Much thanks to Mo for betaing for me and to Rastro for her story input!
Time it was and what a time it was it was,
A time of innocence, a time of confidences.
Long ago it must be, I have a photograph
Preserve your memories; they're all that's left you
-- Simon & Garfunkle
* * * * * *
One month only thirty days, Anya thought. She had lived hundreds of lifetimes and in thirty days she had never felt so much change. Buffy was dead and everything else was completely, totally messed up. As fond as she was of Dawn and she was fond of the little rugrat - she'd found herself wishing during these last thirty days that she had been the one to die. It would have been so much easier. Sighing, Anya picked up the large mocha and took another deep drink. She was running the Magic Box single handedly these days. Oh, Giles made a pretense of coming in but he did little more than stare into space and mumble ineffectively if asked anything. Anya let her thoughts drift over the rest of the Scooby Gang.
Willow and Tara had moved into the Summer's house along with Giles. Ostensibly it had been to take care of Dawn but Dawn was actually functioning. Well, functioning in a shell shocked, "My world has imploded" kind of way. There was still no word from her father. TaraŠ Tara was terrified of being left alone and she was the real reason the Summer's house was now full. If Willow couldn't be there, Dawn was, or Spike or Xander and herself. The Scooby who had always tried to be there emotionally for everyone was now the one they all protected.
Spike had become Dawn's official bodyguard. He'd set up a room in the basement and was either there or sitting on the floor next to the couch by Dawn as they both stared at the television. Dawn had become addicted to Passions. The fervor with which the two of them talked about the show was surely just a way of not focusing in on their own lives.
Giles, well, Anya didn't like the empty look in his eyes. There was just nothing behind them anymore. She'd seen enough of that over the centuries. Looking like that meant one of two things. Either you very quickly found something to give your life some meaning, or you very quickly became dead. Oh, maybe not on purpose, maybe nothing as simple as a quick flick of the knife on the wrists, but a moment of inattention while crossing the street, or not fighting when a flu came. It was sure death not to care about anything. And Giles knew that Dawn would be well taken care of if he was there or not. There was nothing to hold him. "If only he understood the importance of money," she sighed.
Willow tried to do everything at once. Be with Tara, take care of Dawn, comfort Giles, and help her out at the store. She'd collapsed walking in with a bag of groceries two weeks after Buffy's death. It had been the only time Giles had shown any emotion. He'd rushed to help her up and then yelled at her for not taking care of herself. Willow had cried silently and simply sat on the ground shaking. Xander had put a hand on Giles' shoulder and quietly said, "It's my fault." Then he said that he and Anya would draw up a chore list and make sure that Willow wasn't doing everything. Giles had shouted at Xander a bit as well, but he was unable to sustain his anger and went back to aimlessly reading.
They had drawn up a list and somehow she and Xander had ended up with most of the errands. She'd never realized that grocery shopping and laundry could be done at 6 a.m. Actually, she'd never realized that anything could be done at 6 a.m. Her days had turned into an endless cycle of waking up early, doing what needed to be done to take care of everyone, then to the store, to work by herself, not even stopping for lunch, then closing up.
She, Xander, Spike and sometimes Willow had taken to patrolling. They did nothing major, simply patrolled the graveyard to dust the new vampires that were rising. Things were quieter than normal. They'd all expected an outbreak of violence because of the Slayer's death but it hadn't happened. Maybe all the energy released by Glory's portal had chased them off. Whatever it was, it was a good thing because they didn't have the energy to do much.
Then after a quick patrol was done she'd head home with Xander. And that was the worst thing of all because while she could grieve with the rest of the gang, she couldn't tell them what was going on at night.
Couldn't tell them about the shouting, the items getting thrown, about the neighbors downstairs complaining about the noise, about the beer bottles that were piling up. About the look of anger in Xander's dark eyes or the raw hatred that was growing in him. And the raw fear that was growing in her.
* * * * * *
"Sign here," Anya pointed to another line. She and Giles were sitting at the Summer's dining room table. A cool evening breeze was blowing in the windows, billowing the curtains out. She had brought several weeks worth of paperwork that had to be done. There were things to be signed, questions to answered about the business. She'd quickly given up on asking any questions. Giles was disinterested in what the shop needed to order or if they should have a sale to get rid of toad skins that were about to expire. So she'd decided to make the decisions on her own and get his signature on what absolutely needed it.
