Thanks to enigmaticblues for continuing this community – it’s wonderful to see so many things still being created after all these years. Determined not to begin yet another WIP, this is a one-shot (but complete!) Enjoy!
Setting: Post BtVS and AtS. Quotes from S4 Fool for Love
Summary: Buffy Summers. She hasn’t used that name in months, hasn’t even thought of herself as Buffy in weeks. It’s easier, becoming someone else. She stays under the radar and they think she died with all the others.
She pulls the hood of her jacket a little tighter as she ducks under the eave of the building for scant shelter against the pouring rain. She’s barely slept in the last two days and fingers feel nearly frozen. But the Xunkan she’s been tracking is within her sights now.
She traces the outline of the knife sheathed against her side like a touchstone, reassurance of what’s to come, before she eases out of the shadows after the ungainly figure hurrying across the strip mall parking lot, shoving his hat more firmly on his head. It’s a little too open for her tastes, not prime turf for taking out a purple-eared demon with a wicked right claw, but she’s close enough to taste the end of this hunt. Then she can collect her money and hole up for a few days. Her eyes feel like sandpaper and she knows they’re bloodshot with exhaustion and nerves.
She waits for a second, then increases her step. He’s headed for the door to a bar, windows painted black, one tired neon light proclaiming Satirac. The A and C are burnt out, leaving only Satir to wink at the night. She figures there’s probably some meaning behind that, but her feet are sore from tracking the demon all day in boots that probably weren’t even meant for walking and she just wants to bag this guy and call it a day. She’s all out of symbolism and prophesies anyway.
He glances over his shoulder and she ducks, a half second too late.
He’s seen her. She curses under her breath as he moves faster, the flash of light from the bar illuminating his silhouette for a brief second before he’s gone.
She pauses, surveying the lot. May be a back entrance, but she can’t risk it. She slips a hand inside her jacket, smoothly unlatches the sheath, then pulls open the door.
Inside, she’s surprised to find the place is warm, cozy even, not the run down dive she was expecting. Couples crowd booths, a pair of guys glance at her with scant interest before returning to their game of pool, and the regulars lining the counter don’t even spare a glance from the game they’re absorbed in that’s beaming from the television over the bar. There’s even a tiny stage at the back with a microphone set up, spotlight at the ready for whatever two-bit act sings in a joint like this.
But not a Xunkan in sight.
Damn. Maybe he ducked in the restroom, or behind the counter. She breathes a sigh of frustration as she slides onto a stool and raises a hand at the tall bartender, who gives her a nod and heads in her direction. Someone walks up beside her and she catches a glimpse of something scaly and green out of the corner of her eye, but when she turns, it’s just an older woman, smiling kindly at her as she lays a few bills on the bar and calls a farewell to the bartender.
She’s officially losing it.
“What’ll you have, cupcake?”
She and alcohol remain unmixy, though that doesn’t stop her some nights anymore. But she needs to keep her edge here.
“Do you have Diet Coke?” she asks.
“Coming right up.”
He heads away before she can ask her question, so she sweeps the bar again. Not a demon in sight, but he must be near. She feels something, an edginess crawling around her spine that’s not letting go. She lets her shoulders slump and focuses on the scarred wood of the bar in front of her, running her fingers over the ridges there. Her pinky’s still a little swollen from the twist last night’s vamp gave it when he was trying to wrestle her stake away. She traces the tender flesh. It was a close one, he’d had a couple of fledges nearby and she’d gotten careless, let herself get cornered in an alley. Again.
The bartender’s still at the other end getting her drink, talking to a guy about something on the television, so she slips quietly off the stool and back to the hallway marked restrooms. She waits a half second, then bumps the men’s door, frowning. It’s deserted.
She hears a throat clearing behind her and turns clumsily to find one of the guys from the pool table grinning at her. Her exhaustion passes easily for intoxication, and she giggles a small “oops!” before stumbling the next door over.
She locks the door behind her before trudging to the sink and turning the taps to cold. The icy water is a needed bracer as she stares into the glass. She almost doesn’t recognize herself these days. She’s so much thinner now, hair darker from the drugstore dye she’d used, but it’s fading fast, leaving her a dishwater dirty blonde she would have been mortified by in high school. Doesn’t matter though. No one here knows her or cares.
The longing for someone who does, a familiar face, any familiar face, cuts through her unbidden and sharper than glass, and she sucks in a breath, steadying herself on the cool porcelain of the sink.
The only reason you’ve lasted as long as you have is you’ve got ties to the world…
There’s a knock on the door. She straightens, dries her face, runs a hand through her hair and heads back to the bar, resuming her seat.
As if by magic, a glass slides in front of her, complete with a twist of lemon balanced on the rim and a tiny pink umbrella. Huh. Fancy. Who’d have guessed it in this place?
“There you go, gumdrop.”
