ORIGINALLY POSTED: March 13, 2002
TITLE: Grim Reality
AUTHOR: JK Philips
RATING: R (did I mention dark?)
SUMMARY: Alternate ending to Normal Again. Instead of choosing to say goodbye to her mother and returning to her life as a slayer, Buffy decides to follow through with the psychiatrist’s advice for reclaiming her sanity.
SPOILERS: Everything up to “Normal Again”
DISCLAIMER: I do not own these characters; they are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy & Fox. I simply am doing this for fun, and non-profit use.
MY WEBSITE: www.jkphilips.com
--------------------------------------------------- Click. The door behind locked before the next opened. The doctor’s keys rattled against his hip as they walked down the corridor. White, everything was white, from the walls to the benches to the uniforms to the nametags clipped to each employee’s smock. A patient suddenly darted in front of them, fixated on the doctor’s pen, begging to hold it, but an orderly steered him out of their way. The doctor paused in front of a door with a tiny window and turned to address his two visitors. “Don’t expect too much. She’s been completely unresponsive since the police brought her in.” Giles nodded, removing his glasses and methodically wiping them down with his white handkerchief. Taking them off so he wouldn’t have to see; isn’t that what she had accused him of? Click. The doctor unlocked her door and motioned them through. He remained in the hallway, shutting the door behind them. Ah, the benefits of a Council alibi: that Giles would be allowed in his slayer’s room with only another watcher as chaperone. She was dressed in white. Why should that have surprised him so much? Except that Buffy had never dressed plainly. This was the slayer who had patrolled in mini skirts and halter tops. In the plain white institution jumper, devoid of makeup, she looked washed out. They had her strapped to the bed. Leather cuffs held down her arms, another set circled her ankles. Giles laughed. It was either that or cry, and there was something macabre and amusing about strapping his slayer down to the bed, and so he chose to laugh. Foolish doctors. If she truly was a danger, those flimsy cuffs wouldn’t even slow her down. No, for a slayer, you need chains. The Council associate who had accompanied him had brought some, for just such a contingency. “Buffy?” He moved closer to her bed, but her eyes didn’t even flicker in his direction. Just like the catatonia that had claimed her after Glory took Dawn. Except this time Willow wouldn’t be going in after her. Willow wouldn’t be going anywhere. Giles swallowed back his grief and shook his head to clear away those thoughts. “Do you have any idea what’s causing this?” he asked the other watcher. Samantha Kraus, forty-three, Rhode scholar, valedictorian of her medical school, twice honored for her research into demon physiology. Giles had studied her bio before choosing her to accompany him. She was one of the finest the Council had to offer. Her tawny braid fell over her shoulder as she bent over the slayer, expertly wrapping a thin tourniquet around her arm before drawing blood. Buffy didn’t even flinch as the needle went in. “I’ll run the blood work,” she answered softly, “but if what the police report said is true… if she did kill those people, it may have caused her to shut down. You should be prepared for the possibility that her test results could come back normal.” “No,” Giles said firmly. “They were her… She would have never… No. She loved them. Something had to have been affecting her.” Samantha slipped the vials of blood into her medical bag. She pulled out the chains and a small tranquilizer gun and handed them to him. “I’ll have a look at these samples in the lab. You stay with her. If she becomes agitated, don’t try to play hero, just tranq her and chain her. Letting your slayer kill you won’t help anyone, least of all her.” Giles was left standing in a barren room, brightly lit, and blindingly white, holding a heavy set of manacles and a gun he was supposed to keep trained on his slayer. A short metal stool, also white, was the only other piece of furniture in the room. He sank down on it gratefully. The chains fell to the floor with a loud clank. The gun he continued to hold in one hand. No point in being foolish. “Buffy?” he attempted again softly. The room was so quiet, his voice sounded loud in his own ears. It was quiet enough to hear her breathing. He rolled the stool into her line of sight. Her gaze never wavered. He wondered what she was seeing, what was going on inside her mind. He reached out and cupped her cheek in his hand. His voice was rough with emotion. “Please, Buffy, I need you to give me another miracle. I can’t lose you, too. Not with…” He stopped