Winter Lights [2/6]

This entry is part 3 of 7 of the story Winter Lights

Title: Winter Lights [2/6]
Media: fanfiction & fanart
Creators: the_moonmoth, wolveswithhats, kylathelurker, bewildered
Rating: PG-13
Characters: Buffy, Dawn, Giles, Andrew, OFC
Pairings: Buffy/Spike
Setting: Set shortly after ‘The Girl In Question’ and imagining it took place a little earlier than its air date.
Length: ~18,000 total (each chapter ~3,000)
Warnings: Attempted suicide and character death (both off-screen, but discussed)
Summary: Life, death, love, grief. Buffy takes a mission in the Arctic Circle with a slayer who never wanted to be and an enemy that barely compares to the one inside her own head.
Go here for notes, acknowledgements and chapter list.

2

The only reason I know what went down with Adam is from the dreams I had after. Not the scary First Slayer, random cheese guy dream, but later. There’s always some element of processing after a big fight. Things happen fast and I react on instinct, so it’s like… decompression, sorting through thoughts and feelings, things I didn’t have time for when it was all going down. Except I have no actual memory of that fight once the spell kicked in, so all I know about it is from my sleeping mind which, I’ll be honest, is not exactly the sanest place. But there’s this one image that has come back to me again and again over the years – rising to stand before Adam, completely defenseless, but deflecting his bullets with a wave of my hand. The air shimmers and my eyes feel bright and hot like they have laser beams shining out of them or something, and the bullets turn to doves. Then my voice comes, but it’s amplified, folded back and back on itself like a Jacob’s ladder, and suddenly I can feel them, my sisters, the slayers who came before me, standing at my shoulder in an unbroken line all the way back to the Sartorially-Challenged One. And we speak. You could never hope to grasp the source of our power.

Maybe it didn’t exactly happen that way, I don’t know. Bespelled Buffy brain is capable of some serious weirdness. But those words, in that hundred-voice, I can’t shake it. Because I know. It took me another year to realize it, and then another two years to realize it again, but now I finally know what we meant. Feel it. The source of our power: that terrible, burning love. Brighter than the fire.

I’ve heard burning is the most painful way to die. I thought I heard him laughing, even so. Poetic irony or whatever it’s called – he burned, I just self-immolated.

***

It only strikes her later that Giles might well have intended this outcome the entire time, the crafty old… watcher guy. Still, it’s the best solution and the fact that she didn’t see it earlier is really kinda weird and speaks to way too much time on her butt in her plushy Academy office. But, gap year aside, she’s still got the skill and experience of a whole cadre of newby slayers and is used to leading and organizing groups, plus she won’t have to be transferred from somewhere crucial. There’s someone up there already, a native contact who can take her to the coven and serve as backup, and with a bit of magical assistance she can sneak enough weapons through security to make the pair of them a bristling, two-person army. Strangely, she’s kinda looking forward to it.

She can’t leave without speaking to Dawn, though. Buffy’s been putting it off since she arrived and doesn’t feel any less reluctant to deal with things now, but despite the calm sense of purpose that’s settled over her ever since she made the decision to go, she’s not stupid enough to think there’s no danger.

There’s a long load of nothing on the other end of the phone line when she tries to explain what’s what.

“Dawn?” she tries. “Dawnie? You still there?” Silence. “Look, are you gonna be okay by yourself while I’m gone? ‘Cause I don’t know how long it’s going to be. You could always go stay with Marta for a while, at least until Andrew’s back, I’m sure her mom wouldn’t mind.” Silence. It’s like when she was thirteen and thought the silent treatment was the ultimate in sibling punishment. Buffy sighs, picturing her sister’s angry face all too easily, the powerlessness that underlies it. If she were a better sister, she wouldn’t go. She’d fly back to Rome and smooth things over and give Dawn the stability she craves. She knows that’s what she should do, but she can’t make the decision take hold within her. Anyway, it’s not like Dawn’s a baby anymore – she’s eighteen now, definitely old enough to take care of herself for a couple of weeks. God, with Buffy and her pesky boyfriend out of her hair she’ll probably have more fun than she’s had all year. It’s what Buffy would have done if she was a normal eighteen-year-old at home by herself. And it’s not like Buffy being there before made everything so great for her. “Well, I’ve got to go pack, so—”

“Wait!”

