To Be In Your Shoes

by diannelamerc
Copyright 1998

TYKs to my betareaders, Kiki and Perri, who both came up with completely different ways to expand it and clarify it and... well, generally make me do a whole lot more writing. :) Sorry, Perri, for not doing all the missing scenes you want. Hope the ending is clearer, Kiki. They, of course, are not responsible for any of the things Chase and I got up to.

Feedback is most appreciated.

Chris now wants me to do Dark Age. Cordy wants me to do BBB and most of the rest of second season.

*I* want a nap! :-p

The new school year started out exactly like the one before it had, which was quite a relief after the whole mess about the way Sophomore year ended.

I mean, I was gone right after prom. Three days after the... the weirdness and all... I was on a plane bound for St. Croix. Or so I'd been _told_....

"It was a nightmare-- a total nightmare!" I was walking with Heather and Veronica down the steps outside the science building, heading for English III. "I mean they promised me they'd take me to St. Croix and then they just decide to go to Tuscany?" The sun was bright, the day was clear, and all the weirdness of Prom Night seemed a million years ago. "Art and buildings? I was totally beachless for a month and a half. _No one_ has suffered like I have suffered."

Heather and Veronica kept up with me, hanging on every word. It felt good. _Normal._ After, well, _everything_, I had worried that things might never be normal again. "Of course, I think that that kind of adversity builds character. Well, then I thought: I already have a lot of character. Is it possible to have too much character?"

And, as they trailed along after me, I realized that I was still Cordelia Chase, Queen of Sunnydale High. It was the start of Junior year, Senior guys were everywhere, and all was right with the world....

But somehow I resented it.


The next day I finally ran into them.

Not that I was, like, looking forward to it or anything. I mean they may have saved the world from vampires and whatever that _thing_ in the library floor was, but that was last Spring, and they are still just about the biggest losers Sunnydale has to offer....

"Oh look! It's the Three Musketeers."

They exchanged slightly startled, slightly confused glances. Maybe they were surprised that I was talking to them at all. I was a bit surprised myself. But then again, I mean if the world's going to end again or something soon, I want to know, right?

Buffy was the first to speak. "Was that an insult?"

"Kinda lacked punch," Harris agreed.

"The Three Musketeers were cool," Willow offered in her helpful little way.

Oh. Yeah. That had fallen pretty flat. Nice entrance, Chase. "I see your point."

Meaning to be less-than-helpful as usual, Xander offered: "I would have gone with 'Stooges'."

Yeah, right, whatever. Was I losing my touch? Something more to blame on stupid Tuscany. "Well, I just meant that you guys always hang out together." Time to re-take control of the situation. "So," I couldn't help acting like I really wanted to know, "Did you guys fight any demons this summer?"

Willow's eyes immediately did that way wide-open thing. "Uh, yes," she said, much too loudly, looking quickly around us, "Our own personal demons!"

_Excuse_ me?

Xander, as always, jumped right in with her, babbling away: "Uh... such as... as lust... and um... thrift!"

I couldn't help but agree with Buffy, God help me: "I would have to go with 'Stooges' also."

I'm sorry, but I knew _exactly_ what I'd seen. And I refused to feel weird or anything, because *I* wasn't the one acting like I'd gone completely whacko here. "What are you guys talking about?" Were they, like, repressing or something? "I'm talking about big squiggly demons that came from the ground."

No response. Heather's analyst was always talking to her about repressing things, and it's not like these guys couldn't do with some serious therapy. I tried again: "Remember? Prom night? With all the vampires!"

That seemed to ring _some_ bell at least, because Buffy finally spoke up, "Cordelia, your mouth is open, sound is coming from it. This is never good."

Oh, and I really care what _you_ think, Freak-Girl. Xander moved then, grabbing me by the arm. I let him pull me off to the side, where he dropped his voice a bit. "No, see we can't mention that stuff in front of other people-- Buffy being the Slayer and all."

Oh, so that was their problem?

"You haven't been talking about our little adventure all summer, have you?" Willow asked with all that sincere worry she was so good at.

Were they for _real_? "Are you nuts? Do you think I would tell people that I spent the whole evening with _you_?" I worked long and hard for my reputation in this town. Why would I go and trash it now? As if! I mean, it's not like the world actually _ended_, you know.

