Subject: Chiaroscuro (BtVS) Date: Saturday, March 08, 2003 4:44 PM TITLE: Chiaroscuro AUTHOR: Luna (firstname.lastname@example.org) CATEGORY: BtVS, general, PG-13, season seven spec but no spoilers ARCHIVE: Lists. It's also at http://www.sparkgirls.com/stories/violet NOTES: Only the incidentals are mine, with one glaring exception. The rest belong to Mutant Enemy &c. Thanks to Kyra Cullinan and Cageyklio for working their mojo. Title stolen from Ryo Sen. Feedback is delightful. SUMMARY: "I'm telling you to stay alive, Anyanka." The canvas in his hand, the papers in hers. More than a fair trade. "You're good for the arts."
For Caravaggio she sat half-naked on a plinth, long hair shining over her shoulders, half a smile on her lips. Later, she watched him paint the robes and halo, transforming the picture into an icon. Madonna with her face, revealing a sacred heart instead of a profane breast. That was his idea of a joke. He was still laughing when she ripped his liver out. That was hers.
She cleaned her hands before touching the painting. The pale cloth--blue pigment was still expensive at the dawn of the seventeenth century--and the amber skin were rendered almost real. The exposed heart shone with a gentle inner light, like the glow of a pearl. He had lectured her on the technique of combining light and shadow: chiaroscuro.
The canvas was life-sized, conspicuous, hard to carry. She dressed first, gathering her hair into a gold-beaded net. Then she removed the canvas from the easel and rolled it carefully, so that she could balance it across her shoulders when she walked. A woman alone on the streets of Rome, in the dead of night: anything could have happened. But she didn't walk like a woman; she didn't walk with fear. And nothing ever did happen to her, without her permission.
They called her Anacleta, then and there. It was a pretty name, if not hers, so she never bothered to correct them.
Five winters later she had business in London, and brought the painting with her. London streets were filled with hay and shit, though less than they had been a century before. In the pubs all the talk was of James, whom everyone still called 'the new King,' and of gunpowder beneath the palace of Westminster. And of sex, as always. Sex and disease and the wickedness of women.
She met her connection in the usual place, a stone house that had become a respectable inn and then a rookery. He was late, so she passed the time talking with a young ill-used whore, whose rouge failed to cover the pockmarks on her cheeks. It was easy to be an attentive listener, to gasp indignantly and clasp the cold little hand. This was her trade, and her skills were not small.
The whore laid a fluttering hand on her throat and, in a voice slurred by beer, declared, "I wish--why, I wish--" But the chapped lips faltered, and the words subsided into a spluttering sort of sob.
Disgusted, she turned her chair away. Soon a hand fell onto her shoulder. It was a workman's thick hand in an aristocrat's white glove. She smiled as she twisted around. "Sir," she said, ducking her head in place of a curtsey.
He winked one starry eye at her. She slid the roll of canvas from beneath the bar where she'd hidden it, and upstairs they went.
He spread the painting on a bed, frowning, no doubt because it wasn't framed. She hung back a little. Not because she was frightened. She wasn't, though he was a big man, and swarthy, and old. It was only, unfortunately, that he knew more about her than she did about him. For instance, he knew her name.
"Anyanka." When she looked up she saw he was beaming at her, though the lantern threw a shadow on his face. "This is lovely. Genuine. And an arresting model." He paused, leaned down and stroked her face, the painted outline of her face on the canvas. "A fine work by a fine hand. What was his crime?"
She tossed her head. "Never mind. He was guilty. So he was punished."
He sent a pitying look across the bed to her, the look of a missionary to a savage. She bristled; her hands flew to her hips, and she hated him for curling his lips in amusement. "Shame," was all he said. "Hate to see talent wasted."
"I don't waste mine," she said boldly. "What's my payment?"
His fingers grazed the surface of the painting again. He never touched her body, only its image. "If the condition was slightly better..."
"You're going to take it; I know you are."
Anyanka allowed herself a triumphant smile when he finally looked up again. He reached into his black doublet and produced a few pieces of torn paper. They were not old pages, but they were weathered and wrinkled, marked by stains that she recognized immediately as blood..
Before she had a chance to ask, he told her. "They're from a diary. The diary of a seventeen-year-old in Edinburgh. A half-dozen have died trying to get a glimpse of them, including one of your kind." This last was said with a little too much respect, a teasing, a twinkling. She ignored it, holding out her hand, and he gave her the papers.
