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After the Fall
By Elena

Xander POV, post-'The Gift'. PG-13, with lots of angst and some profanity.



Two Ravens

I don't remember when things changed.

That's not true. I remember exactly when things changed. It was in those first crazy hours after Buffy died. After she sacrificed herself. For Dawn. For us. For everyone.

It was chaos. Buffy was dead. Anya was barely conscious. Willow was sobbing in Tara's arms. Dawn was leaning against a wall, bloody fist clutched to her stomach, crying. Giles just stared, like he couldn't take it in. And Spike...

I remember.

I remember that I had two thoughts; Buffy's dead, Anya's alive. I remember that between the joy and grief I had some pity to spare. For Spike. He looked so broken. In body, yes, bloodied, his leg twisted awkwardly; but also in spirit. Had I ever heard anyone sob so hard, grieve so openly?

I don't remember how long I stood there, just holding tight to Anya and staring at Buffy; but when Tara asked what we should do, I took charge. The plan came to me, fully formed, as if someone else was speaking through me.

I passed Anya to Giles, all but forcing his arms around her. I walked over to where Buffy lay, so peaceful, so beautiful. That wouldn't do at all. I threw her down, crumpling her body on the scattered debris.

Willow screamed at me. I think that I'd be a tadpole if she had been able to speak coherently. Spike lunged at me, but his chip kicked in, keeping him from ripping me to pieces. Giles just held Anya. He looked so resigned. So defeated. I didn't look at Dawn.

I threw bricks, some scrap metal. I half buried my friend.

I shoved the semi-conscious vampire into a sheltered building, stripped off his coat and covered him with the black leather.

I used Anya's cell to call 911.

And while we waited I told for the first time the lies that we would all repeat.

Seeking shelter from the sudden storm we had ducked into the construction site. Lightning had struck; falling debris had injured Anya and Buffy. Dawn had fallen onto something sharp. I don't know what. Something metal. It won't matter; they won't question us too closely.

Giles handed Anya back to me. He began to unearth Buffy. He pointed out that I was holding Anya, and that Buffy deserved the same treatment. Giles held Buffy until the ambulances arrived.

The Emergency Room was busy. No one questioned our story. Lots of strange stuff had been happening. It was dark by the time Anya and Dawn were settled into a room. We left Tara and Willow to watch over them.

We made it back to the construction site. I was functioning on automatic. I don't think that Giles was functioning at all. I had to help him out of the car. I remember that he asked what we were doing there. I didn't know quite how to answer. It was just.... Spike had helped Buffy and Dawn. It seemed wrong not to help him.

I pulled the coat off. I don't think that Spike had moved in the, what, eighteen hours, since we'd left. His face was caked with blood; tears had cleaned a few tracks down his cheeks. He wasn't breathing, and for a second I thought he was dead. I was surprised at the pang of grief that caused me. Then I got a hold of myself. I lifted him and Giles helped me balance him across my shoulder. Spike moaned with each step I took. His mangled leg brushed against me, and I wished that he'd just lose consciousness.

We went to Buffy's house. I stood in the hall; Spike cradled in my arms, while Giles fetched sheets and towels. He didn't want to get the couch dirty. I remember that this struck me funny, and that Spike joined me in laughter. I don't think that I've ever been that tired.

We settled Spike on the draped couch. Where to start. Spike solved that for us by asking for a drink. Joyce had a well-stocked liquor cabinet. A couple of rounds and we tackled Spike's pants.

His leg was a mess. Giles called it a compound fracture. I had to swallow a repeat visit of JD when I saw the jagged bone poking through his skin. I held Spike down. Belly to belly. Chest to chest. I pressed my cheek against his. We both gritted our teeth when Giles pulled on his ankle. And I swear that I heard bone grinding against bone, even over Spike's scream.

Giles wrapped Spike's leg with gentle hands, while I poured drinks with hands that shook uncontrollably.

I don't remember how long we drank, but we were most of the way through the bottle when Spike said he was hungry. I searched the freezer. No steak, no hamburger, not even any chicken. I didn't think that frozen yogurt and Lean Cuisine was going to cut it.

I remember the look on Spike's face when I reported my findings. Shame, hunger, desperation, sorrow. I offered to go out for blood, but I was so tired that I just collapsed in my chair.

I watched while Giles went into the kitchen. He came back with a coffee mug and a chef's knife. I didn't understand what he meant to do until he actually sliced his hand. He sat back and drank while blood dripped into the cup. Spike's face was so confused. Grateful and wary at the same time.

We drank in silence.

Dawn came home the next day, and with her Willow and Tara. Anya came after a week. The doctor told me that she should have stayed longer, but they just didn't have any beds to spare. We settled into Buffy's house, into something like normalcy.

Giles reopened the Magic Shop, and I went back to work. It was hard for me to walk onto a construction site, but I had responsibilities. Will and Tara took turns helping Giles and looking after Anya. Dawn had to go to summer school to make up for missed classes.

So I came home everyday from a hard day's work to the perfect sitcom family. An invalid wife, a distant father, a delinquent teenager, lesbian roommates and a mooching vampire.

Sorry. I don't get much sleep.

We weren't without joy. Anya wore my ring and the girls planned a wedding. I was surprised at how much they all got into it. I was giving Anya a bath one night and I teased her about it. Said that she was planning a Barbie dream wedding. She told me that she really wanted a simple ceremony, like the handfastings when she was a girl, but she didn't want to disappoint the others. Dawn wanted a pink bridesmaid dress, and Willow and Tara had endless debates over the symbolism of myrtle and orange blossoms compared to how pretty roses would look. It kept them occupied, maybe even happy.

Giles and Willow helped Dawn with her homework. I wasn't much help there, and Anya could only do math if the question involved money. Turns out that Tara was a botany major. Go figure. Said it helped her identify useful plants. Spike lurked, mostly, but one night he got upset over what Giles was telling Dawn about some poet. He got all passionate, quoting and gesturing. I guess he noticed our open-mouthed staring, because he got all defensive and went outside for a smoke. But he always helped Dawn with her English homework after that.

It was almost never quiet. We talked, and laughed, the TV and radio were going constantly. Silence was our enemy. Anytime it crept into a room we would smother it with chatter.

I remember that the quiet would wake me up at night. I would wander through the house, opening doors, counting heads. Giles, in the livingroom, asleep in front of the TV, or at the kitchen table, drink and book in hand. Buffy's room, two heads nestled close together, pale gold and bright red; check to hear them breathe, or back away, trying not to stare. Dawn's room, tuck the huddled girl more deeply into the covers; nod at the silent figure standing watch. Back to Joyce's room to gently smooth the curls from Anya's face. To hold her carefully, trying not to wake her, to hurt her with my need. I would lay back, reassuring myself that everyone was fine. But I never was very convincing. I'd repeat my rounds, two, three times over before I'd lapse into sleep.

One night - I should remember when it was - Dawn had Shakespeare for homework. It was A Midsummer Night's Dream. I remember this so clearly. Dawn was complaining that the play didn't make any sense, and Spike said that Shakespeare wasn't meant to be read, but to be seen. And he pulled Giles up and said that he was bottom - this didn't make any sense to me, I never understood Shakespeare in school, but I don't remember a lot of kinky sex - and when he couldn't involve Willow or Tara, he played the Fairy Queen himself.

It was the first time I enjoyed Shakespeare. See, Bottom is a man with a donkey's head, and the Queen has a spell put on her that makes her fall in love with him.

I thought about Amy and Willow and Buffy and Joyce and Drusilla. Falling in love with a man who didn't know that he was an ass. And I laughed. Real laughter. Fall on the ground laughter. And the girls laughed. And Spike. And Giles smiled.

And we connected.

And everything was okay.

I remember the sound of the laughter. I remember that we looked at each other, fed off of each other's joy. I remember how good it felt.

I fell asleep with a smile on my face. It was the first time that silence didn't wake me. Instead, I was pulled from sleep by Anya's frantic hands.

I turned on the light. Anya's lips were blue and her right eye was dark red. And I remember thinking fuck, she's possessed. Then I reached for her, but her hands fluttered against my chest like trapped birds, and she gasped for breath, and she couldn't talk. I grabbed her and slammed out of the room.

Doors opened. Heads peeked into the hall. I gathered an entourage as I tore out of the house. I had to get outside. I had to get somewhere, but I couldn't remember where. I stopped on the lawn, holding Anya, confused, helpless.

Spike ran from the house, keys jingling in his hand. He pushed us to the car. I sat with Anya in my lap while Spike drove us to the hospital.

They took Anya from me. Put her behind a curtain. I don't remember how long I stood there, watching people move in and out. Cold seeped up from the tile floor, sucked up through my bare feet until I was icy.

The frenzy of movement behind the curtain slowed, then stopped. I was aware of Spike standing behind me as a doctor walked toward me.

And the doctor was telling me that sometimes, when people don't move around a lot, like when they are convalescing, they can get blood clots, and, sometimes, the clots break off and move into the lungs, and it's called an embolism, and they can't get enough oxygen, and sometimes people die, and, you know, this is all fascinating, but what does it have to do with me, and shouldn't you be helping Anya, AND DON'T TELL ME THAT YOU'RE SORRY, AND - - - And strong arms closed around me, and there was silence.

I don't remember how long we stayed at the hospital. I know that Spike told me to sign papers, and I did. And I know that they gave him a paper bag. And I know that people looked at me with pitying eyes.

I don't remember the drive back to Buffy's. I know that Spike led me through the door, past the worried faces and anxious questions.

I don't remember climbing the stairs. But I do remember looking at the bed, and Anya wasn't there. And I heard a strange noise. And when I looked for the sound I saw a hand holding the bed rail, and the hand was shaking, and the bed was shaking, and when I reached out to still the hand the shaking traveled up my arms, into my head, and my teeth were rattling.

And Spike grabbed me and took me into the hall, and through it, to Buffy's room. And he put me into Buffy's bed. And I think that he tucked me in.

I remember waking up in Buffy's room. I looked in the closet and my clothes were there, and in the dresser too. I remember being impressed at their efficiency. How did Tara and Will rearrange things so quickly and quietly?

When I went downstairs things were quiet. So I turned on the radio, and Patsy Cline was playing. Willow lunged to turn the station. And I was surprised that everyone knew the words to It's Raining Men.

And days passed. Routines were reestablished. I started sitting up with Giles. We would drink and talk. He told me about taxes and mortgages, and how Dawn's emancipation worked. And I remember I felt so grown up. So proud that Giles was dealing with me, man to man.

And that feeling lasted for about two weeks. That's when Giles told us that he was leaving. Going back to England. Going home, is how he put it. And Dawn ran upstairs, and she slammed her door. And Willow cajoled and pleaded and begged. And when that didn't work she scolded - how are we supposed to manage without you, and what happens to the store, and what if Glory comes back?

I remember thinking, Good one, Will. But Giles had things planned. He had been preparing us to get on without him, and he trusted us to manage things. And Willow was crying, and Giles was walking out, and do something Xander....

So I grabbed his arm, and he wrenched away from me and stood back, arms up, palms out. The universal Don't Touch Me. The ultimate rejection.

All of my clever, convincing words dried up. I might have grunted. And a voice from behind me asked about Glory. I remember wondering how often I was going to have to be grateful to Spike.

Giles hunched his shoulders a little, and took of his glasses, and said that we didn't have to worry about Glory.

And images flashed through my mind. Giles cutting himself to feed Spike. His opened palm, scar still red and angry. Dad's voice, drunk, talking about the Mark of Cain. And when was the last time he touched one of us? I don't remember the last time he touched me. And the images coalesced to one startling insight, and I understood his need to retreat, to find home.

I remember how much love was in me at that moment. How it gave me the courage to reach for him, to ignore his instinctive withdrawal. I took his broad, scarred hand in mine, and I knew that it had held me safe, and had guided me with wisdom and love, and that this man was my father. And I told him these things in a faltering whisper. My tears wet his hand while I told him that he'd made the right choice, the choice I would have made. And I murmured my gratitude against his palm. Thanking him, over and over.

And Giles reached down and he touched my bowed head, and he kissed my hair, and he walked out the door.

We rebuilt our lives, again. And so what if I was drinking a lot, and if I was ignoring Dawn, and if I was mean to the cat, and who made you boss, anyway, Will?

I remember the anger, how I wanted to just shove those words down Willow's throat. And I squeezed my hand into a fist, and the glass I was holding shattered. The pain cleared my head, focussed me. Will was staring at me, horrified. Tara and Dawn huddled together, shocked out of their tears. And we watched blood drip on the floor.

Spike walked over. He curled back my fingers and pulled a shard of glass out of my hand. Then he bent his head and lapped blood from my cupped palm.

I remember that his tongue was soft and rough, and that he looked up at me through his lashes and apologized. He said that he was wrong. That I was a nummy treat.

And I laughed. Then, in the space of an indrawn breath, the laugh turned to a sob, and I felt my face crumple, and a weight crashed on me from above. My knees buckled, and I fell forward, and I brought Spike down with me. And then I was crying on Spike's lap.

And when was the last time I cried? I remember crying when I heard about Joyce. Anya held me then. So I cried for Anya, who was never going to drink fruit punch again. And who usually skedaddled before armageddon, but who stayed because she loved me. And who was dead because of me. And I cried for Joyce, for her soft laugh and hands that didn't hurt. And why couldn't I save Buffy? Brave, beautiful Buffy who was my hero, and whose body I desecrated. I cried for Faith, who didn't love me, and for Cordy, who did. I cried for all the times I'd hurt Willow, from the Barbie incident up to five minutes ago. And I cried for Oz, oh, how I miss you, and things would be so much better with you here. I cried for Giles, poor noble, wounded soul. Angry tears, for a second, why did the only overt expression of love you ever give me have to come at the end of five fucking years. And I cried for Dawn, because the only men who hadn't abandoned her were Spike and me. And, shit, now the tears are because I'm throwing up, and Spike is wiping my face with a wet cloth, and when I was eight I threw up in bed and Dad hit me because I made a mess and what kind of loser am I that a monster treats me better than my father.

And then I cried for me. For my whole miserable life.

I didn't want to wake up. I didn't want to open my eyes, to get out of bed, to go downstairs, to face the others. Hell, I didn't want to face myself. But, leapin' lizards, did I ever want to pee.

