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This story is No. 1 in the series "The Dragonfly Effect". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: Part of the TtH Summer Challenge. Buffy was never the Slayer; she wan't even a potential. No, her life won't be nearly normal enough for that...

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Anime > Surprise CrossoverEarnestScribblerFR131166,0492816236,51427 Aug 0819 Jan 09Yes
CoA Winner

Necessary Exposition

Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer was created by Joss Whedon. Dragon Half was created by Ryūsuke Mita. Not sure who owns the rights to these properties, but I don't, and don't pretend that I do. I acknowledge all copyrights.

I like to work canon dialog into AU fics, or paraphrase it. I'll probably continue to do so.

There are some Author Notes at the end of this chapter. Please read them.

Necessary Exposition

Joyce sat in the living room, watching TV. She wanted to be up when Buffy came home, but didn't want to make too big a deal of it. So, the goal was to look like she was up anyway. Too bad there was nothing on.

She turned the TV off and dropped the remote on the coffee table. It was too late in the evening for housework -- not believably, anyway -- so she grabbed her checkbook and started paying bills. Halfway through, she glanced up at the wall clock. Just past 10:30. That was unusually late; the girl had been a trial before the events at Hemery High, but since then she'd been very sensible about such things. Joyce sealed and stamped the envelopes and put them on the hall table to be mailed, and then it was nearly 10:40. What was keeping that girl?

When the doorbell rang, she gasped and whirled to face the door. Who could that be at this hour? Was it the police? Was it about Buffy? For a moment, Joyce couldn't move. She wanted to know, and didn't. When the bell rang again, she forced herself to step up and open the door.

In the glare of the porch light, a teenage girl with long, straight chestnut-brown hair stood wringing her hands. Whatever Joyce had been expecting, this wasn't it.

"Mrs. Summers?" the girl asked nervously.


"Hi. I'm Willow. Rosenberg. I met Buffy in school today?"

"Yes, she mentioned you. She said you were meeting at some club…" Joyce gulped nervously. "Why are you here?" she demanded. "Has something happened to Buffy?"

"No! No, she's fine. Fine Finey McFine fine. She's just…well, okay, she's not fine, but she's not hurt or anything." Willow nervously twisted her fingers together. "She just wanted me to explain, before…Don't freak out, okay?"

Willow was growing increasingly distraught, which was hardly helping Joyce's composure.

"Something…something happened to her. Something weird. Like Outer Limits weird. And she's really scared now, and we all are really, but you're her mom and she really really needs you to Not Freak Out, okay?"

Joyce's mind was racing. Something so strange that the girl wouldn't even speak of it, and Buffy had sent her to smooth the way before Joyce could see her…

Oh no. No, it couldn't be. It was impossible.

Joyce swallowed hard. "All right," she said. "I'm calm. I won't freak out. I promise."

Willow gulped, nodded, turned to face the street and waved one hand over her head. A few seconds later, three figures emerged from behind Joyce's black SUV. Two boys flanked a hunched girl with an unfamiliar sweater draped across her shoulders. Even in the dim light that reached them from the porch, Joyce could see Buffy clearly. The tousled hair, long and wavy but kind of spiky too, and the color of it. And the horns. Sweet devas, the horns. Joyce stood stock-still, her eyes wide.

Buffy paused at the foot of the stairs, looking up at her.

"Mom?" she asked, her voice close to breaking.

Joyce drew a shuddering breath. "Buffy," she said. "Oh my sweet baby girl, what have you done?" She practically fell down the stairs and threw her arms around her daughter, pulling her close and hugging her like her life depended on it.

Buffy's arms came up and encircled Joyce's body. She pressed her forehead against her mother's shoulder.

"I…I don't know what to do," she sobbed. "I don't know what's happening."

"Oh Buffy," Joyce sobbed in return. "Oh my baby. Oh my…my…my spine!" she gasped painfully.

Buffy made an eep noise and jumped away from Joyce. The older woman leaned on Buffy's shoulder for support while she caught her breath.

"I'm okay," she said. "Nothing broken." She looked into Buffy's anguished, fearful eyes and hugged her again. Under the sweater, she could feel the wings. "Buffy, I'm so sorry. I swear, I had no idea this could happen. I thought you were safe, I was certain…"

Buffy stiffened in her mother's embrace. She carefully pushed Joyce away and stared at her. "You knew about this?" she demanded.

