Through a Mirror Darkly
So here we are, another Monday, another chapter. This is still set before Buffy's arrival at Sunnydale High and I could still use a beta reader to help keep me from mangling the English language, or what passes for English here in the States anyway. Anyone who's interested can email through TtH and I'll get back to you within a day at most. And now on to the main event…
Tuesday, December 16th, 2008
Willow snuggled in closer against Xander's side, savoring the warmth of his body against hers. She couldn't help but smile as his arm, draped casually over her shoulders, gave her a brief squeeze before relaxing again. Across from the couple, though, Jesse sat silently as he stared at Willow with an unexpectedly flat and unfriendly expression. It worried her, to be honest, seeing her normally cheerful friend so… off. "Jesse? What's wrong?" "What's wrong?" Jesse straightened up a bit in his chair, his expression shifting from unfriendliness to outright anger as he glared at her. "What's wrong? How can you even ask me that? I thought we were friends, Willow? I thought you of all people might understand what it was like to want someone who didn't feel that way about you and-" Confused by his hostility, Willow's eyes went wide. "We are friends! You and Xander have been my best friends since kindergarten, remember?" He wasn't actually upset about her and Xander, was he? Like he'd said, they'd both suffered through liking someone who didn't return their affections and… wait. Was that it? Was he upset that they were together now while he was still stuck with his unhealthy fascination with Cordelia, who barely acknowledged that he even existed? Because how was it her fault that Xander had finally asked her out? Apart from saying yes? Shouldn't he be mad at Xander for taking away his partner in the misery of unrequited love? "How could you do this to me, Willow?" Jesse's voice rose with every word, drowning out the din of the Bronze and drawing stares from the tables around them. "You knew how I felt about Cordelia. Knew how badly I wanted to go out with her. Hell, Willow, you've watched me chase her for over a year now. How could you take her away from me like this?" Opening her mouth to respond, Willow abruptly found herself stumbling over her words as the contents of Jesse's rant began to sink in. "Huh? What? What are you talking about, Jesse? I don't understand-" Jesse just scoffed. "Oh bullshit, Willow. I can't believe you. Sitting there, snuggling with your new girlfriend, rubbing it in my face that she picked you over me, flaunting the fact that Cordelia would rather be with my best female friend than with me." "Ignore the dork, baby." Cordelia's whisper voice sent shivers of delight down Willow's spine, the brunette's mouth so close to Willow's ear that she could feel the warm of the other girl's breath brush against it. "After all, he didn't seem too jealous when he asked if he could watch, did he?" Startled, Willow turned and found herself staring into Cordelia Chase's warm, chocolate brown eyes and felt her heart skip a beat. She drew in a sharp sudden breath, realizing that her girlfriend's lips were only inches from her own. For a long moment, nothing else existed as Willow fought to keep her breathing even.
