Title: Fire in the Soul (2bc/?)
Word count: 4100
Warnings: A bit Dru-ish
A/N: Beta’d by snickfic, except for a section added later, which was reviewed by MiAmor. Some photos contained herein are copyrighted as noted.
Summary: A few years after Sunnydale’s spectacular demise, Buffy and her crew are getting on with their lives in San Francisco. A not entirely unwelcome blast from her past (Spike! It's Spike!) blows into town, but he’s brought more than the generally allowable amount of baggage with him.
Chapter 1 on LJ / Chapter 1 on DW — In which a "chance" encounter leads to strong language and less-than-adult behavior. Also: animal magnetism.
Chapter 2a on LJ / Chapter 2a on DW — In which Dawn makes her feelings known and Buffy tries not to.
Palm Sunday / Vernal Equinox
Fully caffeinated and finally off the phone, Buffy considered her options for an unseasonably bright Sunday afternoon. She felt like moving, but tonight was a slaying night, so a regular workout didn’t appeal. She finally hit on Salsa Sunday at the El Rio in the Mission. It would be indoor/outdoor dancing fun and there were almost always people she knew there. Lots of slayers lived in "the Mish". She took a little extra care with her makeup, put together an outfit that was both layered and slinky, and she and her kicky new boots walked down to the BART station for a quick ride to Mission & 24th.
The joint was already hopping when she wound her way through the lemon tree shaded back terrace. One of her fellow squad leaders, Angela, waved from the dance floor where she was dancing with her boyfriend, Marco. One of his numerous cousins, Ernesto maybe, lit up when Buffy came into view. She answered his silent invitation with a wide smile and was soon moving to the music, surrounded by happy, sweaty people. It was the perfect way to take her mind off that thing she was in no way thinking about.
Eventually, the band took a break. Buffy, Angela, Marco and Ernesto miraculously found a table on the patio after they made it through the barbecue line, Ernesto was clearly ahead by a few beers — not that Buffy was drinking, it being a Slaying night and all. He was hammering away at his pet subject, the difference between dancing with Latinas and other girls.
“It’s, it’s, it’s like, you know, driving a car with power steering, right? The ladies — my homegirls — they’re just smooth, you know? Just a little touch, and they slip in right where they’re supposed to be. Don’t even have to think about it.”
Marco shrugged noncommittally. Angela rolled her eyes. Buffy wondered how he would hang himself this time.
“Then, you try dancing with somebody from out of the neighborhood, and it’s like losing your hydraulics, eh? You go back to fighting with the wheel, just to stay on the road. Wears me out, man.”
“Sorry,” chirped Buffy, who was having too much fun to be bothered by her apparent failure as a dance partner. She reached for a lime wedge from the bowl on the table, dropping it into her soda.
Ernesto looked stricken. “Ah, no, no, no, linda. Not you.” He looked around for help, apparently surprised to see his cousin making a ‘you got yourself into this’ gesture. He struggled to explain to the table at large. “Buffy, she’s like…a jet-powered flying car out there. No gravity — pero muy rapido...” He looked dreamily off into space. “I could dance all night with that one..."
Buffy felt her good mood subside as she remembered Spike saying almost the same thing in another bar in another town. That thing she wasn’t thinking about had an uncanny ability to wriggle through the slightest opening and right into her brain.
Angela’s Aunt Celia came bouncing up to their table with her friend Gordon, a helpful Paxulis demon, in tow. She looked around at their variously stunned, amused, and bored expressions.
“Is he talking about the power steering again?” she asked. They nodded. “Tsk. Son, you gotta get onto a new topic.” The band started up again. Celia slapped Ernesto’s arm. “C’mon, let an old lady show you how it’s done.” The family members all disappeared into the crush on the dance floor. Buffy stayed behind with Gordon, poking with a straw at the lime floating in her drink.
“Hey, Gord,” she said, looking up at his pleasant, if somewhat saggy, face.
“How’s my favorite slayer?” asked Gordon.
She smiled. “Your favorite slayer is whichever one you happen to be talking to, doofus.”
He smiled back. “Well, yeah. How stupid to I look?” He let his eyes cross until she snorted, shaking her head. “Uh, Slayer, I wanted to let you know…there’s a bit of rumbling in the underground. I don’t know much yet, but I’m keeping an ear out.”
