Words swirled and assaulted him as overlapping voices demanded answers. English words, sounding strange and wrong coming from someone other than himself or Rehva. Buffy, are you okay? Buffy, what’s wrong? Where were you? What happened to you? Buffy? Buffy, Buffy, Buffy, Buffy…. Senka could barely think over the pain in his head and all of the Buffy, Buffy, Buffy….
What had even happened? Rehva had pushed him through the portal, and he’d grabbed at her in a blind panic, pulling her through after him. Neither of those had triggered the slug, since slaves weren’t punished for being stolen, and his intent hadn’t been to take Rehva away from their owner. He’d just needed her by his side. But hitting the guy he’d dated back in his gay phase? It had been a quick impulse with no real thought behind it, and the stupid slug must have decided the guy was a random house slave Senka had no jurisdiction over. It had triggered, sending him to his knees in agony.
By the time the pain started to fade, the man he’d hit had recovered enough to take a few staggering steps towards Rehva. And he seriously didn’t look like he was going to try to help her. He’s not a house slave, Senka thought very firmly as he forced himself to move through the lingering pain. He straddled Rehva’s unconscious body, putting himself between her and harm as he glared defiantly at the other man. He’s a thief. As a good slave, I should do whatever I can to stop him. He didn’t know if that would be enough to convince the slug to let him fight the guy – what was his name, again? – but it was worth a try.
“What the hell are you doing?” the man demanded. He looked sort of queasy, like he was only moments away from vomiting or passing out from the blow he’d taken. Maybe both.
“Listen up… Ronnie.” Senka knew it was the wrong name even before the guy’s face scrunched up like he’d found a fukara larva in his soup. “If you want to hurt Rehva, you have to go through me first.”
There was more talking from the others. More Buffy, Buffy, Buffy. “My name is Senka,” he snapped, not taking his eyes off of… Ricky? Randy? RuPaul?
No, none of those were right. He knew it was something that started with an R and was kind of girly. Rinnie? Riley? That was it! There was no way he was going to let –
“Buffy?” The voice was weak and kind of scared, and Senka didn’t even care that she had called him Buffy.
“Dawnie?” He turned his head to look at the girl. “You… you haven’t grown any.”
Senka glanced around at everyone else. Anxious and sort of shocked for the most part, with Xander staring at Rehva with an expression like he’d just eaten a live fish. None of them really looked any older than he remembered, but mid-twenties didn’t really look all that different from late teens sometimes, and Giles was at that stage where he just looked vaguely old, but not ancient for a while. Dawn, though…. She obviously hadn’t aged at all. Either the monks had made a mistake when they made her human, or….
“How long?” he asked, his voice coming out tight and hoarse.
“Five days for us,” Willow answered quietly. “I’m sorry, Buffy. If –”
“Senka! My… my name is Senka.”
Only five days had passed? That… that was just insane. It was better than the other way around, but it was hard to really comprehend. He’d been away from everyone for roughly six years. How was he supposed to pick up his life like it had only been five days?
No wonder Riley thought he could just grab and kiss me like that, he thought. Then he realized the deeper implications. The woman in red would still be after Dawn. And Mom….
Senka looked down at Rehva. Her face was covered with her own blood, but she wasn’t actively bleeding anymore, thankfully. He needed to go see his mom, but he couldn’t just leave Rehva here alone. If Mom was home, he could just take her there, but not if she was still in the hospital.
“Senka?” He looked up to see Giles kneeling down beside him. “I know this must be very disorienting for you. Let us know what you need.”
Senka closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath. “Where’s Mom?”
“Still in hospital.”
Damn it. He was going to have to choose. He stared into Giles’s eyes. Nothing but compassion there, but could he really trust him when it came to Rehva? He suddenly wished he could just grab her and drag her somewhere safe. He vaguely remembered there being an access to underground tunnels in the basement. He could…. He took another deep breath and slowly let it out.
He was back in his home dimension, and it was a good thing. It was strange and freaksome, but damn it, it was good, and he had to learn to trust these people again. If he could get Giles to help him with one thing, then Senka could trust him to take care of Rehva while he went to see his mom.
“I need to see Mom. And I need your help.” He held out his arm. “Cut me so I can give Rehva some blood.”
Giles stared down at the dead man on his couch, thinking on how to make him even deader. It would be really quite simple. Roll him off the sofa, plunge a stake through his heart, and hoover up the remains. He could claim the vampire had run off, leaving none the wiser as to his true fate. There were times he wished with all his being that he’d done something of the sort to Angel as soon as they had discovered what he was.
