help me.

Darla's whispers sound like the tolls of a bell in my ears.
He never got over you, Buffy. Trust me, he never did. Spike's a little liar, as he always has been. He just wants to get into your pants, love. Never mind him. Do you know who brought you back?

I stare at her blankly.

Angel is dead.

Stop it.

I have no idea, I respond, my voice cracking. I try and gulp down the stale air around me but it gets stuck between my teeth and I feel myself choke. It must have been the Powers that Be- wherever the Hell they are. Why are you back? Angel staked you so long ago. And it seems like you should have stayed all dead. I mean, that's only fair, right?

Long story, she smiles sadly. But I have a soul now. It comes with a conscience, one that I wish I could ignore. Her eyes are haunted windows to that cursed soul, and I gaze into them, watching her wet her lips with coppery saliva. Buffy, I think you need our help. And I think we could use your help.

With what? I remember Willow's words

You have to look closer, Buffy. You have to save those who need saving.

She gazes at me seriously.
Spike hasn't told you what's happened to the world, has he?

I don't know, I shoot him a glare. I don't know if what he's told me is true. I accepted it when he told me but now I guess there'll be some second guessing going on.

Her mouth curves in a sensual smile.
I'm glad you still have that spunk. I can tell she doesn't like me. But she respects me. Just barely. You're going to need it.

(You're going to need it. For what's to come)

Tell me.

Never one to mince words, she smiles again. It's not a pleasant smile. But she's beautiful. Like an ice sculpture, milky pale and exquisitely carved. How could my Angel have loved her? How could he have

She speaks again, quietly.
The demons didn't simply kill all the humans, she begins. In actual fact, they only killed a small percentage of the population. The rest they put in very large camps- all over the world.

I feel vomit rise in my throat and whisper,
Camps? What are they, Hitler wannabes?

That's not far off, Spike interjects with a grin, but he falls silent again as I slice him with my glare.

Sort of, Darla hesitates, looking up, past my shoulder. Her lips fall into a very gentle, very tender smile. Hello, darling.

I don't know. Not right then. I begin to turn, and then my blood boils and Spike lays a hand on my arm and it's cold and I think---

I think---

Dark eyes meet mine and I see my past and my future and it all collides like I did with the white noise four years ago.

Buffy? He utters and it's barely a whisper, hardly even a breath- and oh god- it's him- it's *him*

it's always been him and I can't think, can't move and he's beautiful and alive- he's ALIVE

and then all I see, all I hear, all I taste is blackness as I slam through the raven's eyes and hit the floor.

Well I never claimed to understand what happens after dark
But my fingers catch sparks at the thought
Of touching you
When you're wounded
Let me break it down, til I force the issue
We miss your face
And you know
I wish you could come back
Down


Wounded - Third Eye Blind

I open my eyes to darkness. My head hurts and so does my nose. I feel something warm and wet slide across my forehead and I shift, my bones creaking. Where in the hell am I? Oh God, these questions. So stupid. What does it matter where I am? I suspect its Hell wherever I turn.

That's when I remember. Angel. His eyes. It must have been a dream.

Spike? I ask into the blackness and hear an indrawn breath.

No.

Oh,

God.

I know that voice. I know everything about it. I know how it says my name.

Never simple.

I stay lying down, and now can make out faint outlines. I'm in a hotel room, but it's not the one I've been sharing with Spike and Dawnie.

Angel? I whisper, and wait for the laugh- the 'shut up, blondie, your boyfriend's dead

But all I hear is his soft answer,
Yeah?

You're alive. It comes out like an accusation.

So are you, he reminds me, and I sit up finally, not quite ready to look at him. I can tell he's sitting with his back against the headboard, and his hand rests near my thigh, holding a washcloth, which is glistening with droplets of water. Warm trickles of liquid drip down my spine, running over my flesh like his fingers did the night they took my virginity and innocence and life all at once.

Spike told me you were dead, I murmur, feeling dizzy.

He sighs and I hear the tinge of rage in his voice before it goes blank.
He thought I was, I suppose. I disappeared underground after they took everyone. I'm sure he assumed I was dead.

I nod and look up, the breath leaving my belly and lungs as I do. He's beautiful. Was he always so beautiful? He stares into my eyes, and I drown in that moment, remembering him and remembering us and seeing his dark as night gaze, his skin as smooth as chalk dust and the palest fire- and I whisper,
Everyone's dead, you know. All my friends.

