I'm thinking back to the past six months and the truth is that I'm not sure whether they have gone by in the blink of an eye or if they have dragged on forever. Six months ago today I was arriving back in England only to receive a phone call from Willow a few hours later asking me to come home, telling me that Buffy was back. To say that I was shocked would be an understatement.
Back then I didn't know what to expect, not even after seeing my slayer alive and breathing. It took me a while to even begin to comprehend what it really was that I was dealing with and to this day I still cannot believe my ignorance didn't cause any more damage back then. The truth is that these past six months have been a constant struggle and yet against all odds Buffy seems to have made it through them a lot better than I could have dared to hope. She still has a very long way to go before she gets anywhere near normal, I'm not going to fool myself by trying to deny it, but she is getting to a point where she can almost function on her own... and considering that just six months ago she was literally too scared to flinch away from me when I approached her, her progress has been nothing short of amazing.
It is true that she's still reluctant to say 'no' but she is growing more comfortable every day when it comes to openly letting me know what she wants and while she won't say 'no' outright she is hesitating a lot longer before saying 'yes' against her will... and I've gotten better at interpreting those silences. She is also doing better in other areas. Her slaying may be nowhere near where it used to be but at least when we go out with Spike at night she's gotten to a point where she can actually help him and last week --with some help-- she managed to take down a minor demon during the day. As to her interaction with others, while she's still unable to go out alone --and I really don't know what it will take for her to overcome that fear-- at least now she can go out with Willow and Tara and actually enjoy herself... sometimes.
There are other areas that still remain a problem, one of them being Dawn, but that has little to do with Buffy herself or with her time in Hell. Unfortunately Dawn is still having trouble accepting the changes in her sister. She knows Buffy was in Hell but I haven't been able to bring myself to explain to her exactly what that means, what her sister went through... and that's not the only problem. I know part of it is my fault. I keep expecting Dawn to be more mature than she is, than she should be.
The truth is that --kicking and screaming-- when she was Dawn's age Buffy was saddled with the responsibility for keeping the world safe, so while I understand that because of her age Dawn is bound to be self-centered, I would have hoped that she would also have been mature enough to understand that right now Buffy has to take priority. Dawn may still be a child in the eyes of the law but she should also be old enough to realize that while she is the youngest sibling, right now her sister has to come first. Buffy died for her, she went to Hell for her, and yet Dawn seems to be unable to pull herself together enough to allow her sister to get the help she needs.
I know my anger at Dawn is misplaced... at least some of it. A part of me has always blamed her for Buffy's death and her resurrection hasn't changed that. She is the Key, she is the one who was meant to die on that tower. I've tried to avoid thinking about that, I've given myself excuses, telling myself how much easier helping Buffy would have been if I didn't have to worry constantly about Dawn, her tantrums, her grades, her case worker and so on, but it is deeper than that. It's not just that helping Buffy would have been easier without Dawn being a constant distraction, it's that without Dawn we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place. I think I've managed to keep her from seeing that but I won't deny I'm extremely grateful for the fact that Spike, Willow and Tara have basically taken over her care.
Of the whole lot Spike is the one who managed to surprise me the most over these past few months, maybe because I was expecting the least of him. I turned to him out of need, out of desperation. I accepted his help because I had no other choice. He was the only one who could mediate between Angel and myself in the early days, he was the only one who knew, who *REALLY* knew, what Buffy had been through, he was the only one strong enough to take over Buffy's patrols... and he was the one whose presence seemed to disturb Buffy the least back when she was so scared that she hardly dared to breathe. As he pointed out in our first talk after Angel's fateful visit, he is probably the only one of us who was spared from playing any role at all in Buffy's time in Hell and that gave him a leeway around her no one else had... at least not back then.
Luckily Buffy is doing a lot better now, and while I still worry about her the truth is that it is not so critical that we tiptoe around her any more. I no longer live in fear that saying the wrong word may cause her to panic, that asking her the wrong question may cause her to suffer a breakdown. Yes, there are questions she's still not ready to answer, things she's not ready to face, but she is finally well enough to actually start living again and that's more than I could have hoped for when I arrived in England six months ago today, when Buffy was yet to dig herself out of her own grave.
It's been six month since Willow's spell, six months since Buffy came back and now I find myself with thirty five days to answer a question I never thought I would have to ask myself... not like this anyway. I have thirty five days to figure out what are we supposed to do to mark the first anniversary of Buffy's death.
Author's Note: Yes, that's it (at least for now). Because of its nature this story could have gone on pretty much forever however this seemed like a good place to end it, even if a couple of issues feel somewhat unresolved. I want to thank you for your support and encouragement, I know this was not a *NICE* story by any stretch of the imagination. As to my future plans, next week I'll probably start posting a new fic called "Friends & Foes" which is kind of dark (no surprise there). As to the possibility of continuing with "Hell" I haven't ruled out the idea of writing a few companion pieces dealing with some moments of this story from different POVs, but those will probably be posted sporadically.