and took a deep, cleansing breath. “Whatever happened… it’s taken too many loved ones. Please, come back.” Maybe he imagined it, but when she blinked, it seemed as if her eyes darted to the side before returning to her focal point. He leaned over to bring his eyes level with her blank stare. He slipped his free hand into hers. The hand cradling the gun began to tremble. “Buffy? If you can hear me, give me a sign. Squeeze my hand, or blink your eyes, or whatever you want.” He laughed nervously. He seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Maybe he was going mad, too. “I promise I won’t leave you this time. I’ll stay for as long as you need me. Buffy, please.” He waited, but his miracle never came. *** Grass beneath her bare feet and the sun on her face, even after more than a week of being home, she didn’t think she’d ever get used to that feeling. “Hot chocolate, honey?” Her mom came bearing a mug, just in case. “Mmm…” Buffy murmured. “Tastes like home.” “It’s good to have you home.” Her mother smiled and reached out to tuck a stray lock of hair behind her daughter’s ear. “Yeah, I got that after about the hundredth time you told me.” Joyce blushed and ducked her head. “I’m sorry. I keep saying it, don’t I? It’s just… You’re here. Well, it’s… you’re a…” “A miracle?” Buffy finished. Joyce sighed and nodded, tears welling up in her eyes. She cupped her daughter’s cheek reverently. “Yes. But then, I've always thought so.” Buffy turned her face into her mother’s palm, frowning, something nagging at the back of her mind, like when you leave on vacation and just know you forgot to pack something. “Honey, what’s wrong?” “I don’t know. I-I… guess it’s nothing.” “Do you need to talk to Dr. Hastings?” Buffy could tell her mother was beginning to get worried. “We could call him if you want.” “No, Mom, I’m fine. I’m feeling much better. I think I can make it through one whole day without talking to a doctor.” “Don’t push yourself. You know what Dr. Hastings said: coming back is a process. Little steps.” “Yeah, I remember.” Her father joined them out on the back lawn, grinning broadly. He sat cross legged beside her, squeezing her shoulder as if to reassure himself that she was real. “Hey, I thought if you were up to it, we might be able to go out for a little while this weekend. Do you think that would be okay?” Joyce frowned. “Hank, she’s only been home a week. Let’s just take things slow for a now.” He pulled two slips of paper from his front pocket. “But the ice show’s only in town this weekend, and I thought it might be good for her to go, to do something normal, something she used to enjoy doing before…” Her frown became a scowl. “You should have asked the doctor first. You know he said the first few weeks are going to be a very delicate time. Maybe Buffy shouldn’t be going out right away like nothing happened.” “I know what the doctor said,” he insisted, “I just don’t see how two hours-” “I’ll go,” Buffy jumped in, snatching the tickets from his hands. Listening to her parents argue bothered in ways she couldn’t even begin to understand. They’d been great at first, both hovering over her and lavishing her with attention, but the more time that passed since coming home, the more they started to bicker about what was best for her. Sometimes she had a flash of before, of the life that didn’t exist, and it scared her. Whenever that happened, she was afraid of slipping, afraid she’d have to go back to the hospital. Her father leaned forward and kissed her on her forehead, like he used to do when she was five. “No pressure, honey, only if you want to.” Buffy stood up. Both her parents jumped up too. She gestured awkwardly to the house. “I… umm… I was just going to go to the bathroom. You guys don’t have to come with.” They both stammered embarrassed apologies, and Buffy walked into the house alone. She turned right, expecting to walk through the archway into the living room, but she almost ran smack into a wall instead. She kept doing that, as if she still lived in that house that never really existed, instead of here in her home in LA. And it was majorly embarrassing to keep walking into her parent’s bedroom instead of her own. She found her way to the bathroom, and shut the door behind her. She turned to the mirror, and it was always a shock to see that reflection staring back at her. Her memories of the hospital were getting fuzzy and fading away. It was starting to feel like she had gone home from high school and gotten sick, and now she was back. So why did that woman in the mirror look so old? A person couldn’t really forget six whole years of their life, could they? She ran the cold water and splashed some across her face. She reached blindly for the towel, but only knocked a bottle from the counter instead. It hit the ground with a crash as it shattered into tiny pieces. From the smell, it was a bottle of her father’s aftershave. No, not his aftershave. