A/N: As ever it seems when I manage to update this I am astounded by the response I get, that anyone is still reading this. Thank you to all those who reviewed or who have reviewed in the past. I read and appreciate every comment I get (and speaking of, this chapter is in part inspired by a comment made by Innogen, oh about 2 years or so ago - thanks!)
For those of you who have not yet found it, Rules is an interlude of sorts in this universe set between Chapter 5 and 6 of Choices. Reading it is not necessary for the understanding of this story... but could be fun...
I realised that I have never thanked those who have recommended the stories in this series. It continually amazes me that anyone might think so well of what I've written to use one of their recommendations on it. So a big thanks to alfheim, BlueMonkey, DavidFraser, Drow, Elric, Emeraldiceus, Jolinar, lunalurker, poppie and Selyne for recommending Chosen and aria, asakagehime, devilsimp, kribby, poppie, soulfulone for recommending this story. It... well it means the world to me.
And one final comment before I leave you alone - last but never least, thanks to my beta Softly. Without her help the following would probably be unintelligible. All errors that remain are entirely my own.
Theatre in Silhouette
Amanda watched as her companion wove between the rows of racks with intent, following a seemingly arbitrary path as she picked up a top here, a skirt there. The chaotic movements slowly making sense as various outfits emerged from the bundle of clothing Buffy was amassing. Noting her perusal, Buffy glanced up at her with a grin, hefting the garments as proof that she was fulfilling her task.
It was odd, seeing this girl flow between all the different façades she created. Apparently the bubbly Californian teen, such a well-perfected persona that it couldn’t be anything but an act, was an enthusiastic shopper.
That was perhaps a bit harsh, this front might just an approximation to the person she had been in this life before becoming a Slayer. Buffy had mentioned that she’d been a cheerleader after all and her barely disguised distain of the girl she had once been implied a level of cluelessness. Somehow Amanda couldn’t imagine any incarnation of this woman being quite as thoughtless as she made herself out to be.
The reasons behind this venture sprung to mind, bearing stark contrast to the image Buffy was now portraying. The supple leather trousers and jacket Buffy had worn when they met seemed uniquely styled with a mesh of thick stitching using dark leather cords crisscrossing randomly over the tailored garments. Subtle variations in colour and texture giving an impression of the shabby-chic designs that were oh-so in fashion.
After learning that the girl’s wardrobe was limited to that she wore and the few supplies kept in the small satchel she carried with her, Amanda had decided to force her old friend out shopping. But when she realised what the clothes Buffy wore were…what they meant, it became a priority.
It was only after putting together the lifestyle Buffy led and the ragged mismatched nature of the numerous tears that Amanda understood what each of those carefully stitched rips had been. Even knowing it was difficult to reconcile with the part she played. How someone who had experienced the injuries that went along with the shredded clothes could act like nothing mattered more than whether or not the shop had red boots in her size or not escaped Amanda. She would laugh, joke, and then look up at you with empty eyes, two reminders that it was the person those clothes belonged to who was real.
Amanda had acted for so long like life was a game, as if any obstacles or traces of danger were just another thing to laugh off or enjoy. Eventually the act is all you have, all you are. It was hard to believe that it was this person who had taught her to live like that, to love life so fiercely, to thrive in every second of existence.
And on occasion, it was difficult to remember that she wasn’t.**She hadn’t noticed when the clothing was delivered, a mix of colours in the tailor’s arms. It was only later that she realised there were more than the two sets of clothes they had planned being bought. Alice had so cleverly blended them that the distinction was barely noticeable, a dark shirt hidden amongst the white, a grey doublet between bright colours.
Only after Amanda found out what her friend really was, what made her strong and fast, did she found out what those clothes were for. On that night she had seen for the first time all those pieces, fragments of the costume worn together, no longer enriched by any colours but clothed entirely in dark shades of green, grey and blue. Clothing that made her a part of the shadows even as they walked down the main street laughing.
After that Alice taught her. Not how to battle the creatures they both sought; there was something thrilling about Alice’s trust in her, that her skill with a sword had never been doubted. Instead she taught her how to do more than just blend together, to better play at being siblings. She taught her how to blend into shadows. Showing her how this was the same as their other act, all about the subtle differences that made you indistinguishable.
The ruse worked best when they highlighted that they were not the same. As brother and sister the differing clothing, the perceived difference in sexes hid physical dissimilarities that should have betrayed their lie: the slight tinge of colour of Alice’s that stood against her pale complexion, the clear blue eyes which so contrasted her brown. And yet when they both wore doublets and hose it was these small things that were noticed. That had others questioning their story.
They bulked out Alice’s body, adding layers of bandages beneath the shirt to give an impression of strength; wore colours that brought out Alice’s icy gaze and lit a fire in her own. Suddenly with those differences weren’t what was noted. Instead it was the way those two heads bowed together, dark hair blending so that the pair were almost one. The fluid grace they shared, movements forever changed by lives in combat, so alike that they were taken to be twins.