"No! I mean, I know what this is, but if I'd even dreamed it could happen…" She reached out and touched one of Buffy's horns. "It was supposed to be impossible."

Buffy squeezed her eyes shut. Her own mother… She sighed and opened them again.

"Let's go inside," she said. "And you can tell me all about it."

"Your friends…"

"They're coming in too. I'm not gonna let them walk home tonight, not with what's out there."

Thomas crept through the graveyard, senses alert. There was no sign now of the creature that had destroyed Marie and rescued the two human boys, but it might come back. He caught a familiar scent and made his way towards it. On the other side of a stand of trees, he found Darla sitting on a gravestone and massaging her jaw. There was a smear of blood on her upper lip, probably from her nose.

"Did you run into that thing, too?" he asked.

Darla grunted affirmative. "Lousy fighter, but so strong that one lucky shot took me out. She dusted Tyler."

"And Marie," Thomas replied. "Any idea what she was?"

"None. Didn't you smell anything back at the club?"

"No, she smelled completely human then. After she changed…close to human, but kind of reptile, maybe? With a hint of charcoal."

"Charcoal. What's that about?"

"Well, she tried to get Marie with a jet of fire from her mouth. Barely enough to light a cigarette, though. She looked surprised about that."

"Really?" Darla stood and considered. "That means the power was new to her. She didn't know its limitations."

"I guess. Which also means she must have used it once, with better results."

"You're right," Darla realized. "And she didn't do it when she rescued the girl. So when did she?"

The two vampires stared at each other as the pieces fell into place. Darla got there half a second earlier, so she got to say it.

"Where's Luke?"

Buffy sat on the couch, Joyce on one side, Willow on the other. Her wings were relaxed behind her and her tail curled around and hung over the edge of the couch. Xander and Jesse were in chairs facing them.

Joyce took one of Buffy's hands in her own. "I suppose I need to start," she said, "by asking what happened to trigger this."

"It's a long story," Buffy began.

"We were attacked by vampires," Xander said.

"Apparently not that long."

"Vampires!? Are you sure?"

"Fangs," Jesse supplied, "neck-biting, go poof and turn into dust when you dag 'em in the heart with a wooden stake… pretty sure."

Willow spoke up next. "Mrs. Summers, Buffy saved our lives tonight. If she hadn't been there, we'd all be dead. Does anyone mind if I pass out?"

"Breathe," Buffy told her.

"Breathe? Really? I guess it's worth a try."

Joyce frowned in thought. "That…could be vampires, I suppose. Not like the ones we had back home, but…but it doesn't make any sense. Buffy, there aren't supposed to be vampires in this world! No vampires, no magic, nothing supernatural at all! It's why we came here!"

Buffy stared at Joyce, her mouth hanging open. She blinked hard, two or three times. Xander, Willow and Jesse traded puzzled glances, but they wisely stayed out of it.

"Mom?" Buffy asked. "Do I even know you?"

Joyce added her other hand to the one gripping Buffy's.

"There's…a lot I haven't told you," she said.

"Gee, really? I never would've guessed!"

"Most of it, I never planned to tell you at all, because I thought it would never matter. You'd grow up, get married, have kids, and live your life. But now, I suppose, I'm going to have to tell you everything…and we don't have a lot of time. How long ago did you change?"

Buffy considered the question, turning to look at her friends for help. Willow looked at her watch and did some quick calculations. "About forty-five minutes," she said. "Maybe fifty."

"Is it…" Buffy ventured. "Am I done changing, or is there gonna be more?"

"If there is," Joyce replied, "it's done for now. Buffy, I'll tell you everything later on, but right now I need you to stick to the questions you absolutely have to ask right…frickin' now. Okay? Save the rest for later?"

Buffy squeezed Joyce's hand in her own. Gently.

"We're…from another world?"

"I'd say some kind of fairyland or something," Xander said.

"Another plane, like in D&D," Jesse guessed.

"Something like that," Joyce replied.

"Oh! And it must have had magic and stuff," Willow chimed in, "'cause why else would you come here looking for a place that didn't?"

"Okay," Buffy said. "Leaving aside the part where Hank Summers isn't really my father…am I -- am I some kind of fiend from Hell?"

"No. Absolutely not. You're human, Buffy…mostly."

