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A Sunnydale Summer

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This story is No. 1 in the series "A Different Future". You may wish to read the series introduction first.

Summary: What happened to Cordy and Buffy the Summer after Graduation? Prequel to ‘Making the Quota’.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
BtVS/AtS Non-Crossover > GeneralCordyfanFR1310116,251119618,55431 Aug 1311 Jun 14No

Chapter Three

Summary:  What happened to Cordy and Buffy the Summer after Graduation?  Prequel to ‘Making the Quota’.

Pairings:  None at present

Disclaimer:  I don’t own Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Notes:  This is set between the third and fourth seasons of BtVS.

 

Many thanks to my beta and sounding board, Vidicon.



Cordelia’s Apartment, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

Her sorry excuse for an apartment was, as usual, stifling hot.  Air conditioning had obviously never come to this block and almost certainly never would.  Not that it would matter anyway.  Surely any air conditioning system would wind up possessed by the demon that currently lived in the shower, or whatever relative it could entice to move in.  Cordelia was certain it was a demon and not a plumbing problem - an inanimate object just couldn’t be that perverse - but she wasn’t sure how to conduct an exorcism safely.  Or at all, really.  Anyhow, at least she was living in Southern California.  Better to have an overly hot apartment with no air conditioning in summer, than one in Alaska with no heating during the winter, she decided with a shrug.

In any case, the temperature of her hovel wasn’t her current main concern.  Sunday lunch was supposed to be so much better than this, Cordelia grumbled to herself.  She stared morosely and with some distaste at her plate.  A few slices of Spam, baked beans, and a great big heap of tasteless cheap white bread as a filler, with an apple and an orange for dessert, so that she was at least getting some fresh fruit and vegetables in her diet.  Not only did it all look rather unappealing, Cordelia knew she’d still be hungry afterwards. 

Admittedly, that might not be solely, or even mainly, due to her current culinary and financial constraints.  Only a few years before, Cordelia had been exceptionally conscious of what passed her lips, with the usual preoccupation of her cheerleading peers about weight gain.  Suddenly and without warning, that had all stopped one day.  From that point, her special diet just wasn’t satisfying her appetite anymore.  Cordelia also soon discovered that she both needed a much larger plateful to fill her belly, more so than most of her contemporaries, and that it didn’t make the slightest difference to her weight or body shape.  Concerned – if that word could ever be used to describe Virginia Chase’s attitudes – that her daughter might have developed an eating disorder, Cordelia had been put through an extensive battery of tests, but the doctor could find nothing wrong.  She didn’t have worms, nor any discernible psychological issue with food, nor any kind of biochemical imbalance that might have created feelings of hunger.  Grasping at straws – and to Cordelia’s outrage – the quack had even tested her for pregnancy.  Eventually, by which time his patient had developed something approaching a needle phobia, the specialist could only suggest that she had an unusually efficient metabolism.

Cordelia, for her part, had been at pains to hide her growing appetite from the Cordettes and others.  After all, she didn’t want a reputation as someone who consumed more than a hungry hog.  At least when dating Xander Harris, she’d found a kindred hearty appetite, albeit with the embarrassing fact that she could still out-eat him.  To his credit, Xander had been entirely discreet about the whole thing, while introducing Cordelia to a host of fast and snack foods she’d never encountered.  She still drew the line at Twinkies, though.

‘Spam…  So good, it’s gone!’ the slogan on the can proclaimed.  Cordelia would have definitely taken issue with the moron who invented that one.  Right now, she was just trying to shake off mouth-watering but futile mental images of juicy steak, crisp salad, and freshly made fries.  Slabs of unnaturally pink processed meat just didn’t cut it, she grunted.

Sunday lunch in the Chase household had always seen their expert French cook produce something delicious, just as with every other meal.  Ever since she could walk, Cordelia had fond memories of Philippe, who’d always been happy to fix her a tasty snack when she needed one.  Culinary aspects aside, however, other features of the weekly family meal hadn’t been so pleasant, she recalled.  In fact, it was usually excruciating and dysfunctional, in one way or another.  Sunday was the one day of the week she was expected to eat with her parents and it was never pleasant.  If she was lucky, they’d simply ignore her.  Otherwise, the occasion was often used to criticise some aspect of her life or character at great length.  Periodically, some misdemeanour on her part – occasionally real but most often imagined – would be raised over lunch, with the promise of consequences afterwards.  Then it was a matter of making her food last as long as possible, postponing the inevitable moment when her mother or father took her upstairs for severe punishment.

On balance, being alone with a can of Spam perhaps wasn’t so bad after all, Cordelia mused wryly.  And once her new job started to pay, she might even be able to afford fresh ingredients from time to time.  She wasn’t a bad cook, though admittedly somewhat unpractised.  When she was younger, her nanny had covertly taught her a few basic dishes – Virginia Chase didn’t believe that her daughter should be learning ‘menial’ tasks – and Philippe had carried on the tradition.

In the meantime, she sighed, it was beans and Spam.  Still, at least it did contain meat and she could afford to buy it, Cordelia reminded herself, and lots of people probably lived on the stuff.  There were others who weren’t even in that happy state.  She actually surprised herself with that thought.  It was amazing the difference a change in personal circumstances could make.  At one time, Queen C wouldn’t have spared a second thought for those she’d once dismissed as ‘food stampers’.   

As she cleared her plate, down to the very last bean, Radio Sunnydale’s usual Sunday programme of light music was playing in the background.  Cordelia largely ignored it.  The radio firmly refused to be tuned to any other station – maybe an apprentice version of the shower demon had moved in - and the regular ‘One Hundred Years of Music’ programme was far from her tastes.  Today, the overly cheerful DJ was playing his usual eclectic selection, interspersed with the usual tacky local ads.  Suddenly, the next track in the mix began to play, the strains of ‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’ filling the apartment.

Cordelia could only roll her eyes towards the ceiling. “Okaaayyy…  You haven’t just made your point, now you’re beating the fricking thing to death!”

A movement abruptly caught the corner of her eye and she was out of her chair in a flash.  Another cockroach – and Cordelia was determined to exterminate every last one of them. 

“Ooohh, my very own cockroach! I shall hit it and stomp it and call it George!” The insect skittered across the bare floorboards as she single-mindedly pursued it into a corner.

“Got you now, George!” She cackled aloud, stomping down hard, to be rewarded with the usual crunching ground.

“Don’t mess with the Cordy…  It’ll always end badly,” she gleefully reminded the crushed remains, punching the air in victory, and adding a pencil mark to a piece of paper by the sink.

It wasn’t weird and freaky behaviour, Cordelia told herself firmly.  Talking to dead cockroaches and keeping score of the number she’d killed – which now stood at twenty-seven – was perfectly normal.  Besides, everyone needed a hobby.

 

1603 Revello Drive, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

“What’s the matter, honey?” Joyce asked in some concern, as a thoroughly bereft-looking Buffy sat down beside her on the porch bench, where she sat enjoying a cup of coffee.

Her daughter had been perky enough only half-an-hour ago, as they enjoyed lunch together.  Then she’d gone up to her room and now looked as though someone had set fire to Mr Gordo.

“Nothing, mom,” Buffy sighed.

“Definitely something, dear.  And I won’t ignore it or just go away, so you might as well tell me,” Joyce told her firmly.

