Disclaimer: Buffy and her friends belong to Joss Whedon. The Endless belong to Neil Gaiman. Personally, I think they're a match made in Geek Heaven (all of 'em--Neil needs desperately to write an episode of AtS). I don't know what they think, since they foolishly haven't consulted me and aren't paying me a dime for this.

Spoilers: All of BtVS and Sandman.

A/N: If you know nothing of Gaiman's Endless, first of all, you need to get back into reading comic books. Not kidding. 29-year-old English teacher here, and they're some of the best, most literate writing I've ever had the privilege of reading, so don't let the snob factor keep you away. However, if you haven't read them yet, I think you should still be able to understand most of these vignettes, if not fully appreciate them. Stick around and see what you think.


Encounter: Destiny

Buffy knows something's different. A few nights ago, she awoke with the sensation of an electric current running through her body. She hasn't told anyone, of course--how could she describe how different she feels now?

It's like everything's heightened. All her senses are sharper, she feels stronger, more able than ever. In many ways, she's never felt so good in all her fifteen years.

But there are the dreams. Strange dreams in which a man whispers to her seductively, and part of her wants him, part of her is scared stiff of him, and another part wants to destroy him--violently. Dreams of bizarre, horrific beings have been haunting her. Why? She never liked horror movies.

And then there was the moment she awoke those few nights ago, just as she swam to consciousness with the awareness that something within her had changed, changed utterly. In that moment between sleeping and waking, her cluttered room had been a garden, and a man was walking through it toward her. He was tall and wore a monk's robe, and he carried with him a book. Somehow, Buffy knew, as he turned the page, that whatever was written there was about her.

And she knows her life will never be the same as a strange man approaches her outside her school.


Encounter: Desire

She's soaked to the skin already, and the rain is relentless. Water streams through her hair, drips from her clothing, pools in her collarbones as she and Angel hurry back to his apartment. It's cold, the rain, but it doesn't come close to quenching the fire building inside her.

He almost left tonight. Almost went away for months, perhaps a year-- forever, in a teenager's lifetime. Her thumb absently rubs the band of the ring he gave her. She belongs to him; she realizes that. She's never wanted someone so much in her life as she wants the man whose arm is around her shoulders.

Rain reflects the light crazily around them. She looks up at his face, bathed in the yellow light of fluorescent lamps, the red from a sign in a store window. Her Angel, her love, who wants her just as much as she wants him. She can feel it, bleeding out of his soul into hers, see it in his eyes as they look into hers, smoldering like the fire within her.

It's almost unbearable. How much can one person want?

They rush on. Only a breath away from their destination now. His apartment draws nearer each moment.

A small flame catches Buffy's eye. Leaning against the building is a tall, slim . . . man? Woman? Buffy can't tell. The person lights a cigarette, and the light illumines its face under the wide brim of a hat. Tawny eyes flash up to meet Buffy's. A smile, edged like a knife, flashes across the beautiful face as the person flicks its lighter one more time.

Desire flares in Buffy's heart. There's no going back now.


Encounter: Destruction

Oddly enough, she hasn't run out of hope. She's without her friends, her family, her love, even her home, yet a single hope sustains her: that she's finally away from it all. Away from being the Slayer.

Buffy keeps herself busy here in L.A. She works as much as possible at the diner, and when she's not there during the day, she walks the streets of the city. At night, if she's not working, she's back in her apartment. She knows there are monsters out in the city, knows it because she's seen them, knows it because she still has those damned Slayer instincts, but she won't fight them. She won't. Let someone else take back the freaking night. Buffy's not doing it anymore.

So she keeps herself distracted with books or goes next door, where old Mrs. O'Donnell (widowed since Vietnam, whose children and grandchildren never visit) lets her watch TV and tries to teach her bridge. Buffy's crap at bridge. Better to get thrashed at bridge by a sixty-year-old, though, than to go back to her apartment and be alone with her own thoughts.

Her daytime walks take her all over. She can walk for hours without getting tired or footsore, and she certainly doesn't need to worry about being attacked by the daytime evils the city has to offer. Mere humans? Not a worry. Her thoughts? Those are scary.

One day, on another excursion to be away from the emptiness in her soul, she finds him in a park, trying to paint his surroundings. He's oddly familiar, though she's almost certain she's never actually met him before-- an enormous man, pushing seven feet easily, and thick with muscle. His red hair is tousled, and his face is friendly. He greets her as if he was expecting her.

