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.

I Am Not There (Buffy's Epilogue)

Willow found the envelope a few weeks after the funeral. It was tucked into one of her spell books. She pushed it aside at first because she figured it was an ingredient for some spell she'd wanted to try. It was the sort of envelope Giles used at the store, after all.

Tara was the one who opened it. "What's this?" she asked, picking the thick packet up, smiling her gentle smile. "Spell stuff?"

Willow shrugged, gazing at the other girl with rapt, unbelieving adoration. It still seemed so hard to believe she was Tara again. She smiled. She sighed. She laughed at Willow's stupid jokes. They cuddled at night and held hands while walking. They apologized in hushed whispers about the fight they'd had before Glory had found Tara. Tara held Willow when the tears over Buffy leaked out, like they did almost every day. Tara rocked her and made up stories about the wonderful place Buffy must be in now.

"Hey," Tara said, exclaiming in her soft way. "It's a letter."

"It is?" Willow asked.

Tara nodded.

"That's weird. It was in my backpack," Wil explained.

Tara looked at it more closely. Her eyes clouded over and her mouth twitched as it tightened. "It - it's from B-B-Buf-Buffy," she stuttered.

Willow stared at her.

"Do you want me to - I could ... it doesn't hurt so much for me, you know?" Tara asked, offering to fulfill this obligation for her lover.

Willow shook her head. "I'll read it." She looked at Tara through eyes already shedding tears.

Tara handed it over. "I'll make some tea," the blonde said.

Willow nodded, hearing the click only distantly as the door shut, as she began to read.

"Dear Wil," it started, "If you're reading this I'm either dead or really lousy at stealing stuff from your backpack. If it's the second one, please stop now and give this back to me, OK?

"But it's not the second one, Wil. Don't ask me how I know it; I just do. Death is my gift and I'm beginning to suspect she didn't mean the death I deal to vamps and other baddies. I only hope it's going to have some meaning."

Willow pulled a tissue from the box near her and murmured, "Oh, Buffy."

"You were my best friend, Wil, the best friend a girl, a Slayer, could have ever had. I don't know what I would have done without you over the years. I'm glad I never had to find out. Even when I was in Los Angeles that summer, I thought of you every day and it made me feel ... not so alone even though I knew you were probably really mad at me. I'm rambling. Sorry. You know that happens when I get nervous.

"I'm about to ask you to do a big favor for me. I know it's going to be hard for you to do. I also know you'll do it. In this envelope are letters for everyone I loved. Will you give them to each person? Please? I don't care if you do it all at once or go around to everyone one at a time. Let Tara help you. (I have a feeling you're going to get her back; you love her too much to let her go, just like how much I love Dawn - ohhhh, please don't check my grammar, OK?). Please?

"One of my mom's friends - from that book group she was in. Remember the one with Pat, who turned into the - sorry, probably not important right now-" Willow stopped with a sob. She could hear Buffy's voice in her head. She took a deep breath. "-right now. Anyway, one of my mom's friends gave me this little poem one day when she stopped by the house after ... afterwards. It's corny, I know, but I think there's something true in it, too, Wil. She gave me a whole bunch of cards with it on them. She said that way I could leave them lying around and just 'find' one whenever I might need it. I seriously questioned my mom's sanity in joining that book group, let me tell you. But you know, it turns out there were enough cards to go with the letters."

Will shook the envelope and a cascade of laminated cards fell out. She picked on up. It was about the size of a playing card, white, printed with pink flowers at the bottom and dark, clear writing in the middle.

Willow read it.

She was lying on her stomach, face in her pillow, when Tara returned with the tea. Tara could see the sobs wracking her girlfriend's body. She said nothing, but went to her and laid down with her, wrapping her arms around her and crooning soft nonsense sounds.

When Willow had ceased crying, she told Tara about Buffy's request. She didn't offer to show her the letter and she never would. She wouldn't be able to read it all herself until later, but it would always be private. All the letters would be.

"What - How should we - I - do this?" Willow stumbled.

Tara brushed sodden hair from Willow's blotched face. "We," she assured her. "And together."

Willow looked at her, eyes round and uncertain. "Are you sure?"

Tara nodded. "You were all stronger together."

