Chapter Three - The Ice Cracks
Following the directions Skippy gave him, Roger led Anne back to her apartment building, Anne slinging her arm over his shoulder and dragging her feet behind her. It was slow going because of the weather, but the pair somehow managed to make it most of the way, Roger doing most of the grunt work. "You know, you could help me out here. There is a reason God gave you legs," he informed the slayer.
Her nod was greatly exaggerated because of the alcohol, and it bounced back and forth atop her neck like a ping pong ball. "Yea, I know, but why expend precious energy wen you can do all the work fer me?"
Instantly Roger stopped in mid-stride and sat Anne down on the cement stoop of an abandoned row house. While she slouched pitifully over, barely able to hold her own, the blonde lifted her head and scowled as angrily as she could manage. "I really ‘ate you."
"That phrase probably would have more of an effect on me if you weren’t drunk out of your mind and you could pronounce all the letters of the alphabet. Also, it might have helped if that statement didn’t sound like you ate me."
"Sut-up!" Anne ordered viciously. "Just take me ‘ome."
Folding his arms across his broad, well-defined chest, Roger stared at the crumpled woman on the stairs as he said, "Not if you’re gonna act so very rude and demanding. Geez, even when you’re totally sauced you’re a bitch."
Suddenly, Anne snapped and she burst into hot tears. Fat drops of salty water trickled down her face and onto the cement. "Please, I just wanna go ‘ome!" she begged.
Seeing that her crying was genuine, Roger sighed and hefted Annie to her feet. "All right, let’s go. Your apartment’s right around the corner, so we don’t have much further to go." She leaned exhaustedly into him only to start whining again. "No! Not there, I ‘ate it there."
"You need to sober up, Annie, and that is a perfect place to do it."
"Can’t we go somewere else? Wat about your place?" the slayer pleaded.
"My apartment’s all the way on the other side of town. Besides, I don’t need to wake up in the morning to find my whole house smells like vomit and beer."
"Please," Anne whined, her eyes imploring.
Roger closed his eyes, a pained sigh escaping his thick lips. "Okay, okay! Just stop with the puppy dog eye thing."
"Why should I? It gets me what I want."
"Yeah, well, it may have worked this time, but you keep it up and I’ll develop an immunity to it. Then where will that lead you? Back to your apartment, that’s where." Anne stared up at the man and smiled a lop-sided smile. Slowly she was beginning to uncover the real Roger Vlinters, the softer one that hid behind the muscular mask, the one she liked better.
After cruising through the snaking streets of Brooklyn in favor of the even more snaking streets of Manhattan in the confines of a tiny taxicab that reeked of incense, Anne and Roger stepped onto the curb in the pulsating heart of a midnight-lit city.
Curiously, the snow that fell here seemed somehow whiter than the gray stuff that fell in Brooklyn. The color was a purer, empyreal white, not the ashy hue such as in the flakes of the poorer communities. The ostentatiously dressed civilians of Manhattan were clothed in powdery ivory coats of snow overtop their fur jackets and Armani suits.
Through Anne’s blurry eyes, all she saw was the golden light of the street lamps reflecting off of the icy blanket on the roads, and to her it seemed as though King Midas had walked down this street before their arrival. The sidewalks and the cars and the buildings were all bathed in a heavenly flaxen color, making the world appear as a giant bar of gold. How she wished that she could live in this Epicurean lifestyle like Roger did because compared to him, her life seemed oh so pedestrian. Briefly, Anne even felt a bit ashamed and embarrassed that he had seen what type of life she lived and where she lived it.
Without uttering a single word to each other, the two entered the granite building that towered above all the other structures in the neighborhood. Elaborate etchings encompassed the turn-style cherry wood and glass door and slithered up the building’s stony sides, the rose bush carving branching off around the corners. Windows framed in oak covered in a gold leaf coating stretched across all faces of the building in straight, very strict lines, but the sharp appearance made it look all the more elegant.
