Disclaimer: BTVS characters are owned by Joss Whedon, I'm just borrowing them
Spoilers: None that I know of. Set sometime in the future, post season 7.
Note: Please, please give me feedback, the words all shrivel up and die without it!
Friday night, I thought. Damn it, why am I home alone? It's my birthday. I should be out partying, not stuck up here in the attic painting. The light is almost gone anyway, I might as well quit. I swished the brush in turpentine to remove the last of the pigment and dried it with a soft rag.
I looked at the paint caked under my nails and sigh. Splotches of umber and alizarin crimson made it look like I have dipped my hands in blood. I'll have to be careful going downstairs to the sink to make sure I don't get paint on the walls.
I step back and use the last of the fading light to look at the painting before me. It is nearing completion, and like the others stacked around the edges of the room it will soon packed away to the gallery. What others see in my work still baffles me. My work is selling, and the critics seem to love it, but I don't see why. My friends kindly called my work fantasy when they can bring themselves to look at my paintings at all. My nearest and dearest know better. These pictures of hell, portraits of demons, and the ravages of death are as true as any photo.
It seems impossible to imagine my mother's old gallery handling my work. I wonder what she'd think of it, but if she was still alive I probably wouldn't have started painting. My sister's lover calls my work therapy, and his answer is the closest to what I know in my heart. It was his money that bought me my first oils, and his urging that forced me to paint what I saw in the abyss. His voice and his pain where what forced me to live; what kept me from killing myself.
He is my muse, my inspiration. His stories come to life under my hand. I beg him for them, those tales of past horrors. What he crafts with words, I immortalize in paint. I use him, but it is an equal exchange, value for value. In the sullen quiet of the daylight world, a world that he is forbidden by his very nature; I become his priest, the confessor who hears all his past sins and doesn't judge. Sins he dare not share with my sister for fear that it will remind her of what he was and still is.
I looked again at the painting before me, focusing on it, examining the brushwork, and my use of shadow. I hate it; I hate the darkness in it. It makes me want to take a pallet knife to it; to slash it, and tear it to pieces. I can't deny its power though. Power is what we all crave. I may not be a witch or a slayer, but I have my own magic. I have the ability to draw the viewer in to my world, to make so real that they forget to breathe for a moment. That's power.
I can hear them gathering down stairs. I have wasted too much time, now I will not be able to escape this house without having to deal with their birthday wishes. I hate my birthday. I want to shout, "It's not real. I'm not real." They think I've gotten over that; the fact that I was made and not born. I hate to disappoint them, but I never will get over it. It's part of what makes me who I am.
I have a dream that I think maybe the moment of my actual birth. At first I am floating in darkness above the earth, there are no others like me. I am alive, shimmering and powerful. I can mold myself into anything I choose; become anything I see. A change occurs, a bubble, a bright iridescent bubble appears capturing my attention. I examine it from all sides, wondering how it was made, and where it came from. From inside I can vaguely hear the sound of voices calling to me. I enter it and immediately realize it is a trap. I fight until I'm exhausted, but I can not break free. Then I wake up.
I have lost hope that anything but death will make me real again.
"Dawn, nibblet, are you up here?" I call as I push open the trap door. I can see her bare feet, her long tanned toes, and her tender arches. My eyes travel the length of her long legs until they are blocked by the canvas she stands behind. I can see she is lost in thought, and I move quietly to where I can view her work. I am disappointed, I keep hoping that one day I will see a still life, or a landscape, instead I see only myself as I hunt some nameless woman. It amazes me how she can capture the dank despair of London streets a hundred years before her time.
There was a time when I modeled for her; it gave me a real thrill to see my face appear as she worked the canvas, but now…. Now I avoid her work, when I can. I am not sure what I see there, beneath the layers of paint and canvas. Is it my darkness, or is it hers that is reflected there? I have cautioned her not to use my face too often, and she makes enough changes so that I do not have to fear when we go to her exhibitions.
She shivers when I touch her arm to gain her attention. The backlight from the dormer windows that Xander installed, halos her form. She looks as ethereal as one of her own paintings. "Dawn, it's time to come downstairs and clean up, everyone will be waiting us at the restaurant."
"She said she'd meet us there."
