SUMMARY: Alternate Universe. Approximately season one or two; when Buffy is new in town. Xander and Willow are killed in a car accident, but Buffy survives. After recovering, she becomes agoraphobic (afraid of public places; doesn't leave her house). Giles gives the gracious offer to become her home tutor, and one day he brings William (*cough*Spike*cough*) along with him, the son of his sister-in-law (not sure what that is in terms of 'nephew' or 'second nephew', etc). Of course, sparks begin to hop, and then fly after a while between Buffy and William. In his own way, also, William attempts to help Buffy with her condition.

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Walking down one of Sunnydale's main streets, three teenagers disrupted the peaceful twilight scene with a sudden burst of roaring laughter. After hearing yet another joke cracked open by their brunette friend, one that he himself saw as quite funny, the trio found themselves doubling over, tears of joy trickling from the edge of their eyelids as they laughed whole-heartedly.

Xander was known for his quick and witty remarks, but it was a rare occasion that he could invoke such a reaction from Willow and Buffy. After being raised in Los Angeles with a group of girls who didn't have the lightest outlook on humour, the blonde had been slightly disabled from her ability to laugh. Slowly but steadily though, the goofy mind of Xander Harris and the support from his red-haired friend was bringing the innocent joy back to Buffy's life.

Willow continued to cackle, holding onto Xander's shoulder for support, quite glad that he had decided to stop their walking motion for a moment. "Oh my God, Xander…" she said with utter amusement. "That was a joke!" she smiled, approving of her best friend's comical scenario.

"I don't think… I've ever laughed… so hard in my life" Buffy pushed out between giggles. Willow and Xander both glanced at her, happy to see that her smile was a genuine one. "Where the Hell did you come up with something like that?" she said, clutching her chest as she caught her breath.

Xander gave a modest shrug, smiling at the blonde-haired form of his newest love interest. "I dunno, these things just… pop up sometimes!" he said with a smile. "Actually, I heard it from my cousin Jared at my aunt's birthday party last week. Don't know how I've kept it in this long"

"Well, be sure to thank your cousin the next time you see him" Buffy breathed. "I think I just got a six-pack from all that laughing" she said, referring to her now tired abdominal muscles. Catching a slight glance of appreciation from Xander, the teen couldn't help but smile. Although she had no intimate feelings of love for the brown-haired boy, Buffy had quickly developed a friendly type of love for his company and Willow's. Besides Giles, who really didn't count in some ways, they were her only true friends in the world.

"So!" Willow's chipper voice broke a moment of silence, though the state had not been awkward. "Who's up for ice cream?" her excited smile couldn't have been wider as she looked between either of her friends. "My treat!" eyes glowing, she hoped her two companions would agree, assuming that her promise to handle the cost would help in their decision.

Xander glanced at Buffy, who gave him a mock-serious stare before they both glanced back to Willow. "My colleague and I have discussed this matter of 'chilled cream'" the boy air-quoted, looking playfully to his blonde friend momentarily. "And we have graciously decided to accept your offer" his hands coming together like a proper businessman, Xander bowed his head accordingly as Willow squealed with delight.

"Yay!" she exclaimed, immediately spinning on her heel in the direction of the nearest ice cream parlour. "Oo, but no triple-decker chocolate explosion sundaes tonight" she said to Xander, suddenly sobering. "After that amazing dinner, I don't think your tummy would be too happy with you, Xand" she said with a smile, remembering how he had reacted to the monstrous dessert on an empty stomach. Definitely a memory she didn't intend on revisiting.

Buffy simply laughed at the two, enjoying her night out on the town, even if she wasn't included in every prospect of conversation. The Slayer found it amusing to just listen in on her friends' conversations sometimes; those two had had some pretty interesting adventures in their many years of companionship. Willow had already skipped ahead of Xander and was walking down the street backward, a wide grin splayed over her childlike features.

Although she had been in Sunnydale for months now, the Slayer finally felt as if she was starting to fit in with small-city life. Her number of friends wasn't astronomically impressive, but she found herself happier this way. Better to have a few good friends than be like Cordelia, a girl who had a thousand admirers who in truth don't think twice about her 'problems'.

Too bad life's a bitch, no matter what the circumstance.

Buffy didn't see it. Neither of her friends noticed it in time. Xander and Willow, lost in their own blissful delight, didn't detect their arrival at one of Sunnydale's busiest intersections. No one saw the headlights.