Interesting how bladder function takes precedence over self-preservation. I don't know if it shows up in any history books, but a surprisingly large number of soldiers are killed while taking a piss.

I felt battered, my body ached, my face hurt, my head felt swollen. My mouth tasted like I'd thrown up and then went to sleep without brushing my teeth. To be fair, I'm pretty sure that's what did happen. My eyes were bloodshot, the skin puffy and rough. I could actually see salt trails across my cheeks. And the less said about snot the better.

I remember being unsurprised that crying gave me a worse hangover than drinking.

After a long shower, I headed back to Buffy's room. I took my time getting dressed. I wasn't sure that I could face anyone. I was sitting on the bed, contemplating socks, which are amazingly difficult to put on with one hand, when Spike walked in. He started shedding clothes the second he crossed the threshold, and was down to pants and boots by the time he sat on the opposite side of the bed. And I know that he needs to sleep somewhere, and that Buffy's room is light-proofed, but why does he....Nah, I can't even get upset about him sleeping in Buffy's bed anymore.

I was tying my laces as Spike pulled off his boots, and the reverse synchronicity of our actions struck me. The bending down, the pulling off, the putting on, switch sides, repeat as needed. Heh.

...Mornin' Sam/Mornin' Ralph...

And what the fuck was that? Spike and I looked at each other with something close to horror; a pop-culture reference was not something I'd ever expected to share with a vampire. I mean, Angel never understood anything I said, and I liked it that way.

I remember that I practically ran downstairs.

I put a big goofy grin on my face as I headed into the kitchen. The girls looked up at me from the table. Tara said a tentative hello. I touched Willow's cheek with my fingertips. All's forgiven? Yeah, we're okay. Dawn looked at me with wary eyes in a hopeful face, and I ducked my head into the fridge to hide from her.

And what do we have here? Eggs, butter, where's the skillet, and here's the pancake mix. And just what are you doing Xander? Why, I'm making pancakes. And why are you making pancakes Xander? Why, that's what a man does the morning after yelling and breaking stuff and weeping and throwing up. You make pancakes while your family sits at the table, watching you, hoping you won't snap but knowing that you will, and it's just a matter of time. And this is why we eat cereal. Because Capt'n Crunch is a man you can depend on.

I remember that I was suddenly cold, and I had to put the eggs down because my hands were shaking, and I smiled sheepishly at the girls, and I went into the basement. The basement was dark and lonely and I stood with my back against the door until the panic subsided.

I heard the girls leaving. They called out good-byes, and where they were going, and when they'd be back. Even though Spike was sleeping, and I was hiding, and, besides, we knew they had to open the shop.

My eyes adjusted to the gloom and I could see boxes piled against one wall. They were neatly stacked and labeled. 'Mom', some read, in Buffy's round letters; the largest pile had 'Buffy' written on them, in Giles' neat script and Dawn's back-slant; 'Anya', a few were labeled. I walked a little closer. I recognized Willow's printing, but whose writing marked the rest? I traced the upright 'A' the swirling 'y'. Tara? Spike?

I reached out a hand and laid it on the nearest carton. I pulled off the tape that sealed it. I opened the flap.

I remember.

I remember.

I remember this dress. Silky and short and spring green. She said that it signified her new life, and that it made her look hot. I used to stroke her back, enjoying the way the thin fabric warmed to her skin.

I remember this sweater. Anya wore it in the mornings. It was falling apart, had gaping holes and fraying sleeves. She loved it. And, when I put it up to my face, it still smelled of her.

More boxes. More clothes. Mostly clothes. Anya had a lot of clothes. But here, one box, full of notebooks. Journals. Anya felt that it was an appropriately human endeavour. Recording one's life. She never let me look at them. I closed the box.

An ornate wooden box. Anya's memory box. I opened it. Prom tickets, a rose from the corsage I'd given her, an empty juice box, a dryer sheet - ahh, yes, the basement years. Oh.

Oh.

Look how it shines. How it sparkles in the dim light. I remember how it shone when I gave it to her. In a basement, then, too. I remember how it flashed under the bright fluorescent hospital lights, when I put it on her finger. I remember how sometimes she would be talking, gesturing with her pretty hands, and the diamond would catch the light and she would get distracted and lose her train of thought. I remember that she would stare at it so intently, and when I asked what she was looking at she said the future.

It hurt me, to remember like this. But I still smiled, and it was somehow better than what I felt around Willow and Dawn. Guilt is more painful than grief. I must remember that.

I put the ring away. I put the box away. I went upstairs.

I wandered the ground floor, restless, unsure of what I was looking for. I ventured up the stairs, past the empty rooms, until I came to Buffy's door. I leaned my head against it, what did I want? I told myself to watch TV, to mow the lawn, to drive aimlessly; but, instead, I turned the handle.

I stood in the doorway, not quite in the room, not fully in the hall, and looked at Spike. He lay in the bed, and I could see a faint light around his face. Not like the ring shone, he wasn't reflecting back trapped light. He was luminescent; his skin so white that it glowed. I wondered if it was bright enough to read by. A Spikelight. By the Light of the Silvery Spike. I swallowed a giggle, and it came out a snort.

Spike wasn't moving so I crept closer to the bed. The room was quiet, gloomy, peaceful. I leaned over and reached underneath the sleeping vampire. My fingers stretched, groping. And then I had it, cool and slick in my hand. I settled onto the floor and leaned against the bed. I started to read, very amused that Spike was illuminating the page.

And then, from behind and above me, a voice. Thick with sleep and curiosity, it asked me a question.

A good question, actually. What was I doing here?

Short answer; this is where I keep my comics. Long answer? I like it here. I like dark, quiet rooms filled with dead things. It comforts me. With Dawn, with Will, with people, I'm not me, not like I remember being. I'm not sure who I am, but I don't like me, and I scare me. I know who I am when I'm here. I still don't like me, but I'm not scared. I don't know what I feel when I'm with you, but it isn't pain. Everyone else makes me hurt, and I'm tired of hurting, I'm tired of being in pain. I want quiet. I want dark. I want surcease. I want me. And, apparently, I can get these things from you.

I remember stopping, confused, because I didn't know what I had spoken, and what I had thought. And, you know, I didn't really care.

There was silence. And, eventually, a hand came to rest on my head. And the voice spoke. And it said that there were worse reasons.

And I realized what I was feeling. It was acceptance. My thoughts stilled. The pain was gone. The guilt was gone. The fear was gone. I was empty. And there were worse things to be.

--End--



This is a companion piece to 'Two Ravens'. Spike's POV in the time following "The Gift".



Les Noyades

I know exactly when Buffy died, the second her heart stopped beating.

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.

Ohhhhhhhh.

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.



--End--



These are Anya's journal entries after "The Gift". It won't make any sense if you don't read "Two Ravens" and "Les Noyades" first.



Book of Days

I am so happy that Tara brought me this journal. I hadn't realised that I missed writing so much.

I've been in this stupid hospital for three days now. Three days!! I wasn't aware that it was possible to be so bored and in so much pain. That would've made a good curse. I'll try to remember that.

I'm not sure exactly how I got hurt. I remember pushing Xander aside. I think that something fell on me. No one is really telling me anything, and I don't remember much about that night.

I remembered that Buffy died. No one had to tell me that. Even if I hadn't remembered, the looks on their faces would have told me. Xander is being very brave. He tries not to cry when he visits me, but he doesn't smile much. And with Xander that's a sure clue that he's sad.

And with the immediate crisis over, I find that I have enough worry in my head for everyone. I feel bad for Dawn. No mother, no sister. She must feel so alone. Giles is so sad. When he comes to visit he stands across the room, he barely talks.

Tara spends hours with me. Everyday she comes and sits by me. We don't really talk, she just holds my hand and sometimes tells me what's going on with the world. She is very comforting to have around.

Physiotherapists are sadists.

I can't believe it! I CAN NOT BELIEVE IT!!!!!!! Xander just asked me to marry him!!!! I know that he asked me before, but I thought that was just impending death talking. I didn't think that he'd ask again, but he did!! And I said YES! YES! YES!

I'm so excited. He loves me. He really loves me. And I love him. I love him so much. And I get to spend the rest of my life with him. I can't imagine anything better than that.

This hospital is terrible. I've been in hell dimensions with better food. They poke and push and make me move parts of my body that really don't want to move. And what is this obsession they have with my excretions? What is wrong with these people?

I get to go home tomorrow! I can't wait to get out of here. Xander says that we'll be staying at Buffy's. That's okay with me. Even his parents' basement would be better than this place.

Hmmm. Looks like I might have spoken too soon. It was okay, the first day. Xander stayed with me.

He carries me up and down the stairs, he helps me use the bathroom, and that's okay, even if it isn't very romantic. He baths me at night, and helps me get dressed. I've gotten used to the unorthodox colour matches.

It's hard depending on others. I'm not used to having to interact so much.

I don't mind Tara helping me. It's kind of embarrassing, but she told me that it was a girlie thing to do. Go to the bathroom together, that is. I'm pleased to be participating in female customs. But today Willow stayed with me.

It was awful. She sighed and rolled her eyes when I asked her to get me a book from upstairs, she snapped at me when I asked what was for lunch. Then when I called her because I needed to use the bathroom she told me that she was busy. I couldn't tell her that I needed her help. I felt all funny and hot inside. I think that might be shame. And I had to pee so badly. I just couldn't ask her again. I started to cry and Spike came to see what was wrong.

Spike. How embarrassing. But it wasn't. Not really. He was matter of fact and very helpful. I hate having to rely on others. I'm going to pay more attention to my exercises. Even though they hurt and I HATE THEM!

And then there's Miss Kitty. She's nothing more than a rabbit with short ears and a long tail. It's beyond me why anyone would want to keep one of these creatures as a pet.

I'm worried about Xander. He isn't sleeping well. He lies beside me for a couple of hours, then gets up and walks around the house. Then he comes back to bed and cuddles up, but he gets up again! He keeps doing this. I know that every time he gets up it will be seven minutes before he comes back. I pretend that it doesn't wake me. I know that would upset him.

Tara and I gave each other manicures today. I'm enjoying having a girlfriend. Not in a lesbian way. Xander teased me about my fancy nails while he was rubbing my legs. Then he started playing with my feet, tickling me, blowing on me. And he wouldn't let me see what he was doing. Then he showed me. He'd painted each of my toenails with a different colour of polish. And then he drew happy faces on my big toes. It's times like this that I have my Xander back.

Xander brought me a big pile of Bride magazines today. It's an interesting ritual. When I was a girl there was a ceremonial bloodletting. I think I like the pretty dress and presents better.

Dawn wants to be a bridesmaid, which apparently entails wearing a pink satin dress and carrying flowers. I think that it's misleading to call her a bridesmaid when she isn't required to wait on me.

It's been a while since I've written anything. Giles brought the account books from the shop. They are such a mess! I should never have left him alone with them. I told him quite firmly that I didn't need to walk to pull him from the brink of financial disaster.

Mrs. Xander Harris

Anya Emmanuela Christina Harris Jenkins-Harris Harris-Jenkins

Xander Jenkins

Anya and Xander Harris

Anya and Xander Jenkins-Harris

Miss Kitty jumped up on me today. Before I could push her away she curled up and started making an engaging rumbling noise. She slept on my lap for an hour. She's actually pretty cute, and Giles says that cats hunt rabbits. I wonder if she'll sleep in our room.

Tara says that having myrtle at a wedding guarantees fertility, but Willow says that roses are more of a status symbol. I don't want to get this wrong. I want all of the good luck and symbolism to be present at our wedding.

I got my hands on the household budget today. Good lord, 15% of the monthly expenses is hair care related!

I talked to Spike about it. I couldn't convince him to go back to his natural colour. Vampires are so vain, and that's odd because they can't see their reflections, but I have noticed it on more than one occasion. He did agree to wait longer between bleachings. But I have to wait too. At least six weeks between new colours. We are going to help each other, though. It'll make it easier to do a thorough job.

I was talking to the girls about cutting back on spending, and Willow got mad. She said that she didn't see how buying cheaper cat food would help when I was planning a blow-out extravaganza wedding. I checked into some prices. Do you know that the wedding I was planning would have cost at least fifty thousand dollars!!! $50,000.00 Fifty thousand! I don't think so. We can get married the old fashioned way, forget the symbolism and fancy dresses, all we need is a stone and a sharp knife. And presents. People can still give us presents.

Do you know what I'm most looking forward to? Having a baby. That's not entirely accurate. I think that I will enjoy being a mother, I've come to appreciate small, soft things that make odd noises, but I'm so looking forward to Xander being a father.

He doesn't think that he'll be a good father. He thinks that he'll be as bad at it as his own Dad. But he won't. He's so gentle with me. He takes care of me with no complaint. He's so patient, so loving. When he washes my hair he's so careful to keep the shampoo out of my eyes, and when he combs it he's so sorry if he pulls a knot. He kisses my toes before he pulls my socks on, and he cuddles me in his sleep.

All I can think of is Xander bathing our child, combing her hair, braiding it, kissing the top of her head. I get to watch Xander realise that he's a good father. I get to be there when he notices how much his kids love and trust him. I get to watch him cradle our babies with all of the tender protectiveness in him. I am so lucky that he will be the father of my children.

Xander just asked me why I was looking at my ring. I told him I was looking at the future. It's all there, just as bright as a diamond. I can see it. I am so glad to see each day pass. Every day brings us closer to the future. To our lives together.

It was so funny tonight! Spike and Giles did a scene from A Midsummer Night's Dream and had us all in stitches. Spike was so appalled that Dawn didn't like the play, she should really see the movie. Rupert Everett could change a person's mind about anything.

I don't remember the last time Xander laughed like that. Even now he has a smile on his face. And he's sleeping! No roaming the house tonight. He looks so peaceful. I'm going to get to sleep myself. I don't want to disturb him with the light, and I'm pretty worn out.

I'll write more tomorrow.

But I really think that things are going to be okay, I really think that the future is beginning.

--End--



After you've read 'Two Ravens', 'Les Noyades' and 'Book of Days' read this. It's Giles' POV.



Mea Maxima Culpa

It has come to this. She saved the world, once again. I was willing to sacrifice Dawn to save the world. Buffy wasn't. She saved her sister by sacrificing herself. I'm not sure that she did the right thing.

I would have killed Dawn myself to keep this world safe. And I know with every fibre of my being that I would have been doing the right thing. If only doing the right thing was a comfort.

