The rest of Buffy's morning passed in a daze of history, algebra and home economics. Then it was time for lunch. Buffy approached the cafeteria in dread. She knew she'd have to sit alone -- the kiss of death in social situations. Then she saw Alexander striding through the halls with a purposeful gate.

"Hey," she called to him, screwing up whatever courage she had built up after the Cordelia incidents, "Alexander, wait up!"

He looked back, and she thought he had heard her. She raised her hand in a wave, but he didn't respond. Suddenly a girl with a wheelchair appeared next to him. Buffy walked by and the boy didn't even say hi. She felt rejected and even more alone than before. Intellectually, Buffy thought maybe he hadn't heard her call. The hallways were noisy. But she still felt bad, and the fact that it was lunch time and he had been her only hope of not sitting alone made it all the worse.

Slowly, Buffy got in a food line and bought some type of casserole. Then she sat down by herself. She pulled a book out of her backpack -- Buffy had read a lot of books since the accident -- and pretended like she was too occupied to be bothered with lunch companions, but inside Buffy hoped that by the next day she would know someone, anyone to sit with. If not, she would bring her lunch and go sit outside.

As Xander was walking through the halls and looking for Sonya, he thought he heard someone call his name, but after a quick glance behind him, he realized belatedly that the person had called out for someone named Alexander. No one he knew ever called him Alexander, aside from the teachers, so Xander shrugged it off and continued walking.

Soon he'd reached the cafeteria doors and was relieved to see Sonya waiting for him nearby. Walking to her side, he held up his Chem. book with a triumphant grin and said, "I found it!"

Sonya smiled in return, "I'm glad. After all, we don't want you flunking out of high school if at all possible."

Xander was about to reply when he saw Buffy Summers walk past them, heading for the cafeteria doors. He had to force himself not to stare at her, though obviously he didn't look away quickly enough because he soon felt a sharp jab in his ribs and heard Sonya hiss, "You shouldn't stare. It's rude." When he didn't immediately respond, she added, "And wipe that drool off of your chin, Harris. It's not attractive."

Xander rolled his eyes, turning to look down at Sonya. "You're just jealous, Wheels," he teased. When she didn't immediately respond, Xander sensed that something had bothered her about his words and he decided to change the subject. "Hey, how about I grab us a couple of completely non-nutritional snacks from the vending machine and then we go eat outside to escape the crowds?"

Sonya nodded, giving him a brief smile. "Sure, sounds great. Get me a Snickers bar and a Coke, please."

Xander hurried inside and got the two requested items, along with something for himself. Then he headed back outside, quickly locating Sonya. She was sitting under a grove of trees and obviously enjoying the shade. "Here," he said, handing her the Snickers bar and the Coke before sitting down on the grass beside her chair. They ate in silence, simply enjoying each other's company. Then, Xander got up and brushed grass off his pants before wheeling Sonya back into the school building.

Oz was walking through the lunch line, casually picking and subsequently discarding the different food items. Nothing looked good, as usual. There was an interesting concoction that somewhat resembled a meatloaf, though Oz had no idea what the strange green specks in it were. Deciding that the pseudo-meatloaf was as close to real food as he was going to get, Oz grabbed a plate of the stuff and a Coke and quickly paid the cashier.

Tray of food in hand, Oz wandered around the cafeteria, looking for a place to sit. He thought he spotted the Dingoes' bass guitarist sitting with a group of girls, but he didn't really have a lot in common with the guy, aside from playing in the band, so he didn't go and say hello.

As he was walking, Oz noticed a pretty, blonde girl sitting by herself and reading a book. He wondered why she didn't have anyone to sit with. After all, she was pretty enough to give Cordelia Chase a run for her money in the looks department. And she was probably a lot nicer than the Queen of Snobs was, too.

Oz was about to go introduce himself and see if she wanted any company when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he grinned when he saw Devon standing there with his own tray of green meat-like stuff.

"Hey, man," Devon said in greeting, "I'm gonna go sit outside with the rest of the band. Well, everybody except for Jimmy. He's still over there flirting with the chicks." Oz followed Devon's gaze over to where Jimmy (a.k.a. the bass player) was still talking up a storm with the girls before turning back to face Devon who was speaking again. "So, Oz... wanna come with?"

