This is a companion piece to 'Two Ravens'. Spike's POV in the time following "The Gift".
Eight minutes to six. Thirteen minutes before sunrise. Two hours and seventeen minutes after I promised to protect Dawn. Five minutes after I failed to do so.
Just in case you were wondering.
I knew she was dead. Hadn't her pulse stopped thundering in my veins for the first time, ever? But still. I had to see for myself. I had to see her. Maybe I was just disorientated from my fall. Bloody long drop. Not exactly a soft landing, either. She might be okay. I hobbled over to her. Felt a rending sensation in my leg, but still I moved forward.
There she was. So peaceful. So dead. Not a bit of life left in her. Who would've thought, the Slayer, dead. Where did all that life inside her go?
Painful? Christ, yes. So very painful. Don't remember the last time I hurt so bad.
And then, that glorified bricklayer, her friend, who she loved, who she trusted… Fucking bastard! If the chip hadn't of kicked in I would have ripped his heart out, smashed him with a brick.
But I was helpless to stop him. I watched through my pain, as her perfect skin became scraped and raw, as her bones twisted and broke. Dawn was watching her sister's body be desecrated, crying silently. Yet again, I had failed her. Failed Buffy.
And he put his hands on me, touched me with those betraying hands, dragged me to shelter and covered me with my coat. And then left me.
At first I was angry. Why not leave me out in the sun? I even thought about dragging myself out in it. But then I realised that I had an obligation. To Buffy. To Dawn. And, bloody hell, I guess I have to be grateful to the soddin' Carpenter for putting me in here, for covering up what had gone on. Didn't like that one bit. But then I figured that loathing and gratitude cancel each other out, so I just went back to cordially hating the fellow.
They came for me, eventually. But what does it matter. What's time to a vampire? Eighteen hours and thirty-six minutes since Buffy died.
They moved me to the car. Fuck. Why not just tromp on my leg? Might hurt less.
We get to the Summers' place. Fussy old-lady Watcher, fetching sheets so I don't mess up the parlour; Carpenter holding me, and I so hate being beholden to him. And, hey, that's kinda funny. I'm beholden to the man holding me. So I laugh, and he's laughing, but I don't think it's the same joke.
They lay me out, neat as can be, but no way I'm letting them touch me without I have a drink first. So they break out the whisky and I down a couple a shots. Notice that they drink too. Fine, just don't get foxed and stake me with a splint.
They cut off my pants. Funny, even when a body is all consumed with grief, scissors near your bits is still worrisome.
Then the Watcher says to hold me still, and damn if that idiot boy doesn't lie down on top of me. His warm body against me, his head up against mine. I could feel every pulse point from his temple to his belly, could hear the blood in his veins. I felt myself vamp, and had to grind my fangs against the sudden pain in my head. Then my leg's being pulled right off my fucking body and I'm too busy screaming to think about draining the bugger.
Next thing I know the Watcher is about to pour some whisky on my leg. I stop him, right quick. Criminal waste of drink. Like I'm going to die from gangrene.
We three sit and drink, and all I can smell over the whisky is blood. I'm covered in the stuff. Not mine, of course, my last meal. Pig, if I recall correctly. But the Watcher and the Carpenter have a myriad of injuries. All smelling so sweet. Haven't been this hungry since Dru turned me. I'm weak from pain and blood loss. I need blood, badly, and there's sod all I can do about it. Except ask for it.
Not that it helped. Lackwit trotted off to the kitchen, but the larder was bare. Plenty of food in the messenger, though. Not that I can get at it. I'm such a pathetic excuse for a predator.
And then the Watcher takes up a whacking great knife and slices himself. Bloody hell, Rupert. Did your hand offend you? But I can't refuse the blood. It's all I can do to stop myself from vamping as I drink it. That was some quality stuff. Tangy, full of strength and Ceylon black.
I spent an uncomfortable night on Joyce's comfortable couch. Drinking and brooding. Thinking about Buffy. Worrying about Dawn. No one bothered to tell me how she was, but I had overheard enough to know that the witches were staying with her. She'd be safe enough with them.
Dawn comes home. She's okay. Doesn't talk much, though. Bloody wankers make her go back to school. In my day, girls didn't have to go to school in the summer. Come to think, why not just teach her watercolours and deportment right here at home? Then I get a gander at some of her books. Educating females is much more complex nowadays.
