Rating: PG-13 (no worse than on the show, but a little racy...)
Summary: The scoobies try to fix what's wrong with Buffy. AU, finished!!
Distribution: Wherever, just ask first. These will be archived with the rest at http://www.geocities.com/cxyzjacobs/btvsfic/chrisindex.html
Author's note: Special thanks to Zola for help in rewriting the pieces of the ritual preparation and to MW for late night wonderful beta'ing.
Part Eight: Reconstruction
She placed and lit a candle at each intersection of the triangle with the outer circle, saying another blessing as each wick caught flame. Once all the candles were burning steadily, she called the others to take their places.
Dawn helped a nearly catatonic Buffy to the inner circle, putting an arm around her sister to keep her upright. Xander took up a position at the bottom of the triangle to the left, while Anya stood opposite him on the right.
Tara handed each an intricately drawn Tarot card and took her place at the top of the triangle. "Dawn," she said, "your part is first. Remember to leave the circle as *soon* as you're finished - there's danger if you stay too near her during the ritual. The energies raised by the portal will hold her up if she can't stand on her own."
Dawn raised eyes dark with fear and worry to Tara's, and with a resolute jut of her chin said, "I'm ready." At Tara's nod, she lit the candle she was holding and set it on the disc. Placing her card in Buffy's hand, she spoke: "I come as manus, twin, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," and quickly walked out of the circle, over to where Willow and Spike were watching intently.
In turn, each of the others held up a card. "I come as Ka, heart, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," Xander intoned.
Next was Anya's turn. "I come as Ba, mind, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," she said, her voice shaking a little.
"I come as Akh, spirit, seeking the knowledge and healing of Merkabus," Tara finished. As they held their cards toward the center where Buffy stood erect and alone, she continued, "Isis, divine mother of all things, we call upon you to open the portal - admit this newly reborn daughter of eternity to seek healing from beyond." She completed the summoning with a final word. "Manifestus"
-- -- -- -- -- --
Answering an urgent summons from deep within her gut, Buffy groggily shook herself awake into the dark mists. “Again with the darkness,” she said aloud. “All right. I know you’re here this time. Come out come out wherever you are!”
The familiar voice spoke from the darkness, seeming to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time: “The time for games is past. Your final test is at hand, and should you fail, you may not return to being. Make your choice. Follow the path to your gift - if you can. Remember my words to you once before…Love. Give. Forgive. It is within you, if you but allow it.”
A loud boom reverberated through her head, and striations of light and color began to break up the darkness, illuminating a broken pathway forward. Buffy remained still for a moment, recalling all that Tara and Willow had told her about the problems she faced. Screwing up her courage, she stood, and with a last glance around, moved forward on the path toward what looked like a shining hole in the dark.
-- -- -- -- -- --
A bright light streamed from the disc in the training room, forming three pillars of light around Buffy's standing figure, twining together above and beneath her center to form two conical whirls of light, like mirrored tornados touching tips near her solar plexus. Two strands of the light flared ever brighter, taking on vivid red and yellow hues, but the third seemed to falter at a pale, pale blue. A wind with no apparent source whipped through the room as Tara leaned in to whisper to Xander, "You have to concentrate. She needs the strength of her heart to succeed in the journey beyond."
"I'm trying," said Xander through gritted teeth, "but there's a force - something won't let me hold on."
-- -- -- -- -- --
When she reached the blindingly bright hole, she stopped, realizing she had no weapons with which to protect herself. The First Slayer could be waiting for her on the other side, ready to leap. No point in wasting worry on it now, though. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to step through, into the light.
An unseen barrier blocked her path, and Buffy felt her strength waning. Unwilling to give up yet, she tried to walk around the barrier, but found translucent barriers of yellow and red light blocking the pathway. A light blue glow appeared around the opening briefly, but flickered in and out, stealing her resolve and energy with every blink. Impotent to change things, Buffy pounded her fists against the invisible wall, sinking to the ground as the unseen force drained her strength.
-- -- -- -- -- --
The ribbon of pale blue light began to separate from the others, winding its way across the room. It seemed to be following some unseen path in the direction of Willow and Spike.
"Aaaaaaauuuuuugggh," moaned Spike as he involuntarily leaned forward into the path of the light. He held his head in both hands, as if he were in pain. "Bloody hell!"
The strand of light flared from pale blue to brilliant royal purple as it connected with Spike's body and instantly he slumped to the ground, apparently unconscious.
