Fic: ‘Turn and Face the Strain’ 2/15 by Quinara [strongish R]

This entry is part 2 of 7 in the series Turn and Face the Strain
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Carrying on to Chapter 2!

Turn and Face the Strain.

[Sequel to The More Things Stay the Same and As Good as a Rest.]

When Buffy thought about falling in love again, she didn’t expect it to be nearly so complicated as it actually turns out to be.
Also, she didn’t expect it to be Spike. (She’s not sure he did either.)

Author: Quinara
Rating: R…? I’m not sure I even know anymore with ratings, but there’s sex in it and people swear lots and (gasp) I think there’s some underage drinking too, which probably needs to be censored. ;)
Length: ~80,000 words in total; ~33,000 words today; chapters are generally between 5000 and 6000 words.
Setting: Late S6, AU As You Were (and so much more! Not least in an AU AtS S3…)


Notes: Many thanks to the fabulous bogwitch for putting up with me and being my beta! This is the final story in a series I’ve written for the previous two rounds of seasonal_spuffy, consisting of The More Things Stay the Same and As Good as a Rest. I think what I’m posting today probably could stand on its own as a S6 AU, but I do follow up some stuff that happens in the previous fics, because it’s a sequel. The main thing is that Dead Things went differently and some stuff happened in LA. Other stuff happened around Buffy’s birthday.
Warnings: I don’t think this would need any of the AO3 listed warnings. I think the genre of this is much more of a drama-going-on-mystery-ish-adventure story, so it’s mostly in line with the show in terms of what it involves.

[Chapter One: I’m Not a Political Animal, But.]

 

Chapter Two: You Learn Fast around Here.

It was a lot like the rest of the building, Lorraine’s office. The walls were painted a soulless shade of corporate cheer, with motivational posters hung in pride of place instead of pictures. There were a few touches of personality on her desk – a stress-ball in the shape of an elephant and some photos in austere blue frames, of an average-looking guy and one round-faced girl standing outside elementary school – but they were pretty much crowded out by the orange DMP stationery, the cow hat resting on the computer monitor, the blue desktop background with the logo, the letterheads and manuals.

“I spoke to David,” Lorraine said as they came through the door, burger patties abandoned on the potato shelf in the cold room. “He told me you asked him to switch.”

Buffy’s mind raced, even as she followed. She couldn’t be fired for that, could she? “I’m sorry,” she said contritely. “I know you fix the rota to…” Well, OK, she knew Lorraine fixed the rota to make sure there was one person on each station who could do things as fast as they were meant to, while the slower people were spread around the kitchen. But Buffy couldn’t be sure whether she was officially meant to know that.

“It’s not about that,” Lorraine dismissed as she came behind her desk, looked up. Her eyes were hard.

And so Buffy shut up, closing the door behind her.

As she took her seat, then, she was filled with an eerie sort of calm. The pain was at last starting to dull in her shoulder, if only back to normal, and the panic fading her mind felt clear. She was about to be thrown off a cliff, that much was pretty obvious, but her mind hadn’t quite worked out it was falling yet.

“OK,” Lorraine began in a breezy tone, as if this was business. “Here’s what it is, Buffy.” Now, however, she wouldn’t meet her eyes, kept glancing at her daughter’s picture. What was her name? Buffy wondered. Despite the blackmail that didn’t happen and the promotion she never got, she really didn’t know Lorraine at all, did she? Was she a good person, a bad person? It had to mean something when she said: “I’m gonna have to ask you to go home.”

Because, wow, Buffy thought. It was one thing to know it was coming, but it was quite another to hear the words. Lorraine had to be a good person, Buffy decided, because otherwise she would have made this hurt more. As it was, even as the breath escaped from her lungs, it was only gradually that Buffy began to feel it, all the questions coming back about how Dawn was going to eat for the week after this, how she herself was going to. Whether they had any toothpaste left. Whether the bills were due or gone by for this month. It all seemed very distant, but Buffy could just about perceive the problems, up ahead in the distance.