"Besides, it was all so creepy, that Master guy, all the screaming...." And it was. I didn't even realize until right then how good it felt just to be able to say that to someone, after the whole summer of acting like nothing happened at all. I mean, _something_ happened. People died, you know. _Kevin_ died.... "I don't even like to think about it."

It had to be even worse for Buffy though. After all, she was the one who had to do all the work. It could have been me, you know. No, seriously! Buffy said she used to be popular, like me. She was even Homecoming Queen. Sure, that was in _L.A._, and all, but still. She used to have a reputation to care about too. And even if she didn't anymore, I didn't want her thinking I was just going to blab things about her to everyone. I turned directly to her. "So your secret's safe with me."

She gave a little half-smile. "Well, that works out great: You won't tell anyone that I'm the Slayer, and I won't tell anyone you're a moron." And she was gone.



It's not like I _cared_ or anything. I mean, I said that already, right? I don't know why I even bothered....

"Now _that_ was a a good insult," Xander said, sounding a bit surprised himself.

"A little _too_ good," Willow agreed.

At least I wasn't the only one thinking the bitch-queen 'tude was a bit much. "What's up with her?"

Xander just followed after her, playing faithful puppy dog to the end. Willow at least acknowledged me with a helpless shrug, before following him.

Whatever. I had a stupid History quiz anyway. Like studying all these dead people was going to deeply change my life or something....


The next time I saw her was at the Bronze that night. They'd gotten Cibo Matto to play. Their music's pretty lame sometimes, but they're very cool this week, so I had to be there. And it's not as if there was anywhere else in Sunnydale worth being.

Besides, it was the first real night of the semester. The girls hadn't shown yet, so I was out on the floor by myself, making myself visible, checking out a few senior guys, when I saw her.

The bit in the hall that afternoon hadn't just been a Midol moment. She came down onto the floor with attitude and to _spare_. I think that was the first time I really believed she could have been Ms. Popularity once upon a time... in a galaxy really far away....

As soon as those stacked heels touched the dance floor, Angel appeared like magic from the direction of the bar and headed towards her. I hadn't even seen him, or believe me, I would not have wasted the chance. But it was as though this cool, gorgeous hunk of a college guy materialized out of the air just to be with her.

Life is _so_ unfair.

Well she definitely had the attitude down, I could see it from where I stood, even if I couldn't hear what they were saying. She looked like she would have ducked him completely if she'd seen him sooner. Everything about her made it clear she was giving him the total "get over yourself, I _so_ do not care" brush-off routine. I should know, I've done it enough myself, right? It's what you pull on total jerks. Guys who are too high on themselves, too confident, to damned stuck up to realize what they've got. Guys who won't get the picture any other way, so you draw out it for them. You rub it in their face good, so that they'll realize exactly what they're missing. Then, when they come begging and crawling back, you decide whether you feel like forgiving them or not.

But I couldn't figure out what she was doing, as she stalked off past me, not even looking up, and leaving him in the dust. Angel obviously still cared about her, one look at his face as she walked away and you could see he already knew what he had. And it's not like he's a bad catch either. So what's up with the slap' em down and walk away routine? Something was definitely whacked.

And believe me, living in this little podunk monsterville I've really learned to know whacked when I see it.

She headed straight over to the table Willow and Xander had staked out earlier, and Xander, of course, jumped right up at her approach like a trained poodle. If he was any more excited he would have licked her face. Still, Willow looked happy to see her too... for the first few seconds. They knew something was up, because they both looked over to where Angel stood, radiating frustration, but I don't think either of them saw it coming.

I did. It matched the way she'd been acting since the moment she walked in. Dis the boyfriend and leave him standing, then rub it in by draping yourself all over some other poor shmoe. It made perfect sense. But I still didn't believe she'd do it.

She did-- dragged Xander right out onto the dance floor, leaving Willow sitting there alone, eyes wide and disbelieving. Then she started to dance. She certainly had the moves, I had to give her that. After the first few seconds I was surprised the guy could still manage to breathe out there. Buffy was putting everything into her little seducto-dance, but the show was clearly not just for her partner. Neither Angel nor Willow could take their eyes off the couple. They were both in shock-- Willow's hurt and disbelieving, Angel's like Buffy had ripped his heart right out. I actually felt kinda sorry for them.

