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Regarding Grief (2/2)


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After Spike’s Death

I’m not sure when I noticed that Buffy didn’t share her painful feelings with the people in her life.

She’s always been the type to hold her sadness inside, to pull herself up by her bootstraps, and to move on or try to move on.

Granted, this has occasionally taken different forms like the time she took her anger out on her friends when she died the first time, the time she ran away after she sent Angel to hell, and the time she came back from heaven and didn’t tell anyone but Spike where she was before Willow et al pulled her back into our world.

Those times over the years were always weird for me because I saw that she was struggling but didn’t always fully understand it. In those moments, I felt like I lost my sister for a little while even though she was physically alive.

In the end, it’s all the same way of coping until someone brings her back out of it, until someone allows her the space to have her feelings. Spike was good at doing that, and I sort of used to be, too.

And then Spike died.

Buffy didn’t share very much about how she felt after Spike sacrificed himself. I mean, we all knew that he did, but like with Angel’s passing, none of us knew the details of how or what went on between them in those final moments. My guess would be that it’s something that broke her heart, but honestly, even that I’m not sure of.

My relationship with Spike was complicated at the end of his life, and that makes me sad because he was always so genuine and kind to me, especially the summer when Buffy was. . . gone. The regret I have about not repairing things with him before he died - that’s what keeps me from going to Buffy, taking her by the shoulders, and shaking her. That regret makes me avoid-y again, which is something I aspire not to be, but sometimes utterly fail at.

We’re finally settled somewhere. Well, we’ve been here in Italy for the longest period so far. I’m actually starting school next week, and Buffy has settled into a routine of training Slayers and fighting the evil that seems to be strangely more powerful in Rome than a hellmouth. Perhaps it has something to do with this being the hub of the Catholic Church. The good that the Church does has to be balanced by an equally strong force of dark powers. At least that’s the way I’m thinking about it. Giles would probably say otherwise because the Catholic Church has a long history of being grey, but when crises keep popping up even on days other than Tuesday, I know something’s up.

Our apartment is small, but it’s ours, and Buffy and I are both grateful to not have a house to keep up with. Because the space is so tiny, we have to share a bedroom, and I can therefore hear everything that happens in the apartment.

I’m lying in my twin bed now, and I can hear her crying in the kitchen. I can’t help but wonder if this is her finally breaking down the wall. I kind of hope so. I’ve been needing to talk with her.

Climbing out from under the warm blankets, I pad on bare feet through the narrow living room to our cubbyhole of a kitchen where Buffy perches at the kitchen table, her finger running around the rim of a cup of hot tea.

I ease into the chair across from her and confirm that there are tears running down her cheeks. Even in the dim light, that’s obvious. I balance my chin on my palm.

“Hey,” she says, her voice hoarse from crying.

“Hey. Watcha doing?”

She makes a “duh” face at me and evades the question with a genuine apology, “Sorry, Dawnie. I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s okay.” I remind myself to breathe and ask, “Crying because pretty soon I won’t be around as much to be a pesky little sister while you’re trying to work?”

She regards me affection. “No, silly. You’ve been more help than you know. It’s been a long time since you were sneaking out and getting into mischief that I needed to rescue you from.”

I take my hairband and pull my long hair into a low, loose bun. “Guess I’ve maybe grown up a little?”

“You’ve grown up a lot.” She sounds proud of me.

“Thanks. Glad you noticed.”

“Of course, I noticed. Want some tea? There’s hot water on the stove.” She inclines her head toward the tea kettle behind her.

“Sure.”

Sniffling and wiping her cheeks with the back of her hand, Buffy gets up to pour hot water into a mug for me. She slides the ceramic across the table and tosses me a packet of the Sleepytime tea we brought from the States. Opening the package, I pull the string and dunk the bag into the hot water so that the scent of chamomile and spearmint reaches my nose.

I want to ask her why the sadness, but I decide to wait, and instead, I take small sips of the hot liquid.

Finally, she says, “I miss Spike.”

“What do you miss about him?”

She’s quiet, and I wait again. “A lot of things but mostly just him being here. I haven’t really stopped long enough since everything happened to really feel. . . the absence of him, and lately maybe since we finally slowed down long enough to be in one place even though we haven’t really slowed down in other ways.” She takes a deep breath because she can tell she’s losing me. “In any case, I miss him. I keep expecting him to come around the corner in the training suite for the girls or knock on our door here as if he’s never been gone. I miss his voice. I miss fighting with him. . . against a common enemy but also with him, you know?”

I think back to our house in Sunnydale and all the Slayers in training and the seemingly unending giant slumber party from hell we had for months. I can’t express how much I’m glad that’s over with. “I miss how annoyed he got with all the Slayerettes. He was really funny about it.”

