the bunny warren v. Faith

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Summertime Blues

Author: Mikelesq
Concept: Between seasons Three and Four, expounds on a story hinted at during the Season Four opening, but takes it on a tangent.
Rating: PG-13.
Tone: Way too serious.
Quality: Probably stinks, written on a lark.
Feedback: Yeah, sure
Legal disclaimers: "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" characters and situations are owned by Joss Whedon and the producers of the show. The story is entirely fiction, and is expounded from "The Freshman," written and directed by Joss Whedon. Distribute if you like.

Prologue


Jake had already counted out the twenties, the tens, and the fives. His pudgy fingers had just finished laying down the ones when he heard:

"I cleaned the back rooms, Boss. Can I go?"

"Hold on," Jake replied. He picked up a pencil, and wrote down the last of the figures, tallied them up, and then looked up from the round table. He sat on a high stool, like a plump gargoyle.

"Jimmy," Jake said, "how much do you figure we made tonight?"

Jimmy started to walk past the podium toward the front door. He did not want to have this conversation.

"Uh, I dunno, Boss. It was a slow night. I, uh, gotta go. See ya tonight around..."

"I said hold on," Jake interrupted. "How many guys you figure we had in here?"

"Uh, I dunno, maybe sixty. Seventy tops. Can I go?"

"No." Jake held up a small, silver disc in his left hand. "Do you know what this is, Jimmy?"

"Well, um, it looks like one of those buzzers kids have. Ya know, they go to shake your hand, and then...."

"It's a counter, you idiot! Every time I push this button," Jake said, clicking the button for effect, "the counter goes up one. Now, I click this button every time some guy comes in the door. Do you know how many guys came in tonight? Eighty-one."

"Gee, Boss," Jimmy said, "I kinda thought it was a slow night, but it coulda been...."

"Now, Jimmy," Jake said, standing up, also for effect. "I want you to think about this real careful like. Don't hurt yourself. Can you explain to me why this counter says that eighty-one guys came in here tonight, and each of them paid a five dollar cover charge, but I'm sitting here with all the money you gave me from the door, and I only have three hundred and eighty dollars?"

Jimmy considered the problem.

"Well, I never was that good at math, Boss. But, to me, it seemed like a pretty slow night. Tuesdays are always slow, except when...."

"JIMMY!" Jake abandoned all attempts to be subtle. "HAVE YOU BEEN SKIMMING THE COVER?"

"Uh, gee, Boss...."

"Stop calling me that! I'm not your boss anymore. Get the hell out of here!"

Jimmy absorbed this. It took him a good half minute.

"Uh, sorry, Boss. I mean, sorry, Jake. Sorry."

Jimmy left quietly. Even with his back turned toward the door, you could see his big head hung in shame.

"Well, that's just great!"

Jake turned to face the woman who had shouted at him. "I don't want to hear it, Jessi."

"Who's gonna work the front door now?"

"I'll take the door. Mindy can take the DJ booth, and you can cover the bar."

Jake had known better than to suggest that Jessi take the DJ booth. The DJ didn't get tips. Tips were all important to Jessi.

Jessi grinned sarcastically. The smile showed the small lines in her face that had come from age. For this reason, she never smiled in front of customers. Not only for this reason, but that was part of it.

"Oh, wonderful! I get to do the bar, where I make half the tips I would make out on the floor, and I'm supposed to be just as grateful as...."

"It's only temporary!" Jake shouted. "Til I get another guy to do the door."

"Yeah," Jessi responded, "and how long is that gonna take?"

"Uh, excuse me..." a voice called from the front door.

The voice betrayed a modicum of eloquence that immediately told Jake that Jimmy had not returned. He wouldn't dare. Jake turned toward the door and said:

"What?"

A young man replied:

"I'm kinda lost. I'm guessing from the sign outside promising 'All Nude Girls' that this isn't the unemployment office."

"Gee, you're bright," Jake said. "To think, a bright guy like you is on the dole. What's this world coming to?"

"Jeez, Jake, cut the kid a break," Jessi said. "This is Two Hundred South Appleyard Avenue. The unemployment office is Two Hundred North Appleyard. Just go four blocks up. You can't miss it."

"Thanks," the young man said to Jessi. He turned to Jake and said:

"I'll just be going. Sorry to bother you."

"Wait, kid." Jake scowled at the young man. "You looking for work?"

"Yeah, just something temporary. I was going to check out the job board at the unemployment office. I'm passing through town, and I thought...."

"Save me the autobiography. I repeat, are you looking for work?"

"Um, yeah."

Jake turned to Jessi, smiled, turned back to the young man, and inquired:

"Do you believe in Fate?"

The young man considered this. "Actually, I've seen a few prophecies come true, so I suppose I do."

"Those jobs they have on the board pay six bucks an hour," Jake said. "I'll pay you seven to work the door. Can you work nights?"

"Well," the young man responded, "I've done some of my best work at night."

"Perfect," Jake said. "See, Jess, problem solved." He reached out his hand toward the young man and said, "I'm Jake. You can call me Boss."

The young man paused, thought for a moment, then shook Jake's hand and said:

"I'm Xander. Xander Harris."


