The young woman flexed her hands around the steering wheel she was fiercely gripping, and she tried to convince herself that nobody could see her maniac grin hidden by her helmet. Her mood was considerably different from what she'd felt just months ago.
The instant Buffy Summers opened her eyes early in the morning, she knew that this day was going to be what she'd been dreading for the last week. No, no, not the day of her 'special friend.' That had been two weeks ago. Though, this event deserved its own quotation marks.
As Buffy stared up at the ceiling from lying in her bed, the overpowering sense of depression flattening her very soul informed the woman that today was going to be the 'blah' day.
"Really, Buffy, a more accurate medical description would be a 'maniac-depression phase caused by serious post-traumatic stress disorder,' not…not….something that was created by onomatopoeia!"
In her comfortable chair in the doctor's office, Buffy wryly smiled at the earnest older man seated across the desk from her. Those who knew her well would have been surprised by her feelings about the other person, considering how much the Slayer disliked the medical profession that she'd spent so much time around being treated -- both mentally and bodily -- of her injuries that she'd gained protecting the world from the dark forces. However, Buffy would have loudly informed anyone that there were exceptions, and she genuinely liked the doctor she was seeing for her therapy.
It was true that the man could be a pompous windbag at times, and his brother was a neat freak beyond compare. Plus, both had been married to women that after being described to Buffy, the former Sunnydale resident had mentally catalogued these ex-wives as 'ever-present stench of evil' and 'permanent risk of being staked by mistake.'
However, Doctor Frasier Crane was genuinely first-rate at his psychiatric endeavors, and he truly wished the best for his patients. Whoever or whatever they were. Also, Buffy always had a soft spot for those she had personally saved, as she'd done in the parking structure in Seattle next to the building where Doctor Crane had his radio show.
That specific program had been the reason she'd been there in the first place to save the good doctor from a vampire. One night in the rainy city, she'd been idly listening to the radio in her car while following a vamp to its nest and the rest of the blood-drinking demons for her to Slay, and she'd become interested in a psychiatric talk-show. The guy calmly dispensing advice and encouragement to the weirdest possible callers to his radio show seemed to be very good at his job, and he sounded like he wouldn't be rattled by anything told to him, no matter how ludicrous or offbeat it sounded. Like vampires, demons, and Slayers, including a specific warrior woman who was becoming increasingly worried about her strong feelings of despair and misery that happened like clockwork every few months.
Staking a vampire into ashes hadn't exactly been Buffy's intention of introducing herself to Frasier Crane, but at least it had been extremely convincing in showing the man about the world of the dark, and he'd handled it a lot better than others the blonde woman had known. Instead of being in shock, denying it all, and going back to his disbelieving world, the doctor had spent a few minutes furiously thinking about it, and then he'd wanted to know more. It had ended with them both going to a deserted coffee bar called Café Nervousa, with Buffy telling him as much as she safely could. Including the warning that nobody got out of their world in one piece, and the wounds weren't just to the body, but sometimes to the very soul.
Frasier Crane had just gazed at her then, and a compassionate look had appeared on his face, as he reached out to pat her hand, and gently said, "I'm listening."
It had all ended up with the doctor moving from Seattle to Cleveland, to continue his radio show in his new location, and to treat Buffy and other Slayers for their mental and emotional damages of defending the world from the Hellmouth. Somehow, Frasier had also acquired a few other patients from the uncanny and fantastic side of the universe. Werewolves, benign demons, and other strange creatures seeking relief from their mental troubles had began appearing in his office, all receiving the good doctor's best efforts.
Back in the office, Buffy glanced down at her chair, and idly wondered what the last unearthly patient occupying that piece of furniture had told the man across the desk. Switching her attention back to the doctor waiting for her to further describe her feelings of depression, the young woman smiled at Frasier and asked the question that had suddenly popped into her mind.
"How come you're not totally freaked out by your new patients? I mean, you must be hearing the strangest stuff…."
