Buffy’s hotel room was small and plain. Cheap and clean. The bed Buffy was sitting on, legs curled under her, was a little lumpy, but it wasn’t too bad. Willow sat across the room - not that that was far away at all, more like four feet - in the room’s one chair, reading the pages Buffy had written from memory by the light of the lamp. After a few minutes of page flipping, she turned wide eyes on her friend.
“Buffy! This wouldn’t work at all! You might’ve even blown some stuff up…”
“Oh… maybe I wrote it down wrong…” Buffy said, shoulders slumping.
“It’d have to be really, really
wrong. But I don’t think it is,” she hurried to add at Buffy’s disgruntled look. “It’s just so way off, I’m thinking it’s probably a dimensional thing. Spells that work here, won’t necessarily work the same over there and vice versa.”
“Oh yeah, Amelia did say something about that,” Buffy said, nodding. “Wait, does this mean I can’t get back?”
Disappointment rolled over her much more strongly than she was prepared for. She’d gotten her hopes up, never a good thing…
“No, no, not at all,” Willow rushed to assure her. “I can open a portal for you. But, I’d like to try something different if that’s okay with you?”
Buffy’s eyes narrowed warily. “No offense Will, but sometimes your spell experimenting doesn’t go all that great…”
“I haven’t messed up a spell in a long time,” Willow said giving a hurt little pout, which flipped to earnest excitement a second later. “I learned how to make a kind of permanent portal while I was in Belize! A link between worlds that can be opened and closed at will. Then you can come and go as you want!”
“Seriously?” Buffy asked, getting excited all over again. “I can just go there and come back whenever?”
“Well, not ‘whenever’. It’s still a portal, so it’s dangerous to use it too much. And it’s still going to give you that not so fun dimension hopping headache I’m sure you’re familiar with.”
Buffy nodded. She’d felt pretty crappy when she’d landed back in her home dimension, but it hadn’t lasted very long. It actually hadn’t been much worse than her hangover earlier in the day.
“But it’ll make things a lot easier,” Willow went on. “You won’t have to set up spell ingredients or do any chanting or anything like that when you want to come back. And, no offense, but since you’re not really magically inclined, I think this would be safer.”
Buffy wasn’t going to argue with that one. If it hadn’t been for Amelia and Willow stepping in each of these time, she probably would’ve blown herself up by now.
“Great! So what do we have to do to make this portal-in-a-pocket thingy?” Buffy said, sliding her legs out from under her to rest on the ground and leaning forward eagerly. This was the perfect solution! She could hang out in the other dimension and pop back over here every once in a while, check on Dawn, make sure every one was okay, check in so no one worried.
Willow, catching the excitement, leaned forward too. “We’re going to make you a talisman. We’ll take an item from this world and an item from that world and-”
Buffy deflated fast. She hadn’t even thought
of that part. Even if Amelia’s spell could’ve worked here, it still wouldn’t have because Buffy didn’t have anything from there.
“I don’t have anything,” she said morosely. “I had the clothes I was wearing but they got torn up and stained fighting a den of Thr’klr demons. And I had some cash, but I spent it.”
“Buffy, the economic balance is very delicate. You can’t just-”
“Chill Will, it was like thirty bucks. I don’t think that’ll topple the economy,” Buffy said, grinning a little at Willow’s responsible outrage.
“Oh, well, anyway, without an item from there, I can’t direct the other end of the portal, it won’t know where to go… Are you sure there’s nothing else? It doesn’t have to be big, it can be a hair or-”
Buffy jumped up, snatched her purse from the bedside table and dumped its contents out on the bed.
“Nipple? You have a nipple in your purse from another dimension?!” Willow squeaked.
“Uh huh,” she said, still digging. Where was that thing… Her old purse had gotten a big blood stain on it so she’d had to throw it out, but she hadn’t gone through its contents, just dumped them from one bag to the other.
“Um, I think I’m changing my mind about this being a good thing,” Willow was saying nervously. “I mean, if this is the kind of place where people collect nipples, then-”
“Ah ha!” Buffy shouted, grabbing the tiny brown wooden nub from where it was laying next to some lip gloss.
“Ew, ew, ew,” Willow said backing away as Buffy came toward her with the object. “I don’t want- Hey, it’s wood…”
“Duh,” Buffy said with a grin and an eye roll. She was feeling optimistic again now that she’d found the nipple. She went on to explain about the fertility statue, after which Willow also had to point out that she was probably never going to have kids for defiling such an item.
