Buffy was already regretting her agreement to leave sunny Rome to join the gang at yet another hellmouth. As hellmouths went, Cleveland had more to offer than some others. Maybe if the weather held, she and Willow could get in some sightseeing. It was no New York, not even a Chicago. But unlike Sunnydale, it did have a fair amount of art and leisure activities and more than one mall.
Faith and Robin had been dealing with an assortment of demons using Cleveland for their killing ground. Many of said demons had been finding easy prey among Rock and Roll Hall of Fame fans who too often considered the odd-looking creatures part of the full museum experience in the section devoted to the psychedelic era. Throw in a vagrant or two at the nearby Amtrak station and drunken sports fans at the Stadium and a demon had a veritable buffet of fine dining.
Giles had decided to put an official branch office for the New Council right there on the hellmouth to make research easier for Faith and her team of slayers in dealing with the opportunistic underworld of evil. Having suffered the loss of vital data when the past Council was destroyed, it was deemed wiser to scatter the resources a bit this time around. Cleveland, as the most active hellmouth, was the logical choice for the first satellite office.
Buffy had been more than happy to leave the apartment to the bickering duo known as Andrew and Dawn for a few days to lend a hand, at least until she looked at the gray skies and frigid water of the lake as the plane prepared for landing. Rome and its warm sun and even warmer people felt the thousands of miles away that it really was, and Buffy experienced a pang of homesickness.
"Hey, Buffy!" the excited voice of Willow broke through the jumble of voices in the terminal. "Giles said you were coming, but I just couldn't believe it until I saw you come out of the gate. I've missed you," Willow pulled Buffy into a bear hug that knocked the wind out of her for a moment.
"Yup, nothing like the promise of some Andrew-free days and some best friend time to get this girl back into action," Buffy said, smiling brightly. "I've missed you too, Will. How's Kennedy?"
"She's same as always. Sassy, sexy, seriously into her slaying gig. Sometimes she reminds me of Faith when we first met her, before all the bad junk happened." Willow's eyes took on a slight faraway look as years of memories flitted by. "Which is of the good, because, you know, no people killing and slutty behavior and body stealing and all. Okay, maybe a little slutty, but only where appropriate," Willow added with a wry grin and a wink.
Buffy blushed in spite of herself. She was glad her best friend had found someone after losing first Oz and then Tara, even if Kennedy would never equal either of those two in appeal to anyone other than Willow.
Buffy wasn't ready to date again. Losing Spike just when she'd finally admitted to herself that the place he had in her heart WAS her heart made thoughts of a replacement jar too much. 'Leave it to me to figure out too late that I loved the big idiot,' Buffy thought, not for the first time. 'Maybe I'll finally learn to trust my feelings next time. Spike would want that. In the end, he gave me everything, even the hope of loving again.'
Willow saw the way Buffy's eyes glazed over for a moment and knew without her witchÅfs power that it was another Spike haunting. No one had been willing to see the powerful love between the two supernatural beings before Spike dusted, but in hindsight Willow was able to admit to the truth of their emotions. Clearly Buffy was in need of some silly time, some girlfriend giggles. And Willow was just the witch to provide them.
The two old friends sat on the sofa of the Council's VIP apartment, flipping through the many channels offered by DISH Network. A large bowl of popcorn sat ready for enjoyment the minute they found something they could agree on.
"You know history and Buffy are non-mixy, Will," Buffy protested yet again.
"How about that show on porpoises we passed about fifty channels ago?" Willow suggested. "Everybody loves porpoises!"
Buffy wrinkled her nose a bit. "Not everybody. They kind of creep me out since I saw that last documentary you made me sit through. You remember how it was all about how they gang up on the girl porpoise and basically gangbang her. Then when the guy said that's why they turned on that lady touristˇcan I just say ewwwwwwwww?"
"No porpoises, check." Willow let out a sigh and kept pushing buttons on the remote. "Two hundred channels of nothing! I think demons are the ones running television these days."
"That was actually true in the UK," Buffy informed her. "How else do you explain the programming on TV there? It's also a well-known fact that Rupert Murdoch is a F'Lachge demon and look how much media stuff he owns everywhere!"
