Disclaimer: Buffy and Dawn and everyone else don't belong to me, but to Joss and Marti and a bunch of other people who horribly abuse them.
Spoilers: Up to "After Life."
Feedback: Review at FFN or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Warnings: Second-person POV, stream-of-consciousness narrative. Watch your footing.
Note: Thanks to Tanja and Mariner for the beta-read!
Back to the Shadowlands
"Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."--I Corinthians 13:12
You remember what it was like to die. You remember the pain as the mystical energy of the portal seized your body, ripped through it. Then the pain stopped, or rather, stopped mattering. Your body shut down, and with it, your mind. And you were dead.
After that, there came a moment, or perhaps an eternity, in which you were suspended between worlds. You saw what was on the other side of the portals, all of them. It's not something your human mind can process. Only flashes of light, darkness, and emotion recall to you what those worlds were.
Something more elemental reached for you then, something dark. The only comparison you have to it is when you met the First Evil, or rather, the form it had taken. When you felt it again, you knew pure fear. Yet, there was also peace. You were the one facing it, not Dawn. No matter what this life-after-life would do to you, you had the peace of knowing she was safe. That was all that mattered.
She sits on the couch across from you now, engrossed in a book. You're doing something that vaguely resembles watching television. You don't recognize the show that's on, and you don't care. It doesn't matter; nothing does. Nothing except getting through the next moment.
You remember the darkness coming toward you, but never quite reaching you. Something else took you even as that darkness tried to pull you in. There was emotion in that moment: anger. Righteous anger. Coming not from you, but from that something else. You were, you sense, for just a moment (or an eternity), the focus of a battle that had been going on since before time began.
And then all darkness was gone. All negative emotion was gone. Something wrapped itself around you, something warm and loving and safe, and it told you to rest. And you did. In that perfect peace, you rested.
There was no physical sensation to it, nothing you can compare it to in your five senses. Any comparison has to come from the soul. It was your father carrying you to bed when you were a child, it was your mother's touch, it was holding Dawn, it was making love with Angel, it was Giles telling you how proud you made him. There was something larger than yourself, something you'd been a part of though you didn't even know it, something that loved you and told you it would take care of things now, just rest, warrior, rest.
And you did.
Dawn shifts on the couch, sighing and turning a page. On the television, the studio audience laughs. Physical sensation seems all too sharp to you now. Even now, days later, bright lights hurt your eyes. Ordinary noises startle you. Smells come as a shock. Your skin is offended by your clothing, or by hot and cold. And you're sure things didn't taste quite like that before you died.
Your relationships have changed, too. You've died, truly died. Your soul left your body. This time, you weren't brought back with CPR; you were brought back with magic. Nothing is the same. Nothing. Your friends who have only lived . . . they can't understand this.
Anya might, you think. She would certainly understand the difficulty of getting used to a human body and human emotions again. But anything said to Anya is said to Xander, and you can't have that.
Dawn also might understand. She, too, knows what it's like to be out of place. To know you don't belong in the body someone else has put you in. But she's your sister. She's the innocent in this. You can't burden her with the knowledge that you know you're in the wrong place.
Spike, however—Spike knows. He's the only one who can know, the only one you'll tell. You're not even sure you can burden Angel with this, whenever you see him again. Spike knows what it's like to awaken in a coffin and claw your way out. He knows what it's like to be out of place, to have something forced upon you by those with, you are sure, the best of intentions. Spike is raw emotion in a body that has died.
So are you. So you have chosen your old enemy, your tormentor, your oracle, your reluctant knight in tarnished armor, to be your confidant.
It might have been eons later in that place without time, that place where you were perfectly content simply to be, that you were torn out. Placed in a cold, dark, stinking box underground. Forced to dig your way out of that smothering coffin. Made to wander the streets of Hell.
The Slayer in you took over when Buffy failed. You have always been two-in-one. Sometimes, the Slayer has been inadequate and Buffy has had to take over. Many times, you have allowed the Slayer to do her duty unhindered by Buffy. But never before had the Slayer taken over so completely as she did that night. She fought, she protected, she survived. And when Buffy came back, all she could do was go to the last place things had been clear.
