The vampire ducked her stake and she stumbled forwards, caught off-balance. It slipped around behind her and snaked a foot around her ankle, yanking it out from under her. She tucked up and flipped around, but somehow couldn't get it right, landing hard on her back. She gasped for breath and struggled to sit up.
The vamp was gone.
"Damn!" she swore, feeling around on the grass for the stake; she must have dropped it somewhere along the way and she hadn't even noticed. What the hell was wrong with her tonight?
She'd only dusted one vamp, but had fought at least six. And she couldn't seem to get into it. Her punches lacked conviction, her kicks were inaccurate. She ached everywhere from bruises that should have been inconsequential. She should have been able to dust all of those vamps easily. After enemies like Glory, single vamps in the cemetery were nothing.
Except that all of those six had knocked the stuffing out of her, and only one was dust.
Some Slayer she made. Buffy never had nights this bad. Sure, it got hard sometimes; some vamps were better and trickier than others. But she was never this bad. She always had something to hold up at the end of the night, some fight that she'd done well. It was far more likely that only one vamp out of six would escape, rather than have only one out of six staked. Something was wrong.
Buffy sat down on a particularly solid tombstone and tried to figure out what it was. She wasn't sick or injured – hadn't been at the start of the night anyway, she mused as she prodded a swollen knee. New-Buffy was a bit taller than old-Buffy; all her memories, her training, came from a shorter person, but that shouldn't matter too much. Maybe at the start, yeah, but after she got used to it…
Something was very, very wrong. Better call it a night. Dejected, she hopped off the gravestone and headed towards home. She half-hoped that something else would jump out at her between here and there, just to have one more try at the slaying; but nothing did.
Buffy came in through the front door, wincing at the sudden onslaught of light after the darkness outside. The TV was playing quietly in the living room and somebody was moving around upstairs. Buffy shrugged her coat off, not without stabs of pain from various vamp-inflicted hurts, and hung it on a hook.
There was nobody in the living room. She turned the TV off and went upstairs to look for Dawn or Anya.
"Hey, Buffy," said Dawn, popping out of the bathroom. "Whoa, what happened to you?"
"Couple of vamps got over-enthusiastic," Buffy said grimly. "Where's Anya?"
"Oh, that. She should have been back by now. She stayed for about ten minutes and then jumped up and said she just had to go do something, would I try and not get myself killed for a while?"
"She just left?" Buffy demanded angrily. "You've been alone for two hours?"
"Okay, she stayed for more than ten minutes. And anyway, you've only been gone for about an hour." Dawn shrugged. "Anyway, not dead. Goodnight." She closed the bathroom door, leaving Buffy more than confused.
Anya had recognized her. It was the only explanation. Anya knew she wasn't Buffy, and given her experience with demons, she probably knew who she really was too. Buffy swore loudly, causing Dawn to giggle. Buffy ignored her and went back downstairs. She had to do something. It wasn't impossible that Anya would convince the others that Buffy was gone. They all knew about Dawn being imprinted on their lives; they could believe it had happened again. And Buffy wasn't giving this life up. Being the Slayer, having all these friends and family… this life was amazing. And it was hers.
How had Anya known? How had Anya known she was a demon? She hadn't expected it to work on Spike, which was why it hadn't mattered when she appeared to both of them in the bathroom. Spike was a vampire and the replacement wouldn't work on somebody who wasn't human. If she'd been replacing a vampire it would have been fine. She knew it wouldn't work on demons.
Anya had been a demon for over a thousand years. Did she still have enough of that left in her to not be taken in by the replacement? Buffy supposed it was possible. She'd never replaced anybody before, after all; she didn't know everything about the process. Anya could count as a demon.
That was what was wrong with her. That was why she was such a bad Slayer – she wasn't the Slayer. The Slayer came from demonic forces. She hadn't taken the Slayer with the rest of Buffy's life. She was Buffy… but she wasn't the Slayer.
How could she be Buffy and not the Slayer?
Simply put, she couldn't be. Buffy and the Slayer were one and the same. They couldn't be separated like this. And what would her friends do? How could she suddenly turn around and say she wasn't the Slayer anymore? They'd known her for over six years as the Slayer – her. She couldn't just turn around and say, 'Oh, by the way, I'm not the Slayer anymore.' Even worse would be the truth: 'I'm a demon and I kicked the real Buffy out of this life and replaced her and altered all your memories!' But she was Buffy, was really Buffy, and Buffy was burning inside from the loss of the Slayer. She remembered being the Slayer, remembered the drive and the power. Buffy loved being the Slayer. Old-Buffy, before dying, wouldn't have given it up for the world. It was only the depression after being pulled out of Heaven that had made everything a burden for her. Even with Glory going on, even with missing out on her family and friends, she wouldn't give up her calling.
And neither would new-Buffy.
She had to be the Slayer. She was Buffy, so she was the Slayer. How could she not be the Slayer?
The Slayer was demon-based. Replacement didn't work on demons – not even on ex-demons like Anya. If she wanted to be Buffy, she couldn't be the Slayer.
She couldn't be Buffy without being the Slayer.
