|Story Title:||Miles To Go Before I Sleep|
Buffy’s soul is being stretched across time by her own heart, fueled by the hallucinations of the ‘unpronounceable’ demon’s poison. Can she hold on to the reality of Sunnydale long enough to anchor herself here? Bess, Willow, and Angel are ready to execute Bess’ plan – can they kill the octopus and get Spike back?
Music Referenced: Run, Snow Patrol http://youtu.be/ZQbgihHWNGo
|Thanks:||Giant thanks to Anona for betaing this chapter, including her grammatical and punctuation corrections, wonderful commentary, and final review. Also thanks to Capella42 for her insightful suggestions that made the whole story better and epd4 for her help with the initial beta. All mistakes are mine because I simply cannot stop fiddling right up to the last moment.|
|Rating / Warnings:||
NC17. Content is only suitable for mature adults. Contains explicit language, sex, adult themes, and other adult situations that some people may find objectionable. If you are under the age of 17 or find any of these themes objectionable – GO AWAY.
Wednesday, May 4th, 2011, Sunnydale, 10pm:
“Come back to me, Buffy,” Giles pleaded with her. “Your family needs you, Spike needs you … we all need you here.”
Buffy screamed out in anguish and tears streamed from her unseeing eyes. Her body convulsed, every muscle was pulled taut as a bowstring. It felt like her heart was being torn from her chest as her eyes fluttered closed on William’s grief-stricken face and everything went black for her. She could physically feel her spirit, her very soul, being stretched across time. Her soul felt as thin as phyllo dough as her spirit fought with itself, trying to figure out where it belonged. Which world was real? Which needed her the most? Where did she belong?
Amid the chaos, Angelpie sauntered into the bedroom. She strutted right through the mash of anxious humans who were struggling on the floor, and leaned her soft body up against the side of Buffy’s face. The kitten rubbed from Buffy’s jaw to the top of her head, curling her tail around the Slayer’s chin. Then Angelpie turned and repeated the gesture going the other way, purring in a low, comforting rumble against Buffy’s cheek.
Buffy could feel William’s hand caressing her cheek softly, but it suddenly became clear in her mind that William and that life, that family, weren’t real. She grasped that with her logical mind, and yet her soul, her heart, longed to go back there. The part of her that was not logical, the part that held only her emotions, longed to be with him and escape the life of a Slayer. But there was no escape – even there the monsters had found her. Angelus had found her. She felt her soul starting to rip, to shred, and unravel as it was pulled to its breaking point and beyond.
Without warning, there was an audible ‘snap’ within her and all the pressure was released. The frantic hands which had been tugging at her from every direction stilled and dissipated like apparitions. No longer tethered to either reality, Buffy began to fall. She was plunging headfirst down into a deep, rock-filled gulch at an astonishing speed. At the last second, something grabbed her, stopping her just millimeters before she crashed against the jagged boulders at the bottom. Then she was being pulled back up, away from the danger – she was weightless, flying free for a few brief moments.
Her spirit, she realized, had chosen. A normal life married to a normal man with a normal family was not her Calling. As much as she loved William, Spike was her true match – her ultimate soul mate. She was the Slayer, and that life was where she belonged. They needed her here.
Buffy’s body finally began to relax, her taut muscles slackened, and her breathing started to return to normal.
“Buffy … are you with us?” Giles asked as he held her torso still, straddling her stomach to get as much leverage as he could against her superior strength.
Xander, Tara, and Clem were helping him, holding her arms and legs as the Watcher sat on her stomach, trying to hold her still and keep her from hurting anyone, including herself. When Buffy stopped pulling against them, Giles waved at the others to release their grips on her arms and legs. The other three cautiously pulled their hands away from her limbs and backed up a step.
Buffy blinked her eyes open and tried to get her gaze to focus. “Giles?” she croaked, her voice wavering, as if she hadn’t used it in many days.
Her Watcher smiled slightly and nodded. “Yes, it’s me Buffy – are … are you … errr … How are you feeling?”