Oz frowned, glancing over at where the blonde girl was still sitting alone. Then he looked back at Devon, finally coming to a decision. "Well... I guess so, man. Lead the way."

As they walked outside, Oz looked back at the blonde one last time. "Who IS that girl?" he wondered aloud before shrugging and turning his attention back to his friends.

Part Four

After dropping Sonya off at her Biology class, Xander went to Chemistry and then managed to finish the rest of his classes without really paying attention to anything the teachers said. Basically, his scholastic day was just a blur of different teachers and classrooms. His mind was on other matters. He kept worrying over Sonya and also contemplating the mystery that was Buffy Summers. The golden haired girl seemed to occupy his thoughts way more than was healthy, but Xander didn't really care. Happily, his day was soon over and he rushed out into the hallway, anxious to meet up with Sonya and get their daily report to Giles out of the way.

Xander reached the library doors and waved at Sonya, who was sitting right outside of them. She smiled in return and let him wheel her into the library. He parked her wheelchair by the reading table. "I'll be right back," he told her, "I'm just gonna go find Giles. He'll want to talk to you. He was really worried."

Sonya nodded, trying to muster up a smile. "I won't go anywhere."

Xander grinned and headed up into the stacks, searching for the librarian. As he looked around for Giles, he heard the doors open and close. Walking to the balcony, he was surprised to see Buffy Summers walking through the doors and into the library. I wonder what she's doing here? he thought, before realizing belatedly that she would need to get school books since she was a new student.

Earlier that day...

After lunch, Buffy went through the rest of her classes with little difference. Cordelia was in a couple of them, and the brunette gave Buffy nasty looks each time they encountered each other. Buffy wondered why messing up a couple of prom queen posters was enough to earn the girl's enduring wrath, but no matter what Buffy thought, did or said, it didn't look like things were going to change. She was sad to note that she had no more classes with Alexander, or, if she did he had skipped them. She did have one class with the girl in the wheelchair, but the sullen brunette just looked away when Buffy tried to smile and say hello so Buffy just left, unwilling to make yet another enemy on her first day.

At the end of the day, Buffy had a pre-arranged appointment to see the guidance counselor. Mr. Platt ushered her into the comfy chair across from his desk. He templed his fingers together and stared at Buffy. "So," he said in a calm, soothing voice, "how was the first day?"

"The classes were good," Buffy said, glad there was at least one positive thing she could cite about her day. "When I was a freshman I never would have thought that I could be interested in, or be able to pass honors level classes. I'm still no good at math, but I'm excited about honors English and History. And I think Computer Science will be fun. Ms. Calendar was really nice."

Mr. Platt nodded. "But what about the non-scholastic part of the day? Did you meet anyone?"

Buffy tried to think of a believable lie to get the man off of her back, but instead the truth came pouring out. "It was horrible. This girl, Cordelia, has decided to hate me, and all of her friends do too. I tried to talk to a couple of other people, but they just ignored me."

The counselor looked down at the file on his desk. "This is your record from Hemery. It includes some remarks from your counselor there. She says here that after your accident you went from outgoing to introverted and withdrawn. Do you agree with that?"

"She didn't understand!" Buffy exclaimed angrily. "My friends all turned on me when I couldn't go to parties and do cheerleading and all the stuff I did before. They didn't want a friend who was in leg braces or a wheelchair. Mrs. Wildman thought I stopped hanging out with Shirly and the rest of the girls, but they were the ones who dropped me. Maybe it did make me introverted, but do you blame me? And I tried to talk to people today, but apparently here people don't like me either."

Mr. Platt took her outburst in stride. "Now, Buffy, don't get too upset yet. Let me ask you something. Have you ever moved before?"

She shook her head. "Nooo."

"Well then, what you don't know is that it's virtually impossible to make friends on your first day in a new school. I've counseled many a transfer who had the same anxieties as you, and most of them went on to be well adjusted students with plenty of friends." He paused for a moment and then continued. "You had a hard time after the accident, but I can tell that it matured you. I think you are a very intelligent young woman and that you will go far in this school if you give Sunnydale High a chance. What do you think?"