"She'll probably get tied up in something and won't show."
I try to reassure her that her sister will make it, but we both know the odds.
Finally she tells me that she will be down in a few minutes.
I wait and watch the telly until the news signs off. Impatient, I shout, "Hurry it along will you." There's no answer. I check her room first, and then the bathroom. There are no signs she has even been in them recently. I pull the ladder cord to the attic, but she's locked it. It serves only to delay me a few seconds.
I can smell the blood even before the trap door finishes crashing to the floor. I spy her crumpled form beneath the windows. I almost slip on the remains of a glass bottle in my hurry to get to her. She holds a piece of bloody glass in her right hand, and her left hand lays in an ever widening pool of blood. Her eyes stare at me accusingly.
"What the hell do you think you are doing? Don't you know that death doesn't solve anything in this family?" I grab her wrist and reach behind me to the stack of clean rags. She begins to fight, and her arm slips from my grasp, blood spurting across my face and hair. I end up pining her, straddling her while I bandage her wrist.
"Why couldn't you just let me die?"
"If you really wanted to die, nibblet, why did you try to kill yourself while I was here?"
"I'm not real, Spike. This isn't real, just let me go."
"What is it with you Summers' women? I can't feel, I'm not real, Spike fix it. What the bloody hell do you think I am; a blasted miracle worker?" I can hardly think. I am so angry. How can I convince her that she's real? I can think of only two ways, kill her or make love to her, and if I follow either of those thoughts I might as well stake myself because I couldn't live with the consequences.
I've been sitting here for hours, and the blasted doctors refuse to tell me anything about Dawn, 'cause I'm not kin. They'd tell that fuck of a father of hers, but not me. I tell you, dying young has some drawbacks; sometimes it makes me want to give the old hair a few strands of gray just to get some respect. Respect! There was a time I'd have bashed a few heads in, before I took this kind of treatment. Damn Buffy to hell for turning me respectable.
Personally, I hate hospitals. Hate 'em from the hard blue plastic seats, to the antiseptic stench of the place, but a lot of vamps love 'em. Public property means that if you're quick and sneaky enough you can come and go as you please. Refrigerators here are stocked with lovely gourmet delicacies like AB neg., and even the live ones are relatively placid and nonmobile. No one around here notices a little extra blood loss as long as you don't drain 'em dry too often.
I loath hospitals, but I probably don't hate them as much as Buffy does. If ever a girl has been dealt some trauma in this place it's her. I can't help but wonder if that's why she hasn't shown up yet. I sent Xander out hunting for her. You'd think, with all those nice slayerly powers of hers, she'd know her little sis was in trouble.
I wad up the Styrofoam coffee cup and aim it at the waste can. Miss. The old dragon guarding the desk shoots me a dirty look so I flip her the bird. I can not sit still any longer. Pacing will at least keep me from ripping the place to pieces. I stride back and forth in front of the windows over-looking the parking lot, keeping my eyes peeled for Xander's truck. Eight paces forwards and eight paces back. I try to keep my feet within the black and white tiles. The repetitiveness calms me so that I can think.
I heard them call for a psych. consult. I wonder what the brain squeezer will think of our little Dawnie. Hope they can figure her out, 'cause I still don't know what to do for her. Personally, I think my idea has some merit. Got no ethical problem with turning her. Give her what Dru gave me. Change of view point might be just what she needs to break her out of that fixation on being real. Know Buffy would stake us both in a heartbeat though. That's the consequences I was talking about. Same with making love to her, lots of earthy power in sex. It grounds you real good to the here and now. Nothing wrong with the act itself, but the consequences would still leave me a big pile of dust.
"So Miss. Summers, do you understand why the doctors requested you speak to me?"
I nod my head yes. I understand that they think I'm crazy. I think I am too some times.
"Let's start off with some simple questions. Name?"
"Can you tell me the month and day of the week?"
"June and Friday"
"Dawn, can you tell me where you are?"
"The Sunnydale Memorial Hospital emergency room."
"Good. Now would you care to tell me about how you cut yourself?"
Her eyes were very kind. Eye contact direct, but non-threatening. I can tell that she was good at what she did. Unfortunately for her I don't feel like talking, too many secrets to keep, most of them not mine. I play with the ends of the bandage covering my forearm. Twenty one stitches- the little Pakistani doctor who stitched me up told me I nicked the artery. He said I would have died if my friend hadn't brought me in. Some friend.
