quinara: Tara walking in the Slayer's desert. (Restless desert)
[personal profile] quinara
The hot day yesterday has left me massively craving salad and fruit, yet all I had was chocolate and noodles. But now I am literally working my way through a punnet of tasty only-worth-it-from-the-UK goodness. (Because Waitrose, where even basics become luxuries. I should write taglines. But seriously, the premium is so worth it; these are like confectionery they're so perfect.) All I want is a decent milkshake recipe and these things in one of those giant diner glasses... Or just more of them. They're on 3 for 2.

But I shouldn't let the tastiness distract me from the fact I also wrote fic! For this week's [livejournal.com profile] sb_fag_ends prompts 'Land Rover' and 'A Sudden Sandstorm', but it all got a bit long. If you happen to remember the sort of stuff I wrote in the early-mid 2000s, you'll realise that this shamelessly pulls from the same wellspring - we have Buffy post-Chosen, deserts, dreamscapes, cameos from the First Slayer, Spike in one way or another and a certain ambiguity of whether it's angst or fluff. It was fun!

Here on the [livejournal.com profile] sb_ashtray, soon to be on AO3 or else below! AO3 will get a summary when I can work it out; post-Chosen Buffy can't work out whether she wants to grieve or not, whether she is grieving or not; drives around and has a dream. She's hearing Spike's voice, but that's probably not him. PG-13, because there's swearing and it's a bit sad; c.3500 words. Boom, plz enjoy!

Sunstroke.

It was about the time the sandstorm blew up that Buffy agreed the Land Rover had been a good idea. She’d been hearing Spike’s voice – Fuck the ritual; first rule you’d ever tell me is keep yourself alive – and she’d listened, begrudgingly, though there had been sixteen long days to prove he couldn’t even follow her advice himself. And that put her here, more than halfway to Vegas, a little life shy of Death Valley – but safe inside a sealed and cushioned monument to human engineering.

A hundred degrees were beating down the door, but behind the dull grey world of her sunglasses she had four bottles of water and snacks and the wheezing kiss of aircon. She was alive.

The plan had been to find some answers, but she’d only just turned off the interstate when the Mojave had come to her. So she’d done what any self-respecting nervous driver would’ve: she’d pulled over, killed the engine and let the panic about whether she was doing the right thing gnaw into her stomach. Rationalised to herself that she could give it fifteen minutes before she had to run the car again, because it was three PM and she needed the AC to get her through at least until dusk.

Don’t know why you decided to take this jaunt in the daytime anyway. It’s bloody perverse.

“Yeah, well, I wanted some time to think. By myself.” In the end, the First Slayer was always just an excuse.

It took a moment, of course, like it always did, to recognise that she was talking to thin air like some sort of grieving widow. But her voice was quiet against the sound of the howling, rattling storm, so she decided there wasn’t a problem with it.

Because she wasn’t, anyway – a grieving widow. In the full or even any partial sense. No marriage; no husband; no wife; no grief in the way that she’d become familiar to it, like anger or embarrassment or shame; nothing to link this experience to that old chain of memories. Dawn had cried.

In fact, a whole bunch of them had cried – collective pain for a collective loss where it would have been way pas-ing the faux to single out a tear and say it was meant for Spike, or Anya, or Jamie, or Veronica – and not, therefore, for the third Slayerette on the left whose name you’d never actually known. All of them had been very sweet, and the braver ones had told Buffy that she had all the time in the world to come to terms.

And so here she was, coming to terms with the fact that she had all the time in the world to come to terms. The way she’d never had before. It had been a physical effort to carve out time for grief with her Mom, with Angel, with herself – even with Celia, because back then Buffy had had so much growing up to do – but now she had all the time in the world and there was nothing to carve. And didn’t that just make her feel useless?

Hell, you couldn’t even be arsed to love me.

Well, that at least was a pang of something. “I’m not talking to you like this.”




Apparently Buffy needn’t have even bothered with the gourd on her backseat, because when she woke up – to a hot car, dry mouth and the first throb of a dehydration headache; the fear she really wouldn’t get the car started; eerie darkness merely punctuated by cars gunning between the angels and Sin City – her water had been moved to the dashboard and the First Slayer was sitting in the passenger seat. The woman was munching through a granola bar.

“So this is what it’s come to, huh?” Buffy asked – unfortunately croaked. She reached for a bottle of water, which was thankfully only a little baked. The plastic had stayed in shape. “I’ve gotta get my intervention no matter what?” Gah; the water was like drinking from a shower basin, recently used. And yet the first 20oz were gone in pretty much one swallow. “Can’t a girl take some time to breathe around here? Without the hokey sleep spell?”

