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Interlude in Darkness

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This story is No. 2 in the series "The Darkness Series". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Two short chapters taking place in the interval between The Darkness Within and its sequel, Darkness Rising, which should answer a few questions and raise a few questions. If you haven't read The Darkness Within, you might be a bit confused by this one.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > Buffy-Centered > Pairing: AsherDeesseFR18211,1017295,9335 Apr 125 Apr 12Yes

Resolutions in Darkness

Disclaimer: I don't own either world, Anita Blake or Buffy.


Spoilers: For Buffy the entire series. For Anita Blake, up through Hit List just to be safe.


A/N: Just a short little two-chapter story covering the interval between The Darkness Within and its sequel, Darkness Rising. Thanks for everyone's support and reviews for The Darkness Within and I hope I don't disappoint with this or with the sequel!




Confessions in Darkness


Buffy stopped in the lobby of the restaurant, leaving Asher and Rafael to take three entire steps, right up to the dais where the maître d’ stood waiting and watching, a somewhat amused look on his face. Both men turned, confused looks on their faces, Asher saying, “Buffy?”

“I changed my mind. I don’t wanna do this.”

Rafael was the one that took the steps back to her. “You can’t change your mind. We have to do to this. They’re waiting.”

“You say that like it’s not a bad thing, Rafe.” Bad wasn’t the word, she thought. Anita, Richard and Jean Claude were in the restaurant beyond the lobby. Jean Claude had given them four days to bask in their triumvirate and, according to the master vampire they had not been easy days for him. Anita had been persistent and when you could communicate mind to mind, persistence took on a whole new meaning. Finally, he’d set up this dinner, telling Anita and Richard that he would explain everything but not telling them that Buffy, Rafael and Asher would be attending, would, in fact, be the subject of discussion.

Rafael had been avoiding Richard but he’d had it easier the Master of the City. First, because Buffy had crushed his phone and second because he hadn’t been home in four days. He’d spent the last four days and nights at the Circus with Asher and Buffy, with the exception of the two nights that he and Buffy had gone out alone while Asher had had what the vampire called “business” to take care of. He and Buffy were positive the vampire was just giving them alone time, which he, for one, was grateful for.

He could dwell on his dates with Buffy later, he thought. He had to deal with her mood right now. It was, in his eyes, her one flaw. She was damn moody. “This has to be done. They have to be told and made to understand.”

She stuck her lip out, gave him her full pout. It didn’t always work on Asher but Rafael was definitely not immune. “I don’t see why we have to be here for it. Jean Claude can just do it.” She added some teary eyes.

Asher bit back a grin as he felt the rat king waver. They would have to have a talk.

Rafael turned to the vampire. “She’s right. Why do we have to be here? It will only cause more friction.”

Asher stepped forward, giving Buffy an exasperated look. He grabbed them both by the elbow and pulled them forward. “We have dallied long enough.” To the amused maître d’ he added, “Jean Claude’s table.”

“Of course. Right this way.”

Buffy sighed and followed. At least they all looked good, all with the matchy and stuff. Asher was weird that way. He’d spent an inordinate amount of time choosing their clothes for the evening. She and Rafael hadn’t cared nearly as much and it seemed important to the vampire so they’d shrugged and put on what he’d told them.

She’d ended up in an ice blue dress that looked more like paint but was surprisingly moveable and allowed her to hide two stakes, even though she didn’t need them since on day two of the melding as she’d begun to call it, Rafael had suddenly, out of nowhere, while standing on the sidewalk after their first date, thrown back his head and sniffed the air.

He’d looked at her, shock warring with such a strange look in his eyes that she’d gotten worried and grabbed him, saying “What? What’s wrong?”

“Something doesn’t smell right. It doesn’t belong.”

She, herself, had a pretty decent nose and so sniffed the air. “Oh, yeah. I think it’s falafel.”

He snorted. “No, Buffy. Not falafel. Something else…” He started walking off, then jogging, then full out running, then running so fast it was a blur and she was grateful that for their first date he’d taken her to Laser Tag and she was wearing sneakers.

When he finally stopped, they were standing in front of a small, isolated house at the end of a dirt road. Buffy couldn’t sense anything or anyone inside but Rafael was looking at the house with narrowed eyes. “They’re in there.”

She frowned. “There’s nothing in there.”

He looked at her incredulously. “There’s something in there.” He took her hand. “Try now.”

She stunk at this. She reached out with their bond and tripled her senses. Then she felt it. She sucked in her breath and the Slayer growled. All eight of them. Together. The vampire convicts.

She looked Rafael. “You are so not giving me shit about warrants.”

He shook his head. “Absolutely not.”

