"Hey pretty lady," a dark stranger sauntered up to Darla. She could barely hear him over the pounding music, but she preferred it that way. Once upon a time she would have chosen someplace quiet, dignified, perhaps with a little classical music in the background. Now she avoided her usual haunts, and she allowed herself to drown in the heavy pub music.
"Shoo fly, you're bothering me," she replied primly, just loudly enough to be heard, but not shouting.
The vampire frowned. "Hey now, don't be like that. I just wanted to ask if you wanted to join us."
Darla glanced around the crowded bar, where the others were all avoiding glancing in their direction. "Us? You and your imaginary friend?"
"Hardly. There's a whole gang of us. We heard that the Slayer was in town and decided to give her a proper welcome."
"There are almost a hundred slayers now," Darla sighed. A hundred girls bent on the destruction of her kind, but also a hundred moving targets that every idiot thought he could take out.
Her companion scowled. "No, The Slayer. Buffy." The song playing abruptly ended, and a slower piece came on. Darla felt a chill run down her spine.
"Really?" Darla quickly sipped the last of her drink.
"Yeah. So, you'll join us?" What a confidant little prick.
She smiled. "No."
"But if there are enough of us, we can easily kill her!" he protested.
Darla snorted. "You think you can kill Buffy? That's like moving a mountain with your bare hands."
He snorted in reply. "Of course we can kill her. She's just a human. We have almost fifty vampires gathered."
"Wow, all fifty of you?" Darla asked sarcastically, her eyes wide. "Have you ever faced her? Hell, have you ever faced any slayer?"
The younger vampire frowned at her tone, and finally growled "No."
"Well I have. My Master ruled Sunnydale for over a century before she came to town. He's dead now, along with the strongest of his children. The attacked her with thousands of Bringers there. Do you know what Sunnydale is now? A crater. A monumental black hole. Giant, swirling headstone marking the spot where we all used to live and play and slaughter the innocent."
The other vampire paled, and Darla stood to deliver the final bombshell. "And that little blonde bitch and all her fluffy slayer pals are still out there, celebrating our downfall and slaughtering us instead. And you're just going to make it easier for her by gathering in one convenient place. So you tell me a slayer's in town, and I order another drink. You tell me The Slayer's in town? I finish my drink and get at least three states away."
"You're afraid of her?" he scoffed, but his bravado was wasted on Darla.
"Of course I am. If you had a brain in your head you would be too. I'm out of here." It was obvious that this boy had no idea what he was dealing with, and Darla had no intention of being nearby when the Slayer set him straight and then came looking for his friends. It was a contradiction, given how many times she had faced death now, but Darla wanted to live a lot longer before the Slayer found her. Grabbing her purse, Darla quickly slipped past the idiot and out of the bar. A cloaked figure slipped out behind her, but Darla didn't look back.
"Are you really that afraid of me?" Buffy asked, once they were a few yards away from the door. The music was muted, but still there, and it seemed to pulse in her ears as Darla froze. She was caught.
"Will you kill me if I say yes?" Darla asked. She wanted to refuse to turn, to ignore the other girl, but she couldn't stand the feeling of those eyes on the back of her neck. Slowly, she spun on her heel to face the Slayer.
"No," Buffy pulled back the hood of her cloak. "As far as I'm concerned, you haven't done anything to deserve staking. Today. I normally don't go skulking around vampire bars looking for a fight, because I really don't mind you sucking down pig's blood from a bendy straw."
"You're here tonight," Darla pointed out, wondering as she did when she had become suicidal.
Buffy smirked. "Well, when I get the word that a gang of vamps is recruiting a lynching party just for me, I like to investigate."
"So why follow me? One of your ringleaders is right inside there, ready to lead you to the rest." Like lambs to your slaughter. She thought it, but the words caught in her throat and Darla faltered.
Buffy's smirk widened. "Oh, Willow's keeping tabs on him. I just wanted to ask you something."
"Are you really that scared of me?" The question was blunt, serious, said without the sarcasm that the other blonde usually displayed.
Darla considered her options for a moment, looking for the trap. "It was true. Sunnydale used to be my playground, and you ruined that. You've killed almost everyone I ever knew. And you've destroyed Spike and Angelus with your feelings. You're a menace, and a pain in my ass, and you'd probably kill me right now if I confronted you. So why would I seek you out?"
"That's not a real answer," Buffy pointed out, a hint of smugness in her tone.
She wanted to kill the Slayer for the pain she had caused, but at the same time Darla feared her: feared death and time and tears that she'd forgotten she could shed. The contradictions and the pounding music made her head spin, and Darla almost faltered again. "That's the only answer you're going to get," she snapped instead.
To her annoyance, the Slayer just smirked again, as though she had said yes. "That's all I wanted to know." She pulled her hood up, tucking her blonde hair out of sight, and began to walk back the bar. "See you later, Darla!" she called over her shoulder; her cold eyes locked with the vampire's.
And Darla knew: it was a reprieve, but also a promise.