By Annie Sewell-Jennings
Sequel to The Waiting Season
SUMMARY: As old friends return to Sunnydale and life begins to move on, a new adversary comes to town and shows Buffy more about herself than she ever wanted to know. B/S
SPOILERS: Through "Grave"
DISCLAIMER: The characters within this story are the property of Mutant Enemy Productions, except for the ones that you don't recognize, because I made them up all by my lonesome. Aren't I cool? No? Shut up. You don't know me. Bitch. Music will be disclaimed as it is used, and it will be used occasionally. Like in this chapter. Really, it will.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: So, with this chapter, I am making a new, valiant effort to actually vary my author's notes. Are you proud of me? You totally should be. This chapter was written to the tunes of Mazzy Star and the "I Am Sam" soundtrack (beautiful music, crappy movie -- Sean Penn, why?), and encouraged and edited by the Piglet and wisteria. They are fabulous.
Chapter Seven: Minor Adjustments
She was a slink of red, a long, lanky colt hanging out of a scandalously short satin dress, all sloe-eyed and silky in the bedroom, her dark hair bobbed short around her face. A pearl cigarette holder was placed strategically between her fingers, and she chuckled, her voice as dark as bootleg whiskey.
"Did you miss me, cherie?"
Pain laced through Charlotte's body as she looked across the room at the temptress in vermilion, swinging a sultry string of black pearls around, crooking her knee and inviting her for everything. It was hell watching her like this, standing just outside of the bedroom, teasing her by staying on the proper side of the threshold. "Monique," she murmured, sagging against the wall with her heart twisted into pieces and her body filled with broken glass. "I've missed you every night since you died."
Three weeks since that night. Eighteen days since they lowered her body into the ground, covered it with soil and blessed the earth. It looked to Charlotte like their prayers had not been enough.
Chuckling, Monique exhaled a stream of fine, thin smoke, her long eyelashes closed and her skin paler than porcelain. She was stunning, the woman who used to laughingly suggest that they replace the Danube with champagne and get drunk off of bubbles and moonlight. She had different dreams now.
She crossed the room in long, slow movements, smelling of dark roses and upturned soil. Fresh from her grave. "I've been very busy," she said dismissively, waving her hand as though she were swatting a fly away. "There've been the most incredible parties, Charlie."
Charlie. Monique was the only one who ever called her that, murmuring it into her ear while her fingers crawled between her thighs, lacing pearls across her breasts. Charlie, darling Charlie... She remembered the nude beach in Cannes, when they laid in the surf and made love at sunrise, her tongue inside of Monique's searing, vital heat, fingers dancing across her own aching clit, and that was what she had called her. Charlie, I love you, my Charlie...
Charlotte closed her eyes and tried to keep herself sane. "Did you dance with anyone other than me?" she asked in a quiet, still voice, and Monique's laugh sang throughout the room like wind chimes as she threw herself onto the bed, lithe like a jaguar, sweet-smelling and poisonous.
"Oh, I danced with so many people," she sighed, putting her cigarette out on the wall with a hiss that made Charlotte wince. Coyly, Monique pouted her lips and then laughed low and hungry in her throat. "But I'll always save my last dance for you, cherie." The room was spinning around her as Monique took off her shoes, silk stockings falling away to show off marble legs, and the flame-colored dress was thrown away, leaving her lover naked and harder than ice on the bed.
It wasn't fair. God, it wasn't fair. They were so young, so full of stupid dreams and silly parties, illuminating the City of Lights. Monique the princess, Charlie the warrior. Dancing up a storm in fancy shoes and skimpy dresses, sunbathing nude, and God, the sex... They had everything. They were on the verge of having everything.
Everything just gets stripped away...
They kept a mirror over their bed, always foolishly reveling in the beauty of their couplings, and now, Charlotte looked up over it and saw nothing. Nothing but writhing sheets, her ghost of a lover, and the sinking feeling that this would never, ever end. There would always be something cutting her back, tearing strips of herself away, eating at her bone and marrow and taking everything that was good and decent. This was what it meant to be the Slayer.
It just keeps coming.
Monique's eyes flashed golden, hissing low and animalistic in her throat, reaching out with her clawing fingers. "Come on, Charlie," she murmured, beckoning her lover near, and Charlotte laughed helplessly, crawling into Monique's arms, surrounding herself with frost and ice where volcanoes once erupted. As the vampire began to pull off layers of peach fabric, she sighed and writhed on the bed, eyes always on the mirror, seeing herself and nothing else.
