She was flying.

No, that wasn’t quite it. Flying implied a measure of control, the ability to move where one pleased. Flying was not the correct word – Buffy Summers was floating.

She was surrounded by the dark, to the point where she did not know if her eyes were open or shut. Idly flexing her limbs in an attempt to gain momentum, Buffy gazed around the abyss as best she could in a vain attempt to identify her location, to see something. Anything.

In the distance, finally, was a tiny pinprick of light. Buffy’s eyes immediately locked onto the anomaly in her environment and stared with a level of obsession she did not know she possessed. Her persistence paid off, as the speck of light suddenly exploded, tearing the darkness apart, leaving Buffy floating in Sunnydale’s evening sky.

A burning nova of blurred light blinded her, and Buffy instinctively squinted her eyes shut, raising an arm to help block out the light. After allowing her sight to adjust, she ventured a cautious look at the source of luminance. It faded clearly into view, and the light was no longer painful for her to look at, but was no less brilliant than when it had been little more than a blur.

Buffy was staring directly at the dimensional portal Glory had managed to open.

She opened her lips to cry out in dismay, and was quickly halted when she realized she had no voice. Resisting the urge to fall into a complete panic, Buffy instead allowed herself to fall into Slayer-mode, looking around for – and failing to see – Glory, to try to figure out exactly how an open and active portal could have appeared.

Another blur appeared before her eyes, and Buffy found herself floating just above the top of the tower, looking down at a bound Dawn and the knife-wielding demon who had bested her. A few feet away, Buffy looked upon her unconscious and bleeding body.

Forgetting herself for a moment, she attempted to wrest a scream from her throat, frustration rising when she remembered she had no voice. Instead, she watched helplessly as the demon scored shallow cuts into her sister’s skin.

Heard Spike’s voice. “Doesn’ a fella stay dead when you kill ‘m?”

Concerned eyes darting between her still-captive sister and the suddenly-appearing Spike, Buffy watched as the two men exchanged heated words before the vampire snapped the neck of the demon, shoving the body aside as though it had been little more than an afterthought. Her feelings ran the gamut, from fear at the sight of exactly how the portal had been birthed, to anxiety as she witnessed the first of many demons birthed from within it, to confusion at the fact that Spike had yet to untie her sister.

And pangs of something she could not identify, as she watched him run a hand down her cheek, attempt to wake her, and caress her lips with a crooked finger. Pangs of something unknown as she watched him lower his mouth to feed. Pain as she heard his whispered apology.

She watched, aching, as Spike untied Dawn and pulled her to relative safety, forcing her to listen to his words. His words, clearer than anything she’d ever heard, despite the noise she knew would have been surrounding them.

“Listen to me, Bit. Big sis is gonna be fine, yeh? But it’s up to you to get her back down to her Watcher an’ the rest. Tell her I figured it out. An’ tell her I kept my promise.”

Buffy watched, the pangs in her chest suddenly turning into gasps of surprise – then fear – as Spike’s form began to change in front of her. Watched as his hair began to grow, becoming a darker shade of blonde, before the muscles of his face began to tighten and twitch, shifting until Buffy found she was looking at her own face.

“Dawn,” the figure standing in front of her sister continued, and Buffy was horrified to realize that both the face and voice were her own, “The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Be brave. Live. For me.”

She watched, her open mouth loosing silent, useless screams, as her double ran across the platform and jumped into the raging portal.

------------------

She screamed once again, and this time, it worked.

Shooting upright in her bed, Buffy simply sat with her arms wrapped around her knees, eyes wide as she desperately tried to catch her breath. Swallowing convulsively a few times, she felt her heart begin to calm, and she ran a shaking hand through her hair and across the back of her neck.

Briefly closing her eyes, Buffy forced out a laugh in a further attempt to calm down. Her eyes wandered around her room, as though checking to ensure that everything was in order, that nothing had changed since she’d gone to bed hours before. Finally settling her gaze on the alarm clock near her bed, Buffy watched as the numbers clicked over to 6:32.

She scrubbed a hand over her eyes and sighed, debating whether she could actually get back to sleep. Finally deciding against it, she threw her legs over the side of the bed and rose, switching on the lights before walking quietly down the hallway – checking, as always, to make sure Dawn was safely tucked in bed – to take a shower.