Everything happened in an instant, a flash in time that took an eternity to pass by. For Buffy, there were only the simplest thoughts, point form notes taken in observation of what happened. All she could manage to yell out beforehand were a few mumbled screams, trying to get their attention. Willow and Xander, laughing at yet another joke, Buffy gladly following from behind. Intersection- Barnes avenue and Orchard street. Forgot to push the crosswalk button, didn't even notice it. Forgot to stop. A black pickup truck; going too fast; were its headlights even on? No one saw it coming; no one heard it coming. Best friends walked right into its path; dead-on collision with the frail bodies of Xander and Willow, hit Buffy with the metal body's corner.

Dark. Silence. Buffy was knocked unconscious for a few minutes, her cheek having hit a metal sign at the wrong angle, causing her to then be hammered against its concrete anchor. People finally looked up when they heard the piercing shrieks of rubber being dragged against the rough stretch of asphalt. If they thought that sound was horrifying, they obviously didn't know how Buffy would have reacted if she hadn't been pummelled by the truck as well.

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"Buffy?" the frantic, sobbing voice of her mother could be heard. "Buffy, can you hear me sweetie? It's mom. I'm here, honey. Can you hear me?" the older woman pleaded, not knowing how she could deal with a third tragedy in one evening. Then again, Joyce thought of how lucky she was; at least her only child had a chance at living. Mr. and Mrs. Rosenberg… and the Harris family… they weren't granted such a privilege.

The Slayer's eyes began to flutter open, her mother seized into motionlessness, afraid that the smallest of movements would interrupt her daughter's attempts at regaining consciousness. Slowly but surely, the blonde girl's eyes were revealed to the hospital room's gentle lighting, eyes adjusting before taking in the sight of her worried mother.

"Mom?" Buffy said, failing to lift her head, the motion causing her now dizzy skull to hit the pillow. "Mom…" she said again, worried this time as she panted slightly, the simplest of sounds requiring the use of every ounce of her energy. "W- Willow… Xander…" she said looking around only slightly, remembering that something terrible had happened, unable to conjure any details from her foggy memory just yet.

"Shh, honey. Don't force yourself. You're still weak. According to the doctor you shouldn't even be awake yet" she said softly, wondering at her words why she had chosen to speak to her daughter.

"Where are they?" Buffy continued, disregarding the screaming sensation in her head, as well as the fact that everything in sight seemed to be lined with marshmallows. "Mom…" she said insistently, giving her mother the best look of seriousness she could muster in her condition. In all truth, Buffy wasn't even sure where she was at the moment, or how she had come to be in bed, but her friends were priority number one on a very short list right now.

Breathing heavily, knowing that her daughter wouldn't rest until she got her answer, Joyce attempted to remain strong, doing her best to push away her flooding tears. "There was a truck, honey" she began, wondering if it would stimulate any memory cells. "Willow and Xander walked right into its path" by now, realisation was beginning to crease Buffy's features, but she obviously needed a final answer. Taking her daughter's hand, the one not currently hooked up to numerous fluid lines, Joyce squeezed tightly, finally letting her tears rise to the surface. "They didn't make it…"

Nothing could describe the sudden anguish her heart was pummelled with. It felt as if Buffy's heart had been burned, shattered, bruised, and imploded all in the same instant. So this was what it felt like to be living dead… to have one's mind, soul, and consciousness severed from the body altogether. Buffy was suddenly dead in every aspect of the word, yet her heart and lungs continued to function.

Too drained to sob, too weak to scream, Buffy simply fell into herself, letting the pain and suffering wrack her body with gentle tremors. Maybe everything would be different when she woke up next time.

"…Buffy?"

Maybe she wouldn't have to deal with the reality that her best friends were lost…

"Buffy, honey, wake up. Buffy!" the insistent voice continued.

After all, this could all be just a bad dream.

"Buffy, wake up!" her mother said again, now beginning to shake the blonde.

"Mm?" the girl mumbled. "What? Huh?" the Slayer's groggy eyes opened to her sunlit bedroom, seeing a slightly annoyed face only briefly. Buffy yawned then, lifting her arms out of Joyce's grasp to rub her eyes. "What time is it?"

Joyce straightened, hands instantly moving to rest on her hips. "It's nearly 8:30. Mr. Giles is going to be here in half an hour. I can't believe you slept through your alarm again!" she said, lips pursed, head shaking.

Through her mother's ranting, Buffy began to realise what dream she had just been having. Terrible memories, true memories began washing over her, and the Slayer couldn't help it when tears formed at the rims of her eyes, visage immediately twisting with sorrow.