Buffy is dead. There is no comfort in anything.

She was beautiful. She was as radiant as an angel from an illuminated manuscript, glowing and golden. I couldn't stop staring at her. A part of me expected her to sit up with a punning jest to chide me for my outward lack of emotion. A part of me expects it yet.

Someone asked what we should do. Xander handed Anya to me, his young face set, and moved toward Buffy with an awful sense of purpose. I watched while he battered her. And, though Willow screamed, Dawn sobbed, and Spike roared in anguish, I did nothing. He had a plan. He was trying to protect those who remained. He was doing the right thing.

I transferred Anya back to Xander; he tenderly cradled the injured girl. I began to pick the rubble from Buffy. Xander objected, but Buffy deserved better. I held my precious burden until the ambulances arrived.

The hospital proved an education. Xander took charge, skilfully dealing with doctors and police alike. His hastily concocted story passed without comment, and Dawn and Anya's injuries were treated.

Anya was immediately sent to a bed in critical care. Dawn, her injuries less serious, had to wait in the triage room. There were many people seeking help, battered and bleeding, desperate for someone to take care of them. I looked at them with loathing. Not one of them knew of her sacrifice. Not one of them was worth her life.

Dawn sat huddled in her seat, frail in her grief. She leaned against me, silently begging for comfort. I settled her into the crook of my arm, drawing her closer and kissing her bowed head. I looked at her, so trusting, this child that I would have killed. Without pause if not without regret. I stroked her hair. With my hand. With my left hand.

I felt a sudden need to check on Xander and left Dawn in the care of Willow and Tara.

It was hours before we left. Anya and Dawn were safely settled for the night, Willow and Tara quietly keeping watch. Xander and I set out. To where I wasn't quite sure.

Duty is a harsh master. It allows no other loyalty. No softness, no laughter, no love, no soft golden hair winding it's way around your heart. It's needs are paramount, it's requirements unyielding. Should I be a slave, a soldier, a co….

Oh, we've stopped. At the construction site, that's odd.

Xander is at my door, giving me a hand out. What are we doing here?

Fetching Spike? It would be wrong to leave him? Well, by all means, we must do the right thing.

We went to the Summers house. Xander carried Spike inside. They waited in the hall as I ran upstairs for supplies. It occurred to me that Spike had no trouble entering. Buffy or Dawn must have invited him in again. I must speak to them ab…. I must speak to Dawn about that.

I spread a sheet across Joyce's couch and Xander set Spike down. His leg was rather in a bad way; it must have been very painful. Spike tensed when I reached for his pants. But a drink is a lovely idea. Jack Daniels. If only there were some Glenlivet. Well, if wishes were horses.

Xander and I conducted a whispered conference. Spike would need to be kept still and I didn't think that he would allow us to tie him down. Xander, uncharacteristically serious, volunteered to hold him fast. Then, with a flash of his old humour, he told me he was used to lying on top of demons.

Spike's scream was very loud, but it didn't take long to set the bone. It was much easier to tend to a vampire than a human. Very little blood, no risk of infection. Spike very thoughtfully stopped me from sterilising his wound with the whisky. We could put it to better use, was how he phrased it. Quite right, too. I savoured the burning in my throat, the numbing of my pain.

Memories are mercurial things, one moment sustaining the next devastating. It was here, in this room, that Buffy celebrated her birthday. It was here that Joyce lay, dead. It was here that the children of my heart slept, chased by th…..

What? Spike's hungry? There's no blood? No meat? Well, I'll see what I can do.

I walked through the kitchen. Nothing to be found. Vampire lore indicates that blood is not only their nourishment, it is their panacea. Blood is necessary for healing. Spike needs healing. Therefore, he needs blood. I gathered some instruments and returned to the others.

I sat back in my chair and drew the knife across my palm, across my lifeline, if you believe in that, and watched whilst blood dripped down, filling the mug I had brought. I drank more whisky and I thought about the frailty of human beings. About how easy it was to make them bleed. How simple it was to stop the blood from flowing. How slick blood is beneath your hand.

Spike took the cup from me, I do believe I startled a polite thank you from him. I bound my left hand and I thought about the impermanence of the flesh. About how effortlessly a knife slices through. How a scar commemorates a wound. How deeds are made manifest.

And then I drank yet more.

I feel like a latter day Sisyphus. Only instead of a stone I'm pushing a mountain of paper. And just when I think I've finished the last bit, more is piled before me. If Sunnydale is Hell, a claim I feel quite justified in making, then the California legal system must be Cerberus. And that's a rather clever analogy, if I do say so myself.

Dawn's emancipation, Joyce's Estate, health insurance, quit claims, it was never ending. It didn't take long to sell my condo. I was a little surprised, considering the damage it has taken over the years and the general vacancy rate in Sunnydale. And even Dawn's court proceedings went quickly. I think that they wanted her back in school as soon as possible. It hurried things along when Hank Summers couldn't be reached. I can't imagine the effect that had on Dawn.

I tried to spend time with her. I helped with her homework, saw that she ate properly, but I couldn't bring myself to do any more than that. Xander made her laugh, roughhoused and tumbled with her. Dawn and Tara did her hair, took her shopping; even Anya could make her giggle, heads together as they planned the wedding. And Spike. He seems so protective, so involved with Dawn. I was surprised when he started helping with he homework. I was bloody floored when he went on about Swinburne. Seems that the Council neglected to mention the William the Bloody, Scourge of Europe, read poetry at Oxford.

Oxford, how well I remember it. The love of learning the penetrated the venerable walls of Merton. The afternoons spent lounging at Christ Church Field, or rowing on the Thames. The history that lived in ev….

Damn cat! Knocked my tea all over the bank statement. Can't make head nor tail out of this. Anya, do you possibly think that you could? Oh, lovely, thanks.

I had not realised what a remarkable girl Anya is. In five minutes she had straightened out my overdraft account, in ten she had informed me that not only was I overpaying Willow and Tara for working in the store, but that I was on the brink of financial ruin. After a half-hour of cheerful adding and cross-referencing she announced that everything was fine, and that I wasn't to bother with the accounts anymore.

Amazing. What I had sat up with, night after night, she took care of in minutes. She seems so frail yet, but this is the most animated she's been since she was injured. Perhaps I can just leave the household accounts laying about.

It occurs to me that I'm not particularly needed here. Willow and Tara are more than capable of taking care of the shop and the house. Anya will keep everything afloat financially. Xander is quite the responsible adult now. Spike will protect Dawn, and by extension the others.

Dawn. Yes, well, that's the sticky bit, isn't it. I think that she gets enough love and affection from the other children. Even Spike seems to adore her. She doesn't need me; I can't provide the things that she needs. I can't be her father. I can't be anybody's father.

I sit up many a night, nursing these thoughts and a single-malt. I think that they can manage very well without me. And I fall asleep, night after night, thinking of verdant fields dotted with black-faced sheep. Of chips soaked with malt vinegar wrapped in newspaper. Of strawberries swimming in clotted cream washed down with a decent cup of tea. I dream of England. I yearn for home.

Bit of a contretemps last night. Both Tara and Willow came in crying. Separately, at least half an hour apart. Willow looked right at me. I think that she wanted to talk. I feigned interest in my book. Then Spike entered. He was dishevelled, hair rumpled, shirt untucked. I looked at him rather sharply, but he just shrugged and went upstairs. I wonder if I need to have a talk with him about the girls. No. They are all adults. They have to learn to face problems head on.

I wonder if the Clarendon still serves that lovely coquille St. Jacques?

Dawn has been studying Shakespeare. She sees it as such a chore, as if readingA Mid-Summer Night's Dream was some sort of punishment imposed upon her by an unfeeling monster. I must admit that it rather offended my sensibilities. Imagine a life without Shakespeare. How grim that life would be. How devoid of beauty and laughter. To never hear the classic words of the Ba…..

Really, Xander, you don't have to look so enraptured with the prospect. Yes, yes, Anya, I'm sure that the world without Shakespeare isn't as bad as the world with two Tolstoys. Look. This is beside the point. Dawn needs to learn this. If not for the sheer pleasure of the work, then because she needs to pass this course.

Spike came up with a brilliant idea, Shakespeare really is meant to be seen. Less brilliant was having me be Bottom to his Titania. Still, it did remind me of England. Of putting on plays at Eton. Spike was surprisingly good as the Queen, and I trust that I held my own against him.

It was such a relief to hear their laughter. I think that they really will be fine without me. I really think that I can go.

I was lying in bed, immersed in memory, when I was abruptly brought to my feet by a commotion from upstairs. I made it to the hall in time to see Xander, Anya in his arms, rush out the door.

Something certainly seemed to be wrong.

Spike grabbed Xander's keys and followed the couple out. The girls gathered around, their anxious questions filled the air. I had no answers. Murmuring vague reassurances I fled to the kitchen.

I made hot chocolate. Vile stuff, cloying and too sweet, but Dawn loves it. I rinsed my cup and put the kettle on. I mechanically went through the familiar ritual of making tea.

How many times had I done this? How many cups of tea had I consumed? More than coffee. Less than whisky? Nursery tea; ginger, camomile, china black, heavily milked, sweet with honey, such a special treat. The Oxford years; high-minded debates about obscure philosophical concepts over endless cups of green tea, the horrible fruity herbals consumed whilst chatting up that hippie girl from Swansea. Later, during the rebellious years, the lost years; English Breakfast laced with psychotropic herbs, better than whiskey for masking the taste, but not entirely able to hide the bitterness. How many cups of tea drunk from styro cups; oily and acrid when not pale and weak, waiting for Mother to die.

I breathed in the fragrant steam. Here was England. Here was history. Here the comforting hand of family, long since lost. The king of beverages, the comfort of mil.....

Fuck! Noise from the hall, startled me. Steaming tea all over my hand. Lovely. Some one has come. What news, I wonder.

Xander, looking so young, smaller and more defenceless than I know him to be. Spike, concern etched on his face, guided him to the stairs. Obedient, child-like, Xander ascended from view. Someone asked a question. I didn't need to hear the answer. I didn't want to hear the answer. But Spike spoke the words, and I slumped against the wall as my fears were realised.

Another life in my care, extinguished. Another child dead, because of my careles...

Hey! That's my tea. I wanted that!

But Spike drank it down at a gulp. I recognised the desperate need for comfort in that action. I believe it's instinctive for an Englishman to turn to tea in times of crises.

Our eyes met in a second of rueful humour before a noise from upstairs caught his attention. He walked the stairs in with a slow, deliberate pace. The girls followed close behind him. I, too, had a mission. I returned to the kitchen to refill the kettle.

It was hours later when Spike beside me. I poured him a cup of tea, and we drank in silence. When the pot was empty we started on the bourbon. I didn't want to know what could put such a haunted look on the face of a soulless killer.

After a while he went away.

I waited in the kitchen until it was time to start breakfast.

We sat around the table, the remains of our meal growing cold, acutely aware of absent faces. And when Xander came downstairs I couldn't look at his lost eyes for more than a moment. No one spoke until Xander broke the oppressive silence by turning on the radio. Then Willow lunged across the table to change the station, and we became a veritable chorus of gloom.

I had not fully comprehended quite how extraordinary Anya was. After Joyce's untimely death, she had become obsessed with mortality. She researched the customs surrounding death and dying, and had issued explicit instructions in case of her own demise. These instructions she left with me. Even though I was so much older than she and would reasonably be expected to predecease her.

She left a will. I was surprised at the extent of her savings, all left to Xander. This legacy, coupled with his salary, would be enough to keep him financially secure for years to come. I could supplement the store's profits with the retroactive pay I received from the Council. My current salary as an inactive Watcher would see me through.

Yes. I think that they can manage without me.

Xander is remarkably composed. He seems very adult, very mature and focussed. I've been very carefully reviewing the household accounts with him. He's learning very quickly. I think that I can safely book an airline ticket.

They'll be just fine without me.

Perhaps it was the coward's way out. To not tell them until it was time for me to leave. But it seemed the right thing to do. I packed my bags and set them by the door. I called for them to gather close. They stood before me, these children that were so dear to me, and I calmly proceeded to break their hearts.

Dawn burst out in sobs and stormed off to her room, such the teenage clichι. Tara paled and set her mouth, biting down on the questions I could see in her eyes. Xander looked at me with the visage of an abandoned puppy. Spike, still half-asleep, seemed inclined to go after Dawn. It was Willow who exploded with questions and accusations.

You'll manage fine without me. You can look after the store and the house. You don't need me. You have plenty of income, plenty of money saved. You don't need me. You can take care of Dawn. You don't need me.

And then Spike repeated one of Willow's questions. And it looks like I have to talk about Glory. About B.. About Glory. There is no need to worry about Glory. Not anymore. Never again.

I picked up my bags and reached for the door handle. Xander came up behind me and don't touch me!

I wheeled around, arms out, breaking his grip. The expression on his face shifted from betrayed shock to understanding, and he reached out for my hand. I tried to pull away, but he held fast and brought our clasped hands to his mouth. He pressed his lips against my scar, kissing it, bathing it with his tears. And he whispered to me a benediction. That I did the right thing. That he would have done the same. And the relief that flooded me was indisputable.

I did not realise that I needed forgiveness until I was forgiven. By this boy, of all people. This boy who had suffered so greatly and was now trying to ease my suffering. This boy who I had treated so distantly and who was now murmuring that I was his father. This boy of whom I am so proud.

I reached down and touched his hair with my free hand, kissed his vulnerable temple. A blessing and a farewell.

I wonder if it will be raining in London?



--End--



Tara's POV, disturbing imagery, rated R.



Little Mouse Sounds

Little mouse sounds, claws skittering, teeth biting. All alone in the dark with the mice. Skittering. Scratching. Little mice.

Willow? Why are you crying? What's wrong? Oh, Buffy. Is Buffy dead? Dead. Everything is dead. All the mice are dying. Willow, let me hold you. Hush Willow. Poor Buffy. Poor Dawn.

They skitter on their claws. They make little mouse sounds. Dead.

What happens now? The mice will come to eat her hair

Xander's hurting Buffy. No, I guess he can't hurt her, she's dead. And the spiders will eat her eyes. And that will hurt her. But he's hurting my Willow. Poor baby, don't be angry, he has a plan. He's trying to help us. And he's touching her skin, and the beetles will eat her skin, and then he'll be touching her bones.

