Chapter One: Time to Deal
“So, where did Giles take her?”
“He didn’t say,” Buffy replied distractedly. “Did you see these ‘worst dressed’ pictures? I swear, some people never learn.” She shook her head as she flipped the page.
“What did he say?” Buffy sighed and tossed her magazine on the table, realizing that she wouldn’t get any reading done until Dawn’s curiosity had been satisfied.
“He said that he was taking her to a place where she could learn to use magic the way it’s supposed to be used.”
“So she’ll be able to use magic again?”
“Yeah, I think so. Just- in a good way, I guess.”
“What does that mean?” Buffy wasn’t too sure herself and thought about blowing her off but then reconsidered; blowing Dawn off and treating her like a little kid was a bad habit she needed to break. Dawn was just concerned about Willow, and she deserved answers not avoidance. Buffy leaned forward, pushing her hair back from her face.
“Honestly? I don’t really understand all the good magic/bad magic stuff, but what I think is that magic is supposed to come from a place of love and only be used to help others. What Willow has been doing comes from insecurity and a need to control everything around her; it’s kind of selfish. I think that Giles is taking her somewhere so she can learn to deal with that.” She snagged a chip out of the bag Dawn was holding and leaned back as she popped it into her mouth. “Either that or he’s just taking her to England to punish her with the food.” She shuddered delicately and Dawn giggled; Buffy smiled slightly, glad to see she was making some progress with this sister thing. She reached for her magazine again, but Dawn wasn’t through.
“I saw Clem the other day; he’s still crypt-sitting.” Dawn paused as she brushed some crumbs off her shirt and then turned back toward Buffy. “He hadn’t heard anything. Have you? Have you heard from S-” Buffy shot her a look and she stopped abruptly before saying his name. They watched each other silently until Dawn couldn’t take it anymore and muttered, “So? Have you?” An odd mixture of emotions crossed Buffy’s face before she looked away, her reply so quiet Dawn almost didn’t catch it,
“Is that good or bad?” Buffy’s eyes were haunted as she reached out and gently stroked a strand of her sister’s hair, pushing it back behind her ear.
“I don’t know, Dawn. I don’t know.”
“He’s still here?” The bartender glanced in the direction Dori had gestured before nodding.
“Yup, been here since we opened.” He gave the waitress a smile. “You think he’s had enough, yet?” Dori looked back over at the poor guy. He was so trashed he was barely able to stay in his seat. His head rested on the table, his eyes barely open, and every now and then he’d start to slide sideways, barely catching himself before he hit the floor. She gave the bartender a dirty look.
“You should’ve cut him off, Rick! You know better than to let a customer get that far gone. What the hell were you thinking?” He shrugged, annoyed at getting bitched out for just doing his job. Dori let out a loud sigh of frustration and headed over to try and help the poor bastard. “Sir? Sir, can I call you a cab?”
“I’ve been called worse.” As jokes went it was pretty lame, but the guy laughed almost hysterically after he said it and she grinned slightly in response. As the laughter faded away a look of such sadness crossed his face that Dori felt like crying. “Then again, the things I’ve done… I’m sure I deserved most of it.” He glanced up at her and she watched as he slipped back into his drunken jocularity. “Evil, soulless bastard and all.”
“I’m sure you’re not evil, sir. Is there anyone I can call for you?” He looked up at her and for a moment his eyes were clear and sober, but then he laughed again, that hoarse tormented sound that bordered on madness, and this time when he slipped he was unable to catch himself. He crumpled to the floor in a heap and was silent as he finally passed out. Dori shot Rick another dirty look when she saw him watching the display, and then motioned for him to help her haul the guy into the back room so he could sleep it off.
He didn’t know that she watched him, but she did. Every day. She watched and tried to understand why she hadn’t been good enough for him. Nothing she had done had ever been right. He’d loved her, but he had never respected her. He’d belittled her for being outspoken and insensitive and, apparently, she was very greedy. Her love of money had been a source of amusement for him, for all of them really. As if wanting to live well and be prosperous was somehow a horrible thing to desire. He was always comparing her to Buffy and Willow. Why couldn’t she be more like them? Act more like them? See, look, Anya, they don’t say horribly inappropriate things at just the wrong moment. Be like them, Anya. They’re normal. Be normal, Anya. Can’t you be normal for me?
