"So," Willow kept her voice calm and controlled, "when you go away, it's to the same place you were when you were... gone... before?"
"When I was dead," Buffy said, her eyes half shut as she tried to doze through the pain in her arm. "You can say it - I was dead."
"And in your version of Heaven... where none of us... where I don't exist." Dawn's face was twisted to match her bitter tone.
"Dawnie... "Willow was no happier than Dawn to find that she had no place in Buffy's heaven, although she struggled to make some sense of the bizarre situation.
Ignoring her, Dawn flew out of the room, her voice carrying back to them. "It doesn't matter. I'm not real anyway, am I?" Heedless of the darkness outside, she ran out the back door and straight into Spike's chest.
"Whoa, there, Bit. What's your hurry? You know better than to be out here after dark without one of us." He frowned as he noticed her tears and her trembling chin. "What's wrong, luv?" he said more softly. "Slayer take a turn for the worse?" He fought down his own anxiety, smothering the urge to leave her and rush upstairs.
"What's wrong? Oh nothing - from your point of view, I guess. Buffy put you in her Heaven, you and Angel." Her mouth twisted in distaste. "It's the rest of us who aren't important enough to make the team."
"Oh, Bit." He pulled her into an embrace, holding her until her stiff body relaxed and she sagged against him, sniffling into his chest. He stroked her hair with one hand and tried to come up with a logical explanation. "Maybe she just hadn't got round to you yet when the Scoobies decided to play God. For all you know, you were already a glowing little ball of energy in your mum's womb - one Buffy didn't know about yet."
"Nice try, Spike," she snorted, pushing back from him and rubbing her arm across her face. "Let's face it. Buffy's idea of Heaven doesn't include a bratty kid sister. If she's dead, she doesn't have to worry about me anymore."
"Don't forget how and why she died," he growled, giving her a very light shake. "Buffy loves you. If you aren't in her version of Heaven, there's a bloody good reason for it. She didn't stop loving you just because she was— That's it!"
"What's it?" Willow's voice was as cold, as the look she gave Spike. "What are you doing outside after dark, Dawn? You don't want Buffy to see you hitting on her fiancé, do you?"
Spike's snarl didn't faze Willow at all, although Dawn's "Ewwww!" made her flinch a bit.
"Sorry, Dawnie," she muttered. "I didn't mean that." She turned her eyes to the angry vampire, but no further apology was forthcoming. "What did you mean, 'that's it'?"
"Surprised you haven't figured it out, witch. What with all your mucking around in places you had no business mucking. Raising the dead and whatnot..."
"Figured what out, Spike? Why you and Angel are part of Buffy's Heaven and the rest of us aren't?"
"Got it in one." When Willow just continued to glare at him, her hands twitching as if fighting the urge to shoot fire from her fingertips, he sighed and put his hands in his pockets. "Think about it - what do the poof and I have in common with the Slayer - now?"
"You and Angel? Nothing! You're nothing but a couple of evil, dead...." Willow sank down onto the porch step. "Dead... you're both dead."
"Just like she was. Wouldn't expect to find a lot of the living walking around up there, would you?"
"No. " Willow shook her head. "It makes sense...." She glanced up at Spike, unwilling to let go of her anger and jealousy so easily. "But what would a couple of vampires be doing in Heaven?"
"It's Buffy's Heaven, not ours," Spike bit out. "It's not me living there with her, is it? It's some human git with my face and name."
"But—" Dawn interrupted, "what about Dad? He's not dead."
Spike shrugged. "Maybe not, but he may as well be, as much good as he's been to either of you."
Willow stood up. "I'm going to have to research this, but it's as good an explanation as any." Her expression softened a little. "Come on back in Dawn. I think Spike's probably right. None of us are there because none of us are dead."
"You're welcome," Spike growled as they went back into the house, closing the door behind them.
"Buffy, do you remember how you ended this before? What you did?"
Dr. Swinson sat behind her desk and spoke urgently to the bleary-eyed girl in front of her. In spite of their best efforts, and the judicious use of the anti-psychotic drugs, Buffy continued to go in and out of reality. Whether she needed to be restrained or sedated seemed to depend entirely on what was going on in Sunnydale. Much of the time, she seemed relaxed and, if not happy, at least at ease. But other times, she was clearly fighting something or somebody; at those times, they had to put the restraints back on her to prevent her from injuring herself or someone else.
"I died," she replied numbly. "That's how I did it." She stared at the doctor with suddenly very sane eyes. "But it didn't take, did it? They pulled me back. Willow—nerdy little I-want-to-be-a-witch Willow—resurrected me! How is that even possible?"
"Buffy," the doctor said gently, "it isn't possible. Surely you realize that? Doesn't that tell you something about that world? About its very existence?"
They were interrupted by a knock on the door as Dr. Swinson's secretary poked her head into the room.
"I'm sorry to interrupt. But you have another patient due in just a few minutes." She smiled at Buffy. "And Buffy has a visitor."
Without waiting to be told they were finished for the day, Buffy jumped up and ran to the door.
"Hello, love," he said, catching her in his arms as she burst through the doorway. "Did you miss me?"
"Every second you aren't here," she said, clinging to him tightly. She raised her head and looked him in the eye. "Even the seconds I'm not here, I miss you."
"Not enough to give up your vampire for me, it seems." He tried to keep his voice light, but she could hear the pain in it.
While they walked back to her room, she hung onto his hand, willing him to understand.
