This is set in my non-canon, but canon-esque series following Uncontrollable and Unmentionable. If you haven't read those first, please do, or this won't read nearly as well or make much sense. Unknown begins a few weeks after the end of Unmentionable, around the beginning of season five.
Author's Note: I know this was supposed to be the big battle, but this scene ran away with me. I'm happy to report I'm getting a break in the real-life action and will be back to a writing schedule starting next week. Thank you for hanging in there with me.
Author's Second Note: Picks up about an hour to two hours after the cliffhanger from the last chapter.
Dedicated to: ginar369, omslagspapper, Illusera, Sirius120, Caskett93, EllieRose101, Twotoe, CailinRua, Sundawna, AGriffinWriter, Jedi SteelWolf, SlayerDaniWho, Rosalea12, writerdragonfly, and DidiSummers.
Direct Quotes are obviously not mine, but belong to the fabulously talented and creative people who wrote them. In this case, some of season five's dialogue will be used.
Disclaimer: Nothing of Buffy belongs to me, except my sincere admiration. However, this story is all mine.
He raised his head first. Eyes cracked open painfully, probably because they were trying to keep his brain from melting straight out.
What he saw made him forget the pain long enough to open his eyes completely, wide as possible, motions were no longer slow and cautious. "Anya! Ahn!" Xander crawled through broken bits of plaster and glass and blown over books to the woman he wanted to spend his life with. The woman sprawled out in a pile of books- Giles a few feet away.
"Oh man. No, no, no!" Dreams weren't coming true, not like this, please not like this. Xander pulled her arm over carefully, in case it was broken. It was still warm, and it flexed involuntarily under his touch. "Thank God." He breathed and blinked as he wiped his wrist over his full eyes. "C'mon, Honey. C'mon, Ahn. Get up." She moaned feebly, and it comforted him enough to consider the others.
He turned his attention to the rest of the figures in the room. Joyce was out of the room- but safe, down the end of Giles' hallway. Giles was sprawled between her and Tara. Bodies dropped and draped in all manner to positions, struck down where they'd been fighting or fleeing. So Anya, Joyce, Giles, Tara- Willow. Where's-
"Wills!" Xander's heart jumped from his chest, then settled in with a sick but relieved thud when he spotted her.
And Buffy? Where's Buffy. Shouldn't she be awake first? Super human, super strong. Spike. Spike and Buffy. His gut twisted. If we lose Spike, have we lost everything? "Buffster? You around? Spike?" His voice cracked and he coughed.
A creak startled him. He couldn't find the source at first, and then when he did, he kind of wished he hadn't. Thinking Buff was already gone, maybe off to fight the big bad, that was scary, but normal.
Seeing Buffy hugging her knees, rocking on the squeaky bottom step of the stairs to Giles' loft, her eyes open but blank- not normal. Not right. Very, very scary.
"Buffy? Buff?" He hauled himself up, over to her, wincing as he felt new bruises on top of bruises. She looked right past him, right through him. Maybe she's been struck blind. That can happen, right?
"Buffy!" He yelled right next to her ear. Behind him, someone groaned at the sound. She didn't even flinch. Blind and deaf?
"She's not here."
Xander yelped and jumped. He faced Tara, but not the Tara he knew. "I know it's you, but that spooky 'inner voice' thing creeps me out." He muttered as he forced himself to take a calming breath.
"You need the Slayer. She needs your help as well." The sweet but strange voice warned.
"What do you mean she's not here?" Xander gestured to the figure right beside them. Others were stirring now, Giles' sitting up, crawling towards Joyce, Anya rubbing her head, still lying on the ground, eyes closed. "She's right here."
"Haven't you learned anything?"
"I'm the heart, not so much with the head." Xander sat beside Buffy and snapped his fingers an inch from her nose.
"The mind is a place all its own." Tara whispered, sitting in front of Buffy, eyes closed.
"Glory effs up minds left and right." Xander groaned. "And Tara- Tara Plus, whatever, Spike isn't even here- mind here or body here."
Buffy shuddered suddenly.
Tara laid her hands across Buffy's knees. "She knows."
Spike blinked. It was dark. But soft. He could see in the dark, when his eyes stopped burning enough to make shapes in the blackness.
"About time." A voice purred. Something cold, cruel, eager under the purr. No little kitten this. Some bloody big cat, with claws.
Claws he could feel. He jerked to wakefulness sharply as five points like steel knives sliced into his upper leg.