Part I.


Tuesdays normally were slow. However, this Tuesday was the 15th. That meant it was payday for most of the town. It was never slow on payday.

Xander surveyed the club. He figured there were about forty guys in the place. About ten at the bar, probably ten in the back room, five walking around, and somewhere around fifteen sitting around the stage. That made about forty, not counting the dancers.

A group came in through the front door. Xander counted nine in all. He shouted over the blaring music:

"Five bucks per, guys!"

One of the men came up to Xander. "Hey, this is a bachelor party. You got a deal for that, right?"

Xander counted again, and still came up with nine in the group total. "Hold on," he said. He turned to the DJ booth and yelled:

"Boss!"

Jake looked up from the sound board. Xander held up two fingers. Jake made his own count, shook his head, and held up one finger.

Xander turned back to the group. "The groom can get in free. Everyone else, five bucks."

"Aw, come on! Usually the groom and the best man get in!"

"You only have nine guys here," Xander responded. "One's free. Everyone else, five bucks."

Silently, the group exchanged glances, shrugged, and reached into their pockets. Xander collected the money, then waived them in. Jake watched from his perch, and smiled. The kid was working out just fine.

"Boss!" Xander shouted.

Jake looked again. Xander pointed at his watch, and then held up five fingers. That meant break time. Jake nodded, and shouted:

"Jessi!"

Jessi had been stroking the shirt sleeve of a guy who had been about to pay for a private dance. She looked up to the booth, and Jake pointed his finger toward the front door. Jessi scowled at Xander, and he shrugged. She made her apologies to her customer, and then walked toward the door.

"Thanks, kid," she said to Xander as she arrived. "I was about to get that guy to go in back. That's fifty bucks you lost me for your lousy timing."

"Sorry," Xander responded, "but I skipped my break last time."

"Well, next time wait until I'm not busy," she said, and then took her post at the door. Xander knew that she was just being, well, Jessi, but he still felt bad.

"I'll be back in a couple minutes," he said.

"Take all five minutes. Jake doesn't pay you enough to take short breaks." Jessi winked at Xander. All was forgiven.

Xander walked around the stage where a tall redhead was twirling, stretching and gyrating topless. Xander passed by with the indifference to the nude woman that he had developed in his two weeks working at the club, a nonchalance that he would not have believed possible two weeks prior. He went out the back door, where a fenced-in porch area held a small plastic table and two chairs. Local ordinances banned smoking in the club. The customers would get their hands stamped and smoke in front of the building. The girls smoked out back.

When Xander got outside, a petite blonde was sitting at the table, finishing her cigarette. She wore a purple silk robe, just in case any of the locals were peeking through the slits of the fence. Nothing's free. "You're Xander, right, the new doorman?"

"Yeah," Xander said. "I'm just taking a break."

"I'm Evie." She picked her pack of cigarettes up off the table, and made an offering gesture toward Xander.

"No thanks," Xander responded. "I never picked up the habit."

"You should get some bad habits. You'll fit in better."

"You don't think I fit in?"

"I meant it as a complement," she said, throwing her cigarette butt into the metal grate on the ground that covered the sewer access. "Have a seat."

Xander sat at the table. No one at the club, except Jessi, had attempted to strike up a conversation with him.

"So," Xander said, "how long have you been...?"

"About four months. I'm just passing through town."

"Funny, so am I."

"Where ya from?"

"California. Little town called Sunnydale."

"California?" Evie sat up. "I'm going to California."

"Really? Where?"

"Los Angeles."

"Do you have family there?"

"Nope. I left most of my family in Topeka. Things got a little...well...weird with my stepdad. My mom...well..."

She paused, fiddled with her cigarette pack, and then said:

"Anyway, I'm headed to LA. I'm going to be an actress. I'm just saving up enough money to make a decent go at it. Acting lessons, and all...hey, what's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing," Xander said. He hadn't realized that his face had dropped. In fact, he hadn't entirely realized that he had, for the moment, thought of Cordelia. She never even said goodbye.

"So," Evie said, "how do you like working here? I guess, for a guy, this is like a dream job."

"Well," Xander said, "it does look suspiciously similar to some of my dreams. Usually the kind of dreams I have when I stay up too late watching cable. But, I don't know, this really isn't my thing. I've never been much of a ladies' man"

"Let me guess," Evie said, "you were the high school nerd. Never had a date, never went to prom...."

"Actually, I did go to prom. But the date was a nightmare. Actually, it was kinda what a nightmare would be like, if in your nightmares you wore a tuxedo."

"Oh, come on," Evie responded. "It couldn't have been that bad. What did your date do, tear your lungs out?"

"Well," Xander said, "not that night, and not me personally, but you're closer to the truth than you think."

Evie smiled. She had a pretty smile.

"Anyway," she said, standing up, "I've got to get back....hey, listen, I'm here 'til closing. Do you want to, I dunno, get a cup of coffee after?"

"W-w-well, sure," Xander responded. She had a very pretty smile.

"Great! We'll celebrate. I made over two-hundred bucks tonight. That's my best night ever!"