Dawn pulled you back. She pleaded with you, and when she was endangered, the Slayer was moved to protect her. Then, on the ground, Buffy leaned into her embrace and wondered why she had lost her peace. You have found no answer for her.
Physical sensation is bad enough, with its sharp edges and forced intimacy. Emotions, however, are worse. In that place, you were content. There was no fear, no anxiety, no anger, no hatred. Only peace, contentment, and joy.
But now you struggle to hold back those dark emotions. You have forced yourself to keep a civil tongue with your friends. They wanted to protect you, to help you, and they made a mistake. That's what you keep telling yourself. Perhaps someday, you'll believe it. After you believe it, maybe you'll even get that through to your emotions. But for now, there's no being true or real with them. Intimacy cannot be based on a lie, however comforting.
That being the case, you've descended into Spike's crypt again and again. Not to talk; you rarely talk. He understands. Sometimes he talks, and other times, he's silent, smoking a cigarette and watching you.
A house of the dead has become your refuge from life, one of the undead your comforter. A soulless one has somehow become your soulmate. The irony is not lost on you.
Each day, you force yourself to go on moment by moment. After a time, inertia takes over, keeps you moving. None of it feels real, though you hope someday it will. A few flashes now and then, perhaps. You figure that's the best you can hope for.
At night, you dream of contentment, of being back in that rest. Some part of you wants to tell Giles about it, ask him if he knows what it was or is. Ask him if he thinks it's still waiting for you next time you die. And oh, how you want it.
The television is too loud, and the light and color are getting to you again. You switch it off. Dawn looks up from her book.
She's one of the few things that feels right, this child. She is innocent of your resurrection, and she is the reason you force yourself out of bed most mornings. When you can't think of a good reason to go on, you tell yourself it's for Dawn. And it even works.
"What are you reading?" you ask her.
"Um, The Last Battle. It's one of the Chronicles of Narnia, the last one," she says. "I'm almost finished."
You remember them. You remember your mother reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to you and Dawn when you were much younger. You loved it and read the whole set through again and again, never dreaming your life would make Lucy's pale by comparison.
"Do you like it?" you ask.
"I love it."
"Read to me."
Dawn does. She reads:
"Kings and Queens," he cried, "we have all been blind. We are only beginning to see where we are. From up there I have seen it all—Ettinsmuir, Beaversdam, the Great River, and Cair Paravel still shining on the edge of the Eastern Sea. Narnia is not dead. This is Narnia."
"But how can it be?" said Peter. "For Aslan told us older ones that we should never return to Narnia, and here we are."
"Yes," said Eustace. "And we saw it all destroyed and the sun put out."
"And it's all so different," said Lucy.
"The Eagle is right," said the Lord Digory. "Listen, Peter. When Aslan said you could never go back to Narnia, he meant the Narnia you were thinking of. But that was not the real Narnia. That had a beginning and an end. It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here: just as our own world, England and all, is only a shadow or copy of something in Aslan's real world. You need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream."
Dawn stops her reading to look at you. "Buffy? I know you don't want me to ask you this, but are you okay?"
You remember now, that all of the children from the previous books had died in a train wreck. They found themselves in Aslan's paradise, but not comprehending their deaths, had feared to be sent back to the Shadowlands again—until Aslan told them they were all dead, and would remain with him forever.
Part of you wants to scream at whatever power allowed you to be wrenched back here, back to the Shadowlands. Even as you contemplate this, though, something else occurs to you. You reach out your arms to Dawn.
"Come here," you say, and she does. She sets the book aside and eagerly burrows into your embrace.
She is warm and real and loving. As you hold her, you feel something inside you, something you feared you had lost. You recall the loving embrace of that real place, the place where you rested. You think of how devastating it was to lose that.
But it's here. You feel the thread of love that connects you to Dawn, and you know that love isn't lost. It's still here, inside you.
Even here, there is love and peace and beauty. It is a copy of the real thing, yes, but it is there. It's not completely lost to you, though you know you may have to struggle to find it, here a breath away from Hell.
It's an insight, not an epiphany, but it is enough. Enough to keep you going for a time, at least.
You hold Dawn, and you love her, and you pray that love will be enough as you walk through the Shadowlands.