The lights in The Vortex were dim, most of the illumination focused upon the stage, where a group new to the club played a solid ballad, soft but laced with a beat that lent additional passion to the melody and lyrics. Many of the patrons chatted in low voices while swaying in their seats to the rhythmic song, which was infused with an old-time feel and obviously composed by one who found inspiration more in the classic rock era than anything that had since arrived on the musical scene. The enthusiastic drummer, perched upon a small podium at the rear of the stage, twirled the stick in his right hand with an expert flick of his wrist while tapping his foot lightly on the pedal pounding the large bass drum, the face of which declared the ensemble to be "Three Moon Tuesday." The displayed motif was rather attractive in a moody sort of way – a lunar image, partially obscured by meandering clouds set in an inky and starless sky.
The overall air of the quintet tended toward the casual. No two members of the band were dressed in the same fashion, nor did they make any pretense of being so. Composed of a trio of males and a duo of females, Three Moon Tuesday appeared to be a rather motley crew of individuals, but their sound was unmistakably original and very soulful. The lead singer, a tall and well-built young man with crisply curling chestnut hair which reflected a copper tinge beneath the spotlight, had an unusual voice, gravelly but laden with potential power. He strummed occasionally on the rhythm guitar which was slung low on his hips, but obviously possessed no true talent for the instrument, his major contribution being the unique tone of his gruff but surprisingly melodious pipes. The final male member was short in stature and, although he played lead guitar, seemed content to loiter in the shadows stage-right rather than dominate the center as most lead guitarists preferred to do. His demeanor was one of easy nonchalance as he soundlessly mouthed the lyrics in perfect time with the vocalist.
The keyboard player, exotic in appearance and unmistakably of American Indian descent, sang harmony. Her waist-length hair was smooth and sleek like liquid mahogany. Her expert fingers caressed the ivories of the synthesizer and she was by far the most striking member of the band. The second female was a tiny thing, virtually dwarfed by the bass guitar that she plucked
with supreme proficiency. Elfin-like with her layered cap of dishwater blonde hair, the most prominent features of this pixie were her huge blue eyes, the color of cornflowers.
The club was packed almost to capacity, but there were a few vacant tables and unoccupied bar stools to be had for the taking. Buffy and Xander had staked out a table relatively close to the dance floor, but at a far enough distance to maintain the illusion at least of engaging in private conversation. Facing the stage, the Slayer wasn't truly paying attention to the performance, her gaze
fixed upon two female figures sitting at a table on the other side of the floor. There, Dawn and Kennedy were indulging in what appeared to be a rather secretive exchange of words. Buffy did her best not stare obsessively, but she kept a watchful eye out nonetheless, just to make sure everything was going smoothly between her sister and the younger Slayer.
The song being played swirled around the club, invading every corner with its haunting melody and mournful lyrics.
Upon the lake, reflections I see,
As blossoms trail from a tree.
I look at her, she's looking at me.
There's sun in her hair, my Circe so fair.
"Have you ever tried actually carving a Chinese dragon?" queried Xander.
Buffy pondered the question for a moment. "No," she replied, "but I may have killed one once."
Xander nodded with understanding. "It's good we have things in common."
"What's good," retorted Buffy with admiration, "is you. All Mr. Business Guy. You've been in that workshop of yours almost non-stop for weeks. I was feeling very neglected."
Xander chewed on this remark for a while. "Well you've still had Willow, Dawn, Giles, all your Slayerness ..."
"Yes, but I was developing a Xander deficiency," pouted Buffy.
Xander winked his one good eye. "I hear they'll have a pill for that any day now."
"A pale imitation," scoffed the Slayer "I want my Xander 100% pure and without an accompanying list of twenty disturbing side effects."
"Okay, point taken. And, may I say, ego fluffed," beamed the carpenter. "Anyway, being around more shouldn't be so hard. The bulk of this project is done now. And just in time. If I had to carve one more elephant on a display case, I think I'd have to dress Banan up in a giant peanut outfit and leave him at the zoo for Jumbo."
Buffy crinkled her nose. "Death by snackage. Not very dignified."
"And yet still extremely satisfying. Like a Snickers, only without so much nougat," stated Xander with a firm nod of his head.
The seasons change to nature's own call.