"He is?" Willow was shocked. "How come one of you slayers don't just put an end to him?"
"Too much power. He owns more than a few governments too. Besides, he doesn't kill people, only makes them want to kill themselves with his bias," Buffy concluded.
"Ooh, here's a good one!" Willow sat up, excited. "I love infomercials, even if they usually make me want to buy something I'll never use. Like that gadget that whips eggs while they're still in the shell."
"Yeah, that's another thing--all these channels and still a ton of infomercials and reruns. I mean how many episodes can you watch of canceled TV shows before you can say all the lines?"
"This should be good for us though." Willow looked up from the channel guide she was perusing. "It's the Healthy Living Channel. I feel more wholesome just clicking on it!"
Buffy left the living room and returned with an opened bottle of Asti Spumonti to wash down the fluffy white kernels of popped corn. Within an hour, both girls were giggling and interacting with the TV, leaving the cares and concerns of the world behind for a while.
"Aww, we missed the NuWave Oven," Willow pouted and started to reach for the remote again until she stopped to stare at the screen in amazement. "Wow! They sell this stuff on TV?!"
Buffy put the empty wine bottle down that she had been peering into as if it held all the world's answers and glanced at the TV to see what had so startled her friend. As the new commercial began rolling, Buffy felt the bottle slide from her hands and land with a thump on the carpeted floor.
Two attractive women on the screen were holding up a product from the laden table in front of them and beginning a description of an odd-looking red device that looked far too much like recognizable body parts to anything but what it was. "This Jack Rabbit is our best seller by far," the girl with the Japanese sounding name was saying. "Notice the rotating metal pearls and how it adds to the vibration while the shaft oscillates, hitting all those hard-to-reach places." Her assistant nodded sagely as the red plastic rotated and purred.
"What the hell?" Buffy commented under her breath. "Dawn could be watching this stuff!"
"Yeah, but that's one bunny even Anya could love." Willow hadn't taken her eyes from the screen.
The segment was for a company called Shop Erotic and all sorts of goodies lay on the table in front of the hosts, just waiting for explanation and hawking. Buffy went for a second bottle of sweet wine as Willow settled back to enjoy the show. The hosts were explaining that there were separate phone lines for male and female shoppers to avoid any embarrassment or uncomfortable feelings. "Wonder which one I should call?" Willow wondered aloud as Buffy returned and poured another glass of wine for her.
After about twenty minutes and at least that many products later, both girls were laughing and teasing with complete abandon. The amount of wine consumed had helped relieve any remaining barrier to total enjoyment of the program and its normally blush-inducing subject matter.
The assistant was holding up something called a Turbo Tongue 2 that could make even Gene Simmons jealous. "Oh, wow! Ken would die for that!" Willow started to reach for the phone. "I can't decide if I should order that tongue vibrator attachment too or not. What do you think, Buffy?"
"I think that weird plastic tongue thing could have learned a lot from Spike. It can't do half the things he did with his own non-Turbo model!" Buffy didn't even blush as Willow fell over giggling.
"Still, it's pretty long," Willow coughed out. "You have to give them that."
"Nope, still no contest. Spike was in a league of his own," Buffy remembered. "And he didn't need batteries."
The hosts moved on to another product they called the Scorpion and it looked for all the world exactly like a giant scorpionˇuntil you looked more closely at the tail. "Holy cats! Do you think that's meant for women or men?" Willow asked with a slight hiccup.
"Either, I guess; we all have one," Buffy had a quick mental image of someone's grandmother finding a Scorpion in a drawer and asking why the insect sculpture was not sitting on a shelf. Willow could only look on in confusion as Buffy doubled over in fits of snorts and giggles. "God, can you imagine finding a stash of this stuff in someone's bedroom!"
They both had tears streaming down their faces as they joked about the different scenarios possible. "That other Jack Rabbit thingy looked like the ray gun in one of those movies Andrew's always renting," Buffy shared. "I can just see that doofus chasing Dawn around the apartment acting like he's shooting her."
