Disclaimer: I own neither Buffy, the Vampire Slayer nor the Southern Vampire Mysteries. I make no money of this.
A/N: Sooo, this has been sitting on my harddrive for a while. It's an experiment in voice and rather different from my usual fare. Unbetaed. Some swearing, some violence. Concrit would be muchly appreciated.
Setting: Post Buffy season 3, Earshot AU, years and years before the beginning of the books for Sookie.
You’ve had a lot of bad ideas in your life. You dated a guy named Pike, got that horrible layered hair cut when you were thirteen and just last week you ate a whole chocolate cake at midnight. Very bad idea. Never mind the high metabolism.
So you should have recognized that heavy feeling of doomrundoom that settled in your guts when you begged for Giles to call the Council and find some help. You might make excuses and say your head was exploding at the time because you could hear the thoughts of everyone in a five mile radius and the image of your mother having sex on the hood of a police car was looping endlessly behind your closed eyelids but –
But you really should have known better than to have Giles call the Council – you know, the bunch of old geezers that spend their whole lives coming up with convincing propaganda about how everything not human is evil to the core – and ask them for help getting rid of your aspect of the demon. You doubt they heard anything beyond, “Slayer got infected with demon blood.”
At least you hope that’s all they heard because if not, then sending no less than three assassination squads after you would be personal. You’re just lucky your new nifty brain-gadget settled down before they came knocking. Giles didn’t exactly have a lot of time to come with up theories before the Men in Black kicked in the front door, but he was mumbling something about slayer blood diluting the effects the last time you spoke.
You have you own theory on why you aren’t a drooling nut case right now and it includes the fact that the demon you got your new mad skill from wasn’t drooling either, was it? Somehow, the telepathy – and God, you hate that word, it sounds like a condition, like a disease. Telepathy. Somehow it found a snug little corner of your brain and settled in there for good. It still gives you headaches when you’re around crowds and you haven’t quite gotten the hang of the whole silent communication thing, but you’re getting better.
Needs must, and all that. You left Sunnydale half a continent and months behind, haven’t had any contact with anyone, haven’t used your name and spent most of your time deep underground. Still, those bastards found you like you have a bright neon sign over your head that says Demonized Slayer Here, Aim for Heart!
And those guys have great aim. You waste half a thought on hoping that Angel was smart enough to go to ground when the hounds tore out of Sunnyhell after you and then you focus on the matter at hand. It’s the fifth time in the past month they’ve caught up with you and this time there will be no slipping away unnoticed. Twelve guys, three teams of four, stationed all around you. All exits cut off, the only potential aid you had dead at your feet.
You are crouched behind the dead receptionist’s desk in the lobby of the all-demon hotel you were staying in; Larry the F’rzgll Demon lies motionlessly next to you. You reach out with one hand, closing his sightless orange eyes for him and saying a quick prayer. It’s funny how the demon community was willing to take you in, no questions asked, when your own people turned against you. They helped you get out of Sunnydale alive and when you asked them why they said, “Gotta stick together, don’t we?”
“I’m the slayer,” you said and the guy next to you grinned at you with three rows of teeth and said, “Not anymore, you’re not. Now you’re just one of the vermin.”
The lesson you draw from all this? Demons are loyal, humans are not. Demons stick with their own, humans try to kill them. Demons don’t give a shit about your past and neither do humans, because they just want to kill you anyway. Okay, so maybe you’re being a bit judgemental here - your friends did not try to sell you down the river – or was that up - just because you have an aspect of the demon and they tried to help, too - but hello, former employers trying to kill you for injury sustained in the line of duty? So not cool.
Bottom line is you’ve spent the last year running from small town to small town, keeping your head low, earning money with the crappiest of jobs. A once warrior for the light reduced to demon bitch scrambling to just stay alive. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
No, you’re not bitter. Why would you be bitter? You risked your life to save the collective asses of mankind, you died, you bled, your sacrificed and when your DNA got changed one teensy-weensy bit to allow you to hear thoughts, you’re suddenly the enemy. You’d understand the Council if you were slaughtering virgins or eating babies but you’re not. You’re just trying to survive. All you wanted from them, was to rid you of the demon blood. Instead of help, they offered bullets.
You owe demon kind one hell of an apology for buying into the Council crap. You really do. You start with Larry who breathed his last while handing you the keys to his car.
Leaning down you whisper in his dead ear, “I’m sorry.”
