***Part Four***

Buffy made fists with her hands and counted to ten in her head, her eyes closed tightly as she did these things. These were exercises she had learned at the hospital to help the thoughts and hallucinations to stop. She opened her eyes but he was still sitting across the table from her, a smug grin on his face. It was a kind face, innocent. Angelic. He had dark eyes that she could get lost in. She would be tempted to if he was not talking nonsense. She had the overwhelming feeling that he was not to be trusted, that he was not her friend at all no matter what he said.

She shook her head and looked away. She had to look away because he seemed so sincere, so trustworthy and she was tempted to believe him. Amber and Jack were dancing. Buffy loved to dance but she had no one to dance with. She had hoped this guy came to the table to ask her to dance not talk to her about things that were better left unspoken.

The thing was she did not want to believe she was crazy. But that would mean that she had been in the hospital for nothing. She had taken too many pills and changed her way of thinking to go back to it now.

"Merrick," she whispered.

"What?" Angel asked.

She shook her head. "Nothing," she whispered and looked away once again. She could not look at the hopeful look in his eyes. Her parents were getting along, they were happy because she was no longer loony. She could not go back there no matter how tempting it was. And it was tempting. For some reason she had the urge to hunt at that very moment, something she had not experienced in a long time.

"Not real," she murmured under her breath. Vampires, demons, slayers, and watchers. None of them were real. They were figments of her active imagination stemming from stress and depression. Her parents were fighting constantly and her grades were slipping drastically because of it. She was afraid she would lose her friends and that she would not be able to afford the clothes and things she was used to.

"I'm just a girl, Angel, nothing more. You have me confused with someone else."

He leaned closer, his hands palms down on the table. "Come with me."

"What?" she asked. "I don't go home with strange men."

"I didn't ask you to go home with me. I told you to come with me."

"You told me? I don't think so. I don't even know you."

"You don't?" he asked, as if he expected a different answer from her. He did kind of look at her as if he knew her. Maybe she had seen him at this club before, but she doubted it. He would not recognize the Buffy of tonight from a year ago. She looked like a different person paler, thinner, and not bubbly like she was before. And there was something else about him, something that made the hair on the back of her neck stand.

She shook her head, dismissing the thoughts that were entering her mind. The instinct to fight him was strong, almost controlling her but she would not let it. She could not let it. "I'm not going there," she said adamantly, her eyes never leaving his. She had to be strong about this now or she suspected he would never leave her alone. If she got sent to the hospital again there was a good chance they would never let her go.

"Not going where?"

"You know where."

"Do I?"

"If you're someone my doctor or parents sent to test me you can tell them I passed with flying colors."

"No one sent me."

"Then go away. I can't deal with this now. My life is back to normal. It won't work I'm not going to be sucked into it again."

"If you think you can get sucked in again you must believe it's real."

"It's not real. It's not. Now please leave me alone," she said and stood from the table. She walked to the dance floor and joined Amber, knowing her friend would not mind.

"Where's the hottie?"

"I don't know," Buffy said. She glanced back at the table and sure enough, tall, dark and broody was still there. He took a sip from his beer casually as if he had all night. Buffy suspected somehow he did. Now that she was not so close to him the urge to slay him was not as strong as it had been. It was all a figment. She had been reminded of things that was all.

"He's sure looking at you."

"It must be my new lipstick," Buffy said with a smile, getting into the song. She pushed thoughts of vampires and the fact she sensed tall, broody man was one away. If her mother was behind this she was going to give her a piece of her mind later.

At the end of each song, Buffy glanced at the table to see if he was gone. He was there watching her with those dark brown eyes that roved over her familiarly and way too possessively considering they had just met.

She never lacked for a dance partner when the DJ slowed things up. She just wished he would leave so she could sit down. She really did not feel like dancing with dozens of strange guys tonight. Oh sure one or two asked for more than one dance but she was not ready for a boyfriend. Tyler had all but shunned her when she returned to school but she was going to get him back.

It was the most embarrassing thing. She had him all but wrapped around her finger before she went into the hospital. And now he was with that skank Carmen and had not said one word to Buffy since she had been back at Hemry the past couple of weeks.

She imagined it was her own fault he had moved on. She had not written to him the entire time she was gone. She had not known what to say to him for one. And she was not entirely sure she could trust him either. When her parents admitted her she severed all contacts with her friends. It was better that way.

Most of them seemed to have forgotten about her burning down the gym. It had not been as hard as she thought to get right back to where she had been before the whole mess. She was in with the popular crowd and sought after by guys. But she had really liked Tyler, which made it harder to see him with Carmen. She pretended to be his friend, but secretly she hoped the two would break up at any moment.

The DJ put on a country and western song, line dancing was something she had never been good at. She was a Top 40 girl, but since broody guy was still at their table she put herself in line for the dance.

"What's his deal?" Amber asked Buffy.

"I have no clue."

"He doesn't look like he's going anywhere."

"I suppose I could try again to tell him to leave."

"Well, if you think you'll be safe."

Buffy scoffed slightly. She was strong, stronger than the guys she saw working out in the weight room. She had kept that to herself. Doctor Stolmgren had been adamant that it was like vampires and Merrick, not real. Buffy eventually played along with him but she knew that she was strong for a girl her size. "I'll be safe with him," she said, her attention no longer focused on the dance. She did the steps in a lackluster fashion, anxious now to get it done with.

She was not having a good time knowing he was skulking around. This was her first night out with her friends she did not need him hovering around. Either he wanted to dance with her and act like every other guy who hit on her or he could hit the road.

"You're still here." The feeling was there again, that instinct of survival and knowing that he threatened hers somehow. He had done nothing, though.

"I'm not going anywhere."

"You must lead a pretty dull life if the only thing you have to do on a Friday night is hang out here and watch me dance."

"I guess that depends on how entertaining watching you dance is."

"Okay. You really need to rethink your approach."

"I'm not approaching you. All I'm trying to do is to get you to come with me."


"I can't tell you that. Not here."

"And if I come with you, you'll leave me alone?"

"If you want me to."

"Oh, I'll want you to. Wait," she said quickly, realizing she was agreeing to something she knew she should not. "I can't go with you. I can't. Why are you doing this to me?"

"I'm trying to help you."

"You are not. Trying to get me to believe in what I worked so hard to realize is not real is hurting me not helping me."

"How do you know what I'm going to do?"

"Because I feel it. When you're around I know and I sense you and have to fight the urge to drive a stake through your heart." He smirked then. "You think that's funny? I have the urge to kill you and you find that funny. I think you're the one who needs to be admitted."

"I'm just glad the urge is still there."

"You're glad I want to kill you?"

"It's not me you want to kill or you would have by now."

"No, I wouldn't have because I refuse to do it. I'm not that girl, Angel."

"You are that girl, Buffy. You're not this girl. You're acting a part, running away from who and what you are."

"I am not running from anything. I'm trying to save my life, Angel. I'm seventeen years old."

"Is that all?"

"Yes. I have to finish school."

"There are more important things than school."

"No, see, there aren't."

"Buffy, you can run from it, you can pretend you aren't who we both know you are but it'll only get worse."

"Worse than burning down the high school gym?"


"Sorry, but I can't picture that." She turned to go back to the dance floor. Obviously there was no getting through to this guy so the best thing to do was just leave and let him figure out that she was not doing it. She was hanging onto her sanity by a thread as it was she would not let him push her over the edge into the dark abyss that was a life in the psych ward on meds.

"It's in you, you can't run away from it."

"I'm not running," she replied flippantly and joined Amber and Jack once again, immersing herself in the music and the pulse of the people around her.

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