Chapter 1: Sudden Reminder
Xander, bittersweet, ring
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit is made from this work of fiction.
It wasn't a poetic moment. There was no melodramatically swelling music, no subtle yet meaningful shift in lighting. Instead, it happened so mundanely that he could have missed it entirely.
Garbage day was tomorrow. Come six in the morning, the Sunnydale Sanitation Department would clatter down the street, waking everyone from a sleep of blissful ignorance, and come hell or high-water, quite literally, if the bags weren't at the curb on time, Xander Harris's kitchen would smell nauseatingly like leftover Chinese food for another week.
That was why he was fishing through the junk drawer near midnight, searching vainly for the garbage bag ties. Instead of the white, plastic-coated wires, his fingers closed on something metallic and undeniably real simply because of the randomness of his accidental contact.
For a long moment, he left his hand in the drawer, his gaze straight ahead. Unbidden, the tips of his fingers traced the circular shape, felt its smooth, perfect finish, sought out the sharpness of the small bump it bore. He knew it by memory. He'd played with it long enough the night he'd given it to her, jangling the box in his pocket until the top had popped open and what it contained fell out to be surreptitiously burnished between his thumb and index finger, weighing possible futures with the touch, wondering if he dared...
If things had gone according to plan, they would have been approaching the half-year mark of their wedded lives. What that would have been like he didn't know. He knew he probably wouldn't be ordering from Ming's Pagoda five times a week. He knew he wouldn't be having breakfast in silence every morning, drowning out the uncomfortable quiet with a radio station always tuned to country music. He knew the bed wouldn't be a place he avoided until he was so tired he hoped his eyes would close in sleep once his head touched the pillowcase. Not that they did. But would he have been happier? Would she?
He would never know. He was left with moments that haunted him: her eyes when she'd said yes, the way she stretched her neck in the morning like a contented cat, how she would clap her hands and smile sun-bright when he did something that made her feel loved. Moments... and the thing in his hand.
He returned to himself abruptly. The world had in spite of the odds, gone marching on since the day he'd thrown the object into the drawer with, as he'd put it, "the rest of the junk" after that night at the Magic Box. Anger flared in him as he remembered what he had seen, and for an instant, he nearly pitched it into the bag with the rest of the scraps of his life. But the pain around his heart wasn't only rage. Never taking it out of the drawer, he released it, found the ties, and slid the collection of bits and pieces closed with a strangely reverent hand.
Chapter 2: Valentine's Day
Spike, happy, necklace
For the first time in what felt like a century, Spike smiled. So things weren't exactly perfect. He was in a wheelchair, his girl was cheating on him with the new, more insane version of her sire, and two Slayers were bopping about on the globe. At the moment he didn't care.
He had begun searching for the ideal gift weeks ago --not an easy task. Since he wanted to keep the present a surprise, he couldn't trust any of the fledges with his errand. That meant, as usual, if he wanted something done right, he had to do it himself. Elluding Angelus, making his way about the virtually rampless Sunnydale, and having to actually buy something rather than kill for it since he wasn't in a position to hunt had been enormous challenges.
But he had licked them all.
He peered through the glass display case at Fabrizio's Jewel Box with a wide grin. Nestled on a bed of ebony silk lay the necklace for his princess. The gold glowed softly under the shop's lights, and the its stones flashed almost as brightly as her sparkling eyes.
"Is this the one?" asked the girl behind the counter as she gestured towards it.
"That'd be it, pet," he responded with a smile as he plopped a wad of cash, newly converted from 19th century English pounds, on the countertop.
"She's a very lucky girl," she remarked as she counted the bills and handed him a receipt.
"Nah, I'm the lucky one," he said with wistful expression on his face. "Can you wrap that up for me?"
She nodded pleasantly and slipped the necklace into a black velvet case, then wrapped it in crimson paper, topping it with a white satin bow before passing it down to him.
"It's been a pleasure doing business with you, sir. Please, stop back again soon."
Spike gave her a wink and rolled out the door, making his way back home carefully so he wouldn't run into Angelus's minions or the Slayer.
A few minutes later, another customer walked into the shop. The girl behind the counter looked up, startled at his arrival.
"We're just about to close up," she said nervously, looking at the tall, broad man with more than a twinge of fear.
"Couldn't you stay open just a little bit longer? My friend was in here earlier. Blond? Short? Wheelchair? Have you seen him?" he said in a strange tone. The words were friendly enough, but the way he said them was almost mocking.
"Yes, he was in to pick up a gift for his girlfriend."
The man smiled broadly, but the grin only made her alarm stronger. "Really? What'd he get her?"
"A necklace," she answered, her voice cracking slightly. "Is there anything I can help you with? I really do need to leave for the night."
"Yeah, I think you can help me," he smirked at her. "I should pick up a little present for Drusilla myself."
Chapter 3: Memento Mori
Giles, sadness, necklace
One year exactly had passed since Jenny's murder. Many things had changed in that time. A new Slayer had been called to the Hellmouth, Joyce knew her daughter's secret, and Angel had returned, ensouled, from Hell. Many changes, but one thing remained the same.
He still missed her every day.
Giles had known tonight would be particularly painful. Willow, Buffy, and Xander had offered to stay with him, tactfully avoiding mentioning why as though saying the words would make it worse. Angel had taken that theory a step further by disappearing. Giles had seen the shame haunting the vampire's eyes in the days leading up to the anniversary, and though part of him felt sympathy for the obviously tortured being, he couldn't find it in his heart to forgive him, not yet.
So here he was, alone in his flat, staring thoughtfully at the remnants of a microwave dinner that had tasted like cardboard and sawdust. He pulled his worn cardigan tighter around himself to keep out a chill as he stood, deposited the plate in the recycling bin, and entered into the living room. For a long time, he sat on the couch and listened to the second hand on the wall clock tick in an unending, monotonous meter.
Eventually, he moved his hand to his jeans' pocket, and his fingers found the small, smooth object he had grown so accustomed to over the last year. Reverently, he removed the necklace and cradled it in his palm. He had never worn it, though he had considered putting it on beneath his shirt when Willow had first given it to him. Healing powers, she'd said, and he'd needed that desperately. But he had decided it would be too difficult to clarify why he was wearing a pink stone around his neck should it ever be revealed. He would have felt obliged to explain where it had come from, and that wasn't a story he wanted to tell at a moment's notice.
The soft pink had been appropriate for Jenny: unabashedly feminine, the color of June rose petals and sunrises painting early morning skies. Sunrises she would never see and roses he would never give her, he thought resignedly. The tip of his finger glided instinctively over the smoothness of the quartz. It had rarely been off his person since that day, and he had a habit of reaching into his pocket and surreptitiously rubbing the pendant between his fingers when he was anxious or concerned.
Giles kept his eyes fixed on the stone for several motionless hours until the clock struck twelve. Then he stood, climbed the stairs to his bedroom, and took a battered cigar box from under his bed. Opening the lid, his eyes rested softly on his grandfather's silent pocket watch, a dried white rose from his aunt's casket, and a locket holding a strand of his mother's hair. Slowly, he lowered Jenny's necklace into the box, paused for a breath, then closed the lid.
Chapter 4: Prezzies
Drusilla, happy, earrings
"Cover your eyes, Drusilla. If you peek, there shall be no birthday present."
She whimpered playfully as Angelus's booted footsteps echoed in the hall. It wasn't her birthday. Angelus had no idea when she had been born, nor did he care to know. However, he had made a promise, and she'd kept her part of the bargain. For a full week Drusilla had not annoyed Darla, and the peace was most welcome. She had earned a treat. Rewarding his childe when she was good wasn't as enjoyable for him as punishing her when she was bad, but it was necessary. Still, he intended to get in a bit of both before the night was over, and the thought set him smiling.