She skimmed the looping handwritten lines. Her eyes widened; she felt her jaw actually drop. "This girl--you're telling me, this girl is--this girl?"
It was a higher price than she'd ever commanded, and he must have known that it would surprise her. He turned away from her, rolling up the Caravaggio with long, deft fingers. "I'm telling you to stay alive, Anyanka." The canvas in his hand, the papers in hers. More than a fair trade. "You're good for the arts."
He left her in the room. She read the pages there, and read them again, until the tallow candles had burned away.
It was three decades before she went near Scotland again.
The eighteenth century generally agreed with her. There was an abundance of new wealth, which paid for idleness and voyeurism. Anyanka's legs appeared in a Fragonard, among layers of petticoats like the petals of a chrysanthemum. She broke each bone in his right hand exactly once, and by the time he'd healed and finished the painting, he'd forgotten her face.
There were also poverty, and plague, and war. Under these circumstances, she did her best work. She was in Hell's good books, not that Hell had that kind.
Her face was carved into petrified wood as polished as stone by an old African who had taken his fourteen-year-old niece as his bride. She left his corpse for the jackals. She was drawn with three flawless brushstrokes by a Japanese man before she burned his oldest concubine's name into his flesh. On a brief trip to Delft to drown a philandering butcher, she sat for Jan van der Meer in a yellow jacket trimmed with ermine. He rendered her slowly, painfully, one luminous brushstroke overlapping the next.
Sometimes she caught up with her images in auctions, and sometimes she stole them, or took them in trade. Halfrek didn't think it was worth the effort. "Do you want to know the trouble with humans?" she asked, one day.
They were walking in Paris, in a month that was called Pluvise in public and January in private. It was raining, but the sharp slanted drops seemed to miss the two well-dressed women strolling the street. So did the soldiers of the Revolution, who would kill a peasant woman for hiding a ham, but somehow missed the rustle of two silk dresses crossing their paths.
"I thought the trouble was their tendency to cheat, rob, and kill each other," said Anyanka. "Or their tendency to say things that they don't understand don't exist. Or possibly their tendency to keep writing these completely terrible songs..."
Halfrek tossed her head. Raw diamonds glittered at her earlobes. "The trouble is, they can't make anything last." She made a circle with her hand that included the entire city, the castle and the prison and the guillotine. "None of this is going to be the same in another five years, let alone another five hundred."
"They seem to like it that way. Most of them don't have too much patience." They stepped into the street in front of the Bastille. Behind the barred windows, five hundred wronged souls called to them. Their steps swayed, like those of a drunk trying to pass a tavern without turning his head.
"No patience and no stamina. So what I can't see is--you collect these things they call art--"
"I don't collect them. I don't even keep them."
"Whatever it is you do with them." Halfrek looked sideways at her. "Bits of paper. Bits of canvas. Good for nothing. And what I can't see is, if you're bent on taking souvenirs, why not take something with a shelf life?"
Halfrek fingered her earrings, stroked the wrought-silver chain around her neck. "At least I could take them with me through a flood, or a fire."
Anyanka considered telling her what the bits of paper and canvas were worth. Instead, she stopped walking in front of the Bastille gates. "Let's not waste time arguing," she said at last. "I'm leaving town this evening, and there's such a lot to do."
"Where are you going?" asked Halfrek.
She stepped up to a guard, who realized she was there at the exact moment she poised her fingernails on top of his jugular vein. "London," she said.
The old stone inn had gained back some of its respectability, had been gilded by money and the passage of time. Now it was calling itself a salon. The tables were occupied by rich boys in puffy white shirts, wearing flimsy swords on their hips, swilling wine and spouting poetry. Anyanka missed the whores. She booked a room upstairs and waited in it, with her collection spread out on the bed.
"You're late, sir," she said, when her connection arrived. He wore a long black coat, this time. His profile was still sharp, his eyes still bright: they sparked at her when he smiled.
"No," he said. "I'm not late. Despite some of the inventive things they're doing with firearms these days, I am most decidedly not 'late.'"
She laughed politely and leaned back against the window. The afternoon light played around her, and her shadow stretched to his feet. He studied the objects on the bed. His fingertips dusted the images of her eyes, and he slowly shook his head from side to side.
"Not a single Madonna," he observed. "Times are changing."
"Aren't they always?"
"With the exception of the ninth century. Felt like a couple of millennia. Terrible hundred years, those."