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She was having those flashes again. Her fists were pounding into a punching bag, hanging from the ceiling. Someone was throwing knives at her. Why would someone throw knives at her? She backed up until she hit the wall behind her. The flashes were coming more quickly, rapid fire images: stacks and stacks of books, the feel of a sword hilt in her hands, sitting in a convertible with the top down and the wind through her hair, a cup of tea warming her hands, the sight of a square onyx ring on a hand that was slowly washing blood from her forehead with a cool rag. “No!” She slid down the wall to her knees, digging her fingers into her hair, shaking her head. Not again. Not again. She’d done everything the doctor told her to. She just wanted to be normal again. Please, come back, a voice begged her. She didn’t want to go back. But for a split second, she was. She caught a glimpse of a man in a suit and tie. She was able to get herself under control again before she ever saw his face. That place was gone, and she was sitting on the floor of her bathroom in LA. LA, California, which is a real city. Sunnydale is not. It doesn’t even sound like a real city. Who would name a city Sunnydale? Los Angeles, San Diego, those were real names, real Mexican names, because California used to be part of Mexico way back when. “You’re not real. You’re not real.” She rocked on the floor, repeating it to herself until the flashes of that other life left her alone. *** Giles sat quietly, his head bowed and his hands resting in his lap. He was weary. That wasn’t just the jetlag. Things had happened so fast, he hadn’t had time to process all of it. It was too much, too overwhelming. He was numb. Willow. Xander. Dawn. Tara. He wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen them for himself. He had needed to see them for himself. It was the only way to make it real. So they had gone to the funeral home first, and he had said goodbye to each of them. Willow and Xander would be buried tomorrow. Tara’s family hadn’t come for her, so Giles had made the arrangements for her. Dawn… Well, Dawn’s father would hopefully be able to make it back by the weekend, but even if he wasn’t… Giles intended to see that she wasn’t kept waiting for him. Anya. Who knew where Anya was. The Magic Box was closed, and no one had heard from her. Just Buffy left. Buffy and, of all people, Spike. The vampire had been keeping vigil at the funeral home when they arrived, watching over the youngest Summers. He had cried without shame, and Giles had envied him that. His own eyes had remained stubbornly dry, his chest a hollow ache where his heart should be. The police report said that Buffy had killed them. The police had found her beneath the stairs, rocking and crying. There was blood, rope, chains, tape. Xander’s blood on a frying pan upstairs, the house torn apart in a struggle, bookcases demolished. And Buffy had been muttering the same thing over and over: now that she had killed them, she could go home. By the time they’d transported her to the hospital, she’d dropped into a state of catatonia, and no one had been able to reach her since. The click of the door opening startled him, and he glanced up just as Samantha walked in the room. “I have good news and bad news.” He smiled without humor. “I could use some good news right about now.” “All right, your slayer has demon toxin in her blood. Specifically Glarghk Guhl Kashma’nik demon.” “They induce psychotic breaks in their victims.” He recited the facts from memory, as unemotional as any matter of fact lecture he had given Buffy. Simple, dry research, far removed from the tragedy currently being played out before him. “The episodes increase in intensity until the victim is completely cut off from reality.” “Yes, and I’ve the antidote right here.” She saluted him with a glass beaker. “It’d be a little more potent if I could have gotten it from the demon’s own anti-venom sacks, but I don’t fancy getting close enough to acquire a sample, do you?” He shook his head slightly. “This should still do the trick, though, even if it is synthetic. We’ll just give her a higher dose.” He gestured weakly to the bed. What was the woman waiting for? A medal? “Ah, but here’s where we get to the bad news.” He threw his head back to stare at the white ceiling above him. How much more havoc could The Powers That Be wreak? “Just bloody well get on with it,” he snapped. “The toxin is only active when it’s trying to pull her out of this reality. Meaning, while she’s catatonic like that, the toxin is dormant in