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Mrs Clemens' house was on Wigmore Street. It was a pretty little building, but I wasn't sure about the yellow exterior. Was it warm and bright and cheery or was it just a big lemon plonked down on the side of the road. Of course, my opinion didn't really matter that much because I wasn't the one who was going to have to live here. That was Helena's fate, at least temporarily.
Mrs Clemens and her husband ran a group foster home. They were currently looking after five girls, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen. Each one had had to be removed from her family and the thought of that made me think of the father I still had, who was waiting in the car outside. I had misjudged Hank or, more accurately, I hadn't even tried to find out who he really was. I had formed my opinions of him based on his absence and had not been interested in changing them once he came back into my life. Until now.
But that was a matter for later. For now, there was someone else I wanted to talk to.
Helena's room was actually the attic. Light streamed in through the skylight, which, since it was a nice day (a welcome change from the recent storms), was ajar. The wallpaper in the room was decorated with elephants and monkeys and the two beds had matching teddy bear duvets. It all looked a bit babyish, but it also looked safe.
Helena shared the room with Ruth, a girl with pink hair who was slightly older than I was, but whose height and slight frame made her appear younger. She was helping Helena to unpack. Helena had not brought much stuff with her. Two cardboard boxes hardly seemed enough for a life, but there was a lot that Helena had decided that she wanted to leave behind.
'I'm not interrupting, am I?' I asked as I stuck my head around the door.
'Hell no,' Ruth replied. 'Just promise me you're not going to set up camp in here as well.'
'Not planning to,' I replied.
'I'm not imposing, am I?' Helena asked hastily. 'I mean, if you don't want to share maybe we could speak to Mrs Clemens and '
'Hey, slow down there, girl,' Ruth said. 'Who's been telling you you're not welcome? 'Sides, it's not as if I usually get this room to myself. Before you, there was Shelly. She was a cute little kid. They found a good couple to adopt her, too, but then it's always easier with the young ones. Anyway, it'll be good to share with someone my own age for a change. We can talk about girl stuff, right, 'Lena?'
She made as if to nudge Helena in the ribs, but didn't quite make contact.
'Anyway, I'll leave you two to catch up,' she continued. 'I'll be just downstairs if you need me.'
This last was directed more at Helena than at me.
'So, what do you think of the place?' I asked, plonking myself down on the edge of Ruth's bed.
'It's nice,' Helena said at last. 'Everyone seems so friendly.'
'You say that like it's a bad thing.'
'No, no it's not that,' Helena explained. 'It's just a bit overwhelming, that's all. I'm not used to it.'
'I'm sorry,' I said. 'I could have been there for you.'
'You were there for me in the end,' Helena replied. It was meant to be comforting.
'Not when it counted,' I said. I was still carrying around a lot of anger. Most of it was directed at Helena's father, but, in his absence, there was a sizeable amount mixed in with the guilt directed at myself.
Helena shook her head.
'I wanted to kill myself,' Helena said, 'but you stopped me. All I wanted was to end it. There was a time before Christmas when I thought I'd succeeded. I was lying in the bath and I I slit my wrists. I watched my blood mixing with the bath water and I thought that I was finally going to get away.'
'I thought you, well, that you healed almost instantly,' I said.
'That was the first time,' Helena replied. 'I woke up in the woods without a mark on me. What's happening to me, Dawn?'
'I don't know,' I admitted honestly, 'but I have a friend who could look into it, if you want him to.'
'So when did this start happening?' I asked. 'The healing, I mean.'
'Must have been late November some time,' Helena mused.
My breath caught.
'Can you remember when exactly,' I pressed.
Helena thought for a moment. Then she told me the exact date and my heart started pounding within my chest.
I decided to change the subject.
'Listen, Janice and the others well, we were wondering if you'd like to come down to the Bronze with us one night?'
'I don't know,' Helena said hesitantly.
'I understand,' I said. I reached out to her and she instinctively flinched away. Clearly, I didn't understand at all.
'There's no rush,' I added, 'but we'd really like to see you. You could bring Ruth.'
'Maybe,' Helena said. It was a start.
'Janice wanted to come and see you,' I said, 'but she wasn't sure she'd be welcome. She's said some stuff that she didn't really mean, but she feels really guilty about it. Believe me. Would it, well, would it be okay if I brought her with me next time.'
'I'd like that,' Helena replied after a pause. 'What's past is past. I just want to start over.'
* * *
Janice was, if anything, taking the whole Helena sitch even worse than I was. Which was odd because, okay, I know she had said some pretty hurtful things, but on a scale of 1 to 10, Janice probably qualified as a minus-fifty or so compared to what else Helena had been going through.
Not that that made Janice feel any better about herself, though.
