“He just yanked him out of the car?!” Amelia asked, leaning forward over the table in rapt attention.
Buffy nodded, fishing another cheese puff out of the bag between them and popping it in her mouth.
A knock at the door to the little back room they were sitting in interrupted her and she finished chewing her puff as she watched a girl with long dark hair poke her head in. Amelia's eyes never left Buffy, silently begging her to forget the intrusion and continue dishing out the dirt.
“Amelia, your five o’clock is here,” the girl said, then disappeared back into the store.
“Looks like we’ll have to finish this later,” Buffy said, grabbing up the bag of cheesy goodness and brushing few stray crumbs off the table.
“What?! Wait! You can’t just leave me hanging like that! Then what happened?”
“Don’t let your client hear you say that. You’re supposed to be the one that already knows what happened, remember Fortune Girl?”
“Reading a fortune doesn't mean I know exactly what has, or will, happen,” Amelia said, but she kept her voice low and threw a glance at the door anyway.
“You can hear the rest of my drama later,” Buffy said, grabbing her coat off the back of her chair with the hand not holding the puffs and heading out of the back room. “It’s not worth losing business over.”
“Hey, do you have plans tonight?” Amelia called right as Buffy reached the door, her voice hesitant, almost shy.
Buffy only needed to think about it for a fraction of a second. She hadn’t had plans for the past three weeks she’d been back in New Orleans, why would tonight be any different?
Oh yeah, it was New Years…
“Nope,” she said morosely, lamenting her lack of social life. “None at all.”
Christmas had even come and gone with out any kind of big to-do. She’d thought about going home, even though she hadn’t been back in this world yet for the required amount of time or whatever before she was allowed to dimension hop again, but decided against it. She didn’t really have anywhere to go. Dawn had told her on her last visit that she was going to spend Christmas with her boyfriend’s family in Florence. She was sure Willow and Kennedy would be together where ever they were. And even though she loved Xander and Giles dearly, she doubted there’d be much celebrating at Slayer Central. So, she’d just decided to stay. She could just send them all belated gifts on her next visit.
Thinking of gifts brought to mind the beautiful flowers Eric had sent her for Christmas - two dozen roses mixed with holly. There'd also been a little gift basket with Listerine, a brush and a pack of ponytail holders, which had made her laugh and kept a smile on her face for days afterwards.
Rasul, even though things were still a little strained between them, had brought over a little tree and an ass-load of decorations, then stayed to help her decorated it. A peace offering of sorts that she'd greatly appriciated. So Christmas hadn’t been a complete wash.
New Years however…
“Well, I’m… well, I could kinda use your help on something I’m working on if you’re not busy,” Amelia said, pulling her out of her thoughts.
“Sure, sure, you just want the rest of the dirt,” Buffy answered with a grin.
“That too,” Amelia smiled back. “Meet me here at dark?”
“Kay,” she said, tossing a wave over her shoulder as she stepped out of the room. “See ya then.”
She passed Amelia’s client on the way out, an austere looking grey haired woman that looked like she would not have been happy if she’d had to wait. Buffy gave her a wide berth and went up to the counter, handing the bag of cheesy puffs to the dark haired cashier.
“Why don’t you keep these back there, Melanie. They can keep you and Amelia from going comatose when things get slow.”
“Thanks, Buffy,” Melanie said with a laugh, tucking the bag behind the counter.
“No prob,” she said, giving the girl a wave and turned away.
The Genuine Magic Shop had become a haunt for Buffy for the last few weeks since she’d returned from Jackson. Sophie-Anne, not happy that Buffy had been seen by Edgington’s people, who were “running around like their ant hill got kicked” according to Eric, had put Buffy on a kind of house arrest. She wasn’t to leave the city until things had settled. So that gave her some time to get back to the magic shop and pay the witch a visit.
Amelia had been over the moon excited to see her - blasting her with questions about the other dimension and what had happened. Buffy had answered… very carefully
. She liked Amelia, but she wasn’t ready to tell her the other dimension she’d been to was actually the one she was from. She settled on just saying it was almost exactly like this one. She’d also left out that she could travel there by will now that she had the ring (a ring she made sure to take off and tuck in her pocket whenever she visited in case Amelia could recognize it for what it was), just told her she’d found a witch there that helped her get back.