The Carpenter's girlfriend shows up. Has to use a chair. Feel bad about that. Hated being trapped like that, me.
Red goes off to L.A., to break the news to Angel. She feels very sorry for him. Don't bother feeling sorry for me. Not like I love her. Not like I protect her kid sister and refrain from torturing her friends.
Get myself into a right nice niche here. Stay up through the night, keeping watch. I'm never going to let anything happen to the Little Bit, not again. Position myself in her room. Staying close, watchful. Listening to the sounds of the house. I can hear each heartbeat. The Watcher, downstairs brooding, rarely ventures up here. The Witches, in Buffy's bed, snogging, shagging. I would listen to them, at first. But then I looked at the sleeping girl in front of me and I stopped. Made me feel dirty, and not in a good way. Demon Girl, still a lot of pain there, but she lays quiet enough. Wish the Carpenter would. Treks through the house, checking up. Walked in on Red and her girlie doin' it a couple a times, too. Very amusing to hear the increase in his pulse when it happens. Eventually everybody's asleep, and my mind turns to Buffy. Thinking about her. Her hair, her smile, her strength.
Morning comes, and with it new duties. Must make sure that Dawn is eating well. I worry that she's so thin. Pinin' for her mum and sis, she is. Bundle her off to class. One of the Witches takes her, the other stays to care for the house and the sickly girl, turnabout. Carpenter goes off to mangle trees. Watcher buggers off to mind the store, but he's so damn relieved to get out of the house it's palpable. And, finally, I can sleep.
I use Buffy's room. Buffy's bed. And it's because the room is light-proofed, yeah, but it's also because the room is hers, because she's all over it, every inch. I slide between her sheets and breathe deeply the scent of woman, of passion. And I lay in her bed and think of her. Her eyes, her curving neck, her white skin.
I can ignore the usual housekeeping sounds, water running, cupboards opening, the squeak of the wheelchair. But once I heard crying, and when I went to investigate the Demon Girl was weeping in her chair. She had to use the facilities, and was too ashamed to ask Red to help her. I remember being helpless. Having Dru care for me was bad enough, but then to have Angelus mocking me… Boils my blood to think on it. So in remembrance of that, and because I never could withstand a woman's tears, I helped her to the water closet, and waited for her to finish. We would repeat this several times a day, couple of days a week. Three weeks, four days, three hours and nine minutes after Buffy died she finally stopped crying and started just quietly calling my name.
Evening was about the only time I had for myself. Dawn was surrounded by the Scoobies, protected, safe. There was much laughing and noise. I would go outside to smoke and eat, wasn't right to do either in front of the Niblet.
I'd listen to them help with Dawn's schoolwork. Wouldn't let Xander near the math. Apparently the fellow's a complete dunderhead. Still, when would a body use math, anyway? Two million, three hundred and ninety-one thousand, eight hundred and forty seconds; thirty-nine thousand, eight hundred and sixty-four minutes; six hundred and sixty-four point four hours; twenty-seven point six-eight-three days; three point nine-nine-five weeks since Buffy died.
Circles within circles. No sign of Glory. Vamp and demon activity at rock-bottom. All's quiet. Not a whisper of danger to Dawn. But I forget that humans are fragile. That lots of stuff can hurt them. And that not everything can be guarded against.
One night, was just finishing some A-pos and a Rothmans when the talk inside turned to Shakespeare. Now, I've got as much love for the Bard as the next fellow, but it's when Dawn complains that she has to study the introduction that my interest is piqued. Swinburne wrote it.
I remember how much I worshipped that man, devoured everything he published. Poems, plays, essays, including the very one that Little Bit was reading. Literary giant, he was. Pissant little pederast, though. I begged an invite to a function that I knew he would be attending and managed to get an introduction. I was all prepared to fall at his feet, and he fell at mine instead. Drunken sot. Kept trying to bite me. I looked for him after I was turned. I think he would've enjoyed being a vampire.
I came into the house, hungry for a little intellectual discourse, and what do I get? The Watcher telling Dawn that Algie was a minor Victorian poet. Minor! Swinburne! My God, man! Who taught you literature? Oxford should be ashamed to produce a man like you. Just think of the beauty of his poetry, the incisiveness of his critical essays. You can forgive many foibles to some one who so neatly delineated the human condition. Could I change you, help you to love me, sweet,/Could I give you the love that would sweeten death,/We should yield, go down, locked hands and feet,/Die, drown together, and breath catch breath; But you wou- - Shut it William! Everyone is looking, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, and no wonder. Just shut up. So I muttered that I needed a fag and headed back outside.
