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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 CrossoverEarnestScribblerFR131166,0492816236,50627 Aug 0819 Jan 09Yes
CoA Winner

Dancing, Drinking and a Barbecue

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 dialog. Expect that to continue.

Dancing, Drinking, and a Barbecue

"Get outta town," Buffy said.

She and Joyce were having dinner in the kitchen. Buffy had changed into her painter's overalls as soon as she got home from school, in order to "let her hair down" as she put it -- meaning she'd put aside the ring-amulet and resumed her natural form. Cascades of unruly red hair tickled her shoulders as she shook her head.

"My hand to the heavens," Joyce insisted.

"Jet engines?" Buffy repeated. "You didn't have guns, computers or fossil fuels, but you had jet engines?"

Joyce nodded. "I spent the last two years of my apprenticeship doing the housing enchantments at Ollendar's Engines."

"Mom, I'm a cheerleader, okay? And even I know you can't power a jet engine without fossil fuels."

"Trained air elementals," Joyce said archly over a forkful of Caesar salad.

"Oh, you're making this up."

"Buffy, magic in this world seems like an art more than anything else. Definitely not a science. But back home, it was a craft. And, as it turns out, it provided all kinds of technological short cuts."

"This blows my whole image of the place," Buffy confessed. "I was picturing castles, magic swords, princesses and heroes. Now I find out you had jet planes."

"Oh, we had all of those other things," Joyce replied, "and there were a few things we never thought of. Democracy came as a complete shock to me. Mass production, too."

"Not to mention rock music," Buffy said.

"No, we had rock music."

Buffy stared at Joyce with her mouth hanging open. "Okay," she finally said, "my brain is refusing to process that. I'll probably wake up at three A.M. screaming 'no way.'" She downed the last of her dinner and set her fork on the plate, her expression turning thoughtful.



"When I took off the ring, I didn't change back right away. I stayed human for about a minute, maybe a minute and a half, without even trying. But when I tried being human without it, I still reverted as soon as I stopped concentrating."

Joyce considered that, then nodded. "It makes sense. It's like sitting in a cramped chair for a few hours. You're bound to be a little stiff when you first get up. You don't want to stay stiff. Remember, the idea is to learn to do without the ring at all."

"So, it's like having hat hair?"

"That's…actually a pretty good metaphor."

"Okay, but what if something happens where I need to be like this right away? I take the ring off, and then I just have to wait?"

"No…let me should be able to use the shapechanging technique to reassume your natural form, too. Just make sure you always take the ring off first. You don't want to damage it."

"Good," Buffy nodded. She looked at her watch. "Oops, gotta run," she said. She sprang to her feet, then groaned in annoyance as the folding metal chair caught on her tail for a moment; it came up with her and then crashed to the floor. She grumbled about stupid chairs and stupid tails as she picked it up.

"You forgot, didn't you?" Joyce smirked

"Yeah. Sorry."

"Where are you off to?"

"I need to change, after I, you know, change, so I can meet the guys at the Bronze."

Joyce shook her head and began to clear the table while Buffy ran up the stairs. Once she was done, she followed her daughter-niece and stood outside her bedroom door. It was slightly ajar, and she could hear Buffy moving around behind it.

"Buffy…what do you know about this girl you told me about?"

"Just about nothing," Buffy replied. "For all I know, she wasn't at Hemery for a rescue. It might have been like a turf war or something. I mean, who rescues anyone by setting fire to the building? She knows more about what walks the earth by night than we do, but I don't want to approach her about it until we know more about her."

Joyce heard Buffy cross the room and pause by the mirror. "She fights vampires, anyway," Buffy said, "so we're just gonna stay out of her way and let her do it."

Buffy opened the bedroom door, now in her human form, and started to slip past Joyce. But the older woman stepped into her way.

"And you're wearing that?" Joyce demanded.

That consisted of a short black skirt -- one of Buffy's shortest -- and a sleeveless, backless yellow top with a collar and plunging neckline. Joyce recognized the top; it came from one of Buffy's swimsuits. Combined with the skirt, it left Buffy with a good five inches of bare midriff.

