It doesn't stop me from starting to post, though.
TITLE: Diamond Studded Flunkies
RATING: NC17, for sex and violence
DISCLAIMER: The characters are Joss’, of course. The chapter title comes from The Doors’ song, “Love Street.”
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: The world thinks Buffy Summers is dead. Only two men know differently, and neither one of them are talking. However, Ethan has learned that Spike is getting credit for killing Buffy and shifted his focus from destroying the Council to finding Spike and getting some answers. He followed him to Chicago, but Spike had already skipped town with a new friend in tow. Now, they’re headed west again, because Spike’s decided life’s too boring not to have Buffy in it…
AUTHOR'S NOTE #1: This is the fourth story in my 'World-verse series, set just a little over two months after the end of Please the Lions. If you've missed any of the others, they are This Wanton World, Casual Joys, and Please the Lions. This will make the most sense if you've read those as it incorporates characters introduced in both of those stories.
AUTHOR'S NOTE #2: My original outline demanded that I put a character death warning on this story. I'm no longer 100% convinced it's going to happen, but just to be safe, consider yourself warned that somebody---other than a demon---could very well die in this.
AUTHOR'S NOTE #3: Thanks go to sadbhyl for her continuing support, enthusiasm, and beta-ing prowess for this 'verse. Thanks also to katekat1010. She made the gorgeous icon I have for this story, as well as a beautiful banner that I'm going to share with the second chapter. I'd share it now, but it's slightly spoilery for a reveal at the end of this first chapter, and I don't want to spoil the surprise just yet. :)
AUTHOR'S NOTE #4: This one's for my Spuffy fans. The purpose of this story is twofold---to rearrange the players and to bring Buffy and Spike back into each other's lives. However, at the start of the story, they've been apart for months. This means Buffy has a new life. Buffy *does* have sex with someone who isn't Spike in this story. She even has feelings that aren't Spike-centered. I know some Spuffy readers won't read fic where that happens, so I wanted to put the warning out there. All I ask is that you remember where my shippy heart lies.
And on that note...
One of the things she liked best about Las Vegas was how she merely had to turn around to see a whole new world. Here an explosion of life, there an abyss of death, everywhere an opportunity for change. Between splashes of neon lived stripes of pewter and midnight that made it easy to hide without looking like you were hiding. Shadows reached out to swallow passers-by, and the only ones who protested were those who came to the city for the fleeting promise of the bright lights. That was OK. There were enough places in Vegas to accommodate them, too.
Buffy lived in both. She’d tried staying in one or the other, but neither skin fit without chafing in some way she couldn’t quite soothe. One’s offer was another’s deadly addiction; her only balm was to straddle both. That was Ethan’s fault, she decided. It was easy to blame a lot of stuff on Ethan, especially since he wasn’t around to look at her and tell her without words how wrong she really was.
But truth be told, she didn’t really think about him a lot. She didn’t think about any of the past if she could help it. She was busy with her new life and her new job and her new boyfriend, and if occasionally she woke up from dreams riddled with blood and lean men sporting English accents, Buffy figured it was a fair trade-off. After all, none of them were around any more to complicate her life unnecessarily. No more control freaks trying to get into her pants. Trying to get into her head. Into her heart. Buffy was the one in control now; she would never again be somebody’s pawn.
Thanks to the six-foot-plus transvestite arguing with one of the rent-a-cops in the lobby, she slipped unnoticed into the casino. People were milling around trying to look as if they weren’t watching the scene, and Buffy had to bite her tongue to keep from making inappropriate sheep noises as she zigzagged through the crowd. Whether it was on a stage or not, tourists saw everything as part of the Vegas floor show, existing solely for their amusement. She wondered if they would want to know that Phil, the rent-a-cop, was three weeks dry, or that the pink maribou stilettos the transvestite wore had probably been ordered online by his wife. She wondered if they cared.