"That's when I was born," said Anyanka. Instantly she blushed and bit the inside of her lip, cursing herself for blurting out one of her secrets. She risked a glance at his face and saw that he'd already known.
"My sympathies. All right, Anyanka, my dear." He made the smaller canvases disappear into the black coat. "As for payment..."
He gave her a large envelope, blank on the outside. She broke the wax seal and took out a letter, written in elegant calligraphy that read from top to bottom. "Japan?" she guessed.
"China. The girl's just turned fourteen. Quite efficient, for her age."
She tucked the letter back into the envelope, the envelope into her bodice. He had already turned to leave. "What do you do?" she heard herself ask.
He looked at her over his shoulder. There wasn't even a glint of silver in his dark curly hair, and his only wrinkles were wisdom lines. He did not answer.
"With the paintings, and the sculptures. Is there a black market for this stuff?" She managed a laugh, thinking of Halfrek. "I mean, an actual black market, not the back-alley human thing."
The sunlight was reflected and redoubled in his eyes. He stared her down. With a slight smirk on his lips, he said, "A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Stay alive, Anyanka. Until next time."
He walked away whistling. The tune stayed stuck in her head for the better part of the next year.
Francisco de Goya met her in Madrid, when he was old enough to rest on his laurels. Instead he had been resting on the bed of a scullery maid while his mistress tossed and turned alone in the next room. He was deaf, and bitter, and rarely inspired. But the girl they called Aina peered at him through black lace, and it stirred an aging talent like a poker in a dying fire.
She sat on a brown cushion, leaning forward so that the light cupped her breasts, clenching a broken sword in her right hand. She was quite at ease holding a sword. Goya cursed profusely whenever she glanced at him. He cursed even more when she got up, deciding for herself that his work was done.
She laid a hand on his forehead and felt the neurons twist under the pressure of his fingertips. For the rest of his life he would have nightmares, and he would be able to bear few colors beyond black. You had to hand it to the mistress; she'd chosen an original punishment.
The painting itself was oil on the plaster wall. Anyanka took the sketches. Her face on white paper in charcoal, scribbled and smeared, looked like a ghost. It took special care to protect these sketches from the hot Spanish wind. As she climbed an uphill street, one man broke a bottle of wine across his brother's back. She walked a wide circle around the ensuing riot, smiling to herself. Humans would fight at the drop of a hat; occasionally, she'd seen them do it.
Time passed. She worked alone more and more. Halfrek was dallying with a Patagonian boy, getting around less than she'd once done. She didn't see it as a conflict of interest, but her work suffered. Everyone said so, including D'Hoffryn.
D'Hoffryn took Anyanka to the theater once, in New York. They were murdering Macbeth. It was a pity; it was one of her favorites. She passed the time by watching the other people through her silver opera glasses. Somehow the women managed to sit down in hoop skirts and corsets laced so tight they deformed ribs and spines. She felt sorry for them; it was much easier to bear when breathing was optional.
They discussed Halfrek afterward, riding in a carriage behind a pair of identical black horses. The street was muddy, and the horses splashed puddles onto the passers-by, onto a cluster of people listening to a soapbox preacher announcing that slavery was a sin.
D'Hoffryn was saying, "Now, you, Anyanka; you're the very soul--pardon my little joke--of loyalty to your work." She gave him a weak smile, and he added, "I know I didn't make a mistake in you."
His hand was trying to navigate the wire and fabric that constructed her skirt. She suppressed a laugh: he could see through stone, but fancy dress had foiled him. "Thank you," she said, demurely lowering her chin.
"A model of service," he went on. "None of these silly mortal weaknesses. No humanity left over."
"You really think that's Halfrek's problem?" asked Anyanka. "Leftover humanity?"
He frowned. The horses sped up, whipping around a corner. A paperboy dropped his armload of papers on the pavement and fled. "They're like insects," he said, as if she hadn't asked a question. As if she wasn't there. "Good at consuming, and breeding. Easy to swat."
"I don't think there's much human in Halfrek at all." She sank a little in her seat. The breeze loosened her hairpins and spilled her hair around her face. "And after all, where would we be without them?"
D'Hoffryn's hand found her breast and clamped down hard. She held her breath, thought of the Goya sketches in her vault in Copenhagen, and did not flinch. The carriage blazed into Central Park, and the shadows of trees closed around them.
