Time After Time

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~If you're lost
You can look
And you will find me
Time after Time~

You ever notice how grief kind of makes time run together?  How minutes turn
into hours and hours turn into days. And you sleep when you can, when you're
so exhausted that you're powerless, and when you wake up, it's dark outside
and you just sit there, waiting for the sun to rise. And half hoping that it
won't. At my Mom's funeral, this really loud and obnoxious woman kept coming
up to me and telling me that time would make it better. But time is just
running together and if I'm not even aware of daylight and dark, how will it
ever heal me?

And it's funny how you remember things. Like, this one time, my mother told
me not to dig stuff out of the toaster with a fork and I never listened to
her. But today, Xander started to do it and I jumped up, telling him not
to - sounding just like Mom. It made me cry. It made me realize once more
that she'll never tell me not to do something again. We won't shop together
and she won't tell me something is too tight or too short and we won't
giggle over fashions that neither of us would be caught dead in.

She's caught dead in a light blue skirt and jacket that Buffy picked from
her closet. I wanted her to wear the new dress she had bought for a date,
but Buffy absently told me that it wasn't 'appropriate'. I guess it's more
suitable to wear something she would work in and not something she'd have
fun in. After seeing her laid out in the long sleeved blazer, I can kinda
understand why she couldn't wear something sleeveless. Maybe we aren't
supposed to see too much waxy looking flesh, even if she did used to lift
dumbbells to keep her arms toned and  was proud of them.

When I looked down at her face, I saw that her lips were blue underneath the
coral lipstick the undertaker had spread over them. I say 'spread' because
it was uneven, like he'd done his job for so long that he'd gotten careless.
Mom was just another face, another canvas, another customer. Line them up,
move them out. Her hair looked nice, though. She rarely had time to curl it
all up, but they did at the funeral home.

As Buffy, Giles, and I rode in the limousine behind the hearse, it occurred
to me that it was the last ride Mom would ever take through town. We drove
past her gallery, and I wondered if the paintings were weeping. Mom wouldn't
dust them anymore. She wouldn't painstakingly arrange them on the walls and
stand back, studying the finished product. No one loved art more than my
mother and she made me love it too. She called me a 'budding Picasso' and
even hung a painting I did behind the counter of the gallery. She used to
tell me that people from New York wanted to buy it, but I think she way only
saying that.

I was drawing when Buffy told me. I was drawing negative space, casually
dragging the pencil along the paper, feeling it obey my every command.
That's why I like to draw so much -- because I'm in charge. But that day, I
was anything but in charge. I kinda knew the second I saw Buffy's face. I've
seen my sister wailing over Angel. I've seen her so upset over him that she
was literally hugging a toilet and retching over it. I've seen her small
shoulders hitching with sobs, heard her tell Willow that she couldn't
breathe, but I have never seen the look she had on her face that day.

I think my heart stopped beating as I put my pencil down and followed her
into the hallway. I was dimly aware that my teacher had this look on her
face, this look I've come to know as pity. I remember Kirstie turning to
look at me, but I don't remember one single word that Buffy said to me past
'mom had an accident'. But I know that whatever she said to me got the point
across. I cried until I couldn't possibly cry anymore. Right there on the
floor of my school. Right there in Buffy's arms.

She smelled like Mom.

I couldn't go into my mother's bedroom. I stood in the doorway, staring at
her perfume bottles. Her trusty blue robe. The comforter that she had just
bought because she said the old one reminded her of headaches. Her slippers,
bashfully peeking from beneath the dust ruffle, waiting to be worn. An open
book on her nightstand. One that I had already read and given to her. I
darted in just long enough to grab it and see if she had gotten to the good
part. She hadn't.

She wouldn't.

I told myself that I'd read it to her. I'd sit beside her grave and read it
to her everyday until it was done, but when they buried her, I didn't even
think about it. I was too busy trying to find a way to bring her back. I
almost did, too, but Buffy was right. Mom didn't deserve that.

 I did a resurrection spell. I know I did it right. I put my heart and soul
into it, but at the last minute, I couldn't let it happen. As unnatural as
my life is, I had to let this be it. I had to let her go. I thought I
*could* let her go, but now---

No one knows what it's like to have a Slayer for a sister. And witches for
friends. And vampires who have chips in their heads who run around being
nice one minute and mean the next. When Buffy and I fell to the floor in
front of our open door, Spike was in the yard watching for Mom to come home.
He raced up on the porch, trying desperately to come in. I remember hearing
him saying, "Invite me in, lil'bit! Please!" And he kept flinging himself at
the barrier. I heard it.

