Imagine if John Crichton, ala Farscape, and Buffy Summers, ala Buffy the Vampire Slayer, sat down one night to have a chat.
Yes...just imagine what they would say...
Fic: Alligator Alley
Author: Regala Electra
Spoilers: BtVS, "Chosen" and Farscape, "Bad Timing"
Summary: A Slayer and an astronaut walk into a bar. Stop me if you've heard this one.
Pairings: John/Aeryn, Buffy/Angel and (minor) Buffy/Spike
Author's Notes: Well, it took me forever to finish, but it's done! Hooray! Originally, this was going to be a 100 word drabble, but nearly 5800 words later, it turned out that no, Buffy and John do have quite a bit to say to each other. It was inspired by a challenge at FarscapeFriday on livejournal, so all props to the birthing of this baby go to them. Oh, and John’s comment about wearing leather is taken from Ben Browder’s comments about acting post-Farscape.
Dedications: First of all, thanks to all who read the early drafts. Shout out to Gator Jen, as she provided me with information on Florida and bars, and while we did argue over what type of beer John would drink, I hope the story makes her smile her ever lovin' J/A OTP shippah heart out. To Nariya, because she's a partner in crime and ever so wonderful. To Jennem because she'll hurt me if I don't mention her (*wink*). Thanks to Leelee because she's adorable! And lastly, thanks to Molly, who now knows the lure of Farscape and is just extremely cool to chat with. Someday our chats shall take over the world.
Feedback: Causes me to smile, grin, and feel all fuzzy.
So a guy dressed in leather walks into a bar - she stops herself, it's an old one and she's heard it.
Actually, it's blue jeans and an impossibly white t-shirt. Impossible because the air is so thick with cigarette smoke that the heavy gray fog has even managed to color the dull, aged interior. She's sitting underneath a ceiling fan, the breeze somewhat dissipating the smoky air.
Her hair's pulled up, though there are some tendrils loose and sticking uncomfortably to her damp neck, it's aiding her in this dead late summer heat.
"Will that be another water?" the voice is gruff but carries a deep southern drawl. She shakes her head politely and sips slowly at her half-filled glass. Maybe a few months ago, she would have said half-empty, to her now, it's half-full.
At this hour of the night, the bar is nearly empty, but still hot and sticky; the nearby swamps make the breeze through the windows unpleasant instead of soothing.
Blue jeans sits next to her, the stool swivels easily to accommodate him as though he has done this hundreds of times before, and says, in a pleasant, vaguely Southern voice, "Bud. I'll take a bottle." He sounds earnest in his request and smiles charmingly at the bartender, though the man is less than amused. He turns to her then, shocking blue eyes and fair brown hair, he must be around thirty, yet she is sure that he won't hit on her or that she'll need to leave her seat, and says amiably, "Good evening. Hell of a sweat out there, huh?"
"Yeah," she agrees, a smile coming to her face. Setting down her drink, her fingers curling around the coolness of the glass, she breezily comments, "I don't even want to know what a disaster my hair will be once I take it down."
It's a light, meaningless joke, and the man laughs appreciatively, a sort of chuckle that makes her want to loosen up and enjoy the run-down bar with this friendly stranger.
Receiving his beer, he tips the bottle thankfully to the bartender, then, turning back to her, "Cheers."
"Cheers," she parrots and the water is wet and tasteless. "Anything to be celebrating?"
"Earth," he says mildly, but with heavy implication. He grins then, and she is struck by just how handsome he is. He's all-American, in a non-annoying way, no boy scout, and while she's learned the hard way that her type tends to be on the dark and non-alive side, she also isn't blind.
"Very hippie," she chirps, smiling back at him. His good humor is infectious.
"We're gonna have a girl." He says this more into his bottle as he takes a drink, and the look on his face is like a man who, well, hasn't had a drink in quite a while.
"Um," she can't help it, even though she mostly knows she's not a part of that we, "While you seem to be a nice guy, isn't this the sort of thing that happens on later dates, like relationships?"
He furrows his brow, and chuckles to himself, "Sorry. For a moment thought I was the only person to get-" he stops himself, shaking his head. "My fiancée and me."
