Title: A Fairy Tale, They Say
Summary: Buffy receives anonymous gifts that lead to questions she doesn’t have answers to.
Author’s Note: I have to work today so I only have time to get part 1 up now. Part 2 will be up later tonight. The story is complete, though, clocking in at around 8k.
The first one arrives in a box that looks like it was excavated from Sunnydale itself. Dust clings to the label, and three of the corners are smashed in, but the tape is surprisingly intact, and Buffy needs a blade to break the seal.
Or, in this case, the dagger of Dehema, since it was just sitting there on Giles’s desk.
“What is it?” Dawn asks from the couch. “And why didn’t you tell me you were ordering something? I would’ve looked to see if there was something I wanted, too.”
“I don’t know,” Buffy replies. “And I didn’t.” Not for the lack of desire. She’d kill for a decent pair of new boots, but the lack of fundage puts a serious crimp in random shopping. Money is still tight while Giles works out how to stretch what little Council money is left to cover a busload of displaced new Slayers as well as all the people Buffy cares about.
The ghost of a burning hand squeezes around her heart.
Well. Not all.
Dawn sets aside her book and rises as Buffy opens the box. A floral scent wafts from the interior, but her gaze locks on the fat envelope that rests on the dried rose petals. Though the envelope is sealed shut, the flap is crooked, one end exposed to allow peeks of what it contains.
“Holy crap,” Dawn murmurs, but when she reaches to take it out, Buffy slaps her hand away. She scowls. “What was that for?”
“Because we don’t know where it came from.”
“Who cares? There must be a thousand dollars in there.”
Buffy cares, because it feels like it’s too good to be true. She leans her head sideways to read the shipping label, but there’s no direct return address. Just a Los Angeles postmark and block lettering to send it to Buffy Summers in Cleveland.
“Hang on.” She levels a warning finger at Dawn as she reaches for her phone. “And don’t touch.”
Angel picks up on the second ring. “This isn’t a great time—”
“Did you send me a box full of money?” she demands.
“Huh? No. Why? Do you need money?”
She gnaws at the inside of her cheek as she debates telling him the truth. Pride eventually wins. “No, we’re fine. I just got this really weird package from LA. Who else knows where I am?”
“Only Wesley, just like I promised.”
“Do you think he sent it?”
“That’s doubtful. He’s been a little preoccupied with the reorganization.”
Right. Wolfram & Hart. Even more reason to be careful what she says to Angel. He might swear he’s going to change things, but that doesn’t alter the reality of who exactly he’s gotten into bed with. At this point, she would’ve preferred he pick Darla or Drusilla for that particular honor.
With no more questions to ask, she lets him get back to whatever corporate problem has him so distracted. She has no idea who else to call. The last time she checked, her father was traveling for work. Could he have asked his secretary to do this? Buffy dismisses the possibility as soon as she thinks of it. Even if Hank had deigned to give either one of his daughters a second thought, he would’ve sent a check and made sure they knew it was from him so he could get credit for it.
She opts to try Giles. Because it’s addressed specifically to the apartment they share with him, Buffy reasons that if she didn’t tell someone where she was, then he is the next best bet.
Giles is a bust.
So are Xander and Willow. But when Buffy asks, Willow is over in a shot to give it a looksie for booby traps.
“I think it’s exactly what it appears to be,” Willow announces after almost an hour of magical and scientific testing. The living room now smells like oregano. Buffy’s stomach growls. In all her hubbub, she’s forgotten to start dinner. “Maybe it’s a Sunnydale survivor who wants to say thank you.”
“Without a note?”
“They didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”
“Because packing it in a box of dead rose petals is sure to set me at ease.”
“Can I count it now?” Dawn demands.
With a wave of her hand, Buffy lets her. She wants to like Willow’s suggestion, but the fact remains, someone still has to know where she lives in order to send her anything. “Is there a spell that can tell you for sure?”