"And here," she pointed again. A great yawn suddenly escaped her and she sat up straighter in her chair, trying to keep herself from falling asleep. The sound of the television drifted into the room. Spike, Tara, Dawn and Willow were watching the newly released Close Encounters of the Third Kind DVD. Xander had wanted to see the movie but he was still on a ladder replacing the window that had gotten broken during a windstorm. She heard the front door open.
Xander walked in, he was wiping his hands off on his work pants. "Hey," he greeted no one in particular as he walked back to the kitchen. A moment later he walked out with a can of Coke and plopped down in a chair next to Anya. "The window's all fixed but I'm a little worried about the gutter on the front of the house. A branch hit it and now there's a gap between it and the roof."
"That's bad?" the ex-demon asked.
"Yeah, not horrible but it'll have to be dealt with soon." Xander looked over the mountain of paperwork that was still in front of Giles and Anya. Giles was staring blankly toward the living room. "You two nearly done pretending to be accountants?"
"Not quite, we've a few more things to fill out."
"Then I think I'll catch some of the movie. I love the ne-ner-neer-ner-ning of it all," Xander said, singing the catchy tune the aliens used in the show.
"Xander," Willow called out from the living room.
"Thanks for fixing the window."
"No problemo, just one more job for," Xander dropped his voice into TV announcer mode, "Mr. Fixit, master of caulking."
"Did you get the Chunky Monkey for Tara?"
"Uh, was I supposed to?"
"You and Anya forgot it in the morning grocery run, you said you'd pick it up before you came over tonight."
Xander winced; he had forgotten about it. "Sorry, Will, I totally forgot. I was in such a hurry to get here to fix the window. I'll go out now and get it."
"You don't have to, she can eat the last of the Phish Food," Willow said, she'd come to the edge of the living room, standing in the doorway so she could continue keeping an eye on the denizens of the living room.
"Oh, I ate all that for lunch," Dawn called out, never taking her eyes off the movie.
"Then it definitely is time for an ice cream run," Xander said and finished off the last of his soda. "That's Chunky Monkey for Tara."
"Phish food for me," Dawn requested. She had refused to eat for a few days after Buffy had died. When she had started eating again everyone had let her eat anything that she wanted. She was subsisting on pizza, ice cream and bags of chips, when she could be coaxed into eating at all.
"I'd like some Coffee-Coffee-Buzz-Buzz-Buzz," Willow added, the purple ring around her eyes indicating that she'd been taking in far more caffeine than was good for her.
"Got it," the dark haired young man acknowledged. He turned back to the dining room table and pushed up his long-sleeves. The house was warm despite the fine evening breeze.
"Xander, could you drop these in a mail-box?" Anya asked, holding out a large stack of letters. Xander just looked at her exhaustedly. "Please," she added.
"Sure, An, no problem," he stretched his arm out, reaching past Giles to grab the letters from Anya's hand. Then he sighed slightly to himself and walked out to run the errands.
Giles noticed a large, deep purple bruise on the outside of Xander's arm. It ran from the wrist bone to halfway to the elbow. Part of him wanted to ask what had happened, but that part of him was buried too deeply under grief and guilt to surface. He knew he had to snap out of it. That Dawn and Willow needed him that everyone needed him, but he couldn't manage it right now. Maybe tomorrow, things would be different.
* * * * * *
Anya stood behind the counter and stared blurrily around the Magic Box. She'd turned out the front light and turned the sign to Closed about five minutes before. She'd finished the cash register and was about to, well, do something that she couldn't quite remember. Exhaustion had set in so long ago that she wasn't sure what feeling rested was like. They hadn't finished patrolling until one in the morning, which was followed by a totally unrestful sleep and then up again. They'd slept in this morning; it had actually been six-thirty before either of them had stirred. Xander had been unable to relax enough to fall asleep. And the thing they used to do a lot of to relax enough to sleep wasn't working. Actually she didn't know if it would work or not, they never seemed to get around to it. Xander had finally gotten up around three and sat in the living room in front of the television. She had thought about getting up to join him but couldn't bring herself to do it. The rattling of the door interrupted her reverie. She looked up. Xander entered the Magic Box, looking dirty and tired from his day at the construction site. She attempted a smile. "Hello,"
"Hey," he answered before plopping down heavily in the chair by the table they used to use for summit meetings before Buffy had left them. Now it was filled with flyers for different events. Anya had decided that if people knew that they were THE place to find out about Wiccan gatherings and other events that they would be more tempted to buy from them as well. Sales were up slightly but she wasn't sure if it was a true increase yet or just an insignificant statistical variation.
