Disclaimer: Buffy, Dawn, Willow and Spike are not mine, which is a real pity in the last case, 'cause honest, I'd loan him out.  I would.  No, really.  Anyway, Joss&Marti own them all, but nice people that they are, they let me play with their toys.

Note 1: I do not 'ship, and I do not bash.  If you're looking for either, this ain't your fic.  I tried my hardest to stay within the bounds of the characters as portrayed on the show, and I very much hope I succeeded.

Note 2: Thanks mucho to Gyrus and Selena (ahem!) for the beta!

Feedback: to ksheasley@yahoo.com or review here, please.

The Long Night of Buffy Summers



It takes a long time to get Willow to the house.  She's completely out of it, babbling about how sorry she is and sobbing and falling over her own two feet, and I am just not in the mood.  So I half-drag, half-carry her back to my house, saying nothing the entire way, and the whole time, I'm asking myself how the hell this happened.

When did Willow get so messed up?  Why did it take Dawn getting hurt, nearly killed, for me to even notice?  And dear God, why did I have sex with Spike?  There's no way this can't go badly.

My patience with Willow wears out completely by the time we're home.  I don't really want her in the house with Dawn (and since when can't I trust my best friend with my little sister?), but I really, really don't want Willow out of my sight tonight.  Not any more than is necessary, at least.

Willow's still muttering incoherently about being sorry, and I can't take it anymore.

"Get yourself cleaned up," I snap.  "I'm going to the hospital to see how Dawn is.  We'll be home in a few hours.  If you try anything—anything at all—I swear I'll put you in the hospital.  Got it?"

Willow nods, eyes lowered.  "I won't.  I promise.  It's over."

Her makeup is running, her face pale, and just for a second, I see her as she was when we heard about Jenny Calendar's death.  Complete devastation.  It's weird, but that moment gives me hope that maybe Willow can come back from this.  I nod and leave the house, then take off running.  I run all the way to the hospital.  Don't ask me if I'm running from Willow or to Dawn.

Inside the ER, I take a quick look around.  I don't see Dawn or Spike, so I grab the desk nurse (not literally—I stop myself just in time) and ask her about Dawn.

"Are you her sister?" asks the nurse.  I nod.  "She's being examined.  Your boyfriend insisted on staying with her, so he's back there, too."

It takes a moment for that to sink in, and when it does, my vision goes red.  Boyfriend?  Spike introduced himself as my boyfriend!?  Where does he come up with the nerve?

I stalk back to the examining room the nurse nervously points me to.  I'm sure she's wondering if she should call security about this crazy person.  Once I find the room, the first thing I see is Dawn, tears streaking her bruised face, with a doctor gently fingering her left arm.  They've cut her sleeve off, and her arm looks . . . awful.  Bruised, swollen, broken.

The second thing I see is Spike, holding her right hand.  One second I want to kill him, and the next, all I can think about is how sweet he can be.

I do not need this.

Spike glances at me and vacates his spot.  I take his place at Dawn's side, wrapping her in my arms as much as I can.  She leans on me, sniffling.  I feel like it's been forever since I've held her, and something inside me twists when I realize just how long it really has been.

"It hurts, Buffy," Dawn whispers.

"I know," I say.  It does hurt.  I look at the doctor.  "How bad is it?"

He indicates the x-rays on display.  "It's a simple hairline fracture of the radius.  We don't even need to set it, and at Dawn's age, it should heal pretty quickly."  He goes on to explain that they can't put it in a cast while it's still swelling up, so he's just going to splint it for tonight and give Dawn something for the pain, yada, yada, yada, I'll need to bring her back tomorrow . . .

I tune out midway through.  I've taken care of enough broken bones that I know exactly what the drill is, and I can take care of Dawn tonight.

Like I didn't last night.  Or the night before.  It's not just Willow who's to blame for Dawn getting hurt; I bear just as much responsibility.  If I hadn't been so wrapped up in my own world, things would never have gone this far.

"Okay?" says the doctor, and I nod.  He leaves the room to get something I'm sure is important.

Spike speaks up.  "I told them she was in a car accident.  Left out the demon part.  Made 'em get her straight back here, too."  He laughs shortly.  "Sometimes it's good, being a vampire."