“Please,” she said, and didn’t recognise her voice, low and defeated. Was she going to beg for her job at the DMP? Again? With things as they were, she had to, didn’t she? “You don’t… You have to know how much I need this job. My sister and I…”

For a moment, Lorraine put her head in her hands, as if she didn’t want to hear it, or couldn’t bear to. Then, however, she was sweeping her hair off her face and continuing, expression set in its most managerial. “I know we’ve discussed your position before,” she said carefully, holding herself back from apologising, it seemed, “and I do remember. But…” She shook her head, another apology without words. “I’ve done as much as I can, and there’s no possibility… By strict company policy you weren’t eligible for any leave at all,” she explained, “but I was able to make an exception for that on account of the supervisory role you’ve taken on during your time here.”

“Like I told you on the phone…” Buffy tried to interrupt, hoping to remember the exact specifics of what she’d said when she was drugged up.

But Lorraine was having none of it. “Please understand, Buffy: the guys above aren’t giving me a choice here.” Professional demeanour finally assumed, Lorraine met Buffy’s eyes full on. “I can’t have you working here. That’s the way it is. It’s too dangerous for the customers and your colleagues – not to mention yourself. I don’t know what kind of drugs you’re on to stop the pain, but clearly need to be resting your shoulder, if you want it to heal right.”

“But…” Buffy tried to explain, lifting her arm as far as she could without agony. It wasn’t far, but it was much, much higher than a normal human patient would be able to get theirs less than four days after her injury. “It’s getting better, I promise you. Today might have been too soon to come back, but…” She could save this, couldn’t she? If she could only explain this, she might be able to get by. “I know it’s not company policy, but I don’t need to be paid – let me go home today, maybe tomorrow as well, but I’ll be back – not on Monday, but Tuesday. I can be here Tuesday.”

Tuesday would give her six whole days to have healed, Buffy worked out, which was possibly pushing it for a broken bone, but it wouldn’t necessarily be too bad. She would have to fake if for a few days after that, go easy on her work, slack a little – but she could make it happen.

The only problem with the plan, of course, was that Lorraine didn’t know about her superhealing and, going by the expression of pity on her face, she didn’t believe a word she was hearing.

“I have to follow the company line on this,” she reiterated, pushing even the possibility of Buffy’s freakdom to one side. “If I kept you on, there’s a high chance you could very permanently injure yourself, with the machinery or with the product, and that – that would make us liable. Now, I know you and I know you wouldn’t do anything like that…” For a moment, Buffy wished she had been more mercenary about the meat-is-vegetables scenario. Spike would have been. “But people in your – situation,” Lorraine continued, though Buffy knew that by that she meant ‘poor’, “it’s usually worth it for them to sue. And the Palace won’t let me risk that. I can’t put the company in that sort of situation.”

In the end, Buffy didn’t know what to say. OK, so Lorraine knew she wouldn’t do it, but why did the DMP think she would – just because she needed the money? It wasn’t like she could afford the lawyer; she knew she’d be destroyed in ten minutes flat. If she could challenge the Doublemeat to a duel, then maybe she’d do that, but… Sue?

Unfortunately, her silence was the opportunity Lorraine took to close the conversation, so Buffy couldn’t even complain. “You’ll always have a job to come back to, Buffy. In a few months’ time, maybe, when you’re feeling better – but I have to ask you to leave for now.” Yeah, they’d let her back, but only after they’d believed she’d spent enough time healing that their lawyers wouldn’t be scared. The offer was useless. “You’ll get paid for this shift, I can give you that much, but you need to go home.”

Buffy couldn’t bring herself to say another word. She meant to say ‘thanks’, because she knew Lorraine was doing more than a lot of bosses would, but, the thing was, if she opened her mouth right then, she wasn’t sure what would come out.


