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Fourteen years of Slaying teaches a girl some tough lessons: never approach a Vroshyk demon from the left, incorporeal things are never good, Watchers are useful but should never be explicitly trusted, always keep a handy supply of Orbs of Thessulah stashed in hard to guess hiding spots, never drink anything that glows, Italy is overrated, insecure vampires are insecure and sometimes have to be beaten over the head with the obvious before they get that “I love you” isn’t just something you say to your platonic cuddle-buddy to make them feel better as they’re dying, and immortality might be great for the skin but it’s hell on a girl’s wardrobe.

Only in the last few years, however, has she come to realize yet another harsh truth: pop culture might be fun, but damn, it makes post-slay cleanup a bitch.

“Crap, I’m gonna have to dry clean again.” Buffy swipes at her stylish new pants—brown suede, supple as ... a really supple-y thing, and they make her butt look awesome—but succeeds only in smearing the stuff further. With a grimace, she glances around for something to wipe her hands on.

Her undead partner is having similar problems. “It’s in my hair again, isn’t it?” Spike asks. She looks. It is. “Bloody hell. Last time it took a week before it all washed out. I won’t be able to go out until it does. Fuck.”

“Wear a hat,” Buffy says, though she knows how this argument will go. Spike has a thing about hats. They’re confining, he says. It’s the same argument he uses about neckties and dress shoes. It’s probably because for a shortish guy with a spindly little neck, he’s got a huge head—though Buffy probably wouldn’t tell him that. There’s that whole insecure thing and besides she’s kind of in love with his freakishly huge head just the way it is, thank you very much.

“I’m not wearing a bloody hat,” he says. “God, I miss the days when dusting vamps meant just... dust.”

“With you on that.” Buffy surveys the scene, realizing that they’re gonna have to do something because it’s fairly obvious that badness of an abnormal nature went down in this alley. She sometimes misses old Sunnydale and its ability to look the other way no matter what, especially when faced with nights like this. “Do you see a fire hydrant or a hose or something?”

“No,” Spike glances at the sky, sniffs. “Might rain though, save us some trouble.”

“I’ll call Willow.” Buffy reaches for her cell phone, tucked safely in the inner pocket of her jacket, trying not to smear the...stuff on her clothes any more than she already has. “Better to be safe.”

“Think she’d zap it out of my hair, too?” Spike’s expression is hopeful. “Not that I mind you getting me all lathered up, pet, but this crap is hell on the shower drain.”

“I’ll ask.” She swipes her finger over the phone screen to unlock it, grimacing at the smear left behind. Maybe Willow can zap it off of her, too.

“Hey, Wills, think you can pop down here for a minute and help with some clean up?” Buffy asks when Willow answers the phone. Willow agrees, gets their location, and five minutes later she teleports into the farthest corner of the alley. Her nose wrinkles as she takes in the situation.

“Another one?” Willow asks, stepping gingerly to avoid getting any of it on her. “I’m going to have to package this cleanup spell and ship it off to the other teams if this keeps up.”

“Got a feeling it’s only going to get worse before it gets better,” Buffy says.

“Priorities, ladies. Can you at least get it out of my bleedin’ hair?” Spike asks. He keeps running his hands through his hair, but that only makes it worse. Now his hands are covered in it, too. He eyes them with disgust. Buffy knows he’s going to head straight for the black nail polish when they get home—Spike’s version of home spa therapy.

“How did it get in your hair?” Willow sounds amused. Easy to see the humor when you’re not coated in the stuff yourself.

“Head butted one of them,” Spike explains. “Thank god I left the duster at home tonight. So, hair?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Willow says. She sighs, looking at all the mess. “How many were there? It looks like you killed Lady Gaga’s dance team or something.”

“Just two,” Buffy says. “But they were clearly going for maximum effect. You should have seen them in the club. When the lights hit them they looked like disco balls. Evil disco balls. With bad hair.”

