After Days

He came to her twice, in the after-days. Afer Xander. After Doyle. He came to other ones too, although she didn't know that. He came to Buffy, once. And to Angel, once. But to her---twice. She needed twice, because his job with her was not like any other. He wasn't to help her find her path. He was to get her ready for the path that had already been chosen for her.

The Powers had been clear: her road would be a tough one, and tougher so if she was not prepared. They showed him glimpses: of a girl confident in her own power (she'll need that, they whispered). Of a girl happy with her place in the universe (less useful, that. Although if she's to succeed, she'll have to learn to hang on to it). Glimpses of a girl who had a life that was envied (that's a tough one, the Powers acknowledged. Perhaps you can work with it?) and a secret loneliness, a not-belonging (oh yes! You CAN use that! they crowed). They showed him a for-the-most-part happy young woman, but what he saw a pathetic little foundling who had no idea what she was in for.

Prepare her, they told him. There are things beyond our control going on here, things that have to happen before she's ours. There are things that will be taken away, but even so, there are things she'll be able to keep if she has someone to guide her. And there will be things you'll have to replace. That Xander fellow---he's the first thing.

So he came to her. He did it on her terms, of course, cleaning himself up after slumming for the Angel/Buffy assignment. He washed and cut his hair. He bought the right clothes, found the right jargon. In the end, he was so into the part, he was barely bothered by the suspicion that the car was what finally won her over.

He began the deconstruction, the careful ascertaining of what damage had been done and how he could fix it. Money, lost. But darling, look at you. Still kept your style, didn't you? Clever, ingenious girl, you still kept up without the money. She took to that; she was a clever girl after all, and popularity was largely an intellectual matter. Lots of mental juggling, mental agility needed to stay on top, maneuver the adolescent social politics that macrocosomed the world at large. And to bluff so well after losing the means to play the game properly….clever, clever girl. He whispered subliminally, and her brain took it in. You are a clever girl. Some days, dark times will come and you'll feel like this again. When that happens, remind yourself: you are a clever, clever girl.

The heart was the hardest thing to handle. She hadn't fully healed from the Xander-break, and he regretted having to move in on her so quickly. He felt sorry for her, for one thing. Brat or not, she had no idea what she was in for, and that was enough to merit the slightest pity. But more than that, he found her, like all women, wearying. Mood swings. Crying fits. Why doesn't he love me? Will no one love me again? And you, Whistler, why do YOU love me? And do you even? If he had to get close, he would have rather waited until the worst of the after-Xander had abated. But the Powers were emphatic: assess the damage while it's fresh. She'll suffer worse than this before we're ready for her. And she may very well suffer worse after. Best she learn the coping skills now.

So he taught her whatever little tricks he could. You're a clever girl, he whispered. He gave her little compliments: you look beautiful in red, said his voice. And in that under-voice, the one that reached her deepest subconscious, he clarified: remember this moment. Remember how it felt when I told you that, and remember how deeply you believed it. A dark time may come, and you'll feel ugly. When that happens, remember this moment.

He worked on her, and sometimes she backslid. He remembered the day Xander found out she had lost her money. How demeaned she felt. How…worthless, how powerless, how deprived. Money isn't everything, he whispered. He drove her to the ocean. Feel the water on your toes, he commanded. The sand beneath your feet. It's all here, darling. Money or not, this is here and it's beautiful. The sun, the sea, the air on your skin…it isn't much, just a moment, but you can have it. A dark moment may come, and you'll feel poor. When that happens, smell the salty air and remember this moment. Remember that now, as in the future, some things will never change. Chocolate ice cream makes you smile. Hot showers soothe sore muscles. Silk feels nicer than cotton, but linen will do in a pinch. Clever girl, remember this moment.

At some point, her left her. The after-days became routine-days and he was called away. But from afar, he watched her. He watched her arrive in Los Angeles feeling alone and friendless. He watched her cry tears of frustration on her first night at the youth hostel, then shakily pull herself together, fingering a red scarf she had brought with her. I look beautiful in red, she told herself. And remembering that, she remembered other things too. It was enough to hold her head together for a day or so, and when despair returned again, she found herself a sunset and stood beneath it. And she remembered the words to a poem he had taught her: "Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night." There's fighting words, she told herself. And true words. I have friends, she remembered. He's somewhere out there, and one day I'll find him again. I am a clever girl, after all.

He watched her endure the poverty, taking what small comforts she could. A song from long ago, and it was long ago again. A dish her lover used to cook, and she was once more in his arms. Chocolate ice cream still made her smile. And every little self-hypnotic suggestion, every little subliminal trap he set, she sprang them one by one and wove them into a lifeline. Then one day, at a party, she saw someone she knew from her before life…and she was there again. That day, the buzz of his connection to her reached a deafening crescendo. Almost there, the Powers told him. Almost there.

Soon after, she met Doyle, and that's when the buzzing tapered off into a deafening howl. His interest in Angel is business…but his interest in her is not, is it? The Powers-That-Be were uncharacteristically silent. He has no idea, Whistler clarified. No idea at all what he…what SHE is in for? He has his destiny too, they told him. You will not interfere. So he watched as Doyle unwittingly planted the mental traps that would get her through his death: the happy memories she would have of him. And silently, subconsciously, he went to her once more. When Doyle whispered compliments, he was underneath them, intoning remember, remember. Someone loves you like that. One day, he'll be gone, but you'll have had that love. When she and Doyle bantered playfully, he was underneath that too. Look, a smile. Remember smiling? You'll always have that too. One day, you'll be in a dark place. Remember smiling?

And she got through it. She got through it just fine until the visions hit, and he almost went to her again. But this time, she subconsciously pushed him away. Look, others suffer too, she realized. I suffer. I suffer more now than I used to. But I have moments, don't I? I am a clever girl, and I know how to find those moments. I suffer. Others suffer more.

And she made friends again, friends that sometimes worry. And sometimes, that makes him feel a little bit guilty for playing along in the ultimate, and not always pleasant plan the Powers have for her. But he always catches himself and utters a silent thanks. That worrying…it's another trap planted, see. One day, she may be alone again, and no one will ask how she's feeling. When that day comes, she'll remember these moments.