CONTINUITY: Season 6, "Dead Things"
DISCLAIMER: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, much like every character contained herein, belongs to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox, and lots of other interesting people, I'm sure. Bummer, man.
WARNING: Disturbing content, mentions of rape. If this will trigger or upset you, please don't inflict this on yourself - for real.
He twists the cap counterclockwise, twirls it loose between his fingers, and pumps the wand in and out a few times to coat it. He slides the brush out carefully, drags it over the rim to wipe off any excess, then opens his eyes wide.
He's using her mascara, the one from her purse.
He's finding out it's not easy to put on mascara without looking yourself in the eye. If you keep your mind blank and stare hard enough at nothing outside your lashes, it's possible. But all it takes is one little slip, and there's a very long fall into deep, shock-glassy brown so much like hers it bites and it bleeds.
How strange, that they would share the same fair skin, with hair and eyes dark as espresso, and long, coal-black lashes. Whatever this means (he can't bring himself to call it fortunate), he knows her makeup suits him as well as it did her, and that's all he's trying to think about, for this second standing in this bathroom in front of this mirror.
Four minutes ago, he squeezed her ivory foundation onto his fingertips, and smoothed it in circles onto his face. Two and a half minutes ago, he lined his eyes with kohl. Forty seconds ago, he blew fairy pink motes from the camel hair brush and dusted just barely so over cheeks, nose, and forehead.
It's more than he needs for the glamour to take, but that isn't really the point, is it? Glamour has never been the point.
Glamour had been his mother's. She who wore pearls to the post office, glitter and lace on her jeans, floating in open toe shoes with five-inch stilettos and glossy, black vinyl straps draped elegantly over ankle and perfect size seven foot. She didn't look glamorous- She WAS glamour, breathing, laughing, sparkling glamour.
His mother, she used to let him sit on the end of her bed, while she sat at her grandmother's vanity and proceeded through the Ritual. Foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, mascara, lipstick. Always in that order, never wavering, no exceptions. It was so much like the magic he's practicing right now. Maybe it was magic, maybe that's how you could explain her and her glitter-sequin brilliance.
His best memories were of the Ritual, especially the way all through it she would talk to him in her smooth honey alto. She'd tell him stories, jokes, and poems, ask his opinion (mauve lipstick today or the frosted peach?), and teach him love songs that she'd known by heart since age sixteen. He would watch her reflection, warm and shimmering in the glow of white Christmas lights strung around the mirror's frame, and know that nothing had ever been more beautiful than she was right then.
Sometimes he had wished he could be beautiful like, as she carefully chose her most precious atomizer -crystal with a cream silk tassel- from the congregation of bottles set on the table, to mist herself with lily-scented amber. And sometimes his eyes would sting from more than just the fragrance, thick and sweet, enveloping the bedroom.
She kissed the mirror to end the Ritual, and each time after she had gone, he would press his lips to the cooling imprint, as part of his own ritual. In those moments he could almost, ALMOST, forget that she never actually touched him.
There are moments he thinks he can still smell her perfume.
Outside of the Ritual, he and his mother had never really been close. Funny, how it was always 'my mother' for him, never Mother or Mom or Mama or even Mommy. But he'd always known nothing so constricting and personalized as a name could ever hope to hold her, as long as he can remember.
In the end, he and his father couldn't hold her either.
She slipped away from them on a Wednesday in April. All she left behind (aside from her husband and son) was a note sprayed with her scent, and a frosted peach lipstick kiss on the vanity mirror. He stood there and stared at that kiss for at least ten minutes, then quietly wiped it off with a tissue. The lack of lily perfume and love songs ached so fiercely, he fell to his knees and sobbed.
The peach had always been his favorite.
Later on, he offered to box up her remaining possessions. His gentle, fragile father would not have the heart to do it. Lying on the couch in the living room, a nearly empty bottle of vodka clutched in hand, he was in no state to disagree even if it'd been in his nature.
"It's not right," his father had sighed, face gleaming with tear tracks. "You shouldn't have to do this, Jonny." Tiny wrinkles had transformed into craters, vaguest distinguishing silver changed to gray hair; in one day, he had aged fifteen years.
