Forget the bull in the china shop
There's a china doll in the bullpen
Walk with a switch, fire in her fist
Biting at the bit
Dessa - The Bullpen
Lauren’s been a werewolf for about six months – five moon cycles of locking herself into a cage, at least one of the others watching to make sure she does it right, as if it’s a difficult thing, snapping closed a heavy duty padlock, or as if she wants to escape into the night, unbound and out of control, and waking up to Puck and his guitar and breakfast – when the supernatural world comes crashing down.
It starts with something little and normal, the way it always does. (A visit from a beloved cousin and a concert so little and so normal, but it led to tranq guns and monsters and silver jewelry worn by her friends. Lauren tries hard not to think about Veruca out there somewhere; she could check the band’s website to see where they’ll be when, but then she’d also have to check local news for reports of rabid dogs attacking people, maybe killing people, and she isn’t quite ready to think about what she’ll do with that.)
School’s out for summer, and they’re free, and even though senior year is coming for them, it’s coming slow, like they have all the time in the world. Even the days after the full moon aren’t so bad, leaving Lauren languid in the sun. She’s never had a summer quite like this; normally she spends her time at the garage with her mother, and working out, and at wrestling camps. She still does most of those things this summer (except for the month long wrestling camp up in Minnesota; it crosses a full moon, and so it’s right out), but she also sees way more of the glee club than she ever expected.
They spend a lot of time at Mercedes’ house, sprawled around her pool. Sometimes they leap into the water, splashing and shrieking and playing volleyball with beach balls and all the wrong rules. Sometimes they drink, whenever someone – Puck and Lauren mostly – can track down alcohol.
Often, they sing and dance, because they are the glee dorks they have always been – Lauren can’t stop her smile – and that is where it begins.
Brittany and Mike are messing around, putting together different dances. Maybe they’ll use some next year, maybe they won’t, but it’s fun to watch them, Brittany’s hair shining in the sunlight and the way Mike’s grin spreads so slow as he moves. He closes his eyes, tilts back his head, and he could be alone, could be on stage in front of a million people, it doesn’t matter, he looks so happy and so free.
Brittany spins over to where Santana is stretched out on a lounge chair in a tiny little bikini. Brittany’s shadow is long as it stretches across her, and Santana tips her face up, gentle in that moment. It’s enough to make Lauren look away, give Santana as much privacy as she can in a moment of vulnerability.
Mike stops dancing, breathless, and turns to where Tina has her arms hooked over the edge of the pool, wet hair plaited back, watching him and grinning. “What’d you think?”
“Really clever.” Her smile widens. “Sexy, too, watching you dance.”
“Yeah? Why don’t you come show me?”
“I can do that.” Tina reaches up, and he grabs her hand to help her out of the pool. That’s when something went wrong, even though they didn’t know it at the time. Maybe Mike just slipped. Maybe Tina was playing a trick and thought it would be funny to pull him into the water. Maybe it was a combination of a bunch of little things.
Whatever it was, Mike started to pull her up, but then he went flying, face first into the water on the other side of the pool. Tina shrieked and dove after him, and they both came up choking and laughing, clinging to each other.
“Aren’t you supposed to take off your shirt before you swim?” Lauren teases, looking at them over the top of her sunglasses.
“You just want to look at my man with his shirt off!” Tina hooks her arms over Mike’s shoulders, and her pulls her over to the ladder, her legs stretched out behind them.
“Can you blame me?” she settles back, knocking her sunglasses back up her nose.
Mike peels off his shirt, which is really nice eye candy, and then Puck shows up after work, and that’s even better eye candy, and later, when they’re all inside eating pizza and Rachel clips her glass with her elbow when she turns to gaze all googley at Finn and Tina catches it without spilling a drop, well, Lauren thinks nothing of it at the time.
Lauren’s sixth full moon cycle starts like normal. Big, meat-heavy dinner, because the wolf does better if its sated and a little lethargic at the start of the night, then lock herself in the cage. Tina’s on wolf duty tonight, and Mike’s with her because where Tina goes, so he goes. He brings a big carafe of coffee – Lauren can smell the bite of it even with the lid tightly shut – and Tina has a bag of treats – at least some of them chocolate – and her laptop. They settle in for the long haul as Lauren reaches through the bars to snap shut the padlock and strips. (She’s not ashamed of her body, and Tina and Mike are comfortable with nudity. The nights Mercedes and Quinn keep watch, she puts up a blanket for their sake.) The floor is cold, the air only slightly warmer, but heat is already flashing through her, the prelude for fur bursting through her skin, and she crouches, face turned toward the east, where the moon rises though she can’t see it.
Even then, it sweeps over her before she’s ready, and it rips a scream from her throat that rises and rises into a howl, a pack song without a pack.
She’s almost all wolf when Tina starts to sing, lifting her voice beneath the howl, twining through it, sweet and strong and pure. Gratitude sweeps through Lauren, soothing her, until she forgets how to understand the words, and then how to think, and then how to feel human at all.