Buffy waited for more. She flexed her wings and twitched the tip of her tail.

"I…I suppose I need to tell you something else. Buffy, I love you dearly, and I'm your mother in every way that matters. But…"

"…but you're not my real mother, either." Still reeling, Buffy let that sink in. "Okay. I guess I kind of half-expected that. So who are we? And in my case, what?"

"Your real father was my younger brother. Dick Saucer, a world-renowned swordsman. He and I are 100% human. But your mother, Mink…she was half…dragon."

Xander slapped his knee. "Sure," he said. "The wings, the tail, the fire-breathing."

"I coulda figured it out," Jesse replied.

"In your dreams."

"So," Buffy said incredulously, "I'm one-quarter dragon?"

"Not necessarily," Willow piped up. "You'd get half of your mother's DNA, but it would be a random selection, so theoretically you could be anything from 100% human to 50% dragon though more likely something in between and I'm gonna shut up now or I'll be talking about it for five days straight."

"So on my mother's side, my grandparents were a dragon…"

"Maya, daughter of Titan," Joyce supplied. "An Imperial Red. Dragon nobility."

"…and a human."

"Ruth the Red Lightning. A pretty famous hero in his own right."

Xander got a faraway look in his eyes. "How did they ever…?"

"And that brings us to the point," Joyce said. "Maya had the ability to assume human form. Or -- almost; she could never get the ears right. If she hadn't, Mink would never have been born. Or, actually, hatched. If we can awaken that ability in you…"

"Y-you can do that? I can be human again?"

"Buffy." Joyce took both of her adopted daughter's hands in hers. "Dragons go through several stages in their lives, transforming into more powerful forms as they go. A dragon-half like you, or Mink for that matter, will transform when faced with a supernatural threat…like a vampire. Once that happens, there's no going back. This is what you are now. Do you understand?"

Buffy slowly nodded.

"That said, your new form has only just emerged. It's still in flux, and if you master the shapechanging spell in the next few hours, you'll be able to at least look like you did this morning. Okay?"

Buffy took a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "Let's do this."

Joyce turned to Buffy's three friends. "It's getting pretty late," she said, "and your parents will probably be worrying."

"No problem," Xander said. "Round robin."

"We'll need to use your phone," Jesse added.

Thomas and Darla stood over the area where Luke had died. The charcoal smell was stronger here; even a human might have caught a whiff.

"Knowing Luke," said Darla, "he was probably right in her face. Him and his stupid 'fear is an elixir' philosophy. He never saw it coming."

Thomas squatted down and studied the residue.

"There's almost more ash here than dust," he said. "Even point blank, that's quite a flamethrower."

"Okay," Darla replied, "important safety tip. Don't go toe-to-toe with this girl until after she shoots her mouth off."

She bit her lip thoughtfully, then shook her head.

"I guess I'd better report this to the Master," she said. "Why don't you go round up some more offerings? Even one would settle his mood some."

Thomas stood and sneered at her.

"Do I look stupid? Wait for you to tell him your version of events when I'm not there to defend myself? Oh no. You're the one who's going to find another offering. I will go back and report this."

"What makes you think I'll agree to that?"

"How about the way you wanted to snack on the offerings and give him leftovers? He'll believe that no matter how bad you smear me. He knows you."

"You wouldn't," Darla hissed.

"Watch me."

He and Darla glared at one another for several seconds before she let her shoulders slump.

"Fine," she said. "Have it your way." She headed for the cemetery gate.

"And you'd better not bite any of them," Thomas called after her.

Buffy knelt on the living room floor, legs folded under her. Her eyes were closed, and her hands were folded in her lap. She was taking deep breaths, holding them for a moment, then releasing them.

"This is just like those body awareness meditations you taught me when I was twelve," she remarked without opening her eyes.

"Exactly like them," Joyce replied. "They're actually the first step, and the hardest one to master. When you took up figure skating, I thought they would help."

"They did," Buffy said. She focused her concentration, trying to feel the air in her lungs, her heart beating, the blood flowing in her veins -- and the horns growing from her head, the tail stretched out on the floor behind her, the wings lightly curled over her shoulders.

"Okay, I think I've got it," she said.

Across the room, Jesse hung up the phone. "Xander, you're up," he said. Xander tore his attention away from the scene and picked up the receiver.

