Thanks to k_haldane, my beta, I couldn't have done this without her :)
Buffy stood in front of the bathroom mirror, brushing her teeth without paying the slightest bit of attention. Everything was all so… same. So tasteless. So filtered and blank and erased clean of anything that could be defined. After Heaven, Earth was a paltry and dull replacement. She couldn't even feel angry at her friends for bringing her out of there – not real anger, not like she wanted to feel.
No, she didn't even want to feel. Wanting anything was too much of an emotion, and everything of the heart and soul had been left back in Heaven. Buffy was an empty shell, a fragment of what she had been. They'd torn her out of Heaven and so much of her had been left behind. And she still had to brush her teeth, get up in the mornings, patrol, act normal. She had to look after Dawn and try to figure out a way to support them both. And she had nothing to do it with. Nothing left of herself to push her forward. The only time she felt anything – anything at all – was with Spike.
Spike. God, as if her life hadn't been screwed up enough already! She had to go and find all her emotions had been deposited, as it were, with the vampire, and she had to get them back on loan from him. She had to feel something, even if it was complete revulsion. She wouldn't let herself feel anything else with him. She could feel anything and everything with him, but she wasn't meant to. She was the Slayer still, and Spike should have been a pile of dust years ago. Even if she could leave him running around loose, with the chip and all, there was no reason – none – to be sleeping with him. Her emotions were a drug, and Spike was her needle. That was all. He was a means to an end. She'd be with anyone else if she could feel something with them. But Spike was the one she felt like herself with, the one who made her feel something. She had to feel. She couldn't just drift through existence all empty. She needed what Spike could give. That was all.
That was all and she would never let it become anything more. Not ever. She couldn't. She was the Slayer and the Slayer wouldn't take it.
She lowered the toothbrush and stared blankly at herself in the mirror, hair a mess, eyes blurry, drips of toothpaste on her shirt. And she didn't even care. She didn't care that she didn't care. She was able to pretend in front of the others; able to cover up how empty and broken and wrong she felt inside. She just acted like she had been before, forced herself back through time to be the girl before the leap from Glory's Tower, made herself into what people expected to see. But it all vanished when she was alone.
Alone, everything disappeared. Alone, she couldn't pretend to be anything other than what she was – smashed, ruined, and lost. Alone, she had to be what she was – really, truly, dead.
She slammed her fist into the mirror before her. It cracked, lines radiating outwards from the impact, splintering the image of her face into countless different pieces, shattering and dropping to the floor. The sound echoed loudly in the frozen stillness, the glass bouncing and breaking anew on the tiles. She pulled her hand back, staring confusedly at the jagged lines cut across her fingers and stretching down the back of her wrist. She didn't feel a thing. Not from the blow or from the tears the fragments of the mirror had cut into her. Why couldn't she feel the pain? It had to hurt, she knew it should; she'd hit that thing pretty hard, even by her standards. She couldn't feel emotions, and now she couldn't feel pain either.
A sudden noise from outside the window didn't distract her from the blood across her hand. Neither did the sound of the window being opened and somebody slipping inside. She just didn't care enough right now.
"Bloody hell, what happened to you?" A tiny thrill rushed through her at Spike's voice, laden with care and concern. She clamped down on it fiercely, trying to smother anything she felt for him that wasn't related to disgust. She wanted to feel, yes – that was why she went to him – but she still didn't want to feel what she shouldn't. What the Slayer shouldn't.
"You know you're bleeding?" he said softly, crouching down beside her and taking her bloodied hand in his. Buffy let him do it numbly, barely noticing as he dug shards of glass from her skin. It could have been anyone; Willow or Tara or even Dawn, and she would feel just the same.
Or she should. That was the problem. She was still together enough to realize it was a problem. Spike should be nothing to her; if he was anything he should be a hated enemy and the only positive thing she should feel was grudging respect. And yet she couldn't deny how good his hand felt on hers, how his cold fingers soothed the sting as he splashed the cuts with antiseptic. Spike was becoming more and more a part of her life, and she was coming closer and closer to the point where she could admit that. And that scared the crap out of her.
