The saloon was a war zone, the air thick with dusty remains. A Dir'hok demon in a cowboy hat was gored on a mechanical bull, an acid-oozing sewer beast hung limply from the rafters, and six vampires were hissing behind the trashed bar, surrounding a dangling red neon sign that said FRESH BLO D.
As twelve hungry fangs closed in on her, Buffy sprayed them with tonic, pinwheel kicked and jumped up. Grabbing the sign, she wound its cord around one scrawny neck and pulled it taut while stuffing the F into an adjacent mouth. One beheaded, one sizzled to a crisp, and the rest were still too stupid -- or too wasted -- to run.
"Bloody just great," Spike muttered from his vantage at the entry. "I step out for a pint and a meaningless shag, and what do I get? The Slayer."
Leaving to find a quieter venue, he heard her cry out. In pain.
Spike stopped to take a deep, savoring breath. Oh, yeah. That's the stuff.
Something told him he'd regret it, but he peeked again anyway. Arm twisted behind her, she threw a sloppy punch. And missed.
Was the Slayer plum tuckered out?
Well, well, well. Maybe this was his lucky night after all. He'd been biding his time, waiting for his moment to blindside Dru's beloved Angelus. What could be more effective -- and satisfying -- than snuffing out the object of the sod's painfully tedious Obsession for Maniacs®?
"Right. EVERYBODY OUT!"
Buffy had no reason to look. That grandiose stage voice and overblown sense of entitlement could belong to only one vampire: William the Annoying.
"Great," she said. "I try to have a quiet night of meaningless carnage, and what do I get? Spike. Hey, w--!" The Robert Smith-wannabe she was whaling on -- who deserved to die for that hairdo alone -- scurried out of her grasp. "I slaughter every one of your friends and you flee from the handicapped? God, double standards much?" She threw her hands up as everyone else cleared out. "Scaredy-vamps!"
"I believe the word is 'handi-capable', love."
She scoffed, picked up her stake and vaulted over the bar. "Capable of what? Rolling into my--" Spike was standing. As in, no longer rolling. As in, legs fully working.
Buffy tensed, body on red alert. This could be a problem. A big one. She'd been running on empty for a good hour now, and Spike looked like he'd just had his morning coffee. Stay cool; don't let him sense your fear. "When did you start walking again?"
"Hello to you, too." Was it his lack of getting any lately, or was she looking exceptionally hot tonight? Hair pale and stick-straight, eyes dark and smoky, she wore a curve-hugging black mini-frock and these calf-high tan boots that were just... cute. "Get a load of you, all slay-kittenish, taking on a pubful of nasties in your Friday night best. Hunting for new bedmates, are we? So soon after the last?"
She pursed her lips and squeezed her stake, fingers itching to wipe that smirk off his face. "I asked you first."
"Does it matter? What matters is we're here now, just us two. Walking, talking..." As he strafed carefully across the debris, boot soles grinding broken glass, he couldn't help but notice that her dress had easy-open buttons straight down the front. Or were they snaps? "Feeling lucky."
She peered into the dark entryway. "Just us?"
Hands on his belt, he leaned on the silent jukebox. "Sorry to disappoint, but what you see is what you get."
Buffy suppressed an exhale of relief. Dealing with Angel tonight? So not on her wish list. But dusting Spike and his skeevy I'm-so-dangerous-and-sexual face -- that could make her month. Possibly her year. "Disappointed?" She held the stake behind her. "I'm pleased as punch."
"Likewise, poppet." Hand gliding slowly down his torso, he said, "If I'd known you were here I wouldn't have filled up on that salsa class just now."
Buffy channeled that guilt trip into steely determination: If I slay him now, he'll never hurt anyone again. "Let me help you work up an appetite."
She handspringed over the bull and came at him with a flying side kick.
"Mighty thoughtful of you," he said as he caught her ankle, twisted it and tossed her on her head.
Ow. Just like a demon bar, to not have a mat around their mechanical bull.
He laughed heartily, remembering how much fun this was. "Did you forget, love? I'm good at this."
So was I. Two hours ago. Ankle and head throbbing, she flipped to her feet and stumbled to a bar stool.