I don't look at him, just nod.  "That's what I figured.  Thanks for taking care of her."  I can feel his eyes drilling into me, and it takes all my self-control to stay focused on Dawn.  "How are you doing, Dawnie?"

"I don't feel good," she murmurs.  She's too warm, probably running a fever.

"It's okay," I reassure her.  "I'm here now."

She makes a little sound and presses closer.  I touch her face, noticing the scratches on her cheek for the first time.  Here, in the bright hospital lighting, she looks even worse than she did outside, even though someone's obviously cleaned her up.

The doctor comes back in and splints Dawn's arm after giving her an injection for the pain.  He also gives me some samples of Tylenol with codeine in case she needs them later on.  Finally, we can leave.  I find a pay phone.

"What're you doing?" asks Spike.

"Calling Xander," I tell him.  "Walking home is not an option for Dawn."

"I can get a car."

"No," I say a little too quickly.  "Xander can pick us up without committing grand theft auto."  I dial before Spike can say anything else.  Xander picks up on the third ring, sounding like he was awakened out of a sound sleep and isn't too happy about it.  I hear Anya's equally irritable voice in the background.

When I explain where we are, though, Xander snaps to, says he'll be down here in ten minutes.  Just like I knew he would.  Anya got the last of the princes, I think, and there's no way I can't envy her, even though I never thought of Xander in a romantic way.

Once my surrogate big brother is on his way, I'm left with the incredibly awkward task of getting rid of Spike.  There's just no nice way to put it.  Left to his own devices, Spike will come home with us, and once he's there . . .

So not thinking about it.

He's sitting with Dawn, trying to make her smile.  I hear him telling her that once she has the cast on, she can clonk Willow over the head with it.

Why couldn't you be just another demon, Spike?  I shouldn't even have to think about this.  Vampire, stake, problem solved, move on.  Right?  Wrong.

It's not that simple, not when he's kind to your sister, when he loves you, when he can kill you but doesn't, when he can make you feel and no one else can.  Not when you've unleashed your desires with him in a way you haven't with anyone before.

Spike catches me looking at him.  I hate how piercing those blue eyes of his can be.  A tiny jerk of my head brings him over to me.

"Xander's on his way," I tell him.  "Thanks for staying with Dawn.  You should get back to your crypt now."

He cocks his head, weighing my words.  I shouldn't have even tried to disguise what I'm doing, because he can see right through me.  Like he has since the first time we met.  Right now, honesty is my only option.

"Please," I say, lowering my voice.  "Dawn's hurt.  I've got to take care of her, the way I should have been doing all along.  I've also got to have one long and very scary conversation with Willow.  That's all I can handle right now."

His eyes search mine, taking in the text and the subtext, and he smiles slightly.  "Then we'll do it your way.  For now.  I'll be seeing you, Slayer."

He walks away, pausing only to ruffle Dawn's hair and say, "'Bye, Bit," before disappearing out the door.

Dawn, luckily, is too doped up to really take notice of his departure, and she and I sit silently until Xander shows up.  He hugs both of us.  I suddenly realize I'm glad to see him.

Since I came back, I haven't been glad to see any of my friends.  Yes, I've been bitter.  However inadvertently, they put me through the worst ordeal of my life, and that's a hard thing to get over.  But when Xander appears, all bed head and pajama top, eyes wild with worry, I know I still love him dearly.  He's still Xander, the guy who's walked through fire for me and gladly would again.  I hang onto him as he hugs me.

"You okay?" he asks.

I pull back.  "Yeah.  It's just Dawn that got hurt."

He nods.  "Demon?"

I pause before answering.  "It was, but that's not the whole story.  I'll tell you about it later.  Right now, Dawn needs to get home."

He accepts that, and we help Dawn out to his car.  The drive home is silent as I mull over what I'm going to do about Willow.  I can't make any decisions about that and finally decide to wing it.  First things first, though, Dawn needs to know I'm still here, and I'm going to take good care of her.

Xander helps us into the house, gives another round of hugs, and reluctantly leaves after I reassure him we're okay.  He's got that look in his eye that tells me he's got an idea of what happened, that Willow was involved in this whole disaster, and I just can't handle that right now.

After he leaves, I realize the shower's still running upstairs.

"Is she here?" asks Dawn suddenly.  