He takes my hand, pressing it into his palm and draws me forward. I curve closely into his side and he wipes my cheeks and blood stained lips and nose with the sopping cloth once more.
That may not be the case, he finally says.

What? I jerk, and bang my elbow against the wall in my haste to turn and look at him. His eyes could never lie to me. But he restrains me;

Shush, love. Just be still for a moment. I don't want your nose to swell up he pauses and then presses something icy cold to my face. I realize I must have hit the floor pretty hard when I saw the living dead before my eyes. Spike didn't tell you everything, obviously. About the camps, and about Willow and Giles and everyone.

Well then what really happened? I mumble.

After you he breaks off. After the fight, Willow came and told me. I started coming down to Sunnydale every weekend to help with the Slaying and everything. The Council wouldn't let Faith out of jail so there was no Slayer. It was pretty messy. Especially when the veils between the world weakened even more and demons came pouring out of the dimensions. I wasn't in Sunnydale when they arrived. I hear the bleakness in his tone and know right then that he blames himself. But I came during the middle. Everyone was gone. Except Spike. I asked him where Dawn was, and he told me he hid her and he didn't want me near her. I tried to find her, but I just couldn't. I went back to LA and it was rubble. They had taken everyone- and the fires were starting. Somehow I got underground and found my way here.

Are you saying that my friends might be alive? I ask, unwilling to let myself hope. They're dead. They must be dead. Spike said so. I can't think.

(You have to look closer Buffy. You have to save those who need saving.)

They might be, he hesitates. But in those camps a person might as well be dead, Buffy. His voice cracks. I I haven't said your name in four years. Not since Willow told me you were dead.

My breath hitches as I sit up and feel the pain shoot through my throbbing facial muscles.
Spike said some other things.

His thumb brushes my cheek.
What did he tell you?

I change my mind and ask instead,
Are you and Darla together? I mean, it's totally fine if you are. Of course. Why wouldn't it be?

Why indeed? he echoes, sounding confused.

Are you? I mutter, afraid of the answer, afraid of everything. Is he really alive? If I touch him, will he be nothing but ash and bone? Will he dissolve and hit into the atmosphere like so much dust to the wind?

His hand grips my arm suddenly, and it's Angel and it's real and I can't think of anything but him suddenly. I thought he was dead, and now he's here. What do I do? I think that this is worse than when he came back from Hell the first time. Even then I had hope. Now I'm not so sure there is anything left of us, but memories of kisses sweet and burning rage.

Buffy. He whispers the name and it's good. So good to hear him say my name. I thought the word had lost all meaning. The Buhhh still sounds alien to my ears. You were dead. I thought I had lost you forever, this time. I'm not with Darla. But we we're connected. She's still my Sire. And she works with me. We work together. You have to understand a lot has changed.

I remember me saying something along those lines to him when he came back from Hell. Yeah, Angel
I'm doing so much better in school and gosh, I'm dating someone now! Wanna know all about him?

I feel sick and realize what he must have felt then. My belly boils with blood and sweat and all the lives I've saved and lost over the years and I nod.
A lot's changed, I repeat dutifully.

He shakes his head, and cups my face.
A lot's changed. But I still love you. That will never change. I told you that- long ago. Do you remember?

I remember the flare of the fire and the way it danced across his skin.
Nothing can change it, I whisper, not even death.

Yes, his mouth touches my forehead, and he lowers me back amongst the pillows. Sleep, ok? I have to go talk to everyone. Figure out what we're going to do.

Angel? I murmur, and he leans in close, so my lips are against his ear.

Yes?

You know I never stopped loving you?

He nods, and I think I feel the drip of salty tears on my neck, but know I must have imagined it.

I know. Sleep now. Dream.

This is all a dream, I mumble thickly, and everything blurs as I slip beneath the waves and into the raven's wings, it's feathers enveloping me in their black embrace.

I'm sitting in Xander's basement, the smell of musty laundry filling my nostrils as I wrinkle them and watch him walk into the room.

Hey, you ever heard of detergent? I grin and he shakes his head.

So you're back, Buff. I admit, I was wondering when you'd return to the land of the living.

What can I say? I giggle. I missed you, Xand.

He waggles a finger at me.
No need to flirt me with me, ya little slut. I know what you're after.

And that would be? Information, of course. Which I'm surprised you would come to me for, but that's fine. I am a well stocked source of info when it comes right down to it.

A regular walking Encyclopedia, I murmur dryly and he looks offended.

We can't all be Giles. Now- what am I doing in your head?

I don't know, I shake my head sadly, glancing around. Didn't you move into an apartment?