He clucked his tongue as he advanced. "Has it been a rough night? Does Tarty the Vampire Layer need a time --OW!"
Uppercut with the bar stool, he sailed into the jukebox, setting off the Best of Journey CD.
Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world...
"Right then," he said, blinking to clear his vision. "Kid gloves are coming off."
"'Bout time," Buffy said, nailing him with a fast left. "I've been fighting amateurs all night. Don't be one of them."
"I wouldn't dream of it, baby." He parried, coiled her in and caged her at the throat, rubbed his cheek against hers. "I'll treat you like a pro. No matter what Angel says."
"Ugh!" She elbowed him in the gut.
It goes on and on and on and on...
* * *
Just a small town girl
Buffy scoffed at the jukebox. "Again?"
He popped her in the jaw. "Look alive, love. While you still can."
"As if! Sucker puncher."
"No rules in rough and tumble last I checked." He ducked her swing. "Play it dirty, Slayer, or you'll lose."
Swept onto her back, she zeroed in on his groin and said, "Thanks for the advice."
He caught her foot before it struck. "Saw that coming. You were looking right at--" She used the other one to box his ear. "Gah!"
She grinned at him. "Dirty enough for ya?"
Though he couldn't hear on account of all the ringing in his ear, he was certain that whatever she was saying justified the brutal knocking out of her Close Up commercial-white teeth.
Alas, she blocked his fist an inch before impact and threw him on his back. She jumped on him, they rolled on the floor, and the fight, like the Journey song stuck on repeat, went on. And on. ...And on.
It dawned on her what the problem was: their skills and instincts were maddeningly similar. For all of their obvious differences, in this arena they were a perfect match. It was Tyson vs. Holyfield all over again -- the first bout, not the one with the ear. Though hers could be on the menu any second now...
Point was, it had become an endless draw with barely any contact. Which on any other night would be a refreshing challenge, especially with the Angel showdown she had to prepare for. But here and now, Buffy's energy -- and tolerance for '80s rock anthems -- was seriously waning. Something had to give.
"Come on, Slayer," he goaded, equally frustrated with their holding pattern. "Unleash! Jab, dodge, jab; is that all there is to you?"
She had to hand it to him; the guy knew how to goad. Buffy 'unleashed' all right -- with a series of combinations so random he was wide open for all but one.
"Puppy's been learning new tricks," he said after landing sore and supine on the floor some minutes later.
"Yeah, but Puppy's saving the rest for an alpha dog." Panting, she dove for him, stake first. "Thanks for the practice run."
Alpha dog? Practice...? He quickly disarmed her, grabbed her wrists and rolled her onto her back. "Thanks for doing exactly what I expected you to."
Whoopsie. My bad. She should have guessed he was trying to get her to tire herself out, but she'd gotten too tired for guesswork. Now she could only struggle vainly as his eyes went yellow and his forehead ridged. Fight or flight, Buffy...
"You're not the only one wants him to suffer," he said, sniffing her neck. "Think of this as a sacrifice for the greater good."
"That reminds me." She surprised him with a head butt and power-kicked him across the room. "You're not worth it."
Flight it was. That was a little too close for comfort, and Giles would unhinge if he lost her now. Later, Spike.
Spike collided with a wooden pillar and a lasso fell into his lap. Brow arching, he looked at Buffy, hobbling toward the exit. "Not so fast, yella belly."
Shyeah. As if the punk rock British boy would know how to use a... Her eyes widened as he stood to wrangle it expertly in the air. "Uh-oh."
She tried to run, but the lasso roped her ankle and she was smacked to the floor.
He laughed as he reeled her in, as she spun onto her back and tried to shake the rope. "Only one of us walks out of here, Slayer. And that someone's gonna be--"
She tugged him toward her and, standing on one hand, nailed him with a scissor kick while whipping the rope around his neck. Toppling him to his leather-clad back, she yanked. "Who, now?"
Fingers prying the rope at his throat, he stared agog at the entry and shouted, "Angel!"
She turned, slackening enough for him to escape and pop up behind her. "Made you look."
"Ugh!" She wrenched his arms from her waist, but he put them back. She pushed them down, they slid right back up. "Could you be any more juvenile?"
"Could you be any more gullible?" he said, chuckling into her ear.
