Unable are the loved to die for love is immortality.
The last furious push, the feeling of pressure on the verge of breaking, and then a bewildering release, overwhelming and exhausting. Buffy hears the baby cry, feels the warm little body between her spread knees, her legs now bare since she'd removed her jeans. She struggles to sit up, to reach down, to hold and embrace her baby.
The strained muscles in her abdomen flutter, but refuse to take hold and she falls onto her back, moaning. There's a new pressure in her belly, one that's holding her down.
You'll be immobile until you've passed the placenta, Dr. Freeman says. It's the final stage of labor.
She groans and tries to sit up again, failing. This isn't how this was supposed to happen. There's supposed to be someone to hold her baby, to gently lay her baby in her arms.
But she's alone, alone in a new and painful way because she's not alone, her baby needs her, but she can't reach her baby, not yet.
The sound of footsteps approach and Buffy hopes it's Spike, that he's letting his nimble feet kick up sand so she'll hear his approach and know it's him. She clings to the lie, helpless to do more than hope.
The brush is pulled aside by strong, masculine fingers and she squints in the darkness.
He comes closer, kneels before her, taking in the sight of her lying on a leather coat soaked in afterbirth, her baby lying between her knees.
"Are you all right?" he asks, and she sees him holding a knife, the hilt covered in elaborate decoration. Like the knight's swords she'd seen up close. He steps closer, raising the blade and reaching for her baby.
"What are you doing? Nooo," she moans, clenching her fists.
"You called me for help and left a message, remember? Don't worry, I'm just cutting the umbilical cord," he explains. He's holding a silver lighter in his hand, flicks it open, sparks it to life and heats the blade. "It's not exactly the most sanitary method, but it'll have to do." She hears him go to work, watches him lift her baby and kneel at her side. A minute later, he asks, "Do you wanna hold her?"
"Yes. Yes, please." Her voice warbles—high, uncertain, hopeful.
"Sure," he says, smiling. "Can you hold her?"
She nods, and her arms agree, rising up and reaching for her daughter. She lays one hand underneath her baby's head to support her fragile neck, hugging her daughter close, resting her baby on her chest. It's dark, almost too dark to see, but she spies a hint of light reflected in her daughter's blinking eyes. "She's beautiful. Oh…"
"She's a mess," Ben says, eyeing the blood covering Buffy and the baby. "We need to get you two cleaned up."
"She's perfect. And don't say perfectly gross or I'll punch you," Buffy says offhand, exploring the tensile strength of impossibly tiny fingers. Wet tufty curls graced the curve of her daughter's head. "She's even got hair! I thought…"
"All babies are bald? Not always. What are you gonna name her?"
"Dawn," Buffy says simply, her eyes never leaving her daughter's face.
"Almost dawn, just a few more minutes. Oh, you mean… It's a beautiful name."
"Thanks," she says, turning to look at him. The pink light of sunrise turns the sky to lighter shades of gray. She peers up at Ben and blinks. "Why are you—why are you wearing that?"
Ben looks down at the red dress stretching its seams across his broad chest. "Oh, I…uh, it's a long story."
A whisper skitters across her spine and she clutches Dawn tight in her arms, curling up her legs and leaning away. "Stay back. Don't come any closer."
"Buffy, I'm not gonna hurt you."
"You can't have her. You'll never touch her."
"Her?" Ben's face goes blank. "She's the Key? Your baby is the Key." He falls back and sits at her feet. Long minutes pass with only the sound of Buffy's labored breathing, the soft exhales from Dawn landing against Buffy's cheek.
"She's not human, you know," Ben murmurs, staring off into the surrounding brush. "She's not. She's not real. It's not real. It's just a blob of green energy and magic. It's not real. It's not a person."
Muscles trembling, Buffy flops on her side, struggling to her knees, only to feel Ben's hands clasp her shoulders and shove her down. He's pushing her down, knife in his hand, and he shouldn't be stronger, but he is—her body's already telling her to lay down, the pressure in her abdomen making her feel impossibly heavy.
She can't run, not anymore. She watches the knife flash down, Dawn cries in protest as Buffy's arm tightens around her, and then snap goes the switch: she's grabbing his wrist, snarling "No!" and wrestling for control.
Ben grapples for the knife, but Buffy's stronger now and she turns the blade away, wrenches it around, and Ben falls, the blade slides into his chest, pierces the wall of his ribs and he's gasping, slumping to the side. Lying on the brush, gasping for air. His eyes are terrified, he gasps once more, then goes quiet, his body going loose, the life fading from his eyes.
