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Buffy hit the punching bag, kciked at it, then swung round and got it with the
other foot, too, just for good measure. She fell into a rhythm with the music
blaring from her walkman, a punch or a kick for each beat. Like a dance, she thought smoothly, then the cord from her headphone snagged on her fist and she accidently yanked the headphones off, snaring her ear as they went. "Ow, dammit." She stopped for a moment to catch her breath, then plopped down on the floor to untangle the cord. "There's gotta be a better way around this."

She used to just play her music on a small boombox Giles let her keep in his office, but music had been suddenly banned from the library by the principal. Unless it was music of "worth and value". Which meant it was boring to work out to.

The was a soft step behind her, and she rolled forward instinctively, lashing
one foot up to break the staff that had come out of no where at her. As a
quick followup, she threw the walkman at the face of her attacker. He blocked it with the staff and the small player shattered, raining metal and plastic pieces throughout the library.

"You threw your stereo at me?" Giles said in disbelief, lowering his staff.

"One that cost several allowances," Buffy wailed in dismay. "Do you think it
can be fixed?" She gazed at the parts scattered around them. "Guess not,

"Of all the moves and attacks you could have made, you threw a radio at me?"

"Get over it, Giles," she said, rescuing the headphones, which were the only
part still intact. "Pretend it was a stake."

"A radio won't kill a vampire," he said disapprovingly.

"No, but it did stop you for a moment, didn't it?" she grinned.

"Well, I rather guess it did, at that." The librarian tossed his staff at
her, and Buffy caught it easily. He picked up another one that had been
resting against the wall near him. "Since you think you're in such good form
today, why don't you practice with these?"

She cocked her fist on one hip saucially. "C'mon Giles, this body's always in
good form. A lean sexy Slayer bod."

He smoothly swung his staff around, and she ducked it just as easily. She
brought her own staff up and blocked his before he could finish his carry-
through and bring it back for another strike. In the same move, she swept her leg at his feet, and he leapt out of the way before she could trip him. He
rolled his staff away from hers in some movement she had never quite been able to figure out, and she swung away from it, snapping her staff up towards his face. He was ready for it, deflecting it, and swiping her staff down with his on top, forcing it to the floor, and stepping on it sharply with his foot. She snatched her fingers away before they could get squished between staff and floor.

She backed away from him, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet. He
flashed his staff around lightly in some show-off move, before sweeping
forward again. She clapped her hands on either side of his staff when it came down, bringing it to a stop in front of her face, then twisted it out of his
grasp in another of those moves that he body just seemed to know and do
without her even thinking about it. In a flash, she had reversed it and
rammed it at his stomach, pulling the strike at the last second so it pumphed lightly against the protective padding he wore. "One vampire, staked," she said pertly.

Giles was a good fighter. But she was the Slayer.

Giles wrenched the staff away from her and grinned at her over it, the
librarian gone from his eyes. They both enjoyed sparring together. He
stepped back, then, and shook his head. "A good move, yes. But you still
aren't quite getting the technique."

"If you were a vamp, you'd be poofed," she protested.

"Yes, perhaps, but your technique isn't proper."

She shook her head, her ponytail bobbing. "Technique isn't everything Giles. It can't be. A lot of times, you just have to rely on what you can do, not on whether you can remember the right moves to block a certain attack. Ya just gotta go with it."

Her Watcher frowned. "The instinct comes with the technique, Buffy. Let's
work on it again."

Buffy blew her hair from her face and rolled her eyes expressively, but fell
back to a defensive pose. The rest of the session was spent in shorter spars, as Giles made her work movements over and over, until they came to her as easily as breathing. They both enjoyed the longer spars, when they fought from first attack to hypothetical first death, when all the practice and work fit together. But it was the practice and repetition that had saved Buffy's life in many a fight, and she knew it as well as he did. The protesting was as much a part of their sparring as the actual work was.

They fell into the session entirely, not paying attention to the time, and
they both jumped, when there was clapping from the doorway after Buffy had made a particularly nice spin, twirling her staff in a move she had picked up more from baton twirling than from staff fighting. Without quite realizing it, they both drew up in defensive poses, not quite matching, but not very dissimilar, either.

Sarah was sitting cross-legged on the circulation desk, watching in
fascination. Buffy guiltily glanced at the clock; their session had gone over
by half an hour. Giles tried to gather the librarian back around him. He
always did it so well, even with practice armor and his hair falling in front
of his eyes. He picked up his glasses from the desk and put them on, and the Watcher disappeared behind them. Not entirely, never entirely, but muted safely. "I'm sorry. I don't believe either of us noted the time."