I don't have to ask who "she" is.  This isn't going to be easy.  "Yeah," I tell Dawn.  "Willow's still here.  She needs someone to keep an eye on her."

I think Dawn accepts that, but the dark anger in her face and eyes worries me.  Dawnie can hold a grudge like no one else.  I think we're in for interesting times here.

I take Dawn up to her room and help her out of her clothes and into some PJs.  The pain medication has really caught up with her.  I turn out the light after I put her in bed, but I'm stopped from leaving the room by her voice.

"Don't go."

Willow can wait.  Everything can wait.  I go back to the bed, where she's sitting up, and I sit behind her, against the pillow, and pull her into my arms.

"I'm not leaving," I say.  "I'm so sorry, Dawnie.  I haven't been around like I should have, and you got hurt.  That's all gonna change.  I'm going to take care of you the way Mom wanted me to."

Dawn sniffles, crying again.  "I miss her."

"So do I.  Worse than anything."  My throat is so tight I can barely force the words out.

"Buffy . . ."  Dawn's voice is barely a whisper.  "When you were in Heaven, was Mom there, too?"

I haven't been able to talk about this to anyone, not even Spike.  But now I have to.  Dawn deserves to know.

"Yes," I whisper.  "Mom was there.  I felt her, I . . . there was so much love there, and she was part of it."  There's only one thing I can cling to now, one thing I can tell the sobbing girl in my arms.  "She's in the best place, Dawnie.  She's happy, and she loves us."

We both cry a little.  I'm exhausted, and Dawn's drugged, so it doesn't last very long, but it's what we need.  She's completely limp in my arms now, almost asleep.

"Buffy?" she murmurs just as I think she must've dropped off.  "I kicked it.  It was a great kick.  You should've seen it."

It makes me smile.  "You can show me later.  I'm so proud of you, Dawnie."  I kiss her hair.  "Go to sleep.  I'll be here if you need anything."

She tucks her head into the crook of my arm, and in seconds she's out, breathing noisily.  I don't let her go right away, just hold her to reassure myself she's here, and she's okay.

I can hear that the shower's stopped.  With Dawn asleep, I have no excuse for not talking to Willow now.  I really, really wish Giles was here.  But he's not; he left because he wanted me to handle things like this on my own.  What I hate most is that he was right.  This is my responsibility.

So I carefully slide out of Dawn's bed, laying her back against the pillow, tucking the blankets around her, and kissing her forehead.  Then I force myself to go to Willow.

She's sitting up on her bed, a big, green towel wrapped around her.  Her hair is wet, she's got no makeup on, and she looks just like the fifteen-year-old girl I met five years ago.  The shy, insecure girl who bravely volunteered to be a "Slayerette" when she realized what her town was really like.

We talk, and it's not easy for either of us.  It's a revelation for me, hearing that she feels like she's nothing special without her magic.  She was my rock last year, when everything was going to hell.  I feel like of all of us, she's the one who's grown up the most in the past few years.  It hasn't taken magic for her to do that, but she doesn't see it.  All she sees is that painfully shy girl who was bullied by Cordelia and couldn't tell Xander she was in love with him.

Seeing her this broken takes all the anger out of me, and I finally feel like we're Willow and Buffy again.  We haven't talked, really talked, since I came back, but we talk now.  There's so much in her situation that reminds me of my own, too.  I let Spike become my only support.  I turned to him instead of facing the pain that's been eating my heart out.  I've been blind, and it's cost all of us.

Willow's facing her addiction, and it's time I faced mine.  She can't trust herself with magic anymore; I can't trust myself with Spike.

When I leave Willow's room, I head straight down to the basement, where I fill a box with all the extra garlic I keep around.  It's not just an old wives' tale that garlic keeps vampires away, by the way.  The smell makes them sick, and it itches like hell if it touches them.  Not exactly deadly, but it is effective vampire repellant.

I'm not sure if that really accounts for me hanging my room with the stuff until it smells like an Italian kitchen.  I also hang a few extra crosses and keep one with me as I sit on my bed.  Maybe I can get Tara to do a de-invite on Spike . . . no, then I'd have to explain to Dawn why, and that's the last thing I want to do.  Besides, as little as I trust him with myself (or myself with him), I do trust him with her.  Tell me how weird that is.

