Title: Group Therapy, Anyone? (1/1)

Author: Sandy S.

Email: ssoennin@juno.com

URL: http://darkprophecies.net/eternaldevotion

Disclaimer: I own nothing. All belongs to Joss and UPN.

Rating: PG-13

Spoilers: Up through "Him" just to be safe.

Summary: Buffy drags everyone to group therapy. Buffy POV.

Author's Note: Since I am studying psychology, I thought I'd attempt a fanfiction with therapy as the backdrop. Things to consider: I am NOT a psychologist and have not yet had training in group therapy. This fanfiction is intended to be fictional and is not an actual representation of what occurs in group therapy.

Group Therapy, Anyone?

"Now, where are we going again?" Dawn asks as she slips on one of her high-heeled leather boots, using the base of the banister for balance as she yanks up the zipper.

I don my soft, cream-colored jacket, patting the pockets in search of the keys. "We're going to see a professional."

"What kind of professional?" Dawn slips on her own coat and then pulls her hair off her face into a neat ponytail.

Although our destination is only a few blocks away, I choose to drive our mother's automobile to emphasize the importance of what we are about to do. "You'll see."

We're settled in the car with our seatbelts buckled when Dawn nonchalantly mentions, "You could let me drive. I am sixteen, after all." She gives me a look out of the corner of her eye.

"Not today." I start the car and back into the street.


"Not today." I glance at her. "Today, we need to focus on. . ." I can't think of what to call what we will be doing, so I remove both hands from the steering wheel as I apply the brake at the stop sign. ". . . this thing."

"What thing?" Dawn seems to be getting impatient.

"We're almost there."

Dawn humphs and stares out the window. A few minutes later, we arrive at the small business with the nondescript sign near the door. Parking carefully between two other cars, I shut off the engine and release my seatbelt. Dawn stirs to life, eyes wide with curiosity. Her eyes alight on the sign.

"What?! Why did you bring me to see a shrink? Are you trying to rub it in my face? I already know my family is screwed up! It's not going to change! Why do I have to talk about it?" She crosses her arms with a scowl. "I'm not getting out of this car."

I don't even cringe at her caustic response. Actually, I expected her to act much worse. "Come on, Dawnie. Will you try this just once? If you absolutely hate it, you don't have to come back."

"You know that if you'd told me about this before we left the house, I wouldn't have come." Her blue eyes flash against her fair skin as she turns her gaze on me for the first time since we got in the car.

"Yeah, I know. That's why I didn't tell you." I open the car door, letting in the rushing sounds of the world. "Come on. Our appointment begins in about ten minutes."

Dawn rolls her eyes, imitating my actions. "Okay. This once. Boy, this guidance counselor stuff at school has you acting all loopy."

Warm air from the heater rolls over my skin as I open the entrance door. "It's not that, Dawn."

The small waiting room is tastefully decorated with rich, dark colors that gave the room an aura of coziness and comfort. Five cushioned chairs align the walls and a cherry-wood coffee table is loaded with several magazines, children's books, and toys. A receptionist's window is right across from the doorway, and a young woman with auburn hair smiles broadly at me.

"Welcome. How are you today?" Her voice is kind and genuine.

"We're. . ." I trail off as Dawn sits in one of the chairs so that she can view the door but not the receptionist. "I'm fine. How are you?"

"Fine, thanks. I'm Laurie. Are you Buffy Summers?"

"Yes." I step up to the window. "Is there paperwork or anything that I need to fill out?"

"I'm glad you're here." She hands me a clipboard, pen, and a stack of papers. "Fill these out. Is everyone here?"

Dawn is raising her eyebrows at me. I bite my lip. "No."

"Well, how many are you expecting again?"

I take the supplies. "Four others besides Dawn and me."

Laurie nods. "Okay. Dr. Hansen will see you when everyone arrives. Until then, just make yourself comfortable and complete the forms."

