The High Cost of Living
By Northlight

Title: The High Cost of Living
Author: Northlight
email:
uzenet@videotron.ca
Summary:  Buffy learns of the price required for her unexpectedly long life.  Not a happy fic.
Note:  This takes place between "The Final Link" and "Blood Bond" although neither of those are required reading for this -- in fact, they have almost nothing at all to do with this.
Note 2:  The writing is very choppy.  If that sort of thing annoys you, keep away, cause this isn't for you :)
Distribution:  Want it? Ask. I'll say yes :)
Disclaimer: Joss owns all.  The title was shamelessly stolen from Neil Gaiman's "Death: The High Cost of Living"
Date: Aug. 11, 1999


She had been strong all day, fighting back the tears that threatened to blur her vision and her sobs until her throat burned and her jaw ached with the effort to hold back her cries.  She stayed calm on the outside as her mother slumped over on the couch, her face buried in her shaking hands and her shoulders trembling; she stayed calm outside, when her children faced her with curious, frightened faces.  She was calm and strong where everyone could see, while inside she felt herself tumbling further and further away from everything that she had known.  Each hour dragged by, unbearably long - inching towards nightfall with the steady, torturous sound of the clock, loud in the tense silence.

She wore her mask, willing that she would not fall apart and cast aside her usefulness in a flurry of tears.  Every time the door opened, she would look up, hope in her eyes.  And so it remained shining in hers while hope died in the eyes of all those who waited at her side.  Her mask shattered apart when Rupert stepped back into the house they shared, his steps slow and his shoulders hunched.  Her eyes slipped past the death in his eyes sightlessly, to focus on the small silver cross swaying from his hand.

She was screaming then, had been screaming forever - as if her tight voice, forced calm and hope, had never been.  She broke then, her body shuddering and each breath a struggle to draw.  She ignored the children's cries, her mother's horrified sob - stumbling towards her husband with a jerky, clumsy stumble ages away from the grace with which she had once been known to face the darkest of evils.

"Oh God!" Buffy called out, a curse and a plea torn past trembling lips in a choked sob.  The tears she had shed when they had left her father behind, her family dissolving around her; when she had wept bitterly into her pillow, her heart aching with loss and the certainty that love could never find her after what she had known with Angel -- all seemed frivolous things.

Rupert's arms were around her, holding her close as he had a thousand times before.  She couldn't feel them.  No warmth.  No comfort.  Nothing.  Emptiness and loss and pain and she couldn't _breath_.  She was crying, tumbling to pieces and she couldn't find the will to care.  Empty, hopeless things.

***

Joyce had taken the children upstairs, gently but firmly leading them away from the solemn group gathered in their living room.  Buffy's wails followed them up the stairs.  Holding her own tears at bay, Joyce closed the door against her daughter's grief, and gathered her remaining grandchildren to her.

***

She could hear bone crunch as her fist impacted with Willy's face.  Although her Slayer strength had begun to fade away when she carried Henry, there was still enough remnants of her gifts to make short work of the small man who manned Sunnydale's favourite watering hole for the undead.  Her hands wound around his upper arms and she slammed the man up against the wall.  "Tell me what they did to him!  Where is my son!?" she hissed.  Her eyes were dry again, something hard and unyielding having taken the place of her tears.

That look had slid into her eyes Andrew Sinclair, the current Slayer's Watcher, had stepped into her home.  He had drawn Rupert aside, and spoken to him in his crisp British accent, made soft with sympathy.  But she had heard, the words slamming into her with a force more stinging than had they been physical.

Her child was gone because of _her_.  A Slayer's life was lived through the sacrifice of others.  Balance.  Because there was never something for nothing, and she had lived and survived and, God forbid, held happiness, joyfully, heedless of what
would be taken from her for that time.  She had lived, held her child to her, and they took him away and it was her, all her, and they needed a fucking _balance_ and his life because she had been too damned stubborn to die as all good little Slayers were supposed to, and--

And Willy was squealing, soft, desperate cries as her hands tightened against his arms.  "Where is my baby?" Buffy growled.

"I-- I don't know, I _swear_," he was gasping, over and over, pleading for her to listen to him, to believe him, to let him go.

But she couldn't let him go, because her baby was out there, all alone, and he needed his mommy.  And the police, the incompetent, foolish police she had sneered at and joked about so often were out there, looking -- and they would never, never find Henry.  Her child.  Her baby.  Out there, all alone.  Scared and crying for his mommy and she would not let him die because she had been too selfish to let go and slip away.

"Buffy!" Rupert was at the door, looking old like he had never been, and it was her, all her who put that sorrow into his eyes, those lines into that beloved face.  She had lied to him, hurt him, taken away his child...  "Let him go, honey.  He doesn't know anything."

She shook her head, pale brown strands flying around her face.  "He knows everything," Buffy insisted.  "You know!  You knew!  You had to have known!  Oh, God, why didn't you tell me!"  Rhythmic thumping met her ears, and she realized that she had been pounding Willy against the wall.  Over and over and he was bleeding and he wouldn't tell her where her baby was!

"I didn't know!" Rupert was screaming, and he was angry and shaking and hating her right then.  "If I had known don't you think that I wouldn't have tried to do _something_?!"  His breath was ragged, tears in his eyes.  "Don't do this, Buffy.  Come home, _please_.  The children need you.  I need you.  Don't leave us alone..."

Her hands loosened around Willy, and he dropped.  "I _can't_.  I... I don't know _what_ to do... there's nothing to fight... all my fault, and there's nothing I can do to make it all go away!"

He didn't answer, but the tears answered for him, angry and loosing and mourning.  He couldn't fix anything, the man who had loved her and guarded her and guided her for so many years and he couldn't answer this with anything but tears, either.

***

Time ceased to have any meaning.  Minutes, hours, days, she didn't know, but they were bringing her baby home -- empty and stripped of the life she had helped give him.  Minutes, hours, or days, and they were standing in the graveyard where she had spend so many hours of her life -- fighting and studying, kissing and loving, growing up amongst the tombstones -- putting her baby into the ground. 

She lay in Rupert's arms, her eyes open and burning in the dark.  And she slipped away from him on soft feet, moving from doorway to doorway to watch the gentle rise and fall of tiny chests beneath the blankets, and wonder if the price for her life had yet to be paid in full.

END


*sigh*  The idea just stuck, and I had to get it out.  It isn't quite what I was aiming for, but I hope it isn't too bad.