A Christmas Card From Hell
Of Silver Coins and Fallen SoulsAuthor:
R/F18 (individual chapters may vary)Pairings:
Like I'm gonna give that away this early on…Disclaimer: The Dresden Files
are copyright Jim Butcher. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
is copyright 20th Century Fox Television, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, and Dark Horse Comics among others. This is a work of derivative, non-commercial fiction licensed under the Creative Commons per Mr. Butcher's policy. I am making no profit of any kind, nor do I have any claim on the characters and worlds presented here. Any copy or re-posting of this work must keep this disclaimer intact and must give me credit for my work.Summary:
An ancient Roman denarius shows up in Sunnydale. Crossover with The Dresden Files
(the books, not the TV show).Part Note:
I'm gonna take a page out of Joe's book in terms of how I organize my notes on this story, so you'll see part notes like this one at the start of each story arc as needed, and chapter note's leading in to each individual chapter of the story. As this chapter is more or less setting the scene, here's the information you need for this to make sense. This is set just after Small Favor
in the Dresdenverse, however, rather than move the timeline back to make Small Favor
coincide with the start of Season 1 of Buffy
, we're moving the Buffyverse forward to match the time line of the Dresdenverse. That means that since the events of Small Favor
happened in early November of 2008 (according to fans much more obsessive than I am), that Buffy will start attending Sunnydale High in March of 2009 (since Buffy
started airing in March '97). Aside from that, buckle up, its gonna be a bumpy ride.
Yes, I'm alive. Yes, I'm writing again. No, I don't know when or if I'm coming back to the Thunderverse. The last few seasons of Smallville
really managed to ruin my love of the series and I'm just not sure I can get myself interested enough to pick it up and go on with it. This is also my first serious effort at writing since I stopped with Thunder Over Smallville
, so bear with me while I get my groove back and if anyone else wants to help me beta this monstrosity, drop me a line. And yes, this part isn't terribly long but its meant to setup the story, so without further ado…
Friday, December 5th, 2008
It was a clear, crisp, beautiful Friday afternoon in Sunnydale as Willow Rosenberg walked home from yet another day of high school. It had been a good day. Not a great day; the school still hadn't yet hired a new librarian to replace poor Missus Arbaugh, who had died last week, meaning her access to the library was restricted to when some other teacher was willing to supervise the students who wanted to visit it. But certainly not a bad day, really. It probably would have been a lot worse if not for one incredibly bright spot: Miss Calendar, the new Computer Science teacher that had started a few weeks ago after the old one stopped showing up to teach class, had pulled her aside to ask if she would mind helping with a major project that was scheduled for the spring. The school board had approved digitizing a significant portion of the Sunnydale High Library's collection and making them available over the Internet in conjunction with the county's public library, and Miss Calendar had decided to involve her best and brightest students in the project. And she was the first student that Miss Calendar had approached!
So far, she thought to herself as she walked, it was shaping up to be a great holiday season for her. Her parents had even promised that they'd be home for all eight days of Hanukkah that year for the first time in a number of years, and while that would make sneaking over to Xander's to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas
a bit harder than usual, it would be great to have something approaching a real family holiday for once.
It wasn't wasn't as though being left alone was anything particularly new or exciting by any stretch of the imagination. Her parents had always been very active in their professional community, traveling extensively for conferences and seminars, ostensibly to stay on the cutting edge of the psychological world, although Willow found that a curious excuse considering neither of her parents currently practiced nor had they at any point since obtaining their degrees. When she was younger, such trips had meant days or even weeks at a time spent with her grandmother while her parents were gone but when her nana had passed, her parents deemed that Willow was mature enough to look after herself. That was when they'd started leaving her home alone as they traveled the country, regular deliveries of food from the local supermarket and packages from Sears ensuring that she was never without food to eat or properly-fitting - albeit unfashionable - clothing to wear. She was eight at the time and it seemed that the older Willow got, the less often her parents came home. Their current trip had also been their longest to date: they had already spent eight weeks presenting a series of seminars across the southeastern United States and they weren't scheduled to be finished for another two weeks yet.