After that, she could have used a vacation. Instead, she went to work in Paris again. She removed the entrails of young men and fed the meat to older ones. It would have been easy to set off another revolution, even bloodier than the last, and more glorious. The prostitutes in the park wanted it to happen; so did the wives who watched their lives pass from barred balconies. In their hearts; they wanted to see the entire city burn.
Anyanka mulled over the possibilities in Paris, and in the afternoons, when the light was best, Manet painted her. It wasn't the most comfortable sitting she'd done; she had to keep her head up, and look him in the eye. And it was the first time she'd been painted completely nude--leaving out, of course, the pendant she always wore. If she hadn't been watching him the whole time, she'd have suspected the painter of touching himself surreptitiously. It didn't matter, though; he was scheduled to die at the end of the month anyway, and one erection more or less was worth much less than nothing to her.
Manet finished the painting sooner than she'd expected, slit it free from the easel and presented it to her with a flourish. "I could paint it again from memory," he said. "And maybe I will. I'll never forget you, Anouk."
She let him live. If D'Hoffryn noticed, he never told her off.
By the time she got around to visiting London, Queen Victoria had gone from a merry newlywed to a bloated widow. The worst nightmare stalking the city was not a demon, or a vampire, or even a disease. It was the rumor of a man named Jack that made women tremble at night and cower in daytime. A human invention.
The tavern in the stone house was empty when she arrived, except, of course, for one.
He nodded to her and led her up the stairs. "They say," he began, "that it isn't safe for a woman to walk the streets alone."
"They always say that." They reached the bedroom; he turned the key. Anyanka laid out the Goya and the Manet on top of the bed.
He caught his breath. "There are still some true talents abroad in the world," he murmured. "I think yours is one."
"I didn't paint these."
His hands hovered above the paintings. He swept a finger over her ghost-eyes in the Goya sketch and examined the charcoal dust on his white glove. "No, but you have a talent for being in the right place at the right time."
"You've helped with that," she said. It was the closest she would ever come to thanking him.
This time he paid her with a piece of intercepted mail from a Prussian village, or perhaps Prussia no longer existed. The maps were constantly changing; it was pointless to waste too much time keeping track.
"It's getting dangerous out there," he said, inclining his head toward the window, where the fog pressed up against the glass like a lover. His eyes were narrowed, cavernous; the skin seemed closer than ever to his skull. The cuffs of his sleeves were frayed. By the glow of the kerosene lamps, he looked as a man might if he hadn't slept in seventy or eighty years. And Anyanka remembered the shuddery feeling of fear.
She spoke quickly to cover her discomfort. "If I had a nickel for everyone who's out there tonight wishing death on someone who gave them syphilis--well, I don't know what I'd do with all those nickels. Maybe I could invent some sort of machine that would take coins in exchange for food."
"It's not just the medical," he mused. "It's the things they're learning to do to each other. The nineteenth century's dying out there." He put on his hat and turned his back on her. "If I don't miss my guess, and I don't, the twentieth is going to be a bitch."
He walked away, and his step was only a little slower than she'd remembered it. Anyanka hugged herself. There were no goosebumps on her arms, because she had decided there would not be.
"Stay alive," she murmured to the gathering dark.
Other demons, too, had their rituals, their games, and their investments. She knew a few who amused themselves by making fortunes in mortal businesses, who'd gotten rich from the slave trade or the stock market. The material world operated much like the unnatural one: if you knew a few magic words, a little inside information, and had the right friends, you could make a killing.
One day, on a whim, she stopped at a museum in Vienna. She spent a few hours talking to the curator's wife about hypothetical paintings, masterpieces that masters never painted. Anyanka learned that she could be rich enough to buy Hell itself if it was on the auction block. Then she turned the curator into a goat, for good measure.
She found herself with less free time than ever before. She blamed it on the automobile, which made it possible to get around further, faster, and commit more sins. There was a commendation for her work in St. Petersburg, but it was far from her biggest project. She was in the trenches during the Great War; she poisoned a President.
Picasso was her greatest failure of those years. There were four or five women wishing him the worst, wishing hard, and a little nudge would have tipped them all toward crucifixion, or quartering, or red ants and honey. Anyanka avoided them, dodged any possible chance of conversation, and that was damned hard to do when she was spending a night a week in his studio.
Halfrek knew, but never said anything. It was good to have a loyal friend.