"What do you think?" he asks in a musical, booming voice, indicating the painting.

She shrugs. "Never was any good at art."

He strokes his chin thoughtfully. Then he laughs boisterously, and Buffy's sure they can hear his laughter back at her fleabag apartment complex.

"Neither am I, come to think of it," he says. "Some of us were never meant to create, Buffy." He looks at her seriously and places one giant hand tenderly against her cheek. "Some of us are built for destruction."

She pulls back, her Slayer senses tingling. This is no ordinary human. What he is isn't certain, however.

"How did you know my name?" she asks. "Who are you?"

"Another who has tried to walk away, Buffy Summers. Do you want to know what I've discovered?"


He takes his painting and sets it gently on the grass, then starts to fold up the easel. "You can always walk away from your duties, no matter who has laid them upon you--even yourself. But you can never walk away from your own nature." He packs his painting supplies away. "You are, at heart, my creature, Slayer. I know why you walked away. I also know that your heart calls you back."

"To do what?" she asks bitterly. "To stake my former classmates? To place my friends, my family, in danger because of what I am? To kill--" She chokes, the words bitter in her mouth.

That giant hand cups her chin, and Buffy is forced to look up, up at gentle, loving eyes. "It's not such a bad thing to be an agent of Destruction, Buffy. When a tree falls in the forest it is destroyed, yes-- but its life is given back to the land to create new life. That's what the process of destruction is for." His hand falls. "I know that's not much comfort right now."

He begins to walk away. Buffy calls after him.

"So what do I do?" she asks.

He stops and turns back to look at her. "You decide, Buffy. You'll always be yourself. It's only ever a matter of where."

She'll never remember the conversation, yet when Lily asks for her help, there is a certainty in Buffy's heart. Even as she fights it, she knows she'll be who she is. There's no escaping that.


Encounter: Death

It's suddenly very quiet.

That's the first thing that occurs to Buffy. There was a great deal of noise, and now everything's quiet. It's like nothing is happening.

Nothing is happening.

She can see her surroundings, but it's like in a dream where you know where you are, but you can't focus on the specifics of it. There's the tower looming over her, and she thinks her friends are nearby, and then there's the rubble. And, of course, her dead, broken body.

"I'm dead," she notes.

"Yep," says a voice behind her. Buffy doesn't bother to look to see who it is. She already knows. Death steps next to her, wearing blue jeans, a black tank top, and her ever-present Ankh. It's similar to what she was wearing four years ago when Buffy got her first good look at Death. "Did a good job of it, too."

"I never do anything halfway, I guess." Buffy looks up. The portals are closed. "So the world's safe?"

"The world's never safe, Buffy," points out Death sensibly. "You of all people know that. This particular threat, though? Taken care of."

"And Dawn's alive."

"She is."

Being bodiless inhibits Buffy's ability to sigh with relief. It worked, then. All her Slayer instincts--and her love--told her it would, but there's always that margin for error.

She looks back down at her body, her lifeless flesh, and feels a wave of sadness. Sadness that she died so young, sadness that the people who love her will mourn her passing, sadness at all she'll never see or do. At the same time, though, there's peace. This was right. She ended her life in sacrifice for the one she loves most, and it was the perfect ending. She looks at Death, sees the warmth in her eyes and smile, and smiles back.

"So. What now?" Buffy asks.

"I guess it's time for you to find out," says Death, extending her hands.

Buffy takes them, and she hears the beating of great wings . . .


Encounter: Despair

There's a kind of freedom in perfect despair. Once you stop hoping, you stop caring. Once you stop caring, well, anything goes.

They hit the wall together, devouring each other's mouths and bodies. Something crashes down beside Buffy, and she doesn't care. Doesn't care, doesn't care, doesn't care.

She's wrong. She came back wrong. Just like she'd known all along. Expect her to be the same old Buffy? Take on the same responsibilities? Care the same way she had? Tough. She came back from the grave wrong. Everything's wrong, everything's been wrong, and now she's got proof that it can never be made right. There's no way. There's no point.