She pulled out two stakes, from where he had no idea, and handed him one saying, “After you hit the heart, totally run away because they explode and get in your hair.” So saying, she was on the porch and kicking in the door, yelling “Avon calling!”

By the time he’d caught up with her, she’d had one down and was kicking another where it made him wince in sympathy before a third jumped on his back and he didn’t have time for watching her anymore.

He had one second to think that if this was how she dealt with the vampires on her home world, rushing in without a plan, without surveillance, without intelligence on the enemy, without thinking things through, seriously outnumbered, it was a wonder she was alive, and then he felt the marks fully open, felt what she felt and it was…amazing. He felt her utter contempt for these things. Her absolute hatred for what they were. And her unquestionable, unconditional certainty that she would win.

The one on top of him was suddenly gone and she was standing there rolling her eyes. “Quit playing with them. Plunge and move on.” She held out a hand, pulled him to his feet and shoved him toward two more. He just shook his head in disbelief and with a growl jumped in between the two vampires while she took care of the other three.

She’d been right; he should have run after the plunging because, even though he felt more exhilarated than he had in a long time, he was covered in blood and gunk after staking them. She was pristine. She looked him up and down and laughed. “As far as first dates go, this was a doozy…”

She sighed, wishing she was back in that little house fighting moron vampires instead of here, even if she were accompanied by two of the hottest guys on the planet. She took a second to just appreciate them. Asher wore a silk T-shirt in a blue that matched her dress with a pair of black leather pants that hugged him just right. Rafael wore a silk button up shirt in the same shade of blue, the top three buttons undone, and over it a black silk suit jacket with the pants to match. He was worthy of some serious drool.

She spotted the threesome they were meeting and saw the second Anita noticed them coming. The animator hadn’t been happy looking in the first place but her look darkened even further as the maître d’ stopped at their table and Jean Claude stood up and began doing the French double kiss on both cheeks to Rafael and herself. Asher got a kiss on the neck. Some vampire thing.

Asher held out her chair, between he and Rafael, and she sat down, already tense, already scoping out the exits and wondering if she could go to the bathroom and disappear.

“Do not even think it, mon amour.” The vampire whispered in her mind, making her shoot him a dirty look.

Before she could answer, she had Rafael’s hand on one knee and Asher’s on the other. Not in an “I can’t keep my hands off you, you sexy thang!” way, either. More of a “Oh, no, you’re not escaping” way. Dammit. It’s not like she’d have really done it. She didn’t think.

Jean Claude cleared his throat and looked at Buffy. “How are you doing, Buffy?”

“I WAS doing fine until…”

“Buffy!” Asher and Rafael both interrupted her.

She smiled innocently at the Master of the City. “I’m doing fine, thanks.”

“Asher tells me you’ve taken care of the last of your convict vampires. Congratulations.”

Anita perked up. “Really?”

Buffy nodded and said, as pleasantly as she could, “Yep…all gone.”

“Guess you’ve got no reason to hang around then?” Anita made it a question.

“Anita!” Jean Claude and Richard said together.

She felt Asher’s hand tighten on her knee but she ignored him. “Maybe you can shoot me again.”

“I have a full clip.”

“Ladies.” Jean Claude’s hand slapped the table, causing everyone to shut up and look at him. “Anita, that is enough. Buffy, please.”

“She started it.” Buffy muttered, only to have both knees squeezed tightly.

Jean Claude sighed as he caught Asher’s look, which clearly said “I told you so.” He cleared his throat again and said, “Richard, Anita, Buffy is not going anywhere. I have called you both here tonight, with the three of them, to tell you something.”

“Does this have something to do with that power surge the other night?” Richard asked. “With why you’ve been avoiding me for the last four days?” he added to Rafael.

The dark-haired vampire nodded. “Oui. As you know, the Council will be arriving soon. We have been searching for new allies, for ways to keep all of our people safe. For enough power to convince them to leave us alone forever.”

Anita snorted. “And you think she’s it?”

Buffy would have said something but she tended to agree with the necromancer on that one. She still wasn’t quite clear on what she was supposed to bring to the power party. It wasn’t like she could slay the Council. She’d asked. Twice. Apparently it was this whole bringing down the wrath of vampire-kind upon them thing. And sure Asher looked hot (but he always had, in Buffy’s opinion), which no one had noticed yet, no doubt because for some reason Asher was doing his face hiding trick, and he didn’t die during the day anymore, but what good was that? Rafael’s senses were off the chart and he’d acquired some wicked new fighting skills but big deal. He couldn’t slay the Council either.

Jean Claude nodded and Rafael and Asher let go of her knees and took her hands, bringing them to visibly rest on the table as the Master of the City said, “Asher has formed his own triumvirate, taking an animal to call and a human servant.”

