Feedback: Yes, thank you. Through the BtVS episode "Anne"
Distribution: The Blackberry Patch and If you're interested, please let me know.
Summary: After Buffy's flight from Sunnydale at the end of season 2, she finds herself working as a waitress, but the fate that awaits is still lurking in the background.
Author's Note: This will probably be the beginning of a new series rather like the Jewel Box, centering on characters interacting over meals.
Disclaimer: All characters are owned by Mutant Enemy (Joss Whedon), a wonderfully creative company whose characters I have borrowed for a completely profit-free flight of fancy. Kindly do not sue me, please, as I am terrified of you. Thank you.
Dedication: To the lovely Green Bunny Goddess, who didn't get swallowed up by Hurricane Katrina.
Revelations over Breakfast
Few things brought a smile to Buffy's eyes anymore. At 17, she'd seen too much already, and even though part of her knew someday she would have to continue her fate and see more, face the consequences of her flight from herself, for now she was just Anne. She moved mechanically through her days, taking orders from customers who were so incessantly rude that their coarse comments ceased to phase her, cleaning up their leavings with such an absence of emotion she might as well have been a figment of someone's imagination.
The only exception happened every Tuesday morning at 7:00 without fail. Each week, the door of the dingy diner was pushed open with a gusto that reminded her of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the black and white world leaped into color. In a flurry of movement and raised voices, usually arguing good-naturedly over nothing, her two favorite customers would walk in and take their habitual booth.
"Hey, pretty lady," he would call out when he saw her coming. "What have you got that's fit to eat?"
"Nothing," she said with a smile, "but that's never stopped you two before."
The girl with him, his sister, would roll her eyes in exasperation at the always-repeated conversation, but she'd wind up smiling all the same. They didn't even need to order; Buffy knew their usuals Two stacks of pancakes, an order of bacon and another of sausage, a coffee with two sugars and no cream, and an orange juice were already waiting for them in the kitchen. Once, the girl had tried to order a coffee instead as well, but her brother had a fit, going off on her about the importance of good nutrition and how coffee was junk that left you addicted to caffeine.
"You drink it," she'd said pointedly.
"Yeah, well, I ain't heard about you payin' no bills lately, so you're doin' what I say, got me?" he'd said, looking guilty.
It was a pleasant window on a pair of people who formed a family, and as Buffy watched them, week in and week out, she developed a fondness for them. Seeming to sense it, the two of them always insisted Anne wait on them. They never tipped much, but the warmth they shed in the grungy diner was more than enough payment.
One morning in August, as the L.A. sun was attempting to beat through the layers of dirt on the front window, they entered in a more somber mood than usual. Buffy knit her brows in concern at their quiet greeting, then slipped back into the kitchen to get their breakfasts.
They ate in silence, but not the angry sort of silence that hung like a wet blanket between people after arguing. It had shades of grief mixed with a cold sense of reality that couldn't be ignored. She saw a reflection of herself in it, and it frightened her.
She went back to the kitchen to refill his mug, which he'd downed with a resolute urgency that reminded her of someone taking a shot of whiskey for courage. When she returned, she heard just enough of their conversation to know the topic too well.
"His face was just…," the girl said, lapsing into silence. "He wasn't human, Charlie."
"That doesn't make any sense, girl," he replied in a tone that made him sound like he was grasping at straws and coming up empty. "What's he supposed to be if he wasn't human?"
"You saw the same thing I did," she hissed in a whisper. "The way he threw that refrigerator around like it weighed nothing, yellow eyes, fangs?"
Buffy dropped the coffee pot in the middle of the aisle with a loud clatter, a few customers mockingly clapping.
"I'm… I'm sorry," she said as the pair of them turned to look at her. "I'll get some more. I'll just… I'll be right back."
She half-ran back to the kitchen and out into the alley, trying to catch her breath. It was following her, even here. She felt the brick walls closing in around her like a jail cell, an ominous, overwhelming, claustrophobic sense of being trapped forever in a destiny she never asked for. Her lungs felt like they were going to explode from her chest, and she gripped a dumpster for support, shutting her eyes and trying to will herself calm. After a few minutes, she went back into the kitchen, grabbed another coffee pot, and went back out to the table.
They were still there, though they seemed to have realized she'd overheard them and weren't talking at all.
"Sorry about the wait," she apologized as she carefully poured the coffee with a slightly trembling hand.
"S'okay, Anne," he said, trying to work up a smile. "No damage done. You're only human, right?"
She nodded, wishing it were true. Neither of them knew what the real truth was, and suddenly it occurred to her that if she didn't tell them what they had really seen, they might wind up dead, and she would be to blame. Again.
With a furtive look over her shoulder, she bent down towards him and whispered, "What you saw? It was real. Don't go near it again, and if comes at you, put a wooden stake through its heart. Understand?"
He looked at her for a split second as though he thought she was crazy, but when he saw her eyes, the worn and knowing expression in them, he knew she was telling the truth.
"Yeah," he said. "I get you. Thanks."
"Check's on me today," she said simply, then went back into the kitchen, still shaken.
The next Tuesday, when Gunn and Alonna arrived for their usual pancakes, there was a new Anne serving their breakfast. They exchanged looks, wondering what had happened, but they had learned it was better not to ask too many questions. This time, when his sister ordered coffee, Gunn didn't say a word.