She’d just gotten to the point of trusting the other girl enough to get into more personal things. Like the fight with Eric and Rasul. She hadn’t told her they were vampires yet, but it was still nice to have someone to talk to about it. Especially since things with Rasul were so weird these days.
She gave a little growl at the thought and a lady passing her with her dog yelled at it and apologized, thinking it had been the one that growled. Great, now she was getting innocent dogs in trouble… But really it was hard not to growl when she thought about the events in the parking garage when she’d gotten back.
After Buffy had watched Eric get yanked from his seat, she’d sat there for a full five seconds gaping like a fish at the empty space. A vicious snarl and an impact against the side of car that had sent it rocking had been what spurred her into movement. Out of the car she’d found Rasul, fangs out and looking furious as he stared at Eric. The amused smirk that he seemed to carry everywhere had still played on Eric’s face as he stared back, but the look in his eyes and the feeling in the air around him told that he was a hair’s breath away from violence.
“Northman, you do not
have permission to be in this city,” Rasul had said, his voice nearly unintelligible with fury. His fangs out so far they were dimpling his lower lip when he spoke.
Eric had then commented that as a lowly guard, it wasn’t Rasul’s place to question the movements of a Sherriff. Which had prompted Buffy to get between them and blurt out that Eric had come with her after helping with a job. Rasul had shot back that “helping with a job” didn’t involve fucking in a parking garage. Buffy had been too shocked to say anything to that, but Eric hadn’t had that problem. He’d stepped up behind her, the heat of his fury beating against her back as he’d hissed, “Watch how you speak to my future lover”.
It seemed like bloodshed was imminent after that declaration, but Buffy, finally finding her tongue had vowed to kick both their asses if they started fighting again. And she’d meant it wholeheartedly. Both had still seemed pissed, but neither was willing to make a move with her between them. When Rasul had turned away, saying he’d talk to the Queen about this, Buffy had sent an alarmed, then apologetic, look at Eric, mouthing “I’ll take care of this”, before rushing off to intercept Rasul.
He’d still been furious, but she’d managed to coax him into not going to the Queen about Eric. He’d looked so torn when he realized that saying something would get her in trouble as well - Rasul was far from stupid and had immediately read between the lines, figuring out that Buffy had told some lie to Sophie-Anne that Eric’s presence, if revealed, would unravel.
It hadn’t really
been a lie, she’d defended. Okay, so maybe it was a little lie-y. But mostly it was just a relay of events a little… out of order…
But after she’d convinced him to stay quiet about Eric’s arrival in the city with her, he’d went off about how “Northman can’t be trusted” and “stay away from him”. Which had raised Buffy’s hackles in turn. It had cumulated in a shouting match in her apartment where she told him in no uncertain terms that it was none of his damn business, that she didn’t need his permission or approval on her friend choices.
They hadn’t spoken for a few days after that. And Buffy had hated it, but she refused to apologize. She didn’t have anything to apologize for
. It was nice that he was looking out for her or whatever, but he was just being ridiculous trying to dictate who she should speak to with that “I know best” attitude.
Plus, complicating matters, there was that little niggling thought that it had almost felt more like he was jealous
than anything else. And if he was
jealous and not just protective? Buffy just wasn’t sure how to feel about that. Was it a friend thing? A possessive vampire thing? Or something… else
. Yep, she definitely needed another woman’s perspective on this.
Things were better between her and Rasul now. Fences were being slowly mended day after day. But the awkwardness still sat between her and her vampire friend like a five hundred pound woman in a leopard printed muumuu - you didn’t want to face it directly, but it was very obviously there.
Things with Eric, on the other hand, were going pretty well. She couldn’t help the small smile that worked its way on her face at the thought of the big blond vampire as she turned toward some cute little boutiques in the French Quarter, intending on killing some time with shopping while she waited until it was time to meet Amelia.
