Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me. They are the product of their respective owners.
Weary from the long night, Buffy collapsed onto her bed. She did not bother to remove her clothes or pull back the blankets, but closed her eyes and waited for sleep to claim her. Her muscles were tight and sore from slaying, and her mind was hazy from the lack of sleep. She did not sleep much these days. How could she, when her dreams were a reminder of the sweet oblivion from which she had been wrenched?
She shifted her position and groaned when her weight was placed on her right hip. She had forgotten about her injury, and knew that if she didn’t clean it up tonight the blood would stain the bed. But she could not summon the energy to move, so she moved onto her back so the blood would not dirty the blanket.
Injuries were becoming a regular occurrence these days. More than not she had returned sporting broken bones, deep cuts, or nasty looking bruises. It wasn’t that her proficiency had slipped. Her years of experience had given her more than enough skill to easily dispatch a group of vampires. No, she was more than capable to take care of herself. It was more that she didn’t care if she got hurt of not. What difference would it make? Her mind had become rather twisted; sometimes she even allowed her antagonist to hit her, or purposely placed herself in the way of a weapon.
Buffy was not trying to get herself killed. No, it was more the pain which she had begun to crave. The burning of metal on her skin gave her fire. The sudden shock of a fist hitting her face excited her. The uncertainty of whether she would live or die from fighting gave her a rush of adrenaline that she didn’t normally feel anymore. And if she died… well, maybe she could finally rest again.
Tonight had been a particularly busy night for her. Every graveyard she visited had revealed another vampire or demon for her to slay, or whet her desire for pain. One after another her foes has fallen before her, the numbers melting together until, suddenly overcome with fatigue, Buffy had decided to stop for the night. With every setting of the sun hundreds of soulless creatures fell, and with every sunrise a piece of her soul dimmed.
What was the point anymore? She woke up, went to work, came home, patrolled, went to sleep, and repeated the whole process the next day. She could not remember how long ago she had come back to life. The days had turned into weeks and the weeks into months. She wondered what the last thing she had done for fun had been. Unsurprisingly, nothing came to mind.
Her friends knew, yet they did nothing to comfort her. The frustration she felt over their fake cheerfulness hounded her. All she wanted was for someone to tell her the truth. She wanted someone to yell at her, slap her, and tell her she was making everyone miserable. That way, she would have an excuse to leave.
She had contemplated the idea of packing her bags and leaving. The thought of going anywhere and doing anything she pleased was constantly at the back of her mind. To be able to have the whole world at her feet, with no slaying or fake smiles or pretending to be happy, was something she dreamed about. But she always snapped back to reality when she woke, and she knew that the only thing that lay before her feet was hours of serving customers greasy fast food.
It was enough to make tears fall from her eyes as she thought about it, lying on her back, dirty and hurt from slaying. Exhausted and angry, she pushed the thoughts away and emptied her mind. She prayed for sleep, and soon enough she was welcomed into the dark oblivion of slumber.
Buffy opened her eyes and saw that she was surrounded by dense foliage. Trees taller than she had ever seen before towered impossibly high above her, and plants she had never seen before littered the ground around her feet. She saw that the sky was blue, broken by a scattering of clouds, and the sun was high and bright. She sniffed, suddenly aware of the purity and clarity of the air. She could smell the scent of damp forestry and the faint smell of smoke. Unlike the smoke from the fireplace at home, this smoke seemed…almost natural. Perking her ears she could hear the soothing sound of flowing water nearby.
The serenity of the moment was broken by a sudden shout. She was alert immediately, ready in a fighting stance.
“Halt! Halt! Who rides in Rohan?”
It was only then that she realized the unsteady ground was not due to her confusion, but caused by many horses thundering this way. Curiously, she slipped through the trees towards the voice. She thought it better to stay hidden, where she had the element of surprise if she needed to fight. But when she peered out from behind a tree, she was shocked to see the riders only a few feet away.
One rider stood ahead of the others, and Buffy was instantly drawn to him. Not sure of how long her dream would last, for she was certain that she was definitely dreaming, she absorbed every detail. He sat atop his steed, head held high, and she could sense something regal with the way his chin stuck out. He sat tall in the saddle, proud and straight, but it looked to be more of a show in front of the other riders.
Accented words were passed between the two companies, but she was concentrating on this man. For some reason, she knew he was the reason she was here. There was something…familiar about him that drew her to him. It wasn’t until he suddenly exclaimed, “And you have found him also!” that she realized what it was.
