To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Buffy lost herself in the rhythmic and ever familiar motions of battle, shooting and stabbing her way through the melee in the arched corridors. The Basilica was an armory in itself, every decorative molding bearing wicked spikes and every piece of statuary armed to the teeth. She left the dagger buried to the hilt in an unknown Necromonger's chest and replaced it with one she ripped from the frozen hands of a stone warrior. Following Riddick's progress was easy even when she lost him from view; she needed only to follow the dead bodies piling up on the floor.
She reached the last turn before the corridor spilled out into the courtyard and made a dash for one of the side exits only to collide with something solid. Or rather, something solid collided with her jaw and sent her skidding over the inlaid floor. Eyes watering and head spinning from the impact, she wiped fresh blood from her lips and looked up at the familiar sneer of Lord Vaako.
"We were not meant to sit idly by," Vaako snarled. "It is you I have to thank for this. Without the distraction you provided, I would never have been able to move behind Riddick's back without fear of discovery. He would not take us to the war. So I brought the war to him."
"A war that no one can win. Sounds like you've taken a few too many blows to the head." She grabbed onto the hilt of a discarded dagger and got to her feet.
"It is the Necromonger way. It is our faith."
"No offense, but your faith kinda sucks."
It was hardly a fair fight. Unencumbered by the awkward and heavy armor, she was faster and more agile than he could ever hope to be. She stayed out of range of his bone crunching fists and managed to avoid the sharp end of the battle-axe slicing through air. The steel blade sang out clear, resounding notes every time it swung past her and struck the floor. Vaako was beginning to glower furiously when he suddenly stopped and took a step back. His eyes were focused over her shoulder.
"Buffy, get out of the way," Riddick growled ominously.
She sidestepped and glanced over her shoulder simultaneously. Riddick was holding Dame Vaako tight against his chest with a blade pressed into her neck hard enough to draw blood.
"This fight is between us," Lord Vaako said stiffly.
"He's always underestimated you," Riddick commented dryly, speaking to Dame Vaako rather than her husband. "But I know who really pulls his strings."
"You give me too much credit," she hissed.
"Do I? Let's see about that. Let's see what he does when there's no one whispering in his ear."
The standoff continued despite the battle raging around them between nearly identical Necromonger armies. Buffy dodged a stray body and made the mistake of getting within reach of Vaako. He caught hold of her with a vise grip around her throat and lifted her several inches off of the ground.
"Release Dame Vaako and I will spare your whore." He tightened his grip on her neck for emphasis.
There was no change in Riddick's expression as he tipped his wrist and sliced through Dame Vaako's throat. Warm blood sprayed out over both Buffy and Lord Vaako. His right arm came up and the barrel of the gun in his hand flashed blue. The energy ball hit Vaako squarely in the chest, collapsing his armor and ribcage with the blow. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Buffy wrenched free of his grip, holding her throat where she could feel bruises forming. "What the hell was that?"
"War." He turned away and plowed back into the fray with the force of a vengeful hurricane. There was little choice but to follow him, so she ignored the nausea at the back of her throat and fought her way past the bodies of fallen soldiers.
Her hands were moving with trained precision but her mind was scattered. Angel and Spike had killed an army by themselves, she'd seen their demon visages and learned to look past the fangs and yellow eyes. There had been no question that there was blood and violence in Riddick's past, that he would kill as necessary to get what and where he wanted. Part of her had never wanted to believe that a human being was capable of handing out casual death. Even Warren's murders had been born of rage and vengeance, not simply because someone had gotten in his way on the way to the video store.
Maybe it was her fate to be attracted to men with blood on their hands. Perhaps it was simply the universe's favorite game. As soon as she began to have hope for her future, regardless of what world she was in, the universe would throw her a curveball just to watch her scramble. The desire to go home intensified until it was an aching ball of homesickness lodged in her heart. Home where she knew all the dark secrets lurking in the shadow, where the monsters were familiar and she had friends with shoulders to cry on.
It was suddenly bright when she stumbled out of a doorway and found herself outside under the orange ball of fire. Riddick had chosen an exit that led immediately to a treacherous ridge of slippery shale. They moved fast over the crest, never staying in one place long enough for the rock to shift under their feet and soon the sounds of battle faded into the background.
She made a choice once the ground leveled out and veering to her right, heading toward the spot on her mental map where she had crawled out into this world and praying it was the right direction. The way home had to be there; she'd merely gotten off on the wrong exit the first time. And if it was a one-way portal to hell, then she would climb back out, find a ship, and start looking for a planet worth living on.
"Where are you going?" Riddick shouted after her.
"I'm going home." She kept her pace at a steady jog, afraid to look at him because it would make her decision that much more complicated. "If E.T. could do it, so can I. I'm going home to coffee and hair care products and a world with the color green."
If she had expected him to say anything more, she would have been disappointed but weeks of near silence had taught her to never expect words. He guarded them as closely as he guarded the rest of his secrets, forever holding back the real Riddick from the rest of the world. He was a stark contrast from Spike, who had never hesitated to tell her what was on his mind and in his heart.
After what felt like hours of jogging across the barren landscape with the sun beating down on her head and wind tugging at her hair, she began to feel decidedly foolish. She paused to take stock of her surroundings. It was early in the day so the shadow of the Basilica was opposite the afternoon shadow that she had followed to the ship. Her path home faced directly into the sun so she decided she must be in the right general direction and began scanning the terrain for any sign of the crevice.
"Here." Riddick nodded toward the ground, pointing out the barest remainder of a size six boot print that had been protected from the wind by a large stone.
"Guess I'm on the right track then." Further conversation was cut short when he took off in the direction of the print.