I slip into the chair next to Dawn, and she peers over my arm at the papers I start filling out. She watches me for several seconds.

Then, "Who else is coming?"

Not removing my eyes from the papers, I open my mouth to speak when the front door bursts open. A smoking, cloth-covered figure rushes into the tiny room followed quickly by Xander who slams the door behind him.

Dawn remarks, "Apparently, Xander and Spike are coming."

"Hey, Buff, Dawn," Xander greets us with a smile and wave. He shoves his hands in his back pockets and wanders to the chair across from us.

"Hi," I return the greeting. Xander knows a bit more than Dawn knows, so he's better prepared.

Spike hangs back in silence, cradling the blanket in his arms.

Sounding slightly rattled, Laurie's shaky voice comes out at the uncertain vampire. "You can have a seat in the waiting room."

Spike stares at the receptionist as if she has three heads before slowly crossing the room to the chair next to Xander. He picks up a magazine and begins flipping through the pages leisurely.

Before I get a chance to start a conversation with the new arrivals, the door squeaks open less urgently. Willow pokes her head into the room, shiny red hair swinging.

"Hi, guys. Guess this is the right place." As always, she is cheerful. Her head disappears, but the door remains open.

A hesitating Anya appears in the doorway and steps tentatively inside. Willow pushes the ex-demon in further, so she can squeeze past and shut the door.

Dawn finds her voice, "Well, everyone's here. Now why, Buffy?"

With impeccable timing, a tall, slender woman with grey hair slides open the door next to the receptionist's window. Dressed in a light green silk skirt and blouse with matching heels and accessories, she has an imposing presence. She better be imposing because she's about to embark on an adventure that will require great strength and control.

"Hi, I'm Dr. Hansen, but you can call me Natalie. Please come in and have a seat. Then, we can get started." She smiles at me. "Did you get a chance to finish the paperwork?"

"No. Sorry. I got kind of distracted."

She holds out her hand to take the papers as I pass by her into the main therapy room. Seven chairs are arranged in a circle in the comfortably lit room. The color scheme is similar to the waiting area, and soft music plays in the background with the effect that I immediately feel soothed. Dawn enters first and plops into the chair closest to the door. I take the seat next to her, and Xander and Willow sit next to each other across from us. Spike and Anya remain slightly apart from the rest of us

Dr. Hansen. . . Natalie stands behind them and urges them forward. Spike makes the first move and manages to choose the chair next to me, making certain to position himself so that I can't see him unless I turn my head. Anya follows, taking the seat next to Xander. Dr. Hansen completes the circle between Spike and Anya.

"Well, let's get started." Natalie takes note of everyone's name; then, she leans forward, seemingly drawing us closer. "Buffy has brought you all here for a reason. But first, there are a few rules you need to be aware of. This is a therapeutic environment. As such, there is confidentiality rule. Everything that's said in here must remain between the six of you. Respecting each other is of the utmost importance. Thoughts and feelings shared in this room should not be used hurtfully after you leave this room."

Anya sighs loudly. "Like that'll happen."

"*Anya!*" Xander protests, reaching out to her. Anya scoots away from him in response.

"I tend to agree with the demon girl on this one," Spike inserts in a low tone.

At the casual reference to Anya's roots, Willow's eyes widen. "*Spike,*" she hisses in warning.

"Hey, no, it's okay. Natalie knows the truth," I hastily add. The gang seems surprised. "It's the hellmouth. She knows the truth."

"How much does she know about us?" Dawn inquires in annoyance.

Natalie re-directs Dawn, "You sound concerned about what I know. How come?"

"You're a stranger. Most strange people I know are not people I can trust. Bad things happen when I trust strangers."

"Really? What happens?"

"They try to kill or hurt me or the people I care about." Dawn glares at Willow and Spike in turn.

Willow flinches, and Spike's expression automatically shifts as he attempts to distance himself. He seems to be getting better at ignoring the voices he hears.

Natalie observes the reactions of the group. "Dawn, do you trust Rupert Giles?"