Buffy pauses. “Dawn?”

“Wait, Buffy, just… don’t go without…”

She sounds weird, like the words are being torn out of her; like she’s scared. It’s so utterly not what Buffy expected that she feels herself soften like butter. “It’ll be fine,” she soothes, “it’s no big, just a couple of warlocks getting too friendly with the dark magicks. I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Yeah, because powerful warlocks getting hopped up on dark mojo have always been so easy to deal with in the past.” Beneath the sarcasm, which is pretty feeble by Dawn’s high standards, her voice is small enough that she really could be thirteen again, that sweet-faced little girl who’d already seen way too much of the world’s ugliness.

“Right,” Buffy says. “Easy peasy.”

“I’m sorry,” Dawn blurts. “About before, with the Imm— uh, with Giancarlo. I was a complete bitch and I didn’t mean… you know…” Down the phone line it sounds as though she’s taking a steadying breath. “I love you. You know that, right?”

“I know, sweetheart. Love you too.”

“I just… I didn’t want you to leave still thinking that I… that I didn’t.”

Ah, so that’s what this is about. She wonders vaguely why the ache is absent, why she can’t feel even an echo of sympathy for her little sister.

“I’ll always know that,” Buffy says, trying to be reassuring, trying to be all of the things she should be but isn’t.

*

Forty-eight hours and many hurried Council meetings later, Buffy’s en route to Alaska. It strikes her as the stewardess serves their dinner that she’s seen more of Europe than her home country – this’ll be only the fourth state she’s ever visited. Even Faith has seen more of the US than that. Not that Alaska is anything like the rest of the country, a fact that becomes patently clear after the connection in Fairbanks, where the plane feels smaller than the school bus they escaped the hellmouth on, and shudders alarmingly with every little gust of wind. She tries to take her mind off her juddering stomach by studying the handful of fellow passengers instead, and with the beginnings of nameless unease, notices a bunch of serious, weather-beaten faces in well-worn cold weather gear, all drab colors and sewn-on patches of flags and peaks conquered. The guy across the aisle from her has an “Everest Base Camp” patch sewn onto the khaki backpack between his booted feet and she feels her eyes go wide.

“Everest, huh?” she says when he catches her looking, trying for casual, the effect definitely spoiled by the way she grips the armrests of her seat when the plane chooses that moment to lurch abruptly downwards.

“Oh, yeah. I was supposed to go up but I got the call for this gig,” the guy says modestly, gesturing at his bag – kind of like a huge camera case, on second look. He has a British accent, but she’s pretty used to that these days. Doesn’t even bat an eyelash. Nope, not a single lash batted, not this slayer. She’s completely and utterly bat-less. Definitely no innards squeezing painfully at the tone, the timbre of his voice.

“You’re a… photographer?” she guesses.

“Cameraman,” he corrects with a smile. “I’m shooting arctic foxes for a documentary. I’m Greg, by the way.”

“Buffy.”

He smiles again, and she forces one back. “So how about you?” He eyes her shiny new ski jacket. “Scientist? Doctor? You don’t look like an oil kind of girl…”

She blinks. A doctor? Her? That’s pretty laugh-worthy for someone who never even finished college. “Uh, explorer, I guess. Parts unknown, call of the wild, that kind of thing.”

Right, says a sardonic inner voice. Vampires, demons, the root of all evil – parts unknown is one way of putting it. Here there be bloody dragons.

“Yeah?” Greg smiles again. It’s friendly and encouraging, eyes crinkling at the corners. “You must have some good stories.”

Don’t, she wants to say. Forget about me, just keep talking. Just keep smiling and talking, and I’ll close my eyes and the world will be better for a few minutes. But no, it’s time for Buffy’s brain to dig her out of the hole Buffy’s mouth has gotten her into.

