Word To The Wise

Author: Lori Bush <lwbush[at]charter.net>

"Words" Series, #2

Disclaimer: Joss Whedon, etc. owns Buffy. You know the routine.

Summary: Buffy POV on the current events.

Pairing: A/X, B/S - sort of.

Rated: PG-13

Continuity: Through "Once More, With Feeling" plus slight spoilers of what's next.

Author's Notes: Okay, I was in a dark mood, and even a little angry. I still love the show, but I do feel like there's a pit being dug from which there is no way out. I could more easily envision Buffy's return from death than I can her coming back from the depths to which she's currently sinking. This is the follow up to my original knee-jerk reaction piece.

This is the sequel to "Famous Last Words." It might not make a lot of sense if you haven't read that one, since some things that aren't exactly fleshed out here are explained there. The next story is still under construction.

Dedication: To Jen (Saturn Girl) at the Dead Xander list, 'cos she got me thinking about it in the first place. And Saffi, since he asked nicely.

When I told Spike, right after I'd returned from the dead, that this was hell, I didn't know the half of it. Things were better then.

Since then the gang managed to find out that they'd taken me from heaven, and each of them reacted badly. Giles ran. He turned tail and left, went back to England, dumped me on my ass and told me it was for my own good. And he didn't even take part in the spell that brought me back. Maybe he felt guilty for not figuring out what they were doing, and stopping them.

Dawn got arrested for shoplifting last week. I managed to get her released, but we have to be in court in a month or so. She was sullen and hostile, and I don't think we've spoken six words since she got home from the police station. And, you know, I do care, but I have no idea how to deal with it, so I haven't made a whole lot of effort. My bad, I guess.

Willow's gotten scary. She's all bitchy and domineering with Tara, and Tara looks afraid all the time. I think she's used some kind of threat to keep her in line, to keep her from leaving. I can see it in Tara's eyes, though - she wants to bolt and run. She nearly did, too, I think, before the news about Xander. Since then, her expression has been haunted, and she's been even paler than usual. I wonder what Willow said or did to make her like that.

Xander. Oh, God. I still can't even think his name without going colder still. I was the one who found him, you know. Or what was left of him. His body was chained to the table in his apartment, bits of him removed and scattered around the place. I threw up, and I don't have a weak stomach. But, dear God, it was so horrible. There was no sign of Anya, and no one has heard from her since.

Before he died, I could see that he was taking it hard. Somehow he regretted his happiness with Anya, like he wasn't due that, if I was suffering. That's Xander for you - he feels everything more than the rest of us, of them, then he does his best to hide it. I guess that should all be in the past tense, huh? And that one thing, that awful thing, his death by torture, broke through the cold that's enveloped me since I returned, and made me feel again - screaming, wrenching pain. He was always there for me, and I should have been there for him. If we'd still been close like we once were, I would have been able to stop what happened. I could've saved him. But I was too busy being wrapped in my private hell to see the hell of others, and Xander paid for my self-absorption with his life. I'm sure he's gone to heaven. If I did, how much more someone who gave his all without the threat of destiny, who fought the badness just because it was the right thing to do? I miss him, now, even though I've spent the last several years pushing him away from me. I just never thought he'd really go that far. So far he'd never be back.

I stopped feeling again after the funeral. Hey, he was in a better place. I'd been too late to save him - just as I had with my mother, and almost was with Dawn. I crawled back to Spike's crypt, to sleep with the Evil Dead, as Xander would have called him, so I could go numb again. If pain was the only feeling I could access, why bother feeling? It's ironic that the first time I kissed Spike, I said I wanted to feel. That was my excuse for doing it. But I didn't, and I don't, so why did I continue? With Spike, feelings aren't needed.

Oh, I don't say Spike doesn't want me to feel. He wants me to feel this sweeping love, this grand passion for him that he seems to have for me. He wants me to feel anger, so he can sway me to play with him on the dark side of the jungle gym. He doesn't realize that if I *could* feel again, all I'd ever feel for him would be revulsion. So I just shut it all down, sleep with him because it seems symbolic of who I am now - a great moral cipher. The champion for good who's stupid enough to sleep with an unrepentant killer while pushing away the only people who ever cared for her at the same time. If this *is* indeed hell, I've certainly taken part in shaping it into its present form. And like it is with everything else, I don't really care anymore.