The song just went on and on, and so did her dance. Even Xander knew something was wrong, you could see it in his face. Somehow he was managing to keep his head, even with his own private fantasy wrapping herself around him. You had to almost admire that, you know....

Then Buffy leaned in right up against him, whispering in his ear, sliding behind him.... And she was gone. Just left him standing there, shell-shocked, in the middle of the Bronze. Damn, she was good. She strutted right out, grabbing her jacket from the table without even looking up at Willow, or at Angel as she passed him heading straight for the door.

Xander was still standing there; she'd done nothing but use him as a little prop in her game, and he knew it. Willow looked like she was about to cry and Angel looked like he wanted to hit someone. But no one was moving.

Except me.

I still don't know why I did it, but I was suddenly mad. _Furious_. How could she hurt them all like that? Did she think that real friends, even the geekoid friends she had, were so easy to come by? How _dare_ she have friends who cared about her like that and treat them like they meant nothing?

I must have moved faster than I thought, because as I stepped out into the cool evening and let the Bronze's door slam shut on the music and people behind me, she was still in sight.


She stopped, but didn't turn around. Which was good, because I didn't know what to say. I didn't know if I was angry or jealous or upset or hurt or....

"You're really campaigning for Bitch of the Year, aren't you?"

At that she turned around and gave a tight little smile. "As defending champion are you nervous?"

Suddenly I was able to match her smile. Here I'd been worrying like I actually cared. But I didn't, right? "I can hold my own." Go ahead, Buffy, fight on _my_ turf. Do you think I've lasted as most popular girl in school since the fourth grade without being able to match anyone in snark and attitude in a bitch- fight?

I started walking towards her. "You know, we've never really been close, which is nice, 'cause I don't really like you all that much." And I didn't. I _don't_. She didn't flinch at that; I didn't expect her to. "But you have, on occasion, saved the world and stuff. So let me do you a favor."

She looked properly unimpressed. "And this great favor is...?"

For some reason, I was getting annoyed again. "I'm going to give you some advice: Get over it."

That made her blink. "Excuse me?"

You heard me, Little Miss I've-Got-It-All-And-I-Don't-Care. "Whatever is causing the Joan Collins 'tude, deal with it. Embrace the pain, spank your inner moppet, whatever, but get over it." If Buffy couldn't see what she had, what she was just throwing away with both hands, _I_ could. "'Cause pretty soon you're not going to even have the loser friends you've got now." The ones I'll never _have_, dammit.

Her face turned ice cold at that point. "I think it's about time you start minding your own business."

Oh _fine_. What the hell was I thinking? She was right. After all, what did I care anyway? Anyone this dumb deserved to lose it all. "It's long past."

At that, Buffy turned away, pulling up the hood of her jacket as if to block me out. "Nighty-night!" No response. Good. Her loss was my gain. If she didn't want him.... "I'll just see if Angel feels like dancing!"

The words were hardly out of my mouth before a cold, dead hand with the worst manicure I'd seen in recent memory grabbed me across the mouth. I struggled, but there were two of them and they were strong. Even folding at the knees and making them drag me didn't slow them any. I was being kidnapped by God-knows-what twenty feet from the damned Slayer and I couldn't even scream.

They pushed me in a door and down some steps, still keeping up the choke hold across my throat, until suddenly they shoved me forward into the near-darkness. Before I even caught myself they were gone, back up the stairs, closing the door behind them.

Now what? They hadn't killed me, they hadn't even hurt me. I tried not to think of my Uncle Brent's deep-freeze, where he kept the deer he'd hunted at his cabin so they'd be handy for eating all the rest of the year.... Suddenly my foot hit something. It was a *hand*.

It only took a second to realize that it was part of a whole body lying there on the floor, which saved me from making a complete screaming idiot of myself. I vowed right then and there that I was never going to another horror movie ever again as long as I lived, no matter _how_ cute my date was. Leaning down, I cleared the dark hair away from the face and realized....

"Miss Calendar? Oh God, Miss Calendar?"

She was still alive, thank God-- for a moment I thought I'd been locked up with a corpse! But she might as well be dead for all the help she was. She was out cold, knocked on the head or drugged or whatever, I didn't know, but after a few minutes of shaking her-- O.K., so I slapped her once too. So tell Snyder on me-- it became clear she wasn't getting up anytime soon.

Which left me alone. Again.