But William won't stubble it. Keeps talking in my head. How prescient, how understanding of the vampiric condition. But you would have felt my soul in a kiss,/And known that once if I loved you well;/And I would have given my soul for this/To burn for ever in burning hell.
So I stood, smoking and cursing myself. And I thought about Buffy. Her soft kiss, her punishing hands, the sultry curve of her breast beneath a carelessly clutched sheet.
But I had discovered that there were other things that could damage Dawn. So I began to help her with her English studies. Buffy would want her to do well.
It was three nights later that I discovered another danger to Dawn's well-being. I was just lighting a smoke, listening to the house settle down for the night, when I hear voices. It's the Witches, come outside for a cuddle. They're nattering on about their day. I wasn't really listening, but it's hard not to hear with vamp senses. So Blondish is complaining about sore arms. Seems that helping Anya is quite strenuous for her, and she wants to work on a levitation spell. Red doesn't understand why, she doesn't think it's hard watching after Demon Girl. This causes some confusion, and a little bit of sniping about the difficulty of taking care of a house and an invalid.
Now, this really is none of my concern, so I toss my fag and head back to the house. But then I think that Dawn would be upset by a Witch tiff, so I turn back and tell them that I really don't mind helping out with the sickly girl. That it doesn't bother me to carry her around and help her with the WC, when Red is around. It's just that Anya doesn't like to bother Will when she's busy. Apparently this is the wrong thing to say.
Some pretty harsh words are tossed about. Like neglect. And selfish. And something about hating Anya because Xander loves her and you don't really love me and just waiting for the chance to ditch girls and move back to the het side because you aren't really committed and I took care of you and you should understand that Anya needs help and your hostility and my pain and you don't understand Buffy wasn't your best friend. And then it got kinda high-pitched and too fast to really make out the words. But they seemed to understand each other.
Tara runs into the house, crying. Will sits on the grass, crying. Have I mentioned that I can't stand to see a woman cry?
So I sit beside Red and pat her on the back, and she turns and pushes herself against my chest, positively wailing. So I pat her some more, and say there, there pet, but she doesn't stop crying. And now she's babbling against my shirt, and I can't make out one word in ten. So I pull her away a little and her words come a little clearer. She's saying how Tara doesn't understand how much it hurts to lose Buffy. That only Dawn and Xander and Giles really understand how hard it's been this last month since Buffy died...
One month, two days, sixteen hours and 48 minutes since Buffy died.
Then she looks up at me, eyes glossy with tears, mouth red and puffy from sobbing, and says that maybe Tara is right. Maybe she isn't committed. And then she lunges at me, kissing me. Knocks me flat on my back, lands on top of me. I can feel her hot little body, her wet mouth, her desperation. And it's been so long since I had a shag that I'm trembling. With need. With lust. With wanting.
Red moves away from my mouth, starts kissing my neck, and she's grinding herself against me. I'm lost. She inches her way down my torso, pushing my shirt aside with her tiny hands. Her tongue swirls in my navel, and I'm hard and aching against her breasts. Those hands tug at my jeans, and her head dips down. I grab her hair.
Now, you may not think that I'm the type of fellow to look a gift fuck in the mouth, but ever since a back alley encounter with a Harna demon that's exactly what I do. Nasty things Harna demons. Teeth where you least expect it.
So I pull Willow's head up. She looks at me, her green eyes hot with lust and despair and loathing. And I suddenly don't want this. Not just because it would hurt Dawn, ashamed to say that doesn't occur to me until much later, but because I'm tired of fucking things that don't want to fuck me. Not really.
Lovely, I've apparently turned into a woman. Bloody hell. Being around humans is making me soft. Not literally. Red's breasts are still right above my cock. Her shirt's hanging open, and with her head pulled back they are just hanging there, white and full. With very little effort I could free them, touch them, taste them. There is so much heat coming off her, I could let it burn me, consume me. But I don't.