Buffy shook her head slightly and looked around, trying to get her bearings. Angelpie continued rubbing against the Slayer’s face and head, purring loudly. Buffy took a few deep breaths and closed her eyes again. She’d never forget the look of desolation and heartbreak in William’s eyes if she lived to be a million. She fought the feeling of loss that threatened to overwhelm her; it was worse than that night in the Common, and it felt just as real.
She wiped at her eyes and swallowed her tears back as she tried to get her emotions under control. She had a job to do now. Everything was suddenly clear again, like a fog had lifted and the sun shone in on her beleaguered mind. Annie. Spike. The promises. She could mourn her Victorian family later – now she needed to be Buffy the Vampire Slayer; not Elizabeth, not Avengelyne.
She took one more deep breath and opened her eyes again.
“I’d probably be better if you weren’t squashing my guts out,” she informed Giles as she looked into his worried eyes.
“I think she’s back,” Xander observed with relief and a hint of sarcasm as he wiped at his bloodied nose with the sleeve of his shirt.
“Are you quite alright?” Giles asked again as he stood up and stopped ‘squashing her guts out.’
Buffy sat up slowly and leaned against the bed that was next to her, gathering the kitten up and holding it to her chest as she did so. “Angelpie,” Buffy murmured to the kitten, savoring the softness of the purring fur-ball.
Bess’ little guardian angel seemed to soothe Buffy’s aching heart as she held it against her. She couldn’t explain the sense of calm that suddenly filled her. Her heart knew that she’d made the right decision, and the stabbing pain of loss faded to a dull ache. William and that life felt so real. Despite the calm confidence that she was where she was supposed to be, the old ‘Matrix’ question of ‘could dreams actually be real and could reality actually be a dream’ skittered through her mind.
Buffy looked down at her hands and arms, turning them over and back. There was no blood on them; there was no scar from the gash on her forearm. She pulled a handful of hair forward in front of her face – blonde, not red. That had all seemed so real. She was surprised to find no sign of it on her body at all.
“What … what happened?” she asked at length, looking up at Giles.
“Glargabullgashmanick,” Clem offered matter-of-factly, nodding confidently.
Buffy looked at him blankly for a second then narrowed her eyes. “What did you call me?”
“Not you, Buffy,” Giles intervened. “The demon that injected you with poison … Glar…gash … errr … well … Clem was simply answering your question.”
“Oh,” Buffy shrugged. “I knew that. How long was I … gone?” she wondered, looking at Giles and wiping at her damp eyes and nose with the back of her hand.
“Five days,” Giles informed her.
Buffy’s eyes went wide. “Five days!? Where’s Wil… Spike? Did Bess’ plan work?” she demanded, looking from one to the other of her friends as she sat the kitten down and pushed herself up off the floor.
“They haven’t tried it yet,” Tara answered her. “Tonight … hopefully tonight.”
Buffy nodded, biting down on her bottom lip. “And Annie … is she…?” Buffy continued, still looking at Tara.
“She’s home,” Tara began. “But she’s …”
“The same,” Giles picked up when Tara hesitated. “She’s quite worried about you. You collapsed in her arms – she thought … she thought perhaps it was her fault,” Giles divulged.
Buffy sighed and rubbed at her eyes as things started coming back to her. “Right … I remember now. That big ugly demon stabbed me in the arm and … I started hallucinating…”
“Glargabullgashmanick demon. They cause, woo-hoo, ca-ray-zeee hallucinations,” Clem agreed with a toothy smile that showed his fangs. “I dated one for a while and, let me tell you, she’d give you a poke then she’d really give you a poke and … uhh …”
Everyone was gawping at Clem with wide eyes. “Never mind,” he muttered, a tinge of pink staining his pasty cheeks.
“So, Gesundheit demon,” Buffy sighed. “We could bottle that stuff and sell it – it’s like a wild acid trip.”
Buffy’s eyes suddenly went wide and she looked up at Giles. “Not that I’ve ever done that! … I mean, I don’t know what an acid trip is like … I just … Spike told me about it.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “I believe we’ve had quite enough acid trips for a good while. May I suggest we simply slay it?”
Buffy smiled slightly and nodded. “I can support that plan.”
Buffy leaned against the cool tile of the shower and let the steaming hot water wash over her head and down her body. She could still feel, still smell, the blood on her – even though there hadn’t been any. She didn’t know how she’d ever get that smell, or the vision of it, out of her mind.