“What the fuck?” Was Anita’s response while Richard just looked like a goldfish that Buffy had had once when she’d been seven. Her parents had taken her to the carnival and they’d had tons of games. In one of them, if you could make your ping pong ball stay in the little bowl you’d get to take home your very own fishy. Her mother had said no. Emphatically. But Buffy had just perfected her newly learned pout and her father had been helpless. Mr. Gold had taken eleven dollars to win and died four days later but during those four days, Buffy had seen that open-mouthed, bug-eyed gape a lot.

“Buffy can channel the power of the new triumvirate into ours. In addition to bringing her own power and enhancing others.” Jean Claude answered simply.

Oh. Buffy thought. Not like she knew how to actually DO any of that, but at least it was an answer.

Anita stood up. “I have had enough of this shit. I’ve had enough of her, enough of you,” she pointed at Jean Claude, “Enough of all of this.”

Jean Claude grabbed her wrist and they all felt the sharp, painful stab of his power. “Sit down.” She sat. “You will stop acting like a jealous child this moment. I have had enough.”

Buffy had never seen the vampire angry before. It actually, physically hurt. She flicked her eyes sideways and found Asher had gone very blank. On her other side Rafael was not hiding his anger very well at all. Both of them were looking straight ahead.

Anita and Jean Claude were glowering at each other.

So, it was Richard who said, “Buffy, are you all right?” Which made everyone look at her.

“Huh?”

Rafael and Asher let go of her hands, Asher grabbing a napkin from the table and shoving it at her face. “You’re bleeding. Your nose.”

She intercepted his hand before it got to her. “What?” She touched her fingers her to her face, under her nose, pulled them back. They were indeed smeared with blood. Now that she knew it was there, she could feel it trickling from her nose. She sighed and got to her feet.

“I’ll just go clean this up.” She was beyond glad to get away from the table, even if only for a few minutes.

Both of her men gave her suspicious looks and she actually laughed. “I’ll be right back…Geez.” She gave Jean Claude a glare on her way by and a muttered, “This is your fault, you know.”

Anita watched her go, fury building until she thought she would explode, and then she was on her feet and far enough away that no one could grab her before anyone could react. “I’ll just go with her.”

Rafael and Asher were both on their feet, the rat king saying, “This is a bad idea. We should stop her.”

“I agree.” The vampire said.

Richard shook his head. “It’s the restroom of a five-star restaurant. It might be good for them to talk alone. What could happen?”

Buffy hated towel people, never understood the point of them. They sat there, listening to you go to the bathroom, which was kind of embarrassing, she thought, for both of you. Then they watched you wash up handed you a towel and you had to pay them? Hell of a way to make a living. She grabbed a hand towel from the stack in front of the old lady and stuck it under the faucet, biting back her grin at the woman’s hurriedly bit back gasp of surprise at her appearance. She looked in the mirror and scowled. There was blood smeared under her nose and down the left side of her mouth and it was still trickling slowly from both nostrils. Damn Jean Claude.

She turned the water off, wrung out the towel and cleaned it up. She was just rinsing out the towel when the door opened and Anita stomped in, glaring at her in the mirror. The animator tossed a twenty at the towel woman and said “Take a break.”

Buffy turned around, dropping the towel in the skin, leaning on her weight on her hands on the counter as the lady hustled out the door. She raised her eyebrows at Anita.

“I thought you were going home.” Were the first words out of Anita’s mouth.

Buffy shrugged, hands moving so that only the heels of her hands were resting on the counter, her fingers now gripping the edge. “Things changed.” Asher’s words ran through her head. They had to get along. They didn’t have to like each other, but they had to get along.

“So, what? First Asher and Rafael and then Jean Claude and Richard? Who’s next?”

Buffy frowned. “What are you talking about?” She frowned harder when she saw her hand edge toward her gun. “Really? You can’t shoot me here, Anita.”

Anita caught herself and pulled her hand back. “No, but I can beat the shit out of you.” She balled it into a fist.

Buffy snorted. “I’m guessing you can’t.”

Anita’s fist plowed into Buffy’s face before she even had a chance to think about it, shocking both of them. “I’m guessing I can, you stupid bitch.” She grabbed the blonde’s hair and shoved her head into the mirror, shattering the glass, not holding back, letting all of her anger and frustration burst free in that one action.

Buffy brought her own hands up, grabbing Anita’s wrists and wedging a foot between them, planting it on the other woman’s stomach and kicking forward. Anita flew backward, hitting the wall, sending pink tiles crashing to the floor.