her blood stream and has no actual effect on her. And therein lies the problem: the antidote is only effective when the toxin is active.” He began rubbing at his temples, trying to massage away his blooming headache. “I haven’t slept in three days. I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours sitting in coach behind a squalling infant, followed by a viewing of four of the six people I would consider family in this world, laid out in their coffins, and now I’m sitting beside my slayer, who is strapped to a bed in a psychiatric institution.” He lifted his eyes to his fellow watcher, and although he knew she didn’t deserve his anger, she got it all the same. “I’m too bloody tired to think. Just spell it out for me. What do we have to do?” Her zest for her research was suitably dampened by his tirade. “You have to give her the antidote while she’s lucid, while she’s in this reality. Somehow you have to connect with her, draw her out.” His eyes fell on Buffy once more. So still, so quiet, so frail in her white cotton hospital scrubs, lying on the white cotton sheets, tethered to the bed by the four-point restraints. What did the woman think he’d been doing for the last two and a half hours? Taking a nap? He hadn’t gotten even the slightest flicker of recognition from his slayer. Giles bowed his head and despaired of ever reclaiming her. *** The ice show was crowded with families and couples and more people than Buffy had ever seen in one place in a long time. She walked between her parents, each of her hands curled into one of their own, like a small child. They bought her cotton candy and snow cones and an official program with the date stamped on the cover. They would have bought her anything she wanted, but she was tiring of the constant attention. She hated how they walked on eggshells around her, how they guarded their words, how they glanced at each other over her head like she couldn’t see it. Dr. Hastings had told her it would take them just as long to adjust to having her back as it would take her to adjust to being back, but Buffy wanted it to be easy. She had eliminated her make believe friends and won back her life like some kind of trophy. She wanted that trophy to be shiny and glittering and perfect, but she was disappointed to find that it was tarnished. She felt cheated. Her parents argued whenever she left the room, abruptly silenced mid-sentence by her return. She had a feeling their concern for her was the only thing holding them together. Her mother wanted to leave the ice show at intermission. She didn’t want Buffy to overdo it her first day out. Her father wanted to take her backstage after. The rink owner was a friend and occasional client and would be willing to pull a few strings. They seemed to forget that she was there as they debated which would be best for her. Buffy wondered if they had spent the last six years like this, only before now she wouldn’t have heard them arguing. Maybe they’d forgotten that she could hear them now. Buffy was starting to get those flashes again. Sitting in her room with the pillow pressed over her ears so she wouldn’t hear the shouting going on downstairs. A little girl’s hand clasped in hers as they strolled casual circles around the block again and again, waiting for the chaos at home to calm. Casablanca playing in the background as Mom gave them The Talk. Eating ice cream in the mall with Dad as he did the same. She pressed her hands to her skull, pushing hard on each side of her head, as if she could squeeze out these nonexistent memories. She backed up into the crowd, knocking shoulders with a stranger behind her. She turned and cut through the throng, running now, seeking someplace quiet and empty where she could be quiet and empty inside. People everywhere she turned. A blonde man with strong cheekbones and a scar slashed across one eyebrow caught her eye, and he smiled at her, a predatory mocking smile. For some unfathomable reason, Buffy knew what it would feel like to beat that mocking smile right off his face. What scared her more than the knowledge was the craving that came with it. She stumbled and almost pulled down the nearest person with her. “Are you alright?” She shoved them away and continued on her quest for solitude somewhere in this hive of activity. A police officer stepped in front of her. “Are you lost? Do you need some help?” He wore thin rimmed glasses in front of green eyes. His voice was melodious and kind, with the kind of accent that had made her swoon at Four Weddings and a Funeral. Four Funerals. She shook her head. “No, no, I’m fine.” He reached out one hand to clasp her shoulder, and she saw the same onyx ring flashing at her from his pinky. “No! Don’t touch me!” she screamed, struggling in his grip, but