"Mirror do something wrong, pet?" Spike asked, holding up a fragment between them. Buffy tried not to feel loss at the removal of his fingers.
"I don't know… it kept showing me… something I didn't want to see, I guess." Buffy shrugged. What did it matter? What did anything matter?
"Buffy…" She sensed he wanted to say something more, but he didn't; he let it trail off and sat with her in awkward silence. She picked up a largish piece of mirror, holding it up idly, focused somewhere behind and above her.
She let it drop to the tiles in shock. Someone was standing behind her.
Spike realized it at the same moment she did, springing up and putting himself between her and the intruder. Buffy couldn't bring herself to get up off the ground. She just felt to tired and sick… and Spike could handle whatever had just appeared in her bathroom.
"Who the bloody hell are you?" he snarled, vamp face shifting forward.
The intruder smiled. She appeared to be human, around Buffy's age, with wavy brown hair and features that looked entirely too familiar. Buffy stared at her harder. She reminded her of someone… It hit her like an electric shock. She looked like Dawn. She looked like a hybrid of Buffy and Dawn. Buffy and the new girl could easily pass for sisters.
"I'm not your sister," she said in response to Buffy's thoughts, something that didn't freak her out nearly as much as it should have. "I'm you. I'm Buffy Summers." A wicked grin cracked her lips. "Or at least… I am now."
"What are you on about?" Spike demanded, fists clenching. "You're gonna get out right now or-"
"Or what? You'll hit me? You can't hurt humans, Spikey. I'd've thought even you could have learned that by now." The girl claiming to be Buffy grinned again and flipped her hair back over her shoulders.
"And how exactly do you know that?"
"Because I'm her," she said, nodded down to where Buffy was still crouched on the tiled floor. "I have everything that she was in here." She tapped her temple. "Her life is mine now. I am everything she was. I've replaced her."
Spike cracked and leapt forward, landing a solid punch on her nose before he broke back with a cry of pain. He mastered himself with an effort and turned back to the brunette, who was picking herself up off the towel rack.
"What do you mean replaced? How the hell can you replace Buffy?"
"Her life is mine now. Now that Buffy has given up her life so thoroughly, wasted it so completely, I'm taking it for myself. I'm going to live this life, since she doesn't want to."
Spike lunged forward like he wanted to hit her again. He settled for more angry demands in his scathing tones. "You can't just take her life 'cause she's not living it like she could! Who the hell do you think you are to march in here and claim everything as yours?"
"But it is mine. It's mine now. Buffy's wasted her life. She never had to fight for it, never had to take it for herself. It was just given to her by fate, God, whatever. And she hasn't used it like the gift it is. She's still just sitting there like she couldn't care less! Ever since she came back from Heaven she's just sat around moping, doing nothing, wishing she wasn't here. Wishing she was someone else." She smiled again. "I can do that."
"Buffy sacrificed her life to save the world – to save her little sister! How is that not using it to the full?" Hatred dripped almost visibly from Spike's words. "She gave up her life. She didn't come back from Heaven because she wanted to! Her friends ripped her back and shoved her life into her!"
"Exactly. She was given the perfect life… twice. And she still couldn't do it right. Hell, the Vampire Slayer screwing a vampire? Everything else could potentially be forgiven, but for her to go against everything she is, that she represents? Don't tell me that's not a waste of everything she's been given. She doesn't deserve her life anymore. She doesn't want it anymore. She knows what she's done, she knows she's all wrong, and she just wants it to go away. So it's mine. I'm more deserving. She's had her chance at life and she missed it. All those mistakes, everything she's ruined… Well, now it's my turn."
Buffy still didn't look up, either at her defender or the girl who was stealing everything. She just felt odd. Everything was being stripped away from her, being taken by the upstart standing not two steps from her. And she didn't care. In a way, she wanted it gone. Her life had been nothing but a burden to her since crawling out of that grave. Maybe new-Buffy was right. Maybe she didn't deserve to have a life anymore. And more to the point, she didn't want it. Her life was nothing anymore. Sure, somebody else could have it. She was welcome to it.