Humming tunelessly, Drusilla perched on a hassock drawn near the fire. A smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, and a giggle, startlingly childlike, broke from her lips. It was a marked change from her manner of the preceding month.
During that time, she had been plagued with fits of melancholy, sometimes wrapping herself around Angelus's legs on his way out for his evening hunt, wailing loudly and begging him not to leave her. This had usually been followed by Darla prying her off his pantleg by clawing at the girl's face until she bled, then by William tenderly licking away the blood and holding her in his lap as she continued to cry. Romania was not agreeing with her. Angelus found the scenes amusing, but Darla had taken him aside and warned him that unless he controlled Drusilla, she would by using a stake.
Hence, the promise of a pretty gift for the insane woman-child was made. She had restrained herself from anything too exceptional, though it was obviously taking a flood of willpower. Seven days had passed since her last outburst, and he gladly stole a token for her reward.
"Your hand," the brogue purred suddenly from before her, and she put forth her hand expectantly. A small box wrapped in silk was nestled into her palm. "You may open your eyes."
Immediately her lids sprang open, and she crowed in happiness at the pretty package. She ripped through the silk, tore open the box, and there lay two perfect, tear-drop shaped earrings unlike anything she had ever seen. Surrounded by a slim border of twisted gold were a pair of black stones. Iridescent rainbows of blue, green, and red played over each. The colors swirled in the firelight, and she gleefully clapped her hands.
"Black opals," Angelus explained. "They only started mining them this year. They'll suit you better than white ones."
She cooed appreciatively, her fingers holding them to her ears coquettishly.
"Am I pretty?" she asked with a feline smile.
"Aye, that you be," Angelus replied, taking the earrings from her and inspecting their cruelly sharp posts, then turning his wicked gaze on her unpierced lobes. "Now for the second part of the present. After all, you were a very naughty girl."
Chapter 5: Duty
Wesley, determined, cuff links
Wesley's gold cufflinks clinked into the change tray on his dresser. They glinted at him coldly, each bearing the initials WWP in sharp script.
Today had been his final day at the Watcher's Academy, and in celebration of his completed schooling, his parents had taken him to an expensive, highly stuffy restaurant. Perhaps it would be better to say his mother had timidly suggested marking the occasion and his father had gruffly complied, making reservations without asking him where he wanted to dine. It was only his way, the young man told himself, trying not to feel looked over.
In truth, Wesley would have preferred a pub or rowdy eating-house to the pretentious upper-crust establishment. All night he was reminded of what his life must become in service to the Council: conformity and blandness. After the raspberry flan, ordered by his father though his son detested raspberries, his mother had opened her evening bag and nervously taken out the box. Wesley could tell she hadn't asked his father's permission in the matter of a present, and he was touched she would venture so far outside of propriety. A genuine smile, one of few he had ever allowed himself, crept to his eyes.
"Thank you, Mother," he said politely as he lifted the lid and saw the cufflinks. "I'm sure I shall find use for them."
His father had glanced at the present warily, his eyes squinting to read the letters.
"I hope you will prove worthy of the name those initials signify," he spoke in his clipped voice. "At your age, your Uncle Theodore had been a Watcher for over a year and dealt with three Slayers. I myself graduated six months earlier than you, and with significantly higher marks."
"Father, I was at the top of my class," Wesley said softly.
"A poor class it must have been. You'd do well to remember the family honor now rests upon you, and I trust you will rise quickly through the ranks to make up for your deficiencies of late."
Although Wesley wanted to scream, he found himself, as he always did around the imposing man, wilting. "The motorbike was an expedient way to get to class. It was cheaper than an automobile, and it was much easier to find parking space."
"And utterly, completely undignified. Selling it was the only way you would be taken seriously. Life is not an opportunity to make a spectacle of oneself; it is hard work, and the rigors of your calling should be your only thought."
"Yes, Father," he replied woodenly.
Those two gold circles on his dresser stared at him, mocking him with an existence made up of dress shirts and tweed, reports and rules. Sighing, he reminded himself he had no choice in the matter. Determinedly thinning his lips, he vowed he would show his father how wrong he was. He was capable of succeeding. Committed to this idea, he drifted asleep, grateful Sunnydale was thousands of miles away from England.
Chapter 6: Quiet Strength
Tara, strength, loose stone
Bus rides weren't her favorite thing... never knowing who might sit in the next seat, the wheels never cushioning the bumps in the road. Tara knew she'd have a sore back by the time she got to California, but she didn't care. Looking out the window at the passing roadside restaurants and two-bit gas stations, she noticed that no sooner had she seen them than they were part of the past and behind her. She liked that feeling.
Optimistic might not quite describe her mood. After all, she knew no one in the state. Her fingers gently pulled the slender silver chain around her neck until she held the pendant between fingers, and she remembered the day it had been given to her.
"Happy birthday, honey!" her mother had called in the autumn morning air.
Tara's tenth birthday had dawned clear and radiant, the sun sparkling through the yellow birch tree in the yard. Her mother had known to look for her outside not because of the beauty of the day but due to her father's drinking the night before. He had come home reeking of whiskey, and the loud fight that followed frightened the girl. Tara had heard it through the thin walls and never fallen asleep afterwards. At sunrise, she had climbed out her bedroom window and sat in the hencoop, feeling safer in the tiny shed.
Tara came running, though, when she heard her mother's voice. No matter how many times she heard her father scream "demon" and "damned" and "worthless" or how often she heard her mother cry, when morning came Tara knew Momma wasn't evil; Momma sometimes seemed like the only person she knew who wasn't.
"Here's a special present for my girl," she'd said, giving her a small box wrapped in colorful paper. Eagerly, she'd opened the gift and found inside it a miniscule stone as golden as the autumn sun.
"That's a topaz, November's birthstone. I saved the egg money a good while for it, but I couldn't afford a chain," the woman had explained apologetically.
"That's okay, Momma. I love it!" Tara had said happily, holding the flashing stone up to the light.
"Carry that with you. The topaz symbolizes strength, just like the kind that lies deep inside you, sweetheart."
When Momma died a few years later, the stone was in Tara's pocket. The little money that her mother had put aside for her went partly to buy the chain that encircled her neck. She didn't wear it all the time, but she always kept it near her. She had worn it to take the scholarship test for UC Sunnydale, and she was wearing it again today as another part of her life opened.
The bus hit a nasty bump, and Tara was jolted back to reality. She'd be there soon. What she'd find when she reached her new "home" was uncertain, but she remembered what her mother had told her and was filled with a strange, cautious hope.
Chapter 7: Beyond Price
William, hopeful, jewel imagery
William had no precious gems to give his beloved: no sparkling jewels or gold and silver intricately wrought were his to present to her. But, in a way, he was almost glad. Rubies could never hope to look anything but dull beside her scarlet lips, and what emerald could compare to the color of her eyes?
Or sapphire. Maybe it was topaz? Dash it all, he had to work up enough nerve to look her in the face long enough to figure out exactly what she looked like! He had always been a timid soul, but she made the condition a thousand times worse. Every time he opened his mouth near her, his tongue stumbled over words as though he were drunk, and his hands took on a life of their own, sometimes fluttering about helplessly like a pair of barnyard chickens trying to take flight or, at the very least, perspiring so profusely that anything he held slipped from his grasp and smashed to the floor. To date, he had shattered three glasses of punch, two pairs of spectacles, and a porcelain figurine of a poodle in her vicinity but had yet to address a single coherent sentence to the maiden fair.
