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Invigorating

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Summary: Buffy leaps into Glory's portal... and lands in the Mississippi River.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anita Blake > Buffy-CenteredCrunchysunrisesFR181681,41712136076,7324 Sep 1220 Sep 12Yes

"Can Asher come out to play?"

Title: Invigorating
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Anita Blake
Rating: R
Content Notes: graphic depictions of violence, character death
Disclaimer: I have no rights to or within the Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Anita Blake franchises, copyrights, characters or trademarks. This is for fun, not profit.
Summary: Buffy leaps into Glory's portal... and lands in the Mississippi River.
Additional Notes: Written for the Het Big Bang challenge. This story fulfills the "hunger/starvation" square on my Hurt_Comfort Bingo Card, the "WILD CARD - washing/cleaning" square on my Kink Bingo card, and the "Chemistry" square on my Cotton Candy Bingo Card. Also answers Challenge #5765 (Inglorious) and Challenge #4842 (Vampires' Superiority Complex) on the Twisting the Hellmouth Website and the TTH100 Challenge.


#079. Stumble

The club's darkness throbbed with synthetic music, flashing lights, and pounding human heartbeats.

Tired and angry, Asher stood at a railing on the upper floor and watched the young humans below him grind and gyrate against each other. He had been tired and angry for a very long time. When Jean-Claude joined him, Asher pretended to ignore him. Instead, he picked Anita and Nathanial out of the crowd. The boy flowed like water and sin. Anita jerked and flailed.

Asher allowed his eyes to wander away from the game that he could never figure out the rules for or even get a standing invitation to play.

Elsewhere on the dance floor, a young blond woman was as remarkable as her partner was forgettable. In another lifetime, Asher would have been her next partner and she would have been his next conquest. In this lifetime, all he could bring himself to do was stand in the shadows, admire her, and feel hateful toward himself, his scars, the men who ruined him, Julianna for leaving him, Jean-Claude for failing him, and Julianna's God for allowing it. He hated the blonde woman for reminding him of all that he had lost. The hate swallowed his anger, his tiredness, his despair.

Then something extraordinary happened.

The blonde looked up from her boring partner's perfect face and directly at Asher as if he was not shrouded by a careful arrangement of hair and shadows. As if he were any other ordinary man in this club with an ordinary face.

She smirked. And winked.

Asher stumbled backward, away from the railing and the woman. He brushed his fingertips against the fall of his hair.

Jean-Claude pulled his gaze from his human servant to grace Asher with a mild, enquiring expression.

Asher shook his head.

Then Asher fled the club.

A week later, Asher was in another club, watching a moron argue with a zombie. The humor was trite, the zombie reeked, and the crowd's tittering was irritating. Across the room, the baby vampire was bobbing and weaving through his staff and customers. His lime green suit and hideous light-up tie were crimes against good taste. Cringing, Asher turned his attention back to the zombie.

When the much younger vampire finally made his way to Asher’s side, Asher stood and murmured, “I'm here to see your ledgers.”

As Willie McCoy bobbed his head and babbled about how welcome Asher was, a customer strolled up to Willie McCoy.

“Excuse me but which way is it to the ladies’ room?”

While Willie gave her directions, Asher tried to remember where he had seen the woman before.

I saw her in Danse Macabre, Asher realized. The shock of the chance meeting reminded Asher unpleasantly of being dropped headfirst into an icy river.

“Thanks,” she chirped with a smile for McCoy and a lingering look for Asher before she sauntered away.

Asher followed Willie to the office. While he inspected the ledgers, a corner of his mind lingered on the woman's lovely green eyes.





#001. Moon

Jean-Claude is either enraptured by this mediocre interpretation of La Bohemia or he is doing an excellent job of pretending to be. Asher thought as he tried to ignore the hand rubbing over his kneecap.