The anger in Dawn's face melts away. "Yes."

"Well, I am a colleague of his from school. I know everyone's history to a certain extent." At that, Spike and Anya become visibly more alert. "But I'm not affiliated with the Watcher's Council." Tension eases in the room. "I was merely sent by Rupert at Buffy's request."

"Why, Buffy?" Dawn demands.

I glance at Natalie, and she nods at me, urging me to tell the group my reasoning. "I asked Giles about doing something like this. He agreed that it was in our best interest and in the interest of preserving our world in the face of this upcoming danger. There's too much stuff among all of us. We need to get it out on the table, so we can function as a cohesive group. Remember our division when we faced Adam? So, Giles referred me to Natalie. I saw her briefly once to let her know our situation, and she agreed to meet with us for as many times as it takes to at least ease what's between us."

"I don't know, Buffy," Xander says when I'm finished with my spiel. "I mean, what if this makes things worse? What if we can't work together at all after this?"

I'm not sure how to respond, but luckily Natalie takes the initiative, "That won't happen if we all work together and respect one another. I realize the respect may be at different levels between different members of the group, but I'm simply asking you to try and do your best."

Willow pipes up, "I think we can handle that."

"Good. Now, keeping each other's confidence is important. There are certain situations in which I will break your confidence. The only way I will break this confidentiality agreement is if I find out that someone is going to be harmed or one of you is going to harm yourself. Any questions?"

She pauses for protests.

When none come, she continues, "Now I need you to sign this paper to consent for treatment and acceptance of the confidentiality rules." She passes the paper and a pen to Anya who accepts the material awkwardly. "We will focus on each person one at a time, addressing issues with each of you one at a time. The goal is not to fix all the problems necessarily but to come to mutual understanding and find workable solutions to improve group functioning. Who wants to go first?"

"I will," Dawn offers when no one else volunteers. "What am I supposed to do?"

"Tell the group what really bothers you," Natalie suggests.

"Okay." She thinks for several seconds and then crosses her arms as if expecting whatever she has to say will be disregarded. "What bothers me the most is how you all act around each other. I don't understand what you do, and it confuses me."

"That's good, Dawn," Natalie responds with encouragement. "Now can you give more details about their specific actions, or do you want the other members of the group to fill in the gaps?"

"I can. Okay, my thinking on this all started coming together when I was at the high school football practice with Buffy."

Dawn glances at me, so even though I'm uncertain I'm comfortable about where she's going with her line of thinking, I acknowledge her words, "I remember."

"And I asked why she was helping Spike. . . by making him stay with Xander and get out of the school basement."

I sense Spike straightening next to me. His interest is piqued because Dawn was asking me about him.

"She. . . you. . . said that you *felt* for him. That you didn't love him, but you *felt* for him because he'd been through so much. And you were insistent that Spike knew the rape attempt was wrong."

The others are staring at me in disbelief, so I look at Spike. This is a bad move on my part. His eyes are wide and dark with swirling emotion.

Xander's tone has a bitter, almost angry edge. "Is that true, Buffy? You *feel* for evil soulboy?"

Natalie clears her throat, cutting the strain in the room. "Sounds like you have some bitterness about Buffy having any sort of feelings for Spike."

"Hell, yeah, I do. He's a vampire!"

Although I'm sure Natalie doesn't know the specific details of what happened between Spike and me, she is calm. "What does being a vampire mean to you?"

His jaw set, Xander doesn't waver, "Four things: evil, demon, undead, and incapable of love."

"Hey!" Anya dissents. "Used to be a demon here. You didn't accuse me of having no feelings."

"Yeah, but honey, you were human for all the time I was with you."

My heart jumps. "Yes, but who was all for not killing Anya when she was a vengeance demon who ripped the hearts out of those boys at the fraternity a few weeks ago?" I note.

