"This is the first time you've seen a psychologist?"
Buffy hesitated, and the doctor stared at her intently. "Yes," Buffy lied. The time she was in the mental hospital didn't count, right? Besides, that doctor was actually a psychiatrist, so technically, she was telling the truth. And as uncomfortable as this was, she'd take technically truthful. Technically truthful was good.
"So what made you decide to make the appointment?"
No, this wasn't uncomfortable; uncomfortable was five or six stops back. This was awkward. "My Wa—a family friend suggested it."
"Why do you think he did that?"
"He thinks I'm not, uh, adjusting very well."
"Life," Buffy mumbled without thinking.
"A lot of young people have trouble adjusting to adulthood," the doctor said soothingly, scribbling something in her notebook.
"No, I mean not being dead."
The doctor blinked.
Buffy pressed her lips together in frustration. Giles had helped her—saved her—by giving her a check, but it had come with the condition that she see a therapist. I'm worried about you, Buffy. I don't want to bury you a second time. So she was here, even if she hated it, because she didn't have a choice. She took the check or she'd lose the house, and the county or her dad would take Dawn, and she'd…what? Live on her friends' couches for the rest of her life? There was no other way. Either she took the money or she lost everything.
So here she was, and she had to think of something to tell the doctor, but she had to be careful if she didn't want to end up in the funny farm. Again.
"Like dead," Buffy amended hurriedly. "I mean like dead, as in comatose. I was comatose for a few months, and wow! Just like being dead. So, there's the adjustment to being … alive."
"Why were you comatose?"
"Fall?" Buffy offered.
"Yes, fall," Buffy repeated with greater certainty. It would be better if she stuck as closely as possible to the truth. Less chance of messing up her story that way. "I fell. Off a roof. It was an accident. And now I'm fine."
"Nothing you want to talk about?"
"—Never-ending responsibility, day after day, for the rest of my life," Buffy complained, waving her hands to illustrate her point. The doctor had said she didn't have to lie down, but she had, at some point. She didn't really remember when. It was kind of relaxing, really. Telling her problems to someone, and not having them look worried that she wasn't happy all the time, or tell her she was being selfish, or ignoring her responsibilities? Very nice. That was what she liked about Spike, right? And if she kept seeing the doctor, maybe she'd stop seeing Spike, which would make the whole thing perfect.
"So Dawn's care is weighing heavily on your mind?" the doctor specified.
Buffy blinked. "What? Oh, yeah, Dawn too."
"It wasn't your sister that was causing the concern?"
"Well, it was her … and money … and everything."
"You have money problems?"
"Only in the sense of having no money."
"Where are you getting financial advice?"
"Well, the girlfriend of one of my friends is really … money-friendly."
"Did she come up with any good ideas?"
Buffy rolled her eyes. "Well, she suggested I charge money for—uh, for something I do for free."
The doctor blinked and wrote on her pad Acquaintance attempting to lure patient into prostitution.
"And of course, it was ridiculous. But sometimes I think about what she said and am like, why not? After all, Giles gets paid, right?"
"Giles is the mentor you mentioned previously —he's receiving a salary?"
"But not from you?"
"From someone else, because they think what he does is valuable?"
"Because they think what you do is valuable?"
"Well … yeah."
The doctor stared at her for a moment. "So why are they paying him, and not you?"
Buffy considered the question.
She had no idea.
From the files of Dr. Eleanor Green:
After several visits, Miss Summers seems to be recovering from the depression she was suffering on her first visits, and says she feels more "human." Her general circumstances are improving in some ways—she successfully approached her mentor about receiving a salary (it would be best for me, legally speaking, if I didn't know for what). However, the patient has issues that extend beyond simple depression.
The patient recently recovered from a coma lasting several months, the result of a rooftop fall. Claims it was accidental, but the way she avoids the topic suggests a possible suicide attempt.
She has a difficult time dealing with the expectations of others; not disappointing her friends seems to be a primary motivating force in her life.
She deeply feels her responsibility for her younger sister, who is acting out in school, with boys, etc. Patient describes sister as displaying unusually infantile behavior for a teenager, needy and constantly demanding excessive care. I have requested that she bring her sister to her next session, to shed some light on their relationship.
When asked about romantic life, says men leave her and she doesn't want to date anymore, a strangely resigned attitude for a twenty-year-old. The father is the classic answer, but there are obvious gaps in the stories she tells me about her boyfriends.
Despite her expressed wish never to date again, Miss Summers has begun seeing a new man ("Spike"), although she repeatedly expresses disapproval of him. When I queried why she would date him, she said he was the only person who didn't make her feel "strange." Refused to expand on this despite prompting. Occasionally she claims they are not dating, and later contradicts herself.