Anita was seated between himself and Jean-Claude, her head resting on Jean-Claude’s shoulder. Her closed eyelids and slow, deep breathing indicated her surrender to sleep. Behind them, Asher could feel Richard’s all encompassing glare. On Asher’s other side, the visiting master split his attention between touching Asher inappropriately and leering at the cast. Members of the Lover of Death's line were always interested in fully experiencing the grotesque.

“Pardon me,” Asher murmured as he slid out from under the hand slowly trailing up the inside of his thigh. He strode out of the box, down the stairs and out the front door. Asher stood in the warm nighttime air and tried to find a shred of his calm.

When that failed, Asher tapped out a cigarette then fumbled in his pockets for his lighter. As he took his first deep drag of bitter, soothing nicotine, Asher’s eyelids fluttered shut from the sheer relief it brought him. Eyes closed, he enjoyed several more soothing drags before the sense of being watched prompted him open his eyes.

That woman again, Asher though as his eyes lingered on her.

She was across the street and about two entryways down from him. The moon’s light traced the drawn lines and curves of her face in silver and gilded her blonde hair. Shadows hid her face but the tilt of her head was tired. Stranger though she was, in that moment Asher pitied her. At least he was not alone anymore.

It would be irresponsible to abandon Jean-Claude.

The woman shifted her weight, allowing the ambient light to illuminate her profile. Her smile bunched up her cheek and resettled the shadows at the corner of her mouth.

As a late bus rattled by, Asher dropped his cigarette butt and ground it out under his heel.

I’ll speak with the woman then return to my original party. I will be brief.

But when the bus finally passed, he was alone. Looking up and down the street and into the shadows did not yield her. She was so well and truly gone that it was as if she had never been there.

Feeling oddly disappointed, Asher trudged back into the opera house.





#076. Deceit

The next time Asher saw the woman, he was sitting at a table in the VIP section of Dance Macabre and she was dancing like a pulse. Those who were drawn in by her animal magnetism, whether human or otherwise, were rendered pale shadows by her sheer presence. Even Asher felt the pull of her.

Next to him, Jean-Claude deliberately shifted his weight to draw a portion of Asher's attention back to himself. In Asher's ear, he murmured, "I could make a fortune off of such a woman."

Asher snorted.

"Aren't you supposed to have eyes for your human servant alone?" he asked, a trifle snidely.

Jean-Claude drew away from him. Asher's side tingled with his loss.

It's better this way, Asher told himself. It's easier not to want him when he is not so close.

After two months in St. Louis, Asher knew that the wordless promises that Anita made with her eyes, her smiles, her hands were false. She had never had any intention of sharing Jean-Claude or herself with him. And Jean-Claude, who was besotted with her, would deny her nothing in the pursuit of her happiness. That her strictures left him unhappy, weakened, and slowly starving, was incidental to him.

Although Jean-Claude had always sworn up and down that he had no use for emotions, he had ever been helpless in the face of his own. It was why he so vigilantly guarded against his heart's yearnings, lest they carry him away. Jean-Claude was ill-equipped to survive a careless beloved.

Asher judged Anita careless only on her best days.

In the present, Asher let his gaze wander to where Jean-Claude's human servant was dancing with Jean-Claude's favorite wolf. He was all quick, graceful lines. She was all clumsy movements and ill-disguised irritation.

The wolf would look better with the Mademoiselle, Asher thought as his eyes drifted back to the blond woman. She was now facing in his general direction and dancing with a new partner. Someone ruled by the moon if the new partner's grace was anything to go by. And he would be a more suitable partner than her current one.

The blonde woman must have thought her current partner substandard because her head was tilted back at an angle that allowed her to scan the crowd around her. She tilted her head back further, apparently scanning the part of the second floor that she could see from her position.

Asher expected her gaze to slide over him on its path to Jean-Claude. He had long ago accepted that it was his place in the world to remain unseen, unnoticed, and unwanted.