"Now," said Joyce, "try to hold it in your mind, while at the same time getting a feel for the way your body used to be. Feel the lack of horns, tail and wings. Hold them both in your mind at once."

"Did my mother learn this?" Buffy asked.

"She tried. We all loved her dearly, but she wasn't really the brightest thing in the room. She did learn to make her wings appear and disappear at will, but her form was pretty much set by then, so that's as far as she got. You've got to go farther. You can do it, Buffy; I know you can."

After a few moments, Buffy said, "I think I have it. What now?"

"Now you pull the human form on over the other one, like pulling on a glove. Feel it slide into place. Don't worry if you lose it; just start over and try again."

Willow started to say something, but Joyce made a shushing gesture. For nearly fifteen minutes, nobody said anything. Buffy took deep, controlled breaths and concentrated.

"Anything?" she asked, eyes still shut.

"No," Joyce sighed. "It isn't working. Why isn't it working?"

Buffy sighed too and opened her eyes. "You tell me," she said, "then we'll both know."

Joyce shook her head. "Back home, I could cast Flame of Arcane Vision, but here…"

"But," Willow said, "if Buffy's powers aren't supposed to work here either, but they do, wouldn't your spells work too? Or is that the dumb question?"

Joyce stared at Willow in astonishment. "I never thought of that," she said. Slowly she raised her right hand and positioned her fingers for snapping.

"Diamond starlight, diamond-bright," she muttered, "purge the shadows that vex us."

She snapped her fingers, and a soft white glow filled the room. It wasn't as bright as the electric lights, but it pervaded every corner.

"Whoa," Buffy said. "Go, Magic Mom."

Joyce smiled wistfully. "You're still calling me 'Mom?'"

"Well…Aunt Mom."

"Don’t sass me, young lady. Hang on."

Joyce grabbed a pad of paper and a pen from beside the telephone. She drew a circle, sketched in a six-pointed star inside it, and then began filling the spaces it marked off with arcane symbols. As she proceeded, she began to slow down, searching her memory for the right marks.

"It's been a while," she said. She finished the design and checked it carefully for errors. Nodding, she placed it carefully on the coffee table.

"Okay," she said. "Here goes. Buffy, get ready to try again."

She put her hand over the hexagram and began to speak in a bold, clear voice.

"Oh you Gods of Truth and Knowledge," she said. "Our way is shrouded by doubt and ignorance. Grant us your eternal flame, that we might see truly that which we must see."

She lifted her hand and turned it palm up.

"Grant us the Flame of Arcane Vision!"

A ball of blue fire burst into being above Joyce's hand.

Buffy, Xander and Jesse just stared at the flame in awe. Willow leaned forward and drank in the sight, her expression eager.

Joyce cupped the flame in both hands, then pulled them apart, splitting the ball into two. With one swift flourish, she pressed them against her eyes. When she lowered her hands, her eyes were glowing with blue light.

"Buffy, now," she said. Buffy hastily closed her eyes and started her breathing. Joyce watched her, eyes never blinking, blue light steady.

Xander and Jesse were seriously weirded out, but they said nothing. Neither they nor Joyce noticed Willow glancing from Joyce's eyes to the hexagram on the table, nor the way her fingers twitched. Oblivious, Buffy continued her meditation.

Finally, Joyce closed her eyes and the light went out. She sighed wearily.

"My fault," she whispered. "All my fault."

The red-eye flight from Cleveland to LAX had been in the air for nearly an hour. A black man in his late forties had a briefcase open on the tray table. He was studying a sheaf of papers contained in a folder. He wore black-framed reading glasses, a tweed jacket over a v-necked sweater, and a bow tie.

On the seat next to him was a very young, light-skinned black woman with her hair in a braid. She glared restlessly out of the window at the darkness beyond as if it had personally offended her.

The stewardess paused by their row. "Can I get you anything?" she asked.

The girl turned that same glare on her.

"No thank you," said the man in a Caribbean accent. "I'm quite fine. Kendra, do you want anyt'ing?"

Kendra lowered her eyes to the tabletop. "No, Sir," she said.

The man turned his brightest smile on the stewardess. "T'ank you very much," he told her. "We've been so well looked after already, we need not'ing more."

Reassured, the stewardess continued her rounds.

Sam Zabuto took off his glasses and sighed.