“Rumbling? That’s better than groaning or screaming, right? How much rumble are we talking about?”
“Mostly just signs and portents, for now. You heard that all the sea lions disappeared last night?”
Buffy hadn’t heard. Nor had she heard that the US Geological Survey was reporting odd readings. Nor that the air currents were apparently shifting in unexpected ways. Signs and portents, indeed.
“Um, do you think that long-lost acquaintances coming to town counts as a sign?” asked Buffy.
Gordon nodded thoughtfully. “It might. Supernatural acquaintance, I presume?” Buffy nodded.
“Could be the sides are lining up, maybe not even knowing why. Best tell your people to get ready for yellow alert or whatever you guys call it.”
“Back on the Hellmouth, we called it ‘apocalypse season’. Though…” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “I wonder what the civilians called it? ‘Duck season’, maybe?”
Gordon returned her grin, though he didn’t look exactly reassured. He shrugged, stood up with his hand held out to her and said, “If the end is coming, better dance while we can.”
For a demon, Gordon made a lot of sense. Buffy had noticed that the friendly ones often did. So she danced.
Later that night…
Park patrols could be tricky. For one thing, it was really freaking dark at night. There was very little in the way of streetlights and the thick trees blocked even the ambient light of the city. It often required guerilla warfare techniques to protect a population that was scattered and difficult to defend. A population that was also not a lot of fun to deal with, for olfactory and sanity reasons. If you were a vamp, it would probably be a snap to find park-dwelling hobos, but a few heat-sensing, night-vision goggles would have worked wonders for Buffy and her crew.
It was easier with the odd gathering of celebrants. A moonlight drumming circle here, a smattering of skyclad wiccans there, and all they had to do was set up a perimeter while they waited for the participants to tire or the sun to rise. Fortunately, that’s what was on the agenda tonight.
The spring equinox celebrations were happening all over town. One team of slayers was assigned to Dolores Park in the Mission, another to patrol the bonfires on Ocean Beach, and the remaining three teams were covering Golden Gate Park. Although some of the girls were squicked by all the gooseflesh on display, their squad leaders were happy to have a clear defensive goal for the night that didn’t involve a lot of asphalt pounding. So far, it was working well. The vamps were intent on the worshipers, and it made it easy to pick them off when they made their move, well before fangs met overly exposed skin. Buffy doubted that many of the witches even knew about the vampire problem just beyond their circles, or about the slayers that were keeping them safe.
Buffy’s team was assigned to the coven making a circle in the meadow across from the Conservatory of Flowers, a prime location. The Conservatory was a dramatic Fabergé egg of a building, made of glass panels with whitewashed redwood framing. Glowing from within, its interior greenery added a splash of color to the inky night. It gave the impression of faded charm and a slower, more gracious time, peeking from behind its fan at the hurley burley of the modern age. A perfect fit for the theme of tonight’s festivities, it was filled with all the flowering plants and growing things promised by the change of season. If you cracked it open, all sorts of rare pollens and tender young flora would spill out into the wide world…where they would probably be quickly crushed or chilled to death.
Buffy made an effort to shake her dark thoughts. It was silly to give in to doom and gloom when the whole point of tonight was hope and renewal. Worst-Case-Scenario Summers was never far away, but she disliked giving in to that part of herself. She preferred to put her energies into Chipper, Can-Do Buffy, especially when dealing with civilians, two of which were headed her way as midnight passed and the coven wound down.
Buffy noted with satisfaction that as groups broke off and headed for home, the slayers divided up to provide a shadowy escort to the nearby road. But these two weren’t headed for a car or the late-night bus stop, they were headed for the Conservatory. One of them was very small and fidgeting in a distinctive way.
As they came closer, she made out a woman wearing a hoodie, a short skirt over sturdy leggings, a sensible amount of artful bundling: a knitted scarf, hat, gloves, and clompy boots. One hand was being held by a child wearing a slightly pinker version of the woman’s outfit, with an additional tutu over it all, and some very striking miniature purple cowboy boots. They made directly for Buffy, who was standing between the swiftly dismantling circle and the Conservatory. The woman — not young, not old — smiled warmly at Buffy while the little girl held on tight and danced in consternation.
“Um, we were hoping for an escort to the restrooms. It’s an emergency,” the woman explained. The little girl nodded gravely.