She’d ignored Buffy’s unhappy moods too often in past, at least before knowing her daughter was the Slayer.  The results had often been disastrous – for example, when Angel lost his soul.  Even at the risk of seeming like an overly-concerned mother, Joyce swore she wouldn’t ignore the warning signs again, even if Buffy was eighteen and finished High School.  The parenting books had all stressed the importance of giving teens some space and trying not to smother them, but the guides didn’t cover having a Slayer as an only child.  Her instincts now were to wrap Buffy in a big cocoon and keep her safe.  That was obviously impracticable, but Joyce could still be there when her daughter needed her.

Buffy exhaled again and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.  Zero out ten for observation, Joyce chastised herself.  She hadn’t even noticed that Buffy had been crying.

She reached into her pocket for her packet of handkerchiefs and handed Buffy a clean tissue. “Wipe, then blow,” she automatically said.

Buffy giggled in spite of her tears as she dabbed her eyes, then blew her nose. 

“So tell me what’s upset you,” Joyce protectively wrapped an arm around Buffy’s shoulders, as her daughter leant into her.

Sensing things might get even more teary, she placed the box of tissues on her leg, within easy reach of Buffy.

“It’s dad…  He’s a jerk!” Buffy sniffed angrily.

He was a whole lot more than that, her mother thought grimly, but kept her peace as she tried to figure out what Hank had done this time.

“I’m sure you don’t mean that…” Joyce replied in reasonable tones.

She’d long since decided not to use Buffy as a weapon in the aftermath of their marital breakdown, even if the philandering bastard didn’t deserve a daughter.  Unless Buffy reached her own conclusions on the man by herself, all it did was hurt their relationship.

“I so do!  Remember how you said that I should call and see if I could go stay with him in LA for a few days over the vacation?”

“I thought it might be nice if you caught up with your father for a while, yes,” Joyce confirmed, having an uneasy feeling that she knew exactly what had happened.

Buffy was in full angry and upset pout mode. Joyce briefly pitied whatever man would have to face that look one day, but not much, because there was just so much good and wonderful about her daughter too. “He obviously didn’t think it would be nice to see his daughter!  Said that he was too busy over the summer vacation, wasn’t sure about Christmas, and… and…”

“Yes honey?” Joyce prompted.

“He said that now I’m eighteen, we needed to ‘re-evaluate our relationship’ and that we didn’t need to see each regularly now I was older,” Buffy told her.

Her mother kept quiet for the moment, pretty sure she wasn’t finished.

“Wouldn’t even chat to me on the phone…  Said that he was too busy working today.  Didn’t ask me about Graduation, if I was okay or anything.  Just ‘I’m kinda busy so could you call back another day’,” Buffy snorted. “And I know what he was busy doing.  Slayer hearing?  Pretty good even over a phone-line, mom.  I heard a woman sniggering when he said that, and whispering that he ought to come back to bed.”

For a moment, Joyce wondered if some of her daughter’s more aggressive tendencies had momentarily transferred themselves.  Because she suddenly had a very agreeable vision of Hank Summers on the floor, while she repeatedly kicked him in the face and danced a jig on his balls. Then again, it might be that Buffy’s tendencies hadn’t exactly sprung out of nowhere, as Joyce admitted she’d had such thoughts before.

“Dad didn’t even ask you if he could come to my Graduation, did he?” Buffy pointed out. “Okay, kinda glad he didn’t – with the Mayor and all – but still, it’s a dad thing to do, isn’t it?”

Part of her had known for a while that her father – the guy who’d once called her his little princess - had major personality defects.  She hadn’t, however, necessarily expected to be on the receiving end of them. Weren’t fathers supposed to dote on their daughters always? That was what happened in the movies.

“I made sure he had all the details, Buffy, but he didn’t seem at all interested at the time,” Joyce shrugged sadly.

Perhaps it was for the best that Buffy find out just how much of a bastard he father actually was, and sooner rather than later.  Nevertheless, Joyce still wasn’t about to spill the beans about all of his affairs.  Years later, it was still too personally painful and humiliating a topic.  Her big mistake had been to forgive him after the first time.  There again, until the divorce, Joyce didn’t have a clear count of the notches on his bed.  And perhaps she’d never know how many other women Hank had screwed after their marriage.

“Then I’m totally over the bastard,” Buffy growled, swearing uncharacteristically. “Him and the Spanish skank he’s screwing – I heard the accent.”

Spanish accent, Joyce noted, allowing her daughter’s potty mouth to pass for once.  Hank’s secretary had been Spanish and she’d had suspicions about the two of them in the months prior to the divorce.  Not that it mattered now.

Buffy’s face crumpled. “Dad hates me, doesn’t he!”

Joyce pulled her quietly sobbing daughter into a hug. “Your father doesn’t hate you, dear.  He’s just too selfish to have much room for anyone else in his life.  Some people would call him a narcissistic personality.”

Her urge to permanently maim her ex-husband was growing by the minute.  Buffy hadn’t had an easy year, by any standards – and Joyce would ruefully admit that she’d often been part of the problem and less of a supportive mother than she should have been at times – but the last thing her daughter needed was her father to start showing his true colours around her. 

“I’d just call him a total jerk!  And I don’t want to see him again…  Ever!” Buffy sniffled.

She hadn’t had a good year so far as guys were concerned.  First Scott Hope had dumped her, practically before they really got to know each other.  Then Giles had betrayed her during the Cruciamentum – the man she looked on almost as a replacement father.  That had been followed by Angel running off to LA.  Now her own father didn’t want anything to do with her.

Well fuck him, she didn’t say aloud, still wary of the maternal reaction.  She had her mom and didn’t need the spineless sperm donor.

Buffy squirmed in closer to her mother, who was happy just to hold her until she’d finished crying.

The tears didn’t last long.  On the scale of emotional impact, being abandoned by a parent, who’d already distanced himself by not being available, rated as quite a serious one.  She’d nonetheless had worse and refused to let her father ruin her summer vacation.

“Why don’t you go and wash your face?  Then we’ll go shopping for that crossbow…” Joyce suggested, guessing that the way to a Slayer’s heart was through her armoury.

“Can we get some ice-cream, too?  I kinda feel the need for major ice-cream right now,” Buffy asked hopefully.

“Multiple flavours,” Joyce promised, trying to ignore the consequences for her own hips by joining in a major Buffy ice-cream fest.

She also made a mental note to buy enough for a week of moping Buffy. A quick glance at her daughter made her decide that chocolate and strawberry would have to predominate.

“Then a movie tonight?”

“Not ‘Thelma and Louise’ again, even if I’m not feeling pro-guy right now,” her daughter said firmly.

Her eyes lit up. “We could watch some of those Bruce Lee tapes…”

“Whatever you want, dear,” Joyce agreed, trying not to grimace.

Watching martial arts movies with Buffy was always a trial for anyone else in the room, as the Slayer in her provided a constant professional critique of every move.  Still, if it cheered her up – and watching such movies always did – then Joyce was game for tonight.  Even if her daughter’s unbroken commentary distracted her from ogling Bruce Lee in tight leather trousers.  

As Buffy headed upstairs to wash her face and make herself presentable again, Joyce went to her desk, took out a notepad and drafted a quick letter to her lawyer, regarding substantial arrears in child support and a lack of deposits in Buffy’s college fund from one Hank Summers. She smiled slightly. There was more than one way to skin a cat, or in this case, a slippery, untrustworthy weasel. And that was an insult to weasels everywhere.

