Far from a final version (as with any major decision I make in life I need to let it settle and "sleep on it") but I was up until 2am this morning hashing it out, so this is very much my focus right now. It's alternate Season 6 in the Edge of Sorrow 'verse and Buffy has been resurrected! Not surprisingly, she's having a hard time. But it's no big deal, and Spike will save the day, right? I'm calling this piece simply, "Slayer, Resurrected". Word count: 4115.
We're getting to the plot twist at the heart of Edge of Sorrow here, with a reveal(!) at the very end on which I'm very interested in hearing feedback, because it will drive the rest of what is probably going to end up a novella-length story.
Perched atop a slanted grave marker, one thumb absentmindedly tracing the grooves of an etched cross on the polished face, Buffy looked up at the twinkling stars. All those supernal planets and brilliant suns of distant worlds, out of reach, yet not apparently too far to tantalize. Past the lights, above and over the darkness beyond, was there a way back to Heaven?
Of all the alternate universes out there--Buffy imagined them stacked neatly against one another, like pages in one of Giles’ door-stopper books--was there one in which she was happy? And if that Buffy, the happy one, should look up on that starry night, would they be gazing into the same skies?
There were times, times like this, when she thought that her grief--so sharp it was piercing, so thick as to be stifling--permeated through the entire universe, expanding at the same rate. Did that alternate-universe Buffy feel the same way about her all-encompassing happiness? And would she ever, in her infinitely good fortune, spare a thought about other lesser Buffys?
She wanted to go home. Home home. Not the one with the mountain of debt and the deferred repairs and the moody teenage sister she’d died to preserve. Oh, the irony! She understood Glory then, sympathized with the enemy she had mocked and defeated. They weren’t so different after all, Hell god and Heaven’s Chosen One, with power as their birthright, exile as their punishment, and one wish above all: to return home.
What she did to deserve this punishment, she did not know.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The night had been completely dead. One might even call it tranquil, a sham for authentic peacefulness. But hey, eternal rest in Heaven while being immersed in love, and midnight patrol through Sunnydale’s vamp hunting grounds by one’s lonesome, how different were they anyway? She’d done it all before; she could do it all over again. And over. And over. No rest for the wicked apparently meant no rest for the righteous, either.
She attempted to derail that pathetic train of her self-pitiful thoughts. They were getting her nowhere. She’d always prided herself on being a do-er instead of a whiner, a warrior instead of a worrier. And it wasn’t like she hadn’t been dead before, been revived before. Life went on (and on, and on), defying prophecies and common sense, especially if you were Buffy Summers. She just kept getting Chosen. Maybe she should play the lottery.
Failing miserably at thoughts of the self motivational persuasion, she looked forward to some slaying for distraction. Come to think of it, cloaked in darkness, with only tombstones and stars for company, she hadn’t felt any tingles all night--not that she trusted her senses anymore. Her newly resurrected body had been overwhelmed by the deluge of sensory data to the point she wondered if she hadn’t short-circuited the whole system, rather like an overloaded BuffyBot. Every unexpected noise flashed white hot behind her eyes, every bright color called forth a sharp, metallic taste in her mouth. Paradoxically, food invoked no appetite, the act of eating no sense of flavor, no satisfaction. She wasn’t sure if she’d been incorporeal in Heaven--it was all so fuzzy, but it would make sense. After not having to worry about maintaining a physical body, she’d forget to eat, wouldn’t she?
Now that she was situated in a flesh-and-blood body again, the kind on the menu of local vampires, she expected to be attacked, especially given her distraction.
Then the realization hit.
“I know you’re there,” she said, not turning around, lest he interpret it as a favorable greeting, mistake his presence as welcome. She had no beef with Spike per se, but dreaded social interactions in general. Her default response had degraded to passive acceptance. Every decision that mattered had been taken out of her hands; she didn’t know why she should bother with anything anymore.
And the way he had looked at her…fresh out of the grave--it was fortuitous he was there, really, considering how much she’d struggled to free herself from the confines of what was supposed to be her final resting place--and again back at the house… Well, it left her with no doubt as to how he felt about her, how he still felt. She was a little fuzzy on where they’d stood with each other--it’d been three days, but her memories were still returning, one piece at a time, as if they’d been misrouted luggage on her return flight from Paradise.