And Spike is crying, poor Spike. And Dawn, oh, she's hurt. And Anya is unconscious. Spiders are making webs in her head. Please, why doesn't help come? Where are the ambulances? The mice have switched the road signs.

Hospitals are not made for waiting, which is strange considering how much waiting you have to do. Mom died at home. That was, nice, I guess. It was nice that I could be by her side, taking care of her. But the mice were still there, they still scratched her face, still she screamed at the feel of little claws skittering. But it was hard on Daddy and Donny. They were so sad; their auras were all brown.

They took Buffy away, to the morgue, I suppose. Can you hear the mice? And Anya's up in critical care. Xander went too. I hope he can be with her. She'll be scared. And the spiders will crawl on her, covering her mouth. She's not used to pain. Pain and dark and little mouse sounds. Get used to it, you'll be spending a long time in here.

They're coming for Dawn. They're coming for everyone; no one here gets out alive. Giles is going with her. Poor Willow. She's so sad, and none of the Scoobies are here for her. Everyone is alone, the only things you can count on are the mice. And the spiders. Poor Will, poor baby. Come cuddle close, let me stroke your hair.

Xander's here, and Giles. They both look so tired. Of course we can stay with Dawn. She needs comforting, after her mom and Buffy. No comfort, only darkness and the skittering of claws. Xander, of course we'll look in on Anya. Oh, okay, I will. I know that she'll be scared. And the mice will build nests from her hair.

Take care of Spike. And, Xander, take care of yourself. You've been so concerned with everybody else that I think you've been forgetting to do that. His soul is full of wasps, stinging and poisoning.

Oh, I must have fallen asleep. Willow's lying in my lap, her curls spread along my thigh. Pretty hair, all red like fire, like blood, like eyes shining in dark places. I'm so happy, even with Buffy gone, just so happy to be back. For Willow to have found me, to restore me. The dark is still here, you never left, you are lost and alone, wandering in a country that is not yours, looking for friends who don't exist. Only the mice, the spiders, the wasps, everything else is the illusion, they are the truth.

The doctor says that Dawn can go home. The paperwork will take a while, Willow you stay with her. I'm going to the gift shop, I want to bring something to Anya. Bring her a wasp, she'll like that, she'll like the poison.

I know that Anya would like a journal, a book of days. She told me once that she enjoyed the banality of recording events that she remembered perfectly well. Will she remember the mice? Will she write about the spiders crawling on her?

I sit with Anya while Xander's at work. We talk of commonplaces and sometimes we hold hands and sit in silence. But always there is the scrabbling of claws, the gnawing of sharp white teeth. She's very excited right now. Xander proposed. Her ring is very pretty. Little eyes, glittering in the dark.

Anya is coming home. Willow and I will take turns staying at home, helping her, and going to help Mr. Giles at the store. Taking care of Anya is a lot of work, but Xander takes care of most of it when he's home, and Willow and I can easily handle the small everyday stuff.

It's very hard for Anya to accept help. Don't be upset, it's a chick thing. We always go to the bathroom together. You are alone.

I dropped Dawn off at school on my way to the magic shop. We took the bus. It isn't far, but hardly anyone walks around here. Why do you have an umbrella, mister? It's not going to rain. It's foolish to carry an umbrella if it's not going to rain.

There's quite a bit to done at the store. Cleaning and restocking the inventory is a big part of it. I don't think I stopped all day. There was a wasp caught in a spider's web, struggling to get free. And when the spider came along to eat the wasp, it got stung, over and over again. And the spider convulsed in an exquisite death agony, and the wasp moved so frantically that it ripped off a wing. Did you hear that? Oh, nothing. It's just, I must have been thinking of something else. I thought I heard someone laugh.

There isn't much laughter in the store. Mr. Giles is so sombre, none of his humour shines through his aura. It's all cloudy with grief and anger and guilt. Killer. He's such a good man. He's a killer. Willow loves him so much. Poisonous spider. His left hand still hasn't healed from the injury it sustained the night Buffy died. All bloody and covered with bites and stings. Marked by the mice and the spiders and the wasps. I think it still bothers him, I see him rubbing at it all the time.

We've settled into a routine now. In a rut. In a grave. In a ditch filled with foetid water and buzzing wasps. I've discovered that I have quite a knack for cooking. Anya helps me as much as I help her. It's a lot of fun, it's been a long time since I had a friend. They're all laughing at you.

Actually, I end up cooking most of the time. Willow gets so caught up in researching and spells that she usually forgets to start dinner. Oh, it's okay, I don't mind. I enjoy the cooking. Daddy's little girl. You can take Mommy's place. You make a good Mommy. Xander is good for breakfast and ordering in, but there's only so many times a week you can have pancakes. And after that, umm, interesting moussaka that Mr. Giles made, I don't think that any of us are eager to have him take on kitchen duty. Slimy, dark, festering. Yummy. Dawn hasn't progressed much past breakfast foods, either. I think that I might want to sit them down for some lessons. That will be a fun Saturday activity.

The evenings are the best time. The best time. In the gloaming the dead things come out. Everyone sits around the den and we help Dawn with her homework. Well, we try to help, anyway. Botany doesn't seem to be a major concern in Middle School. Oh, yes, Botany. I'm a Botany Major. Well, it helps me identify useful herbs. You take fifty or sixty apricot kernels and grind them up. They taste of bitter almonds and you use it to flavour cookies. And within fifteen minutes you have respiratory failure, coma and death. It's good for spells, and, and cooking. Purple foxglove, pretty Fairy Fingers, ringing Witch's Bells. Tasty in a stew. And then your vision blurs, and then your heart beats irregularly, and then you die. And everyone thinks that you've had a heart attack, old man. No one expects pretty things to be deadly. And lots of other uninteresting stuff.

Oh, what's that poem that Spike's reciting? It's so beautiful. Being pulled down into the dark waters. Being smothered by the inexorable hand of god. Escaping the mice and the spiders and the wasps, but your lungs will swell and your eyes will burst and your skin will become red with petichia. He's got such a lovely voice. So full of death.

I love going to bed. Quiet and dark. Only the dead are walking. Drowsing in bed, Willow cuddled close to my side, listening to her soft breathing. Could anything be more perfect? What more could I want? Hot and wet and shameful. Hmm, snuggle a little closer, honey. Yeah, that's nice. So very, very nice. Ohhh, just a little higher. Oh! Is someone there? Xander? What's he doing? Did he hear the mouse sounds? Is he looking for mice? What? Mice? I, what did I say? I don't know. I guess I was confused.

I think that a levitation spell will make it easier to help Anya. I don't want her to go flying around, but if I could lighten her, or float her I wouldn't have to strain so. I scour the books at the shop, there must be something that will help, I can find it if I just look in the right place. That spider has six legs. A spider should have eight legs. That's just wrong. Whoever heard of a six-legged spider? Abomination. Not fit to scuttle about in its six-legged way. What? Oh, is it time to go home already, Mr. Giles? I don't know where the day went. Let me just wash my hands.

Hey, you. How was your day? A breakthrough with the ball of sunshine spell? That's great, honey. Make dinner? I don't mind. Sing a song of sixpence. Oh, Anya, thanks, but you go sit with Xander. You haven't seen him all day. I don't need any help, I'll just whip up something quick. Four and twenty spiders baked in a pie Well, if you really want to Dawn. You can make the salad. When the pie was opened, the spiders were all dead and crispy from being baked for forty-five minutes in a three-hundred and fifty degree oven. I-I don't think we need any more help, Mr. Giles. Thanks for asking, though.

Xander, you don't have to always wash the dishes. I don't mind doing them. You don't have to repay me for cooking dinner, Silly! Well, remind you to thank your Mom. She sure trained you well. Ohhh, look at his eyes, so deliciously wounded. Such a delicacy for the spiders. I-I didn't mean, I'm sorry, I just meant, I-I'm sorry.

Huh? Oh, sit outs-s-s-ide? But it's dark out. Dark and damp and full of crawling things. N-n-no, I guess it's romantic. Umm, do you think that there are bugs? Spiders and wasps and desiccating beetles. I guess you're right. I sup-p-pose they can't hurt us. They'll crawl into your mouth and eat your tongue.

That feels good. My shoulders are so stiff. Rigour mortis setting in? I think I might have strained something when I was helping Anya. Say, I've been thinking that a levitation spell might make things easier. Well, easier to help Anya. What do you mean? It's not that easy to lift her. How else can you help her use the bathroom? What are you talking about? You mean that you leave her all day? Without helping her? How can you neglect her like that?

Spike, you s-s-startled me. Such a lovely fellow, so much torture in him. Dead blood in his veins. You help Anya? That's not the point, Willow, and you know it. Xander is counting on us, counting on you, and you're letting him down. Is this how you repay them for all the times they helped me when I was sick? Wasps are buzzing in your brain. How can you say that! How can you hate Anya? Oh, I get it. You're jealous. You don't want Xander to love anyone but you. I see it now. I see everything so clearly now. Mice are nesting in your soul. It's not that you think that I doubt you being gay, you're the one that doubts it! You are keeping your options open! Well that's not right! It's not fair to me, and it's certainly not fair to Anya. How dare you punish her with your neglect, with your capriciousness? She's sure of who she love, don't punish her because you have doubts. Wasps in your hair, wasps in your mouth, wasps in your heart. Don't you tell me that I'm hysterical! These fucking insects are driving me fucking nuts! I'm going inside.

Oh god. Oh god. Willow. What have I done? You've driven her away. I've driven her away. How can I live without her? You can die. Dying is easy. How can I lose my Willow? You don't deserve to have love. Maybe Daddy was right. Daddy's always right. Daddy's little girl. There's something wrong with me. Degenerate. I don't deserve to be happy. Ingrate. I just hurt every one around me. Freak Why can't I get that through my thick skull? Your bones will shatter like glass, the mice will feast on your brain. Little claws slipping in your blood.

Willow? Oh, Willow. I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry. Please forgive me. Oh, there's nothing to forgive. You didn't do anything wrong. I love you. I love you. Such sweet kisses. Such soft skin. She reeks of lust. She reeks of death. Yes, oh yesssss. So hot, so wet, so very sweet. Dark and wet and hot, that's where evil grows. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Huh? No, I'm awake. Well, maybe it would be best for you to take a break. I'm sure Mr. Giles would prefer to have you at the store anyway. I don't mind. I enjoy taking care of the house. I like helping Anya. Mommy's sick. You have to take Mommy's place. But you're still Daddy's little girl. We'll have fun.

But I don't understand the Stock Market. Isn't it awfully risky? You've made how much? Oh. Maybe you could show me? Okay, right click, double click, security code. I did it. Oh, I did it! I bought a stock! I'm a day trader. This is so cool! Show me more, Anya. This is very exciting. Oh, Spike. See, Anya is showing me how to trade on-line. Did we wake you? Oh, okay. I'll let you know when Dawn gets home. Oh, it's so late. I better start dinner. No, Anya, you stay here. I'm just going to throw some things in the stew pot. It's very simple, but I know that you'll love it. It's very tasty.

Willow! I've had such a fun day! Anya showed me how to use the intern- - - Oh, I'm sorry. I hate when customers get all poopy. My poor cranky bear. Let me rub your head, I'll get rid of that old headache in no time. Catch a wasp in your hand, you can crush it, so crunchy, and the poison seeps sticky into your blood.

I never really understood Shakespeare. Evil writing. Dirty words. Fornication and sin and wrongdoing. Oh, no, please. I couldn't. I c-can't. I can't act. Liar, liar, liar. You pretend to be normal, you act like you belong.

Spike! Oh, it's so funny! Men pretending to be women. Fairies. Degenerates. Sick. Sick. Sick. Oh, look! Look how funny! Sinful. Wrong. They don't deserve happiness. They don't deserve laughter. Misery is what they need, what's coming to them.

Goodnight. Goodnight. Sweet dreams.

Oh, Willow. It was so much fun tonight. Didn't you think that Spike and Mr. Giles were wonderful? I don't know the last time I laughed so hard. Sorrow is your birthright. Pain is your legacy. Death is your companion.

Oh, Willow. Willow. Willow. Don't stop. You're making me crazy. Funny.

Mice make nests of your hair. Spiders spin webs in your head. Wasps sting and sting and sting.

Uhnnnn! I had a bad dream. I don't know. I don't remember. What's that noise? What's going on? Where is Xander going? What's wrong? Spike? Where's Spike going?

I hate waiting. Waiting never brings good things. Death and disease and desertion. I feel like my skin is crawling. The spiders are trying to get out. Poor Dawn. I don't think that she can take anymore bad news. Th-thank you, Mr. Giles. The cocoa is lovely. Are you trying to drown the spiders? Is it warming you up, Dawn? Down came the rain. Don't worry. They'll be back soon. I'm sure that nothing bad has happened. Down came the rain. I hope that nothing bad has happened.

They're back. They're here. Xander looks so sad. He's full of wasps. And Spike, so very grim. Down came the rain. No. No. Down came the rain. Not Anya. Down came the rain. No. Poor Xander. Down came the rain. It's not fair.

Poor Dawn. Oh, don't cry, honey. Don't cry Willow. Down came the rain. Let me help. How can I help?

What's that noise?Sounds like water coming down a spout.

Oh my god. Oh, poor Xander. Oh, what can I do? How can I help? Down came the rain.

Of course. Of course. My clothes, your clothes. Don't worry about wrinkles, Willow. We have to move fast. Down came the rain. Just throw things on the bed. Move Xander's stuff to Buffy's room. He's quieter now. Come on, let's pack up Anya's things. Down came the rain. Put her clothes in the boxes. Down came the rain. Oh, her journals. Look, this is the one that I bought her. She's been using it. Umm, I guess you can stack them over there, Willow. Hand me a box, please. I'm going to put all of her books together. Down came the rain. I think that's the last of it. Down came the rain. Can you help us move the boxes to the basement? Down came the rain. Thanks, some of them are very heavy. Down came the rain and washed the spider out.

Willow, please help me change the sheets. I just don't feel comfortable using them. Death doesn't stick to linen. What a crazy notion. Can't you just do it to humour me? Oh, don't cry sweetie. I didn't mean to be so harsh. Stupid, clumsy, fat girl. It's okay. I'll do it myself. I don't mind.

