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Normal Is Just a Word by slaymesoftly
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Chapter Eleven

Buffy woke to a complete and utter absence of light. Disoriented and confused, she was aware only of a need to get out of the dark, airless space in which she found herself. Instinctively, she put her hands up, encountering something unyielding and yet soft. Fear-inspired strength allowed her to punch through the fabric and wood in front of her face—to find herself spitting out dirt that fell into her open mouth. Panic set in. She clawed, punched and dug until she felt one hand emerge into open air. Putting forth a last effort, she pushed her head out of the dirt and pulled herself out to lie gasping on the dew-soaked grass.

She staggered to her feet and stared around. Everything was blurry and indistinct, including the large stone in front of her. She frowned at it, something about the name carved upon it seemed familiar but her mind couldn't process what she was seeing well enough to — she froze. It was a name. She squinted at it, rubbing her eyes to no avail. After another minute of confusion, she wandered away from the puzzling monument, her dark clothing shedding dirt as she walked through scenes of destruction.

Broken windows, small fires here and there, damaged cars...it was all so bewildering and strange. And hard to see. She squinted from time to time, hoping the blurry vision would clear up soon and she would be able to figure out where she was.

Still struggling to see, she found herself on the outskirts of a group of rough-looking men with distorted faces and strange mannerisms. They were looping chains around the arms and legs of a girl who looked oddly familiar. Just as the motorcycles roared and their tires spun gravel onto the girl they were about to pull apart, Buffy recognized her. Her scream, "No!" was instinctive, as was the way she ran when the entire gang turned to focus their attention on her.

Her leap over the fence dropped her in front of a small group of unfamiliar people who all began talking at her and calling her by a name that barely resonated. She still couldn't see them very well, nor could she understand their muffled voices. She retreated, crouching in upon herself and hoping they would go away. Their voices washed over her as their cries of "Buffy!" were interspersed with discussion of what she was doing there and what had happened to her.

A dark-haired boy stared at her, horror on his face. ".... She was right where we left her," he said. "In her coffin..." Buffy's hearing was still as blurry as her eyesight; she wasn't sure what he was saying to her, only that he seemed to expect her to respond somehow. "... You're home," he concluded, only those two bewildering words actually reaching through the fog in her brain. "Home?" What did he mean? What was home?

While she'd been distracted by the strange people all trying to speak to her, the motorcycle riding demons had found them. She remained fearful and immobile until she saw the people who seemed to know her being hurt. Then, without any conscious thought, she stood up and fought, somehow knowing exactly what to do. She faltered once or twice, the actions unfamiliar to her, but each time she recovered quickly and continued to use whatever weapons she could find to decimate her opponents.

As soon as the demons had been defeated, she retreated into the frightened confusion that had been her companion since she'd clawed her way out of what she now understood to have been her grave. She ran away, ignoring the cries from the chattering people she still didn't recognize.

The sight of the rickety metal tower halted her escape to nowhere. Drawn to it in a way she couldn't explain, she approached it cautiously and began to ascend the stairs. She was staring out from the platform on top, flashbacks to events she couldn't understand or explain causing her to squeeze her eyes tightly closed, when a whispered, "Buffy?" caught her attention. Another unfamiliar face was staring at her. A younger girl, one with disbelief and hope in her eyes. "Buffy?" she repeated. "Is it you?"

Buffy looked back at the end of the platform, once again drawn to the end projecting out into space. The platform swayed and the girl grabbed onto a pole. Buffy moved closer to the end. "No!" the girl shouted. "Don't! Just walk to me, Buffy. Please!"

The platform continued to sway, the tower making creaking noises as though in pain. The girl began talking rapidly: "I'm your sister, Dawn. We were up here... together...and then we weren't. You went away... and... " Buffy tuned her out, continuing to stare with fascination at the swaying ground below them. She could feel herself being drawn more and more toward the edge, her progress halted when the other girl pleaded, "Talk to me! Say something!"

"Is this...Hell?" Buffy's voice was rusty with disuse and she repeated her question, hoping this girl could tell her what was going on. "Is this Hell?"

"No!" Dawn began to babble again, doing her best to keep Buffy's focus on her and off the tempting drop. But it wasn't until Dawn screamed at a particularly violent tremor of the tower that Buffy turned with something approaching recognition in her eyes.

