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Tiens, Voilà Dix Sous, pour la Salle-de-Bains

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Darla's dressed the way she was when Buffy first saw her, in that Catholic schoolgirl outfit. Darla likes to pass, Buffy knows, to blend into her surroundings, become invisible until the time to strike. Her outward appearance changes through the years, the decades, the centuries, even as the demon inside remains the same; how different than Spike or Dru or even Angel. It's more than a little disconcerting, really, because Darla makes the outfit hot--as she does pretty much any outfit, if Buffy's being honest with herself--and Buffy has never exactly though of herself as having a schoolgirl fetish.

But to any untrained observer, Buffy and Darla are not a Vampire Slayer and a 400-year old vampire, but just two young women taking a rather ill-advised shortcut through a Sunnydale cemetery. The other vamps fall for it--they always do, which prompts Darla to mutter some curses as to the intelligence of her kind nowadays--and Darla morphs instantly into gameface as she turns on their unsuspecting attackers, who are caught off guard after having expected an easy kill. Either Buffy or Darla alone would be sufficient to take out the entire gang, and with both of them present there isn't even any challenge. Darla is poetry in motion for a moment--like Buffy, she appreciates the importance of looking good even when slaying--then frowns as she wipes the ash off her blouse. "Really, Slayer," she says with a sigh. "It's hardly even worth being out here."

Buffy doesn't say anything. It's true that most of the vampires they've encountered that night were newbies and killing them has been about difficult as falling off a particularly fall-off-able log. Or as shooting fish in a barrel, assuming that one didn't actually have to put the fish into the barrel in order to shoot them, which strikes Buffy as potentially not being all that easy after all. But unlike Darla, Buffy's not just here for the challenge, and killing the vamps when they're fledglings prevents them from actually becoming dangerous after they've learned the ropes.

Buffy checks her watch. 2:40 in the morning, and she's pretty sure she and Darla have cleared this graveyard of vamps for the night. "Okay," she says. "We can call it a night." She walks with Darla back to the vampire's crypt, follows her in and makes herself at home.

"Glass of wine?" Darla asks, heading for a cabinet. She is accustomed to living in style, Buffy knows, and even when forced to live in an abandoned mausoleum insists on the finer luxuries. The walls of the stone building are hung with rich tapestries, and elaborate candelabra illuminate the crypt.

"Yes, please," Buffy answers, and Darla returns with two glasses and a bottle of wine. Red, of course, the French name rolling easily off Darla's tongue, but all Buffy knows is that it is really good wine, not too sweet. Unsurprising, of course; Darla has excellent taste, after all.

So much so that Buffy thinks that she feels more comfortable here in Darla's crypt than in her own house. Ever since Willow and the group brought her back, the house has been nothing but a reminder of the life from which she now feels so alienated. But the rich reds and golds of Darla's interior decoration welcome her. Here, it is . . . comfy.

Should she be worried that she and the vampire seem to share so many traits in common? It makes a weird kind of sense, she supposes, even; apparently, Angel had a type. She hopes that Angel manages to find a strong blonde in L.A. and be happy--though not too happy, of course.

Buffy pours herself another glass of wine, and Darla raises an eyebrow. "Careful, Slayer," she says. "You don't want to end up doing something you'll regret come tomorrow night."

Buffy shrugs, not particularly caring. "I don't care what I do," she says, and it's true. She shouldn't be here anyway; she's supposed to be in Heaven. Or at least a heaven. It's supposed to be Faith's turn to take up the mantle, except she's off being busy doing nothing much in prison, and now Buffy has to clock her overtime.

Besides, she feels safe here. "You'll take care of me."

Darla doesn't say anything, just leans back and sips her wine, ever so elegant just like always. She watches Buffy, a lazy seemingly disinterested stare.

"Tell me a story," Buffy says.

Darla's face remains neutral. "Pardon?"

"That time Dawn was here, you were telling her a story," Buffy explains. "Tell me one. Only not a scary one--a happy one."

Darla frowns and purses her lips, then her eyes glaze over as she looks thoughtful, as if she is searching her memories for a happier time and coming up short. "France," she answers at last. "The beginning of the 18th century, the end of the reign of the Sun-King, the Revolution still decades away. The Master had left me on my own in order to see to some business in the old country, and I was managing a brothel in Paris. . . ."

Darla tells the story with her eyes closed, as if she has transported herself in her mind back to the Parisian red-light district in 1710. Buffy listens carefully as Darla recounts the exploits belonging to that stage of her unlife, having to answer to no man, human or vampire. By the time Darla is finished, Buffy is on her fourth--or is it fifth?--glass of wine.