The employees’ entrance was nearly hidden within a wall of mirrors, but before Buffy could disappear into the dark sanctity of the back corridors, a strong hand clapped down on her shoulder. She whirled on instinct and only stopped from grabbing the offender’s wrist to snap it because she’d seen his reflection on the wall. Buck. One of the pit bosses. Probably the only one she didn’t actively dislike because he’d never hit on her. While that was a welcome treat, part of Buffy wondered if he was gay.
“You’re working one of the privates tonight,” he said. His voice sounded like a bullfrog’s, each word almost a croak. The chemo for his throat cancer the previous year had wrecked his vocal cords. “Room four.”
Buffy frowned. She never worked private parties. “Why?”
“Special request. Someone must have the hots for you.” As he reached past to open the door for her, he added, “Be careful with the other girls. They’re a little pissed you’re getting so much attention.”
As she murmured her gratitude, Buffy couldn’t help but mirror some of that same irritation. She hadn’t been in town long enough to have people knowing who she was. Maybe it was time to start thinking about moving on.
For as light as the rest of the casino was, the back halls were just as dark. Mr. Ramsey, the owner, made Scrooge look like Santa Claus, and skimped everywhere he could manage. That meant everywhere that couldn’t be seen by the public or health inspectors was kept as low budget as possible. Minimal lighting, minimal decoration, maximum ick. She was shivering by the time she reached the locker rooms.
Though she knew most of the employees wore their uniforms to work, Buffy didn’t. She kept hers safely stowed in her locker, a costume to be worn during certain hours only. Compartmentalizing her life made it easier to manage, not to mention it also kept her clothing expenses down. This way, when the odd fight happened on the way to or from the casino, Buffy didn’t have to worry about getting dust on her black pants or blood on her crisp, white shirt. That was a lesson she’d learned her very first week.
Ignoring the dirty looks from the few girls scattered in the locker room, Buffy ducked out after she was dressed and headed straight for room four. The one good thing about a private party meant extra money for her. Privates were almost always high rollers, and if someone did particularly well, they inevitably flashed a little bit her way. One time, a stock broker from New York had given her a thousand dollar chip just for dealing him three aces over his friend’s queens and tens. Buffy had used it to pay for the next two month’s rent on her apartment.
She was smiling as she stepped into the room. She knew of more than one Englishman who would’ve given her hell for being so responsible with the found money. They would’ve teased her unmercifully and then gone out and done something outrageous just to prove their point.
Not all her memories were bad ones.
It looked like she was the last to arrive. Six men of varying shapes and sizes sat at the table in the center of the room, talking and joking while the scantily clad waitress served their drinks. A quick glance at the mirror on the opposite wall told Buffy she could relax a little bit for the night. None of her players were vampires.
“Good evening,” she said brightly as she approached the table. Five sets of eyes swiveled to look at her, sweeping over her trim form. More than one guy looked disappointed, she noted. Expecting someone who looked more like a showgirl than an actual dealer. Too bad Ramsey opted for a more professional look when it came to the higher stakes. Here, poker was all business.
As she took her seat at the table, Buffy dared a glance at the player who hadn’t bothered to check her out. His dark blond hair was mostly hidden by the baseball cap he wore, with the back hanging long over the collar of his blue polo. Red cheeks, sun and wind-chapped, were paired with a generous spatter of freckles on his nose that almost gave the appearance of aging acne. He had a face that would always look fifteen years younger than his actual age. She returned her attention to preparing the cards. Poor guy was going to get eaten alive tonight.
A quick glance at the printed instructions in her box told her all she needed to get started. “All right, gentlemen,” she said, nimble fingers cutting her deck so quickly that the players were left blinking. Hanging around Spike had taught her more tricks than she cared to admit. “My name is Anne, and I’m going to be your dealer tonight.”
Playing poker with money that wasn’t really his wasn’t Kevin’s idea of a good way to celebrate the success of the new movie. But when that cabaret singer Nicky was half in love with suggested it, even going so far as to say where they should play and what dealer they should ask for, Nicky had latched onto the idea like a pitbull. And you didn’t say no to Nicky. Nicky held the purse strings on production. If Kevin wanted to continue working in this town, he needed to go along for the ride.
