Disclaimer: I do not own Buffy or any other Buffyverse characters. They belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.
Muttering something underneath her breath, Buffy nevertheless remained asleep, the dream she was having overwhelming her senses. The fire beside her had begun to burn itself out, its supply of fresh wood have faded away once the Slayer had fallen asleep. The desert was otherwise completely silent, the moon above all of it shining down upon the landscape with its hollow light. There wasn't a single animal moving anywhere across the now cool sands, a strange thing considering how a desert's ecosystem generally worked. But then again, with the desert located so close to the Hellmouth, anything normal wasn't to be expected. Things that seemed normal within Sunnydale's borders were quickly brought under close watch, considering that the minute you trusted something not to be a threat, it quickly became one.
Her mumbling refusing to cease, she tossed and turned, causing the blanket she wore around her shoulders to fall off, leaving her jacket as her own protection against the cold. The fire was in its final death-troughs, its embers glowing only faintly in the dark of the night. Above the deserted landscape, the stars continued to shine brightly.
It was raining all around her, the heavy drops landing on her in large pools, soaking every inch of her clothing down to her skin. She felt cold, as if she would never be warm again. Taking a few steps through the wet sands, she felt the ground turning to mud beneath her, the dirty substance beginning to come up to her knees. Still, she continued forth, unsure of her destination, but she remembered that it was at least important in some way, as if her life depended on it somehow.
Above her, she heard the storm clouds beginning to thunder, the accompanying lightning lighting up the sky with its single white color, almost making the Slayer jump as it all overwhelmed her hearing and eyesight. For a moment, she felt something like fear erupt in her heart, making a small pain scatter throughout her chest. And then, as quickly as it had appeared, it disappeared, leaving her still standing in knee-deep mud.
For a moment, she felt calm, at peace with herself, perhaps even happy where she was. There was no pain here, no cry for help from an innocent in danger of being killed, and no-one to call her the Slayer. It was just herself, and for some reason, she felt happier being alone like this, despite the mud, despite the cold, despite the rain, despite the storm raging overhead.
It reminded her of what it was like to be dead. To actually feel something besides pain and grief.
"Buffy." She heard her name ring out, interrupting all of her thoughts and making her turn around to see the voice's owner. Inside her chest, she felt her heart skip a beat, then two, then three, and then finally it returned to its normal pace, despite the person she now found herself looking at.
He was dressed completely in black, just as he had always been when he had been around her. He had always been that way, dressing as if he had to separate himself from her. She wore light colors, he wore the thing that killed those colors. She had taken to wearing the same color, if only to avoid looking like a simple high-school girl when she was with him. Nothing had ever made sense when she had been with him, and she realized that now, so far away from the simple High-School Slayer she had been less than three years ago.
"Angel." She said his name as if she were unsure that he was really here. He stood a few feet away from her, offering her a small smile as a response, but otherwise remaining completely still. It was as if he had become a statue, a silent reminder of the past that she carried with her every single day she got up. A past she couldn't escape from. She knew that from personal experience, considering that for three months, she had lived in L.A. on her own, barely making ends meet, and simply trying to forget who she even was. It hadn't worked, and once she had realized that, she had come back, managing to get past the awkwardness that had lingered in the air for weeks after she had arrived on her mother's door-step.
"I missed you." He finally said, echoing the words he had said to her only a few months after her first death, at the hands of the Master.
"I missed you too."
"You don't want to be here." He said with a simple tone, as if he were simply saying hello to her.
"No, I don't. Everything hurts. Even breathing hurts worse than it did when I died." She answered, feeling something wet starting to flow down her cheek that wasn't rain. "I don't want to feel anything anymore."
"It's hard, it hurts, and its every day." He echoed her words again to her, when she had tried to convince him to come back into the mansion after the First had driven him to nearly kill himself by letting the Sun burn him.
"I don't want to suffer through it anymore."
"You have to."
"Because it's what you do. When everyone else gives up, you stand strong. You always have, even when you feel like breaking down inside. Because you stand to inspire those around you, to make them fight on even in the face of death."
"Because it's who you are."
Opening her eyes, Buffy found herself staring at the dying fire, the cold wind striking against her form as it lay on the sands. Shivering, she looked around her for the blanket, grabbing it quickly and wrapping it around her slightly freezing form. Reaching over, she grabbed a few more logs and threw them on to the fire, causing more sparks to erupt into the air as the piece impacted onto its ashen brothers. Poking at the bottom of the burned logs with a stick, she kept stirring oxygen into the fire, causing it to slowly begin to burn again, the effect making her smile as the log began to be engulfed in flames. Bringing her knees to her chest, she buried herself in the blanket, and watched the log burn in the orange, red, and yellow flames.
The dream still lingered in her brain, images from it washing her thoughts of anything else. It had all felt so real, the rain landing on her skin, the cold from being soaked to the bone, the feeling of peace she had felt for that single fleeting moment...and then Angel speaking to her, telling her to keep going. It was strange, hearing him echo her own words to her, as if he were some sort of parrot that she had taught to speak. She had tried so hard to convince him that he belonged in this world, that he had been worthy of the love she had felt for him.
And now, he was doing the same thing to her. Granted, in a weird-dreaming sort of way, but still, the effect remained the same.
Looking up at the stars continuing to stand still in the night sky, Buffy smiled as the warmth from the rapidly growing fire began to spread out over her body, forcing the cold she had felt from the night air to disappear. Again, her thoughts otherwise remained completely focused on the dream she had seen and felt so vividly. She had experienced dreams similar to it before, when she had been living in Los Angeles, but it had been so long since one had disturbed her sleep.