-- -- -- -- -- --
The barrier suddenly gave way, tumbling Buffy forward into the light as a word echoed through the space between: “Heart.” The scenery changed dramatically with her passage through the gateway and Buffy knew that the warrior beast would not be in this place. The path of lights remained before her, winding through a forest glen filled with sunlight and shadows towards a large black opening on the far end. Wide expanses of green grass and wildflowers called to mind a fairy tale, leading Buffy to expect fawns frolicking with rabbits among the trees. It would be easy to stay in this place of beauty and peace. A sudden movement to her left broke her reverie, and she turned to see what moved in this woodland paradise.
Just beyond the grove, she could see a figure coming towards her. Without thought for the path or her mission, she moved to the figure, drawn to something she recognized in its motion. As she approached the willows, she heard the tinkling of water flowing over stones. Sunlight sparkled in the background, and she discovered that the figure was no more easily seen up close than from a distance. A sense of intense longing gripped her as she neared the misty form, now clearly visible as a man, not a beast. She could not see his face, but was drawn nearer still as she reached a hand to touch the misty outline. A warmth spread from her stomach outward, suffusing her with pleasure unlike any she’d known before. Surely this was where she was meant to be.
His words should have been jarring, unexpected, but when Buffy heard the softly spoken, “Welcome back, love,” she realized she’d anticipated them with joy. A thousand images flitted through her mind, awe and love lighting her face in ways unimaginable. Moving closer still, she held her breath as the misty figure invaded her being, soaked into every pore and pulse of her living form, completed her.
The memories flooded back, memories of a love forgotten, torn away by the violence of resurrection and rebirth. This is where she’d been, a conscious portion of her mind remarked. Here, with him. For that nearly endless summer he was hers and she his. In this place of love and contentment, they’d spent unending days and nights embracing one another-- loving the way only twin parts of a single being could. She remembered her arrival now, the greetings of the guide, the explanation of the universal wholeness sought by every soul seeking its perfect opposite, the darkness within the light and the light within the dark. She recalled the wondering recognition of her opposite in the soul which languished through decades, waiting for the arrival of its third part, as well as for her, the light of its essential darkness. Decades which, though long, were shorter than the several lifetimes it would have taken if not for her untimely death and his predestined descent.
Sinking down onto the mossy ground beneath a large willow, Buffy closed her eyes, trying to deepen the connection, yearning for the communication and completion her memories told her was possible. Frustration gathered as she reached but could not touch, spoke but remained unheard. Something was…wrong. She opened her eyes at the realization, seeing the shimmering form once again in front of her. The sadness emanating from the glowing figure was tangible as he said the words she most feared to hear: “You cannot stay. I am but two parts of a whole - the third, belonging to you, drew us together when last you came to this land. But with you, it returned to the living, and we may not be together without it. You must go now - for love. He is waiting, and he cannot win the battle without you. Remember.”
She sat motionless, staring sightlessly at the bubbling brook. “I’ll remember,” Buffy said softly as his image faded to nothingness. A single tear made its way down her cheek, glistening against her pale skin. No more tears, she thought. Determination returned with the strength of memories, and she stood up to face the path once more. The distance seemed short, but every step along the glittering path of lights was a chore as she worked her way towards the ominous circle of darkness at its end. Instinct urged her to turn around, to take a last look at paradise lost, but the memory of love carried her resolutely into the dark portal.
-- -- -- -- -- --
“Oh no!” Tara exclaimed, upon seeing what the lights had done to Spike. “We have to get him into the circle. Hurry! Willow, you and Dawn have to get him to the heart point of the circle right away. We could lose them both…”
Xander’s face fell as he absorbed the message of the lights, confronted with replacement by one he held in such contempt. Spike was taking his place in Buffy’s inner circle. The rejection he’d always feared from Buffy was staring him in the face, indisputable in its meaning: she needed Spike. A soulless vampire was more in tune with her heart than he would ever be.
The moment that Spike’s body reached the tip of the triangle, the wave of purple joined with the rest of the lights swirling around Buffy in a complex dance against a background of interior darkness. Sparking light and color in snaky swirls lifted the slayer’s body until it was suspended in the air, precisely between the two tornadoes of light and color, anchoring the dark thread that wove itself around the whirlwind’s interior. Regardless of the state of his consciousness, it was obvious that Spike’s presence answered the ritual’s demands. A mystical calm descended outside the circle, the whipping energies now contained as intended.