At the end she came out of it with a dent in her reputation among vengeance demons, and a messy painting that looked like the vomit of a stick figure. The only distinct, definite elements were the signature in the lower right corner, and the word "Anya" stenciled across one edge. Caravaggio probably wouldn't have deigned to use it as a dropcloth. Times were changing.
She stumbled upon a brand new Slayer in Argentina, in 1940, and escaped with most, but not all, of her skin. While she was catching her breath in Mississippi, lynching white boys for black girls, she knew that it was time.
Her nerves were skittish as spiders as she crossed the pavement and walked into the pub. The stones had a dusty, tired look to them, but the building was designated as a landmark now. There was a plaque proclaiming its age and that it must not be torn down or tampered with. She sat at the bar with her legs crossed. Her stockings were real silk, which was rare in those days; the girl next to her had a seam drawn up each calf with an eyeliner pencil.
"I suppose your lad's gone off, too," said the girl.
Anyanka looked around. Ah. She must have meant the war that was going on. Silly boys, posing with their swords. "Not exactly," she replied.
The bones in the girl's hands were fragile, visible under translucent skin. There was a bruise on her arm like a rotten spot on an apple. She looked like she had the guts and courage of a soap bubble. "S'pose he's left you in a right fix. S'pose he's gone off and you're in trouble, and you haven't anywhere to go." There was a mug of beer in front of her, and she took a gulp from it. "Someone ought to just grab him by the neck and--"
"Message for you, love," interrupted the woman behind the bar, grinning from beneath a nest of frizzy red hair. She held out a piece of paper.
Anyanka unfolded the telegram on the sticky bar, and read:
leave it with the landlady she can be trusted STOP she will deliver them STOP it will be happening in America for the next twenty years maybe fifty maybe more STOP sorry to miss you as they say war is hell STOP
She did not doubt its authenticity, though it was a strange little note, barely sensible. She did not doubt it, because she could hear his voice in the back of her mind.
So Anyanka hoisted the package with the Picasso over the bar and gave it to the redheaded woman. She left it there, backing away the young girl weeping into her pint. In the doorway, she hesitated, glancing over her shoulder. Trying to name the swimming feeling in her head, the lumpy feeling in her throat. It wasn't fear, exactly.
The next morning, she walked across London, through the dense yellow fog and the crowds of frightened humans. There were new fires scattered through the city. Anyanka crossed a bridge, crossed back alleys inhabited by feral cats, and knew before she arrived what she would find.
The stone house was gone. It had disappeared completely. No, it had been transformed into a mess of melted shrapnel and dust and flame. But this wasn't magic, only timing and technology. Only the fall of a bomb.
Anyanka's face was wet, although it wasn't raining. That was when she pinned down the feeling, labeled it, knew it to be loss.
It is seventy years since she's been there. The Biblical three score and ten. A lifetime.
Her hair is shorter now, skimming the nape of her neck, and she's as blonde as a sunny day. The clothes are much less trouble to carry around. Dressed in blue jeans and a leather jacket the color of century-old wine, she steps out of an Underground station, into the circle of illumination beneath a streetlamp. The street is slashed by fluorescent strobes and black light. In the doorway of an off-license, a young man twists his girlfriend's wrist and laughs. Anya does not interfere.
She walks down the block with her hands in her pockets, shoulders hunched against the chill of the night. The wind tries, and fails, to push her off course. She stops outside a building made of charmless cement. Signs on the upper stories advertise website design and fortune telling; these are fronts for less savory and more useful services. In the basement there is an illegal club, where teenagers dance and take a drug that convinces them all is right with the world. Not a trace of the foundations of the old stone house.
Anya has a suitcase with her. In the suitcase is an Andy Warhol silkscreen, slightly damaged in one corner by the blade of a knife. She went to New York in the 1970s just as she went to California in the 1990s. She was never the best at following instructions.
Her heartbeat no longer wakes her up at night. By now she is used to mortality again, to the cell-by-cell death, to the annoyance of having to breathe around the clock. Yes, even to having a soul, which feels something like having a constant ice cream headache. The only thing she misses is the sense of purpose.
She has no friends in Hell these days, and she has no friends in Sunnydale. Buffy's death actually took this time; Dawn's in school in Los Angeles. Xander is in San Diego building things and making babies with a perfectly lovely girl whom Anya hates. For the first time in a dozen centuries, she understands suicides.
Music ripples up from the cellar club, a wild arrhythmia reminiscent of teenage sex. It makes Anya restless, and she debates going inside. Technically, she's only thirty-two, but even that's too old for this world.