Instead, the woman's gaze stopped on him. She looked surprised. And then she smiled.

Asher flinched back, drawing his shadows around himself protectively.

"Asher?" asked Jean-Claude. He was looking in the woman's general direction. "What has happened?"

"Nothing," Asher lied, risking another glance. The blonde woman was already gone, swallowed up by the mass of writhing bodies. Anita and the wolf appeared to have disappeared too. "Where's Anita?"

"Here," said the woman in question. Asher turned to see her gracelessly flop down across from himself. When Jason poked her in the shoulder, Anita scooted around the circle of the booth until she ended up on Jean-Claude's other side. "Why?"

"No reason," Asher said as Jason slid into the seat across from him. Anita scowled at Asher, as if she suspected him of deceit.

"Ma petite," said Jean-Claude as he bravely took one of Anita's hands in his own. "Come dance with me."

"I hate dancing," Anita said with the thoughtless ease of a well-worn rote. "And I'm thirsty. And my feet hurt."

Asher caught the flicker of disappointment in the angle of Jean-Claude's nose and the tilt of his nearest eyebrow.

"You danced with Jason," Asher argued, more for Jean-Claude's sake than because he cared. "Why not with us?"

"Jason was being annoying."

"Speaking of annoying..." murmured the werewolf as he slid out of his seat. "Excuse me for a second."

Asher watched Jason walk toward the velvet rope which blocked off the VIP section from the other parts of the club. On the other side of the flimsy barrier, the blonde woman was arguing with a wererat nearly twice her size. Jason and the blonde woman murmured together for a few moments, arguing, before Jason huffed a sigh and returned to their table.

"Jean-Claude isn't going to sign her breasts or bite her," Anita immediately declared. "Go tell her that."

"That's not what she wants," Jason said. He grinned mischievously at Asher as if they shared some private joke. "She came to ask for a dance."

"No," Anita said immediately. "Jean-Claude's dancing with me."

Jean-Claude smiled at his human servant. "As you wish, ma petite."

"She wants to dance with him," Jason said, nodding at Asher.

Asher's head whipped toward the velvet rope and the blonde woman standing behind it. She grinned and waved at him cutely. Then she playfully crooked her finger at him.

Asher pointed at himself.

The woman smiled and nodded. She crooked her finger again. The gesture was somehow more imperious the second time.

Jean-Claude lightly touched Asher's shoulder, startling him.

"Go on," he said. "Before ma petite changes her mind."

When Asher slide out of his seat, the blonde woman's face lit up. It had been a very long time since anyone, male or female, had looked at him like that. It was for that reason alone that Asher went to the velvet rope, intending to decline her invitation in person.

When he was close enough, her hand darted under the velvet rope to grip his. It was small, warm, and calloused. The touch was shocking.

That was the only reason that Asher was mute as the wererat manning the rope unhooked it for him. Asher led her through an Employees Only exit, down a hallway, and up another set of stairs to one of the small platforms hanging in the rafters.

"Take a break," he growled to the gyrating vampire as he unbolted the gate in the waist high barrier surrounding the platform.

The fledgling meekly slipped away, leaving Asher with the platform and the girl. She claimed the platform without hesitation and started dancing even before Asher had finished securing the safety door. Up there, the shadows were softer and more plentiful and there was only the one human girl to keep track of. Asher, who was unfamiliar with the most modern forms of dance, learned to partner the blonde quickly.

"You're a great dancer!" she shouted over the music.

"Thank you." Asher leaned down to press his perfect cheek to her own. In her ear, he murmured, "How is it that you saw me?"

"Why wouldn't I?"

Asher's poor, dead heart squeezed and his fingers tightened on the woman's waist. There was absolutely nothing that he could say to that. Instead, he enjoyed it.

At the end of the night, when Asher walked his partner to her car, he impulsively said, "I come to this club on most Thursday nights."

Jean-Claude insisted on it. Thursday night was Ladies' Night.