It only took a few minutes to figure out that there was no other exit, and that the door at the top of the stairs was locked up tight. There was nothing to even try forcing it with, and I didn't dare yell in case it brought the monsters back. Severely fashion-impaired they might be, but I didn't think they were completely stupid. If yelling would have done me any good, they would have gagged me or knocked me out or....

I sat down on the crate next to Miss Calendar. There was nothing to do but wait. Wait and hope someone would miss us and come looking.

Would they?

I didn't know about Miss Calendar, but she was a teacher, so she wouldn't have parents waiting up for her or anything. And she did teach computers, after all. I mean she seemed cool enough, for a teacher, but how likely was it that she had lots of friends, let alone a boyfriend who would miss her?

Which left me.

Great. We were both going to _die_ down here.

Daddy was either on a business trip in Japan or skiing with his girlfriend in St. Maritz, I couldn't remember. Didn't matter anyway, it wasn't a holiday or someone's birthday, so it's not like he'd be home. Consuela would scold me when I got home-- _if_ I got home-- for staying out all night and worrying her. But it's not like she would really worry about anything except maybe 'the missus' finding out that her only child had been missing all night. Not when the missus was so _sick_ and all.

And when wasn't she sick? I snapped to myself, sitting in the darkness, praying there were no rats... or bugs... or....

Sometimes I thought it would just be easier if she would hurry up and _die_ already. I should have felt guilty for thinking that, I know. She's my _mother_. But I didn't. It was _true_. What damned good was she to me, lying there in her bed day after day, never getting any worse and never getting any better? Lying there with her damned Epstein-Barr, or whatever the doctor had decided it was this month, and her bottle of primo imported scotch. She might as well already _be_ dead.

It would be days before anyone even bothered to notice I was gone.

I brushed at my eyes and my hand came away wet. Crying? I wasn't crying! Not over this I wasn't. That's how mom had started, crying and crying after the door slammed behind Daddy until finally she never cried at all any more. Never cried, never laughed, never cared....

I was *not* going to become my mother! I had friends, I was the most popular girl in school. I would never waste away in the darkness, forgotten and alone like that. _Never_! I'd be vampire food first!

Then I realized how likely that was and I had no trouble drying my face fast.

So much for rescue. The homeroom teacher might miss me tomorrow, but Consuela would cover, tell them I was home sick, all the while cursing in Spanish under her breath. Consuela thinks I'm stupid-- a stupid, lazy, _slut_-- she's said as much in the muttered Spanish she thinks no one else in the family understands. But I've been taking it since sixth grade, you know. I might not be an honor student, but I'm _not_ stupid. I've picked up enough.

Harmony and Veronica and Heather and the rest of the girls would notice, of course. Harmony would probably try to take over, the little bitch. She thinks I don't notice how she's always playing up to me, that I don't realize she wants to be queen of the school, and that I'm the only thing standing in her way. Over my dead _body_, Harmony!

But that's exactly what would happen. I bet she wouldn't even wait until they started planning the funeral before she started taking over. No, the little social climber wouldn't miss me at all. And the rest? They'd follow along, mindlessly. Sometimes I wondered if they had enough brains between them to make it from one class to another without trailing after me like a stupid pack of ducklings. A pack? Well, _whatever_ you call ducklings, that's what they were. Cute and fluffy and utterly _useless_.

Not like the loser friends Buffy was working so hard to drive away not an hour before.

I kicked a piece of broken mortar hard, and it went skittering off into the darkness.


It was cold down there, so I started walking around. And around and around and around. It's not like there was much "around" to walk in, you know. I looked at the door again, and the walls and stuff. Maybe if I were a little MacGyver wanna- be I could have gotten out, but I'm not. All I saw were empty crates and straw and dust and one passed-out computer teeacher.

I kept checking in on Ms. Calendar, but, like mom, she just lay there. But at least she was still breathing. Not like I could have done anything if she stopped, but I kept checking, all right? I mean I did what I could. She really shouldn't be out this long, right?

But there was nothing I could do. That was the problem, you know. There was just nothing to do, no one to talk to.... and _way_ too much time to think.

This would never happen to Buffy, you know. If some creepos kidnapped her, her little Power Ranger friends would be all over them. Even after tonight. Last night. Whatever.

