DISCLAIMER: The Slayer, her Watcher and the rest of the gang are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Sandollar Productions, Kuzui Enterprises, 20th Century Fox Television and the UPN Television Network. The special guests in this story belong to Universal, Pacific Rennaisance, and various other copyright holders of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. The ordering of heaven, the heirachy of the Powers and Thrones, and the nature of the Reverie have been the subject of discussion for centuries. Only those who have been there - and come back - really know how it works, and who it all belongs to ...
AUTHOR'S NOTE: this is an older tale of mine, a sort of sequel to a HTLJ tale I wrote, and which also turned out to be the prologue to an epic, which I'm still (occasionally) working on. One of these days I might get round to posting some of that here, too!
Put your faith in what you most believe in
Two worlds, one family
Trust your heart, let fate decide
To guide these lives we see …
She felt empty
. Nothing mattered, nothing at all. The sun on her face felt cold, the laughter of the children in the park sounded hollow, and the lively, bustle of the day seemed distant and unimportant. She’d tried the walk in the park, vaguely hoping that spending some time in the sun, moving among the living and being part of the every day, ordinary world would make it difference.
She was better off patrolling in the dark, dealing with the dead and doing what she had to do. Because that what she
A corpse recalled to an illusion of life, pretending to be more than it was, imprisoning a soul that should be somewhere else
– and had been, not so long ago …
Buffy sighed and sank to the surface of a nearby park bench, letting the distant echoes of the living world wash over her without touching her. Everything was so cold
here, the light too harsh, the sounds too shrill, the surfaces too hard and jagged and unpleasant to touch. She’d been happy. Complete. Finished.
And her friends had dragged her back, thinking they were doing her a favour.
" she muttered, kicking petulantly at an empty drink can that cluttered the space at her feet. The kick was backed by Slayer strength; the can flew up – and was caught, snatched neatly from the air before it could do any serious damage.
"Whoa," its interceptor laughed, greeting her with a brilliant smile and a twinkle of bright blue eyes. "I thought I
was the only who used these as deadly weapons. You wanna watch who you’re aiming things at."
"I’m sorry," Buffy said, sitting up from her slump and trying to sound as if she meant it. She’d never seen this particular man before – because she would have remembered him if she had. It wasn’t his tousle of blond curls, or the fact that he was scarcely taller than she
was that made him so distinctive. It was everything about him somehow; his features suggested warmth and mischief, his stance implied agile alertness, and she had the distinct impression that a sleek and playful creature lurked beneath the nondescript and well worn denim jeans and the dark faded leather jacket. His tie-dyed purple tee-shirt was a little loud, and the gleam of gold that dangled from one ear added a hint of gypsy to his rugged good looks – but for all that, he seemed a pleasant enough individual.
And there was something about him that radiated life
– in a way that far outshone the pitiful warmth of the afternoon sun.
"Don’t be" he advised with a grin, crushing the can with an easy clench of his fingers and tossing it away into the nearby trash can. "No harm done. You’re Buffy, right?"
"Ah – right," she acknowledged warily, glancing around in case someone she did
know was lurking nearby. No-one seemed to be. She was sitting in a park full of strangers, in a world shaded with gloom and greys.
"Hmm," he observed, sitting down next to her and relaxing into a casual slump, leaning back against the wooden slats of the bench. "You sure about that? You don’t sound very sure."
"I’m sure," she responded, bristling a little at his presumptive intrusion on her personal space. He cocked his head slightly to one side and looked
at her, with eyes so blue they could have been painted with the same brush as the sky. Her indignation faded into uncertainty; was she so sure of anything
anymore? "Well, I think I’m sure. At least – I was when I got up this morning."
He laughed. No, he giggled
– the sort of sound that Xander would have died of embarrassment had he been caught making it. It had an odd, endearing innocence to it - and Buffy warmed to him instantly. "You mean – some days you wake up and you’re not
you, or just that some days you’re not sure? One way or the other."
She couldn’t help but smile. "I’m always me," she said, then her face fell. "Just that – some days? There doesn’t seem a lot of point to it. Being me, I mean. How do you know my name?"