"Kendra," he said, "please try not to give de stewardesses de impression dat you're about to eat dem."

"I'm sorry, Sir," Kendra replied, her accent a curious mix of Jamaican and Scottish. "But de Handbook says dat de Slayer must be alert for possible attack at all times."

"Yes, dat's all very well," said Zabuto, "but even better is to be alert wid'out looking like you're alert, d'you see?" He slipped his glasses into his inside coat pocket.

"T'ank you, Sir, I'll remember dat."

"Here," said the Watcher. "I'm done readin' dis. You'd better know what we're up against."

"It must be important," Kendra said, "if we had to drop everyt'ing and go."

"Rupert Giles made some poor judgments in his yout'," Zabuto told her, "but his academic skills are first-rate. He t'inks de world may well end in less dan twenty-four hours…and I t'ink he's probably right."

Kendra said nothing. She sorted the pages into their proper order and began to read. Her Watcher put his seat back and closed his eyes.

Joyce sat on the couch with her head in her hands. Buffy had resumed her seat next to her.

"Why didn't we see it?" Joyce whispered, dropping her hands and raising her head.

"'Splainy?" Buffy begged.

"When you were born," her adopted mother replied, "your base form was human, and vulnerable. And your parents…they had enemies. The only way to protect you was to hide you -- and if you ever transformed, they could find you. So we bargained with an imp to open a passage to another world."

Joyce sighed regretfully. "Imps are mischievous and completely amoral, but they never lie. Among other things, we specified a world with no magic, and it agreed. But it found a loophole."

"Lawyers," said Xander. "Everywhere you go…lawyers."

"This world doesn't have any magic," Joyce said, "of its own. But the dimensional barriers are…thin. So thin that magic can leak in from just about anywhere else." She frowned thoughtfully. "They can't be this thin everywhere, or there'd be no keeping it secret. But here in Sunnydale…I'm sorry, Buffy; if we'd gone somewhere else this wouldn't be happening."

"You didn't know," Buffy said. "So what does it mean?"

"Innate magic, like you have…and those vampires…will work automatically. Since I learned magic back home, I'm still linked to it. I can pull spells in from home even if they haven't leaked over on their own. But you grew up here, and never cast a spell from home when you were there. So you can't pull them in, and it's not one of the ones that's leaked over."

"Isn't there anything you can do?" Buffy pleaded.

"I'm thinking," Joyce insisted, squeezing her eyes shut. Buffy was being careful, but even so, her grip on Joyce's hand was painful. Joyce didn't say anything.

Willow sat on the couch and took Buffy's other hand.

"No wonder nobody seriously believes in magic here," Joyce said. "Every spell they know comes from a different reality. There'd be no way to work out any underlying principles. And the free energy exchange…demons would love it here. They've probably been living here all along, in hiding."

"And now I'm gonna have to do the same," Buffy whispered, "or get a job in a sideshow." Her eyes started to mist up, and Willow gingerly put an arm around her shoulders.

Unable to think of any words of comfort, Joyce continued to ramble. "And with so many spells available already, you wouldn't even have to be an Otherworld Mage in order to…I've got an idea."

Buffy sat up straight, holding her breath. Joyce stared off into the distance, wheels turning in her head at top speed.

"Buffy," Joyce said decisively, "I'll need something of yours. Something you've owned for a while, the longer the better, but it's got to be something precious to you."

Buffy didn't hesitate. "Mr. Gordo," she said.

"Perfect. Start the meditations again. They won't work unless my idea pans out, but it'll help build some momentum. Willow, boys, come with me."

The Master stood with his arms folded, head bowed. His crimson eyes blazed with anger, and his lips were tightly pressed together.

"What can you tell me about her?" he asked through gritted snaggle teeth.

"One of her friends called her Lisa," Thomas replied, "but they could have been lying. She did mention that she was new in town, though. That's probably pretty likely; I've never seen her at the Bronze before."

The Master stepped over to his throne and grabbed a small nightstand that stood next to it. He picked it up by one leg and, with a wordless cry of rage, smashed it against the throne.

"Where's Darla?" the Master demanded.

"She didn't want to face you," Thomas replied. "She suggested we both stay away until we'd rounded up more offerings."

"Did she really," the Master said, his voice smooth and level once more.

"Yes. But I wasn't having any of that. I came straight back to report."