Morning had come and gone by then and Willow left, back to the creepy alley magic shop to find the items she’d originally come to New Orleans for and to get whatever else she needed to send Buffy off. Buffy used the time to gather up her stuff and call Dawn. Her sister had been suspicious when she’d first told her she’d be traveling around and might not call for a while. But when Buffy started stammering when Dawn asked if a guy was involved, Dawn just gave a little squeal and told her not to worry about it, to go off and have fun. Buffy felt a little guilty when she hung up, she hadn’t lied
but she hadn’t exactly told her sister her traveling would be in a different dimension. She had a feeling Dawn might not have been so gung-ho had she shared that little piece of info.
She didn’t bother calling Xander or Giles. They wouldn’t be expecting to hear from her this soon anyway. Calling now would be like a red flag to them that something was going on. Plus she didn’t talk to them nearly as often as she talked to Dawn, so she wasn’t too worried about them freaking if they didn’t hear from her for a while. If this portal thing worked, she could just pop back over in a month or two, check on everybody and no one would be the wiser.
Buffy was all packed up when Willow got back that afternoon, looking tired but pleased. It hit Buffy then that Will hadn’t gotten any sleep last night. She’d stayed up to talk to Buffy and help her with this. Where Buffy was used to sleepless nights, she was sure Willow wasn’t. At least not these days. She probably spent her nights curled up with Kennedy, sleeping in late. She felt a wash of affection for her old friend, followed by sadness that things couldn’t be the way they’d been before.
“All done!” Willow said, waving a little box in the air as she closed the door behind her.
Stopping in front of Buffy, she lifted the top to show a fat silver ring with the little wooden nipple set into the center. Picking it up gingerly, she could see runes etched on both on the inside and outside of the band. It smelled of faintly of lavender and something spicy.
“It’s a nipple ring. Get it, nipple ring,” Willow giggled.
Buffy snorted. “When you get back to Kennedy, please don’t tell her you were helping me with a nipple ring. I’ll have her after my head.”
Willow’s eyes went a little wide, “Good idea…”
“So, what do I do with this? Just put it on and tap my heels three times?”
“Not quite, but it’s almost as easy. Just spin it twice - clockwise for this dimension, counter for the other, and picture the place you want to arrive at clearly in your head. It has to be somewhere you’ve been before, that you can see a picture of in your mind as it was seen with your own eyes. And obviously you want it to be somewhere pretty unpopulated. You wouldn’t want to pop up in the middle of a busy sidewalk.”
“That’s it?” Buffy asked, completely surprised it was so simple.
“That’s it. But remember what I told you - dimensional travel is tough on the body, so don’t use it too much. No hopping back and forth every week. Or even every other week. Your Slayer healing power might help or it might just mask whatever damage is being done. So don’t take any risks, okay? Use it in moderation and you should be fine.”
Buffy gave a nod of understanding and slipped the ring on. It was a perfect fit. She gave a wide grin to Willow and then in a moment of elation and gratefulness, hugged her tightly.
“Thanks, Will. Thank you so much,” she whispered.
Willow hugged her back just as tightly. “I want you to be happy, Buffy. Promise me you’ll be happy.”
“I’m working on it,” she said, pulling back and smiling at her friend again.
“So, wanna give it a try?” Willow asked, gesturing at the ring.
“Uh, okay, sure,” Buffy said, suddenly a little nervous now that the time had arrived for her to go back. “Where should we go?”
“Right here is fine,” Willow said with a wave at the hotel room. “The portal’s pretty small, and at least this is private.”
“Oh, I haven’t checked out yet,” Buffy waffled, nerves growing by the second.
“I’ll take care of it,” Willow said with a tiny quirk of her lips, well aware that Buffy was stalling.
Sucking up her resolve, Buffy straightened her shoulders and took a deep breath, gave Willow one last look and spun the ring counter-clockwise twice, picturing the graveyard where Alter Marie Laveau’s tomb was. She’d expected to do it wrong, for it to take a few tries to get it right, but the portal popped up in the space in front of the bed immediately.
“Holy crap,” Buffy squeaked, completely unprepared.
“The portal will only stay active for sixty seconds,” Willow said, speaking a little louder since the glowing pink pool gave off a slightly high pitched whine.
Buffy gave a little nod, eyes still locked on the portal, her way back.
A hand on her shoulder shook her out of her daze. “Good luck, Buffy. Call me when you come back, okay?”