"I'm just finishing up here."
"Great, I'll sit and pretend I don't have to get up again for a really, really long time."
"Hard day at work?"
"Nah," he sighed, rubbing both eyes hard with his fists, "it's just with there being more daylight, the days just get longer." Xander stared into nothing for a moment to consider what he had just said and then just shook his head tiredly. "Everybody wants to get stuff done as quickly as possible, make money while the making is good."
"Maybe we should go home and take a nap before we go out and patrol?"
"That sounds good to me, don't think we have anything else we have to do tonight. Why don't we go home, make some pasta and crash for a few hours."
"That sounds wonderful," Anya said enthusiastically. The normalcy of the suggestion made her happy. She knew that nothing could be the same again, but that something had to change in the way they were living now. Her lover looked at her and cocked his head to the side. Standing up, he came over and gave her a light kiss on the lips. The phone rang. And for the thousandth time, the former bringer of revenge cursed the twenty-first century's need for communication. Things went a lot more smoothly in a lot of ways when it was impossible to reach out and touch someone whenever the mood struck you. Picking up the phone she tried to keep the annoyance out of her voice, "Magic BoŠ oh, hi Willow. Uh-huh, yeah, he's here." She handed the phone over to Xander.
Xander grunted a few times into the phone and then said, "We'll be right over. Real sorry I forgot Will." Then he hung it up and started to the door. Suddenly he kicked the wall, hard, his work boot making a loud thud as it impacted. "Damn it, how could I be so stupid!"
"What, what's wrong?" Anya inquired nervously. There was so many things, so many things that could be the trouble. She wished Xander would stop kicking things in the shop, there was getting to be quite the collection of dents near the door.
"I forgot I promised to come over tonight and mow the lawn." he kicked at the wall again, only not as hard. "Remember, that nosy neighbor who was complaining because the grass was getting high?"
"The one with the saggy breasts and the flowers on her hat?"
"That's the one, she came over and complained again. Come on, we'll pick up some tacos on the way over," Xander said as he nervously rubbed the back of his neck.
Anya was about to ask why nobody else in the house could mow the lawn. Then she remembered how upset Xander had been when Willow collapsed. Tara and Giles didn't seem to be able to focus enough to get anything done. Dawn didn't want to do anything but watch television. And Spike, well, she had to admit it would be difficult for him to mow the lawn in the dark. If she said anything it might make Xander mad and that was the last thing she wanted.
* * * * * *
One day followed after another in an endless chain of misery for her. There was no respite, just a repetition of day after day. Like bad photographs, that you pile up on top of each other, trying to determine what they are supposed to be, one day piled on top of the next. Anya realized how small her life really was -- there was no one else outside the Scooby Gang she could talk to. She missed Joyce, for she knew that the older woman would have gladly listened to her and given good advice. But she was gone and there was no one to talk to who could listen and understand. Everyone was buried too deeply in his or her own misery.
And the nights were getting worse, the yelling and now there were whiskey bottles piling up as well. And then the next day came, too soon, and there was work and responsibilities and hundreds of little things to do so that everyone else's needs could be met. If it had been just her, she would have called a halt to it. If you kept coddling everyone they would never have the chance to start getting back to normal. But Xander kept trying to do everything and getting angrier and angrier when he couldn't. Then came the worst night of all.
* * * * * *
The phone rang, then it rang again. Giles looked up from the book he was staring at. He hadn't noticed that it had grown dark, and so he hadn't thought to turn on the light beside him. The phone rang again. He wondered where everyone was, then he remembered that the girls had all gone to bed quite some time before and there was no phone down in the basement where Spike was. The phone rang again and the answering machine picked up.
