Here's hoping you have the best of days.
i. Cars and Guitars
He drives the same car out that he drove in. It's black all around, a goth cliché standard. The windows are painted to block out the sun, but it's not bothering to shine anymore. The paint's beginning to peel and there's aluminum foil on the dash that reflects the empty sky and the yellow of his headlights.
The Slayer sits beside him, blonde hair pulled into pigtails like a little girl. There're no little girls left anymore, and she hasn't been one for too long anyhow.
There are McDonald's wrappers on the floor, crushed beneath her feet and the duffle bag of things she couldn't bear to leave behind. The rush of wind as they drive past knocks around the Welcome to Sunnydale sign, makes it circle and dance.
Dru stuck with Angelus and Spike can't remember to be surprised. He's got a stolen bottle of vodka in a paper sack clutched in his fist. The car could drive itself, it could, he's spent too many years with all the wrong things.
"Can we stop?" she asks, and it's almost a plea. Her fingertips are white against her thigh. She's got slayer strength and he knows how that goes. She's gonna have bruises and she'll probably enjoy them.
"Listen," Spike whispers, the silence is oppressive and he doesn't remember ever being this soft. It's always been Angelus with the squishy spot for helpless girls. But she's not helpless and he stops whispering. "Listen, Slayer--"
"Buffy," he says, and almost wants to gag on it, "stopping right now isn't the best of ideas." Except the tank is nearing empty and she looks like she's gonna be sick and he thinks waking up with her is the only thing worse than waking up alone. They haven't seen a soul for miles. "Best to put as much distance between us and there as we can first."
"If you don't pull over I'm going to throw up."
Spike snorts and hold the bottle between his thighs as he reaches for his pack of smokes and keeps one hand on the wheel. "Come now, ducks, you're going to do that anyway. Slayer or no, you've got a weak constitution about your innards, I can tell just from the look of you."
"I swear to God, Spike," she says, turning toward him best she can with her seatbelt fastened tight like a good little girl. Her fingers let up from her thigh to clench into a fist and her mouth is screwed up angry-tight. "I swear to God, I will stake you the first time you—"
The radio is all static when he turns it on, loud enough to silence her. It's all empty threats anyway. She stops talking like she started screaming, sharply sudden. There's a lot about her that's sharp. He pops in a tape for something to do, but he does it blindly.
It turns out to be something he kept around to keep Dru calm, her latest fancy of a slow Spanish guitar almost lullaby. The Slayer starts to cry halfway through the first verse, quietly and curled in on herself by the window, looking out blindly like there's something to see. Everything outside is desert and the desert goes on for too long and he can't find his lighter.
"Sop it up, Slayer," he says, and now would be a great time to flick ash in her direction or something, but he'll take what he can get. "Not like you weren't leaving there anyway, right? Though I must say it is a shame about your friends. I know the redhead would've tasted fantastic," he adds, just to pull her strings.
"You are disgusting," Buffy hisses, fists clenched tight again. He watches out of the corner of his eyes as she swallows back tears and bile and grins around his unlit cigarette. Her face is red and her knuckles are white. She says, "I hate you." And he knows she means it.
"Of course you do, ducks," he answers. "This wouldn't be half as much hell otherwise now would it?"
Draco drums his fingers on the table, an offbeat, half-hearted, horrible sound that makes Harry grind his teeth in irritation. There's a glass of orange juice in front of him that probably comes from oranges as much as he does. It's thick, sour and yellow. Draco's stomach turns a little at the smell of it.
"Fine," Harry says, finally, his jaw tight and his fingertips pressing into the edge of the table. "Fine," he repeats. "I take it back."
Draco blinks Harry into focus, slowly, like everything's supposed to be on lazy Sunday mornings. He ordered tea and got a pot of lukewarm water and little bags wrapped in plastic. It's never going to be anything more than lukewarm and disgusting.
This, he thinks wildly, is the problem with America. This, he wants to shout, is the problem with everything.
He's got a gold coin in his pocket that'll never be worth anything to him anymore, next to a set of keys that probably are more than they should be. He's got two fingers smashed in the middle of a psychology textbook he found at a used bookstore in Albany yesterday, and Harry's looking at him like he used to and Draco wonders if he's ever going to stop being afraid of maybe.
A group comes in, all dressed up in dresses and slacks, with half a dozen children who'll end up with jam on their hands and everywhere else, shouting and shrieking and Draco misses silencing spells so much sometimes that it hurts.
Everyone else here is so sweetly jubilant it makes his teeth ache. They don't know, of course, they'll never know. Draco misses Firewhiskey as much as silencing spells.
Harry flicks the back of his hand, and shakes his head. "Knock it off, you bastard, that's more annoying than the book at the table."
"Well," Draco says, and bites back an apology, "I can't imagine why I would be reading instead of joining in this startlingly fantastic conversation, love, I mean, honestly."
"You can shut up now," Harry answers, as the waitress sets their plates in front of them. Draco gives his a dirty look. "Oh," Harry grins, "did I forget to mention? I ordered you a pancake."
"When you were reading."
"Point," Draco mutters, and hates how smug Harry looks. He pours syrup on and gets his hand sticky. It works like a sponge and tastes like one too. "But don't think this means that you've won. This isn't over."
"No," Harry says, grinning. There's a thunk as Draco's book falls open on the grease sticky floor. "I wouldn't dream of it."
iii. In the Springtime of His Voodoo
The flowers he gives her are wilted, slightly, blossoms dipping toward the window, toward the sun over her shoulder. They're pink and orange and white, the stems vivid, perfect green. She smiles when she holds them in her fist. Her fingernails are chipped and painted red, her thumbnail jagged and broken. There's adhesive left over from tape on her knuckles.
