by Kshar

Spoilers: S6, set post-Grave. I've disregarded early spoilers for Season 7.

Disclaimer: Characters are the property of Fox, and were created by Joss Whedon.


.Each Separate Dying Ember.

She opens the door.

She: small, fine-boned, mussed red hair, tired eyes. Muted-colored clothes, low heels: job-interview clothes, visiting-parents-you-don't-see-often-clothes, funeral clothes.

The door: just a door. Like any other door.

Opens: to a dorm room, although not like any dorm room you've ever lived in. This one is huge, and there are candles on all the free surfaces and a queen-sized bed draped in a soft, fine comforter. Like I said. Textbooks and paperback novels in small stacks on the floor, and an iMac beside a cheesy-looking crystal ball on the desk. There's a cat on the bed, although at first it's so still you're not sure whether it's a real cat or a toy. They make some pretty realistic...but it gets up and stretches and mews, and clearly it's not a toy. The red-headed She crosses the room to it, closing the door behind her. She reaches out a rain-small hand to the cat. And this is, contrary to what you might have thought, not the beginning of a story.

.You Air That Serves Me With Breath To Speak.

Objective: to determine the amount the human soul can w-w-w-w-w-...


.Hallways In This Tiny Room.

Two hundred thousand years ago, Willow had been lying in this bed and she'd watched Tara tie back the curtain. Tara stood and the blue light of after-dusk shone highlights on her hair, and she was talking softly, just babbling about nothing probably, and it was such a rare thing for Tara to chatter away like that that Will didn't even focus on the words, just let the sound wash over her. Night to her voice, shadows soft around her. No heat from the stars, but warmth in her face, in Tara's soft, beautiful face, rosy warmth like a little farmgirl. The light was blue from the stars and Tara turned around to look at her, as though she'd said something, although she'd just been lying there, silent and glowing, and Tara smiled her shy smile and then went back to looking out the window.

And that was it.

Essay question (21 points).
Discuss, in five well-reasoned paragraphs, the following statement:
'If I had known then what I know now...'


.I'm So Glad That My Memory's Remote.

There's a multi-colored scarf hanging on the back of the door. It's possibly the ugliest piece of clothing Willow has ever seen.

Her throat hurts. Her chest hurts. Her eyes are wet, that full-up feeling they get right before tears spill over, flow over the dam and drown all the villagers. She is not crying over an ugly scarf.

She is not crying.


.Sometimes They Give You a Box of Ash.

Materials: Tara's socks, soft cotton and wool for winter. She never liked the cold. Her shoes, well-worn and practical. Her peasant blouses and long skirts, jeans and tee-shirts, baseball jerseys, sweaters with stars, a skirt that looks like a sack, some strange stripey brown thing.

Willow packs them up in boxes and is sort-of grateful, in a buried-deep kind of way, that all the boxes Tara used for her last move were untaped and folded and stacked beneath the bed. It's such a Tara thing to do.

She never

Giles is waiting outside, downstairs, over there, in a parking lot, in a car, in the front seat, in Sunnydale, in the world.

No, she'd said softly, and then more sharply, when he tried to come up here. He just wanted to help. All everyone's done is try to help.

The cat weaves between her legs, and she bends to stroke it and almost overbalances. She puts a hand on the floor to steady herself and looks at the cat through her hanging hair and curses, and it stares at her as though it's never heard any such rough talk. She hooks the cat to her with one hand and straightens up. Finds the cat carrier. Miss Kitty looks at her with jailed eyes.

She never

Cat, clothes, computer. A globe. Books. Spell books and text books and stories, oh my. Second-hand-store bargains and unpopular fiction.

She never liked the cold.


.Your Breath Warm as Your Skin on My Neck.


'Quit wriggling,' Tara told me, but there was a hint of a smile in her voice. I couldn't see all of her face: she held my hand grasped in her own and up to the light, the better to see you with my dear. I thought I could just make out a wrinkle of concentration in her brow. 'How did you do this, again?'

'Splinter...' I began, and hissed through my teeth as she dug the needle down far enough to ventilate my major organs. 'Ow! Ow!'

'I can't get it if you don't hold still.'

I squinched my eyes shut and held my hand further out to her, as though removing it from the rest of me. 'Splinter...uh, sustained while helping Xander build shelves. I was the sanding side of the partnership.'