Anya's not here. It seems so strange to not have her at the table. Only yesterday she was teaching me about stocks, and now she's dead. Dead. Everything dies. Everyone will die. Mr. Giles looks so very sad, I think that he really loved Anya. He doesn't love you. And Dawn has suffered so much loss. I can see the suffering in her face. Pretty, pretty pain. It looks good on her. She should suffer more. I can't tell what Willow is feeling. That's a little disturbing. I never had trouble reading her before. Her aura seems so dark. Dark and damp and evil. I know that she must be concerned about Xander. We all are. I can't finish these eggs. Slimey pre-embryonic chicken, what's not to savour?

Oh, there's Xander. He looks so beaten down, so very sad. So pretty, so very tormented. Someone should say something. What should I say? The wrong thing, of course. The radio, that's a good idea, music will help.

For the first time in history, it's gonna start raining men They'd land in a bloody pool of broken limbs and lacerated flesh if they fell from any height. It's raining men, hallelujah, it's raining men, amen. really like Geri Halliwell's version of this song. It's raining men, hallelujah, it's raining men, amen.

My god, I can't get this song out of my head! It's going to drive me crazy. Too late, baby.

Well, I suppose that it's nice that we get to work together. I just wish we didn't have to. Oh, I didn't mean anything by that. It's just, Anya. I miss her. Easy enough to join her. Yes, Mr. Giles does seem to need the extra help. It sure is busy. Could you help me unpack these books? No, it's okay. If it's a pivotal place in the spell of course you have to finish. I don't mind. You know what lives under a doormat? Spiders. They love it there.

I'm so tired. Dead tired. I'm at least as tired as you, honey. My feet hurt. Hmmm, is this a competition? My hair hurts. Okay, then, top this: my lungs are filled with spider webs and wasps have laid eggs in my uterus. Umm, that was strange, wasn't it? I think that I'm more tired than I realised. Maybe I'll just go to bed early. Sweet dreams. Oh, I should make dinner first.

I don't know what's happening. You are alone. Buffy is dead, Anya is dead, Joyce is dead. You're dead too, they just haven't gotten around to burying you. And now Mr. Giles is leaving. Why would he want to stay around? Surrounded by dead people.

He's so desperate. Desperate to get away. So desperate to get home. To get away from you. His aura is black with despair and guilt and shame. Maybe he'll kill himself. He's good at killing. What could make such a good man so despondent? Killer. So forlorn? He's a killer.

He's gone. You are dead to him. What are we supposed to do now? You could stop pretending. Who's going to take care of Dawn? You could stop dissembling. Who's going to take care of us? You could give up your ridiculous faith in the bright side and look at the darkness that is surrounding you.

Willow, I'm worried. I don't know what to do. Oh, honey, don't cry. Let me hold you. I'll make it better, I'll take care of things. I promise. You lie.

Things are falling apart. Chaos, darkness, it is the way the universe wants things to be. I think that Xander is having a breakdown, he's so frantic, so lost since Anya died. I wish he'd realise that he's dead and stop walking around. And since Mr. Giles left, he's been so dark. Mice have eaten his soul. He's drinking so much, he's in so much pain.

It's hurting Dawn. She's so fragile. Then why isn't she broken? She's lost her family. When will she break? She's lost Mr. Giles, she's lost Anya. Why won't she break? She's lost Xander, he's just not here anymore. Shatter like crystal. Splinter like glass. Fragment into a thousand jagged pieces that will lacerate her flesh and let the spiders out.

Willow, I think we have to do something. I think that we need to talk to Xander. Well, because he needs help. He's in so much pain. Maybe if he could express his feelings things would be better for him. Well, I am kind of new agey, I guess. Stupid, stupid girl. I'm s-s-sorry. I guess it is a s-s-stupid idea. Stupid, ugly, worthless girl.

They're fighting. I hate it when they fight. Vicious, ugly, nasty words. Willow doesn't even sound like herself. Her voice is so hard, so cold. Makes a nice change from the baby talk. And Xander is so angry and so hurt. Can't Willow see the pain? It's so obvious, so delicious. Like he's coated with anguish and filled with rage. Mommy, may I have seconds? She's pushing him so hard, and he's fighting back.

Maybe it's better than his apathy, but, oh, look at Dawn. Poor Dawn. She shouldn't be hearing this. I think that she's cracking. I can see spider-webs on her face. Dawnie, maybe we should go upstairs?

He's hurt. He's bleeding. His insides are coming out. What is Spike doing? Is he drinking Xander's blood? He's feeding off his pain. You all are. Tasty, isn't it?

He's crying. Oh, Xander, poor Xander. So many tears. They're washing the spider out. So much pain, so much misery. Such sublime agony, such magnificent anguish.

Willow, I think that we should go. Spike can take care of Xander. I don't think that we should see him like this. Spoilsport. Umm, okay, I guess that you're right. You're his friend, not me. Abandoned, alone, listen to the mouse sounds. But we should go, Dawn. C'mon. We'll see Xander in the morning. It'll be okay. Liar, liar, liar.

Did you want me to braid your hair? Come over here, then. You have such pretty hair, Dawn. So thick, and such a nice colour. Chant the spell, braid it into her hair. Dye it? Well, I don't think that you need to do that, but if you want to. Maybe we'll go to the drug store after you've finished school. Let's go eat breakfast.

I hate waiting. I wish that Xander would come down. Be careful what you wish for. I hope that he's okay. Dawn isn't eating enough. She's been feeding on death. She's getting so thin. Skin and bones and wasps. I can hear him stirring. He must be taking a shower. He's been in there a long time. Maybe he's trying to drown himself. I can't believe that Spike said that. Jinx, you owe me a coke you darling soulless monster you.

Oh, here comes Xander. Spike must have sent him down. He looks so much better. Puffy and bloated, spiders oozing from his pores. Well, I guess that he doesn't so much look better as he looks more peaceful. Isn't that what they always say about dead people? That they look peaceful? Is he making breakfast? We've already eaten. I guess that we should try to eat what he cooks. It might make things seem more normal. Normalcy is the last refuge of the sane. Banality is the last refuge of the living. Cross over, baby. Anarchy is where it's at. All the mice say so. Listen to them.

He's going. Has he gone to the basement? He's gone to the darkness. He's gone to the spiders and wasps and mice. No, I don't think that we should go after him. I think that he needs to be alone. We're all alone, sweetie. Most of us just haven't noticed yet. We need to open the store. And you, missy, need to get to school. Let's go.

Can you believe how busy we were today? I must have sold a dozen sets of tarot cards and at least three dream interpretation books. All the cards are the King of Cups, and all the dreams are of mice. You know that, how can you sell these lies? Right, you're a liar.

Dawn, could you please go lock the door and put up the closed sign? Willow, could you sweep the floor? Oh, well if you're that close to a breakthrough with your spell. No, I can sweep after I've counted the deposit. I don't mind.

Five. Ten. Fifteen. I sat behind a man on the bus, and a spider was crawling on his shirt. Twenty. Twenty-five. And it wended it's way around and around his neck. Thirty. Around once. Around twice. And then three times. Thirty-five. And the third time's the charm. And it's three time three for the spell. It's three. Three's the magic number. Three. Four. Shit. Five. Ten. And the man didn't notice the spider, and he didn't notice the spell, and he didn't notice the magic woven about his neck. Fifteen. And the spider crawled up into his hair, and the man didn't flinch, and I think that the spider was eating his brain. Was I at twenty or twenty-five? Shit. Five. Ten. And I was laughing, because the man was covered with spiders and he couldn't stop them because his brain was gone. Five. Ten. But then the man got off the bus, and I didn't get to see his bones, and that made me sad, but then…

Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Can't you just be quiet for five minutes while I finish this fucking deposit!

What? No, I'm not talking to you, Willow. You know what? Maybe I am. Maybe I am talking to you. Maybe I should be talking to you.

Willow, get your ass off that chair and sweep up the floor. Dawn, you get your homework together. As soon as I finish this deposit we are going home. And you know what? I am not cooking dinner tonight. It's about time you pulled your weight at home, both of you. Willow, you are cooking tonight, and it better be good. No, you will not just order a pizza. Dawn, you're going to help Xander with the clean up.

Not myself? You know what, Will, I am totally myself. For the first time in a long while I am me. Get used to it. I'm not going anywhere.

I feel so much better now.

Say, Dawn, after supper do you want to make cookies? I have I recipe that I know you'll just love.



--End--



Dawn's POV, a little different style than I've used before, rated PG-13, some disturbing talk.



Case #9323

Dear Dr. Schrodenhauer,

I'd like to take this opportunity to mention how impressed and inspired I was by your lecture series at UCLA this past semester. Your reputation in dealing with troubled youth is legendary, and your insights are extraordinary.

My colleague, Dr. Marc Jacobsson, suggested that I write you regarding a troubling case that I am currently handling. I know that you are very busy, but I hope that you can provide me with some guidance. I am at a loss at how to help this poor girl.

If you are able to consult with me I will, of course, send you any information you require. Right now I'll just give you the bare bones of the situation.

D.S. is a fifteen y.o. female. Her medical history is unremarkable, save for two instances of what are suspected to be self-inflicted knife wounds. Her family history is quite tragic. Her mother died after a short illness, and her sister was killed in a recent accident. Her parents were divorced ~5 years ago, and she has had limited contact with her father. In fact, she has been declared an emancipated minor. Her school has required this counselling as a condition of her admission. D.S. is quite resistant to therapy.

Please let me know if you are able to help me with this case.

Thank you,

Angela Maw, MD, FRPC

***

Dr. Schrodenhauer,

Thank you for your speedy reply. I am very pleased to accept your offer of assistance.

D.S. is a very troubled girl, and she needs all the help we can give her.

Per your request I am enclosing the transcripts of our sessions, as well as any observational notes I have made.

Once again, I have to thank you for assisting me.

Sincerely,

Dr. Maw

***

Session One

AM - Come in, please. Have a seat. Are you comfortable, Dawn?

DS - I guess so.

AM - I'm Dr. Maw. It's nice to meet you. I want you to know that you can say anything to me in these sessions. They are completely confidential.

DS - You won't tell the school what I say?

AM - No. I won't release anything without your permission.

DS - Okay.

AM - Dawn, is there anything you'd like to talk about today?

DS - No.

AM - Well, seeing as it's our first session, I'd like to get to know you a little better.

DS - Okay.

(paper shuffling)

AM - What grade are you in?

DS - Ninth. … I have to go to summer school.

AM - And how do you feel about that?

DS - I don't have a choice. I missed too much school last year.

AM - I understand that your Mom was sick. That must have been hard for you. … You don't have to talk about that if you don't want to.

DS - I don't want to talk about that.

AM - That's okay. So, your sister became your guardian. How did that make you feel?

DS - I don't want to talk about my sister.

AM - Okay, we don't have to talk about that. We don't have to talk about anything that you don't feel comfortable discussing.

(pause - one minute, fifteen seconds)

AM - I see that you went to court to be emancipated.

DS - Yes.

AM - What does that mean to you?

DS - It means that I'm an adult. That I can do what I want.

AM - Do you think that you're an adult?

DS - I dunno. … Sometimes I feel really old.

AM - Yes. I think that happens to everybody at one time or another. But it's not really the same thing as being an adult, is it?

DS - I guess not.

AM - Adults have a lot of responsibilities. There are a lot of decisions that have to be made.

DS - I suppose.

AM - Do you find that difficult?

DS - Sometimes. … I have friends who help me.

AM - Do you want to tell me about them?

DS - … I guess. …

AM - Go on.

DS - They're my sister's friends. … They promised her that they'd take care of me.

AM - Do you see them often?

DS - We all live together.

AM - Go on.

DS - They all moved into my house after … When Buffy died.

AM - Buffy is your sister?

DS - Yeah. … They moved in. We all take care of each other.

AM - How do you take care of them?

DS - Well, I help take care of Anya. … She's in a wheelchair.

AM - That sounds like a lot of work.

DS - Oh, Xander does most of it. They're getting married. I just help by bringing her stuff that she needs. Books and stuff.

AM - That's very kind of you.

DS - I'd do anything to help Xander. And I've gotten to know Anya a lot better now. She's very funny. I'm going to be her bridesmaid.

AM - That sounds like fun.

DS - I've picked out a dress. It's pink and has a great big skirt.

AM - It sounds nice.

DS - Oh, yes. It's all satin and has lace sleeves. Anya hasn't decided what kind of flowers she wants.

AM - There's a lot of work involved with a wedding. Have they set a date?

DS - Not yet. Anya wants to be able to walk down the aisle with Giles.

AM - So the wheelchair isn't permanent?

DS - No. … She has exercises to do. … Sometimes I help her with them.

AM - Sounds like she's very determined.

DS - Oh, yes. She says that she'll walk down the aisle and then she'll race Xander to the honeymoon. … I don't think that I was supposed to hear that part.

AM - Well. … Tell me about Xander.

DS - He's the coolest grown-up I know. He's a construction worker, and he has his own car.

AM - And he's engaged to Anya?

DS - Yeah.

AM - And they both live with you?

DS - They sleep in my mom's room.

AM - And how does that make you feel?

DS - I don't understand.

AM - To have them sleeping in your Mom's room.

DS - I don't want to talk about my Mom. …

AM - That's okay. … We're almost out of time anyway. I'll see you next week.

DS - 'Bye.

***

AM - DS is a very self-contained adolescent. It is only to be expected, given the circumstances of her life. She is clearly unwilling to discuss her mother and sister, I hope that in time she'll be more comfortable. Obviously their deaths were a major contribution to what I perceive are her deeply seeded abandonment issues. I will attempt to bring her father into the sessions as well. She hasn't mentioned him, and I think that there must be issues there are well. She is resistant to therapy. The only time she opened up was while talking about her friends. I will draw her out on this. I am concerned that they may be taking advantage of her youth and inexperience.

***

Session Two

AM - Good morning, Dawn.

DS - Good morning.

AM - How are you today?

DS - Fine.

AM - That's good. … Is there anything you'd like to talk about today?

DS - No.

AM - Okay. … I was hoping to learn more about your friends. Do you feel like talking about them?

DS - Okay.

AM - So, you mentioned a Giles last session. … You said that he would walk Anya down the aisle. Is he her father?

DS - (laughter) No. … He's a friend. He was the librarian at Buffy's school.

AM - So he's older?

DS - He's way old. But he's good to have around. He knows just about everything.