The magnitude of the "Spike" problem was revealed when I was shopping for a birthday gift for my niece. As I was standing in the exceedingly slow-moving line (note to self: see about exclusively shopping online in the future), I browsed through the "oldies" bargain bin by the checkstand and noticed a man on one of the albums who looked strikingly familiar; I realized I'd recently heard him described in minute detail. It wasn't until I was nearly home that I realized where I'd heard the description, so precise it was as if we were looking at the same picture.
Miss Summers believes she is dating Billy Idol.
"Dawn, tell me about your relationship with Buffy."
Dawn shrugged. "She acts all weird."
"Weird how?" asked Dr. Green.
"Well, she keeps telling me how much she loves me, but she never wants to be around me."
"Dawn, that's not true!" Buffy protested weakly. She loved Dawn more than she could say—she'd died for her, didn't she? What more could she do? But if anything, Dawn looked at her even more expectantly than the others. Like she was a black maw of attention-sucking adolescence.
"Whatever," Dawn mumbled. "You don't want to be around me, you spend all of your time patro—taking walks, and whenever Spike comes by you get all—"
The doctor interrupted. "Spike?"
"Yeah, she treats him like dirt but he just keeps coming around, so you'd th—"
"Gotta say, glad she's doing this. She hasn't quite been herself since she, uh—"
"Came out of the coma," Buffy said hastily. "Accidentally falling off a rooftop would leave anyone in a coma."
"Coma, check. Anyway, I just never expected she'd want to go in couples' therapy."
"This is not couples' therapy!" Buffy exploded.
"Well, we're a couple, and here we are, hashing out our relationship—"
"My god, what's wrong with you? The only reason you said that was to make me feel uncomfortable," she accused.
"What, like you're going around thinking 'couples'—"
"I most certainly do, I think 'couples' all the time!"
"Sure, you're always just couplescouples handcuffs couples slash kill couples couples?"
"Slash kill?" asked a faint voice.
Buffy froze as she remembered the doctor's presence. "Spike—uh, Spike used to—"
"Used to be a football player. You know, real football, not that sissified American rugby. So I'm all manly and aggressive when sports are on the telly. Slash, kill," Spike supplied helpfully.
The doctor raised an eyebrow. "And the handcuffs?"
Buffy tried to think of an answer, and stared hard at the painting on the wall behind the doctor. Which didn't help her. Neither did shutting her eyes and wishing she wasn't there.
"Don't worry, those are just for sex," Spike said reassuringly.
"I can't believe you punched me right in front of the doctor," said Spike, stomping away from the medical complex
"Stop saying that," Buffy mumbled.
"I thought her eyes were gonna pop outta her head—"
"That's because you called me Slayer!"
"Well, I was a little surprised, what with you giving my nose a crack! Besides, she was too distracted by your disturbing tendency towards violence to notice that."
"You weren't complaining about my disturbing tendency towards violence last night!"
"Yeah, I tend to be more forgiving when you've got your legs wrapped around my head. Sue me."
"Shut up! I can't believe you were sitting there like, like—"
"Sprawled there, cupping yourself!"
"Oy! Was not!"
"Yes, you were!"
"Fine, maybe I was," he sneered. "I don't know. I don't exactly sit and stare at my parts; other people do that for me. Mostly you."
"You are such an asshole!"
Buffy stopped, infuriated. "That's right. Vampire. This is over. We can't see each other anymore."
Spike's jaw dropped. "What?"
"You heard me."
He looked stricken for a moment, but then she could see that familiar confidence returning. Had she ever been that confident? "You know couples often argue after therapy sessions, right? Stirs up the resentments."
"Oh my god, do you just sit around your crypt watching Oprah all day?"
"Can't go out," he protested logically. "Fights are the spice of any relationship."
Buffy sniffed derisively. "Maybe in your creepy relationships, but I've had real ones."
"Real ones? Tell you what, you have one that lasts for a hundred years and you can tell me you had a real one."
"A hundred years? Excuse me, mortal, remember?"
"Well, how about lasting two? I haven't seen you manage that. Harris and his bint have been together longer than you and any of your assorted losers, and that's just sad."
The urge to punch him again was overwhelming, but Buffy ignored it. The doctor was right, she didn't have to hit people when she was angry. And she didn't have to take people treating her like this.
"It's over," she repeated stonily, and left Spike standing on the sidewalk behind her.
"I broke up with Spike," mumbled Buffy. God only knew why she wasn't happier. She should be all sunshiny and lollipoppy, right? Giddy. She had an income, Dawn wasn't acting out … as much … and Buffy no longer wished she was dead. She should be freaking delighted. Possibly dancing
Okay, not dancing. Definitely not dancing. Possibly never dancing again. And certainly no singing.