Frasier keenly eyed the young woman, and wondered if this was a diversion from Buffy trying to avoid talking about her own emotions. Inwardly, he shrugged, adding this data to what he knew about Elizabeth Anne Summers, and dryly answered her question.
"I've had experience with various people, that even if they were human, they were equally eccentric. Though, what I've come to understand now, I have to wonder…." The man looked thoughtful, and started his own question. "Buffy, you must know a lot about demons--"
"Slay, not know," corrected Buffy, shrugging into the doctor's surprised features at her interruption.
"Yes, well," continued Frasier, "I just wanted to ask you, is there an actual demon species that lives solely on beer and has the mental or mystical powers to make sure they never have to pay off a bar tab that equals the national debt?"
Buffy blinked at this outlandish question, and answered honestly, "Not that I ever heard. Why on earth do you want to know?"
"Oh, I just have my suspicions…." brooded Frasier. Looking at Buffy's puzzled face, the doctor harrumphed, and began again. "Now, I think we should get back to business. About your….'blah' days," the older man grimaced at having to use that specific word, but he went on, "there's an interesting fact about them that you may have overlooked. Namely, how they manage to appear with unvarying regularity and predictability every six months."
"Yeah, so?" said Buffy a bit defensively.
Frasier calmly said, "Buffy, while tragic events on a specific day can create feelings of depression and loss every time that anniversary comes around, from what you've told me, there seems to have been nothing explicit during that time period that explain your feelings. Rather, these days of despair seem to express your cumulative weariness about all your pain that's happened in your life since you became the Slayer."
The man watched the woman before him clearly thinking this over, and reluctant agreement beginning to appear on her face. Buffy looked at Frasier, and said a little desperately, "So, how do I get better? I mean, it's not like I can stop being a Slayer, or redo my whole life since I was Called -- well, there was that time with Anya's memory spell, but no thanks, that was really nasty--"
Holding up his hand, Frasier interrupted Buffy's flow. "Yes, yes, I quite agree, along with your refusal to try pharmaceuticals--"
"No!" This time it was Buffy's turn, as her abrupt refusal snapped off Frasier's remarks. The woman had stiffened in her chair, and began to jerkily shake her head, as she growled, "No drugs! I've had enough messing with my mind, with all the pills, potions, the NID's stuff, demon slime, and that damn Cruciamentum drug I had injected, forced down my throat, and otherwise jabbed into my body! Not ever again!"
"BUFFY!" The sudden bark at the top of Frasier's lungs suddenly brought her attention back to the doctor closely watching the blonde. Satisfied she was listening again, the man went on soothingly, "I totally agree with you, Buffy. Mind you, my opinion isn't just because I disapprove of the overindulgence by others in my profession in supplying too many drugs to supposedly cure their patient's ills. Or even the fact that it's unlikely that you could be helped in any serious way, since your body's Slayer abilities would fight off the influences of the medicines, unless they were dispensed in extremely high and possibly dangerous doses."
Despite her sense that Frasier was about to give her some bad news, Buffy was beginning to be pacified by her doctor's calm voice. She watched in silence as the man went on. "But, one odd thing about your days of depression that I should have paid more attention to, was in fact the very regularity of them. To my thinking, that comes of conscious control."
"What!" Buffy stared incredulously at Frasier. "You mean, I WANT to feel like I do?"
Frasier shook his head, correcting her, "Not want to. You need to." At Buffy's disbelieving expression, the doctor went on. "Buffy, you've been under immense mental stress for most of your life, and unless you released this stress in some way, you risked serious psychological damage to your mind. Venting and expressing your anger, sorrow, rage, and other erupting emotions in a safe manner is actually a good sign of a stable personality."
There was quiet in the office for several minutes, as Buffy once again thought it over, only to say in a dubious tone, "Are you telling me that a doctor says it's okay for me to be sick?"
"Not sick." Frasier's own voice was firm, as he held Buffy's gaze. "You've been treating yourself the only way you knew how. What you've been going about it the wrong way is in trying to hide it. You've been keeping this from your friends, correct?"
