Cross To Bear
by s.a.

Buffy remembered when she started to collect crosses.

It was a good hobby for a Slayer to have. Cross-collecting, that is. It wasn't that Buffy was religious - she wasn't entirely certain she got the whole thing anyway. It was more of a necessity-turned-fun-hobby. Or at least, a good reason to go jewelry shopping.

She kept them in her trunk, under the false shelf where she stored a lot of her weaponry. Well, used to; Xander's new trunk was larger and held all her different weapons: the Bordour sword, the crossbow, her shiny new mace, for example, that she couldn't wait to whack on --

Wait. The crosses. She kept them in a red velvet box her mom gave her when she was thirteen. Mom had called it her "hope box," and she was supposed to keep all the special things she collected in there. Well, the crosses were special. And she collected them. So Buffy figured it was appropriate.

The first one, the one she almost never wore, was the one Angel gave her. She kept it in its original box; she hadn't taken it out since he left. The claddagh ring, which she couldn't help but search for, was buried beneath the soft lining of the case. There were many reasons she didn't open that black box.

The second one she found in her mother's jewelry box. It was very simple, just a small gold cross on a thin gold chain. She'd asked her mother about it, and Mom had replied that her mother had given it to her when she moved to California. To keep her safe, Mom recalled with a faint smile on her face. She never wore it, Mom continued, and would Buffy like it?

Yes, Buffy would. She wore it for a long time before she encountered her third cross. Giles procured it shortly before her encounter with the Master, and presented it to her in small metal box with a thin, tense smile. The cross was made of ash, over a hundred years old. Thin lines were engraved into the wood in a weaving pattern, and Buffy had played with it for hours before asking Giles about it. Giles said that the lines were runic wards, that the cross had more power over evil because of the squiggly lines that covered the soft, blonde wood.

After that, Xander must have noticed that she almost always wore a cross, and slid a small box across the library table to her one day. This fourth cross was pewter, and more ornate than her others with a lacy edging that made Xander smile as she ran her fingers over it. She didn't miss the brush of his fingers over the back of her neck when he fastened it on, but she met his nervous grin with a warm smile and a hug.

She opened her birthday presents at Willow's insistence before Angel took the Judge's arm to the dock. There were a few well-chosen gifts, but one stood out. Jenny Calendar handed her a wooden box with red velvet lining, and when Buffy looked up to thank her for the wrought silver cross, she caught Jenny's strange glance at Angel. Buffy faltered for a moment, before pulling the cross out and dangling it for all to see.

Giles, of course, wanted to study it more closely; Buffy let him, trying to catch that odd look from Jenny again. It didn't come. Buffy got a tight smile and a you're welcome from Ms. Calendar instead. Giles muttered something about Romany inscriptions, and asked Jenny where she'd obtained the piece, but she only gave some small explanation of a friend of her family and pressed the cross into Buffy's hand, staring at her with an intensity that might have made her uncomfortable had she not been on the receiving end of it many, many times.

The look said to keep this cross close, it will protect you, never lose it.

Buffy let it fall into her pocket, and off she and Angel went. Of course, hell broke loose soon after.

After Jenny died, after the fish guys and before the apocalypse, Willow took her aside. She looked nervous and tired, but determined. There was another box, with another cross. She couldn't help but laugh at Willow's experience in the Christian bookstore, writing a check for the jewelry in the name of "Willow Rosenberg" and the salesclerk's reaction. It was a funny story, made even more so by the two girls' exhaustion and companionship. Buffy slipped on the pale gold filigree cross, and was rewarded with the smile that was being missed so much these days.

Before Faith betrayed her, she and Buffy were sitting in an all-night dinner chomping down on greasy food and bitter coffee after a particularly successful night of patrol. When they got the check, Faith grabbed it before Buffy could and said she got it with that crooked smile. Faith went to pay, and Buffy lifted her napkin to find a crumpled brown paper box. She opened it, glancing at the note that said I got your back, B. Beneath the lined paper was a black cross with blue stones embedded into the metal. Buffy slipped it on, meeting Faith at the register and sliding a casual arm around her waist.