Sarah gave an impatient shrug. "Oh, don't worry about that. That's not
important. What you were doing was. You two are really good. I knew you
were studying martial arts, Buffy, but I didn't realize to what extent."
She did not comment on why Buffy was working out with the high school
librarian, but she had obviously noticed, Buffy realized. She waited for the
obvious question, hoping Giles had something prepared, but the question was simply never asked.

Buffy murmured something about a quick shower in the locker room and escaped, leaving Giles to handle it.

She bounced back in a little later, her hair still sending dripletts of water
around her with each motion. Giles had retreated to his office, so she had no idea what conversation had happened. I won't be able to drag it out of him until tomorrow, she thought a little reluctantly. If he even remembers by
then. She didn't see Sarah at first, and called out. She heard foot steps
from the second level of the library, then the woman appeared at the end of
one of the rows of books. She leaned over the railing and looked around
appreciatively. "This is quite some library," she said, almost fondly. No,
appreciatingly, Buffy decided. "Not too many high schools have a library like
this." She began to make her way slowly down the stairs, almost reluctantly.
"My high school library was the size of a small room, only about an eighth of
the size of this. I had to do most of my research in a public library." She
smiled, shaking her head in memory. "Actually, it wasn't much bigger, either,
but at least it was better."

"Um, thanks," Buffy said uncomfortably. Every so often, she almost forgot the primary reason for a library wasn't for work-out sessions and Slayer-related stuff. Hardly anyone in the school even knew what a library was, either; she was in good company.

Sarah ran her hands lovingly over the spines of books as she came past the
last row of shelves. She smiled again at them, then finally pulled her
attention back to Buffy. "By the way, your attack technique is good, but you
left yourself wide open in that last set of movements."

Buffy gaped at her for a moment. "I did not," she sputtered.

"Sure you did," Sarah said, unperturbed. "Anyone slightly quicker than your
Mr. Giles could have come right through that opening." She grinned.
"Fortunately, I don't believe they come much faster than you or he, do they?"

Buffy picked up her knapsack and swung it on her shoulder. "What do you know about this stuff?" she asked cautiously, pretending she was more interested in zipping up her jacket.

"Oh, a little." She jammed her hands in her jacket pockets. "I was never the
natural at it that you are, though. You want food, mall, or movies?"

"Food," Buffy decided, hoping it would be the shorter of the three choices.
At the least, she wouldn't have to worry about supper before the night's
patrol. She leaned into Giles' office to say goodbye. He hardly even
noticed, he was so buried in a book, huge, leatherbound, and covered with
dust. Buffy smiled fondly at him, since he wouldn't notice, and backed out of
the door.


"Nice car!" Buffy ran her hand down the fender of the black TransAm. "You
really don't meet the image of the well-meaning volunteer. They would
probably drive something like a station wagon, or something as boring."
Sarah keyed the lock open on the drivers door, then popped the lock on the
other door. Buffy slid into the seat and tossed her knapsack thoughtlessly
into the back seat. She had to grin at the thought of all the times she had
been stuck in Giles' clattertrap on wheels. Sometimes stuck literally, as
they waited for Triple A.

Sarah chuckled, and started the car. It ran with a soft purr, and she patted
the dashboard with about as much affection as she had the books earlier. "I
rather inherited it," she admitted. "The person who bought it, though, had
very good taste, didn't he? Do you have a license?"

"No," Buffy squirmed. It was a bad topic for her. "Just a permit."

"Can you handle a standard?"

"Kind of."

"Slide over." Sarah got out and came over to the other side. Buffy quicly
rolled down the window. "You're kidding, right?"

Sarah shrugged. "You need practise, don't you? Only way to get it is drive."

"You don't really want me to do this, do you?" Buffy felt obligated to

"Would you just scoot over?" Sarah asked in mock exasperation, and Buffy
grinned and plopped over into the drivers seat.

"I did warn you," she said one more time, then slowly backed out of the
parking spot and eased the car out of the lot.

"I've taught worse people to drive than you," Sarah reassured. "Just try to
chose quiet streets, huh?"

