Disclaimer: I own nothing. Joss owns all.
Summary: A sort of fairy tale. Buffy receives word that someone she knows has come to the meadows across the river. Written for the 15th anniversary of Seasonal Spuffy and for all the lovely people who make fandom a wonderful place to be. (This was written in about three days after my son went to bed so any mistakes are all mine.)
Buffy, Spike, and the Witch of the Acheron River
With arms outstretched and fingers lilting like a ballerina, Buffy spins, the cool air rising up from the ice beneath the blades of her skates and her hair fanning out in a blonde arc. She loves losing herself in the movement, muscles stretching and pushing to familiar limits that she only uses when she flies and never when she killed.
Death was her gift, and now she does not worry about such trivial gifts.
Her lungs fill as she breathes in and out, forcing her to stay in the moment, and she pulls out of the spin, gliding into a large loop. She increases her speed until she leaps and twists, putting her strength behind the defiance of gravity.
She is free.
“Buffy,” comes the voice softly from below and from within.
Mid-twist, she recovers enough to stumble somewhat gracefully back onto the ice with a minimal thud. Her legs trip past one another, and as they do, the ice and her skates melt away, giving way to lush emerald grass and sturdy black boots that firmly plant on the ground. Her white sequined leotard and tights become her comfiest jeans and a flowing white blouse that makes her feel pretty and airy.
She finds herself next to someone familiar. Someone she hasn’t seen in a long time.
A smile graces her lips. “Oz.”
He half-smiles at her, his human face revealing a hint of the wolf just beneath the surface. He is comfortably both. “Hey.”
Twisting her perfectly coiffed waves into a top bun, she says, “Long time, no see.”
He gives the barest of shrugs. “This place is big.”
“It is. Big and small.” A paradise at the ends of the earth is something Buffy never dreamed of. The place she was before is not this place. She’s less floaty and amorphous here. She is instead more herself. She can do her own thing or be with most of the people she loves without worry or fear. She can go, and they remain and are there when she returns unless they are on their own journey. Oz has been on a walkabout for she is unsure how much time now – days, months, years. None of that has meaning here. “Question is: why are you here and now?”
“There’s always a reason when we meet, huh?” Oz’s eyes twinkle with amusement.
She and Oz rarely spent one-on-one time together in the past. For some reason, the only time she can think of is when she was a rat and became human again – a naked human. At least her current transformation is less surprising and awkward.
“Yes.” Buffy falls in step beside Oz.
There are no directions here. She only has to consider with intention where she wants to go (and to some extent, what she wants to happen) and there she will go. An effort is still involved. There’s no “beam me up, Scotty” or portals or magical teleportation.
Lush greenery surrounds them as they head down a quaint winding path. Birds sing around them, and a brook murmurs softly over rocks to their left. She swears she catches a glimpse of a doe among the leaves, and a jaguar pads in front of them, blinking cat eyes at them and emitting a soft roar of hello. Nothing is hungry here; predators don’t eat prey. And yet, creatures thrive without the endless circle of life and death. This is the endpoint.
“What news do you have for me?” she finally asks after several minutes of companionable silence. “Is it about the festival Dawn is planning? She’s wrangling the singers, and of course, the issue isn’t about cattiness and jealousy – no pun intended – but she is having a hard time fitting everyone into the schedule. I told her not to take it on, but she insisted. This concert is going to go on for ages. Not that that matters.”
“No,” Oz says and then stops.
Buffy stops with him. “No, it’s not about Dawn? Or the concert? Or the singing? ‘Cause I may have to skip out on a certain section of the – ”
“It’s about someone,” he hesitates.
“Someone?” Buffy draws out, willing him to say it already.
“Do you know anything about Asphodel?”
Buffy searches her memory, which is a lot harder now after so much time has passed where she is now. Lucky for her, her mind bumps into a box of information stowed away from the beginning. “The meadows?”
Oz nods once. “That’s it.”
“What about them?” Buffy seriously can’t remember where she heard the term.
“It’s where humans, demons, sentient beings go after they die if they’ve been – ”
“Good and evil,” Buffy finishes as the memory slides into place like a key finding its correct lock.