AM - He lives with you too?

DS - Uh huh. He takes care of us.

AM - How does he do that?

DS - Well, he, umm. … He has a store, and Willow and Tara work there. He helps me with my homework. He went to Oxford.

AM - Willow and Tara?

DS - Oh, they live at my house too.

AM - Really? You must have a very large house.

DS - Oh. Um. Willow and Tara share a room.

AM - Well. …

DS - Willow is Buffy's best friend. She's the coolest person. She's so smart, and she's really good at sp.. … Um. She's really good at public speaking.

AM - I see. And Tara, was she a friend of Buffy's also?

DS - Well, Buffy liked her.

AM - And what do you think about her?

DS - Tara's neat. She's teaching me to cook.

AM - Do you enjoy that?

DS - Oh, yes. It's a lot of fun. I like helping Tara. She has so much to do.

AM - Does she do all the cooking?

DS - Well, I help, and so does Anya. Xander makes breakfast all the time. We don't let Giles cook anymore. (laughter) He made this horrible moose thing for dinner one night.

AM - Moose? … So, is that everyone? No one else stashed in the house? Lurking in the bushes?

DS - Um. … No. … No one.

(pause - two minutes eighteen seconds)

AM - How's school?

DS - It's okay. It's school. Learning and stuff.

AM - I guess I don't have to ask if you're enjoying it.

DS - None of my friends are in summer school. But at least I'll get to see them all in the fall.

AM - You mentioned that Giles helps you with your homework.

DS - Yeah.

AM - Are you having any trouble with your classes?

DS - No. … It's just that I sometimes don't see the point.

AM - The point?

DS - You know. … Why should I study and get good grades. Why does it matter?

AM - Why don't you tell me why it doesn't matter?

DS - … It doesn't matter because it doesn't change anything. …

AM - Doesn't change what?

DS - Anything. …

AM - I don't understand what you're saying.

DS - … Being smart doesn't stop you from dying.

AM - … No, I suppose that it doesn't. … But Dawn, everybody dies.

DS - Don't you think that I know that!

AM - … I think that you know that better than a lot of people.

(sound of crying)

AM - Have a tissue.

DS - (muffled) Thank you.

AM - I think that it comes down to the kind of life that you lead.

DS - What?

AM - I think that's why what you do matters. It does matter what kind of life that you lead.

DS - Buffy thought so. … She said that living was hard. … She told me to take care of her friends. (crying) She's counting on me. …

AM - Do you think that was fair?

DS - What?

AM - Do you think that was fair of her? To give you that responsibility?

DS - Don't ever say anything about Buffy. Buffy is a hero.

AM - What makes her a…

DS - Don't talk about Buffy.

AM - Okay.

(pause - one minutes thirty-two seconds)

DS - I'm sorry.

AM - You don't have to apologise for your feelings, Dawn. Not to me. It's why I'm here.

DS - I'm still sorry.

AM - You can make it up to me next session. … I have some homework for you. (laughter) Don't look so appalled. It's easy.

DS - Okay.

AM - I want you to tell me the best thing that happens to you during the week.

DS - Okay. That sounds like fun.

AM - I also want you to tell me the worst thing that happens.

DS - … Okay. …

AM - Time's up.

DS - See you.

AM - Good bye.

***

AM - Dawn seems to have great affection for her friends. While this will almost certainly help her heal from the loss of her mother and sister, it doesn't preclude the possibility that they are taking advantage of her. I am concerned about her exploitation, both financially and sexually. While I have seen no evidence of any inappropriate behaviour, I am not comfortable about her living arrangements. It's quite clear that she is hiding something. I am also concerned about the almost worshipful attitude she has toward her sister. She's a very tough little girl. I hope that I can begin to get closer to her.

***

Session Three

AM - Good morning.

DS - Hello.

AM - I like that sweater you have on.

DS - Thanks.

AM - That shade of blue is very becoming.

DS - … It's Buffy's.

AM - Pardon?

DS - This sweater is Buffy's.

AM - Oh.

DS - She hates it when I borrow her things.

AM - I think that all sisters feel like that. Do you think that she would mind you wearing it now?

DS - … It doesn't really matter, does it. …

AM - Okay, I gave you an assignment.

DS - Yeah.

AM - What was the best thing that happened to you last week?

DS - Xander and I played house tag.

AM - House tag?

DS - It's like regular tag, but you play it in the house. And you can only be tagged it if you are on the floor.

AM - I see.

DS - It was a lot of fun. Xander was it and he chased me all through the house. He almost caught me in the bathroom, but I jumped up on the toilet. (laughter) Giles said that it was a good thing that the seat was down or I would have gotten a soaking. (laughter) And then Xander finally caught me in the kitchen because I couldn't get up on the stove since Tara was cooking.

AM - Sounds like fun.

DS - Oh, and then I had to catch Xander. I think that he was taking it easy on me, because I almost caught him tons of times. (laughter) I almost got him outside of Buffy's room, and then he had to jump up on the bed and he woke up Spike. (laughter) And then Spike threw him on the floor and I tagged him. (laughter)

AM - Who's Spike?

DS - What?

AM - You said that Xander woke Spike up. Who's Spike?

DS - … Umm. … He's sort of like my, umm, bodyguard? … He watches the house.

AM - You have a bodyguard?

DS - … Umm. … Buffy asked him to take care of me.

AM - Seems like people listened to Buffy.

DS - … Yeah. … I don't want to talk about Buffy.

AM - Okay. … What was the worst thing that happened to you last week?

DS - Ugh. My stupid English teacher is making us read a Shakespeare play.

AM - You don't like Shakespeare?

DS - Uh, no.

AM - Why not?

DS - It's so boring! And it's not like it's even in english.

AM - I see.

DS - I'm going to read it.

AM - I never doubted you for a second.

DS - … Umm, are you being funny?

AM - Apparently not.

DS - Oh.

AM - So, Spike lives at your house too?

DS - … Yeah.

AM - How does that make you feel?

DS - What? How does Spike living in my house make me feel?

AM - Yes.

DS - Well, it makes me feel safe.

AM - Did you feel unsafe before?

DS - Before what?

AM - Before Spike came to live with you. I assume that he's a recent addition?

DS - … Before Spike I had Buffy. …

AM - And you felt safe with Buffy?

DS - Of course I felt safe with Buffy. Nobody would mess with Buffy. She keeps everyone safe.

AM - Did she keep you safe?

DS - What? What do you mean?

AM - You were hurt. The night Buffy died.

DS - That wasn't her fault. She did her best to save me.

AM - Save you? Did someone hurt you?

DS - … I fell. … I fell on something metal. …

AM - What did you fall on.

DS - … I don't know. … Something metal. …

AM - And Buffy was killed.

DS - … She fell. …

AM - But she told you to take care of her friends before she … fell?

DS - … I don't want to talk about this.

AM - Okay, you don't have to. I just wanted to know h…

DS - I don't want to talk about this.

(pause - three minutes six seconds)

AM - You never talk about your father.

DS - So.

AM - I was just commenting.

DS - Well, I don't need to talk about my father.

AM - Why not?

DS - Do you see him around? He didn't even call when Mom died. He didn't even call when Buffy died. He doesn't care.

AM - And how do you feel about that?

DS - How do I feel about that? I don't care. I don't give a damn. (crying) Why the fuck isn't he dead. Why couldn't he have died instead of Mom? Why does Buffy have to take care of everything? (crying) Why can't he (garbled)…

(sound of crying)

AM - Here's a tissue.

(sound of nose blowing)

AM - You talk of Buffy in the present tense.

DS - Huh?

AM - Present tense. She is, she does. Like she's still alive.

DS - … I don't want to talk to you anymore. …

(pause - ten minutes twenty-six seconds)

AM - Maybe we should call it a day.

***

AM - I perhaps pushed Dawn a little too hard today. I was hoping to force a breakthrough, but I may have alienated her. I do think that I was right about abandonment issues, she seems particularly angry with her father, but I suspect that there is much anger toward Buffy. I note the hesitation when she described Buffy's fall. Could this be a case of suicide? Or is it just survivor guilt? Dawn's explanation of how she came by her stomach wounds is also suspect. Self-inflicted or something worse? There was no indication of third party involvement in the police report. But why would a fifteen-year-old need a bodyguard? And who is this Spike person? On the bright side I am less worried about her relationship with Xander. It seems like a healthy attachment, a brother/sister sort of thing.

I think that I need to bring in outside help.

***

Session Four

AM - Good morning.

(pause - two minutes forty-six seconds)

AM - It's okay if you don't feel like talking.

(pause - two minutes thirty seconds)

AM - Dawn, I want to help you.

(pause - one minutes six seconds)

AM - I think that we're having trouble communicating.

(laughter)

(pause - two minutes nine seconds)

AM - I'd like to bring another doctor in on this case.

(pause - fifty-eight seconds)

AM - He wouldn't join the sessions, I'd just send him transcripts of our conversations.

(pause - forty-two seconds)

AM - Would that be okay with you?

(pause - forty-nine seconds)

DS - Would it matter?

AM - Of course it matters. I told you before that our conversations were confidential. I would never say anything about you unless I had your permission.

DS - I guess.

AM - You guess that this is confidential or you guess that I can get another doctor to consult?

(pause - one minute twenty-three seconds)

DS - Both. … You can talk to the other doctor.

AM - Thank you. I'm here to help you, Dawn. I want you to know that.

DS - Yeah. Whatever.

AM - So, how are the wedding plans going?

DS - … Anya wants a small wedding. … She says that the one we were planning is too expensive.

AM - Are you disappointed?

DS - … Not really, I guess. … I still get to have the pink dress. …

AM - That's good.

DS - Anya says that we need to tighten our belts.

AM - Are you having financial difficulties?

DS - Giles says that we aren't. … Anya's just really careful with money. …

AM - Well, that's a good thing, don't you think?

DS - … I guess. … But she and Willow had a fight. …

AM - Go on.

DS - … I don't think that Willow likes Anya very much. …

AM - Why do you think that?

DS - … Willow seems to be making fun of Anya. … Anya doesn't know a lot of our traditions. …

AM - Is she from somewhere else?

DS - … Yeah. (laughter) You could say that.

AM - What do you think about that?

DS - About Anya being from somewhere else?

AM - Well, I was thinking about Willow making fun of Anya, but you answer whichever question you want.

DS - … It seems kinda mean to make fun of Anya.

AM - Did you tell Willow that?

DS - … No. … I'm sure Willow isn't trying to be mean. …

AM - Sometimes people can hurt you without meaning to do it.

DS - … Yeah. …

AM - Has anyone ever hurt you without meaning to do it?

DS - … Yeah. …

(pause - three minutes twelve seconds)

DS - Some of the girls at school, regular school, they make fun of me.

AM - That sounds mean.

DS - Yeah. … A rumour went around that I cut myself. …

AM - Rumours can be painful. …

DS - … Yeah. …

AM - Were they true?

DS - … Yeah …

AM - Why did you cut yourself?

(pause - four minutes ten seconds)

DS - I wanted to see if (garbled)

AM - I'm sorry? I didn't hear that.

DS - I wanted to see if I was real.

AM - What do you mean?

DS - I wanted to see if I would bleed. … If I was real. … If I was here. …

AM - Why would you think that you weren't real?

DS - I don't want to talk about it.

AM - I think that it might be imp…

DS - I don't want to talk about it.

(pause - six minutes thirteen seconds)

AM - Our time is up.

DS - 'Bye.

AM - Dawn, I'd like to start seeing you more often.

DS - Why?

AM - Because once I get the consultation from Dr. Schrodenhauer I think that we'll have a lot more to talk about.

DS - … Okay. … 'Bye.

***

AM - I think that I've managed to win back a bit of Dawn's trust. I was surprised that she told me about the incidence of self-mutilation. Her self-professed doubts about the reality of her existence are telling. I would not have thought that she had a self-image problem, but I guess it's to be expected of a teenage girl. I am pleased that she agreed to allow me to consult with Dr. Schrodenhauer.

***

Dr. Schrodenhauer,

Here are the transcripts of our sessions to date. I look forward to your input.

Dr. Maw

***

Dear Dr. Schrodenhauer,

Further to our telephone conversation on Tuesday, I'd like to go over the points we discussed re: Case#9323 (D.S.)

· D.S. is clearly very conflicted regarding her sister. I do not know if I agree that her self-image problems (which caused the instances of self-mutilation) are due to an unconscious competition with her sister, but I will try to explore this avenue.
· While her living conditions are not ideal, when she speaks of her roommates her tone is very fond. She clearly loves them, and while that is not a guarantee of a healthy environment, it is perhaps better than the alternative of D.S. living in a group home or on her own.
· Father issues.
· She is clearly reticent about her sister's death, and other elements of her life. I am not sure if this is a self-defence mechanism or if she is hiding something traumatic. I agree that pushing her will not provide a breakthrough. My last attempt was a clear failure, and I do not want to risk alienating her.

To summarise, we certainly do have a lot of work ahead of us. Thank you for your insights.

Sincerely,

Dr. Maw

P.S. David, I've just had some distressing news. D.S. will not be able to keep our next appointment. It seems that one of her roommates, Anya, has died. I hate to think the effect this will have on D. I'll keep you apprised, Angie.

***

Session Five

AM - How are you Dawn?

DM - Okay.

AM - I'm sorry about Anya.

(sound of crying)

DS - I'm sorry.

AM - Cry as long as you need to. It's all right.

(sound of nose blowing)

AM - Do you want to talk?

DS - Anya's dead.

AM - Do you want to talk about it?

DS - She died. She had an embolism. …

AM - She wasn't very old, was she?

DS - (crying) She was twenty. … I guess she was twenty. … It's complicated. …

AM - It's hard when people die. Especially when they are young.

(crying)

AM - How are you holding up?

DS - You'd think that I'd be used to it. … You think that I wouldn't have any reasons to cry. … The worst thing in the world has happened to me already. (crying) Twice. … I don't have my Mommy and I don't have Buffy. (crying) And now Anya is gone, and I really liked her. …

(pause - two minutes fifty-six seconds)

AM - How are things at home?

DS - Bad. … Xander is so upset. He came home from the hospital, after Anya. … (crying) He came home without Anya and he went upstairs. (crying) He was shaking and Spike tried to calm him down and he was fighting (garbled). … And then he was making these horrible sounds. (crying)

AM - It's okay, Dawn.

