Disclaimer: Joss Whedon owns Buffy, Laurell K. Hamilton owns Anita. I am neither of those people and thus have no rights to them and make no money off them.
A/N: I literally went through a dozen versions of this. I changed settings, styles, PoVs, plot, scenes, more settings, more PoVs and more PoVs still and finally settled on this. I’d apologize for not getting this story done earlier, but I have technically been working on the story the whole time. Still, thank you all for sticking with me throughout this series and one last, final and whoopin’ big thank you for every single awesome review your wrote me. Thanks.
Beta: Anneliese, as usual. Thanks, hun. Any left over mistakes are mine along, ktnx.
Warnings: Dark imagery and about three and a half lines of drunken incest. Skip over it, if you can’t deal.
His sister’s tears are negative spaces in the aftermath of their mother’s death, something that is missing. They are holes in the world, filled with the shards of a broken girl too young to understand what happened.
She never asks where Mommy and Daddy went. Instead she spends hours sitting at any available window, staring outside, her breath fogging the glass. Just waiting. It is unnatural for a four-year-old to sit so still for so long.
He tries to get her to play, to draw, to speak. Even to cry.
He tries to get her to acknowledge that something has changed, something has happened and she’s not the same. He knows he’s damn well not. And she’s all he has left in this world and fuck that she’s only a child, barely more than a toddler, fuck it all, he needs
her to understand. Because if she doesn’t, if this is all in his head, if his mother’s bloody corpse, his father’s raspy broken voice, if that’s all just in his head then it’s not real and he’s going insane.
He’s going insane and there’s still blood splatters on the living room floor, even though he tore out the carpet, even though he scrubbed the floor with enough bleach to leave his hands raw. Even though. It doesn’t matter what he does, because his family is in shreds, his mother dead, his father a monster – and it’s his fault, his own damn fault because he thought he was so good, thought he was a god and forgot the one lesson Edward will never, ever forget in his entire life. Never leave anyone behind to get you in the back.
And his sister, a tearless thing with broken pieces in her eyes and no comprehension of the monumental, the ugly, bloody, horrible thing that happened to them.
She doesn’t understand. She just breaks.
And he wants to shake her, yell at her, make her see
, but he doesn’t. As much as he needs to stay sane, as much as he needs someone else to know these things, he’d rather have her safe. He’d rather protect that shred of innocence she somehow managed to cling to through the hours of listening to Elena scream.
To protect her, he’ll gladly give up his sanity.
For a week he keeps his sister with him in the place where a piece of her died and he waits.
He waits for her screams in the night, waits for her to cry, to sob, to fall and stumble and hurt herself. He waits for her to ask where Mommy went.
But she never does.
She just sits there, by the window, waiting, too, for what he doesn’t know.
That’s a lie. He knows. She’s waiting for their parents to come home. Even though, on some level at least, she knows they never will. She would ask if she didn’t, right?
He puts her to bed on their eighth night as orphans and finds his father’s stash of booze under the kitchen sink. Not a good hiding place in a house with a small child but then Sam never worried about such things.
He drags a chair to the place where the floorboards are darker than they should be and sits on it, bottle in hand, guzzling the stuff like its water when it’s definitely not. After half a bottle he considers going upstairs and waking Lizzy up, considers shaking her until she finally cries, finally screams.
He hates tears and he needs her to cry so he can feel something other than numb. If she cries, he can hate something. Hate is good. It’s warm, it burns like the moonshine in his hand, burns down his throat and pools in his guts, hot, alive. Feeling alive sounds damn good right now.
He considers going upstairs and waking Lizzy up so he can hold her close and keep her safe. So he can always watch her, always know where she is. If he never lets her go, the monsters under the bed can never get her. The big bad wolf won’t get past Ed. It won’t.
Not this time.
The contradictive impulses pull at him, tear into him, rip his brain and mind and sanity into pretty ribbons and he knows, he knows
, that he’s losing it.
The next day, as soon as he can open his eyes without retching up his guts, he packs her things, straps her into her car seat and takes her to Joyce.
His aunt accepts the child without enthusiasm but with plenty of resignation and relief. Relief because she knows her nephew, knows that glint in his eyes and she knows, too, that he’s about to go bat shit crazy.