Willow shrugs. “I’d need something linking it back to the sender, like fingerprints or hair.” She nods toward Dawn kneeling at the coffee table, counting out the bills into neat piles. “But too many people handle money, and it never gets washed. It’s kind of icky when you think about it.”
Buffy does. Then grimaces. Because Willow is right, and she is grasping at straws trying to figure this out.
“Oh, my God.” Dawn’s blue eyes are wide when she lifts her gaze to Buffy. “There’s over five thousand dollars in here.”
Buffy darts over to crouch at her side. Dawn has divvied the money by denomination. It’s not just a bunch of tens. There are ones and fives and twenties, too. A few hundreds filter through the stash, but the preponderance of smaller bills makes it look more like a ransom demand than a gift.
“This isn’t money someone pulled from a bank,” Buffy muses.
“Maybe I should test it all again,” Willow says. “Because you’re right. The rose petals are weird.”
Buffy steps back so the duo can work, but her thoughts are awhirl with a new possibility. Or an original one, if she’s being pedantic. She only knows one person who liked to send gifts with flowers. Willow and Dawn know, too, but nobody likes being reminded of the time Angel didn’t have his soul, most especially how he staged Ms. Calendar’s death. If Angel wants to lie about sending the money, that’s his problem, not hers. He’s the one with the guilty conscience, it would seem.
Besides, the timing can’t have been better. Five thousand dollars will go a long way to ease some of the tensions that have been building while they search for solutions on what to do with everyone. It’ll give Buffy some breathing room to deal with her own future for a change.
A future Spike gave her. The one he sacrificed himself for.
He’d be annoyed if he knew it was Angel’s money that was going to help her achieve it. But she’d take every last bit of his bad moodiness if it meant he could’ve survived.
For now, she’ll hold her tongue. And honor Spike’s deeds by carving out the best future she can find.
The second gift shows up on her doorstep while she’s out with Faith, trying to behead the demon that’s set up shop in a downtown hair salon. It’s taken them a week to pinpoint its base, and from the various dyes that now stain Buffy’s favorite top and boots from the explosion when they tried to break into the storage cellar, it’s going to take them another week just to figure out how to get past its wards without Willow.
Definitely not the best timing for her to head to South America with Kennedy. But Buffy can’t blame her for wanting to help her girlfriend.
The FedEx envelope is propped against the apartment door when she comes home, but the sun is too low for her to see the label until she gets inside.
Buffy Summers. From LA. Still no return address.
Her heart skips a beat in anticipation until she tears open the packaging and pulls out a slim book. She’s about to set it aside to give to Giles when he returns from London when she sees the engraving on the back cover.
It’s their hair salon demon. A quick flick through the pages brings the excitement back to her veins. Angel has come through again. The text is exactly what she and Faith need to take down the demon, once and for all. It’s even in English, like he knows Willow isn’t around to translate it for them.
But when she calls to thank him, he denies sending it. In fact, he sounds annoyed that she’s received another “anonymous” present. “What’s the exact title of the book?” he demands.
She tells him, and she can swear she hears him writing it down. “Are you sure it’s not from Wesley?” she asks. Because a book on demon history is exactly something a former Watcher would deem important.
“Positive.” Angel pauses. “Look, if you get any more mystery gifts, will you let me know?”
“Why?” Especially if he’s so sure Wes isn’t responsible?
“In case there’s any trouble with them,” comes his smooth answer. Too smooth. And a complete lie. Even Buffy can hear how ridiculous the reason is.
“Sure.” Just as smooth.
Just as much of a lie.
Gift number three shows up in London. Well, it’s already there when Buffy arrives, anyway. She practically skips through customs, so excited she is to finally be away from Cleveland. Winter in Ohio is awful compared to California. Whoever sold the Home Alone dream of a white Christmas had clearly never actually spent any time in a city after a blizzard. Faith calls her out on her thin blood, but then again, Faith grew up in Boston, which, from the way Faith tells it, makes Cleveland looks like Tahiti.