Funny, isn't it, that the one thing that made me feel was the death of the only man I've never allowed myself to feel for the same way he felt for me.

Giles loved me like a father - more than my real father, and I loved him back with the same depth and devotion. I honestly do believe he thinks leaving me behind so I would grow up was the best thing, even if I disagree with him.

Angel loved me with all the sweeping majesty required by star-crossed lovers. We were a tragedy always about to happen, sometimes actually happening, and he was everything my teenaged fantasies wanted, and sometimes quite a bit more than they'd envisioned. But I loved him back with that same storybook intensity, with a blind eye to reality, which still won in the end, inevitably ripping us apart.

Riley was good, and clean and all-American, and he loved me simply and with little reservation, at least at first. And I - I didn't return the favor, but I did try. I wanted so to love him the way he loved me, but in the end, I just couldn't. And I was deeply sorry for that. He deserved better. But at least with Riley, I was willing to try.

With Xander, I never gave it a shot. I knew early on that he was in love with me, and that he would throw himself in front of anything if he thought it might hurt me. Maybe that was why I refused to consider loving him back. Maybe that's when I started down the path to where I am now. I wouldn't feel that for him, because I knew if I loved him back, he'd die trying to prove his love to me. But I never let him, and he died anyway.

So here I lay, in Spike's bed, trying to decide if living is worth the effort anymore. I wonder if, when it comes to dying, the third time's the charm. I think Spike's asleep - it's hard to tell, since he doesn't breathe and all. I could get up, wander away, and no one would be any the wiser. Although, if they wouldn't let me finalize a dramatic self-sacrifice by leaving me in heaven, why would they just let me disappear? With my luck, I'd go back to heaven again, and they'd rip me back out. I don't think I could handle that a second time. Not that I'm doing too well with it this time.

Maybe it's because I'm thinking about it, but my body starts feeling odd, the way it did when my spirit re-entered it when I was pulled from heaven. It's like this great huge sucking feeling, pulling all the air and color out of the world. I can't breathe. I can't open my eyes. I'm scared. It's just like it was before, and I wonder if I'll wake up in my coffin again, have to claw my way out, and get a second chance at making everything right. I sort of hope so, but that would be a good thing, and they don't seem to happen to me much anymore.

I'm back now. Or at least, I feel my spirit and my body are connected again - I don't know that I really went anywhere. My eyes are still closed, and I hear a murmuring chant, a voice that sounds like Willow's. My eyes fly open.

"It worked," I hear someone say with relief, "but where's Xander?"

My focus is fuzzy, but as my eyesight clears, I see Willow and Tara, holding hands, smiling widely at each other. The haunted look Tara's been wearing is totally gone. And Giles - Giles is here, it was his voice I heard, and Anya is clutching his hand, looking anxious. And over to the side is Dawn, with Spike hovering protectively over her, not touching her, but fiercely guarding her personal space. I blink a few times. "Where's - Xander?" He's dead - don't they know that?

My voice sounds rough, like I haven't used it for months. As I become more aware, I realize I'm on a small bed in a tiny room. It's not familiar, although I do see some things that look as if they came from the Magic Box's stock lying nearby. There's a single bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling.

"He went to get you, to bring you back. H-h-he thought your spirit might need a guide," Tara said quietly. "W-w-we thought he'd come back with you." She looked helplessly at Giles, and I saw Anya clutch even tighter.

Willow's forehead wrinkled in deep thought. "The spell must have been too finely tuned to Buffy's spirit. If he wasn't close by her, he got left behind. We'll have to do the ritual again to get him, too."

Thoroughly confused, now. "Where am I? What's going on?"

Dawn is beside me, on her knees by the bed. There are tears in her eyes, and I can see the look of devotion Spike is giving her, the affection in his gaze. "Don't you remember jumping off the tower, to save me from Glory?" I nod - like I could forget that. "We knew something was weird when your body landed without a mark on it, so Willow and Tara tracked your spirit, and found out where you were." No they didn't - they never checked, they just assumed, and pulled me from the peace I'd earned. Back to a place that was far worse then it had been when I left. They brought me back from heaven to.

Giles' voice was like a slap in my face, and yet confirmed my very next thought. "Buffy, we just brought you back from Hell."