I push her off me and stand up, turning away to compose myself. Willow lays face down on the grass, crying again. Then she gets angry. It's much easier to deal with an angry woman. As long as they don't have stakes. So I let Red rant at me for a bit. She's feeling right sorry for herself. No one cares about her, Xander is too wrapped up in Anya, Giles barely speaks to her, Tara is mean and I reject her.
I light another fag, letting the smoke blur things between us. Now, seems to me Red, that you don't think that your girlie is feeling as bad as you. You think that fucking me will hurt her, and you're spot on with that. But I'm not going to let you use me, and I'm not going to let you hurt any of the people in this house. Including you.
She turns toward the house; the air is crackling with her rage. But I have one more thing to say. Something important. You shouldn't punish people for loving. No matter who they are, or who they love.
This gives her pause, for a moment, then she slowly moves to the house.
I finish my smoke and let my desires cool. When I get into the house, all's quiet. I pop into the Niblet's room. She's sleeping the sleep of the innocent. And from the next room I hear the sounds of passion. I try very hard not to listen.
Something wakes me. I'm not sure, at first, what it is. Wonder what the time is? One month, three days, four hours, and nine minutes since Buffy died. Just gone ten, then.
I pull on my trousers and head down the stairs to investigate the noise. Good Lord, it's giggling! Genuine happiness. No wonder it wasn't familiar. Poke my head into the study and see Blondish Witch and Demon Girl sitting with their heads close together, talking about trading and money. Now, money is a subject dear to my heart, so I move a little closer. The Witch turns, all over blushes at the sight of me. Tells me that Willow is going to be spending more time at the shop, working on spells, and that's good, because Anya is teaching her how to trade stocks on-line. I look at her, all flushed and happy, and I wonder how much she knows about what happened last night. I wonder if the Sickly Girl knows how Red feels about looking after her. I think about the pain I could cause with a few well placed words.
But a happy home is best for Dawnie, so I just tell them to call me if anything comes up, and head back to bed.
I find that I enjoy helping Dawn with her homework. Something so refreshing and untouched about her mind. It's like I'm moulding her brain. Seems that teenagers, even mystical ones, rarely think.
Case in point, she hates Shakespeare. Hates it. Says that A Midsummer Night's Dream is boring. Who could find antics of ensorcelled humans and faeries boring? Well, apparently anyone who had to take it in ninth grade. Every bleedin' one of them, no enjoyment in the play. 'Cept the Watcher, he says it's great literature. And the Demon Girl, she says that Rupert Everett was much foamier than the real Oberon, whatever the fuck that means. But they've missed the point, this is populist escapism! How can you not enjoy seeing Titania, Queen of the bloody Faeries, fawning all over Bottom?
Turns out, they've never seen it. That's the whole soddin' problem. Shakespeare isn't meant to be read, it's meant to be seen. Watcher, here, you be Bottom. Red, be the Faerie Queen. C'mon. Then you, Blondie. Fine. Then I'll be bloody Titania.
By the time I warble Thou art as wise as thou art beautiful, the Carpenter is on the floor, busting a gut. Then the girls start in on the giggles, and the Watcher can't stop a smile, and I find myself laughing. And it's because William is planning Amateur Theatrics in my mind, and picturing the Scoobies doing Restoration Comedy tickles my fancy.
People are positively giddy for hours after that. Have to admit that a smile didn't stray far from my face. I stood by Dawn's bed, watching her sleep. Watching her face, so young and happy in the moonlight. The beating of six hearts fills my ears, sings through my blood, and it sounds like nothing so much as rain. It's an oddly comforting sound. It means that Dawn's safe. That I'm doing my job. Keeping my promise to Buffy. Besides, there is nothing so familiar to an Englishman as rain.
So caught up in my fancy was I, that the sound of discordant staccato beats made me think about hail. Then I snapped to, recognising the sounds of a failing heart.
I listened to Dawn's heart beat, still strong and steady. Who, then?
I could hear voices down the hall, louder now that I'd opened the door. Carpenter was rushing along the hall, thundering down the stairs. The sickly girl was in his arms, head lolling, pulse fluttering.
In the bare minute it took him to unlock the door and rush out the house, everyone was up. Milling about the hall, upstairs and down, expression of confusion and sleep and dread on their faces.
And, from behind me, Dawn's voice, high pitched with panic. Where's Xander? Where's Anya? What's wrong?
