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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 CrossoverEarnestScribblerFR131166,0492816236,50227 Aug 0819 Jan 09Yes
CoA Winner

Reactions, Adjustments and Preparations

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.

Whenever I write an AU fic, I like to quote or paraphrase bits of canon dialogue. Expect that to continue.

Reactions, Adjustments and Preparations

Buffy couldn't sleep. She couldn't lie on her back without constricting her wings (and her horns threatened to poke holes in the pillows anyway), and lying face down was tricky; it was always hard to get comfortable, and this time she just couldn't find the right position.

It didn't help that none of her sleeping garments were cut for someone with wings and a tail. Joyce had rummaged among the cardboard boxes in the basement and come up with an old, well-used set of paint-stained bib overalls, a bit baggy on Buffy but worn enough to be comfortable once the hole for her tail was cut.

In spite of Joyce's assurances, she still hadn't managed to stay human for even a full minute. But her mother -- in spite of what she had learned, she still thought of Aunt Joyce as "Mom" -- had finally called off the exercises at about twelve-thirty, saying that her shapeshifting ability was now solidly part of her transformation, and would only need practice.

Now it was…she peered at the bedside clock. Two-fifteen. And sleep wasn't even on the horizon. She sighed and got up. Creeping for the door, she eased it open and listened. She could see a light under the door to her mother's room, and could hear her quietly muttering incantations.

She carefully opened her window and eased herself out onto the porch roof. It was a clear night -- the stars were out, but no moon. She stood looking at the sky for a long moment, then spread her wings and jumped.

For one panicked moment, she flailed her wings and dropped, but then they caught the air and she swooped through the cone of light provided by a streetlamp. Then she was past it, a bit dazzled but gaining altitude. She hoped nobody had seen her, but they couldn't have caught more than a glimpse anyway. She held her legs straight, toes pointed, arms at her sides, and flapped her wings harder.

She wasn't tiring nearly as fast as she had when she first transformed; her mother had told her that her powers would work better now that she was magically linked to their home dimension. She grinned as she cleared the treetops and spiraled upward.

The air was crisp, and deliciously cold as it blew across her face and through her cascades of red hair. The lights of the town were laid out below her, like twinkling jewels on black velvet. It was possibly the most beautiful thing she'd ever seen.

Panting with exertion now, she stopped flapping her wings and entered a steady glide, dropping as fast as she'd risen before, headed for the ground, just about --

Uh oh. Which one of those streets was Revello Drive?

Angel stood on the roof of the movie theater, elbows resting on the concrete half-wall, gazing at the street below. It was deserted at two-thirty, but he liked the isolated feeling rooftops gave him.

He wondered again what he was doing here. Whistler had worked on him for months before finally convincing him to leave his safe and comfortable misery in the alleys of New York, but now that the Slayer was on her way to Sunnydale, he really wasn't needed any more, was he? And yet, did he really have anywhere else to go?

He sighed and walked away from the edge, hands in pockets. The Watchers had been alerted about the Harvest, the Slayer was coming…everything was falling into place. He hadn't done any fighting, or even any training, for over thirty years, so he probably couldn't help if it came to combat. That librarian probably knew more about what was coming than he did by now. His part in this was over.

Maybe… He turned back toward the street, but stayed where he was, in the shadows. He tilted his head up to gaze at the stars. It was a beautiful, clear night, and it gave him a vague sense of peace. Maybe he should just stay on this rooftop until sunrise. Get one last look at something he hadn't seen for nearly two hundred and fifty years. The world wouldn't miss him, and maybe tonight he could finally find the courage.

Something swooped over the rooftops, about a hundred feet up. No human could have spotted it, but Angel's night vision, aided by the reflected glow of the streetlights, could just make it out. A humanoid figure, dressed in some mottled clothing, with a small pair of fluttering, leathery wings. The figure circled over the town square once, then soared away.

Angel stepped out of the shadows and back to the edge of the roof, staring off in the direction where he'd lost sight of whatever it was. He'd never seen anything like it before, and he'd seen some things. Whatever it was, it was a complete wild card on the scene.

"Wild cards," he muttered. No matter how carefully any plan was set up, there could always be wild cards. Even with the Watchers on alert and the Slayer in town, something might go wrong. And if it did, then maybe, just maybe, he'd be in a position to help.