"Ah. Good. Wasn't really planning on a baby in the near future." She hasn't been planning on anything in her future. She'd say she was on vacation, but this is different. This is important. "Congratulations."
He thanks her and offers his hand, "Name's John." He does a peculiar twist of his mouth before the next word, "Crichton."
She takes it and is surprised that it isn't sweaty or hot; it doesn't even have the sweat of the cool glass bottle on it. "Buffy. Summers. And, not to be rude, but why aren't you sweating to death? I mean, I'm from California and I'm ready to melt into a puddle."
He answers off-handedly, "Ever gone swimming in lava?"
"As in molten? Can't say that I have."
He takes a slow sip. "That's my answer."
"Okay. That's cool in a freaky way, I guess." Smiling as the bartender takes her glass for another refill, she says, "Ever battled against the dark minions of hell?"
He sputters, coughing as his beer goes down the wrong way, his eyes strange and searching her face, "What?"
Face falling, she says quickly, "Never mind."
She gets a newer, cooler water and the bartender ambles off to kick out some very drunk and barely legal kids out of the bar.
Softly, he says to her in an undertone, "Unless you count white-faced bastards with a penchant for leather, god-like aliens, or critters, then no."
She knows her tanned face must have gone pale. "What?"
"You're from California?"
Wary of his change of subject, she nods. "Yeah. Sunnydale."
He blinks slowly. "Isn't that the town they've been talking about on the news? The whole town that's just a crater now? Jesus."
"Well. Most people got out before all hell broke loose." She reflects on that. "Most."
"I'm sorry." And he looks it too. "Did you lose anyone?"
Grateful for his sympathy, though he doesn't know her, she answers vaguely, "Friends. Loved ones. I mean, not many, but still-"
She can't help herself, she looks off into the distance and can see him, the burst of flames engulfing him and she doesn't feel remorse. It's vaster than that and she knows that she'll always miss him, but she can't drown in memories anymore.
"I know what that feels like." There's something in his eyes that reminds him of her; it makes his eyes seem so much older than his years, like experience - life - has beaten him down. He bites the side of his thumb, an unconscious action, and one he's probably done countless times before. "How you dealin'?"
"Yeah, I sort of-" she stops her lie. "I'm not. The people I lost, I won't get them back. In some ways, it's better like that - not dealing. I had a lot of responsibilities before Sunnydale became an enormous crater. Now I don't. I'm kind of exploring the country right now."
"You like to explore?" It's a genuine question and one that's strangely earnest.
"I guess so. For now, I mean. I'm going back to California maybe later this year, or early next year, I have a sister, she's still in school and a lot of my friends are still there; we're trying to start up a, guess it's a sort of business, and - I'm babbling aren't I?"
"It's okay. I'm usually the one doin' all the talking." It's an inside joke and she wishes to know the reason for it.
"What, your fiancée doesn't like to talk?"
He laughs softly at that. "In a word, no. Erin's not much of a talker."
"Erin's a nice name," she says supportively, wanting to hear about the woman who's making his eyes dance in happiness.
"A-E-R-Y-N." He spells it quickly and explains off her confused look, "She's not from around her."
"European?" she guesses.
"Sebeacean." He looks at her strangely. "Have you been keeping up with the international news lately?"
"The whole mission to update IASA and unite the world for a unified space program? Not really. Sunnydale was sort of isolated. I, well, I was sort of Sunnydale-oriented. Never had the time to keep track of national and international news. I don't really know what's the what."
He looks puzzled but amused. "You have no idea who I am."
She gives him a challenging look, "You have no idea who I am."
He shakes his head, disagreeing. Then, he begins talking, more rapid and fluid, his voice low and confidential, "Four years ago I got shot into a wormhole. Do you know that eventually that goes from sounding cool to tedious to just bizarre? It's either a bad pickup line, 'hey baby, I've seen the dark side of the galaxy, how you doin'?' Or it sounds like I'm an attraction at the circus. Come see the amazing John and his AMAZING wormhole trick!"
Then to himself, as though captured in a memory, "Come see the man who fell from the stars."
She laughs, though she has no idea what he's talking about and thinks he has to be a lightweight when it comes to beers.
"Well," he takes a long swig off his beer before continuing, "I came back."