The leaves are starting to fall
And I know that I must stand tall.
As I say goodbye, my Circe, don't cry.
Sipping on her drink, Buffy looked over toward Dawn's table, leaning a little to one side to she could be sure to have a good view of her sister around Kennedy. Following her gaze, Xander threw the Slayer an admonishing look and prodded at her arm. "Buffy."
"What?" she demanded. "I'm ... "
She scanned the crowd for something to blame.
"... admiring that guy's ..."
She tilted her head to one side as the object of her apparent attention began to shake his moneymaker with much gusto. It was far from a pretty sight and totally inappropriate for the music.
Buffy frowned but had reached the point of no return. "... butt," she said confidently. "Yes. He has a nice butt, and it's worthy of both admiration and songs. Lasting tributes to the ... buttness of his firm—"
"Okay," the carpenter hastened to interrupt. "I'm stopping you now, partly because I do not want to hear the other adjectives you're about to use, and partly because I'm not about to turn around and see if you're tellin' the truth or not. But I will say this: you gotta give the Dawnster some room. Back off a little."
Buffy sighed. "I'm trying, it's just really hard. There's so much going on here we don't know, you know? At least in Sunnydale, I knew where all the bad parts were and made sure Dawn knew too. But here, we've only been around for what? About six months? I've only barely figured out my way to the 7-Eleven. And anyway, I'm just wondering what she and Kennedy are doing. I keep getting this weird ringing in my ear ..." She paused mid-sentence as her expression grew vaguely paranoid and totally suspicious. "I think they're talking about me."
"Maybe it's just Tinnitus," suggested Xander pleasantly.
Kennedy poked at the paper umbrella floating gaily on the surface of her drink while Dawn slurped noisily on her Shirley Temple.
"That one?" queried Dawn, gesturing toward the dance floor.
The tree has grown and sprinkled with starlight.
A beacon, it glows ever-bright
And it guides me on through the night.
Do you yet feel the same, my Circe, my flame?
Kennedy squinted and then shook her head. "Too tall."
Biting into a maraschino cherry, Dawn looked around and then took another stab. "That one?" she asked brightly, pointing across the room.
Kennedy followed the teenager's extended finger. "In the red?" she asked.
Dawn shook her head and jabbed more fiercely. "No, the black. With the jacket?" She looked at Kennedy with excitement, but Kennedy simply shrugged, not seeing.
"There," insisted Dawn losing patience, "next to the guy with the thing?"
Leaning over, Kennedy attempted to see where Dawn was pointing. Still at a loss, she stood up slightly in her seat and then nodded. "Oh!" The Slayer sat back down again. "Too short."
Dawn let out a heavy puff of air. "Okay, then the one in the red."
"Too bony," came the swift reply.
"Oh, come on," said an exasperated Dawn. "Willow is, like, 89% bone, don't even pretend you don't go for that type."
Kennedy narrowed her eyes. "Look, I'm just not interested, okay?"
Dawn tossed her head. "Fine," she huffed, glowering at the Slayer.
Kennedy prodded at her umbrella until it finally gave up the ghost and sank into the depths of her drink.
"That one?" proposed Dawn chirpily, pointing at the dance floor yet again.
"Arg," groaned Kennedy. "Would you knock it off already?"
Dawn quickly became indignant. "Whaaat? I'm just trying to help."
But nothing ever stands still.
It never has, never will
And the shaded tree casts such a chill.
It stings like a dart, my Circe, my heart.
"You're trying to set me up with some other girl so I won't try and get back with Willow. I got you pegged, Sunshine," Kennedy told the teenager. Her voice was flat and devoid of emotion.
Dawn grimaced. "Well there's that, yeah, but- but not just that. I just think, you know, you'd be happier with ..."
"I'm perfectly happy," insisted the Slayer, her eyes faltering at the younger girls' intense stare. She lowered her gaze before continuing. "Okay, I'm not perfectly happy, but I'm also not interested in window-shopping for girlfriends with you, alright?"
Offended, Dawn sniffed. "Fine." She cocked her head curiously. "Have you even spoken to her yet?"
"... words were exchanged," came the clipped response.
"Words besides 'Hi' and 'Fine'?"
Kennedy shrugged. "Okay, no then."