Faith and Robin can have it. Buffy is more than happy to accept Giles’s invitation to relocate to the UK. Sure, it interrupts Dawn’s education, but Giles has always gone on about how English schools are superior. Now’s his chance to prove it.
Dawn sleeps the whole cab ride to the house, while Giles remains quiet, allowing Buffy the luxury to simply stare out the window. The skies are gray, the people hunched as they scurry down the sidewalks, but she feels a lightness that’s been absent since before Sunnydale fell. London is a fresh start, a respite from responsibility for at least a few weeks. She can spend her days exploring and shopping, then go back to Giles’s new place and play the big sister role instead of the head Slayer. It would’ve been nice to have someone like Willow or Xander at her side to discover what the city has to offer—or Spike, though she can’t admit that aloud for fear of her grief returning—but she’s okay going it alone on the days Dawn doesn’t want to tag along.
This is a step in the direction of her new future. She can do anything she wants. It’s impossible not to be exhilarated by that.
The house is smaller than she expects, but its coziness makes that irrelevant. She hesitates in the foyer, surprised by the pictures lining the walls. There’s the gang eating lunch at Sunnydale High, with Oz sitting on the table and a laughing Willow between his legs, while off to the side, Xander juggles two oranges and an apple. She’s never seen this one before. For a brief moment, she wonders how many other memories Giles has spirited away from her.
Others are more typical. The Magic Box. Training. The first time she made Thanksgiving. She bites back her smile when her gaze settles on a tied-up Spike, looking thoroughly pissed off. Not one of his happier days, that’s for sure.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Giles says from the doorway. “But if it’s too painful—”
“No.” She stops him before he can try apologizing. “It’s good.” She means it, too.
“Your rooms are at the top of the stairs,” he explains. “Oh, and Buffy, you had a letter arrive already. I’ve put it on your nightstand.”
She frowns in confusion, but follows Dawn upstairs. Giles has given her the first room—a practical matter, most likely; no worrying about waking Dawn if she comes and go at late hours—and there, like he said, rests a plain white envelope.
From Los Angeles.
It contains three folded sheets of paper and isn’t a letter at all. It’s a typed list with a title in all caps at the top of the first page.
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN LONDON YOU WON’T FIND IN ANY BOOK
Each item is unique. More than one makes her brows go up. But she doesn’t care so much about the list as she does about who could’ve sent it.
Definitely not Angel. If ever she needed confirmation the gifts weren’t from him, it’s the suggestion that she visit someplace called God’s Own Junkyard. And three different pubs. It’s funny to think she’d ever believed Angel was behind it all.
There’s only one person she would expect to direct her toward alcohol, and her heart thumps in sudden anticipation of the possibility. It can’t be, of course. He’s dead. Buried under Sunnydale. His memory might burn bright—ouch, poor choice of words, even if they are true—but Spike is gone.
But so was Angel, once upon a time.
When Dawn pokes her head in and says Giles wants them downstairs, Buffy tucks the list back into the envelope and hides it under her pillow. She doesn’t mention it, either. Giving voice to her suspicions will only garner lectures—that’s she’s obviously tired from the flight, that she shouldn’t let her imagination run wild. Dawn will express sympathy, say she understands what it’s like to wish he was back but all the while thinking Buffy is crazy to entertain the notion.
She gets it. She’d probably think the same thing in Dawn’s position. Which is why mum’s the word. It’s not like she can do anything about it right away, anyway. California is eight hours behind her now.
They spend the afternoon putting up the Christmas decorations Giles has been lazy about. There’s eggnog—light on the egg, heavy on the nog—and a tinsel fight and laughter so natural she’d forgotten what it sounds like. When she yawns after dinner, it’s genuine, so nobody gives her a hard time when she says she’s going to call it an early night. She can still hear the murmur of their voices downstairs when she shuts the door and pulls out her phone.
This time, she doesn’t call Angel’s direct line. When Wesley picks up, he even asks why.
“Because he won’t give me the answers I need,” she says.