That there existed mutual attraction drawing them together like super magnets, though, she could not deny. Fighting it felt as hopeless as rebelling against the laws of physics. It took her, tooth and nail, to resist the urge to touch him, to enfold herself within the comfort and safety of his arms, to bury her face in the crook of his neck and breathe him in, and let the rest of the world melt away. Her body yearned for it as if invoking muscle memory, a record book kept by the physical shell that her spirit once again inhabited. It terrified her, this attraction that she lacked memory to justify, to comprehend. Slayer and vampire...weren’t they supposed to be enemies to the death? She knew she must be missing something important.
“Buffy.” He emerged from the shadows then, black from black, smoke out of mist, reanimated corpse talking to reanimated corpse. Pure magic. If only she hadn’t just been resurrected, she’d have been more impressed.
Once again casting her face Heavenward, she waited for the typical Scooby response, waited for him to ambush her with a string of questions--a dozen ways to ask, “How are you?”, to bombard her with appeals and unsolicited advice, words words words so many of them, constant streams, infinite, wearing her out, wearing her down, a test to see if she could finally manage to find the right answers all on her own, maybe this time, or failing that, the next time...
She closed her eyes. The stars distorted to bokeh, then flattened to gray. Silence reigned supreme. Apparently you couldn’t even count on Spike’s endless chatters anymore. This was definitely not the world she had known. All the times she’d have to punch him in the nose to shut him up, and now he was as quiet as a mouse. If she cared, she might’ve asked him why.
“You followed me.” She opened with not-a-question.
“Creature of the night, here. Just making myself comfortable by being one with the cemetery.” His tone--defensive, redirective, a little apologetic; in conclusion: predictable. Oddly, Buffy found that comforting. Pretending not to be worried about her? She’d be happy to play along. Snarky she could still do. Sarcastic brush-off towards Spike had remained second nature.
“Could you be one with another cemetery? One without the Slayer? What kind of vamp are you that you--” She saw the tell-tale layer of dust coating his leather-clad arm then, and her mind span to revise the serenity of the night into an inkling suspicion, something that was threatening to turn into a full-on panic. She seized his arm--ignoring the question in his eyes, dragged her fingers across the smooth surface, and rubbed them together. She’d know the texture anywhere, the feeling of remnants of magic put to a premature end, powder-fine but always chilling to the touch, as if cursed. The gasp was completely involuntary. She willed her voice to a false calm. “How many?”
Head tilt. “Buffy, love, you alright?”
“Hey, no need to shout. Thought I was doing you a favor, that’s all. Uh, a couple by the gate. Fledges. Almost tripped and fell on the stake themselves they were such losers. Followed by a real backstabber trying to sneak up on you--no sense of honor, that one. Let’s see, two, no, three more while you were busy stargazing. Put them out of my misery, I did. That hit the spot.”
Buffy ran the mental calculation. Six vamps, and she hadn’t noticed a thing. No tingles. No preternatural vampdar a la Slayer going off. Not even warrior instinct. She was seriously off her game.
With her eyes closed and Spike within arm’s reach, she stretched out her senses, a little tentatively, like calibrating a sensitive instrument that had been known to malfunction. No response. Flat as his heartbeat.
She opened her eyes slowly. Sadly, he was still there. Even worse, so was she.
Spike had his thinking face on, the one that begged to be punched out of her mind, or kissed to oblivion, depending on her mood. “O...kay. Wanna let me in on what’s going on here?”
He had ceased being the enemy a long time ago, since before this lifetime, so her hesitation had nothing to do with trust. It was just easier not to overshare, when everything she said could be used against her. Volunteer nothing. Deny everything. That was her new motto. Ever since her resurrection, every Scoobie had suddenly become a double expert in human behavior and armchair psychiatry, she the lone subject suspected of insanity, and her own house the observation and rehabilitation laboratory. She’d had to invoke her sacred duty tonight in order to escape for the first time.
“Nothing, just…” She swallowed, out of practice with casual white lies. “Nothing,” she said again, looking away with immediate regret. Too much emphasis tended to raise suspicion, especially when her every move was probably being scrutinized with a magnifying glass.