Tallish, brown hair and warm eyes. Not gorgeous, but his face is kind, sympathetic even. Probably should flirt with him, try to get him to talk, if she can remember how. Little rusty with the people skills of late.
“Thanks,” she clears her throat and smiles. “Listen, did you see a guy that came in just a minute before me? He looked so much like my brother’s roommate from college, and he’d kill me if I didn’t try to catch up with the guy. I was sure it was him, but,” she glances casually around, pouting slightly, “I just don’t see him in here.”
She adds a bat of her eyelashes for good measure and waits. And waits some more as the bartender stares at her intently, almost as though he’s searching for something.
“Do you know his name? I know most of the regulars here.”
Crap. Think, Buffy.
“Oh gosh, I’m so bad with names. Umm, I think it was William?”
He pauses for a half second, his eyes shifting towards a door behind the bar and she knows he’s going to lie.
“Sorry, lemon drop, I’m afraid not.” He leans forward. “Do I by any chance know you, though? You look familiar. What’s your name?”
She smiles sweetly, draining her glass. No need to put anyone on alert. Just finish up and find a way to that back exit. “I don’t think so, I’m just visiting here. I’m Sarah.”
There are thousands of Sarahs out there, no one ever remembers them. Not like Buffy.
Buffy Summers. She hasn’t used that name in months, hasn’t even thought of herself as Buffy in weeks. It’s easier, becoming someone else. She stays under the radar and they think she died with all the others.
For a minute her throat closes up, the nightmares that keep her awake and darken the circles beneath her eyes threatening to swallow her in Technicolor even here and then she blinks, in control again.
“Nice to meet you, Sarah, I’m Lorne.”
He’s still staring as though he’s trying to read her somehow and she feels the edginess return. Something’s off here, no matter how normal the place looks, like if she just rubs her eyes hard enough or squints she can she whatever is dancing along the periphery of her vision. It’s giving her a headache and she needs to find a way into the back before that demon gets away.
She fishes in her pockets for some cash and lays it on the bar, glancing casually at her watch. “Oh wow, I better hurry, my brother’s going to be worried.”
“Sure, sure, stop by anytime, pumpkin cakes.”
She’s sliding off the stool when the door behind the bar, the one she knows the Xunkan must be behind, starts to open. She turns back to see Lorne waving someone back as the door slams.
She knew it. She hesitates for a half second, then vaults the bar past the surprised Lorne as she races for the door, twisting the knob and somersaulting inside.
She’s aware of startled exclamations behind her, and something that sounds like a hiss at her sudden movements, but she focuses on the goal as she lands in the darkness of what seems to be a storeroom filled with boxes. The door shuts again, cutting off all light, and she stumbles over something in her path, falling to her knees and wincing at the clatter that’s her knife knocked loose from its sheath and skittering somewhere out of reach.
Maybe hasty wasn’t the best move.
She hears something else moving in the darkness and she fumbles in her boot for her reserve stake. Maybe she’ll be lucky and this’ll be a vamp instead of the Xunkun, cause pointy wood’s not going to help much with that thing’s hide.
There’s a slight scrape to her right, the faintest tell, and she launches herself, colliding with a body that twists beneath as she tries to regain control, find purchase on the smooth floor. Her boot slips as she scrabbles to brace against a box and her throat closes as she feels the momentum shift, the jar of the fall against the hard concrete, the jolt of the stake slipping from her fingers as cool flesh pins her limbs. Not the Xunkan, then.
Every Slayer has a death wish. Sooner or later, you’re gonna want it.
Maybe she does want it. Maybe she’ll go back to heaven. Did you get second chances there? Or was it a one shot deal?
The vampire growls above her. He’s strong, definitely not a newbie, but he’s not going for the bite like she expects. She feels a flicker of annoyance. What’s taking so long? And then another flicker of . . . anger. No. No, she’s not ready to give some vamp his one good day.
“What’s the matter there, fang-breath, having a little bit of performance anxiety?” she snarks, letting her muscles go limp before she twists sideways, tossing the vampire off balance as she manages to pull free.
“Buffy? Slayer, is that you?”
She’s frozen. She knows that voice, heard him say her name a thousand times, a thousand different ways. With anger and desire, love and disdain, in reality and in the last year, only in her dreams.
Because he’s dead.
But then, she’s supposed to be too.
A switch clicks and the harsh buzz of a florescent light reveals him.
“Spike?” she chokes. She closes her eyes. Still gritty, she’s still exhausted, she’s seeing things again, has been all night.
Only he’s not something out of the corner of her eye. He’s here, in front of her, solid and substantial and not the cloud of ash she knows he became.
He’s beside her again, kneeling, fingers reaching out as though to touch her, before they pause, inches from her face. There’s a thousand things warring in his eyes that she can’t read, but she won’t stop herself from reaching out to touch his fingers, intertwining their hands.
She smiles as his fingers tighten around hers.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/286331.html