Disclaimer: All characters are the property of CBS, UPN, Fox, Dark Horse Comics and IDW Comics. No profit is being made from this work of fanfiction.
Lyrics belong to The Eagles, from the Song Hotel California
****You can check out anytime you like
But you can never leave.
The Eagles, "Hotel California"
“Your mother would make a fortune if she moved out here,” Penny said to Leonard, chewing on her dumpling. “A whole section of California, remembering things that never happened,”
Losing months, but in fact, losing only a second…she had almost collapsed in hysterics, when she realized that everything that occurred, every last bloody, horrible event that transpired took place in the space of a single second.
***“You enjoyed some of it…you can lie to them, but you can’t lie to yourself sweetie.”
Leonard almost smiled as he fiddled with his food. Sheldon stared at him somewhat suspiciously, but continued picking at his Tangerine Chicken. Watching his fingers twitching restlessly, Penny knew he was only an inch away from reaching for a sword, to test if Leonard was indeed, human.
It had been two weeks since everything returned to status quo. Nothing had changed, and yet everything was fundamentally different. Sheldon now lay in bed with his shotgun leaning against the wall within arm’s reach. Beside him, Penny stayed up every night, fingers clasped loosely around her stake. In the silence, they could hear Leonard shuffling at this computer desk, trying to lose himself in some other online universe.
Sheldon hadn’t even touched a single computer or console game since the ‘reset’, as he referred to it. Penny suspected one alternate universe had been enough for him, for the rest of his life. She didn’t blame him.
***“Remember how alive you felt. Remember the thrill of the hunt, the pleasure in the…”“Shut up,”
Penny replied fiercely. Shut the hell up.”
Sometimes, when she blinked, she expected to be transported back to the warehouse, splitting into a billion particles of dust. Sheldon’s body would still be sprawled behind her, staring emptily into space. Instead, when she opened her eyes again, she found her body going through the routines of life. Watching television, waitressing, doing her nails…everything seemed normal, even if none of it felt real.
“Has anyone heard from Bernadette by the way?” she asked hopefully.
Howard peered at her out of red-rimmed eyes. There wasn’t any need to sit close to him to smell the scent of stale booze which clung to his clothing and his breath. Beside him, there was an empty seat that once belonged to Raj, who had taken the first flight out of LA available, back to Delhi. Penny would have envied him that privilege but for the incessant need to be within ten feet of Sheldon at all times.
“Guess she hasn’t been coming into work huh?” Leonard spoke up. His face crumpled into a tapestry of anguish as he added, “Leslie came in today. She tried to kill herself with acid she keeps in her lab…I tried to go see her at the hospital…Jesus Penny.” He couldn’t keep his sobs in as his chopsticks fell to the ground. “She saw my face and then she...”
Earlier, a girl had walked into the restaurant, taken one look at Penny and started screaming. The last time the blonde waitress had seen her was when she was draining the younger woman quickly and painfully, tearing at the soft flesh with glee, laughing cruelly at the agonizing pain she was inflicting. “She tasted so sweet, is what you really remember. The way her flesh parted like warm butter...”
Just the reminder made her put her food down on the coffee table. No matter what the state of reality was now, Penny had no doubt in her mind that everything that had happened was in fact, real…it sickened her every time, to remember how much she had enjoyed the way blood had slipped down her throat, filling her with an unimagined sense of power.“Tell me you don’t want to feel that way again,”
the demon in her head whispered to Penny in her own voice. “Tell me you don’t want that kind of high again, that you don’t want to feel like a God, the lives of these weak little humans in your hands. Remember how you owned the night, and feared nothing. It was better than sex, better than meth…the heat that flowed from their arteries, filling you with nothing but this fucking amazing…”
“I have to…I need to go.” She stood up abruptly. “Unless you like living like this. Pathetic waitress, talentless hack, whore…”
Barely a minute later, Sheldon stood up, following her back to her own home, leaving Leonard and Howard staring at the food getting cold in front of them.
It was only a few days later when Spike appeared once more, this time, on television.
“Oh my God.” Penny said, mouth agape.
“It appears that the age of ignorance of what ‘goes bump in the night’ is absolutely over.” Sheldon observed, as the gossip channel ran a report in regards to the peroxide blonde’s latest hijinks.
“This is going to make his head swell to the size of…well, his ego is going to be about the same size as Sheldon’s, really.” Penny joked.
To her surprise, almost everyone in the room smiled.
“I don’t think that’s possible.” Leonard let out a small laugh.
“If you are inferring that I have a high opinion of myself, let me remind you…” Sheldon Cooper launched into a mini-rant about his high regard for Sheldon Cooper.
When she caught his eye, she could see that he didn’t really mean anything he was saying at all. What he was really trying to do was to force some normalcy back into their lives. She loved him, more than she had ever loved anyone in her life, but it still hurt that he had lost an innocence she didn’t expect she’d miss.
“Who is this guy?” Howard asked unexpectedly. Everyone froze. It was the first time he had spoken in days, and his voice seemed rusty with disuse.
“He kind of helped some survivors. We used to do re-con missions together, him and I.” Penny said at last, leaving out the part where he took both herself and Sheldon out.
“He’s a good vampire?” Howard asked in disbelief.
