Buffys Lost Summer
VII Come Together
Coming to Las Vegas was the best decision I ever made. Its not just the glitz and the glamour, or the non-stop whirlwind of cheesy entertainment. Its because the hunting here is so easy, Im almost embarrassed. Young, old, rich, poor, it doesnt really matter because theyre all desperate in one way or another. After all, thats why theyre here, thats why theyve come to Vegas. Some are looking for a good time, some are looking for a kind of redemption, some are grasping for any straw of hope, no matter how ragged and flimsy.
And all of these people are ripe for the picking. Its so easy; a few friendly words, an offer of solace or a chance of joy, and they fall right into my trap. Sucking the blood out of them is an anti-climax, really, because the real sport is in the chase, not the capture. Of course, if they still have any money on them when they cross my path, I relieve them of such a burden. The more desperate they are, the less likely their disappearance will be noticed. After all, this is Vegas, not Peoria.
My good looks help my cause, naturally. Women are attracted to my piercing eyes and the intangible hint of danger; men are drawn to my charismatic demeanour and understanding face. The money I take from my victims allows me to enjoy a superior lifestyle, and why not? I have to believe that vampires are a more advanced species than humans. They whine so pathetically when they realize their peril, and the things they offer in return for their lives would make Lucifer himself flush with envy. Not one of my victims has ever put up more than a token fight, and I dont know how any of them could ever consider themselves to be more than the dogs that they are.
The vampire pressed the stop button on his mini tape recorder. He had spotted a juicy young blonde girl coming his way down the sidewalk. The memoirs could wait an hour or two. He leaned against a lamp post and waited for her to fall into his clutches.
The girl kept looking this way and that, not really focusing on anything in particular. Luckily, the streets were mostly empty, so she wasnt bumping into anyone. She seemed like she might even be a little tipsy. That was all right a little blood alcohol never hurt anybody.
Hi, there, he said casually. She stopped in front of him with a curious look.
She peered around the corner.
You look a little lost. Is this your first time in Las Vegas?
She looked at him again, this time with a bit more intensity. She blinked, and said, Yes, it is.
Did you lose your friends or something? His smile was friendly and compassionate.
Sort of. She smiled back. Im looking for a nightclub.
Who isnt? he replied, and they chuckled together. He stuck out his hand. My names Steven, and Id like to help you, if I can.
Well, Steven, my names Buffy, and I think youre more qualified than most to help me out. She shook his hand, but did not immediately release her grip.
Really? Whys that?
With breathless speed, she spun around and flipped Steven over her back judo-style. He hit the sidewalk with a thud, and before he knew it, this pretty young girl was on top of him with a wooden stake pressed against his chest.
Because youre the kind that likes to bite.
* * *
Remind me again why were wasting our time walking around downtown Las Vegas when we could be watching that show with the two gay guys and the tigers. Cordelia tossed her head in frustration.
You mean Siegfried and Roy? asked Xander. Im not sure theyre actually gay.
Oh, please. Have you seen the clothes they wear? Theyre not exactly an ambiguously gay duo. And that whole thing with the whips and stuff? Very S&M.
Up ahead, the rest of the Scooby gang was waiting beside the Oz van. All except Buffy, which wasnt a total surprise, Xander guessed. In fact, he still hadnt gotten used to her being around yet. Several times in the last few days, he had turned his head to catch her glance, and felt the shock of her presence. She was older, too. Not older in the sense of age, but Buffy seemed to leapfrog from seventeen to thirty in one summer. He could only imagine what she went through, although most of those imaginings involved his friend and tasty college co-eds.
Meanwhile, Cordelia was still Cordelia. He was surprised to feel a little disappointment at that realization. Was it too much for his ego to believe that spending the summer with him would soften her up a bit? Make her a little less self-centered? He still didnt know whether he loved her or not. Whenever he tried thinking about it, Willow and Buffy would often crowd Cordelia out of his thoughts. Hmmm, Willow and Buffy and Cordelia, all together in his bedroom, getting each other naked, and then
He blinked and grinned weakly. Yes, Cordy? He realized with some dismay that he needed a cold shower. Very soon.
Did you even hear what I just said? God, Xander, I dont know why I put up with you. And with that, Cordelia strode forward to meet the others.
Man, he thought, watching her walk, what a nice
But? asked Giles. But what, Oz?
The youth shrugged. But it wont matter if she gets what she wants. Im not feeling a lot of trust in the room for Angel.
The librarian frowned. I have to say that I agree with you, Oz, at least, um, somewhat. Buffy seems rather convinced that Angel will be on our side when hes brought back, and yet Where is she getting her information? A heaven-sent demon?