"Yeah," Buffy replied. Joyce gave her a Look -- the patented Mother's Look that usually got results.

Buffy sighed. "It's, it's a little skanky, I know, but I don't have that many options. This is the only belted thing I have with a zipper in exactly the right place for my tail, in case something happens and I have to change."

"And the top?"

"Backless," Buffy explained, "so my wings won't destroy it. It's not that bad, is it?"

Joyce sighed. "Buffy, your mother used to dress in even more revealing stuff for a shopping trip in town. But that was a different culture. Here…what are boys are going to think when they see you in that?"

Buffy bit her lip in thought. Suddenly she darted to her closet and began rummaging in the back of it.

"No," she muttered. "No, no, maybe, no…A-ha!"

She pulled out a black leather jacket and slipped it on. It had gleaming metal rivets, zipper, and even a chain at one shoulder. She checked herself out in the mirror.

"Now there," she told her mother, "is a look that says 'Back off, stud boy, if I want you I'll let you know.'"

Joyce smiled uncomfortably. "I suppose it'll do," she admitted.

"And now," Buffy announced as she slid past Joyce and descended the stairs, "final preparations." She opened one of the kitchen drawers and pulled out the first aid kit.

When Joyce caught up with her, she'd collected several foil packs of alcohol swabs and two sealed envelopes of sterile gauze. She rummaged in the kit and found a small roll of paper tape.

"I thought you weren't expecting trouble," Joyce said.

"I'm not," Buffy replied, "but if there is any, I'd sure feel stupid without this stuff." There were several zippered pockets in the swimsuit top, designed to hold flat objects without spoiling the line of the suit. She tucked the emergency items away. "Some for the guys," she added, slipping a few more things into her jacket pockets.

Joyce folded her arms and looked uncertain.

"Mom, don't worry," Buffy insisted. "It's just a precaution. Like carrying pepper spray. We're also gonna have crosses, and Jesse's bringing real honest-to-God holy water. He says he knows a guy."

Joyce sighed again, then gathered Buffy in for a hug. "You be careful," she said.

"Always," Buffy replied.

"And don't you take that jacket off for any reason," Joyce added.

Sam Zabuto and Kendra were seated at one of the library tables, poring over a map of Sunnydale as they planned out her patrol route. Giles stood nearby at the whiteboard, taking notes and erasing them as the three of them firmed up their plans. They'd had no luck finding any indications as to where the slaughter would begin, so they were designing a patrol route that would take Kendra to the most likely spots in as short a time as possible.

"You realize," Giles noted, "that unless we're enormously lucky and Kendra finds the Harvest just getting started in the first place she looks, people are going to die."

"Difficult to do anyt'ing about dat," Zabuto replied. "Dere are eleven possible sites, all across town. No way to watch dem all."

"W-we could perhaps examine some ourselves, look for signs of something amiss…"

"Our job is to maintain a command center," Zabuto reminded him. "How else are we to coordinate de information dat comes in?"

"O-of course," Giles replied. "Sorry." He turned back to the whiteboard. What information are we expecting? he mused. We've only the one field agent.

"I'm sorry, did you say somet'ing?" Zabuto asked.

"Er, no…just clearing my throat."

"Is Darla ready?" the Master asked.

"She awaits your pleasure," said the vampire he'd addressed.

"Excellent," the Master said. He turned to take his place on the raised stone dais. At the last moment, he paused.


The vampire had been about to leave, but he turned to await his Master's word. His name in life had been Larry, but the Master liked the name Colin, so that was his name now.

"It's not that I don't trust my followers…" He paused. "I don't trust my followers. The Vessel and the Vessel alone is to feed tonight. Anyone else who comes back with blood on their breath will lose an eye. Maybe two. Slowly. Understood?"

"Yes, Master," Colin said with a slight bow.

"I'm glad we had this little talk, Colin. Spread the word, will you?"

Buffy ran into Xander and Willow a block from the club, while Jesse was waiting at the door. They went inside, got sodas, and gathered at a table on the upper level. Xander handed out crosses, Jesse handed out vials of holy water, and Buffy handed out first aid stuff.