 

The Initiative Headquarters, Beneath UC Sunnydale, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

“Remember, I want to see these plans updated on a weekly basis, Agent Miller.  HSTs are unpredictable by their very nature and when this facility and our Capture Teams finally achieve full operational capability, we can’t afford to rely on outdated intelligence,” Professor Walsh told Graham Miller, as the weekly briefing came to an end.

“Ma’am,” Miller acknowledged, before leaving the room.

Walsh waited until he’d closed the door, before turning to the two remaining operatives in the room.  While her personnel had all been carefully selected for this duty and none had the slightest compunction about going after Sunnydale’s HST population, only a small number were currently privy to the SCSP, the Slayer Clone Soldier Project.  Walsh wasn’t, however, yet sure how certain of her team would react to some of her potential plans for the human classified as Subject S1/Subject Summers, so she preferred to keep things close to her chest for now.  Not as close as Project ADAM, of course, but security was never to be taken lightly.

The Professor tapped a report in front of her. “Riley, I see here that you and Agent Gates have started following Buffy Summers over the last week.”

Finn nodded. “Surveillance, ma’am.  CCTV can only tell us so much.  And as you just reminded Agent Miller, HSTs are sneaky.  And this one’s more sneaky than most.”

Besides, there were definitely worst jobs in the Initiative than trailing Buffy Summers.  And he would have preferred to spend his Sunday doing just that, rather than meeting with the Initiative Program Director.

“Not technically an HST, Riley,” Walsh reminded him. “A human mutation, perhaps, but not an HST.”

“Are we sure she isn’t an HST, ma’am?” Gates ventured. “Some of them can blend in pretty well.”

He enjoyed those surveillance missions with Finn.  And in Gates’ opinion, parts of Subject Summers were definitely in need of even closer investigation.

“We’re sure, Agent Gates,” Walsh responded with slight asperity – only momma’s boy Finn usually rated the less formal approach. “You don’t think that we might have thought about that already?  Blood samples from those times she received hospital treatment weren’t hard to obtain.  And also proved that she’s unlikely to be hiding horns and a tail under that blonde exterior…”

“Yes, ma’am,” Gates replied, while thinking that the Slayer had a very attractive tail, and wondering if he could get into the Summers girl’s files.

They might contain pictures that would feed his fantasies for a few weeks. Maybe he could convince Riley to plant a few micro cameras in her bedroom? And the bathroom, too? You could never be too careful, she might be injecting herself with something. After all, her Watcher had injected her with something to make her weak, maybe there was something to make her strong… Yeah, that might work.

Gates was distracted from pleasant thoughts about finding out if Buffy Summers was a natural blonde by Walsh’s dry voice.

“I want you to scale back your on-site surveillance.  I’m not saying that you should abandon it completely, but the Subject has a very high level of situational awareness, especially at night.  So no more daily surveillance - and if you must shadow her, do it from a reasonable distance.  I can’t have this program compromised if she blows your cover,” Walsh continued.

“We could take her if she spots us,” Finn told her.

“Could you?” the Professor sounded doubtful. “Even with your treatments, I have my doubts.  That’s one thing I’d like to test, actually, if we can persuade her to join us an ally.  How would she fare against a full Capture Team – or even two – in a practice scenario?

Analysis of CCTV footage, compared with the known abilities of some the creature types she encountered, had given Maggie a healthy respect for the Slayer’s abilities and some of her team were too arrogant by half.  This was dangerous work, after all. So hopefully, they’d lose that arrogance, before some particularly nasty HST dealt them a painful – if not fatal - lesson. It took time to select, prepare and train her teams. Not everyone reacted well to the drug regimen, or could stand the mental strain, or had the necessary ruthlessness. It would be an annoyance if she fell behind schedule because a couple of dumb-ass jocks challenged a vampire, or god forbid, the Slayer.

“Check with Surveillance Control on a nightly basis so that our sweeps don’t overlap those of Subject Summers.  I’d rather she remained oblivious to our presence for a little while longer,” Walsh added.

There was comparatively little risk of overlap.  For the present, the Capture Teams were honing their skills in an area reasonably close to the UCS Campus, whereas Buffy had a far wider-ranging patrol pattern, but one which only rarely went as far as the university.  One Slayer on foot, after all, could only cover so much in any given night.  Or week, or month, for that matter.

She paused for a moment. “I’ve also been considering your role, Riley.  Our observations suggest that the Subject is rather inexperienced with men.  To date, we’ve only observed her encounter with one William Fordham, who was terminally ill and tried to sell her to a V-type HST in exchange for being infected, her relationship with the V-type HST known as Subject A+ and another – lasting only a few weeks in her Senior Year – with one Scott Hope, which was a disaster.”

“Your point, ma’am?” Riley asked, hoping he wasn’t being replaced in this particularly attractive mission. He was really looking forward to getting up close and personal with the little blonde.

“We should perhaps take steps to ensure that Ms Summers is feeling emotionally vulnerable when you make your move.  According to your training reports, you excel at appearing as a sympathetic figure – a wholesome, trustworthy individual, caring, considerate and polite. A true gentleman, in fact…” Even Walsh almost choked on that description.

“I can play the corn-fed Iowa farm boy, if that’s what you want,” Finn confirmed. “So what do you suggest, ma’am?”

“Freshman girl?  Vulnerable to the attentions of predatory older students, the sort who’ll worm their way into her heart, but only really looking for a one-night stand,” Walsh replied, somewhat dryly, leaving the other two wondering if she’d once had personal experience of that type of guy.

“I think I know of a guy,” Gates suggested. “Sophomore, with a rep for that kinda thing - and pretty expert at charming girls.  Name of Parker Abrams.  I could pay him to…”

Some of the Agent’s contemporaries had nothing but contempt for Abrams.  Gates, however, was personally almost in awe of his ability to talk virtually any girl into the sack.

Walsh shook her head. “I don’t want any money to change hands, certainly not any money that can be traced back to someone in this team.”

Finn shrugged. “There are plenty of guys outside the Initiative, who’d be happy to bet Abrams that he wouldn’t have a hope of reaching third base with her. All it would take is one of the guys pointing at her in the right setting and the bet would be made, just like that.”

“And no doubt Mr Abrams would be happy to take their money,” the Professor nodded. “It sounds like a workable plan, though I’d also like alternatives.  Just in case Ms Summers doesn’t fall for his irresistible charms.”

Needs must, Walsh reminded herself.  Just as she was using Riley in a Honey Trap role, so she’d also play anyone else she needed to accomplish the mission.  Even if it sometimes left a bad taste in the mouth.  After all, sometimes, sacrifices had to be made in the name of scientific progress.

 

1603 Revello Drive, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

“Isn’t it pretty?” Buffy smiled beatifically, running a hand over her new toy.

“It’s disturbing, that’s what it is!” Joyce retorted, hiding a smile. “Planning on taking it to bed, honey?  I think Mister Gordo might be rather jealous…”

Her daughter was currently infatuated with her brand-new Excalibur hunting crossbow, to a degree that might be alarming to someone unacquainted with Slayers.  Joyce was gradually getting her head around Buffy’s night job-related foibles, but it nevertheless took time. Besides the horrifyingly low age at which Slayers tended to die, there was the whole package of strange new habits on top of already bewildering teenage ways.