“Sure,” she says, turning up her own smile a couple notches. Adds a sharp scimitar edge to it, unwelcoming, the opposite of his. Force fields up – check. “I guess I must. But my publisher, you know. There’s contracts and stuff. If I told you, I’d have to leave a hatchet in your skull.”

Greg sits back, mildly stung. That inner voice laughs, possibly at her, and Buffy thinks how it’s kind of sad that she’s been down into the bowels of the Earth but never in the opposite direction. No commemorative patches for Buffy’s adventures, not unless you count the kind that hold guts in, and they probably wouldn’t look so good on her carry-on.

*

Her teeny tiny plane touches down in a place called Endurance. She’d thought the name amusing in England, but flying in over the flat, white landscape Buffy has gained an inkling of comprehension. The airport is barely more than a shed, and even though it’s getting close to ten at night, local time, the sky outside is a bright, deep blue. A guy with a dayglo yellow vest over his jacket hands Buffy her luggage – no carousel here – and then she’s on her own.

It doesn’t take long to spot the woman, given the postage-stamp dimensions. She’s holding a sign with Buffy’s name on it, the only one of its kind here. The other passengers move about with purpose, and Buffy thinks, Could I be any more of a tourist? Suddenly, the bright red jacket and D&G sunglasses pushed up on her head make her feel painfully self-conscious in a way that’s been threatening since the plane. The expression on the face above the sign suggests that this is the correct state of affairs.

Bridget WIP.jpg

by kylathelurker

“Huh,” the woman says, as Buffy approaches, “thought you’d be taller.”

So it’s like that. Nice. Well, she’s just got off her third flight after nearly a whole day of travelling. She’s tired and grimy and could really do without the frigid (pun most definitely intended) reception. “All the better to kick your knees out,” she retorts easily. “You know, if you’re a demon.” Or a really annoying smartass, she lets her face say.

The woman looks both unimpressed and faintly amused. “Bridget Aguta Stevenson.”

“Buffy Summers.”

“Yeah, hotshot, I think I got that,” she says, dumping the sign with ‘Buffy Summers’ on it in the trash.

They don’t shake hands.

*

Bridget leads her out to some kind of vehicle that might ostensibly be termed a car, but looks more like some kind of Mars rover. Despite the bright sun – and reflecting off the snow it makes Buffy squint even from behind her shades – the air is so cold it hurts the back of her throat. She’s seen snow in Europe – she and Dawn were in Germany for Christmas, Switzerland for much of January – and there was that one time in Sunnydale, of course, but this is something else. It feels weird underfoot, compacting with a strange squeak against her boot soles, unexpected friction making her unbalanced and slow.

“Get in,” Bridget tells her, looking faintly pissed off at Buffy’s lollygagging (oh god, too much time with Giles) and walks around to the driver’s side. It takes three attempts to get up onto the running board, layers of insulation, the shortness of her legs, and gravity all conspiring to make her look foolish. Swinging herself in finally, she claps her hands together a few times, trying to ward away the worrying numbness already starting in at her fingertips, a little alarmed that even inside the SUV-truck-thing she can still see her breath clouding in front of her face.

Despite the rush to get going from England, she’d felt well prepared. Not so much anymore.

“Shoulda put my gloves on,” she mutters sheepishly, digging in her carry-on. Bridget’s look of vague annoyance remains, but as she pulls out onto something that looks more like a snowboarding half-pipe than a road, she reaches over and turns up the heat, so Buffy allows that she might not be so bad. Maybe that’s just her face or something, the same way Willow’s face naturally settles into an expression of hapless goodwill (when she’s not all dark and veiny, or white-haired and glowy, neither of which has happened recently) or Giancarlo always looks like he’s smiling. Working theory tentatively accepted, she decides to try and break the ice. Metaphorically speaking.

“So, uh… is this just the airport taxi service or are you my Council contact?”

“I’m your contact.”

“Right. And you… have some, uh, skill or something?” God she’s tired, brain no worky. Somewhere there are words that mean what she means to mean. But from the look Bridget’s giving her right now, it doesn’t seem like she’s going to cut her any slack.

“Besides the ability to navigate leads and shifting sea ice while not freezing to death?”

