The Monks of Acne had this way of creeping up on you.
You'd think people would have noticed them, would have pointed and snarked at them. Or maybe screamed. Because, hello, scary little people with pointed ears, wearing burlap robes in California. They never washed, fairly clearly, so also an odour problem.
Yet somehow eyes slid off them even in daylight - it's the damn Hellmouth and the way no-one ever sees what they don't want to. I remember what that used to be like, kind of.
And, OK, no-one who knows anything walks down alleys in Sunnydale at night. Me, I avoid them even if it is just a bit overcast or there's an awning. Because that is just a one-way ticket to Neck Trauma Street Station, Morgueville, CA.
It was bright though, that morning, and the sky was clear blue.
I'd dropped Dawn off at Junior High - well, the Jeep was one of the few things Joyce left us apart from the house and the gallery, once her medical bills were paid. I liked to have an excuse to drive it and think of her. Plus - too responsible to let Buffy try and drive, especially after a hard night's slaying.
Most of Dawn's teachers thought by now that I was just her other big sister. Hey, easier than explaining the whole story right - which would have meant the possibility of Family Services getting all interested. When I still had Joyce, I'd hyphenated our names as a way of saying I loved her. And going by Summers, mostly, was just convenient in a town where my father had left a lot of people he owed money to and even more prepared to say he did.
You'd think more teachers would remember me from my own time as Junior High Diva - but the death rate on the faculty there is Sunnydale standard. Over time, either they get killed, or they get smart and move away.
I guess I was never as important or memorable as my friends told me.
I parked where I wouldn't get a ticket and took the short cut round the back of Wesley's magic shop to get Mochas. Making Buffy breakfast would be a roleplay too far - but bringing her stuff in is different.
I was carefully balancing the cardboard tray on my way back to the Jeep and suddenly there is a sack over my head smelling of old shoes and dead leaves and prickling against my cheek like the worst stubble-burn ever.
And there was something sharp pressing into my lower back.
I don't remember dropping the coffees but I guess I lost them round about then because I heard the kind of yelp that means someone with bare feet got scalded. The only damage I got to inflict and I can't even pretend it wasn't an accident.
' You will come and see our glorious mistress, possible Key,' an insinuating voice said with breaks in the wrong places so half of it souned like a question. With a knife in the small of my back, I was in no position to argue.
I was too busy keeping my balance in the dark as we walked for what seemed like a couple of miles. No-one saw us - victims are as invisible in Sunnydale as anyone else untoward.
Besides, I was thinking, thinking hard and scared about what came next.
I don't go on and on about how much I love Dawnie the way some people do, but the kid is family now, part of what is left of Joyce, even if in another sense she really isn't. She is the one living member of the Summers family who asks me for fashion pointers, which is a big plus on her side.
I have hopes that one day she will moisturize.
No way was I going to save my skin by giving her up. Especially not to the Demon Goddess Tacky and her Minions of Scab.
If even Willow can turn being hostage girl into a chance to do harm, then no way was I crumbling.
On the other hand, not good with pain and mutilation, and pretty certain that having my brain sucked out of the sides of my head would not to wonders for my stylishness.
Fate worse than death, much. Which sort of gave me a plan that would probably kill me, but that was a plus. Given the alternatives.
And suddenly I was stumbling across a doorstep and my heels were clicking on marble-effect linoleum instead of sidewalk. You know how private eyes keep track of how many times they are spun round, and sense every turn the car makes from their place in the trunk, and the noise of the amusement arcade and trolleycars.
Well, not so much. I knew where I was because when Buffy killed snakeboy, we looked at the nearby apartment buildings and decided which one was in worst taste, and stayed well away from it. Aesthetic considerations there, apart from Hellgoddesses.
They shoved me into an elevator and under the sack I pulled my mental attitude into a positive and vicious place. They really did not know who they were dealing with. They were going to be very sorry minions before I was through.
Or, alternatively, they would be alive and I would be dead, also a result of sorts.
So, when the sack suddenly came off my face, I was ready with a glare.
'Tada!', one of the more disgusting minions said as he folded the sack into the sleeve of his robe with a gesture so fluid that it implied joints in all the wrong places.
'This is the Slayer's supposed sister,' he went on.' About whom everyone's memories are all confused. Some people think she is the sister, and some that she is just a friend. But we think, oh utterly tasteful one, that she might be - the Key!!!'
His pauses were still irritating, and tentative, but there was also a sort of showoff grandstanding which a weak person might let themselves think was cute.
Luckily, I had heels on that were fully half an inch taller than Glory's over-priced pumps And I was, to my surprise, an inch or two taller to begin with, which was handy. I walked straight up to her and looked down into her eyes from well into her personal space.
'Are these your minions?' I said, in a voice I normally reserve for people who were knockoffs of designer clothes or waiters who bring the wine cold when it should be room temperature, or the other way around.
'They're not very good,' I went on, 'are they? Apart from the poor grooming, their whole appearance just screams crazy person. Which you might want to think about, because villains get judged by their servitors - awful stereotype I know, but way of the world. You have to ask yourself - what kind of statement am I making about myself here? '
Glory had her mouth open - I could see all her teeth and had to acknowledge to myself that divinity means you get a perfect mouthful with no hint of ever having had braces - open in a losing control of the situation sort of way.
