AN: Bad week. Lots of family tragedy and on-going medical issues. Just angsty me. Non-cross for once.
Whedon is the genius we live our lives by. We define ourselves with his definitions. We use his characters to express what we could not otherwise say.
And we're grateful he lets us borrow them.
*unedited, written in 45 minutes flat*
************************************ Degrees of Separation *******************************
Buffy always thought that she would die quickly, gasping away in a puddle of blood in a darkened alleyway. She never dreamed she’d go like this- dying by degrees. It happened a little each day. A smile that never reached the eyes, a hand that never touched her own. Breakfast held in a silence that was only broken by the turning of a newspaper.
She had everything she had always wanted, and it was killing her.
She’d had everything once before. When she had kissed her sister and life goodbye and thrown herself from the tower in that glorious leap for all of humanity. She dreamt sometimes of those exhilarating moments, the air stinging her face, the smell of brimstone as Hell opened around them. More often she dreamt of the landing. Of the blow no living creature, evil or good, had ever been able to match. The jarring crunch of bones shattering as her brain exploded in starlight.
Once, she would have said that return was all about dying all over again. But she had been young, even then. Full of teenage angst and unrealistic expectations set by Heaven. She knew better now. Knew that Hell was not restricted to dimension or afterlife. It was the cadence of her life. The steps she wove every day.
There was a distance now to everything but the seconds that marked the passing of her life. Willow’s voice, when she called, spoke of things that no longer held any meaning to Buffy. The concern was evident, the connection they had maintained for so long, lost to the ring Buffy wore on her left hand.
“The new girls are really something. One, Miranda, even gives Kennedy a run for her money. I didn’t think anyone could do that after Faith died. I think she has some latent magical abilities, even outside the Slaying, but I’m a little afraid to get her to tap them. Maybe in a few years, when she gets some perspective.”
Buffy leaned against the kitchen doorframe and watched the television flicker, sound muted, in the living room. She wet dry lips once, then twice, before replying. “What does Giles think?”
“Oh, well, he’s even more cautious about it than I am. I was even afraid to TELL him for the last…” Buffy tried to listen, she really did, but Willow’s voice, like everything else, was muted. Strained. Finally her best friend managed to catch her attention. “Buffy, are you okay?”
The smile that never reached her eyes came quickly, but left a sour taste in her mouth. “Of course, why wouldn’t I be?”
Willow’s pause was long enough for her stomach to drop to her feet. Buffy shuffled them absently, trying to take her mind off her stomach. “Because…” came the slow reply finally, “Because you’re Buffy and you say all the right things. But… you’re Buffy and I know you. I KNOW you, and I can picture your face when you speak. And you’re never happy. You’re never… You’re never happy anymore.”
“I have to get dinner started.”
She twirled the cord of the phone. “I’ll call you next week.”
Willow sighed, deeply, and Buffy felt the distance cut her to the heart. “Liar. I love you.”
“Dinner will be late.”
She hung up the phone.
Xander’s call came right when expected. She was washing the dishes. She had eaten alone, because the timer hadn’t rung, so the casserole had burnt. Food had to be perfect, or it wasn’t worth eating. The dishes had to be spotless, so she always washed them before they went in the dishwasher.
She handled the phone somewhat reluctantly, only getting the receiver slightly wet before managing to position it on her shoulder, so she could talk and wash at the same time. “Buffster!”
There was an awkwardness that was new. It had been in the making for almost a decade, and while Xander had let it grow, she had watered and cared for the garden of neglect. It was what she did, to distance herself from the person she used to be. The person who had been guaranteed a quick death with no resurrection and lingering demise.
“He’s not good for you.” Trust Xander to go right for the heart.
She stared out the kitchen window, at the tire swing she had hung four summers ago. She hadn’t swung on it in three.
“He’s not the problem Xand.” She couldn’t hear him grinding his teeth on the phone, even with her Slayer senses, but she knew he was doing it.
“Then what is?!”
She watched the breeze stir the tire swing as a squirrel desperately gathered the few remaining nuts in the new fallen snow. “Nothing Xand, nothing at all.”
He was angry. That she couldn’t hear but knew as well. “I’m not sure what’s worse, that you believe what you just said, or that we have no choice but buy it.”
Nothing and everything and a dance that was off-step. The death of her soul, a beat at a time. “The living room needs to be vacuumed.”
“Buffy…” The desperation hurt. What hurt more was the knowledge that she wasn’t going to do anything about it.
“I have to go.”
“Buffy we love you.”
The dial tone was always easier than goodbye.
Dawn’s calls were much less predictable. They always came at night, when Buffy was alone. She would have suspected magic, but it went deeper than that. Summers blood, and ties that not even death by minutes could sever. “Hey Buff.”
Buffy reclined in bed, her side rumpled, the side next to her made. She had never decided which hurt worse, having him there and not wanting, or having him gone and her wanting. “Hey Dawnie.”
The two sisters breathed over the phone in silence. Dawn knew the things Buffy could never say. Could read the truth in the circles beneath her eyes and the trembling of her hands in ways that Willow and Xander and Giles never could. Because Dawn had been there for Buffy’s last goodbye, had taken part in it. The others couldn’t conceive of letting her go. Dawn was just always grateful she had managed to stay so long.
So the questions never came from Dawn. The words were never said. Just late night talks that often started with, “Have you seen the sky tonight?”
Buffy clambered out of bed, her white cotton nightgown doing little to shield the cold from late autumn in Connecticut. “No, is it worth the snow?”
She could hear Dawn’s smile. “I think so, though I somehow doubt my ‘snow’ could match yours at the moment. But, when in Rome.”
“Haha,” the older woman quipped grouchily as she opened the second story window of the bedroom. “So glad you inherited my sense of comedy.”
Dawn snorted. “My fashion sense is better. I’m sitting on MY roof in Dolce and Gabbana.”
Buffy laughed. “I have more common sense than you. Its way too cold to SIT on my roof.” Her bare feet crunched in the snow and ice that covered the overhand of her roof as she stepped out of her bedroom window and looked up. Her breath stilled at the sight of the blue moon and open starlight.
Dawn let her have her moment of awe. “Told you its worth the cold.”
And ten years ago Buffy would have sat. Would have asked about Dawn’s studies, and the men in her life, and where she had eaten last. Would have wanted to know what had brought Dawn out on the roof in Rome so close to dawn in designer clothes. But ten years had passed and Buffy had been dying a slow death. Time was at a premium, intimacy even more so.
So instead she let Dawn say the only words that mattered anymore. “I love you.” And Buffy smiled a smile that almost reached her eyes, hung up the phone, and looked back up at the stars.