Her hair is falling and she's got a bruise on her cheek, she smells like sweat and her shirt is bleached-stained, has two holes at the hem and is sticking to her.
"Need to tell you some things," Spike says, his voice low and rough. There's a cut still healing just above his eye. "Need to tell you a lot of things," he corrects, and sounds like he did before, sometimes, like when he said but today doesn't count, does it.
It's May again. It's been a year. She didn't count days or weeks or months. She looked at the calendar and saw that it was May, and the phone bill was due in three days and Dawn gets out of school soon. She doesn't know how many days it's been.
And she, maybe, wonders at how she doesn't wonder if she's unconscious. Thinks about her life and how very fucked up it is that she doesn't even find it strange. So maybe she's seen too many people back from the dead, and maybe, maybe she should wonder, but his fingers brushed hers when he pushed the flowers into her hand.
"Come on, love," he whispers, and makes to touch her but she's backed up to stand in the sun, it's flared across her wrist and he would burn, if he touched her. He has before. "We need to get you set down. Got things to discuss, you and I."
Buffy sits down on the sofa, and the leather creaks. She lays the flowers on her lap and says, "I meant it, you know. I did."
They have tea at a place hidden behind the nail salon Aziraphale likes to pretend he doesn't frequent. (Everyone there knows his name, and Crowley smirks as his cheeks go pink, like he's never learned to control his body, not really, and just to prove the point Aziraphale trips over his own two feet.) It's beaded-curtained off, filled with smoke from incense and five degrees warmer than is strictly comfortable.
Crowley sighs, and slides his thumb across the worn wood arm of his chair. He likes to think that if the chair weren't inanimate it would purr. He smirks at the rumbling of air-conditioner; he'll take that instead.
"Really," Aziraphale asks, sliding a finger under his collar to tug absently, "was that necessary?"
"Yes," Crowley answers, the chair creaks when he shifts his weight to lean forward. His tea is steaming, in a white china cup. If he were anyone else it'd burn. If this were America it'd be a lawsuit waiting to happen. He lifts the cup and the tea is the perfect temperature when he takes a drink.
There's a lady in the back dressed in purple wrapped around and around and around her. A cliché, like all the others. Crowley grins when she asks if he wants his fortune read. She's younger than most and her hips sway when she walks, it isn't fortunes she reads in the back, behind the curtain of beads. He wonders if she's going to be Aziraphale's project, but he doesn't, really, care. The angel turns down her offer for him, with his smile that's all poor dear, poor girl, let me heal your soul and Crowley has his answer.
"She likes it you know," he hisses when she's gone. "Likes the money it gives her. She can pay the rent and pay for those classes she takes at night and still be able to afford those boots she sees in the store window when she walks past."
"She's better than—"
"She made the choice before the choice made her. That's all the difference, and you won't win this one."
"Is that it?" Aziraphale asks, hesitant and uncertain, as his fingers wrap around the china cup in front of him like he's leaching heat from it. "Is that why you—"
"You always—You always make the same mistake, you know? Don't assume everyone wants to be saved."
"Yes," Crowley says, cutting him off with his eyes narrowed. "But look around you, angel, can't be that I didn't make the right one."
"No, I guess it can't be at that." Aziraphale's cup is unsteady in his hand, like maybe he didn't ask the right question.
v. Barons of Suburbia
His feet drag across the dusty floorboards of Dudley's extra room, of his room, if you want to call it that. He doesn't. He never has.
It's Dudley's extra room and Aunt Petunia never cleans here anymore, not, Uncle Vernon says, when there's filth staying in it anyway. The toes of his trainers are coming off of the soles and they drag and draw circles in the dust when he lays half off the bed.
Hedwig sleeps in her cage, softly hooting in her sleep, like Ron talks and Neville snores. Here, silence, then there not and it makes him jump every time until he doesn't. It's half past noon and he can hear the drying, dying bushes outside as they rustle in the breeze, he can see the leaves whisper against each other, he can. He can do a lot of things, he thinks.
Except that he can't. He's sixteen tomorrow, and he'll spend that day like he's spent this one, feet dragging on the floor while he waits for, well, he's never been sure. He's waiting for something. There are broken pieces of glass in his trunk and letters written on parchment that feels stupidly fragile under his fingers sometimes.
Uncle Vernon rattles the stairs when he walks up them, his footsteps heavy and hard, like he's stomping to shake the dust out. But no, no, they think the only dust is in here, they don't know. They never saw. There was dust there too, in the closed-in comfort of his cupboard. It makes no sense that that should be his and not this. Uncle Vernon is heavy everywhere, when he's in the house it seems smaller and Harry can't breathe right.
He leaves a cheese sandwich outside Harry's door and walks away again. Grumbles under his breathe about that boy and Harry can hear him until he's downstairs, until he's in front of the television, probably with an extra helping of dessert. He only knows it's a cheese sandwich because that's what it's been all week and if there's one things the Dursley's dislike as much as Harry it's change.
He works spells in his head, his wand under his pillow and his fingers curled uselessly into the black-faded-blue fabric of a shirt that used to be Dudley's. It's scratchy and he's got sweat dampening the back of his neck as his mouth makes the motions of the spell, his tongue silently pressing against the back of his teeth with the hard press of the D.
