Buffy collapsed on to the bed

A/N This story takes place after 'Into the Woods'. It completely veers off from the rest of S5. I have posted it here before, but it SOMEHOW got deleted. So here it is again, for your viewing pleasure. Will eventually sort of be B/S…you'll have to wait and see. Don't worry, there isn't any Riley….hehehehehe.

Written in Charcoal

Buffy collapsed on to the bed.

It had possibly been the worst day of her life. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. She'd had a lot of worst days, but this one ranked pretty high on the Suck-o-meter. Riley had cheated on her. Not just any old cheating. No, he'd cheated on her with the undead. Skanky, undead whores.

And then she'd spilled her guts to Spike, who was definitely acting weirder than usual. Not only was he stealing pictures of her and apparently doing the stalking thing, that she could handle. He was talking to her. Dancing with her.

All Slayer's have a death wish.

Tears began to roll down her face. Again. Why did it always hurt, why couldn't she ever just be happy? It was all so complicated. But, then she could never have anything pure. It seemed that everything she touched turned black. First the disaster of Angelus, now this unsavory experience with Riley.

"Buffy? Are you okay?"

It was Willow. Buffy quickly wiped the tears away from her face, and stood up.

"I'm fine."

Willow walked in, and made a note of the Slayer's red rimmed eyes.

"No, you're definitely the opposite of fine." Willow's voice softened. "Do you want me to stay here tonight? Because if you want we can talk..."

"Really Willow, I'm okay. You go out, have some fun." Buffy gave a bitter laugh. "I mean, I should be used to dealing with this kind of thing by now, shouldn't I?"

"Buffy..."

"Just go."

Willow walked hesitantly over to her friend, gave her a hug, and left.

The moment the door clicked shut, the tears came again.

*****

"You guys just don't...ugh...get it, do you?"

Buffy slammed another stake home, and the second vampire turned to dust. The ashes of his friend where scattered nearby, and she turned to face the last vampire.

"Come on then. Make my..."

The vampire took one look at the Slayer and ran.

"They never let me finish that line! It makes me so mad when vampires don't appreciate melodrama."

And I'm talking to myself. Must be the after effects of the whole achy breaky heart experience...

Buffy stopped babbling and stood over a grave, stake poised. A vampire burst through the soil, and she looked at her watch.

"Right on time. Bye bye!"

Dust.

This wasn't making her feel better. Well, not very much. For a start, it was too easy.

Whatever happened to indestructible evil coming along every week? I haven't had a decent slay for...well, ages.

Then she heard it. A low growl. Very low and very loud. It seemed to be coming from the general direction of the tomb on her left, about ten meters away.

"You just had to ask, didn't you...." she mumbled under her breath. Stake raised, she moved silently towards the tomb. There was a swift rush of air.

Everything went black.

*****

"First degree burns...face and hands...seem to be healing remarkably quickly...no, there's no danger of scarring.."

Buffy's eyes flickered open and she recognized the now familiar smell of the hospital. There was a flurry of motion and she was aware of a sea of concerned faces.

"Buffy, you're awake! Thank God..."

"Knew she was just faking it..."

"Geez Buff, you had us worried..."

"You said you were okay I shouldn't have left you..."

Giles spoke again.

"What happened?"

"I was...patrolling. thought it might calm me down a little...then I...heard something. Like a growly noise. And I went to see what it was, then I..I can't remember."

She felt her face. There were a few patches of rough skin.

"What happened to my face?"

"First degree burns. Nothing serious." That was the doctor, with her clipped professional tone.

"Burns.."

Leathery wings. Charcoal breath. Gleaming teeth. Nightmare claws.

"It was a dragon."

*****

"Dragons! There are no such things as dragons! Vampires, demons, slug-men, Inca-mummy girls, yes. But dragons?" Xander said incredulously. Even Willow raised her eyebrow, and Buffy immediately regretted saying it.

"Think hard Buffy. Was it some kind of fire-breathing demon?" Giles asked, squinting worriedly at her.

"I was so sure…it was a…never mind. I suppose it might have been a demon…" Buffy trailed off. The others continued to stare at her.

Dawn snorted. "Look, whether it's a dragon or a demon, what's the problem?"

Giles turned on her. "The problem is it very nearly could have killed your sister, and we need to find a way to destroy it. You can't always just jump in and kill demons, you know, especially strong ones. Even with Buffy's accelerated healing powers, she still ended up in hospital…are you feeling any better?"

"I'll be okay by tomorrow. Are you going to…"

"I'll have a look through the books, see what I can find….until tomorrow then."

"Bye Buff."

"I'll drop by later, I promise."

Dawn sat silently by Buffy's bed for a moment longer, waiting until the others had gone. She looked at her sister with large eyes and a slightly questioning expression.

"Was it really a dragon?"

Buffy sighed. "No. I guess not. Look, you go with Xander. He said he'd look after you."

"I don't need looking...Xander? Bye!"

The Slayer lay her head back on to the bed and closed her eyes. She couldn't get rid of the feeling that something was watching her, an unpleasant reminder of the previous night's close encounter.

If Giles says there's no such thing as dragons…I guess I was wrong.

"Slayer? You awake in there?"

Spike.

Buffy kept her eyes closed, and willed him to go away. A visit from the peroxide pest was just about the last thing she needed now. He was part of the reason she was so angry and confused. At least the whole dragon thing had made her forget a little. His voice was a fresh reminder of Riley's absence, and she felt her concentration slipping.

Spike crouched down by the side of the hospital bed, and she heard him put something on the floor. Then he just stood and looked at her for a few minutes before leaving, the door clicking gently shut behind him.

Buffy cautiously opened one eye, and with great effort leaned over the side of the bed. A small box.

Weird.

She held it up to eye level. Just a plain, black box, about the size of a book. She prised the lid off the box with some difficulty, and pushed aside the tissue paper.

It was a tooth. Sharp white enamel, gleaming in the dim electric light. It was too large to be a vampire tooth, but resembled one that she'd once knocked from a fledgling's mouth. Buffy picked it up and held it in her hand.


A thousand images seared her mind.

She was flying across a barren desert, hot air blasting strands of hair away from her face. Soaring down low, effortlessly, she was free. Twisting and turning, then she saw something on the ground.

Dinner.

She closed in on the hooded figure, claws ready to maim and kill, mouth open wide in a deadly snarl.

The hooded figure whirled around. It grabbed her leg, causing her to falter and fall. It kicked her while she regained her senses, and she fought with it. They circled like wildcats, warrior to warrior, claws and fire against hand and sword.

Then the hood fell back, and it plunged the sword deep into breast.

And as Buffy was sucked back to reality, she saw the dragon die, and the one who had killed it turned to face her, with vibrant, laughing emerald eyes.

The Dragon Slayer smiled.