It's ridiculous, really, if she thinks about it. Her fancy new crossbow is laid out on the bed, the door to her room flung wide open in solidarity, or rebellion. Something brash. She isn't thinking straight enough to figure out just exactly what, but for once she's going out to fight and there's nobody here to see. Nobody to hide from.
Strange, then, to be stalling, and over something so stupid. The closet is like a gaping maw, a dark cave where her doubts live. This is the heart of her disguise, the skin she hides in when she doesn't want to see the reality of her newfound existence.
And what to wear to kill the man that you love?
Something dark and mysterious and sexy, she thinks, and then almost wants to laugh at herself, because why should it matter? If she wasn't a coward, she'd be there already on the doorstep of the Bronze. But this feels like a moment that should be deliberate.
You even look pretty when you go to sleep. The words come unbidden, his voice haunting her like the unseen things she's gotten so good at driving from the shadows. She needs a Slayer for the inside of her mind, she thinks sometimes very late at night.
Buffy plunges her hand into the closet, flinching as her fingers come into contact with cool leather. It would be the irony of ironies to wear the jacket tonight, and yet she can't bring herself to do it. Pulling her fingers away, she passes them tentatively under her nose, sniffing like the animals she hunts. The leather has left her skin smelling oddly burned tonight, aching like her world.
Reaching again, she takes hold of the first thing that lands in her palm. She almost wants to laugh at the shirt. Dark and shiny. Blue, like midnight.
The dress is her armor, her shroud, and maybe something a little like a halo as she steps down into the depths of the Master's cavern. It's white and pure, like the girl she doesn't want to be, the daughter she thinks her mother would probably like to have.
Still walking, she hears Giles's words, sees the concern in Angel's eyes, and knows that she has wounded them both. And still, it's her right, her death, her day. She lets her mind wander, though she knows she shouldn't, picturing her own body, splayed out on the ground, complexion drained alabaster so that dress and skin blend and run together in the dim light. She touches her neck as she imagines Angel's fingers, searching for a pulse.
There's a noise down the tunnel, and Buffy snaps instantly back to the present, ready to fight. Sometimes she amazes herself with her own capacity for being a stupid teenage girl.
"I really like your dress," he tells her later.
She thinks, as she brushes the comment off, that this has made her happier than the fate of the world.
"Silly little girl," sneers Angelus. His eyes glint dangerously in the moonlight, like the cool steel of a broadsword's blade.
"What now?" snaps Buffy. She'd like to pretend she's growing tired of his cruelties; in reality she's grown just a little addicted to them. It's like a bubbling wound, his voice the velvet slice of a razor blade, adrenaline of hurt the only thing that can cut through her numbness lately.
"You dressed up for me," he croons, and her hands go self-consciously to her sides, to the painfully inappropriate skirt and blazer she's wearing. He's right, of course, like always, but she isn't about to let him know.
"Right," says Buffy. "I planned on looking my best for you tonight. Like adate." She practically spits the last, because it's yet another reminder of the life she'll never have.
"In a way," says Angelus, entirely unfazed by her venom. He feeds on this, she knows, but that doesn't stop her from gratifying him. He steps forward into the moonlight, and only then does it strike her how hypocritical his leather-clad words are. Or maybe not.
The first punch rattles her entire body, lightning speeding through her veins like ecstasy.
She begins to accumulate clothes that get buried.
Literally, the gray slacks and black top from the mansion. Tears blur her eyes and the shovel tears her hands, and she is glad. When it's over, she hides herself in too-large overalls, the kind of fabric you can swim in.
Differently, her apron and nametag and shirts from the diner. These she leaves in an apartment full of junk, detritus from a disguise she no longer needs. Someone else will find them, she thinks. Someone else will wear them. These things are Anne, and she will never stay buried for long.
Figuratively, all the many outfits she wears to see Angel in the time she comes to think of as After. At first because she has to keep them a secret from the others, and then because she can't bear to smell him on herself. These clothes she balls up in corners, or shoves under her bed, or keeps wet in the washer until they dry wrinkled and creased.
The prom dress she wants to burn, in all its pink vitality, in its reminder that she's grown up this year. But for the first time she can't, because of maturity or conscience or maybe something else entirely. She hangs it in her closet, with the white dress and the black leather jacket, in the section she now dubs Never Again.
She's running out of time, she knows, but she isn't ready yet. Her entire body is sore with failure, the shower searing her skin as she stands in the tub. The water runs red, then pink, then finally clear. Buffy looks into the closet one last time, pulling out garments like robes of ritual.
She's ready, she thinks. Ready to be taken, to give herself up, not to justice, but to love. To selfishly steal herself away from the destiny that's been chosen for her. She pulls the black tank top on and admires it in the mirror, examining, not for the first time, the exposed line of her neck. Her skin looks shockingly pale in this harsh relief. Her pants are the color of blood, and this strikes her as oddly poetic. She goes without a jacket this time, because she knows what she has to do.
His fingers are cold against her skin, his lips drawing memories of shadows and graveyards, and open windows. The pain is sharp and quick, like the imagined razor, and she feels her head start to spin. Her skin gets very hot, and his tongue seems to scorch against her, and she has the sudden image of everything exploding into light. As she falls to her knees, and then to the floor, she is finally eternal.
When she wakes in the hospital, everything is white. She's swathed in a hospital gown someone else has put on her, fresh gauze covering the new marks on her neck. The moment is past and she's still here. And she thinks that she's never felt this invisible before, this inconsequential or ephemeral or generic.