Natalie lifts a hand. If she's shocked by what we're saying, she's doing an excellent job of not letting her feelings show on her face. "So, what you're saying is that being a demon equals being evil and incapable of love?"

"Or is it vampire equals being evil and incapable of love, Xander?" Willow wonders with a trace of sarcasm. She catches Xander's glare and modifies, "I-I'm not saying. . . I'm not trying to attack you, Xander. I'm just observing."

Half of me feels angry with Xander for his repetitive, inflexible stance, but the other half of me believes he is right. Then, I think of Spike staying quiet next to me. He was an "evil" vampire when he sought a soul. I decide to agree with Willow for a moment, "Yes. You didn't like Angel, and you've never liked Spike either."

Raising her hand a second time, Natalie frowns. "I'm not sure I'm understanding this issue correctly. What are you debating?"

Dawn is more observant than I give her credit for being. I should really pay attention to that in the future. She interjects, "The thing that's confusing me; that's what they're debating. They're rehashing the same old argument, saying that being a demon automatically makes you evil and soulless and incapable of true feelings."

"Hmmm. That's interesting. What are 'true' feelings?"

Anya crosses her arms and legs at the same time. "Apparently, something Xander Harris and other unnamed people in this room think that Spike lacks and that I lacked because we have a history of being demonic. It's all rather ironic if you ask me."

Natalie is swift and sure, "What makes the situation ironic?"

Spike makes certain that my gaze connects with his. Although in the past, he might have been sarcastic, now his voice has an edge of defeat. "Because we supposedly lack true feelings, and therefore, we are expected to behave in evil ways. . . not that some of us don't, including me. . ."

"And me!" Anya asserts, exchanging a small, knowing smile with Spike.

Spike nods and persists, ". . . But the irony is that human beings with souls are just as capable of evil acts and apparent lack of consideration of the effects of their actions on others."

"My point exactly," Dawn agrees with the vampire's words.

My stomach drops, but I can't find form a coherent sentence. A multitude of memories from the past year rush through my head. . . some of them memories of events and personal actions that I would rather forget.

Willow states what I can't bear to say, "Like what Warren did to Katrina and Tara. Like what I did to Warren. . ."

Dawn nods enthusiastically. "Like what serial killers do to their victims."

Words flow out of my mouth before I can censor them, "Like what I did to Spike."

Spike's mild expression transforms into one of surprise and then acceptance of what I've just admitted in front of the entire group. My cheeks burn because using Spike is something I've only told Tara in the past.

Luckily, Natalie rescues me, "So, bottom line, soul or no soul, people or demons can do evil things. What about altruistic or good acts? Are they things that only 'soulful' people do?"

"No." Dawn is firm. "Spike took care of me after Buffy died. He had no reason to stick around other than a promise he made to her."

Xander adjoins, "But any 'good' soulless individuals do is usually tempered by selfish motives."

"Hold on," Anya disputes, frowning at her ex-fiancé. "That may be true, but the same holds for human beings as well. Proposing to me when we thought the world might end wasn't exactly the most selfless thing you've ever done. And then saying that you were leaving me a the altar for my benefit, now that was totally unselfish."

Xander reminds her, "But I think circumstances can partially explain my behavior. The world *was* ending when I proposed; I did. . .do love you. And that demon guy was trying to come between us at the wedding."

"But. . . ."

Before the conversation can get too far off topic, Natalie comments, "So, those are good points about how 'good' acts often have selfish roots or other benefits to the one who does the 'good' act, but those are all extreme events. What about common everyday 'good' actions? Do any of them have some degree of selfish roots?"

"Yeah." Willow nods thoughtfully. "I can think of some. I mean, in school, a lot of people ask to borrow my notes. It makes me feel good to loan them the notes. It makes me feel good that I can help them, but it also makes me feel good because I feel smart and needed. So, in a way, I continue to loan them my stuff because it helps me feel better about myself."

"That's an excellent example. I'm sure you all can think of several others. What seems to be the bottom line?"