"Careful." Jinx cautioned. "If you kill him-"
"Won't the Key just pop out?" Glory whined for the tenth time in the hours they'd had him, in the hours they'd been waiting for him to wake.
"No, it'll be destroyed, as the high priest said. The ritual must be-"
"Urghh, ritual shmitual." Glory groaned, and twisted.
"Get your fuckin' hands off me." Spike growled and tried to sit up. He couldn't. "What the..." his head turned side to side, painfully. A room he didn't recognize. Chained to a bed he didn't recognize, with a few scabby white demons cowering in corners as the grinning bitch perched over him, a vulture picking apart a carcass.
Stay calm. Stay ready. You might be dead, but you're not hell-bait yet. "So you're the one that wants to twist me in some ruddy big lock to your home dimension?"
Glory blinked. "Smarter than I thought. The package isn't too shabby, either." She tilted her head appraisingly. "As far as demons go."
"Yeah, well." Spike snorted and tossed his jaw carelessly at the nearest robed minion. "Look what you're used to."
"Majesty! He insults your creation!" Jinx looked insulted.
"Oh shut up, Jinxy. I like you ugly. It makes my beauty so much more stunning." Glory preened.
Spike snorted, snorted hard enough to have a coughing spasm- a suitable cover to test how tight the chains were, and how strong. Very. Meant to hold more than mere mortals. "Sorry to hear that, Luv. Guessin' your 'beauty' is part of the unlockin' deal? Not visible in this realm?"
Glory's gaze seared him- literally, and he hissed as flesh seared. Then the talon-like fingers seized his shoulders and hauled him up. Wrists snapped, and chains broke. "You don't need a tongue to be useful, vampire. So watch it with the cracks."
He clucked patronizingly at her. "The real tragedy is the hair. Unless you're the queen of bad perms?" He gasped out as her nails moved from shoulders to throat, masking the agonizing sensation with a wheezing chuckle in her face. C'mon. C'mon, right button to push...
"Mighty One, don't let him irritate you further. We can prepare him."
"Blindfold'd be nice." Spike addressed Jinx. "I'm used to real beauties. Real power, too. Lookin' at washed up, has-been powers doesn't really do anything for me. Sorry if the truth bothers you... bitch."
An inhuman sound, and she tore him free from the bed, then threw him away from her, like so many things she'd tossed in her tantrums, letting him slide down the wall.
Spike grinned as he struggled to stay awake, though he let his head droop, jaw slack and eyes closed, appearing insensible. Step one. Get out of chains.
Step two- get out of here. Get back to Buffy. Or Buffy'll be here, probably any second.
Unless... He couldn't change facial expressions if he was pretending to be knocked out. If he could have, his face would have looked heart sick with worry.
Buffy would die before she let them take me.
I'm here, aren't I? Taken?
Something in his chest pulsed in sudden agony. Maybe the soul, since the heart didn't beat.
If they killed her- I'll kill them.
If she needs the Key, and I'm it- bitch isn't gonna get the chance. I'll make sure of that.
The soul pulsed with worry and the mind churned, silencing ideas that he didn't want to face.
He spoke to Buffy inside his heart, the place where she always was waiting, had been waiting even before he'd admit it. It'll work out, Slayer. Either way, Baby, we'll be together soon.
Buffy walked in a haze, misty graveyard grass whispering under bright pink shoes. Fashionable shoes. Fashionable girl.
Not a Slayer.
The stake didn't belong in her hands. Hands that were so much younger. Girl hands.
"You're a child. A child playing games with worlds. A sharp stick and you think you can slay all the dragons."
Buffy turned to face the voices she couldn't see. "Mom? Is that you?"
"Oh Sweetie. I told you to stop doing this." Joyce materialized, clicking her tongue sorrowfully.
"I didn't have a choice." The girl in pink shoes morphed, black clothes, black boots, hands more sure, features harder.
"You always chose who to love." Spike reminded her, suddenly there, also in black, no shock there, and leaning cockily against a marble angel, striking a match off a wing with an irreverent sneer. "Chose who to love. To protect. To save." The sneer slowly faded. Something haunted and panicked in his eyes, in his face, reaching for her hand. "You still my hero, Baby?"
"Your hero? She's just a girl! Stop asking her to do so much!" Joyce spoke up sharply, causing Buffy's head to turn.
"Buffy never fails." Giles, sitting stolidly on a headstone, tweed-coated and not sparing her a glance, too busy looking at something in a leather-bound journal. "It's her calling. Her duty. If she couldn't save people... well, what in the world is the point of having a Slayer if she can't save the person she loves most? If losing him meant losing the world?"