The woman smiled up at him tiredly. "I'll remember that."





#026. Money

Asher watched the women wave money at the shimmying Jason and marveled. Modern American women were nothing like his Julianna – hard where she had been soft, shamelessly demanding where she would have prettily begged, and laughing where she would have been mortified.

He watched as a familiar blonde woman blush and tuck a bill into Jason's g-string. Her tablemates cheered and Jason laughed as he whirled away. Next to Asher, Jean-Claude leaned back in his chair, his limbs heavy with their lust for his wolf.

The blonde laughed as she watched Jason go, her skin flushed with embarrassment or excitement or perhaps a mixture of the two. Then she twisted in her chair to slant a sly look at Asher. There was left over lust in her expression from her game with Jason and genuine good humor.

Even though he expected it, her gaze still sent a little jolt down Asher's spine.

Then her eyes slid from him to Jean-Claude. There had been a time when she would have looked at him and looked no further. But that time was long past. Something in Asher's chest ached.

There was definite approval in her gaze as she admired the Master of the City.

Then her gaze slid back to him. Despite himself, Asher straightened in his seat. She arched her eyebrows at him, flicked her eyes in Jean-Claude’s direction, and finally raised her fruity pink drink to Asher in a silent toast. Then she turned her back on him and whooped at the newest dancer.

“That woman...”

Asher cut Jean-Claude off. “I do not understand why she is dressed up like a cheerleader.”

“It is a ritual sometimes performed at American bachelorette parties,” Jean-Claude said brusquely. "My goldfinch, please..."

"Tell me more."

"About the woman?"

"About American bachelorette parties."

Jean-Claude sighed.





#034. Luck

“I don’t understand why Asher can’t–”

“He does not have time, ma petite. He must be in his office in twenty minutes in order to greet our very important guest.”

“Let me test my understanding. It's more important to you that Asher greet some stupid contest winner than that he spend time with us.”

Asher tensed, loving and hating both Anita and Jean-Claude for different reasons in that moment.

“Ma petite, please.” At her obstinate expression, Jean-Claude nearly sighed. Asher glared at Anita. Jean-Claude never used to bite back sighs of irritation. “It would be better for Asher if he went.”

Anita’s eyes widened and her expression twisted with her anger.

"I was just trying to do something nice for him!"

Asher left the room before Anita and Jean-Claude could begin quarreling in earnest. He made sure to slam the door behind him.

He was still feeling angry and hurt and hateful when he stormed into his office in the circus. Asher was still raging when the knock on his door came. A moment later, the door swung open.

“The contest winner is here for her tour,” said his assistant.

Asher nodded, his expression falling into pleasant, blank lines. "Show her in."

A moment later that blonde woman strode into his office. Asher, his emotions churning, went absolutely still.

She examined the room. He examined her. She was smaller and younger than he remembered and her eyes were greener. When Asher's assistant slipped out of the room, the blond fixed her attention on Asher. Her examination made his stomach clench. Asher made certain that the shadows were flattering and that his hair was properly placed to hide the scars.

She grinned.

“So what kind of crazy luck does a girl need to win a contest that she never entered?”





#067. Immortal

“This place is seriously disturbed,” Buffy declared as she watched the lamia and her harem writhe in the center ring with obvious fascination. “People actually pay to come here?”

“You did.”

“My ticket was free. What are they?”

“Lamia. She is the last of her kind and said to be immortal."

"Great. Every world needs more immortal snake-people in it," Buffy said flatly. "What about them? Those other ones look sort of... male... and very snake-y."

"They are taking treatments from the Lamia. She hopes that one of those men will survive the process and become her mate.”

“They were normal men? Human?”

“Yes.”

"And they chose... that?"

"Yes."

The woman subsided into silence, a little frown crinkling the skin between her eyes.

Asher was trying to remember some insipid bit of circus-related trivia to tell her – something other than that he once sat in her seat and watched a council member rape a woman – when Buffy next spoke.