Puck’s there when she wakes, she can smell him before she even opens her eyes. She takes a moment to bask in it, in the scents that fill the room: fresh coffee, sugary donuts, the soap Puck uses because she told him once while they were making out how much she liked it, Tina’s make-up. Gasoline. Puck must have filled his truck on the way over. Guitar strings, wood guitar, the paper of old books.
The metal of free weights and a soft woodsy perfume.
Lauren sits up and opens her eyes.
Coach Beiste is standing next to the others, Tina sitting on the table, her legs swinging, Mike leaning against it next to her. Puck’s between Beiste and the cage door, legs wide, shoulders back. Lauren’s pretty sure Beiste could take him without even trying, and it’s not like she needs his protection anyway, but parts of her – the part that is fading wolf, but some that is human, too – really like that protective stance.
“Good job on the cage,” Beiste says. “Hard to make one sturdy enough for a werewolf.”
Lauren scrambles to her feet. She can smell the surprise rolling off the others. The hair on the back of her neck – human hair, not the ruff of fur that protects her – stands up, and the bars are suddenly too close. She can’t be here, locked inside, and she steps forward, sharp, brings her hands against them.
They don’t creak, don’t move, not even a scrape.
There’s more wolf left to her than she thought. Lauren shakes her head, trying to brush it away. “Tina.” Her voice is low, a little rough, only two steps away from a growl, maybe three. “The key.” Then, because she is human and these are her friends, she makes herself add, “please.”
Tina hops off the table and comes to let her out. She’s sore, bones and muscles aching, and all she wants is to slump into Puck, drink her coffee, and remember what it’s like to be in her own skin. Instead, she pushes herself forward, in front of Tina, in front of Puck, until she’s nearly toe to toe with Beiste. She has hours until the moon rises again, almost the entire day, it’s not her time to be a wolf, but the strength of it rolls through her, and with each breath, she’s surrounded by the smell of pack, pack, pack.
“Oh, don’t get your tongue in a knot.” Beiste laughs. “Werewolves, I swear, they’re jumpier than a goat in a snowstorm.”
“What does that even mean?” Puck asks. “You say these things--”
“Keep up, Puckerman.” It would make Lauren smile, but she’s not sure what’s going on, and she hates not knowing. Hates it even more when she’s just off of a night she can’t remember, still not quite comfortable with what she is and what she can do.
She crosses her arms over her chest and shoots Beiste her best glare. “What do you want?”
“Happy as I am to see a sturdy cage, I’m not interested in werewolves.” Beiste glances beyond her, and Lauren turns, twisting so she doesn’t bare her throat to Beiste nor put her back to her. “I’m here for the Slayer.”
“The what now?” Lauren asks, but Beiste ignores her.
“Tina Cohen-Chang,” she says, and sighs, just a little, “I’m here to tell you that you are a vampire slayer.”
“Ha, ha,” Tina laughs, then softer, “ha?”
“Vampires are real.”
“We know that,” Lauren snarls, but Tina’s calm, “I know,” covers it well.
“Well good. Werewolves, vampires, demons, witches – everything you can think of is real, and more. The Slayer is tasked with keeping the world safe.”
“Not all of them are a threat.” Tina comes forward, reaches up to put her hand on Lauren’s shoulder.
“No, but some are. Most vampires don’t care who they kill. That’s where the Slayer comes in.” She smiles a little. “Where you come in.”
“How do you know? I don’t feel like a vampire slayer.” She tilts her head, long dark hair flowing along Lauren’s body, her bare arm, brushing the side of her breast. She shivers, and, in a rush, is glad that no one else can smell the way she can. She’s also reminded that she is starkly naked. This morning wakeup could have gone better.
“I know because I am your watcher, and the last Slayer has fallen.”
“Fallen.” Tina’s voice is steady, but Lauren can smell the bitter rise of fear. “Died, you mean.”
Beiste nods. “In Boston. Her name was Faith.” She slumps a little, leans forward some, and it’s almost a physical weight bearing her down. “It is my duty to teach you.”
“Teach me what?”
“As much as I can.” She stops, and they are all still, silent, waiting. “Whatever it takes to keep you alive as long as possible.”
So many questions bubble up that Lauren can’t keep them all straight, can’t even settle on one to ask first, but Tina is whip smart and quick.
“But all Slayers die.” It isn’t a question.
“All Slayers die young.”
This is stupid, this is wrong, this is not going to happen, because Tina is going to live, damn it, and Beiste is talking shit, but before Lauren can stop growling long enough to find all her words, Tina is already stepping forward, skirt swishing around her legs, back straight, chin up, and all she smells like is Tina, no fear.
“I want to know their names,” she says. “The ones that came before me.”
Beiste closes her eyes. When she opens them, they are bright, her cheeks pale, but she nods. “I will start there. And then,” fiercely, “I will tell you everything, I swear.”