I mean, it's not like I even _want_ to be friends with the likes of Xander and Willow or anything. I've known them both forever and they've always been complete tweakos. Willow's so little and shy she's just begging to be ragged on by anyone with any social skills at all. It's just too easy to even really bother with. Kind of like practice losers for people with a social learner's permit, you know? I mean, she does the cute and fluffy thing, but she's not even cool....

But then... even way back at the beginning of last year.... See Harmony and I were working on this stupid computer program- - like, we'll really ever _need_ to know all this code and stuff!-- and after, like, *hours*, we finally get it done. So I'm trying to save it and Willow says to hit "deliver." Well she's a total geek, so she'd know, right? So I do it, but it went and completely _wiped_ everything! I mean, I ended up having to be, like, all friendly with that loser Fritz until he fixed it for us. Ugh. You _don't_ forget something like that!

But Little Miss Geek Girl would _so_ know that would happen, right? So it's like she's got this inner bitch, only she completely hides it. Like, she doesn't have a reputation to protect-- and she doesn't _want_ one. She has her computers, and her little nerd friends, and her geeky little life... and she's, like, totally O.K. with that. Which is just _way_ unnatural, you know? But I don't know....

Then, there's Xander. You know how when you're just a kid boys are, like, just the grossest things ever? Well after I got old enough to realize that there might actually be a point to having them on this planet, Xander and Jesse were the living reminder of why some boys were still 'icky' and always will be. They were totally TweedleDumb and TweedleDumber all through grade school and junior high. Then they started high school and decided they were going to be cool-- um, news flash!, braintrusts, but not in *this* lifetime!

By Sophomore year Jesse was always throwing his little loser self at me. As _if_! Oh yeah, Stalker Geeks... joy! Like, you make _my_ dreams come true, you little freak. But after he died, after that whole weirdness at the Bronze and all... I don't know. It's like Xander started to grow an actual _personality_ or something. I mean it's not like it wasn't a twinko personality and all-- we are talking Loser-Boy here-- but, I don't know. He started to change, you know? Just a little. Not that I was noticing or anything....

But, like, _Hellen Keller_ could see how totally mental he is over Buffy Summers. Willow too. She's, like, best friends with Buffy, even though she's been giving Xander puppydog eyes since third grade. That's, like, _real_ friends, you know? Like, even though they're all a mess-- Willow loves Xander loves Buffy loves Angel. Complete soap opera time, you know?-- they still are friends. Like it doesn't even matter, they'll help each other out anyway.

Except now, when Buffy's decided to go all post-traumatic on everyone.

I meant what I said to her, you know. She _so_ needs to get over herself!

_I_ watched the Master die too, you know. I was even closer than she was! I mean, yeah, I know-- she did the fighting, and she actually died and all. Big trauma, O.K., whatever. But her life actually means something, you know?

If the Master had killed her and she'd stayed dead and all, it would have been for a reason. She's always helping people, killing the bad guys, playing Wonder Woman in a tank top and bleach job. If she had died, it would have been trying to save the world for the rest of us one more time. All she needs is the big "S" on her chest.

But I was out there in danger too! And if some vampire had sucked _me_ dry, what would be the point, you know?

She's got this whole Destiny thing-- with a capital "D"-- going for her. She knows what she's doing with her life. She's already making a difference, even if no one knows that without her we'd totally be wall-to-wall freak show here. Even Xander and Willow, with their sorry little lives, are helping.

So what about me? What future do I have?

I got up then and went to the door. No light, no sound, no nothing. So I started shouting. "Hey!" My voice was all cracked from not talking in forever, so I tried again, louder. "*Hey somebody! Help!*"

I mean it's not like they gagged me or anything. So if I can yell I'm going to. Even if it does make the stupid monsters come back! I mean, I'm _not_ just going to sit here....

"*Hello*!" And why didn't they gag me, huh? They knocked out Ms. Calendar really good. "*Can anybody hear me?*" If they'd had Buffy here they'd have put her in, like, a hundred pounds of chains, right? They'd have been really scared of her. "*I'm down here!*" But me they just toss down here like it's no big deal. Well I can yell, you know. _Loud_! "*Somebody come help us!*" I haven't been in cheerleading for nothing. I can be dangerous too, dammit! I beat hard on the door. "*Let me go, you creeps!*"

Nothing. Not a sound from upstairs-- monster or hero-- and my throat was getting sore. I went back down the stairs and sat back down on the crate by Ms. Calendar. Yup, we were going to die down here. I tried to pick a splinter out of my knuckle. I was going to die _way_ young, before I even got a chance to live....