Lizzy is better off with Joyce. Safer.
Joyce doesn’t have mad urges to shake her and hold her close, to hurt her and love her and whisper things in her ear no child of four years should ever know.
He can’t protect Lizzy from the big bad wolf like this, so instead he just settles for killing all
the wolves before they can go after her.
Starting with his own father.
He finds the man sitting in the living room, on the chair standing atop what’s left of his wife, waiting. Edward hands over roughly half of what he pulled out of the different bank accounts and quietly and precisely lays down the law.
Sam, still weak, bloody and half dead, agrees. He pulls a packed duffle bag out of the very back of the hallway closet and leaves without a quiet goodbye.
There’ll never be another hello.
He should kill Samuel Crane, should go for the gun in the drawer and do it, just like Daddy said. Two in the heart, one in the head. He was taught to kill, not to let live.
But he just stands there, head hung in shame, because his knees feel like jelly and Sam knows, was counting on it when he came here tonight. Counting on his son being a pathetic little shit.
That night, Edward crawls into bed next to his sister shortly before dawn and pulls her close for the last time.
Tomorrow he’ll leave.
He finds a man who will teach him what he needs to know. That’s not guns and knives and tracks in the dirt. He knows all those things, has known them since Sam first took him out to hunt when he was seven. He knows how to pull the trigger and feel nothing, how to make the bodies disappear, how to make the monsters bleed.
Edward knows how to kill.
What he doesn’t know is how to keep the rage inside, how to keep Lizzy’s face out of his mind and his hands from the booze that takes away all the pain. He doesn’t know how to push the love and hate he has for his little sister, this tiny broken thing refusing to shatter for him, to cry, aside.
He doesn’t know how to kill without killing himself, too.
His teacher knows. He shows him. He beats him up, leaves him bloody and broken and aching so bad he feels nothing at all anymore. He takes the pieces of Edward and he breaks them again, making something new.
A new animal.
He cuts out the heart.
The next time Ed sees Lizzy, he doesn’t want to shake her till she screams. But he doesn’t want to hug her either.
It’s the price he pays for killing all the bad wolves and as Lizzy looks up at him with big, empty eyes, he knows that she understands.
Eddy’s gone away to kill the monsters, even when he’s with her. That’s okay. Lizzy’s gone, too. In her place, now, is something that calls itself ‘Buffy’ and Joyce ‘Mom’.
But there are glimpses of her. The gun gleaming dully on the kitchen table, a story of stolen crayons, a sweet voice, informing him coolly that ‘the dead see everything’.
He treasures those moments not because they bring him closer to his sister, not because they make his not-heart beat a bit faster, lay lighter in his chest. No. He treasures them because they are proof that he is not the only one that died that night.
Lizzy’s masks are better than his. But she’s still hollow.
He takes satisfaction from that.
And then she makes the world bleed alongside him, and for the first time in a long time, things fall into place. She’s older and prettier, better masks and the same eyes and when her world crumbles, it’s him she comes to.
Takes one to know one.
She hunts with him and he teaches her what his teacher showed him, only he doesn’t have to break her anymore because she’s already in tiny little pieces. All he has to do is stick them back together and make Lizzy new and shiny.
He makes her something called Slayer.
It and Death get along fairly well.
And at night, after they’ve taken their turns in the shower washing off the blood, she creeps into his bedroom and into his bed without invitation, without permission. She lays her head on his chest, listening to his heartbeat as if to make sure it’s still there, wraps her arms and legs around him like he’s a lover prone to running off at night.
She’s still not crying but then he doesn’t need her to anymore. Silence is the new language in the house of Crane, fists the new exclamation marks and death the new grace over every meal.
He’s dead and she’s dead and shaking and hugging her are all the same.
He gets her drunk, eventually. Because she mopes when she can’t kill things and even someone as highly recommended as Death has only so many job-offers to take.
So he gets her drunk.
She takes to alcohol like a fly to water. Her wings stick together and she falls, tumbles, lands in his lap somehow. Sitting on top of him she’s still smaller than him and she blinks up at him with big, green eyes, so much like Elena’s, only not because Mommy didn’t die before she was killed.
