: Is this- Is this an update
?! IT IS! *fans the readers that have fainted from shock* Seriously though, I can’t apologize enough for how long this has taken. My dad passed away last year, so it was a while before I felt like writing again. His passing also left me with a lot of new responsibilities, so actually find the time to write has been unbelievably hard. But we’re closing in on the end of CfB now, and I have every intention of finishing it – I’ve come too far on it to give up now! Thank you all for your amazing reviews/PMs, they seriously kept me going on this. Every kind word of support made me sit down whenever I could, even if it was only for a sentence or a paragraph at a time, and get a little more done. I hope you’ll stick with me to the end, even if it takes a little longer than you and I would like.
Also, no beta. And my editing might be even sketchier than usual, so feel free to point out mistakes – I’m sure there’re plenty to go around…Chapter Forty-four
Buffy stared at the array of weapons spread out over her bed, trying to decide what she needed
to take with her and what she just wanted
to take with her. Because, as awesome as a broadsword was, lugging one around the city wasn’t really an option. Weirdness might be the order for the day, every day, in New Orleans, but someone walking down a street with giant bladed weapons would still draw attention.
No, no, definitely. She shook her head and removed the sword from temptation by sticking it in the closet.
She’d hoped that after telling Sophie-Anne about how it was her that had killed Waldo and not Threadgill that the brewing war between Arkansas and Louisiana would be called off, or at least simmer down. But, while Sophie-Anne had
sounded surprised when she’d called her –“You didn’t think it necessary to inform me that you’d killed a vampire in my city?”
“Seriously? Every single time?”
“…uhhh. Nothing. Nevermind...”
- she’d ultimately just shrugged it off. It seemed Mr. Hubby had been naughty enough for a little thing like a missing employee not to make much of a difference – Sophie-Anne was still expecting a fight tonight at the Monastery Vampire Bash.
Buffy made sure she had three stakes, knives stashed in both boots and a tiny hatchet secured in a cargo pocket. After one last longing look at the closet and a secret wish for her scythe, she cleared away the rest of the fun pointy objects and sat heavily on her bed.
She wished an impending war was the only thing she had to worry about…
Unfortunately, her personal life was currently like a warzone itself. Things with Rasul had been strained during the few days she’d been back from Kentucky. After a stilted apology for how he’d acted, he’d slipped back into his regular playful self, but part of Buffy was stuck on the mirror image of him her own mind had conjured up in the witch’s funhouse. She knew it wasn’t really him, but she couldn’t seem to help being equal parts wary and guilty. His crude words about how he really felt echoed in her ears while she saw the look of death and betrayal on his face again and again when she’d staked him.
Whatever. The guilt wasn’t really distinguishing between the two.
It left her in the awkward position of wanting to push him away and pull him closer at the same time. Needless to say, he’d looked more than a little bewildered at her bipolar behavior the last few days.
Then there was Eric…
She’d tried calling him twice since she’d been back - he hadn’t answered and hadn’t returned her calls either.
To make it worse, she knew
he was in town at this very moment. Sophie-Anne had told her he’d be at the party tonight which would be starting within the hour, so he was already in the city somewhere. He was just ignoring her.
Not that she didn’t deserve
to be ignored.
The drive back had given Buffy plenty of time to go over what NotRasul/her own mind had told her about her feelings and actions toward Eric. The thought of which still caused a guilt-fueled cringe on her part, which she gave into now as she flopped backwards onto her bed.
She needed to make a decision about him. It just wasn’t fair to keep up this “Yeah, I want you, but leave me alone” thing. So, what was it she really
wanted? She blinked up at the ceiling and sighed, because the answer was Eric. As much as she’d tried to hide from it, she’d been falling for him. And while she’d been telling herself that his behavior was more about control than caring, part of her apparently disagreed if the dialogue her mind had given to NotRasul was anything to go by.
So, this was it, decision time. Either give in to her trust issues and cut him loose, or decide to go all in with this thing between them and give it a real chance instead of this push and pull, back and forth thing they’d been doing.
