Title: Grief

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, & etc.

Rating: PG

Summary: Vignette, Buffy POV three months after Black Magic Willow; slightly AU for Season 7

Spoilers: Up to B:tVS "Grave" (6.22), especially the last few eps of Season 6.

Feedback: Yes, please! Be honest!

Series: Um, not yet. Long explanation? This was written back in July 2002 and shelved due to other projects; I meant it to be longer. I found it again in November, dusted it off, and posted it. I may yet return to continue it; although Season 7 is so far pretty good on TV, I have other ideas about the way things should've played out.

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The Scoobies didn't, as a rule, visit any kind of mental health professional. Okay, so they might need it--can we say traumatized beyond belief?--but what would they say, really?

What if Buffy's Mom had sent her back to the shrinks instead of kicking her out of the house, four years ago? "Well, my vampire boyfriend, who had a soul, kind of lost it, the soul I mean, when we had sex on my birthday ..."

Yeah, right. Bye-bye Buffy the Vampire Slayer, hello Buffy the Mental Patient. Because that was just *so* much fun the first time.

And so, in the aftermath of Black Magic Willow, there were only fragmented tales of yellow crayons and Giles' capable hands around Willow's wrists as he teleported with her back to Devon.

Buffy had hoped that England would work just as well as any old shrink. Prayed, even. She didn't know any of Willow's Goddesses, but surely whoever was in charge of Heaven would remember Buffy fondly, right? Besides, of all the places a broken Willow could be, it made sense that the British Isles would be the most fix-y. Giles, and musty old books, and witchy ladies to take away the bad stuff; pots of tea, museums, cathedrals, green and mist.

A vampire loomed up out of the darkness, disrupting that comforting mental image. Buffy sighed, gripped her stake firmly, and began the dance of death. He was young and muscular, but not very bright; yet another newly-turned minion type. He lasted barely 30 seconds against her, hardly enough to get her blood moving, and not enough to work off her dark thoughts. None of the vamps around here had any staying power lately. Not since ...

Buffy's thoughts soured, and she fingered the ends of her blonde hair. Did everything have to remind her of Spike these days? It had been a whole summer since the Bathroom Incident and his sudden disappearance, and she still wasn't sure what she'd do if she ever saw him again. Stake him? Beat him to a pulp -- for the second time? Probably both; he deserved it.

And yet. Buffy couldn't bring herself to have him disinvited, or to have a location spell cast on him. She couldn't even throw away his duster. She was afraid to ask herself why, but suspected she already knew the answer anyway. If Willow was visiting the Land Of The Messed Up, she wasn't visiting alone.

So. Buffy's thoughts circled back into their previous rut, and she wrinkled her face up in frustration as she continued her patrol. Willow minus Tara had been horrible, first all scarily evil and then sunk in grief; with the magic gone, too, they were faced with a Willow turned empty and cold, like an open grave full of newly-slain dust. Willow didn't react to anyone, not even Xander; she just curled up in a chair all day with a mug of cooling tea at her elbow and stared out the window into nothingness.

Dawn hadn't wanted her in the house. Big surprise there. But what could they do? Xander was in the middle of trying to woo back Anya, and vengeance girl had made with the big N-O when they'd opened the subject. No Willow on the Xander premises, or no more Anya visits. Obviously, that meant no Willow at Anya's either. Buffy's place was the only other choice.

So, Buffy in Joyce's old room -- Dawn wouldn't take it, after finding Tara there, and it would be cruelty to force it on Willow. Dawn in Buffy's room, because it would be stupid to put Willow in a room with such a handy escape route if she was suicidal. It was a mark of how serious Dawn took it that the teenager hadn't gone all secretly gleeful at her new digs. So, Willow was now in possession of Dawn's old bed. None of the three were exactly comfortable, but since when were they ever?

And Giles hadn't stayed. He hadn't even flown back with Willow, just delivered the witches' verdict (not dangerous now, just grieving) and told Xander when to pick her up. Buffy suppressed a fresh pang of hurt at that thought and sat down on a headstone, flipping Mr. Pointy end-over-end in one hand. There had also been some kind of mumbo-jumbo reason about Willow not needing him anymore, plus something about a second vampire with a soul, but Buffy had tuned most of it out. It wasn't what she'd wanted to hear.

Giles, Giles, Giles. Gone the way of Angel, Riley, Spike; even Xander, in a milder, libido driven way. Like Heaven, really, and Joyce, and Tara too, slipping through Buffy's fingers like molten gold, burning her even as they left her grasp. There really wasn't any "just" about grief, no matter what Giles' witches said.

But then, there wasn't any "just" about little sisters either, was there? A smile curved Buffy's lips, breaking up her mood, as she heard the squeak of Her Keyness' new sneakers approaching. If there was one thing the last year had taught her, it was the value of family.

At least there was one light in the murky darkness around Buffy -- one really bright spot that kept her from losing ground and falling back into last year's emotional black hole.

"Hey, Buff. Kill any vamps yet?" Dawn strolled up out of the darkness, stake in hand and eyes twinkling with excitement. "I got Clem to do Willow-watch until two, so we have lots of time to roam tonight."

Buffy smiled. Ever since the whole incident with the swords and the earth-monsters, the two of them had been training together. Dawn was nearly sixteen now, and was picking up the moves much quicker than she should; the girl might not be a Slayer, but she had a certain joy and enthusiasm that reminded Buffy of her own early slayage years. It was fun to watch, in a Hellmouthy kind of way.

"Just one," Buffy said. She tucked a strand of Dawn's hair behind the girl's ear, then laughed and hopped off the tombstone when Dawn rolled her eyes.

"Come on," she said. "I heard there's a nest over on Fifth and Brown."

~fin~