“Word on the street is that someone new is there.”
“There are new people there all the time,” Buffy says, trying to figure out where Oz is leading her.
“Yeah. But it’s not someone you know all the time.” Oz starts to walk again.
Buffy follows, grateful for the motion and the comfort of the fields opening up around them as they pass through the forest. The golden sunlight chases away the vestiges of the cold from her sport of choice. “Who?”
“I don’t know, but it was important enough that I was asked to tell you.”
“Interrupting your journey.” Buffy feels only a hint at what guilt used to be, but it’s on the periphery – a fraction of its former intensity. She spent a lot of her life feeling too much guilt. Guilt for not saving everyone, for wanting to have a life beyond slaying, for not making choices others thought she should make.
“It’s no problem.” Oz is always unruffled. Maybe that’s why he was sent.
“So, what am I supposed to do with that vague info?” She’s not being sarcastic. Well, maybe she is a little. But mostly, she doesn’t know what the information is for.
Oz pauses and bends to pluck a flower. “I think you’re being given a chance to guide whoever it is across the river.” He adds a few more flowers to the bunch, and a grey ribbon spontaneously appears and ties itself around them.
This is unprecedented. There she is again – still breaking precedent. “But why?”
“I don’t know. But if you choose to go, you have to take these.” He passes the bundled spikes of white and pink flowers to her.
“Asphodels to go to the asphodel.” She holds the blooms with care.
“They’ll pay for your ride there and back again,” Oz says. He shakes his head. “I didn’t know any of this before I came to find you.”
Buffy traces a finger over one of a flower’s slim, delicate petals. “It’s okay.”
The remaining foliage around them parts out of nowhere. The trees pull back their leaf-filled branches, bushes lean back, and vines curl away, leaving a paved path that leads through the now open field to a distant riverbank. A woman is standing in front of a small boat.
“I think this is where I get off,” Oz says gently.
Buffy glances back at him and smiles though her heart is filled with anticipatory anxiety. “Thank you.”
He gives her a little bow. “See you when you return.”
A corner of his mouth lifts. “I’m introducing the singers. And maybe accompanying the instrumentals.”
Buffy doesn’t know why she didn’t put that together before. Concert, Oz. They go together. “That makes sense. Seeing Willow.”
“And Tara.” There is no animosity here. No competition. Willow loves both equally and in different ways.
Buffy never really wonders why none of her loves are here until something reminds her of them. Like this. “Tell them hi.”
“I will.” Then, Oz slips on his wolf as easy as he would throw on a coat if it was ever cold here. He lopes away, leaving Buffy behind.
She stands at the threshold, overcome by a sudden wave of emotion. Every instinct is telling her that if she goes to the figure in the distance, everything is going to change. As she wavers, the only other person around lifts a hand. She has no idea if it’s to say hello or flag her down. Still, she takes the plunge, one foot moving forward without more second-guessing.
As she approaches the water, her senses heighten. The scent of the flowers overlays the earthy smell of the water flowing over earth, and a bird sings – its song beckoning her from across the river. The sun kisses her arms and seems to rise to a high point, blocking out a clear view of the figure up ahead. Even as her sense are awash with stimulation, she wonders what she is doing, whom she is going to see. There’s a thought that nags at the back of her mind, but try as she might, she can’t latch onto it.
She’s so focused on her body and mind that she is surprised when she’s suddenly faced with a woman cloaked in a black shroud. Her cheeks are hollow and wrinkled. The fingers grasping her staff are slender to the point of almost being skeletal, but her eyes are deep brown and bright with life.
“Hello. What brings you to the Acheron?” The woman’s words echo in Buffy’s head though her mouth does not move.
“I need to cross. Someone is in the meadows. Someone I know,” Buffy says softly.
The woman blinks. “You bring your ticket, I trust?”
Confusion washes over Buffy. “Ticket? I d-don’t have a ticket.” She doesn’t know why she stuttered, but she feels an awful lot like she’s in a dream when she forgot to study for her college algebra exam.