"That was a good story," Buffy says as she gets up, but her words are slurred and her movements uncertain.

"Come now, Slayer," Darla says, getting up to steady her. "You're in no condition to go home like this."

Buffy has to admit she might be just a little bit drunk, and lets Darla lead her to Darla's bed, a four poster bed with silk sheets, and Darla removes her shoes before placing her between the sheets. Buffy falls asleep almost immediately, as intoxication morphs into unconsciousness.

. . .

Buffy wakes up in Darla's bed, with a headache not nearly as bad as it could have been, the vampire herself sitting on a red couch on the other side of the room, watching Buffy. Darla had changed out of her schoolgirl outfit at some point when Buffy was asleep, and is now dressed in an elegant robe, the Ebenezer-Scrooge-dressing-gown-only-sexier type.

"The boudoir is through there," Darla offers, then hands Buffy a small ivory-handled hand mirror. "This is the best I could find on short notice," Darla says apologetically, "not needing it myself. It was Dru's, I think--actual usefulness never entered into her calculation of whether something was worth having." There is a wistfulness in her voice when she mentions the younger vampire, and the apology itself is made with as much sincerity as Buffy's ever heard coming from Darla. Buffy finds herself surprised by Darla's thoughtfulness, the way she anticipated what Buffy would need and went through the trouble to act accordingly.

Darla's boudoir is an interesting conjunction of eras and functions. There is no toilet--as far as Buffy can tell, vampires metabolize everything they consume even if they draw sustenance only from the blood--and no running water, but a large ornamental bathtub stands in one corner, and a large glass washbowl in another. While the rest of Darla's crypt seems to be illuminated by candlelight, here a large electric light shines brightly from overhead, indicating that Darla has somehow managed to equip her crypt with electricity. Confirming this notion are the assembly of electronic appliances: hairblower, curling iron, straightener.  Along the shelves which line the wall are a series of perfumes, shampoos, conditioners, bodywashes, and cosmetics. Buffy can find all of her own brands among the various ones present, even. No wonder Darla always looks so good when every other vamp looks like, well, like they slept in a graveyard.

All in all, Darla's boudoir is no less decadent than the rest of her crypt, which Buffy supposes should be hardly surprising.

Darla enters with a teapot in her hand. "Here's some hot water," she says, pouring the contents of the teapot into the glass washbasin. She looks Buffy up and down, examining the Slayer carefully. "You want a change of clothes? I should have some things which should fit you."

"Thanks," says Buffy with a nod, grateful for a chance to get out of her patrol clothes, which are a bit too drenched in sweat and dirt to still be wearing, and makes her way to the washbowl to wash up. She shoots a longing look at the bathtub, imagining what it would be like to just lay in it and soak, but she can hardly ask Darla to draw a bath for her.

She's in the middle of washing her hair when Darla returns with her clothes. "I also have a sari which should be your size," Darla says, "but I figure you'd be more comfortable in this." The outfit she presents is the sort of thing Buffy herself might wear to the Bronze: black skirt, red and grey sleeveless top, simple but stylish. Damn, Darla does have excellent taste.

"Willow, Xander, and Anya are supposed to be taking up patrol tonight," Buffy says as she strips out of her old clothes and puts on Darla's replacements. "You'll go with, keep an eye on them?"

Darla just rolls her eyes. "Sure, Slayer," she says. "I'll do your babysitting for you."

. . .

Buffy enters 1630 Rivello Drive to find Dawn, Willow, Xander, and Anya all gathered in the living room watching cartoons. Right. Saturday.

"You didn't come home last night," Dawn says, her voice voice neutral so that Buffy can't tell if it's an accusation or merely an observation.

"I stayed at Darla's last night," Buffy admits as she sits down next to Dawn. Mechanikat is tying up Krypto the Superdog on the television.

"Stayed the night in a vampire's crypt?" Xander cracks. "That must have sucked."

"Not really," answers Buffy, wishing they could just watch the 'toons in peace. "She has sort of a nice setup there. Comfy."

"Comfy?" repeats Xander, incredulous. "The lair of a bloodsucking demon, not what I'd call comfy."

But Willow looks more worried than anything else. "Smithville Cemetery isn't that far away," she points out. "You couldn't come home?"

Damn. "I sort of got a little drunk," she admits, then turns to Dawn. "No drinking until you're 35. Right?" Dawn just rolls her eyes.

Anya, damn her observiveness, has noticed Buffy's clothes. "That's a nice shirt," she says. "Is it new?"