It didn't help that Janice was really getting into the whole Wicca deal, not so much the magic, like Chrissie, but more the whole philosophy behind it. Which meant that not only was Janice feeling a heel for the way she had treated Helena, but, because if the threefold rule, she was also constantly looking over her metaphorical shoulder while waiting for some kind of divine retribution. And in the meantime, Janice was trying to head that retribution off at the pass by amassing enough good deeds for repayment.
Which was why she was driving her sister up the wall.
Janice's sister was a lawyer in San Francisco and Janice had asked her to look into Helena's case. I say asked, but begged, grovelled and pleaded would work just as well. Turned out that Janice's sister had old friend from law school who now worked in Sunnydale. Small world. Said friend had agreed to keep us updated on the progress of the case.
How that was going to help Helena, I didn't know, but it made it easier for me to sleep at night.
* * *
Sleeping was becoming an increasing problem. My brush with abuse had turned it into something of a cause for me and I was spending way too much time looking into the subject. Not only were the cases pretty grim reading in and of themselves, but I was having a hard time switching off from the subject. I would lie awake at night, staring at the ceiling while my mind turned over the information in my head again and again and again. And if I did happen to snatch a few hours sleep well, then there were the nightmares.
Since Buffy's death, I had been trying to keep up on the patrolling. It wasn't easy without super powers and you only had to look at the obits to see just what a lousy job I was doing. But that didn't mean I was going to stop trying. The rest of the gang all took turns helping me out - even Drew, though that was mainly to keep an eye on Chrissie - but I was the only one who was out there practically every night. Until recently.
I couldn't keep on burning the candle at both ends like this and the gang would have had to have been deaf and blind not to have noticed. Wesley had insisted that I take a break from patrol and it's an indication of just how twisted up I was inside that I didn't even try to argue with him. He agreed to take over the patrols personally and I agreed to try and get some more early nights. Emphasis on try.
It was a Tuesday night when I woke up screaming. I was shaking. The bedroom light snapped on and, momentarily dazzled, all I could make out was the figure standing in the doorway. Terrified, I rolled off of the bed and huddled in the corner of the room, my sheet wrapped tightly around me.
'Dawn, honey, what is it? What's wrong?'
My eyes still hadn't focussed, but I recognised the voice. It was my dad. I relaxed, but only slightly.
'I I had a bad dream,' I managed.
'What about?' he asked.
I looked up at him and he understood. He knelt down beside me and engulfed me in his powerful arms. I leant my head against his shoulder and cried until I had nothing more to give.
When I had quietened down, Hank tilted my head so that he could look at me.
'You okay?' he asked.
The correct answer was no, but I said yes anyway. I'm pretty sure he knew what I meant.
'Let's go downstairs and I'll fix you something to drink,' he said and, taking me by the hand, he lifted me up and we walked out on to the landing.
Lydia was standing in the doorway of the room she shared with Dad. The room that had been Mom's room.
'Well?' she prompted.
'Dawn had a bad dream,' Hank informed her. 'That's all.'
Lydia grunted, turned and stalked back into the bedroom without another word.
We walked downstairs hand in hand. It didn't occur to me until I sat down at the kitchen table that the physical contact would normally have bothered me. Now, I wondered what I was worrying about. Dad filled the kettle and switched it on.
'Cocoa?' he asked as he filled the mugs.
I nodded. 'Please.'
He set a steaming mug down in front of me. It was white with blue pictures of elephants squirting water. I sat and stared at it.
'Is it okay?' Dad asked. 'I can get you another one of you'd rather.'
'No, it's fine,' I said hastily. 'It's just I haven't used this mug in a while.'
'Oh,' he said.
'It's one you bought me, isn't it?' I asked him.
'It used to be your favourite,' Dad told me.
'I can see why,' I said, examining the mug. 'I'm surprised you remember it, though.'
Dad shrugged. 'You really think I'd want to forget anything about you?'
'I thought maybe '
'Maybe that's why you left,' I said at last. 'And why you never came back.'
'Don't say that,' Dad said, with force though not with anger. 'Don't even think it. I left because your mother and I drifted apart. We weren't the people we'd married anymore and, while we could still be friends after a fashion, we couldn't make it work as a couple. God knows we tried, though.
'Leaving you and Buffy behind was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. But it was the right one. It wasn't fair for your mom and me to force our problems on to you and the divorce was the best way of handling a hopeless situation. But dont you ever, ever believe that you or your sister had anything to do with that. It was a problem between your mother and me and you just got caught in the crossfire.'
'But,' I began, 'but after Mom died you could have come back, couldn't you?'
I was staring into my hot chocolate, trying not to look at him.
'You blame me for not being at your mother's funeral, don't you?' Dad said. 'That's why you arranged things so that I couldn't be at Buffy's. No, it's okay. I understand. I won't pretend it didn't hurt, but I understand. I beat myself up over not being there for Joyce, too.
