Title: The One To Blame
Author: Robyn the Snowshoe Hare
Part: 1/1
Disclaimer: All rights belong to Joss Whedon, WB, and Fox.

Author's Notes: I swear, whether it's because of my dismal Trig grade or college applications, my Muse has taken it as her mission to depress the hell out of everyone.


Hi, my name is Peter Eidenns.

I'm a spiritual voyeur.

Damn, bad start. No, don't run away, I was just joking. For some reason, people never seem to get my jokes.

I'm actually a legal assistant. I like it. It's decent pay, and it doesn't take up my life to the degree that being a full-fledged lawyer would've. Gives me plenty of time for my favorite pastime.

The Tarot.

I've always had an odd connection with the Tarot. It's almost scary. They don't work for me like they do for other people. For one thing, the cards tell me stories.

Now, before you go jumping to conclusions, let me just say straight out that I'm completely sane. Well, for someone living in Sunnydale, that is. But I don't hear voices, and I'm not about to go running around in nothing but my boxer shorts shouting that the Earth is doomed.

Okay, so I did that once. But it was only in my backyard, and I've apologized to Mrs. Tracy several times for the shock I gave her.

Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll start at the beginning.

I've lived in Sunnydale all of my life. I graduated from Sunnydale High School, and attended Sunnydale Community College. The firm I work at is called the Sunnydale Legal Firm.

This town could really benefit from original names. But I digress.

I've been reading the cards since I was in high school. I guess that's how I figured out about the vampires, though I think that everyone in Sunnydale is aware of them on some level. Most of us just ignore it. But it was a bad year for my high school. Out of 220 incoming freshman, a grand total of 53 graduated in the class of 1967.

I was just playing around with the cards one night, when for some reason I started dealing them in a very unconventional pattern. My usual spread was ten cards, three across, three down, then four up the side.

My new spread, though, was more opposing forces. There were only two cards. The Devil and The Wheel Of Fortune. It was weird. Then my hand brushed over The Devil, and I realized exactly what the danger was.

A vampire king called The Master was trying to open something powerful called the Hellmouth. Nothing opposed him. His success was almost assured. I was seriously considering freaking out, but fortunately my hand touched The Wheel card. I saw how everything would turn out. Through a simple fluke, the Master would fail. We would be safe.

Of course, all of this was almost five months in the future. In the meantime, The Master was building his strength. Apparently when a vamp wants to build his strength, he wants young blood. It was a massacre of the teens of Sunnydale. Sometimes 15 kids would go missing in one night. After the sun went down, I didn't stir out of my house for anything. It was death on my social life, but I was still breathing when it was all over and The Master was trapped.

Of course, the cards offered me distant warnings. That The Master would rise again. Of course, the cards gave me dates, too. The Master would be stuck for another 30 years. But until then, there really wasn't all that much that could be done. According to the cards, there would be protectors for the town. And to a senior in high school, thirty years is a lifetime. More than that. An eternity that just can't be fathomed.

So I went on with life.

I had originally planned on getting out of Sunnydale. Of course, when I went to Sunnydale University for college, I pretty much sealed my fate. For most kids, when you go to the community college it pretty much means that you are going to live and die in one town. But for one reason or another, I never transferred out of Sunnydale U, and I got my bachelor's degree in 1971. I got the job that I've held for 36 years now, and even then I guess I knew that I just didn't have the drive to get myself anywhere. I was too easily contented. With a salary steady enough to settle myself in a small house and be able to get a new car whenever mine finally bit the dust, I was happy.

I married Sylvia after I'd been with the company about a year. I loved her, yeah, but it wasn't some great romance. I never found myself head over heels in love with her. It was a comfortable love. Maybe she was looking for something different - I don't know. All I know is that for a while, we were happy. Our son, Martin, was born in '75. Deborah arrived a year later.

Through all of this, I usually spent an hour or so every day with my Tarot deck. I'd sit at the kitchen table while Sylvia made dinner with either Marty or Deb balanced on my knee, just dealing the Tarot over and over. The kids never thought it was weird, because they'd seen me do this all of their lives. Sylvia put up with it pretty well. I guess she thought it was just some odd hobby, and probably counted her blessings that I didn't spent my spare time drinking like Carol Danvers' husband. Well, until the Companions started being born.

Two Knights and three Queens were born between '80 and '81. At least, that's how they always showed up in my Tarot spreads. The royalty of Swords, Pentacles, Rods, and Cups.

It all started in the winter of '80. Sylvia was making meatloaf, and Deb was sick in bed with the chicken pox, so it was Marty who was sitting with me while I dealt. One of the Knights (I even forget what suit it was) showed up, and I just *knew* what was happening. I got up from the table, grabbed my wallet and keys, and went out to my car. Not a word to either Sylvia or Marty.