"Save him? Save the vampire? She kills vampires." Riley's puzzled and bitter voice joined the other voices in her head, ringing her as she stood in a swirl of fog and faces. Mother, Watcher, Lover, Normal Guy. "It's her job."
"She can't do it!" The mother cried warningly.
"If she fails, everyone dies." The Watcher reminded.
"We'll never leave each other. It's a promise. We don't break those promises." The lover was confident.
"She always hurts the men who love her. She says she doesn't want you to leave, but she pushes you away." Riley argued. "Or something worse."
"Stop it!" Buffy screamed in the darkness and plunged blindly. "All of you stop it. I can't... I can't think... I can't do anything, can't get out..." Spinning, panting, trying to escape this overwhelming feeling of failure that she couldn't quite place.
She collided into something solid. Something solid that gasped and rapidly became less solid.
"My heart..." Spike choked out as she fell against his disintegrating chest.
Buffy pulled back, hands now empty, hands to her mouth as she realized.
"No. No, no, no."
I killed him.
Her heart broke, mirroring his, naturally, as two halves of one whole.
Everything went black inside her mind, mist swept ashes away and left her staring down at empty grass and shoes that were suddenly pink again.
"I can't make her do anything. I've been poking her and shouting at her, and she's- she's not even in there."
"Tara already said that." Anya reminded him, putting an ice pack to the bruises on her forehead.
"She's in some sort of a trance." Giles murmured.
"She's in shock." Joyce countered sharply. "We need to call an ambulance. I'm surprised the neighbors haven't already."
"Perception. Glory controls it. To the outsider, nothing looks out of place." Giles informed her absently, peering into Buffy's eyes. "It's nothing an ambulance can help her with, my darling."
"What did she do to Buffy? To make her like this?" Joyce asked fearfully, nervously looking at Tara, wondering if the same fate had befallen her child.
"They took Spike. That's like taking half of her." Willow whispered, sitting next to her friend, her eyes on Tara. "You feel like you're going to shatter..."
"I understand the feeling," Giles said, not unkindly but rather briskly, "but how do we 'put her back together'? Aside from getting Spike, which is the obvious and necessary thing. Perhaps I was hit harder than I thought." Giles rubbed his bruised forehead.
"You mean getting Spike back probably requires Slayer-power." Xander followed. Everyone nodded, Joyce tightening her arms around herself as she looked at her stricken daughter. "But how do we un-trance her? Did Glory mind-suck her?"
"I don't think so. She doesn't seem to be affected the same way Tara was." Giles cupped his chin and reached for Buffy's cheek. "Not incoherent or frightened. Simply-"
"Not here." Tara's voice, deeper and more resonant, informed them, sinking down in front of Buffy.
"What does she mean?" Joyce whispered to Anya, trying to keep her voice steady.
"Mind realms are hidden in plain sight. Sources of voices. Sources of energy." Tara whispered.
"Glory certainly has proven that." Giles frowned. "We don't have much time to save Spike, or stop Glory. I don't know how to reach her without doing some research and there simply isn't time."
"Aren't we already too late?" Joyce asked. "If this Glory-creature has him? Won't she...?"
"There's a strict timeline, Glory can't act before midnight. The good thing for us is, based on a phone call from Travers I received today, the vessel is linked to the Key. In other words, if Glory kills Spike, she loses the Key."
"But once midnight comes, all bets are off?" Anya chewed her lip. "I know! Cold water! Has anyone tried throwing cold water on her? It works on the television."
"I don't think that helps in cases like this." Willow said with surprising mildness. "Buffy? Buffy, come back to us. We can save him. We need you to help save him."
"Save him? Save the vampire? She kills vampires."
"She can't do it!"
"If she fails, everyone dies."
"We'll never leave each other. It's a promise. We don't break those promises." t.
"She always hurts the men who love her."
Buffy felt something tugging in the darkness, the swirl of faces and warring voices. Something tugged, but like a leaf at the edge of a whirlpool, it was soon lost in the current.
"Can you mojo her out of this?" Xander asked.
"I don't know. I think it'd be dangerous to try." Willow said fearfully. "Maybe I could get in..."
"Maybe you don't need to." Anya pointed to the blonde women, one kneeling on the floor, one huddled on the staircase, both of them with wide open eyes. "Tara's on it. She is the voice for the voiceless. Maybe she's the mind for the mindless? I don't think that sounds right."
