Author: spikes_heart and liliaeth in their first ever joint effort
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com
Pairing: Angel/Nina, Gunn/Anne, sort of S/B, with hints of A/B
Setting: One year post NFA
Disclaimer: If they were ours, would we be writing fanfic?
Feedback: Yes, please!
Archive: Ask us, nicely.
Warning: Not a B/A fic
A/N: Spoilers for the entire run of BtVS and AtS - our take on what happened after the lights went out
Beta'd by: A sneak appearance by Willa!
Summary: Before the Powers that Be withdrew from the playing fields, they made one last move with their favorite pawns - leaving Angel to clean up their mess.
(now with new banner created by banner_grab
Spring, 2010 – Sometime Before Will’s 6th Birthday
What… what had happened? Months had passed, and she seemed to have been unaware. Buffy didn’t know how long she’d been ‘gone’. Judging by what her friends wore, what passed for winter in California had come and gone. The weakness she felt was similar to when she first became aware.
“I miss you, Buffy. Want you to come out and play.”
She managed to look down with her noticeably diminished vision. Little William stood in front of her, head bowed – the very picture of dejection.
Oh, how she wanted to. Buffy could only imagine how many times he’d stood in front of her and been disappointed. It was a miracle he persisted looking for her at all.
“Hey, Will,” she thought weakly. “I don’t feel strong enough to come out and play, but if you can hear me, at least we can talk.”
The little boy squealed with delight. “Buffy! You woke up.” He hugged her around the legs, as he’d done when he was a toddler. “You sleep too long,” he chastised.
Buffy ached to reach out and stroke his face. She could tell he’d aged somewhat since she last saw him. His face was a little thinner and he’d definitely grown a few inches. The thought that she’d missed months of his life tore at her heart. Memories of those last few seconds when she’d held him in her arms were precious.
It was then that Buffy noted the hub of activity going on around them. “Why are Grandpa Giles and Aunt Willow here, sweetie? Are you guys having a party?”
“I dunno.” Will pouted, toeing the ground near the base of the statue. “Nobody tells me anything. And they all stop talking when I walk into the room. Makes me mad.”
“Who else is here, baby?” After so much silence, the noise level was hard to handle.
“Auntie Dawn and Uncle Connor. Oh! When you were sleeping, Lotte and Uncle Hugh had a baby. Her name is Bethany Rose and she cries all the time. Lotte says she has garlic. I like garlic on my pizza. Why would a baby have garlic?”
Buffy stifled a giggle when she realized Will meant ‘colic’. Kiddy babble. It reminded her of Xander. With a pang, she realized it’d been years since she’d even thought about him. There was no way of asking anyone if he was okay.
“Auntie Willow has been mixing up some really stinky stuff. And she says these funny words over and over. Her and Grandpa Giles. Just like in Harry Potter.”
“That’s because your Auntie Willow is a witch. Wait…you know about Harry Potter?” Buffy was intrigued. She didn’t think William was old enough to be reading those books.
“Yeah. Everybody takes turns reading to me before bed. Uncle Hugh reads it best. He talks different.”
“That’s called an accent. It’s because he comes from England, like Grandpa Giles.”
“Uh huh.” Will nibbled on his lower lip, deep thought evident on his face. “If Auntie Willow is a witch, how come she doesn’t wear robes or pointy hats?”
“Harry Potter is just a story, sweetie, even though witches are real. They don’t usually run around wearing big pointy hats… although, I do seem to remember Grandpa Giles wearing a purple one with glitter stars on it for Halloween, once. He can do magic, too.”
Awe colored the boy’s voice. “Wow! Grandpa’s cool. I wanna do magic when I grow up, Buffy.”
“No!” Buffy’s yell startled William. “Don’t fool around with it, William. Magic can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.”
“But I wanna make things float and dis’pear just like in the movies.” Will pouted again. “It’s easy. Even little kids did it.”
That pout really should be classified as a lethal weapon. “And if I remember right, some of them got hurt,” Buffy insisted.
“You mean like this?” Will held up his arm, showing a practically healed burn on the heel of his hand. “Mommy said the stove was dangerous and not to touch it and I did on accident. Really,” he insisted, when he heard Buffy’s quiet chuckle. “I just wanted to see for myself,” he mumbled.