I don't know what I'm going to do about him, not after what happened between us.  He can hurt me now.  He can because I came back wrong.  I'm not quite human anymore, and I don't know what that means.  I'm still the Slayer, but am I Buffy?  I don't know, I just don't.  About the only thing that's clear to me is that I'm not supposed to be in this world; I don't belong here anymore.

Eventually, I set down the wooden cross I'm holding and go over to my jewelry box.  The silver cross Angel gave me glints in the darkness.  I take it out and put it carefully around my neck.  Then something else catches my attention.

A pair of dangling silver cross earrings sits in one of the sections, and I lift them out to examine them.  They were given to me by Riley.  He saw me wearing Angel's silver cross and bought the earrings as a gift to match it.  I'm not sure if he ever noticed I never wore the earrings and the cross at the same time, and he never knew where I got the necklace.

Now I do wear them together.  It's like I'm protecting myself with my first two lovers (and no, I don't count Parker; I figure every girl gets one mistake she can edit out of her life).  Angel, my first love, exciting, painful, overwhelming.  I remember his tenderness the night we made love.  As devastating as the events after that night were, I still feel like I had the best first time of any girl ever.  Angel, who only wanted the best for me, who left because he loved me too much to endanger me again.

And Riley, my friend and lover.  The guy who was fun to just be around, who made me laugh, who took me for long drives and picnics in the sun.  I wish I'd been able to love him the way he needed me to.  I've gotten past the regrets, though, and just remember the young man I cared for so much.

They steady me, remind me of who I am, who I was.  God, what if Spike decides to use me as a weapon against Angel?  He would, and I know it.  The first time Spike and I ever fought on the same side, it was because Angel had stolen Drusilla.  I can just hear Spike calling up Angel to chat.

"'Lo, Peaches.  Thought I'd let you know your girl's not human anymore.  You know I can hit her now?  No, don't worry; I only gave her the Little Death."

Angel would lose all respect for me if he knew.  I'll have to think up something appropriately gruesome to threaten Spike with so he won't tell.  Or maybe that would just be giving him ideas.  No, this is Spike; he's already had all the ideas.

He's right, too; the rules have changed.  Spike will be setting them now.  That scares me more than anything, because I don't know how I'm going to react to him after all this.  I don't even know how I should react to him now.

My thoughts are interrupted as I hear Willow bolt down the hall to the bathroom.  Barf time.  Even that sounds preferable to what I've been doing, so I leave my room to see if I can help.

By the time I get to the bathroom, she's flushing the toilet and turning on the water in the sink.  She looks awful as she rinses her mouth out.

"You need anything?" I ask.

"I think maybe some tea," she says, shaking.  "There's some Good Earth tea downstairs.  T-Tara use to make it for me whenever I wasn't feeling well."

"I'll get the hot water started," I say.  She looks at me.  "I don't think sleep is in the cards for either of us tonight."

"Good point," she acknowledges.  I help her down the stairs, and after a few minutes, we're both sitting at the table with hot tea.

"I've been thinking," Willow says.  "I've been thinking that there are things I need to do.  I should call Giles, tell him I'm sorry because I said some kinda nasty things to him.  He was right about me, and I-I need to tell him I know now.  And Tara—I really need to apologize to her.  I treated her so bad, Buffy.  She was right, I was using magic too much, and I actually told her to keep her mouth shut about it, and then I made her forget the fight we had."

"You made her forget?"  That really shocks me, that Willow would do something like that to the woman she loves.  She was farther gone than I thought.

Willow nods, tears in her eyes.  "I was using magic to try and make things better, I thought.  She said I was doing it to make things how I wanted them to be.  That's why she left me.  She-she said magic's not for that.  It's not for making your life easier."

"It's too powerful," I agree.  "Power seduces.  Even me—you remember how Faith went bad?  I understand how it happened with her.  You've got all this power, and you feel like you can do anything."

A rueful look settles into Willow's face.  "Yeah.  After all, I raised the dead."

There's a conversation-stopper if I ever heard one.  The silence it creates is very uncomfortable.

"Buffy, about that," she begins, but I stop her.

"Don't, Will."  She flinches, and I realize what that probably sounded like to her.  "I mean, not tonight.  That's . . . a conversation we need to have.  There are things to be said, by both of us, but I don't think either of us can handle it tonight."  I look at her until she meets my eyes before saying the next thing.  "I'm not angry at you anymore.  I was for a long time, but not anymore.  Like I said, it's something we need to talk about."