But I had no words. All I could think about was Buffy crying. Buffy in my
arms. Buffy needing me. Buffy trying so hard to take care of me. Buffy
needing me to be the strong one for a change. I didn't even look at Spike. I
couldn't have seen him anyway. I was screaming with gut-pain, screaming for
my mother. And Buffy was echoing it just as loudly. I've seen her cry over a
lot of things, but this was mortal, wounded to the core. Little girl lost.

Spike left and a little while later Giles squealed into our driveway in his
car. I found out later that Spike had raced down the road, used a payphone,
and told Giles that we needed him. And just like that, Giles was there. He
ran into the house, found us huddled there, still clinging to one another,
still weeping, babbling incoherently, and he knelt down, wrapping his arms
around us, pulling us to his chest.

I used to think that Giles didn't like me, but when I felt his hot tears on
my face, I knew better. I read Buffy's diary. I know that he had sex with my
mother and I think, looking at him now, that he realizes his missed chance.
I saw him staring at Mom's photo yesterday, tracing her jaw with his finger,
and I wondered if he wished that he had known her better - in the
non-physical sense. Maybe he wished he had married her and been a real dad
to us.

But as he coaxes us to our feet, I know that he already is. He didn't need
to marry our mother to marry our hearts, to become family. I love him. Buffy
loves him. He keeps his arms around us as he leads us into the kitchen. We
take seats at the counter and he starts making cocoa.

Buffy tears off a paper towel and hands it to me. Her hands are shaking.
When I look at her, I see that her lips are trembling and she's trying so
hard not to cry, but tears are falling steadily over her cheeks. My sister
is pretty in a movie star way. When I cry, I get all blotchy and my nose
swells, but Buffy is a beautiful crier. If I could paint her this way,
someone from New York really would want to buy it. I take the paper towel
and hold onto her hand. Giles sets the cups on the counter and takes a deep
breath, looking from one of us to the other before he starts to talk.

"I know that nothing I can say will help ease your pain, so I won't even try
to offer you any well thought out words, because that's all they are,
words." He leans down a little, eye level with the both of us and continues.
"What I can offer you is me. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere. There's no
place I'd rather be than right here with the both of you."

That starts Buffy to crying loudly again and I pat her back. Giles comes
around the counter and pulls her against his chest, cupping her head and
rubbing her hair. I wish that someone was there to hold me too, but Buffy
and Giles need this, so I'm not even jealous. They need each other. The bond
between them goes beyond a father and daughter. It goes beyond friends. It
goes beyond a Watcher and a Slayer and I think that they are two halves of a
whole. He would die for her and she would gladly lose her life for him.

He sees me looking at them and gives me a reassuring wink. It says, "You're
not forgotten, but she needs both my arms right now."

I nod at him, giving him a watery smile, and wait for my turn. I see Xander
appear in the kitchen doorway, another person that Spike called who dropped
everything to come to us, and his eyes well with tears as he listens to
Buffy's sobs. He sees me and slowly walks toward me, arms outstretched, and
then I'm being hugged, too.

He smells like soap and cologne and - so familiar- so comfortable. I
remember the first time I saw him, sitting awkwardly in the living room,
making small talk with Mom while he waited for Buffy to come down so they
could rush off to do things that I wasn't allowed to be a part of. My ten
year old heart beat a little faster, my cheeks got a little flushed, and I
thought he was the most beautiful boy I had ever seen. I still think he's
beautiful, but he's my brother. My comfort. My comfortador. Where did that
come from?

I lean my head against him and listen to his heart beat in his chest. It
sounds like a distant drum, a wave against the shore, the beat of life. I
think that I'd die if anyone else's heart stopped beating. It makes me cry
again and he kisses my temple, whispering in my ear. I don't know what he's
saying, but since it's Xander saying it I know it must be good. It helps me.
He helps me.

You ever notice how grief kind of makes time run together?  How minutes turn
into hours and hours turn into days. I don't know how long I sat there,
letting Xander hug me. I don't know when Buffy finally stopped crying and we
went upstairs. But I remember waking up in her bed a while later, snuggled
against her, and there were two shadows in the doorway watching over us.

My heart didn't feel quite so heavy as they both stepped forward as one,
moving closer to ask if I was okay.

When I told them I was fine, it wasn't a lie.

I lay back down and went to sleep immediately, confident in the fact that
we'd be okay. And I could greet the morning knowing that.

Hours may not heal me, but my family will, time after time.

~If you fall
I will catch you
I'll be waiting
Time after time~


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