Buffy had one thing going for her. Not wanting to depend on Mom for transportation in a new town, she'd studied a map of Sunnydale, in particular memorizing routes from home to school and to the shops. And from up here, the resemblance to the map was even stronger. She took a long loop over the downtown area, got her bearings, and followed the correct street.

She glided lower, looking for the house, and there it was, the open window and the porch roof. She didn't want to make too much noise landing, so she came down in the back yard instead. She landed with an awkward thump and fell to her hands and knees, taking a minute to catch her breath before getting up.

Pulling herself to her feet, she stood for a while, just gazing at the stars. Finally, she turned and headed for the front of the house. A wing-assisted leap took her to the porch roof. From there, she crept in her window, made her way to the bed and sprawled across the pillows, still replaying the flight in her mind. Her wings ached, and so did her shoulders and back muscles. She'd had enough experience as a cheerleader to know that she'd be sore for most of the day tomorrow.

"Worth it," she whispered to herself as she drifted off into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Angel stayed on the roof, watching the stars until nearly dawn. It really was a beautiful night.

Rupert Giles finished dressing as quietly as he could. He made his way downstairs, where the air was filled with the sound of Sam Zabuto's somnolent breathing. Giles paused to regard his houseguest, asleep on the couch in the flannel pajamas he'd brought along, entwined in Giles' spare sheets.

Behind the couch, the pallet they'd brought for the Slayer was already rolled up, and the girl was nowhere to be seen. Giles quietly wrote a note for Mr. Zabuto and left it on the dinner table. Picking up his briefcase, he quietly slipped out the door.

After picking up his guests at the airport, there hadn't been much point in going back to sleep for the brief time before he had to leave for work. He'd decided instead to read for a bit and then make an early start of it. But what he'd read about the Slayer requiring far less sleep than an ordinary girl proved quite true. Kendra was in the courtyard of the apartment complex, doing katas in the early morning sunlight. She was still wearing the same clothes she'd arrived in.

"Good morning," Giles said as he closed his front door.

She broke off her exercises and bowed her head slightly. "Good morning, Sir," she said.

"I'm off to work," Giles said. "I've left breakfast on the table; cold cereal I'm afraid. Milk is in the refrigerator, and I've placed bowls and spoons on the kitchen counter."

Kendra seemed unsure what to say, but she nodded.

"So, I'll see you at around…I believe we said ten o'clock?"

"Mister Zabuto will know, Sir," Kendra replied.

"Of course. Well, feel free to use the shower before you change."

"I have no od'er clothing, Sir," Kendra replied.

At this, Giles paused, nonplussed.

"None at all?"

"No, Sir. A Slayer doesn't carry more dan is necessary."

"N-no, of course not, but one spare set of clothing is…practical. If only from the standpoint of personal hygiene…"

Kendra's expression was guarded. "Dat's for me Watcher to decide," she said.

"O-of course. I wouldn't dream of…" He noticed a large piece of cloth unrolled on the walk next to his front door. There was an array of knives and swords laid out on it.

"Were you going to do some weapons drill?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Er, this…might not be the best place for that. Too visible; it won't help your mission if the neighbors call the police. During the school day, I can close the library for an hour or two on some pretext."

Kendra considered that. "All right," she said. "I'll put dem away for now, until I can ask Mr. Zabuto what he t'inks."

"All right, then." Giles replied. "I'll see you both later on, then, and in the meantime…have a nice, erm, day."

The pleasantry seemed to baffle the Slayer; she nodded and said "T'ank you, Sir," with a vague expression. Giles felt the need to say something more, but couldn't think of anything, so he smiled awkwardly and left.

At the sound of an unfamiliar alarm clock, Willow jerked awake and wondered where she was, why she was sleeping on someone's couch and whose Yummy Sushi pajamas she was wearing. A moment later, it all came back. She took a moment to let it sink back in, then picked up Joyce's travel alarm clock from the floor and turned it off.

Jesse was stirring sleepily, but Xander was still softly snoring. Willow got up and crossed to her sleeping friend.

"Xander, get up," she said. There was no response.

"C'mon, Xander, we gotta get moving. If we hurry, we can swing by home and get a change of clothes before going to school."

Xander murmured something in his sleep, then rolled over and went on stacking Z's.

"Jesse? A little help here?"

"Look," said Jesse, "naked cheerleaders."

"Gnaah!" Xander shouted, sitting up. "Where?" He looked around frantically, only to see his friends grinning at him.