The thought of never seeing him again made something clench in her chest, but there was also a kind of bitter resignation under it. Her mouth curled down angrily. Had she really gotten so jaded about love that she’d just given up before it really started? Just accepted that eventually it would fall apart?
Well, screw that. She could be positive. She could dive into a new relationship and believe it could work out.
…What? She could!
Buffy gave a pouty little whine and threw her arm over her eyes. Saying she could do it and actually doing it were two different things. But… She really wanted to try. And she would
damn it! She’d just explain to Eric that she was a relationship nut job, but that she wanted to work at really building something with him and he’d... Oh, god, he’d probably kick her crazy ass to the curb.
A knock at her door interrupted her downward spiral and, after a moment of confusion, had her springing up with an eager bounce. It was probably Eric! He must’ve decided to stop by on the way to the party. This was her chance to straighten things out and apologize for being such a spaz!
Buffy bounded to the door like a manic gazelle and whipped it open with what she realized a second too late was an embarrassing amount of enthusiasm. She stilled suddenly at the sight of a blond stranger on the other side, blinking slowly as disappointment welled up in her.
“You should wear that stupid face all the time – it’s fitting,” the woman sniped as she shoved past the now idiotically gaping Buffy. “But I don’t have much time, so get your shit together.”
“Hadley?” Buffy asked, the familiar voice bringing her back to her senses. “What are you- why – how?”
Hadley spun and pulled the blond wig from her head, leaning against the back of Buffy’s sofa.
“Thing is so fucking itchy
,” she grunted, scratching her head on the side where the hair was still growing back from the fire. “So, listen up, I don’t have much time. The guards in the building are idiots, but if any of them go out in the hall, they’ll probably recognize me by scent.”
“How’d you even get in here?”
“Benefits of being the Queen’s girlfriend- ex
-girlfriend,” she corrected with a shrug. “She gets chatty post-orgasm.”
That was… disturbing. Both the thought that Sophie-Anne divulged details on building security while in bed and the mental image of Sophie-Anne and Hadley in bed at all. Kind of like picturing her mom and Cordelia getting- Oh god…
“What’s with that face?”
“Nothing,” Buffy blurted, shaking out the horrible, evil image. “So, why are you here again?”
In response, Hadley tugged up her sleeve revealing a stunning bracelet which she promptly unclasped and thrust at Buffy.
“I need you to get this back to Sophie.”
Buffy, transfixed by the bling, took it from Hadley and barely resisted the urge to clutch it to her chest while cooing “My precious...”
“Sorry,” she said, shaking her head slightly and peeling her gaze off the glittering diamonds. “What was that?”
“That. Back to Sophie. Like, now
’ to her?”
“So, I might’ve gotten a little klepto post break-up,” Hadley huffed, her eyes skittering off to the side in what Buffy swore was embarrassment.
“So, what’s the big? Just give it back to her.”
“It’s… It’s a little complicated. This bracelet was part of a set that Threadgill
,” she hissed the name. “Gave her – a wedding gift. She’ll be expected to wear it tonight and if she doesn’t have it…”
“The ‘missing thing’,” Buffy groaned in realization, mind ticking back to Sophie-Anne’s weird cryptic explanation in her office. “So her not having this is going to cause all kinds of badness?”
“Yeah, especially if it’s proven that I
have it. They’ll think that Sophie gave me, her lover, a gift from her husband.”
“Okay, that’s bad, but why are you waiting ‘til the last minute like this? And why can’t you
give it back to her?”
“I’ve tried!” Hadley said, throwing her hands up. “Threadgill’s people keep ambushing me! I know
it was them that burned up my fucking apartment. They’re trying to keep me from fixing this because they want Sophie to look bad. I thought the whole Jake thing was their end game – that they’d pin his murder on me and cause all kinds of crap with the Weres, but I changed all that when I turned him.”
“Then they figured out you had the bracelet…”
“I thought going to Kentucky would get them off my back - that they’d think I just ran for it. The night we got back, I tried to sneak over there and give Sophie the bracelet back, but they caught me. I barely got out of there and they’ve been on my ass every night since. There’s no way I’ll be able to get into that party unnoticed.”