"That was very conscientious of you," said the Master, his posture more relaxed. "Come forward."

Thomas stepped forward, coming completely into the zone that the Master couldn't leave.

"So," the Master purred, "Darla slunk away to find me something to assuage my hunger, and allowed you to claim the role of coming back to tell me of your failure and of the loss of my greatest acolyte."

"That's right," Thomas said eagerly. Then, "Wait--"

But the Master had already plunged the table leg through Thomas' heart.

"Clever girl," he said.

At the foot of the stair, Joyce turned to Willow.

"Buffy's room is at the end of the hall, on the right," she said. "There's a stuffed pig on the bed; that's Mr. Gordo."

Willow nodded and hurried up the stairs.

"This way," Joyce told Xander and Jesse. She led them through the kitchen and down the basement stairs. On the floor under some shelving, she indicated a large wooden trunk with heavy iron fittings. An old-fashioned padlock with an enormous keyhole held the latch closed.

"I need you to carry that up to the living room."

"Looks like a treasure chest," said Jesse. "What's in it, Spanish doubloons?"

"No such thing as Spain where I come from," said Joyce.

Xander eyed the chest dubiously. "I don't know if the two of us can lift it," he said.

Joyce sighed. "I'll see what I can do," she said. She squatted down next to the trunk and laid a hand on it. "It's been sixteen years, and I never thought I'd need to remember…okay, here goes. Ahem. Bonds of Earth, be merciful. Step lightly in our hour of toil."

A red glow suffused the chest, rippling back and forth. Joyce stood and stepped back.

"It'll weigh a lot less," she said, "but its mass hasn't changed. Or its inertia." She hurried up the stairs again.

"Huh?" Xander asked.

"Inertia," Jesse replied. "You know."

"I know what that is," Xander said. "We studied it in science class." He wrinkled his brow in confusion. "I'm sure we studied it in science class."

"It means," Jesse said patiently, "that we need to treat it as if it weighed just as much, but we were pushing it on slick ice."

"Oh," said Xander.

"In three dimensions," Jesse added.

Joyce passed Willow at the bottom of the stairs. The redhead held up the pig with a questioning look, and the older woman nodded to her. Willow went back to the living room and watched Buffy meditating, while Joyce hurried up to her own room.

On the dresser was an old jewelry box. Joyce opened it and lifted out the interior trays. Using the tip of a metal nail file, she unfastened the tiny screws in the bottom of the box. That done, she lifted the box off its base. Within the base was a shallow tray holding an engraved gold ring on a chain and a large, old-fashioned iron key. She grabbed up both and hurried downstairs.

The boys were just setting the trunk down as she entered. She dropped the ring on the table next to Mr. Gordo and unlocked the trunk with the key. Inside, packed in cloth, were a number of odds and ends, including several books and scrolls. Joyce pulled things out of the trunk and set them here and there.

"An Otherworld Mage," she said, "uses magic from a different plane than his own. Here on Earth, anyone can do that, but back home you needed a special ritual to link yourself to a specific other world."

"Hence the name," Xander guessed.

"But just because you don't have to make the link doesn't mean you can't," Joyce continued. "So…Here it is."

She pulled out a scroll and opened it. "The Otherworld Mage ritual. I packed in a hurry; I don't even know why I threw it in. Lucky thing I did."

Buffy bounced in her seat with excitement. "It's gonna work," she said. "It's gonna work. It has to work."

Joyce picked up a rectangular board marked off into painted squares, each with a different symbol on it. She set it on the table and quickly began to place objects on specific symbols, referring to the scroll at every step.

"How long?" Buffy asked.

"Don't rush me, Sonny," Joyce said. "You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles."

"Mom? You saw that movie?"

"One of my favorites. Made me nostalgic."

"I am so in awe of you right now."

"Just remember," Joyce said, "I was never a heavy hitter. This is bigger magic than I ever tried before. And I've been out of practice for sixteen years."

"You can do it," Buffy insisted.

Joyce put a small clay statuette on one square, a sealed phial of pink powder on another. Finally, she grabbed the pad of paper that she'd drawn the hexagram on and tore off the top sheet. Taking the second sheet, she folded it to the right size and covered one symbol with it.

Willow quietly picked up the page with the hexagram on it and tucked it away in a pocket.

Joyce picked up the gold ring and took it off the chain.