He's sixteen tomorrow and he thinks, in another world, I'm better than this. He thinks, in another world, I'm royalty. And he waits.
vi. Enjoy the Silence
Aziraphale's fingers curl in, softly, slightly, and he sighs in his sleep. His knee presses, knocks into Crowley's and his knuckles are against Crowley's ribs, there and there and there and there, just touching against them, just barely, when Crowley breathes in.
There's nothing here but that. But this. Nothing but white sheets and soft pillows and Aziraphale's knuckles against his ribs, Aziraphale's right knee against Crowley's left, the soft heel of his foot pressing against the inside of Crowley's shin.
Skin makes a funny little rustling sort of whisper when it slides against skin. It's louder than it should be, multiplied by a thousand or a thousand thousand. It's a warning ringing in his ears; in the deep part of him that isn't still half-asleep and that maybe, if he were someone different, would care.
Somehow a novel is on his night table, next to the alarm clock that he's never bothered to set. There are half-empty cups of tea from late, from last night or this morning or a week ago, sitting on top of it, because Crowley likes the way that Aziraphale shrieks, sometimes. Likes the noises he makes when he's displeased, his mouth drawn into a tight line and his fingers curling, yeah, like that. He doesn't laugh, he doesn't smile, he's a demon, after all: he just keeps mostly-sleeping.
Sunlight is slinking in heavy and bright through the drapes, it's down around their feet and threatening to move up closer, to make this late-morning into early-afternoon into you-have-to-get-out-of-bed-you-degenerat
It's just trying to mock him a little bit, and the plants in the other room rustle if you listen close, like laughing.
Crowley opens one eye just enough to glare at the window until the drapes shiver and drag themselves in, slightly, an inch or so and it's enough to block the sun. He's never seen anything as a shallow victory.
The angel sighs again, softly, his arm twisting to untangle from the blankets. The inside of his wrist presses against Crowley's ear and makes his hearing go off-balance. He only hears his blood move through him, a sound like waves slowly crashing against the sand.
Everything is soft and slow now, slight and singular. Everything stands on its own. Aziraphale sleeps next to him, his pulse sounding just as loud through Crowley as his own does and Crowley can't fall back asleep.
vii. The Wrong Band
He sits alone, after. When he's back in his flat and two days have gone by. He thinks he may still be in the same clothes he was then, but he can't be certain. He hasn't slept yet and the details are finally starting to blur.
There are still things to do, but Dawn finally cried herself to sleep again and Spike was sitting outside her bedroom, back against the wall, beneath a picture of Buffy from when she was just a child. (She was always just a child. She never got to grow up, that was the danger with slayers, they never get to grow up and any watcher worth his salt knows that knowing that doesn't make it easier. She's gone again, and she was just a child. She's buried tomorrow night and she was just a child.) The council can wait, this time, he's in no rush to set to explaining.
The latest, newest diary is on his desk, open. The pages are sloppy, blurry almost—he hasn't written since Joyce. There was too much and too much he couldn't mention. He can't write the ending, not yet.
His guitar should be in the closet, but it isn't, it's propped up close enough that he can reach out and strum the strings, just for noise in the silence. He's too tired to sleep. His fingers play over it for something to do, he's not ready to be still yet. He feels like there is still blood under his nails, but he doesn't spare a thought to Ben.
There's a difference between what you must do and what you didn't do, and it's all the difference sometimes.
He plays a song, absently, and it's the wrong song, of course. It's for the wrong Summers. His eyes are burning and he needs a drink. He wonders if he ever should have been here at all, if he was ever right for this at all, and plays through to the end of the song anyway.
It's cold for now and here, the wind comes off the water in bursts that make her shiver beneath her over-large jumper. She sits in the sand, the waves capped with white coming in and going away again just barely brush her toes. Hermione wears Muggle clothes here, it's what makes her parents comfortable. Her skirt is dark grey, almost black, thin and sort of ruffled as it hangs around her shins, as it curves to the curves of her calves.
She writes letters on parchment with her ink well half buried in the sand to keep it stable. The wind blows and she shivers and her papers do too, so she clutches them tight, presses the corners down with ink-stained fingertips into the sharp edge of another book that's as big as she is. Her skin is as pale as the paper because the sun hasn't thought to come out for them yet. Her hair is loose and wild and everywhere.
Her hair could take over the world, Ginny thinks, one curl at a time it could take over the world, and it just seems to grow and grow and grow. It's brown and not a colour that makes you look, not a colour that makes you look at her and think oh.
Hermione is pale with brown hair and brown eyes that hardly ever look up from the page. She's got sand on her toes and she bites her bottom lip when she thinks too hard sometimes. There's ink on her fingers, on the sleeve of the jumper big enough for both of them to hide in, ink marks in the shape of her fingers on the skirt where it covers her thighs. Ginny'd bet that underneath it were marks too, ink and red lines from the press of books. She'd bet, and Hermione wouldn't notice either way.
The clouds are heavy on the horizon and there's salt thick in the air. Everything is thick here, everything is heavy and pressing, and it makes it just a little bit hard to breathe sometimes. Only when Ginny really, really tries. That's when it's the hardest, anyway.
Ginny's hands press down to her sides, her soles sink into the earth with every step, and she wonders if she'll sink all the way through before she gets there. Before she gets anywhere. Sometimes she thinks it'd be better, sand at her ankles and then her knees and then her neck. She could look up and smile and say, "You know, I think it's over for me. Guess I won't be seeing you around." She doesn't know why she's here, really.
If she were a book it'd be a different story. She could be a book. Ginny Weasley: The Girl Who Was Possessed By the Dark Lord and Never Could Get Her Head On Right Since Especially Considering She Could Never Again Go Near a Diary Without a Great Sense of Dread.