A hand falls onto her shoulder, and her heart stops.
"Please don't hit me when you turn around," says Giles, in a tone that suggests he's resigned to that sort of thing happening anyway.
She gasps. Her heart kicks into overdrive. As she turns around, his hand slides down her arm, draws her into a hug. She presses her cheek against his shoulder, then tilts her head back to study him. He seems thinner, and his face is fading, like the portrait on an ancient piece of paper money. His eyes were blue once, if she remembers. Now they're a pale gray, as if he'd wept the color out of them. But the hug is tight.
"You've grown up," he says at last, stepping back.
"Well." Anya reaches up to smooth her hair. "Not so much 'up' as older. In the general direction of not-growing-anymore."
Giles manages a weak laugh. "That, too, I suppose."
"What are you doing here? I mean--it's good to see you, of course." She hesitates. "No, actually, I really did mean 'what are you doing here?'"
"Looking for you. Finding you." He smiles. "He isn't coming, Anya."
Questions fly through her mind like birds scattering from a wire. Her mouth falls open, but the words knot in her throat and refuse to come out. A car thunders up the street; she squints into the passing headlights.
"I read quite a lot, these days," says Giles, ducking his head.
"Were there ever days when you didn't?"
He raises an eyebrow. "Yes, but they were all before my second birthday."
A blush blazes up her neck, burns her face. Hot and cold at the same time. She crosses her arms, feeling her heart crash against her ribs. "I'm sorry. I just wasn't expecting... I don't understand."
"That's all right. I came to explain." He peers over the top of her head, down the length of the street. The electronic thump of the club music moves under their feet. "Although, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather sit and talk somewhere that doesn't look like the inside of a disco ball gone mad."
She nods, and soon she's following him around the corner, away from where the stone house used to be. He tries to hail a cab, two, three, without success. Finally, she hands him her suitcase and steps in front of him. She cocks her hip with her hand on it, angling her shoulders out. She's been stopping traffic since traffic was invented, and the very next cab pulls up for them.
The interior of the black cab smells thickly of incense and disinfectant, and there is a bouncing Vishnu figure on the dashboard. Giles gives an address to the driver and turns to her as they are angled into the sluggish flow of Saturday night traffic.
"When the same two people turn up in the same pub, with some regularity, over the course of several hundred years," says Giles, "someone's bound to make a note of it."
Anya leans her shoulder against the car door, her cheek against the window. "Who?"
"Owners of the pub, for a start. And their descendants, and their descendants' daughters." He flattens his hands on his knees. "The Council's library isn't all Sanskrit and dust mites and back copies of the Liber Paginum Fulvarum. Some of the most valuable resources they have are old letters, handwritten journals, even scribblings on napkins."
"I mean, I never knew who he was. His real name, or anything like it. The first time I came to London, I was there, and he just...showed up. Offered me a deal. I thought about taking out his intestines and binding him with them, in fact, but I'd promised myself the afternoon off."
He wrinkles his forehead, looking pained. "You haven't changed."
She raises her head and looks him in the eyes. The lights they're passing, red and white and gold, flutter into the cab, over their faces, out through the rear windscreen. Like moths, like escaping lives. Anya wants to cry. She wonders what Halfrek would think of her right now, and closes her eyes before she does cry.
"Yes, I have," she says.
A frown darkens his face. "Yes," he agrees. "You have."
She edges toward him on the back seat. "Tell me. Tell me what you know."
"Right." His voice is scratchy; she hears him swallow. "I wouldn't have recognized you from these records if I hadn't known you. There are references to height, coloring, speech patterns--it reminded me of something you said once. Well, more accurately, of something you sang."
"Don't tell me. It was something about bunnies."
"No, it-- don't let me digress. Once I'd recognized you, I started looking through the cross-referenced material, and some of what I found wasn't about you. Have you ever heard of Ahasuerus?"
"Not unless it's the medical term for some weird flaky skin condition. Which I don't have." Her face is still warm. Perhaps it's because he spent time reading about her; perhaps it's because she can imagine what he read. But he hasn't got his glasses; he probably can't see the blush in the dark.
She thinks the corner of his mouth quirks up. "They don't give you a very rigorous religious training when they make you a vengeance demon, do they?"
"They focus more on anatomy," says Anya. "But you weren't going to digress."
"Short version," says Giles, and yes, he is smiling. "Ahasuerus is his name. Was his name. His title, as one might put it, was the Wandering Jew."