"To Earth?" she asks, her interest increasing more in whatever tale he's about to tell and positive it's all a drunken ramble. She's in the mood for a good story and the less he asks about Sunnydale, the less she'll remember.
"Yeah. You didn't see the program about aliens among us?" He looks off in disgust. "What a piece of crap."
"Well, my TV was sort of destroyed. Through no fault of my own," she hastily adds. Grinning she goes on, "I never had much time for television. Say hello to Miss Sunnydale-insulated. Also, programs about aliens, vampires, and other fun bitey, creepy, and night-stalking things? So not my preference for my veg times."
She's had enough of that while on the clock.
"You really have no clue." He takes money out of his wallet, a crisper ten she's never seen before. "You want anything else?"
"I'm fine. I'm not much of drinker." One time was enough and she thinks sadly on the memory. She's been thinking of him recently, though the pain has dulled. Now, it's all just vague nostalgia, the edges of pain blurred and the better times hazy like a dream.
Then she says, for no reason she'll ever be able to explain, "Since I've been fifteen, my duty has been fighting demons, vampires, and any other thing that oozes on expensive clothes, which, by the way, can NOT be dry-cleaned. It's been my job to protect Sunnydale. Now, the Hellmouth, that's better known as Sunnydale, is closed for business - okay, yes it's a big crater now, but it is most definitely closed. And since all potentials now are a slayer...that's what I am, a Slayer, I am currently free of my mission. Did I mention that said mission usually ends in violent deaths for Slayers? Well, now it doesn't, it really doesn't and it's really scary, because I can have a life now, I don't have to sacrifice myself. I can be just another girl. I can travel around the country, I can be no one, and I really have to, because I spent so much energy being 'The Slayer' that I've sort of lost my identity and I'd like to just be Buffy for a while."
He sets down his beer, which had been frozen halfway from his mouth during her diatribe and says softly, "Oh."
"Yeah. Um," tugging at her short-sleeved blouse, she manages, in only the way the very embarrassed can, "sorry. I guess I said a lot. Too much."
"No. No, I mean it's fine," he smiles again but she can see that his eyes reveal how troubled he is by her little speech. "You're a Slayer? Never heard that one before. Okay. So then Earth is invested with B-movie demons and vampires? And girls have to fight them? How old are you anyways?"
"Okay." He rubs his temples, wrinkling his forehead as he thinks. "So you've been fighting since you were fifteen. And now, you don't have to?"
"Well, kind of. I mean, apparently Cleveland is a Hellmouth and how much am I not looking forward to going there? A lot. But yeah, you see, in every generation, one girl, oh it's a really boring speech, just - I'll summarize. There's always one. Now, there's not. There's hundreds. Maybe more. So that's why I'm currently touring the country. I never had the opportunity before."
She is met by silence.
Finally, because apparently he isn't as drunk as she hopes, she says, "Well, come on, I'm just joking."
His head shakes in disagreement. "Nope. Don't buy that for a second, darlin'. I mean, it's great, a great story. Too bad it's true. Since I've been away from Earth, you wouldn't believe the things I've seen. The things that have been done to me."
He puts a hand on her shoulder and asks, "So where are you going? You have an endgame in mind? Me, mine was always, 'get back to Earth. Go home.' And then, and believe me, I didn't expect this, but Earth wasn't home anymore. I have another home, on a ship, a living one if you can believe it." He takes his hand away and resumes to drinking his beer. "Aeryn and I were separated from the ship, because of my own damn bad timing. I think our friends, the ones on Moya, think we're dead. Hell, I thought we were destined for the scrap heap too. Funny how things turned out."
"Okay, if this is all true? You win." She smiles uncomfortably, his question still bothering her.
She knows exactly where she isn't going, because she doesn't have to anymore. She doesn't have to worry about her death, she doesn't have to wonder if tomorrow won't come, because she's not alone anymore and she can do just this: hang out in a run down bar, forgo patrolling, and talk to a stranger with an extremely bizarre story - weirder than her own.
She knows where she could go, but she knows she isn't ready yet.
"Oh, it's all true." He flashes her one of his grins and it's just not fair that he can have such a charming smile. "It's more of a cliff notes version, I skimmed over most of the torture and the leather."
"Leather?" she asks.