Eric had somehow found out which apartment was hers and sent a note from The Blood, the hotel he stayed in that night they came back from Jackson, giving her his cell number and the number to Fangtasia and telling her he was going back the following night. She’d been a little disappointed (okay, more than a little) but had understood. Despite his words to Rasul, it really would've beeen bad if Sophie-Anne had found out he was in town instead of in Shreveport, where he was supposed to be looking out for Edgington’s attack on Bill and Sookie.
She’d called him the following night, using the excuse that she wanted to check on Bill and Sookie. He’d told her there had indeed been some Weres waiting at Sookie’s house, not in really in connection to Edgington, but it had still been lucky he’d sent Pam and a few of his people to check on things anyway. She hadn’t asked for details about how they’d been dealt with.
They’d only talked once since then - she didn't want to seem too interested, like she was desperate for his attention or anything, and honestly, she was still pretty unsure what was going on and if it was a good idea to pursue anything with him.
He’d sent her a note with the Christmas gift asking that she call him once her house arrest was up. Then he called two days ago, apparently impatient and seeing if she could leave New Orleans yet - again asking that she call him when she could. She wondered if he just wanted to see her or if he wanted to keep track of what Sophie-Anne was up to. It was probably both.
In any case, she wanted to see him too, but didn’t think about asking him to come there. Things with Rasul were just starting to settle, she didn’t want to stir them up again. Would she actually call him when she could leave the city? She wasn’t sure… She did know she wanted to see him again though. And soon.*****
Fangtasia was already packed and they had just opened. People where lined up at the door and at the bar to see the vampires up close. Everywhere he looked, he saw dollar signs. It was a good night.
“I still can’t believe you let him just pull you out of the car like that,” Pam said out of nowhere, instantly souring Eric’s mood.
“And I should’ve done what exactly? Killed him? Her 'friend'
?” He asked shooting her a scalding glare and wishing for the thousandth time that he hadn’t shared that particular detail with his second.
“I didn’t say you made the wrong choice, I just said I still couldn’t believe it. I must meet this girl if she’s responsible for you allowing some security guard to put his hands on you without any repercussions.”
“He’s a personal guard for the queen,” Eric said, tone bored as his eyes went back to roaming the crowd. “There would’ve been repercussions if I’d attacked him whether she had anything to do with it or not.”
“Yes, but you would’ve figured on being able to explain yourself out of any trouble with Sophie-Anne. Apparently that’s not the case with this girl.”
Eric gave a little humorless huff. “She would not
have been very forgiving, of that I’m sure.”
When there was no answer from Pam, he turned to see her watching him strangely.
“What is it about her?” She asked seriously.
He shrugged and turned back to the crowd.
How could he explain it to her when he couldn’t even explain it to himself? All the old reasons still held - she was unbelievably fast and strong for a human, her usefulness knew no bounds. But after spending time with her, there was something else growing, a reason superseding the previous ones.
A reason he didn’t want to think about or give name to.
Apparently realizing she wasn’t going to get an answer out of him (yet anyway, he wasn‘t foolish enough to think this was the last he‘d ever hear of it), Pam moved on to another topic.
“What are we going to do about the witches?”
Eric’s mood soured further. The new coven of witches in town were a problem. They wanted fifty percent of Fangtasia’s income or they were going to make things “difficult”. And he had no doubt they could. With a coven as powerful as this one working against him, Fangtasia would be out of business within a month. They also said they’d accept a large lump sum instead of a percentage of the club's take, but Eric wasn’t stupid enough to think that would be the end of it. If he paid them a large chunk of money now, they’d just come back for more later, agreement or no.
“I haven’t decided,” he said flatly.
What he really wanted was to just kill them all and be done with it. But he needed more time to plan an assault like that. More allies so his people wouldn’t be the ones falling on the front lines. As little as he liked the idea, he might just have to pay them to buy himself that time to plan.
“You should stop brooding about that girl and the guard and focus more on the issues at hand,” Pam said bluntly before leaving him.