Buffy sat down heavily on the arm of the couch, pieces falling into place. Sophie Anne had been right – Threadgill wanted a war and wanted to make it seem as if he was right to start one.
“Even if I get this back to her…” Buffy started, glancing down at the jewel encrusted bracelet.
“I know, it probably won’t help. If he’s hell-bent on starting some shit then he’ll probably do it anyway. But… I don’t want it to be because of me,” Hadley said, pushing away from the couch and out of Buffy’s eye-line. “If something happens to her because-“
“I’ll get it back to her,” Buffy interrupted, a little wigged at hearing Hadley sounding remorseful and genuine. “I think… I have a plan…”*******
The clicking of Buffy’s heels on the sidewalk paused as she fought to tug down the skintight skirt again – the sound of more honking and whistling flooding out of the latest passing car disappearing off into the night. This… this just sucked
. Hadley so owed her. After spending all that time picking out weapons she could conceal on her walk here, she had to abandon that plan and put on this
Where had this even come from?! It had
to be a purchase from their drunken girls’ night out. Probably Dawn’s pick. And when she’d sobered up she’d probably stuck the whore-tastic getup in Buffy’s closet. And, Buffy’s eyes narrowed in realization, probably took something of Buffy’s to make up for it…
She gave the tiny skirt another irritable yank and made sure her boobs hadn’t popped out of the low-cut top before continuing on her way, wondering if she was actually going to be able to pull this off. As the corner that would spit her out near the monastery entrance approached, she let the skirt inch its way back up and gave her hair a quick fluff. She took a deep, steadying breath and forced her face out of its scowl and into a ditzy smile just before rounding the corner in view of the entrance.
She spotted Rasul immediately – one of four vampires standing guard. Beside him was one of what must’ve been Threadgill’s men, dressed in a horrible ensemble of red, white and blue. Another vamp from opposing side manned the opposite side along with another of Sophie Anne’s guards.
Turning her vacant gaze on what she could see of the monastery through the trees, she watched their heads swivel towards her in her peripheral vision. She kept up the gaping expression until she was only a few feet from them, then gave what she hoped looked like a drunken little stumble on her heels before finally looking right at them.
“Vampires,” she breathed. “Awesome…
From the way all of them but Rasul puffed up, she must’ve succeeded in sounding all wonderstruck.
“Private party, human,” one of Threadgill’s men said, sounding bored but looking her up and down. “Move along.”
“Don’t be so hasty, Martin. She smells delicious,” Rasul said, giving Buffy a little smirk as he stepped forward so he was right in front of her. With his back to the opposing guards his eyebrow ticked up in question, but his smirk only became more devious.
“Delicious or no, the guests will be arriving soon. We can’t have one of the local drunken sluts hanging about.”
Something dark flashed in Rasul’s eyes and his lip started to curl up in a snarl. Buffy, acting quickly before her plan could be ruined (because there was no way in hell she’d come out here in this skank-wear for nothing
), strategically stumbled into Rasul, placing herself so he was blocking most of her from the other guards’ view.
“That guy sounds like he’s got something against having a little fun,” she slurred, snuggling in close. “Not like you
. You look like you know how to have a good time.”
Rasul’s attention shifted immediately back to her, anger shifting to surprise and then settling on amusement. He wrapped an arm around her waist, pressing her closer while his eyes dared her to complain.
“Oh yeah, this seems like lots of fun to me,” he said smugly.Bad plan! Bad, bad plan
! Buffy’s internal alarm shrieked. She crushed it brutally and reminded herself to think of the bigger picture here, that whatever awkwardness this would cause later on between her and Rasul was a small price to pay.
The part that said this was a nummy treat and not a price at all was firmly and immediately squashed.
Feeling Rasul’s hand start to creep south from her waist, Buffy decided that she needed to finish up this little operation like now
. His hand paused in its descent as hers ran up his front, his eyes going wide as it left his body only to dip into her cleavage. Sure the movement was blocked by Rasul’s body, she tugged the bracelet out, pressing it to his chest.