The doctor paused her note taking. "I can't say I'm surprised," she said after a moment. "What precipitated the breakup?"
Buffy sputtered. "Wasn't it obvious?" The doctor raised an eyebrow. "I mean … did you see him? He's like this stereotypical bad boy with the bleached hair and the attitude and the cupping, and he's bad for me!"
"Bad for you," repeated Dr. Green, scribbling in her notebook. "How so?"
"Well, he … the sex," Buffy finally hissed.
"The sex was bad?"
"No, the sex was amaz—I mean, that's not what I meant! What I meant was, it was secretive and … you know. With the handcuffs and everything."
"He pressured you into rough sex?"
"No, he didn't pressure me," Buffy said after a minute. "But I never did it before, and it's not good."
"It made you uncomfortable."
"Well, I've never been involved with a guy like him before. And god knows everybody went bonkers last time," she added, shivering a little as she recalled the confusion over the Buffybot.
"Last time what?"
"They, uh, thought I was involved with him."
"And they were upset?"
"Yeah, they…." Buffy thought back a little. "Actually, they just seemed concerned—I was the one who freaked out. But when we were engaged, they really went nuts. I mean, we drove Giles to drink!"
"You were engaged?" Dr. Green blurted out, forgetting her professional demeanor.
"There were extenuating circumstances!" Buffy said weakly.
The doctor looked at her blankly.
"We weren't in our right minds…."
"You were drunk?"
"Umm … something like that."
"So you've repeatedly become involved with this man over the course of the last few years?"
"Well, uh … yeah."
"Why'd you become involved with him this time?"
Buffy fell silent. She'd asked herself that enough times, come close to and then shied away from the answer. "Because he didn't pressure me," she whispered. "He loves me. I mean, I tell him he's a monster and can't feel, but he does. He was the only one who didn't look at me expectantly. Their expectations—god, that's the worst part. I already have to live with what I expect. I can't handle what they expect, too."
"What do they expect from you?"
She wasn't supposed to talk about them this way. They loved her, she knew that; Spike wasn't the only one. They just showed it differently. "Everything," she muttered guiltily.
"Are their expectations reasonable?"
Buffy shrugged. "Some of them."
"But the others aren't?"
Buffy stared at the ceiling in frustration. "Maybe they are. But I'm so sick of trying to meet them. They just never end."
"Sometimes friends are right."
"No kidding," Buffy mumbled.
"And sometimes they're wrong. Buffy, you're an adult. You have to make your own decisions."
"What if I don't know what I want?"
"Buffy, you just have to follow your heart."
"My heart doesn't always make great decisions," Buffy grumped.
The doctor was silent for a moment, looking at her seriously. "If you can't trust your own heart, what can you trust?"
The door to Spike's crypt swung open with a crash, and Spike leapt out of his chair warily. This was the Slayer's traditional method of entering to shag him, but also her traditional method of entering to threaten his life. In the past he could usually guess which, but now he had no idea.
Buffy stomped right up to him. "You're on probation!"
Spike frowned, puzzled. "I thought you said I was in prison."
"I don't mean your chip, I mean with me. We're gonna try it. But you're on probation, mister. No you-belong-in-the-dark-with-me, no you've-got-no-one-else. Got it?"
"I got it," he said immediately. No need to tell him twice. When he was alone he'd hoot and holler and scream with joy, but for now he'd play it cool.
"No smart remark?"
"No ma'am," he said obediently. He wasn't stupid. If he was getting some blasted miracle, damned if he was going to mess it up.
"Okay then. You coming to dinner?"
"Where? At your house?" he blurted, surprised. He'd had to worm his way in like a thief every freaking time the last couple of months, and now she was inviting him to dinner? Like a boyfriend? Like a person? "What about the others?"
"What about them?"
"They won't like it," he pointed out.
"We're seeing if I like it," Buffy corrected.
Spike sniffed a little. "What if I don't like it?"
Buffy stepped closer and put her face close to his. She could read the hope clearly; it was barely hidden beneath the bravado. "You'll like it," she said certainly, a whisper of promise in her voice.
He believed her.
From the files of Dr. Eleanor Green:
Miss Summers is making good progress on her depression and other issues. She has now paid off her bills, and her sister is in therapy with a psychologist who specializes in troubled adolescents. She has renewed her relationship with Spike, and after a rocky start her friends seem to have adjusted reasonably well.
However, continued counseling has revealed a series of odd occurrences involving her friends, and she thinks several of them would benefit from therapy as well. During her last session she brought along her friend Willow Rosenberg.
I've cleared my calendar.