She sighs as she sits down, too close but the sand shifts beneath her, fits to her, and Hermione looks up from the pages in front of her and smiles. Her mouth is red from her biting and the wind. Her fingers are white and cramped and the waves come up and are cold against Ginny's toes. They've not worn shoes for a week and it's never been clear why with this weather. Ginny's wearing a pair of jeans she nicked from Hermione's suitcase, they've got a hole at the knee and they must've come that way, because Hermione isn't the type to make them so.
Her fingers are cold, like ice or the water or the dark and she curls them into the blue of Hermione's jumper, where there's sand hiding in the stitches. "You know," she says, "I think you could take over the world."
ix. Baker, Baker
Aziraphale's got flour on his cheek, caked across it and there's no humour there. No matter how Crowley snickers in his head. (Crowley's in his head, but that's something to worry about another time.) He thinks he needs to sneeze even though it doesn't seem like something an angel should have to do.
It's possibly there is also flour in his hair and he's got cocoa powder on the back of his hand and three-fourths of the counter. It should be easier than this, and it could be, but he doesn't listen to Crowley when he's here so he's not going to when he isn't.
He follows the directions precisely. He isn't, after all, the type to go about breaking rules at the slightest whim. The oven makes the room hot, and he scrapes egg off the counter with a sponge before it dries there.
The cake comes out lopsided, and a little crispy around the edges. It's nothing that can't be fixed, really, it's nothing at all. He waits for it to cool and then covers it in frosting and gets out another bottle of wine, because that's all it'll take to not notice. It doesn't always have to be better than the distraction.
He hasn't been to Los Angeles since they started calling it L.A. Since it spread out across half the state and became the only place anyone could talk about. He knows he could do good work there, probably lots of it, but he doesn't think of how to pose the questions as he sits at the table and flips through the rest of the recipe book and waits for Crowley.
Sirius woke up in the same place for seven years, it doesn't seem like much but it is. He can measure the days, if he tries, with a calendar and marks of not then, not then, then. Yes. He could count and measure and the days that fill up his head wouldn’t fill up his hand. They wouldn't compare to the number of times he woke up here and certainly not to the number of times he woke up there.
Twelve years holds a lot of time, makes no sense because it does but it doesn't. That time is empty time, spent as a dog, curling into the dark corner to hide from the screams. It's empty and before isn't, mostly.
He smokes fags with the window opened just enough to let our the smoke like he's sixteen again, curls his fingers around the necks of bottles and his palm just there just right against the back of Moony's neck like that, and he doesn’t realize until Remus tenses that he isn't. They aren't. Sixteen is far away and hard to reproduce.
Sixteen was Moony with long arms and legs and fingers, curled in on himself and not looking, not touching, not listening until he did and was. Sixteen was new and scary and curling up as a dog at the foot of Remus' bed, after, just because he could. It was Peter, tripping over his own two feet and a stack of pumpkin pasties whenever Sirius got a chance. It was Prongs, with his shoulders filling in and his hands always in his hair and growing up fast, fast like all of a sudden. Like one second he was with Sirius and the next he was above. Was older with his fingers clenched into fists and it wasn't Moony who had the hardest time forgiving him.
Harry pushes his glasses up on his nose with the back of his wrist, and he's got juice at the corner of his mouth and his hair is mad like Sirius is now, wild like Sirius was then. His clothes are too big, like he'll never fit. Sirius curls his fingers around the doorframe and bites back the wrong name.
Sixteen was full of things, so he wakes up there a lot. Full time versus empty time. He figures there's something bookish in there that Remus would enjoy. Sixteen is an awful long way back, he thinks, and then Harry sneezes in the dust of this place, and has dust in his hair and a spider crawling over his shoe, his wand gripped tight in his hand and a triumphant grin on his face like all he's ever known is victory, and it's harder to remember.
It snows on Christmas Eve, heavy white flakes that make the perfect snowballs. It's white as white can be, under the moon like that, through the reflection of the tree in the window.
The Them meet up after breakfast, while their mothers are cooking for Christmas dinner and their houses are overfilled with people they're related to that they never see anytime when there aren't gifts required. Adam brings Dog with him, and the snow is high and light but Dog doesn't fall through to the bottom of it. They'd probably never find him again if he did.
Pepper's got a candy cane in her pocket for each other the Them, and brand new gloves that are red like a fire engine. Brian's wearing a jumper with a reindeer on it though, with a puff of a red nose and he's as red as it is, as red as Pepper's gloves are. Shoving snow down the back of it is really only the nice thing to do, and it makes him shriek and it makes Adam laugh and her fingers are cold through her gloves.
She was right about the snow being perfect for snowballs, and by the time it's over she's red-faced and the ends of her hair are wet and none of them can catch their breaths. It's the best Christmas ever, Pepper thinks, and doesn't notice that she thinks that every year.
She curls her fingers tight, tight into the folds of his coat, like she's going to rip it apart with her fingernails. She's all strength, she has been from the moment he saw her. Every inch of her is strength so it makes no sense that she can be so fragile.
There's blood along the back of her knuckles and he thinks, he's fairly certain, that only part of it is his. She's back from the dead, again, she's alive again and breathing sharp and hard through her nose and it burns against his cheek. Her eyes are shut as tightly as they can be and he, he notices, of course, but he doesn't want to and he's pretended at things for a century so this won't be his undoing. She won't be.