When he reached down towards Spike, however, it was to readjust the pillow tucked under his head. Spike was no angel by any means, but he was no Angel, either. Spike had been Giles’s flatmate for nearly three weeks last year, followed by frequent visits, and a bond of sorts had been formed over proper football and daytime telly. Even with that, he might have agreed with Riley’s belief – voiced after Willow, Tara, and Dawn had taken Buffy to see her mother – that the vampire had taken advantage of and manipulated Buffy.
But Spike had pushed Buffy through the portal, towards her family and friends, which was something a manipulator would never do. And he had done it knowing full well what the slug and chip would do to him. Buffy’s terse explanation of the slugs while he’d cut her arm – something the creature in her head wouldn’t allow her to do herself – had made that clear.
His poor, dear girl. He’d no idea what had happened to her in that other dimension, but her actions had made it clear, to him at least, that Spike had been a comfort through it all and something had developed between them. Calling him princess had been rather peculiar, but the soft, gentle words Buffy had murmured to Spike as she’d cleaned him up and fed him had been very telling. Even more so had been when she’d made a point to inform Giles that it had been six years since Spike had last had a real cup of tea. And that “she” – apparently meaning Spike – hadn’t quite been able to perfect curry. Grand gestures were one thing, but keeping small details like that in mind spoke of something deep and meaningful.
Giles sighed and shook his head before getting ready to go back out. He wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it all, but for now, he would be supportive. And at the moment, being supportive meant picking up some lamb and several pints of blood.
Dawn had had a plan. A really good one, too. They’d get Buffy and Spike back, and she’d hug her sister before kicking her in the shin for vanishing and not talking about the whole key thing. There was going to be ice cream and movies and milkshakes while Buffy tried to win her forgiveness. And they’d go see Mom, and Dawn would be all smug about the story she’d spun about how Buffy had a nasty demon-y stomach flu, and she hadn’t been by the hospital because she was vomiting and pooping all the time. That last part – but without the smugness – was actually happening, but the rest of it….
Dawn glanced out of the corner of her eye at Buffy as they headed towards Mom’s room. They’d stopped by the house to get her something better than a micro skirt’s smaller cousin and a bra band to wear to the hospital. Buffy had just sort of stared at a pair of jeans for a minute before opting for a knee-length skirt. She was playing with the fabric of it right now, looking sort of dazed and nervous. Dawn was still upset about not being told what she was, but it seemed really petty to bring it up after whatever Buffy had been through. She didn’t even want to be called Buffy anymore. Which, okay, Buffy was kind of a weird name, but that was going to cause some problems.
“Um, Buff… Senka,” she said, keeping her voice low enough that Tara and Willow probably wouldn’t hear. “Mom’s been…. Sometimes she gets kind of weird because of the tumor. So, um, let her call you Buffy, okay? So she doesn’t get confused.”
Buffy looked at her, and her eyes seemed almost too big. It reminded Dawn of the summer after Buffy had died for a minute. Even Dad, as out of touch as he could be, had realized she was strangely distant back then.
“Yeah, okay,” Buffy finally said, jerking her head in an awkward nod as they got to the room.
This isn’t going to go well, Dawn thought with a sinking feeling. Buffy would keep being all distant and weird and Mom would be confused and there would be this whole big spiral of freakiness and….
“Buffy! How are you feeling? Dawn told me….” Mom trailed off, the concern on her face deepening.
“Mom….” Buffy’s voice sounded choked up and weirdly young, like a little kid after a bad dream. “Mommy.”
Mom didn’t say anything. Just opened up her arms, and there Buffy was, crying and being held. Dawn glanced back behind her, trying to figure out how to ask Tara and Willow to go away without being really rude. She didn’t have to. Tara smiled and lightly shoved her more into the room before closing the door.
Dawn hurried over to the bed and climbed on, her own tears threatening to fall as she hugged her mother and sister. Buffy stiffened for a second, then went limp as the crying turned into full-blown sobs that shook her entire body.
“Oh, baby, it’s okay,” Mom murmured. “It’s okay.”
Dawn didn’t think it was okay. It was really, really not okay right now. But Dawn would do whatever she could to make things better.
Senka couldn’t seem to stop crying. Mom’s arms were warm and comforting in a way even Rehva’s couldn’t be. Six years. He’d been away from his mom for six whole years, and during that time, he hadn’t even known if she was still alive. But here she was. Real and alive. And Dawn was, too.
Home. He was really home. He hadn’t allowed herself to think about home in so long, and now…. He buried his head against his mother’s shoulder and just let himself cry as something inside, some kind of cocoon, started to crumble.
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January 10, 2021 21:34