At least now that she knew, Joyce was able to feed her daughter enough, without Buffy having to sneak extra, or buy it elsewhere. Joyce made a mental note to ask Giles if he knew, or could find out, what types of food might best suit a Slayer. She might not be happy to be the mother to a Slayer, but by God now that she knew she was, she was going to be the best possible one.

And despite being the Slayer, Buffy had the weaknesses of any teenage American girl and then some. The way she’d clung to her after the Graduation Battle was a clear sign to Joyce that Buffy was still deeply scarred, if not wounded, by all the things that had occurred in her young life since the day she became a Slayer. Including less than stellar parenting by both her and Hank.

Still, an afternoon of crossbow shopping had helped to push thoughts of errant fathers to the back of her daughter’s head, at least for the moment.  So if sleek and deadly weaponry was the way to make Buffy temporarily forget her woes, then so be it. It used to be shoes and she hadn’t thought that strange. Well, maybe a little, once the collection started to rival Imelda Marcos’.

Besides, in Joyce’s opinion, the sophisticated carbon-fibre crossbow was a seriously needed upgrade.  The Excalibur could shoot a bolt at a velocity of three hundred feet per second and had a draw-weight of over two hundred pounds.  By contrast, Buffy’s existing crossbow might as well be a home-made child’s toy with a piece of elastic scavenged from some old panties.  Joyce wasn’t an expert in such things, or anywhere near it, but she’d done a little research.  Buffy’s Council-issue bow was ridiculously low-powered and only useful at the shortest of ranges.  Even Joyce could draw the bowstring with only one hand, which suggested a pretty feeble weapon.

There had been even more powerful versions in the shop, but Buffy was happy that this one could not only deal with any vampire, but also some of the more rugged demon types, against which her previous weapon would have been utterly inadequate.  Carbon-fibre shafted bolts with broad steel heads would suffice against the latter, while she’d also purchased more traditional hardwood types to take out the bloodsuckers, and with some help from Willow Buffy didn’t doubt that she could either find a supplier online for more special bolts, or learn how to make them herself. All in all, Joyce decided, a marked improvement on the previous of affairs. 

Her eyes narrowed. Perhaps a word or two with Rupert Giles about making sure her daughter went into battle suitably equipped might not go amiss.  After all, he’d been sending her out with inadequate material for years, even if he might not have realised it.

“Mister Gordo will understand.  He’s not the jealous type,” Buffy responded, carefully rubbing away at an invisible blemish on the crossbow’s shiny black surface. “He’s a very understanding piggy.”

She could think of a dozen instances where the high-powered weapon would have been valuable.  Higher velocity meant greater penetration and a better chance of killing the bad guy with one shot, while keeping safely out of range.

“Well, when you’re tucked up in bed and getting snuggly with your new bow, just be careful you don’t roll onto one of those arrows, honey.  Might make your eyes water…” Joyce teased.

“Told you in the shop, mom.  It’s ‘bolts’ or ‘quarrels’ with a crossbow,” her daughter corrected. “They fly differently from an arrow and they’re shorter.”

“Excuse me, Master Fletcher!” Joyce rolled her eyes and chuckled. “Been hanging around Giles too long?”

“Way too long.  But a heck of a Christmas present, mom,” Buffy acknowledged, before looking thoughtful. “Heck of an expensive Christmas present, actually.  Can we afford this?”

She would have been happy with a cheaper model – anything was an improvement over the previous one – but her mother had insisted on the top-end model.

At least the sports store in Sunnydale had been closed, Mr Meyer, the owner, like so many in Sunnydale being a devout Churchgoer and it being Sunday, so they’d had to travel to nearby Glossonville, where there was also a greater choice.  The last time Buffy had been inside the Sunnydale store, it had been as a willing partner in a burglary, with Faith.  And that whole episode was one internal demon she still wasn’t ready to deal with, from the way she’d felt ignored by the others, even her mother, in favour of Faith, then how she’d treated Faith, had felt an attraction to her and finally had failed her.

“This one isn’t from Santa, honey.  That’ll be the sword, when we go shopping for one – though that might mean a trip to LA…  Anyway, this is a ‘sorry for being a bad mom’ present,” Joyce replied quietly, with a sudden pang of guilt.

She’d experienced a lot of those recently and was only beginning to address them.  Institutionalising her daughter, ignoring the reality of what was going on under her own nose, punishing Buffy for Slayer-related activities, throwing her out of the house, even if she hadn’t really meant it and had done her utmost to find her daughter once she realised she was gone. The worst might have been refusing for a while to accept the reality of Buffy’s calling even after the truth was revealed. She’d tried desperately to keep Buffy from Slaying, had even tried to cast poor Faith in the role.  Hank wasn’t the only parent who was somewhat wanting.  All Joyce could hope to do was to make some amends. She also made a mental note to go check on Faith. She knew Giles sometimes did so, but with him touring the US, an eye had to be kept on the comatose Slayer for various reasons.

“You so aren’t a bad mom!” Buffy protested, laying down the bow and putting an arm around her mother.

“If I’m not, I surely haven’t been the best over the last few years,” Joyce pointed out. “Shiny new weapons and quality time this summer can’t ever make up for that, but it’s the least I can do.”

“You’re totally forgiven, mom.  ‘Sides, not sure there’s a manual on how to be the Slayer’s mom,” Buffy squeezed her shoulder. “Heck, the one on how to be a Slayer’s Watcher is horrible and they’re supposed to have been working on that for ages!”

Unsure how to best to make her mother feel better, she decided on levity, hoping it wasn’t ill-timed.

She smirked mischievously at her mother. “But if guilt gets me weapons…  Can you beat yourself up just long enough to buy me a car?”

“You!” Joyce swatted her lightly on the leg and laughed. 

Buffy didn’t employ very sophisticated mom-management psychology, but it could be surprisingly effective, and her daughter’s grin was actually quite infectious.

“I’ll be drawing my pension before you pass a driving test, missy,” she retorted.

“Maybe.  But I so pass the Slaying test!  Can’t wait to try out baby for real,” she grinned as she patted her crossbow again.

“Far be it from me to get between a girl and her crossbow, but patrolling can wait until after we’ve eaten, honey,” her mother replied firmly. “And that’s not a licence to ‘arrow’ your food, either…”

Buffy blinked twice, got the bad joke and rolled her eyes. “Don’t give up the day job, mom. Your comedy routine needs work. But your cooking…” She patted her belly expectantly. “Your home-made meatloaf and a quart of chocolate ice-cream, followed by quality vamp Slayage for the second dessert?  Life doesn’t get much better than this.”

“Just the simple things in life, honey?” Joyce smiled.

Buffy looked wistful for a moment. “Easier that way.  Makes it harder for life – or people – to disappoint you.”

Clearly her daughter was still upset by her feckless so-called father’s attitude, Joyce realised.  Not that she expected anything else. This year and the ones before had been filled with people betraying, abandoning and deceiving Buffy. She had only barely stopped herself from making sure that there would be no more Gileses after that Cruciamentum horror, and only because Buffy had begged her to. And after being betrayed by the man who’d set himself up as her father figure, now the real one had. Now Joyce felt as bad about her daughter’s continuing loss of innocence and happiness as Buffy did herself.  Between them, there was a real danger they’d both spend the evening wallowing in assorted guilt and abandonment feelings.  That, she decided resolutely, wasn’t an option.

Still, Joyce was just about to offer a few words of encouragement when the doorbell rang. 