Briefly, she describes the packages she received. “Has he mentioned them to you?”
Wesley hesitates. “He did ask me about the book you received.”
“Perhaps you should ask him that.”
“I’m asking you.”
“He thought…he wondered if it had belonged to Wolfram & Hart.”
“And did it?”
“It’s impossible to be certain—”
He sighs. “Yes, I believe it did.”
That raises more questions than provides answers, but at least she knows she’s aiming in the right direction now. “Can you get a message to whoever sent it?”
“I never said—”
“Tell him he should’ve delivered them in person.” She can’t let Wesley stop her, because she doesn’t want to hear she’s wrong. “I don’t know why he didn’t, if he thinks I’d be mad, or disappointed, but I’m not. I couldn’t be. He gave me…everything. And I don’t mean all the gifts from the past few months. But he has to know that. He has to. If nothing else, make sure he gets that part, okay?”
Another sigh, barely there, and she braces for the argument she is sure to come. “I’ll do what I can,” he says instead, and her eyelashes flutter shut. She hadn’t realized just how afraid she was about his response until just that second, but he’s not saying she’s crazy or diverting her to Angel or any of a hundred other ways he could’ve brushed off her theory. Then, he adds, “Everyone here worries about you, you know,” and the tension returns.
“That’s been Angel’s modus operandi from the day I met him.”
“From my experience, he has good reason to.”
“Except I can take care of myself,” she replies. “I don’t need heroes trying to ride in and save me.”
“Isn’t that what your anonymous gifts did?”
“No.” The correction is simple. “They gave me the means to save myself. That’s the difference.”
That has always been the difference. Though it took a long time for her to figure that out.
She thanks Wes for listening and hangs up before he can try and bring Angel up again. Whether it did any good or not remains to be seen, but at least she knows she tried.
The call comes on Christmas Eve.
Dawn and Giles are in the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on dinner, while Buffy sets the table. Tomorrow, it’s her turn to cook. That’s the deal she struck. For this particular holiday, she wants to be the one to take care of them.
Whatever they’re cooking smells delicious, though. Her stomach grumbles with each fresh aroma. Her only request was that they didn’t do turkey. That’s her centerpiece for Christmas Day, especially since Thanksgiving in Cleveland got ruined by a cult collecting new baby Slayers. It’ll be a lot of food for just the three of them, but the way she figures it, nobody will have to worry about cooking again until New Year’s. More time for post-holiday sales shopping for her, more reading time for Giles, more…something for Dawn. She’s not entirely sure what Dawn’s been doing with all her free time lately. Every time Buffy has asked her if she wants to go out, Dawn begs off and locks herself in her room.
Maybe it’s about a boy. A British boy. Yeah, that makes the most sense.
Buffy smiles. She hopes for Dawn’s sake that he’s nice.
Her phone rings as Dawn carries in a platter of roasted potatoes and carrots. She’s tempted to ignore it—it’s a holiday, after all—but habit and her undying sense of responsibility compel her to at least check to see who it’s from.
“Something wrong?” Dawn asks, a slight frown pulling her brows together.
“There better not be,” Buffy mutters. She waves a hand at the table as she heads for the other room. “Don’t wait for me. This won’t be long.”
She answers as she shuts the sitting room door behind her. “I would’ve thought part of reforming an evil law firm would be giving people the day before Christmas off,” she says in lieu of a greeting.
For a moment, her cheeks flame in embarrassment. “Oh. My bad. I just assumed—” It’s not worth finishing that sentence. “But hey, if you’re calling to wish me a Merry Christmas, you’ve got your time differences messed up. It’s still Christmas Eve here.”
“I know.” Angel pauses. “I’m actually in London right now.”
The world freezes around her. “What? How? Why?”
“Is there a particular order you’d like those answers?”
She wants them all, now, but Angel should know that without being glib. “Since when does Southwest offer frequent flyer miles for vampires? You didn’t pack yourself into a suitcase to get here, did you?”