"I didn't bring anything," Willow sighed.

"You brought our most powerful weapon," Xander said. "Information."

"Are we sure this is a good idea?" Willow asked. "Coming here, knowing what we know?"

"What we know," Xander replied, "is that Sunnydale's always had vampires, and we've always come home safe from the Bronze."

"But what if tonight is different? What if there's some astral, stellar, harmonic convergence…thing?"

"Oh, c'mon," Jesse said. "What are the odds?"

"If we come here every night?" Willow pointed out. "Sooner or later, a hundred percent."

"Gee," Xander said. "I'd love to stay here and wallow in gloom and doom, but darn the luck, it's my turn to get the sodas. You guys all getting the same thing?"

"Yeah," Jesse said. "And see if you can get a plate of buffalo wings."

Giles was slowly pacing back and forth, his glasses in his hand. Sam Zabuto sat at a table, calmly reading a newspaper. Giles put his glasses back on and studied the whiteboard, with its list of possible sites.

"I'm certain we've overlooked something," he said.

"Dere's always somet'ing," Zabuto agreed. "Remember your Napoleon. 'No plan survives first contact wid de enemy.'"

Giles turned away and studied the map that showed Kendra's patrol route. By now she'd have reached the first site, the Sunnydale Theater. She'd wait there until full dark before moving on.

Suddenly, the phone in Giles' office rang. Startled, he turned to stare at the office door.

"Who'd expect you to be here at dis hour?" Zabuto asked sharply.

"Nobody on the faculty," Giles replied, "that's certain."

He entered the office and picked up the receiver. "Rupert Giles," he said.

"Where the Hell is the Slayer?" demanded the voice on the other end.


"Yeah. The Aurelians are on the move. I followed them long enough to be sure where they were going."

"What? B-but the sun hasn't quite --"

"They're using the electrical tunnels; they run under the whole town. Even better than a sewer system. And like I said, the direction they were going, they have to be making for the Bronze."

"The, um --"

"Bronze. It's an all-ages nightclub in the warehouse district. Favorite hangout for local teens."

"Teenagers," Giles breathed. They'd been looking for places where adults would congregate, but teenagers --

"Get the Slayer and get the Hell over there," Angel said, and hung up.

Giles hung up too and hurried out of his office. He grabbed up his coat and slipped it on, then opened the book cage. In the locker behind it was an array of weapons.

"I've just heard from an informant," he told Zabuto as he packed a shoulder bag full of stakes and holy water. "We did overlook something. The Harvest is going to take place at a nightclub called the Bronze."

"Is dis a trustworthy source?" Zabuto asked doubtfully, rising to his feet.

"I've no idea," Giles replied. "But his agenda, whatever it is, must include stopping the Harvest. It was his information that led me to it."

Zabuto pondered for a moment, then nodded. "Get your car," he said. He picked up their copy of Kendra's itinerary.

"Oh man," Xander said around a half-eaten chicken wing, "they really outdid themselves on the sauce tonight." He took a gulp from his drink.

"Really?" Buffy said. "They seem kinda bland to me."

"Are you kidding?" Willow demanded. "I've only had one, and it nearly took the roof off my mouth."

Buffy used a tortilla chip to scoop up some sauce from the plate, then stuck it into her mouth. She chewed contemplatively, swallowed, and sighed.

"Downside to breathing fire, I guess," she said.

Jesse stared at her, then silently pushed the plate of wings toward her. He slurped at the straw in his drink, but came up empty.

"My turn, I guess," he said.

"I've gotta…do something, too," Xander replied, and the two boys headed for the stair.

Jesse crossed the floor to the bar, where he saw a familiar figure talking to the bartender.

"Cordelia," he said. "Hi."

Cordelia turned around. "Oh, it's you," she said, rolling her eyes.

"It's great to see you," he told her.

"Wish I could say the same," she replied. "Oh, wait…no I don't."

Jesse sighed. "Look," he said, "I know I don't have the kind of money you're used to…"

"Like that would make a difference!" Cordelia snapped. "I mean, check out Jimmy Stern some time. His family's loaded, and he's a bigger dweeb than you are."

