It is hot, and Buffy can see the air as it shimmers and shakes, rises and falls, casts lights and shadows over the gallery. The air conditioning is broken, and she feels as if she has a second body, made from sweat and powder and running make-up. There is a basket of fruit on her desk. Plump oranges, ripe and splitting mangoes, little furry kiwis, phallic-y bananas, yellowing apples and plums that look like testicles filled with blood. She isn’t hungry; she’s thirsty. But there is no basket filled with water, and so she takes an orange, peels it slowly, section by section. Juice spills onto her desk like imitation rain.
The phone rings. “Hiiiiiii,” Dawn says before she can speak.
“I’m at work,” Buffy feels like she has to say, and then drops the attitude. “How’s the research going?”
“Gooooood. We found another one. She’s from Haiti. Can I go with Giles to pick her up?”
“No.” She eats half of the orange in one bite and types ‘Haiti’ into google maps. “No. Are you nuts? Have you done your homework?”
“It’s not homework,” Dawn answers. “It’s an essay. And it’s not due for a week. Can I go?”
“I said no. If you want to be useful, come down here and bring me something shiny.”
Dawn laughs. “Bored again?”
“Apparently that’s all I’ll ever be,” she says, dimly remembering the smell of cemeteries, like chalk dust. She eats more of the orange and wipes beneath her eyes. Her fingertips come away black with loosening mascara. “You had better do your essay post-haste, Dawnie, or I’ll make you give Tess her shower.”
“I wouldn’t mind, she’s hot,” Dawn says, and hangs up.
Is Tess hot? Buffy thinks about it for a moment. Their newest baby slayer, who comes from a broken home – which is a weird phrase in itself – and was never shown how to bathe. She has long, swept-back black hair and hurt eyes and a permanent scent that reminds Buffy of steak. She supposes that’s what most people would smell like if they didn’t shower. Tess constantly asks to work part-time at the art gallery with Buffy, but there isn’t enough for two people to do. There isn’t enough for one person to do.
Chewing on the last of the orange, she tries to click out of google maps. The word ‘Los Angeles’ flashes on screen, and so she exes out of the program altogether. It is too hot for crying, and besides, she is really tired of grief and love and thinking of stupid ways to slip them into conversation. Oh, Spike sometimes eats cheese for fun. Yeah, Angel likes Scrabble. Anything to keep them from becoming memories, or images or not of her life. Anything to remind herself to keep baking the cookies.
The little bell above the door jangles. Buffy looks up and her throat sort of—skips a bit, or maybe it wobbles. The woman is definitely not from Cleveland – Buffy knows that much - and she is wearing impossibly high heels and isn’t sweating. Ok—maybe a bit, around her hairline, dark and wet. Her eyes are too—dark and wet – or they just have the appearance of being that way, close to tears, on the brink. They are huge, and they blink a bit. Probably with horror, Buffy thinks, at the teeny tiny gallery and its three pictures on the wall.
“Can I help you?” she asks politely, standing up from her chair. Her thighs are sticking to the fabric and they make noises when they un-stick. Ew. She smiles to cover it up. “Hot one, today.”
The woman sort of grimaces. “Hi. I’m Bette Porter – Dean of Arts at UCLA?”
Bette Porter looks at her, and sighs. “Are you the Director?”
“Director of Secretarial stuff.”
“You’re the Secretary.”
“Well, technically I’m the Office Administrator.”
“Is the Director here?”
“She’s actually at the hospital.”
Bette stares. “Is she all right?”
“Depends on your definition,” Buffy replies, enjoying herself, even in the heat. “She’s having a baby.” She looks across at the clock fixed to the wall. “Actually, she’s probably already had it.”
“Right.” Bette pauses for a moment, and licks her bottom lip in one long swipe of tongue. “Maybe you can—tell me something. I’m looking for a local artist. Smith Weatherhead? Have you heard of him?”
“Her.” Buffy motions to the chair next to her desk. “Sit down, sorry, it’s hot.”
“Los Angeles is hotter,” Bette says.