“Oh, this is nothing,” she purred, her words keeping to the show while her eyes were serious and willing him to get it. “Why don’t you let me show you what real
fun looks like.”
She saw the recognition in Rasul’s eyes immediately when he looked at the bracelet. The hand on her waist yanked her impossibly closer while the free one covered hers, squirreling the jewelry away inside his vest.
“It’s nice to see the Queen picked such a dedicated
employee to welcome the guests,” an all too familiar voice broke in from behind Rasul.
The faint but unmistakable wave of anger broke over Buffy’s senses at the same time her gaze jerked to Eric, looking aloof and absolutely gorgeous in his tux. But while he looked bored as he stared at the two of them, still tangled together so closely that Buffy felt her face heat, she could tell that he was anything but unaffected by what he was seeing.
This… was a horrible
plan. She might actually have to stake Hadley for this. Here she’d finally made the decision to try at a real relationship with Eric, confessed to herself that she actually loved him, and very next time she sees him after that revelation he gets an eye full of this
Buffy made a move to peel herself away from Rasul, but his arm tightened around her. There was a second of anger that didn’t come from Eric, but from her own surety that Rasul was just trying to make things more difficult, before Rasul pinched her. Not a butt pinch or a sexy pinch, but the pinch her mom used to give her in the grocery store when she was a kid – the one that said, “I don’t want to make a scene, but if you keep acting like a brat there’ll be some butt-whooping consequences later.”
Oh yeah, there was a reason for this situation… A very good, possibly war averting reason.
Settling back against Rasul with a mental prayer that she’d get to explain herself to Eric in the near future and he wouldn’t kick metaphorical dirt on her apology, Buffy opened her mouth to spew more slutty drunk talk and reassert her role in this little play.
Rasul got there first.
“Don’t be jealous, Northman,” he said, tugging Buffy around so he could be sure Eric was getting a full view of just how close they were. “If your personality weren’t so shitty, maybe a nice little piece like this would come begging for it from you instead of me.”
Eric didn’t bother with any witty comebacks, he just launched himself at Rasul with a snarl. Buffy stumbled back from a last second shove by Rasul, her back bumping into another person. She spared them a quick glance just before she got ready to throw her crappy plan out the window and go pull the fighting idiots apart.
Purple eyes and a bald head completely erased any thought of interfering. If he’d been wearing silks and gold Buffy would’ve thought somebody had just rubbed the lamp in the porn version of Arabian Nights.
“You are the sexiest jinni ever,” she breathed, unable to stop staring despite the growls and sound of blows behind her.
The brilliant smile the mystery man gave her left her feeling a little light-headed and she shook her head slightly, forcing herself to step away before she started making inappropriate wishes.
“Maybe you should go now,” Sexy Jinni said, tone apologetic and eyes kind. “This isn’t really a good place for you to be.”
Buffy gave a mute nod, eyes ticking over to the two vampires who’d stopped fighting to glare in unison at the bald Adonis next to her. Her sharp eyes caught the glint of diamonds disappearing into Eric’s jacket. Satisfied that this was as good as her sad little plan was going to get, Buffy left the same way she’d come, forcing herself not to tug on the tight skirt as she felt eyes burning a hole in her back. *******
After retrieving her hastily stashed bag from a nearby alley (and sending up a quick, thankful prayer that a lucky hobo hadn’t made off with it), Buffy changed back into her comfy fighting clothes and rearmed herself.
Hightailing it back to the place she’d picked out to watch the back of the monastery from, there was nothing left to distract her from thinking about the debacle of a few minutes ago. Every embarrassing moment was perfectly preserved in her memory for replay and review.
That could’ve gone better…
Damn Hadley and her sticky fingers! And Eric for making her all crazy! And for looking so good in his 007 wear! And Rasul for taking every opportunity to make things worse! And Porn Jinni for...
And Porn Jinni… for…
Mmm… Porn Jinni…
She tripped over a random trash can lid and shook her head. Best not to think about the bald guy. Especially since she was still set on making things work with Eric. She’d have her hands full enough trying to fix things after what just happened - no need to throw in new sexy stranger complications.
