Tarnished Gift
Monday, June 21, 2004

An AU...just a little "what if" scenario I couldn't shake.


Disclaimer: Characters do not belong to me; they are the property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy and Fox.

Feedback is always welcome.

Another AU. Inspired by several of Cassie E’s infernal plot bunnies. Many thanks to Cassie and Jebbypal for beta-ing for me, along with the late night words of encouragement, opening lines and way to much other stuff to mention. I may be needing to give those two co-writing credits by the time this one is through. ;-)

Chinese translations: Ai Ren - Sweetheart


Ariel: Late May, 2517

He shut off the cortex screen with annoyed frustration. Talking with his father always did that, especially when it was about his intended bride. And this conversation had been even more frustrating then usual.

It just didn’t seem possible that the boy had done this. Definitely didn’t fit the image of the prissy young man he’d seen each Christmas. But looking back, at this years party he had seemed more…frazzled…then was normal. His parents had their normal cold, superior airs firmly in place. And the girl had been absent yet again.

His gaze moved to the small, framed picture sitting on his desk; it was almost three years out of date now. Sometimes he wondered why he still kept it up there, or why he’d started setting the pictures on his desk in the first place. A new one every year up till this one. Most people thought it was a picture of his daughter, most people he never corrected on the assumption.

It was easier that way. Not that the practice was uncommon in any way, quite the contrary. It was simply unusual to keep reminders of it so handy when the girl was still so young. Unless one preferred them that way. And for whatever reason he had for keeping her picture where he could see it everyday it wasn’t out of some twisted sexual desire. Perhaps some odd, older brotherly protective streak.

With a frustrated sigh he stood and moved to look out the window that ran the length of his penthouse office. It was a magnificent view of the city, St. Lucy’s gleaming across the way. The small, white entry building nearly obscured from his view by the wing his father had paid for. He loved and hated that wing; it was the building of it that had first brought him here. And the business that was conducted within its walls that kept him here.

On the one hand he loved the feeling of power that building gave him. Walking its halls like he owned them. Seeing the Doctors and Nurses part way to let him through without question. People that a few short years ago would have spit on him if they passed him on the street. He still caught the whispers behind him sometimes; saw the fear in a few of the faces, resentment at having to defer to him in others. Didn’t bother him so much though; that was their problem, not his. So long as they respected his position he didn’t much care what they thought of him personally.

But he missed the days of roaming around the Rim planets overseeing the business out there. That was when he had felt most useful to the family, it had used all his talents to their best advantage in ways that his new position did not. But that job had passed onto younger siblings now. Even though they would never be as good at dealing with the seedier side of the business as he had been. But as the heir he was expected to deal with the high-end contracts. The ones obtained through the clout provided by the girl and her family.

He remembered the first time he saw her, she was barely a day old. His father had decided it would be best to make sure she was healthy in person. He’d been livid when he’d been told the girl’s name. A bad luck name; in some cultures the name alone would have ended the betrothal then and there. Unfortunately for the girl's family, his father was more ambitious then squeamish.

The next time he’d caught a glimpse of her, she was 5 years old and hanging through the railings of the stairway gazing at the partygoers below her. Her sharp eyes had followed the dancing figures below as if she was memorizing every step. That year she hadn’t seemed to notice him. Nor the next. But the year after that she had caught him watching her and her head had tilted to one side as she gazed back at him curiously. And then her brother had come to gently coax her off to bed as he did every year.

The boy had been allowed to make a brief appearance that year for the first time. His haughty expression making it clear he had no understanding of why he was being introduced to him and his family. He’d probably been trying to figure out for years why they were on the guest list at all. He wondered if the boy had ever figured it out, or if his parents had ever broken down and told him the truth. He somehow doubted it. He had the distinct feeling that if the boy knew the truth of things he’d be even colder and more caustic then he already was.

But the boy had never been his concern; he’d fall into place when the time came. It was the girl that bothered him. Because it had become clear that she knew what was going on the following year. She’d hunted him down in her father’s study when he escaped the party for a time, like he did every year. These parties were not the highlight of his year. He’d been gazing out the window much as he was doing now when she’d entered. She’d called him husband and giggled at his startled expression, it had reminded him very much of little Lily’s laugh when she’d managed to pull a joke on her older brother. Yes, she had been very much like his littlest brat of a sister at that moment.

And then her brown eyes had turned sad and she had walked over to stand next to him. Asked him if his home planet was as nice as this. He was still spending most of his time on the ranch then, so he’d told her it was nicer. More spacious and plenty of room to roam. Her eyes had gleamed bright when he told her they had horses and it took near a day to ride from one end of the ranch to the other. He’d told her about the time he ran across the poachers, making the ensuing fight sound as thrilling as he could. She’d looked up at him and solemnly informed him that it was mathematically impossible for one man with no cover to take out ten armed men. Of course, she was right. There had only been 6 men and he’d been wounded pretty badly, but he wasn’t about to back down and admit that. His younger siblings and nieces and nephews had never minded a little creative embellishment. But he hadn’t tried to tell her stories after that.

The next year when she sought him out it was to show him the part she’d danced in her school’s Holiday program. She’d managed to sneak down the stairs in full costume, a frilly pink confection. After the brandies he’d had earlier he was in a playful mood that year and had turned the cortex screen on the desk around to send her performance to himself--while joking that he was sending it out for the entire ‘verse to see. He could still see the way she’d rolled her eyes at him in exasperation. It was the only tape he had of her, the only image not sanctioned by her parents.

She would have been 10 at the next party, but he didn’t go that year. Grandpa had passed on a month earlier so he'd stayed on the ranch to help Ma out. Helping her move to the house on Londinum after Diana Lynn and her husband and kids arrived to take over the ranch.

But the next year had been the most shocking. His father had gotten the idea the girl’s parents were trying to weasel out of the contract and had set up a more binding ceremony to take place on her 12th birthday. He’d been drinking even more heavily that year as a result, so when she came to him he was slumped behind her father’s desk. Her eyes were red, like she’d been crying. She’d climbed up into his lap and started telling him that she had been researching marriage practices on Earth-That-Was. Her voice as solemn as when she’d disputed his story years before.

She’d asked him for a favor that year, one that had brought him more troubles keeping then the picture on his desk. But he had kept it; that year she’d been a scared little girl starting to understand that her life was not her own.

The door behind him opened softly, breaking his revere. Feeling a little guilty he let the hand that had been idly toying with the chain around his neck drop and turned to the woman that had entered.

Ai ren,” he said fondly as she walked over to him.




Monday, June 21, 2004 5:21 PM


Aheeemm...well cassie and i are waiting for our advance copies neroli ;) hehe. Really, you have me hooked, can't wait to see what you do with it. Very shiny alternate AU:)

Wednesday, June 23, 2004 3:17 AM


Oh my! That's more than a little creepifyin' ... Quite anxious about who 'he' might be. Looking forward to finding out ... sort of!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005 9:46 AM


Drool.................=waits with her tail wagging for the next chappie=


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