"That even the kindest acts benefit us in some way," I say almost at a whisper. "Even my slaying, what seems to be an unselfish business, can be seen as benefiting me in some way. I suppose I've learned to use the killing to get out my aggression and anger."

"That viewpoint is a little extreme," Xander notes. "I don't believe that what Buffy does is totally selfish."

"No, that's a good point," Natalie acknowledges. "How does it fit with what seems to be a black and white issue about virtuous/evil acts?"

"Things are never just black and white," he concludes. He glances at me, repeating a statement I said to him before I went to kill Anya for murdering the boys in the fraternity house, "Things are always complicated."

Spike surprises me by agreeing, "I concur with the whelp on this one."

No one else says anything in mutual acceptance of the point just made.

Then, Natalie asks another question, "I think you can possibly add a few other things to that excellent point. Seems what I'm hearing you all say is that 'good' or 'bad' acts can be seen as falling along a dimension of altruism and selfishness. . . that no act is without an element of each with some acts being more extreme than others. Nothing is black and white."

Now why can't I do that with the teenagers at the high school who come for guidance? "Yeah, it seems so."

Natalie continues, "Now, I want you to each take a minute and think of what factors might possibly be maintaining the black and white thinking about demons and humans."

Silence reigns for several minutes. No one makes eye contact. Thankfully, the soft music in the background is peaceful.

Willow is the first to speak, "It's easier to think in terms of black and white with other people. . . not take into account their situation, and I know that I more easily see my actions as complex."

"That's something that most individuals do," Natalie recognizes, putting her finger to her lips.

"And seeing demons as evil helps me to kill them. If I start thinking of every demon as being as complex as. . ." I catch a glimpse of Spike, watching me intently out of the corner of my eye. ". . . Spike, then I can't kill them. And I need to see them as purely evil in order to prevent the world from being overrun with demons."

Anya smiles at Xander, holding his gaze with her own. "And if Xander had seen me as merely evil when I became a vengeance demon again, he wouldn't have tried to stop Buffy from killing me."

Dawn's forehead wrinkles in frustration. "So, what do we do?"

"Explain what you mean, Dawn," Natalie encourages.

"I mean, if I go around believing everyone is more complex than my instincts tell me, how do I protect myself?"

"Good point. What do the rest of you think?"

"Well, I've been thinking about my friend, Jesse," Xander mentions with a distant expression.

Jesse was Xander's best friend who was turned into a vampire by the Master our sophomore year of high school. Xander ended up being forced to kill him. I realize suddenly that Xander's insistence on the evilness of all demons, especially vampires, might be based on that one horrifying incident.

He's still talking, ". . . The only way I could kill him was to heed Giles's assertion that vampires are purely evil. If I hadn't heeded that, then, I would be dead now. So, I guess that you should weigh a situation and realize that even though not everything is black and white, sometimes you're better off seeing the other person as purely evil to save yourself emotional and physical pain. You also have to look at how they might be hurting other people." At that moment, Xander casts Spike a knowing look.

Dawn sounds hesitant. "I guess that helps."

Natalie glances at her watch. "Well, we're out of time for today. What I need each of you to do between now and the next session is to think of how your ways of viewing demons, humans, and various situations is impacting the current function of you as a team. We'll eventually start discussing ways you can handle the obstacles to enhance your functioning.

"Also, I want each of you to write a summary of what happened in this session. Bear in mind that you will share your summaries at the beginning of next session. You made some excellent points today. Good work. Things may get tenser between all of you before they get better, but if you continue working hard, things will get better. And Buffy, I'm glad you brought everyone in."

She's right. I am more apprehensive about what will happen to all of us, but I find myself extending trust. Dawn is tugging on her coat, and Xander and Anya are heading to the door followed closely by Willow and Spike.

I extend a hand to Natalie. Her grasp is warm yet strong. "Thank you, Natalie."

"You've very welcome, Buffy. Make sure they come back."

"I will."

The end.