 

There was a time, not even so long ago, when Cordelia would have dismissed the Summers’ home as small, average and not worth talking about, and certainly not in the same league as her parents’ mansion.  Back in her heyday as Queen C, it had been one more thing she could use to highlight her obvious superiority – in every possible area – to Buffy Summers. Her short stay in the Summers’ basement with Xander during the ‘Bug-man’ incident hadn’t endeared the place to her much either.

Now both the Chase mansion and her parents were gone, while Buffy still had her mother.  A mother who, in spite of some shaky times, still obviously loved her daughter.  Which was more than Cordelia could ever have said about her own parents.  Even the Summers’ house seemed to have grown, now that she was occupying what was probably the smallest and crummiest apartment in Sunnydale.  All in all, it was enough to make an overthrown queen downright jealous.

Or at least wistful.  Buffy and Joyce might have had their issues, but Cordelia would still have given her eye-teeth for the kind of mother-daughter relationship they enjoyed.  And these days, Cordelia reflected ruefully, her eye-teeth were just about all she had left to offer anyone.  Maybe including Buffy Summers, as payment-in-kind for teaching her to fight properly. Well at least her mother had insisted on dental hygiene as well as the best dental care money could buy. Her eye teeth were probably worth a large number of self-defence classes.

She tried desperately not to grind the aforesaid teeth down to stumps at the mere thought of asking the Slayer for a favour.  They really hadn’t gelled from day one, beginning with the unpalatable and unforgiveable fact that Buffy had turned down the obvious benefits of joining the Cordettes, in favour of hanging with the nerd squad.  It had all gone downhill from there.  Not only had the Slayer’s presence in Sunnydale brought an ever-increasing degree of chaos and personal danger to Queen C’s seemingly well-ordered reign, but there were also the blonde pest’s obvious character defects to deal with.  As far as Cordelia was concerned, Buffy Summers was shallow, self-obsessed – especially where her precious Calling was concerned – whiny, sometimes bitchy, and definitely too prickly for her own good.  Not to mention having really bad taste in men and a clear inability to deal with break-ups and their emotional fall-out.  Especially when the guy was a vampire.

Barring the part about the vampire, Cordelia had to concede that others had said the same about her – usually five seconds before she turned them into sobbing wrecks with a few well-placed putdowns.  Those others were wrong, of course, while she was unquestionably right about the Slayer.  Xander had once dared to suggest that they hated each other’s guts only because they were so similar.  Alpha Female syndrome her former boyfriend had suggested, just before Cordelia raised an egg-sized bruise on his bicep and denied him broom-closet privileges for two days.  Of course, the throwaway comment about hot Cordy and Buffy lovin’ being much better than the usual snarkfest hadn’t helped his case either.  What was more, the Slayer had actually agreed with her on that occasion.

Maybe they were alike in a few ways, Cordelia reluctantly admitted.  Stubborn, not easily scared – unless something was trying to eat her head, or inflict various other most-likely lethal indignities upon her - and genetically incapable of walking away from a fight, albeit verbal in her own case, physical in Buffy’s.  Neither took any crap from anyone – including each other – and both had an undeniably excellent taste in clothes, though Cordelia was sure she had the edge there.  Especially in shoes. Quality always won over quantity.

There had been times when they tolerated each other, especially while she’d been dating Xander.  Heck, they’d even been in serious trouble together, Virginia Chase and Joyce Summers both angrily dragging their errant daughters home from Sunnydale Memorial after the fraternity snake-thing incident.

Buffy had also taken the time to visit her in the hospital after she’d been impaled.  The Slayer had, moreover, also offered a metaphorical shoulder after Xander and Cordelia’s break-up, only to have the offer bluntly rejected.  That had perhaps been a mistake, Cordelia mused, but she’d assumed that Buffy would automatically side with her two close friends.

Not that tentative attempts at support had all been one way.  When she drove Buffy home after the Cruciamentum, the weakened Slayer had been more broken-hearted than angry.  Cordelia had helped in the best way she knew how, by saying as little as possible and nodding in all the right places, while actually sympathising with her usual nemesis.  At that point, she would have been quite happy to punch Rupert Giles on his English nose.  Pain-in-the-butt Slayer or not, it had been a horrible betrayal in Cordelia’s eyes.

Then there was the Prom Queen incident.  That had started with a blazing row and a near chick-fight – which Cordelia had been so glad was confined only to the verbal level – to being hunted like animals.  Buffy had successfully returned them both to the school library, only to be ambushed by two Hillbilly vamps.  That had been Cordelia’s proudest Scooby moment, apart from staking the vamp at Graduation. 

With Buffy and Giles out cold on the library floor, she could have run for her life and left them both to be killed.  Instead, she’d pretended to be Faith and brazened it out.  The vampire might’ve been beyond an inbred moron, but he was still a vampire.  If he’d called her bluff, there was no one around to help save her neck.  Buffy didn’t, however, know the details, nor would Cordelia ever willingly tell her.  She wasn’t sure she could handle the gratitude, even if she had to admit that the life-saving record was heavily skewed the other way.

So all in all, maybe they had just enough common ground for this to work.  After all, Cordelia only wanted some basic instruction on how to protect herself from muggers and rapists, maybe some better technique on defending against random vamp attacks.  Buffy, for her part, was a walking, talking fighting machine, so who better to teach her?  Cordelia was willing to learn and she’d even keep her mouth shut – most of the time – if the Slayer agreed to help.

She also hated to admit it, but it would be nice to have some company over the summer period, and Buffy would be better than none at all. Cordelia prided herself on her independence, but she was finding evenings alone in the apartment somewhat lonely. The cockroaches weren’t much for conversation.

Cordelia was quite certain she could put her ambivalent feelings for Buffy Summers to one side.  She’d been hiding her feelings all her life, after all.  Besides, hopefully they could reach some sort of a truce.  Both had completed school and Cordelia no longer had a flock of sheep-like followers to impress. Maybe they could overcome the past and start anew. But that led to another problem.

It was explaining, or rather not explaining, her current circumstances that would be very difficult.  She simply wasn’t close enough to Buffy to admit the truth, just as she preferred most, preferably all, of Sunnydale to remain ignorant.  Cordelia was self-aware enough to know that many people would just love hearing how Queen C had finally got ‘hers’, especially with the juicy gossip about parents on the run.  The fact that Cordelia was living on a pittance, in a thoroughly unpleasant ‘roach pit, would just be the added frosting on their celebration cake. They’d probably line up along the streets and cheer.

So she’d have to lie, at least a little, which was a thoroughly unpleasant prospect.  Admittedly, Cordelia was all too aware that she’d managed a fair job of lying to herself over the years, with other people, it was different.  Blunt honesty was her trademark and her tool.  Lying to her parents had drastic consequences if she was found out, though telling the truth often wasn’t a much better option.  But now she was going to tell a few massive fibs, even if there might be a grain of truth underpinning some of them.

But she had to do this. She reached out and pressed the doorbell.

“Cordelia?” There was a mild note of surprise in Buffy’s voice as she opened the door.

“Buffy,” Cordelia acknowledged, already feeling uncomfortable. “Surprised to see me?”

“Kinda, yeah.  No vamps or demons chasing you?” The Slayer quickly glanced over the other girl’s shoulder, but the street was empty.

“Should there be?” Cordelia arched an eyebrow. “Can’t I just make a social call, with you getting all Slayer-y and suspicious?”