The woman nods at the flowers Buffy is clutching. “You do.”
“Oh. Right. Oz just told me.” The flowers have divided into three groups with three grey ribbons. She holds out one bunch to the old woman.
As the woman’s hand darts forward, Buffy instinctively steps back – alarm bells going off in a way she hasn’t felt since. . . before.
“I’m not sure. I’m. . .” Buffy takes another step away.
“The flowers give me the energy to row you across,” the woman explains.
Buffy squints at the river beyond. The waters don’t look treacherous or deep, but they are fast. “I can swim.”
The woman laughs – the sound eerie as if she hasn’t laughed in a thousand years. “You do not want to swim. Have you not heard of Acheron?”
Buffy vaguely remembers the river is something she crossed on arriving. “I have.”
The woman leans on her staff with both hands. “Well, if you have, you’ll remember that quod flumen doloris will eat you alive if you allow her waters to touch you. She’ll bury herself so deep inside you that you’ll be eaten from the inside out and then cease to exist.”
“Like vampires go, ‘Poof!’ when you stake them?” Buffy quips.
“Vampires are of no matter here. Only hearts and souls.”
Buffy bites her lip at that, considers her options, and brandishes a cluster of flowers. “You’ll carry me safely across and back?”
“You’ll need more of these flowers for your safe return,” the woman says evenly.
“Okay.” Buffy hopes there is more asphodel in Asphodel. She has an inkling she might need more than the two she has left.
The woman extends a bony hand, and Buffy passes her the flowers. Closing her eyes, the woman hugs them to her chest, and a violet light emanates from the blooms, brightening and spreading until the whole bunch disappears. The old woman somehow seems younger, less wrinkled, and she moves aside, waving Buffy into the boat.
Buffy steps gingerly onto the boat, her boot heels slipping between uneven grooves on the ivory bottom. As she slides onto the only seat, the boat rocks in the water, and Buffy realizes that the boat is made entirely of bones with some kind of mortar between them to seal away the water. Something in her recoils, but she holds onto a smooth bone with one hand while keeping the flowers close with the other.
The woman joins Buffy with no issue – the boat obviously hers. She picks up a long, thick wooden staff, the length growing as she lifts it and then plunges it into the water. With powerful energy, the woman combats the rushing current and starts to tug the boat across the river.
Buffy peers over her shoulder to view the direction they’re going, and she’s surprised to see the boat veering relatively straight with each one of the woman’s strokes. There’s no magic to the effort it takes to cross the river, but the boat creaks and groans, making Buffy wonder how much the boat can take before falling apart. She holds on, but like all journeys, the path to the destination always feels longer than the return. As such, Buffy has no idea how much time passes before they reach the opposite bank. But that’s not terribly unusual because she often loses track of time now that she’s dead again and for good this time.
The woman lodges the boat on the muddy shore, tucks the shortening staff back into the boat, and regards Buffy. “You have arrived.”
“At Asphodel Meadows?” Buffy asks. She has to make sure.
“Of course. You paid your way.”
Swaying a little, Buffy finds her feet. “Where do I go?”
“I don’t know. There isn’t much here of note until you stray away from the river. Not like your fields. But there is a house in that direction that will interest you.”
“Okay.” Buffy climbs out and hovers awkwardly nearby.
“The sooner you go, the faster your returns,” the woman says with the barest edge of annoyance.
“You’ll be here when I come back.” Buffy’s words are more of a statement than a question.
“Yes,” the woman acknowledges with some reluctance. She seems. . . hungry.
Buffy turns back toward the land before her. The fields look no different than the ones from whence she came. She considers going in the direction the woman pointed, but something in her gut tells her otherwise. She’s never been one to blindly follow others, and there’s something about her escort that nags at the back of her mind and rings a faint warning bell.
As soon as she makes a move in a different direction, the world goes dark. Well, not completely dark. A moon shines above – bigger than the one she’s used to and therefore brighter. Cold wind nips at her bare arms, scattering goosebumps in its wake. Insect sounds rise up and fill her ears with buzzing, and she can smell something burning. . . something that smells a little like Warren smelled after Willow skinned him and set him on fire. Her nostrils burn from the smoke, and she suddenly wants to take cover because if someone is burning flesh, she wants to be away from it.
