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They forget Iím down here in the dark, among the unneeded items. Self-stored away with broken appliances. Among games once-fun, which now pack too many memories of laughter, bundles of clothing belonging to women now dead, and a dart board with only two darts.
I donít sleep in the basement every day, mind you. Just those days when the witches come home with the sunrise. They creep back in smelling of beer and the Bronze, or sex, or magic. Sometimes a heady mixture of all three.
The first time the witch sought me out, I was mad. She had begged me to stay with Dawn while they went out. Seems every damn one of them had something better to do. I knew none of them could stand to be in that house haunted by two dead women any more. Because Iíd promised her, I came. Before that night, Iíd not seen Dawn except from afar for over a month. No one knew, but IĎd been shadowing her, evenings. She was tricky and got past the lot of them. She always went to same place. The place I couldnít bear to go myself yet wouldnít let her go alone. A remote grave, made invisible by magic. ďShe saved the world a lot.Ē Oh, how I hate that phrase.
I know the churn and cycles of the washer and dryer. Sometimes one of them will come down when Iím here and not even glance to where I lay in the shadows. It amuses me to occasionally complete the domestic chore when the washerís been stopped for too long. Iíve watched and know what temperatures things get dried on, and what gets hung up to dry. Hell, Iíve had to wash my own clothes, and Drusillaís for many more years than I care to think about. Angelusí too for that matter. Of course, back then it was a tub and lye soap. Angelus liked me to flunky for him.
I like to watch when the laundress remembers her chore and descends the stair ready to work only to find a basket of neatly folded clothes. Who ever it was, they all reacted the same the first time. The witch, her girl, or the brat. A start, a glance in my direction, a quiet thanks. I donít do it every time, mind you. Just often enough to keep them off guard.
One time they sent the Buffybot down with the laundry. I think they were being funny. It took all my control to not smash the vile thing to bits. Seems the bot put in two straight cups of bleach with their darks. I never saw it in the basement again.
The first few times I wound up down here, I just lay on boxes. The third or fourth time, I went digging and found a bright pink sleeping bag tied up in a black plastic leaf bag. As if that ever protected anything. It smelled like Buffy, and that first day I cried quietly into it after everyone went out to wherever they go.
A week later I came down to find a cot. The bag had been recognized and put away, Iíd guess. The cotís not the most posh thing in the world, but the warn, clean sheets on it make it welcome. Silly cartoon animals smirk from the cotton. When I didnít mention it the next time I came over, Dawn lasted two hours before asking with a pout how I liked it. I told her it was keen and thanked her. She told me both she and Buffy slept on those sheets when they were little and I recognized it for the gift it was. I donít let her know, though. Itís a bit of a game we play. I suspect Dawn cried with the sleeping bag, too, but Iíll not ask.
I think Dawn is the only one of the lot of them who even thinks about me. Iíll come downstairs and see the cot with the clean sheets, the heavier curtains on the little window, or the boom box with the broken antenna, which have appeared in the damp basement, and I know the little bit left them. And, sheís the only one whoíll touch me. Oh, she doesnít hug me, or sit in my lap. But if our hands brush when reaching for pizza, Iíve got lint on my shirt, or sheís got a hair out of place, itís no big for us to touch. She doesnít flinch like the others. Also, she talks to me. Weíve had conversations when the rest left us alone. Iíve answered her questions and taught her things. Told her stories. She used to like my dark stories of murder and mayhem. Now she wants to hear about far away places and people Iíve met. The others, they donít know she steals things. Hey, it takes a thief to know a thief.
Even with all that, even with the bond we have, Iíve killed Dawn in my mind. Many ways. Itís not difficult at all for me to imagine. After all the things Iíve done to little girls her ageÖ and younger. If she were dead, I could leave. If I hadnít loved, I could leave. If only Iíd not made a promise, I could leave.
Probably I just think these things to distract myself from my mindís own favorite game. Every time I lay down to sleep it starts again like the one rerun of a sitcom you catch over and over. You know itís always the same episode youíve seen before, yet you watch it once more. I play ďsave Buffy.Ē You know the one. The vampire was too slow. The vampire didnít have a weapon. The vampire didnít take the little girl and leave town the week before. The vampire sodding cared.
So I creep down here. Itís been 141 days sheís been gone. A good number of days were spent down here. I admit it wasnít always necessary, but, hell, a bloke can get lonely, canít he? I know all the secrets in all the forgotten boxes down here. All but this one. Itís another Dawn gift, I know. Itís a shoebox with carefully cutout magazine-picture decoupage on it. Actually, I recognize itís a loan, not a gift. I wash my hands and sit down on the cot to look it over with my back against the cold stone wall. Itís a box of photos. Buffy, Dawn, Joyce, and their run-away dad. Hank, I think his name is. Pictures of happy times. There are pictures of the gang, too. Happy shots of Willow, Oz, Cordelia and Xander. Anya. Joyce. Giles, Tara, and Buffy. Dawn and Buffy, tumbled on the grass in the sun. All typical domestic shots. I smile when I realize all shots of Angel and Riley are missing. I know they had to have been there.
Near the bottom I find a picture of a party. A familiar crowd is smiling and laughing in the Summerís living room. My eyes go first to Buffy. She has a soft smile and is looking at a man I donít know. Heís laughing with his mouth open and his head thrown back a bit. The profile is sharp. Dawn sits across from him, sharing the laugh and her hand on the manís knee. With a shock I recognize myself. Alien and rarely seen. Once in a while, Iíll have a passport photo taken, or sit in one of those photo booths just to remind myself what I look like. But my profile. Who sees his profile? And smiling. On the back in Dawnís sloppy hand reads ďMy 14th birthday.Ē
All at once I remember and I look around the picture for clues. Yes, thereís Riley. His back is turned, talking to Xander, or I know heíd be glaring at me. There is Willow, smiling. Joyce is eating a cookie. I remember. Damn those monks. The history they created along with Dawn herself is relentless. I remember. She insisted I be invited. Said it was what she wanted for her birthday. Iíd not had this chip long, the Scoobies had destroyed Adam, and the Initiative had vanished. Not one of them really liked me. Only Dawn. Now, looking at this picture, I wonder if Buffy did.
I damn the monks and bless them. I want to keep the picture. I want to destroy it, too. I settle for smashing a toaster with no cord, which mocks me by not reflecting me, and I feel much better after that.
I keep to myself for the next week. Then itís the boyís turn to come ask me to sit. I made a promise. I canít say no. But I swear, Iím never spending another day in that bleeding basement.
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