"He's you," she whispered. "It's like... there... in that place, I have a little bit of you. He's the only thing keeping me sane there. He was the only thing that kept me from...."
Horror filled her eyes as she realized what she'd been about to say. And what the probable result would have been. Before she could wish back her words, she watched Will's face harden as he finished her sentence for her.
"He was the only thing keeping you from dying again, so that you could stay here."
"No! No, it's not like that... when I'm there... I... I don't – didn't – remember this. And it's not like I can just slit my wrists or something.... I have duties, obligations, a sister... Oh God, Will, please stop looking at me like that. Please...." Buffy's voice trailed off in sniffles.
"I'm sorry, Buffy. Don't cry," he murmured, sitting down and pulling her into his lap. "I didn't mean to make you cry. I just miss you so bloody...." He cuddled her to his chest and rubbed soothing circles on her back. "It's hard to hear that what's keeping you there might be some version of me. When the real me is here, and he wants you back so very, very much."
"It's not just him," Buffy whispered. "It's everybody. Dawn, Willow, Xander, Tara... they won't let me go. They depend on me too much. And... and they love me."
His arms tightened, but his voice remained calm as he reminded her, "There are people here who depend on you, Buffy. Who love you and want you to have the life you deserve. That other Buffy – she's done enough. Come back to us, love... to me. Come back...
"Hey!" Will's voice broke through the drug-induced stupor Buffy was in and she turned her head to smile at him.
"Hey, yourself," she said, grabbing the hand touching her cheek and kissing it. "I was hoping you'd come by today."
He bit his lip and refrained from reminding her that he'd been there the day before also. Instead, he just settled into the chair beside the bed and leaned in to kiss her dry lips.
"I've got some news for you, pet," he said, handing her a plastic water bottle. "About the outline I turned in to my agent."
"Yeah? So what did he think? Am I going to make you rich and famous?"
"Well, at a minimum, you've earned me a book contract. How rich and famous I'll get is anybody's guess."
Buffy stuck her lip out and tried to sit up, swaying a little as her brain rejected the new position. "Of course you'll be rich and famous! It's an amazing story and you're an awesome writer. How can it not be a best-seller?"
"Think I'd like it a bit more if I knew it was going to have a happy ending," he said, stroking her head. "Don't want to be picking up that Hugo without my wife and muse by my side."
"I'm trying," Buffy said, turning her head and kissing his hand again. "It's not like I don't want to be here with you, I just..."
"I know, pet," he soothed. "I know."
Will's perusal of Buffy's later journals, including the current entries he was making for her, had given him a much greater understanding of the life to which she had returned. In addition to the love she felt for her sister and friends, her sense of duty and obligation came through on every page of the notes she jotted down for him to take home and add to the journal entries already on his computer. Some days he felt as though he was having as much difficulty as she was in telling the difference between what was real and what was only her imagination. The sense he got of her intense need to keep that world and the people in it safe was almost overwhelming.
"What do you mean, she won't drink it? I'll pour the bloody stuff down her throat myself if I have to. Give it here."
"This should be worth watching – I wonder how he's going to do that without frying his brain?"
Tara spoke up softly. "I think it might be all right..." She watched with a small frown as Spike took the mug up the stairs, shaking her head when Xander suggested they supervise. "Leave them alone. Maybe he can talk her into it."
"Why would Spike be able to do it if we can't?"
Tara put a gentle hand on his arm. "It's worth a try, isn't it?" she said, carefully avoiding an answer to his question which she decided to view as more of a complaint than a serious request for information.
"Just drink it, Buffy. It's tearing us up to see you like this - trying to stay in what you think is Heaven when we're all here tryin' to bring you back to yourself."
"I'm happy there, Spike. Or, at least I was when I was sane and having a life that didn't involve large muscular men holding me down while—"
"Don't need to hear your fantasies, pet," he said with a wan attempt at a smile.
"My wha—? Oh. Ewww, Spike! You know what I mean! I'm in a freaking mental hospital, for God's sake."
"Was just a joke, Buffy," he mumbled. "It's hard to hear you say you'd rather be there, restraints and all..."
"I don't want to be there - not in the hospital. I want to go back to my life."
"Oh yeah. The life that doesn't include anybody here."
Buffy closed her eyes and sighed, tired of arguing with him about Will and Sean.
"Just drink it, Buffy," he pleaded, setting the mug of antidote on the nightstand.
"Ooops!" Buffy knocked the cup over, and dropped her head back on the pillow. " I didn't do that on purpose," she muttered, as Spike began swearing and trying to catch some of the spill in the cup. "At least, I don't think so..."
"It's alright, love," he assured her. "I know Red has more of it. We'll just get you another cupful."
Buffy nodded, wondering idly if anyone besides her could hear the difference between the "luvs" that Spike directed so frequently toward women and the "love" that his voice softened into when he was addressing her directly. He sounded just like Will when he called her "love", something she decided was either very reassuring or very disturbing.
Willow had told her about Spike's theory that she could only incorporate dead people into her other world and Buffy agreed that, with the exception of her father, it did seem a logical explanation for the absence of anyone else she cared about.
"Maybe we should just kill somebody - somebody important, but not too important - and see what happens?"
"I hope you're joking," Buffy had said, rolling her eyes.
"Of course I'm joking! What do you think I am?"
Somebody with some pretty shaky boundaries. Buffy kept her opinion to herself, just shutting her eyes and hoping to be taken away again.
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