A/N: You know, I would have sworn just about any oath that I posted this last week. Ouch.
In which Buffy has seventeen stars tattooed on her side. Well, almost seventeen. (There’s a lot of death and violence here, people.)
1. Cortez was supposed to be their informant for the operation, but instead he was the one they were after. Trap, trap, trap. They had guns to her team’s heads and the only way out was with a knife through Cortez’s heart.
The star is yellow, like the sun.
Her only regret is not regretting what she did.
2. She promised the girl that she'd get her out.
“You’re safe, you’re safe,” she whispered, kept repeating it as she half-carried, half-dragged the girl toward freedom. The girl was weak and tired and broken and she still tried to walk, tried to get her feet under her.
She promised to get the girl out. You could almost see the sky from where she finally collapsed, dead five minutes after being freed.
The star is electric blue like her eyes.
3. Seven children as hostages and two men holding guns on them. She didn’t even think about it, just told the children to close their eyes and knocked the guys’ heads together so hard they saw stars.
She spent the next two days baby-sitting them on their hike out of the desert, with laughing children clinging to all appendages and Clay and Roque trying to seem aloof and failing because really, no-one can look aloof with a kid on their shoulders, steering by the hair.
One of the children, a girl, had pink studs in her ears. They caught the sun just so. That’s the color of that star.
4. They were running, running, running, fifty dudes with AKs on their asses and gaining because Roque had been dumb enough to let himself get shot in the leg and Clay kept cursing, cursing, cursing, fumbling with the remote trigger of the charges they’d risked their lives to set.
He had a cut above one eye and blood kept obscuring his sight, making his fingers slippery. Buffy said a very bad word, took the trigger from him and pressed the button.
Clay offered her the official report later, but she never read it. She didn’t want to know how many people she killed by pressing that button. Killing that way felt wrong to her. Doing it face to face was one thing. It meant the opponent had a chance, no matter how small. It was fair in a way a bomb set off from a mile could never be.
The star is an obnoxious red, not like blood, but like the button that spilled it.
5. Three days in the jungle with Roque, who had a busted leg. Again. It was like a habit, or something. The rest of the team had blown out of there but there was no way they were moving Roque without a med evac chopper, not with his leg looking like something a dog chewed on. They’d be back with help, but right then, it was Buffy, Roque and a whole lot of jungle.
She could take the heat, the lack of food and water, the mosquitos, the endless, sleepless nights keeping watch. She was okay with all of that.
The thing that rubbed her raw, right to the bone, was Roque. He started running a fever on the first morning and was hallucinating by noon. He rambled incoherently, mistaking her for all kinds of people, thinking he was a kid again, ten, fifteen, twenty.
She got the ink because she needed a way to pull the feel of his tar-black hate out from under her skin. A way to drain away the bitter taste his memories left in her mouth and heart.
He didn’t remember any of it afterwards, but she did and it was hard, looking at Asshole Roque and seeing all the things that had made him. Harder still, wanting to kill people that were long dead.
That star is white, because it’s as far from black as she could get.
6. The sixth star is a dull, dirty green, the color of money. She got it after the first (and only) time she ever won a game of poker against the guys. She’s sure, to this day, that Clay made them let her win, but as long as they pretend they didn’t, she’ll pretend not to know and run her fingers fondly over the ink.
Things she wanted to remember, Clay said, way back when. Sometimes, she wants to remember the good things. The silly ones.
7. She got the next when she was exactly twenty-six years and one hundred and five days old. It was the day she officially became the oldest living slayer on record, beating Nikki Wood by a day and a handful of hours.
The oldest of her kind.
As if she hadn’t felt ancient before.
The boys treated it like another birthday (read: another reason to get drunk) and then dragged her to get ink. She picked chocolate brown for that one, in memory of Sineya.
First and oldest.
(To this day, that star is the one closest to her navel, the connecting point between child and mother. In a way, she came from that long dead girl as much as she came from her own mother.)
8. Texas. Green. He’d called her ‘Green Eyes’ exactly once and gotten a knuckle sandwich for his troubles.
9. She’d killed before. Demons in the thousands, a few dozen humans, too, by then. But never in cold blood. She’d never stood back, outside the heat of battle, the frenzy of live, live, live, and decided that someone needed to die.
And she’d especially never gone through with it.
But Manny Meyers was a baby killer, a child molester and a rapist and she killed him even though there was no immediate need for it. She puked afterwards, heaving until her stomach was empty of everything she’d eaten in the past month
, while Pooch held back her hair.