And actually, it wasn't as bad. After all, without cursed people wandering in
the way. or other Hellmouth distractions, or her mother squeaking and
screaming at her, driving wasn't too bad. She didn't hit anything, although
the car did scrunch a couple of times in protest at her gear shiftings. She
noticed Sarah trying not to wince, and once she patted the dashboard again, as if she was reassuring the car this time. She pulled in front of the Chinese place they had decided on, and managed to park without bumping the parking guard too hard. She glanced apprehensively at Sarah, who simply grinned. "You could have done a lot worse," she said and held her hand out for the keys.

Buffy grinned. "Does that mean you'll let me drive it again?"

"We'll have to see on that one," Sarah said with amusement. "C'mon. I'm

"And she let me drive her really neat sports car!" Buffy said.

"At least it's better than Xander begging his parent's station wagon."
Cordelia sniffed and pawed through her purse, looking for her cosmetic case.

"I didn't hear you complaining about it when your fancy-shmancy car broke
down," Xander protested automatically. Truthfully, he wasn't too crazy about
the station wagon either, and found himself wondering why most of the girls in his life got to drive neat cars. Girls didn't even like cars. It wasn't as
important to them as it was to guys.

"That's because I wouldn't let you take me to anywhere anyone we might know might see me." She found her powder case and snapped it open, angling the mirror at a street light. "Honestly, Buffy, do you think your little monsters might have the consideration to come out early tonight? These late nights will make my eyes puffy."

"I'll talk to them, Cordelia," Buffy said in the usual flat tone she used in
responding to Cordelia's more-selfish-than-usual outbursts.

"Well, in that case, can I go home? I mean, you really don't need me out
here, do you?"

"No, Cordy," Buffy sighed. "I can handle this, just Xander and me."

"Wait a minute," the brunette protested. "Xander's walking me home, aren't
you. Xander?"

Xander got a I-am? expression, but didn't get much of an answer out before
Cordelia rushed on with, "I mean, you don't expect me to walk through
Hellmouth City alone after dark, do you?"

Xander gave Buffy a sheepish look, and she waved him on.

"I don't know what you're worried about, Cordy," she heard Xander say as they walked off. "All a vampire has to do is listen to you talk for more than
thirty seconds and he'd lose his appetite."

"Really smart come-back, Xander. How many books do you read to attain such wit? Oh, but that's right, you think books are used for doorstops, don't

Buffy smiled in rueful amusement as the bickering continued. She couldn't
hear the actual words any longer, but she could hear the tone from at least a
block away. She honestly didn't understand why those two were a couple, but they were... the true essence of opposites attract. They were so different
from Willow and Oz's adorable alike-ness, or from her and Angel's... well, she didn't really know what to call what she and Angel had, and it hurt too much to think of it, so she pushed the thought roughly aside. But that didn't help the feeling that she was alone more and more, even in the circle of close friends she had, the Scooby Gang. She sometimes found herself wishing that there was someone else in the group who wasn't involved with someone, just so she didn't feel left out so much of the time.

She turned down an alley, not too far from the Bronze. Vampires seemed to be drawn to the youth club, which, as she thought about it, wasn't too much of a surprise. The younger, the sweeter the blood, one vampire told her right
before he became a pile of ashes. And the loud music from the Bronze was a good cover for any struggles. Sunnydale was known for it's high disappearance rate of teens. Of adults and children, too, for that matter. It was all part of what Xander called The Sunnydale Denial. No one seemed to admit that the problem existed. Strange occurances were common here, and everyone seemed to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to it.

But that was what Buffy was here for. She might not have a life, and had
rotten luck in relationships, but, hey, what did that matter when you were the
Chosen One? She chuckled sarcastically under her breath, then shoved that
thought away too, before she got even more depressed.

It's just that she was so lonely. No, maybe it wasn't even that. She just
felt so alone. She was forced to stand by and watch the rest of the world go
by, her friends even succeed in a normal life--even in Sunnydale-- and all she could do was watch them drift away, while she stayed defending the world against the Hellmouth.

They had all very carefully not talked about what would happen after
graduation, and she had just as carefully refused to think about it.
You're feeling sorry for yourself, she scolded. The next thought on the tale
of that one, was the usual she scolded. The next thought on the tale of that
one, was the usual Yeah, but don't you deserve to feel sorry for yourself,
after all that's happened?

And nothing looked like it was going to get any better any time soon. She'd
just continue to fight icky things until something killed her.

That was being the Slayer. The Chosen One.

Something rustled behind a dumpster just up ahead. Now, a normal person, in a normal place, might think it was just rats. Maybe a wino. Maybe a mugger.

But she wasn't a normal person, and this was Sunnydale.