He watched her saunter away, drawing the attention of all the fangbangers in the vicinity as she went. His enjoyment in watching the money flow in spoiled, Eric left the main bar for his office in the back - his mind turning back to Buffy before he’d even made it ten feet. Pam had a point, of course. He absolutely should
be concentrating on what to do about the witches, not thinking about a little blond that drove like a maniac and made up her own words as she went.
But that guard being near her even now bothered him more than he wanted to admit. It preyed on his mind, eating up his attention and refusing to be pushed away. Though Buffy had said they were currently not on good terms with each other, it still sat in his thoughts, festering. Maybe she was blind to Rasul’s intentions toward her, but Eric knew a possessive rage when he saw one. That filth thought of Buffy as his and there was nothing Eric wanted more than to go there and prove that assumption wrong.
And now she was avoiding him.
She said she couldn’t leave New Orleans - Sophie-Anne’s orders. But was that all there really was to it? He’d given her his phone number, but she’d only called once. To check on Bill and Sookie.
He shut the door to his office with a little more force than necessary. Slipping into his chair for some more brood- no, not brooding. Meditative thought
. That’s what it was.
He didn’t like this… confusion
she made him feel. He didn’t like feeling
period. Everything about her should try his patience and make him want to wash his hands of her, yet he found himself more and more fixated on her instead.
Then there had been her blood…
He felt his fangs run out just at the thought of it. Never
had he tasted anything like that. Like it was made of pure power, it had burst across his tongue and left his mouth tingling, almost numb, his senses sharpened to a fevered pitch for a split second. It wasn’t just the power though… it was the darkness
, the violence
that filled every drop. There’d been a second where he’d wanted more than anything to kill those Weres. Not that he hadn’t wanted to kill them before
- that attack on her had dredged up those confusing feelings he didn’t want to examine too closely. But after he’d tasted her blood, it was like rage had just flamed across his reasoning, demanding bloodshed.
Luckily kissing her had been a suitable outlet, turning the sudden fury into passion.
What she was, where she came from, all that was still a mystery to him. She smelled divine but human, tasted like heaven and hell mixed together, and fought like a vengeful goddess. Why was she so strong? Why was her blood so different? Why didn’t she know the details of what vampires and werewolves were, yet worked for Sophie-Anne? He’d ridden in a car with her, uninterrupted, for almost three hours and had the answer to not one of those questions. If anything, he’d gained more.
One thing he did
know was that he wanted her. He wanted her now more than ever.
And he would have her.
His mental declaration was punctuated by Chow knocking on his office door and informing him that one of the witches was there to see him. A full three days before schedule… this could lead to nothing good, he was sure.
He leaned back in his chair, resting his elbows on the armrests and steepling his fingers under his chin while he waited for Chow to show the witch in. He’d take care of this nonsense then maybe he’d pay a visit to New Orleans…*****
Buffy stormed down a side street, hoping to avoid the New Years crowds leaving the bars in the French Quarter. Her hands were balled in tight fists at her sides and a scowl was etched firmly on her face.
“What?” She snapped at a passing couple that was staring at her. “This is New Orleans, there’s a lot weirder stuff around than a girl with blue stripes. Home of Mardi Gras for god's sake."
She continued on, thankful when she passed out of the glow of the streetlamp into the dark stretch before the next one.
She should’ve known better than to agree to help Amelia with a new spell. But she’d went and met with her anyway, like an idiot. Even after she heard she was working on something to “impress” her mentor in some kind of witchy review, she completely missed the very obvious translation to “I’m doing something out of my league so I can look like a badass”.
It hadn’t gone well. Surprise, surprise.
The first clue should’ve been when the spell ingredients started smoking and smelling like a combination of sewer and moldy oranges. But Amelia had ignored it. And even though Buffy had started to wonder if maybe this wasn’t such a good idea at that point, she’d still stuck around. Doing her part to hold some magic mojo mirror that the ingredients were supposed to be sucked into. Then the mirror had broken, but the gooey pot of smoking, stinky crap Amelia had been chanting over had already zoomed up like a geyser, heading right for where the mirror had
been. Which led it on a direct path to Buffy's face.