Spike did the brow-raised head tilt again, the one that reminded her of a dog. If Spike was a dog, she thought, he’d probably be a Jack Russell terrier: compact, agile, positively vibrating with energy, and affectionate. But also: stubborn, troublesome, and absolutely a handful. Not recommended for inexperienced dog owners.
She replayed her thoughts. Wait, did she just compare Spike to a pet?
A snap of fingers in her face brought her attention back to the very non-pet-like Spike. Oh. Were they talking just now?
“Sorry, say that again?” Good thing apologies had become reflexive.
Spike opened his mouth, then seemed to change his mind. “Buffy, let’s get you home, yeah? Get some rest. Think you’ve done your duty. I’ll make another round, call it a night.”
His arm outstretched, he made to escort her in the direction of Revello Drive, but she’d just escaped her over-caring wardens. The prospect of returning to her observation cell made her want to buck and bolt. More importantly, his words reminded Buffy of their prior exchange. Patrol. Duty. Vampires.
“The thing is...” she started, apparently surprising Spike. His head snapped to her in attention.
“Well, I…” Shit. Was it too late to back out of it? She shifted in the opposite direction of Revello Drive, then chose a pillow grave marker to claim for a make-shift bench. It was the perfect height to make for a seat for someone of her stature. Comfy, in a cold marble kind of way. She spared a random thought to the momentum type. Five years patrolling cemeteries, she’d learned them all. Apparently not even a staycation in Heaven could wipe that morbid knowledge from her memory.
He settled lightly next to her, facing her expectantly. She looked at the rows of tombstones that had them surrounded, scanning out of habit from left to right then back again for signs of trouble. “Six vampires.” She dropped her head in shame and disbelief, and confessed, “and I hadn’t felt a thing.”
Out of the corner of her eye Spike didn’t seem to react. “You hadn’t felt a thing,” he repeated, his voice neutral.
“Well, you know”--she looked at him then, motioning between them--“vamp tingles. Spike tingles. It’s a whole tingling thing.”
“You mean your Slayer senses are off?” His eyes narrowed.
“Completely. Like power outage and the backup generators just failed--”
“Hold on, did you say vamp tingles and Spike tingles? Those are separate? Always knew I was special but…” He was still looking at her curiously, but there was more than a hint of mirth in his voice. The corners of his lips were curling upward into a smirk. He might’ve puffed out his chest a bit.
That was eye-roll-worthy. “OK, can we focus here?”
“You’re one to talk, Miss Zoned-Out!” Spike jumped up and stared her down. Assuming a height advantage by standing up and getting in her face was so unfair. Spike looked every bit the teacher lecturing an insolent pupil. “You were stargazing so hard you practically had your head in the clouds.”
“Hey! I’m definitely Miss Zoned-In!” She leapt up as well, standing on her tippy toes to be nose to nose with him, though the latter seemed momentarily distracted. “I’m totally in the zone!”
She barely got her last word out when a chubby vampire tackled her out of nowhere. Buffy went down on her back heavily with an “Oomph!” Tubby must’ve been much less interested in athletic activities as a human, because it was definitely more due to the extra pounds he was packing than skills that knocked the air out of her. He wasted no time in wrapping his freakishly large hands around her neck in a death grip.
Nearby, Spike coolly examined his black nail polish. “Case in point,” he said, dripping with mock boredom.
What was he, five? Chip or no chip, she was so going to kick his ass once her own was no longer on the line. Except, Buffy found, oddly enough, that she couldn’t even manage a retort. She couldn’t manage anything. Trying to pry open the sausage fingers around her neck was akin to trying to bend a statue. Switching to punches, she aimed below the last rib on the right for a direct hit to the liver, but felt the sharp impact of her blow shoot off from her knuckles up her forearm, reverberating all the way to her shoulder. Owww. If only she could knee him in the groin…except she struggled getting enough leverage on her legs. Rolling over to a dominant position was straight out; she lacked the necessary strength and couldn’t swing the momentum.
She felt utterly pinned, like an insect doomed to become some sicko collector’s shadow box artwork, wriggling out her last moments in vain. Despite her giving everything she’d got, fists frantically raining hard blows on Tubby, landing wherever they might, to the vamp, it was apparently as ineffectual as the flutterings of a dying butterfly’s wings.