"Leather" he confides. Continuing, he says, voice lowering as though he's revealing a secret, "I guess I've gotten so used to wearing leather, I feel sort of naked wearing just jeans and a shirt."
No, she is not going to picture how he would look in leather. Or the naked imagery, it's true, she's been single since she left Sunnydale, but she's happy being single. Taking a long sip of her water, she decides to just add the leather and naked images to her private file - for later use, of course.
John takes a slow sweep of the bar and she can't help but follow his gaze. It's only other customers are a couple secluded in a distant corner table, their faces turned to one another, deep in conversation, and a wizened, whiskey-hardened old man sipping slowly from the very end of the other side of the bar.
"It's nice to be back on Earth without the whole world knowing about it. But Aeryn's having a hard time - she's complaining that's she's starting to look like a, well, tejahirc," he lets loose a strange bit of clicking between the word and if she doubted the truth of John's story, she doesn't anymore. "Fortunately, my sister's with her - we need to keep a low profile, we don't want the government to realize that I'm back. They tend to -"
"Oh, I've dealt with the government," she replies. "They tried 'helping' me with Sunnydale. And after they created the modern day Frankenstein, who wanted to make more super demon-human-computer hybrids just like him, they learned that it's best not to do the job a Slayer can do so much better, especially without all the extra fancy high-tech stun guns."
"He called himself Adam."
"Nice. Very biblical. Though I've dealt with some god-like aliens out in the universe. Those cocky bastards, they ain't all they think they are, 'specially since I, the deficient one, have whooped their asses more times than I can count. There's even one, called himself Maldis, that took to the gothic vampire shtick like you wouldn't believe."
"Yeah, he fed on emotions - boy loved his drama, huge gothic settings, loved talking about how his plan was genius. Tended to overdo the Shakespearian villain vibe."
"Oh god, a talker? Those are the worst. 'Blah blah, you'll never defeat me, blah blah, my power is so much greater than you, pitiful mortal, blah blah blah.' When really, they could have just killed me by then, but they're just so in love with the sound of their own voices, apparently."
"Change that 'pitiful mortal' to 'insignificant human' and I know exactly what you mean."
"I always have to wonder if they think that talking me to death is the secret to killing a Slayer. Because it doesn't work. And yet...it keeps on happening. There should be an evil villain's handbook or something."
He grins at that, thumping his hand on the bar, announcing in a loud voice, "I'll drink to that! Seems it'll be much easier with a good guys and bad guys handbook. Especially the evil villain's handbook. Rule Number One: If your plan is so frelling fantastic, then do it, don't bore me to death with the details. Frankly, I ain't got the time when I got half the universe on my ass."
She laughs, her stomach's never ached from laughing before but it's quite close to that sensation, "Sorry to interrupt, but, 'frell?'"
"Sorry, it's become a force of habit." He downs the last of his beer and begins again, "Okay, Rule Number One: If your fuckin' plan is so fuckin' whoop-de-do fan-fucking-tastic, then do it, don't fucking bore me to fucking death with the fucking details!"
She thinks of herself as a dam, she can't help that thought, she spills over in laughter, gasping for air, an insane giggle that she hasn't done in a long, long time.
John beckons the bartender with a fancy, overtly dignified gesture, "Another cerveza, my good man." He's staring at her like she's lost her mind, which she probably has. "Having a good time?"
"The best. Plus I learned a new curse word. You'd be amazed by some of the colorful language you can pick up on the road. It's like those 'the more you learn' ads on TV."
"I'd call you insane, Buffy," John begins as the bartender swiftly hands over another bottle of beer, going over to talk with the old man sitting at the end of the bar, "but that would be the pot calling the kettle black, as they say."
"And," she says, giving herself a strict-sounding voice, "Rule Number Two: There shall be no pot-kettle calling. If you are such a badass, then kick my ass."
"Amen." He takes a swig that empties half the bottle. Setting it down, he says, "Thanks."
She stops mid-laugh and asks, puzzled, "For what?"
"It's been a while since I could unwind."
"Hey, it's no problem. It's all mutual, or whatever." She's abandoned her water, and swivels her seat so she can lean back on the bar. "I partly decided to do this traveling-thing because I needed a rest, but maybe I just needed some laughs. I guess I forgot I didn't need to be serious all the time."