Xander withdrew from the circle, mesmerized by the dance of energy from Tara, Anya, and Spike. His eyes met Willows in a mute understanding of her pain - each loved Buffy dearly, but because of choices made unthinkingly, was helpless to assist in healing her wounds. They were paying the consequences of selfish acts and in a most painful way - separation. Giles had recognized the price and paid it willingly. At last, accepting their impotence, the two sank back against the wall to watch, and to pray that the new inner circle would be able to rectify the mistakes of the old.
-- -- -- -- -- --
As she passed through the second gateway, Buffy struggled against an emotional onslaught. Remembrance of life before she jumped from the tower flitted through her mind and mixed with flashes of pure contentment and unending rage at having been ripped from her rest. The distance to the other side of the gateway seemed interminable, every millisecond reminding her of all that she’d lost, all that she’d forgotten. The echoes of familiar voices seemed to bounce inside her skull as she walked through nothingness into the dark, chanting: “Mind”. Reaching the other side and feeling solid ground beneath her feet, Buffy collapsed in a heap, sobbing.
She was again surrounded by darkness, but a bright moonlight shone against the mists. Her path gleamed ahead, twinkling lights of red, yellow and purple highlighted against the darkened earth. She closed her eyes, but knew she was not alone -- he was here, waiting. How would she face him, with the memories so close at hand? Shame engulfed her as the litany in her head named every kindness and generosity, each drop of loyalty and love he’d shown her - both before she jumped, and after her return. “Give,” the voice whispered through her mind.
Could it be as simple as that? Was giving all that a return of rationality demanded? She choked back laughter at her own thoughts -- *all*. Giving entailed receiving. It was no small thing this dimension asked of her. To strip away the layers of protection, to give up the walls she’d so carefully built to keep reality at bay. To admit once and for all that she’d been wrong, that she needed him.
Buffy jerked and shivered when his hand touched her shoulder as it had so many times. “Slayer,” he said quietly. “You rang?”
She tipped a tear-stained face upward to face the source of her terror, her opposite self. Silently, he reached out with a thumb to wipe the wetness from her cheek. His eyes, so deeply blue they were almost the color of the night surrounding them, locked onto hers, questioning - demanding answers.
“You’re here,” she breathed. “Really here?”
His hand dropped from her face into the deep pockets of his coat. A quizzical expression entered his eyes as he replied, “I’ve told you before, and I’ll say it again. I love you. I know it’s wrong, but neither heaven nor hell will keep me from watching your back. If you call me, I’ll come. Why *did* you call me here, Buffy? Do you need help finding that bloody warrior beast the witch was yammering about?”
She stood and turned her body to face him directly. Looking him straight in the eyes, she reached out to touch his cheek. “I think you’re here for this,” she said, then stood on tiptoe to kiss him gently on the lips. “I love you, Spike.”
He pulled back from her touch involuntarily. The play of emotions across his face was remarkable - first astonishment, then joy. Then sadness, a deep, abiding sadness expressed in a small, tender smile. “Ah, luv. If you only knew in how many of my dreams I’ve heard you say that very thing. For it to come now, after all this time. . . it might be more than what’s left of my heart can take. You must know it can’t be. This, here - it’s all we’ll ever have. I can’t go back, can’t stay in Sunnydale. This thing with you - it’s disabled the chip.”
Panic, followed by an eerie calm, invaded Buffy at his pronouncement. “Remember,” he’d said. “Give,” the voice had advised. She knew what she had to do. Closing the space between them, she lifted one arm over his shoulder and wound the other tightly against his waist. She lay her head on his shoulder, taking in the spice of his scent; she watched his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed jerkily. She gave him her trust.
Uncomprehending at first, Spike simply stared at the small, soft figure plastered to his chest. His eyes traveled from the shining blond hair, to the crest of her jaw line, and down the graceful curve of her neck. When they landed on the tiny pulse leaping just beneath the tip of that stubborn chin, it hit him what she was offering, what he’d never believed possible.
“You can’t leave me, Spike. I need you too much. Do what you have to now - here, where no one will stand in the way.” Buffy repressed the fear rising in her heart, willing with all her being that she was not wrong about this man - her vampire. Her demon half.
In the next instant, she knew. Her body thrilled to the knowledge as his lips touched her neck lightly, caressing the sensitive skin at the base of her throat, moving sensuously up to press the tip of his tongue into the pulse just behind her ear, his hand drawing slow, lazy circles at the base of her neck as he nuzzled the sweet silk of her hair. The low growl came next, as he pulled her into a full upright position and claimed her mouth with his own. “I will never,” he breathed as he crushed her so tightly against his body that the very air left the space between them, “turn you. One of us has to live.” For a moment, or an eternity - neither of them would ever know -- they stayed that way, locked in an embrace that was meant to be.