Buffy found herself smiling at Mr. Platt. He seemed to understand her - something few adults could claim to do, even her mother. "That makes sense," she agreed.

Mr. Platt sat back in his leather chair. Buffy could hear it squeak when he moved. "Now, I think that perhaps you should come and see me again in a couple of weeks, just to let me know how you're getting along."

She smiled. "I could do that."

"Now, do you have any other questions that I could help you with?" he asked with an answering smile. "Anything at all -- it doesn't have to be psychological."

"Well, there is one thing, but it's kind of piddly," Buffy said.

"Nothing is piddly," Mr. Platt replied. "Ask away."

"Well, where do I go to get text books? At Hemery, the teachers kept a stock in their rooms to give new students."

"That's easy," the counselor said, "extra books are kept in the library. The librarian's name is Mr. Rupert Giles. He's from England. I'm sure he can direct you to anything you need."

"Cool!" Buffy said, hopping out of her chair. "Thanks!"

She quickly made her way to the library. It didn't take long since the halls were virtually empty thirty minutes after the final bell. She pushed open the big double doors and entered a dark room with lots of bookshelves and heavy, dark furniture. Buffy felt almost like she'd stepped back in time to a day when girls wore big dresses and men considered them unable to do more than read novels and sip tea.

"Excuse me," she called. "Mr. Giles? Is anyone here?" She walked over to the big desk, but didn't see anyone. But her spine tingled, a feeling that usually meant someone was staring at her.

"Is anyone here?" Buffy repeated hesitantly, turning around to survey the whole room. That was when she saw the girl in the wheel chair sitting motionless by a table in a back corner. Buffy smiled in relief and took a couple of steps toward the girl despite her angry expression. "Hello," Buffy said, "I'm Buffy Summers. What's your name?"

Suddenly, a voice from above her replied, "Well, her name's Sonya Parker, but I don't think that she's the person you'd want to ask about textbooks, Buffy."

Buffy looked up and right into the eyes of the dark haired boy from class. He was leaning on the balcony railing and smiling down at her with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes. She blushed, unsure of what to say. "Um... hello. You're in my English class, right? I think someone said your name was Alexander?"

Then her eyes flew back to Sonya. She wanted to tell the girl that she knew what it was like to be bound in the prison of a wheelchair. It had been living hell for Buffy. But she didn't know this girl well enough to say anything at all. And Buffy didn't know Sonya's situation. Buffy wouldn't want to say something that would make her feel worse -- after all Buffy had always known her wheelchair days were numbered, but maybe this girl was bound to one for life. Buffy looked down at her legs. She knew where each scar was underneath the pants of her overalls.

Then a man with short brown hair, glasses and a tweed jacket walked into the room."Xander, Sonya," he called with an air of urgency, "I need to tell you..."

Then he saw Buffy and paused. "May I help you? I'm Mr. Giles, the librarian."

Buffy turned to the man, impressed by his proper British accent. "Yes, my name is Buffy Summers, and I need some textbooks." She handed him a piece of paper. "Here's my schedule."

The man gave the crumpled bit of paper a cursory glance and then waved her toward the far side of the room. "The texts are all over in that section. They're arranged by class number. You must take the cards out of the back, stamp them and give them to me so I have a record of which books you elected to take. They will be due back, in pristine condition, at the end of the term."

His accent had impressed her at first, but now the orders were coming so fast and so clipped that Buffy felt intimidated. Inside she felt a little angry. Who were all these people in Sunnydale that thought they could intimidate her? She snatched the paper back out of the librarian's hand, muttered a 'thank you' and made her way over to the indicated shelves. She could practically feel the three pairs of eyes boring into her back as she searched for the texts she needed. It made her nervous, and she dropped a book. It was like they wanted her to leave, and leave quickly. Who ever heard of students delighting in the library after hours?

"Xander," Mr. Giles called, somewhat irritably, "would you go help Miss Summers? I think you're familiar enough with the system." He waved his hand toward Buffy and then went back in his office."Sure thing, Giles."

