Author's Note: So, this is probably not the most original idea, but it came to me and I just couldn't not write it. I don't normally do AU, but when an idea just comes into your head like this you can't really pass it up. This veers off course at the end of the season 6 episode 'Normal Again'. I'm not gonna say too much about it, as it's still a work in progress and I have no idea where it's going, but I'm pretty sure there will be smut at some point, because, well, this is still Spuffy, and I'm writing it.

I hope you like it. If you do, or if you don't, feel free to leave a review telling me why. Enjoy!


Normal Again

Her mother gazes into her eyes, concern and love and hope etched into her features. 'I know you're afraid. I know the world feels like a hard place, sometimes. But you've got people who love you. Your dad and I, we have all the faith in the world in you. We'll always be with you. You have got a world of strength in your heart. I know you do. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself!'

Buffy blinks, shudders. Her mind is confused, filled with thoughts and images and ideas. My friends are dying, I'm killing my friends, they're all going to die if I don't get back to help them… And then that thought comes back again, the one clear thought she has had in a long time, it seems. That's not real. This is real. My mom is alive and well and happy, and my dad loves me and there are no vampires, no evil things lurking in the dark, no hard decisions to make… This can be my life.

She meets her mother's eyes again, and she feels calm and certain. 'You're right,' she says, slowly. 'Thank you…' Then she smiles and flings her arms around her neck.

Joyce Summers hugs her daughter back, as tightly as she can muster, and sobs into her hair. 'Buffy,' she whispers. 'Oh, my baby!'

'Mom…' Buffy is crying too, and it's as though everything she's felt, for a long time, comes spilling out with those tears. All the pain, all the fear, it's gone in an instant. She's back. She's here, in the real world. And she's going home.

'What do you mean we can't take her home?' Joyce asks incredulously. 'She's my child, I want to take her home, God damnit! You promised!'

The doctor gives what might pass for a sympathetic smile but looks more like a grimace. 'Mrs. Summers, your daughter still needs therapy and supervision. She's lucid right now, and that's wonderful. But I'm afraid that at the moment we have no idea what tomorrow is going to look like, and after all the time she's spent in here, I'm afraid she's just not ready to go out into the real world just yet. I would like to keep her here, at least for another few weeks, until we know what's what, and give her a chance to at least socialise with the other patients before she can return to normal.' He puts a hand on Joyce's shoulder. 'This is going to take time, and getting her back to some semblance of normalcy will be a lot of work. But I am confident that, if she can make it through just a few more weeks here with a minimum of episodes, a full recovery is possible, with the right medications.'

Hank takes Joyce's hand and squeezes it. 'Honey, I'm sure Dr. Warrens knows what he's talking about. Let's give her some time to get her bearings before we force too much reality onto her, okay?'

Joyce nods, looking down at her lap. She sighs. 'Yeah, I guess. Fine. Thank you, doctor.'

Buffy stares at her hand. In a way, it seems so much more real that she's used to. It's bigger. More vivid and saturated in colour, even though it's so pale. She supposes she hasn't seen the sun in a while. She glances up at the window. It's very small and the blinds are down, and she can't tell what time of day it is.

She's still getting flashes, of that basement, and her friends, and the demon, but they are fewer and further between, and it's not like she's there anymore; rather, it's like she's watching the scene from above, from outside her body.

She tries to put it from her mind, and as she does, it's as though the memories of that place are fading. They're becoming less real by the minute, and more and more like some kind of dream.

The door to her room opens, and her parents walk in, followed by a nurse. Buffy looks up at them and smiles.

'Hi, mom,' she says softly, then turns her eyes to her father. 'Hi, dad.'

'Hi, honey,' says her mother, smiling back at her. She takes a deep breath and clasps her hands in front of her face, as though uncertain of what to say next. She lets her arms fall to her sides again. 'So, we've talked to Dr. Warrens. He says we can't take you home yet.'

Buffy's smile fades a little. 'But… but I'm better,' she insists. 'I'm… I know what's real! I do.'

'I know, Buffy, and the doctor knows that too,' her father tells her kindly. 'He just wants to be sure that you can manage to live out there. Interact with other people and stuff like that. You know? And he wants to be sure that you won't… Well, go back.'

