The inside of the club is a wreck. The smells of blood, sweat, and dirty bodies are almost overpowering. Buffy wrinkles her nose and takes a few steps inside. It looks like some twisted version of a war zone, and she feels her stomach turn again. Tables and chairs are overturned, broken legs sticking up like sinister teeth. Shattered glass crunches under her feet. Cages hang from the ceiling, human-sized steel bars casting weird shadows on the filthy walls. A body lies in one of them, arms flung out pitifully. She can smell rot from across the room. Something is very wrong here. Vampires don't keep dead bodies around, because of the smell if nothing else.
The stage is still partially set up, though the microphones and instruments are in a shambles. It looks half-rotted, as though some freakish zombie band is expected to play the next time there's an audience. A drum gapes at her from beneath an overturned music stand, its middle all punched-out and jagged. An unexpected wave of sadness washes over her. This was a happy place once, and now it's all in ruins. Buffy pushes the unwanted emotion away, replacing it with anger. Regret will only make her weak, and there's never time for weakness in her world.
A rustling from behind the curtains drags her into the back room. She nearly steps in a pool of blood, freezing, momentarily nauseated. Then a faint cough from the back makes her jump, and she's moving again, kicking aside the wreckage. The curtains raise a cloud of stale, dusty air around her, stirring dread deep in her gut. She's seen a lot of terrible things, but something about this place tells her it's about to change her definition of evil. The very ground seems to radiate malice.
A giant cage is attached to one wall, the bars just far enough apart for an arm to fit through. A sickening array of torture implements are displayed on the adjacent wall. She can barely make out the form of a man, crumpled on the floor in the dim light. Taking a step closer, she can see the top of his grayed head sagging limply from his neck. Trepidation fills her as she wonders whether she's missed her chance by one dying breath.
She's certain the noises have been coming from him. She puts her hands on the door of the cage, rattling experimentally. The bars are thick, designed to impede vampire strength. She's strong, but not nearly strong enough. Moreover, the old Watcher is shackled to the wall with chains too thick for her to readily break. She cranes her neck and presses her forehead to the rusty old bars, trying to decide whether the man is still alive.
A rustle of movement from behind her makes the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. Buffy whirls to see that the shadow-man has finally come inside, though he looks decidedly uneasy in the sickly yellow light from the inside of the club. He stands just inside the curtain, the dark fabric billowing around his shoulders like a cape. He keeps his eyes down, and resolutely ignores the array of torture paraphernalia on the wall. Buffy sighs and cocks her head defiantly, telling herself that she's annoyed. She tries not to notice that he's even better looking than she previously thought, or the way his eyes seem to sparkle when they land on her.
"I don't suppose you've got a key on you," she says, schooling her voice into a tone of cool indifference.
The man stares blankly at her for a moment before answering. "They really don't…like me dropping in."
"They really don't like me." There's a slight tremor in his voice, and for a moment she wonders whether he's actually just showed some sort of emotion. There must be more that he's not telling her, but she doesn't bother pressing. His personal sob story is the last thing she's interested in at the moment.
"How could that possibly be…" It comes out in her most caustic tone, though she isn't sure she actually intended it as an insult. The man's eyes flick to the other side of the room, away from her, and she wonders for a moment whether she's actually hurt him. With a shake of her head, Buffy forces the feeling away, telling herself that the feelings of strange men, gorgeous or otherwise, are beyond her effort at the moment. She's here with a job to do. Still, she can't help being distracted by curiosity. "If you're gonna be popping up with this cryptic wise man act on a regular basis, can you at least tell me your name?"
Something in the way he says it catches her and draws her in, though he's still making a conscious effort not to look at her. His voice is filled with more emotion than she's thought possible in a single word. Desperate for her to hear, but too unworthy.
"Angel." She repeats it without thinking, too lost in the dark smoke of images conjured up by the sound of his voice. Buffy realizes she's spoken aloud a moment too late, and mentally berates herself for showing even this small sign of weakness. He could still be the enemy. "Pretty name." Too flustered, and too girly. She's off her game and they both know it.
The man in the cage coughs loudly, and Buffy propels herself toward the bars again with all the nervous energy hanging in the air. Coming back to consciousness, the old Watcher pulls himself into a sitting position with the chains of his shackles. "Buffy Summers?" His voice is tinged equal parts British accent and awe.
"That's right," says Buffy, suddenly all business. Two needy men, and she's letting it go to her head. This is her job, not some super-hero gig. "You were the one who called my Watcher, right?"
The old man nods weakly.
"Wanna tell me what I'm doing here?" Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Angel flinch, and realizes how harsh her words sound. Then she wonders why she ought to care what he thinks. This is her job, and she needs to make sure this old Watcher is for real.
"The Master's factory," he says, too out of breath to form full sentences. "He's…building an army. You must stop him."
She glances over her shoulder at Angel, half tempted to laugh at the Watcher's overly formal tone. "So I've been told. And I assume you want me to get you out so you can help me?"
"If it's not—" He breaks off, coughing. "Too much trouble."
"It's a lot of trouble," says Buffy coolly. "So why don't you tell me where I can get a key for this lock?"
"The Master…one of his…lackeys…has it. Red hair." The Watcher shudders. "Her name is Willow. Nastiest vampire I've ever come across."
Buffy nods, unimpressed. "And she would be where?"
"They'll come back here." The Watcher coughs again. "You must take them by day."
"So what am I supposed to do now? Sit around crocheting you a pretty new scarf to celebrate your release?"
The Watcher shakes his head, pain creasing his face. "You've got to conserve your strength for…the factory. There's an abandoned house… 1630 Revello Drive. There are others there. They'll help you." His head sags against the wall, and Buffy wonders whether he'll survive long enough to be rescued. Still, she works for the Council, and that makes his rescue her mission.
"Fine." She turns on one chunky boot-heel, prepared to tell Angel that they are finished here. She's greeted by the site of an empty room, curtains still waving in the wind from what must have been a hasty exit. Sighing, Buffy tosses the curtains aside and makes her way through the wreckage and back out the door of the club.
She barely has a chance to get one foot across the threshold before the shadows burst into a flurry of motion and she's surrounded by vampires.
Lines quoted and twisted from 1.01 Welcome to the Hellmouth, 1.02 The Harvest, 1.07 Angel, and (of course) 3.09 The Wish.
Feedback would be greatly appreciated.