Angel chuckles. “No, I was quite comfortable. Our plane is specially equipped to fly just about anyone.”
Our plane. Wolfram & Hart’s. Her blood cools even more. “So this is for work.”
“Partially. And partially…I need to see you.”
She is shaking her head before he even finishes the sentence. “No. Tonight’s for me, Dawn, and Giles. You can’t just fall out of the sky and expect me to come running because you say so.”
“I’m not…look, I know this is short notice, but I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t important.”
“End of the world important?”
“Well, no, but—”
“Then call me after Christmas. I have a holiday to spend with my family.”
She hangs up. It doesn’t feel as good as she thought it would. But the days when Angel would call and she would drop everything to go see him are long gone.
Her sadness over it must be written all over her face when she goes back to the dining room because Dawn immediately frowns and asks, “What’s wrong?”
Her gaze sweeps over the fully laden table, the steaming platters, the centerpiece she and Dawn made one afternoon when the drizzle was too dreary to venture into. It lights on the slight tilt of Giles’s head, the quirk of his mouth as he waits for her response, then returns to Dawn and the full-blown worry shining in her blue eyes.
The mood evaporates. “Nothing,” Buffy says with a smile. “Let’s eat.”
She’s not surprised when the doorbell rings after dinner. When she leaps to her feet, however, Giles motions for her to sit back down.
“I’ll take care of this,” he says.
She lets him. Though she didn’t say a word at dinner about who had been on the phone, he’s astute enough to know what this night means to her. How can she move on when her past keeps trying to pull her back? And Angel is the past, she knows that now. She can’t condone what he’s doing in LA, nor can she absolve him from keeping what she still believes to be the truth from her. There’s always the chance that she’s wrong, that she misinterpreted everything, but wouldn’t Wesley have corrected her if that was the case?
Except she never uttered Spike’s name. She’d only assumed he knew that’s who she was talking about. It was altogether possible they’d been talking about two different people.
Her stomach churns. What if she’s wrong? She doesn’t know if she can handle grieving for Spike all over again.
The murmur of voices drift from the hall, but the familiar glide of the door shutting never comes. Instead, footfalls whisper over the carpet, and Giles steps into the front room’s entrance.
“Buffy?” He meets her gaze, but his is inscrutable. “You have a guest.”
Fury washes through her flesh. Angel never did do as she asked, too stuck in the pit of his own authority to dare question whether he might be wrong about something. Sometimes, she wonders how she put up with it for so long, but right now, she just wants to tear him a new one for going against her wishes. On Christmas Eve, of all days.
Giles edges aside to allow her room to march past, but Buffy hesitates at the sight of the house’s empty threshold. The door has been left slightly ajar, with no sign of her “guest” visible through the scant inches. Even Giles, for as much as he’s seemed to have forgiven Angel over the years, doesn’t trust him enough to invite him in.
Grabbing her coat from the rack, Buffy yanks open the door the rest of the way, ready to give Angel a piece of her mind. The blast of frigid air is not the only thing that stops her in her tracks. The front steps are empty.
Slowly, she shrugs on her jacket while her gaze darts around, trying to find her elusive guest. When she spots a long, dark car with tinted windows idling farther down the road, her eyes narrow. She wouldn’t put it past Wolfram & Hart to have wards galore on Angel’s transportation, but nothing is going to save him from her wrath now.
Echoes of nights spent tucked inside the solace of unfaltering arms send shivers down her spine. She turns toward the voice, each moment another memory refusing to be forgotten, and spots him leaning against a lamp post, his hands shoved deep inside his duster’s pockets. While light falls from above, the cant of his head casts long shadows over his features, hiding everything but the sculpture of his jaw, the soft curve of his mouth.
She can’t breathe. Except she must, because he’s right there, within touching distance if only her feet could move. All she can do is stare at him and murmur words she never truly thought she’d ever say again.
To be concluded in Part 2: Hearts Will Be Glowing
Originally posted at https://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/709476.html