From the end of a long drain pipe (were they down in a sewage tunnel?), Spike made funny noises, something that sounded like her name…
And then the tension sealing her windpipe was gone, the weight above her released so suddenly that her chest arched up with a jolt, only to crash back down to the ground a split second later. She gasped desperately, re-inflating her lungs with oxygen that felt like needles, curling into a fetal position on her side to lessen the pain. In the background, there was a harsh, torturous sound of an irregular rhythm that with each beat, triggered blood-red chevrons to flare behind her eyelids.
It was a few seconds before she made out that the sound was a dry, hacking cough, originating from herself. All around her, dust from the vamp who almost snuffed out a Slayer was settling. She waved a limp hand in front of her face to clear the air, and looked up through bleary eyes to see Spike frozen in an attack stance, arm outstretched, stake firmly held in one hand, fixing her with an open-mouthed, wide-eyed look. Thunderstruck and horrified and something else. She must’ve looked quite a vision.
“Sooo in the zone,” she insisted when she could talk again, determined that she would have the last word on this, even though it made her throat hurt like Hell--okay, more like Hell.
She pushed off the cold ground onto her feet, then everything dimmed to black.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
A puppy was licking her, cool and gentle and ticklish, and wouldn’t go away. Buffy put up her arms as a barrier, and the puppy switched to nudging her instead. She must have a word with Dawn about bringing home strays--
--and woke up to find that she was hugging Spike’s leather-clad arm to her chest, his hand cupping her face, a thumb tenderly stroking her cheekbone. The world was horizontal, and she was in bed. Together, the last two sort of made sense. Where did the puppy go?
The hand stroking her stilled, then let go altogether. She missed it immediately. A headache pounded away and made a whooshing sound in her ears, like the ebb and flow of waves--waves of pain. Releasing his arm from her clutch, she looked away, lest he see through her. There should have been no bodily warmth to his touch, nothing to explain the lingering burn she felt.
Spike spoke, barely a whisper, “How you feeling?”
She swallowed, but the dry lump in her throat would not budge. “Uh, water please.”
She heard the sound of water being poured, while she scooted up to lean against the headboard. A cup was passed to her, their fingertips brushing in the handoff, and she concentrated on the water surface, on containing the minute disturbance within. She sipped it; it was tepid, tea. Something floral, not chamomile--something with a distinct fragrance. She sipped it again: jasmine, maybe.
From his seat at the edge of her bed, Spike looked her up and down, as if a scanner taking inventory of injuries. He must have misread her hesitation as accusatory, for he said, “It’s gone cold, hasn’t it? Not the brightest idea in hindsight, making tea. Not sure how long you were going to be out. General advice says not to let someone with head trauma remain unconscious, though that doesn’t apply either. Could tell when your heartbeat changed, when you slipped from unconsciousness to sleep. Thought best to let you catch a wink, you clearly needed it--”
“Spike!” she cut him off. “Tea’s fine.”
He smiled on an exhale, one of relief.
“Thank you,” she hastened to add. She wanted to talk about the incident in the cemetery, but didn’t know how to start. “How long was I out?”
“Oh, a couple of hours, tops. Took me an hour just to get you home, sneak you in.” Watching her intently, he added in a conspiratory tone, “Nobody saw.”
Buffy sipped from her teacup, weighing on the implication of that statement.
“Hey, it was nothing. Although, the next time you plan on a sodding fainting act”--it was clear to Buffy that he was trying to lighten the mood--“do a bloke a favor and don’t walk to the edge of town, will ya?”
She rewarded him with a feeble smile.
His hand flew up, as if of its own volition, hovering just before her face in hesitation.
She blinked. Spike was asking for permission now? That was decidedly uncharacteristic. She nodded dumbly.
Instead of going up to caress her face, his hand lifted her hair then tucked it behind her shoulder, first one side, then the other. When it made contact with her neck, she flinched, then cried out at the unexpected pain when he pressed, gently but firmly. With a finger under her chin, he tilted her head for a better look.
When he had thoroughly examined her neck, Spike sighed, not a good sign. “Bollocks! You’re going to wish for cooler weather ahead to get away with wearing scarves. That there is one nasty bruise. You’re probably sporting bruises elsewhere, too, but this one is going to be hard to cover up. Mark’s not going to fade for days. A week, even.”