(Except that she will. She will and he knows it. She knows it and she's known it. He dreams about her at night because he sleeps like the Scoobies do now. She carries stakes in her purse, keeps her hair back with pencils just in case, she looks at him like he's dust, like he's no different from all the others. He watched her dance and he thought he'd bring her down and it was never. She was always going to be the one to do it. Has once already after all—when he thought it was over, when he thought it was the end. Wouldn't be right for it to be another anymore.)
It's always dark alleys or corners when she touches him. In the shadows or hidden all nice and safe in the crypt he calls home. Yeah, there with the dead and she maybe feels like she's at home. Girl's got a death wish just like every slayer, now, more than she did before. More than when she was there, was asking him, her mouth all soft and down turned in the dark light of the Bronze. He's just another body, but at least he knows it.
And it's not like she hasn't always been for the same things, same excitement, same danger. Angel was never as innocent as she wanted to pretend, he was always Angelus.
She pulls away quickly with the sound of footsteps and he's gone down through the basement before whichever Scooby it was this time makes it through the door. It's raining outside, and the sky is dark like it is for hurricanes; he's underground, in the stink and the dark, and the damn chill of it. He's got her heat clinging to his leather still, and her lipstick on his knuckles but not from a kiss.
He'd leave, he would, except he made a promise. So he just goes back to wait.
xiii. Your Cloud
Harry's mouth is hot. Like flames, like sunlight, like being caught on fire. The slide of heat, slick and practiced, against the skin of his hip is devouring him, inch by inch. Harry's devouring him, inch by inch. When he's through there'll be nothing left.
Draco can't breathe, can't think, his existence brought down to hothotwethotyeshotfuckyes and the press of his fingers against Harry's scalp.
It's grey outside, it has been for ages. The light that comes in is muddled and heavy so they keep candles lit. One of them might be afraid of the dark, but Draco couldn't say which. Harry's thumb presses against the sharp curve of his hipbone, where the skin is thin and easily bruised and where pressing keeps Draco still, and Draco can't think of you or me because there is only this and them.
Harry's fingers span out, across his belly, unfolding slowly like paper fans, softly, barely touching. All Draco can feel is the heat of him hovering and it makes him shiver. It makes the room seem cold around them.
There used to be stars, at times like these, when his head was off the bed because his back was arched and he was begging with his lip clamped tight between his teeth. That's the way that Harry liked it anyway, liked it best when the noises Draco made were dragged from him.
He gasps, hard, and the candles on the nightstands flicker. Harry curls his fingers, finally, finally, right where he should've all along. Draco was never known for his patience. The candles go out and Harry whispers the spell to relight them against the inside of Draco's thigh. Only thing it does is makes him arch, again. When Harry's words sink in the way that magic does, second by second until it's all over and burning you up from the inside, it sets Draco alight.
He breathes out the words for the candles and Harry hovers, just there, just barely above him.
xiv. Ode to the Banana King
Dawn was seven when her dad taught her to make paper boats. She wrote her wishes inside and set them out to sea, no one noticed because her memories were built to make her happy. She thinks they were anyway. Her memories were built.
She's never really met the man that's supposed to be her father.
By the time she turns seventeen she's over the Slayer thing and over the death thing and over the key thing. Dawn Summers turns seventeen and decides that she's just going to be seventeen, and that really, that's hard enough. They live in Rome and she pays Andrew ten bucks to take her to get something pierced. He stands outside and looks nervous and it's stupid because the entirely thing is painless until Buffy finds out.
She goes to a school that makes you wear a uniform. Knee socks and all. She hates it for a while, and then she learns that it's easy to get what she wants dressed like that. She's got a gold ring in her navel under the crisp white shirt and her left sock is falling down, all the time, and Buffy's boyfriend starts looking twice.
Three days after her eighteenth birthday she gets high, ends up dancing topless at a club, on the dance floor and not the bar. She feels alive, and not like something pieced together. She is energy. She is lightning and no one can hold her in their hands.
Buffy finds out, she always does and watching her head explode is half the fun. Dawn's hung over when Buffy shoves her and her bags in the backseat of Xander's car. He drives them to the airport and she goes with Giles to find another slayer they've somehow missed this long.
Giles keeps trying to lecture, keeps trying to teach her. The new girl is twenty-one, she's got her head shaved and she wears more leather than Spike and Angel when he's evil and Faith combined. She teaches Dawn to sing Ode to the Banana King on the way and neither of them bother to ask where they're going.
Dawn never learns to pronounce her name.
When she gets home Spike is there, sitting on the shadowed corner of the couch and Andrew's in her bedroom playing the new Star Wars game loud enough to make the people next door complain if they weren't in France. Buffy sits on the coffee table, her hands wrapped around a cup of tea and looking out the window. That's all it takes for Dawn to get the picture.
The thing she's learned about being a little sister is that she hates Buffy more than anything in the world sometimes, and even then she wants her life. It's not jealousy, it's admiration, sort of. She's spent all her life thinking that she wanted to be just like Buffy. Only less of a bitch. It's hard to stop that.
She doesn't say any of the hundred things she could, "I thought you were dead" or "Get out" or maybe, "Clean up the mud you tracked in, Spike, I'm not going to be your maid." Buffy doesn't even notice she's there.
"I'm leaving," she says, and Buffy turns her head toward her slowly. "I'm gonna go stay with Willow for a while."
"What's it matter, I'm already packed."
