It was spring break time, and the school was buzzing with girls running every which way, up and down the halls, bags and suitcases in hand, and cars lining up outside. Although some of the girls were staying, those with no where else to go, most of them were more than ready for a week away from school, and their cries, busied shouts, yells, and general chatter made the Jenkins-McClay School for Gifted Girls a veritable beehive of activity. Excited grins, goodbye hugs, and hello again tackles as friends parted and families reunited were the standard fare of the evening before cars were loaded and driven off.
Halfway across Detroit, a lone figure sat at a bar, beer glass thumped empty against the counter in front of him, and tryin’ not to think about the happy go lucky kids running around crazy in their preparations, cause if he did, it hurt too damn much. A mutinous glare swept across the bartender as Ash shoved the glass closer.
“Another one,” he growled, not really giving a damn about the glare he got in return. There wasn’t much he cared about at all tonight, except for drowning everything out and just forgettin’ it all.
“I think you’ve had enough,” the old keep answered, pushing the glass back with a scowl. “I seen you fight, buddy. You wanna get shit-faced drunk, go do it somewhere else- you ain’t tearin’ up my bar.”
“I ain’t no where near drunk yet, asshole. So why don’tcha fill ‘er up for me, so I can get somewhere closer, huh?” The glass was shoved roughly across the counter yet again, the bartender only barely catching it in time to keep it from crashing off the edge and down to the floor. Before he could reply, though, a third voice broke through.
“Because I told him not to.”
That large frame jerked around to face the voice with surprising speed and agility, for both his size and the amount of beer he’d already drank, and dark brown eyes narrowed as he caught sight of the slim blonde walking across the bar towards him. What the hell was she doin’ here? And who the hell did she think she was, messin’ with him and what he wanted to do? Ash bristled, metal hand on the edge of the counter and thrusting him up to stand. It didn’t faze the blonde in the least, despite the fact that standing he was over a foot taller than her, and she stalked right up till she wasn’t even a foot away. If Ash’d cared about personal space he’d’a pulled back, but he was in the mood for a fight. Let her stand so damn close, and push him, on tonight of all nights. It’d do him just fine.
“Thanks, Tom,” she called over Ash’s shoulder without looking- her gaze instead was locked on Ash’s glowering, angry form. He barely heard the old man answer, ignoring him completely to return that look.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doin’, huh? You got no business tryin’ ta keep me from doing whatever the hell I wanna do, y’hear me?”
“So- what? You want me to just sit and watch as you drink yourself into stupid? Have you forgotten the increase in Deadites in the past few weeks, or the fact that they seem to be extra focused on you? Like hell I’m going to let you get yourself killed just because you wanted to get drunk off your ass.” Anger almost equal to his own flashed through those hazel eyes of hers, her teeth grit and tiny little fists balled up at her side.
Ash growled back at her, “I don’t expect you do to nothing, cause this has nothing to do with you an’ those rugrats of yours. I’ll handle the Deadites on my own; drunk or not don’t make a damn difference, so you just butt out and stick to playin’ school marm with the brats.”
“Nothing to do with me, my ass. You made it my business when you became a part of this team, when you chose to stay with the Council and help out of the school. When you let those girls get attached to you.” The rage in her stance, her face and eyes, her voice, made her seem larger than she really was as her finger thrust forward into the middle of Ash’s chest, refusing to back down. “Whether you like it or not, you’re one of us now, which means you don’t get to run off recklessly and do whatever you want.”
“Bull. Those girls don’t give a shit about me, they’d probably be glad ta have me outta their faces.” His chest puffed up when she poked it, like he could get any bigger to overshadow her more than he already was.
“You wanna know who the first to realize you were missing was?” She paused a moment, and if he’d had any sense, Ash would’a dreaded what was coming next, but any sense he had’d been long washed away in the first several beers. “Linda. She wanted to say bye before she left for spring break, and couldn’t find you.”
It was the last name he’d expected to hear her blurt out, and it was enough to make him falter, the name bringing to mind the sweet little slayer who’d taken a shine to him her first week at school, as well as- Ash cut the thought of there, shoving away the memories that were tied to that name on a night like this. Buffy kept going as if she hadn’t seen the flash of pain in his eyes.
“She’s gone now. You missed her. But she wasn’t the only one. So you’re gonna get your ass back to the school now, whether you go on your own, or whether I personally take you down and drag you back kicking and screaming. You’re gonna see them off because they care about you as much as you care about them. Then if you wanna wallow afterward, we’ll go kick some Deadite ass together, and we’ll do it without the stupidity of involving alcohol, got it?”
“Forget it.” The fight suddenly all gone out of him, Ash yanked himself back and turned his back to the blonde. “I ain’t going nowhere. My ass is stayin’ right here. I dare you to try anything, Buff. You don’t got a clue about what’s going on.” And then he hunkered back down on the stool he’d been sittin’ on before, grabbing up his empty beer glass and huddling over it.
He expected her to get angry again. To hit him. To huff and stalk off. He didn’t expect the hand that settled on his hunched shoulder.
“I know exactly what’s going on, Ash. And I know exactly what today is, and why the Deadites are acting up. I’ve known the entire time.”
It was like those suddenly soft words were stronger than all the anger and rage before, cause all the sudden, everything he’d been trying to drown in an alcoholic stupor came rushin’ back, and it felt like his heart was bein’ ripped up raw in his chest. Like he’d bleed out right there from the pain.
“You need to say goodbye to Linda.”
And he knew she wasn’t talkin’ about the doe eyed little slayer who’d been lookin’ for him at the school. And that Linda wasn’t the only one he had to say bye to.
It’d been 23 years to the day since he’d left for spring break, for the rest of the world. And although it’d only been a couple’a years for him, it was time to let them go. And time to kick the evil ass that was lookin’ again for its prey as the anniversary of its awakening returned.