"Well, I learned that the hard way." A shadow crosses his face before he also turns his seat to lean against the bar. "When I was out there, when I didn't think I'd have a chance of gettin' back home, jokes kept me from going over the edge. There were times when it was rough. I did stupid things and I learned the universe will always take time out of its busy schedule to personally screw you, but it was the good days that kept me going. Now, as stupid as this might sound, but it's the future that's keeping me going. Not the big future, just tomorrow. I'm gonna find a way to contact Moya and my friends, I'm gonna go back and maybe I'll do something right."
"Wow. I'm impressed. Where were you when I was trying to do my motivational speeches this past winter?"
He squints his eyes as though he's thinking. "On the run from the Peacekeepers, on the run from the Scarrans, or maybe trying to save Moya from some new threat. It's hard to keep track of these things."
"Busy dance card then?"
He shrugs casually. "Everyone wants a piece of Mama Crichton's boy."
She smiles at that. "Aren't we full of ourselves."
"So says Little Miss 'I'm a Slayer.' By the way, slayer? Do you carry around a wooden stake or something?"
Pretending to check her short sleeves and then her pockets, empty save a few dollars and a scrap of paper and a room key, she announces, "Must have left my slayer arsenal in my other pants. Whoo-"
She intends to finish that 'whoops' and continue on with their bantering, but her eye catches a strange gesture from the man of the couple in the secluded corner. His hand, his very *pale* hand pushes away the long dark hair of his companion. Now she watches as the woman shakes her head, her answer too low to be heard. Raising a hand to keep John from saying anything else, she tries to catch a glimpse of the man's face.
She doesn't need to. He turns and there it is: full vampire face.
He's so involved with getting his victim drunk that he didn't even notice he's in the same room as a slayer.
Getting up from her seat, the vampire freezes; his yellow eyes are fixed to her every movement. She slowly crosses the room, flashing the brightest smile she can manage. "Well, hello there, how are you two doing? My name's Buffy," she doesn't even leave a pause; the vampire recognizes her instantly. "Oh good, so you've heard of me. No need for introductions-"
"Slayer." It's hissed out like a low death rattle.
"Okay, some introductions are needed. Yes, I'm a Slayer. You're a vampire. That's the woman that's not going to be bitten by you tonight. And that's John over there and um, his introduction is going to last longer than your future lifespan."
The vampire doesn't like this; she can tell as she ducks a poorly thrown fist and the table is knocked over. Jumping up, she avoids getting knocked back.
Her reputation's preceded her; the vampire doesn't even try for a fair fight. A chair breaks across her back. Falling to the ground and then rolling on her back, groping wildly for a piece of broken wood, she kicks, connecting dully with a strong chest.
Instincts take over, she can hear and feel the vampire, but it isn't seeing, only reacting. She's back on her feet and crouches down to avoid a wild, shoddy spin kick and quickly returns a well-placed kick into the vampire's exposed side.
A grim line forms like a smile on her face as the stake is shoved into the heart cavity; she closes her eyes and it's almost like a burst of cool air when the vampire dies, and she feels the dust exploding all around.
Her makeshift stake clatters to the floor and she turns to the frightened young woman. "You okay?"
The woman only manages a shocked nod.
John, still sitting on the bar stool, finally speaks. "Frell."
She sighs, brushing off the ashes stuck to her shirt, "Can't ever have a night off."
The woman, done blinking at her, runs off, without a look back. Buffy hopes that next time, the woman chooses a better date.
There's a low whistle and she looks up to see John applauding.
"Enjoyed the performance?"
"Yeah." He smiles suddenly as though a new thought has just come to him. "This is also one of the first times I've walked into a bar and not ended up being the cause of the fight."
Her face falls as the bartender rises up from behind the bar (which he'd conveniently been hiding under while the vampire attacked). He sharply says, "I think you two just better head out of my place. Now."
She could pretend to be surprised, but it's never different. No thanks, no rewards, just more trouble.
"Jinxer," she teases, waving her arm in a 'no, after you' pose in front of the doorway so John can leave first. She rolls her eyes as he opens the door for her, waiting until she finally exits. "You just have to be the gentleman, don't you...oh frell."