"Okay, that's playing dirty," he snarled.

Willow smacked his shoulder playfully and went up the stairs.

She paused on the landing. The door to Joyce's room was ajar, and there was a soft white light coming from it. Willow carefully pushed the door open and looked in.

Joyce was sitting cross-legged on the bed, her hands resting on her knees and her eyes closed. Her body was wrapped in a glowing aura; small motes of white light rose from her like carbonation in seltzer water. She was dressed in the same outfit she'd had on the night before.

Willow stood in the doorway, staring raptly. A hint of a joyful smile played around her lips. She stepped into the room, pulled out the chair in front of the vanity, and sat. Joyce stirred, raised her hands and pressed them together, and blew out a breath. The aura faded as the older woman opened her eyes.

"Willow! Good morning!" Joyce unfolded her legs and sprang to her feet.

"Good morning," Willow said. "Can I ask…?"

"Just a little pick-me-up. Banishing fatigue, restoring energy." Joyce leaned past Willow and checked herself out in the vanity mirror. She ran her fingers through her hair. "It's not a good idea to rely on it too often; it doesn't give you everything that sleep does. But for the occasional all-nighter, it's very useful."

She grabbed the gold ring on its chain from the vanity, tossed it in the air and caught it. "I think I overdid it a little, though. I'm kind of wired right now. Where's Buffy?"

Willow got as far as "Um…" before they heard a flushing sound from the bathroom.

"Never mind," said Joyce, "that'll be her."

In the hall, Buffy emerged from the bathroom, yawning furiously and scratching at the base of one of her horns. She was still in her overalls.

"'Morning, guys," she said.

"Good morning, sweetheart. How's it going?"

"Toilets," Buffy said gravely, "were not designed for people with tails."

"I don't think I want to know," Willow said.

"Bathroom's all yours," Buffy told her.

"Now that you mention it," Willow replied as she slipped past them.

Joyce followed Buffy back to her room, where the girl stood in front of her mirror.

"This hair is a problem," Buffy said.

"You have horns," Joyce pointed out. "And wings. Also, a tail. And you're worried about your hair?"

"It's Eighties hair, Mom. It's Eighties disco hair."

"Have you tried shifting this morning?"

Buffy sighed. "Twice," she said. "I couldn't hold it for more than thirty seconds, either time."

Joyce nodded. "It might be a year or two before you can keep it up all day," she said.

"A year? Mom, by that time --"

"Trust your Aunt Mom," Joyce said. "Don't I always take care of things?" She held up the gold chain, with the engraved ring hanging from it.

"Isn't that the ring my father gave you?"

"Yes. Easier to enchant, because I treasure it."

Buffy waited for Joyce to continue.

"It took all night, and I'll have to renew the enchantment every couple of days," Joyce said, "at least until my skills sharpen up again. But this will act as…well, think of it like a set of training wheels for your bike."

She opened the chain. "Change now, and hold it while I put this on you."

Buffy turned to the mirror, her expression completely serious for once. She took a few calming breaths, let her eyes go slack and focused her concentration. For just a moment, she couldn’t be seen, as if a sudden puff of smoke had appeared and vanished (though there wasn't any actual smoke), and then she was Normal Human Buffy. Everything was there -- the blonde hair, the green eyes, and the complete lack of dragon parts.

Joyce slipped the chain around Buffy's neck and fastened it in place.

"Okay," she said, "now relax your concentration -- but gently."

Buffy closed her eyes, relaxed, and opened them. She still looked like she had the previous morning. Slowly, tentatively, she began to smile.

"It's working," she said. She turned her back to the mirror and looked over her shoulder. The hole just above the seat was still visible, but her back was completely wingless. She flexed her shoulder blades, wincing a bit at the soreness, and admired the way her spine looked without a ridge of red scales running down it.

"Mom," Buffy said, "have I mentioned lately that you rock on toast?"

She moved in for a hug, which Joyce returned with equal fervor. They stood like that for a moment, and then Buffy began to sniffle.

"I'm not gonna be a circus freak," she sobbed. "I'm gonna be okay."

"Yes," Joyce said. "Yes you are."

They held on to each other for another minute or so while the teenager recovered her composure.

"Honey?" Joyce asked, still hugging.

"Yeah, Mom?"

"Remember when I said you'd only look fully human?"


"Well, you're not as strong now as you are in your natural form, but you're still…really strong."

"Oops!" Buffy released her mother. "Are you okay?"

