Series Title: Thistle and Sinew
Title: she’s alive—sorta
Prompt: #351 parched
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all related characters are copyright of Joss Whedon and ME. Vampire Diaries and all related characters are copyright of L.J. Smith, Kevin Williams and the CW. No infringement intended.
was so not Buffy’s thing, but she’d done more of it in the last few days than she’d ever done while in Sunnydale.
Santana’s guitar rift accompanied the swaying of her hips as Buffy worked the broom into the corners of the entryway leading to the outdoor garden of the Hyperion. The cobwebs and bugs had been stripped away with the first brushing and now she was working on the actual dirt and grime that had accumulated in the last several decades of neglect. She was pretty certain the whole building was in desperate need of a good power washing, her mother had their home done the previous summer, but unless Angel was willing to dish out the thousands of dollars that would cost he’d have to settle for a good sweeping of the areas she could reach with the broom.
Thoughts of her mother jumbled her up inside and Buffy refocused, the broom scraping against the concrete as she continued to clean. The entire hotel had a definite art deco vibe, that Joyce would have adored, and now that the nasty had been vacated the doom and gloom atmosphere had vanished. That left behind a decent place, now free of hauntings, for Angel and company to set up shop and Cordelia was ecstatic to have her living room back. The building still gave her a slight case of the heebies
, but that probably had more to do with her own insecurities with her new status as an undead American that the Thesulac demon had stirred up with a vengeance. Damseling
was so not her thing, but she’d done more of it in the last few days than she’d ever done while in Sunnydale and it was playing hell on her sense of self. Regardless of Angel’s assurances that she was still the same Buffy she’d always been she had her doubts which led to Wesley suggesting she join him at Caritas where there was a demon that he thought might be able to help. The irony that she was going to a demon with her sudden identity issues was not lost on her.
The repetition of the last line in the song ‘Smooth’ pulled Buffy back into the present and allowed her to refocus on the task at hand as she freed herself from the stone veranda and pushed the dirt towards the fountain. The statue in the center was only a little mocking with its soft smile and the crack at the base making it slightly lopsided did not help matters. She made her way past it, sweeping up the leaves that had fallen from the overgrown shrubs lining the walkway, and down towards the street.
Completely unaware of her speed until the dirt was swept up in the gust that occurred with her sudden stop and she watched it settle in the street with a shake of her head at her own antics. She frowned a bit at her lack of control before retracing her steps to sweep the other side of the fountain. Her strength seemed on par with her time as the Slayer so she wasn’t struggling there, but the sudden speed she now had was new and not always the most settling of things and most of the time her sudden hyperawareness of her environment was causing havoc on all
She could hear Wesley and Cordelia inside the Hyperion, chattering away, and she’d originally been with them cleaning the lobby area until she’d broken the vacuum. Cordelia had then banished her outside the building with a broom that had seen better days and the instructions, vapid order, to learn better control or only clean where she’d do the least amount of damage.
Anger had come with that reprimand, white hot and as scalding as Cordelia’s commentary, and while a phone conversation with Lexi had revealed that heightened emotions came along with the overactive senses package and, like the senses, Buffy wasn’t yet use them. She’d been forced to turn away from the seer—Cordelia the hero was a novel concept—and simply do as requested since she’d been, and still was, untrusting of allowing herself any other response.
Frightening those around her was not high on Buffy’s list of things to do, especially not after her run in with Wesley under the Thesulac’s influence and thus she’d segregated herself outside without a word and with only Angel’s incredibly old stereo as company. It was a dual cassette tape player and since she lacked any cassettes in which to play that left her with radio and the current Billboard Hit. Not always the best of music, but this beggar wasn’t a chooser and Rob Thomas wasn’t a hardship on her ears, or eyes, but her nose wrinkled as the announcer’s voice tampered off to be replaced with Christina Aguilera and the fact that Buffy really didn’t need to be told what she wanted.
Repressing the urge to lower the volume, since she’d rather listen to Christina than Cordelia complaining, Buffy instead focused on the crackling in the left speaker and started counting the pops. The music became only so much white noise as Buffy made her way back to the veranda and used the broom to attack the cobwebs on the outside. The lamps on either side of the entryway were cleaned easily enough and Buffy leapt, catching the edge of the roof of the veranda and pulled herself up to sweep that as well.