Probably, if you’re there, Buffy thinks, and bites the inside of her mouth as hard as she can. She tastes blood and sits down, watching Bette walk across the room, watching Bette sit, watching Bette cross her legs, watching Bette scratch behind her ear, behind her heavy dark curls.
“So Smith is a woman?” Bette asks. “Her work—I wouldn’t have thought. But I suppose it makes sense.”
“Where does she live? I need to get in touch with her.”
“I don’t think that’s any of your business.”
So, it’s down to this. Who has the biggest dick? Buffy knows the answer, and smiles. “Is that why I have her address and you don’t?”
Bette sits back and puts one hand, palm down, behind her neck. Her white blouse opens ever so slightly at the neck, and Buffy sees that she is sweating, a bit, besides at her hairline. Between her collarbones there is a shiny spot, no wider than a quarter. She lifts her other hand, with her index finger extended farther, the color of coffee with honey.
“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” Bette says, faking a smile. “I happen to know the artist--“
“You didn’t know she had a vagina.”
“Through e-mail,” Bette continues. “I want her to be our artist in residence but she’s—“
“A hermit,” Buffy finishes and points to herself. “Knew that. She won’t leave. She has cats.”
“She can bring them with her,” Bette looks pissed off. “There are cats in California.”
“I know, I’m from Sunnydale.” She says that for no other reason than to remind herself. She reaches out and picks a plum from the basket. It is dark and purple and soft, and when she bites down, juice covers her mouth. “The one that the earthquake happened to.”
“I remember,” Bette replies. She stands, and paces by the pictures framed on the walls. They are muddy and indistinct, as if painted by aliens or children. Buffy watches her, watches the slim grey skirt that is the color of ten cent pieces, the see-through blouse, the black bra underneath, the tiny drop earrings, the bony wrists. Bette is fully sweating now. It is the air in the gallery, the windows pressing in and the sun coming through them. Wetness on the backs of her knees and underneath her breasts (Buffy guesses) and around her belly, like a chain. “I remember,” Bette says again, staring at the pictures. They are by Smith Weatherhead, and they aren’t very good, but she seems happy.
“Elaine Crescent,” Buffy says, ending the war. “Number ninety-nine.” Abandoning her plum, she writes the address down on a piece of thick, white paper, careful not to smudge the ink with her hands. “Warning, she’s not exactly Martha Stewart.”
“No insider trading?”
“No warm muffins or coffee.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Bette says, hesitating only slightly before taking the paper. Their hands do not touch. “Thank you.”
“Bye,” Buffy says, and watches her leave. She bites into her plum again and picks up the phone, dialing the familiar number. “Hi.”
“Wine Wednesday,” Xander says. “You buying?”
“You’re buying. Slayage first.”
“Want me to come with?”
“No need. It’ll be quiet. They hate hot weather.”
“No good for their tans.”
“Sure thing,” Xander says, and pauses, but only briefly. “Can Dawn go to Haiti?”
“Traitor,” Buffy answers, and hangs up.
Thankfully, the air begins to cool by nighttime. The stars materialize, one by one, like pale stones skipping over a vast, black ocean. Buffy feels loose and pleasant in her skirt and tank top, her arms bare and polished, her hair scraped back in a girlish ponytail. The cemetery is big, stretching across a hill and through a wooded cove of land. But it is also quiet, no rustling earth, no windy breaths, no crying.
She walks for an hour. She meets only one vampire, a middle-aged gentleman wearing a suit, who looks a little perplexed by the whole business. She almost feels bad about staking him with a convenient tree branch. His dust tastes of money and she breaks down the tastes, a little game. Cocaine, dead skin, paper, glue, ink.
She forgot her stake, so feels grateful for the slow night. It’s probably a good thing, all told. Sometimes, when Xander is drunk and paranoid, he carries it around, asking Dawn if it’s some kind of barometer for penis size. Buffy’d just as soon not expose her sister to that kind of scary.
Hurrying up the street, she wonders if she should stop by Wal-Mart and pick up some more wine. Xander is notoriously stingy. What if Willow or Faith stop by? They won’t be able to get drunk then, and Wine Wednesdays are her one chance to let loose in this city. The vampires here are just stupid and often silly and slow with blood. Her body feels tight and wound-up, like a curl of hair about to spring back into place.