I drove right over to the hospital, where in room 234 Reuben Fitzgerald Osbourne had been born. For all their lack in the choosing of baby names, his parents were really nice people. Jack Osbourne was a really nice guy, and when I lied and told him that my own wife was in labor he really opened up. I remembered when Marty was being born and the doctor kicked me out of the delivery room, and so I could really understand what Jack was going through.

We talked for a few hours, then Jack got the call that his son had been born. I went up with him, and while Jack was hugging his wife, I got to see the little boy that my Tarot had told me so much about.

I had known that he would fall in love with one of the Queens. I had known that he would have a talent for music. I had known that he would always be calm and collected. I even knew when he would die.

What I hadn't known was that he would have a head of dark hair. I hadn't known that even a few hours out of his mother's womb he would still be able to curl his little baby hand around my finger. I hadn't known that he would open his eyes and regard me with that sleepy look that newborns have that cuts straight to your heart.

I almost turned to Jack right there and told him to get out of Sunnydale. To hide his baby away from what Destiny had in store from him, to keep those sleepy eyes innocent.

I didn't, though. I didn't tell Ira Rosenberg that his baby girl would be using that marvelous mind to research musty books on demons; or Jay Harris that his only son would be using that wit to break tension on vampire hunts; or Mark Chase that his little premature treasure would have her heart broken.

And I didn't even hint to Hank Summers that his golden-haired daughter would suffer more pain than anyone should. Didn't tell him that he would live to see her tombstone.

Nope. I didn't tell them any of that. To them, I was just a guy who happened to be with them when they became daddies, the guy who was there to pat them on the back in congratulations when they first saw that little bundle that would take over their whole lives.

Sylvia left me in '89. I guess she finally decided that maybe Carol Danvers wasn't so worse off after all. She remarried pretty quickly, and I guess that Dave was a better dad to the kids than I was. Heaven knows that they turned out well enough. Marty works at Microsoft and Deb is in medical school. They call sometimes, send me cards on my birthday, and all that. I've never dealt the Tarot for either of them, no matter how many times they asked, and I'm glad for it. Knowing all the hurt that was in store for them and not being able to do anything for them would've killed me.

The Master rose right on schedule in the summer of '97. The Annointed One led the Slayer to him like a lamb to the slaughter, and her blood was enough to tip the scales and let him out.

Three Queens and a King were in the library when the Hellmouth opened. Janna Calderash, Cordelia Chase, Willow Rosenberg, and Rupert Giles. One Knight, Reuben Osbourne, was at band practice. The other Knight, Alexander Harris, had gone to retrieve the other King, Angelus Roerke. The last Queen, Elizabeth Summers, had gone to die.

And me? Well, as soon as Elizabeth died, I indulged in the boxer short incident that I told you about earlier. By the time that I'd calmed down, it was all over. Had I bothered to look closer at Elizabeth's death card, I would've realized that like the card itself it meant a new beginning. The Knight of Swords brought her back, and she triumphed over evil.

Things were pretty good for a while. Oh, never perfect. Never in this life, for that bunch. But pretty good. Friendship, companionship, understanding. It was all there.

Plus love.

Yep, there was love. The kind of romantic, passionate love that refuses to see reason. Kinda like a tidal wave, it just sweeps over everything. Between a Slayer and a Vampire, no less. I hope that I'm not the only one who sees irony in that.

The card that kept popping up for Elizabeth and Angelus was The Sun. Contentment, joy, all that lovely stuff. There were hints of danger, but nothing that seemed really impressive.

Well, until one night I dealt a spread that went like this:

The Emperor - This card represented Angelus.

The Empress - This card represented Elizabeth.

Death - Something was causing great change. Something dangerous.

The Lovers - Angelus and Elizabeth, pretty self-explanatory. For whatever reason, they were giving in to the moment.

The Hanged Man - A soul in the balance.

The Devil - A demon loosed.

The Star, reversed - All hope gone.

I remembered how I had held Elizabeth Summers in my arms when she was only five hours old, and even though I had known what was in store for her for seventeen years, I still cried. Because I had still had hopes for that little girl. But the cards told me pretty much everything. Angelus' soul would be restored, but I knew that The Sun card would never come up for them again. The events that were going to occur in the next few months would raise a doubt between them that could never be resolved. And more, it would drive a wedge between Elizabeth and the Companions. They might recover from the damage done, but the scar would always be there.

I watched as events unfolded. Janna Caldarash's murder. The romance between Alexander Harris and Cordelia Chase. The love between Willow Rosenberg and Reuben Osbourne. Angelus' obsession for Elizabeth. William the Bloody's rage towards his sire. The discovery of Acathla. The torture of Rupert Giles. The restoration of Angelus' soul. Elizabeth's summer of exile.

