Near Death (Not Close Enough)
by Buffonia

You always thought it would be a dirtier death than this. A messy chest wound, blood on your new leather jacket. That time in the cemetery, with the smelly Eighties vamp, he got you good. You almost died. But he was a nobody that caught you off-guard and pride wouldn't allow him to finish you off. Your pride, of course. You waited your whole life for a suitable death, and here it is and there's nothing gory about it.

No high-rise fall to punch you to pieces. Not even an anvil to your neck arteries. This is near sterile compared to all your nightmares and, worse yet, grim hopes. You reassure yourself that this is still the stuff that legends are made of. Glory isn't your M.O. but wouldn't it be a kick in the tight, shiny pants if you let all that underworld notoriety die with your own forgettable death.

And there's no way this can be forgotten. Makes you feel better for a moment, until the dying kicks back in. You always thought, in thoughts like heart-wishing dreams, that it would be quicker too. Something sharp and deep. Instant gratification.

You wonder why you always wanted it that way. It's probably because the other two times didn't stick, and they were slow and the corpse they left was always pretty and whole. So you waited in hope for the time when it was definitely the right time and it would be fast and leave you peaceful in pieces. Best way to go. Best way to stay there.

The first time you left, you were on your way. But you doubled back without a memory of anything on the other side. You think you may have dreamed of swimming. Like you coughed your soul out into the sewer water when the Master dropped you face down. It doesn't make sense and it's not worth remembering.

The second time, though, was a promise. At first you thought coming back was a mistake of fate. That Willow fucked up the world and that nothing afterwards would matter. That there was no more balance to keep because your best friend blew the whole damn scale off the face of the universe.

So you treated everything like it was a dream that you knew you were dreaming so you might as well just do whatever you damn well please. Just short of dying your hair something tragically dark and deep and starting a fun new hobby that involved sharp things, you screamed the pain away on the most convenient boyride of them all. Why not fuck a vampire who could never be part of the life that wanted you back so bad? The world was screwed anyways.

You're over that now. All graduated from a different school of thought. You realized a while back that the second death was a promise and a reason to live because there was a nice, comfy seat in heaven with your name on it and that your mom was up there holding it for you. And that's actually something to look forward to now, in this slow, somewhat clean state of fatal affairs.

It's almost funny, in the way that dark, tragic things can never be completely funny, only humorous in an ironic sense. Even if you can't quite grasp what the irony is about. But it is almost funny now, that after all the despair and heartache, and the perfect moment on the horizon, you're really gonna miss it here.

You've got no unlived life to fear, overlived three times to be perfectly fair, even if you never traveled the whole wide world. You made it as far as California, but the rest of the universe (and hell beyond) came to you for either help or a little mortal combat from time to time. Although a trip to England might have been nice.

You're waiting for this to hurt more. The drowning was frightening, what with the panic and instinct to breathe. Jumping into the portal, all ecstasy of relief aside, had an indescribable ripping sensation that will never be part of the happy place in your mind. But this? No pain. No blood. It's like a painless, bloodless joke, without the funny and just the aforementioned ironic humor.

The look in Faith's eyes is hurting you more than the actual dying. And why shouldn't it? You cheated her out of redemption. Or so she thinks. She's got off from death with just a warning once before. A slayer's really got to die to see things as clear as you're seeing them now. Maybe the next time she'll be luckier, and it will be a collapsed lung instead of a coma, and then she can come back and look back and understand this whole insane situation.

You also see a lost hope in her eye. She always wanted to give it to you, it wasn't a secret to the grave, and now you're almost sorry that she never got the chance. Maybe you could have even helped her understand these things without her actually dying. But it's too late for thoughts like that now. And her look is hopeless enough without her having to see it in your eyes too.

Her lip is cut. You almost want her to lean a little further over you, so some of her blood can spill onto your skin. Hell, you'd even let her kiss you, if she moved in for it now, because you're far too pure (all you've done and still too pure) to die at this moment. Which doesn't matter, because this isn't the moment that will leave your body bare and empty.

Maybe it will be quick for her. For Faith. In all her impulsive, unplanned momentum. Maybe she'll get the fast and sloppy death that you always craved. It might even be more fitting for her. She might be more deserving of it. Is that a pang of jealousy you feel? Or is the pain you've been waiting for finally kicking in?

The Powers are really drawing this one out. And you're perfectly selfish to be complaining, but they can't mind because this is the most selfless thing you could do. This has to be what they want. What they waited for. What you were brought back to accomplish. You know this. But that's exactly what you thought before you jumped from the tower and into heaven. This is definitely a permanent parting though. Why else would the Powers make with the painfully slow and painlessly long grand finale?