Oh yeah, who was I kidding?

I *do* think about it, you know. The future, I mean. I know people think that's, like, way too deep for me or something, but I can't help it sometimes. I wish I could, because it's not pretty.

So I'm the most popular girl in high school, Homecoming Queen and everything. Daddy has enough money to make sure I get into a good college, one with guys who can afford to have some serious fun. So I go in and conquer college too. Homecoming Queen, head of the cheerleading squad, for four years or so....

And then what? Then everyone walks away and goes on to live their lives and I do... what?

I know what daddy would say. He expects me not to waste his money, to make sure I snag a guy with a good family and a bright business future and marry him. So we get out, we get married... and I start living my mother's life. Or what it was before she stopped living. Junior League, tennis games, charity luncheons. Then a few kids, volunteering at their school, swimming lessons, AYSO, parent-teacher nights... and it starts all over again.

And what do I get out of it? I mean why even _bother_, you know?

Now you know why I try not to think too far ahead.

But every so often I think of something else. It's like I get this little idea, but I don't know what to do with it. I mean, yeah, there were no beaches and all, but... well.. I mean, I kinda _liked_ the Tuscany trip, you know? I mean not that I'd admit it in a million years, but the art was... I don't know, but it, like, _meant_ something, you know?

And for a minute there I started thinking that maybe I didn't have to go back... back to Harmony and the other girls, back to mom never coming out of her room, and Consuela calling me stupid, and daddy never being there. Like somehow I could stay with the art. And I looked at the woman who was leading us around the museum. She had, like, the most bogus job in the world-- inside all day, locked up with dusty old paintings, telling bored teenagers like me things we didn't want to hear while we snickered at her behind her back. But she actually looked happy. Like her life meant something. And she got to learn all about this art and stuff and what it all meant and the stories behind it, and I was *so* jealous... just for a second.

So, yeah, Buffy was dead and all, but her life _meant_ something, you know? She actually had something to lose. And it's not like she even _stayed_ dead. Her loser friends, the ones she was dissing so bad at the Bronze tonight, brought her back. They would have gone down into hell for her without a thought, just to keep from losing her. Do you think there's anyone on this earth who would do that for me?

And all the vampires were after her. *Her.* Even the bad guys know her name. They would have killed me too, but they wouldn't have crossed the street to do it. Buffy they keep coming after, time after time, no matter how many of them die. If they had killed her it would have meant the end of the world, dammit! But me? I'm not their great enemy, I'm just some stupid little chew-toy to them. And if I die, who cares?

Buffy and all might feel guilty for a minute in their little Superfriends way, but they'd move on. Do you really think _anyone_ would give a damn?

Do you know what I would give to have your pathetic little life, Buffy Summers?


I must have fallen asleep down there, because when I woke up I was lying up against the wall and my neck was all stiff. Stupid vampires! How long were they just going to keep us down here?

I looked over at Ms. Calendar. She'd moved a little, but she was still lying there. I started to get up to see if she was still breathing and all, when the door at the top of the stairs crashed open again. Looked like it was still night out... or was it night again... I wasn't sure.

Basically, I _so_ did not care right then.

This brunette vampire girl-- who kind of looked like I might, if I were living in the eighties and had never had a decent facial-- came right up to me. She backed me up against the wall with her hand at my throat.

"Wha... what do you want?" O.K., so it wasn't smart, probably, but, like, what was I _supposed_ to say to some freakoid who wanted to rip my throat out?

She grinned, making things grosser, if that were even _possible_. "We want your little friends."


"You watched the Master die."

Oh damn, they knew about that? "Uh, yeah." Oh, _bright_, Chase. "But, I didn't, like _kill_ him you know. That was Buffy!"

Yeah, O.K. So I felt a little scuzzy siccing them on her, sure. But it's _true_ you know. She _did_ kill the creep, and she can take care of herself, right?

Vamp-chick leaned a little closer. This girl _definitely_ needed to learn about breath mints. "But you were right there."

"There wasn't anything I could do, honest. He was already dead!"

Vampo-girl slid her fingers under my choker, giving me the _complete_ wig. But there was nowhere I could go. "You saw it." She nodded towards Ms. Calendar. "She saw it." She twisted her hand a bit, making the choker dig into my neck. "And your little friends saw it."