Buffy hears a voice up ahead.
“It’s a fucking nightmare is what it is, Tina—that’s what I said. No, she doesn’t—but – well, I can’t exactly—no, I know, I know—“
It is Bette. Stalking in little circles by the side of the road, one hand cupped around a cell phone, the other holding a plastic bag that clinks suspiciously. She has changed. Black pants that come up to her belly button. A red silk top that bares her shoulders and nips in at the waist. Gold bangles adorn her wrists, dozens of them, and she has them pushed up so that they hug her flesh. Her words come in short, sharp spurts. “I know. Well, I miss you. I didn’t want—I know. Fuck, Tina, what do you want me to--?” then, “FUCK” and she rattles the cell phone, shaking it up and down in rhythm with her breaths.
Buffy says, “Hi.”
Bette says, “Jesus.”
“I know,” Bette responds, looking irritated. Her shoulders slump slightly and she suddenly seems close to tears. Her whole face shines with it. “You were right. Smith Weatherhead won’t come to LA.”
“Told you,” she replies.
“And that was my girlfriend—I mean, my ex girlfriend,” Bette says, and she rushes on, her eyes like huge bright beacons in the dark. “I have a girlfriend. But I’m cheating on her. With my ex. Isn’t that fucking wonderful? I am just fucking fantastic.”
“Have you been drinking?” Buffy asks, quite sensibly. Her throat is wobbling again though, and she thinks it might be because of the word girlfriend and what it implies. “That looks like wine in your bag.”
“Wine Wednesdays. Little tradition. We drink wine, we watch bad movies, I sometimes wear my sushi pajamas.” Buffy pauses and stares at the other woman, stares at her, really, really. “You can come with if you want.”
“Come with?” Bette repeats bitterly, almost laughing. “I’m not twenty.”
“Neither am I,” Buffy replies, offended.
“You don’t even know me.”
“You have wine.”
“I do.” Bette pauses. “Do you think – if you talked to Smith, she would come to LA—or even—“
“Willow might. They’re friends. Well, Willow is my friend, but she’s even closer friends with Smith.” A blush heats her face and she wonders if maybe she should get out more. “I mean, they’re slightly Sapphic.”
Bette’s mouth quirks. Just a little at the side. The sky is pregnant with stars, more and more, littering the landscape with pinpricks, like rips or tears. She looks up and down, finally dropping her cell phone into her bag. “Lesbians always have friends. It’s a small world we live in.”
“Right. Like Disney,” Buffy says, anxious to stop the embarrassingness of her own metaphors. “If you want to talk to Will—she might be there.”
“Fine,” Bette replies, and as Buffy starts to walk, she follows her.
Xander opens the door, apron on, wine glass in hand. He gapes a bit, eyes popping into dinner plate shapes. “Pretty, pretty lady,” he says. “And I’m wearing an apron. That’s just—sorry, tongue slippage.”
“Pick it up off the floor,” Buffy says, coming in and nodding. “This is Bette. Bette, he of the mouth incontinence is called Xander.”
“Hello, pretty lady,” Xander shakes her hand. “I mean, Bette. There’s already been wine.”
“Noted,” Bette says, smiling slightly.
“What’s cooking, Xand?”
“Chicken Tikka Masala, fries, poppadums—“
“Do I have a death wish? No? Then there’s chutney.”
“My stomach thanks you,” Buffy says, and takes Bette’s purse, setting it down on the hall table. Their eyes meet briefly. “Can we open your wine?”
“Why not?” Bette says. “I’ll open it, if you’ll show me to the corkscrew.”
“We only have facilities for twist-caps—“
“Not true,” Buffy interrupts him. Her belly feels hot and blank, and she avoids touching Bette as she walks into the kitchen. “I bought a corkscrew the other day—remember? Our choices were so limited before.”
“Endless possibilities,” Xander says dreamily, and follows her. He giggles. “Guess what else I have?”
“No, tell me.”
“Marijuana of the strongest kind,” he replies, and takes a long drink of wine. “Anyone wanna help me roll it?”