Oh, Will! I wish… Buffy cut herself off. She knew better. Even though she’d tried wishing many times before. Guess there weren’t any vengeance demons listening to marbleized Slayers. “Was it very bad? Are you okay?”
“Daddy had to take me to the hospital, ‘cause it hurted really bad and I got a – a bister. It popped and watery stuff and gunk came out.”
“Well, you got lucky, but it wouldn’t have happened if you’d have listened to your Mommy. Sometimes adults know better.” And when did I become Marion Cunningham? You can’t always do what you want. It’s a hard thing to learn, but it’ll save you a whole lot of pain once you do. Promise me you’ll try and listen, okay?”
“Pinky promise?” Buffy pushed.
Will cocked his head; a little smirk gracing his lips. “Is it a real pinky promise if we can’t twist pinkies?”
Cheeky little thing. He’s gonna be a handful when he grows up. “Listen to me, kiddo. I will never lie to you. If I tell you something, you can believe me. Remember that. Buffy will always tell Sp… William the truth. Trust me.”
“I do. I do trust you, Buffy.” Eyes shining bright, voice earnest… words from the heart. A truth he’d given her as an adult. As a vampire. It moved her more than she could admit.
“Hey there, Will.” Dawn appeared from nowhere and knelt down besides the boy. “Talking to Buffy again?”
“Well, I hope this spell works. Pretty soon we’ll have a real, live Buffy lady, and we can all talk to her.”
“She’s already real, Auntie Dawn,” Will said, pointing at the statue. “You can talk to her now. She’s listening,” he whispered, sotto voce.
“She is, is she? Okay, then. Hey there, Buffy,” Dawn said, wiggling her fingers in her sister’s direction.
“Buffy misses you so much. She’s very sad.”
“We all miss her, cutie. It’s been so long since we’ve seen her.”
How can I make her… oh! I know.
“Auntie Dawn… Buffy said to tell you she’s sorry she lied to you.”
“Lied about what, hon?”
“She said that marshmallows weren’t really made out of monkey brains.” Will looked at Buffy, then made a gagging noise. “Ewwww, yucky. Hot chocolate and monkey brains?” The little boy shuddered in disgust.
“What?” Dawn shrieked. “How did you know about the monkey brains?” She’d turned to Buffy, not sure of what to do or say.
Giles called from across the little garden. “It’s time for you to play your part, Dawn.”
Dawn stayed her feet momentarily, conflicted. “Buffy?” she whispered, before turning and heading over to where she was needed.
Buffy would have cried if she was capable. “Oh God, Dawnie. We were so close.”
“Are they gonna get you out, Buffy?” Will rested his hand on her hip in a comforting gesture.
He looked at her with those eyes. The ones where his soul shined through, showing his every feeling and thought. The same expression Spike had on his face when he told her he loved her in the abandoned house the night before the big battle. The one she’d lost him… the first time. Turned out she was just as uncomfortable with all that heartfelt emotion focused solely on her as she had been then.
Nobody deserved that kind of love and loyalty, least of all her.
“Come on, Will. Time to go upstairs.” Nina took her son in hand and headed towards the door.
“You can see Buffy later, honey. Right now, Charlotte and little Bethany are upstairs, waiting for you.”
The boy didn’t want to go. He tugged on Nina’s hand, refusing to leave the garden.
“William Matthew Jamison Dowell… you march yourself upstairs to your room right now, or I’ll tell Charlotte not to give you those chocolate chip cookies we made yesterday.”
“Bye, Buffy,” he whispered. “Don’t be scareded. I’ll watch from my window, ‘kay?” Quick as a wink, he ran into the Hyperion.
Buffy had already turned her attention towards the knot of people across the way. Angel and Hugh stood off to the side, along with Connor and Dawn. Giles and Willow continued to chant.
“Please let this work,” Angel whispered – the last thing Buffy heard before her world consisted of nothing but bright orange flames as the marble seemed to groan from an internal pressure.
Wes sat at the foot of the sarcophagus, his more than ghostly fingers just capable of turning the pages of the ‘borrowed’ text. He pinched the bridge of his nose to stave off the headache threatening to overtake him.
“You’d think a bloody ghost would be immune from human frailties,” he murmured. “Binding powders. Binding magicks. Binding rituals… bindings, breaking of. Aha!”