"Shh." Xander put his arm around her. "Names don't matter right now."
Tara juddered to a halt, pitching forward and then catching herself, like missing several of the last stairs in a very long staircase. She gasped and shrieked when she saw Buffy falling towards her, stake in hand.
"Tara!" Buffy yelped and dropped the stake, toppling over. "What are you... how are you..." She stopped her bewildered cries and tried again. "Hi, Tara."
"Hi. How are you? No, never mind. Buffy. You need to get out of here." Tara gulped nervously and looked around them.
"What do you mean?" Buffy looked puzzled. "This is my life." She gestured to the four figures, the graves, the grass. "Mom, Watcher, Vampire, Normal People who don't get it." She shrugged. "It ends the same way every time." Buffy moved past her, retrieved her stake, and headed towards the far reaches of the phantom graveyard, knowing that somehow, accidentally, her stake would lodge in the one heart she wanted to spare.
"I thought I could change it. I thought... he changed me. Without changing me. You don't get it."
"Oh... I get it." Tara murmured.
"But death is my gift." Buffy gave a heartbroken laugh and plowed ahead, the stake seeming like lead in her cold hands.
"Don't tell me it isn't." Buffy cut her off. "I try to pretend, I try to have it all but, really ..." Another figure appeared, dark skinned and war painted, Sineya snarling in the shadows, just out of her sightline. "All I have is the kill. Death. That's my gift."
Tara followed her, not quite able to keep up with her, but made a final push and seized Buffy's arm. "I wasn't going to tell you it's not your gift." She said gently. "I was going to say, it's not your only one."
Buffy blinked, paused, then finally said. "It's all I end up with."
"It doesn't have to be."
"Without him, it is." A tear escaped her eye. "He made me hope. He made me think about the little things and the big things, and that being a freak was okay. It didn't matter if I wasn't going to be a normal girl, or if my mother would never understand me, or if I'm never the kind of Slayer I was 'supposed' to be." She tore away from Tara, tears clouding her eyes, stumbling blindly once more, in a tragic dance she'd repeated numerous times since going into this trance state. "He even made me realize what love really is. The messy, stupid parts. The beautiful parts, the nothing is ever wrong parts..." Maybe if she ran, she could get past it this time. "He was my gift."
He was there, waiting, and she fell.
The stake split through, and she didn't even scream this time, just felt her heart implode with his, leaving her ashen inside.
"He was my gift, and I killed him."
"Hey. Are you okay?" Ben shook the figure on the floor.
Spike frowned up at him. "Strange thing to ask the sacrificial lamb, mate."
"It's not my idea to sacrifice you." Ben said through thin lips. "Here, let's get you cleaned up. You have some really deep cuts on your neck."
"God fingers'll do that to you." Spike allowed himself to rise, warily looking at the boy. "You seem a helpful sort."
"I am. I'm a doctor. Well, intern."
Spike gave a sudden jolt of recognition. "Think I've seen you round the hospital before."
Ben blinked. "Yeah. Maybe." He said uneasily.
"So. You're a doctor." Spike let him treat his neck with something dabbed on a cloth. "How'd you end up working for the baddies?"
"Baddies? You're a vampire." Ben avoided the intense, extremely human eyes.
"True. But that's sort of an accident in the makin', if you know what I mean." Spike surveyed the room, listening for voices outside the closed door, trying to figure when the best moment to strike would be.
"Same here. Accident of birth. Not my fault. Nothing I could do." Ben muttered savagely.
"Oh, there's always somethin' you can do." Spike said with a crooked, somewhat devious smile.
"No. There isn't." Ben said bitterly, with a hint of sudden fury that warned Spike the doctor wasn't exactly right.
"Well, maybe not you, But me. I'm not lyin' down, waitin' for her to stick me into a big ethereal doorway." He spat.
Ben didn't say anything, and hesitated before examining the obviously broken wrists. "I can't set these."
"I don't reckon you need to." Spike tested his ankles. Broken, but knitting. "Vamps heal pretty damn fast. Even without your plasters and potions."
"I'm just trying to make you comfortable." Ben scooted away.
"Figure it's the least you can do?"
"Something like that." Ben dared to look at him. He wasn't a very sympathetic figure, cocky and smirking, undefeated. Even wounded and bruised he seemed to have an attitude. "But if you don't need my 'plasters and potions', I'll just go."
"You want to do yourself a favor in the way of comfort, you could get me the hell out of here. I can beat this bitch and her little toadies. Well, not on m'own, but my girl and I- we can help you."