Buffy snorted, crossing her arms. “Answering both questions?  On the first, with your record, that’s a whopping big ‘yes’…  And on the second one?  With you, I seriously doubt the social call part.  So I’m staying with the suspicious.  And what’s the agenda?  ‘Cause don’t tell me there isn’t one…”

She did, nevertheless, step aside in the usual Sunnydale precautionary manner.  Cordelia didn’t bat an eyelid.  She’d done exactly the same back at home ever since finding out about vampires and the invitation rule, much to her parents’ displeasure.  They called it impolite, she couldn’t exactly say it was a serious matter of personal safety.

“Jeez!  No agenda…  Just a few things I kinda want to talk about, is all.  Is the not trusting people thing part of the Slayer package?” Cordelia shot back, as she stepped inside and Buffy closed the door behind her.

She’d hoped to make this civil, but there was something that just pushed her buttons when talking to the Slayer.  She also suspected the feeling was mutual, because Buffy was almost bristling.  Maybe Xander was right on his Alpha Female theory, even if he’d gotten it from Willow.

Cordelia took a breath. “Okay…  Maybe we’ll never be best friends, but High School and all the associated crap are over.  So can we maybe settle on being not enemies?”

She sniffed the air, taking in the smell of cooking, and her stomach suddenly complained.  Very loudly and obviously.

Buffy laughed as Cordelia looked sheepish and a little of the tension between them evaporated. “I’m sure we can try, Cordy.  And by the sound of your stomach, I’m guessing you haven’t eaten.  Want some dinner?  Then you can tell me what’s got you spooked enough to come calling here, on a Sunday night.”

“I’m not ‘spooked’, as you put it, Buffy.  I just – uh – need a little help with something…  If you want to help…” Cordelia ventured, almost nervously by her standards.

“And dinner sounds great,” she added, with a great deal more enthusiasm.   

“Mom!  Cordy’s here…  Can we take another one for dinner?” Buffy yelled.

Her mother’s head appeared around a doorway. “You bellowed, dear?  I really need to get that battery changed in my hearing aid…  Hello Cordelia.  You’re welcome to join us, of course.”

Joyce disappeared back into the kitchen.

“Ladylike, much?” Cordelia couldn’t resist it.

Not being ladylike had been a real no-no in the Chase household, at least in the eyes of her mother.

“Way overrated.  And outdated.  And probably sexist,” Buffy replied. “’Sides, haven’t been too keen on the whole ‘lady’ thing since that Halloween.”

 

68 Republic Avenue, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

Melody Kendall sadly gazed at their daughter’s Graduation present.  It was supposed to be a surprise for Harmony, another unicorn figurine for her collection, but not one of the cheap ceramic versions that filled her bedroom.  This one was high-quality Austrian crystal and gold, produced to order by the famed Swarovksi Company. She wondered if her daughter would ever see it.

Around her feet, the normally energetic dogs were still atypically listless, lying around the floor and occasionally emitting a human-like sigh.  They were the family’s dogs, but especially Harmony’s, and the four big Rough Collies had been thoroughly miserable ever since she disappeared.

Only Harmony could have named four unusually large – and male – pedigree Collies after My Little Pony unicorns.  Buttons, Fizzy, Galaxy and Ribbon.  Melody smiled to herself for a moment, thinking that it could have been even worse, before her eyes fell on a photograph of their daughter.

“Harmony wouldn’t have run away, would she?” Melody asked her husband, almost plaintively.

She didn’t care what foolish thing her daughter had done this time.  All would be instantly forgiven, if only she’d come back.

Charles Kendall shook his head and answered as patiently as he could.  They’d already discussed this at length and just about every possibility.  It was every parent’s nightmare.  But right now, his wife needed the comfort of a possible positive outcome.  In his view, it probably wasn’t going to happen.

“She left all her clothes here.  And her bank cards.  Besides, you know Harmony, Mel…  She wouldn’t have gotten four miles by herself,” Charles replied gently.

“Maybe she fell and hit her head… Doesn’t know who or where she is…” Melody persisted.

The Police had at first suggested that Harmony might be buried under the ruins of the school, but the other students had been at a safe distance.  Sunnydale PD, however, weren’t showing any particular interest in investigating her disappearance. Or anything at all, really, except possibly the local donut shops.

Charles sighed. “I think we both know what might have happened, Mel.  You were there, too.  Both of us running for our lives.”

The Mayor turning into a giant snake-like creature, an assault by pointed-toothed creatures that might have once been human, a student body clearly prepared to fight.  Yet to all intents and purposes, so far as the good citizens of Sunnydale were concerned – even some who’d been there – the school had been destroyed by a gas explosion.

Charles was, nevertheless, determined to uncover the truth, even if it didn’t give him the happy ending he still dreamed about.  And maybe his wife was right.  Their daughter could still be out there, perhaps hurt and confused.  Or she might walk in the door at any moment.  Until he had evidence to the contrary, he’d also hang onto that faint hope.

“I’m going to walk every inch of this town and talk to every person I see, until I find Harmony,” he promised his wife, drawing her into a close hug.

“Harmony isn’t dead, is she?” Melody’s voice quavered, close to tears.

“I don’t know, Mel…” Charles felt like crying himself.  Again.

Galaxy obviously felt the same way, as the big dog sat down at his feet and offered him a paw, the usual constantly wagging tail motionless. Buttons nosed Melody’s knee and whined softly.

 

1603 Revello Drive, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

“That was great, Mrs Summers,” Cordelia cleared every last morsel from her plate.

It had been a while since she’d enjoyed a proper, home-cooked meal that was nutritious, filling, and tasty.

“Kinda got that impression,” Buffy snickered. “I’m sure there was a pattern on that plate before you started…”

“As opposed to your own plate, dear?” Joyce pointed out, with a look that said ‘don’t tease the guest, even if you find her a pain in the neck’.

Buffy might want to abandon ladylikeness, but her mother was determined to make sure that she behaved.

“I’m a Slayer.  With great power comes great responsibility – and a great appetite, or something like that,” Buffy replied.

“And I’m a lousy cook,” Cordelia told her. “And with no cooking skills come great hunger!”

She mentally kicked herself, even as the words slipped out, having meant to ease into the whole ‘reduced circumstances’ lie.

“You and ‘cook’?  Not words I kinda think of together, Cordy.  Chase mansion, professional chef, dozens of servants…” Buffy, unfortunately, didn’t miss the slip.

“We only ever had a few servants – plus the cook,” Cordelia replied. “But things have changed a bit…  No servants right now.  My folks have sold up, moving to the East coast.  They’re on vacation now.  And I’m – obviously – not.”

Two or three lies just there, she winced to herself, wondering if Buffy would notice.  For all she knew, Slayers had an accurate lie detection system as part of the package.  And Joyce was the mother of a teenage daughter, so probably had her own skills in that area.

“And you’re all alone in that big house?” Joyce frowned.

“No, as I said, they sold up. I’m all alone in an apartment on Jeffery Street,” Cordelia responded. “My parents moved everything out and…”

“And left you here?  And Jeffery Street?  Not a nice neighbourhood, Cordy,” Buffy noted in surprise.

“It isn’t all that bad,” Cordelia offered vaguely.

It was true enough.  Parts of Jeffery Street had nice large apartments, rented by professionals.  Just that she didn’t live at that end of the street.  Another fib – partial truth – she told herself.

