Title: Recurrent Light
Author: Cynthia Liskow
Summary: Did anyone else miss a scene between "Older and Far Away" and "As You Were"?
Author Notes: Warnings: No explicit spoilers, but takes place during Season 6, between "Older and Far Away" and "As You Were" and assumes knowledge of the former.
I very uncharacteristically wrote this in about an hour and a half last Monday night. As it's never taken me less than two months to write a story, I am distrustful of my muse. Please, let me know how it turned out! FEEDBACK: firstname.lastname@example.org
THANKS: Do I ever tire of singing the praises of Rachel Anton? Never! She and Laura let me into their little clique four years ago, when Rachel was writing a little vignette called "World Without End." I've since converted them to Buffy, but the problem is that they hate those that whom I love. What's the result? Really hard-ass beta-reads. Talk about tough rooms!
Disclaimer: If Joss and his cronies at Fox, UPN, and that lot would just get the girl some Prozac, I wouldn't write about her. Don't sue me, okay? I'll just tell them that I went off my meds and used this as a way to try to deal with the imbalance.
I close the door on my party goers and feel Dawn's eyes on my back, so I turn to her, meeting her gaze. It's intense, as usual, but lacks the venom she's been shooting at me for weeks. Months. She's just waiting. Waiting to see what I'll do. I remember looking at Mom that way. I wonder if it freaked her out as much as it does me. Poison darts I can dodge, blow off. Expectations, though?
No more blowing off, right? Isn't that the moral of the party?
We can't ignore Dawn anymore. I can't. She's not going away, and I'm not either.
"Dawnie," I start, and I have to stop because I have no idea what to say to her to even start fixing this.
Her hair is shining in the still-too-harsh overhead light in the foyer. It's soft, I remember, and reach out, to remind myself further. See, I think, pushing my hand through it, I remember this.
Her face is so sad in its hopefulness that I can't look at it again. I want that look to go away. I don't want her to feel so lonely that it marks her face like that. I pull her tight against me, and wrap my arms around her, way up high on her shoulders so my hands are both on her soft, soft hair. My face is buried in it, and it feels really, really nice.
"I'm really sorry, Dawn."
"Me, too. I'm sorry too."
We stand like that for a minute or so. I think. It's still hard for me to judge time. When I need it to be fast, it goes slow. When I want something to last, time zips past, laughing all the way.
"Buffy?" she squeaks into my neck. I hum acknowledgement. "I'm dirty."
Wait, she's dirty? I'm doing unmentionable things with Spike, and she's dirty? This can't be good. Were there more vamps? Or just plain boys? This is so not good.
"What?" I squeal, and suddenly understand Mom's freak-out when she found out about Angel. "Dawn! What?"
She looks amused. She picked the phrase on purpose. I relax as she expounds, a smile in her voice. "I haven't showered in like, a year, or however long your party lasted, and I'm all icky and ... not so fresh."
I smile. Where did she see that ad? *I'm* too young to have seen those ads. Stacey had to explain what the meant after health class freshman year. I didn't like that class.
"To the showers, then," I suggest, and turn her toward the stairs. We walk up together, holding hands. She feels little again, not so scary and grown up and angry.
I hope it lasts. I'm pretty sure the world doesn't work that way, but I hope all the same.
She squeezes my hand at the top of the stairs and heads down to her room. I wait a moment, then wander into mine, not sure what to do with myself. So I just stand there, mind wandering to places I need to get used to not being. Gravity makes my joints ache when I stand still, and I feel myself getting frustrated, angry, again, heartbroken. Not how I need to be.
Dawn's voice says my name, and I snap out of it. "Do you have a magazine I can read?"
I haven't bought a magazine since I came back. What did I used to read? And why did I care? "And when did you start reading in the shower?"
Her face folds at her eyebrows in the same quizzical you're-such-a-freak-case look she's been giving me since forever. Or since whatever date was when the monks zapped her into my head.
"Bath first. Reading there. Then shower. You know, to get the bath scudge off me. You taught me that."
The monks remember for me. It was after she got over her weird fear of the shower. She stuck with baths until she was almost ten, said she hated the water slapping her in the face. I used to wash her hair for her, but I always pointed out that if her hair dragged around in the bathwater, especially her bathwater--that girl couldn't walk by a puddle without having to pee--her hair wasn't actually coming out clean. So she overcame the fear, but didn't give up the baths. She did, however, learn to dislike the dead skin and general grunge that sticks to you.
Which is where my bath-then-shower trick came in. Simple, really.