She climbed the fire escape of the building that she’d planned to watch from during her trip with Rasul a few days ago. What hadn’t
been part of the plan was the vampire already hanging out in her spying space. Buffy blinked stupidly at the blond leaning against an air conditioning unit for a moment before recognition set in.
Dressed in a pair of jeans and a sweater, her hair pulled back in a neat bun, it was no wonder it took Buffy a moment to recognize her. The Stepford Wife look had been replaced by something a little more war savvy.
“You are an idiot.”
“Good to see you, too…” Buffy pouted, hauling herself the rest of the way onto the roof.
“I warned you not to take his feelings lightly.”
Buffy stilled, her stance a little stiff and wary as she realized this wasn’t going to be a friendly chat. Pam’s bluntness was nothing new, but the dangerous undertone and the stony glint her eyes were. Pam was a friend, but when push came to shove Buffy had no doubt that the vampire’s loyalty was with Eric – and if she felt like Buffy had wronged him…
And, who was she kidding, she kinda had.
“Yet you did anyway. You discarded the warning I gave and the truth which you knew.”
“I know, I-“
“He risked his life for you. His position as Sherriff.”
“Pam, I know, I-“
“And more importantly, his heart. He-“
“Will you shut up! I already did the whole guilt-trip and soul search-y thing! I’m in love with him and I plan on fixing stuff as soon as I can stop screwing it up!”
“Oh… Well, that’s fine then,” Pam said haltingly. “Although, while pointing out the error of your recent actions was my intention, scaring you into doing something you don’t truly feel isn’t my wish.”
Buffy gave a light snort. “I’m not
scared of you.”
“So you just happened
to decide to repair the romantic damage you caused at the same time I almost threaten you to do exactly that?” Pam asked, eyebrow raised in disbelief.
“Well, yeah, actually. Do you actually think I’d just jump on the relationship wagon because you- Wait, who’s that
?” Buffy asked, momentarily derailed by the vampire she just noticed melting off to her right.
“More evidence of your idiocy.”
“Hey! Enough with the name calling!”
“That is an uninvited representative from Nevada.”
Buffy looked at her blackly.
Pam gave a long suffering sigh. “Where a certain Victor Madden is located and almost certainly still looking for you.”
“Ohhhh…” Buffy said with a slight grimace. “He’s still worked up about the window thing, huh?”
“So, when this guy –or, er, girl, it’s kinda hard to tell now – doesn’t show up with the dirt on whether I was here or not, isn’t that going to throw up some red flags?”
“If the battle happens as planned, hopefully Madden will assume his spy was just a casualty.”
Buffy made a doubtful face but before she could argue the fact further, the sound of breaking glass across the street drew their attention.
Running to the edge of the building, Buffy was able to catch sight of the object still flying through the air, having busted out one of the small upper windows in the monastery. It hit the ground with a muted squelch she could just make out from this distance and rolled lopsidedly over the lawn before coming to a stop. Just as Buffy had IDed the mystery item as a head sporting some dreadlocks, a lion sauntered out of the shadows and - in a moment that would forever be etched in Buffy’s mind - picked it up in its mouth, like a dog with a tennis ball, and loped off into the dark.
“Well, I guess that means the war’s still on then…”
“Indeed, I guess that would be our signal to join the fray,” Pam said, fangs on display as she grinned in a way that was way
too happy about having just witnessed a flying head.
She vaulted over the side of the building, running for the monastery before Buffy could get a word out. Resigning herself to becoming part of this fight, Buffy followed after with a sigh.*******
While Buffy lucked out by dodging the lion and his chew-toy head on the way in, her little bit of thankfulness was obliterated by what she found inside the monastery. Everywhere she looked was complete chaos – blood slicked floors, gross melty body parts, random animals, giant axe wielding guys bursting through freaking walls like the Kool-aid man-
“Oh, hey Bert!” Buffy gave a little wave to Sophie-Anne’s bodyguard.
With a short nod of recognition, he dove back into the fray.