Buffy smiled and gave Willow a nod and another quick hug. Then she snatched her bag off the bed and stepped through the swirling pink light.*******
Fiery air rushed into her lungs in a hot gasp. Orange, pink and purple swirled and rocked above her while her stomach cramped up. The pain and disorientation went as soon as it came though, leaving Buffy laying on the grass blinking up at a sky lit with the colors of sunset. Tipping her head to the side, she let out a sigh of relief at the sight of Marie Laveau’s tomb. Seemed like Willow’s portal ring worked just fine, even if it did pack a bit of a punch.
With a slight grunt of effort, she pulled herself to her feet and grabbed her bag, feeling better but still a little shaky. That too was gone by the time she reached the exit to the cemetery. There she stopped, wondering where to go. She didn’t have her key cards, so she couldn’t go to her apartment - if it really was even still hers. Despite Sophie-Anne’s claim that her job and apartment would be waiting on her if she wanted to come back, she found it hard to believe the queen would just let it sit, unoccupied, for an indefinite amount of time. Then again, what else did vampires have but
Deciding that even if her apartment was waiting on her, it would be pointless to go there without her keys (she didn’t want to get sliced and diced by whatever mysterious security measures they had set up after all), she turned down the sidewalk and headed toward Sophie-Anne’s compound.
With every step she felt the tension drop out of her. Which was completely weird since she was virtually surrounded by vampires at every sunless moment in this dimension - her Slayer senses were already kicking into overdrive as the vamps woke with the setting of the sun. But it felt good, that tingle of awareness and adrenaline. Much better than the listlessness and boredom of before.
The human guards of the day had already been replaced by the night guards by the time Buffy reached the queen’s walled estate. She noticed right off that Rasul wasn’t there with a pang of disappointment, so she was anticipating an awkward explanation and trying to get them to believe that Sophie-Anne really would want to talk to her. Luckily it didn’t come to that. One of the guards recognized her and let her right in, much to her relief.
It was quiet inside, but a note of tension was hanging in the air. Vampires that passed her eyed her distrustfully, bodies stiff and eyes watchful. She didn’t have any problems though, not until she reached Sophie-Anne’s office that is. There the two guards whose names she couldn’t quite remember (she wanted to call them Bert and Ernie, but had a feeling that wasn’t quite right) refused to let her in and then demanded to search her.
“Are you serious?” She asked, her aggravation climbing. “You've seen me here before. You know who I am.”
“You have been gone for months,” the one on the right said, his hand resting on his axe. “You may have been working for the enemy.”
“What enemy?” She asked, totally confused.
“We must search your things,” the other insisted.
“Fine. But your not going to like what you find in there.”
She dropped the bag and took a step back, crossing her arms as they unzipped the top and started digging things out. What came out was a procession of knives, bras, stakes, underwear, two swords, some fashionable clothes, an axe (which they admired, but still glared at) and a pair of super cute boots. The stuff was scattered all around on the floor, one of the giants holding a bra, the other untangling a pair of undies from a mace, when Sophie-Anne opened the door.
She took in the scene with a slight eyebrow twitch, which she rubbed at with two fingers, eyes closed as if she were fighting for patience.
“Put her things away,” she said, her voice low and tightly restrained as she looked at her guards. They did so quickly with slightly wide eyes. “Now give her bag back to her.” They opened their mouths like they were going to argue, but she stopped their words by merely narrowing her eyes a fraction. They handed Buffy her bag back. “Now, I want you stand out here and not make another sound. Do you understand?” Once they nodded, she turned her attention to Buffy . “Please, come in.”
Buffy watched the whole thing with both fascination and curiosity, wondering what the hell had been going on since she’d been gone. Sophie-Anne gracefully seated herself behind the desk while Buffy plopped down across from her, dropping her bag on the floor with a muted clang.
“So what’s the what with the bizarro security check?” She asked with a head nod toward the door.
“Your reappearance is timely,” the queen answered, her mouth curled down. “There have been numerous reports that Russell Edgington, whom you might remember is the king of Mississippi, is making some move against me. Unfortunately, all these are unsubstantiated rumors. We have no proof nor any exact idea of what he may be planning, if anything at all.”
"Want me to find out what the sitch is?"
Excitement beat against Buffy’s breastbone. After two months of pretty much zilch in the Slayage department, she was looking forward to some pulse pounding action again. Not that she was planning on just going out and beating the information out of somebody. Okay, so maybe she was.
Sophie-Anne shook her head slightly and blew out a little air, which Buffy thought might’ve been a laugh. “Rasul was right, you certainly are amusing. But yes, I would like you to go to Mississippi and see what you can find. That is if you are in fact back to refill your position…”
“I am. If I can,” she added hurriedly. “I’d like my job back, if it’s still open.”