"Hello, is anybody there?" a tinny, tiny, frightened voice called across the empty living room. "Willow? Giles? Anybody? You've got to be there, none of you ever leave the house! Please, I need some help over here." < click >
Giles had stood up half-way through the message but didn't make it to the phone in time before the caller hung-up. He'd recognized Anya's voice, and realized that she was obviously afraid. He stared at the answering machine wondering what he should do, if he should go wake Willow and ask her to see what the problem was. But if he did that, who would look after Dawn and Tara? Get a grip, he told himself. Whatever it is, Anya was not in a complete panic, so it can't be that bad. He wondered where his coat and car keys were -- he couldn't remember the last time he'd had them. He decided to try the most logical place and looked in the hall closet. His jacket was hanging there next to one of Buffy's. For a moment he gazed at Buffy's blue jacket. Then, taking a deep breath, he took out his coat without touching hers. He found the keys in the pocket and left the house.
* * * * * *
Giles hurried up the stairs. Anya had sounded scared on the phone, so he'd driven over as fast as he dared to. He had no idea what was wrong. As he neared the apartment door he heard a dull, repetitive thud and muffled shouting. He banged loudly on the door. No one answered, so he turned the knob. It was unlocked, so he pushed the door open.
As he stepped inside, Giles stared aghast at the sight before him. Anya was standing, backed into a corner, sobbing quietly, arms wrapped around herself in a futile attempt at comfort. Xander was smashing his fist as hard as he could over and over again into the solid frame of the bathroom door. The young man's voice was a low growl, repeating continuously, "stupid, worthless, piece of shit" as he slammed his hand. Giles rushed over and threw his arms around Xander, wrenching him away from the door, pinning his arms to his side. "Stop it, Xander, stop it," he pleaded.
Xander struggled against him, trying to get free. Giles held on, determined not to let go. The younger man was stronger than he was, but Giles was resolute, he was not going to let Xander hurt himself any more. "Please, Xander, stop it," he pleaded again but Xander continued thrashing about as he tried to free himself.
"Let me go," Xander yelled. "Just leave me alone!"
"I am not leaving you alone," Giles responded sharply, then he stopped and took a deep breath. He resorted to a tactic he had used when the Scooby Gang were back in high school, he dropped his voice down and in a tightly controlled voice, sternly barked, "That is enough, Xander, stop it now."
Xander's body stiffened momentarily as Giles' tone penetrated his emotional and alcoholic haze. Giles reacted by pulling him down to the ground, forcing him to sit. He didn't let go of Xander's arms though - he was too afraid of another outburst. "That's better," Giles said more calmly.
"Please," Xander begged, "please, just leave me alone."
"I think not." Giles sat on the floor, holding Xander, not moving for a few minutes. Xander occasionally struggled weakly in his grasp but he didn't try to get up. Looking over at Anya, Giles saw that she too had slid down to the ground and had inched closer to them but seemed afraid to get too close. "Would you please tell me what brought all this on?"
"Nothing," Xander said softly, "just having a really bad night. Work was really hectic and then trying to patrol and.. and I just gotŠ it's just a bad night, that's all."
"Your arm, the other day, I noticed that bruise on your arm, did you do that to yourself?" Giles asked, suddenly remembering what he had seen.
"I just slipped, that's all," Xander's voice was barely above a whisper.
"No you didn't," Anya interjected, "you got really upset that you had forgotten the juice that Willow asked for and you hit the car hood really hard."
Xander didn't respond to Anya's explanation, he just sat there, breathing heavily. Giles tried to think of what to say -- he could detect the yeasty smell of beer on Xander's breath but the boy didn't appear to be drunk. "How long has this been going on?" he asked, looking over to the young woman who was still quietly crying.
"Since a few days after Buffy died. It was just little things at first," she explained, "he'd get frustrated easily, started kicking things. Then Willow collapsed and it got worse."
"He hasn't hit you, has he?" Giles asked. He'd never thought that Xander would be violent towards his lover, but Anya was so terrified that he was afraid of the answer.
"No, of course not," Anya said quickly. "He just hits things and... and... he doesn't even yell at me, he just keeps yelling at himself."
Xander stirred -- he'd started to cry. "I'd never hurt you, An. I love you. Never, I'd never do that. Please, you gotta believe me."
"I do, Xander, but you're scaring me. And I don't like to be scared."