Unnoticed, he watched as at least a dozen of her admirers had, at one time or another over the last few weeks, given her tokens of their esteem. Cameos hung around her fair neck and brooches were pinned over her heart, lace fans kept a cool breeze about her face and silk parasols protected her ivory skin from the sun's glance... all of them things he could never hope to afford. From a distance, he had seen her face shine with delight over each new trinket - not, of course, from avarice. That, he was certain, was beneath her pure soul. No, it was from the joy of being adored that she smiled so brightly.
But though William's purse had always been empty, his soul was something else entirely. While the others could drape her in lavish presents from head to toe, he did have one thing they did not. He had his words. Since childhood, his books had been his dearest friends, offering him an escape from the harshness of a world that could be cruel to an outsider. He cherished the words he found far more than gold. Money could be spent in a moment and never seen again, but the happiness of a beautiful word was his forever.
So, he hit upon the only way he could think of to win the love of his darling. He would share with her the single thing that he had of value in the world. He would give her his dreams, his hopes, his heart in the words he would write for her. His faulty poems weren't the stuff of Shakespeare, he knew. But they were his greatest treasure, one he would humbly lay in offering at the feet of his radiant angel, his effulgent Cecily.
I'm ignoring the financial status of William's family implied in "Lies My Parents Told Me."
Chapter 8: Name Calling
Riley, nostalgic, cameo
Sunnydale was light-years away from the Iowa town where Riley had spent his life until he went to college. That tiny dot on the map, if maps bothered to record it, had been his universe. It seemed nothing there could prepare him for a place with so many unknown terrors, but it did.
His earliest memories are of watching the sunrise over the tilled earth of his grandmother's farm. The meadowlarks would sing so loudly that no one could possibly sleep, not that he wanted to. He would stand at the worn screen in the bedroom that was his for the summer and smell the lilacs growing beside the front door. As he clambered down the stairs of the century-old house, the sounds and smells of Nana making blueberry pancakes would set his stomach growling hungrily. He knows these Norman Rockwell-like scenes are idealized. They couldn't be as good as he remembers, but that doesn't matter. For him, the paradise of the farmhouse is reality.
Nana had always been his favorite girl. She was a gentle soul with a dose of sass that made him love being around her. She taught him about determination, and when, during his freshman year at UC Sunnydale, Prof. Walsh had picked him as an Initiative candidate, his grandmother was whom he most wished he could confide in. Everything he'd ever thought was true suddenly was false, and unimaginable cruelty confronted him daily. When things became too much, he'd telephone her, listening to her homey talk of crops she was planning to plant in spring or the quilt she was sewing for the State Fair. Occasionally, care packages of corn muffins would show up in his mailbox, and the knowledge that sanity still existed somewhere made him feel the fight he was in was valuable.
October of his sophomore year brought the phone call that hit him like a sledgehammer. She was gone. Her heart had stopped beating in her sleep. The funeral was more like a horrible waking dream than reality. When all the relatives had gone through her belongings to choose remembrances, he had known exactly what he wanted. He went up to her bedroom, which smelled of talcum powder and roses, opened her jewelry box, and took out the cameo she had always worn on her Sunday dress. It was a delicate violet color with a carved spray of white lilac blossoms.
Forrest, who had been his roommate, found it a few months later stashed in Riley's nightstand drawer. The jokes had flown fast and furious from Forrest and Graham both since he wouldn't say why he kept the obviously feminine pin in his drawer, and the incident led to his code name: Agent Lilac. Although it caused an endless litany of punch lines, he didn't mind. In the midst of the worst missions, when he heard that name, he was transported for a moment back to the farm, and the memory of his grandmother's smile made the monsters disappear.
Something had to explain that code name, after all...
Chapter 9: Free Falling
Faith, elated, stone
Faith never wore shoes if she could help it. July evening heat shimmered off the pavement, creating unreal images of the rock quarry, so she had begrudgingly worn sandals to avoid scorching her feet. But when asphalt ended in sand and gravel, she kicked them off, savoring the feeling of warm, rough stone. It had rained earlier, and in the shade of the larger boulders the wet sand made her feet deliciously cool.
Grimacing, she noticed the usual crowd of cheerleaders and jocks had already arrived. She loathed them as much as they loathed her, and she wished she could be alone.
"Love the outfit," said Mindy, one of the popular girls lounging near the quarry pond and dressed in bright, provocative bikinis, in a voice of false sweetness.
"Thought I'd leave the Malibu Barbie look to you," Faith replied, conscious of her worn cut-offs and faded black tank.
Mindy flipped her blonde hair irritably. "Whatever, freak," she muttered.
"Wanna repeat that? Didn't quite catch it," Faith said, her tone promising a fat lip if she did.
"Nothing," Mindy said, wandering away with her hangers-on.
The distraction erased, Faith turned her attention to her real goal. The cliff rose threateningly out of the water. No one had dared to climb its rough face, let alone dive. Biting her lip, she eased her way up the side, dimly aware the others had stopped talking.
She'd realized there was something different about her, but she didn't have a name for it yet. Usually she hated it, but there were moments when she slid into her power like a velvet glove was encasing her skin. Those were the times it felt right, and this was one of them.
Finally, she stood on the edge of the cliff and looked into the cool, dark water below. The sultry air caressed her lovingly, as though she were made of the night as well, and she felt a belonging beyond anything she had known.
Her feet met empty air, and her body knifed through the darkness. The rush of wind in her ears was the sweetest music she had ever heard. The descent felt like blissful ages as the water drew nearer.
The tips of her fingers broke the mirrored surface first, followed by the rest of her body until the water closed over her toes, wrapping her in its chilly embrace. Her hands explored the quarry's bottom, her palm closing around a perfectly smooth black stone veined with gray.
A few kicks brought her to the surface. Walking out of the water, her drenched clothing clinging more erotically than anything Mindy could buy at the mall, she met stares of shock and hidden admiration.
"She's crazy," Mindy said under her breath.
Faith didn't pretend not to hear, walking to her with a tigress gait. She tossed the stone in her hand, catching it directly under the girl's nose.
"Don't forget it," she said as she prowled away, her fist clutching her new treasure.
Chapter 10: Waiting
Joyce, guilty, necklace
She knows she's begun to drink too much. Bourbon has become a permanent item on her shopping list alongside bread and milk and cheese. She always buys cheese. A stack of it sits in the refrigerator: cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella. It's as though she thinks if she buys her daughter's favorite food, she'll magically reappear at the front door again.
It took three weeks for Joyce to return to the gallery. Dressing in the mornings was torturous, and the drive into work was agony. Every time the phone rang she jumped, expecting to hear the police on the other end of the line, looking for the mother of a dead body. She would unexpectedly start weeping when statues of mothers and daughters would come in or when a blonde girl who looked just a little like Buffy browsed.
Willow was the first to visit after that night. She was her usual self, twisting her hands self-deprecatingly and asking tremulously if Buffy was there. Joyce had simply said no, slammed the door in her face, and poured another bourbon. When Mr. Giles came around, once again timidly inquiring where her daughter was, Joyce had responded by looking him straight in the eye.
"What's a Slayer?"
He'd dropped the glasses he'd been cleaning, shattering them on the kitchen floor. They'd agreed to work together to find Buffy after an explanation she never would have believed unless she'd seen vampire dust blowing in the wind for herself.
She'd thrown out her own daughter, not once but twice. The first time, she blocked her ears to the truth and gave her to the men in little white coats. Buffy hadn't been insane. Perhaps Joyce was the crazy one. She'd been faced so often with the evidence of this other world her daughter inhabited and yet chosen to walk around blind. That second time, that horrible night, when Buffy had told her the truth again and there was no denying it, Joyce had wanted her to stay put and do nothing, not able to believe her irresponsible little girl who couldn't remember simple instructions, who was always in trouble at school and couldn't manage driving a car, had to save the world. She'd tried to hold her there, to make her stay in a reality where Joyce had the power to say no and expect her to stop. Learn to say no, the books had said. They hadn't been expecting this situation.
