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by Viola

Subject: [glass_onion] Fic: Lovelorn (AtS, 1/1) Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002 2:03 AM

Title: Lovelorn
Author: Viola
Summary: "It sounds like a nice cult."
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Season 3, up to and including "Sleep Tight" Disclaimer: Joss, ME, WB, and the rest of the alphabet soup own everything. Author's Notes: The first of three vignettes.


My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun --
In Corners -- till a Day
The Owner passed -- identified --
And carried Me away --

The words he spoke didn't matter, the comforting sound soft around her shoulders like a blanket. His voice pulled and spun her like the phases of the moon, rhythm in shadow, promising her a shift in the tide. The dark crept in faster here under the eves, but beyond the pale square of window she could see the horizon, still painted the biohazard orange of an LA sunset. The closeness of the low, slanting ceiling made her chest tight, made her gasp for a breath of air, bone dry and dusty. The only sounds that came from beyond his voice were the creaking of old floorboards and uncoiling mattress springs. The mattress smelled of her grandmother's house --mothballs, wet carpet, salt and decay. Memory stole another breath, a knife's blade between her ribs, and she squeezed her eyes shut.

Better not to think then. Better just to listen.

Hands brushed at her damp hair, pushing it aside, his breath hot and sweet on her neck as he spoke. "My Caroline used to wash her hair in rainwater." He exhaled what might have been a sigh. "It took so long to dry in that damp air. I always warned that she would catch her death from chill. But she swore by the rain, said it made her hair shine." Icy water dribbled down her back, the hot/cold in the stuffy attic room almost more than her battered nerves could stand.

"Stop that." She shivered, her skin prickling with goosebumps. Sweat beaded on her upper lip and heat flushed her cheeks, but the tips of her fingers and toes ached with cold.

"Keep still," he replied, and did it again.

She twitched beneath the hands that held her firmly in place, and he moved in closer, radiating heat beneath crisp cotton. His hands were cold, though, wet on her throat, and she leaned back into the hollow between his arms. Warmer there. Comfortable. How they had gotten to this point almost didn't matter. Almost. But she had a dim memory, of being out of her head with fever and painkillers, of sweaty sheets and the faraway hum of an electric fan.

She shivered again.

He tugged at her shoulders. "Turn around now. Look at me. Let me see how bad it is."

Obediently she turned to him, her abused mouth beginning to throb under his scrutiny.

"Oh, yes," he murmured, dipping a rough cloth into the bowl of cold water at his side. "I've been overzealous, haven't I?"

"It's all right..." she began.

"Yes, I suppose it had to be done." He scraped the cloth across the swollen corner of her mouth and she flinched. She could still taste blood and suspected he'd knocked loose her back teeth.

"And some sacrifices must be made," he said solemnly, pressing the cold cloth gently beneath her left eye. "That no longer bothers you."

"I understand why, but I- I'm not going to lie to you. I don't like it."

That earned her a bitter half-laugh. "Nevertheless, it is necessary."

"I know. That's why I'm willing to do it."

He pulled the cloth away from her face and smiled. "Accepting that what we wish and what we must do are two very different things... that, Justine, is wisdom."

"You've taught me well, I guess."

He peered intently at her for a moment before answering. "As I've said, you are perfect for this. Made in my own image, by these hands." He paused, laying his hands on her bare shoulders, then leaned in, kissing her forehead in benediction. He pulled back, looking at her fondly.

She looked down at her hands, avoiding his eyes. Taking a breath, she asked, "What if he doesn't believe me?"

"It makes little difference, Justine. The outcome will be the same." He tipped her face up with one hand. "I don't think it will be a problem. He likes you. Thinks, perhaps, that he can save you." He stifled a soft laugh. "A fortunate turn of events for us. But I wonder what it is he sees there. Some lost chance? Some missed opportunity?"

"He's a fool."

"Is he? I wonder."

"Do you think I need saving from you?" She tried to arch an eyebrow at him, but it hurt too much. This dance was familiar to them both by this point anyway. He knew exactly what she meant from the ghost of laughter in her voice, knew precisely how she expected him to react. A private smile, not too big, showing her that she amused him in spite of himself, that she and she alone was allowed a glimpse inside.

The sun had finally dipped out of sight, the little square window going purple with twilight. Nearly time to go. She took a breath, steeled herself. This was a crossroads. She couldn't help thinking that it should have felt more surreal, more significant, more something.

"Do you think he'll do as he said?" she asked. "Or will he tell them?"

"He's an honorable man."

He was. There wasn't any getting around that. "And we're going to kill him."

Laughter again, dark and bitter, almost too low to hear. But she felt it along her collarbone, vibrating through his fingertips. "Regrettable. But never forget that this is a war."

"I haven't forgotten. He chose his side." Her eyes flicked up to his face. His gaze caught hers there and this time she didn't look away. "And I've chosen mine. I made you a promise, Daniel." She paused, knitting her fingers together in her lap. "I wouldn't do anything like this... not for anyone else. Not for anyone but you."

"I know." He turned her around again and helped her to gingerly pull her shirt back on. Spots of blood had already set in the faded cotton along the neck. She shivered again even as her palms began to sweat.

"Will you be all right?" He shook his head, answering his own question. "Of course you will. You're strong, strong as I'd hoped, stronger than I had any right to imagine." He took her by the wrist, held her there a moment longer. "You remember what must be done, of course."

She nodded.

"Good. Then go."

I can conquer the world in fashionable boots.

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