"That's better than him chasing her with it for some other reason," Willow suggested.
"Hey, Andrew gets any ideas like THAT and he'll really need devices to pleasure someone!" Buffy promised.
"I had no idea you could get this stuff without going to one of those sleazy stores where the guys all look like they have some disease and the women charge by the hour," Buffy whispered as the show continued into its second hour of non-stop product display.
"I like how safe they make it look to order though," Willow said with a wise nod. "You can do it online or call one of their gender specific numbers, and they even promise to ship it with no markings at all! I really think I'll get something for Ken and me, but I may wait and do it online when I'm sober. That tongue vibrator worked with a pierced tongue, maybe she'd like that one."
"You'd REALLY order something like that?" Buffy asked, impressed with Willow's daring.
"Sure, why not? Hey, they're just toys. Couples use them all the time." She looked at her 'single and planning to stay that way while grieving' friend in sympathy. "They're good for the in-betweens too, you know. Those were some pretty good prices. You should think about indulging a little. Work off some frustration in the privacy of your own bedroom."
"I miss Spike," Buffy blurted out.
"That good, huh?" Willow prodded.
"No, not just the sex," Buffy was quick to add. "I miss the whole mixed package: how he challenged me, pissed me off, had my back, loved me. Somehow I just always thought he'd always be there. Funny, me with all those guy abandonment issues and it never clicked that the one guy that loved me best wasn't a leaver until he was gone."
Willow blinked back tears of sympathy for her friend's loss. "Spike was one of a kind, that's for sure. What other vampire can you think of that would ally himself with a slayer to take on his sire or risk demon suicide by fighting to get his soul back? I mean can you imagine how differently Angelus would have acted if he'd been the vampire they chipped? He'd have had a minion bring carry-out and wouldn't have changed a bit." Willow was suddenly serious, thinking of things she hadn't until that moment. "I'm sorry we didn't really see Spike until he was gone, Buffy."
"Well, he did like to play the Big Bad part," Buffy admitted. "Maybe not that last year though. I think I'll always miss him."
As if in desperation, the girls returned to watching the infomercial and commenting on different uses for the products shown. Both had lost the loves of their lives. Willow had finally moved on, but Buffy wasn't ready to think of that for herself yet. Better to dive back into the Nile and float a bit.
The new Council offices were in a waterfront complex and Giles had promised Buffy an office with windows looking out over the lake. Not that she had plans to be in Cleveland any more often than duty required, but she liked the idea of going from fry cook at the Doublemeat Palace to a corner office with view.
She and Faith had led their teams the last couple of nights and managed to clear out the majority of troublemaking demons that had been preying on the locals. Robin had done vampire duty while the girls took on the menagerie of other demonkind. Wood's zeal at dusting vamps had never abated and neither had the solid wall of ice between Buffy and Faith's man since his attempt on Spike's life. Some things were not to be forgotten even if they were forgiven. Faith was happy though and had someone to watch her back, so Buffy was happy for her.
Dawn was impatient for Buffy to get home. Andrew was on the girl's last nerve and Dawn phoned threatening to leave his cold dead body for Buffy to clean up if her sister didn't return home on the very next flight.
"No, Dawnie, it is NOT possible that Andrew is secretly a demon and therefore killable. Trust me, I've checked that out! Look, I gotta go now or I'll never get back home. Willow and I have to drive halfway across town to check out my new office and you know how Giles gets when we're late for anything. Okay ˇlook,ˇ just hide all his Star Wars stuff until he tells you where he put your panties. Oh, and Dawn, do NOT, under any circumstances, ask him why he has them! 'K , bye for nowˇlove you too."
"Do I want to know?" Willow asked with a smirk.
"I don't want to know, so I'm thinking you don't either," Buffy replied with rolling eyes. "Andrew said something once about how much softer women's underwear is, so I'm thinkin' it's that kind of kink instead of the 'stealing the panties to sniff' kind other guys might have." She had a half-grin at the reminder of the number of panties she'd lost to Spike's addiction.