'If I'd known she was ill then nothing in the world would have stopped me being at her side, but what you have to understand, Dawn, is that your mother didn't want me to know. She knew where to find me - we agreed on that in case something happened to you - but she chose to keep me in the dark. And by the time anyone got in touch with me to tell me what had happened, well, things had moved on. I thought about coming back, but Buffy told me you were coping and I guessed that if you'd just got your lives back together then you didn't want me turning up to upset the apple cart.'
'Buffy said we were coping?' I repeated.
'Yes,' Dad continued. 'Maybe she stretched the truth a bit, but how was I to know that. I think Buffy blamed me for not being there for Joyce and she'd decided to demonise me. It was easier to blame me, I guess, than to hold Joyce responsible.'
'You're blaming Mom now?'
'No, no, I'm not,' Dad insisted. 'Maybe I think your mother should have contacted me when she got sick, but she chose not to and that was her decision to make. The problem with the real world, Dawn, is that every so often there are clear heroes and villains, but most of the time we're just a bunch of ordinary, fallible people trying to live our lives and making a complete mess of it. And that's probably the only thing I can teach you as a father.'
'Gee, thanks, Dad.' The last word was heavy with sarcasm, but I was becoming much more comfortable with it. I shook my head. 'Why didnt you tell me any of this sooner? I've been treating you like dirt just because I didnt know.'
'Would you have believed me?' Dad asked.
'I guess not,' I conceded. 'I've been a jerk, haven't I.'
'We both have,' Dad told me. 'That's what families do.'
* * *
Like I said, I was supposed to be trying to get some early nights, but tonight I was still up and about. I was not out patrolling, though. Instead, I was over at Wesley's apartment briefing the rest of the gang on what I had learned. Well, I was briefing those members of the gang that were there.
Chrissie and Drew had arranged to go on a date, but Chrissie was keen to change her plans when she heard we would be discussing supernatural stuff. Drew was less keen, though he was prepared to go if he was needed. Truthfully, this date was important to him. He was still unsure on how he felt about Chrissie trying to get him to cheat on her with her (though admittedly in another body). I'd be confused too. The idea was that if they spent some alone time together then they might be able to work things out between them. That was more important than any Scooby stuff, so the meeting was going ahead without them.
That meant that the Scrappies were represented by Janice and me. Oh and Clem. He may seem a bit old to be part of the junior squad, but he was much more one of us than one of them.
Speaking of them, they were Wesley, Halfrek, Anya and Xander. No one knew where Trix was, but this wasn't the army and if he had better things to do then that was his choice.
I had just dropped my bombshell. Helena had become superwoman at the exact same moment Buffy had died.
'So you think there might be a connection,' Wesley deduced.
'Well, duh,' I replied. 'Isn't that kind of obvious.'
'Coincidences do happen,' Wesley pointed out.
'And in at least two dimensions pigs fly,' Anya retorted. 'Doesn't mean you're likely to see one.'
'You don't think ' Xander began.
'Think what?' I asked.
'Well, she might be Buffy,' he said.
'Buffy's dead.' The words were cold and final. That was how I intended them to be.
'But but what if she isn't?'
'I was there, Xander. I held her in my arms. She died. For good this time.'
'It's not like she hasn't cheated death before,' Xander persisted. 'Why is it so hard to believe this time?'
'Well, basically because it's not very likely,' Wesley replied, massaging his temples. 'I agree with Dawn that this is unlikely to be a coincidence, but the chances of Buffy's spirit being involved are '
'Non-existent,' I said. 'Trust me.'
Xander opened his mouth to say something, but Halfrek shushed him.
'We do, honey, we do,' she said.
'Which still leaves the question of what exactly is going on,' Wesley pointed out.
'And that means hitting the books, right?' I asked.
'Right,' Wesley confirmed. 'Do you and your friends feel up to a little after school work?'
'If it'll help Helena,' Janice answered for me.
'Then I'll see you all tomorrow then.'
* * *
'I don't understand you, Chris,' Drew said.
They were sitting at a table in the Bronze. There was a woman on the stage, sitting on a stool and holding a guitar. She was really pretty good, but Drew was not interested in the music.
'It's like you wanted me to cheat on you,' he continued.
'Yeah, obviously that's what I want,' Chrissie muttered.
'Then what was the point?' Drew asked. 'Why try and make me think Janice was hitting on me? Do you really think I'm that shallow.'
'Oh, like you don't have feelings for her.'
'Of course I have feelings for her,' Drew snapped. 'We've been friends since before I can remember, but there has never been anything romantic between us.'
'And I'm just supposed to believe that, am I?' Chrissie demanded.
'Believe what you like.' Frustrated, Drew got to his feet and walked away.
Chrissie swore under her breath and hurried after him.
'Drew, wait up,' she shouted as he stepped outside into the cool night air.