Balanced on the ceramic tiles, she worked the broom along the top line and then down the right side before switching to the left and frowning when the broom failed to dislodge a palm frond. She crouched down, fingers snagging the offending leaf and she tossed it to the sidewalk before finishing the rest of the roof with little difficulty. The door opened beneath her and she moved to the edge to watch as Wesley made his way into the courtyard, his head twisting this way and that as he searched for her.
She’d admit, at least to herself, that it was tempting to let him continue searching for her as his heart started to pick up speed in his chest, but she cleared her throat instead, drawing his gaze upward and she gave a little wave. “Hello.”
“Buffy?” He turned, his head falling back to address her as if it was the most normal thing to find her on the roof of the veranda. “Ah, yes. Angel was inquiring about your whereabouts.”
“He’s finally awake?” Buffy asked and simply stepped off the roof. She landed in a crouch, knees bent to absorb the impact before she straightened and met Wesley’s gaze only to have him quickly avert his own. “Still no vervain?”
“Alas my search of Los Angeles remained of the fruitless sort.” Wesley agreed and focused his gaze on the shoulder bared by the tank top she wore. “Lexi did assure me that she was bringing some with her.”
“She happen to mention when that’d be?”
Wesley’s gaze flicked to hers briefly before he looked away and nodded. “She rang earlier while near Santa Barbara. I would say two, perhaps three hours depending on traffic, until she arrives.”
“Good,” Buffy inclined her head, “So Angel?”
“Yes, right this way.”
He turned back and entered the veranda to open the door for Buffy and she propped the broom on the stone wall beside the entry before preceding him into the hotel. Cordelia was elbow deep in a bucket of sudsy water and the yellow plastic gloves contrasted sharply with tanned forearms as she withdrew her hands from the bucket and continued her scrubbing of the counter in the reception area of the lobby. The marble top fairly gleamed now and the wood being work on would soon match.
Buffy made her way down the carpeted stairs, Wesley a step behind, which led them towards Cordelia as Angel exited the office behind the desk she was working so diligently on. He caught her eye, but Buffy was distracted by the floral scent suddenly saturating the air and her head inclined as she frowned in confusion. “What is that smell?”
“What smell?” Wesley inquired as he came up beside her.
Cordelia stopped her scrubbing and rose, placing two fists into her lower back as she arched it. Buffy’s brows rose at the sound of her vertebra realigning before she turned her head towards Wesley and replied, “It’s a floral scent,” her nose scrunched in distaste, “Reminds me of my grandmother’s attic.”
“Perhaps a tenant left something behind?”
A shrug lifted her shoulder in answer to Wesley’s question before she headed forward, further into the room and closer to Cordelia. She cast her gaze on the rotary phone at the receptionist station and Buffy felt the same twinge of longing she’d been fighting for the past few days to call her mom. The black plastic, dulled by time, was relatively gleaming after Cordelia’s efforts and it also rather mocking of Buffy and her predicament. Angel, and to some extent Lexi, kept insisting she wasn’t yet ready to interact with people she cared most about. Though, truthfully, if Lexi hadn’t backed Angel’s advice Buffy would have most likely already been on her way to Sunnydale.
It was Lexi’s explanation of how strong emotions could, and would, play havoc on her control which meant she was currently a real danger to those closest to her. The thought of hurting her mom or Willow—or anyone for that matter—twisted something inside of Buffy and set her on edge in a way that gave credence to Lexi’s worries and thus kept her trapped in Los Angeles with an ex-boyfriend and his band of merry employees. An ex-boyfriend that was currently studying her with tired eyes and she frowned up at him since he’d been asleep for the better part of the night.
“Good evening, warden.” Buffy stated and watched Angel blinked the tired away so that he could glower at her and that brought on a smile as she added, “Wesley mentioned you wanted to see me.”