Jesse pondered this. "So…I'm not so bad after all?" he asked hopefully.

"Boy, you just never give up, do you? I could almost admire that…though not really."

Jesse bit back a reply and tried to think of something else to say. But then Cordelia's expression softened slightly.

"Actually," she said, "there is something I sorta-kinda want to talk to you about…so I guess one dance wouldn't hurt."

Jesse gasped for breath. "Really?" he asked.

"Yes, really," Cordelia said in an annoyed tone. "Come on, before I change my mind."

She led him out onto the floor as the sound system started playing a slow number.

"See, all this time," she told him as they started slow dancing, "you've been following me around like a little puppy. It was really kind of annoying. Mostly I just wanted to put you to sleep for good. But of course, I could never actually do that."

Jesse wondered where this was going. "I'm sorry," he finally said. "I guess."

"Yeah. But tonight, I see things in a whole new light."

"I don't believe it," Willow said. She pointed at the dance floor.

"Is that Jesse, dancing with…what was her name?"

"Cordelia. Just like he's wanted to for a while now. But the weird thing is, she's dancing with him."

"That's unusual?"

"Let me put it this way. If he had a terminal disease, and she were anyone but Cordelia, I might believe it was a pity dance."

Buffy pondered this. "She was at the Bronze last night, wasn't she?"


"Was she in school today?"

Buffy and Willow stared at each other in growing alarm.

"Of course I can put you to sleep for good. What was stopping me?"

Jesse was getting nervous. He tried to pull away, but Cordelia's hands, resting on his shoulders, suddenly tightened in an iron grip.

"The ironic thing," she said, "is that I realize this right when I finally have a use for you."

She shifted her face. "Junk food," she grinned.

The doors of the Bronze banged open, and a crowd of vampires piled in. At first, they didn't attract a lot of attention, but there was a murmur of alarm as some blocked the doors and others ran up the stairs to commandeer the spotlights. Darla, resplendent in her red dress and waist-length black coat, led a small group of them to the stage.

Buffy and Willow were just about to run for the stairs themselves when the lights and sound went out. The spotlights came on, illuminating Darla in full vampire face and the sign of the Vessel drawn in the Master's black blood on her forehead.

"All right," she shouted, "I want it quiet in here."

The murmuring got louder, and there were a few startled shrieks in the darkness.

"I said quiet, not loud." She pointed to a young man near the stage. "You. Come forward."

The man, a long-haired twentysomething in a military fatigue jacket, stepped forward.


"Yes, you. These people don't seem to think we mean business, so I'll just have to show them."

She reached under her jacket, brought out a .45 automatic, and shot the man through the heart. He fell over backward with a heavy thud.

"Just so you know," Darla said in the sudden, shocked silence, "I hate noise. That means the noisiest ones here will die soonest. Get that out of here," she added to one of the vampires, who nodded, picked up the corpse and slung it over his shoulder.

Darla put her pistol away. "Now," she said, "let's get started."

Giles' Citroen sputtered to a stop a short distance from the Bronze. He and his two passengers piled out and ran for the building.

"We're too late," Kendra said. "Dey've sealed de building."

"Converted warehouse," said Giles. "Easiest access will be through the roof."

Kendra glanced at Zabuto, who nodded. She slung her crossbow over one shoulder and started climbing a ladder.

"If we can get a door open, we might be able to get some of the sacrifices out," Giles said. "Every one we deny them might be the one that would have put them over the top."

"Let's look for a likely opening," Zabuto replied.

Jesse had carefully slipped one hand into his back pocket. Now he whipped out a cross, but before he could shove it in Cordelia's face, she shifted one hand from his shoulder and grabbed his wrist in a crushing vice made of undead fingers.

"Nuh uh," she said. "Last night's survivors described the ones that got away. Dunno who the firebreathing girl is, but I recognized the dweeb patrol right off. I figured you'd be packing." She tightened her grip. "Drop it."

Grimacing in pain, Jesse lost his grip on the cross, which clattered to the floor. Cordelia stomped on it, hard, and it broke.