With that she pulled the necklace right off, stepping back and laughing at me.

She meant the others.... Willow and Xander and all. Or, rather, Willow and Mr. Giles. Xander and Angel were outside somewhere, so they technically didn't _see_ it happen. And Buffy, I guess, because she was up above there on the roof and she actually killed him and.... Dammit, who cared?

The vampire dangled the necklace at me. "Your friends will see this and they'll come for you. And then we come for _them_."

She laughed again, and turned to move up the steps. I followed her. "They're not...."

It was ridiculous. I almost said as much. I mean they weren't my friends. They certainly weren't going to hurt themselves coming after me. They probably hadn't even noticed I was gone yet.

But it's not like I was actually going to _say_ that, you know. And it probably was not, like, the brightest thing to argue with Freako Chick here anyway.

So I turned back. Oh, like I thought they were going to let me follow them out? Please! I told you, I'm _not_ stupid. So I turned back away from them and then I hear this noise behind me and then my head....


When I wake up I'm looking right _through_ the floor.

I'm aching too much to even freak-- my head is pounding and for some reason my ankles are really sore. In another second I realize I'm in some warehouse place, on an upper walkway, looking down through a crack at the floor way far below.

Buffy's down there beating up on some big skanky-looking guy. She kicks him, hits him-- wow, that has got to be some aerobic workout she gets from this! He crashes backwards into some shelves and I get a glimpse of his face-- make that "big skanky- looking _vampire_."

I manage to roll over and I can see Xander's back, sitting a little bit away, I think he's holding Willow. One glance to make sure my eyes are open and Mr. Giles is moving over to check on Ms. Calendar. I can't figure out what the hell happ....


The shout comes from down below and I roll on my side so I can look through the walkway again-- it's not like my clothes aren't already a complete loss anyway. So now there's this big black vampire with a sledgehammer chanting something gross at Buffy.

The skanky vamp is getting up behind her and I'm not even sure she sees it, she just answers the first one: "So, are you going to kill me, or are we just making small talk?"

Oh, that's bright, Summers! No wonder every creepy thing in Sunnydale wants to rip her head off.

It's sure pissed off Mr. Sledgehammer, 'cuz he, like, _roars_ and rushes at her, just as Skanky's coming from the other direction.

Before I can even think of anything to yell, Buffy's just reaches right over and breaks off this torch thing, just like she does this sort of thing every day. Well, yeah. I guess she does, right? So, anyway, she twirls it around like a baton and gets both vamps at once. She dusts Skanky and....

I stop looking when Mr. Sledgehammer catches fire. I'm going to be in therapy long enough as it is, O.K.? This isn't even _my_ gig!

I sit up and that starts my head pounding again. I can hear this clang down below as the sledgehammer hits the concrete... so much for Sledgehammer then. Then there's another, lighter clatter... and then, like, the eeriest silence you've ever heard in your life.

I look up and I can see Xander standing at the edge of the walkway, looking down, Willow right next to him. Ms. Calendar is next to me, stumbling to her feet and following Mr. Giles to the rail. No one's saying a word.

Then Willow, of all people, speaks up. She's almost whispering, but it's so quiet in the warehouse you can hear every word.

"It's over"

Xander just shakes his head. "No, it's not."

I've slid over to the side of the catwalk so I can see over without having to either stand up or lie on my face. Buffy's in shock, you can just see it. She's barely breathing hard, even after beating up everyone in sight, but she suddenly doesn't look like Wonder Girl. She looks like a little kid, somehow; small and scared, and I think she's even crying.

Talk about someone who needs serious therapy! And fast. I don't mean that like I usually say it, like, bitchy, you know? I mean she really does... only, what's she going to tell them? I mean she can't talk to a therapist, or a doctor... I don't think she's even told her mom. How lonely is _that_?

She's walking over to the vampire's sledgehammer and all I can think is _I_ wouldn't touch that thing in a million years. But she picks it up and walks towards a table I haven't even really seen until now. I recognize what's on it, though. It's the skeleton thing the Master left after he, well, _vaporized_ or whatever last spring.

So Buffy stands there for a second, takes a deep breath, lifts the sledgehammer, and smashes it right down on the skull. Bits of Master bone go flying and suddenly there's no stopping her. The sledgehammer comes up again and down, over and over. She's doing the total psycho thing-- smashing the hell out of the bones. And she's crying.