Willow lived in the middle of almost nowhere, and there was a spring that ran through her backyard. Dawn made paper boats and wrote her wishes on the side before she sent them downstream. She wondered if she was a real girl now.
xv. Glory of the 80s
Crowley has safety-pins in his shirt. It looks, from the distance, as though that's what is holding it together. There's a rip across the middle, a gash that opens when he twists this way or that on the floor, in the crowd, surrounded by a hundred others wearing black and safety-pins and eye make-up.
Crowley is wearing eye make-up, his already dark eyes heavily lined in black.
"Got something to say, angel?" he sneers, tosses his head to the side like to get his hair out of his eyes. He has a glass of something in his hand that smells suspiciously like the vintage he loves best instead of what everyone else is drinking. The music is loud.
He taps his fingers on his glass, he was always impatient that way. He wears denim with holes as well, rips and tears and more safety-pins. The white threads are stark against his skin, even in the dark.
"I-" Aziraphale says, and Crowley laughs and wraps his hand around Aziraphale's arm, curls his fingers in and cups his elbow with his palm and drags him outside, through the back. It's darker in the alley than Aziraphale expected it to be nearing dawn.
"Got something to say?" he repeats, and the moon catches the pins in a line along his shoulder, lights them up like sun in a mirror. He breathes in deep and his stomach shows through the tear in his shirt.
Aziraphale shakes his head.
There's a curve to his cheek that is sharp, a point to his nose, to his chin. Regulus has the same ones, same black hair, same blood, same name. Sirius shakes his head when he's just out of the bath like a dog does, and water droplets make the portraits shriek and make the furniture that's as old as their blood-line shrink back and make Regulus open his palm, secretly, curled around the star chart of names he should know.
It doesn't matter though, his hand comes away empty and there's a spot of damp on his skinny left knee and the corner of the chart where it'll make Mother shout. One lands on his lip and he swipes it away with his tongue. "You," he says quietly, to the paper on his lap, "shouldn't do that." His spine is straight, he sits like a Black should sit, and the paper's a long way away.
Sirius walks barefoot across the room. It's his room and Regulus isn't sure why he's here. "Sop it up," Sirius demands, digging in the pockets of his dirty trousers looking for his cigarette. He wears denims that almost hide his feet and doesn't bother to find a shirt. He's still wet, and the water slices down like it doesn't want to leave him. "Listen," he says, and turns around. He throws a stack of t-shirts into his school trunk. Mother is shouting in the hallway downstairs. "I'm leaving."
"Where are you going?"
"Away," Sirius says, and his grin is as sharp as his teeth, as sharp as the bones in his cheeks. He pulls on a shirt that's red and he wears it like it's something to be proud of. "I'm not staying here anymore. They're all yours," he adds, and lights up his smoke. It smells heavy and cheap and final. "May you all burn in hell together."
Xander's got a patch that he wears over his eye now, and he thinks that once upon a time he had one just for fun, a plastic hook on his hand and a striped shirt. He doesn't wear stripes lately, not so much for the pirate connections as the fact that he's getting a little thick through the middle there and stripes going in that direction just aren't going to do him any favors.
He's probably got a stuffed parrot around here somewhere though, so he could walk around with it on his shoulder and limp like he's got a wooden leg and start and finish every sentence with arg. It could be fun.
"Arg, Andrew, where'd you put the remote arg?"
Possibly it needs more swine; he's not really up on his pirate talk. More swine and more rum, probably.
"Arg, Dawny retrieve the remote from that swine, and then bring the women and the wine, arg," he says, and she looks at him like he's lost his mind for about two seconds before she laughs. There's something, at least, that he can still do just fine. If nothing else he can make her laugh like he could when she was eleven. It's something. It's enough, probably. It'll have to be.
He stands in the window with his arms loose at his side, his fingers curling in, empty, around dust motes in the sun shining in or around nothing, maybe. Probably. His fingers are always curling around nothing.
The light makes his skin look honey-gold, makes him look sweet instead of sweat-salty-sour. Harry's mouth is drawn tight as he looks outside, at the street below, there's nothing to look at but he keeps looking anyway.
His hair is still messy, untamable wild. It sticks up every which way and Draco hates it, and hates him and can't breathe sometimes, with all the untruth and injustice and Harry looks at the street and not at him. His hands are empty.
Draco doesn't stand in the shadows because he doesn't like that cliché. He's got his fingertips hidden inside of his pockets for no reason other than lack of something better to do with them. There's tea on the table in front of him with too much sugar that's cooling. He couldn't drink it with his throat this tight anyway.
His feet are bare and pulled up in the chair with him. He doesn't have a good reason for any of it, but then he never did. "I'm sorry," he says, and the words are heavy and thick on his tongue, it takes forever to get them out of his mouth because they want to stick around. "I know that he—"
Harry turns around, his hip on the windowsill and a cup of tea beside him. It's cold too, and doesn't have sugar at all. He likes it sweet enough to hurt Draco's teeth. His eyes are red-rimmed and his shoulders are slumped in defeat. He shakes his head and Draco curls his fingers around nothing.
Crowley makes toast. With a toaster in his kitchen, one of the things that he has because he thinks that he should. Because it's shiny and sleek and he can see his reflection in the side. It looks like something he thinks he'd own if he were human.
It's just putting the bread in and pressing the knob down and waiting. There are wires inside that suddenly burn bright red. It's simple and there's tea set up on a tray right next to it. Butter in the refrigerator and a knife in the drawer.
He could go out, there's a bakery down the street that makes the best scones in the world, a fact to which he can personally attest, having been all over the world. Mostly within the past week.
Evil and sin are harder to spread now, when they're always spreading themselves like they do. He doesn't have to do anything, they do it all themselves. He figures that just means he's done his job well so far and that he's earned a good rest after that.