The water sluicing over her body helped her tensed muscles to relax, but did little to ease her troubled mind. Her body ran of its own accord, readying her for the day as she attempted to make sense of her disjointed thoughts.

She hadn’t the slightest idea how to qualify her dream. It certainly couldn’t have been a Slayer dream; the event she’d dreamed had taken place in the past. But at the same time, it had been so real that she didn’t know how it could have been anything but. She dreamed the events at the pinnacle of the tower that she had been unable to see in person, but once the threat to Dawn had vanished, it had taken a decidedly strange and horrendous turn.

But the matter of qualification was immediately shoved aside upon the arrival of the matter of interpretation. In her experience, Slayer dreams were prophetic, warning her of dangers to come. Yet she’d dreamed of the past – or, at least, mostly. She knew – had even admitted to Giles, soon after she’d returned home from the hospital – that she would have jumped to close the portal, if the need had arisen. Was that, then, the reasoning behind her dream? To reaffirm her commitment to her sister?

Buffy’s brow furrowed and she frowned, unaware that she was ducking her head under the spray to wash the shampoo from her hair. It didn’t make sense. She knew she would have jumped. She knew that she was committed to raising her sister. It rendered the dream purposeless. And why had the timeline in the dream altered when it had? Why had she still been knocked unconscious by the knife-wielding demon, leaving Spike to save the day – and the girl – only to have his grand finale be performed by herself instead?

A knock on the door broke her from her reverie, and Buffy soon heard her name being called tentatively. Dawn was awake. Buffy poked her head out from behind the shower curtain and pasted on a smile, affirming that she’d simply woken up early and had decided to take her time getting ready.

The passing of a half an hour saw both girls dressed and downstairs eating breakfast; Dawn chatting about last-minute back-to-school shopping after Buffy returned from work, and Buffy hanging onto her sister’s every word, determined to keep any thoughts of her dream as far from her mind as possible.

------------------

Buffy attempted to stifle a yawn, jolted back into shop-mode as the bell hanging above the door jingled, alerting her to the entrance of a customer.

“Welcome to the Magic Box,” she parroted, hoping her voice didn’t sound as unenthused as she felt. “Your one-stop shop for all things mystic and fantastic.” She resisted the urge to groan; she wasn’t entirely sure how Anya had convinced Giles that the standard greeting had been a good one.

The summer months had seen a number of lifestyle changes that Buffy had had no choice but to attempt to implement into her daily life. There was, first and foremost, Dawn, who was doing well and looking forward to going back to school in a matter of weeks. She still was not ready to be a mother, still feeling as a child herself, but Buffy had taken the first tentative steps towards being a legal guardian to her little sister.

She’d gotten a job, working at the Magic Box. The check Giles had written for her weeks after her return from the hospital had been sequestered into a bank account, clearly labeled For Emergencies Only. And so Buffy had gone on a job hunt, and when she’d returned from unsuccessful interview after unsuccessful interview, her Watcher had simply put a hand on her shoulder before declaring, “You start at the shop on Monday.”

Anya’s first reaction, of course, had been to throw a hissy-fit about how the hiring of another employee would decrease the shop’s total revenue, given that it was paying out more money before the books could be balanced. Giles had cleaned his lenses, and sighed heavily, and Anya had smiled brightly and shoved a broom into the Slayer’s hands, telling her to begin earning her keep.

Classes at UC Sunnydale began in two weeks, and Willow was using her day to move her things into Tara’s room, as Buffy had decided not to return to the university. It had not been an easy decision on her part – despite her acceptance of what being a slayer meant, Buffy still, and probably always would, yearn to have at least a semblance of normalcy in her life. She had enjoyed college, and even though she had displayed little more than aversion towards the subject of schoolwork, she actually had liked the classes she’d taken during her brief stint as a college undergraduate.