It wasn’t that he couldn’t play. He could. He just didn’t like the game. In the end, it all came down to who was willing to bluff and who was willing to call it, and neither was a role Kevin cared for. He and Lady Luck had always had a dicey relationship; it seemed stupid to fuck with her if you didn’t absolutely have to.
When the game stopped for a mid-evening break, Kevin was the only one who didn’t move away from the table to hit the buffet table. He was left with the pretty blonde dealer---Anne, she’d said her name was---watching as she straightened up her kit.
“You’re good,” he commented, nodding toward her cards.
She had the smile of a California girl but the eyes of a silent film star, large, expressive, far too knowing without her ever uttering a word. “I learned from the best,” she replied.
“Must be a Vegas thing.”
The feeble attempt at conversation fell short after that. Shifting in his seat, Kevin glanced back at the others, laughing as they tucked into the free food like they hadn’t eaten in days, but when he turned back to the table, Anne was looking at his chair. She blushed when he caught her and busied herself again with her cards.
“You can acknowledge its existence, you know,” he said with a small smile. “It’s not like I don’t already know I’m in a wheelchair.”
“I’m sorry.” She still wouldn’t look at him. “I just…”
But she didn’t finish the sentence. The door to the room opened and a man built like two Mack trucks smashed together stepped just inside the entrance.
Her head snapped up at the call of her name. “What’s up, Buck?”
“There’s a situation you need to see to.” Buck turned his attention to the guys at the buffet table. “Gentlemen? My apologies, but I’m going to have to switch your dealer for the rest of the evening. Anne’s presence is required elsewhere. You’ll have Nancy instead.”
For the first time, Kevin noticed the tall black woman hovering behind the pit boss. It took less than thirty seconds for Anne to snap her case shut and walk out after Buck, her step so firm that he would’ve sworn he could hear the sharp heels of her boots in the plush carpet. Fuck. Everything that girl did was fast.
The new dealer started chatting right away, but Kevin’s attention kept drifting back to the closed door. What kind of situations needed a poker dealer to straighten out? Maybe she’d been double booked and this was the casino’s way of covering its ass. Or maybe someone more important than they were had come in and asked for Anne’s services.
Or maybe it was something else.
The others were starting to wander back to the table, ready to pick up the game again. “Sorry, guys,” Kevin said, rolling his chair away. “Gotta go take a leak.”
The waitress suddenly appeared at his side, all tits and vacuous eyes as she leaned over the arm of his chair. “Do you need help?” she asked. Like he was some fucking child.
He kept his eyes cold as he peeled away the lacquered nails curled over his hand. “I may not be able to feel my dick,” he said, “but I can find it on my own just fine.”
Her gasp of surprise---why did people think that because he had a baby face he couldn’t be an asshole, too?---was drowned out by the laughter from the guys at the table. Without looking back, Kevin rolled past her and out the door.
Once in the hallway, he hesitated. The private rooms of the casino were tucked away off the main floor, and the dings and bells from the nearby slots masked any other possible noise. Part of him felt mildly stupid for going off in search of the pretty dealer, but given the choice of that or continuing with the poker game that meant less than diddly to him, Kevin would take the futile quest any day.
He started at the slots, but it took only a few seconds of wheeling down the wide rows for him to start angling his chair in a new direction, his hands moving of their own accord as he headed toward the front lobby. He wasn’t so sure this had anything to do with Anne, but the demonic energy buzzing about was leaving the hair on his arms standing on end. It could’ve just been one of the dozens of vampires he’d seen milling around on the casino floor, but somehow he doubted that. The feeling was too fucking strong.
Being on the street made the feeling worse. The smart thing would’ve been to turn around and go back to the poker game, but being sensitive to demons’ presence had absolutely nothing to do with being smart. It was about compulsions too strong to ignore. Just like demons couldn’t seem to stay away from him, Kevin found it nearly impossible to keep away from them. He had no doubt that he’d die at the hands of one some day.