Buffy sighs and prepares for the gauntlet."Darla let me borrow it."

Xander's eyebrows shoot right up. "You're wearing her clothes?"

 Her mother didn't even give her this level of the third degree. "Well, mine were dirty."

"Wow, she was awfully accomodating."

Buffy finds herself agreeing. "Yeah, she really was."

"Any idea why?"

"To be nice?" Buffy shrugs. "Is that a problem?" She feels vaguely frustrated that her friends would begrudge her Darla's help.

"Buffy," interjects Willow. "This is Darla. She's been a big help, but Xander's right: she's not nice."

. . .

"So I hear you Buff got all wild and crazy last night," Xander says to Darla that night on patrol, displaying the typical level of his sense of self-preservation.

She looks at him as if a fly had suddenly begun to speak to her, a look she has carefully cultivated over the centuries. "If so," she answers, "the Slayer has a rather tame notion of 'wild and crazy.'" Probably true, in all likelihood--it was not as if Buffy had the benefit of Darla's four centuries of experience--but the vampire rather doubts that even Buffy would consider the previous night wild and crazy.

"Then Buffy didn't get plastered last night?"

Seriously, how does the Slayer stand it? With friends like this, who even needs vampires? "If the Slayer can't hold her liquor, that's hardly my fault," Darla points out. "All I did was offer her some wine. She's the one who drank half a bottle of my 1954 Chateau Latour." She pauses, then drops her voice to a whisper. "There's vampires, half a dozen at least. About fifty yards off."

Willow squints. "I don't see anything."

"They're there."

Willow nods. At least she's willing to believe it when someone who knows better tells her something. "Maybe we should go get Buffy if we're outnumbered."

Darla sighs. "Yes, Heaven forbid any of the Slayer's precious friends get put in danger. Here, give me that," she says, pulling a crossbow out of Willow's hands.

"What are you--" Willow begins, then breaks off as Dara crouches down and then jumps up, landing on the roof of a nearby sepulcher. Six crossbow bolts fire in rapid secession. Darla jumps down , hands the crossbow back to Willow.

. . .

One week later. . . .

Buffy's in the Bronze, dancing, having a good time. Willow and Xander and Anya and Dawn are all somewhere, but her attention isn't on them, just on the music and her own body moving in rhythm with it, the other bodies on the dance floor winding their way around hers.

"Two o'clock, Slayer," Darla's voice whispers in her ear, soft and seductive. Buffy looks to her right and, sure enough, she sees two vampires, one male and one female. Their clothing matches contemporary fashions, so they're either freshly turned or else have been around long enough to know the usefulness of updating their image.

Buffy nods and the two make their way across the floor, still dancing, moving slowly so as not to alert the other vampires, their movements silently coordinated with each other. At last they reach the two vampires. They each grab the arm of one--Buffy gets the male, Darla gets the female--and drag them out into the alley. Oddly enough, they don't seem to put up any resistance.

"Stay out of this, Slayer," the male growls at her once they are outside. "This isn't your fight. Our quarrel is with Darla."

Sure enough, the female has already vamped out and is going at it with Darla; the male breaks away from Buffy's grip, leaving her to watch the battle in shock.

The confusion on Darla's face finally gives way to surprised recognition and shock. "Solomon?" she says. She looks at the female again. "Rebekah?"

"Now she recognizes us," Rebekah grumbles. "Took her long enough, after what she did to us."

"Well, I haven't seen you in, what, three hundred years?" Darla points out.

"Two-seventy," Rebekah corrects.

Solomon is about to bring down a stake onto Darla's chest--well, shoulder, more like, from the looks from it, but Buffy assumes he's aiming for the chest--when she grabs his arm. "This isn't your fight, Slayer," he repeats.

"Yeah, well, I'm making it my fight," she answers, and pulls his arm behind his back even as she blocks his attempt to elbow her with his other arm.

Buffy and Darla can take out a score of fledglings in about two minutes without breaking a sweat, but these at-least-270-year-old vampires aren't so easy. Two-on-two they're much too evenly matched for Buffy's comfort. She has more than her hands full with Solomon, and Rebekah is definitely keeping Darla busy.

"Now would be a good time for those so-called friends of yours to notice you're missing," Darla points out as she blocks a punch. Another of Rebekah's blows hit, however, and her stake lands squarely into Darla's chest.

"Nooo!" Buffy calls out with more emotion than she expected, but apparently Rebekah has missed the heart, because Darla still stands and stakes her right back. Darla does not miss the heart.