Buffy stalked over to her, reached down and grabbed her by the front of her black dress, dragged her back to her feet, hauled her fist back to return the punch but Anita was fast enough to get another punch in first, this one taking Buffy in the left ribs. She dropped Anita, the dress ripping, and took a step back, planting a foot behind her in a defensive stance.

Anita took her own stance and waited. She was going to enjoying beating this Barbie down. And when she was done, the bitch would go home and things would get back to normal around here. She balled up a fist and swung it at Buffy’s face.

Buffy caught the incoming punch and used Anita’s momentum to throw her into the door of the closest stall, sending both the woman and the door to flying to the floor. She pulled her up by her hair and threw her back across the room, this time into the towel lady’s station, sending towels flying everywhere along with the chair.

She gave Anita a chance to get to her feet then hit her with the one-two combination that Giles had taken such pains to teach her during her first week in Sunnydale, the first one taking the necromancer across the right cheek and the second one smack in the mouth, sending blood spurting. She followed that up with a third punch that sent Anita right back to the floor.

From her position on the floor, Anita spit out a mouthful of blood and kicked the side of the slayer’s kneecap, hearing the satisfying snap as it dislocated and sent the blonde to the floor as well. She sent another kick to Buffy’s face, causing her nose bleed once again. Scrambling across the floor, she grabbed a handful of blonde hair and pulled her fist back, swung it forward, only to have it caught in Buffy’s hand.

Buffy grabbed Anita’s other fist, catching it before it could connect as well, then rammed her forehead into the animator’s nose, hearing her own satisfying crunch as it broke. She let go at the same time, the force of the impact sending Anita right back against the wall while Buffy used her good leg to push herself to the other wall.

Both woman took a minute to catch their breath, glaring at each other.

Anita told herself the tears in her eyes were from the broken nose. “Why won’t you just go away? Why don’t you just get the fuck out of my life?” She told herself her voice wasn’t shaking.

Buffy wedged her knee against the support beam of the counter, gritted her teeth and jammed it back into alignment. She dropped her head against the wall, making sure to keep an eye on the other woman while she considered her answer. ‘Fuck off’ was the first one that came to mind but if they were going to make this work someone had to take the first step and judging by the pain in Buffy’s knee and face from Anita’s reactions thus far, it wasn’t going to be the woman sitting across from her.

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to not belong? Anywhere? Even with your friends? To know that if you even showed them for one second who…what you really were they’d…” she trailed off with a shrug. And she couldn’t really hide the pain in her voice, and maybe it was a good thing that she couldn’t.

Anita frowned. Was the girl in her head? Could she read minds? She checked her shields only to find they were intact and strong and that all her other senses, as they always were in Buffy’s presence, were gone. She studied the girl’s face, felt a tiny surge of guilt at the mess she’d made of it that she immediately tramped down. Her eyes were filled with pain; Anita knew it was not from the fight and it was pain that she knew only too well. Hadn’t her own best friend, her own fiancé in college, her own goddamn family, once they’d found out who…what she really was…hadn’t they all looked at her differently once they’d found out what she was? Hadn’t Richard himself looked at her with disgust when she’d done what she’d had to do to save them all? Wasn’t half their problem because she was able to love him despite what he was? Hadn’t they all in the end…left? Didn’t she know exactly what it was like to not belong? And hadn’t she, once she’d found a place to belong, people to belong to, hadn’t she fought like hell to keep it?

“Yeah…I guess I know what that’s like. So?”

“So, that was me…before. Where I was from. But here, no one cares. People accept me. People love me. And I love them.”

Her eyes narrowed. “Jean Claude? Richard?”

Buffy snorted. “Oh my God…get over it. Richard is cute and all but the guy is a hot mess. It’s a wolfy connection thing and nothing more. I adore Jean Claude but not in a ‘gimme gimme’ kind of way. In a vampire way. I don’t poach, Anita. Even if I did have a thing for either of them, for any of your guys, I wouldn’t do anything. And I don’t cheat. I’m with Asher. And Rafael.”

“Really? You have no feelings at all for Richard and Jean Claude?” Anita just wanted that point crystal clear.

Buffy shook her head and then frowned. “Richard, no. Jean Claude…it’s confusing because of Asher. I have all these weird Asher things in my head from the bonding thing. He loved him for a long time.”

“I have those same feelings for Asher.” Anita blurted before she could stop herself. She expected the blonde to get angry and was surprised when Buffy only nodded.

“It’s kind of freaky, huh? I know those aren’t like MY fluffy bunny feelings but they sort of make it hard to get pissed off at him when he does things like force me to have dinner.” She rolled her eyes.

Anita surprised herself by letting a short laugh out. “When Asher first came here every time I looked at him I wanted to rip his clothes off.” Once again the words were out before she could stop herself but once again Buffy surprised her.

