It’s beginning to get dark. You suppose that that’s fitting – this is a funeral, after all. Everyone is sad, so it isn’t surprising that the sun has decided to make it just that little bit gloomier.
You aren’t sad, though. Oh, you’d liked Celia, of course – she was your cousin – but while you’re certainly feeling things, sad isn’t one of them.
Powerless is, though. You’d been there when she died. You remember calling for help, yelling, hoping that someone, anyone would come. No one had. You’d been alone, with her, and the great crushing thing that had killed her. You’d saved her so many times before, but that had been make-believe. When it had been real, there’d been nothing you could do.
Scared is another. You don’t like being alone, now. What if the same thing happens to you, and there’s no one there to help? You could die screaming and no one would know. Fortunately, your parents seem to feel the same thing. These days, they rarely let you out of their sight.
That’s how you know that they’re a little worried that you haven’t cried yet. They think you should be sad, and you haven’t dared tell them that you’re too busy feeling other things to mourn. You’ve heard them talking, saying that you’re very young, maybe you don’t really know what death is. You hadn’t liked that. You’re eight, and you’re a grown-up now. You have grown-up worries.
When they start lowering the coffin, you look away. You know what it looks like when something heavy weighs you down until you can’t breathe. How much worse would it be to be buried, to feel like that all the time? You’re scared of being alone, but being buried is so much worse.
You see a hand reach out of the soil in the distance. It’s pale, pallid, streaked with dirt. It feels the soil around it as though looking for something. Apparently not finding it, it then waves, as though that were a perfectly natural thing for a mostly buried hand to do. It seems so natural, in fact, that you’d probably wave back if it weren’t for the fact that you are at a funeral. Then it retreats below the surface as though it had never been there. You don’t know if it found what it was looking for. You aren’t even sure that you really saw it at all.
Your mom makes a sound like a hiccough next to you, which you suspect was a stifled sob, and you-
“Hey! Hey, you! Buffy!”
Buffy blinked, focusing on the woman in front of her. She had messy short brown hair and big headphones around her neck. “Hi, Lenny. What’s up?”
Lenny poked her. “Where did you go? Sunnydale again? Rome?”
Buffy shook her head. “LA. I was eight. A hand came up out of the ground in a graveyard.”
Lenny grinned widely. “Wild.”
“Sure, I guess,” Buffy rubbed the back of her neck absently. She wouldn’t describe it as wild. Dissociative episodes like that was why she was in Clockworks, after all. Drifting off and finding yourself in an alternate reality where you hunt vampires was the kind of thing that psychiatric hospitals were for. “Did you want something?”
“Uh huh. This new girl showed up in therapy today. Made quite the upset. Gotta say, I like her spunk.”
Buffy focused on the here and now. “Ooh. What’s the sitch, do you think?”
“Well, she’s not a touchy-feely type, I know that. Kissinger’ll hate her. David likes her though. Asked her to be his girlfriend, right then and there.”
“No!” Buffy said. There weren’t a lot of interesting things to be found at Clockworks, which was why she liked Lenny. The girl could have fun with anything, from someone drooling in their chair to the man who spent all his time hiding in the shrubbery. She couldn’t wait to hear some actual, honest-to-God gossip. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d heard any of that.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about,” Cordelia said, sniffing. “I tell you things all the time.”
That, of course, was the other reason that she was in Clockworks. She knew Cordelia wasn’t there. She didn’t even exist. But that didn’t mean that the chemicals in her brain or whatever knew it. In fact, despite all the drugs and the therapy, her brain just didn’t seem to get the message.
Buffy listened as Lenny gave her a play-by-play of the first encounter between David and the new girl. She had no doubts that it wasn’t a particularly accurate one, though, so she didn’t focus too hard on what the other woman was saying.
With her ears safely on autopilot and Cordelia ignored (not that that took much effort, she was raptly listening to the gossip herself), Buffy thought about David. Out of all of the people here, he was the one who was most like her. Things happened around him. Things that didn’t really make sense. He had a tendency to be in places that no one really expected him to be, and sometimes he’d know things before being told. Once, she was sure that he’d made a plastic cup move within reach with his mind, but that had just been Lenny bumping into the table while she was dancing.
Things like that happened to Buffy too, sometimes. Or, in a way, they didn’t. Sometimes people told her things. People who weren’t there. She’d fixed a broken chair leg once, despite knowing nothing about carpentry or wood glue or anything like that, because Xander had told her how. Except that Xander didn’t exist. Giles often told her things, some of which even turned out to be true (a large portion of them involved demons, though, which had never been helpful).
Plus there were the things that happened in her dissociative episodes. Not all of them were in the present – some, like the one that she’d just had, happened when she was much younger. While most of them seemed to be focused on her late teens and early twenties, occasionally there were moments from later on, too. Sometimes the things that happened in them happened in real life. Not things like making out with a vampire, of course, but the background events. Things that happened in the bits of the world that weren’t based on vampire hunting.
“That’s them over there,” Lenny said, pointing.
Buffy looked. The new girl, who she had yet to learn the name of (Lenny had referred to her by a series of nicknames such as ‘the girl with guts’) was standing next to David. She was wearing a black jacket which was zipped up to her chin. It was slightly too big for her, so her hands were hidden mostly in her sleeves (“Good way to hide weapons,” Giles told her, “best look out for that.”) She wore a soft floppy hat, which had long blonde hair coming out from underneath it. It was, as Lenny had said, the kind of clothes that someone who wasn’t into touchy-feely stuff would wear.