"Dawn!" Her instincts once again taking over, she ran to her sister, grabbing her in one arm and a nearby pulley in the other. When they had ridden as far as they could before falling, landed safely on the ground and scrambled away from the collapsing tower, Dawn pulled Buffy into a tight hug. "You're really here," she said. "You're alive and you're home. You're home."

Buffy wondered why those words weren't making her any happier as she submitted to Dawn's embrace and stared over her shoulder with blank eyes.


Later, when Dawn had led her home and helped her to clean up, she began to remember more about who and where she was. But, even while she returned Dawn's tearful hugs, she was conscious of the immense void where there should have been joy. A void that was all the emptier for her not being able to figure out what should be filling it. All she knew was that she felt like she was missing a big part of herself, and that something wonderful had been ripped away from her. Which made no sense at all. She'd been dead. Now she was alive. Shouldn't she feel happier about it?

It was when she came slowly down the stairs to find Spike staring at her with awed eyes that the empty space seemed to shrink just the smallest bit. Although his eyes never looked anywhere but her face, she tried to finish buttoning the open shirt, only to end up hiding her hands behind her back when he noticed them and correctly guessed why they were so torn up.

She allowed him to lead her to the couch and felt herself relax a little when he took her hands in his. His expression remained kind and understanding as he sent Dawn to get the first aid supplies. She stared at his familiar face, wondering why he had remained in Sunnydale. Perhaps she'd been gone only a few days or weeks?

"How...how long was I gone?"

"One hundred and forty-seven days yesterday. Uh... hundred and forty-eight today" He gave her a tentative smile that didn't reach his awed eyes. "'Cept today doesn't count, does it?" He waited for a response, dropping his eyes to her hands, then back up to her face. "How long was it for you...where you were?"

"Longer," she said simply, searching his face for some sign that he might be able to tell her what had happened. Before he could say anything else, her friends burst in calling for Dawn, and Spike was soon pushed aside. She watched the door close behind him, confused by the pang of loss she felt when he left; a departure that shouldn't have mattered when the people who were really important to her were all there making a fuss over her return.


Inexplicably, her first act when she went out to patrol by herself was to let herself into Spike's crypt. She was idly looking at some magazines on an unfamiliar table when he came up the stairs carrying a knife - which he quickly put down.

She knew he was waiting for her to tell him why she was there, but she really had no explanation to give him. Her feet had taken her to his crypt and she hadn't cared enough to question why. She perched uncomfortably on a chair as he struggled to make conversation, ending an apologetic speech with a sorrowful, "Every night I save you."

Her eyes, blank until this point, flew to his, reading the grief and sincerity there. A sliver of understanding slid into her numb mind and she smiled briefly.

"You kept your promise," she echoed his earlier remark.

"I've tried to, love. Done my best for you since... But I should have been quicker, smarter, more... something!" He stood up, becoming more agitated as he thought about what she'd been through. "You never should have had to jump!'

Buffy rose to her feet and waited for him to calm down and stand in front of her.

He sighed. "But you're back now. Came through it like the amazing woman you are... You're back, and I... I can't be sorry about that."

Buffy twitched a little as he voiced what she'd been thinking – that for whatever reason, she did seem to be sorry about it. She shook her head and walked towards the door. Just barely loud enough for him to hear, she whispered, "I'm glad one of us is happy about it."

She left the crypt and began her patrol, only to find Spike catching up to her before she'd gone very far. He made no comment, just fell into step with her, watching with narrowed eyes as she staked two fledglings who had been sure the Slayer was dead and gone.


As the days went on, and Buffy struggled to adjust to the harsh world in which she found herself, she began to understand where she must have been. Only Heaven could have been so right, so warm and safe and totally different from the world to which she'd been returned. It seemed strange that the only times she felt at all comfortable about being back were when she was alone with Spike, but she didn't question why she was so at ease with him, or why she trusted him so much that she shared her thoughts about where she'd been. It just took too much energy to worry about it.