'It's not what… good girls do… not how they should behave. My head gets… so confused… hard to obey. I kissed a girl and I liked it!' The refrain of the song playing over the Bronze's sound system penetrated her thoughts and swept Willow along with it. She leaned in, her lips descending on Cordelia's as she lost herself in the desire to kiss her girlfriend. Cordelia's lips were soft and warm and tasted faintly of peppermint as Willow's tongue slid along them before slipping into the other girl's mouth. She whimpered softly as she felt Cordelia's hand slide up her arm and cup her face as the kiss deepened. "Oh. My. God." The grating, far too nasal voice shattered the moment and the pair reluctantly parted from what had become an increasingly intense display of physical affection. "Cordy's gone over to the Dyke Side, and with Rosenberg of all people." Willow turned sharply to stare at the interruption and found herself face to face with Harmony Kendall and the rest of the Cordettes, all of whom were staring at the couple with looks of open disgust on their faces. Except for Gwen Ditchik, who was eyeing them almost hungrily. Well wasn't that just… neat. "Honestly, Cordy, couldn't you at least have picked someone hotter to throw your reputation away on? I mean, I totally would have laughed in your face but you should have at least made a move on me…" It was hard to tell which enraged Willow more: the interruption of her kiss with Cordelia, the initial insult, or Harmony's insistence that she was somehow Willow's superior when she so clearly wasn't in any way, shape, or form. Fighting down the urge to slap the smug off Harmony's face - after all, she might accidentally do enough damage to knock the girl's face into something approaching attractiveness - the redhead instead opted to return fire with her girlfriend's weapon of choice: words. "Harmony. I see you managed to find your way back out of the boy's locker room. I guess it doesn't take nearly as long to fuck an entire basketball team as it does the football team." The blonde's face flushed an unattractive shade of purplish-red in anger, her jaw dropping open in response to Willow's unexpected insult. Before she could gather what passed for wits in her case, Willow rolled right over her, continuing to heap verbal abuse on the girl, "You know, Harm, I'm sure that if you managed to close your legs, find a couple of brain cells in that vast empty space between your ears, and develop a real personality, you might even be worth talking to. Who knows, it might even result in a guy treating you as something other than a living breathing sex toy. But… then again, probably not. So why don't you and your sad, pathetic little friends wander off and leave the grown ups alone?" Willow turned her back on Harmony and the others, pointedly ignoring them, only to find a curvy, honey blonde stranger sitting where Cordelia had been only moments before. The pretty girl pursed her full, sensual-looking red lips and blew Willow a kiss…
Willow sat up in her bed with a sudden jolt, abruptly wide awake and gasping. She looked around her room, confused, the weight of her dreams still pressing down on her thoughts. Her eyes fell on her alarm clock and it took several seconds for the time to register: 6:07 AM. Too early for her tastes and yet too late to be worth trying to go back to sleep. With a groan, she fell back onto her pillow and struggled to get a grip on her racing heart and ragged breathing.
"What on Earth was that?" She could still almost feel Cordelia's lips on her own, and the thought sent tingles of excitement chasing through her. And that both confused and frightened her.
After all, she hated Cordelia… didn't she?
Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Standing next to the pillar that displayed a map of Sunnydale Mall along with a listing of all the stores it was home to, Willow frowned as she trailed her finger up and down the list and tried to figure out where to go first. Both Jesse and Xander had decided to be poopy-heads, begging off an afternoon of shopping with a series of stammered excuses that the redhead was pretty sure even a kindergartener could have seen through. Still, while company would have been nice, she realized they would have only been counterproductive to the purpose of her visit. After all, it was hard to reinvent yourself when you had two people tagging along insisting that everything new just 'wasn't Willow'.
So it was just her, the platinum card that had lost a round of Guilt Trip Roulette, and a mall full of stores that were deeply discounting their wares as they fought over the last-minute shoppers that were scurrying to and fro, wrapping up their shopping on Christmas Eve. Thankfully, no facet of Christmas was a concern of Willow's; as long as she was home by sundown to light the shamash candle and the three Hanukkah candles, she was good. Even then, she had a bit of leeway. After all, it wasn't as if there was anyone awaiting her to scold her for being a horrible Jewish girl if she was a little late or even skipped a night. Heck, she could sit there in front of an unlit menorah all eight nights eating pork fried rice if she wanted to. Who would punish her? Not that she would do something like that; she wasn't religious for her parents' sake, she was for her sake. But still.
Without thinking, Willow slipped her hand into the pocket of her lightweight jacket, her fingers wrapping around the small antique silver coin she had there. It hadn't taken much research, just a quick trip to Google, to discover that the coin was either a genuine Roman denarius dating back to the first century BCE or an extremely accurate reproduction of one. Either way, she had kept the coin with her ever since finding it in that Christmas card weeks ago. It had just seemed somehow wrong to not carry it with her. She rubbed the coin lightly between her fingers as she walked along, trying to figure out where to go first. She'd checked out the websites for a number of the clothing stores the mall hosted, and while she could now identify where Cordelia and her friends got almost any given outfit from, she wasn't really inclined to visit any of them herself. Sure they were popular and the expense of shopping there would suit her purposes, but none of them seemed… her.