She felt static. Her education would go no further, and she was fairly certain that with only a high school diploma she couldn’t get much better than working at the Magic Box. At least there her employers understood if she was late for work because she was chasing demons until dawn. She couldn’t complain too much about her salary. Despite the fact that she knew she should be happy that she was able to hold a job she knew she would be secure in – which helped so much when the social workers came to check on Dawn – Buffy couldn’t help but feel static at the current path her life was traveling.

And above everything else, she had her guilty secret. Nearly every night, she pulled Spike’s leather duster from its space in the back of her closet and allowed his scent to surround her, to calm her. Every night she hung it up in the back of her closet, she swore it would be the last, and yet it did not occur to her not to pull the duster back out the next evening.

Looking up in the direction of the customer she had greeted, Buffy’s smile became genuine when she saw that the person who had entered the shop was Tara. Her smile faded, however, when she saw the nervous expression on the witch’s face. Ushering her friend away from the middle of the store, she frowned and asked, “Tara, what’s wrong?”

Tara shifted. “Buffy, I’ve been th-thinking,” she started, her voice quiet and unsure. “I’m w-worried about you. It’s been three months, and you haven’t talked to anyone about what happened.”

Buffy shook her head, idly reorganizing knickknacks on the counter near the register. “I’m fine, Tara. Really. I’m completely recovered, and we got the demons that escaped when the portal was opened. Dawn and I are doing great.”

The witch sighed. “I g-guess, but…what about the other thing?”

“Other thing?”

If it was possible for Tara’s voice to be even quieter and more nervous, it happened with her next statement. “I w-was thinking that maybe we should get a gravestone for Spike.”

Buffy’s brow furrowed and she crossed her arms, gripping at her upper arms against the sudden chill in the room. “A gravestone?”

“Oh, yes!” Anya exclaimed, nodding eagerly as she walked towards the two. “It’s a quaint symbolic human custom traditionally exhibited during the mourning process.”

Looking between the two women, Buffy shook her head and murmured, “No. No gravestone,” before crossing to the door of the shop, walking outside into the bright midday sunshine.

Neither Anya nor Tara moved to stop her.

------------------

The passage of the summer months had not only shown Buffy shouldering a parenting role, but had also pushed her to take a more active role in her slaying. Now, instead of waiting for Giles to approach her with possible leads on vampiric activity, she usually spent her lunch hour morbidly perusing the newspapers and obituaries, looking for evidence of death by vampire attack.

Such a hit this evening had brought her to one of Sunnydale’s graveyards, and Buffy leaned against a crypt wall as she stared at a freshly-lain grave, waiting for the newly-dead to rise again. She was, of course, painfully aware that the crypt which provided her support had until mere weeks ago had been occupied by a bleached-blonde British vampire.

Her fingers flexing idly around the stake, Buffy allowed her mind to wander back to the Magic Box earlier that day. Now that she’d distanced herself from the situation, she allowed herself to feel a tinge of shame at her behavior. But Tara’s question had thrown her, and Anya’s always-poorly-timed off-color remark, while admittedly expected, had proven to be too much too soon.

Her actions weren’t out of any disrespect for Spike; she knew it, and she was certain Anya and Tara did as well. She simply didn’t know how to explain that to erect a gravestone for Spike would mean giving him up completely? That she’d learned to live with the cognitive disconnect that mentally, she knew he was gone, but emotionally, to see his headstone would cause her to break? That its very existence would somehow make her possession of his duster seem sordid and disrespectful and something of which she should be ashamed?

No. As much as she could admit that he deserved it, Buffy could not handle seeing Spike’s headstone whenever she patrolled; at least, not yet. Perhaps not ever, she ruminated.

Buffy pressed her back further against the crypt wall, allowing herself to take some measure of comfort from its solid presence. She could not admit it – to herself, or to anyone else – because she simply was not aware, but despite it all, she somehow knew, as well as she knew her own name, that she probably loved him. Instead, she sat and watched the gravesite, waiting for the wrong vampire to rise from the ground.


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A/N: Wow. I got this chapter finished a lot sooner than I'd expected! I'm still a little iffy about the last scene, as it's not quite how I'd envisioned it, but I think it works well enough.

If anyone's keeping parallel track of the timeline of canon S6 and my little S6 world, then you know some fun stuff is going to happen soon. And that's all I'm going to say. :)

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