Xander forced a smile, but he couldn't help thinking of how she had earned that record breaking take.

"Uh, come to think of it," Xander said, "Jake is gonna want me to stay and clean up. I'll probably be here late. Maybe some other time?"

"Oh, sure," Evie said. She wasn't a woman who was used to having men say no. "Some other time."

She went into the club. Xander looked at his watch. One more minute on break. He decided to cut it short.

As he approached the back door, Mindy, one of the other dancers, passed by him on her way out. She smiled politely, sat down at the table, and lit a cigarette. Xander was long gone when the door opened again. An unfamiliar man walked over and looked down at her...in her...through her. There was something about his eyes, so black....

Mindy caught her breath, and said:

"This area's closed to customers. Take a hike."

"I'm not exactly what you'd call a customer," the man said, as his eyes turned from black to an ugly, dirty yellow, and his lips twisted, stretched, and became impossibly long. He smiled, showing his razor teeth as he leaned down toward her.

What big teeth you have, Mindy thought to herself, panic sending her mind into a childlike state. She should have screamed. It was a mistake she didn't live to correct.


Part II.


"Hey, Xander!"

Xander looked up from the floor he was sweeping. He thought the club was empty. Jake had gone home; he actually trusted Xander enough to leave him to close up. Jessi was standing before him.

"Hey, Jess."

"I hear you shot down Evie."

"Well, I didn't exactly shoot her down...."

"Is it because she's a dancer?"

Xander paused, and said:

"Well, it's not that...well...maybe. A little...."

"Good," Jessi interjected. "Stay away from the dancers. They all have issues."

Xander struggled for a response. "She seems sweet."

"She is sweet," Jessi said. "That's the problem. If they're sweet, they either don't stay around, or they don't stay sweet. That girl, if she's lucky, won't stay around. Either way, it's no good for you."

"I'd say it's sweet of you to be concerned," Xander said, "but that would kind of blow you're theory."

Jessi smiled. "Just be careful. Don't go getting all mushy on dangerous women."

Xander smiled back. "Been there. Done that. Came way too close to getting strangled to death. Thanks."

"Don't mention it," Jessi said. "So what's a guy like you doing here?"

"Saving some money. Enough to hit the road again."

"Where are you going?"

"Nowhere in particular. I graduated from high school, and I didn't have anything lined up, so I decided to see the world. My car broke down, so I got a job washing dishes at a little restaurant, and saved up enough money for a bus ticket here."

Jessi looked around the club. "This is what you call seeing the world?"

"Well, I thought I'd be at the Grand Canyon by now, but traveling is always iffy. You remember what happened to the Brady Bunch."

"Well, just don't stay here too long," Jessi said. She threw her purse over her shoulder, and walked toward the door. She stopped, looked back, and said:

"And remember what I told you. Hands off the dancers. They're nothing but heartache."


Part III.


Xander showed up at eleven the next morning.

"Xander," Jake said.

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Make sure the men's room's got plenty of paper towels."

Xander checked the men's room, filled the paper towel dispenser, and while he was there, he wiped down the sink, cleaned the mirror, and emptied the change out of the vending machine. It was better to do things before Jake asked. Jake never asked nicely.

Xander left the men's room. He went back to the dressing room at about twenty of noon. The dancers were in back, all half-dressed, or half-undressed. It was difficult to tell. Xander came back every day just before the club opened for the lunch crowd to pass along any messages from Jake. All the girls were supposed to be at the club at eleven-thirty.

"The Boss says to push the rum & cokes," Xander announced. "They're on special. Two for one."

"Jake must've got some rum real cheap," Jessi speculated as she adjusted the top of her fishnet hose.

"Anybody need anything before we open?"

"Yeah," Jessi said. "Tell Jake Mindy didn't show up yet. Tell him to give her ten minutes, then he better call a replacement."

Brenda, a dancer who could do things on stage with a bandana that even exceeded Xander's vivid imagination, asked:

"Any idea where she is?"

"Dunno," Jessi responded. "Don't care. We need a full company today. It's day after payday."

"I'll tell him," Xander said, and left the room. He went over to the DJ booth, handed Jake the handful of change from the vending machine, and said:

"Here's the men's room money. Oh, by the way, Mindy's not here. Should I call her and find out if she's running late, or...."

"Forget it," Jake said, counting the quarters with his thumb. "I already called Zoe to take her slot. She'll be here soon."

"Did Mindy call in?"

"Nope," Jake replied, "but she's not here, so she loses her spot."

"Should anybody call her? I mean, she could be...."

"Xander," Jake said, "When a girl like that doesn't show up for work, they're not coming back. That's it. Girls like these just move on. They go back to their boyfriends, they go back to their jobs at Dairy Queen, they go back to Iowa, but they don't come back here. These girls aren't exactly poster children for stability. Don't get attached to any of 'em, they don't stick around."

Xander considered this, and said, "They really go back to Iowa?"

"I know, it's strange, but yes, some freaky farm types actually like Iowa. Now go turn on the light outside. If the light's not on, how do people know we're open? Are you trying to send me to the poor house?"