"Dawn, let me read you some information from your hospital records. In the fall of 2001 you were brought in for the treatment of similar cuts on you forearm. There is a notation here that your mother was being treated for a brain tumor at the time. How is she doing?"
"I'm sorry to hear that. It must have been a difficult time for you. You were what, only 15 at the time?
"I was 14, and it was a long time ago."
She paused; I guess she was waiting for me to add something. I gave her the look I'd perfected on Buffy that usually deterred her from asking anymore questions. She must have been more immune, though, because she continued almost immediately.
"I have also read that later that same year you were brought to the hospital by friends who reported that you had been kidnapped and tortured. That must have been very traumatic. Did the police ever catch the people who did that to you?
"No." I refused to give her anymore. I'd just have to make up lies anyway, best just to keep my mouth shut.
"Then within six months you were back in the emergency room with a broken arm. Following that there are two more visits involving cuts and sustained blood loss. Do you see the pattern I am following here?"
"I just cut myself, that's all. I broke a bottle of turpentine and I cut myself on the glass. That's all that happened." I glared at her.
"Dawn, answer me honestly, if I were to discharge you right now, is there any possibility that you will hurt yourself again?"
I pause too long before answering. I can tell she knows I am lying when I say that I won't hurt myself.
"Dawn, I think you are suffering from something called PTSD- Post traumatic stress syndrome. I want you to listen to a list of symptoms and see if you feel like these describe what has been going on in your life.
"You may be having recurrent distressing memories that overwhelm your daily activities. These are often called flashbacks- they can be quite intense. Your heart may race, you might cry for no reason; you may even experience physical pain."
Ok, check number one. They aren't as frequent as they were right after Glory, but every once in a while I just panic for no reason. I can remember a couple times real vividly. Once on an escalator at the mall, I just lost it. I stood there at the top trembling and crying. Luckily, I was with Tara and she didn't ask any questions. She just led me to the food court and plied me with sweets until I felt ok again. The second time it hit I was reaching into the kitchen drawer getting a knife out to cut a sandwich. I cut myself that time, too. Trying to get away from… What was I trying to get away from? My eyes slide to the corner of the desk as I try to recall. The doctor's words break my train of thought, and I am pulled back to the present.
"Sleep is another common area of disturbance. If you are avoiding sleep due to recurring dreams; this increases the odds that you are irritable, angry, and depressed."
Check number two. The dreams are weird, the images shatter and reform, like a kaleidoscope. They're all mixed up: time, places, family, and friends. They are never the same, but they all seem to be variations on a theme. A tide of blood seems to surge and swell through them covering everything and everyone. Each time I reach for my brush the dreams ooze out on to the pallet, mixing with the paint. What can I tell you- nightmares sell.
"You may feel detached from you friends and family. People suffering from PTSD frequently blame their loved ones for not being there, and at the same time resent them for trying to protect them after the fact. They often feel disconnected with the future, and have difficulty adapting to new situations."
I feel embarrassed as I listen to this new litany of ills. I recognized myself as well as my sister in her description. It's not like I want to be acting like ungrateful bitch, but I'm so angry, frustrated, and afraid that all I can do is explode.
"Dawn, I can tell from the expression on your face that some of those symptoms hit home. I'd like you to consent to stay for a few days. There are ways to treat PTSD, and medications I'd like to try you on. If you stay, we can help you sleep and we can try to make sure you don't feel like hurting yourself again. How does that sound?"
Pt is a 19 y/o Caucasian female, oriented x3. Pt was brought to ER by male friend who reports that Pt cut self on a broken bottle. Injury resulted in laceration of the L radial artery: Pt denied suicide attempt, but refused to contract not to harm herself. Interview and review of existing records leads to a DSM-IV Axis I classification of major depression and a tentative Axis II diagnosis of PTSD. (see Pt file 567-89-2304) I recommend a 3 day in house evaluation 2° to possible suicidal ideation. Rx: Paxil 30mm BID, Tylenol 150mm- as needed for pain. Dr. T. Laurence, MD
"Don't tell me what to do", I say softly. The stress of this telephone conversation makes me cold. Of course that may be due to the thin hospital gown I'm wearing. I wear another over the top like a robe, but even two gowns aren't enough to fight off the chill of anxiety. Not to mention the draft that floats up from underneath.