"No one can help me."
"No point. If Glory dies, I die." Ben stated heavily. He hadn't had anyone to say these things to before- no one who he could allow to know the secret, no one who would believe him, but now it didn't matter. It was inevitable, and this vampire was in the mix.
"Nothing's set in stone in this town." Spike inched himself further up the wall from his slumped position, worked his wrists quietly to try to make the bones fuse quickly.
"Some things are bigger than this town. This is- this is bigger than universal." Ben shook his head and gave a grim chuckle. "No escape."
"Whiny defeatist bastard, aren't you?" Spike growled in a combination of pain and disgust.
"It's the truth."
"You can go out fightin' can't you, even if it's true? See what happens." Spike pointed out.
Honest words struck too close to the conscience buried in him. "You should just - I don't know what. Not like resting will help you. Not like you have any goodbyes to say. They're going to start preparing you soon."
"What sort of prep do I need?" Spike asked, secretly worried about the answer.
"I don't know. That's the priests' stuff." Ben shrugged. He didn't want to know. "I'll tell them you don't need to be chained up. Your legs won't bear weight, not with ankles like that. Not much of a threat, even if you say you do heal fast." He paused before leaving the room. "You want some aspirin? I have morphine, too."
"I don't need your drugs."
"You probably don't want to feel what they're going to do."
"Prolly not, but I'm not gonna float off in some purple haze while they do it, either."
"Hey, I'm just trying to do something nice. Last requests." Guilt wanted some kind of assuagement.
"You can get me some blood."
"Sorry, fresh out." Ben shrugged. "Anything else I can get you? And don't ask for a way out."
"Oh, I'll get that m'self." Spike managed an arrogant smirk, which disappeared as he asked a serious question. "Did they take anyone else besides me?" He couldn't smell any other human scents, hear any sounds or voices he recognized, but that didn't mean anything definite.
Ben shook his head. "She left the rest."
"Well, that was a mistake." Spike huffed.
"I didn't say whether they were alive." Ben added with sudden maliciousness. Wait, I'm not like that! I'm not her. She hurts people! I just have unfortunate side effects. "They are, though." He found a small moment of happiness as Spike broke into a genuinely relieved smile. "Not that she didn't intend to kill them. She just couldn't risk killing you. They're probably pretty beat up. But they're alive."
"Ta, mate." Spike sighed. She was alive. More reason to get the hell out of here and get back to her. And now's as good a time as any... "Hate to do this to you, you bein' so thoughtful and all, but-"
Spike's lunge fell short. The young human face twisted away to reveal a glacial goddess, ruby red lips set in a satisfied smile. "What the bloody-"
"Surprise. I love doing that." She laughed as she pushed him back down and struck a hammer blow across his cheek, knocking him out again. "Bad Key. Stay."
Jinx bowed himself in. "Ah, your awake once more."
"More than I can say for him. Don't worry, he's not dead, just going to be quiet. He's stronger than he looks, and of course baby brother had to show him our 'soft side'."
"At least you're now aware of his actions."
"Yeah." Glory crossed her arms and looked down at the vampire. "Man. He won't stop, and the guy can take a hit. And a broken bone." There was something like admiration in her voice, something drifted in from her blurring connection to Ben. Then it chilled, turned dark. "He's not going out easy."
"Just so long as he goes, My Queen."
"Buffy, this isn't real. None of this. You never k-killed Spike." Tara breathlessly chased after the girl who was doomed to this spiral nightmare.
"It feels real." Buffy plowed ahead, like she had done so many times before in five long years of slaying, feeling as though she was powerless in spite of all the power she'd been given.
"I know." Tara boldly made a grab for her arm and held on tightly to her wrist. "I'm in this place, too."
Buffy blinked. That's right. Tara's not really ... herself, right now. "You're better!"
"No. I'm not." Tara bit her lip.
"Then how come you're, um, making sense?" Because it does make sense. I didn't stake Spike. God knows I really wanted to at times but I never did.
"I'm guessing it's part of being a channel." Tara shrugged slightly, as though it didn't really matter how. "Maybe I can get through- if you're in the same kind of place."
"Oh my God! Glory brain sucked me?"
"No. No, it's worse when she does that." Tara shivered and her eyes briefly dilated in panic. "You don't just have everything you're afraid of, you have everything bad that ever happened. You have your worst fears, and memories, together, combined with being lost in the dark, falling, and feeling like you're covered in bugs."