DS - And. … Huh-huh.

AM - Put your head between your knees. Breathe deeply.

(pause - seven minutes twenty-eight seconds)

AM - Better?

DS - Yeah. …

AM - It must be hard for Xander. To lose somebody he loves while she was so young.

DS - Yeah. … He came down to breakfast the next day. … He was so sad. … He's usually such a happy person. … It's like he wasn't even Xander anymore. (crying) It's like I'm losing him. … I can't lose anyone else. …

AM - Xander just needs time. It's what you need, too.

DS - … I feel so bad. …

AM - Of course you do.

DS - No. … I feel bad about how I thought about Anya. … Before. …

AM - What do you mean?

DS - … Before, when I first met Anya. … I didn't like her. … I was jealous. … I like Xander so much. … He treated me like a grown-up. … I didn't like her. … I wanted her to go away. (laughter) Guess I got my wish, huh? …

AM - Dawn, you are not responsible for Anya's death. Thoughts can't kill.

DS - (laughter) But they can. … I took a pair of her earrings once.

AM - Earrings?

DS - I stole them. … I wanted to see what kind of hold she had on Xander. … I wanted to see if she had put a spell on him. …

AM - Spell?

DS - So I put the earrings in a circle, and I said a charm. … And there wasn't any spell. … Do you want to know what kind of hold she had on Xander? … Do you want to know?

AM - Okay.

DS - She loved him. (laughter) That's all. … That simple. But I loved him, and that didn't make a difference, and I couldn't understand why. (crying) And so I asked him, and he told me that no one had ever loved him before. … That it was the first time someone he loved loved him back. (crying) And I told him that I loved him. … And he hugged me and told me that he loved me too, but he was treating me like a kid. … Like I was just some stupid girl with a stupid crush. (crying) And I wanted him to hurt. … I wanted him to hurt as bad as I was hurting. (crying) And he's in so much pain now. … I've lost him. … He's not even my friend anymore. … I got my wish. … I'm just a selfish little girl and I hurt everyone around me. … I should never have been created. (crying) If I didn't exist Buffy would be alive, and Anya would be alive, and Xander would be happy. (crying) I want my Mom, and she's not even my Mom, but she loved me. … (garbled)

AM - Dawn, you are not responsible for this. Accidents happen, illnesses happen. People die. Sometimes there aren't any reasons. Dawn, are you listening to me? … What you are feeling is guilt. … You feel bad about your negative emotions, but they can't hurt anyone but you. … Dawn?

(sound of crying)

AM - Dawn, drink this.

DS - Thank you. …

AM - Go into my bathroom and wash your face.

(pause - two minutes twenty-nine seconds)

AM - Feel better?

DS - A little. … Thanks.

AM - Dawn, you've had a lot to deal with these past few months. … I'm going to write you a prescription for a medication to help you.

DS - Medication?

AM - An antidepressant. … It's going to make it easier for you to deal with everything that's going on.

DS - I thought that's why I came here.

AM - It is. … And I'm going to see if we can increase the number of our sessions, but this medication will help you deal with things a little better.

DS - Okay.

AM - I'm going to start you on a low dose. We can increase it if it isn't helping. You might get a little sleepy on it, and it might upset your stomach a little.

DS - Okay.

AM - Here. Take this to the pharmacy on your way home.

DS - Okay. 'Bye.

AM - Take care of yourself Dawn. I'll see you in two days.

DS - Okay.

***

AM - Prescribed sertraline 25mg OD mitte 14 days. I'm seriously worried about Dawn. Her crush on Xander, which would be a healthy expression of love under normal circumstances, is leading to a horrendous level of guilt. She seems to feel herself responsible for not only Xander's unhappiness, but also the deaths of Anya and Buffy. Her comments regarding her unworthiness to be alive are alarming. I think that she is at risk of suicide. I hope that by increasing her visits and starting the medication we can avoid that. I am also worried about her comments about spells. I don't know if this is symptomatic of a psychotic break or if it is a faddish response to popular culture. I will try to sound her out about this.

***

David,

Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. Who knew that the FAX machine would be such a boon to psychiatry?

I think that you're right. If Dawn doesn't show improvement over the next few sessions hospitalisation is inevitable. The separation from her friends would be traumatic, but she is a genuine suicide risk now. I think that much will depend on the support that she receives at home.

I appreciate you insight regarding the 'witchcraft' comments. It seems likely that her belief in this is not genuine, and is inspired by proximity to our rather large new-age community.

As for the alprazolam, I prefer to avoid anxiolytics when possible. I feel that there is too much risk of habituation, even in the short term. A sub-lingual lorazepam would certainly have come in handy during the last session, I must admit.

I will be seeing her tomorrow; I will send you the transcripts ASAP.

Thanks,

Angie

***

Session Six

AM - How are you Dawn? Feeling better?

DS - Yeah. ... I slept a lot. ... I think the medication is making me tired. ...

AM - That can be a side effect.

DS - ... Yeah. ... I remember you said that. ...

AM - But how are you feeling?

DS - Better. ... I guess. I miss Anya. ...

(pause - two minutes, forty-two seconds)

AM - Have you been thinking about your mom?

(pause - one minute, eight seconds)

AM - Sometimes people find that a new tragedy makes older grief seem fresh.

DS - ... I suppose. ... I keep thinking that she'd be able to help. ... Xander always liked Mom. ... I don't think that his own mother is very nice. ...

AM - And Buffy?

DS - I don't want to talk about Buffy.

AM - Okay. ... How is Xander?

DS - ... I can't tell. ... He's not crying. He's not even talking to me. ...

AM - What about the others?

DS - Huh?

AM - How is Spike handling things?

DS - ... He's worried. He's worried about Xander. ... I guess that he's worried about me.

AM - Does he have reason to worry about you?

DS - ... I think that he's worried about how Xander is treating me.

AM - And how is Xander treating you?

DS - (sigh) I guess that he's ignoring me. ... It's like he doesn't even see me.

AM - How does that make you feel?

DS - ... It hurts. ... I want him to play tag with me. ... To make me laugh. ... I want him to make me feel better. ... That's pretty selfish, isn't it?

AM - What's selfish?

DS - Wanting him to take care of me when he's so sad. ... I should be trying to make him feel better.

AM - What would you do to make him feel better?

DS - ... I don't know. ...

AM - Well, what would make you feel better?

DS - (laughter) To have Mom and Buffy back. ... But I am not going to try that again. ...

(pause - one minute, twenty-three seconds)

AM - What do you mean?

DS - ... I don't want to talk about it. ...

AM - Dawn, last session you were talking about spells.

DS - ... Yeah? ...

AM - Do you want to tell me about that?

DS - ... About what? ...

AM - About spells.

DS - ... Um, what did you want to know?

AM - Well, I guess I want to know what you think about them.

DS - ... I ... What I think? ... I guess ... I don't know.

AM - You said that you wanted to see if Anya had cast a spell on Xander.

(pause - forty-one seconds)

DS - I guess I was speaking ... metaphorically? Like, what kind of feminine wiles did she use to entrap him. ... You know, like that.

AM - Okay. ... And then you said that you spoke a charm over Anya's earrings.

(pause - fifty-two seconds)

DS - Um. I was trying to charm Xander? You know, with feminine wiles?

(pause - one minute, seventeen seconds)

AM - Dawn, I am trying to help you. ...

DS - I know.

AM - But I can't help you unless you're honest with me.

DS - ... I'm trying to be honest with you.

AM - Are you? Then why don't you try to answer my last two questions again.

DS - ... It's silly. ... I didn't want you to think I was stupid. ... Giles owns a magic shop. ... He sells crystal balls and tarot cards. ... And ... And love spells. ...

AM - Go on.

DS - And I just wanted to make Xander love me.

AM - You thought that you could make him love you using magic?

DS - No. No, of course not. ... Yeah. I guess I did. ... It was at least worth a try.

AM - I suppose.

DS - It might have worked. ... No, I guess not. ... See what I mean about stupid?

AM - You aren't stupid Dawn. Plenty of people who are older than you believe in magic.

DS - Giles says it keeps us in house and home.

(laughter)

AM - You see how much easier it is when you tell the truth?

DS - I guess I'm used to doing things the hard way.

AM - Easy or hard, it's up to you.

DS - One of those adult decisions?

AM - (laughter) I guess so.

(pause - one minute, twenty-six seconds)

DS - … I talked to Willow.

AM - What did you talk about?

DS - … She was crying. … I asked her what was wrong. …

AM - Go on.

DS - She said that she was crying because of Anya. … I always thought that she didn't like Anya. …

AM - What made you think that?

DS - Well, she would tease Anya. … She used to wonder what Xander saw in her.

AM - She said that?

DS - … Yeah. … A couple of times. … Sometimes she and Tara would be talking about it. …

AM - So what else did you and Willow talk about?

DS - Willow said that she was crying for Xander. … That she felt very sorry for him. …

(pause - fifty-eight seconds)

DS - I told her about my wanting Anya gone. …

AM - Dawn, you know that thoughts can't hurt people.

DS - That's what Willow said. … That thoughts can't hurt anyone. … Unless you have (garbled)

AM - Sorry? I missed that last part.

DS - Nevermind. … She said that if wishing Anya gone was enough to kill her, she never would have made it out of high school. …

AM - So you feel better about that?

DS - … Yeah. … I guess. … There were times when I wanted to die. … If thinking about bad things made them happen I guess I wouldn't be here.

AM - You've thought about killing yourself?

DS - What? No. I wouldn't do that. … Sometimes I just think that things would be better if I wasn't around. … If I had never showed up. …

AM - How do you think Buffy would feel about that?

DS - What?

AM - Would Buffy wish that you hadn't shown up?

DS - … No. (crying) She wanted me to be here. … She wanted me to be safe. … But I'm not as important as Buffy. … I should have died. … People need her. …

AM - Did Buffy think that way?

(pause - two minutes, eight seconds)

AM - Did Buffy think that she was more important?

DS - … No. … (garbled) … She said that I was the most important thing in the world. …

AM - And isn't Buffy always right?

DS - (laughter) Yeah. About important stuff, anyway. Some of her clothes are really ugly.

(laughter)

AM - We've run a little long today.

DS - I'm sorry.

AM - No, it's okay. … Have a good weekend.

DS - You too. 'Bye.

***

AM - Dawn's outlook seems to have improved. Willow's comments seem to have made a big impression on Dawn; she doesn't appear to be as guilty about her feelings toward Anya. If things continue in this fashion I don't believe that hospitalisation will be necessary. The death of her friend has certainly been a setback, but I am confident that we have made progress. I think that this is the most she's divulged about Buffy. I am confident that her therapy will proceed more smoothly now.

***

David,

Yeah, I know. Never get too optimistic. But I think that real progress has been made. I hope that we can dig a little deeper into her sister's death, which seems to have caused a great deal of damage.

I'm glad that you agree with me about hospitalisation. I think that it would be more traumatic than beneficial at this point. Give her medication a couple of weeks to kick in and I think that we'll see some improvement in her overall mood.

I guess I am counting my chickens prematurely, but I have a good feeling about this girl. She's resilient. Watch, now there will be another major upheaval in her life.

Angie

***

Dave,

I'm beginning to believe that I can cause things to happen just by thinking them. Jesus fucking Christ, what else could possibly happen to this poor girl.

Angie

***

Session Seven

AM - How are you? … Dawn, are you okay?

(sound of crying)

AM - Dawn, what's wrong?

DS - It's Giles. … He's gone. … He's (garbled)

AM - Dawn? What happened to Giles?

DS - He left us. (crying) He went back to England. … He said he wanted to go home. … He left me. … He doesn't think that (garbled) … But I need him. …

AM - Dawn, I can't understand you.

(pause - two minutes, fifty-one seconds)

DS - (clearing throat) Giles left yesterday. … He's going to England. … Spike says. …

AM - What did Spike say?

DS - He said that Giles needs comfort, and sometimes you have to go home to get it.

AM - How did that make you feel?

DS - … I dunno. … Being at home doesn't make me feel better.

(pause - one minute, eight seconds)

AM - Giles was Buffy's … teacher?

DS - … Yeah, something like that.

AM - And he ended up staying with you?

DS - Yeah.

AM - He must have been very fond of you and Buffy.

DS - He loves Buffy. … He loves me too.

AM - Did he have a relationship with your mother?

DS - Relationship? … You mean? Eww. That's gross.

AM - (laughter) Sorry. So they weren't involved?

DS - No. … He was Buffy's, umm, mentor? Is that the right word?

AM - Well, a mentor is someone who gives guidance.

DS - Yeah, that's the right word.

AM - And what was he to you?

DS - What?

AM - He was Buffy's mentor, was he your mentor?

DS - Umm, no. I guess not. … Maybe when I'm older. …

AM - So, is he your friend? A father figure?

DS - (laughter) Well, I always thought he was my friend, but he left. I guess that makes him a father, doesn't it?

(pause - two minutes, eighteen seconds)

AM - We've talked about your father before. … How would Giles compare to your father?

(pause - one minute, three seconds)

DS - I don't know. … I'm tired. … I don't feel like talking anymore.

AM - That's okay. We can sit here quietly.

(pause - fifteen minutes, forty-seven seconds)

AM - Dawn, we're almost out of time.

DS - Okay.

AM - Before you go, maybe we can try a little homework for next time.

DS - … Okay.

AM - I want you to think about your happiest memories. I want a happy memory about your mom, your sister. … And about your dad. Do you think that you can do that?

DS - … I don't know. … I don't know what's real. …

AM - What do you mean?

DS - I don't know when my memories start. … I don't know what's real and what's put there.

AM - Put there?

DS - I don't think that I can trust my memory.

AM - Would you try?

DS - … Okay.

AM - Good. I'll see you in … three days, okay?

DS - Yeah. 'Bye.

***

AM - Dawn has serious abandonment issues. Her father, who seems to be completely absent from her life, her mother, her sister, and now her substitute father. I'm not sure how she's handling this. She has withdrawn considerably. I am concerned about her statement regarding memory. Is it more than a crisis of self? Most teenagers are remarkably self-centred, but Dawn's centre was Buffy, and now she's gone.

***

Dave,

I don't know how many more times this girl can put her life back together again. I don't know where she gets her strength. She's just a tiny little thing. I wish that you could see her. She's probably grown three inches and lost ten pounds since she started seeing me. Shit. I suppose I should ask her about that. I've seen too many kids become anorexic when their life spins out of control. Shit.