Willow smiled for a brief instant. "We're stronger together," she corrected.

Tara blushed. She offered to make phone calls while Willow had some tea and got ready.

They met at the shop. Angel had still been in town, checking on Dawn, helping them clean up the things that came through the portals, so everyone for whom Buffy had left a final message was there. He and Spike glared at one another, but said nothing. They'd more or less behaved since the night Xander had yelled at them, reminding them point blank that Buffy hadn't sacrificed herself so the two of them could spend their time figuring out whose was bigger. Watching both vamps silenced by a boy they regarded with a lot of contempt had been a sight, even if the image Xander's words conjured up was a bit much.

Tara stood next to Willow. Willow took a long, deep breath and let it out with a shaky sigh. "I found something this afternoon. In my bag. Something Buffy put there ... before."

Everyone looked away.

Tara squeezed Willow's hand. "She had a feeling she was going to die," Willow continued. Her voice shook constantly and she had to grip the chair back in front of her to remain upright. She just wanted to get it over with. "She left all of us letters and - um - these little cards. She asked me to give them to you all."

They looked at her again. Everyone looked, if possible, more miserable than before.

"Do you - uh - know what's in 'em?" Xander asked.

Willow shook her head. "Only mine."

Xander nodded once. He figured Willow wouldn't peek, but he wished she would have, just that once. He felt Anya's hand slip into his and he wanted to be alone with her, holding her to him, making love to her, remembering that life is precious. He wanted to be married to her and spend his life with her and never forget Buffy, but didn't know if he could take this. He looked up at Willow. He sighed. He could take it. He had to.

Willow had organized the letters, each enclosed in its own envelope and hastily marked in Buffy's loopy handwriting, alphabetically. She walked to the corner where Angel stood and laid the letter in his hands. Then to a very surprised Anya. Next was Dawn who was weeping audibly. On to Giles. Spike. Tara. And Xander.

Xander looked up again at Willow. "There wasn't one for...?"

Willow shook her head, her gaze falling downward.

Xander nodded and made an indistinct noise of mild surprise.

"She asked me, if he ever came back, to tell him she was sorry," Willow murmured so that only Xander could hear.

Before opening his letter, Xander glanced over at Anya. He thought how Buffy always surprised him. Even in death, the Slayer would reach out and gather her family to her.

"Dear Anya," the girl read, "We've never been close. There's lots of reasons for that. You - former vengeance demon; me - Slayer; kind of on different sides of the whole good and evil thing. For a while. See, a lot of people at Sunnydale High judged me based on one side of me they saw. Or so I thought until Prom night, when I found out sometimes people see more than you think they do; they just have a hard time admitting it.

"You're probably wondering what I'm talking about. Well, for a long time I only saw one side of you. And I didn't trust you. I worried about Xander and his being involved with you. Like Willow, I thought you'd hurt him. Or worse. And then Xander talked some sense into me about Riley. While he was going on about everything I was missing out on and the mistakes I'd made, I realized how much he loves you. I realized you make him happy.

"I think - I hope - that was when I began to see another side of you. I began to see the girl that makes my wonderful friend that happy. I know after so long in your previous life, our lives aren't always easy for you. Believe me, I know about feeling out of place and uncertain of what to do next. I also know you really tried and it was because you love Xander. You love him in the ways and with the intensity he should be loved. I wish I'd had more time to get to know you, to become your friend, because I think you're going to make Xander happy for a very long time and for that, I'm grateful to you."

Anya refolded the letter quietly when she had done. She slumped in the chair and watched Xander's face. From time to time, she glanced at the others.

Tara had taken a seat on the stairs and her hair hid most of her face, but she was crying. The sniffling sounds made it obvious.

"Dear Tara," hers began, "You and I have two important bonds - our mothers died before they should have and we both love Willow. I never really got to thank you for telling me about your mom. It helped me deal with it a little more, knowing, by watching you, that it had to get better, that I could always love her, but my life would have to go on.

"I didn't know you all that well, but I meant it when I told your father you're part of our family. You love Willow and she loves you and that makes you one of us. Please take care of her in the days and weeks and years to come. Whatever happened, she's likely to think she could have done something more. You and I both know that's not true.