“It’s okay,” he said, but it really, really wasn’t. Because this time, she’d had a choice. And she’d chosen monster.
The star is the dull, washed-out grey of a bullet.
10. Suicide bomber, C4 belt strapped to his narrow waist, crossing over his chest. Twelve fucking years old, running straight at them, screaming things she didn’t understand in Arabic, his eyes on fire.
Twelve fucking years old.
It was Roque who shot him and Clay who kicked the trigger out of his hand. But it was her who closed his eyes.
The star is blue like the sky that day.
11. There were seven men between her and an injured Pooch.
Dark red, like the blood that caked on his skin, flaking off onto her as she carried him out.
Sometimes, she marveled at how easy killing had gotten. But most of the time, looking at the people she’d saved was enough to silence those thoughts.
12. He said his name was Adam and they had an amazing week in Cuba while Clay was feeling up a few contacts for information.
In the end, Adam was the one they were looking for, the drug-lord come terrorist-financier.
She should have known better than to think a trust-fund baby on vacation was all he was. Things never were that simple with the men she slept with.
Another lover dead.
Burnt orange, the color of the sun as they’d watched it set over the ocean, slurping cocktails and telling each other lies.
13. When Dawn called to tell her she was pregnant, Buffy was ready to fly back to the states and murder Xander.
After she’d calmed down, the urge to fly back home remained, so she did. In the end neither Dawn nor Xander needed her to hover and be anxious, but she did anyway, for a while.
She got the star, vibrant green like new grass and hope and her sister, on the day Baby Ellie was born. So far, it’s her favorite reminder, right under her left breast, close to her heart. And if you look close, really close, there’s an ornate little silver key right at the center.
Dawn got the matching star on her ankle two weeks later, with the initials BAS in the center. Because she said there was no way she was getting a stake inked into her skin. Ever.
14. Faith came late for Buffy’s housewarming party. Two weeks late. But she brought a shopping bag full of cheap, sweet wine and they spent the night watching A-Team reruns, getting drunk and giggling like the teenagers they never really were.
Sometime during the night Faith discovered Buffy’s ink and asked if any of the stars were for her. Buffy told her no. She’d considered backtracking, making her way backward through her life, inking important moments, but it didn’t feel right. The ink needed to be fresh when the memory was. There was no star for Faith and all the shit they’d done to each other, she said, and somehow, that opened all the floodgates.
In the morning, lying face to face on the bed, still fully dressed and hung over as hell, Buffy scraped together all her courage and said, “I love you.”
And Faith snorted and laughed and held her head and said, “Ya know, you’re not half bad since you joined the toy soldier squad, B.”
Which, for her, was as good as an ‘I love you’ anyway. After all those years, it was time to put old ghosts to rest.
When Buffy decided to commit The Drunken Night That Made All The Old Hate Go Away to memory, Faith insisted on coming along. She picked purple for that star and insisted that it go next to the brown one. And then she spent the rest of the day telling everyone they passed that Buffy had her under her skin now.
She sounded very gleeful about that fact.
15. Three junior slayers kidnapped and gone for a whole month. She didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, didn’t stop.
The day they found them, dirty, hurt, hungry but alive, she went home to take a shower and then to the tattoo parlor, still riding the high of utter elation. Alive, alive, alive. For once, everyone lived.
That one is yellow, a shade lighter than the first because she couldn’t stop smiling that day and the color reminds her of that.
16. Emily Andrea Colton was born seven years after Sunnydale fell. Seven years after her mother became a slayer.
She was the first slayer-baby born into a new world. A world where her mother would probably live to see her daughter graduate highschool because she wasn’t alone anymore.
Because there were many now and while they still died, they also lived and aged and had lives
Emily was the fact that they were more than death given face and life. And a cute button nose.
Lilac is the color of both Emily’s birthstone and the matching star on the hip of the Alpha Slayer.
17. Five dead soldiers in Bolivia, their names dragged into the dirt, their memory kicked and spat on, their heroics forgotten, their good deeds ignored for one bad deed, only one, that Buffy knew they hadn’t committed.
Five dead soldiers in Bolivia.
She stood in the doorway of the tattoo parlor for ten minutes before turning back around and walking out.
Something in her gut said not yet.
Instinct and hope and an idea
Not yet, not yet.
It wasn’t time for that star.Not yet.