He laughs.
I guess the image of this place is indelibly painted in your brain cells. Wait he pauses and then shouts excitedly, I'm having a thought! Willow Willow's doing this. She can make me dream of you. His eyes glow for a startling second. Not that I don't usually. You're a hard girl to forget, Buff.

My stomach knots and I swallow the wash of pain, sighing,
I'm sorry, Xand.

You just need to remember Buffy, he says. Remember who you were, and we'll all come out of this in one piece. Sort of. Some of us may be missing pieces, but basically, we'll all be there.

I don't get it! I mutter, frustrated. Remember what?

You forgot yourself, he tells me. You forgot your dreams. You forgot what made you, you. You forgot what you love. You died so long ago. Before Dawn. You died with that sword and that Hell. Do you remember?


I see Acathla's eyes and shiver.
I think I do.

He grins wryly.
I don't like it. But he's the one. You tried to hide it. You tried to hide yourself, your darkness. You have to find it again, Buff. Then you can save who needs saving.

I miss you, Xander, I say quietly.

He nods.
I know. I love you. Be strong, Buff. Then we can get out of this.

The room begins to dissolve.
Tell Giles I'm thinking of him.

I can't see him anymore. I can't see anything. It all starts to scream, then whisper in a building rush that blinds and deafens me with its ferocity.

(Shuuuuuuuuush)

Close your eyes

I don't have time for you

Noooooo


There's not enough---

How am I supposed to---

With my life?

-- go on?

So I told him that I loved him

Kissed him

Killed him

I wanted to know what you felt--- with

Angel

Angel?

Buffy?

What's

Happening--- close your eyes


(Kill him
forget him it doesn't help. It is never forgotten. Nothing is ever forgotten)

Something happened to Mom

Mommy?

It's not her

It has to have the blood

The only way---

Is to kill---

Dawn
I kill my sister. In that moment, I wanted it---

Because I want you so badly


(Remember) I killed you and it didn't help

What about me?

I've loved exactly one person

A lot has changed

Darla's
we're connected

I still love you


(Sleeeeeeeep, darling. Dream of the past
)

~~~

I see misty forests and glens where stags wait to be hunted. I see ravens bending and bowing as they curve, flying underneath the cloak of night. I dream of Camelot, where everything is rotten to the core, but sweet to the touch. Riley comes to me with his insistent embrace and I remember how lying next to him made me feel dead and safe and blank and I remember the emptiness of his hollow kisses and the way I wanted to love him


-- oh, how I wanted to!

But I never could and he never forgave me for that.

I suppose I didn't need him to. I see myself, flying to the helicopter on legs too strong to be a girl's, with hands too small to hang on to a boy- and watch it soar into the sky for the thousandth time, carrying him away. I see myself- and the relief- and how I tried to hide it, but it flooded my insides like poison and I walked home, ready to throw up to get that feeling away.

I dream of when Angel left.

And I was numb.

I was numb. For years. I didn't feel anything. There was no roar, no burn, no fire and no consequence.

There was only silence.

~~~

I wake up and think for a moment that I'm sweating, but realize Angel is beside me again, with the washcloth to my face, trickling sweet warm water over my wounds. It drips into my ears and they tickle, causing me to smile slightly.

Angel? I ask.

Yes?

Did you get over me?

He sort of breathes in and then sighs.
How could I get over you? he inquires softly. You're not only you, Buffy. You're my heart.

Suddenly I feel the tears.

They swell in my throat and sting my eyes, and I turn over, crawling up Angel's body to his chest. I bury my face in his neck, and feel the cool skin against my hot cheeks. His hands hold me tight, and finally I cry.

We lie there for a long time, for hours, and he murmurs things only I would understand, and his arms cradle and rock me, and I sob out all the terror I've felt since I've been back.

There's a knock on the door in the dawning hours of the morning. Angel presses a kiss to my eyelashes and then calls,
Yes?

It opens, and I feel Spike as soon as he enters. His voice is riddled with anger, with fury, but all he says is,
It's time for the meeting. You bring the Slayer.

We walk. I concentrate on breathing, watching the way the watery lanterns flicker along the hall, casting strange shadows over Angel and Spike's faces. Neither of them are looking at me. Am I still such a ghost to them? Do I really walk alone as the first Slayer told me? Maybe. I'm not sure, and I never was. Even with all my friends, with Dawnie
with Riley I always felt somehow alone.

After he left, that is.