“Days?” She was going to have to face the Scoobies, and Dawn. How was she going to explain a hand-shaped bruise on her neck, other than, well, the fact? Wait a minute… “Nah,” she said, remembering. “Slayer healing should kick in soon. In fact, I should be feeling better already. A day in bed, and I’ll be right as rain.”
As if to prove her point, she stood up, sore all over but spared from serious internal injuries. “See? I’m fine.”
Leaping up, Spike bounced a few times on his feet as if warming up for a boxing match. He opened his arms wide, and with his voice calm and gentle, said, “Buffy, hit me.”
“Huh?” Even taking her headache into account, it made no sense. She took a step back. “Who’s got a death wish now?”
“Nothing to do with that, pet. Just hit me. Hard as you can. Fast as you can.”
She didn’t know his angle, but suddenly she felt very tired. “No.”
“C’mon, Slayer, one mean right hook, smack in the nose.” He mimicked her signature short range shot with explosive thrust, stopping short inches from her eyes. She felt the burst of wind, the rush of his energy. She didn’t blink. He added, full of nostalgia, “Just like old times.”
Her fingers clenched into fists as if on command. She forced them to relax. “I’m not going to hit you, Spike.”
“You can say that again,” he taunted, one eyebrow hitched. “‘Cause you won’t be able to.”
“Able. Just not willing. Although”--she glared at him in warning, adjusting her stance and redistributing her body weight--“less and less so.”
“There you go, then, love.” He clapped his hands and rubbed them together, clearly itching for a fight. Buffy crossed her arms and focused on the spreading bruises tinting her knuckles, the aftermath of her ineffectual struggle with Tubby.
Spike was apparently still talking. “...Just one direct hit. Know you didn’t get your spot of violence in on patrol and we all know what that--”
A flick of a back fist aimed at his chin, quick as can be--just to shut him up, she thought--but it still packed quite a punch, with her body rotating to follow through on the force of the swing. So it was a shock when he managed to deflect it and grab her wrist, twisting it counterclock-wise, just short of bone-snapping tension. The sting in her wrist radiated down her arm; she managed to swallow a cry, but just barely. With her free hand, she followed up with a back-hand punch out of nowhere, but again, it failed to connect; he caught her fist this time, wrapped in his own.
Injury, meet insult. Her ever-expanding list of bruises now included her ego. Over caught arms, their eyes connected. His were surprisingly free of gloat, but emitted a rare intensity.
As if they’d just been sparring and going through a choreographed series of moves, he said, “Slayer, free yourself.”
A whole lot of undignified flailing later, Buffy decided that she couldn’t. “I can’t,” she said, the fight having completely deserted her.
She realized a moment later that her arms were no longer constrained. Spike was fixing her with a look she didn’t like. It looked like he’d been forced into confessing to a kid that he’d just eaten her puppy.
Dropping heavily onto her bed, she massaged her wrist. She’d expected to notice a dip in her response time, agility, strength, and fighting abilities in general, justified by the very valid excuse of having been dead for a hundred and forty-seven days. It wasn’t as if Heaven came equipped with a gym, after all. But this, this was not a dip. This was more like a canyon, deep and wide and unfathomable, like the Grand Canyon of regressed fighting skills. His silence added to her worry. “Spike, what’s happening to me?”
He sank down next to her, then picked up her lead hand, the one he’d twisted to the point just before serious injury occurred. He rubbed her wrist gingerly, as if it were made of glass.
For a moment they both stared at it.
Eventually he said, “Rupert should be back next week. He’s bringing over that bird from the Coven. Eldrida, was it? Right powerful witch by all accounts. Wager if we give them a ring, they’d get right on it, after the Watcher’d polished his spectacles to a high shine, of course. Uhm, if you want, those of us in old Sunnyhell can call a research party. That’d cheer up the lot, at least Red. Have the whelp order pizza, that’d shut him up.”
Buffy knew she’d regret it as soon as she gave her question voice, but she didn’t understand his words, didn’t like their implications. And she simply had to know.
“Okay. Research what?”
Spike turned her hand in his, then as gently as possible, broke the news that would forever change her life:
“Buffy, I don’t think you’re the Slayer anymore.”