Normal is Just a Word by Slaymesoftly

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Chapter Notes: This bunny is based on a discussion in which someone suggested that Buffy dreamed the entire seven seasons of the BtVS. What if that is what happened? What if it isn't ? How would she know which world was real? How will the reader know? This fic does not offer pat answers to those questions - it just raises the questions. Beta'd by Always_jbj, Eowyn_315 and Just_Sue. Banner by Always_jbj
Normal Is Just a Word

Buffy ran her hand over the bare mattress, gazing round the room that had been her home (and prison) for so long. The walls were empty of the posters her parents had brought, hoping the familiar scenes might help bring their daughter back. The ones she'd outgrown were now out with the recycling, the newer ones rolled up and held with a rubber band. She walked over to the window and gazed out at the bright sunshine and crowded parking lot. In the distance she could see the skyscrapers of downtown Los Angeles.

"Are you ready, honey?"

She spun around to see her parents smiling at her from the doorway. She smiled back and nodded.

"I'm all packed up. I just have to stop in to see Dr. Swinson before we leave. She wants to talk to me one more time."

Hank entered the room and hugged his daughter tightly.

"I'll just take your stuff out to the car, sweetheart. Your mom can stay with you and bring you out when you're ready."

" 'k. Let's go, Mom."

Buffy led the way, her new confidence lending a firmness to her stride that her mother was hard-put to keep up with. She walked into Dr. Swinson's office with a cheery, "Hi, Mrs. Johnson," to the receptionist. Dr. Swinson emerged from her office as soon as she heard Buffy's voice, holding out her hand to Joyce.

"Mrs. Summers! How good to see you. I just need to chat with Buffy for a few minutes and then she's all yours to take home."

Joyce nodded and sat down in the outer office, watching with a calm smile as Buffy waved and followed the doctor into her warmly decorated office.

Dr. Swinson sat back in her chair and smiled proudly. She indulged in no false modesty as she studied the girl she'd helped come out of the most detailed and long-running fantasy she'd ever seen.

"Oh, Buffy," she said, seemingly at a temporary loss for words. "I'm so very, very proud of you. You've come such a long way in these past several months, and I know how hard you've worked to get here." Her expression darkened, "Although, I have to say that I never expected you to throw yourself off an imaginary tower to make it happen...." She glanced up and her expression cleared. "But, as I told you at the time, it was really quite brilliant on your part. You destroyed the Buffy who was living in that world, and your need to be there died with her. An excellent strategy that beautifully closes the door on any need or chance to return."

She smiled at Buffy, who smiled back tentatively, then looked briefly uncomfortable before smiling again. "Yeah, and, hey bonus, I saved the world when I did it."

Dr. Swinson narrowed her eyes. "The imaginary Buffy, the one who is a 'slayer', she saved that world. Please don't tell me that just as I think you've completely recovered, you think it still exists?"

Buffy paled. "Oh, oh no, Dr. Swinson. I just meant that it was a good way for me - her - to go out. Saving the world. Which isn't real, so it really doesn't matter if it gets saved or not, does it?" Buffy gave the doctor a brilliant smile, hoping she hadn't just blown her chances of leaving the hospital and getting back to a normal life. Whatever that was in this world - so different from the one she thought she'd been living in for the past five years.

The doctor relaxed and leaned back in her chair, steepling her fingers.

"You wouldn't be trying to play me, now, would you, Slayer?" she said with a teasing smile, her confidence in Buffy's recovery seemingly restored.

"What? No! No, I wouldn't do anything like that. What would be the point? Just to get out of here? That's what I'm supposed to want, isn't it? To go back to a normal life with my parents and whatever friends might remember me?"

"No, I suppose not. So, you really have no desire to go back to that strange world? To Sunnydale?"

"Dr. Swinson," Buffy was suddenly very serious, fearful that her hard work over the past several months might be going right down the tubes. "You know that world as well as I do. Have you forgotten what it was like? In that world, my parents got divorced, I never see my dad, my mother is dead, my only two boyfriends both left me, the closest thing I have to a romantic life is a neutered vampire crushing on me. I have no money, a mortgage, and I have to save the world every frickin' spring. Why on earth would I want to go back to that? It was like having a nightmare that lasted for years."

Buffy stood up and began to walk around, waving her arms. "I died twice - did I mention that? That I died when I was only sixteen?"

Dr. Swinson nodded her head. "I believe we've talked about that before; about how you had a brief moment of lucidity that didn't last. But that was before I was on staff here," she said, seeming to encourage Buffy to go on.