Another jolt inside. The hero's call. I have to save my friend. I have to save her. I have to save him.
But I can't. I didn't. It's already too late, Glory has him, the one thing that was never supposed to happen, the only thing that mattered.
"Buffy, listen. I don't know how long before this link goes away. I'm guessing the physical me is reaching out to connect with the physical you, and mentally I'm getting a- a visitor's pass." Tara tried to smile in spite of the terror of knowing soon she'd go back to her own mind, the now ravaged place it was. "You have to snap out of it. You're in your head, but you can get out. I- can't wake up. I wish I could."
"I wish you could, too." Buffy said softly. Then she paused. Tara's hand on her wrist seemed to be holding her in place. She looked back to the spot she considered the beginning of the repetitive trek. Four figures, four voices, chanting arguments and confusion in a dark graveyard. "But I don't think I want to 'wake up'."
"That's not like you."
"Yes, it is!" Buffy tore her arm free, but didn't move away. She wiped at her eyes furiously with one wrist. "All I ever wanted was to be a normal girl. When that didn't work out, all I wanted to do was not die, not let anyone else die, and not freak out my mom. Not let anyone down."
"Buffy, you're doing those things. Well, your mom might not be thrilled, but she's less freaked this year than she ever was before."
"That was all I wanted. Then I let myself- love someone again. Really love him. And he really loved me. I don't think people get that," Buffy laughed helplessly, "but he loved me better than anyone ever has. 'Cause Spike is half-human, half-something-else, and so am I. We matched. He was into both sides of me, and he didn't hold anything back. Maybe because when it started, he didn't have a soul. I know that sounds stupid, but in a way, think about it. Demons don't care about right and good. They care about what they want, and they go for it. Spike wasn't like the normal demon-y demon. Still so human. Just like me, no 'All about the kill slayer' here." She searched for words to explain how intense the connection between them was. "With both of us, there was something powerful stuck inside that we couldn't fight, but still wanted to be human. Wanted to be loved. He was... my other half. I was his heart." There was no laugh anymore, just helplessness. "He called me that, sometimes."
Tara's heart ached. "I know how you feel. A-about being loved. Really loved for the first time. And about having parents who are freaked. A-and someone loving you, even if you're different, even if something is in you. Willow's my Spike. But maybe we shouldn't tell her I said so." Tara hugged herself. "I want to see her again. I want to be with her. In my mind, I feel her- then I feel myself losing her, searching for her, knowing she's right there and she needs me, but I can't get to her-" Tara stopped herself, swallowing the frightened lump of tears coming to her throat. "Talk about your nightmares, huh?"
"But nothing wakes you up." Buffy's arms mirrored hers, suddenly wrapping around herself to fend off the shudders. Her head swiveled again, watching the scene playing out without her, the voices never stopping, and this time she saw the handsome figure striding off, heard the creak of leather boots and the swish of his heavy duster. Walking alone in a cemetery, like he had so many times before, waiting to meet up with her. When I find him this time... She dropped her stake, but like magic it was back in her hand as soon as she let go. "You can't wake up from some things. Some parts of nightmares are real. I'm the one who kills Spike. Or at least, I'm the one who let him get killed. To me, that's the same thing."
"He's not dead!" Tara raised her voice slightly in frustration. "O-or at least, he's not any more dead than he was, being a vampire and undead, and- and Buffy, you can't give up!"
"Yes, I can!" Buffy shouted back. "I'm not some superhero! I'm a college student who can't even get to class on time! I'm allowed to give up. Please. Please tell me I- I don't have to fight one more time." She stopped speaking suddenly, a little sob choking off the end of her words.
Tara heard what she didn't say. "Because then you don't know if you lose?"
Buffy didn't meet her eye. "In here it's terrible. But at least he gets back up and I see him again. I kill him, again and again, but-" her eyes drifted to a black silhouette, passing in the distance, "he always comes back. Never leaves me. For good. Out there... I don't know."
Tara shook her head. That didn't make sense. But fears aren't rational, love isn't sensible. "Well, I do know. I know I have to go. I know I have to keep trying. I have to get back to Willow. I have to help her. Because I know that she'll try to save Spike, even without you, even if you won't. She won't give up. She knows if Glory loses, I'll be back." Tara smiled, a beautifully peaceful smile in the midst of her pain. "She's my hero. She rescues me. But the thing is... she thinks I'm the strong one."