"I won't!" How can she do this to me every time we talk? Her guilt smothers me at times. She lays it on the way I re-gesso a canvas. The thick strokes of white hide what lies beneath. What lies beneath my surface? I don't know- that's what I want to find out.
"No. We already talked about this at the hospital. The doctor said I needed to stay. I want to stay." The words come without censure. I try to focus on her demands, but it's too difficult. The medication they've given me is making it hard for me think. My thoughts whirl like a kaleidoscope- disjointed and fractured. Maybe it's just as well; if I can't think then I can't feel. And I don't want to feel.
"I don't want to lie anymore." My eyes examine the hand lying in my lap. I feel alienated from my own body. It doesn't feel like it belongs to me. I find myself thinking about how I would draw it. The paint incrusted cuticles, and ragged nails make me wish for some paper and charcoal- or maybe pastels would be better. The blue of the nail beds cries out for a pale dusting of chalk to tell of its chill. My knuckles are white with strain. I tuck the phone between my shoulder and my ear. Massaging my hand, I try to force some blood back down into it.
"I need to tell someone, Buffy. Can't you understand? You have the Scoobies; I haven't had anyone I could tell." I can't help but tune her out. This conversation feels all too familiar. Variations on this theme have been repeated on a monthly basis throughout high school. She's right in some respects; there is no way I could have physically protected my friends, like she did hers, but the knowledge of what is really out there might have kept them from making some stupid mistakes. She's always managed to convince me in the past, but no more. I need this.
"Yes, I know I have you and Spike, but it's not the same."
"No, I didn't want my friends to become targets. Dr. Lawrence won't be a target. She can't tell anyone. I've got her promise, and she gave me her code of ethics to read, too."
"I've asked her not to tape our sessions, and I get to read her notes before she submits them."
"I can't listen to you anymore. Let me speak to Spike." I hear her in the background telling him to talk some sense into me.
The sunset fills the sky with oranges and pinks; it looks like the background of one of her paintings. I stop and stare for a few minutes before I head out the door for the hospital carrying Dawn's overnight bag. Buffy packed for her, but she was so ticked when she did it that I rechecked it. Glad I did too. It blows my mind that after all these years of raising the kid that she still doesn't know her. Oh, she got all the essentials in- jeans, tee-shirts, underwear, jammies, and the like, but not a single tablet of drawing paper or a piece of charcoal. And she forgot her diary completely.
I feel a strong urge to break into that diary and read it. I hold it in my hand and remember when she bought this particular one. It has a basket full of kittens on the cover and stupid brass lock that could be opened with a paperclip. She laughingly picked it out from among hundreds that were more age appropriate, and asked me if I thought her words were worth that much. She kept cracking bad puns about me being hungry for her thoughts. Stupid teenage stuff, she was just trying to push my buttons.
Teenager, shit! We all just kept thinking that this was just a phase she was going through. We'd solve one problem, like the shoplifting, and then we would be confronted by another problem. If wasn't picking the locks, it was hacking into the school computers. She just kept getting caught. It was an attention thing, but I kept thinking that once her paintings started selling she would settle down. Realize she had some value.
Damn it! Bloody chit just doesn't get the point that it doesn't matter where she came from. Can't get it through her thick skull that Buffy wouldn't have sent her back even if she could have. All she sees is the problems and inconveniences that she caused by just existing. I've tried to tell her; tried to point out all of the good she's done. Like helping her mum, and keeping Buffy grounded when she wanted to die, but it doesn't matter 'cause it never came from the right person.
The gray robes didn't do any of us a favor by using Buffy bits to make Dawn. They are too damn much alike. Never saying what they mean, blocking themselves off from their own feelings and thoughts until they're surprised when somebody calls them on it. That seems to have been my calling of late. Not that it gets me anything. When I piss Dawn off I never know what's going to happen. Stuff goes missing, she writes a virus that wipes out all my computer passwords, 'If ever she and Dru would team up, they'd destroy the world with their vindictiveness. At least Buffy only hits me.