"Let her take care of you. She was so lost when Glory hurt you, but she never gave up. She never stopped loving you and she never will.

"I wish I had more to say to you, but I don't think you're the sort who needs lots of words, just the right ones. I hope I've found them."

Had Buffy known that her final gift to Tara, to Anya, would be to make them feel so accepted? Not simply as someone involved with another member of the group, but as a friend, as someone important and special. Tara lifted her eyes and exchanged glances with Anya. Anya's eyes were red. She held up the small card enclosed with the letter and Tara remembered to read it.

Spike had gone out back to read his letter. Being in the same room with Angel was impossible. Besides out here he could smoke without getting glares from the mortals.

"Dear Spike," it started, "Surprised? Don't be. Think maybe your robot wrote this? She didn't. I don't know what to believe anymore. It might even be possible that you do love me and that it isn't a perverse joke by some weird, higher power. I do know that you protect my sister, that you care about her. I've seen you fight for her. I trust you to take care of her. You know that.

"At first, I didn't trust you; I just knew you were the only person physically strong enough to look after her. Then, I asked you to find a way to get us out of Sunnydale after Glory found out about Dawn and you did. I watched you hold a sword in your bare hands so I could get on the roof and fight those lunatic crusaders. I realized I'd trusted you for a lot longer than I cared to admit.

"I know you don't think I love you. I don't. Not in the way you want me to. I don't know if I ever could. I will always love Angel. You know that, too. But, Spike, I have made a place for you in my heart. You have become important to me as more than someone who can help save Dawn. You are what I never imagined myself saying - a friend.

"Dawn, my kid sister but not really, is my heart. If I'm gone, she's all that's left of me. Please stay and protect her. I hope it won't be from Glory; I don't think it will be. But there will be other things that can hurt her - vamps, demons, ogres known as high school boys with too many hormones and not enough manners. Stay and protect her from herself. She listens to you. She adores you. Stay because you once loved a blond Slayer and in Dawn's heart, you'll always find that girl."

Spike crushed out the cigarette he'd lit but never smoked. He looked into the night sky and wondered if she could see them all. He shook his head once and covered his face with his hand briefly. The stars above doubled and trebled as he looked at them anew, prismed through watery eyes. Slowly, he brought the fingers of one hand to his lips and kissed them softly. He lowered his hand on a diagonal and imagined the light touch of sentiment floating into the heavens, hoping it found her.

Dawn stared at her letter for a long time, unable to open it, unwilling to set it on the table in front of her. She watched the others, followed Spike out with her eyes and she glared at her name on the stiff envelope in her hands. Anya, sitting closest to Dawn, reached over and took one of Dawn's hands in hers. Dawn looked up and found Anya's watery smile reassuring. Dawn raised an eyebrow in mute questioning. Anya nodded slowly. Dawn took a deep breath and opened the envelope.

"Dear Dawn," it started, "I'm sorry. Sorry for all the times I yelled at you, teased you, ignored you, or said all the things big sisters say to little sisters. I'm sorry I didn't tell you myself about the Key stuff and I wish I knew how to fix it. I know what it's like to have this weird, mystical 'destiny' in your life, to not be a kid anymore, to wish everything was like it used to be. I'm sorry I can't make it all better, Dawnie.

"I hope if you're reading this it means Glory is gone and you're safe. You have my friends - our friends. And Giles. They'll take care of you and love you, but I wish I could have been there to watch you grow up, to see what you're going to make of your life. I'm sorry I'll miss all of it.

But Dawn, no matter what happens, or has happened, look inside yourself and I'll always be there. I promise.

I love you, little sister."

Dawn closed her eyes and laid her head on the table. Anya brushed her hair gently and listened as Dawn wept.

Angel stood in the same corner he'd been in, face stoic, back straight. He watched Buffy's friends read their letters, but, like Dawn, he hesitated to read his. It was goodbye, too real, too hard, too impossible to think somewhere inside she'd known what was going to happen and yet had found the strength to leave them all letters.

He looked down at his name, written in her distinct hand, written by the love of his life at a moment when she believed she was facing her own death. He owed it to Buffy to find the strength to read the words she'd had the courage to write.

