Willow Said, "Ha!"
Author’s note: To specify, this fic begins one day before the events of the 5th season episode “Tough Love.” So wackiness is about to ensue.
Disclaimer: The Buffy characters belong to Joss Whedon, the Daria character belongs to Glenn Eichler, and Lynette Vaughn and Cameron Kim are mine.
X X X X X
Buffy had been surprised at how hostile Willow had been to Daria, but maybe she shouldn’t have been. She’d always been the least fond of Faith of any of them, and when she held grudges, she held onto them big-time.
Buffy herself was taking a wait-and-see attitude. She didn’t think it was any kind of scam. Honestly, in a way, she was sorry Faith as Faith wasn’t around any more. Finding out what she’d gone through -- well, it didn’t completely let her off the hook for her actions, but it certainly gained her a tremendous amount of slack. If she’d gotten out as herself, it was possible they could have come to some kind of understanding.
She thought she’d told everyone about her attitude -- Daria Morgendorffer and Faith were two different people, no matter that they shared the same body -- and she was determined not to let her decidedly mixed feelings about Faith cloud her judgment of Daria.
Giles had been even surer, especially after a conversation with Wesley that had left Giles almost shaking with rage, partly at Wesley, mostly at the Council. Apparently they’d not only known about the split personality issue, they’d encouraged it -- why waste time curing a Slayer when their life spans tend to be at most a year or two anyway? Just patch her up and put her out on the streets.
Unfortunately, not everyone else was being as calm and rational about the situation, though, until today, Willow had only been suspicious, not outright hostile. Xander and Dawn had also been kind of on the skeptical side; Anya had mostly been concerned with the fact that Faith had slept with Xander at one point and assuming Daria would feel the same way; and Tara hadn’t been concerned much at all. “It seems unfair to make a judgment without seeing her,” she’d said. But it had clearly been a low enough priority to her that when Buffy had asked her to leave, she’d simply left.
This “Dr. Vaughn” was something of a mystery. She obviously knew about vamps and all of that, and just as obviously the knowledge didn’t faze her all that much. Which put her one up in the mental toughness department on most of humanity. She was also about as tall as Giles, and probably heavier, though not much of it looked like fat. The way she was watching the fight, Buffy would have bet that the woman knew some kind of martial art as well. The ring on her left hand also told Buffy she was probably married, which made her wonder what she was doing on a road trip with Daria.
So far, the sparring match had been something of a formal one; after all, they weren’t actually trying to beat the hell of each other, just give Buffy something of an idea of how good Daria would be as a Slayer.
And at this point, the answer was an admiring “not bad.” If Buffy had needed more proof that Daria and Faith were completely different people, this would have provided it. Daria hadn’t used any Faith-type maneuvers at all, and her fighting style was a lot more defensive. (She’d mentioned that she had Faith’s muscle memory inside her, but she was obviously making a conscious effort not to use it. Smart move on her part.
For most of the combat so far, Daria had fought mostly defensively, doing her best to block Buffy’s attacks, and only occasionally striking back. She’d even connected a couple of times.
And this wasn’t Faith’s style at all. Faith had been a scream-and-leap offensive fighter, going on the defensive only when she had no other choice. And it had worked for her. Daria was definitely more thoughtful about things. She seemed to be analyzing Buffy, looking for patterns, checking for weaknesses. Buffy rarely had to do that unless she was fighting something that couldn’t be killed by normal methods of attack.
If Daria was telling the truth about her lack of instinct, this was probably the best way for her to go. And from all accounts, Daria Morgendorffer was extremely intelligent. Maybe even as smart as Willow, though Buffy would never say that to Willow’s face, especially under these circumstances.
Buffy thought she could have overwhelmed Daria with an all-out offensive, but held off, for the moment, anyway. The object was not to reduce Daria to a bloody smear on the wall.
So she decided to take another tack entirely. The next three times she threw a punch at Daria with her left hand, she dropped her guard slightly with her right arm. If Daria tried to take advantage of it, Buffy would have a surprise for the other Slayer.
X X X X X
Patterns. It was all about patterns. Spotting them, or the lack of them, was the key to how Daria was going to have to fight.
And so far, one thing was certain: Buffy Summers was no echo. The fighting style was similar, but the echo was a good deal more mechanical, and Buffy was even faster.
Of course, that only made sense, since the echo was simply a fragment of Daria’s imagination, and the real Buffy had had over a year to hone her combat skills even further.