He looked towards the ceiling as his head exploded. Or felt damned near to it, anyway. Wes’ vision field expanded past the basement, then the lobby, to the outdoors… showing him the events in the garden.
“How is this possible?” Good Lord! They’ve actually found a way to free the girl.
Orange flames obscured his vision as the intense heat sent him crab-walking backwards several feet. The ground began to rumble beneath his feet, setting up just enough resonance that he could feel it in his ghostly bones.
“Is this something we need to be worried about, guys?” Angel figured the ground was rebelling against the magicks being used to free Buffy. After so many years, it was probably loathe to release her. “Should I insist that Connor and Dawn find a safer place…”
“You just try it, buster,” Dawn fumed. “I’m here until the end, no matter what happens. Nobody keeps me away from my sister. A few ground farts aren’t going to send me running.”
Connor simply held up his hands in defeat. He’d learned long ago never to get between the woman he loved and the object of her attention.
“Besides,” Dawn smirked. “I had a shirt made up just in case.” She lifted her sweater, showing off her sky-blue t-shirt with glitter stars and navy lettering that read: I survived her first resurrection. “How many chances do you think I’ll get to wear this?”
“Have we reached another dead end?” Angel demanded of Hugh, watching the flames flicker out of existence. “All this amounts to nothing more than a fireworks display, and Buffy is still trapped.”
As the flames died down, Wes continued to read: “And their birth cries will rent the air as the grounds themselves do tremble to give up their lost soul – as it tears its bonds asunder.”
The ground continued to shake and the tremors gained in force. He watched with fascination as Illyria’s coffin began to rock slightly from side-to-side. The stone left gouges on the wall it had been resting against.
A sharp crackling sound drew everyone’s attention towards the statue. Spider web fractures appeared its surface as the air around her began to shimmer, taking on the sensation of a pulsing heartbeat. The atmosphere around Buffy was highly charged, sending off warning sparks to everyone nearby.
“Willow, back off.” Giles pulled the woman back several feet. “It’s possible the marble will shatter and…”
Just like that, the earth stopped its juddering and silence rang out in the little garden. The statue was still – no more fissures appeared, no more crackling sounded. Suddenly, like an explosion of fairy dust, the stone vanished – leaving a naked Buffy to crumple to the ground.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Wesley sighed softly as he whipped through page after page in his frustration. “Illyria, you ask for too much. It’s not fair.”
A guardian is sought amongst the Learned, the Warrior, the Living and the Dead. All lay down a previous life and bow to the Old One’s superior will. What is bound, will remain bound.
Illyria is a name to be held in fear and reverence. Illyria is mighty. Those that serve the Old Ones are strengthened in their servitude and shall be rewarded with their lives. Traitors will not be borne. Divine retribution is swiftly bestowed upon those who attempt to relinquish the golden shackles. In endless pain shall they suffer for their penance, for Illyria is mighty.
In Illyria, God King of the Primordium.
Dawn ran over to her sister before anyone else could make a move, knelt by her side and embraced her. “Oh God, Buffy. It’s you. You’re back.”
“Yes, it’s me,” Dawn whispered. “I love you. I missed you so much. You know that, right?” She felt compelled to repeat it over and over again, just in case she wasn’t getting through; to make up for all the times in the past when she’d been less than demonstrative. “I love you so very much.”
Looking deep into Buffy’s eyes, she could tell her sister was disoriented. Her hazel eyes wouldn’t focus. Her movements were slow and jerky. Dawn had been through this before. Leading Buffy through the ravaged streets of Sunnydale the night her sister had crawled out of her grave.
This time around, Dawn knew she’d be a better sister. She wouldn’t abandon her in a fit of teenaged pique. She’d help Buffy any which way she needed her. Stand up with her, hold her hand – even if she insisted that she could do it all on her own.
When Buffy trembled, Dawn ran for the robe they’d brought out in preparation for the big event. Wrapping her sister in lush pink chenille, she led Buffy over to a stone bench, grateful; for the space and time their extended family was allowing them.
Please, Buffy. Talk to me. Show me you’re in there. Dawn wanted to drag the words out – to prove they’d actually succeeded in freeing her sister. But, being the better person she was trying to be meant she had to give Buffy the time she needed. The time to come to her senses. To not let her be overwhelmed by the sensations that had to be pounding on her now after all those years encased in marble.
