When Buffy’s consciousness arose, she found her mind was a numbing blank, as if someone had taken a whiteout to her life. For a split second, she remembered nothing, not even herself. It was oddly serene.

Then the images came—a parade of harsh colors and numbing sounds, of heartache and pain, and reality slowly colored her senses.



Buffy’s eyes snapped open, manic green eyes searching…and finally falling on the warm body curled next to hers. It felt like the weight of the world was lifted off her shoulders; her tightened chest relaxed and her aching muscles instantly soothed.

Dawn was safe. They had taken out Glory--she and her band of Scoobies had taken out the Hellgod and now Dawn (and the dimensions) was safe. Buffy ran her hand through her sister’s long brown locks. Dawn is safe.

On the other side of Dawn lay their mom, Joyce. She looked as disheveled as her two not-so-normal daughters, and her hands were draped protectively over her youngest, the tip of her fingers brushing Buffy. Mom is safe too. We’ve made it. After nearly one harrowing year, with a hellgod pounding down her door, a sick mother, and a key for a sister, she made it. At last, something had gone right.

Buffy sighed, allowing the joy and relief settle into her—except it didn’t. An uncomfortable swelling in her chest and gut, one she didn’t know was there before, deflected the happiness she was supposed to feel.

God, we won, for once we won and no one died, but I feel…


“It was all thanks to your Slayer dreams,” said Anya in her patented terseness. She sat at the research table in the Magic Box, busily calculating the cost of the damage done to the store, “So, Buffy, the lesson here is that you should sleep more often.”

Buffy gave Anya a weak smile. The ex-demon was right: it had been Buffy’s successive Slayer dreams had saved them all. How else would they have known that Glory and Ben were somehow related (though the Cloaking spell hid the true nature of their relation)? How else would they have known that Glory needed Dawn’s blood in the ritual, and when the ritual might be performed? How else would they have known that a seemingly harmless demon called Doc was actually a Glory-worshipper, and that he might try to intervene on his goddess’s behalf? And most importantly, how else would they know that Joyce would have an aneurysm and needed medical attention right away? It was like someone was giving her flashes of what might come to divert disaster. And ooh boy, some disasters they would have been. The only “problem” she wasn’t able to change was Riley, but that was a non-issue at the moment. For now, it seemed like the Power that Be were giving their Champion a break, and she wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

“Hm…why don’t we look them in the mouth anyways?” Buffy wondered to herself, though loud enough that the other heard it, earning her brief odd looks.

Still, Buffy couldn’t shake that feeling of being wrong. It was all wrong. Everything was so right, but it was also very wrong.

“I agree with Anya,” Giles put in, a tired smile on his face, “Buffy, your Slayer dreams were instrumental a-and you were magnificent. You defeated a God! I don’t think that’s ever heard of before.”

“It’s one for the books, isn’t it Giles?” said Willow excitedly, “Do we call you Buffy the God Slayer now?”

“I couldn’t have done it by myself,” Buffy said softly, smiling appreciatively at her friends “So, really, we all defeated a God.”

 “It’s too bad that I can’t put that on a resume,” said Xander with a look of mock resignation, “God-killing isn’t a useful skill in the job market. Guess I’ll stay the glorified bricklayer who helped bricklay-ed Glorificus.”

Willow, Tara and Anya giggled at his joke, and even Giles pulled out a favorable smile. It was Buffy, however, who looked at her best friend like he was speaking another language. Her expression had not gone unnoticed by the group.

“Hey Buffy?” Willow began uncertainly, “What’s wrong?”

Buffy’s attention snapped to Willow, confused. “Huh? What?”

“You looked like you were trying to read my mind,” said Xander, “Which, for the record, not a cool experience.”

“Oh sorry. I-it’s nothing…” Buffy muttered, “I just…I’m still feeling the tiredness I suppose. And…I dunno, I still feel out of it.” Heavy. Confused, even. She shook her head. Not now. Can’t rain on their happy parade. Probably nothing; just tired. “Maybe I’m just suffering from ‘run-for-my-life’ withdrawal.”