"Well, yeah," mumbled Buffy, looking a little ashamed. "I've been usually going out to a motel for the day and getting through it there."
"I think you should change that, Buffy." The doctor sternly stared at his patient. "From now on, during those specific days, stay in your own room and bed in the Cleveland Slayers House, where you feel safe and comfortable. Most important, tell your friends what's going on--" At Buffy's panicked look, Frasier hastily went on, "You don't have to be specific. Just tell them you're having a bad day, and you want to be left alone during that time. In fact, just call it a sick day. I think they'd accept that, don't you?"
"Um….yes. Considering all we've been through together, they might guess just why I'm behaving that way." Buffy stared off into the space over Frasier's head, and then she frowned, bringing her gaze back down to look into the doctor's eyes, to hesitantly say, "Is that…why I kind of feel so bad about it all, on those days? I love them, but I sometimes feel both guilty about getting them into this life, and also furious at them over what they've done to me."
Frasier faintly chuckled, and went on at Buffy's half-inquiring, half-offended look, "It's called being part of a family, Buffy. Knowing things about them and also knowing they know all too much about you….sometimes loving them more than anyone in the world, and then being totally unable to stand them…. In the end, be satisfied with knowing that your life would be empty and a lot poorer without them, Buffy." The man's eyes sparkled, as he clearly thought about his own family.
"Oookay," drawled Buffy, getting up to her feet, and reaching out to shake the hand of her doctor, who'd also arisen from his chair. Despite their session clearly being over, Buffy hesitated before turning to leave, looking at Frasier, and plaintively said, "This is just a start, right? It's not a cure, I know that. Just….a beginning on trying to get better."
Frasier Crane smiled at a young woman he deeply admired, and gently said, "The most difficult journeys never get less harder, at the beginning, the middle, and the end, to the goal. But then you've known that all your life, haven't you, Buffy?"
In her bed, sobbing and shaking from her memories, the young woman clung to what comfort she could from her recent session with her doctor.
Much later, the door to Buffy's room finally opened, and she walked out. Several baby Slayers who'd had the misfortune to be present at that exact occasion, passing by in the corridor of the former boarding school that had been retrofitted to the new Cleveland Slayers House, promptly flattened themselves against the walls, as the original Slayer drifted by, with this woman not paying the younger girls the slightest bit of attention.
Buffy was dressed all in black. Her black pants, black t-shirt, and black baseball cap pulled down over her face had this monochrome broken only by the pale vestiges of her features not hidden by the cap, and also her pure white bare feet pressing on the carpet of the house corridor.
By now, every other person living in the Slayers House knew what this meant, and how to behave when this happened. All of the baby Slayers stood frozen like statues until Buffy was well down the corridor, and then the girl furthest away from the California native moved again, darting to the side of the house away from Buffy, to where the other stairs were, and the young warrior woman sped down these steps to where she knew the Sunnydale survivor was headed, to pass the word that things should be made ready.
This meant that when Buffy went through the doors to the main kitchen and made her way to the breakfast nook in that room, the small table there had been cleared, her chair had been pulled away for her to sit, and there was a large mug of fresh Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee steaming away on the surface of the table.
Buffy sat down at the table, and picking up her coffee, she sipped at it, and all while staring blankly at the lush garden through the windows of the breakfast nook. This garden was now totally deserted, though various tools for weeding were lying on the ground where work had evidently been interrupted halfway through the task. Buffy kept watching through the windows, though nobody could have guessed from her face if she was paying attention to anything seen from the nook. She certainly wasn't showing any awareness of the other person sharing the kitchen with her, of his being busy at his work, and soon the delicious smells that were the consequence of this person's labor.
A few minutes later, Xander Harris walked over to the breakfast nook table and its occupant, his arms full. Depositing in front of Buffy a soup tureen the size of a baby's bath filled to the steaming brim with cream of tomato soup, with this tableware holding a large spoon whose other end disappeared into the scarlet liquid, Xander then also placed onto the table a large plate completely filled with English muffins toasted and then slathered with peanut butter.