They go to this little diner Beiste knows for breakfast. It’s empty and quiet, but even then, it feels strange to talk about such things in public, even though that’s exactly what they did when Veruca broke the news about Lauren’s family history of werewolf. Lauren drinks her coffee and stays quiet, squished up against Puck because she needs to feel the press of his body, needs that reminder that she is two-legged, not four, that she has skin, not pelt, that she is human, not wolf.
Beiste tells them the names (Faith, Kendra, Buffy, and Lauren stops listening because all she is hearing is Tina is dead and Tina will die and Tina is next), then the history of the Watchers.
(Later, Lauren learns from Tina that Beiste had a potential Slayer once, back in Missouri, and lost her to a demon attack before she’d ever been called, before she’d ever been given the strength of a slayer, when all of her training was for nothing. That’s why Beiste came to Ohio, and that’s why she’s been handed a brand-new, completely untrained Slayer. It makes Lauren sad. It makes her froth with rage, all those men, safe behind their books, meting out death to women.)
Even if they hadn’t believed Beiste’s story – which, werewolf in their midst, of course they did – Tina took to slaying like she did to singing and dancing and being awesome, which is to say, as if it came as easy as breathing. Three days of training with Beiste and she could lay her flat. Five days, and she knocked her across the room so hard it took nearly a minute before Beiste could breathe again.
“She’s starting to change color,” Lauren says, voice bland, but she’s watching close just to make sure.
“Clashes with school colors,” Mercedes adds. (Of course Mercedes is watching Tina train. They all are, sprawled out in the gym. Sweat trickles down Lauren’s back. The air’s on, but they’re in for a long, hot summer, and she’s not looking forward to pacing the cage under the full moon in July and August, not that she’ll remember even if she melts.)
“Zizes,” Beiste barks once she’s back on her feet, and Lauren raises her eyebrows. “C’mere.”
She waits a minute – Beiste isn’t her alpha, after all – then hauls herself up. “What?”
Beiste pants, hands on her hips, then points to Tina. “You’re trained and you’re wolf strong and tough. Get in there and work with her.”
“Not quite like wrestling,” Lauren says, but it’s not an argument. She tugs a ponytail holder out of her pocket and pulls back her hair, out of her way, then squares off with Tina.
“No, generally not a good idea to let them get close enough to wrestle, even with Slayer strength and speed. But you can take her punches better than anyone else here, and I’ll teach you to hit back. Realistic practice for everyone.”
“What about weapons?” Sam asks, leaning forward where he sits on the bleachers, elbows resting on his knees. His hair is too long, flopping into his face; Mercedes reaches up and tucks a piece of it back, out of his eyes, and he smiles. “Guns don’t work, maybe, but a crossbow bolt should be like a stake, right? Or maybe water guns with holy water? Does that work?”
“Slayers aren’t supposed to have friends,” Beiste says. “Just their Watcher. The Council finds them, takes them away from their family, trains them to fight and fight and fight,” she breathes in, out, “and die.”
“That’s stupid.” Quinn cuts herself off before she says anything else, but it doesn’t matter, because Beiste is nodding.
“I agree. I think it helps, having family, friends.” She turns to face them all, opening her stance to include the group on the bleachers. Lauren and Tina relax, switching around until they stand side by side. “Know this. Teaming up, helping out, that doesn’t mean Tina will live forever. She might not even make it six months. This is a dangerous life, and if you help, you might die too. This isn’t a job for Tina. It’s not a choice.” She looks over, and her eyes are big and dark and knowing. “This is what you are. It is what you were born to do.”
The words, even meant for someone else, slam hard into Lauren, a gut punch of reality, and settle thick and heavy in her chest.
Beiste stares at them, right at them, but they don’t say anything else until she finally looks away.
“The rest of you, if you go, I get it. I bet your friends will too. This is a lot, and there’s so much more you don’t know, you can’t know, not yet.”
“We’re staying.” That’s Mercedes.
“We’re helping.” Quinn.
“We’re kicking ass.” Santana.
“That’s what family does.” Brittany.
“That explains so much.” Rachel giggles a little, leaning forward to glance around Finn to where Brittany rests her head against Santana’s shoulder, all smiles and golden hair. “Motocross girl.”
“I’m going to do my best to keep you alive. All of you.” Beiste takes the time to look at each of them for a moment, directly in the eyes, then steps back and blows a short, sharp blast on her whistle that makes Lauren’s ears ring for long minutes after. “Back to work.”
The first time Tina goes out on patrol, Beiste and Lauren go with her, Beiste with her crossbow, Lauren with her werewolf and a couple vials of holy water. They all get a little knocked around, but Tina kills two vamps with their help and one on her own, perfect kick, kick, punch, kick to the head, and the beautiful slam of stake to the chest.
After, Tina’s stomach rumbles, and Lauren eyes her. “Ice cream,” Tina decides, and they link arms, heading for Lauren’s car so they can meet up with the others, vamp dust on their clothes, dirt beneath their nails, and big, wide grins.