She couldn't be Buffy, then. She would have to go and find the original Buffy and put her back. It would take an effort, but it could be done.
She would stop being Buffy because she couldn't be Buffy without being the Slayer. She ached for power she knew was rightly hers, power that she couldn't have. She longed with a deep, driving force to be the Slayer, to fill up the gaping emptiness inside her. Everything was so wrong without it. She couldn't live like this.
But old-Buffy could. Old-Buffy would have to. New-Buffy wouldn't give her a choice. New-Buffy had pushed her out of her life, and she could pull her back into it if she really wanted to. Which she did.
She couldn't be like this.
Waking up in Spike's arms was something she could get used to. She couldn't believe she'd denied herself this for so long. She knew he would have let her stay with him long before this, if she hadn't kept pushing him away. She felt so lucky to be with him now. She'd given him hope, in saying that the Slayer was gone and she, Buffy, could love him; then she'd turned around and suddenly was the Slayer again – and always had been. She'd just been lying to both of them from the start. He had every right to be angry with her, but far from that, he still loved her.
And that was everything to her. Spike was everything she wanted, everything she needed. She had her new life now. She had had her friends and family stripped away from her, and that had shown her what living was really about. Living was living, living for everything she was. And it didn't matter who she was, or who others thought she was. She was living more than she ever had before.
She rolled over to face Spike's wicked grin. "Morning, sleepyhead."
"How long have you been awake?" she demanded, laughing.
"Oh, only a couple of hours. You're beautiful when you're sleeping." He ran a cool hand down her arm and she shivered. His fingers played over her skin tenderly, chills circling between them.
A sudden noise came from upstairs, as the crypt door was kicked open and slammed against the back wall.
"Buffy! I know you're here somewhere!" Somebody knocked stuff over upstairs, then pulled open the hatch to the lower level.
"Oh God," Spike moaned, releasing her and running a hand through his hair. "It's that demon bitch."
"New-me?" Buffy asked, suddenly breathless. "She said she was going to stake you…" She clung to him in sudden terror.
"She's not doing anything to me," Spike promised. "Or you."
"Buffy? If you're doing anything gross down there you've got about a minute to stop it!"
Spike groaned and slid out from under the covers. "Where'd you dump your clothes last night?" he asked.
"Probably all over the room," she confessed, feeling a blush spread over her face. "I wasn't exactly keeping track."
Spike tossed her what first came to hand, her shirt and a pair of his jeans. He searched further to locate a pair for himself. Buffy dressed hurriedly as new-Buffy's footfalls rang out on the ladder. She came around the corner, all smugness and superiority, just as she had been in the bathroom when Buffy saw her the first time.
"What the hell do you think you're doing here?" Spike growled, vamp face shifting forward as he put himself between new-Buffy and old-Buffy.
"Odd as it may seem, Spike, I'm not here because of you." She smirked and moved past him. "I need to talk to her."
Buffy glanced up from her position sitting on the bed. "I don't care. I don't want to talk to you. You took everything of my life away. You're not coming in here as well. I thought you didn't want anything to do with Spike."
"God, listen to yourself! It's not all about Spike!" New-Buffy shook her head, walking up to her. "I have to talk to you."
"Well, don't. I have nothing to say to you, okay? You got what you wanted, the perfect life. Just be happy with that and leave me alone. So we're sort of the same person. Whatever. I don't care."
"You need to take it back," new-Buffy blurted. "Your life. You have to take it back!"
Buffy laughed bitterly, unable to stop for several seconds. Spike shifted backwards to stand next to her. "You want me to take it back? You ripped it away from me but now you're tired of it? Is that it?"
"I'm not the Slayer," she said. "I'm you and I'm not the Slayer! Can't you imagine how that feels?"
"I thought I gave up that along with everything else you stole from me. I thought, for two days, that I wasn't the Slayer and I was fine with it." Buffy shrugged. "Really don't think you're suffering."
"But you were the Slayer! You didn't feel this… this nothing in here." New-Buffy punched a fist into her chest. "It's so empty… I can't keep going like this, Buffy. I can't be you without being the Slayer. I won't be like this. I'll give this up – everything I went to all this effort to take – because I can't have it all. I'm incomplete and it's killing me."
Buffy raised an eyebrow. "So die. I don't care. I'm happy and I'm not taking it back."
"What about Dawn?" new-Buffy shot. "Not wanting your friends back I understand, because I'm you. But surely you can't just condemn Dawn like that."
"I know you're a better Buffy than I am," Buffy said. "Don't tell me Dawn doesn't prefer you. Don't tell me you're not better for her than I am."
"Doesn't matter. I'm not keeping this life; it'll be just like I never existed. Like nothing happened to any of you. Like it was always you in your life. I'll go and you'll just disappear if you stay here. They'll all remember you, all the pictures will be of you… like I was never here. They won't remember me."
"Will I remember?" Buffy demanded, sudden panic gripping her. "Will I remember what happened? If I go back the way I was before this…" She glanced up at Spike, unable to say the words. If she forgot the past days she would lose what they had together.
