"She's not a friend, but she's a friend of a friend," Jenny had said. "It'll be fun, Javier, I'm sure it will be." And then Ryan had tossed in a crack about passing the time while Lanie wasn't talking to him, and before he knew it he had agreed to a blind date, which was strictly against the rules, but here he was anyway, in the middle of a meal that was going to break the budget for this month, sitting across from a woman he had just met five minutes ago.

The girl was fine, no doubt about it - a bombshell like the girls he usually chased, all curves and pouty mouth and big dark eyes. Esposito pulled her chair out for her and then took his own seat, more cheerful about his prospects for the evening. There was some casual chat about how she knew Jenny, and he complimented the dress she was wearing. They ordered, the wine came, and Esposito was starting to enjoy himself, and the conversation kept flowing... and then she was telling him about her last boyfriend and how he didn't like her Pekinese Mr. Fluffers. At that point, somewhere, somehow, things took a turn.

"I think Mr. Fluffers could tell, you know, in that instinctive way animals have, that Alan wasn't really the one for me. He tried to bribe him with treats, but Mr. Fluffers wasn't fooled! Not at all! And really, Alan made such a big fuss afterwards. It wasn't like Mr. Fluffers bit him all that hard. It was just a few stitches, and the plastic surgeon made sure there wasn't even a scar."

Esposito blinked. "Mr Fluffers attacked your old boyfriend?"

"Oh my god, not attacked. That makes it sound like he hurt Alan! It was just a little bite, sort of near his cheek, it was hardly anything! Pekinese are so protective, he was doing what nature told him to do."

"Mr. Fluffers bit your boyfriend in the face?"

"Well, technically it was three times. But he only broke the skin once. I hope you like dogs, I want you to meet him, he's just the cutest little fluffball ever, with his wee face that's so scrunchy and kissable, and..."

She kept talking, unaware that Esposito was pulling backwards from her in silent horror.

As the meal went on he kept his side of the conversation up, but did his best to sound like the dullest man alive. God forbid she tell Jenny about the great time she had and plan a second date. It wasn't hard, as her attention was almost completely focused on herself - she told another couple of stories about her life with Mr. Fluffers, who Esposito had now started to imagine as some sort of hairy piranha possessed by an insatiable bloodlust. He was letting his attention wander, mentally telling the story of this evening to Castle and wondering if it would appear as a detail in one of his books.

The restaurant was full, and he surveyed the people at the other tables, his eye lingering on a pretty blonde sitting at a table with four other people. She wasn't really his type but something about the animated way she was talking and the faces she made as she spoke made it look like she would be a blast to grab a beer with. The table she was at broke up in laughter as she concluded her story, and he smiled as well, wishing he were over there with them.

"And that's when I knew that Mr. Fluffers would lay down his life to protect me. Javier? Are you listening?"

Esposito started. "Yeah, yeah...I'm listening. It's a really great story. I just thought I saw a friend over there." He gestured vaguely.

"Oh. Well anyway..." she launched into another story.

Fortunately for him, that was when the screaming started.


The kitchen door swung madly open, cracking against the wall, and one of the cooks, his whites stained with what looked like blood spatter, came pelting out.

"Somebody call the cops," he screamed. "There's something out there!"

Esposito was already standing, his off-duty weapon out. He ran towards the cook, who grabbed him and pointed back into the kitchen.

"I'm NYPD, man, talk to me."

"Out in the alley," gasped the man. "I don't know what they were. I think they killed Armando and they tried to grab me but I ran. Oh god, it's all blood everywhere."

Esposito pushed past him, sliding into the kitchen. The rest of the staff had scattered, leaving the place empty, pans still sizzling with forgotten contents, knives dropped carelessly on cutting boards. He eased his way through, ears pricked for any sound as he approached the rickety screen door that led to the alley. A sudden jangle of trash cans colliding made him hug the wall. Whoever they were, they were still out there.

He craned his head, just far enough to get a view of the alley. A dark shape moved out there, but even from his limited vantage, it looked wrong somehow, like a person in overall shape but like one that was put together incorrectly. And there was a smell...like acid, something to choke the throat.

The creature lifted something in its arms, and that something writhed and made a stifled groaning whimper as it did so. It had a person out there. Jesus.

Esposito took a deep breath and raised his gun.

"Scuse me," chirped someone behind him. He cursed and spun, reorienting towards a new threat inside the kitchen. A hand wrapped around his wrist and he pulled against it, but it was like arm-wrestling the Rocky-era Stallone. His gun hand was locked down.

It was the blonde from the restaurant. "I just didn't want any, you know, panicky shooting, guy. Now if you'll excuse me, it sounds like there's a party out there and I hate it if I'm not on the floor when the music starts."