Buffy’s quickening strides turn into a light jog. Her eyes catch onto a pinprick light in the hazy distance, and with that visual cue, she breaks into a run. The smoke thickens as she approaches, and she slows as the need to clear her lungs pushes forth, and a rolling cacophony of coughs come pouring out of her throat.
A form barrels at her through the darkness, hitting her shoulder hard as she tries to catch her breath, and she instinctively grabs her arm as her senses go into hyperdrive. She sees and feels the presence of the. . . creature that’s breathing hard and growling. When it launches itself at her, the only thought that passes through her mind is that it’s huge, massive. . . bloody big. She braces herself for impact, tensing her muscles and hunkering her center downward in preparation to use her momentum to throw the creature over her head.
But the collision never comes.
Instead, another being crashes into the creature charging her. There’s a scuffle – grunts and groans and growls. Punches are thrown and kicks are. . . kicked. Buffy squints into the fight, feeling every bit like she’s trying to make sense of a cartoon fight with all the smoke everywhere.
The fight is over quickly, and a neck is snapped. Buffy recognizes the crunching sound.
The winner of the deadly wrestling match hops up in a familiar way, and her heart thumps in her chest. Do people die in the meadows? And is that –
“Buffy?” His British accent rolls off his tongue, but she can only see darkness except for the glowing white of his bleached hair in the blurred moonlight.
Her own tongue is like a tangled knot in her mouth that won’t unfurl, and her body is frozen to the spot like she might grow roots and settle in.
His cool fingers on her arm startle her out of her dumbfounded state. “C’mon, pet. One thing I’ve learned about this place is that it’s a bit like a bloody video game. You take one person out, and in five, ten minutes, they pop up again.”
“Where are we going?” she asks. She could see before, but now all she sort of sees is the moon above. There is no window in the distance.
“Somewhere safe. I think.”
Spike hurries her along, and she follows instinctively, not pulling away. The trust she always felt for him (but often adamantly denied) slides into place without effort, and before she knows it, they’re rushing up steps. Spike throws open a door, and suddenly, she finds herself inside. He locks the door behind him. Though the yellow lamplight is low, she can view him in living color. His eyes are still the bright blue she remembers, and his cheekbones are carved out in just such a way that his smirk makes them sharpen.
She throws her arms around him then and breathes in the familiar scent of his neck. “Oh, my god. It’s you.”
He embraces her tightly in return, and she realizes she has forgotten what it’s like to be embraced without consequence and to embrace fully in return. (She makes a brief mental footnote to ask Dawn to allow herself to toughen up a bit, so Buffy can have a proper hug like this one. As hugs go, it’s one of the longest ones Buffy remembers, and she relishes the touch and the feel of his body next to hers even if they are clothed.
When she breaks free of him, she hugs her arms a little and drinks him in again, noticing that his hair is still bleached and mussed. He’s still lean, and the black makes him look leaner. He carries himself like he’s ready to use his pent up energy in action, and she bites her cheek at the memory of how many ways he manifests that action. He’s still a warrior, but his eyes are still soft for her.
“Why are you here? In this place?” Spike asks, leaning against the doorframe.
“Oz came to find me. He said there was someone in the meadows for I know. He sent me here. And – oh, no. I dropped the flowers.” Somewhere in the fray, she dropped the remaining asphodel.
“Dropped what flowers?”
“The flowers that are the payment to go back across the river. For the woman who. . . drives the boat.” This sounds utterly ridiculous when she doesn’t know if Spike knows anything about where he is. “Do you know where you are?”
“Well, I don’t rightly know. Know I’m dead. Well, dead dead. As in dust in the wind. And there wasn’t exactly an orientation to the joint. I just woke up here. In this cabin.” Spike inclines his head toward the room they’re in.
Buffy sees that it’s a one-room cabin with a refrigerator, stove, sink, bed, and a shelf with a few books. A door (presumably to the bathroom) is in the far back. The décor is decidedly not Spike with the warm browns and deep greens painting the room to create a cozy, bed-and-breakfast feel.