She let the water wash her tears away. She still felt like she’d let William down and it physically hurt her heart. “It wasn’t William,” Buffy admonished herself sternly, sounding more confident than she felt. “But it might’ve been Spike…” she muttered under her breath, the thought closing around her mind like a Venus Fly Trap around an unsuspecting house fly.
“Oh God, what if that was Spike!? What if that’s why it felt so real?” her words echoed coldly off the hard tile of the shower. The thought that it had actually been Spike there with her, drawn into her hallucination via the bond, just made her heart ache worse.
Buffy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She concentrated hard on opening the bond with him, but not too much – just a sliver, just enough to see how he was. She didn’t need to be knocked out by the pain he was in – not now. She’d been out of it long enough, but she needed to know if that was him there with her.
Spike? she sent softly, her hands balled in fists, pressing against the tile, as she struggled to keep the bond only open a smidgen.
She could feel him reaching out for her, and her flesh began to burn, searing her skin. Buffy pulled back instantly, slamming the door closed. She pictured herself opening the link between them just a crack, as if she were a voyeur peeking in. The pain came back, but it was nothing more than a dull ache over her body.
She took a deep breath and tried again, William?
Who’s there!? Show yourself! William’s strained voice demanded back.
William, it’s Bu … Elizabeth. Are you alright?
Elizabeth? But … I … are you a … phantom? A specter? Your lips do not move, yet I can hear you clearly.
Buffy sighed and her chin dropped to her chest as her tears began anew. He had been there with her after all. The bond slipped open a little more, and Buffy began scratching at her burning skin.
Buffy took a deep, shuddering breath and gathered her resolve. William, listen now. Bess will be there soon to get you out. Everything will be alright.
Bess? Is she … the children! Where are the children? William exclaimed back to her and Buffy could almost see him jumping up from her side in the blood-soaked foyer to search for their children.
They’re safe. They’re with Wanda. William, listen to me. Bess and Angel will be there soon. Just hang on baby. It’s gonna be alright. Buffy’s chin quivered uncontrollably as she added, I promise.
Are you certain? They aren’t injured? he asked frantically, not able to really focus on what she was trying to tell him.
I’m sure, William, they’re fine.
Elizabeth, what shall I do? Can you … please come back to me. I need you, my love.
Just … just stay there, William. We’ll … we’ll be together again. Just stay there and wait for Bess and Angel. They’ll bring you to me, Buffy advised him as she struggled against the bond. It felt like Spike was trying to yank the door wide open between them, perhaps even tear the thin barrier down completely. As much as she wanted to comfort him, to go to him and help him, she just couldn’t go that far right now. She needed to stay conscious and be here in case Willow or Bess needed her to do something.
I have to go now, baby. But you’ll see me soon, ok? Buffy added quickly as she felt herself losing the battle between them. I love you more than you know.
Buffy had to slam the bond closed. She dropped down to the floor of the shower, exhausted from the battle of wills she’d just barely escaped from. Her heart raced, her chest heaved, and her skin bled from self-inflicted scratches and gouges.
“C’mon, Bess … get him out of there. Please get him out of there,” Buffy pleaded aloud. She sat there and tried to calm her breathing down to normal as she watched the red-stained water bounce off her skin, flow down the tiles, and into the drain. “Please work,” she murmured – it was a prayer.
After her shower, Tara let Buffy know that Willow had called and said the rendezvous with the demon was going to be later than they thought, but everything was still planned for tonight.
Buffy got dressed and checked on all the children. They were all sleeping – it was late, after eleven. She held MacKenzie for a long while, thinking the seven-month-old must be awfully confused lately about who the heck her mother is. Buffy watched the twins sleeping peacefully in their separate rooms: Billy with his Star Wars décor and bookshelves lined with books; Dani with her sports motif, and bookshelves filled with nothing but sports equipment and memorabilia.
The thought of leaving them again snaked around her heart and strangled it with icy fingers. Tears stung her eyes but she swallowed them back resolutely. She knew they were afraid, that they’d been without her and Spike too much over the last weeks, but their sister needed her to go away one more time.