Maybe not like the fourteenth century, but a couple of weeks without leaving bed would be nice. A couple of months at the most. The humans can destroy themselves for a while. Let Adam keep taking care of everything, nothing to be done about it anyway.
The floor isn't cold under his feet because it doesn't have the nerve to be. The angel walks up behind him and curls his fingers around Crowley's wrist. The toast is black when it pops up with Aziraphale's urging.
Buffy doesn't cry when she finds out it's real. She sinks into the bathtub with the bubbles overflowing almost and the water almost hot enough to burn and she shakes for an hour, but she doesn't cry.
She dreams about impossible things, about running faster than is possible, away from monsters she stopped believing in years ago, about laughing with her friends in the dark parking lot, shopping bags swinging between them and fumbling for car keys without a care in the world.
There are shadows that move and she notices them now. The way they slink longer and closer, to spread across and take her. She wears necklaces and big rings and high heels and she thinks every morning when she wakes up that she's going to die.
She wears short skirts and low necklines and at lunch she laughs around a cherry sucker on the steps and the sun coming down hard and she thinks that she's invincible. Nothing can hurt her, this will never come to an end. She shivers for no reason and knows that one is close, but it's the middle of the day at school where you can't escape the sunlight so everybody's safe.
The alley is dark and she's left all her friends behind to try and escape but it didn't work. There is no escape. There's a feeling in her spine like it wants to get away, and she knows he's near.
Buffy wears the necklace he gives her and thinks that she's never going to be normal.
xxi. I Can't See New York
"There are buildings there that scrape the sky," he says, like it's an answer. His voice is all angel mollifying. Soft and empty comforting.
"There are people there," Crowley counters, "who kill each other over a taxi cab."
Aziraphale looks up from his book and tsks mildly, and pours more wine into Crowley's glass. "That's a rather extreme example, don't you think?"
"No. There will be nothing to do and I'll be bored to tears."
"Maybe," Aziraphale answers, his mouth doesn't twitch with the urge to smile because he doesn't smile if it's funny. That would require a sense of humor. He says, "Perhaps you can find a nice nun and make fun of her habit until she weeps."
"A nice idea, but doubtful."
"There are some lovely universities around there. The books I imagine that they have…"
"It's halfway across the world," he says, and it's not a whine. Demons, he is certain, do not whine. Not even when tipsy and displeased. Actually, displeased is a common emotion among demons, doesn't make much sense to have a bunch of happy demons wondering around. "That's very, very far away."
"The history of some of the streets. You know, Crowley, it's really been too long since I was in America."
"They watch the tabloids being read on television and call it news."
"That was your invention, wasn't it?" Aziraphale asks, closing his book and sitting it on the table beside the plate that used to hold a fantastic pudding.
"That and CNN."
"Trying to give back?"
"No," Crowley answered, and thought he might have been confused so he finished off his glass and poured another. "Why would—"
"It can't possible be as bad as you make it," Aziraphale says. His fingers tap against the side of his glass. "I think that maybe you can't see New York for America. So to speak."
"Don't try and play your word games with me, angel, a cliché is a cliché no matter how you dress it."
"There are people who dress up on weekends to reenact scenes from the Civil War."
"The Civil War," Crowley sighs. "Now those were some good times in that country."
"Come with me then, if you're so keen on it."
Aziraphale smiled around the rim of his glass. "You know, I think I might."
"Good," Crowley says and nods. "You can find me a nun and I can make her cry."
They make the choice and then wait for him to make the move that will save them all.
He's kept in the dark and kept in the dark and he's got more ghosts whispering secrets into his ears that most people twice his age. It's something, he thinks, that's supposed to come with age. Dumbledore tells him how it was, no one tells him how it really is.
Voldemort raises an army again, Harry doesn't remember the last one and there's no reason that he should. He's seen death and caused death and sometimes, when it's late at night and he can't sleep, he thinks he is death. He thinks that death is a person, walking around with this much blood on his hands. People who died trying to protect him, save him, bring him to this point. Sometimes they died just from being there, beside him.
He gave up looking for someone to save him before he realized that he wanted to be saved from this. From dark, cold cupboards and the splash of grease when bacon was cooking and dirty floors and fists bigger than his own taking his sandwich and shoes that he couldn't fit into.
No one was ever going to save him from this moment, from standing alone with Voldemort and a wand. They're all too busy waiting for him to save them. He's just the sacrifice being made to someone bigger, after all. Even when he wins, he's just the sacrifice, the point, the example being made.
Pepper comes to see him on Sundays, after she's had brunch with her mum and heard all about that version of what's going on here and wants to hear his. He never tells her very much, just enough, but that's the way it's always been. They watch Greasy Johnson play American football on TV for a while because he's got a satellite. She leaves and he wants to be ten again, but not enough to actually do it.
Brian and Wensleydale share a flat in London, it's tiny and boxlike and on Tuesday's they're both free so Adam drives up and they'll all cramp together on the tiny sofa with beers in their hands, talking about nothing at all, really. They didn't run out of conversation with they grew out of cowboys and pirates, they just stopped saying anything interesting. They ask about Pepper but she never comes over because Brain broke her heart and Adam knew better than to try and fix it.
Usually it gets really late and he ends up camping out on the sofa. It's short enough that his feet hang over the arm. Dog stays with his parents on Tuesday nights, and everyone pretends that Mr. Young isn't as attached to him as Adam is sometimes.