"I'm sorry, so sorry. I just can't seemŠ I just don't do anything right, do I?" Xander's voice changed, growing rougher, "I just fuck everything up that I come near. You should all just keep away from me."
"You don't foul up all the time, Xander," Giles said, "and we're not going to keep away from you."
"I'm just worthless, not good at anything," Xander's voice grew more and more agitated. "Stupid, worthless piece of shit," he spit the word out. Giles had relaxed his grip marginally, and Xander was able to pull his arm free of the other man's grasp. He swung it as hard as he could into the floor. His knuckles made a loud cracking crunch type of noise. Xander didn't even seem to feel the pain.
Giles grabbed at the arm and pulled it in, once more getting a firm grip around the younger man's upper torso. Xander didn't even struggle against him as he did so. The sudden flood of anger that had triggered the outburst was already spent. "Calm down," Giles said, starting to rock slightly, "please calm down. You're not worthless, nobody thinks you're worthless."
"You're not worthless," Anya interjected, her face serious, "you've been putting money away in the bank every week. Your net worth has greatly increased in the last year."
Giles stared for a moment at the ex-demon. He felt Xander's shoulder's start shaking. He couldn't tell it if was from laughter or from crying for a moment.
"I couldn't do anything!" Xander sobbed. "There was nothing I could do and now she's dead."
"It's not your fault, Xander. It's not anybody's fault. Glory was just too powerful; there was too much going on. Sometimes we lose, that's all."
"I was useless!"
"You were not, that wrecking ball gave Buffy breathing space. What you did helped," Giles comforted.
"I should have done more!"
"And I've thought of a thousand things we should have done that might have made things turn out differently!" Giles said firmly. "If we'd had more time, we could have planned more, gotten bigger weapons, placed stronger wards around Dawn. Then Buffy would still be here, but all that doesn't change the fact that we didn't have the time. The world would have been destroyed, so Buffy sacrificed herself because there was no other answer."
Giles shifted his hold on Xander, resting one hand gently against his shoulder, while his other hand rubbed his back lightly. The young man's sobs were heartbreaking. He realized that Xander had never really had a chance to grieve for Buffy; he'd thrown himself into the role of the efficient one, the one who made sure everything was taken care of. So much so that he had never had a chance to deal with his emotions. He saw Anya inch her way across the floor and put her hand, tentatively at first, on Xander's head, stroking his hair very gently.
Xander looked up and held his arms open. Anya leaned into them and they hugged. The three of them sat on the floor and gave each other comfort. Eventually Xander's sobs subsided and he backed out of Anya's fierce hug. She grabbed at his hand to hold it.
"Uh, An," the young man said tentatively, his voice tight with pain, "could you please let go of my hand. I think I broke it!"
"Sorry," Anya said, quickly dropping the hand, which caused it to hit the ground.
"Maybe we should go to the emergency room," Giles declared. He eased himself off the floor.
"Probably a good idea." Xander stood up shakily with Anya's help, and they all made their way slowly to the apartment door. Giles was about to open the door when he stopped and stood in front of Xander.
"Xander, I want to make something clear to you," he said decisively. He waited until Xander's eyes, red from his tears, met his. "I don't know who ever told you that you were a worthless piece of shit, made you believe that you are. But you're not, you're a very brave man. You've done far more good in this world than most people -- never, ever forget that."
"My Dad, my Dad always told me that I was worthless," Xander replied softly, a deep frown creasing his forehead. He remembered all the nights, curled tightly into a ball on his bed, trying not to cry. The words would ring in his head for hours: stupid, useless, little worthless shit. Over and over they would play themselves out endlessly in his mind.
"Well, your father is an idiot," Giles declared, resting his hand on Xander's shoulder.
"He is," Anya confirmed, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Then she added, "And he has unsightly back hair."
"On that note, it's off to the emergency room," Giles said, smiling slightly to lighten the mood. He knew they would have to talk about this again, but not tonight.
"Hey, isn't this our twelfth visit this year?" Xander asked, desperate to lighten the mood as well. "Don't we get a free IV or something?"
"I personally think we should get our own parking space," Anya added, "one closer to the door." She thought that everything was going to be better now. Maybe tomorrow there wouldn't be so much pain everywhere.
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