: I'm so sorry for the mess I made of posting this story. It'll teach me not to think that I can edit while I post. >.<
Anyway, enjoy the chapter and I'm gonna make an effort to get the end up as soon as possible.
Awareness returned slowly. Blackness turned to reddish dark turned to bright red on her eyelids as sounds filtered in. The bed was soft beneath her, the sheets warm and comfortable. They smelled like home. She buried her face deeper into her pillow.
Muddily, Buffy realized someone was holding her hand. They squeezed it, warm and strong.
"Are you awake?"
She blinked an eye open. Phillip stared back at her, eyes wide and very brown. As he caught her looking at him, he broke into a relieved grin. He disappeared from her sight and she could hear him run out of the room. He said something in an excited tone of voice she couldn't catch to someone, getting a mumbled reply. With a sigh, Buffy pushed herself off the bed, belatedly remembering to glance down at her arm. It didn't look broken. Didn't feel broken either.
Phillip came running back in, barely catching himself on the doorposts before he face-planted on the floor. He stared at her, eyes shining, but he didn't come closer. Buffy smiled a bit. "What? Afraid to hug your old cousin?"
With a low noise he threw himself around her neck, clinging. Buffy found herself clinging back, knotting her hands into his shirt and burrowing her face into his neck. Everything she'd done -- the fight, killing Nikolaos, snatching power from Jean-Claude -- rose in her throat until she found herself crying. Phillip didn't say anything, just held her.
Someone appeared briefly in the doorway and disappeared just as quickly, closing the door behind them. Buffy closed her eyes.
Buffy stared. She'd thought two, at most. The...dreams? visions? had indicated that time had passed, but this much?
"We were starting to wonder if you were ever waking up." The look on his face said the real emotions were far from as light as the statement. "Then Master Jean-Claude said you...visited?"
Buffy flushed a little. "I had some weird dreams." She peered at him. "We're really playing host to Edward?"
Phillip stared. "How did you know that?"
"As I said, weird dreams." Buffy looked at the doors. "Who's out there anyway? Only Edward?"
"And Anita. She came over to see Edward and check if you'd woken up." Phillip shrugged. "I think there's some slayer stuff she needs to go through with you."
"Goodie. Paperwork." Buffy sighed. "Guess I need to get dressed."
"I'll go put on some coffee and make you a few sandwiches." Phillip smiled down at her. "You must be famished."
"Just a bit," Buffy replied, smiling a bit sheepishly as her stomach rumbled.
After dressing and scarfing down a scary amount of sandwiches, Buffy padded out to the living room where she found Anita and Edward staring at each other over the coffee table. The lack of animosity between them surprised her; Edward had never responded well to authority and Anita radiated it. The look on Edward's face though... It wasn't annoyance, it was, well, amusement
Hesitating a moment in the doorway, Buffy let Phillip come up behind her.
"They've been like that for long?"
"She's not too happy about Edward staying here." Buffy was surprised to hear a smile in his voice. She turned her head to look at it. Huh. He was
smiling. What had Edward done beyond help him clean? "I don't really mind though."
"You can stop lurking now," Edward called from the room. "I thought you were a slayer, not a vampire."
"Gotta put in some training for patrolling!" Buffy stepped into the room, looked pointedly between them. "Having a staring competition?"
"He's being stubborn." Anita gave him a last glare, then got to her feet and came over with a smile on her face. "I'm glad you're feeling better."
Buffy shrugged, pushing off the doorpost. "Can't sleep forever."
"Even if you made a good attempt at it," Edward noted, strolling over. He sounded normal, but there was something in his eyes... He'd worried, Buffy realized. She looked down. His arm was in a fibercast from the elbow down. It'd be some while before he'd be rid of it.
"Buffy," Anita said, calling for her attention. When Buffy looked up, Anita looked straight into her eyes. "There's something I need to talk with you about concerning this job. As soon as possible. Do you think you could come down to the station with me tomorrow morning after work?"
The cops? Buffy blanched. From Edward's snort, her expression must've been hilarious. "Why?" she asked.
Anita threw Edward an annoyed look. "Nothing bad. I've been asked to intermediate between you and the state government on an issue."
"Promise it won't hurt?" The look Anita gave her almost
made Buffy feel ashamed. Almost. She grinned. "Sorry, a case of 'glad I'm not dead', I think."
Anita muttered something under her breath that had Edward chuckle appreciatively. "I'll call you later," she told Buffy before leaving. "I need to get some sleep."