“Y’know I thought you were following me. I kept looking up and there you were.”

“I was in those places on business!”

“Really?”

“For the Master of the City," Asher said stiffly.

“Oh. You work for him? Does your boyfriend?”

Flashes of memories – Jean-Claude and Julianna in the bath, Jean-Claude reading by candlelight, Jean-Claude's laughter – cut into his foolish heart. Asher snarled, “Jean-Claude is not my lover!”

The girl wrenched her gaze from the lamia to stare at Asher.

What does she see when she looks at me? The scars?

Even though she sat on his good side, Asher still tilted his head away from her to make sure that all she saw of him was his perfect profile.

“Sheesh. No need to get your panties in a twist. I made a mistake. No big deal.”

“He made the same one regarding you and I,” Asher admitted bitterly.

He had never been particularly good at holding his tongue. There had only ever been a few reliable ways to silence Asher and not even Jean-Claude would utilize those methods anymore.

If Jean-Claude could not bear to touch him, would Julianna have been able to, had she lived? Asher prayed that she would have, but Jean-Claude made him doubt. And if not even Julianna or Jean-Claude would touch him, why would this terribly young creature wish to? And what right did Jean-Claude have to taunt him with her?

“Wanna go shopping Friday night, Asher?”





#063. Computer

He was sitting next to Jean-Claude, watching his former lover search for keys on the computer’s keyboard then carefully depress them with his forefingers, when Buffy breezed into Asher's office. Asher's assistant was on her heels.

Buffy put her hands on her hips and cocked one side aggressively.

“I can’t believe you stood me up!”

“I was under the impression that I declined to come,” Asher said dryly as he quietly admired her. She was very pretty.

“I told you that it wasn’t really an invitation. I remember telling you so right after you said that.”

“Buffy–”

“You’re the only person I’ve met who doesn’t dress like he’s blind. No shoulder pads, no neon fabrics,” her eyes slid to Jean-Claude as she added, “and no ruffles.”

Jean-Claude leveled a blank look at her that made Asher's assistant blanch and back away. Asher’s lips twitched.

She shifted her focus to Jean-Claude. “Can Asher come out to play?”

Asher expected Jean-Claude to ignore her or bait her or say something snide in defense of his beloved ruffles.

“Yes, Mademoiselle Buffy.” Jean-Claude stressed her name in such a way as to press the point that her given name was at least as ridiculous as his beloved ruffles. Buffy scowled at him. “Asher may... play with you.”

Asher gaped. Buffy grinned triumphantly. Jean-Claude smirked and made shooing motions.

“Run along, Asher. I will be fine finishing this on my own.”

While Asher sputtered protests, the girl grabbed his wrist and tugged him out of his seat. She grinned and waved at the Master of the City over her shoulder.

“Thanks, J.C.! I’ll have him back to you before dawn.”

The last thing Asher saw as the surprisingly strong woman hustled him out of the room was Jean-Claude pressing his lips together in annoyance.





#007. School

“We always go out on Tuesday.”

“We do not.” Asher bit out as he scribbled a quick note on a document. It was mostly in English.

“You promised.”

“I promised nothing.”

“Well…not in so many words. But when I left on Friday I said, ‘I’ll see you Tuesday.’ And you didn’t disagree so you must have been agreeing. Silently.”

“I am certain that you can replace me with a dozen handsome young men in a matter of minutes.”

If his tone was angry and bitter, he had a right to be. She didn’t want him. No one wanted him. He didn’t even want to be stuck inside of himself.

The girl stared at him. Asher ignored her.

He was in the middle of going over the weekly invoices when the girl finally said, “I’m lonely. You’re lonely. I thought you might understand that.”

Asher froze. Slowly he looked up at her.

“A lovely young woman such as yourself has no reason to be lonely.”