"He was right," she whispered, Monique's lips caressing her breast, laying kisses on bruised flesh, fingers curling through her graying locks of hair. "Oh, God, he was right..."
Death is my gift.
Filtered light fell in through the heavily blanketed windows, spilling dimmed shades of blue and gray onto the two bodies intertwined on the bed. In the muted morning, it was difficult to distinguish one from the other, melding together in a mesh of ashen indigo. Hands wrapped around a slender, masculine back, painted fingernails and ringed fingers. A silver-white head linked over her shoulder, his face buried in pillows, and her face soft and lax, a soft intimation at a smile on her lips. The sheets covered all else, and her hand was loosely cupped around his neck, holding him into place, soothing and calm.
Giles did not want to see this.
She was buried beneath him, smothered by Spike, drowning underneath the weight of his body, and it made Giles ache. Crushed, he watched as she shifted slightly in her sleep, brow furrowing briefly, followed by a sigh. Was she dreaming about him? Her vampire lover who could kill her while she slumbered? No, no. Giles winced, removing his glasses, trying to turn the tableau in front of him into a blur. Spike couldn't. God, he couldn't. He loved her, he had to love her, or else she never would...
More shifting limbs, and when Giles replaced his glasses on his nose, he saw that Spike had turned his head, his nose now pressed against the hollow of Buffy's throat. It struck him suddenly that Spike looked very human in this setting, very vulnerable and almost tender, like a child. He snuffled for a moment into her skin, grunting, and then mumbled something almost inaudible and definitely nonsensical. "Mmm... Save the... Charlie..." And then he scowled, rubbing his cheek against her breast, and...
Silently, Giles closed the door, and then sagged against the wall, closing his eyes tiredly. He had waited for her to come home last night, ended up falling asleep on the living room sofa, and when he woke this morning he had been so terribly worried... Well, he supposed that he had nothing to worry about. She'd gotten what she wanted, right? Spike in her bed for a spot of murder in the morning. "Good Lord," he muttered under his breath.
He'd told her that he would not interfere. Gave her the books and the documents, everything necessary to point at Spike and righteously yell "killer", and let her make up her own mind. It was what he had to do. If he tried to exert absolute control over her life, then she would just revert back to her listless state of the previous year. Independence came with mistakes, but Christ, he just wanted to protect her. Just wanted to keep her safe.
Safety was not an option anymore. Giles realized this, listening to the buffered mutterings of Spike's sleep-talking wafting through her closed door. Hell, he'd realized it a long time ago, hadn't he? Even sang a song that fell on her deaf ears. Perhaps he had not really accepted it, acknowledged it, that his little Slayer was all grown up and sleeping with the undead. Again.
Startled, he looked up to see Anya standing over him, her brow furrowed with confusion, body swathed in salmon-colored silk. "What are you doing here?" she asked bluntly, and Giles sighed.
"Good morning, Anya," he muttered, wincing as he pulled himself off of the floor. His back ached from the uncomfortable, scanty slumber he stole on the Summers' couch, and he decided that he was most definitely too old for sleepovers. "I was here late last night with Buffy, thought I might wait up for her after she made her rounds."
"And you fell asleep on the couch," Anya finished. At the moment, she looked rather like a mother hen, an expression of bemused affection resting on her mouth. "You're not the first. Xander often camps out there when he thinks that I might have sex with him again."
It was decidedly too early in the morning for Anya.
She was a flurry of activity in the kitchen, moving around at light speed, her motions and movements swift and efficient. Brew the coffee, fetch the paper, put a kettle on, slice up an orange, pour the coffee, pour the tea, and all the while yammering on in her strange, mechanical Anya-speak. Finances, world politics, pink flamingos, Dorax demons, Donna Karan. All the while, Giles sat befuddled and bleary-eyed, staring at her dumbly as she briskly performed her morning rituals.
"...Of course, Martha has very expensive lawyers, so I'm certain that she won't spend any time in an actual jail," she said, distributing various sections of the newspaper to different place settings. The TV section for Dawn, the financial report for Anya, and the obituaries for Buffy. She paused for a moment before passing him the front page. "Although I would love to see the designs she could come up with for a basic cell."