"It was worth it," Joyce smiled.

Buffy was upstairs changing, while Xander and Jesse were already outside. Willow was helping Joyce load the dishwasher.

"Mrs. Summers?"

Joyce rinsed out a juice glass and handed it to the redhaired girl.

"Yes, Willow?"

"Last night…you remember you said I had…potential?"

"Oh, yes. You certainly do," Joyce replied. She gave Willow the last of the breakfast bowls. "I suppose magic has been leaking into this world long enough that being attuned to it could become a survival trait."

Willow carefully placed the bowl with the others in the top rack. "So…?"

"Sensing the phase shift when I linked myself to my homeworld's magic is very impressive, Willow. To do it without any training at all…I could never have done that; I don't think I ever met anyone back home who could."

Willow pondered this while Joyce grabbed the box of detergent and filled the washer's reservoirs.

"Do you think…" Willow began. "Do you think maybe…you could teach me?"

Joyce had just closed the dishwasher. Now she paused, her hand on the controls.

"Oh, Willow…" Joyce shook her head. "I don't know."

"Why not?"

Joyce set the dishwasher to gain time while she organized her thoughts.

"For one thing, I never made it past Journeyman. I'm not really qualified."

Willow opened her mouth to say something, but Joyce wasn't finished.

"For another, most of the magic I could teach you won't even work here, unless you linked yourself to my homeworld the way I did. And that would limit you to what little I could teach you. Just about all of the spells you'd ever find elsewhere would be pretty much useless to you."

"But, you know theory too, right? Underlying principles? How hard would it be to, to design spells if you know that?"

Joyce was about to start the dishwasher, but she broke off and faced Willow directly.

"Don't even think about it," she said. "That's Master-level work. I might be that good now, if I'd stayed home and studied."

"Even so…" Willow began, but trailed off.

Joyce started the dishwasher.

"Besides," she said, "Buffy and I are just getting started here. I have to get the gallery up and running, the household still isn't really established, and now I have to help Buffy get used to what she's become…I'm swamped."

Willow nibbled her lip, her eyes downcast. "I guess I get that," she said.

"Once things are settled down a bit…I suppose we can talk," Joyce said. "Maybe I can help you learn the magic everyone else uses here. But I really can't do anything right now. Okay?"

She touched the girl's shoulder and smiled. Willow smiled wistfully back. "Okay," she said.

Xander and Jesse waited out by Joyce's big black SUV. Xander was looking around at the houses and trees, while Jesse was leaning against the car with his arms crossed and his head lowered.

"Everything looks the same," Xander said.


"I mean, it still looks like the same world as yesterday."

"It is the same world as yesterday."

"I know, but it's not even remotely like we thought it was, you know? I can't get over how…normal it all still looks."

"Hm." Jesse still didn't look up.

"And here we are, getting ready to go to school like any other day…and at recess, we're gonna put on our rocket packs and fly to Las Vegas for the annual whale sushi festival."

Jesse continued frowning thoughtfully, until Xander's words sank in.


"Man, what's eating you, Jesse? You're staring at the curb like it owes you money."

"I'm just thinking."

"So am I, but you don't see me being all gloomy about it."

"Xand'…what the heck are we doing here?"

"Waiting for a ride to school," Xander said in his Not Getting It voice.

"Exactly," Jesse said. "We're just going about our day as if nothing happened. Xander, we've lived in Sunnydale our whole lives. Now we find out there are vampires? How long has that been going on?"

Xander shrugged. "According to Mrs. Summers, they've been here all along."

Jesse shook his head. "And we, what, didn't notice? How could we miss a thing like that?"

Xander pondered this.

"If attacks like last night were rare --"

"If, if, if. The point, Xander, is that we don't know. Neither does Mrs. S. Maybe they've been here all along. Maybe Buffy…attracted them somehow."

"Hey now. Jesse, you were there, Buffy was completely freaking. That wasn't an act."

"Not what I'm saying," Jesse insisted. "I mean, maybe just being here, she woke them up, or something. Or maybe they were sent by whoever they came to Earth to get away from. All we have is random guessing, Xander; we haven't found any evidence one way or the other."

"Found it? We haven't looked."

Jesse regarded the Summers house thoughtfully. "Maybe we should," he said.

"Yeah," Xander sighed. "You're not wrong. So what kind of info are we looking for? And where do we find it?"