One morning in September, I was drinking coffee and just fiddling around with the Tarot when the Five of Cups just seemed to jump out at me. The Five of Cups means hope for the future, and that a valuable lesson has been learnt from past experiences. Getting up, I didn't even put my coffee cup in the sink before walking out to my car and driving to a rundown apartment in LA. I'd never been to LA before, so I honestly couldn't tell you how I navigated to one particular street, or what made me sit on the hood of my car for two hours waiting for a petite blond to walk down the steps of the apartment building with a large duffel bag slung over her shoulder. I couldn't even tell you how I recognized her. But I did.

"Going back to Sunnydale?" I called to her. She just skidded to a stop and stared at me in shock. Which was quite a natural reaction, considering the circumstances. "Come on," I said, opening the passenger door for her. "I'll give you a lift."

The fact that she just tossed her duffel into the backseat of my battered Toyota and climbed into the passenger seat told me that this girl had been living on the Hellmouth too long. The dazed expression on her face told me that whatever peace she had been searching for had eluded her. The fact that she didn't ask me a single question told me that this kid had been missing both major meals and serious sleep for quite some time.

I couldn't help her with her first two problems, but I could do something about the third. I pulled over at the first diner I saw that looked like it might have its cockroach problem under relative control and herded her into a booth. She still didn't seem to be up to talking, so I ordered for her. It's been a while since I had to order for a kid, so I just got her a simple hamburger, milkshake, and fries combination that had always been a hit with Marty and Deb. The poor kid ate like she hadn't touched food in a week, which was entirely possible considering that she had just come back from a demon dimension. After she was done, I paid the tab and we hit the road again. She slept most of the way back to Sunnydale, which I was glad for. By the time I pulled up in front of her house, she looked much better. As she moved to get out, I couldn't help but say one thing to her.

"Please, please, *please*," I begged, my paternal side coming out, "never get into a car with a stranger like that again." It must've struck her as funny, because her mouth twitched into what seemed like her first smile in a long time.

That was the last time I saw her alive. Looking in her green eyes, eyes that were so young, yet filled with so much pain, I had felt deep shame at what I was. A watcher, someone who had the power to intercede, yet never did. But I knew from my Tarot readings that that is what I was meant to be. It was what I had been born for, sadly. My destiny was to herald her death. Only once did I try to defy that mandate.

It all happened three days ago. That afternoon, I had carefully filled a water pistol with holy water and slipped a cross into my pocket. Pulling on a heavy coat and boots, I walked out to St. Mark's Cemetery, where I sat down behind a huge stone mausoleum. Slowly, the sun went down, and the shadows became longer and longer as I waited patiently. At around one in the morning, I saw a flash of blonde hair as Elizabeth Summers ran past me, followed closely by five large vampires. I watched as she turned and made a stand. A shallow cut across her forehead dribbled blood lazily into her eyes, but it was the deep slice in her side that was giving her trouble. Despite her wounds, however, she quickly dispatched three of the vampires. It was just as she was staking the fourth, though, that the final bloodsucker slipped behind her and prepared to strike. As he did so, though, I carefully aimed my water pistol and prepared to fire.

Just as my finger began to squeeze the trigger, a strong hand wrapped around my wrist, cutting off the motion. As my head snapped around in amazement, I saw a short man with a determined expression on his face. A second later, I heard Elizabeth's scream.

I didn't need to look to know what had happened. The Tarot had already shown me, and it wasn't something that I wanted to see twice. I just looked at the demon who had stopped me.

"Some things are written in stone." Whistler said. But despite the determined set of his jaw and the resolve in his tone, his eyes were no drier than my own as we went to collect the body. We wrapped her in my jacket and carried her to the house of Rupert Giles.

Rupert Giles might've held the title of her Watcher, but that was hardly the case. Before that night, Whistler and I had never laid eyes on each other, but once we locked gazes we knew the other as though we had been companions for years. And in a way we had been. Both of us had watched Elizabeth throughout her short life, and so we were an ironic choice to be the ones to carry her remains to those who had loved her.

We had watched, but apart from a few brief moments, we had never interfered. We had known every pain that she would experience, and we never lifted a hand to halt it, or a voice in warning.

Whistler comforts himself by saying that it was all a Higher Plan. But he understands the shame I feel. He understands why I bought the gun. He even helped me go over my will, helped me make sure that my money will go to Marty and Deb instead of the IRS.

I never dealt the Tarot for myself. I can't help but wonder that if I had done that 30 years ago, when I was young and full of promise, if I would've burned it if I'd seen what was in store for me. But it's a little late to regret my past.

I know you need someone to blame for your daughter's death, Joyce. And this is to tell you that I'm the one. Not Rupert Giles, not Angelus, not anyone else you might think of. Please, let the hatred die with me.

~Peter Eidenns