"Oh," he said with an airy wave, "I know a lot of things. Been around, you know? Well – maybe you don’t
know, but – here you were, sitting here with that look on your face and the feel of forever about you … Kinda made it obvious, really. There aren’t that many of us – souls that get to go, and come back. Not from there
, anyway. Lots of souls that go and come back from other places. But they don’t tend to sit around in the sun."Go – and come back ..?
Buffy stared at him. Could he be – Was he serious?
"I have no idea what you’re talking about," she said, opting for the safest response. He was probably just some kind of crazy person, and she probably shouldn’t even be listening to him.
"Yes, you do," he smiled. "It’s okay, you know. To feel – disconnected. Being a part of – of that
– well, gotta be a shock to the system coming back here. But being here’s pretty cool, too." He glanced away, smiling at a young mother as she walked past with a toddler in tow. The young mother smiled back, blushed, and hurried away. Buffy stared after her. "Don’t you think?"
"I don’t know what
to think," she admitted bleakly. "I don’t know how to get from one moment to the next."
"Ah," he registered. "When I said disconnected …
" He paused to look at her with understanding sympathy. "Hard journey, huh?"
She nodded, wondering why it mattered. Why he’d be so concerned, and why she even cared. It was so hard
to care. So hard to do anything, when everything was so – harsh, and pointless, and took so much effort.
"That sucks," he said. "But – you know? It’s just a matter of perspective. Glass half empty, glass half full … You’re not there
, but you are here – and there are a lot worse places to be, believe me."
care," she muttered, then grimaced at the bitterness in the remark. That really wasn’t very fair. Maybe he did care. Maybe it mattered to him, even if it didn’t matter to her. After all, she didn’t know this guy from Adam …
He grinned at the sudden, reluctant twist of her smile, the twinkle in his eyes coaxing it to take on a little more life, a little more certainty. She wanted to resist and couldn’t – so she laughed despite herself. Laughed at the joke he couldn’t possibly
"That’s better," he teased, reaching gentle fingers to brush a stray lock away from her face. His touch was startling, and she jerked away with a gasp. "Sorry," he offered immediately, retrieving his hand and holding both up so that she could see them. "Didn’t mean to – "
"It’s okay," Buffy sighed. "I just don’t – I don’t like to be touched. By anyone." She shivered at the admission. The people who touched her were her friends; they held her, hugged her, tried to comfort her, and they didn’t know, couldn’t
know how difficult that made her existence. Touching meant feeling
– and feeling was something she was trying to avoid.
"Yeah," he snorted. "Right
. Buffy – the one thing you need
right now is to be touched. And you’ve got this – wall – " His hands went out in explanation. "- between you and everything else. So nothing can. Touch you, that is. You can’t stay behind it forever. It’ll feel
like forever if you do."
"Do you ever
make any sense?" she asked, staring at him with sudden challenge. Actually, he was making a great deal of sense, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to hear it. There was comfort in her sense of misery. As long as she was submersed in it, she didn’t have to face the effort it cost climbing out – and since there didn’t seem to be anything to climb out for
, staying submersed seemed a sensible thing to do.
"Made sense to me," he protested, looking a little hurt. Buffy frowned at him, trying to decide if she should just get up and walk away. She didn’t know him, and she certainly didn’t have to sit and share his company. But something kept her sitting there. It might
have been the look. It was an utterly irresistible one – all little boy pout and wounded feelings.
makes sense to me," she retorted. "And I really don’t know what you’re talking about. My
glass isn’t half empty. It’s totally empty. Nothing in it. Nothing left."There
. That was the truth of it – the truth she’d shared with Spike, knowing it would pierce him to whatever a vampire had in place of a soul. She’d been in heaven, and now she was in hell – and she’d wanted him to know, because he would understand – and suffer with it. The way she suffered.
The way she couldn’t hurt her friends …
The stranger sighed softly, reaching to enfold her hand with one of his own. This time she didn’t jump. She didn’t pull away, either. "That’s not true," he said. "And deep down – you know it isn’t. You never lose the Light. Once it’s touched your heart, it becomes a part of you. You were there
, Buffy. No-one can ever take that away from you."