Giles said he’d saved the world. Stopped Willow’s insanity with his love. At first she’d been impressed. Xander. A hero. Who would have thought? Well, she would have, once upon a time. Back at the beginning. He’d never been the strongest or the bravest, but he had a heart of gold. The heart of a hero. But that had gotten buried beneath the heartache of his rejection and she had honestly been surprised at his bravery. He’d proven his unconditional love for Willow and that was what had brought her back from the brink. Xander’s unyielding, unwavering love. Yes, at first she’d been very impressed, but now, mostly, she found herself wondering –
Why couldn’t he love me that much?
“It hurts so much,” Willow whispered sadly as she sank to the floor in the hallway.
“I know it does. But this is the only way.” Giles moved to sit next to her, taking her hand in his comfortingly. “Won’t you reconsider? Come back in and finish out the session?”
“I don’t want to think about these things. I don’t want to hurt anymore.” They sat silently for a moment, Willow moving slightly to rest her head on his shoulder.
“You know you have to face the pain sometime,” he said softly.
“I know, but the only way for you to get through this is to deal with all your fear and pain and learn to control it.”
“Control!” she laughed bitterly. “Isn’t that how I got into this mess in the first place? My need for control?”
“I think perhaps low self-esteem was a factor as well.” Willow’s gaze remained lowered as she stared at the floor.
“So what do we do about that?”
“Well, I think first you need to deal with your grief, and then I guess you might work on realizing what a beautiful, intelligent, special young woman you are.” He patted her hand which was still clasped in his own. “We’ll take the rest as it comes.” The tears Willow had been holding back began to flow freely, falling unnoticed on Giles’s shoulder as she whispered,
“I missed you.” He moved his arm around her shoulder and held her as she cried.
Xander sank wearily onto the sofa, clutching a beer. He hated coming home to an empty apartment; everything seemed so cold and stark without Anya’s exuberance and warmth washing over everything. He wondered where she was now, where she had gone. She hadn’t left Giles’s side during his stay in the hospital, but no one had seen her since he’d been released. It was probably for the best; she deserved so much better than him.
Watching his parents as he was growing up he became very familiar with how not to conduct a relationship. He watched them tear into each other, slowly destroying the love that had supposedly brought them together. He didn’t know if they drank because things were bad between them or if things were bad between them because they drank, but he had vowed his marriage wouldn’t be like that. He’d thought once he fell in love he would cherish that person and treat them with nothing but love and respect. What a crock! His relationship with Cordy had had its good points, but when it came right down to it their major pastimes had been insulting each other and making out. Somehow that didn’t seem healthy.
Then he’d found Anya. Sweet, wonderful Anya. It had taken quite some time, but somehow he’d fallen in love with her. Deep in love. And yet he constantly found himself trying to force her into some mold of his own making and being embarrassed when she didn’t fit. He’d fallen in love with who she was so why had he tried to change her? When they’d met she’d been strong and confident, but by the time it had ended she’d been unsure of herself and worn out from trying to be something she wasn’t. He’d been afraid he’d turn out like his dad and, truth was, that’s exactly what he’d done. At least he’d managed to set Anya free before he dragged her completely down.
Strange how even after everything that had happened he was still obsessing about Anya. He should feel good; supposedly he was a big hero. He didn’t feel like a hero though; he’d half hoped Willow would kill him. Sure he’d been concerned for everyone and he hadn’t really wanted her to destroy the world, but if he’d died stopping her that might not have been so bad. He could have died a hero and escaped his own misery in the process. Instead here he was, still upset about the breakup, still longing for Anya, and still feeling like a jerk. He decided the hero gig wasn’t all it was cracked up to be and lifted his beer to take a swig. He paused with it halfway to his mouth and sat staring at the bottle for a moment before heading into the kitchen and throwing it in the trash. He sat down at the table and dragged a shaky hand through his hair. It was a start.