Buffy closed Dani’s door softly and walked down the hall to Annie’s room. As light shone in from the hallway and illuminated her eldest daughter’s room, the strangle-hold around Buffy’s heart tightened. Buffy bit her bottom lip as she stepped in and looked around. Almost all the posters were gone off the walls – the only ones that remained were above the dresser on the other side of the room from Annie’s bed. They were the only ones that Annie hadn’t been able to reach in her fit of rage and anguish.
Annie’s bed had been shoved against one wall to make room for her wheelchair to maneuver. The cold, stark chair sat next to her bed. The metallic frame gleamed harshly in the light that drifted in from the hallway, a cruel reminder of Buffy’s failure. This, Buffy thought. This is why I have to go away again. I have to fix this.
“Mama?” Annie’s sleepy voice called from the bed. She sounded so small, like she was five or six, not twelve.
“Yeah, baby girl, it’s me,” Buffy assured her, moving further into the room and up to the bed.
“Mama – are you alright? We were so worried!” Annie exclaimed, suddenly coming fully awake. She pushed herself up to a sitting position in the bed, worry creasing her young face.
“I’m fine now, baby,” Buffy assured her. “I’m sorry I worried you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here for your homecoming,” she apologized as she sat down on the edge of the twin bed.
“I missed you so much,” Annie cried, reaching for her.
“Oh, sweet girl, I’m so sorry,” Buffy continued to apologize as she drew her daughter into a hug. “It wasn’t your fault – it was the demon. You know that, right?”
Annie nodded against her mother’s shoulder. “That’s what everyone said…”
Buffy pulled back and held Annie by the shoulders so she could look into her eyes. “But do you believe it?”
Annie gave a half-hearted eye roll and shrugged. “Yeah, I guess,” she sighed.
Buffy tilted her head and considered her. Their eldest daughter had been through so much hell in her short life; it really was a miracle she was as well adjusted as she was.
“Annie, I have to tell you something,” Buffy began in a serious tone. “I’m probably gonna have to go away again for a little while.”
“No! Mama, no!” Annie argued immediately, shaking her head adamantly, her eyes wide as saucers, full of fear.
“Honey, listen to me now,” Buffy continued, keeping her voice calm. “I’ll wait until your dad’s home, but I need to go back and try and fix some things.”
“Not back there! You can’t! Mama, please don’t go back there!” Annie begged her, tears glistening in her big, blue eyes.
“I have to. It’s the only way. I … made a promise and … I need to keep it,” Buffy told her. She purposely avoided saying that the most important promise she needed to keep was the promise to Annie.
Annie sat there shaking her head back and forth in disbelief as her tears began to leak from her eyes and roll down her face. “No, don’t … please Mama, don’t go back there!”
“If there was any other way…” Buffy began.
“Find another way!” Annie insisted, growing angry. “Does that Spike mean that much to you? More than us?! Do you love him more than you love Dad? Did you sleep with him!?” she asked, her eyes full of hurt and anger, her voice accusatory.
“Annie! No! Of course I didn’t sleep with him!” Buffy denied adamantly even though the guilt of the dreams she’d spent with him and Riley roared accusingly through her heart.
“And I don’t love him … I don’t love him at all,” Buffy argued. It wasn’t entirely true – he was Spike, after all. It was impossible for her to look at him and not see … well, Spike. It was impossible to keep her heart from loving him, even though she knew he wasn’t hers. “That’s not the reason.”
“Then why!? Why would you go back there?”
“Honey, just trust me…” Buffy started.
“NO! Tell me why! You and dad go away and you never tell the truth about it! And … and one day you’re not gonna come back and I need to know why!” Annie screamed at her as her tears streamed down her cheeks and dripped off her chin. “What’s wrong with us that makes you leave? What did we do wrong?”
“Oh, honey … no. You haven’t done anything wrong. We love you guys so much. You’re the world to us.”
“Then why?” Annie repeated in a whisper, searching her mother’s eyes for an answer.
Buffy took a deep breath and let it out. She opened her mouth to speak, to tell her daughter another lie, another half-truth, but then closed it again. Buffy brushed some of Annie’s long hair back and tucked it behind her ear as she studied her daughter’s distraught face.