Buffy pulled out Mr. Pointy and stuck close to the wall, not really eager to jump in swinging. Yeah, okay, so she was a crappy foot-soldier. But she was working on changing her vampire prejudice! She hadn’t been trying so hard to treat them more equally just to throw it out the window and kill them all willy-nilly because-
She blinked down at the stake protruding from the vampire’s chest in front of her.
“Huh, when did I do that?”
She pulled it out with a squelch and watched one of Threadgills guy’s hit the floor. Well, she couldn’t do much about pure instinct could she? Anyway, where was she…
Oh yeah! She couldn’t just start killing vamps all willy-nilly because her boss said “sic ‘em”, could she? That would be a total step backwards in the evolution of new Equality-for-all-Vamps Buffy.
She sighed as she saw Threadgill’s side-kick with the bad hair-cut and sword sneaking up behind Sophie-Anne.
On the other hand… She really
didn’t want to lose her job. And a dead boss kinda guaranteed that.
She gave her stake a twirl and started toward them, only to stop again a second later when Eric came barreling out of nowhere with a sword of his own, taking on Bad Hair himself. He obviously had no
reservations about the willy-nilly killing. He was grinning broadly, fangs displayed proudly as he dodged and swung.
“Why am I not surprised,” she muttered, unable to stifle a smile despite herself.
As she watched though, thoughts equally gooey and lusty, she spotted another vampire sneaking up behind Eric, whose attention was squarely focused on his fight with sword wielding maniac chick.
Buffy took off, dodging fights and leaping bodies until she hit a puddle of blood and slid right between Eric and his sneaky attacker. She blocked the downward strike with her hastily pulled knife, not realizing until the blade of the axe was right in front of her face that the weapon was very, very familiar.
“That’s not yours,” she growled, pushing back in a sudden fit of anger.
She might not have really liked either of the big, burly Bert brothers, but knowing that the only way they’d give up one of their precious axes was literally over their dead bodies (or, permanently
dead bodies anyway) and what it meant that this random vamp had one… Well, it really, really pissed her off.
She kicked out with her right foot while twisting her knife and grabbing the vampire’s arm that was holding the axe and yanking. Doubled over, he lost the grip on his weapon as she introduced Mr. Pointy to his exposed back. She scooped up the huge axe and gave the body a vindictive kick before turning back to where Eric had been fighting a moment ago – only to find him staring down at her from only about a foot away.
“Uh, hi there,” she said, giving an awkward little wave with her new axe. “Fancy seeing you here. At this party. And war. Kinda like your favorite mix ever, huh? I’m just… here. You know, not following you or anything, just… fighting.”
She bit her tongue to stop the babble insanity as Eric continued to stare at her, his expression a little glazed and freaked out.
“Uh, are you okay?” Buffy asked, getting worried and checking him over with her eyes for any blood that might be his.
“Why… Why would you do that?” His voice was rough and he still looked a little dazed, but at least he was focusing on her now.
Her relief lasted only a second as she shot a panicked look at the melting figure behind her.
“Oh crap, was he one of our guys?! He had one of the Bert’s axes, so I thought he’d killed-“
“He did,” Eric interrupted, still looking wigged. “I mean… You stepped in- You- I remember
“Uhhh, how about we try using full sentences? Because this thing you’ve got going with the random, incomplete phrases isn’t really working for me.”
“You saved my life!” He blurted.
“Well, yeah, I guess. Why do you look so surprised? Like I was just going to stand there and let him axe you in the back? Jeez, I mean I know we haven’t exactly seen eye to eye lately, but-“
Her words were cut off as he was suddenly right in her personal bubble, large hands gripping her upper arms and giving her a shake.
“You were stabbed!”
“What?” Buffy asked, looking down at herself in confusion. “No, I wasn’t...”
“You stepped right in the path of that sword and let him stab you! Why would you do that?!”
He punctuated each sentence with another harsh shake.
“What are you-“
“I remember! L.A.! You- Why
He shook her again and her irritation at being manhandled overrode her brain to mouth barrier.
“Because I love you, you giant idiot!” Buffy burst out in frustration, pushing him back and dislodging his grip on her. “I’m spazzy and crazy and I have all kinds of issues, but, damn it, I love you! I’m not going to let anybody stab you if I can stop it! That’s like, a top rule of love or something!”