Buffy watched as the mystery-guy walked down the stairs, taking them two at a time and quickly coming up to stand beside her. As she was handing him her schedule, his fingers accidentally brushed hers, causing them both to look up quickly. Their eyes met and she swallowed nervously, trying not to let him see how he affected her.

"Uh, what books did you say you needed?" he asked as he looked over the schedule. He began to pick out books for her without waiting for an answer, gathering everything she'd need quickly. Buffy didn't object to him taking control of the situation. He seemed to know this library a lot better than she did. Besides, with her stomach doing flip-flops the way it was, she doubted she would be very much help.

Once they had gotten everything, she followed him over to the counter and they set the books down. "Now we have to get the cards out of these and stamp them," he told her, "then the books are all yours, Buffy."

Leaving the youngsters to take care of Miss Summers, Giles retreated into his office. If it hadn't been necessary for his cover and to earn his keep, he knew he would not work in a school. Giles didn't like children. He'd much rather be with the musty old artifacts in the British Museum. There was something about Miss Summers, though. It was like something was on the tip of his mental tongue and Giles just couldn't figure out what it was. Like he was supposed to remember her name for some reason.

Then Giles put such nonsense out of his mind. He had more important things to worry about. He was very relieved that Xander had brought Sonya back safely. In actuality, perhaps there had not been a reason for him to worry about his charge, but considering past events, it was understandable.

His fingers crumpled around the paper in his hand. It was a message from the Council. He had to tell them, but he couldn't. On the Slayer's 18th birthday, the Council tested the Slayer by forcing her to face a vampire without her extra powers. It was a barbaric custom that Giles had never approved of. Now that he knew the Slayer he approved of it even less. Sonya would turn 18 in an increasingly fewer number of months -- three to be precise. The Council had just sent a letter confirming their arrival in three and one half months.

Their search would have to be fruitful soon. If they could not find a spell to reverse Sonya's paralysis where medical efforts had failed, everything would blow up in his face. Giles would be deposed, Sonya would be summarily killed (most likely), but what worried him just as much as Sonya's fate was Xander's. The Council mandated secrecy about the Slayer, her mission and her powers. What would they do to a normal person who had assumed such a role?

Giles had tried to turn Xander away the day the lad burst into the library, fresh from a meeting with his undead friend the queen of the Sunnydale vampires. Giles tried to stall Xander, but the boy wouldn't have it. Xander would fight vampires, with their help or no. So Giles had accepted Xander's help and trained him in conjunction with Sonya.

But now it seemed that their time was running out. Giles wasn't sure if he should tell Xander and Sonya or not. But one thing was for sure. Miss Summers had to get out of the library before Giles could do anything productive with the rest of his day.

As Xander began to stamp and de-card the books, he looked over at Buffy and smiled, saying, "By the way, it's Xander." Seeing her confusion, he clarified, "You said you thought my name was Alexander, but I actually go by Xander." Grinning, he added, "Well, at least my friends call me Xander. Everyone else makes me suffer by using the full name." His grin grew even wider. "And if they REALLY want me to suffer they'll use my middle name, too." Lowering his voice to a conspiratorial whisper, he told her, "You see, my middle name's LaVelle. But I try not to make that common knowledge for obvious reasons! I mean, come on... Alexander LaVelle Harris?" He shuddered dramatically, "I'd never live it down!"

Buffy giggled. "Someone must've had it in for you when they picked that name," she agreed. "But at least your first name is cool. I like Xander - that's a really cool nickname. My parents gave me a name that reminds people of a cocker spaniel name," she added with a small frown.

"So," she said casually, "what do people do for fun in this berg anyhow? Are there any rockin' hang outs that a new girl like me should know about?"

Xander shrugged. "Well, the only place worth mentioning is the Bronze. It's a club on the far side of town. They have live music and stuff, so it's pretty cool." He paused and considered asking Buffy if she might like to meet him there tonight. But before he could get the words out, he noticed Sonya sitting over by the reading table and quickly remembered that he had to patrol, like always. Xander sighed. Being the substitute Slayer didn't leave much time for a personal life.

Turning his attention back to Buffy, he wracked his brain for something to talk about and finally said, "Um, I think the Dingoes are playing tonight, so you should definitely show."