I'll keep you apprised,

Angie

***

Session Eight

AM - How are you doing, Dawn?

DS - I'm okay.

AM - I asked you to think about some good memories. …

DS - I didn't. … I didn't want to.

AM - That's okay. … Maybe we can try that for next time?

DS - … Maybe. …

AM - Dawn, I need to ask you something, and I need an honest answer.

DS - … Okay.

AM - You've been losing weight.

DS - That's not really a question.

AM - No, it's not. Have you been eating well?

DS - … No. … I suppose not. …

AM - Why not?

(pause - forty-six seconds)

AM - Sometimes, when everything else is out of your control, you try to control how much you weigh. … Is that how you feel?

DS - … No. … I can't control it.

AM - What can't you control?

(pause - fifty-nine seconds)

DS - I'm still growing.

AM - Yes. … Of course you're growing, Dawn.

DS - I don't want to grow.

AM - Why not?

DS - … I don't fit (garbled)

AM - You don't fit? Where don't you fit?

DS - (sigh) I don't fit into her clothes anymore.

AM - I don't understand.

DS - I can't wear her clothes anymore, they don't fit.

AM - Whose clothes? … Buffy's?

DS - … Yeah. … I guess I'm bigger than her. … I can't wear her clothes. (crying) And (garbled)

(pause two minutes, eighteen seconds)

AM - How does that make you feel?

DS - … It's like she's not here. … It's like she's never coming back. … And I don't have a reason to keep her clothes anymore. (crying) They'll get packed up and put away. … In the basement, with Mom and Anya.

AM - … You keep your mom and Anya in the basement?

DS - (laughing) Their stuff. … And now I guess all of Buffy is going to get put away.

AM - Not all of her. … You still have your memories, and so do your friends.

DS - … Yeah, and some of them are real. …

AM - Can we talk about that?

DS - Um. … I remember Mom called me pumpkin belly.

AM - Excuse me?

DS - That's a good memory, isn't it?

AM - Do you think that it's a good memory?

DS - Yeah. … And, um, Buffy used to play vampires with me.

AM - How do you play vampires?

DS - Buffy would chase me around and … um … try to … um … to, um, slay me.

AM - And that's a good memory?

DS - Oh, yes. It was always a lot of fun.

AM - So, that's two good memories. … Do you have one of your father?

(pause - three minutes, twelve seconds)

DS - Well, I remember once it was thundering, and I was scared. … And I couldn't sleep. … And I went to Mommy and Daddy's room to sleep with them. … And I woke Daddy up. … And he picked me up and carried me to the living room. … And he sat in the rocking chair and he sang to me. …

AM - Do you remember what he sang?

DS - … It was … I don't remember. …

AM - Is that a good memory?

DS - … Yes. I feel good remembering it. … I don't know if it's real. …

AM - What do you mean when you say that your memories aren't real?

DS - I don't know if things really happened or if they were made up.

AM - Why do you think that they're made up?

DS - … I can't trust my memory. …

AM - Why do you th…

DS - I don't want to talk about memories anymore.

(pause - two minutes, twenty-three seconds)

AM - You know, sometimes it can be helpful to write memories down. … Have you considered keeping a journal?

DS - … I had journals. …

AM - Had?

DS - … I burned them. …

AM - Why did you burn them?

(pause - one minute, three seconds)

DS - They weren't real. …

AM - The journals weren't real? You just pretended to burn them?

DS - The memories weren't real. They were put there. They were made up. … They weren't mine. …

AM - Dawn, wh…

DS - I'm going now.

***

David?

Yes, I'm here.

Can you hear me okay?

Yup.

I've got us on speakerphone so I can record the conversation, is that okay?

Sure, send me a transcript when you get it done.

You got it. Look, Dave, I'm really worried about Dawn. Something really disturbing came up in our session today.

Do you have a transcript?

Not yet, hang on, I'm going to play you the relevant section.

The memories weren't real. They were put there. They were made up. … They weren't mine. …

Did you hear that?

I heard it, Ang. I'm wondering what she means.

That's the thing, I'm concerned that she's disassociative.

Yeah, sounds like that could be going on.

Dave, I don't think that this is a psychotic break. It sounds like this has been going on for a while.

Yeah, if we can trust what she's telling you.

I think that we can. We have confirmation on at least one of the self-mutilations, and she's talked about her memories not being real several times before.

It might be time for the hospital.

No, I…

Angie, listen, I know that you like the kid, but she needs more help than you can give her. She needs round the clock care.

I know that she needs more than me. That's why I contacted you, isn't it? (sigh) Sorry, I'm on edge. Look, I can't just commit her, she's a legal adult, and I don't think that she's a danger to herself or to others. (sigh) And I don't think that she'd go voluntarily

Okay, I forgot about that. You're right. That complicates things. Can you add an anti-psychotic to her meds?

That's what I was thinking. You have more experience with this than I do. What do you suggest?

Well, let's start her on risperidone point five. We can adjust the dose upwards every three days until we get a good response.

Okay, sounds good. … Dave, look, thanks. I don't know what I'd do without you.

I just hope we can help the kid.

Amen. … I'll send you the transcripts soonest. 'Bye.

Ciao.

***

Session Nine

AM - Good afternoon, Dawn. How was school?

DS - Okay. I'm sorry about last time.

AM - What are you sorry about?

DS - Well, I yelled and walked out.

AM - It's okay for you to do that.

DS - It was rude. I'm sorry.

(pause - forty-one seconds)

AM - Dawn, I wanted to talk to you about last time.

DS - … Okay.

AM - I want to change your medications.

DS - … Um, okay.

AM - I'm going to write you a new prescription for your antidepressant, it's going to be stronger.

DS - Okay.

AM - You might have more side effects from it.

DS - Okay.

AM - And I'm going to add another medication. It's called risperidone.

DS - Okay.

AM - And what risperidone does is help with emotional disorders.

DS - What?

AM - It helps keep you calm, and it will help you tell the difference between what's real and what's made up.

DS - What?

AM - It helps the chemicals in your brain work properly.

DS - There's nothing wrong with my brain.

AM - Dawn, these medications are tools to help you.

DS - I don't want to take it.

AM - Dawn, if you had diabetes you wouldn't refuse to use insulin, would you?

DS - … I guess not?

AM - No, you wouldn't, because it's giving your body something that it needs. And your brain does need these medications, you just can't tell. When you've been on them for a while you'll feel better.

DS - … Okay. …

(pause two minutes, thirty-eight seconds)

AM - How are things at home?

DS - … Xander was crying. …

AM - What happened?

DS - He was fighting with Willow and then he started crying.

AM - Why was he fighting with Willow?

DS - … They were fighting because of me. … Willow said he was ignoring me. …

AM - Go on.

DS - … He broke a glass. … He cut himself. … And Spike, um, cleaned it up. … And then Xander started to cry. …

AM - How did that make you feel?

DS - … I don't know. … He was crying so hard. I felt so bad for him. … He was hurting so much. … But it hurt me to hear him. … I wanted him to stop. … Not because I wanted him to feel better, but I did want him to feel better … I wanted to stop hurting. …

AM - That's a perfectly normal reaction.

DS - Yeah, that's me, perfectly normal girl. … Anyway, he cried for a long time. Tara and I went upstairs while he was still crying. …

AM - How were things this morning?

DS - Xander smiled when he came downstairs. … He started to make breakfast. … Then he just left. …

AM - Left the house?

DS - No. He went to the basement.

AM - Why do you suppose he did that?

DS - I don't know. … Maybe he was embarrassed. …

AM - Do you think that he was embarrassed about crying?

DS - Maybe.

AM - Because crying isn't anything to be ashamed of, it can be a cathartic experience.

(pause - one minute, twenty seconds)

AM - Catharsis is when you purge your emotions.

DS - Willow told me that he threw up on Spike. That sounds pretty catharsisy.

(sound of laughter)

AM - I suppose that it is.

(pause - one minute, two seconds)

AM - What else is going on at home?

DS - Nothing. Xander cried pretty much all night. …

AM - Okay. Dawn, for next session I want you to tell me some things about Buffy.

DS - I don't want to talk about Buffy.

AM - It's okay, it's just little things.

DS - … Like what?

AM - Well, I want you to tell me what she was like in the mornings.

DS - … Okay.

AM - And I want you to tell something she did that made you laugh.

DS - Okay.

AM - And I want you to tell me something she did that made you cry.

DS - … Okay. … I'm going to go now.

AM - Wait. You forgot your prescriptions.

DS - … Oh.

AM - Get them filled at the pharmacy before you go home.

DS - … Okay. …

AM - See you next week.

DS - … Okay.

***

David,

You will have noticed that I haven't enclosed the transcript of my last session with Dawn. I'm sending my files to Dr. Allen at Sunnydale General, who'll be taking over the case. He, apparently, is not a 'drug pushing git'.

It was nice working with you. That poor kid.

Angie



--End--



The final POV in the series.



Ingression

It was beautiful, the light, the portal. It was coruscating, shimmering, surreal. And it killed her. It killed Buffy. I imagine that her life energy flashed iridescent pink, scintillating green, lightning silver as it spilled into the void. I could feel the electricity in my hair, coursing through my veins like blood.

And then it stopped. And then it was quiet, and the only light was the far off glint of sunrise.

Everyone was looking at her. Looking at Buffy. And then Xander stepped forward and he threw her to the ground. He punched her, he battered her. I could hear screaming, though I couldn't locate it. I was concentrating on Xander. On the play of his muscles as he threw bricks, on the hard set of his jaw, on the bleakness of his eyes. I could hear bones breaking. I could smell blood.

I was very busy for the next little while. It's always challenging to move into a new place. Even if it's a place you've been before. I made myself comfortable. No need to deny oneself the creature comforts.

It took me longer than expected to get my bearings. I'll admit that I wasn't myself the first few weeks, I was easily distracted. I was watching everyone very closely, the dynamics of this new family were odd. So unlike anything I had experienced before. Windows and open doors became my domain. Countless hours did I spend in rapturous attention. Watching. Learning. Yearning. Wondering. Wandering.

I spent a great deal of time on my hair. I liked the way curls set of the intense fire of my hair, how they framed the liquid green of my eyes. It was a new look for me. Softer, more flirtatious. A girl likes to look her best after all. I just wish I wouldn't neglect myself so. I look so tired, so worn.

I thought that I understood everything, that I had firm grasp on the relationships in the house. But perhaps I hadn't paid close enough attention, because it caught me by surprise when Tara began throwing accusations at me.

Dog in the manger? Over Xander? Ridiculous. Xander belongs to me, he always has. Why would I possibly feel any jealousy? Hate Anya? Why would I hate something so insignificant? Xander loves her? Impossible. Xander loves me. I can prove it. He would come to me in the flash of a smile, the wink of an eye.

I can not possibly have heard her correctly. She and I are talking so quickly that I have to strain to make out what is being said. There is something a little off about her. Her wild eyes, her lank hair, her muttered asides. But one of her observations was correct, when had girls ever been enough for me? Especially when I had a vampire so nearby.

I could feel the heat of his gaze, the chill of his skin, the strength of his body. I could sense his power. I wanted to devour him. I wanted to sate myself with him. I wanted to be full. It has been so long since I was full.

I could smell the lust on the night air, it was overpowering. I was drunk with it, intoxicated with the power I held over him, with the soft, familiar flesh I held in my hand. The sounds of passion carried to my ears.

And then. And then.

How dare he? How dare he push me away? Me. Who was he to reject me.

Idiot. Doesn't he know that I could steal his sight with the flick of a finger? That I could end his life with the touch of my hand? I could rip his heart out and eat it whole.

Ohhh. Yesss.

It's been so long.

I'm going to fuck the first thing I find.

Life is dull. Nothing happens. So much talking. Babbling about weddings, nattering about finances, whining about mice. I long for excitement.

It's nice when I get my way.

There was a frantic flight from the house. Xander had her in his arms, cradling her with those strong arms which should be around me. That stupid vampire, Spike, drove them away. And I knew, I just knew that of the three that left that night, only two would return.

I could barely contain my glee. Then I realised, why should I? And I gripped my nipple through the linen of my camisole and I squeezed it while I thought of what Xander and I would soon be doing. Together, like we were meant to be.

But when Xander returned he was sorrowed. Why should he be sorrowful? What game was he playing? He didn't love her, he couldn't possibly love her. Why would he pretend this anguish? Why would he perpetuate this farce?

And then I knew, he was teasing me. He was stretching out our time apart. He was torturing me.

Ahhhh.

I availed myself of the closest pair of lips, not caring who they belonged to. No reason why I have to wait. Delaying gratification is not my strong suit.

Why can't these people shut up? Homework. Housework. Scut work. I'm busy. I've got things to do. Projects to complete. Why can't you leave me alone? I'm not your mommy.

Well, maybe I wouldn't mind being Xander's mommy. What do you think Xander? You're being such a naughty boy. I think that you need to be punished.

What is taking him so long? Can't he sense me? Can't he feel my longing? Why do you keep up this charade? Come to me, I'll make you happy. Or maybe I'll make you miserable. I think that you'd like that.

Great. More trauma. More Sturm und Drang. More smoke and mirrors. More fucking Oprah moments. Just leave already Giles. I don't want this to keep dragging on and on.

What the fuck is the deal Xander? I'm right here. Open your eyes. Maybe I should just grab you, back you up against a wall. Maybe I should rub against you, shred your shirt with my nails. Maybe I should tease you with my mouth, little nibbling kisses against you face, your neck. Maybe I should lick my way across you chest, biting at your nipples. Maybe I should roll my tongue around your balls, sucking them into my mouth. Maybe, ohhh. Yeah. That's what I should do. Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you baby?

But what is he doing?

He's crying.

You're crying over that, over her, aren't you?

I can't believe it. You're so weak. You're worthless. Why have I been waiting for you? You're disgusting. You're so human. How can I even stand to be near you? To touch you?

Ugh. That's just repulsive. What? What am I doing? I can't believe that I'm actually touching his vomit, cleaning up his mess. What is wrong with me? Why on earth am I staying there? Why on earth do I care about him?

Well, I can stay there if I want, but I've had enough.

Portals have brought me nothing but banality.

Bored now.

I wonder what's going on at the Bronze?

--End--