DISCLAIMER: Joss Whedon...etc., etc., etc. ... Mutant Enemy...

so on, so on, and so on ... Bottom line: not mine.

A/N: It's been a looooooong time since I wrote in the Buffy fandom. This story is an old one, but, as wasn't around when I started writing fic, I'm posting them here for the first time. Feedback is always welcome, always remembering that much of what you will find in my Buffy fiction was written when the show aired and thus reflects the reality at that time. For that reason, some events will not match up with happened on air after I had written a particular story.

Series notes (please read): This set of twelve vignettes and an epilogue was written between the 5th and 6th seasons. Each vignette is short and told from the point of view of one of the characters Buffy touched. They can be read in any order.

She Should (Anya)

Dust settled. It always does. Cuts closed up. That's the way it happens. Bruises faded. Their colors are never permanent. Lives, with shudders and jerks, pauses and rewinds, went on. Almost.

No one said her name. When Angel came up, tangled in his grief, snared in his fury, held fast by his undying love, we all just talked about "her". It was the best any of us could do. Angel couldn't stop saying her name.

At first, everyone went about saying what they should have done differently, how things would have changed ... if only. Giles stopped that. "She" wouldn't have wanted us to, he reminded us.

"She wanted me to live. For her. We all owe it to her," Dawn had added, her voice flat and bitter, like storm clouds across the moon.

We buried her on a day when the sun shone. Angel and Spike stood, beneath heavy cloaks, underneath a near-by tree. Neither of them could deny her the sunlight she had loved, the sunlight in which it seemed to her she so seldom walked. All of us knew it was

a farce. We committed her body to the unending night of ground.

We ached and we cried and we wondered who would be called next. We waited for her until Giles told us it was unlikely she would come to Sunnydale. His time as a Watcher had ended he said on a dark night in the worst Spring of his life. He settled down to be a watcher of a different sort - Dawn's father, as her own apparently couldn't be bothered.

The rest of us tried to stop seeing evil lurking around every corner. We tried pretending that with her death, the vampires and demons had gone too. Willow and Tara took summer classes. Xander went to work each day. Spike quivered around the edges of the group, not knowing where he fit, but keeping his promise to Buffy to protect Dawn. No one had the energy to stop him. In truth, no one wanted to. We'd all seen how much he'd lost. His tears had fallen first. We all took turns patrolling though.

On a day, about a month after her death, a day much like the one on which we'd buried her, Xander reminded me of the ring he carried in his pocket. Funny, but he did - carry it in his

pocket, that is. Almost as if he was waiting for the right time to ask again, to sink to one knee and say all the mushy things. I don't know if there will ever be starry-eyed romance in our

lives again. Somehow, it would feel wrong, like cheating, having something she can't have ever again, something she gave up for all of us. But it's all right.

The look in his eyes when he opened the box made me ache. Maybe I'd forgotten, or changed my mind his face said. Maybe without the 'thrill' of helping the Slayer, I wouldn't find him interesting anymore his eyes told me. Maybe I didn't love him I thought I heard his heart whisper as it pounded in his chest.

"I love you," I reminded him as I held out my hand. I closed my eyes and lived in the feel of that ring slipping onto my finger. My life had made a full circle. I caught the gasp in my throat and swallowed it. The gasp of remembering that her life would never be a full circle, that she'd never had the chance. Not like the rest of us, anyway.

"You ... um ... didn't - " he hesitated, "I mean, I thought ... maybe ..."

I smiled at him and wondered if he could see the film of moisture shining in my eyes. "I didn't think it would be - so soon after ..."

He kissed me.

"Every time you kiss me, I feel a little more human," I confided.

"You are human," he told me, with a half smile. All of our smiles were measured in fractions.

"I'm trying," I replied. I looked down at my finger where the diamond sparkled. "Do you think it's all right?"

He knew. "We won't tell anyone for a while."

I nodded. I didn't need to tell anyone.

A few weeks later Dawn was in the shop with me. Giles had gone to the bank and Dawn was reading. I sat down across from Dawn and began going over inventory sheets.

"You should go ahead with it," she said.

I looked at her. She had put the book down and was staring at me. At my hand.

I slipped my hand into my lap. "Wi- wi-with what?" I stammered.

Dawn smiled at me, still only a fractional smile, but one with more peace than we'd seen in ... since then. "You. And Xander."

"What about Xander and me...I?" I asked, trying to sound diffident.

She raised her eyes to mine. "You should get married. Soon." Her voice rustled, silk on wheat, soft, dry, gentle, yet scratched and flawed by the passage over her vocal cords.

I considered stalling her, lying. A white lie. One to make things more comfortable. But none of seem to be able to do that any more. Her death made us honest with one another. All of us.

"We're waiting," I explained.

"For a better time?" Dawn asked.

I nodded.

"Don't." She was almost commanding. "We have to stop pretending we're living our lives. We're not."

I looked at her, wishing for Giles. "What do you mean?" I asked at last.

She sighed. "She told me the hardest thing was to live in the world. None of us have lived in it since that night. It's like we're shadows - or - or - those robots, like the one Spike had built. We say we're living. We do things. But we don't feel any of it."

I thought about that. I stared at my hands and listened, in my head, for the sound of my heartbeat. I used to do that all the time after Cordelia's failed wish trapped me here. I used

to curse each time I heard it. Now, I longed for that sound, the sensation.

"We all have blood coursing through our veins," Dawn said when I remained silent. "But none of us are doing anything with it. She died ... Buffy died, gave her blood so we could live. We

have to stop wasting it."

I reached across the space between us and put one of my hands on hers. "You're right," I agreed. "But it takes time."

I didn't hear Dawn's muttered reply.

Dawn told them all a few weeks later, having tired, I guess, of waiting for us to start living again.

So, here we are. Summer is almost over, but the days are still bright and sunny and mostly warm. We're getting married in the same sunlight she would have liked. We're having a picnic

afterwards because she always liked picnics and there just weren't enough of them in her life.

Giles is giving me away. Dawn is my maid of honor and Willow is Xander's best woman. Tara is here and Spike hides beneath the shade trees. It's like nothing I'd ever dreamt of and I wouldn't change it for anything. It's perfect. Almost.

I glance around and see the people to whom I am bound by ties of friendship, passion, and love. And blood.

The cuts have healed. The bruises have faded. And we have moved beyond a past that will never be over. Almost.

The justice of the peace asks for the rings. I turn to get Xander's from Dawn and to give her my small bouquet. I whisper, "She should have been here."

Dawn smiles. It's a whole smile. Almost.

"She is. She's in all of us," Dawn whispers. "Buffy is always here."