'What's the point?' he asked, though he did stop. 'You don't trust me, Chrissie. What kind of relationship do we have if you don't trust me?'
'Look, I'm sorry, okay,' Chrissie said.
'What do you want me to do?' Chrissie asked. 'Beg? Okay, then I'm begging you. I was really, really stupid. I was jealous.'
'And you had no reason to be,' Drew pointed out.
'I know that now,' Chrissie replied. 'But no matter how stupid I may have been, I don't regret it. Because I learned something really important and do you know what that is?'
Drew shook his head.
'That I'm the luckiest girl alive,' Chrissie told him. 'Now shut up and kiss me, you big lug.'
'Aw, isn't that sweet,' Grant Renfield mocked. 'Wouldn't it be a shame if someone spoiled your little teen romance, say, by killing your girlfriend?'
'Leave her alone,' Drew said, stepping in front of Chrissie.
'Shut your face,' Grant retorted. He raised a finger and a lightning bolt struck Drew in the chest, hurling him backwards.
'Drew!' Chrissie screamed.
'Hurts, doesn't it,' Grant said, 'seeing someone you love hurt. But don't worry. Soon you won't feel anything ever again.'
His eyes flashed with purple flame.
Then they went dark and Grant fell face first into the sidewalk.
Trix was standing behind him holding a length of pipe in both hands.
'Now that felt good,' the demon remarked.
'Trix?' Chrissie said.
'What are you doing here?' Drew asked as he struggled to his feet.
'Keeping an eye on you two,' Trix replied. 'I figured Sparky here would have another crack at you.'
'We owe you,' Drew said.
Trix shook his head.
'You've got it backwards,' he replied. 'When we first met, you could have run. You're just human. There's no shame in keeping out of fights between demons. But you stayed and tried to help and I owed you for that. This is just my way of clearing the slate before '
'Before what?' Chrissie asked.
'Doesn't matter,' Trix told her.
Then he dropped the pipe to the ground and walked away.
* * *
'How do you know it's not Buffy?' Janice asked.
We didn't live that far apart so we walked home together.
'I don't,' I admitted.
'But in there you said '
'I know what I said. I just look, it's taken me long enough to get used to the fact that she might be gone. I don't need people raking it all up again.'
'But what if it needs to be raked up?' Janice asked quietly. 'What then?'
'I ' I paused. Trust Janice to make a decent point.
'Jan, there's something I've been meaning to tell you,' I continued. 'I can see dead people.'
'Really?' Janice said. 'No way.'
'Yes way,' I replied.
'What, like Haley Joel Osment,' Janice said, 'the scary little kid who doesn't blink.'
'He blinks,' I said.
'Oh yeah?' Janice retorted. 'You watch him. There's something not quite natural about that kid.'
'He'd feel right at home here, then,' I pointed out.
'True,' Janice agreed. 'But how do you do it?'
'How should I know?' I replied. 'Maybe it's got something to do with me being the Key and all.'
'Yeah, I keep forgetting you're not real.'
'Why do these things keep happening to us?' Janice asked. 'Helena's got all those powers and Chrissie and I have got our magic and now you're seeing ghosts. What's going on with us?'
'I wish I knew, Jan,' I said. 'Tara said it had something to do with my destiny, but I couldn't really follow it.'
'Destiny?' Janice repeated. 'You mean that all of this has already been written and we're just acting out our parts in it? Next you'll be saying we're just actors in some lame TV show.'
'Like that would ever happen.'
Janice grinned, then became serious again.
'So, have you seen your sister, then?' she asked.
'No,' I admitted.
'Then how do you know she's really dead?' Janice asked. 'If you can see dead people then surely you could see her?'
'It doesn't work like that,' I protested. 'I don't exactly get to pick and choose who I get to see.'
'And doesn't that suck,' Janice said.
'Got that right,' I replied. 'Still, it's good to be able to see Tara again.'
'Your Wiccan friend?'
'That's the one,' I replied. 'You'd like her.'
'I don't suppose you can make other people see ghosts too?' Janice asked. 'I'd like to meet her.'
'Sorry,' I said.
'Well, the least you can do is ask Tara to ask around after Buffy's spirit,' Janice suggested.
'I don't know '
'Hey, if she finds her, then that proves your idea that Helena isn't Buffy, right?'
'I guess,' I conceded. 'Okay, I'll ask, if you insist.'
'I do insist,' Janice said. 'And that kid so does not blink.'
* * *
'So?' Halfrek asked.
'So?' Wesley replied.
Everyone else had left the apartment. Wesley was collecting books and creating a pile of them on the table. Halfrek was hovering. Not literally, though. At least, I don't think so. She's a demon so I guess she might be able to do that, after all.
'Well, aren't you going to say anything?' Halfrek asked.