“Dawn?” Buffy repeated.
The name was garbled; pain evident in her features from the effort, but she was there… really there. In body and mind. Please let them have the time to make this right, Dawn prayed.
“Where’s Spike, Dawn?”
“Spike?” Dawn felt her heart break. How could she tell her sister that their beloved vampire was dead again. Permanently dead. How would she be able to stand…
“I know he’s back, honey. Davide told me before…”
Dawn looked up; the shock evident on her friends’ faces alarmed her. Only Connor looked befuddled.
“Oh, Buffy… I’m so sorry. I really am, but… Spike’s dead,” she sobbed, unable to hold back her own tears.
“No, he’s not,” Buffy insisted.
Dawn was flat out crying now. “He’s dead,” she squeaked. “Yes, Spike did come back, but he died again about the time you vanished. When that bastarde killed you… imprisoned you.” Dawn wished she could hold back the grief and be strong for her sister, but she just couldn’t lie. Not now, not to Buffy.
Her sister’s speech was eerily calm, and improving with each word. “I was just talking to him. Spike’s fine.”
Buffy!! Will yelled from his window, waving happily.
She looked up, smiling gently. “There, see? Spike is just fine.”
“No, Buffy. That’s William, Spike’s son.” Dawn finally said.
“Liar, liar, pants on fire.” Buffy’s accusatory words were aimed at Angel.
Dawn couldn’t fathom her sister’s… teasing? No, hostility. Where the hell did that come from, and why did Angel look like he’d rather be anywhere but there right now? And what was keeping the stupid vampire from coming over and comforting Buffy?
Angel broke from his stasis and turned towards his son at the window. “Charlotte… keep William upstairs. Don’t let him come down here for any reason.”
Buffy focused her anger on her one-time lover. “Tell her, Angel. Tell her the truth.”
“What truth?” He tried avoiding her gaze, but Buffy’s eyes burned right through him.
Dawn forced the issue. “Not now, Angel. Please… Buffy says there’s a truth that has to be told. In the face of this huge miracle that’s brought her back to us… please, what does she want me to know?”
“Look, it’s just not going to make a difference. Nothing will change if you knew.”
Buffy attempted to stand, shrugging her sister’s arm from her shoulders and losing her robe in the process. “I want to see Spike, now. Get him downstairs, or I’ll get him myself if I have to crawl up the damned stairs on my hands and knees.”
“Don’t push this, please,” Angel pleaded. “It won’t make anything better for anyone.”
Dawn rewrapped the robe around her sister’s body. Why was Buffy so sure Angel was lying… and what did it have to do with Spike?
“Buffy, where do you think Spike is? Why are you so sure he’s here? If Spike were back… I mean, he and Angel couldn’t stand each other.”
“He’s here, Dawn,” Buffy insisted through chattering teeth.
Dawn held her close, trying to control her sister’s tremors. Buffy was burning up. Why couldn’t anyone ever return from the dead perfectly healthy?
Buffy’s eyes grew glassy and her shivering more pronounced. “Will, please,” she begged. “Need to see you.”
“Me? You want to see me, Buffy?” Willow was at her side in a flash, holding her hands.
“No! Spike!” Buffy yelled, pointing at the window. “Spike! William! I need you.”
Seconds later, Charlotte yelled out the window. “Angel, I’m sorry. Will managed to get past me and ran down the stairs when I was changing Bethany.”
The warning came too late. Will ran straight to the bench.
“Buffy! Buffy! You came out to play,” the boy shouted, grabbing her around the waist and resting his head in her lap.
“See, Dawn? Spike!” Buffy said, smugness dripping from her words. She ran her fingers along Will’s cheekbone, as if reading a Braille map.
Will didn’t comment on being called Spike, as if it were an everyday occurrence. As if he were used to it.
Dawn turned to Angel once again. “Fess up, Mr. Broody – this isn’t funny anymore, and it’s bordering on the downright weird. And make it fast – Buffy doesn’t look too well.”
Angel was saved from having to admit to anything when Buffy let out a cry of pain. Immediately he grabbed for his son.
“Oh God, it hurts,” Buffy moaned.
Giles frantically began searching through the spells they had used for errors, or possible side effects and found nothing that explained Buffy’s present symptoms. Willow was also at a loss in regards to what had gone wrong. Everyone else seemed frozen by worry and indecision.