There was a beat of wide-eyed silence from both of them before Buffy slapped a hand over her mouth with a horrified squeak. So caught up in her moment of verbal diarrhea, she didn’t notice Rasul standing only ten feet away.*******
Eric stared down at Buffy, wondering for one wild moment if the tight feeling in his chest might actually kick-start his long silent heart.
The past few days had been, well, miserable, really. On the way back from his foolish trip to Kentucky, he’d come to the decision that this dalliance with Buffy had run its course. He’d gotten too involved, let it go on too long, it was time to step back and let it end.
The thought that somewhere along the line his game of cat and mouse had become serious – that Buffy had gone from being a curiosity, a possible possession, a beautiful lover, to something much, much more – and that it was now entirely possible that he cared more for her than she did for him… Well, it was a humbling realization and not one that he’d dealt well with. He’d cut off all contact – ignored her calls, closed off what was left of their bond, resisted the temptation to go to see her when he’d gotten into the city.
His anticipation of possibly seeing her that evening had sparked a mental battle of wills, though. He second guessed every encounter, replaying their meetings on a mind numbing loop of insanity. He’d finally come to the conclusion that there was no way his feelings could be completely one-sided, that maybe he should give her the benefit of the doubt and speak to her that evening, when he came across the sight of her with Rasul in front of the monastery.
That had been it for him. Even after receiving the bracelet from the guard in their altercation and realizing that it had all been an act hadn’t stopped the bars from slamming down on any more thoughts that this had been anything more than a game to her. He’d been to her exactly what he’d intended
her to be to him – a wonderful distraction; a bit of fun; a cure for boredom.
The thought stung far more than it should have and he took it out on those around him after the fighting began. He was ready for it to be over, to get back to the way things had been before her, but then… Seeing her there, blocking that axe meant for him…
The memories were overwhelming in their sudden arrival and unadulterated strangeness, but he shoved the pin-wheeling images of tentacles and dragons and fiery landscapes to the back of his mind to be analyzed later. Instead, he focused on that one clear memory of her standing between him and one of the strongest beings that existed. Buffy, slight and blond and human, putting his life above hers.
And then, to top it all off, she said she-
“Okay, I didn’t really mean to just blurt that out,” Buffy mumbled from behind her hand.
“You love me…” He said numbly.
Buffy dropped her hand and shifted her feet awkwardly.
“Okay, so this probably isn’t really the time,” she said, pausing to stake a vampire that jumped at her from behind. “But, I guess we’re doing this. I know I’m messed up, alright? I mean, I’ll probably try to push you away twice as much as I try to pull you close. I’ll freak and make you crazy and I’m probably not worth half the headaches I’ll give you but-“
Then he was kissing her.
“You love me,” he murmured against her lips before kissing her again.
“Mmm hmmm,” she hummed, hands wrapped in the lapels of his jacket.
“I hardly think this is the time for that,” the Queen’s irritated voice came from the left.
Buffy’s hand shot out, lips never leaving his as her stake sailed through the air, landing with a wet thump in Threadgill’s chest, who’d been moving up behind Sophie-Anne.
“Oh, well then,” the Queen said with a glance as her now permanently deceased husband. “Carry on.”
Eric grinned and pulled his mouth from hers, letting his lips wander down her neck.
“I love you, too, you insane, strange little human.”
Buffy gave a gasping laugh. “Flattering. And no biting.”
With a firm grip on his hair, she pulled his lips back to hers, kissing him again before pulling back and looking at him seriously.
“So, you’re okay that I’m strange and insane, but what about the human part? If I’m with you I’ll never go out, get married, have kids. I won’t ever have a normal life. Does that bother you?”
He paused, knowing his answer wasn’t one that would be generally thought of as acceptable. Looking at her solemn eyes, he decided to just be honest.
“I only care that you’re mine.”
Proving that his earlier assessment of her sanity was spot on, she broke into a wide smile.
