A/N: This takes place roughly 5 years after Chosen, and is mostly based on a lot of late night speculation between me and my best friend, who also proof read the first couple false starts, though this one is mine and mine alone.
Disclaimer: I don’t claim any responsibility for these characters; they come from minds far more brilliant than I could ever be, most namely Joss Whedon and his company, Mutant Enemy, and equally important Laurell K. Hamilton. I’m not making any money off of this, and I hope everyone survives with only minimal trauma for the experience.
I sat in the center of the small room, relaxing. The sweet, tangy scent of the incense I’d chosen invigorated me, but after recasting my shields, I just wanted to sit. I could still see them in my mind, like a vast spider’s web, each glowing softly in a different color for each of the three layers of the spell. First, a firm yet flexible web that covered the house like a geodesic sphere. The second was more like climbing vines draped over the first layer, intertwining psychic messages of invisibility that seemed to hum words like “there’s nothing here.” Finally, there was a nearly invisible cord that slept most of the time, only truly being called into existence when something tested, or worse, came inside the shields without being invited. That final portion also functioned partly as a trap-spell, preventing something that managed to bypass the initial wards from getting away unnoticed. I thought of the shields as a spell, a ward, because that was how I had first understood them, but experience with this particular type of casting made me realize I could do this because I willed it so. A key that could lock doors as easily as open them. My roommate, a practicing witch, was more than a little envious of the ease with which I could perform certain magics without preparation. But then, she was jealous of me for a lot of things.
As if my thoughts had summoned her, I heard a soft tap on the working-room door. “Dawn?” Sarah asked.
“Finished,” I said as I stood and made a gesture that parted the circle like a set of curtains so it would remain active after I passed. Once discovering that trick, it had made it easier than having to ritually create a circle of power every time we needed to do anything magical. That and not having to continually vacuum up traces of salt from the carpet.
Exiting the room, I saw she wasn’t alone. Seated, no, lounging on the sofa was her boyfriend, Greg. He was the one who had made it possible for us to get into the Danse Macabre, which held practically the most exclusive Halloween party in St. Louis. He had also picked out the costumes, and made us all promise to be part of the show in exchange.
“Why did I let you talk me into this?” I asked as I picked through the bundles of what might be called clothing, if you were using the term loosely. One seemed to be made only of leather straps, which Sarah was planning to wear, and from the giggling conversation I picked up as I was putting on my own accoutrements, had been worn only once before, by someone named Anita. Giles probably would have seen it and not stopped polishing his glasses until she left the room. It showed everything and hinted at nothing.
Greg’s outfit was similarly lacking in cloth. He was wearing a shirt that laced up the front, yet carefully was pierced with holes that left his shoulders, elbows, upper chest, and pretty much every spot you might care to ogle bared. His pants and boots were probably made of the rest of the cow that provided Sarah’s costume, cut so they hugged his body like a sigh.
Lucky for me, my costume was not only conservative, but covering. I was going gowned and coifed like some lady out of history. It was solid black, a color which made me look almost deathly pale, but the skirts were so full they almost slithered as the crinolines underneath brushed the overdress. A leather bodice laced up the front, accentuating the daring neckline that had only a ruffle along it that made up the sleeves as well. I looked like I was trolling for vampires, except that this wasn’t exactly made for the running part. It was beautiful, but that didn’t mean I liked it.
Greg came over to me, and grabbed the pair of ebony chopsticks I had brought out to wear in my hair, carefully layering the twisted and curled pile so he could insert them without ruining anything. As he pulled away, one hand stayed on my shoulder, and he said quietly, “Nothing will happen that you don’t want to happen.”
I turned, looking into eyes that seemed to be bluer because of the shirt, and sighed. “I just don’t know how I feel about being in a room full of monsters.”
I regretted saying that the moment I saw Greg stiffen. “Oh, God, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it…” I continued to babble along those lines until he cut me off with a look.
“I know you’re scared, Dawn. But I also know you believe that not every demon is evil.”
I hugged him for that. Wereleopard or no, Gregory would never be one of the monsters in my eyes. He’d helped me find my balance in the world of the supernatural; no preternatural, I reminded myself, that existed outside the cloaking presence of the hellmouth.
The sound of Sarah clearing her throat made us break apart in awkward silence. As if in apology, Greg turned to kiss his girlfriend, and I wondered how on earth we could stay roommates. He dated her, but I was the one who cooked the high-protein foods he ate when he came over to visit after a long night of work. It was me, not Sarah, who could sit next to him, on the sofa, my head on his shoulder, and talk about his past. He’d allowed me to share certain things, but he was keeping secrets, as if he thought he wasn’t good enough for this much normality to enter his life. Watching them kiss, I always wondered if he stuck around because he liked the household, not just her. That was just another thing in the list Sarah made sure to be jealous of.
As he held the door open for me to pass on the way out to the car, he gave me one last, careful glance, and said, “You’ll enjoy tonight. I promise.”