“I will,” Bette says gamely.
Buffy almost breaks the bottle of wine as she whirls around. “You? You’re a Dean!”
“That’s not exactly synonymous with boring,” Bette says, staring at her with almost predatory intent. Buffy’s whole body seizes up for a moment at the look in those big dark eyes. “Where do you want to do it? On the table?”
“Huh?” Xander asks, and then nods maniacally. “On the table. Definitely on the table.”
Buffy turns back around, twisting the corkscrew ‘round and ‘round until her wrist aches. Popping the cork, she pours the thick red wine into two oversize balloon glasses. She doesn’t carry it over yet. She needs—time. Just a moment. Her legs are shaking, and as she drinks, swallows, drinks, swallows, she imagines Bette naked, above her, behind her, fucking her. She remembers eating the orange and the plum, she remembers the sweat of the day, she remembers the white blouse open at the collar. Nipples dark through the fabric. One finger pointing at a painting, the color of coffee with honey.
Her mouth rushes with saliva and she swallows carefully, trying not to betray the sudden, sharp, unbearable desire.
Buffy sips more wine, anxious to rid herself of the taste of it, the hot tang of sweat, the sunwarm fruit. It’s happened before. Heather at Hemery, ridiculously alliterative, the moment with Cordelia, in the limo, with satin against satin and her instincts warning her against it. Cordy’s vagina had teeth, no mistake about that. And of course, Faith. And, Faith. But. She has never felt this -- not this ‘way’ or something so banal, just. This. Her stomach needs pumping, her cells need regenerating, her body needs a new skin. She feels sick, she thinks she is drunk, she isn’t a lesbian, is she?
“Here,” Bette’s voice, soft, and right behind her.
A joint enters her field of vision, haphazardly rolled and already burning at the tip. Buffy takes it, ignoring the fact that she doesn’t even like pot. Wine Wednesdays are all about excesses. There is a bracelet of red lipstick around the end, smoke-smudged. Buffy smokes for a moment and takes in the gust of burning air, the smell not unlike staked vampire.
She hands the joint back to Bette and lets Xander into the kitchen to finish cooking. He is dusted with cumin and turmeric, coriander and mint. She hugs him briefly, more to distract herself than anything else. Taking a long, long deep drink of wine, she walks blindly into the living room and kicks off her sandals.
“Netflix?” she calls.
“Dr. Strangelove,” Xander calls back.
Buffy wrinkles her nose and forehead all at the same time. She’s seen it. She’s seen them all. Her head feels a little cloudy, and she sits down on the plushy sofa, pushing away fragrant piles of Xander’s laundry. The doorbell sounds, and she hears Willow and Dawn spill through the door, chattering and laughing and already asking about wine and dope and all the rest of the dumb things they all do now.
She’s given up trying to stop her sister, who is a storm, a force of nature, a piss n’ vinegar brat, with a mouth to match.
“Hiiii,” Dawn says, flopping down to next to her, dressed in a tiny skirt and a tank. She is all coltish legs and skinny shoulders and Buffy feels that tug of love, of impossible protectiveness. “Who is that hottie in the kitchen talking to Will?”
“Someone from work,” Buffy answers. “Needed to pow-wow about Smith. And anyway, what are you, a lesbian now?”
“Equal opportunity, duh,” Dawn says with a mouthful of wine. “Everyone is. It’s not about the gender, Buffy, it’s about the person.”
“Right,” Buffy says, pouting a bit. “In my day, it was totally about the gender, it just wasn’t about the vampire. Or werewolf.”
Her sister laughs and sips more wine. “I finished the essay. Can I go to Haiti now?”
“Giles says I can go.”
“Giles knows what my answer will be, which allows him to look like the good guy,” Buffy replies, and hears Willow and Bette talking in the kitchen. Xander swears loudly, as if he’s been burned, which he probably has. She thinks she is dizzy, or drunk, and the reality is that she’s wet and it is just embarrassing to be wet in this room, in this apartment, with these people. “You have classes. You have baby slayers to look after. Haiti can wait. It’ll always be there.”