He called me strong. Savage. Beautiful. Lethal. Airhead. He said I was his hero, but sometimes I could use a rescuer. He called me all the sweet things and wrong things, and he told me he'd bet on me, even against a god. Me against the apocalypse, and he never even thought about it before choosing me. Fearless. Idiot.
No, he was smart. He was afraid, too. Afraid of losing me.
So he'll get it. He'll get it why I'm frozen. Why I want to hide and not wake up to a world where we're not together.
But then he'd get up and go break some heads and walk through hell until we were together again.
The world blurred at the edges, sound was in stereo, Tara's voice and - was that Willow's voice, too? She wasn't in here.
Slayers give up. They want it to end. He knows that better than any of them. Because he's the one who's ended them.
He's the one who could end me. Wouldn't even have to fight me, just not being with me...
"Buffy, can you hear me?" Buffy, blink again.
All the other slayers give up. But not me. Because I still have something to fight for. Spike knows I'd go out fighting. I can't let him down- even if I already did.
"I hear you." Buffy told Tara in a constricted voice. "Loud and clear."
"Go get 'em." Tara smiled shakily, feeling the connection seeping away.
"I'll go get you both. Willow and I." Buffy seized her fingers. "I won't stop fighting. Don't you stop fighting, either. Willow's right. You're the strong one."
Tara shook her head before she seemed to shimmer in the dark. "It's who loves you. That's the strength you have."
Spike. I have Spike's strength. I just have to get the rest of him. Or die trying.
Blackness faded, brightness bloomed. Blinking once, twice, slowly before she gasped and fell forward, heaving out a sob in Tara's lap. Willow's hands were coming rapidly across her back, and a relieved cacophony resounded in her ears.
Voices jumbled and nothing made sense. Tara included. The girl mumbled something about stars and kitties as she stroked Buffy's head and patted it as it rested on her knee.
Buffy sat up, slowly. She looked at Tara. No recognition beyond the vagueness of the past few days. She's back in that place. Still fighting to get out.
"I'm sorry." buffy told Tara, told the room, the the world.
"Sweetheart, it's okay." Joyce soothed, kneeling down beside her.
"It was like a god-bomb, you couldn't have fought any better than you did, Buff." Xander joined in.
"I'm sorry I- went away." Buffy took Tara's slightly cold hands. "Thanks for getting me back."
"What happened? We saw you two doing the Vulcan mind meld." Xander helped Buffy to her feet as she started to rise from her sitting position.
"Pretty much- if I knew for sure what that was." Buffy shivered uneasily. "She told me not to give up. She hasn't." Buffy made eye contact with Willow for the first time, almost afraid to look at anyone but Tara, afraid they'd hate her for failing, or for knowing that she'd wanted to quit, leave them in the lurch for a painful dream, one still less painful than reality without him. "She knows you're gonna save her, Wills."
"You talked to- to her?"
"How?" Willow asked desperately.
"I don't know."
"They were both stuck inside their minds. Makes sense if you have someone who can speak in dreams while you're asleep, that they can speak in dreams while you're in some shellshocked trance." Anya said as though it were obvious.
"What Anya said, I guess." Buffy looked towards her mother, then to Giles. "Do you think there's ... is it too late?" She whispered.
"No." Giles' voice rang confidently, his finest Watcher voice, the voice that meant he had knowledge just burning to be shared. Buffy felt her heart lift slightly. "A little while ago Travers called and asked for an update. He also shared that if the Key is in a living vessel, killing the vessel will displace the Key, making it so that Glory can't use it."
Joyce made a hesitant noise- then stopped and slid her arm around her daughter's shoulders. "Go on."
Giles gave her a small, significant smile. "Glory can't kill Spike. She can't even access the Key until midnight. We have a little time."
"And I wasted a lot of it." Buffy muttered angrily at herself. "Are you sure he's-?"
"I know." Giles replied. He pretended not to see the sudden clenching in Xander's jaw.
"What's going to happen without Spike here?" Joyce interjected. This time the jumping in Xander's face was unmistakable. "He was supposed to back you up, Buffy. When you're saving him, are you sure you're not- hurting you?"
"The only thing that hurts is knowing I didn't try to save him sooner. I just- felt helpless."
"That's natural. We've all watched loved ones in danger. Helplessness is common." Giles placed his hand on Joyce's shoulder, strong fingers silently pleading with her not to say anything that would upset Buffy further just as she was refocusing.