The air outside is so thick she nearly walks back inside.
"Whew. Out of the hot, sweaty bar and into the nice, cool country splendor." He turns a derisive eye to her with a grin, "At least we didn't get thrown out."
She shrugs her shoulders. "Happens all the time. You save people from demons, do they say, 'thank you?' Nope, they tend to think that I'm 'with' the demons. Because you know, friends are always fighting to the death."
"You'd be surprised," he replies with a firm nod. "Sometimes nothing says 'I love you' like getting your ass kicked by a close friend."
"Well...if you put it that way, I do know what you mean."
John gestures to a battered pick-up truck. "Do you have a car or do you need a ride?"
"Oh, I don't drive. I'm more the walking type."
"You've been hitchhiking?"
"What?" She can't help but roll her eyes at him. He's seen her take out a vampire and there's genuine concern to his question. "Are you going to tell me the dangers of hitchhiking? Actually, I do the bus thing. And you'd be surprised by how much walking a person can actually do."
John frowns at this. He says, "I've seen what you can do, but you're getting a ride. Just tell me where you're staying."
"Aren't we 'Mr. Southern Gentleman,'" she acknowledges, her voice not entirely teasing. "Fine. I'm staying at a motel," she pulls out the scrap of paper in her pocket, "the directions are on the back."
"Wow, the Motel Gator? Sounds really fancy."
"Hey, I'll have you know that there's nothing better than a motel when you're tired and don't mind that weird smoke-smell even though I always ask for a non-smoking room."
"I'll keep that in mind." He opens the passenger door for her and she carefully climbs into the beaten truck. Grimacing at the dusty interior, she listens to the wheeze as John starts the ignition.
"Ain't nothing like a good American vehicle, huh?"
She's glad to hear his voice is dripping in sarcasm.
"Can I ask," she says, raising her voice over the sputter and noise of the engine as John began driving down the dark street, "if you're this universal traveler, just why you picked this car? Or should I call this a deathtrap?"
He mutters under his breath, "Why is everyone ragging on my vehicles?" John then speaks louder, pretending as though she didn't hear his comment, "As they say, it's best to go incognito when the government's got an interest in you."
"Yeah, but they who say things like that always seem to get caught."
"Shhh..." John took a hand off the wheel to press a finger to his lips, "when the obvious is pointed out, Murphy's Law comes by for a good, friendly ass-kicking."
"I'll keep my mouth shut then."
They drive in silence for a few minutes, the ride bumpy but steady. The air conditioner does work and she's grateful for it.
"Hey John, is Alligator Alley nearby?"
"Um, 'round about 280 miles. Why, is that where you're planning to go?"
"Maybe. I'm not really trying to hit the major tourist spots."
"A two lane road is that interesting to you?"
She watches dark cars pass by, the headlights speed by like a blaze. "Not exactly. It's like a distraction."
He turns his head to look at her for a moment. Looking back at the road, he says, "Now don't leave me hanging like that. "
"I told you," and she can't keep the petulance out of her voice, "I'm traveling."
"Yet now, that sounds more like 'avoiding' than 'traveling.'"
She can feel the slow, sad smile spread across her face. "Amazingly, I've stopped avoiding a lot of the stuff that's happened in the past few years. But I'm worried."
"I don't think you should worry. You seem to be pretty well-adjusted from what you've told me about your life."
"Thanks." She doesn't quite believe it, but she does think she's starting to find her own direction. "It's likewise. I don't think I'd keep sane if I ended up on the wrong side of the galaxy."
"Now you're just being polite. I've never been sane." John slows down at the stoplight, a smooth stop, impressive for such an elderly truck. "I hope you're not running."
She frowns at him. "I'm not."
"Do your friends know you're here?"
"Hey, I didn't finish my 'um.' One of my friends is a witch," at John's disbelieving look, she adds, "yes, a witch. You just saw me dust a vampire, believe me, there are witches."
"Good and bad? Is your friend a good witch or a bad witch?"
She laughs at that. "Jerk. Actually, she's a good witch, in recovery from a brief stint as a Big Bad."
"Okay, so does Glinda use her powers to track you?"
"Actually, yeah." She flicks a lock of hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear. "If they need me, they have my number. In the magical sense."