“Sure!” replied Can-Do Buffy. There’d been a flurry of emails over the issue of Port-a-Potties being “unconducive to the dignity of the sacred observance”. They’d all been briefed about an agreement with the Conservatory to provide late night access as part of the assembly permit. She took off at a brisk clip and waved them after her. “Right this way.”
They trotted up the wide stairway. “You guys have been really great tonight,” said the woman.
“So…I guess we’re not as stealthy as we thought, huh?”
“Nah, you were very unobtrusive. I’m on the organizing committee, so the security arrangements were kinda my thing.” She paused briefly to look back at the emptying field when they reached the top of the stairs. “Gotta say, this was way better for the energy than the previous methods. Slayers just add that extra zing, you know?”
Not really. The zing was more Willow’s area.
“We aim to please, I guess.” She pushed into the Conservatory with a nod to the drowsy night watchman who silently pointed them in the necessary direction. The little girl made a dash for the ladies room as soon as the icon on the door came into view. Buffy slipped in right behind her, reaching out with her senses. She got an all clear on the weirdness meter and relaxed. A stall door slammed behind the little girl and her sigh of relief echoed through the room.
“Thanks,” said the woman. “I know it wasn’t really in the contract.”
Buffy waved her hand dismissively. “Emergencies are a slayer specialty. All part of the service.”
The woman smiled even more warmly than before, and stuck out her hand. “Eleanor Rausch.”
Buffy made sure not to overdo the handshaking. “Buffy Summers.” Eleanor’s face showed a start of recognition at the name.
“Oh, wow. Now I really feel stupid. Asking the Heroine of the Hellmouth to pull latrine duty.”
Buffy frowned. “There were a lot of heroes that day.” She looked around, her expression clearing. “Believe me, this is a cushy gig. Any assignment that includes indoor plumbing is already worlds ahead of the curve.”
Eleanor chuckled. The stall door opened to the sound of rushing water. The little girl marched over to the bank of sinks to begin a very involved hand-washing process, on tiptoe. Her tights and tutu were twisted in an uncomfortable-looking way. Eleanor went over to help with final wardrobe adjustments. She got a “Stop it, Aunt Ellie!” for her trouble, but with just a few yanks, all was properly straightened and fluffed. The girl dried her hands very thoroughly indeed, and then planted herself in front of Buffy.
“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” she demanded.
Buffy knew this. She brought a hand up to her chest. “Why…I’m not a witch at all!” The little girl looked unconvinced.
“Buffy this is Edie, my niece. We’re in a ‘Wizard of Oz’ phase at the moment. Honey, this is Buffy. She’s not a witch. She’s a slayer. A warrior for the good guys. We were lucky to find her tonight.”
“Pleased to meet you Edie,” said Buffy, bending over and holding out her hand. Edie shook it solemnly.
“Not a witch?” she asked with a pout.
“Nope. But I know some good ones. I’ll bet you do, too.”
Edie nodded proudly. “My Aunt Ellie is a good witch.”
“I might be a good witch, but I’m a very bad aunt to keep you up ‘til all hours like this. Time to get you home to bed.”
“No!” cried Edie, and darted out the door. Eleanor rolled her eyes.
“Every freaking time,” she muttered, stalking out the door after her. Buffy followed, unsure whether to worry or not.
Eleanor was standing outside the door, head tilted. Buffy could hear the clatter of tiny cowboy boots leading deeper into the Conservatory. Eleanor started off after them, but then turned back to Buffy.
“Would you mind helping me to catch her? I’m sorry…” She shrugged helplessly.
“No problem,” said Buffy. She immediately loped off into a low-lit room full of enormous palms soaring high above her. Bushes with leaves four feet across blocked her view of what lay just beyond the curve of the path she followed. Small running feet sounded before her, behind her the heavier tread of Eleanor’s boots. Edie had got a good head start. Buffy wondered at the girl’s fearlessness, running pell mell through a strange place. It wasn’t dark, exactly, but it was dim, and there were creepy shadows everywhere. She wouldn’t be surprised to find little Edie in the slayer ranks in another dozen years or so.
As she passed through the archway to the potted plants gallery, she started to feel the old, familiar tingle. Vampire. Someplace nearby. So not a good time for this. She poured on the speed through the straight walkway, barely noticing the banner over the door to the final room as she sped through. It read, “Wicked Plants: Botanical Rogues & Assassins”.