When he was with me I was part of something. Stupid, wasn't it? To believe


I cough as the dust is disturbed from the floor, billowing around is like a sickly grey sheet.

What month is it? I ask the two vampires who both glance at me with startled expressions, as if they'd forgotten I was there.

November, luv, Spike finally responds, and my eyes lock with his. Christmas is comin' with a vengeance.

There won't be a Christmas this year, Angel breaks in wearily. Just like there hasn't been any other year since they took over. Almost as an afterthought, he adds; And Spike shut up.

The blond flushes with a slightly laconic anger as he gazes at his Grandsire.
It's so good to have you back, Peaches. He scratches his temple. Darla tells me you've lost your manly swagger since the chit took that flying leap I thought it was a bloody shame. Great though that now that she's back and you can give her a good fuck you've got your---

I watch with detached interest as Angel grabs him by the collar and slams him up against the wall. A red, waxy candle falls and splatters across the floor. Some of the burning substance splashes against my legs, looking like blood and burning like it too. I don't make a noise- what would be the use? I still don't feel much. The tears didn't change that.

If I hear one more word from you, boy, Angel snarls, his lips drawn back against his teeth, what's left of you will fit into an ashtray. Do I make myself clear?

Spike laughs, and his eyes seek mine over Angel's shoulder.
Do you hear that, blondie? Your boyfriend is back. And in such a bad way. Makes you want to fall into his arms, doesn't it? He pauses. You do realize you burned her legs with that little stunt, don't you?

Angel drops him and turns, glancing down to where the candle pools in a mass of hardening wax around my feet. His palms caress my shoulders absently.
I'm sorry, Buffy. Does it hurt badly?

I slide away from his touch.
No. Can we just get to the meeting?

He glances at me with some surprise, and then the cold light of anger dawns. I see the change, and square my shoulders.

Of course, he says coolly. It's this way.

Spike has a small smirk playing on his lips as we resume walking, but I don't feel like laughing. I feel like screaming. Am I really so alone in this world? I can never be who I was before. The girl who soared into the white morning, to save her little sister. Was the first Slayer right? Would I never know anything but the kill? The kill of the enemy- the kill of my lover- the kill of myself?

A door is set deep into the wall, and Angel opens it with his long, slim fingers. I watch him helplessly. The thrum in my blood never ceases. I feel his every movement as acutely as if they were my own. His hand brushes my back as lightly as the raven's wing, leading me inside to a sea of faces, none of which I recognize.

A woman comes forward. Her hair is long, black and drawn into a thick braid which spills over one shoulder. She assesses me with cool blue eyes, smiling slightly.
Ms. Summers I'm pleased to meet you.

Thank you, I say, ignoring my own state of bewilderment. But it's just plain Buffy. I don't go for the formalities.

She doesn't look surprised.
I thought so. What does she mean by that? I'm Bronwen Henley. Please call me simply Bronwen. I work for Angel.

Well congratulations, I answer blankly. Is anyone going to explain to me what work you do? What's going on? Who the bad guys are?

Bronwen smiles.
You're just like I've read about. She notices my confusion. You've become somewhat of a heroine to us, Buffy. What you did for your sister- the Key- was truly admirable. I, of course, have studied you as we all have and you are known as one of the greatest Slayers ever called. Her hand reaches out and she touches my arm. And now you are back, which is excellent news for the Rebellion.

Why do I suddenly feel as if I'm part of the cast for The Empire Strikes Back? I quip, and I hear Spike give a soft laugh. No one else looks even faintly amused.

Bronwen's sharp eyes glare into mine.
This isn't a joke, Buffy. The humans they have been taken- in droves to huge camps set up all over the world. They are run by only the highest of the elite vampires, known as the Ventrue. Do you know who I mean?

No, I say shortly, not liking the way she reprimanded me.

I suddenly feel Angel at my side. The sleeve of his leather jacket presses close to my bare arm and I feel every hair prickle.
Perhaps, Bronwen, he says in his quiet, yet forceful tone, we can explain everything to Buffy. She's had a rough few days and she's feeling disoriented.

Of course, Bronwen hastens to amend, her voice chastised, and she leads me to a chair beside the head of the table, where Angel sits, his body tense. I glance at him, the skin of my legs burning. I feel sweat pooling in the hollow of my lower back and bite my lower lip nervously. Spike stands against the wall, leaning indolently as he lights a cigarette, cupping a pale palm around the flare of the match.