"Right." She's still standing there, fuzzy pink robe pulled shut but not tied. "Oh, right. Magazine."
I open my weapons chest and root through it. Xander's is so much prettier. And I can use this one for what it was intended for now. Hope. Maybe I should give it to Dawn. Help her fill it.
From the bottom I pull out several tattered copies of Seventeen and CosmoGirl. I remember that the Cosmo had a couple of articles about teen sex, plus a quiz to tell you whether you're into bad boys. For both of our sanity, I throw that one back.
"Here. Seventeen, prom issue, 1999. You always said pink wasn't the way to go? Now you can find me the right one. Or you, I guess."
She grins and snatches the magazine. "Oh, right. Like I'd be caught in one of these things. They're so... late-nineties. Good for a laugh, though."
"They are that."
Dawn turns, throwing a shy smile over her shoulder. "Thanks."
I hear the water start. It's too loud. Shutting the door seems hostile. I turn on the radio instead, but it's all junk these days--were there always so many commercials? did all the songs have the same beat? am I old or just in hell?--so I shut it off too.
I move to close the closet door, making an effort at tidying up, but a splash of color catches my eye and draws me in. My prom dress. The kick dress. It is pretty. What does Dawn know? It's all shiny and strapless and I had the coolest matching pin and hair clip dealie that Giles gave me. I wonder where those are.
I look for them until I hear the bath shut off. Dawn probably took them. What with the klepto thing she's got going. Plus, she likes shiny things. Even before she started stealing them. Or maybe she's always been stealing shiny things, and that's why she likes them.
God, what am I supposed to say about that anyway? And how am I going to get Anya to back down? Maybe Xander will take that front.
Thinking about Dawn and Anya and stealing and the endless party makes me tired.
Spike's right. I should just skip the celebrations. I would have, but they wanted to do it for me, and I couldn't really say no. I can't say no to them for anything these days. They want to help so bad, but most of what they do doesn't help. I can't tell them that. All I can do is drown myself in Spike and let them think they're making things better. Things like me, better.
I'm exhausted. I'm grungy and my mouth tastes terrible all of a sudden. Like dirt. Like the dirt I kept choking on as I dug my way out of that grave. I have to brush my teeth. Now.
Dawn yells for me to come in when I pound on the door. She's up to her ears in bubbles, the room reeks of freesia-on-steroids.
"Gonna get ready for bed. That okay with you?"
She peeks out from behind the magazine, her eyes and mouth pale islands in an oval sea of purple face mask.
"Uh huh. Just don't flush, okay? I'm afraid of the water."
"Water's off, Dawnie," I point out, but she just squeezes her purple eyebrows at me, then raises them.
"Don't flush," she repeats.
Whatever. I scrub at my teeth, looking intently down the drain, then scrub my face. I pee, shut the lid, but don't flush. Just like old times. I'm about to duck out when she sticks her purple nose out again.
"Sit with me?" she asks.
I hesitate. I'm tired. The tiles are cold on my bare feet.
She's cute when she's purple.
I grab a hand towel and a washcloth off the towel rack and curl my legs under me as I sit on the bathmat.
"Here," I say, and stretch to turn the water back on, "You shouldn't leave that stuff on your face too long."
Dawn pulls her feet up toward her, out of the way of the water, not trusting my temperature judgement, and the bubbles make a pointy white mountain around and over her knees. I soak the washcloth in warm water and hand it to her, then turn the water off and slouch down again.
When her face is un-purple again, cheeks standing out in slants of pink on white, she hands me the cloth, which I toss toward the laundry basket.
"I love baths," she says, sinking back down into the water, face and feet her only exposed bits. "They're like, paradise, don't you ..."
She was going to say think but her brain caught up with her mouth. Too late though. See, I already figured out what she was going to say.
I say nothing, and I look at my knees.
"Sorry," she whispers. "I'm really sorry, Buffy. I forgot."
I can't forget.
We sit quietly, defining the word "awkward."
My cheeks are wet, and I'm wondering when I'll regain control over my tear ducts--they gush into action at the weirdest times--when I realize I'm not crying. Dawn's hand is on my face, dripping tepid water off my jaw, and she's the one who's crying this time.
"What was it like, Buffy?" she says in a tight baby voice.
Dawn takes her hand away, it disappears into the bubblefield.
"Heaven. What was it like there?"
I don't know what to say. No one's asked me that. The only time I tried to explain it was to Spike, and that didn't even begin to cover it.
She's waiting for me. She wants me to tell her I was with Mom there.
I look up, where everyone assumes heaven is, and try to find a way to tell her.