Which was why she’d spent most of the first five minutes or so of their melee letting Buffy do most of the attacking, seeing if there were any patterns she could take advantage of, or any other weaknesses.
So far, there weren’t any. Which made her, as Daria had expected, an exceptionally dangerous combatant, and definitely better at this than Daria. But again, that was what Daria had expected. There had been openings, and Daria had taken advantage of some of them, just to prove she could. Had this been a full-fledged battle rather than the mere test it was, she would have taken advantage of more of them -- assuming, of course, that they would have presented themselves. Buffy was much better than she was -- not completely out of her league, but at opposite ends of that league, at least at the moment.
Which was one of the things that made this sudden pattern -- Buffy had dropped her guard slightly three, now four, times in a row, when she threw a punch with her left hand -- so suspicious. It seemed apparent to Daria that Buffy was setting up a trap of some sort.
So she decided to fall into it -- or, at least, to pretend to. The next time Buffy lowered her right arm a little, Daria feinted a punch with her own left hand. From the slight smile on Buffy’s face, Daria knew she’d been right. Buffy quickly reached for the Daria’s anticipated blow, presumably with an eye towards tossing her over her shoulder, but that blow never fell. Instead, Daria jerked her left arm back and jabbed quickly with her right hand, catching Buffy on the shoulder while her hands grabbed at empty air.
Before Buffy could recover, Daria ducked under Buffy’s grasping arms and threw her full weight into Buffy’s chest, and knocked her to the mat.
Buffy looked up at Daria with a mixture of surprise and admiration on her face. Around the room, the expressions ranged from pleasure (Dr. Vaughn) to surprise (Giles, Xander) to amusement (Anya) to irritation and anger (Willow and Dawn). Daria stepped backward while Buffy regained her feet. “Not bad at all,” Buffy said. “I especially like how you didn’t use any of Faith’s moves.”
“I’m perfectly capable of doing so, if you spot me a few seconds to concentrate,” Daria said. “But it was pointed out to me at great length that I might not always have that luxury. Consequently, I’ve had to develop my own style. I realize I still have a lot to learn.”
“And were you planning on learning it?” Giles asked. “You’ve been forced into the recognition of who you are and what your destiny is rather more suddenly than most other Slayers -- and with the added disadvantage of having already having made many enemies, along the way.”
“Some of whom appear to be right here in this room,” Daria said wryly. “To answer your question: Have you ever heard the story of Kitty Genovese?”
Giles, Willow, and Anya nodded. At Giles’ obvious surprise, Anya said grimly, “I took vengeance for that one. Not on the man who raped and murdered her but on the people who stood by and listened to her die. The wish was that they would die miserable and alone. So far, so good.”
Daria knew, dimly, from Angel and Cordelia, that Anya was a former demon, but somehow she’d forgotten that until this moment. The only thing she could think to say in response is, “Good. Anyway, I can’t do that. I may not be overflowing with love for all mankind, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let someone be hurt or killed when there’s something I could have done to directly prevent it.” She looked directly at Giles. “So the answer is yes, I plan on learning it. I may be more reactive than proactive, but this is going to form a large part of my life, whether I want it to or not.” She took a deep breath. “Which I why I was hoping you would help me improve my fighting skills even further -- and possibly help me learn how to tell the various supernatural creatures apart. Faith told me that not everything that looks demonic turns out to be a bad guy. I’d like to be able to tell one from the other.”
“Certainly,” Giles said, “Although right now is a poor time to begin any training. We’re fighting a hellgod named Glory and figuring out a way to stop her from getting what she wants is, understandably, our top priority.”
“Of course,” Daria said. “I wasn’t expecting you to drop everything. In any event, I should have suspected something horrendous was occurring. I’ve been informed that apocalypses usually tend to happen in May, and here we are, right on schedule.”
Buffy said, “Would you -- what’s that?”
“What’s what, Buff?” Xander asked.
“You don’t hear anything?” Everyone said no. “Daria?”
Daria was about to say no as well, when she stopped. Closing her eyes, she concentrated and said, “Yes. In that direction,” pointing towards a wall. “There’s a fight going on.”
Buffy ran out the door of the makeshift gymnasium, and Daria followed her; after a half second, so did everyone else.
Then they heard a scream.
X X X X X
The “deformed Cardassian” was a bit tougher than Cameron Kim had thought he would be, though that she wasn’t particularly fond of fighting or killing might have also had something to do with it. Still, in a fight between a skinny dude with a knife and a shapeshifter, 99 times out of 100 the skinny dude’s going to lose.