I close my eyes, overwhelmed for just a second. Someone has to keep a clear head, and it looks like I win. By acclimation. Yet again.
So I tell Little Bit not to worry, I'll handle things. I grab the car keys as I leave.
Lackwit is standing in the yard, holding the girl. Clearly he's out of ideas. Oi, mate, we'll get on our way much faster if you get in the car. But he doesn't so much as look at me, let alone start moving. So I shout, and I grab him, all but dragging them to the car. And I can hear him whispering, his mouth pressed to his lover's temple.
And he's telling her that she'll be okay. That he'll take care of her. That nothing bad can happen because he's got her and he won't let anything bad happen.
I'm driving, listening to him make promises that he can't keep; listening to her faltering heart beat.
And I feel ... Something in me ... It feels like ...
A man just likes to be able to keep his promises, is all.
We get to hospital and they take the limp girl from Xander's arms. They put her behind a curtain and start doing doctory things to her. I listen to her heart, speeding and slowing, unsteady.
And he stands there, empty arms still held out, looking like an urchin at a bakery window. Wishing for things he knows he won't get. He should look ridiculous, in his pajama bottoms and cartoon shirt, feet bare and hair mussed from sleep. But he doesn't, and I can't rightly figure why not.
More people rush behind the curtain, their voices urgent, they movements purposeful. I can hear when her heart stops beating. The activity behind the curtain only increases.
Xander's arms have fallen to his side, his fingers flexing and clenching. He's swaying slightly, back and forth, shifting his weight. And I realise what he's doing. He's preparing himself for a blow. He knows his strength, and he knows his weakness, and still he stands there. He knows that the blow is coming, that it's going to land hard, that it's going to hurt. And still he fights. It's gallant and it's doomed, and, by God, it's impressive.
The people behind the curtain begin to quietly file out. They walk past Xander, not looking at him. A doctor walks toward him. I feel compelled to stand behind him. Some crazy impulse to stop the blow from landing. To deflect it, to soften it. But, in the end, there is no way to lessen it.
Xander tries very hard to misunderstand the doctor. To make him take back the words. And there is such pain in his voice, such anguish in his shaking hands. It's making me feel things, remember things. I don't like it. I want it to stop. I wrap my arms around him, holding hard, and he stills at my touch.
They won't let us leave. They want him to read things, to sign papers. Arrange for dispersal of the body. Look at him, do you think that he can do this? Inhuman monsters. Just sign your name; let's get going home. And then they bring Anya's personal effects. Personal effects. There is nothing so evil as bureaucracy. I grab the pitifully small paper bag and hustle Xander to the car.
I turn on the radio, trying to drown out Xander's voice. But he won't stop talking, and I can't stop listening. He talks about Anya's hair. About washing it, making soapy horns and beards and curlicues. About brushing it dry, marvelling at the texture as it ran like silk through his fingers. He talks about her hands. How dainty they are. The way they fly through the air in wild gestures when she talks. The way they feel against his skin.
I remember how it feels to care for someone, to tend them, to succour them. And then to lose them. I remember brushing Dru's hair, tying her ribbons, bringing her food. Did it for near fifty years, without a moment of regret. I wonder if Xander could have done that. I listen to him; he's talking about Anya's feet. Yeah, he might have done.
I let his ramblings wash over me, and I think about Buffy. About her trust, her love, how careless she was with both.
The sharp sudden tang of blood fills the car, and I look over at Xander. He's got Anya's diamond in hand, and he's pressing it against his mouth so hard that it's cut him. He's talking still, but now it's to her, and it's not meant for anyone else's ears. But I can hear him, and it's not right that I do so. I tell him to hush, and I reach out and touch his shoulder. He quiets. And when I ask, he gives the ring to me.
Xander smiles at me when I help him out of the car. I keep my arm on him as we walk to the front door. He's compliant, passive, but I worry what will happen when we get inside. Will the others upset him? Upset Dawn?
I brace myself before I open the door. The Watcher comes from the kitchen, tea in hand. What I wouldn't give for a cuppa right now. Red rushes forward, Dawn right behind her. This is not the time for questions. They look at Xander and he is so beaten down, so utterly defeated, that it startles them into silence.
I push Xander toward the stairs and he obediently climbs them. The questions break over me in waves. And what can I tell them except that Anya is dead?
