Part Ten, Spreading Sunlight
The light is bright over her closed eyelids, but the nearby voice is brighter in her head. Her skull feels as if it is weighted down with water.
"Buffy!" Dawn is entirely too enthusiastic. "You're awake!"
Buffy blinks away the florescent light above the narrow bed in the emergency infirmary and attempts to smile at her sister. "I am." She winces as she moves her arms and legs with more gusto. "And I'm sore."
"As expected." Long hair piled atop her head in a mess of braids, Dawn smiles back, patting Buffy's forearm. "You've been through a lot."
Buffy sits up abruptly, ignoring the wave of stars that infiltrates her vision and searches the expansive but empty infirmary room. "Where is it?"
"What?" Dawn catches Buffy's arm to steady her.
"The stone. . . the rock. . . t-the object Spike and I. . . we worked so hard to get! The last piece of the puzzle!" She can't keep the panic out of her tone.
"Buffy, relax," Dawn soothes. "Willow took it. When the underground leaders heard that you. . . well, they wanted Willow and Andrew to start on things right away."
"Oh!" All those months of work, and they didn't even wait until she was awake to start? Stupid bureaucrats.
"I know what you mean." Dawn doesn't even bother to try and stop her sister. Instead, she hurries around to the other side of the bed to assist Buffy in standing once she's tugged on her jeans and put on a blouse. "Did Willow tell you that they didn't even want to send out a search party for you guys? They wanted to wait the month out."
"W-what?" Buffy's mind tries to wrap itself around the implications of what Dawn is saying. "You mean. . . we wouldn't have ma. . ."
Dawn rattles on without answering Buffy's stammers. "You guys started out in Germany, right? In some little town? And you ended up in Prague? We lost touch somewhere in between and had no idea where you were."
Buffy touches her ear, running her finger over the broken communicator. "What about the transmission we sent?"
Dawn's arm circles Buffy's waist as she attempts to stand on her twisted ankle. "Nope. Nada. Never received. Willow, Oz, and Andrew went out on their own. . . broke all kinds of laws, but when the powers-in-charge found out that you guys had succeeded, all was forgiven. Kinda ironic, huh? I wanted to go, but they wouldn't let me. Made me stay behind to fend off the. . . "
Somehow, Buffy isn't surprised by this news. "What we get for trusting anyone but ourselves, huh?" Before Dawn can answer, she slips in, "Where's Spike?"
Dawn avoids her eyes for a second too long and starts for the door.
"Where is he?"
Buffy's back and shoulders ache as they move but so does her stomach. . . for an entirely different reason. "Gone? Where did he go?" She tries to hide the depth of her disappointment. . . her hurt but fails miserably.
Releasing Buffy to stand on her own for a moment, Dawn opens the door. "He didn't want to talk with. . . er, get grilled by Maynard and Jordan. And I don't blame him, really. Who wants to report every little detail to those creeps? They used to be lawyers after all. Which, by the way, they left already. You slept for a few days. Got an IV and everything; you don't have to say a word to them. . . Giles took care of it. . . for you, but not for Spike."
Dizziness threatens to overcome Buffy, and she clings to the doorframe like a life line. She knows why they're avoiding Maynard and Jordan. . . two government agents whose job it was to gather all the details of the missions above ground. . . pseudo-Watcher's-Council types. Still, she's never felt quite so helpless. . . not even when Giles stripped her of her powers.
Dawn looks up at her sister from beneath wisps of dark hair. "He. . . Spike told me what happened. . . out there." She inclines her head toward the world outside.
Uncertain, Buffy stares at the peeling doorframe beneath her palm.
"And Buffy, he didn't leave because he doesn't care about you."
Blinking back tears, Buffy pushes past her little sister into the outside. A small bubble of protected space leads to the vehicle that's waiting for them with an open door. She limps toward the car. She can't talk about Spike anymore. . . not just yet.
"A limo?" she manages, a laugh spilling over her lips despite her sadness.
Ducking around her sister and sweeping an arm as if to showcase the car, Dawn builds on Buffy's attempt at good humor, "The black stretch limo is merely a glamour to hide the armor and weapons capability of this modified tank that allows safe passage through the upper world. Safety and style. All the top government officials insist on it."
Dawn shrugs. "Just know that it's our ride to the site. Ready?"
"Ready as I'll ever be." Even her hair feels heavy on her shoulders.
Dawn and Buffy slide into the back seat of what appears to be a very ordinary limo, and the vehicle jets off. The windows are completely opaque, so Buffy can't even stare out at the world around them. She sighs and stares at her hands.
Several minutes pass.
Then, "Is he coming back?"
Dawn looks distinctly uncomfortable. "He didn't say."
"Oh." Buffy picks at a fingernail.
Dawn fidgets. "Giles did the best he could. He only had pull to keep one of you free of questioning. Spike insisted it be you. Said he could disappear more easily. He wanted to stay."
Buffy's heart sinks. More and more and more like Angel. Why does she feel like she's eighteen again? "Oh."
The limo-slash-tank slows to a halt.