Peeking over the rooftop of the apartment complex were four gargoyles, each sitting on their own corner and each wearing wanton, evil grins as they spread their stiff gray wings into the chill midnight air. The narrow slits in the stone that were the creatures’ eyes flashed fire red as the minute piles of crystal snow glimmered in the flickering light of the beating heart atop a speeding ambulance. The subtle folds in the beasts’ rock hard flesh created an aged look to their cement faces - the wrinkles of the ancient ones.
Anne wobbled into the complex, using Roger as a crutch. She took particular interest in the spinning doors, as of that moment she was so drunk she could never recall seeing anything that magical before in her lifetime. "Come along, Annie," Roger ordered, tugging gently on her arm.
The blonde pirouetted around to look the man straight in the eyes, her glare filled with animus reflecting in his shimmering brown irises and back into her own. Right now, she didn’t know why, but she despised him. "Don’t call me tat!" she slurred. "Call me Anne. Only my friends call me Annie, and you, sir, are NOT my friend!"
"What friends are you speaking of? I didn’t know you had any."
"Ooh…" Anne growled ferociously. "You’re gonna get it, mister!"
Taking her firmly by the wrist, Roger dragged the irate girl through the dazzling, golden lobby and over to the elevators set back in a rose colored hallway. He quickly pressed the up button and then mumbled something to himself about the top floor. "Oh, don’t tell me you live in the pent ‘ouse ‘ere!"
"Okay, fine, I won’t tell I live in the penthouse here. Will that make Miss Princess happy?" he shouted.
"No!" Miss Princess shouted right back.
"See tis guy right ‘ere?" Anne asked a stranger standing right next to her while she pointed to her chagrined companion. " ‘e owns the pent ‘ouse. The pent ‘ouse! Can you believe it?"
The sacred little man adjusted his tie nervously as he replied, "Ah, na…no. That’s, ah, well, amazing." He pressed the up button as rapidly as he could, anxious to escape the obviously intoxicated woman wavering dangerously next to him.
"Sorry, sir. My friend here’s just had a bit more to drink than she should have," he informed, ushering Anne behind him and away from the stranger.
Roger’s words hardly helped to soothe the stout elf’s nerves any. His eyes darted catywampously between the beautiful blonde girl and the powerful, strong man, who had his arm around her waist. "Yes, well, methinks you should try and get her to lead a more salubrious way of life. The whole drunk look isn’t quite so flattering for such a kissable face."
"And metinks you sould sut-up!" Anne yelped angrily.
Roger placed his hand over her mouth to keep her from upsetting him more. Still, it was understandable why she would say something as rude as that. After all, where did this man get the right to say anything about her lifestyle to her? And that whole kissable thing. It was obvious even to the drunk that Roger was more than a little angry that he had said something like that about her. Pervert. "She’s just had a really bad day," Roger explained.
"I can imagine," the man spit out distastefully. "Where is that blasted elevator!"
The soft ding announced the arrival of the most anxiously anticipated elevator. The whir of the gears as the doors opened sounded like crashing cars to Anne, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she tried to dull the pain in her ears. A few people climbed out of the lift as Roger, Anne and the chubby gnome climbed in it. "What floor?" inquired Roger as he promptly pushed 15 for his own. "Four." It was a short and simple answer, good enough for Roger.
Then, as he was going to push it, Anne dove wildly at the panel, shoving Roger aside. "I want to push the button!" And she did, and not just floor four either - all of them. Her companion rubbed his face with his hand as he smiled, totally embarrassed, at the other occupant. This was going to be a very long and silent ride. That cry from Anne was the last thing that was said as the lift made its halting way up the shaft. When the elevator finally stopped on the gnome’s level, he exited in complete silence without saying so much as goodbye or even bothering to look back at them. "Rude little man, don’t ya tink?"
"Maybe if you hadn’t scared him so damn much he wouldn’t’ve acted like that."
"Ah, ‘oo asked for your opinion anyway?" As he started to retort, Anne answered for him before he could even form a syllable. "No one did."
Instead of pursuing an argument, Roger dropped the subject in order to bring up a new topic of conversation. "How are you feeling/" lame, but at least it was a conversation nonetheless.
"Stupid question." The elevator finally came to halt on the top floor, and the pair stepped off together, Roger still holding her swaying form with his one arm. "Could you please reach into my coat pocket and get my keys for me?" he asked sweetly as he pulled Anne along with him to the closed white door at the end of the hall labeled "Penthouse Suite."