So why not do what her blood is screaming for her to do? This creature she's riding is an avatar of death, the killer of two Slayers. Have some more, Spike. Take one more. The gift of Death turned out to be refundable, so what the hell is the point anymore? If she rides him hard enough, takes him deep enough, maybe he'll give her the only thing that could make it right again.

Not that she holds out any hope for that. For all she knows, her heaven was a one-time-only option. Wouldn't that be just the perfect topper to the cake?

She doesn't even want this. She doesn't want anything. For a time, she wanted something, wanted her old life, wanted to feel, but now? No. No point in it at all. Wanting, after all, might lead to getting, and getting always leads to losing, so what's the point in wanting?

Useless, all of it. Chasing after the wind.

She begs him with her body to take this away from her, to take this moment, this life, but she doesn't hope. She wants nothing, and that's what she gets.

A single, cracked mirror jars loose from the crumbling wall and hits the floor. If Buffy were to look into it right now, she'd see not herself, but the face of Despair--the one who holds the hook that's tearing her heart.


Encounter: Delirium

Am I here? Am I anywhere?

Um, I thINk You'rE heRE, BUt you MiGHt noT Be. I'M nOt suRE I'm Here.

I was there, and I was there, and now I'm here. Where is here?

It mIGht be toMoRRow.

That's when.

OH. OoPs. SorRY. I tHInk thiS is hERe.

I thought there was here.

THerE MIght bE here, tOO. It'S so HArd tO tELl, sOMEtimES. DiD yOU loSe someWHEre?

I lost a lot of somewheres. There was there, and my Mommy and Daddy were there. Did you see them?

I dON't HAve A moMMy aNd DAddY. I HAve broTHers and SiSterS, aND, uM, ONe bROtheR wHo'S aLSo a sIsTEr. I lOSt mY bROTher. ONe oF THem, aNYwaY. THEn ANother oNE dIEd, buT hE's noT DEad noW.

Oh. I used to be dead. That was in the other there. The one with Willow and Xander and Dawn.

I oNCe miSplACed daWn. IT toOk Me FOreVer tO FInd iT aGAin, bUt I'vE got foREver. A feW fOreVers, bEHiNd mY drESSer.

Maybe I misplaced them, too. I can't get them all together--Mommy and Daddy and my sister and my friends. They keep telling me to choose. Is this your doggy?

I LOst my DOGgy onCE. I fOUnd hiM aGaiN, thouGH. HE's a NIce doGGy. He doESn'T tHInk yoU REally belONg hEre, tHOugH.

I'm not sure. Maybe I don't belong anywhere anymore. Thanks for letting me visit.


Encounter: Dream

The bus is quiet as they drive away from Sunnydale. Buffy thinks everyone must be stunned at what happened today. She certainly is. Hasn't even really begun to process it. She's too tired. She hasn't gotten much sleep since that night Spike held her and gave her back her lost confidence, and that was a few days ago.

It's not just that, though. Buffy's tired right down to her bones, the way she was before she dove off of Glory's tower. The past few months have been unmerciful, a near-constant battle. At the moment, the Alpha Slayer (as Buffy caught Vi saying a few minutes ago) just wants to sleep. Sleep now, and figure out what happens next later. Extremely later.

She's sitting in the back with Dawn now. Their arms are around each other, and Dawn's head has already dropped to her sister's shoulder. Good idea, kid, thinks Buffy, and she leans against the side of the bus and closes her eyes. Ahead of her are the gates of horn and ivory.

Buffy stands outside them, watching as dreams flow into? Out of? Them. The gates of ivory admit (or expel--she can't quite make it out) common dreams, the dreams most people dream most nights. The gates of horn are for true dreams. She knows this without even knowing how. Buffy feels she should enter through the gates of horn, but such a thing is not lightly done, even for a Slayer. She hesitates.

"What? Do you need an engraved invitation?" squawks a strange voice. A large black raven alights on the gates of horn. "Come on, sweetheart. He's waiting."

So she enters. That is, she moves forward and is on the other side of the gates without quite knowing how it happened. On the other side is the strangest, most familiar landscape she's ever been in.

"This is a dream, right?" she asks the raven.

"Of course it is," he says. "I'm Matthew, by the way."

"I'm Buffy."

"I know. Hey, you know what? We've both been dead. No, seriously, before I got this raven gig, I was . . ."