Then you press tighter against the desk and listen with your new sixth sense for the twelve pits of hate and rage trying to circle you. They are all so convinced, so very convinced, that you are evil. They saw you kill some of their own. But all you ever did was defend yourself when they came into your house and took your mother hostage, when they threatened your friends, when they followed your like blood hounds on the trail of a wounded animal. How many times have you run when you could have fought, could have killed them all? If they would just let. You. Go. Everything could be alright then. You’d stay low and they could get back to doing whatever they do. You just want to live.
You extract yourself from their black thoughts, keeping only some awareness on them, and reach out again, looking for allies this time. Like Larry beside you, you find many other fading nodes of life and thought, many cooling bodies. They came in through the roof and the back doors, going from room to room. There have to be at least thirty dead in this building. And it’s your fault.
You curse quietly and risk a peek around the desk toward the black duffle bag lying on the floor in the middle of the lobby. Everything you own, including your weapons, is in there. Fifteen – hell, five minutes later – they would have missed you. A lot of people would still be alive. Or maybe not because those guys are the kind that kills just on principle, but damn. Fucking damn.
And then you find what you’ve been looking for. A cool swirl of dark grey, mixing with the red of rage. A vampire. Across the lobby, hidden in the breakfast room. Yes!
You pump your fist at your side and think real hard at the vamp, Hey, you okay?
You can feel it jerk violently, a tumble of thoughts pouring over you. Then, Who are you?
You grimace. Telepath. Stuck in the lobby. I’m the one they’re after.
You probably shouldn’t have said that. But then, why not? Enough people have died because of you tonight. And to think, six months ago you would have happily killed them yourself. Oh, how things change.
He – and it is a he, even mind voices have a gender – thinks long and hard and then says, So if I walk the other way, I might make it out alive, yes?
You nod inside your head – funny thing, that – and argue, Or you can come my way and we can kill the assholes that just wiped out the whole hotel.Everyone?
Sorrow. You hope some of the dead are not his buddies but you really know better. Vampires don’t exactly care for strangers. Someone he knew is falling to ashes right now.There’s nothing alive in this building but you and me
, you say. He is pragmatic. You can feel it. He’ll work through it. And if you work together, you might just get out alive, both of you.Yes,
he thinks at you, I am pragmatic. So I will work with you to avenge my people.
Okay, you think. That was easy. But then you’ve found that demons of all kinds have a rather strange code of honor. And that includes banding together whenever outsiders try to attack. You’ve seen Borken and Bracknics working together to take out human hunters one night and then return to killing each other off the next. Hey, whatever works.You got a name, oh ally of mine?
A beat of silence. Eric,
he says, Eric the Northman. What have you done to draw the attention of hunters?
You fidget a bit before saying, I exist. I’m Buffy, by the way.Buffy.
It’s not a question so much as a toneless expression of disbelief. Buffy.Yes,
you snap, Take it up with my mother, if you don’t like it. Now, you want to know where the bad guys are, or not?
He gets a kick out of you calling the humans bad guys, you can tell. Big, evil vampire. You make a note to shake in your boots later. He manages to send a smirk your way and asks, Yes, please.Two each at the front door and the two back exits. Four in the stairway, two right behind me, between you, me, and my weapons. All armed with guns. And Larry here says they have silver bullets.You have someone with you?
You give Larry a sad look. He played a mean hand of kitten poker and he made great coffee. No,
you whisper, Not anymore.
He does not apologize or comment in any way. Good. He’s a fighter. Maybe his name is real and he’s an actual, live Viking. You sure could use some battle zeal at this point. He catches that thought, too – you really need to work on your broadcasting and more importantly, on how to shut it off again – and laughs.Yes, I am the real deal. What are you?
You probably shouldn’t be having a conversation in the middle of a crisis, but that is the good thing about telepathy. Barely ten seconds have passed in real time since you found Eric the Viking. You cringe and decide what the hell, he’ll probably catch it anyway. I’m mostly human. Used to be a slayer. Now, not so much.
It’s not that your powers are gone, no, not that. If at all, you feel stronger since that damn demon bled on you. Fitter. Your endurance has gone up, and you’re pretty sure you think faster, too. It’s just that you’d rather walk out from behind that desk with arms spread wide than call yourself a slayer ever again. You want nothing of the Council, not ever again. Not after they made you a soldier in their holocaust and then turned against you on a whim. Interesting.