Her pain grew worse – enough that she convulsed and fell to the ground in a fetal position. “Dawn, make it stop. Oh God, please… make it stop. I want to stay. Why can’t I stay!” Her body stiffened, then slowly returned to the marbleized creation she’d been only moments before.
Dawn stared at the tortured expression on Buffy’s face, her sister’s arm flung over her eyes in a mockery of her earlier pose.
Will cried hysterically in his father’s arms. “Bring her back, Daddy. Please!!! I’ll be good. I’ll stay in my room when you tell me to,” he sobbed. “She’s so scared.”
At his whimper, the last bit of self-control in the garden was lost. There wasn’t a soul amongst them not weeping for the woman who’d been inexplicably pulled from their grasp.
“I’ve been wondering when she’d call you back.” Wes greeted Buffy as her spirit slowly re-corporealized in front of the sarcophagus. “I’m truly sorry they weren’t able to free you,” he whispered sadly as her essence, wracked in silent pain, was forced to her knees.
Buffy tried to rise and found herself unable to; the pain was incredible, forcing her to remain at kneel. She stared accusingly at Wes, silent and condemning.
“I’m not doing this,” he swore as he looked back at the tomb. “Illyria, stop it!” he yelled, to no avail.
Something pulled at her, tearing her apart at the seams. Buffy felt herself being dragged into indescribable darkness. Slipping into an endless void. Rendering all that made her ‘Buffy’ meaningless in the vast nothing.
If asked, she’d never be able to say how long she’d surrendered to the forces battering her around. As far as she knew, she’d always been there, and always would be – bowing before the presence of something so old – so alien, she could only equate it to a snake slithering through her very soul.
Suddenly, she was back in the basement, screaming for all she was worth. Not a sound passed her lips.
Wesley was still there, staring blankly at the sarcophagus she’d just emerged from. When he tried to help her, his hands passed through her – even this was to be denied her.
“It’s as I feared,” he murmured as he slowly lost coherence. “She won’t let you go. She won’t let either of us go. We’re doomed to be her chosen guardians until such time as she reawakens.”
Buffy watched as Wes faded from her sight, and she followed suit. Once more a prisoner in a block of marble.
Angel sat on the couch holding his son in his lap. William had just stopped crying over Buffy’s disappearance and was snuffling softly into his soggy Paddy bear. Why the kid was so upset over someone he’d never met mystified him.
Dawn came downstairs, depositing two suitcases by the front door. Angel wanted to say something, to try and explain once more… but she ignored him. Apparently, she’d said her piece earlier, and now there was nothing he could do but watch as Buffy’s little sister left his home... and his life. His family.
For some reason, she refused to say a word to Connor, no matter how much he’d begged her for an explanation. All she’d said was she could never love a liar. Over and over again. Connor wouldn’t allow his father to comfort him – after all, he was the reason the love of his life was walking out.
Nina took off with the Chalmers. They figured it was a good time to visit Gunn and his family, giving the situation time to cool down at home. Nobody was fit company.
Pulling on her coat as if she couldn’t stay for one moment longer, Dawn cringed as Will began to cry again.
“Please don’t leave, Auntie Dawn. It hurts,” he whimpered, still holding Paddy in his outstretched arms. “Don’t leave Buffy. She’ll cry.”
Oh, William. That was down and dirty pool.
She turned back, coming to kneel besides the boy. Dawn took his face in her hands and looked him straight in the eyes, much as she did the first time she saw him in Angel’s office, four years ago.
“I don’t want to hurt you, sweet William. My leaving has nothing to do with you, really. I still love you. I promise to write, and call you all the time. We’ll still be the best of friends. I just can’t stay.” Her breath hitched as she smoothed a lock of hair from Will’s forehead. “I just can’t stay in a house built on lies.”
Will pulled away from Dawn, throwing Paddy on the ground in outrage. “Then leave,” he screamed, jumping down from his father’s lap. “I don’t need you.” He ran towards the garden door, turning once before he crossed the threshold. “I hate you,” he spat, his little face crumpled trying to hold himself together, and failing miserably.
“And I will always love you,” Dawn whispered, watching him slam the door shut behind him. She picked up the disheveled bear, smoothed his vinyl hat, and set him down on the couch besides Angel.
She left without another word.