Everyone stares at me. I estimate fifty people in the room, an equal mix of men and woman, some who resemble demons, some who don't. Bronwen sits down as well, her body rail thin in a light grey suit. She's not really beautiful- but she has a striking presence and I notice that everyone looks to her and Angel for guidance.

I'm sure you have been told of the attacks after the veils between the worlds weakened, Buffy, Bronwen states, and then continues, after that of course, as you can imagine, chaos reigned on earth. The demons used this to their advantage. They didn't want to kill the humans because they still need food. And so they took a page from Hitler's book and rounded them up, tossing them in large camps. Most of them are located in barren regions of the world, and they are extremely unhealthy, dirty and cold. The humans in the camps were put to work making clothing, weapons, buildings- anything that the demons need to survive on this earth.

My mind whirls.
It sounds impossible. To stop them, I mean.

A voice speaks up, and I realize its Darla.
Not impossible, Buffy, she informs me calmly, her skin glowing- translucent. She is so beautiful it sickens me. Every year they hold a meeting. All the demons in the world are invited- and most show up. In past years, we have not had the manpower, nor the resources to launch any kind of attack on the building where they hold the meeting. However now that you're back, we're hoping that

And you care, why? I break in. You're a vampire, aren't you? I know you've wanted to kill me a great many times. What makes it so different now?

Darla smiles slowly. I notice everyone staring at me with something akin to fear and confusion, all melded into one. I feel Angel's fingers on mine suddenly, and it's almost as if he's warning me. He's furious, I realize. He's forgotten what I'm like. He's forgotten me.

I'm a vampire with a soul, Darla points out. Like Angel. Like a few others in this room. I regard you as someone who can help us, Buffy. But only if you act like an adult and not like a child.

Oh thank you Darla, I coo. I so need lessons from you on how to act like an adult. You must be the authority on that! Wasn't it you who shot at her ex's new girlfriend?

Darla remains as cool as ice. Angel's palm grounds down on mine, and instead of being frightened, I want his anger. I remember how I liked it when he lost control. To me, it meant he still cared. I realize how sick that is and use all my Slayer strength on his hand. He doesn't even flinch.

He speaks, his voice balancing on the tightrope between rage, desire and the attempt to remain calm.
I don't think is the time nor the place to be discussing that, he warns. The past is the past. We need to concentrate on the present. Bronwen, can you explain to Buffy what's going to be happening over the next few weeks?

The woman nods, her brow pinched as she stands.
Of course, Angel. The convention, slash, meeting is held on December 25th- a day which we know as, of course, Christmas Day. The demons regard it as the start of the mortals, and therefore, they have chosen it as the day they meet and celebrate their victory over the humans. Through a series of missions, we will be infiltrating the camps- to steal weapons and food. On the day of the meeting, hopefully we will be able to somehow take over the building and kill the demons in one fell swoop. It seems impossible now, but if we work together, perhaps we will be able to take a giant step forward. Any victory is a good victory.

Angel smiles slightly at her, but I see there is no warmth in it. His muscles are tense. He wants a fight, and I know he wants it with me. I feel dizzy. He smells coppery and musky- like the incense he used to burn at the mansion- and like sugary, salty blood. His skin is paler than ever and I wonder how often he gets to feed now. He jerks on my hand, pulling me up.

I'm going to take Buffy on a tour of the hotel. Show her the facilities and the training room, he announces, and as Bronwen, Spike and Darla take a step forward, he sends them all pointed glances. Alone.

They fall back, but Spike's eyes lock on mine, burning me with their lust and fury and loud pleas. He's remembering- what it was like in the hotel, when he'd blow the marijuana smoke into my mouth and slide his cool lips over mine. I haven't forgotten either. Perhaps I never will. But he lied to me. He's always lied to me. He made my sister crave his blood like candy and I can't even forgive that. I can't ever forgive a lot of things.