Buffy smiled shyly at Xander as she pulled the last card out from the last book and stamped it. For a minute she'd hoped that he might ask her to meet him at the club, but maybe it was too soon for that. What she remembered about boys said that he would be playing it cool now. Maybe he would show up at the Bronze if she went. Or maybe he hadn't been playing any type of game at all. Buffy just didn't know. But she did know that there was no way she'd be stuck sitting around with her mom all night.

"That sounds like fun," she said. "I may have to check it out." She picked up her armload of books and then added, "Well, I guess I'd better get out of Mr. Giles' hair." Buffy started walking for the doors.

Before she could make it even half-way down the hallway, she heard Xander call out, "Buffy, wait!" She turned and saw him jogging after her, one of her books in his hand. "You forgot this!"

Buffy smiled and took the book from him. It was hard to juggle them all in her arms. Finally, she had to take her backpack off and store some of them inside. When the canvas bag was full to bursting she hefted it back onto her shoulder. She looked up at the boy in front of her. "Thanks a lot," she said.

Xander smiled, "No problem." As she turned to walk away, Xander stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Oh, and Buffy? You shouldn't listen to what anybody else says about your name." Smiling shyly, he added, "It's a lovely name."

Then he waved and headed back to the library, silently berating himself. It's a LOVELY name?!?!? Oh, yeah, that was suave, Xander! She probably thinks your a big dork now! As he was about to go through the library doors, he stopped and looked behind him one last time, watching as Buffy made her way out of the school building and into the sunlight.

Slowly, Buffy walked home from school, smiling as she recalled Xander's compliment. When she got to the house, it was empty, of course. Her mom was at work and wouldn't be home until five or so. Buffy did all of her homework and then worked on unpacking her room. By the time her mom breezed in the door, excited about her first day at the gallery, Buffy's bedroom had regained some semblance of order. Buffy jogged down the stairs to meet her mom in the kitchen.

"Hi, honey," Joyce said with a big grin. "How was your day?"

"Good." Buffy was only partly lying.

"Did you meet any nice people?" Joyce asked as she busied herself in starting dinner preparations.

Buffy nodded. "The guidance counselor is really nice. And I met a cute boy. His name is Xander."

Joyce beamed at her daughter -- happiness that things were turning around written all over her face. Buffy didn't want to disabuse her mom of the notion, so she didn't mention eating lunch alone or having run-ins with Cordelia Chase.

They had a quiet mother-daughter dinner, with Joyce filling Buffy in on all the happenings at the gallery. Then they washed the dishes together. Ever since Hank had left, the two of them had gotten a lot closer. Buffy missed her dad a lot, but she liked that fact that she and her mother were becoming more than mother and daughter - almost friends.

"So," Joyce asked as Buffy put away the last clean dish, "any plans for the evening?"

Buffy's smile was a little mischievous. "That boy I told you about..."

"Yes?" Joyce prompted eagerly.

"He kind of invited me to a club called the Bronze. It's here in town and they have live bands play."

"You have a date already! That's great!"

Buffy had to tone down her mother's excitement. "No, it's not actually a date. He just suggested that I check it out. I'm hoping that meant he's going to be there, too."

Joyce nodded wisely. "I see. It's the shy courting game. I've done that occasionally myself."

"Did it work?" Buffy asked with interest.

"A few times." Joyce herded Buffy upstairs to her room, and said, "Now you get ready. And have fun tonight. And don't forget your curfew."

"Midnight, I know." Buffy saluted, and Joyce laughed.

After an agonizing wardrobe decision -- Buffy's outfits had gone from contemporary and chick to casual and easy maintenance over the last two years -- Buffy made her way to the Bronze. It wasn't difficult to find, but it was in a bad part of town, though their wasn't much town to be either good or bad. If there hadn't been so many kids going to the same place, Buffy would have felt a bit conspicuous in her bright blue sundress in the dank, dark street that lead to the club's entrance.

Buffy entered the Bronze and looked around. There were tables and chairs, as well as a bar and lounging areas complete with comfy couches and overstuffed chairs. A bar took up a big portion of the middle of the room, and a dance floor and a stage took up the other part.