She only half-listens to him as they walk deeper into the Dreaming. Here and there, things catch her eyes: islands scattered across a sea, both distant and close enough to touch; a cave, and the woman inside it, whom Buffy feels she knows and Matthew calls Eve; two houses with two brothers, one of whom picks up a stone and kills the other with it.

They walk on.

Sooner or later, as everyone must, they enter the heart of the Dreaming: the Dream King's palace. A Gryphon, a Wyvern, and a Hippogriff guard the door.

"Ho there, stranger!" hisses the Wyvern. "What business have you with the King of Dreams?"

"I'm the Slayer," says Buffy. "It's my right to seek out Dream of the Endless." She doesn't know why she says this, or how she knows to, but it is right.

The Wyvern inclines its head in agreement. "Then enter, Lady Slayer. Stay on the path, for it is dangerous for dreamers to wander from it."

The palace doors open, and Buffy enters, Matthew flapping a few feet over her head. Inside the palace are more strange sights, like a woman dressed as Marie Antoinette escorted by a large, formally-dressed rabbit. Buffy wonders sorrowfully if he ever played a starring role in Anya's dreams. A very tall man who reminds her somehow of Giles crosses her path and pauses briefly to bow respectfully to her before hurrying on (to his library, she imagines). From one side, a man-thing with a pumpkin for a head wolf- whistles at her.

"Hey, toots, can I visit your dreams sometime?" it calls.

"Dry up, Mervyn," snaps Matthew. "She could break you with her little finger; it's the Slayer."

Buffy ignores them, continuing on her path. It's not marked in any way, but she knows it well. Eventually, it leads, like all good dreams, to him. The throne of Dream sits at the top of a long, curved flight of stairs with nothing apparent supporting them.

"These things are up to code, aren't they?" she asks no one in particular. No one in particular answers, so she begins her ascent.

Dream sits on his throne, all in white except for the emerald on his breast. His hair is a pale halo about his head, and his eyes are pools of black night with the glint of stars within them. Matthew flies to his shoulder. Standing at Dream's other shoulder is a man who reminds Buffy of Spike so strongly that it hurts. He's taller, perhaps, and with a slightly thicker build, his eyes are obscured by dark glasses, and his white t-shirt and jeans ensemble certainly isn't something Buffy ever saw Spike in. However, his hair is so blond as to be nearly white, and there is a presence about him--the presence of a predator--that is deeply familiar. She looks at him, and she sees Spike, and she sees herself. The man smiles at her. He knows her well.

Buffy remembers now seeing Dream a few nights before, when she slept in Spike's arms. Dream helped her to find the clue she needed to find the Scythe of the Guardians. Buffy also remembers Dream telling her that the Slayer had been gifted by four of the Endless: himself, Destiny, Death, and Destruction. These are things she could never remember while awake.

"I give you greetings, Buffy Summers," says Dream in his old-yet-young voice.

"Hi," she says simply. He gives no reply, but seems to be waiting for her to continue. After a few awkward moments, she does. "I just wanted to drop by and say thanks for helping me out with that thing a few nights ago. It was, um, a lot of help, so thanks, and should I be going now?"

"Is that all you came for?" asks Dream.

Buffy realizes it wasn't, but it's no easier to vocalize what she does want in a dream than it is in reality. "I guess it wasn't," she says. "Look, there are a whole bunch of new Slayers, and they'll probably be beating down your door any minute now, so maybe I should just wake up."

"If that is what you wish."

The way he says it is almost perfectly maddening. Buffy feels like he could tell her exactly what she's trying (and failing) to think of, but he's not going to do the work for her.

"It's like this," she finally says. "I used to be the Chosen One, all right? I was the only Slayer. Then there was Kendra, and she was kind of cool, but she got killed, and then there was Faith. You probably saw a lot of her a couple of years ago, coma and all that, but, you know . . . anyway, now I'm not the only Slayer anymore. I'm not even one of two. There are dozens of girls all over the world with Slayer powers now. I don't even know what that means, okay? The thing is, though, sometimes when I dream, I get answers about what I'm supposed to do."

Dream stands, his white robe falling elegantly around his body. "So what is it that you want of me, Buffy Summers?"

And suddenly, Buffy knows. She smiles just a little as she makes her request.

"I want you to show me what's possible."

And she thinks that maybe Dream smiles just a little himself as he offers her his hand.