"It's like every good thing you've ever felt, all at once," I start, but that sounds too physical. I try again. "Like, on the inside, too, not just the outside."
She nods. "It's like, like when you open the last present under the tree, and it's exactly what you wanted but were sure you'd never get. It's like, waking up from a really, really good dream, but then it's real."
"And, it's good on the outside, too. Like ... like peppermint stick ice cream when it's really hot out. Like sliding into the bath," I nod at her, "when the water's just right, but it never cools down, and the bubbles never go away, and the tub's as big as forever."
Dawn thanks me with her eyes, and I'm just glad I said something right.
"And," should I say this? "It's kind of like... like having an orgasm, but without sex, but not, like, lonely, you know?" Can she know? I hope she does know. The without the sex part, I mean. "Like if that feeling came just from pure feeling, pure energy, pure love, but not from anything sexual or attached to your body. Or having to do with anyone else but you."
She's blushing as she nods, and I smile because I've embarrassed her, and, hey! we just had the mastrubation talk. I smile, too, and blush a little.
"And it's like when you're sick and Mom brings you a glass of soda and a popsicle. And like having your sister understand and be sweet to you when the rest of your heart is broken because your boyfriend flew off into the night." My hand is on her head, stroking her hair, even if it's wet.
"Was Mom there?"
I knew she'd ask.
"I don't know," I answer honestly. "I think she was somewhere good, because I could feel her loving me, but I didn't see her. I didn't see anything. I just was. And I could feel that you were safe, and the gang, and everyone was okay, and that the world didn't end, but I wasn't like, looking down on you. I just felt you and loved you."
Dawn's hand is white and shrivelled up like a raisin when it reaches out to touch my hair. Warm water slithers over my scalp, making me shiver.
"It sounds nice."
I smile, a little sad.
"It was nice."
Again I can see what she's thinking, what she wants to ask.
And you wish you'd never come back. You'd rather be dead.
"But this is nice, too," I say, and am mildly surprised to realize I'm not lying. "Being here right now with you is nice. And that you asked is nice, and knowing that we love each other is nice."
"But not heaven-nice, right?" There's the slightest petulance in her voice, but I don't let myself react to it.
"No. Not heaven, but really, really nice. And happy."
She's not convinced. I don't blame her.
"Most of the time," I ammend. I take a breath, which takes forever. "But you know what?" and I'm talking to myself, too, realizing that I'm not making it up. "I can still feel it sometimes. The love part. I see that. I feel how you guys love me. All of you. And I remember Mom, and she loves me. And I think it's going to be hard, but I want more time like this, here, with you. For both of us, not just because I have to to keep you here. Because it feels good."
Dawnie's voice is all squeaky. "Really?"
There's a splash and wave of white as she pushes herself up in the tub, sitting up high enough to grab me into a quick, wet hug and to kiss me on the cheek before slipping away under the water.
I'll wait ten seconds, I think, before I fish her out.
She surfaces in three, and wipes her scrunched up face.
"I gotta shower," she says. "I'm all bath-gunky."
I push off the tub rim and stand up. Good thing I'm going to bed. My clothes are wet. Pyjamas will fix that.
"Buffy," she calls as I start to leave. I freeze, waiting. "I'm glad you got to see heaven. I liked hearing about it."
"Me, too." I'm telling the truth, the whole truth this time. "I liked telling you."
I'm almost out of the room when I turn back. Over the slide of the shower curtain and the muffled splatter of the shower falling into the half-full tub, I call out to my sister.
"Come say goodnight when you're done."
These days, I find myself defending Buffy to my friends. Mainly because I think I've felt what she's feeling. Depressed. Really, blackly, hopelessly depressed and alienating the people I love because of it. The title of this piece comes from a poem (my beloved Mrs. Parker again) that I think sums the matter up nicely.
I do not like my state of mind;
I 'm bitter, querulous, unkind.
I hate my legs, I hate my hands,
I do not yearn for lovelier lands.
I dread the dawn's recurrent light;
I hate to go to bed at night.
I snoot at simple, earnest folk.
I cannot take the gentlest joke.
I find no peace in paint or type.
My world is but a lot of tripe.
I'm disillusioned, empty-breasted.
For what i think, I'd be arrested.
I am not sick, I am not well.
My quondam dreams are shot to hell.
My soul is crushed, my spirit sore;
I do not like me anymore.
I cavil, quarrel, grumble, grouse.
I ponder on the narrow house.
I shudder at the thought of men...
I'm due to fall in love again.
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