"Well, it was only for a minute, and I totally kicked his butt when I got back up, but the point is - I died! And I didn't even get to wake up here, like this time." The doctor started to interrupt and point out again that Buffy had been briefly awake and aware, but shut her mouth as the girl continued. "And then, Spike..." Buffy faltered for a minute, then took a deep breath and went on, "he came to town and he kidnapped Angel and then I...well, never mind that...but Angel lost his soul and he turned into Angelus and killed Giles' girlfriend and I had to kill him to - wait for it - save the world again. And then, Angel comes back, but he decides to leave me - for my own good. And I have to - oh yeah, save the frickin' world again. Or Sunnydale, anyway. Not clear on that one. Maybe the mayor only wanted to take over Sunnydale...

"Where was I? Oh yeah, and then I met Riley, but he wasn't a college boy, he was a commando and his boss was an evil bitch that tried to kill me. Then her pet monster got lose and tried to kill everybody, and Spike got chipped - okay, that wasn't such a bad thing -" Buffy stopped again and sank down into the chair. "And, you know, it was pretty much all downhill from there." She stared Dr. Swinson in the eye. "And you think I want to go back there? Do you think I'm crazy?"

Dr. Swinson smiled and stood up, walking around her desk to rest her hand on Buffy's head. "Not any more, you aren't," she said with a laugh. "Welcome back, Buffy."

She walked Buffy to the door, hugging her tightly before letting her join Joyce in the outer office. She shook hands with Joyce and graciously accepted the thanks Buffy's mother insisted on repeating and repeating. After reminding Buffy that she still wanted to see her every week, just to "keep in touch and see how things are going", she watched them walk down the corridor and out of Shady Pines Rehabilitation and Rest Facility. As she returned to her office, she congratulated herself on the successful completion of what had once seemed a very daunting case.

While it was fresh in her mind, she quickly spoke into her recorder, adding to the file on the case. As proud as she was of having been a part of bringing this young woman back from her delusions and into the real world, she was also not blind to the opportunity it presented. She was sure that once she had time to write it up, she would make the literature with her story of how a perfectly healthy and normal fifteen year-old-girl suddenly slipped into an imaginary world that was so detailed and real to her that she could respond to any question about it with an immediate and comprehensive answer.

After adding the new-to-her information about Buffy's first "death" and her subsequent activities, she saved the file and closed her laptop, giving it a satisfied pat.

"You're going to make me famous, Buffy Summers."


Buffy and Joyce quickly made their way out to the parking lot and climbed into the big SUV in which Hank was waiting for them.

"New car?"

Joyce shrugged. "I think I told you about the new cars, Buffy. This one is for me - and you, as soon as you get your license. Your dad has his own new car. It just doesn't hold more than two people, so---"

"Dad got a sports car?" For some reason, the idea that her father was driving around in sporty new two-seater made Buffy uncomfortable. Perhaps it was too similar to the way he'd behaved leading up to the divorce in her imaginary world. Scolding herself for bringing that world into the real one, she put a bright smile on and asked, "So, do I get to drive it when I get my license?"

Hank met her eyes in the rearview mirror and laughed. "I'll let you drive it, sweetheart. As soon as I think you're experienced enough. In the meantime, you just concentrate on getting your license, huh?"

" 'k," she said, looking around eagerly. When she'd begun to regain her grip on reality, she had been allowed to leave the facility for closely supervised visits to a small nearby mall, but this was the first time she'd actually been out of the watchful care of one of the attendants. For just a brief moment, she was seized by fear of venturing out into the "real world" by herself, wondering what might happen to her if she had a relapse while no one was around who knew about her past hospitalizations. Then her attention was pulled to a theater marquee showing the latest romantic comedy and excitement and anticipation replaced the fear.

"Oh, I saw the trailer for that movie on television last week. It looked really good."

Her father grumbled about 'chick flicks' while Joyce laughed and promised Buffy that they would go by themselves to see it.


Coming home was both comforting and disturbing. Comforting because it was home. It smelled like home, it looked like home and yet... Buffy stared around at unfamiliar furniture and curtains.

"Um...shouldn't there be a couch there?" She pointed to the area under the windows where a long table with shelves held a couple of houseplants and some magazines.

"We've never had a couch there, Buffy," Joyce said gently, her smile a little strained.

"Huh! I guess my memory isn't as good as it ought to be. You're right, of course. I remember now. The couch is there in--" She stopped herself when she saw her mother's face fall. "It's okay, Mom," Buffy hastened to assured her. "Dr. Swinson said that my memories of that other place will take a while to fade away completely. She said it's kinda like when you're dreaming and then you wake up. At first, you think you're still in the dream, and then you know you aren't but you still remember it - then, a few hours later, you can barely remember what it was about. It's just going to take me more than a few hours cause I was...asleep...for such a long time."