Although his posture had been straight, his shoulders had been slumped slightly, as though a great weight was pressing down on them. This man had something which he did not want. Buffy could not tell whether it was responsibility, or possibly guilt, but she found she could empathize with him. He too had had something thrust upon him, and he would have to deal with everything that was thrown at him. She did not know the sincerity of her impromptu portrayal of this man until he turned his head and looked straight at her.
His eyes were eyes that had seen things which most people only had nightmares of. He had been places that terrified him, done things which haunted him, and seen things which would remain with him forever. Those were eyes of a person who had seen centuries of pain and suffering, or horror and death, and lived through it all. The nakedness in his eyes told her of the expectations placed on him, and for the first time since waking in her coffin, Buffy felt sympathy. She was sympathetic for this man, who she did not know, because one day he would have to stand up and lead his friends into battle.
Buffy stumbled back at the intensity of his gaze, despite knowing that he could not see her. She did not know how she knew these things. She just knew that she was right.
Suddenly unsure of herself or what she was doing, Buffy turned and ran into the forest, dashing past trees and ducking under low-hanging branches, until she skidded to a halt in front of a small river. She dropped to her knees on the bank, not caring that her hands and knees were actually in the water. She closed her eyes and was drawn into another time and place. When she opened her eyes again, she stood concealed behind a stone pillar.
The same man sat calmly in his seat as a rugged, fair man stood and spoke.
“And who are you, and what have you to do with Minas Tirith?”
A man stood suddenly, and Buffy saw the power and knowledge within his eyes. His long brown hair reached down his back, and his ears, she noted with surprise, were pointed.
“He is Aragorn son of Arathorn,” he said; “and he is descended through many fathers from Isildur Elendil’s son of Minas Ithil.”
She finally had a name for the man, and for some reason which she did not know the revelation sent shock and respect through her. This man was important, and the responsibility that came with his importance was already weighing him down.
The story became clear as she saw in her mind Isildur, all those years ago, fail to destroy the ring in the fires. She now understood why Aragorn’s eyes held that haunted look. His ancestor doomed these people with his weakness, and now Aragorn was faced with the challenge to right the wrong done by his blood.
Another few minutes passed with conversation that she did not understand, but then a small child stood and walked forward. She saw that he was not a child, but a man who stood at only four feet. He placed something on a circular table and stood back. Fear shot through her when she saw the ring. Her spider-sense was going wild; this tiny object held more evil than anything she had faced. She was afraid of something she had never seen before and knew nothing about, and that fact chilled her blood. She closed her eyes.
And opened them. Aragorn stood at the front of a large ship, leading a whole fleet up a river. She stood beside him as they hoisted a flag above them, and then saw where the ship was heading. The whole expanse of land was covered in a fierce war. Ugly beasts fought against men, some of which had the same pointy ears as the other man. It raged, and once the fighters saw the fleet upon which she stood there was a deafening roar of victory from the men. A shout floated on the wind to Buffy’s ears.
“It is Aragorn! He comes, and in my heart hope rejoices!”
Again Buffy closed her eyes and reopened them. Aragorn knelt before the tiny man who she had seen before, and a glistening crown was placed upon his head. He stood tall, and though his eyes still bore the haunting which would remain with him forever, he was content, and had hope for the future.
“There is always hope.”
She whirled around, trying to find who spoke, but there was no one. She was alone.
The King began to fade, blurring at the edges, and she allowed herself to be drawn back into the darkness.
When she woke the next morning she remembered the dream, and pondered what it meant. She thought about it at breakfast, where she prepared toast for Dawn, and at work, which passed quickly. She thought about it as she walked home from work and when Xander came to visit, and also during patrol. For the first time in months, she found herself slaying quickly and ruthlessly, not even thinking about playing with her opponents. She returned earlier than she usually did and after watching a few shows on television with Dawn, she went to bed.
After falling asleep, Buffy found herself standing above a cot where a tiny baby kicked playfully. There was a agonized bellow from somewhere below and a frantic woman burst into the room. She moved to grab the baby but another figure followed her. His snakelike features made Buffy feel ill. He, like the ring, was evil. Without hesitating he pointed a wooden stick at the woman. There was a flash of green light and she fell.
She screamed as she hit the floor, calling to her son. “Harry!”