'Oh, I'm sorry.' Wesley looked up from the books. 'Would you like something to drink?'
Halfrek released a long slow breath.
'That's not what I meant,' she said.
'Then I'm afraid you're going to have to start explaining yourself better,' Wesley replied. 'I don't get psychic visions, I'm afraid. You're mistaking me for someone else.'
'Yeah, I'm mistaking you for someone who cares.'
Halfrek put her hands on her hips and pouted.
Wesley ignored her and instead sat down on the couch and opened up a book in his lap.
'This is ridiculous,' Halfrek complained.
'Agreed,' Wesley said without looking up.
'Wesley, we need to talk.'
'Really?' Wesley marked a page and then reached for another volume. 'What about?'
'Wes, I told you I loved you.'
'No,' Wesley corrected her, 'you said that you thought you were falling in love with me.'
'Honey, you're splitting hairs.' Halfrek perched on the arm of the couch. 'We have really got to talk about this.'
Wesley shifted in his seat, shifted away from Halfrek.
'There's nothing to talk about,' he said.
'Please, please just listen to me.' Wesley got to his feet and began to pace. 'I like you Halfrek and I don't want to hurt you, but there's someone else, back in L.A.'
Halfrek put a hand to her mouth and looked away.
'Is she is she pretty?' she asked.
Wesley's eyes drifted off. 'Beautiful. And intelligent. And witty. And she has this way of speaking that's so '
'Enough already,' Halfrek snapped, hoping her anger hid the fragility of her voice. 'If she's so great then why aren't you with her?'
'She's ' Wesley cleared his throat. 'She's in love with someone else.'
'So you'd rather pine after someone who isn't interested than move on to someone who is, is that is?'
'It's not that simple,' Wesley insisted.
'Then let me make it simple,' Halfrek shouted. Her voice was breaking, but she didn't care. 'We slept together, Wes. I though we had something.'
'What we had was fun, Halfrek.'
'Fun? Is that all it was to you?'
She tried to slap him, but Wesley caught her by the wrist before she could make contact.
'Yes, fun,' he said. 'You're a vengeance demon, you've been around, you know how these things work.'
'How dare you?' Halfrek spat, snatching her hand away from him.
'How dare I?' Wesley snapped back. 'You're the one who came on to me. It's hardly my fault that you expected me to return affection that wasn't mine to give.'
Halfrek turned away.
'Then in that case we have nothing more to talk about.'
'Hal-' But she had already teleported away and Wesley was talking to empty air. '-frek.'
Wesley crossed to the cabinet and retrieved a bottle of whiskey and poured a large measure into a glass. He lifted the glass and eyed its contents sceptically. Then he filled the glass to the brim before draining every last drop.
* * *
It was Anya's turn to drive Xander home. Given all that had happened lately, there had been several offers to enable her to avoid the duty, but she had insisted on doing it anyway.
The car stereo was turned up to discourage conversation. It had been Anya's decision, but the longer the drive went on the more she found there were things she wanted to talk about.
'So, you're leaving,' she said. She practically had to shout to be heard over the music, but she refused to turn the volume down. That would be like admitting she had made a mistake putting it on in the first place.
'Yep, I'm getting out of this place while I've still got the chance.'
'I thought you liked it here,' Anya said. 'I mean, I assumed you like it here. Any sensible human being would have cleared out long ago so I figured there must be some kind of bond making you stay. Either that or you were just obscenely stupid. I've been leaning towards the later lately.'
'And every moment I spend with you is an absolute joy, too,' Xander commented.
'Hey, you were the one who wanted to ask me to come with you,' Anya shot back.
'And I still do,' Xander said. 'You really don't get it, do you, Anya. You're the one good thing this crummy town still has to offer, the one good thing left in my excuse for a life. This place took Jesse and it took Willow and then it took Buffy and I've just had it. Do you hear me? I've had it. I'm through. And I am so out of here.
'But there's still one bright spot in my life and that's the time I spend with you. I would give my right arm not to have to leave you behind.'
'Just your right arm,' Anya inquired, 'or are there any other body parts you'd be prepared to sacrifice.'
'Anya, this isn't a game,' Xander replied. 'I love you.'
'Well you've got a funny way of showing it!'
'Yeah, I guess maybe I have,' Xander conceded, 'but it's not as if there's a manual that comes with this kind of stuff. My relationships to date have all tended to lean towards the out there - praying mantis ladies, Inca mummy girls, Cordelia Chase, you know the sort of thing - so I haven't exactly had a lot of experience with a normal relationship. But you tell me what you want, Ann, and I'll give it to you. Just tell me.'
'I don't know what I want,' Anya said softly.
* * *
I sat cross-legged on my bed. I was trying to relax, but my heart was beating like a marching band.
'Tara?' I called.
'I'm here, Dawn,' she said.