“Actually, scientists predict—“
“Fine,” Dawn says, setting her wine down on the coffee table and standing. She plays with the stereo for a moment, finally selecting an album and pressing play. She leaves, just as sultry African music begin to fill the room, guitars and slow drums and the low, low beats.
“Who is this? I know the—“
Buffy looks up, startled by Bette’s voice. “Ali Farka Toure.”
“Of course.” She smiles and it is a blazing sun, almost unbearable to look at. “Jodi loves this.”
“Which one’s she?” Buffy asks.
“My girlfriend.” Bette walks over to the window. Her voice goes soft, mellowed by wine and smoke. “I adore her. She’s an artist. She makes such beautiful things and she lives such a beautiful life. But it’s not enough. Nothing’s ever enough.” She drinks her wine, and the glow of the moon covers her like a shawl of diamonds. “Fucking love.”
Privately, Buffy echoes the sentiment, but she ignores the compulsion to agree. “Any news on getting Smith to escape to LA?”
“She won’t go, she’s anti-social,” Willow says, walking through with Dawn, wiggling her hips in time with the music. “She only likes paint-y things.”
“I don’t like anything,” Dawn says, clearly high. “Who wants to dance?”
“I thought you didn’t like anything,” Buffy points out. “Wouldn’t that include dancing?”
“Dancing is exempt,” Dawn replies.
“It should be banned,” Willow says. “It’s solely responsible for various humiliating experiences in middle school.”
“No one wants to dance?” whining now.
“I will,” Bette says, soft. She sets down her drink and takes Dawn’s hands in the darkened living room. “It’s called escaping from your life, isn’t it?”
“Well, I think it’s called statutory—“
Dawn interrupts Willow, “I’m of age, or whatever.”
Buffy cannot speak. She’s not sure if she hates her sister, or if she’s wandered into an alternate world where girls dance and she’s jealous, or if maybe she should go back out and start to kill whatever lands in her path – what, schoolchildren and bar-going adults? Everything is spinning just slightly, and Bette is not up against Dawn or anything, thank God, but she IS holding her and Willow is shrugging and going to help Xander in the kitchen as if this is OKAY or something —
“I have to go,” Buffy says, but although she hears the crows of protest, she is still deaf to them in an action-y sense. She gathers her sandals and leaves bare-foot, and hopes they will just think she’s paranoid and drunk, not a LESBIAN, as if thinking the word in capital letters makes it worse. “I have to go,” she says again, just as she is closing the door and padding across the stone walkway that leads up to the apartment building.
Wet grass and stars forever around her hurting body. What is it that Ali Smith said in that book she thumbed through one day at work? Earthling. Earthling sounds like hurtling. That’s what she is. A little hurtling, a little hurt thing. Thousands of miles from LA, not really a Slayer anymore, not really Slayer comma The. Angel and Spike are off playing boy adventures while she trains girls that have no fucking clue which way is up or where the heart is.
Buffy kicks the grass. She considers going back out on patrol, when-
“Want some company?”
“Aren’t you busy macking on my sister?”
Quiet laughter. “It was just a dance.”
“No such thing.”
“Actually, yes, it was just a dance.” Bette catches up without struggling and walks with her. “For me, anyway.”
“And for my sister?”
“She’s a guestbian,” Bette says, with a hint of dryness. “Just trying it on for size. I doubt she’ll commit.”
“It’s up to her,” Buffy answers and walks faster. “I’m going home.”
“Want some company?” Bette asks again, but her voice is different this time.
Buffy looks down and feels her ponytail against her neck. It is falling out, and blonde strands are curling around her breasts. A little hurt thing. God, her body is aching. She needs to open up a heart, lick a plate of pure salt, figure out the price of this freedom. The one girl in all of the world, the one girl in all of the world, and she has been dried up, sweated out, savagely harvested. She is a paper pusher, and she used to be—
She is a question waiting to be answered, in the most important sense, ardent, violent, burning.
But there is no maybe, and she knows it, oh she knows, knows.