Then I watch as Will's face crumples with guilt and grief, as the tears flow down her face. Tara's mouth trembles, but she doesn't cry for her friend as she tries to be strong for us. Giles leans against the wall, rubbing his ashen face with one hand, and he looks so old. Dawn stands straight; flinching slightly as her young body absorbs yet another blow.
One month, three days, twenty-two hours and forty-seven minutes since you died. And I've failed her again. I can't protect her. I can't protect your sister.
I grab the cup from Giles' hand and down the scalding liquid in a gulp.
Before my tongue has a chance to cool there comes a thumping from upstairs. Lovely, another crisis. To be fair, it's all just part of the ongoing trauma that is human existence. I'm so weary, just completely tired of taking care of people, but I start up the stairs to Xander's room, trailing the rest of my burdens behind me.
Shit. I should have foreseen this. Xander's falling apart. He's holding on to the bed where his lover had so recently lain, and it's empty of her. Of life. He's shaking, and no wonder. He's too fragile, too damaged to deal with this.
So I grab him, pick him up bodily and move out of the room. He fights me, trying to get back to her room, her bed, her scent. But I haul him away, past the distressed faces of the girls, the defeated face of the Watcher.
We get to Buffy's room and I wrestle him to the bed, holding him down, avoiding his flailing arms. He can't go back to his room; he'll have to be moved in here. Get started switching the gear around, and pack up Anya's stu... Bloody fucking hell! Little bastard punched me right in the ear! He's fighting hard now. All fists and claws, kicking and biting. All his sorrow turned to rage.
The girls are staring, horrified. Dawn shouldn't be seeing this; she needs Xander to be strong and loving, not maddened with grief.
Can't hit him, knock him senseless, but I have to quiet him. I straddle his waist and grab his fisted hands, forcing them above his head, pinning him down. He bucks underneath me, kicking my back, trying to get free. I pull his arms to the side, sliding down his body until I'm lying on top of him. Chest to chest, belly to belly, his thighs trapped between mine.
For God's sake, ladies, get a move on. This isn't exactly comfortable, you know. They scramble about the room, ripping out drawers, galloping from room to room in a frantic exchange of belongings.
Xander is oblivious, quiescent under me. The fight is over, the rage is gone, the grief comes to fill the void. He's making noises in his chest. Low, animal sounds of pain. The sound vibrates through him, into me. I can feel it in every muscle, in my bones. It hurts me, somehow. I want the noise to stop. Just be quiet, Xander. Hush, please. Please stop Xander.
He falls asleep near dawn. I tuck the blankets close around him and walk stiffly out of the room.
The girls have finished the packing. Anya's belongings are neatly boxed up. We move them into the cellar. Stack them beside Joyce's stuff. And Buffy's.
Don't really want to linger, but there's one more thing to be done before I can sleep. I look for a jewel box, and spot a wooden chest. It's filled with flowers and photos. Souvenirs. It'll do.
I take Anya's ring from my pocket and drop it in.
But it's hours before I get any rest. I divide my time between watching Dawn and watching Xander. The both sleep with tears on their cheeks.
We linger at the breakfast table the next morning, anxiously waiting for Xander to come down. I'm on my second bowl of Wheetabix when he enters.
He looks like hell. All dark shadows and tragic mien, looks decades older. But still, he smiles at us. Piss poor attempt, but give him points for trying.
Xander turns on the radio, and the room fills with a godawful caterwauling. Red lunges to turn the station. Hallelujah.
Things are different with Anya gone. Xander is quiet, no spark to him now. Spends lots of time with the Watcher, talking about finance and paperwork. Dawn is so hesitant around him, she needs reassurance, and he hasn't any to give. Both Witches go to the shop now. So my days are quiet. All alone in the house. It's nice, quiet. I like it. But, I worry that Dawn is missing the casual hugs, the tickles and jokes that she and Xander used to share. I redouble my efforts with her studies, but that doesn't seem to help.
One month, two weeks, five days, eight hours and six minutes after Buffy dies the Watcher ups and leaves us.
No warning, just where's my hat, what's the hurry. Well, in retrospect, his talking to Xander was a warning. Teaching him about taking care of the house, the finances. He was giving his two weeks notice, training his replacement. But he stands as Dawn's father. No one can take his place, not even her real father, who's bloody useless if you ask me.