Buffy giggled. “Hey, me too!”

“You really love him?” Seeing the look on Buffy’s face, Anita didn’t really need a verbal answer but she waited for it anyway.

Buffy nodded. “I really do.”

“What about Rafael?”

She tried a grin but it just hurt too much so she settled for a shrug. “I’m not really sure.” She had no idea why she was sharing all this when just a second ago they were pounding the shit out of each other but it certainly was the better option. “He thinks, and Asher does too, I guess, that we’ll all be this big happy threesome. I like him, a lot. He’s sexy as hell. He gets me. For our first date he took me to Laser Tag. He bought out the entire place so we could, you know, not hold back. Kicked my ass. I’m sure he cheated. Then we offed the convict vamps. He’s…different than Asher but in a good way. I could see myself falling for him, if I’d met him first. It’s just weird. Hard to get used to it being okay to be with two guys. It feels…slutty.”

“Tell me about it.” She muttered as she stared at the girl for long minute and, while she wouldn’t admit out loud maybe she hadn’t given her a fair chance. They were not that different when you really looked at it. And their situations, not that different either. She didn’t have anyone who really knew what she was going through, no one to really talk to.

Sure, she had Micah and Nathaniel but it wasn’t the same. They couldn’t understand that sometimes she just wanted all the men to get the fuck out of her face and leave her alone. And sometimes you just needed a girl to talk to. And Ronnie…well, Ronnie wasn’t really the friend she used to be and Anita couldn’t blame her. She hardly ever saw Catherine at all anymore and when she did it mostly consisted of “No, Anita, I don’t care if you’re guilty or not, plausible deniability…”

Did she believe Buffy when she said she wasn’t interested in Richard and Jean Claude? She’d seen the look in her eyes when she’d talked about Asher and it was as plain as anything that the girl was gone on the vampire. So, yes, she supposed she did believe it. And Asher, now that she thought about, was happy. She felt, acutely, a stab of pain at his loss but it was overridden by her happiness for him, because he deserved it, more than anyone she could think of.

And, if there was even the chance that Jean Claude was right, that Buffy could help with the Council… “Look, Buffy, I’m not saying we’re going to be the best of friends and I’m not saying that I’m not going to go jealous bitch on you again but maybe a truce isn’t out of the question.”

Buffy used her hands on the wall behind her to get to her feet and made her way over to Anita, held out a hand to help the other woman to hers. When Anita was standing, Buffy nodded, saying, “Just one thing, first.”

“What’s that?”

Buffy pulled her arm back and punched Anita in the face so hard she flew back into the wall one more time, head smacking off the tiles, landing on her butt on the floor, fresh blood gushing from her split lip. “What the fuck!?”

“Yeah. That’s for shooting me in the head.” She held out her hand again, wiggling her fingers. “The guys are probably wondering where we are.”

Anita glared up at her for a long minute and then shook her head, grudging smile slowly spreading across her face as she took the offered hand. “No doubt.”

Two women left the bathroom with more in common than they entered with, both limping a little as they headed back to their table, Buffy because despite putting her knee back in place it still hurt like hell and Anita because somewhere during all the bouncing off the walls she’d broken one of her heels. They were both bloody, both scraped, bruised, beaten and battered, both wearing torn dresses, both a lot worse for wear. They resolutely ignored the stares from the other patrons, just as they ignored the men at their table standing up.

”Mon Deiu!” Jean Claude said as he moved to grab Anita by the shoulders. She deftly dodged him and Richard both and sat with exaggerated dignity in her chair, straightening her jacket over the torn bodice of her dress.

“Buffy, what the hell happened? Are you okay?” Rafael moved to take hold her of, Asher apparently on the same page but she ducked under their reaching arms, taking her own seat, hopelessly trying to fix her disheveled hair.

The men shot each other glances and then took their seats, sounding like they’d rehearsed as they said as one “What happened?”

Anita picked up her Coke and held it in the air, signaling the waiter. “Can I get a rum and Coke here?”

Buffy blinked, picked up her own glass and said “Ditto!”


Voyeur in Darkness

It had been three weeks of stalling since the night Tara had shown her Buffy’s conversation in the cemetery. In that three weeks Willow had been busy…other than the stalling.

She’d mostly been avoiding Xander, Giles and Dawn. Kennedy had been easier simply because she’d been gone. Willow once again stomped down the guilt and told herself it was for the greater good, as everything she’d been doing over the last three weeks had been. She had to be sure. This time, for Buffy, she had to be sure. There was so much to make up for, the whole Heaven thing being just the tip of the iceberg.