Hearing a woman's voice call out what sounded like her name, Willow shot a glance off toward the front of a jewelry store. She stopped abruptly, noticing a sign on the display case at the front of the store: 'J. Schmidt & Son Jewelers, specializing in custom charm jewelry since 1966'. The sign sparked an idea that, in retrospect, made her feel stupid for not thinking of it earlier. She could have her denarius mounted in a charm and then wear it on a bracelet or necklace. It would be perfect, Willow decided, and a perfect first workout for her mother's credit card. She crossed to the other side of the mall without another moment's hesitation and ducked into the store. As she crossed the threshold of the shop, an older woman with long silver-white hair stepped out of the back room and gave her a friendly, if slightly surprised, smile. "Good afternoon, young lady. Is there anything I can help you find?"
Nodding, Willow rubbed her thumb back and forth over the face of the coin as she smiled at the woman. "Actually, there is. I was given an antique coin, a silver denarius, that I thought would look lovely mounted as a charm so that it could be worn on a necklace or a bracelet."
The woman's smile broadened further. "Well, then you've come to just the place. Charms are our speciality." She drew the final word out as she said it, winking playfully as she did. "How large is the coin and do you have it with you?"
"I do." Willow withdrew the coin from her pocket and placing it down gently on the glass countertop with the untarnished face of the coin facing up. The woman looked at it for a moment, frowning slightly before turning and rummaging under the counter next to the register. When she straightened again, she held a set of measuring calipers in her hand. With a practiced movement, she measured the width of the coin at its widest point, her hands were skillful and steady enough that she didn't even move the coin in the process. "Hmm. Eighteen and a half millimeters wide. Too big for a mounting sized for a dime, so we'll have to use one sized for a penny. The mounting will only be about a half millimeter bigger than the coin, though, so once its fastened in place it'll be quite secure."
Willow picked up the denarius as the old woman led her around to a particular case and pointed out what she meant. Inside the case were a number of metal settings designed to hold coins. Each of the mountings consisted of a solid back with an eyelet or a clip that could be used to hang it from a necklace or the like and an open circular frame of roughly the same diameter that would be fastened to the back with a number of tiny screws. The mounting would add a few millimeters to the overall diameter of the coin, but once the coin was centered in the frame and the frame attached, it would be impossible to remove the coin without jeweler's tools. It was an ingenious design and would allow the coin to be mounted without damaging or altering it. Willow smiled excitedly. "That will be perfect!"
The older woman smiled back at Willow and nodded. "I thought it might. Let me get my son from the back room, he has the keys and it's far easier on his young eyes to do the mounting than it is on mine." She turned and walked back through the door she'd emerged from, leaving Willow alone in the store.
Pleased with her success, Willow wandered about the shop, considering what sort of bracelet or necklace she might want to put the charm on. Several long minutes passed with no sign of the perfect method of wearing the charm she was about to purchase, and then her search was disrupted as a stout, middle-aged man emerged from the back room. "I'm so sorry, Miss. I was on the phone with a supplier when you arrived and… well, you don't need to hear about my problems. How can I help you?"
Smiling at the man, Willow held out her hand palm up to show off the reason for her quest. "I just got a small silver denarius that I'd like to have mounted in one of your penny-sized mounts. One of the silver ones, please."
"Well, I can certainly help you with that." The gentleman smiled and reached under the counter by the register, the same place where his mother had gotten the calipers, and pulled a pair of latex gloves from a box. At Willow's curious look, he explained. "Ironically enough, I'm one of those exceedingly rare people who's actually allergic to silver. Touching it causes me to break out in a rash, so I wear these when I have to handle it. Horribly inconvenient in this line of work, but I'm my father's son and so I find a way to get by." He waggled his latex covered fingers with a smile before pulling a keyring from his pocket, unlocking the case and withdrawing the mounting she indicated. "Okay. I'll just need the coin now…" Willow grinned widely and dropped the denarius into his palm, bouncing lightly on her toes in excitement. As he set the mounting in place on his work bench, he examined the coin itself. "This is beautiful coin, its a shame the back is so badly blackened, it really reduces the value of the piece. Did you try to clean it?"