The phrase tugs on her mind, pulls up the image of a spidery purple plant. That probably isn't right. She waits.
"Legend has it that he denied Jesus and was condemned to walk the earth until the Second Coming." He sighs. "Legend, as usual, got confounded during the Middle Ages, so it's difficult to sort out truth from religious propaganda. I could only verify a few facts: he was Jewish, and immortal, and very, very old."
"Everyone's so down on the Middle Ages," she hears herself say. Suddenly she feels the cold, and shivers. "What was he doing?"
"With the Slayers." Another shiver. "And--yeah. With me."
"He hated the Council. He hated anyone who thought they had a clear line on right versus wrong." Giles goes away from her then, gazing over the cab driver's shoulder, past the bouncing Buddha, into another car's taillights. He snaps back--she can tell, because he blinks--and continues, "He had no moral objection to dealing with demons."
The driver takes a sharp turn too fast, and before she can catch herself she's slid across the seat, her knee pressing his. She bites her lip and pulls back, but only a little. "Who killed him?"
Her voice sounds surprisingly like the growl of a wounded animal. Vengeance was hers, once. Some things never change.
Giles' hand ghosts against her arm. "Ahasuerus killed himself, Anya. During the Second World War."
"When faced with horror and loss, sometimes, people choose death."
Silence fills up the cab like smoke, choking both of them. Anya's eyes are watering. She thinks of Halfrek, and Xander, and twelve hundred years' of tiny guilts, like bee-stings. She can feel Giles thinking of Buffy, and of the grave.
After a moment she trusts herself to speak. "Why...did he choose me?"
The cab comes to an abrupt stop on an empty street. One side of the block is taken up by a huge old building, tiny windows, iron gates like a prison's.
"I think," says Giles, "that I'm about to show you."
He is out of the car impossibly quickly, carrying her suitcase. It seems like there should be night security at a place like this, but no one stops them when Giles digs a key out of his pocket and opens one of the gates. He slides the bars aside and waits for her to walk through. The doors of the building itself are unlocked, probably because no one's supposed to be inside the gates.
Inside, their shoes are noisy on the marble floor. She follows him down a back staircase, and down further. The stairs finally end, opening into a hallway that smells of cobwebs and power, a smell that reminds her forcefully of the Magic Box. She doesn't ask any more questions; she trusts him.
He stops in a closed doorway, reaches up to rub the back of his neck. "You might, er--this might make you a bit uncomfortable."
Her pulse quickens as he opens the door for her. It is a small room, and it is a gallery. Not one that has been cleaned and organized for visitors, but not a storeroom either. The lights are off, and it takes a moment for her eyes to see.
Anyanka is on display.
The three walls are without doors, or windows: they are crowded with an art collector's treasure. There is no discernible order; they are wedged in where they fit best, and yet it looks like it was meant to be that way. Some are framed and some are naked, frayed at the edges; ancient gold leaf and Tyrian blue are cracking and flaking away. The oldest painting is a Giotto; the newest is a Picasso. Anya edges forward and turns in a circle, slowly, because her head is already spinning. There are the dusty Goya charcoals, the Vermeer, the Fragonard. The Caravaggio, always her favorite.
Crammed in the free spaces are some that even she had forgotten. Her hands in Easter-colored pastels, her throat in rust-colored ink. Her breasts. Her shoulders. Her calves. And everywhere her face, her face, her face.
Anya's vision blurs. She looks away from her own eyes, turns to Giles with her mouth open. There is color in his face now. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever," he stammers, setting her suitcase down.
The words ripple through her mind. Forever. Yes. Even if the owner of the painting, and the artist--and the model--will not be there to see it. "I've heard that before," she murmurs.
"Keats, I believe," says Giles.
"That's not where I heard it."
They stare at each other for a long moment, across the rectangles of shadow cast by the safety lights in the hall. It's as if they're looking into each other, into the hearts beneath the flesh. It's because of him that she's going to die, she thinks, and at the same time, it's because of him that she's still alive.
Nothing has ever been so funny.
When she starts to giggle, he gives her a nervous look, like she's an animal that may yet not be tame. She shakes her head, but she can't stop long enough to form words. Her laughter ricochets around the small room, returns even louder; she is laughing for everyone she's ever been.
And in the echo of her laughter, through the mist of her tears, she sees him smile again. She crosses the light, and the shadow, and steps into his arms.
Feedback makes me glow, luna
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