You can hear the wheels in his head and decide to distract him before he can start plotting.If you come out the door into the lobby, there’s one guy on your right, about six feet from the door. I have no clue why they haven’t checked the room you’re in, but there it is. The other guy is closer to me, so I can take that one. I’m behind the desk, my weapons are in the bag on the floor. Wanna go for it?
You listen as he draws a picture in his mind and goes through your suggested plan of action. He finds no flaws in it. I’ll meet you behind the sofa. On three.
He counts down and you get ready to move at two and flip over the desk at three, avoiding the first burst of bullets by flying over it. You land in front of your designated victim and break his arm by jerking the gun outwards and up. He screams and goes for his knife with his free hand when the rain of bullets from the second guy suddenly ceases. You break your guy’s neck – you tried leaving them alive in the beginning, but they only got back up and came at you again, so now you do what you have to – and reach out for Eric with your mind. It’s almost second nature now, to use your head instead of your eyes. He’s going for the bag and you leap for the sofa together, landing next to each other, duffel between you.
You look at him as you listen for movement – mental and physical – and freeze for just a moment. He’s a Viking alright. Tall as hell, blonde, blue eyed and made of solid marble. You might be drooling. He’s wearing jeans and a simple black t-shirt but damn, that is one fine hunk of undead male. You suddenly miss Angel in the most carnal of senses. Then you feel a flash of embarrassment for being dressed in ratty clothes, your hair in a messy stump of a ponytail and dyed a dirty, rust red. You look just like what you are, a teenager on the run and trying to hide. And then you feel another flash of embarrassment for being embarrassed in the middle of a fight to the death with bodies strewn all around you.
But it’s not like you can help it! He’s smirking
at you! You think that you might have just said something along the lines of, “Eeep.”
Then you force yourself to look away from his chiselled features and concentrate on your bag instead. Weapons. Knives. Knives are good. Knives can be thrown. You can feel him watch you for a moment longer, his thoughts not half as confused as yours. He thinks you’re cute under the rags and that you killed that guy almost as fast as he did his in. He thinks you might be useful. Well great, at least that means he’s not going to bite you in the butt when you’re not looking. Not that you’re ever not looking because hello, telepath. It’s the only thing that’s kept you alive this far.
“Those men are Council hunters,” he finally says and his real voice sounds even more knee weakening than his mind voice. And that accent… Yep, definitely drooling now. What is it with you and dead meat?
“Yes,” You grind out between closed teeth.
“What did you do to warrant their attention?”
You look at him askew. “Did you listen? I used to be a slayer. Got myself a fancy aspect of the demon. In their book, that makes me the enemy. Hence the big guns.”
You’d like to say more because you so need to vent at someone, but there’s movement suddenly. “They’ve decided to come see what the noise was about. They’re drawing together. The guys from the stairs will come first, with back up from the back doors. Front doors will hold position.”
Your head cocks to one side as you smile grimly. “The guys at the front are upstarts. They want part of the fun. They’ll abandon their posts when the fighting starts. Might give us an exit.”
He looks at you with new appreciation. He probably heard the radio conversation the bad guys had, but he would have given his back to the front entrance in a fight. It would have been his death. Sure, he wouldn’t be in this situation if it weren’t for you, but vampires aren’t picky that way. As long as there’s blood, they’re sort of happy. And Eric… he’s positively aching for a good fight. A fight and a –
You can oblige him with that, you think, and carefully slide one of your most priced possessions from its hidden sheath in your bag. It’s the sword you killed Angel with, the sword that closed hell. You hate it almost as much as you love it.
He takes the proffered hilt with sure hands and you know you read that right. This Viking just loves himself a good brawl with a sharp sword. It’s a bit small for his big frame and you hope he won’t overextend himself and end up dead, but if he’s the real deal, then he’s old. Old guys are supposed to be smart, right?
Next you dig two daggers out of the bag and slip them in your boots. Two more go in your sleeves. And last but not least, a handful of throwing knives. They are cheap but sharp and thinning the herd seems like a good idea.
You dislike thinking of people as cattle, but then they were the ones who started the name calling when they declared you a man eating monster. So you figure they’re getting their dues. And it’s not like you’ve killed anyone who hasn’t tried to kill you first. Your conscience is as clean as it can be after months on the run with nothing but your wits to keep you alive. How would you like to do this?
He has switched back to thinking at you, because the enemy is coming closer and might hear you. You think for a moment before catching a flicker of a plan in his head.