He stands firm against Dawn's tears, her tantrum, her slamming door. He stands firm against Willow's entreaties, her pleas, her shrill demands. He wants to go to England. He wants to go home.
And, suddenly, I'm thinking about England. About this sceptred isle, this precious stone set in the silver sea, this blessed plot, this earth, this realm this England. Is there an Englishman born who doesn't think of his homeland as paradise? Even me, even knowing the stews and degradation of London, the cruelty of the upper-class, I still can't think about it without a yearning in my breast. Henry Tudor was right to call it the Church of England. It's what we worship, after all. And I can't rightly blame Rupert for wanting it. For thinking that it will heal him. For thinking that he'll find home there. I have to close my eyes against the sudden pain I feel. I close my eyes and I think of England. Funny that.
But Red has a good point. What about Glory? And Rupert looks so shattered when he says that we aren't to worry about her. Not anymore. Xander understands before I do. He goes to Giles, and weeps against his hand, thinking him for protecting us, for keeping us safe, for making the right choice. And it's far to intimate a moment for me to watch, so I go up to Dawn's room to see if she's all right.
As I walk up the stairs, I find myself marvelling at the Watcher. Such an utterly ruthless action, killing Ben. So practical. And I find that I understand why Buffy depended on him so. And I wonder who will look after us now.
Dawn's huddled on her bed, sobbing into her pillow. She isn't best pleased to see me, wants me to get out. But left alone is not what she needs to be. I sit beside her and tentatively touch her shoulder. I remember doing this with Buffy, trying to comfort her. Of course, Buffy didn't throw herself on my lap and start crying on my shirt. That might've been nice. With Dawn it's just - awkward.
I pat her back and say there, there pet, and she only cries harder. It occurs to me that I'm going about this comforting thing the wrong way. We can visit Rupert. You'll like England. It's nice there. I can teach you to ride a horse. You like horses, don't you?
She falls asleep while I blither on about equine habits. My arm is wet with her tears and - what the hell is this stuff? I wonder if this is what it means to be a father. To be slouched over a sleeping child, covered with her snot, and to be content. Happy, even.
Things are worse with Rupert gone. The Witches are busy with the store. Lots of new responsibility for them there. Xander is distant, drinking far too much. Will and he are butting heads constantly. Such anger in the house. I never realised how much a steadying influence the Watcher was. His very presence was reassuring. People worried less.
The tension is affecting Dawn. She walks on eggshells, afraid of attracting attention, afraid of being ignored. It isn't good for her. She's not sleeping; she's not eating. She's neglecting her studies. I don't know how to fix things. I don't know how to make things better.
Now, it's a law of nature that tempers, left simmering long enough, will eventually explode. I dunno who figured that. One of those natural law blokes. It happened for us two months, one week, four days, fourteen hours and twenty-two minutes after Buffy died.
Xander's pouring himself an after dinner drink. Guess he doesn't want his after work and before dinner drinks to be lonesome. Red tells him that he's had enough for the day. Here's a tip for you ladies, never tell a man who's drinking too much that he's drinking too much. It doesn't help things. You should just leave him be.
So, predictably, he snarls at her. It's not her business how much he drinks; she's not his Watcher. We all flinch at that, including Xander.
I withdraw my earlier statement. Leaving Xander be is not going to help. I wonder if that isn't the problem. Maybe I acted too precipitously in removing all traces of Anya from Xander's life. Maybe if he'd been allowed to grieve, to wallow in sorrow, he'd be whole again. I was worried about exposing Dawn to his pain, but this is worse. This is poisonous. She's flinching at every harsh word that passes between Xander and Will, it's damaging her.
Then Xander's anger boils over, and he makes a fist. My first impulse is to get between him and the witch. My second impulse is to vamp. The bugger had a glass in hand, and he's gone and cut himself. The gang is silent, watching Xander bleed. I can hear the drips land, I can smell the blood. I can't stop myself from going to him.
I curl back his fingers. There, nestled in the palm of his hand, cutting cruelly into his callused skin, a shard of glass. I pull it out; fascinated by the way the flesh clings to it as it slides away. Entranced by the way the opening shines whitely for a moment before the blood washes over it, staining everything glowing crimson. Blood pools in his cupped hand, hot and fragrant. And there is nothing that I want more in this world than to taste it.