"I think I was in Heaven..." Spike's face reflected shock. In spite of his knowing how dangerous it had been for Willow to have attempted the resurrection, he'd accepted her later explanation that it had been necessary because Buffy had probably been trapped in a hell dimension. That there had been another, more likely, possibility hadn't occurred to him. "They can never know," she whispered as she stepped away from him into the sunlight. She couldn't have said why she was so confident that he wouldn't tell her friends; she just knew he wouldn't. She moved quickly away, knowing the sun would prevent him from following her.

As her unhappiness lingered, she found herself spending more and more time with the vampire. The tentative trust and friendship they'd been forming just before she died was still there; and knowing that he'd had nothing to do with bringing her back made him her companion of choice most days. They patrolled together, attended Scooby meetings, and often finished the night by sitting in the kitchen of her house or in front of the TV in his crypt. When her friends commented on how much time she was spending with Spike rather than with them, she stopped inviting him to come home with her and began spending even more time at his crypt.

She did her best to ignore the way he looked at her, telling herself they were just friends, patrol buddies who liked each other and who got along most of the time; that she didn't have to pretend with him, and that was why she was spending so much time in his presence. The occasional bizarre dream, from which she woke up expecting to find a Spike she almost didn't recognize sleeping next to her, she attributed to the weirdness that was her life after death.

The sadness that pervaded her life in a way that nothing else – even her mother's death – ever had was only slightly relieved by his constant presence. That Spike was the only one she trusted enough to confide in was an irony not lost on Buffy as she went through her nights mechanically staking whatever other vampires crossed her path. It occurred to her one night, as she struggled to stake a stronger than normal fledgling, that without Spike's unasked for backup, she might very well have fallen victim to any one of the smarter or stronger vamps she'd faced since her return. It was a fate that was often more tempting than she would admit to him...or to herself.

As she coughed out the dust and stood up, she voiced her thanks.

"Good thing you carry a stake now, isn't it?"

"So it seems. Bit off your game tonight, are you, Slayer?"

"I'm fine. Just a little tired... or bored. Nothing to worry about."

She shrugged off the danger, confident in his ability and desire to keep her safe. If she sometimes noticed the concern on his face whenever she faltered or took a misstep, she ignored it in favor of accusing him of stalking her.

And then Sweet came to town.

Nothing here is real
Nothing here is right....

...I just want to feel...alive...

Buffy was grateful that the only ones to hear her were quickly disposed of before they could tell anyone. Not that she thought a couple of vampires and a demon would have run to her friends to tell them the Slayer was unhappy, but...

She'd thought Spike might have been immune, but she hadn't been in his crypt long before he was singing about the secrets he was keeping for her. As he really got into the song, she realized that listening to him meant she could no longer pretend that they were just friends.

I can lay my body down, but I can't find my sweet release.
Let me rest in peace, he chorused, following her out of his crypt, expressing the feelings she'd been denying he could have.

"I know, I should go,
but I follow you like a man possessed.
There's a traitor here beneath my breast,
And it hurts me more than you've ever guessed...
If my heart could beat, it would break my chest,
But I can see you're unimpressed...

Why don't you let me rest in peace?

And she felt...something. Something she shouldn't have. So she ran away, his plaintive, "So, you're not staying, then?" ringing in her ears.

Till they pulled me out of Heaven. I think I was in Heaven...

When she sang out her secret, she almost smiled at the horror visible on the faces of the people who'd yanked her back into this nightmare existence. A sense of relief washed over her. Now I can stop pretending, stop acting grateful - okay, I haven't been very good at that anyway, but... She danced, whirling and stamping in a frenzy of release and guilt. When the heat began curling up from her feet, she again almost felt something. A sense of completion, that she could now leave this world again. Her friends would understand now.

But then Spike was there. Stopping her before she could burn, singing, "You have to go on living..." and holding her with eyes that said more than she wanted to know.

She had to admit that the demon's final number was impressive. And that he was a good loser. While everyone was singing the finale, Buffy followed Spike out into the alley.

The desperate, lip-bashing kisses they shared were a revelation. She could feel! With Spike's lips on hers, the world faded away and she was alive again. It was not even close to the sense of contentment and happiness she'd lost —but it was more than she'd had since crawling from her grave. She clung to his arms and lips until they heard the others leaving the Bronze, then pulled away and turned her back on him.

"Buffy..." he started, then stopped and blew out an angry breath before walking away, his boots echoing off the walls of the alley.

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