They gave her a Medley Meal to go and she went, walking out into the late afternoon with its first hints of sunset. It was cold, empty-sky January cold, enough that if she left her food until she got back home, Buffy knew, it would be cold too. And if there was one thing she didn’t to start her unemployment with, it was a cold Doublemeat Medley.

Like the miserable woman she was, then, Buffy sat down on a damp bench near the end of Main Street and started unpacking her meal. She had to have eaten hundreds of these things by now, but this one… It looked as greasy as all the others, but it was actually making her nostalgic. The sight and feel of her last burger (because hell knew she wasn’t eating at the DMP again), it made her wish she’d tried to speak to some of her colleagues, at least when she hadn’t felt like she’d wanted to die or was dying; why hadn’t she invited any of them to her party? Not that that would have been a good call, with the shouting and the shooting and everything, but it might have been nice to keep in touch with Sophie, maybe, or one of the guys.

It was clear Sophie had packed her bag, after all. Not a fry was spilled from its box. Partly that was because of Sophie’s dry skin and sensitivity to salt, or whatever, but also because she was just that anal. Even about Dave’s fries, which were twenty seconds too crunchy and three salt-sweeps too salty as always. Ricky had done the meat patty, Martina the chicken and Todd had slapped it together with garnish, Machiavelli-style.

How did she know all this, and yet couldn’t recall a single surname for any of them?

Chowing down, Buffy realised she was disappointed. Not just with losing her income, apparently, but with the fact she’d gone from Fiesta Queen of Hemery High to Buffy: Have a Nice Summer (if you aren’t six feet down). She used to know people, notice things about them, and now she couldn’t even make a single friend out of colleagues she’d been forced to spend almost all her waking hours with.

When she found a new job, she decided, because she was thinking positive, she was going to do better. She was going to toe the line and be the popular one. She’d be chatty – and organise… Well, she wouldn’t organise socials because she had absolutely no money for them. But she would accept any invitations she was offered.

Sipping on her Coke, however, she remembered the problem she’d had ever since she’d been Fiesta Queen. Being the Slayer. That was was what made socialising tough – and explaining Spike, that was hard, would become even harder when they hit the summer and all of her potential friends would probably want to hang at the beach. Even if the apocalypse only came once to make her bail.

And then there was the other thing. Disappointed though she was in herself, Buffy could admit that, honestly, she didn’t really have the energy for new friends. She’d take them if they came along, but her favourite pastime was still pretty much hiding out in Spike’s crypt. Right now she wanted nothing more than to head over there for a few hours, pretend the world outside didn’t exist. Dawn wasn’t expecting her back until late, so she could at least put off the fear and disappointment until then.

Why was money so important, anyway? Stupid human world.

“Oh, hey Buffy, is that you?” a woman called over then, cutting into Buffy’s maudlin. “How’s it going?”

Distracted, she looked up, blinking as she tried to locate the voice. It was coming from down the street, just outside the Espresso Pump, and it turned out to be Kate, who had a large takeout cup in her hand. Great; another almost-friend who had entirely slipped Buffy’s mind – but that was OK, wasn’t it, because Kate didn’t know that. And she wasn’t going to judge her a failure for getting fired, because that had happened to her too, didn’t she vaguely recall? Kate could still be a friend.

“Hey, are you OK?” She came closer.

Gathering her facial muscles into something like a smile, Buffy tried to reply cheerily, standing up, “Yeah, yeah; I’m fine.” It felt like her entire body was made of water, but that didn’t need to be mentioned. “Hi!” she said. “How are you? Grabbing coffee?”

Kate smiled more realistically, raising her cup in a toast. It was almost like normal human interaction. “You caught me.” Nodding back over her shoulder, she added, “They were out of doughnuts, otherwise I’d be a jelly centre away from a cliché.”

Trying to laugh, Buffy kept on smiling. She’d only seen Kate once since she’d shot Warren, over in the hospital before they’d let her discharge herself, and that had been mostly about Buffy trying to very awkwardly thank the cop for doing her job – without implying that she was glad to know Warren was dead. Because she wasn’t, not really; it caused too much guilt to even think that she might be.