Buffy scrutinizes her, the round face, high cheekbones, wide mouth – a classic Aboriginal beauty. Possibly. If she ever smiled. Weren’t those survival-y type things second nature?

“I meant like magic, or an encyclopedic knowledge of the enemy,” she says, trying not to get defensive.

Bridget snorts softly. “Nope. Just me, my dogs and my sled. Oh, and my super strength. Heard I’ve got you to thank for that.”

There’s venom in her tone, buried but there. Buffy spent six months last year rounding up new slayers – she’s seen the full range of reactions and nothing really touches her anymore. Still, Bridget’s at least the same age as her, and could easily be ten years older – she’s got one of those faces her mother would have called ‘timeless’ so it’s hard to tell. Not that Buffy’s ever been particularly good with judging that kind of thing. Too much time spent around vampires, probably. Anyway, not exactly a slayer.

“You’re an obsolete,” she says without thinking.

“That what you’re calling us nowadays?”

Buffy winces. The girls came up with the term and unfortunately it’s stuck. Kind of appropriate, though. When they had done that spell a year ago to release all the potentials to full slayerhood, they hadn’t realized at the time that it really would be all the potentials. Even those whose chance of being called had been and gone. Cops and teachers and old ladies on the Russian Steppe who could suddenly beat up men twice their size and a fraction of their age. The difference was, something in the fact of their having been passed over the first time made their power somehow less. They were stronger than regular humans, sure, and had all the usual healing and demon-sensing abilities, but they were like second-class slayers – slower, weaker, more easily defeated. Not to mention, given their ages, most had careers, families, lives they couldn’t or wouldn’t leave behind for a Slayer Academy full of teenage girls. So some – not many – had been brought in as staff at the Academy, some had been funneled into the more flexible watcher training, a handful went out slaying in teams (Buffy still wasn’t over the sight of a retired nurse in her sixties staking a fledgling in the middle of St. Peter’s Square) and the rest were monitored to make sure they weren’t abusing their power, but were otherwise left alone.

“Watchers didn’t fill you in, huh?” Bridget says into the long pause.

“I guess not. I kinda left in a hurry.” Maybe someone had mentioned it – by the time she’d left Buffy had been on information overload, all nonessential items to the escape pods. There’s also the fact that she tries not to think about the obsoletes when she can avoid it. Too depressing, how few there are (and how many in jail). “So you help the Council?” she prods cautiously. Obsoletes could be prickly about their status and hey! Maybe that explains the perma-frown.

“I help this once,” Bridget says flatly. “One time deal.”

That rings alarm bells, but Buffy feels she’s poked this bear enough for one day so she leaves it be. Giles wouldn’t send her to work with someone who wasn’t trusted, and from what she understands, they’ve got a couple of weeks ahead of them with nothing but each other for company. She’ll figure it out.

Then that thought catches up with her and Buffy sighs, imagining days on end of that grim face, and decides on one more attempt at making nice.

“I wrote a report on the Inuit once in High School. Kinda cool to be meeting one in the flesh.”

Bridget gives her a cutting look, one eyebrow cocked. “What makes you think I’m Inuit?”

“Oh. You aren’t?”

“Well.” She frowns again. “Yes. But that’s not the point.”

Buffy stifles a smirk. Point to the slayer, at last. One of the slayers. Whatever. If they’re not going to be on friendly terms, she’ll take the satisfaction of fighting back any day. God, this woman is bringing out her inner bitch like no one but Cordelia.

“So. Bridget,” she muses, trying not to be too self-satisfied and probably failing. “That’s an interesting name. Not very…” Both eyebrows rise this time, almost daring her to continue, and somehow Buffy realizes that ‘exotic’ is not the way she wants to finish that sentence. “It’s a pretty name,” she amends quickly, ego promptly deflated.

“Only one I got,” Bridget replies, “but I tell you what, as a favor from one slayer to another, feel free to call me Sleeps With Seals or whatever takes your fancy.” It’s said with a cool, sharp wit that stabs her in her sore spots; it’s been a long time since anyone got their jollies at her expense.

“Sorry,” she mutters, because the words make her feel like an asshole even if the tone makes her want to smile.

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Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/516686.html

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