Like father, like son- In that respect and so many others. "It's okay, Dad," he'd mumbled, a pallid, hollow specter tired down to the marrow in his bones, and his father did not have a reply.
Feeling like broken glass on the inside, he'd gone into the bedroom with every intention of doing just as he'd said. Instead, he was inexplicably drawn back to his mother's vanity.
He was fourteen, the first time he performed the Ritual himself. Sitting where she'd sat, he told himself that he would only touch her makeup, and then he would pack it away. After fondling and caressing every tube and bottle 'til the pads of his fingers tingled with hypersensitivity, he told himself it would only be a little, a whisper of rouge or powder. But the second he cracked open her gold monogrammed compact, he knew he was lost to Its mysteries.
Foundation, eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, mascara, lipstick. Kiss the mirror, right in the center where she had always left her mark.
When It was done, he looked at his own reflection in her mirror, and though he did not shimmer as golden as she, though her makeup meant for tanned, hazel-eyed almost-blonde goddesses didn't match his coffee-and-vanilla coloring...in that moment he was beautiful. He FELT it.
Afterwards, he scrubbed his face pink and raw, and filled his pockets with her things, to later be hidden in a shoebox at the back of his closet.
This is how it begins.
The year passed, counting days with Cover Girl, Revlon, and Max Factor, and he told himself that once the makeup was gone, that would be it. No more. He would get on with his life, and eventually forget stolen beauty in the bathroom or behind his locked door.
Then he met Cordelia, and forgetting was not even a pretense any longer. Freshmen year, peer tutoring program, and yes we know it's unusual for someone as young as you to be a tutor but you're so advanced for your age Jonathan surely you don't mind? And he didn't. Not much, anyway, especially in shimmering peach.
It wasn't as painful as it he'd thought it would be, not at first. She wasn't stupid, and she actually knew most of the material to start with; it was studying and organization she had trouble with, he was relieved to discover. That was all just a matter of technique and habit.
He showed her all about outlines, note cards, highlighters, color tabs, and memorization tricks. And Cordelia listened to what he said, and caught on so quickly it was a surprising joy to work with her, like unexpectedly finding sequins and beads stitched inside your old denim backpack.
Like finding out that, away from that vicious little pack of hers, she could actually be a...a decent human being.
One night while studying in his living room (only them in the house; Dad was staying later and later at the pharmacy these days), he happened to look up from his textbook and catch her staring at him. Before he could ask any of a hundred stupid questions cartwheeling through his brain, she blurted out, "I wish I had your eyelashes."
"Huh?" Stupid question #37 on his list.
She'd averted her eyes, looking embarrassed, and- Wait, was Cordelia Chase actually blushing? "I mean, they're so thick and dark, and most girls I know would, like, rip out their fingernails to have lashes that long," she babbled, darting a glance back at him. "I just...think they're pretty. I mean, nice." And then she most definitely blushed, which seemed very, very odd to him. Probably because it was very, very odd.
Soon after that she "remembered" the extremely important, terribly urgent reason she had to go be anywhere else, and did so, post-haste. But he stayed sitting on the couch for a long while after she'd gone; wondering if that had actually just happened, what it meant if it had, and if she really thought he was pretty.
This is how he gained a new reason to enjoy their sessions.
When they were together, he was smarter, funnier, and...cooler than he'd ever been before. For the first time in his life, he said and did all the right things, and for a little while, he was the boy that might be Cordelia Chase's real, live friend. And she really thought he was pretty.
But he screwed it up, like he screwed up everything in the end. He slipped, forgot his place, and dared to approach her at school, in the hall in front of her clique. She'd stopped him in the middle of whatever doubtlessly wonderful thing he was saying with a stare that froze him dead, a stone-faced, ice-eyed Queen C kind of stare, and that's when he had realized his mistake.
It was too late now. All the Cordettes were watching, grinning, scenting blood in the water, and why'd he have to put her in this position didn't he know she had no choice but to destroy him now?
"Don't you have somewhere to be?" She'd snapped, and he knew she'd pulled the punch, hadn't driven the knife as far as she could have, but God, it still hurt so badly.