OK, and in the spirit of cheeriness that was really, really not going to be their topic of conversation this afternoon.

“Are you going anywhere thrillsome with it?” Buffy asked, hoping to get something moving. “The coffee, I mean?”

Kate looked down at the takeout lid for a moment. “Oh, not really. We got a case wired through from the LAPD that they want us to chase up. Could go federal, but they don’t know what they’ve got yet. I was just about to track down a lead. How about you?”

“Oh, nothing important, you know.” Friends told the truth, didn’t they? Well, that was cheeriness gone by the wayside, Buffy thought, one-handedly pulling her coat more closed as she felt a shiver of cold. “I was supposed to go back to work today, but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” Yep, she was a one-woman misery machine. “My arm couldn’t keep up with the pace, so my boss… She told me to go home.”

Clearly Kate was better at this interaction stuff than her; a sympathetic frown immediately crossed her face. “Wait – you mean…”

“Yep.” Buffy confirmed, hoping for wry. “Buffy the underemployed ex-co-ed is now Buffy the unemployed ex-fry cook.” Huh. She’d talked about being a fry cook before with someone, hadn’t she? Who was it? It had seemed a lot less likely then, she remembered. Couldn’t have been recently. “I have about six hours before my paycheque ends and this month isn’t gonna get done.”

“God, I’m sorry,” Kate told her, before letting the silence hang. Shrugging, Buffy didn’t look back at her, the thoughts and worries starting to fill her mind again, a little more urgently than this bust of a friendly conversation. What was she going to do? Lorraine would give her a good reference, maybe, but she’d tell anyone who called the reason why Buffy couldn’t work anything with labour. The Espresso Pump or somewhere might have a vacancy, but bags of coffee beans were probably as inconvenient as meat, and she’d be so slow on the machines with only one hand…

Suddenly, however, Buffy’s thoughts were cut off as she realised Kate was still talking. The woman was moving her coffee cup between hands, looking up at Buffy with caution on her face. “…bad idea, and I know not much has changed, but do you want to come along? With me, I mean? I’ve dealt with this guy on demon cases before, and the directions I’ve got for the lead go from the sewer grate behind – Willy’s? Which I think is the demon bar on the other side of town? There shouldn’t be any trouble; apparently this guy we’re looking for’s not a threat, but I’m sure you intimidate better than me.”

“Huh?” Buffy asked, a little confused. She remembered the job offer, of course she did, but it hadn’t crossed her mind since getting fired, and it looked really different now. A job, any job, where her employer knew who she was, who would believe her healing and knew she wouldn’t sue… It was too good to be true. “You still want me to work for you?”

“I know, I know.” Kate sighed, shaking her head. “I shouldn’t be so persistent; it’s a really bad trait for anything other than police work, but yeah, I thought I’d see –”

“I’ll take it,” Buffy told her before the chance of employment could vanish completely, heart thumping in her chest. At Kate’s surprised stare, she blushed. “I mean, I’ll come along with you now, so we can see if we can work together.” Colleaguey-friends – or one at least, could this be a chance for that too? “That was – you’re still offering to… I mean, you’ll pay me, right?”

Cracking a wider grin now, Kate thrust forward the coffee cup, which obviously had been held but otherwise looked untouched. “Here,” she said. “Take this.” Speechlessly, and strangely touched, Buffy did as Kate explained, “Gotta get you looking the part.” Then she pulled out her car keys and tossed them over. Of course, Buffy’s left hand wasn’t quite up for catching them, but her co-ordination was still enough to scoop them out of the air into the recess of the coffee cup’s plastic lid. She wasn’t entirely off her game. “I’ll meet you in the car,” Kate finished, wincing slightly in apology for the multiple item pass. Still, she apparently expected Buffy to remember what her car looked like, which was a nice gesture of faith. “Just gonna get myself another latte for the road.”