She’d come out of the bathroom that night and they’d all been there, waiting to bring Buffy home. She’d made some excuse about not looking at the position of Pluto and mumbled some apologies. Dawn had protested but in the end had backed off. After all, she was Willow, pretty much the great and powerful Oz. She could only hope that no one looked behind the curtain before she was sure.

She’d gotten into Giles’ office, finagled the assignments and sent her lover off to Belize with a Slayer team on a mission to eradicate a nest of Chujdmaga demons. They moved around a lot. A lot. It was a hunt and stalk mission. It would be weeks before Kennedy was back. It hadn’t gone over well. Still, Willow had the apartment to herself and no one to answer to.

She’d gone to Buffy’s place; she’d needed some of Buffy’s things for her new spell to work. When she got there she’d nearly broken down again when she realized two things right off. One, it wasn’t really Buffy’s place because there wasn’t anything at all of Buffy here. Sure, Buffy stayed here, her clothes were here. Her brush was in the bathroom, because that’s what Willow had taken, but where were the personal things?

Yeah, they’d lost all their things in Sunnydale, but they’d begun to replace them. When you walked into Willow and Kennedy’s place, didn’t you immediately see pictures of them? And weren’t there pictures of her and Xander goofing off? Her and Giles? Giles and Xander? Some of the other Slayers? Giles and Dawn in the new library? Everyone but Buffy, now that she thought about it.

And, now that she was thinking about it, the same could be said of Dawn’s apartment. Of Giles’ house. Of Xander’s.

And the second thing Willow realized was…no one had noticed. They’d been in Cleveland for almost a year and no one had noticed that Buffy wasn’t really here. How had they not noticed? Again. She slid down the wall next to the door and looked around Buffy’s living room.

Off white walls. The kind that came with a new apartment. The generic kind that you were supposed to decorate to your personality when you moved in. There was a painting hanging above the off white sofa. She tipped her head to the side to study it, frowning when she realized it was pale yellow flowers in a field of slightly paler yellow grass. She’d seen it before. It came with the frame. It came with the apartment.

The off white sofa sat on an off white carpet. They had come with the apartment, too. There was no other furniture. Nothing. Not a coffee table, not a television, nothing. No stands holding knick-knacks. No shelves with mementoes. No souvenirs from a concert or a movie or a fun night on the town. There was nothing.

Swiping at the tears on her face, she used a hand on the wall behind her to push herself back to her feet and made her way to the bedroom.

The same off white color scheme dominated in here, too. The rug, the walls, the bedspread, the sheets, which could be seen under the turned back spread, which was the only sign of disturbance. There was a dresser and a nightstand in here but the tops of both were bare. No coins or casually strewn about detritus of human life.

She opened the closest. There were a few sweaters and shirts but mostly it just looked empty. She could remember a time when Buffy’s closets were so full she’d had to borrow space in Willow’s. With a sad smile she moved over to the dresser, pulled open a drawer and wasn’t surprised to find it empty.

Shaking her head and clutching Buffy’s brush to her chest, she headed out the door and back to her own apartment. She had a spell to figure out and a friend to save. One way or another.

It took her two and a half weeks to figure out the spell because there really wasn’t a spell for what she wanted to do. There were spells to find Buffy, yes. There was definitely a spell bring Buffy a home. But there wasn’t a spell, specifically, to recreate what Tara had done, so she’d had to create it from the ground up. It had taken work but, after a few false starts, she was sure she’d finally gotten it.

She pulled her flat screen TV in front of the couch and took a deep breath. She didn’t know why she was so nervous. It was just a look and see spell. If Tara was really Tara, and she really felt to the very core of her being that she was, then she wouldn’t lie to her. She was going to look, see Buffy being all happy, and then she was just going to tell the others that they couldn’t bring Buffy back and that would be that. She’d just have to break out the super resolve face if…when they disagreed.

She blew out the breath and began her quiet chant as she smeared jasmine oil over the screen, followed by various herbs and Buffy’s hair. She felt the glass begin to bubble and warp and then disappear all together as a picture began to form. She smiled as she slid back on the couch and stared at the television, cut off the chant.

On the screen, the picture wavered and became clear, complete with sound. And Willow found a smile.

Buffy was wrapped in a towel that hung from her armpits to her knees. From the remarkably clear picture on the screen, it looked pretty fluffy, Willow thought. It was a deep red and matched the spread on the large bed behind her. She was standing in front of a closet with her hands on her hips looking at what had made Willow smile. A closet filled to nearly bulging with clothes. That was her Buffy.

She reached up and brushed a tear, a happy one this time, that had escaped from her eye. Buffy looked from the closet to something that Willow couldn’t see and looked exasperated. “I don’t know!” She whined.

