(Fic) Once and Future
On BuffyForums, I've been involved in a fascinating and very deep discussion with Wolfie, Michael and some others on Buffy's ultimate fate, leadership, heroism, and historical and literary parallels from Admiral Nelson to the Grail Quest. All of which inspired the following story. I've already written one ficlet about how Buffy might eventually die - peacefully at the age of 94, surrounded by friends and family. This is an alternative and very different vision of that same tragic yet inevitable event.
I'd apologise to Sir Thomas Malory for the blatant rip-off, but his stuff is out of copyright so who cares? :-)
Summary: Buffy fights her final battle, and is borne to rest.
Rating: 15 (Violent imagery, character death, sadness.)
Once and Future
The clanging and yelling of the battle had faded. Even the moans of the dying grew faint. The smell remained, though: rancid sweat, the stench of spilled intestines and the metallic tang of blood. Overhead, buzzards circled, plucking up their courage to descend and feast. On all that field of carnage, where human and demon bodies lay intertwined obscenely, only two figures remained standing.
Buffy's entire body was a silent scream of pain. Faint with blood-loss and exhaustion, she staggered to her feet, propping herself up with the Scythe as she struggled forward.
Her enemy stood there, cool and untouched, a sardonic smile on his face as he watched her approach.
"It's over, Slayer. Your army is destroyed."
"Ah, but they were merely my pawns, helping me to greatness. But you? These were your friends. And now they're dead and gone. You're all alone."
She didn't bother to reply, husbanding all her strength for the task of putting one foot in front of the other.
"It doesn't have to end this way, you know. We weren't always enemies. When I rule the world, you can have a place - not at my side, obviously, but at my feet."
"Pity. But only to be expected. You never give up, do you? So you have to die."
She tottered forward, raising her weapon - then gasped in shock and agony as he picked up a spear and thrust it deep into her chest.
"Goodbye, Slayer. I w-"
The words died in his mouth as she lifted her head again. Eyes flaring with determination and hate fixed on his own. Her face was a frozen mask of agony, but she stepped forward, and the weapon burst out through her back in a shower of blood. Another step. His hands clamped on the shaft of the spear in panic and disbelief as she pushed herself up towards him, impaled, already dead but too stubborn to realise it. Then for the last time in her life she swung the Scythe, and his head leaped from his shoulders. She fell forward across his corpse, and blackness took her.
It was Xander who found her. She'd ordered him to safety before the battle started, but he couldn't stay away. He quartered the field in growing despair, searching for her, willing himself to believe that she could survive anything. When he found her he groaned in misery, sank to his knees beside her body.
Her eyelids fluttered, and a faint smile crossed her blood-caked mouth as she recognised him.
"You never... did...what you're told."
"You're alive! Oh God, we've got to get you to a hospital..."
A tiny shake of her head. "'M done for. But...was nice to... see you again, before..."
"No, no!" But there was no denying the evidence in front of him. "At least let me pull the spear out..."
"Don't... soon as you do...'ll bleed to death... But there is...something you... can do f'me..."
"The Scythe..." Her fingers fluttered on its haft, but she no longer had the strength to lift it. "Got to return it... to the Guardians..."
"But... Okay. I'll do it. Er, how do I do it?"
"Over there." She signalled with her eyes. "You'll find a lake... throw it in."
"I'll be back. Don't die on me, Buff." He took the Scythe from her hand, struggled to his feet and dashed off, eye half-blinded with unshed tears, stumbling over the piled corpses that lay all around.
There was a thicket of trees and tangled bushes just off the edge of the field, and he pushed his way into it. Where was this lake? He couldn't remember seeing one on the map. Buffy was going to die alone and he wouldn't be by her side. He had to go back to her. But what about the Scythe?
Reluctantly, hating himself, he stopped. Lay the weapon down under a tree, dragged leaves and fallen branches over it to hide it. He could come back for it later, after-- After Buffy didn't need him any more. He had to get back to her.
He approached her hesitantly, empty-handed. "It's done."
"What did... you see?"
"Big lake. Loud splash, lots of spray. It sank to the bottom. It's gone, just like you asked..."