“I know what you mean,” Willow agreed, nodding, “That feeling of quiet after the storm—well, apocalypse—like a long day at the gym…of world end-age. Or something.” Willow frowned slightly. “See, I’m not making sense trying to explain what’s making me not make sense.”

“It’s okay, sweetie,” said Tara with a soft giggle, “We understand.”

“Hmmhmmm…” Buffy agreed, “And I think a good rehab strategy is more sleep and chocolate.”

The Scoobies responded with smiles, giggles and sighs of relief. All seemed well.


It was like a splinter, at first. Irritating, ever present and persistent. Then it grew, changed, rotting and killing. The ache in what was her heart, her gut…her mind? Something. Somewhere, everywhere.

The emptiness took the spring out of her step, the shine out of her smile and the life out of her eyes. She felt ragged all the time, felt tired to her very soul. She was reminded of when she lost Angel: being awake was a chore, breathing was painful, and every second she lived was bore down by guilt and heartbreak.

She knew then it was Angel who was the source of her pain, but there was nothing now to explain it. She should be happy, celebrating the fact that she survived an insane God after her Key-sister. Happy that her mom survived a threat that was even more dangerous than vampires. Happy. Should be happy. Life told her that she should be happy. So Buffy acted it. It wouldn’t be fair to Dawn and her mother to know that Buffy was…like this. After a year of being terrorized by Glory, it would be cruel to let them see her faltering, to let them know she was crumbling inside.


Buffy dusted and quipped and dusted, faintly disappointed that the vampires didn’t quip back. There weren’t many fledglings in Restfield tonight. Easy as marzipan pie.

Sighing, Buffy once again felt the swollen mass of…sadness. That was what it was…sadness, bleakness, emptiness. It was raw and tender, edemic and seemed about ready to burst. When she attempted to touch it, to investigate it, intense grief flared from it. She preferred the emptiness. Frightened, Buffy let it be.


“Buffy, are you okay?”

It would be Joyce who first noticed it. It was only a month after Glory’s demise, and things had fallen back into its regular routine. Buffy attended classes in the morning, patrolled at night, and tried to squeeze in life in between.

Buffy was staring at the TV. Something about the cheesy soap Passions made her feel at peace, like it was normal, like it the one thing that felt right. She didn’t know why; maybe it reminded her of her mother, who intermittently watched the show. Buffy herself definitely didn’t like it.


Buffy glanced at Joyce, who had two mugs of what looked like fresh hot chocolate. She gave her mother a small smile, and accepted the offering as Joyce took the seat next to her.

“It’s nice you don’t have to patrol or train today,” sighed Joyce, reaching over to tuck Buffy’s hair behind her ears, “I’ve missed you. I’ve missed this.”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Buffy answered, taking a small sip of her chocolate.

Joyce gave Buffy a lingering look, trying to figure her out. It had been twenty years since those bright green eyes had greeted Joyce for the first time, and in that time Joyce still hadn’t figured out how to read them, to understand them. But right now, she could clearly see the diminished light of her daughter’s eyes.

"Is something wrong, honey?"

Buffy shook her head slowly. "No, mom. I'm just tired."

“Are you sure, Buffy? I just…I’m looking at you, and I feel like you aren’t complete.”

Buffy looked at her oddly. “Complete?”

“Well…not all there, sweetheart,” Joyce explained, a sympathetic frown on her face, “Are you worried that Glory might come back?”

Buffy shook her head. “No. She’s gone for good, mom.” Buffy sipped the hot chocolate, and watched quietly as the little marshmallows bobbed around in the liquid, staining the white pieces brown.

“Is there something else?”

“I’m not sure.” Buffy laid her head on the side of the couch. “I’m really not. I hope not.”

“You can talk to me, Buffy, you know that.”

Buffy smiled sadly. “I know. But I don’t know what to talk about. You’re right…I feel lost. No…I feel like I’ve lost something. Something crucial. I feel empty because of it. Like I can’t be happy. But I can’t put a finger on what it is.”