"But they did
," she protested, finding a voice for the hurt that gnawed at her. "That’s exactly what they did. They thought they were doing me a favour
. And I was done, and I was at peace, and I now I’m here. And it hurts," she concluded plaintively. "Living hurts
He smiled softly, shaking his head with quiet sympathy. His hand tightened on hers – the barest squeeze and she looked up to meet his eyes. He looked back with comprehending empathy.
"Sometimes it’s meant to," he said gently. "That’s one of the ways you know that you’re alive."
She sat there for a long moment, staring at him. "You don’t understand," she said at last. "‘My best friend brought me back from the dead."
"Yeah," he grinned "That’s about how it was with me …"
"You?" He nodded, a happy you’d better believe it
smile wreathing his lips.
"Mmhuh. Several times, actually. But that last time – well, that was – pretty intense. We were saving the world – as usual. He couldn’t hold onto me. He felt – responsible. It broke his heart. Shattered his soul. Sometimes," he confided thoughtfully, "the one that goes has the easier journey. It’s the ones we leave behind that endure the pain."
She nodded, understanding what he meant. It had been easy for her – easy to give up her life, not just because she’d known it was right, but because it had meant it was over.
All the struggle and the pain, and the effort, and the need to carry on … all the things she’d come back to. The things she’d thought she’d left behind.
"I knew they were safe," she said. "I knew everything would be alright. But now everything’s so wrong.
Was the hole I left behind so deep, so unbearable, that they could do this
best friend – well, he was meant to be
something – but without me, he just couldn’t face it. It didn't mean anything. He pretended he got over it, but he was just going through the motions really. That’s why I had to come back. Look - a part of you had to know there was something – left undone. Something you couldn’t leave behind. Because no-one leaves the Light if they don’t want to. It’s not something anyone can make you do. Not unless the Light itself casts you out – and I don’t think that was true in your case."Not unless …
She looked at him with sudden suspicion. "How about yours?"
"Me?" He shrugged. "I walked out. I knew the risk – took it anyway."
"So what - ?"
"Happened? Well, I helped save the world again – got myself exiled for my sins. I defied the powers. Disobeyed the law." He shrugged a second time, as if it was no big deal. "There had to be some comeback for it." He grinned. "Got promoted though. And
I found myself right where I wanted to be. I’ll go back - someday. When I need too …"
She heard the sudden catch in his voice. "You miss it."
"Every day. Who wouldn’t? But I belong here
– and so do you. You know you do."People need me …
She was the Slayer. She had a destiny. A destiny she thought
she’d fufilled. But perhaps she hadn’t. Not yet. And Dawn and Willow, Xander, and Giles – they
all needed her, as much as she’d always needed them.
"Maybe,"she answered, reluctant to admit it, however true it might be. "It’s just so hard
He let go of her hand, giving it a comforting pat as he did so. "S’what makes it fun," he said with a wink, giving her a smile that lit up his whole face. Even his eyes were laughing – with joy, not mockery. "You’ll see. See you around?"
He was standing up to go; Buffy nearly reached to pull him back, then settled for a brave smile instead. "I might," she allowed. For some reason she felt much better than she had before – and the sun finally had a ripple of warmth behind it’s caress. "But I don’t come out much in the day. The people I work with – don’t like too much light."
He laughed. "Their loss," he said. "But you never know. My friend and I – well, we turn up where we’re needed. Take care of yourself, Buffy. You’re special."
He gave her an encouraging wave, stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled away, whistling. It wasn’t a tune she recognised, but it had a jaunty air to it. She watched him go, a part of her admiring the way he walked – so casually and yet so confidently. His easy, balanced stride suggested martial arts training, or something of that ilk. He certainly looked as if he knew how to take care of himself in a fight. When he reached the corner of the path he paused, glancing back in her direction. She gave him a little wave of her own, then pulled her hand down and look around in embarrassment. Waving at strange men in the park. Whatever would her mother say?