Then, before she realized it, he was gone - vanished into thin air. Surprise was uppermost in her mind, but with bone-certainty, she knew he’d be back. When she finished her tasks. Her rationality had returned, and she was able to think more clearly now than she had in many, many months. Only one gateway remained, bound to be the most difficult yet. Swinging her arms and humming a sprightly tune, Buffy headed for the bright spot at the end of the moonlit path. This would be the confrontation she’d been waiting for, a confrontation that she knew had to be with herself, the Slayer. And now she had the weapons with which to win her spirit free. Resolutely, Buffy took the last step into the abyss.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Weariness built lines of tension in both Tara and Anya’s faces as the light battled with darkness in the circle’s center. Determination won out in the end, and the fierce struggle began to abate. Staring with unseeing eyes, Tara and Anya missed the moment when it started to change, but Dawn could see it all from her viewpoint outside the circle. Against all expectation, the light was not achieving dominion over the darkness. Instead, what was happening was a melding of the two, the give and take of light and dark, pulsing through the whirlwinds.
The patterns slowed to an orderly beat around Buffy, and Dawn gasped as Spike begin to stir. He shook his head from side to side, then, realizing his position, he rose slowly to his feet. Dawn couldn’t put her finger on it, exactly, but something had changed. She pressed her hands to her lips in anticipation, worry warring with excitement in her face. The atmosphere became charged with electricity again, promising a climax to the ritual in the near future.
Willow and Xander seemed to sense the difference as well, moving to stand on either side of Dawn, waiting with tense anticipation and yelping their surprise as Tara collapsed in a heap on the floor, followed immediately by Anya. At the same moment that Xander dove to gather Anya into his arms, Willow rushed forward, unthinking, and cradled Tara’s head in her arms. Dawn stood rooted to her spot, trembling in horror.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Stepping into the final gateway, Buffy prepared herself for the relentless attack she knew would come. Images of Willow, performing the spell, dragging her back into a closed grave; Xander - running away at every turn, diving into sarcasm and food as an escape from guilt; Dawn, abandoned, screaming her rage at the world. Buffy held tightly to the knowledge and love she’d gained in her journey and let go of the anger and rage she’d been holding onto so dearly. The images continued, searing moments of misery, heated rage, and violent sex onto the surface of her brain. The guilt of having left them nearly overwhelmed her, as she struggled to reach the other side of the chasm.
In a moment of clarity, she realized what she had been missing all along. Not one of them held her responsible - they’d forgiven her almost before she’d left them. Forgiveness. As the truth dawned on her, as she let go, bit by tiny bit, of the crushing guilt that was so strong it was nearly a living entity inside her mind, she reached the other side. She crossed out of the final gateway keeping time with a voice breathing, “Spirit,” into the wind.
A wide desert landscape greeted her entrance into the realm. She took a step forward in the sand and gathered her strength about her. Standing tall, not wanting to waste a moment, she called out to her other, “I’m here. Let’s do this. Now.”
“I am surprised,” came the hissing whisper from a dune to the east. The dread-locked warrior walked with cat-like grace toward where Buffy stood. “You came more quickly than I’d thought. But do you know what you must do now?” questioned the beast.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Buffy stepped forward. Chin held high, she faced her ancestor head on and replied, “I do.”
“You know what you give up?” the dark-skinned female queried as she crouched and circled slowly around her adversary.
“Anger? Fear? Guilt? Oooh! Oooh! I know: season passes to Water World? Bad hair or not, you don’t scare me. Death is my gift. Yada yada yada. We going to talk about it all day, or get right to business?”
“Foolish child, do you think it is that simple? You will not die. Nor will I - together, we will live on, forever.” With that, the First Slayer dove at Buffy, dragging her to the ground with a fierce pull. The energy surrounding them came alive as they battled, sending blinding flashes of light streaking across the wide blue skies. Thunder clapped, and the lightening raged on as the two halves, light and dark, struggled against one another in a search for supremacy - existence.
Then, as suddenly as it began, it was over. The storm seemed to withdraw in upon itself, and quiet descended over the horizon. A lone woman lay sprawled on the sand, arms spread wide, head hung to the side, feet limp but together at the ends of outstretched legs.
Continued in Part Nine: Isomorphic