The sun was almost directly overhead and the Basilica was a shimmering shape in the distance when she saw the dark scar cutting across the landscape. Her lips were cracked and her mouth was full of dust when she finally arrived at the spot where she had climbed out into the sunlight.
"End of the road," Riddick said curtly.
She softened a little, imagining that the harshness in his voice was actually sadness to see her go. "Riddick."
"You don't belong here."
"Come with me," she suggested impulsively. His eyes were hidden behind the goggles and she could only guess at his expression as he turned away. She caught his arm and asked again. "Riddick, come with me."
"I don't belong in your world anymore than you belong in mine." He pulled away from her, jerking his head toward the hole in the ground. "Go on."
"And if it's a dead end, if I can't get back…will you wait?"
She nodded slowly. "I understand." It was harder to watch him walk away than she'd thought it would be even with Dame Vaako's blood on her clothes. She should have known he wouldn't be big on goodbyes. Before he was out of earshot, she called after him. "I hope you find her!"
Maybe he paused, just for a second, and maybe he didn't. She pushed the chaos out of her mind and focused on climbing back into the darkness. With her luck, it would be yet another dead end and she'd end up searching Hell for Riddick. Her insides were all tangled and messy, refusing to make sense when she tried to sort them out and make a decision about him. Not entirely human, not a demon; he was a frustrating halfway point that was all gray. She knew the feel of his body and the sound of his voice but nothing of what went on behind his silver eyes. Part of her had assumed that she would have time to find out what he was hiding.
Light dimmed as she descended deeper into the chasm, finding her way in the darkness that had become her home in the last few weeks. She was surprised at how comforting it felt to slip away from the light. If only Riddick were there to tell her where she was going.
A draft of stale air cooled her sweat soaked skin and either the dust or something else was making her lightheaded. With skinned knuckles and fingers raw from gripping onto the stone, she began to panic when she could no longer see the wall in front of her face and hadn't yet reached the bottom. Struggling to remember the smallest details of her original fall only took her focus away from safely climbing so she pushed those worries into the back of her mind.
Just as she was about to abandon hope and reverse her direction, her feet hit the solid earth of the bottom. Weary and relief nearly brought her to her knees. The wind had been blowing to her left before and she had followed it. This time she turned directly into it and felt her way along the narrow slot in the earth.
Eventually she reached a bottleneck that was too small for her to slip through and gritted her teeth for the agonizing climb back up to the surface. Handhold by handhold and foothold by foothold, she clawed her way up the face of the rock by sheer willpower. She was getting dizzier by the second. Dehydration, exertion, and whatever was filling her lungs all conspired to make her head swim and her skin tingle. She almost assumed that she was hallucinating when she realized she could see the outline of her hands.
She was almost giddy with relief when she recognized familiar sunlight streaming down into the earth. Lungs screaming and heart pounding, she scrabbled for purchase against the smooth tiles and pulled herself back into her world. Her heart hammered in her chest as though it had suddenly awoken from a deep sleep.
When she rolled onto her side, she realized that she had returned to Sunnydale High exactly as she had left it, scythe in hand. Narrowly avoiding a falling chunk of the second floor, she winced at the shooting pain in her side. The bleeding sword wound in her abdomen shouldn't have been there, it was long healed and forgotten. She was confused but certain that if she stayed where she was she would be swallowed up with the rest of the school, she forced her legs to function and ran.
The main entrance was a pile of rubble. She raced for the stairs, climbing them two and three at a time as she fought to stay one step ahead of the unplanned demolition. Everything else had to be forgotten, everything that didn't make sense and didn't fit together. The puzzle would be for later when she was safely out of harm's way.
Even the roof was crumbling behind her every step. She could see the school bus speeding away from the building and focused completely on the sight of it. One more step, one more jump. All that mattered was reaching the big yellow bus. Her lungs were on fire when she tensed for one last jump and launched herself into the air. Even braced for the impact, her teeth nearly rattled in her skull when she landed on top of the bus and grabbed hold of anything solid.
She watched in horror as the city continued to be swallowed up into the earth. It shattered as easily as a house of cards tumbling down with a mere breath. Everything she'd known, everything she'd fought for was being destroyed right before her very eyes and none of it made any sense.
Hair whipped against her face and the bus nearly skidded to a halt on the empty highway. She pivoted around and dropped off of the end of the bus. The crater before her was riveting in its silence and utter emptiness. An entire world had been destroyed.
"I don't understand. What did this?" Giles asked.
If she hadn't been in shock, she might have hugged him just for still being alive. Instead, she just smiled and headed toward the edge of the pit, remembering the cause of the destruction. "Spike." The green Welcome to Sunnydale sign wavered and then fell away.
"Looks like the Hellmouth is officially closed for business." Even Faith's voice was a welcome relief.
"There's another one in Cleveland. Not to spoil the moment."
Xander piped up in the background, "we saved the world."
"We changed the world." Willow touched Buffy's shoulder gently. "I can feel them, Buffy. All over. Slayers are awakening everywhere."
She barely heard the rest of what they were saying. The words were familiar but her mind was still trying to reconcile how she'd managed to compress weeks of living in Hell into a single moment of Earth time. Now wasn't the time to bring up insane questions with Giles or Willow. She wasn't sure there would ever be a time to tell that story. What was she supposed to say? How could she tell them that she had closed her eyes for an instant and lived a completely different life?
The reality was beginning to fade and blur around the edges. Could it have all been a dream? She didn't know if it was possible that she had been hit on the head and laid on the floor of the high school long enough to dream everything that had happened. Every detail of a world burning away under an orange sun. Of a riddle with silver eyes that could see in the dark. Dream or not, she doubted that she would ever forget the sound of his voice guiding her through the darkness.
Dawn was asking her what they were going to do and she smiled because this time she knew the answer.
They were going to live.