It's been three months now, and she's sitting at the island in the kitchen, her hand constantly running up and down the cord of the silver pendant that hangs almost to her waist. She doesn't cry anymore; she lets the necklaces she wears, all of them long and silver and heavy in her hand like teardrops of metal, cry for her. She drinks her bourbon, waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for news, waiting for her world to end. And if it does, she knows it will be all her own fault.
Chapter 11: Cleaning House
Lilah, regret, ring
People deal with failure in many ways: drinking, overeating, insomnia. Lilah Morgan preferred her own brand of self-destruction. When things went wrong, she tied a kerchief around her head and cleaned her apartment maniacally.
Billy was dead. Lilah had killed him, feeling no guilt over ridding the world of the arrogant man who had beaten her to a pulp. Unfortunately, Wolfram & Hart's saw things differently. Billy was chosen to wreak widespread havoc, and he'd been killed inside a week. She knew punishment was coming, but not when. That was part of the company's reprimand, but knowing it didn't make it any less effective.
Trash bag in hand, she rooted through her closet, killing time before she became a Clantos demon's plaything or was told to bathe dozens of Plathars, which exuded a corrosive mucus. She was opening shoeboxes, checking for nicked heels, when she grabbed one suspiciously light box that rattled loudly. Expecting to find nothing important inside, Lilah popped the lid.
It was his fraternity pin.
Seeing it shouldn't have shocked perfectly coiffed, spit-in-your-eye Lilah so much. Seven years had passed, and she thought it was long gone.
His name was Alan. Another law student -- young, brilliant and handsome -- she'd laughed at his fervor for social justice, but it didn't matter. The same passion showed up in everything he felt, including their relationship.
It had been wonderfully absurd. She was the bad girl, dressed in leather and Lycra, crimson-hued lips and smudged dark eyeliner. She was also the smartest in the class. He had been the perfect student, superbly earnest and rarely seen without a tie. Oil and water met and mixed into pure gold.
He'd given her his fraternity pin, telling her he loved her and hoped after they graduated she might consider becoming engaged. Taking the pin, she made no promises. She'd worn it every day, though no one knew since she pinned it to her bra strap.
Wolfram and Hart's offer came the following year. Alan was an idealist, but he wasn't stupid. He quickly figured out who these people were. Eventually, she had to choose between him and them. She'd laughed in his face and flounced away, convinced the firm would be able to replace anything he could offer.
The Senior Partners were excellent at giving employees what they wanted. Wealth poured in the door. Prestige and power were hers for the plucking. Sex was there at a snap of her fingers. But love wasn't within their sphere of influence.
Looking at the pin, she wondered what would have happened if she'd chosen another path, imagining a life less alone. She'd never doubted her choice. Picket fences and toddlers weren't her idea of paradise, she thought. However, this wasn't heaven either.
Maybe she had loved him. An unaccustomed pain clenched her frozen heart, and it took a moment to recognize the feeling as regret. True regret.
Laughing, the Senior Partners were satisfied with the punishment they'd given their wayward protege.
Chapter 12: Occupational Therapy
Lindsey, determined, watch
His watch lay on the nightstand, mocking him silently. He was sick of it, sick of waking up with pain in a hand that wasn't even there, sick of his writing looking like a demented three-year-old's crayon scrawlings, sick of the quiet, curious whispers that followed him through the halls at work.
"That's the one. Lost it in a fight with the souled vampire."
He was becoming the Wolfram & Hart version of a morality tale, which was a little frightening when he thought of it. The only one who didn't make his skin crawl was Lilah. From her, there'd been no long faces or awkward pauses, no kind words of comfort that he'd heard at least fifty times already even then or admonitions that he should be grateful to be alive. She'd sauntered into his office, swinging her hips softly as though in tune to a far off snake charmer's flute, and slapped five bulging case files on his desk.
"Mr. Manners wants these to disappear ASAP. Oh, and, Lindsey," she'd added with a cold smile, "see if you can manage to keep your other arm out of the paper shredder. You only get one mistake before it just becomes, well, even more pathetic."
As he'd watched her retreating backside swaying triumphantly, his mouth had curled in a sneer. She was an evil, cruel, vindictive bitch with a heart of ice and a temperament that would make a jungle cat lurch away from her in fear. Damn, he wanted her.
The watch continued to glare up at him defiantly, its glass face glinting harshly. This was the first thing of any real value he'd bought when the firm had hired him. After a youth spent wondering if he and his brother would have to go to different services on Sunday so they could each wear the one pair of shoes they shared, he had bought a watch worth over $8000. It's polished black leather band was immaculate, sparkling inlaid diamonds marked each hour, the face was encompassed by pure gold, and the mechanism had been handmade by a Swiss master craftsman. It was superb.
Chance had kept him from wearing it that night, but it had been saved for nothing, it seemed. How was he supposed to fasten it around his remaining wrist? Asking for help was obviously not an option.
This morning, though, he'd decided he would succeed. After countless failed attempts of trying to make his fingers reach the band, he felt almost certain the watch would wind up in the back of the closet beside his guitar. Fury seized him, and it was more instinct than thought when he found himself biting into the leather band and forcing it through the buckle with his teeth.
In a minute he was grimly satisfied to see the watch now firmly encircled his wrist. A set of tooth marks marred the smooth finish of the leather, but it didn't matter. Nothing, he thought, comes through life unscathed.
Chapter 13: All That Glitters
Dawn, lonely, bracelet
Dawn's jewelry box lid creaked open as she placed her newest acquisition inside. The bracelet cost ten dollars at Lewison's Accessories, an amount sitting in her purse right now, but that hadn't been the point of stealing it. She stared at the circle of brown stones for a moment and realized it was actually ugly.
Buffy had returned about two months before. When her sister had died, she'd been free to mourn. Willow's mouth became a determined line when she held Dawn while she cried, and now Dawn knew why. Tara listened whenever she needed to talk. Spike would have died before he'd let anything happen to her. Xander let her help him with home improvements that were an excuse to be nearby, and Giles, although he'd left, called every day. Even Anya had attempted consoling her, usually with statements like "Cheer up, little girl! You don't have any family left to lose, so the worst is over!"
But she was wrong; the worst wasn't over. No one had considered Buffy might come back completely changed. She was more disturbing than the Buffybot had been. Dawn had known it was only a copy of her sister and couldn't really be like the Buffy she had known and loved. But this was her sister, only everything that made her Buffy had drained away. There was another robot in the house, one with a heartbeat.
Most of the others pretended nothing was wrong, but Dawn lived with Buffy, and, despite what the monks said, she remembered knowing her longer than any of them could. The vacant stare didn't belong to her sister, the surrender in her eyes was utterly wrong, and the detachment she had from everyone she once loved was horrifying. She hadn't lost Buffy once. She was losing her every day.
The gang wasn't around much anymore. Dawn realized staying away helped them lie to themselves that everything was comfortably normal again. So now she'd lost all of them as well.
When she first began stealing, the world was falling apart, and she needed some scrap of power. Fate took away her father, her mother, her childhood, her security, but when she stole, she was the one doing the taking. Things were hers whether they wanted to be or not.
She supposes that's why, after Buffy came back, she began raiding her sister's jewelry -- things she'd never seen her wear and would go unnoticed. Tacky pink beads, a skull-faced ring, and gaudy copper earrings were scattered in her hiding place. Eventually, new pieces joined them. Things from the Magic Box or Willow or Tara or Anya, even a necklace of Xander's and one of Spike's lighters found their way to her along with pieces that had price tags.