A female voice from off screen said, “Buffy, no one cares what you wear. Just pick something and put it on. It’s a party celebrating you, after all.”

Willow’s smile grew even wider and another tear fell. A party for Buffy?

On the screen, Buffy bounced a little in what Willow recognized as good-natured frustration. “I know, but still. I want to look nice. Seriously, Jara. Do you realize that for the last week, every single time Rafael has seen me I’ve been covered in sweat and looking like crap?”

The laugh came from off screen. “You have not. You’re exaggerating.”

“Maybe a little. But still, I want to look good. Do you realize that over the last week, I’ve done nothing but sweat and look like crap Plus, next to you guys I always look like someone’s kid brother.”

“Buffy, really. You’re being a…how do you always say that? Douchebag.”

Willow watched on-screen Buffy laugh, really laugh, and throw a pillow at the girl she couldn’t see. The pillow flew back and Buffy caught it, tossed it back on the bed and step into the closet, rummage around and come out with a black dress. She turned around and held it up with a questioning look on her face. “Yes? No?”

“Yes.”

“Uh huh. You’ve said that to every dress I’ve shown you.”

“Because they were all fine. Buffy, I swear to you no one cares what you wear.”

“You are no help…” She trailed off and a soft smile crossed her face right before Willow heard a knocking off screen and a male voice saying, “Am I interrupting?”

Jara’s voiced answered, “I was just leaving.” And there was the sound of a door closing.

Willow figured this must be the man, Asher, that Tara had shown her and was surprised when it was a completely different, but no less gorgeous, dark-haired man that came into view.

Buffy shoved the dress back in the closet and turned back to look at the man. “So…what are you wearing?” She asked with a grin.

“I think you look delightful as you are.” He hooked his index finger in the towel between her breasts and jerked her forward, pulling her against him.

Her arms came around his neck . “That’s because you’re a perv, Rafael.” She said as she kissed his throat and then trailed her mouth up the side of his neck, stopping to sink her teeth just below his ear.

Willow’s eyes widened. Who the hell was Rafael? What happened to Asher. She needed to turn this off. In a minute.

His arms came down to wrap around her waist as he said, “Me? I am not the one who got us permanently banned from the Whippy Dip, Buffy.”

She pulled her head back and pouted up at him. “THEY have no sense of humor. And that was your fault anyway. Licking your ice cream like that.”

He laughed and picked her up, tossing her on the bed in one smooth motion. “Yes, I’ll take the blame only because I reaped such a nice benefit. Before the banning.” Her pout turned into a giggle that had Willow laughing as well.

Rafael took his jacket off and tossed it…somewhere, Willow couldn’t actually see where and began to unbutton his shirt. Buffy got to her knees and shoved his hands away, doing it herself.

For every button she undid, she kissed the exposed skin and boy did she kiss it, Willow thought. Buffy was all tongue and teeth and lips and Rafael seemed to be enjoying it a lot judging by the sounds he was making. His hands came up and dug into her head.

Willow definitely had to turn this off. Just one more minute to make sure Buffy was really happy.

Buffy pulled his shirt out of his pants and finished with the buttons, ran her tongue up his stomach, up his chest, up his neck, bit his chin. He tipped his head down, caught her mouth with his as she pushed the shirt off his shoulders. Buffy’s mouth slid away from his and skimmed over his shoulder. She bit him, hard. His fingers clenched in the towel.

He jerked her head back by her hair. “We’ll be late.”

“I don’t care.” He slammed his mouth down on hers and toppled them both onto the bed. The towel hit the floor as her legs wrapped around his waist.

Willow fanned herself and broke the spell. Buffy seemed really, really happy.


~~*~~

Celebration in Darkness

Rafael put up with the dirty looks from Jean Claude and tried hard not to smile constantly. It wasn’t easy.

He and Buffy had been late to the party. Very late. He couldn’t be held responsible. The girl was insatiable. The grin broke out on his face. Again. He loved it. He loved her. He glanced around the room; found her held close in Asher’s arms, dancing with the vampire, who’d finally arrived just half an hour ago, minutes after him and Buffy. He caught her eye and she grinned back at him, nudged the vampire who turned and waved him over. He nodded, held up a finger. He had to get away from, hell, he couldn’t even remember the guy’s name, really.

He knew it was a wolf from Richard’s pack, a new guy. He waited for the guy to pause and then said, “If you could just excuse me, I have to…just…” He backed away.

He was halfway across the floor when he was stopped by the Master of the City himself. “Rafael. A word, if I may?”

“Ah, I was actually just going to talk with Buffy and Asher.”

“It will only take a moment.”

He shot a glance their way, saw them wince in sympathy and followed Jean Claude.

Buffy sighed. “Poor Rafael. I think JC's got it in for him.”