I bend my head, bring my mouth to his hand, and breathe deep the intoxicating aroma before I venture a lick.
Has anything ever been this good? I lick his hand clean, savouring the mingled flavours of blood and bourbon. The blood wells up from the cut, I chase it with my tongue, probing the ragged flesh, sucking.
I have to force myself to stop. It's an ordeal to raise my head, to open my eyes, to speak. But I do it. I've been so wrong. My God, Xander, you are a nummy treat.
His eyes, so cloudy with grief and anger, clear for a moment. A wild hilarity passes over his face and he laughs, bright and strong. Then, as quickly as it came, the laughter departs, and he falls against me, sobbing. My bad leg gives out under his weight and we land on the floor. Xander is sprawled in front of me, head pushed against my lap, arms wrapped around my hips, crying fit to break your heart. Deja bloody vu. I guess I should just be happy that the soddin' Watcher didn't cry on me before he left.
The girls circle us, crying. They reach down and pet Xander, quick movements of their hands on his head, his back, his arms. Their tears are silent, respectful of his grief. Dawn leans down to kiss his exposed nape while the witches have a whispered conference. Dawn and Tara back out of the kitchen, head upstairs. Willow stays Xander's grief a penance to her.
How do you comfort so broken a soul? Mother would lay soft hands on me, crooning wordlessly, her very presence a balm. I reach my hands out, cup his head, stroke his back, and the tears come all the harder. The sobs rack his body, he gags, retches. Fuck.
Willow hands me a damp cloth. I wipe his hot face, his burning mouth. No harm done. It's okay. Shhh, Xander. It's okay.
And the crooning comes so easy, and he curls up in my arms so trustingly, and I carry him up to bed so effortlessly.
The house is quiet, they slumber so peacefully. I push back long brown hair, I smooth back dark curls, and I can't tell which face is more innocent; who is more worthy of solace. I would kill for a smoke.
The girls are up hours before Xander, cleaning, planning their day. Really, though, we're all waiting for him. Waiting to see what happens. But it takes so long. Is he trying to drown himself in the shower? And that doesn't go over well. Three sets of accusing eyes, three reproving frowns. Fuck it. I'm going to bed. I don't care if I have to throw Xander out on his ass. I'm tired. I need sleep. I need away from these people. And they say that vampires are bloodsuckers. Needy humans, bleed a fellow dry.
Xander's sitting on the bed, he looks up when I come in. I'm intent on getting undressed, on getting into bed. Shirt goes flying across the room, belt follows. I sit on the opposite side of the bed, pulling off my boots. Xander's putting on shoes. I have to smile, because this reminds me of that cartoon with the wolf and the sheepdog.
…Mornin' Sam/Mornin' Ralph…
Well, that's a bit of a facer. Who would've thought, Xand and me have something in common. He turns tail and runs downstairs. I strip down and slide into bed.
I wake from a dream of Buffy to see Xander standing in the door. He's just standing there, looking at me. Then he giggles, and that's a little disquieting. He walks over to the bed and reaches underneath it, pulling out a magazine. I stiffen momentarily, but then I see that it's one of his comics. All right then, you've got your reading material for the day, go on then. But he doesn't go. He sits by the bed and starts to read.
Okay, this is more than a little disquieting. What are you doing here, Xander?
There's a long pause, and then he starts talking. About quiet and dark. About dead things. About comfort and pain. About who you are and who you want to be. About surcease.
I think on this for a while. Surcease. Quitting. Stopping. Ending. That would be nice. There are worse reasons to seek someone out.
I reach out a hand and feel his curls tickle my palm. He leans into me and I can feel the heat of his scalp sear its way up my arm. I lay back in Buffy's bed, tears leaking from the corners of my eyes, dropping soundlessly onto the pillow, and I think about warmth, about comfort. Yeah. There are worse reasons.
I think about white skin and callused hands. About blazing red curls and graying temples. About teasing laughter and quiet despair. About the sounds of passion and grief. I think about love and pain. I think about William and I think about Buffy.
Two months, one week, five days, seven hours and fifty-eight minutes since Buffy died.
For never a man, being mean like me,/Shall die like me till the whole world dies./I shall drown with her,/laughing for love; and she/Mix with me, touching me, lips and eyes.
Two months, one week, five days, seven hours and fifty-nine minutes.
Continued in Book of Days