Nancy felt like she'd wandered into the wrong life.
("Wait - I thought you were going out with Brad Dixon tonight.")
Not in that sappy I-always-knew-I-was-going-to-be-a-concert-pianist way.
("No, I turned him down. He just wasn't worth it, really.")
No, she was a Sunnydale student, and she was supposed to be a Sunnydale student.
("You're kidding me! But he's so hot!")
But for some reason, something about it just...
("Really not. And, hello? Still waiting for an answer, here. What should we do this evening?")
("I dunno. Bronze, maybe. What do you think, Nancy?")
Which was weird, because it wasn't as if her life had suddenly changed.
Gossip, boys, and fashion. It had always been about gossip, boys, and fashion.
So, why did it feel so unnatural?
"Hmm?" She looked up. Kris and Lisa were both watching her. "What?"
"Geez, girl, were you even listening?"
"Sure. Um… what were we talking about again?"
She managed to feign interest in the rest of the conversation, and even made a joke about the complete horror that was Trisha Burman's new hairstyle, but, for the most part, her mind was still engaged elsewhere.
And she wasn't sure where that was.
The bell rang, so they left their lunch trays and ambled off to their lockers, Nancy still lost in thought.
It wasn't like things had always felt so freaky. And they didn't always now. Classes, for instance, were completely normal. A little crowded, maybe, but pretty run-of-the-mill. All except for math. And that wasn't about the math class, exactly.
It was mostly about Willow Rosenberg.
She sat two desks to the right and one row forward, and for months now Nancy had been getting through the hour by keeping her gaze firmly fixed on the left side of the room. Willow was wrong, Willow was freaky, Willow was unnatural, and Nancy didn't know why, but she wasn't about to start investigating. Especially after last week - when they'd brushed against each other on the way out of the classroom, and Nancy had flinched, and had to bite her lip so that she wouldn't yell "No! You shouldn't be here! You're dead! Why aren't you trying to kill me?"
People really would think she was crazy if she did that.
So Nancy just stayed away. And wondered why on earth she had a problem with Willow, who was clearly a nice person.
After class, Nancy grabbed her bag and wandered off, happily thinking about her new earrings, and wondering when Jason March would finally ask her out… and stopped short, two feet from the school library.
She span around, and walked in the other direction, cheeks burning.
Why did she keep doing that? She'd never been a bookworm or anything, but lately, for some reason, she kept heading to the library - like it was her after-school hangout.
It was so completely stupid.
"Heeey, Fletcher." Larry Blaisdell slapped her on the butt as she passed, and when she glared her standard "grow up and get a life" look at him, he winked at her sleazily. "Looking hot, Fletcher. No need to dress up like this for me, though. All you have to do is 'ahh'sk."
"Get lost, Larry. She's not interested." Kris, whose locker was three down from his, linked her arm through Nancy's and walked off, whispering "Sometimes I just want to slap that moron."
"Nah, Larry's kinda nice." And gay, she added to herself - but she definitely wasn't going to say that part out loud. She wasn't really sure how she knew.
For that matter, she wasn't sure why she thought Larry was nice. At all. But no matter how much he leered, she somehow couldn't shake the feeling that he was a friend. Her friend. Maybe that was why she kept heading to the library, actually, because Mr Giles gave off the same vibe.
Which pretty much proved that she was crazy, because she'd hardly ever seen the man - and the one time she had accidentally wandered through the library doors he'd given her a sort of please-don't-come-into-my-precious-sanctuary-again stare, and started taking books off the counter before she could see what they were called.
Hardly a friendly guy.
Except he was her friend - she knew he was - and that was just idiotic.
She wasn't going to think about this any more. She was already driving herself nuts, and it was all just paranoia over absolutely nothing.
Nope. No more thoughts. She was just going to head home, grab some dinner, and then spend the evening hanging out with her actual friends at… the… Bronze…
Nancy didn't like the Bronze, these days. It sort of went hand-in-hand with the weird-Rosenberg thing, in a way she couldn't quite explain. But her friends didn't know about her incredibly strange issues, so she dressed up (nice top, red earrings, favourite perfume) and headed out to meet them.
Friday night - no cover charge. Nancy tensed as she walked inside, and tried not to wince. She really didn't get what her problem was. She'd been coming to the Bronze for years, but these days… It didn't feel dangerous, but it felt like it should be dangerous.
She didn't even know what she meant by that.
"Hey! Nancy!" Deanna waved her over. Nancy said hi, smiled cheerfully, asked all about Dee's week, and tried very hard not to notice that Willow Rosenberg was sitting at the next table with one of her friends.
And there was another one who felt weird. No - not weird, exactly. Buffy Summers just felt kind of… incorrect. Like she wasn't supposed to be there. Like it was wrong.
Lisa had joined them, and her and Deanna were discussing makeup.
"-which I was thinking would work with my black lace perfectly, because it would really set off my eyes."
"Yeah. Or! maybe you could go with a blue?"