The Slayer shrugged, working her tongue around her teeth as she scrunched up the foil wrapper in her hand. “I told you,” she said, after a swallow. Her lips never moved. “Risk the pain.”

Now that was just aggravating. It could have been anybody’s thought. “Oh, right, so it’s the reasonable you I’ve got today. Couldn’t you ever maybe decide your MO between threats and the sweet talk?”

“I offer only what you require from me. I always have.”

Almost through her serious, Death Valley road trip-sized water bottle, Buffy was gripped by the thought that she was really gonna need to pee. But also by the disconcerting realisation that the Slayer had made something almost approaching sense. “Did you actually just answer my question?”

“I answer as I may.”

Now that she was thinking it, Buffy felt stupid for never having thought it before, but she wondered all the same: really, how much of the First Slayer was magic, and how much of her was just an image of her own subconscious?

“OK,” then Buffy told her, possibly just telling herself. “So maybe I’m getting better at this introspection. But I figure I’m still full of the same questions.” She looked out into the night, the layer of dust and sand that had ruined her rental’s finish. It was Giles who was gonna have to pay, but she couldn’t feel the guilt. “I thought love was leaving me and I’m pretty sure it has. There was this guy –” She was confessing now, to an image either of herself or who knew it all anyway, and she still went sparing on the details. “You wouldn’t have approved, but there was this guy who I should’ve… Who I’m sure I would’ve if I’d had enough, I guess, time? Emotional freedom?”

The Slayer said nothing, just looked at her.

“I mean, actually,” Buffy found the words still running around her head, irritated by the bloated swell of water in her stomach that refused to get a-circulating, “I’m pretty sure I did love him. I told him so. It’s just when you’ve gotta save the world it’s not like you can love the same way as everybody else. I thought he would’ve gotten that. I don’t see why he didn’t. Do you know why he didn’t?”

Momentarily desperate, Buffy caught the First Slayer’s eyes, which were full of some distant form of sympathy. Possibly self-projected.

“And now I feel like he’s talking to me all the time. Like he hasn’t really gone, but I’m the only one who can hear him. What’s that about?”

The Slayer said nothing, dropping her head as though lost in thought.

“I don’t know why I’m asking you anyway,” Buffy then pressed, banishing her question with the solid realisation that she didn’t want to hear any reply. “If I might as well be asking myself then there are other voices I can be talking to.”

She looked away, forcing her gaze back out into the night. As the Slayer took a breath, ready to speak, Buffy squeezed her eyes shut.

For a moment, she was willing to take the blow, ready to hear it and feel it and get it all over and done with.

But then she decided not to. Leave me alone, she thought, drowning out the sound of the Slayer's voice with her own thoughts, howling through her head, thundering. Leave me alone. Leave me alone.

The voice eventually died away and finally Buffy felt completely alone once more. When she dared look, the water bottles were right where she’d left them. On the passenger seat. Where they wouldn’t have melted.

“Great,” she said, not even surprised, almost relieved. “Well – I made it to the desert and proved I’ve gone a little crazy. Yay me.”

Miracle upon miracles, the car started when she turned the key.





On the seventeenth day, Buffy rested, pleading heatstroke. The old paint of the Hyperion was yellowing on her ceiling, but she spent the morning staring at it, sipping juice and always more water.

“I said I was sorry, right?” she said to Giles when he came by, just back from the rental place. “I didn’t trash it too bad, did I?” The AC had come back to life by the city limits and the lights had worked all the way. There had to be some sort of safety feature, or else it was magic.

Lingering in the bright doorway, Giles released a long-suffering sigh before he answered, “I’m sure they’ll let me know.” He was still smiling. “I took it through a car wash, which got rid of some of the dirt, at least, and it seemed to pass inspection.”

“Well…” OK, Buffy considered. That didn’t sound too bad. “I’m still sorry about, you know, making you commit fraud and stuff.” After all, Xander might have taught her one or two things last summer, but she still didn’t have a licence.

This, however, seemed to worry Giles far less than Buffy would have expected. He waved her concerns away. “From what I can gather, it might well have saved your life… Honestly, Buffy, I can’t believe you allowed yourself to –”

“It was a spell!” she interrupted, for at least the sixth time. Before groaning when speaking up made her head hurt. Wasn’t her healing going to kick in any time soon? “The stupid First Slayer’s heard from me so many times now I think she figured Buffy plus sand equals speed dial.”