Intellectually, Willow was fully aware that most adults, especially the sort who worked in child welfare or similar authority-type agencies, would consider what her parents were doing as child neglect if not out and out abuse. It was a fact she usually found quite ironic, considering that her parents were widely respected developmental psychologists. However, she had long since accepted that her parents were not emotional people and never would be. They were too cold, too clinical. That more than anything else was what she most envied about her friends. Even Xander's parents, who were hardly parent of the year material and were far more likely to criticize or punish would be something of an improvement. At least they paid attention to Xander, even if it was shouting or sometimes even throwing things at him, unlike Sheila and Ira Rosenberg…
Of course, she had to concede that her parents' constant absence did have certain benefits. The lack of anyone to enforce a curfew and no parental oversight meant she could largely do what she pleased, as long as it didn't lead to a transaction alert on one of the credit cards they'd left her. Like going to the Bronze with Xander and Jesse on school nights, staying out as late as she wanted, or having boys in her room. Not that she'd ever had any boys - or even any girls - in her room other than Jesse and Xander, neither of whom seemed to have even noticed that she wasn't a guy. Still when the time came and Xander finally did figure out that she was a girl and that she was crazy about him, it would provide them all sorts of opportunities to explore…
A broad smile graced the redhead's face as she stopped at the mailbox at the end of the walk up to her house. There were a small handful of letters and flyers in the box, which she dutifully fished out and began sorting through as she strolled the last few yards up to the porch. The first couple of letters turned out to be bills, which she could just set aside on her father's desk since he handled such things online when they traveled and had most likely already paid them. As she shuffled through the remaining envelopes, Willow's cell phone rang, startling her and causing her to drop several of the letters. She hurriedly fished the phone out of her bag and flipped it open, glancing at the display and seeing her mother's face. "Hi, Mom! How's Florida!"
Her mother sounded slightly out of breath as she spoke, like she was in a hurry, and Willow's smile began to fade. Her parents were seldom rushed and when they did, it often accompanied news that the redhead desperately hoped her mother wasn't calling to give her… again. "Willow, dear, I don't have long to talk. I just wanted to let you know there's been a change of plans. My publishers are moving the release date of my new book forward so that they can get it on the shelves in time for Christmas."
"Wow! Really?" Willow found herself inwardly amused that her time tutoring cheerleaders was actually paying off; she was getting better at feigning interest - or in this case excitement - at something she didn't actually care about. All she wanted was the other shoe to drop, so she could know how badly her hopes were about to be crushed.
"Isn't it wonderful? Unfortunately it means that we have to reschedule the last three seminars from this series and rush off to New York right away to kick off the publicity tour for the book. I'd no idea that there was so much involved in publishing a non-academic text." Willow grit her teeth as her mother trailed off, the sound of her voice changing as she spoke to someone on her end of the call for a moment. For crying out loud. She couldn't even spare an entire minute to tell her only child that she was breaking a promise anymore? Almost a full minute later, she finally returned. "I'm sorry, Willow, but I have to run. Our flight is boarding already. Your father and I are going to have to extend our trip a bit because of this but we should be home by the middle of January."
Willow's budding skill as a thespian wasn't able to keep the disappointment she keenly felt out of her voice as she responded to the news she'd known was coming since the start of the depressingly short conversation. "Oh well. That's okay, Mom. Good luck with the publicity tour."
There was some more muted conversation and then her mother returned one last time, her voice filled with what passed for warmth in the Rosenberg family. Most others would rate it as something barely above cold, professional courtesy. "Thank you, dear. We'll email you the new itinerary from the hotel in New York. See you in a few more weeks."
The call ended abruptly, her mother clearly finished, leaving Willow to stare unhappily at the phone. With nobody around to hear her, she allowed the facade of the happy daughter to drop, not even bothering to keep the bitterness out of her voice as she closed her phone. "Love you too, Mom." It took all her willpower to resist the urge to scream her frustrations to the world or throw the phone down against the concrete sidewalk, but instead Willow calmed herself and tucked the phone back into her bag before bending to retrieve the mall she'd dropped. Mixed in among the junk mail that lay at her feet she found a larger, slightly heavier than usual, bright red envelope of the sort that just screamed 'greeting card' to her. With a slight frown, she picked it up and looked at it more closely. Her family had already received the small handful of holiday greetings that it usually got, which made this fairly unusual. The Rosenberg family was not a large one, and the branches no longer particularly close since the death of the last of her grandparents. Now that she thought about it, Willow couldn't recall the last time they'd gotten a card from anyone but family.