She cast him to the ground, a foot away from the acid spill. "I may be gullible, but--"
The Slayer was listening for something. "What?"
She clearly felt another presence in the room. Had someone stayed behind? Or worse, had someone followed him there? He quietly got up and shadowed her, senses on alert. "Is it a vam--?"
"Shh." Facing him, she walked him into place, furtively glanced at the ceiling and whispered, "Oh, my god."
Bloody acid-dripping sewer beast carcass! That bitch tricked him into the line of fire!
"Made you look," she said with mock sweetness.
Frantically wiping the stinging bile off his forehead -- and ruining his good red shirt -- he said, "Could have got in my eye!"
"A girl can dream."
"You little--!" He stuck his hand between her thighs. "Right, you want it dirty?"
"Hey! What are you--?"
He scooped her up, spun her over his head and, with a punctuating shout, slammed her on the mechanical bull.
A scoop slam, natch. How very WWF. Dizzied by the spin, Buffy held onto the bull's horn -- the one not covered in dead cowboy demon -- and kicked Spike in the worst of all directions: into the control panel, which set the bull in motion. At an alarmingly speedy pace.
"Oh boy," she said, holding on for dear life.
The dead demon went flying off the horn. Spike caught its hat.
Now this was a turn for the brilliant. Not to mention, the hat was a perfect fit.
He whistled, clapped and hollered as obnoxiously as possible, "Yeeeee-haw! Ride 'em, cowgirl!"
She did not just hear Spike say that. "Oh boy, oh boy, okay..."
A twangy Mr. Moviefone-esque recording crackled through the speakers: IT'S A ROUGH RIDE AT THE RED SPUR!
Spike whooped. "Ah couldn't-uh sed it bettuh mahseyelf!"
"Shut up, Spike." His 'Western' accent was a travesty; a mutant cross between Foghorn Leghorn and Mary Poppins. "I'm in my own special Hell."
TOUGH IT OUT, WIN A PRIIIIIZE!!!
"Well, how-dee-doo!" He sort of loved this place. Shame she had to wreck it. "Giddyup, pard'ner! Earn that prize!"
Giddyup, pard'ner? Seriously? This couldn't end well. The bull was way too fast, and Cowboy Spike was way too disturbing.
Giles had once specifically taught her how to pinpoint-focus, only she wasn't paying much attention that day. Accentuate the positive, maybe? Or was that from The Great Space Coaster? "Okay. Okay. I will stay on this bull."
"What's that, little biddy? Faster, you say? Well, lookie here, it can go faster!"
"Oh god! Oh god! Okay, okay. You can do this Buff-- EEEEE!"
She took to the air and hit the wall of dead animal heads, hearing a wet crunch before slumping to the floor, ragdoll style.
You LOSE!!!! boomed not-Mr. Moviefone.
Adding insult to insult, Spike strut toward her in that stupid cowboy hat, slow-clapping. She would have bitten off his hands ...if it weren't for the bruised lungs and the fractured ribs and whatever else was helping to immobilize her.
Wow, Buffy thought, I couldn't have nightmared a suckier way to go.
"Lands sakes, Cattle Kate! I reckon a fearless performance like that should git you at least a consolation prize." He'd been entertaining an idea; one that would make Angel's head spin even more than a clean kill. Could be fun -- or disastrous. No telling 'til he tried it. He squatted before her. "Can you guess what it is?"
"I always wanted a," Buffy coughed up blood, proving her internal injury theory, "Hello Kitty Dream Castle."
He gently moved her hair out of her eyes. "Sorry, but tonight's prize is eternal damnation."
She frowned. Eternal...? He couldn't be serious. Please don't be serious.
He flicked the brim of his hat. "Any last requests, little lady?"
"Uh-huh," she managed to say, breath rattling, cold eyes meeting his. "Anything but Journey."
"Has the Slayer stopped believing?" He frisbeed his hat at the jukebox, but it had no effect. Some will win, some will lose / Some were born to sing the blues... "Can't say I blame you."
Well, if he put it that way, then... no.
She may be living in a lonely wo-orld, but she hadn't stopped believing -- not in herself. And whatever she'd broken would heal, if she let it.
There was some fight in her yet.