Not sure what else to do, Buffy held the keys to the cup with her fingers and took a sip of her first cop coffee. It – well, it was strange, but it actually didn’t taste too bad.


They drove over to Willy’s, during which time Buffy realised that it had been so long since she’d been driven in a car that the experience had somehow become a novelty. Kate had driven her to the Espresso Pump earlier that week, of course, but she’d been so terrified she was about to get arrested that she hadn’t noticed the ride at all. Now she did. The effortlessness of it all, the warmth and the speed – she almost couldn’t believe the way that Sunnydale went past the window, a short walk gone in a minute, a long walk gone in a few more – until they were soon already on the other side of town.

It wasn’t even that nice a car. It smelt of car heater-gasoline smell, and the dash was definitely plastic; the analogue clock had stopped in the centre console at two-twenty-three. But Buffy felt like she was sitting in an armchair and she was moving: however far it meant she’d fallen, the sensation was too damn pleasant to complain about. Especially as she took her next round of meds.

“I’m gonna park underneath that streetlamp,” Kate commented as the bar passed them by on the right, street empty in front of it. “We get a lot of reports of stolen cars around here; it might make a difference when the sun sets.”

At first, Buffy nodded, not really paying attention and not worried about a fifty yard detour, but then the rest of what Kate was saying sank in. Huh?“No one steals cars in Sunnydale,” she said, wrinkling her nose – before immediately worrying what she’d said came across like a snooty small-town-versus-city thing. “I mean,” she explained, “not enough that areas are known for it.” Looking out on the streets, she tried to remember what she’d seen around here. “You don’t even see that many humans round here any…” When her gaze connected with Willy’s bar again, she worked it out. “Oh, you know what that’ll be?” Kate didn’t look like she did. “Drunk Chirago demons. They’re like tanks, but they’re really sensitive to alcohol and they like smashing stuff.” They were pretty harmless otherwise, like savannah herbivores; she and Spike had helped one home once. “Yeah,” Buffy decided, remembering what her mom had said that time. “The insurance companies here won’t cover for vandalism ‘cause it’s really common, cars all squashed or broken. I guess people worked out they could say their ride got stolen instead.”

“Huh.” Kate nodded, taking it all in as she switched off the gas, parking them by the streetlight. “See, this is why I need you around,” she added with a smile. “But I guess not parking by the bar is still a good idea?”

“You betcha,” Buffy agreed, unbuckling. She tried not to over-smile in response.

After Kate had locked the car, likely not entirely convinced there were no car thieves around, they made their way to the sewer grate. Willy’s was just opening, the neon light on outside, but it didn’t look exactly occupied. That was good, because there was no one to watch as they opened the manhole, Kate’s inexperienced hand on the crowbar and Buffy’s second-hand advice supposedly telling her how.

They climbed down into darkness without a hitch, nonetheless; without thinking, Buffy replaced the grate one-handed with her legs twined around the ladder, coffee between her thumb and index finger. She shrugged as Kate complained, “I should have done that!” This really was her comfort zone, after all; everything seemed easy.

Well, Buffy thought as she hopped to the ground, unable to bring her left arm up to balance and stumbling slightly. Kind of.

“OK…” Kate said, pulling a notebook and a thin flashlight from the inside of her jacket. “Right.” She sounded like she didn’t know what to say. Buffy wondered whether maybe what she’d done counted as showing off. “It isn’t so far, I don’t think,” Kate continued. “I don’t have that many directions, but the guy said a few of the stretches were pretty long.”

“Great,” Buffy replied, finishing the last of her coffee. Feeling almost cheery for real, she ditched the empty cup in the corner with a load of other trash. That didn’t count as littering, did it? “Lead the way.”

Thankfully, Kate was paying more attention to her notebook and they set off in a companionable silence.