"Only human." Joyce whispered. She's only a girl. He's a vampire. But he's acted like a real man to her. Buffy's more than just a human, too. Maybe that's why she loves him like that. "Only natural." So unnatural. But together- sometimes it seemed natural between them, the easiness, the way they acted.
"But good point. About Spike not being around when we take on Glory. We have to get him back - by taking on Glory. He was a big part of that battle plan." Anya spoke up.
"He still is. He won't give up. He'll know we're coming for him, and we're still fighting."
"Unless he thinks we're all- yeah." Willow muttered, looking at Tara, who was rocking herself and humming beside her.
Buffy nodded. He might think that. Because the only way they should have been able to take him was over my dead body.
"Which- why aren't we? She blasted the hell out of this place- no pun intended." Xander winced as he looked around. There would be enough carpentry work to keep him busy until February.
Giles' looked thoughtful. "The Sphere! It repels her. Between that and the wards, it may have limited her power. She probably intended to - well, yes. Or perhaps she couldn't risk killing the Key in the blast."
"It really doesn't matter." Buffy said firmly. "We go on, as planned."
"Go to the building site?"
"But what about Spike?"
"She'll have to bring him with her. Wait, she will, won't she?" Buffy asked.
"Yes, as far as I can tell, she needs him at the door way."
"Then we'll have to meet up with him there, and get the Sphere to him. The rest of the plan doesn't have to change."
"Except for the fact that we actually have to use it." Anya pointed out. "I prefer the waiting until she phases out of this dimension plan."
"Everyone's with you there." Xander sighed.
"Okay then. So we- just have to get there and wait until they're in place- if they're not there first. Either way, it's not too much longer." Every second not knowing if he's okay is like a year. It's a century away. Hang on, Spike. "I'm going to go get the Dagon. Excuse me." Buffy abruptly left the circle.
"Buffy?" Willow's voice was soft and hesitant.
"I just came to check on you." Willow found Buffy kneeling by Giles' bed upstairs, holding the golden ball in front of the open wooden chest Giles and she had bound with layers of protection to keep it safe and hidden from outsiders.
"I'm still here." Buffy answered dully.
"You're not... slipping away again, are you?" Willow sat beside her.
"No. I don't think so." Buffy whispered, not really sure. Her thoughts were like a whirlpool, eager to suck her in and drag her into the depths, guilt and hopelessness and worry attacking her.
"I wouldn't blame you if you did. I kinda did. When Tara..."
Buffy looked over at her. "No! You were awesome, Will. Okay, scary and reckless, but you did something, you didn't just shut down."
"No, I pretty much did." Willow admitted. "I let magic take over. I was just sorta inside, letting it eat me up."
"I would rather have that." Buffy shook her head, annoyed with herself and her reaction. "At least it was useful. You don't quit, Will."
"Buffy! You are the most non-quitting person I know! You came back from the dead once to kick vampire ass. That's- that's dedication."
Buffy actually laughed. Willow beamed and held out her arms. The weary blonde allowed herself to give a hug, then shook herself, trying to focus, get battle ready. "We have to do this. There's no other option."
"Right." Willow tried to look as determined and warrior-like, but couldn't pull it off. "Can I ask something first?"
"When you were out of it, Tara came over and sat down across from you . The conduit part of her spoke and said the mind was another place, and you were there."
"I was. It's not a nice neighborhood this time of year. Glad to be out of it." Buffy tried to smile.
"Tara got you out of it?"
"Mmhm. She's an awesome girl, Wills. She talks good logic."
"Was it- Tara, or was it the power part of Tara?"
"No, it was Tara." Buffy said gently. "She's in her mind, too. Her trance just looks different, I guess, or it's not really a trance, but it's still being trapped."
"That's what I wanted to ask you. What'd she say? Anything? There's a way out, then?" Willow swallowed the questions she already knew the answers to. Is she scared, is she hurting? Of course she is. But if she can get out...
"There was just a moment when we could connect." Buffy said quietly. "There's a way out when we kill Glory, and we're going to go do that, right now." Buffy said firmly. Then put her hand on Willow's arm. "It's terrible there. But she's not giving up. Because she has a hero on the outside, fighting for her. She's being strong, because she knows you're not quitting." Buffy suddenly bit her lip. "I hope Spike never hears that I almost gave up." She shook her head. "What am I saying- I tell him everything."
"He's going to understand. You didn't quit- you just... lost yourself for a minute. It's easy to do. Especially without them." Willow's eyes drifted towards the downstairs. "They're part of you."
"C'mon. Let's go get our pieces back."
To be continued...