'That was quick,' I said.
Tara shook her head.
'You don't understand,' she said. 'You didn't call me. I was already here.'
'You're gaining control,' she continued. 'We never expected you to get so far so fast. I'm proud of you.'
I glowed, but I was not quite sure why.
'What do you mean I'm gaining control.'
'You only see spirits when you want to,' Tara explained. 'They are all around you, all around everybody, but you don't have to be burdened by visions you don't want.'
'You're telling me this rooms full of ghosts?' I said. 'That it's always been full of ghosts?'
'I don't know about full,' Tara admitted, 'but why don't you see for yourself? You have that power.'
'I don't know,' I began, but even as I said it I could feel something building, some pressure behind my eyes and it was suddenly as if I was seeing the world the way it was meant to be seen. There were at least seven of them, wandering around my bedroom.
'Who are they?' I whispered.
'People who had ties to this place in life,' Tara replied, 'and who are drawn back here in death.'
'I don't see Mom,' I said, 'or Buffy.'
'No,' Tara agreed.
'Where are they?' I pressed.
'I can't tell you,' she replied.
'There are some things you are not ready to know,' Tara explained.
'Not ready? How can you say that?'
'Because it's true. I don't like keeping things from you, Dawn, but it's too soon. I hope it won't be much longer, for all our sakes, but please don't press me on that. Not yet.'
'Would it make any difference if I did?' I asked.
'I don't like to see you in pain,' Tara said, 'so yeah, I guess it might.'
'And that would be bad? Honestly?'
'Honestly?' Tara replied. 'Bad doesn't cover it.'
'Okay,' I conceded, 'but are there some questions you can answer?'
'You remember Helena?' I said. 'She's got all these powers, strength and speed and this kick-ass healing factor. And she got them the night Buffy died.'
'You think there might be a connection?' Tara said.
'Could you find out for me?' I asked. 'If Buffy's spirit is involved then I need to know.'
'I'll look into it,' Tara promised, 'but there's something I want you to do for me while I'm gone.'
'What is it?' I asked.
'There's someone I want to meet,' she said, 'someone who may be able to answer more of your questions.'
'There was a knock at my window. I looked at Tara and she nodded. I got up off of the bed and pulled aside the curtains.
There was a man outside, hovering in the air, held aloft by his great white wings.
'Dawn,' Tara said, 'meet Zauriel.'
* * *
Anya had returned to the Magic Box. She was pottering about, checking bits and pieces, doing this and that. She had no reason to be here, really. There was nothing that needed doing. Nothing at all. But she was feeling on edge and this place, the feel of it, the smell of it, helped to calm her down.
She ran her fingers across her prize possession, the cash register.
'The Queen was in her counting-house counting out her money.'
Anya looked up, searching for the source of the voice.
Trix was lounging against a set of shelves.
'What are you doing here?' Anya asked.
'Picking up a few things,' Trix replied, indicating his bag. 'I thought I was going to be alone.'
'Yeah, well, we can't always get what we want,' Anya replied.
'Amen to that,' Trix replied. 'Now, if you don't need me anymore, I'll be going. You'll find a note behind the counter if you're really interested.'
Anya's eyes widened.
'You're doing it again, aren't you?' she said. 'Leaving in the middle of the night. Sneaking off without a word.'
'I'm not sure I'd call it sneaking,' Trix protested.
'But you are leaving, though, aren't you?'
'Nothing to keep me here, not anymore. You don't love me Anya. Maybe we both fooled ourselves into believing that you did for a while, but we both know the truth now.'
'But you don't have to go, surely,' Anya said. 'You've still got your job here.'
'I hate my job here,' he said. 'No, maybe that's a bit harsh, but it really isn't me. I'm a lone wolf, a rebel without a cause, not a retail zombie.'
'I only took the job to be close to you,' Trix explained.
'But if you hated it so much '
Trix shook his head.
'You really are blind to your effect on people, aren't you,' he laughed. 'Me, Xander, the rest of the world, we all love you so much that you drive us to insanity. Everything we do we do it for you. Because you're worth it. All because the lady loves whatever. Doesn't matter now anyway.'
He opened the door and stepped outside leaving Anya staring after him, mouth wide open.
* * *
'Come fly with me,' Zauriel had said.
Well, how could I say no?
And that's how we came to be soaring through the air high above Sunnydale like Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder. Zauriel was soft. It seems an odd way to describe him, but my overwhelming memory of that night is that it felt like being wrapped up in a soft, warm blanket. I was who knew how many feet above the ground held up only by a guy with wings, but I didn't once consider what might happen if I were to fall. It just was not an option. I felt safe, but I guess that's what you should expect from an angel.
I actually didn't have a problem with the idea that Zauriel was an angel. I didn't necessarily accept that he was something from out of the Bible, but he was a guy with wings so what else was I going to call him?