Mission: Make Friends with Kate didn’t immediately get off the way Buffy had hoped. This was mainly because she couldn’t think of anything to talk about. Her mind kept coming back to Warren, but she really didn’t think that was the best topic to bring up. And what if she wasn’t even meant to be making conversation? All she knew about policing came from cop shows and being wanted for arrest, so she was hardly going to know if cops actually far preferred to work in silence. The Initiative certainly had.

But then, proving she was at least different from the Initiative in that way, Kate began, “So… Am I driving you downstate this Monday?”

Oh yeah, Buffy remembered, thinking back to what Tara had said earlier. There was that topic too. Apparently Kate was doing her a lot of favours today. “Um, if that’s OK?” she said, before hastily adding, “Thanks, by the way.” Maybe it was best if she explained, “I’m meeting the guy who worked with my mom when she was alive; she was selling him… Uh, I mean…”

“Yeah, Tara told me what’s going on,” Kate replied, cutting in as Buffy tried to find the words, checking their direction again. For a moment she was silent, awkwardly so as if there was something she wasn’t saying, but then she continued, “I’ve got a day off, so it’s LA or Judge Judy… And he sounds like a nice guy,” she changed tack, cutting into her own sentence with a glance Buffy’s way. “I mean, your mom clearly got on with him fine if they were going to try dating.”

“I hope so,” Buffy agreed, trying to feel more comfortable. “I didn’t really…” She shrugged. “He sent flowers after their date and he came to the funeral, I think – but Giles talked to him, we didn’t – and I don’t really know my mom’s type, you know? There was my dad, who was great, I guess, until he walked away from eighteen years of marriage, and there was Ted the cookie-drugging abusive-murderer robot guy…” Now Kate was looking at her askance, so Buffy thought that maybe it was best not to linger on the subject. “But I think she and Giles liked each other too, in a just-friends-except-that-one-time-Buffy-tries-to-forget-about way, and Giles was always pretty straight up. Maybe it’s like that.”

“You’re gonna have to tell me who this Giles guy is sometime,” Kate commented, flashing the flashlight around the next corner. “But I get what you mean. In my experience,” she continued absently, “it’s pretty hard to tell if your type sucks or if you’re just really, really unlucky.”

“Amen to that,” Buffy agreed easily. “I think the jury’s still out on my love life.”

With a snort, Kate asked, “Still figuring out how you feel about Spike, huh?”

That almost brought Buffy to a halt, but she just about managed to keep walking. Even as she bristled. It was probably true, of course, that she was still figuring things, but she didn’t want to bring that up with Kate. The other woman had said she was fine with Buffy dating a vampire, but Buffy couldn’t be entirely certain that that meant was OK OK, or whether she was simply willing to overlook it for now.

And it wasn’t like it was a hundred per cent OK with Buffy, either. When she was around Spike, that was… Everything felt easier. If the sewers were more her comfort zone than the DMP, then Spike was her comfort zone, period. At least over the last few months. But that didn’t mean she knew what to do about him when he wasn’t around – and it was probably the same for him. Maybe. She kind of hoped it wasn’t. They didn’t need to be so similar as he thought they were.

There were always things about him that she wouldn’t understand, after all. “What’s it like,” Buffy asked Kate, spontaneously as they turned a corner and continued down yet another dingy stretch of sewer, “killing people?” And, yep, they were back on Warren. Buffy should have known she couldn’t let go. All the same, it felt like too rare an opportunity to be able to talk to someone about this stuff, a human someone who carried a gun and probably shot sometimes with the aim to kill.

Startled nonetheless, Kate turned her head Buffy’s way. “What do you mean?” she asked, at least not baulking away.

“I mean,” Buffy explained, hesitantly, “when you actually think about it.” Not the guilt afterwards, because she knew about that – and she knew about Spike’s lack of the same just as well. And in the heat of combat, Buffy knew she’d probably killed humans when Knights of Ren Faire Doom had attacked them on the RV. But that was even more reason why she wanted to know. What made it OK? What didn’t? Why didn’t she mind that Kate had done it, when she knew, if it had been Spike, she wouldn’t have felt she could be with him anymore?. “Not in self-defence or anything,” she tried to explain, hoping for an answer, “but to defend other people, maybe, or whatever.” For lunch, that was the other option, but Kate wouldn’t know about that. Lunch was always not OK. “What’s that like?”