"Indeed," Giles murmured, flipping through the international report, and Anya frowned at him. He had not heard a single word to come out of her mouth after "how do you take your tea", and that hurt.
All throughout her stint as a human, Anya had struggled for words. Funny, because when she was a demon, she'd thought herself so articulate, so smart, adept at playing the part of trustworthy confidant, wreaking havoc with the knowledge that the scorned entrusted her with. The loss of her powers also meant the loss of her voice; she did not know what to say, how to be, and had spent the last two years struggling to figure everything out.
Everyone always corrected her. Anya, that's not proper. Anya, that's not appropriate. Anya, please, for the love of God, don't mention the sex anymore. Nobody understood that she had been thrown into this strange, complicated world without any guidelines or regulations, and told to behave like the natives without error or mistake. It always hurt her feelings when Xander stood beside her and hissed her name like a curse, when he corrected her or felt ashamed of her.
Anya knew what she was doing now. She understood what she was, what her purpose was, and that was to make the money and live her own dreams. No more reciting prepared statements, no more rehearsing catchphrases to make sure that she did not embarrass her boyfriend by accidentally mentioning the potency of his penis to the gang. Anya had her own opinions, her own sense of style, her own wants and needs, and the audacity to express them to whomever she pleased.
But Giles would not listen.
"I'm going off to Alaska in search of love and happiness via a nationally televised contest," she announced, putting her hands on her hips and nodding her head, injecting just enough chipper enthusiasm into her voice to make it seem valid.
"Ah, yes, very good," Giles muttered, frowning briefly at some article until she snatched the newspaper out of his hands. Startled, Giles blinked at her. "Er, yes?"
"Giles!" she exclaimed, stomping one tiny bare foot on the floor. "You haven't been listening to a word I've said!"
He shrank back in his seat a bit, warily watching the way that the fluorescent light glinted and shimmered off of her amulet. "I have," he said mildly. "You were talking about Martha Stewart and... Shoes. There were shoes involved." It was a good guess; Buffy had often talked about shoes in conversation.
Unfortunately, Anya did not seem convinced. A good, solid Englishwoman might have snapped something cold and cruel off to him and then mercifully left him alone, but not American girls. They were much more prone to flights of melodrama, flailing their arms around and using psychological terms like teenaged slang. Right now, Anya looked like an angry rattlesnake, tail coiling back and mouth filled with venom.
"You were ignoring me," she accused, one hand on her hip and the other jabbing in his direction. "I can't believe it. It's not fair, you know, to tune me out. I have opinions and statements to make, and they're very valid, because they're mine, and you should have to listen to them. It's not fair that I have to listen to you go on and on about demonology and the stupid English parliamentary system, but you can go into daydream-land when I want to talk about the stock market and shoes!"
Ah, good. He'd gotten the shoe bit right. Way to go, Rupert. He cleared his throat. "We talk," he protested, searching his memory for an example. "Ah... Oh! Yesterday. At the shop. We talked about the new display for the mummified gerbils." Pleased, he leaned back in his chair, reaching for his newspaper, until Anya's bony fingers snatched it away, narrow eyes glaring at him.
"We talk about the store," she said, and then she sighed, frustrated. "Is that what everybody thinks I am? Money girl? Big capitalist vengeance demon? Cause you know, I have layers. Like an onion, only without the repulsive smell." Annoyance quickly gave way to worry, and she bit her lip. "Don't I?"
Giles was confused. "Smell nice?" he asked, and she groaned, exasperated.
"No, have layers," she said, pounding her balled-up fist on the table for emphasis. "Layers. Like... I'm a Libertarian."
Surprised, Giles arched his eyebrow. "Really?" he said, and she nodded, proudly.
"That's right," she confirmed. "I am a proud, card-carrying member of the Libertarian party. And the NRA." Giles could not restrain a grimace; damned Charlton Heston, handing out guns to whoever wanted them. The thought of a vengeance demon with an artillery rifle gave him chest pains. "And I hate butterflies, and polka dots, and stupid-patterned shirts. I like clothes plain, simple, and preferably without copious amounts of glitter. And I like being a brunette. And... I like being Anya, whoever she may be."