Angel's down there, appearing out of the shadows for her once more. He walks up behind her just as she's finishing. One more smash and she steps back, looking lost again. The sledgehammer just drops from her hand and she starts crying for real.

Angel puts his hand on her shoulder and she turns to him blindly. She's hanging onto his jacket, just sobbing her eyes out on his chest, and Angel's just holding her and holding her. Xander's got his arm around Willow now, and Mr. Giles and Ms. Calendar are standing pretty cozy too.

And I'm still sitting on the floor with splinters in my hair. Figures.


The next morning everything was bright and sunny and normal again. Like nothing had happened. Like I hadn't been kidnapped by vampires for a whole day and then dumped in a warehouse like last year's hot fashion.

But that's how I like it, right? I mean, normal is good. Who would _want_ freakiness like that in their lives? I mean, who _needs_ it?

Willow told me, afterwards, what had happened. How the vampires were going to, like, drain all our blood to bring back the Master Guy. I mean... *Ew*! There is just no other word for it, you know? It's just gross, freakish, wigsome in the extreme!

Harmony seemed way surprised to see me that morning. She barely remembered to ask how I was feeling today-- Consuela had gone with the flu story. Big surprise there.-- before she was, like, all over me buddy-buddy. Always the shallow little duckling, huh, Harmony? But a greedy little duckling. Don't think I'm not _so_ watching you, girlfriend.

I ditched them as soon as I could-- their babble was starting to get to me-- by latching on to Ms. Calendar. It felt better to walk with her across campus right then. I mean, it's like we had some _bond_ or something, you know? We were kidnapped by vampires together and locked up in a basement for a whole day, right?

O.K., sure, so she was, like, unconscious the whole time, but, I didn't mind. At least she was someone to talk with about it. Someone you could, like, chat with while you deal and put things in perspective.

"Ms. Calendar!"


"Are you, like, all right and all? I mean, those vampires knocked you out for a whole day. Doesn't that kind of thing cause brain damage or something?"

"No, I think I'm fine. Thanks for asking."

"Well I just thought I should check. I mean I kept an eye on you. Down in that basement and all? I kept hoping you weren't going to, like, _die_ on me or anything."

"I apprecitate it."

I shifted the purse on my shoulder and looked around at all the kids as we headed out across the grass. Some were walking to class, some were ditching for a quick smoke behind the cafeteria. Roy Brady was out in front playing with his stupid hackeysack again. I mean, how behind the times can you be, slacker boy? And he's _always_ out there. They could make him the Dork National Monument.

None of them were getting kidnapped and turned into vampire blood donors. It was still just too weird to wake up in the morning and see nothing changed. Like everything I'd been through meant _nothing_, you know?

"What an ordeal!" I said, just to, like keep the conversation going. I don't think she'd had her espresso yet because she was, like, really quiet. But it needed to be said, you know? "And you know what the worst part is?"

She made a noise to show she was really listening to me, and all, so I continued. "It stays with you forever. No matter what they tell you, none of that rust and blood and grime comes out. I mean, you can dry-clean 'til Judgment Day. You are _living_ with those stains!"

And it's true, you know. Not that daddy wouldn't buy me more clothes anytime I asked. So, it's not like, an _unfixable_ problem. Which is good, right? You've got to keep your priorities straight-- it makes much more sense to worry about the things that you can fix.

"Yeah," she agreed. "That's the worst part of being hung upside-down by a vampire who wants to slit your throat: The stains."

"I hear ya!" See? She understands. We're out, we're safe, right? So why make, like, this big deal about stuff that you can't change?

O.K., so I'm not dumb. She wasn't paying attention the way she would have to one of the others. But it's not like it mattered because we were only talking clothes-- not anything, like, _deep_ or anything. Nobody laughs or smirks when I talk clothes or fashion or music or guys. But if I started going into all that heavy stuff...?

No, no. My life's just fine the way it is, only these stupid vampires came in and, like, trashed my clothes. And not just any clothes, mind you, those were brand-new designer! But, hey, whatever. So I go and get new ones and everything's O.K. Back to normal and fine. Just like all the other kids on campus. Except much cooler. Just like always. Right?

Still doesn't mean it's not annoying. But it's not like I _care_ or anything.

I said that already, right?

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