DISCLAIMER: Penance belongs to Marvel. Oz belongs to Joss Whedon. But the cabin is mine.
She didn’t talk at all. That was ok, Oz didn’t talk much either. But he had the feeling that her silence wasn’t self-imposed, like his was. He just didn’t like to talk much, it got in the way of actually living. He didn’t know her name. But he knew she liked apples. She seemed to like listening to his music, crouching on the ground near where he’d be sitting on the grass and strumming slowly. Listening so intently he could almost see the music washing over her and being received with pleasure. It was a change from the groupies he’d seen during his time with the Dingoes, the girls more obsessed with Devon and his hip thrusts then the quiet guitarist and the song he was playing. She didn’t seem to even really see him at all when he played.
Her skin was a brilliant scarlet red, like some lipstick colour he’d seen hidden in Willow’s makeup box once. He’d learnt not to touch her on anywhere there was a point, or he’d end up slicing his hands. He had gone to touch her hair once, the crystalline shards curving over her skull then lying flat down her back. It shimmered like sugar crystals, dyed the vibrant red by a company with an eye to coaxing children to buy with primary colours. He’d just wanted to see. She’d been crouched near the battered sofa he had in the tiny cabin he owned now, having finally been coaxed into accepting the open door he’d left since she’d appeared. He’d been sitting on the sofa, carefully stitching a rip in one of his jeans. He tended to be frugal these days; didn’t know when he’d actually get out again into the small town near of the forest region he’d settled in after a period of wandering. Absently, he’d stretched out his hand to touch her hair, expecting girl softness, and jerked it back in shock to stare at the bleeding lines it had sliced into his palm.
She’d fled out the door like something out of hell was chasing her, and Oz had seen that sort of run before. He’d done it himself, once or twice, back in Sunnydale. A few times since, but demons were pretty far and few between out from the hellmouths and major cities. No room for them to hide. Except that the demons chasing this crystal girl were of her own mind, her own fears and not physical beings. Didn’t mean they weren’t any worse for all that. They just fed on your thoughts, clawed your conscience and devoured your dreams. In a way, Oz supposed, that was worse. It had taken a lot of apples to get her back inside.
She’d cut them up with the sides of her fingers, carefully slicing the white flesh with her nails and eating them slice by slice. It was a very absorbing activity, and she couldn’t lick her fingers when they were too juicy. From what he’d seen, the inside of her mouth was just as vulnerable as anyone else’s. It was just her exterior that was an impenetrable fortress that locked her inside and everyone else out. Oz thought she might have been lonely; before she’d arrived he was pretty sure she’d been terrified. He wished he had a way to communicate with her besides smiles and hand gestures. Her story must be fascinating.
She was a silent enigma, sitting on his porch steps and eating apples in the sunlight. She’d really rather stay outside then come in, but when it rained she came in and slept on the couch. He knew what she was, in part. A mutant. They hadn’t really been around when he was a teen, but now they were everywhere. Oz was of the opinion that they really were just people, and deserved a right to live their lives, same as everyone else. But he’d experienced on the ragged edge of suspicious hatred before himself. And at least now, he could control the beast that padded through his veins on silent feet, but he hadn’t been able to always. She couldn’t control the power that locked her away inside herself, a living statue of scarlet diamond. He had hope that one day she would. After all, werewolves weren’t meant to be able to control their inner wolf.
He called her ‘Red’, or ‘Girl’, usually. There was a certain striking beauty about her face, like an ancient goddess carved out of stone. He would have placed her squarely in a pantheon, put a spear in her hand and a lion at her feet. She was a warrior, he knew in the same way that walking around Buffy had clued him in to the way a trained fighter moved. Xander and Willow had never really caught onto it. Spike had had a lean and easy lope, self assured and feline in its own graceful arrogance. Angel had too much bearing down on his shoulders to carry off the fighter’s proud strut, even though the potential for violence drifted in the wake of his midlength coat.
Oz was still trying to figure out how he had made it look so dramatic, when he didn’t have the flaring grandeur of Spike’s duster.
It was apparently just one of those things. Like how Buffy’s hair never really got into serious disarray. Or her makeup get smudged. The gangling puppy lope of Xander and his inexperienced fighting never actually saw him get killed. Oz had always quietly wondered at the other man’s survival, even though he’d never said anything about it to Xander himself. He wondered, sometimes, how everyone was doing. Where they were. Who they were with, if they’d managed to claw some semblance of normality out of the freak show that was a demon slaying life.
Someone must still be on the job or an apocalypse would have wiped the world of life by now. Since he wasn’t dead or a slave, he’d take it as a good sign. There had been...omens. Happenings. But everything still tripped on like it always had, and the flowers had bloomed under the trees around his house again. He strummed a few chords idly and looked out across his vegetable garden, looking for the red girl. She was standing in the sun, face upturned to it and arms spread slightly by her side.
He wondered what she was thinking, inside that head of hers.
For all he knew, she wasn’t even from America. Maybe she was from another country originally, one that didn’t speak English. It had to be hard to learn a language, if you couldn’t hear people talking. He’d picked up a working knowledge of quite a few languages by traveling through them and trying to communicate. People usually had been quite tolerant of his stumblings, and willing to let him have his mistakes. He knew there were good people in the world, he’d met a lot of them. But he’d met a lot of the bad ones as well. Maybe that what she’d been running from. Mutant haters. She couldn’t hide with a skin that fascinating hue. Couldn’t blend in with the human herd. He felt a great pity for any who couldn’t in the waves of hysteria that were still sweeping the world.
Their best bet was to join one of the teams and get protection that way. Sad, but true. And it didn’t help the hysterical panic die, just stoked it higher and higher and made things worse for any mutants on their own. Any little thing could bring down the witch hunt. He’d stopped reading the news and his television set was gathering dust. He still listened to the radio occasionally, when he could get a signal. But mostly he shut himself off from the world, and he had a feeling that Red was glad to do the same. She’d made no effort to follow him down to the town and get in contact with other people.
But she’d always be waiting by the door for the apples he bought back up.
She really liked apples.