DREAMING AND WAKING

AUTHOR: PhenDog

AUTHOR E-MAIL: PhenDog[at]gmail[dot]com

RATING: PG

SUMMARY: Buffy may have escaped after waking up in her coffin, but she can't escape the dreams that follow...

CATEGORY: Buffy gen-fic, POV

WARNINGS: Extreme angst.

DISCLAIMER: I don't own Buffy, Dawn, or anything else except my beloved computer named "Slate." (Obviously I don't own them, or I'd own a lot more than Slate and you'd have to pay to read this.) The Buffyverse belongs to Joss, ME (yes I know, old joke), and a whole bunch of alphabetical TV networks, 'specially now that it's gone into syndication. Please don't sue, I know I don't have permission. Bad me. All my money went to bootleg X-files and Buffy episodes and Slate doesn't want to leave me!

DEDICATION: For once I won't mention ElizaBuffy in my dedication, just because I know she'd really hate all the angst. Sorry love! Will write you some nice happy fluff soon. So, instead, I'll dedicate it to my job. It inspired this. (yes, be afraid)

THANK YOU: To Kim and Kharma2851! I'm glad you could put up w/my angst fest and thanks for cleaning up my nasty little messes, spelling and otherwise! Cyberhugs to you both.

FEEDBACK: PLEASE!!! Lay it on me at PhenDog[at]gmail[dot]com. Good feedback will be treasured, printed, and taped on my wall. Flames will be treasured, printed in large typeface, matted, framed, and hung with care on my door for all to see. Either way, you'll be encouraging me to write more! Constructive Criticism treasured above all else!

DISTRIBUTION: Shades of Grey efiction, my LJ: (username phendog) , Fire and Ice, BtVS and AtS Fanfiction, Otherwise, if you want it, just let me know!

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Peace. Happiness. Contentment. You think you know what these things are, but you don't. You've never really felt them as I have. No one else has.

To feel true peace, you have to be perfectly content and know that everything will be all right. There can be no fear, no doubt, nothing but that calm and utter certainty that all is well, and always will be.

In short, it's not possible. Not for anyone living, anyway, because, you see, life is pain and doubt. You might think that you're happy, but you aren't, because in the back of your mind there is something telling you that the happiness might go away. Bad things might happen. You can't control it, and there is anxiety in that. What you call happiness is only a momentary relief from unhappiness or apathy. What you call peace is only that moment between battles when the world lets you rest before cruelly attacking you once more.

But true peace? It's certain, strong, everlasting...except when it's not. I had indescribable happiness and comfort wrapped around me in its purest form—but it got ripped away. Eternal rest is only temporary with friends like mine.

I don't quite remember what it was like, because it is something those on earth are not meant to know, but I remember it enough that nothing in this world can even begin to compare. This world is harsh, too bright, too loud, painful, and uncertain. This world might as well be hell. You just aren't aware of it, because you don't know any better. I envy you.

The first sensation is always the cold. It starts deep in my chest, spreading outward, thick and heavy, carrying the dull ache of it through me. Arms, legs, neck, fingers, my whole body feels as if something had physically pressed down, grinding, and pulverizing until everything is nothing but one blunt, crushing haze. Then, the needs of life take over, and I gasp, sucking in the air that is really too thick to breathe. It burns, scraping my throat, and my eyes fly open, painfully breaking open the slight crusts that had formed at the corners. I try again to take in as much of the oxygen poor air as my lungs will hold, as I realize that I can see no more than I could seconds ago. This is not the darkness of night where shapes are dim and shadows long. This is true darkness. Nothing to see, and the panic starts in earnest.

I try to sit up, but immediately bump my head and find that I can't. Something confines me, holding me down. I squirm and twist, hands reaching out and grappling to understand, as the unaccustomed muscles cramp painfully, causing me to cry out softly. My fingers find satin and hardness, dancing across the fabric covered walls of my tiny prison as my brain works frantically. I start gasping in the thin and stale air, trying hard to stay in control, assess as I have been trained to do.

Then I know. I don't know how I know, but I do. Once, that first year in Sunnydale, our nightmares came true. This was my nightmare. I remember what it was like to wake up a vampire, having to dig my way out, but that had been surreal, leaving only a vague impression of terror. This was the real thing. And with that thought, I snap.

The scream tears from my throat, horrible and raspy, but as loud as I can manage, and it doesn't stop. My attempts to kick are futile, cut short by the tiny space that seems to contract further. It moves in, tightening, closing in about my struggles. With painful angles I move my arms up to tear at my prison.

The satin and thin padding beneath pulls away quickly, merely stapled to the wood, meant solely for show, and where it catches, it shreds under my frantic fingers. Then they find the wood and keep going. The unfinished surface that I've revealed snags the nails, and they begin to bend back and break as I force them into the wood, taking away mere splinters for my efforts. The shards imbed themselves in my flesh or rain down on my face. The wood grows rough and slick with my blood as I skin knuckles, and make fingers bleed from the tips, disregarding the flesh, trying to use the very bones to free myself.