He began reading. "Dear Angel, I guess they don't make forever like they used to, do they? I always thought I'd live long enough to find some way to be with you always. I guess this Slayer destiny of mine didn't include that in the package.

"I never stopped loving you. Did you ever expect me to? But I understand now why you left. And it's OK. Really. I've grown and changed and learned so much about myself. I think I've had a chance to become the girl you always said was incredible. I wish I could have shared her with you.

"For over a year now, I've been having this dream, this great dream where you were human and we were together. Life felt perfect, just like I'd always wanted it to. We laid in your bed and ate ice cream and peanut butter and chocolate and laughed. There were smiles and tears and ... everything there should have been. It was the best dream of my life and I never would have had it if I hadn't known you. Even with everything we went through, I'd never trade that for anything. Angel, there's so much more I want to say, but I can't find the words and I feel like I'm running out of time.

Whatever happens, I always loved you and I always will."

Angel folded the letter and slipped into his coat pocket. He glanced around the room, saw her friends, aching, mourning, remembering, watched her sister crying. He slipped out the back door and past Spike, whose eyes followed Angel as the dark vamp walked down the alley.

"Leaving so soon?" Spike called out.

"Don't start, Spike," Angel growled.

Spike looked at the pile of cigarette butts at his own feet.

Angel stopped. "She hated you," he informed Spike, not turning around, letting his voice ricochet off the walls.

"No, mate, she didn't," Spike told him. "Even trusted her baby sister to me."

"I'll never understand that," Angel protested.

Spike smiled to himself. "You don't have to," he said. "You can get on back to your mates in Los Angeles and I'll keep watching out over the ones here."

"Why doesn't that make me feel any better?" Angel asked.

Spike shook his head. "It's not about you; it's about them. You seen them asking old Spike to leave?"

"They're grieving," Angel said.

"Nah, they know I was there, know I fought just as hard as they did. They know which side I'm on."

Angel snorted. "For how long?"

"Just what I told Buffy - until the end of the world," Spike answered.

Angel shook his head and began walking down the alley again.

"Where you going?" Spike called after him.

"To kill something."

"Yeah? Try Rest Haven. Rumor says there's a nest there," Spike told him.

Angel turned, face vamped out. "I'd rather try this alley, Spike, but for some unbelievable reason, those people in there would probably get mad at me."

Spike grinned maliciously.

Angel turned around and strode away. Spike lit another cigarette and chuckled bitterly to himself. Glancing down at the letter still clutched in his free hand, he muttered, "I'd let the poof stake me if it'd bring you back."

Giles had gone into the training room to read his letter. He sat where he'd sat with her the last time. The speed bag still lay, chain links twisted and broken, on the floor. It looked uncomfortably like a body. He rested his head against the wall for long, quiet moments, hearing her in his head, hearing that ominous, defeated, unassailable "If Dawn dies, I'm done. I quit." If only ... not that he would have wanted to sacrifice Dawn, but ...

He sighed and opened the envelope, smiling softly at the handwriting it had taken his proper British eyes months to understand.

"Dear Giles," she had written, "There was a time when I wished I'd never met you, didn't want you to be a part of my life. I didn't want to be the Slayer, didn't want all the stuff that came with it, didn't want to follow your rules, or listen to speeches and criticisms and all the rest. That time is so long ago now, I can't even believe it was me.

"I love you, Giles, like you were my dad. You've been my father through more important life stuff than my own father and I wouldn't have made it this far without you. No one else has given up as much for me as you have. No one else put up with so much, either - the teasing over the years, the lack-of-rule following, and lots of other things I wish I could take back. But you were always there, never let me down, even when it ended up costing you your post as Watcher.

"We both knew this day would come, even though we've never wanted to say it. By all rights, it should have come four years ago, but I cheated it. We cheated it. You let me do what no Slayer had ever done - have friends and those friends saved me, saved us. It bought me years I wasn't supposed to have and, even if it hasn't always been obvious, I've appreciated them.

"Take care of my sister and my friends. We all think we're very grown up, but you're the only real grown-up. Even Spike ... and Angel. They never had a chance to grow up, not really. Please make sure they all have a chance to get old gracefully, just like you gave me time I wouldn't have had with any other Watcher.