Xander went outside, turned the neon lights on, went back in, stood by the door, and waited. The first customers started to arrive about ten minutes after noon. The afternoon crowd was mostly locals. The girls grudgingly performed, because the locals might tip, but they didn't blow serious money on back room dances. Mostly, the dancers just smiled politely and milled around, oblivious to the locals. The exception was Marty.

Marty was about seventy. He walked with a limp, and always wore one of two pairs of polyester shorts (tan or dark brown) and one of two polyester golf shirts (green or blue). He tipped the girls in single dollars he folded into origami animals. The girls would smile, perhaps run their fingers through his thin, grey hair, and in return, he would hand them (in their hand, always a gentleman) a dollar bill folded into a dog, a bird or a fish. He never talked more than mere pleasantries; rumors went around that his wife had died, or left him, or that he never married. The girls didn't know, and didn't care. He always obeyed the rules, and looked at them with more respect than they were used to. The girls liked Marty.

That afternoon, Jessi came over to Xander and said:

"Marty looks a little hot. This summer heat must be getting to him. Bring him a glass of water. I'll watch the door." Jessi never minded watching the door in the afternoon, when the big money customers were about three hours away from arriving.

Xander went to the bar, poured a glass of icewater, and brought it to Marty. Marty looked at the glass, looked up at Xander and said:

"Thank's son, it has been a bit warm."

"No problem, Sir," Xander said. "That's my job."

"Gee, son," Marty said, his trembling hand reaching toward the glass. "Back when I was your age I would've been chasing these young things, not taking other people's money so they could chase them."

"Well," Xander replied, "I've never been much of a chaser."

"Oh, come on," Marty said, "There's got to have been one girl you chased in your life."

"There was one," Xander said, "but I didn't exactly chase her. I kinda circled her. Hoped that she would end up going in a direction where she would be chasing me."

"And...?"

"We're just friends now," Xander said. "Just friends."

"That's too bad," Marty said. "Here, take this...." He reached into his pocket, and put a dollar bill cat into Xander's hand.

"You don't need to tip me for water," Xander said.

"Son, don't fight it. Take every bonus life gives you."

Xander looked down at the dollar kitty. "Thank's, Sir," he said, and put the bill in his shirt pocket.

The rest of the night was fairly typical. Around eight Evie showed up in a sweat suit, with her gym bag over her shoulder. She worked the night shift. The prettiest girls all got to work the night shift.

"Hey, Xander," Evie said, "How's business?"

"O.K. Mostly locals. A few guys who look like they're from the hotel down the street. Oh, and a couple of guys who came in here in leather jackets. Could be bikers, but they've been behaving so far."

"How've you been?"

"I'm O.K.," Xander said. "And you?"

"Alright. Uh, I better go get dressed."

"Yeah," Xander said. As Evie walked away, Xander shouted:

"Hey!"

Evie turned toward him.

"I was thinking," Xander said, "I don't have to clean up tonight, so if you're still interested in that cup of coffee...."

"Oh, yes! I mean, sure. I'd like that."

"O.K., see you after closing."

"Yeah, see ya," Evie said, turning away and walking toward the dressing room.

To Hell with Jessi, Xander thought to himself. How complicated can it get?

He rethought this issue when he saw Evie leading one of the bikers by the hand, into the back room. His stomach knotted, his heart raced, he could feel his jaw tighten.

Wise up, Xander, he thought to himself. Either get used to it, or don't go there.

"That's some guy Evie just snagged."

Xander turned toward the voice next to him. It was Brenda.

"Yeah," Xander said, "a real Hell's Angel."

"More like a Hell's Movie Extra," Brenda responded.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, that guy doesn't look like a biker. He looks like someone trying to look like a biker. The leather jacket's too plain, and what's with the matador boots? He looks more like Fonzie than anything else."

Brenda turned to walk away. Xander grabbed her arm.

"Hey, what the...?"

"Sorry, Brenda, I didn't mean to startle you," Xander said, trying to think of how to choose his next words. "So, would you say that guy's clothes looked dated? Like, maybe, someone who was wearing clothes out of another time? Like, let's say someone died in the 50's, came back, and dressed exactly like he did back when he was young? Like fashion had completely passed him by. Is that what the guy looks like?"

"Well," Brenda said, "I would never have quite thought to put it that way, but, yeah. I suppose."

Brenda walked toward a guy who had just pulled out his wallet to pay for a drink. The girls always gravitated toward the guys with their wallets out.

Xander froze. Thoughts raced through his head. This isn't Sunnydale. It's probably nothing. Nothing.

Xander decided he couldn't take the chance. He had to do something. He was scared, and when he was scared, he always asked himself the same question:

What would Buffy do?

He shouted:

"Boss!"

Jake looked down from the DJ booth, saw Xander's five fingers in the air, caught Jessi's eye, and in a moment Jessi was at the door. The typical routine. Only on this break, Xander didn't go to the back porch.

Back in the dressing room, Lindy, a buxom blond with roots as dark as midnight, was counting out her tips. Xander walked up to her and asked:

"Lindy, do you have your 'Catholic Schoolgirl' outfit here tonight?"

"Yeah," she said. "I was gonna wear it tomorrow night. Why?"