"You don't understand a bit, do you?" Spike was getting close to yelling. "Somebody like Buffy – the most amazing person this world has ever seen –she's done so much, suffered so much, and you don't even care! Is it any bloody surprise that she's changed after being torn out of Heaven? Can you blame her?"
"Of course I care," new-Buffy said. "Because that happened to me. Ask anyone. Ask Dawn, ask Willow, ask – hell, the guy at the pizza place – all that stuff happened to me. I jumped from Glory's tower. I crawled out of that coffin. Because Buffy's life is my life. Get it through your thick skull, vampire – I am Buffy."
Spike looked ready to slug her again when somebody spoke from outside the room.
"Buffy?" they called through the door. "You talking to someone in there? Only I need the bathroom sort of now-ish."
"Oh God," Buffy whispered, slipping back against the bathtub. "Dawn…"
"Yeah, Dawnie," new-Buffy called back, a smug smirk plastered across her face. "S'alright. Come in."
Dawn opened the door and stepped through, pausing as she saw the gathering. "Hey, Spike. Didn't know you were here." She glanced down at Buffy, huddled on the floor. Even now, even with Dawn here, she just couldn't get up. "Who's this?"
"I'm – Dawn, I'm-"
"I was out patrolling and she was being attacked by a demon," new-Buffy explained over Buffy's weak protest. "She was pretty torn up, I figured I couldn't just dump her. I think she's still a little out of it though." She turned away from Dawn so only Buffy and Spike could see her victorious grin. "We'll just be a few more minutes."
"Okay," Dawn shrugged. "Oh, and Buffy, Willow called, she won't be coming back until late tonight, she's got something on or something." Dawn waved and left, closing the door behind her."
"Oh God… Dawn…" Buffy felt a lone tear trailing down her face. She hadn't thought, when condemning her life, that Dawn was a part of it. Dawn was the reason she'd jumped in the first place, the reason she died and went to Heaven, and the reason she hadn't done everything she could to get back. And new-Buffy wanted that as well?
"Not want, sweetie. Have. Dawn's my sister. I jumped to save her. When they pulled me back, I stayed out of Heaven for her. Everything is mine. I've taken it all. I win."
"No you bloody don't," Spike snarled, lunging forward again and landing blows even as he fought off yells of pain, his head jerking from the impact of the chip buried in it. "You don't get to be Buffy. You could never – never – be Buffy."
"Let her be," whispered Buffy, almost inaudible over her own breathing. But Spike heard, tossing new-Buffy across the bathroom and dropping down to her.
"Buffy, you can't just let her walk in and take everything – take Dawn-"
"I can," she said dully. "I want to. I can't do this anymore, Spike. It-it's too much. Life after Heaven? I can't take it. Maybe she's right. I've had a life already. It's someone else's turn. And Dawn was fine with her. You really want me – a total stranger to her – to go down and say, 'Oh and by the way, I'm really your sister'? I can't, Spike. Just let her take it."
"You don't believe that," he challenged, but she could tell his dead heart wasn't in it. Just as her equally-dead heart wasn't in it either. "You don't."
"I just want to go," she mumbled. "I want out. Take me… take me anywhere, Spike. I don't live here anymore." She reached up an arm and wrapped it around his shoulders as he stood, lifting almost her entire weight. New-Buffy smiled as she watched them move to the window and slip out.
"Oh, and Spike… Seeing as I'm the Slayer, I'll be paying a visit shortly. Something I should have done long ago." She grinned ferally and slammed the window shut.
"Oh God…" Buffy moaned. "She's the Slayer… she's the Slayer?"
"I told you that you didn't want this," Spike said as he hauled her over the roof to the tree nearby. "She's taken everything, Buffy, and you just let her!"