Seeing the rapid change in her daughter's mannerism, Joyce softened immediately, having gone through this routine too many times to overlook such a condition. "Oh, Buffy…" she said softly, sitting down on the bed with her daughter. "Come here" she scooped Buffy into her arms, the Slayer instantly beginning to sob against her mother's shoulder.

"I just can't believe it…" she wept. "I still can't believe they're gone… I don't understand why they're gone," the once powerful huntress cried, welcoming the chance to expel her still wrenching emotion and guilt over the death of her friends.

"I know honey" the curly-haired woman supplied, not knowing what else to say. "I know it still hurts… just remember I'm here whenever you need to talk" she said, patting and stroking Buffy's hair and back.

Sniffing back a few more tears, knowing she would need to close the faucet now or face an entire day of crying, Buffy gave her mother a squeeze. "I know… Thanks mom" she said softly, pulling out of the embrace only slightly, heart still aching. "I think I'll go have a shower now. Giles won't want me to be late…" she sighed softly, not shying away from the kiss her mother planted on her forehead.

"Okay honey… I'll go downstairs and make you some breakfast. How does a grilled cheese sandwich sound?" picking up her eyebrows with a suggestive smile, Joyce inadvertently made Buffy giggle slightly.

"Sounds good, mom… I'll be down in a few minutes…" the now ex-Slayer sighed yet again, using the motion to soothe her cracked soul. Crawling out of bed as her mother stood up, Buffy rubbed her eyes once before sliding toward the bathroom.

With that, mother and daughter got to work surviving yet another day of life, another day wishing things were different. Buffy knew that a time would come in the next twenty-four hours when she'd wish she could go outside. Perched by the window during her lunch break, the Slayer would stare longingly out the sheet of glass, wishing she could feel what it was like to have fresh air cling to her skin rather than the re-circulated sludge spit out by the air conditioner.

But that would never happen. At least, not for a very, very long time.

Buffy was no longer the same girl she had been upon arriving in Sunnydale. Perhaps the correct term for her condition would be agoraphobic… at least, that's what the doctor had suggested. After the tragedy with Willow and Xander, and especially as a Slayer, Buffy had realised just how dangerous the outside world could be. Cars everywhere, disease and infection swirling about. Demons. Vampires. The whole world was a death trap.

Instead of letting herself be victimized by the terrors of life, Buffy's subconscious had reconfigured everything in her mind. Out of nowhere, the once courageous girl became suddenly afraid of public places. School and shopping would give her panic attacks, the incidences becoming so severe that she finally gave up on the outside world altogether. For over a year now, she had been willingly confined to her home, not even stepping outside to get the mail.

On rare occasions, Buffy would catch herself staring out the window with a little bit too much yearning criss-crossed over her features. Sometimes she would come close to stepping outside her front door, stopped only by the fits of hyperventilation that wracked her body, causing each of her once powerful muscles to squeeze tighter than the killer coil of an anaconda. There was no escape.

Sighing gently as she found herself on the cold white tiles of her bathroom, Buffy began to peel away her sweat-dampened pyjamas, looking forward to the refreshing shower that was only moments away. Stepping out of her bottoms, the Slayer refused to glance at the mirror. It would only show her the harsh truth of reality; exposed to her would not be the healthy bronze glow of a teenager, but the pale, ghostly hue caused by too many hours spent indoors. If it weren't for a heartbeat, Buffy thought, she could practically be a vampire.

"Buffy honey!" her mother's voice rang, breaking the Slayer's few moments of silence. "That was Mr. Giles! He's running a bit late so if you need a few extra minutes in the shower, that's okay!" her mother called up the stairs, unaware that she had interrupted her daughter's dreary train of thought.

"Okay mom! Thanks!" she called back, curious as to how she hadn't heard the phone ring. Thanking Giles for his unusual tardiness, Buffy finally found herself stepping into the shower. Clean-running water and soft-scented soap was no cure for her form of emotional devastation, but at least it was enough to help her through even the most futile of days.

(Author's Note: I would just like to say that I am in no way pretending to be an expert on agoraphobia. Nor do I think it is a pathetic symptom or anything of the sort. I saw it on the movie Copycat, so I am using the 'information/facts' from there and nowhere else. I also looked it up in a dictionary if that counts. So, just for the record, to anyone who is reading this who might have experienced agoraphobia, I mean absolutely no offence to you or anyone else.)