The running feet in front of her fell silent. She slowed to a walk, looking around the final exhibit. It was a Tim Burton-esque nightmare of a garden, an overgrown jumble with odd Gothic topiary baring fauna-like teeth, vines hanging in strangling loops, gorgeous flowering plants studded with large, glistening barbs.
She edged around an ivy-choked gazebo, only to find the body of a man sprawled across its steps. One hand was frozen in the act of clawing at his throat, the other clutched a goblet. His face was lost in leafy shadow, but he wore an old-fashioned suit, chalky white. She bent down for a closer look, and found a distorted face as white as marble. Whiter. She checked the neck, and her fingers came away covered in white dust.
Plaster. A fake.
She looked wildly around and saw more statues in various poses of death. One lay headfirst in a pond choked with weeds, its long white skirts spread in a way that Buffy found disturbingly familiar. Not that the whole thing wasn’t disturbing. It had only taken a few moments to understand the illusion, that all the faux bodies were part of the exhibit, but the vampire tingles were no fantasy and Edie was still missing. Then she heard the girl’s piping tones.
“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?”
Buffy whirled to see Edie on the other side of the exhibit, standing a few feet away from the statue of a woman slumped on a bench. As Buffy breathed a sigh of relief, the statue shuddered and shrank back, lifting its head to reveal the familiar face of Drusilla, her eyes wide with something that almost looked like fear. She was worrying a long flat something in her hands, stroking and folding it obsessively. Probably something gross, thought Buffy.
Buffy darted forward, but before she could reach the girl, a dark form dropped from above to crouch between Edie and Dru. With a flapping of leather, it arranged itself into Spike, who settled his predator’s eyes on Edie, chuckling in a less than reassuring way. What was up with him, jumping out of the dark every night?
“Once upon a time, she was a very bad witch indeed,” he said. “The very worst sort. Ate up little children and played dice with their knuckle bones. Isn’t that right, Dru?”
Dru trembled and nodded. “Was wicked.”
Buffy inched forward, whispering urgently. “Spike! You’re scaring her!”
His eyes never left Edie’s face. “No, not this one. Don’t scare easy, do you, sweetling? She won’t cry ‘til she’s safe back with her mum.” He stood abruptly and glided back to stand beside Dru, resting a hand on her shoulder.
“One day the bad witch woke up, and all her wickedness was like a bad dream. Remembered her life from before, when she was as good a girl as they come. Before an evil wizard came and twisted her into a dreadful thing.”
Buffy reached Edie’s side and grabbed her unresisting hand, tugging her backward. The little girl seemed transfixed by Spike’s story and barely budged. Buffy heard Eleanor enter the room and gasp. She gestured for her to stay back.
“Swore to use her powers for good from that day on. Promised she’d be a good girl, and never again harm the hair on a little one’s head.” He looked down at Dru, who nodded solemnly, eyes fixed on his face.
He was suddenly squatting in front of Edie again, without Buffy ever seeing him move.
“Thing is, no matter how hard you try to be good, sometimes the bad just…forces its way out.” He shifted into vamp face and smiled his fangiest smile. In one motion, Buffy shoved him hard and swept Edie up into her arms and ran for the exit, grabbing Eleanor by the elbow as she passed.
“Isn’t that right, pet?” Spike called after them from his sprawl on the ground. Buffy never saw him waving his fingers at a saucer-eyed Edie peeking over her shoulder, nor Drusilla giving him an accusing look.
They pounded their way out of the building, surprising the now dozing watchman. Once outside, Eleanor pointed toward the road just beyond the pedestrian tunnel opposite the Conservatory. The slayers that remained on guard duty took note of their flight and silently converged on the them at the mouth of the tunnel. Two took point, one provided rear coverage as they made their way through the tunnel and into a small thicket on the other side. Eleanor’s car was less than 50 feet from the grove and they reached it without incident. Edie was silent the whole way, which was starting to creep Buffy out, as grateful as she was not to be dealing with a screaming child. She handed her off to Eleanor as soon as the car door was opened. As Eleanor buckled Edie into her car seat, the girl looked at Buffy.
“Was that the Cowardly Lion?” she asked. “I think he was trying to scare me.” Eleanor looked at Buffy for help.