“He has been giving him angry looks.”

She cringed. “Yeah…we might have been a tad late.”

“Is that so? What would have kept you from your own party, I wonder?” Both the laughter in his voice and the kiss he dropped on her head told her there was no anger or jealousy, not that she’d thought there was.

“I didn’t even want a party, Asher.”

He pulled her over to sit at one of the tables surrounding the dance floor. “I know, mon amour but Rafael wanted to do this for you and Jean Claude loves to throw his parties. You are part of our world now, with the documentation to prove it.”

She snorted. “Buffy Summers, Federal Marshal. What the hell was he thinking? I don’t want to be a Federal Marshal? And what if someone freaking checks?”

“He assures us all that his people are the best. The documentation will stand up to even the most careful scrutiny. Do you not trust him?”

“Of course I trust him, don’t be a dumbass. It’s just when he asked me what I wanted to do and I said the only thing I know how to do is kill vampires, that wasn’t what I had in mind. And, the new federal protocol? So awesome, I can’t tell you. Anita Blake…” she looked over, saw the animator in question, for once not glaring but talking somewhat happily with Micah. “My partner.”

“All vampire hunters are Federal Marshals. Left up to us, Buffy, you know we would rather have you work as the holy item check girl at Guilty Pleasures. Something safe and quiet.” He paused. “How did she take it?”

“Actually, really, really well. Like, abnormally well.” She sighed and picked at the tablecloth. “I think it’s a devil you know thing. With the new rule about the marshals having to have partners just like every other federal agent I think she was kind of worried about it. This way, at least she knows she’s got a partner who really doesn’t care who she’s shacking up with.” She shrugged, sighed. “Rafael’s people strike again.”

He frowned. “He thought it would make you happy. We all did.”

“I know. I do, and I’m grateful. I have a brand spanking new identity and a life and everything. It’s great. I’m grateful. Really.”

He tipped her face up, looked into her eyes. “Something else troubles you.”

She reached up and took his hand, played with his fingers. “It’s been nearly four months, Asher. I just keep waiting.”

“For Willow?”

She nodded. “I can’t relax. Did she try and fail? If she did, she’ll keep trying. Will she get it? Will I know, will I feel it? Can I fight it? Does time pass so differently there that it’s been a day and she hasn’t tried at all yet? I hate not knowing? I hate waiting for the other shoe to drop. I hate worrying.”

He pulled her close and kissed her head. “I wish I had the answers for you, Buffy. We must find our happiness where we can, where we’ve made it. With each other. With the family that you’ve built. Many people here love you. Be happy for the time you have.”

“What happened?” Rafael asked from behind Buffy.

She sat up, pulling Asher’s handkerchief out of his pocket on the way and rubbing her eyes and nose. “Nothing.” She turned her head, smiled up at him and over at the vampire. She leaned back over, kissed him quickly, stood up, kissed the wererat as well. “I owe Jason a dance.” She dropped the soggy hanky on the table and went to find her surrogate brother.

Asher shook his head and motioned to her empty chair, sighing as the rat king sat down. “Well?” Rafael asked.

“She is worried about the witch.”

“What about the witch?” Rafael growled. Of all the memories they’d shared between the three of them during their intimate moments, the ones of Buffy’s friends pissed him off the most.

“She does not like feeling…how do you say? Up in the air? Not knowing when and if the witch will call her home, if she already tried and failed, will try again.”

“She didn’t say anything to me.”

He reached out and took the other man’s hand. “Nor me. She only just told me now.”

They both looked out on the dance floor, smiling as they watched Jason dip Buffy until her head was a scant inch off the floor, then sweep her around until she was upright again, the people around them clapping as he spun her out, letting go at the last moment while she just kept spinning and he pretended to lose her. She stopped spinning, feigned dizziness. Everyone laughed and she mock-staggered back and then continued their dance.

“How does he do that, do you think?” Rafael asked.

“Jason?”

“Yes. Even from the beginning, when she first woke up and had Requiem against the wall, do you remember?”

The vampire nodded. “I do. It seems to be his gift but they have some kind of connection that I do not understand.” He turned his gaze back to the rat. “Does it bother you?”

“No. I’m glad she has him. I wish we could be there for her like that.”

Asher grinned. “I think we are there for her in other ways. At least according to the…what was it, Rafael? The Whippy Dip?”

He laughed as the rat king actually blushed. “Yes, well…yes.”

“Fret not, Mon Roi. Buffy and I are banned from the coffee house on Olive.”

The rat king stared for a moment and then laughed with the vampire.

Across the dance floor Buffy looked over and smiled at her men. At this moment, she was as happy as she could be.





Mon Roi = My King
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