Kendra broke a pane of glass in the skylight and reached inside. A turn of the latch and she was in. She dropped to the balcony level and crept forward.

The vampire who'd been sent out by Darla carried the man she'd shot out the main entrance to the Bronze. He slapped one of the man's legs. "You've got the part, Phil," he said. "We're off stage, so you can stop hamming it up." He slid the corpse off his shoulder and stood it up.

"She shot me right in the heart," Phil said. "You know how much that hurts?" He shifted back to vampire face.

"Best way to be convincing," the bigger vampire said. "Really cowed the lunchables."

"Damn, it still hurts," Phil complained, but the other shushed him with a gesture.

"Smell that?"

The two of them turned to look at the pair of tweed-clad men trying one of the side doors.

Willow shifted her grip on Buffy's jacket, folded in her lap. Her hand gripped Buffy's ring, still on its chain, that the blonde girl had handed to her. Buffy herself was crouched down next to the table, eyes closed and teeth on edge.

"Will, it isn't working," she whispered. "I'm still human. Why isn't it working?"

"I don't know," Willow whispered back. On stage, Darla had just finished draining the doorman. She dropped him to the stage. In the darkness, someone stifled a scream.

"Mom told me this might happen, but she said I could use the spell. And I'm trying! I'm pulling my dragon-form on as hard as I can!" She closed her eyes tighter and gritted her teeth. "It isn't working!"

"Look what we found," Phil said as he and his partner dragged Giles and Zabuto up to the stage.

"They were packing," the other vampire added, holding up a vial of holy water.

Darla smiled. "They want to join the party," she sneered. "Bring 'em on up here."

Kendra crept up behind the vampire at the spotlights. A sudden lunge, and he was dust. She looked around to get her bearings, but froze at the sight on the stage below her. The blonde vampire was latched onto Sam Zabuto's neck. His struggles were feeble at best, and then he went limp.

"Wait, no!" Willow whispered sharply. "The dragon-girl is your natural form! You shouldn't be pulling it on, you should be pulling the human form off!"

Buffy's eyes flew open and she gasped in shock at the realization. She closed her eyes and concentrated again.

Darla dropped Zabuto's corpse to the stage. "Now the other one," she said.

Giles desperately stabbed his fingers over his shoulder at the vampire's eyes. Phil responded by headbutting Giles from behind. Dazed, the librarian nevertheless turned as much as he could and started flailing at Phil's face.

Up on the balcony, Kendra turned and stabbed her stake at another vampire that was charging at her. There was a second whoosh of dust, and then she was battling with two more.

What happened next was unclear; testimony conflicted. Some said an unknown person charged across the floor at ground level. Others say it was someone who jumped off the balcony, and a few insisted it was someone swinging on a rope. The most ridiculous reports said whoever it was had a red half-cape on, that was fluttering in the breeze. Whatever the truth might have been, nobody disputed the result.

Darla had no time to prepare before she was slam-tackled off the stage, right through the painted-out window behind her. A moment later, there was a crash and a clatter from outside.

For a moment, nobody moved or made a sound. Then there was a meaty chunk sound from above, and a vampire fell off the balcony to explode into dust on the floor. Kendra dropped down a moment later to land on her feet, braced for the attack she knew was coming.

Almost every vampire in sight surged forward, including the ones who'd been guarding the doors, while the room erupted in screaming. Bar patrons began rushing for the exits.

Just in front of the stage, Cordelia shrugged at Jesse. "Waste not, want not," she said, and pulled him close. He tried to push her away, but all he could do was gasp as he felt her teeth sink into his throat.

It was Cordelia's first feeding. The rush was incredible. She lost track of everything that was going on around her, in spite of the noise and confusion.

A mistake, as it turned out; she let go of Jesse and yelled in pain as a crossbow bolt impaled her shoulder from behind. She turned to snarl at the red-clad girl on the dance floor, but Kendra was fighting off three other vampires now, and had no time to follow up the attack.

Cordelia turned and ran off without giving Jesse another thought. She didn't even notice that Xander had come up from behind and caught his friend.