Briefly, I know that I am dying, then I recall that I have died. And now I am here. Only the desperate need for air assures me I am not a vampire, but who knows what I have become? My scream cuts off short, no longer able to be sustained. The flaring pain lances across my ribs and up, leaving me raw, as I continue to desperately cry out silently with the fear and pain. The lack of oxygen makes me dizzy and lightheaded, but I can't stop it. I am dying a far more horrible death than I had ever thought to meet. Fangs in the neck, a fall through an inter-dimensional portal eleven stories up, had been expected, sudden. But this utter helplessness and mind-shredding terror...

I am the Slayer, damn it! That should count for something. With all I have, I lash out. The adrenaline suppresses the pain of the blows, and I fight harder than I ever have against a vamp. A well-placed blow cracks the wood above my chest, and another sends it collapsing on top of me, the cold, damp dirt pouring in. Sheer instinct directs me to claw at the hole, taking the edges in my hands and breaking the wood through pure force. I widen it, and the soil rushes in to cover me, filling my nose and mouth, stinging my eyes, all six feet seeking to crush me, weighing heavily on my chest, and it is then that my fight truly begins.

There is so much of it, I can barely even move. It is only because it is moving, continuing to settle that the dirt is loose enough to push through, swimming upward, scissoring my legs largely ineffectually as I seek to propel myself to the world I hope is still above me. At this point, I have to take it on faith that such a world of open air ever existed at all.

The sediment digs into the wounds on my hands and arms as my battered fingers reach in the direction I believe to be upward, though up and down have become confused. The gritty soil is so very cold, leaching out what little heat I'd had...

But then my hand bursts through, finding a place that offers no resistance. For the first time, I feel a dash of hope, and, with twitching, straining muscles, I grasp the ground and pull myself to the surface.

Finally, I push my head out, the dirt flying, cascading from my hair. I have time to notice nothing else. Frantically, I drag the air into my poor, raw throat. Great, panting gulps, pulling the air into tortured lungs, even as I spit out the mud. At first it is the sweetest thing I have ever tasted, and I rejoice in it, not yet noticing the finer aspects of what I'm breathing in.

The blood is in my head now, pounding, and when I open my eyes, I have to blink hard, weeping at the grit. I am in the forest. There is grass and there are trees and it is night. But there is an odd, red glow through the trees that makes my heart beat even faster. Something is wrong.

It's then that I notice the air is not fresh at all, but thick—too thick—and filled with the cloying rot of decay. There is the stench of death, overlaid with something smoky, speaking of fire.

Then I hear the screams, so much quieter than my own had been, still ringing through my ears, but loud enough, and a demon roars into the clearing, racing through on his motorbike...

Now, I know. I have been brought back from heaven because I was not worthy. Glory must have succeeded, and, through the portal, hell blended with the earth. I am there now, condemned to it because I have failed.

Then the darkness rushes in, and the adrenaline of waking fills my head, making me dizzy and disoriented as the world shifts without warning. Hot, prickly warmth races through me, and my head pounds with panic. Something is pinning me, holding me down, and for a second I think I am in the coffin again. Then I realize I am being shaken. I reach out, tearing at my assailant, pulling it close so that I may attack.

"BUFFY!" The voice is sharp and frantic and somehow it cuts through my horror like a knife. My fingers grip tight, bruising deep, before I know and my hands release.

{Dawn!} my mind cries out, afraid I've hurt her, but she is holding on. I collapse into her embrace, wanting nothing more than to be free of those confining arms, but so desperately not wanting to injure, that I fear using strength to push her away.

"God, Buffy! You're okay. It's me. Everything is okay." She repeats the phrases like a mantra, trying to ease the trembling as she rubs ragged circles into my back. I realized I am shaking, but when I try to stop, I just shake harder.

The dream washes over me, fresh and overwhelming in my mind, causing a deep physical reaction. Before I know it, my stomach heaves, bringing up thin liquid and foam. It struggles for more, and I retch painfully, but there is no more. I am never hungry these days, and I cannot remember the last time I've eaten, but it obviously was not recently.

Dawn doesn't say a word. She just holds me, my head over her shoulder, as my spew flecks the bedspread and both of us. When I finish, and find myself gasping to recover from the painful squeezing of my ribs, I cough slightly, and bring up a hand only to find blood. Quickly, I wipe it on the dark blue coverlet so that she might not see.

She is humming now, a tune mom used to use, trying to soothe, as her fingers brush through my hair. But I can hear the falter in the notes, the only sign of her fear, and I hate myself for putting her through this. The tears that are dampening my face are now as much for her as for myself, but I just don't know how to stop.

"Dawn." The word finally escapes my lips with a bit more force than I intended, but it convinces her to let me untangle myself.

"Oh God, Buffy! That was bad. Are you okay?" she asks, watching me in the darkness of the room.

"Yeah," I answer, letting it serve as a response to both question and comment. "I didn't hurt you, did I?" The question comes out sounding apathetic, but I really want to know if I have. That matters.