“It’s very wooden,” Buffy notes with irony in her tone. “Dangerous for vamps.”
“Living on the edge. That’s me.”
“You’re in Asphodel Meadows. We call it the meadows. It’s where people go who have done a balance of both good and not-so-good deeds.” Even as she describes it, she knows it’s more complicated than that, but he just needs to know the bare bones for now.
“Oh. A purgatory of sorts. Not quite hell. Though, I suppose outside of here says otherwise.”
Buffy nods. “Yeah.” Something nudges again at the back of her brain, but she can’t put her finger on it.
Spike maneuvers around her without touching her, which leaves her feeling a little sad. “Sit, pet.” He gestures at the bed. “I’ll make tea.”
“Hot chocolate,” Buffy insists. When Spike peers over his shoulder at her, she adds, “If you have any.”
He smiles a little. “I do.”
Buffy watches him move around the small kitchen. She doesn’t try to understand what’s happening – only focuses on that it is. He retrieves the mugs, a pot, milk, a wooden spoon, and chocolate shavings. He slowly heats the milk, stirring continually and then adding in the chocolate. The rich aroma of the concoction makes Buffy homesick for her mom’s hot chocolate. She always made the best hot chocolate.
As if reading her mind, Spike says, “Reminds me of your mum. She always made us a nice cup when I visited her.”
“She always made it when Dawn and I were feeling sad. Even in the dead of summer.” Buffy hasn’t seen her mom since she died. Her mother wasn’t a warrior exactly (though being a single mom should totally qualify).
Spike poured the drink into the mugs and sets the remainder on a cool burner. “Marshmallows?”
Spike grabs a half-used bag from a shelf and carries the two mugs over to the bed. After she takes one of the cups, he eases onto the bed next to her – not quite touching but not far away. She can feel him watching her, but she stares at the marshmallows smooshing together and wishes for more.
But she has to wait.
She takes a tentative sip of the drink, relishing the slip of the chocolate over her tongue. Then, she asks, “What happened?” Buffy passed before Spike – long before if her calculations are correct. She really has no sense of time. “How did you – ?”
“Die?” Spike takes his own sip. “Don’t remember all the details. But I was fighting some bad bugger or another. I remember fighting. Stake slipped in before I could stop it.”
“Slayer?” Buffy is curious.
He shrugs a shoulder. “Dunno. Doesn’t matter. Met my end. Ended up in purgatory.” He gazes up at the darkness outside the window. “Lot more hellish than I thought it’d be.”
“I have a theory about that.” She holds the mug in her lap with both hands, going with her instincts.
“What do you think you deserve?”
“What do you mean?” His eyebrow is quizzical.
“Do you think you deserve whatever is out there?” She gestures at the window.
Spike ducks his head, suddenly finding the marshmallows in his mug. “Maybe.” He’s silent for a long moment. “I’ve done a lot of bad things, pet.”
She shifts around so that she’s facing him, her knee on the bed. She is relieved her sloshing cup doesn’t spill. “And you’ve done a lot of good, too.”
“You don’t give yourself enough credit.” She swallows and asks, “Do you trust me?” She doesn’t know if the feeling is still there for him; she’s still figuring it out herself.
His response is quick and unequivocal. “I do.”
“Then, for one minute, I want you to imagine that the good you’ve done counts for something. Not measuring in amounts or tallies. Just the good that you ended up doing. For a long time.” She doesn’t know how long but longer than she lived.
He sips his hot chocolate and then turns to face her – their shins parallel. He takes a deep unneeded breath and closes his eyes.
Buffy emulates him, sending gentle vibes of acceptance his way.
Seconds tick by, and then, Buffy hears a bird trill a series of happy notes. This is followed by another trill in a slight variation from farther away.
She opens her eyes to find Spike staring out the window beyond her with his lips parted in surprise. She wants to see what he’s seeing, so she turns her back to him to view the source of his amazement.