"I need to borrow your crucifix."

"Why? You forget to say your rosaries?"

"No," Xander said, looking over his shoulder, then looking back. It had been a long time since he had looked over his shoulder for what he hoped not to see there now. "It's not that, I just need to borrow it."

"Well, alright," Lindy said, walking toward her locker. She reached in, and pulled out a metal cross on a gold chain. "Just don't lose it. It cost me twelve bucks at the flea market."

"I won't lose it," Xander promised. "Trust me, this will never leave my hands."

He ran out of the dressing room, crossed the floor, and went past the curtain which covered the entrance to the private dance room. On either side along each wall were small, curtained rooms with booth seats. Groans and moans came through most of them. Xander pondered breaking in on all of the private dances, rethought the plan, and then looked down at the ground. Coming out from under one of the curtains was the black sleeve of a man's leather jacket. Xander walked up to the booth and opened the curtain.

Evie was curled in the fetal position in the corner of the booth. The biker had one hand over her mouth, and one hand on her throat. He turned to face Xander, and his yellow eyes glowed like gold in sunshine. For the first time, Xander was actually relieved to see the sharp fangs of the undead protruding from a man's mouth. This time, there was no blood on the fangs. He'd arrived in time.

The vampire let out a low growl. He waited for a reaction, but did not get one. Xander stood as still as a streetlamp. The vamp decided to make his point verbally, and said:

"If you're smart, you'll take off, twerp"

"I'm not that smart," Xander admitted, "but I think that I can figure out how to use one of these." Xander let the crucifix drop down from the palm of his hand, and dangled it from its chain.

Evie, who had understood none of what had happened so far, also could not understand why it was now her attacker who was curled in the fetal position in the opposite corner of the booth.

"Now, listen, my walking dead friend," Xander said, staring straight into the yellow eyes of the trembling vamp. "I'm not going anywhere. I know what you are, and I'm not afraid. I know how to kill you. I've got a lot worse than this cross with me, but I have to sweep the floors in this place, so I'd prefer not to dust you. So take your friend, and get out."

Xander grabbed Evie's arm, backed out of the booth with her at his side, and waited outside for the vampire to exit. He did.

Xander still had the cross, and the vamp kept his distance. He growled:

"Who are you?"

"Just a proud alumni of Sunnydale High," Xander replied.

"Sunnydale," the vampire said, "I was on my way to Sunnydale."

"Well, when you get there," Xander said, "be sure to say 'hello' to the Slayer for me, because she'll sure be saying 'hello' to you. Apologize to her for me. I meant to send postcards, but, you know, you get busy."

At the word "slayer," the vampire's jaw clenched. "I'll say 'hello' to you first, twerp," the Vamp said, although he said it on his way to the exit. "This isn't over."

When the vamp was gone, Xander turned to Evie and said:

"Don't scream, don't run, and don't ask. We'll talk, but right now we're both getting out of here."


Part IV.


"What was that thing?"

Evie and Xander sat in a booth at the diner down the street from the club. She was wearing a pair of faded jeans shorts and an oversized t-shirt she had thrown on in the dressing room. She and Xander had left the club, no explanations, no goodbyes to anyone. Jake would never let them come back to the club, but employment was the least of their concerns.

"It was a vampire," Xander explained. "They're real. The other guy with him, in the same leather getup, he's probably a vampire, too."

Evie stared down into her coffee cup. It seemed impossible, but no explanation seemed possible. This impossible explanation seemed to be, well, plausible.

"He was going to kill me, wasn't he?"

"Yes, he was." Xander took a sip of his own coffee. For Evie's sake, he tried not to let his hands shake.

"Why me?"

"Why anybody? I've lost a lot of friends to vampires. There isn't a reason. They feed on us. Anybody. It doesn't matter who you are."

Evie absorbed this. "How did you know what to do?"

"I'm from Sunnydale," Xander replied. "It's on a Hellmouth. My friend, she slays vampires. They're drawn to the Hellmouth, and she protects people."

"But why would a vampire be drawn to a strip club?"

"I've been wondering that myself," Xander said, putting down his coffee. In retrospect, a caffinated beverage didn't seem like such a good idea. He was wired enough already. "Vamps usually hang out in alleys, dark streets. How did they think they could get out of there, leave a body behind, and not have half the police department looking for them?"

"I wonder how many other girls....Mindy!" Evie gasped, and put her hand over her mouth.

"Hmmm...that makes sense," Xander said. "She didn't show up for work today."

"W-w-w-ell, maybe not," Evie argued. The thought that Mindy had been killed only added to the horror of the night. "I mean, lots of girls just take off. Jake says...."

"The fact that lots of girls disappear only proves that....Jake!" Xander sat up straight in his seat. "Jake must be in on it!"

"Wait a minute, Xander, I know Jake is a little bit of a hardass, but he wouldn't...."

"Mindy was only about five or ten minutes late today," Xander continued. "Jake told me that he had already called another girl to take her place. How did he know to do that, unless he knew a long time before that she wasn't coming in at all?"

"But why would he...?"