'You knew my sister, didn't you?' I asked him.
'How did you know that?' he replied.
'Xander told me,' I replied. 'He nearly ran you over, remember?'
'So what did you two talk about?'
'I promised her that I would watch over you,' Zauriel explained.
'So I've got my very own guardian angel, huh?' I said. 'That doesn't suck.'
Zauriel smiled. 'I'm pleased to here it.'
'Were you Buffy's guardian angel, too?' I asked.
'No,' he said. 'No, I was not.'
'Guess that's why you let her die, right,' I continued, 'or was that because it was her destiny?'
'Her destiny?' Zauriel repeated. 'No, that was not her destiny.'
'Then why did she have to die?' I said. 'You could have stopped her.'
'No, I could not,' Zauriel said. His voice was so soft that his words were almost carried away by the wind.
'What aren't you telling me?' I pressed.
'You're not going to want to hear this,' Zauriel replied.
'Is that a fancy way of saying you're not gonna tell me?'
'No, it is a very simple way of telling you that you do not want to hear this, but I am going to tell you anyway because your destiny and that of your sister were always intertwined.'
He took a deep breath. Did angels have to breathe, I wondered? If they were immortal, wouldn't they be above such things or something? Then I realised that my mind was racing, trying to avoid listening to what Zauriel was telling me. It couldn't be that bad, surely?
But then I hadn't heard it yet.
'Your sister was supposed to die when she sacrificed herself to stop Glory and to save the world,' Zauriel said. 'She did die and earned herself a place at the side of the Presence. And that's when it all started to unravel.'
'We brought her back,' I said.
'Yes,' Zauriel confirmed. 'It pains me to say it, but your sister was supposed to stay dead, but she was brought back, thereby breaking the chains of destiny, not just her own, but yours too.'
'What do you mean?'
'What do you know about what you are?' Zauriel asked, seemingly dodging the question.
'Well, I'm the Key,' I said. 'I'm basically just a ball of energy that opens doors between dimensions, or was until some monks decided to stick me in human form because they thought it would hide me from Glory. Lot of good that did given that she found me anyway and tried to use me to get home, cheerfully ignoring the fact that she was going to cause all dimensions to collapse into each other with hugely entertaining results, I don't think.'
'And she would have got away with it too if it wasn't for those meddling kids.'
I shot him a look.
'Sorry,' he apologised. 'I've probably been spending more time in your realm than is good for me. You're right about being the Key, though, but you weren't created to open all dimensions. That was a side effect as much as anything else. No, you were created to open a doorway between two very specific realms.'
'And for those of us who don't want to be kept in suspense until next week?'
Zauriel smiled at that, but it was a brief thing and didn't last.
'I'm talking about the realm of the living and the realm of the dead.'
* * *
Someone was pounding on the door.
'Halfrek?' Wesley asked as he hurled it open.
'Sorry to disappoint,' Drew said as he staggered inside. He and Chrissie were supporting Grant Renfield's unconscious body between them.
'Have you got somewhere we can dump him?' Chrissie asked.
'Yes um of course.' Wesley pulled up a chair and the Drew and Chrissie deposited their cargo in it.
'You'll probably want to tie him up, too,' Drew suggested.
'Why?' Wesley asked. 'You still haven't told me who he is.'
'Wesley, meet Grant,' Chrissie said, 'otherwise known as Sparky, otherwise known as the guy that's been trying to kill me.'
'Interesting,' Wesley murmured, crouching down in front of Grant.
'We thought you might want to take a look at him,' Drew continued.
'And you did the right thing bringing him here,' Wesley confirmed. 'There's a theory I want to test.'
* * *
'So let me get this straight,' I said, 'I'm supposed to have been spending the past year or so preparing to fight in this war that you say is on the way?'
'Well that explains last year, then,' I continued. 'We bucked destiny and we all suffered the consequences.'
'I didn't say that,' Zauriel replied, 'and I'm not sure I agree with it. What I will say, though, is that Buffy's presence last year did hold back your development.'
'Or to put it another way,' I said, 'Buffy kept me locked at home all year.'
I grinned. Zauriel didn't.
'I wish I could joke about this with you, Dawn,' he said, 'but this is no laughing matter. There are many who believe that we have already failed, that the war is lost because our champions are not properly prepared. There are only a few of us who are still prepared to go ahead with the plan because we have faith in you.'
'Hey, rewind a minute,' I said. 'Did you say champions? Plural?'
* * *
Xander was in the dark. He was sitting in his wheelchair in the corner of the room, staring out into the blackness. He couldn't see the details of the room, but he knew that it, like the rest of his apartment, was practically empty. All of his possessions were already boxed and bagged. He was ready to go.
So why didn't he?