For a little way, Kate didn’t reply. The water dripped and their footsteps sloshed, but she didn’t say anything. Eventually, however, she took a breath and sighed, before she said, “I’m not sure what you expect me to say.” She had a gun holstered inside her jacket right now, Buffy knew, if not two. Did cops get two? “You go out and you do what you’ve gotta do. Sometimes, if there’s a threat, that means putting someone down. You don’t go looking for it, but the action itself… I can’t imagine it’s any different from when you stake a vampire. It’s necessary. You do it.”

Whatever Buffy had been expecting Kate to say, that really wasn’t it. Completely putting aside the issue that Buffy enjoyed killing vampires every now and again, killing humans was meant to mean something. It was a big metaphysical hoo-ha, utterly different from killing vampires, who were already dead. Even when she talked to the ones she slayed or played jokes on them, they weren’t the same as people. So, maybe, if Spike died right now it would hurt her as much as, if not more, than anybody else, but that didn’t mean anything about vampires generally.

“The way I see it,” Kate said, continuing before Buffy had a chance to respond. “People have a choice. Maybe vampires and demons don’t, maybe they’re programmed towards felonies –” She didn’t sound that convinced, and when she put it like that Buffy almost felt like she agreed. “– and maybe people get pushed into situations they never wanted to be in. But there’s a point where people make themselves a real threat to others, when you can’t trust them at that moment. At that point, if you stop valuing other people’s lives, you don’t get the courtesy of people valuing your own, you know?”

Did Buffy know? She couldn’t be sure – and by that point, as they kept on walking, she couldn’t even quite remember why she’d asked the question. Maybe that was why she gave Spike a pass these days. Not only because he’d been forced to stop killing people, but because he’d started caring? Not that that caring always came out in the best possible way, of course. He had some pretty not-OK ideas about making money.

“Hold up,” Kate said suddenly, looking at her notebook. “Can you hear that?”

Trying to distract herself from thoughts of Spike, not quite managing it, Buffy listened. There was a sound, a very low, hollow pulsing in the distance. It was familiar, but out of place. “Is that,” Buffy began, listening more closely as the sound grew louder, clearly coming from the direction they were headed. “Is that – music?”

Kate checked her directions one last time. “I guess our lead must be a music lover,” she confirmed. Buffy’s heart sank. It couldn’t be, could it? But then, she supposed, it would be the perfect accompaniment to her getting fired…

They came closer, round another bend, where the trash being sludged along the sewer began to take a very definite bias towards glass bottles. It seemed like even more damning evidence, especially as the music was becoming more and more discernible now, almost familiar. There was still a chance her mind was making false connections, all based on thinking about one certain vampire far too much for her own good, but it seemed less and less likely the closer they got.

There were other demons who lived underneath Sunnydale, right? Please let it not be him.

In the final stretch of sewer, Buffy was just about able to start making out the treble part of the sound, but it was still too indistinct to recognise. Just when she was about to stop straining her ears, however, there was a screech of a heavy storm door being pushed open into the sewer, right in front of them. A wall of sound came bellowing out, a woman’s voice stridently in key and one man’s voice shouting along.

… IN A STATE OF CA-TA-LEP-SEE-EE; CAN I RE-AL-LEE –

It was Spike. Of course it was Spike. With two black plastic trash bags in hand, which he was nonchalantly throwing into the stream (evil litterbug), it took him a moment to realise they were six feet away. They who had come to beat him up for information about an LA-scale crime. Yeah, this was the not-OK part.

– EXIST?” he finished as their eyes met.

[Chapter Three: Hello Glass Ceiling.]

Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.dreamwidth.org/802117.html

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