The lights in Walgreens were bright and strangely American. That was fine. It helped her think more clearly.
Each item in her basket was outlined in a flat fluorescent halo. Even through the jet-lag, the late-night LA world seemed clearer and slower than she remembered. Almost digitized in its edges. Even her sense of purpose was stronger and more focused. More than it had been all year.
She went over the items in her basket and checked them against the mental list she'd made on the plane.
"Tic-tacs. Check. Jack Nicholson black knit hat. Check. Black leather gloves. Check. Latex gloves. Check." She strolled over to the cleaning supplies aisle. Odor remover: citrus and enzymes for all natural odors—pets, child odors, smoke.
"That oughta cover it," she thought grimly.
She made her way slowly to the next aisle.
Shoe inserts, something to change the way your foot fell, a step corrector. She'd cut them down and fit them around her brand new, never-worn boots. Shapeless sweatsuits. Poly-cotton. Black.
Next aisle. Shampoo. Coconut. Had she ever used coconut? Wait—ooh. New section. Carefree Curl? Definitely never used because, after that brief mistake in college during the not-brief-enough mistake known as Riley, no curly hair. Besides. It looks like it's for . . . hey!
Black hair care. Who knew? She'd never swapped with the, what was it, three people she knew who might have used it? Kendra--Not much with the girltalk and then, well, dead. Rona—had she ever talked to Rona outside an inspirational speech? And then there was . . . Trick? Probably most likely to possess extensive knowledge of hair products—but not counted among "people she knew." Because, as Buffy had learned for the five hundred millionth time—Vampires? Not. Human. Ever.
Robin Wood had tried to tell her.
Not about hair care for obvious reasons.
About vampires not being human.
She should have listened.
Deep breath. Focus. Mission first, lack of diversity in my hometown and hair care history later. Ok. After two sleepless nights and one transatlantic flight, I'm getting a little punchy. Buffy quickly threw a range of unfamiliar products in her basket and walked on purposefully. She paused at No-doz, her hand on the package. Her nose crinkled. Eeew. One night in college with Willow, studying for midterms, she'd been wired for days, and not in a good way. She'd dropped things, unable to think, and good as that part sounded, she needed to be able to think now. She let her hand fall.
She could do it with coffee. She could do shots of espresso. Yuck. Tough to face American coffee after Rome. Wait. Chocolate covered espresso beans. Yum. She ran her tongue over her lips and felt them dry to the point of cracking. Dumb airplane. If they could manage air pressure, why not a little humidity? Or mist the passengers. Like lettuce at the grocery. Let us be lettuce. Hee. She should write to the airlines.
That could wait too.
She needed to hold to her sense of purpose. The purpose almost squelched the rage although it still burned low and cold. The rage freed her from the searing pain and she was not about to let it go out. She licked her lips again. Ow—tangy. Blood.
Uh-oh. That's a problem. Add Chapstick and lip-gloss to the list. Maybe. . .blueberry flavored. She was sure she'd never tried it.
Next, perfume aisle. Chanel knockoff? Too Mom. Fake Bulgari? Her eye caught on "Compare to Obsession." Perfect. She dropped it into the basket. Too bad they didn't have Eau de Single White Female.
Last stop. She breathed deeply, fighting the revulsion. Feminine hygiene. She'd been over this a number of times, telling herself, they aren't that sensitive, and you're not that . . . sensitive. She thought back, pulse quickening. If the thought of his eyes alone could do that, what if he touched her or hell--so much as looked her in the eye, head cocked, tongue curled—
She could feel the blush stealing up her cheeks, and the tingle down there. She looked around, making sure there weren't any vamps to notice that some girl was getting hot in front of the Summers Eve display. Okay, she squared her shoulders. Surely she'd faced worse things in eight years as the Slayer. Well, seven years as the Slayer, and a still-confusing stint as a Slayer . . . there must have been something worse.
But actually, right now, she couldn't think of a single thing.
Island Splash. Gross? Summer Rain Grosser! Flower Mist??
Wasn't there anything that didn't seem to suggest the weird Harlequin version of exactly what she was trying to hide?
Sun Blossom. Fine. Goes with the whole irony thing. Moth to flame. Fatal attraction. OK, subconscious, getting it. You can shut up now because there is no way I am not ten times hotter than Glenn Close, plus, not crazy—just driven to buy potentially harmful feminine hygiene products. Douchebag subconscious. Buffy suppressed a giggle. Wait. More feminine hygiene. Extra absorbent. Deodorant. Just in case. She made her way quickly to the checkout counter, hoping to God no one said anything.