Buffy waved a hand at her. "Sure. You have my number."
The door closed behind Anita and Buffy looked thoughtfully at it. "Anyone's got any idea of what's going on with that?"
"No idea," Phillip said cheerfully. He seemed to be on a sort of Willow-ish high from her return to the waking world. What he would've been like if he'd lost her... Buffy didn't know. He wasn't very strong and she'd seen how wrong things could go, how easily they went.
"Politics," Edward offered. "I bet they want you to stay to watch over how things settle."
Buffy stared at him. "Why?"
He shrugged and strolled off into the kitchen to grab coffee. Buffy sighed. This world was going to drive her insane.
Things calmed down after that. Phillip made lunch and Buffy managed to inhale more food than she could ever remember eating. Edward spent some quality time on the couch cleaning his weapons, slowed down to a crawl by his impaired arm. Buffy watched him for a while, then took a deep breath. She was avoiding things. The dreams had told her what was going on for a reason and the reason was not so that she could avoid the whole thing, unfortunately.
Grabbing her cellphone, Buffy headed for the balcony. Phillip handed her a blanket with a stern look as she passed him and Buffy nodded her thanks. The air was chillier than she expected. She wrapped herself in the blanket, sitting down with her back against the house wall. For a while, Buffy only stared at the phone, then she dialed.
"Buffy." Elias sounded hesitant as he picked up. "You're awake."
"A couple of hours ago." Buffy leaned her head back against the wall, eyes closed. "You and Rafael OK?"
"Fine." Then, as if realizing that he sounded snippy, he continued. "We worried."
"I didn't mean to sleep so long." Buffy didn't know if it was an apology or something else. It was hard to talk with him. They'd never really discussed what had happened and she doubted they would. "Phillip says things have calmed down."
"More or less." Elias sounded tired at the mere thought. "The details of Nikolaos' slaying leaked in the supernatural world. Things are a bit hazardous among the free agents. Jean-Claude and we alphas can only do so much. It'll be some time before the equilibrium has returned."
"Great," Buffy muttered. It was the aftermath of the First all over again, if at a lesser scale. She shook the thought away. She could deal with that later. Right now, there was only one thing she wanted to know. "The Powers."
She could hear Elias breath in deeply at the other side, as if needing a moment to calm down. Why, she couldn't fathom. He wasn't the one with one chance to see his family again. Ever.
"You're getting a window," he finally said. "Only a few minutes and I had to do some fast talking to grant you that. I can open it whenever you want."
Suddenly drymouthed, Buffy opened her eyes to stare at the grey skies. "Now?"
"If you want," Elias said, his voice carefully even. "You only need to come here."
Buffy was at her feet before she had the time to think. "Twenty minutes," she said and broke the call. She was going to see her family one last time.
They parked in the driveway to Rafael's house, Edward and Phillip tagging along for the ride. Buffy strode towards the house, heart thumping almost to the point of hurting. She could hear the two men talk under their breath behind her but she didn't listen. If she did, she'd regret it, she'd hesitate. This was what she wanted but there was still something inside her that was afraid. Buffy hadn't let that stop her since she was fifteen though, she certainly wouldn't when she was twice that age.
Elias met them at the door, opening it before she had the chance to knock. He didn't say anything, just looked into her eyes and nodded. What he saw, Buffy didn't know, but she was grateful she didn't have to talk. She didn't know whether she would've been able to find the words. Dawn. Willow. Xander
, one part of her mind was whispering. The other part... Buffy clenched her teeth and forced the thought away.
They followed Elias as he lead them around the house to a wide-stretching lawn. There was a large pentagram painted onto the grass, the paint still glistening and sticky. She stepped carefully over the outermost line, following Elias towards the middle. Rafael came up beside her, grabbing her before she crossed the innermost lines.
"No," he said, letting her go as soon as she'd stopped. "Not any further. You'll break the lines."
Buffy nodded, blowing a stray strand of hair out of her face. She looked at Elias, standing in the center. Glanced back at Edward outside the pentagram, at Phillip crossing the lines to stand beside her. There was something in the air, something tense. She could almost imagine hearing chanting, a built-up of magic as familiar as her own breathing.
Phillip took her hand and squeezed it gently. Buffy smiled back absently, one hand kneeding at her chest. Thump
. The noise echoed in her ears, rose into her throat. Thump
"This will be a bit messy," Elias called finally. "Buffy and Phillip can stay where they are, but the rest of you should stand on the outside."