It feels as if she is climbing out from her skin, pushing it down, down, until she emerges, bare and shining in the space of her bedroom. Bette pushes her up against the wall and reaches around to her nipple, brushing it hot with her thumb. She sucks on the back of her neck, near the scar, the sensitive spots, behind her ear. Buffy moans. They are both naked and she can feel Bette’s breasts, full and heavy against her back.
Bette lowers herself slowly to her knees, touching her full-body as she does so, and Buffy feels the hot swipe of tongue between her thighs, the fingers on either side of her clit, the other hand holding her ass. Oh oh o and Bette’s tongue rimming her, not even shy about it, and one finger inside of her pussy, then two, a wet rush, a wet rush.
They find the bed blindly. Bette is almost savage with her kisses, biting her, tonguing her mouth like she’s fucking it, pressing her down into the sheets. Everything inside Buffy is opening, welcoming, and it hasn’t been like this for years, eons and epochs. Bette holds Buffy’s hands above her head and with her other hand, she reaches down, touching her clit, sure and steady and so fucking good that Buffy is moaning five seconds into it.
Seconds minutes hours later, as they lie on the sweaty sheets, Bette teaches Buffy how to fist her.
“Keep your hand small, like this,” Bette murmurs. “Curl your fingers—your thumb should be—yes, like that.”
Buffy stares down at her open legs, at the pink opening, and slips her fingers in, one at a time. They glisten with lubricant, and Bette groans at each intrusion, her eyes widening until they are impossibly wet and large and dark; drowning eyes.
“Face your knuckles down,” Bette pants, “Yes—yes, Jesus—rotate your—“
Buffy wants to fucking ravage her and she tries to stay gentle, pushing and rotating, the slippery noises turning her on so much that she bites her lip until it bleeds, just a drop, down onto Bette’s stomach. She’s never thought of herself as the dominating type, but now, with this much control beneath her, she realizes—it is a greater rivering high than turning fleshy beings into dust.
A slight twist of her wrist and she is inside, just that suddenly, a pop and then hot and wet, like a blush around her hand. Bette’s whole body shudders and she looks up at Buffy, tears down her face, dampening the pillow. Her mouth opens when Buffy’s fist thrusts, gently at first, but then a little harder, a little more insistent.
“Oh, fuck,” Bette says low, her head arcing back, exposing the perfect curve of her throat.
Buffy reaches down to trace it, touches that delicate skin. “Why did you want to – do this with me?”
“This?” Bette gasps out.
“Sex,” Buffy whispers, rotating her wrist so that her fist moves inside Bette. It is tight and hot and everything she did not know it would be, everything she did not know existed, another planet, another solar system. “Why with me?”
“You’re beautiful,” Bette answers, little sounds emitting from her throat as she moves in time, up and down the sheets, her hips thrusting, her breasts shining slightly from Buffy’s mouth. “You’re so fucking beautiful. Oh God, fuck me, fuck me--”
“Oh—“ Buffy groans as she lets her other hand travel over Bette’s pussy, finding her clit and rubbing, imagining it in her mouth, swelling like a heart beneath her tongue. “But why—“
“You needed this—“ Bette grits out, “I needed—“ her voice shatters and her legs are up and around Buffy’s waist, a stinging bracelet, “it’s that—fucking—primal.”
When she comes, she almost breaks Buffy’s hand. In that moment, Buffy remembers the savage girl she used to be; after Heaven when she fucked Angel raw and then wept against his mouth, the way she beat Spike almost to death, Dracula’s fangs against her neck, snapping bones like twigs and the merciless way she broke Riley’s heart, without shame, without shame.
She is crying and she lifts her face up, as if the ceiling might give way, but nothing does, nothing breaks. A slight twist and her fist is free. Bette curls into her, already half-asleep, drawing her close, against heart and bone and sweat.
In the morning, there is a note and an address, scrawled on the paper with Smith Weatherhead’s information.
If you ever want company, you know where to find me.
Bruises map her hand, teeth marks dot her breasts and the thigh that Bette rode is red and sore and polished down to stone. Such a long sleep, such a long white sleep. Buffy rolls over, smiling, laughing, crying, the animal in her, the primal in her, oh, it has been woken.