When hunting they more often went as men, with their breasts bound tight and fine blades attached to their hips. Their shared bounty giving them ample reasons to be armed, the stolen seal of this Lord, the mark of that Baron’s favour. And at night they forwent the joyful colours of the day for those that would conceal their presence.**
They were here in Buffy’s arms; cleverly intermingled amongst those chosen to portray an image of innocence were the still stylish but more functional ones in darker shades. Clothing that could make her a shadow which would be worn to hunt.
Amanda hadn’t forgotten her training. She used it too often to do so. That blending in wasn’t about appearing to be all black as one might imagine. There is never any shadow that contains only darkness. It’s not just the shadows that you need to become a part of but the light as well, especially since bright lamps replaced flickering torches. How you shouldn’t try to hide your movement, you can’t help but breathe, but instead make your motion a part of the background, of the constant sway of the world.
These colours, these motions; they were as much a part of Buffy as they had been Alice, and Amanda had worked for centuries to make them her own.
With all those similarities Amanda kept finding herself forgetting, believing the character the slayer was currently portraying. Speaking as if the approximation of the person she once knew really was Alice, watching Mac and Joe treat her like the angst ridden American teen she fell back into when Amanda’s attention wasn’t on her. But then she would glance at her when Buffy was unaware of any scrutiny and see the shell of a person, just going through the motions of existing.
She was disturbingly good at noticing when she was being observed, at slipping on those masks without missing a step, a beat. But Amanda hadn’t lived 1000 years for nothing. Amanda knew how to look without looking, how to case a joint without raising suspicion, and even if Buffy did seem to have some sort of supernatural awareness, Amanda still caught her; caught those seconds before she was detected.
In those moments she was entirely Buffy, not anyone she knew or had ever known. Alice had always been too full of the sheer joy of existence to ever have that look. Even when she was down there had been too much life, too much energy in her to seem empty. Those moments, the ones when there was nothing in this fragile girl, they hurt more than the ones when she was in every discernible characteristic her friend. Because trying to reconcile a broken shell with the woman she loved was impossible, and Amanda hated knowing what she had become, how easily that life had drained away.
“Earth to Mata.”
She somehow managed to smile down at those eyes, making note of the lessened bundle in Buffy’s arms, “You’re done?”
Together they made their way towards the tills, and as Buffy’s purchases were rung up Amanda sorted through her wallet for a credit card.
“I can…” Buffy tried to resist but Amanda batted away her attempts to pay.
“Nah, let me… or, rather,” she grinned with a hint of mischief in her eyes, “Mac.”
The peal of laughter, real or not was worth all the aggravation she’d get from Duncan later about this. “He’s known you for how long, and still lets you pick his pocket?”
Amanda shrugged, handing the card over to the shop assistant who was apparently ignoring their quiet discussion of theft. “He might have let me take it to make sure I’d come. For all his honesty that man is annoyingly cunning at times.”
“Ah, yes, the Immortal babysitter.” Buffy teased in a sing song voice. “I’m surprised he didn’t do it himself”
Amanda didn’t say why, that he didn’t really trust her, either of them. That though he had accepted her as a student, Duncan still needed to trust what he had been told about what she was. The man had always needed proof before he could start to believe, but once he was satisfied he would never falter.
“I bet if we did meet an immortal you’d leave it to me anyway.”
Amanda pouted in mock offence, “You’d expect me to fight in my new shoes?” She playfully displayed the earlier purchase.
Buffy scoffed, they both knew Amanda wouldn’t wear anything she couldn’t fight in, or at the very least run in. “I wouldn’t want to be held accountable for a broken heel.” She paused, her joking tone disappearing with the smile. “It seems silly. You’ve told him slayers know how to fight. Why do I need taking care of?”
“I suppose he’s spent too much time defending me to have much trust in my sword skills anymore.”
“What’s with that? I don’t remember you ever playing damsel in distress for longer than it took to get back in control.”
Why did every mention of their time spent together cause such a strong reaction? She had moved on, accepted what happened, or at least Amanda thought she had. Shrugging away the thought she admitted the reason she would never tell Mac, “It’s always worth appearing weak before a strong enemy.” Then again there were the other benefits to playing the damsel. A slow smile began to emerge. “And… Well… Mac loves to play the hero. Being rescued by him is always worth it.” She winked at Buffy, trying to regain the earlier playful mood but didn’t get any response from her friend.
“I’m going to have to fight him, beat him aren’t I?”
“Yes.” The question was rhetorical, Amanda’s answer unnecessary. They both knew what would happen, Buffy’s resigned tone proved that, but within that question had been something she was anxious to learn. Buffy was going to have to fight him before he would believe in her abilities and teach her what she needed to learn.
Amanda couldn’t help but wonder what that was, why the girl had really come. They both knew she didn’t need to be trained in the use of a blade and if Alice was anything to go by, Slayers were as good at hiding, making new identities and lives as any immortal.
It hadn’t been her presence that brought Buffy here either. She had been as surprised as Amanda to find a living reminder of their long forgotten existence so it hadn’t been her Buffy had sought. Cassandra could never have known about them anyway, regardless of what Duncan believed about her ability to prophesise events.
So what had Buffy come for, what did she hope to learn from Duncan? What could a 400 year old Highlander teach someone who understood every language spoken, intimately knew all martial arts used as well as many lost along with their cultures.
~ To Be Continued... ~