She shrugs. "Nah," but I know there will at least be bruises from where my fingers dug into her.

Neither one of us speak until she grows nervous, fidgeting. "Um, here..." she trails off, as she begins to strip off her shirt and gather up the vomit-covered bedspread, before it can soak through, leaving me with the blankets. She grabs for my shirt too, and I raise my arms without thinking to let her take it.

Dawn asks if it's okay if she leaves and comes right back, and, dumbly, I nod.

When she returns, she has a damp washcloth and a glass of water. She hands me the latter, then reaches up to clean my face with the cloth before I take it from her and do it myself. She lets me, and slides off the bed to grab a pair of plain t-shirts from my drawer. One she puts on herself, and the other she throws to me to cover my own upper nakedness.

God, she looks so scared and vulnerable. I should be the one comforting her, but I'm still too busy trying to calm myself. I don't know what to say to reassure. Slowly, I sip the water, trying to wash out the taste. I set it back down again soon though. My stomach still feels uneasy.

"You were screaming again."

She didn't need to tell me that. I know it. I can still feel the soreness in my throat. Besides that, she came. She always does when I scream. I can imagine how it must frighten her, and I hate myself more. Then, I feel the edge of what might be anger—though emotions are so dulled lately that they tend to blend together. {Why does it always have to be Dawn,} I wonder? She alone in this house had no fault in bringing me back. Willow and Tara have magically soundproofed their room, and I suspect it is as much about keeping sounds out as it is keeping them in.

I look at my sister. So strong, but just a kid.

"It's okay, Buffy. Just a dream." In the darkness she hugs herself and bites her lip, waiting for my agreement, so, lying, I give it.

"Yes, just a dream. I'm alright now." Feeling like they are made of lead, I lift my arms and force myself to hold her close, giving her the comfort she had attempted to give me. I can smell her fear and feel her hot and sweaty against me, pushing the rough shirt fabric against my skin, burning me where we make contact. I have to try hard not to flinch away, but I manage it. She relaxes slightly, but I can still feel the tension that just won't go away.

I want to apologize to her. Dawn shouldn't have to put up with this crap. Dawn shouldn't have to mother me now, dealing with my problems when she's got plenty of her own. He childhood is being stolen from her, like mine was from me, and I just sit here and watch. I love her, but there are times like this, I wish she'd never been given to me. When the monks made her, they sentenced her not just to the pain of living, but also to the particular hell of our little group. I know she blames herself, but it wasn't her fault. She shouldn't have had to be all alone when I jumped off that tower, and she shouldn't have had to feel guilty about it, because it never should have happened in the first place. I want to apologize to her for all that shit, but no matter how bad that was, I'm sure this is worse. Before I was just gone. Now I'm here, but I can't be the Buffy she needs me to be, though I would give anything if I could. I want to tell her all of these things, but I know the lie is better. If we ignore the truth, we can pretend it's not real. So instead, I just say "thank you," and the whisper rings in my ears, the words holding as much feeling as I can manage.

She holds on for a moment longer before relaxing her grip and letting go. The bedcovers rustle as she leans back from me. In the darkness of the room, her pupils are wide and black, looking at me intently, before she finally gathers the courage to speak. "I could stay here with you, Buffy. You might sleep better..."

It's not an offer so much as it's a request, but I deny her. "No, Dawn. You'll sleep better in your own bed, and I think I'll be alright for the night. Thanks." I make up excuses so I don't have to tell her the real reason. It hurts to be touched. I can still feel the aching, repulsive tingling from where she clung to me moments before, but this is just one more thing she doesn't need to know. Besides, if I were to get too violent in my sleep and hurt her...the bile rises again, and I have to fight it back.

She eases herself off the bed, and then turns back, making sure it's really okay to leave, scared to stay, but afraid to go. The muscles hurt as I force the corners of my mouth to lift in an expression that has not come naturally since I jumped through that damn portal. "Hey, Dawnie? I love you."

"Love you, too, Buffy."

"Night."

"Night..." she still hesitates, standing in the doorway. "And Buffy?"

"Just dreams; I know."

She nods, and I hear the door latch click behind her as she lets herself out. Then I am alone, and the world grows silent, and unreal, exposing the worst lie of the night.

Dawn says they are just dreams, but the problem is that the dreams feel every bit as real, if not more real, than the world I find myself in now. I have no way of knowing this world that is not the false one, and that I will not soon awake from this dream I foolishly believe. Sighing, I lay back down and let my head sink into the pillow, afraid to close my eyes and trade the darkness without for the darkness within. Perhaps I am still in that coffin, or perhaps the dimensions of hell truly have won.

There can be no true peace and happiness here, and, for me, they can never exist anywhere else, either. Because I know the truth. Forever isn't forever, and nothing can ever be certain again. Not for me. Every night I relive waking in that damn box. Sometimes I can't get out at all, but more often than not, I manage to dig to the surface, finding myself in some new and novel version of hell. That's what those who say they're 'just dreams,' don't understand. Reality happens once, then fades into the past, but the dreams come every night.