he held fast. “I can help you, if you’ll let me.” She thrashed her head and squeezed her eyes shut, because that other life was forcing its way into her head again, filling her mind with fantastical ideas that only confirmed her worst fear: that she was going crazy again. She opened her eyes, and she was back in the hospital. She started to sob, because she couldn’t remember how she had gotten there from the ice show and she didn’t know how much time she had lost to this delusion. Had it been a month? A year? Would they even let her out this time? The hand was still gripping her shoulder, calling out a name she didn’t recognize. Samantha. Was that her name? Had she only imagined that she was called Buffy? She struggled against the man’s grip and the straps that bound her to the bed. She was surprised to find that they ripped right off the mattress, and she was able to climb off the bed. The man she faced wasn’t wearing a police officer’s uniform, but rather a simple suit with a rumpled shirt and a loosened tie. He was holding a gun, though, so maybe that’s where she got the cop thing. She recognized his face, his eyes. He was another one of her delusions. In that other life, he had left her, and she had missed him. Maybe he was the reason she couldn’t get well. He held the last piece of her heart that tied her to this life, and until that thread was cut, she wouldn’t be free. Her hand struck out and knocked the gun from his hand. Her knee came up into his gut, doubling him over. She looped her arm around his neck and pulled him upright again. She tightened her chokehold, until his fingers were scratching at her arms to loosen her hold. He shifted his weight back and forth, trying to buck her off, but she rode him like a wild bull. She felt a sharp pain in her side and arched her back in surprise. That was when she noticed the woman standing on the other side of the room. Everything blurred, spun, she realized she was looking up at a white ceiling at the same time as she felt the floor slam into her spine. She closed her eyes against the harsh overhead lighting and felt gentle fingers caress her cheeks. “Buffy, are you okay?” She swallowed and blinked a few times before the faces above her came into focus. “Mom? What happened?” Joyce laid a hand over her breast. “Oh, thank God. We thought… oh, honey, you had another episode. You were trying to hurt that police officer. You kept calling him Giles. But everything’s going to be okay now. You’re in an ambulance, and we’re taking you back to the hospital.” Buffy shook her head desperately and started crying. “Just for a little while, honey,” her mother assured her. “Dr. Hastings wants to see you before we take you home again.” “Dad?” “Right here, sweetie.” Her dad leaned over the top of her cot and rested his hand over her head. “We’re not going anywhere. We’re going to stay right with you, okay?” “Oh Hank, I told you we shouldn’t take her to the ice show,” her mother sniffled. “I suppose you’d like to leave her locked in her room for the next twenty years? If we were going to do that, we might as we’ll have left her in the institution.” “Would you rather we lost her again, like we did this fall? We had her for the whole summer, and then you pushed her into-” “I didn’t push her; she wanted to. Besides, the doctor said that’s not what caused the last break.” “Well, it was a damn incredible coincidence then!” Buffy turned her head to the ambulance wall and tried to ignore the sounds of her parents fighting. *** Buffy dropped to the ground, limp and unconscious. As soon as Giles had caught his breath, he used it to tear into the Council doctor. “What the hell did you think you were doing? You should have given her the antidote! She was lucid.” “Yes, and she was strangling you.” He turned and punched his fist into the wall, feeling the pain rip straight up his arm. He shook his fist at the doctor, blood just beginning to well up from the scratches across his knuckles. “I don’t care. I don’t care if she sticks her hand in my chest and rips out my still beating heart… the next time, you give her the antidote, you hear me?” Samantha thrust the chains into his hands. “There’s not going to be a next time.” He balked and swiftly passed them back as if they burned his hands. He shook his head emphatically. “I can’t.” “Fine. Lift her onto the bed, and I’ll chain her.” Giles stooped over the body of his slayer, his stomach aching from the blow she had given it moments before, his movements more cautious because of it. His throat still throbbed, and each breath burned. The scrapes across his knuckles stung. All the aches and pains only reminded him that he was still alive, and that burned even deeper, stung even sharper, because part of him had wanted her to finish this, to