He wants to use the knives to take out as many as possible and then he wants to slaughter the rest like they deserve. The images already piling up in his head are a bit disturbing, but then this is war and the winner gets your life. Not even your sneaking suspicion that Eric is doing this as a matter of principle will soften your heart.
The last guy you let go almost killed your mother the night you fled town. Since then, you’ve left nothing in your wake that could get back up. You smile grimly, wondering when you turned from Californian cheerleader into hardened war veteran. The answer is simple: The night your own side tried to kill you for the first time.
You turn back to Eric to agree to his plan when your stomach rumbles loudly, reminding you that you haven’t eaten in twenty four hours. Against your will, you blush. If the assassins didn’t know where you where hiding before, they know now. Crap. Eric chuckles and the sound goes right to your naughty places. Remind me to get breakfast if we survive this.
His smirk is cocky. Oh, we will survive this, darling.
And then he snags one of the knives and throws it with vampire accuracy, killing the poor idiot they sent to scout around the corner. The man falls forward with a blade between his eyes, dead as he hits the ground. Three down. Nine to go. Is it too much to hope that they’ll get in line to be killed?
You grab a bunch of knives for yourself and briefly consider strapping your bag to your back. In case you have to make a quick getaway. But then you decide against it. Extra weight.
Then you adjust your position so you cover the left side of the room and, on a last minute whim send a brief, Don’t die.
You can feel his surprise and then his pleasure at your comment. You also catch that he planned to kill the Council squad either way, but that he’s glad to have found you because you’re interesting and fun. He likes fighting with someone to have his back.
Suddenly something comes flying in your direction. Your eyes fix on it as your brain tells you, Not good.
It’s the sort of grenade that makes a big flash and a bang and then emits smoke that can kill a chain smoker on the spot. To your heightened senses, it’s hell. Eric moves beside you with reflexes faster than the human eye can see, snatching the grenade out of the air and flinging it back from whence it came as surly as he threw the knife.
It goes off a split second after it rolls out of sight in the hallway and there are screams as the assassins are forced to flee from their own toys. Flee, you think with glee – and look that rhymed – right into the arms of someone with a bone to pick.
You open yourself to Eric’s thoughts, installing a sort of leased line from one mind to the other and then you leap from your hiding place and fling the first knife. It lands in the throat of a blond guy with stubble, sending him to the floor in a gurgle of blood.
Eric mentally praises your aim. You glare right back and tell him to get it on with. He takes the time to give the impression of a bow before the six leftover guys from the hallway reach his position and he’s sort of… indisposed.
You jump one from behind, grab him by the ears and twist, catching his gun as he goes down. Smooth move, you congratulate yourself and watch Eric swing your sword in an upward arc that first cuts off a man’s hand and then his head. Okay, now that
The range is too close to use the gun properly – especially with your ally the silver sensitive vampire so near - so you spin it in your hand and smack it into the nearest guy’s face, breaking his nose. He raises his own weapon to aim at you so you take another swing at his face and then slam your knee into his head as he falls. That’s three down and –
Zero to go, apparently. Eric is leaning on the sword like some sort of Dandy on a cane, grinning winsomely at you. Why are all vampires show offs?
“If you have it, darling,” he answers, “Why not flaunt it?”
“Ego much?” You ask and then scream, out loud and in your head, “Down!
Eric hits the floor as the first spray of bullets from the two upstarts tears into the wall behind where he stood and you’re sure your heart skips a beat. Shit. With the secondary target down, the only two Council flunkies left turn their weapons to you and you take the time to gulp. Then instinct kicks in and your daggers slip from your sleeves almost automatically, and go flying.
Both men go down, wounded but not dead. Damn. You throw yourself forward over a heap of chopped up bodies and roll, coming to a halt only a few feet away from the two guys. Stupid newbies, they stayed close together instead of splitting up to cover a wider range. It’ll be the death of them now. You catch the sword thrown at you without looking and in one powerful sweep, you get rid of the last two assassins.
For a long second you stand there, sword still half raised, breathing hard, letting the death of so many people at your hand sink in. You wait for the guilt to slam into you.
All that comes is tired resignation and the sickly cloying smell of fresh blood.
When you turn around, Eric is still on the floor, sucking one of the dead men dry. You watch as a bullet wound in his shoulder heals over with spectacular speed and you feel only numbness.
He finally finishes and stands smoothly, full of energy. Someone else’s energy. He looks at you with eyes as bright as the ocean in the sun and you can read admiration in his head. He likes the look of you with a sword in your hand and blood on your shirt. He admires how you killed those men, like they were insects. Admires also that you didn’t even hesitate before saving his life.