“Ok – the truth. I’m not doing it for that other Spike. That’s not the promise I need to keep. I’m doing it for … you.”
Annie swallowed hard and studied her mother’s face in the dim light. “Me?” she asked, her voice a quivering whisper.
Buffy nodded. “Annie, I promised you that you’d be alright,” Buffy looked over at the wheelchair and then back to her daughter’s eyes. “I need to keep that promise. I need to make you alright. I should’ve protected you and I didn’t. I have to fix it.”
“B-but … how?”
Buffy shrugged slightly. “Go back in time and fix whatever went wrong in that dimension. If Glory doesn’t win, if the portal gets closed in time … none of this,” Buffy waved one hand at the wheelchair, “would’ve happened.”
Annie was dumbstruck. She looked from the wheelchair, down to her missing limbs, and then up at her nearly empty walls – the walls that used to hold her dreams. After a few moments, she looked back at her mother, tears still sliding down her cheeks, but now they were tears of hope.
“You … can really fix it?” she asked hesitantly, hopefully, her voice and chin quivering with emotion.
“I think so,” Buffy murmured, her voice low. “I didn’t want to tell you – I didn’t want to get your hopes up because it might not work. I want so badly to promise you that it’ll work, but … I’m not sure. But, Annie, I have to try. I have to try and reach that star up in the sky and pull it down – for you.”
“Oh, Mama … but … I mean … what if …” Annie stammered, worry again creasing her young face. She was too young and pretty to have such deep worry lines appear so easily on her brow and around her blue eyes.
“Nothing’s gonna happen to me. I’ll be super careful, alright? We weren’t ready before; we didn’t have weapons or know the rules. Now I can be prepared. I’ll have my scythe and I’ll take Willow with me … maybe Bess too – or Faith ... or both of them. It’ll be fine.”
Annie nodded, biting down on her bottom lip, willing herself to believe her mother. “Thank you,” she whispered at length, leaning back into her mom and hugging her tightly. “I love you so much.”
Buffy clenched her jaw against the overwhelming emotions that rose up from her heart. She kissed Annie's cheek and assured her, “I love you too, sweet girl.”
Please let me fix this. Please let me give her her dreams back, she prayed silently as she rocked her daughter in her arms.
Bess was jittery with nervous energy as she dialed the familiar number from the ship’s satellite phone.
“Hello?” Buffy’s voice sounded tinny through the earpiece.
“Mom! We found it! Willow’s got her Casper the Ghost thing going and it’s following it!” Bess exclaimed quickly.
Buffy let out a relieved sigh. “That’s great! Now what happens?”
“We’re on the way to the cave. Willow’s luring it there with the magical bait. Angel and I will go down and be waiting for it,” Bess took a deep, calming breath. “Mom, I think this is gonna work.”
“If anyone can do it, it’ll be you and Wills,” Buffy assured her. “You be careful, ok? If something goes wrong this time, even if it just feels wrong, just call it off and try again tomorrow,” Buffy advised. "Listen to your instincts, ok? Trust yourself."
Bess nodded. “Okay. I will ... I’ll be careful,” Bess assured her. “The next call you get will be from Dad,” Bess tittered nervously.
Buffy couldn’t help but laugh a little as nervous butterflies fluttered in her stomach. “Sounds good, honey. I love you, Bess.”
“Love you too, Mom … Oh! I gotta go! The boat’s slowing down, I think we’re here! Wish us luck!” Bess exclaimed before ending the call.
“Luck!” Buffy called back just as the line went dead. She had wanted to tell her about Spike maybe not being himself, but she hung up too fast. Well, if Spike came out as 'William', certainly Angel or Willow would recognize it for what it was and be able to handle him until they could get him home to Buffy.
Bess hung the phone up and went out on deck. “Are we here?” she asked Angel, who was standing at the stern of the ship near the low landing that was used for going in and out of the water.
Angel drew in a deep breath and nodded. “We’re here,” he confirmed. “I still don’t like this plan. Not really keen on being trapped in a cave with that thing.”
“Do you have a better plan?” Bess shot back, her eyes momentarily flashing gold. She’d heard his whining about this plan for the last five days, but he'd never offered anything better.