Carefully lowering Jesse to the floor, Xander grabbed his wrist and looked for a pulse. Willow joined him a moment later, having managed to thread her way through the violence. She glanced up at the stage, where Rupert Giles was examining his companion.

"C'mon, Jesse, stay with me, man," Xander muttered. Then, "I've got a pulse. Jeez, it's going a mile a minute."

"What?" Willow cried, grabbing Jesse's other wrist. "Oh no. He's tachycardic from the blood loss."

"What do I do?" Xander demanded.

"Stay with him. If his heart stops, he'll need CPR. I'm gonna call 911."

Outside, Buffy swooped upward, narrowly missing the brick wall behind the Bronze. She did an aerial backflip and dropped back down to the street. Darla had used the time well; she was on her feet again and waiting.

"You again," the vampire snarled.

"Me again," Buffy agreed. She opened her mouth and blew out a blast of flame, but Darla had seen her inhaling and threw herself flat on the ground. As soon as the fire had stopped, she sprang to her feet again.

"You think you can catch me that way?" she demanded. "I'm four hundred years too old to fall for that trick."

"Yeah, I was gonna say," Buffy replied. "You are looking a little worn around the eyes."

She hunched her shoulders, set herself, and charged forward. Darla watched her coming, then executed a textbook Judo throw. Buffy yelled in dismay as she tumbled through the air, hitting a pile of empty wooden crates. They toppled over onto her; she flailed around for a moment before throwing them off and staggering out into the alley again.

She looked around, but Darla was nowhere in sight. She turned back to the look at the Bronze, hearing the sound of pandemonium within.

"Guys," she muttered, and headed for a side entrance.

"He's tachycardic," Willow said, "and his skin is cool to the touch, and he's really pale."

"We have police and ambulances on the way," the 911 operator said calmly. "But I'll alert them as to your situation. In the meantime, keep him warm and stay with him."

"Okay," Willow said, and hung up. She gasped in fright as a shape loomed up behind her, but it was Buffy.

"Who's ticky-tacky?" Buffy asked.

"Jesse," Willow replied. "He's hurt really bad." She handed Buffy her things. "Get changed and come on."

Darla slowed to a walk when she realized she wasn't being pursued. She smirked. They'd lost the Bronze, but the night was still young, and she was still the Vessel. She'd free the Master yet.

She came to an intersection between two alleys and paused.

"Who's there?" she called.

A very familiar figure, one she hadn't seen in nearly a century, stepped out of the darkness.

"Darla," said Angel. "I can't let you do this."

"Angelus," she gasped. Then her voice hardened. "What do you mean, 'let?'"

Kendra staked another vampire, and then everything was quiet. She peered warily around her. Nothing. She turned and jumped up to the stage, ignoring Buffy and her friends huddled on the floor in front of it.

"Is he dead?" she asked Giles, who was still examining Sam Zabuto's body.

"I-I'm afraid so," he told her.

She swayed for a moment before recovering her self-possession. There was another question that she had to ask.

"Will he rise again?"

"No. There's no blood residue in his mouth…no. Small mercies. And the Vessel?"

Kendra shook her head. "I've killed nine," she said. "T'ree escaped. But none had de t'ree-pointed star."

Hearing this, Buffy exchanged glances with Xander and Willow. "Oops," she whispered.

Giles took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "It's got to be found," he said. "As long as the Vessel remains at large, the world still faces the prospect of literal Armageddon." He put his glasses back on and tried to think. He'd been dazed and distracted, but…

"Try that way," he told Kendra, pointing at the shattered window behind the stage. The Slayer nodded and jumped through the opening.

Buffy looked anxiously at her friends. Willow was still getting Jesse's pulse, while Xander was using the alcohol swabs and gauze bandages Buffy had given them. The two childhood friends exchanged hard looks, and Willow nodded.

"Go," Xander told Buffy. "We've got this."

Buffy slid off her coat again and draped it over Jesse. She unfastened the chain and handed the ring-amulet to Willow. Her human form lasted long enough for her to disappear from sight once more.

Darla threw Angel across the alley into a stack of empty beer kegs.