The look she turned on him was unbearable. Pain and betrayal and hurt burned in her eyes. Guilt choked him. How did she know? With a gasped "I'm sorry!" he turned and fled from her. Blundered crashing through the undergrowth, frantically uncovered the Scythe, ran on heedless of the branches twisting and clawing at his face.
Stopped dead as the woodland parted and a dark, silent sheet of water stretched out suddenly in front of him. He blinked, then shook himself. Hefted the Scythe in his hand, then swung it underarm and hurled it as hard as he could. It arced out over the water, glittering scarlet in the last light of the setting sun, and then...
Xander stared open-mouthed in astonishment. "Well, I'll be..."
His earlier haste was gone. His feet dragged as he returned, sure he'd find Buffy dead, wanting to put off the moment as long as possible. Not wanting the sight of her empty, lifeless face to overwrite all his memories of her.
But when his slow pace couldn't delay him any longer, he raised his downcast face to look, and saw... she wasn't alone.
The woman kneeling beside her, tender hand laid gently on her forehead, was dressed in green like summer leaves, but her hair shone bright as the sun at noontime. She turned and smiled at him as he approached, eyes full of compassion and wisdom.
"Is she... is she gone?"
"She's sleeping. She needs her rest."
"Can you heal her?" He saw that the blood-smeared spear had been removed, lay beside her body. "Can you make her better?"
But the woman - or goddess? - shook her head. "Some hurts are too great to heal, at least here in the mortal realm."
He bowed his head in sorrow and resignation, but the shining figure chuckled gently.
"Come on, Xan. I said 'here in the mortal realm', but there's an obvious way around that restriction." If she'd still been human, the smile on her lips could have been termed 'impish'. Hope flamed in his heart again. "I don't know how long it will take. Centuries, perhaps. But she'll return when the world needs her again."
She looked up, at something behind him, and gave a signal. And then came footsteps, and a group of women filed past him, all clad in midnight blue robes, hoods shielding their faces. They took up positions on either side of Buffy, and gently lifted her onto a bier. Then stood, raising it to their shoulders. At another signal from the shining figure in green they set out slowly, bearing her away at a funereal pace.
Xander stood watching them go, the tears flowing unashamed now. But the last of the women turned back to him, throwing back her hood to reveal blonde hair glinting in the twilight.
"Don't just stand there gawping, Harris. Come and say goodbye to her before we leave. That's very important to help humans in processing their grief. I read that in a book."
He blinked in astonishment, a hundred questions bursting inside him... then followed the slow, sad parade in silence and wonder.
They passed under the shadow of the woods, then emerged beside the lake, lying black and silent in the gathering gloom. There was a boat drawn up on the shore that hadn't been there before, and the pallbearers laid Buffy down in the centre of it, then took their places around her.
The green-clad woman beckoned him closer, and as he knelt on the strand beside the boat, Buffy's eyes opened again for the last time. She spoke to him in a low but strong voice.
"We're leaving now. We've made you a world without demons or magic or capital-E Evil, and there's no place for Slayers or witches in it either. It's your world now, Xander. Live in it for me. Be strong."
"But I'll never see you again!"
"Yes you will. In your heart. And if the demons ever do return..." She smiled at him. "Then so will we."
He smiled back at her, bittersweet, and bade her farewell. And then the shining goddess laid her hand on his shoulder and squeezed, and said her own goodbye. Then stepped into the boat herself. One of the dark-clad women spoke to her, and her silver laugh shimmered out over the water, and in that moment the moon rose. A glittering path seemed to arrow down over the water, the moonlight turning the waves to crystal as they lapped against the sides of the boat.
As Xander watched, the goddess took her place in the bows, and lifted her hands. Without engine or sail or oar, the craft started to move out softly onto the surface of the lake, following the shining silver moon-path. The mists rolled aside, and in the distance he thought he saw one of the women turn her face towards him, and wave.
Then the mists rolled back, and hid the boat from him, and it was gone. He was alone.
He turned his back to the lake and walked out into the world. In the sky above him, the stars came out, one by one.