So I sauntered over to the nearest chaise longue and sat down Bolt upright, with my left leg resting on my right knee so that she could see just how expensive my stockings were and how much better my ankles looked than hers. And, damn, she might be divine, but I was still prettier.
'I'm just saying' I said, 'you really ought to think about them.'
I looked round at her apartment, which was mostly red and pink, like her outfit, and had two not very good Lempicka pastiches on the wall.
'This is quite a nice apartment,' I said, ' and they really do not go with what you've done with it.'
One of the minions bounced up and down on his dirty little feet.
'She's the Key, I know she's the Key, she must be the Key.'
I picked up a cushion and threw it at him.
'Oh do shut up. You silly little man. Do they do that all the time? Pick perfect strangers off the street and tell you they're the Key.'
'So,' she finally said, 'you admit to knowing about the Key,'
'Oh, please,' I said. 'How could I not? You've done nothing since you came here but come round to our house and whinge at Buffy about this Key you've lost. Of course, I know about the Key. Everyone in Sunnydale knows about the Key by now. Willy the Snitch is running book on it out of his bar.'
I gave her a pitying glance.
'You really have no idea of how to do things in this town, do you? I always thought that a God would display a little more finesse.'
I still wasn't dead, and Glory was still looking at me with a sort of baffled unease, which meant that my theory was in fact correct.
She could be got to, if you went in hard and never stopped pushing.
I speak as a recovering bully myself.
I looked pityingly at the red satin number she was wearing.
'I mean - one Starbucks town and all. But it has quite decent dress shops. You needn't dress out of Hookers r'Us, not unless you really want to go around looking like a drag queen. Which, OK, perfectly valid fashion statement. If you're a drag queen.'
I looked at her again, consideringly.
'And you really need to sack your hairdresser. The perm screams older woman and you are immortal and unageing, right? - so you can play the youth card foreve. Which would suit you better.'
I bounced to my feet, walked over and took her head in my hands.
'Because, my dear, you are quite the cutest super-villain we ever fought.'
And I kissed her, hard, on those baffled quivering lips.
I never before got the whole butch thing and how it isn't just about short hair and y-front role- play, but about taking charge. And not taking no for an answer.
Her lips tasted of cheap gloss, but were truely sweet under the strawberry and sugar.
I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her in close - there was a resistance, but not much for someone supposedly superstrong, just a girly 'you're doing this to me; I'm not saying yes' sort of resistance. She was the first woman I had kissed since Joyce, except in a sisterly sort of way - there was a springtime in my guts that was not sisterly at all.
She looked at me with the big scared eyes of a goddess who has totally lost the plot as I pulled her down onto the chaise longue and patted her knee. Which was pleasingly round under my hand and made a very appealing ripe noise when patted.
' We have things to talk about,' I said, ' that are so much more interesting than your Key.'
' Flesh, corruption, yearning, what is going on in me I can't control all of you not myself lusciousness and lips and parts of me that are not even supposed to work I'm a goddess and evil and chaste and yes, yes,' she babbled at me.
'I know just how you feel,' I said, pecking her on the cheek for variety. 'It's called the human condition, sweetie.
'Champagne, if you would be so kind' , I said to one of the hovering minions.
'Yes your Imposingly Sapphic Dominatricksiness', one said. Did she really put up with this sort of babble all the time?
I leant into that really quite appealing face and covered it with kisses while my hands felt random curvy bits of her and our bodies pressed into each other, yielding and resisting in unpredictable ways. What was interesting about this was how much I was enjoying it even though it was supposed to be a strategy.
Clearly I really am the cold-hearted bitch everyone says and it did not stop when I gave up boys - oh well, it looks good on me.
And then, before the champagne arrived, she started gasping and bucking under me, which was almost flattering so soon - only then things got vague and a little time later I was clutching the also quite appealing in its way muscular body of that intern from the hospital Buffy is always going on about.
Who was wearing Glory's dress. Or maybe she'd been wearing his.
I said it made her look like a drag queen.
'Ms Chase-Summers?' he said, as I disentangled myself from him rapidly. 'I'm Ben? From the hospital?'
And what were you doing here with Glory? he was obviously dying to ask
'Hi?' I said with mild embarrassment. And not about to tell him.
'Your champagne', one of the minions announced, with a flourish.
It was, of course, warm. And domestic. And served in what looked like a frog-shaped tooth mug.
Ben was clearly as out of the plot as Glory had been. But the minions were bustling about him in a way that meant he obviously belonged here, unbecoming frock or not.
'I'll let myself out', I said.
'She's the Key', one of the minions said.
I threw my mug of champagne at its head.
'No,' I said. 'I really am not. Guess again.'
'Sorry about this' Ben said. 'They are far too enthusiastic'
'Life on the Hellmouth, sweetie' I said as I pulled my clothes into some sort of order and stepped back into my shoes, which I had kicked off, but neatly, in the throes of not entirely feigned passion.
There are times when you really don't want to hang around having a conversation.
I looked at my watch.
'I have to go get coffee for Buffy,' I said. 'And I will have to walk back to the car, so inconvenient. So I really must go.'
'Any message for Glory?' he said, with a superior smile playing on his lips. God, I really did not like him.
'Oh,' I said, ' tell her Cordelia says hi.'
So nice, I thought as I strutted past the minions and got into the elevator, to meet people whose problems are clearly so much worse than mine.
More of this to follow.