An affectionate smile tugged at his mouth, and he reached over, placing his hand over hers. Something sharp and cold dug into his skin, and he lifted his palm to see the bright diamond engagement ring glittering under the kitchen light. Giles chuckled for a moment, remembering how she had adored that ring, showing it off to whoever crossed her path, desperately trying to keep a hold of it no matter what.
Anya furrowed her brow, confused. "What's so funny?" she asked, and he chuckled, shaking his head.
"Nothing," he said, flicking his fingers at her ring. "It's just that you're still wearing the ring."
Blinking, Anya looked down at the large diamond flashing and twinkling in the kitchen. "Oh," she said. "That. I don't know, I just can't seem to take it off yet. I feel like it's old Anya, but it's just..."
She shook her head. "No, more than that. It's like I've got all of these decisions that I have to make now, and I'm becoming this whole new Anya person with brown hair and much, much better accessories, but I'm still the old Anya. I'm two Anyas in a demon body, and now I'm not really sure what I want. I thought that I knew, but..." She shrugged, helplessly. "What's a girl to do?"
"Be yourself," Giles advised, and Anya smiled.
Xander still kept a picture of her in his wallet.
Carnation pink dress, wild gold curls, bright and chipper smile, diamond glistening on her finger. Just Anya, standing behind the counter and posing by her beloved cash register. It smelled like her perfume, all sugary flowers and gingerbread, reminding him of long nights spent with her in his arms.
How quickly it all slipped away.
Impatiently, Xander drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, waiting for the light to turn green and all of the annoying drivers to get out of his way. This was supposed to be a one-horse town; how the hell did they get all of this traffic in the mornings? The line of cars lurched forward at an agonizingly slow pace, and he could feel himself sweating, even in the air conditioning of his snazzy new Honda.
The car in front of him suddenly put on the brakes, and Willow hissed in a breath beside him as hot coffee spilled onto one bare leg. "Oh, jeez, Will, I'm sorry," Xander muttered, dabbing at her scalded skin with the sleeve of his plaid work shirt. "It's this asshole in front of us who wants to brake for no apparent reason."
"There are many of those," Willow mumbled, staring down at the red splotch appearing on her leg. The coffee had left its mark, and she did not give two shits.
It was supposed to be easier than this.
Sitting on the half-empty bus on the way back to Sunnydale, she had felt so free, so certain that she had conquered the pain, destroyed the anger and the evil, rediscovered life in some sort of grand, rapturous manner. Look at the Willow, emerging triumphant from evil. No more dreams about the killing, the way that Rack had crumpled like a rag doll in his dirty hovel, the sight of Warren's gleaming flesh and muscle under the brightness of the moon.
You're a very stupid girl.
So stupid, thinking it was over, when she had woken up this morning gasping for air, gasping for power, gasping from orgasm. Erotica was confused now, tangled up with the memories of her murders, of the power of holding a man's life in her hands and taking it away.
Was she your big "o"?
She'd tried to meditate, scrambling for her candles with shaky hands, an ache between her legs from the ecstasy of that vivid, haunting dream, trying not to think about it. Trying not to remember that primal sort of rapture that had taken her over when she pressed her hand against Giles's chest and drawn out all of his power, and the sighing, whimpering bliss of it all, crawling, writhing, singing in her lungs...
Willow could never atone for that.
The bright pink flamingo sitting in Buffy's lawn seemed to mock her as they made their way up the sidewalk, carrying gourmet coffee like a peace offering. Hey, I know I tried to kill you and all, but do you want a mocha? But this was their ritual, their constant attempt at something helpful, something that was a little better than what they'd done before. We're sorry. Have caffeine.
The Anya who answered the door was not the Anya that Xander knew. It was a foreign woman with darker, more severe hair, exchanging cotton candy dresses for pinstriped slacks and linen blouses. No more scent of bubble gum and Christmas; she'd replaced it with jasmine and lemon Pledge. Calvin Klein's Obsession-Compulsion, he thought sadly, and weakly handed her a non-biodegradable cup of espresso.
Warily, Anya examined it with her sharpshooter's eyes, inspecting it for defects. "Did you put foam on it?" she asked warily, and Xander sighed.
"No, I remembered. No more foam."
Pleased, she accepted his offering and allowed them to come in, and the glance she gave to Willow was curious, almost suspicious. Like she knew what Willow had woken up to this morning, and it made her flush red as she followed Xander and Anya into the kitchen.