Willow reaches out and takes my hand.  "You're right, but I just need to say one thing.  I know I'm probably the last person you want to hear this from, but Buffy—we all know you have to grieve.  You lost something the rest of us can't even imagine.  I still need to re-connect with Xander—which is another thing on my list of things to do—but I know he feels the same way.  None of us is going to push you anymore."

I can't say anything to that because my throat's closed up.  She's right; I've been trying so hard to get back to whatever passes for "normal" with me that I haven't taken time to grieve what I lost.  Which probably explains the irrational behavior.

I swallow hard to get the lump out of my throat.  "So what else is on your list?" I finally ask.

"Lots of stuff," sighs Willow.  "Apologizing to Giles, apologizing to Tara, talking to you, talking with Xander, returning the things I borrowed without asking from the Magic Box . . ."

I choke on my tea.  "You stole things from the Magic Box?"

"Yeah," she admits, looking pained.  "Just some books from the Deep Dark Mojo section.  They're still in good condition, but there'll be hell to pay with Anya.  Not that I deserve any different."  She swallows hard.  "And then there's making things right with Dawn.  I still can't believe what I put her through."

"It won't be easy," I tell her.  "Dawn can hold a grudge for forever and a day.  Believe me, I've been on the business end of my share of them.  But I think she'll come around eventually."

"Good," says Willow.  "Because I think she did me a favor.  That slap kinda knocked some sense into me.  She's got a good arm."  Willow gives a slight chuckle, then sobers again.  "That was what made me realize just how out of control I'd been.  The look in her eyes . . . I just felt sick, knowing what I'd done to her.  What I'd let happen."

I nod, understanding.  I let it happen, too.  There's an urge to tell Willow what happened with Spike and me, but I just can't.  I should.  It's not like she can exactly throw stones or anything, but I just can't.  Not yet.  Maybe later.

I'm kidding myself if I believe no one will ever find out.  If there's anything my life has taught me, it's that secrets never stay that way.  But I can't tell Willow tonight.  She's too out of it, anyway.  I'll tell her later, when we're both a bit more steady.

Willow yawns hugely and drains the rest of her tea.  "Think I'll try that sleep thing again," she mumbles.

I glance at the clock, which says it's almost four in the morning.  "I should, too," I say, though I don't think I'll be able to.  I help Willow, who's still unsteady, back up to her room.  As I turn to leave, her voice follows me.

"Buffy?"  I turn to face her.  "Thanks.  Thanks for being tough with me."

I smile genuinely at her for the first time since my resurrection.  "Anytime."

My room stinks when I enter it again, and I suddenly realize just how ridiculous I'm being.  Spike's not coming by here tonight, and I know it.  I collect all the garlic, pack it in the box I used to get it all up here, and take it back down to the basement.  When I get back up to my room, I think briefly about taking down all the crosses, then decide I'm just too unmotivated.  I do remove my cross jewelry, though, and get into PJs.  Then I go to check on Dawn one last time.

She's still asleep, but restless, probably having nightmares.  On impulse, I crawl into bed beside her and put one arm protectively over her fevered little body.

"It's okay," I soothe her.  "I'm here.  I'm not letting you go."

She quiets, turning her head toward me and relaxing back into the pillow.  I look at her sweet face and silently vow to her that things will be different now.  Whatever else Dawn is, she's mine.  My family, my blood, my responsibility.  My love for her is no less fierce than it was before my death.

It was easy to die for her; now I've got to live for her.

And that's the end, really.  I may not have asked for my life back, but it's mine now.  I've got to start living it again.  Willow's not the only one with a list.  Mine starts forming in my head: get a job, be the parent Dawn needs me to be, call Giles and give him a real goodbye, help Willow get better, take Tara out to lunch as a thank you for going way beyond the call of duty, buy Xander and Anya an engagement gift, visit Mom's grave and make sure it's well-tended, and figure out what to do about Spike.

I turned to him because I didn't want the world of the living.  He told me a few nights back that he was the only thing I had left, and he wasn't far off.  But it was because I let it happen that way.  I locked myself away from this life I didn't want, and so a dead man became the center of my existence.

I know I don't belong in this world anymore, but this is where I am.  It's time to start living.