“That’s exactly what I wanted to hear,” she said, grabbing his arm and tugging him away from the fight that was dying down now that the King was dead. “Now, wasn’t there a bedroom around here somewhere…”*******
Victor Madden sat his phone back on his desk softly, smoothing his hand over the papers in front of him lightly and straightening his pen so it was exactly vertical with the pages.
Then he overturned the whole desk with a roar, sending it smashing into the far wall and causing his original Dali to crash to the floor. He didn’t give it a second glance as he stalked by it, passing his silent, cringing secretary and leaving the building.
The Vegas night was cool and bright with artificial light, a veritable carnival of color and sound. It usually amused him, even though he’d seen it every night for decades – the wealth and loss, the excitement and depression, the pureness of the excitement and wickedness of the darkest sins – it was an unending source of entertainment. But tonight his mind was elsewhere.
His search for “Summer” was becoming a real annoyance. Not only had his contact in Texas had nothing to report – apparently none of Stan’s men had made it back from checking the validity of the rumor of her whereabouts in Kentucky – but Calhoun hadn’t checked in from Louisiana either. He’d been trying to keep his search under Felipe’s radar by letting others do the leg work, but it seemed if he wanted anything done right he’d have to do it himself…
Distracted as he was by his thoughts and plans on tracking down “Summer”, he didn’t realize he was being followed until he was almost to his car. With an annoyed sigh, he spun on his heel to face his stalker.
“I should warn you, I’m in no mood for games this evening. If you have something you wish to discuss, come out and say so. Otherwise I’ll be killing you in about seven seconds.”
His internal countdown was thrown off course by pure shock when a familiar figure stepped out of the shadows.
He didn’t know the local witch well, they’d only met on a handful of occasions (the most recent actually only a week ago, when he’d approached her about what she’d need to track down “Summer”), he knew her well enough to know that something was seriously wrong. Her steps were stilted and jerky, hair in windblown mess and the bitter scent of magic that usually clung to her was… tainted
, somehow - darker and muskier. He took an instinctual step back before he could stop himself.
And wasn’t that
eight kinds of fucked up… Her usual rusty voice had been replaced by a layer of several voices, echoing and making his ears itch oddly. The look on her face had been blank to this point, but for a second he saw a glimpse of pure terror – the real Rhea peeking through, he assumed.
“And you would be?”
“The Wolf,” one voice said.
“The Ram,” another overlapped.
“The Hart,” a final added on top.
A spike of fear went through him, but along with it was excitement and curiosity. The legendary war was of course known to him, but it had been quite a bit before his time. He’d always wondered if the tales were exaggerated…
“I was under the impression you were barred from this world.”
“The one you seek has cracked the wall. We cannot come through. Yet.”
“The one I seek?” Victor asked, his fear and excitement sharpening into something new.
“Buffy Summers. The Slayer. You were in this witches mind, questioning ways to find her. We have that same goal.”
“Buffy Summers,” he hissed, the name tasting right in his mouth. So that
was the bitch’s real name.
“She is above you,” the intoned in unison.
,” he growled, forgetting himself for a moment and taking a menacing step forward. “She’s just one girl.”
“One girl with great power. If you find her you will not come out the victor,” they said. “Not without our help.”
His eyes narrowed in suspicion, but he couldn’t deny his interest either. To believe the stories of the past, the power of the Wolf, Ram and Hart was incredible. To form an alliance with them… Finding Sum- Buffy
and giving her what she had coming to her was only a start. With that kind of backing he’d be able to move up his plans to overthrow that fool Felipe…
“What kind of ‘help’ would you be offering exactly? You said you can’t come through…”
“We can’t. But we can infuse you with our power to meet our goals.”
“Like you’ve ‘infused’ Rhea?” Victor snorted, catching another glimpse of the terrified woman beneath. “You’ll excuse me if I’ll pass at being your puppet. Doesn’t look like she’s having much fun.”
“You would not be like this. She was resistant to our wishes; we were forced to take more extreme steps. You would simply be imbued with our power. As long as you stick to your end of the bargain then there would be no problem.”
“And what exactly would be my
end of this bargain?”
“Find Buffy Summers,” the layered voice said. “And force her to tell you how to fully release us into this dimension.”