She dug her hands deeply into the pile of ill-gotten baubles, most almost worthless. As always, the cold metal and plastic fell through fingers, and she replaced the top tray, slammed the lid shut, and cried unheard tears.
Chapter 14: Good Riddance
Cordelia, furious, necklace
It was just a stupid necklace. The silver was about as real as what you find wrapped around Wrigley's gum. My neck was turning green, and green? Is so not my color. Plus the heart was lopsided, and it dented when I rolled over last night. Okay, yeah, so I was wearing it when I slept. Who cares? The point is he probably bought it at a garage sale or a flea market that sold actual fleas or one of those places that sells clothes that Willow likes. It was completely ugly. It was an embarrassing present anyway. He, like, should feel humiliated by how lame a gift it was, right?
I totally hated feeling it bang against my heart with every step. It's not like I paid any attention to it at all. I didn't run into the bathroom between classes to make sure it was hanging straight or pick my whole wardrobe around wearing something that would set it off while we were going together or hide it after we broke up. Much. And I took it off sometimes, like that one time when I was brushing my hair and the chain got caught. So I put it back on two minutes later! What's your point?
I've gotten way better presents from guys. After all, deserving them over here. That guy Michael gave me this diamond and pearl bracelet last year. Wait, maybe that was Mitchell. Or Montgomery? Still, whoever he was, he had good taste. Xander over there, big no on that. Except for picking me, of course. I mean, the dumb way he gave it to me just goes to prove it. He wrapped it around the stems of a bunch of pink carnations and shoved it into my hand on our two month anniversary of getting trapped together in Buffy's basement because of yucky-bug-guy. I mean, carnations? Please! They're the neglected step-children who sleep in the cockroach infested closet of the flower world. He may as well have given me dandelions or skunk cabbage. Okay, so, yes, I kept them in a vase in my room until they got sort of smelly because the maid forgot to change the water, and, yeah, fine, I might have cried a little because it was kind of sweet, especially when he kissed me and told me he was so happy to be with me. What of it?
So he took it back. Big whoop-de-frigging-doo. I mean, I was basically expecting it. I didn't need that thing anymore. It's over; that mental romp through Insanityville is so done. I'll find another guy in a heartbeat who'll kiss my feet and tell me he's not worthy to paint my toenails, someone way better looking and richer than Xander Harris. He's probably going to hock it to pay for comic books or trading cards or something equally loserific.
So why does it feel like he ripped out my real heart when he took away the chintzy fake one?
Chapter 15: Ruby Red
Darla, conflicted, comb
Ten years had passed since she'd seen him. After a dozen places since China, she'd recently alighted in Switzerland. They'd never been to Switzerland, always moving near the edges of the Continent except for visits to the capitals. Growing up hearing the constantly crashing waves had gotten into his blood, she supposed, and he never felt satisfied far from that noise for long. Drusilla and Spike were still in Holland, the madcap wench delighted by the windmills' circling arms and the tulip fields. Of course, wherever the fool took it into her head to stay, Spike stayed.
He always stayed.
Darla sat at the vanity in her beautifully appointed townhouse in Geneva. A lovely view of snow-capped mountains tinged pink as the sunset died reflected in the otherwise vacant looking glass. She allowed herself to breathe the crisp air deeply, relishing it. Her hands, like those of all vampire women, were skilled in applying cosmetics and arranging hair without the benefit of a mirror. Currently, she was settling the final hairpins into her elaborate pompadour, confident in its perfection as she saw it with her fingertips. She hesitated a moment, knowing the ornament would compliment her crimson silk dress she was wearing to the theatre tonight, then opened the pasteboard box beside her powder puff.
Inside rested the comb. She hadn't worn it since the night before she had thrown Angelus out of their house in Romany, but once it had been a common sight. Carved of deep brown tortoise shell, the overlapping scrollwork looked Celtic in its intricacy, but it was the inlaid stones that had caught her eye when Angelus had lazily rolled over and taken it from under a pillow, placing it in her outstretched palm.
"So, you've finally stopped toying with that opera singer?" she'd asked with a smile.
"Aye," he'd replied, stretching like a cat. "Her finest aria was the sound of her screaming. She was wearing this. Seemed a fitting present for ye: rubies. Ah, Darla, how I should like to see ye clothed in naught but glistening, blood-colored gems."
She'd laughed at him and covered his mouth with hers, spending hours rewarding him for the rare present, which was obviously why he'd chosen to give it to her. She'd worn it often in those days.
But not since. Carrying it about with her and not wearing it was senseless. She should either destroy it in token of her hate for what her former lover had become or wear it as a mark of how little she cared for the past it represented. Annoyed at her hands, which had developed a tremor for no discernible reason, she took it out of the box, closing her fingers tightly around it. Smashing it into powder would be no trouble if she chose.
That night, as she watched the unwary playgoers more than the drama, she told herself the dress's color just didn't match the rubies in the comb sitting once more upon her vanity.
Chapter 16: I Do
Mayor, nostalgic, ring
"For better or for worse, that's what we promised, isn't it?" he said softly to his companion. "Yep. Long time ago, wasn't it, Snickerdoodle?"
The casual observer probably would have thought he was drunk, but the glass in front of him held organically grown, purified apple juice. However, that same casual observer most likely wouldn't have stuck around long enough to find out since the man, who looked normal and friendly enough, upon careful inspection, was talking to a human head sitting in the cabinet in front of him. In fact, he was patting the grotesque thing fondly, giving it a sweet smile most people usually reserved for gamboling puppies or grannies doing the Funky Chicken at a wedding.
"We'd have been married a whole 96 years this very day. Gosh darn it, we should have a champagne toast, but Faith is stopping by and I don't want to model bad behavior in front of an impressionable young girl like that," he confided to the vacant eye sockets. "Well, you'd understand. You always understood. At least for the first fifty years or so."
The man took a deep swallow of the apple juice and held the remaining dregs up to the light.
"Same color your hair was, Edna Mae. I remember the first time I saw you, sitting in the church choir and belting out 'Rock of Ages.' You were off key, but you just had such spirit! I was completely taken with you right then and there, even though you know I'm not much of a church-going fella.
"I couldn't ask for a happier life than we had those first couple decades. I remember the smell of your cinnamon bread in the oven when I'd come home at night. I miss that, you know. Not the cinnamon bread; well, yes, I do miss the cinnamon bread. All the stores sell now is stuff loaded with preservatives. No, I mean someone to come home to.
"I have Faith, though. You'd love her, Edna Mae. She's got pluck, just like you. Too bad I could never have children," he said sadly, walking behind his desk but still keeping eye contact with the skull. "I know you would have been a terrific mother! Me, I spoil her. Bah, she needs someone to spoil her."
Reaching behind his desk, he pulled out a small white box tied with string, fresh from the local bakery. He opened it and placed the chocolate chip cookies on a clean plate, waiting for his Slayer to gobble them up. A thermos of cold milk stood nearby.
"Not at good as yours, Snickerdoodle, but then what could be?" he said as he went back to the cabinet.
He looked down at the remains of his long-departed wife, twisting around his finger the wedding ring that had been there close to a century and remembering the day he'd first worn it.
"What could be?" he repeated as he clicked the lights off and closed the cabinet door.
