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Title: Severance
Author: Jayne Leitch
Need to Know: It's set about ten minutes after the end of 'Tabula Rasa', and therefore contains spoilers for stuff leading up to the end of that episode. I'll give this a PG rating.
Disclaimer: Own these people? Are you nuts?
Feedback: Yes, please! < >
Blathering: Many thanks to MaryKate for the way-speedier-than-I-am beta. (Way to make me feel all sloth-like, there.) This story can go in the Glass Onion Archive, but if anybody else who wants to do stuff with it would ask me first, that'd be great. (I'm very nice. I'll probably say yes.) New list member, first list fic (though not first ever fic), etc etc. Hope you like it. And, uh...hi.

SEVERANCE by Jayne Leitch
Copyright 2002

Face-punching. There's something easy about it now, after so many years. Calming. Natural. Not like kissing Spike, which is possibly the most unnatural and least calming thing in the world.

Face-punching is detached. So is kissing Spike, but when I'm beating the hell out of a demon I don't have to worry about how I'm going to feel about it when I stop and all the detachment goes away.

It's a vampire tonight, and I've had about a million chances to stake him already, but I haven't. Instead I back off, give him a chance to get his footing, wait for him to come at me again. By now he's either getting really tired or thinking he's having the luckiest night ever.

Punch, punch. Kick. Throw him over a tombstone, wait for him to stand up and come back. He always comes back. I like that. Means I can keep my brain in the fight for one more round, and one more after that, and another...

Like I seem to keep going back for another round of kissing Spike. Like tonight, at the Bronze, when I didn't even want to look at him until I couldn't stand seeing the inside of my own head more. When I caught up with him under the stairs and grabbed him and *sucked*--

Punching a vampire, here. Pay attention. Dead knuckles connect to a deader jaw, and I think I just broke his face, but the moron just growls and kicks and almost catches me in the gut. But I'm quick, and I *twist* and leap and slam my arm into his back as I land, sending him sprawling.

And suddenly I realize I have the stake in my hand, and before I can stop myself I'm kneeling over the vamp as it tries to get up and I'm *slamming* the stake into the heart. And the body is gone, but I'm already up and walking away.

Plunge and move on.

It's too quiet now, but I don't want to see about finding Spike because I can't believe how insane I'd be for doing that again. But as I walk, the fight clears away, and I start to think. Think about...

Tara's stuff on the porch. Willow crying in the bathroom. Dawn crying in her bedroom. Xander and Anya looking shellshocked and stirring coffee. Books. Joan. Magic. Heaven. Mom. Hell. Face-punching. Giles.

And now there's a whole posse of vamps, five--no, six of them coming out of a sewer drain, and I can't believe my luck.

Face-punching. And Giles, but in the back of my head for now, which is better.

But not really, because if he's in the back of my head he's still *there*, and as I throw my first punch I can hear him reminding me not to drop my shoulder because otherwise I'm telegraphing. And to watch my stance, because I have a tendency to rest on my heels--

Except that I don't, I know I don't, because I broke that habit in tenth grade, about a month after coming to Sunnydale. Giles was so pleased over how quickly I'd improved my form, he didn't complain about the music I wanted to train to for a week. We broke that habit--

Except for some reason I'm doing it again, and one of the vamps is coming at me from the front and there are three more closing in behind me. And I'm off-balance, because I'm resting on my heels.

I don't know how I'm going to fix this until one of the vamps from behind gets to me first and slams a fist into my kidneys. I'm down like a shot, and rolling, and by the time the vampires realize I'm not *staying* down I'm already up and dusting one of the ones that hung back. And in the back of my head Giles is pursing his lips and shaking his head and scolding me for the lapse and scolding me *again* for playing with the loner vamp from earlier and I actually scream, "I know, okay?" before staking another vamp under its arms as it lunges for me.

Face-punching. Something almost like a thrill as I don't have to think.

And then it's over, and I'm covered in dust and crying like one of them actually managed to hurt me.

And Giles isn't in the back of my head anymore. Now he's right up front, looking relieved when I came back from patrol unhurt, cooking real dinners for me and Dawn, trying to hide how his hands shook when he hugged me at the Magic Shop, reading in the armchair while I fell asleep on the couch with the TV on--

--some part of my brain realizes that none of this stuff has anything to do with how he was my Watcher, and the rest of me realizes that I don't care--

--suspecting that something about the hell explanation wasn't right, yelling at Willow everything I couldn't make myself say, hearing about where I was all summer and telling me he's leaving anyway.

Leaving anyway.

I wonder where his plane is now, and start to cry harder because wherever it is, it's not here. Big, ragged gasps suck vampire dust into my lungs and make me choke, and my throat starts to burn with each new sob but I can't slow down and just breathe because-


Because at least when I'm hyperventilating I feel the need to keep breathing.

Because it might be a purely physical reaction, but the instinctive panic for oxygen is, on some level, a desire to be alive.

Because concentrating on catching my breath is like face-punching: it gives me an excuse to detach again for however long it takes to calm down.

And when I do, I'm sitting on the pavement just inside the gates of the cemetery, feeling wrung-out and empty. Tired enough to curl up right there and close my eyes and just sleep.

Instead, I push myself to my feet--my legs are trembling under me, and my face feels hot under the tears as a breeze cools them--and run my hands through my hair before walking away.

And as the detachment wears off again I brace for Mom's dead stare and my tombstone and the hope-turning-to-resentment in Dawn's eyes.

And as I walk home trying to ignore the phantom Giles-scent of tea and wool sweaters and old paper and scotch, my fists clench at my sides and I hope for vampires.


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