When Willow saw Giles sitting at the table, she wanted to run away. He was the one person in Sunnydale that she actively tried to avoid. The things that she had done to him... Taking the essence of his power and then leaving him for dead. Torturing him. Giles, the man who was their anchor, their constant, their steady. He was more than a father to just Buffy; he was a father to all of them, the ragtag group of misfits with their gaggle of deadbeat dads.
And Willow had tried to kill him.
"We come bearing coffee," Xander said in a booming voice, and Giles looked up from his paper to see Willow ducking her head, turning away, busying her suddenly clumsy hands with a bottle of juice. "Caffeine, nectar of the gods."
"Indeed," he murmured, his eyes on the witch. "How are you doing, Willow? You haven't been by the shop recently." As a matter of fact, she had only seen him once since her return, for a mumbling, faltering "hello" in the middle of rush hour at the Magic Box before tucking her tail between her legs and crawling away on her belly like a bad puppy.
She was afraid of him.
Nervously, Willow averted her eyes, smiling down at the bottle of grapefruit juice in her hands. "Sorry," she said. "It's just... I've been busy. With the school."
Giles arched an eyebrow. "Ah," he murmured, and then he frowned, turning to Anya. "Where did Xander go?"
Anya took a slug of espresso, slinging the hot Brazilian goodness back like it was water. "Upstairs," she said. "We got Buffy a caramel macchiato, so he went to go give it to her."
Giles clucked his tongue and shook his head. "If she keeps up eating sweets like that, she's going to end up in a diabetic coma before she--" All of a sudden, he paled.
Xander stood in the doorway, his jaw dropped and his eyes wider than saucers, coffee spilt all over the formerly immaculate carpeting outside of his hero's door.
Spike. Buffy. Spooning.
Slumped, defeated. The way he never wanted to see her. Leaning weary and tired against the toilet on the floor, hair disheveled, robe gaping and skin exposed. Angry purple bruises popping up like rotting flowers on her delicate body. Head in hands, eyes closed, utterly destroyed, and the scent of anger and violence lingering in the air. The weight of the forgotten leather coat twisting in his hand.
The same girl who had looked so exhausted and bitter on the floor of her bathroom was now curled around her would-be rapist, a tangle of limbs and pretty skin, face relaxed and dreamy with the deep, undisturbed quietude of slumber. So happy. So at peace.
It's never going to stop.
Part of him saw red, rage filling his body, tightening his muscles, making him want to snap and bite and kill. Images of Spike's body broken and bloodied, exploding into dust, filled his head in a gleefully murderous slide show, and his hands tightened into fists. But God, he couldn't do it. Couldn't kill Spike.
Xander knew now that it would not do any good. No matter how bad he hurt her, no matter how many bruises he laid on her flesh or how many scars he added to her brutalized heart, Buffy would always go back to Spike. Even after that most heinous crime, trying to take from a woman what no man had any right to take, she had brought him back into her bed. It would never stop, not until she was dead, and nothing could stand in the way of her sexual suicide.
And this is the monster that Anya has fucked.
Footsteps sounded behind him, quick and urgent, followed by confused shuffling. "Oh, Xander, you spilled your--" Willow started to say, but her voice was cut off by the sight of the vampire and the Slayer entwined in the bed. Her fingers flew over her mouth, eyes wide with shocked, and she stumbled with embarrassment. "Oh. Oh, my. Wow."
Quickly, Giles stepped around the gawking group, silently shutting the door and giving them all tired but serious looks. "I think we'd best have a talk," he said, and Xander laughed mirthlessly.
"Oh, do you?" he said, and he glared at the door. "Don't you think that Buffy should be there for that?"
"Let her sleep," Giles said, trying to keep his voice calm, and then Xander clenched his jaw.
"Yeah, she looks pretty worn out to me," he said. "After all the crazy shagging, she should be. From what I hear, Spike's a pretty big sexual animal." There was a pointed glare at Anya, and she narrowed her hard little eyes, thin lips drawing up into a pinched expression. It was not a good idea to piss off a vengeance demon, Willow decided.
"Xander. Downstairs. Now," Anya said through gritted teeth, and Giles sighed.
It was going to be a very long day.
(end part seven)
Continued in Chapter Eight: Exposures