Willow nodded as she watched him move a large magnifying lamp into position over the mounting. "I did, but silver polish didn't seem to make any headway with it at all and the coin itself is old enough that I was afraid to do anything more drastic. On the upside though, once it's mounted, only the untarnished side will be visible. And since I don't plan to part with it, its value isn't really a concern."
That earned her a slightly odd look - perhaps he was used to her peers, who seemed to consider nothing beyond an object's monetary value - but after a moment the man nodded and got to work. A few short minutes later he handed the newly mounted coin to Willow, smiling at the way her face lit up as she stroked the coin gently. "Since the coin was a tiny bit smaller than the frame, I coated the inside of the frame and the inside of the mount with a thin layer of resin, that should keep the coin from slipping in the mount and getting scratched."
"Perfect!" Willow gave the store one last long look but, still not seeing anything that called to her, decided to give up that particular hunt for now and handed the man her mother's credit card. A few moments later she signed the receipt and handed it back to him. "Please thank your mother for me. She was a huge help." Tucking the denarius back into her pocket, she turned and strolled out of the shop, never noticing the shocked and puzzled look the man was giving her.
Willow debated with herself as she continued to wander the mall, trying to decide between buying a real piece of jewelry to wear her newly-mounted denarius on versus using a simple length of cord or ribbon. Getting the coin mounted had been more expensive than she'd expected but it wasn't like her parents had given her a spending limit. Besides, she thought darkly, why should she let them get off cheaply when they were trying to buy their way out of feeling guilty for abandoning her for the holidays? Even if she went completely overboard, the worst her mother might do would be to lecture her on fiscal responsibility… in an email. Maybe a voicemail if she was really lucky.
Sighing softly, she stopped in front of the third jewelry store she'd found so far, eyes wandering over the display cases before turning away dismissively. Like the yet unresolved mystery of where she ought to shop, so far she'd yet to find a method of wearing the charm that seemed to scream 'her'. Maybe there wasn't one and, despite her urge to blow more of her parents' money, she ought to stick with something simpler. Looking away from the storefront, she let her eyes wander over the shoppers that remained, her roaming gaze stopping on a particular woman that grabbed her attention and refused to let go. The girl was tall, though that may have had something to do with her boots, but what had initially caught Willow's eye was her hair. Her dark, blue-black hair was streaked through with an almost violent shade of red that had probably never occurred anywhere in nature. The contrast certainly served to grab attention, but as her eyes drifted slowly downward over the girl, Willow realized it was hardly the sole reason the girl received - and deserved - attention.
Her skin was pale and smooth, and looked very soft. Her lips were painted black and her eyes were dark. Around her neck she wore a what looked like a silver studded black leather collar that was probably every bit of an inch wide. Her top was a corseted bodice of deep purple velvet, accented with a slightly lighter shade of purple silk and it lifted and squeezed just enough to make what might have otherwise been a rather modest set of breasts produce some rather impressive cleavage. The bodice flowed directly into a long, full skirt of what also looked to be purple velvet covered in a layer of black, gothic lace. She wore what looked like fingerless purple satin gloves that came nearly all the way up to her elbow and her long nails were painted black.
Willow stared at the gothic girl intently as her eyes drank in the details, the dark colors emphasized her pale skin and the snug velvet bodice accented the girl's curves in all the right ways. Willow found herself licking her lips as she met the pretty goth's own gaze for a long moment. Those full, black painted lips twisted up into a satisfied smirk that only served to make her even sexier. It was the look of someone who was not only completely comfortable in their own skin, but also knew precisely the effect she had on anyone who looked at her. She puckered her full, sexy lips and blew Willow a kiss before turning and walking off into the mall.
