beta by Always_jbj
Who Needs Five Gold Rings?
"Buffy? Come here, look at what I found on eBay!" Dawn's excited voice carried out of her bedroom and down the long hallway to the living room of their sunny apartment.
Buffy strolled into the room, sipping on a mug of coffee and trying to appear interested.
"You find something I 'have to look at' every time you get on there, Dawn. And they always turn out to be things that we don't want, don't need or can't afford. What is it this time?"
She peered over her sister's shoulder, catching her breath with an audible gasp as she saw the photo on the screen. Displayed on a piece of dark cloth was a man's ring. The skull that grinned out at her from the screen was eerily familiar and she quickly glanced down to read the description.
"Solid silver; made in the late 1800's, probably in London; one of only a handful still known to be in existence; rumored to have been manufactured by demons."
"Isn't that just like the ring Spike gave you when you two were 'engaged'? The one you kept in the bottom of your jewelry box?"
Buffy's attention was still riveted on the screen and it took her a few seconds to process Dawn's words. When she did, she turned a chilly glare on her sister and said, "And you would know that, how?"
Without missing a beat, Dawn answered blithely, "I looked in it while you were… gone. It's not like I thought you'd be back to get mad about it."
Buffy couldn't think of a good response to that excuse and settled for grumbling, "You didn't know I wouldn't be."
Dawn's incredulous look faded as they both turned their attention back to the screen.
"It is the same kind of ring, isn't it? Just like the one that got buried in the crater?"
"I suppose it is." Buffy was trying to keep the yearning from her voice, but she couldn't take her eyes off the screen. "I wish I'd thought to take it with me…." she whispered almost to herself.
"Why didn't you?"
Buffy stared at Dawn, clearly searching for an extra head. "Um – ubervamps, First Evil, houseful of annoying girls, getting thrown out, coming back with super-weapon and a plan, Apocalypse – stop me when I get to something that sounds like it might be more important than an old ring that I only had because of a spell." She shook her head before adding softly, "And besides, I still had the ring's owner then. I didn't know he was going to burn to a crisp and not leave me anything to remember him by."
"Would you like to have something?" Dawn's voice was soft, her usual little sister snark momentarily missing. "I know I wish I did."
Buffy shrugged and continued to stare at the ring. "It wouldn't be his. His ring is gone forever. At the bottom of the Hellmouth."
"I'll bet it came from the same place Spike got his. It would be almost like having the one he gave you."
"It would." Buffy stared at the screen hungrily, then sighed. "I wonder why he never asked for it back?" She changed the subject abruptly. "You'd think he would have wanted to have it back as soon as the spell ended."
"Why didn't you just give it to him?" Dawn challenged. "Why did you keep it?"
Buffy blinked several times, then searched her memory. "Well…at first I just forgot I was wearing it…and then I got home and I still had it, and I thought he might want it…I just put it away and waited for him to ask for it." She gave a shaky laugh. "He probably figured I threw it away and didn't want to ask me for it so he wouldn't have to hear me tell him what I'd done."
"What? What do you know about it?"
"He was there when I found it. He told me I could go through your jewelry box if I let him watch. I think he really wanted to have something of yours…to…you know, like, remember you. But he was afraid to ask."
"He saw the ring?"
Dawn nodded silently.
"Why didn't he take it back then?"
"I asked him if he wanted it. He just smiled and said he liked it right where it was – at the bottom of your valuable things. I think that was the first time I saw him smile after you…died. But he did tell me that he thought you had thrown it away. I don't think he knew whether he wanted to be happy or to cry when he first saw it. He really did think you just threw it away."
"Do you want me to bid on it?" Dawn's question startled Buffy out of her memories. She lightly traced the outline of the ring on the screen, then dropped her hand and shook her head slowly.
"No, it's probably going to be too expensive…" She straightened up and turned to leave the room. "Thanks anyway, Dawn, but I probably can't afford it."
"Christmas is coming. Maybe somebody will get it for you."
"You can't afford it either," Buffy warned as she watched Dawn checking for bids.
"You're probably right," Dawn agreed quickly, closing down the screen. "I mean it's not like it's really your ring anyway, is it?"
"Spike's ring," Buffy answered. "It was always his ring. I was just keeping it for him."
Dawn rolled her eyes at her sister's back and waited until she knew Buffy was not coming back, then pulled the page back up on her screen and put in her first bid.
An hour later, she was growling at the screen and checking her bank account as the price kept rising. She could tell that there were only one or two people bidding against her, but they seemed very determined to have the ring that Dawn had become equally determined to give Buffy for Christmas.