Sunlight streams in the window, the sky is the clearest of blues, and the field beyond the cabin is lush and green and dotted with yellow flowers. Before she can say anything to him, his arm goes around her from behind, and he moves closer to hold her. His muscles relax when she leans against him, fitting neatly as always in his embrace.
“How?” he whispers in her ear so low that she shivers.
Her head touches his. “I think you just have to believe. It’s a will thing.”
“Like Red’s spell.”
“Kind of. Not exactly. It follows your heart. It’s not magic.” Not in the earthly sense.
“My heart doesn’t beat.” His disbelief is stubborn.
“But it feels. It desires. It loves.” She knows this is true about him. She’s experienced it.
“It does. I do.” He sighs in contentment. “How’d you know that would work?”
She frowns. “I didn’t know. Not really. It works that way where I’ve been.”
“Where have you been?”
“I’ve been told it’s Elysium or Elysian Fields.” She almost says that everyone is there, but he hasn’t been and her mom hasn’t, so that’s not everyone.
“Resting place of the souls of the virtuous and heroic. Fitting.”
She shifts the cooling hot chocolate so that one hand is free to touch his hand. He doesn’t pull away. “In Elysium, we have the ability to make reality what we want it to be.”
“Just like that.”
“Yes.” She plays with his fingers. “See if you can do it here. Do something else. What do you wish you had?”
“Got everything I need here.” But he can tell she isn’t giving up, so he says, “I’ll try.”
“Open your heart, and you’ll know.” The irony isn’t lost on her. She had so much trouble opening her heart in life, but experiences taught her to be cautious. She doesn’t worry about that here, but she took the time to really get in touch with that piece of her. If anyone can access his heart out of the gate, Spike can. “Start small.”
Spike takes another deep breath, and seconds tick by, but nothing happens. Finally, he admits, “I don’t think it’s working.”
“What did you wish for?”
“My telly. Fully loaded with all the shows I used to watch.” Wistfulness tinges his voice.
“Passions,” comes out of her mouth.
He pauses in drinking his hot chocolate to chuckle. “That’s one.”
“It didn’t work.” She frowns.
“Right. I’m thinking it doesn’t work quite the same way in purgatory.”
“But the daylight. . . I don’t understand.”
“This place has a sense of humor. Wooden house. Eternal darkness with monsters. Craving for blood.”
She doesn’t question his craving for blood. “Based on your self-view.”
“That’s not a very scientifically sound hypothesis.” But his tone conveys his uncertainty.
“It is in Elysium.”
“And what’s this purgatory called again?”
Buffy rounds on him and stares up into his eyes, her heart thumping in her chest. “Come with me.”
“To your side of the tracks?”
She rolls her eyes at him. “To our side of the tracks. You don’t have to be in this place. Why else did whoever’s in charge send me here?”
“To visit?” At Spike’s question, Buffy bonks him on the arm, eliciting a satisfying protest. “Ow!”
“No. To bring you back with me.”
Spike searches her eyes as if searching for the truth of her words. He doesn’t take long and kisses her next, his lips soft and tender with a tinge of hunger underneath. She resists the urge to moan and leans into the affection. She doesn’t know if this is his yes, but her heart hopes, and she climbs up onto her knees on the bed, tackling him backward while continuing the kiss. She knows then what she wasn’t sure of before. No matter how much time passes, she will always find her way back to the same conclusion.
So, she says the words out loud. “I love you. I still love you.”
He searches her eyes and lands on, “I love you, too.”
“Come with me,” she persists.
“Will I know who you are?” Spike’s tone is uncertain.
“Of course, silly.”
Spike’s eyes move past her and then he starts to sit up. “Let’s go then.”
Buffy finds the window. The sky is darkening as if the sun is setting. “Oh, no.”
They scramble up together. Spike doesn’t even bother with anything in the cabin. They leave the cups on the wooden end table. Then, they are out the door.
The leftover sunlight does nothing to Spike’s flesh – not one solitary singe or hint of smoke. “Oh,” he breathes. “There a lot of sun where you are?”
“Yes,” Buffy says with a smile at his delight.