“Like how he could never get a moment’s peace with all their thirty thousand questions about vampires?”

I giggle. “I still remember toward the end when he wasn’t chained up anymore. How he came up to my room, shut the door, and shoved the dresser in front of it to get away from them.”

She laughed with me. “I was there, remember? I think he realized we were feeling the same way when we sent him on a mission downstairs for snacks.”

“I forgot about that!” A memory from a different time about hiding upstairs flashes through my mind. “You do know that he helped me hide upstairs from the Buffybot on more than one occasion before you came back?” I have mixed feelings about the ‘bot because I also, on occasion, slept with the fake Buffy that summer, out of need for comfort.

Her expression sobers. “I didn’t know that.”

I mentally kick myself but decide that I’m already in deep enough, so I continue, “Yeah. While you were gone, Willow programmed her to babysit me while they went patrolling. I figured out how to get away from her by not letting her see me. Spike would come over and keep me company, and he’d always sneak around her to get us snacks.”

“When was this again?”

“Before they started using the Buffybot for patrol and letting Spike take care of me.”

“Oh. I didn’t know that he. . .” She trails off.

“Yeah. We spent a lot of time together, and he really helped me. He didn’t just watch me. He talked with me about all kinds of things.”

“Do I really want to know what Spike talked with my little sister about?” Her words are an echo of a distant past when she was more sarcastic and angry with Spike because he was telling me stories about his past. Now, she merely sounds curious and half amused.

“It wasn’t like that. Well, he did tell me some things that he probably shouldn’t have, but mostly, we just talked about you.”

“About me?”

“Yeah and about our feelings about you being gone.” Now I feel a lump rising in my throat. “He really gave me the space to have my feelings, the way that no one else could at the time.” I used to be angry with Willow and Xander and the others for ignoring me when I needed support the most, but now I see that they were struggling, too.

“I’m glad that you had him. He did the same thing for me at first when I. . . came back.”

“I know.” I shrug. “Well, at least I figured.”

Buffy tucks a loose blonde strand around the back of her ear. “How did you know?”

“Well, aside from how things ended up going, I saw how he looked at you that night, how he treated you.” I don’t need to elaborate; she knows what I’m talking about. I decide to change directions again because I don’t want to rehash her first year back from being dead. Instead, I ask, “When did you forgive him for what happened between the two of you?”

In the past, Buffy would have brushed off this question with claims that it was too complicated to answer, but tonight, she answers without reservation, “Honestly, Dawn, I think when he owned his piece of how our relationship went down, it let me own my piece.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, I treated him just as badly as he treated me. You don’t even know the half of what I did, and he just took it. He wasn’t a saint in the whole matter. . . not even close, but I think it was safest for me to cast all the blame on him rather than owning my anger about being brought back.” She’s quiet for several seconds before she says, “I forgave so easily in the past with Angel, especially, only to get hurt again, and I think by the time Spike was really there, between losing Riley and then Mom, almost losing you, and losing my place in heaven, I didn’t have much to give to anyone.”

I try to put myself in Buffy’s shoes and find that I can, at least in part, understand. “I think I get that.”

“It’s not fair, but I think I needed someone to go beyond the distance to help me heal, and he did that. I don’t know how he did, but he did. He went out and got a soul, Dawn. What demon does that?”

“That was beyond owning his piece.”

She nods. “Right. And I think realizing that. . . that was a turning point for me. That was the point where I began to forgive him and myself, and before I knew it, before I even realized it, there he was. . . inside my heart.”

Tears spill out of her eyes again, and I find myself crying with her.

I confess, “Buffy, I never forgave him for how he treated you. Well, at least, we never talked about it. The last time I really said anything real to him was when I told him I’d set him on fire.”

My sister covers my hand with her own. She doesn’t offer any platitudes, and I’m grateful. In that moment, I realize that sometimes in grief, maybe there is no answer, no easy fix for your regrets.

My sister speaks next, “You know, he saved us all. There was no way even with a thousand Slayers that we’d have defeated the multitudes of uber-vamps.”

I nod. She’s not telling me anything I don’t already know.

“And I-I told him that I loved him right at the end.”

This is the thing I’ve been waiting for. “You did?”

“Yes, and he told me that he didn’t believe me, and he thanked me for saying so.” She looks a little sick as she says the words, and I’ve known my sister long enough to know that she’s leaving something out, but I don’t press.

Instead, I focus on what she did tell me, “He must have said it so you’d leave, so you’d survive.”

“Yeah, that’s what I think, too, but part of me thinks. . . part of me wonders if he didn’t believe me at all. A-and that’s the part that keeps me stuck.” Her tears drip onto the table’s wooden surface.

“How so?”