As he watches us leave, I think that it's going to be a long December.

~~~

Angel throws open the door to the Gym with a resounding bang. I don't even wince, walking in with my hands on my spare hips, tossing my fringe of blonde hair down my whipcord back. Every so often as we travelled through the maze of hallways, all lit dimly, I let myself gaze at him and I saw how tightly he held himself. How much he was aching- trembling for a fight. But I think
it might go deeper than that. He's hungry. For sex. And for blood?

He's beautiful.

And I remember. I remember what he's like. How he smiles, how he smells, how he moves. How he fights, how he kisses, how he sweats. How he makes love.

Yeah, I remember it all.

But does he?

I don't know.

He faces me on the mat which covers half of the huge room and rolls his shoulders slightly.
What was that about? he asks finally, in a controlled tone.

What was what about? I respond, deliberately attempting to antagonize him.

It works. His mouth twists.
That bratty display in the hallway and in the meeting, Buffy, he snaps. What are you trying to do?

Get you to admit you're mad at me? I wonder aloud, and he sucks in a breath, rearing backward as if I hit him.

I am not mad at you, he snarls.

All evidence to the contrary, I laugh flippantly, circling him, like the raven in my dreams. Look at you. You're textbook definition of 'seriously mad at Buffy.'

I'm irritated with you, he amends, and clenches his fists. But I'm not mad at you.

Then what was that scene with Spike all about? I ask harshly, taking a step closer to him.

Must everything be about you? he inquires furiously. Spike and I have a history of not really liking each other.

I scoff,
You picked a fight with him, Angel. For absolutely no reason. Admit it you want a fight. You want to get something off your chest. What's the matter? Did you miss me a little bit? Isn't there anyone else who can take you?

You think you could take me? he breathes. Our noses are almost touching. My throat feels coated with syrup and my breath is hot and sticky.

Think? I whisper. I know I could, Angel.

Then let's go, he replies, throwing off his jacket and revealing the tight black T-shirt underneath.

Fine with me.

He smiles- sneers- and then I feel the fight taking over. It's a blur, really. With Angel, it always is. He moves like James Bond, smooth and tight and fast as lightening. Sometimes I can be sloppy, but I'm smaller, and I know what he's going to do, when he's going to do it. He knows me too. Sweat pours, hot from my skin, and I see it on his hands as he throws me over his head and I somersault onto the mat, arcing into the air to give him a sharp left hook across the cheek.
That's when his fist hits my nose.

In fights before, and this one, we'd always sparred with our bodies, never really hurting each other- just seeing who could pin each other first. Yeah, we had bruises later, yeah we'd hit each other
but I'd never felt pain like this from Angel. Fire screams from my nostrils, snaking up into my brain and sending sparks through my eyes.

Jesus.

I fall, feeling the drip of blood on my face, rolling over. He stands over me, his face cut and a little bloodied as well.
Fuck you, I whisper.

No, fuck you, he shouts, his skin red and shiny from exertion and anger. How could you have died? How could you have left me? You took that jump- you killed yourself- and you didn't even think of what you were leaving behind! How could you have been so selfish, Buffy?!!

Selfish? I scream, my voice cracking. I did that for everyone! I did that so everyone, including you, could live! How in the fuck is that selfish?

He laughs, roughly, and bows his head, grabbing my shoulders and hauling me to my feet. My head rushes with dizziness and pain. Blood splatters unbidden and unwanted down my chin. I'm going to have one hell of a bruise tomorrow.
Don't give me that he mutters harshly. I know that you wanted to die. I know that you were unhappy during the last years of your life. I know, Buffy. I know that you've always wanted a way out!

So what if I did? I shout. So what if I jumped and a small part of me felt relief? Don't I deserve that?

NO! he screams, and his eyes glow for one frightening instant. You told me to fight! You always told me to fight!

I told you we'd fight together! I yell back, and he lets go of me so suddenly that I stumble, and feel the tears burn and spill from my eyes. I told you together! I never said anything about being alone, Angel. Did I? Did I say I wanted to do it alone? No I know I didn't. But you left me. I'd never done it without you never wanted to. And you left me.

Would you have jumped if I'd still been living there? he asks, and I know from the emotion in his voice it's a question he's asked himself millions of times since my death. Would you have? If we had still been together?

I think for a moment, exhausted.
I don't know. I don't remember what it was like when we were together.

I see his tears then, and he draws me forward, into his arms. His T-shirt is soaked with sweat, and I press my face into him, inhaling his smell, touching his muscles, his strength, his skin. Tilting my face up, I look into those eyes. Those Angel eyes I know better than my own.
Do you hate me now?

He sighs, and his finger curves underneath my chin, bringing my mouth to his. His lips slide over mine and it feels like golden sunshine, so hot, so burning and red and bloody and inevitable like the stars. I moan and wrap my arms around his neck, letting him pull me up and into him, feeling his heaviness throbbing against my stomach.
He breaks away, panting, and whispers,
Does it feel like I hate you?

Angel I murmur, my skin flushed, my thighs aching. I can feel the wetness slipping down my inner thighs like little kisses and know it's not sweat. The curse

His eyes burn into mine.
Buffy he says softly, My soul is bound.

 

PART TWO


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