"Ready?" Dawn looks expectantly at her sister.
Buffy hesitates. Is she? This is the moment she's been waiting for since the move underground. She knows Willow is excited. Who is she to let her best friend down by not showing up, even though all she wants to do is go back to her personal room and bury her head under the covers? She forces herself to smile. "Yeah. I'm ready."
The passenger door hisses open as if there's some sort of vacuum seal on it, and Dawn tumbles out first before offering Buffy a hand. Buffy eases her way out, and the pair hurries to the next door that's half-buried in the ground.
Dawn presses her thumb to the entry pad next to the door and blows into a small opening above it. The keypad beeps in a very Initiative-type manner, and the door clicks unlocked.
Willow appears once again, like a smiling guardian, and embraces Buffy with both arms. "Buffy! I'm so glad you woke up in time."
Buffy gives her friend a half-grin as Willow backs away to allow them to enter. "Wouldn't miss this for the world."
Willow joins a small huddle of people that includes Giles, Andrew, Oz, and four or five men and women in suits. . . government officials from each faction. She thinks back to Spike's explanation of the factions and wonders which want to collaborate with the demons. She wishes them luck with that endeavor.
A large window is situated along one wall, and a mass of control panels are interspersed throughout the rest of the cramped room. A curtained doorway marks an entrance into the world beyond the window.
The window remains dark, but soon. . .
While Dawn retreats behind the group, Giles moves next to Buffy, his tall form a comforting presence as he leans toward her, whispering, "Feeling okay, Buffy?"
She gives him a thin-lipped smile and nods. "I am." She pauses, not sure what to say to acknowledge what he did to keep her safe from the probing government. "Thank you."
"I'm sorry for the way. . ."
"Ready?" Andrew chirps, adjusting his red-tinted goggles. His hands move to hover over one of the control panels in front of the window.
Dawn meanders around to each person, handing him or her a set of goggles. When she gets to Buffy, she grins and whispers sotto voce, "We don't really need these, but Andrew insists that we'll look cooler."
Buffy can't help but snicker and tugs the plastic band to the back of her skull, fiddling with the goggles until they're secure on her nose.
"Ready," Dawn calls to Andrew, donning her protective eyewear.
Andrew checks the monitors. "Satellite is in position. And it's a go." He salutes two fingers at Willow. "Ready for spell casting."
Willow leaves them to enter the darkness, revealing the stone Spike and Buffy had worked so hard to retrieve and winking at Buffy before she disappears.
Buffy can feel her heart pounding in her chest with the clicking of the buttons Andrew's pushing. As he works, Willow's voice is transmitted throughout the tiny control room, the language she's chanting neither English nor Latin but something more ancient. . . more primitive. As the seconds fly past, the magic begins to thrum through the room and hum louder and higher in Buffy's ears until it overpowers Willow's speech. At the height of the din, a tiny pinprick of light is born in the center of the wide, ebony window.
The tiny light flickers and almost winks out.
Buffy's breath catches in her throat.
But then, the light grows and spreads with increasing speed, casting rays of varying intensity in every direction.
As the illumination becomes blinding, Willow's voice fades, and as she squints against the brilliance, Buffy can hear a couple of the government officials gasping at what they're witnessing.
Without warning, the magic that had been carrying them along abruptly cuts off, leaving Buffy's arms dangling under the weight of gravity.
The silence is deafening.
Andrew is the first to remove his goggles, and he gapes at the bright golden light still shining in through the window. Slowly, each individual in the room takes a step forward to peer into the new world. Goggles clatter to the ground or control panels.
Buffy hangs back uncertain whether she wants to see what they've accomplished. This is an ending for her. . . an ending for her and Spike.
People cross in front of her in a blur. She doesn't even realize that tears are the source of the haze until Giles squeezes her upper arm, and the liquid splashes onto her cheeks.
"Coming, Buffy?" he asks, unable to hide his anticipation of what lies beyond the curtain.
Wiping away the tears, she nods. Her legs move without her permission, and the curtain is rough beneath her fingertips.
Then, the brightness and warmth of the sunlight caresses her skin, and her feet sink into the soft green of vegetation.
The space beyond the curtain is paradise.
Willow runs across the grassy field toward Buffy.
"Buffy! Do you see what we did?"
Remaining at the threshold, Buffy smiles for her friend. "I do. It's wonderful, Will."
Willow hugs her tightly and then draws back, eyes shining. "It's all because of you and Spike that this came about. It's all because of you that we gathered the plants in this room. . . that we have real sunlight to sustain the life here. We're gonna have fresh vegetables and cleaner air and medicine. . . and so many other things!"
"You mean, I'll be able to have a fresh garden salad?" Buffy jokes.
"Yeah! And look. There are trees and flowers and bushes a-and even a mini-river! Why don't you go exploring?"
"We did all this." Buffy is finally awed by the magnitude of their undertaking. They had done it. . . she and Spike and Giles and Willow and Andrew and all the others. They'd created an underground heaven . . . a way to survive underground. . . a way to have sunlight without having to be above ground.