Out of everyone, she hadn't been surprised that it had been Angel in the dream, the first love of her heart having taken a prominent role in her dreams before. She had tried to force him out of them before, thinking of anything else but the souled vampire, but no tactic had ever worked. He had always found a way back to her, even when she had finally thought herself free of his memory for a single moment. A skeleton in the closest, a memory you couldn't erase, all of these were descriptions for the way she held his memory.
She wondered how he was right now, living in L.A. with his group, similar to how she had her friends helping her. Was he happy, living somewhere where they couldn't see each other? That was supposed to make it easier, to not see each other and continue on living. She had tried so hard to try and live a normal life, or the closest thing to it that she could possibly have. She had managed to maintain a somewhat stable and happy relationship with Riley, until it had become clear that he couldn't deal with being the weaker of the two, something she couldn't understand. So, she had let him go. It had hurt, and in a way, it would always pain her to think of him, but the deed was done. There was nothing left to do now but move on.
Had he moved on? Had he found someone else where-ever he was now, away from the Hellmouth and all of its demons? She hoped so, hoped that he had been able to put their past behind him and start seeing someone else. He deserved happiness, after all he had done to help her against the very organization that had brought him to Sunnydale, so far away from his home in Iowa. He had fought bravely, and in the end, he had had nothing left but her love. But for some reason, that hadn't been enough for him. He had needed to be the strongest, to be the so-called 'man' of the relationship. Dating a Slayer hadn't been easy on him after his strength had faded after the Initiative program's drugs had worn off on him.
And there had been no-one to replace him in her life, much as there had been no-one to replace Angel. They each had held their own place, a position that was irreplaceable. Not that she had had much time to search, with Glory's search for the Key, Dawn, having only intensified to the point of causing them to flee from their home. The attempted escape hadn't lasted long, and eventually, they had been left with no choice but to turn back and face whatever horrors the Hell-God could conjure against them.
She remembered most what it had been like to die, to jump to her death in order to save the world one-last supposed time. It had felt awful for a moment, and then, every sensation had faded away, leaving her feeling empty, but at the same time, at peace. She had felt like everything she had ever dreamed of feeling was at hand, and that she had finally been given the rest she supposedly deserved. There had not been a single worry in her mind, not a single thought of concern or grief or even confusion. There had only been the single feeling of happiness.
It had been Heaven.
Resting her head against her knees, she tried not to cry, remembering how it had felt to be ripped out of that place by force, by Willow's magick, the confusion that she had felt coursing through her mind as she had been forced back into her body. She had thought that it had been Hell, the thing she had walked through after she had been forced to claw her way out of her grave. There had been destroyed buildings, fires that had burned across entire streets, and screams that had coursed through the air. She had seen the robot copy of herself that Spike had commissioned be utterly destroyed.
"Is this Hell?" She had asked Dawn, atop the tower where she had jumped to her death only three short months earlier. Even now she wondered what the answer to that question was. It haunted her every thought of every minute of every day. Had she been ripped out of Heaven, where she had been completely at peace for once in her life, simply to suffer in the closest thing to Hell imaginable? To have to see all of her friends in so much pain, with so many problems that they looked to her to solve, as if she were some kind of God...it made her feel like she was drowning.
Drowning in a pool of pain. Screaming out, but with no-one to hear her.
"Buffy?" She heard his voice asking for her, the sound of his voice wrapping her brain in a warmth that made her feel happy, if only for a fleeting moment.
"You have to keep going." He brought up again, his voice sounding like he was lying next to her in the sands. "For all of us."
"It hurts too much."
"It's going to. It's going to hurt every day, but you need to keep going. Buffy, you need to survive."
"Why? Why me?"
"Do you realize what happened when you died?" He asked, making her shut her eyes as the memories of jumping off the tower came flooding back. "I wanted to stake myself, I wanted to forfeit my life just to see you again. You were my salvation, Buffy, and you were gone."
"What did you do?"
"I grieved. I stayed up for days and nights, simply looking at a photo of you, remembering how it felt to feel my hands on your face, how it sounded to hear your voice swimming through my ears. How happy you made me feel that one night."
"Angel, I made you lose your soul."
"It's ok, you didn't mean to."
"But I made you evil, I made you become Angelus again. It was all my fault."
"No, it wasn't. I don't ever want you to think that."
"The truth hurts, doesn't it?" She asked, feeling the guilt of that single night flowing over her for the millionth time. "To know that you did something that got people killed, and you can't even take it back. To have the blood of someone else on your hands and no-matter how hard you try, it never washes away."
"I've suffered through it every day. It hurts, it never goes away, but you keep living." He said, causing her to shiver slightly when he laid his fingers gently against her cheek. "You have to keep living."
"How? How can I do that when I die every night in my dreams, that I go back to being happy?" She said, her voice beginning to break as she felt tears starting to form along her eye lids. "How can I live when it hurts to even breathe?"
"You find something, and you hold onto it. You let it keep you going, let it inspire you to get back up every time something or someone knocks you down and makes you doubt yourself."
"What did you choose?"
Opening her eyes, Buffy let the emotions inside her take over, let the tears fall down her cheek. It hurt to even think about what he had said to her this time, within another dream that had felt so real. She could still feel his fingers on her cheek, reassuring her that he was there for her. That he still loved her.
As sobs escaped from her mouth, she laid back down onto the cool sand, wrapping the blanket around her body as if it made her feel safe. She wished someone was with her now, she wished someone would hold her, to let her know that it was going to be ok after everything she had been through. She wished that her mother or Angel were there with her, that one of them would gather her into their arms and stroke her hair, to calm her down. She wanted someone to take away all of this pain that she felt inside, the pain that made her want to die again, simply to extinguish it.
She wanted someone to understand.