“I did,” he turned that look on Wesley before shaking his head and bringing up a hand to massage the bridge of his nose. “I understand Wesley wanted to take you to Caritas,” he looked to the other man who nodded his confirmation, “I’ve got Gunn coming over shortly. He needs my help with something. Think you can handle Caritas on your own?”
“Of course we can,” Buffy replied for her ex-Watcher keeping her tone mild to hide her eagerness at the prospect of getting out from under Angel’s annoyingly watchful, and slightly judging, gaze. Stepping to the side she linked arms with Wesley and felt him stiffen, whether it was from her touch or too close proximity was anyone’s guess, but she chose to ignore it as she inquired, “Right, Wesley?”
He cleared his throat. “Perhaps Cordelia—”
“Has other plans,” the brunette interrupted before tacking on a hasty, “Sorry,” while sounding anything but apologetic.
“Right. Of course.” Wesley looked hesitantly down at Buffy and she could tell he was staring intently at the bridge of her nose since his eyes were near crossing as he offered, “We might want to think about waiting for Lexi. She seemed most interested in meeting an anagogic demon.”
“Who knows what they believe in nowadays.”
Wesley frowned at her a moment before his eyes widened and he hastily corrected, “Not agnostic. Anagogic.”
“You say potato. I say—”
He interrupted Buffy with, “Psychic, Buffy. The Host is psychic.”
“I know,” Buffy countered, “That’s why we’re going and Lexi can meet us there. Right?”
“I suppose.” His shoulder slumped with his unenthused reply before his chin lifted and he gently extracted his arm from her hold. Buffy knew before he’d even spoken that he’d stumbled across another hopeful hurdle to their outing as he added, “But I’ve only my motorcycle and one helmet.”
Cordelia snickered and Buffy arched a brow before replying, voice slow, “So we’ll get another.”
“Yes.” Wesley finally conceded defeat with a mild, “That’s a splendid idea.”
“Let’s go then.” Buffy once again snagged his arm and began to lead him away from the Cordelia and a now slightly bemused Angel as she continued, “Does this mean I get to pick out the helmet? Color and everything?”
“Certainly. Why ever not?” His sarcasm was not lost on her.
Buffy remained sitting on the back of the motorcycle as Wesley fed quarters into the meter, hands fiddling nervously with the strap of the very, very pink helmet he’d allowed her to pick out. Wesley had seemed more amused than put off by her choice and easily handed over the hundred dollars before assuring her he’d turn in the receipt to Angel for reimbursement. Work expenses or something like it had been his explanation and since they’d left the Hyperion he’d relaxed some, as if no longer under scrutiny himself, and they’d had fun taking the long way to Caritas.
It had taken a little while for her to get use to following Wesley’s lead, but once she did and he could pick up speed the ride had become something a bit beyond enjoyable. The wind whipping across her face and against her body and the thrum of the motorcycle beneath her had quickly taught Buffy that all
her emotions were heightened, not just the bad ones, as she laughed her way through the streets of Los Angeles. They’d pulled up outside a nondescript concrete building just a few blocks away from the current bar scene and the alley to their right was hung with paper lanterns in all shades of the rainbow.
She eased off the bike as Wesley made his way back to her and Buffy handed him her helmet once he was within reach. He accepted it and proceeded to store both helmets in the leather satchels attached to the side of the bike before straightening and Buffy felt her elation slip away as the nagging sense of guilt reacquainted itself with her thoughts.
Since they were basically alone on the not so crowded street—she was only a little bitter about the few normal people around them that were deeply lost within their normal lives—Buffy hesitantly offered, “I’m sorry.”
Wesley stared at her blankly a moment before questioning, “Pardon?”
“I attacked you,” Buffy explained and watched his eyes widen in understanding before continuing, “I know there’s not nearly enough sorrys in the world to make up for trying to kill you. Maybe I could grov—”
“Buffy,” Wesley interrupted, “There’s no need to apologize. You weren’t yourself. The Thesulac—”
“Brought out fears and urges that were already there,” she countered with her own interruption, “the urge to feed was already there, Wes, and if Gunn hadn’t been there…” she trailed off, gaze dropping away from the sudden intensity she found in his as she finished with, “I’m sorry.”