"And now we have the energy and time to keep fighting," Willow adds.
Buffy's eyes spark with fresh hope. "And that is of the good."
"Go for a walk," Willow urges a second time, pressing the now useless stone into Buffy's open palm. "After today, the area will be off limits until the other scientists and witches and I decide how to develop and cultivate and copy this magic so that more underground areas can reap all the benefits of the sunlight."
Buffy hobbles down the path into the trees that lead to the mini-river, inhaling the fresh, clean air and marveling at how less cramped and closed in she feels. Although she has been above ground at night, somehow she hasn't realized how open the world is with the sun shining above. . . even if the sky is artificial.
At the river's edge underneath the trees, she squats to watch the shallow water flow noisily over the polished rocks poking up from beneath the surface. Her fingers trail through the cool water, and then, she hears a footfall behind her.
She straightens rather quickly but is too afraid to turn around for fear that her senses betray her.
Buffy speaks first, "Where did you go?"
"Had to sort some stuff out for a couple of days, pet." Spike doesn't mention the Maynard and Jones guys. "Where did you think I went?"
"You could have told me."
"You were in the infirmary. I sent you a computer message. Didn't you get it?"
"What. . . in Morse code?" She pivots to face him and holds up her empty wrist. Water droplets drip down her arm, and she tucks away the anger that poked its head out in her query. "Sorry, my computer. They must have taken it off in the infirmary."
She studies him. He stands before her, wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt; his hair has grown out since their mission. She supposes it's been growing out all along, and she hasn't noticed in the dark. His arms are at his sides; he's not defensive, and his eyes are a wide, unfathomable blue.
Oddly, he doesn't smell like burnt flesh.
"Why aren't you bursting into flames? I mean, outside of the shade." Buffy's voice sounds flat.
"A bit of magic, pet," Spike explains. "I can go out in the sun here. . . underground."
"After we got back, Red explained it to me. . . the way the whole thing works. Andy channels Red's spell through the technology. . . through the old satellite in the Earth's orbit, and the spell harnesses the sunlight and transports it here to this space."
"I don't get it. How is that any different than standing out on a hot summer day in mid-August?"
A smile tugs at the corner of his mouth. "Basically, I think it's like the sunlight is reflected. Vamps can go out on moonlit nights, and moonlight is reflected sunlight, so. . ."
"This light is 'reflected'?"
"Yeah, that's the gist." Spike tucks his thumb in the loop of his jeans.
Unable to meet his steady gaze, Buffy shoves her hands into her back pockets and sways a little. "Where are you going now?"
"Where?" he repeats, disappointment clear.
"Do you even know? Or do you not want to tell me? Scared I'm going to follow you? Well, I'll tell you right now, I'm not a stalker, and I have no intention of following you around making moon eyes. . ." The anger that is tight across her ribcage and the unstoppable tears that pour forth from her eyes cut off her words. Damn it.
Spike's arms surround her, and when her face meets his familiar chest, a sob escapes from deep within. His hands move over her back in soothing strokes as she cries.
When she is finished, he asks, "Buffy?"
"Look at me." Spike moves back from her a little and tilts her chin up so that she can't evade him.
Buffy's afraid of what he's going to say next, but she's determined to hear whatever it is.
Then, he gently brings his mouth to hers with a tentativeness that allows her to stop him if she pleases. When she doesn't break away, he pulls her closer, mindful of her injuries, and deepens the kiss. She allows him the control, knowing that he needs to show her. . . something. She doesn't quite know what his actions mean, but for the moment, she doesn't worry. She simply kisses him in return, her mouth dancing with his. . . her heart following his lead. Her hand caresses his cheek as his tongue explores her mouth, and neither can deny the connection between them any longer when she enters his. Emotion floods over both of them, and they ride the waves together.
The pain in her shoulder blade forces her to end the kiss. When she grimaces, he takes her hand and allows her to clutch his fingers until the pain subsides.
He presses his forehead to hers. "Buffy, love."
Her wide green eyes peer into his light blue ones. There is only truth between them now.
"I'm not Angel," he insists with complete sincerity and a trace of underlying stubbornness. "And I'm definitely not that ponce, Riley. . . . Or the bloody Immortal."
She can't help herself. She laughs, the sound a bright and joyous balm to his soul.
Stroking the backs of his arms, she whispers, "I'm glad you aren't any of them. I'm glad you're you." She has to hear him say the words. "But what does that mean?"
"Means I'm not going anywhere. That's what it means."
"Oooo. . . a bit presumptuous, are we?"
"Uh, yes!" She kisses his nose and steps back, swinging one hand free.
As they half-stride, half-limp toward the sunlit field and their circle of friends, she adds, "I love you, you know."
In the past, he would have looked at her in wonder. Now, he simply accepts her words with his own, "I love you, too."
Thank you for all the sweet and thoughtful reviews you've left me! Hopefully, you enjoyed the end...
Just a final note...there is one major symbol throughout the entire fic. You probably already guessed it...light! There is light in every chapter, and it symbolizes objects, people, feelings, thoughts...etc. :o)