Buffy looks down at her hands again. Then she nods. 'Yeah,' she says. 'No, I get that. I need to… be myself again. And I'm not really there yet.' She looks back up at her parents. 'You'll come see me though, right?'

'Of course, honey!' her mother cries, and swoops down on her, throwing her arms around her neck. 'As often as we can. Every day, if possible!' She pulls back, holding Buffy's face in her hands and stroking her cheeks with her thumbs. Her eyes are wet with tears, but she's smiling. 'Just promise me you won't go away again?'

Buffy returns the smile. 'Never,' she breathes.

Hank sits down at the foot of her bed. 'We do have some good news, though,' he says. 'Tomorrow, you'll get to go out and socialise with the other patients in the ward downstairs, and in a couple of weeks, you'll get to move out of here and into a room at the ward. Maybe you'll get a roommate!' He grins at her. 'You'll get to meet new people, stretch your legs… Eat real food…'

Buffy smiles warmly at her dad. She's missed him, she realises. She has no memory of the past six years, other than what she can still remember of her delusion. And he disappeared from that life so long ago… She wonders briefly if some of the real world might have slipped through into her hallucinations, if they mirrored what happened here. Did he stop visiting?

She shakes her head slightly. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that he's here now.

'I'm so glad you guys are here,' she whispers. 'I love you both so much!'

Food has never tasted this good, even if it's boring institution food. The eggs are bland and the pancakes taste like cardboard, and despite that, it's the best meal she's ever had.

She eats in her room, before getting dressed. She was given a sedative before bed, and went through the whole night without so much as dreaming about Sunnydale, and she woke up this morning feeling completely rested. Her parents left a bag of her own clothes with her, some of them newly bought, but she selects an outfit from back when she was sixteen anyway. She's lost a lot of weight since she came here, she notes, and the clothes hang a little loose, but she doesn't care. They're her own clothes. She briefly wonders if these clothes will date her. The new millennium has come and she has no idea what people wear now, or if it's at all similar to what she imagined in her delusion. She glances down at her outfit, a green halter top and white jeans, but her moment of insecurity passes quickly. It doesn't matter. All that matters is that she's leaving this room, in her own clothes, and she's going to talk to people. Real people, not voices in her head.

At precisely nine o'clock, a nurse enters her room. It's a man, with dark hair and olive skin, tall and muscular, as she supposes they need to be to restrain crazy people, and his name tag tells her that his name is Tony.

Tony takes her down a hall to an elevator, but Buffy asks him if they can take the stairs instead. He agrees. They go down only one flight. Then there's a door, and another hallway, and then another door, which he pushes open.

Beyond the door is a common area. It's painted white and institution green, but there are sofas and tables and chairs, and a TV and radio and there are people playing cards. Most of them look pretty normal, and she guesses she does too. Why should crazy people look any different from anybody else?

'You've been down here before,' Tony tells her. 'We try to take all solitary patients to the common area at least once a week, as long as they're not violent. So, when you were calm, we'd wheel you down here and put you in front of the TV.'

'I don't remember,' Buffy says quietly. 'I don't remember this room at all.'

'You wouldn't,' Tony admits. 'Some days you were near catatonic. Others, you were just sedated. Sometimes you'd sit and mutter to yourself, but you never reacted to anything around you.'

'How long have you been looking after me?' Buffy asks, turning to him.

'Four years, give or take,' Tony replies, smiling gently at her.

'Thank you,' says Buffy. 'For… taking care of me, I guess.'

'You're welcome,' says Tony. 'I'm glad you're better. I hope you stay that way. It's the best part of the job.'

He leaves her, and she stands alone in the middle of the room, looking around her. All these people are strangers. A couple of people are watching TV, and there's a free couch there, so she goes to sit down. They're watching a soap opera, but she doesn't mind. Soap operas are normal. She's dying for normal.

Someone plops down in the seat next to her. 'So, she walks and talks now, then?' says a voice that's far too familiar.

Buffy turns her head and stares wide-eyed at the man next to her. He has curly, peroxide-blonde hair, loose and disheveled. His eyes are a piercing shade of blue, and he has a scar above his left eyebrow, shaped kind of like a sideways letter Y. He's smirking at her, the way he always does, and for a moment she thinks her heart's stopped.

When she finds her voice, she can only think to say one thing. 'Spike?'