The feeling drew him to the alley, but there, his wheelchair forced him to a stop, the rough gravel too difficult for him to navigate easily. It didn’t matter. What he came to see was in plain view twenty yards away. His brows were living somewhere north of his cap’s brim as he gaped at the tableau.
Buck blocked the view from anyone who might be staring from the street, but it couldn’t hide anything from Kevin. Anne was in the middle of pummeling a Fyarl twice her size against the wall of the casino. Then, when the demon twisted and danced out of her way, she practically flew through the air to tackle him to the ground, a knife appearing from nowhere to slide effortlessly into the Fyarl’s back. Her arm tensed, shifted, driving the blade deeper, and the demon slumped lifeless against the grit.
Kevin’s skin was ice. He’d never seen such fierce glee during a vicious fight on a human’s face before. This Anne was scary as shit.
“…owe me a new shirt,” Anne was saying.
The knife was gone just as magically as it had shown up, and her fingers were now ghosting over the stains on her blouse. There was a look of genuine consternation on her face; she was even wrinkling her nose up in dismay. Some of Kevin’s fear began to unknot.
“It’s not like I’m going to make you go back to work,” Buck said. “I think you’ve more than earned your paycheck tonight.”
“Have Slayer, will travel.” With a sigh, Anne kicked at the dead Fyarl. “I hate these things. My life always goes to hell when they show up.”
“Does hell come with five hundred dollar bonuses?”
The California smile was back. “And suddenly, I’m thinking life is looking up again,” Anne chirped. She hooked a thumb at the demon. “You want me to get rid of it or are you OK?”
“I got it. You get out of here. Enjoy the rest of your night.”
Kevin backed out of the alley before either could see him lurking at its mouth. Slayer. That explained a lot. The fact that she was blonde, pretty, and way too old to be just any Slayer said even more.
This was one night where Kevin’s unannounced arrival on his doorstep wasn’t going to piss Spike off.
A freshly showered Buffy emerged from the casino with a bounce in her step, a sway to her hips. She still thrummed from the fervor of the fight, and while she wasn’t thrilled she’d ruined one of her work shirts, it was minor compared to everything else that had come out right. A five hundred dollar bonus. Off work early. A good fight. She’d had days turn out a hell of a lot worse. A lot of them.
Darting through the traffic, Buffy aimed for the small nightclub across the street, giving the bouncer a bright smile as he waved her inside. Another advantage to the impromptu fight meant more personal time. For a change, she was going to be the one doing the surprising at work, not the other way around.
He was singing when she stepped into the main club, a lone spotlight drawing everybody’s focus to the stage. Edging around the room to get closer, Buffy watched him play to the crowd, his voice haunting as always, his fingers almost unmoving on the guitar in his lap. The audience was mesmerized. Buffy would’ve been, too, if she hadn’t been dating him for the past month. She got to hear him rehearse in his home as well as sing here, and though she still loved listening to him, it wasn’t quite as intense as it had been when they’d first met.
He saw her as he finished the song, and his blue eyes glittered in delight as he said his good nights to the crowd. Leaning his guitar against the stool, he came down the side stairs to Buffy instead of disappearing backstage, cupping her face between his hands and giving her a quick but hungry kiss. When he pulled away, they were both smiling.
“I can’t say I was expecting this,” he said. “What happened to working tonight?”
“Off early for good behavior.”
“And here I thought you were only good for me.”
“Oh, I can be very good for you.”
Before Buffy could do something decidedly naughty, the stage manager appeared at their side. “Set’s not over, Lindsey. Save the hanky panky for later.”
As soon as the stage manager turned away, Buffy stuck her tongue out at his back. “Party pooper,” she grumbled.
“That’s because he knows he’s not going to be getting any later,” Lindsey teased. He brushed a kiss across her cheek and then stepped back toward the stage. “I’ll sing as fast as I can, baby.”
Buffy smiled. Surprising Lindsey had been the best idea of hers ever.
To be continued in Chapter 2: Callin’ on the Dogs…