Everyone had come over, and the birthday party had run long, as everyone was having too much fun to notice the time. Hunter was curled up on the couch, nestled between his mother and Grandpa Giles, when he heard his father announce that it was dusk. The happiness of the day dissolved in a moment at these dreaded words. The first rule that Hunter had ever been taught had been was to come inside before darkness fell. It was the same with Jesse, Jenny, and Trevor. None of them had ever stayed out alone after twilight. And they were only allowed outside at night when there were at least two adults in attendance, and they were never allowed to walk even a few steps beyond their parents' watchful eyes. But now it was dusk, and everyone was still at his house, and they had to go home. The adults talked very quietly, and very quickly. Hunter could feel their worry, as if it were a living thing that he watched take form and substance. He wondered why they were so worried tonight, after all, this had happened before, when they had friends over after dark. Usually, they would just walk quickly home. But they seemed extra worried tonight. Hunter had noticed that his parents always seemed extra worried about the coming of night around special days, like his parents' anniversary, or his mother's birthday, or Christmas, or Valentine's Day. But they were always very, very, careful around his birthday. He wondered why, at the time, but he was sleepy after the long day, and he let the thought drift away.
It was decided that Jesse would sleep over with him, and Uncle Oz would pick him up tomorrow morning before work. Luckily, Aunt Cordelia had had to leave early with Trevor, at about 5:00. But Jenny had an important doctor's appointment early tomorrow, and was also getting fussy, and wanted to go home. So Aunt Willow and Uncle Oz got ready to go. Hunter's mother and father decided to walk with them, just to see that they got home safely, and his mother volunteered to carry Jenny if Aunt Willow got tired. Then Hunter's mother gave him a hug and a kiss.
"Happy Birthday, sweetie." she said. Then, a strange look passed over her face, and she seemed to try and shake something off. Still with a shadow in her eyes, she said: "Be a good boy, and don't take your cross off, we don't want to lose it." Those were the last words she ever said to him, and they were odd ones, for he never *had* taken his cross off. He was very young, but for years he would have nightmares about that moment, when his mother got up to leave. He watched as his father helped her into her coat. In his mind's eye, he could still see the loving look they exchanged. Her shoulder length blonde hair shimmered in the dim light, and her green eyes sparkled as she waved to him.
In his nightmares, he would always scream for her not to go. But it never did any good, she left, as she always left, with her special bounce in her walk, and his father's arm around her waist. And then the door clicked shut behind her.
Jesse had already fallen asleep, so Grandpa Giles carried him up to Hunter's bed, which the two boys would share. He returned for him, but Hunter begged him for a story. Giles gave in, unable to refuse the boy's simple request when he sat there in fuzzy yellow feety pajamas, with his pleading eyes - so like his mother's - staring up at him. Giles seated himself back on the couch, and Hunter cuddled up to him, and his brown hair - in desperate need of a haircut - caught the static from Giles' tweed vest and began to frizz. He told Hunter stories that were fantastic and amazing, but always ended happily, with the hero winning and the monster being defeated.
About twenty minutes passed in this pleasant manner, and then the stillness of the evening was torn when the door slammed open, and Aunt Willow stumbled in, bleeding profusely from a gash on her forehead, half supported by her husband, who carried the body of their daughter. Six-year-old Jenny Seneca's neck had been snapped, like that of her namesake, Jenny Calendar, dead for eleven years. Later, the police were amazed that Oz Seneca had been able to support his wife and carry his child's body, because his arm had been snapped in three places.
Hunter's father came in behind them. His hands were covered in slashes, and his shoulder was bleeding profusely from a shallow knife wound. His face was a mask of agony, but not because of his wounds. Xander Harris didn't even know about them. In his arms lay his beloved wife, blood streaking her face and arms from numerous cuts. But Hunter didn't see those then. What he saw was where his mother's throat had been ripped open. It was years later that Hunter ever wondered why there had been so little blood at that massive wound. He blamed it on the memory of a child, even though he knew that the memory was crystal clear. All Hunter could do was kneel by his mother's body, and sob. Just as his father was doing.
Hunter never shed a tear after that awful night. As he stood between his father and Giles, watching as his mother's coffin was lowered into the ground, he made a promise. To his mother, the person he loved the most in the whole world. He promised that he would avenge her. That he would do the last thing his mother ever told him. He never took his cross off again.