"It's been over a month," said Dawn gently.
"42 days," the Slayer corrected, "but who's counting?"
I smile as you call me friend
And accept what I cannot mend.
But we've a bond that no one can rend.
I'm glad you're complete, my Circe so sweet.
"I just think you should move on ..." remarked Dawn not unkindly.
"Fine," Kennedy agreed tersely. "Message received. Now drop it."
Dawn pursued her lips. "Dropped," she grouched.
Kennedy took a long pull of her drink and, keen to smooth things over, treated Dawn to a brightly-painted smile. "So, did you hear about Buffy getting her butt kicked by one of the Super New Newbies the other day?"
The teenager's eyes widened in anticipation as she excitedly leaned across the table, her elbows resting in a puddle of melting ice.
Across the room, Buffy glowered at Dawn and Kennedy and then swatted at her ear, violently shaking her head. When her vision cleared, she looked up to find Willow standing at the table. The redhead looked very much like a female version of Nanook of the North wearing a thickly-quilted brown parka, complete with fur-trimmed hood. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold.
"Hi guys!" announced the witch with a tiny wave of her mitten-clad hand.
On stage, the vocalist hesitated as his lead guitarist paused mid-riff. As the singer stole a quick glance to the right, it appeared as though the musician was about to sneeze as he gazed out over the footlights but after a few twitches of the nose, he found the chord and continued.
Sitting down, Willow slipped back the hood of her parka and shook out her hair.
There's sun shining down on the tree
And my spirit is once again free.
Though you'll always be part of me,
The memory's enough, my Circe, my love.
The witch shivered as she shrugged the jacket off her shoulders and draped it over the back of her chair. "I miss California already," she sighed, flexing the fingers of her right hand. She was no longer wearing the brace, although the digits curled stiffly.
"You know I hear it could snow next week? Snow. The last time I saw snow, it was a foreshadowing portent of the world's first, greatest evil awakening on Earth to ... to, uhm ..." The carpenter turned to Buffy. "What was it doing again?"
"Near as I could tell, insisting repeatedly that it was very, very evil. And killing Christmas trees," the Slayer informed him. She shrugged. "Didn't get much more out of it than that."
To a round of appreciative applause, Three Moon Tuesday concluded their first set of the evening. A healthy rendition of cheers emanated from the back of the room. The lead singer slipped the mic back into its stand and leaned forward. Directly in the beam of the lights, his handsomely-chiseled features were even more apparent and his eyes were darkly brooding as he surveyed the crowd. A bevy of young teenage girls gathered at the front of the stage breathed a collective sigh of adulation and one of them stifled a small squeal.
"We're gonna take a breather," he growled huskily. The girl squealed again. "Be back in 20."
He leapt gracefully from the stage and then turned to help down the Indian princess, his arm curling protectively around her waist. She slipped a hand into his back pocket and together, they strolled toward the bar, whispering intimately. The flock of disappointed groupies scattered, heads drooping and shoulders slumped in dejection. With nowhere near as much flamboyancy, the lead guitarist propped his instrument against the amplifier and made his way down the steps of the stage into the audience.
As the lights dimmed, a throbbing techno beat pumped through the sound system and the dance floor erupted into a torrent of energy. Xander, Buffy and Willow, however, seemed not to notice the change of musical pace, engrossed as they were
"So," shouted Buffy smiling at Willow, "how'd the magic lesson go, Ms. Granger?"
Willow grinned. "Hit and miss. I floated a pencil all the way around the room! A-And then somehow managed to make it fold in on itself." She gave a nervous chuckle. "Created a teensy little spatial anomaly. Heh."
A look of alarm crossed Xander's face as Buffy's eyes grew saucer-like.
"But I totally fixed it, easy as pie," the redhead assured, grabbing Xander's drink and taking a sip. "The pencil's kinda ... you know, blue and possibly sentient in some way now, but otherwise—"
Willow paused for a moment as a hand tapped her lightly on the shoulder. Startled and still lost in thought, she spun around in her chair, "—no ... problem."
Her voice trailed away as her jaw dropped. With a look of utter shock and surprise, Willow blinked at the figure standing in front of her, hands thrust deeply into the pockets of his jeans.
"Hey," said Oz.