When Wednesday rolls around Adam leaves with the blankets folded and the TV off and Brian snoring in bed, but Wensleydale's been gone to work for over an hour. He buys sweets from a baker and gets his hand sticky eating them as he walks. Leaves his fingers sticky when he goes into the bookstore just because it's fun.
"I do hope," Aziraphale says, until Crowley shushes him and the complaint turns into an offer for tea.
Adam shakes his head and listens to them bicker in the back while he flips through comic books and it always makes him smile.
xxiv. Here. In My Head
Spike still sees her. Sees it, he corrects himself, sees it. But it still looks like Buffy and so it's easy to get confused.
She wears black and white and purple. Soft pinks and bright blues and pretty pales. Her fingers are cold, when they press against his cheek, not red-tipped like Dru's were, plain and rounded dull and cold. He doesn't know her secrets anymore, but she knows all of his.
He never got to courage to go find her again, he never got the strength, he never got a chance. The story changes, every day, and somehow it's always the same.
Angel lived and Spike was dust, it was the dragon that did him in. Angel went to Buffy and told her everything and he was all alone except that he had her and he'd always had her so Spike was only fooling himself all along.
She presses her hand against his cheek, fingers then palm and she smiles and says his name. There are lines around her eyes and her mouth and she's beautiful.
Spike wakes up in the basement of Buffy's house and his hands are shackled to the wall and he's screaming. Dawn stands in the door with her arms crossed and glares at him and hates him and he hates himself. He can taste blood in his mouth and it's not his.
He opens his eyes to the sunlight and flinches away but it doesn't burn. He crawls out of a bed that's got a picture of her beside it. She's in the kitchen wearing one of his black t-shirts and nothing else and he can't breathe but he needs to. This could be heaven, he thinks, it could. Her fingers curl around a bright yellow coffee cup and she smiles good morning and he knows better than to believe it cause it's all in his head. The sun comes in and doesn't burn him.
xxv. Taxi Ride
Potter shoves him into the back of a taxi in London. It's just that close to midnight, and the rest of the street is dark and empty. The taxi smells like old smoke and dirty socks. Sweat and piss and sick. It's stifling in its rottenness.
"What do you think you're bloody—"
"Shut it," Potter hisses, around a grin at the front seat. His fingers press just warning-hard against Draco's shoulder, his thumb blunt-sharp at the back of his neck. His thigh is pressed tight against Draco's and his smile is tired at the corners. The address he gives is mumbled and his hand is hot against Draco's skin.
"We had a—"
"You were," Potter whispers, and looks outside, over his shoulder; there aren't headlights behind them but that could mean everything or nothing, "followed, maybe. There's a good chance."
"Why would I be followed anywhere?" Draco asks, sinking a little in his seat. "Aside from the fact that you've had Weasley on my tail all bloody day."
Potter sighs heavily, and pats Draco's shoulder. "Wasn't me, Hermione—"
"What has your mudblood—"
"What right does she think—"
"It's a surprise."
Draco's mouth shuts quickly and hard enough to snap. Potter cringes like he knows how much it hurt. "A surprise?" he asks, and hopes that it's perfectly clear from his tone what he thinks of that. If Potter slinking back is any indication then it does a smashing job.
"Yes. I tried to tell her, but she wouldn't—"
"A surprise. Honestly, Potter, what is wrong with you and your lot? None of you are quite right in the head, if you'll notice. Surprise parties for people in the middle of war, oh, yes, brilliant idea."
"It wasn't my idea."
"It's a stupid idea."
Harry sighs, and crosses his arms in front of him. He looks out the front windscreen and the streetlamps reflect in his glasses. "I told them that."
"Oh, let's everyone jump out of dark corners at the bloke who's being actively hunted in the real world…"
"This is the real world," Potter says, his mouth down turned and not looking at Draco, his fingers are clutched tight to his arm. "As well," he adds, finally, like admitting defeat.
"I hate you," Draco tells him, very carefully, so that there isn't any room for misunderstanding, "and everyone you've ever called your friend."
"Well, if it makes you feel any better you aren't the only one."
"Oddly enough it doesn't."
Potter sighs again, and unfolds his arms from in front of him to press his fingertips against Draco's thigh like he'd shove him if they were outside. It makes his knees knock together, but it's aided by the too-sharp turn the driver decides to take. "Call her that again and I'll volunteer you as the test subject next time she's got a new spell to try."
"She could've told me, is all. I've a right to the knowledge. No reason to have Weasley following me around all day like so I was in the dark."
"Well," Potter says, and his lips quirk like he wants to smile but won't let himself, "I think she figured if you knew the surprise would be ruined."
"Think she figured if I knew we'd take off to some place with less balloons shaped like animals," Draco says, grunts like it's his final complaint. He doesn't kick the seat in front of him because it's defenseless and that's just unsporting. "Someplace with sand, maybe. A nice little holiday, it's that time of year, right?"
"You think there will be balloon animals?"
"Yes," he answers, and grins. He turns just enough to catch Harry by surprise. "Balloon animals and bright hats and those things you blow in that make noises and hit people in the nose. And, possibly, streamers."
Potter groans, and covers his face with is hands, and says around his slightly spread fingers, "Sand?"
"Sand," he says, and nods, and it's an answer. He taps the driver's shoulder and they turn left.
"Happy birthday, Potter," Draco grins, and claps a hand on the back of his neck.
* With apologizes to JK Rowling, Joss Whedon and Neil Gaiman, as well as Tori Amos, for the bad, bad things I have done to their characters and song titles. Further apologies to Chrystal, for it not being better.