She gently, but inexorably, shoved him against the wall. "You can come out if you like, but no guarantees that your bullets do anything, 'kay? I don't know what flavor of ugly it is."

Esposito blinked, shook his head, and blinked again. "Miss, you can't go out there. Especially unarmed."

"Unarmed? Hah. Like I'd ever." She turned her body and he saw the bright blade of a...a...ok, it was a fucking sword. A big-ass sword, right here in the middle of New York. Tiny little blonde girl with a fucking sword, about to go out into the alley with some crazy creature.

"I have no idea what the hell is happening. But I'm coming out right behind you, and we'll see about bullets."

She gave him a sunny grin, hefted the sword, and turned to face the door. One kick, and the screen door flew off its hinges and out into the alleyway, clattering against the far wall. She stepped out and Esposito followed, gun leveled.

"Hey, ugly! I am so beyond pissed, you have no idea. This was a vacation. Do you know how long it's been since I've been on vacation?"

The thing in the alley grunted, dropping the person it held and shuffling around to face them. "Slayer," it said, its voice like rocks slowly sliding against each other. "Had I known you were here, I would have introduced myself more properly."

"And they say good manners are a thing of the past. But then, you're a thing of the past, aren't you?" Behind the now-distracted monster, it's dazed victim got to his feet and bolted down the alleyway. Esposito watched him run thankfully - if he could move that fast, the odds were good that the thing hadn't had a chance to do too much damage.

Its prey disappearing didn't seem to mean much. Instead of roaring in rage, the creature smiled. At least, that's what Esposito thought it did, because frankly his stomach tried to crawl up and out his throat at the sight of the fangs the thing was flashing. They were as long as his hand, and he wanted nothing more than to back up through the door to the kitchen, screaming as he went.

But the woman - she was standing in front of the thing. Bantering. He clenched up, and stepped in to protect her back, making sure he wasn't in the way in case she swung that big-ass sword of hers.

"So, let's see," the woman mused. "Fangs, leathery hide, no horns, about nine feet tall - you aren't wearing lifts, are you? - taste for people...I'm not Giles, but I've seen your type before. And you know what?" She turned her head to direct her next few words at Esposito. "You can totally shoot him."

Esposito took that as his cue. At this range, he could hardly miss, so he put three into center mass and two into its head. It screamed, bleeding a strange thick orange ooze, but not dying like Esposito had hoped it would. It staggered forward, and swiped one clawed hand at the woman, who evaded it without much effort.

"You know," she said, still conversational, "I don't tend to use guns. But that doesn't mean I don't appreciate them from time to time." And with that, she leaped, kicking off the wall and up into the air, sword flashing. Her feet hit the ground and a half-second later, the thing's head thunked to the ground. With a hiss, the body dissolved into more bubbling orange goo. In a few seconds, it was a puddle indistinguishable from all the other nasty substances in the alley.

The woman turned to Esposito. "So, this was totally a gas leak, right? Hallucinations are a common side effect."

Esposito stared at her. "Hallucination? Lady, I just helped you kill a big-ass monster. You cut off its head with a fricking sword. What the hell kind of issues do you think I have, trying to pass this off as a hallucination?"

"Oh well. That stuff never works outside Sunnydale. So yeah, you just helped me kill a demon. I don't remember its name, because that's somebody else's job. I just do the dirty work. I appreciate the assist."

He followed her back into the kitchen, where she wiped the sword down with a cloth and tucked it into a duffle bag. "You always travel like this?" he asked.

She made a gesture towards the alley. "I'm kinda always on the job. My work is my life, what can I say?"

"Do you have to go?"

She made a face. "I'm sure my dinner guests have all gone home. They're not in the know, they probably think I'm a crazy person, and I guess they're not too far off."

"So," said Esposito, still slightly overclocked from all the adrenaline and diving in with a poorly-concealed "here goes nothing" expression on his face, "Would you like to go grab a beer with me? Since you're done for the evening."

"Ooh. Hmm. Well." She surveyed his face, and came to a conclusion. "I'd love a beer, actually. Although honestly, I can't promise that I won't have to run off again. The slayers who cover this city are always a little overstretched. Makes the wildlife cocky."

Esposito offered her his arm, and she took it, tucking her hand into his elbow and hefting the duffle bag - which clanked ominously - without any effort.

"What else you got in there?" he asked.

"Couple of swords, several stakes, a crowbar, and a crossbow."

"And you know how to use them all, right?"

"No point in having them if I don't."

Esposito made a noise at the back of his throat, his brain conjuring up images. "I am so incredibly turned on right now. And I don't even know your name."

The blonde laughed and pulled him down to her level, giving him a quick peck on the cheek. "So I'm Buffy Summers, and I'm from California originally but now I travel a lot..."

Esposito hung on every word.