"They may pay him, or provide something else for him. Vampires everywhere must know about this place. After all, if they were just randomly picking girls, eventually someone would get suspicious. Lots of the girls have friends and family in town. Jake must tell them which ones aren't local, which one's live alone, and so forth. That way, they know who they can kill and still sneak out of town without anyone knowing that they were there!"

Evie closed her eyes. A single tear ran down her cheek.

"Hey, Evie," Xander said, placing a comforting hand on top of hers. "I'm sorry about Mindy. I'm sorry about everybody. But you got out of there, and...."

"It's not that," Evie said, her voice quivering, her eyes still shut tight. "It's just that....that thing...that vampire...it was after me...it picked me...because no one would care if I...if I...."

Xander squeezed her hand and said:

"I'd care."

"That's sweet," Evie said, forcing a slight, slender smile.

"No, really," Xander insisted. "I'd care. A lot. Really."

"You really would, wouldn't you?" Evie opened her eyes. Now many tears rolled freely down her face, freed from the eyelids damming their flow. But this time when she smiled, it was a real smile.

"Listen," Xander said. "We've got to get you back home."

"What about you?"

Xander considered this, then said:

"After closing, I'm going back."

"What?!?"

"Whatever Jake's doing, it stops now."

"Xander, no! Let's just get out of here. You can't face him...them...those things!"

"You know," Xander said, "a very pretty girl once told me just about the same thing, and you know what? I lived to tell about it."

"Xander, please! I can't even think of you...."

"Evie," Xander said, giving her hand a last squeeze, "this ends. Tonight."


Part V.


Xander dropped Evie off at her small apartment. With him he took a wooden picture frame and one of her kitchen knives. He called a taxi at the payphone at the corner. While waiting for the cab, Xander used the receiver to smash the glass, and broke the sides of the frames into individual sticks. He now had four sturdy pieces of wood. The cab pulled up. He climbed into the back seat, gave the driver directions to the club, and on the way he used the knife to sharpen the ends of the sticks into points.

"Hey, kid," the driver said, looking at Xander in the rearview mirror. "Whatcha doin' back there?"

"I'm whittling," Xander explained. "Didn't you ever see 'The Andy Griffith Show?' Opie did it all the time."

The driver accepted this explanation, and drove on. He dropped Xander in front of the club. Xander walked behind a tree. It was about quarter to four a.m.. He waited.

About ten minutes after four two dancers walked out the door, then three more, then another three. With Evie at home, that was everybody. Just after the last of the girls left, Xander saw the two biker vamps walk in through the front door. He crouched even lower behind the tree.

When he heard the deadbolt on the door lock, he went around to the side, where the bathroom window faced the street. He used one of the stakes to pry it open. Jake knew the lock was broken, but he was too cheap to have it fixed. Xander crawled in the window, and dropped to the bathroom floor. He kept one stake in his hand, one in each of his back pockets, and one in his sock. The knife he stuck through his belt, and Lindy's cross hung around his neck.

He snuck through the bathroom door toward the small office Jake had off to the side of the club. The door to the office was cracked open. He carefully stepped over the speaker wire that ran from the DJ booth to the back speakers. He crouched by the door, peered in through the crack, and saw Jake sitting behind his desk, talking to the two biker vamps. Jake said:

"How the Hell did I know the kid was going to get the idea he was Sir Galahad?"

"Listen, Jake, we pay you good money to come here." The vamp wasn't happy.

"Yeah, Jake, last guy I killed had three hundred bucks on him. I gave all of that to you for tonight. And what do we have to show for it?" This was the vamp that Xander had scared off. He really wasn't happy.

"Listen, guys, it won't happen again," Jake explained. "Just kill the two little wastes of space, and be done with it. No harm, no foul."

"Well, the girl's taken care of, but we haven't found the kid."

Xander lost his breath. His heart forgot to keep beating.

Jake inquired: "Dead, I assume?"

Xander listened. He wanted an answer to Jake's question more than Jake ever could.

"She's back at her apartment. She's not going anywhere," the vamp responded. "We figured we'd take her with us on the road. Have a little fun."

Xander found his breath, his heart remembered it's function. She was alive. His mind raced.

Jake asked:

"How'd ya get invited in?"

"Told her through the door we were cops, looking for a friend of hers," the vamp explained. "We asked if we could come in. She said 'sure' before she opened the door. They should really put peepholes in those doors."

"Well," Jake said, "I'd prefer you just kill her and dump the body somewhere...."

Xander crept backwards from the door. He had to get back to the window. He had to get back to Evie. He had to get her out of that apartment.

He also had to step over the speaker wire to get out unnoticed, but this time he forgot. He tripped, and landed against a table, sending it crashing to the ground, himself with it.

The door to Jake's office sprung open. Light from Jake's desk lamp fell on Xander like a blanket. Jake stood above him, with one vamp at each side.

"Well, lookie what we got here," said Xander's old vampire nemesis. "If it isn't my favorite resident of Sunnydale, here to save me the trouble of hunting him down."

Xander looked down at his chest. The chain of the crucifix had become twisted. The cross was now somewhere behind his neck, nowhere to be seen.

"Now, kid," Jake said, staring down at Xander, "I told you not to get too attached to any of the dancers. Now look what you've got yourself into."