“Good thing I’m all immune now. Don’t even need a bloody gem.”
“Good thing.” She laces her fingers through his. “We have to find the flowers.”
“Plenty of flowers. Far as the eye can see.” Spike bends to pluck one of the buttercups.
Buffy shakes her head. “Only asphodels will work.”
Spike tilts his head. His brow furrows in concentration. “Odd that.”
“I don’t care how odd it is. I just want to get back across. With you. Oz gave me three bunches. I gave her one. The other two are our ticket back.”
Buffy starts to scan the ground – unsure where to look. The smoke from before muddled her senses. Spike joins her, helping her locate the place where they left the body. No flowers grow there, leaving a body-shaped hole in the grass. They scour the land around this location, but no flowers can be found. The sun sinks lower as they hunt, and the birds stop singing.
“Pet, night’s coming. I think we need to head onward,” Spike finally says.
Buffy lifts her head; she’s been squinting and hasn’t realized it. “The birds aren’t singing.”
“I’m thinking the baddies will be coming out soon.”
As if to punctuate Spike’s statements, there’s a string of growls coming from a cluster of trees nearby. Buffy and Spike exchange a look, and without even speaking, they hurry a bit faster and stay alert. The orange setting sun is their guide back to the river.
As if shimmering out of nowhere in the distance, the cloaked figure appears with the boat stretching out into the river behind her.
“There she is,” Buffy informs Spike.
As they rush, the night starts rolling in faster, odd rustling noises intensify, and Buffy makes the mistake of glancing back.
She freezes in shock.
The meadow is being eaten up by a dense forest of trees and brush that is rushing toward them under a starless black sky. Eyes glow amidst the oncoming branches and foliage, and hoots, howls, and angry noises thrust out at them.
Buffy’s heart beats as fast as a frightened rabbit’s in her chest, and she is only torn out of immobility by Spike whose hand grasps hers, rescuing her yet again. She gives him a tight smile of thanks, and they are running together toward the river, legs pumping, arms moving, and Spike’s laugh slipping away on the wind. He’s loving the rush, and Buffy can’t blame him. She loves this kind of thing with him no matter the season: dealing with trouble at the heart of the night.
It almost makes Buffy forget they don’t have a way back. Almost.
They tumble to a stop in front of the hooded woman, who smiles at them in that same placid ways she greeted Buffy before. She still speaks without moving her lips. “You return. With someone.” She gives Spike a critical once-over. “He cannot come with you.”
Buffy stops herself from telling the woman to go to hell. “He’s coming.”
The woman frowns at her. “You have no flowers. Neither of you is coming.”
Sensing the growing darkness behind her as the sun slips below the horizon, Buffy says, “Can’t you see what’s happening? We’re kind of in dire straits here.”
“If you have no flowers, I cannot allow it.”
Spike steps slightly between Buffy and the old woman. “Look. Take her back where she belongs. I’ll stay here and,” he glances briefly over his shoulder, “contend with this myself.”
“No,” Buffy says, almost stomping her foot. She can’t allow him to do this. Not again.
This time around, he holds both her hands in his, ignoring the old woman and focusing solely on Buffy. “Love, I’ve been surviving here. I know my way around.”
The witch sighs. “It does not matter what you say. Someone needs flowers to pass.”
Spike grits his teeth in anger and closes his eyes, all his energy going into focusing. . . on what Buffy has no idea.
A soft white glow appears between them, briefly lighting them and then fading, leaving behind a single bunch of asphodel flowers.
Spike grins and shoves them at Buffy. “You’re going back.”
“Y-you did it.” Buffy swallows, her mind swirling with what this means. “You sure?”
His eyes tell her yes, urging her to take the gift and save herself. At that moment she is reminded of the time when they were separated before, and she knows what she has to do.
Buffy pivots to face the woman, who is back to being as ancient as she was before. Buffy offers the flowers. “I’m ready.”
A slow smile spreads across the woman’s pale face, and her bony fingers reach once again for the asphodels. She clutches them to her chest, closing her eyes as before. As the violet light starts to grow, Buffy summons all her strength and pushes the old woman as hard as she can.