"This is really pathetic," she said. "You should have stayed under whatever rock you crawled out of."

Angel picked himself painfully up.

"Got to admit," he grimaced, "it was cleaner that the sewers your Master likes to hide out in."

"Laugh while you can," Darla sneered. "Do you really think you can stop me?" She kicked Angel hard in the stomach, and he went down again.

"Don't have to," Angel gasped. "Just have to delay you…long enough."

Darla stepped forward and grabbed Angel's hair, pulling his head up so she could see his face. "Long enough for what?" she demanded.

Angel pointed at something behind her. "Maybe that," he chuckled painfully.

Darla dropped Angel and slowly turned to face Kendra.

"The Slayer," she murmured reverently. "Oh, this is perfect."

She backed away from Kendra into one of the alleys. Kendra followed, both of them in ready stances. They warily circled one another.

"I was worried about how long it would take," Darla said. "But when I kill you, that should put the Master over the top all by itself."

"Ye want my blood?" Kendra said coldly. "Come and take it."

"Don't mind if I do," Darla replied. She whipped out the pistol and shot Kendra in the leg.

It was the surprise, more than the searing stab of pain in her calf, that made Kendra cry out. She fell to her knees. Before she could recover, Darla ran up and kicked her hard in the head. The Slayer sprawled on her back, dazed, and Darla strode up to her, lifted her by her shirt, and slammed the pistol butt into her temple. Kendra fell to the alley floor, unconscious.

Darla stood over her, hefting the pistol.

"I should pump all of these into you," she said. "But that would be a waste. Congratulations, dear. Your death will be the death of your world."

She tossed the gun aside and bared her fangs, but before she could even bend down, she felt the impact as Buffy's elbows slammed into her back. At around fifty miles per hour.

Angel had been trying to get to his feet for one last, desperate lunge. Now he fell back against the wall of the alley across the way, unable to move. But he could still see.

Buffy realized too late that this alley was a dead end. She did a midair flip and began backpedaling with her wings, trying to slow her flight. She hit the wall feet first and bent her legs to cushion the impact, then kicked off from the wall and did a twisting somersault, to land on the dumpster at the end of the alley. She watched as Darla painfully picked herself up from the pavement.

"So that's, like, three for three," Buffy commented. "This really isn't your sport, is it?"

She stepped forward and hopped from the dumpster to the street.

"Okay," she said, "we can do this the hard way, or…actually, there's just the hard way."

Darla sneered. "I already know that flame of yours needs time to recharge," she said. "And we both know how well you don't fight. So what do you think you're going to do now?"

Buffy made a great show of pondering the question -- head tilted to one side, tapping her chin with a forefinger -- before shrugging. In a breezy, conversational tone, she said, "I guess I'll just throw a dumpster at you."

For a moment, neither moved. They stared at each other, Darla in wide-eyed apprehension, Buffy with an amused smile. Then, in the same instant, both sprang into action.

Darla spun about and sprinted for the mouth of the alley, while Buffy whirled and grabbed the corner of the dumpster. Darla didn't even slow down when she passed Kendra's unconscious form.

The dumpster outweighed Buffy by a factor of ten, but with furious wingbeats, she flew backwards about ten feet, jinked to one side, spun around and let go. The dumpster sailed through the air, spinning as it went. It caromed off one wall, showering the area below with bricks, but its spin flattened the angle of the rebound. It hit against the direction of spin at the mouth of the alley, hit the first wall again and dropped into the intersection.

Darla skidded to a halt, but too late; she slammed into the dumpster and staggered back, falling flat on her back. She was just dazed enough that she couldn't react in time when the huge mass of metal toppled over, pinning her legs to the concrete.

Buffy had landed in a crouch and watched the action. Now she cautiously straightened up and watched Darla frantically trying to pull herself out from under the dumpster. Failing that, she tried to push at it, but it wouldn't budge.

"Wow," Buffy said. "I couldn't do that on purpose in a million years."

She moved forward, pausing when she came to the unconscious Slayer. She looked at Darla again and decided that Vampire Chick wasn't going anywhere in a hurry. She knelt by Kendra and fished out the first aid supplies from her zippered pockets.