Willow felt her cheeks heat up, and knew that she was blushing. Her mind was racing with thoughts and images that confused and excited her, drawing her thoughts back to the strange dreams she'd been having off and on for weeks now. Dreams that involved other girls and kissing and touching and things she'd only previously thought of doing with guys. Not even guys in the plural sense, more like guys in the Xander-shaped sense of a singular guy. And yet, now a part of her was screaming at her to follow the goth and see if she might amenable to exploring some of those things…
Abruptly shaking her head, Willow's conscious mind caught up with her racing libido and her blush darkened further. "Oh my gosh, I just checked out a girl! And she caught me checking her out, and I think she flirted with me! And I liked it!" Her thoughts from a minute ago caught up with her and Willow turned as red as her hair as she cast about desperately in search of an explanation. "Her clothes! It was definitely just her clothes that I was admiring! And her hair! Her skin just looked so comfortable… I mean she just looked so comfortable in her skin! So confident and sexy… And grr, this isn't helping at all!" Shaking her head again, Willow looked around desperately for a distraction as her thoughts continued to spiral down into increasingly naughty depths. Something drew Willow's eye to the store that the girl had been standing near and she focused on it in an attempt to chase the dirty thoughts from her mind. It was a boutique that Willow had never been in, one that catered to the goth and punk crowds. Her mind flashed back to the choker that the girl had been wearing…
A little voice in the back of her mind whispered that it wasn't a simple 'choker', it was a collar. A studded, black leather collar.
Pushing that rather uncomfortable thought aside, Willow strode purposefully across the mall and into the boutique. Whether she wanted to live in denial and call it a choker or be honest and admit it was a collar, she knew two things. The first was that they made versions adorned with metal rings instead of shiny studs. The second was that her coin would look perfect hanging from one of those ring-studded collars.
Willow stood in shocked silence as she looked over the mass of shopping bags and the piles of clothing she'd bought, all of which she'd strewn across her bed in the aftermath of her shopping trip. What had started as a decision to have her denarius mounted so that she could wear it as jewelry had turned into, for all intents and purposes, a completely new wardrobe. Granted she'd chickened out when it came time to buy more than a few of the more risqué and revealing outfits that had caught her eye, but even then, she was still left with several piles of new clothes. Clothes that included, among other things, leather, lace and velvet. Clothes that wouldn't look at all out of place on that goth girl she'd seen at the mall.
A little voice in the back of her brain reminded her that she hadn't just 'seen' the girl, she'd flat out ogled her.
Willow did her best to ignore it.
Furthermore, she'd bought it all on her mother's credit card, having decided that if they were going to buy their way out of their promises, Willow was going to make it expensive for them. She felt the briefest twinge of guilt over that rather uncharitable thought, before brusquely pushing it aside. Her hand came up to caress the silver coin hanging from the leather choker - collar, insisted the same smug little voice in her head - around her neck. It was her parents' choice to break their promise, no matter the reason for it, just like it was their choice to spend so much time on the road. It was time to begin applying their own methodology to her dealings with them, she'd decided, starting with Skinner's principles of behavioral modification. If they wanted to make bad choices, then she really had no choice but to respond with negative reinforcement as a way of showing them her displeasure. This time, the consequence of their actions would be a cringe-worthy credit card statement. Money evidently meant a lot to her parents; perhaps being deprived of some of theirs would induce a change in behavior. If not, she could always repeat the process as needed.
A thin, determined smile spread across Willow's face. If she wanted things to change in her life, then she was going to have to make them change. Nobody was going to do it for her, after all. In the short term, that meant changing how others saw her, hence her new clothes and a new attitude to go with them. She was done being a doormat for anyone, including her parents. She got to work organizing and putting away her new clothes, suddenly looking forward to what the next week and a half would bring, parents or no. Next Monday in particular promised to be fun: she had made an appointment for her first ever haircut at a real salon. Maybe she'd even get highlights or have them dye the tips. That'd be different…
And the fallen angel in the coin at her throat smiled.