"Oh, please," new-Buffy spat disgustedly. "It's not all about you and your vamp boyfriend, okay? Just get over it! You remembered being replaced, didn't you? You'll remember after I'm gone as well."
"Doesn't mean I'm taking this, though," Buffy said quickly. "I'm not taking it back. You wanted it and you can keep it."
"Sorry. I'm leaving and there's nothing you can do about it. You'll have to be Buffy again once I'm gone. What would happen to all the people you care about if you just disappeared? Well, I guess you wouldn't, not exactly. They'd find you eventually, even hiding out down here."
"You've got to stay," Buffy said, uncomfortably aware of the pleading note in her voice but not caring. She wouldn't take it back. "You wanted this and you can damn well live with it."
"I can't, that's what I'm saying! I can't be like this… I can't be you and not you at the same time!" New-Buffy started to pace agitatedly, fists clenching. Old-Buffy remained seated on the bed, unwilling to stand up in case her legs couldn't support her.
"I don't care," Buffy repeated. "I'm not me anymore. You made sure of that. You can't make me be that person again."
"No, I can. I can just disappear like I was never here. I told you that. God, get used to it already. You're going back there whether you like it or not." New-Buffy stopped pacing and glared at her, her tone almost threatening. "I'm going out of here and you can't stop me."
"You've got to stay… I can't do that anymore. I'm not that person. I've changed so much since then, I'm so different now. I can't just go back like nothing's happened!" Buffy shook her head, staring down at the floor. "I can't do that again. You know more than anybody how I wanted that life to be gone. Will you really turn around and force me back into that again? You know how you feel, not fitting into this life. Don't you think I'd feel exactly the same way? I couldn't abandon somebody like that. If you're me, you can't either."
"Yes, I can. I'm incomplete. I'm missing the main part of Buffy – the Slayer. I'm not going to be this person without being everything that she is. You're the Slayer? Fine. But you've got to have it all. You don't get to keep that and nothing else. It's all or none. And you've got it all."
"We can… I don't know, share or something," Buffy begged as a last resort. It would be better than nothing, surely, at least as a temporary measure. "You could do something to make that work! We can share this; share Buffy's life, including the Slayer. I could teach you, train you, whatever you want! Just don't leave me here!" Oh God, she was going to cry. If this didn't work she was really going to cry. Anything but that, not here, not in front of this demon bitch wearing what was kind of her face.
"No," new-Buffy said softly. "Haven't you heard a word of what I've said? I'm leaving because I can't just have part of life. I need it all if I'm going to have anything. I'm gone. Enjoy yourself." She glared down at Buffy once more, before vanishing in whirl of smoke.
"No, wait!" Buffy began, but she was gone. Defeated, she sank back onto the bed. Everything came slamming down on her in one rush. Everything she'd thought she was free of, all the things she'd dreaded through the course of her life since Heaven were her problems again. Her reprieve was over.
She was Buffy Summers again.
She had friends with magic addictions and friends whose marriage was breaking up before it had begun, a sister who she couldn't seem to get through to, all the responsibilities of the Slayer, all the drudgery of a normal life compared to Heaven… Everything back the way it was before the freedom of these last few days.
Buffy would never be able to wake up in the arms of the one she loved and just lie there, comfortable and lazy. Buffy would have to get up early to get Dawn off to school. Buffy couldn't just stay in one evening because she felt like it. Buffy was needed out on the streets, roaming the graveyards, fulfilling her calling. Buffy didn't get a moment's rest in her entire day. It would be just as the demon said; like the days since the replacement never happened.
Well, not quite. She'd gained Spike in the loss of her life, and that was something she wasn't giving up. She could do it with him to help her. Her friends would be stunned, sure, probably even upset, but they'd accept it. She'd make them.
Spike sat down beside her on the bed. "You okay?"
Buffy nodded, tears beginning to fill her eyes. "I guess… It's just, I thought I was free of all of that. Being the Slayer… being me. I needed to stop being me for a while, and if this hadn't happened something else would have. I thought I was free… and now I'm just as trapped as I was."
She sat up and Spike wrapped her in his arms and suddenly everything felt alright. "Not anymore, pet," he whispered. "You're not trapped anymore. Not when I'm here."
"Yeah," Buffy agreed, snuggling into his chest. She could do it with Spike. She could make her life work again. She'd go back and lose all the freedom, the lack of responsibilities she'd had here, but she'd still have Spike. She would always have Spike.
"Still, might have been nice if she'd stayed. I could have got used to having two of you around."
Buffy turned to him, eyes wide. "Well, if you'd rather chase after her…"
Spike's face turned from amusement to panic. "Buffy – I didn't mean-"
"Oh, shut up," she grinned, capturing his lips in a kiss. She'd take any life with Spike in it.
Well, actually maybe not. She'd rather not have Spike than have him by being Drusilla, for example. Or Angel, god forbid. And she'd prefer not to only know Spike as random-hottie-who-hangs-out-at-the-Bronze. And she'd rather not have Spike than be one of his numerous victims.
On second thoughts, just about any life with Spike in it she'd rather not have.
But Buffy's life with Spike she would take.