To all outward appearances, the world's oldest slayer had adjusted well to her semi-retirement, dating handsome Italian men, going out to slay whatever she could find when she got antsy, and working part-time in a small clothing boutique where her ability to speak English with the tourists almost made up for her inability to speak Italian with the other customers. Only Dawn, who lived with her, knew about the nights Buffy spent staring out into the velvet darkness with the occasional tear trickling down her cheek.
"I'm not giving up on this," she growled to herself, as she placed another bid. "I'll find out who these guys are and get rid of them. I didn't live with Willow-the-magical-hacker for nothing."
A half an hour's work and one muttered spell (which she was careful to do after Buffy had gone to work) later, and she had an e mail address for the remaining bidder.
"All right, Mr. Aurelius," she muttered. "Let's just see how badly you want this ring."
She quickly typed out a short message, saying only that she was also bidding on the ring and asking him politely if he would back off. She was amazed to find an answer waiting for her when she came back from a quick trip to the bathroom.
"Dear Ms. American Girl,
I am sorry to hear that you are also interested in this ring; however, I have no intention of giving it up.
"Is that so?" she muttered at the screen as she began to type. "Well, you've never met the Summers women."
"Dear Mr. Aurelius,
I am sorry to hear that you are planning to be so stubborn about this. I do not intend to give up this ring.
She pushed "send" and went back to the eBay page to find that the latest bid had jumped the price by so much that Dawn gulped, before raising it another $20.00 and resolutely bidding again. She watched eagerly, only to groan as the amount jumped another $20.00. Her fingers flew over the keys.
My sister needs this ring and I'm going to give it to her for Christmas. You just want something to decorate your fingers. Let me have it!
Pissed off American Girl"
She waited impatiently for the reply to come back, clicking eagerly on it the instant it showed up in her in-box.
"Spoiled American brat,
It's a man's ring, you stupid bint. Your sister won't be able to wear it. Give it up. I'm buying it.
The Winning Bidder"
"Dear Big Loser,
She doesn't want to wear it, you jackass. It reminds her of one she used to have; a ring that meant a lot to her. I want to give it to her for Christmas. You are just being selfish and mean.
She sent the message off, then immediately put in another bid, jumping the price by another $20.00. Pushing the send button, Dawn left the room in a huff. Vowing not to look at the eBay page until she had time to calm down, she went to the kitchen to get some lunch.
She waited as long as she could stand it, then went back to her computer and checked the eBay page. She broke out in a smile when she saw that there had been no other bid since her last one and she quickly went to her email to check the new messages. As expected, there was a message from the other bidder, although it didn't read anything like she would have expected. It was short and simple:
"Dear AG, Whining is not an attractive trait. Why did your sister have a ring like that?"
"Well, that's just rude," she huffed, "but I guess he's entitled to know if he's thinking about letting me have it." Quickly she began typing again.
"It was given to her by somebody she loved. Somebody who's dead now. She kept it for a long time after he gave it to her, and then she lost it in…" Dawn stopped typing for a few seconds, wondering how much she should say about the fact that their home had fallen into a giant crater. "She lost it when we lost our house in a natural disaster. This wouldn't be the same as getting her own ring back, but she doesn't really have anything to remember him by and I could tell by the look on her face when she saw the one on eBay that it would mean a lot to her to have one that was just like his."
She sent the message off, then sat back to wait for the response. As she expected, it was immediate.
"Who are you? What's your name? WHO IS YOUR SISTER? WHERE ARE YOU?"
"Oh, we're so not going there, buddy," she said, surprised by his vehemence and rudeness. "I wasn't born yesterday."
"I'm not telling you my name! How dumb do you think I am? And I'm not telling you my sister's name either. All you need to know about her is that she could totally kick your ass if you showed up here and that having that ring would make her very happy. She doesn't get to be happy very often. Especially now."
"Why not now?"
"Did you miss the part where I said that the guy who gave her the ring was dead? She misses him."
"How did she get his ring?"
"Why are you so nosy?"
"Humor me. Please."
"Huh! Now he decides to be polite. I don't see how it can hurt to tell him how she got it. Maybe it will make him more willing to let me have it."
"He gave it to her when they were engaged. It was kind of a sudden thing and that was the only ring he had with him."
"So, then he later replaced it with a real engagement ring?"
"Uh, no. Things got sort of…complicated between them for a while. But she always kept his ring in case he might want it back. Then he died and now she wishes she still had it to remind her of him. Why do you want it?"
"I used to have one like it. Thought it might be nice to have another one."
"Well, that's that, then. You can see that my reason for wanting it is much more important than yours. So, you'll let me have it?"
To her surprise, there was no reply. After waiting for several minutes, she gave up and went out to get some fresh air and to visit Buffy's shop. They strolled home together, chatting about the upcoming holiday and who they might or might not see.