Now there is this crap. I wonder what I am letting myself in for at the hospital?
"Welcome, Mr….? I'm Dr. Lawrence", I announce as I extend my hand toward him. Goodness his hand is so cold. This must be a stressful situation for him. Leather duster, jeans, and combat boots- well I predict that there's not much respect for authority there.
"Call me Spike."
Umm….He leans in, offers a little flirty smile like we are all in collaboration. I don't think so. Handsome guy though- sister's boyfriend. I wonder if there's not some jealousy on Dawn's part? It would be understandable, if they are as close as she says.
"Well, umm…Spike, Dawn asked to have you present during this session, but I thought it best that we meet for a few minutes before-hand to go over some ground rules. I wanted to let you know upfront that I am not in favor of having you here this early in Dawn's therapy. However, Dawn insisted that she needed you here before she would talk about what is going on in her life." I wonder why?
"I want to caution you that anything that is said in this room needs to remain between you, Dawn, and me. Please do not discuss these things with Dawn's family or friends unless she gives you permission."
"Now, if you'll have a seat, I'll ask the nurse to bring Dawn down."
Spike seated himself on the arm of the leather couch, swinging his foot nonchalantly. Sanctimonious snit; if Dawn wanted him here to throw a good scare into her he'd be happy to oblige.
Dawn felt her eyes bug out as she entered the room; the jerk was standing right in front of a mirror. She gestured franticly for him to sit down, and looked back at Dr. Lawrence to see if she had noticed. The doctor had this befuddled expression on her face like she couldn't comprehend what she was seeing. Then her mouth dropped open and she began to back toward the door.
When Spike chose to he could move faster than eyes could possibly track. In a split instant, he was at the good doctor's side; firmly assisting her back into the room, and seating her in the chair behind the desk. After making certain she would stay put, Spike went and stood in front of the door, blocking any escape attempts.
He looked over at Dawn. She glared at him with a stare that would have made Medusa proud. Her hands were on her hips, and her mouth was wrinkled up like she had just eaten an entire lemon, rind and all. He made a mental note to hide some of his more breakable treasures, before she came home.
He gave her a rakish grin and shrugged. "Well, platelet, you said you wanted to tell her. I'd say you have her undivided attention now."
Giving Spike a disgusted look; Dawn turned back toward the doctor, and said, "I need to prove to you that some of the things that people call supernatural really do exist, and that magic is real. I figured you'd never believe me without some proof, and Spike is the easiest and most concrete piece of evidence I can think of."
"So, welcome to my world." Dawn sat down in the chair across from the desk and waited.
I can't seem to stop staring at the… the thing that stands guarding my office door. I glanced at the mirror across from him. There is still no reflection. I'm going crazy, just like one of my clients. My voice shakes as I finally find the nerve to reply. Turning to my leather clad guard I ask, "What are you?"
"He's a vampire. You know, the blood sucking undead."
I swivel around to face my client. Dawn looks pale, and upset. I wonder what I look like to her?
My gaze was locked on his face. Cranial ridges rose as his face shifted and re-formed. He smiled, baring his fangs. The smile was not meant to be comforting. I literally felt my blood run cold. This is the first time I have ever really understood the meaning of that phrase.
"Spike quit it!" Dawn admonished.
"Dr. Lawrence, Dr. Lawrence look at me!"
I try to by my eyes won't focus. I feel like I'm going to faint. The feeling makes me irritated at myself. I haven't fainted since fifth grade choir, when I forgot and locked my knees. I refuse to let myself be intimidated by an overgrown adolescent dressed in leather. If he was going to hurt me he would have already done so. I order myself to breathe. Five deep breaths from the diaphragm, just like they taught us in biofeedback. I feel like I've just found out the world is flat and accidentally sailed right on over the edge.
"Don't worry, he won't hurt you. He won't kill anyone.
"Hey, watch whose secrets you're sharing."
Their arguing has given me time to pull myself together. I've had people tell me weirder things than this. Of course they were psychotic at the time, but never mind, the hallmark of a good therapist is the ability to meet the client where they are.
"Dawn, you've gone to a great deal of trouble to reassure yourself that I would believe what you have to tell me. I think it's time that you told me what brought you to my office."