Loud music assailed Buffy's ears from the band on stage. They looked like a bunch of high school students, and the name of the band was written on a drum in marker: Dingoes Ate My Baby."

"Morbid," Buffy muttered, moving over to the bar. She ordered a coke and paid for it quickly. Now she was unsure of what to do. She felt conspicuous alone. It seemed like everyone else was there with someone. She caught a glimpse of Cordelia on the other side of the room with her bevy of beauties. Buffy stayed as far away as she could get. She positioned herself next to the dance floor and scanned the room. Xander was not in evidence. Her heart fell a little. But maybe, she decided, he would show up later.

Then she fixed her attention on the band. They weren't bad, even if they didn't know too many chords.

Part Five

Oz could feel the music flowing through him as his fingers strummed furiously at his guitar, leading the Dingoes through one of his favorite songs. Devon was crooning away at the microphone, causing the girls to swoon as usual. For a minute, Oz was jealous of Devon's ability to impress all the members of the opposite sex, but only for a moment. Then the intense feeling faded away, and Oz was back to his normal, easy-going self in no time.

As they were wrapping up the last song for this set, Oz scanned the audience for anyone he knew, hoping to spot a few of his friends in the crowd. As his eyes flitted across the room, they landed on a familiar face -- the face of the blonde girl from the cafeteria. She was standing near the dance floor, gently swaying to the music. As Oz played the final chords of the song, she, along with the rest of the crowd in the Bronze, began to clap.

Oz set his guitar down and took a step forward, standing next to Devon. "Hey, man," he said, gesturing to Buffy, "Have you seen that girl before? Do you know who she is?"

Devon grinned and stepped back from the mike, giving Oz a knowing look. "Hey, she's pretty much a hottie, isn't she? I heard that she's the new girl in school. Moved here from LA." Devon paused, looking Buffy up and down. "Hey, man, do you think she'd go out with me?"

Oz rolled his eyes at Devon and replied, "You have a one track mind, Dev."

Then he turned away from the singer and hopped down off the stage, making a beeline for the bar. After he got a drink, he went over to where the girl was standing and tapped her on the shoulder, getting her attention. Not a man of many words, he said simply, "Hey."

"Hello," she replied in a surprised tone. She took a sip of her Coke and then added, "I'm Buffy Summers."

In another one-word statement, he gave her his name. "Oz."

"As in the Wizard of...?" Buffy smiled.

Oz rolled his eyes.

"I bet you get that joke a lot," Buffy said.


Buffy decided not to mention cocker spaniels. "So ... your band really rocks. You guys have a good sound. Really loud."

"We just bought new amps," Oz replied. "Devon said we needed to pump up the volume."

"Logical." Buffy nodded.

"Your first time at the Bronze?" Oz asked. "I've never seen you here before."

"I'm new in Sunnydale," she explained. "My mom got a job at the art gallery."

"I like art," he said. "It's so surreal. Like music."

Buffy didn't really know what Oz meant by that, but she assumed it was just something artists, musicians, writers and other creative types had in common. She was glad just to be talking to someone.

"I saw you," Oz informed her. "In the caf. Reading."

"Yeah." Her insecurities started to come back. "I read a lot. I have for the past year or so."

"Reading is cool," he said positively. "It expands the brain."

"I guess you're right," Buffy agreed. "I hadn't thought of it like that."

The two of them talked for a little longer, and then Oz had to get back on stage for the next set.

"See you around," Buffy said, a little sad that her first almost-friend was already leaving.

"Yeah," Oz agreed. "Lunch tomorrow? I'll bring my book, too."

"That would be great," she replied with a small smile. Oz seemed really nice, even if he was a bit out there. She kind of liked that about him. And she wouldn't have to eat lunch alone tomorrow!

After listening to a couple of songs in the second set, Buffy decided to go. She didn't want to press her luck. She'd already made a friend. Sure, Xander hadn't shown yet, but at this point she doubted he would. She finished her Coke, threw away the plastic cup, and decided to go home and chat with her mom for a few minutes before bedtime.

Buffy opened the door of the crowded club and looked outside as she slung her purse to her shoulder. Everyone who had been walking out there earlier had either left or gone inside to hear the Dingoes. It was quiet and deserted. Buffy felt a thrill of fear run up and down her spine.