With an inward shrug, Cordelia jumped in with both feet. “Want to know the truth?  My parents are punishing me.  They didn’t approve of Xander.  Yeah, I know we aren’t together now, but I defied them when we were dating.  So my parents decided to teach me a lesson.  Took away my car, cut my allowance way back until I’m ready to start college, even put a lot of my clothes into storage.  I accepted an offer from Columbia, but right now I have to work over the vacation.  Dad said it wouldn’t do me any harm.  Guess he’s right, of course…”

It was both a lie and the truth.  Greg and Virginia Chase intensely disapproved of both Xander Harris and his disreputable parents and had punished their daughter harshly for ‘lowering herself’ when they first found out.  Then again on several occasions, when she defiantly continued to date him, despite the fact that they’d forbidden the relationship.  And Cordelia had decided on Columbia, just days before the IRS came calling and her world came crashing down.  She’d been eagerly anticipating a move to New York – and therefore away from her parents and the Hellmouth - and it was the just the first of many blows.

Joyce looked angry. “I don’t like to criticise your parents, dear, but that’s all very harsh and undeserved.  Apart from making you work, where I rather agree with your father…  Xander is a fine young man and at your age, trying to dictate to a daughter who she dates is rather futile.”

She glanced at Buffy, who shrugged self-consciously.  Trying to forbid her daughter from seeing Angel would have been far beyond futile, so she’d simply appealed directly to the souled vampire’s common-sense, alleged decency, and feelings for Buffy.  Fortunately, the tactic had succeeded, albeit only days before Graduation.

“That sucks!” Buffy also seemed rather annoyed

“Work isn’t so bad.  Or won’t be once I start on Monday.  Office gofer at an engineering company.  Kinda beats ‘Franks on a Stick’,” Cordelia settled on a relatively safe direction of conversation.

“I’m doing pretty much the same for mom,” Buffy told her, almost amazed that they had something in common.

“She’s even vaguely competent,” Joyce agreed.

“Hey!”

“But you can’t cook?  Or you don’t have much of a cooking budget?” Joyce continued, concerned especially about the latter.

“Tight budget, but I can cope, Mrs Summers,” Cordelia replied firmly.

Joyce suspected it might be tighter than her young visitor was admitting, or perhaps she simply didn’t know how to manage a budget, but it wasn’t her place to dig too deeply.  Still, she’d offer a lifeline, if one was needed.

“Don’t feel you have to cope alone too much, Cordelia.  You’re quite welcome to eat with us whenever you like in the evening,” Joyce offered. “It’s as easy to cook for three, as it is for two.”

Cordelia mulled that over.  It would mean more Buffy-time and also a greater risk of the truth being revealed.  Plus she really didn’t want to scrounge off Joyce and Buffy – after all, she had her pride, and though Joyce Summers made a lot more money than Cordelia did, feeding an extra hungry mouth every day might wear out her welcome pretty soon.  On the other hand, properly cooked meals and not being hungry all the time were a great temptation.  Maybe eating dinner with them every two or three days might be a workable compromise.

“Can’t help with the clothes, though,” Buffy pointed out. “Well, same size of feet, but the sharing only goes so far…”

“Clearly, so does the compassion, dear,” Joyce said dryly.

“Shoes are special,” Buffy defended herself.

“Still got enough to dress myself,” Cordelia hurriedly told them, before Joyce began offering some of her own hand-me-downs, given their similar height. And build. Cordelia rather hoped she’d be as good-looking as Joyce still was when she reached that age.

“So what’s the big ask, Cordy?” Buffy decided it was time to cut to the chase.

“I was mugged yesterday…” Cordelia began, in matter-of-fact tones.

“Are you alright?” Joyce interrupted worriedly.

She sometimes had to remind herself that while Sunnydale was a generally law-abiding town, the supernatural weren’t the only danger.

“I lost my grocery shopping.  But I wasn’t hurt,” Cordelia assured her.

Unless they counted her pride, of course.

“Have you told the police?” Joyce demanded.

Both her daughter and Cordelia let out a combined snort of derision.  Calling the Boy Scouts would have been about as useful.  And in the aftermath of the Mayor’s death, his Police Department was now in even more chaos than normal.  It was a miracle that criminals weren’t descending on the town from miles around.

“Sunnydale PD mom?  Couldn’t catch flu, let alone a mugger,” Buffy sniggered.

“She’s right, Mrs Summers.  I did manage to fight them off…” Cordelia began.

“Which was no doubt dangerous in itself, young lady!  And call me Joyce – you’re eighteen and a guest in my house, after all,” Joyce sounded concerned.

Cordelia turned to Buffy, finding herself slightly tongue-tied. “Uh – I wondered if you might – ah – teach me to fight?  Self-defence stuff, I mean?  If you want to, that is…”

Buffy made a face. “I don’t know, Cordy.  I’m kinda trained to fight and kill things that are really tough.  So what I know – even taking the Slayer stuff out of it – might be sorta like overkill for humans…”

“Just enough kill, if you ask me,” Cordelia replied darkly, thinking of her attackers.

“I’ve never trained anybody.  Willow runs a mile if you suggest anything physical -”

Cordelia snorted. 

Buffy grinned, “Okay she finds a table to hide under, and Xander always had this thing about me teaching him…  Some sort of macho thing, maybe, though not nearly as bad anymore as when I first came to Sunnydale.  And Giles will tell you, I’m so not the best example of following a training programme…” Buffy prevaricated.

Basically, she was afraid of hurting someone in training.  Giles was a Watcher and knew what to expect, but Cordelia was probably less resilient and really didn’t understand exactly what a Slayer could do – even accidentally.   

“I think it’s a great idea for both of you, Buffy.  Cordelia will learn some skills to defend herself, while you’ll have a chance to put your own training into action.  And you shouldn’t sell yourself short.  I think there’s a lot you can teach her.  Giles complained that you didn’t train enough on the research side, but that’s really his job.  He rarely complained about you avoiding the physical and combat side,” Joyce re-entered the conversation.  

“Maybe not to you, mom,” Buffy grumbled.

“It’ll also give you something to do.  You were complaining about being bored and the job won’t fill all your time,” her mother reminded her.

Buffy with an excess of energy and no outlet could be like an Energizer Bunny hooked up to a nuclear reactor. That had been true before she was called and had only worsened since.  This was a perfect opportunity to channel some of that excess Slayer energy, she decided. 

Buffy exhaled. “I suppose I could put together a programme.  Daily exercises and training sessions.  You could be my summer project…”

“’Project’?” Cordelia’s voice increased in volume and pitch. “I’m nobody’s project!  Turned into Willow Rosenberg all of a sudden?”

Buffy grinned evilly. “Yup!  My project.  We go through with this and your ass belongs to me for the Summer, Cordy.”

Joyce coughed politely. “And if you abuse your position, young lady, yours might just belong to me…”

“Not gonna happen, mom,” Buffy hurriedly assured her. “But if Cordy wants to learn?  Then she’ll learn.  Ice-packs and all. There’s no way to learn this sort of thing without taking some knocks.”

Cordelia just stared at her, slightly wide-eyed and apprehensive.  Suddenly, the reality of what it might mean to be trained by Buffy suddenly hit home.  With the bone-shattering power of a Slayer’s punch.  She fought back a childish whimper and squared her shoulders.  After all, she’d asked for this.  And she wasn’t about to back down, not in front of Buffy Summers.