When Buffy graduated from high school, her mother took her aside before she left and handed her a box. Buffy felt like crying when her mother said that she loved her, that she was proud of her. Her mom loved her despite being the Slayer. Because she was the Slayer. And Buffy wore the plain bronze cross proudly as she faced off against the Mayor, swearing he was going down at the very least for increasing water prices in her neighborhood.

Before Buffy went to college, Giles handed her a box. His eyes were shining with pride (though she wondered if it wasn't pleasure in having convinced her to take a medieval history course) as he opened it, revealing an ornate replica of the Du Lac Cross. He wanted something special for her, you see, and had the piece made by hand in London. He hoped she liked it, and when Buffy threw her arms around him she said she'd keep it forever. Giles hummed, and smiled, and cleaned his glasses before puttering back to his books.

On her birthday, Riley gave her a box. Buffy was expecting earrings; she got a corn husk cross instead. They made them, in Iowa, for good luck. She mustered a smile and a kiss, and threaded the leather cord around her neck. She wore it once before putting it in her red velvet box.

Now she has a memory of Dawn coming home from school, her snotty freshman attitude miraculously gone for the day. In place was a shy teenager who dragged Buffy into her bedroom to show her a small white box tied messily in a yellow ribbon. Buffy opened it, listening to Dawn babble about what she made at school in art class. Inside the box was a clay cross, cracked in places but solid. Dawn had bored a hole in the top and strung it on a small rope; Buffy could only tug her close and thank her with a kiss on the head. Of course, the hug soon descended into a tickle fight, and Buffy escaped under the excuse of putting it away before the cross was broken.

When her mom came out of surgery, and she was spending one of many nights at the hospital, Buffy woke at two in the morning to find her mother conscious and watching her sleep with shining eyes. Mom had nodded to her bag and asked Buffy to retrieve it. When her mom handed her the blue box, she found a glass bead rosary inside. Her mother explained that a devout Catholic woman had just submitted some of her glasswork to the gallery; Mom had seen this and thought of her. Buffy began to sob and crawled into her mother's arms, and they stayed like that for much of the night. Buffy didn't let go of the rosary.

After Joyce Summers died, Angel came to see her. She stayed in his arms, grieving, for hours, and it wasn't until after he'd left that she noticed a buldge in her pocket. She pulled out a black box, a mirror to its predecessor, and opened it with tears she didn't know she still had. Inside was a cross made of twisted, age-old wood bound with black cord. Buffy rubbed her thumb over it, sitting out on her back porch and thinking about what might have been.

Before the gang went to fight Glory, Anya pulled her behind the counter of the shop and handed her a box with "Magic Box" printed on it. When Buffy questioned her about it, Anya said that it was one more thing that might protect her from Glory. Buffy nodded, and opened the box to reveal a simple cloth cross, dyed a pale red. Anya nodded and said that now Buffy could commence with the kicking of ass, and Buffy gave a weak smile in return. After Anya turned away, Buffy carefully replaced the lid and put the box on a shelf, walking away with shaking hands.

When Buffy was resurrected, she felt the weight of a chain around her neck. It wasn't until she returned to Revello Drive with Dawn that she discovered what it was - the pale gold cross her mother had given her. She didn't speak when Dawn carefully unclapsed it and put it in her room; Buffy just stared at her haunted face in the mirror, too terrified to move.

While Buffy wandered through her resurrected life with a hopeless, invisible look on her face, Spike took her behind the Magic Box one day. He handed her a paper bag, told her to open it while he lit a cigarette. She reached inside, and pulled out a plain, weighty silver cross. She looked at Spike dumbly for an explanation, only to watch him scuff his boots against the brick wall. She hadn't been wearing one, y'see, and he wondered where they all went, because she always wore them. Before. So he thought he'd get her another one, yeah, see if she might start putting them on again.

She stood in the waning sunlight and he stuck to the shadows as she fumbled with the clasp. She didn't stop him when he reached out trembling fingers to center the cross, ignoring the hiss of burning flesh. Spike nodded, said it looked nice, and disappeared.

When she got home, she opened her closet, pulled out her trunk, lifted the false shelf, and took out the red velvet box.


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