“Because I wanted him to know how much I cared. . . how far he’d moved into my heart by the end.”

Now this is a regret I can soothe. “Buffy, there’s no way he couldn’t know. I mean, you took him in after he killed all those people when the First had control over him, and you went out of your way to rescue him from the first Uber Vamp. You brought him home and nursed him back to health despite the protests of everyone in the house, even me, and you called up Riley to have his chip removed when it started malfunctioning. Plus, everyone knew you were cuddlesome the night before everything went down.” I pause to take a breath. “Spike’s not in the slow group. Maybe you didn’t say the words before that day, but you showed him through your actions. A-and actions. . . they say everything. He knew.”

I realize that I just discovered some solace for my own regret. Funny how that works.

She smiles at me through her tears. “I hope so.”

I drain the last of my tea and get up to pour myself some more water, and Buffy holds up her cup. As I pour her some, too, she says, “You want to know the weird thing about it all?”

“What?”

“The weird thing is that I don’t feel the same curl up in a ball and run away from the world kind of grief that I felt when I sent Angel to hell. And it’s not because I loved. . . love Spike any less.”

I settle back down into my chair, and this time, I settle one foot on the edge of the seat so that my knee juts up. We both submerge our used teabags back into the water. “Well, that’s good, right?”

“I mean, I have my moments.” I make a face at her. I don’t remember any moments. “Not that I’ve shown you, but I’ve had them. My feelings hit me at times I least expect, this being one of them, but it’s different this time, and it’s not because I’m avoiding my feelings.”

“I wonder why?”

She takes a drink and puts both hands around the ceramic. “Remember when Xander conjured that singing demon?”

I shiver. “Um, how could I forget almost becoming the queen of hell?”

“And that was the first night that I kissed Spike. . . well, when we weren’t be-spelled by Willow.”

I’m not sure where she’s going with this, but I am interested in the little tidbit. “I didn’t know that.”

A faraway dreamy expression crosses over her face. “It was a really amazing kiss, too.”

“Okay. No details needed there.” Though I love Buffy, I don’t want to know the physical details of her love life.

“But what really resonates with me was what he said before that.”

I strain, trying to recall what he said, “Before the kiss? Didn’t he say, ‘Bugger this’ or something?”

She rolls her eyes. “Probably, but not that. He stopped me from dancing until I burned up, and. . .”

Now that I remember. “He made that speech about life not being a song or blissful and how you have to keep on living?”

“That’s the one. He sang that, but really, I don’t think I really understood what he meant. I was too depressed, and I don’t think I was in a place to really make use of it.”

“Not until we were fighting those skeletons that Willow animated to kill us, right?” If I think about it too much, I can still smell the earth and decay. I shiver and shake it off.

“Right. . . but even then.” She picks up her mug but doesn’t take a drink. Instead, she stares off into space. “I think I only really understand it now looking back. When I start feeling really sad about losing him, I try to remind myself of what he said. That I have to keep living. I have to acknowledge and accept and go through the sadness and then keep going because that’s what he would want me to do.”

“You know, that’s essentially what he told me to do when I lost you, when we were both grieving.”

“Really?” Buffy makes eye contact with me.

I nod in affirmation. “Yeah. It was the first time he came to see me after you were gone. No one really let him know anything, and he showed up one day to check on me while the others were out. He wanted to know where you were buried, and I. . . well, I showed him.” Buffy watches me and waits as I waited for her earlier, so I keep going, “And we sat with you and talked about grieving. I told him that I felt guilty for smiling or even having a moment of happiness, and he said you’d want me to not feel bad for feeling okay again.”

Buffy grabs my hand again and gently squeezes it. “He was right.”

“I really think. . . I really think him being there was what got me through that time. He taught me so much about how to grieve.” I hesitate. I haven’t shared the next part with her, but now that I know how she feels, I decide that now is a good time. “You know how we packed a bag of things to take on the bus in Sunnydale just in case?” I’d tucked photo negatives and a few other special items in the bag next to our clothes, medicine, and other life necessities. Buffy had been too busy with strategizing with everyone to pack.

“Yeah.”

Her tone is one of quiet curiosity, so I plunge ahead, “I brought something that reminds me of how much he taught me.”

She shifts a little in her chair but doesn’t let go of my hand. “What?”

“You remember how I kept all those flowers from Mom’s funeral?” As a sort of ritual, I had pressed petals from each bouquet and carefully labelled each with who they were from. I didn’t quite understand why I was doing it at the time, but looking back, I think I was trying to figure out how to grieve beyond the initial shock of her death.

Buffy nods, her eyes brimming at the mention of Mom. “I do.”

“Well, Willow brought those flowers over from Spike, the ones that didn’t have a card, and I pressed some from his bouquet, too.” I take a deep breath. “I couldn’t bring all the flowers from everyone with us, but I brought one of his.”