"I hadn't got that far," Jesse confessed.

"That," Xander smirked, "is why you're the sidekick."

"You've got an idea?"

"C'mon," Xander said. "We've had these sorts of problems before. What do we always do when there's research to be done?"

They smiled at each other and said it together: "Let Willow do it!"

They high-fived each other.

Between the shattered walls of a buried cathedral, the assembled vampires of the Order of Aurelius stood before the raised dais on which the Master's throne sat. In accordance with their Master's command, they never showed their human faces in his presence. He stood before them on the dais and raised his arms.

"Now is the sun risen," he declaimed. "Now are we again driven underground, to skulk beneath their feet while they go about their lives uncaring. Now is the world theirs once more."

He leaned forward, and the vampires hung on his every word.

"For the very last time," he snarled.

A murmur of approval stirred the crowd.

"We have, this past night, suffered a great loss," the Master continued. "Our chosen Vessel, Luke, is dust and ashes." He paused for a moment, as if in grief. It was purely for effect. "He whose undying dedication and perseverance has brought us to this momentous day is no more."

The vampires were silent.

"But we shall not falter!" the Master cried out, and his undead audience roared in approval. "We shall complete the work he started, and create the world he will not see!"

More cheering, and a few fists were pumped into the air.

"The Harvest is this very night," the Master told them, "and behold, a new Vessel is chosen!"

He held out his hand, and Darla stepped forward from the crowd. She'd shed her Catholic schoolgirl uniform, and instead wore an elegant red dress with matching bolero jacket. Her hair was clean and styled in an elaborate bun. As the vampires cheered, she dropped into a formal curtsey.

"Master," she said. The crowd went wild. She stepped up onto the dais next to her Master and faced her public.

"Let guards be set," the Master said over the cheering, "and the rest of you, get what rest we can. The ceremony will commence just before sunset. This night, and every night thereafter, there will be blood!"

The vampires turned and ran for the exits, cheering all the while.

"Now that's how you work a crowd," the Master told Darla.

When the bell rang to end Homeroom, Buffy and her friends grabbed up their books and headed out to the hall to continue the discussion they'd been quietly carrying on in the back of the room.

"Okay," Willow said as she took more notes, "we've got the obvious stuff, police reports and so on…anything else?"

"Death by misadventure," Jesse supplied.

"Disasters," Xander added. "Animal attacks."

"Unexplained cases of anemia," Jesse continued.

"Rain of toads," said Xander.

Jesse stared at him quizzically. "Dude," he said. "Seriously?"

"I'll put it in," Willow said. "If there's a record, the search engine'll find it."

Xander turned to Buffy, who was trailing behind them and going through her shoulder bag.

"So where are you going now?"

Buffy pulled out what she'd been looking for -- her itinerary.

"Ugh," she said. "Math."

"Hey, me too," Xander said. "Mr. Heller?"

"Yeah, says here."

"Right. It's this way."

He hesitantly reached out to take her elbow, but snatched his hand back when Willow spoke.

"Oh, hey, Xander. Did you pick up that book I told you about yesterday?"

"Uh, that book was what again?"

"Theories in Trigonometry," she sighed. "By Smullian? If you hustle, you can grab a copy from the library on the way to class."

"Okay then," Buffy said as she slipped the itinerary back into her bag. "See you guys at lunch, and you can tell us what you found out. C'mon, Xander."

Xander shrugged at his friends and set off after Buffy. Willow stood watching him go with a wistful expression.

"Something on your mind?" Jesse asked. She shook herself out of her reverie.

"No, nothing," she replied. "See you later."

"I'll be there," Jesse promised as they parted ways.

Buffy and Xander chatted about nothing much until they reached the library door.

"Won't be a moment," Xander said as he started across the room toward the librarian.

Buffy nodded, glanced around the room, and suddenly froze, staring at what she saw. She took a deep breath and turned to stare at the wall for a moment. Then she tried to relax and look nonchalant as she stole another glance.

Across the room, Kendra had been sitting patiently next to Sam Zabuto as they waited for the few students in the library to leave for class. Now she felt the blonde girl's eyes on her. She looked over, puzzled, and the blonde quickly turned away and became inordinately interested in the countertop.

Kendra quietly picked up a pad of paper and a pencil from the tabletop. She jotted down a note and pushed it to Zabuto. It read: The blonde girl by the door is trying hard not to stare at me. I am not sure why. There is something strange about her; I can feel it.