Willow nodded. Can we trust a demon? I mean, theyre all about, you know, evil and such.
A throat cleared, and they all turned to see
If you cant trust a demon, said Buffy, you have to find something to make it obedient. Beside her was a roguish-looking young man who looked a bit ruffled.
Uh, whos your friend, Buffy? asked Xander.
She looked at her companion and smiled. This is Steven. Hes a vampire, and he knows where our nightclub is.
Really, said Cordelia with a large hint of disbelief in her voice. And why would he help us?
Buffy held up her hand. Because Ive got something he wants. She was holding a mini-cassette recorder.
* * *
Im really not a bad guy, once you get to know me. Steven attempted an ingratiating smile.
Xander snorted. You rip peoples throats out and suck down blood cocktails for pleasure. Whats to know?
I know we need a plan, said Buffy, turning to Giles. She had only been back with the Scooby gang for a few days, but every time she faced her Watcher, she felt like apologizing for the hundredth time. There was still a distance in his eyes, though, and she didnt know what to do about it. Willow was all smiles and hugs, but there was something between them, too. What do you expect? You left your friends for places unknown. You abandoned them. She sighed.
Well, began Giles, we have to exercise a certain amount of caution. Steven has not heard of a portal to Hell existing in this nightclub, so well have to send someone in to scout out the place. We cant send you, Buffy, because most of those demons will know you for what you are in a matter of seconds.
You cant send me, said Cordelia, because it would be obvious to even the dumbest troll that someone who looks this good would never step foot in a place like that.
Eyes turned to Xander. Oh, hey, Id love to go, but I did the whole suicidal jumping in front of the psycho train thing a few days ago, and Im still recovering from the trauma.
Ill do it. Ozs laconic voice cut through the chatter.
Oz? exclaimed Willow. No, you dont have to go, someone else can go, youre my cuddle wolfy.
The teenager put an arm around his girlfriend and touched her lips with his finger. Its okay. Im a werewolf. Dont have to pay the cover.
That does make sense in an odd sort of way, noted Giles.
Buffy nodded. All right then. In a swift movement, a stake appeared in her hand, and she pointed it at Steven. You take Oz inside. Watch his back. Dont do anything stupid, or the memoirs get intimate with my heel. And as a bonus, Ill hunt you down and slam this into your heart.
Have you ever considered a career in motivational speaking? asked Steven with a nervous smile.
Her attention turned to Oz. You get to be James Bond. Dont take chances. Find out what you can and get out. Are we clear?
Clear as a CD.
* * *
Josh could still remember the day his parents dropped him off at the UNLV campus. Full of hopes and dreams, he had a basketball scholarship, a superb jump shot, and a potential business degree to fall back upon. The sun had shined like it was just about to burn out, and what he didnt know at the time was that his future had exactly the same quality.
First the basketball coach got suspended. Then the whole program was slapped with a one year shutdown, and his professors werent quite as accommodating as they had been. He had failed two first-year courses, and barely passed the others. Without any scholarship money, he ended up on the street, looking for work wherever he could get it. Thanks to a bartending course he had taken last summer, he found jobs in various bars and nightclubs throughout Vegas, but his bitterness and frustrated demeanour didnt allow him to keep any of those jobs for long.
At least, not until he wound up at The Hell-Hole, a bar like no other he had ever seen. Right in the center of Sin City, down a back alley, between two stacks of boxes that looked like they were about to topple over at any second, was a door, so average and unassuming that the eye tended to slip right past it. If you didnt know any better, youd think it was an emergency exit door or something.
You had to knock six times, then six times again, then finally another six times, before the bouncer, a winged demon that everybody called Balrog, would open the door and let you in. Josh had thought at first that Balrog was wearing a costume, but after his interview, which was conducted by a big guy with deep sunburn red skin and consisted of questions like, Are you comfortable with the sight of blood? and How emotionally attached are you to seeing the sun every day?, he was ready to believe anything. After his first night of work, during which he discovered that in this bar, a Bloody Mary really was a Bloody Mary, and a tequila shooter was more of a life philosophy than a drink, Josh was amazed that he was still alive.
But they had him dead to rights. Come back each night, they had said, and youll live to see another day. We know where you live. You cant hide. He believed it. Hell, he was ready to believe anything. He had seen demons with two heads, demons with three eyes, demons with antlers, and a creature with skin that looked like it was boiling with creamy pustules. At first he had wondered why the owners thought it best to have a human bartender, but after watching countless fights between species of demons, he realized that being human gave him a neutral quality. He was equally hated by all of them.
For most of his life, Josh had thought that, being a black man, the worst thing that could ever happen to him was to end up in a jail full of redneck crackers.