The bullet had passed cleanly through Kendra's calf muscle. As she swabbed it out, Buffy noticed that it had already stopped bleeding. She taped the gauze over the entry and exit wounds and stood. Time to finish this.

She strode forward, picking up a discarded piece of broken wood on the way. She stood over Darla and tried to think of something witty to say.

"You haven't won," Darla hissed at her. "This is only a setback. The Master will walk free, and the stars themselves will hide!"

Buffy rolled her eyes and kicked Darla in the teeth.

"I used to have a normal life," she said. "And then you vamps had to come here. You couldn't go suck on some other town." She kicked again. "Well, I hate bullies." He crouched down and punched the vampire's face. "I hate self-absorbed fashionistas who think nobody else in the world matters, and I used to be one, so I know what I'm talking about."

She suddenly grabbed Darla's hair and started slamming her head against the pavement in time to her words.

"And I really…hate…people…who try…to kill…my friends!"

She gasped out a shuddering breath and let go of the vampire's hair. "Jeez, Buffy," she told herself, "get a grip."

Darla was out like a light. Dead? No, Buffy reminded herself, they turn to dust when they die. She shifted her grip on the makeshift stake. She raised it, took a deep breath --

There was a clattering sound deeper in the alley. Startled, Buffy looked up and could see that the red-clad girl was sitting up, grabbing at debris to steady herself. Acting on reflex, Buffy dropped the stake and jumped straight up, and with a flick of her wings, kept going.

Kendra glanced around, but all was still. She pulled up her pants leg and studied the bandaged bullet wound. Turning over, she levered herself up onto her feet and limped toward the alley, pausing when she saw the dumpster to look behind her at the spot where it had been. She limped further along, pausing again at the scattering of bricks to look at the gouges in the walls. They were two floors up.

When she reached Darla, she stood looking at the star on her forehead for a moment, then lowered herself down to pick up the stake that Buffy had dropped. With one quick, decisive movement, she drove it home. Darla's body went to dust, and the dumpster dropped the remaining few inches to the pavement with a deep, loud, echoing BANG.

Kendra dropped the stake and limped around the dumpster, turning to make her way back to the Bronze. On the rooftop above, Buffy watched her go. She'd secretly follow the girl, she decided, until it was clear she'd be all right.

After they'd gone, Angel painfully picked himself up and emerged from the alley across from the dead end. He walked around to where Darla's dust was scattered across the concrete and gazed at it contemplatively. With a smile, he leaned against the wall to rest for a moment.

"Wild cards," he murmured.

Kendra entered the open space that surrounded the Bronze. There were several police cars and ambulances flashing their lights, and a small crowd of rubberneckers had formed behind a police barricade. She slowly moved up to join the latter, leaning on the barricade itself when she reached it.

In the milling crowd of survivors, she saw Rupert Giles making a statement to a police officer. He looked up and saw her. He kept talking to the officer, but his eyes were fixed on Kendra's. She nodded to him. He let out a sigh of relief and gave the officer his full attention.

Kendra turned her head and watched another scene unfold. Buffy, Willow and Xander were following a pair of EMTs. The medics had loaded Jesse onto a gurney and hooked up an IV bottle, and now they were wheeling him to the waiting ambulance. Buffy was back in human form, and was wearing both the ring and her leather jacket.

"One of you can ride in with us," the first medic said, while the other one was loading Jesse into the back. The three friends conferred for a moment, and then Xander climbed in. "See you tomorrow," he said to the girls.

Buffy put one arm around Willow's shoulder, and the two watched as the siren started up and the truck pulled away. Buffy slowly turned her head and met Kendra's eyes from across the parking lot. They stared at one another, expressionless, until Buffy shrugged.

Kendra nodded back, then turned and limped away, into the darkness.

Author's note. I looked up blood loss on Wikipedia. Tachycardia is a real condition that occurs when life-threatening amounts of blood has been lost. It can often lead to cardiac arrest.

Just a bit of verisimilitude on my part, at no extra charge to you, the reader!
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