Buffy silently slipped the stake out from the inner pocket of her jacket and
waited a moment. The rustling stopped, and she watched the dumpster intently. She was glad the streetlight behind her at least partially lit the alley. It was a good trick, actually. If you were an evil sneaky thing, don't hide in
complete darkness. Instead, hide in half-light, which held a semblence of
safety. After a long moment, she took a few slow steps forward. Maybe it was just waiting for its victim to come closer.

There was a crash and tinkling of glass behind her. She whirled and the
streetlight went out in a shower of sparks. that blinded her in the sudden
fireball of light. The alley flashed into complete darkness. Her vision
couldn't adjust fast enough, and she quickly closed her eyes, limiting the
confusion of half-blindness, and let her ears be her sight for a moment.
Steps sounded from all around her; boot heels, the squeak of sneakers, the
clip of something high heeled. She spun and lashed out at the closest one.
It hissed at her, and she ducked, just in time to feel the breeze of its claws
pass by her face. She came up from the duck in a smooth, round movement and buried the stake in its chest. It grunted, then she stumbled in forward
motion when it exploded into ashes. The sneakers came up on the other side, and she whirled around. She tripped over something in the alley, and the vampire missed in its own attack as she fell. She caught herself and
cartwheeled past the vampire, snapping another one under the chin with the
heel of her boot as she flew by. In that split second of time, she opened her
eyes, but her sight hadn't adjusted yet. It flashed in spots from the
exploding street lamp, like in reaction to a flashbulb, and she closed her
eyes tightly again. Her feet landed, and she bounced back up, her hands
curling into fists. She had lost the stake, and she fumbled at the small vial
clipped to her belt. High Heels shifted next to her, and she flicked the seal
off of the vial with her thumbnail and slooshed the liquid towards the sound.
The vampire screeched, high pitched and terrible, as the holy water drilled
into its skin. Buffy's skin crawled at the scream, but she had also heard the
screaming of victims, and there was no doubt in her mind which was worse.
High Heels clicked away at a running pace, with the sound of gasping sobs
fading away with it. Sneakers stepped forward;she heard its foot step in a
puddle of water. All the better; the vampire was even easier to track with
the sound of wet rubber. Her hand flashed up, and the heel of the palm of her hand found a chin. From the sound of the reaction, she gathered it was the same chin she had kicked earlier. She took a second to open her eyes again. The flashing was gone, and her nightvision was settling; she could at least see dim shapes, if not details.

Well, what shapes she could see, she could also kill. More confidently, she
stepped forward. Boots met her partway. She blocked its punch, then landed one in its stomach. Its breath smelled of fresh blood; it had fed not too long ago. She hadn't come soon enough. She snarled and flew forward in a series of kicks and punches, but it was strong from the recent kill, and
somehow it moved just a little quicker than she could see with her half-sight,
and it caught her and slammed her against the ground hard, knocking the breath out of her. She rolled out of the way, as its foot smashed into the ground where her head had landed, but she couldn't catch her breath fast enough to find her feet.

Someone flashed into the alley and caught the vampire from behind, lifting it
off its feet and crashing it into the wall. Buffy caught the impression of
black clothes, but didn't take the time to look further. Never look a gift
distraction in the mouth. Her hand touched something on the ground, and came up with her stake. In one movement, she rolled to her feet, used the momentum to keep going, staked the vampire before he even slipped down from the wall.

There was a shriek from behind her. She whirled, but it was the vampire
screaming, not the other fighter. The fighter was holding the vampire up
against the other wall, one hand around its thoat, squeezing. The vampire
choked, trying to kick its attacker away, but the person was rooted to the
ground, and leaned forward, its hand crushing through the vampire's throat.
Buffy didn't think vampires could be killed that way, but the vampire didn't
seem to know that. It was in a frantic panic, clawing at the fighter. She
heard a low chuckling coming from the fighter, and she ran forward, Never give them time, kill them quickly, doesn't he know that?, and brought her stake up under the fighter's arm. It was a terribly awkward angle, but the stake went into the vampire like it was made of butter, and the fighter stumbled forward slightly as it leaned into ashes where the solidity of the vampire had been.

Buffy leaned against the wall for a moment, catching her breath. "Um...
thanks...." How am I going to explain this one?

The other person moved a step away from the wall and shook its head. Dark red hair spilled out wildly, escaping from whatever had held it back, and green eyes flashed.

"I told you that move left you wide open," Sarah said, her voice filled with

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