“And my apartment…”
Sophie-Anne pulled open a drawer and after some sifting pulled out a stack of cards and a key in a plastic baggy.
“Also still yours,” she said, handing it over. “I keep my word, Buffy.”
“Thank you,” Buffy answered, making sure to look the queen right in the eye so she knew she was genuinely thankful. After a brief flash of surprise, Sophie-Anne gave a tiny nod. “When did you want me to leave for Mississippi?”
“Tomorrow. The sooner we put a stop to this nonsense, the better. I’ll have someone bring you all the information you’ll need along with your IDs tomorrow morning.”
“Sounds good,” Buffy said, standing and scooping up her bag. “I’ll let you know as soon as I find out anything.”
Sophie-Anne gave another nod and turned her attention back to her papers, silently dismissing Buffy. Out in the hall, she had to rein in the desire to stick her tongue out at the burly bodyguards as she left. She managed to keep her tongue in check but couldn’t stop the little smirk from slipping out. One of them gave a barely audible growl which prompted Sophie-Anne to snap “Sigebert!” from within the office. They both dropped their eyes and went still and silent after that.
Buffy slipped out the back gate and turned down the sidewalk, whistling a little tune as she went. The meeting with the queen had gone far more easily than she'd thought it would. No probing questions or anger over her sudden departure. Just acceptance. Probably because Sophie-Anne didn't care about where she'd been or what she'd been doing as long as she was useful to her now, but Buffy wasn't going to complain. Here she was, back for less than an hour and already she felt more alive than she had in the last two months at home. She had her place back, her job, and a new mission. Things were looking up.
Twenty minutes later she got off the elevator and walked past the paintings and flowers toward the familiar “H” labeled door. She paused with the key in the lock and looked over at “G”, wondering if Rasul was in. There were too many vampires on the floor to pinpoint any one, but she could just knock… In the end she decided she’d shower and change first, then pay him a visit. Maybe take him out and buy him a bottle of blood to try and smooth things over. The fact that he might be mad at her sat heavily on her.
With one last glance at Rasul’s door, she turned the key and pushed the door open, prepared to see her “mancave” that she’d never gotten around to redecorating. What she got was something else entirely. Staring wide eyed into the apartment, she stepped back to double check that she had the right one (which was stupid, she realized a split second later, because the key wouldn’t have worked otherwise). Her next thought was that Goldilocks had been in her place, but instead of just sleeping in her bed, she’d redecorated.
She tried to scowl, angry about her own metaphor - if anyone was supposed to be Goldilocks, it was her, with the vamps as the bears. Except she wasn’t sleeping in their beds. Well, sometimes she was. Moving on… She tried
to be irritated, but when faced with the elegant girliness, just couldn’t find it in her. It was so pretty
The furniture was still low slung and modern, but instead of black, it was white with big black and white puffy pillows all over. A large painting of a cherry blossom tree, done all in black, white and bright pink, took up the wall to the left and the huge windows were framed with light gauzy white curtains instead of the heavy black that had been there before.
Dropping her bag and moving further in with her mouth hanging open, she saw the kitchen was much the same, but the dining room had a sleek black table and chairs set with bright pink place mats and a vase of white daisies in the middle. Above it hung a little girly black and white sparkling chandelier. Moving back through the living room so she could see the bedroom she was stopped by the area rug. Black and white swirls danced across it, giving it energetic vibe. It was beautiful, but that wasn’t what her attention was caught by. It was the little bright pink figures dancing through the pattern.
“You kept talking about the damn things when we went out that last night you were here,” a gruff voice said from behind her.
She spun to see Rasul standing by the front door which she’d forgotten to close. His hands stuffed in his pockets while he pointedly looked at anything but her.
“You did this?” She asked, completely blown away.
He gave a shrug. “I saw the rug, thought you’d like it. It just kind of grew from there. Thought maybe you might want to stick around a little longer the next time if you had a nicer place.”
A lump formed in Buffy’s throat, refusing to go down even after she swallowed heavily.
“That’s not why I- I mean, when I-” She took a deep breath and finally just smiled at him. “It’s amazing. But it’s even better seeing you again.”
He looked up, dark eyes locking on hers before he broke out in a small, fangy grin. “Glad you're back. Things were boring around here.”
She laughed and with a few long strides was hugging him. He was still and stiff for a moment before he returned the hug. Her ribs creaked a little from the pressure, but she didn’t complain.
“If you bite me, I’ll kill you,” she said, her voice hiccupping slightly.
“Just a little?”
Yep, it was good to be back.