“I could say the same thing about you. Except for the woman part because, uh, clearly you’re not.” Buffy held her small, tanned hand out to him. “C’mon. I thought you might like a museum better than the mall. There’s an impressionist show in town at the moment. Since you were probably around when that stuff was painted, I figured you could explain it to me.”

Asher narrowed his eyes at her. He could almost taste her slippery evasion.

Grudgingly she added, “It’s for a school assignment. Art appreciation. Who knew that fieldtrips would be involved?”

Such a silly, innocent exploitation. And she was interesting even if he had no idea what she was saying most of the time. And he was lonely.

Asher took Buffy's small, warm hand in his own. “As you wish, Mademoiselle.”





#082. Gloves

“Miss! Miss! You don’t have an appointment!”

The mademoiselle stepped around Asher's assistant, her black trench coat swinging around her legs rather oddly. Her high heels were puce and her hair ribbons were sea foam green.

“What part of fashion emergency did you not understand?”

“Good evening, Mademoiselle,” Asher greeted her. He tried to remember what he had said and not said to her the previous evening at the museum. He could have sworn the conversation was all art-related. "How can I help you this evening?"

Buffy yanked her coat open to reveal a long puce dress with puffy half-sleeves, lace, ruffles, and sea foam green accents. Long sea foam green gloves finished off the look. It was the most hideous dress that Asher had seen in at least a century.

Asher’s lip curled in silent disgust.

“I know! I’m expected to wear this fashion disaster in front of people! There are going to be pictures!”

“Mademoiselle, while I am truly sorry for your predicament–”

She stomped one small foot.

“Asher, you’re going to come with me and explain to them that they must be insane and colorblind. Then you’re going to pick out flattering dresses for us.”

“But Mademoiselle–”

“You have that sexy French accent! They’ll listen to you for sure!”

Asher forgot what he was going to say. “Oh.”

It had been a very long time since someone had casually called him sexy.

“Asher! This is your chance to prevent a crime against humanity! All of humanity, Asher!”

Asher peered up at Buffy. She was lovely and amusing. She took fashion seriously and this was clearly important to her. And it had been a very long time since someone had sought him out simply for his opinions on something so personal and frivolous.

And she thought that his accent was sexy.

Asher stood up.

“Humanity should be protected from such blinding ugliness.”

The girl beamed.

“Exactly!” She tied her trench coat shut around her again. “So you’ll save me, then?”

“It is my civic duty.”

“My knight in shining armor!” she teased, real gratitude shining in her eyes.

He flashed her a small smile and moved to offer her his arm. “My lady.”

Still smiling up at him, the pretty mademoiselle took his arm and cuddled into his side.

Asher felt something peculiar then. He felt… light. It took him a long moment to identify the sensation.

Asher was happy.





#062. Game

“Sea foam is my favorite color!” the bride, a woman named Myka Cannon, insisted for the third time. “Who are you to criticize our color choices anyway?”

“My date!” Buffy said cheerfully.

Shock crashed through Asher. It felt remarkably like the time Jean-Claude had tossed him into a river in the dead of winter.

Perhaps Mademoiselle Buffy was motivated by more than fashion-conscious outrage in my office... But what game is she playing? Are there rules? And what are the stakes?

“Asher is my date to the wedding. He's also the man who used to critique Marie Antoinette's wardrobe. If Asher says the dresses are ugly… Well, who are we to argue with him?”

Asher grinned, amused by Buffy's bold-faced lies.

Then the shameless woman actually smirked and winked! At him!

When Asher glanced covertly at the other bridesmaids, he nearly choked on his own tongue.

The other women were shooting covetous, even envious, glances between himself and Buffy, who looked like the cat that ate the canary.

What is wrong with these girls?

“Asher?” a brunette murmured shyly. “What were you saying about the color choices, again?”

Asher twisted his lips into his most charming smile as he asked, “What flowers did the bride choose for her bouquet?”
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