Stop that! she ordered herself. You are a strong, independent woman. You aren't afraid of the dark. It's barely 10:30. There are no boogie-men. In just one block you will be onto a more populated road.

After her self-pep talk, Buffy stepped fully out of the Bronze and let the door swing shut behind her. She started walking, rather quickly, along the street, noticing the dumpsters and bags of trash around for the first time. Her white sneakers -- the perfect shoe for the sundress but only when worn with a pair of white tights thick enough to cover her scars -- made little squishing noises as she walked.

"Hello there, girlie."

Buffy jumped and spun around. "Who's there?"

The shadows seemed to part at her demand and out stepped a very tall, very pale young man with hungry eyes. "I'm Linus. Would you like to go have dinner with me?"

"Umm..." Buffy shook her head. "No, actually not. I have to get home. Maybe some other time?" She hoped her bright smile would fool him about how scared she was. She glanced at the door to the club, but Linus was standing between it and her.

He followed her glance. "No, dear, you can't go back in there."

"I left my purse in there," she protested. "I have to go back in. Maybe you could come with me and help me find it. You look like the savior type." Buffy knew she was spouting nonsense, but she would try anything to get this guy away from her and into the crowded Bronze. Thoughts of all the rape-prevention classes she'd had in school came back to her.

"Your purse is right there," Linus said, frowning.

Buffy looked down at the purse on her arm as if it were a foreign object. "Well, so it is. I'd better go back inside and tell the doorman I found it."

She tried to edge around him, but he blocked her way. "About that dinner..." Linus started closing in on her.

"I've taken Tae Kwan Do," Buffy warned. She actually had -- her physical therapist had recommended the class as a way to re-build muscle mass in Buffy's legs. Buffy fell into the attack position. Then she screamed. Linus' face had taken on a whole new visage, complete with glowing red eyes and fangs. "What are you?"

"I know what you are," Linus growled. "You're the dinner."

Buffy was freaking out, but she held herself together enough to try a kick. It landed perfectly on his chest. Linus staggered back, but that didn't stop him for long.

"Is that the best you can do?" he demanded. "It's so much more fun when you fight."

Buffy looked around for a weapon. She didn't know what was going on, but she knew if he got close enough to touch her, she was doomed. Her eyes landed on a glass bottle. Better than nothing. She reached for it just at Linus pounced. He grabbed her from behind. She broke the bottle over his head.

"That hurt, you bitch!" he accused in that terrifying guttural voice. "Now I'm not going to be gentle." Some blood trickled from his temple, but the skin closed up unnaturally fast.

Buffy struggled in his arms, but his grip was stronger than anything she'd ever felt. She knew she couldn't get away. Linus leaned in, aiming for her throat.

"Wait," Buffy begged weakly. "First, please tell me what you are."

"You silly girl," Linus said, his grin all the more demonic because of the fangs. "I'm a vampire."

"Vampires don't exist," Buffy protested in a whisper.

"They do," Linus said, "and I'm the undead proof."

Then, while he was distracted by her conversation, Buffy pulled a leg up and kicked backwards with all her strength. It hit him in the groin. He sagged, but his grip didn't loosen.

"You'll pay for that," he promised, running his tongue around the shell of her ear.The touch of his cold, wet tongue finally broke Buffy's resolve. A tear trickled down onto her cheek. She'd survived the accident and battled her way back to being a whole person once again only to die at the hands of a demon from a nightmare or a horror movie. She wished she had the chance to tell her mom goodbye.

"No! You'll pay for that, fang-face!"

The owner of the new voice wrenched Linus away from Buffy, and she fell on the ground. She looked up just in time to see Xander thrust a wooden stake into the growling beast. Seconds later the vampire turned to dust.

Buffy just blinked, seemingly unaware of the dust that settled onto her hair and clothing. She looked up at Xander, but she couldn't say anything. She knew if she spoke, she would lose all control. She rocked back and forth on the cold, clammy asphalt, trying to hold back the torrent of tears that threatened to come. Then she gratefully surrendered to the darkness of unconsciousness.