Against you better judgement you find yourself smiling at him.
Then you look around at the bodies strewn throughout the room like broken Barbie dolls, and suddenly you’re very, very tired.
“Crap,” you say and risk a glance at your cheap watch. Shortly after midnight. You listen for anyone coming closer, but there’s nothing. You might just get away with this, if no-one’s called the cops yet. And in this area of town, that’s very likely. Almost automatically you start stripping of the flannel shirt you were wearing over a tank top. It’s stained to hell and, you notice, torn on one shoulder.
Checking for a wound on that shoulder is an afterthought and you frown at the graze you find. It’s still bleeding freely because the surface of the wound is big, even if it’s not deep. Double crap. With mechanic motions you clean off your daggers and the sword with the ruined shirt, before tucking them away. Then you collect your throwing knives and give them the same treatment. After that you make your way back behind the desk and find the first aid kit.
It’s better stocked than usual and even though you have to do it one handed, cleaning the wound and wrapping it up doesn’t take too long. The motion of it, the mindless repetition of familiar movements numbs your skull, helps you fortify yourself against the blood you just spilled, the lives you just took.
When you’re finished you return the kit to its proper place and wad up the shirt along with the cotton swabs and bloody gauze. In the small office behind the reception area you find a cabinet with cleaning supplies. Jackpot. You dig up a bottle of something so acidic it would probably eat the flesh off any human trying to use it, gloves or not. Demonic bleach. You’re messed up enough to chuckle at your own joke as you return to the lobby with your bounty and the soiled bandages and shirt.
You dump everything that has your DNA on it in a heap on the floor and liberally pour the bleach over it. Leave nothing behind. It’s a lesson you learned early on when they tried to use magic to track you. Once that’s done you set down the bottle and get to the nasty part of cleaning up.
You close your eyes tightly and take a deep breath before bending down and rolling the first Council flunky over to dig through his pockets for ID. Chances are nothing will come of it if the police uncovers the identity of the twelve armed, dead men, but you can never be too careful. Anything that throws the Council is worth digging through dead people’s pockets.
Every wallet and ID you find goes on the bleach pile. You’re almost done with that when Eric reappears. You hadn’t noticed he was gone. He’s pushing a serving cart piled high with liquor bottles. He looks around the room and nods approvingly at your little pile. His own ruined shirt lands on top of it. He’s already changed into a clean t-shirt with a bar logo on it and, as you find the last wallet, he hands you a black button down shirt.
You nod at him in thanks and put it on. It reaches to your knees, but it’s warm and it’s clean. It’s also loose enough to not stick to the wound on your shoulder. Plus points for that. You wonder if he offered the shirt just because, or if he’s trying to suck up to you. When you peek in his head, you find only a quick impression of how pathetically thin and cold you look in only a tank top and jeans that fit you once upon a time.
Pity. You grimace. The vampire spends a few minutes kicking corpses around the room, in order to hide what exactly happened where. Then you both start dousing bodies in liquor. When Eric makes his way behind the desk, you quickly snatch the bottle of Jack Daniels from him and glare.
He gets the hint and leaves you alone with Larry. You would like to put his limbs in order, maybe put his arms on his chest. The way it’s supposed to be. You lived in this hotel for almost two weeks and he was nice to you. Didn’t bitch to you about the rent and let you sneak breakfast for free a time or two. And now he’s dead. Because he was too nice to kick you out when he should have. You know you can’t set his body straight, because that will give things away, but you can do one thing for him. You can douse him yourself. It’s better than letting Eric do it because you liked Larry and Eric didn’t know him at all.
Once all the dead are drenched – you catch from Eric’s mind that he’s already taken care of everyone upstairs – you randomly throw bottles at the walls. Then you pick up your bag and with your new vampire buddy at your side, you walk out the front door.
For a minute you fumble with the cheap lighter you liberated from one of the bad guys before handing it off to Eric. Let him set the building on fire. You’ve had enough for tonight.
As the drapes in the lobby go up in flames and the first scream of awareness – “Shit, something’s burning, shit!” – rings through the night, you turn away. You’ve seen enough. You’re nineteen years old. You’ve been fighting for your live for four of those. The last one of those four years you’ve spent running for your life. Running, with other people’s hate and love and worries in your head, without money, or a goal, or hope. There was a moment tonight, sitting next to Larry, feeling like you were at the end of your rope, where you considered just standing up. Just walking around that damn desk, and letting them have you. No-one can run forever.