Buffy rolls away, sobbing, cradling Dawn in her arms. She's alone again, just her and Dawn. Her arms shake with the aftershocks of adrenaline, but she's steadying fast.
"Shhh, it's okay, Dawnie," she whispers, her baby crying in her arms. "Shh, shh, shh."
She rocks back and forth, just rocks, not ready to move, not sure where to go, just knowing that she needs to rock back and forth, and to hum because it's soothing and it's important she's soothing because Dawnie's scared.
An hour later, Xander finds her lying on Spike's duster, covered in blood, holding Dawn in her arms, only a yard from Ben's body. He takes off his shirt and helps wipe her legs clean, averting his eyes as Willow joins them and helps Buffy back into her jeans. They help her stand, then Xander asks if she'll let Willow carry the baby, nodding his understanding when Buffy violently shakes her head.
"D-don't forget his coat," Buffy struggles to speak.
Xander grimaces at the mess. "Buffy, it's ruined…"
"He's a vampire. It's not like he'll think it's gross. And he'll want it back. I… I was just borrowing it."
Xander lifts the coat by the collar, holding it away from his body, nodding at Buffy to go ahead. With Willow clasping her elbow, Buffy walks outside the brush to find her mother waiting. Joyce hugs her tight, not minding the mess, just gasping, "Oh, Buffy, oh baby," and then Xander and Willow join in, and for the first time in so many days, Buffy feels safe.
Smiling, but still weary, Buffy pulls back when Dawn cries. "Okay, guys, go easy with the hugging." She looks around and asks, "Where's Tara and Anya? Giles? Is he…?"
"He's okay, they're all okay," Willow says quickly. "We came looking for you as soon as we could. Everyone's okay."
The sun's rising above the horizon, turning the sand a pinkish orange. She turns Dawn to face the sun, letting the light touch her face, watching her blink as the light kisses the blush of her cheeks. Buffy hums, a deep sound of contentment that settles warm in her chest.
Hugging Dawn close, she turns to her friends and asks, "Where's Spike?"
She sits in the nursery's rocking chair and watches the sunrise. Dawn always sleeps the night away, but awakens hungry at twilight. So Buffy sits and rocks her daughter, lulling her to sleep after she's fed.
Buffy's used to the quiet. The quiet of the night, the quiet necessary for hunting, for slaying. She's never known the quiet of the morning. Mornings have always been a time for noise, from the shrill buzz of her alarm to the pounding of feet running downstairs and hurrying out the door.
So it's different, this feeling of light and peace. She wonders at the happiness unfurling inside, then squeezes her eyes shut at the thought of a vampire's dust lost in the desert. It pierces her heart, tears and sadness and regret, and she finds her memories of him shifting, memories she'd thought solely hers now joining with him, his form, his image.
Love is sacrifice. She's known this ever since she was Called, known it and fought it with a desperate selfishness stirred to a fever pitch by all her instincts of self-preservation. But in the end, always in the end, love brings her to the brink.
What wouldn't she give for love?
For her friends, her family, her daughter.
Oh, for Dawnie.
She hugs Dawn to her breast and feels her heart fill to bursting, making her chest tight and yet somehow weightless. Her body seems as if nothing more than a pair of arms that cushion and shelter this tiny creature pursing her lips and cooing nonsense.
And why should it make her cry? To feel such joy? Oh god, just to feel so much.
The First Slayer was wrong. Death wasn't her gift.
It was his.
For he had loved. Truly, madly, deeply. He had loved in such ways as she'd thought him a fool. Her very own foolish knight errant vampire, pledging devotion in the same breath as her sworn disavowals.
She'd refused him. Refused to believe, refused to even listen. Of course. And it had made perfect sense.
Only now her world floated free on new hopes and endless reserves of faith. Her rules of mind and heart had been rewritten in blood and birth. A new day for she once chained to night.
Gleaming bright, the sun rises, painting the nursery in warm pink light, chasing away the shadows on the floor. The warmth caresses the tips of her feet as she rocks back and forth, pushing back, then leaning forward, the cascading light of the sun kissing her brow.
Is this perfection? Contentment? Happiness?
There are too many ways to describe this moment, this feeling, this certainty—all of them right yet all of them wrong. All save one.
She holds the proof of love in her arms. His gift of love, of life, to her.
For he had loved. And now, so did she.
To love and to be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.
- David Viscott
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