Zabuto pursed his lips and read Kendra's words. After a momentary glance himself, the Watcher tore off the top page of the pad and wrote Who is the blonde girl? on the next page. He gave the page to Kendra and indicated Giles with a gesture.

Xander was coming back with the book he needed when the black girl in the dark red clothes handed a note to the librarian. While the latter studied it, Xander smiled at the girl.

"Hel-lo," he said. "I haven't seen you before; did you just transfer in?"

Kendra tensed like a rabbit that can hear hounds baying. "I-I…" she said. "No. I, I am not a student here."

"And what a charming accent you have," Xander smiled. Buffy rolled her eyes and made urgent beckoning gestures to him.

"Is that the book you needed?" Giles interrupted.

"Oh, yeah," Xander said. He handed it over, and Giles quickly scanned it while Kendra turned away and moved to her seat. As she sat down, she glanced over at Buffy again, but the blonde girl was preoccupied with trying to get Xander to hurry.

"And you, miss?" Giles said to Buffy. "May I help you?"

"What? Me? No, no, I got all the books I need yesterday. I'm just here with Xa-- with my friend. We have math class together. Which we need to go to now."

She grabbed Xander's arm and pulled him out the door.

"So what was that all about?" Xander asked her once they'd returned to the hallway. "I can't talk to a pretty girl? Were we, dare I say it, jealous?"

"Grow up, Xander," Buffy hissed. "That was her, I swear."


"Hemery High? The girl that was fighting the…" she glanced around. "You know, the 'biker gang?'"

"You mean the…Ooohhhh. But, that's a good thing, isn't it? It means she's here to help. We should talk to her."

"I'm not sure what it means," Buffy said, "but she might have questions I can't answer. I kinda go bump in the night myself, these days, and you didn't see her fight, Xander. Even if she's one of the good guys…she's scary."

Giles was in his office, going through one of the drawers.

"I remember getting a full set of books for a new student yesterday," he said. "Let me see…yes, here it is. Buffy Summers." He turned to the Slayer. "I can request her files from Student Records if it's important. But we have got an awful lot on our plate at the moment."

He and Kendra watched Zabuto ponder the question. After a bit, the senior Watcher waved a hand in the air.

"You're right," he said. "We have to deal wit' de Harvest first. But let's not forget de name of Buffy Summers." He led the other two out into the main library, turned to the whiteboard that Giles had set up and picked up the marker.

"Let's review what we already know."

"Huh," Willow said, her expression thoughtful.

Her friends waited for more, but it didn't come. The four of them were sitting alone at one of the tables in the cafeteria. They'd finished off their lunches, and Willow had spread her research notes out in front of them while Buffy told them about the girl in the library.

"Huh, good, or huh, bad?" Buffy finally asked.

"Oh. I was just wondering. One of the online sources I found mentioned some ancient legends of a race of warrior women who hunt vampires. It was a fourth- or fifth-hand account, a someone-told-me-they-heard-a-story-about kind of thing."

"One of the reliable sources?" Jesse asked.

"No, not really."

"How could you tell what was reliable and what wasn't?" Xander asked.

"Well," Willow replied, "if a source said vampires go poof into dust when you kill them, I figured they were more likely to be right about other stuff too."

"So did you find any weaknesses?"

"The usual. Sunlight, stakes, crosses, holy water." She smiled at Buffy. "Fire."

"Which I've got plenty of," Buffy nodded.

"You've got fire to burn," said Xander.

"Plus, they do that thing where they can't enter a house unless they're invited. The book recommends just stepping back from the open door and waiting when people ask to come in."

"Why crosses, though?" Xander asked. "Does this mean Pastor Donovan is right? Do we need to start going to Sunday school? Are you gonna convert?"

Willow shook her head. "It doesn't seem to have anything to do with religion," she said. "Crosses scare and burn them even when nobody's holding them. This one book I found says that crosses were an ancient pagan symbol for the sun, thousands of years before the Crucifiction."

"Right," Buffy said. "And vampires don't do sun."

"And holy water?" Jesse asked.

"That one's a mystery, but the theory is that the holy water ritual is actually an enchantment spell with a lot of bells and whistles attached to it to hide the fact."

"So they've been around for centuries," Jesse said. "That tracks with what Mrs. S was telling us. What about the history? Especially local history."

Willow sighed. "Better stand up," she said. "After I tell you, you're gonna need to sit down."