Monday, January 5th, 2009
Willow could practically feel her peers' gazes on her as she walked through the halls of Sunnydale High. It was their first day back from Christmas vacation and her new wardrobe was already making waves. She'd gone with something relatively conservative for today, both to ease herself and others into the new her: a corset made of dark purple velvet and brocade that laced up the front over a black silk blouse with flaring sleeves, which melded seamlessly into the flowing, ankle-length black skirt she wore over a pair of calf-high, black patent leather boots with a thick sole. Her recently cut, shoulder length hair now ended in mix of dark blue and black tips and she was wearing makeup that fit perfectly with her new look. Her dark purple painted lips matched her corset as did the light accents of her eyeshadow. At her throat, her denarius gleamed silver, hanging from its rather plain black collar.
Her hand rose to the coin, caressing it as her heart hammered in her chest. Part of her wanted nothing more than to run screaming from the increased attention, to hide or transfer schools to avoid the stares of her classmates. Everything had seemed so much easier in theory, and when dealing with the salespeople at the mall and the stylist at the salon. She'd spent the entirety of her break changing her clothes two or three times a day, rotating at least twice through everything she'd bought, wanting… no, needing to make sure she was comfortable in her own skin before she emerged from this cocoon of her own making. After all, if she couldn't present herself in a way that demanded respect, then how could she reasonably expect anyone give it to her? But still. It had been so much simpler when dealing with people who didn't know her.
Taking several deep breaths, Willow forced herself to relax. This wasn't any different, she reminded herself. After all, these people didn't actually know her, despite having been her classmates for years. None of them had ever made the slightest effort to get to know the real her. And besides, it wasn't like they mattered anyways. In less than two and a half years, high school would be over and the only times she'd see them again was when she deigned to take time out of her busy and successful life to attend reunions. She'd be going on to bigger and better things while they… what? Worked at Corndog on a Stick? A strange, almost surreal calm seemed to wrap around her, lifting the concerns off her shoulders. She could do this. She had to do this. She needed to take control of her life, to own who she was and who she would be.
She was still smiling as she rounded a corner and came face to face with Cordelia and flunkies. The brunette came to an abrupt stop, whatever not-quite-wisdom she'd been imparting on her followers trailing off as she slowly swept her eyes up and down over Willow's form, assessing her in one long look. Willow decided that as long as she was being optically mauled by someone that she might as well return the favor, letting her eyes slowly roam over Cordelia's form and absorbing every detail. Eventually she raised her gaze to meet the cheerleader's surprised brown eyes, offering up an appreciative smirk as she arched one eyebrow in a challenge that Cordelia was glad to take. "Wow, creepy much, Willow? Did your new look come with lessons in making people uncomfortable or is that all natural talent?"
"Cordelia. I see you and your sheep are still spending your Christmas money on trips to Hookers 'Я' Us. Do anyone interesting over break?" Willow's smirk grew a little at the shocked surprise on the faces of the girls who'd spent so many years tormenting her. After a few long moments of silence, when it became well and truly clear that she'd broken something inside Cordelia's tiny little brain, she decided to end their… not quite a conversation… and move on. "Well, as intellectually stimulating as this isn't, I have class. And since unlike most of you, I'm on the four year plan here? I should really be getting to it. Ta." She brushed past them, walking direct through the group and forcing Gwen and Aphrodesia to step aside for her.
As she walked away, Willow heard Cordelia's shocked voice from behind her. "That did not just happen!"
"Which part?" Gwen's voice was a mix of curiosity and perhaps… was that amusement? "The part where Rosenberg was eyeing you like a piece of meat or the bit where she just insulted all of us and walked away and we let her?"
They probably heard Willow's laugh in parts of Los Angeles.