Xander stared straight into Jake's eyes...until he couldn't anymore, because they were too far apart. Jake's eyes began to slowly grow farther and farther away from each other. In the space they left, his skin grew into a bump, the bump grew into a horn, and the horn grew six inches out from his face. His ears climbed up toward the crown of his head, twisting into points. And sometime during all of this Jake's skin turned a drab green.

"You know," Jake growled, "disloyal employees just bring out the worst in me!"

Xander's right hand held a stake. One stake. He couldn't reach the other stakes or the knife while he was sprawled on the floor. One stake. Two vamps. One...whatever Jake was. And only one stake. He gripped the stake. He would take at least one down....

BAAAAAMMMMMMMMM!!!!!

Thunder rang in Xander's ears. It sounded as though someone had set off a firecracker in front of a bullhorn. When Jake fell to the ground, Xander saw Jessi standing behind him, a large revolver in her hand. The vampires turned to face her. Jessi said:

"I'm glad I came back for my purse."

She turned to point it at one of the vamps. Xander regained his senses. The bullets might slow the vamps, but Jessi couldn't possibly know that they wouldn't die. As the vamps moved toward Jessi, she leveled her pistol at the vampire on Xander's left. Xander took advantage of the opportunity, jumped to his feet, and plunged the stake through the back of the vamp to his right. It disintegrated. He pulled another stake from his back pocket.

The other vamp turned toward Xander. Jessi never blinked. She stared at the vamp and said:

"If there's one thing...[BAMM!!!]...I can't stand...[BAMM!!!]...it's customers...[BAMM!!!]...who come in here...[BAMM!!!]...AND DON'T BEHAVE THEMSELVES!!!"

BAMM!!!

She continued pulling the trigger of the pistol. Click. Click. Click. It was empty.

The vamp pushed himself up off the floor. Xander kicked him in the head. It fell back on the floor.

"You heard the lady," Xander said, dropping to his knees and lifting the stake. "Behave!"

He rammed the stake into the vamps chest. It turned to dust.

Xander looked up at Jessi. She said:

"I knew this thing would come in handy. Jake didn't like me bringing it into the club. He said it was dangerous." She looked down at Jake's fat body. He was gasping, clutching his chest where the bullet had penetrated, and struggling to pull his bulk up from the floor. "Damn right it was dangerous, you bastard!"

"'Scuse me, Jessi," Xander said, crawling next to Jake's body.

"Boss," Xander said, pulling the knife from his belt, "I hereby tender my resignation."

Xander drew the blade across Jake's neck once, then again. With the third stroke he had severed Jake's head from his body. Jake stopped struggling. He lay dead on the carpet.

Xander looked up at Jessi. "Listen, get rid of this...thing. The police can't find it. They'd never understand. I don't have time to explain what's happening. Evie's back at her apartment. They got to her. She may be hurt. I've got to go."

"Go, kid, go," Jessi agreed. "I'm not squeamish."

Xander ran out the front door.

Jessi looked down at Jake's body, and thought for a moment. Then she got an idea. She picked up Jake's head. She'd come back for the rest.

"Jake, Jake, Jake," she said, walking toward the door to the back porch. "You never did have a good noggin for running a small business."

She went out to the porch, dropped Jake's head unceremoniously, and laced her fingers into the holes in the sewer grate on the ground. She lifted with all her strength, and the grate came out of its grooves. She dropped the grate on the ground, picked up Jake's head, and as she was about to drop it into the abyss, she glanced down inside. She saw a glimpse of skin, a twist of hair, and a set of eyes staring up at her. Mindy's eyes.

Jessi was right. She wasn't squeamish. But even she felt nauseated for a moment. She hadn't been the first one to think of the sewer for hasty disposal of corpses.

She glanced down at Jake's head in her hands, and said:

"Well, I bet you thought you were clever."


Part VI.


Xander rushed toward the door of Evie's apartment. It was knocked off it's hinges.

He ran inside. Evie was lying on the carpet. Very still.

He looked down at Evie's body in disbelief. He saw two small punctures in the nape of her neck. He closed his eyes. No...I can't be too late...no...they said they were bringing her with them...no...she can't be dead...no...they said they didn't kill her...no....

"Xander?"

He opened his eyes. Evie had opened hers. His heart raced. His eyes widened. Of course! They had fed on her, but they hadn't killed her! Just like when Angel drank Buffy!

"Evie!" He grabbed her, held her, ran his hands through her hair.

"Xander...Xander...I feel...different."

He looked down into her eyes. Then he looked at her mouth. Blood. On the corners of her lips. Blood. She drank their blood.

They drank her blood. She drank their blood.

"Oh, God! Evie! They...they...."

"No, Xander, I'm alright," she whispered. "I...I feel strange, but, I'm alright. In fact," she said, struggling to sit up, "I've never felt more alive! I don't understand it. I don't know what they did, but I've never felt more alive!"

"Evie...oh, Evie...."