Chapter 17: Handsome Man
Fred, fear, collar
Months have passed since she came home, but she can still feel the chill of it imprisoning her neck. The others know something is wrong with her. Gunn and Wesley tread lightly around her, as though the floor were the thinnest of ice and any sudden movement could cause it to break and send her falling into deep, freezing water, drowning her. They might not be wrong, she sometimes thinks. Cordelia doesn't do that of course. Caution and delicacy are not her style. The former princess makes a point of speaking loudly and laughing robustly around her, almost as though she's trying to prove to her that there's nothing to fear anymore, and there are times Fred is grateful for that, too. Lorne avoided her at first, and she knew it was because he didn't want to remind her of the others who looked like him, who had made her a slave, but he was so different from them that she never feared him. They had both been outsiders in that world. When he visits her now, they usually sing. She doesn't have much of a voice, but as he tells her, that's not the point. He's like living joy, and feeling happy again is good.
Angel, though, is her favorite. It's funny that one who should make her neck feel even more vulnerable can make it finally stop chafing against that remembered metal. For five years the weight hung around her throat, telling her she was unclean and useless. She rebelled at first. Who wouldn't? But the filth and the beatings eventually did their job, and her failure to find a way home made her feel stupid until finally she couldn't remember normal life. The song of a Texas bluebird on a spring morning or the taste of a taco or the feel of denim or cotton or anything besides burlap and the cold, hard collar choking the life out of her drifted farther and farther away with each day until she didn't think she had any hope left. Not until he saved her.
Angel is careful with her, but he's not afraid. Fred knows she's a little crazy, but he seems to be okay with that. Maybe he's been there himself, she thinks. On the good days, days when she can make herself leave her room and scurry close to the walls all the way down to the cavernous lobby, he'll ask her if she likes the Mexican food he's brought her from a tiny take-out place he's discovered or he'll poke with index finger almost warily at one of her new inventions, his mouth curling up slightly in a bemused half-smile. Those are nice times. But when it's bad, when she wakes up from nightmares of being hated and hunted, when nobody else hears the muffled crying, he quietly appears. And it's his hands that gently still her fingers, which are frantically rubbing her neck raw just to prove to herself that it's really gone.
Chapter 18: E-Flat Diminished Ninth
Oz, relieved, guitar pick
He doesn’t talk much. It’s not that he has nothing to say, but words seem too obvious to him. Other ways of getting his point across feel less blunt. Why question someone’s plan aloud when a raised eyebrow does the same? Why say words other people have said a thousand times without really meaning them when his guitar says them in notes that have never lied?
He sits on the floor of his bedroom, his bass cradled carefully on his knee. He grasps his favorite pick, the one Willow gave him on his birthday, and plucks the strings absently as he dwells on today’s events. The smoothness of the mother of pearl triangle held between his fingers lulls his spirit. His life, he decides, is weird. He realizes this when he comes to the conclusion seeing vampires puff into dust doesn’t startle him anymore. He isn’t stupid enough to be unafraid. Now, though, it’s like facing his third grade teacher, the one who had a moustache and a tendency to crack her ruler against her desk as her eyes shot fire at him when he skipped doing homework. He spares a moment to wonder if, since this is the Hellmouth, Ms. Barathrum might have been a demon. Anyway, yeah, scary, but by February it was normal.
Today wasn’t normal. Fear had stabbed through him like a javelin. His darkest nightmare had confronted him: Willow, dead but not. The thing that had taken over the Bronze scared him more than anything he’d ever seen. For an hour he’d thought she’d been killed. As horrible as that was, the idea he might have to stake her had been even worse.
Angel had understood. Oz had taken control, something he rarely did, and actually ordered the quarter-millennium-old vampire to fetch Buffy. Angel had automatically obeyed.
Oz had stood still and watched as his now dead girlfriend terrorized everyone around her but never glanced at him. His features were forced into their customary controlled expression, but his heart hammered against his ribs, knowing that in spite of everything he still loved her. And he had just sent Angel for the one person who was sure to kill her.
It ended happily. When he’d seen his Willow enter, he’d known immediately and almost passed out in relief. Afterwards he hadn’t said a word to anyone. He’d held her tightly for a very long time instead.
Now he sits in his bedroom, plucking his bass, putting into music what he feels. As he completes what he can only call a “love song” even though the words are, as usual, not enough, his fingers alight on that perfect chord that he’s striven for so long, and as he thinks of her, the note sounds clear.
He nods, satisfied, and slips the pick back onto the piece of multi-colored twine around his wrist. Exhausted, he crawls into bed. When he plays it for her tomorrow, he knows she’ll understand what he’s saying. She always does.
Chapter 19: Lover's Gift
Angel, nervous, ring
Angel frantically rubbed his hands on his pant legs. He had sweaty palms. A nervous laugh broke from him at that thought, but in a moment his face was back in the tense expression it had worn ever since the mail arrived.
Shopping was not something Angel did regularly, and for a very good reason. He hated it. It meant contact with human beings, and even after the past year with Buffy and the rest of her team he hadn't lost his awkwardness completely. Dealing with strangers was worse. Usually, his suave, cryptic mystique vanishes when he stands in front of a counter, his shoulders hunched protectively, as he asks some tiny salesgirl an inane question.
"Uh, excuse me, but..."
The pause as she stares at the hulking guy who looks like he wants to run away screaming lasts forever.
"I was... looking for... something..."
Another long pause ensues as she edges toward the security phone.
"I don't remember what they're called. They're... you put them on your... those things... what you stand on?"
"Feet?" she suggests, her expression pure Cordelia.
"Yeah... oh! They're... socks?" he asks, completely unsure of himself and wanting to bolt through the door even if it is noon.
Inevitably, the girl points to a display directly behind him, nine feet tall and featuring flashing neon, which holds hundreds of the items in question.
So Angel hates shopping, which is why he ordered Buffy's gift through a catalogue. When the present arrived on his doorstep, he'd quickly shredded the packaging and pulled out the tiny velvet box that had come across an ocean and a continent. If he sniffed carefully, he could smell Ireland clinging to it.
Why was he feeling nauseous? He hadn't been sick to his stomach since 1926, and that was guilt, not nerves. The last time he'd felt this panicked was the first time he'd asked Kitty O'Sullivan to meet him in the barn. And there was no comparison between the situations. None at all. Nope. Nothing like that was going to happen.
Flipping open the case, he looked at the circle of gold, the kind of ring that, as a mortal, he would have given to the girl he planned to... and Angel suddenly found himself dry heaving. Sitting on the side of his bed, he willed himself to calm down.
"It's not like anything terrible is going to happen," he said aloud. "I'm just... giving her... I need some air."
Glancing at the clock, Angel realized he had to leave for the Bronze. With a steady hand, he slipped the box into his coat pocket then silently left.
Ten seconds later, he ran pell-mell back into the room, grabbed a bottle of Pepto from under the sink, chugged half of it, put the rest in his other pocket and fled. If he could manage not to mix up the pockets and avoid handing her a bottle of dyspepsia medicine, he shouldn't have anything more to worry about tonight.
Chapter 20: Xander's Girl
Anya, annoyed, necklace
He's snoring again. She's tried everything over the last year to stop it: rolling him over, gizmos from TV, once she even put a pillow over his face. He wasn't happy about that. Now he's making noises that are causing that dangly thing in the back of her throat to want to crawl up into her nose in sympathetic pain. It's been three hours, and she'd sleep on the couch if the basement had a couch other than the one she's already sleeping on, but it doesn't.
Bored, Anya stares at the ceiling. There's a sickly greenish stain about the size of a basketball on the acoustical tile, and if she squints it looks a lot like the profile of a Grasnik demon… which actually sounds a lot like Xander does right now.
If she told him that, she can picture his reaction. He'd pat her shoulder in a way that was supposed to comfort her but that really was to make him feel better and tell her that she shouldn't talk about her demon past. Then he'd smile at her the same way he smiles at the toddler next door who's just learning to walk and keeps falling on his bottom. Oh, silly little Anya, he'd think.