The spot-free door swung open and the two entered Roger’s neat and clean home. "Welcome to my humble abode. Make yourself comfortable anywhere you like."
Anne turned her suddenly green face toward Roger and managed to barely spit out the question "Were’s you batroom?"
Hushed footsteps whispered while she crossed the carpeted living room floor, and each time she placed a foot down she sighed. This was the kind of life that was lost to her and probably always would be. Here within the glow of the night, Anne found solace in the fact that she had made a new friend, or so she hoped. After what she had just done, she wasn’t quite so sure anymore. The man sitting quietly on the couch had opened himself somewhat to her, trusted her with his secrets, and when he simply asked the same of her, Anne refused to answer. At least he was gentlemanly about it - as Anne would have never suspected before- and didn’t pursue her any further. At least Roger did have some respect for her.
The bedroom was huge; it had a long, rectangular window spanning the area above his bed, giving the owner an incredible view of the downtown area and of Central Park. Velvet, white drapes framed the window and his bed underneath it, brushing the spotless carpet with their tips. Flanking the sides of the room were dressers and bureaus, all constructed out of cherry. Another white door perpendicular from the entrance camouflaged in with the pearly walls, and the only reason Anne was able to notice it was of the shiny gold, extravagantly made door handle that graced the door’s right side. She assumed (and correctly) that it was his closet. Above her, built directly into the ceiling, was a tiny, dome-like chandelier with strings of crystals splitting the light and creating many hundreds of rainbows throughout the cheery room. Even now, after she had switched the lights off, the slayer could still see the ring of gold ivy leaves that circled the top of the wall, making its way all around the bedroom.
Anne paddled gently over to the side of the bed and tentatively placed a hand on the down comforter. Instantaneously, it disappeared within the sheer softness of the bed, yet it felt as though it was suspended in space without anything to uphold it. The slayer put more of her weight on her hand, and slowly her arm, followed by her other hand, began to sink into the bed, vanishing further and further into the invisible below. Feeling like a child again, Anne pounced onto it, automatically being sucked down into the fluff and feathers. As she curled up under the silken sheets and brought the comforter up to her chin, Anne compared this bed to the matchbox she slept in every other night of the year. Roger’s bed was warm and inviting, hers was stiff and uncomfortable; his symbolized the wealthy life, hers symbolized the impecunious life.
This man was slowly changing her, and at the same time, she was slowly changing him. In the past day, Roger had entered her life like a whirlwind, flipping it upside-down and doing irreparable damage to it; nevertheless, he managed to make it a little bit brighter. How ironic it was that the person who had gotten her fired from her only means to support herself - her job - was also the person with which she was suddenly beginning an unexpected friendship. Anne knew she should hate him, knew she should despise the very ground he walked on, but for some reason unknown to her, the slayer couldn’t. She was drawn to him. There was something mysterious about this man that piqued Anne’s interest and made her want to decipher the enigma that was Roger Vlinters. She wondered if Roger felt the same way about her. After all, he had made several efforts to get to know the real Anne. The slayer sensed in his looks and attitudes that she had captured his interests as well, and despite what he really wanted to feel toward Anne, he was drawn to her, too. Of course, she could be totally imaging all of this, but Anne highly doubted it. In her two years of slayer experience, Buffy had almost relied strictly on her instincts and emotions, so even now as Anne Winters she still trusted in them and their ability to be correct.
Gradually Anne was lulled into the most peaceful, nightmare-free sleep she had ever experienced since she’d moved to New York. Minutes passed, and nothing stirred in the room. It was as if time had stopped completely - everything frozen within the moment her eyes closed for the night.
The door to the hallway was cracked open, and the lone stream of light that pierced the room was disrupted by a shadowy figure outside of it. Roger peeped in on her, checking to make sure Annie was comfortable in his bedroom and not frightened of this strange, new place. But obviously his trip had been pointless, for she was sleeping deeply already and seemed to be in the grips of a wonderful dream, her cherubic face beaming a truly happy smile.