“Oh, Dawnie.” The tears slip over her cheeks, and this time, I give her hand a little hug with my own. “I’m glad you did.”

I have to ask the next question even though I know there’s no answer, just like Spike didn’t have an answer when I asked him the same thing. “Buffy, do you think Spike is in heaven or hell?”

“I don’t know, but he went out saving all of us.” She doesn’t have to say unlike Angel, but I infer. “So I’d like to think that means he’s in a place of peace.”

“Me, too.” I also know he’s a vampire and that he did a lot of horrible things before he saved the world. This doesn’t negate what I hope. . . what I need to believe.

Her next words are earnest and big sisterly, “You know that you can always come to me with how you’re feeling. Anytime, day or night, I’m here if you need me. I want to know how you’re feeling and be with you when you feel it. . . if you want me to be.”

“Same goes for you.” I hesitate and then say, “Sometime I’d like to talk about what it was like for me after you came back.” We’ve never really talked about this; we just moved on.

“Of course.” Something shifts in her eyes. “Little sister definitely all grown up.”

“Big sis, too.” I decide to take the opening, “Speaking of all grown up. Let’s talk curfew. You know, for when I make new friends at my new school and then want to hang out all around Rome.”

Letting go of my hand, Buffy yawns and sets aside her tea. “Um, let’s go to sleep instead.”

“Now you’re avoiding.”

“Hey.” She stands and heads toward the bedroom. She jabs her finger in the air the way Mom used to when she’d had a glass or two of wine. “I own it.”

Her yawn is contagious, and my protest is stifled by my own.

I’ll bug her about curfew again tomorrow.

Upon Reflection After Spike Returned

Buffy and I only found out Spike was alive when Andrew confessed during one of the weekly update calls to the Slayers in Los Angeles. Willow had flown out there to help the Slayer team who was caught up in some apocalypse caused by Angel and his crew. She didn’t even have to pull Andrew by the ear this time, and he was spewing the truth as if his arm had been twisted off. He said that while the apocalypse had been averted, Spike was hurt and badly, and Buffy. . . well, she didn’t even hesitate.

Her face revealing her anger, she abruptly ended the phone call and announced that she would be going to L.A. to help with clean up. Everyone knew it was about Spike, and upon looking at their faces, she owned it for the first time in well. . . ever. Her eyes bright with complicated emotion, she said that she was going to go after the vampire she loved. As she strode out of the room full of Slayers and witches who were stunned to silence, she evenly met my gaze and said, “Dawn, are you coming?”

I grinned at her and followed. I liked this new, genuine Buffy. Her strength. . . her love was different than before because she had been through so much. Of course, I had to witness the reunion of the two people who taught me that to survive in this world, I had to let myself grieve loss with those I care about so that I could come out the other end. . . still scarred but different, stronger, and with greater capacity to love in the end.

April 2-3, 2017


Author’s Note:
I wrote this in two days. For some reason, Mahwish’s death hit me really hard…she was one of my favorite child psychiatry fellows. She ran process group with me, and she and I just were in sync. She put herself out there with the kids and I think they felt how genuinely she cared. She and I talked a lot during her six-month training rotation. She left behind a beautiful little girl. This is probably another reason her passing hit home for me since I’m a new mom.

As I was editing this, I also found out that the priest who married me and my husband passed away, too. My husband and I were so nervous to meet with him, but he was kind and funny and just wonderful. He walked us through the ceremony and the day of the wedding, he even offered us to have the rest of the wine afterward to calm our nerves. He always told a tasteful joke during homily or at the end of mass when I was growing up. Apparently, he was going to be a physician but then became a science teacher before becoming a priest, which I never knew until he passed. I love that he has such a colorful past and life.

And we went to dinner with my husband’s boss and his wife this past weekend, and he shared his death experience. He completely flat lined…everything gone for several seconds. He said that while he was dead, he was on a black marble slab, and when the doctor revived him by hitting his fist into his chest, he woke up feeling like he had been in the most peaceful sleep of his life.

I didn’t address Tara and Anya’s death in this story because this was really about Buffy, Spike, and Dawn. I really wanted to show Dawn’s changing mindset about grief as she dealt with the death of Buffy and then Spike with each of them.

Special thank you to the authors and readers in the chat box on Elysian Fields for the thoughts about Dawn and the aftermath of “The Gift” as part of a discussion on 4-13-17. This fic was already written, but I added a paragraph to the fic about Dawn’s feelings of guilt as a result, which I hope enhances the story. And a second special thank you to eyesthatslay for suggesting the addition of a bit to connect this Seasonal Spuffy story with our Seasonal Spuffy collaboration (4-16-17).
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