“And you did what?” Leonard sounded impressed.
“Yeah. He’s…got a soul or something. Like this other vampire apparently!” Penny pointed at the screen where the vampire Angel was currently being featured.
“Jesus. Everything’s gone nuts.” Leonard muttered, staring at the coverage.
She didn’t know how to respond because he was right.
CNN started talking about the Slayer Army. Not just one Slayer, as Penny had once understood it, but hundreds, maybe thousands of them, apparently hell-bent on humanity’s destruction.
MTV launched the Harmony Bites reality program, and the world watched and cheered as she murdered a Slayer on live TV in the middle of the mansion they had given her. All around, well-dressed young people trying to get famous clapped enthusiastically, eager to get close to the demon.
Suddenly, vampires were misunderstood victims of society, driven underground by the vicious presence of the slayers, by discrimination and ignorance. They weren’t so different from humans, the papers stated; they just wanted to live in peace, be left alone…just because they lived on blood, didn’t mean they enjoyed killing.“The killing’s only half the fun anyway. If you do it right, you could make them scream for hours. Remember when you first awoke, the first thing you saw…remember how you made the boy scream, and scream, even after you’d skinned his arms and ripped apart his face…ah the sound of bones cracking…nothing quite like it is there, as they shatter under your bare hands…”
That was the definitive moment when she realized that they hadn’t yet escaped hell. No, they were simply sliding back in at a much slower pace.“And I’ll be waiting for you babe. It’ll be just like old times.”
He kissed her long and ardently, savouring the slide of her lips against his, the way her body moved under his hands. Slowly, he eased her sweater off, taking care to brush his finger tips against her shoulder blades. Caressing the angles and curves of her body, he lost himself in the cadence of her breathe, the softness of her being.
Sheldon took his time with her, the way he never could have in that other place, where every second lost could have meant the difference between now and eternity. He lingered, kissing and nipping softly, until she was arching against his mouth, begging him to stop his teasing.
After, as they lay in her bed, he looked worriedly at her distant gaze. It wasn’t that he doubted the way she felt about him. How could he? Even as a demon, even with the loss of her soul, her first thought had been of him, of rescuing and comforting him.
As his fingers intertwined with hers, he couldn’t keep at bay, the fear that he might lose her yet.
“We don’t have to do this.” Sheldon said quietly. He was wearing a nice shirt for once, and it didn’t have a single Marvel character printed on it.
“I can’t not.” Penny said, taking one last glance through her purse. She looked resplendent in her strapless dress, her golden hair hanging loose over her tanned shoulders.
“We can drive away…let someone else take care of this problem.” He continued.
“Sheldon…” she sighed. “You don’t have to come with me. This is something I have to do. I don’t want you getting hurt because I’ve suddenly developed an overwhelmingly stupid hero complex.”
“You’re not even a Slayer. She’s killed one of them. Do you know what she can do to you?” he asked harshly, staring straight ahead.
“Sure.” Penny shrugged, trying to mask her nerves. “But what can she do to me that I’ve never been through before?”
“I’ve never actually said it.” He breathed. “But you already know this: I love you. I lost you once, and that was more than I could bear. If I have to see it happen again…”
“I love you too. Watching you die was the worst thing that could have happened to me…” she murmured. “And this was after I got killed.”
He leaned over, his fingers tangling in her hair as he smashed his lips against hers.
“Promise me you’ll stay strong.” He demanded breathlessly.
“You promise me the same.” She held him close, wishing that life had turned out different. That she could walk away from this.
Someone tapped on their window. It was Leonard, indicating that the doors to Harmony’s mansion were open, and it was time.
With one last kiss, the couple stepped out of their car.
To their surprise, they were greeted by the sight of Spike leaning against a black DeSoto parked not far away.
“Did you nits think I was going to miss something like this?” he asked.
“How did you know?” Penny asked, not exactly unhappy to see him, not exactly pleased either.
“Your friend there, Wonder Geek 2.0.” he nodded towards Leonard who shifted awkwardly. “He found me using some…techy method.”
“Let’s face it – we don’t stand a chance without some serious muscle.” Leonard sounded guilty.
Sheldon fell in step with Leonard as they started walking towards the front gates of the mansion where Howard waited, looking so awkward he seemed almost normal.
“How do you do it?” Penny asked Spike after a beat, as they followed a small distance behind.
“Do what luv?” he asked.
“You have a soul, and you have a demon. How do you live every day not going mad, listening to its voice?” she questioned.
“Truth is, I almost did go mad.” He sighed, and stopped walking, turning to face her. “Pet, you don’t have a demon inside your head. What you’re hearing…that’s just an echo. It’s not too late to turn around, if this is some stupid suicide attempt because you’re trying to shut out that voice…”
Penny looked at the three young men ahead. Howard, the lost but unbroken boy; Leonard, forever trying to be someone’s hero…and Sheldon, who held her heart in his slender fingers. Her boys, she thought.
She remembered the faces of those she had murdered in another lifetime, the scarred visage of Leslie Winkle in this one.
“Don’t be stupid.” She said, flipping her hair back. “This isn’t about me. This is about staking a vamp in tacky shoes.”
“Come on,” Penny announced loudly and brightly. “I aim to misbehave.”The End.