Still, it took her about five minutes -- during which no one noticed the leopard and the gray-skinned gnome fighting, in plain sight, in broad daylight, what the hell was wrong with this town -- and she got cut a couple of times. Nothing serious, but enough to draw blood. And the second time was all she could take. She leapt at his throat and ripped it out before he could take another swing.
Damn it. Even if the bastard had attacked her first, she still hated to have had to do that. Still, it had obviously been her or him, and that was no choice at all.
Before Cameron could change back into her human form, someone came into the alley from the same place Cameron had entered it and said, “What --”
Cameron whirled and saw a woman there. She couldn’t be caught, but this woman hadn’t done anything to her and Cameron wasn’t being paid to assault random strangers on the street. She leapt past her -- the woman screamed -- and ran down the street.
Even the most jaded or clueless person couldn’t fail to notice a leopard running down the middle of the street. Cameron quickly ran into the nearest other alley she could find, changed back into the redhead, and ran out the other side of the alley screaming about the leopard.
Not clever, exactly, but it worked.
Now to get back to spying on Daria Morgendorffer.
X X X X X
Dr. Lynette Vaughn followed Daria outside, to find a pasty-faced creature with its throat ripped out, and a young blonde woman, who’d apparently been the one who’d screamed. Willow Rosenberg ran up to her saying, “Sweetie? Are you okay? What happened?” as Buffy and Rupert Giles went over to examine the pasty-faced creature. Tara must have been who Willow had been looking for earlier. Dr. Vaughn looked at the woman, but she seemed shaken, not injured.
“Whoever did this was doing us a favor,” Buffy said.
“Or it was two creatures, one alley,” Daria said. “
“These are the minions of that hellgod we were talking about,” Buffy said. “If he was here, it wasn’t to bring us Girl Scout cookies.”
“Ah. Still, that doesn’t mean his killer was one of the good guys,” Daria said.
“Agreed. Did you see anything, Tara?”
“It was a leopard,” Tara said.
“A leopard?” Daria asked. She seemed worried -- of course.
“This means something to you?” Giles asked.
Daria said, “Remember the Korean woman who assisted me when the assassin attacked? In the fight in my cell, she took the form of a leopard.” Then, more thoughtfully, “But why would she be following me?”
“Could be just a coincidence,” Xander said. “You know, there has to more than one person out there who can change into a leopard.”
“Coincidence and leprechauns, Xander,” Buffy said. At Daria and Lynette’s confused look, she said “It’s a long story.”
“They’re the two things Buffy doesn’t believe in,” Dawn said.
“Okay, not that long,” Buffy said. The exchange had the air of a running joke. “Anyway, she did help us, so I’m inclined to worry about the whys later --”
“I don’t think we need to speculate about the why either,” Lynette said. “Assuming this was the same shapeshifter as before, she could have only been here to spy on Daria. And this ‘minion,’ as you call him, was clearly here to spy on you. It was simply a matter of which spy was tougher.”
“I’m, I’m sorry,” Tara said. “I don’t think we’ve met, and --”
“I’m Lynette Vaughn,” Lynette said. “I’m a friend of Daria’s.”
“And I would be Daria,” Daria said. “In case you’ve never met me before.”
“Not you as you,” Tara said. “I met you, her, when you were in Buffy’s body, and --” Tara suddenly stopped. “That’s weird.”
“What’s weird?” Willow asked.
“She’s got two auras,” she said, pointing to Daria. “It takes two people to have two auras.”
“Two?” Buffy said. “How is that --” She looked at Daria. “Okay. Spill.” Her tone had gotten a lot colder.
Daria told Lynette, “I think we’re going to have to tell them now.”
“Are you sure?”
Daria looked at everyone’s faces, and so did Lynette. She was right; it seemed like the best course of action. “Okay,” Daria said. “I’m going to say four words that might upset you. Please try not to overreact until you hear the full story.” To Lynette: “Make sure they hear the full story.”
“I will,” Lynette promised, hoping she’d get the chance.
“And those four words are?” Buffy asked.
Sighing, Daria said, “Give us a kiss.”
The tension in the alley, already high, ratcheted up to a near-critical level as the young woman in front of her suddenly changed noticeably. Her eyes found Lynette’s and she said, “Hey doc. Guess we didn’t get to those ‘optimum circumstances,’ huh?”
Buffy said, “Faith.”
Faith said, “Hey, B. Miss me?”
Willow said, “Ha!”