“Yes…” Giles humoured her, barely demurring. “Well, get some rest, won’t you?” He sounded worried – they always sounded worried.

As for her, she was in a bad mood again. “That was my idea,” she stated

“Hmm.”

Whatever, Buffy thought. She rolled over onto her side and within seconds the door was closing, leaving her in gloom once more.

Watcher’s right, you know. And there was Spike’s voice again, right on schedule.

“You’re not real,” she whispered, barely loud enough to make a sound, turning her nose into the pillow. “He’s not here.”

No, he replied. I’m just the voice of your self-doubt and criminally repressed libido.

She shook her head, which still hurt. There was sleep, she could feel it coming nearer, and somehow it sparked her to suggest – in nothing more than a blurred murmur. “Or you’re the First, trapped in my head by that magic doohickey with the plan to turn me on my friends and ultimately… Bring you back.”

Or that, Spike’s voice agreed and she thought he would have approved.




On the eighteenth day, she hung out with Dawn again, but on the eighteenth night she had a dream. Yet again she found herself in the desert, and while she couldn’t smell colitas or even plain old pot, the dreamy pink sunset was straight out of Giles’ never well hidden music collection. The heat felt like a memory of it, only comforting and bright, not harsh and not glaring.

“But we both know it was different, don’t we?”

Buffy turned to her left. The highway was empty, but standing there was whom she might have expected. William embarrasing-name-he-refused-to-tell-her Pratt, present.

“Been waiting all sodding week for you to notice I was here.” He smiled, sarcasm in the way his eyes crinkled.

She should have smiled back. Instead she felt remarkably lucid. “Yeah, yeah...” she began. Because there wasn’t all that much to say, was there? She levelled with him, “This is all great and everything, but I get a lot of dreams, so – before we start? Am I having a fantasy or are you gonna prophesy some doom?” He seemed taken aback. Good. She continued, “Or, like, is your face gonna fall off or are you gonna start yelling at me about stuff or are you…”

“You ever thought about taking it one step at a time?” Spike interrupted, and she should have remembered he would do that. “And, anyway – maybe all I felt like was saying hello, one astral plane-bound being to another, just here for her holiday.”

Buffy rolled her eyes, exasperated the way she used to be with him. “Look, I’m not sure who or what you are, but have you ever thought that this was kinda cruel? And if you’ve come straight out of my head, kinda pathetic? Spike’s only been dead a couple weeks. His face deserves some time to not exist.”

“Aww, sweetheart,” Spike’s image mocked her, hands perched around his belt buckle as he stood set against the Hollywood perfect dunes. “Are you not even counting the days?”

“Spike would never ask me that,” Buffy replied, crossing her arms.

The challenge snapped right back, “Think you know me so well, do you?”

“I think I’m good at improvising, not so much with the imagination. And you’re running out of things to say.”

For a moment, then, quite suddenly, reality shifted. And because it was a dream, it shifted pretty hard. The desert vanished; the warm air vanished – and for an instant Buffy was lying on an old foam mattress on a springless cot that had never been made to bear the weight of two people. A blanket lay over her and she was turning in, just as Spike was turning in, and their knees and elbows wrists knocked together. Torn from sleep, her eyes fell open, just as his eyes fell open, and she half-gasped a breath in surprise, just like he did.

Her heart fluttered, her eyes dropped to his lips and she knew she’d forgiven him, knew that she loved him. When she looked back up, he was afraid, afraid enough that she knew she would always try and forget tomorrow, because he wouldn’t want her to remember. And her heart ached with the double-sided knowledge that nothing was going to happen and that she wasn’t allowed to say anything, not when this was never a moment of triumph.

She did the only thing she could in the situation: laughed as though surprised and fought her instincts as she snuggled closer, hoping for the moment to naturally become. Spike did nothing even as he relaxed by her side, and the hurt pulled her through the seconds it took to dump her right back in the desert.

Buffy blinked, returned to the heat and stretched distant from the feelings she was sure she could still remember. “What was that about?” she demanded the image back in front of her, a comfortable and meaningless distance away, still chilling on the empty plain of asphalt. “You trying to prove you’ve got a free pass inside my head? I think we figured that out with the dream invasion.”

The picture of Spike rolled his eyes, and it didn’t seem too much like he had a soul. “Does teacher want an apple now?” he asked, and it sounded as though she’d almost worn out his patience. That touch, at least, was realistic. “If you’ve got all the bloody answers, why the fuck are you talking to me?”

“You huh?” Buffy asked, before she even had time to consider it. She was pretty sure the logic of that last comment didn’t follow. “You’re the one who brought me here.”