“When do we start?” Cordelia met the Slayer’s challenging gaze unflinchingly.

 

Behind Sunnydale Mall, Sunnydale, California – 5th June 1999

Judy looked almost regretfully at the body as it slid to the ground and wiped her mouth with the back of a hand. Later she’d use one of the wet-wipes she’d brought to clear off the rest. He’d been so tasty, but just like candy bars, she swore the portions were getting smaller.  It was tempting to drain his girlfriend, too, but back at the crypt Baby Doll would be getting hungry and this one would be a juicy morsel and an object lesson for a growing vampire. 

The second victim was moaning as she regained consciousness, having been stunned with a quick and practiced blow.  Judy could have broken her neck, but it was better if Baby Doll learned to kill herself.  The vampiress pounced on the terrified woman, quickly gagging and securing her wrists and ankles with duct tape from her bag.  It was easier to control the food that way. She took a few moments and used the wet wipes to clear residual blood from her face, then returned to her human visage. Sometimes it was more comfortable that way.

Not that she’d have to carry the struggling victim very far.  Judy hadn’t survived in this town for fifteen years without taking certain precautions.  One of those was to avoid the favoured vampire hunting grounds, where she’d be in competition with stronger members of her species and also, since a few years previously, more open to the Slayer’s attentions.  Avoiding the same area on a regular basis was also a crucial survival strategy.  Nor did she use the sewers to move around, where other vamps and some fearsome demons lurked.  Instead, Judy owned a car, a rather battered but serviceable station-wagon, which she always parked near her hunting ground for the night.

As she dragged the feebly struggling woman to her feet, Judy sensed the nearby presence of other vampires.  Even before turning to face the potential threat, she made sure her stake was within easy reach.  Just because she made a point of avoiding other vamps, didn’t mean that she couldn’t look after herself in a fight. 

Admittedly, she’d recently been careless enough to be caught by the former Mayor’s vamp minion and coerced into taking part in that fiasco at the school.  And who the Hell wanted to help a pure demon Ascend, as likely as not to slaughter every lesser demon in Sunnydale.  Judy knew she’d been lucky to avoid dusting at the hands of the Slayer’s classmates.  One fire-tipped arrow had missed her by about half-an-inch, after all, setting ablaze the annoying vamp next to her.  Still, it had been a valuable lesson in avoiding complacency and she’d been doubly cautious ever since.

“Ooohh, tasty!  Just leave that one there.  This is our patch now, honey,” a female voice sneered.

Sunday and her gang had operated a very successful system at UCS campus for several years, preying on lonely and vulnerable freshmen and stealing their possessions as a side-line.  The campus was quieter during the Summer break however, so she’d decided to expand her area of operations back into the town itself.  Her minions – a rather pathetic bunch of losers in life and not much betters as vampires, Sunday had to admit – had of course agreed.  Even if she’d had to break a few of the lazy bastards’ arms to persuade them.

This was her first sortie into relatively unfamiliar pastures and taking a pre-wrapped meal from another vamp – and not a very impressive-looking one at that – was therefore an easy way to start.  Besides, it was two to one, so how hard could it be?

Judy turned around unhurriedly and found herself face to face with a younger vampiress with long blonde hair and still in human face, accompanied by a second vampire who’d clearly been a hippy in life, given his hairstyle, beads, and generally dope-ridden appearance.  She was singularly unimpressed and if Baby Doll ever thought about leaving the crypt in such a pathetic state, then she’d regret it.

“Sorry, but do I look the Salvation Army?  I don’t share my food,” she replied smoothly.   

“Who said anything about sharing?  Just told you, this is our spot, grandma.  So unless you wanna be drifting in the wind?  Drop the blood-bag and vamoose,” Sunday told her derisively.

“You want it?  Come and get it…” Judy shrugged, not even bothering to adopt a fighting stance, though shifting once more to her game face.

She could easily identify a comparative newbie, unpractised in fighting her own kind and unfamiliar with the area.  By rights, she ought to dust them both and reduce the competition, but maybe she’d let one of them walk away, just as a salutary lesson.  Even if the bitch had called her grandma, which admittedly annoyed Judy.  She’d only been thirty-two when she was turned and hadn’t aged a day since.

“Sippy?  Dust the bitch,” Sunday didn’t feel like exerting herself on this warm evening.

With an over-melodramatic snarl, Hippy Boy launched himself at Judy, movements slow and clumsy by vampire standards.  She simply waited until the last moment, then smoothly stepped aside, kicked him hard in the balls, then swept his legs out from under him.  One quick jab with the stake and he was dust before his face connected with the pavement.

Shocked by the sudden turn of events, Sunday switched to her game face and swung a powerful right hook towards the other vampiress’ face.  With typical vampiric speed, Judy quickly blocked the move and responded in kind, applying three quick jabs, then a brutal kick to the face.  Sunday was thrown backwards into a nearby wall, her opponent moving quickly after her.

Before the younger vampiress could regain her feet, Judy’s boot slammed repeatedly into her ribs and head.  There was no room for finesse in this type of fight and the more experienced vampire had never been a fan of anything other than a rough and ready style. 

As yet another kick from Judy broke her nose, Sunday snarled with pain and gamely tried to regain the advantage, struggling to her feet once more.  The other vampiress was already behind her, however, one arm around her throat, stake poised above the heart.

“Please don’t…” she whimpered, as her unlife flashed before her eyes.

“Can’t think of a good reason why I shouldn’t…” Judy shrugged. “You’re a disgrace to vampires everywhere.”

“I won’t bother you again!” Sunday promised, sounding more like a frightened child.

Judy laughed harshly. “Unless you toughen up sister, you won’t last long enough to see me again.  Either you’ll wind up as the fuck-toy for some serious vampire gang, or the Slayer will dust your ass.”

“What’s a Slayer?” Most vampires had that particular supernatural memory, but a few didn’t.

“Pray to the Hellmouth that you never find out, kid.  Now get out of my sight!” Judy launched a hefty kick at Sunday’s butt, sending her thoroughly cowed adversary scuttling away.

She shifted back out of her vamp features and leaned over her almost catatonic victim.  The woman, in her early twenties Judy estimated, stared back with wide, terrified brown eyes.  She was a pretty one, the vampiress admitted.  If feeding Baby Doll hadn’t been the priority, the human might have made an entertaining bed-companion, at least until Judy needed a snack. 

From a blood drinking point of view, someone slightly younger would’ve been preferable.  Still, the woman was physically fit and Judy couldn’t smell any traces of smoking, drugs or alcohol on her.  Perhaps a dissipating scent of arousal – her prey had been caught in flagrante delicto, horizontal and superimposed on the back seat of a car, when the vampiress interrupted their passion – but nothing to spoil the taste.  Anyways, she was pretty sure her Childe would enjoy this one.

Glancing quickly around to make sure there were no other vamps in the area, or marauding Slayers for that matter, Judy swept up her hapless victim in a fireman’s carry and took her back to the car.  Hopefully, within a few weeks Baby Doll would be a lot less helpless and able to join her on the hunt.  She’d doubtless be a liability at first but, with time, Judy hoped she’d eventually have a relatively accomplished hunting partner.  A pair was the ideal number, being less likely to quarrel over food and compete for leadership than those in a larger gang, while two sets of vampiric senses were better than one, both for locating prey and spotting trouble.  With luck, Baby Doll would soon repay all Judy’s investment so far.
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