"Huh. Well, me and Aeryn have our comms, only I doubt we'll be able to contact Moya until we leave here." He steps on the accelerator when the light finally turns green. "We were hoping that they'd find a way to get here, but it's looking less and less likely. Now, we have to wait until Aeryn has the baby. It might just be better to wait a while on Earth. Let things breathe for a moment. Sort of what you're doing."
"I thought you were trying to imply I was running away from my problems."
He exhales at that, a slow, contented sound. "There are all sorts of running. Doesn't always mean that it's bad. Sometimes, a man needs a breather from nearly dying every month."
She doesn't say anything after that.
They drive in silence and she sees a pink streak of light, pale and nearly translucent, grace the sky. The morning's almost here and she feels that small knot of worry, always nestled in the pit of her stomach, dissipate with every moment.
He stops and she realizes just how rundown her lodgings look in the twilight hours.
Unbuckling, she turns to say goodbye.
"Buffy," John says, drumming his fingertips on the wheel, "it was nice talking to you."
She opens the door, moving to leave, "It was nice meeting you, John."
"Hey," he moves his hand quickly, opening the glove compartment with a pop and taking something from the clutter, "Why don't you take this. It's a spare."
It's a shiny piece of coppery metal. She takes it in her hand, surprisingly cool and smooth as she closes fingers over it.
"Thanks. What it is?"
"A communication device. It'll work pretty much anywhere."
"Even if I'm halfway across the world?" she says, grinning.
"Hell, even if I'm on the moon," he says, closing up the glove compartment. "You ever need someone to talk to-"
"Same to you," she answers back. Jumping out of the truck, she hesitates for a moment. Holding the door open for just a bit longer, she says, "Hey John, I hope someday I'll try to use this and it won't work."
He grins widely. "Already want me off the planet?"
She shakes her head, "I was trying to be clever. What I meant was that I hope you and Aeryn find your way home."
He offers his hand and she reaches for a warm handshake. "You're going to be alright, Buffy. And thank you. As for me, I hope that you realize you'll be okay and that you find what you're looking for."
"Bet that's what you tell all the girls."
He smiles, "Normally I compliment them on how well they kick my ass."
"Ah, romance." She flips the communication device in her hand like a coin. "I'll be in contact."
"You better. Tell me what you think of Alligator Alley. Goodbye Buffy."
"Bye John. Remember, it's your turn to create rule three of the evil villain's handbook."
She watches the truck drive away, the sound of John's chuckle ringing in her ears. When she goes inside to the depressing sparseness of her temporary room, she picks up the phone, dialing a number.
There's an electric voice and a click and she moves to the window, holding the phone to her ear.
"Hey it's me. Sorry, I mean, it's me, Buffy. It's been a long time since we talked and I guess you're out, well, clearly you're out, so. Um. Wow. Let me start at the beginning. I met this guy. Oh, not like that, though. He's getting married. And no, he wasn't hitting on me. I just sort of realized something. What I said to you back in Sunnydale, it's not exactly true. That baking metaphor can be tossed right out and stricken from the record. And I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'd really like to talk to you."
She stops then, there's a blossoming blush to her cheeks, there's nothing else for her to say.
Walking back to the bedside table to hang up the phone, she nearly misses hearing the soft, questioning "Buffy?"
"Angel? Oh, so, you were listening?"
"I just got in. You sound strange. Is something wrong?"
She opens her hand to look at the coppery piece of metal secure in her palm. Setting it down carefully on the small table, she says, "No, nothing's wrong. But if you have the time, I'd like to tell you a story. "
The air conditioning is weak at best, but she frees her hair anyway. She knows exactly where she's going for once and even though she knows the future's a vast and intangible design, she can still taste the cool, clean water on the back of her tongue and smell the scents of a thousand lives that moved through this very space.
Although she knows that she won't be back home until late autumn, she knows that there is a home out there and she'll return.
She takes a worn map from a drawer and unfolds it, ready to recap her adventures with John. Running a finger across the length of Alligator Alley, a strange sense of contentment coursing through her body, she says, "Too bad he wasn't dressed in leather, it would've been a better beginning. So a guy dressed in blue jeans walks into a bar..."