just kill him and be done with it. He slipped one arm beneath Buffy’s shoulders and another beneath her knees. He shifted her weight until her head had lolled forward to rest against his chest. He remained in that pose, waiting as the doctor pulled the tranquilizer dart from her side. He carefully laid his slayer down on the bed, gently cradling the back of her head in one hand so it wouldn’t knock back against the surface. He couldn’t rein in the impulse to brush his fingers across her cheek, to smooth her hair back from her face, before withdrawing from her side. Samantha took his place, fastening the manacles around Buffy’s body. Giles removed his glasses, not even bothering with the pretense of cleaning them. He couldn’t watch this. He leaned one shoulder against the wall, his head falling forward with equal parts fatigue and misery. Samantha touched him on the shoulder when she was finished. “She should be knocked out for several hours. No chance of reaching her tonight. You should go to the hotel, get some rest, try again tomorrow.” His face twisted up in pain, and he rubbed his hand across it to smooth away the expression. “Tomorrow are the funerals.” “Well then, you should get some rest for that. You can try again the day after. She’s not going anywhere.” He pushed off from the wall and replaced his glasses. “No. The longer we wait, the harder it will be to reach her. She was lucid for a few minutes. My best chance of getting through is to wait until the sedative wears off and then try again.” “Fine. But I’m knackered. My body thinks it should have been in bed hours ago.” She laid out three syringes on the little metal stool. “If you do, by chance, get a breakthrough, inject her with one of these. Wait at least an hour or so before giving her a second injection. Hopefully, by then she’ll be more lucid than not. The third one is just in case. Call me at the hotel if you have any problems.” She laid her hand on his upper arm and waited for his attention. “I’ll have one of the orderlies bring in a second cot for you. You really should get some sleep while you can. She’s out cold for at least the next five hours, I would say.” Her face was sympathetic, a pleasant doctor’s bedside manner. “I can give you a mild sedative to help you sleep, if you like.” He managed a wan smile for her kindness. “That won’t be necessary, but thank you.” She paused at the door, her hand poised to knock for a guard to let her out. Her hand dropped, and she turned back to him. She withdrew something from her pocket and held it up for him to see: the key to Buffy’s chains. “You’re not unlocking her until I say so. You may be suicidal at this particular moment, but I’m not.” The key returned to her pocket. She rapped sharply for the guard and disappeared a moment later. *** Her parents sat in the community cafeteria with her, one on each side. Her mother had brought her a sack lunch, because she insisted that hospital food only made you sicker. “Just a few more days,” her father promised. There was an icy silence between her parents, and Buffy wasn’t sure how to fill it. She felt half responsible for their fighting and half responsible for keeping them together. If she wasn’t sick… Well, they would have either split up or not fought to begin with. Buffy’s guilty heart guessed at the latter. After all, they only ever fought about her. “Maybe I’m not supposed to get better,” she whispered softly. “No,” her mother answered forcefully. “Don’t be ridiculous! It’s just going to take a little time is all.” Her eyes lifted from the plate of her mother’s homemade chocolate chip cookies. Tears slid down her cheeks. “What if there’s something that’s just wrong with me? Something the doctor’s can’t fix? What if I just keep having these episodes and have to keep coming back here?” Her mother latched onto her in a desperate embrace. She felt her father’s hand rubbing circles on her back. She wasn’t so clueless as to miss the fact that neither of them had answered her. “Finish your lunch,” her father finally said. “Then we’ll go for a walk in the garden.” The sun was warm on her face. If she closed her eyes, she could almost imagine that she was back home and not back in the institution. It had been almost a week, and she hadn’t had any more episodes. She saw Dr. Hastings everyday, and he made her talk about that other life, trying to understand what had prompted a relapse. He made her tell him about Giles as he scratched notes on his clipboard and screwed his face up into thoughtful expressions. “Classic abandonment issues. You say in this other life, your father had left both you and your mother and rarely visited you?” Buffy nodded. “Like never.” It all seemed so clear when she talked about it, like she could close her eyes and see his