Buffy had thrown her arms up at the last second, the result being that the potion had splashed the top of her head, a stripe across her nose and cheeks, and then on her chin and neck, along with her hands and the forearms of her new jacket.
Turning everywhere it touched a bright blue.
Buffy guessed she should just feel grateful that the smell had gone away and she hadn't sprouted a tail.
She was two blocks from her apartment building and going through a mental list of stain removers when she spotted commotion down a little ways and across the street. Two couples were running, and running hard, away from a spot where a big van she recognized as belonging to the vampire division of the N.O.P.D. was parked. As she got closer, she could hear the fight - growls and flesh striking flesh, then a vampire in uniform flew out of the mouth of an alley, landing near the van and not getting up again.
No wonder those people had been running. A vampire fight wasn’t something to stick around for, especially if the special division of the police had been called in. She was glad they hadn’t been stupid enough to try and get closer… like she was going to do.
Hey, she was the Slayer. If those vamp cops couldn’t take this guy down, she couldn’t just let him run off into the night if he was dangerous.
Crossing the street in a low running crouch, she sidled along the edge of a building until she reached the mouth of the alley where the fighting was going down. Peering around the edge, she saw another downed vampire near the back and two more trying to corner the guy.
“Come on now, you don’t want us to have to use this, do you?” The one on the left asked, holding up a stake. “Just come along quietly and we’ll get this all sorted out.”
Further back in the shadows, the vampire they were after snarled, white fangs catching the little light there was back there. His body was crouched and his fingers were hooked into claws as he watched the cops with glowing eyes.
But all of that just registered dimly in the back of Buffy’s brain. The biggest, most important fact, was that this vampire was Eric.
He was missing his shirt and shoes, his jeans were ripped and bloodstained, his face and hair smeared with dirt, but it was most definitely him.
When she saw the cop with the stake start toward him, she acted immediately and without a thought. They heard her in an instant, both cops spinning toward the new threat, but she was already within striking distance. A high roundhouse swept up through the air, catching the hand with the stake and sending it clattering into the darkness. Her leg had barely come down when she struck out with her fist for a quick jab, then dodged a lunge from the cop behind her. She danced between them, dodging and striking until they were both as unconscious as their fellow officers.
She was surveying her work, patting herself on the back and catching her breath, when she heard the wail of a distant siren approaching.
“Crap,” she said, backing toward Eric, before spinning and grabbing his wrist. “I don’t know what you got into, but we’ve gotta-”
Her instincts screamed out their warning a second too late and suddenly she found her self crashing into the brick wall of one of the buildings framing the alley. She barely got her arm up in time to stop the snapping teeth from sinking into her throat, her forearm coming up across his neck and holding him at bay.
She gave him a hard shove and then dropped low, ramming him in the chest with her shoulder and sending him back a few steps before sweeping his legs out from under him. She pounced on him the moment he hit the ground, locking his legs down by hooking her feet over his thighs, her weight settled on his hips and hands holding his forearms to the filthy alley floor.
“Eric! What the hell
?!” She half panted.
He struggled beneath her, body twisting and thrashing. She fought to keep him down, but she knew she couldn’t stay like this indefinitely. She might be just as strong as him, but he was much bigger, his longer limbs gave him more leverage in a position like this.
“Eric, stop it, dammit!”
His eyes met hers for a fleeting second as he continued to fight her and what she saw there took her breath away, almost causing her to let him loose.
Terror. He looked absolutely terrified.
“Eric,” she said, trying to sound soothing. “It’s okay. Everything’s fine. You need to calm down and then I’ll let you up, alright?”
She kept up a soft litany of soothing “it’s alright”s and “I’m not going to hurt you”s, and finally his thrashing slowed, then stopped. He stared at her, blue eyes glowing oddly in the low light and not showing an ounce of recognition.
“Eric? Is that who I am?” He asked, his voice so hoarse it was barely understandable. “Who are you? Where is this?”Oh great...
Buffy's shoulders slumped as she gave a world-weary sigh, listening as the sirens grew louder.