He knew why. He was waiting for Anya, but she wasn't going to say yes, was she? He had blown things with her not once, but twice and there was no coming back from that. Not this time.
'When did things get so screwed up?' he asked aloud.
'When the people you loved started dying?' a voice asked.
'Willow?' Xander asked. 'Great, now I'm hearing things.'
'Is that so bad, Xander?' Willow's voice asked. 'I thought you'd be kinda pleased to hear from me again. I thought you said you loved me?'
'I do love you, Will,' Xander protested. 'And you don't know how much I missed you.'
'Must be tough, huh, losing me and Buffy in such a short space of time?'
'Tough doesn't even begin to cover it,' Xander replied. 'It's like losing an arm. Or worse.'
'Try being dead,' Willow told him. 'It's not exactly a picnic here either.'
'Why did things have to turn out like this?' Xander asked.
'No there's a question?' Willow asked. 'Wouldn't things be so much better if someone else had died in my place or in Buffy's? Wouldn't you rather they have died then us?'
'I don't want anyone to have to die,' Xander protested.
'But if you had to choose?'
'Why are you asking me this?' Xander asked.
'I I want you back, Will, you and Buffy and Tara,' Xander confessed.
'But you can't have us back,' Willow told him, 'because the world's all twisted up.'
A faint purple glow began to form on the opposite side of the room.
'There's no justice anymore,' Willow continued.
The purple glow now outlined Xander's best friend.
'Willow?' he breathed.
'But we could have some justice again, Xander, if you really wanted it,' Willow said.
Xander tried to propel himself towards his friend, but the wheels of his chair were stuck.
'Do you really want it, Xander?' Willow pressed. 'Really, really want it?'
Xander grunted with the exertion as he tried to get the chair to move.
'You could get us justice, Xander,' Willow suggested. 'Would you do that for me? Would you do that for Buffy?'
'Do you even have to ask?' Xander replied. 'But what can I do? I'm not exactly the man with the plan here.'
'I'll help you, Xander,' Willow said, 'just like I've always helped you. All you have to do is walk over here and take my hand.'
'Will, not that I want to put a big downer on your plan and all, but my legs '
'What's the matter, Xander? Don't you trust me?'
'Trust me, Xander.'
Slowly, tentatively, Xander put first one foot, then the other on the ground. Then he started to put weight onto those feet and before he knew it he was standing. In three strides he was over by Willow.
'Wow! I mean wow! Did you do that?'
Willow just smiled enigmatically at him and extended her hand.
'Oh, yeah, right,' Xander said. 'Trust you. I remember.'
Then he took Willow's tiny hand in both of his and the purple flame that danced across Willow's skin spread to encompass him as well.
* * *
The tiny lights that were Sunnydale when viewed from above were getting larger as we descended. Zauriel was taking me home.
'What I don't understand is,' I began, 'well, one of the many things about tonight I don't understand is I thought there were all sorts of places you could go when you die. I mean, Buffy sent Angel to a hell dimension and Willow thought Buffy had gone to a hell dimension, though she wasn't specific on which, but Buffy had actually gone to heaven, or whatever it really is and I know I'm babbling, but my point is you're telling me that there's just one realm where we all go when we die?'
'Yes and no,' Zauriel replied.
'Well there's a straight answer.'
'You exist in at least three dimensions, Dawn,' he explained, 'width, breadth and height.'
'That's not the same,' I protested.
'Isn't it?' Zauriel asked. 'The reason they are called dimensions is because that is what they are. Then there's the dimension of time and all things exist in that. That's four and you exist in all four simultaneously. I understand your desire to compartmentalise these things, but the truth is that all dimensions have some degree of overlap. That's why one key, such as yourself, can bring them all tumbling down.'
'So you're telling me that everything exists in lots of dimensions at once,' I said.
'Absolutely,' Zauriel confirmed. 'Of course, everything exists in a different combination of dimensions. Grass may, for example, exist in the green dimension along with an apple, but the grass isn't going to exist in a dimension exclusively for citrus fruit.'
'A citrus fruit dimension?' I remarked. 'Now I know you're being silly.'
'Ask you friend Anya about it,' Zauriel replied. 'Anyway, it looks like we've arrived.'
We were indeed hovering outside my bedroom window. The window was too small for us to fly straight through like in the movies, so Zauriel had to hold me while I crawled through.
'Dawn.' Tara was standing inside the room.
'Tara,' I said, 'what are you doing here?'
'We need to talk,' she replied. 'About your friend.'
'Helena?' I asked. 'What about her? What have you found out?'
'You remember the night she changed,' Tara said.
'Yeah,' I replied. 'She attempted to kill herself, but her healing factor kicked in.'
'No,' Tara said, 'it didn't.'
'Your friend didn't just attempt to kill herself, Dawn,' Tara explained, 'she succeeded.
'Helena Joslin is dead.'
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