"I think it's going to be just us, this year," Buffy said apologetically. "Unless Andrew takes some time off to visit. Everyone else already has plans to be somewhere – none of which include Rome."
"We could have gone to London. Giles invited us. It would have been so Christmassy – snow, cold, pine trees… Why did you say 'no'?"
Buffy made a face. "Repeat your last sentences to yourself. California girl here, Christmas means cool nights and sunny days – not sleet and snow and…wet…things like that."
"So, it's just a Summers Christmas, huh?"
"We can do that. We can do our own Christmas."
"Of course we can," Buffy said firmly as she put her key in the lock and opened the door. "We'll be fine."
Dawn went straight to her computer, only to find no new messages waiting for her. With sudden trepidation, she went to the eBay site and found that not only had there been another bid since her last one, but it was over $200 more and the bidding had closed. Her heartbroken moan brought Buffy running to the room where she found Dawn swearing vigorously in Italian, even as she sobbed with mingled rage and disappointment.
"What's wrong?" The slayer looked around frantically to see what was causing her sister so much distress.
"That BASTARD!" Dawn hiccupped. "He was just setting me up so I wouldn't bid any more."
Taking a deep breath, Dawn sat on the edge of her bed and pointed at the screen where the ring had a "sold" message across the picture.
"I was trying to get it for you – for Christmas – and this asshole was bidding against me and he asked all these questions and I thought he was going to let me have it and then he went behind my back and he bid so much money that I couldn't compete anymore even it I hadn't missed the closing and now you won't have it and you could've had it and it would have made you think about Spike and—" She stopped to gasp for breath, watching as Buffy gently touched the picture again.
"It's all right, Dawn. I don't really need anything to help me remember Spike. And, it's not like it would have been my-his ring, anyway." She traced the ring one more time, then turned to smile sadly at her sister. "But thank you for trying."
She hugged Dawn, maybe a bit more tightly and for a bit longer than she really needed to, and then walked to the kitchen to start dinner. Dawn remained in her room, staring at the page on the computer until the screen saver came on, blocking her view.
Christmas Eve found the two American girls sitting in front of the small tree that they had found and decorated as best they could; small stacks of presents were carefully arranged around the base so as to give the illusion of a profusion of gifts. While Buffy sipped on a glass of the wine she was learning to enjoy so much, Dawn washed cookies down with eggnog and tried to pretend that they weren't both thoroughly miserable.
Finally, Buffy put down her glass and admitted, "You were right. We should have gone to Giles'. If nothing else, it would have been a good excuse to buy new clothes."
"It's okay, Buffy." Dawn demonstrated her new-found maturity by not saying 'I told you so'. "We'll know better next year. Go where the people are."
A sharp knock on the door interrupted the mutual sulking and they exchanged startled looks. Instantly in Slayer mode, Buffy gestured at Dawn to remain where she was while she picked up a short sword and approached the door. "We're not expecting anyone, are we?"
Dawn shook her head silently as she grabbed one of the fireplace tools. She watched as Buffy opened the door cautiously, the sword held loosely behind her back. There was no one there but a startled, uniformed deliveryman holding out a small, gaily-wrapped package.
" Buon Natale, signorina."
Buffy took the package with an automatic "grazie", then shouted down the hallway after the already-disappearing man.
"Who sent this?"
"The gentleman said that you would know. I believe there is a message inside."
Closing the door carefully, she walked back to the couch and sat down. She turned the nicely wrapped package over in her hands, but there was no sign of who had sent it. Finally her sister poked her, insisting, "Open it! Come on, I'm dying of curiosity."
With a sigh, Buffy slipped a finger beneath the taped end, pulled the colorful paper off the plain box and cautiously opened the lid. She stared at the crumpled red tissue that filled the box, feeling only the weight of whatever was wrapped in it. At Dawn's frantic urging, she dug through until the only thing left was the heavy silver ring lying on her palm and a small gift card.
"Did you—?" Dawn was shaking her head 'no' before Buffy could finish her question.
With a trembling hand, Buffy turned the card over, slipping the ring onto her thumb as she did so. It said simply, "Say yes and make me the happiest man in the world."
"Yes," she whispered, looking around the room as though he could have materialized out of thin air. "Yes" Her voice was a little louder. The air had barely stopped vibrating from the knock on the door before she was shouting, "Yes!" and running to open it. She froze, her hand trembling on the knob as she considered the chances that someone was playing a very unkind trick on her, but the familiar tingle on the back of her neck was all it took to banish her fear. She yanked the door open, another "Yes" barely audible as she met the eyes she'd never expected to see again.
"Hello, Cutie," he whispered, drinking her in; his hands were pressed against the invisible barrier that kept him from reaching her.