Anya is over a thousand years old. She remembers when no one knew about North America. She's older than Spike, older than Angel, even older than the Master had been that Buffy still talks about in awe. She is no child. She really doesn't like being treated as one.
As a vengeance demon she had needed no one and nothing, and centuries had passed under her eyes. There are times when she falls asleep and forgets she's human. In those dreams, her pendant still hangs around her neck, the stone warm and quietly humming with power. She holds the fate of countless men in her hands, and she kills them without a thought for the consequences. She's never sure how to feel when she wakes up.
Now, she isn't powerful. She knows she's a running joke among the others. Their reactions to her range from amusement to annoyance, though there are times she's seen Spike watching her with a shrewdly calculating look. She rather enjoys that because for a moment she's a threat instead of just something Xander drags around with him.
As Xander's symphonic snoring continues, she thinks about what would have happened if the necklace hadn't left her, and she knows. She still would be wielding the power of the wish without a second thought, D'Hoffryn's darling, enjoying perfect health, eternal youth, and the esteem of her fellow demons as a consummate artiste, unbothered by conscience.
And she knows that she should probably be ashamed of it, since everyone keeps telling her she should be, but as the basement clock ticks loudly and the odors and cacophony and drabness of human life surround her like ravening wolves, for one second, she envies Anyanka with all of her heart.
Chapter 21: Tarkna
Lorne, frantic, tie tack
Blood and raw silk don't go well together. Granted, it's just the teeniest spot on his cravat, but it's got to be perfect, he thinks. With a frustrated growl, he undoes the vibrant yellow tie, carefully avoiding the agate stone tie tack that caused the snafu. It's a tiny thing, but it sparkles like a Broadway chorus boy's smile. A touch of glitter is required to complete any outfit. After all, if people are busy looking at the flashing lights, they don't notice the bad things. That's the first trick he learned after Pylea.
His life has become a long smoke and mirrors trick. Bright colors and a thousand watt grin are all people see when they look at him, and that's the way he wants it. For the first time, he's accepted, and he doesn't want to mess it up.
So he's the guy everyone comes to with their problems. They love him for it. It's nice to be loved after years of being told what a failure he was. He's probably the only one of them who would actually say to their faces that he loves them too. But underneath it all, there's a fear that if for one moment he's not perfect, he'll be tossed aside.
Connor did it. He'd adored that baby, and even when he was passed over time and again to go somewhere because they needed a babysitter, he'd been happy with the completely non-hypocritical smiles and coos of delight that broke from the little one's lips. It was unconditional love at its finest for both of them.
Mourning the loss of that bundle in blue was the sharpest pain he'd ever felt. His mother's curses and the screams of children when they saw his face were nothing in comparison. Besides Angel, no on had suffered as acutely as he did. He didn't sing and for a long time thought he never would again.
Then Connor had returned, a young man with hate in his eyes. Holtz had killed his innocence and replaced it with loathing of everyone unlike him. The baby had snuggled close to him in arms, been soothed by his voice, and trusted him with all his being. Connor called him "it" and "demon," sneering, threatening, despising.
The thought that if it could happen with Connor it could happen with all of them haunts him. Now, even on days when he's worn to a fiddle string, he plays his role with sparkly costumes and cheerful songs. He knows his place: comic relief, with an emphasis on relief. Perky, happy, trouble-free Lorne.
He'll never tell Angel mind wipes don't work on Pyleans. If he knew, Lorne would have to mourn alongside him, and that's the one thing he can never allow himself to do.
There, he thinks as the stained yellow is replaced by vivid aquamarine. Perfect. He exits his office, grin firmly in place, ready to be all things to all people again. He has to be.
He has to.
Chapter 22: Unmatched
Buffy, resigned, earring
Her ears are pierced five times. Buffy remembers her mother rolling her eyes when she came back from the mall on her sixteenth birthday.
"But you're always going to have one left-over earring!"
Now she sits before a mirror far from where she spent her childhood, and she rummages through a drawer, trying to find something to fill the empty places.
She remembers Angel, her first love. She adored him with a fervor that held life and death in the balance, maybe because she believed she'd never live to graduate high school. When he left, with him went her fantasy world: the two of them married, a pair of strange creatures who would no longer be alone, and living happily ever after.
Parker was next. She had wanted the pain in her heart to stop, and she had thought if she jumped into a new love affair, that's what it would turn out to be: love. She made the mistake of assuming they were both making love when he was only having sex. She was nothing but a notch, and she thought no one human would ever see anything in her.
Then came Riley. He was the boy-next-door, all picket fences and homespun earnestness. She'd never really dated Riley. Instead, she threw herself into a relationship with normalcy. He wanted everything from her when the truth was she loved only the shadow of him. He betrayed her, and, when she'd run after him, he'd flown away and married in less than a year. He was her last chance at a regular life, and she saw it blow away in the wind from the helicopter's blades.
Her fourth was Spike. Her insides twist when she thinks of him, mostly because she doesn't know what to think. Her only goal then had been self-destruction, and she'd used him instead of a gun to her head. She knew he wouldn't leave, that he'd put up with anything, even if she chose to kill him. Finally she was the one with the power to hurt, and she'd hurt him in every way she could devise. She'll never know what would have happened if she hadn't used him as a vessel for her self-loathing. Now he's dead, and she doesn't know exactly what it is she's lost.
Xander turned out to be number five. He's a good man, but she doesn't love him, not the way he says he loves her. He's fond of tapping her nose while saying she could have saved herself and the world a lot of trouble if they had starting dating when they were sophomores. Buffy knows they'll eventually marry. The thought doesn't fill her with joy, only a strange, leaden feeling.
Buffy's ears display two gold hoops, two crosses, and one tiny diamond. She puts the remaining gem back in her vanity drawer. She stares at it for a moment, sparkling pointlessly in its solitude, and she understands Joyce was right. There will always be one left alone.
Chapter 23: Kept Hidden
Willow, secretive, necklace
Willow was never one for jewelry. It wasn’t that she disliked it so much as the thought of wearing it rarely occurred to her. She had the standard set of formal earrings, a watch, a couple nondescript bracelets and necklaces, but nothing she had ever felt attached to.
Nothing, that is, until a week ago. Birthdays were another thing that had never been a big deal to her. Usually her parents were out of the country, and if they weren’t, they went to work before she was up and returned home after she was asleep, leaving a gifts on the kitchen counter. Her mother could always be relied upon every single year to give her a book on the history of the oppression of women. Her father would get her some high-tech gadget, expensive and impersonal. There was never a card.
It hadn’t been until high school when things had changed. Buffy and Xander, who’d never given a thought to the concept Willow had a birthday until Buffy pointed out she must have born at some point, had started making a lovely fuss. Willow was surprised by how much she enjoyed the silly paper hats and being the center of attention. But more than that, it had been about them loving her.
This year her parents were at a conference in Boston, Xander and Buffy had been busy with Anya and Riley respectively, and Willow had almost forgotten the day entirely until Tara nervously handed her the little box, wishing her a half-stuttered “happy birthday.” She’d practically melted from the sweetness of it all. The gift turned out to be a tiny golden heart on a long chain.
“It’s n-n-not real,” Tara had said, her eyes lowered apologetically. “I mean, you know, th-the gold.”
Willow had looked at her and smiled. “I think it’s very real,” she had said, gingerly touching the heart with the tip of her finger.