“Gits.” Spike’s been on a rant on this topic for months now, and Buffy can tell he’s getting ready for yet another reprise. “I don’t care if it makes it easier to lure victims, no self-respecting vamp should ever stoop so low. It’s bloody ridiculous. Besides, it’s the cosmetic companies that are making the real killing. Do you know how expensive this shite is?”

Amused, Buffy crosses her arms and eyes her lover. “No... do you?”

“Twenty bloody dollars for a tiny bottle of the good stuff! Though some of ‘em just buy big tubs of kiddie craft supply quality and dump it in Elmer’s glue. Works just as well.”

“And you know this because?”

Spike glances up. Deer. Headlights. “Uh... just doin’ a bit of research, luv. Know thy enemy and all that rot and Red how about you magic this crap out of here before someone thinks we’re starting an alley rave party or something?”

A simple incantation, a few herbs, and a quick flash of light later and the alley looks mostly normal again. If you knew what you were looking for, though, you could probably still find it. Buffy surveys her hands critically, noticing the tiny flakes still caught in the webbing between her fingers and under her nails. Spike’s thanking Willow for getting the worst of it off him, but Buffy knows even with the spell she’ll still be finding the residue coating the floor of the tub for the next few days. Not to mention in other, unmentionable, places. It’s insidious.

It used to be bad enough that she was marked for all time as She-Who-Must-Slay-Vampires... but never before had it been so visually obvious. She knows people who don’t know of her calling who've seen her in daylight have started to notice the evidence of it on her clothes and skin, especially after nights when Willow is too busy to play Mary Poppins. There are whispers at work that Buffy is one of them.

Honestly, she kind of wants to strangle them whenever she encounters them. It’s their fault, after all, that her job has gotten just that much harder. When Shelly at work—one of them from the posters hanging in her cubicle to her “Team Edward” tramp-stamp tattoo—asked if she wanted to go see Eclipse with her, Buffy had had to forcibly restrain herself from beating the woman to a pulp and screaming ‘those aren’t VAMPIRES!’ at the top of her lungs.

“How much longer do you think we’ll have to put up with this crap?” Spike asks, hunting through the alley debris for the stake that had gotten lost in the scuffle.

“A few more years at least.” Buffy sighs. Of course, anything can happen in a few years. People might come to their senses. A certain author with a rather tenuous grasp on the reality of vampires might come down with a slight case of dead (if Spike had his druthers) or threatened (if Buffy has hers). A certain actor might decide he’s made enough money and refuse to sign that last contract or something, or maybe all his hair might fall out in a tragic hair gel accident. Stranger things have happened.

“Want to teleport back with me?” Willow asks. “You guys look beat.”

“Sure,” Buffy says, though she hates the whole Beam Me Up Scotty thing. But it’s better than having to walk all the way back to headquarters, and besides, Angel’s supposed to be flying in tonight for some pow-wow with Giles, and she probably ought to be there to keep people from staking him. He’s still taking a lot of flack for some of his recent choices and escapades, but he’s been trying to make it up, and that’s probably important. Probably. Though if anyone says the words “space sex,” they’re gonna find a stake lodged in a very uncomfortable place, and she doesn’t mean in the back of a Volkswagen.

Teleporting is disorientating, but Spike holds her steady against his side, and smirks down at her afterwards when it becomes obvious she’s subtly groping his ass—just to maintain balance, of course. She’s glad to be back home, even if home is where most of the paperwork is. The old mansion they’d purchased and turned into Slayer Central isn’t a castle by any stretch of the imagination, but Buffy isn’t complaining. She and Spike have a little suite all to themselves and her friends are all just down the hall. It’s home.

“Buffy!” Angel’s already arrived, it seems, and he’s striding toward them across the foyer.

“Oh, bloody hell,” Spike groans. Buffy seconds that opinion because, as Angel moves under the lights, he sparkles, like a thousand tiny diamonds have been embedded in his skin. “Et tu, Angelus?”

“What?” Angel stops, then glances at his hands a little sheepishly. They’re dazzling. Little rainbows of light glimmer off the surface of his skin and dance over the walls. “Oh. Well... It’s... I just kinda liked it.”

“You would,” Spike sneers. “Fucking Twilight.”