Angel sighed and shook his head as he picked up his harpoon and checked the weapon.
Bess – are you guys close? Not sure how long I can keep this thing swimming in circles, Bess heard inside her head. It was Willow. The first time Willow did that to her after the witch had gone into her astral projection ‘trance’, it freaked Bess out. It was still a little creepy having someone in your head like that, but she didn’t jump out of her skin this time.
Yeah, we’re here. It should only take a few minutes for us to get into position, Bess sent back quickly.
The Slayer-vamp looked at Angel, her jaw set in determination. “Let’s go.”
The cave they’d chosen wasn’t that deep – about fifty feet down. Bess and Angel wore normal diving gear, sans the air tank, for the mission. Full body, neoprene dive suits, gloves and boots, along with diving fins, and face masks were all they needed at this depth. They had normal diving weights strapped around their waists so they wouldn’t float. They both had compressed-air powered harpoons, as well as commando-type knives, and underwater flashlights strapped to their belts.
They couldn’t talk to each other, but there shouldn’t be much talking needed – the mission was pretty simple. Find a spot in the cave to hide. Wait for Willow’s white, swirly apparition to lure the demon in. Shoot it between the eyes. Cut it open and get Spike out.
After swimming into the large cave, they found an outcropping of rocks about thirty feet in that would make a perfect hiding place. It was at a bend in the cave, so they would be right in front of the demon sea monster as it followed Willow in – in perfect position to shoot it between the eyes.
We’re set, Bess told Willow through the magical bond the witch had opened with her.
Okay, here goes nothing, Willow sent back as she began slowly luring the giant octopus towards the cave opening. Let’s hope it’s not claustrophobic.
The entire interior of the cave lit up when Willow’s shiny, magical lure of energy entered the opening. Bess and Angel ducked down behind the rocks and waited for it to get nearer.
After a couple of minutes, when it didn’t seem to be moving, Bess poked her head up – it was still near the entrance of the cave.
What’s wrong? she asked Willow.
It’s … give me a minute, Willow sent back. It’s not liking the cave idea.
Damn it, Bess growled to herself, tightening her grip on her harpoon and clenching her jaw.
Bess watched the bright ghostly swirl go back out of the cave and circle around in the clear water beyond. She could just see the arms …errr, tentacles of the octopus as it began to follow it again. C’mon … c’mon.
Willow backed up away from the cave entrance with her lure, and the monster followed it. When she knew she had its full attention again, she whirled around and started moving the sparkling bait faster through the water – and the octopus responded. With the sea monster focused entirely on the fast moving, ghostly lure, Willow darted Casper into the cave quickly. Not giving the octopus a chance to think it through, she just kept moving towards Angel and Bess’ hiding place.
Bess ducked back down as the bright, pulsing, swirl of light came near them and illuminated the cave.
Willow’s plan worked! The monster followed! It was here!
NOW! Willow shouted mentally to Bess.
Bess gave the signal to Angel and they both rose up from their hiding place in unison. They quickly took aim at the octopus through the glittering, magical light. The monster that ate Spike was now engulfed in the ghostly swirl of energy, only a few feet in front of them. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. They couldn’t miss!
Angel and Bess both pulled the trigger of their harpoons at nearly the same moment. The two air-powered spears cut through the water at an amazing speed and with pin-point accuracy. They were both headed straight for the octopus’ head, right between its demonic, red eyes.
This was gonna work! Bess hazarded a quick glance at the naysayer standing next to her. She could tell by the look on Angel’s face that even he finally realized this was gonna work.
When the harpoons pierced the electromagnetic bubble of ectoplasmic energy that Willow had used to create the lure and embedded into the creature’s head, the entire cave exploded in a flash of blinding light.
Bess and Angel were hurtled backwards. They smashed against the rocks behind them then the water around them began to swirl, just as Willow’s magical lure had been doing. Bess felt like she’d just been flushed down a giant toilet bowl. Dark water rushed around her, whisking her along with it, as it twirled in a tighter and faster circle. She tried to swim out of the whirlpool, but it was too strong. It was carrying her down with it … down further than should’ve been possible within the tight confines of the cave.
Run, Snow Patrol
I'll sing it one
last time for you
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