“No I wasn’t,” Spike replied, contrary to the last. Beyond the last.

She’d never responded to that particularly well. “Yes you were!” She spun around, waving an arm towards the highway and the emptiness of the sand and the placid, impotent, fading sun. “D’you think I wanna be here, in a beer commercial?” He was smirking and she was angry, and the sun was getting hotter somehow, but she didn’t stop. “Do you think I care about Los Angeles or Angel’s Hotel California or how my mom would sing it to me and I can’t get it out of my head, like that time I heard you singing it and you denied all knowledge of the lyrics? And, you know, if I had my way, I wouldn’t be here at all; we would never be here; we’d be –”

And suddenly, with a roar and a scream and a blast of the heat that would kill him, they were.

“– here.”

Buffy didn’t need to look around. She could see it all in her peripheral vision, as much as she needed to. The scythe was warm in her hands and she was short of breath from the stomach wound and the light… The light pouring out of Spike made her eyes water, her face burn like her skin was gonna peel and her throat was dry with rejection. It was the moment, just before her feet started moving, and distantly she had known it would never leave her, the shame she felt at this moment.

She didn’t have anything to say, nothing to prove her love more than that she’d already offered. She had nothing to feel for the girls who were dead, some still dying on the floor around them, never to escape. Nothing but a moment, once again, for the vampire who’d survived decades of stakes and swords and sunshine only to burn himself up from the inside, with that shining, sparkling source of feeling she seemed to have buried deep down.

“Spike?” she asked honestly, letting the scythe drop to a gentle grip in one hand. “Can we – can we just stop for a second?”

The grimace of pain, stoic and ironic in equal measure, transformed instantly into the squeaky clean video playback of Spike’s face that she remembered from the desert. With its nod of approval she removed the necklace from his neck, chain ruffling through his hair, then let it spin suspended on its links. The light jetted in a circle like a siren. The screams faded to quiet.

She threw it away to one side, the scythe after it.

“Are you coming back?” Buffy finally asked, because, really, wasn’t that the question? “Because it’s happened before and it’ll happen again and I’d really like to know.”

Spike smirked, because of course he did. “Always have to be the one in control, don’t you?”

Again, Buffy rolled her eyes. The flimsiness of this facsimile was getting old now. “Look, it really takes a lot more to be Spike than answering everything I say with a question. It’s kind of embarrassing that I know that and yet can’t seem to come up with a better blow-up doll of you. But see…” She paused, forming the words in her mind before she said them with her breath. “I think I’ve figured it out. I know what it is.”

For once, this fake Spike was silent, and she warmed to him in an instant.

“They want me to feel stuff. Negative stuff. And I’ve just – had enough. I can’t see the point of it. If you’re gonna be with me, then I’ll cry, but if you’re not I’m at the point where I’m only gonna work harder at not doing it. Because, I mean – there’s gotta be an old soul record, right, or something, Baby, my trauma’s not for leaving? And don’t look at me like that – I know music; you knew music. And…”

But before her monologue could even end, Buffy was waking up. The acoustics deadened and the heat left her and she was talking to a lamp.




On the nineteenth day, he came back. As it always turned out, in the end, any emotional problems that actually exhibited themselves in her psyche could be explained by real magical phenomena. Buffy wasn’t damaged at all. Just gifted.

And apparently Angel’s gang could only prevaricate so long, because he came to the Hyperion straight away, just when she was brushing her teeth and staring into the mirror.

From the bathroom doorway he looked at her, and Buffy didn’t care that he was a ghost, didn’t care that he was missing nineteen days, didn’t care that his stupid coat in this para-reality didn’t fit him nearly as well as she remembered and imagined it did. She cared that she was in Angel’s bathroom using Angel’s stuff and she hadn’t even managed to grieve for the vampire she loved before he found his way back to call her on it.

“Oh, poppet,” he said, looking at her face and coming closer, and she couldn’t stop him. Couldn’t stop him being kinder and better and stupider than he ever should’ve been. “It’s all right.”

And Buffy knew, right then, that she’d probably manage to let him die again.

.

(no subject)

Date: 06/05/2014 18:33 (UTC)
shapinglight: (Default)
From: [personal profile] shapinglight
Probably not where you expected me to leave f/b on this story, but here I am, loving it as always. Your Buffy and Spike voices are just so, so good, and the dreamlike/nightmarish quality of the story conveyed so well.

So glad you felt inspired.

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quinara: Sheep on a hillside with a smiley face. (Default)
Quinara

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