"Your father gave me this when he was fourteen," she said. "I was seventeen, and I still treasure it."

She put the ring on the paper square. "I'm going to renew my own link first," she said. "Make it more reliable."

She placed a hand on the clay statuette, and the other on a bronze coin.

"By this heart's token and in the name of the Shrouded Gods, I ask that a way be opened to the magic my heart seeks. Heaven to Ocean, Ocean to Earth, Earth back to Heaven; show me the path engraved by the light."

Nothing seemed to happen. Buffy's hopeful expression was just beginning to crumble when Joyce smiled.

"Like riding a bicycle," she said.

"What happened?" Willow asked.

"She did it," Jesse shrugged. "I was hoping for some pyrotechnics."

"Don't knock it," said Xander. "If it helps the girl who, lest we forget, saved all our lives, I can live without special effects."

"But something's different," Willow said. "I didn't see anything either, but something's way different."

"You can sense that?" Joyce asked sharply.

"Well, yeah."

"You haven't been studying magic?"

"I never even believed in it until tonight," Willow replied. "I wanted to study Kaballah, but Dad said I was too young. And a girl."

"No training, and you sensed the phase change? You must have a lot of potential," Joyce said. "In a regular magical world, you could have had quite a career."

"…really?" Willow asked in a quiet voice.

"Um, sorry, Willow," said Buffy, "but I'm kind of pressed for time here?"

Joyce shrugged an apology to Willow and picked up Mr. Gordo. She picked up her ring and put the pig in its place. Everyone gave her their attention, so they didn't see when Willow picked up the pad of paper and the pen. As Joyce recited the litany once more, Willow jotted it down in shorthand. She wasn't being sneaky; really. She just liked to learn stuff.

"…show me the path engraved by the light," Joyce finished.

"Oh," Buffy said. "Something's changed."

"Try it now," Joyce said, and Buffy eagerly took up her kneeling position again. She centered herself and started her breathing. Willow flipped the top page of the pad over and marked a grid on the next page, matching the board. She jotted down what was in each square.

Xander, Jesse and Joyce were watching Buffy like hawks. She took a breath, held it, expelled it, took another.

"Did she just…I dunno, flicker?" Jesse whispered to Xander.

"I think so."

And then, with another flicker, Buffy was blonde again. She opened her eyes -- green, not magenta -- and raised a hand to touch the side of her hornless head.

"Yes!" she shouted. And then, "No!" as she flickered again and was part dragon once more.

"All right," Joyce said, "don't panic. Just do it again. You won't be able to hold it for more than a few seconds at a time, not at first, but we're just getting it established as one of your abilities. In another hour or two, your new form will have set, and then you'll be able to give it a rest. Okay?"

"Okay. Mom? You're, like, a god. Really."

"Remember that next time I ground you."

Buffy laughed, delighted, and settled in to start her breathing again.

"Let's see," Joyce said. "Willow, you can have the couch. Boys, I've got a few air mattresses in the basement. Want to help me set things up?"

Rupert Giles was at home in his apartment. In bed. Asleep. Rupert Giles was no dummy.


Author Notes:

Hope you enjoyed. Not much action this chapter, but the chapter title kind of explains why.

If you don't know Dragon Half, but this fic gets you interested in checking it out, you should know that the anime is an over-the-top gonzo comedy, full of slapstick violence, D&D parodies, incompetent villains, non-sequiturs, and deliberate overuse of characters going "superdeformed" for comedic effect. Only four episodes were ever planned, and only two were ever made. The manga has a more developed storyline, but I'm a lot less familiar with it; I've only just found a scanlation site for it. I may bring details in from the manga, but I won't consider myself bound by anything that's not in the anime.

On the other hand, I'm going for a much more realistic tone than either the anime or the manga. So that means that, if I set any scenes in the Dragon Half world, I'll have to come up with rational explanations for some really stupid stuff.

I made up the stuff about imps, the Otherworld Mage bit, and all of Joyce's spells. I cribbed a couple of lines from an episode of Tenchi Muyo for the ritual, just 'cause they were so cool. But no, there's not going to be any Tenchi Muyo crossover action here.

Feedback welcome, so long as it's honest and respectful of what I'm trying to do, even if you think I failed to do it.

In Chapter Three, things should pick up again. See you soon!
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