The beginning of the ritual was like nothing else Buffy had ever seen. It didn't seem to have any connection to the magic Willow performed. Instead of chanting, there was movement; instead of whipping winds there was pressure, bearing down on them. Phillip fell to his knees with a gasp; Buffy managed a few more seconds before her knees folded in on themselves.Thump
, her heart said. Thump, thump
She heard chanting. It came from far away, from beneath, from above, from around them. The voice was familiar as it rose and sighed, twisted into patterns as familiar as air. Willow, Buffy muzzily realized and looked up.
A rift had opened in front of Elias, flashing and twisting. Multi-facetted light broke through the opening and she imagined she could see shapes on the other side. Buffy forced herself to her feet, willing her eyes to see what was on the other side. The rift flashed and she flung up a hand to protect her eyes. It flashed again.
Then it exploded.
The pressure wave threw Buffy to the ground. She threw up her arms to protect her face, debris flying around her. Phillip cried out beside her and she wrenched herself around until she saw him. “Are you all right?” she shouted as another pressure wave passed over them. He’d hit something as he fell and blood flowed from a small cut at his temple. Buffy crawled to him, hunched over him and kept on her knees only with effort as another wave slammed into them.
“Buffy?” Phillip said as the world began to still again. His pupils were huge and dark as he looked up at her, the hand he raised to touch her face shaking.
“I’m here.” She eased him upright, glanced over her should to find Elias struggling to his feet. Out of the corner of her eyes she could see the others move as well. The ripping sound had stopped, but she didn’t look at the undulating colors to her other side, instead patting Phillip down for injuries.
She closed her eyes, shoulders tense. Phillip’s grip on her tightened as he looked over her shoulder, at the owner of the voice. She wanted to throw up.
“Buffy? Is that you?”
Phillip looked at her face, then over her shoulder. “Are you all right?”
Buffy tried to smile but suspected it came out more as a grimace. “I’m all right.” She forced herself to turn around, eyes on the ground. Phillip grabbed her hand, holding it tight.
She looked up. There were faces in the undulating mass of color, faces as familiar as her own. A part of her wanted to run there, wanted to throw herself at the window and beg for the magic to carry her back, to let her leave this place. A larger part of her clung to Phillip’s hand and ached
. She stared at their face, ran her eyes over them, drinking in every single detail. She stopped at Dawn, huge-eyed and pale.
“Dawn,” she said and took a step forwards without thinking.
With a shout, Dawn threw herself forwards and tumbled through the rift and slammed into Buffy, clinging desperately.
The Key, Buffy realized numbly as her sister buried her face in Buffy’s neck. Her sister was the Key
The world seemed to disappear in tears and words for a while. Dawn clung white-knuckled onto Buffy’s free hand, Phillip holding the other as a source of strength where Buffy had none. She struggled to find words, to find a way to say…to say goodbye. She saw Elias grow more and more pale, sweat beading on his face. A moment later, his knees buckled.
“Buffy.” Raphael’s voice, she dimly realized. “Please
She turned to look at him, standing on the outside of the circle and as white as Elias. Unable to come in, she realized and swallowed hard. Her time was up. She turned to Dawn, leaned her forehead against her sister’s. “Time to go, Dawn.”
Dawn’s eyes widened. “No! No, Buffy, you can’t… We can figure it out, we can…”
“No.” It hurt to say it, her voice shredding in her throat. “This is it. I have to stay.” She looked at Phillip, white-faced but quiet. He was letting her choice. “I want
to stay,” she correct herself.
Dawn’s face grew stubborn. “Then I’m staying.”
Buffy’s heart stopped. “Dawn, no.”
Dawn shook her head. “I’m staying with you.” Her chin trembled as she turned to watch the rift she’d come through, take in the faces watching them silently. Then she turned to Elias. “Close it,” Dawn said, then took a deep breath, her shoulders squaring. Buffy felt the pressure begin anew, centered around Dawn. “Or I will.”
Buffy whipped around. “Tell her!” she yelled at Xander. “She can’t stay her!”
Xander shook his head, a sad smile on his face. “She decided long before we even got a lead on what had happened. There’s no stopping her.”
The rift flickered and the pressure increased as Dawn started to chant beneath her breath.
“We love you!” Willow shouted at them as the rift began to close.
The colors grew brighter, then were sucked into the rift like a vacuumed rainbow, disappearing like they’d never been there. Elias fell to the ground and Rafael ran towards him. Dawn’s knees buckled and Phillip darted past Buffy to catch her. Buffy didn’t move, staring at empty air.
It had ended.