Every smart, funny, cool word melted on his tongue like cotton candy. All he'd been able to do was stutter, and flush bright red, stare at the pattern on his shoelaces to hide the welling tears.
She left him standing there with his heart hanging out of his chest, with the whispers and the snickers, left him wanting to crawl into a hole and just die. Everything was ruined between them now, and it was all his fault for being so goddamn STUPID.
The bell rang, sparing him any further public humiliation. Everyone else was too busy rushing off to their classes to notice him anymore; none of them saw him bend down, and pick up the black tube with gold lettering and cap, dropped while brushing past him.
Cordy's mascara. All he had left of her now.
This is how he gained his new fetish.
It was a wonderful addition to his collection. Deep, India ink black looked so much better on him than any of his mother's shades of berry and brown.
There was a time that he hated Cordelia. He would coat his lashes (pretty pretty) with her mascara, and kneel on his bed wearing nothing else, touching himself to visions of what he would do to her given the chance. Degradation. Torture. Murder. Pull out her fingernails (see, Cordy, you're not the only one who listens), stake her out in the woods and leave her there, parade her naked down the halls of Sunnydale High. Make her scream. Make her bleed. Make her his whore.
He would shudder in release, grit her name out between clenched teeth, and the mascara would flow down his cheeks in oceans of sweat and tears and hatred.
Oh, how he'd hated her then- More than any of the others, even more than Aura or, God, even Harmony, who'd first started the rumors that he was gay back in seventh grade. He could have dealt with the hatred, even used it to his advantage, but he couldn't even hate her the right way, because he loved her, too. Love that equaled the passion of his rage, his torment. If she'd given him the tiniest indication she wanted it, he would have come running back to worship her again, no questions asked, and there had been occasions, sick as it made him to admit it. He was her sick-love puppy.
Time passed, and like the pain of his mother's abandonment, his obsession with Cordelia faded to a shadow (though he has to confess a twinge of guilty vindication, at her later disgrace). He'd long ago run out of makeup, and hadn't worn it since.
Until now, tonight, that is.
The light in here is bad, but it's okay, or as okay as it will ever be, ever. He's almost done now. All that's left is the final Ritual step.
He knows that when he leaves the safety of this room, Warren and Andrew won't ask how he knew about the art of applying mascara, because they just don't want to know. They'll think on it later, and wonder, but he doesn't have the energy to care. He's not sure he would care anyway.
It's funny, because he used to care so much what they thought about him, what everybody did. But next to thoughts of murder and cowardice and knowing you're dirt, you're nothing, you're a sick fucking gutless would-be rapist, there's not much room for trivialities.
Here in this dingy bathroom, putting on a dead woman's makeup, pretty much everything seems trivial.
He hunts through her purse, and exhales, a little shaky, as his fingers close around the cool, sleek black plastic cylinder. Deep breath now, still shaky but not as much. He doesn't know if this is a good or bad thing.
He pulls the cap off, twists the base counterclockwise, and prepares to anoint his mouth with its sacred oils. A steady hand (steady hand, trembling body) follows the contour of lips with neat, practiced efficiency, painting them perfect, icy peach that shimmers even in this dim light. Somehow, he keeps himself from vomiting.
The peach, after all, is his favorite.
When it is finished, he is blinded by a halo of phantom white Christmas lights, and forgets where he is, why he's doing this. He leans in to kiss the mirror, to end the Ritual.
There is another apparition and it stops him, that of a shivering, ashen-faced boy peering feverishly out at him with eyes like mineshafts. Bloodshot eyes that desperate, but dry, because this mascara probably isn't waterproof, and there will be plenty of time later to make it run like thick, blackened rivers. His throat constricts, bile and tears seething, churning in the back, all acid burning hatred loathing.
It is in this moment, staring into his own reflection...he knows.
He will not do what is right, or noble.
He will not defy Warren, and go to the police or to the Slayer (her name is Buffy, he makes himself acknowledge that she has a name and it is Buffy, poor Buffy with a dead mom and a little sister to raise by herself, Buffy who's saved his worthless life so many times and this is her reward?).
He will not redeem himself in the eleventh hour.
And he has really never looked so pretty.