"Ooh. Good idea. Hey Nancy, you've got a deep blue eyeshadow, right?"
"Yeah, I do."
"Well, could I borrow it to see if it works with my new lip gloss?"
Nancy just stared.
Why are we discussing this? she wanted to ask. Why do we care? We should be polishing weapons, and sharpening stakes, and preparing for battle, and what is WRONG with me? Since when do I polish weapons?
"Oh. Um. Sure."
The evening went on in a fairly normal way. They chatted about the new romantic comedy (and Nancy wondered why she wasn't more into action movies), and they discussed the latest fashions (and Nancy managed not to point out that bright purple was dangerous and they should all be wearing muted greys). After a while, Willow and her friends left - and Nancy tried to relax, but she couldn't stop the nagging thought that they were all out way past curfew. And then-
"Hey, where's Dee gone?"
Kris looked around. "She was talking to some guy. I guess they went outside."
Bad idea. Very bad idea. Nancy had no idea why, but she knew that.
Sunnydale was dangerous. It was in her mind, in her gut, driving her crazy with constant whispered reminders that this town is not a safe town. You didn't walk home after dark, you didn't trust pale people, and you didn't go outside with someone you didn't know.
Nancy stood up, sharply, her chair clattering to the floor behind her.
She had to do something. She had to stop it �" even if she wasn't sure what 'it' was yet.
Annoyingly, her first thought was to get weapons and call Oz for backup. And she didn't even know who Oz was.
Weapons, though. Weapons were important.
("Nancy, are you okay?")
She needed a weapon - she knew that much - but instead she was just standing there, useless, staring at her upended chair.
She had to get a weapon.
She had to.
Nancy slammed her foot down on the chair leg, grabbed a broken piece, and marched off to the door, instincts crackling.
For a moment, she thought it was nothing. Just her weird imagination again. Then she heard Deanna cry out, and the guy she was with grabbed her by the throat and laughed.
Nancy stepped into the street. "Hey, you!" she yelled. "Get your hands off her."
One guy. No big deal. She could take on one guy. But then he turned, and his face - his face was horrible. Like a Halloween mask had been put into a blender. His eyes were bright yellow, his forehead was… messed up… and his mouth was-
He actually had fangs.
"Oh look. Another one wants to play," he sneered, and his eyes gleamed horribly.
Nancy gripped the piece of chair leg tightly, as if it was actually going to be any use.
Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap, what had she gotten into? what was she doing?
"Actually, I thought I'd settle for killing you."
Did she just say that?
Most of Nancy was trying very hard to be paralysed with fear, but one part of her - the part she usually wanted to ignore - stood steadily poised for action, and calmly noted that his eyes had, for a moment, flickered. Like he wasn't sure what to do.
He laughed at her. "Ooh. Little girl, putting on a show. I'm so scared."
"Little girl is going to kill you. Painfully."
This was just insane.
"It's all about confidence," Larry had said.
"If you're after pain, missie, you're in the right place."
"Stay strong, keep your eyes on them, and maybe they'll go looking for easier prey. It's just confidence."
"Always am. Right place at the right time. It's what we do."
What was she saying?
He let go of Deanna, who sank to the ground and kept whimpering, and walked slowly her way.
Nancy was shaking, and he just kept coming, and shit, she was going to DIE, and he was still walking forwards, and she really wanted to back up even one step…
She held onto the stake as tightly as she could - and it was weird, because everything was mad, the world had gone completely mad, but this? This felt right. More right than anything had been in months.
He stopped, just out of reach. "Look at you," he said. "Trying to be so big and important."
Nancy raised her eyebrows. "You really think I don't know what I'm doing?"
She'd dusted her first vamp three weeks after they started, outside the Espresso Pump. Oz had held it down, and she was sure she'd missed the heart until the moment its face dissolved.
He looked at her, carefully. "You're bluffing." Which she was, obviously. But he couldn't know that for sure. And please - she'd been pretending not to be crazy for weeks now. She was getting pretty good at faking it.
"We're the Whitehats. We're outnumbered, outclassed, and we lose more every day. But we keep going, no matter what. And that's the important part."
Nancy let a grin slowly spread across her face. "Just try me," she said.
She was going to die. In an alley. This wasn't going to work at all. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap…
The vampire backed away, and sneered. "What is it with this town and chicks that fight back?" And then he was gone.
What just happened there?
Nancy blinked. She'd done it. Somehow. She slowly relaxed her muscles, and started to look around. The alley was empty, the threat was gone, and… for some reason she was holding a stick. Weird.
Dee got to her feet, and looked at Nancy strangely. "Wow," she said. "I thought you were going to go all action hero for a second there."
Nancy looked up. "In another life, maybe." She dropped the bit of chair leg, and started heading back inside. "Right now, I'm just a girl."
"Hey Oz, remember when our lives were vaguely normal?"
"You mean without all the vampire hunting?"
He thought about it. "Not really, no."
She laughed, and kept polishing her axe. "Me neither."