“While I still doubt the need for it,” Buffy looked back to him, found him smiling faintly as he nodded and offered her his arm, “Apology accepted.”
After a moment’s hesitation she accepted, her hand slipping through the opening he created to hook her arm with his and he led them forward. The leather beneath against her skin was cool to the touch from, Buffy assumed, the bike ride since the actual temperate of the night air was warm and just a little muggy. She could feel the weight of it against her skin and wondered absently if her bare arms were as cool as Wesley’s jacket.
Normally she remained above room temperature, somewhere between Angel and a regular person, but drinking warm beverages tended to raise that temperate and it warmed her hands. She’d taken to drinking coffee most of the time, decaf preferred to help avoid the jitters, so that she didn’t make others jump when brushing against them. Cordelia had been the most vocal about her tepid body temperature which had, at times, made Buffy more inclined to ‘accidently’ brush against the brunette.
She’d admit, at least to herself, that she was petty. It was a character flaw she was working on.
Wesley paused, glancing both ways which made her smile, before leading them across the street and towards the alley with the paper lanterns and some less pretty debris strewn about. It was after all an alley and it held all the scents of an alley which forced Buffy to focus on the sound Wesley’s jacket made as he walked beside her. The whisper of the leather against his khakis and the creak of it as he shifted his other arm to slip his keys inside the pocket of those slacks and they began a jingled accompany to his steps.
He sidestepped; taking her with him with his grip on her arm and Buffy nearly stumbled into him before catching herself, but she was grateful of his avoidance of that particularly grim infested puddle. The sandals she wore were Cordelia’s and she was pretty certain the that not only would the brunette never let her live it down if she ruined a pair of her shoes, but she also didn’t want that
smell on her for the rest of the evening. The flats would’ve put her ankle deep in that mess and she kept her gaze forward and slightly down for the rest of their journey.
They, or more preciously Wesley, ducked beneath a line of lower hanging lanterns strung up on a row of lights before he led her towards an opening in the building on their left. A set of stairs led down a dimly lit entry way and a brow arched at the ‘cloak and dagger’ feel to entrance of what was likely Caritas. She could hear the light scraping of his hand against metal which mean he had a firm grasp of the railing and the fact that she found it dimly lit meant Wesley was next to blind. The door in front of them was patined and rather large, but with minimal denting which Buffy found odd for some reason that she couldn’t explain.
Wesley grasped the handle and opened the door, the sudden influx of sound in the narrow stairwell made her stiffen and flinch back. Someone, or something, was butchering a Gloria Estefan song and their underwhelming rendition brought a pinched frown onto Buffy’s face as their voice attempted too high a note. Wesley pulled her slightly resisting form forward and into the establishment. The door closed behind them and Buffy unlinked her arm with Wesley as he fumbled with his wallet to show the requested identification to what appeared to be a human bouncer while she looked around at the karaoke bar, her eyes widening.
There was a sign just a few feet away reminding patrons of ‘no weapons or violence allowed’ and it curved in the corner of her mouth as she looked past it to the high-topped tables filling every available space and a bar along the wall closest to them. The lighting was done in blues and reds, leaps and bound brighter than the stairwell, and the patrons reminded Buffy fondly, oddly enough, of Willy’s ranging from the demonic to the mundane. Her smile stretched into a grin as she caught sight of the stage and the demon, which was small enough to require a barstool to stand on to reach the microphone, was finishing up the song ‘Reach.’
The stage itself was surrounded in black curtains and lit with blue lights that created an interesting backdrop to those performing and Buffy watched, amazed, as a green-skinned demon took that stage and finished the last few lines of the song with the current performer. The applause when they finished was sporadic, but better than it would have been had the little guy been on his own because the other demon could sing—and well.
The bouncer turned from Wesley, motioning him past and beneath a metal detector towards another bouncer before looking to Buffy and holding out a large hand, that would have been intimidating to the average human, and requested, “ID?”
Green eyes widened and looked to Wesley since Buffy lacked all forms of identification and Wesley intervened, “She’s of the supernatural sort.”
The bouncer frowned, bushy brows drawing inward as brown eyes looked her over before one of those brows rose. “Prove it.”