“Maybe you are feeling bad about Riley?” suggested Joyce, “You never had the time to get over the breakup or come to terms with it.”

Buffy considered it. She still ached for Riley, still felt sorry that it had turned out the way it did. Her Slayer dream warned her of his…transgression, and she didn’t want to believe it, didn’t want to know. It became a choice between trusting the dreams to save her sister’s and mother’s life, and also trusting it to tell her what Riley was doing that behind her back. Either both were true, or none of it was. In a way, she had passed him over and chosen her family, and consequently pushed him away.

She tried though, very hard, in the midst of the cancer and the hellgod, to understand. She tried so hard, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t hold onto him, couldn’t grasp him, and he had wanted to be held onto so very badly. He wanted to be chosen, and she could not choose him. She sent Angel to hell to save the world, so of course she wouldn’t have thought twice about letting Riley go to save Dawn and her mother. It was unfortunate, like everything about her relationships, but necessary. It always was.

Still, the ache she felt for his departure was like a drop in the ocean of the growing misery she was experiencing. “No. It’s not Riley.”


 Dawn had been more bearable as of late, treating Buffy with renewed affection and respect after their ordeal. A brush with world-ending death had catalyzed the maturity in the youngest Summers, and no longer was she the bratty one, much. Her very-in-thick-of-things experience had led her to be more included in the Scooby world of research and monster fighting. Not that there were much monsters to fight in those few weeks after Glory’s fall. What had come about though, was Dawn’s increasing interest in Giles’s books.

“I’m thinking, because hello, I’m an ancient key, that I should you know…get in touch with magic and my keyness,” Dawn explained to Joyce over dinner one night.

Joyce laughed. “If you put as much emphasis on your school studies, I’d be happier.”

“Of course,” Dawn agreed, “I can’t learn to read Sumerians if I can’t even do a good job with English, right? Except math. Stupid math.”

“Mathematics isn’t in our genes, true,” Buffy added with a wise nod, “It is the bane of the Summers women.”

“Yes, our genes are quite…interesting,” Joyce said, beaming at her two daughters, “I’d never thought in a million years that I’d be a mother to an all powerful ancient key and a vampire Slayer.”

“Huh, that’s true,” said Dawn, grinning widely at being, finally, included in the being special category, “You hit the jackpot, mom! Except, as the all powerful ancient key, I think I’m the bigger jackpot.”

“It’s not a competition,” Buffy sighed, rolling her eyes. She looked down and stabbed her fork into her barely eaten pork chop. It was nearing the end of dinner, and she had barely put any food in her mouth.

“Eating requires the actual putting of the food in mouth,” said Dawn, looking at her with raised brows, “Just so you know.”

“I’m not hungry,” Buffy mumbled.

Joyce frowned. “Are you not feeling better, Buffy?”

Buffy looked up, surprised by the question. It had been a week since their very short talk, and since then Buffy had made an extra effort to appear happy.

“Is Buffy sick?” asked Dawn, confusedly looking between Buffy and Joyce.

Buffy shook her head. “I’m good. Just tired.” She tried not to meet her mother’s eyes and stood up, gathering her plates together. “I gotta go mom. Slaying calls.”

“Alright,” said Joyce, quietly, “Leave the plates. Dawn will get them.” (Dawn whined about it. There was still room for her to grow, Buffy supposed.)

“Thanks. I’ll see you two tomorrow morning.”


It was the most prominent at Restfield Cemetery. The pain directed her instincts, and they took her to a crypt. The swollen mass seem to throb with yearning when she entered said crypt, and found it empty. It almost surprised her that it was empty. Which was silly, of course. What was she expecting to find, a couch and a TV-set? That’s exactly it.

She cut her patrol short that night, the ache in her soul getting stronger. The heaviness took her to bed immediately, and she fell into a fitful sleep. And she dreamed about a box, black and plain, small and deceptive.

Open it Slayer, it’s all for you. It’s your Gift. Open it.

When she awoke next morning, she remembered a glimpse of something blue in her dreams. It was a moment that filled her with the serenity her waking hours refused her.

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