The most noticeable thing, though, was that they’d each wrapped a single length of fabric around one of their hands, with a length of it dangling in the air between them. Given David’s goofy grin, Buffy supposed that this was the Clockworks equivalent of holding hands.
Seeing them looking, David waved, then looked abashed as he realised that he’d inadvertently waved his girlfriend’s hand too. They walked over.
“Hey, Buffy,” he said, as he moved to flop down in a nearby seat. He paused for a moment, trying to work out the logistics of sitting with a length of fabric attaching you to someone else, but by that point the new girl had already sat down. “This is Syd.”
“Hey Syd,” Buffy said. “I hear you made a ruckus in Kissinger’s group therapy earlier.”
“I never said ‘ruckus’,” Lenny interjected. “I said something about a monumental upset of the status quo, the kind of thing that people will talk about for generations to come. Speaking of – a little birdie told me that’s it’s your birthday, David.”
“Congratulations,” Buffy said. She didn’t wish him a happy birthday – he was here, after all, and Clockworks wasn’t really the place for happiness.
David smiled sheepishly. “Thank you.”
Not wanting to dwell on that any further, as she’d had her own share of birthdays here, Buffy changed the subject. “What did you say to Kissinger, anyway? If everyone’s gonna be talking about it, I don’t want to be left loopless.”
Syd fidgeted with the edge of her sleeve. “Just, you know, that maybe our problems aren’t all in our heads.”
“Oh, I can’t believe it! The human made a good point!” Glory said. “My problems aren’t in my head, they’re in that little worm Ben’s, with his twitching and his breathing and his humanity. Good Me, everything is his fault. I, of course, can’t be-”
“If you could not with the ranting, that would be great,” Buffy muttered.
“What?” Syd asked.
“My current problem is a whacko hell god, sitting just over there in a slutty red dress,” Buffy replied. “Given that she hasn’t gone all Valentine’s Day on everyone just because we’re here, I kind of think that she’s in my head.”
Glory nodded. “It is such a mess in there. Honestly, you should see an interior decorator.”
Syd blinked, clearly unsure what to make of that. Buffy couldn’t blame her.
“So I hear there’ll be cherry pie tonight,” David interrupted awkwardly.
“It’s Thursday,” Lenny pointed out. “There’s cherry pie every Thursday. Every single one. No change. No chocolate. I miss chocolate, you know, the way it was.”
“It’s not as good as cherry pie.”
“I don’t like cherry pie,” Syd said.
David looked at her as though she’d grown a second head. “How can you not? It’s got everything that you need, like, um, cherries for one and there’s also the crust, and then you can break the crust to find the cherries and-“
“I just don’t like things that taste of cherries.”
As fascinating as the discussion was, Buffy would rather talk about something else. If she didn’t then she was pretty sure that the word ‘cherries’ was going to lose all meaning. If that happened then there might as well be no Thursdays, and if there were no Thursdays – well, that way madness lay. Or more of it, at least. “Sorry to interrupt this incredibly interesting conversation, but, um, Syd? What did you mean when you said that maybe not everything is in our heads?”
David opened his mouth, probably to continue to talk about cherry pie; after all, if they were talking about cherry pie, then they couldn’t be talking about anything difficult. Syd, however, spoke first. “We’re here because we’re different. Not the same. Not normal. They think that if we’re here long enough then we’ll end up normal again, but what if we just aren’t the same as them? You know, what if we actually are different? If the difference isn’t just something in our heads?”
Buffy tried to pay attention, she really did. She wanted to hear what Syd was saying – it seemed important, somehow. She heard a few words (different, not normal, normal again), and she felt like she got the gist of it, but she wasn’t sure.
The reason that she didn’t hear everything was because Spike had materialised in front of her and was singing at the top of his lungs, the kind of prolonged, absurdly loud singing that was only really possible if you didn’t need to stop for breath. The fact that he had sprouted fangs didn’t seem to impede him at all, and the malicious glint in his yellow eyes told her that he knew exactly what he was doing.
“Oh, don’t deceive me…”
David, who obviously hadn’t wanted to have this conversation, looked from Buffy to Syd and back again. When Buffy didn’t immediately respond (she was trying every technique she knew to get Spike to shut up, short of yelling at him, which never worked anyway), he stood up. “Come on, Syd. I’ll show you the dining room. See if I can convince you that cherries aren’t all bad.”
Syd looked back at Buffy, who had by that point clamped her hands over her ears. Seeing that she was clearly not paying any attention to them at all, she waved goodbye to Lenny and got up to follow David.
At that point, Spike stuck his foot out. It was the kind of thing that people did to trip people over, but it shouldn’t have done anything, it couldn’t, he wasn’t there – but nevertheless Syd stumbled. She tried to balance herself, but one hand was tied to David and she couldn’t quite manage it. She fell.
David tried to catch her, to pull her up, but one hand was full of fabric and besides, he’d been facing the wrong way. Still, he reached out and grabbed her, but her too-big sleeves had ridden up and he caught her by the arm.
There was a sound like thunder and breaking things, and the ground below Buffy cracked, opening wide like some kind of terrible maw with teeth of jagged rock, devouring the room from below. She was falling, falling, and above her all she could see was Spike looking down at her, yellow eyes glittering. The last thing she heard, louder even than the cracking ground and the crumbling walls, was his voice.
“Oh, never leave me…”