The woman flies back with a thin cry of dismay and lands with a splash in the river. As the flowers fly away and light on the surface of the water, a blood-curdling scream rises up from the depths, and without fanfare, the woman is gone.
With a satisfied smile on her face, Buffy singsongs, “Ding dong, the witch is dead.” She grins at Spike. “Consumed by the flood of pain. Come on. You’re coming with me. No flowers needed.” Then, it’s her turn to grab him by the arm and rush him into the boat of bones just as the forest of darkness consumes the riverbank where they were standing.
Spike produces the staff the woman used to guide the boat across the river. “I take it we use this?”
Spike reaches back, using the staff to push them away from the taunting forest, jerking the bottom out of a grasping vine just in time. As Spike sits on the bone bench Buffy sat on earlier, he passes the staff to her, who dunks it into the fast-moving river waters. She takes a moment to find her bearings as the boat rocks back and forth and threatens to spin in some unseen whirlpool or dump them into the deadly waters.
Somehow, she digs deep inside and feels the staff elongate against her palms. Suddenly, she finds the bottom of the river, and she shoves downward. The boat jerks to a halt, pitching a little. She takes a moment to catch her breath and check on Spike who is lounging back like nothing threatening is happening at all. He offers her a half-smirk, half-grin of encouragement.
She grins at his nonchalance before turning toward the opposite shore. Using the remnants of the trailing tendrils of orange and red light to guide her, maneuvers the boat along the wide river. After several minutes, she finds her strength waning, which isn’t something she’s experienced in a long time – never in her part of the afterlife.
When one muscle cries out a little too much, Spike moves toward her. His arms come around her, and he grips the staff just enough to allow her to slide down and back, taking his place in the bottom of the boat to rest.
She watches him work, drinking in his presence. She wants to bask in him. . . the one she never thought was the right one until he was. . . and is and always will be. His slim form is a silhouette against the sky, his arms moving with slow, straining precision as he takes them home. He is her home, and she can’t quite fathom how she almost forgot. But it’s been so long, and she’s done so many things in the fields beyond.
She’s pleased about one thing.
He did as she told him. He lived with her gone until his unbeating heart was broken, and his corporeal body was dust yet again.
“I love you,” she says while she has time and it’s just them.
She’s rewarded with an “I love you, too, pet. And I think we’ve made it.”
Buffy pushes herself up in the boat, fingers gliding on bone. The shore ahead is bright with sunlight, and a group of people waves and calls to them, welcoming them to the Elysian Fields.
“Is that the Lil Bit?” Spike asks with joy.
Dawn is jumping up and down and waving. With equal joy, Buffy says, “Yeah, that’s her. And Willow, Tara, Oz, Xander, Anya, Giles, and. . . “Oh, my god.”
“What, love?” Spike gives her a quick glance.
“Mom is here!”
“She hasn’t been?”
Words can barely squeak around the lump in Buffy’s throat. “No.” Tears fill her eyes. “But she is now. My mom is here.”
The boat bumps against the shore a little way away from her loved ones, who rush to meet them. Buffy wobbles to her feet and pushes up behind Spike, eager to see everyone and for everyone to see Spike.
Spike hops out of the boat first, and as he does so, the old woman’s bony hand shoots out of the river and grabs his ankle. Buffy lets out a little shriek. Spike growls and stabs the hand with the staff. The old woman doesn’t let go, her head cresting out of the water.
Buffy scrambles past Spike onto land. Without a second thought, she feels a crossbow fill her hands. She aims and shoots the woman in the eye and brain, sending her right back where she came from with only a small gurgle.
Spike turns to her with surprise.
“See,” she says, “I told you how it would be here.”
Boisterous loved ones surround them, laughing and hugging Buffy and including Spike in the affection and jubilation. Happy music resounds in the background - no doubt Dawn's concert. Buffy is overwhelmed by the reception, and then, she finds herself in her mother’s embrace.
As her mother hugs her tight, she whispers in Buffy’s ear, “Glad you found him and brought him home.”
“Me, too, Mom. Me, too.”