He had survived The Hell-Hole for nearly a year, although he had to admit that it paid quite well. He owned a house now, and he had his eye on one of those shiny new Jaguars. He couldnt tell his parents what he was doing, or at least where he was doing it, and a vacation would have been nice, but he figured that this was still better than playing for the L.A. Clippers.
This evening was a typical one: the usual assortment of vampires, fire demons, and assorted evil characters populated the dank interior. He saw the occasional succubus, and of course he couldnt miss Wayne Newton, a club regular.
Here were two more customers just walking in, and while he had seen the taller one before, a vampire who looked like hed be more at home at a fashion show than a mausoleum, the shorter one was someone new. In fact, he didnt look much like any demon he had ever seen. When the two came up to the bar, Josh got a closer look.
Tequila shooter, blood chaser, said the vampire, dismissing the bartender immediately. He scanned the crowd with what Josh sensed was a healthy amount of anxiety.
The new guy nodded. Coke.
He looked very human, but there was something about his eyes, something wild. Untamed.
The drink or the drug?
His customers eyebrow raised, and a slight grin appeared on his face. Tantalizing. All I have is two bucks.
Josh nodded. The drink it is, then. He grabbed a glass from beneath the counter and began setting up their orders. He watched them out of the corner of his eye while he was busy. The vampire was still nervous, but the new guy seemed to be relaxing a bit.
He put their drinks on the bar, and the vampire downed his pair one-two before tossing a couple of bills in Joshs direction and walking casually into the heart of the Hell-Hole. The new guy stayed where he was, sipping his Coke, watching the patrons, watching Josh.
The Hell-Hole used to be a large three-story boarding house, back in the days when Las Vegas was just starting out as a casino town. The floors were mostly hollowed out, the walls knocked out to create more space, although there were rooms lining the outside wall. Plenty of sordid, disturbing things happened in those rooms, from debaucherous sex to sweater-knitting. Each floor had its own bar, pool tables, and foosball tables. For some reason Josh had yet to figure out, demons loved foosball. There was a basement, but he had never been down there. Two big demons guarded the door. In fact, he had been expressly told to keep his curiosity on a short leash.
The new guy was now staring right at him.
Youre human, arent you? He said it more like a statement than a question.
The bartender held out his hand. Names Josh, and yes, I am.
The new guy took it and shook it. Oz. I guess they got that whole work here or die thing on you, huh?
Josh shrugged. Great for inspiring employee loyalty. Still a better deal than working for Disney.
At least here you know for sure theyre evil.
I hate uncertainty.
Josh pulled a stool over and sat down opposite Oz. We know why Im here. So whats a nice human like you doing in a place like this?
I sprout hair and sharp teeth once a month.
Oh Thats gotta suck.
Well, I never have to worry about cavities or bald spots, so Ive got that going for me.
At a nearby table, two demons were having a heated argument. Without warning, one of them shot up, pulled a knife, and sliced the others head clean off. He then bellowed what could only have been some sort of victory yell. No one noticed except for Oz and Josh.
The bartender leaned over to talk into an intercom. Cleanup at table seven. Cleanup at table seven.
A few seconds later, a hunchbacked demon with a tired, put-upon look on his face showed up with a mop and a bucket. With him was Balrog, who grabbed the victorious demon and ripped him in two. Ozs shock was barely masked by his eternally laconic attitude.
Yeah, Josh whispered, we dont tolerate kills in here. Fights, sure, but kills, never.
Oz nodded towards Balrog, who was busy munching on the arm of the demon he just killed. Thats a big bouncer. Hungry, too.
He told me once that a magic spell was holding him here in this dimension against his will. The boss was smart enough to cast the spell so Balrog couldnt harm the spellcaster, too.
The boss? Hes a demon, too, I guess?
Yeah, a Balasta demon. Hes tough. But I think Im done answering questions, you know? Josh stood up and looked from side to side, to make sure no one was listening. I dont know who you are, or who your friend is, but if youre going to make trouble, then your time here on this earth will be pretty short.
Oz leaned over. Ever been to the basement?
Josh laughed. Man, you are full of questions thatll get you killed. What do you want in the basement?
Theres something in there me and my friends need.
Josh shook his head. Look, man, I like you, so Im going to give you some advice. Get outta here. You dont want what they got to give.
Oz smiled. How long do you want to live like this? We can help you.
Help yourself, man. Leave. Now.
The vampire returned from wherever he had been and tapped Oz on the shoulder impatiently. The werewolf nodded and said quietly, Well be back. They headed for the exit, and Josh thought, Thats what Im afraid of.
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