"That bad?" Buffy asked nervously.

"Well, the early Spanish settlers called this area 'Boca Del Infierno.'"

"Flaming Bouquet?" Buffy guessed.

"Try Mouth of Hell," Jesse replied.

"Jesse's taking Spanish," Willow explained. "And, and things have been strange here since before the town was founded. You know the average number of cemeteries for a town this size? Three or four. Sunnydale has seventeen."

"How did anyone not notice this?" Xander asked after they'd all let that sink in.

"Did you notice?" Jesse asked.

"Well…who goes around counting cemeteries?"

"That's how."

"And I checked the death statistics? The per capita death rate from misadventure is around three times what it is in New York City. Think about that for a second. New York City."

"No wonder you can still afford a house in Sunnydale," Xander muttered.

"But, actually, that's only at peak times. It kinda comes and goes. Most years, it's less than that."

Jesse thought hard.

"So it's low-key enough that it stays under most people's radar," he said. "I guess people can go their whole lives without ever realizing what's going on, which means…you just have to know what precautions to take."

"Carry a cross," Xander added.

"And holy water," Jesse nodded.

"Learn to carve stakes," Buffy contributed.

"Get to be friends with a girl who's part dragon," Willow smiled.

"Here it is," Kendra said. She held open the volume of Dramius to a page that included a woodcut. The illustration was of a three-pointed star. "De symbol of de Vessel."

"All right," Giles said. "That will help. But we still don't know where the mass slaughter is to take place. And I confess, I'm at a loss."

Zabuto erased the whiteboard and picked up the marker.

"De Vessel will be de only one feeding, and dat will take time," he said. "So dey need access to a large number of humans, ey? And if dey don't have to chase dem down, so much de better for dem."

"So, a place where they can keep their victims confined," Giles replied.

"A large space, wit' entrances dey can guard," Kendra added. "But wit' as few places to hide as dey can find. So de interior space should be open."

"And with as large a crowd as possible already there," Giles added, "so not a place that only sees use during the day, such as a school."

"But such places are less likely to attract notice at night, if dey use dem," Zabuto countered, "so we can't rule dem out just yet."

He finished his list of criteria.

"Mister Giles, you're de Watcher on scene. How many places do you know dat fit dis description?"

Giles studied the list.

"Several, I'm afraid. Several that I know of. And there may be some that I don't."

Zabuto sighed. "Make a list," he said. "Den Kendra and I will explore de town during de day. We may see some places to add to it. Before sunset, we'll have to check dem all. And check dem again after, unless we find somet'ing on de first pass."

Zabuto turned to Kendra. "Best take a nap," he said. "It's going to be a long afternoon, and a long night afterwards."

School was letting out for the day. Amid the general chaos, Buffy and her friends wove through the milling crowd, slipped between parked school buses, and crossed the driveway.

"So, if we take precautions," Xander said, "doesn't that mean we can still go to the Bronze?"

"Are you nuts?" Willow demanded.

"It's worth considering," Jesse told her. "It's kind of a defiant thing -- take back the night and stuff."

Willow mentally reviewed what she'd read. "Thing is, we haven't actually tried out any of the stuff from the books. I mean, I think I know what's what, but what if some author a hundred years ago got it wrong?"

"That's what we have Buffy for," Xander said. "She's not just anyone. She's Buff the Magic--"

"I can hurt you," Buffy pointed out.

"Um, yeah," Xander finished. "Anyway, they didn't jump us until we wandered off by ourselves, right? They should stay clear of the Bronze itself."

"And if there's a badass vampire hunter in town," Jesse added, "they'd want to keep a low profile."

"And it is Friday night," Willow admitted. "No cover. It's what we've been doing since forever."

Buffy nodded. "Guys, it's a plan. We get there by sunset at the latest, we don't leave the building and stay in sight of each other the whole time we're there, and then I walk you all home. We should be fine. We'll have a nice, safe, fun evening at the Bronze."

Buffy, like her mother before her, is a lousy fortune teller.

This took a while. I was having trouble finding Jesse's character. At first, he came out all paranoid, and I didn't like him that way. Then you couldn't tell him apart from Xander, and that didn't work either. I rescued him on an impulse, and I'm still not sure what to do with him.

The next chapter might take even longer I'm afraid -- Real Life is being a bear just now. I apologize in advance, and will at least try not to let it sit for too long.
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