It's a few more moments before Buffy finally manages to stake Solomon, but as soon as she does she runs to Darla's side. "You okay?"

"I'll be fine," Darla answers. Her wound looks ugly, but Buffy knows from experience that it should heal relatively quickly. Darla's lack of circulation means it isn't bleeding too badly, but Darla still takes the cross hanging from Buffy's neck, her fingers smoking as she does so, and presses it against her breast, cauterizing the wound. It's an intimate action, requiring the two women to press closely to each other.

"Let's get you home," Buffy says, wrapping Darla's arm over her shoulder and helping the vampire to her feet.

. . .

Once they get back to her crypt, Buffy removes Darla's shirt and bandages her wound, then helps her into the bed, just as Darla did for Buffy the week prior. The vampire is weak but as she lies in the bed she looks up at Buffy. "Why?" she whispers.

Buffy doesn't understand. "Why what?"

"Why'd you help me?" Darla asks, her voice weak. "He was right, it wasn't your fight. I'm a vampire."

"You're a friend," Buffy contradicts her, pulling the blanket over Darla--although since the vampire has no body heat, it's not as if it's going to do all that much. "You'd have done the same for me." She pauses, then bends over and kisses Darla quickly on the forehead before walking back across the room and sitting on the red couch. Once she's there, and secure in the knowledge that Darla's going to be fine and the vampiric healing's probably already begun, she allows herself to nod off.

. . .

When Buffy wakes up, Darla is already up--moving a bit more slowly than usual, maybe, but clearly already significantly healed--and dressing. She has on a backless red dress she looks quite hot in, actually--not the usual post-injury outfit.

"Thanks," Darla says. It's takes someone who knows Darla as well as Buffy does to recognize how difficult it is for the vampire to say, what it takes for the syllable to leave her tongue. To a less experienced observer, the comment comes casually.

"No problem," Buffy answers as she stretches. She's more well-rested than she thought she'd be; Darla's couch was quite comfortable. "What time is it?"

"Almost sunset," Darla answers. "Apparently that fight tired us both out."

Buffy frowned. "I'd better get back. They're going to be worried about me."

Darla makes a sound so uncharacteristically undignified it almost sounds like a snort. "That'll be a first." She nods towards the boudoir. "Go on, get ready. I'll get you something to eat."

Buffy examines Darla. "I'm supposed to wear the sari this time?"

Darla smiles. It's not an expression Buffy sees on Darla very often, at least not when the vampire isn't killing something. It looks good on her. "I may have found something else."

The "something else," hanging up in the boudoir, is a sleek navy blue sheath dress. A matching pocket book and set of heels sit on a chair next to it.

. . .

They go to the French restaurant on Hamilton Street, near the ice-cream place. Darla surprises Buffy by ordering an entire meal. "It's not bad," Darla informs Buffy, "better than you'd expect in a town like Sunnydale, if not as good as the real thing. I used to know a place in Paris that had food that was to die for." She pauses. "That is, if I hadn't already been dead."

"Was this while you were brothel-managing?"

Darla takes the last bite of her salad. "No, this was much more recently, right after Angel got his soul. Eighteenth-century food was just terrible." She pauses. "You tell me a story, Buffy."

Buffy looks at Darla. "Huh?"

"You had me tell you a happy story. Now I want to hear a happy story about you."

Buffy swallows--and she has already finished her salad. "You know the story, I guess. One girl, Chosen, fights the vampires. The world doesn't end. That's happy, right?"

Darla's gaze is penetrating as it levels onto Buffy. "Perhaps you can get your Scoobie Gang to believe that, Slayer. But I know you better than that."

Buffy looks away, unable to deny the vampire's claim. "Hemery," she says at last. "Before Mer--my first Watcher. Unchosen, popular, no vampires, my parents were together, Dawn and I got along, there was money." She thinks back. "God, I was shallow." Worse, than Cordelia, even, she realizes with horror. She was Harmony.

"But you were happy." It's not a question.

Buffy nods. "But I was happy."

The main courses arrive. "Tell me more," Darla says, and Buffy does.

. . .

"Well, thanks for dinner," Buffy says as the pair stops in front of her house.

"Thank you," says Darla and turns to return to her crypt.

Buffy watches her walk away, then makes a decision. "Darla, wait."

Darla turns back, expectantly. Buffy walks toward her, not stopping even as she gets closer, until she brings her mouth to Darla's. "Slayer?" Darla asks, uncertainly, after Buffy breaks the kiss.

Buffy smiles. "I had a great time. We should do it again sometime."

Darla smiles back.