"I don't have to be the Slayer anymore," Buffy said in stunned realization. For so many years her calling had been a burden, a necessary evil, something she did because she had to. The obstacle to her relationship with Spike, and to pretty much every guy before him. But now… now she didn't have to be the Slayer. Now she didn't have to stop her feelings for Spike – they weren't wrong anymore, weren't against everything she was. He was the one who loved her and she wasn't the sort of person who couldn't allow herself to feel that love. Not anymore. Now she could trust him to rebuild her. Now she could allow herself to feel whatever she wanted.
She wasn't the Slayer anymore. That was part of her life, and her life was standing back in the bathroom, echoes of her laughter drifting across the lawn as Buffy and Spike turned away. Buffy left her life behind, and still didn't miss it. She might tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that, but right now she didn't care.
For once, there was nothing hanging over her head. No looming threats of vampires and demons in the night, no hellgods creeping up behind her and attacking her sister. And for that, she felt grateful. Grateful to not be the Slayer, to not be controlled and channelled by what the Slayer was. Now she was just Buffy, just herself, and now that her life had been taken away, Buffy could be anything she wanted.
She didn't notice where Spike was leading her until they arrived; his crypt, of course. She liked it here. Perhaps it was something to do with having been dead, but she felt safe here. It was calm, and peaceful. And it had Spike in it.
For once she wasn't filled with revulsion for considering Spike's presence a positive thing. She could feel whatever she wanted to feel for him. The Slayer wouldn't stop her, her friends wouldn't stop her. They weren't her friends anymore. They were new-Buffy's friends, and she was apathetic enough to not be worried about that. They'd torn her out of Heaven – they hadn't even apologized for it – and she couldn't bring herself to be devastated at their loss.
Spike slammed the door behind them and leapt straight into it. "Buffy, you can't seriously want to let her take your life like this! You just lay down and let her walk all over you-"
"I dunno. You did a good job defending me." She paused hesitantly before continuing. "Thanks for that. I mean it. But… I don't know, I'm just too tired. Can't I just sleep?"
"Okay, pet," Spike murmured, reaching out for her hand. Buffy wanted him to take it, wanted to feel his touch on her skin; but at the last second he pulled back and kept going like nothing had happened. Buffy's hand itched with emptiness. Spike went down the ladder into the lower level of his crypt, calling up to her to follow. She did, catching up just as they rounded the corner into the main room. Spike turned away to search through one of his piles of junk for something. Buffy just headed straight for the bed, absolutely exhausted. She flopped down without ceremony, lying fully clothed on the covers, too tired to care.
But Spike evidently wasn't. "C'mon, you can't sleep like this," he protested. "'F you want something to sleep in, you can borrow this." He laid out one of his black t-shirts on the bed for her. Buffy felt warmth spread through her at the thought of wearing his clothes. "I'll go back upstairs, let you get some rest."
"Spike…" Buffy called at his retreating back. "Will you… will you stay?" She rushed ahead before he could interrupt. "It's just – you've been there all through what's happened, through 'new-me' turning up and everything… I'd just feel better if you stayed. With me. Please?"
He was already coming back and pulling off his duster. "Don't have to ask, pet," he said, sitting down on the bed next to her. "I'll always be here for you. You know that."
"Yeah," she said. "I do. And that means a lot to me, Spike. A lot. I mean it." She pulled her top over her head and unclasped her bra, replacing the layers with Spike's borrowed shirt. "Thanks for that. I just can't stop saying that today, can I?"
"Not complaining," Spike said, picking up her clothes and setting them aside, doing the same with her jeans when she tossed them over to him. "I'm just glad you're still here. Staying. I'd figured you would've left a long time ago."
"That was the Slayer," Buffy said. "That was the Slayer not letting me feel anything for a vampire I should have staked ages before. But the Slayer's gone now. The Slayer's back in my – her – house. So now I can be honest with myself." She stood up and walked over to him, wrapping her arms around his waist. "With you." She briefly pressed a kiss to his neck before turning away and folding herself under the covers of his bed. She felt him lie down beside her after a few moments, and snuggled herself into the cool haven of his arms. As though they were a normal couple.
Buffy suddenly realized that that was something she wanted very, very much.