As she lifted the envelope, Willow felt something small but heavy shift inside it. Frowning faintly, she ran her fingers along the bottom of the envelope, finding a small, hard, slightly irregular disc was sandwiched between the layers of paper and card stock in her hand. Staring at the back of the envelope, she noted that it had the words 'Season's Greetings' printed along the flap in a bold, professional typeface, which only served to confirm her immediate assumption that it was a greeting card of some sort. Flipping it over, she was taken aback to see that it was addressed to her, personally, rather than to the Rosenberg family or one - or both - of her parents. Her frown deepened a bit at that. The address was written in a precise, careful script that was so perfectly regular that Willow almost thought it to be a printed font akin to the words that graced the envelope's flap instead of handwritten words. It gave her no hint of who might have sent it and there was no return address either. In this day and age, where paranoia and fear reigned supreme, how had such a letter then even made it past the first post office to begin its journey to her house?
Overcome with curiosity, Willow strode purposefully into the house and went directly to her father's office, depositing the rest of the mail on the desk in a relatively neat stack. She scooped up her father's silver letter opener and deftly slid it under the flap, cleanly slicing the envelope open in a smooth, practiced motion. She carefully drew out the contents, revealing a heavy Hallmark Christmas card depicting Snoopy and Woodstock on top of Snoopy's classic red doghouse, which was decked out in old-style Christmas lights and a wreath. The words 'Happy Holidays' were emblazoned boldly across the top of the heavily embossed card and to her surprise, it began to play music when she opened it. She couldn't help but smile, her disappointing conversation with her mother forgotten for the moment.
Inside, written in the same careful, precise hand as the address, was a short simple message: "A little present to make your holidays a bit more cheerful." Puzzled by the lack of a signature, Willow looked into the envelope itself and was surprised to see what appeared to be a silver coin. With a casual twist of her left wrist, she emptied the coin onto the bare palm of her right and took a closer look at it. It was tiny, really, only slightly bigger around than a dime, though somewhat thicker and probably twice as heavy. The coin was also very, very old. So old, in fact that it lacked the perfectly round shape produced by modern coin presses and was ever so slightly lopsided.
Rotating the coin so that she could get a better look at it, Willow drew in a sharp breath, her eyes going wide in surprise. The coin's face had been struck with the image of a Roman emperor along with a few words of what looked like Latin, though only one was legible: Cæsar. That meant that if the coin was authentic, it was quite likely more than 2,000 years old!
Flipping the coin over, Willow was disappointed to find that the back of the disc was covered in a thick patina, so dark as to appear black, save for three lines of bright untarnished silver. The lines formed a pattern that seemed to vaguely suggest an hourglass. Fascinated, she stared at the strange little coin for several minutes, her fingertip tracing the compelling design formed by the scoring as she pondered the unusual gift and wondered where it had come from. Well, aside from the obvious and somewhat less than helpful answer of 'ancient Rome'. The card, by itself, would have screamed Xander, even though he knew that she didn't celebrate Christmas the way he and his family did, except that Xander would never have had the money - let alone the inspiration - to give her an incredibly old antique coin as a gift. In fact, if it were from him, he'd have been far more inclined to just give her the card at school and save the forty-odd cents spent on postage.
And the coin itself was so old that even in its current, less than perfect condition, it was likely to be quite valuable. Assuming, of course, that it was real, which seemed difficult to believe. And yet, even as she questioned its authenticity, a little voice in the back of her mind seemed to whisper that, no matter how unlikely it seemed, the coin was indeed real. For a moment, Willow could almost feel the weight of the coin's age pressing in on her, a nearly palpable sense of antiquity attached to the small lump of silver in her hand. She imagined for a moment the things that the coin might have been used to pay for in its time. Perhaps it had been used to pay the wages of one of Cæsar's legionnaires, or maybe it had been gambled away on a wager in the great Coliseum of Rome, or it could even have been spent by the wife of a wealthy Roman senator to purchase a very different sort of entertainment from one of the gladiators…
Willow shook her head abruptly, blushing as she wondered where that particular thought had come from. After a moment, she gathered the card and envelope in one hand, the beautiful little coin still cradled in her other, and made her way to her room. Even if her parents weren't going to be home for Hanukkah, she could hardly leave a Christmas card on public display in her father's home. And as for the coin… well, she wasn't entirely sure why, but she just couldn't bring herself to mention that to anyone either. After all, her parents would surely object to her keeping such a potentially extravagant gift, even though she could hardly return it without knowing who had given it to her. So, she would tuck it away someplace safe for the time being. After all, what her parents weren't told could hardly hurt them, could it?