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Challenge #11: Normal

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  • Challenge #11: Normal

    What if Buffy had chosen to stay in the hospital in Normal Again?


    * * * * * * * *

    Her mother was talking to her through a fog. Real and not real. Dream and waking. Joyce was dead, Joyce was speaking, while other voices jabbered at her from another world – Willow, Xander, the growl of a demon - a world of sharp violence, of vivid pain. The real world? The fantasy? How can I tell them apart?

    Her mother was speaking again. Buffy could see her face, those great big sad eyes. She felt as though her heart was being squeezed, her lungs, too. No air. No thought. Just a longing for comfort. There had been too much pain.

    Joyce smiled. “Your dad and I, we have all the faith in the world in you. We'll always be with you. There's a world of strength in your heart, honey. I know there is. You just have to find it again. Believe in yourself.”

    Buffy closed her eyes. Behind the lids, she saw her friends and her little sister. But that world behind her eyes was not real. She could not let it be real. It was ridiculous and dangerous. Nothing good would ever happen there again. All the life had been sucked out of it.

    So she decided. She was going to kill them all.

    “You're right...” she said. “Thank you… Mom.”

    For a moment, she squeezed her eyes shut to the real world and entered the terrible dream. She watched her “friends” die as the demon laid into them. They screamed. Oh they screamed.

    They aren’t real, they aren’t real, they aren’t real…

    When she opened her eyes, she was back with her mother, sitting in the corner of a white room, wearing a hospital gown.

    Hesitantly, she smiled. “I think… I’m going to be ok now. I killed them. I’m not the slayer.”

    “Good… oh darling… oh good…” Her mother hugged her tight.


    It was a month before the doctors would let her go home. In the meantime, she got to know this strange new world from within the safe walls of the hospital. Not a new world, she reminded herself. It had been there all along. But she had not.

    Little things were different. There was her body, for a start. She couldn’t do half the things she could as the slayer. No jumping onto high places. No punching through walls. No lightening reactions. She couldn’t even do a lot of regular things – years of catatonia had left her body so weak. But, with the help of the on-site physio, she started to train and build up strength.

    “Baby steps,” the woman said – she was called Mary. “You’re learning to live in the world again, it’s going to take time. You’ve been through a lot.”

    In sessions with the shrink, Buffy felt as though she couldn’t tell the truth. She didn’t want to share all the thoughts she was still having about the people she’d killed.

    No, not killed. Because she invented those people. It’s not murder if they’re not real, dummy.

    But the guilt was real. It ate away at her. She could feel some part of her, deeply buried, was howling with pain and clawing to get out. This was the punishment. She’d made her own prison.

    I killed my friends. I didn’t believe in myself. So I’m hiding. And I killed them all.

    The fears came alive at night. As she slept, she walked through graveyards. She looked at the graves of her friends and wondered who had buried them. There were fresh flowers on Dawn’s grave.

    One night, Giles was there. When he saw her, he looked afraid. No stiff upper lip, just rigid terror.

    She walked towards him, unsure what to do, or whether she was really in control in this dream.

    Giles held his hands out as if to fend her off. “Think about this, Buffy… remember who you are. The world needs you.”

    “This world isn’t real,” Buffy murmured. “You’re just a dream.”

    “If I can’t save you, the council will come for you.” His voice was pleading now. “They’ll… stop you, Buffy. And I may have to let them. I’ve tried everything to get through to you.”

    Buffy shook her head. “I can’t take this any more. I’m getting better. Why can’t you just let me get better?”

    She remembered what the doctor said. When the bad dreams come, just do what you did when you were delusional – face up to reality. Take the delusion apart.

    In the dream, she could move so fast. Her hands were strong, like little vices. She felt the old rush of violence and speed. As she gripped Giles’s throat, his neck snapped with the slightest application of pressure. A sickening crack.

    And then she woke up. After that, the dreams never bothered her again. She left the hospital and – with the care and support of her parents – recovered enough to go to college. Life opened out to her once more. Her life as the slayer faded away like a nightmare, leaving only shadows and whispers behind. It was as distant as childhood, locked up in her mind like a box of broken toys.

    But, still, she picked a college far away. UC Sunnydale would be too strange, haunted by ghosts of people who were never real. She went to Columbia, she partied, she dated, and life was good. She told herself it was good, at least, because it was real, and real is good.

    But whenever she saw a slight, red-haired girl, or a stocky dark-haired boy, or a tall, slender girl with big blue eyes and clumsy movements; or whenever she heard a British accent, she felt a tiny part of her heart wither away.

    As she walked across campus on the way to a lecture one day, this thought bubbled up: A part of me will always be dead.


    -- Robofrakkinawesome BANNER BY FRANCY --
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