You’ve seen enough.
Eric is watching the spreading fire with something akin to glee. His people are avenged, the fight won. He’s victorious. But then he too, turns away from the fire and starts walking. Without thinking about it, you fall in step beside him. Whichever way he’s going is just fine with you for now. It’s not like you have places to be.
Your stomach rumbles again and he chuckles mentally. “Hey,” you say, and glare at him yet again.
He shakes his head and asks, “How exactly does this work?”
You don’t need to be a telepath to know what he’s asking and shrug. “It’s like… your mind is a book. I can read the page you’re on, but I can’t turn the page. I hear what you’re thinking right now. When I concentrate, I can write something on the open page. But it takes more energy than just reading. Get it?”
He looks thoughtful, then nods. You’ve had a while to come up with that metaphor. Lots of lonely daytime hours spent holed up in grimy motel rooms. Larry’s place was actually a step up from your usual fare. You were fed up with sharing the shower with cockroaches.
“Interesting,” the Viking finally mumbles into his nonexistent beard. You wonder, briefly, if he had one as a human, a beard. Didn’t Vikings have beards? You sneak a sideways glance at him and decide he would still have looked hot with a beard. Hell, he would probably look hot in fur underwear and a tutu. You think that you might need some sleep. Or something to pummel to work of the manic energy that’s still jittering in your guts, making you sick.
“How about,” he asks, distracting you, thank God, “I buy you dinner.”
“That depends,” you reply, keeping step with him and his long, long legs, “On whether or not you’ll make me dinner afterwards.”
Fair question. He’s a vampire. And while most vampires off the hellmouth are a lot like bloodthirsty humans with an edge, some are plain monsters. And they are all dangerous. Sure, you fought together. But there was the whole life and death thing and now that it’s over…
He stops your train of thought short by throwing back his head and laughing. And what a laugh it is. Oh, my. “If I intended to eat you, I would not feed you human food first. It spoils the taste. Besides, I was intending to make you a proposition. Business, yes?”
“Business?” you echo.
He nods and comes to a halt next to a car that’s shiny and small and probably costs more than everything you own and half a liver. “I want you to work for me. Use your… talents to help me run my businesses. Find out who my enemies are before they stake me in the back.”
Weeeeell, that doesn’t sound so bad. You’d have to work out what exactly would happen to people who tried to double-cross Mr. Eric the Northman because you won’t be responsible for a pile of slaughtered businessmen, but all in all…
“What’s in it for me?”
He looks down at you and in his head you feel a shrewd sense of respect growing. Not only are you a good fighter, but you also know how to bargain. You read how he dislikes trusting people, weak people. He didn’t survive a thousand years being weak and trusting. And he doesn’t surround himself with people like that either. Cut your losses and keep moving.
A true pragmatic. And where, a year ago, that would have disgusted you, now it only gives you a sense of comfort. Pragmatics are predictable. As long as you do nothing to harm them, they don’t harm you. Sure, they might just kill you, but they won’t do it for something as petty as dislike. You always know what to expect from them. That’s your spanking new kind of comfort.
“I can make you disappear. It’ll be like you never existed. The Council will not find you.”
Freedom. Peace. A chance to stop running. If he realizes that you’d really and truly sell your soul for that, he doesn’t let on. So you risk a look inside – somewhere a long the line the concept of privacy got kicked to the curb in favour of the concept of survival – and find that he does indeed know. He recognized it in you when you fought, read it in your thoughts when you let him in.
So you ask, “What do you get out of this?”
A shrug that could mean anything. “Like I said, a valuable employee.”
You roll your eyes and demand, “What else?”
Again he laughs. “Wench,” he calls you but there is a sense of fondness in his voice. You amuse him. Good to know.
“I get to claim having a slayer under me,” he waggles his eyebrows, heavy on the innuendo, “And I get to mess with the Council. Which is more appealing than you could imagine.”
A glimpse of someone burning on a stake, of thoughts of revenge and vengeance. He lost someone to them and old bones are the best to pick. Best served cold and all that. You feel yourself relax. His reasons are genuine and like you said, pragmatic people are predictable. Even if he has no use for you after a while, you will still be safe.
There’s really nothing to lose, is there?
So when he digs his keys out of a random pocket, unlocks the car and holds the passenger side door open for you, you hesitate only a moment.
He notices and cajoles, “At least have dinner with me.”
What the hell. You’re hungry.
So. Did it work?