“No,” replied Buffy. “His name is Spike. He can be very scary.” In fact, Buffy couldn’t remember the last time he’d been quite that scary — except to demons. “You were awfully brave. So was your aunt.”
Eleanor closed the door and walked around to the driver’s side, shaking her head. “I ran like hell. Now I’m gonna drive like a bat outta heck, with full stops at all stop signs and clear use of turn signals.” She looked at Buffy. “I’m still shaking. I can’t believe you’re on a first name basis with…that. You’ve got some ovaries.”
Buffy smiled thinly, accepting Eleanor’s thanks and making sure all the car doors were locked before she drove off. She led the other slayers back to the Conservatory, filling them in on the objective. The watchman was snoring softly behind the counter. They quietly moved to the room where Buffy had encountered Spike and Dru. There were no vampires and no vampire tinglies. All Buffy found was a small pile of shredded palm fronds on the bench where Dru had been sitting.
“It was such a pretty story, but you ruined the ending,” said Dru. “Behaving like a dog on a chain.”
“Having a little fun, is all. The girl’s a rare one. Reminds me of my nib…the Slayer’s sister. She never wanted it sugar-coated, neither.”
“She was all bathed in green fire.”
“Who? Dawn? S’pose she would have been, at that.”
They approached the bison’s paddock and hung on the stout fence a little, letting the smell of cattle and clover awaken old memories. The bison were huddled together in a bunch, fitfully shifting in their sleep. Dru began humming, eyes closed, head bowed, then slipped over the fence as the largest of the animals heaved itself to its feet. The enormous creature ambled toward Dru, making the earth shiver with each footfall. Dru met it halfway between the fence and the rest of the herd. She lifted her thin hand up to the great beast’s temple. They stared at one another for achingly long minutes.
Spike sat on the top rail of the enclosure, but didn’t interfere. He had his own concerns. Mainly, he wondered if he’d gone too far with the mite and whether it was right to be so pleased about being knocked on his arse by the Slayer’s dainty hand. He knew baiting her wasn’t likely to smooth his way, especially not if she thought he was toying with innocents. But he hadn’t got anywhere by being sweet with her the night before, and he was impatient for her to take notice of him, now that he’d taken the first step.
At last, Dru took her hand away, just as the bison shook his shaggy head. It blinked at her, its comically long lashes arcing through the air, before bowing its head before her. She moved to its shoulder, switched to fangs, and struck. She drank more than she had from the sea lion, the night before, but still not enough to fill her belly. Again, she kissed the small wound closed. The bison bobbed its immense head; Drusilla made a curtsey. It ambled off to join the others in slumber.
Drusilla glided back to Spike, lost in thought. Her brow was furrowed, as if working out a puzzle.
“The earth is restless. There are so many prickles, tickles, and crawling things on its skin. It longs to shake out the wrinkles — snap.” She made a wrist-snapping motion with her hands, as if she were shaking out table linens. “But the seas could engulf all. The memory of the ground is long. The beasts atop it mere mayflies. We cannot ask, but we may receive aid unasked. There’s dirt on the glass, Spike.”
“Good to know,” said Spike.
Drusilla gave him a sharp look. “You’re determined to be naughty.” He shrugged. She reached up to gently tap the tip of his nose. “Never fear. I shall be ‘specially good in your place.”
“Thanks, Dru. Know I’m a handful, at times. See you home?” He stuck his arm out for her, and she rested her fingers lightly upon it with a shy smile. “Scenic route or short way?” he asked.
“Much as I long for the one, I suppose it must be the other,” she replied. “I can be very serious and grown-up, you see.”
He took that as a challenge. Their stately walk soon turned into a silly walks competition, which swiftly became a giggling bout of skipping and twirling until the were dizzy. It was vigorous enough that they didn’t notice the earth shaking below them until the deep, nearly subsonic rumbling stopped them in their tracks. The ground of the meadow rippled under their feet in small waves that moved and grew into swells a foot high. It was almost as if they were being pushed from the park by the earth itself.
Across town, Buffy sat up in bed, watching the ceiling light fixture gently swaying, remembering all the apocalypse-heralding earthquakes she’d experienced in Sunnydale, and wishing that déjà vu didn’t come with a heaping side of dread.
Continued in Chapter 3 — In which reports are made and sights are seen, pleasant and otherwise.
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