face. She had to keep reminding herself that he wasn’t real, that she had made him up. “And then the pattern is repeated with a second paternal figure.” “He wasn’t my father.” “Hmmm?” She said it with certainty, although she was far from certain about why it should bother her so much. “Giles. He wasn’t my father. He was my watcher.” “Yes, and his duty was to offer you guidance, support, training, was it not? Like a parent?” “Yes. No. I mean…” She rubbed her hands over her face. “I don’t know. It’s complicated. Or, I mean, it was. It was complicated between me and Giles.” “So at the ice show… tell me again what was happening just before this latest episode. You said your parents were arguing, and you were trying to get away.” Buffy’s eyes filled with understanding. “You think it’s them. You think they’re the reason I’m sick.” The doctor placed his clipboard on his desk and leaned forward, his hands crossed. “I think it’s only natural for a girl with a troubled home life to want to get away, to want to escape. But I think that maybe you were a little too good at it. You created an entire fantasy world in which you could live until… Until what, Buffy?” “What do you mean?” “When did your fantasy start to unravel?” She thought back, frustrated by how hard it was to concentrate. She squeezed her eyes shut and pressed her hands on her forehead. Things hadn’t been the same in that other life since Willow had brought her back from the dead. She had spent the summer here with her parents, and when she finally went back to her made up world, it hadn’t been the same. But things hadn’t really started falling apart until recently… until… until… Her head snapped up, and she stared at the doctor. “Giles left.” “Yes.” “He left me.” The doctor smiled as if they’d had a small victory. “And that’s when you started to reconnect with this world and with your family. But when your sense of security was threatened here, when your parents began fighting again, you sought out that security elsewhere, you relapsed into another delusion. And what was different about that life this time, Buffy?” She nodded in comprehension. “Giles was there. He had come back for me.” “This imaginary man could offer you what you were missing in reality.” She licked her lips and sat straighter, resolved. “What do I do?” “You have to say goodbye to him, Buffy. As long as he’s there, you’ll return to that life when you can’t handle this one.” She closed her eyes, knowing he was right. “Buffy?” A worried voice, a touch on her shoulder. She opened her eyes, and she was still in the garden with her parents. Her mother’s breathing evened out as Buffy focused on them. “Oh, thank God. You scared us. Are you okay? Should we get the doctor?” “No, it wasn’t like that, Mom. I wasn’t there. I was just remembering what the doctor and I were talking about yesterday. I guess I spaced out, but in a good way, not in a straight jacket kinda way.” She could tell her parents weren’t amused by her attempts at humor. She twisted her hands nervously. “Actually, there’s something you should probably know. The doctor thinks the problem might not have been the ice show. It might have been… might have been you guys fighting. Maybe it bothered me a little too much.” Her parents looked stricken, and she wished she could take back her words. “It’s just a theory,” she offered weakly. “Oh,” her mother said. “I’m sorry, honey,” her father said, smooshing down a small patch of grass with his foot. “We’ll try not to do that.” The next question was the hardest, but she forced the words out of her mouth. “If I wasn’t sick, would you guys still be together?” If the answer was yes, they would have said it right away. They would have insisted in a hundred different ways that of course they loved each other and wanted to be with each other and the fighting didn’t really mean anything. The hesitation, the moment of silence was all the answer she needed. She was on her feet and running, her parents desperately trying to catch up to her. She didn’t know where she was running to. He wasn’t real. He wouldn’t be standing at the end of the hallway waiting to catch her in his arms. It didn’t matter; she wanted him all the same. The ache in her chest was real enough, even if he wasn’t. Two orderlies tackled her just past the second set of doors. She went down struggling against them. Their hands were cold on her skin, and she fought against them with all the strength she had. Her vision flashed back and forth: a mob of people in the corridor, an empty room, large strong hands pinning her down, heavy manacles chaining her to a bed, her parents calling to her and begging her to calm down, the sound of a soft voice constantly repeating her name. The scene solidified around her, one reality pushing out