Willow was at Giles’s apartment tonight, researching the latest demon with the rest of the Scoobies. At least that was what they were supposed to be doing. Spike was muttering in a corner, complaining about the temperature of his pig’s blood. Xander currently was gnawing his way through his third bag of cheesy chips. Buffy sprawled on the couch, a book open before her, snoring quietly, Riley providing an equally unconscious pillow behind her. Giles caught Willow’s gaze and rolled his eyes at the others before going into the kitchen to make his requisite pot of tea. There was one person missing, but she seemed to be the only one aware of it.
When Giles left, she carefully pulled the chain from its hiding place beneath her sweater, dangling the little charm in front of her eyes. It caught the light, practically glowing with the desire to make itself known, but she just wasn’t ready yet. As she heard Giles’s approaching footsteps, she carefully slipped the necklace inside her sweater again. Secretly, Tara’s heart rested next to her own.
Chapter 24: Zealot
Kendra, infatuation, collar
Back on her island, she is the Defender, the Protector, the One Who Fights the Darkness. She is rarely seen unless trouble comes, and then the people flee to the safety of their homes. There is great respect and gratitude towards her, but no one speaks to her. The very few times when she has exchanged words with people, she was treated with the sort of caution reserved for large guard dogs. Mr. Zabuto says this is as it should be, and she learned long ago to accept his words without question.
By comparison, Sunnydale is another planet. The people speak strangely, which is difficult enough, but startlingly the words are often directed at her. Some of them are commands, and that she is used to, but others are very different. Mr. Giles, for example, speaks to her as though she were a human girl with thoughts and opinions, and it has never occurred to her before that this is the truth. It certainly never occurred to Mr. Zabuto.
Even stranger to her is the easy conversation between the other Slayer and her... she cannot believe Buffy has them... friends. They make jokes and chatter away like ordinary people. Buffy thinks of herself as Buffy first and Slayer second, and her friends, even her Watcher, see her the same way. As for the others in the school, they often treat her with blatant disrespect.
Kendra finds all this foreign enough when she sees it in the other Slayer, but when it is directed at herself, she doesn’t know how to deal with it. Walking from the cafeteria to the library, three different boys whistled at her appreciatively. She didn’t particularly like that but decided against pummeling them.
But this boy speaking to her now, Xander, he does not whistle. Instead, he speaks rather rudely. It occurs to her out of nowhere that he is handsome, and she feels a very strange reaction. Her beaded collar seems too tight suddenly, choking off her words and trapping the blood in her face, making her blush and feel fevered. She twists her neck as she searches for words, stammering.
The collar was given to her in order to aid in her fight, as all things given to her are. The beads were blessed, making them as powerfully protective as holy water, and no vampire could bite her through them.
But now, as the boy’s annoyed brown eyes stare down at her, a fluttering starts in her chest. For one moment she wishes she could remove that collar and all it represents, the choking feeling growing too much to bear. She longs to simply be one of this group, to find the simple grace to at least look Xander in the eyes and speak to him freely.
And then he is gone. The moment has passed, and though she knows it was disloyal and evil, she finds herself wishing it had not ended.
When she returns to Sunnydale, she leaves the collar behind.
Chapter 25: Jailed Inside
Kate, haunted, badge
Kate had been drinking her way through a bottle of whiskey for the better part of two hours now, and her apartment getting blurry. She supposed that wasn’t surprising. She hadn’t turned on a light when she’d come home, and the room was lit only by the grainy picture on the television screen. Still, even in the faint, grayish light, the badge sitting on the coffee table stood out like a beacon, at least to her.
It wasn’t her badge. That had been taken from her. No, this one had belonged to her father. It should have been turned in, but his sudden death had brought out a sympathetic streak in one of the bureau officers, and she’d been able to secure it as a memento.
The badge glinted at her. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to will it into focus or not. But whether or not her eyes could see it, it was etched on her mind’s eye. It wasn’t a comforting sight. The badge was accusing her, screaming at her, telling her what a disappointment she was, that she hadn’t managed to save her own father, that she’d befriended one of those things that murdered him, that she’d been kicked off the Force for her stupidity, her recklessness, her idiocy.
And it said it in her father’s voice.
Deciding it was pointless to pretend she wasn’t haunted by it, at least not while she was alone, and she was always alone, Kate picked it up. The weight of it was surprising for something so relatively small.
“Weighs the whole damn world, doesn’t it, Dad?” she said out loud. “That’s what it is, isn’t it? The world sitting right here, or at least the responsibility to protect everyone in it.”
She’d been a good cop, and she knew it on some level deep underneath the booze and the pain. She knew that she wasn’t responsible for her father’s death, and she even knew Angel wasn’t. But she didn’t care. She wanted, needed, had to blame someone or she would go insane, if sitting in her apartment and talking to a dead man’s police badge wasn’t crazy already.
“It was the world to you, anyway,” she said, “so I made it mine, too. I don’t even know if I ever wanted to be a cop or if I just wanted to be part of your world. But now it’s gone, and you’re gone, and what’s that leave me with?”
The badge shone back at her, unrelenting, and she closed a fist around it, feeling the metal branding its shape on her palm. A scream built in the pit of her stomach, and she raised her arm to hurl against the far wall the symbol of everything she’d ever lost, but she stopped her arm, and the sound died before it reached her lips. With an exhausted groan, she put the badge back on the table, then collapsed against the couch cushions, sleeping in a twisted, spine-defying position.
Chapter 26: Yesteryear's Pleasures
Angelus, peaceful, cigar cutter
Angelus was in a particularly good mood as he strode through the lanes of the wealthiest part of Paris. A warm, summer evening breeze followed him companionably down the streets. It was such a fine night that he was far from the only stroller under the twilight sky. As he passed the well-dressed residents, he savored the heady perfume of over-confidence from those who believed their money was an assurance of safety. Angelus had long ago learned the lovely blindness the rich had to their own mortality was ubiquitous throughout the world.
But he was in no hurry to find prey. He was hunting alone, finding it delightful to choose his pace rather than keep up with Drusilla’s whims or avoid William’s idiocy. Even Darla could annoy him; while she normally tolerated his flirtations with mortals, she hadn’t appreciated his recent liaison with a voluptuous young nymph, and he’d strangled the relatively amusing creature to keep peace. But tonight the others were intrigued with their own affairs: Darla with shopping, and Dru and William with breaking into the Louvre. Freedom flooded through him.
His steps led him to the Seine, and he found himself standing on a bridge that spanned the water like a gull with open wings. He looked down into the river, enjoying the soft slap of waves against the piles and watching boats sail beneath with moonlight-white wakes. Pulling a cigar from his coat pocket, he rolled it sensuously between his fingers, enjoying the smell of the tobacco. Cuban, he decided. His last victim had possessed exquisite taste.
Reaching into his vest pocket, he produced a cigar cutter that glittered gold in the gaslights, engraved with an ornate letter “A.” It had been a gift from Darla on the last anniversary of his turning. The sharp blade had proved useful for many other purposes besides trimming his cigars, which was fortunate as his sire loathed their smell. With a contented sigh, he nipped the end of the cigar, letting the tip fall into the river. He scratched a match along the bridge railing and puffed soothingly, letting the taste wind around his tongue.
He was the picture of a wealthy foreigner. As he stood (too still if a viewer were alert), his face was illuminated by the glow of his cigar, throwing his handsome features into fine relief. Before long he felt eyes on him, and the sound of footsteps echoed against the pavement. Angelus lifted his gaze to assess a couple as they came towards him, the man mundane, but the girl a rosebud dressed in demure white and pink. She glanced at him merely moment, but in that moment he saw an entry. She would be Angelus’s before the week was out, and of her own choosing.
“Bon soir,” he murmured politely.
The man nodded and the girl blushed, averting her eyes. Yes, he thought, his demonic face flickering after they passed, noting the direction they took. It was a fine night indeed.
Each title begins with a different letter of the alphabet.