"No, Xander, you don't understand," Evie said. She sat up, Xander's arms still around her. "I don't really understand, but I see that I've been all wrong! I've spent my whole life running. Running from people who I loved. Running from people I thought I loved. Running from people who hurt me. But I was a fool! You don't run away! You run after them! You make them run away from you! And they'll run, and they'll run, and when they can't run anymore, that's when you...."

"Evie," Xander whispered, "You're right. Something has changed. I know it's scary, confusing. But here's what you do. Close your eyes, and lie back. Just soak it in. If you take a moment to let everything settle you'll understand. I promise." He gently helped her recline to the floor. "Just close your eyes."

She closed her eyes. "Xander," she sighed, "it's so beautiful. It's so peaceful. I've never felt this...uggghhhh!"

Her eyes sprang open. There was pressure, pain, in her chest. She looked, and saw the brown wooden stake protruding from her shirt. It was the last thing she saw.

About a half hour later, Jessi came to the door. Jake's body had only taken a few minutes to get rid of. When she didn't get a call, she decided to meet Xander and see if Evie needed an ambulence. She stood in the doorway of Evie's apartment. Evie wasn't there. There was only Xander, sitting cross-legged on the floor, drawing tiny circles in a pile of dust.


Epilogue


"So now what?"

Jessi stood across from Xander in the lobby of the bus station.

"I dunno," Xander admitted. "Next city. Next job. I saved some money working for Jake. Enough for a bus ticket somewhere."

"Still going to see the world?" Jessi's voice had a tone of disapproval.

"The world's still out there, waiting for me to see it. The Grand Canyon isn't going to get any grander."

"Well," Jessi said, "At least when you get home you'll have one Hell of a story to tell your friends."

"I don't think I'm going to tell anyone about this," Xander said. "I'll leave this part of my trip out, or I'll make something up. This isn't exactly my proudest moment."

"What are you talking about?" Jessi's scowled at Xander. "Jake and his monster buddies would have kept at it forever if you hadn't come along. You saved a lot of people."

Xander turned his head, averting Jessi's eyes. "Not the one I tried to save."

"Oh, Xander, you can't blame yourself for that!" Jessi looked at Xander's face, realized that he had found a way to blame himself, and that she wasn't going to find a way to talk him out of it.

"Thank's for the ride to the station, Jessi. Don't worry. I'll be O.K."

"I have a feeling you're going to be a lot better than O.K., someday," Jessi said, "if you learn to stop being so hard on yourself. Hey, if you're going to make something up to tell your friends, make it a good one. Tell 'em you worked at a male strip club, and you shook that bod of yours every night, and drove the ladies crazy."

Xander smiled. "I just might use that one. Or a variation of it. I'll improvise."

Jessi reached out her hand, and cupped Xander's cheek in her palm.

"You know," Jessi said, "instead of spending so much time trying to see the world, maybe it's time you started making an effort to make the world see you." She slowly pulled her hand away, tracing the line of his jaw down to his chin with her fingers. "You're really something special, Xander Harris."

They exchanged glances, and Jessi left.

Xander walked up to the ticket counter. The clerk asked:

"Round trip or one way?"

"One way," Xander replied.

"Where to?"

"How much to the Grand Canyon?"

The clerk typed some numbers into his computer. "One hundred twenty-two."

Too much. "What's the cheapest ticket you have?" Xander did a mental tally of his cash. He hadn't saved all that much.

"The cheapest ticket?" The clerk scowled. "Going where?"

"Anywhere. I'm just going."

The clerk rolled his eyes, and shouted to a clerk in the back:

"Hey, Steve, we still got any Super Savers?"

Steve called back: "Where to?"

"Anywhere," the clerk replied. "Jack Kerouak here doesn't care where he's going."

"Check Denver," Steve shouted.

The clerk typed a new set of numbers into his computer and said:

"I can get you to Denver for thirty-nine bucks, one way."

"Great," Xander said. Thirty-nine. That would leave him some spare money to get a motel room until he could find a job.

"Cash or credit card?"

"Cash," Xander said, pulling out his wallet. As he opened it, a picture stared at him through the plastic sleeve. It showed him sitting with one arm around Buffy, and the other around Willow. Giles stood behind them. "Hey," he asked, "how much is a ticket to Sunnydale?"

"Sunnydale?"

"It's in California," Xander explained.

"Hang on." The clerk typed a few more numbers into his computer. "It depends on how you go. You'll have to make a stop. If you change buses in L.A., it's ninety-two. If you go through Oakland, it'll take longer, but I can get you there for seventy-eight. That's with tax and everything."

Xander pulled all of his money out of his wallet. He counted...three twenties...a ten...a five...and one, two singles. Seventy-seven dollars. He checked his pants pockets. Nothing, not even change.

"A little short, Jack?" Xander smiled at the clerk, silently wishing him a painful and chronic disease. A dollar! With all the money he had watched changing hands at the club, and now one dollar was all he needed.... "Wait!" Xander suddenly remembered Marty. He reached into his shirt pocket, and pulled out the dollar bill kitty. He dropped it on the counter. It landed on it's feet. "Well, what's it gonna be, Jack?" The clerk was growing impatient. "Denver or Sunnydale?" Xander looked up from the counter, and asked the clerk: "Do you believe in Fate?"

END


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