the other. She was lying on a hospital bed, thick chains circling her wrists and ankles, a loop of chain around her shoulders and another around her thighs. She blinked, and he swam into her blurry vision: Giles. She started to cry then, because she wanted him to be there so bad, she didn’t care if it meant she could never go home again. She knew things felt right when he was with her. His fingers gently brushed the tears from her cheeks, and she turned her face into his caress. It was the only motion she could manage. “Giles,” she choked out between sobs. She saw his own eyes glitter with a sheen of tears as he heard his name. His hands fumbled to the side and returned with a small needle. She panicked for a moment as he brought it closer to her arm. She fought against the chains, but she was helplessly pinned where she was. Between the manacles and the loops of chain, she barely had room to squirm. “Shhh…” he murmured. “This will help you, Buffy. You were poisoned by a demon and this is the antidote.” His voice calmed her, and he continued to speak as he slowly injected her with the serum. He set the needle aside and leaned close to her, his hand brushing her hair. “How do you feel?” “Foggy.” “It’ll take a few hours for the antidote to eliminate all of the toxin from your system. Just try to relax.” She allowed his rhythmic stroking of her hair to soothe her. “How long?” she finally asked him. He paused. “How long have you been here? Have I been here? Since…?” He didn’t finish the last sentence, and from the pain that stabbed across his face, she wasn’t sure she wanted him to. She didn’t know which questions she wanted answered, so she just waited until he chose for her. “My flight arrived in yesterday morning. I’ve been here in the hospital with you for a little over 12 hours. You’ve been here more than four days.” She frowned. “Feels like a lot longer. I was with Mom and Dad for weeks.” “Your mother and father were there?” “Yeah, wherever I was.” She tried to squirm on the bed with very little success. “You think you could let me go now? Or maybe just loosen them up a bit?” His eyes swept over the length of her body and the bonds that held her fast. He glanced away, shame washing over his face. “I’m so sorry, Buffy, but this was necessary. And… and I would unlock you, but apparently I wasn’t trusted with the key.” “It’s okay, Giles. Just don’t leave me here like this. Please. Stay with me.” He nodded. “Of course. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead, his one hand continuing to stroke the top of her head as the other clasped one of her manacled hands firmly in his own. His soft touch and quiet presence lulled her into a peaceful sleep. *** Giles placed his jacket across her lap to hide the handcuffs. He felt terrible about it, but it was the only way the Council could procure transportation back to England for them both. There was nothing left for either of them in Sunnydale except haunted memories. They had buried their dearly loved ones, and now Giles was taking his slayer back to England to face the Council’s disciplinary committee. There would likely be no punishment. The murders had been the very definition of temporary insanity. What worried him more was how Buffy could ever cope with what had happened, how she could ever hope to move on. Her full memory had returned only gradually, but when she had remembered the full horror of what she had done, it had hit her hard. Her grief had finally wrested the tears from Giles’ stoic reserve, and the pair of them had huddled together on the floor, wrapped in each others arms and sobbing. The next day, she had been angry with him for bringing her back, insisting that he should have left her there, should have killed her, anything but force her to live like this. All the days since then had been silent. She ate when he told her to, dressed in whatever clothes he laid out for her, and allowed him to brush her hair, because she would not do so for herself. Whenever they left the hotel room, she would hold out her hands without comment for him to place the handcuffs on, as required by the agreement that had released her to his custody. The only hope he had was that maybe they would get through it together, shared pain and shared loss. But as she turned her face from him and rested her forehead against the glass of the airplane window, he wondered. Giles wondered if bringing her back into this reality had been a victory, or if it would have been kinder to leave her with her fantasy, with her mother and her father and no memories of the blood on her hands. Only time would tell. And time was truly all either of them had left anyway. ~Finis~ March 13, 2002 Back Home Please, send me feedback, either by or form: Form processor by www.tectite.com