The dark figure approached the cot and Buffy jumped in front of it to protect the child. He simply walked through her and leaned to look at the baby. She stared in horror as he pointed the wand at the baby, and cried out when the green light erupted from the end. The baby cried as the spell was deflected back into its creator. The robed figure screamed as the green light surrounded him, and he disappeared with a flash of smoke. Slowly, Buffy moved forward to stare at the little boy. He fell asleep as she stared at the lightning scar across his forehead. Then she closed her eyes.
When she opened them she found herself in a small house. A skinny boy with messy black hair, who she instantly knew as the baby from the scar, stood passively as a plump man with a huge girth yelled at him. The man’s face was going red as he shouted and a woman, who Buffy assumed was his wife, stood beside him, looking down her nose at the boy. Their son, whom Buffy knew by comparing him to the father, smirked smugly at the kitchen table, shoving bacon and eggs down his throat.
Harry glanced to the window, and she saw the misery radiating through his eyes. She closed her eyes.
She opened them to find herself standing in the doorway of a train carriage. A red-haired boy was staring at Harry in wonder.
“Are you really Harry Potter?” he asked.
She finally understood why this boy was special. He had destroyed a terrible evil as a baby, had been thrown onto a pedestal of glory, and worshipped for something he had not meant to do. People looked to him as a hero, and he could never be the normal boy Buffy knew he wished for. Well, he did not wish to be normal exactly- he loved being a wizard. But he did not enjoy being a famous wizard. And the expectations of being the person they saw him as weighed heavily on his eleven-year-old shoulders.
Buffy was taken to another scene where she found herself in a dungeon. Harry sat beside the redhead, a quill in his hand, scribbling something in ink onto a parchment. The sleazy teacher pushed his oily black hair away from his face as he read the roll, pausing when he reached Harry’s name. He looked up and glared at him.
“Ah, yes,” he murmured. “Harry Potter. Our new- celebrity.”
There were a few sniggers and Harry sunk lower into his seat. Throughout the class Harry was constantly picked on, whether he was right or not, and Buffy felt anger surge through her at the injustice. Again she closed her eyes and when she opened them she was in a huge cavern.
Harry was forced to the ground by one of his professors, which she saw, was in fact the evil he had defeated as a baby. The disfigured face on the back of the professor’s head chilled her blood as it had the first time she saw him. He grabbed at the boy and Buffy stepped forward to shout. They took no notice of her. When the professor touched Harry, his flesh burned, and Buffy saw the aura of his mother’s love protecting him. Her mother’s face jumped into her mind, and she saw her hit Spike over the head, protecting her with a fierceness only a mother could possess. This boy, only eleven, had lost his mother and father as well, and he too had to face evil most people could not comprehend. She felt an affinity with Harry, as she had with Aragorn.
The next scene she was suspended in mid air and her heart began to beat faster as she saw how high up she was.
Harry was hanging onto his broom for dear life. It seemed to have a life of its own, and it was determined to shake Harry off, plummeting him to the ground forty feet below. Suddenly, it stopped, and he climbed back on to the relief of the crowd. Instead of catching his breath, Harry began to dive towards the ground, chasing something that Buffy could not see. She knew it was important to him as he nose-dived, and felt the spectators watch with baited breath. She looked up and saw a transparent man standing beside her, watching Harry fondly. It was his father, she realized, and turned back to watch Harry nearly swallow the golden snitch. The crowd went wild, and she turned to see his father’s reaction. There was no one there. She was alone.
“No one is ever truly alone. Hope will always be there.”
The voice echoed around her, but she didn’t bother to search for its source. She knew she would not find it. As Harry’s happy face faded from view, Buffy sighed. It was time to wake up.
When she did wake up, this time in her pajamas and under the covers, she came to a decision. She got up and went downstairs to the phone. She quickly dialed a number and told work that she was ill and could not make it. Dawn watched her suspiciously.
“Are you sick?” she asked softly.
Buffy shook her head and dialed another number.
“Yes, I’m Buffy Summers, guardian of Dawn. She’s sick today so she won’t be making it to school.” She replaced the phone on the cradle and turned to find her stunned sister watching her. Buffy walked past her and began to take food out of the cupboards and placing them into a bag.
“What are you doing?” Dawn asked.
“Packing food,” she replied. “Oh, and call Xander and Anya and then Willow and Tara, would you?”
“Because we’re all going on a picnic,” Buffy replied.
“Are you insane?” Dawn asked.
Buffy turned her face towards the window, where the sun was shining brightly in the sky. She smiled.
“No,” she murmured. “I’m alive.”