She kisses him.
Leans forward into his precious personal space, breathes his breath, plants her hands on his chest, pushes him backwards and kisses him.
“You taste like ashes,” she says as she pulls back.
Donna doesn’t look like her at all. But sometimes, in the right light, at the right angle, when it’s late at night and he’s feeling mellow enough, there is something of her defiance, of her broken, brittle pride in Donna’s expression. And Becca reminds him of little Lizzy, waiting by the window for Daddy who’ll never come home.
The monsters got Becca’s Daddy, too. And Peter sometimes looks at her like he wants to shake her hold her choke her love her and Edward understands that, if nothing else.
So he keeps them because the kids remind him of himself and their mother looks like his sister when he’s fucking her and damn, if he ever needed proof that he’s a rotten piece of shit, this is it.
He asks Donna what he tastes like once and she looks at him funny, not knowing how to answer.
And then Lizzy – Buffy - dies.
She saves the world and jumps off a tower and dies
How dare she?
How dare she leave him alone, walk away, die before he allows her to, die before he killed all the monsters so she can be safe. She dies before he can make her cry, before he can make her laugh, before he figures out whether he loves or hates her, whether he blames her or not.
She dies and leaves him alone with the memory of dark stains and loud screams, leaves him alone with the knowledge that there’s still a house waiting somewhere where a chair stands over the dark spot in the living room and the dust clings to clumsy, tiny handprints on the window panes.
Everything he feels is for her and everything he wants and does and cares about is for her.
And then she dies and he’s –
- he’s –
- he’s free.
It took him sixteen years but finally, finally, the ghost of Lizzy Crane has been exorcised from the ruins of his soul.
The night he gets home from the funeral, he lies in the dark while Donna sleeps and breathes next to him. He puts one hand to his chest, feeling for a heartbeat.
He finds only silence.
No explanation, no tears – never those, he doesn’t think he’s ever seen her cry at all – nothing but two words.
Somehow, he wants to laugh. Laugh and laugh and laugh.
He thought he was free. He should have known better. He is a Crane and their curse is in their eyes and hearts and they are never, ever free.
“I missed you,” he says.
It’s a lie.
Edward has forgotten what missing feels like a long time ago.
He wants to be angry with her for coming here, to St. Louis, into the lion’s den. He wants to scream at her and send her home but where is that? They had one once. He is sure of that. But the feeling eludes him now.
Dark stains and broken men in broken chairs right above them.
Obsolete, she says. They are obsolete.
Doesn’t she know, he wonders, that it was never about the world, about protecting anyone? That not once has he killed without the prayer of her name on his lips. He did it all for her. Always her and no-one, nothing else.
But she does know, he thinks. And she just stands there and looks at him with those damn eyes, like glass, and he knows that she’s tired. Tired of fighting and hunting and never stopping. Tired of being the center, the focus of his hate and love and need and greed.
Tired of carrying the weight of everything he once was because he can’t. He went to kill the bad wolves for her but they got her anyway and she never cried. The negative space inside of her remains as it always has been. Dark and aching and familiar.
The only emotion Edward feels, allows himself to feel, can
feel, is whatever it is that he feels for her. The night Elena died he was suspended, petrified in amber, never to change, never to heal. But somehow she was there, with him, still is, inside that very same bubble.
All he can ever be revolves around her.
It always has.
Obsolete, she says.
For once, he knows what he wants to do to her. He wants to make her scream.
He postpones the wedding. Feeds Donna lies and excuses and somehow makes her believe them. It’s all good and he’s sorry but he has to, lives at stake, she understands.
And then he drives up into the mountains, into one of many hideaways, lies on a rickety cot and stares at the ceiling for hours, trying a wide range of emotion on for size.
Not one of them sticks and somehow he feels vindicated by his failure.
And then, the hotel room.
Girl and boy in the corner, mother crumbling, father standing tall and already lost, monster in the doorway.
Repetition, history, circles, sins and symmetry, memory and blood. Full circle.
And he stands in front of Donna like she matters, like he cares whether she lives or dies. Like he’s ready to give his life for hers and he’s surprised to find that he is.