Buffy looked around the house with its familiar rooms and nodded. "Even in my fantasy I remembered this house. I just filled it with different furniture and put it in a different town. But it was this house. I never forgot it was home." She looked at her parents and smiled tentatively. "That's got to be good, right? That it always felt like home to me?"

"Yes," her father said tightly as he set her suitcase down at the bottom of the stairs. "It's good to know that you hung on to the house, even when you pushed your parents out of your life."

"Hank!" Joyce snapped as Buffy's face crumpled.

He heaved a sigh and smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry, sweetheart. I didn't mean that. It's just that...this has been hard on us, you know? All those years we've missed while you were growing up without us. It's hard not to think that you didn't want us around..."

When Joyce had glared him into silence, he shrugged and turned around, grabbed a different set of keys off the table and opened the door. I'm just going to go for a drive," he said, not meeting Buffy's eyes. "I'll be back by dinnertime."

Joyce and Buffy stood in silence and watched as he pulled the door shut. The muffled roar of what Buffy recognized as his version of Giles' midlife crisis car faded as it left the driveway. They looked at each other; then Buffy shrugged.

"It's all right, Mom. It's going to be strange for all of us for a while. I mean, I know you guys love me and that you've visited me faithfully - even when I didn't know who you were--" She broke off, remembering all the minions she'd vanquished, only to be told when she was more lucid that she'd been screaming at her parents that she would never let Glory have her sister.

"Oh, God," she whispered, collapsing onto the couch. "What I've put you through. No wonder Dad wants to get away from me!"

"No, Buffy! No. Please don't think that. He's just...he'll be fine. He loves you just as much as I do and he's happy that we have you back home. We just have to get used to each other again. All of us. We lost a teenager and we've recovered a young woman. We've gone from boy bands and "No, you're too young to date" to having someone who should be in college and who has--" She broke off, and Buffy knew she was remembering that in her imaginary world, Buffy had been sexually active since she was seventeen.

Wishing the staff hadn't been so quick to share all the details of her delusion with her parents, Buffy blushed from her hairline to her chest. "Yeah, well, I guess we can just chalk all that up to hormones, huh? Erotic dreams and all that." She looked at her mother with wide eyes. "Oh my god! I'm probably the only twenty-year old virgin in LA! I should go on Oprah!"

Joyce laughed and hugged her tightly. "I'm sure you're not the only one left, Buffy." She pulled back and looked into Buffy's eyes. "I hope you aren't going to jump into anything...uncomfortable...just because you think you should."

"Don't worry, Mom," Buffy said with a wry smile. "If I learned nothing else from my imagination, it's that Buffy and sex isn't very mixy. They turn evil, or turn out to be already evil - in a sleazy kind of way, or they get all insecure and-- yeah, I'm not feeling any sudden urge to find myself a boyfriend. Trust me."

"I didn't mean that you shouldn't date, honey. I want you to enjoy life and get back into the swing of things - it's just that..."

Buffy nodded and grabbed her suitcase. She had a moment of confusion and almost vertigo as she tried to swing it up the stairs; then flushed as she realized she'd expected to be able to handle it just as she would have when she thought she was a slayer. Hoping her mother hadn't noticed the lapse, she dragged it up the stairs, bumping the wheels from step to step, and down the hall to her room.

She dropped the handle and stared around the room that was so familiar- and yet so different. The bed was in the same place, the walls were the same color, the closet was standing open and almost empty - waiting for her to unpack what few new clothes she had. With a loud sign, she squared her shoulders and heaved the suitcase up on the bed.

"Time to get to work, Buffy. This is the real world - if you don't take care of your stuff, nobody else is going to do it for you."

Even as she said that, she knew that her mother probably would take care of anything Buffy needed help with. Just one more reason to be grateful that this was her real life, and not the pain-filled, unending horror that she had inexplicably lived in for the past five years. Without meaning to, she let herself remember some of the worst things that had occurred in that strange world in which she'd been so sure she belonged.

While she shoved the clothes that she'd worn as a fifteen-year-old to the side, wrinkling her nose at the childish styles, she remembered how she'd felt when Angelus killed Jenny Calendar. The guilt that she'd had him down and hadn't been able to bring herself to stake him made her shudder all over again. As Dr. Swinson had advised her to whenever she felt herself slipping into the memories of that life and allowing them to affect her mood, Buffy took a deep breath and tried to clear her mind. She deliberately stared at a poster that she was sure had been dream-inducing when she was fourteen, and that now left her wondering what she'd been thinking.

The laughter inspired by remembering her crush on the members of that boy band brought her back to reality and she continued to put her few "grown-up" clothes into the closet with the mini-skirts of a much younger and more carefree girl.

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