* * * * * *
He'd gone and gotten a basement apartment. Closest thing to a crypt, she guessed.
Buffy tore off the brown wig and stuffed it in her purse as soon as she turned the corner out of sight of the demon bar. She was pretty sure no one had recognized her. Somewhere else, she might have stood out wearing big, dark sunglasses after midnight, but here no one had batted an eye, or—seven.
What a scene. Wall-to-wall skin folds, tusks and slime as far as the eye could see. The lowlife junky-vamps in the corner had looked like a picture of health by comparison.
Whatever. She probably looked like she was on meth to them. Or was it mesc? Hopefully, no one would quiz her on her apparent drug problem because somehow? despite the nightly slaying, yearly apocalypse and BDSM vampire fetish, this neighborhood had her feeling like a sheltered Slayer from the suburbs.
She didn't look the part, she hoped. She'd applied blood-red lips, tons of rouge, and skin-tight leopard print skankwear. Plus, just in case anyone caught a glimpse behind her shades, she was still wearing the jetlag eye-bags courtesy of Delta and Surprisealiveagain!vampire.
She really hoped no one had recognized her. Not only because it would have blown the cover she'd shopped so hard for, but because it would have been a worse statement about her high school fashion sense than she could even begin to face.
Tonight, though, the skank look was working and she had worked it even harder. She had sidled up to demons, bought them drinks, gyrated, whispered sleazy naughties in their pointy, putrid ears. She fit right in. In all her years of fighting and pumping demons for information (ow, echo) she had never played them like this. . Her cover meant she couldn't beat the information out of them. They couldn't know she was the—a Slayer—or at least, they couldn't know that she knew. She had to do what a Slayer would never do.Well. Except for Faith. But that's probably why she didn't change the "the."
Talk about confusing.
A Slayer. Slayer, comma, a. But slowly, Buffy had begun to see how that little shift could work to her advantage. There must be enough Slayers around that any demons with honed senses had to get used to the tingling slayer presence set off. Although, as Buffy had surveyed the bar full of bleary-eyed, bug-ugly, strung-out scaly things, she hadn't seen much that was honed.
It didn't matter. She got what she wanted. With a sticky near lap-dance, she got one slime-demon to tell her that the white-blond vamp who fought his own kind had got an apartment. Another gave her the address. "See you later, big guy," she whispered wetly into the large, waxy ear of her informant. She was lying, of course, but she amazed herself with how far she would go to get the information she wanted. Waxy demon ear? No match for my skanky-junky-fu.
Jesus. Did I really just think that? Xander and Andrew would be so proud. Wait. Stop. Clarity. Priority. Single-minded focus, and no distracting friends. Not right now.
Now: freedom. She'd thought that philosophy stuff the Immortal was always spouting was beyond boring and pretentious, but now? Maybe it hadn't all been about shopping and bickering for the remote with him after all. Beyond Good and Evil. She was definitely starting to get it.
* * * * * *
Buffy felt a little less übergirl looking at the peeling, stained walls and burned carpet of her new LA home. The cheap hotel across the street from Spike's supposed new place had a room. Apparently they usually rented by the hour, but she made a deal on a nightly basis for one with a window view. She had figured her outfit would have her hitting high enough on the skankometer that she wouldn't raise too many eyebrows, but looking around at some of the other guests, she realized she looked Bel Air in comparison.
Who ever heard of a motel by the hour? People must be really poor, they couldn't even afford a whole night's sleep. She began to understand a different business plan from the smell of the room, and shuddered—but hey, she thought brightly, reaching into her Walgreens bag, who am I if not super odor-preparedness girl? She couldn't give up the room. It was perfectly placed if the demon had been right about the address. Spike's door was in sight. So, a little spritz of stale-semen-begone, and hello, citrusy goodness.
Right after I write the airlines, I'll do the infomercial.
She closed the curtains, pulled a chair up to the window, and opened her suitcase. She took out the gray case and pulled out the night vision binoculars. Thank you, Initiative. Still helping the world keep tabs on Hostile 17. She had the special filters to cut down on the light flashing a warning off the glass. Has anyone ever been more commando?
Or psycho, a little voice spoke inside her head.
Oh, shut up with the movie refs. Six months of Roman Holiday couch potato and you think you're all Ebert. This is so not Psycho. Wrong creepy hotel vibe. Think Taxi Driver. Look at the room. Jesus, smell the room. But Jodi Foster-me? Not at all. Color me De Niro.
She settled in to her post, binoculars ready. "You lookin' at me?" she asked out loud.
"Nope." She almost giggled again, then steadied the lenses, focusing on the door across the street.
"Not this time. . .pet."