Xander didn't say a word to Buffy, but his features were worried, as he backed up, to lean against the kitchen wall, his arms folded across his chest, as he intently watched the woman he'd known since he was fifteen years old. Over the course of the meal, as Buffy slowly but surely began consuming every last crumb of her food, Xander's face began to lighten, as his mood improved. When Buffy was munching away at the final English muffin, the man headed for the industrial-size refrigerator, to open the freezer compartment and take something out of that appliance.
As she dipped the last bit of bread into the tiny puddle that was the remains of an entire bowl of soup, to pop this tidbit into her mouth, Buffy ignored the sounds of hammering that resounded throughout the kitchen.
After a few more moments of looking out at the garden, Buffy left her seat at the breakfast nook table, and walked towards the kitchen doors. She stopped in front of Xander standing by the doors, with this man hopefully holding in his arms an entire gallon of Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream, the lid removed, and this confection frozen to a rock-hardness that required a mallet being used to pound an enormous foot-long kitchen spoon into this to protrude from the top of the ice-cream container.
As Buffy took her dessert from Xander, her free hand lifted to brush a finger across his mouth, and then the Slayer left the kitchen, the doors swinging closed after her. Her expression had remained blank throughout all this, but this didn't dampen the spirits of a Scooby Gang member, considering what Buffy had actually done in showing her progress over her depression.
Xander licked his lips, and then he beamed at the unexpected gift from his Sunnydale comrade. As expected, Buffy had once again proved the theory that it was impossible to eat a toasted peanut-butter English muffin and not get a single trace of that delicious food paste on your fingers. This had just been mischievously deposited on his face.
His friend was getting better.
Much later in the afternoon, Buffy Summers bounced out of her room, dressed in a bright yellow sun dress, her eyes sparkling.
It was really a pity that nobody else was in the corridor at that time, since they could have spread the word that the absolute doom of the world was at hand.
Humming 'We Are The Champions' off-key as she skipped down the steps and then headed to the front of the house, Buffy eagerly looked around for someone to hang out with, to have fun during this absolutely glorious day. She felt so wonderful! Not that her feelings had to do with any overcompensating into a maniac state from her depression, or even the entire 100% butterfat gallon of ice cream she'd just devoured while happily suffering total brain-freeze, along with a stupendous sugar rush. No sirree! It was just a gosh-darn, perfectly fantastic day, and she needed to share her feelings with someone!
Hmm, there was Andrew at the front door foyer, looking at a piece of paper in his hand. Oh, well, he'd do.
"AAAAANNNNNDDDREWWW!!!!" caroled Buffy at the top of her lungs, a crazed grin on her face, as the House caretaker jerked his head up to stare with horror at the Slayer advancing towards him.
"Watcha doin'? Huh? Huh? Huh?" babbled Buffy, giving Andrew a friendly poke on his shoulder from her extended index finger that sent the young man slamming into the foyer wall. As Andrew reeled back, his hands opened, and Buffy dropped to her haunches with Slayer speed to snatch out of the air what he'd just dropped, and then she straightened up just as fast, bouncing at least a couple of feet off the floor.
Once she'd again landing back on her feet, Buffy was busily examining what she was holding. Car keys, and someone's….name?….on a piece of paper. Shooting her hands forward to wave her new possessions under Andrew's nose, Buffy chattered, "What's all this for, Andrew? Andy? Andi-kins? You got a nice name, you know that, fella?"
His mind about to shut down, a dazed Andrew Wells mumbled, "I was just going to pick up someone from the airport--"
"HEY!" Buffy whooped, hopping around the foyer in delight, as she tucked the piece of paper in a pocket of her sundress. "It's a wonderful day to drive! I'll pick what's-his-face from there! See ya, Andy!" There was now a yellow blur as Buffy rushed to the door, the gleam of sunlight as the panel was thrust open and the Slayer sped through the entranceway, and then darkness again accompanied by a thunderous BANG! as the door slammed shut hard enough to shake the entire front of the Slayers House.