"I will always love you..."

Giles pulled his glasses off and brushed tears from his eyes. Had she understood, in the garage in the desert? He'd thought he would die and he'd tried to tell her. She had meant the world to him, had been the daughter he would never have. He felt now it was not too late - she had understood.

He glanced down at the card she'd enclosed and began to read it.

Still sitting next to Anya, reaching out to stroke her hand every so often, Xander read Buffy's letter with great deliberateness. She'd never been one for communicating in writing, so her doing this meant that much more.

"Dear Xan, Do me a favor - go to Belgium some day, OK?" went the first sentence. Xander smiled a small smile in spite of himself. "I'm serious - take Anya and go see whatever there is to see in Belgium. 'Cause I'm not going to get to.

"I couldn't have done this, been the Slayer, without you. I hope you know that. You were always there no matter what, always backed me up, even when you didn't agree with me. You kept me honest, made me see when I'd really screwed up, and always forgave me in the end. Those were your gifts to me. I want you to know I always valued them, even if I didn't say it often enough.

"I love you, Xan. You and Wil. Was there ever anything the three of us couldn't get through together?

"You gave some advice a few months ago. It didn't work out for me, but I realized something. The only reason you could talk to me about Riley the way you did is because of how much you love Anya. A long time ago, I may have been the love of your youth, but she is the love of your life. I'm so happy for you, happy that you found her. Don't let her go, Xan. Be happy. Promise me. Have and do all the things I was never meant to have.

"Most people don't get one amazing, incredible, true best friend in their lives. I got two. I'll always love you."

Xander closed his eyes and saw her as she had once been and always would be in his memory: beautiful, vibrant, strong. Loving her had hurt, but it had taught him to see people for what's really inside and not just what he wanted to see. He was no longer afraid of what life had to offer because in her short life she had shown him how to get the best out of the worst a person could face. He glanced at Anya, then turned toward Willow.

Willow smiled softly at him.

She had finished her letter before meeting them all and didn't feel up to re-reading it yet. But she thought of it, thought of Buffy's final words, the ones meant just for her after Buffy had asked her favor.

It had continued, "I love you, Wil. You were the first real friend I ever had and you mean the world to me. Without you, without Xander, I would have given up a long time ago. I kind of hoped that the three of us would get old together, maybe learn to play Bridge, go to dinner at four in the afternoon, and wash our fake teeth together at night. Grow old for me, Wil. Take care of each other, all of you. That was supposed to be my job, but a long time ago, you and Xander changed that. You took care of me just as much as I ever did of you.

"I love you, Wil. Always."

Willow gazed around at all of them, returning slowly to the table. Giles had walked in from the training room, moving as though he'd been beaten, face pale and grim. Spike sat in his accustomed perch, looking down the table at everyone. He met Willow's eyes and nodded briefly at her. Tara had come back and was sitting in a chair close to Willow. Xander had moved closer to Anya and held her hand gently, rubbing her fingers with an absent minded tenderness. Dawn no longer wept, but her head remained down, her hair still stroked slowly by Anya's free hand. Angel came in the back door, looking more grim than Giles, in full on brood mode. His hands looked dusty. He looked at Willow, then looked away.

"Sunnydale a bit safer now, eh mate?" Spike asked.

"A bit," retorted Angel with thinly veiled menace in his voice.

"Could you two not?" Xander asked tiredly.

Both vamps looked down at the floor. Whatever they each muttered was lost and no one cared to ask.

Everyone was silent, looking around uncomfortably.

At last, Giles spoke, "She's right, you know."

Most of them looked puzzled.

Tara answered the mute questions. "Everything that made her Buffy isn't in that grave."

They looked from Tara to Giles.

"Everything that made Buffy who she was is in this room," Giles told them. "In our memories and in our hearts. That was what she was telling all of us."

Heads nodded. Eyes filled with tears. And deep within, in each of them, hearts mended the tiniest bit.

END

The poem Buffy gave to her friends:

Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not there. I do not sleep.

I am a thousand winds that blow.

I am the diamond glints on snow.

I am the sunlight on ripened grain.

I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the morning's hush

I am the swift uplifting rush

of quiet birds in circled flight.

I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry.

I am there; I did not die