"Okay, TMI, waaaaaaay TMI there," Willow gurgled. "There is not enough wine in Ohio to make me go down that path."
The drive to the lakeshore was filled with casual small talk. Willow was going to stay on in Cleveland for another couple of weeks setting up wards and working with a local witch before heading home to London and Kennedy. This was likely to be Buffy's last full week in the midwestern city and both were already missing the relationship they had only recently rediscovered.
"You'll have to come to Rome soon," Buffy blurted out. "You and Kennedy, of course."
"We might do that. I'd love to see Dawnie again. Don't know if Ken will have a free spot on her schedule though, so I might come alone." Willow missed the brief look of relief on Buffy's face at that moment. "This has been great, almost like old times. Maybe Xander can take time off and join us and it'll be like the old days?"
"That would be great. He's hardly ever around. I'll have to tell Giles he deserves a vacation from his Watcher training for some time in the land of art and dead languages," Buffy quipped. "Hey, we could do a whole tour of Italy thing with singing gondoliers in Venice and the whole nine yards!"
"Sign me up," Willow said with enthusiasm. "I could even use a bit of magic to fix that leaning tower problem they've got in Pisa."
All plans and joking came to an abrupt end as they drew near the Council office only to be turned back by armed military personnel. There were at least fifteen police and Homeland Security vehicles scattered around the cleared street as pockets of terrified people huddled, waiting to get an 'all clear' to return to their work.
"What the frilly heck is going on?" Willow stopped the car and leapt out to head towards a pacing Giles.
"Giles? What's happening? And PLEASE don't let the words 'The First' be any part of your answer," Buffy demanded.
"Buffy, Willow. Thank God you are both safe," Giles embraced both girls at once. "Buffy, I fear you are a personal target once more. I wanted to handle the situation in-house, but one of the staff got on the phone to Homeland Security as soon as they saw the x-ray of the package. Those stormtroopers rushed us from our office immediately and took charge."
"Package? What package?" Buffy was baffled.
"It came addressed to you with no return address," Giles ran a nervous hand through his thinning hair. "Times being what they are, it was flagged by the post clerk as suspect."
Just then two darkly clad Homeland Security members with "BOMB UNIT" emblazoned on their jackets rushed from the building carrying the package in question. "It's activated. Clear the area," were their shouted orders.
"What do you mean 'activated'?" a police officer asked.
"It's making some sort of humming sound," the HS officer replied. "Now move back while we do a contained explosion of this thing."
Buffy looked at Giles in confusion. "But why would someone try to bomb me? Demons and vamps usually are more of the 'rip her head off' kinda killers. Why do they think it's a bomb?"
"Well the x-ray showed metal balls, like one might use for shrapnel, but the thing was pulsing too much to see more than a vague shape. It certainly looked like a weapon of some sort," Giles shared.
As the controlled explosion shook the ground, Buffy paled and then her eyes grew wide in understanding. "Do NOT tell me they just blew that up! It's usually $159.00 and I got it on sale for $119! I'll expect reimbursement, you know."
"It was a weapon youˇordered?" Giles asked in complete confusion. "I daresay we shall have difficulty explaining your need for weapons to these gentlemen.
Giles headed to the Homeland Security leader to try to explain away the reason someone might have to threaten one of his 'employees' with a dangerous device as Willow stood in dawning amusement, smiling at Buffy. "Which one was it?"
"The red Jack Rabbit," Buffy admitted. "You don't think they'll be able to put it together and figure out what it was, do you?"
"Not if we don't want Giles to have 'death by embarrassment' on his tombstone. I think this calls for a little magic, don't you?"
Buffy couldn't agree more. "Think your magic could put my toy back together? I was kinda looking forward to having it."
"Think you're just gonna have to go online like I did and try again," Willow said with a laugh. "Kinda appropriate though, that Homeland Security got involved," she explained as Buffy's puzzled frown showed she didn't get the joke. "Nothing more dangerous in the world than a sexually frustrated woman!"
Author's Chapter Notes:
The website and infomercial are real. This was written as a birthday fic for Edgehead220373