Buffy stared back at him, joy and disbelief battling it out on her face. She reached her hands up to meet his, hers moving easily through the mystical barrier to link their fingers while she breathed, "Come in, Spike."
She didn't move back when he took one long stride across the threshold to stand directly in front of her; instead, her hands released his to slide around his waist while she rested her head against his chest. With a shuddering sigh, his own arms wrapped around her back and he dropped his head to bury his face in her hair. They remained in place for so long, Dawn had almost decided that they were under some sort of freeze spell when Buffy raised her head and met Spike's glistening eyes. She blinked back her own tears as she muttered, "You know, as soon as I'm sure you're real, I am totally going to kick your ass…"
With a happy chuckle, he whispered back, "My arse was always yours, Slayer, do with it what you want."
Dawn's "ewwww, Spike" was muffled as she wrapped her long arms around them both, turning the laughing, sniffling hug into a group effort that ended only when Buffy's voice drifted out from between their bodies to point out that, as the shortest one in the family, she was in imminent danger of being smothered. With a final squeeze, the gangling teen stepped away and looked Spike in the eye.
"You could have told me, you jackass!"
"'m sorry, Bit. I just wanted it to be a surprise; although, I've got to say, I kinda thought the great pouf would have been on the phone warnin' you once he discovered that the Viper was gone…"
"Angel? What has he got to do with anything?"
"It's where I've been since I popped out of the bloody amulet," he explained, as they moved to sit on the couch, one girl on either side. "Listenin' to him tell me how you'd 'moved on' and how I should leave you alone and let you 'have a normal life.' And some nonsense about cookies that he wouldn't explain, except to say that yours weren't done yet." He cocked an inquisitive eyebrow at Buffy, but she gave no explanation.
While Dawn stared curiously at the cookies she'd been eating earlier, Buffy cupped Spike's face with her hand and said softy, "I think, I'm done. I just didn't know it until the oven broke."
Her words meant nothing to the vampire, but the warmth in her eyes was all the explanation that he needed. He tightened his free arm around Dawn briefly, then removed it to wrap around Buffy as he dipped his head to kiss her on the lips for the first time in almost two years.
"Happy Christmas, love."
"It is now. Merry Christmas, Spike. I love you."
"So do I!" Dawn interrupted what threatened to become much more of a kiss than she wanted to be sitting quite so near to. "And just to show you how much, I'm going to my room now, where I'm going to shut the door, and put the pillow over my head." She jumped to her feet and with a last "Merry Christmas" swept out of the room, taking the plate of cookies with her.
"My Bit's growing up," he chuckled against her lips. "Few years ago she would have stayed here just to annoy us – like she did when we were 'engaged' and lookin' for some privacy."
"You do remember that she wasn't really here then, don't you?" Buffy reminded him that his memory of Dawn's behavior when they were engaged was an implanted one, but he shrugged it off.
"If she had been, that's exactly what she would have done, innit?"
"Then, I guess I should be very grateful that she has grown up…" she whispered her tacit agreement as he pulled her across his lap and allowed his hands to reacquaint themselves with her body. "Very, very grateful…"
Optional epilogue written in response to meme request:
For lizziebuffy2008 who wanted ten minutes after the end of "Five Gold Rings"
"We missed the bed." Buffy kept her nose buried in Spike's neck, nibbling on the soft skin there as she spoke.
"Think we missed the whole bloody bedroom," he chuckled, staring at their naked bodies and the hall rug underneath them.
"You did!" came Dawn's voice from behind her closed bedroom door. "And it's gross and disgusting and I don't want to stay trapped in here all night, so please get your clothes on."
"Not happening, pet," Spike raised his voice so that she could hear him. "Not for quite a while."
"Well, then, at least have the common decency to go into a bedroom and shut the door." There was a pause as Buffy and Spike began to reluctantly disentangle themselves. "And take your clothes with you!" Dawn shouted through the door.
"When did she become such a bossy bint?" Spike growled, scooping his jeans and tee shirt off the floor while Buffy walked down the hallway, collecting her discarded clothing as she went.
"Oh, she thinks she's all that now that she can speak Italian."
"I heard you!"
Sticking her tongue out at the closed door, Buffy led Spike into her own bedroom and slammed the door closed.
After a long, quiet minute, Dawn's door cracked open and she peered out, ready to slam it closed at the first site of a naked vampire. When she heard nothing and could see that Buffy's door was shut, she breathed a sigh of relief and came out of her room. Still keeping a cautious eye on the other door, she walked to the bathroom and smiled at her image in the mirror.
"Good job, Dawn," she whispered. "I knew I could suck that asshole out of hiding if I just found the right words."