Buffy sighed, since she hadn’t yet gone into game face unless provoked or parched, but she closed her eyes and attempted to call on one of those strong emotions. The close scrutiny of the bouncer and Wesley wasn’t helping matters, but rather than allow their presence to dissuade her Buffy focused on that annoyance and flamed it by recalling the all waspish responses Cordelia had towards her the last few days. She felt the skin around her eyes tighten and she opened them, knowing the white around her irises was now filled with blood.
A noise, somewhere between a growl and a hiss, spilled past her lips as she bared her fangs, more for affect than actual necessity, and the bouncer took a step back, brow furrowing again at the sight of her, before he nodded and motioned her past. Buffy followed Wesley under the metal detector, past the second bouncer and into the bar and exhaled, focusing on calming the sudden and rapid beat of her heart as she pushed back the anger saturating her thoughts. The tension left her slowly, releasing from her shoulders upward until the tightness around her eyes eased and she blinked rapidly to alleviate the sudden sense of wetness that accompanied the loss of blood from her gaze. It was the oddest sensation, but one that she was getting used to a little more each day.
Another participant was called to the stage and Buffy glanced up, saw a human woman taking her place beside the microphone and the green-skinned demon was working his way through the crowd and heading in their general direction. Wesley claimed a seat at an empty table and Buffy slid into the chair across from him as his hands came to rest on the Formica between them and his thumbs tapped along to the base of the song currently playing. She inclined her head at the nervous gesture before a shadow descended and the demon, who appeared to be the host of tonight’s festivities, stopped at their table and offered her a toothy smile.
It gathered the skin around a pair of truly impressive crimson colored eyes and while the red tint around them looked natural she noticed a bit of black eyeliner highlighting the shape of them. He winked at her, as if he knew she noticed, before offering, “Welcome to Caritas.” He eased himself into one of the free chairs at their table and turned to address Buffy as he inquired, “Will you be gracing us with a number tonight?”
Her nose wrinkled. “Do I have to?” she motioned to the space between them, “Can’t you just, ya know, read me from here?”
His chuckle was contagious and Buffy found herself smiling even as the demon shook his head and countered, “You sing, I read,” his smile turned apologetic, “That’s how it works, button,” her brows tugged together and his an agnowhatsit
powers must’ve kicked in because he quickly explained, “As in cute as a,” with a raising of his hairless brows.
Buffy’s gaze slid to Wesley, one of her own brows rising in silent question and his only response was a shrug of his shoulders and Buffy returned her attention to the Host and questioned, “Can’t I just hum a little?”
“And what would be the fun in that?” His hand rose, exposing perfectly manicured nails and a waitress miraculously appeared at his side. He looked to Buffy and stated, “You look a bit peckish,” he turned to the waitress, a human girl with too much makeup and not enough clothes, and stated, “We’ll need a book of songs for this table and a glass of AB for the little miss. Be sure to warm it this time.”
The waitress nodded, jotting the order down and the demon smiled, “And a Sea Breeze for handsome here,” the Host turned to Wesley as the waitress left and questioned, “Don’t you just love a good Sea Breeze?”
“I can’t say I’ve ever had the pleasure.” Wesley smiled faintly and Buffy was starting to understand how others felt when she railroaded them so easily.
The Host nodded, his smile stretching as he countered, “Well now it’s my pleasure.”
Buffy’s eyes widened with the innuendo, but Wesley merely raised his brows as if used to the charade and without preamble a very thick, very large plastic binder was placed in front of her. Buffy looked from it to the smiling waitress and back again before audibly stating, “Gulp.”
“You’ll do fine.” Green eyes narrowed on the Host and his too many teeth smile as he rose and clarified, “Take your time. I’m here all night.”
He left them and Buffy frowned down at the blue plastic that was mocking her before she looked up, met Wesley’s gaze and inquired, “What have you gotten me into?”
His brow rose, challenging and, perhaps just as mocking as the plastic binder, “Would you rather be still at the Hyperion?”
“Check and mate,” Buffy groused before opening the binder to the first page and muttering, “Am I feeling a little bit country or a little bit rock and roll tonight?”