'Open your eyes,' she says, and I do, and she's wearing that blue sweater that makes her eyes look darker and the stars are in my eyes and the light's behind her like a halo. She kisses my finger, softly, and releases it. 'All better.'

I pull my hand away quickly for inspection. The skin's smooth, as if it were never broken, and clear. I look back up at her, and she laughs and meets my eyes.

.I, Too, Create Corpses.

Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are honored to welcome Professor Rosenberg, who will present to us her groundbreaking work, 'On What Could Have Been, And Fuck You Anyway, Osiris'. Professor Rosenberg?

She steps out from behind the red curtain and up to the microphone. Smiles a small, forced smile. Puts a hand over her mouth, and her face folds in on itself like a collapsing star and she starts to cry; racking sobs like a little child.

You watch, silently, and glare at the guy sitting next to you when he starts to fidget.


.Pack Up The Moon and Dismantle the Sun.

Method: fold & sort & pack. tape the bottom of the boxes and fill them with clothes and notebooks and coffee spoons and fairy lights and photographs and crystals and half-empty bottles of shampoo that smell like her oh god

fold things neatly so they don't get crushed. try not to think about where they've been or where they're going. try not to think about where she wore that or when she bought it or how it brought out the color of her eyes.

try not to think.


.If We All Hide Here.

Willow can see his eyes following her anxiously in the rear-vision mirror. The cat's meowing in its carrier in the front seat as she pushes the boxes over in the back seat to make more room.

He says it softly: 'It would be finished more quickly if you'd let me help.'

'I don't want it to be finished quickly,' she wants to say. Instead, she closes the door, gently, behind her and walks back inside. The meows fade.


.Either We Will Both Drown.

She throws the rainbow scarf into a suitcase so hard it almost bounces out again. Sparkly nail-polish and a postcard with a picture of Einstein. Bills, student loan paperwork, tuition receipt.

Question 21.
Calculate the cost of living. Show your working.


.Everything's Gone White and Everything's Grey.

Xander's hand was on my back and my feet were killing me and no-one ever told me you shouldn't buy new shoes for a funeral. I wanted to look nice for her, that's all. The wind was sharp and green but the sky was so blue, dark loving blue and the smoke, the white smoke floated across the sky like something alive and Xander touched my arm and the others were waiting and I could never have left her in the ground, she never liked the cold, she'd be warm and the chimney was a sort of old red brick and the staff had all been so nice even though I could hardly get a word out and still I stood there and watched the smoke and it floated, it flew and I thought finally, finally, I did something for her the right way.


.So Sure It Helps To Lose Myself In You.

Results: empty empty empty empty empty it's a small room but it looks so big

They were in the grocery store one day, under the flourescent lights that made Tara's hair look just so slightly green. Willow was carrying the basket and Tara had reached into the refrigerated shelves to get nonfat milk and then turned back to look at her.

'Um, if you were an animal, what would you be?'

Willow had been thinking about Atrien demons and her upcoming finals and it took her a second. 'Oh. I don't know...a cat?', she said vaguely, imagining catnip and balls of wool.

'I'd be a bird,' said Tara. 'I'd like to fly.'

The dorm room is empty, scrubbed clear, and Willow thinks she'd like to change her answer now.


.A Flame In Two Cupped Hands.

Willow slams the door harder than she intended and the sound carries around the parking lot, reverberates off the walls of the buildings and echoes in her head.

'Is that...everything?' Giles asks.

'Yes,' she says. 'That's everything.' She leans to the side and closes her eyes, resting her head on the window, feeling the late sun on her face. In this way she feels, rather than hears him start the car.


.And This Great Blue World of Ours.

Conclusion: (left blank)




Acknowledgements: Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, Poe, Elliott Smith, Dean Young, W. S. Merwin, Sylvia Plath, W. H. Auden, Coldplay (Berryman/Buckland/Champion/Martin), Marge Piercy, Gavin Rossdale (for Bush), Garbage, Margaret Atwood, Mark Z. Danielewski. All used without permission. Inspiration from e.e. cummings, Louise Bogan and T. S. Eliot, although some of this was actually written by me. Honest.

Feedback would be gratefully received. Thanks for reading.

August 2002