A furious Xander stepped through the kitchen doors a moment later, bellowing, "I TOLD YOU NOT TO SLAM….Andrew? Did you do that?"
Weaving on his feet in the middle of the hallway, Andrew weakly said, "It was Buffy….she took the car keys and left…"
"WHAT?!" Xander rushed down the foyer, knocking Andrew out of the way into the wall again, and shoved open the front door. Noises of screeching tires and the squealing of a hand brake still on rushed into the house, following by the sounds of an ear-splitting scrape of a minor/major collision with a gate post, and the happy yell of a Slayer clearly not in her right mind.
Turning away from the still-open doorway, Xander glared at Andrew rubbing his new hurts and snarled, "You idiot! You should have stopped her!"
Andrew gave the other man a look of total disbelief, and retorted, "She's Buffy Summers, the Slayer! How the hell was I supposed to do that?!"
"Drop to your knees, wrap your arms around her ankles, and blubber like a baby!" coldly snapped Xander.
Andrew crowded up against the other man with an eyepatch, his irritation overcoming his usual deference towards the White Knight, to shout into his face, "If I'd done that, she'd have stomped me like a bug!"
Xander shrugged, "So, no downside." Ignoring Andrew's offended glare, Xander turned to the open doorway again, to glumly contemplate the total chaos that was now out among the region's streets and highways. Buffy had always been a bad driver since she'd been the Slayer, and today she wasn't going to be cured of ignoring all the rules of the road. Xander sighed, and confided to a sulking Andrew at his side.
"This isn't going to end well."
A day later, Buffy stood in front of the doors leading to the main conference room of the Cleveland Slayers House, trying to stop the butterflies in her stomach from doing aerial loops and rolls. As she closed her eyes and sighed at what was coming next, a presence made itself known to her Slayer sense, accompanied by a Boston-accented voice that had an actual smirk in it as it snickered throughout the vestibule.
"So, are we gonna have fun like yesterday, B?"
Keeping her eyes firmly shut, Buffy groaned, "Just when I thought things couldn't get worse…" Buffy now opened her eyes to turn halfway and glower at the beautiful brunette woman standing a few feet away and grinning at her. Grumbling, Buffy muttered, "I thought you weren't coming back yet."
Faith chortled, "Are ya kiddin'? I woulda come outta my grave, less my road trip, to be here for this!" The dark Slayer's eyes brightened, as she edged closer, to eagerly ask, "Did ya actually kill the guy you was drivin' back from the airport?"
Buffy snapped, "How would I know?! I'm not a doctor! But there's no way he could have really had a heart attack. He must have just fainted, because he was fine even after I hit the tree in front to stop, jumping out of the car and running away, while yelling over his shoulder some weird stuff." She glared at Faith now having hysterics.
"What…what weird stuff?" gasped Faith after a few moments of getting herself under control.
The blonde woman just rolled her eyes in exasperation and shrugged. "Just something about owing Duncan no favor big enough for this, even if it had kept his head, and he needed all the beer in the world to forget this. AND me." Buffy's fingers clenched into fists as Faith went into another paroxysm of laughter.
Finally, the other Slayer wiped away tears of mirth from her face, and chuckling, Faith nodded at the doors of the conference room. "Let's go, B. It's time to see how bad ya peed in their breakfast cereal."
"Wow, Faith. Those deportment lessons Andrew got you for Christmas are really paying off," snarked Buffy, who nevertheless glumly stepped towards the doors into the conference room where Giles, Willow, and Dawn were waiting for the culprit who'd frightened away a renowned translator who'd only agreed, with the utmost reluctance, to examine some of the oldest documents the Council possessed, written in ancient and esoteric languages that nobody else in the entire world could read.
As Buffy opened the door, she had one last thought in her defense.
*I still don't think anybody named after a mint and fruit-flavored candy was really THAT important.*