This must be it. The big it that will seal the deal and all that stuff that's just a big metaphor for doing your duty. Faith's licking the blood from her lip, and you had really thought she'd let you do it. But after stealing her destiny, a destiny that she never really had a completely sane handle on, you let the kiss thing go.

Your fingers ache, caked with earth, dirt shoved deep under your nails. Just like when you crawled your way to air out of your coffin. Except this time you dug your own grave, down to the seal, to the glowing, to the place where you now lay waiting to die.

Faith's kneeling, leering over you, her large gaze moving over your bright, shaking figure. The rest of them just stare down from above. Willow holding Dawn. Xander, of all people, gripping back Spike, of all things. Vampire and sister are screaming, while your human friends hold onto them with sheer desperation and a grieving look they're biting back and saving for later.

You don't completely understand what Dawn is sobbing into Willow's chest. Something about Mom being right. She doesn't get it. Maybe everyone just needs a nice, big dose of dying to really, truly get this. You don't have the strength to explain it, to even talk actually, much less explain it. You love them. This is right. That's enough.

Any and all of them could be hoping that they were in your place right now. Everyone's fighting for some kind of good graces nowadays. Spike's a bad guy with a good soul, and Faith's a good girl with a bad one. You're pretty sure Willow would do anything to get out of the red. And you wouldn't be surprised in the least if Xander was entertaining the thought of saving the world again, after liking it so much the first time. But this is your job, and you're up for the promotion.

Willow's not crying. But she still doesn't get it. Maybe Spike will explain it to them. You think that he will, because he's got the death prerequisite and everything and... God, you're really starting to feel it now. Not pain, no; that never came. The exhaustion. You feel...drained. And it's not a complete and empty weakness like when you let Angel drink you to near death. This is a special slipping.

You're starting to appreciate the slowness finally. That's why they're doing this. That's why it's happening like this. They're making you understand. Thought you were above everyone with the knowledge having and then the Powers teach you a new lesson.

As the fatigue grows, you can see through a shady perception that Spike's becoming more lucid; his rambling confusion dwindling to a more shocked, silent mind chaos. The First is losing Its power over him because Its losing Its power period which makes It just plain losing. And you're kind of losing too in the oxymoronical way that you're winning for once and for all.

You're ending it. You're conquering it. All those slayers training to fight and survive and keep killing, you're setting all those girls free. Let Faith feel cheated because she'll never save humanity like this or ever again, but later on she'll thank you. She'll be thanking your headstone, gratitude dug in between tough sarcastic words, but it will be something. Or you could be wrong, she could soften in a few years, forgetting the bitterness that builds with the obligation to stop the apocalypses.

Well, there won't be any of those again. People will only suffer the suffering that they cause to themselves. A far lesser evil than any hellspawn creation. The First is the body of hell and you're closing its mouth forever.

The First. Slayer. Evil. Both rooted in darkness. You thought Willow had destroyed the balance but, no, it was waiting for you all along. While you shopped and drank your mochafrappaccinos, it was just standing there, teetering back and forth as it had for a ridiculous eternity, begging to be stopped. This might be the final balance, or you could be busting the scale to pieces. Either way. Stopped.

Now comes the fading to black, a slow process like the initial dying was for you. The morbid faces around you, ranging from shock to sadness, should be too familiar to be so heartbending. And the final goodbye on your cold lips has no sound for them. You hope they can read it. They deserve that.

Of course it took so long, with all the evil from all over slowly crawling back into its Sunnydale hellmouthy womb. An evil eternity in slow mo rewind, as reality struggles forward. You aren't sure how this will turn out. You just know that it will be best. No more mystical convergence of energy. No more mystical energy at all.

You have a theory. That it means that this sacrifice will suck all the mysticism out of the world completely. Dawn's green light. Angel's inner demon. Spike's outer demons. Oz's canine tendencies. This will leave all of them totally and mortally human. You hope it doesn't suck all of them out of existence. Not that you wouldn't have done this if you had known that in advance. It's just that...

Things were so bad, and you had to make a choice.

You're starting to dream. Faith's face is replaced with the war-painted features of your ancestral sister. She's not angry with you anymore. It's nice to face the beyond with one less grudge. Her face turns into your face. Eerily, you look pretty pissed. But the seething you is fading, and you're pretty sure that's not you anyways. You don't feel that kind of hatred. You feel whole. You feel strong. You feel grateful that you didn't die in pieces, quickly, with incoherent thoughts. A dirty, confused death would never feel this satisfying.

And it's good to be finally done.


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