The wolves got Sam, got Elena, got Lizzy and him and everything that was but they won’t have Donna and her strange shade of innocence, won’t have Peter and Becca and the shreds of soul in their eyes. He doesn’t know if that is love or fatalism at its best, but he knows its how it must be.
Someone must live.
The circle must break.
He wants to do it, want to shoot, two in the heart and one in the head, finally, after all these years. He wants to kill the original wolf, the only monster that ever mattered, the one he wanted to protect Lizzy from all these years.
Kill the monster.
Break the circle.
But if he does, if he draws, aims, pulls the trigger, one, two, three, if he shoots Sam, then what’s left?
He lives to kill this monster.
And then? Marry Donna and move to some backwater town with Peter and Becca until another monster comes and rips them apart for revenge?
Someone must live.
The circle must break.
But if it does, what’s left?
She comes as a human and fights as a monster, words and claws, ripping, tearing, absolving.
She kills what’s left of Sam, the last true Crane, and she leaves the pieces on the floor, broken and bloody. A father who reaps what he sowed.
Donna cries, Becca sobs. Peter’s eyes are strangely dry. Little sister, Buffy Monster, disappears out the door and into the embrace of her new family.
He finds her at dawn, scrapbook in hand, twenty years told in notes in the margins and a few newspaper clippings. Daddy loved them. Daddy broke them. Just like Eddie broke Lizzy when he made her stay in that house, waiting for her tears, like Lizzie broke Eddie with green eyes and a kiss like ashes.
Pieces. Itty bitty pieces.
But Buffy smiles, looks at him with green eyes that glint yellow in the twilight, new and shiny. She smiles at him and below her lovers wait. Her new life waits.
And he leaves her to it.
She’s alive. All for her. Break the circle. Negative space.
He leaves her on that roof, bathed in that dawn, leaves her to her life and her new plans and dreams. Leaves her to her peace.
Donna is packed and ready to take the kids away and never come back by the time he makes it back to New Mexico. She is marching the last of a small stack of boxes out of his house when he turns into the drive and sends him a look of steel and pain and rage.
She finally found her spine and she’s using it to walk away from him.
“Ted,” she says, sending Peter away to keep Becca out of sight. He goes, eyes blazing and fathomless. “If that’s your name.”
She knows it’s not. This, he thinks, is her way of trying to rub it in. He fails to tell her that he has no wounds to rub anything in, salt or words. Bled dry, is what he is. Bled dry of everything but a little girl with green eyes that died a long time ago.
Dawn, that little slip of a copy, calls him Ghost. He’s not. Ghosts have unfinished business. Ghosts have something left to do. He thought he had to save the girl, but she saved herself and he stood in the corner, watching, protecting a woman who is little more but meat.
“Donna,” he returns and watches as she waits, waits for something he can’t fathom.
Negative space. Her hidden tears move nothing in him. He lets her walk away, Peter and Becca following like ducklings.
The house is all but rotted through.
The floorboards are moldy and soft under his heavy boots, the furniture is in shambles, whether from teenaged vandals of wild animals he doesn’t know.
The chair is tipped over, lying on its side, a dead thing in a dark stain of blood. Fitting.
He rights it, drops into it and is mildly stunned when it carries his weight.
Once upon a time, so long ago, he sat on this chair when Daddy talked of tracking, of the right way to kill a doe.
Once upon a time, he crouched in that corner, Lizzy held close, and waited for the monster to go away.
Once upon a time he locked himself in this house with a little girl, putting pressure on her in the hopes that she would shatter, so he could, too.
Once upon a time, he gave his father an ultimatum in this room, told him that if he ever saw him again, he’d kill him.
And then he went into the world, found someone to cut out his heart and put it in a jar. He gave that jar to a girl who was once Lizzy. For safekeeping.
And she took it with her into the world and returned to him and kissed him and put the taste of ashes in his mouth and died and set him free and came back to haunt him.
And then he broke his promise to his father and stood there, just stood there, while his sister did the deed. Daddy came back and it was Lizzy who killed him, in her new suit, Buffy Monster, little sister all grown up.
And his fiancé left him and now he’s here, full circle, back where it started.
He kicks at his mother’s blood soaked into the dirty floor and wonders how thirty-year-old moonshine tastes.